There are four words in the title. Padma is Lotus. PAda stands for the (divine) feet. DhUli means dust; it is dust from the divine feet. PAdukA is sandal. In this article we shall talk about the lotus feet of God, Dust of the divine feet and Sandals of Divinity. In talking about them we shall go through a vast spectrum of Hindu religious thought .
Mystics, Saints and Acharyas all through the centuries have gone into raptures on these concepts. The Divine Feet constitute the ultimate solace for all sorrows. Nammalwar, (12.12.1) the soul of the twelve great Vaishnava Alwars, right in the very first stanza of his immortal work, glorifies the Divine Feet: tuyarvaru chuDar aDi , that is, ‘the glowing feet of the Lord which blasts off all gloom and grief’. uyarvaRa uyarnalam uDayavan, says he: ‘The Lord’s glories and qualities are of the superlative kind; there is nothing greater than this’. According to Vaishnava tradition, it is the Lord’s feet that have incarnated as Nammalwar. The vertical line or lines worn by the orthodox devotees of Vishnu on their forehead is the symbol of the Lord’s Divine Foot. The lotus feet of the Divine are ageless and faultless, they eradicate all our misdeeds – so goes one Vedic mantra :
caraNaM pavitraM vitataM purANaM yena pUtas-tarati dushhkRtAni.
This is the mantra which is customarily used when we ritually wash the feet of elders, mystics and Acharyas.
Whenever we refer to the divine feet it is customary to refer to them as lotus feet. The lotus flower is an ancient divine symbol. Its unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise. The fact that though it grows amidst mud and slush, it does not carry even an iota of its unclean surroundings, is an indication of how pure the Lord’s feet are inspite of the fact that, all the time, they are being touched by all and sundry in the entire world. Recall that Creator BrahmA and Goddess Lakshmi, the Divinities of potence and wealth, have both the lotus symbol associated with them exclusively.
The steps that the Divine Feet take are so great that He is known as ‘the Great who measured or spanned the whole Universe’: ulagalanda-perumAL(in Tamil). He is amita-vikramaH, the One who has an unlimited span of stride. He is also tri-vikramaH, the One Who spanned the three worlds by His strides. trivikrama also means He pervades the three Vedas by His Power – incidentally also hinting that His Power to shower Grace is in His Feet! The Vishnu-Sahasranama has eka-pAd as one of His names and this glorifies the divine feet even more, for it means that the entire universe is part of his one foot. This resonates again with the statement in the Purushha-sUkta (which occurs both in the Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda): pado’sya vishvA bhUtAni, meaning, ‘All these beings emanated from His divine foot’. This concept that He pervades, permeates and generates the whole universe is one of the fountain-head concepts of Hinduism. It actually distinguishes the Hindu religion from every other. In the Gita also this thought is reproduced in the same language by the Lord: vishhTabhyAham-idam kRtsnaM ekAmshena sthito jagat (This whole universe is supported by just one infinitesimal part of Me).
Divine Mother’s divine feet are glorified in the Lalita Sahasranama. nakha-dIdhiti-samchinna-namaj-jana-tamo-guNA -- ‘the bright rays emanating from Her toe nails dispel the darkness of Her worshippers’. In other words meditation on Her feet dispels ignorance – the ignorance that causes our bondage to the transmigratory cycle of births and deaths. Again, in a similar vein, Shankara, in verse no.4 of his Soundarya-lahari, praises the Divine Feet in superlative terms: ‘Oh Mother of the Universe. Deities other than You reveal their divine form by showing the abhaya-mudrA (Sign proclaiming ‘Have no Fear’) by their right hand and the vara-mudrA (Sign granting the desired boons) by their left hand. But You are holding four different objects inyour hands and thus the hands do not show the mudras. Does it not mean that not only these but more will all be granted by your divine feet themselves?
Shankara himself is only a manifestation of Lord Shiva. The great cosmic dance of Shiva in the holy place of Chidambaram, includes in its esoteric interpretations, distinct meanings for the ‘raised foot of the divine’ --tUkkiya tiruvaDi, in Tamil – and ‘held foot of the divine’ --UnRiya tiruvaDi . The former grants the ultimate boon, namely, Mokshha and the latter performs what is called obliteration (tirodhAna -- disappearance, vanishing.), one of the five divine functions – creation, sustenance, dissolution, grace, and obliteration. Without this fifth function, obliteration, our sins can never be exhausted. Only by exhausting our karma can we hope to cross the ocean of birth-death cycle. To exhaust our karma we need God’s Grace for his fifth function to operate. The dissolution function of God does extinguish the created world and the whole universe, but the VasanAs which we have accumulated through our sins of past lives, committed by ourselves for ourselves can never be extinguished by the dissolution function. Even after the deluge they all stay in latent form waiting for the next day of BrahmA, to sprout again in our new lives. Only by God’s willing exercise of his obliteration function will the latent VasanAs in us be obliterated . The only way therefore to obliterate all our sins of the past is to surrender to His ‘held foot’ unconditionally. We should be able to surrender not only ourselves but also our ego at that foot of His. Then certainly He will release us from all obligations and bondage – so assures the Lord in the charama shloka (Ch.18 – Verse 66) of the Gita.
