bAlAji - God of grace
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Balaji - God of Grace

D. Ramaswamy Iyengar

Lord Srinivasa of the Seven Hills (Tiruvengadam) Who is fondly known as Balaji in the north and Govinda in the south has been enjoyed by Acharya Vedanta Desika (1268 to 1379 A.D. as the God of Grace or Mercy. In one of the Stotras of that great Acharya known as Daya Satakam, the Lord's grace has been sung about in beautiful poetry. Vedanta Desika himself has been claimed and acclaimed as an avatar or incarnation of Lord Srinivasa. On the occasion of the erection of a Temple to that great Lord in the Capital of this country, New Delhi, it is thought fit to enjoy in some detail the splendid sentiments enshrined in that Stotra, Daya Satakam.

Vedanta Desika was a poet of the first order, in addition to being a philosopher of great repute. Following on the lines of Acharya Ramanuja - 1017 to 1137 A.D., Vedanta Desika developed and perfected the system of Visishtadvaita which was postulated or rather re-stated by Ramanuja in his nine works, the most important of which is the famous Sri Bhashya, a commentary on the Brahma Sutras. In place of the formless, nameless and attributeless Brahman of the Advaitins, Ramanuja has postulated that the Para-Brahman of the Upanishads has got a form, name and all auspicious attributes. In fact, the Mangala Sloka of his Sri Bhashya equates Brahmam with Srinivasa. Lord Srinivasa of the Seven Hills, known to Tamilians as Tiruvengada mudayan, had been praised, worshipped and enjoyed in several ways by the great Alwars, those mystics of Tamilnad who have set a new standard in the cult of bhakti. One can see the great popularity that Tiruvengadam and the Lord of Tiruvengadam enjoyed during the period of the earliest of the Alwars. The first four of them, all of the whom hailed from Tondaimandalam (the region round Madras - Chingleput) have sung many verses about the greatness of this great Hill and about its presiding Deity. This outstanding prominence is not to be found in the works of the later Alwars. even the early Tamil classics like Silappadikaram have celebrated the greatness of Tiruvengadam and its Lord.

The Vishishtadvaita Siddhantha lays great emphasis upon the Lord's beautiful form and His auspicious qualities. The Bhakti cult of the Alwars had given a great fillip to this system. And the Archa form (icons) became the object of special veneration and worship. Lord Srinivasa the beacon-light on the great Hill of Tiruvengadam which has been called Tirumala, the sacred Hills in excelsis - has been and is being venerated, worshipped, and loved by millions of people in South India. The hymns of the Alwars in His praise were later on added to by several works in Sanskrit and Tamil by later Acharyas. The most outstanding song in praise of Lord Srinivasa is Vedanta Desika's Daya Satakam referred to above.

Daya Satakam as the name itself denotes is a Stotra in praise of Daya, consisting of 100 slokas. In fact it contains 108 slokas, the extra eight slokas having been added possibly for making up the sacred number 108.

The great quality of mercy which alone endears the Lord to us and which is our sole succour and source of help has been praised in this Stotra. In fact, this Stotra is entirely in praise of Daya and not of Lord Srinivasa Who has a place in it only as the possessor of Daya. It has been one of the fundamental concepts of all theistic siddhantas that the Lord possesses infinite auspicious qualities and for that reason the Lord is known as Ananta - kalyana - gunanidhi. Wherever the Upanishads refer to Brahman as nirgunam, the meaning to be attributed to those upanishadic texts is not that Brahman is bereft of attributes, but He is bereft of all heya gunas or evil traits. Heya - Pratyaneekatva is as much an indication (lingam) of the ultimate reality as kalyana - gunaakaratva. Thus the possession of auspicious attributes and the total absence of evil attributes form the two important indications (ubhaya - linga) of the ultimate reality.

The attributes of the Lord celebrated in the Upanishads, satyatva, gnanatva and anantatva mentioned in the Taitireeyam, and several other qualities mentioned in other Upanishads, have been crystalised into six great qualities in the Pancharatram, otherwise known as the Bhagavat Sastras. Those are gnana, sakti, bala, aiswarya, veerya and tejas. It is for this reason that the Lord is very often referred to as the Shaadgunayapoorna or one full of six splendid qualities. These are qualities which bring into prominence His infinite greatness or paratva. When the Lord descended into the world as Rama, He set aside for the nonce His greatness or paratva and assumed the role of an easily accessible person. Valmiki has enjoyed the great qualities of Sri Rama with special reference to His saulabhyam in many places. He has praised them in his own words; and has also made the several characters in the Ramayana praise Him and His lofty qualities. In lieu of the six great qualities pertaining to Paratva, Valmiki postulates another set of six qualities which bespeak His saulabhya and sauseelya, easy accessibility and free mixing with one and all. The following sloka from the Ayodhya Kanda speaks about the six qualities making for His saulabhya:

      anrisamsyam - anukrosah srutam silam samo dama
      raghavam sobhayantyele shadgunah purushottamam

