SRI PADUKA SAHASRAM — An English translation of D.T. Tatacharya's Tamil commentary by Parthasarathy Desikan; Pub. by Sri Malola Granthamala, Ahobila Math, 2-2-20/B, Durgabai Deshmukh Colony, Hyderabad-500013. Rs. 500.
A multi-faceted genius that Vedanta Desika (1268-1369) was, he had composed a macro-hymn of 1008 verses in Sanskrit on the Padukas (sandals) of Lord Rama, who is traditionally identified with Lord Ranganatha, the presiding deity of the Srirangam shrine. Hence the hymn, ‘Sri Paduka Sahasram,' is also referred to as ‘Ranganatha Paduka Sahasram.'
The nucleus for the work is the well-known part of the Ramayana story that relates to Bharata administering the kingdom as a servant of Rama's padukas during the latter's 14 years in exile.
Tradition has it that this work was composed by Desika, within one-quarter of a night, in response to a challenge by a pundit. It has 32 sections, appropriately called ‘Paddhatis' (paths or styles), with each section speaking of a specific aspect of the role the padukas played in ‘Ramaavatara,' and play even today in the festivals of Lord Ranganatha. Etymologically, ‘Paduka' means ‘protector of the feet.' One ‘Paddhati' eloquently expatiates on the appropriateness of the ‘Paduka' idol in Vishnu temples being christened after Saint Satakopa (Nammazhwar).
In Dvandva Paddhati (Verse 6), Desika conveys an invaluable message: two things act in conjunction as the causative factors for success in life; they act in unison and harmony; even as the two padukas place their steps alternately in perfect regularity and consonance, Luck (or God's dispensation) and human effort combine and act in coordination. Man should strive, and then God will respond. Inaction, in the expectation of God's intervention, is of no use.
Desika's poetical genius exemplified in ‘Chitra Paddhati' is so striking to be missed. The poet has composed a ‘Chitra bandha' — a sort of poetic gymnastics where syllables/verses are woven to form a design — in the pattern of a chess board, with successive syllables simulating the peculiar steps the knight takes in the game of chess. The verses falling in such patterns have a great import for the humans. What is more, the two ‘Padukas' standing on a lotus flower in homage is a ‘Chitra' innovation of Desika — called ‘Ashtadalapadmapadukabandha.' One cannot naturally expect a book like the one under review to give a detailed account of the finer aspects of ‘Chitra bandha.' .
There have been quite a few commentaries on ‘Paduka Sahasram.' The one by D.T. Tatacharya in Tamil (1958) is noted for brevity, crispness, and clarity. In translating it into English, Parthasarathy Desikan has given word-by-word meaning and a gist of the verses. Then he goes on to provide explanatory comments. The meticulousness he has shown in bringing out the work is remarkable and needs to be appreciated. Indeed, the book appears almost like an original treatise. That the translator has used what has come to be known as Harvard-Kyoto transliteration scheme for Sanskrit words — something that is popular with the vast Vaishnavite diaspora across the globe, but which those in India are yet to become familiar with — cannot take away from the merit and worth of this production.
What makes the effort much more laudable is that those responsible for the publication have committed the sale proceeds to the development of an educational institution. The book is enthusiastically commended to all those who can appreciate Sanskrit and Vedanta Desika's hymns.