The name Ashtabhujam is the Sanskrit for Attapuyakaram by which name Peyalwar and Tirumangai Alvar have referred to the Lord of this shrine. The word means one with 8 hands. In sloka 10 Vedanta Desika attributes the doubling of the Lord's hands (from four to eight) to the Lord's hurry and eagerness to afford protection to those who have sought refuge in Him. May that Lord be pleased to receive this stuti of eight slokas composed by me -- is the idea contained in the same sloka.
The first sloka prays for help preferred promptly as in the case of Gajendra. I am in the same plight -- nay, in a worse one because Gajendra was assailed by one crocodile, while I am assailed by several. The reference to the Gajendra episode here is based on Peyalvar's verse 99 of his Prabandham.
This stotra it is stated will be of help to those who have performed prapatti and become prapannas, and also to those who desire to become prapannas (9). The "tvara" of the Lord to protect those in distress, i.e., the avidity and the hurry finds mention in the first and last slokas.
shrii aShTabhujaaShTakam.h shriimaan.h veN^kaTa naathaaryaH kavitaarkika kesarii | vedaantaa chaarya varyome sannidhattaaM sadaahR^idi || gajendra raxaa tvaritam.h bhavantaM graahair.h ivaahaM viShayair.h vikR^iShTaH. apaara vij~naana dayaanubhaavam.h aaptaM sataaM aShTa bhujaM prapadye.. 1 tvadeka sheSho.ahaM anaatma tantraH tvat.h paada lipsaaM dishataa tvayaiva. asat.h samo.apyaShTabhujaa khilesha sattaam.h idaaniim.h upalambhito.asmi.. 2 svaruupa ruupaastra vibhuuShaNaadyaiH paratva chintaaM tvayi durnivaaraam.h. bhoge mR^iduupakramataam.h abhiipsan.h shiilaadibhir.h vaarayasiiva puMsaam.h.. 3 shaktiM sharaNyaantara shabda bhaajaaM saaraM cha samtolya phalaantaraaNaam.h. tvaddaasya hetos.h tvayi nirvisha~NkaM nyastaatmanaaM naatha vibharShi bhaaram.h.. 4 abhiiti hetor.h anuvartaniiyaM naatha tvadanyaM na vibhaavayaami. bhayaM kutaH syaat.h tvayi saanukampe raxaa kutaH syaat.h tvayi jaata roShe.. 5 tvadeka tantraM kamalaa sahaaya svenaiva maaM raxitum.h arhasi tvam.h. tvayi pravR^itte mama kiM prayaasaiH tvayi apravR^itte mama kiM prayaasaiH.. 6 samaadhi bha~NgeShvapi saMpatatsu sharaNya bhuute tvayi badhdakaxye. apatrape soDhum.h aki~nchano.ahaM duuraadhirohaM patanaM cha naatha.. 7 praaptaabhilaaShaM tvadanugrahaan.h maaM padmaa niShevye tava paada padme. aa deha paataat.h aparaadha duuram.h aatmaanta kai~Nkarya rasaM vidheyaaH 8 prapanna jana paatheyaM prapitsuunaaM rasaayanam.h shreyase jagataametat.h shriimad.h aShTabhujaaShTakam.h 9 sharaNaagata santraaNa tvaraa dviguNa baahunaa. hariNaa ve~NkaTeshiiyaa stutiH sviikriyataam.h iyam.h 10 kavitaarkika siMhaaya kalyaaNa guNashaaline . shriimate veN^kaTeshaaya vedaantagurave namaH
In this stotram, Swami Desikan reminds us of Bhagavan's aiSvarya, sauSIlya, moksha-pradatva, etc., and urges us to resort to Him and no one else as the sure way to attain moksha. This is another stotram in which he conveys the basics of complete self-surrender (prapatti) and its efficacy in very crisp terms in the short span of eight sloka-s (excluding the two phala-Sruti sloka-s).
In the first sloka, Swami Desikan compares our lives to one being attacked and torn apart by our senses and dragged towards them on all sides as if by vicious crocodiles, and invokes Bhagavan's mercy and protection just as in the case of Gajendra when attacked by the crocodile.
