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

Author: krvidhyaa Page 1 of 15

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!!

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!!

Ambalappuzha and the Chess connection – Janmashtami special

Dear readers, the 44th Chess Olympiad 2022 got over at Chennai just ten days back, on 9th August 2022. And the birthday of our beloved Krishna is being celebrated as Janmashtami today.

So why not a story connecting Chess and Krishna??

No, I am not joking. There is such a story. That too in God’s own country at Ambalappuzha!

Ambalappuzha is a place in Kerala near Alappuzha (Aleppey) famed for its temple dedicated to Lord Srikrishna. The temple is equally famous for the Paal Payasam (milk Kheer) served there to all who visit the temple even today. It is a delicacy whose taste can be matched by none.

When was this Paal Payasam introduced in this temple as Prasadam? Well, therein lies this fascinating story.

Many years ago, this area was ruled by the Chembakassery family of Namboodiris. This incident is said to have happened during the reign of the king Pooradam Thirunal Devanarayanan Thampuran.

Devanarayanan Thampuran was a proud king. Proud, not without reason. There was prosperity all around. He had vast tracts of fertile land of the Kuttanad area under his control yielding high quality rice in huge quantities. All the other kingdoms were dependent on rice sold by his government. Annam (rice) was considered Mahalakshmi, and if the Goddess of wealth resided with us, would we not be proud?

Well, the reason of the king’s pride was not only that. Pooradam Thirunal was a player par excellence in the game of Chaturanga (form of chess). He was an ace player, extremely sharp-brained and shrewd and loved playing the game any number of times. He was always the undisputed winner.

People from far and near wanted to try their luck and there was always someone or the other wanting to play the game as his opponent. Of course, the king was magnanimous enough to reward the losers also for their guts to challenge him, but there were only losers and losers all the time.

It was a gloomy but hot afternoon and the king had had a sumptuous lunch followed by the traditional betel leaf with arecanut and lime (chuna). His routine was to complete all administrative matters prior to lunch. Post-lunch time was for relaxation, with the game of Chaturanga. Winning everyday had become an addiction for him like eating betel leaf after lunch. There was no dearth of people every day, seeking to play with the king and one would see a long line at the palace gates post-lunch.

Today was strange in that, there was no one at the gates.

The humid and gloomy weather outside was reflecting in the king’s mind. He was becoming restless, pacing up and down. His mind was already thinking of which of his ministers to summon to play the game, since no other opponent had come seeking to play against him. However, since he knew all of the ministers’ capabilities like the back of his hand, there would be no thrill.  Nevertheless, something to satisfy his craving was better than nothing at all.

He sat on his throne in the ‘Chaturanga Mandapa’, a specific hall for playing the game. The ornate heavy wooden table had squares inlaid in it, sixty-four of them, alternating with black granite and white marble. The ivory and the ebony chess pieces arranged neatly seemed to be pleading with the Thampuran to pick them up. It was time for play.

Thampuran made up his mind. He decided to send for three ministers of his, to come and play as opponents, for he could not wait indefinitely.

Just then he heard some commotion at the entrance. And in a few moments, a serene looking young man, was being escorted in. When Thampuran looked at him, the youth’s eyes seemed to smile with a sparkle, something which seemed mysterious, yet so divine which Thampuran could gaze into endlessly.

“Ahem…” The voice of the youth brought back Thampuran to reality. 

“My name is Unni” The youth introduced himself. “I had come escorting my elderly relative who visited me, and now am on my way back. I heard that your highness plays Chaturanga every day and I thought I could try my luck playing if you permit”, he said with a smile. Unni’s smile was so mesmerizing and magical. “I hear Thampuran rewards the losers also magnanimously…”

Thampuran’s ears perked up. Here was an opponent thinking of the reward for losers before the game even started.

“Hahahaha… You are right… Haha…” The vanity of Thampuran could not be concealed.

Thampuran looked at Unni from head to toe.

Strangely he could not come to a conclusion as to the background of the youth. Unni’s dhoti was tied like a warrior with a dagger neatly tucked in his cummerbund. The white sacred thread across his black complexioned well-built bare upper body, looked like the aerial view of a river winding through the mountains. He was carrying bags like a trader but his well-built arms and legs gave the impression that he was used to doing lot of manual work. He had such curly locks which seemed to be waiting to be let loose from the knot on top of his head. His forehead looked exceptionally beautiful with a crescent shaped sandal mark (Gopichandana). The face exuded unusual calm and tranquility.

