thathva thrayam – Iswara – Who is God?

srimathE rAmAnujAya nama:
srimadh varavaramunayE nama:
sri vAnAchala mahAmunayE nama:

So far, we have observed the nature of chith ( and achith (

This article can be viewed as a presentation by clicking–HYzlLfRFkdprThj3xmqWoyqKCQ/present#slide=id.p.

Understanding the Iswara thathvam (God) through the teachings of the wise men

We are continuing our journey in understanding the three entities (chith, achith, Iswara) through the divine grantham “thathva thrayam” (tattva trayam) of piLLai lOkAchAryar with the help of maNavALa mAmunigaL‘s beautiful commentary.


First emperumAn‘s
svarUpam (distinct nature) is explained in detail. Thathe is completely
different from all other entities is established right upfront.

svarUpam – true nature

  • By nature, ISwaran is
    • not the
      abode for any inauspicious qualities (meaning abode for all auspicious
    • unbounded
      • time –
        existence in past, present and future, 
      • place –
        everywhere in both spiritual and material worlds – all pervading nature
      • object – he
        is the in-dwelling soul of all objects
    • abode of
      full knowledge and unlimited bliss
    • abode of
      many auspicious qualities such as knowledge, strength,  etc
    • the one who
      fully manages creation, sustenance and dissolution
    • the one who
      is the refuge for the 4 types of seekers (as identified in bhagavath
      gIthai 7.16 by
      ka NNan
      • Artha: –
        the distressed
      • arthArthi –
        the one who is looking for new wealth
      • jigyAsur –
        the one who is looking for kaivalyam
      • gyAni – the
        true devotee
    • the who can
      bestow the four purushArthams (goals) – dharma, artha, kAma, mOksha
    • the one who
      has many divine forms
    • the one who
      is the dear lord of
      , bhUdhEvi and neeLA dhEvi
  • He being the
    in-dwelling (controlling) soul of all entities does not affect him in any
    way, just like jIvAthmA (soul) does not get affected by the changing bodies.

His Auspicious qualities

  • His most
    divine auspicious qualities are
    • eternal –
      they always exist
    • countless –
      there are so many auspicious qualities
    • boundless –
      even one of the qualities cannot be comprehended fully
    • causeless –
      his divine qualities do not manifest due to external inducing, they
      naturally exist
    • defectless
    • unparalleled
      – since
      emperumAn does not
      have any one equal or greater, his qualities also do not have anything
      equal or greater
  • Three 
    categories of his auspicious qualities
    • Focussed on
      the ones who are favourable towards him and his devotees
      • vAthsalyam
        – motherly forbearance
is often glorified for his vAthsalyam
      • sauseelyam
        – magnanimity

 SrI rAman is glorified for his sauseelyam –
for mixing freely with guha, hanumAn, etc
      • saulabhyam
        – easy accessibility

