Articles on Kainkaryam, based on the Mukunda Mala sloka 

by Shriman Sadagopan Iyengar

(Collated from Bhakti-List archives)

I  Dec 28 2001 - http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/dec2001/0203.html 

All human organs, apart from the obvious physical functions they perform, are also intended to be used in the service of the Lord. All of us are servants of Emperuman,(SEshAs) and it is only appropriate that our faculties are utilised for His kainkaryam. In performing this kainkaryam, shastras and the conduct of Poorvacharyas are our guiding star as to the manner and type of service that is to be rendered. It should be done in a manner that pleases the Lord (“SEshi uganda kainkaryam”), and should be in addition to the duties that are enjoined upon us, depending upon varNA and Ashrama (like Sandhyavandanam, agnihotram,etc.). For instance, Emperuman would not like us to light up the lamps in His temple in the evening, forgoing our basic duty of performing Sandhyavandanam. Based on the foregoing, Acharyas have classified Kainkaryam into two categories- AgnyA kainkaryam and anugnyA kainkaryam. Those duties, which we have to perform compulsorily, (like Sandhyavandanam, pitru tarpanam,pancha maha yagyas,etc) come under the first category, while decorating the Lord’s temple with lamps, putting together garlands for Him, etc. fall under the second. One may ask, “If we are compelled to perform an act, how could it be service or kainkaryam, which has an in-built element of choice and willingness?” Our Sampradaya lays down that the ultimate purpose of all these acts of worship (including Sandhyopasanam, agnihotram,yagas, yagyas etc.) is to please the Lord (“SrimanNarayana preetyarttham or Bhagavat kainkarya roopam”). Hence Agnya kainkaryam has to be performed before anugnya kainkaryam could even be thought of. A father is not pleased with his son, who ignores whatever tasks have been set for him, but insists on pressing the father’s feet in an expression of love and concern. This is illustrated by the following verse from the Bhagavat Gita- 

“Shruti:smriti: mamaiva AgyA-yastAm ullanghya vartatE 
AgyAcchEdI mama drOhI mama bhaktOpi na Vaishnava:” 

Guruparampara has it that Sri Ramanuja stood up with great difficulty, with the support of his disciples, even at the ripe old age of 120, to offer Arghya pradAnam during Sandhyavandanam, thus demonstrating his respect for the Agnya kainkaryam, even in the face of physical inability..

Having said this, Azhwars and Acharyas have laid down clearly the types of kainkaryam that are to be performed with each of our faculties. Perhaps the most comprehensive prescription is from the Mukunda MAlA of Sri Kulasekhara Perumal, reproduced below: -

“JihvE keertaya Kesavam Muraripum chEtO bhaja Sridharam 
pANi dvandva samarcchaya stOtra Achuta kathA shrOtra dvaya tvam shruNu 
Krishnam lOkaya lOchana dvaya, HarE:gaccha anghri yugma Alayam 
Jighra ghrANa Mukunda pAda tulaseem moordhan nama AdhOkshajam”

This shlOka incorporates the essence of kainkarya, as perceived by Azhwars, and is worth going over line by beautiful line, to fully appreciate its abundant significance.

“JihvE keertaya Kesavam”- The tongue is an extremely important part of our physique, and is often the cause of embarrassment and trouble, if not kept under control. It is difficult to keep the tongue idle, for, man is a social animal who finds it difficult to remain silent. Therefore, to canalise its function into productive channels, Azhwar prescribes chanting of the Lord’s holy names. And how long are we supposed to chant His names? Says Poygai Azhwar, 

“sollum tanayum tozhumin, vizhum udambu sellum tanayum TirumAlai…….nAmatthAl EtthudirEl nandru”- 

“Till your last breath, as long as it is physically possible, do continue chanting the Lord’s names” exhorts Azhwar. The same Azhwar wonders” You have been blessed with a tongue capable of praising the Lord. You also have an extremely short, potent and sweet mantra like the ahstAkshara, incorporating the Narayana nAmam. Despite being provided with such infallible routes to liberation, it is indeed surprising that some still fall prey to bad ways.” 

“nA vAyil uNdE, namO nAraNA endru-OvAdu uraikkum urai uNdE 
moovAda mA gatikkaN chellum vagai uNdE-ennoruvar thee gatikkaN chellum tiram”. 

The following couplet reflects the same idea- 

“Narayana iti shabdOsti, vak asti vasa vartinI 
tatApi narakE ghOrE patanti kim adbhutam ! » 

And how should the Lord’s name be chanted? So continuous and intense should be the chanting that it leaves a scar on the tongue, according to another Azhwar, who says,” nA tazhumba nAranA endru Etthi”. “unnai koNdu en nA agam pAl mAtru indri uraitthu koNdEn” supplements Sri Periazhwar. Why is nAma sankeertanam so effective? The Bhagavan nAma is the essence of all Vedas, (“Madhavan pEr solluvadE Otthin surukku”-_Bhootattazhwar) and is as effective, though much easier than performing penance (tapas)”Etthi paNindu avan pEr eerainnooru eppozhudum sAtthi uraitthal tavam”. Azhwar’s reference to “eerainnooru pEr” (2x500 names) is obviously to the Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram, and its chanting is equated here to performing tapas. And the word, "eppozhudum” indicates that the Lord’s name should be on our tongue always.

