STORIBUZZ

A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Dheeran Chinnamalai – Celebrating seventy- five years of Independence -1

Bharat, is celebrating its seventy fifth year of Independence this year– Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

On this occasion it is my pleasure to narrate the stories of Indian brave-hearts, freedom fighters and precious gems among the general public who have given their whole life for a specific cause and inspired millions of people.

As my contribution to Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, I plan to narrate a story every month for one year beginning this August, on one such inspirational character.

Pleased to begin the series with the story of Dheeran Chinnamalai – a warrior from Kongunadu, who was one of the first to rebel against the British, much before the revolt of 1857.

Prior to independence, present day Tamil Nadu comprised of various regions like Kongunadu, Thondainadu, Pandiyanadu, Cholanadu and so on. The area covering Nilgiris, Coimbatore, Erode and some part of Dharmapuri was called Kongunadu.

Dheeran Chinnamalai was born in this Kongunadu in Melapalayam near Erode in in April 1756 CE to Rathinaswamy Gounder and Periyatha. He was the second of the six siblings. He was named Teerthagiri Sakkarai Manradiyar. His elder brother and the youngest brother took up farming and managing the family’s large tracts of land. His sister was married at the appropriate age.

Teerthagiri, however was much interested in learning martial arts, horse riding, archery and warfare. With his other two brothers following suit, they took upon them the task of protecting their territory consisting of many villages from dacoits, robbers and infiltrators and solving disputes through Panchayats. They also trained the local youth in the villages in horse riding and wielding the sword and archery. Since they protected a territory known as ‘Palayam’ in Tamil, they were called ‘Palayakkarars’. Other notable Palayakkarars were Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Marudhu brothers of whom Teerthagiri was a contemporary.

(The Marudhu brothers were associated with yet another brave queen Rani Velu Nachiyar whose story I have already written in my blog. You can click here to read it)

Coming back to our story, the area of Kongunadu, was under the reign of Hyder Ali of Mysore. Once Teerthagiri and his brothers came to know that Mohammed Ali, a Diwan (minister) from Mysore was collecting taxes using unfair methods, from the people of their villages. This infuriated Teerthagiri.

He and his brothers confronted the minister at a place between two mountains Sivan Malai and Senni Malai. The minister was shocked at being accosted thus. The men then pounced on the minister and snatched the money bag from him.

“We will give back the money to the villagers!” said Teerthagiri. “If your king asks for the money, tell him that a ‘Chinna Malai’ (small mountain) between Senni Malai and Sivan Malai took away the money.” He laughed aloud at the thought of referring to himself as ‘Chinna Malai’.

The angry minister retorted, “Don’t play with the king His Highness Hyder Ali Saab! You will soon face the consequences!”

“King? What king?” chuckled Teerthagiri. “Go and tell him that we people from Kongunadu can rule ourselves quite well. We don’t need a king from Mysore to rule over us!”

The startled minister had to beat a hasty retreat. Teerthagiri distributed the money back to those from whom it was collected. The villagers were overjoyed and started to address Teerthagiri as ‘Chinnamalai’ and the name stuck. Because of his heroic deeds he was addressed as ‘Dheeran Chinnamalai’.

Hyder Ali’s minister returned to Mysore seething with anger and humiliation. He arranged for a battalion of soldiers to be sent to attack Chinnamalai.  Chinnamalai and his men met them and defeated them at the banks of the Noyyal river. This was despite the fact that Chinnamalai had very less men with him.

This was the first time Chinnamalai was actually fighting an armed contingent, and in a way, his first battle. Now, he realized that he would have to fight with a bigger contingent of Hyder Ali any time. In preparation for the same, Chinnamalai and his brothers recruited lot of young men and started training them in warfare methods, archery etc. He had the full support of the villagers and his elder brother and his wife gladly played host to the crowds which thronged to their place on account of these activities.

Chinnamalai was nothing short of a king except that he was not specifically crowned as one. However, there was no retort from Hyder Ali for the defeat by Chinnamalai. Hyder was busy fighting the British and other enemies of his. The heroic deed of Chinnamalai though, was now known everywhere including in the Mysore state.

In 1782 CE, Hyder Ali died and he was succeeded by his son Tipu Sultan. Tipu was totally against the British and had frequent clashes with them. Tipu had heard about the bravery of Chinnamalai and sent messengers to request Chinnamalai to join his side in fighting against the British. The British had humiliated Tipu in the third Anglo Mysore war to a very great extent that Tipu was making big plans to avenge his humiliation.

Though Chinnamalai had reservations in joining Tipu Sultan, for the greater good of liberating our land from the clutches of the British, he agreed and went along with his army, his brothers and their trusted lieutenants Karuppan and Velappan. This army was called the Kongu regiment and Dheeran Chinnamalai was the chief. This regiment was of great support to Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan was taking the help of the French and the French were supporting Tipu and also trained his warriors. This training benefited the Kongu regiment.

However, in the Fourth Anglo Mysore war in 1799 CE, Tipu Sultan was killed. British also captured Chinnamalai’s lieutenant, Velappan. Velappan promised the British that he would work for them as their agent.

Chinnamalai and his men returned to Kongu and in a place called Oda Nilai, Chinnamalai built a fort and resumed his training activities knowing fully well that there would be wars with the British in future and he had to be prepared. He started manufacturing arms also. The British came to know of this and could not digest the fact that an individual was doing all this activity independently.

This was the period of the Second Polygar war between the Palayakkarars and the British. ‘Polygar’ was a crude pronunciation of the word ‘Palayakkarar’ by the British.  After Veerapandiya Kattabomman (who was also a Palayakkarar) was hanged to death on Oct 16,1799 by the British, his brother Oomathurai, the Marudhu Brothers, Pazhassi Raja of Malabar had together formed a grand alliance covertly and there was a joint uprising against the British. Arms were being manufactured in secret factories including in Oda Nilai. The Palayakkarars and their men were also receiving clandestine training from the French.

The British barracks at Coimbatore were being attacked. But the British could not travel there easily and had to pass through thick jungles under cover, because of the presence of Dheeran Chinnamalai and his army in the Kongu region. He was a thorn in their flesh. And he was not even a crowned king! They could simply not digest his audacity.

They sent word to him to sign a pact with them and promised him favours. But Chinnamalai would not budge to give up freedom for anything in return. So now, the British sent a contingent of soldiers in 1801 CE under Colonel Maxwell to attack Chinnamalai. Chinnamalai had advance information and defeated them on the same banks of Noyyal as he had done with the soldiers of Mysore earlier.

The British sent soldiers once again in 1802 CE and yet again they miserably failed. They waited and waited and again in 1804 CE, they sent General George Harris who had actively taken part in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war. This time they had information that Chinnamalai with all his people would be visiting a local temple at Arachalur for the festivities. The plan was that George Harris would go and occupy the fort when no one was there and then attack when Chinnamalai and his people came back from the temple.

When General Harris came, the fort appeared unoccupied. But suddenly, Chinnamalai rode from the inside of the fort in lightning speed, and threw hand grenades at the surprised Harris and his men. There was utter chaos as the horses ran hither-thither neighing aloud, throwing their riders off their backs. Harris had to retreat hurriedly.

The adamant British, however, would not give up. And this time they sent a huge army with cannons also to attack the fort.

Yet again, General Harris got a shock as he found the fort completely empty. It seemed abandoned. He went inside and as he was looking around, he found a pair of sandals. Interestingly one sandal was split open with a chit sticking out. As the curious Harris picked it up, it contained a message and to his shock, he found that it was a message from Velappan (whom the British had captured in the Mysore war) informing Chinnamalai of the plan of Harris.

Velappan had actually been informing Chinnamalai every time by sending pairs of new sandals in which chits were hidden. That was how Chinnamalai was always prepared when attacked.

Harris was furious and shot Velappan dead. In his anger, with the cannons he had, he completely destroyed the fort, razing it to the ground. The act of inadvertently leaving the sandal at the fort had cost Chinnamalai the life of his friend Velappan.

Chinnamalai, now with his brothers went into hiding in the forest in an area known as Karumalai. Their lieutenant Karuppan, was stationed at Melapalayam to keep them informed of what the British were up to. Chinnamalai and his brothers went about in disguise into the nearby villages during the day and went into hiding in the forest, at night.

In the village they met a person Nallappan who seemed to be very hospitable. Nallappan was a cook by profession and he volunteered to provide dinner for the brothers every day at his place. The offer was accepted by Chinnamalai and his brothers and they regularly dined there at night.

