Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The Elusive Cup of Joy
Emperuman is the repository of innumerable auspicious attributes. Each of these attributes is immeasurable and unparalelled. Though these are beyond enumeration, Sri Ramanuja catalogues twenty-four of them in his Gadyam as the principal ones, each of them being of immense utility to devotees. For instance, Vaatsalyam prevents the Lord from looking too closely at our misdeeds. Aarjavam ensures His sincerity and synchronisation of His word, thought and deed in His dealings with us. Kaarunyam makes Him rush to our rescue when we are in trouble, intolerant to our suffering.
All the aforesaid divine attributes are fine, but they do not evoke in us any joy or overwhelming bliss. We might be grateful to the Lord for overlooking our sins, but not joyful at the prospect. While His sincerity reinforces our faith in His fairness, this too cannot generate a feeling of euphoria. We are indeed glad to find Emperuman to be a faithful friend in need, ever ready to dispel our distress, but this too can make us heave a sigh of relief, but not prompt a hoop of joy. Is there no attribute of the Lord which would give us simple, pure and unadulterated pleasure and enjoyment’ Is He such a goody-goody person, who can inspire in us only devotion, grattitude, relief and friendliness, but not delight’
As mentioned already, Emperuman’s kalyana gunas are countless and while some are reserved for affording protection to the faithful, some others are intended to educate.Similarly, there are gunas specifically meant for providing unalloyed ecstasy to bhaktas. Gunas in this category do nothing else but entertain, fascinate and immerse the devotee in immeasurable bliss. These attributes are pure fun, so to say, having no other function than to afford delight. If the Lord is a mere paragon of forbiddingly righteous virtues, He can at best be portrayed as a sombre person, good to devotees but not much fun to deal with. He can be a benefactor but not a bewitching one. It is attributes like Maadhuryam that attract the devotee to the Lord and hold him fast, unable to pry his eye and mind away. Prakritam Srimad Azhagiasingar has been one of the innumerable worthies who have fallen victim to this attribute of Emperuman and has vaxed eloquent on the same in his magnum opus, ‘Eraar gunangalum ezhil vadivum’.
Before we go on to the definitions (of the divine trait of Maadhuryam) by great Acharyas, let us analyse what the word means prima facie, to the layman. If one were to refer to the dictionary meaning of the word, one would come up with the synonym ‘Sweetness’. The Lord is incredibly sweet, attracting everyone to Him as would ants by spilled sugar. Sri Nammazhwar puts this in characteristic layman’s language by calling Him a lot of names indicative of His sweetness”enakku tene, pale, kannale, amude!’. Since sweetness is a taste to be experienced personally rather than described, Sri Nammazhwar mentions honey, milk, nectar etc., trying to give us an inkling of how sweet Emperuman is. The Lord is sweet all over, without exception, says the Madhurashtakam, devoted solely to the eulogy of this charming attribute”adharam madhuram, vadanam madhuram’..Mathuraadhipate: akhilam madhuram’ (ofcourse, you can enjoy it here). His walk, His talk, His conduct, His lips, His face– everything about Him is sweet. Srimad Ramayanam too confirms that the Lord is sweetness personified ‘Priya abhibhaashee madhura: deerghabaahu: arindama:’ Kodai Nacchiar too, who should know, tells us that His coral lips are extremely sweet ‘tiurppavala chevvaai taan titthitirukkumo’. His feet are sweet, so much so that the surfeit of sweetness flows from the tiruvadi like a river of honey, according to the Shruti”Vishno: pade parame madhva utsa:’.