Even while exhorting us to have the Lord’s name always on our lips, Azhwars are categorical that chanting the name of any other is taboo, and not even to be thought of. Says Poigai Azhwar, “MAyavanai allAl irayEnum EtthAdu en nA”. « Vai avanai alladu vAzhttAdu » he reiterates in another pasuram. Sri Nammazhwar is more categorical in his refusal to sing the praise of anyone other than Emperuman-

 “nA koNdu mAnidam pAdEn”, « en nAvil in kavi yAn oruvarkkum kodukkilEn »,etc. 

Even IlangO adigaL, a Jain hermit, emphasises the same idea in SilappadikAram, one of the five great Tamil kAvyAs-

 “panchavarkku doodu nadandAnai EtthAda nA enna nAvE 
Narayana ennA nA ennA nAvE »- Is it a tongue at all, 
which does not sing the praise of the Lord Narayana who, in all His soulabhyam, made Himself a lowly messenger of the Pandavas? enquires Ilango rhetorically.

In a further refinement of the concept, some Azhwars aver that chanting the tirunAmam of BhAgavatAs (the Lord’s devotees) is even sweeter than reciting Emperuman’s haloed names. In an endearing display of BhAgavata SEshatvam, Sri Madurakavi Azhwar says, 

“KaNNi nuN siruttAmbinAl kattuNNa paNNia peru Mayan- ennappanil 
naNNi ten Kurugoor nambi ennakkAl aNNikkum amudoorum en nAvukkE” 

For Sri Madurakavi, Sri Nammazhwar’s tirunAmam sits sweeter on his tongue, than that of that of the Lord Himself. The same idea is portrayed in the following Nanmukhan TiruvandAdi pasuram- 

“MArAya dAnavanai vaLLugirAl –MArviraNdu 
koorAga keeriya KOLariyai-vErAga 
Etthi iruppArai vellumE-matru avarai SAtthi iruppAr tavam » 

Sri Tirumazhisai Piran extolls the virtues of those pinning their faith on BhAgavatAs, vis-a vis the votaries of Sri Nrsimha Himself.

Sri Periazhwar doesn’t mince his words, while castigating those whose tongues are strangers to the Lord’s names- “naraka nAsanai nAvil koNdu azhayAda mAnida sAdiar parugu neerum udukkum kooraiyum pAvam seidana » Those who do not chant Emperuman’s tirunAmam are sinners- even the water they drink and the clothes they wear must indeed have sinned, to be consumed by such heretics, according to Sri VishnuchitthA.

True to its nature, the tongue has indeed been long-winded, and adiyen craves the indulgence of bhagavatas for continuing on “ Mura ripum ChEtO bhaja" in the next posting.


II Dec 28 2001 - http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/jan2002/0016.html 

We saw the functions of the tongue as described by Sri Kulasekhara Azhwar in the Mukunda MalA. Azhwar’s next prescription is for the mind or intellect. 

“JihvE keertaya Kesavam 
Mura ripum chEtO bhaja” 

Azhwar exhorts his mind to think constantly of Sriman Narayana, the destroyer of the asurA, MurA. Of all the human organs, the mind is perhaps the most difficult to control, as experienced by even Arjuna, known for his powers of focusing. Advised by Sri Krishna to concentrate, Arjuna pleads his inability, finding the mind harder to conquer than the wind-he laments, “chanchalam hi mana:Krishna…….tasyAham nigraham manyE vAyOriva sudushkaram”. One can shut one’s eyes, ears and keep one’s limbs inactive-but it is almost impossible to discipline the mind. The mind is simply awesome (“bheeshmO hi mana:” says the Veda)-it never thinks what we want it to think, and thinks continuously of matters we specifically want to avoid. It is thus difficult to rein in the mind from straying into forbidden paths, into which it is wont to escape, ultimately leading to one’s destruction. To avoid this, Azhwar exhorts the mind to think of nothing but the Lord and His greatness. And according to Azhwar, this exercise should be a continuous one, as he himself remarks in an earlier shlOka in the same Mukunda Mala- “chintayAmi Harim Eva santatam”(I think of Hari always). Sri Nammazhwar too urges his mind to fix itself on the Lord’s lotus feet-“tuyar aru sudaradi tozhudu ezhu en mananE”. This is easier said than done, especially for ordinary mortals like us: when we are unable to think of Him continuously for even a few minutes, where is the question of His being constantly in our thoughts? Sri Tirumazhisai Piran is fully aware of our predicament, and prays to the Lord-“If at all You consider granting me a boon, I would only request you to tame my far-flung, wayward thoughts to concentrate on Your lotus feet.” 

“paranda sindai ondri nindru ninna pAda pangayam 
nirandraram ninaippadAga nee ninaikka vENdumE » 

The purport here is that rather than our own insignificant and weak efforts, it is Emperuman’s sankalpam that makes us think of Him.