Nallappan was actually a snake in the grass and was greedy for wealth and was exactly the type of person British would use for carrying out their malicious intentions. Nallappan, lured by the British, allowed them to dig a trench from afar right up to the inside of his house. And one night when Chinnamalai and his brothers were having dinner in a relaxed mood, the British soldiers came inside through the trench.

Chinnamalai and his brothers, totally caught unawares, were outnumbered. Quickly understanding the role of Nallappan in this drama, Chinnamalai strangulated him to death then and there. The British arrested him along with his brothers and took them to a prison at Sankagiri near Salem. Karuppan who was hiding at Melapalayam also surrendered. The British talked to Chinnamalai asking him to accept their supremacy and pay taxes to them in which case he would be set free and pardoned. Chinnamalai flatly refused the offer. So arrangements were made to hang the four of them from a tamarind tree which was on top of the Sankagiri fort. This was in 1805 CE.

On the day of hanging Chinnamalai and his brothers told the executioners to move away. They then took the ropes themselves and thrust their necks into the nooses and jumped from the fort, hanging themselves in the process.

Four brave-hearts were wiped out from Bharat, the land which they considered more precious than their own mothers. Brave-hearts, who lived as per the saying, “Janani Janmabhumishcha Swargadapi Gariyasi” meaning mother and motherland are dearer than even heaven.

She thought she had won but then there were none!!

This is a folk tale from India which has many versions. The storyline remains the same but the dish in the story varies. This is my attempt to retell the story.

Once upon a time there lived a couple, Domma and Dommi in a village. They were very poor and old and had no children or relatives. They did not have any money and Domma used to seek alms in the village every day. With the rice he got, Dommi made rice gruel and they ate it every day.

One day, a rich man of their village was donating food for everyone in the village on the occasion of his grandson’s first birthday.

Domma and Dommi also went and got their share of the food from the rich man’s house. The sweet for the day was yummy ‘Poli’ which was served with the food. (Poli also called Holige is a sweet roti like dish made with channa dal, jaggery and ghee).

Both Domma and Dommi loved Polis and they relished it to the last crumb.

“The Poli was excellent Dommi” said Domma. “I have a craving to eat more!”

“Yes, very true” said Dommi. “Let’s go in the queue again and get some Polis”.

So they went and stood in the long queue and unfortunately before their turn came, the sweet got over.

“Bad Luck!” said Domma. “Bad luck follows us everywhere. Tchch…”

“Don’t feel bad” said Dommi. “Maybe for a few days we will save some rice from what we get. We will eat less of the rice gruel and then sell the saved rice in the market. With that money we can buy some channa dal and jaggery and I will make the Polis at home and we will eat!”

“Good idea!” said Domma. And from the next day onwards they ate less gruel, saved the rice and after a month or two saved enough rice to sell in the market. Domma sold the rice and bought channa dal, jaggery and a wee bit of ghee and brought it home.

Dommi cleaned the dal and the jaggery and ground them and prepared them for making Poli and with the dough, she made five Polis.

“Five Polis” said Domma, “but we are two of us and so how do we divide? I do not like eating half a Poli. What do we do? Split it three for me and two for you, since I took the trouble of going to the market and buying the stuff?”

“Oho! So if buying the stuff is big trouble then what do you call the job of cleaning, grinding, kneading flour and making the Polis huh? Also remember, I too like Polis as much as you do hmm…” said Dommi.

“Okay then we shall do one thing” said Domma. “Keep the Polis on a plate in the centre of the house and both of us shall not talk a word. The person to break the rule will have two and the other will have three okay?”

Dommi agreed. She kept the Polis on a plate in the centre of the room and covered it with another plate and they sat and sat without eating or talking. Sitting continuously was tiring and they were hungry too and so they lay down, Domma on the northern entrance and southern entrance of the room respectively.

After a while both shut their eyes tight as they feared they would speak first if they saw each other. Each of them waited for the other to open their eyes or talk about so that they could get three Polis. But both Domma and Dommi were so adamant and also loved Polis, that neither of them moved or opened their eyes. One, two, three days passed. Still both of them were lying on the ground like logs.

The residents of the houses where Domma used to get alms regularly noticed the absence of Domma continuously for three days and discussed among themselves, but did not know why Domma did not turn up. In olden days, people used to be genuinely concerned and so they decided to go the next day and find out if Domma was ill or something. And so three or four of the residents gathered and went to Domma’s house, only to see him lying motionless on the floor. They were shocked. They were even more shaken on seeing Dommi also lying at the other entrance of the room.

Both Domma and Dommi could hear the voices of the people but chose to maintain their silence and posture as each wanted more number of Polis and the person who broke the silence first would get the lesser number of Polis.

“Poor Domma and Dommi! Looks like they died of hunger” said one resident.

“So pathetic to die of hunger when so many of us could have given them food!” said another.

“Even more pathetic is that there is no one to even do the final rites for them, Oh God!” said another.

“I think we will all have to jointly give them their final send off!” said yet another. “After all, doing final rites for orphans is one of the greatest good deeds one can do and we are blessed to earn merit by doing it! Come let us arrange for them to be carried to the burial ground.”

The man then turned around to is friend and said, “Go to the burial ground and make ready two pyres.”

Domma and Dommi were both hearing all these conversations but in their heart of hearts both did not want to give up that one extra Poli and they kept lying with their bodies stiff.

The men came after arranging for the funeral pyres to be set and they lifted and placed Domma and Dommi onto stretchers made with coconut leaves and carried them to the burial ground and also placed them on the pyres.

Domma and Dommi still held tight and did not move a bit.

“Ok let’s light the pyres” announced one person.

Suddenly there was a scream!

“Two Polis are enough for me, I give up!” shouted Domma as he sat upright on the pyre trying to jump off, shocking all the onlookers around.

Their next shock was that Dommi also got up laughing aloud, “Hahahahaha… I knew it. I knew that I was more determined than you Domma. Now I will have three Polis for myself”. Saying so she jumped down from the pyre and both of them started running like race-horses to their home. The onlookers ran behind them, bewildered not knowing what these two were talking about. They had all been fooled into believing that these two had died, and so much of their time had been wasted.

The people ran puffing and panting behind them and were reaching Domma’s house when they heard the wailing of both Domma and Dommi in loud voices.

“Now, what??” thought the people and as they reached the living room, the only room of Domma’s house, both of them were squatting on the ground near a plate on which were lying crumbled little bits of Poli. A fat cat just then ran out of the house.

“Boo-hoo-hoo” cried Dommi, “we need not have had an argument and could have equally divided the Polis. See now the cat has eaten it … Boo-hoo-hoo!” (The people had forgotten to close the door of the house when they carried Domma and Dommi to the burial ground!)

“I knew it, I knew it. See all the effort is wasted. All because of you!” said Domma. “You should have agreed to my suggestion”

Slowly the people around understood what had happened and beating their foreheads and cursing themselves for having squandered their time and energy, went back to their homes.

That was the last time ever that Domma and Dommi desired to eat Poli.

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part II

In the story Part I of Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj, we saw how Prayag Dutt came back to his home to his mother after having the divine vision of Sree Raja Ram and Ma Janki and how lucky he was to be touched by these divine beings. Those who have not read part I may click here to read and then proceed to Part II.

Prayag’s mother was waiting for his return anxiously. When she saw him coming back, with such a brilliant glow on his face, his mother knew that he had indeed seen Ma Janki in person. Prayag told his mother excitedly how he had met his sister Janki and brother-in-law Rama. He gave to his mother the remaining sweets which his sister told him to take home after having partaken it. The mother couldn’t believe her son’s luck and the grace of Ma Janki and was extremely happy. When she ate the ‘Prasad’ of the sweets, she felt so much divine bliss herself.

Mother and son could not stop talking about Janki and Raja Ram and about the vision Prayag Dutt had had and the compassion of his ‘Janki Didi’. Their days passed happily. After a year or so, Prayag Dutt’s mother passed away. Prayag was very sad. He now thought that he would go and stay with his sister all the time at Awadhpuri.

There was an old man in Janakpur who wanted to marry his daughter to Prayag Dutt but Prayag could not even imagine a life away from his sister and brother-in-law. Therefore, he left Janakpur to go to Ayodhya without telling anyone.

Reaching Ayodhya he was roaming around searching for his sister and brother-in-law. One day by chance he happened to meet Sant Trilochan Das who had taken care of him on his previous visit and given him the title “Mama”. The Sant took him to his house.

