Friday, 27 February 2015

Purnakumbha

In the Udyoga Parva of Srimad Mahabharata, Lord Krishna comes to meet Duryodhana as an emissary of peace representing the Pandavas.  An incident in this context sheds light on the wily nature of King Dhrutarashtra who was most deceitful amongst the vile Kauravas.  He was blind in his eyes from without, and also visionless from within. The blind king besotted in his moral stance says, "I will offer the most extraordinary worship to Lord Krishna because he is worthy of the highest worship.  As a token of welcome, I will gift him priceless horses, elephants, chariots, servants and maids, fine silks, gems and even great food.  I will welcome him with unparalleled festivities."

Vidura gives a fitting answer to this bragging. "King! I understand your guile and deceitfulness.  You wish to win over Lord Krishna to your side by your display of wealth and hospitality.  You wish to separate him from the Pandavas and exercise your control over him.  But this is impossible.  Lord Krishna needs none of your pretentious, rousing welcome.  He expects only three things - a Purnakumbha (a pot full of water), paadya-tirtha (water to wash his feet) and a heartfelt enquiry of well-being."
Poornakumbha


anyatkuMbhAdapAM pURNAt anyat pAdAvanEjanAt |
anyatkuSalasaMpraSnAt naiShiShyati janArdanaH ||

Lord Krishna wanting arghya and paadya (water to wash his hands and feet) and an enquiry of well-being - these are easily understood, say some people.  But they ask why Lord Krishna would have wanted the Purnakumbha - a pot full of water?  Of what use could a pot of water be to him? To say that the pot of water would be of use to wash himself or to quench his thirst is childish prattle.  For, the Purnakumbha mentioned by Vidura and offered on such occasions is symbolic of respect and reverence to the one it is offered.  It is not water for the day-to-day needs of washing, cleaning and drinking.

So then what is the meaning of the Purnakumbha?  Who is worthy of being offered a Purnakumbha?  The insights given to us by Sriranga Mahaguru on this topic are explained here.

Purnakumbha refers to a pot filled with water.  It must contain cool and limpid water.  The pot must also be perfect and not have any dents or cracks.  It must be beautiful to look at.  What does such a Purnakumbha stand for?  To connote what source object do we use the Purnakumbha?  The kumbha represents the sacred head of a brahmajnani, a person who has realized God.  The shape of the kumbha, the pot - along with its neck - resembles the shape of the neck and the head of the brahmajnani.  The kumbha has two halves just like the two halves of the brain in the head.  The Vedas talk of Parabrahman as "raso vai saH" and the water in the Purnakumbha represents Parabrahman.  The head of the brahmajnani is also filled with 'rasa' - the ecstatic feeling that comes from God-realization. (Rasa has different meanings in Sanskrit - it refers to a liquid and to the sensation of taste on the tongue.  It also refers to emotions or sentiments as in "Navarasas.")  The serenity that comes from God-realization is not marred by feelings of kama and krodha (infatuation and anger.)  It is to represent this blissful state of the brahmajnani's mind that the water in the Purnakumbha must be limpid.  The water must be cool to represent the brahmajnani's state of mind, untouched by tapatrayas.  (tapa in Sanskrit means 'heat;' and tapatrayas are three types of disturbances to the mind arising from the adhibhautika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika planes - i.e. the terrestrial, celestial and spiritual planes.)

On top of the Purnakumbha, we place a coconut with its tuft pointing upwards. This represents the jnanashikha of the brahmajnani. (A person in the state of samadhi has the vision of a flame of light at the back of the head.  The tuft of hair - shikha - worn at the back of one's head is an external symbol of this internal experience.) At the base of the coconut tuft, we see its three germination pores that are also called the eyes of the coconut.  These ‘eyes’ represent the two physical and the one spiritual eye (situated between the eyebrows) of the brahmajnani.  On the inside of the germination pore of the coconut is the tiny coconut embryo.  Shaped like a shiva-linga, this tiny embryo represents the luminous shiva-linga that the brahmajnani sees between his eyebrows.

