Sri Hulikal Vishvanath on "Annapurna Stotra" of Acharya Sri Shankara

Posted By Shikaripura Harihareswara (HOYSALA@worldnet.att.net)
Thu, 7 Aug 1997 01:17:36 +0000

Sri Annapurna-stotra of
Acharya Sri. Shankara

By
Vishvanath Hulikal
(Sunnyvale, California)
[ E-mail: <VHulikal@aol.com> ]

1. Annapurna

"anna-pUrNe, sadA-pUrNe, shanakara-prANa-vallabhe,
jnAna-vairAgya-sidhyartham bhikShAm dehi cha, pArvati !"

The name Annapurna means "She of Plenteous Food". As such, she is the one
who fills her devotees with food. She is called the "Mother of Three Worlds"
and she promises to those who comes to her what only a mother can give
naturally and freely: food. Worshippers of mother Annapurna are reminded
that there may be good and bad children, but there are not good and bad
mothers. Annapurna is a completely gracious and luminous Goddess. She bears
no weapon in her hands, but carries, rather, a cooking pot and a spoon. As
Mother, she will always provide the nourishment that sustains life in
abundance. The nourishment is anna, literally "food", but more broadly the
essence of life, the support of life. As giver of food, Annapurna is the
giver of life. It is said in Kashi that Shiva and Annapurna made an
agreement: she would provide food and abundance in life and he would provide
moksha at the time of death. Shiva himself depends on Annapurna for life and
sustenance.

There is a popular puranic story that once in the distant past the sage
Vyasa had a hard time getting alms in Kashi. In anger Vyasa put a curse on
the city: it would be without knowledge, wealth or liberation for three
generations. Still steaming with rage, Vyasa begged for alms at a house
where Shiva and Parvati had taken human form as householders. Parvati
invited the great sage and his entire entourage to receive her alms. So
delicious were they that Vyasa forgot his curse. "Who would not live in
Kashi," he said, "where one can get both delicious food and liberation!"
However, because of the sage's bad temper, Shiva banished Vyasa from Kashi,
permitting him to visit only on the eighth and fourteenth day of the
fortnight, which are days respectively to the Goddess and Shiva. In order to
be near at hand, Vyasa took up residence on the other side of river Ganges,
where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.

The story of Annapurna's establishment in Kashi is told in the popular Hindi
pamphlet, the Annapurna Vrata Katha. A Vrata is a "ritual observance" which
one undertakes for a certain amount of time, usually a number of weeks or
months. The vrata may include fasting, abstentions, and special observances;
it usually includes the recitation of stories (katha) which demonstrates the
effectiveness of the vrata. In the case of Annapurna, one of the stories
told is of a poor brahmin called Dhananjaya. According to the story,
Dhananjaya first appealed to Vishvanatha and slept overnight at the Jnana
Vapi. In a dream, Annapurna came to him and told him to observe her vrata.
Dhananjaya was eager to do so, but she had not told him as to how it was to
be done. How was he to make this observance? He inquired among the brahmins
of Kashi to no avail. Finally he traveled to the great pitha of the Goddess
Kamakhya in far-off Assam. There the Goddess, seeing his devotion, appeared
to him again. She instructed him to return to Kashi and to establish her
image there as Annapurna, just to the south of Vishvanatha. She promised
that she would grant the deepest wishes of those people who would worship
her there during her yearly seventeen-day vrata, beginning on the fifth day
of the waning fortnight of the winter month Margashira. It was this poor
brahmin who is said to have established the first image of Annapurna here.
Dhananjaya eventually became rich and had plenty to feed his family by
virtue of observing the vrata of Annapurna.

2. Prayer

Prayers, Psalms and Hymns are common in all religions. We find them to be a
fundamental part of religious literature of the world. Prayers and praises
are the first means of spiritual growth everywhere. Then come meditation and
reflection, reason and philosophy. It may be philosophical to believe in an
Impersonal God, immanent in nature, but so long as man is conscious of his
limitations, he cannot but worship a personal god, on whom he can depends at
every step in his life and at whose feet he can pour out his soul. Man feels
himself weak and wants someone on whom he can depend for help. He wants
something concrete which he can grasp in the hours of his trials and
difficulties, a Being to whom he can offer his love and devotion and who
would in return love and care for him. That is why we find the idea of a
personal God in almost all religious. With the idea of such a God come
devotion and worship, and prayers and hymns are but a natural outcome of
one's conception of that personal God and one's relation with Him. An
intense passionate love for God is the chief note in all these hymns. The
result is the creation of a devotional literature of exquisite beauty
unsurpassed by any other literature of the world. We can find these hymns or
Stotras as they are called in Sanskrit, not only in the Puranas but in the
writings of all great reformers and saints. Even the great Adavaita Kesari,
Acharya Shankara could not avoid the temptation, and we find in his writings
some of the most beautiful hymns ever written in Sanskrit. Such hymns are
found not only in Sanskrit but in vernaculars also. These hymns in the
vernaculars have appealed to the race greatly and have attained a wide
popularity. They play an important part in the religious life of the people.

3. General Characteristics of Hymns

The Stotras (hymns) include praises, prayer, and meditations; also
sometimes Mantras, which are spiritual incantation, are said to produce
certain desired ends which accompanied by appropriate rituals, and
ceremonials. Leaving aside these Mantras, the Stotras include prayers and
entreaties for deliverance from the ills of this Samsara or relative
existence from which God alone can deliver one. These hymns fall under two
categories. In one there is complete confidence in Divine benevolence and
unlimited grace which gives even to the greatest sinners hopes of salvation:
"Krishna, thou hast granted moksha (liberation) full of bliss even to the
King of Chedi (Shishupala) who had wronged Thee birth after birth, what sin
is there which thou wilt forgive?" These hymns often end in a mystic
communication with God. The other group makes the divine grace conditional
on self-purification which alone makes one deserving of such a grace. The
hymns in this group are marked by a spirit of self-abasement, with
confession of sins, repentance of promises and reform.

A large number of hymns relate to devotion and praise merely. To this class
belong hymns to Tripurasundari, Annapurna and Shivpanchakshara-stotram by
Shankara. In the last group of the philosophic hymns, the Vedantic maxims
and ideals are preached through songs and symbols. Most of this class are by
Shankara whose chief work was spread broadcast the Vedantic ideals
throughout the country and thus bring the race back to pristine Upanishadic
culture from which it had drifted under the Buddhistic influence. In short
Stotras or hymns are the simple and concrete expression of the religious
experience of the race.

To exemplify Annapurna Stotra-dashaka included here are summary of the two
from it:
1. O Mother Annapurna, O Great Goddess, ever bestowing happiness, granting
gifts and dispelling fear, O Thou ocean of beauty who bestowest purity (on
Thy devotees) washing away all (their) sins, Thou art verify the Great
Goddess who purifiest the family of Himalayas; Presiding Deity of Kashi, O
Receptacle of Mercy! Grant me alms. (1)
2. O Mother Annapurna, Thou holdest a golden ladle adorned with various
kinds of gems in Thy right hand and a vessel full of delicious porridge in
Thy left; Thou art the Great Goddess of fortune, Thou fulfillest the desires
of Thy devotees and makest their destiny propitious; presiding Deity of
Kashi, O Receptacle of Mercy! Grant me alms. (8)

"mAtA cha pArvatI devI,
pitA devo maheshvarah;
bAndhavAh shiva-bhaktAsh cha -
svadesho bhuvana-trayam!"

Bibliography:
1. Altar Flowers, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta
2. Banaras, City of Light by Prof. Diana L. Eck, Princeton University
Press, Princeton