Navratri Series: Reaching Shakti through Bhakti – Part -5 Atma Nivedanam and Pada Sevanam

Atma Nivedanam is the ultimate form of devotion which means surrendering fully to the will of the Supreme, with no traces of ego whatsoever left in the devotee’s heart. In this stage, one completely surrenders to God and has no other motive in their mind other than serving God himself and pleasing Him. This is not easy and requires a special effort both mentally and physically.

Mahabali and Vamana in our Golu.

Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita –

अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तो मां ये जना: पर्युपासते |

तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम् || 9-22 ||

Ananyaaschinta yanto maam ye janaa paryupaasate  teshaam nityaabhiyuktaanaam yoga kshemam vahaamyaham

(Bhagavad Gita,9.22)

 “He who constantly remembers me and worships me at all times, is protected and his welfare is taken care of by Me at all times.”

– Shri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita

King MahaBali is the perfect example of Atma Nivedanam or complete self-surrender unto the lord. In Vamana avatar(The 5th avatar of Vishnu) of Lord Vishnu, King Bali welcomed the Lord disguised as a young brahmin with open arms and promised him that he would offer him whatever he desired. He offered to wash the feet of Vamana and sanctify himself by sprinkling that water on his own head. Bali’s preceptor, Shukracharya was an all-knowing counselor. Aware that Vamana was an incarnation of Vishnu, he advised Bali to go back on his offer to Vama. Bali said, “When the Supreme lord Himself has come to me asking for a gift, I am prepared to give away everything regardless of what happens to me”. Bali told Lord Vishnu: “I offer to you, Oh lord, all my wealth and possessions, as well as myself. I take refuge in you, protect me, Oh lord.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 8th canto).

This was the sense of renunciation with which Bali offered himself to Lord Vamana. Thus he attained the lord through his selfless devotion and surrender to the Supreme. The feeling of ‘oneness’ with the lord and all His divine beings is achieved only in the spirit of the final form of devotion to the Supreme–Atma nivedanam.

Pada Sevanam is the worship of the lord by concentrating upon or ‘honouring’ His feet or Paadukaa (sanctified sandals). To approach a person’s feet is a sign of humility and that is why in Indian tradition, we are taught to touch our parent’s and elder’s feet as a token of respect. The feet of the Supreme Lord are so sweet and beautiful that they are known as paada pankajam or Lotus feet as they are so soft and red like the lotus petals. Mother Lakshmi Devi is the prime example of a person attaining perfection simply by the process of pada sevanam —serving the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Another great example of this Bhakthi is Bharatha. He is the personification of pada sevanam. For 14 years he served the paduka of Lord Rama, performing his duties leaving the results and fruits of his actions in the hands of Rama.

King Bharata ruling Ayodhya by placing Lord Rama’s paduka on the throne

NAVRATRI Series – Reaching Shakti through Bhakti Part -3 Archanam and Vandanam

The next two folds of devotion, go hand in hand and we present them together here. Archana– Worship of God can be done either by offering some external materials like flowers, leaves etc or with strong inner feeling. Archana consists of the physical worship of God in the form of an idol etc, and brings more joy when performed along with the offering of using the correct rituals (upacharas) as prescribed in the ancient scriptures. These rituals consist of procedures like bathing and clothing the Deity, and also offering Him scents, food etc. An essential requirement of Archana is the presence of faith (Shraddha) in the devotee. Archana includes, worshipping through means of offering physical materials like flowers, fruits, nuts, leaves and water. Offering flower petals chanting various names of God is a commonly practised form of Archana in temples and homes alike. Our Scriptures and Gurus have always emphasised that the thought and pure heart are more important than the material being offered. Sri Krishna beautifully puts forth the following verse in the Bhagavad Geetha.

पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं यो मे भक्त्या प्रयच्छति |

तदहं भक्त्युपहृतमश्नामि प्रयतात्मन: || Ch 9: 26||

Bhagavad Geetha

If one offers to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or even water, I delightfully partake of that item offered with love by My devotee in pure consciousness.

We have illustrated the glory of Archana Bhakthi through the famous “Gajendra Moksha“ story in this year’s Golu. Gajendra Moksham ‘The Liberation of Gajendra’ is a Puranic legend from the 8th Skandha of the Bhagavata Puraṇa. When Gajendra offered a Flower and prayed earnestly to save him from the clutches of a Crocodile, Lord Vishnu came down to earth to protect him. Gajendra then attained a form like that of the god (Sarupya Mukti) and went to Vaikuntha with Vishnu.

Archanam: Gajendra Moksham, Idea by Sai Gayatri

Vandanam can be described as the humble prostration to the Lord by touching the earth with the eight points of the body (Sashtanga-Namaskara), with faith and reverence, or prostration to all beings knowing them to be the forms of the One God (namaskaar). When one bows down in prostration it is said that our ego is annihilated and we are open to receive the blessings or in modern context open to listen to others with an open mind. Namaskaram , bending down and touching the feet of elders seeking their blessings is an integral part of Bharatiya Sanskruti(culture). We are constantly reminded to give up our ego and surrender ourselves to our ancestors, gurus, elders and the universe to receive their good wishes which helps us learn from their experience.In addition, to spiritual benefits, the posture of Vandanam or Namaskaram has innumerable benefits to the physical body too. Namaskaram is an integral part of Yogasana, and we all know the immense benefits it brings along.For example surya namaskar is proved to help improve the digestive health, reduce anxiety, tone muscles and aid weight loss.

An inspiring example of Vandana Bhakti is Akrura, another great personality in the Srimad Bhagavatam. The great Bhakta Akrura could not contain himself when he entered Vrindavana. He was overcome with emotion and the consequent surge of affection for Krishna resulted in overflowing eyes beginning to shed tears. Akrura jumped onto the land of Vrindavana and rolled around on the earth saying: “Oh! This is the dust touched by the feet of my beloved Lord” (Bhagavatham-10.38.26). We have an interesting example of Vandana-Bhakti illustrated in our Golu this year; one who is constantly prostrating to Sarveshwara(Siva) – Nandeeshwara. Nandi/Nandeeshwara is the divine bull, always present with Lord Siva as his constant companion. He is an exemplary example of this Bhakthi, as he is in constantly paying obeisance to Shiva and is steadfast in being so. Nandeeshwara reminds us that patience and steadfast belief is God through trials and tribulations is of prime importance.

Nandi Praying Lord Shiva. Kailayam set in our Golu