Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama:
A Saga in Stone
“You do choose the weirdest topics! Whoever would write about stones, of all things!” commented adiyen’s daughter, glancing at the title. Wistfully recollecting the good old days when children were supposed to be seen and not heard, adiyen resolved to prove to her that writing about stones was not “weird”-offbeat, maybe, but definitely not “weird”. However, even after severely racking adiyen’s brains, not a single complimentary phrase or idiom in Queen’s English came to adiyen’s mind, concerning stones. “Heart of Stone”, “Stony stare” and other unappealing phrases leapt to the mind but not something pleasing. The Scriptures came to adiyen’s rescue and saved adiyen from the ignominy of my daughter being proved right.
There are quite a few references to stones in the Vedas. The Mantra Prasna, dealing with Veda mantras used in various rituals, auspicious and otherwise, refers to stones twice. During the Upanayanam ceremony, the boy is made to stand on a stone, while his father recites the mantra “AtishttEmam asmAnam asmEva tvam stthirO bhava” (“May the Gods make you as strong and unshakeable as the stone you are standing on!”). With a minor variation for gender difference, the same mantra is used to bless the bride in the marriage, (popularly known in Tamil as “ammi miditthal”) wishing her to be stone-like in firmness. Elsewhere too, there is a blessing to be strong as a stone- “asmA bhava, pasrasur bhava, hiranyam astrutham bhava”. It is noteworthy that this mantra mentions the stone ahead of gold among objects of comparison. Similarly, the Chamaka Prasna in the Fourth Kanda of the Yajus Samhita, which is a prayer to bless one with all the good things on earth, seeks to be endowed with stone too-“asmA cha mE”.
Turning to Valmiki’s great epic, a moment’s unwitting indiscretion results in Ahalya being cursed by her husband Goutama Rishi to turn into a stone for thousand long years.
The moment Sri Chakravartthi Tirumagan enters the Goutama Ashrama, Ahalya is retransformed into the beautiful lady she originally was. Here, though the popular version has it that it was the touch of Sri Rama’s holy feet that was responsible for this miracle, there is no mention of this in Sri Valmiki Ramayana, and all that the Maharshi mentions is that Ahalya regained her original splendour the moment Sri Rama entered the Ashram. This version must indeed be true, for Chakravarthi Tirumagan would never have shown disrespect to a Rishipatni by touching her with His feet, even when she was in a stony shell.
In Sri KrishnAvatAra too, the Lord’s association with stones is indeed close. It couldn’t be closer, for He is tied inseparably to one. Sri Krishna’s weakness for dairy products, His inability to distinguish between “meum and tuum” in this regard, and His annoying habit of leading hordes of young cowherds on a raid of homes for milk, butter and curds, land Him in trouble, with the long-suffering Gopis presenting a memorandum to Yasoda on her son’s misdemeanours. The usually placid Yasoda is inflamed with anger (“mAtaram jAta rOshAm”), as any mother would, whose ward has been the subject of repeated and factual complaints (“veNNai undAn ivan endru Esa nindra Emperuman”) from outsiders. She drags the protesting Krishna to the courtyard and ties Him up to a handy grindstone, telling Him, “ Let me see how you continue your mischief!” Little does she know that it is no ordinary kid whom she has tied up, and the tie-up was possible only because He willed it (“sirutthAmbinAl kattuNNa paNNiya perumAyan”).
