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

Author: krvidhyaa Page 1 of 16

I am a mother of two children who love stories. I used to work in the Insurance industry. I have heard and read lots of Indian stories from my childhood and still read. Our stories have lot of values and also reflect the way society was, in ancient days. As a hobby, I am rewriting the stories I have heard and read, in an attempt to preserve them for the benefit of present and future parents and grandparents and kids of course!!

Veerangana Jhalkari Bai – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence- 6

This is the sixth story in the series ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence’. This time it is a story of a woman warrior whose contribution to the Independence movement is not known to many of us.

This brave heroine Veerangana Jhalkari Bai, (pronounced Jhaalkaari Baai) lived in the same period and kingdom of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. In fact, she was a look- alike of the Rani of Jhansi.

Jhalkari Bai was born in the village Bhojla, near Jhansi to a couple Sadoba Singh and Jamna Devi on 22nd November 1830. She was the only child of her parents and therefore was the apple of her parents’ eyes.

Her childhood was that of a carefree life with all her desires satisfied. However, she never was interested in the kind of games girl children would play. That was a cause of concern to her mother but her father accepted it as her nature and let her be herself. Unfortunately, that carefree life came to an end with the demise of her mother even before she was an adolescent.

Now her father decided to mould her as per her aptitude and capabilities. He started training her in martial arts including archery and sword-fighting. She also learnt horse-riding.  

Once when she had gone to the woods to collect wood, she was attacked by a leopard. She fiercely fought the leopard with the sickle, the only instrument she had and at one point the sickle slipped from her hands and fell. Jhalkari was not the one to give up easily. She fought with her bare hands and managed to kill the leopard. This was not an ordinary feat and word spread of her valour.

In another instance, one night, when the whole village had slept, people suddenly heard the cries of a man calling out frantically for help. Jhalkari could not keep quiet. Armed with a fat stick, she rushed out to find the source of the distress call. She found that dacoits had entered the house of the village headman and were threatening and beating him and his family members. With only the stick she had, she thrashed the dacoits single-handedly showing no mercy on them. The headman was so relieved and grateful and was in all praise for her bravery. Now she was the heroine of the village!

Word spread beyond the village about the courage Jhalkari had shown. This reached the ears of Puran Kori, a brave soldier who was serving in the artillery unit of the army of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. Puran was very impressed about Jhalkari’s deeds and he told his mother that he wished to marry Jhalkari Bai. His mother was equally happy and the proposal was welcomed by all the villagers of Bhojla, who took an active part in arranging a grand wedding ceremony for their beloved Jhalkari.

Jhalkari Bai had a happy life with Puran Kori as they shared common interests of martial arts and horse-riding. Both of them were brave-hearts and daring and their wedded life was blissful.

Once, on the occasion of Gauri Puja, Jhalkari, along with the women of the village went to meet Rani Laxmi Bai to pay homage to her.

When the Rani saw Jhalkari, both of them were extremely surprised at the uncanny resemblance they bore to each other. Their appearance, height, weight, gait and way of dressing were all so similar! Rani Laxmi Bai enquired about her background.

The Rani was so impressed by Jhalkari’s fearless and frank speech and attitude. She wanted her to join the ‘Durga Dal’- the women’s regiment which Rani Laxmi Bai was creating to strengthen the army of Jhansi.  Jhalkari was overjoyed and so was her husband Puran. Jhalkari joined the regiment and was trained under the watchful eye of the Rani. The women were taught many aspects of warfare including the most difficult rifle-shooting. Jhalkari gained expertise in all that was taught. She soon grew to be a close confidante and advisor to the Rani.

Here is a little background about Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi (1828-1858). Laxmi Bai (whose maiden name was Manikarnika Tambe) grew up in the household of Peshwa Baji Rao II, and was married to Maharaja Gangadhar Newalkar of Jhansi. She was already well-versed in warfare and statecraft. The couple had a son in 1851 who died of a serious illness four months after he was born. So the Maharaja and the Rani had adopted a son (who was the child of a distant relative) soon after which the Maharaja died.

Though the adoption was done with British officers present, when the adoption papers were presented to the British they refused to accept the Rani as the Regent and her adopted son as the legal heir. They saw this as an opportunity to annex Jhansi as per the Doctrine of Lapse. According to the Doctrine of Lapse, when a ruling king did not have a natural male heir, the British annexed the properties as theirs. This included both immovable assets and movable assets such as jewels, horses, elephants, weapons etc.

If a male heir was adopted, the adoption had to be accepted by the British and it was only the personal property that an adopted heir could inherit and not the property of the state.

Hence in the case of Jhansi, the Rani was asked to leave the fort and live in the town palace with Rs.5000/- as monthly pension as her son was not recognized as her legal heir. The Rani protested against this injustice again and again sending petitions even with legal advice from British advocates from 1853 to 1856 continuously. However, all her petitions were rejected. Rani Laxmi Bai had then declared “Mera Jhansi nahi doongee” (I will not give up my Jhansi)

In May 1857 and the Sepoy Mutiny or the first war of Independence had started in Meerut. It was the first rebellion against the British by the Indian soldiers working in the British Army. Soon it spread to other places Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur and other cities like wild fire. The oppressed had now started to hit back with vengeance.

In June 1857, at Jhansi also, there was an attack by the soldiers of the British Army on the British and in the following days, about seventy British were massacred by the mutineers.

The attack was by the Indian soldiers in the British Army but the British believed that the Rani had stoked the sentiments of the soldiers thereby leading to this happening. They also knew that the Rani had declared that she would not give up Jhansi and that she was raising a separate women’s regiment in addition to strengthening the regular army. This confirmed their belief that Rani Laxmi Bai was directly responsible for whatever had happened in Jhansi.

Angered by the multiple mutinies which were sprouting out in various parts of the country, they gave the job of crushing all the revolts to General Hugh Rose. Hugh Rose was the Commander of the Central India force. He decided to attack Jhansi and capture the fort and he surrounded the fort in Jhansi on 23rd March 1858.

The army of Rani Laxmi Bai fought very valiantly but they were outnumbered and they retreated into the fort. The Rani had requested help from Tatya Tope. He was her childhood playmate and also one of the key rebels who initiated the Sepoy Mutiny. Unfortunately, the British had defeated him and his army when they were on their way to help the Rani.

Try as they might, the British could not gain entry into the fort for few days. Everybody knew that if Rani Laxmi Bai was captured, she would be mercilessly executed by the British.

It was then, that Jhalkari Bai made a daring suggestion to the Rani.

“Your highness” she said. “I have a suggestion to make”.

“Speak up Jhalkari” said Rani Laxmi Bai.

Jhalkari spoke. “If the British somehow gain entry into the fort, it is important that Your Highness should not be captured, as the fight for Jhansi should continue and Your Highness has the task of garnering more manpower and material for that. So…” She was reluctant.

“Go on…” said the Rani.

“So, I suggest that Your Highness somehow escape with the Prince while I fool the enemies by donning your attire and posing as Your Highness. I will fight the British from the front gate. They will be fooled thinking that it is the Rani who is fighting, while Your Highness will get time to escape”.

“What a bold suggestion Jhalkari!” exclaimed the Rani. “Jhansi will be eternally grateful to you. Let’s execute it right away” she said.

Immediately, they set about carrying out the plan and soon Jhalkari, dressed up in the battle attire of the queen with armour and all, was looking just like Rani Laxmi Bai.

The British, as usual were trying to break into the fort by hook or crook and there was a traitor in the form of one Dulha Ju, who was a soldier in charge of the main gate at the Jhansi Fort. Bribed with money, the traitor opened the gates for the British on 3rd April 1858. This information quickly went in and Jhalkari Bai rode to the entrance of the fort valiantly.

The army followed her with war cries “Harhar Mahadev!” and “Jai Bhavani!”. General Hugh Rose was surprised to see the ‘Rani’ come out so easily and the fighting started. In this chaos, Rani Laxmi Bai, with her son strapped behind her back rode out of another gate with a small contingent of people unnoticed by the British to a place called Kalpi.

The British kept fighting with the army led by Jhalkari for one whole day till they found late in the evening that they had been fighting with the body-double of Rani Laxmi Bai! They had been deceived. General Rose was furious. They had been cheated and Rani Laxmi Bai had escaped right under their nose.

Jhalkari was captured and she boldly declared to General Rose that she was ready to die for her Queen. But the general ordered that she be kept in a secure place for the night. She escaped and once again and in the wee hours of dawn when General Hugh Rose tried to enter the fort, she was there, ready to fight, leading her army, much to his surprise.

That was a bloody battle on the 4th of April 1858 and one of the early casualties was Puran Kori, the brave husband of Jhalkari Bai. After Jhalkari heard the news, she fought with more vengeance. That attracted the enemies and as a result of their concerted effort, she fell to their bullets and breathed her last in the service of our motherland.

Rani Laxmi Bai who had escaped due to this daring act of Jhalkari, lived for a few months more and fought bravely from Gwalior and was martyred in June 1858.

The Government of India has honoured Jhalkari Bai by issuing a Postal stamp with her image. Her statue was also unveiled in the Guru Teg Bahadur Complex in Bhopal in 2017 by the then President of India Shri Ramnath Kovind. One of the oldest women’s hospitals in Lucknow has been renamed as Veerangana Jhalkari Bai Hospital.

Jai Hind!!

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!

This is the chant heard all over South and other parts of India in the months of December-January when thousands of devotees observe the sacred ‘Vratha’ (vow of self-purification) to visit Sabarimala- the abode of Lord Sastha who is also referred to as Ayyappan. The celebrations culminate on the day the Sun transits from the zodiac of Sagittarius to that of Capricorn which generally is on the 14th or 15th of January.

Movies and serials have been made on the story of Lord Sastha as Manikantan – His birth, His miracles, His vanquishing the demoness Mahishi and so on. In many of them the name Ayyappan is used interchangeably for Manikantan.

However, it was not till a few years ago, I came to know that Ayyappan is different from the Manikantan or Hariharaputran mentioned in the Puranas.

I stumbled upon Shri Aravind Subramanyan’s blog https://shanmatha.blogspot.com a few years back and came to know that Ayyappan was a historical figure who is the reason for the survival of the ancient tradition of worship of the Sabarimala Sastha temple which continues today.

