Saint Thyagaraja & Azhwars – One Minor Point of Difference

It is quite common to draw parallels between Saint Thyagaraja & Tamil Azhvars. Both excelled in Bhakti as the underlying theme in all that they said or did. Recently, however, I discovered a minor point of difference between the two as I listened to one very well-known kriti of Thyagaraja – TELISI RAMA CHINTANATO.  We should first see what the kriti is about to appreciate what I am going to say. To me this kriti is all about awareness, awareness & awareness! That is why it starts with the word ‘Telisi’, which, in Telugu means ‘being aware’. While repeatedly advocating ‘Rama chintana’ (or meditation on Rama), the saint is saying – BECOME AWARE of what it means, what it implies and what it can do to the person who meditates on the name. Then the saint sarcastically points out that Rama also means a beautiful woman and asks if a person chanting the divine name keeps thinking of a beautiful woman will it yield any result? Not at all. In the next line the saint goes on to elaborate that Rama is another name for the ultimate Truth itself (PARABRAHMAN).

Sanskrit is an interesting language.The word ‘Arka’ in sanskrit has 2 meanings – one is a poisonous tree and the other is Sun. Using this word, the saint hammers down the same message and says that if one were to think of a poisonous tree and not the sun while uttering the word Arka, how can one’s ignorance vanish? Continuing in the same vein, the saint points out that the word Aja in Sanskrit means a goat as well as Brahma. The choice is yours whether you want to think of Brahma or a goat while chanting the word.

In contrast to this, my understanding of Azhwars is that although they did stress the need to combine Bhakti with Jnana, they made allowance for the utterly ignorant masses, perhaps out of compassion. They reasoned that even if a person unknowingly, unwittingly, and by mere coincidence calls out the Lord’s name without any idea of what it means, merit would accrue to the individual. It will be considered not only auspicious but would yield beneficial results!

Now listen to this great song at the link  rendered by TN Seshagopalan.

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Published in: on March 30, 2013 at 7:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. A verse in “Thiruppavai” says “Vayinal Padi Manathinal sinthikka” meaning recite the lord’s name at the same time think of him in your heart of heart.


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