The treatise on nine forms of devotion was given in two major epics; the Ramayana as Rama tells this to Sabari when she seeks knowledge from him for liberation and the Bhagavata where Prahalada recounts them to Hiranyakasipu. In a sequence of stories we will see how each form of bhakthi refines us
Bhakthi is the colloquial language of self. It is the pinnacle of love where duality ceases to exist. Scriptures list the following as nine actions(Navadha) of devotion(Bhakthi)
Shravanam Keerthanam Smaranam Vandanam Pada sevanam Sakhyam Archanam Dasyam Atma Nivedanam
1.Shravanam(Listening) – What would you do if you have just 7 days to live? I have often been asked this question in the silence courses done with art of living. The story of Parikshit comes to my mind every single time as a response, for I would love to do what he did, listen to Bhagavata Purana. In a summary the story of Parikshit is the story of king born in Kuru lineage who was cursed by a sage’s son, for he acted according to the dictates of Kali yuga purusha. Sounds like us? But when he knew his fate instead of kicking bawling and fighting against it. He passively looked for someone to tell him the story of god. Why would he do that? What can listening to stories give us? A simple story of divine told with love and heard with attention can break the biggest of all illusions in us. As we sit with the movie of the purana running in our head. According to Valmiki Ramayana every single time Ramayana is recited, Ramayana is re enacted. Ramayana happens inside us when we hear it.We become part of the story. That simple realisation, that we are a part of his story takes us out of the controlling throne we sat ourselves on and liberates us from all the illusions surrounding that throne. Somewhere while listening to Bhagavata Parikshit must have realised that he is just a leela of god… just a play. Remember that when u listen to his stories the next time.
2.Keerthanam(Singing)- What would u do if you loved someone and you knew he is your guy right from a very tender age? You would sing not minding whether someone sends you poison, you would devote to him and sing with a blind devotee in the street forgetting that you are the queen of the country. Mirabai was another image in my mind as I grew up. Her story taught me what love was. One day I hope to love like her. That love will be bigger than every social status, every peer pressure, every duty you ever knew of. As love ripens it breaks out in a song…Mirabai was once walking in Brindavan when she sought audience with Rupa Goswami a direct disciple of chaitanya mahaprabhu. He refused to meet her on the pretext that is a celibate male and she was a female and to that Mira replied saying the lord is the only purusha she knows and the rest were merely images. Such was chaste love that Meera had. Music is the only language that love uses to express the inexpressible. So the next time you are humming remember you are telling the divine that you love him.
3.Smaranam(Chanting/Remembering)- Would you remember the god against the wishes of the most powerful, notorious and cruel man on earth? Would you remember him when you are thrown from a cliff, drowned in ocean, hurled into fire, surrounded by snakes. I dont think we even remember him from our office desks. Prahalada did. He remembered him in all his difficult days against every thing that was told to him by his teacher, father and friends. Is your devotion beyond every pressure and threat? A point to consider. The devotion that doesn’t falter under the biggest pressure and doesn’t break even with biggest adversity makes us strong enough for this life. The strength that comes with devotion is the only strength that stands against the test of time and Prahlada proved it.
4.Vandanam(Bowing down/Praying)- Would you let go of the powers you think you hold and bow your head humbly to the divine? Even if your job is to protect the divine. Akrura is probably the most under rated characters in Bhagavata. I remember him every time I see someone who claims to be spiritual and yet is feverish and thinks he controls everything. These modern day Akruras compelled me to tell his story. Akrura was the minister of Vasudeva. Kamsa employed him to bring Krishna from Brindavan. Akrura being the controller he thought that it was his duty to protect Krishna. Did everything possible to stop him from going to Mathura, forgetting that he was not in charge he was just part of the play. Now Krishna had show him who the boss is and so he tells Akrura to take a dip in Yamuna. Akrura enters Yamuna and he sees the image of Lord Krishna lying on Adishesha assuming the form Vishnu. Akrura faced a familiar debate we all face, the logic borne out of experience and a seeming miracle performing the inexplicable. His logical mind that was protecting Prince of Vasudeva, the future of his kingdom came face to face with the fact that what he was protecting is indeed the protector. He realizes that it was not Kamsa who wants Krishna to come there. It was indeed Krishna who was the cause of the event. In that moment Akrura drops his ego and doership bowed down to the will of god.