Shri Aravind Subramanyan has published many books on Lord Sastha of Sabarimala. The story of this historical figure of Ayyappan is the outcome of Shri Aravind’s laborious research. With his permission I narrate this story.

The worship of Lord Dharma Sastha with his consorts in our country exists from time immemorial. Manikantan or Hariharaputran is understood as an incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. The Puranas say that He was found and raised by a king, and later on performed arduous tasks like bringing the milk of a tigress to cure His stepmother’s ailment, curing His Guru’s mute son, slaying Mahishi and so on and finally took to Yoga at the Sabarimala. It is this temple of His which is situated at Sabarimala from the ancient times.

Now for the story of Ayyappan…

In the early tenth century, the ruling Pandya king of Madurai was persecuted by the Cholas. He escaped and fled to Kerala with his men. On reaching Pandalam, the king settled down there and established his kingdom. The ancient Shri Sastha at Sabarimala was the guardian deity of the region, and the king accepted Him as his family deity. The Pandya dynasty flourished.

Around the end of the tenth century, a dreaded dacoit by name Udayanan came with his gang from the Tamil regions beyond the borders. He started dominating the Pandalam region of Kerala.

Building fortresses on the mountains of Talappara, Injippara and Karimala in the forests of Pandalam, he became a perpetual threat to the people living in that area. The ancient temple of Sabarimala was on the route – a highway between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, along which the merchants travelled. Udayanan mercilessly plundered wealth from the travellers and killed people and the people in the area lived in constant fear.

At one point Udayanan became so arrogant that he and his gang attacked the Shri Sastha Temple at Sabarimala, ransacked it and broke the Murti of Lord Sastha into pieces. The gang also murdered the priest so that it would not be possible to conduct Poojas anymore.

The son of the priest by name Jayanthan, somehow escaped. Distressed by the gruesome murder of his father, he wanted to take revenge by killing Udayanan and his gang, and to rebuild and consecrate the Sastha temple at Sabarimala.

With this single focus, he, while wandering about the mountains in hiding, completed his education and mastered all forms of warfare. He then went to the various chieftains and kings seeking for help to kill Udayanan. Though the kings appreciated his valour, they were not forthcoming to help him as they feared the wrath of Udayanan.

Jayanthan then realized that the task needed divine intervention and went to Ponnambalamedu, where he started doing penance by meditating upon Lord Sastha.

Udayanan, meanwhile, in one of his looting expeditions happened to see the beautiful princess of the Pandya kingdom and wanted to marry her.

He sent the marriage proposal to the king, which was politely refused by the king. After all, who would want to marry off their princess to a gangster?

This refusal by the king enraged Udayanan. So, he raided the palace, and abducted the princess. He threw her into prison and gave her one month to make up her mind to marry him or face death. The soldiers of the Pandya king could not find out where the princess was hidden and also, they had no clue as to whether she was alive or dead.

One night, in the dream of the princess, Lord Sastha appeared and informed her that she would soon be rescued and He Himself would take birth as her son.

At the same time, the Lord also appeared in the dream of Jayanthan who was at Ponnambalamedu. He indicated the location of the prison and instructed Jayanthan to rescue the princess and marry her so that He could take birth as their son.

While Udayanan and his gang were traveling through the mountain routes collecting booty, Jayanthan made a lightning attack on the guards at the prison where the princess was kept and set the princess free. But since the princess was missing for more than 21 days from the palace, the royal family had considered her to be dead and performed all her last rites.

Eventually, as per the directions of Lord Sastha, Jayanthan married the princess and they settled in an inaccessible forest region (near the present Ponnambalamedu), engaging in intense penance and meditation. They earnestly prayed to Lord Dharma Sastha for a son who would be able to slay Udayanan and rebuild the Sabarimala Temple.

Soon, a child was born to them on 14-01-1095. He was named Aryan. Aryan is one of Lord Sastha’s well-known names. Aryan was trained in fields of spiritual, science and military art including warfare by his able father Jayanthan. Jayanthan’s objective was to bring up Aryan in perfect military discipline with sufficient background in spiritual matters. Aryan was exceptionally brave and intelligent for his age.

When his parents thought that the time was ripe for Aryan to be sent to his own palace, all details about his birth and up-bringing were written in a letter addressed to the king of Pandalam. Aryan was sent to his uncle’s palace with the letter.

The king was overjoyed to know that his sister was alive and such a divine looking young boy was his nephew! In fact, when the information spread, all the people were delighted by this wonderful news.

The king was greatly impressed by the military training Aryan had undergone under the tutelage of his father. He seemed to possess extra-ordinary faculties. So, the king made him a chief in his army and gave him all powers even though the boy was barely into his teens. He was given the name ‘Aryan Kerala Varman’ and addressed as ‘Ayyan’ or ‘Ayyappan’.

In spite of being in a luxurious palace amidst all worldly things, Ayyappan often sought solitude and seclusion at Sabarimala. He regularly went there and meditated, contemplating on the mission for which he had taken birth.

Once King Manivikrama Pandya of the Poonjar kingdom was attacked by Udayanan’s dacoits while he was travelling via Vandiperiyar. Suddenly, a boy of about fourteen years came riding on a wild elephant which he had tamed and chased away the dacoits and told Manivikrama to go home in peace. The boy was none other than Ayyappan who was roaming in the jungles.

The time had now come for completing Ayyappan’s life mission. So, he set about meeting the kings at Kayangulam, Ambalappuzha, Chertala, Alangad and the Pandya Kingdom.

The kings were very happy to assist Ayyappan. The king at Kayangulam offered warriors from all the ‘Kalaris’ in his region. (Kalarippayat is the martial art of Kerala and the place where it is taught is called Kalari).

Before Ayyappan left Kayangulam, news came that a pirate by name Vavar was attacking the people of the coastal areas. With the help of the minister of the Kayangulam Raja, Ayyappan defeated Vavar both in body and mind and Vavar became his disciple.

Ayyappan’s army now included Kochu Kadutha, the master swordsman, Talappara Mallan and Talappara Villan, the expert archers and of course, Vavar.

While Ayyappan was at the Kalari of Chera Mooppan at Chertala selecting warriors, the daughter of Mooppan confessed her love for Ayyappa. Ayyappan on the other hand, gave her such beautiful advice which lifted her mind from the mundane to a spiritual level.

Then with Erumeli as the centre point, the first attack against Udayanan was launched by Ayyappan but it was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Udayanan’s gang abducted Mooppan’s daughter and killed her.

Prior to the next attack, Ayyappan told his army to observe ‘Vratha’ for 56 days before entering Sastha’s Poonkavanam. They all then prayed to Kirata Sastha at Erumeli.

The army was divided into three divisions under the leadership of Kochu Kadutha, Vavar and Talappara Villan/Mallan respectively. They planned to attack Udayanan’s hideout from the North, South and East sides. Ayyappan had the central command. Ayyappan also asked the warriors to disguise themselves in tribal dresses so that they could not be easily identified by the enemy.

Right from the time Ayyappan and his entourage entered the Poonkavanam, Ayyappan’s demeanor totally changed, and he became so serene and blissful. He did not touch any weapon but merely led the army.

Soon the armies raided the hide-outs at Injippara, Karimala and Udumpara and very soon Udayanan was slain by Kochu Kadutha at Karimala Kotta.

With his mission accomplished, Ayyappan led the army to the temple which had been pillaged by Udayanan. He told his men to deposit their arms under a big banyan tree there, as carrying weapons to a place of worship is sacrilege.

After leaving their weapons they went to the temple where Ayyappan’s father Jayanthan was ready with a new ‘Murti’ for installation.

The broken temple had to be renovated for the new deity to be installed. Ayyappan stayed back in the forest engrossed in deep meditation till the renovation of the temple was completed and made ready for re-installation of the new deity and consecration.

On the first day of the month of Makaram (mid-Jan) when the Sun moved from the zodiac of Dhanus to that of Makara, the re-installation of the idol and re-consecration of the Sabarimala temple was ceremoniously conducted by Ayyappan.

Soon after the ceremony was over, a holy flame was seen at Ponnambalamedu and no one saw the Prince Arya Kerala Varman – Ayyappan thereafter.

It was then, that they realized that their beloved Arya Kerala Varman – Ayyappan, who had been their lovable, gentle, merciful prince was none other than the incarnation of Lord Sri Dharma Sastha!

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!!

Arudra Darshanam and Chidambaram – The Cosmic Dance of Lord Shiva

Legend has it that Adisesha, on whom rests Lord Narayana, once felt that Lord Narayana’s weight was suddenly increasing. Curious, he asked Lord Narayana the reason for this. Lord Narayana smiled and said, “I was remembering the Cosmic dance of Lord Shiva which I had witnessed in person long time ago. My body welled up in sheer bliss of that memory and that it the reason you felt I was heavier.”

This made Adisesha more curious. “The mere remembrance of a dance gave so much bliss? Then how blissful would it have been to experience in person? Surely I should experience it” Adisesha thought to himself. He expressed his wish to Lord Narayana to learn more about the dance of Lord Shiva.

Lord Narayana narrated the story to Adisesha and I am narrating it to you now…

“In the ancient days, there were many Rishis living with their wives at a forest called Darukaa Vana which was filled with deodar trees. The Rishis had their ‘Kutirs’ and ‘Ashrams’ and were practising severe penance and rituals and had gained a lot of knowledge and supernatural powers. They thought they had mastered all that was there to be mastered. They were stuck in their illusion that they were the greatest and hence, did not require Divine Grace any longer.

This made them and their wives haughtier over a period of time and they started thinking no end of themselves.

Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu were witnessing this. They both decided that it was time the sages and their wives were made to realize their folly.

Lord Shiva transformed himself into an extremely handsome young mendicant while Vishnu transformed himself into the form of Mohini, the most enchanting woman in the universe.

Both of them made their appearance at the forest where the sages lived. While Mohini appeared at the place where the sages had gathered for penance, Shiva made his way to the living quarters where the womenfolk had gathered. Mohini caught the attention of the sages as expected. Soon they were all like bees attracted to nectar. Forgetting all about their penance and rituals, they were surrounding her vying to get her attention.

Shiva in the meanwhile was, in the young man’s guise seeking alms from the ladies and all the ladies felt drawn to him. They had never seen such a handsome youth before with such looks and demeanour and as if, under a spell, were competing with each other to talk to him and fussing over him.

