Thursday, March 29, 2012

The feet dilemma

"Chappal se maroongi", says the girl to the boy who teases her.

"Aapkaa paaon pakad ke maang rahin hoon, mere bechaara bete ko chod de", says the poor mom to the villain who is about to punish her son.

The feet, just like light, exhibhits dual nature. It is used for disrespective gestures and at the same time an object of worship.

Growing up, I remember there were so many restrictions with the usage of one's feet. Putting one foot over the other thigh is considered egoistic. Pointing feet towards elders is disrepectful. Pointing feet towards the puja room will incur paapam. Sleeping with feet pointing towards South will bring bad luck. Shaking feet or legs in front of elders is disrespectful. Jumping with both legs over somebody is bad. Stepping over someone, even accidentally, calls for an apology to Shiva. The amount of sinful acts you can do with feet is endless, so much so that, a Tamil poet Karaikkal Ammaiyar is said to have climbed the Kailasha with her head, in order not to disrespect Shiva touching Kailasha with her feet.

Yet, when it comes to obtain blessings, feet are the ultimate saviours. Whether its touching elders feet or completely surrendering to bhagavAn's feet, there are no two better sought. After all, you do not touch an elder's head and ask for blessing.

There are so many words in Samskritam to denote feet: caraNa - from the root car (to move) -> that which is reason for moving (feet); pAda - foot - from root pad (that which measures a foot); anghri and so on. Often bhagavAn's feet are identified with lotus - pAda-kamala, pAda-pankaja, pAdAdmbuja etc. Interestingly, the lotus is also identified with eyes, kamala-nayana, pankaja-netra etc. Realistically, lotus has nothing in common with feet or eyes, but it immediately brings a sense of bhagavAn's guNa !

About 13th century, a scholar came to shrIrangam. There was a duel between the scholar and shrI vedAnta desika. Oriental duels were mostly about knowledge, not about guns. The hall of shame exclusively belonged to the people who lost verbal duels. The scholar wrote a poem about shrI ranganAtha's feet and challenged the latter to better that. shrI vedAnta desika, goes one step "below" the "feet" and overnight composes a magnum opus on just the sandals of ranganAtha called "pAdukA sahasram" - one thousand verses on shrI ranganAtha's feet alone! It is a marvelous piece of poetry in Samskritam.

vAlmIki's description of ahalyA's episode is a very simple narrative. In fact vAlmIki mentions that ahalyA knew that the fake Gautama was actually Indra himself, before getting cursed by the real rShi gautama to turn into a stone. But kamban, in his kambarAmayaNam treats ahalyA as innocent and ends the act with one of the most memorable quotes through rShi vishvAmitra:

"kaivaNNam angu kanden, kAlvaNNam ingu kanden"

Kamban uses the word "vaNNam" with several meanings in that verse: in such a way, happening, route, quantity, color, shade of color, prowess/valor and skill ! After turning stone into ahalyA, the rShi recalls rAma's hand prowess in the fight against tArakA and now appreciates the skill of rAma's feet!

But thats all alankAra, poetic license, poetic liberty, call what you may. What about the common man's perception?

That dilemma is so beautifully presented in this verse, of an unknown author:

kShAlayAmi tava pAdapa~gkajam pashya dArudRuShadoH kimantaram |
mAnuShIkaraNa cUrNamasti te pAdayoH iti kathA prathIyasI ||

क्षालयामि तव पादपङ्कजम् पश्य दारुदृषदोः किमन्तरम् ।
मानुषीकरण चूर्णमस्ति ते पादयोः इति कथा प्रथीयसी ॥

tava pAdapa~gkajam kShAlayAmi | pashya dAru-dRuShadoH kimantaram ? tava/te pAdayoH mAnuShIkaraNa cUrNam asti | iti kathA prathIyasI ||

तव पादपङ्कजम् क्षालयामि । पश्य दारु-दृषदोः किमन्तरम् ? तव/ते पादयोः मानुषीकरण चूर्णम् अस्ति । इति कथा प्रथीयसी ॥

shrI rAma is about to get into guha's boat. One of the boatmen says "O rAma, I want to wash the dirt from your lotus-feet. What's the difference after all between wood and stone? The dust of your feet has the power to turn stone into people, so its heard!"

If shrI rAMa's (dust) feet can turn stone into woman, the boatman is worried what will happen to his wooden boat, that is his livelihood after all!

No comments: