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Lord Rama - The Heart of Rishi Svetasvatara

(This article is a response to a shaiva article that claims that the shvetAshvatara upaniShad talks of Shiva's supremacy.)

The following slOka is famous as far as the description of srimad rAmAyaNa goes,
veda vedye pare puMsi jaate dasharathaatmaje | 
vedaHprachetasaadaasiid saakShaad raamaayaNaatmanaa ||
Meaning: When the Supreme Reality revealed by the veda took birth (avatAra) as the son of daSharatha, the Vedas took birth (avatAra) as the rAmAyaNa from the mouth of vAlmiki.
This vAlmiki rAmAyaNa is more exalted than the mahAbhArata. The latter ithihAsa talks about dharma, artha, kAma and mOksha, dwelling on stories of devas, manuShyas and beings other than paramAtma, srI KrishNa. Indeed, that is why the bhagavad gita and vishnu sahasranAma are hailed as the two gems of the mahAbhArata, as these talk exclusively about vishNu and parama puruShArtham. But the vAlmiki rAmAyaNa is “ithihAsa shreShTa” as it beings with “ko guNavan?” – who is the One with sousIlya guNa, which is an inquiry into the nature of the Supreme.
Nowadays, it has become the fashion of many shaivas posing as advaitins to malign this great ithihAsa and make ridiculous comments such as “rAma worshipped shiva” and “rAma was a human who worshipped shiva and not parabrahman”, etc.
This article will dispel these untruths and show how srI rAma is verily the parama puruShan of the veda, sriman nArAyaNa. It is also intended to quash the doubts of all readers regarding the paratva of srI rAma and the aparatva of brahma, rudra and indra vis-à-vis srI rAma.
That srI rAma is the parabrahman (sriman nArAyaNa) and superior to Brahma, Rudra and Indra is established in many places. For a few examples, let us look at srI vedAnta desikan’s abhaya pradhAna sAram. AchAryan quotes two other slOkas that establish the supremacy of srI rAma over the devas:
jR^imbhitam tad-dhanur dR^iShTvA shaivaM viSNuparAkramaiH |
adhikaM menire viShNum devAs-sarShi-gaNAstadA ||
This one talks of the shiva-vishNu yuddha as narrated by paraShurAma and the victory of vishNu which proved his supremacy to the devas. This requires no explanation.
And this slOka:
artaa sarvasya lokasya shreShTho j~naanavataaM prabhuH |
upekShase kathaM siitaaM patantiiM havyavaahane || 6-117-6
kathaM devagaNashreShThamaatmaanaM naavabuddhyase |
Meaning: Oh! Lord, You are the creator, destroyer, and supporter of all the worlds, You are all knowing, and the doer of all actions. How can You ignore sIta who is falling to fire, as ordinary woman? How do you not recognize yourself to be the foremost of the troop of gods?"
This is self-explanatory as well. So, these slOkas clearly declare the supremacy of srI rAma.
Then, take a look at the words of Hanuman:
“brahmā svayambhūś caturānano vā rudrastrinetrastripurāntako vā |
indro mahendraḥ suranāyako vā trātuṃ na śaktā yudhi rāmavadhyam ||” (V-51-45)
Meaning: Brahma the self-existing god with four faces or Rudra with three eyes and the destroyer of Tripura or Mahendra the god of atmosphere and sky as also the lord of celestials would not be able to protect the one to be killed by Rama in battle."
The specific mention of Brahma as self-born and having 4 faces (thus a knower of 4 vedas), Rudra having 3 eyes and being destroyer of tripurAsuras and Indra being known as “mahEndra” and the lord of devas is to show that even though these devas have such glory, none of them, single or combined, can stop one arrow of rAma.
Note also the order in which it occurs – Brahma, Rudra, Indra. Analogous to “sa brahmA, sa shivah, sendraH…” in the nArAyaNa sUkta.
pUrvapakSha: Did not rAma kill vAli by hiding? Does that not show he was afraid?
siddhAntha: Such nonsense needs to be dispelled. Take a look at the scenario. sugrIva was weaker than vAli and rAvaNa. rAvaNa was also weaker than vAli. So, sugrIva was the weakest, ravaNa in the middle and vAli the strongest. And what did rAma do? He sought the help of weak sugrIva, to vanquish an intermediate rAvaNa, and to get such help, rAma proved to weak sugrIva, that he was stronger than vAli (who was in turn stronger than sugrIva and rAvaNa combined) by uprooting the 7 trees with one arrow!
What a twist of events. Only leela of parabrahman can do this.
He also gave mokSha to jaTAyu by saying “I despatch you to that world where only those who practice austerities go”. In essence, he did not know where sIta was, but he knew the abode unattainable by ordinary people!
He also crowned vibhIshana as king of Lanka even before the war had begun or he had gauged the might of rAvaNa!