This went on for a while and suddenly some of the sages realized the way they were behaving themselves and were bewildered to see what was happening in the women’s quarters. They realized the shallowness of their so called discipline and self-control and ashamed of their behaviour and that of their womenfolk.

They decided that this man and woman who had made them go out of their senses, were certainly some evil wizard and witch who were practising some kind of black magic.

“Let us use our powers and invoke a tiger to kill this couple” said one sage and they lit the sacrificial fire and chanted some powerful hymns. Within a few minutes a huge tiger emerged from the fire, baring its sharp teeth and claws, looking very fearful.

 It charged towards Lord Shiva with a deafening roar. The agile Shiva caught its middle with his two hefty arms and threw it on the ground. As it got up and pounced once again, Shiva caught it yet again and killed it. He tore off its skin and wrapped it around his waist.

The sages and their wives were stunned. However, it did not occur to them that the person who they were trying to fight was the Lord of the Universe.

They went on to again create with their powers, huge deadly serpents which surged from the sacrificial altar hissing loudly and swaying with vengeance.  Shiva calmly lifted one of them like a belt and wound it around his waist. The other serpents became his bracelets and necklace and were no longer fearful.

The sages were further enraged. Now they created a demon with the body of an infant – He was called ‘Apasmara Purushan’ or ‘Muyalakan’. He was the manifestation of their ignorance, possessiveness about themselves, and greed. He jumped out from the fire and charged at Lord Shiva aggressively with a savage roar.

 Shiva with a smile, picked him and threw him down, immobilized him using him as a pedestal to dance.

The sages now aimed a huge blob of fire from the altar at the Lord.

By now, Lord Shiva had assumed his own form – four arms, third eye and all. He gracefully caught and placed the blob of fire on his left palm.

The beat of the Damru in his right hand went “Tak-kit-ta tarikita tarikita… Dhrik-kit-ta tarikita tarikita… Tak-kit-ta tarikita tarikita… Dhrik-kit-ta tarikita tarikita…” and Shiva started his Tandava, the dance.

The anklets on his feet went “Ganaganagana-gangan-gangan- Jhunujhunujhunu- jhunjhun- jhunjhun”.

Nandi appeared with his drum in front and played “Drumadrumadruma – tarikita-tarikita… Drumadrumadruma – tarikita-tarikita…”. Sage Bhringi was playing the cymbals.

The sages realized Lord Shiva and were horrified to know that it was He whom they were countering all this while. They felt so embarrassed of their conduct and started praying for forgiveness along with their wives.

Initially Lord Shiva looked so fearful that even Uma, his consort who appeared there looked so frightened. Vishnu had reverted to his own form and was watching the dance with awe. Lord Shiva started smiling and dancing in bliss. Bharata Muni appeared with his palm scripts and was noting down the movements of the Lord with ceaseless wonder, for this dance of the Lord was later to be the basis of the great dance form Bharatanatyam.

Soon Indra and Lord Brahma also made their appearance along with all the Devas to watch this beautiful spectacle of the Cosmic dance and by now all of them including the sages and their wives had started to dance in bliss”.

Now, after listening to the story, Adisesha wanted to witness the dance and asked permission to go and meditate upon Lord Shiva. Lord Narayana permitted him and Adisesha started his deep penance.

Lord Shiva, pleased with Adisesha’s penance asked him what was that he was seeking. Adisesha told him that he wanted to witness His cosmic dance, the Ananda Tandava at least once. Shiva smiled and said “You will be born on earth as Patanjali. Come to Tillai Vanam and I shall perform my Ananda Tandava there”.

So Adisesha, born as Sage Patanjali went to Tillai Vanam, the place with Tillai trees which is known more famously as today’s Chidambaram. He found Vyaghrapada, the sage who had acquired tiger’s claws instead of human feet, by Lord Shiva’s grace which enabled him to climb trees early in the mornings to pluck flowers for the worship of Lord Shiva. Vyaghrapada was also praying for witnessing the Ananda Tandava of Lord Shiva and soon the day arrived.

With the sound of conches and cymbals and drums, three thousand sages appeared and there was a rain of fragrant flowers. Suddenly there appeared the brightness of ten million suns (Koti Soorya Prakasham) and in that light appeared Lord Shiva, in the same form as he had danced in the ancient times in front of the sages of Darukaa Vanam. The dance was just brilliantly magnificent with infinite splendor. Words could not describe it. Goddess Uma in the form of Sivakamasundari stood nearby smiling with pride at her husband.  Sages Patanjali and Vyaghrapada and the others witnessing the dance were soaked in the bliss which was indescribable and all of them started dancing with Shiva and almost fainted with joy.

Lord Shiva looked at Patanjali and Vyaghrapada and with the most benevolent smile asked, “Is there anything more you seek?”

The sages, with folded hands said, “O Lord of Cosmic Dance, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have witnessed this divine dance and your lifted foot. We are absolutely sure that surrendering at that foot is the path to Moksha (salvation). So, we request you to please dance here forever, so that even the common man who is not capable of severe austerities will have an opportunity to attain salvation by surrendering at your raised foot”.

The Lord agreed and stayed in Chidambaram as Nataraja (King of dance) since then. The day of his Ananda Tandava is celebrated as Ardra Darshan of the full moon day of the Tamil month of Margazhi or Margashira.

The great saint Tirunavukkarasar Nayanar sang thus:

Kuniththa puruvamum kovvaich chevvAyil kumiN chirippum -The arched eybrows and the budding smile on the lips resembling the red Kovvai fruit

paniththa chaDaiyum pavaLam pOl mEniyiR pAlveNNIRum – The wet matted locks and milky white ashes smeared on the coral like body

iniththamuDaiya eDuththa poRpAdhamum kANappeRRAl- The beautiful golden foot of the Lord which is lifted

maniththap piRaviyum vENDuvadhE indha mAnilaththE – (to see all this) One would surely yearn to be born on this earth as a human being

Let us all be blessed by Mahadeva!!

Tidbit: On the day of Ardra Darshanam, a sweet dish by name “Kali” is prepared and offered to Lord Shiva. Click here to read the story of how that practice came about.

Shri V.O.Chidambaram Pillai – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 5

Pleased to present the one hundred and fiftieth story in my blog!

Dear readers, this has been possible due to your continuous encouragement. Seeking your wishes for this journey to continue!

As it is the hundred and fiftieth story, I am narrating the story of a freedom fighter who was born 150 years ago.

In the series of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence’ this is the fifth story, and it is the story of “Kappalotiya Tamizhan” (‘Tamilian who sailed a ship’) known more popularly as Shri V.O. Chidambaram Pillai or just VOC.

V.O Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) was born on September 5, 1872 in the village of Ottapidaram in Tuticorin district to Shri. Olaganathan and Smt. Paramayee Ammal.

His father was a practising advocate and came from a family of lawyers, well known in the society, and was well off too. VOC had many siblings. 

In his childhood, VOC learnt Tamil and English well and listened to many stories including epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata from his grandparents.

After school education, VOC worked as a clerk in the Taluk office at Kovilpatti. His father desired him to study law. Fulfilling his father’s ambition, he studied law at Tiruchirappalli and became a criminal lawyer and started practising at Ottapidaram Sub-Magistrate’s office.

Having strong moral values, he was very choosy in selecting his cases. After some time, to help him gain more exposure, his father sent him to Tuticorin to practise.

In 1893, VOC happened to hear the speeches of Shri Bal Gangadhar Tilak and was drawn to the ideology of Shri Tilak. He started believing that Independence could be got only through rebellion and violent means. This revolutionary spirit made him jump into the Independence movement and he joined the Indian National Congress.

At Tuticorin, he became thick friends with the poet-patriot Shri Subramanya Bharathi, who also shared the same ideology.

Tuticorin, in Tamil Nadu, is an ancient maritime port from the 7th century CE. It had been constantly attracting marine adventurers from all over the world from olden times including the colonizers –  Portuguese, Dutch and the British, in that order. In VOC’s time the port was under the British control.

At that time the British India Steamship Navigation Company (BISNC – established in 1856) was a large navigation company run by the British which had many passenger and cargo vessels. Their vessels sailed between Tuticorin and Colombo. This was one of the busiest routes for traders and BISNC was monopolizing the shipping services.

Once, when Subramanya Bharathi wrote a poem extolling the pride of Bharat and envisioning our country to have a large fleet of ships among other things, VOC was inspired to put it to action. He decided to challenge the monopoly of the British in the shipping services.

He registered a company called Swadeshi Steamship Navigation Company (SSNC) in October 1906. He raised capital of Rs.10,00,000/- for the company by personally touring to Bombay, Calcutta (as they were known then) and even Sri Lanka, selling the shares at Rs.25 each. He was very particular that no share should be held by the British. He had declared to his family that he would come home only with the ships, otherwise, he would drown himself in the sea.

During this time, his young son passed away due to illness and his wife was nearing her full term pregnancy. But nothing could deter VOC, in pursuing his mission.

VOC succeeded in purchasing his first ship SS Galea, from France, with the help of Shri Aurobindo Ghosh and Shri Tilak. It had a flag with “Vande Mataram” written on it and could carry 1300 passengers and about 40000 bags of cargo. It arrived at Tuticorin port in 1907. Soon another ship SS Lawoe was also purchased and SSNC started its operations in full swing.

There was stiff competition to the BISNC by the SSNC which led to a price war. When that failed, BISNC started offering freebies like umbrellas to the travelers. However due to the nationalist sentiment, mainly stirred up by the fiery speeches of VOC, people preferred to travel by the ships of SSNC.

Now the British resorted to mean tactics. SSNC was not given anchoring place in the port, or clearance for the schedule of arrival and departure of the vessels. They delayed the customs and medical clearance for passengers thus creating maximum hardship for passengers of SSNC.

Meanwhile in 1907, the Congress party split into two factions, the moderates and the extremists. The moderates believed in peaceful protest against British while the extremists believed in violence. Prominent among the extremists were Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh and VOC. Taking advantage of the split, the British tried all their methods to clamp down the extremists using the slightest excuse.

The British had set up cotton mills in various parts of India from 1851 and by 1900 there were over two hundred operational mills. One of them was Coral Mills at Tuticorin which employed Indians as workers but the working conditions were most inhuman. There was no lunch break, no weekly off, no medical leave, no fixed working hours, caning was the mode of punishment and so on. In short, the workers were treated worse than animals.

