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Desika Darsanam - 10. Sri Ashtabhuja Ashtakam
Natteri P. Srihari (a) Lakshmi Narasimhacharyar, Chennai.

Desika DarsanamA ‘strikingly’ different Lord, what with His eight arms and a matching number of ‘weapons’, is the addressee of this hymn by Swami Desika. While the familiar form of Archa murthy of Lord Vishnu is the one having four arms, this deity Ashtabhuja (Moolavar) assumed eight, all for the sake of His ardent devotees, to whose succour he jumps to in their times of distress. This nature of the Lord has well been brought out by the author in the final verse.

The eight arms, besides the conventional five weapons - the discus, conch, sword, mace and bow - also carry arrow, spear and a lotus. Our Acharya, says that His anxiety in saving those surrendering souls led to His doubling up His arms. The Uthsavar, however, presents Himself with the customary four arms.

This Divyadesam is also situated near the Hasthigiri (Kancheepuram) and the emergence of Lord Ashtabhuja, again, has its bearings in the episode involving the Aswamedha Yaga performed by Brahma. The legend has it that the Lord manifested to destroy the demons who were up to disrupting the sacrifice. He fulfilled that (destruction) with aplomb, carrying those weapons and saved the yaga.

‘Ashtabhujam’ refers to ‘one with eight arms’ and ‘akaram’ means the ‘dwelling place’. That’s how this Divyadesam derived its name Ashtabhujakaram. Ashtakam means a set of eight. This is a hymn of eight verses (followed by one each for phala sruti and signing off), and Swami Desika himself has named it as “Srimath Ashtabhuja Ashtakam” (Sloka No. 9).

Peyazhwar performs Mangalaasaasanam to this Lord as the victorious one “who carries eight weapons and who, in the yore, wielded His discus over a crocodile and saved an elephant” - Moonraam Thiruvantaaadhi (99).

Our Acharya, perhaps, taking a cue from the Azhwar, begins this hymn with a reference to this anecdote. In a self-deprecative mode, he likens the five sensual organs (pancha indhriyas) which had subjected him to worldly pleasure, to crocodiles and surrenders to Lord Ashtabhuja with a plea to free him from the clapping of the crocodiles (senses) just as He came running in a tearing hurry to the rescue of Gajendra, the King of Elephants. Hence the Lord is also known as Gajendra Varada and Aadhi Kesava and so is the pond, which was the scene of the incident, called Gajendra Pushkarini.

Peyazhwar’s “Chakkaraththaan Thaal Mudhale Nangatku-Charvu” (சக்கரத்தான் தாள் முதலே நங்கட்க்குச் சார்வு) and Swami Desika’s “Aaptham Sadhaam Ashtabhujam Prapadhye” (ஆப்தம் ஸதாம் அஷ்டபுஜம் ப்ரபத்யே) make for an interesting comparison, as both lay emphasis on Prapathi. While in the former, the Azhwar declares Lord Ashtabhuja as “our sole refuge”, in the latter, the Acharya says, “I surrender to the Lord who is a well-wisher of pious people”. That by pious people, he must have meant among others, Gajendra Azhwan and Peyazhwar himself, is a logical inference.

In the twin highlights of the hymn the fifth and sixth slokas Sri Desika, submits his destituteness and declares in no uncertain terms, that He and none else, can be the saviour under all circumstances.

“I would not consider anyone other than You as being capable of obviating my fear. When You are all compassion for me, where can the fear come from? Or, for that matter, who can save me when You are incensed?”, he asks Lord Ashtabhuja in the first instance.

Expressing similar sentiments in the next sloka, Swami Desika places the entire responsibility of saving him on the Lord, the Consort of Lakshmi. He notes, “I being yours, it’s incumbent upon You to provide me succour. My refuge, if you choose to save me, my efforts are meaningless. Conversely, if You decide to give me the cold shoulder, again, any amount of effort from me will not suffice. Either way, my efforts will be a total waste”.

The use of the term ‘Kamala Sahaya’ to refer the Lord in the above sloka which emphasises the importance of Prapathi, is a master stroke by the composer (Thvadheka Thanthram ... - (I) belong to you). He appropriately invokes the help of ‘Periya Piraatti’ for rendering Purushakaaram (recommendation), so that the Lord would save him without ever the need for his own efforts, which he says, anyway amounts to nothing.

In the eighth sloka, as post-Prapathi prayer, our Acharya seeks from the Lord spotless and ceaseless kainkaryam under His lotus feet till such time he lived in this world.

The ninth sloka, the phala sruti, is invested with a tasty analogy. Thus says the author, “to those who have performed Prapathi and are on their way to Moksha, this sthothra would serve as delicious food carried by people on journey; for the would-be Prapannas though, it is an appetiser which would make them hungry for their surrender to Him; all in all, this hymn will ensure welfare for the whole world.” Given the backdrop to the emergence of Lord Gajendra Varada, one can rest assured that He would come to the rescue in a trice.

Finally, as a concluding remark, ‘Sri Venkatesa’, the author, aptly seeks acceptance of the hymn of eight slokas (main part) by the Lord with eight arms.

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Next in series: 11. Sri Kamasika Ashtakam, on July 22, 2007.

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