Prayag was always talking about Janki and Rama and was wanting to see them once again. He was wondering why his brother-in-law and sister did not come and see him even now. Trilochan Das told him to be patient. He assured him that he would once again see his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’. By now the local people had started calling him “Mama”. Prayag Dutt had by now stopped caring for praise or mockery. His mind was full of only his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’

Months passed and Prayag had not met his sister still. One day as he was going past a temple, there was a discourse on Ramayana going on. The narrator was describing the boon of Kaikeyi and how Rama, Janki and Lakshmana had gone to Chitrakoot. He further went on to describe how Bharata took the Paduka of Sri Rama back to Ayodhya.

“Oh! This is why I am not able to see my sister!” thought Prayag. “She has gone with her husband and Lakshmanji to the jungle at Chitrakoot”. He could listen to the discourse no further and left the place and came home.

He was very troubled at the thought of his delicate sister being in the jungle. He poured out his heart’s feelings to Trilochan Das. He talked about the ‘insensitivity’ of his brother-in-law in taking his wife to the jungle. “Why could he not tell his father that he would not go to the jungle? Why could he not have sent my sister to my house in Janakpur while he roamed in the jungle? What is this foolishness of him not wearing sandals and also letting my sister walk on such a rough jungle path barefoot? What will my sister do if she encounters a wild animal when he and his brother go to pick fruits and berries? How can my brother-in-law be so ‘irresponsible’? So many questions troubled him for which no one including Sant Trilochan Das had any answer.

At one point, he decided he had to do something concrete. Nobody would help. So he went about to people begging them for money. People were considerate and everyone gave him a coin or two. He waited for a month or so and using all the money so collected, he got three wooden planks made. He also got blankets and pillows and pairs of sandals made – all three in number.

When everything was ready, he placed the planks on his head, put the blankets and pillows and shoes on top of that and started walking to Chitrakoot. He walked the whole distance of about three hundred kilometres carrying that load, over a period of few days and reached the jungles. He went into the jungles, shouting aloud, ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’ and ‘Lakshmanji. But there was no response nor could he see any human presence.

Prayag Dutt thought “My Jijaji must be scared that I will scold him for taking my sister to the jungle and that is why they are not showing themselves”. He chuckled to himself. He chose a clearing and spread out the planks, put the bedsheets on them and the pillows and placed on it the pairs of sandals which he had got made with so much concern. They were all not of the same size. The biggest pair was for his ‘Jijaji’ Sri Rama, the next smaller one for Lakshmana and the smallest decorated with sequins and laces for his ‘Janki Didi’. “I will wait atop a tree so that they don’t see me”, he thought to himself and climbed on the huge tree nearby.

As he had expected, after a while he saw Rama, Janki and Lakshmana dressed in wooden bark coming his way. As they reached the tree on which Prayag was sitting on top, he jumped down from the tree. He clasped the feet of his ‘Didi’ who was very ‘surprised’ to see him in the jungle. Prayag told them how bad he felt for their roaming in the jungle like nomads. He started to argue with Sri Rama putting forth all his questions which nobody had answered. Rama gave such answers that Prayag had no chance to speak further. Janki told Prayag of Rama’s vow and also how she was so happy to go with Rama and would not find peace at home without Rama.

Prayag was not the one to give up so easily. But finally had to give up, but not before making them use what he had brought for them. Prayag cajoled them and made them sit on the plank on the blanket using the pillow as a cushion. He pressed the feet of Rama, his sister and Lakshmana and wiped off all the dust with his upper cloth and slipped the sandals onto their feet and they fitted perfectly as if made to order. He tried to talk to Lakshmana to dissuade his brother from going into the jungle again, but a smiling Lakshmana told Prayag that he should go back to Ayodhya taking all that was brought by him and wait for them to come back after fourteen years. Rama and Janki echoed the same thought and Prayag had no other option.

With a heavy heart and a heavy load on his head he started walking back to Ayodhya. Just a short while after, he thought he would have a bath in the Mandakini river at Chitrakoot and freshen himself and then continue his journey. So he kept the planks, pillows, blankets and sandals on the banks of the river and went and took a bath immersing himself fully with his head under water three times (what is generally referred as ‘dubki lagaana’ in Hindi and ‘muzhukku’ in Tamil). The third time when he got up from the water, he was surprised to see that he was bathing in the Sarayu in Ayodhya. His sister, the ever compassionate Ma Janki had not wanted him to walk back with that burden on his head. Prayag was confused but he knew that it was a divine play of his sweet sister.

And so he chose a nice neem tree at Ayodhya, piled the planks one on top of the other under its shade, put the blankets on the top most plank along with the pillows and the sandals. He kept his clay bowl in which he collected food underneath the planks and he himself sat atop the planks happily engrossed in the thought of his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’ and waiting for them to come back after fourteen years.

People used to make fun of Prayag. Some used to say “Arre Mama, Bhajan to kiya karo” meaning, ‘O Uncle at least sing some Bhajans so that Rama and Seetha will come to you’. Mama Prayag Das as he was called now used to give a reply with a smile,

“Neem ke neeche khaat khadi hai, Khaat ke neeche karvaa

Prayag Das almastaa sove Ram Lala ki sarva”

Meaning- Under the neem tree are the wooden planks and under the wooden planks is my vessel. Prayag Das is blissfully sleeping on top. What is there to worry with Sree Rama as a brother-in-law?

Sree Rama and Ma Janki kept their word and it is said they met him after fourteen years and he shed his mortal coil to be with them forever.

Pranams to this saint!!

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part I

On the occasion of Sree Rama Navami, I am bringing to you the story of a lesser known saint of India. There is not much literature available on his life and I have gathered the story listening to various discourses by narrators mainly from North India about this saint, Sant Prayag Das Maharaj.

 Sant Prayag Das Maharaj is fondly known as Mama Prayag Das Maharaj. He was given the title “Mama” since he considered Goddess Seetha as his elder sister and Lord Sri Rama as his brother-in-law. Since people considered Goddess Seetha as their mother, her brother Prayag Das naturally became “Mama”!

Strange is it not?

This saint was born in Janakpur (in present day Nepal) which is considered the birthplace of Ma Seetha. His parents did a lot of penance to beget a child. Since he was born after their visit to Prayag, they named him Prayag Dutt. He was their only child. When Prayag Dutt was a toddler, his father passed away.

After a few months of his father’s death, their house caught fire and all their belongings got gutted. Prayag Dutt’s mother, with great difficulty saved him and both of them survived. But they had lost all their wealth and belongings and now the mother was left to fend for herself and her little son by doing odd jobs.

Due to this series of misfortunes after Prayag was born, people considered Prayag Dutt an unlucky child and often taunted his mother about this. However, his mother could never even accept such a thought and loved him dearer than her life. Despite her poverty and difficulties, she brought him up with good values, striving to provide the best she could for him.

Once when Prayag Dutt was about seven or eight years old, the village was celebrating Raksha Bandhan. He noticed that all the boys of his age with whom he played, had sisters. Most of them who were married, visited their brothers and tied the ‘Rakhi’ thread on the wrists of their brothers on that day. The brothers gave sweets to their sisters and there was great joy everywhere. Prayag Dutt felt very sad that he did not have a sister to tie a ‘Rakhi’ thread on his wrist.

He asked his mother, “Ma, where is my sister? Do I have one?”

His mother did not want to disappoint Prayag Dutt and replied, “Yes son, but she lives elsewhere, very far from us.”

“Where is she? Is she so far that she can’t come on Raksha Bandhan to tie a Rakhi thread on my wrist?” he asked. “All my friends’ sisters come home for Raksha Bandhan and I am the odd one out with my sister not visiting me” he said.

The mother knew that she had uttered a false statement to her son. But she consoled herself that it was a true statement after all, since all the residents of Janakpur considered Ma Seetha (Janki) as their daughter. So she maintained it and said to him, “Well Prayag, your sister is very busy as the queen assisting your brother in law who is a king in his duties.”

“My sister is a queen? Where? Where does she live? Tell me, tell me!” asked Prayag Dutt, his eyes rolling wide in wonder.

“Yes, son” said the mother. “She lives at Awadhpuri”. (Ayodhya of today). “Her name is Janki and your brother-in-law Shri Rajaram is the king there. You can imagine how busy she would be assisting your brother-in-law in the administration! That’s why she never comes here. Now you go and play with your friends”.

