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Harim Harantam Shruti -- An Analysis

It is pertinent to mention this particular shrutivAkya which has been debated by vaishnavas and shaivas. This shruti occurs in the taittiriyaAraNyaka, as follows:
hariM harantam anuyanti devAH | vishvasyeshAnaM vR^iShabhaM matInAM
This shrutivAkya is interesting because it lends itself to many possible interpretations due to the grammatical possibilities of “hariMharantam..”
Of course, the shaiva interpretations are wrong both grammatically as well as from the perspective of shruti, and there is no need to address them considering statements like “eko ha vanArAyaNaAseetna brahma nEShAna”.
The Dvaita Interpretation
The madhvas have their own interpretation of this shruti as follows:
hariM harantam anuyanti devAH | vishvasyeshAnaM vR^iShabhaM matInAM
Meaning: The Devas (vishvedevAH) follow that Hari (Narasimha), who destroys (harantaM) Rudra in the form of Sharabha (who is ishAna).
This interpretation is a reference to Narasimha destroying Sharabha. For this, they quote the following pramANa as an upabR^iMhaNa:
brahmaNamindraM rudraM cha yamaM varuNameva cha |nihatya harate yasmAttasmAddharirihochyate ||

On the account of being the destroyer (nihatya harate yasmAt) of Brahma, Indra, Rudra, Yama and Varuna, he is called 'Hari'
For the entire interpretation of the dvaitins, please refer a brief summary of vijayEndratIrtha’s shaivasarvasyakhaNDanam in this link:
This purANic shloka “brahmANaM indraM ca…” given by Madhvas is also quoted by our own pUrvAcArya, Swami Desikan in Pancharatra Raksha. But our AchArya (rightly in our humble opinion) does not connect it with the “hariM harantaM” shruti. To our knowledge, our pUrvAcAryas have not elaborated this shruti directly.
The explanation to follow is in line with the works of pUrvAchAryAs to the best of our effort.
While we do not contend the fact that Brahma, Rudra and Indra are destroyed by vishNu and subject to pralaya, with vishNu alone being eternal, we say that this interpretation does not fit the context. We shall see how.
The Vishishtadvaita Interpretation
Let us look at the Vishishtadvaitic interpretation of this shruti. We do not take it as a reference to the destruction of Sharabha by Narasimha for the following reasons:
  1. Rudra was in tamOguNa when he assumed the form of Sharabha. That being the case, we do not believe that the Veda would call Rudra in his tamOguNa state as “ishANa” – an epithet which usually refers to his knowledge of Brahman (ishANas sarvavidyAnAm according to the bhAgavatam). Normally, when Rudra acts against BhagavAn, terms like “Siva”, “ishAna”, “mahAdeva”, etc which denote his sarvaj~natva and hari bhakti are not used. Rather, terms like “Rudra”, “Sharva”, etc are used to denote him in tamOguNa.

  1. The Vedas in general, are likely to not highlight the incident of Rudra being killed by bhagavAn to show the latter’s paratva. This is because Siva, for the most part, is a bhakti yOgi and is a deva. Therefore, the Vedas normally highlight the creation of Rudra as well as him being the one who provides knowledge of Brahman to show Rudra is inferior to nArAyaNa, rather than him getting killed by bhagavAn.

This is the difference between the approach we take and that of srI vijayEndra tIrtha. One can take whatever interpretation he thinks is logical, we are not here to refute other vaishnava interpretations. The dvaita interpretation is correct grammatically and their gurus give a pramAna for it as well, so it is not invalid.
Coming to the shruti, we need to first study the context it is in:
  1. It is in the taittirya AraNyaka of the yajurveda. It has already been established through previous articles on the blog that the yaju rveda for the most part glorifies Narasimha, who is yajna svarUpi.

