On 21st September 2018, we will be commemorating the 750th birth anniversary of Swami Vedanta Desikan.
While it will require more than a life time to fully read and comprehend Swami Desikan’s works, this is a humble beginning to understand some of his works and will carry on over the next several months. I begin with an overview of Swami Desikan’s life and works as a first in the first of the series on his works and offer this as a mark of reverence to this giant of a Vedanta Guru.
Swami Somayaji Ananthasuri and Tottarambha were leading an ideal householder’s life in their house at Thuppul. Years passed by and their desire to beget a son grew. They started on a pilgrimage and visited several divya desams and finally came to Tirumala (Tirupati). They bathed in the Pushkarini and paid obeisance to Lord Varaha and then went on to worhip Lord Srinivasa inside the temple. They prayed to the Lord for a son and after their evening worship, they went back and retired. That night Lord Srinivasa appeared in their dream and gave them the divine hand bell (Ghantamani) from the Sanctum. Tottarambha swallowed it in her dream and next day at dawn they both felt invigorated and and shared their dream with each other feeling extremely happy.
At the Sanctum, the Bhattar (priest) of the Sannidhi came in to conduct the daily morning Aradhana. When he opened the door, he observed that the divine bell was missing and he immediately initiated his enquiries. Just at that time, the Tirumalai jeeyar appeared on the scene and said that he had a wonderful dream in which he saw the Lord Himself giving the divine Bell to the devoted pilgrim couple.
They decided not to replace the small bell and even to this day, the Big bell outside the sanctum is used for Thiruvaradhanam at the Tirupati Temple.
Anantasuri and Tottarambha took leave of the Lord after worshipping him and returned to Kanchi with great joy. Tottarambha was soon blessed with the divine child and day by day, her whole body shone with extraordinary lustre.
Swami Desikan was born as Venkatanathan in Thuppul in Kanchipuram in the Tamil month of Purattasi (mid-September to mid-October) under the Thiruvonam Star in 1268 CE as the ‘Amsam’ (form) of Sri Tirupati Venkateshwara’s Ghantam (Divine Bell).
Venkatanathan mastered the Vedas, Vedanta and Shastras under the guidance of Guru Appullar (brother of Tottarambha).
Sri Appullar taught Venkatanathan the sacred Garuda mantra. By the age of 20, he was well versed in all Shastras.
At the age of 21 (in 1289 CE), Venkatanathan was married to Kanakavalli. He started his family life as ordered in the Shastras and was strictly performing all the duties required by a Srivaishnava, living on uncha vritti i.e. their daily supply of food provided by disciples or secured by seeking alms. A Brahmin is supposed to do Veda adhyayanam and teach every one in the village and their needs are taken care by the students and other residents who learn from him. Desika in Sanskrit means a ‘Guru or a spiritual teacher’ and hence Venkatanathan came to be known as Swami Desikan.
Some of the local people in Kachipuram felt bad that a great master like Swami Desikan was doing uncha vrutti i.e. seeking alms for grains. As Swami Desikan refused to accept money or Gold given as dakshina, the students and residents started mixing gold coins along with rice and offered him.
Swami Desikan did not notice this and gave the rice to his wife for making prasadam. She called Swami Desikan’s attention to the glittering coins and Swami Desikan promptly chucked all the coins out of the window saying they were vermins.
In the year 1317 CE, Swami Desikan and Kanakavalli were blessed with a son with the grace Sri Varadaraja Perumal, in the Tamil month of Avani (birth star Rohini), and they named the child as Varadhacharya.
Varadhacharya followed the footsteps of Swami Desikan and shone just like his father.
After the death of Sri Appullar Swami, Swami Desikan wanted to chant the Garuda mantra taught to him by Sri Appullar. He observed fast for many days to receive the blessings of Garuda, as Garuda is known as Veda Swarupi. Swami Desikan went to Thiruvaheendrapuram and went up a small hill before he began to chant the Garuda Mantra. Garuda was pleased with his devotion and blessed him with the Hayagreeva mantra and instructed him to chant the Hayagreeva mantra continously to receive the blessings of Lord Hayagreeva.
