Note: This post is heavily influenced by the pravachana of Padma Sri Bannanje Govindacharya on the topic of narasimhaavatara. Many pranamas to him. (I have made a few extrapolations to what he has said)
The story of jaya and vijaya — the doorkeepers of vaikunta — is well known to all readers of vaishnava literature. Their refusal to allow the sanatkumaras to enter the abode of vishnu, the curse of the kumaras on them, the appearance of vishnu to appease the sages, confirmation of three janmas for the gatekeepers and subsequent avataras of vishnu to relieve them from their curse — continues to be the most enchanting part of our purana shravana.
The varaha-avatara of paramatma, stories of prahlada the great devotee of narasimha, the entire ramayana and the mahabharata are based on this particular incident narrated in the srimadbhagavata and other puranas. It is therefore, a most critical episode in our assimilation of itihasa and purana. Surely, with this much importance being attached, the story can not just be a simple tale of two servants in paramatma’s kingdom going beyond their mandate? Given the layers of meaning every story in our dharmic scriptures offer, this incident too must offer us some spiritual insights, right? There is an adhyatmic interpretation to the travails of Jaya-Vijaya – is there not?
Indeed there is.
The target of the kumaras
Sri Madhwacharya, in his bhashya to the brahmasutras, declares the following four as the most important requirements in the journey of any soul towards moksha.
श्रवणं मननंचैव ध्यानं भक्तिस्ततैवच |
साधनं ज्ञानसंपत्तौ प्रधानंनान्यदिष्यते ||
In the pursuit of aparoksha jnana (knowledge), the main instruments are shravana, manana, dhyana and bhakti. These four lead a soul towards true knowledge of paramatma.
In the story of jaya-vijaya, the four kumaras — sanaka, sanatana, sanandana and sanatkumara — are the embodiment of the four instruments necessary for aparoksha jnana. They stand for shravana, manana, dhyana and bhakti.
The four kumaras try to enter vaikunta, the abode of vishnu. Shastras describe that the entire vaikunta is nothing but the personification of lakshmi herself. vaikunta and lakshmi are indistinguishable. Lakshmi is, of course, jnana swaroopa — her body is nothing but knowledge itself.
Sri jagannatha dasaru, in his harikathamrutasara declares how lakshmi is full of jnana.
इ नलिनभवजननि लक्ष्मी
ज्ञानबलभक्त्यादिगुण सम्पूर्णळेनिपळु —
Hence by trying to enter into vaikunta, the four kumaras are trying to attain lakshmi with the ultimate goal of being able to have the darshana of srimannarayana!
Sri Madhwa, in the tantra-sara-sangraha, reveals that the ultimate step in obtaining moksha is the direct darshana of paramatma himself.
अपरोक्षदृषेरेवयस्मान्मोक्षो न चान्यथा |
Thus, the four kumaras try to obtain (enter) Vaikunta so they can have the darshana of paramatma.
In the life of the jeeva too, shravana manana dhyana and bhakti must lead to the attainment of jnana (lakshmi) so that the sakshatkara (darshana) of paramatma can happen — resulting in the granting of moksha.
The roadblock to jnana
However, when the four kumaras try to enter vaikunta, they are stopped at the door by its two gatekeepers — jaya and vijaya.
Similarly, when we try to obtain jnana through the four instruments of shravana et al, we are blocked by our inner door known as the antahkarana.
This antahkarana of ours has two door keepers — manas and buddhi — our own personal jaya vijayas.
The ajnana of jaya-vijaya
When jaya-vijaya firmly refuse to let the kumaras in, the sages curse them to undertake three births in this world. The door-keepers are rudely woken up and they realize their folly. However it is too late by then. In order to please the kumaras and affirm the curse, paramatma himself makes an appearance in front of them and tells the kumaras that they are most dear to them as they are jnanis (after jnana). Hence jaya-vijaya must undergo the curse.
In our life too, when manas and buddhi doesn’t allow shravana manana dhyana to happen and bhakti to develop, we are misled and fall into the cycle of samsara — repeated birth and death in this world. This state for the soul — that of samsara — is also granted by paramatma only — at the beginning of every brahma kalpa by bringing unmanifested — asrujya — souls into samsara.
Overcoming the ari-shadvairis
In what form did jaya and vijaya undertake their three janmas? What defect did they show and overcome? What facilitated their return to Vaikunta?
Jaya and vijaya undertook three janmas each
In the first janma, they were born as hiranyaksha and hiranyakashipu.
In the second janma, they were born as ravana and kumbhakarna.
In the third janma, they were born as shishupala and dantavakra.
The three janmas of both of them means the gatekeepers took six janmas in total.
Once they were killed by paramatma himself in all these three janmas, they returned back to vaikunta.
The six janmas of the dwarapalakas represent the six enemies of our lives — the ari-shadvargas. The six obstacles to true knowledge.
Kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsara.
Hiranyaksha went after bhudevi herself. He desired the entire world for himself and thought she was her own. Hiranyaksha represents the ‘kama’ in us.
Hiranyakashipu was extremely angry at Vishnu for having killed his brother. He represents the krodha in us. We should also remember gitacharya’s words here — कामात्क्रोधोभिजायते — due to the kama that was hiranyaksha, hiranyakashipu — krodha — happened.
Ravana went after kubera’s wealth. He went after lord rama’s consort — sita devi herself. He went after numerous other women. His lobha had no end.
Kumbhakarna had very few passions in life — sleeping and eating. But he had too much attachment to the same — always wanting to sleep and only focused on eating when awake. He represents the moha in us — the attachment we have over vices.
Shishupala firmly believed he was better than krishna. So strong was his ego — he thought he could kill krishna and everyone else. During the rajasuya yaga, he actually declares he can kill all of them!
आह्वये त्वां रणायैहि मया सह जनार्दन |
यावदद्य निहन्मि त्वां सहितं सर्वपाण्डवैः ||
Shishupala represents the mada in us.
Dantavakra could not digest the fact that krishna had performed the ekaaha ashwamedha yaga. krishna had performed the greatest of sacrifices in just one day. He therefore encountered krishna as he was returning from the avabhruta snana of the yaga — and got killed!
Dantavakra represents the matsara in us — which doesn’t allow us to tolerate the success and achievements of others.
Overcoming the enemies through shastra
For jaya-vijaya to get back to vaikunta, they had to be killed by paramatma in all three of their janmas. They then went back to their duty and allowed all deserving bhaktas to enter vaikunta and have the darshana of paramatma.
In our lives too, paramatma has to destroy the six enemies — the arishadvarga — through his words — the shastras — so we can allow the four kumaras of our lives — shravana, manana, dhyana and bhakti — to enter our antahkarana and attain jnana!
In the mahabharata tatparya nirnaya, Sri Madhwacharya declares the sources of true knowledge as follows.
ऋगादयश्च चत्वारः पञ्चरात्रं च भारतम् |
मूलरामायणं ब्रह्मसूत्रं मानं स्वतःस्मृतम् ||
The four vedas, the pancharatras, mahabharata, moola-ramayana and the brahmasutras are the chief sources of knowledge.
It is interesting to note that the story of hiranyaksha and hiranyakashipu is narrated in the vedas and the vaishnava puranas. The story of ravana and kumbhakarna’s destruction is narrated in the moola (and of course valmiki) ramayana and the destruction of shishupala and dantavakra is detailed in the mahabharata and the bhagavata.
All these granthas were given to us by paramatma himself in his avataras as veda vyasa and hayagriva (pancharatra). Thus in our lives too — it is paramatma himself who destroys the six enemies of jnana!