Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 9 September 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

Language of Mysticism in Popular Indian Culture

V. V. B. Rama Rao, Ph.D.

Ramadas is the chief protagonist in Unnava's epic social novel in Telugu, Maalapalli, which Unnava (1877-1959) penned while serving a prison sentence for violating British laws. The novel was banned for a while by the British. In the early part of the novel, the novelist gives us an insight into the spiritual make-up of the protagonist, an 'untouchable', who speaks of his reading.

". . . Whatever happened to my Bhaktiyoga by Sri Ramasatrulu? Here are the other books: Rajayogasara of Venkamma, Paramapada Marga of Seshachala Naidu, the Philosophic Songs of Siddappa, the Songs of Praise of the Guru by Kotayya, Sivaramabhagavathula's Meanings of Philosophical Poems in a particular metre, The Songs of Peerayya, Seetharamanjaneyamu and the Four Ways of Sadhana by Buchaiah garu. The missing one is the book I read and meditate on every day." - Ramadas in Unnava's Maalapalli (The Hamlet of the Untouchables), 1921.

1. Mysticism in the Languages of the Many and the Under-privileged

The language of mysticism, initially, to a large extent, belonged to the elitist, upper strata of society. Shaddharsanas, the Six systems of Indian philosophy (called by the cognoscenti Sanatanadharma, not Hinduism), appears 'exclusivist' to the modern leftist mind for several reasons. But the low prevalence of literacy never posed a real problem for the percolation of ideas down to the masses at large, slowly though. Hurry was not endemic in those times. Oracy was primary in language and oral literature was dominant. Percolation eventually led to some kind of transpiration (the act or process, or an instance of transpiring,such as the passage of watery vapor from a living body through a membrane or pores), rising of ideas upward. But for this there could have been no real impetus for reform.

The spiritual quest and pondering the imponderables was there in desi, local tongues of the masses. The 'register' was not just appreciated - it was 'actively' used.

The focus of this paper is on the language of mysticism in the popular mystic tradition with wide popularity. This paper attempts to study, sketchily though, to begin with, the language of mysticism in some bhashas across the country from Kashmiri to Telugu and Kannada.

2. The Oral Tradition

Oral tradition is basic to literature, the starting point, no matter where, or in which language. Indian literature in the oral tradition is the most valuable, witness the Vedas. Apart from songs about the beauties of nature, or paeans to the heroes and the fair sex, lyrics or epics, in prose or verse, there have been compositions, which were remembered and passed on from generation to generation down the ages with philosophical speculation and mystical content.

It is interesting to note, by the way, that only when the written word emerged literature became elitist-centred. Tattwas are usually lyrics sung to the accompaniment of ektaara, a single stringed instrument, which provides both sruti and taala for simple tunes. In Telugu it is called tambura, which is different from taanpura.

3. The Speculative, Meditative Expression

Pondering the imponderables, trying to get at the enigma of existence, birth and death, knowing of one's self and trying to chart the regions of the realms of the mystic domain have been perennial preoccupations of the thinking man down the ages in the Indian tradition. Knowing-, knowingness-, gnosis are all related to jnana. There may be several layers and levels, aspects and angles, perspectives and possibilities of this gnosis. The Sanskrit jna is akin to the Greek gno.

4. The Mystics' Language in Telugu

Yeruka is the simplest word for gnosis in Telugu. No matter what the class, caste or creed, among the thinking individuals, there has always been the yearning to know the eternal verities. Knowing of the nature of life here and, more importantly, the life to come, has been central to oriental culture.

Cerebration is one thing and expression is another. Our thinkers in pursuit of jnaana went about circulating ideas, insights and feelings orally - in different types, genres of composition: as sayings, aphorisms both in prose and verse. Knowingness is mystic, philosophic and otherworldly. Every age has produced some such discourses. The written word and the printing press, to say the least, have secured a kind of hegemony and, in some sense, have done some damage to the prevalent oral traditions. Man and his relation to God, the nature of God, the nature of Man, the enigma and paradoxes that life presents and the solutions for problems all have a relevance to the art of daily living.

5. The Tattwa of Amara Narayanaswamy

The lyrics of Amara Narayanaswamy that I discuss below are from a recording of M. Balamuralikrishna, a great Carnatic singer, broadcast over and over again on the All India Radio. Much is not known about this lyricist, however.

