ஞாயிறு, 4 டிசம்பர், 2016

Rama Anujan - Kamban


The poet takes forward the Acharya’s philosophy.

It all happened four decades ago on a Saturday afternoon in a village near Kanchipuram. When Justice M.M. Ismail, G.M. Alagarsamy (the then Assembly Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu) and myself (respectively the President, Secretary and Treasurer of Chennai Kamban Kazhagam) landed in front of a small hermitage, a huge crowd was waiting to have a glimpse of Kanchi Mahaperiyava . We could hear people murmuring on recognising Justice Ismail. They wondered how he could get darshan when Periyava was observing Khashta Mounam - when he would not even communicate with gestures.

Suddenly the door opened and everyone started chanting “Jaya Jaya Sankara Hara Hara Sankara” on seeing Periyava on the threshold. Much to our surprise, Periyava gestured turning towards us. . Alagarsamy whispered to Justice Ismail that the sage was calling us. The minute we entered the room, Periyava gestured us to sit. We prostrated but Periyava stopped Justice Ismail from doing it. He then pointed to the book that Justice Ismail had in his hand. Yes. We went to present the first edition of ‘Kamba Ramayanam’ printed for the first time in bible paper containing all the six cantos in one handy volume (10,568 stanzas in a thin paper referred to as Bible Paper), which was to be released in a couple of days at the Chennai Kamban Vizha. He asked whether the editing was done by Sa. Ganesan. Again we were surprised that he broke Khashta Mounam to receive us and talk about our book. We replied that a committee headed by Prof. T.P. Meenakshisundaram did the editing, guided by Sa. Ganesan.

Glancing through the book Periyava spoke of a particular Sundara Canto verse by Kamban commencing with the words: “Alankalil Thonrum Poimai Aravu” (the garland appears falsely like a snake). Was it not an Advaita philosophy and how come Kamban, who popularised Ramanujacharya’s Visistadvaitha philosophy in Tamil, had written an Advaita philosophy song as a prayer to Sundara Canto, he asked. Justice Ismail said that Visishtadvaita (Visesha/Visistasya Advaitha) philosophy was only an extension of Advaita/non dualism/monism) and known as qualified non-dualism/monism. Swami smiled and appreciated our work.

Periyava’s question kept coming back to me and I approached my guru Sa. Ganesan for an answer to this question, from whom I had the privilege of learning the Kamba Ramayanam on gurukula pattern 50 years earlier. He made me read the Hiranya Vadhai Padalam once again saying the answer for my question lay there. Kamban indeed puts forth through the voice of Prahlada the essence of Visishtadvaita enunciated later on by Ramanuja.

The date of Kamban is still a subject of controversy among the scholars. According to one school of thought he lived in the ninth century A.D., while another fixes it as 12th century.

The age of Kamban has no relevance here. And Ramanuja’s is clear. Even if we assume that Kamban belonged to the 12th century, the philosophy of Visistadvaitha was found before time, though not in the same name and terms prescribed by him, predominating in Vaishnavite circles. Ramanuja himself has drawn conclusions from the Vedas and evidence from the Upanishads to formalise his doctrine.

As we are not going into a debate whether it was Kamban or Ramanuja who popularised Visistadvaitha, in this rapid account of Visistadvaitham in Tamil, we are awestruck by the way great minds thought alike regarding the highest Vaishnavite philosophy in both the classical languages Tamil and Sanskrit (respectively Kamban and Ramanuja).

Adi Sankara, emphasised that God is one and cannot be separated from Jiva and the Universe, since they are only maya. ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ is the maha vaakya of the Upanishad, on which Advaitha is based. Brhmam is God. Whereas Ramanuja, on the contrary, establishes that God, Jiva (Chit) and Universe (Achit) are all real and at the pralaya kaala (end) both Chit and Achit unite with Brahmam. They are coordinated by Brahmam and directed by Him as He resides in them as “Antaryami” (incarnated dictating subconsciously).

