By N.V. Karthikeyan
Lord Skanda shines in an absorbed mood in the small place of worship dedicated to Him in the Bhajan Hall of the Sivananda Ashram. Pilgrims and devotees, seekers and aspirants, poets and philosophers, saints and sages, Indians and foreigners constantly visit this holy Ashram of H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, for various purposes for Darshana, for spiritual solace, for learning yoga and Vedanta, to study Indian culture and religion, etc.
In the Bhajan Hall when they go round seeing the different murthis and pictures, most of them especially those form the northern part of India and from the overseas countries are at a loss to know as to who this God is, when they see the murthi of Lord Skanda. And, when they are told that He is Lord Skanda or Karttikeya, their curiosity is all the more roused, for at the most what they know of Skanda is that He is the second son of Lord Siva, the younger brother of Sri Ganesha. Even this much is unknown to many. So they pose further: "Who is Skanda? May we know something about Him?"
In one of his Thiruppugal songs, Saint Arunagirinathar says in one line, "Koorum Adiyaargal Vinai Thiirkkum Mugam Onru" "One of the (six) faces (of Lord Skanda or Shanmukha) destroys the Karmas of those devotees who sing His praises." Once an idea, therefore, came to my mind that I should sing His praises and thereby become a recipient of His grace, which act can at the same time give me an opportunity to make people know more of Lord Skanda.
As most of the people who visit the Sivananda Ashram are English-knowing and as the Divine Life Society runs an English monthly entitled, "The Divine Life," I thought of contributing some articles about Lord Skanda in that journal towards the fulfillment of the above purpose. But I have a serious handicap. I, myself, do not know much about the Lord except for what I have learnt from Sri Swami Sivanandaji's work, "Lord Shanmukha and His worship."
I have been and am doing daily Parayanam (devout recitation) of the Kanthar Anubhuthi of Saint Arunagirinathar since some years, though without knowing the meaning of the verses fully. Yet the hidden power of the work is such that it gave and continues to give me inner solace. During the course of the recitation of the Kanthar Anubhuthi, I found that the verses contain deep spiritual import, much more than what apparently appears on their surface.
During these years of my stay in the Ashram, I and other resident Sadhakas, Sannyasins, and visitors had the rare privilege of listening to the highly illuminating, thoroughly scientific and searching expositions of Sri Swami Krishnanandaji Maharaj on Vedantic scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, etc. Listening to his lectures and the daily recitation of the Kanthar Anubhuthi revealed to me that the fact that the verses of the Kanthar Anubhuthi contain the deep secrets of the Upanishads and other scriptures which were so impressively expounded by the Swamiji. I, therefore, thought that the best and easy way in which I can sing the glory of Lord Skanda is to try to write a commentary to Saint Arunagirinathar's "Kanthar Anubhuthi" in which I can bring out the Upanishadic teachings which it contains and at the same time expound the Avatara, Lilas, and glory of Lord Skanda, wherever possible, as there is reference to the different aspects of the Lord and His achievements in most of the verses. Thus, did I choose to render the Kanthar Anubhuthi into English with a short explanation of each verse and serialize it in the Society's monthly journal.
However, I had no confidence about my capacity for the same and feared that if I am not in a position to deal with some verses, the serial will be affected. Hence, to be sure, I decided to prepare the whole manuscript, i.e. translation and a brief commentary before commencing to publish it. And in this task, I encountered much difficulty due mainly to my own limitations I have lost touch with the Tamil language and literature immediately after my school education 20 years back added to which were the inherent difficulty of translation from one language to another, want of reference books and on the spot non-availability of men learned in the Tamil literature who can be consulted for guidance and clarification. Somehow, purely by the grace of God, the work of translation was completed.
Being a beginner in the spiritual path, not acquainted with the scriptures either of the Tamil of Sanskrit language, and also the attempt being maiden, I was a bit diffident about the venture. Hence, with the manuscript, I approached and made a request to Sri Wwami Krishnanandaji Maharaj whose ideas it is that are mostly made use of in the explanation of the verses who is also the Editor of the journal, to bestow his special attention in going through my articles and correct them suitably, to which he readily agreed and which he did with great care and patience even in the midst of his multifarious activities. I am immensely indebted to Sri Swami Krishnanandaji for all this kindness as also for the clarifications and guidance he gave me whenever I sought for the same.
