Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Appala Pattu – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous four articles, which were explanatory paraphrases of Upadesa Undiyar, Ulladu Narpadu, Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham and Ekatma Panchakam, the following is the fifth of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai:

அப்பளப் பாட்டு (Appala-p-pattu), the ‘Appalam Song’, is a Tamil song that Sri Ramana composed for his mother one day in about 1914 or 1915, when she asked him to help her make some appalams (a thin crisp wafer made of gram flour and other ingredients, also known as parpata, pappadam, poppadum or pappad, which can either be fried or toasted over a naked flame or in hot embers). He responded by composing this song, in which he compares each of the ingredients, implements and actions required to make an appalam to the qualities and practices required for us to experience true self-knowledge.

In the pallavi or refrain (which completes the meaning of the anupallavi and each of the four verses) he simply says, ‘Making appalam, see; eating it, fulfil [or destroy] your desire’. The appalam that he asks us to prepare is the appalam of true self-knowledge, and what he asks us to see is who we really are. By eating this appalam — that is, by experiencing true self-knowledge — we will satisfy our hunger for infinite happiness, and thus we will destroy all our other desires, which are all just distorted forms of our fundamental desire for real happiness.

In the anupallavi or sub-refrain he says that, instead of wandering in this material world craving the fulfilment of other desires, we should satisfy our hunger for real happiness by preparing and eating the appalam of true self-knowledge in accordance with ‘the unequalled and unsurpassed one [non-dual] language’, which is the tattva or reality that the sadguru (the guru who teaches sat, being or reality), who is sat-bhoda-sukha (being-consciousness-bliss, or the happiness of true knowledge), said without saying. The sadguru whom Sri Ramana refers to here is the primal guru Dakshinamurti, and the ‘unequalled and unsurpassed one language’ that he ‘said without saying’ is silence, which is the true language of non-duality.

In verse 1 he begins to explain how we should make the appalam of true self-knowledge, saying that we should break up black gram, which is the pride ‘I’ that grows in the field of five sheaths (the body, life, mind, intellect and the underlying self-ignorance), which are not self, reducing it to powder as ‘not I’ in the hand-mill, which is the jnana-vichara (knowledge-investigation) ‘who am I?’.

That is, our ego, which rises in this body as ‘I am this’ and which Sri Ramana therefore describes as “the pride ‘I’ that grows in the field of five sheaths”, is compared to black gram, which is the principal ingredient in an appalam, and the practice of jnana-vichara — investigating what our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’ really is — is compared to the hand-mill in which we should break up this ego, reducing it to powder as ‘not I’.

In verse 2 he says that we should blend the following ingredients with the pulverised black gram: the juice of square-stalked vine, which is sat-sanga (clinging to being, or to one who knows and abides as being); cumin, which is sama (equanimity, tranquillity or calmness); pepper, which is dama (self-restraint); salt, which is uparati (cessation, which means renunciation of worldly desires and refraining from indulgence in sensual enjoyments and worldly actions); and asafoetida, which is good vasana (propensity, inclination, impulsion or desire) in the heart (or mind).

In this context உள்ள நல் வாசனை (ulla nal vasanai) or the ‘inner good vasana’ means the sat-vasana, the desire or inclination just to be, which alone can root out all our karma-vasanas, our desires to be active.

Having thus described the ingredients and their initial preparation in verses 1 and 2, in verses 3 and 4 Sri Ramana describes the process of cooking the appalam of true self-knowledge.

In verse 3 he says that in the mortar of our heart we should unceasingly and without agitation (or confusion) pound the blended ingredients with the pestle of ul-mukham (introversion or ‘facing inwards’) as ‘I [am only] I’, and then on the board, which is sama (‘evenness’ or ‘levelness’ of mind, that is, samadhi), with the rolling-pin, which is peace, we should continuously, joyfully and without calippu (weariness, pramada or self-negligence) satisfy our desire by preparing and eating the appalam of true self-knowledge.

In verse 4 he says that — in order to experience ourself as தானே தான் (tane tan), ‘self alone [is] self’ (or ‘only I [am] I’) — in the endless (infinite and eternal) pan, which is mauna-mudra (the seal, stamp or mark of silence), in the excellent ghee (or clarified butter) of brahman (the absolute reality), which is heated by jnanagni (the fire of true knowledge), we should always fry (the appalam of self-knowledge) as ‘I [am] that [brahman]’, and should thereby satisfy our desire by preparing and eating the tanmaya-appalam (the appalam that is composed of tat or ‘that’, the one absolute reality called brahman).


Anonymous said...

Thank you Swamy for the explanation.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this wonderful write up on appala paattu. Even as reading this, am also listening to the appal a paatu so melodiously rendered by a small devoted bhajan group.


Ramon M. Steele said...


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