During the agni parIkSha of sItA, he says that sItA appears to him as though a great light appears to a person with a diseased eye. This proves one thing – a great light has no blemish. If a person cannot see it, the defect lies with his eye and not the light. So, subtly, srI rAma showed that sIta was blemishless, the blemish lay on those who suspected her and this agni parikSha was an act.
Such incidents only show that srI rAma was parabrahman. To read more on this, please refer to shrI atimAnuSha stava of srI kUresha/koorattAzhwan.
We have seen many times in this blog that the vedas and shAstra glorify Narasimha with the names of “rudra, shiva, shambhu, ishana, etc”. However, often the kalyAna guNas of rAma are praised under the name of Narasimha. Why so?
It is because srI rAma exhibited the qualities of Narasimha and hence was known as rAghava simha. This is stated by srI vedAnta desikan in raghuveera gadyam as “Raghava Simha! Jaya! Jaya!”
The vAmiki rAmAyaNam corroborates this in many places:
mahaabaahum mahoraskam siMha vikraa.nta gaaminam |
nR^isiMham siMha saMkaasham aham raamam anuvrataa || 3-47-35
Meaning: (Sita tells rAvaNa) "He who is ambidextrous, broad-chested, supreme among men, and a lion-like person with the strides of prancing lion, and I (Sita) am avowed to adhere to such a Rama.
niyamya kopam pratipaalyataam sharatkShamasva maasaam caturo mayaa saha |
vasa acale asmin mR^iga raaja sevite saMvartayan shatru vadhe samarthaH || 4-27-48
Meaning: (lakshmana tells rAma) "Let autumn be awaited while containing your anger, and along with me you may stay on this mountain which is adored by lions, and spend these four rainy months here like a monsoon lion, although you are capable to eliminate the enemy at any moment like a lion”.
SrI periyavAchan pillai comments: sIta placed a blade of grass between herself and rAvaNa (thruNamantharatha: kruthvA) with the intent that just as narasimha came out of a pillar and tore hiranyakasipu’s chest, she can make rAghava simha appear out of the blade of grass and break the chest of rAvaNa!
srI vedAnta desikan in his abhaya pradhAna sAra, establishes that the principal subject of the rAmAyaNa is directly linked to the subject matter of the shvetAshvataropaniShad. Indeed, the nature of the shvetAshvatara Upanishad is dedicated to show that the nature of the Supreme Being is to be the protector of all and that he is easily accessible to all by the veda mArga of prapatti.
In other words, shrI vedAnta desikan establishes that out of all the Upanishads, it is particularly the blemishless shvetAshvatara upaniShad that is the essence of the rAmAyaNa. The AcAryan, who is renowned as “vedAntAcArya”, would not say this without reason.
The shvetAshvataropanishad, mantra 3-8, echoes the puruSha sUkta rk as follows,
vedahametam purusham mahantam adityavarnam tamasah parastat
tamevam vidvan amrita iha bhavati nanyah pantha vidyate'yanaya ||
Meaning: I know that great puruSha, luminous as the sun, who is beyond the darkness of prakrti. Only by knowing him does one become immortal here, ie., freed from the cycle of deaths and births in this life itself. There is no other way (ie, upAsana/prapatti) other than this.
This mantra, which occurs in the shvetAshvatara upaniShad, is echoed by both vishvAmitra and mandodari in the rAmAyaNa as follows:
aham vedmi mahaatmaanam raamam satya paraakramam ||
vashiShTho.api mahaatejaa ye ca ime tapasi sthitaaH | (~ vAlmiki rAmAyaNa, 1-19-14)
Meaning: Oh DasarathA ! I fully comprehend Rama as the greatest of Souls and as the most valorous and righteous One . Sage VasishtA of great lustre due to his superior penance and others like him in Your court also understand these qualifications of Your young son, Rama .
The first part of this shloka “ahaM vedmi mahAtmAnam” is nothing but the puruSha sUkta/shvetAshvataropaniShad mantra “vedAhametam puruSham mahantam”.  The knowing refers to meditation or sravaNa, manana, nidhidhyAsa. For a full commentary of this shloka by shrIvaiShNava acharyas, please refer this link -
Here, vishvAmitra is saying “even vashiShTa knows this rAma”. The idea is that these rishis do not always see eye to eye on other issues and are hostile to each other, but in this matter (of rAma being parabrahman), they are in agreement.
