Saturday, September 05, 2009

Violence in the idea of bhakti.

Srigurubhyo namaha.

After yet another long sabattical from making regular updates on this blog, the mooligaisidhan is back. This time trying to make a post out of an observation!

The idea of Bhakti or the path of devotion is a contribution of the drAvida dEshA or the southern region of India. Though the stories of famous bhaktAs or devotees from the north of the country are to be seen in plenty, the idea/concept of bhakti or devotion as a method for Self realisation (ultimately) is one born from the southern regions. Bhakti is defined as parA anuraktI or love that is associated towards a supreme being or deity. The classical texts like Narada bhakti sutrA etc give a detailed description of bhakti and its divisions depending on the 'quality' or 'intensity' of devotion etc.

The concept of bhakti or devotion itself is not the reason for this post. The presence of violence in bhakti is. On the surface it might appear odd that violence is connected to devotion or love for a deity, but a clear examination of some the famous episodes in the lives of the well known bhaktAs will make you see what I am on about. One story that jumps to mind is the one about the well known bhaktA kannappar. The hunter who dug out his eyes for Shiva. For those of you who are not aware of this story, I provide a brief retelling below -

There was once a land known as Udupur in the drAvida dEshA. In the forests there, there lived a community of hunters. Their chief was known as nAgan and his wife was tattai. As was common among the tribes of the southern forests, they were great devotees of subramanyA or murugA. As the fruit of many years of devotion to subramanyA, a son was born to this couple. The child was unusually heavy at birth, so they named him tinnanar. The boy was reared according to the traditions of the hunters and he grew to be a strong and talented huntsman. He was a skilled archer and started to manage the affairs of the tribe even when quite young and was crowned king by his father. Even though tinnanar was a hunter, he was of a noble disposition. He would not kill young animals, or those injured or wounded, or those carrying their offspring.

While out hunting one day, a boar escaped his net and began charging away towards the undergrowth. Tinnanar gave chase and he was accompanied by his two friends, nanan and kadan. After a while, the boar was unable to run any further and being tired slowed to a crawl. Soon it was killed by tinnanar and his friends. With effort of the chase, they too were tired and thirsty. While they were on the way to Ponmukali, tinnanar wanted to climb a nearby hill. His friend nanan decided to accompany him to the hill as he knew that atop the kalahasthi hill there was the tufted Lord, kudumithEvar. The other friend kadan decided to stay down to cook the boar.

As he was climbing the hill, a dramatic change overcame tinnanar. The samskArAs from his previous birth were becoming evident now and he began to rapidly lose body consciousness. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw the lingam, the lord kudumithEvar. He ran towards it overcome with a deep love and embraced the lingam and began to shed tears in torrents. As he remained there hugging the lingam it occured to him that the lord might be hungry. Though he felt that it was unbearable to be seperated from the lord even for a few moments, he ran down the hill to where kandan was cooking the boar. There he picked the pieces of the freshly cooked meat and tasted them by putting it in his mouth and selected the very best for the lord. As a hunter, he was unaccustomed to the rules involving the ritual of worship. nanan explained to him that normally the lord was worshipped by being washed with water (abishEgam), flowers (archanA) etc before the food (neivEdyA) was offered to him.

Tinnanar ran around the forest in a frenzy gathering the flowers and water from the nearby spring. As he had nothing to gather all this with and was also in no mind to waste any further time before being back with his lord, tinnanar went to the spring and took a mouthful of water and kept it in his mouth! The flowers he gathered and kept them on his own head! He collected his bow and arrow and the best pieces of the boar he had kept aside and began running up the hill again towards the lingam. When he reached the lord, he stood near and spat out the water from his mouth on the lingam. This was his abishegam to kudumithEvar. He then shook his head to scatter the flowers on the lingam. This was his archanA to kudumithEvar. Then placing the meat of the boar near the lord for his hunger, tinnanar went and stood guard through the night. The next morning, he went again into the forest to hunt fresh food for the lord.

After he had gone away, the sivAchAryAr (the priest) came walking up to conduct the usual morning prayers to the lord. When he came and saw the meat there on the lingam, he was horrified at the descecration of the lord by someone. At once, he cleaned the place thoroughly and began the chants mentioned in the AgamAs to purify the place and the lingam. He then proceeded to do the abishEgam of the lord with special pure water kept in a kalasA (pot) while having his mouth covered (lest a bit of spittle accidentally pollute the lords water) and chanting the holy names performed the archanA with the fresh flowers brought in a basket. He then offered the freshly prepared pAyasA (sweet) and other pure neivEdyA to the lord. After performing his worship the sivAcharyAr went back to his house in the village.