In the second sloka, he points out the need for us to realize our always being His dependent, and recognize our lack of independence from Him. As we may recall, this is one of the anga-s of prapatti -- kArpaNya. When we observe the anga-s of prapatti, Bhagavan gives us the desire to seek His feet single-mindedly as the next step in attaining Him.
In the third sloka, Sri Desikan praises Bhagavan's guna of sauSIlyam or His greatness of mixing with even the lowliest of beings with ease. We all can recall His greeting Kucela with all the intimacy that one can imagine, doing paada-pujA for him with Mahalakshmi holding the pot of water, and then sprinkling the water from the paada-puja on His head and that of Mahalakshmi. If Bhagavan reveals His divine divya mangala vigraha or form to us right in the beginning, it just will prevent us from approaching Him in sheer awe of the greatness of this form. Recall the reaction of Arjuna, one who lived with Bhagavan as a close friend throughout his life, when the viraat-svarupa was revealed to Him for a brief moment. In order to make it easy on us to approach Him, He presents Himself to us in forms where we can approach Him at our level, and hides His greatness from us for our benefit in the beginning. His arca-rupa, iconic form, in temples -- in this stotram the Ashtabhuja Perumaal -- is an example of this. Then as we get used to Him, He reveals His true form to us.
In sloka-s 4 to 7 Swami Desikan emphasizes the importance of prapatti. He reiterates that Sriman Narayana is the only one who can bestow the ultimate that can be asked for -- moksham, and all the other devata-s can bestow only lesser fruits. Those who have realized this truth do not resort to the worship of anya devata-s, but perform prapatti at the feet of Bhagavan and devote the rest of their life to His kainkaryam. Also, He is the only one who can protect us, and if He does not want to protect us, no other devata can protect us (bhayam kutah syAt tvayi sAnukampe, rakshA kutah syAt tvayi jAtaroshe). This again is one more reason for prapatti at the feet of Lord Narayana alone. None of the efforts that we may undertake, such as worshipping the anya devata-s, will be of any use if He does not offer His protection. If He decides to protect us, with Periya Piratti (Mahalakshmi) standing in support of us by His side constantly, it does not matter what other efforts we undertake (tvayi pravRtte mama kim prayAsaih, tvayyapravRtte mama kim prayAsaih). Thus He is the only upAya, and there is no other upAya for moksha.
As Sri Desikan has pointed out in several other stotra-s, he points out again in this stotra the relative difficulty of undertaking bhakti-yoga for attaining moksha and getting it to completion in this lifetime. He strongly recommends that prapatti-mArga is the path to choose for us who cannot observe the stringent requirements of the bhakti-yoga (He obviously considers himself in this category; so we know where we stand!).
Once a prapanna has done prapatti, moksham is guaranteed at the end of this life, and the prapanna spends the rest of his life in great bliss by performing selfless kainkaryam at the feet of Bhagavan. The life of a prapanna after prapatti is described in detail in Nyasa Tilakam etc. In sloka 8 of this stotra Swami Desikan briefly restates this.
In sloka 6, Swami Desikan makes reference to another of the tenets of Sri Vaishnava sampradaya, viz. the purushakAratvam (mediation) of Piratti, and refers to Bhagavan as kamalA-sahAya (One who is aided by Periya Piratti) in the context of His protection of the prapanna-s.
Swami Desikan's intent in composing this stotram is two-fold: it is to induce the desire for prapatti in those who have not yet resorted to this path (prapitsUnAm rasAyanam), and to help as the sustenance of the trust in the greatness of prapatti for those who have already done prapatti (prapanna jana pAtheyam). Thus it is his desire that those of us who understand the principles laid down here about prapatti will develop the mahA viSvAsam that is a requirement (anga) for prapatti. It is for the good of this world that this stotra on Ashtabhuja Kara Perumaal outlining the greatness and importance of prapatti has been composed by Venkatesa Kavi. Let us all get one step closer to understanding the significance, ease, and efficacy of prapatti as a result of the knowledge that Swami Desikan has imparted to us through this stotra.