As Swami Desikan continuously recited the mantra, Lord Hayagreeva was pleased and appeared before him. Lord Hayagreeva blessed him and agreed to reside on the tip of Swami Desikan’s tongue as desired by him. Lord Hayagreeva gave a Vigraha (idol) of Himself to Swami Desikan for his daily worship. This Vigraham is still being preserved in the Devanatha temple in Thiruvaheendrapuram.
While in Thiruvaheendrapuram, Swami Desikan composed the ‘Hayagreeva Stotram’, Devanayaka panchashat in Sanskrit, Achyutha Satakam in Prakrut, and Mummanikkovai and Navamani maalai in Tamil.
Swami Desikan came back to Kanchipuram and composed various Stotrams explaining the concept of prapatti or surrender. These Stotrams are Nyasa Vimshati, Nyasa Dashakam and Nyasa tilakam in Sanskrit and Adaikkala pathu and Artha Panchakam in Tamil.
While in Kanchi, Swami Desikan was enchanted by the beauty of Varadharaja Perumal and composed fifty Shlokas on Him. He also wrote Stotrams on Perumal by visiting the various temples in and around Kanchi.
While in Srivilliputhur Swami Desikan composed the famous Godha Sthuthi. He was observing mounam (silence) befitting the occasion of the Pradhosham evening. He was planning to go to Sri Andal’s Sannidhi later for MangaLasasanam. When he heard the sounds of Koil Vaadhyams (percussion), he stepped out from the house and found to his greatest surprise and joy, the archa murthy of Sri Andal being carried by the devotees approaching. While the normal processional route did not include the street where Swami Desikan was staying, but on this special day, there was some obstacle on the main street and hence the temple priests had re-routed the procession. Swami Desikan’s astonishment at this unexpected bhagyam and his Bhakthi for Sri Andal came out pouring the form of 29 Shlokas (Godha Sthuthi) in two beautiful Sanskrit poetic metres known as Vasantha Tilakam and Maalini.
Godha Sthuthi First Shloka:
Sri Vishnuchittha Kulanandana Kalpavalleem
Sri Rangaraja Harichandana yoga dhrusyam |
Saakshath Kshamam Karunaya Kamalamivanyam
Godham Ananya Sharana Sharanam Prapadhye ||
Meaning: Godha Piraatti is the wish-granting Kalpaka tree in flower garden of the clan of Sri VishNu Chitthar; She is most beautiful as She gives us Her darsanam as the Karpaka creeper united with Her Lord Sri Rangarajan standing majestically as the Harichandana tree in that Nandavanam; She is the incarnation of Bhumi Devi known for Her auspicious qualities of forbearance; Godhai is the embodiment of forbearance; When it comes to the quality of Her Mercy, Godhai is a veritable Maha Lakshmi (Kamala). I, who has no other refuge, seek Her as my sole refuge.
Later, Swami Desikan went to Tirupati and composed the beautiful Stotram called Daya Satakam. Lord Srinivasa blessed Swami Desikan and he was conferred the title ‘Vedanta-Acharya’. Later, Swami Desikan went to Badrinath, Ayodhya, Kashi, Nepal and other places in North India on foot to visit the temples over there.
Swami Vedanta Desikan wrote extensively in Sanskrit and Tamil and some of his compositions are:
- Desika-prabhandham which enjoys a status equal to that of the Azhwars’ Divya Prabhandham
- Many Storams such as – Bhu Stuthi, Daya Satakam, Godha Sthuthi, Hayagreeva Stotram, Kamasika Ashtakam, Paduka Sahasram, Shodasha Ayudha Stotram, Sri Sthuthi, Sudharsana Ashtakam, Yathiraja Saptati etc.
