Ennapadam Bhagavati

Bhagavathi at Ennapadam Temple at Kerala

Monday, August 9, 2010



In early 2007, Prof Dr Thyagarajan, the then Head of the Deptartment of Sanskrit, Presidency College, invited me to participate in a Viva Voce Examination Session in which a candidate by name Mrs Kamakshi Ramaswamy was appearing for an oral examination before a Board of Examiners nominated by the University of Madras. She had submitted a thesis under the title SIVASAHASRANAMA A STUDY to the University of Madras to qualify herself for the award of a PhD Degree in Sanskrit. When I went inside the Viva Voce Examination hall, I was pleasantly surprised to note that Kamakshi Ramaswamy was approaching her 60th year! I saw her perform with great dignity, reserve, humility backed by self-assurance when the examiners put their difficult questions to her on various aspects and dimensions of her thesis on SIVASAHASRANAMA. Not only the official examiners, but also many of the private scholars in Sanskrit and general members of the public interested in Sanskrit who were present in the audience also posed several intricate questions to Kamakshi Ramaswamy and she gave a suitable reply to each one of them which left a lasting impression on me.

Dr Kamakshi Ramaswamy receiving her Phd degree from Dr S Ramachandran Vice-Chancellor of Madras University

I was not mistaken either in my response or in my assessment of Kamakshi Ramaswamy. Nearly two months later, the University of Madras awarded the PhD Degree in Sanskrit to her. Born in May 1947 in Bombay, she had her school education in National Girls High School, in Triplicane, Chennai. She graduated from SIET College, Chennai with a BSc Degree in Chemistry in 1966. What is interesting to note is that Tamil was her second language in SIET College and at no point of time Kamakshi Ramaswamy studied Sanskrit as a language throughout her school and college career. Her great interest in Sanskrit began in Calcutta in 1979 when she started learning the recitation of great Sanskrit hymns like Narayananeeyam, Soundaryalahari, Shivanandalahari, etc from her teacher Savithri Balasubramaniyan.

Kamakshi Ramaswamy recalls with pride and humility that Savithri Balasubramaniyan was a great teacher in the true tradition of guru kula system of ancient India. She told me: "To begin with, I learnt to recite great Sanskrit sloakas with the help of Tamil script without even knowing the meaning of any Sanskrit word. Though I did not know the Sanskrit script, yet I found that the Sanskrit language held a strange fascination for me. I particularly enjoyed listening to its sound and resonance. I am of the view that no one can dispute the fact that even if one does not understand Sanskrit, yet it compels one to pay attention to it and often brings an inexplicable joy. I have often asked the question as to why it is so and how Sanskrit has come to acquire such a power through the ages? Does that power lie in its Mantric lure? I am passionately of the view that if one truly wants to understand India, its culture and ethos, a knowledge of Sanskrit is not only essential but indispensable. Indeed Sanskrit is one of the oldest and richest languages of the world. Sanskrit has indeed been the soul of Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma, Hindu Society, Hindu Culture, Hindu Literature, Hindu Art and Hindu Civilization from the dawn of history'.

Kamakshi Ramaswamy started learning Sanskrit as a language in the academic sense in a systematic and serious manner only from 1996. Between 1996 and 1998, she took and passed Pravisha, Parichaya, Siksha and Kovidha examinations in Sanskrit conducted by 'Samskritha Bharathi', a great institution in Bangalore which has been doing outstanding work in reviving, propagating and popularizing the study of Sanskrit during the last two decades. After 1996, she came under the intellectual influence of a great Sanskrit scholar Sri Padmanaba Iyer who persuaded her to undertake the study of Sanskrit language and Sanskrit literature as her life's mission. On his advice, Kamakshi Ramaswamy joined Karnataka State Open University in 1999 to do her MA in Sanskrit which she completed in 2001.

In 2002, Kamakshi Ramaswamy was persuaded by Prof Dr Thyagarajan, Head of the Dept of Sanskrit, Presidency College, to register herself for PhD in Madras University. He also came forward to act as her guide for doing research for the award of PhD Degree. To cap it all, it was Prof Dr.Thyagarajan who suggested the topic of SIVASAHASRANAMA A STUDY to her for her Doctoral thesis. Under Prof Dr.Thyagarajan's guidance and personal supervision for nearly 5 years, Kamakshi Ramaswamy has completed her PhD thesis with great distinction. Prof Dr.Thyagarajan is a great teacher. As Henry Adams wrote 'A Teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops'.

Perhaps the great American Writer Emerson (1803-1882) had dedicated scholars like Kamakshi Ramaswamy in view when he wrote: 'A great scholar will find a great subject, or which is the same thing, make any subject great. The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts instead of appearances'. These great words of Emerson are very much applicable to the research thesis produced by Dr Kamakshi Ramaswamy titled SIVASAHASRANAMA A STUDY.