This came to the notice of VOC and just during that time, he got acquainted with Shri Subramanya Siva, who was another revolutionary and freedom fighter.

Siva, travelling all over the Madras Presidency spreading the spirit of patriotism through his motivational speeches had now come to Tuticorin. VOC immediately struck a chord with Siva. He entertained Siva in his house. They addressed the mill workers on 23rd Feb 1908 urging them to strike work as a protest against the British. The strike started on Feb 27, 1908, and more than 500 workers took part in the strike.

This shocked the British administration and they brought in loads of policemen from Tirunelveli. VOC and his friends collected money and food and helped the labourers’ families during the strike. There were public meetings every day addressed by VOC and Siva which fanned the flames of ‘Desh Bhakthi’ so much, that the local grocers stopped selling to the British. Barbers refused to shave the British or anyone supporting them.

Six days into the massive strike, Mr. Ash, the deputy collector with additional charge of Tuticorin, sent word to VOC to come and meet him in person. (The same Ash was shot dead by freedom fighter Vanchinathan later)

Knowing the brutal mentality of the British, friends of VOC advised him not to go alone, to meet Mr. Ash.  So, VOC took with him an advocate T.R. Mahadeva Iyer. This meeting was on 3rd March 1908 where VOC justified the strike pointing to the inhuman conditions under which the workers had to work.

VOC has recorded in his autobiography that Mr. Ash had intimidated him with police action.

Four days after the meeting, the Management of the Coral Mills called the workers for a compromise and an agreement was reached to increase the wages by 50%, give lunch break, weekly holiday, reduced working hours, etc. This was probably the first organized strike in the industrial sector in Asia which had a favourable result for the workers.

This news spread to other mills run by British and troubles started for the British.

Now the British made up their mind that VOC should be removed from the national scene and were waiting for an opportune moment.

At that time, Bipin Chandra Pal who was in jail, was released from prison and VOC and Subramanya Siva had planned a rally at Tirunelveli to celebrate his release. Mr. Winch, a British official met VOC and Siva and asked them to cancel the celebrations. They refused. This was on 11th March 1908. On 12th of March 1908, both VOC and Siva were arrested.

The news of their arrest sparked wild rage right from Tuticorin to even parts of Kerala. Riots broke out. From the mill workers (who had resumed duty earlier) to shopkeepers to sanitary workers everybody stopped work. Educational institutions were closed. Police stations and post offices were set to fire. Everything came to a standstill. A huge number of people took to the streets in spite of being prohibited. Police forces were brought in from other parts of the state and the policemen were attacked with stones by the public. In this large-scale violence four people died.

VOC was charged with sedition for speaking against the British and giving shelter to Subramanya Siva. The punishment given was two life sentences (for the above two ‘crimes’) amounting to an imprisonment of twenty plus twenty years. VOC was thirty-six years old then! What a disproportionate punishment it was!

Siva was given ten years’ rigorous imprisonment.

VOC’s brother, unable to bear the shock of this judgement became mentally unstable and remained so till he died in 1943.

The judgement was widely condemned even by some British officials and certain British newspapers.

VOC appealed to the High Court against the sentence and later on it was reduced to four years’ imprisonment and six years in exile. VOC’s licence to practise law was cancelled.  

VOC spent two and half years in Coimbatore Jail and two years in Cannanore Jail in inhuman conditions. In Coimbatore jail, he was yoked to the oil press instead of oxen and made to go round and round in the hot sun. VOC took it all in his stride and said that he regarded the oil press as the chariot of Bharat Mata and he considered circumambulating her while going round and round! Such passion for the motherland! He came to be called “Sekku Izhutha Semmal” which in Tamil means ‘the great soul who pulled the oil press’.

This rigorous work was very detrimental to his health. Siva was also compelled to work in such conditions that resulted in his getting afflicted with leprosy.

When VOC came out of jail in December 1912, his greatest shock was that the Swadeshi Steamship Navigation Company had been liquidated by the majority stakeholders in 1911 and both the ships sold off – one to the British themselves. VOC was devastated and openly stated that he would have been happier to break the ships and throw them in the sea instead of selling it to the British.

VOC was not allowed to go to his hometown. Therefore, went to Madras where he set up a provision store and later on a kerosene store and both failed to take off. The Indian population in South Africa had sent some amount through Gandhiji to be given to VOC as financial help. The money (Rs.347 and paise 12) reached VOC in 1916 after a protracted correspondence with Gandhiji.

In 1920, VOC’s lawyer’s licence was restored by Judge E H Wallace. He went to Kovilpatti and later to Tuticorin to practise but he could not earn enough to make ends meet. In 1929 he took to writing and publishing Tamil literature. He wrote a commentary for Tirukkural and other books including some translations. He also got the ‘Tholkappiam’ the oldest treatise on Tamil grammar printed.

All these years VOC had been quitting from and joining back the Congress intermittently. He was not able to come to terms with the Ahimsa and non-violence methods for Independence, which had become dominant with Gandhiji on the scene.

Finally, Shri VOC passed away on 18th November 1936 at the Congress office of Tuticorin. Bharat Mata had lost a very special son of hers, the rare son who had the capacity to ignite the flame of patriotism in everyone who came into contact with him!!

Jai Hind!!

Nilamber and Pitamber -The heroic brothers from Jharkhand – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 4

Here is the fourth story in the series of “Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence”.

This a story of two brothers from the present-day Jharkhand who fought against the British.

Siblings fighting for the common cause of independence was not rare in Bharat. Prominent siblings among the early freedom fighters were the Marudhu brothers from present Tamil Nadu, Chinna Marudhu and Periya Marudhu, who were hanged together by the British. Dheeran Chinnamalai, who gave up his life for the cause of independence was also hanged along with his two brothers who were with him always in his struggles. (The story can be read here)

This story is also about one such set of brothers namely, Nilamber and Pitamber who belonged to a tribal community of the present-day Jharkhand. This is a story which I read very recently and want to share it with you all.

In the early 19th century, there lived a person by name Chemu Singh in the village of Chemo-Senya in Palamau district in Chhota Nagpur area of Jharkhand. He belonged to the Kharwar tribe who had farming as their occupation, but he was a ‘Jagirdar’.

The ‘Jagirdari’ system was started by the Mughal kings in which, a person was made in charge of a particular tract of land to manage the revenue and tax collection. He was called Jagirdar. He did not own the land but had to manage the people cultivating it and collect the taxes. A portion of the collection was given to him as salary. The balance amount was deposited into the treasury. This system continued even after the decline of the Mughal kingdom through the time of the British East India Company till it was abolished by the Indian Government in 1951.

Coming back to the story, Chemu Singh was a kind-hearted person. Therefore, when he collected taxes, he was very considerate and many times collected less revenue taking into account the adversities faced by the farmers. Naturally he had to face the ire of the British Officers who admonished him every time the revenue collected by him was less.

Chemu Singh was married and soon he was blessed with a baby boy Nilamber. Chemu loved his son very much. As Nilamber grew up to be a young boy, he learnt martial arts like archery, sword-fighting and also agriculture. He always accompanied his father when he went to remit the collections to the British officials. Many a time, he saw his father being demeaned and insulted by the officials and he could not bear to witness it. Sometimes the officials threatened his father with removing the ‘jagirs’ under him which meant his father would lose his income. Nilamber often asked his father why he should not fight back. His father could not, somehow, gather the courage to fight back.

In the course of time, Nilamber had a younger brother Pitamber. Nilamber loved his younger sibling very much. In a couple of years, misfortune struck the family and Chemu Singh fell seriously ill. After a few days, he passed away. Pitamber was still a toddler and the death of Chemu Singh came as a big blow to Nilamber and his mother.

Now Nilamber took up agriculture to earn a livelihood. He also took upon himself the responsibility of bringing up Pitamber. He took Pitamber along when he went for work and also taught Pitamber archery, sword fighting and other martial arts which he had learnt himself.

In 1857, the revolt of the Indian soldiers (Sepoy Mutiny) had started against the British at Meerut and the effect had started spreading elsewhere in the country.

Pitamber happened to visit Ranchi at that time and witnessed the soldiers of the Ramgarh Battalion fighting the British.

Subsequently, he also visited Chatra where he witnessed the fight between the British soldiers and the natives. He came to know that this revolt was led by Thakur Viswanath Shahdeo who was ruling the Barkaghar estate and Pandey Ganpat Rai, a chieftain of Lohardaga district.

Pitamber understood that the country had started revolting for her independence. He was greatly inspired by what he saw and rushed back to his village to tell his elder brother. Nilamber was equally inspired and agreed with Pitamber that the time was ripe to jump into this movement for freedom from the shackles of the British East India Company.

Accordingly, the brothers rallied all young men of the various tribes namely Kharwar, Chero and Bhogta clans and gave a call for unity in attacking the foreigners. They announced that they were now ‘independent’ and made it clear that they were no longer under the rule of the British or by anyone who was paying allegiance to the British.

So, on 21st October 1857, a group of about 500 men under the leadership of Nilamber and Pitamber launched their attack on the properties of a local Zamindar by name Raghubir Dayal, of Chainpur. This Zamindar was very loyal to the British and this was the reason for their attack. They knew that this would send a message to the British.

Next another group went to Lesliganj and literally shooed away the British officials using swords and sticks.

The British had never thought in their wildest dreams that a tribal population would ever rise against them and therefore, caught unawares, they were jolted. The acting Commissioner, named Lieutenant Graham, brought about fifty soldiers to fight the them but they were effortlessly driven away and Graham had to hide in the bungalow of the Zamindar Raghubir Dayal!

The army of Nilamber and Pitamber went in hot pursuit and surrounded the bungalow making it difficult for the Lieutenant and his men to come out. The higher officials of the British came to know of this and sent about four hundred soldiers under Major Cotter to assist Lieutenant Graham.

All the soldiers had guns and Nilamber and Pitamber along with their men were outnumbered and had to flee. The British chased them and after a few days caught hold of Devi Baksh who was also fighting along with the brothers.

They tortured Devi Baksh in the hope of getting information on Nilamber and Pitamber’s whereabouts but Devi Baksh would not budge. The tribal men started living in the jungles and attacking property of people who supported the British. Now Lieutenant Graham brought six hundred more men but had no luck in catching Nilamber, Pitamber and the others.

The British were so desperate to finish off the brothers that now they sought help from the Madras Regiment and Ramgarh Cavalry.

With their help, the Commissioner Mr. Dalton decided to go himself to capture the brothers. He started out in the middle of January of 1858 and reached a village near Palamu. There he was met by Lieutenant Graham who informed that the tribal men had taken shelter in the fort at Palamu.

The twin forts at Palamu are still a tourist attraction. They were built by a Chero king Medini Rai in the 17th century. The Chero kings were a powerful clan who ruled this area before the Moghuls attempted to rule this place. The forts were very well built and very strong. The forts had escape ways through tunnels.

On 21st January 1858, Mr. Dalton himself marched to the fort with all these soldiers and ordered firing on the fort. The soldiers were much more in number than Nilamber and Pitamber’s men put together and so the men inside the fort had to flee. As locals, they knew the forts well. So they fled through the secret tunnels into the thick cover of the forests.

The British waited for some time for them to come out but later realized that they had fled through the secret exits. Furious, they tried chasing them. There were about two thousand soldiers targeting Nilamber and Pitamber and their group. However, try as they might, they could not catch them. Mr. Dalton suspected that they would have gone to their village Chemo and led his troops there. He reached there by the middle of February 1858.

On not being able to find Nilamber and Pitamber, an angry Dalton ordered the whole village to be destroyed. The British soldiers targeted the households of the tribals and seized all their cattle and grains and the lands so that neither them nor their families would be able to survive, were they to return to the village from their hiding place.

The British never gave up their search for the brothers and finally in 1859, Nilamber and Pitamber were caught through a covert operation.

The British were jubilant. And as was their practice with anyone who raised their voice for independence, the British hanged Nilamber and Pitamber on 28th March 1859 at Lesliganj.

The voices of the two sons of Jharkhand were silenced, but not before they kindled the thirst for independence in many, many others in this country.

Jharkhand has the Nilamber Pitamber University in honour of these heroic brothers. The area of ‘Daltonganj’ has been renamed as ‘Medininagar’ in honour of the King Medini Rai.

It is time the stories of such heroes occupied the main pages of our history books.

Jai Hind!!

Maha Skanda Sashti II – Soora Samharam

Please read Part I here before proceeding to read this story.

Skanda, then proceeded to the city of “Seer Alaivai” which is known to us as Tiruchendur. Tiruchendur was by the sea-shore and Soorapadman’s city of Mahendrapuri was located on the sea at a distance.

On his way to Tiruchendur, while coming south from Kailasa, Lord Skanda and his army saw a huge mountain with many tunnels running through it. This was actually not a real mountain, but the magical illusion of the Asura Krauncha who was the assistant of Soorapadman’s brother Tarakasura.

Kraunchasura would transform himself into a mountain and when people unwittingly walked in through a tunnel, the entrances and exits would close, thus trapping all the people inside. Krauncha had once tried to trap sage Agastya and was in turn cursed by the sage to remain in that spot to be killed by Lord Skanda at a later date.

Veerabahu and his army who were going ahead of Lord Skanda happened to walk into the tunnel pathways of the mountain and in a few minutes the entrances and exits closed, trapping them inside the mountain.

When Lord Skanda came to know of this he was furious. He destroyed the mountain which was shattered to pieces killing the Asura, thus releasing Veerabahu and the other warriors.

Tarakasura, who was shocked by this action of Skanda, started attacking him and he also became a prey to the spear of Lord Skanda.

Skanda then proceeded to Tiruchendur and camped on the sea-shore.

Following due protocol, he first sent Veerabahu as a messenger to Soorapadman, requesting him to set free the Devas and return their city and belongings failing which he would have to face war.

Soorapadman was drunk with excessive arrogance and power. He did not even offer a seat to Veerabahu. Veerabahu, however, manifested a wonderful throne by the grace of Skanda and sat in front of him and conveyed the message. The incident slightly shook Soorapadman but he did not take it seriously.

In the meanwhile, the news of Tarakasura’s demise reached them and Soorapadman’s brother Simhamukhan realized that oppressing the young boy-like Lord Skanda was going to be disastrous. He tried to make his brother understand.

“Brother!” he said. “I think it is not wise to provoke this young man. He has single-handedly destroyed Krauncha and our brother Taraka. We also risk losing our lives if we fight with him. So…”

“Stop it Simhamukha!” said Soorapadman. “Are you not ashamed to talk to me thus? What happened to your valour and courage? What makes you shudder at the sight of that young inexperienced boy huh? Have we not won over so many kings and others who were way more experienced than this young fellow? What happened to you? Come to your senses!”

Simhamukhan tried once again to reason that it was Soorapadman who should be coming to his senses but could not convince his elder brother to surrender.

With Veerabahu’s peace effort bearing no fruitful result, the war started. Lord Skanda with all his warriors fought for six continuous days.

Soorapadman used many tactics and magic in the war in his effort to frighten Lord Skanda. He assumed the forms of the Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. He transformed himself many fierce animals and birds. He kept appearing and vanishing from near and afar with thunderous roaring laughter. He created illusionary darkness, thunder, fire and lightning using different weapons all the while.

However, Lord Skanda was unfazed and showed his magnificent Viswaroopam in which the whole universe was contained. The figure was so fearful that for a moment, Soorapadman paid obeisance to the Lord. However, the next moment Skanda was back to his old form and Soorapadman forgot who he was fighting with and continued his fight.

First Simhamukhan was killed. It was followed by the death of Banu Gopan and Agni Mukhan, the sons of Soorapadman. Almost all the Asuras were killed. As Soorapadman was in despair, he went and met his mother Maya.

Being a sorceress, she advised him to get some herbs from the Mandara hill. As soon as the herbs were brought, the fragrance gave life to all the dead Asuras and the fight resumed.

The next day Skanda had to act fast. It was the sixth day of fighting. He took up the Paasupata and in lightning speed killed all the Asuras.

Soorapadman under tremendous pressure, now transformed himself into a huge mango tree which sprung from the middle of the sea.

Skanda aimed and threw his “Vel” and in an instant, had split open the tree into two. One part of the tree turned into a fierce huge peacock and the other turned into an aggressive cock of a massive size. Both the birds tried to pounce on Lord Skanda and attack him. But the very glance of the Lord Skanda turned them into meek birds and the peacock submitted himself to Lord Skanda as his vehicle and the cock merged with his flag.

The war was over. The Devas were extremely grateful and thanked Lord Skanda. Lord Indra offered the hand of Deivaanai, his beautiful daughter and Lord Skanda married her at Tirupparankunram.

This victory of good over evil is celebrated on the Maha Skanda Sashti.

The Skanda Sashti festival is celebrated by most of the devotees of Lord Kartikeya with great fervor and devotion especially in the Southern part of Bharat and at the temples of Muruga (especially in the six abodes – Arupadaiveedu). The celebration is grandest at Tiruchendur where the incident is said to have happened and on the sixth day, the war between the Asura brothers and Lord Skanda and the Soora Samharam (vanquishing of Soorapadman) is enacted on the sea-shore, witnessed by thousands of devotees. The celebration concludes with the marriage of the Lord Skanda on the next day.

Let us all propitiate Lord Skanda on this day and receive his blessings!

Tidbits:

  • The legend of Lord Skanda is narrated with slight differences in the northern and southern parts of Bharat.
  • The version in North India does not mention Tarakasura and Soorapadma.
  • The versions in Southern India especially in Tamil Nadu according to Kanda Puranam and Kandar Kali Venba and other accounts are similar.
  • In Ramayana, Valmiki narrates to Sri Rama and Lakshmana, the story of Lord Skanda.
  • In the Gita, Lord Krishna says, “SenAninAm aham skandah” meaning, “Of all the war commanders, I am Skandah”.
  • The ritual of Lord Skanda receiving the spear (VEL) from Parvati Maa is celebrated with great fervor in the Murugan temples in Tamilnadu on the fifth day of the Sashti festival.
  • The temple at Sikkal in Nagapattinam district holds special significance for this ritual and even on this day, it is said that the Murti of the Lord perspires when the VEL is given by his mother. This festival is witnessed by thousands of people every year.
  • There is the Parvati Kumaraswamy temple at Krauncha Giri near Bellary. This temple is said to be built in the 7th to 8th century by the Badami Chalukyas.

Maha Skanda Sashti I – The birth of Lord Skanda

Happy to narrate the story of Lord Kartikeya on this day of the Maha Skanda Sashti.

Maha Skanda Sashti denotes the sixth day following Amavasya (No-moon day) which happens after Deepavali. This day is celebrated by the followers of Lord Kartikeya in a grand manner. The celebrations start on the first day after Amavasya and culminate on the sixth day (Shashti) and this is celebrated as Maha Skanda Sashti.

What is the significance of Maha Skanda Sashti? It is on this day that Lord Skanda killed Soorapadma, a dreaded Asura, and restored peace to heaven. This is the story is narrated in two parts of which this is part I.

Skanda, Muruga, Kartikeya, Shanmukha, Kumara, Mahasena are all the
various names of this handsome second son of Lord Shiva who is also the commander of the Army of the Devas.

Long long ago, there lived a demon king Asurendra with his wife Mangalakesi. They had a daughter by name Maya. Maya was a sorceress. She married Rishi Kashyapa and they had three sons and a daughter. The first son was Soorapadman, the second one was Simhamukhan and the third one was Taarakasuran. The daughter was Ajamukhi. The three sons, though strong and valiant, had mostly demonic qualities of wanting to subjugate others. They wanted to gain extraordinary power and strength to do so. Therefore, Soorapadman decided to perform penance to propitiate Lord Shiva and get boons from him.

Accordingly, Soorapadman started to meditate upon Lord Shiva and went on to perform ‘Ghor Tapasya’ subjecting himself to tortures, surrendering food, drink and sleep and constantly chanting the name of the Lord. Lord Shiva was pleased and appeared before Soorapadman and offered him a boon as a reward for his severe penance.

Soorapadman wanted the gift of immortality while the Lord told him
it was not possible.

 “Then” said Soorapadman, “Let me and my siblings be destroyed only by your offspring”

Lord Shiva had lost his wife Sati and not being able to bear the separation was living the life of a recluse, immersed in deep meditation. Soorapadman who was aware of this, thought that Lord Shiva would never be involved with worldly things and keeping this in mind, asked his boon.