5.Pada sevanam (Submitting to the feet)- Have you ever wondered what emotions arise in our mind as we see someone’s feet? It is humility. Which is why defeated kings fall at the victorious, youngsters fall at elders feet. It eases our mind to submit to the will of the more powerful one. How often we submit ourselves to the most powerful entity in this universe? When we fall at lords feet we are also drawn to his ways. We start walking his path. As we submit to the feet of god, he banishes our ego and takes us beyond the bounds of mind. A simple story of Bharata tells us how by submitting to the feet of lord one can be saved from any ignominy.As Bharat was approaching the forest to convince Rama to give up the forest life and return to Ayodhya to rule the country, his intentions were doubted by many, His fellow countrymen, the courtiers, the preceptors, even his own brother Lakshmana thought Bharata had come to kill Rama. But Bharata’s steadfast devotion shamed everyone. A fierce argument ensued between Rama and Bharata on whether love that Bharata had for Rama was supreme, Or whether the duty that Rama had towards his father’s words was supreme. The argument was so heated that Janaka was invited to conclude it. Upon hearing both sides King Janaka concludes that love always presides over duty. Then Janaka Turns to Bharat and asks him, “Does love involve doing things that the loved one wishes?” Bharata says yes. Janaka the says you will have to ask Rama what his desire is and act accordingly. It was then that Bharat ruled Ayodhya from Nandi gram as a representative of lord’s feet. Submitting all our victories and failures at lords feet has the immense power to erase the karma that was involved in that success or fiasco. For when we submit it to his feet. It simply means we did what had to as per god’s way , we too are merely representatives of his feet.
6.Sakhyam(Befriending)- Even in the mortal world we have often observed that ego submits effortlessly to friendship. We subject ourselves easily to opinions of our friends, we let them correct us, much more than we let our spouse, parents or siblings. Sudama’s story is one such story of a beautiful friendship between Sudama and Krishna, a seeker and truth. A little known fact about Sudama here, he had no sense of identity. His only identity was that he is a friend of the lord. He used to speak of his Schooling days with Krishna often. However he had one problem. He carried a guilt that during their school days when Krishna and Sudama were caught in the storm Sudama consumed three mouthfuls of food with out sharing with Krishna. That guilt created a lot of Daaridra(Destitution) in his life. One day looking at him talking so much about Krishna his wife says “Why dont you go to Dwaraka and meet Krishna once and come. May be then you wont miss him as much.” Sudama was astonished for he was wondering why this thought arose in her mind suddenly. Sudama questions her about that to which she says it might be an cosmic inspiration from Krishna himself. This motivates Sudama and he gets ready to leave. His wife borrows three mouthfuls of beaten rice flakes from her neighbors and packs in her saree fall as a gift to Krishna. Upon reaching Dwaraka the hesitant Sudama receives a warm welcome from Lord. who feeds him clothes him and provides all comforts. The opulence of Lord’s hospitality makes Sudama feel very small about his borrowed rice flakes. Lord senses his discomfort and grabs the bag from him and partakes the rice flakes. Sudama was at once relieved of his guilt and with the grace of Rukmini a form of lakshmi his poverty is eradicated. The story of Sudama carries several lessons but my favorite one is that Lord is treating each one of us with amazing opulent hospitality in his world. We are made comfortable in every possible way and return he expects just a simple honest devotion. So go on , offer your rice flakes without hesitating.
7.Archanam(Offering)- While Sudama offered the least he could Sabari offered the best she could. Archana is offering the best of what we have Flowers, Rice, Fruits etc. In that half bitten fruit that she offered Ram, he could taste the sweetness in Koushalya’s royal delicacies. She served Rishi Matanga all her life as she was forsaken by everyone else. Matanga was pleased with her service and promised her before his Samadhi that one day lord Ram will visit her and would liberate her. From then on she would religiously decorate her Ashram every day with flowers and pick Fruits taste them and save the sweet ones for the lord. Lord Ram while visiting her tells about the nine forms of devotion listening to which she leaves the mortal world. Give your best to divine is the moral of her story.
8.Dasyam(Serving)- I was debating whose story should I mention here. There are so many souls that were liberated by serving lord selflessly. But i just decided to go with my favorite one. After the crowning ceremony of Lord Rama, all the assembled friends of the lord showered him with gifts. Vibhishana gave a very rare and beautiful valuable necklace. Lord Rama wanted Sita to award the necklace to his most sincere servant. Every one assembled showed eagerness to get the necklace. Hanuman did not even hear the announcement and went on pressing lords feet. Sita gives him the necklace. He takes it in his hands and breaks and throws it away. Vibhishana was enraged and calls Hanuman a Monkey who doesn’t know value of anything. To which Hanuman says, ” I do not value anything in which I don’t see Ram.” Vibhishana asks him if he sees lord in his very own body. To which Hanuman opens his chest to show the image of lord. A true servant will feel the presence of the divine master in his very own existence. Tulsi Das calls Hanuman a non failing arrow launched by Lord Rama.
9.Atma Nivedhanam(Surrendering the self)- How do we deal with insult? We fight to defend our image. We protest till we are exhausted. This is where the story of Draupadi comes handy. The woman born out of something as pure as fire, bestowed with evergreen virginity and named as a chaste woman, was pawned by a helpless husband, disrobed in the court of the most powerful kingdom in front of all the elders. I cant imagine a insult bigger than that. After feebly trying to save herself from mean hands, she let him do what he was doing and passively placed her trust on the lord. The hands that were demeaning her only got tired after a while but her pride remained intact. What have we learnt from history? Have we placed our trust in the lord when we are insulted?
“More things are wrought by prayers than this world dreams of” Bhakthi is the twin sister of Mukthi the liberation. All the scriptures, the knowledge and instructions have a sole purpose, to gear us towards Bhakthi and that alone can elevate us.