The second part of this mantra is explained by mandOdari as follows:
vyaktameSha mahaayogii paramaatmaa sanaatanaH |
anaadimadhyanidhano mahataH paramo mahaan || 6-111-14
tamasaH paramo dhaataa shaN^khachakragadaadharaH |
shriivatsavakShaa nityashriirajayyaH shaashvato dhruvaH || 6-111-15
maanuShaM ruupamaasthaaya viShNuH satyaparaakramaH |
sarvaiH parivR^ito devairvaanaratvamupaagataiH || 6-111-16
sarvalokeshvaraH shriimaan lokaanaaM hitakaamyayaa |
saraakShasa pariivaaram hatavaaMstvaaM mahaadyutiH || 6-111-17
Meaning: This Rama is certainly a great ascetic (mahAyogI) , an eternal person, having no beginning middle or end, greater than distinguished universal spirit like Brahma, the one beyond the darkness of prakrti, the nourisher, wielding a conch, a disc and a mace, wearing the 'Srivatsa' mark on his chest, of lasting beauty, incapable of being conquered, a perpetual one, being the constant soul of the universe, truly mighty, the lord of all the worlds, the prosperous one having a great splendour and Vishnu, the lord of maintenance of the world with a wish to benefit the worlds, assuming a human form surrounded by all the gods in the form of monkeys, Rama killed you (rAvaNa), surrounded by demons.
Note the words “tAmasaH paramo dhAtA”. This is nothing but “tamasah parastAt” of the Upanishad.
Having established that shrI vishNu/shrI rAma is the parama puruSha, we move onto the other mantras of the shvetAshvataropanShad. The following mantra is seen in this Upanishad:
yo devaanaaM prabhavashchodbhavashcha vishvaadhipo rudro maharshhiH |
hiraNyagarbha.n janayaamaasa puurva.n sa no buddhyaa shubhayaa sa.nyunaktu || (3.4)
Meaning: May that Rudra (the destroyer of the disease of samsAra), who is the cause of the origination of gods, who is the cause of their glory, who transcends this entire world, who is a great seer (ie, omniscient) and who created Hiranyagarbha first, unite us with an auspicious mind.
This mantra has a direct upabrahmaNa in the rAmAyaNa as explained  by srI vedAnta desikan in his abhaya pradAna sAram. It is mentioned in the Uttara khaNdam of rAmAyaNa as follows:
samayas te mahAbAho svarlokAn parirakSitum |
saMkSipya ca purA lokAn mAyayA svayam eva hi ||
mahArNave zayAno 'psu mAM tvaM pUrvam ajIjanaH |
padme divyArkasaMkAze nAbhyAm utpAdya mAm api |
prAjApatyaM tvayA karma sarvaM mayi nivezitam ||
so 'haM saMnyastabhAro hi tvAm upAse jagatpatim |
rakSAM vidhatsva bhUteSu mama tejaH karo bhavAn ||
Meaning: (Brahma says) Oh! Lord (rAma), to protect the world, when You were sleeping in the great ocean after keeping the entire universe in Your stomach, You created me through Your navel, and instructed me to create the remaining world. You gave Your power to me to do that job without any interference.
So, this shloka talks of rAma creating brahmA showing that he is the One referred to as Rudra in the shvetAshvataropaniShad. The remaining part of the shvetAshvatoropaniShad mantra praises as him being the origin of gods, transcending the world, etc is elucidated in the yuddha kANDa by Brahma himself as follows:
akSharaM brahma satyaM cha madhye chaante cha raaghava || 6-117-14
lokaanaaM tvaM paro dharmo viShvaksenashchaturbhajaH |
vaM trayaaNaaM hi lokaanaamaadikartaa svayaMprabhuH |
siddhaanaamapi saadhyaanaamaashrayashchaasi puurvajaH || 6-117-19
jagatsarvaM shariiraM te…. || 6-117-26
ahaM te hR^idayaM raama jihvaa devii sarasvatii || 6-117-24
Meaning: You are Brahma, the imperishable, the Truth abiding in the middle as well as at the end of the universe….You are the first creator of all, the three worlds, and the self constituted Lord of all. You are the refuge and the forbear of Siddhas and Sadhyas….You are the supreme righteousness of people, whose powers go everywhere. You are the four-armed. The entire Universe is your body. O Rama! I (brahma) am your heart. Saraswathi, the goddess (of learning) is your tongue…..
Regarding “ahaM te hR^idayaM” shloka, Acharyan says, here Brahma calls himself the heart of rAma. The term “hR^idayam” in the shAstra is often used to denote the act of creation and all the devas as the vibhUtIs of that parabrahman. Hence, by saying “ahaM te hR^idayaM”, Brahma identifies the primary lakShaNa of Brahman, namely, “jagatkAraNatva” in shrI rAma.
These slokas thus show that the mantra “yo devAnAm…” in the svEtAsvatAra denotes srI rAma only. Acharyan says that while the shvetAshvataropaniShad describes the parama puruShan as creating Brahma and being the Cause of the Gods, here, Brahma himself is providing testimony to that claim. In effect, Brahma is saying, “You, shrI rAghava, are that parama puruShan celebrated by the shvetAshvatara as my creator”.