  1. The term “hari” especially denotes Narasimha as the destroyer of pApa karmas that obstruct meditation on Brahman (harir harati pApAni). This is because he exhibited this ability in his avatAra, when he destroyed hiranyakasipu who was obstructing prahlAda’s bhakti yOga. In addition, Narasimha is verily SankarshaNavyUha who is characterized by the trait of removing ignorance and conferring knowledge.

  1. Certain names are unique to certain avatArAs. Though we say “vAsudeva” denotes Brahman in general, the first and foremost avatAra by the name of “vAsudeva” is krishNa. Similarly, “madhusUdhana” specifically denotes hayagrIva above all avatArAs. And in such a way, “hari” always denotes Narasimha before all avatArAs. Even the nArAyaNa sUkta, which is the essence of yajur veda and glorifies Narasimha as the daharAkAsan, contains the name “hari”.

  1. The most important point is to determine the context with relation to the succeeding mantras. Whatever interpretation we give, it logically needs continuity. A pramAna may exist for anything, but it doesn’t mean the meaning always fits in. As an example, sugrIva is called “hari” in the rAmAyaNa. But we cannot use it as a pramANa and say that this vAkya refers to sugrIva even though it is grammatically correct! Thus, one always needs to look at the mantras succeeding or preceding our contentious mantra to determine its’ meaning.

Names and Attributes – A Study
It is important to note that if “harantam” referred to the act of destruction, then “hari” would not mean the destroyer in the sense of “the destroyer of devas, destroyed rudra”. Rarely does shruti use the name which denotes the action. It is redundant since the action itself is indicative of the attribute (destruction of rudra) without the name denoting the same attribute (destruction of devas) as well.

Rather, whenever bhagavAn performs an action, the action being performed is the primary attribute, whereas the name used to denote bhagavAn always signifies the secondary attribute underlying the action. Let us take some examples:

sṛṣṭisthityantakaraṇīṃ brahmaviṣṇuśivātmikām |
sa saṃjñāṃ yāti bhagavāneka eva janārdanaḥ ||” (Vishnu Purana, 1.2.66)

This sloka says that JanArdhana assumes the form of the three devas, as (the antaryAmin of) Brahma, as vishNu, as (the antaryAmin of) Rudra for creation, preservation and destruction.

Now, the primary attribute (action) here is the assumption of forms for different functions – creation, preservation and destruction. However, the name given is “janArdhana” which means – one who protects the people from the asurAs  (dasyu-trANAt iti janArdanah).  “asurAs” or “dasyu” can stand for obstacles to moksha or attaining him.

So, the idea conveyed by this is that bhagavAn’s attributes of creation, preservation and destruction have for their cause, the secondary attribute of protection conferred by destroying the obstacles to attain him.  He creates to propagate shAstra and provide means for sAdhana. He preserves to allow us time and place to perform sAdhana. He destroys when we stray away from sAdhana and become full of pApa-karmas, so that we can be put in slumber and prevented from further karmas.

Thus, the primary attributes are the actions. The secondary underlying attribute is his protection.

Let us look at one more example. This is from the astra-bhUshaNa adhyAya of the vishNu purAna. Since we don’t have the Sanskrit text at the moment, quoting from sacred texts:

“The glorious Hari wears the pure soul of the world, undefiled, and void of qualities, as the Kaustubha gem” ~ vishNu purAna.

Here, parAshara maharishi says that the Kaustubha Mani of Sri Hari must be meditated on as the essential nature of the individual self divested of prakrti which is pure. Note the usage of “Hari” in relation to the purity of the jIvAtma.The primary attribute is the purity of the jIvAtma, which becomes an attribute of bhagavAn by aprithak-siddhi. The secondary underlying attribute is the destruction of pApa-karmas for the jIvAtma, denoted by “Hari” (harir harati pApAni).

Thus, the primary attribute of jIva amalatva is due to the secondary attribute of the destruction of pApa karmas.

