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Balittha Sukta and Madhvacarya
The Balittha Sukta (Rg Veda I.141. 1-5), (dirghatama rsih, matarisvo devata, jagati chandah) is the sruti reference that is quoted by Shrimad Ananda Tirtha himself to show that he is the third avatara (incarnation) of Mukhya Prana, also known as Vayu. His first avatara is Hanuman, the servant of Rama, and the second, Bhimasena, the destroyer of the Kaurava army. After the advent of the Kali Yuga, when Lord Vishnu was obscured in the minds of man, and when men began to think that the world is false, has no ultimate basis in reality, and that there is no isvara (Supreme being), but the jiva (soul) itself is Brahman, the Absolute Being -- then took place the third avatara of Vayu, as Madhva, who came to Earth and established the absolute glory and greatness of Vishnu.
Shrimad Ananda Tirtha himself asserts his identity as the Madhva mentioned in the Vedas, in many instances; one of them is in the Vishnu-tattva-vinirnaya:
yasya trinyuditani vedavachane rupani divyanyalam |
bah tad darsatamitthameva nihitam devasya bhargo mahat |
vayo ramavaconayam prathamakaa prkso dvitiyam vapuh |
madhvo yattu trtiyametadamuna granthah krtah kesave ||
"The Deity whose three divine forms are spoken of in the Vedas, as one whose nature is that of great wisdom and ability, is the support of the activity of the worlds, is very worshipful (of Vishnu), and who incarnates with his full potency (with no diminution); that Vayu, in his first avatara, carried the message of Rama, destroyed a fearsome army in his second, and in the third, as Madhva, composed this work (the Vishnu-tattva-vinirnaya) as a service to Kesava."
Background -- about the Vedas
There is an unchanged tradition that the Vedas were "seen," and not composed, by the great rsis whose names they are often associated with. As you are probably aware, there is a detailed and intricate argument to show why it is a fallacy to hold that the Vedas are composed texts, and to show that they must be accepted to be unauthored. The Vedic mantra-drstas when absorbed in meditation envisioned great truths which flashed in their minds by Divine grace. Many texts in the Vedas themselves point to the total inadequacy of the mind to grasp and the words to express the Divine Being. Deeper understanding of such texts is possible with training, intuition and commentaries of those great minds like Shri Madhva, who have experienced the truth and expressed it in more elaborate terms. The use of symbols and metaphors, extreme brevity of statement, contextual assignment of meaning to expressions, complexity of the Supreme Divine person and His relationships with the rest of the world, and the apparent inconsistency in different passages make the task of understanding the Vedas a formidable one. The Vedas cannot be just read like a book on the basis of an acquaintance with the language and grammar. An expression like "mrda bravit" -- the mud spoke, "yajamanah prastarah" -- the person performing the sacrifice in a bundle of darbha grass, etc., would be totally meaningless for such a person. Sayana, who has written a full commentary upon the Vedas, observes: "na hi vedasya kartarah drastarah sarva eva hi." The practice of rigidly maintaining the textual accuracy, coupled with unalterable prescription of recitation norms, interpretation rules, etc., have ensured unchanged texts for thousands of years, which can only be interpreted and understood as per clearly laid down procedures. No attempts have been made even by gifted seers, saints, and scholars in all history to streamline or remove the apparent superficial contradictions of the texts by giving up or altering some of them. There has also been a commonly held faith since time immemorial that Vedic texts when ritually recited along with performance of specified rites, do give extra-ordinary results in this world and also lead to bliss in heaven. Some passages also form the elements of the prescribed daily prayers and observances like the daily sandhya vandanam. Thus, all Vedantic schools claim their legitimacy on these scriptural texts; even smrtis which lay down codes in different disciplines rigorously espouse the sruti texts. In fact, it is considered that the Vedas which were really not composed by any one (including God) are eternal and contain not only the prescriptions of daily duties of life, but also serve as the beacon lights leading one to God-realization and moksa.
Mahuli R. Gopalacharya says:
The Vedas have been for millenia considered to be the supreme authority on parama-tattvas and the duties of man towards God and his fellow creatures. The Rg Veda is admittedly the oldest literary monument of the world. It contains hymns in praise of God -- one supreme God with different names and forms. The Vedic bards while they were in close communion with God pervading all universe were in ecstacy, so much that they felt themselves beyond the bourne of space and time ..... The Rg Veda in particular, is quoted as supreme authority even in other Vedas.
The Vedic suktas are generally accepted to have a number of meanings, based on the canons of interpretational rules:
1.Adibhautika -- regarding the external world
2.Adidaivika -- regarding the deity which controls the manifestation
3.Adhyatmika -- regarding the universal spirit or Supreme Deity
For instance, the `usas' described in a rk mantra (Rg Veda I.48) referring to the dawn, means the (physical) dawn, the diety Usas (abhimani devata for dawn) and the dawn of spiritual knowledge. References to words such as `dhenavah' -- cows, vrshabhah -- bull, etc., are metaphorical, and are applied to the guardian deities or to the Supreme Being. No word may be interpreted in a manner which is inconsistent with the text as a whole. The symbolic character of the language and the mystic and out-of-this-world experiences of the seers, where words seem to convey but little of what is being directly experienced, always make the interpretational work of Vedic texts a difficult and daunting prospect. Perhaps it needs a mystic mind to decipher the language of the Vedas. Shri Madhva himself has quoted in another context an authority that defines the qualities of a seer of the Vedas. In his commentary upon the Aitareya Upanisad, he has also quoted from the Rg Veda itself:
yastityaja sacividam sakhayam na tasya vacyapi bhago asti |
yadim srnotyalakam nahi praveda sukrtasya pantham ||
( rg-veda, X. 71-6)
"He who gives up (in his Vedic study) his eternal companion (Lord Narayana), his speech/exposition is unsound; whatever he hears, he hears amiss; he is certainly not on the path of virtue."