One must note that Shiva calls Narasimha as “Padmanabha” in the Garuda purAna stuti, thus equating Narasimha as well to this Being who created Brahma. That is because of the rAghava simha tattva elucidated earlier.
To this stuti by Brahma, srI rAma curiously replies
aatmaanaM maanuShaM manye raamaM dasharathaatmajam || 6-117-11
Meaning: I consider myself as rAma, the son of dasaratha.
The key word is “AtmAnam manye”. “I consider myself” as such and such. ShrI rAma indeed does consider himself as the son of dasaratha *in this avatAra*, in so much as kR^iShNa considered himself a gopa. Here too, he is not lying. If he had really been the son of dasaratha, he would have said “aham rAmo dasharathAtmajaH”. Thus, bhagavAn is well known as one who speaks the truth!
Then, there is the shvetAshvataropaniShad mantra,
sarvaanana shirogriivaH sarvabhuutaguhaashayaH |
sarvavyaapii sa bhagavaa.nstasmaat.h sarvagataH shivaH|| (3.11)
Meaning: Having the faces, heads and necks of all as his, he resides in the cave of the hearts of all entities. Bhagavan is pervading everything. Therefore he is everywhere and also auspicious.
Brahma reiterates the same in the rAmAyaNa as follows:
dR^ishyase sarvabhuuteShu goShu cha braahmaNeShu cha || 6-117-21
dikShu sarvaasu gagane parvateShu nadiiShu cha |
sahasracharaNaH shriimaan shatashiirShaH sahasradR^ik || 6-117-22
tvaM dhaarayasi bhuutaani pR^ithiviiM cha saparvataam |
Meaning: "You appear in all created beings in the cattle and in brahmanas. You exist in all quarters, in the sky, in mountains and in rivers. With thousand feet, with hundred heads and with thousand eyes along with Lakshmi, you bear the earth with all its created beings along with its mountains."
The meaning of this shloka is the same as that of the shvetAshvatara mantra. Essentially, all beings are his body as already indicated by “jagat sarvam sharIram te”. So, the hundred heads, thousand eyes, etc refer to the faces, heads and necks of the created beings. As they are his body, he can be said to have a thousand heads, etc.
Then, the shvetAshvataropaniShad gives a beautiful mantra pertaining to the vibhUtI yoga as follows:
nīlaḥ pataṅgo harito lohitākṣas taḍidgarbha ṛtavaḥ samudrāḥ /
anādimāṃs tvaṃ vibhutvena vartase yato jātāni bhuvanāni viśvā // (4.4 )
Meaning: You are the dark blue bird and the green parrot with red eyes. You are the thunder-cloud, the seasons and the oceans. You are without beginning and the Infinite. You are He from whom all the worlds are born.
This is nothing but a description of bhagavAn as various beautiful vibhUtIs. This mantra occurs in the skambha sUkta as well. Now note what Brahma says:
tvaM yajJNstvaM vaShaTkaarastvamoMkaaraH paraatparaH || 6-117-20
prabhavaM nidhanaM vaa te no viduH ko bhavaaniti |
Meaning: You (rAma) are the sacrificial performance. You are the sacred syllable 'Vashat' (on hearing which the Adhvaryu priest casts the oblation to a deity into the sacrificial fire). You are the mystic syllable 'OM'. You are higher than the highest. People neither know your end nor your origin nor who you are in reality.
The same concept expressed with different vibhUtIs.
And of course, this svEtAsvatAra mantra is the same as that of the Rudra prashna, as follows,
yAmishuM girishanta haste bibharshyastavE |
shivAM giritra tAm kuru mA himsI: purushaM jagath || (3.6)
Meaning: O Girishanta (Creator of GirishA/pArvatI pati Rudradeva), O Giritra (Lord, who is propounded in the VedAntA), shoot that auspicious arrow you hold in your hand (to destroy the obstacles to my knowledge of Brahman). Do not cause injury to the JivAtmA who is migrating in the samsAra (purusham jagat).
And its equivalent in the rAmAyaNa:
tairna tatsparshanam pApam saheyam pApakarmabhiH ||
amoghaH kriyatAm rAma tatra teShu sharottamaH | (2-22-33)
Meaning: (Samudra rAjan said:) I am not able to bear that touch of those wicked people, the evil doers. O rAmA, Let this excellent arrow (that is never rendered in vain) be released over them there.
This exercise thus shows that the parama-puruShan exalted by all shAstra is srI rAma only. The viShNu sahasranAma contains the nAma parama spaShTaH. srI parAshara bhattar comments on it thus – “He is parama spaShTaH because his paratva (supremacy) was very clearly revealed in rAmAvatAra especially”.
Thus, an avatAra in which he acted as a human outshone all other avatArAs in revealing his identity as parabrahman. This is the quality of reconciling contradictions (aghaTitaghaTanA sAmarthyam) indeed!