It is from these feet of Lord Shiva that has emanated the famous divine disc called Sudarshana chakra says the Shiva Purana. It is the Lord Shiva who gave the Sudarshana chakra to Lord Vishnu.
Evam-uktvA dadau chakraM sUryAyudha-sama-prabhaM /
sudarshanaM sva-pAdothaM sarva-shatru-vinAshanaM //
Let us note a disclaimer here imbedded in our shAstras, particularly the advaitic tradition. There is no hierarchy meant between Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu by the above. This is a confirmation, if one be needed, that between the various manifestations of Divinity no distinction in status is meant or intended because just one Hand of Godhead is giving to another Hand of the same and only Godhead.
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The power and fame of the Sudarshana Disc are well-known. It saved the elephant-devotee Gajendra from extinction by the giant crocodile who grabbed him from under water. And thus arose the famous Gajendra-mokshha chapter of the Bhagavatam. It is the same Sudarshana disc which disposed off the arch-enemy, Sishupala, of the Lord in His manifestation as Krishna. Again at a crucial moment at the end of the Mahabharata War, when the consecrated arrow of Ashwattama – the sole survivor among the heros of the Kaurava army – was aimed at all progenies of the Pandavas, with the aim of totally annihilating the entire Pandava dynasty including even children in the wombs of Pandava wives, it was the Sudarshana disc that entered the womb of the mother to protect the yet-unborn Parikshit, who later survived the Pandavas as their only successor.
This was the same Disc which was given to King Ambarisha by the Lord in appreciation of his devotion. King Ambarisha was the great-grandson of Vaivasvata Manu, the seventh Lord of the entire Earth in the present cosmic day of Brahma. Neither his kingship nor the wealth that goes with it could enchant him away from his constant and intense devotion for the Lord. It was Sage Durvasa (known for his short temper, fierce anger and renowned spirituality) who came to test his devotion. Ambarisha, once performed a year-long dvAdashi-vrata. This enjoined on him a complete fast on every ekAdashi day (the 11th day of the lunar fortnight) and which has to be broken exactly on the next day (dvAdashi = the 12th day) at a specific time. On one such occasion, on the morning of dvAdashi day, the sage Durvasa, came as guest, along with his disciples, at the doors of king Ambarisha. The latter was about to break his fast, but seeing the esteemed guest, he was ready to play host for him but Durvasa wanted time to go to the river and perform his morning rituals before he partook of Ambarisha’s hospitality. Ambarisha agreed to wait, hoping that Durvasa would respect his Vrata and come back before the time of his breaking the fast. The fast was to be broken not later than a specific time. But he waited and waited; Durvasa did not turn up before the specific time. When it was no more possible to wait, the king’s advisors advised him to sip a little water in the form of an Acamanam by chanting the names of God and that, they said, would be equivalent to breaking one’s fast. This would satisfy the requirements of the Vrata as well as the protocol, by which, he would not have eaten before his notable guest.
But Durvasa, when he appeared, would not agree. He felt the protocol broken and he had been insulted; in no time he created a demon from one of his hairs to attack and kill the King. The King did not move an inch but the Lord’s Disc which was protecting him, not only burnt the demon by its fiery power, but now in its turn, attacked Durvasa himself. The sage in sheer fright, ran for his life ! The Disc of the Lord pursued Durvasa wherever he went, through even the three worlds. Finally he went to the Creator BrahmA. The Creator pleaded inability to defend him against the Disc. Durvasa then went to Lord Shiva. The latter said; The whole world is engulfed in VishNu-mAyA. None of us, can help you in this matter. You may try going to Lord VishNuHimself. So Durvasa came to Lord VishNu’s abode and fell at His feet. And Vishnu said: My devotee is greater than Myself; so you have to go back to him and apologise. Finally that is what was done. Ambarisha prayed to the Disc to stop attacking Durvasa. The prayer was heard and thus was the great sage saved from ignominy and extinction.
Such was the prowess of Sudarshana Chakra. The fact that such a chakra emanated from the divine feet of Lord Shiva, adds glory to the already glorified Divine Feet.