Therefore, it is extremely important to keep in mind the true purport of the Vedas, while attempting any commentary upon them. Incoherent efforts randomly focused on various deities, non-deities, etc., are not considered to be of virtue.
Shri Madhva's statement and commentary
The three forms of Mukhya Prana.
As has been noted, Shrimad Ananda Tirtha has repeatedly made the claim to being Madhva, the third avatar of Mukhya Prana; some of the slokas he has composed tend to run quite similarly to the one from the Vishnu-tattva-vinirnaya that has already been quoted. He, who has unequivocally and repeatedly asserted the total, unconditional, and irremediable superiority of the Supreme over all others and the complete dependence of all other souls upon Him, and who has maintained that the apparent inconsistencies in Vedas should not be explained away by specious theories of mahavakya, anuvada, adhyaropa, etc., but must be squarely faced and all integrated into a consistent whole (eka vakyata), can hardly make a claim of his own position in the hierarchy of souls openly and with crystal clarity, unless this is supported by valid pramanas -- which, in Vedic schools, rest upon the correct interpretation of the Vedas and Upanisads, and their adjunct texts. For instance, the following are the claim and exposition given near the end of his bhasya on the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad:
yasya trini uditani vedavacane rupani divyani alam |
bat taddarsatamitthamevanihitam devasya bhargo mahat |
vayo ramavaconayam prathamakam prkso dvitiyam vapuh |
madhvo yat tu trtiyakam krtamidam bhasyam hi tena prabhau ||
After this quotation, he goes on to expound upon the Balittha Sukta as follows (we first give the sukta itself in full for easy reference, and then the exact commentary given):
Text of the Balittha Sukta
balittha tad vapusedhayi darsatam devasya bhargah sahaso yato ajani |
yadimupahvarate sadhate matir-rtasya dhena anayanta sasrutah || 1 ||
prkso vapuh pitumannitya asaye dvitiyamasaptasivasu matrsu |
trtiyamasya vrsabhasya dohase dasapramatim janayantayosanah || 2 ||
niryadim budhnanmahisasya varpasa isanasah savasa krantasurayah |
yadimanupradivo madhva adhave guhasantam matarisva mathayati || 3 ||
prayatpituh paramanniyateparyaprksudho virudho dansu rohati |
ubhayasya janusam yadinvata adidyabistho abhavadhdhrna sucih || 4 ||
adinmatrravisadyasva sucirahimsyamana urviya vivavrdhe |
anuyatpurva aruhastanajuvoni navyasisva varasu dhavate || 5 ||
hanusabdo jnanavaci hanuman matisabditah |
ramasya svrtarupasyavacastena anayanta hi |
bhrtamo bhima ityukto vaco ma matarah smrtah |
rgadya itihasasya puranam pancaratrakam |
proktah saptasivah tatra sayobhimah tatah smrtah |
madhu iti ananda uddhisto veti tirthamudahrtam |
madhva anandatirthah syat trtiya maruti tanuh |
iti suktagatam rupatrayametat mahatmanah |
yo veda vedavit sa syat tatvavavit tatprasadatah ||
-- iti ca (Works referred to: bhavavrtta, sadbhava.)
sadhako ramakaryanam tatsamipagatah sada |
hanuman prathamo jneyo bhimastu bahubhuk pitoh |
prtanaksayakari ca dvitiyastu trtiyakah |
purnaprajnah thata anandatirthanama prakirtitah |
daseti sarvamuddistam sarvam purnamihocchyate |
prajna pramatiruddhista purnaprajnah tatha smrtah |
asamantah patitve tu gudham kaliyuge harim |
asatyam apratistham tat jagadetah anisvaram |
vadadbhih guhitam santam trtiyo asuh mathayati |
yena visnostu varpakhyan gunanajnasisuh paran |
issanasah surayasca nigudhan nirgunoktibhih |
tretayam dvapare caiva kalau ca yete kramat trayah |
etesam paramo visnuh neta sarvesvaresvarah |
svayambhubrahmasanjno asau parasmai brahmane namah |
-- iti ca (Work referred to: Yajuh Samhita.)
Let us see the free translation (based mainly upon the exposition of Shri Vadiraja Tirtha) of the above original source text of the commentary of Shri Madhva himself upon the Balittha Sukta:
"The three forms of Vayu which have the auspicious qualities of `krida' (sporting), etc., are well described in the Vedic texts -- as being of the essence of strength (bala), full of pious knowledge (jnana). They protect the world, impart divine knowledge and are extremely holy and sacred. All the three forms appeared in the world per the desire of the Supreme Being. Just like the main (mula) form, these forms also are full of strength and knowledge (with no diminution during incarnation). The first form of Hanuman takes the words of Shri Rama (to Sita). It also teaches the precious and auspicious knowledge from Mula Ramayana to its disciples, for their salvation. The second form, as Bhima, is the main destroyer (of evil forces of the Kauravas and others). The third form of Madhva has composed this bhasya (Brhadaranyaka) to please the Supreme Lord - Shri Hari."
The word `hanu' means `jnana' (knowledge). Therefore, Hanuman has been called `Mati' in the Sukta. The words "rtasya dhena anayanta sasrutah" mean that Hanuman carried the message (dhena) of Shri Rama (rta) who is always Eternal or Changeless and who is the essence of Truth, to Sita. (Note: that `rta' means Truth, or Supreme Truth, etc., is accepted, as in the Taittiriya Upanisad's `rtam vadisyami'.) `rtasya dhena anayanta sasrutah' can also mean that he taught the immutable and eternal truths such as the Mula Ramayana (the original Ramayana composed of a hundred crore slokas, given by Lord Hayagriva to Brahma) to his disciples for their salvation. "prkso vapuh" describes the Bhima incarnation. `bhima' has the same meaning as "a saye saptasivasu matrsu." `Bhima' is "one who has all knowledge of the sacred texts" (sastras). The expansion in support of this is given as `bhrtah mah yena sa bhimah' -- bhrtah (supported, repository of); mah, from the same root as pra-mah, (sources) of valid knowledge, or pramanas, yena sah (from whom). `ma-tr' means all the valid sastra texts. These are the four Vedas -- Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva, along with itihasa, purana and pancaratra. `saye' means "well versed in." Bhima is well versed in all the seven sources of valid knowledgegiven above. The words `trtiyamasya vrsabhasya dohase' describe Shri Madhva. The word `madhva' means "the author of `va' (sastras) which give `madhu' (bliss). Similarly `tirtha' means the same as `va'. Thus `Ananda Tirtha' and `Madhva' mean the same thing. It is stated that anyone who understands correctly the reference to the three forms of Vayu described in this Sukta, will understand all the Vedas correctly and will secure valid knowledge (tattva-jnana) with the blessings of Vayu.
