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MANY PATHS TO SAME GOAL
The dancing Nataraja and the reclining Rangaraja are but dual expressions of the one Supreme. Different schools of philosophy have come into existence to satisfy the needs of varying human temperaments, tastes and aspirations and any path, if consistently pursued, will lead to the same goal.
In most of our temples, the principal deity is installed to face east, though in a few temples we have the deity facing west also. In the latter case, the principal gopuram (tower) will be on the eastern side. But in Chidambaram and Srirangam, the deities face south, as if proclaiming to the devotees that they are there to protect them from the threat coming from the south, namely, mortality, as the God of Death, Yama, hails from that direction. As Lords of the entire created world, both are called "Raja", and each holds His court in a ranga (stage), the Lord of Chidambaram dancing in joy with uplifted leg and the Lord of Srirangam stretching himself at ease in the repose of yoga nidra. Dakshinamurthi, another aspect of Siva, is also found facing south. Nataraja stands for aananda (bliss) in excelsis, which expresses itself in the dynamic rhythm of ecstatic dance, His matted locks stretching out stiff as He whirls round with his kunchita paada. Dakshinamurti personifies subdued aananda and He is depicted as being seated in silent serenity in static pose, with one crossed leg resting on the other and his locks gliding on his shoulders.
The Maheswara Sootras peal forth from Nataraja's dhakka, (Udukku), as He beats it to keep time with His dance, and constitutes the basic alphabets of every tongue spoken in the world. The same sounds or sabdas are recorded in the pages of the book which Dakshinamurti is holding in His left hand. Aananda mudra is expressed by the right hand of Nataraja, while Chin mudra is expressed by Dakshinamurti. We stand and gaze in wonder with eyes wide open at Nataraja's dance, but we sit down to meditate with indrawn eyes in front of Dakshinamurti. To the former we go for darsana, for feasting our eyes with the supreme majesty of that manifestation, to the latter we go for japa or meditation, because He is the embodiment of the fullness of peace and bliss that comes as a result of jnana. Ranganatha has adopted the nidra mudra - the sign of sleep. All these three, the Aananda murti (Nataraja), the Dhyaanamurti (Dakshinamurti) and the Yoganidraamurti (Ranganatha) face south to protect mankind from the fear of death.
The question that is likely to arise is "why should there be three deities? Is not one enough?" The answer is given by Pushpadanta in his Sivamahimna Stotra.
Trayee saankhyam yogah pasupati-matam vaishnavamiti
Prabhinne Prasthaane param-idam adah patthyamiticha;
Rucheenaam vaichitryaat rjukutila naanaa pattha jushaam,
Nrnaam-eko gamyas-tvamasi payasaam arnava iva.
The variety of schools, namely, Vedas, Saankhya, Yoga, Paasupata, and Vaishnava came to be formulated to satisfy the varying tastes of men. Though their directions may appear to point differently, yet, as one pursues any school with the constantly ordained it, after a shorter or longer journey, as the case may be, one will ultimately reach the Supreme, which is Omnipresent, even as all rivers flowing in different directions reach the ocean, which appears at land's end everywhere and envelops the globe in all directions. Like the ocean, the Supreme envelops all - sarvam aavrtya tishthati.. To whatever school one may belong, one ought not to linger or stop on the way. If a person adheres to the chosen path without faltering, God will dower each votary, whatever his predilection, with constancy of faith to pursue his path with devotion. All of you are familiar with the scene at a railway station, as soon as a train arrives and the passengers emerge out of the platform. A passenger will be stormed by drivers of a variety of conveyances, each trying to snatch his baggage in order to attract him to his vehicle. In whichever conveyance he ultimately decides to travel, his destination is his home. Similarly the protagonist of each school of religious thought try to attract the seeker after truth by saying that their school is the easiest and surest way to realise the truth. When it is recognised that all paths lead to the same goal, there is no necessity to change the path one is already following. There is also no room for hatred towards a person following a different path. The temple, the God installed therein, and the form of worship, all these three may differ for different people, due to difference in taste. But what is required of one is to persist in the path one is following.
When the mind becomes ripe with the true knowledge of Paramatma, the soul gets liberated from the bonds of birth and death. This liberation is called Moksha or Salvation. The Trayambaka mantra epitomises the special kind of Moksha, which accrues by the grace of Trayambaka, the three-eyed Siva. The Mantra conveys the meaning that one is released from mortality by the grace of Siva in the same way as the cucumber fruit gets separated from its stalk, that is, automatically separated without even the cucumber being aware of its liberation from the creeper to which it has been all along lying attached. Every fruit, when fully ripe, is sweet, though it may have been bitter or sour when unripe. Similarly, when the soul becomes ripe through devotion, it is filled with the sweetness and joy that comes from Jnana. All fruits fall down from the branches on top, at the roots below, signifying that the root is their source, sustenance and ultimate sanctuary. The ripe soul, however, is the fruit of the tree of Samsaara, worldly bondage, whose roots are on top, Oordhva moolam and whose branches grow down below (Atha shakham). So the passage of the liberated soul is upward, Oordhva gati, and not downward or Adho gati. Strictly speaking, there is no gati or going, for the soul. It is released at the very place where it existed. That is why the example of cucumber fruit is given. This fruit does not fall down but gets itself detached from the stalk, or rather, the stalk gets itself detached, even without the fruit knowing it. Similarly the liberated one does not give up the world; the world gives him up. Remembering that this life has been vouchsafed to us to get rid of future births and deaths, let us pray to the God of our heart, to obtain His grace to qualify for this kind of liberation of the soul, "cucumber mukti".