- Gadyams e.g. Raghuveera Gadyam (a.k.a. Mahveera Gadyam)
- Dandakams e.g. Garuda Dandakam
- Adaikkala Patthu, Artha Panchakam, Nyasam Vimshati, Nyasa Dashakam for Saranagati
- Paramapada Sobanam (Way of Living)
He composed over 2000 Shlokas of exquisite Sanskrit poetry on a variety of religious themes mostly in praise of SriRangam Raganatha, Thiruvengadam (Venkateswara), Kanchi Varadar etc. His poetry flowed in an impressive variety of forms ranging ‘Stotras’, ‘Gadyams’ to ‘Dandakams’, in every known metric rhythm – from the simple ‘Malini’ metre to the long-winded ‘Saardulavikreedita’.
In his famous work praising the Lord Thiruvengadam, titled ‘Daya-Satakam’, Swami Desikan composed 108 Shlokas in 10 different metres each most appropriate to the underlying theme of the verse. He was known as ‘Kavi Kesari’, ‘Tarkika Simham’, ‘Kalyana Guna Shali’ and ‘Vedanta Guru’.
The following Thanian (prefatory verse honouring the Guru or Acharya) was composed by Swami Desikan’s disciple, Brahma-tantra-swatantrar Jeeyar (who established the Parakala Mutt), on the day of star of Hastham, the star of Varadharaja Perumal of Kancheepuram in the Tamil month of Avani.
This Thanian on Swami Desikan is recited before reciting Divya Prabandham:
Ramanuja-Daya-patram jnana-vairagya-bhushanam |
ShrImad-Venkata-natharyam vande Vedanta Desikam ||
Swami Venkatanathan is also revered through the following ‘Thanians’ that is recited at the beginning of all his works and again at the end:
Sriman Venkatanatharya Kavi-tarkika Kesari |
Vedantacharya varyome sannidhathaam sadahrudi ||
Meaning: Sriman Venkatanathan, who is a Lion among poets and philosophers, May He ever reside in our hearts. Our obeisance to the Vedanta Acharya.
Kavi-tarkika Simhaya Kalyana Gunashaline |
Srimathe Venkatesheya Vedanta Gurave Namaha ||
Meaning: A Lion among poets and philosophers who is endowed with sublime, divine and auspicious qualities. Our obeisance Lord Venkatesha and to the Vedanta Guru.
Let us now explore how Swami Desikan perfectly fits the four great attributes ascribed to him viz. Kavi Kesari, Tarkika Simham, Kalyana Guna Shali and Vedanta Guru.
Swami Desikan’s poetry was enchanting that exhibited his genius. An interesting event happened one evening in Sri Rangam, where Swami Desikan lived and worked for many years. A rival poet disdainfully challenged him to compose poetry on a pair of common footwear, as a heap of insult. Next morning Swami Desikan astounded the rival, and the rest of the poets, with a poetic work of 1008 stanzas entitled ‘Paduka-Sahasram’. Over one thousand stanzas in chaste Sanskrit, in praise of the sacred Sandals of Sri Ranganatha, composed within the course of one night! Such was his genius!
In these verses, Swami Desikan brings the words to visual effect by the use of pure sound of the words to create vivid images. In the ‘Paduka-Sahasram’, Swami Desikan demonstrates this with telling effect where seemingly meaningless words are woven to create enchanting sound. In his Verse 933, the Acharyan uses only two syllables:
paa paa dha paa paa dha paa paa paa dha paa dha dha paa dha paa |
dha paa dha paa paa dha paa dha paa dha paa dha dha paa dha paa ||933||
A mere reading of the above, if penned by someone of a lesser stature than Swami Desikan, would have invited derision for passing it off as poetry. But Swami Desikan’s genius shines through these seemingly senseless assemblages of the two syllables (Pa and Dha) when read as follows:
paapaadhapaa paadhapaapaaa paadhapaa dhadhapaadhapaa I
dhapaadhapaa paadhpaadha paadhapaa dhadhapaadhapaa II
The above verse reveals the following sublime meaning:
The Paadhuka cleanses our sins; it bestows lustre to the Lord’s feet (It confers effulgence to individual souls, which are aspects of the Lord). Its water used to cleanse His Padhuka protects those who perform this service of respectfully and adorn it to the Lord’s feet. Those Paadhukas saved me from sins!