Now, this makes it clear that “hariM harantaM” cannot mean “destroyer of devas who destroyed Rudra”. The attribute signified by the name cannot be the same as the action. The name should be the attribute that is the cause of the action.

The “HarimHarantam” Shruti
With this in mind, let us look at the meaning of the shruti
hariM harantamanuyanti devAH | vishvasyeshAnaM vR^iShabhaM matInAM
Meaning: The devas follow (anuyanti devAH) Narasimha who is Hari, the destroyer of pApa karmas (hariM), who is the creator/enhancer (as the inner self) of Rudra called “Hara”, as he takes away ignorance (harantam), who is (also) the controller of the Universe (vishvasya IshAnaM), and who is (also) the leader of the wise prapannas by showering them with his grace (matInAM vR^iShabham).
Word by word meaning:
Hari – Narasimha, the destroyer of pApa karmas which are obstacles.
Harantam – “haram tanotIti harantam” – One who creates, produces forth, or enhances Hara. This refers to bhagavAn as the antaryAmin of Rudra who swallowed the poison. The meaning is apt since Narasimha empowered Rudra to swallow the poison.
If we remember, the SatarudrIya referred to Narasimha as “girishanta” – the creator of Girisha (girishaM tanotIti girishantaH is the interpretation of the acharyas). A similar meaning is given to “harantam”.
Rudra is called “Hara” here as he takes away ignorance by providing knowledge of Brahman, which is apt in the context of swallowing the poison to please Hari and assuage the devas.
Anuyanti devAH – The devas who were perturbed by the hAla-hAla viSha, surrendered to this Hari in his form as the inner self of Hara.
Vishvasya IshAnaM – Narasimha is “visvasya IshANa” – He is the controller of the Universe at all times and in all states. This signifies that even though Shiva swallowed the poison, it was Narasimha who accomplished it and hence, was approached by the devas in the knowledge that he is the supreme controller.
vR^ iShabhaM matInAM – Narasimha is the leader of the wise devas who performed prapatti to him as the indweller of Rudra for swallowing the poison. He showered his grace by empowering Rudra to help the devas.
The upabR^iMhaNa for this interpretation is from the words of Rudra in Bhagavatam itself:
puḿsaḥ kṛpayato bhadre sarvātmā prīyate hariḥ prīte harau bhagavat iprīye 'haḿ sacarācaraḥ
tasmād idaḿ garaḿ bhuñje prajānāḿ svastirastu me ~ SrimadBhagavatam, 8.7.40
Translation: Hari--  the soul of all -- (sarvātmā hariḥ), is pleased (priyate) when one performs benevolent acts for others. When Lord Hari is pleased all living beings including me are pleased. Hence, let there be welfare for all living beings from my act of swallowing this poison.
“sarvAtma hariH” covers “hariM harantaM” and “visvasya IshAnaM” – he is the indweller of Rudra as well as the controller of the universe.
“priyatE” covers “anuyanti devAH” as the devas follow that Lord in praying to him and Rudra follows him as well in doing what pleases him.
“svastirastu me” covers “vR^ iShabhaM matInAM” – saving the worlds is the act of grace by bhagavAn on the prapannas.
Thus, even before the keshi sUkta, it is clear that this is the mUlashruti for the entire episode of the hAla-hAla visha in bhAgavatam which forms its upabR^iMhaNa. This interpretation is correct because:
  1. It highlights Rudra as a jnAni and a servant of Brahman, in keeping with the Rudra gAyatri and other such statements which extol Rudra in such manner.
  2. At the same time, it shows Rudra is dependent on vishNu, as are the devas.
  3. The Bhagavatam slOka seamlessly corroborates the shrutivAkya word for word.
  4. Narasimha is called “hari” here because he destroyed the pApa karmas which were a) obstacles for the devas to meditate on him (as the antaryAmin of rudra), the karmas b) which prevented Rudra from swallowing the poison, c) also those karmas belonging to the prapannas who are the recipient of his grace.

By using Hari, the secondary attribute is destruction of pApa karmas while the primary attributes are that of enabling the devas, rudra and general prapannas to worship him/perform actions for him.

Lastly, as mentioned before, if we are to determine whether an interpretation is consistent, we need to check the remaining part of the mantra to see if they logically show continuity from this interpretation. In other words, the rest of the mantra must build on this meaning and elucidate tattvas that relate to this meaning.
Therefore, let us interpret the entire mantra in full, as follows, in the next section.
hariM harantamanuyanti devAH | vishvasyeshAnaM vR^iShabhaM matInAM
Meaning: The devas follow (anuyanti devAH) Narasimha who is Hari, the destroyer of pApa karmas (hariM), who is the creator/enhancer (as the inner self) of Rudra called “Hara”, as he takes away ignorance (harantam), who is (also) the controller of the Universe (vishvasya IshAnaM), and who is (also) the leader of the wise prapannas by showering them with his grace (matInAM vR^iShabham).
The incident described is the swallowing of the poison. The tattvArthams are elucidated in the rest of the mantra.
Brahma sarUpamanu medamAgAt |    
Meaning: This Supreme Brahman (idam brahma), associated with its’ essential nature of being the means (sarUpa), attained me (AgAt mAm) on account of the above knowledge.
The vedapurusha refers to himself here as having been rescued by Brahman on account of prapatti.
From the incident of the hAla-hAla visham, the understanding arises that srIhari is “sarvAtma” and is alone the doer of all actions, that everything is his vibhUti leads to a comprehension of our seshatva towards him. This realization of our essential nature is prapatti.
Then, the Lord whose essential nature is declared by srI parAshara bhattar in “srI rangarAja stava” to be that of becoming the means to liberation for everyone,  becomes our means and attains us. Here, the phrase “he attains us” is important. It is not our efforts which attained him, rather, he attained us by his efforts.
Thus, if we understand that Rudra drank the poison due to the prowess of paramAtma who became the means for him to execute this action, similarly bhagavAn becomes the means for our liberation, with ourselves having to do nothing in terms of sAdhana other than realize this fact. Just as Rudra is dependent on bhagavAn’s strength for drinking the poison, we become dependent on his strength for achieving liberation.
In this way, the reference to the incident is connected to the tattvAs elaborated here.
ayanam mA vivadhIrvikramasva |
Meaning: (O jIvA!) Do not destroy the means which is prapatti (ayanaM), (by) exhibiting your (own) strength (vikramasva)   
From here onwards, the mantras constitute an “upadEsha” to the jIvAtma from the veda purusha, who had achieved the supreme goal in the previous rk.
The root of “ayanaM” according to swami pillai lokacharya is either I --, “to go,” or ay--, “to go.” It refers to prapatti, which is “going towards” or surrendering to the Lord in obedience, ie, seshatva.
An entity that is the body of the Lord (yasya Atma sarIram) is his servant and hence, does not have independence. He must depend on the Lord as the means for liberation and must not use self-effort which is upAsaNa or bhakti yOga to attain him.
In other words, just as Rudra did not independently swallow the poison, one cannot attain Brahman by one’s own strength that is bhakti yOga, but must surrender to Brahman through prapatti yOgA. Bhakti yOga, despite being a means described by the shAstra, does not destroy sins completely as it leads to a trace of ahaMkAra.
Although a bhakti yOgi performs sAttvika tyAga and is predominantly sAttvika, he still has the notion – “I performed this to attain Brahman”. The “I-ness” is a glorification of his self-effort, which makes this path tainted by the small ahamkAra. It is like removing most of the poison with a dropper, but leaving a drop behind.The poison would have killed Rudra if he had drunk it with his own strength. Similarly bhakti yOga will cause us to fall in samsAra due to ahamkAra.
In contrast, prapatti yOga is a path that is suited to one’s nature of complete subservience and dependence. SrI vedAnta desikan elaborates the difference between bhakti yOga and prapatti in nyAsa tilakam (sloka 10) by saying – ““srirangEsvara yAvadAtma niyata tvat pAratantrya ucitA”  – Prapatti is agreeable to the nature of the jIvAtma which is absolute servitude and dependence towards srI ranganAtha, whereas bhakti yOga is not so, as it causes ego.
If one uses self-effort, it ruins prapatti. An example is seen in the rAmAyaNa –Indrajit captured Hanuman with the brahmAstra. However, the rakshasas proceeded to tie Hanuman with ropes, doubting the efficacy of the brahmAstra. This astra does not tolerate other aids and hence, due to the ropes, became ineffective, allowing hanumAn to be free. Similarly, prapatti is the brahmAstra which becomes ineffective when self-effort is used.
This shruti likens the self-effort of a bhakti yOgi to the wrong thinking that Rudra swallowed the poison independently of bhagavAn. Both the self-effort, which is independent of Brahman and the notion that Rudra is independent are wrong and lead to destruction of the true means which is prapatti yOga. Note that even this self-effort is possible only with the permission of bhagavAn who becomes the “indirect means”, but he does not endorse it, though he allows its’ practice if the jIvAtma desires it.
mA chido mRtyo  mA vadhIh |
Meaning:O jIvAtma bound in samsAra (mRtyu)! Do not cut off association (with the body),do not destroy (the means to Brahman)
“mRtyu” refers to the jIvAtma which is inseparably associated with death or samsAra which is the place of deaths (and births). This describes kaivalya moksha.
When one uses self-effort, it requires meditation on the individual self in the form of karma  yOga and jnAnayOga. Through jnAnayOga, one understands seshatva (jIvAtma sAkshAtkAram) and proceeds to bhakti yOga. Note that despite understanding seshatva, the bhakti yOgin fails to grasp that the form of seshatva is “atyanta pAratantrya” or complete dependence as well as servitude which involves relinquishing efforts. Rather, he proceeds to bhakti yOga merely understanding the essential nature as servitude.
In some cases, the jnAna yOgins fail to reach bhakti yOga. They meditate on the Anandatvam (bliss) and amalatvam(purity) of the individual self, but fail to meditate on seshatva (servitude). As a result, they attain a purushArtha which is “experience of the intrinsic bliss of the self” – this state is called “kaivalya” and the practitioners are called “kaivalyArtis”.
Experience of the intrinsic bliss of the individual self is not only limited in nature as compared to the infinite bliss of paramAtma, it is also against the nature of the jIvAtma which is seshatva and is an outcome of independence and self-effort.
The rk says that the kaivalyArti seeking to experience his own intrinsic bliss severs association with the body and reaches a place which is neither samsAra nor paramapada, but on the outskirts of the virajA river bordering paramapada. As the kaivalyArti is not in paramapada, it is not moksha proper. As he is not in samsAra, he does not have a material body and can no longer do sAdhana to attain Brahman. As a result, he is stuck irreversibly in “limbo” for eternity experiencing the bliss of the self.
That is why vishNu, in the sahasranAma is called “muktAnAm paramAm gatiH” – “He is the highest destination for muktas”. If Brahman is the highest goal for muktas, that implies there is also a lower destination for muktas, which is kaivalya moksha, is it not? Logical.
This is a terrible fate and the rk is warning the jIvAtma here to not indulge in self-effort, sever its’ association with the body and get stuck in this situation of kaivalya moksha which is a destruction of the means to attain Brahman.
A small note here. There is a bit of a mystery regarding this “kaivalya moksha” in shAstra. As we understand it, some pramAnAs such as this rk state that this kaivalya moksha is eternal and permanent. However, there are some pramAnAs elsewhere which state that the kaivalyArtis end up in a place near Meru, experience the bliss of the self for a limited amount of time and by the grace of paramAtma, are corrected to performing sAdhana on Brahman. Some sri Vaishnava acharyas elaborate the former view whereas others elaborate the later view.
