Doctrine of surrender

SRI DESIKA STOTRANGAL (Sanskrit-Tamil-English): Dr. V. N. Vedantadesikan; Sri Nrusimhapriya Trust, 27, Venkatesa Agraharam, Mylapore, Chennai-600004. Rs. 75.

THE MULTIFACETED genius of Vedanta Desika and his stature as a colossus among his peers and a lodestar in the Sri Vaishnava Acharya hierarchy are well known. The edition of his Stotra works now under review has the original Sanskrit hymns in Tamil text with the summarised translation in English. The editor of this volume is a reputed scholar and critic well versed in all these languages.

The collection includes all the 28 stotras of Desika. In all of them, the common thread of Saranagati Sastra (the doctrine of surrender) is used to weave in different beautiful patterns the entire mosaic of Visishtadvaita philosophy, including tatva, hita and purushartha (the Truth Absolute, the means of attainment and the target of attainment). The principal treatises of Ramanuja's philosophy are esoteric in nature. Desika condensed the essence of the philosophy in his Stotras in easily memorisable form so that they can be understood and recited by all without restriction and the benefits derived. They are also among the best as pure pieces of literature. A random sampling of the rich fare laid before us follows.

The collection begins appropriately with the Hayagreeva Stotra. It is dedicated to the Lord enshrined in the Oushadadri hills at Tiruvahindrapuram, who it is believed, presented His divine vision to Desika and bestowed on him boundless wisdom and mastery in several arts. In the Abheeti Stavam, dedicated to the Lord of Srirangam, freedom from the basic instinct of fear is sought. While saying that nobody including celestial beings is free from fear except the Lord, Desika mocks at the Lord as it were, saying that He too is fearful of the unlikely event of His failing those taking refuge in Him. The Daya Satakam praises the infinite mercy of the Lord of Tirupati, personifying it as a consort of the Lord who even lords over Him. The first 10 couplets of this Stotra invoke the acharya hierarchy as do the first 10 couplets of the Yatiraja Saptati and both are beautiful pieces of poetry.

In the Varadaraja Panchasat, another piece of mellifluous poetry dedicated to the Lord of Kanchi, the concluding verses are an outpouring of the ecstatic experience of participating in the ritualistic worship and festivities of the temple round the year, in favour of which Desika is willing to forego even eternal bliss. The Saranagati Deepika is unique in that Desika himself declares in the opening verse that the essential features of Saranagati Sastra have been ``cooked'' in this Stotra in the form of praising Lord Deepaprakasa. As the translation points out, the subtle reference is to this branch of Ramanuja's system having been propagated by one of his disciples, who took upon himself to serve his acharya as his personal cook thus earning himself the sobriquet of Madaipalli Aachan (madaipalli means kitchen).

The collection includes several other major and minor works. Mention may be made of the concluding piece, the Vairagya Panchakam, which is not a stotra really but an epistle in verse written to his friend Vidyaranya. In six stunning verses, the Acharya expresses in vitriolic words of disdainful dismissal his utter disregard for worldly possessions, power or position and says that the treasure on the hill of Hastigiri bequeathed to him by his grandfather will do.

The translation points out that Lord Varadaraja enshrined in Hastigiri revealed Himself in the Aswamedha Yaga performed by the Lord of Creation, Brahma, also known as Pitamaha (grandfather). Desika is a master in the delicious use of puns and play of words and adept in using the intricate nuances of languages to the hilt. The translation suitably annotates such occurrences in many places.

The author of the translation has put his heart and soul into it. As the choice of English as the medium is obviously for those with no knowledge of Tamil, the original text could also have been provided in English. The Achyuta Satakam's Prakrith original reproduced in Tamil is indecipherable.