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Acharya's Call Part-II

H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses


Part II

HH Mahaswamiji
28    Akshamaala

The best among the five ancient classical Sanskrit poetical works are known as the Pancha Kaavyaas. There are such Pancha Kaavyaas in Tamil and Telugu also. In Tamil language, kaavya becomes kaappiyam (<Tamil> …). Maagha is one of the Pancha Kaavyaas in Sanskrit and is so called after its author, Poet Maagha. The theme of the composition is Sisupala Vadham. The narrative opens with Sri Krishna sitting on a throne in an open place of Dwaraka, surrounded by his courtiers. The poet then describes the arrival of Sage Narada from a great height, from the heavens above. The poet says that at first the courtiers see only a bright vision. They begin to wonder what that scintillating brilliance can be and by that time the phenomenon has come nearer. Then, in the centre of that vision, they were able to distinguish the outlines of a human form; but they are not sure whether it is a male or a female. As they stand gazing, the object gets still nearer and they are able to identify the form as that of a man. A little later, Sage Narada appears before them in all his radiating splendor. This episode is expressed by Maagha in the following verse :

चयास्त्विषामित्यवधारितम् पुरा 

तत: शरीरिति विभाविताकृतिम्

विभूर्विभक्तावयवम् पुमानिति

क्रमादमुम् नारद इत्यवोधिस:

Chayastvishaam-ityavadhaaritam puraa,

Tatah sareereeti vibhavitaakrtim;

Vibhur-vibhakta-avayavam pumaaniti,

Kramaadamum naarada ity-abodhi sah.

In this verse, we see the ability of a great poet to clearly portray a natural phenomenon in its correct sequence, with a dramatic effect. That is why works of inspired poets like Maagha retain their popularity and attraction, in spite of the passage of centuries. The next verse describes the manner in which Narada presented himself.

अजस्र्माफालित वल्लकीगुण

क्षतोज्ज्वलाङ्गुष्टनखाम्शु भिन्नया ।

पुर्: प्रवाळैरिव पूरितार्ध्दाया


Ajasram-aasphalita vallakee-guna-

Kshatojjvala-angushta-nakhaamsu bhinnayaa;

Purah pravaalai-riva poorita-arddhayaa,

Vibhaantam achhasphatika-akshamaalayaa.

By constantly vibrating the strings of the veena, the tip of the thumb of Narada has become red on account of the clotting of blood and this is in contrast to the whiteness of his thumb nail. To give the paining thumb a little rest, he is counting the crystal beads of his akshamaala and repeating the naama of God. While so rolling the beads, with his thumb and index fingers, the red patch in the tip of the thumb gets reflected on half of the number of beads of the string in his hand, and consequently appear as if they are coral beads.

The Sanskrit term for coral is pravaala (प्रवाळ). It becomes pavazham பவழம் in Tamil, pagadalu in Telugu and havala in Kannada. If we analyze some of the words in different languages, we find that certain letters in one language get changed in another language. For example, if we take the equivalents of coral in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada, we find that zha in Tamil, becomes da in Telugu and la in Kannada. There seems to be a Vedic basis for the transformation of zha into da and la. We find that the Brahmins of Maharashtra and Karnataka are mostly followers of Rig Veda and those of Telugu and Tamil areas are predominantly followers of Yajur Veda. In Telugu area, Sama Veda is practically not in vogue. In Tamil area, only 15 per cent profess Sama Veda and only 5 per cent Rig Veda. But there is evidence to infer that at one time, Sama Veda had larger affiliation in the Tamil area because it is found stated that it has one thousand saakhaas or branches. This can be inferred from the reference in Thevaram to Isvara as Aayiram saakai udaiyaan (சாகை உடையான்). But at present, we meet with only one Gautama branch of Sama Veda in the Tamil country. The Chozhias of the South, who profess Sama Veda, follow the Jaimini or Talavakaaram (தலவகாரம்) branch. In Malabar too, there are some Nambudiris who belong to the Talavakaaram branch of Sama Veda. But Sama Vedins among the Vadama sect follow only the Gautama saakha. The term Vadama itself denotes that the members of this sect originally belonged to the North, either the Telugu country or the region on the banks of the Narmada. This inference is justified by the prayer to the Narmada, which these Vadamas have included in their Sandhya prayers. That prayer is:

नर्मदायै नम: नर्मदायै नमो

निशि । नमोस्तु नर्मदे तुभ्यम् ॥

Narmadaayai namah praatah narmadaayai

Namo nisi, namostu narmade tubhyam.

