It is very well known that Sri Vedanta Desika or Venkatanatha was one of the most illustrious teachers of the Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya. It is also acknowledged that he was only second to Sri Ramanuja in every respect. During his own life-time he was considered to be an incarnation of the temple-bell of Sri Venkateswara or Srinivasa of Tirumalai; so effectively did he announce the good-tidings to the world of the ever-present Grace descended on the holy Hill of Tirumalai. Thus Sri Venkatanatha represented the entire tradition of the Tirumalai which from hoary times was the meeting-place of two distinctive and complementary cultural-patterns namely, the Northern Vedic and Southern prabandhaic. He was even acclaimed as the very incarnation of Srinivasa who had taken the wonderful role, even like Sri Rama, to go and meet His devotees through the length and breadth of South India and even the North, and bring them back to Him the centre of spiritual life and light, and the eternal Archavatar.
Sri Venkatanatha wrote an illustrious poem on Lord Srinivasa entitled, the Dayasataka, of 108 verses on Mercy which he considered was the supreme quality differentiating Srinivasa from other descents (avataras). Every lover of Srinivasa must contemplate and meditate on that work of spiritual excellence, for Sri Venkatanatha has a unique way of presenting the truths of theology inconsonance with the sruti, smrti, itihasa, purana and anubhava.
The work begins with the surrender to the enchanting Hills, serpentine and imposing and above all shining with golden lustre as the Sun plays on it. To Sri Desika it almost looks like the sugar-juice of Divine Lover of Srinivasa which has become the sweet sugar-candy mountain enjoyable within and without, from afar and near.
Then he salutes all the former sages and teachers who have been sent to teach the greatness of the Lord.
The Lord’s nature is not merely to have created the world but to make men reach Him, by sending messengers or messiahs who will bear witness to the glory and grace of God. So splendid is the vision of the descents of the acharyas and alvars, so tremendous and yet so difficult the task imposed on them to make God near to men, that it is purely of the sweet grace of God which made it possible. The ultimate teacher is God along with Sri, His inseparable spouse, and this fact Sri Desika reminds us has always to be borne in mind. The Mother indeed is worshipped next, for the Lord on the Hills is Srinivasa, the abode of Sri also. This feature reconciles the philosophic and theosophic conceptions that the transcendent Being is a divinity, is a couple, divyadampati. The Mother is conceived not as Sakti, power supreme, but as Sreyasi, and Karuna of Srinivasa: Srinivasasya karunam iva rupini. What makes God the loveable and adorable and redeeming person is His love, His sympathy, which grants all knowledge and sustenance, even as a mother does. She is the mother of all. The Karuna indeed is accompanied with the two other personas of the Mother, Bhudevi known as Kshama, and Nila who prevents the Lord from perceiving the faults of the devotees or those who seek refuge at His feet. Thus is the Lord on the Hills governed by, (or shall we say expresses?) the triple superb qualities which are necessary for saving the souls, of karuna, ksama, and blindness to the faults of devotees, for these faults are natural to men. Thus Srinivasa’s Hill is the ocean of Mercy and on that Love Hill is established the Lord Himself in direct self-descent. It has been also recognized that the Lord because of His mercy, grants all the caturvidha-purusarthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa: to every seeker according to his need and fitness and what is ultimately good for him. There have been many who have attained their desires of artha, kama, dharma and moksa or final release. Yogis have realized Him as their inner self and as the Supreme and all. None need be afraid of not getting what he wants, protection from great fear and sin even when he has reviled God. Surrender is the swiftest way and easiest path to get the grace of God. Thus the Lord is addressed as Daya throughout, almost suggesting that we know the Lord only through this attribute.
Though God has other superb and transcendental qualities such as jnana, sakti, virya-bala, aisvarya-tejas, (bodha-balaisvarya-virya-sakti-mukhah), in Lord Srinivasa all these are subordinate to His supreme Daya. Indeed they all are made ‘holy’ by being so subordinate to Daya. None of them by itself or in conjunction can give an adequate description of God nor can they be said to be godly qualities, for they can become arbitrary and tyrannical and so on. That is the reason why Sri Desika clinches the whole theology of Sri Vaishnavism by pointing out that the real differentiating quality which makes Sri Venkatesvara, the God of Gods, devo devatanam, (amararkal adipati) is the transcendent Daya, incomparable Love, supported by knowledge and power, light and ability lordship and verve, (energy) and patience and tolerance. Not even at the time of supreme wrath does the Lord depart from the code of Daya, for it is His very nature (v.98). To His very enemies (to those who hate him) verily He bears love, for even by the punishment given to them they becomes bettered in their natures. Sri Desika shows in one of the most oft-quoted verses how His Mercy is so very powerful that it can make the greatest sinner (full-sinner) even fall at the feet of the all-saving Lord.
Aham asmy aparadha cakravarti,
Karune tvam ca gunesu sarvabhaumi |
Vidusi sthitim Idrsim svayam mam
Vrsasailesvara padasat kuru tvam ||
“I am the emperor of sinners. And Thou art the Empress of adorable qualities. Thou who knowest this status (of both), do thyself place me at the feet of the Lord of Vrishagiri”.
How wonderful is the conception that Lord’s Love can itself abolish the faults without remainder, faults and sins of every kind, physical, mental, vital and who knows even the spiritual? The Love and Mercy of God knows ways and means by which all faults can be removed without remainder.
The great alvars and teachers of the past and all souls which have felt and experienced the glory and grace of Srinivasa have sought to be born at Tirupati. Alvar Kulasekhara sang and even today the Kulasekharappadi at the Tirumalai Shrine bears witness to that longing desire to feel the wafts of grace-breezes from the personality of the Divine Lord. Sri Desika echoes and prays for this consummation. Birth at Tirumalai is itself a first step of Grace, in whatever form, it might be. If it be not had, at least residence.
Sri Vedanta Desika’s enjoyment and adoration of the activities of God’s Mercy or Love (Daya) thus run from step to step with increasing tempo so much that every activity of good is referred to Her. Even the final remembrance is something done by God’s Daya, the daily yoga-ksema is something looked after by Her, and indeed every movement of God is impelled by His love. Creation sustention, and destruction or withdrawal of the world as well as the granting of the wealth and enjoyment here of this world and the supreme bliss of freedom in the hereafter are all the activities of Daya-impelled Srinivasa. “Slowly Thou grantest the taste of God to all and gently sublimatest their desires till they desire the Lord alone”, says Desika, for in contrast with the Saccidananda nature of the Divine all these appear mere trifle and of the size of a cow foot. Sri Venkatesvara is, because of this Grace-nature, the great transmutor of human nature and the maker of divine nature. It is because of His Grace all gods and men enjoy happiness, but so sublimated too do they become at the end that they no longer seek the lower pleasures or artha and kama but the interminable undiminishing enjoyment and service of God alone. Sri Venkatesvara is the same Purna Purusha and Purana Purusha who had incarnated or taken avatars well-known as the dasavataras and Sri Desika shows that all these are out of love and are acts of Grace (verses 82-88). He is also to be the Kalki. Kalau Venkatanayaka: in Kali, Venkatanayaka is the Saviour.
Concluding this masterly prayer to Daya, Sri Venkatesvara’s inimitable attribute, Sri Desika makes his bhara samarpana seeking complete protection from all faults. Even as a Mother He should condone all faults and take the child back. The great idea is that Sri Venkatanatha (Desika) had absolutely no doubt that the Lord on the Hills of Tirumalai is verily the Supreme Absolute, God-head who is easily accessible and adorable, who only can save and redeem and transform all souls without partiality for HE IS DAYA AND DAYA ALONE.