Kamban appears to be a staunch believer of this doctrine since he powerfully portrays it through Prahalada and Brahma in Hiranya Vadhai Padalam. This is what Prahalada tells, in an emphatic way, to Hiranya: “Ulagu Thandhaanum Palveru Uyirgal Tandhaanum, Ullutru Ulaivila Uyirgal Thorum Angange Uraiginraanum Malarinil Veriyum, ellil ennaiyum, matrum kelai! Alagil palporulum patri mutriya Hari kaan, Aththa!” (6391)

In another verse voiced through Prahlada Kamban clearly lays the foundation of Visistadvaita:

"Thannule ulagangal Evaiyum thanthu, avai Thannule ninru, thaan avatrul thanguvaan” (6330)

Perhaps Kamban borrowed this Vaishnavite ideology from Thirumazhisai Azhwar’s Thiruchantha Viruttam which runs as:

“Thannulle Thiraithezhum Taranga Venthadangkadal Thannulle Thiraithezhunthu Adangukinra Thanmai Pol Ninnule Pirandhu, Irandhu, Nirpavum, Thiribavum, Ninnule Adangukinra Neermai, Nin Kan Ninradhe.”

Kamban’s aforesaid stanza reminds one of his first prayer song to the Ramavataram, which is clearly a Visistadvaitha doctrine preached by Ramanuja. Nowhere in literary world has any poet attempted to write such a prayer without mentioning the name of the person/god to whom he prays, the gender, or the number. The verses, if read in a state of meditation, would bring so much of inner peace and poise with passion to Him/ Her/Third Gender/Bird/Animal.

“Ulagam Yavaiyum Thaamula Aakkalum Nilai Peruththalum, Neekkalum, Neengala Alagu ila Vilaiyaattu udaiyaar avar Thalaivar annavarkke charan naangale.”

‘Avar’ can be He/She (whatever the gender may be) and is the one who creates the Universe, protects it and transforms it to another place, performing this in innumerable ways uninterruptedly. In Tamil we call it as Paal, Enn, Thinai, Idam.

So any one belonging to any caste, creed or religion can offer this as their prayer - a universal one , applicable and appropriate to everybody, unique in the way it is written.

What is important here is that Kamban got this ideology from Taitriyopanishad (3.1.1) Biruguvalli first part wherein Varuna exposes who is God to Birugu.

“Yadhova Himani Poodhani Jayenth

Yena Jaathani Jeevanthi

Yath Prayanthi sam visanthi

Thath Brahmethi”

and also from Ramanuja’s mangalasloka to his commentary to Sri Bhashya.

“Akhila Bhuvana Janma sthame pangaathi Leele (Ulakam yavaiyum thaamula aakkalum nilai peruththalum neekkalum vilaiyaattu).

To put it in a nutshell, Sankara (eighth Century) based his philosophy on Upanishads whereas Ramunuja’s (11th Century) was based on Upanishads but also from the exposure he had to Azhwars’ hymns. Hence he prescribed a qualified non-dualism. Kamban also had the same fortune of knowing not only Upanishads, but also Bhashyams of Acharya and his submersion immensely in the Azhwars’pasuram. Both Ramanuja and Kamban had, in common, reverence for Rama and Ramayana. That is why Thiruvarangathu Amudhanar in ‘Ramanuja Nootrandhadhi’ praises Ramanuja as the temple of Ramayana.

Anujan means younger brother (thambi) and hence the very name Ramanujan indicates he is Lakshmana (avatara of Adisheshan), younger brother of Rama. Similarly Kamban who worshipped Rama as Emberuman and showed reverence to Ramanujar by propagating his Visistasya doctrine can also be called Rama Anujan, the younger brother of Rama and Ramanujar. This will be the best tribute we can think of to the two great souls whose works have made them immortal.

It would be appropriate to conclude by quoting Justice S. Maharajan who wrote thus about Kamban which equally applies to Ramanuja: “Kamban can never become out of date, because he speaks to us and the whole world with the Voice of Tomorrow.”

(The writer, a Kamban scholar, is the secretary of Karaikudi Kamban Kazhagam.

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