The mother’s notion that the boy would stop asking about his sister was completely wrong since from that moment, Prayag Dutt kept talking about going to Awadhpuri to meet his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’. His mother told him that he could go when he grew up. But the spark of the thought of meeting his sister who was a queen grew into a fire consuming his mind all the time. He was totally fixated with going and meeting his sister at Awadhpuri.  Every four days he would tell his mother, “Ma, look I have grown up. Let me go now”. It was becoming an obsession. There was no way the mother could stop him chattering about this all the time and so she thought that if he went once to Awadhpuri and came back, he would be alright.

After a year or two, she found a group of pilgrims from Janakpur on the way to Awadhpuri. She asked them if they would take Prayag with them and bring him back. The pilgrims agreed.

Prayag was extremely excited and told his mother to give him some sweets for his sister. The poor lady borrowed some rice flour and jaggery and made ‘Kasar’ the traditional sweet of Janakpur and packed them in a leaf and rolled it up in a piece of tattered cloth and gave it to Prayag. He was very excited to go with the group.

All was going well, but after a few days, Prayag got annoyed that the group was stopping at every other place and doing Keertan and Bhajan. This was a natural thing to do, for a group of pilgrims but Prayag was so anxious to meet his sister that he thought he was wasting so much time with them. So he broke away from the group at the next place of their halt. He decided to ask the people around for directions and he managed to reach Ayodhya somehow.

On reaching Ayodhya, he was elated. He thought he was going to meet his sister Janki and her beloved husband, the king Rajaram in a short while. He presumed that since his brother in law was the king, everyone would know him. So he walked up to the first person he saw and asked him directions to the palace of his ‘Didi’. The man asked him who his ‘Didi’ was and as Prayag mentioned it was ‘Janki and Rajaram’ and told him his background and the man was confused.

So Prayag went and asked another person, and another and another. Some laughed at him, some sneered at him, some pitied him and at last one person showed him the way to Kanak Bhavan, the temple of Sri Rama at Ayodhya. Prayag rushed into the temple only to be disappointed. He saw only ‘Murtis’ made of marble while he had expected his sister and brother-in-law to be sitting there in flesh and blood. He asked the Pujari who laughed and said that the statues were his sister and brother-in law.

Prayag said “I want to see them for real. My mother told me that as soon as my Janki Didi sees me she will rush to me and hug me. I want to hug my sister. I want to share these sweets with her. My Ma told me Janki Didi will tie a Rakhi on my wrist. Why doesn’t anyone tell me where my Janki Didi lives?”

The Pujari thought that Prayag was a lunatic and did not bother to answer him.

Prayag then came out and roamed about in all the streets asking almost everyone where the palace of his ‘Didi and Jijaji’ was and found no one knowing where they lived. And his mother had extolled their praise so much!  Such a “Great king and busy queen” seemed to be living incognito! “Strange” he thought to himself.

In his anxiety and eagerness to meet his sister, he had not had a morsel of food or a drop of water from the time he had stepped into Ayodhya. He was now irritated with himself, his mother, his sister and brother-in-law. He was irritated with the people of Ayodhya for being so ignorant. Overcome by hunger, tiredness, mental fatigue he sat down near a tree near the Mani Parvat with the packet of ‘Kasar’ given by his mother and was crying hard at not being able to see his sister. It was almost sunset. He felt helpless and desolate. “Where are you Janki Didi? Where are you Jijaji?” he sobbed. “Neither have you sent anybody to meet me nor anybody knows your house here and mother was praising you like anything. What sort of a sister are you? I have been running around like a mad boy asking everyone about you but nobody knows you and it is a puzzle why our mother thinks you are so great” he scolded Ma Janki. He was so exhausted that he involuntarily dozed off under that tree.

A while later at midnight, he was awakened by the melodious sound of beautiful Shehnai music and Bhajans accompanied by the Dholak and as he opened his eyes, he heard a loud voice announcing “Rajadi Raja Chakravarthi Maharaj Parabrahma Paramatma Swaroopa Akhilanda Koti Brahmanda Nayaka Bhagawan Sree Raja Ramachandra Ji Padhar rahe hain…….” 

Now wide awake, rubbing his eyes in disbelief, as he looked up, he saw a majestic white elephant with a broad back on which was placed a bejeweled golden ‘Howdah’ that was glittering. In that, sat the most beautiful divine couple he had ever seen with the radiance of a thousand suns. The mahout controlling the elephant was Hanuman. There were sevaks on either side fanning the couple. The group playing music was walking ahead of the elephant with all sorts of musical intruments.

Prayag Dutt’s eyes then met the lotus eyes of the embodiment of compassion and grace, Ma Janki and in that instant he recognized that she was his sister who his mother had described to him.

As he looked dazed by the compassionate glance of Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram, the elephant stopped and sat on its knees and somebody brought a golden ladder which was placed on the side of the elephant and Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram alighted from the elephant. Janki advanced towards Prayag with open arms as he rushed into her arms.

“Bhaiyya at last I saw you!” exclaimed Ma Janki hugging the little boy. Typical of a child, Prayag Dutt’s anger came back and he tried to get out of her clutches and asked her, “Why did you come so late to see me? Why does nobody know where you live? Is this how you treat your younger brother?” Questions rained like arrows, with Prayag Dutt sobbing all the while.

Ma Janki comforted him. She wiped his tears away and affectionately ran her palm over his head. “Not everyone knows where we live Prayag” she said. “Very few want to actually see us and only they know where we live. Anyway I have come here to see you and you should not worry anymore. Tell me, has Ma sent something for me?”

“Oh yes! How will I come empty handed to my Didi?” said Prayag as he took out the packet wrapped in the tattered cloth. “Ma gave this for you and Jijaji”

And he opened the packet carefully and took out a ‘Kasar’ and gave it to her. But Ma Janki gave that to Raja Ram who was smiling so beautifully. Raja Ram put the sweet into his mouth and savoured it. Janki then took one sweet and fed Prayag Dutt with her own hands. She then took one for herself and ate it, relishing the taste. She then wrapped the packet and gave it back to Prayag. “Give this to Ma when you go home” she said. “Now, show me your wrist”.

And as Prayag held out his hand, Ma Janki had manifested a golden thread and tied Rakhi on his wrist.

Prayag Dutt was exhilarated. And was in a world of bliss. He had experienced so easily, the touch of that Supreme being , that touch, for which millions of yogis and yoginis do penance for years together.

Prayag said to Ma Janki, “Didi I will stay with you only from now on! I don’t want to go back to Janakpur”.  She replied in the most musical voice, “Prayag, you should not do that. Ma will be waiting for you and you should not disappoint her. So go back now. You can come back after some days”

The vision of Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram disappeared but the Rakhi was there for real and so were the left over ‘Kasars’. Prayag Dutt lay there in a state of trance with tears of bliss overflowing from his eyes as a result of the divine touch of Ma Janki. He lay there for almost a full day and the next day a Sant by name Trilochan Das saw him in this state of exalted bliss under the tree. He, being a Sant himself, realized that the boy was not suffering from any ailment but had been impacted by something divine. He sat near Prayag and when Prayag opened his eyes, enquired about him. Prayag explained how he had seen Janki and Raja Ram and how Janki, his sister had lovingly comforted him and tied a Rakhi and also fed him with the sweet he had brought.

The Sant took him to his place of stay. Prayag had not eaten anything for the whole day. Just then two ladies came over to the Sant and said that they were from a house nearby and came to deliver ‘Prasad’ for them to eat. The big plates they were carrying were covered with banana leaves and the Sant and Prayag did not see what was in the plates. The ladies also mentioned that they could keep the plates themselves after they ate their food. They then went away. Sant Trilochan Das had never seen these ladies in the vicinity earlier.

As the Sant and Prayag removed the banana leaves covering the food, there was a wonderful spread of food on a banana leaf on the plate. They both ate the food which tasted so divine and extraordinary. It was then that they discovered that the plates were made of solid gold. Sant Trilochan Das realized that the food and the gold plates would have been sent by none other than Ma Janki. He told Prayag “Son, we all think of Ma Janki as Mother but she has accepted you as her brother and so you are Mama for us!  I think these plates have also been sent by Ma Janki to help you and your mother come out from poverty. Take these plates and go home and live a happy life”

Prayag was shocked as if Sant Trilochan Das had uttered something blasphemous. “Take the gold plates to my home? No way!” he said. “You say that my Didi has sent these plates. Don’t you know that we do not take anything from a sister or daughter? We only give things to them. My mother will not let me enter my house if I took this home. You can keep it if you want.” But Sant Trilochan Das also said that he had no use for gold as he was a sanyasi and so Prayag took the plates and threw them in Ganesh Kund, a lake and proceeded home, eager to meet his mother.