Thus, the serialization started in the March 1969 Issue of the Society's monthly journal, "The Divine Life." This is the simple way in which this book, the "Kanthar Anubhuthi," had its birth. But Divine Will seems to have been different, with a purpose altogether different from that of mine.
In the process of translation of the verses, a kind of vague link of ideas between certain verses was visible on their very surface in a few places, for instance, in verses 12 and 13; 28 and 29; 33, 34, and 35; 42, 43, and 44; between 3 and 43, and 2 and 43; etc. This led me to think strongly that there should be a complete link of ideas running through the verses from the beginning to the end like a golden thread. And if it is not apparently traceable on the surface, it should be hidden as the esoteric meaning. Though this feeling was very strong in me, I failed to arrive at any definite line of thought. I, therefore, expressed my feelings to a few Tamil-knowing devotees of Lord Murugan, who are also conversant with the Kanthar Anubhuthi, and sought their advice and help to solve my difficulty. They sincerely tried to help me but the curious arrangement of the verses precluded us from arriving at any definite line of approach. And so their honest advice to me was to confine myself to mere translation and commentary, and not to bother myself with the esoteric significance as all my efforts in this direction would be futile. Though in my heart of hearts, I was convinced that there must be and there is a golden thread hidden beneath and running through the verses, as per their sincere advice, I almost gave up the idea and started the serial in the March 1969 Issue of "The Divine Life" without giving even a hint as to the possibility of there being an esoteric significance in the work. Hence, in conformity with the traditional view of almost all the commentators of the work, I said in the introduction to my serial, in that Issue as follows:
"This work (Kanthar Anubhuthi) is said to be a collection of the poems independently sung by him (Saint Arunagirinathar) when he attained that blessed state of "speechless communion" poems that poured forth from him, revealing his different mental levels at the time of different experiences. Hence, one may not see much continuity in the ideas of the poems, that is, the ideas are independent and not closely connected."
Though I wrote as above, I was not satisfied because something was working in me in a subconscious way telling me that there is a grand purpose behind this unique work. The conviction that there must be a link of ideas between the verses was unerasable and it continued to work in a subtle way even in the midst of the daily activities. But, during my lonely evening walks, in the jungle path of the Himalayas behind the Ashram, this gained an upper hand and I could not help pondering over this deeply.
In course of time, I could somehow see a continuity up to verses 20. But the sudden fall of ideas and the weeping mood expressed in verses 21 and 29 after a grand rise in their previous verses acted as stumbling blocks.
But, one day, during my Parayanam of the Kanthar Anubhuthi, a clue to the esoteric significance hidden in the verses 20-40 flashed into my mind as I went on repeating each verse. I hurriedly scribbled these clues even while reciting the verses. The hurdle was, thus, overcome by the grace of Lord Skanda who would not allow me to rest satisfied unless His plan was fulfilled.
A fairly coherent continuity of ideas was, thus, arrived at and I felt much relieved though not fully satisfied as it was only a clue to the esoteric meaning, on which I had to work out, develop and finalize. Anyhow, something was there to work upon and this gave confidence to launch on my task vigorously. And so in the May 1969 Issue of the journal, wherein verses 3-5 were being expounded, I gave a foot-note as follows, which would make my stand clear.
"The text of almost every verse appears to be so unconnected with the earlier and subsequent ones that the work, from this viewpoint, has been regarded by many as a collection of verses independently sung by the Saint at different times in accordance with the prevailing type of religious exaltation of his mind.
"As however, the purpose of the Saint's giving the work to the world is to help seekers attain that God-Experience which he had, we should strongly feel that there must be some inner link between the verses so as to provide the needed guidance to the seeker in his attainment. Hence, in this study of ours, we shall not only explain each verse as an independent one, with special reference to the Saint himself, but also try to see what instruction it has to give to the seeker, wherever possible. This latter, to distinguish it from the former, will be given in [ ] brackets at the end of each verse."
From the above it should be clear that:
a) The verses are interpreted in a two-fold manner primarily with reference to the Saint himself, and secondly from the point of view of a seeker.
This point has, therefore, to be borne in mind always, which will explain the difference, if any, in certain verses, between what is said in the explanation and in the bracketed [ ] portion, as the two are from two different standpoints.
b) What is tried to bring out in the [ ] matter is purely the esoteric significance of the verse, which is often deeply hidden in a single word, phrase, or line, or even as the underlying idea of the verse, this matter may sometimes even appear to have no bearing with the apparent subject matter of the verse, for instance as in verses 8, 12, 13, 28, 37, etc.
