Tiruppāvai of Āṇḍāḷ | verses 26-27
O Love Incarnate! Sapphire-hued One, if You should ask what
we need to observe as of old the Mārgazhi bath,
An observance of ancient tradition,
It is conches like Your Pañchajanya, milk-white,
capable of setting the world atremble with their tumultuous sound.
Great big drums, choristers to chant your praises,
Decorative lamps, pendants and canopies kindly give us,
O Lord who reclines on the banyan leaf.
All the articles requested here by the Gopīs have profound esoteric significance.
O Love Incarnate! — up to now the Gopīs have addressed the Lord in a formal manner as Nārāyaṇa etc. Now they address Him as the paramour. mālē also means "the great",
they were previously under the impression that Śrī Kṛṣṇa's greatness lies in His transcendence (paratva) as Nārāyaṇa, but now they have truly realised that it lies in the Lord's qualities of vātsalya, tender overwhelming compassion or saulabhya i.e., endearing himself to the low, by spontaneously and freely mixing with them without any reserve.
Sapphire-hued One — the colour of the Lord is described as being as blue as the sapphire.
The sky and the ocean are seen to be blue in colour when in actual fact they are both colourless. The reason for the colour is due to their immeasurable depths.
So it is with the Lord because of His immeasurable, unfathomable and inscrutable nature He is described as being blue.
Śrī Vedānta Deśikan enumerates the characteristics of a 'gem' in one of his stotras as follows;
(1) it dispels fear; (2) it brings glory to the possessor; (3) it is indestructible; (4) it is pleasing, (5) it is bright; (6) it is valuable (7) it brings prosperity (8) it is highly regarded; (9) it is to be protected carefully; (10) it is easily transportable.
All these ten characteristics are to be found in the Lord also.
if You should ask — Here the commentators suggest that the Gopīs have induced Kṛṣṇa into a trance, for He has completely forgotten himself in his ecstasy at realising the jñāna (wisdom), bhakti (devotion), vairāgya (renunciation); and anurāga (madness in love) of the Gopīs.
we need to observe as of old the Mārgazhi bath — The bath as mentioned before is representative of immersion in love and devotion. This expression also implies that, because they have now attained the Lord, they should not abandon their duties.
An observance of ancient tradition, — From this it is evident that Margali Bath is one of the observances from olden times and it belongs to the category of 'Sisṭhānuṣṭhams' (i.e, observances of great men) they are considered to be more sacred than even those truths mentioned in the Vedas.
The Gopīs now enumerate the accessories necessary for the Vratam; milk-white conches similar to the Pañcajanya, whose sound would resound throughout the whole world, making those opposed to the vow shudder with fear;
the big parai (drum) to announce the festivities, the hymn-singers who will bless us standing in front facing us; the standing-lamps which are auspicious and which enable us to see one another clearly;
the lofty banner-which would be seen from a distance by all and invite them to join the celebrations; and the canopy which prevents dew-drops falling on our heads.
The various paraphernalia requested represent wisdom and attitudes that make for unification with Kṛṣṇa:
The conch named Pañcajanya which the Lord carries symbolises the praṇava AUM which represents the four states of consciousness: waking (A), dreaming (U), deep sleep (M) and the three together represent that fourth state of transcendental consciousness.
The drum stands for the concept that we are all entirely dependent (paratantrya) upon the Lord. The professional cantors indicate the need for the company of serious experienced spiritual aspirants in any devotional enterprise.
The lamps stands for the knowledge that we exist for His pleasure and service alone. The pendants represents service to the Lord. The canopy represents selflessness and charity to others.
The question arises as to why the term “canopy” does not refer to Ādiśeṣa which would be more appropriate?
The answer is that Ādiśeṣa cannot bear to leave the Lord even for a millionth part of a second! This being the case how could he be given over to the Gopīs? So the Lord gave them His shawl instead!
O Lord who reclines on the banyan leaf — after the dissolution of the cosmos Lord Kṛṣṇa, containing the entire cosmos in His belly reclines upon a banyan leaf floating in the ocean of undifferentiated unity.