To come to the Vedic basis for the difference in the pronunciation referred to above, we find that wherever zha occurs in the Vedas as recited in the Tamil area, the Telugu people pronounce it as da and the Kannadigas as la. Da (ड) occurring in Yajur Veda becomes zha in Talavakaara Sama and la in Rig Veda. It may be that following this Vedic tradition, pagada became havala in Kannada and Pavazha in Tamil. In North India, there is one branch of Sukla Yajur Veda wherein the sound ya occurring in the Vedas gets transformed into ja. This accounts for Yamuna becoming Jamuna and Yogi becoming Jogi.

From an inscription dating back to B.C. 1400, we find that in the Semitic countries like Palestine, the Vedic Gods Mitra and Varuna were being worshipped. This indicates that the Vedas must have had currency in those parts of the world at one time. In those countries also we find this transformation of Ya into Ja, as in North India. Jehova, Joseph and Jesus for Yahova, Yoosuph and Yesu respectively are examples. From this, we may deduce that a significant sound in the Veda current in a country also became the significant sound in the spoken language of that country.

In the sloka I have just now quoted describing the appearance of Narada, the expression Sphatikakshamaala (स्पटिकाक्षमाल) occurs. Akshamaala signifies the series of 51 letters of the alphabet from a (अ) to ksha (क्ष). In a string of prayer beads, also known as akshamaala, there are 51 beads, the 51st bead being slightly larger than the rest. This bead is known as Meru (मेरु). Sometimes in a string of crystal beads, a coral bead is made to form the meru. In the string I am holding in my hand, the meru is a coral bead. That is how my thoughts went to pravaala (प्रवाळ) and to the other topics I have been speaking about. When counting the beads while repeating God’s name, one does not “cross” the meru. When the meru is reached after rolling the 50 beads of the string, we reverse the string and count the 50 beads again. Thus, we avoid counting or crossing the meru.

The letters from A to Z in the English language are called the alphabets. It may be noticed that in all the languages, the initial letter is a (अ) or a symbol denoting the sound “ah”. In Greek, the first letter is called alpha and in Arabic, it is aliph. The sound “Al” is common to both and it also occurs in “alphabet”. If the view is taken that all languages originated from Sanskrit, the question that has to be answered is whether the expression Al अल् occurs in Sanskrit.

The tradition is that when Sri Nataraja performed His cosmic dance at Chidambaram, 14 sounds emanated from his rattle or dhakka (ढक्क) (உடுக்கு) and these 14 sounds came to be referred to as 14 Maaheswara Sootras. On the basis of these sootras, Panini compiled his Vyaakarana (grammar) Sootras, and Patanjali, in his turn, wrote Mahaabhaashyaas or elaborate commentaries to the Panini Sootras. It is interesting to note in this context that Patanjali provided treatment for all the three karanaas (त्रिकरण). He wrote the Yoga Sootras to treat the mind; Vyaakarana Bhaashya to correct faulty speech; and Charaka Samhita to cure bodily ailments.

The 14 Maaheswara Sootras conclude thus : हल् इति माहेस्वर सूत्राणि (Hal iti Maaheswara Sootrani) “Hal” is a symbol to denote the consonants coming in between “ha”, the first sound in the Sootra, (हयवरट्) ha-ya-va-rat and “l”, the last sound in the last Sootra,

(हल्) Hal. Similarly there is another Sootra in grammar, which is (अलोऽन्त्यस्य) (Alo antyasya). This is a symbol to denote all the letters of the Sanskrit Alphabet, derived by combining the first sound “A” (अ) in the first Maaheswara Sootra, अइउण् (a-i-u-n) and the last sound ल् “L” in the last Sootra, हल्. Hence अल् (al) came to stand for aksharam or letter of the alphabet in the Vyaakarana Sastra. My view is that “al” in alphabet, “al” in alpha, and “al” in aliph came from the Sanskrit अल् (al), which means a letter of the alphabet.

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