I read Srimaan Sadagopan's response to my note on Sri Desika's stotra-s, and was overjoyed to find so many new things on Sri Ashtabhuja Perumaal and the kshetram that I was not aware of. I know Srimaan Sadagopan is very busy with many kainkaryams, but my humble request to him is that he should continue to add his comments on all the future articles as I present my brief summary. I also found out that he has already written detailed commentaries on all the Desika stotra-s long back but has not published them. I have requested him before to publish them or give me the copy, and would like to take the opportunity through this mail once more to request him to arrange to share his writings through this or other forum as soon as he can find the time.
Dear Sri Krishnamachari:
Whenever Swami Desikan travelled to Sri Varadaraja's temple for his mangalasasanam from his home in Tuppul, he had to pass via the Ashtabhujan and Yathokthakari temples. The Lord of Ashtabujam made sure that He received from His bhakta a stotram. Thus arose Srimad Ashtabhuja ashtakam that you have commented upon so well.
During this trip of mine to Kanchi divya desams, I missed offering my salutations to the Lord of Ashtabhujam, since I was waylaid by the beauty of Yathoktakari.
Seva Swami suggests that Swami Desikan followed the path of Tirumangai Mannan, who wondered about the Lord here and His urgency to meet him with eight hands instead of the normal four hands. In each of the eight hands, he holds a different weapon or flower (discus, conch, lotus, sword, kedayam, bow, arrow, and gada). He is ready to battle and chase away the virodhis that stand in the way of His bhaktas wishing to perform prapatti to Him. Swami Desikan suggests that the Lord was anxious and hence doubled His set of hands to grant protection to the Saranagata quickly . Here the name of the holy tank is Gajendra Pushkarani and He is "pratyaksham" to Gajendran and is thus Gajendra Varadan. Hence, Swami Desikan salutes Ashtabhuja Perumaal as "gajendra raksha! tvaritam bhavantham" and as "satAm Aptam".
As in the case of the Lord, who rushed from Sri Vaikuntha in a great hurry to the side of the lotus pond where His bhakta Gajendra was screaming aloud "AdimUla! mE rakshasva", Parakala Nayaki (Tirumangai Alvar) feels that the Adi-Kesava Perumaal of Ashta Bhujam rushed to her side with double set of four hands in great haste for protection.
In his beautiful paasurams, Kaliyan as Parakala Nayaki states that she did not fully comprehend the identity of the One who rushed to her side, and that the Lord then replied that He is the One who blesses the prapanna-s with His eight arms (ashta bhujAn karOti) and came for union with Parakala Nayaki who pined for Him. Kaliyan describes this wonderful conversation to his mother and friends thru ten beautiful paasurams. Swami Desikan follows the path shown by Parakala Nayaki.
Kaliyan wonders "ivar aar kol?" (Who could this One be?) and the Lord repiled "atta bhuya karatthEn yenRaar" (I am the Lord of the divya desam of Ashta Bhujam).
Kaliyan wonders aloud eight times :
The Lord answers, "It is me, the Lord of Ashta Bhujam, that has rushed to your side" and delights Parakala Nayaki with that revelation. The Lord says "I am the AttabhuyakaratthEn". Swami Desikan used the name chosen by the Lord Himself in His dialog with Parakala Nayaki to give the name of "Srimad Ashtabhuja Stuti" to this eulogy .
There are ten slokas in this stotra. One for each of the eight arms; the rest are phala sruti. In the very first sloka, Swami Desikan performs Saranagati with the prayer: "ashtabhujam prapadye". Swami concludes in one of the two phala sruthi slokas that this stotra on the Lord of Ashtabhujam is
prapanna jana pAtheyam, prapitsUnAm rasAyanam,
sreyase jagatAm etat SrImad ashTa bhujAshTakam.
The "SrImad" aspect of Kamala-sahayan is brought out here and is described as the tasty food for one on the jiva's journey via the archiraadi maargam (path of light) and the powerful medicine for those who desire to perform prapatti. This stuti is considered as the most auspicious (SrImad) for the world of prapannas.
Oppiliappan Koil Varadachari Sadagopan