Monday, March 26, 2007

Shiva - The Immeasurable. Mantra-13

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

The thirteenth mantra of the first part of the Thirumandiram.

மண்ணளந் தான்மல ரோன்முதல் தேவர்கள்
எண்ணளந் தின்னும் நினைக்கிலார் ஈசனை
விண்ணளந் தாந்தன்னை மேலளந் தாரில்லை
கண்ணளந் தெங்குங் கடந்துநின் றானே. 13.
13: Immeasurable

Mal who spanned the earth and Brahma the Lotus seated one,
And others of the Gods fathomed Him not;
There be none to measure Him that measured the Heav'ns
And thus He stood, all visions transcending.
Com - The Devas, (including) Mal who spanned the earth Vishnu who spanned the whole earth (in His Vamana (Dwarf) incarnation) and Brahma the Lotus seated one and Brahma, who was born from the navel lotus of Vishnu, And others of the Gods fathomed Him not and many other Gods who abide in the heavens, do not practise the meditation of holding Siva firm in the mind’s eye always. Hence, they are unable to fathom Him. There be none to measure Him that measured the Heav'ns Siva, in His immensely expansive form permeates all of the Akaashaa (heavens) and so there are none here in the earth below, who have been able to transcend to that level to understand Siva. And thus He stood, all visions transcending But Siva is present (stands) always, merged in the light of the eyes, while at the same time He transcends all.

* The word play of the original text in Tamil for this mantra points to the following understanding – As the Devas are forever indulgent in their heavenly kingdoms, constantly given to the pursuit of and experiencing pleasure (sensory), they are unable (to find the time) to ‘think’ about Siva. While at the same time those down in the earth, are unable to ‘measure’ Siva (due to their gross level of consciousness) as He resides in the highly subtle realm of Akaashaa (ether/heavens). The last line of the verse also makes clear that Siva is so close (by being manifest as the light in the eyes) and yet so unreachable (by virtue of His transcending all).

* For those of you who might not know of the incaration of Vishnu as Vaamana or the dwarf, I have presented a very short version below, of the story to give you an idea.

yadA yadA hi dharmasya gLAnirbhavati bhArata
abhyutthAnamadharmasya tathAtmAnam s.rjAmyaham
paritrANAya sAdhUnAM vinAshAya ca duSk.rtAm
dharmasaMsthApanArthAya saMbhavAmi yuge yuge
(bhagavad gIta, 4, 7--8)
(Whenever righteousness is on the decline, and unrighteousness is on the ascent, Oh arjuna!, then I embody myself on earth. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil, and for the fulfillment of the kingdom of righteousness, I am born on this earth, age after age)

As Lord Krishna says in the battlefield to Arjuna, Vishnu himself assumes various incarnations to protect the good and uphold the Dharma during times on the earth when righteousness and good is on the decline. And the tradition of the puranas have preserved the legends and morals of innumerable such incarnations throughout the various epochs or yugas. In among the countless incarnations and part manifestations (amsa) however, there are ten incarnations that are great and are held in very high esteem. Together they are known of as the DashAvatar (ten incarnations) of Vishnu. Even a brief description of the various avatars will lead us astray from the present post, so I will mention the Vamana legend only at this point.

The incarnation of Vishnu as Vaamana took place in the treta yuga. The asura (demonic) king Mahabali ruled much of the earth then. He was a very pious and righteous king though born in the asura clan and there was order and peace during his rule. However, the great king Mahabali had performed one hundred Ashwamedha sacrifices (a very powerful and complicated procedure capable of bestowing immense power) and thus had accquired the might of Indra himself. Why, he would have even surpassed Indra in his power! This greatly disturbed Indra (much like the rise of an independant candidate would disturb the established party back benchers) and he sought the help of Vishnu. Before any of you question why Vishnu would aggree to use his might against a pious and virtueous king, it has to be mentioned that Mahabali's pride was immense (after the many Ashwamedhas performed) and this brought about his downfall. (Personally, I feel that the story has been tweaked as the moral code of the hindu society changed down through the ages, but anyway, Mahabali's increased pride and arrogance were his downfall as far as the story is concerned.)

Vishnu then was born to the sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi (the parents of Indra himself, becoming his younger brother). He was born as a dwarf and so was known as Vamana ( who has a small body). In the form of a vatuh (or a young brahmin boy in his gurukula vasa or training period with the guru), Vishnu went to the place where the king Mahabali was in the process of conducting a sacrifice. There he approached the king and begged him for a gift of some land - land as wide as three of his footsteps!! It is generally the custom for a king (or anyone conducting sacrifices) to fulfill every request made during the time great sacrifices were being performed. And when Mahabali heard the request for three steps of land and that too three steps of a 'dwarf', he readily aggreed. Thus Mahabali made a solemn promise to give away three steps of land to the vatuh Vamana (Vishnu) using the priests officiating in the sacrifice.

As everyone gathered there were waiting for the dwarf to measure out his three feet of land, Vishnu suddenly assumed his Vishwarupa or cosmic form, huge and immense. Then with the first step he covered the earth and the netherworld. With the second step he covered the heavens. Now there was nowhere in existence for the third step. The ever righteous Mahabali came to his senses and bowed before Vishnu and gave his own head for the third step to rest on! Thus in three steps, Vishnu as the Vamana, deprived Mahabali of his supremacy over the three worlds and the gods. Mahabali then requested Vishnu to refrain from slaying him and further requested that he be allowed to visit his beloved subjects and his kingdom once every year for ten days. The festival of Onam celebrated in Kerala still bears testimony to this incident and people celebrate the ten days where their king Mahabali visits them each year, by decorating the streets and public places with beautiful and elaborate floral motifs and designs to signal their welcome to their erstwhile king.
The word Vamana when looked into etymologically also conveys the meaning - Because Vishnu arrested or checked (vamayati) the increasing pride of possession in the heart of Mahabali, he is known as Vaamana.

It goes without saying that Indra and the other gods regained their positions (however undeserving they maybe). This is made evident from the lines that even gods as powerful as Vishnu (even though the entire universe was measured by his three steps, Vishnu is unable to 'measure' Shiva) or Brahma or Indra and the host of other Gods living in the heavens are unable to fathom the supreme and all transcendental Shiva. Those of us who are dwellers of the earthly realm, we too cannot transcend the limitations of our every day burdens and faults to reach the supreme Shiva who is manifest as Aakashaa or ether. Shivas nature of being extremely near yet so far away highlights His ability/nature to transcend all and our nature to be unable to transcend to that inner and most subtle self who is Shiva - present forever, merged in the light of the seeing.