The Spirit Of A Principle Is As Important As The Letter
As noted in these columns earlier, it is really heartening to see an upsurge in devotion to the Lord and Acharyas, commitment to various Kainkaryams, passion for visiting Divyadesams and Abhimaana Sthalams, enthusiasm in learning Divya Prabandham and hymns, involvement in listening to discourses and even attending Kalakshepams. Nammazhwar’s ‘Poliga! Poliga! Poliga!’ comes to the mind.
However, a disconcerting practice which, in fact, has turned into a trend, does not go well with the traditional requirement — that is, in the manner of naming of children. Fashion and phonetic appeal, possibly as a result of passive influence from a mixed society, have increasingly become the driving force in determining the new-borns’ names in many Srivaishnava households. Of course, the name of the Lord is also given to the child. But that remains only in the ‘Sarman’ that is used in the Abhivaadhanam recited after prostrating before elders. This is a clear case of respecting only the letter and not the spirit of a principle.
The very purpose of naming a child after the God is lost with this idea. It is only to invoke the Lord’s grace every time one happens to call out someone by name, that the Saasthras have prescribed that naming should only be after the Lord/Acharyas. Either literally nothing-names for style or the ones that denote gods of other traditions are given in many cases. Only calling out His names will bring in auspiciousness and merely keeping a name for the sake of Sarman will not. Having crazy spellings, apparently for numerological reasons, is a disorder of a different kind.
Where is the need for such an obsession? Is there a dearth of choice for names in our tradition? Absolutely not. As we all know, the Lord is the owner of a thousand names. The Azhwars and the Acharyas have emphasised on the need for as well as the good augury in giving our children the God’s names.
Thirumangai Azhwar addresses devotees thus: ‘பெருமான் திருநாமம் பிதற்றி நுந்தம் பிறவித்துயர் நீங்குதும்’ (Get rid of your worldly miseries by chanting His names) — Periya Thirumozhi 3-2-4. Is it not, then, a great opportunity for us Srivaishnavas to recite the Lord’s names innumerable times by keeping His names to our children, and more importantly, calling them out by those names?
Legends have several instances illustrating the great benediction arising out of chanting His names. Ajaamilan (Narayana), Kshathrabandhu (Govinda) and Mudhgalan (Krishna) are a few anecdotes which show that, merely uttering the name(s) of the Lord will remove diseases, danger, fear and distress. Meditating on the Lord or not, knowing the meaning of the name or not, with or without the intention of calling out the Lord’s name — all these do not matter at all. Of course, consciously invoking the name provides a divine experience!
There are a few decads in Divya Prabandham that extol the glory of Sriman Narayana’s names and underline their significance. In ‘Poyppaadu’ (Periyazhwar Thirumozhi 2-3), the Azhwar invites little Krishna for ear-boring ceremony by invoking the Dwaadasa Nama. The greatness and auspiciousness of the name ‘Narayana’ has been highlighted by Thirumangai Azhwar in ‘Vaadinen Vaadi’ (Periya Thirumozhi 1-1). Nammazhwar narrates his joyful experience with meditating the Dwaadasa Nama in ‘Kesavan Thamar’ (Thiruvoymozhi 2-7).
But the most pertinent here would be Periyazhwar’s indignation in ‘Kaasum Karaiyudai’ (4-6). Decrying people’s tendency to choose mediocre, irrelevant and even awful worldly names to their off-springs, the Azhwar talks tough while advising them to end the practice. He categorically says that the mother who names her child after the Lord will never go to hell, by reiterating it in each verse. The term ‘mother’ here includes father also.
The following summary of the decad will give a fair idea of the Azhwar’s genuine concern for the people, albeit the tone is somewhat hard-hitting:
- O foolish people! You give your children absurd names for the love of money, clothes and grains. Name them after Kesava and rejoice! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- O foolish people! For the sake of wearing a new saree, you name your child after mortal humans. Call him Sridhara! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- O mothers! Why did give your children others’ names for the love of oil-bath and ornaments? Even if you have to do a living by begging, give only the Lord’s names! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- It is no way for salvation to give a mortal's name. Call your child Madhava! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- It is no way for salvation to give a filthy name. Call your child Govinda! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- At a ceremony of much fanfare, do not give a mortal’s name to your child and fall into a pit. Call him Damodara! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- O poor people! You foolishly give mortal names to your children. Call them by the name of the dark cloud-hued Lord who is pleasing to the eye! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- O people! If you give your children absurd, mortals’s names, they will fade away in four days. Call them by the name of the red-eyed Lord. The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- You name your dirty child after our cloud-hued Lord and dance and rejoice! The mother of the child will not go to hell.
- Those who master this decad will eventually attain Vaikunta and bask in eternal bliss (the customary line of benediction, in conclusion).
According to Vishnu Puranam, sage Ourva says that the naming has to be done by the father after 10 days of the child’s birth. The name should be that of the ancestral God or that of the forefathers (which also will naturally be that of a God). It should not be absurd, ridiculous, bad-worded, despicable or inauspicious; it should neither be too short nor too long; it should not contain too many long alphabets; it should be easy to utter. The name should contain even number of syllables according to the grammar of the language (odd number for female babies).
All that are not according to the Saasthras are demonic in nature. So, let us follow the prescribed core values of our tradition as much as possible, both in letter and spirit. Let us make a resolve to name as well as call out children in our households after the Lord/Goddess. This will please Him and we will only be better off for that.
Meet you in the next Note.
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