Indian Culture and Traditions - 6

Indian Culture and Traditions


Alavandar- The Glory Of A King And A Saint
By Sangeeta Venkatesh

During the 10th century A.D, in a town called Viranarayanpura in Tamil Nadu, a learned teacher called Maha Bhashya Bhattar would guide his students on various subjects. A scholar called Akkiyalwan from king’s court had the arrogance to challenge other intellectuals and also collect money from them. When Maha Bhashya Bhattar received summons to pay the amount, he was very upset. Seeing the state of his guru, one of his students called Yamuna was incensed and tore the summons into pieces. The king heard about this and asked the boy to have a literary debate with Akkiyalwan. When the queen saw that this boy was only sixteen years old, she asked the king that he should give away half the kingdom to the boy, if he won the debate. If not she would offer herself to wild dogs.
Akkiyalvan asked the boy to make three statements, which he offered to contradict. If he failed, then the boy would be declared the winner. Yamuna then stated: i) Your mother is not a barren woman; ii) The king is a righteous and powerful ruler; iii) The queen is a model of chastity. Akkiyalwan was bewildered as he could not counter any of the above statements and accepted his defeat.
The king then asked Yamuna to counter his own statements. Yamuna contradicted his own statements as follows: i) The Shastras say “Kaakaa Vanthya Kathali Vanthya”, which means that yielding one egg by the crow or one bunch of fruit by a banana plant, both are considered as Non Yielders. That is a single tree can never form a grove. By that analogy, an only son is no son at all. So, Akkiyalvan's mother (who had only one offspring) was as good as barren in the eyes of the law; ii) The king cannot be called righteous as he had appointed an arrogant person to be his scholar in his court. That he had not dismissed him, revealed that the king was indeed powerless; iii) According to the Sruti texts, every woman is married first to Soma, then Gandharva and then Agni before marrying her earthly spouse. The queen was no exception and therefore could not be regarded as a model of chastity.
The queen was overjoyed with these arguments and hailed the boy as "Alavandar"- or “One who came to be a saviour.” The king sent Akkiyalwan out of the kingdom and gave half his kingdom to Yamuna to rule.
Born in 916 A.D in Viranarayanpura, Yamuna had an impressive lineage. The great vishishtha advaita scholar, Nathamuni was his grandfather and Ishwara Bhat was his father. He had the gift of being an ‘eka-santha grahi’ or one who could learn by listening just once. As a child prodigy he had mastered all the Shastras under the guidance of Maha Bhashya Bhattar.
However, after becoming a king, Alavandar had very less time left for spiritual pursuits. Meanwhile, Mannakal Nambi (Rama Misra), a very learned saint, wanted to install Alavandar as the spiritual successor to Nathamuni. He tried to reach Alavandar many times, but was unsuccessful. To gain entry into the palace, Manakkal Nambi supplied the palace cook with Alavandar’s favourite spinach. After many months, one day Mannakal Nambi stopped supplying the spinach. Missing his favourite green, Alavandar summoned for the supplier.
Mannakal Nambi finally got to meet Alavandar and told him that his grandfather Sri Nathamuni had passed on the ‘family wealth’ that needs to be handed over to Alavandar. Nambi then took Alavandar to the Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple at Srirangam. Upon seeing the Lord’s idol, Alavandar experienced a divine realisation and renounced his kingdom. He surrendered at the Lord’s feet and became a sanyasi. After being renamed as Yamunacharya, he was given the charge of Nathamuni’s school which also included the collected Divya Prabandha (the collection of verses by the Tamil Alwars or saints) by Mannakal Nambi. Some of the works that are attributed to Yamunacharya include the Chathusloki, a prayer devoted to Goddess Lakshmi, and Stotra Ratnam, a prayer devoted to Lord Narayana. Later he became a teacher to Sri Ramanujacharya, one of the greatest saints and expounder of the vishishtha advaita philosophy.
Works of Yamunacharya-
• Siddhitraya – This is a collection of three works, namely, Atma Siddhi, Iswara Siddhi, and Samvit Siddhi. These siddhis explore and explain the vishishth advaitic concept of soul, God and knowledge.
• Agama Pramanya – This work explains the validity of the Pancharatra Agamas- a central theme of Vedic traditions, where Bhakti is given a prominent place.
• Githartha Sangraha_ The 32 verses is an excellent commentary of the Bhagavad Geeta, based on which Sri Ramanujacharya also based Gita Bhashya. It emphasises that Bhakti or devotion to God is the karma (selfless service) and jnana (realisation) are the saadhanaas.
• Stotra Ratna – This ‘Jewel of hymns’ is composed in praise of Sriman Narayana
• Chatushloki – This is a hymn in praise of Goddess Lakshmi
• Nityam
• Maaya Vaada Khandanam
In his last days Alavandar desired to meet Ramanujacharya. But due to his failing health, he attained the feet of the Lord before Ramanujacharya could reach him. When Ramanujacharya reached Srirangam where Alavandar spent his last days, he saw that Alavandar’s three fingers were folded, indicating that Ramanujacharya had to fulfil three of his wishes.
Ramanujacharya declared that he would –
1. Commemorate the name of Parasara on Earth by giving it to a person worthy to bear it.
2. Compose a commentary on Tiruvaymozhi – the magnum opus of the saint Nammaazhvaar.
3. Compose a commentary on Upanishads, Vedanta Sutras and Bhagavad Gita.
Alavandar’s bent fingers immediately opened up and Swami Ramanujacharya went on to successfully fulfil his requests.