What happened after that? Did Prayag come back to Ayodhya? Did he see Ma Janki and Raja Ram again?

You will know that in Part II of the story which will be published shortly.

Kacha and Devayani

This is one story which is etched in my childhood memory and has been in my ‘to narrate’ list for a very long time and so here it is:

The Devas led by Indra, had Brihaspati, who was the son of Sage Angirasa as their Guru. The Asuras, on the other hand had Sage Shukracharya who was the son of Sage Bhrigu as their Guru. Both Brihaspati and Shukracharya were extremely knowledgeable and had a healthy rivalry between them though they had immense respect for each other’s knowledge. This was the time when there were frequent wars between the Devas and Asuras.

 The Asuras had an advantage, that their Guru Shukracharya had the complete knowledge of “Mritsanjeevani Mantra” the key to the science of bringing back the dead to life. He had, due to his great ‘Tapasya’ gained this knowledge from Lord Shiva and he used this to resurrect all the Asuras who died in the wars with Devas. Naturally, the Asuras did not lose manpower and had the same strength every time while the army of the Devas was depleting. This was very disturbing to the Devas.

The King of the Devas, Indra expressed this concern of theirs to their Guru Brihaspati. “We feel they have an unfair advantage” he said bowing to his Guru. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to fight them with our depleting army and we will have to do something about this. How do we gain the knowledge of the Mritsanjeevani Mantra O Guru?” asked he.

Sage Brihaspati thought for a while. Meanwhile the son of Sage Brihaspati, a young lad by name Kacha, was present there overhearing this conversation.

“I will go and learn the Mantra from Guru Shukracharya, father!”  said Kacha.

Kacha was a young, handsome and extremely charming and intelligent boy who was very capable of going and learning the Mantra. Both Indra and Brihaspati were sure of Kacha’s success, if he went.

Sage Brihaspati agreed. Though he was worried to send his son to the dreaded Asura kingdom to learn this knowledge, for Brihaspati, it was commitment to his king which came first before everything else. Therefore, much to the joy of Indra, it was decided to send Kacha to Guru Shukracharya to learn this Mantra.

Kacha travelled to the kingdom of the Asuras as instructed by his father and met Guru Shukracharya.

“O Gurudev, I am the grandson of Sage Angirasa and son of Sage Brihaspati” said Kacha to Shukracharya introducing himself. “I have come here to be your pupil and serve you and learn all that is to be learnt. I promise to serve you with utmost sincerity and will never indulge in anything which will bring a bad name to you. Kindly accept me as your student” he said, with all humility.

Shukracharya was pleased with the humility and sincerity of the lad and the way in which he had openly stated his background and intention. So, he accepted him as his student. “Your father Brihaspati is my friend and I see you as Brihaspati and so I grant you permission to stay in my hermitage and be my pupil” said he.

Kacha was happy that he had been accepted by Guru Shukracharya and started staying in the hermitage. He learnt with great sincerity whatever was taught to him. He was otherwise also very dutiful, looking after his Guru and preparing the things needed for his meditation, fire sacrifice, collecting flowers for worship etc. He also tended to the cattle belonging to the Ashram leaving no worries for his Guru.

Shukracharya had a very beautiful daughter Devayani. She was very dear to her father and she did not have her mother. Her mother Jayanti had left Shukracharya and gone away years before. So Shukracharya had always wanted to bring up his daughter without she realizing her mother’s absence. This resulted in Devayani being a spoilt child, pampered to the greatest extent and getting whatever she wanted, with no questions asked.

Devayani was almost the same age as Kacha when he came and joined as her father’s pupil and therefore she developed a special liking for him. Kacha was also devoted to her and took good care of her as his Guru’s daughter while being fully focused on his studies and the purpose for which he had come there. He never got distracted from his mission and was waiting to learn the Mritsanjeevani Mantra from the Guru which seemed to be eluding him. Even after long years of study with the Guru, the Guru was open to teach him anything but the Mantra for which he had come. He would see Shukracharya resurrecting dead Asuras with the Mantra being silently chanted by Shukra, but Kacha had to be initiated and learn it properly for it to be used by him.

Slowly the Asuras somehow guessed the purpose of Kacha’s studying under their Guru. They had their doubts even as Kacha had joined Shukracharya years back, but could not bring themselves to tell their Guru what he should do. They were afraid of his wrath and had kept quiet. But now, they were discussing their fears amongst themselves and decided to do away with Kacha before he learnt the Mantra. They knew his daily routine and so planned to kill him.

Accordingly, once when Kacha had taken the cattle out for grazing into the woods, they stealthily followed him, pounced on him and killed him. They then cut him up and fed the pieces of the body to wolves. In the evening, the cattle returned on their own to the hermitage without Kacha. Devayani was worried.  She waited patiently for some more time, often peering at the entrance to the hermitage, but there was no sign of Kacha. It was time for the evening prayers of the Guru. Fresh water had not been brought for his rituals. The mat was not spread and the lamps not lit. Guru Shukracharya came for his prayers and was puzzled. Kacha, had not for once, been negligent in his duty in all these years.

Just then Devayani came up to him with teary eyes. “Kacha has not come back with the cattle” she said, almost sobbing. “I fear that the Asuras would have harmed him father. Please do something and save him” she went on. “I cannot live without Kacha, dear father. Please save him. My instinct says something has happened to him”.

Shukracharya could not bear to see his darling daughter in tears. He sat down and started to meditate. With his divine power, could see what had happened to Kacha. He immediately visualized Kacha and chanted the Mritsanjeevani Mantra. All the pieces of Kacha’s body came tearing out of the wolves’ bodies and rejoined themselves and lo and behold! Kacha appeared in his charming form at the hermitage. He narrated to the Guru how he had been attacked by the Asuras. Shukracharya called the offenders and sternly warned them against acting in this manner. But Asuras were Asuras, and so after some months, they planned the second attack on Kacha.

This time they wanted to make sure that he was completely decimated and so they killed him, burnt the corpse and mixed the ash in the sea waters. This time again, with the intervention of Devayani, Guru Shukracharya, by chanting the Mritsanjeevani Mantra, collected him from the sea and he came back whole and bowed to his Guru and told him what had been done to him by the Asuras. The Guru reprimanded the Asuras with strong words once again and warned them. However, they would never change their habits.

And the third time, they decided that they would do something so severe that it would be impossible for Kacha to be retrieved. They lay low for some time and when they got an opportunity, they killed Kacha, burnt the corpse, mixed the ash in wine and served it to the Guru. Shukracharya unwittingly drank the wine and now Kacha was inside the Guru’s stomach.

In the evening, once again Devayani noticed that Kacha had not returned and when she told her father, he in his deep meditation, realized that Kacha was in his stomach. He told Devayani. Devayani who was pleading with her father to bring Kacha back, was in a total dilemma. She knew that if Kacha came out of her father’s stomach, her father would die. She loved both the men dearly and wanted both of them to live.

Now there was only one way, that was, to impart the Mritsanjeevani Mantra to Kacha so that Kacha could resurrect Guru Shukracharya, once he came out of Guru Shukracharya’s stomach. Guru Shukracharya also had developed a soft corner for this boy who had been so loyal, sincere and dutiful. So, with no other option left, he taught him the Mantra and explained the method in which it had to be chanted to resurrect the dead. Kacha heard and learnt the Mantra staying inside the stomach of Sage Shukracharya. The Guru then chanted the Mantra in the prescribed manner praying for Kacha to come back alive. Kacha came out tearing the stomach of Shukracharya. Shukracharya now lay dead, much to the shock of Devayani.

Kacha could have walked away back to his kingdom, but a gem of a person, that he was, he knew that there was no repentance for betrayal of the trust of anyone, especially of the teacher who had given him everything. He immediately meditated and chanted the Mantra the way it was taught to him, so that Guru Shukracharya would come back to life and slowly the Guru rose up, having been resurrected by the Mantra chanted by Kacha.

The plan of the Asuras had badly backfired.

Shukracharya felt so ashamed that he vowed not to touch any intoxicant from then on. Further he also forbade Brahmins from touching liquor, due to his own nasty experience.

Devayani was ecstatic as both the people she loved dearly were alive now. Kacha wanted to take leave of his Guru and go back to Indra’s kingdom as his mission was over now and the Guru gladly gave leave to him.

Devayani now took the opportunity to express her love for Kacha and requested him to marry her. Kacha however, refused her proposal. “I have come out of your father’s stomach” he said. “Just as a part of your father is in you, he is in me also and hence I can only look upon you as my sister and it is not proper for me to marry you”. The firmness and decisiveness in Kacha’s voice made Devayani extremely furious. She had never been refused anything before in her life and here was a man who was telling her “No”.

