Dear Bhagavatas:The article of Sri MK Sudarshan prompted me to look back to an article written in 1999 in the Bhakti list in response to a criticism by an anonymous Bhagavta objecting to the use of the words "Swami" and "Devarir" while addressing an Acharya. I am reproducing the same for information.
Subj: SwAmi and dEvarir Date: 8/20/99 7:07:25 PM Eastern Daylight Time From: Ramanbil@xxxx Sender: bhakti-errors@xxxx To: bhakti@xxxx Dear Bhagavatas, Please forgive me for writing about what is partially a personal matter, but a recent occurrence among our small Sri Vaishnava community here has prompted me to discuss some issues publicly. Hopefully, we can all learn something in the process. Usage of the term "swAmi" ------------------------- During the Tele-upanyasam of H.H. Azhagiya singhar on 9th May 99, I enquired him whether he had received the copy of my 20 part write up eulogizing Prakritam Azhagiya singhar - sent to his camp address earlier. (The AchArya has since acknowledged receipt and conveyed his benediction through Sri Devanathan of AhObila Mutt, Hyderabad). Several bhAgavatas were appreciative of this mentioning, as they were previously unaware of the write up and now were able to learn more about the kalyANa-guNas of the Prakritam Azhagiya Singar, with whom I have been in close personal contact for many years. However, after this upanyAsam, one Bhagavata, (who unfortuantely has preferred to remain anonymous), is reported to have observed: " Sri Anbil kept addressing Azhagiyasingar as "swAmi", "dEvarir" etc. This is actually considered as an insult in our sampradAyam. 'Azhagiyasingar" is the way with which we must address HH Jeeyar (OR at least Jeeyar/Jeeyar swAmi etc for those who can't pronounce "Azhagiyasingar" properly. "swAmi", "dEvarir" etc. are used for vidvAns, bhAgavathAs in general. But, Azhagiyasingar is above such vidvAns/bhAgavatAs for reasons we know. Thus one shouldn't insult a matAtipati [sic] by such addressing. Of course, no one is doing this intentionally. But, the standard maintained in our sampradAyam must be known to others especially those who listen to the upanyAsam on direct on-line connection". I appreciate the depth of AchArya bhakti with which the said bhAgavata took umbrage at the expressions "SwAmi" and 'dEvarir." But is usage of expressions such as "SwAmi" and "dEvarir" for Azhagiya Singar really an insult? This is the question I wish to address. Let me hasten to assure that my AchArya bhakti is second to none. But, let's explore what "SwAmi" actually means. In one of his kAlakshepams (in his PoorvAsramam), Azhagiya singhar himself explained the etymology of the word "swAmi" to bring home what a powerfully respectable word it is. He explained: The word "swAmi" is made up of "swam" meaning "property" and "ami" meaning "Possessor" (i.e.,) the owner of the property. And, that the word "swAmi" conveys the "sEshatvam" and "dAsatvam" of the person addressing to the person addressed. In other words, the word expresses the *Lordship* or the *mastership* or the *ownership* of the addressee in relation to the status of the person addressing - being the *servant* and the *property* of the * Lord - master - owner * - a property which could even be sold by the owner in terms of Periyalwar's statement "PesuvAr aDiyArgal yenthammai virkavum peruvArgal" (4.4.10) In my humble opinion, there is perhaps no better word than "swAmi" which packs in itself the power and punch of all this significance especially when addressing an AchArya on one-to-one basis in the 2nd person. You will remember how Azhagiya singhar in his Tele-upanyasam On 1st August 99 made a point that in "*Unn* aDikkeezh amarndu pugunthEn", Nammalwar found it more effective to address the Lord in 2nd person than using a vague and nondescript 3rd person expression.As everyone in our group knows, my relationship with Azhagiya singhar has been
intimate, up, close and personal spanning well over 20 years: - before as friend, philosopher and guide,- during his Sannyasa Sweekaranam when he became "Chinna Azhagiya singhar and
- thereafter, when he became mathAdhipathi as"Azhagiya singhar". I say this not to boast but to express my great fortune at my having had such a connection; Azhagiya singhar has been gracious enough to have written an introduction for me, which many of you have read before on these lists.Now, besides being my AchArya, he continues to be my "friend, philosopher and guide".