And how should these thoughts of  Emperuman be? We should not think of Him out of a sense of duty, or because it is the thing to be done, but with an intense pleasure-“OrAzhi nenjE ugandu” says Sri Bootattazhwar. Azhwars beseech their minds not to forget Him- (“vidal Azhi nenjE vENdinEn kaNdAi adalAzhi koNdAn mAttu anbu” ,” MaNivaNNan pAdamE nee maravEl nenjE ninai” “mAlai maravAdu irainju en mananE”etc.). Sri Nammazhwar goes a step further and exhorts his mind to remember Emperuman even during sleep-“tunjum pOdum vidAdu todar kaNdAi”. Sri Poigai Azhwar is categorical that our thoughts should be only about the Lord of Lords, Sriman Narayana, and not any other deity- “MayavanayE manatthu vai”. A mind that does not focus on the Lord and His auspicious qualities is not worth the name, says Sri Tirumangai Mannan-

 “PuLLAi Or EnamAi pukkidandAn ponnadikku endru 
uLLAdAr uLLatthai uLLamA koLLOmE »

« ninayAdAr nenju endrum nenjalla kandAmE » etc.

Apart from preventing our thoughts from going astray, does concentration on Emperuman have any positive effect? It saves us from the vicious cycle of births and deaths, asserts Sri Bootattazhwar-“ninaippan TirumAlai neeNda tOL kANa, ninaippAr pirappu ondrum nErAr”. It also cures us of our usual jaundiced outlook and insufferable conduct, and makes us partners in eternal bliss-“poi nindra gyAnamum, pollA ozhukkum azhukkudambum in nindra neermai ini yAm urAmai”. And how does Emperuman reward those who think of Him always? He becomes a permanent resident in the minds of such mahatmas-“uLLuvAr uLLatthu uLan kandAi” says Sri Poigai Piran-“TirumAl vandu en nenju niraya pugundAn” supplements Sri Nammazhwar. Defining Sri Nrsimha’s residence, a poet says,” PrahlAda mAnasa sarOja vAsa Bhringa!” likening Sri Prahlada’s mind to a beautiful lotus, which is the favourite haunt of the honey-bee that is Sri Nrisimha. Enough of the unmindful mind; we shall see next what kainkaryam is expected of the hands.


III  December 30, 2001 -  http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/jan2002/0019.html 

Having dealt with kainkaryas to be performed with the tongue and the mind, Sri Kulasekharazhwar turns next to the good work that idle hands could be put to. 

“JihvE keertaya Kesavam, Mura ripum chEtO bhaja Sridharam 
PANi dvandva samarchaya” .. 

Archana usually means a floral tribute with the hands to the Lord. Azhwar’s use of the word “samarchaya” is noteworthy, for it means comprehensive worship (samyak archanam). This is perhaps intended to convey that while the hands are engaged in showering the Lord’s tiruvadi with flowers and tirutthuzhAi, simultaneously the lips should be chanting His praise and the mind concentrating on His innumerable auspicious qualities, with the eyes fixed on His glorious form. Given the fickleness of our minds and other sensory organs, it is usual that while our hands are busy performing archana to Bhagavan, our minds are miles away, thinking quite unrelated thoughts. Azhwar insists that all our organs should function in unison, while worshipping the Lord.

And another function that hands are meant for is to fetch and carry –carry water, flowers, incense, etc., meant for Emperuman’s worship. This is clear from Sri Nammazhwar’s sreesookti, 

“Sumandu mAmalar neer sudar dhoopam koNdu 
amarndu vAnavar vAnavar kOnodum 
namandrezhum Tiruvenkatam nangaktku 
saman koL veedu tarum tadam kundramE » .. 

These lines remind adiyen of an instructive episode. When Sri InjimEdu Azhagiasingar and Sri Madhurantakam Swamy were before Sri Parthasarathy's sanctum sanctorum for mangalasasanam, they had to wait for a few minutes outside, as the Lord was adorning Himself after tirumanjanam, perhaps trying to look His best to the two mahAns who were awaiting His audience. Noticing Srimad Azhagiasingar bearing in his hands the rather heavy garland intended for Perumal, Sri Madhurantakam Swamy requested the former to put down the garland in a suitable place, till the sannidhi opened for worship. With his usual smile, Srimad Azhagiasingar replied, “adiyen would rather carry this garland, as this too is a form of kainkaryam, for didn’t Sri Nammazhwar say, ‘sumandu mAmalar’?”

The Mudalazhwars too agree with Sri Kulasekharaperumal that the hands are indeed meant for Emperuman’s worship. Says one- “tozhudu malar kondu dhoopam kai Endi ezhudum ezhu vAzhi nenjE”

“painkamalam kaiyAl aNindEn un sEvadi mEl anbAi” etc. This is true not only of human beings but of other species too, as is proved by Sri Gajendrazhwan, whose practice it was to gather lotus flowers every day for the Lord’s archanam. Sri Peyazhwar elevates this archanam to a level much beyond penance (tapas) performed with considerable torture of one’s physique. He wonders,” why do you strain yourself so much, performing tapas standing on steep mountains, immersed in the coldest of waters and in the midst of the five fires, when you have a much easier and effective way to cleanse yourself of your sins? All you have to do is to worship the Lord at TiruvekkA (a divyadesam in Kancheepuram) with flowers, which are easily available.” Here is the beautiful pasuram- 

“poruppidayE nindrum punal kuLitthum-aindu 
neruppidayE nirkavum neer vENdA-viruppudanE 
VekkAvE sErndAnai meymalar tooi kai tozhudAl 
AkkAve teevinaigal Aindu”.