The first form of Hanuman is always close to the Lord's incarnation of Shri Rama. It carries out all the duties given by Him. The second form of Bhima eats enormous quantities of food and destroys all evil forces always. The third form of Vayu is also called Purnaprajna or Ananda Tirtha. `dasa' means `sarva' (All) and `purna' (complete). `prajna' and `pramati' both mean "all sacred and valid knowledge." Evil preceptors who try to obscure true knowledge of the Lord in the Kali yuga preach that the world is unreal, or that it will be shown as unreal when true knowledge is secured, that there is no ultimate Controller (Creator, etc.) for the world (which does not exist in reality). Vayu's third form Shri Madhva reasserts the supremacy of Shri Hari over all else, by reviewing the entire valid scriptures (Rg and other Vedas, etc.) just as churning milk secures butter. Even the wise savants like Rudra, etc., were taught by this form the full and auspicious qualities of Vishnu such as bliss, knowledge, etc., when they were confounded by the false teaching that the Supreme Reality is a nirguna (one without any attributes). The three forms of Vayu incarnate in the Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas, respectively. Vishnu, who is the Supreme, and is the Deity of all deities, is known as Svayambhu (self-powered) and as Brahman; salutations to that Superlative Brahman.
The Balittha Sukta has been:
- quoted in full by Shri Madhva in the Shri Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya -- second chapter, along with other (smrti) pramanas.
- commented upon in similar words in the following: Shri Taittiriya Upanisad Bhasya, Shri Aitareya Upanisad Bhasya, Shri Candogya Upanisad Bhasya.
- mentioned indirectly in his compositions Brahma Sutra Bhasya, Anu-vyakhyana, Vishnu-tattva-vinirnaya -- with the same pattern of words "yasya trini uditani veda-vacane..."
- mentioned in the Tantra-Sara-Sangraha, another composition that shows (among other things) that this Vedic text describes the deity Mukhya Prana.
It is a distinctive feature of Shri Madhva to have identified himself as an avatara or incarnation of the deity Mukhya Prana, who appears in Vedic texts such as the Balittha Sukta, many Upanisads, and the Brahma Sutra of Shri Veda Vyasa. Upanisads like the Candogya and the Brhadaranyaka assign Vayu a very high position in the celestial hierarchy -- above even Siva, and next only to Lord Vishnu Himself and his eternal consort, the goddess Laksmi. He is also described as endowed with special characteristics and powers which make him the greatest soul (jivottama) among all the classes of souls aspiring for liberation. It is also significant that the two forms of Hanuman and Bhima, described as avataras of Vayu, have been extremely close to the incarnations of Vishnu -- to Rama and Krishna as described respectively in the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The special characteristics identified in the Balittha Sukta are seen to be particularly notable from the narration of these Epics.
The following facts help establish the validity of this claim:
1) The unique effort made by Shri Madhva in explaining the Vedas fully in accordance with the rules of Vedic grammar and canons of interpretation -- his giving the three-fold meanings of the Rg Veda in his Rg-bhasya, which explains as an illustration the first 40 suktas -- and which has also been appreciated by modern thinkers like Aurobindo -- makes his adidaivika interpretation of the Balittha Sukta as extolling the Mukhya Prana of the Vedas and Upanisads, particularly significant and appropriate. There are not many commentators upon the Vedas with such an ability, and even those who have attempted a global effort like Sayanacharya have not progressed beyond the first or second types of interpretation.
2) The famous Vayu Stuti composed by Shri Madhva's student, the learned scholar Shri Trivikrama Panditacarya, as a describing Hanuman, Bhima, and Madhva's simultaneously worshipping the Supreme Being in the three forms of Rama, Krishna, and Vyasa, is an eye-witness account which supports this position. This composition remains unchanged from Shri Madhva's days and clearly refers to his three incarnations as described by the Balittha Sukta. Shri Trivikrama himself was a great scholar well versed in the Vedas and Upanisads, who was in his time a foremost exponent of advaita who became Shrimad Acharya's disciple upon losing to the latter in debate (as has already been noted elsewhere).
3) The vast knowledge of Shri Madhva indicated by his commentaries on widely varying subjects -- Vedas, Upanisads, Brahma-Sutra, Epics, yajnas (Sacrifices), nyaya (science of logic), tantras, etc., and the mastery displayed by him in explaining and establishing the consistent interpretation of all the varied texts within the compass of Tattvavada would be difficult to imagine and assign to any one with human limitations. The immense volume of studies which would be required to write just the two epic nirnaya-granthas on the Mahabharata and Bhagavata, as well as his profuse quotes from a large number of other compositions and srutis, some of which are not extant today, would be the lifetime's work of several very great scholars. The brevity of expression used by him, which calls to mind a comparison with the similarly compact enunciation of Badarayana in the Brahma-Sutra, and the multiple valid meanings that could be assigned to his statements on complex abstract issues are also the hallmark of a superhuman genius. Such intellectual powers and enormous knowledge have earned for him the titles of `Sarvajna' ("the All-knowing") and `Purna Prajna' ("the one of Complete knowledge") from his disciples.