It is a profound construction of two syllables to say the least. One cannot but marvel at the genius of this great Acharyan who effortlessly intertwined sound and meaning that are tightly coupled to celebrate the glory of Sri Ranganatha Paadhukas. It is no wonder why Swami Desikan is hailed by all as ‘Kavi-Kesari’.
He was known as ‘Kavi-kesari’ also for his mastery over phonetics and linguistics. He could create beautiful sound out of words and words out of pure sound. As an example of the first case, the two verses from the Kamasika Ashtakam are presented below. In these Stotrams, Swami Desikan evokes the fearsome, awe-inspiring image of ‘Jwala-Nrsimha’ Avataar of Sriman Narayana.
The Shlokas from the Kamasika Ashtagam have been composed with hard syllables to create guttural-sound, intended to deliver the effect of an angry roaring lion:
Vikaswara nakha swaru kshatha Hiranya vaksha sthalee,
Niragala vinirgalath rudhira Sindhu sandhyayithaa,
Avanthu madha nasika manuja Pancha vakthrasya maam,
Aham prathamikaa mitha prakatithaa havaa bhagava ||6||
Meaning: With his open claws, He tore open the chest of Hiranyakashipu, and the blood flowed non-stop like a river, which made his claws like that of a red thunderbolt. I worship the Man-Lion form of Kamasika, Whose hands compete with each other to protect His devotees and Who declares war on those who try to harm His devotees.
Sataa patala bheeshane, sarbha saa attahaso adbhate,
Sphurath kruthi parisphutath bruguti kepi vakthre kruthe,
Krupaa kapata kesarin dhaunuja dimba datha sthanaa,
Saroja dhrusaa adrusaa vyathi bhishajya they vyajyathe ||7||
Meaning: With fearsome thick mane and loud reverberating majestic laughter, brows brandishing immense anger but His lotus eyes dripping with mercy towards the child (Prahlada) of that Asura (Hirayakashipu), He appeared in form of a roaring Lion but with the true karunya guna of a mother.
His compositions in Sanksrit were peerless, perhaps only matched by Kalidasa. Even till this day, scholars find it arduous to sufficiently describe the power of his poetry that has so much depth and diversity. Hence, Swami Desikan is aptly known as ‘Kavi Kesari’, a Lion amongst Poets.
Swami Desikan was not only a ‘Kavi Kesari’ but also a ‘Tarkika Simham’, a lion that struck dread in the hearts of ideological adversaries. The word ‘tarka’ in Sanskrit refers to a highly technical method of reasoning based on complex and formal rules of ratiocination. Tarka usually involves long debates (‘Vaadha’) and discourse between exponents of rival schools of philosophy.
During the 13th century CE some some extreme elements in the school of Advaitins, through aggresive polemics and propaganda, began to undermine the vast influence of VisishtAdvaita Vedanta wielded amongst its followers in its own bastion, the temple-town of Srirangam. These Advaitins began to seriously question the Vedic basis for the authority and validity of Sri Ramanuja’s ‘Siddhantha’.
Periya Vaachaan Pillai, Pillai Loka-Acharya and others sought the advise of the veteran Acharya Sudarsana Bhattar. Sudarsana Bhattar said that it was only Swami Desikan who could save the situation and sent a letter to Kanchi inviting Thuppul Pillai, Swami Desikan, to face the challenge from his opponents.
Swami Desikan left for Srirangam and on the way he visited Sri Perumpudhur, the birth place of Sri Ramanuja-Acharya, and composed a Stotra on Sri Ramanuja to seek his blessings for the debate. This Shloka is called Yatirja Saptati which glorifies all our Acharyas and Sri Ramanuja in particular.
In Srirangam the debate with schloars of other sampradayas went for 7 days and finally Swami Desikan demolished every argument of their philosophies. The scholars who had debated with Swami Desikan accepted defeat and become his disciples. This debate has been compiled as Satha dhudhani.
