On the Run
When does one run? Usually when one is in hurry to reach somewhere, or catch a bus or train, or when pursued by irate creditors, persistent policemen or by a mad bull. Otherwise we prefer walking at a sedate pace or riding in our vehicle. This of course excludes health buffs, who run everyday for exercise, to burn off excess calories. There is thus any number of reasons for us to run.
However, can you think of a possible reason for the Lord to run? He at least has no need to be afraid of creditors or policemen. And as for mad bulls, it is they who must run from Him, driven by memories of His exploits in taming seven virulent bulls for winning the hand of Sri Nappinnai during Sri Krishnavataram. The Upanishad says that the God of Death runs to perform his duties in time, due to fear of the Lord ("Mrityur dhAvati panchama iti"). He has no need to catch a bus or train, for He reaches wherever He wants through mere Sankalpam or will.
So why must the Lord run?
It is to save His devotee, whenever the latter is in dire distress.
We only have to recall the Gajendra Moksham episode in this regard, to be convinced that the Lord does indeed run. The moment the mighty elephant realised its own helplessness in saving itself, and trumpeted to the Adimoolam for succour, the Lord, who was in distant SriVaikuntam, came running to save His bhakta.
It is not the rescue run per se that is significant, for any God worth the name must rush to the rescue of His devotee. The manner in which Sriman Narayana ran, with scant regard to his attire being in disarray ("arai kulaya nilai kulaya") does Him credit. In His hurry to reach Gajendra, He did not even note His uttarIyam slipping off. We must view this in the background of the Lord's preference for sartorial elegance-He is always impeccably dressed and adorns the best of finery, as the Shruti attests ("YuvA suvAsA:"). Except perhaps in Ramavatara, where He was forced to wear tree bark and deer skin for fourteen years, we do not find Him using anything other than the best in clothing ("peeta kousEya vAsam", "PeethAmbara dhara:"). Even as Sri Krishna, we can recollect the episode of His waylaying the washer man to commandeer freshly laundered clothes for wearing to Kamsa's court.
Coming back to the Lord's tearing hurry to go to Gajendra's rescue, we feel that He need not have gone personally to the scene. After all, Sri SudarsanAzhwan, the Lord's discus, is powerful enough to finish off an army, leave alone a lonely crocodile, already fatigued by the long- drawn-out war with the mighty elephant. Why did the Lord engage in overkill, so to say? Even after reaching the scene, He used only the discus to finish off the crocodile. That He could have done sitting where He was at Sri Vaikuntam.
Our Poorvacharyas come up with a moving answer to this question. A doting mother, when told that her child has fallen into the well, does not remain content with sending her servant to rescue the child, but rushes immediately to the well, propelled by anxiety for the little one's well-being and to personally supervise rescue efforts. She may know full well that her presence is really not required at the scene, and that she may not contribute much personally, but still she dashes to the site, unable to sit still while her child is in danger. Similar is Emperuman's plight- though He might have a legion of powerful assistants quite capable of taking care of the devotee's problem, the Lord doesn't feel satisfied unless He personally attends to the matter.
The two principal reasons for His avataras are protection of the good and destroying the evil ("ParitrANAya sAdhUnAm, vinAsAya cha dushkritAm..sambhavAmi yugE yugE")
While destruction of evil is possible by proxy, through the deputation of one of His able assistants, the SAdhUs feel secure and satisfied only when He comes personally to their rescue. They long for a glimpse of the Lord, and when they are in trouble, they appeal to Him as much in the hope of a glorious dharshan of His divine form, as to rid themselves of their current travails. This is possible only when Emperuman comes in person, and He obliges the devout.
Coming back to Gajendra Moksham, the Lord did indeed use VynatEya to get to the spot where the elephant and crocodile were locked in deadly combat. However, He was hardly satisfied with GaruthmAn's speed, and urged him to fly faster and faster, in His hurry to rush to the rescue of the pachyderm. Imagine, who could be faster than Garuda? Behaving much like a passenger in a hurry to reach the railway station egging the cabbie on despite the latter doing his best, Emperuman spurred Garuda on with pressure from his holy feet. And the intensity of the Lord's rush could be imagined from the fact that VynatEya developed a permanent scar on his flanks, due to the intense pressure of the Lord's feet. Sri Alavandar chronicles this in the Stotra Ratnam, while describing the greatness of GaruthmAn-
"upastthitam tEna purO GarutmatA tvat anghri sammardha kiNAnka sObhinA". The scars caused by the Lord's tiruvadi make the divine bird aglow with bliss.
Thus, though Sri VynatEya was carrying the Lord on his shoulders, the Lord, unsatisfied with the speed of His vehicle, practically ran, carrying Garuda with Him. Paradoxical as it may sound, two or three sources, while describing Emperuman's flight to save Gajendra, say that He "ran" on the back of Garuda!
Sri Nammazhwar, marvelling at the Lord's abiding commitment to Asrita rakshanam, says "Odum puL Eri".
The normal word to use here would have been "parakkum puL Eri", indicating the Lord's flight on Garuda's back. But the fact the word "Odum" ("He runs") has been used denotes His tearing hurry to get to the scene of action at the earliest, for protecting His devotee in distress.
The prAta: smaraNam, (the sloka to be remembered with reverence immediately after waking up in the morning) too
confirms that Emperuman "ran" on Garuda, while rushing to the rescue of Gajendra-
"GrAha grastE GajEndrE ruati sarabhasam TArkshyam Aruhya dhAvan". Swami Desikan too admires the Lord's expedition in the matter, in Sri AshtabhujAshtakam, beginning with the sloka "GajEndra rakshA tvaritam bhavantam", and describes Him as a friend of the innocent-"Aptam satAm".
It is this act of the Lord, that of running to the rescue of a mere pachyderm, when hordes of distinguished entities waited in vain for millennia for a glimpse of the Lord, that puts Him on an incomparable footing, says Sri Tondaradippodi-
"PeNNulAm sadayinAnum Piramanum unnai kANbAn
eNNilA oozhi oozhi tavam seidAr veLgi nirpa
viNNulAr viyappa vandu Anaikku andru aruLai eenda
kaNNarA unnai andrO kaLaikaNA karudum ArE".
It is this quality of the Lord that endears Him to us, makes us supremely confident that there is someone who will come, nay, rush, to our rescue in times of dire need, and instils in us the MahA VisvAsam (abiding faith) in His penchant for protecting the pious.