“ANANDAM- Bliss is the source of all created beings; by Bliss do these beings; by Bliss do these beings live; and they go to Bliss and become one with it” (Taittiriya Upanishad-III. 6) Bliss here and beyond is the one object universally desired by all creatures. The pleasures experienced by the physical senses of Man are transient and mingled with suffering. Unalloyed and ever-lasting bliss could be experienced only when man gets release from the cycle of births and deaths. This release could be obtained only through a clear and comprehensive knowledge of God, soul and matter. Such a knowledge if beyond the view of human physical senses and could be had only from the omniscient Veda, the repository of the transcendental wisdom which revealed itself to the pure saintly souls who meditated deep and long to discover the truth. Reach of speech and thought, could be acquired by study under a teacher, enquiry and cogitation, and intensive meditation on the self as not different from Brahman as elucidated in the scriptures, meditation on an attributeless all-pervasive Brahman is possible for highly evolved souls who have reached an advanced stage of spiritual progress, through self-control, devotion and divine grace. For the benefit of the less advanced spiritualists the benign Veda has also presented the Brahman with attributes or qualities (Saguna-Sakala-Sakara) with a name and form for easy mental comprehension and contemplation. Several deities have been the objects of worship from ancient times. These are regulated and determined according to the individual seeker. The stage of his mental and spiritual development. The Samskaras or impressions of past lives, his faith and sincerity and Divine grace. Among the forms so popular in Post-Vedic times are Ganesa, Aditya, Vishnu, Siva and Ambika, and others elaborated in the Puranas, Itihasas and Agamas. The credit of having synthesized and intergrated these divergent cults into one, rests with the great Advaitic teacher Sri Sankara Bhagavatpadacharya. He taught the world that like all streams finding their final culmination in the vast ocean, all the deities are but several aspects of the Supreme Being and worship offered to any one of them is but the worship of the Supreme.
Among these deities, Sakti holds a unique place, pervading as Its does, the entire universe. According to the Agamas, known also as tantras, which follow the Vedic ideal,, Brahman and Sakti are one; the former being the Static Sakti in self-poised pose and Sakti is the dynamic Brahman, who becomes the universe, is immanent in it and transcends it. The Trimurthis are the Isvara in three universal functional aspects of the Saguna Brahman. Brahman and Sakti are inseparable but complementary to each other. Brahman is Nishkala as well as Sakala i.e. without Prakriti and with Prakriti. Prakriti means gunas, hence Brahman without Prakriti is Nirguna and with Prakriti is saguna. In Nirguna Brahman, Sakti is potential and in the Saguna Brahman it is kinetic. It becomes kinetic. When the desire to create arises in the static Brahman, due to lila of the Brahman or the Karma of the evolving souls, or Niyati, Svabhava or Kala or Maya.
The Tantra Sastra, in keeping with Hindu tradition and thought has integrated and synthesized several concepts, in the make up of its spiritual discipline. As observed by a learned Scholar “The inclusiveness and comprehensive nature of Saktism is vividly clear. It kinetises the visishtadvaita concept of Brahman; and it synthesizes the Dvaita Vedanta concept of the universe,. By the sadhana of yoga rousing the Kundalini Sakti in the microcosm till she leads the soul into union with the God in the Sahasrara after a triumphal march from plane to plane, it makes religion a practical discipline instead of being a creed”.
The human body (microcosm) called the Pindanda is a replica of the universe; (Brahmanda) and contains all that is in the Universe. The Jiva is Siva and Kundalini is the Para Sakti energizing and ascending to the Akula Sahasrara for union with Siva there and this is the goal of the Samayachara. The seeker is then a Jivanmukta and thought engrossed in worldly activities, all the them constitute only worship of the Sakti (Devi), as he is absorbed in the Bliss of union with Her.
Sakti is spoken of as feminine in form. The Brahman is neither male nor female, but His Sakti aspect is conceived as the creatrix and nourisher of the Universe. The love and grace of the Supreme is manifest in this aspect, and consistent with the worldly experience of maternal affection, She is adored as the Divine Mother of the Universe, showering Her grace and compassion on all Her creation, with a graceful lovely form (Karuna Kacid Aruna). She is immanent in the Universe and transcends it; She is akhanda and manifold. She is the life and body of all that exists. With her redness enveloping the entire Universe, She is the Kamakala the Akhandakaravritti of Vedanta.
It will be seen that the Vedant and Sankhya in a modified form have provided the background for the Agama, which has evolved a Sadhana-Spiritual discipline combining and reconciling all streams of Hindu thought, available to all, irrespective of sex and caste and consisting of a synthetic combination of a philosophy (jnana), a Yoga, a ritual (Kriya) and a code of conduct (Charya) emphasizing at the same time the importance of the Guru and the assimilation of the Mantra, Devata, Guru, and the Self as identical with the Brahman.
