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Preceptors of Advaita
The mellifluous poetry of early Sanskrit poets has almost completely appropriated to itself all attention and appreciation. Among the works of later poets probably Jayadeva’s lyrical compositions from the Gitagovinda alone have won an unprecedented popularity. But later compositions have generally never evoked the enthusiasm that early poets have always commanded.
Sanskrit, being the language of culture in India embodying the texts in every field of science and thought, has always been cultivated and enjoyed the patronage of rulers and scholars alike.
Among the later day Sanskrit writers the polymath Appayya Dikshita wrote over a hundred books on a variety of subjects. His nephew Samarapungava Dikshita is the author of Yatraprabandha, a beautiful composition. But it is Appayya’s grand nephew Nilakantha Dikshita who is the most outstanding for originality of thought and beauty of composition. This was in the seventeenth century when Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai patronized art and literature. During this period of the Nayakas of Madurai and Thanjavur several poets enriched Sanskrit literature. Ramabhadra Dikshita and Ratnakheta Dikshita are great names. Sadasiva Brahmendra who composed beautiful songs of devotion and sublime thought wrote a commentary on the Brahma-sutra for the benefit of the beginners in the field of Vedanta.
Bhagavatpada Sankaracharya himself had composed such simple songs as Bhaja-govindam for the easy comprehension of difficult thoughts by even the simplest of folk. His poetic presentation of Advaitic ideas in verses like those in Dakshinamurtistotra is to cater to the taste of intellectually better equipped disciples who are yet not ripe enough to fully comprehend his masterly commentaries on the Brahma-sutra, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita.
It is in this strain that several later day compositions have tried to make difficult philosophic tenets appeal to the layman. There are instances of even allegorical dramas like the Prabodhachandrodaya of Krishnamisra.
It is in this line of compositions that we have the Advaitarasamanjari of Nallakavi who lived in the 18th century. This poet was the author of Subhadraparinayanataka and hailed from the village Kandaramanikya which had also produced earlier the famous poet Uddanda. Nallakavi also wrote a farce Sringarasarvasvabhana. Born of Balachandra Dikshita he had the good fortune to study at the feet of Paramasivendra Sarasvati. He thus came in contact with and obtained the blessings of the most renowned of the disciple of Paramasivendra, i.e., the author of the Brahmatattvaprakasika, an inimitable vritti on the Vedanta-sutra. To this satirthya he specially offers his salutation:
Nallakavi’s authorship of the Advaitarasamanjari is doubted and it is attributed to Sadasivabrahmendra, but there appears to be no reason to doubt the explicit statement of Nallakavi as the author of this work and his special respect for Sadasivendra whom he salutes as he commences his work.
It is as a humble follower in the footsteps of Sadasivabrahmendra and even Sankara Bhagavatpada himself that Nallakavi composed his Advaitarasamanjari which he himself rightly describes as a sweet pill of immortality to help take in the difficult import of the Upanishads which are the bitter though sure remedy for the malady of the cycle of births and deaths:
vitarati nallakavih sudhiyam.
As in the Dakshinamurtistotra, Advaitapanchaka or Satasloki or Vivekachudamani or Prasnottararatnamala of Bhagavatpada, the verses in the Advaitarasamanjari individually unravel in a simple but effective way the well-known thoughts and parables expounded in the texts of the Vedanta. His own simple commentary, replete with appropriate quotations from the Upanishads, Sankara’s Bhashya, Samkshepa-sariraka, Jnanavasishtha, Panchadasaprakarana, Sutasamhita, Anubhutiprakasika, Vartikasara and other books, further clarifies the import of the verses.
Following the lead of Sankara, Nallakavi has this verse:
ajnanam asritavatah sulabha na muktih
dvaram gatasya na bahirgatirarbhakasya,
which closely resembles the thought expressed in..
visvam darpanadrisyamananagaritulyam nijantargatam
pasyannatmani mayaya bahirivodbhutam yatha nidraya
yah sakshatkurute prabodhasamaye svatmanamevadvayam
tasmai srigurumurtaye nama idam sridakshinamurtaye.