Below the coconut placed on the Purnakumbha, we place the new shoots and leaves of the mango, or jackfruit trees, or the leaves of other such sacred trees.  We also place a blade of darbha grass with its sharp end intact.  The new shoots and leaves signify the potential abundance in both the physical and spiritual planes.  And the blade of the darbha grass represents the trimurtis (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) who are responsible for the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the cosmos.  Even seeing and touching the darbha grass confers physical and spiritual upliftment and purity.  The Purnakumbha filled to the brim with pure water points directly to the Paramatman described by the epithet "Purnamadah" in the Vedic mantra 

Om pUrNamadah pUrNamidam pUrNAtpUrNamudachyate |
pUrNasya pUrNamAdAya pUrNamEvAvaSiShyate ||

It is well-known that empty vessels make much noise; whereas a pot that is filled to the brim is silent. "saMpUrNakuMbhaH na karOti shabdam."  Like the Purnakumbha, a brahmajnani remains unruffled and tranquil, silently dwelling in the experience of the Parabrahman. 

As noted earlier the Purnakumbha represents the sacred head of the brahmajnani.  Why only the head of a brahmajnani?  After all, every one of us has a neck and a head in a similar shape.  While the outer shapes may look similar, our head and neck function predominantly with downward tendencies as opposed to the head of the brahmajnani.  All faculties of the brahmajnani are drawn upwards; hence he alone can inspire the elevating symbolism of the Purnakumbha.  Besides, our heads contain seven orifices for our sense organs such as the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.  And unknown to us, our Prana-shakti - our life force - keeps dribbling away through these holes.  In contrast, the Purnakumbha has no cracks or holes and keeps its 'Rasa' intact.  When the brahmajnani is in a state of samadhi, the orifices in his head become closed.  There is no possibility of the prana-shakti trickling away unknown to him.  The head, and the neck of the brahmajnani, along with its jaalandhara bandha experienced in samadhi, bear complete resemblance to the form of the pot used for the Purnakumbha. (In yogic experiences, the flow of the prana-shakti gets arrested in certain parts of the body giving rise to bandhas which may be understood as 'spiritual knots.'  The jaalandhara bandha occurs at the site of the neck and is sometimes visible externally too as a concavity in the throat region.)  That is why it is important to stress that the Purnakumbha connotes the head of a brahmajnani.  Thus it is most apt to receive a brahmajnani while holding the Purnakumbha.  This sacred object vested with such sacred symbolism is always held atop one's head or at the level of one's heart (heart being the seat of the Parabrahman inside us).  The Purnakumbha is never to be lowered below the level of the waist of the person holding it.    

In a related context, we come across a phrase "arvAgbilaShcamasaH," (an inverted sacrificial bowl) in the Vedas which describes the same symbolism as in the Purnakumbha.  It describes that the seven Pranas in the form of the Saptarshis (seven rishis, sages) perform their respective functions through the seven holes that are present on the sacrificial bowl.  Since that yagnapatra (sacrificial bowl) is turned upwards, the seven Pranas become united to dwell in Parabrahman, who is the Prana of the Pranas (the Life of life.)  In that state, the experience of the Parabrahman is described in the Upanishads with the phrase "rasagghyevAyaM labhdhvAnaMdI bhavati." By attaining that Rasa, the seer becomes blissful.

With this understanding about the Purnakumbha, who is befitting of the honor of being received with it?  Obviously, only a brahmajnani dwelling in the experience of Parabrahman rightly merits the privilege of the Purnakumbha.  Other mahatmas and noteworthy people who are received with the Purnakumbha deserve this in service to the knowledge and light they represent.  Therefore people who lead a dharmic life in accordance with the knowledge and the experience of Parabrahman, and authorities (such as kings) who undertake to rightfully to uphold dharma are also offered the respect and honor of the Purnakumbha. 

When no brahmajnani is present, it is not inappropriate to honor elderly people leading a dharmic life, and the upholders of dharma such as kings or chieftains, by presenting them the Purnakumbha.  This ensures the continuance of the meaningful tradition of the Purnakumbha, and also inspires the people so honored to strive to attain the loftier state of knowledge and experience of Parabrahman.  

Having taken to heart these pointers about the Purnakumbha given by Sriranga Mahaguru, an otherwise ordinary person, who is presented the Purnakumbha out of regard for tradition, will realize with remorse that he is not worthy of such a welcome.  He will also know that it is futile to feel vain about such an honor.  Instead he will feel motivated to strive to attain the qualification he should have rightfully possessed to deserve such a distinction.  He will rise higher in his spiritual sadhana.  In any case, the lofty tradition of the Purnakumbha should not be done in a rote manner.  It must be continued with understanding and discernment. 

[This is an English rendering of Kannada article of His Holiness Sri Sri Rangapriya Sri Srih published in “Vichara sumanomaala” of Astanga Yoga Vijnana Mandiram. Translation is by Smt Padmashree Mohan].