4) It is to be remembered that Shri Madhva formulated a whole new philosophical system based on the Vedas as the sole supreme authority, and his work has not been added to subsequently in bits and pieces by his followers as have that of many rivals. In contrast with other major acaryas, not even once does one find him being contradicted, played down, improved upon, corrected, etc., by his commentators, whereas in many opposing schools, later scholars have had to do these things to the original works and expositions in an attempt to ensure consistency, or to answer away some newer objection. Also in contrast with many others, there are no two schools both claiming Shri Madhva as their guru -- Tattvavada is one only, and has not forked out into two or more sub-branches even after all these centuries, unlike other schools, because there is never a case of ambiguity in Shrimad Ananda Tirtha's words that may admit of multiple conflicting explanations, and consequent diversity of opinion based upon those explanations.
5) Shri Madhva has re-introduced many new concepts like saksi, visesa, jiva svabhava, sarva-tantra svatantrya (unconditional/unalloyed Independence) of the Supreme Being, upajivya pramana etc., to clearly explain many issues which were unexplained till then, which have stood the test of detailed analysis since; it is but natural for any serious student to accept his being a special person with divine gifts. It is therefore reasonable to accept his own statement that he is indeed the Mukhya Prana of the Vedas and Upanisads, incarnated as per the Balittha Sukta to establish the true meaning of the scriptures.
7) The history of Shri Madhva, which has been recorded for posterity by his contemporary biographer Narayana Panditacarya, in the Sumadhva Vijaya, contains numerous instances of his superhuman abilities. A few of these are:
a) His inexplicable and superhuman ability to either eat and assimilate vast quantites of food such as a thousand or four thousand plantains and 30 pots of milk offered by devotees, or keep an indefinite complete fast as in Badarinath for 48 days under very low temperature conditions, all the while keeping up the rigorous schedule of worship and teaching enjoined on an ascetic.
b) His supernatural abilities and strength by which he carried in one hand, a huge boulder 80 feet in circumference and 15 feet high (above 300 tons in weight) for the convenience of people in crossing a stream -- an inscription to this effect ("shrimadanandatirthena eka-hastena sthapita sila") is present on the boulder, and the event is also mentioned in the Sumadhva Vijaya. At the same time, he himself was once carried on the shoulder of a small boy. Men of large physiques, known to be extremely strong, were challenged and were unable to move a toe he held pressed against the floor.
c) His carrying a train of his disciples across the raging Ganges river by literally walking over it.
d) His knowledge of future events such as the arrival of the ancient Deity of Krishna from Dwaraka, or the arrival of another learned person after a few days.
e) His consummate control over the actions of other persons like the bad king Iswaradeva. This king was trying to construct a pond, but the way he was doing it was by having his attendants grab passersby and force them to work without compensation, under threat of physical punishment. Shri Madhva and his students were also asked to dig, upon which the former said that he, as a sannyasi, had never performed such a task in his life; would the king kindly demonstrate? The king took up a hoe to demonstrate what he wanted, but found himself unable to stop, and in fact dug the entire pond by himself, leaving Shri Madhva, his disciples, and the other coerced workers to go free. Upon this occasion, Mukhya Prana, the Vedic deity who controls the denizens of the three worlds, and causes, empowers, and facilitates all their actions, demonstrated that he is in fact the same as Shrimad Ananda Tirtha, when he had a whole pond dug in one session, without stops, a feat not normally possible for any single person -- by a king, no less.
f) His demonstration of the efficacy of Vedic recitations in front of a skeptic in making a seed sprout, grow into a plant and then into a tree, making the tree flower and produce seeds -- all in his bare palm -- as asserted as the `phala' of the Vedic quote which the skeptic doubted.
g) His knowledge of other languages like Turkish, which he spoke to a Muslim king after crossing the Ganges in defiance of the latter's orders. The king was so impressed with Shri Madhva that he offered the latter half his kingdom.
h) His disappearance from the sight of man while in Badari for meeting Veda Vyasa and Narayana, and his final disappearance from the Ananteswara temple in Udupi when a large heap of divine flowers were showered on him from the heavens (it is noteworthy that the mortal remains of all his sannyasi disciples encased in stone monuments (vrndavanas) are available and are revered by Madhvas, whereas no such monument is available in his case, as it is believed that he has gone to the asrama of Veda Vyasa in Badarikasrama).
It is also worth noting that there was no opportunity for exaggeration or formation of myths, as the authentic history recorded in his own time, has remained unchanged to this day in Madhva homes, as a sacred text. While there are several different biographies of the leading scholars of other schools, which often conflict with each other, have been written long after the events allegedly described by them, and have little or no support from physical evidence, the Sumadhva Vijaya was written by a contemporary of Shri Madhva, has not been subsequently added to in any way, and does not have to stand against a competing text seeking to counter-assert its authority.
Why Vayu rather than Agni?
The five verses of the Rg Veda forming the Balittha Sukta are generally misinterpreted and/or mistranslated as referring to three forms of Agni -- as translated by Sayana and other scholars, the Sukta hardly conveys any sensible meaning. H.H. Wilson has written a translation of the Rg Veda that largely follows Sayana's commentary; in the portion dealing with the Balittha Sukta, he makes the candid admissions: "pra ya pituh paraman niyate paryaprksudho virudho dansu rohati is a very unintelligible line," and "asya vrsabhasya dohase is the vague phrase of the text." He is, of course, unaware of Shri Madhva's exposition.
Such expositions and translations as those by Sayana and Wilson tend to ignore the specific reference to three incarnations, each of which is described by the Vedic text with special epithets; they also ignore the fact that the prime referent of the Sukta, the entity whose avataras are being described, is stated to be Matarisvan, a nomer which clearly denotes Vayu or Mukhya Prana (entity which represents Life itself) -- this usage is consistent with that applied in other works such as the Mahabharata. Agni (the god of fire) has no appellations elsewhere in the scriptures, of such words as Prksa, Pituman, Dasapramati, Madhva, etc., (these, however, fit Mukhya Prana to a tee, because Mukhya Prana has been glorified immensely in the Upanisads and other texts) -- nor, indeed, is Agni known as having had three incarnations, especially those of specific properties as described in the Sukta.