But What About The Original Satyameva Jayate
By Ram Lingam

India's national motto 'Satyameva Jayate' has now entered the lounge rooms of the Indian household...thanks to Aamir Khan's TV show. This TV show is a story of how a cine-star can create mass awareness on social issues using a famous Vedic statement 'Satyameva Jayate' as the title of the show. However the original 'Satyameva Jayate' declaration was not coined as a social aphorism. It is much more than that. Exploring the real source and scope of this antiquated affirmation could be more meaningful and enlightening.
'Satyameva Jayate' (Truth Alone Wins) is a famous dictum for spiritual seekers given by the Guru Angiras some 5000 years ago in India. It has now become a slogan for social activism on national television. "SMJ" as it is acronymed seems to have breathed some life to the idiot box. By the way, here is a little feedback on the so-called acronym "SMJ": Elementary Sanskrit points out that the show's acronym should be "SEJ" and not "SMJ" as it is Satyam(S) Eva(E) Jayate (J) and not Satyam(S) Meva(M) Jayate(J).  There is no "MEVA" in Satyameva Jayate.
Why Aamir Khan's ‘Satyameva Jayate' could be just half the truth...
Just going by the reviews and ratings, the show seems to be going strong. Aamir Khan probably got it right when he said 'Public Dekhegi' before the show started. Public ne dekh to liya but the source and scope of this slogan is rather unknown. But that's not the show's mandate anyway. With this auspicious 'Satyameva Jayate' slogan Aamir Khan seems to have graduated from silver screen and in the reckoning of becoming India's first Oprah Winfrey-style celebrity-social-advocate. But his show seems to highlight the "effects" and not the real causes of those social evils.
The TV show has created a milestone in and it would do more justice by exposing the full truth - especially those social malpractices which are based on erroneous interpretations of traditions. A bit more research could show that behind the social evils and social crimes lie the misconceptions about Indian customs, selfish interpretations about the Indian system of living. 
Take the instance of the terrible female infanticide issue - it would be appropriate to explain why certain people have this wrong notion that the male child is desirable. Also, how this so-called dowry system is not Indian in origin etc. Without this cause-hunting, the TV show is just scratching the surface. (Note that the Portuguese gave the city of Mumbai in dowry to the English - King Charles II on marrying Portuguese princess Catherine Braganza in 1662). (Read Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime by Veena Talwar Now for the original Satyameve Jayate...
Where is ‘Satyameva Jayate' coming from...
Many of us think that the motto ‘Satyameva Jayate' is part of the Ashoka Lions emblem, which is not true. The statement ‘Satyameva Jayate' is actually in the opening line of a four-line mantra from the 'MUNDAKA Upanishad' which is found in the Atharva Veda. In the massive library of sacred literature from India, the Mundaka Upanishad is like a collector's handbook. It is a sacred text meant for sincere seekers and especially for Sanyaasis who judiciously renounce all hankering of happiness from the world. The Mundaka Upanishad is a principal text dealing with transcendental wisdom - though simple but serious and authoritative.
The striking part of the Mundaka Upanishad is in the beginning, with Rishi Shaunaka asking his teacher Angiras to teach him 'THAT knowing which everything becomes known' (1.1.3). This is a significant spiritual question in the path of knowledge by a disciple to his Guru. It shows the caliber of students in an era when India was a knowledge society. In answering this question, a wide range of methods are employed to reveal the identity between God and the individual with some superb metaphors and analogies.
Why is the sourcebook Mundaka Upanishad important...
Remember the Hindi word 'Mundan' for shaven head...well this is what 'Mundaka' is supposed to mean. The word Mundaka is significant because it literally means a person with a shaven head but implies a monk or a sanyaasi. About this Upanishad, the very learned scholar and teacher Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life society writes:
"Among the Upanishads, the Mundaka Upanishad is regarded as one the most important. It throws a flood of light on the path of Knowledge and leads the aspirant to the highest rung in the ladder of knowledge...Mundaka means shaving, "mund", and so the word ‘Mundaka’ seems to imply that this Upanishad is intended only for Sanyaasis."
How ‘Satyameva Jayate' became world famous in modern India...
It is from this Upanishad that the 'SATYAMEVA JAYATE' slogan was adopted as the national motto of India on 26th January 1950 and inscribed in Sanskrit at the base of the Indian national emblem. This inscription of "Satyameva Jayate" is also found on one side of all Indian currency. The credit goes to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the great Indian educationist, founder of Banaras Hindu University and freedom fighter as he popularised this slogan in 1918 during India’s freedom struggle whilst serving as President of the Indian National Congress.
There have also been some other uses of this slogan when a Hindi movie was made with the same name in 1987. Even the Rolling Stone legend Mick Jagger sang ‘Satyameva Jayate' collaborating with music maestro A.R.Rahman last year. And now it's Aamir Khan's turn to reinvent the wheel giving it a totally social spin. This TV show is probably the only television programme which has had a title with words directly from the Upanishads.
The satya about 'Satyam'...
The full stanza of the 'Satyameva Jayate' slogan from the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.6) goes this way:
"Satyameva Jayate Na-anrtam - satyena panthaa vitato devayaanah |
Yen-aakramanty-rsayo hyaapta-kaamaa - Yatra tat satyasya paramam nidhaanam ||".

"Truth alone wins, not untruth.  By truth is laid out the divine path, which the seers who are free from desires, reach to the supreme abode of truth".
So the phrase ‘Satyameva Jayate Na-anrtam ' is not about social justice nor is it a slogan meant for constitutional adoption. It encompasses all truth and a life based on truth and truthfulness. The Satyam in the "Satyam-Eva Jayate" is not just about speaking the truth about social evils and malpractices. The great Acharya Shankara commenting on this very stanza writes "Truth alone wins and not the untruth...It is well known in the world that he who utters falsehood is defeated by him who speaks the truth: not the converse". A consistent way of living based on the superiority of truth and values of intellectual truthfulness, says Acharya Shankara, widens the path to spiritual success.
So the truth about the 'Satyameva Jayate' statement is that it has now become an iconic slogan for social change rather than for spiritual upliftment. These Upanishad mantras have thus journeyed from the esoteric realm of the Guru to the social arena. The wisdom of India has always found new avenues to manifest such 'Truth' affirming statements. Truth never dies - television or no television. "Truth alone wins (Satyameva Jayate) not Falsehood (Na-anrtam)".

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to   Ms. Sangeetha Venkatesh ji, Sri Rama Lingaml ji and hindu samskrit dot com  for the collection)


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