Lord Ranganatha was pleased with Swami Desikan’s intelligence and conferred him the title of ‘Vedantachariar’ through the temple priest. Sri Ranganayaki thaayar conferred the title of ‘Sarva Tantra Swatantrar’ which means that he is master of all arts, crafts.
During the 50-odd years of his life in Sri Rangam, he authored some of the most profound and formidable works ever to be written in the annals of VisishtAdvaita Vedanta.
The philosophy of Sri Ramanuja, as authored in ‘Sri-Bashyam’ about two centuries earlier, found its fullest and most sophisticated expression in Desikan’s philosophical works, some of which were pure treatise and some counter-polemics. Swami Desikan’s most famous works, the ‘tattva-mukta-kalapa’, ‘Sarvartha-Siddhi’ and the ‘Sata-dushani’, were all authored around this time. Together, they constituted by far the most solid and irrefutable defense of the school of Sri Ramanuja’s VisishtAdvaita Vedanta against every known rival Vedantic system that challenged his philosophy.
In recognition of Swami Desikan’s services to the firm establishment of one of the greatest schools of Vedantic philosophy, Sri RamanujAcharya’s VisishtAdvaita Siddhantam, the other acharyas declared that Swami Desikan as ‘Tarkika Simham’.
There was another reason for Venkatanathan’s reputation to grow as a ‘Tarkika-simham’. Some sections of Vedic orthodoxy in Sri Rangam objected to the rendition of Azhwar’s Tamil ‘Divya-Prabhandham’ which Sri RamanujAcharya had introduced into temple rituals and festivities. They resented the status given to the Tamil ‘marai’ by Sri Ramanuja equal to that of the timeless Vedas that were in Sanskrit.
Swami Desikan, though a deep Vedic adherent himself, stoutly defended the mysticism of the Azhwar’s Tamil ‘marai’. In two magnificent works titled ‘Dravida Upanishad-tatparya-ratnavali’ and ‘Dravida Upanishad Saaram’, Swami Desikan demonstrated Sri NammAzhwAr’s Thiruvai Mozhi as the perfect and peerless Tamil equivalent of the Vedantic Upanishads. He explained how the Vedas and the Divya Prabhandam together constituted the bed-rock of a unique tradition of Vedanta called ‘Ubhaya-Vedanta’ — the twin-fold way to Vedanta.
The recitation of Azhwar’s Divya-prabhandham prevails and flourishes in all Sri Vaishnava temples is due to the relentless efforts of Swami Desikan, the ‘Tarkika Simham’.
Kalyana Guna Shali
Swami Desikan was bestowed with many rare and sublime qualities and was aptly called ‘Kalyana Guna-Shali’. Two of his outstanding qualities were his courage and his compassion. He was utterly fearless (‘nirbhaya’) and full of compassion (‘Karunyan’). And because he was utterly fearless, he was also utterly compassionate towards a world around him that was mired in fear of every conceivable kind. The fears and anxieties that beset ordinary men in life held no dread for Desikan. Poverty, disease, old age, social approval etc. never mattered to him.
Throughout his life he held steadfast to the age-old value of ‘simple living and high thinking’. He shunned wealth that was offered to him and never sought any position or financial gain for himself or his family. Once his friend Vidyaranya of the Vijayanagara Court sent him an invitation to serve as a full-time royal poet-laureate. He wrote to his friend in Vijayanagara, that the only wealth and heirloom that he coveted was already with him. He mentioned that the everpresent resident of the Hastigiri Hill in Kanchi was his ultimate wealth, referring to Lord Varadaraja of Kanchi. He responded to Vidyaranya with ‘Vairagya-panchakam’ Stotram.
Once a magician confronted Swami Desikan and drank water from a pond. With his magical powers, the magician made Swami’s stomach bulge as he drank water from the pond. Swami Desikan, while with his disciples, felt uneasy and immediately understood the trickery. Swami Desikan just scratched a pillar nearby with his fingernails and the water flowed out of the pillar. The magician was shocked with the super magic of Swami Desikan and begged his pardon.