As archanam constitutes worship of such high order, it cannot be accorded to all and sundry. According to Sri Nammazhwar, only Emperuman Sriman Narayanan is entitled to such worship, and none other- “dEvan Emperumanukku allAl poovum poosanayum tagumE?” he enquires rhetorically.

“tOL avanai allAl tozhA”-Sri Poigayazhwar rules out worship of others with his hands. “mandirangaL karpanavum MAl adiyE kai tozhuvAn” reiterates the Azhwar in another Mudal Tiruvandadi pasuram.

Discerning bhaktas would also detect the benign shadow of the Dvaya mantram in the sloka we are currently analysing. While there is no dispute about Emperuman being the sole recipient eligible for such archana, Sri Kulasekharazhwar’s use of the tirunamam “Sridharam ” (Emperuman who sports Tirumagal on His chest), while allocating the kainkaryam for the hands, is significant. This denotes that all kainkaryam is to be performed to the Divine Duo- the Lord and His Consort- and not merely to Emperuman.

What is the periodicity of this archanam? Is it to be performed on special days, monthly, yearly, or once in a few years? Sri Nammazwar says it should be continuous, without even a second’s interval-

“kaigaL Ara tozhudu tozhudu unnai, 
vaigalum mAtthirai pOdum Or veedindri”

The hands are versatile instruments of kainkaryam, as, unlike other organs, they can be put to multifarious use, like fetching and carrying for the Lord, for preparing garlands for Him, cleaning and decorating His temples, and any number of kainkaryas, according to one’s capability, aptitude and ruchi.

While we have only one tongue, mind, nose and head, we have been blessed with two hands, which is not without significance. It means perhaps that the quantum of kainkaryam expected of the upper limbs is more than that of its singular counterparts. Ipso facto, while closing the current instalment of “kainkaryam”, it struck adiyen that the hands, being two, deserve two instalments devoted to them. In the next part, adiyen shall try to show more of my hand.


IV  Dec 30 2001 - http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/jan2002/0017.html 

Continuing the saga of the hands, you must have noticed how a pair of palms folded in supplication resembles a lotus yet to bloom. Thus the best flower suited for the Lord’s worship need not be sought from outside sources, for it is ever present in one’s hands. One has only to fold one’s hands in the “anjali” mudra, which has the effect of melting down Emperuman  (“am jalayati iti anjali”). This anjali, an abbreviated version of Saranagati symbolised by folded palms, is an extremely effective instrument in achieving one’s goals, for it brings around even the most intransigent of Gods- (“anjali: paramA mudrA, kshipram dEva prasAdinI”). The best possible offering or kainkaryam to the Lord is self-surrender or Atma SamarpaNam, which is symbolised by the anjali mudrA. Extolling the efficacy of anjali, Sri Alavandar says, 

“tvat anghrim uddisya kadApi kEnachit yata tatAvApi sakrit krita:anjali : 
tadaiva mushNAti ashubhAni asEshata : 
shubhAni pushNAti na jAtu heeyatE » 

Says Sri Yamuna, addressing the Lord, "an anjali, whenever and by whoever it is, done in whatever fashion, directed towards your lotus feet, destroys all things bad in us and ensures the growth of all that is auspicious.” This makes it clear that Saranagati is subject to absolutely no restrictions, caste-wise, time-wise or otherwise. It is an “anyone, anytime, anyhow” instrument to liberation.

The hands that worship the Lord would never fall a prey to the bonds of Karma, would never ever peek into Hell, nor would evil times ever befall them. Sri Poigai Azhwar avers, 

“VinayAl adar padAr, vennaragil sArAr 
TinayEnum tee gati kaN sellar-ninaidarku 
AriyAni sEyAnai Ayiram pEr senkaN 
KariyAnai kai tozhuda kAl”.

Sri Nammazhwar too confirms that folded hands or anjali is the best possible adornment we could offer the Lord-“dEsamAna aNikalanum en kai kooppu seigayE”. We saw that the act of anjali has no age-restriction: but Sri Poigaiazhwar performs this while he is still an unborn child in the mother’s womb, as he himself attests- 

“andru karu arangatthuL kidandu kai tozhudEn kandEn 
Tiruvarangam mEyAn disai”. 

Normally, hands folded in supplication are held in front of one’s chest, so that they form a simultaneous offering to the antaryAmi or inner-dweller. Sri Periazhwar speaks of another position for this anjali-hands folded on top of one’s head-“matthagatthu idai kai kooppi”. It is not only ordinary mortals like us who resort to this “handy “ kainkaryam: the thirty-three crore devatas, headed by the eight Vasus, eleven RudrAs, twelve AdityAs and the two AswinI dEvAs, with their crores of acolytes, all holding colourful flowers in their hands, offer floral tributes at the Lord’s feet. And this they do always.