The interpretations given to the Balittha Sukta by Sayana and others are more literal and can at best be considered as adibhautika ones. Even with this unwarranted concession, a number of key words and expressions in the text which seem to call for a metaphorical intepretation seem to be missed by him completely -- e.g., `sahasah', `matih', `dhena', `sasrutah', `prksah', `pituman', `vrsabhasya', `dohase', `dasapramatim', `yosanah', `mahisasya', `isanasah', `madhva', `guhasantam', `matarisva', suchi', `ahimsyamanah', etc.,etc. In fact, Sayana cannot help but interpret `prksa' as `anna sadhaka' -- the digester of food; a direct application to Agni is not possible. However, "a digester of food" can only be taken as a reference to one of the pranas, specifically to Mukhya Prana, rather than to Agni. Although Sayana's etymology in reading `prksa' as `anna sadhaka' is far from clear, it still follows that he is unable to hold out any hope of coherence in his interpretation of the Sukta unless he invokes a characteristic of Mukhya Prana rather than Agni, for explaining a key word (of course, with sruti, every word is a key word). His style of exposition would thus appear to be unsatisfactory even from the adidaivika point of view, let alone the adhyatmika one.
In the context of the total passage of the Balittha Sukta itself, the description of Mukhya Prana referred to as Pranagni, who sustains life itself on the five fold forms of life -- as also stated in chapter fifteen of the Bhagavad Gita:
aham vaisvanaro bhutva praninam dehamashritah |
pranapanasamayuktah pacamyannam caturvidham || 14 ||
-- as the deeper meaning of Agni referred to in other texts, is singularly apt. The concept of Mukhya Prana being described by the word pranagni is also mentioned in the Satprasnopanisad:
sa esa vaisvanaro visvarupah pranagnirudayate |
"He, called Vaisvanara, the World-form, the Life, expresses as Agni."
Further support for this may be found in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad:
prthivyeva yasyayatanamagnirloko manojyotiryo vai tam purusam
vidyatsarvasyatmanah parayanam sa vai veditasyaj~navalkya | veda
va aham tam purusam sarvasyatmanah parayanam yamattha ya evayam
sarirah purusah sa esa vedaiva sakalya | tasya ka
devetyamrtamiti hovaca |
"O Yajnavalkya (said Shakalya), he who knows him whose abode is the Earth, whose manifestation is Agni, whose inward manifestation is the mind, to be the support of all creatures, is a wise man.
I know him indeed, O Shakalya (said Yajnavalkya), to be the best support of all beings, whom you speak of, and who is the Purusa in the body. Ask again, O Shakalya.
Who is this deity? (said Shakalya)
Amrta (said Yagnavalkya)."
The Isavasya Upanisad says
vayuranilamamrtamathedam bhasmantam sariram |
-- Vayu is known as `anila' (`a+nila': `a' refers to Vishnu, and `nila' refers to residence as in `nilaya'), and because of the residence of Vishnu in him, he is amrta (without destruction); even when the body he occupies as Mukhya
Prana, the deity of the Life-principle, expires and is destroyed, he does not suffer destruction.
Thus, the Shatprasnopanisad gives us a hint that Mukhya Prana may also be referred to as Agni; the Brhadaranyaka tells us that the deity who manifests as Agni is `Amrta', and the Isavasya tells us that Vayu is called Amrta because he has the residence of Vishnu in him and is hence indestructible.
Therefore, considering all of the above together, it is seen that while it is incorrect for Sayana and other scholars to attempt to resolve references to Mukhya Prana as referring instead to Agni, it is wholly appropriate, on the other hand, to resolve apparent references to Agni occurring elsewhere in the Vedas, as actually referring to Mukhya Prana, as shown by the Shatprasnopanisad, the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, and the Isavasya Upanisad.
Detailed analyses of the verses
With that background, the interpretation of the Balittha-Sukta according to Shriman Madhvacharya may be understood as follows:
balittha tad vapusedhayi darsatam devasya bhargah sahaso yato ajani |
yadimupahvarate sadhate matirrtasya dhena anayanta sasrutah || 1 ||
Note: according to rules of grammar, `Balittha' splits as `bat + ittha'.
bat strong (balatmaka)
ittha in the same way (itthameva - as in the mula rupa)
vapuse for the sake of body (for the three incarnations)
adhayi was placed, sent, or established
darsatam full of wisdom - jnana vyapta or purna
devasya of the Supreme Lord (Narayana)
bhargah (bhar+gah); bhar-supporting, gah-moving (through the
universe) who sustains the world of life and takes the
liberated souls to mukti or the world of the Supreme Being.
sahasah of the powerful, (who is balarupa, or of the nature of
strength and speed). Also, one who tolerates all inflicted
upon him without suffering.
yatah from whom; from the Lord Narayana (by His desire and
ajani was born
yadim (yat+im); refers to the first incarnation. `im' shows that
it is equal to the `mula rupa' (original form) in strength,
upahvarate always stands near (Rama) with ardent devotion and humility.
sadhate carries out the work of (Rama) - even at a distance.
matih wisdom; Hanuman is called matih because 'hanu[man]' means
'mati' or jnana (knowledge); thus, `hanuman' is `mati'.
rtasya of the Supreme Being, who is the embodiment of Truth,
knowledge etc.(of Rama)
dhenah Rama's words full of purport (literally: cows) -- as they
sustain the purpose of the gods with their potency, as cows
sustain humans with their milk.
anayanta he carried (to Sita, or to the three worlds)
sasrutah full of amrta; dripping with nectar; giving mukti
The great god Vayu (Mukhya Prana) is of the essence of strength, speed, wisdom, and sports. He supports the world in the form of breath. As commanded by the Lord, he takes three forms which have the same capabilities with respect to strength, knowledge, etc., as his original form. His first form, called Hanuman, which is the very manifestation of wisdom, is an ardent devotee of the Lord (Rama), is inseparable from Him, carries out all His commands, and brings His nectarine message to Sita. His teachings of the story of Rama bring mukti to His devotees.
