‘Avidya’ in Advaita and ‘Gumma’ of Purandara Dasa
The Concept of ‘AvidyA’ in Advaita has been a topic of much debate both within the Advaitic tradition and across non-Advaitic schools. The unique position of Avidya often baffles the intellect of one trying to understand it. In the sequel is presented a method to arrive at a good grasp of the concept with the aid of an analogy.
While listening to the innumerable compositions of Sri Purandara Dasa, a well-known saint-composer in Kannada (and Sanskrit) of songs on a variety of Deities of the Hindu Dharma, one song, in particular stands out as a fine analogy to the avidya of Advaita, nay, the Vedanta. To call it ‘Avidya of Advaita’ would create an impression that it is something unique to Advaita and that it is not founded on the Scripture, the Veda. While establishing that the Avidya of Advaita is essentially the Prakriti of the Upanishad and the Bhagavadgita would involve a separate treatment of the subject, the present article aims at bringing out the analogy provided by the songs of Purandara Dasa.
While working on the above idea, it came as a fortuitous revelation when another song of Purandara Dasa surfaced during a search on the net which came in handy to make the analogy a perfectly complete one. Thus, with the two songs taken as a pair, the task of presenting a method to easily understand the concept of Avidya is rendered simple.
The two songs are first presented, in Kannada, and a translation of sorts is provided in the sequel.
- ಗುಮ್ಮನೆಲ್ಲಿಹ ತೋರಮ್ಮ
( ರಾಗ ತೋಡಿ ಆದಿ ತಾಳ)
ಪಂಚಾಶತ್ಕೋಟಿ ವಿಸ್ತೀರ್ಣದ ಭೂಮಿಯ
ವಂಚನೆಯಿಲ್ಲವೆ ತಿರುಗಿ ಬಂದೆನೆ ನಾನು
ಹಂಚಿಸಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟನೆ ಅವರವರಿಗೆ ನಾ
ಹಾಂಗು ನೋಡಿದರು ಕಾಣೆನೆ ಗುಮ್ಮನ ||
ಸಿಂಧುವಿನೊಳಗೆ ಆನಂದದಿ ಮಲಗಿದ್ದೆ
ಒಂದು ನಾಭಿಕಮಲದಿ ಬೊಮ್ಮನ ಪುಟ್ಟಿಸಿದೆ
ಅಂಧಕಾರದಿ ಪೋಗಿ ಒಬ್ಬನೆ ಮಲಗಿದೆ
ಹಾಂಗು ನೋಡಿದರು ಕಾಣೆನೆ ಗುಮ್ಮನ ||
ಈರೇಳು ಲೋಕವ ಉದರದೊಳಗೆ ಇಟ್ಟು
ತೋರಿದೆ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮಾಂಡವ ಬಾಯಲಿ ನಾನು
ಘೋರ ರೂಪದಿ ಬಂದ ಗಾಳಿ ಅಸುರನ ಕೊಂದೆ
ಹಾಂಗು ನೋಡಿದರು ಕಾಣೆನೆ ಗುಮ್ಮನ ||
ಅಕ್ರೂರಗೆ ವಿಶ್ವ ರೂಪವ ತೋರಿದೆ
ಘಕ್ಕನೆ ರಥವೇರಿ ಮಧುರೆಗೆ ಪೋದೆ
ಸೊಕ್ಕಿದ ರಜಕನ ಕೊಂದು ಮಡಿಯನುಟ್ಟೆ
ಹಾಂಗು ನೋಡಿದರು ಕಾಣೆನೆ ಗುಮ್ಮನ ||
ಬಿಲ್ಲುಹಬ್ಬಕೆ ಪೋಗಿ ಮಲ್ಲರ ಮಡುಹಿದೆ
ಅಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾವನ ಕೊಂದು ಮುತ್ಯಗೆ ಒಲಿದೆ
ಚೆಲ್ವ ಗೋಪಾಲ ಶ್ರೀ ಪುರಂದರವಿಠಲನ
ಬಾರಿ ಬಾರಿಗೆ ನೀ ಬೆದರಿಸಬೇಡಮ್ಮ ||
2. ಗುಮ್ಮನ ಕರೆಯದಿರೆ
(ರಾಗ ಶಂಕರಾಭರಣ ಅಟತಾಳ)
ಗುಮ್ಮನ ಕರೆಯದಿರೆ , ಅಮ್ಮ ನೀನು
ಗುಮ್ಮನ ಕರೆಯದಿರೆ ||ಪ||
ಸುಮ್ಮನೆ ಇದ್ದೇನು, ಅಮ್ಮಿಯ ಬೇಡೆನು
ಮಮ್ಮು ಉಣುತೇನೆ , ಅಮ್ಮ ಅಳುವುದಿಲ್ಲ || ಅ ||
ಹೆಣ್ಣುಗಳಿರುವಲ್ಲಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಅವರ
ಚಿಣ್ಣರ ಬಡಿಯೆನು , ಅಣ್ಣನ ಬೈಯೆನು
ಬೆಣ್ಣೆಯ ಬೇಡೆನು , ಮಣ್ಣು ತಿನ್ನುವುದಿಲ್ಲ ||
ಬಾವಿಗೆ ಹೋಗೆ ಕಾಣೆ , ಅಮ್ಮ ನಾನು
ಆವಿನ ಮೊಲೆಯೂಡೆ , ಕರುಗಳ ಬಿಡೆ ನೋಡೆ
ದೇವರಂತೆ ಒಂದು ಠಾವಿಗೆ ಕೂಡುವೆ ||
ಮಗನ ಮಾತನು ಕೇಳುತ , ಗೋಪೀದೇವಿ
ಜಗದೊಡೆಯ ಶ್ರೀ ಪುರಂದರವಿಠಲನ
ಬಿಗಿದಪ್ಪಿಕೊಂಡಳು ಮೋಹದಿಂದಾಗ ||
The translation for the second song is:
(Hear this song here )
//gummana kareyadire ammA nInu * Don’t send for gumma, mother,
gummana kareyadire * please don’t send for him
summane iddEnu ammiya bEDenu * I’ll keep quiet and won’t pester you for milk
mammu uNNuttEne amma aLuvudilla * I’ll eat food made for me and I won’t cry