Nallakavi is such a staunch Advaitin that he is out for claiming Advaita in what is obviously a combination of two. He feels that even the distinctly different parts of the body of Ganesa like the elephant’s head and human body have come together as one to show the path of Advaita, and in his initial invocatory verse he prays to Ganesa to unravel to him all the truth of Advaita as he manifests Advaita even in his body make-up:
advaitameva paramarthataya vivektum
avishkarotu varado mama vignarajah.
His simple treatment of his subject to bring home the teachings of the Upanishads as in his verse
samprapyate nijapadam varadesikoktya
chorairaranyasaranim gamitena pumsa
deso nijo hi tadabhijna giraiva gamyah
is made very clear in his commentary where he quotes the Chhandogya
‘pandito medhavi gandharanevopasampadyeta
evameveha acharyavan purusho veda’.
While offering the truth of great parables in simple verse as in his
bandho vimochanamiti bhramadurvilasah
tatpanchata cha sutaram parikalpanaiva
he scrupulously gives his source by quoting the verse from the Jnanavasishtha––
brahmaiva bhati nijachittavasat svayambhu
akaravaniva pumaniva vastutastu
vandhyatanuja iva tasyu tu nasti dehah.
That Nallakavi can give a humorous twist to even a philosophical tenet is clear in his verse––
visvam samastamapi vibhramamatrametat
sphurtyaiva visvamapi satyamitishyate chet
ko nama suktirajatena dhani bhavenna,
where the last line cannot fail to bring a smile on the lips of even a rugged philosopher.
The poet discusses the various problems of Advaitic thought in his simple effective verses taking up a theme for each. These are the ones like the rajjusarpa, ghatakasa, suktirajata, vandhyasuta, to mention a few. He gives telling and clear examples to drive home a truth. The illusion of a circle of fire is only as long as a lit faggot is whirled vigorously to produce that illusion. When it is stopped the circle disappears. It is even so with this illusory circle of births and deaths that make the whole series appear a reality in right earnest till it is stopped by true realization that puts an end to nodding.
Based on the bhashya of Bhagavatpada
yathapurvam samsaritvam, yasya tu
yathapurvam samsaritvam nasau
daivadbhramasya viratau samupasthitayam
nalokyate kila pureva punastadeva.
It is the defect of the eye that perceives the moon twined, tripled or multiplied. Even so it is a lack of true perception that helps one to see diversity where only the one Ultimate exists. Nallakavi in commenting on his verse
ekopi sannayam anekataya vibhati
indurdvitiyarahitopi cha sadvitiya-
bhavena bhati purushasya nijakshidoshat
aptly quotes a well-known passage to illustrate effectively his point.
‘nahyayam sthanoraparadhah yadenamandho na pasyati.’
He gives the telling example of chitrapata or a painting with different lines and colours composing different elements of the picture composition in spite of the divinity of all of which it is after all a canvas all through. Quoting
nasyatmano’ntar bahirva chaitanyadanyad
rupamasti; chaitanyameva tu nirantaramasya
svarupam, yatha saindhavaghanasya antarbahischa
lavanarasa eva nirantaro bhavati na rasantaram’
he explains it in his verse
chiddhaturekarasatam na jahati jatu
chitrah pato na patabhavampasyati svam.’
Ingeniously he explains rasavad brahma of Sankara’s exposition:
nireshana brahmanah bahyarasalabhadiva
sananda drisyante vidvamsah;
nunam brahmaiva rasah tesham;
tasmadasti tat tesham anandakaranam
by fully utilising the double entendre or multiplicity of connotation of the word rasa and illustrating the attainment of the divine stream of Ganga instead of the willo’ the wisp of a mirage as exactly what is attained by seers who discard the illusion of the outer world for realizing Brahmarasa or Supreme bliss.
visvam mrisha virasamityavadhirya dhairyat
asvadyate munibhirantarasau rasatma
uchchavacham marumarichirasam nirasya
samsevyate sumatibhih surasindhupurah.
