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Desika Darsanam - 23. Sri Nyasa Thilakam
Natteri P. Srihari (a) Lakshmi Narasimhacharyar, Chennai.

Desika DarsanamComplementing the other two in the ‘Nyasa’ series, Swami Desika’s Nyasa Thilakam is not only the concluding hymn but also a conclusive one on the concept of Prapathi. Addressed to Lord Ranganatha and comprising 32 slokas, this sthothra is the most expansive of the three.

This hymn to Nyasa Vidhya, is similar to an auspicious mark (Thilakam) on the forehead which enhances the beauty of the face. That Swami Desika himself has so appropriately named the hymn could be seen from the phala sruti.

Studded with several beautiful, philosophy-defining verses (Thilakams within a Thilakam!), this sthothra brings to the fore the grammar and essence of Saranagathi in its pristine form. Such is the mastery and thoroughness of the author that a study of the sthothra, for sure, will leave no trace of doubt whatsoever in one’s mind about the concept. If Swami Desika reserved a special treatment for Vimsathi with his own elaboration, his disciple-son Kumara Varadacharya has conjured a commentary for Thilakam.

A classic invocation serves as a perfect prelude to a sumptuous feast that follows. Ever one steeped in the Sampradaya, Sri Desika commences the hymn on Periya Perumal, fittingly with an all-inclusive salutation to the Acharya Parampara, which the Lord Himself heads. The import and connotation of the sloka is so significant in the context of our tradition that it has been adopted as invocation while commencing rituals with Sankalpa. The all-important sloka is:

குருப்ய: தத்குருப்யச் ச நமோவாகம் அதீமஹே !
வ்ருணீமஹே ச தத்ராத்யௌ தம்பதீ ஜகதாம் பதீ !!

“We utter the word ‘Nama:’ and pray our obeisance to our Acharyas, and also their Acharyas. Further we reckon the foremost of them all, the Divine Couple, who are the head of the entire world, as the means of the goal (Upaya) as well as the goal (Upeya) itself.” It is to be noted that Piraatti is always part of the Godhead along with Narayana and the words “dhampathee Jagathaampathee” read with “Vruneemahe” assumes great significance in that They are both Upaya and Upeya.

The salient features covered in this hymn include among others: Commendation undertaken by Piraatti on our behalf; Glory of Prapathi; Reason why even Prapannaas suffer in this world; Comparison of Bhakthi and Prapathi; Greatness of the Acharya’s glance; The boon Sri Bhashyakara received from Lord Ranganatha and Prayer for eternal service at the Lord’s feet in Sri Vaikunta.

Driving home the point that surrender is to be done once only, in the second sloka, Swami Desika states: “May the right hand of Lord Ranganatha which shows the Abhaya Mudhra (offering fearlessness, with fingers upside) protect me. It would appear that the gesture also dissuades Prapannas from performing Prapathi a second time”. If done again, it will expose the absence of Maha Viswaasam.

It is emphasised in the seventh sloka that the Divine Couple (note ‘both’) of Srirangam are indeed our Masters. “They are seated on the classy cobra-couch smiling at each other at the sweet blabbering of words like ‘Om, thath, sath’ by their child Brahma on the Lord's navel lotus. It is as much a sport to relish for them as are creation, protection and destruction.” The underlying philosophy here is that the Divya Dhampathees, though are notionally separate personalities, functionally they are single.

In the ninth sloka, our great Acharya submits to Lord Ranganatha that the favours He had done to him were innumerable and lists a few of them:

In conclusion, he says that the Lord has already fulfilled a majority of His duties towards him and that only minimal work is to be done (that of leading him after his time to Sri Vaikunta and initiate him into eternal service at His feet).

Various terminologies used as synonyms for Prapathi are mentioned by the author in the 16th sloka, saying that such a practice (of giving multiple names) has been in vogue, as experts in Meemamsa, Vedas, etc. would vouch for. The other names are Saranagathi, Prapadhanam, Thyagam, Athma Nikshepam and Nyasam.

What is the need for an Acharya in performing Prapathi and what is his position therein? These are well established in the 21st sloka. “A blind man walks with the help of one blessed with vision; a lame person seated in a boat is taken to the other shore of the river by the boatman. Favours meant for his servant by the king are enjoyed by other members of the servant’s family without even knowing the king. Similarly, my Acharya so very kindly enables me reach You as I am neither knowledgeable in the matter of Prapathi nor competent to pursue other means of salvation”.

Connection with the lineage that has in it Sri Ramanuja is a matter of great self-esteem and pride. The 22nd sloka explains why it is so. “O! Lord Ranganatha! as Rama and Krishna, You gave re-assuring word to Vibheeshana and Arjuna regarding Prapathi and Moksha. Further, citing these instances, You roused confidence in Sri Bhashyakara and gave him a promise (that Prapathi is a sure means to reach You) when he composed the Gadhyams. Being aware of this and with the knowledge of my association with Sri Ramanuja, conceit has filled my mind. Pray! bestow Your grace on me for ever!”

Sri Desika caps off the hymn with a captivating dual connotation with Thilakam as the pivotal word in the phala sruti. He says that those who adorn their face with this glittering, colourful Thilakam that has been made by poet Venkatesa, who learnt the art from Lord Ranganatha (the other meaning: those who chant this letter-filled (prolific) hymn emanated from the mouth of poet Venkatesa on the directive of Lord Ranganatha) will be blessed with eternal service at the couch of the reclining Lord in this world and beyond.

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Next in series: 24. Sri Sudharsana Ashtakam, on January 20, 2008.

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