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada revealed the fundamental and subtle truths of the Veda, for the intelligent student. And out of compassion for the mediocre intellectual, he laid down the path of devotion (Bhakti), as the means of salvation through jnana. He framed many devotional stotras, in which the fundamental principle of unity has not been ignored, on all the deities in the Hindu Pantheon of His time. Among them, the Saundaryalahari, in praise of the Devi in one hundred verses (with three more found in some manuscripts) in the Sikharini metre ranks as one of the foremost and most popular ones. It combines in itself a devotional hymn of deep emotion, a collection of mystic mantras calculated to grant to the votary the objects of his desires, and an epitome detailing the principles and practice of the Tantra Sastra, particularly of the Samayachara (internal meditative worship of Sakti as distinct from Her worship on images and chakras etc. with the requisite material) The work is known, in its entirety, as the “flood of Beauty” (Saundaryalahari), while the first forty-one verses are earmarked as the “Wave of Bliss” (Ananda Lahari). This first part contains the description of the gross and subtle forms of the Devi and the meditative procedure of the Samayachara. The second part is a brilliant description of the Divine Mother in physical form edition with a supplication for Her Grace and salvation to the devotee.
It may not be out of place to consider the place of Sri Vidya for the seeker after self-realisation. The word “Sri Vidya”, means “that which confers unalloyed bliss” (Sam-sukham, rati - dadati) in the union of Brahman and Jiva. In essence It is a discipline of Brahma Vidya, extended to all persons (including those not eligible to observe the Vedic rituals), without distinction of sex and caste. Sakti or Chitsakti, the Brahman as Karanesvara, in His creationistic aspect is propitiated externally as having a feminine form (image) or in a diagrammatical form (chakras), with materials such as sandal-paste, lights, camphor, flowers and food offerings etc. which is known as Apara Puja. When this worship is accompanied by a contemplation of the oneness of the worshipper and worshipped, it is called Parapara Puja, the Apara leading to the Parapuja. When it takes the form of pure meditation of the identity of the worshipper and the worshipped, it is called a Para puja. The Samayachara consists of the last named the worship is entirely internal and mental; the Devi immanent in the microcosm in the Muladhara as Kundalini Sakti is roused and led through the psychic centres to the Sahasrara, culminating in the union of the Kundalini (jiva) with the Chit-Brahman the twenty-fifth Sadakhya Tattva in the Sahasrara and resulting in lasting Bliss. Chitsakti as the active dynamic partner (aspect) of Brahman creates the universe and is most potent in granting infinite grace.
The worship of the Divine as the Mother, can be traced to very ancient times. Its genesis in the Veda is obvious in the Gayatrimantra and several suktas in praise of feminine Gods. The role of the Mother in creation and Her compassion for Her offspring have been in evidence in all creation from the earliest times. Love for the mother and her affection to Her children are universal phenomena. Rightly has the creationistic aspect of the Brahman been accorded an attractive and benign form, viz, that of the Mother. Sixty-four tantras for Her Worship were formulated by Siva but at Her instance, the Subhagama panchaka were given by Him to the world, in a purified and sanctified form. These include the Vasishta Sanaka. Suka, Sanandana and Sanatkumara Samhitas. The Puranas, such as the Brahmanda Purana (containing the Lalitha Sahasranama, Lalita Trisati and the Lalithopakhyana) the Devi Bhagavata, the Markandeya Purana, Kalika Purana and the Itihasas, contain account of Devi’s exploits and Her Worship and grace conferred by Her. The Kena Upanishad refers to the Brahma Vidya as the Uma Haimavati that manifested Herself before the Devas. Other Upanishads dealing with Sakti are the Sundari Tapinipanchaka, Bhavanopanishat, Kaulopanishat, Guhyopanishat Mahopanishat, Tripuropanishat. Arunopanishat, Bahvrichopanishat, Kalikopanishat, Taropanishat etc. Other works of importance to the Upasaka are the Prapanchasara, Vamakeswara Tantra, Jnanarnava, Kularnava, Kamakala vilasa of Punyanandanath Bhaskararaya’s commentary on the Lalita Sahasranama and Vamakeswara Tantra, and his Varivasyarahasya forming the Prasstanatraya of Srividya and Subhagodaya stuti of Sri Gaudapadacharya. Foremost among devotional hymns in praise of or describing Devi worship are the Subhagodaya of Sri Gaudapadacharya, Lalitastavaratna and Sakti Mahimnas Stotra of the sage Durvasas, Muka Panchasati of Mukakavi, Laghu stuti of Laghu Bhattaraka, Chitgaganachandrika of Kalidasa, Devi Panchastavi and the Saundarya Lahari and Ananda Lahari. The Bhavanopanishat Prayoga of Bhaskararaya and the Parasurama Kalpasutra are important manuals of practice.
Among recent writers on Sakti worship and Sri Vidya, Bhaskararaya and Lakshmidhara stand foremost. The service rendered to Saktism by Sri John Woodroffe in recent time in inestimable. Sri G. V. Ganesa Aiyar, Sri N. Subramanya Aiyar (Chidanandanatha of the Guhananda Mandali) and Sri N. Subramanya Aiyar (Anna) have contributed by their writings and translations of Tantric texts and Saundarya Lahari. All of them deserve to be remembered with gratitude by posterity.
