The Famous Five – I


Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Writing an article, as far as I am concerned, is a collective family endeavour. When I chose a subject, the entire family pitches in with hints, ideas and whatnot. While my wife gives me possible tips from Desika Stotrams, my son and daughter, who are voracious readers (alas! Only of comics and pulp fiction, apart from an occasional classic or religious work, when the mood strikes them) contribute matters from the loukika angle. My mother serves as a reference point in case of doubts in certain areas. Even friends and relatives occasionally phone in with tips. You would by now have realized that I merely assemble the various items of information given to me, with plausible connecting matter, making the whole into a passably readable composition, which may not attract a shower of bouquets, but would hopefully not result in brickbats.

When I began the current article, true to form, all my family members and a friend enthusiastically threw in clues and tips, which resulted in no less than 45 possible items for inclusion, even without my looking up my usual manuals of reference. And the result is the jumbo-sized article that follows. The point of my sharing with you this rather confidential piece of information (about the process of composition of my articles) is to let you know that in case you intend blaming me for any of its shortcomings, you should apportion it fairly among my family members and not lay the entire thing at my doorstep.

Coming to brass tacks, of the several numbers I have dealt with so far, Number Five accounts for the greatest number of mentions in the Scripture. Its significance spans the entire gamut of spiritual literature, with hardly any work which doesn’t include a reference to this intriguing integer. Whether it is the Shruti, Itihaasaas, Puraanas, Divya Prabandam or works of Poorvacharyas, 5 occupies a pride of place, with quintets abounding in all these works. What follows is just a sample of such abundance.

The Five Elements

The moment we think of Five, what strikes us is the Five Elements-Pancha bhootam-of which the entire mundane structure is composed.

These are

1. Aakaasam or Atmosphere
2. Air
3. Fire
4. Water
5. Earth.

At the time of Creation, were these five elements brought into existence simultaneously, or did one owe its origin to another? The Upanishad answers this question by telling us that it was the Atmosphere or Aakaasam which the Paramaatma created first from Himself-“Aatmana: Aakaasa: sambhoota:”.

From Atmosphere emerged Air and from air, Fire. Out of Fire came Water and from Water emerged Earth. This is the order in which creation was effected. However, while considering this, we should not construe that only Atmosphere was created by Emperuman and the rest of the elements were the originating point for one another, with Air independently creating Fire and so on. It is the Paramatma Himself, taking on the forms of air, fire, etc., who is responsible for bringing forth the five elements.

Of these five elements, Earth is the most complete, for it has five characteristics (sound, touch, form, smell and taste)-

“Sabda: sparsascha roopamcha rasaschaapi Dvijottama!
Ete gunaa: pancha Bhoome: sarvebhyo gunavattaraa”

If we take the life breath, Air, it is also divided into Pancha Praanaas:

1. Praanan
2. Apaanan
3. Vyaanan
4. Samaanan
5. Udaanan

You would find these names in the Parishechana mantras, through which all food that we consume is first offered to these five types of life breath residing in our body.

The Five Faculties

The second grouping of Five that occurs to us is the Five Faculties or sensory organs- these again fall into two groupings of five each.
The five Organs of Action or Karmendriyaas are
1. Hands
2. Legs
3. Speech
4 and 5 the two excretory organs.

And the five Organs of Knowledge (Gnaanendriyas) are

1. Eyes
2. Ears
3. Nose
4. Tongue and
5. Skin

The five Indriyaas, as they are called, are responsible for five faculties, viz.,

1. Sight
2. Hearing
3. Smell
4. Speech and
5. Touch.

(And if we take the fingers on our hands and feet, they are again Five)

It is these sensory organs which are responsible for most of our troubles, leading us astray even when we ourselves want to tread the path of virtue. The pack of sensory organs is extremely powerful (“Balavaan indriya graama:”) and is uncontrollable, except for the sage. And at times, these senses overwhelm even the wisest of men (“Vidvaamsam api karshati”). These sensory organs are compared to five wayward, untamed and untamable horses, which drag the chariot in a direction of their own choice, irrespective of where the charioteer wants to go. Sri Nammazhwar likens the senses to five wicked and cruel men, who constantly torture the Jeevatma – “Avi tigaikka iyvar.paaviyeni nee kaatti paduppaayo!”. While it is indeed extremely difficult to gain control over these indriyaas, one who succeeds is eulogized by all the world as a “Jitendriya:”

Five Great Sacrifices

All of us perform any number of duties every day, depending upon our age, occupation and stage in life. While official duties are treated as paramount, personal ones occupy the next place in our scheme of things. However, the Scripture prescribes five duties for us, performance of which is obligatory and failure in which would result in accrual of sin. These are known as the Pancha Mahaa Yagyaas-the five great sacrifices. The Taaittireeya Aaranyakam glorifies these Yagyas thus-“Pancha vaa ete mahaa yagyaa: satati prataayante, satati santishttante, Deva Yagya: Pitru Yagya: Bhoota Yagya: Manushya Yagya: Brahma Yagya iti”. We find explanations too in the same Upanishad, as to what these five yagyaas are about.

