According to Sanskrit etymology, Vaikunta is derived from kuti - meaning obstacles. Nikata means removal of those obstacles. Vaikuntam is the place where persons, whose obstacles are all removed, live. Obstacles are in gaining knowledge or Gyana; obstacles, to reach the Lord. Agyana or ignorance is removed and Gyana is fully blossomed in Vaikuntam. Sri Vaikuntam indicates its superiority and association with Sri Maha Lakshmi. It has other names like Parama Padam [परमपदम] - most superior place with nothing else above it, Parama Akasam [परम आकाशम] - very much higher sky, and Parama Vyoma [परम व्योम], etc. All these are Sanskrit names. There are Tamil names also for Sri Vaikuntam - Viinulagu [விண்ணுலகு], Ponnulagu [பொன்னுலகு], Tirunaadu [திருநாடு], Vaikundham [வைகுந்தம்], Telivisumbu Tirunaadu [தெள்விசும்பு திருநாடு], Nalamandhamilladhor Naadu [நலமந்தம் இல்லதோர் நாடு], Maaga vaikundham [மாக வைகுந்தம்], etc. All Alwars have praised this place in 73 pasurams. All, so called pleasant things, we experience in this world, have an end. Even reading great books like Bhagavad Gita, etc., are over after a period. But in Vaikuntam, there is no end to all pleasant things. Our present world is described as world of darkness; but in Vaikuntam the Gyana is clear with no ignorance. There, time is not a dimension or Vaikuntam is free from time. Today's [16th September 2009] lecture is from Vaikunta vasal [வைகுண்ட்ட வாசல்] in Srirangam.
This is very near Chandra Pushkarini in the temple. During the month of Margazhi [Dec-Jan], Adyayana utsavam festival is celebrated. During that time, the Lord listens to all the 4000 verses of Nalayra Divya Prabhandam of all Alwars. The festival is for 21 days - Pagal patthu [பகல் பத்து] for 10 days, Irappatthu [இராப்பத்து] for 10 days, Iyarppa [இயற்ப்பா] for one day. Every day, the Lord is taken on procession. During Pagal Patthu the procession starts around 6 A.M; while during Irappatthu, it starts around 11 A.M. During that festivel, the entire city of Srirangam will wear festive look. The festival is also called Periya Tirunaal [பெரிய திரு நாள்] in Tamil. On the first day of Irappatthu, the doors of this Vaikunta vaasal, are opened. In fact, the Lord enacts a drama for opening! It is the rehearsal of Jeevatman travelling to Vaikuntam. This is done on Vaikunta Ekadasi. First He emerges from His garbhagruha. He is adored with Vajrangi. It is embedded with gems of different colors like red and green. He is having a garland with parakeets images. This is how Sri Namperumal graces on that day. Then He comes on procession in the corridor starting from Dwajasthambam. On the way, before reaching Vaikunta vaasal, there is a spot known as Viraja nadhi [river]. The Lord would arrive there. Vedic chants and Alwars' pasurams singing would commence there. It is understood that the Lord Himself takes a dip in Viraja river and crosses to reach Vaikuntam! Along with the Lord, thousands of devotees wait. Then the doors of Vaikunta vaasal are opened and the Lord crosses and comes out. It will be like a lion coming out of his den!
Alwar says that liberated souls throng at Vaikuntam to enter. It has great walls made of gold and silver. The place has large gopurams and many palaces. Hoisted flags welcome the souls, to enjoy eternal bliss. Already residing Muktatmans and Nityasuris are very happy at the new arrivals! They escort the newly arrived souls, to every place in Vaikuntam and describe with enthusiasm. Ponds have crystal clear water and steps leading to the water are all laid with gold. Pillars are embedded with diamonds. Beautiful birds like peacocks, cuckoos and swans are dancing and singing. The festival in Srirangam is also worth visiting. Now, we will see sloka 47:
śreyān svadharmo viguṇaḥ paradharmot svanuṣṭhitāt
svabhāvaniyataṃ karma kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣam 18.47
This is continuation of the previous sloka. If a person does his prescribed karma, it matures into Karma yoga. Performin Karma yoga results in Bhakti yoga. By worshiping the Lord, performing pooja, going round in temples, prostrating to Lord, etc., culminate in reaching Vaikuntam. This is what the Lord has been telling and it is further explained. Arjuna might be doubtful as to how doing his duty of fighting would become worship of the Lord. Arjuna, as also every living being, every action and all have originated from the Lord. All are pervaded by the Lord. Earlier the Lord had told that none equalled Him and all had emanated from Him. Therefore, whatever Arjuna did or whoever he worshiped, all will finally terminate in the Lord. By doing one's own duty is equal to worshiping the Lord and enables to reach Moksham. Whatever the Lord told in 2nd and 3rd Chapters, are reiterated here. Therefore, Arjuna should perform his prescribed duty. Even if that performance had some deficiencies, it was better than Gyana yoga. Viguna = imperfectly did, svadharma = one's own duty, sreyan = is very superior. So Karma yoga even if not done perfectly is praiseworthy. It is superior to, sva anushtitat = performing perfectly, paradharmot = another person's duty, like Gyana yoga. If one balances, say 80% Karma yoga of one person against the same person performing 100% perfectly another person's duty of Gyana yoga, the Lord says Karma yoga is superior. How this is acceptable? The Lord has been insisting that Arjuna should do his duty. The Lord categorizes one's own duty as what one is accustomed to. Gyana yoga is alien to him. Going to forests and controlling sense organs, is not in our habit. That is why He calls controlling organs is para dharma. It is easier to do what we are accustomed to. Even if sense organs were not totally controlled, Karma yoga was better than Gyana yoga. Svabhavaniyatam karma = duties [we are] accustomed to, kurvan = do, na apnoti = does not attain, kilmisam = sufferings [samsaram]; or na kilmisam = without any sufferings, apnoti = attains [Vaikuntam]. By performing the habituated Karma yoga, same will mature and transform into Bhakti yoga and will lead to the Lord. Instead, if, abandoning Karma yoga, Gyana yoga was performed there would be possibilities of slippage and following Bhakti yoga would be impossible. Thus, even an imperfect Karma yoga is better.