1) Note that of all the (lesser) gods, only Mukhya Prana has the quality that he does not suffer diminution of knowledge, strength, energy, etc., when incarnating. All other deities do, and in fact, in some cases, are not even aware of their identities as deities, and instead suffer all the travails of humans. Thus, while other deities incarnate only as `amsas' (fragments) of their original selves, in case of Vayu, the incarnate is the same as the original, not a "fragment" of him. Thus, Vayu is the foremost icon of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, as he is of full potency in every form, as the Lord is. According to the rules of worship, one must worship only complete Deities, not just fragments, even in case of physical Deities like statues, etc. (Notice that nowhere does one worship just a bust or just a carving upto the waist, etc., of the Lord -- every icon has to be a full representation). Therefore, since Vayu is complete everywhere, he is a primary icon of the Lord and worshippable in every form, and as he is the only one having this property, he is the primary icon, in fact. Thus only it is that the Taittiriya Upanisad says: "namaste vayo; tvam eva pratyaksam brahmasi" -- I salute you, O Vayu, for thou alone art the visible [icon of the Supreme] Brahman.
2) That Hanuman is the very manifestation of wisdom, is very well-recognized, and is in fact used in slokas such as the following:
buddhirbalam yaso dhairyam nirbhayatvam arogata |
ajadyam vakpatutvam ca hanumatsmaranatbhavet ||
Intelligence, strength, fame, valor, fearlessness, lack of ill-health;
absence of sloth, skill in speech, and many more -- all accrue upon remembering Hanuman.
prkso vapuh pitumannitya asaye dvitiyamasaptasivasu matrsu |
trtiyamasya vrsabhasya dohase dasapramatim janayantayosanah || 2 ||
Note: An item of interest in this verse is the use of 'dasa-pramatim' in the second line -- this word is considered to be synonymous with `purna-prajna', which is an ordained name of Shrimad Ananda Tirtha.
This is explained as follows:
`dasa' means ten, literally; as with cardinal numbers used in scripture, it is also considered to indicate abundance, completeness, or infiniteness.
`pramati' stands for `prakrsta mati' -- excellent wisdom. Thus, it is synonymous with `prajna' which also (by a similar expansion) means the same.
`purna' means complete; thus, it is synonymous with `dasa' used in that sense.
Therefore, `dasa+pramati' is equivalent to `purna+prajna'.
Similarly, `saptasivasu matrsu' is synonymous with `bhima'. The word `bhima' means, literally, "he who supports all valid authorities" (bhi for bhrta meaning supported; ma for mana or pramana meaning valid authorities). The word `matarah' means measurers of authoritative words or dispensers of authoritative truths; the word `saptasiva' refers to the seven authoritative texts, namely, the four Vedas, the Puranas, the Itihasas, and the Pancaratra -- one who is well versed in all these constantly is Bhima.
prksah prt (prtana) -army; ksah (ksaya-karakah) - destroyer
vapuh body, form, incarnation
pituman rich in food - `bahvanna bhokta' -- who eats large
nityah always, everlasting (refers to lack of destruction)
asaye dwelling, sleeping, engrossed
dvitiyam the second (form)
saptasivasu in the seven auspicious | collectively refer
matrsu sources of sacred knowledge | to Bhima
trtiyam the third (form)
asya of him (Vayu)
vrsabhasya of the strong one (the great god -- deva srestha)
dohase for the sake of milking - for filling with knowledge
dasapramatim shri purnaprajnya
janayantah produced, born, incarnated
yosanah maidens, women (the three forms of goddess Laksmi
-- Shri, Bhu, Durga)
"The incarnation Bhima as the destroyer of the (mighty Kaurava) army is the second. He was totally invincible in the war and ate vast quantities of food. He was fully learned in all the sastras -- such as the four Vedas, Mahabharata, Mula Ramayana and Pancaratra.
The third form of Vayu, called Purna Prajnya (one with complete wisdom), is created by the deities Shri, Bhu and Durga (manifestations of Laksmi, the eternal consort of the Supreme Being, who is also the abhimani devata of the Vedas) to bring back the previously lost tattvas of the Vedas (like the milk of wisdom) to the world."
1) It may be noted that Bhima has not only been stated to have destroyed all 100 Kaurava princes, and innumerable great warriors in the Kaurava army, but also to have personally wiped out a major portion of their strength - 7 out of 11 aksauhinis.
That he was the most potent in war, and very learned, is confirmed by a sloka from the Mahabharata:
bhimasena samo nasti senayoh ubhayoh api |
panditye ca patutve ca suratve ca bale api ca ||
"There is none equal to Bhimasena, in facing (or leading) an army; in learning, in skill of speech, in valor, and even in strength."
Note in particular that contrary to widespread misconception, his great strength was considered the least of his many winsome qualities, and that his great military prowess was considered to be a quality apart from his strength, i.e., was not a mere derivative of said strength.
2) As has already been noted, Vayu is called Amrta, the one without destruction -- hence the `nitya' used in the Sukta.
3) That Bhima was also known for consuming vast quantities of food, is well-known from the Mahabharata; in fact, he was given the name of `vrkodara' (vrka + udara); vrka-wolf; udara-stomach, appetite, etc.; `vrkodara' therefore means "one with a wolf's appetite."
4) In the Ambhrani Sukta (Devi Sukta), Laksmi declares:
yam kamaye tantamugram krnomi tam brahmanam
tamrsim tamsumedham |
"Whomsoever I wish, I make great; I make him Brahma; I make him a rsi; I make him a wise man."