In all my personal conversations and communications with Azhagiya singhar, Poundarika puram Andavan and other mathAdhipatis., I have been using 'swAmi" and dEvarir" while addressing them. None of them had taken exception to this because - * They know that when I use these words, I do so with full and complete understanding of their spirit and significance as per the above clarification of Azhagiya singhar. * They know that the words were used with genuine feelings of 'sEshatvam' and "dAsatvam" to the AachArya. * They also know that they were within the respectable norms and "standards maintained in our sampradAyam" and * They know that no 'disrespect' or 'insult' either intentional or unintentional was involved. I am, however, thankful to the anonymous bhAgavata for the small mercy in conceding, "Of course, no one is doing this intentionally". The objection by the aforesaid bhAgavata arises because, the word 'swAmi' has become another casualty like "aDiyEn." By constant overuse and abuse, it seems to have lost its spirit and charm and has been irreparably trivialized. For example, it has so degenerated that we see devotees of "Ayyappa" greeting each other - "*sAmi* saranam'. Obviously, they do so without even knowing what they are saying! Our psyche has been conditioned by the indiscriminate and mindless misuse of the word "swAmi" ad nauseam from "Alpha swAmi" to "Omega swAmi" and everyone liberally ensconced in between like, for example, "pAmban "swAmi", "mouna swAmi" and even a "soraikkAi swAmi"- rendering it cheap, if not vulgar. Thus, it has been debased and desecrated so much so that we tend to underestimate the power of the word and think that it cannot be applied to ' madathipatis' but only to ordinary '' vidvAns" and "bhAgavatas in general." If the word were taboo, why would our AchAryas call 'swAmi Nammalwar," 'swAmi NAthamuni", 'swAmi Desikan" etc whenever they refer to them? Does it mean that they were no better than mill-of-the run 'vidvAns' and commonplace 'bhAgavatas' and NOT AchAryas? I respectfully submit that the usage of these terms only expresses an obeisance to an AchArya (in this case my genuine obeisance to *my* acharya). Usage of the term dEvarir ------------------------- "dEvarir" is a Tamil word derived from the Sanskrit "devaha" which means "God." "dEvarir" means "Oh! My God!"- In essence, all that the word ' swAmi ' connotes as explained above. I quote a great authority on the use of the word: "dEvarir being a Tamil word has no etymology I could think of. It is a respectful term, while speaking to elders or *AachAryA * as you know" For me, my AachArya is God incarnate. I believe that there can be no power-words comparable to "swAmi" and "dEvarir" especially while addressing an AachArya in the 2nd person on one-to-one basis. How incongruous would it have been if Arjuna had addressed Lord Krishna, the GeethAchAryan in the 3rd person as if he was referring to some odd and distant third person and not the Jagadguru,standing physically in front of him face to face and delivering ' the Song celestial?'
The use of the term "Azhagiya singhar" at every step, in season and out of season, in the "3rd person" smacks of distancing as if addressing some " 3rd person" and not the AachArya physically listening to you, and conversing with you - while 'swAmi" and " dEvarir" exude genuine humility and devotion and denote a closeness that is unique and satisfying to both the AachArya and the sishya. In this context, the individual opinion of the said bhAgavata becomes out of place. That is why the form "Azhagiya singhar" was not used repeatedly - not because of any difficulty in 'pronouncing' it.' My request to the anonymous bhAgavata and others who share his/her opinions is this: please, do not impugn the motives or attitudes of others, particularly when such criticisms are made from a dearth of knowledge and experience. If such criticism must be made, please justify it with suitable pramANas. Dasoham Anbil Ramaswamy _________________________________________________________________Add photos to your e-mail with MSN 8. Get 2 months FREE*. http://join.msn.com/?page=features/featuredemail
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