“I curse you!” she said, her face red with anger. “I curse you that this knowledge you have acquired will be of no use to you!”

Kacha remained calm. “I cannot swerve from the code of conduct Devayani” said he. “I had always considered my Guru as my father and more so now, since I have come out of him. Therefore, I cannot even think of you as my wife. Well, if this knowledge I have learnt will not be of use to me, I will teach it to others so that they can benefit. I am leaving!”

So saying he bowed to his Guru Shukracharya, who did not say a word against what Kacha had said, for he knew the worth of Kacha whose esteem had gone up multifold in his eyes.

Devayani eventually went on to marry King Yayati which is another interesting story I will narrate sometime later.

True Friends – A tale from Hitopadesha

Hitopadesha is said to have been written by a certain Pandit Narayana whose time period seems to be much later than Pandit Vishnu Sharma who gave us the Panchatantra. Pandit Narayana’s inspiration was from the Panchatantra and his stories are also somewhat similar to the Panchatantra stories. The story I am narrating comes under the section titled “Choice of Friends”.

Long ago, in the forests of Dandakaranya, there lived a deer named Hiran and a crow named Kakah who were thick friends. They used to meet every day and spend happy times together.

Once, a wily jackal by name, Shrugala, chanced to see the deer when he was grazing around.

“What a healthy deer he is!” thought Shrugala. “He would make a superb meal for me!” The very thought of relishing the deer’s flesh made him drool. But he was very greedy and so thought that he would make the deer fatter before he made him his prey. So he went and tried to befriend the deer.

“Hello Deer!” he called out. Hiran was surprised to see a jackal calling out to him with a smile on his face and so raised his head. Shrugala came nearer. “I want to be your friend. My name is Shrugala”.  

Hiran was confused and could not reply immediately and Shrugala went on. “You are wondering why I want to be your friend? Well I have heard elders say that the company you keep determines your character. And I know that all my friends are cunning and you are a simple straight forward deer and I admire your traits and want to become like you. So please accept me as your friend. We shall meet every day and spend the day together happily. By the way, what is your name?”

Hiran got flattered by the sweet words of Shrugala and nodded his head. “Okay! Shrugala, I will be your friend. Call me Hiran” said he. “Wait till my friend Kakah comes and I will introduce you to him. He will also be extremely happy to meet you”.

Kakah, however, was not at all pleased about Hiran’s new-found friendship. He chided Hiran. “How can you just accept somebody as your friend without knowing anything about them? You should always consider being friends with anybody only after knowing their nature” he said. He then told him the story of the Vulture and the cunning Cat which you can read by clicking here.

Shrugala became anxious that his grand plan would fail and so said to Kakah, “Well, even on the day you met Hiran, both of you were strangers to each other, but how is it that your friendship only grows stronger every day? Hiran has already accepted me as his friend and should not go back on his word.” With no other way, they accepted Shrugala in their group and they spent the days together. They used to find their own food and Shrugala always kept an eye on Hiran waiting for him to become fatter.

One day, after Kakah went in search of his food, Shrugala called Hiran. “Hiran, I have found a nice place for you to have tasty corn which you can eat to your heart’s content” said he, and took him to the field of a farmer at the edge of the forest. The field was full of lush corn crop ready to be harvested. Hiran was delighted. He thanked Shrugala for his good gesture and went to eat the corn. Day by day, eating the fresh corn, Hiran was becoming fatter and Shrugala was very happy to see this and waited for the right opportunity to strike.

As days passed, the farmer began to notice that the quantity of corn was reducing in one corner of his field and eventually found the culprit. He laid a net trap for him the next day in the field.

Hiran, unaware of the trap went merrily and got caught in the trap and suddenly found that he could not get out of there. He cried out aloud. “Shrugala!  Kakah!  please come and help me. I have been caught in a net” he shouted. The farmer’s house was a bit far off, from the field and he had not yet seen Hiran caught in the net.

Shrugala was lurking nearby behind some bushes and was waiting for the farmer to kill Hiran and thought that he could then pounce on the farmer and frighten him and take away Hiran’s body. But as time went by, the farmer also did not come out and see. So Shrugala went near Hiran, with a fake look of shock on his face, and started talking pitifully to Hiran.

Hiran on the other hand, was panicking and told Shrugala to somehow tear the net with his teeth and claws and set him free. “You are my good friend and a friend should always help another who is in need. Please help! Please!” he pleaded. Shrugala just did not bother and quietly slunk away much to Hiran’s anguish. He went and hid behind the bushes again waiting to see what would happen.

In a short while, thankfully Kakah arrived on the scene and he was really shocked to see his dear friend caught in a net.

“What happened Hiran? How did you get into this trap?” he asked with concern. Hiran told him how Shrugala had shown him this field and how Shrugala had refused to help now. Kakah was furious but he knew that saving Hiran was the priority and just at that time, he saw the farmer walking out of his house with a huge club in hand. He was coming towards the field.

Kakah thought fast and told Hiran, “Look, there is no time now. You lie down still and pretend to be dead. I will sit on you and pretend to peck your eyes. The farmer will think you are dead and when he removes the net, I will caw thrice and you get up and run for your life. We will catch up in the evening”.

Hiran agreed to Kakah’s idea and lay still. The farmer was coming nearer and he saw the crow sitting and pecking at the deer.

“Hmmm. He looks dead. Is he? Poor fellow! He must have died out of sheer fright” he mumbled to himself. “My effort is saved. I don’t need to unnecessarily kill this fellow. And I will get to eat fresh deer meat today Hahaha….”

He then shooed away Kakah. “Shoo, shoo” he shouted and Kakah went and perched on a nearby tree. The farmer carefully removed the net and turned to the other side to fold it since he thought the deer was dead anyway.

“Caw caw caw!” cried Kakah and the next moment Hiran was up on his fours and ran so fast even before the farmer realized what had happened. The farmer turned around and was furious that he had been outwitted. He saw Hiran run behind the bushes and raised his club and threw it with all force hoping that it would hit Hiran. It came and landed with a thud on Shrugala’s back instead, as Shrugala was hiding there.

With a shrieking howl, Shrugala ran out of the bushes limping with great difficulty as his back had almost been broken.

And he was never to be seen again near Hiran and Kakah!

Shridara Venkatesa Ayyaval – The saint who invoked River Ganga in the well in his house

This is the month of Kartika. The Amavasya (No moon day) of this month holds special significance for the quiet village of Tiruvisanallur in Tanjore district the story of which I narrate below.

Four hundred years ago there lived a Dewan in the Mysore Samsthan by name Lingarya who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Lingarya had an illustrious son in 1635 who was named Shridara Venkatesa. Shridara Venkatesa studied all that was to be learnt and became an erudite scholar in his youth. He was deeply devoted to Lord Shiva as well. He was married to a pious lady by name Lakshmi and the family was very well off.

On the passing away of Shri Lingarya, the post of Dewan was offered by the King to Shridara Venkatesa. But Shridara was so spiritually evolved that he just wanted to leave everything and go on a pilgrimage doing good to humanity and in search of the Absolute Truth. He expressed his desire to his mother and wife and they readily agreed to accompany him. He then conveyed his mind to the King. The King tried convincing him repeatedly to stay back, but failed.

Shridara and his family just left behind their palatial house with all the riches as it was, telling the public to take whatever they wanted, and set off along the path of the river Kaveri.

They reached the city of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) in Tamil Nadu and found the place pleasing to the mind and started staying there leading a simple life. Shridara used to visit the temple of Mathrubhuteswara regularly and propounded the teachings of Sanatana Dharma by way of discourses. He did not seek worldly pleasures but was full of compassion for all and saw the Lord in all living beings. He was now called Sridhara Ayyaval. (Ayya is a term of respect in Tamil)

Once, while at Trichy, as he was on his way back after a bath in the river Kaveri, he saw a couple crying inconsolably, as their only son, who they had begot after long years of prayer, had died suddenly due to some mysterious disease. On hearing their story, Ayyaval was overwhelmed with compassion for the family and he entered their house and looked at the child who lay on the floor motionless. He then meditated upon Lord Shiva. He sang 28 verses called Tharaavali Stotram on Lord Shiva, applying the sacred ash on the forehead of the child after every verse. After a few minutes, the child got up smiling as if nothing had happened. All the people were pleasantly surprised.