The Vedas themselves prostrate at the feet of the Divine Mother of the Universe. Lalita Sahasranama has a name which describes this in a poetically enjoyable way. The word ‘Shruti’ which stands for the Vedas, is feminine. When Shruti falls at the feet of the Mother, her head touches the divine feet. The dust of the divine feet is crimson in colour since the feet of the Mother is always painted that way – also to remind us of the fact millions of devotees have all the time been doing archanA to Her feet with Kunkum. The crimson dust sticks to the head of Lady Shruti exactly at the parting of the hair. Thus arises the name: Shruti-sImanta-sindhUrI-kRta-pAdAbja-dhUlikA meaning, the dust of whose lotus feet has crimson-coloured the parting of the hair on the head of Shruti. The dust of the divine feet on the head of Shruti is also an indication that even though Shruti may be of vast content and knowledge, Her knowledge of the Divine Mother is only a speck!
In the second verse of Soundarya-lahari, Shankara glorifies this dust of the Mother’s Divine Feet. ‘Oh Mother of the Cosmos! I don’t need even Your Feet. Just a speck of dust from Your divine Feet is enough. Even the Creator BrahmA creates the fourteen worlds only with the strength of the divine dust collected by Him from under your feet. Mahavishnu sustains the whole world only because of the strength of the Dust of your divine feet. Lord Shiva wears it on His forehead as sacred vibhUti.’ When this is the case with the Lords of Trinity, where are we poor mortals?
The great work DurgA-sapta-shati eulogises the worshipping of young girls as manifestations of the Divine Mother and the wearing of the dust under their feet after the worship. In the Shri Vaishnava tradition, to purify oneself with the dust of the feet of the devotees by washing their feet with water and sprinkling that holy water on one’s head is considered such a sacred act that one of the twelve Alwars got his name toNDar-aDip-poDi-Alwar from the act of his which became a habit and routine with him once he changed his earlier sinning life to one of supreme devotion to the Lord and His devotees.
Great are the Divine Feet, greater is the dust under the Divine Feet but greatest is the pair of sandals of the divine feet – known as PAdukA. That is why in the Ramayana Bharata asks for the divine sandals from Rama after he fails to convince him to return to Ayodhya and resume his kingship. The sandals take the place of the Lord for fourteen years as the symbolic King under whose banner Bharata serves and discharges the kingly duties. While he reluctantly takes leave of Rama in the forest where he has gone to plead for his return, and finally gets only the sandals of the Divine instead of the Divine Himself, he puts them on his head and carries them back to the capital with all reverence. The joining together of the two extremities – the Feet of the Divine with the head of the devotee – is what is symbolised in the joining of the palms when one worships or bows in reverence. The right palm denotes the feet of the Divine and the left palm denotes the head of the devotee. This is the esoteric principle behind the joining of the palms.
The greatness of the divine sandals have been sung by succession of poets over the centuries. But the heights of such raptural ecstasy can be seen in the work called PAdukA SahasraM (meaning, one thousand verses all on the pair of sandals, of the Divine) by Vedanta Desika of the fourteenth century. It was done by him in fulfillment of a competition committed to as a challenge by his disciples when they were provoked by members of another school. Full of beautiful poetry, of superb devotion, of conceptual density of philosophy and mythology, of poetic gymnastics, of lilting rhyme, and of majesty of language, these thousand verses were all composed by Desika in just one night – as he puts it, by the Grace of the PadukA of the Divine.
The sandals of the Purushhottama (the Supreme Person, the Divine Supreme) are known as the ShaThAri. The ShaThAri is like a crown placed reverentially on the heads of devotees (for instance, in a Vaishnava temple) who receive it with great humility. The classic instance of this act was first done by Bharata when he received the sandals from Rama. But before he receives it, he requests the Lord to wear the sandals once and remove it. The act of Rama that is requested here is to step on the sandals and step down. This is described in Valmiki Ramayana. Rama obliges accordingly. Imagine this scene in your mind. What esoteric significance does it suggest to you? The obvious guess is that Rama is requested to step on the sandals and step down so that the PAdukA may receive the spiritual vibrations from the Lord and therefore become so sacred as to be venerated and be able to receive the honour of being the object of worship from Bharata for all the period of Rama’s exile. This is what the great Acharya, Vedanta Desika, also thinks and weaves into his verse #113. But three verses later he eulogises the PAdukA to such heights that this dramatic scene obtains an enormous significance revealed only by the great intuition of the super-devotee Vedanta Desika. The argument goes like this.
