Among so many religions flourishing in India, those that are rooted in the Vedas are termed the ‘astika’ systems, the others being termed ‘nastika’. Among the astika systems, the Vedanta system is most respected. It is based on Veda Vyasa’s aphorisms and Bodhayana Maharishi’s gloss thereon. Additionally, it has the distinction of being transmitted through Nammazhwar’s Tamil hymns and the works of Acharyas such as Nathamunigal, Alavandar, and Ramanuja. What has made the system impregnable is its fortification by Vedanta Desika with his infallible logic and erudition. Desika held Ramanuja in great veneration and wrote numerous works to uphold his philosophy and commentary.
Desika’s works, numbering over a hundred, are wide ranging. Some are exegetic and some are independent works. He has written in Tamil, Sanskrit, and Manipravala, a blend of the two. In the category of Sanskrit hymns are 28, sung in praise of deities such as Lord Ranganatha, Venkatesa, Varadaraja and Devanatha. Among the Stotras is the one under review, a hymn extolling Ramanuja (‘Yatiraja’, the king among ascetics). Born as he was more than a century after Ramanuja, Desika evidently was sorry he had missed being a direct disciple of Ramanuja. With this nagging sadness, he has depicted a scene in his play, ‘Sankalpa Sooryodaya’, wherein a disciple meets the guru and gets blessed. In this context, as Sri Paravakkottai Andavan has emphasised, many verses from this play are found reproduced in this hymnal work. We may note that just as a tree is known by its fruits, a poem is known by its rasa, the quintessential taste. The stanzas of this hymn are replete with the nectarine sweetness of acharya bhakti.
The first ten verses are crisp prayers to the early Acharyas ranging from the Lord down to Ramanuja. Thereafter, Ramanuja is praised in verses that are capsules of elixir, rich in philosophical content. His charming style, his eclectic reconciliation, his comprehensiveness in summoning Vedic authorities, and his convincing refutation of the rival systems — all these are highlighted. The prosodic beauty and diction are remarkable.
This volume has five commentaries. Of them, two were published more than a hundred years ago — one in Sanskrit and the other in Manipravala. The third (in Sanskrit) is by Koothappakkam Neelameghacharya, a veritable ‘Apara-Patanjali’, who could speak extempore in Sanskrit fluently and without a blemish. Then there is a detailed commentary in Tamil by Sri Paravakkottai Andavan. For his part, the editor has provided explanatory notes in Tamil and English as well.
A word about the series ‘Desika Stotra Vyakhyanamala’ that gets completed with this volume will not be out of place. The exquisite commentaries brought about more than a century ago by a Kumbakonam publisher in Grantha script, Tamil, and Manipravala had become dilapidated and difficult to access. Thanks to the support and blessing of the head of Poundarikapuram Swami Asramam, Vedanta Desikan, editor of the series, has accomplished the stupendous task of retrieving and re-publishing the whole set of 28 works in Devanagari script, with his own lucid explanations added. That he could complete the assignment in just six years testifies to his mastery in the field. The Ashramam and the series editor have done a signal service to the Vedanta school of philosophy.
SRI YATIRAJA SAPTATHI OF VEDANTA DESIKA: Edited by V.N. Vedanta Desikan; Pub. by Sri Poundarikapuram Srimad Andavan Ashramam, 43-A/13, Ashramam Road, Srirangam-620006. Rs. 200.