It will be noted that the first two of these six qualities which make Rama a Purushothama are Aanrusamsyam and Anukrosam. The meaning of these two words is compassion and sympathy respectively. They are phases of that great attribute of the Lord which is known variously as Daya, Anukampa, Kripa and Karuna, meaning practically the same thing. All the four words have been used in the course of the Daya Satakam to refer to Daya. Ramanuja in his several works refers very frequently to the several qualities of the Lord which can be classified under two heads - those which pertain to His paratva or transcendent supremacy and those which pertain to vatsalya or spontaneous love towards human beings. Both sets of qualities are compendiously known as Kalyana gunas or auspicious attributes. Vedanta Desika in the Daya Satakam, Sloka 15, boldly asserts that but for the presence of Daya as a noteworthy and noble attribute of the Lord all His numerous other qualities would really not be auspicious. It is worthwhile setting out in full that sloka of Daya Sataka:

One could see that Desika has even gone to the extent of saying that the great qualities such as gnana, bala etc. will not only cease to be good and auspicious qualities, but would really become doshas or faults, if only Daya has not been there as a quality of the Lord. This superiority of Daya over the numerous other gunas of the Lord has been stressed in ever so many places in the course of Daya Satakam. In Sloka 101 Daya which has been praised as a Lady and Consort of Lord Srinivasa in this Stotra, has been referred to as Guneswari. This idea must be appreciated and enjoyed by all devotees of the Lord. When one comes to think of it the great qualities (shadgunas) like gnana, bala, aiswarya etc., will not help us or obtain for us His protection. They may make Him a transcendent Lord of the Universe, Omnisicient, Omnipotent and so on; but as Nammalwar has pointed out, of what use are those qualities to us, or even to Him? Merciful as He is by nature, he must be even more sorry to see us suffering than we are or can be because of our sufferings. Daya helps us by making us objects of His protection. Daya helps Him by serving as an armour protecting Him from the pain caused by our sins - as enjoyed in Sloka 28 of the Daya Sataka, which says that Daya is the Kavacha or armour of the Lord. So this quality of mercy, which has been very aptly referred to as a quality that blesses him that gives and him that takes, is the key-note of the Lord's greatness.

Vedanta Desika also points out that the Lord Himself is the subject of praise by the Srutis only because He Possesses Daya in such a predominant measure. The Lord is a lord because He is the Creator, Protector and Destroyer of the world. The Lord is a Lord because He helps suffering humanity by giving them pardon for their sins and raising them to the state of moksha - release from bondage. But for these two, the Lord will not be the great Lord that He is. Vedanta Desika in - sloka 68 of Daya Satakam says that the Lord has become the subject of praise stuti-padam, only because of these two features. Both these aspects have been demonstrated in the Daya Satakam to be the outcome of the quality of Daya in Him. Creation is an act of Daya - Sloka 17. Protection obviously and undoubtedly is an act of Daya. Even pralaya or the dissolution of cosmos has been demonstrated to be an act of grace (Sloka 16). Srishti, Sthiti and Samhara which together are known as Jagatvyaapaara, and given in the Second Sutra of the Brahma Sutras as a definition of Brahmam, are there because of Daya. So too only Daya is responsible for extending the Lord's protection to us, sinners, pardoning our sins and securing for us the great beatitude that is called Moksha. The first two quarters of the Mangala Sloka of the Sri Bhashya of Acharya Ramanuja deal respectively with these two aspects - Jagatvyapara and the releasing of souls in distress and raising them to the status of a mukta; and as already pointed out that Sloka has eqauted Brahman with Srinivasa and shows to us that as Srinivasa the Lord is the possessor of the great quality of mercy and therefore it is that He is celebrated by the Srutis as Brahman. He is Brahmam because He is himself big and because He makes others also big - Brihatwaat and Brahmanatwaat. By singing Daya Satakam Desika has established the supremacy of Daya. He for the presencde of that attribute, Lord would not be Supreme Bhashya (Brahmam) and will not have the power to make small beings like us big. It is worthy of note that this idea enshrined in the Mangala Sloka of Sri Bhashya has been very finely worked upon in this hymn of Vedanta Desika known as Daya Satakam.