heNNugaLiruvallige pOgi avara * I won’t go to the places where women assemble
kaNNu muccuvadillavE * and I won’t close their eyes from behind
ciNNara baDiyenu aNNana baiyenu * I won’t beat the young ones and curse my brother
beNNeya bEDenu maNNu tinnuvadilla * I will eat neither butter nor sand
bAvige hOge kaNE amma nA nA * I won’t go near the wells, mother,
hAvi noLagADe kaNE * I won’t play with snakes
aavina mole yUDe karugaLa biDe nODe * I won’t set free the calves
dEvaraMte baMdu ThAvinil^ kUDuve * and play with the udders of cows
I’ll sit before you like an angel
magana mAtanu kELuta gOpidEvi * After listening to these entreaties
muguLu nageyu naguta * yaSOdA smiled tenderly
jaga doDeyana SrI puraMdara viThalana
bigidappi koNDaLu mOhadindAga * and affectionately hugged the child, purandara viThala,
the Lord of the universe.
[….”gumma” or “bUchivADu” or “pUcchANDi”are terms used to scare infants and toddlers when they get out of line .. Mother Yashoda too fed up with the antics of Krishna, invoked the name of gumma and the scared child Krishna begs her not to call him.//]
It would be enriching this write-up to include the names by which this ‘gumma’ is called in other languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Gujarati, Bengali, etc. This would make the write up more inclusive.
The first song is a proof for ‘gumma’ not being a real entity. Krishna says at the outset: ‘O Mother, show me where is Gumma. Do not frighten me with no Gumma around.’ Then in the rest of the stanzas of the song Krishna details the various loka-s of the prapancha and declares: ‘I have searched for ‘Gumma’ everywhere, in all the loka-s including Vaikuntha. But ‘Gumma’ is nowhere to be found.’ In every refrain He declares this thereby showing that the fabricated entity called ‘gumma’ is just a lie.
This is the proof of an entity called ‘Gumma’, summoned by Yashoda, for frightening Krishna and getting Him to obey, being an illusory, unreal one.
Yet, is the unreal entity ‘gumma’ without any effects? No. The second song proves this. Yashoda now and then ‘calls’ Gumma, tells Krishna, ‘Look, Krishna, if you do this……Gumma will come and harm you/take you away, etc.’ And Krishna says, in His own words and in His own way: ‘O Mother, please never ever summon gumma. I shall obey what all you ask me to do and not to do.’
It is the experience in all households that the mother of an infant of say up to three years regularly invokes this ‘gumma’ fiction and succeeds in getting her child eat the food, get up from sleep, stop running out of the house, refrain from soiling its clothes, and so on. In Tamil ‘gumma’ is commonly known as ‘poocchaanDi’. In some Telugu / Kannada speaking sections it is ‘gogga’/’bhUchivADu’ and so on.
In the ‘gumma’ phenomenon we have a fine example of:
1. An unreal entity
2. Producing effects that are perceivable
3. And yet the entity itself not being something akin to a hare’s horn or vandhyAputra. For, this kind of an entity cannot even be invoked for any purpose.