This quote is not meant to indicate arbitrariness on the part of Laksmi, but is only to show that she is indeed the controller who empowers even Brahma; thus, the interpretation of `yosanah' to mean forms of Laksmi causing the avatara of Ananda Tirtha, is justified.
niryadim budhnanmahisasya varpasa isanasah savasa krantasurayah |
yadimanupradivo madhva adhave guhasantam matarisva mathayati || 3 ||
The word `madhva' used in this verse is a composite of two words: `madhu' which means honey, or joy (metaphor) and is synonymous to `ananda'; `va' which means giver of, and is synonymous to `tirtha'. He whose teachings give eternal joy of liberation is Madhva, also known as Ananda Tirtha. Thus,
`madhva' and `anandatirtha' literally mean the same thing.
nih (a particle to be joined to the verb kranta)
yat because -- out of the third form
im in this manner
budhnat of the nature of wisdom or knowledge
mahisasya of the mighty god (Vayu)
varpasah the attributes of being adored and protector of the good
isanasah the devas headed by Rudra (Siva)
savasa with great ease or joy
kranta knew, was made known or taught
surayah into the wise ones; sages
anu after, by following him, having him as leader
pradivah of great brilliance; effulgent
madhvah Shrimad Ananda Tirtha with the name of Madhva
adhave for the sake of making Him their Lord
guhasantam concealed in the cavern of the heart of all creatures
matarisva Vayu (who is also called 'Matarisvan')
mathayati churns; establishes rigorously by detailed analyses
"The third form of Vayu or Matarisvan known by the name Madhva or Ananda Tirtha is of great brilliance and effulgence and teaches with ease and joy even the wise ones like Rudra and other gods and sages, the attributes of Lord Vishnu being the main object of devotion and protector of the good, the Supreme Being who dwells in the caverns of the hearts of all living beings. He analyses at great depth all the valid scriptures such as the Vedas, to rigorously establish the supremacy of Vishnu who controls the entire universe."
1) The notion that the Lord indwells the "hearts" of all creatures is also stated clearly in the Bhagavad Gita, eighteenth chapter:
isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrddese arjuna tisthati |
bhramayan sarva-bhutani yantrarudhani mayaya || 61 ||
"Isvara (the Supreme) resides in the hearts of all creatures, O Arjuna; He, by his maya, causes all of them to act, as though they were parts mounted on a machine."
prayatpituh paramanniyateparyaprksudho virudho dansu rohati |
ubhayasya janusam yadinvata adidyabistho abhavaddhrna sucih || 4 ||
pra (prefix to be joined to succeeding verb, 'niyate')
yat for which reason
pituh from the universal Father or Deity (Vishnu or Narayana)
paramat the greatest; adjective that qualifies 'pituh'
niyate incarnates (is directed to incarnate)
pari (prefix to 'rohati') -- in all respects
a (also a prefix to 'rohati'); samyak or excellently
prksudhah hunger -- questions which are posed to counter valid knowledge
virudhah plants, herbs which sprout again and again when cut
dansu with (his) teeth (answers)
rohati grinds very fine
ubha both (Vishnu and Laksmi)
asya his (Shrimad Acharya's)
janusam avatara or incarnation
yat for establishment of valid knowledge or jnana
invatah directed again and again (in each Yuga)
at by the Supreme Being Narayana, who is denoted by a
it in this manner
yavistah most youthful or the last incarnation of Vayu
dhrna merciful, kind (without destroying physically)
sucih pure, pious
When he (Vayu) is directed by the Supreme being (Narayana) and His eternal consort Laksmi in each Yuga for the the third and last incarnation (as Shri Madhva), it is for the purpose of destroying all contrary doctrines which sprout repeatedly, just like an ox grinds fast-growing weeds with his teeth -- and establishing valid knowledge (tattva-vada). In this incarnation, he displays great mercy and kindness in not destroying evil persons physically (as in the earlier incarnations), but adopts sannyasa (which enjoins ahimsa or total abstinence from violence) and maintains non-violence (as he does not have the impurity associated with physical conception, birth, etc.). He has done all this due to his great kindness.
1) A question naturally arises, that if Vayu is always completely potent in every form, then why did he, as Madhva, not annihilate all evil, as he had done the previous two times as Hanuman and Bhima? Surely the lack of "action" must be interpreted as a sign of weakness, inability, or a faint heart?
To answer this line of doubt, the sruti clarifies that no, such is not the case; that Madhva did not go out and cause the physical extinction of all evil is a voluntary choice on his part, not an inaction forced upon him by incompetence. The reason he did not act against evil physically is a manifestation of his extreme kindness even towards evildoers; it is also an act of kindness towards the Lord's devotees, since if Vayu were to pound evil to the sand in every form, then less-wise devotees would surely draw the incorrect inference that it is appropriate for one to destroy one's enemies at all times; by taking on a vow of purity and non-violence, Mukhya Prana demonstrated that devotees should not be attached to violence as such, and must be equanimous and free of anger even when faced with evil, acting only when enjoined by the Lord's service, and not simply to satisfy their blood-lust or vanity.
2) Shrimad Ananda Tirtha himself has given a similar line of reasoning elsewhere (commentary upon Brhadaranyaka Upanisad I.3.9); there, the (hypothetical) question asked is, if Bhima was the incarnation of Vayu, the foremost of the deities, then why did he apparently fall into the clutches of the `ajagara' (Nahusa in the form of a python) -- why did he not destroy the ajagara and move on? To this, Shrimad Acharya answers that whenever one comes across such an instance where Vayu has apparently not performed to his fullest potency, one must understand that not doing so is a voluntary choice on his part. To understand otherwise would be opposed to a host of pramanas which speak of Vayu's incomparable ability.
adinmatravisadyasva sucirahimsyamana urviya vivavrdhe |
anuyatpurva aruhastanajuvoni navyasisva varasu dhavate || 5 ||
This is a beautiful rk which describes Shri Madhva's work among the Vedas and pauruseya texts like the Mahabharata, Bhagavata and other Puranas, etc., vividly.
