264 – Ascetic’s Penance

National Integration Through Thirukkural And Sanskrit

Penance of an Ascetic

Prayer is a direct appeal to God to grant one’s requests. Prayers by nature are short-term and  mostly for personal or material gains or atonement for a curse. Penance is long-term and the object of penance is attaining spirituality through intellectual contemplation.  In the initial stages, people undertake prayers for obtaining material gains and gradually mature to undertake penance for spiritual gains.

Whatever things there are that are apparently unattainable are sure to be won by the aid of penance. It is believed that with whatever purpose in view one undergoes penances, one attains the fruition thereof in consequence of those penances.  Whatever is difficult to accomplish, whatever is difficult to conquer, what is difficult to attain, and whatever is difficult to cross, can all be achieved with the aid of penances. Of all things, penances are possessed of very superior might. The idea, which pervades Hindu philosophy, is that one could obtain, by self-mortification, enough power even to achieve what they aspire for.

Some popular examples from our scriptures are:

Bhagiratha did severe and austere penance to bring the Ganges to the earth. His aim was to release his ancestors from sage Kapila’s curse which had reduced them to ashes. He was told that only the waters of Ganga could accomplish this task and it demanded nothing short of arduous penance. He performed the most severe of penance that lasted for a thousand years. Brahma granted his wish that the Ganga to be brought to the earth. But Brahma also asked him to propitiate Siva with whose help alone the fierce flow of the Ganga could be mitigated. So Bagiratha did further penance and sought Siva’s grace. Siva agreed to hold the waters of the Ganga in his matted locks and restrict the mighty speed of the rushing waters. The Ganga thus brought from the celestial regions to the earth and till date is serving humanity by washing away their sins and purifying them symbolically.

Viswamitra attained the status of a Brahma Rishi through severe penance and austerities performed with determination and grit. Once, he visited Vasishta’s hermitage, and learnt that Vasishta had a sacred cow which would provide whatever one desired, Viswamitra was determined to possess it. Vasishta was equally determined not to part with it and there ensued a combat between the two of them that assumed unimaginable proportions. It was a battle between the valour of a kshatriya king and the spiritual power of a sage. Finally, Viswamitra  realised the truth that the supremacy of the sage could not be challenged by the might of the king. Plunging himself in deep and severe penance, he gained the status of a Maharishi, Rajarishi and finally a Brahmarishi. To him was revealed the sacred Gayatri mantra.

Ahalya was married to Sage Gautama. Lord Indra comes disguised as her husband and she falls prey to Indra’s trickery. When her husband Gautama comes to know about it, he cursed her to become a stone. Ahalya atones for liberation from her curse by undergoing severe penance and finally is liberated by Lord Rama after she is brushed by Rama’s foot.

Arjuna in Mahabharata after advice of Lord Shri Krishna performed severe austerities in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon.

Thiruvalluvar in his couplet 264 endorses the same:

ஒன்னார்த் தெறலும் உவந்தாரை ஆக்கலும்
எண்ணின் தவத்தான் வரும் 

Onnaarth Theralum Uvandhaarai Aakkalum
Ennin Thavaththaan Varum

பரிமேலழகர் உரை:

ஒன்னார்த் தெறலும் – அறத்திற்குப் பகையாய் அழிவு செய்தாரைக் கெடுத்தலும், உவந்தாரை ஆக்கலும் – அதனை உவந்தாரை உயர்த்தலும் ஆகிய இவ்விரண்டையும் எண்ணின் தவத்தான் வரும் – தவம் செய்வார் நினைப்பராயின், அவர் தவ வலியான் அவை அவர்க்கு உளவாம். (முற்றத் துறந்தார்க்கு ஒன்னாரும் உவந்தாரும் உண்மை கூடாமையின், தவத்திற்கு ஏற்றி உரைக்கப்பட்டது. ‘எண்ணின்’ என்றதனால், அவர்க்கு அவை எண்ணாமை இயல்பு என்பது பெற்றாம். ஒன்னார் பெரியராயினும், உவந்தார் சிறியராயினும், கேடும் ஆக்கமும் நினைந்த துணையானே வந்து நிற்கும் எனத் தவம் செய்வார் மேலிட்டுத் தவத்தினது ஆற்றல் கூறியவாறு.).

If an Ascetic desires the destruction of his enemies, or the aggrandizement of his friends, it will be effected by the power of his austerities.

Sanskrit Translation by Shri S.N. Srirama Desikan

ஸாதூ⁴னாம் ஸங்க்³ரஹே து³ஷ்டஜனானாம் நிக்³ரஹே(அ)பி ச |
ஸ²க்தி: ஸ்மரணமாத்ரேண மஹதாம் ஸ்யாத்தபோப³லாத் ||