Bhagavad Dhyana Sopanam of Swami Desikan

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Feb 19, 1998

Sri Desika sings the beauty of Lord Ranganatha in this stotram. The word sopânam means steps, and is probably derived from sa and upâyana (going near, approaching). In this stotram, Sri Desika describes Lord Ranganatha’s beauty part by part starting from His lotus feet all the way up to His kirîtam (The Sacred Crown). He points out in the concluding sloka that one who is desirous of yoga or union with the Lord will find it easy to climb through the steps needed for this by acquiring the necessary bhakti by chanting this stotram. This is the reason for the title ‘sopânam’.

This stotram follows the example of Sri Tiruppan Alvar’s composition amalanâdipirân which is also a similar composition on Lord Ranganatha, except that Alvar’s composition is in Tamil while Sri Desika’s composition is in Sanskrit. Both stotrams start with the description of the Sacred Feet of Lord Ranganatha, and end with the praise of His eyes, face, kirîtam, etc. It is Sri Vaishnava tradition that when we have the darsanam of the Lord in the temples, we start with viewing His feet first. When the arcaka-s do the karpūra-Arati, they start with the pâda-sevâ, and then gradually give us the sevâ all the way through the sevâ of vaksha-sthala Mahalakshmi (Lakshmi residing on the Lord’s chest), up to the sacred facial view and the kirîtam of the Lord.

When I read Sri Rama Desikachariar Swami’s interpretations on some of the sloka-s in this stotram, I was reminded of the Alvars who imagine themselves as a friend of the Lord, or as a mother, or as a consort, etc., when they express their experience (anubhavam) of Bhagavan in the form of their compositions. In composing the Bhagavad Dhyana Sopanam, Swami Desikan’s mind seems to have been in the state of a young girl in deep love with Lord Ranganatha. Thus when he describes the Lord’s hands in sloka 7, he describes his mind as a she-elephant which is enjoying a tight embrace by the Lord’s beautifully decorated hands. In sloka 10, where he summarizes his anubhavam of the Lord, Sri Rama Desikachariar Swami interprets Swami Desikan’s thoughts as that of a young girl who is in love with the Lord and who is having this great anubhavam of the Lord first by touching His delicate feet with both her hands, then gently touching His ankles with devotion, then having the contact (sparsham) of His Sacred vaksha-sthalam or chest, then enjoying the rapture of touching His beautiful face, and then losing herself in the beauty of His kirîtam.

There are a total of 12 sloka-s in the stotram. The poet in Swami Desikan is evident throughout the stotra. In the sloka where he describes the Lord’s ankles, he points out that by worshipping those ankles which helped the Lord “go” fast as a messenger to the Pandavas, we can get rid of the need to “go” in the cycle of birth and death. When describing His nabhî-kamalam (lotus navel), Sri Desikan compares it to the deep vortex formed during the pralaya which can hide the whole Universe in it, and where the pollen dust from the lotus flowers have settled, leading to new lotus flowers bearing new brahma-s in each kalpa. It is also like the big vortex formed from the flooding beauty of the Lord. When he describes the Lord’s vaksha-sthalam, he loses himself totally in Lord Ranganatha’s beauty. This vaksha-sthalam is decorated by the beautiful white Srivatsam mole, blessed naturally by the sacred touch of the lotus feet of Mahalakshmi since She resides on His vaksha-sthala, and is shining at the same time red because of the kaustubha gem, green and other different colors because of the tulasi and the vaijayanti garlands, and white like the moon because of the white pearl necklace decorating His chest. His hands are like the parijata tree, only special because these can give moksha to those who have done prapatti (surrendered) to Him, whereas the parijata can give only things other than moksha. His face is turned on the side as if to welcome those who come to Him even from a distance, His smiling lips look like they are speaking to His devotees, and His eyes look like they are graciously welcoming those who are coming to Him. While describing His kirîtam, Swami Desikan describes the beautiful locks of hair on which the kirîṭam rests. These locks of hair are “curled liked the twisted words from the angry women of the Chola country”.

After the description of his anubhava of the Lord in detail, Swami Desikan summarizes his feelings of the darsanam of the moolavar and utsava-moorti in the penultimate two sloka-s. The last sloka is the phala-Sruti. This overall organization is similar to what we saw in the Dasavatara Stotram. Just as we had one sloka in the Dasavatara stotram that summarized the ten incarnations, here we have two sloka-s that summarize the Lord’s beauty. I am including these two “summary” sloka-s with their brief meanings.

पादाम्भोजं स्पृशति भजते रङ्गनाथस्य जङ्घाम्
ऊरु-द्वन्द्वे विलगतिशनैर् ऊर्ध्वम् अभ्येति नाभिम् |
वक्षस्यास्ते वलति भुजयोर-मामिकेयं मनीषा
वक्त्राभिख्यां पिबति वहते वासनां मौलि-बन्धे ||

My mind dwells on the sacred Lotus Feet of Lord Ranganatha, then moves to enjoy the darsana of His ankles, then rests well on the enjoyment of His majestic thighs, reaches His nabhî-kamalam, gets set on the vaksha-sthalam, revolves around His majestic hands, drinks the nectar of the darshanam of His beautiful face, and sets finally on His kirîtam.

कान्तोदारैर् अयमिह भुजैः कङ्कणज्या-किणाङ्कैः  
लक्ष्मी-धाम्नः पृथुल-परिघैर् लक्षिताभीति-हेतिः |
अग्रे किञ्चित् भुजग-शयनः स्वात्मनैवात्मनः सन्
मध्ये रङ्गं मम च हृदये वर्तते सावरोधः ||

This great Lord Ranganatha who is resting on Adi-Sesha, and whose hands are beautiful, bestow all that is wished for by the devotees, has the imprint of the bangles as well as the mark of the bow-string left by bearing the bow in the process of carrying it for destroying His enemies, look like they are there to protect the vaksha-sthalam which is the dwelling place of Mahalakshmi, and carry the divine weapons that can drive away any and all fears that the devotees may be exposed to by their mere darsanam, is also presenting Himself in the form of His utsava-moorti along with His divine consorts under the Sriranga-vimaana in the heart of Srirangam as well in my heart.

In the last sloka, the phala-Sruti, the great acharya pleads to the Lord on our behalf to confer on us eternal and unswerving bhakti to help us “ascend” with ease to the level of what the great yogi-s accomplish only by intense effort.

—dâsan kṛshṇamâcâryan