I should like to state one thing more here. Though I got a vague idea of the development of thought from verse-to-verse, it was neither clear-cut to me nor was I fully confident of developing them and giving a shape to them. Yet, I ventured to publish them in [ ] with the above footnote, because even if I am not successful in my attempt, my view will be broadcast, at least, to the reading public, which will provide an incentive to others to think on this theme and evolve better ideas on similar or different lines. And this holds good even now.
I do not claim that the esoteric significance discovered by me in the Kanthar Anubhuthi is perfect or final; it is subject to modification and further development or advice, which I would heartily welcome from any source.
Thus, each verse is rendered in the following manner:
a) First, the original Tamil verses.
b) Second, a transliteration of the Tamil verse in Roman Character.
Diacritical marks not being available and due to the peculiar pronunciation-characteristics of the Tamil letters, no uniformity could be maintained in the transliteration. However, for the benefit of the Tamil-knowing readers, the original verses are included elsewhere. Here, too, the breaking of the words has been done not so much according to grammar but keeping in view the purpose of easy reading and utility; and easy understanding even while reading.
c) Third, the original Tamil verses being of four lines, a free-style translation in verse-form is given next the translation being line-by-line as much as possible and permissible, and as close to the original as could be.
d) Fourth, a translation of the verse in prose the translation being as far as possible literal and wherever necessary words being given within brackets to make the sense complete.
e) Fifth, a detailed commentary. Here the verses are treated as almost independent and referring to Arunagirinathar himself. A rational approach based on Vedantic lines is attempted in explaining the implications.
Anecdotes, stories, and references from the Skanda Puranam are drawn as much as possible in the course of explanation of the different Names and Deeds of the Lord, referred to in the verse. This has been done for the specific purpose as mentioned, at the outset, in this Preface.
f) Last, the esoteric significance of the verse, given within [ ] bracket.
This is purely from the viewpoint of a struggling soul or seeker who is practicing Sadhana with the sole object of attaining Anubhuthi or Self-realization. Hence, it is likely to differ from and even appear to contradict in some places, what is stated in explanation portion. Since the purpose of (e) and (f) is quite different, there should be no room to get confused between the two, though in many verses the esoteric significance given in [ ] bracket will be a development or conclusion of what is stated in the explanation of the verse.
While trying to understand the esoteric meaning of the verses, we would do well to remember that the Kanthar Anubhuthi was given by Arunagirinathar placing himself in the position of a Sadhaka. Hence, for the time being, one should forget that the verses are Arunagirinathar's and feel that a Sadhaka, rather oneself, sings the verses. This will enable one to catch the spirit of the esoteric meaning.
In the beginning, I was not confident of successfully seeing through my theme of evolving the esoteric significance to the last. Hence, the verses were explained as almost independent, with reference to the personal life of Arunagirinathar, and the esoteric significance was given at the end of the explanation in [ ] brackets. There is, therefore, likely to be some difference between what is stated in the explanation and the [ ]. This should, of course, be quite understandable, as the purpose of the two is totally different. Thus, in the earlier verses more importance would be seen on their explanations as independent ones. But later on, with greater maturity and understanding of the esoteric significance, I gained more confidence and a firm conviction that the verses are closely related to each other and that they cannot be totally unrelated to one another. The thought that the work is a regular treatise possessed me so much that I could no more regard the verses as unconnected and independent, but only as a definite link in the chain of esoteric significance. Naturally, the explanation of the verses underwent a radical change, which could be seen in the latter half of the work, especially from verses 37 and onwards, whereon the explanation and the [ ] matter will have close resemblance, losing their distinctive characters and merging themselves into one another, as it were, which might not be the case in the earlier verses. Sometimes, I even used to think that I should write another book interpreting and explaining the verses purely from the point of view of their esoteric significance, i.e., an exclusive commentary treating each verse as only a link in the chain of esoteric significance from a Sadhaka's point of view. Such is my conviction now regarding the work, though, of course, I felt may a time that I have taken up a job for which I am ill-equipped and which is beyond my capacity.
Finally, I am immensely thankful and grateful to His Holiness Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj and to His Holiness Sri Swami Krishnanandaji Maharaj, the President and General Secretary, respectively, of the Divine Life Society, for their forewords, which adorn the introductory pages of this book.
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.