Reference has been made above to the personification of Daya as a lady and a Consort of Lord Srinivasa. This again is a very fine idea which has emerged from that great Acharya. Daya has been defined in the 71st sloka of the Daya Satakam as the Lord's Ichcha or desire to protect. In the very next sloka there is a fine slesha and Daya is said to be the alter ego of Sri Mahalakshmi, who is an ineserparable part of Paratattva, ultimate truth. According to Vedanta Esika, Narayana by Himself or Lakshmi by Herself does not constitute the ultimate reality. In a happy blend of Lakshmi and Narayana as Lakshmi - Narayana Dampati lies the ultimate reality. This idea has been pointedly referred to in Sri Stuti, Sloka 9, addressing Lakshmi, as yuvam dampati daivatam nah. The concept of Daya or Mercy as an alter ego of Lakshmi is laid down in several slokas of Daya Satakam. In paying obeisance to Lakshmi in the 6th sloka of Daya Satakam Lakshmi is referred to as Srinivasa - Karuna, the personification of Srinivasa's Daya. In Sloka 71 already referred to, Daya is said to manifest herself in the form of Lakshmi. The Lord's fondness for Daya has been emphasised in many slokas in some of which it has been stated that it excels His fondness towards his other Consorts like Lakshmi, Bhoodevi and Neela. In sloka 36 it is stated, that He is fond of those Consorts because He sees a reflection of Daya in them all. That shows how the Lord Himself looks upon Daya as his favourite Queen.

A close study of the Daya Satakam will reveal that Vedanta Desika has incorporated the central idea of the ten centums of Nammalwar's Tiruvaoimozhi respectively in the 10 decads of his Daya Satakam. The great Acharya has given an indication about the theme of each decad of the Stotra being separate and distinct from that of any other by couching each of the 10 decads in a different metre. As is well known the Tiruvoimozhi of Nammalwar (Bhagavatvishaya) has been the subject of the close study, minute research and careful analysis by Desika. For the benefit of Sanskrit - knowing people he has written the Dramidopanishad Saaram and Dramidopanishad Taatparya Ratnavali. In those two works it has been stated that the ten attributes of the Lord are enjoyed respectively in the ten centums which go to make up the thousand of the Tiruvoimozhi as seva yogya, atibhogya etc. A perusal of the Daya Satakam in the light of the aforesaid epithets contained in the Dramidopanished Saaram and Taatparya Ratnavali will convince the reader about Desika having sung Daya Satakam with the definite purpose of demonstrating to the world that those ten attributes enjoyed by Nammalwar in the ten centums are all attributes which the Lord possesses because He is the possessor of Daya. The sentiments in the 10 decads of the Stotram and even words employed in each of them remind us of the sentiments and even words in which the Acharya has enjoyed the Tiruvoimozhi in these two Sanskrit works of his. Even as Adhikarana Saaravali is the summary in verse of the Sri Bhashyam, Taatparya Ratnavali is a summary in verse of Bhagavat vishayam. The names given to the two works Saaravali and Ratnavali which indicate two precious ornaments show to us the inestimable worth of the two works. Daya Satakam has been modelled on the Ratnavali. Saaravali is a summary of polemic treatise which naturally contains debates and discussions and is reminiscent of war — a battle of words. Ratnavali, and the Daya Satakam modelled on it, contain the supreme treasure of literary and devotional enjoyment, without any trace of dispute, dissension or debate. Probably that is the reason why in doing Satvika - tyaga, Desika refers to the Adhikarana Saaravali being the result of Lord Ranganatha sounding the conch in the shape of Desika; while he refers to Daya Satakam as the sweet and mellifluous sound of the veena in the shape of Desika played by the deft fingers of Venkatanatha, that Great Lord presiding over Tiruvengadam (Sloka 104). In fact, Vedanta Desika has shown to us that the slokas of Daya Satakam have come into being by the Lord's own sankalpa, aided by Daya - Sloka 107.

Even as the Vedas, Ithihasas and Puranas are the pramanas (means of knowledge) which establish the prameya, (object of knowledge) Srinivasa, Daya Satakam is the pramana which establishes the supremacy of Daya (Sloka 11).

I shall conclude by referring to Vedanta Desika's conception of the Divya-mangala-vigraha of Lord Venkateswara (and thereby of the archa forms of the Lord in general) as the quintessence of Daya. In sloka 22 of Daya Satakam it has been stated that by churning the ocean of Daya the nectar that is obtained is the divya deham (celestial body) of Lord Srinivasa; and that it is amrita (nectar) because it is mrita - sanjeevanam (restoring the dead to life). This idea is a distinct contribution to world-thought calculated to dispel several hazy and even wrong notions that prevail in the world of philosophy about the essential nature of the Lord residing in temples in archa (icon) forms.

May the Grace of Lord Srinivasa protect the world from the several hazards and perils to which it is now subject and bless Bharat and thereby the whole of this sacred land with peace, concord and amity in the midst of plentiful material wealth and serene spiritual bliss.



athAto "brahma" zignAsA - Then thereafter be inquisitive to enquire about "the Absolute"