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Desika Darsanam - 14. Sri Achyutha Sathakam
Natteri P. Srihari (a) Lakshmi Narasimhacharyar, Chennai.

Desika DarsanamSri Achyutha Sathakam is a unique hymn by Swami Desika, set in Praakruth, an unrefined variation of the Sanskrit language. The addressee of the sthothra is Lord Achyutha, another name for Devanatha of Thiruvaheendrapuram. ‘Achyutha’ means ‘one who does not let slip’, implying that He is one who does not let His devotees down. It is only apt that ‘Daasa Sathya’ or ‘Adiyavarkku Meyyan’ is called ‘Achyutha’ as He is one who would not give up His devotee as He is truthful to him.

A contextual reference can be drawn from Sri Desika’s Tamil Prabandham ‘Navamani Maalai’ (நவமணி மாலை). Here, our Acharya most aesthetically conjures up situations wherein the Lord has donned the role of ‘saviour’ as he seeks His emphatic protection for himself:

'அஞ்சல் அஞ்சல் அஞ்சல்' என்று அளிக்கவேண்டும் அச்சுதா
அடியவர்க்கு மருள் இயக்கும் அடியவர்க்கு மெய்யனே! (8)

The use of ‘Achyutha’ and ‘Adiyavarkku Meyyane’ in one breath makes for enjoyable study while underlining the above point.

A sathakam as we have already seen (in Sri Daya Sathakam), denotes a century of slokas and the customary signing off in the final verse (101st) caps this hymn, a rare gem. This Sthothra confers on Lord Devanatha the distinction of the lone recipient of compositions (totalling nine) in three different languages by the great master, as provided in the following break-up.

In the olden days, Praakruth found extensive usage in stage-plays. It was considered fit to be spoken by people from low rungs, women, illiterates, and court-jesters. The learned also used it when having to speak to these people. It is inferred that the tough grammar, pronunciation and the regal elegance of Sanskrit were out of the grasp of these people. They used the language in a haphazard manner which gradually paved the way for the ‘Praakruth’ dialect, which is essentially colloquial in tone and nature. There are ancient evidences to the effect that the language is fit only for women etc., but the fact that it acquired a grammar of its own gave it an identity of its own.

Possibly, the general impression that women were among its ‘rightful’ users, gave the author the idea to employ the same in this hymn in which he assumes the ‘Nayika Bhava’ (role of a woman) a la Nammazhwar and Thirumangai Azhwar, who have handled this in greater proportions in expressing their devotion to God.

The reason why Swami Desika chose Achyutha for expressing the Nayika Bhava in Praakruth could be because he was so lost in the beauty of this very Lord (exemplified in Sri Devanayaka Panchasath) that when the idea of romance sparked, Achyutha was right there in the forefront of his mind. That there are similar instances (of Nayika Bhava) in Devanayaka Panchasath itself and MummanikKovai strengthens this inference.

In this sthothra also, the author stamps his class throughout as only he can. Starting off the hymn with an animated call to the devotees to worship the Lord who has four names, i.e., Devanatha, Daasa Sathya, Achyutha and Sthira Jyothi, he makes an interesting submission marked by modesty, in the fourth sloka. He says, “Amidst the line-up of the great Vedas which extol your greatness in the assembly of Nithyas and Mukthas, let this simplistic hymn of mine be like the words of a jester; but just as kings take pleasure in the words and deeds of jesters, you should also accept and enjoy my rambling”.

Further along the line Sri Desika explores the various attributes that conclusively establish His supremacy, indulges in his pet topic – Thirumeni varnanam, speaks about the greatness of those surrendering to Him, the bliss and extra-ordinary experience that await the surrendered souls in the Archiraadhi Marga and Sri Vaikunta, among other things. There is a spell of verses soaked in his patented and moving self-deprecation.

Since the language as it is spoken is unrefined, the hymn when recited is sweet to the ears and resembles the prattling of children. The tone and tenor of this dialect maybe lowly but it does not take away a wee bit of class and the content’s richness from the hymn. On the contrary, Swami Desika combines his characteristic poise and panache in presenting through this sthothra, profound Vedic truths and principles of our philosophy. Indeed, a testimony to the author’s versatility, if any is required.

Conspicuously there is no phala sruti as such for this sthothra. “May this sweet, beautiful and meritorious Achyutha Sathakam, composed by the ‘Lion among poets and logicians’ and the ‘Acharya of Vedantha’, Venkatesa, live resplendently in the hearts of noble devotees”, says the author as he signs off in style. So, enjoying the beauty of the hymn can, in fact, be considered as the real benediction.

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Next in series: 15. Sri Mahaveera Vaibhavam, on September 16, 2007.

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