1.. Deva Yagya: Performance of various sacrifices comes under this head. The Havis or sacrificial offering in the various yagyaas forms the staple diet of the Devas, and timely and consistent performance of yaagas keeps the celestials satisfied.

2.. Pitru Yagyam: Propitiating the forefathers with the offer of “Swadhaa” constitutes Pitru Yagyam.

3.. Bhoota Yagyam refers to feeding of lowly creatures, which depend on us for their life and sustenance. Even the drawing of “Kolam” at the doorstep of the house would constitute this Bhoota Yagyam, since it is meant for ants and similar creatures to feed on the rice flour used for the purpose. Even today, many families have the habit of feeding the crow prior to partaking breakfast.

4.. Manushya Yagyam: Feeding of guests-“atithis”-especially learned Brahmins, comes under this head-“Yat braahmanebhyo annam dadaati tat manushya yagya: santistthate”.

5.. Brahma Yagyam: Daily recitation of the portions of Vedas that one has learnt-termed as “Svaadhyaayam”-constitutes Brahma Yagyam. One is supposed to recite at least one “Prasnam” or chapter from the portions already learnt from the Guru. This not only bestows on us the incalculable “punyam” that accrues out of Veda paaraayanam, but also, incidentally, helps us retain in memory through repetition, the Veda bhaagam we have learnt by rote.

In practice, while Brahma Yagyam remains what is described above, Vaidikas observe the other four of these Maha Yagyaas as a continuation of Vaisvadevam, offering portions of cooked rice to Devas, Pitru Devatas, human beings and to crows and dogs, with the respective mantras meant therefor.

That these five great sacrifices were very much in vogue and practice, is known from Tirumangai Mannan’s words in Tiruvezhukoottrirukkai—“Mutthee, naanmarai, iyvagai velvi”.

Five Vedas

Speaking of reciting Vedas, how many are the Vedas? While “Four” would be the normal answer and while “Three” too might be acceptable as an answer (as Atharva Veda is often considered to be but an adjunct of the other three Vedas), the answer that would be eligible for full marks is “Five”. No, I am not talking through my hat, for, along with Rg, Yajur, Saama and Atharva Vedas, Mahabharatam too is considered the Fifth Vedam -“Bhaarata: panchamo Veda:”. Due to its profound contents, vast coverage of men and matters, clear enunciation of the path of Dharmam, categorical definition of who is the Paramatma, etc., Mahabharata is considered no less than Vedas and is counted on par with them.

There is another version put forth by the Bhaagavata Purana, which considers not only Mahabharatam, but the entire body of Itihaasaas and Puraanas to constitute the fifth Vedam-

“Rg Yaju: Saama Atharvaakhyaa Vedaa: chatvaara uddhritaa:
Itihaasa Puraanam cha panchamo Veda uchyate”

And even if one is unable to learn all the 82 Prasnas or chapters in the Yajur Vedam, one should, as a basic minimum requirement, learn by rote at least the Pancha Sooktam and Pancha Shaanti mantras. The Pancha Sooktas referred to here are the Purusha Sooktam with the Narayana Anuvaakam, Vishnu Sooktam, Sri Sooktam, Bhoo and Neela Sooktam.

Pancha Paandavaas

The mention of Mahabharatam prompts a thought of another group of five-of five princely sons of Emperor Paandu-the Pancha Paandavas, viz., Dharmaputra, Arjuna, Bheema, Nakula and Sahadeva.

Krishna considered the Pandavas extremely close, which can be gauged by His remarks to Duryodhana-“Mama praanaa hi Paandavaa:”. Of these five princes, whom do you think was the dearest to Sri Krishna’s heart? One would normally think that Dharmaputra, that paragon of virtue and personification of righteousness would rank for the position of pride, by virtue of his seniority and other qualifications. However, it is in favour of Arjuna that Krishna casts His vote-“Vrishneenaam Vaasudevosmi Paandavaanaam Dhananjaya:” This was because of Arjuna’s boundless devotion for the Lord, exhibited in various forms.