What shall I do Linga! What shall I do?
If I wish to offer you worship with the water of the Ganga
The fish and the frog in it say it's yengili.
Great concept and feeling incarnate! Our Sambhu!
What shall I do Linga! What shall I do?
If I wish to offer you cow's milk abundantly
The heifer says it's yengili!
If I wish to offer worship
Abundantly with Tummi blossoms
The honey-bees on flowers diverse
Say they're all yengili!

Yengili is the Telugu word meaning contaminated by the touch of lips and tongue. Kannada also has this word. The Tamil and Malayalam equivalent may be eccil

The suggestion is that there's nothing really pristine, nothing that is not created by Him that can be offered in worship. Worship is possible only with things He Himself made.

God is THE creator of everything.

Consider another verse.

The nest looks face-fallen, empty
The lovely parrot of the nest fell prey to birds.
Chinnana! The nest looks crestfallen, empty!
Mount the insurmountable mountains
A hundred thousand times - roaming about -
No sign of the parrot -
Looks face-fallen, empty the nest
Chinnana! The nest looks face-fallen, empty!

'Nest', 'bird' 'insurmountable mountains' are symbols. Parrot is the soul. Nest is the body. Insurmountable refers to achieving the impossible. Chinnanna is a term of endearment, word of affectionate address.

Consider yet another verse.

Touching and yet not touching
Knowing that 'it' is not 'real'
Stand you should steadfast in mind!
Making bold, all comfort should be given up.
It should be known: that it would be everywhere!
The beasts of lust and pride
Should bashed be
All the while yeruka should be sought as light!

It refers to home, this life. It also refers to the ultimate reality. Yeruka is Knowledge. Body is construed as home or house. The one within is atma.


Coming is empty - empty is going
Why greed?
Dharma practised,
Which wouldn't go bad at all
Comes along with you.
Brothers all, till nectar (money) at hand lasts!
When leaving for the gulf unknown
No one would come along
(Another reading "nectar" is jaggery, palm sugar.)
Leather puppets made of elements five
Is the world
With a trace of expectation
Till the very end
Is grown all this world
Coming is empty - empty is going
Why greed?
Dharma practised
Which wouldn't go bad at all
Comes along with you

Going and coming refers to birth and death. Dharma is the Holy Order. Here it refers to charity (help rendered), the thing that would never go bad, goes along into the life beyond. Body is a puppet of leather - grown, sustained till the very end with expectation. The physical body is made up of the pancha bhuootas, five elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Ether, the limitless (sky).

6. Lyricist Annamayya

Tallapaka Annamacharya , popularly known as Annamayya, is a 15th Century lyricist, who composed songs by the thousand on the Lord of the Seven Hills in particular has composed the following lyric that we discuss below. His compositions reveal an inclusive comprehensive world-view in supplication to the Supreme Being. The particular lexical items denoting the physical reality around, animals, rivers, etc, signify and describe passions, desires, beauties, aspirations in breathtakingly simple terms. The lyric below is prefaced and concluded with the musical utterance, Tandanana and expletives like ahi, pure, and bhaLa.

Verses presented below are from Annamacharya Sankkeertanamrutam, Part I , Tirupati 1983. For copies Velugoti Anjanamma, 18-1-84 KT Road Tirupati - 517 501.

Brahman is one - The ultimate is one!
Nothing is big or small
The slumber of the king
And the horseman
And the learned one
Is the same.

The ground on which the pious, learned one lives
And that on which the 'untouchable' lives
Is the same.

Comfort and joy of sexual desire
For the chosen angels
For beasts and insects
Is the same.

The tongue which tastes
The choicest of dishes
And the one the evil foods
Is the same.

The wind blowing over
The dirty stinking dump
And perfumes diverse
Is the same.

The sunshine on the washed the elephant
And that on the street dog
Is the same.

The look of almighty On the meritorious And the heinous sinners Is the same.

7. Tattwa of Yedala Ramadasu

What birth!
What living!
This body of maya
What birth!
What living
What's everlasting
What is sukha
What the prarabdhakarma of my previous birth
My master making me thus has forgotten me!

Sukha is comfort, Maya is illusion. Prarabdhakarma is result of actions in the previous life. The song is long. It ends with a mudra, usually a reference to the author.