Once a snake charmer challenged Swami Desikan to control his poisonous snakes. Swami Desikan drew a chalk line on the ground and recited some mantra. None of the snakes could cross over the line drawn by the Swami but one ferocious snake crossed over to harm Swami. Swami Desikan immediately recited the Garuda mantram and instantly Garuda came and took away all the snakes. The Snake Charmer begged Swami Desikan’s forgiveness and requeted him to give back his snakes as it was his only livelihood. Swami Desikan again prayed to Garuda to return the snakes.
Once, Swami Desikan was on a pilgrimage trip and he rested in the thinnai of a house for the night. Since he could not get anything to offer as Naivedyam to the Lord, he just offered some water to the Lord with a heavy heart and went to bed on an empty stomach. Suddenly, he was awakened by the landlord who reported that a white horse was eating the grain in his stores. Swami understood that it was the Leela of Sri Hayagreeva and comforted the house owner. He asked the landlord to bring some milk and offered it to his upasana murthy. Thereupon, the horse disappeared and the next morning, when the landlord went to his shop he saw all the sacks were fully laden with gold. He offered the gold to Swami Desikan, but as usual Swami refused.
Swami was requested to preside over as the moderator in a debate between the Advaitha Vidhvan, Vidhyaranyar and Dvaita Vidhvan, Akshobhya. Although Vidhyaranyar was his childhood friend, after hearing the arguments of both the vidhvans, Swami gave an impartial ruling that Akshobhya’s views were in accordance with Pramanas and settled the dispute.
Once Swami Desikan was performing the annual rites for his late parents. Unfortunately nobody came for eating on the occasion of the observance, but Swami did not lose heart. He put the banana leaf and served all the items and prayed to the Lord. Lord answered his prayers and instantly Lord Devaraja, Lord Hayagreeva and Lord Srinivasa came in person and partook the offering on the occasion.
Once a young boy wanted some money for marriage and approached the wealthy people in Kanchipuram. They were jealous of Sri Desikan’s simplicity and not seeking any financial help from them. Just to embarrass Swami Desikan, they told that only Desikan can give lots of money because he is rich. The boy did not know the evil intention of the jealous people and went to Swami Desikan for financial help.
Swami Desikan took the young boy to Thayar Sannidhi and started reciting Sri Sthuthi and lo and behold it started raining gold coins. Swami Desikan thanked the Thayar for her mercy and told the boy to take as much he wanted and did not take any coin for himself. The jealous people were shocked at this incident and came rushing to seek forgivenss of Swami Desikan.
Swami’s visit to Melkote, Karnataka.
In the year 1327, Srirangam city was invaded by Mughals. The General of the Sultan of Delhi ransacked the temple and savagely attacked the people. The temple was closed and many bhagavathas were killed by the brutal invaders forcing people to flee Srirangam. Sri Sudharshana Bhattar, the author of the famous commentary on Ramanuja’s Sri Bashyam known as Shrutha Prakaashika, was one of those who could not escape. He however passed on the book and asked Swami Desikan to take his two young children in his safe custody. While some acharyas left for Tirupati with the idol of Ranganatha, Swami Desikan had to hide among the corpses (with the two young boys) for one night before travelling to Satyagalam.
Swami was crying for the death of many acharyas and bhagavathas by the ruthless invaders. We can even see the place where he stayed in Karnataka and the vigraham of Swami Desikan is unique as he is in standing posture, as if he was on his toes, ready to travel back to Srirangam.
During his stay in Satyagalam, Swami Desikan wrote the ‘Abhiti-stavam’ Stotra, that dealt with the story of human struggle to conquer the primal fear of death became one of the marvellous themes, praying to Sri Ranganatha to restore the glory of Srirangam.
Swami Desikan was a man of great compassion and was acutely aware of the social ills and problems of the world around him and deeply empathised with the community and wished for their welfare. An example of Desikan’s compassion for the commoner is the ‘Sudharsana Ashtakam’ Stotram. He composed this Stotram upon seeing the plight of the people struck by a devastating epidemic in a village near Kanchi. It became at once both a prayer of hope and a therapy for relief at a time of great calamity for the people of Kanchi.