In the afternoon, tinnanar returned with fresh game for the lord. He removed the flowers and other offerings of the priest and once again performed the worship to the lingam as before in his own way. In the meantime, nanan and kadan anxious about the change in tinnanar went home to report the happenings to his father. His father and mother along with the rest of tribe came at once to see what madness had overcome tinnanar. When they reached the hill, they saw tinnanar standing guard near the lingam. Though they pleaded with him in many ways, tinnanar refused to leave the side of the lord and go home with them. In the end, they returned home without him.

The next morning tinnanar went to hunt fresh food again for the lord. The sivAchAryAr found more meat when he came to worship that morning. Horrified at this repeated desecration, the priest once again chanted the purifying mantrAs and began his customary worship as sanctioned by the scriptures. The same thing kept happening for five days. The priest was very disturbed by these events and pleaded to the lord to intervene. kudumithEvar, lord shivA, wanted the priest to know about the devotion of tinnanar and in a dream instructed the priest to hide behind the lingam the next morning to observe what happens. The next morning, the priest arrived very early and as adviced by the lord hid behind the lingam.

On the sixth day, tinnanar went out as usual and came back with the meat and other articles for his worship. When he arrived at the lingam, he was horrified to see that the lords right eye (on the lingam) was bleeding. Shocked, he dropped the meat and everything else and ran around to find some of the medicinal herbs he knew of. Gathering them, he squeezed the juice on the bleeding eye. But it was all in vain as the herbs did not stop the bleeding. It was then a thought occured to him - flesh for flesh. Without a second thought, he at once picked his arrow and gauged out his own right eye and stuck it on the lords eye. The bleeding stopped at once. Delighted that he was able to fix the bleeding of his lord, tinnanar began to dance in ecstacy. It was then he noticed that the lords left eye was now bleeding much the same as the right one had done some time back. Now that tinnanar knew how to remedy this, he had but only one problem. That of locating the position of the lords left eye when his own one remaining eye was pulled out. After a minutes thinking, tinnanar placed the big toe of his foot at the exact spot of the lords left eye and standing still he began pulling out his other remaining eye with the arrow.

At once the supreme shivA appeared from within the lingam and held tinnanars hand and said ' My dear child, oh kannappA, stop pulling your eye'. The lord called him by the name kannappA thrice. Tinnanar thus became kannappar, as he had given his own eyes to the lord. ShivA held kannapar in his arms and kept him to his right. In a moment, kannappar regained his vision and lived as another shivA himself. The priest who had witnessed all this in hiding understood the true meaning of devotion.

This here is the story of the bhaktA kannappa nAyanAr. There are a few esoteric meanings to this story and there are also other things that are evident from the ancient purAnAs. tinnanar or kannappar was ArjunA (the pAndavA) in his last life! In that incarnation, before the big war arjunA went to worship the lord shivA in the forests to ask for the pAsupatAstrA. On completion of his tapas, shivA appeared before his (with the astrA) in the form of a hunter. But arjunA (due to his conceit) failed to recognise the lord and was thus cursed by shivA to be born in the earth as a hunter. ShivA also decreed that arjunA will gain the highest place when in the birth of the hunter, he will through devotion overcome the taint of conceit and ego. It was the good samskArAs (at the ripe moment) from his birth as arjunA that suddenly made tinnanar want to worship the lord that day after the hunt.

The esoteric meaning of this story I will mention in my next post. But the topic of this post was a study into violence in the idea of bhakti, so I will refrain from deviation and stick to illustrating the violence in bhakti! Over the next while, I will be retelling a couple of other stories which will go to illustrate the extreme violence that is evident in the idea of bhakti.


naz said...

The post is good and i found it interesting, waiting for an update. Does it mean being ignorant justifies what you do

mooligai sidhan said...

Will provide the update on this in the next post.It by no way means that being ignorant justifies what you do - much to the contrary really.Wait to see more.

ananda said...

it is so beautiful to read such devotional stories.

naz said...

wating for the update