On your locks Ganga and the Moon
On your arms and legs the cold serpents
On your left, snow mountain’s compassionate daughter,
On your entire form sandal paste

How are you able to bear so much of cold
O Lord of the Golden Hall?
In case it becomes impossible,
Come reside in my heart,
Which is forever burning hot owing to my multiple desires

Thus runs a verse of Appayya Dikshitar’s. The Sanskrit original, which will be familiar to most fans of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, begins with maulau ganga and he fashioned it into a delectable ragamalika.

Appayya Dikshitar was a great advaitin of the 16th century, one of those personalities that come up at appropriate moments in Hindu philosophy and thought, to strengthen it when it was subject to conflicting forces. In this he had many similarities with Vedanta Desika, the eminent Visishtadvaita scholar, who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries. Both composed in Sanskrit, both upheld their respective schools of philosophy and both quelled several rivals in debates and disputations. Their language requires detailed study; they are not like Sankara, Kalidasa or Valmiki in making it easy for the lay reader to understand. Interestingly, their birthplaces are not far from each other – around 80 km or so. Dikshitar was born in Adayapalam (spelt in maps as Adaiyapulam) near Arni while Desikar’s birthplace is Thoopul near Kanchi.

Adayapalam has a small temple to Shiva as Kalakanteswara. This was consecrated by Appayya Dikshitar himself. Originally a single sanctum temple fronted by a small ardha mandapam, it was expanded in modern times to include a sanctum for the Goddess and a prayer hall. The latter has many of the verses of Appayya Dikshitar inscribed in granite slabs all along the walls. The shrine to Shiva is in the late Vijayanagar style and very simple in design, devoid of much ornamentation. A stone deepasthambha faces the sanctum. On one of its faces is a Shivalinga and on the other a Garuda. A small effigy of Appayya Dikshitar is to the right of the sanctum, balanced by one to Sankara on the left. The pontiffs of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham have done much to renovate this temple. At their instruction, the prayer hall has a large stone image of Appayya Dikshitar that is regularly worshipped. The temple is today not much visited. In a delicious twist, a Vaishnavite priest is now in charge. But that Appayya Dikshitar was above such petty thoughts will be made clear by what follows in this story.

Appayya Dikshitar was greatly attached to the Nataraja shrine in Chidambaram. As is well known, the temple here, known simply as Kovil to all Shaivites, shares space with Thiruchitrakootam, the shrine to Vishnu as Govindaraja and that is a divya desam, having been composed upon by Kulashekhara and Thirumangai Azhwars. It is said that by standing at a certain strategic spot it is possible to see Govindaraja with the left eye and Nataraja with your right. Truly the temple stands as a symbol of oneness of God and this was perhaps what moved Appayya Dikshitar to compose his Hari Hara Abheda Stuti.

A set of eight verses (not including the phalasruti), it is structured as a series of couplets in each line of which two attributes of Shiva and Vishnu are described. Most significantly, it begins with the words Ma Ramanam Uma Ramanam and that takes us at once to the lovely kriti by Papanasam Sivan in Hindolam. Beginning with the same words, it deals right through with the same theme of how Shiva and Vishnu are one despite various physical attributes. Some of the other lines in the kriti are also clearly inspired by the stuti (mara janakan kumara janakan/smara tanayam guha tanayam is one). Sivan sings of Shiva as residing on a mountain while Vishnu reclines on the ocean. Dikshitar states that Shiva is on Mount Meru while Vishnu resides in his father-in-law’s home (the ocean)!

That gentle humour is evident in yet another song, also on the same theme and composed at Chidambaram. This is Thillai Ambalathanai Govindarajanai of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, now sung in Sahana. Made famous in recent times by Sanjay Subrahmanyan, the song is structured in the same two line, multiple verse format of the stuti. It has six charanams, each extolling two attributes of Nataraja and Govindaraja. In a masterly survey Bharathi covers the iconography of the deities (dancing to the instruments here and snoring away in slumber there), the offering of garlands, the chanting of respective hymns and the food varieties that are distributed after presenting to the deities.

Were Bharathi and Sivan inspired by Appayya Dikshitar? We do not know. The similarities in ideas as striking but then, great minds can independently arrive at the same conclusion.

This article was published in The Hindu dated Jan 25, 2019 and can be read here.