Terrifying Body, Tender Heart

Learnings from Srimad Bhagavatam

Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana is a “Paramahamsa Samhita” as it is a collection of the revelations not only of the Supreme Lord,  but also of the devotees of the Lord. The Purana lakshana or characteristic of “Poshanam” – the unconditional and limitless compassion the Lord has toward His devotees – is revealed in the heart of Bhagavatam in the sixth canto. It shows that the Lord has no bheda bhava (differentiation) when it comes to His devotees, whether it is Dhruva the human child, Prahlada the asura child, Kunti the aged queen, Koobja the bent servant woman, Gajendra the elephant or Vritrasura the demon. All that matters to Him is only the tender loving heart of His devotee.

Vritrasura’s story is a beautiful gem hidden within the depths of Bhagavatam. Vritra was a horrific demon created to avenge a wrong done by Indra. He emerged out of the sacred fire in the form of Death himself, fierce and grotesque. He was dark and colossal like the clouds of ill omen. His eyes spit fire, his gaping mouth was lined by pointed frightful teeth and his tongue leapt out of his mouth terrifyingly as if to engulf all three worlds.

But what a surprise then that this terrible demon actually turns out to be a gentle devotee at heart! And not any devotee, but one of the very highest order who seeks nothing but the love and service of the Lord!

When Vritra confronts Indra (he has to after all do his duty and fight Indra, the work for which he was born), he reveals that he knew his death was certain at the hands of Indra. But, in contrast to Indra who always runs to the Lord in fear when his life is in danger, Vritra submits to the Lord’s will, saying that that is his will too. He further adds that the Lord thwarts all the efforts of His devotees to attain the four purusharthas of dharma, artha, kama, moksha. This Vritra says, is indeed the Grace of God, for the Lord belongs only to those who have nothing to call their own!

As he stood on the battlefield, in the midst of his duel with India, Vritra contemplates the Lotus Feet of the Lord and immense love wells up in his heart! At this point, he offers four beautiful verses to the Lord – known as the Vritrasura Chatusloki – which are laden with intense love for Bhagavan.

He prays to the Lord to be born again and again as a servant of the servants of those devotees who have taken refuge in His holy Feet.  Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji would say, “If you can serve Rama like Lakshmana, then serve the Lord or the Guru directly. If that is not possible, be like Bharata and do what the Guru says. But if you cannot do even that, be like Shatrughna and serve the devotee of Bhagavan!” Which is what Vritra prays for here.

He further prays to the Lord to constantly give him His remembrance, sing His glories and do His service. Thus he prays for servitude to Bhagavan’s devotees which becomes his first purushartha – Dharma. Vritra, though an asura, here reflects the attitude of the Gopis, who surrendered to the Lord as His servants!

There is no desire for liberation in a devotee of the Lord, for there is nothing more to achieve than the supreme bliss one experiences in serving Him. Next Vritrasura expresses his disinterest for any worldly pleasures, yogic powers or even Liberation if it takes him away from the Lord even for a moment. Here he implies that his second purushartha – Artha or wealth is none than Sri-Pathi, the Lord Himself.

Vritra’s third verse shows his yearning to see Bhagavan. He compares his longing first to that of a fledgling bird who constantly cries to be fed by its mother; next to a calf that can see its mother but since it is tied away from her, is unable to reach her; and finally, like a grief -stricken beloved wife separated from her husband longs to be with Him again!                                                                                                                                                                                                      “O Aravindaksha – O lotus–eyed one,” Vritra cries, “My mind is keen to behold you!” Vritra proves his unconditional love for Bhagavan yet again in this verse, disclosing that his Kama (third purushartha) is nothing but to have Bhagavan’s darshan.

In the end, Vritra proves his viveka (discrimination), for he prays fervently that the Lord should not give him any association with the worldly minded, but instead keep him constantly only in satsang – constant association with the Lord’s devotees/saints who never tire of listening to His glories. This constant remembrance alone constitutes the fourth purushartha – Moksha.

A tender loving heart, housed in a grotesque body, with every part of him yearning, chanting, serving and reminiscing the Lord, with his love comparable to the supreme love of the Gopis of Vrindavan! Whose wonderful lila could this be other than the mayaavi Krishna Kanhaiyya exemplifying His compassion overwhelmingly through the story of Vritra?

Lekshmi Nair, Houston TX


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