The doctrine of self-surrender, avidly preached by Vaishnavism, is as old as the Vedas. The scripture eulogises prapatti (self-surrender) at several places, and the Taittiriya-Narayana Upanishad, in fact, places it on top of the 12 types of noble and sacrificial deeds such as yaga, agnihotra and charity.
Nor is the philosophy of self-surrender peculiar to Vaishnavism. Several other religions also talk of this in glorifying terms, albeit in varying degrees and formats.
While the Azhwars and the Acharyas like Ramanuja mention the efficacy of prapatti at several places in their works, Vatsya Varadacharya, who goes by the name of ‘Nadadur Ammal', gets the credit for writing the first exclusive treatise on this doctrine under the title, “Prapanna Parijata.”
How did Vatsya Varada come to be known as ‘Nadadur Ammal'? Tradition has it that he made it a point to ensure that the milk offered to Lord Varadaraja of Kanchi was warm, neither too hot nor too cold, and that the Lord, touched by his maternal love and concern, exclaimed: “Are you my ‘Ammal' (mother)?”
Siddhi Traya and Gitartha Sangraha, written by Alavandar, guru of Ramanuja's guru, served as guides for Ramanuja's Sri Bashya (commentary on Brahma Sutras) and Gita Bashya (commentary on Bhagavad Gita) respectively. In the same way, Prapanna Parijata of Nadadur Ammal, guru of Vedanta Desika's guru, shone as the guiding lamp for Desika's magnum opus — Rahasyatrayasara, a lexicon on prapatti.
The original text of Prapanna Parijata in Sanskrit comprises 150 “long” verses, each consisting of one or more regular verses in the simple, easy-to-understand ‘Anushtup' metre. The work is divided into 10 chapters.
In the opening chapter, Ammal quotes profusely from the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Agamas to highlight the efficacy of self-surrender and the need for doing it. The concept and essential constituents of prapatti are explained in the next chapter, and this is followed by a discussion on the eligibility criteria for performing the prapatti.
The vital role played by the Guru in this process; the need for the disciple serving his Guru with utmost devotion; ways of offering worship to God; and the greatness of Goddess Lakshmi are portrayed vividly. The importance of treating ‘Bhagavatas' (God's devotees) with utmost respect and doing service to them is also emphasised.
And the treatise concludes with a description of the experience that awaits one on attaining liberation from the bonds of samsara. In several places, Ammal quotes almost verbatim from the sacred texts, by way of showing that his assertions are backed by the unimpeachable authority of the Vedas and the Sastras.
The book under review provides the original text in Sanskrit, followed by transliteration in English and, then, the English translation, with explanatory footnotes, where necessary. A Tamil translation of this text was provided by Uttamur Viraraghavacharya, a renowned scholar-savant of the last century, bringing forth inter alia the finer and abstruse points lying embedded in the work. As has been acknowledged, Ramamurti has made liberal use of this Tamil version.
Barring a few minor inaccuracies that are of no significance, the translation is near-perfect and adequately conveys the import of the text, duly elaborating where necessary. For those who are more at home with English than Tamil, the book provides a good insight into the greatness of prapatti, as portrayed by Nadadur Ammal.