In the earlier post, we discussed how BharathiAr invoked the colors black and green to refer to God. When doing further research, we found some references on why certain colors are used to represent God and not others. Interestingly, this also seems to apply more to one God – Vishnu (or avatars thereof) – than others. Shiva, the other prominent God in Hinduism is often consistently referred to as ‘ash’ color – potentially to symbolize his representation of renunciation.
While doing research on why certain colors are used for depicting Rama or Krishna – specifically dark gray, black, dark blue, and green – there doesn’t seem to be a clear theory on why those colors are used for depiction and not others. The most popular explanation seems to be as follows:
Since Rama and Krishna are considered poorna avatars (complete avatars) of Vishnu – meaning those avatars (compared to many others) were perfect / complete in every attribute – they are represented in the color of the dark blue sky, which represents vastness or infinity. Of course, this does not explain the other colors.
So, the next obvious question is whether we were reading too much into BharathiAr’s lyrics where he may not have intended any meaning in the first place. While this may very well be true, there is another poem by தொண்டரடிப்பொடி ஆழ்வார் (Thondaradippodi Azhwar) – one of the 12 azhwars of the Vaishnavite movement – that invokes the exact same colors to describe Vishnu, which is the subject of this post.
His name itself is beautiful – he is an Azhwar who worships even the dust (பொடி) from the feet (அடி) of Vishnus’ devotees (தொண்டர்)!
பச்சை மா மலை போல் மேனி பவள வாய் கமலச் செங்கண்
அச்சுதா அமரர் ஏறே ஆயர் தம் கொழுந்தே என்னும்
இச்சுவை தவிர யான் போய் இந்திர லோகம் ஆளும்
அச்சுவை பெறினும் வேண்டேன் அரங்க மா நகர் உளானே.
pacchai maa malai pOl mEni, pavaLa vaai kamala seNkan
achuthaa amarar ERe aayartham kozhunthe ennum
icchuvai thavira yaan poi indira logam aaLum
acchuvai perinum vENdEn arangamaa nagaruLaanE
Translation (with some references from Dravidaveda):
I have the pleasure of seeing your body that is like a majestic lush green mountain, lips that are red as coral, and eyes that are like a lotus in full bloom.
Achutha (Krishna) – you who is the darling of the cowherds and one who is the foremost of all beings – even if you let me rule the Gods in heaven, it wouldn’t be greater than the one that I have of seeing you in all splendor right now.
Azhwars signified the height of Bhakti (devotion) movement in South India and created copious amounts of poetry in that process. Many extol the virtue of abject surrender and wholesome belief in God. Whether one believes in such a belief or not, the literary beauty of the verses created can certainly be enjoyed regardless!
In this poem, Azhwar uses the symbolism of a lush green mountain (and not just any mountain) to describe Vishnu. In the subsequent verse, lo and behold, he uses black – the reverse order of BharathiAr! 🙂
An interesting literary aside is the use of the word suvai. The word சுவை (suvai) typically refers to taste, but can also refer to experience gained, typically a pleasurable one. We use it in similar fashion in English – “taste of luxury” or “taste of freedom”. Here, the poet is artfully describing it in the latter context – the pleasure of experiencing great pleasure (of ruling heavens) is still not as great as the pleasure of seeing Him in Srirangam!
One can sympathize with this view – we have seen many instances where people who have hit a jackpot in lottery and suddenly becoming wealthy also end up completely unraveling their lives – too much pleasure can be toxic – as we may not be conditioned for it!
We were first introduced to this verse by a beautiful rendition by T M Krishna – a highly talented Carnatic singer – as part of his rendition ‘Maravadiyai’ in his album ‘O Rangasayee’ (from 6:26 to 9:56 in the clip below):
We found a couple of beautiful renditions of this verse as well as the next one by the legendary T M Soundararajan in the film Thirumal Perumai (the greatness of Vishnu) and from Bombay Jayashree (of Life of Pi fame to western audience):
ஊரிலேன் காணியில்லை உறவு மற்றொருவர் இல்லை
பாரில் நின் பாதமூலம் பற்றிலேன் பரமமூர்த்தி
காரொளி வண்ணனே கண்ணனே கதறுகின்றேன்
ஆருளர் களைகண்? அம்மா, அரங்கமாநகருளானே
oorilEn kaaNi illai, uRavu matRoruvar illai
paaril nin paadha moolam patRilEn parama moorthi
kaaroLi vaNNaNE, kaNNaNE kathaRukindREn
aaruLar kaLai kaNN? amma, arangamaa nagaruLaanE
Translation (with some references from here):
I don’t have a place to call my own,
Nor do I have money (to perform any sEva for you).
I don’t have anyone to call as a relation,
And haven’t even worshipped you sufficiently enough till now.
O Krishna – who is dark as the shimmering thunder cloud,
I have surrendered myself, crying at your feet. Who else can get rid of my earthly woes but you?
You can sense the pathos in the verses, and beautifully brought to life by both the artistes!