8. Tattwa of Narayanaharidasu

Eighty-four lakh lives - Birth and Death here!
Experiencing the fruit of actions there!
Parents, brothers, wife and children here!
When going none comes along there!
World made of the five elements here!
That without name or shape is the place there!
Speaking deceitful words and doing misdeeds here!
Yama the knowing one punishing on the rack there!
Manas, Buddhi, Ahamkara and Chitta controlled here!
Reaching the place without birth or death there!

There is no exact equivalent word for Manas. Buddhi could be judgment, intellect. and ahamkara 'my-ness' is a kind of egoism and Chitta again is untranslatable (mind, conscience are not satisfactory). The four are components of the four antahkaranas relating to the inner conscience (again antahkarana is difficult to translate adequately) This lyric also ends with the 'mudra' - the writer's name stamp.

(The verses of Yedala Ramadasu and Narayanaharidasu are taken from Sri Atmabhodamrutatattwamu, 8.p. 19 ; 9.. p.21, N.V.Gopal & Co. Tirupati 517 501.)

9. Tattwa of Gujjala Narayana Dasu

This tatwa is cast in the form of a dialogue between a disciple who asks questions and the guru answers them. (Taken from Tarakaamrutasaaramu: Gujjala Narayanadasu, p. 32 N.V.Gopal & Co., Tirupati 517501

Disciple: They say Rajayoga is beautiful
Tell me, true guru, the teaching of Rajayoga!
Unknowing, falling in maya
Forget I did, not knowing this, worthy guru!

Guru: If you slay vargas,
Big enemies, you'd reach heaven!
They say there are eight mada gajas
They are pride of kula, bala, yauvvana, dhana,
Raajya, roopa, vidya, tapas.
Disciple: There are said to be five aadibhootas, of which I don't know, worthy guru!
Guru: Earth, Air, Sky, Fire and Water, sishya!

Disciple: I don't know the beauty of Taaraka mantra worthy guru?
Guru: The one the devout chant is the Taraka Pranava.

Disciple: Every day without forgetting
How many times should I chant,
Of the five elements, worthy guru?
Guru: Twenty-one thousand and six hundred times.
Disciple: I don't have the skill to read the jeeevaatma, worthy guru!
Guru: Go along, knowing pooraka and rechaka and taaraka, sishya!
Disciple: Would karma be washed by making salutations to stones, worthy guru?
Guru: Understand concepts of camphor, lamp and mirror, sishya!
Disciple: Hari, Brahma and Eswar, who are the three, worthy guru?
Guru: Beyond the gunas, satwick, rajasic, tamasic there are no gods, sishya!
Disciple: Coloured they say there are three rivers: tell me about them, worthy guru?
Guru: Know that the learned call them Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati, sishya.
Disciple: Of the red, white and black, which is the lord, worthy guru?
Guru: The one who saves in this world is God, sishya?
Disciple: If thought deep ultimately it all turned out to be empty, worthy guru!
Guru: THAT that is the transparent, fully open without birth or death, sishya!
Disciple: For taking all trouble and wandering when can illusions die, worthy guru?
Guru: This is the time to seek refuge in Narayana, sishya!

Many rich words in the tattwic terminology are explained here.

Rajayoga (saadhana practice) is one of the trio along with Jananayoga and Bhaktiyoga. Vargas are arshadvargas: the six real enemies, kaama., krodha, lobha, moha, mada, maatsarya, Desire, Anger, Miserliness, Undue fascination, Lustfulness, Jealousy. Jeevatma and Paramatma are the individual soul and he universal soul.

Mada gajas refer to the eight rogue elephants: pride of caste, strength, youth, riches, kingdom, beauty of appearance, education, contemplation.

Rechaka and Kumbhaka are exhalation and inhalation in Yogic exercise of breathing, in Praanaayama. Adibhootas are (primordial) elements.

Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic associated with the three colours, white, red and black are associated with the deities of the Hindu Trinity. They are trigunas: three types of qualities. pravrittis, temperaments and so on.

Taraka mantra, an incantatory hymn, is OMNAMASSIVAYA.

10. Yaagantidasu

(From Kaalajnaanatattwalu, p. 18. N.V.Gopal & Sons Tirupati 517 501.)

Saying My Home, My Yard, and My Wife
Why be deceived, O, Manasa!
Caught in Time's web blindly
How to get out, O, Manasa!
Verri* Manasa,
Believe not in sons and relations,
When your time comes to leave,
None would go along with you. O, Manasa!

