"Stuti", pronounced "Sthuthi", means "prayer/song". "Ninda" means "blame/complaint." A "ninda stuti" is essentially a prayer that is also a complaint.
Prayers are supposed to be polite. If one is praying to an omnipotent entity, it is advisable to be as inoffensive as possible. God loves you, but you’re His bitch, pal.
The Hindus do things differently. They decided to break up the monopoly. Why not have a bunch of gods? Why not make them compete, like ravenous insurance agents, for your prayers? So the Hindus dreamt up 330 million gods. Impossible?
Absolutely. It’s way too small a number. Judging from CIA fact index, the number of gods is currently estimated to be about 6,446,131,400. It’s still an underestimate.
The logic is quite straightforward. "Aham Brahmasmi." I am the Brahman. Not just me. Every living thing is a piece of the Brahman. Since we’ve not included aliens, bacter, Delhi’s crows and opposums, the exact number of Gods is, like Rumsfeld said, an "unknown unknowable."
But this is not about a holy census or an unholy consensus. It’s about the consequences of having a market in Gods. One begins to take certain liberties. Such as getting a tad familiar with the Supernatural.
Here is a prayer from Sundararmurthy Nayanar to his diety, Shiva.
I placed before him
and my tongue;
I even offered him
I didn't try to cheat him.
But whenever I talk of being
the servant of his feet,
I'm just a man of metaphors
our supreme lord of Pachilachiramam,
who ties his loincloth
with a hooded serpant:
if he doesn't want us,
can't we find some other god?
[Source: Songs of the Harsh Devotee, translated by David Dean Shulman, University of Pennsylvania, Studies on South Asia, Vol. 6., pp. 85, 1990]
In fact, Sundarar is quite fond of addressing Shiva as a "pittha" (madman).
It’s possible that the Islamic tradition can match this loving disrespect; some of the Sufis were remarkably light-hearted in their approach to God. In the Christian tradition, the best example of a Ninda-stuti is to be found of course in the Book of Job. There are also several reluctant prophets in the Old Testament — Moses, Jonah, Amos — but their complaints are all too brief. The Bible makes it very clear that God is a dog person, but humans, alas, are cats. Cats don’t sing Ninda-stutis; they either purr with disturbing sincerity or bide their time, claws sheathed. The Newest Testament should be interesting.
I am not claiming Hinduism is the superior religion. That’s like claiming the United Nations is the best country.
Many of the best Ninda-stutis are from southern India. A Tamil friend of mine, Vivek Balaraman, polled his family for instances. They dug up a considerable number of examples. Here’s one from Vaidyanathan.
I have seen the exchange of letters between you and MA re Sundara Murthy
Nayanar, one of the top four Tamil Saivaite savants, the other three
being Appar, Sambandhar and Manickavachakar (MV).
The first ever verse penned by Sundarar starts as "Pittha" -- "Oh, mad
It so happens that MV too has verses addressing Shiva as a mad man:
A section of 50 verses in Thiruvachakam is titled "Neethal vinnappam",
a "Prayer for salvation".
The theme in the initial lot of verses in this section is one of pleading and begging Him to help out in this quest. In the next lot, MV starts admonishing and threatening Him, if He should fail to address MV's pleas.The final section is a celebration, on self-realisation -- Tat tvam asi.
Typical of this progression is a triplet in praise of the Lord at Uttara Kosa Mangai [AM's note: A small village near Ramanthapuram], a temple famous for its Nataraja sculpted from emerald.
In the first of these 3 verses, MV signs off by saying that he will act strangely, and if people should ask him who he is, he will just say that he is a shivabhakth and thus, make Shiva a laughing stock.
[...Tamil poem snippet removed...] I transliterate:
Yes, I will make people laugh; by saying that Eesan, the Lord
is the cause of my strange behaviour,
if You will not bestow my salvation.
Oh, the One Who is
mad enough to cover Yourself only with the skin of a white
mad so You wear only the skin of tigers (round your waist);
mad so You will only drink poison (even though Amrut is available);
mad so You keep wandering round cremation grounds, burning corpses;
mad enough to have taken me under Your wings....
Thus will I keep abusing You!
In the early bhakti/eros poems (14th-early 15th) God is on top, so to speak. The devotee — usually a female figure — moans and complains but it’s pro forma. In an email, S. G. V Mani commented that:
Subramania Bharathi's famous song "Theeraatha Vilayattu Pillai" is a classical example of Ninda Stuthi. It is in the form of a list of complaints by the gopis about Krishna. Even though it apparently expresses their annoyance at Krishna's behaviour, it is in reality an expression of their love for him.
The poem written out in Tamil looks beautiful.
Vivek added a useful postscriptum.
It struck me that many of the coy complaints I've seen wives make about their hubbies are somewhat NS like. i.e. there is a tolerant indulgence about these cribs. There may be a soupcon of actual irritation but lathered in whipped cream. I am sorry to be sexist but the other way around, i.e. most hubbies cribs about their wives, seems to be more Ninda and less whipped cream.
In the mid-15th century, poets like Rudrakavi continued the erotic tradition but laced in a threatening note. Specifically,
"the poet assumes the persona of a woman who is in love with the god Janardana … except for one major difference. Here the woman threatens the god, though in the end she is still taken by her cunning lover."[Source: Ramanujan, A. K., Rao, V. N., Shulman, David, D. When God Is A Customer. Univ. of California Press. 1994. pp. 24]
The Telugu courtesan poems emerged in the late 15th through 17th centuries. In them, the woman is on top. As is natural and proper. The
relationship to God takes an even more interesting form. God is a
customer, perhaps a special one, but a customer nonetheless. The
relationship is couched in monetary terms, and
the God (usually Muvva Gopala) is a petitioner for the courtesan’s favors. In their fantastic book, Ramanujan et. al. translate many of these lovely poems.
What do we make of a people who find their Gods, um, arousing? Start composing a Ninda-stuti of course.