 kaNNan emperumAn is glorified for his saulabhyam
      • mArdhavam –
        tenderness (of heart and body)
      • Arjavam –
        honesty, etc
    • Focussed on
      the ones who are unfavourable towards him and his devotees
      • sauryam –
      • vIrya –
        strength/power, etc
    • Common for
      • gyAna –
        knowing about everything fully
      • shakthi –
      • bala –
        ability to support everything
      • aiSwarya –
        controlling capacity
      • vIrya –
        Even while managing everything, having no change in self (avikAra)
      • thEjas –
        ability to handle everything individually
  • Auspicious
    Qualities and the target of those qualities
    • His gyAnam
      (knowledge) is to help the ones who consider themselves to be ignorant
    • His shakthi
      (strength) is to help the ones who consider themselves to be meek/humble
    • His kshamai
      (forgiveness) is to help the ones who consider themselves to be commiting
    • His krupai
      (mercy) is to help the ones who consider themselves to be suffering
    • His
      vAthsalyam (motherly forbearance) is to help the ones who consider
      themselves to to at fault
    • His seelam
      (magnanimity) is to help the ones who consider themselves to be
    • His Arjavam
      (honesty) is to help the ones who consider themselves to be dishonest
    • His
      sauhArdham (good-heartedness) is to help the ones who consider themselves
      to be not so good
    • His
      mArdhavam (tender-heartedness) is to help the ones who cannot bear the
      separation from bhagavAn
    • His
      saulabhyam (easy accessibility) is to help the ones who desire to see him
    • and so on
  • Manifestation
    of his qualities
    • He shows
      great concern towards the suffering jIvAthmAs (souls) and is constantly
      looking for the well-being of them.
    • He
      constantly tries to help them when they are in distress.
    • For the ones
      who surrender unto him, 
      • He does not
        look at their defects which arise out of their birth, knowledge,
        actions, etc.
      • He protects
        them when neither they themselves can protect them nor others can
        protect them.
      • He performs
        miraculous activities to please them as he (
        ) did in the case of sAndhIpani muni (bringing back his dead son)
        and the brAhmaNa (bring back his sons who were taken away by
        to paramapadham to have the divine vision of krishNan in
      • He makes
        himself fully available for them.
      • He feels
        self satisfied after helping them as if his own personal task was
      • Without
        considering the favours done by him, he looks out for the minimum
        virtues done by the surrendered ones and helps them forget the taste for
        material aspirations that is present in them since time immemorial.
      • He ignores
        their mistakes like a man who ignores the mistakes of his dear wife and
      • Even if SrI
        points out the defects of the surrendered person, he simply
        diregards them.
      • He consumes
        their defects with great love, just like a man in love would like the
        sweat etc., of his beloved.
      • In
        separation, he feels greater distress compared to the surrendered ones.
      • Just like a
        cow kicks out and pushes away the older calves when a new calf is born
        out of great attachment and concern,
        emperumAn pushes
        and nithyasUris when a new jIvAthmA (soul) surrenders to him.

His kAraNathvam – He being the primordial cause

(the first progenitor) being born from the navel of SrI mahAvishNu
  • bhagavAn is
    the cause of all the worlds.
  • Some say that
    atom (lowest particle) is the primordial cause.
  • Since this is
    contradictory to plain perception and SAsthram, they cannot be accepted as
    the primordial cause.
  • Others say
    matter is the primordial cause. 
  • Since matter
    does not have knowledge and does not transform on its own without the
    intervention of bhagavAn, matter cannot be the primordial cause.
  • badhdha
    chEthanas (jIvAthmA- individual soul) like brahmA, rudhran, etc cannot be
    the primordial cause.Since they are bound by karmA and go through
    sufferings, they cannot be the primordial cause. Thus
    ISwaran is the only
    primordial cause.
  • He is being
    the cause not due to ignorance, karmA, others’ orders etc but out of his
    own desire and will.
  • Since
    creation, sustenance and dissolution happen out of his own desire, there
    is no suffering in these for him. 
  • The whole
    process is only for his pastime. 
  • But would his
    pastime be interrupted in samhAram (dissolution)? Since samhAram is also
    part of his pastime, there is no interruption.
    mAmunigaL beautifully
    shows a practical example – when children play with sand castles, at the
    end of their play they knock down the castle as a part of the pastime with
    full joy. Similarly, dissolution is also a pastime in bhagavAn’s
  • Since he
    transforms his own body into this material world, he is the material
    cause. Note: There are 3 causes: upAdhAna kAraNam (material cause),
    nimiththa kAraNam (instrumental cause) and sahakAri kAraNam (supporting
    cause). For example, in making a pot, sand and clay are the material
    cause, the potter is the instrumental cause, his stick and wheel are the
    supporting cause.
  • But since
    there is no change to his svarUpam he is called nirvikAra (unchangeable).
  • It is only
    his body (chith and achith) that gets transformed. Spider makes a web from
    its own saliva and then it consumes it again. If a spider can do this, why
    ISwaran who is
    omnipotent (capable of doing anything) do the same?


srushti, sthithi, samhAram

He is the full controller
of all these activities. samashti srushti (upto the creation of pancha
bhUthas) are done by bhagavAn himself directly and vyashti srushti (various
beings, manifestations, etc) are done indirectly by bhagavAn being the
antharyAmi of other beings.


  • srushti
    • transforming
      subtle matter into gross matter
    • providing
      body and senses to jIvAthmAs
    • expanding
      the knowledge of jIvAthmA
  • srushti is
    done through brahmA, prajApathis, time and all beings by being present as
    their in-dwelling soul.
  • srushti is
    done in rajO guNam (the mode of passion).


