SAPTHAGIRI - June 2003
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Vaikuntha

M.S. Ramesh

This is a divya desa which is not in this world. This is the place to which every vaishnavite would like to go on attaining moksha. This is varyingly referred to as Tiru Nadu, Thiru Paramapada and Paramakasam. It is said that the people staying in this Paramapada i.e. the Muktatmas will look like God in their physical attributes. They will be spending all the time rendering service to God (Kainkaryam).

Perumal who presides over this divya desa is known as Paramapathanathan. He is seen in a sitting posture facing south. The thayar is known as Peria Pirattiar. The theerthas here are Viraja nadhi and Iramadha pushkarini. The vimana under which God is seated is known as Anantanga vimana.

As stated earlier, no muktatma who goes to Paramapada ever returns to tell us what the place looks like. However, there are various religious literature and pasurams sung by the Alwars which enable us to get an idea of this place. In this chapter, I propose to briefly describe Vaikuntha as related by Nammalwar in his "Soozh visumbu adimukil" and by Pillai Lokacharya in "Archi radhi gathi" and by Ramanuja in "Vaikunta gadyam"

The Description of Vaikuntha in Sri Vaikuntha Gadya by Sri Ramanuja

Let us now look Vaikuntha through the great Ramanuja's eyes. Vaikuntha gadya has six sub sections. In the third, the acharya describes the archiradhi path taken by the muktatma to reach Vaikuntha and the glorious beauty of Vaaikuntha itself. In the following paragraphs, a faithful account of the describption of Vaikuntha and the Lord as found in Sri Vaikuntha gadya will be given.

Vaikuntha is described as a divya loka i.e. a divine land of bliss. It is said to be beyond the comprehension of even Brahma and other devas. They also cannot describe that place adequately. Brahma has a comprehension which is far above that of the human beings. But even such a great Brahma, the Creator cannot comprehend the bliss of this Paramapada. Not only Brahma, even Shiva and these great souls and other devas cannot comprehend the greatness of Vaikuntha. They cannot comprehend its area i.e. size neither can they comprehend its wealth. The greatness of this land is beyond the comprehension of even Sanaka and other great rishis. It is vast. It is known as Parama vyoma, Paramapada and Paramakasa. It lies far beyond the anda which contains the fourteen worlds. Each anda consists of fourteen lokas seven above and seven below the earth.

The anda is covered by avaranas which are water, fire, wind, akasa, ahankara, mahath and avyaktha. Beyond all these lies Vaikuntha which is eternal and does not charnge at all. It is absolutely clear (prakriti mandala). Nothing is hidden. In Srivaikuntha, kainkarya to the Lord is eternal and continuous. The laws of karma have no bearing in that divya loka. It is full of nityas i.e. eternally free souls who are enjoying the company of Perumal for ever without any interruption. The number of such nitya in Vaikuntha is countless. Their only job is Bhagavadanubhavam i.e. enjoyment of Perumal. They are great persons from whom even the Lord does not like to be separated even for a moment. Devotion and service are their only job.

The wealth of such a land of bliss is then described. It is said that Vaikuntha is "divya avarana sata sahasra vrite" i.e. it is surrounded by hundreds and thousands of fortifications i.e. avarana. A question may be raised as to why the great God needs avarana i.e. fortifications when He Himself is the sarvarakshaka. Sri Peria Vachan Pillai, the great commentator says that the avaranas are there because of the needless though understandable fear and caution of the great devotees who are residing in Vaikuntha and who want to protect their beloved God from any possible danger! It is similar to the situation when Perialwar sang Pallandu to the great Lord Himself fearing that evil eye may be cast on the divine beauty of Perumal and Goddess who came to watch the glory of the victorious march of Perialvar himself.

The beauty of Vaikuntha is then described. The place is full of beautiful kalpaka trees i.e. "divya kalpakatarupesobhite". The central area where the Lord is seated is surrounded by innumerable gardens which are the playground for Vaikunthanatha and His consorts. It is very vast (athipramane) vast in expanse. In such a residence resides the Perumal. The hall of audience of Perumal is studded with different varieties of gems (vichitra ratnamaye). It is a special hall i.e. (divya sthana mantape). It is bright and effulgent with innumerable pillars of precious stones (divya rathna sthamba sata sahasra katibhiroopa sobhite). The floor is paved with varieties of precious gems (divya nanarathna kruta sthala vichitrite). It is having numerous embroidered vithanams, canopies, merkattis, etc. (i.e. divya alankara alankrute).

