The progress and culture of a nation is found reflected in its art. It is, therefore, natural that the people of this country should be evincing increasing interest in the promotion of the various forms of art, denoted by the Tamil expression kalai (கலை). It is also appropriate that institutions like the Sangeetha Akademi and the Nataka Akademi should have been started and that the Government should be giving awards to the best artists and actors.
Though there are several forms of art, we associate the term vidya with magic and allied feats and kalai with dancing. There are two very difficult feats known as gajakarnam and gokarnam. Gajakarnam is the capacity of a person to perform, like the elephant, a fanning motion with his ears. To emphasize the impossibility of any job, we say in Tamil “one cannot do it even if one were to perform gajakarnam”. If we touch the back of a cow, it gets a tickling sensation, which we see moving in concentric circles like the ripples in a calm pond. A person may be able to imitate the other motions of a cow; but it is difficult to display this tickling sensation, which goes by the name of gokarnam. There is a story that a certain person was able to reproduce this sensation also.
There is a place named Gokarnam on the West Coast. There is a famous temple of Siva there, and the deity is known as Mahabaleswara. The tradition is that even the mighty Ravana was unable to move the deity installed there. Gokarnam is an island like Dwaraka and Rameswaram. I am told that the Brahmins of this place lead a poor and simple life, according to the strict injunctions of the Sastras.
There is one form of art which is superior to all other forms and that is the art of remaining quiet and silent. If one begins to practice this art, one will find how difficult it is. Hence it is called Brahma Vidya. If a person claims to have done a most difficult feat, we ask him in Tamil, “Is what you have done a Brahma Vidya”? Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada gave to the world Brahma Vidya in the form of Advaita. It has now been recognized that it is only through experiencing advaita (advaitaanubhavah, अद्वैतानुभव्:) that one can realize the Ultimate Truth. Sri Adi Sankara had mastered all the arts during the brief span of his life, and, with that experience, he proclaimed advaita as the highest of all achievements. There is a story that the disciples of Sri Bhagavatpada wanted him to ascend the Sarvajna peethah सर्वज्ञपीठ:), an honor reserved for one who has mastered all knowledge. Each step to that throne represents different branches of knowledge. The steps have to be ascended after answering questions pertaining to the different arts and branches of knowledge, asked by experts in each subject. According to the story, a cobbler enquired whether Sri Bhagavatpada knew how to stitch a chappal. It is said that Sri Acharya took the cobbler’s needle and rubbed it against his nose, before starting to stitch. This is a characteristic action pertaining to the trade, and cobblers do this to grease the needle with the oily substance found on the sides of the nose, to enable the needle to penetrate the leather easily. The cobbler in the story was surprised and satisfied at this preliminary action of the Acharya and conceded that he knew the cobbler’s trade.
There are several arts or vidyaas including the art of earning money. But all these arts serve a limited purpose and provide only momentary joy. One may amass wealth without finding real happiness in life. But the art of silence, and the resultant saanti (peace), ensure perennial joy and permanent happiness. One who can bring his mind to a state of saanti can find joy even in the midst of troubles. It is this art of remaining quiet with peace within that all of us should cultivate.
May I suggest to the devotees assembled here to observe silence during the duration of the pooja? They can recite prayers mentally or concentrate on the form of God according to the dhyaana slokah (ध्यान श्लोक:) of the mantra into which they have been initiated. The majesty and resplendent charm of some of the idols in our ancient temples remain unsurpassed. This is because the sculptors who were initiated into the appropriate hymns by constant meditation, formed a mental picture of the deity with all the attributes mentioned in the hymn and then transferred that mental picture into stone. The contemplation of a particular form of God is intended to make us meditate on the qualities attributed to that form. So, devotees can contemplate on their ishta devata (deity of their heart) during the pooja time. The best form of meditation is to avoid thinking of anything. In the mind so kept clear, God will manifest himself as an image in a clear mirror. That is the meaning of the expression svayamprakasah (स्वयम्प्रकाश्:). Then we will be led to the Advaitic realization of Oneness of God. That is the significance of Saint Thayumanavar’s injunction, “chindai adakkiye summa iruppadu” (சிந்தை அடக்கியே சும்மா இருப்பது).
May 22, 1958