Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
“Upanayana vivAhou utasavaika pradhAnou” says Sri VenkatAdhvari Kavi in his “Visva GuNAdarsa ChampU”, lamenting that upanayanam and marriage have become mere social functions, shorn of all their rich ritualistic significance. Shastras tell us that every eligible boy should undergo upanayanam or the “thread ceremony” in his seventh year-”ashta varsham brAhmaNam upanayeeta”. The current practice of performing this “function” whenever convenient (irrespective of age) and at times just before the boy’s marriage, doesn’t have the sanction of Shastras, to say the least. The idea was to “catch them young” and instil in impressionable boys the thought of the Lord and His worship, much before outside influences started polluting their minds. The greatness of the Gayatri mantra and its regular japa is beyond dispute. Thus when Gayatri enters the young boy’s soul early, it acts as a protective armour, fobbing off the tons of garbage that assail us from all directions, polluting our mind, body and thought. This mundane world keeps us so busy running here and there on worldly errands, that we have hardly any time to think about our true selves, why we are here, where we go from here, what is the purpose of our life and about the Lord and His relationship with us. Sandhyavandanam is a karma ordained for our performance, in the hope that we would devote at least that time in the contemplation of the Lord, amidst our innumerable and unending mundane chores.
The benefits of an early upanayanam are thus manifold. Regrettably, the performance of Sandhyavandanam, (glorified by all Scriptural texts as a sine qua non for any other karma and as a must for all eligible people, thrice a day without any sort of break or holiday) has now dwindled so much that it is now confined to perhaps a few thousand families all over India and abroad. We hear of times when parents would not give their daughter in marriage to eligible bachelors who had given up sandhyOpasanam and none would either feed them or be fed by them. Today, however, the situation has become so topsy turvy, that people performing Sandhyavandanam are looked at as strange specimens and parents of brides-to-be are reluctant to entrust their wards to adherents of this “archaic” ritual.
Be it marriage, SeemanthOnnayanam, JAtakarmA, NAmakarma, or apara kriyAs, we find the unseemly spectacle of people omitting Sandhyavandanam and going on to perform the aforesaid karmas, oblivious to the Shastraic injuction that one who has given up Sandhyavandanam is ever impure and ineligible to undertake any Vaidika karma-“SandhyAhInO asuchi: nityam, anarha: sarva karmasu”. Little do people realise that the elaborate functions they organise, at considerable expense and strain, be it marriages or other karmas, would be fruitful only if preceded by SandhyOpAsana. Alas, Brihaspatis, whose prime duty it is (for they are “purOhitAs”, advising the KartA of what is to be done and when) to remind the Karta to complete the essential prelude of Sandhyopasanam before beginning the Karma proper, are also not insistent on this, knowing full well that the proceedings would definitely be fruitless. After performing a boy’s Upanayanam with all the trappings of a secular celebration and with festivity associated with a carnival, with a “Reception” et al, it is now customary for the parents to forget completely about making their ward perform Sandhyavandanam thrice daily. While some engage a VadyAr to teach the boy for a fortnight or so, in the hope that a habit would be formed for continued performance, once the Brihaspati stops, Sandhyavandanam is also bidden good-bye, with the father having neither the time nor the inclination nor even the expertise to encourage the boy to continue the karma. In many cases, the parent lacks the moral authority to insist on the boy’s performing the ritual, as he (the parent) has given it up long back. Even if the boy himself wants to continue the practice, he would be left without the requisite assistance. Thus the preparations of months, the expenditure of several thousands or lakhs according to social status, the pomp and show of the function itself-all these are reduced to nought, with the abandonment of Sandhyavandanam. If parents were to remember that non-performance of Sandhyopasanam is a direct contravention of the Lord’s commandment and the delinquent is counted among the betrayers of the Lord, it would perhaps enforce better adherence, for the Lord says in the Gita,
“Shruti: Smriti: mama Eva AgyA yastAm ullanghya vartatE
AgyA cchEdI mama drOhI mama bhaktOpi na vaishnava:”
It is indeed surprising that many are reluctant to set apart the few minutes that are required for this important part of our daily lives, while spending interminable hours at school, college, office, club or other entertainment spots. The reason, of course, is not far to seek-while the aforesaid hours at worldly pursuits are directly and perceptibly rewarding, Sandhyavandanam doesn’t appear to be so. However, if we set store only by what we see, hear and feel with our own faculties, there would be little difference between we who call ourselves AstikAs, vis a vis nAstikAs, who deny the existence of God because they are unable to see or hear Him. Sandhyavandanam cleanses the soul through meditation on the Ultimate and bestows wonderful benefits, spiritual as well as material, on its sincere votary.
The importance of this ritual can be understood from the fact that there is absolutely no exemption from its performance any time in life, even when one contracts “theettu” or pollution due to birth or death of near and dear ones. Even during such Asoucham, an abridged version of the ritual is to be performed, making it thus a part of our daily routine, akin to eating, sleeping or bathing. There may even be occasions when we forsake these physical acts, but none on which we may skip Sandhyavandanam. The importance our forbears attached to this karma would be evident from the fact that Sri Ramanuja, at the ripe old age of 120, stood up with great difficulty and performed arghyapradAnam. This is recounted by Swami Desikan in Srimad Rahasyatrayasaram, to emphasise the indispensability of anushttAnam. If a paripoorNa Brahma gnAni like Sri Bhashyakara felt it essential to perform Sandhyavandanam even after six score years of a spirituality-filled life, it speaks volumes for the need for its observance by ordinary mortals like us.