 “eNmar padinoruvar eeraruvar Oriruvar 
vaNNa malar Endi vaigalum-naNNi 
oru mAlai paravi OvAdu- eppOdum 
TirumAlai kai tozhuvar sendru »

Are they hands, which do not fold by themselves in bhakti when before the Lord with the darkest of complexions? They are as good as worthless pieces of wood, says Sri Tirumangai mannan in the following pasuram- 

“MayyAr kadalum maNi varayum mAmugilum 
koyyAr kuvaLayum kAyAvum pOndru iruNda 
MeyyAnai Meyya malayAnai sangEndum 
KaiyyAnai kai tozhA kai alla kaNdAmE ».

After the hands, ears attract Sri Kulasekharazhwar’s attention, and he says, “Achutha kaThA shrOtra dvaya tvam shruNu” (Oh Ears! Do listen to the Holy tales of Achutha). One significant feature of our listening faculty is that unlike our mouth or eyes, there is no in-built facility for automatically shutting our ears, perhaps with the intention that man should listen a lot. However, with the passage of good times and the preponderance of evil tidings over good, we have to be selective in what we let into our ears. And the only way we can perform kainkaryam with our ears is to confine their intake to tales of the Lord’s glory.

It is not for nothing that one of the Vedic Shanti pAtAs begins with 
“Bhadram karNEbhi: shruNuyAma dEvA:” (May the Gods let only good tidings fall on our ears!). 
Here, the word “Bhadram” refers to the Lord’s praise, in the form of veda mantras, stotras, Azhwars’ sreesooktis, et cetera. This prayer occurs also in the TaittiriyOpanishad SeekshAvalli, thus-
“KarNAbhyAm bhoori vishruvam”. Another related Veda vAkyA is 
“shrOtrENa bhadram uta shriNvanti satyam”. 

The Veda Purusha prays that we may listen only to accounts of Emperuman’s glory, and not to mere mundane matters. Sri Nammazhwar, who, in defining what is sweet on the ears, says it is only Bhagavan nAmA- 
“sevikku inbam Avaduvum sengaN Mal nAmam”

While Azhwars are particular about hearing only such things, they are also equally concerned about what they should not lend their ears to- Says Sri Poygaiazhwar-

“Pey mulai nanju ooNAga uNdAn uruvOdu pEr allAl kANA kaN kELA sevi”-
(My ears would not listen to anything other than Sri Krishna’s haloed names) 

A noteworthy feature of this sloka from Sri Mukunda MalA is its close reflection of sentiments expressed by Sri Poigaiazhwar, Sri Bhootattazwar and Sri Peyazhwar, as would have been evident from the numerous quotes furnished above. Here too, Sri Pogaiazhwar swears, 

“en sevi iraNdum kEL avanadu in mozhiyE kettu irukkum” 
(“My ears listen only to the glorious tales of Emperuman, who is everybody to me”). 

And what about ears that do not let in the Lord’s names or doings? Sri Kalian says that they are mere adornments to the sides of the head, and do not serve any useful purpose at all _

”TOlAda mAmaNiyai tondarkku iniAnai 
KELA sevigaL sevi alla kEttAmE” 

Concurs the Aycchiar Kuravai of Silappadhikaram- 
“TirumAl seer kELAda sevi enna seviyE”.


V  Dec 30 2001 - http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/jan2002/0020.html

Having dealt with ears of service, Sri Kulasekharazhwar looks at how one’s eyes might be put to use in the cause of the Lord.

“JihvE keertaya Kesavam , Mura ripum chEtO bhaja
Sridharam pANi dvandva samarchaya
Achutha kathA shrOtra dvaya tvam shruNu
Krishnam lOkaya lOchana dvaya”

 “Oh my Eyes! Drink in the glorious form of Sri Krishna” urges Azhwar. “SarvEndriyANAm nayanam pradhAnam” says the adage, giving pride of place to the eyes among the sensory organs. Hence the kainkaryam performed by the eyes must occupy a very important place. Unlike the hands, eyes have a limited function to perform, viz., seeing. All our lives, we keep seeing things good and bad, reading books of all kinds. What Azhwar would like us to do is to keep the Lord’s beautiful form (as found in various temples, constituting the archAvatArA) constantly before our eyes. The nitya sooris in Sri Vaikuntam are our role model for this, as we are told that they do not take their eyes off the Paramapadanatan’s magnificent tirumEni-“tad VishNO: paramam padam sadA pasyanti sooraya:” says the Veda. The Lord’s beauty is such that the beholder would not even like to blink, for fear of losing that moment’s anubhavam. So much so that Silappadhikaram denounces those who are able to blink, while witnessing Emperuman’s resplendence- “kaN imaitthu kANbAr tam kAn enna kaNNE”. Azhwars’ eyes have an insatiable desire to drink in the Lord’s soundaryam in its entirety, though they realise the impossibility of the mission- “kAn kAn ena virumbum kaNgaL” “mei koLLa kANa virumbum en kaNgaLE” say the Azhwars. The first two of the Mudal Azhwars light up luminous lamps of different hues, in the light of which Sri Peyazhwar’s eyes witness the magnificent spectacle of the Paramapurusha, who crowded into the small space where the three bhagavatas had sought refuge on that rainy night.

