Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
There are a number of ornaments women are fond of wearing. Jewels embellish and enhance a lady’s beauty and sometimes even bring out latent beauty. Ornaments thus serve as inseparable companions of womenfolk, who would rather be seen dead than without their adornments. Be it ear rings, nose-rings, chains of various designs and types, ranging from simple, single stranded ones to those with multiple strands and pendants, dazzling golden belts (Oddyaanam), anklets of shining silver-all these add considerably to women’s looks.
Jewels are thus an integral part of our lives and deserve occasional words of appreciation. However, have you heard of an entire work of epic proportions devoted to a single ornament? I am definitely not exaggerating, for a famous Tamizh poet has considered the jewel to be important enough to spin an engrossing tale around the ornament and the incidents it gives rise to. It is again no exaggeration to say that this single jewel was responsible for the death of an exalted monarch and his consort, apart from causing untold loss to life and property, flowing from the burning down of an ancient city by a wronged woman, whose property the jewel was.
By now, readers would have guessed that I am talking about the Silambu or Noopuram as it is known in Sanskrit. There would be none who has not heard of Silappadhikaaram and the way it revolves around the ornament. The Kaavyam is considered among the five great ones of Tamizh literature, is avidly perused by the learned and unlettered alike, and is still the subject of hot debates at Patti Mandrams.
Apart from its forming the subject matter of Silappadikaaram, does the Noopuram have any significance in the Sampradayam? The answer is Yes, and we shall see here a few occasions where the ornament comes in for appreciative mention in our spiritual lore.
As with every thing else, we shall turn first to that eternal guidebook, Srimad Ramayanam, for inspiration. And the Epic doesn’t fail us, for we find an extremely heartening reference to the Noopuram in the Kishkinda Kaandam. Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana reach Kishkinda, searching en route for the abducted Mythily. Sri Hanuman takes them to Sugriva, who promises to make all-out efforts for locating Sri Janaki. Some members of Sugriva’s army then show Rama a bundle of ornaments cast off by a woman who was being dragged by Ravana in the skies. Sugriva requests Sri Rama to identify whether the jewels are those of Sita. Sri Rama is overwhelmed by emotion at the sight of these jewels and His eyes cloud with copious tears at the thought of beloved Sita, making it impossible for Him to look at the ornaments, much less identify them. He turns to the faithful Lakshmana and advises him to see if the jewels are those of Sita.
It is here that Lakshmana comes out with an extremely moving speech, which amply demonstrates his devotion towards his brother’s wife and his attitude of extreme rectitude and propriety. ”Since I have never looked at my respected sister-in-law in the face and have always had my head bowed with devotion while in front of Her, I have never had occasion to see the ornaments adorning the upper portion of Her tirumeni. However, I can readily identify the Noopuram which She wore on Her feet, since I prostrate before Her daily. That is, in fact, the only ornament I am familiar with, my glances being forever concentrated on Her holy feet, in devotion and propriety”, says Lakshmana. Here is the beautiful slokam of Sri Valmiki-
‘Naaham jaanaami kundale, naaham jaanaami keyoore
Noopure tu abhijaanaami nityam paada abhivandanaat’
It is not only Sita Devi who wears a Noopuram-even Sri Goda Devi’s feet are adorned with gem-studded Silambu. And when She walks gracefully, these Noopurams emit a sweet sound that is nectar to the ears of Her Divine Consort, says Swami Desikan in Goda Stuti-
‘Tvat preyasa: shravanayo: amritaayamaanaam
Tulyaam tvadeeya mani noopura sinchitaanaam’
For those who wonder whether the sounds of a Noopuram could be as sweet as all that, here is confirmation from Sri Valmiki, who describes Sri Hanuman as being impressed by the strong and sweet resonance emanating from the Lankan women’s ornaments, when they moved-
‘Sushraava Kaanchee ninaadam, noopuraanaam cha nissvanam’
‘Noopuraanaam cha ghoshena Kaancheenaam ninadena cha
Mridanga tala ghoshaischa ghoshavadbhi: vinaaditam’
From all the aforesaid, you would arrive at the conclusion that the Noopuram >is an entirely feminine ornament, serving as an adornment for ladies’ tender >feet. However, you would be entirely mistaken, for many are the instances in >our religious lore which describe the Lord’s feet too to be adorned with the >Silambu. Here is a beautiful slokam from Srimad Bhagavatam, attesting to this-
‘Shanka chakra gadaa padma vanamaalaa vibooshitam
Noopurai: vilasat paadam koustubha prabhayaa yutam’
Here is another couplet from the same source, painting a glorious portrait of Sri Krishna, adorned from head to foot with various ornaments-among them the Noopuram– and gladdening the eyes and minds of onlookers beyond measure-
‘Kaanchee kalaapa paryastam lasat kaanchana noopuram
Darsaneeyatamam shaantam mano nayana vardhanam’
The Adhyaatma Ramayana tells us that not only Sri Krishna, but Sri Raghava too was adorned with Noopuram-
‘Noopurai: katakai: bhantam tathaiva vanamaalaya
Lakshmanena dhanu: dvandva karena parisevitam’
Even at SriVaikunttam, the Lord’s feet are adorned with Noopuram. This we come to know from Sri Ramanuja’s Gadyams-‘Peetaambara kaanchee guna noopuraadi aparimita divya bhooshana’, says the Bhashyakara, reserving for the Noopuram a pride of place among the innumerable ornaments fortunate enough to adorn Emperuman’s tirumeni, by reserving its mention at the end of a long list of jewels.
