SrI: SrImathE SatakOpAya nama: SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama: SrImadh varavaramunayE nama:
Azhvars and Bhagavad Ramanujacharya – 2
In the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita occurs the famous hymn starting “paritrāṇāya sādhūnām”. The meaning of this hymn is easily understood by even the layman – “To protect the good, to destroy the wicked and to establish dharma, I incarnate in every age.” So far, so good. However, confusion begins to brew once one is asked to define the words “good”, “protect”, “destroy”, “wicked” and “dharma”. It is natural to define these terms according to one’s convenience or understanding. However, it is questionable if all of these definitions are in line with the message of the Gita. We will not go into the merits or demerits of various definitions. It suffices to note for our purpose that Swami Ramanuja is looking at the entire text of Gita while commenting on this sloka and provides a consistent interpretation instead of a convenient one.
Who is a “sādhu”?
It is interesting to understand who are the sādhus protected by Lord Krishna. Clearly, Swami Ramanuja is thinking of Azhwars when he is commenting on this word. He refers to sādhus by various epithets that speak about the salient aspects of their nature. These words can be seen as an introduction to Azhwars provided by Swami Ramanuja not only to his own followers but also to those outside the fold of Srivaishnavism.
The commentary of Swami Ramanuja in the Gita Bhashya runs as follows:
साधव: – उक्तलक्षण-धर्मशीला वैष्णवाग्रेसरा:, मत्समाश्रयणे प्रवृत्ता: मन्नामकर्म-स्वरूपाणां वाङ्मनसागोचारतया मद्दर्शनेन विना स्वात्मधारणपोषणादिकमलभमाना: क्षणमात्रकालं कल्पसहस्रं मन्वाना: प्रशिथिल-सर्वगात्रा भवेयुरिति मत्स्वरूप-चेष्टितावलोकनालापादिदानेन तेषां परित्राणाय |
dharmaśīlāḥ – They are qualified by the prescribed dharma. The word “dharma” could be understood either as in the common use of the word or as the special dharma of Vaishnavism. The earlier interpretation is favored by the previous sloka “yadā yadāhi dharmasya” and the later interpretation by the following word vaiṣṇavāgresarāḥ in the commentary.
vaiṣṇavāgresarāḥ – they are the foremost of Vaishnavas. This is perhaps the most important reference. Azhwars are regarded as the highest SriVaishnavas in the tradition of Swami Ramanuja. The word vaiṣṇavāgresarāḥ brings out their exalted position.
matsamāśrayaṇe pravṛttāḥ – those who seek Me as their refuge. This reference is inspired by the words of Azhv´wars such as “” and “ஆழிவண்ண! நின்னடியினை அடைந்தேன்”.
mannāma-karma-svarūpāṅāṃ vāṇmanasāgocaratayā – Azhwars recognize the true nature of the names and deeds of the Lord, and identify them as surpassing the scope of speech and mind as in “என்சொல்லிச் சொல்லுகேன்?” and “நெஞ்சால் நினைப்பரிதால் வெண்ணையூண்என்னும் ஈனச்சொல்லே”.
maddarśanena vinā svātmadhāraṅapoṣaṅādikamalabhamānāḥ – Azhwars were unable to sustain or nourish themselves without the vision or experience of the Lord. This is evidenced by the hymns – “தொல்லைமாலை கண்ணாரக்கண்டு கழிவதோர் காதலுற்றார்க்கும் உண்டோ கண்கள் துஞ்சுதலே “ and “காணவாராய் என்றென்று கண்ணும் வாயும் துவர்ந்து”.
kṣaṅamātrakālaṃ kalpasahasraṃ manvānāḥ – Even a moment’s separation from the Lord is perceived by the Azhwars to last for a thousand epochs. This can be known from their words – “ஒருபகல் ஆயிரம் ஊழியாலோ”, “ஊழியில் பெரிதாய் நாழிகை என்னும்” and “ஓயும் பொழுதின்றி ஊழியாய் நீண்டதால்”.
praśithila-sarva-gatrāḥ – All limbs of the Azhwars attain weariness during both separation and association with the Lord. During separation, the weariness is due to the severity of the pain. During association, the weariness is due to the excellence of bliss. They said, “காலாழும் நெஞ்சழியும் கண்சுழலும்”, “காலும் எழா கண்ணநீரும் நில்லா உடல் சோர்ந்து நடுங்கிக் குரல் மேலுமெழா மயிர்கூச்சமறா”, “உள்ளெலாம் உருகிக் குரல்தழுத்தொழிந்தேன் “ and “உரோம கூபங்களாய்க் கண்ண நீர்கள் துள்ளஞ்சோர த்துயிலணை கொள்ளேன்”
In summary, “a sādhu is one who is the foremost of Vaishnavas, who is qualified by dharmic discipline, who seek Me (Krishna) as their refuge, who recognizes that My names and deeds are beyond the mind and speech, who without experience or vision of the Lord does not sustain oneself, whose limbs are wearied by the separation or association and who perceive even a moment’s separation from the Lord as an unending epoch.” A sādhu shares such an intricate and intimate relationship with the Lord.
Since a sādhu suffers when he is separated from the Lord, the Lord incarnates again and again in every age. He reveals Himself to His devotees and shares an intimate relationship with them. This is the meaning of protecting sādhus. He sustains them by revealing His divine form, His divine nature, His auspicious qualities and His exploits. He incarnates to nourish them with divine experiences and thereby protect them.
Purpose of the commentary
The commentary stays consistent to the spirit of the Gita. Even for those outside the scope of Vaishnavism, it is easy to see the correlation between the words of the commentary and Krishna’s own words throughout the Gita. To those who are aware of the superlative devotion of Azhwars, the commentary provides insight to the way Swami Ramanuja perceived the Azhwars.
Through this definition of sādhu, Swami Ramanuja provides an introduction to the nature of Azhwars to his readers while simultaneously fulfilling the role of a commentator.
adiyen ranganatha ramanuja dasan
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