“Thiru kaNdEn, ponmEni kandEn, tigazhum
arukkan aNi niramum kandEn-serukkiLarum
Pon Azhi kandEn Puri Sankham kai kandEn
En Azhi vaNNan pAl indru”

 First and foremost, and very significantly, Azhwar’s eyes alight on Piratti, shining on the Lord’s chest, and adding to His splendour. Next he sees the Lord’s golden form, the Sudarsana Chakram and PanchajanyA, adorning Emperuman’s hands. Such is the Lord’s magnificence that eyes that do not make it their business to keep Him in sight constantly are not eyes at all, but mere holes in the face. Says Sri Kalian,

“neeL nAgam chutri varai nattu-Azh kadalai
pENAn kadaindu amudam kondu uganda pemmAnai
pooNAra mArvanai puLLoorum ponmalayai
kAnAdAr kaN endrum kaN alla kaNdAmE”.

The idea is reiterated in the Aicchiar Kuravai-“kariavanai kANAda kaN enna KaNNE”. Swami Desikan prays Sri Varadaraja to give him the status of nitya sooris on this earth itself, by craving unblinking eyes with which to drink in the beauty of the Lord without a second’s break. “anudinam animEshai: lochanai: nirvisEyam” says he in the Sri Varadaraja Panchasat.

“Gaccha anghri yugma (HarE:) Alayam” says Sri Kulasekharazhwar in the next line of the Mukunda mala slokam, laying down the kainkaryam for the lower limbs. One might wonder as to what possible service could be performed by legs, of all organs. Despite their rather lowly position, legs are indispensable in any bhagavat kainkaryam, for it is they who take us to the place of service, and principally to the Lord’s temples. It is only the old and infirm, and particularly those crippled by arthritis, who can appreciate fully the valuable role legs play. While visiting divya desas like Sri Ahobilam or Sri ChOla Simha Puram located on steep hills, the real value of healthy legs and the kainkaryam they are capable of, are brought home to us vividly. We really have to appreciate the bhAgavatas who travel from Chennai to Tirumala on foot every year. And more than them, our hearts go out to the Azhwars and Acharyas who traversed the whole of India on foot, for mangalasasanam of Emperumans at various far-flung divyadesams, braving the most hostile of climes and environs. And of all the Azhwars, the most prolific foot-traveller appears to have been Sri Tirumangai Mannan, who has notched up an unbeatable tally of divyadesa mangalasasanam, covering (then) practically inaccessible places like Sri Salagramam, Sri Badarikashramam, Sri Ahobilam, etc. Incidentally, the least-travelled, by foot or otherwise, appears to be Sri Nammazhwar, who visited not a single divyadesam, but to whom all Emperumans came running, beseeching him to sing a song on themselves.

Turning to the next line of the sloka, we find Sri Kulasekhara Perumal exhorting the nose to inhale the fragrance of the sacred Tulasi leaves adorning the Lord’s tiruvadi. Though TiruttuzhAi is by nature pleasant-smelling, association with Emperuman’s feet enhances its fragrance. After all, Emperuman is reputed to be “sarva gandha:” or the repository of all fragrance. Further, the Lord’s feet are reputed to secrete honey-“VishnO: padE paramE madhva utsa:”says the Veda, and Sri Alavandar too speaks of “tava amrita syandini pAda pankajE”. Thus, the fragrant Tulasi adorning the honey-sweet tiruvadi of the Lord makes for a heady mixture, which is capable of transporting one straight away to Sri Vaikuntam. The Lord has an insatiable desire to adorn Himself all over with TiruttuzhAi, which impresses Sri Nammazhwar-

“TOLiNai mElum nan mArbin mElum
sudar mudi mElum TALiNai melum
punainda taN am tuzhAi udai ammAn
KEl iNai ondrum ilAdAn”

Emperuman appears to be a veritable Tulasi shop, with TiruttuzhAi draped all over His arms and shoulders, His broad chest which is the dwelling of PirAtti, His tall and glittering crown and on His feet which are the refuge of the entire world. No wonder that Tulasi is venerated as “sadA Kesava priyA”, as she is very dear to the Lord. In the aforesaid pasuram, Emperuman is acclaimed as without equals (iNai ondrum ilAdAn), which He perhaps owes to TiruttuzhAi, for no other deity has the privilege of being worshipped with the leaves of the sacred Tulasi. Being a connoisseur, Sri Kulasekhara Perumal wants his olfactory nerves to be regaled by the inhalation of TiruttuzhAi from the Lord’s feet.

To wind up the sloka, Sri Kulasekharazhwar prescribes the kainkaryam that the head can perform-“Moordhan! nama AdhOkshajam”. The head is thus exhorted to bow before the Lord. Being the principal among the angAs (it is known as the “uttama angam”), the head is given the important assignment of paying obeisance to Emperuman. Another Azhwar warns of what happens to those whose heads do not bow before the Almighty-

“VaratthAl vali ninaindu MAdhava nin pAdam
SiratthAl vaNangAnAm endrE –uratthinAl
EerariAi nEr valiyOnAya iraNiyanai
Or ariyAi nee idandadu oon. »

Drunk with the boons of invincibility that he had been able to obtain from an inconsiderate BrahmA, HiranyAsura considered himself supreme, refused to bow down to Sriman Narayana, and held his head aloft with ahamkArA. As a result, he was torn to pieces by Sri Nrsimha, all his invincibility vanishing before the Omnipotent Narakesari.