Lest you think of the Noopuram as just another ornament, Swami Desikan tells us that it has a glory all of its own, having been responsible for originating a magnificent river known as the Silambaaru or Noopura Ganga. All of us know that when, during Trivikramaavataram, the Lord’s feet reached Satyalokam in the process of measuring the second foot of land promised by Mahabali, Brahmaa performed Tirumanjanam for the Tiruvadi, the resultant flow becoming the holy Ganga. However, a part of the water which touched the Noopuram on the Lord’s feet became a separate stream and fell atop the Tirumaalirum solai hills, attaining the name Noopura Ganga. Swami Desikan tells us that this Noopura Ganga is much holier than the famed Ganga, as the former is unpolluted by the touch of other Devatas. While Ganga, on its way from the worlds above to earth, had to be borne by Sri Rudra in his matted locks, to lessen its destructive speed, the Noopura Ganga fell straight from the Lord’s Noopuram to earth, thus making it more sacred and pure. And the waters of the Noopura Ganga are sweeter too (I can personally attest to this, having spent some time on the banks of the Ganga at Varanasi). This episode is chronicled by Swami Desikan in Hamsa Sandesam thus-
‘Yasyotsange Bali vijayina: tasya manjeera vaantam
Paatho divyam Pasupati jataa sparsa soonyam vibhaati’
The Hamsa Sandesam has another interesting tale to tell about Sri Sita Devi’s Noopuram, the only ornament with which Sri Lakshmana is familiar. The Noopuram found by the Vaanara veeras at Kishkinda was the one worn on Sita Devi’s right foot. Once She reached Lanka and was imprisoned at Ashoka vanam, Sri Janaki removed the other Noopuram on Her left foot and kept it, along with the other ornaments, tied in a piece of cloth to the branch of the Simsupa tree, underneath which She was forced to spend Her time, watched constantly by the demoniac minions of Ravana. Though She was unmindful of the other jewels, Sita used to take out the Noopuram frequently and heave a sigh of sorrow at the plight of the ornament, which was personally fitted on Her foot by Sri Raghava. At the other end, Sri Rama too fondly looks at the other Noopuram, seeing Sri Mythily in it, finding it as sweet-sounding as a swan’s song, eagerly awaiting the day when He would be able to restore it to its rightful place on Sri Janaki’s left foot. Here is the beautiful slokam, which establishes Swami Desikan’s credentials as a poet par excellence, much superior to Kalidasa-
‘Vaktum maargam kilava sumateem jagmusha: tat padaabjaat
Manjeerasya tvat upama rute: dakshinasya asya tulyam
Ankaaroode charana kamala mat karena upadeyam
Vaamam shaakha shikara nihitam veekshya gaadam vishannaam’
The Noopuram has made me wax rather long. We will wind this up with a quote from Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam, which tells us to surrender to the lotus feet of Sri Srinivasa, adorned by Noopurams which are covered by fragrant flowers-
‘Aa noopura arpita sujaata sugandhi pushpa
Sourabhya sourabha karou sama sannivesou
Sowmyou sadaa anubavanepi navaanubhaavyou
Sri Venkatesa charanou sharanam prapadye’
Srimate Sri Lakshmi Nrisimha divya paduka sevaka Srivan Satakopa Sri Narayana
Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore