The lion among poets – Sri Vedanta Desika

The sandals (paduka) which adorn the Lord, which help in the attainment of all that is good and auspicious, which give knowledge, which cause the desire (of having the Lord as one’s own), which remove all that is hostile, which have attained the Lord, which are used for going and coming from one place to another, by which all places of the world can be reached, these sandals are for Lord Vishnu.

This incredible verse which uses just one vowel (a) and one consonant (ya)- infused with imagery, love, devotion and poetic sense- is taken from the Paduka Sahasram, an epic poem of 1008 verses praising the footwear of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. Verses like the above are created only with beautiful Sanskrit as a powerful tool, with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the real truth, and with a poetic mind that is also devoted to the supreme. And, definitely, despite being an expert in Sanskrit, only incarnations of the divine are capable of producing such striking work of word-play. Of course, the paduka sahasram was written by the unparalleled mulitilingual poet and VisisthAdvaita philosopher – Sri Vedanta Desika.

Sri Vedanta Desika was born in Thoopul, near Kanchipuram to two devout parents, through a boon they received from the Lord of Venkatagiri (Tirupati) and hence he was named Venkatanatha.  He began his Vedic education at the age of five with his maternal uncle, who was himself a very great scholar and a direct disciple of Swami Ramanuja. By the age of 20, Desika had already attained complete mastery of all the scriptures. His thorough knowledge and deep insight helped him defeat every philosopher who opposed Vedanta. Thus, he was always invited for debates and polemics across the country. Sri Vedanta Desika caused Vedanta to gain a firm footing in the 14th and 15th century India.

Vedanta Desika translated his knowledge to the common man, through nearly hundred different works in the languages of Tamil, Manipravalam and Sanskrit. Each of these works is so exceptional that it is almost impossible to pick one and call that Desika’s magnum opus. Sri Vedanta Desika also wrote elaborate commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the works of Sri Ramanuja. His works also include treatises on visistAdvaita, and expositions on the nalayira divya prabandhams. All his contemporaries considered him to be the sole authority on Vedanta. His brilliance in poetry and his mastery of all languages in which he wrote, also earned Desika the title “Kavi tArkika Simha” which means the Lion among poets. A few English words here do no justice to describing in full effect, the greatness of Sri Vedanta Desika.

Coming back to the Paduka Sahasram – It is believed that Desika was challenged one night, to demonstrate his Sanskrit knowledge by producing atleast a 1000 verses in the praise of Lord Ranganatha before day break. After supper that night, apparently Desika went to sleep. When one of his close disciples woke him up and reminded him about the challenge, Desika spontaneously started composing the paduka sahasram, in praise of the Lord’s footwear. The next day, he recited this 1008 verse epic poem and surrendered them at the feet of Ranganatha. Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam was extremely pleased with Desika that He appeared to confer the title of “Vedantacharya” on Desika and to add to this, Ranganatha’s consort Ranganayaki conferred him the title “Sarva Tantra Svatantra”. And you might have already guessed – the challenger could barely come up with a few hundred verses that night, and Desika won the challenge hands down.

The paduka sahasram has several stunning verses that will cause one to drop their jaw in awe. Another example below is shown where Sri Vedanta Desika solves a mathematical puzzle that we now call Euler Chess Knight problem through Sanskrit poetry. The solution of the problem involves placing the knight in one corner of the chess board and without touching any square twice, landing the knight on every square on the board. Euler found an answer to this problem in the 17th century and that is why the modern world calls this the Euler Chess Knight problem. Sitting in medieval Europe, Euler had neither heard of Sri Vedanta Desika nor read his elegant solution depicted in stunning poetry hundreds of years before Euler solved it, not to mention the fact that the solution was spontaneously found at the wee hours of the night in preparation for the poetry challenge.

In the solution presented below, there are 2 verses on after another. When the syllables of the first verses are written in order on the squares of the chessboard, the second verse is formed by the syllables that follow the movement of the knight. (Please see excerpt below taken from the book “The Wonder That is Sanksrit”, by Sampad and Vijay)

O sacred sandals of the Brahman, you are always adorned by those who have committed unpardonable sins; you remove all that is sorrowful and unwanted; you create a musical sound; (be pleased) and lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.

The sandals which protect those who shine by their right attitude, whose place is the center of the blissful rays, which destroy the melancholy of the distressed, whose radiance brings peace to those who take refuge in them, which move everywhere,  -may those golden and radiating sandals of the Brahman lead me to the feet of Lord Rangaraja.

Desika might have been an incredible genius, yet one often wonders how at all did Desika accomplish so much in his lifetime and this further inspires young minds to think about their own capabilities.  India has repeatedly produced men with exceptional accomplishments, and reading about these great men should remind every person about his own hidden potential and hopefully, that will motivate him to carve out his own path in search of the ultimate truth.


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  1. #1 by aishwaryak87 on November 10, 2010 - 1:10 am

    Hi Vidya,

    Excellent Blog – especially the Euler’s Part was wonderful. Your are doing a great job!!


  2. #2 by Srividya KR on November 10, 2010 - 8:56 am

    Hi Aishwarya,
    Thank you for reading and commenting.

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