The Mukunda Mala is full of gems similar to the sloka expounded so far, and each would require at least as many postings as this sloka has taken. However, having no desire to indulge in bhAgavatApachArA by testing readers’ patience beyond limits, adiyen would like to conclude here, with a pasuram from Sri Nanmukhan Tiruvandadi, which echoes the spirit of the Mukunda Mala sloka-

“VAzhttuga VAi, kANga kaN kEtka sevi-makutam
tAzhtthi vaNangumingaL taN malarAl-soozhttha
tuzhAi mannu neeN mudi em tollai MAl tannai
vazhA vaN kai kooppi maditthu »- Sri Tirumazhisai Piran.

Another Azhwar summarises the kainkaryas we can perform during our life in this mudane world-
“VAsitthum kEttum vaNangi vazhipattum
poositthum pOkkinEn pOdu”.


VI  Jan 22, 2002 - http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/jan2002/0232.html

Adiyen had intended to conclude the articles on Kainkaryam, (based on the Mukunda Mala sloka) with the fifth instalment. However, a few more thoughts were inspired by the beautiful postings of Sri Oppiliappankoil Satakopan Swami of USA, in connection with the tiruppaNi undertaken at the holiest of holies, Tooppul, near Kancheepuram. The untiring efforts of Sri Satakopan Swami and other kindred spirits to create a corpus fund for the nitya ArAdhanam of Sri ViLakkoLi Perumal and Sri Desikan at the latter’s avatAra stthalam appeared to adiyen to be the best practical exposition of true kainkaryam.

Kainkaryam to the Lord in His archhA form (as He appears to us in various temples) has been held to be service of very high order. There are any number of examples among Azhwars and Poorvacharyas, who have made it their life’s mission to perform service in some form or the other to the Emperuman at a divyadesam. Sri Periazhwar’s pushpa kainkaryam to Sri VatapatrasAyee is only too well known, and so is that of Sri Tondaradippodi. Sri Tiruppanazhwar specialised in singing the praise of the Lord at Srirangam with musical instruments. Perhaps the Azhwar responsible for the maximum service to the arcchAvatAra Emperuman is Sri Tirumangai Mannan, who even robbed and plundered ill-gotten wealth for building temple towers and fortresses for the Lord and to feed His devotees.

Sri Ramanuja’s teerttha kainkaryam for Sri PeraruLALan is well known, as are his efforts at reforming and systematising worship and administration at various divya desams, apart from the construction of a vast lake at Tondanur. Sri Bhattar was Sri Ranganatha’s own priest, (Sri RangEsa purOhita:) and performed innumerable other services at Srirangam. Sri VAtsya Varadacharya used to perform such intimate kainkaryam (like serving the Lord milk at just the right temprature) laced with motherly love towards Sri Varada, that he earned the sobriquet NadAdUr “ammAL”. Sri Nigamanta Desikan’s own kainkaryams are too numerous to bear recitation. Sri Pillai Lokacharya gave up his life in the protection of Sri Namperumal, when Muslims besieged Sri Rangam. Sri AdivanSatakopa Swami, the founder of Sri Ahobila Mutt, is credited with several tiruppaNis- the steps from Tirupati to Tirumala, temple towers at Ahobilam, Tirunarayanapuram, etc. In the recent past, we have all been witnesses to the rise of the mammoth Rajagopuram at SriRangam, which stands a majestic testimony to the kainkarya ruchi of the great Acharya, Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikan, 44th Jeer of Sri Ahobila Mutt. The prakrutam Azhagiasingar too, in His ten years at the helm of the Mutt, has been responsible for numerous works at various divyadesams that have made the institution stand tall. Needless to add, Acharyas of other lineages have also been major contributors to various kainkaryas at divyadesams. Kings of yore too have deemed it their privilege to build massive temples to the Almighty with soaring towers, and to donate entire villages and the income there from for the maintenance and worship of places of God. Thus it was deemed as important to build a temple, as it was to provide for its maintenance and uninterrupted worship.

Today, we are faced with a Governmental attitude towards temples that can at best be termed indifferent, and at worst, inimical. Examples in this regard are too numerous to cite, and it has been left pretty much to the Sri Vaishnavite community to fend for its temples. Fortunately, the Lord, possibly in His own self-interest, has provided His devotees with the wherewithal to fund His worship and maintain His abodes in good repair. Why should the Poorvacharyas and Azhwars place so much emphasis on kainkaryam to the arcchA? Says the PAdmOttara Purana- “ArAdhanAnAm sarvEshAm VishnO: ArAdhanam param” Of all types of worship, that addressed to the Lord of the Lords, Sri MahaVishnu, is the best. Scriptures lay down that of all types of service, the one deemed dear to His heart is uninterrupted TiruvArAdhanam at His abodes. Hence the daily prArtthanA at every Sri Vaishnavite home for the uninterrupted flourishing of the bounties of Sri Ranganatha- “Sriman, Sri Ranga Sriyam anupadravAm anudinam samvardhaya” Those who have Srimad Ramayana parayanam as a nitya karma would be familiar with the prayer

“KAvEri vardhatAm kAlE, kAlE varshatu VAsava:
Sri Ranganatha: jayatu, Sri Ranga Sreescha vardhatAm”
(We pray for the Rain God to ensure timely and adequate showers, for Kaveri to be in full beneficial flow,
and for the fortunes of Sri Rangam to be on the ascendant, so that Sri RangarAjA could always reign in splendour.)