4. Krishna undertook a thorough search and concluded that the ‘gumma’ was just a fantasy, a creation, with no substance behind it. In other words, a search is essential to know that the ‘gumma’ is no thing. Alternatively, in real life children grow up only to find out that their mothers have only taken them for a ride. There is an end to ‘gumma’ when the truth is known.
Thus the Avidya of the Advaita system is –
1. An unreal entity
2. Produces the effect of samsara and
3. Is not an atyanta abhAva entity like the hare’s horn.
4. It is only when enquiry, Vedanta vichara, on the authority of passages like: ‘so anveShTavyaH, sa vijij~nAsitavyaH’ is undertaken and the tattva sAkShAtkAra had, one will realize that AvidyA was not, is not and will not be. When the sAdhaka attains siddhi, or realization, i.e. matures, grows up, he discovers that there is no such entity called Avidya; Brahman alone was, is and will be.
The example for such an entity is the well-known ‘gumma’, very popular with every mother from time immemorial, across all cultures. Purandara Dasa has immortalized the ‘gumma’ through his two songs reproduced above. Avidya is also anAdi, no one knows when it began even as the ‘gumma’ is also without a beginning.
The two songs together provide an excellent example of a mithyA entity such as Avidya. The pair of songs most graphically brings out the ‘अध्यारोप-अपवाद–न्यायः’ of Vedanta. The (second) song where Mother Yashoda invokes now and then the illusory ‘Gumma’ to make young Krishna obey, is the ‘adhyAropa’ or deliberate superimposition of ‘Gumma’. Yashodha knows very well that Gumma is a non-entity; yet she invokes the name just to create a fear in Krishna. She also knows very well that this stage of Krishna’s infancy will soon pass off and He will be a grown up boy when He himself will realize that the Gumma is just a fiction.
The other (first) song of Purandara Dasa serves the purpose of the ‘apavAda’ or subsequent negation of what was deliberately superimposed/introduced earlier.
Exactly in the same way the Vedanta introduces the concept of Maya, Avidya, Ajnana, Ishwara IcchA (God’s Will), etc. , all of which are synonyms, in order to explain the world-illusion. Once the aspirant grows up, matures into a Knower, there is no longer any need for these concepts introduced earlier. They stand negated in the most natural course just like a boy just by growing up realizes the unreality of Gumma and need not be specifically taught about its mithyAtva.
The analogy is not yet complete. There is this most important similarity too. In the first song where Purandara Dasa ‘introduced’ Gumma, this illusory Gumma produced or rather succeeded in producing fear on each occasion it was invoked and a general psychosis about Gumma too. This psychosis is essential so that each time Gumma is invoked, the earlier fear-experience is recalled to the boy’s mind and this begets obedience. However, from the grown-up boy’s standpoint, will the Gumma, the initial fear and the fear-samskara-s be recognized as real? No. The entire gamut of Gumma, the initial fear and their samskaras, all get sublated, lock, stock and barrel.
This is what exactly happens in the case of the world-illusion too. Samsara, termed as anAdi, beginningless, is caused by avidyA/mAyA, Ishwara-IcchA, and sustained by it. [Not only this, it is this mAyA/Ishwara IcchA alone that holds the key to liberation too. The Veda, the Knowledge-source for liberation, the Guru, and Ishwara the provider of the Veda and the Guru, all belong to the realm of Maya. ]
Avidya, after causing the initial superimposition, adhyAsa, maintains this adhyAsa birth after birth, action after action in each birth, experience after experience in each birth, on the basis of ‘पूर्वपूर्व-अध्यासः उत्तरोत्तरसंसारस्य(जन्मनः) कारणम्’ ‘the earlier adhyAsa is the cause of the subsequent samsara/birth-life-death cycle’. Just like the boy, under the spell of the ‘gumma-fear’, goes into obedience, compliance, mode, the jiva-Counsciousness, under the spell of anAdi avidyA is constantly in the samsara-friendly mode and successfully thrives in bondage. And owing to his good-fortune when he performs saattvic action and develops the desire to get released from samsara, he gets a Guru, the opportunity for shAstra shravaNa, etc. and finally ‘attains’ moksha. He no longer is under the spell of maya, avidya. The mUla-avidyA is dispelled by aparokSha j~nAna and he is free.
Thus, we have a fine analogy for the Vedantic Maya/avidya/Ishwara IcchA in the ‘Gumma’ of Sri Purandara Dasa. The two have so many common features. The full worth of the analogy would not have manifested if only the more popular song: ‘gummana kareyadire’ had been composed and available to us. Fortunately, again due to Ishwara IcchA, we have the other song, although not very popular, ಗುಮ್ಮನೆಲ್ಲಿಹ ತೋರಮ್ಮ, to complete the analogy.
