The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

From Lord Padmanabhaswamy to the Benefits of Rubbing Nails

That was the day of Janamashtami and I was visiting Lord Padmanabhaswamy temple early in the morning. Oh yes, Janmastami or the eighth day after the full moon in the solar month of Leo when the stellar sign is Rohini, is a very auspicious day, one that is earmarked for commemorating the birth of Lord  Shrikrishna with full fervour. And while in front of the idol trying to observe it in the dim light of sanctum sanctorum, a question flashed in my mind: Is it not a fact that the idol was made following the famous hymn of Vishnu Sahasranam or, conversely, has the hymn itself been composed as a pen-picture of the idol? Yes, I’m talking about the famous hymn that chants like this:
शान्ताकारं भुजगशयनं पद्मनाभं सुरेशं
विश्वाधारं गगनसदृशं मेघवर्ण शुभाङ्गम् ।
लक्ष्मीकान्तं कमलनयनं योगिभिर्ध्यानगम्यम्
वन्दे विष्णुं भवभयहरं सर्वलोकैकनाथम् ॥
Shaantaakaaram Bhujaga-Shayanam Padmanaabham Suresham
Vishvaadhaaram Gagana-Sadrusham Megha-Varnna Shubhaangam|
Lakshmikaantam Kamala-Nayanam Yogibhirdhyaana-Gamyam
Vande Vishnum Bhava-Bhaya-Haram Sarva-Lokaeka-Naatham ||
भावार्थ : जिनकी आकृति अतिशय शांत है, जो शेषनाग की शैया पर शयन किए हुए हैं, जिनकी नाभि में कमल है, जो ‍देवताओं के भी ईश्वर और संपूर्ण जगत के आधार हैं, जो आकाश के सदृश सर्वत्र व्याप्त हैं, मेघ के समान जिनका वर्ण है, अतिशय सुंदर जिनके संपूर्ण अंग हैं, जो योगियों द्वारा ध्यान करके प्राप्त किए जाते हैं, जो संपूर्ण लोकों के स्वामी हैं, जो जन्म-मरण रूप भय का नाश करने वाले हैं, ऐसे लक्ष्मीपति, कमलनेत्र भगवान श्रीविष्णु को मैं प्रणाम करता हूँ।

Translation - (Salutations to Sri Vishnu) who has a serene appearance, who rests on a serpent (Adisesha), who has a lotus on his navel and who is the lord of the devas, who sustains the universe, who is boundless and infinite like the sky, whose colour is like the cloud (Black-green) and who has a beautiful and auspicious body, who is the husband of devi Lakshmi, whose eyes are like lotus and who is attainable to the yogis by meditation, salutations to that Vishnu who removes the fear of worldly existence and who is the lord of all the lokas.
At the sight of Lord Padmanabhaswamy’s idol that day, what I found to my intense delight was exactly what has so melodiously been packed into the stanza. If I am to use the acronym of graphical user interface to describe it, it has to be another WYSWYG match: What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. Many a time since my childhood I have been chanting that melodious stanza without ever realising that the hymn has in it the power to inspire the sculptors after so many generations. What they made aeons ago is there before us to see: Padmanabhaswamy the 18-feet god is asleep donning an appearance of elegant serenity; the hushed silence of the surroundings, its stone and murals accentuating the beauty and tranquility; asleep on a snake that’s coiled with a lotus sprouting from His navel, its size giving the impression of universe that is spread along all conceivable directions and manifest in all dimensions. Even extending up to the sky, its granite emulates the blackness of monsoon clouds. So, the god I saw exactly matches the description, living up to the metaphors used in the hymn.
The stanza has been taken from the Mahabharata and the exact context is when, on the conclusion of the 18-day war of Kurukshetra, Bhisma is on the bed of arrows awaiting the sun to incline northward so that he will breathe his last. Bhisma is one of such characters in our mythologies that had the blessing of choosing the time of his death. At that spiritual hour of his momentous life, the wise weary old man invokes Lord Vishnu in a melodious way and such invocation, packed with one thousand names of lord Vishnu, is known as Vishnu Sahasranam or the thousand names of Vishnu. And that’s how the hymn is born.
Is it that the idol came first and then the Mahabharata? They say the temple was in existence during the Sangam period of Tamil literature (500 BC-300 AD) and is referred to as the Golden Temple. The Mahabharata was written around 400 BC though the origin of the epic must have been even older than that. So, the time of composition of the above-mentioned stanza of Vishnu Sahasranam and that of Sangam literature period was arguably concurrent.
Now, speaking strictly about the concept of a god of such description, one may say that lord Padmanabhaswamy, the sleeping god of the trinity existed around the time of Sangam literature. Coming to the making of the idol of God in the present form, this must have happened much later than the composition of Vishnu Sahasranam. Some say it was 1461A.D. and it could as well be correct. Anyway, it can safely be surmised that the makers of the idol were guided by the description.
Let me go back to the thought that flashed in my mind that day. Representing a concept propounded in literature in another form of art is something that enhances value of our culture. It ensures mass participation and sheds its elitist orientation. Ideas flow: from literature to sculpture; from religious belief to music; from dance to sculpture and then to literature and then back to dance; fine arts, performing arts, literature have the tendency of inter-genre expansion. That’s how culture is built up, nay evolves.
If ideas move and thereby create inter-genre varieties and impart richness to culture, can this be said about ideas that go from culture to science? The growth of civilisation is dependent not on culture alone but on the scientific progress and material prosperity to a large extent. I think cultural ideas and the ones in the domain of science cannot be merged just like that without an intermediary process, and validation is the keyword to describe that process. Then only ideas generated in the domain of culture can help the scientific process. Otherwise culture will prove as a millstone around our neck and impede our progress. Don’t we find so many hoaxes being created in the name of Yoga? A yogic guru claims that by rubbing nails one can grow one’s hair. Is not it a pointer to the fact that without validation how cultural ideas can make dangerous inroads into our domain of progress? 
A. N. Nanda



Blogger prakash said...

Sir extremely well written and scholarly..warm regards

9:50 PM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Thanx a lot Prakash. Your comments are inspiring.

4:18 AM  

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