After hearing what the Gopīs want, Kṛṣṇa retorted:
"O Gopīs! how can I obtain all the accessories that you ask for! It's impossible!"
To this, the girls beautifully answered in addressing Him as:
"You who recline upon the banyan leaf! Is there anything in this world impossible to be achieved by you — You who is able to protect the whole Universe during Pralaya by keeping it in your small body, reposing on a tender banyan leaf?"
In this connection, there is a beautiful verse by Nammāḷvār.
My great Māyaṉ (Vishnu) — who in reposing on the tender banyan leaf, concealing in his bosom,
Śiva, Brahma, Indra, the worlds, the animate and inanimate things in them, the five elements, land, water, fire, air and space, the sun, the moon, the stars the planets, and other things, without letting out a bit even a single thing— He is the one Supreme Lord. (Tiruvasiriyam, st. 7)
“Our resolve depends entirely on your grace, if you refuse to give, there is none to compel you.”
What has been stated in lines 4-7 is still followed in Śrīraṅgam, when the Lord is taken out in procession during Margali month –
He is accompanied by the blowing of conches, and throbbing of drums and the recital of the Tiruppallāṇṭu, and the dāsanambis holding fire- brands, banners and canopies.
“O Lord! most, endearing to devotees! We want the following accessories for Your Service (that Service which has been handed down from time immemorial and which should be continued by everyone) and those accessories are:—
(1) conches — a realisation of ananyārha-śeṣatvam — destitution of any other means except servitude (Indicated by the praṇava).
(2) Drum — a realisation of pāratantriya — reliance upon Kṛṣṇa for everything. (indicated by the word namaḥ)
(3) Cantors — sat-sahavāsam — the company of the spiritually minded.
(4) lamps — a knowledge of bhagavata-śeṣatva-jñāna — service rendered to the devotees.
(5) banners — a desire for bhagavat kaiṅkarya — service to the Lord directly.
(6) canopy — bhogdṛtva nivṛtti — abandonment of the ego and selflessness.
Please bestow on us the above-mentioned gifts!
O Lord who protects all, during Pralaya by concealing them in your bosom, reposing on the banyan leaf! If it please you to give us all that we desire, our service will end successfully".
O Govinda! you can easily win over those who are opposed to you,
The rewards we gain from singing Your praises,
and obtaining the drum will be universal acclaim,
Many ornaments we shall wear, bracelets and armlets,
rings for the lower ear and flower-like ornaments for the upper,
we shall wear lovely robes, and then partake of milk-rice;
soaked with ghee that drips down our elbows as we eat,
Thus shall we be in bliss, cool and united with You.
It is tradition to cook and serve sweet rice with lots of ghee on the day that this stanza is chanted in the temples. The Gopīs now tell the Lord how they will celebrate this great event.
It is in contrast with the austerities mentioned at the beginning of the poem.
In the previous stanza, the Gopīs enumerated all they need for the Vratam and in this stanza, they deal with the fruits of the Vratam — they would all mingle and sit together with the Lord and partake of the Ambrosial food, the ghee thereof flowing down the elbow.
O Govinda! you can easily win over those who are opposed to you — whose greatness and sweetness subdues even your enemies — Lord Kṛṣṇa can so easily defeat his greatest enemies but stands humbled before his devotees!
The Gopīs are hinting: "You seem to think that you have defeated us by your exquisite beauty, but in actuality you are defeated by our jñāna, bhakti and vairāgya.”
The Lord will destroy all those who offend Him by the three kāraṇas, i.e., thought, word and deed; and He is subdued before one, who has surrendered not even sincerely but in token only!
Rāma told Rāvaṇa at the end of the first day's battle that he could go that day and come the next day for battle, even then Rāvaṇa never realised his adversary's prowess, and because he was "an arrogant demon" he failed to surrender to the Lord and was therefore destroyed on the battlefield.
Vibhīṣaṇa on the other hand surrendered to the Lord, and obtained all prosperity.
Though Lord Rāma had expressed the hope— " Let it be even Rāvaṇa”, the demon never approached him.
Further, in Kṛṣṇā Avatāra, he punished Duryodhana, for he stood aloof from Him: but He was subdued before the Pāṇḍavas and not only acted as messenger for them, He also served as charioteer to Arjuna.
