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Saundaryalahari - Verse 4

 

"Thou the refuge of all worlds! All Gods except Thee vouchsafe protection and bestow boons by gestures of their hands. Thou alone art not given to any such external demonstration of giving boons and shelter. This is so because Thy feet are themselves inherently proficient in affording immunity from the great fear and giving them much more than what they pray for!" – 4

The substance of the two preceding verses is elaborated in this verse. The word `Abhaya' means freedom from fear. `Vara' means grant of all desires. One can see these postures or Mudras in the hands of deities in icons, sculptures, pictures and meditational verses. The right hand of deities generally has Abhaya Mudra, with fingers upwards, denoting protection from fear. The left has vara Mudra with fingers pointing downwards indicating the granting of boons. But these hand gestures or Mudras are not in the form of Sridevi Mahatripurasundari. Amba is described to be having sugarcane bow, goad, noose and flower-arrows in her hands, and not Vara and Abhaya Mudras. The term `Abhaya' actually means freedom from fear of the infinite cycle of births and deaths. The word `Vara' connotes satisfaction of all desires or Kama. Thus, the verse implies that if the worship of the holy feet of Amba, if properly carried out, will grant the fourfold goals of human existence – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, the former two leading to the latter two.

While even Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra work for creation, protection and destruction with effort, Sridevi has no function requiring effort. She is the source of all happiness, temporary or eternal, temporal or spiritual, and is also the refuge from all fear to those who devoutly worship Her holy feet. In Tanjavore district of Tamil Nadu, there is a sacred place called Avadayarakoil, famous for its historic, ancient and architectural temple built by the Tamil saint Manikkavachakar. Devi Yogambika here has no image representation as in other temples. Only two feet carved in stone, placed on a pedestal, are worshipped as Devi. It seems that the inner meaning of the fourth verse of Saundaryalahari is fully exemplified by this symbolic form of Amba here. Thus in this verse, the superiority of Amba above all Gods and the importance of the worship of Devi's feet are brought out.

If one carefully observes, the worlds that have their origin at Amba's feet, seek shelter at their very place of origin. The very Gods, who pose with their hands the dispelling of fear and granting of boons, themselves seek shelter at Amba's feet. Evidently this refers to the fact that, whereas these gods merely employ their hands for posing, the Devi, the unique Goddess that she is, even though with four hands, engages them otherwise, in carrying the noose, the goad, the sugarcane bow and the flower-arrows and, at the same time, causes her feet to do not merely what the other Gods profess to do, but even more in granting what her devotees seek at her hands. It is also worthy to not that while some Gods are capable of granting Swarga Bhoga and others Moksha alone, Amba bestows on her votaries both enjoyment of celestial pleasures and liberation. Bestowal of freedom from the great fear of Samsara or duality and granting of even more than what a devotee prays for, are in Her very nature, and she has no need to show off such powers by poses of hands like other Deities. It is said in the Nabhobhara Stotra:

yatraasti bhogo na hi tatra mokShaH yatraasti mokSho na hi tatra bhogaH |
shriisundariitarpaNatatparANaM bhogashcha mokShashcha karastha eva ||

What one does with one's hand entails mental and physical effort. Work is itself called `Karya' and the word is derived from `Kara' meaning `hand'. Deities other than Amba have to use their hands and make suggestive gestures and strain themselves in granting boons to their devotees and in freeing them from fear. However, Amba performs the cosmic functions like Panchakritya also with ease by merely flickering her eyebrows for just a moment. A Supreme energy like her does not have to make any effort with her hands to give boons to her devotees or to free them from fear. Her very presence is enough to accomplish these things. She is like a flower that spreads its fragrance naturally. When you pray to a deity for freedom from fear, you will receive just that and nothing more. The feet of Amba are such that they give much more than what you ask for. She grants a state of total satisfaction where there are no more desires, no more yet-to-be achieved things. This state is referred to as `Kamakoti'.

One question may arise here. "Why cannot Amba give her devotees Abhaya as one among the many boons she grants? So, why should Abhaya be separated from other boons and why should we specially pray for it?" Abhaya is not a commodity belonging to the give-and-take business. It is indeed another name for Advaita. The Upanishads declare that there is fear only when there is duality. When there only One, what else is there of which you have to be afraid of? The Taittariya Upanishad says that a man will be scared if he thinks that there is even the slightest difference between him and the Brahman. When we think of Brahman as being separate from us, that is as the Saguna Brahman, ours is an attitude of devotion mixed with fear for it. When does such a fear cease to exist? It ceases to exist when we realize that we do not exist as Jivatman or the individual self separate from Ishwara. When there is one object, without a second, there cannot be two separate entities, one that grants boons and the other who receives them. Amba frees us from all fear; but Abhaya is the realization of Advaita. That is why it is not included among the boons and treated separately.

In the Abhaya Mudra, the right hand will point upward. The dualists say that it points to the higher realms of Vaikuntha or Kailasa. We would say that it points to the state of Advaita, which is absolute and undivided like the space. In vara Mudra, the hand will point downwards. To say, "I want this, I want that" bespeaks an attitude that betrays that the devotee belongs to a lower plane. Giving anything with the left hand is usually regarded as undignified. But this can also be interpreted in a good sense. The left hand points down towards Amba's lotus feet and indicates: "I give you my feet. Hold them. That is the greatest of boons". The very feet of Amba, who is of the form of the supreme Kamakala, called Prakasha and Vimarsha, are more than capable of granting freedom from the great fear of Samsara and granting the Chaturvargas. The scriptures describe this as follows:

SmR^ityaa nityaM maheshAni bhavadaMghrichatuShTayam |
PaDarthaj~nAnato Devi sadyo mokShaaya kalpate ||

This verse hints at the form of Amba called `Mahatripurasundari', who is, after all, the very subject of this hymn. Since it is said that if she activates Shiva, it follows that she is the source of the power of all deities. That being the case, if they grant Abhaya and Vara, their power for doing so is also derived from her. Amba in her other forms like Bhuvaneshwari, Bala etc. shows these Mudras. In the first three stanzas, the form of Amba, which forms the subject of hymns, is not indicated. It is in this verse that the form of Mahatripurasundari is revealed as the primary theme of this hymn. This also brings forth the secret Kamakala Maha Bija of Sri Rajarajeshwari Mahatripurasundari.