  • sthithi
    • , sustainingjIvAthmAs
      by being present within them with favourable intentions and helping them
      in all different situations, just like water sustaining the crop in a
      rice/paddy field
  • sthithi is
    done by 
    • descending
      in many incarnations starting with vishNu (which is the first incarnation
      in the material world)
    • establishing
      SAsthram through manu, rishis, etc
    • guiding the
      jIvAthmAs in good path
    • being
      antharyAmi of time and all beings
  • sthithi is
    done in sathva guNam (the mode of goodness).


  • samhAram
    • pulling back
      the jIvAthmAs into a subtle state to minimize their attachment to
      material aspirations. This is similar to keeping one’s own uncontrollable
      son under arrest for the well-being of the son.
  • samhAram is
    done by being the antharyAmi of rudhran, agni, time and all beings.
  • samhAram is
    done in thamO guNam (the mode of ignorance).

supreme quality during srushti

  • If some are
    joyful and others are in distress, would that not reflect partiality and
    cruelty in bhagavAn’s part?
  • Not at all –
    since everyone gets his/her body based on his/her karmA, and all actions
    are done to reform/uplift the jIvAthmA slowly into a higher state, there
    is no partiality or cruelty in bhagavAn’s part.
  • bhagavAn
    performs srushti, sthithi, samhAram with a divine form as stated by
    nammAzhwAr in 3.2.1.

bhagavAn‘s various

  • emperumAn‘s forms are
    • more
      enjoyable than his svarUpam (nature), guNam (quality), etc.
    • eternal –
      always with a form
    • uniform –
      without the effects of old age etc
    • made of
      auspicious matter which is in the mode of pure goodness
    • fully
      revealing of his true nature unlike material body which covers the soul’s
    • eternally
    • abode of all
      divine qualities like beauty, softness, etc
    • those which
      are meditated upon by all yOgis
    • those which
      will cease our attachment to everything else
    • which are
      enjoyed by nithyasUris and mukthAthmAs
    • those which
      remove all pains
    • source of
      all incarnations
    • refuge for
    • abode for
    • decorated
      with divine weapons (conch, discus, etc) and ornaments (garlands,
      necklaces, etc)
  • bhagavAn’s
    svarUpam is attached with 5 different categories of forms namely
    • parathvam –
      form in paramapadham
    • vyUham –
      forms in vyUha state which is primarily focussed on the material worlds
    • vibhavam –
      innumerable incarnations of emperumAn
    • antharyAmi –
      in-dwelling soul in all jIvAthmAs (souls) and achEthanams (matter)
    • archai
      innumerable deity forms which are worshipped at temples, mutts, homes,
    • These are
      briefly discussed at
  • paramapadham
    is described as the place of endless bliss and innumerable auspicious
    qualities and where kAlam (time) is not the controller. In samsAram time
    is the controller – whether we want or not, time automatically transforms
    every thing.
  • everything is
    spiritual in paramapadham.
  • He along with
    his divine consorts SrI mahAlakshmi, bhU dhEvi and neeLA dhEvi are the
    prime focus.
  • He exists
    there for the full enjoyment of nithya sUris (eternally free souls) and
    mukthAthmAs (the souls who were bound in samsAram before but free now in
  • His
    auspicious qualities such as knowledge, strength etc are fully manifested
    in paramapadham.


nAthan is a representative of vyUha forms
  • forms that
    are accepted by bhagavAn
    • for the
      purpose of maintaining order (thru srushti, sthithi, samhAram) in the
      material worlds,
    • to
      guide/nourish the jIvAthmAs in samsAram and
    • to be the
      object of meditation for the meditators.
  • para
    vAsudhEvan first expands himself into vyUha vAsudhEvan.
  • vyUha
    vAsudhEvan expands himself in to 3 more forms – sankarshaNa, pradhuymna
    and anirudhdha.
  • sankarshaNa
    • gyAnam
      (knowlege) and balam (ability to support everything) are predominant in
    • He presides
      over the jIva thathvam (soul) and distinguishes between soul and matter,
      and initiates the process of giving names and forms to them.
    • He is
      responsible for establishing SAsthram (vEdham, vEdhAntham, etc) and
      samhAram (dissolution).
    • He
      subsequently expands into pradhyumna form.
  • pradhyumna
    • aiSwarya
      (controlling ability/wealth) and vIrya (power) are predominant in him.
    • He presides
      over the manas thathvam (mind).
    • He is
      responsible for 
      • instructing
        on the righteous principles
      • the
        creation of human beings and chAthur varNams (four categories – brAmaNa,
        kshathriya, vaisya, shUdhra)
      • the creation
        of all who are focussed on the mode of goodness (which ultimately leads
        to bhagavAn)
  • anirudhdha
    • shakthi
      (strength) and thEjas (ability to handle anything individually) are
      predominant in him.
    • He is
      responsible for
      • giving true
      • creation of
        time and all entitieswhich are in the mixed mode of goodness, passion
        and ignorance.