What is a Sahasranama? A sahasranama (Sanskrit:) is a type of Hindu scripture in which a deity is referred to by 1,000 or more different names. Sahasranamas are classified as stotras, or hymns of praise, a type of devotional scripture. Sahasra means a thousand, or more generally, a very large number. Nama (naman) means name. So the literal translation means 'thousand names'. A sahasranama provides a terse but encyclopedic guide to the attributes and mythology surrounding a deity. There are also many shorter stotras, called ashtottara-shata-nama stotras, which have only 108 names.

What is a Sivasahasranama? A Sivasahasranama is a list of a thousand names of Shiva, one of the most important deities in Hinduism. In Hindu tradition a sahasranama is a type of devotional hymn (Sanskrit: stotra) listing many names of a deity. The names provide an exhaustive catalog of the attributes, functions, and major mythology associated with the figure being praised.

Kamakshi Ramaswamy has presented her detailed analytical study of Sivasahasranama in 8 chapters. In the First Chapter she deals with different types of Stotras in Sanskrit Literature. The important aspects of Mantras are explained clearly indicating the difference between Mantras and Stotras.

The Second Chapter is devoted to Sahasranama Stotra in general. She clearly brings out the spiritual significance of its rendering and its contribution to the holistic health of an individual. She also discusses the significance of its recital in the kaliyuga.

The Third Chapter deals with Sivasahasranama Stotras in general. She analyses the role and importance of Sivasahasranama Stotras in the ancient scriptural texts like the Mahabharata, the Padmapurana, the Skandapurana, the Vamanapurana, the Lingapurana, the Markandapurana, the Sourapurana, the Bhairava Tantra, the Bhringiridi Samhita, the Rudrayamalatantra and the Akasa Kalpa Tantra. We can see that Lord Shiva, who is praised as Anantanama is the supreme God who has endless names. To quote the words of Kamakshi Ramaswamy: 'Each Rishi in his attempt to glorify Shiva, the Supreme Almighty, chose those names that appealed to him the most and composed a Sahasranama studded with those glorious names. There is no limit to Shiva's greatness. He is Anantabhuma.

His supremacy can never be explained exhaustively by any name or by anybody. Even the Gods will not be able to do justice in their effort to praise HIM. Puspadinta in his Siva Mahima Stotra explains how, Goddess Saraswati in Her attempt to write the greatness of Lord, could not complete Her work, even if she wrote non-stop, using the blue mountain as ink, ocean as ink pot, branches of the heavenly tree as pen and the surface of the earth as pages'.

The Fourth Chapter is devoted to the special study of Sivasahasranama Stotras. The context of the Sahasranama in the relevant Purana, the narrator and the receptor, the Nyasas, the Dhyana Slokas, the special epithets along with their meanings and the fruit of reciting the Sahasranama are all explained with clarity and precision. The Fifth Chapter is concerned with the Names and Forms of Lord Shiva. The Sixth Chapter identifies the manifold Facets of Shiva as derived from Sivasahasranama Stotras. The Seventh Chapter deals with the attributes of Shiva. Here the complexion of Shiva, the attires of Shiva, the weapons, ornaments, musical instruments and vehicles of Shiva are explained. The concluding Eighth Chapter deals with the celibacy and glory of Lord Shiva.

Dr Siddharth. Y Wakankar, Deputy Director of Oriental Institute, MS University of Baroda has paid this tribute to Kamakshi Ramaswamy: 'She in her pioneering study attempts very successfully to survey all the Sivasahasranama Stotras, scattered throughout the field of Sanskrit Literature, right from the Mahabharata and the Puranas upto some Tantrik Treatises. She has dwelt with every facet and dimension of Sivasahasranama, explaining the meanings/connotations of the various epithets of Lord Shiva, alluding to different stories, connected with the particular/peculiar epithets, having different shades of, meanings. This is a very good attempt by a through going student which reflects her wide-ranging reading as well as her devotion to the topic of her research study'.

After a detailed study of the thesis on Sivasahasranama presented by Kamakshi Ramaswamy, we can see that Shiva as Nataraja as a theme represents life force itself. Our great ancestors visualized Nataraja as a manifestation of the cosmic energy symbolizing the three aspects of creation, preservation and destruction. The dance of Shiva has always been synonymously viewed with truth and beauty, force and rhythm, movement and change, realization and dissolution. Shiva has been visualized in a variety of forms by seers, poets and artists - chiseled, painted, described and sung about in many parts of India and countries in South East Asia.




This itself is a testimony to the twin aspects of time and timelessness of Shiva, both as a personality and as a theme. 

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