Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dvaitamu sukhama

Raga Reetigowla, 22 Karaharapriya janya
Aa: S G2 R2 G2 M1 N2 D2 M1 N2 N2 S Av: S N2 D2 M1 G2 M1 P M1 G2 R2 S

dvaitamu sukhamā?
advaitamu sukhamā?

caitanyamā vinu sarvasākṣi vistāramugānu delupumu nātō!

gagana pavana tapana bhuvanādyavanilō nagadharāja śivēndrādi surulalō
bhagavadbhakta varāgr
ēśarulalō bāga ramincē tyāgarājārcita!

English verse:
Are we one, or are we two?
Is one path to bliss true?

O Soul of all, that sees all!
Reveal all, heed my call!

In earth, air, fire, water and ether,
The Trinity, the gods and their king,
And in the most blessed seeker,
You of my worship, abide delighting.

This song is about another eternal question, "Which is the right path to salvation?". This is the pleasure (sukham), alluded to in the song. The story of modern Hindu philosophy begins with the resurgent school of Vedanta rising to ascension towards the middle of the first millennium, along with the Bhakti movement of personal devotions. There are six Darshanas('paths') or schools of Hindu philosophy, usually mentioned in pairs due to the common threads, viz Sankhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisheshika and Mimamsa-Vedanta. These schools encompass various methods from logic, to the empirical to reflective philosophical inquiry, as in the Vedanta. Sankhya, literally counting up or enumeration, is the serial conceptual development of the One and the universe and the primordial particles, the tanmatras(literally molecules) etc., such as in a theory of matter. Yoga literally the act of blending or joining, has come to mean contemplation or seeking the One through various paths, such as that of knowledge. In the modern day, it has become a composite of other systems, and is seen advocated by adherents of Vedanta as well. Nyaya, literally logic or justice, is the school of pure logic or reason, similar to some of the western systems in employing mainly syllogisms, modus ponens, modus tollens and other methods, starts developing its theory from sixteen aspects of inquiry. Vaisheshika or distinction, uses similar methods, but develops a theory of matter, nature and all things, with fewer aspects. Mimamsa (or more correctly "purva mimamsa", mimamsa of the first part). literally investigation, deals with reflective philosophical inquiry. Vedanta, ("uttara mimamsa" or mimamsa of the latter part) develops such inquiry into the now familiar theses on the Brahman, the Supreme Self, and the nature of all matter and beings. Vedanta uses an abundance of the methods of logic and reason in its development of concepts.

Central to Vedanta is the concept of the Paramatma, the Supreme Self, (the Brahman), who pervades the universe, created and sustained it, and is omnipotent and omnipresent, and the concept of the Jivatma, the particular self of a person. Advaita or the school of non-Duality or Monism, which came first, teaches that these two are but one and the same and all the world is an illusion. Vishistadvaita, the school of Qualified Monism or non-duality, holds that while they seem two different entities, with different identities, the former is immanent in the latter, and they are not truly separate, and that the world is not an illusion but represents the person of the Supreme Self. Dvaitam or Dualism which came last, teaches that the two are distinct and that the particular self should strive to attain the former. Many times, Vedanta is wrongly conflated with just Advaita or Monism. It must be kept in mind that there are three very different schools. Each school of Vedanta bases its theories chiefly on the Gita and the Brahmasutras or Aphorisms on Brahman, ascribed to Baadarayana. The principal teacher of each school, i.e. Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, has commented extensively on either book, each interpreting the books as showing the theories and conclusions of his school. Also invoked frequently are the Upanishads and less frequently, the Vedas and other texts.

Today, Vedanta is the school of choice for virtually all Hindus. We must note another difference. These six darsanas or paths are systems of philosophy- often considered esoteric. Vedanta is of daily interest only to active seekers and those learned in it. Praxis, worship and liturgy, as seen in temples and homes on a day to day basis, are entirely different. In general, Advaitins are votaries of Siva, though, as we have seen earlier, six deities are allowed for them. Vishistadvaitins and Davitins are votaries of Vishnu, the latter often invoking Him in the aspect of Krishna. While the philosophies differ, most of the liturgy and rites, such as the fire sacrifices, are common to votaries of all three schools of Vedanta. Additionally, rites, practices and worship differ across the various regions of India.