– the 10 main incarnations
  • there are
    innumerable incarnations of bhagavAn.
  • his
    incarnations are categorised into
    • mukya
      • these are
        considered most important and worshippable for mumukshus (one who
        desires for mOksham)
      • bhagavAn
        himself descends in many divine forms such as mathsya, kUrma, varAha etc
      • the forms
        are made of divine matter (just like in paramapadham).
      • he carries
        all his auspicious qualities in full into these forms just like in
      • just like a
        lamp which is lit with a match stick glows more than the match stick,
        his incarnations glow more than his form in paramapadham.
    • gauNa
      • gauNam
        means giving his svarUpam (nature) or shakthi (strength) to jIvAthmAs to
        fulfil specific goals.
      • these are
        considered less important and not worshippable for mumukshus, because
        the purpose of these avathArams is to fulfil specific tasks only.
      • two
        • svarUpa
          AvEsam – bhagavAn giving his divine svarUpam (nature) to jIvAthmAs and
          descending with his divine form. Examples: parasurAma, etc.
        • shakthi
          AvEsam – bhagavAn giving his powers alone to jIvAthmAs for specific
          purpose. Examples: brahmA, rudhran, vyAsa, etc.
  • he descends
    into various incarnations purely by his divine desire.
  • the goal of
    these incarnations is explained by bhagavAn himself in bhagavath gIthai
    4.8 as 
    • parithrANAya
      sAdhUnAm – protecting his devotees (the virtuous)
    • vinASAya cha
      dhushkruthAm – annihilating the evil-minded
    • dharma
      samsthApanArtham – establishing the righteous principles
  • Though at
    times it is said that bhagavAn incarnates due to rishi’s curse, etc, those
    are only pretext (false reason) and the real reason is his desire only.



  • antharyAmi
    means being all pervaded and fully controlling all entities from within.
  • Wherever
    jIvAthmAs go, bhagavAn also accompanies them to guide them.
  • For the ones
    who want to meditate on bhagavAn, he mercifully appears with a divine form
    and his divine consorts within their hearts.
  • He is
    constantly protecting the jIvAthmAs by being with them within their heart.


dhivya dhEsams – the ones which are glorified by AzhwArs
  • this is
    explained as the epitome of all the different forms of bhagavAn.
  • As poigai AzhwAr identified
    in mudhal thiruvanthAdhi 44th pAsuram, emperumAn happily accepts the form
    that is desired by his devotees.
  • archAvathAram
    is present at all places and at all times to everyone unlike other forms
    (param, vyUham, etc) which are limited to 
    • certain
      dhEsam (places like paramapadham, kshIrAbdhi etc) 
    • certain
      kAlam (time like thrEthA yugam, dhvApara yugam etc),
    • certain
      adhikAris (persons like dhaSarathan during rAmAvathAram etc)
  • He ignores
    the faults/mistakes of his worshippers due to his causeless mercy.
  • He fully
    depends on his worshippers for all of his actvities (like bathing, eating,
    sleeping etc).
  • He descends
    into many temples (dhivya dhEsams, abhimAna kshEthrams, village temples,
    etc – everywhere irrespective of city, country, continent, planet, etc),
    mutts and our own homes.
  • Complete
    nature of archAvathAram
    • He creates
      the taste and attachment towards him through his archAvathAram.
    • He is the
      abode of all auspicious qualities – all his qualities such as sauseelyam
      (magnanimity), saulabhyam (easy accessibility), vAthsalyam (motherly
      forbearance) etc are fully manifested and visible here. These qualities
      are subdued in paramapadham, since everyone is pure and fully realised in
    • He is the
      refuge for everyone irrespective of his birth, knowledge etc.
    • He is the
      most enjoyable as explained fully by AzhwArs and AchAryas. We have
      already enjoyed AzhwAr/AchAryas archAvathAra anubhavam in
  • His
    magnanimous nature in archAvathAram
    • Even though
      he is the master and everyone else is dependent on him, he manifests
      himself as the dependent and fully dependent on his devotees.
    • Being in a
      deity form, he presents himself to be 
      • ignorant –
        since he understands everything through his devotees
      • incapable –
        since he waits for his devotees for all of his actions like bathing,
        eating, dressing, sleeping etc
      • fully
        dependent on his devotees as explained above
    • Still, out
      of his causeless and unlimted mercy, attachment and compassion towards
      his devotees, he fulfills all their desires without expecting anything
      back, thus manifesting his great quality called vAthsalyam (motherly