What has been said of Sri Rangam applies equally well to other divyadesams. Thus it becomes our bounden duty as Sri Vaishnavites to ensure that His residences are kept in good repair, that Tiruvaradhanam is carried on without interruption, and that paucity of funds never affects kainkaryams of such paramount importance. We are witness almost daily to the paradox of ever new and magnificent temples for the Lord coming up at various places, while His ancient abodes, hallowed by the mangalasasanam of Azhwars and Acharyas, lie neglected and in disrepair, with the Archaka hardly able to feed the Emperuman with a morsel. It would surely pain us to know that when we regularly feast on a variety of delicacies, the staple offering to the Lord in many of the divyadesams is just “veLLai sAdam”, or plain cooked rice without any seasoning or side dishes. Should we let the Great Provider, who has blessed us with all He has (“ tanadu anaitthum avar tamakku vazhangi”), languish in hunger and reside in dilapidated, ramshackle structures? It is not that He needs anything or is particular about the food being offered to Him. He is satisfied with even a dried leaf or plain water as an offering (“patram, pushpam, phalam, tOyam…..tadaham asnAmi”). But does it behove us, as beneficiaries of His munificence, to offer Him a dried leaf while we gorge ourselves? The Chandilya Smriti is quite categorical about how the Lord is to be treated- He is to be loved and waited upon as a chaste wife would upon her beloved husband, to be cared for as a doting mother looks after her precious child, to be shown reverence and respect due by a disciple to his venerated Acharya, and showered with the affection and regard one reserves for a close friend. He is to be handled with as much care as would be bestowed on a sensitive and temperamental elephant. He is to be treated as a welcome guest at whose sight we are immensely pleased, and offered hospitality due to a Crown Prince. Here are the relative slokas from Chandilya Smriti-

“SatIva priya bhartAram, jananIva stanandhayam
Acharyam sishyavat mitram mitravat lAlayEt Harim.
YathA yuvAnam RAjAnam yathA cha mada hastinam
YathA priya atitim yOgyam Bhagavantam tatArchayEt”.

It is indeed shameful that the Lord, who deserves a royal treatment in every way, lies uncared for in several divyadesams, with soiled robes, tirumEni that has seen better times and with a diet (when available) totally devoid of taste and variety and almost exclusively consisting of plain cooked rice.

Such a dismal state of affairs has pained several right-thinking bhagavatas, who have made it their life’s mission to ensure that the Provider is Himself provided for. There has been a silent but sure renaissance in the Sri Vaishnavite community, and several mahatmas with kainkarya ruchi have been and are putting in tireless efforts for the above cause. We are seeing the Nava Tirupatis,( sung by Sri Nammazhwar) for long in disrepair, now wearing a new and rejuvenated look; the Nava Nrisimhas of Sri Ahobilam( described by Sri Tirumangai Mannan as inaccessible-“chendru kAndarku ariya kOil”) would soon be boasting of refurbished residences. And numerous other kainkaryams are also under way, one of which is the Tiruppani at the ViLakkoLi Perumal Sannidhi at Kancheepuram. This deserves the support of all philanthropic Sri Vaishnavites, more so because this kshEtram is holier than any other divyadesam, having given to posterity an Acharya of the calibre of Swami Desikan, the likes of whom the world has never seen and never would too. The importance of Bhagavat Aradhanam is eclipsed by that of BhAgavata aradhanam, as evidenced by the second half of the couplet quoted at the outset- “ArAdhanAnAm sarvEshAm VishnO: ArAdhanam param tasmAt parataram prOktam tadIya ArAdhanam param” Says the PAdmOttara PuranA-Worship of Sri Mahavishnu is indeed the greatest of all possible worship: however greater even than that is the worship of His devotees. The Lord Himself lays down that His devotees are to be venerated as He Himself is-“tasmAt mad bhakta bhaktAscha poojaneeyA visEshata:"

Thus at Thooppul we have the best of both the worlds- since Sri DeepaprakAsa and Swami Desikan share a common abode, by ensuring much-needed repairs and uninterrupted tiruvaradhanam at this divyadesam, we would reap the benefits of Bhagavat kainkaryam as well as BhAgavata kainkaryam simultaneously. If only the Sri Vaishnavites of the world make up their minds, all divyadesams and all Emperumans would regain their original splendour and pave the way to a return to the world of peace and prosperity that once was. Adiyen would like to end with an appeal in the words of Mahakavi Bharati-

“nidhi migundavar porkuvai tAreer
nidhi kuraindavar kAsugaL tAreer
adhuvum atravar vAi chol nalgeer”.

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