at from Vishnu -- under the direction of Vishnu denoted by "a"
a in the three yugas as prescribed
matr mothers (the three mothers Anjana, Kunti, and Madhva's mother)
avisat engulfed, entered
ahimsyamanah uninjured; without suffering worldly sorrow or birth pangs
urviya by his own great capacity
vivavrdhe increased, grown greatly
purvah in the previous (the four Vedas)
aruhat climbed (slowly like a tree)
sanajuvah establishing the glory of Vishnu, the eternal being
ni (a particle qualifying dhavate)
dhavate he runs fast;
navyasisu in the new (the Itihasas, Puranas, and Pancaratra)
avarasu the lower ones (the smrtis)
"As directed by the Supreme Being Himself, Vayu entered and stayed in the wombs of his three mothers Anjana, Kunti and Viprapatni (wife of Shri Madhyageha Bhatta) till the time of birth (without going through the suffering of conception, birth, etc.). He grew in body and was unaffected by any kinds of impurities or suffering. Shri Madhva studied and expounded (climbed slowly like a tree) the four Vedas (as they are very difficult to interpret and understand in full with total consistency and thoroughness), but the Puranas and other pauruseya texts, he just ran through, as they are easier."
(Shri Madhva commented upon Vedic texts with great care and depth, taking note of their complexity, and consequent difficulty on the part of lesser people in grasping their true purport without an in-depth understanding of the Vedangas such as siksa, vyakarana, etc., assisted by the Brahma-Sutras of Badarayana. While studying and commenting upon the smrtis like Bhagavata, Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata, etc. he could go very fast, as they are easier for others to understand.)
Summary and conclusion
The following is a summary of the purport of the Balittha Sukta:
The Balittha Sukta, just like all other Vedic suktas, has three different layers of meanings. The deepest and most fundamental meaning (adhyatmika) is the glorification of Vishnu, the Supreme, who is the inner controller of Mukhya Prana, the guardian of the Life principle in all.
The adidaivika meaning refers to Mukhya Prana. He is essentially of the nature of strength, of knowledge which is never dimmed or incorrect. He incarnates in this world from time to time as per the desires of the Supreme Lord Narayana and His eternal consort Laksmi. In the three Yugas: Treta, Dvapara and Kali, he takes three forms - Hanuman, Bhima, Madhva, respectively. His incarnated forms also have the same completeness of strength and knowledge as the original form of Mukhya Prana does. Vayu or Mukhya Prana sustains the entire universe not only by being the guardian deity of the Life principle, but by supporting its existence even in the physical plane as Vayu Kurma. He is also the original teacher par excellance of all other souls for teaching them tattva-jnana of the Supreme Hari, and His qualities which sustain and control all else, which is essential for attaining salvation from the suffering and misery of the world. He is never affected by evil, being totally free from all suffering and whose closeness to God, strength and learning are such that there is no diminution of his capacity even when incarnated in the world or in the Universal Dissolution. In the first two forms he destroyed all evil persons ranged against God and the Good. In the third form, He obtained the butter of tattva-vada after a complete churning of the milky ocean represented by the valid authoritative sources like Vedas, Mula Ramayana, Mahabharata, Pancaratra and the Puranas such as the Bhagavata. His greatness has also been extolled by these texts. He is never disturbed from observing the pure and pristine Bhagavata tradition of total and complete devotion and surrender to Lord Vishnu, the Supreme.
His first form is called Mati or Hanuman, as it is full of auspicious qualities like great strength, wisdom, etc. He is always very close to the Supreme Being in His incarnation as Rama, and sports with great humility in His service. He carried the nectar-like words of Rama to Sita or carries the salvation-giving Mula Ramayana to the good people of the world to lead them to mukti. His second form is that of Bhimasena. He is called Bhima as he is host always to the seven sacred sources of knowledge. He is also called Prksa, because he destroyed a major portion of the Kaurava army and their noted heroes. He is called Pituman as he eats huge quantities of food. His greatness is in sporting always in the seven auspicious texts -- the four Vedas: Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva, and their primary adjuncts Pancaratra, Mahabharata and Mula Ramayana. His third form is called Purna Prajna or Ananda Tirtha. The eternal divine consort of Vishnu, the goddess Laksmi with the three forms, Shri, Bhu and Durga created the form by being present in the wife of Madhyageha Bhatta (father of Shri Madhva) -- just as the other two forms were created from the other mothers Anjana and Kunti respectively. From this form only, the great gods headed by Rudra learned the auspicious qualities of the Supreme person -- Hari, to secure Bliss and knowledge leading to Liberation. He obtained by the churning the milky ocean of authoritative sources of tattva-jnana, the butter of Hari-sarvottamatva or the Supremacy of Hari and His auspicious qualities which he gave to his devotees. As directed by Hari, the Supreme Being, he destroyed various spurious questions and doubts, as well as alternative schools which keep growing again and again just, as a bull crops grass or creepers. He observed the norms of complete non-violence as befitting his status as an ascetic, to show to the the world the correct practices and as the physical destruction of evil in Kali age has been ordained by Vishnu to be done by the goddess Durga. He has no suffering at the hands of evil persons or due to taking human form, such as residing in the womb, birth, etc. He can never be affected by evil as no evil force is ever stronger than him, and as he is completely indestructible due to Vishnu's special presence within him. In his churning of all the sacred and valid sources, he went step by step in the process of interpreting the Vedas (with the help of Vedangas) due to their innate complexity and depth, while the Puranas and other pauruseya texts were for him like a level meadow for a sporting and prancing horse. He evaluated all the sources to determine "idamittham" -- this is (definitely) so -- as a complete picture of tattva-vada, which does not have internal conflicts or contradictions, where all valid pramanas are correctly interpreted to support the conclusions and where all things have fallen properly into place.
prathamo hanuman nama dvitiyo bhima eva ca |
purna-prajna trtiyastu bhagavatkaryasadhakah ||
.. shripatirmanado nah ..
.. bharatiramanamukhyapranantargata shri krishnarpanamastu ..