About the verses: In this song, Tyagaraja wants to know from the Supreme Self, which path leads to salvation. He was raised in Advaita, but finds himself questioning. "Are we one or two":The 'we' refers to Tyagaraja, as a Jivatma and the Paramatma. As Tyagraja addresses the Supreme Self directly, I have taken the references to Dvaita and Advaita as asking whether he and the Supreme Self, were one and the same, or two separate entitites. Sarvasakshi, literally witness to all, is the notion that the Paramatma sees all. Earth, fire, air (wind), water and ether (or sky), are the pancha-bhutas, or the five basic elements, of which all matter is composed. Nagadharaaja- Nagadhara+aja- "He who bears the mountain"+ the prime "mover". The first is Vishnu, for his having held up the Govardhana hill to shelter the cowherds from Indra's wrath of torrential rains or the Mount Mandara, as the Great Tortoise, during the churning of the ocean. "Bhagavadbhakta", literally devotee of the Lord, hence the most eminent "seekers". Note that in this song, Tyagaraja is not directly referring to Rama. Interestingly, though Tyagaraja has made many statements in his songs, in line with his Advaita heritage, a few statements may be taken as being more in line with Vishistadvaita. We shall look at some along the way.

Since this is a song that deals with the deepest, weightiest and most consequent matters of philosophy, and concepts unique to the Hindu system, your servant does not dare to search for parallels elsewhere. But, still, the methods of Vedanta can sometimes descend into circuitous dialectics and grammatical gymnastics, confounding all but the most persistent. In fact, they might seem forbidding to the average devout Hindu, who is usually not guilty of extensive philosophical inquiry, as is not the bulk of humanity. Which calls to mind this 18th century epigram on the feud on technical niceties between the Baroque composers Handel and Bononcini:

Some say, compar'd to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

These characters also appeared in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Another that comes to mind is Ibsen's Peer Gynt confronting the Boyg. During Peer Gynt's fantastic journeys, he runs into the Boyg, an invisible troll with no real features- as if he were a void come alive. Peer Gynt's conversation with the Boyg is hilarious. He repeatedly asks "Who are you?" and receives the answer "Myself". In the darkness, the Boyg is blocking his way forward. He asks the Boyg to let him pass, but the Boyg tells him to "go around". He tries to cut the Boyg down, to no avail. He falls, and then rises, and finds the Boyg is blocking him on all sides now. From Act II:

PEER GYNT. Answer ! Who are you ?
PEER GYNT. Let me pass, then !
VOICE. Go round about, Peer ! Room enough on the mountain.
[PEER GYNT tries to pass another way, but runs up against something.]
PEER GYNT. Who are you ?
VOICE. Myself. Can you say as much ?

PEER GYNT. Backward or forward, it's just as far
Out or in, the way's as narrow.
It's there '.and there ! and all about me !
I think I've got out, and I'm back in the midst of it.
What's your name ! Let me see you ! Say what you are !
VOICE. The Boyg.
PEER GYNT [feeling round him] . Neither dead, nor alive ; slime and mistiness ;
No shape or form ! It's as if one were smothered
Amidst any number of bears that are growling
At being waked up ! [Shrieks. ]
Why don't you hit out at me !
VOICE. The Boyg's not so foolish as that.
PEER GYNT. Oh, strike at me !
VOICE. The Boyg doesn't strike.
PEER GYNT. Come, fight ! You shall fight with me !
VOICE. The great Boyg can triumph without any fighting.
PEER GYNT. I'd far rather it were the Brownies tormenting me !
Show fight, will you !
VOICE. The great Boyg can get all he wishes by gentleness.
PEER GYNT [biting his own hands and arms]. Oh, for claws and teeth
that would tear my flesh !
I must see a drop of my own blood flow !
(R.F. Sharp translation. Your servant is guilty of many things in life, but not of Danish.) (PS. To clarify an email I got from a reader- that was a joke... Peer Gynt was of course written in Norwegian.)

Eventually, with the 'assistance' of some 'women', the Boyg is made to vanish, and Peer Gynt continues his journey when he wakes. And, as the Boyg taught him, he continues to "go around" all things in life.