Ayyaval, not impacted a bit by the miracle he had brought about went away unperturbed. To him all that had happened was due to the abundant grace of Lord Shiva. But the people now thought that he was a magician and people started thronging to his place seeking solutions to mundane problems. He had, out of sheer kind-heartedness tried to save the child and it was Lord Shiva’s absolute mercy that  brought the child back to life but the people did not understand that and continued to come to him for their daily problems.

Not wanting to stay there anymore, Ayyaval left the place with his family one night and walked his way to Tanjore where the Marathi King Shahaji was ruling. This King also had heard of the greatness of Shridara Ayyaval and welcoming him to his kingdom, granted him a house in the village of Tiruvisanallur, a village which was specifically created by the king for learned Brahmins. The king also consulted him for all state matters as Ayyaval was very knowledgeable.

Soon the King offered him the post of Dewan in the Tanjore kingdom. Ayyaval, with his rich knowledge guided the King and wrote many books including a Sanskrit dictionary by the name ‘Padamani Manjari’.

However, after some years Ayyaval wanted to withdraw from the busy life as a Dewan and devote his time in doing prayers, studying scriptures and singing the name of God by way of Namasankeertana. The King Shahaji respected his wishes and relieved him from the post of Dewan. Ayyaval now had all his time for his spiritual pursuit.

 The then pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, Shri Bodhendra Saraswathy, who resided in the nearby Tiruvidaimarudhur and Ayyaval had great respect for each other and used to meet often to discuss spiritual matters. Ayyaval composed many Stotrams on Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva and the famous Gangashtakam on River Ganga.

Once it so happened that it was the day of the Shraadh ceremony at Ayyaval’s house and Ayyaval was just returning from the river Kaveri to perform the ceremony. On the way he saw a poor man who was lying on the road almost unconscious, famished by hunger. Ayyaval’s heart melted and as benevolent as he was, brought the food cooked at home for the ceremony, and fed it to the poor man.

Since on the day of the Shraadh, food should be offered to the representatives of the ancestors before it is partaken by anyone else, Ayyaval arranged for fresh food to be cooked once again for the ceremony and offered it to the priests who had come to participate in the ceremony.  The priests however refused to come citing that Ayyaval had committed blasphemy by offering food to the dying man first.

Ayyaval did not want to antagonize them and asked them what remedial measures he should take for atonement of the “sin”. The priests replied that bathing in the Ganges was the only remedy and that he should have a bath in the Ganges after which they would take part in the ceremonies of his house.

Ayyaval was not in a physically fit condition to undertake such a long journey to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges and therefore, decided to invoke the river Ganga at his place and therefore recited the Gangashtakam- eight verses on River Ganga in front of the well in the courtyard of his house. He implored Her to appear in the well and wonder of wonders, River Ganga appeared gushing in the well and within minutes, the water rose up the walls of the well and started overflowing into the village. Ayyaval took bath in the water and invited all to come and bathe in the water of River Ganga.

The priests who had behaved so arrogantly realized their folly and the greatness of Ayyaval and they were all now terrified that the flow of Ganga would submerge the village. They asked for forgiveness from Ayyaval and pleaded with him to either send Ganga back or retain her in the well of his house. Ayyaval prayed to Mother Ganga and sang thus:

Bhageeratha ManObheeshta SiddhayE BhuvanAshrithE

BrAhmanAm Manah poorthyai mama koopE SthirA Bhava

Meaning ‘O Mother Ganga, as per the wishes of the priests, please stay put in my well’

This incident is said to have happened on the Amavasya day of the Kartika month.

This day is celebrated as Ganga Akarshana Mahotsavam every year at his Mutt in Tiruvisanallur where the well is still present and all devotees go to get blessed by the water of Ganga from this well on Kartika Amavasya.

This great saint lived till 1720 and one day, merged with Lord Shiva into the Shivalinga at the Madhyarjuna Kshetram Tiruvidaimarudur.

Knowledge beyond books

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Guru of Swami Vivekananda often used little tales and stories to impart his teachings to his devotees. Earlier I have narrated another tale, ‘Gopal and the cow-herd’ narrated by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa which you can read here.

Another tale of his that I am going to narrate illustrates that mere bookish knowledge is not enough to survive in this world.

Once there was a very learned man (Pandit) in a village. He had learnt a lot of things like grammar, Upanishads, six philosophies of Sanskrit (Shad-Darshana), Astronomy etc. and was very proud of his knowledge. Whenever he got a chance, he never failed to show off his knowledge.

One day he had to cross the river to go to another village. It was monsoon time and the river was huge and very deep. Therefore it was necessary for the Pandit to travel by a boat. He got into a boat with five others and when the boat started to move, he struck a conversation with his neighbour.

“Where are you from, young man?” asked the Pandit.

“From the village across the river, sir” said the man.

“What do you do for a living?” the Pandit asked.

“I am a carpenter, sir. I make things from wood” said the man.

“Up to what level have you studied?”

“To a certain extent, sir” replied the man.

“Have you studied the Upanishads?” asked the Pandit.

“No. I have not even heard of that” said the man.

With a scornful smile the Pandit said “Well, if you have not, a quarter of your life has been wasted. Have you at least heard of Vyakarana (grammar)?”

The man shook his head. “No Panditji. I have never heard of that either”

“What? You do not know Vyakarana? Hmm. Then half of your life is gone” said the Pandit in a sarcastic tone. “Okay, tell me if you at least know that there is something called Shad-Darshana, the six philosophies”.

The man blinked and after few moments shook his head to indicate that he did not know what the Pandit was speaking about.

“Heh heh! You don’t know about this also? Then three fourths of your life is gone. Ha!” said the Pandit laughing mockingly.

Just then, a storm started to blow and the boat was twisting left and right, jumping up and down. All the passengers lost their balance and were struggling to sit on the seats. The boat-man tried to veer the boat to safety but the storm was much stronger and his efforts were in vain.

“All of you please be ready to swim to safety if the boat capsizes” announced the boat-man and all the passengers tied up their dhotis ready to jump into the river as the Pandit was watching in panic.

The carpenter, who the Pandit was mocking at earlier, looked at the Pandit and asked, “Panditji, do you know swimming?”

“N..No…No” said the Pandit in a voice filled with panic.

The carpenter said “Oh! So sad! If you don’t know swimming your whole life is gone!”

It was then that the Pandit realised that bookish knowledge is not everything in life.

Alas! It was too late by then.

The Legend of Deepavali

Today we celebrate Deepavali – the joyous festival of lights.

Deepavali or Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated on the 14th day of the waning moon of the seventh month in the Hindu calendar. This month is known by the names Aippasi / Ashvayuja / Ashwin.

This festival is one of the most ancient festivals celebrated all over Bharat (India) with no distinction whatsoever. Taking bath with hot water with oil smeared on one’s head early in the morning, yummy sweets, savouries and delicacies, new clothes, prayers to the goddess of wealth, fireworks, feasts and meeting friends and family are all the beautiful images one conjures up at the mention of the name “Deepavali”.

However, along with the slight cultural differences in the above rituals, in the South of the country, the victory of Krishna over Narakasura is celebrated as Deepavali while in the North the celebration is for Lord Rama returning from Sri Lanka after successfully vanquishing Ravana.

Whatever the legend be, the core is, celebration of victory of Dharma over Adharma, or good over evil.

While the Ramayana is very popular, the story of Narakasura’s defeat by Lord Krishna is not so popular and hence this attempt to know the story. This story is narrated in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Naraka, it is said was born to Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth) from a drop of sweat which fell from the brow of Lord Varaha (Sri Mahavishnu in his earlier incarnation), as he retrieved the earth from the clutches of Hiranyaksha.

Naraka grew up to be a very arrogant and powerful demonic king (hence Naraka Asura) and ruled over Pragjyotishapura. He had done many penances and obtained boons to become invincible. And as the saying goes “Power corrupts”, this inexhaustible power he had obtained through boons, corrupted his mind so much that he started harassing the gods in their realm. He snatched the ear rings of the mother of the Gods, Adithi and imprisoned thousands of young women in his palace. He had also snatched the umbrella, which was a part of the insignia of Lord Varuna. He had looted and plundered so many things from Indra’s capital Amaravathi.

Indra, the king of gods was no longer able to bear this harassment and complained to Lord Krishna to put an end to this nonsense and Krishna agreed. He flew with his wife Satyabhama on his royal mount, the Garuda and reached Pragjyotishapura.

Now, this city was protected by so many layers by Naraka. Firstly, the city was surrounded by tall mountains which were practically un-scalable. The city was also covered by a thick net of Pashas (sturdy ropes), after which one had to cross barriers of water and fire. Further Naraka had appointed the demon Mura to guard his city.

