Posted in Naalayiram

Parthasarathy – Our Charioteer to Srivaikuntam

Of the multiple incarnations of Sriman Narayana, it is visibly the Krishnavatara that has captured the imagination of all the Alvars. It is nigh impossible to find a work among the twenty-four divya prabandhas that does not carry a reference to the Lord’s Krishnavatara in one way or the other. Though the Lord’s incarnation as Rama lasted for a longer duration than His incarnation as Krishna, it is in this latter episode that the Lord demonstrated the unbounded limits of His easy accessibility (saulabhya). It is this possibility that the Supreme Lord – whose greatness spans a vast expanse that the Vedas fail to successfully describe (yata vaco nivartante) – and whose abode remains unattainable to seers performing rigorous austerities, can descend down this earth, walk amongst cowherds, engage in memorable pastimes, and above all, demystify the Upanisads to posterity in the form of Bhagavad Gita, that makes Him celebrate-worthy. Has there been a more generous and an easily approachable God?

We, the poor earthlings, separated temporally from the period of these events, have not been fortunate enough to visualize the pastimes of the Lord in Gokul and Mathura first-hand. Carrying a baggage of past deeds whose effects determine and torment our daily existence, we neither possess the intelligence, nor the devotion that characterized the Alvars, to situate our minds in perennial contemplation of the Supreme. Fortunately, our remorseless material existence has played a part in successfully activating the generosity in the Supreme Lord, who decided to outdo Himself by staying permanently in our midst, in places that are hailed today as divya desas. These are the very places where the accessible God chose to make Himself more accessible to us, in a form (arcavatara) that is said to indicate the end-limits of His accessibility. While Krishna chose to present Himself in different flavours in different temples, it is His revelation as Parthasarathy in Tiruvallikkeni and in Parthanpalli (Tirunangur) that stand out as unique – for it is only here that He chose to present Himself as the author of the Bhagavad Gita. Tirumangai Alvar has eulogised this form of Krishna by dedicating ten songs each to Tiruvallikkeni and Parthanpalli in his Periya Tirumoli. In this article, I intend to go beyond these obvious references and pour into less-salient eulogies to offer a novel account of how this form of Krishna, that has been equally celebrated by other Alvars as well, is our sole resort in current times.

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The eighth song of Madurakavi Alvar’s Kanninun Siruttambu goes as follows:

arul kondadum adiyavar inbura
arulinan avvaru maraiyin porul
arul kondu aayiram intamil padinan
arul kandir ivvulaginil mikkate

Kanninun Siruttambu has been commented upon by Nanjiyar, Nampillai, Periyavaccan Pillai, Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Nayanar and Jananyacharyar (Aaye Svami). Four of the five commentators to this work have interpreted this verse as follows:

“Such that the devotees of the Lord, who revel in His very grace may cherish, he (Nammalvar), blessed by the grace of the Lord, and displaying grace superseding that of the Lord, sang a thousand songs in Tamil, revealing the true purport of the Vedas.”

Thus, the common interpretation to this verse associates revealing the purport of Vedas and singing a thousand songs in Tamil to Nammalvar himself. However, Nanjiyar, in his commentary to this verse, lends a slightly different interpretation:

“Such that His devotees, who celebrate His grace may cherish, the Supreme Lord disseminated the esoteric meanings of the Vedas. Blessed by the grace of such a Supreme Lord, he (Nammalvar) sang a thousand songs in Tamil; his grace superseding that of the Lord.”

Thus, we see Nanjiyar’s interpretation celebrating the noble and brave-hearted Parthasarathy, who generously lighted the dark world of ignorance with the lamp of the esoteric meanings of the Vedas, despite His subjects displaying no special interest in seeking salvation per se.

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Nammalvar is hailed as krishna trishna tattvam – the personification of devotion to Lord Krishna – by our preceptors. There are copious references to Krishna in Nammalvar’s divya prabandhas. Alvar is said to have lapsed into unconsciousness for months together when he fixed his thoughts on the easy accessibility of Lord Krishna. However, we have to dig a little deep into his works to see how Alvar has eulogised Him as Lord Parthasarathy.

The sixth verse of the Eralum Irayonum Tiruvaimoli (4-8-6) goes as follows:

arivinal kuraivilla agal jnanattavar ariya
neriyellam edutturaittaan nirai jnanattoru murti

In his commentary to this verse, Nampillai characterizes earthlings as not just possessing inferior intellect, but also having an inability to understand that they have inferior intellect. For all those who are ignorant and incapable of going through the Vedic scriptures to synthesize its meanings, the Lord revealed the means to attain Him in the Bhagavad Gita, beginning from the description of Karma Yoga (in Chapter 3) and culminating in Prapatti (Chapter 18). For those who could still not follow His instructions, He stood as Parthasarathy revealing His divine form, luring them into contemplating His cosmic appearance and performing surrender unto His feet. Thus, we see Nammalvar eulogising the generosity of Parthasarathy, who reaches out to His devotees by adopting different methods with due consideration to their abilities.

The ninth verse of the Karpar Iramapiranai Tiruvaimoli (7-5-9) goes as follows:

mayam aribavar mayavarku al indri avaro
tayam serum oru nootruvar manga oar aivarkkai
desam ariya oru sarathiyai cendru senaiyinai
nasam seidittu nadanda nal vartai arindume

In this verse, Nammalvar extols the amazing simplicity of the Lord, who did the mean job of driving Arjuna’s chariot, and that too in public on the battle field. Unlike His incarnation as Narasimha, which was restricted in view to Prahalada and Hiranyakasipu, His condescension as the charioteer of Arjuna was on public display. This was an act that arose from His sweet will and not from any compulsions. Pillai Lokacharya in his Srivachanabhushanam reckons that the essence of entire Mahabharata is this very condescension of the Lord, who is willing to go to such extremes to make Himself accessible to His devotees. He continues to stand for His protégés to this day, in His worshippable forms as Parthasarathy in Tiruvallikkeni and Parthanpalli and as Pandava Dhoota in Kancipuram.

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