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.
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.