Our view, after studying the works of the AchAryas, is simple – both are true. While there is indeed a place that is kaivalya moksha, it is likely that bhagavAn, out of his grace, does not allow the foolish kaivalyArtis to reach it. Rather, he would guide them away from their sAdhana and towards bhakti yOga or prapatti, which might take place near Meru.
This reconciliation explains the presence of pramAnAs for both viewpoints. Indeed, srI vedAnta desikan states both views in his tAtparya Chandrika, while favoring the view that kaivalya is not an eternal state. This is likely due to the achArya’s realization that bhagavAn probably is not as cruel as to abandon even the asurAs there!
The primary takeaway from this rk is – self-effort could lead to a worse gati than samsAra and hence, one must always be meditating on bhagavAn, just as Rudra meditated on him while swallowing the poison.
mA me balaM vivRho mA pramoshIH | prajAM mA mE rIrisha Ayurugna|
Meaning: O Rigid/Unyielding Mind (ugna)! Do not destroy my strength, ie, knowledge (of the essential nature). Do not take away, ie, deprive me ofservice to Brahman which is the outcome of my essential nature. Do not take away the indrIyas (for experiencing Brahman), my life (the experience of the auspicious attributes of Brahman),  which is an outcome of service to Brahman.
Having advised us mortals on what to do (and what not to do), the vedapurusha now performs the appropriate action himself. It is a case of the teacher exhibiting jnAna (by upadEsha) and anushtAna (demonstrating it for us).
“ugna” refers to that which is unyielding or rigid in its’ nature. It refers to the mind. Obviously, self-effort is motivated by ego, which in turn is due to the mind becoming attached to and delighting in one’s prowess.   
Strength here is a metaphor for knowledge. The essential nature of the individual self is to serve bhagavAn. If this knowledge is suppressed by karmas, then service to paramAtma is naturally denied.
Service to Brahman results in experience of the auspicious attributes of Brahman. Experience of these attributes is the “life” of the prapanna as it sustains him. The senses are engaged in service and experiencing these attributes. Obviously, these are denied if service is denied.
nRcakshasam tvA haviSha vidhEma| sadyas cakamAnAya| pravEpAnAya mRtyavE|   
Meaning: Unto you, the One who perceives all living beings as the indweller (nRcakshas), do we offer our oblation (of self-surrender) in that moment, also for the sake of repelling ego (cakamAnAya), for the sake of (making) samsAra designated as “mRtyu” tremble.
nRcakshasa – One who observes or perceives (caksasa) all beings designated as “naras” (nR). This refers to the antaryAmin who is sarva-sAkshi, the witness of all as per the Gita verse “ahaMAtmAguDakEsasarvabhUtasayasthithaH”.
Thus, the devas surrendered to the antaryAmin of Rudra realizing – 1) They could not protect themselves, 2) Rudra could not protect them independently. Similarly we must realize, 1) We cannot protect ourselves by our own strength, 2) Other gods also cannot protect us. With this knowledge, we must surrender to Sri Lakshmi Narasimha, the Supreme Brahman.
saranAgati is done immediately upon this realization once, at any time, any place and any state as signified by “sadyas”. It obviously repels the ego brought on by self-effort.
“Making death tremble”- samsAra is designated as “mRtyu” as it is the place of death. Normally, samsAra induces fear. Therefore, the mantra ends by saying metaphorically that our prapatti to Brahman will cause fear to samsAra itself. It is personification of samsAra to drive the point across.
Therefore, it is clear that meanings of the mantra subsequent to “hariM harantam” show a continuity to the interpretation of it being Narasimha, the indweller of Rudra when the latter was swallowing the poison. This is also one additional mUla pramAna for this incident besides what we have provided already in the blog.