Beginning with the first lockdown in March 2020, I embarked on learning the Saundaryalahari. I think it was my way of maintaining sanity in what has been a most stressful time for the whole world. My father, who passed away in 2017 knew the stotram by heart and I used to marvel at the felicity with which he would recite it, on the tap as it were. I then used to wonder if I could ever do this myself and I consider it dad’s blessings that I finally managed it. While I studied the work, and I must say here that I have only understood the sthUla artha (or very broad meaning), I really enjoyed the way Sankara structured this monumental work. The real meaning of this magnum opus can only be comprehended by realised souls I guess. Anyway, here are ten questions I put together, just for my edification (and hopefully yours as well)
- Two verses of the stotra are almost fully utilised by Muttuswami Dikshitar in two of his compositions. Identify the verses and the songs they inspire.
- One verse imparts in hidden form the 15 syllables that are used to worship Devi. These are not supposed to be uttered by someone not initiated into formal worship and so Sankara assists us this way. He has done this in other shlokas such as Mantramatrukapushpamalastavam as well. Which verse?
- Sankara pays tribute to one of Siva’s greatest devotees from Tamil regions in one verse. There are of course some disputes on whether it indeed is this devotee that is referred in this verse. But let us assume it is so. Identify the verse and the devotee.
- While the Lalita Sahasranama is referenced in numerous places in the Saundaryalahari, especially sections from the initial portions of the former shloka, one of the verses from Saundaryalahari has Sankara humorously wondering if the scholars who wrote the Sahasranama got their comparisons with Devi’s beauty all wrong. Which verse is that?
- Sankara’s philosophy is largely carried forward in South India by two establishments – the Sringeri Sarada Peetham and the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. The tutelary deities of each – respectively Sarada and Kamakshi, are described in two specific verses of the Saundaryalahari. The former monastery actually uses the relevant shloka as an invocatory benediction in all its publications, just below the picture of the Goddess. Which are these two verses?
- The Shri Chakra is by itself described in a three dimensional format in one verse. It is amazing that this depiction of the Meru Mountain by itself became the basis for the construction of temples in places such as Angkor Wat. Identify this verse.
- Sankara displays his musical knowledge in two verses – the first is of course vipancyA gAyanti where he refers to Saraswati playing the Veena. But there is a verse that displays his awareness of musicology as well. Which one?
- One of the most beautiful and poetic verses in this most beautiful and poetic work has Sankara describing the moon as a cosmetic case for the Goddess. Which one?
- The phrase Saundarya Lahari appears in one verse in this 100 verse compilation. It however does not specify that this is the name of the work. Which verse?
- In one verse Sankara makes a startling reference to an old wedding ritual – that of the bridegroom placing the foot of the bride on the mortar stone. Andal too mentions it in her Nachiyar Tirumozhi. Which one?
Like Sankara says in his last verse, this is a small set of questions, a humble offering to the Goddess, and Sankara, for this set of verses that has been given to us by them. I also dedicate this set of ten questions to my dad.
I will handle just one of these questions, leaving the rest to the more erudite among your audience!
It is verse 75.
Twa stanyam manye dharanidhara kanye hridhayatha
Paya paraabhaara parivahathi saaraswathamiva
Dhayavathya dhattham dravida sisu raaswadhya thava yat
Kaveenam proudana majani kamaniya kavayitha
It is said that the reference (Dravida) is to Thirugnana Sambandhar, who preceded Sankara.
– Durai Raghavan
Dear Sri Ram — this is precise the reason – why a badly uninitiated Bong migrant to peninsula — like me would remain attached to your multifaceted chat column over the years. yes , your erudite article on Adi Sankara’s — Saundaryalahari — kept me glued to the composition with a pensive mind. It sent me back to one of those mid ’50s College Street “Coffee House”– balcony side “Adda” — where ? if I remember rightly — Amartya – da & Nabaneeta di — were discussing with utmost passion — the beauty and philosophical depth of this “Magnum Opus ” of Sankara’s compositions. We were in an adjoining table — a bunch of class cutting group ( Being an one time Calcatian — you were aware of the adage — in ’50s — real intellectual classes of C.U. were held not in its official portal but in College Street coffee house.). Amartya da was very thorough in his Sanskrit Knowledge — being grandson of Pandit Kshitimohan Sen Sashtri of Shantiniketan. On the other side Nabaneeta di was a perfect counterpoise being a daughter of great erudite parentage of Prof. Poet Naren Deb and and Radharani Deb ( equally great litterateur). From time to time — I get a wisp of ” Great Calcutta Coffee House Adda ” smell– through your column. That is the secret “BOND”– n.da
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