Lord Krishna flying on the Garuda the invincible bird, broke the mountains with his club and entered the city. He used his discus, the Sudarsan Chakra to destroy the layers of water and fire and with his sword he cut open the net of ropes and suddenly Mura who was relaxing heard the deafening sound of the Panchajanya, Lord Krishna’s conch. He was taken by surprise as he had never imagined anyone could even attempt to attack this impregnable city.

Mura was also a terrible demon with five heads and ten arms and possessed fearsome weapons like the trident and mace. Krishna soon proved that he was more than an equal to Mura and finally when Mura ran towards Krishna with upraised arms to take him on, Krishna’s discus killed Mura and hence the name Murari for Krishna.

Now, Mura had seven sons and all of them came out, enraged at this action of Krishna, along with Pita, the commander in chief of Narakasura. But very soon, they also joined their father.

Now Naraka had to come out and he came with his impressive army of noble elephants resembling Indra’s elephant Airavata and it was a sight to behold!

Naraka fought with all his might and courage but was not able to withstand the might of Krishna and his mount, Garuda, and soon his army of elephants were either wounded or killed. The death of Narakasura followed, carried out by the Sudarsan Chakra on Lord Krishna’s command.

There was great jubilation and on the request of Naraka’s mother, Bhoomi Devi, Bhagadatta, the son of Naraka was crowned king. All the stolen things were placed at the feet of Lord Krishna which were returned by the Lord to the respective owners.

This day when the shroud of darkness over Pragjyotishapura was destroyed by the arrival and subsequent victory of Lord Krishna over Naraka or Bhoumasura as he was called, and good prevailed over evil, is celebrated as Deepavali.

This is the legend of Deepavali in the Southern part of Bharat.

Maharani Durgavathi of Gond – The fearless warrior

The festival of Navaratri has begun and Devi Shakti is being propitiated as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi for nine days and nights. Prayers are offered to her, seeking power, wealth and knowledge. The story of the origin of Navaratri is already available here and you may click to read the same.

This time, I thought it apt to narrate the story of a powerful, valiant, wealthy and intelligent queen who ruled in Bharat in the 16th century and how she bravely fought with the Moghul invaders and chose death to defeat at the hands of the Moghuls. She is none other than Maharani Durgavathi – who is also referred to as Rana Chandi – meaning, as fierce as Durga in battlefield.  

Durgavathi was born on October 5, 1524 to the Chandela Rajput king Keerat Rai. Keerat Rai was ruling the Bundelkhand region from Kalinjar in present Madhya Pradesh. Theirs was the dynasty of Raja Vidyadhara who had repulsed Mohamed Ghazni twice in the 11th century. Durgavathi grew up listening to such tales of valour and bravery which naturally kindled the spirit of bravery in her.

Durgavathi had lost her mother at an early age and so her father took extra efforts in bringing her up without any shortcoming. She displayed a natural affinity to weaponry, riding and allied activities at a very early age and was ably trained by her father in martial arts and warfare. It is said that once a lone lion had strayed into the city and was terrorising the people and when none of the warriors could either tame or kill it, Durgavathi went alone with her weapons, found and killed the lion single-handedly leaving everyone awestruck.

At the age of 18, Durgavathi married the prince Dalpat Sah of Garha Mandla kingdom of Gondwana. Dalpat Sah’s father Sangram Sah was famous for having conquered vast territories upto the Narmada valley. Dalpat Sah who was his eldest son, was an equally famous warrior who had checked the entry of the Mughals to the southern part of Bharat. This alliance due to the wedding of Rani Durgavathi, between the Gond and Chandela rulers, helped the Chandela king in killing Sher Shah Suri (the Afghan king who had started the Suri dynasty in India). This was at Kalinjar in 1545 CE.

Durgavathi and Dalpat Sah had a son Vir Narayan in 1545 and when the child was five years old, Dalpat Sah died suddenly leaving behind a distraught Durgavathi. But being a courageous woman, she gathered herself and since Vir Narayan was only five years old, she ruled the kingdom on his behalf in a very efficient manner. She was valiant, intelligent and beautiful. Ably assisted by her ministers Adhar Kayastha and Man Thakur, she ruled very efficiently.  She was an extremely astute ruler and so she shifted her capital from Singaurgarh Fort to Chauragarh Fort which was 290 kilometres away near Panchmarhi of Madhya Pradesh. Chauragarh fort was at a strategic position in the Satpura range and from here she ruled her kingdom. Maharani Durgavathi kept expanding her territories and earning a lot of wealth.

The wealth was used by the Maharani to patronise educational institutions and scholars and encourage art and architecture (which was no surprise, as the Chandela Dynasty in which she was born had built the temples at Khajuraho).  She had many tanks and reservoirs built in her kingdom, of which Ranital near Jabalpur is well known. Efficient water management all through the year led to abundance through agriculture which led to overall prosperity. The Rani took very good care of her subjects. It is said that she also maintained a fairly big army with 20000 cavalry, 1000 elephants and numerous foot soldiers and she took good care of them all like a mother and so all of them were ready to give up their life for her sake.

The news of a kingdom flourishing with happiness and prosperity under the leadership of a Hindu queen was bound to raise eyebrows and the surrounding kingdoms with Islamic leadership were keenly waiting for an opportunity to attack the kingdom of Gondwana.  The last Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur launched an attack on Rani Durgavathi first in 1556 CE.  Malwa was bordering the territory of Gondwana. His army faced a crushing defeat at the hands of Maharani Durgavathi that he never dared to attack again.

However Akbar defeated Baz Bahadur in 1562 and drove him out of Malwa and therefore now the Mughals had touched the border of Gondwana. The other neighbour of Gondwana namely Rewa had already been attacked and occupied by another Subedar of Akbar by name Khwaja Abdal Majid Asaf Khan. Asaf Khan was enamoured by the prosperity and wealth of the neighbouring Gondwana and after taking permission from Akbar attacked the kingdom of Maharani Durgavathi in June 1564.

The Maharani came to know of the attack. Though her minister Adhar Kayastha was reluctant on their fighting back and pointed out that the Mughal army was much larger in size with better weapons it did not deter the Maharani in any way. “It is better to die with valour than to surrender with disgrace” said she and went to fight the battle from Narrai near Jabalpur. Since she knew the terrain of her kingdom very well she chose this place strategically. Narrai was located between a hilly range on one side and the Narmada and Gaur Rivers on another. Though her army did not possess modern weapons like that of the enemy, the Maharani and her commandant Arjun Das, along with their army fought very valiantly. Arjun Das was killed in the battle and Maharani took the lead and led her army to victory, successfully driving away Asaf Khan and his men.

Elated with the victory, Maharani was keen to continue the war through the night so that the enemy could be totally annihilated. But her counsellors advised her to the contrary and this proved to be a big mistake. That one night was enough for Asaf Khan to smuggle in heavier weapons and artillery.  The war started the next day with the Maharani riding on her elephant Sarman accompanied by her son, Prince Vir Narayan. The prince who was a teenager by now fought mercilessly and made the Moghuls retreat three times. But finally he was wounded seriously. Seeing that her son was very badly injured, the Maharani told him to ride back to Chauragarh fort and he left the battlefield.

Now it was the Maharani alone leading her army. It is understood that Asaf Khan wanted to capture the Maharani alive and despite her valiant fight, she was wounded with an arrow through her jaw near the ear and one on her neck and she lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness she realised that it was imminent that she would be defeated. Her mahout advised her to leave the battlefield but she was sure she would be captured alive. She preferred death to surrender and immediately stabbed herself with her dagger and gave up her life. She was forty years old when she died.

Asaf Khan chased Vir Narayan who put up brave and stiff resistance from inside the Chauragarh fort for a few days but Asaf Khan finally managed to kill him. However, before Asaf Khan could enter the fort and seize the ladies, all the ladies committed ‘Jauhar’ (Voluntarily giving up the life by falling into fire) inside the fort. The priceless treasures found by Asaf Khan in Chauragarh was an evidence of the prosperity of Maharani Durgavathi’s kingdom. These facts are recorded in history by Akbar’s historian Abul Fazl.

Maharani Durgavathi’s fame still lives on and her martyrdom day is celebrated as ‘Balidan Diwas’. The Jabalpur University has been named after her and let us all be proud to have had such a queen, a daughter of Bharat who was a real ‘Shakthi’.

Wishing all of you a very Happy Navarathri!!

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