Once a mason challenged Swami Desikan to construct a well with the bricks supplied by him. Swami Desikan accepted the challenge. The mason gave broken and irregular shaped bricks to Swami Desikan.
Despite this Swami arranged them nicely and finished the construction of the well successfully. This well exists even today in Thiruvaheendrapuram.
Again at another time a sculptor challenged swami whether he can make an idol of himself and fitted in the pedastal that was made by the sculptor. Swami made an idol and the sculptor tried to fix it in the pedastal and could not do so. He thought that the idol was wrong and tried to chisel some part of the idol to fix it. Blood flowed out of desika’s corresponding part of the body where he chiseled out. The sculptor accepted that the pedastal is of wrong size and then Swami Desikan corrected the pedastal and installed the idol on it. This image is even today available in Thiruvaheendrapuram.
Once a shoe maker challenged that whether Swami Desikan can mend his sandal and Swami accepted this challenge and to every one’s surprise he made the sandal quickly as if he was a skilled shoe maker. People were astonished at Swami Desikan’s knowledge in various crafts.
Swami Desikan as Sarva Tantra Swatantrar (Master of all arts, crafts):
There are many incidents in Swami Desikan’s life which prove that he is not just an acharya or poet. He was well versed with many other crafts and the following three incidents prove this point.
Swami Desikan was without doubt a ‘Kalyana-Guna-Shali extra-ordinaire.
When Swami Desikan returned to Srirangam after 12 years in Satyagalam, it was time for yearly utsavams when the entire Divya Prabandham are recited in 20 days. The first ten days the utsavam is during the day and for the next 10 days it is in the night. Since this utsavam was stopped for many years due to Muslim invasion, the orthodox people objected to recitation of Divya Prabandham since it is in Tamil and only Sanskrit vedas should be recited. They also objected to install vigrahas of Azhvars because they were just human beings and many of them were not even Brahmins. Swami Desikan argued with them at length proving that the divya prabandham is nothing but the essence of Vedas and Upanishads and the Azhvars are great devotees of Sriman Narayana and they are fit to be worshipped in side the temple. Finally the orthodox devotees agreed with Sri Desikan and the utsavam has been celebrated in a grand manner. Swami was pained to see the objections and to make sure no such problems in the future he has got the details of the utsavam written in a stone and installed in the temple. Sri Ranganatha was pleased with this and commended that the Thaniyan glorifying Swami Desikan “Ramanuja daya patram….” should be recited every day in the temple before starting the Divya Prabandham recitation.
While at Srirangam Swami composed the famous Bhagavad Dhyana Sopanam glorifying the beauty of the Sri Ranganatha from the feet to the head. This Stotram is like the Amalanaadhi piran of Sri Thirupaan Azhwar.
Swami Desikan was the first Acharya in the Vedantic tradition who boldly went as far as to define God’s quality of Universal compassion as being not merely a theological necessity but a philosophical axiom and said that a God without compassion would be a contradiction. Since we see that compassion exists in this world, therefore we should conclude that God too must exist. He added a fourth dimension ‘Daya’ to the Upanishad definition of Brahman viz. Satyam, Jnanam, and Anantham. It became the central theme of his famous ‘Daya Satakam’, a Stotram only a man possessing great ‘Daya’ could have ever composed.
Swami Venkatanathan was above all a Vedanta Guru as recited in the verse ‘Srimathe Venkateshaya Vedanta-Gurave Namah’. Sri Desikan showed his followers the true way of living, both in practice and precept, by setting out how one should lead their life and what purpose is to be achieved by human existence. He expounded on Vedanta with his illumining insights thereby providing a wonderful ‘Vedanta-marga’ in a way never accomplished by any of the great Scholars before his time.
One of the greatest pathways of Vedanta shown by Swami Desikan is contained in ‘Paramapada-Sobanam’. It is a magnificent work wherein he set out in a cogent and easily comprehensible manner the ‘Art of Living’.