The PAdukAs of the Divine are more powerful than the Divine itself. So when the Lord is on the point of embarking on a commitment to walk through the forests of the country for the next fourteen years, he was relying on the power of the PAdukA to protect him and his feet. Now that Bharata is asking for the PAdukAs and that means separation for Rama from them. He is now stepping up on them and stepping down so as to receive the spiritual vibrations from them and thereby the energy for him to sustain the challenge of walking barefooted through the entire forest. So the poet says: If he did not do it, how could he have walked through the rough ground and dense shrubbery of the Dandaka dforest with bare feet for so long? Is this not the height of devotion to the divine PadukA on the part of Desika?
tad-vishhNoH paramaM padaM, say the Upanishads, punning on the word ‘padaM’ thus meaning the Divine feet are the supreme. Desika continues in that strain: Lord Vishnu’s divine feet are the origin of the sacred GangA (the river Ganges). But under the divine feet of the Lord there are the PadukAs of the Divine. So Ganga has this constant communion with the divine feet. That is why, probably, says the poet, Lord Shiva has always GangA on His head, because He feels, keeping the GangA on His head is actually keeping the Divine sacred feet of Lord Vishnu on His head.
The inner meaning of every verse of the PAdukA-Sahasram has something to do with the glory of the Guru. In fact the PAdukA of the Divine is equated to the Guru or Acharya. The Grace of the Guru is considered to be more powerful than the Grace of the Lord Himself. We realise that even if we surrender to God we are not able to ingratiate ourselves into the Lord's favour. A Guru actually pleads for us with the Lord on our behalf. In fact there is a saying: Shive rushte gurus-trAtA, gurau rushte na kaScana meaning, When the Lord is angered the Guru becomes the saviour but when the Guru is angered, nobody can save. We need the Guru for this role of his.
Indeed the Guru’s Grace can give us a double benefit. It can give us what we want as well as take us towards the Lord. Scriptures declare the analogy of the dream state to our real waking state. Just as all dream-experience is only a passing show from the point of view of one's waking state, so also the waking state itself, according to the scriptures, is a passing show from the absolute standpoint. But this declaration does not carry conviction with us because most of us have never had the experience of that absolute standpoint. On the other hand we do understand that the dream-state is not absolutely real because we do have the experience of the waking state of awareness. Nobody is able to tell us -- or has to tell us -- from within the dream that the dream experience is unreal. The beauty of the Guru-concept and the greatness of the Guru stem from the fact that a Guru does exactly this for us in respect of our waking state. From the absolute standpoint this waking state itself is dream-like. He, being a jIvan-mukta (liberated, even while living), knows this as a fact of experience. He is not only a jIvan-mukta who is in that absolute state of awareness all the time but he can also descend to our level of the ordinary mundane worldly ‘waking state’ and tell us from within our ‘world-dream’ that this world is a dream and we must wake up to Reality from this ‘dream’ of ours.
Guru is the one who thus destroys the ignorance of the disciple. He may do it by actual teaching, he may do it by just a blessing, or he may do it by a spiritual fiat. That is why in the 30 verses of Bhaja-Govindam Shankara ends up by referring to the power of the lotus feet of the Guru to take us upward in the ladder of evolution. Guru-charaNAmbuja-nirbhara-bhaktaH .. goes the verse. Remember, the Guru himself is the divine feet of God, and it is his divine feet that are praised now, in strict conformity with tradition – as we saw earlier in the case of the story of Ambarisha – namely, the devotee of the Lord is more significant than the Lord Himself. The Guru stands for certain principles of behaviour as well as of wisdom. He not only stands for them but also stands on them ! – in the sense that the greatness of the Guru goes back to the values of life for which he lived and preached all his life. So the sandals or the feet on which he stands represent the values for which he stood! Therefore the devotion to those feet and to those sandals of the divine guru, will certainly confer on one the strength to respect and reverberate the same values. The Lord’s ‘held foot’ is the ideal for us to cling close to his ideals and values.
The stories and complex mythology all go to show that it is the Ultimate Divine that is being talked about, though in terms of its manifestations, names and forms. When we worship the Sun as Sun-God what we are worshipping is the Absolute Supreme. A Shiva Purana may extol Shiva as the highest Transcendental Supreme and a Vishnu Purana may say the same thing about Vishnu. The Rama Sahasranama says that He is worshipped by Shiva and all other deities. The Shiva Sahasranama says that Rama is His devotee. There is no contradiction meant, implied or slurred over. When Hinduism says that all names and forms are those of God it means it. It is this catholicity of the culture and tradition of Hinduism that welcomes other religions as so many varied paths to God and consequently does not find anything contradictory or harmful in the coexistence of several Faiths. The external multiplicity is only an expression of the underlying truth of advaitic (non-dualistic) unity. Multiplicity and plurality are secondary; one-ness is primary. Om ShAntiH ShantiH ShantiH.