Emerging from the six and the three
Realize, seeing the effulgent Radiance
Discover joy! O, Manasa!

In the best condition, without erring,
See the best place, O, Manasa!

By knowing sat and chit
Perhaps the illusion would melt, O, Manasa!

From family if you know ALL,
All suffering would go, O, Manasa!

Seeing the formless and sightless deity,
Reach the shore, O, Manasa!

Waking up and seeing the Pristine

Be discreet, O, Manasa!

The fruit that can be just touched and not
Is there shining in the six in the house, O, Manasa!

Singly keep in mind inseparably
And stay with Yaagantidasu, O, Manasa!

*verri is an adjective an endearing one here, not pejorative, Sat and Chit are Truth and Jeevatma or atma. The Six are : asthi, jaayati, vardhati, parinati, apakshyayati and vinasyati: being conceived, birth, growth, maturation, decaying, and death. House is the physical body.

11. Veerasaiva Vachanas in Kannada

Social reform and a purely intellectual, inclusive world-view are distinctive marks of Basava's vachanas, prose compositions. Basava (widely referred to as Basaveswara by the devout) is a forward-looking saintly figure, working for self-improvement and passing the radiance of his own enlightenment to his brethren. The effortless, flowing, unadorned style is inspired by spontaneity of both feeling and expression. The urge to know one's self through the basic realization that God made all and all being thus equal are expressed as great truths.

The verses that I present below are the translation of the verses from VACHANAALU, Telugu Translation of Kannada Vachanas by K.Sivareddy and K.Balaji., pp 49-53. Numbers refer to those in the text cited. Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2001.

Basava (12th C.)

1. Ayya! When You are formless
I became a vehicle called jnaana, look!
Ayya! When you were engrossed in dance
I became a vehicle known as chaitanya look! Ayya! When you have assumed form,
I became a vehicle called Rishabh!
Ayya! When you came as a symbol jangama
To break the chains of worldly bonds
I became the vehicle known as bhakta, look: Kudala Sangamadeva!

KuDala Sangama is the centre for Basavana's saadhana, spiritual practice. Deva is Deity. Jangama is a wandering Siva devotee. Siva is jangama devara. Ayya is a word to address father or God, or someone respectable. Jnaana is (knowledge, gnosis), Chaitanya is awareness, and Rishabh is the ox mount of Siva.

2. 'Elephant is big; the elephant-goad small', do you say?
No Ayya, don't!
'Mountain is big and the vajrayudh small', do you say?
No Ayya, don't!
'Darkness is big and the lamp small', do you say?
No Ayya, don't!
Forgetfulness is big,
The manas that contemplates you is small, do you say?
No Ayya, don't! Kudala Sangama Deva!

Vajrayudh is the Diamond weapon. Manas is the inner mind, one of the four antahkaranas: mano, buddhi, chitta, ahamkara

8. No knowing whether the master is at home
The yard overgrown with grass, house dust laden
No knowing whether the master is in
With the whole body filled with untruth
Manas bubbling with sense indulgence
No knowing whether the master is in, Kudala Sangama Deva!

16. The ground is one for the hamlet and the temple
Water is one for cleansing and pious ingestion
Kula is one for the one who knows himself
Fruit is one for shaddarsanamukti
Vision too is one,
For the one who knows you, Kudala Sangama Deva!.

Shaddarsanamukti is a compound. Shaddarshanas are the Six Systems of Philosophy. The Six Darshanas are Nyaya of Gautama, Vaisheshika of Kanada, Sankhya of Kapila, Yoga of Patanjali, Mimamsa of Jaimini and Vedanta of Badarayana or Vyasa . Mukti is salvation. Construed as a compound it signifies liberation from scholastic faith.

17. Spoken, words should be like a string of pearls
Spoken, words should be like the radiance of diamonds
Spoken, words should be like a crystalline stream
Spoken, words should be draw approbation 'yes' 'yes' from lingam
But if what is done is not as spoken
How can Kudala Sangama Deva approve of that!

Lingam is Siva. Siva is known as jangama devara.