Thus we have seen the 3
entities namely chith, achith and ISwara in 
fair (detail. This is one of the most difficult subject matters since it
involves many technical and in-depth aspects. We have seen the tip of the
iceberg – there is so much more relishable explanations in
vyAkyAnam for this divine grantham thathva thrayam of
which is called kutti bhAshyam (the essence of emperumAnAr‘s
SrI bhAshyam). Let us glorify our
, AzhwArs
for providing us with these great literatures which are more valuable than
anything else for us.

piLLai lOkAchAryar, maNavALa mAmunigaL – srIperumbUthUr

adiyen is grateful to Sri U.Ve. P B Sampath swamy who taught thathva thrayam (both the text and meanings) to adiyen.

ramyajAmAthru munIndhrAya mahAthmanE
bhUyAth nithyaSrIr nithya mangaLAm
mangaLASAsana parair
madhAchArya purOgamai:
sarvaischa pUrvair AchAryai satkruthAyAsthu mangaLam
emperumAnAr jIyar thiruvadigaLE SaraNam
thiruvadigaLE SaraNam
thiruvadigaLE SaraNam

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

Sources: thathva thrayam

5 thoughts on “thathva thrayam – Iswara – Who is God?”

  1. Swami, regarding this section:

    "The whole process is only for his pastime.
    But would his pastime be interrupted in samhAram (dissolution)? Since samhAram is also part of his pastime, there is no interruption. mAmunigaL beautifully shows a practical example – When children play with sand castles, at the end of their play they knock down the castle as a part of the pastime with full joy. Similarly, dissolution is also a pastime in bhagavAn's activities."

    Sri Kanchi Swami has beautifully pointed out the mEdhAvilAsam of mAmunigal. Actually, both udayavar and ulagAriyan say, "shrShti, etc is for the purpose of leela". According to Kanchi Swami, mAmunigal was not satisifed with the wording of thse pUrvAcHAryAs. After all, shrShti itself is a leela, so how can one say it is for the purpose of leela, as though leela is earned by the work of shrShti? At the same time, our periya jeeyar, being charamOpAya nishtar, did not want to openly point out that ulagAriyan and udayavar's phrasing was somewhat inadequate and he did not want to show his own intelligence by writing an explanation.

    So, very ingeniously, our "poi illAdha manavAla mAmunigal" raised a pUrvapaksha – "would this leela be interrupted in samhAra?" and in the guise of answering that pUrvapaksha, included that observation of samhArA itself being a leela. This completed the explanation of the previous AchAryAs and pEriya jeeyar disguised his own observation as though it is a well known answer of the above AchAryAs as well!

    This only highlights the great intellect of jeeyar as well as his charamOpAya nishtai. Sri Kanchi Swami asks, out of the hundreds of vidwAns and AchAryAs, who else but mAmunigal alone would have had the keen intellect to identify this issue? So many vidwAns have read udayavar and ulagAriyan's statements, but it was only mAmunigal who identified a potential issue to be addressed. And who other than Jeeyar would answer it so beautifully with charamOpAya nishtai?

    And who else but Kanchi Swami could point this out?

    maNNu pugazh manavAla mAmuniyE innum oRu nURRandu irum!




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