Sri Nammazhwar marvels at the soulabhyam, which prompts the Almighty to permit Himself to be tied-up to a simple stone, by a simple housewife, with a simple rope. He marvels too at the mock fear and yearning for freedom exhibited by the captive Emperuman-“et tiram uralinOdu iNaindu irundu Engia eLivE”. It appears that every time the securely bound Krishna whimpered, Yasoda would silence Him with a withering look. Krishna tries to regain freedom by looking at His mother with appealing eyes full of fear, tears and whatnot, but His attempts are rebuffed by His unmoved mother, who finally removes herself from the scene, for fear of being unable to preserve her composure any longer. She is clear that Krishna deserves punishment, but being a doting mother, is unable to sustain the posture of the strict disciplinarian, in the face of Krishna’s apparently pitiful state. Left to His own devices, the Lord is on the roll, dragging the grindstone with him, and passes between two trees (“PuNarA nindra maram irandin naduvE pOna mudalvAvO”), bringing them down crashing, in the process. The trees turn into gandharvas, now free from the curse that turned them into trees. Yasoda and others, who come rushing out of the house, are confronted by the bewildering scene of the crashed trees around the apparently frightened Krishna, still securely bound to the grindstone. Krishna is then untied and taken home, with Yasoda too frightened to think of what could have happened if the trees had come down on her beloved son.
She still doesn’t realise that what she has been blessed with is no ordinary cowherd boy (“Ayar puttiran allan, arun deivam”).
In Sri NrsimhAvatAra too, it is a stone pillar that the Lord chose for His dramatic entrance into Hiranyakasipu’s Darbar. The latter is so confident that Vishnu would not dare to come anywhere near his palace, that he challenges his son Sri Prahlada to prove the existence of Hari in one of the pillars of his own palace. Since the stone pillar “gave birth” to Sri Nrsimha, who in turn is the Creator of all divine beings, Swami Desikan humorously calls the pillar the Grandmother of dEvAs (“mahAsura grihastooNA pitAmahi abhoot”).
However, it is in the Kali Yuga that the stone has acquired prominence. Almost all the Emperumans have chosen the medium of the stone for their arcchAvatAra, and we find the Lord in most of the divya desams (with a few notable exceptions) inhabiting images of stone lovingly sculpted by ardent devotees. With its divine inhabitant, the stone miraculously comes alive, but only for those who tend to see in it the omnipresent, omnipotent Lord, who, in His unmatched soulabhyam, has contracted His divya mangala vigraha to human proportions, and makes do with the hot, humid atmosphere of the sanctum sanctorum of temples, forsaking His comfortable abode at SriVaikuntam. Another form of stone the Lord patronises with His eternal presence is the SALagrAma shilA, which is a fossilised stone with an insect called “Vajrakeetam” sculpting the Lord’s signs of chakram, shankha, flag, etc. In this form, Emperuman resides in every SriVaishnavite home, sharing the inconveniences of the householder, and partaking of the latter’s food, often unworthy of the Lord. This is His simplicity, Asrita vAtsalyam and soulabhyam at play again. Incidentally, the Bhagavata says that it is only the immature who are able to see the Lord in images, of stone or otherwise: the wise see Him everywhere (“PratimAsu aprabhuddhAnAm, sarvatra sama dharsinAm”).
After reading this piece, Adiyen’s daughter has developed a healthy
respect for stone, and gracefully withdrawn her “weird” remark.
Srimate Sri LakshmiNrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama: dasan, sadagopan.
Used with Sadagopan Swimi's permission:
dear shri jaya tirttha charan das, you are welcome to use adiyen's article
in your website. with best wishes, dasan, sadagopan
Yämunäcärya, a great devotee of the Lord in the disciplic succession of Rämänujäcärya, has written two very appropriate verses in this connection. He says,
sattvena sättvikatayä prabalaiç ca çästraiù
prakhyäta-daiva-paramärtha-vidäà mataiç ca
naiväsura-prakåtayaù prabhavanti boddhum
“My dear Lord, devotees like Vyäsadeva
and Närada know You to be the Personality of Godhead. By understanding
different Vedic literatures, one can come to know Your characteristics,
Your form and Your activities, and one can thus understand that You are
the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But those who are in the modes of passion
and ignorance, the demons, the nondevotees, cannot understand You. They
are unable to understand You. However expert such nondevotees may be in
discussing Vedänta and the Upaniñads and other Vedic literatures,
it is not possible for them to understand the Personality of Godhead.”