It is pertinent to note that Sri Shankaracharya has said that this avidyA/aj~nAna is mithyA, unreal, in the adhyAsa bhAShya, the prelude to the Brahmasutra Bhashya:
मिथ्याज्ञाननिमित्तः – mithyA-aj~nAna-nimittaH meaning that adhyAsa/saMsAra is caused by the basic ignorance, avidyA, which is unreal, mithyA. We are able to appreciate the purport of this with the help of the ‘Gumma’-analogy provided by Purandara Dasa where the second song serves as the ‘adhyAropa’ and the first one the ‘apavAda’ function. Believing gumma to be there is the adhyAropa and undertaking a search and concluding gumma is not there in reality is the apavAda. The one-to-one correspondence to the Vedantic mAyA/prakRti/avidyA in the twin-songs on ‘gumma’ is striking indeed.
It is not that Advaitins do not have an analogy for the phenomenon of ‘an unreal entity can produce a real effect’. Sri Shankaracharya has Himself provided several analogies in this regard, both from scripture and from worldly parlance. Thus He says in the Sutra Bhashya commentary (22.214.171.124) `tadananyatvam ArambhaNa-shabdAdibhyaH’.
(G.Thibaut’s translation found in
// But how (to restate an objection raised above) can the
Vedânta-texts if untrue convey information about the true being of
Brahman? We certainly do not observe that a man bitten by a rope-snake
(i.e. a snake falsely imagined in a rope) dies, nor is the water
appearing in a mirage used for drinking or bathing 1
This objection, we reply, is without force (because as a matter of fact
we do see real effects do result from unreal causes), for we observe
that death sometimes takes place from imaginary venom, (when a man
imagines himself to have been bitten by a venomous snake,). and
effects (of what is perceived in a dream) such as the bite of a snake or
bathing in a river take place with regard to a dreaming person.—
But, it will be said, these effects themselves are unreal!—
These effects themselves, we reply, are unreal indeed; but not so the
consciousness which the dreaming person has of them. This consciousness
is a real result; for it is not sublated by the waking consciousness.
The man who has risen from sleep does indeed consider the effects
perceived by him in his dream such as being bitten by a snake, bathing
in a river, &c. to be unreal, but he does not on that account consider
the consciousness he had of them to be unreal likewise.–(We remark in
passing that) by this fact of the consciousness of the dreaming person
not being sublated (by the waking consciousness) the doctrine of the
body being our true Self is to be ‘considered as refuted 1
Scripture also (in the passage, ‘If a man who is engaged in some
sacrifice undertaken for some special wish sees in his dream a woman, he
is to infer therefrom success in his work’) (Chandogya Up. 5.2.9)
declares that by the unreal phantom of a dream a real result such as
prosperity may be obtained. And, again, another scriptural passage,
after having declared that from the observation of certain unfavourable
omens a man is to conclude that he will not live long, continues ‘if
somebody sees in his dream a black man with black teeth and that man
kills him,’ intimating thereby that by the unreal dream-phantom a real
fact, viz. death, is notified.–It is, moreover, known from the
experience of persons who carefully observe positive and negative
instances that such and such dreams are auspicious omens, others the
reverse. And (to quote another example that something true can result
from or be known through something untrue) we see that the knowledge of
the real sounds A, &c. is reached by means of the unreal written
Nor can it be maintained that such states of consciousness do not
actually arise; for scriptural passages such as, ‘He understood what he
said’ (Khata. Up. VII, 18, 2), declare them to occur, and certain means are
enjoined to bring them about, such as the hearing (of the Veda from a
teacher) and the recitation of the sacred texts. Nor, again, can such
consciousness be objected to on the ground either of uselessness or of
erroneousness, because, firstly, it is seen to have for its result the
cessation of ignorance, and because, secondly, there is no other kind of
knowledge by which it could be sublated. //
Thus Shankara has Himself given a number of examples, both from scripture and from daily-life to disprove the proposition that a mithyA vastu cannot produce a real effect.
Once we are able to provide an analogy for the Vedantic avidya that is mithyA, all objections against the (advaita) Vedanta formulation stand self-negated and do not require a separate effort in that direction. No one can hold the defect of ‘दृष्टान्त-अभावः’ against the Advaitic Avidya. This is because Avidya is such a unique entity that takes care of the entire saMsAra-mokSha vyavasthA. It is called स्व-पर-निर्वाहकः, that which manages everything else in samsara and itself as well and also can finally extinguish itself.