  1. I differ with the commentators note that Tyagaraja's thoughts are in line with Vishistadvaita. It is more towards Dwaita. Also the composition itself is swinging between Advaita and dvaita and there is no mention of vishistadvaita directly or indirectly.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It naturally spawns a useful, wide-ranging discussion. But, you should read our notes on the song closely. It says: "Tyagaraja has made many statements in his songs, in line with his Advaita heritage, a few statements may be taken as being more in line with Vishistadvaita."

      To begin with, I'd be surprised if Tyagaraja, a lyricist whose technique is marked with economy of phrasing to effect directness of sentiment, compared to say, the far more ornate and layered contemporary Diskhita, managed to work a big word like Vishishtadvaita into the song. Dvaita-Advaita rolls off the tongue more easily, with the one syllable for word play. But, let's get to the conceptual nub of it for which we have to consider the whole of Tyagraja's oeuvre. The shibboleth of the Sankara-Advaita school, as seen in daily practice, is viewing the whole world as Maya or illusion. Tyagaraja makes far more statements in line with this theme, throughout his works. But, his thought, as we may deduce from his songs and whatever provable historical record there is, of his life and times, does not slot him so clearly. Vishistadvaita has a strange history. Many notions of modern praxis of Hinduism, seen throughout the length and breadth of India, such as the power of Bhakti or personal devotion, the accessibility of God upon simple, direct surrender of the individual self irrespective of one's antecedents or station in life, did emerge directly or indirectly, from it, but the traditional study and practice of the faith per se, has remained restricted to certain pockets of South India, until the present day, when the disapora are able to carry it all over as they spread. Tyagaraja was exposed to a whole spectrum of faiths and cultures. Tyagaraja practised a good amount of syncretism as modern Hindus do. All these facts give rise to the statement we make. It is much harder to clearly tie Tyagaraja to core Dvaita tenets and neologisms. Apart from his direct statements in line with his Advaitin heritage, the above is the idea we may take. How the different schools of Vedanta appear to their votaries and how they seem to professional philosophers are two different things. We must consider that too in arriving at an unbiased estimate. Any good textbook on Indian philosophies should clear all this up. For instance, though not recent, the classic M. Hiriyanna texts come to mind.

    2. A key point even many professional historians/philosophers miss in analyzing the Vedantic schools is that of the big 3 traditions (particularly in the case of South India), is that Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita were decidedly post-Agamic schools. A clear form of temple worship, akin to the modern temple practice was by then fully codified. In the time that the Sankara school fully formed, all these were in a state of flux. This new development changed the shape of the faith, as well as the expectation the adherents had in the faith, for example, a place to congregate on set festivals, a mode of worship at home and in public, a prescribed set of attributes for the archa-form or idols kept in a temple and so on. Thus, the task of the founder-philosopher, (or principal-builder to be specific, since for example, the Vishishtadvaita school though so tied to Ramanuja was not founded by him), became different. Ramanuja for instance, instituted manuals for temple-worship and effected temple reforms, followed till this day at the base-shrine in Sri Rangam. And even less is lost to antiquity about Madhvacharya's faith and the Udupi shrine. We can obviously notice all this when making a comparative study of their philosophies. The ideas and opponents Sankara seeks to rebut in his commentaries are different from those the later two concern themselves with. By the time of Tyagaraja, so many lines were blurred. Add to this the cosmopolitan nature of the Tanjore kingdom of when and where he lived: a nominal Maratha ruler, a British administrator, sweeping European influences all around, Telugu as court and business language, with Tyagaraja's clan itself originating from their territory, but been transplanted into Tamil speaking areas for 2-3 generations. Then, add his own personality traits, and what he divulges of personal experience and influence, such as his references to Badrachala Ramadas for instance. All these lead us to the "a bit of everything" picture I give in the commentary.

    3. And if all that is not enough to obfuscate things, the effect of the various other traditions available in the Tanjore principality then, has to be considered. If the influence of Marathi songs in Tyagaraja's ragas are noticeable, then, we should factor in their philosophies into his philosophic thought. The namasankeerthan traditions - reaching the sublime by melodious adoration - are all going to tend towards a very simple and direct syncretism. Pushti-marg adherents, who held Vallabhacharya’s Suddhadvaita philosophy or Monism minus Maya, speaking loosely were also resident in some number. Appayya Dikishita was also a well-respected scholar on the region, who preceded him who taught a tighter version of Monism than Sankara’s, as Sivadvaita. It goes on and on... This topic alone can fill up many books.