Lord Shiva granted the boon and Soorapadman was exhilarated.

Soorapadman happily accepted the boon and went away to his brothers and narrated the boon as he had received.

“We are as good as immortal!” he told his brothers and mother. “Come on! Let us rule the earth!”

And they went about all over the earth destroying everyone who would not submit to them. Soon, they found pleasure in torturing and killing people for fun. Everywhere there was fear and chaos and people were terrorized by the actions of these brothers. This went on for years together.

Now, the brothers wanted to rule the heaven as well. “Come on, let us capture the Devas and make them our slaves! Hahahahaha………” commanded Soorapadma, laughing thunderously.

The brothers took their armies and went on a rampage to Amaravati, the capital of Indra destroying everything that came in their way. Innocent people and their properties were destroyed mercilessly on the way. On reaching Amaravati, the brothers fought a bloody battle with the Devas and defeated them all.

Soorapadman ordered the divine architect Viswakarma to build for him the most opulent palace ever, on the surface of the sea. Viswakarma had to oblige out of fear and this place was named by Soorapadman as Mahendrapuri.

All the Devas including, Vayu, Agni, Varuna and even Indra’s son Jayantha were brought to Mahendrapuri and treated like slaves by the brothers. They were denied a respectable living and were asked to do all household chores. The Devas were facing great difficulty and it was indeed a very bad time for them.

The Devas, sneaked to each other secretly and consulted amongst themselves as to how to get out of the predicament.

“Let us meet Lord Shiva” said someone to Indra.

“Better not meet him. Don’t you know the fate of Kamadeva when he
tried to disturb Lord Shiva?” said Indra.

Kamadeva had been burnt to ashes earlier when he had tried to distract Lord Shiva from his meditation.

“But that was long back and he was restored” chipped in another Deva. “Now Lord Shiva is happily married to Parvati Maa and he will surely bless us.”

“Ok, I will try” said Indra and one day taking a few of the Devas, he stealthily went and met Lord Shiva and cried out his woes and the troubles faced by all of them under the rule of Soorapadman and his brothers.

Shiva heard him patiently and decided it was time for decimating the three brothers.

And as the Devas stood there, they witnessed a spectacular sight.

Six effulgent sparks of fire emanated from the third eye of Lord Shiva. The sheer fiery nature of the sparks was frightening. The light emanated by the sparks was like a thousand suns. The Devas looked on with great fear.

Lord Shiva then bade Agni and Vayu to carry those sparks and place them in the cool waters of Maa Ganga. The heat emanating from the sparks was so intense that it was extremely difficult for both Vayu and even Agni himself to carry them. They rushed to Maa Ganga and deposited the sparks in her cold waters. But the heat was so very powerful that it was not possible even for Maa Ganga to handle it. Her waters started boiling. So, she in turn, took them all the way to the Sharavana Lake (Sharavana Poigai) at the foothills of the Himalayas. The Shara Vana as the name indicates was a forest of reeds and there
was a lake nearby which was considered a form of Parvati Devi herself. There, Maa Ganga placed the sparks in the water of the pool and lo and behold!

The sparks turned into six beautiful baby boys each lying on a lotus flower. Six maidens by name Krittika maidens happened to be present there and each of them lovingly took one child and nourished them and took great care of them.

When the babies grew into little boys, Lord Shiva appeared there with Parvati.  Parvati was overjoyed to see the beautiful boys and clasped them all together in her arms and kissed them. The bodies of the boys merged into one with six faces and twelve arms. Thereby the boy came to be known as “Shanmukha” or “Shadaanana” meaning six-faced.

So many people had been instrumental in aiding the Avatara of Shiva’s son. Lord Shiva, therefore addressed his son by so many names – born to be an attacker of the enemies, he would be called ‘Skanda’; as he was carried by Maa Ganga, he would be ‘Gaangeya’; as he was born near the Shara Vana (Reed forest), he would be ‘Sharavanabhava; as he was reared by the Krittika maidens, he would be referred to ‘Kartikeya’ and as he would be the commander in chief of the army of the Devas, he would be referred to as Mahasena. He is also called Muruga in Tamil Nadu. ‘Murugu’ in Tamil means beauty.

Parvati then glanced at the baby boy once more and he was transformed to a normal boy with one head. And so handsome was he, that there were no words to describe his beauty. Parvati picked him up and handed him over to Shiva who was seated on Nandi and Skanda was blessed by his father.

Just then, from the Navaratnas (nine gems) on Parvathi’s anklet, there appeared nine ‘Kalikas’ (forms of Kalis). From them appeared nine strong young men and they walked up to Lord Shiva and bowed to him. The leader who was called Veerabahu would be lieutenant to Skanda. The other warriors would fight for Skanda.

Skanda being the superior divine being absorbed all the knowledge there was to be learnt. He was then apprised by the Devas about the troubles they were facing due to the three Asura brothers. Skanda knew that the very mission of his birth was the destruction of the three Asura brothers and their armies.

Lord Shiva blessed Skanda with eleven weapons to fight Soorapadma. Maa Parvati gave all her power in the form of a spear which is called “Vel” (pronounced as Vale in Tamil).

The story continues in Part II which you can read by clicking here.

Saraswathi Rajamani – The youngest Indian woman spy – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 3

Namaste! Here is the third story in the series of ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence.

This bit of history which I came across very recently, left me with a great feeling of sadness – sadness, as the brave-heart in question had been very much alive till four years ago, but lived in ignominy and destitution for most part of her life, as many other heroes and heroines of the Indian Independence movement have. This is something we can never forgive ourselves for.

The lady of the story is the first and youngest woman spy of India – Saraswathi Rajamani.

Born in 1927 at Rangoon, Rajamani, as she was named at birth, was the daughter of a very rich businessman who belonged to Tiruchirappalli. Her father Ramanathan, had like many others migrated to Rangoon in Burma. At the time when India was struggling for independence, Burma, the present- day Myanmar was hustling and bustling with lot of business opportunities. This prompted many Indians to go to Rangoon (now Yangon) and operate from there.

Rajamani’s father was one such businessman who migrated and settled in Rangoon. He was in the mining business and owned gold and tungsten mines and so one can imagine what a rich family Rajamani’s was.

Burma used to be a part of “Akhand Bharat” in ancient days till it became a British Colony in 1824. Therefore, the Burmese had a lot of goodwill for Indians and that was also one of the reasons for Indians settling there. Rajamani’s family, though at Rangoon, held Bharat Mata dear to their hearts and Rajamani’s father often used to donate large sums of money for the cause of the freedom movement.

The whole family were devoted to Gandhiji’s ideals.

When Rajamani was ten years old, Gandhiji visited Rangoon and visited Rajamani’s family (since her father used to contribute large sums for the cause of Independence). The whole family were welcoming Gandhiji in the porch of their house but little Rajamani was missing.

Gandhiji also joined them to search for her and as he walked into the huge garden at the back of their mansion, he saw the little girl hold a toy gun in her hand, practising to aim at a target. When he asked why she was practising shooting, she said, without battling an eyelid “To shoot the British of course!”

A shocked Gandhiji stopped the child and advised her against being violent. He told her that violence was not the way to gain independence.

Though Rajamani temporarily put the gun behind her, she asked herself, “How does one deal with a robber if one’s house is looted? British are looting my country and so I will treat them just as one treats the robbers in one’s house”. And as Gandhiji went back into the house, she resumed her shooting practice. For her, clearly, non-violence was not the way to independence.

When Rajamani was a year or two older, she started keeping track of the Independence movement by reading the newspapers regularly and listening to the news on the radio. Not many owned a radio or could afford newspapers, and these were the perks she enjoyed being born in a rich, liberal family. And slowly, Rajamani came to know about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. His ideology of fighting back, with arms and giving the British a taste of their own medicine resonated very much with her ideas. His fiery speeches aroused the patriotic fervor in her.

She started collecting all photos of Netaji which appeared in the newspapers along with articles on him. She made notes whenever she heard his speeches on the radio. She yearned to be a part of Netaji’s movement.

Soon Netaji made a visit to Rangoon in January 1944 appealing to the Indian community living there for the cause of Indian National Army (INA) for which he needed volunteers and money. There was a camp set up where people could go and donate money. Many people including Rajamani’s father gave huge donations.

However, the person collecting the funds had the greatest shock of his life when a young Rajamani gave him a velvet bag containing gold, diamond and jade bangles and necklaces and earrings which could easily be worth lakhs in those days. The fund collector took down her name and address.

Rajamani attended school that day and, in the evening, when she went home, she had a pleasant shock. Her father was conversing with none other than Netaji over a cup of tea. Netaji, who had been apprised of Rajamani’s donation of jewels, had come to return it to her father as he thought she had given it away naively, without his permission.

The moment her father mentioned this to Rajamani, she became furious and pushed the bag towards Netaji and said, “These are my jewels and I do not need to ask my father’s permission to give these and I will not accept what has been given away once”.  Rajamani’s father was also smiling as if to acknowledge what she was saying.

Netaji tried his level best to convince her, especially since her father had also given lot of money in donation and finally Rajamani put forth one condition. “If you should let me join the INA, I will take these back”

Netaji smiled. “Yes, I will let you,” said he. “Lakshmi (meaning wealth) comes and goes but when Saraswathi (wisdom) comes to a person she stays put with them. That Saraswathi is with you and has bestowed you with so much wisdom. So, I will call you Saraswathi Rajamani”. And from then, the name Saraswathi stuck to her.

Saraswathi initially joined the INA as a nurse. The second world war was raging and the British (part of Allies) had taken a stance against Japanese (part of Axis powers) and were destroying Japanese properties and men everywhere. Saraswathi was given training and was fully into nursing wounded soldiers. But she was not satisfied. She wanted to be on the field and enjoy the thrill of risking her life every single moment.

One day, as she was staring out of the window, she saw something unusual. Some civilians were going over secretly to a British soldier and information was being exchanged for money.

Saraswathi felt weird about these clandestine exchanges. It occurred to her that something was not right surely. She went straight to Netaji who was at the base camp five kilometers away in Rangoon and reported what she saw. Netaji got the matter investigated and found that it was indeed true, and the British were being informed of the Japanese movements enabling them to attack the Japanese.

Now Netaji, realising her shrewdness and acumen, wanted Saraswathi and four of her friends to become spies for the INA. The girls who were barely sixteen were excited, though their parents were not, since this was an extremely dangerous job.