The word ‘Parama-padam’ means ‘highest state of existence’. The word ‘sobanam’ is commonly understood to mean a hymn that describes anything in graphic detail from ‘start’ to ‘finish’. Sobanam can also mean a multi-tiered stairway, a sort of tiered structure increasing in height. These stepping-stones are called ‘pariankam’ in Sanskrit. Swami Desikan’s ‘Paramapada Sobanam’ refers to a step-by-step approach that leads, slowly but surely, from the bottom-most rung of existence to the ‘highest state of human existence’.
Swami’s last days:
In the last stages of his life, Swami Venkatanathan lived happily for many years in Sri Rangam amidst peers and disciples. He became a highly renowned and venerated ‘VedantaAcharya’. His fame spread far and wide in the country. He presided over a period in history when the school of ‘Sri-Ramanuja-Darsanam’ flourished and the SriVaishnava tradition grew and the institutions strengthened.
Swami Desikan lived for 101 years and in the year 1369 CE, he felt that the time had come for him to leave for the spritual abode of Sriman Narayana. He went to Sri Ranganatha and took his permission. His disciples and his son were sobbing inconsolably. Swami Desikan consoled them and instructed them to continue their divine works and follow the Ramanuja Darshanam. He kept his head on the lap of his son Kumara Varadhachariar and left his mortal coil while listening to the chanting of Thiruvai Mozhi and Upanishads.
Later Sri Ranganayaki Thaayar ordered that a Sannidhi should be made for Swami Desikan close to her Sannidhi inside the temple. One can see the Swami Desikan’s Sannidhi in front of the Thaayaar Sannidhi in Srirangam.
In 1369 CE, Swami Desikan passed away in Sri Rangam. His son, Varadachariar composed the immortal ‘Thanian’ by which we know Swami Desikan’s life and work today (meanings given earlier):
Sriman Venkatanatharya Kavi-Tarkika Kesari |
VedantAcharya varyome Sannidhatam sadahrudi ||
Kavi-Tarkika Simhaya Kalyana Guna shaline |
Srimathe Venkatesheya Vedanta Gurave Namaha ||
Sri Pillai Lokacharya composed this Thaniyan on Swami Desikan which is recited before the Desika Prabandham:
Seeronru Thuppul Thiruvenkata mudaiyan
Par onra chonna pazhamozhiyul- Orondru
Thane amaiyadho Dharaniyil Vazhvorkku
Vanerap Poma Lavum Vazhvu ||
Meaning: For a person who desires to ascend to the Satya Loka, even a single statement of the great Acharya, Thuppul Thiuvenkadamudaiyan (Sri Vedanta Desikan) uttered by him for the benefit of humanity would be sufficient to lift him up to his desired goal.
When we reflect upon the moving tributes above, we can visualise the unparalleled nature of Swmai Desikan as Kavi-Kesari, Tarkika Simham, Kalyana Guna Shali and the Vedanta Guru. The Lion that he was amongst poets and philosophers, as a ‘Kalyana Guna Shali’, a person of rare and sublime human qualities and as a VedantAcharya’ or ‘Vedanta-Guru’, a preceptor who showed the way.
Swami Desikan was a great poet, philosopher, logician and took upon the task of upholding the concepts preached by Sri Ramanuja. It is because of him the
Ramanuja Darshanam is being recogonised and is widely practiced.
No other Acharya among the followers of Sri Ramanuja have fought for the rightful place for Divya Prabandham as did Swami Desikan. It was he who re established the recitation of Divya Prabanhdam in Srirangam and other temples.
Swami Desikan has composed more than 100 works and it will take more than a lifetime to read and comprehend them. His Tamil prabandhams are equally delightful and they bring the essence of Vedas in Tamil prabandhams. He also translated the Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi to Sanskrit. His Sanskrit was considered to be as sweet as that Mahakavi Kalidasa.
Let us pray to this great VedantAcharya and seek his blessings.
Swami Desikan Thiruvadigale Saranam _/\_