Alavandar’s Stotra Ratnam – A Synopsis

Stotra Ratnam is a hymnal composition of Svami Alavandar.  It is a book of praises on the Lord – Narayana, the Supreme Brahman, in the school of the author.  The traditional accounts consider the work to be an exposition of the core tenets of the Divya Prabandham of Azhvars, regarded as Dramidopanishad in Srivaishnava tradition.

At the outset, the author praises his spiritual master Svami Nathamuni in three hymns.  Svami Nathamuni is identified as the eternal refuge both in this world and the next.  The succeeding hymn praises Sage Parasara Muni, who is the author of the Vishnu Purana, for his contribution to the understanding of metaphysical realities.  Svami Nammazhvar is praised next, and identified as the foremost master of his tradition.  In Srivaishnava tradition, Svami Nathamuni and Svami Nammazhvar occupy positions before Svami Alavandar on the lineage of preceptors.

The praise proper, that revolves around Lord Narayana, commences after these initial praises to previous acharyas. The author announces his inability to undertake the task of praising Narayana as no part of infinite majesty can be praised. However, the author admits that he is not alone as even competent authorities like Vedas and demi-gods have failed to praise the full expanse of His glory. As it is more likely for the Lord to be merciful towards a weakling than one of authority, the saint proceeds in singing the His praise in this work.

The author speaks of Lord Narayana, as the import of the Vedas and Upanishads.  He is the Brahman who is the ultimate cause of the worlds.  It is through His prowess that the world led by Brahma and Siva functions.  He is identified as the Supreme Being by the wise men versed in scriptures.  The universe comprising of sentient and non-sentient objects is His wealth.  The scriptures find no end of His infinite bliss.  He is beyond the speech and intellect of those who try to know Him by themselves;   He offers Himself to the speech and intellect of His devotees through His grace.

Declaring his misdeeds gathered over several births and from fear of their terrible consequences, the author identifies himself as one who has sunk in an ocean (samsara) and finally found its shore (the Lord).  He surrenders to the Lord who is the sole refuge.  He indicates his firm conviction in the Lord’s holy feet and likens himself to a child who will not let go of his mother’s feet even if she chooses to push him away.

In the succeeding hymns, Sri Yamunacharya longs for eternal association with the Lord.  He describes various aspects of the Lord such as His lotus feet, His yellow raiment, that slender waist, the Srivatsa mark, the four arms, the divine ornaments and weapons, His pleasant countenance, eyes, lips, cheeks, nose and the beautiful curls of hair.  He describes Him as the dwelling of Sri, who is His consort.  The divine couple in served by all means by Ananta/Adisesha, Garuda , Visvaksena and other devoted attendants.

Surrendering to the Lord, the author petitions Him to shower him with grace to nurture bhakti without seeking any reason because he finds in himself no good to offer.  Besides, what can one offer in return to the Lord who owns even the soul?  Recalling His acts of forgiveness during incarnations, and celebrating His endless grace, Sri Yamunacharya seeks eternal service at His feet.  He requests the Lord to grace Him, without considering his misdeeds and by looking at his grandfather Svami Nathamuni, who was the paragon of devotion.

Contribution of the work to methods of teaching:
The Stotra Ratna (alongside Chatussloki) is the first book in Sanskrit among the preceptors of Visistadvaita school whose theme is praise.  In Stotra Ratnam, Svami Alavandar initiates a new method for teaching philosophical tenets to the scholar and masses alike through the composition of hymns.  Preceptors like Svami Koorathazhvan, Svami Parasara Bhattar, Svami Vedanta Desika, Svami Vadikesari Jeeyar and Svami Manavala Mamunigal have followed in the footsteps of Svami Alavandar discussing their philosophy and religion through hymns.  Some commentators recognize the hymns (stotras) as a novel way to understand metaphysical realities and regard the collection of hymns of preceptors as Stotra Prasthana.  Whatever the significance, it is worth noting that Svami Alavandar is the pioneer of scholarly stotra texts which both pray and preach.

Contribution of the work to Visistadvaita:
Stotra Ratnam brings out the following principles of Visistadvaita.

Svami Alavandar identifies the lotus feet of Lord Narayana as the purport of the Vedanta (6).  His auspicious glory is immense and a portion of it cannot be sung by even the likes of Brahma and Siva (7).  The universe exists and functions because of the grace of the Lord (10).  He is the Lord of Sri, He is the repository of the highest sattva, He is the lotus eyed, He is the Purushottama, the entire universe of sentient and non-sentient entities rests in a infinitesimal aspect of the Lord (12). He is the cause of the universe (14).  Narayana’s Lordship/Supremacy over everything else is natural and transcends the limitations of time, place and object.  This is not apparent to all because it is hidden by His own Maya (16).  The entire material universe, the eternal world (Vaikunta) and His auspicious physical form constitute His sovereign possessions (17).  He is the nectarine ocean of all auspicious attributes (18). Even the Vedas falter at the very first attribute of Ananda (bliss) unable to comprehend its full expanse (19). Creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe, and granting salvation to souls are playful exploits (lila) of the Lord (20).  The Lord cannot be known by one’s efforts but can be known through His infinite grace (21).  The Lord is the sole refuge for those who wish to be liberated (22).  There is no other saviour than the Lord (26).  There is nothing that does not already belong to the Lord which can be offered to Him.  Even the soul is His possession (53).  The word bhakti denotes the joyful experience of Lord Narayana to the exclusion of everything else (54). The soul is subservient to the Lord.  He is father, mother and all to the soul (60).

Contribution of the work to Sri Vaishnavism:
Lord Narayana is the subject of praise in the Stotra Ratnam.  He is identified as the Supreme Brahman and the Supreme Lord (highest points in both philosophy and religion).  The first five hymns showcase the Srivaishnava tradition of praising one’s preceptor at the outset.  Stotra Ratnam brings out the following doctrines of Sri Vaishnavism. Sri Vishnu Purana is a valid authority and establishes the tenets of Svami Alavandar’s school (4).  Svami Nammazhvar is the head of Srivaishnavas (5).  The Lotus-eyed Lord is the deity worshipped by Srivaishnavas and He is their wealth (6).  He is the Lord of Sri (12).  Lord Narayana is the saviour of even Brahma and Siva, and they owe their glories to Him (13).  A Srivaishnava does not part from His Lord even when he is rejected in the manner of a child who cries holding on only to his mother even when punished by her (26).  The act of folding hands before Him never goes vain (28).  Even a little love towards the Lord’s lotus feet can extinguish the flames of samsara and confer bliss immediately (29).  The Lord has a divine form  decorated by ornaments.  He bears weapons.  He is the Lord of Sri.  He is served by Ananta, Garuda, Visvaksena and other inhabitants of Vaikunta (30 onwards).  The actions of the Lord are sports performed to delight Sri Devi (44). The Lord is the life of His devotees, and He grants them all auspiciousness.  He is friend in need of His devotees (45).  The purpose of the devotee is to serve the Lord (46). The realization of the metaphysical realities and their relationships is awakened in the soul by the Lord.  He is also the nurturer of bhakti (54).  Being born as a worm in the house of Srivaishnavas is better than becoming Brahma (55).  The Lord does not endure separation from His devotees (56).  There is no sin which is too much for the Lord’s mercy (63).

This article is contributed by Sri Ranganathan Ramaswamy.

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