LAKSHMI IN TAMIL LITERATURE – PART II

Kamban in his Ramayana describes Sita as the incarnation of Lakshmi. Apart from the usual information in the Ayodyakandam, Kamban describes Sita as being a step higher than Saraswati in knowledge.18

After the Alwars, another class of saints known as the acharyas nourished the Shrivaisnava sect in Tamil country. Nathamuni was the founder of this sect. In the Guruparampara or the lore of succession of Acharyas, enshrined in the taniyan slokas lists that the first three in the traditional list are Narayana, Lakshmi and Vishvaksena and the first Acarva Nathamuni is connected to this line through Sadagopa or Nammalvar.

Yamunacharya, the Paramacharva of Ramanuja and the grandson of Nathamuni, composed the Chaturshloka containing four verses in praise of Shri.  Shri is said to have as her consort, “the Supreme Being Vishnu”.   Shesha is her seat and Garuda is the vahana or vehicle. Maya is her veil. All the gods and goddesses are said to wait upon her. The greatness of Shri is boundless and ever blissful. Even her consort cannot comprehend this. The three worlds came into existence because of her merciful glances, now that the created world is endowed with peace and prosperity. He also emphasis that none can attain salvation without Her grace. He states that she is ever united with Vishnu (nitya-vibhuti) in all his manifestations.

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Ramanuja starts his Sharanagati Gadya with a splendid portrayal of Shri whom he surrenders first before surrendering to Lord Narayana. He refers to Lakshmi as follows:

Mother of the whole world: Akila Jagan mataram
Refuge of all the helpless: Asaranya saranyam
Never separated from the Lord: Nityanapayinum
Possessor of innumerable auspicious qualities: Asankhyeya – kalyana – gunaganam

Later Acharyas have sung in praise of the glory of Shri.  Important works include the Shrivatsa by Sri Kuresa, the Sri Gunaratnakosa by Sri Parasara Bhatta and the Shri stuti by Sri Vedanta Desika.

After the death of Ramanuja in 1137 A.D., the Sri Vaisnava’s were gradually divided into two sects, the Vadagalai and Tenkalai. Differences of attitude led to the growth of certain doctrinal difference. The differences are eighteen, out of which three are attributed to the place held by Shri, in Vaisnava Sampradaya.

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Pillai Lokacharya, the founder of the Tenkalai School (1205-1311), wrote eighteen works out of which Tattratreya, Shrivachanabhushana and Numuksupadi throw light upon the position of Shri.  In his work, he presents the Lord Vishnu as more merciful towards human beings than Lakshmi herself.  She acts as a medium and has no part in the triple cosmic activity of creation, sustenance and destruction.

Vedanta Desika, the founder of the Vadakalai school, emphasised that Shri is as all-pervasive and as all-powerful as the Lord and that she constitutes the Godhead along with him.

From the sixteenth century onwards, in addition to the references such as beauty, luck, prosperity and divine-grace, she was also considered to be the goddess of knowledge.  She was the ideal wife, mother, and the great goddess, Mahalakshmi.

References

  1. Paripadal 1, 63.64.
  2. Palaikali, 27.57.
  3. Kurinji Kali, 8 – 1.
  4. Mullaikali, 4.10, Paripadal, 1.39, 4.59, Perumbanarruppadi, 29.
  5. Paripadal, 2: 31-36.
  6. Mullaipattu, 1-3.
  7. Ahananuru, 13:6, Malaipadukadam, 356.
  8. Silappadikaram, VI- 61.
  9. Nanmanigadigai, 43:2.
  10. Purananuru, 75:12, Ahananuru, 93:2,1, 114:13, 117:4, 298:1.
  11. Nedunalvadai, 80-84, Kalittogai, V 44:11, 57.
  12. Nedunalvadai, 86 and Madurai Kanci, 354.
  13. Naladiyar, Stanza 252.
  14. Silappadikaram, Mangala Vazuthupadal, 25-27.
  15. Ibid., Alarpattukathai, Last stanza, 1-2.
  16. Sambandar Devaram, 1, Tirukazumalam, 9-1-3.
  17. Sudamani Mikandu, 12th Volume, Deiva Peyar Thoguthi,  Sri. L. L. Sri Arumuganavalar, 1966, Madras.
  18. Ayodyakandam– 42.

Mohanabai,
Queen Mary’s College,
Chennai 600 004.

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 1999.

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