The Temple-Goer’s Guide

The beauty of Tiruppavai is that apart from elucidating esoteric and complex philosophical concepts, it also serves as a practical guide in matters of devotion. Unlike other scriptural texts, which presume a basic level of knowledge (which may or may not exist) on the part of the peruser, Tiruppavai instructs us in the ABC of Bhakti and is hence a veritable manual of devotion.

The initial pasurams of Tiruppavai contain several tips to the uninitiated to prepare themselves for the enlightenment of Bhagavat anubhavam. Everyone would agree that it is extremely important to observe the preliminary and preparatory steps, so that one gets into the proper frame of mind for worship. Such groundwork is essential especially in the context of the extremely unconducive and off-putting atmosphere obtaining today. The present day environment of unmitigated materialism and Mammon-worship, apart from causing spiritual decay, also prevents us from taking any steps, however little, towards emancipation. Hence when we try our hand at devotion, we start with a terrific handicap, like a person attempting a race with his feet chained to an iron weight. It is here that the preparatory steps advocated by Tiruppavai come in handy; for they serve to offset the handicaps we face and make us more inclined towards the spiritual path.

First and foremost, Sri Andal stresses the importance of a purifying bath. “SnAna moolA: KriyA: sarvE” says the Smriti, emphasizing that a bath is an essential prerequisite for all action in the spiritual sphere. This Ablution purifies not only the body but the mind too. All of us have experienced the invigorating effect of a bath on the physique and the psyche. Sri Andal specifies when we should bathe-“nAtkAlE neerAdi”. We should bathe before sunrise, preferably in cold water. While some people have the habit of finishing off all their morning chores and then bathing leisurely, so that the feeling of freshness and cleanliness lingers longer; some postpone bathing till the last moment, out of sheer laziness. To the devotee, however, it is essential to bathe early, so that it makes him feel clean in body and mind. While bathing, uttering the mantras meant therefor would make the bath much more than a physical chore. The aghamarshaNa sUkta is supposed to be recited during the ablution, praying the Lord, as the antaryAmi of VaruNA, to rid one of all dirt, physical and psychological, and to bestow on one the degree of purity essential for worship. There is also a preliminary prArtthana to the holy rivers to bless us with their purifying presence in the water we would be using for the bath-

“GangE cha YamunE chaiva GodAvari Sarasvati
NarmadE Sindhu KAvEri jalEsmin sannidhim kuru”.

If every measure of water we pour on ourselves is accompanied by the chanting of the Lord’s haloed name, it has the effect of washing off not only the physical filth but also the KArmic grime, which encrusts our soul.

After bath, how should we enhance our appearance? Sri Andal prohibits the use of decorative and perfumed ingredients like mascara (“Mai ittu ezhudhOm”), which incite the senses. By implication, this would preclude application of cosmetics of whatever type and description. The only cosmetic we are supposed to apply is the Urdhvapundram, the symbol of the Lord’s tiruvadi, on our forehead. A correctly applied Urdhvapundram, with the Srichoornam in the middle, enhances our looks (such as they are) substantially, as many would have experienced. Women too are supposed to wear the Srichoornam in the centre of their foreheads, in the form of a “deepa rEkha”. All other cosmetic adornments are made fun of as “Puram suvar kOlam”(TirumAlai).

When we visit temples, Sri Andal has detailed guidelines to offer as to how we should comport ourselves. “ThooyOmAi vandhOm” says She, telling us to go the Lord with purity in body, thought, deed and word. How do we achieve purity of thought? Is this not easier said than done? While a ceremonial bath does wash off some unwanted thoughts, only continuous meditation on the Lord would endow us with purity of thought.

Our mind is a dynamic mechanism, never still for a second, always thinking of something or the other-even the focussed Arjuna finds it so (“Chanchalam hi mana: Krishna! ….vAyOriva sudushkaram”). And more often than not, the mind tends to wander off into frivolous and unproductive by- lanes, and fill itself with thoughts that are neither uplifting nor inspiring. The mind behaves much like an unruly child, dwelling at length on subjects we specifically forbid it to think of, and even if we order it to refrain from this, it still continues to be wayward, uncontrolled and uncontrollable.

The Mind is a truly terrifying creature, for its damage potential is immense. Even the Shruti considers it to be so-“BhIshmO hi mana:”. This is why Yogis try hard to keep their minds blank, to rid it of all thoughts, so that it ceases to be a raging battlefield of conflicting ideas and resembles more a calm pond than a choppy sea. This however is beyond ordinary mortals like us. Since it is difficult to keep the horse still, we should ride it in the right direction. Thus instead of trying to keep our mind blank, if we fill it with thoughts of the Lord, it automatically gets purified. This is also the fun-way to attain purity, for thinking of the Lord is extremely pleasurable. This is what Sri Andal means when She talks about “ThooyOmAi vandOm” and ”manatthinAl chintikka”. Thus when we go to a temple, we should prepare ourselves for the mangalasasanam by emptying our minds of all accumulated rubbish and spraying it with the perfume of bhagavat guNa anubhavam.

“VAyinAl pAdi” says Sri Andal, advising us as to how we should use our tongue. At least while we are in temples, only the Lord’s holy names should be uttered by our tongue, which should refrain from social interaction with friends, acquaintances etc. Chanting the Lord’s tirunamam is equal to the exalted chanting of the essence of the VedAs, avers an Azhwar-“MAdhavan pEr solluvadE Otthin surukku”. “Pottri yAm vandhOm pugazhndu” reiterates Sri Goda Piratti, emphasizing the importance of confining our speech to utterance of the divine names. Another important aspect is that more than the Lord’s names, we should sing the praise of His holy feet which traversed all the worlds during the Trivikramavatara, touching and purifying everyone and everything without exception-“Paraman adi pAdi” says Sri Andal, repeating the idea for good measure with “un pottrAmarai adiyE pOttrum poruL” and “andru ivvulagam aLandhAi adi pOttri”.

The sort of worship that is to be performed at the temple is described by Sri Andal thus-“thoo malar thoovi thozhudu”.

Pure and beautiful flowers should be acquired for adorning the Lord’s tiruvadi. The flowers offered should be befitting the Lord’s stature and our own station in life. If we can afford to offer Him a lotus, we should not be content with a cheap, nondescript bloom plucked from a neighbour’s hedge. And whatever be the flower, it should be offered with sincerity and devotion: only then does it become “thoo malar”. Further, the greatest floral tribute we could offer the Lord is our Atma guNAs like ahimsa, shoucham, indriya nigraham, dayA, etc., for acquiring which we do not have to spend a cent.

The word “thoovi” indicates that the flowers should not be just thrown at the Lord’s tiruvadi, but showered gently with bhakti, with the consciousness that these are no ordinary feet, but extremely tender ones which redden even at the touch of the soft and supple palms of Tirumagal and Manmagal, who endeavour constantly to relieve them of the strain of traversing the three worlds during Trivikramavatara and of roaming barefoot constantly in the course jungles, during Krishnavatara.

The next time we visit the Lord’s abode, if the aforesaid lines from Tiruppavai run through our minds, it would transform our experience from its current prosaic and unremarkable form into a delectably divine one. We should then be able to get a whiff and a taste of the incredibly intense devotion which Sri Prahlada, Sri Dhruva, Sri Sabhari, Sri Uddhava, Azhwars and our Poorvacharyas were blessed with.

Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama:

Dasan, sadagopan 1