Sri Alavandar concurs with this in his Stotra Ratnam ‘tava amrita syandini paada pankaje’. He also enquires as to who in his right mind would forsake these sweet tiruvadis of Emperuman for the bitingly bitter and severely sour experiences of Samsara. Would any bee relinquish the honey and pollen-filled lotus for a tasteless, thorny cactus, enquries he rhetorically ‘stithe aravinde makaranda nirbhare madhuvrato na ikshurakam hi veekshate’. While ordinary sweetening agents like sugar, honey etc. stop with satisfying the palate, Emperuman, who is sweeter than anything else, also enters the mind of the devotee and makes him ecstatical all over, says Sri Nammazhwar”ullam pugundu titthikkum amude!, imayor adhipatiye!’. The Lord is capable of affording us such an eminently sweet experience that we feel as if we have drowned, without suffocating, in an ocean of nectar, making us awash with elation all over”amrita saagara antar nimagna: sarva avayava: sukham aaseeta’ (Gadyam)
Acharyas have outlined two distinct facets of this Maadhuryam. The first aspect is the incredible charm the Lord exudes, from a physical perspective. The very sight of Him makes us tingle with ecstasy. His perfectly proportioned tirumeni, His luminous lotus eyes, His jet black hair falling in curls over His broad and beautiful forehead, the broad chest that is the permanent residence of Sri Mahalakshmi, long and lovely limbs and incredibly delicate lotus feet all these are such a treat to the eyes that one never feels like taking one’s eyes away, as Sri Tiruppanazhwar confirms “en amudinai kanda kangal mattrondrinai kaanaave – என்னமுதினைக் கண்ட கண்கள் மற்றொன்றினைக் காணாவே” Our glances remain riveted to the bewitching figure, incapable of moving away. Just as the full moon appearing in the night sky is a sight to behold, generating waves of joy in our hearts, the sight of the Lord too brings us eternal ecstacy, says Sri Valmiki ‘Somavat priyadarsana:’
Secondly, Emperuman is sweet not only to the eyes, but to the ears too, with His pleasing words, always reflecting the truth ‘Priyavaadee cha bhootaanaam satyavaadee cha Raghava:’. Describing the Lord’s incredibly sweet voice, Sri Bhashyakara remarks, ‘snigdha gambheera madhurayaa gira’- a deeply reasonant, sugary voice filled with love, affection and goodwill. Sri Rama’s voice is sweet not only because of its timbre and content, but also due to His endearing habit of speaking first and initiating the conversation, without standing on prestige and waiting for the other person to speak first”mita bhaashi poorva bhaashi cha’.
The Lord’s Maadhuryam appears infectious, as others too, who speak of Him, are automatically endowed with sweet tones, as happens to Sage Visvamitra, when He calls out Rama’s name ‘Rameti madhuraam vaaneem Visvaamitro abhyabhaashata’. Any recounting of His glorious exploits becomes sweet ipso facto’a ready example being Srimad Ramayanam, which is filled with wonderful words dripping with sweetness’Madhuram madhuraaksharam. These words and sentences are sweet not only when set to music, but also to merely read and recite ‘Paatye geye cha madhuram’.
In Sri Krishnavatara too, this sweetness of speech translates itself into enchanting strains emanating from His flute, mesmerising not only musically-inclined human beings but also dumb deer, who listen with rapt attention, forgetting all thought of grazing and with their mouths open in enthralment, with half-chewn grass spilling out ‘marunda maan kanangal meygai marandu, meynda pullum kadai vaai vazhi sora’. It goes without saying, of course, that Piratti’s voice too is unbelievably sweet, as behoves Her feminine nature, as the Lord Himself confirms ‘madhuraa madhuraalaapa’
Tasty, yet Wholesome
We know from experience that things which are good to the palate are not necessarily conducive to our health a diabetic’s mouth waters at the sight of sweets, but he knows his health would suffer a set back if he were to succumb to temptation. Spicy and oily food is tasty to consume, but wreaks havoc on one’s stomach and heart. On the other hand, food which is good for health is often tasteless or even bitter’take for instance kashaayam given to a feverish person. Bitter gourd (paagarkaai) is supposed to work wonders to the physique, but is unpalatable, as are Margosa leaves which improve digestion dramatically. It is thus difficult to find food which is delectable as well as beneficial.
How good would it be to find some fare which is at once incredibly sweet on the tongue, extremely beneficial to the physique and more so to the soul! Sounds too good to be true’ We need not despair, for we do have a ready delicacy on hand, which is good both for the palate and the soul, being none other than the Lord. He is not only sweet on the eyes, His voice is extremely pleasant to the ears, His sacred names sit sweet on our tongues, He fills our minds with the sweetest of thoughts (‘Manatthukku iniyaan’) when we meditate on Him; service or kainkaryam to Him is the most pleasant of professions. It is as if the Doctor has prescribed us honey, which we even otherwise relish consuming.
The Measure of Madhuryam
What is the measure of Emperuman’s maadhuryam’ Is he as sweet as sugar, as honey, as tender coconut raised with river water, or on par with that ultimate delicacy, Nectar’ As with the other gunas of the Lord, there are no limits to His Maadhuryam too. All we can say is that He is immeasurably sweet, there being no yardsticks for fathoming this great Guna. Sri Nammazhwar, who tentatively likens His sweetness to Nectar (‘ en amudam’), turns around with regret at the poor comparison and corrects himself by saying that the Lord is sweet beyond measure, when compared to Nectar”amizhdilum aattra inian.’