The girls were inducted into the Rani Jhansi Regiment headed by Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan (Sehgal) and were given rigorous military training including, running, climbing and other physical exercises. They were also trained in using different kinds of guns. They were sent to Maymyo, about 700 kms from Rangoon.

Their hair was trimmed to a boy-cut. Dressed up like boys and in disguise, they posed as helpers or errand boys and were sent to the houses of the British officers and the military camps. Rajamani named herself ‘Mani’ on this mission.

They went about doing jobs of cleaning their houses and the gardens, polishing shoes, removing garbage, laundry and such odd jobs. However, their eyes and ears were always alert as to what was being spoken or discussed by the officers. Whenever they intercepted valuable information, they passed it on through the informants to Netaji. They had to be extremely careful in their mission to not get caught. They had also been coached that in the event of being caught, the individual who was caught should shoot and the others should escape in the confusion.

We can well imagine the minds of the anxious parents of the girls who would not have been even aware where the girls were!!

One day however, unfortunately, Saraswathi’s friend Durga got caught by the British. She was thrown into the jail. Saraswathi came to know of it but contrary to the instruction to escape, she was determined to set her friend free. She went into the prison in a Burmese attire with the straw cap and all, along with a Burmese servant pretending to clean the prison. As the jailor went to chat with another jailor carelessly leaving the key behind, Saraswathi mixed a bit of opium in his drinking water and opened the door of the prison and both of them escaped. They started running and this was discovered after some lag (due to the opium water). The jailors gave them a hot chase.

The girls ran and ran as fast as they could, panting for breath and at one point one jailor shot at them. Saraswathi fell down with the bullet in her right leg. But they could not afford to be caught. With great difficulty Saraswathi pulled herself up and ran. Fortunately, there was a densely wooded area nearby and Durga climbed a tree and lugged Saraswathi up on a safe branch. The military training, they had undergone, helped them a lot.

The gun-shot wound was bleeding, and the girls were thirsty and hungry, but the men were soon below the trees looking for them. They searched for a long time and then left. They came for the girls on the following two days also and all this while both the girls were huddled up on the tree braving hunger, thirst and cold. Saraswathi’s leg was totally numb, and she felt that her leg was gone forever.

The third day, the jailors gave up and both the girls climbed down carefully and an injured and drained-out Saraswathi, with the help of Durga, made their way to the main road and caught a van to Rangoon. After an eight to ten-hour arduous journey, they reached the INA camp and met Netaji. Saraswathi was given immediate treatment but the delay in treatment left a limp in her right leg for her entire life which she treated as a symbol of honour.

Netaji was very extremely pleased and delighted with her bravery and awarded Saraswathi the rank of Lieutenant in the Rani Jhansi regiment. He also gave her an appreciation letter where he addressed her as the ‘first Indian woman spy’. The Japanese emperor also presented Saraswathi a medal and a cash award in recognition of her bravery.

The World War II came to an end in 1945 after the disastrous nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Netaji disbanded the INA and the volunteers went back to their families.

Netaji himself is said to have been killed in an air crash some days later.

Saraswathi and her family donated all of their property and came back to India in 1957. But Saraswathi did not get her freedom-fighter pension. She moved to Chennai and after persistent efforts started getting pension from 1971 almost twenty-five years after independence. From being one of the richest Indians at one time, the family had become paupers and life was tough. No recognition, penury, no family and not even a house to call her own. Such was Saraswathi’s condition.

In 2005, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Ms. J. Jayalalithaa, came to know of her through a news article. She immediately granted a small apartment in Royapettah along with an aid of Rupees five lakhs which Saraswathi accepted albeit with reluctance as she was only used to giving things and never had sought anything. Her financial condition was so pathetic that she had to accept the help.

It is said that she used to collect scraps of cloth from nearby tailors and stitch them into garments and donate to orphanages. Also during the Tsunami of 2004, she donated her pension, to the Chief Minister’s relief fund. She also donated her INA memorabilia to Netaji’s museum in Kolkata in 2008.

Saraswathi lived in the apartment surrounded only by the photos of Netaji on every wall. Though battered by age and ill-health, people who have interviewed Saraswathi say that the mention of Netaji’s name fired her up and she spoke voraciously in spite of having had three heart attacks. Saraswathi died in January 2018 of a massive heart attack.

Her story has been made into a short film in the series ‘Adrishya – True stories of Indian spies’

And I am indeed proud to narrate her story on this platform.

RANI NAIKI DEVI OF GUJARAT – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 2

Namaste. Here is the second story in the series of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. The country is in the midst of celebrating the Shaaradiya Navaratri where the Mother Goddess is venerated for nine days. On the tenth day the Goddess gains victory over the terrible demon Mahishasura single-handedly.

Hence I am bringing you the story of an indomitable woman, one of the lesser known queens of India who fearlessly fought an invader. The invader ran away and came back again through another route some years later. It is a pity that we only know the story of the invader who won over another Indian king at a later date, but not the story of his initial defeat.

The invader was none other than Mohammed Ghori and the queen who chased him away was Rani Naiki Devi, the Chalukyan queen of Gujarat.

Naiki Devi was the daughter of the Kadamba king of Goa Mahamandaleshwar Parmadi.

Naiki Devi was trained by her father in all the ‘manly’ skills of horse-riding, archery, combat and weapon-wielding which she mastered in no time and excelled in.

When she came of marriageable age, she married the Solanki ruler of Gujarat, Raja Ajaypal. The Solankis were also known by the name Chalukyas of Gujarat. The kingdom of the Solankis comprised of parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan and their capital was Anahilwada Patan.

Unfortunately, within four years of his ascension to the throne, Raja Ajaypal, died in 1175 AD. Their son Mularaja was a child at that time. As per the tradition of their kingdom, Mularaja was instated as the king and Rani Naiki Devi, the Regent who ruled the kingdom on her son’s behalf. The Rani was ruling from Anihilwada Patan which was one of the largest fortified cities of the world back then. The famed Rani Ki Vav is situated there and was also built by the Chalukyas.

Now, about Mohamed Ghori. In 1173 AD, the young Ghurid prince Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghori captured the city of Ghazni in Afghanistan from the Turks who had earlier captured it from the Ghaznavids. The Ghurids were initially vassals of the Ghaznavids and later on toppled them. Ghori, along with his elder brother used the city of Ghazni as a base for his conquests and campaigns.

Gradually their attention turned to Bharat which had already been famed for her riches and prosperity. The Ghaznavid king Mahmud of Ghazni had already plundered the country and looted the riches to the highest possible extent.

Mohamed Ghori decided to enter Bharat through the Gomal pass in 1176 AD. This pass is situated between present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. After entering with his huge army, he attacked the forts at Multan and Uch, both of which are present day Pakistan.

After a period of about two years, in 1178 AD, he decided to attack the kingdoms of South Rajputana (present day Rajasthan with some areas of Madhya Pradesh) and Gujarat and he started eyeing Anihilwada Patan since he came to know that it was being actually ruled by a lady with an infant son. Ghori was sure that the battle against a woman would be a cakewalk for him not knowing that the result would be disastrous for him!

Rani Naiki Devi got information from her spies that Mohamed Ghori was advancing towards Anihilwada with the intention to capture her kingdom.

The Rani was undaunted on hearing this news and set about taking steps to counter Ghori and his army. She came to know that Mohamed Ghori had a very large army to which hers was no match at all.

Naiki Devi then sent word seeking support to the nearby kingdoms like the Chandelas, the Bhatis, the Parmars and the Chouhans (whose leader was King Prithviraj Chouhan) and a few other kingdoms as well.

Sadly, she did not receive any response from them except from few of the Chalukyan feudatories. Naiki Devi realized that even if all of their forces were put together, they would be of no match to the forces of Ghori. So she had to think of some other way to defeat the invader.

Being trained in all matters of politics, warfare and statecraft, Naiki Devi decided on a solid plan. And that was to fight the war in a terrain which was totally unfamiliar to the invaders and which would help to annihilate them totally.

She consulted the kings of the Chalukya feudatories who had offered help, namely Kelhanadeva, Kirtipala and Dharavarsha and decided the war strategy. Rani Naiki Devi chose a place near village Kasaradha on the foothills of Mount Abu for the battle. This was a rugged terrain familiar for the locals but totally alien for the Ghori army.

Mohamed Ghori’s army had to come via the narrow hill passes of Gadharghatta near Mount Abu. The news was that his army had already started moving towards Kasaradha. Ghori’s army had well-built horses with excellent stamina and hordes of soldiers.

 Meanwhile Mohamed Ghori sent a messenger informing Naiki Devi that he would not touch Gujarat if Naiki Devi would surrender with her son and also deposit all the gold of her kingdom along with all the womenfolk.

Naiki Devi pretended to agree to the request. Upon hearing this from his messenger, Ghori was overjoyed. He never thought that he would never have to even lift a finger to conquer this kingdom which had abundant riches.

As Ghori’s army came out of the pass to the open ground at Kasaradha, Ghori waited for the queen to come and surrender. He heard the sound of a galloping horse and saw that a lady was riding a horse from afar and approaching him. She had her son tied to her lap.

Ghori was overjoyed but within few minutes the galloping sound became like that of pounding rain. And there were armed soldiers all over the place surrounding his army, to his right, left and centre. Rani Naiki Devi was leading them.

When he turned around he also found soldiers behind his army from inside the pass. Ghori’s army was totally trapped and caught unaware. Then there suddenly appeared what were like mounds of steel, huge and mighty armoured elephants with soldiers armed riding them. The Rani was fighting fiercely and her sword was swiftly tasting the blood of the Ghurid soldiers. Ghori’s men were falling like a pack of cards, either slain by Rani Naiki and the forces of her allies, or trampled by the huge elephants which were moving about like mighty mountains.

Ghori’s men who tried running back through the pass were attacked by Rani Naiki’s soldiers who were hiding in the pass and the army was terribly routed. The extent of damage has been mentioned by Firishta, a Persian historian as well as Minhaj-I-Siraj in their chronicles. This is also written by Badauni, a sixteenth century historian who traces the Islamic rule in India right from the invasions of Ghori till the reign of Akbar.

Ghori, with the remnant soldiers literally ran away from the scene. They retreated to Ghazni escaping from Rani Naiki Devi’s soldiers with great difficulty.

