Swami Desika Sanctifies Some Holy Places and Holy Waters: Anbil Ramaswamy, 25, 2nd East Park Street, Prithvipakkam, Ambattur, Chennai-600053. Rs. 150.
Vedanta Desika, the renowned Vaishnavite Acharya, has authored numerous works and they vary in their approach, style and emphasis. The stated aim of this handy book is to highlight the innumerable holy shrines and water-banks spread across India. The author could well have quoted the famous verse, “Thenaar kamala…” of Adhikaara-sangraham wherein the holy abodes of the Lord are listed. In fact, it would have truly echoed the spirit behind the title of the book.
The shrines hallowed by the Azhvars, known as ‘Divyadesas' in Vaishnavite parlance, come first. Then follow the Ganga, the Cauvery, the rivers flowing in the Himalayan region and the cities situated on their banks, the group of seven Moksha-granting cities (Ayodhya, Mathura, Kasi, Kanchi, etc.), and those places that have acquired sanctity by reason of their being cited by Desika in his works, especially Yaadavaabhyudayam, Sankalpa-sooryodayam, Hamsasandesam, and Padukaa-sahasram.
Happily, the relevant verse is reproduced in English, although the transliteration is in what is called the Harvard-Kyoto style, which is unfamiliar to most of the readers in India. Many places referred to by Desika appear rare and recondite, but the author has tapped into all available sources including websites, such as Wikipedia, to gather as much detail as possible. A regrettable omission is ‘Swetadweepa', which is perhaps an Utopian land, referred to as the abode of holy sages (say in ‘Jitante' stotra) and also by Desika in the Tamil verse cited earlier and elsewhere.
The amount of effort and care the author has taken to collect and present the details is heartening. There are however a few errors. For instance, Gandhamaadana mountain, which is said to be in the Himalayan region, is assigned to the Rameswaram region. Acronyms abound in each page. Altogether, the book is an earnest attempt to highlight Vedanta Desika's contribution in this area. The author needs to be complimented for his abiding interest in bringing out publications, even in his advanced age, with a view to propagating religion in the United States.
What is admirable is his diligence and penchant for research, as evidenced by the perseverance he has shown in collecting facts and references related to the lesser known sacred places mentioned in Vedanta Desika's various works. The enormity and variety of details available in the works of Desika, belonging to the 13th-14th century, is amazing indeed.