Yamuna, popularly known as Alavandar, was the first to introduce the stotra form of devotional literature in Vaishnavism, although the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata do indeed contain several devotional hymns/prayers by the celestials and sages. Following Alavandar, several savants like Kuresa, Parasa Bhattar, and Vedanta Desika authored a plethora of devotional stotras.

Triad

Alavandar authored two stotras, one on Lakshmi (‘Chatusloki') and the other on Vishnu, ‘Stotra Ratnam', (a gem among stotras). Together with the ‘Mantra ratnam' (Dvaya mantra) and the ‘Purana ratnam' (Vishnu Purana), it forms a triad of gems.

‘Stotra Ratnam', which is in fact an elucidation and elaboration of the ‘Dvaya' mantra, is a masterpiece of exceptional lyrical beauty. The fact that the stotra has 65 verses has its own significance. Add up the number of letters in ‘Ashtakashara', ‘Dvaya' and the ‘Charama sloka' — the three holy secrets of Vaishnavism — you will get the same number. This is a pointer that ‘Stotra Ratnam' contains the essence not just of ‘Dvaya' but of all the three secrets.

Alavandar commences his stotra with eulogies to his guru in the lineage, Nathamuni, and then offers obeisance to Parasara, the author of ‘Vishnu Purana.' After saluting Nammazhvar, he proceeds to praise the Lord. After providing cogent and convincing arguments to establish that Narayana is the supreme Brahman, Alavandar goes on to cite several instances where Narayana came to the rescue of Brahma and other devas when they found themselves in difficult situations.

After referring to the Lord's compassion and other attributes and giving a dazzling description of the Lord in Vaikunta, Alavandar offers absolute self-surrender at the feet of the Lord, which is the cardinal philosophy of Vaishnavism. But then he wonders: “who am I to surrender my atma, which is actually God's property and not mine?” He concludes the stotra with a prayer that he be blessed with the opportunity to the Lord and His devotees.

Commentaries

Two great acharyas, Vedanta Desika and Periyavachan Pillai, have written scintillating commentaries on this work. A scholar of repute, Srivatsankachariar, author of the book under review, has based himself on Desika's gloss. In offering his own commentary, he has elucidated and elaborated on Desika's work, adopting a writing style that is lucid, racy and sustains the reader's interest throughout.

With a profusion of quotes from the Vedas, the Puranas, and the works of other acharyas like Ramanuja and Desika, the true purport of the slokas pertaining to self-surrender is well and adequately brought out, answering possible objections. By reading this commentary, the reader will not only enjoy the nectarine sweetness of Alavandar's poetry and understandits purport but also get a bird's eye view of the entire gamut of Vaishnavism and its philosophy.

STOTRA RATNAM — 2 Parts: Commentary in Tamil by V. Srivatsankachariar; Copies can be had from S. Raghavachariar, D-200, Hindu Colony, 26th Cross Street, Nanganallur, Chennai-600061. Rs.100 (Part 1); Rs. 80 (Part 2).

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