Having described the hall of audience, Ramanuja then describes the gardens which are surrounding that hall of audience. It is full of multicoloured sweet smelling flowers - flowers which have fallen from the trees, flowers which are still falling from the trees. They are of different colours and sweet fragrance (nanaghanda varnaiah). The flowers which decorate the place are described as divya pushpa. Thus, the souls which live there are divya alankaram, the pillars there are divya rathna sthambas, divya pushpams are there, everything about it is divya. The gardens consist of trees like parijatha, Harichandana, kalpaka. The gardens have a large number of resting places i.e. mandapa, which are again decorated with flower seats, precious stones which are wonderful to look at, and are places fit to enjoy and are used constantly by the residents there.

There are a number of sporting hills. Some gardens are exclusively reserved for the Lord. Some for the consorts of the Lord, while some are for the other residents of Vaikuntha. All the gardens are full of beautiful and sweet singing birds like parrots, cuckoos, white swans and colourful peacocks. The tanks, ponds and the lakes surrounding the divya mandapa are also beautiful. The steps leading to those water resources are studded with pearls, corals and other gems. The water in these tanks and lakes are almost like amrith (i.e. divyamala amruth rasodakaithi).

In that divya mandapa, the God is seated on Adisesha. That flower bedecked mandapa gives great bliss. It is absolutely comfortable (nirasta athisaya anandaika rasataya cha). It is limiltess. It is filled with divine music by the humming of the bees which are happily sucking the honey from a variety of flowers. The gentle breeze which blows in that place is intoxicating with the fragrance gathered from chandan, ahil, karpoora and other divine flowers. In such a breathtakingly beautiful environment, the Lord is seated on His divine seat viz. Anantha.

Jamanuja then describes the Lord's consorts and attendants serving Him. He says that to that divya loka Mahalakshmi adds Her brilliance. Her very presence illuminates and gladdens all the residents of Vaikuntha. She commands Adisesha, Vishvaksena and others residing in Vaikuntha to render such services to the Lord as circumstances require. She is a befitting match to Perumal with all Her qualities and beauty.

Ramanuja then describes the Lord, His various aspects, the jewels that He is wearing etc. The Lord has two wide eyes which look like freshly blossomed lotus flowers. He resembles the clear blue cloud (swacha nila jeemuta sankasam). He is blemishless (athi nirmalya). He is very cool (athi seethalaya). He is young and delicate (athi komalaya, nitya youvanaya). He has the brilliance of a gem. His divine wonderful nature is beyond the comprehension of one's mind. He is an ocean fo nectar (achinthya divya, arpuda nitya yowana lavanyamaya amrutha sagara.) The curls of hair of Perumal are playing on a soft tender forehead which is moist with mild sweat.

The beautiful, sensitive face of the Perumal reflects its joy on seeing the devotee. The face itself looks tender like a lotus which is about to blossom. His eyes also are like freshly blossomed lotus flowers (ambuja charulochanm). His raised eyebrows look like a tender creeper and it reflects His concern for the devotees. His lips are beautiful and are sporting a bewitching smile (suchi smitham). His cheeks are also tender. His nose is sharp and long (unnasam). His conch - like neck is slim. The neck looks more beautiful with the locks of flowing curly hair and His ear drops extending upto His shoulders.

His hands are so tender that one can see the impression of the blue lillies worn by Thayar on Her ears, and of Her ear rings and braids of hair caused when Thayar embraced Perumal with happiness for having extended His rakshaka swabhava i.e. umbrella of protection towards Her children (His devotees). The Lord has four arms which look like the branches of a kalpaka vruksha. His hands reach down upto the knees which is the lakshana of a Paramapurusha. His pink palms have beautiful lines (divyarekha alankruta). His fingers are adorned with valuable rings (divya anguliyaka virajitham). His Thiruvadi resembles freshly blossomed lotuses. (Tatkshana unmilitapundarika sadrusa charana yugalam).

The Lord is wearing a beautiful crown (athi manohara kirita makuta). K-rita is a crown that a king wears whereas makuta is what is worn at the time of pattabhisheka. The combined use of these two words establishes beyond doubt the supremacy of Perumal. He is the unquestioned ultimate monarch. He is wearing a pendent on the top of the forehead (chuda), a decorative cover for the ears cvatamea), ear drops with the fish motif (mikara kundala), a neck band (graiveyaka), rows of chains hanging on the chest (hara), armbands (keyura), a circular band adorning the wrist (kataka), the mole like mark on the chest (Srivatsa).