Śrī Vedānta Deśikan says:
"O Kṛṣṇa your glory increased considerably, for you act according to the wishes of your bhaktas, stooping to do such menial services as a messenger and a charioteer."—
His kalyāṇa (auspicious) guṇas make the most ignorant person enlightened. He wins His devotees by His perfection, and enemies by arrows.
Govinda — This word signifies that it is not incumbent that one should be in communion with the Lord, to gain His protection and Grace, but if one has not entertained any idea of separating oneself from the Lord — that in itself is sufficient to gain His protection and Grace.
The commentators point out that the Lord is addressed as Govinda for the first time in the poem:
Govinda is a very popular name for Kṛṣṇa and has several meanings: ’Lord-of-the-Earth’, ’Lord-of-speech’, ’Lord-of-cows’ all of these being appropriate in the context.
By calling Kṛṣṇa “Govinda” the Gopīs are referring to Him as belonging to the same community of cow-herds as them as well as being the Lord of the entire universe.
He is brought emotionally closer through the use of this more informal name.
The rewards we gain from singing Your praises — The rewards are the garlands, the ornaments and the clothes worn by the Lord and thereafter offered to the devotees.
we shall wear lovely robes — we shall wear dresses hallowed by your contact — we are going to dress ourselves beautifully and feast ourselves sumptuously. The impending union with the Lord is like a marriage and this is a concept which is widely used in many religions.
It is proper that the Gopīs will wear their best attire and ornaments:
The bangles are indicative of the palms joined (añjali) in salutation to Kṛṣṇa. The armlets represent the conch and discus which are branded on the shoulders at the sacrament of initiation (pañcasamskāra).
The earrings represent the three sacred mantras: The lower earring the Aṣṭākṣarī, the upper earring the Dvaya mantra and the anklets represent the Carama śloka.
The robe represents humility and the total resignation to the Lord.
and then partake of milk-rice; soaked with ghee that drips down our elbows as we eat — food cooked in milk and saturated with ghee to such an extent, that when a morsel is taken in the hand, the ghee flows down the elbow — The sweet rice cooked in ghee symbolises sweetness & delight of the union with God.
Thus shall we be in bliss, cool and united with You — When we undertook the rite, we vowed that we shall neither take ghee nor drink milk but now, that we have achieved our aim which is union with you, we can take ghee in plenty with rice cooked in milk.
“O Lord! Thou hast bestowed the hands, legs, head, tongue and other organs to do service to Thee, each in its own capacity, and also Thou hast instituted the Scriptural truths.
Still there are some who say "I won't bow to Thee, for I am not a servant of Thine!"
O Magnanimous One! You guide even the wicked people to the right path by displaying your magnetic qualities and beauty. By singing your glory and chanting your names, we hope to attain our goal in life.
Please listen to us; we request you to protect us by granting the five following essentials indispensable for anyone seeking Moksha (Mumukshu) and they are:—
The nāmam on the forehead of every Vaiṣṇava symbolising Vishnu's lotus feet;
The Cakra and Śaṅkha branded on the right and left shoulders signifying belonging to the lord.
The Aṣṭākṣarī or the Tirumantra which yields ātma-svarūpa-jñāna (knowledge of the nature of one's own Self).
The Dvaya which yields devotion (Bhakti); and
The Carama Śloka which yields dispassion (Vairāgya).
Further, you must grace us in such a way that we must achieve Śeṣatva-jñāna for servitude to God as our sole goal out of our already existing jñāna, bhakti and vairāgya;
and thereafter to do service (kainkarya) unto you with total mindfulness of our dependence upon You alone (paratantriya jñāna) overflowing ourselves.”
The realisation of the meanings and truths enshrined in this stanza is absolutely essential for every Vaiṣṇava and as such this verse occupies a high place in Vaiṣṇava liturgy.
Thus, we find that the objects prayed for, in the previous stanza and the enjoyment spoken of in this stanza are, of course, figurative and they really refer to the attainment of God and the enjoyment of highest bliss along with God, of the Self freed from this Samsāra or cycle of birth and death, by the Grace of God.