The attack of Rani Naiki Devi was so fierce that Mohamed Ghori did not dare to attack Bharat for the next decade. The next time in 1191 also, Ghori chose to avoid the earlier route and instead to come in through the vulnerable Punjab route via the Khyber Pass. He was once again defeated by Prithiviraj Chouhan and only in 1192, could he defeat King Prithviraj Chouhan.

Rani Naiki Devi’s bravery has been recorded by the court poets of Gujarat and also by a 14th century Jain scholar Merutunga in his works. This battle was called Battle of Kasaradha.

Rani Naiki Devi was yet another jewel on the crown of Bharat!

Ganpati Bappa Moraya – The story of Shri Moraya Gosavi

Ganesha, Ganapati, Gajanana, Gananayaka – the lovable god with so many names has his birthday today. Yes, it is Ganesh Chaturthi today.

Celebration of Chaturthi and worship of Ganapathy is a very ancient practice especially in our country. It is understood that Rg Veda carries hymns in praise of Ganesha.  Adi Shankaracharya is known to have classified the worshippers of various Hindu deities into six groups and codified the practices of worship for each of them. ‘Gaanaapatyam’ or worship of Ganesha is one of them.

And come Ganesh Chaturthi, one cannot help but think of the state of Maharashtra where this is celebrated as a full-fledged festival spread over ten days. The grand celebrations with Pandals, the vibrancy in the air, the excitement and joy of the all the people without any distinction whatsoever are all a separate class by itself. People treat Ganesha as their loving child or revered guest and take good care of Him while he is stationed in their houses as a ‘Murti’ for a full ten days or lesser as per the custom of each household. And the festival is not complete without the chants of Ganapati Bappa Moraya!

It is said that Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak who was one of the early freedom fighters of the nineteenth century popularized the household festivities of Ganesha Pooja on Chaturthi day in Maharashtra into a social and community festival to forge unity and camaraderie among the public.

This Chaturthi, I am bringing to you the story of the saint Moraya Gosavi who was instrumental to a great extent in spreading the Bhakti movement of Ganesha in Maharashtra.

In the late thirteenth century, there lived a couple Vamanbhat and his wife Parvatibai in the village called Shaligram in Bidar district of Karnataka. They were devotees of Lord Ganesha. The couple were childless for a long time.  So, they undertook a Yatra and reached Morgaon in Maharashtra, where Lord Ganesha was worshipped in the form of Mayureshwar with peacock as His vehicle. Morgaon is also said to have had plenty of peacocks due to which this name came about. The temple of Mayureshwar is on the banks of the River Karha there. It is one of the Ashta Vinayak temples of Maharashtra.

Vamanbhat and Parvatibai stayed on in Morgaon praying fervently for a child. One day Vamanbhat had an intuition that their wish would be granted. It was true and they were soon parents to a beautiful baby boy who they named Moraya after the Ganesh at Morgaon. Grateful to Lord Ganesha, they stayed back permanently at Morgaon.

Moraya was an intelligent child and was initiated to Vedic studies at the age of eight.

All was well but one day Moraya fell seriously ill. His parents took him to many Vaidyas (doctors) but it was of no avail. The high temperature would not subside and little Moraya could not even open his eyes.  The parents were extremely worried. Their sole refuge was Ganesha as usual and they ardently prayed to Mayureshwar.

 In a couple of days, a saint by name Nayan Bharti Gosavi came to Morgaon. He was also a worshipper of Ganesa. A worried Vamanbhat met the sage and expresses his anguish over his little son’s health. Nayan smiled and asked to be taken to their house. At their house, Nayan Bharti’s touch cured Moraya and Moraya was back to his cheerful bubbly self.

Moraya decided to take Nayan Bharti Gosavi as his Guru and learn all that was there to be learnt. With his parents and his Guru all being Ganesha devotees, Moraya was inclined to worship Ganesha naturally.

As days went by Moraya grew into a young man and now had an unending desire to see Lord Ganesha in person. He sought the advice of his Guru who advised him to do intense ‘tapasya’ at Theur.

Moraya went to the banks of the Mula Mutha river at Theur and meditated with single minded devotion. He had many obstacles hindering his mission. It is said that a tiger tried to attack him and when he sensed that, and opened his eyes, the tiger turned into a stone.  

On the 42nd day of his penance, Shri Moraya got the vision of Bhagwan Chintamani Vinayak. Moraya was ecstatic. Vinayak blessed him with the eight powers called ‘Ashta Siddhis.’  He also told Shri Moraya to get married and lead the life of a householder. He further said that He (Ganesha) would be born as his son and He should be named ‘Chintamani’.

Shri Moraya started using his powers to help the needy and people in misery. He came to be referred to ‘Moraya Gosavi’. He also married a maiden named Uma and started living the life of a householder with his devotion to Lord Ganesha intact. The place where Moraya sat and meditated at Theur is known as ‘Moraya’s Asana’ and preserved till date.

With Moraya Gosavi gifted with all the Siddhis, there were numerous miraculous incidents wherever he was present. There was a milkman supplying milk to Moraya Gosavi’s household regularly. One day he had to go somewhere and therefore sent a girl who was blind, to deliver the milk. The girl came with the milk-pot to Shri Moraya’s place. As Shri Moraya went in to fetch a vessel, the girl trod on the place where he had stood a while back and lo and behold! The girl gained the capacity of sight.

This and other such happenings brought lot of crowds seeking solutions to their problems from Moraya Gosavi. It was becoming unmanageable and more importantly hindering his meditation practices. Therefore, he left Morgaon in search of a quiet spot and reached Chinchwad area near which there was a dense forest. However, the people of Chinchwad were so affectionate and would not allow him to go deep into the forest. They built a small hut facilitating him to stay there in Chinchwad and continue his spiritual activities.

Moraya Gosavi was however very attached to Mayureshwar and so every month on the first day after new moon, he used to walk to Morgaon to be there on the Chaturthi day and after darshan he would come back to Chinchwad.

In this journey of his, once the Karha river was in heavy spate due to incessant rains. As Shri Moraya was contemplating how to cross the river, it is said that Bhagwan Ganesha came in the form of a fisherman and helped him cross the river and have darshan.

In yet another instance, due to some reason, Shri Moraya was able to reach the temple at late night only. The doors had been shut and priests had gone home.  But Bhagwan Ganesha could not bear to see the disappointment on the face of his dear devotee and the locks unbolted on their own. Shri Moraya went and performed worship to his heart’s content and after he came out, the locks bolted again. This incident came to light only when the priests went in the next day and saw different flowers offered that what had been left behind them at night.  

Years passed and age was catching up with Moraya Gosavi. One day, when he was at Morgaon, sitting in deep meditation, Bhagwan Mayureshwar appeared to him in a vision along with his consorts Riddhi and Siddhi. Addressing Shri Moraya he said in the most majestic voice, “Moraya, I am pained to see you struggling to come here every month due to your advancing age. I cannot bear to see this anymore. So I have decided I will come with you to Chinchwad. Tomorrow when you bathe in the Ganesh Kund, you will find a radiant saffron rock. Know and accept it to be me and take it with you to Chinchwad. Bring Me in that form here, only on the Chaturthi days of the months of Jyeshta, Bhadrapada and Magha. I am in you always and we are one”

Moraya Gosavi was greatly pleased with this vision. The next day he was offering obeisance to the sun by cupping his hands and taking water from the Ganesh Kund where he was bathing. The third time when he put his hands in the water to take water, he found a huge luminous saffron rock and Shri Moraya realized that this was what Bhagwan Ganesha had told him in his vision the previous day.

Moraya Gosavi carried it ceremoniously to the sanctum of Mayureshwar and as he bent down to place the same in front of the god, the garland of Mayureshwar fell on the neck of Moraya Gosavi. Shri Moraya understood that Bhagwan Ganesha was signalling to him to take him to Chinchwad and took it as Ganesha’s Murti and reached Chinchwad. Thereafter, he built a temple, installed the divine rock and named him Mangalamurti. This was towards the end of the fourteenth century.

So from now on, Moraya Gosavi stayed back at Chinchwad worshipping Mangalamurti and taking him to Chinchwad only three times in a year as instructed by Lord Ganesha. (The practice continues till now). Gosavi saw Ganesha in helping the needy. He gave great importance to ‘Anna Daan’ (giving food to the hungry). So lot of ‘Anna Satras’ (places where free food was served) were built at Chinchwad. Yatras and Poojas were organized and Chinchwad was full of hustle-bustle with people from all places thronging to see Moraya Gosavi and Mangalamurti. According to him, in the worship of Ganesha there was no distinction between rich and poor, young and old, man and woman, caste or creed. This greatly influenced the devotion to Bhagwan Ganesha in the present state of Maharashtra.

After many years of serving thus, Moraya Gosavi wanted to attain oneness with his God Mayureshwar and prayed to him.

Then in the year 1561, (yes, he was a Siddha Purusha who lived more than a hundred years) Moraya Gosavi asked his son to construct a cave on the banks of the Pavana river where he would sit in meditation and attain Samadhi. His son, Chintamani, though very disturbed by this, could not help but obey his father and accordingly constructed the cave with stone. There were two platforms inside the cave and the Ganesha Purana was placed on one of them. Two oil lamps were lit.

Shri Moraya went from his house accompanied by his son and all the members of his household.  He bathed in the river and wearing new clothes and entered the cave. All the people of Chinchwad were standing on the banks of the river teary-eyed. As he sat down on one platform, the family members worshipped him and the womenfolk performed Aarti and Shri Moraya slipped into deep meditation and Samadhi. The members came out and Chintamani place a huge boulder at the entrance of the cave and installed the Murtis of Lord Ganesha and his wives Siddhi and Buddhi.

The Samadhi is considered to be a “Jeeva Samadhi” and people still throng to the place to seek Shri Moraya’s blessings.

It is said that one of the reasons behind the phrase “Ganpati Bappa Moraya” is to remember this great Sadhu Moraya Gosavi while taking the name of Ganesha.

Now that we know about this saint let us also chant “Ganpati Bappa Moraya” on this auspicious day! Wishing all of you a very joyful Ganesh Chaturthi and pray Bhagwan Ganesha showers his blessings in abundance on all of us.

Shri Moraya Gosavi before his Samadhi.

Ganpati Bappa Moraya!!

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