And the only woman whom we know with five husbands, is Droupati. How did she end up with this rather dubious distinction? It is said that while performing penance addressed to Shankara, Droupati, overwhelmed by the deity’s manifestation, uttered the prayer for a good husband, five times. Treating the same as five individual requests, Shankara blessed her with five husbands!-

“Pancha kritva: tvayaa ukta: patim deheeti aham puna:
Deham anyam gataayaaste yathoktam tat bhavishyati”

To the Pancha Paandavas were born five children from Droupati.

The Five Forms of Paramaatma

Coming to the Lord Himself, we find that He has an inalienable association with Number Five. The Paramaatma is to be found in Five Forms:

1. Param: This is the Lord’s primordial form, with which He shines at Sri Vaikunttam, regaling all the celestials with His incomparable beauty, majesty and magnificence.

2. Vyooham: The Lord divides Himself into four entities, for carrying out the various functions of creation, protection, preservation and destruction. These four forms are respectively known as Vaasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

3. Vibhavam: Since only those who have attained liberation can feast their eyes on the aforesaid forms of the Lord, out of His infinite mercy, He descends often to this mundane world of ours for the purpose of protecting the good and innocent, destroying the wicked and for re-establishing Dharma on its foundations. These visits of the Lord, known as Avataaras, are principally 32 in number, (including the famous Dasaavataaras) though Aagamaas mention many more.

4. Antaryaami: The Lord resides in all of us, shrinking His majestic form to the proportion of just a thumb, to suit the cramped confines of our hearts. It is this Inner Dweller who has the Jeevatma and our material body as His shareeram. He doesn’t lose any of His spelendour or magnificence due to this diminutive form He assumes for residing within us. It is indeed a true measure of His love for us that He chooses to dwell in us, in this body composed of blood, flesh and refuse-“Oona kurambai idanul pukku” remarks Azhwar, marveling at the Lord’s extreme soulabhyam in leaving His splendorous residence at Sri Vaikunttam for residing in our despicable body.

5. Arccha: The Para Vaasudeva is capable of being seen only by the permanent residents of Paradise, while the Vyooha Moorties too are visible only to sages. And while Vibhava avataaras like those of Rama and Krishna benefited only their contemporaries, the Antaryaami is visible only to Yogis.

Then what are we ordinary, sinning mortals to do? Can we not see God at all while on this earth? It is to cater to beings like us who were unfortunate enough not to have been born during the times of Rama and Krishna, that the Lord assumes various forms at innumerable abodes on this earth, sitting, standing or lying down as His devotees wish Him to, enabling men, women and children to feast their eyes on His glorious form with very little effort. “How is it that You made Yourself the subject matter of weak and devotion-less eyes of mortals like me?” wonders Sri Koorattaazhwan-“nanu lochana gocharo bhoo:”

Not only the Paancharaatra Aagamaas, but also the Taittireeyopanishad speaks about this five-fold form of the Lord-“Sa vaa esha Purusha: panchadhaa panchaatmaa”.

If we take the Arcchaavataaram, the images of the Lord at various Sannidhis are made out of five metals generally, cumulatively known as “Iympon”. These are Gold, Silver, Bronze, Copper and Brass. The boundlessly beautiful Utsava Moorties of Emeperumans at various temples may be made of metal, but they transcend all the mundane properties of such elements and acquire sanctity, once Praana Prathisttaa is performed. A word of caution here-Swami Desikan tells us never to think of the Lord’s images as being made of mere metal-they are verily forms of the Lord which He acquires out of love and affection for His children, devoid of all the base qualities of matter and full of all the auspicious attributes unique to the Lord.

If we take the Lord’s abodes, we find that He is again fond of five. Dwaraka was the capital city of Sri Krishna, built by Him as a labour of love. However, there are no less than five Dwarakas-Dakore Dwara, Natha Dwara, Bhet Dwara (which is an island), Moola Dwara and Gangrouli Dwara. Among the divya desams or temples sanctified by songs by Azhwars located in the South India,, there is another quintet known as the Pancha Krishna Kshetrams-Tirukkanna Mangai, Tirukkannankudi, Kapisthalam, Tirukkannapuram and Tirukkoilur.

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

dasan, sadagopan

To be Continued

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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