Yes I hold back. There is every reason to surrender to You, every reason to hold on to You. Yet I hold back. This is my precarious condition, dear Lord. While I keep trying to coax my mind to understand what is good for me and what’s in it for me in surrendering to You, I come across this beautiful song by Purandara Dasa, Your unalloyed devotee. This is the song that helps me realize that indeed I have nothing really worth offering to You but still if I offer whatever I have, it is actually in my favor. Yet I hold back.
Puranadara Dasa, a saint belonging to the Madhva sampradaya, is believed to be an expansion of the great sage Narada. Known as Chinnappa Nayaka in his early life, a miserly jeweler, Purandara Dasa’s story is an example of how real fulfillment comes through surrendering whatever, little or big, we have to the Lord. Yet I hold back.
Chinnappa Nayaka wouldn’t ever give anything in charity though he was very wealthy and though his pious wife always tried to convince him that it was his duty and in his interest to surrender a part of his wealth to Lord Vitthala (a form of Lord Krishna). A sweet pastime then took place in the life of Chinnappa Nayaka, who was to become a great saint, a proponent of the Bhakti movement in India.
Though everyone was well aware of the miserly nature of Chinnappa Nayaka, Lord Vitthala, one day, came as a poor brahmana seeking charity from Chinnappa in order to conduct the sacred thread ceremony for his son. However, the miserly jeweler wouldn’t part with a single penny and warned the brahmana to never dare ask for any charity from him. Chinnappa’s wife however, dares to give her diamond nose ring in charity to the brahmana hoping against hope that her husband wouldn’t notice it. That was not to happen. The cunning Lord, in the form of the brahmana, went back to Chinnappa Nayaka’s jewelery shop, this time to do business. He requests Chinappa to buy the nose ring and in return give him money that he would use for his son’s sacred thread ceremony. The shrewd jeweler immediately smelt something fishy. From where did the poor brahmana get such a valuable diamond nose ring?! He very well recognized his wife’s nose ring and while requesting the brahmana to wait at the shop, Chinnappa kept the nose ring in his safe and rushed home to see if his wife still had her nose ring. Fearing Chinnappa’s wrath, his wife decides to end her life by drinking a cup of poison when lo behold! The ring appears in the cup! Thanking Lord Vitthala profusely, she returns it to her husband who rushes back to the shop just to find that the nose ring kept in his safe has disappeared. Now unable to face the brahmana who demands for ‘his’ nose ring back, Chinappa realizes that there is some mystery, some lesson to be learnt from this episode. Inspired by his wife, Chinappa makes an attempt to build faith and surrender to the Lord. Overnight he gives up all his possessions and along with his wife and sons, starts preaching, singing the glories of Lord Vitthala. Initiated by the Madhva saint Vyasa Raja, Chinnappa Nayaka became Purandara Dasa and composed thousands of devotional songs in Kannada language also called as Purandaropanishad (counted as one of the Upanishads among the Madhvas). Every song has serious philosophical base yet convincing to the layman by simply bringing out the essence of surrender. Yet I hold back.
‘How can I serve You?’ This is the theme of one of the bhajans written by Purandara Dasa. In this bhajan, Purandara Dasa glorifies the Lord and sarcastically reveals our worth and the worth of our offerings to the Lord who is full in all opulence. Purandara Dasa sings like this:
How can I serve you? How can I please you dear Lord? O You who lays on the Ananta Shesha and worshipped by Narada.
Sometimes I think I can bring water for You and bathe You (Abhisheka) but You O’Lord have the river Ganges coming from Your toe!
How can I serve You…..
Then I think I can sing for you but Kinnaras and sages like Narada muni sing for You!
To You O’ Lord who is more effulgent than crores of suns put together, how can I think that by lighting a lamp for you I will make your altar bright?
How can I serve You….
Goddess Lakshmi sits on Your lap and I think that I can offer you few coins made of some metal and please You!
I then think that maybe I can make a nice bed for You my Lord but You are resting on Ananta Shesha! And when I think I can fan you, the great bird Garuda fans You with his wings.
How can I serve You….
You are an ocean of all qualities, full in all opulence, Sacchidananda, always worshipped by sages such as Sanaka and others.
You are the one who can award bhakti and the one who is known as the giver of liberation, mukti. Your glorification is the only offering I can make.
How can I serve You…..
By meditating on this bhajan one realizes that one indeed has nothing to offer to You O’ Lord that is good enough or worthy enough and yet why do we hold back? One also gets a lesson in humility and understands that indeed we have nothing but Your glorification to offer back to You. Yet I hold back.