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Desika Darsanam - 26. Sri Garuda Dhandakam
Natteri P. Srihari (a) Lakshmi Narasimhacharyar, Chennai.

Desika DarsanamSri Garuda, variously known as Garuthmaan, Vainatheya, Suparna, etc., is the devout vehicle of Lord Vishnu. A Nithya Soori, he symbolises eternal and committed service to God by being ever ready and literally waiting in his wings for His call for a journey. Furthermore, he is an embodiment of the Vedas and reigns in the Lord's flag.

Swami Desika has authored two hymns on Garuda, namely, Sri Garuda Dhandakam and Sri Garuda Panchasath. The former, which under review here, is a unique sthothra in the sense that it is the only hymn composed by our Acharya in the Dhandaka format, which is as majestic as it is rhythmic.

The hymn Garuda Dhandakam is made up of the customary invocation, followed by the Dhandaka, a poetic prose which is split into four quarters for convenience sake, one sloka delineating the structure of the Dhandaka and concludes with the phala sruti.

As pointed out by Sri Desika himself in the penultimate sloka, the novelly-structured Dandaka has 36 Ganaas (groups) in each of its four quarters. A Ganaa is a combination of three syllables. That makes it 108 syllables per quarter.

A normal sloka consists of four quarters and the number of syllables per quarter should not exceed 26. This is called 'Chhandhas' or 'Vruththa'. When it exceeds the limit, it can be in the form of a Dhandaka. Here also, the number of Ganaas has to be in the multiples of three. For instance, a quarter of 27 syllables will have nine Ganaas, 30 syllables 10 Ganaas, and so on. The Dhandaka in this hymn is a fairly long one having 36 Ganaas per quarter, which is 108 syllables.

Of the 36 Ganaas in each quarter, the first two are "Na" (consisting of three short syllables each) and the rest 34 are "Ra" (consisting of one long, one short and another long syllable), resulting in a resplendent rhythm and a delectable listening experience. Overall, the enchanting Dhandaka consists of 432 syllables (4 x 108).

The birth of the hymn has its origin in an interesting anecdote. Once when Swami Desika was at Sri Kanchi, a snake-charmer challenged him to prove that he indeed was a "Sarva-thanthra Svathanthra". He let loose a deadly serpent on our Acharya, who chanted the Garuda Manthra and invoked his grace. There emerged Garuda from the sky and whisked away the serpent. The bemused and humbled snake-charmer realised his folly and surrendered to Swami Desika and pleaded with him to secure the snake as it was his only source of sustenance. Our Acharya, ever so merciful, pardoned him and composed the Dhandakam. Garuda came back as if by magic and dropped the snake and flew away.

In a crisp invocation, the composer salutes Garuda, "whose body is encircled by serpents like ornaments, who is subservient to the Lord of Vaikunta, who is a virtual Manthara mountain in churning out the nectar (essence) from the Vedas and who has wonderful wings."

Various characteristics of Garuda are brought forth in the Dhandaka, which include:

As phala sruti, the author says, "Garuda Dhandaka, which is capable of securing multifarious rewards for those who chant it, was composed by an erudite Venkatesa, for the pleasure of the Lord". As is evident, this is another hymn named by our Acharya himself.

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Next in series: 27. Sri Garuda Panchasath, on March 2, 2008.

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