The upakrama, upasamhara, and other tatparyanirnayakalingas, amply indicate the main purport of this stotra viz. the identity of the Brahman and the Jiva, Sakti and Siva. In its dynamic aspect, devoutly worshipped and meditated on the Brahman, the cause of the creation of the Universe and its preservation, protects and confers worldly benefits and salvation from Samsara in the end. Bhoga and Mokhsa are within his reach.
There are 36 commentaries on this work, of which five are being included in this work for the first time, the Lakshmidhara, Saubhagyavardhani, Arunamodini Dindima and Gopalasundari having been printed inn other editions.
Of the 36 commentaries, Lakshmidhara’s Lakshmidhara and Kaivalyasrama’s Saubhagyavardhani stand foremost, while the Arunamodini of Kameswara Suri and Ramakavi’s Dindima rise to a similar level. Lakshmidhara endeavours to explain the chandrakalavidya in this poem; Kaivalyasrama sees in it Sambhavi Vidya; Kameswara frequently tries to effect a synthesis. Ramakavi emphasizes the affinity between the Tantra and the Sankhya doctrine, identifying Sakti with Prakriti. The Anandagiriya explains all these views and traces many Devimantras as their esoteric significance. The Gopalasundari is unique in explaining the verses as also referring to Vishnu, an identity traceable to the source and background of the members of Trinity viz. Vishnu and Gauri, who emanated from the Sattvic Mahasarasvati, (vide-concept of Advaitic unity of Chit and Sakti; The idea of the supremacy of the Sakti (Devi) be it through Parinama or Vivarta is albeit noticeable in all of them. Considerable speculation and divergent views are found in the assessment of the alankaras in the verses in the latter half.
Considerable speculation, exists about the authorship of this work. There is a tradition that the first 41 slokas were brought by Sri Sankaracharya from Kailasa. Nandikesvara interrupted him when he was bringing the entire 100 slokas granted to him by Siva along with the five lingas, and in the scuffle that ensued Sri Sankara managed to take the first forty-one slokas only (vide Markandeya Samhita) to which he added the remaining fifty-nine. It is presumed by some that the entire 100 verses of Kailasa must have been a complete Mantra Sastra.
Kaviraja Pandita, who has rendered the work in Tamil, says that these verses had been inscribed on the walls of Siva’s abode in Mount Kailas with which Siva is stated to have ridiculed Sarasvati who claimed the authorship of this poem. He also mentions that Pushpadanta, the Yaksha, caused them to be inscribed on the Meru Mountain, which Sri Gaudapada memorized and handed over to Sri Sankara, Another tradition ascribes the inscription on the walls to Ganesa.
The expression ‘Dravidaslsu’ in verse 75 had led to much speculation about who this Dravidasisu is. Lakshmidhara holds that the reference is to Sri Sankara himself. Kaivalyasrama also holds the same view and has cited an incident in Sri Sankara’s life in support. Some consider that an incident in the life of the Saint Tirujnanasambandhar is alluded to. According to another version, Dravidasisu, a pious devotee composed them and inscribed them in Kailasa. When Sri Sankara was memorizing them, the Devi had them erased by the author, but the prodigious Sri Sankara had memorized the 41 verses, to which he added 59 from his pen. Rama Kavi in his Dindima observes “Some say that Siva spoke this stotra; others Sri Sankara, his incarnation and some others say that it came from the great effulgence of the teeth of the primordial Sakti, Lalitha and there are thus many versions. Pravarasena, a son of the King of Dravida, is mentioned in Sudhavidyodhini as its author.
In the 108 names of Sri Sankara traditionally addressed in worship the name “Saundaryalaharimukhya bahustotra vidhyakaya namah” support the authorship of Sri Sankaracharya. The first 41 verses are found inscribed on the walls of the temple of Sri Sugandhikuntalamba, in the temple of Sri Matrubhutesvara on the Rock in Tiruchirapalli, in Tamil Nadu, and tradition says that Sri Sankaracharya had them inscribed there on his way to Rameswaram. Tradition also has it that he completed the poem and sang all the 10 verses of the poem before Akhilandeswari in Tiruvanaikoil, whose Tatankas were installed by him and which at times of renewal are consecrated by the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha.
In fine, the weight of evidence is in favour of the view that Sri Sankaracharya is the author of this poem. As stated by H. H. the Periyaval of Kanchi, the exuberance of beauty of the latter 59 verses makes one wish that the entire work had come from him alone.
The writer concludes this introduction with innumerable grateful pranamams to His Holiness, the Periyaval of Kanchi, for His having blessed him with an opportunity to associate himself with this meritorious task and to dive deep into the pearls gems in this Stotraratna which the Bhagavatpada, in his inimitable gambhira and prasanna style has conferred on the world of Upasakas.
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