Aaraavamudam-An honourable Exception to Laws of Economics
The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility applies only too well to sweet things– the more one consumes of these items, the less one wants additionally. If you are fond of laddus, for instance, you may eat two, three or four, or if you have an extraordinarily sweet tooth, perhaps half a dozen. After that, it begins to pall and you would start protesting if you were offered more of the delicacy. At a certain stage, probably with the 7th or 8th laddu, your liking for the item would turn into positive revulsion. However, the Lord’s sweetness never diminishes, however much we experience Him. Each second’s anubhavam brings with it fresh and fascinating waves of ecstasy, the entire experience never palling, however long it lasts, leaving us only craving for more ‘appouzhudaikku appouzhudu en Aaraavamudame’ exclaims Sri Nammazhwar, marvelling at the ever-fresh sweetness of the Lord.
Satakopa Muni on the Sweet Lord
However, if there is one single pasuram which portrays the Lord’s Maadhuryam in abundant measure, it is perhaps this Tiruvaimozhi
Achuthan amalan engo, adiyavar vinai kedukkum
nacchu maa marundam engo, nalam kadal amudam engo
acchuvai katti engo, arusuvai adisil engo
nei suvai teral engo, kani engo paal engeno
அச்சுதன் அமலன் என்கோ, அடியவர் வினைகெடுக்கும்,
நச்சுமா மருந்தம் என்கோ நலங்கடல் அமுதம் என்கோ,
அச்சுவைக் கட்டி என்கோ அறுசுவை அடிசில் என்கோ,
நெய்ச்சுவைத் தேறல் என்கோ கனியென்கோ பாலென் கேனோ.
In this, Azhwar likens the Lord first to a panacea that cures all ills, especially the incurable disease of Karma. This wonderful drug, while eradicating all our sins without trace or side effects, is also incredibly sweet– an indeed unbeatable combination. Though the sweetness of this wonder cure defies description, Azhwar attempts this impossible task by holding out first Nectar, obtained with herculean effort from the depths of the ocean. Then he rejects the simile, realising that unlike Amudam, Emperuman never puts insuperable hurdles in the way of His devotees, being easily accessible to those who wish to attain Him with ardour”karutthukku nandrum eliyaanai’. He is the ‘kadal padaa amudam’, the Celestial Nectar with absolutely no association with the salty sea. To those who point out that He is not in a liquid state like Nectar, Azhwar offers the alternative simile of a huge slab of jaggery (acchuvai katti) which is sweet all over. Then Azhwar has second thoughts, realising that while jaggery has only one quality, Emperuman has lots more, and he comes up with the description ‘arusuvai adisil’ or a gastronomic delight, a meal which makes the tastebuds water, with all the six basic tastes providing variety and fulfilment. Remembering the Shruti vaakyam associating Emperuman with honey, Azhwar tries out the simile of delectable honey, fortified with clarified butter. Both these items, while being independantly tasty on their own, provide a scrumptious amalgam, which reminds Azhwar of the Lord’s own sweetness. Dissatisfied with all these unworthy comparisons, Sri Satakopa Muni turns to a ripe and luscious fruit, full of syrupy juice and sweet pulp, and to thick, sweet cow’s milk as items to compare the Lord with. Rejecting all of these in turn, Azhwar despairs of finding a suitable simile and ends on a wistful note, ‘engeno’ With what indeed would I compare His incredible sweetness!’, wonders Azwar. The essence of the aforesaid paasuram is that the Lord is sweeter than the sweetest thing imaginable and unimaginably and incomaparably sweet at that.
The Sweet Adversary
Impressing devotees is child’s play for the Lord, for they are already favourably inclined towards Him. The real measure of His Maadhuryam lies, however, in enchanting His sworn enemies. This is reflected in the reaction of Soorpanakha, who, despite bleeding profusely from a nose-cut inflicted by Lakshmana at the instance of Sri Rama, has nothing other than the choicest words of praise, while reporting the ignominous incident to Ravana. Instead of showering them with the worst of abuse as would be natural for a woman not only scorned but injured too, all she recounts is the incredibly sweet nature and physical beauty of the brothers Rama’
‘Tarunou roopa sampannou sukumaarou mahaabalou
Pundareeka visaalaakshou cheera krishnaajina ambarou’.