In the Brahma-saàhitä it is stated that the Personality of Godhead cannot be understood simply by study of the Vedänta literature. Only by the mercy of the Supreme Lord can the Personality of the Supreme be known. Therefore in this verse it is clearly stated that not only are the worshipers of the demigods less intelligent, but those nondevotees who are engaged in Vedänta and speculation on Vedic literature without any tinge of true Kåñëa consciousness are also less intelligent, and for them it is not possible to understand God’s personal nature. Persons who are under the impression that the Absolute Truth is impersonal are described as abuddhayaù, which means those who do not know the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth. In the Çrémad-Bhägavatam it is stated that supreme realization begins from the impersonal Brahman and then rises to the localized Supersoul—but the ultimate word in the Absolute Truth is the Personality of Godhead. Modern impersonalists are still less intelligent, for they do not even follow their great predecessor Çaìkaräcärya, who has specifically stated that Kåñëa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Impersonalists, therefore, not knowing the Supreme Truth, think Kåñëa to be only the son of Devaké and Vasudeva, or a prince, or a powerful living entity. This is also condemned in the Bhagavad-gétä (9.11). Avajänanti mäà müòhä mänuñéà tanum äçritam: “Only the fools regard Me as an ordinary person.”
The fact is that no one can understand Kåñëa without rendering devotional service and without developing Kåñëa consciousness. The Bhägavatam (10.14.29) confirms this:
athäpi te deva padämbuja-dvaya-
prasäda-leçänugåhéta eva hi
jänäti tattvaà bhagavan-mahimno
na cänya eko ’pi ciraà vicinvan
“My Lord, if one is favored by even
a slight trace of the mercy of Your lotus feet, he can understand the greatness
of Your personality. But those who speculate to understand the Supreme
Personality of Godhead are unable to know You, even though they continue
to study the Vedas for many years.” One cannot understand the Supreme Personality
of Godhead, Kåñëa, or His form, quality or name simply
by mental speculation or by discussing Vedic literature. One must understand
Him by devotional service. When one is fully engaged in Kåñëa
consciousness, beginning by chanting the mahä-mantra—Hare Kåñëa,
Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa,
Hare Hare/ Hare Räma, Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare—then
only can one understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Nondevotee
impersonalists think that Kåñëa has a body made of this
material nature and that all His activities, His form and everything are
mäyä. These impersonalists are known as Mäyävädés.
They do not know the ultimate truth.
The twentieth verse (of Bhagavad Gita) clearly states, kämais tais tair håta-jïänäù prapadyante ’nya-devatäù. “Those who are blinded by lusty desires surrender unto the different demigods.” It is accepted that besides the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there are demigods who have their different planets, and the Lord also has a planet. As stated in the twenty-third verse, devän deva-yajo yänti mad-bhaktä yänti mäm api: the worshipers of the demigods go to the different planets of the demigods, and those who are devotees of Lord Kåñëa go to the Kåñëaloka planet. Although this is clearly stated, the foolish impersonalists still maintain that the Lord is formless and that these forms are impositions. From the study of the Gétä does it appear that the demigods and their abodes are impersonal? Clearly, neither the demigods nor Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are impersonal. They are all persons; Lord Kåñëa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He has His own planet, and the demigods have theirs.
Therefore the monistic contention that ultimate truth is formless and that form is imposed does not hold true. It is clearly stated here that it is not imposed. From the Bhagavad-gétä we can clearly understand that the forms of the demigods and the form of the Supreme Lord are simultaneously existing and that Lord Kåñëa is sac-cid-änanda, eternal blissful knowledge. The Vedas also confirm that the Supreme Absolute Truth is änanda-mayo ’bhyäsät, or by nature full of blissful pleasure, and that He is the reservoir of unlimited auspicious qualities. And in the Gétä the Lord says that although He is aja (unborn), He still appears. These are the facts that we should understand from the Bhagavad-gétä. We cannot understand how the Supreme Personality of Godhead can be impersonal; the imposition theory of the impersonalist monist is false as far as the statements of the Gétä are concerned. It is clear herein that the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Kåñëa, has both form and personality. (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhagavad Gita 7:24. purport.)