13. Vaaks of Lal Ded (Kashmiri Siv Yogini of the 14 C.)*

Born into a family of the learned, elitist Pundit family, Lal Ded believed in rebirth, rectitude, austerity, simplicity and cerebration on the ultimate reality. The goal of life, for her, is to know Him and reach Him. The path is long and the journey arduous. Among the one hundred and thirty-eight vaaks, the seven below may be taken both as representative and crucial. In Lal Ded's vaaks there is explicit reference to Siva. It is interesting to note that tatwas are drawn largely from faith in Siva. Whether it is in Telugu , Kannada or in Kashmiri, this appears to be the case. Kashmiri Saivism is considered to be different but the tattwic content, whether of Basava, Narayanaswamy or Lal Ded, among several others, is the same. The reader sometimes would not fail to notice the same idea expressed in similar terms in different languages, in different times and in different regions.

The verses presented here are taken from the English translations in Jayalal Kaul's LAL DED, published by Sahitya Akademi in 1973. All the 138 vaaks therein have been translated by the present writer and along with some information about the Saint-poet published in book form in Telugu. The number at the beginning of each vaak is the serial number in Kaul's work.

1.With a rope of loose spun thread am I towing
my boat upon the sea.
Would that God heard my prayer
And brought me safe across!
Like water in cups of unbaked clay
I run to waste
Would God I were to reach my home!

3. There is a yawning pit underneath you
and you are dancing overhead.
Pray, Sir, how can you bring yourself to dance?
See, the riches you are amassing here,
nothing of them will go with you.
Pray, Sir, how can you relish your food and drink?

77. Plump and comely were they born
Causing their mother's womb great pain;
Yet to the womb they come again,
Siva is indeed hard to reach;
Pray, heed the doctrine this teaches you.

78. Itself part of the rocky earth,
It is the same stone that makes
A pavement, seat or pedestal,
Or a millstone for a grinding mill.
Siva indeed is hard to reach;
Then, heed the doctrine this teaches you.

79. Will the sun not shine on all alike
But give heat only to holy lands?
Will Varuna not visit all homes alike
But visit only the homes of the good?
Siva indeed is hard to reach;
Then, heed the doctrine this teaches you.

80. If I knew how to control my naadi's
How to sever them from the pull of desire,
How to bind them to the inner Self,
How to cut the bonds of sorrow,
I should have known how to compound the Elixir of life!
Siva indeed is hard to reach;
Then, heed the doctrine this teaches you.

81.As mother a woman suckles baby,
As wife dallies amorously in love,
As maaya she takes one's life in the end -
And yet in all forms a woman she
Siva indeed is hard to reach;
Then, heed the doctrine this teaches you.

That life on this earth is a voyage or crossing a river in a boat is at the very root of mystic tradition. The body is called a ghata, a baked earthen pot. Naadis, nerve centres, are nine:. Ila, Pingala, Sushumna, Gaandhari, Hastini, Poosha, Payasini, Aalambana, Kuhu.

In Lad Ded there are direct references to the Siva but tattwas in general go beyond denominational niceties.

14. The Saivite Thrust

Thought of mysticism is wound around the basics of human existence, human frailty, and impermanence. Man in the context of the universe and cosmos, Man's insignificance and the ultimate aspiration and goal of Man's life are the subjects, which compelled the attention of all mystics. . In the conception of the ultimate, the certainty of death, the wisdom of looking into the beyond and the hereafter, the aspects of creation, sustenance and destruction, it is the Saivite slant that is predominant. Saivism, perhaps, is the earliest religion.

Siva faith has been there since the Indus Valley Civilization. (There is an article by Srikant Talgeri, which was uploaded on the Internet only on 19th August, while this paper was being prepared.) The concept of rebirth, the unending transmutation (till mukti salvation, the liberation from the cycle of birth and death and unification with the Ultimate Truth), and the realization of Brahman have been the themes for treatment in the oral tradition.

The layman's (no slight intended) realization of life's illusory quality, impermanence, undependability on sense organs, mulling on the meaning of life, the goal worthy of Man's pursuit, other-worldly aspiration, the intuitive powers of understanding and cerebration are evident even in the everyday language of the wise and elderly. Though not really 'learned' the terminology is meaningfully derived and effortlessly shaped. What matters most is samadarsana, and samyagdarsana - envisioning all and everything with equipoise, equanimity and equality, and envisioning the 'whole' in terms of the ultimate. The tradition of mysticism even among the lowest of the low continues as it has been down the centuries. Faith wins all.

Here is a thought for mulling. What is Beauty if it doesn't inspire Bhakti!

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