Sri Krishna’s adversary from birth, the Chhedi Raja Sisupala too, who spent a lifetime abusing the Lord, was mesmerised by the Lord’s overwhelming sweetness, when his moment of reckoning arrived. When the breath-takingly beautiful Krishna, with His broad lotus eyes, took the Sudarsana Chakra in His delicate hand spelling doom for Sisupala, the latter, though aware of the impending end, could concentrate on nothing but the Lord’s bewitching beauty in the second before the Chakra cut his head off. Though a life-long enemy of the Lord, he was unable to resist the overpowering charm of his divine adversary, knowing fullwell that his end was at hand. Such is the sweetness of the Lord, making Him irresistible even to sworn enemies, making them lose themselves, their sight and speech in the exquisiteness of the divine experience, notwithstanding the fact that the Lord is about to deal out retribution, says Swami Desikan’dveshataam jighaamsitaanaam drishti chitta apahaaritvena rasaavahatvam vaa madhuryam, yena Sisupaalasya taadrusee charama avasttha’.
‘Come and Get me, My Lord!’
If this incredible charm could impress hardened adversaries like Sisupala, one can predict the effect it would have on devotees like Sri Bhishma, who was forced to fight on the other side due to a misplaced sense of loyalty. Though the Lord had vowed not to touch a weapon in the Kurukshetra war, He was forced to lift His Chakrayudha and advance menacingly on Bhishma, who was overwhelming Arjuna with his virtual deluge of arrows, each finding its mark painfully and reducing the Paandava to a state of unresponsive numbness. Totally taken up with the spectacle of the incredibly beautiful Lord approaching him in a run, with the Chakra held aloft ready for despatch on its deadly mission of cutting his (Sri Bhishma’s) head off, the Pitamaha just drops his bow and bows down to the Lord, inviting Him to complete His mission. The very sight of the Lord captivates Bhishma so much that he doesn’t even think of self-defence, (leave alone offence) and starts eulogising Sri Krishna. All thoughts of the bloody battlefield and of winning the war for Duryodhana are instantly banished from Bhishma’s mind and all he is able to perceive is the bewitching form of the Lord, notwithstanding its deadly posture. So much so that Bhishma eagerly invites the Lord to finish what He contemplated ‘ehi ehi pullaambuja netra!’.
The Exhilarating Effect
The Lord Himself describes the effect of this magnificent virutue of Maadhuryam on His devotees’
‘mat chittaa: mat gata praanaa: bodhayanta: parasparam
katayantascha maam nityam, tushyanti cha ramanti cha’
Drunk with the heady nectar of Bhagavat anubhavam, bhaktas are unable to do anything else but think about Him, recount to each other with relish tales of the Lord during His various avataras, share with others enlightening divine wisdom to which only they are privy and imbibe from others incomparable insights into the Lord’s endearing nature and inimitable attributes. They delight in swapping notes about their respective sublime experiences with the Lord and are verily in the seventh heaven (though they might still inhabit only the earth), prompted by their ‘anubhava janita preeti’ for the Lord. They are unable to tolerate even a second’s separation from the Lord and His votaries ‘kshanepi yat viraho ati dussaha:’. This is what Maadhuryam does to devotees, making them forget their milieu and burst into uninhibited song and dance, often making them the objects of derision among the uninitiated and ignorant masses mad after Mammon.
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When we read all this, we wish fervently that we too might, some day, in some birth, get a taste of the Lord’s Maadhuryam, which is obviously a heady elixir with an overwhelming sweetness. We need not despair of not being Vaikunta Vaasis, who are so enamoured of this virtue as to enjoy it without a break even for a blink (‘sadaa pasyanti sooraya:’). Nor do we need to worry about not having been around when Emperuman took avataras as Rama and Krishna and regaled contemporaries with His incredible and endearing exploits. If we need a taste of Emperuman’s sweetness, all that we need to do is to visit the nearest divyadesam, where the Lord awaits us in all splendour, ready to afford us an unforgettable taste of Himself, with His bewitching and beckoning tirumukha mandalam, coral-red lips bared in an enthralling and endearing smile, resplendent with the Divine Discus and Conch on His upraised arms, meant to afford us protection and wisdom, one beautiful palm raised in a gesture of offering refuge with the other pointing downwards in a mudra of munificence, ready to give everyone everything if only they would ask, and with two tender feet providing asylum to those driven by the incredible heat and sorrow of Samsara. He awaits our arrival with eager anticipation, all ready to sweeten our lives with a display of His most endearing attribute’Maadhuryam.
Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore