One Is The Root-cause And The Other Is The Revelation
The Vedas and the Divya Prabandham are the hallmarks of our Sri Sampradaya. While the Vedas thrive on Brahmanathvam, Azhwars’ great works are prominent tools for Vaishnavathvam.
The Vedas are described as the breath of the Lord Supremo Sriman Narayana. They unequivocally assert the supremacy of Vishnu. But their comprehensive, cryptic and complex nature resulted in their better part being incomprehensible. It took the infinite mercy of the Lord Himself to be born as Azhwars through His own features like the Discus, the Conch, etc. and expound the essence of the Vedas in verses soaked in devotion, sweetness and succinctness.
Swami Desika, in the first verse of Adhikaara Sangraham, says that with the help of Aruli-cheyal, we are able to “comprehend the things which hitherto remained cryptic” (தெளியாத மறைநிலங்கள் தெளிகின்றோமே). In the sixth Paasuram, he hails Sriman Nathamuni as the one who taught the sweet and lilting Tamil works of Azhwars (தாளம் வழங்கித் தமிழ்மறை இன்னிசை தந்த வள்ளல்). Further, he calls the Divya Prabandham as ‘sweet musical Tamil Vedam’ and salutes its exponents, in Paasuram No. 22 (நம் பண்ணமரும் தமிழ்வேதம் அறிந்த பகவர்களே).
To draw a metaphorical parallel, the Vedas are raw, unprocessed gold bar and their Tamil counterpart a nicely carved out idol. The gold without the carving will offer little beauty to the common man and the idol without the valuable raw material could not have emerged. Similarly, Azhwars’ works without their originals are improbable just as the Vedas without Aruli-cheyal are incomprehensible. The point to be noted here is without the carving and the resultant idol form, the beauty of the gold would largely remain inconspicuous and unappreciable. In essence, if the Vedas are the root-cause of our philosophy, Azhwars’ pourings are the revelation. Divya Prabandham corroborates and complements the Vedas and concretises our glorious Sampradaya.
The Vedas and Divya Prabandham are like the two eyes and hence indispensable for our Sanaathana Dharma-ridden tradition. Though Azhwars were of different creed and caste they followed the Varnaasrama Dharma as laid down in the scriptures to the letter.
An incident in the life of Thirumazhisai Azhwar is as interesting as it is educative. During a temple Uthsavam there was the procession on and as is the custom the Vedaparayana Ghoshti followed the Lord. The Vedic scholars paused the chanting for a moment and while resuming forgot where to continue from. The Azhwar, a Divine Avathara that he was, knew all the Vedas intuitively but since he was born of a low caste, could not chant them. But he wanted to somehow help the scholars to continue from where they had left, and so, did it adroitly and suggestively.
He simply pulled a grass of the black paddy grain and tore it into pieces to indicate what has to be chanted (க்ருஷ்ணானாம் வ்ருஹீணாம் நகநிர்பிந்நம்! -- meaning tearing the black paddy grass).
His commitment to the Varnaasrama Dharma also finds expression in Paasuram No. 90 of Thiru-chandha Viruththam (குலங்களாய ஈரிரண்டில் ஒன்றிலும் பிறந்திலேன் -- “I have not been born in any of the top four castes”). It was a faith, a principle ever so assiduously followed by all the Azhwars.
“Vedaath Saasthram Param Naasthi”, “Veda: Akhila: Dharma Moolam”, “Idham Vedamoola Pramaanaath” are some of the well-known references that highlight the stature of the Vedas as the ultimate authority.
வேதம் வல்லார்களைக் கொண்டு விண்ணோர் பெருமான் திருப்பாதம் பணிந்து… -- “We should seek to worship the Lord lead by Vedic scholars”, says Nammazhwar (Thiruvoymozhi 4-6-8).
Nammazhwar’s four Prabandhams are held to be the essence of the four Vedas. Madhurakavi Azhwar, referring to his Acharya-God Nammazhwar affirms:
மிக்க வேதியர் வேதத்தின் உட்பொருள் நிற்கப்பாடி என் நெஞ்சுள் நிறுத்தினான்…
“(Satakopa) instilled in my heart the deep sense of Vedic thought, through his songs…”
Thirumangai Azhwar, throughout all his works extols the greatness of the Vedas and their practitioners. Andal’s ThirupPaavai is hailed as the seed of all the Vedas (வேதமனைத்துக்கும் வித்து), in the sense that it contains in a nut shell all that is found in the Vedas.
Sri Bhagavath Ramanuja, though he did not compose any Tamil work, was an authority on Divya Prabandham and conducted regular Kaalakshepams of Divya Prabandham. In fact, he directed his nephew ThirukKurugaipPiraan Pillaan to write a short commentary for Thiruvoymozhi which is known as the 6,000 Padi. Also the Acharya has composed Thaniyans for Divya Prabandham in Tamil. He became the elder brother of Andal (பெரும்பூதூர் மாமுனிக்குப் பின்னானாள்) by fulfilling her promise of offering 100 containers of butter and Akkaaravadisil to the Lord of Thirumaalirun-cholai (Naachiyaar Thirumozhi 9-6).
Sarva Thanthra Swathanthra Swami Desika, a master par excellence in both the disciplines, has composed 24 Prabandhams in Tamil (of which five are extinct). He always held the Vedas and the Divya Prabandham in equal esteem and revered the scholars of both the disciplines. In Meyviradha Maanmiyam, he says “Long live the Vedic scholars of the region of Thondai Naadu; long live the exponents of the pure Southern Veda” (தொண்டை மண்டல வேதியர் வாழவே, தூய தென்மறை வல்லவர் வாழவே!). It was the great Acharya who helped the resumption of Divya Prabandham recitation in the temple of Lord Varadaraja when a section of the people objected to the Azhwars’ works being recited and stopped the custom.
Therefore both the Vedas and the Divya Prabandham are of equally paramount importance to our Sampradaya and there is no question of superiority of one over the other. Any effort to undermine either in favour of the other would not only be preposterous but also detrimental to the cause of the Sampradaya.
The call of the hour is a concerted and a conscious endeavour to promote both the Vedas and Divya Prabandham and help their sustenance and thriving. It is the bounden duty of every Srivaishnava to direct his/her effort towards that goal.
Meet you in the next Note.
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