As a contrast he gives the example of the fool who without understanding the true import of the universe as Bliss suffers through his very ignorance. He compares him to a little child who unable to understand the true import of his own shadow on the wall imagines it to be a spirit and shudders:
anandavisphurana rupamapi prapancham
anyam vibhavya paritapamupaiti mugdhah
dipadishu svavapushah paridrisyamanam
chayam vigahya parimuhyati kim na balah.
Nallakavi describes the attitude of one who has realized the truth in a telling verse where he compares the enlightened one unperturbed by the complexities of the illusory world to the one wide awake recalling his wild dreams but never frightened by the image of wild animals pursuing him:
mithya samullasatu nama jagadvichitram
etavatapi mama tattvavido na hanih
na svapnikatvamanusandhato’sti bhitih.
The wise one who has realized this truth and is untouched by these illusions can still carry on in this world as usual to fulfill his normal obligations to society like one who is fully aware that his face is where it is and not in the mirror and yet uses the mirror like any other:
atyantametadasadityapi cha vyavasyan
adhyatmadrishtiranuvartata eva lokam
nastyatra vaktramiti nischayavanapi drak
adatta eva mukuram mukhadarsanaya.
If such a one prefers often to go into a trance or contemplation it is because of a force of habit as there is nothing more for him to do to attain anything as he has already realized the Truth. In this he is like the emperor who has all that he could wish for but still uses the elephants and horses in his play of chess to win his game just to while away his time and because of a force of habit:
sarvatmatamupagato hi munissamadhim
paryaptasarvavibhavah kshitipo hi kala-
niryapanaya jushate chaturangameva.
Such an enlightened one, free from all volition motivated by desire, is amused by scriptural injunctions and prohibitions; even as one lazy beyond measure and completely averse to action enjoys to hear utterances of ‘do and don’t’. Such a saint is truly an emperor among sages and his movement at will cannot be questioned as in the case of an emperor at the peak of his power acting according to the dictates of his mind:
svacchandato vyavaharannapi nanuyojyah
samrajyametya yatharuchi vartamanah
raja prajabhiranuyoktum asakya eva.
One who has experienced the illusory nature of wordly splendour is not lured by its grandeur just as even a passionate youth is not drawn by the blandishments of a boy acting the heroine:
prapanchikastu vibhavah paramadbhuto’pi
dhiram na ranjayati drishtatadiya tattvam
striveshabhushitatanuh purusho vilasaih
tajnam yuvanamapi ranjayitum hi nalam.
On the other hand, having firmly established his mind in the Truth of the Absolute, the seer has no more any concern for worldly enjoyments like one lofty in spirit blessed with a fortune by great good luck can never lower himself again to miserly beggary.
na pragiva vyasanitam vishayeshu dhatte
bhagyat kutaschidapi labdhanidhirmanasvi
kim purvavat kripanatam urarikaroti.
Finally Nallakavi justifies the quotation in his commentary
aryata hrdyata maitri
saumyata samata jnata
samasrayanti tam nityam
by describing how all the great atmagunas or saintly qualities come of their own accord to adorn the seer who has realized the Bliss of the Absolute, just as one who has won over the king as a friend is surrounded and served by the retinue of the royal household––
svadhonite suhridi rajani tasya bhritya
ye te’pi cha svayamupetya tamasrayante.
In concluding with this verse this belief discussion of Nallakavi’s charming poem on Advaita, one cannot help feeling that the one ocular presentation of this thought expressed by the poet is in the personality of our beloved and revered Bhagavatapada Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati himself, who, having realized the Absolute and beaming with all the adhyatmika gunas, is moving amidst us all with no other purpose except that of leading us on to the ‘blessed other shore’, as he is the embodiment of mercy, and we are the kittens to be carried to safety according to the marjarakisora-nyaya.
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