Sarva-Thanthra Swathanthra — A Versatile Genius And More
It is celebration time again at the Temple and elsewhere where there are Swami Desika’s devotees. We are in the middle of the 10-day annual festival that culminates in the grand Saatrumurai on his Thirunakshathram day (Purattaasi-Sravanam) which falls on October 6 this year. The focus and fervour are no less intensive as the Uthsavam coincides with Navarathri as it very often does.
The devotee’s day is made with the majestic processions of the Acharya matching the grandeur of the enchanting Pathi Ulaathal in which he relishes the company of the Divya Dhampathis. The daily Thirumanjanam, chanting of the Vedas and recitation of Divya Prabandham, and the daily Saatrumurais make it a great treat for all. Add to this the Thadheeyaaraadhana, the sumptuousness is replete.
This provides a perfect backdrop to reminisce on our illustrious Acharya. This Note takes a peek at the awards he received in his life time, especially, ‘Sarva-Thanthra Swathanthra’ which was conferred on him by none less than Periya Piraatti. The others are ‘Vedanthacharya’ from Lord Ranganatha Himself and ‘Kavi-Thaarkika Simham’ from his peers.
Kumara Varadacharya — disciple-son of Sri Desika — records this in the opening verse of Desika Mangalam thus:
|ஸர்வ-தந்த்ர ஸ்வதந்த்ராய ஸிம்ஹாய கவி வாதிநாம்!|
|வேதாந்தாசார்ய வர்யாய வேங்கடேசாய மங்களம்!!|
Normally, we see that accolades and awards make the recipient proud. But in Swami Desika’s case, one must say that it is the awards which would have felt blessed. They simply sat snugly on his shoulders.
‘Vedanthacharya’ means ‘Master of philosophy’ and ‘Kavi-Thaarkika Simham’ translates into ‘Lion amongst poets and logicians’. The former was handed to him by the Lord who was overwhelmed by his great works for the cause of Sri Sampradaya and the latter was an acknowledgement by co-scholars of his matchless proficiency in poesy and debates.
But the title ‘Sarva-Thanthra Swathanthra’ is as much interesting as it is unique. A number of incidents in Swami Desika’s life testify to the fact that the accolade was destine4d to adorn him. He was such a great master of all arts that Ranga Naachiyar could not resist acclaiming him with an all-encompassing accolade like that.
Some well-known incidents in the Acharya’s life that fully justify Periya Piraatti’s sweeping gesture, are strung together here.
- Once, when Swami Desika was in Thiruvaheendra Puram, a mason challenged him to build a well with the bricks supplied by him which were uneven and coarse. The Acharya was equal to the task as he completed the well with the same bricks with finesse. This wondrous well is still there for all to see.
- At Kanchi, a snake charmer dared him to tame his snakes which he let out of his baskets. Swami simply drew a few lines and all snakes but one stopped in their strides. The lone snake advanced towards him dangerously but when he chanted the Garuda Manthra, an eagle suddenly few in from nowhere and picked away all the snakes. Having lost his livelihood, the charmer apologised and prostrated before the Acharya. He composed Garuda Dandakam and the eagle came down and dropped all the snakes and flew away. A relieved charmer thanked him profusely and conceded defeat.
- During a pilgrimage towards the South, Swami Desika had to stay in a village with his deity Hayagriva. During midnight, a merchant came running to him and told him that a white horse was causing havoc to the grains in his warehouse and that he was helpless. Swami understood that it was the act of Lord Hayagriva and offered milk to his deity. The horse disappeared at once and the heap of grains was saved. The merchant became his devotee and thenceforth became prosperous.
- A poor bachelor once approached Swami Desika and sought financial help for his marriage. It was a time when our Acharya himself was living in penury. However, he wanted to somehow help the young man. He took the bachelor to the Thayar Sannidhi and spontaneously composed the hymn Sri Sthuthi. It started raining gold coins everywhere and the ever ascetic Acharya asked the groom to take all of it and blessed him.
- Once, a sculptor had the audacity to test Swami’s skills in his art. He told the Acharya that he would make the base of Swami Desika’s idol and that Swami himself was to carve out the form (Thirumeni). Both completed their assigned tasks but the sculptor was unable to fix the form to the base. He tried to overcome the problem by chiseling the idol but to his horror saw Swami’s body bleed. The sculptor realised his folly and apologised for his act. Swami Desika rectified the error in the base and fixed the idol. The idol came out so exquisitely that Swami embraced it with joy and gave it to his son. Later, it was installed in the Thiruvaheendra Puram temple and it is the one which all of us worship even today.
Composing extra-ordinary philosophical works establishing Visishtaadvaita was among the very purposes of his birth. Therefore, his astounding feats such as mastering of all studies before he was 20, composing the masterpiece Paadhuka Sahasram overnight, effortlessly winning numerous debates with scholars of alien faiths, etc. do not find elaboration above.
But what is truly amazing is that someone who was entrenched in tradition and orthodoxy as our Acharya was, could possess such an expertise in different fields and conquer all-comers. The only explanation for this is the fact that Swami Desika was a divine incarnation of Venkatesa, the Lord of Seven Hills. Thus, he is much more than a versatile genius.
Let us salute and celebrate the colossus even as we marvel at his greatness!
Meet you in the next Note.
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