VATAPATRASHAYEE signifies a Man of Realisation – a Jeevanmukta. He is none other than Lord Mukunda: One who gives Mukti to the spiritual seeker.
Sage Markandeya undertook intense tapas to propitiate Lord Vishnu. Pleased with the Sage’s austerity, the Lord appeared before him. Overwhelmed with joy at the divine and glorious darshan of the Lord, Markandeya put forth a unique request to the Lord. He wanted to ‘see’ the LEELA or the Sport of the Lord-of-Maya! Sri Narayana smilingly acknowledged. A few days later, the sky opened up, clouds burst, winds swept, thunderstorms and torrential rains created floods, the ocean rose and in a short time all the worlds including the entire earth was engulfed with water – it was Pralaya. In the darkness of the Deluge, drifting along in the dangerous and swirling waters, Markandeya who was ever well-established in the Higher State of God-realization beyond all traces of duality, now went through the gamut of hunger and thirst, fear and sorrow, pain and grief! He was unable to come out of it – the Play of Lord’s Maya! And suddenly, to his utter surprise, he found a small lone infant also drifting in the waters. Curious to know who it was, he swam towards the infant. Extremely divine was the vision! Markandeya saw a dark-blue hued child exquisitely charming and captivating lying on a banyan leaf. The infant held its lotus-like foot in its beautiful hands. And he was blissfully sucking at the toe which was in his mouth – Lord VATAPATRASHAYEE! Markandeya was sucked into the body of the infant along with its in-breath. There in the body of the infant, Markandeya saw the outer and inner space and all the worlds, including himself! With the infant’s out-going breath, Markandeya was thrown back to the surroundings. And suddenly the deluge-vision disappeared. Markandeya was back in his hermitage. Nothing had really happened. It was all Lord’s Maya – a mere delusion created illusion! Sage Markandeya had witnessed the Play of Lord’s inscrutable Maya!!
Significance: The waters all around represent pralaya (deluge) or dissolution, which is the Destructive Aspect of Nature. The infant on the banyan leaf represents the Constructive Aspect of Nature. At the Cosmic level, Nature balances the destruction-construction phenomena. If the dark waters represent disaster, trouble and spiritual ignorance, Sri Krishna (Vatapatrashayee) represents relief, hope and Light of Knowledge.
The Lord’s ‘breathing-in’ represents the DISSOLUTION of the worlds. Hence Sage Markandeya was sucked into the Lord’s mouth. The Lord’s ‘breathing-out’ represents the CREATION of the worlds; the sage was thrown back into the surroundings. Between creation and dissolution, the Lord nurtures, nourishes and MAINTAINS all that He has created. Therefore BALA-MUKUNDA represents the Powers of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution – the Ultimate Reality, BRAHMAN. The Lord’s face, hands and feet are compared to the LOTUS. The Lotus represents Beauty, Knowledge and Truth. The Lord is a personification of, an embodiment of Beauty, Knowledge and Truth. An infant/child always “lives and responds” in the PRESENT without the conditionings of the PAST and FUTURE: the Highest State in which a Man of Realization is revelling. Hence, the Lord is depicted as an “infant”.
The waters represent the “troubled waters of samsara” – the ups and downs. To balance ourselves safely and sail through them we need knowledge. The banyan leaf represents “spiritual knowledge” and its green colour represents “balance or steady mind”. The banyan tree has long life and vast spread with roots hanging down from above. Hence the banyan tree represents the Eternal, Timeless Spiritual Knowledge which transcends all other knowledges, yet includes everything. It flows from the Higher to the lower.
Krishna lying down on the banyan leaf tossed up and down by the waves represents the Man of Steady Wisdom in perfect balance within himself and in absolute harmony with Nature. Krishna holds the big toe of His leg with both His hands, draws it towards Himself and is depicted as sucking the toe by putting it in His mouth. Feet is what one stands on. The Master’s Feet represent Spiritual Knowledge in which he is well-established and rooted in. The big toe is equivalent to the thumb and it signifies the essence of spiritual knowledge which the Man of Realisation is constantly experiencing and revelling in, after turning his attention within himself in his seat of meditation. This inward gaze is represented by the Lord pulling his leg inward, towards Himself. The blissful smile on the Lord’s face signifies the State of Sat-Chit-Ananda which the Jeevanmukta is constantly experiencing within himself!
“Karaavindena Padaaravindam Mukhaaravinde Viniveshayantam; Vatasya Patrasya Pute Shayaanam Baalam Mukundam Manasaa Smaraami” – Baalamukundashtakam
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