There are those who speak loftily of meditation, Yoga and Upanishadic dicta, preferring the rarefied corridors of Vedanta to performance of mere rituals. Alas, they don’t realise that the topmost storey of God-realisation is to be reached via the winding staircase of SamskArAs and that one can’t just jump from the floor onto the roof. Samskaras like upanayanam are meant to purify the mind and body, to make it an ideal receptacle for wisdom, which would in turn lead us to liberation by showing us the appropriate strategy. Thus, whatever be one’s age, occupation or persuasion, all traivarnikAs have to perform Sandhyavandanam, whether or not they are spiritually inclined, for non-performance could well impact on their material life too, due to the cumulated offences resulting from the omission.
In the next stage are those who do perform the nitya karma, but without the requisite degree of concentration. During the performance of Gayatri japa, the mind wanders so far and wide as to traverse the whole world in a jiffy. The enforced physical inactivity during Sandhyavandanam makes the mind super-active and unable to concentrate on the Lord and His attributes, which is after all the essential purpose of the ritual. It is an acknowledged fact that the mind is the most difficult faculty to control-we can shut our eyes, our ears and nose against the assault of external forces and keep our limbs inactive. However, we have to admit defeat when it comes to controlling our mind, which functions with a fierce independence and is obviously untamable. No less a person than Arjuna, famed for his powers of concentration, laments to Sri Krishna that his mind is fickle and uncontrollable-“Chanchalam hi mana: Krishna!…..tasyAham nigraham manyE vAyOriva sudurgraham”. Even the Shruti attests to the fearsomeness of the mind, which can lead astray even the most accomplished soul-“BhIshmO hi mana:”. If even acknowledged experts are ineffective at mind control, we despair at our own fate. However, the Lord assures us that it is all a matter of practice-“abhyAsEna tu KountEya…”. Practice makes perfect and in course of time, we find ourselves able to concentrate more and more on the Lord’s lotus feet, suffering less and less distractions as we proceed.
Of course, the process doesn’t stop with performance of Sandhyopasanam. Upanayanam is after all a Samskaram, a catalyst, which is not an end in itself, but a qualifying degree to enable higher studies. The very word “Upanayanam” means “leading near”-near the Brahmam. If we interpret the word “Brahmam” to mean the Shruti, we arrive at the deduction that Upanayanam is an enabling factor for VedAdhyayanam or the study of Vedas. Just as nobody stops with high school studies, Upanayanam is not supposed to end with Sandhyavandanam. The study of Vedas through an Acharya is ordained on every eligible person. “VEdO nityam adheeyatAm” says the Scripture, commanding us to learn and recite the Vedas daily. And why should Vedas be learnt? Because they are the first and foremost body of spiritual knowledge, (“Adou VEdA: pramANam”-Sri Bhattar) telling us all that is beyond the ken of our frail faculties; Because they are an independent source of wisdom, untainted by human composition and the resultant blemishes; Because they are eternal guiding lamps which are our source of inspiration in birth after interminable birth; And because they can show us, if properly propitiated, the way to Liberation and freedom from the vicious circle of births and deaths. The Brahma SutrAs, (whose main purpose is to clarify the nature of Paramatma, Jeevatma and attendant matters) tell us that the VEdAnta Shastra, leading to an appreciation of the Ultimate, should be imbibed only after completion of VedAdhyayanam-“atAthO Brahma jigyAsA”. One who is eligible to imbibe Vedas, but doesn’t do so for whatever reason, has no hope of liberation and is destined for the lower worlds reserved for sinners, says the Manu Smrti-“anadheetya dvijO VedAn…….vrajati adha:”
The glory of Vedas is beyond description. The Purusha Sookta Vakya, “EtAvAn asya mahimA” would apply equally well to the Shruti as to the Paramapurusha. That the Lord resides in the Vedas is confirmed by Swami Desikan- “adarpuL arasilum andaNar mAttilum”and by Sri Nammazhwar-“Sudar migu SurudiyuL… paranduLan”. Sri Kalian calls the Lord “VEdiar muzhu VEdattu amudam”. Worshipping the Lord should be done through the medium of those who have mastered the Vedas, adopting such BhAgavatAs as Purushakaram, says Sri Satakopa Muni- “VEdam vallArai koNdu viNNOr perumAn tiruppAdam paNindu”.
This is the priceless heirloom bequeathed to us by our forefathers, who cherished and treasured the Shruti by learning it with reverence through an Acharya, applying it in their everyday karmas and passing on the treasure to all those who were interested, ensuring its propagation and perpetuation. Even those who were unable to learn all the available portions of their own ShAkha, compromised with reluctance by imbibing the portions for frequent use in nitya karmas and for Bhagavat kainkaryam. If the meagre attendance today at VEda pAtashAlAs is any indication, Veda adhyayanam has fallen on hard times, with predictable consequences of truant monsoons or excessive precipitation (anAvrishti and ativrishti), resulting respectively in terrible famines and destructive deluges, strife and senseless violence, corrupt rulers and suffering populace. If the good old times of peace and prosperity are to return, every eligible person should take up Vedic studies through an Acharya. Those who are unable to devote the time and energy for the full course could contemplate imbibing portions of the Shruti essential for the performance of nitya and naimittika karmas and for Bhagavat kainkaryam. The day the world resounds with Veda ghOsham, the guns of war would fall silent, voices of discord would remain muted and the plaintive cries of the needy would stand banished. Let us work for restoring the Shruti to its former glory and magnificence.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
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