He has the famous Kousthubha gem on His chest. He wears rows of stringed pearls (mukthadhama). The band worn around the waist (udarabandha), the golden yellow silk cloth (pitambara) and the band of woven gold threads which is used like a belt on the waist to hold the pitambara, beautiful anklets (nupura) and many other jewels. Each of these jewels by association with Perumal is said to exude sweet fragrance (divya gandhiah). Decorated by these divine ornaments, the God is effulgent and a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever. Besides, He is adorned with vyjayanthi vanamala (a garland of unfading flowers). He is holding the panchaayudhas viz. the conch, the discus, the mace, the sword and the bow in His hands.

Ramanuja then describes His attendants. First one to be described is Vishvaksena. The entire weath (aiswarya) of the Lord is entrusted with Vishvaksena who is capable of managing the tasks of creation, protection/destruction of all movable and immoveable objects with his mere thought. He is of great service to Perumal. The other close attendants are Vainatheya i.e. Garuda who is the Lord's vahana. The others are Gajanana, Jayathasena, Harivatra, Kalaprakruti, Kumudaha, Vamanan, Shankakarnan, Sarpanetran, Sumukan, Suprathistithan. All these nityasuris are people who are free from the bondage of samsara unlike the muktas who had gone through the samsara sagara and only later were freed by the Lord's grace. The nityasuris are for ever rendering service to the lotus feet of Bhagavan and their sustenance and daily food is rendering kainkarya to the Lord. Such nityasuris are countless in number in Vaikuntha.

The look of grace (divya kataksha) of Perumal pleases the entire world. The beautiful words that come out of His mouth add to the beauty of the mouth itself. His speech is characterised by admirable qualities like audibility, clarity, meaning, sweet, grace etc. i.e. (divya ghambirya, oudarya, maduryadi, anavadika guna). His words are full of pleasant ideas which are pleasing to the mind. His words are sweet like nectar and indicate His happiness. Such are the kalyana gunas of Perumal.

Having thus described Vaikuntha and the Perumal and others residing in Vaikuntha, Ramanuja says that this vision has to be remembered every day at least once so as to sustain oneself. That is why he says "Tatascha pratyaham atmo jjeevanya evamanus-marate".

He says that the devotees should be ever eager to realise this bliss and should be itching to be taken into His service. Narayana should be the only goal as He is the only master (mama natham). Our master for generations (mama kula deivatam), our saviour for many generations (mama kuladhanam). He is the support and sustenance like one's mother (mama matharam), He is the father (mama pitharam), He is my all (mama sarvam). To see and to think of such a Perumal one should be impatient.

One should wonder as to when one would have the blessing of experiencing the lotus feet of the Lord on one's head. One should wonder as to when he would be blessed by the grace of the cool gaze of the Lord's eyes and to be commanded by Him in His sweet friendly and clear words to be of service to Him. Similar feeling of impatience is mentioned in the line in Thiruvaimozhi 8-5-7 when it is said "mugappe koovippani kollai". It means that I request God to call me and use me for doing eternal kainkarya i.e. service to Him. Ramanuja says that one should show desire for eternal service to Lord i.e. Sarvadesa, Sarvakala, Sarvavasta chita atyanta seshabhavaya). When that offer of service is accepted by God (sweekrutah) the result is removal of all worldly ills (samasta klesa apaham) and conferring absolute supreme happiness and bliss (niruti saya sukhavaham).

The result is therefore two fold, one is negative in nature i.e. removal of one's problems, the other is positive i.e. conferment of anantha, bliss. To get this one should offer to do kainkarya (service), God should accept (sweekrutah) and then place His divine lotus feet on the supplicant devotee's head (sirasikrutam). The contact with His feet (Tiruvadi) makes one experience a joy as if one has had a dip in an ocean of nectar (amrith) i.e. amrita sagarantarnimagnah and sarva avayava sukha masita i.e. every inch of one's body experience the joy and bliss.

To experience and enjoy that bliss one should eternally seek His feet. To conclude let us quote the words of alvar who says "thai nadu kanrae polae, than thuzhaiyan adikkae oye nadi kollum". Translated it means Oh you mortal, you should seek the feet of Bhagavan even as a calf goes seeking its mother, the cow. Only then swamy sambandam gets established when the devotee is swa (property) and Perumal is swamy (the owner of that property). This is again explained clearly when it is said.

     "Svatvam atmani sanjyatham
           Svamithavam brahmani stitham"

The jeevatma has the quality of a thing, a piece of property. Bhagavan has the quality of the owner of that property.

To conclude Ramanuja describes Vaikuntha and Vaikunthanatha and advises the devotee as to what should be the attitude of a supplicant and seeker of moksha. Let us follow the instruction and wake into that heaven.

I wish to only conclude with prayer - into that Heaven of Bliss, My father, let all of us awake.

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