“Could we start the game your highness?” Unni’s voice brought back Thampuran’s attention to the present.

“Yes yes, why not?” said Thampuran. “Sit down Unni”, he said pointing at the opponent’s chair. You will play…”

“Black”. Pat came the reply.

Thampuran expected Unni to gape at the marvelous ‘Chaturanga Mandapa’ which was decorated with a dozen pairs of ivory tusks, the beautiful floral decorations with a vast variety of flowers from his own garden and of course the beautiful customized table which functioned as the ‘Chaturanga Palaha’(chessboard). Whoever came to play looked at all this with amazement. But Unni seemed unnerved by all this – looked as if he was used to better luxuries.

By now, word had spread of the handsome new opponent and the crowd of courtiers and the queen gathered as was the custom every day to cheer their king.

The people gathered were all drawn to the youth as if by magic.

Whispers about his looks and his background went around.

“Do you think this young man will win?” whispered one courtier.

“Don’t even dare to think that way”, his neighbour chided. “Our king has never met defeat in all these years, and the opponent is quite young”.

“Yeah yeah, the boy’s age must be our king’s experience hehehe…” guffawed another with his mouth full of betel leaf.

The queen was also curious. When she saw Unni, she thought he looked very familiar but could not place him exactly. However, the youth’s calmness struck her and she also sat down in her designated seat to watch her husband win yet another game effortlessly, or so she thought!

The ceremonial prayer was chanted and the king made the first move.

Unni was very quick and did not take much time for his moves.

Within a few minutes, the king knew he was losing and before he could do something about it, he had lost.

“Game over your highness” said Unni in a soft yet firm voice.

There was pin drop silence in awe of the happenings. Nobody could believe that what they saw was true. Thampuran’s heart sank. He was perspiring heavily, wiping his sweat from his face and forehead. The fan-bearers fanned harder. Thampuran did not want to look up. However, the end of his eye caught Unni getting up, ready to leave.

Without his realizing, words tumbled out of Thampuran’s mouth.

 “Why don’t we play another game… Unni?”

Unni flashed his magic smile and nodded to convey his readiness.

The queen and the onlookers were too shocked to utter anything.

The coins were arranged once again and the game started and this time with Unni playing the white coins, the game ended earlier than the first one and yet again, there was a blanket of silence.

For, the ace player Thampuran, had lost consecutively to a stranger, who was a nobody.

Thampuran’s mouth ran dry. Unni had now got up to leave. He looked so nonchalant, no elation or pride on having won over the Thampuran.

Gathering his wits, Thampuran stammered, “S..son, why…why are you leaving so soon? You can enjoy our hospitality for a few days….”

Unni smiled. “No your highness. I have to leave now”, he said maintaining his calm demeanour.

Thampuran got up and said, “But Unni, you deserve a prize for defeating me though I still don’t know how this happened. What do you want? Gold? Silver? Diamonds? Lands? Silken garments? Name it and I shall give it to you right away!” His voice reflected the ego which had not reduced even a teeny weeny bit.

Unni looked at him. “Hmm… I do not want any of what you mentioned. However, I would like to take back some rice if you can give me the amount I ask”

Thampuran was annoyed. Here was a youth asking for ‘some rice’ from a king who had enough rice to feed an army.

“Some rice? How many Paras (Para was the traditional rice measuring unit) of rice?” Thampuran’s voice was filled with scorn.

“Your highness” said Unni. “Since we played Chaturanga, I want the rice also to be measured in a particular fashion based on this” he said pointing to the chess board.

Thampuran was puzzled. “What fashion? I cannot understand what you want. Be very clear” he said with irritation.

“Well” said Unni. “It is like this. Keep one grain of rice in the first square, double of that in the second, double of that in the third, and so on. I mean, one in the first square, two in the second, four in the third square, eight in the fourth and so on…”

Thampuran, relieved at this insignificant request of Unni, signalled to the messengers. “Come on, bring the rice he is asking” he said.

Unni raised his hand as if to interrupt. “Please calculate how much rice is required so that there may be no confusion” he said with an inexplicable smile.

“Don’t you worry about that” said Thampuran as he ordered the rice to be brought. Soon enough a group of expert counters were counting the grains and checking the squares and depositing the rice on the squares, only to realise quickly that the grains would not fit in the squares. So they started depositing the grains in one corner of the room after counting. By the end of the tenth square the total grains were 1023 (1+2+4+8+16+32+64+128+256+512) and by the end of the twentieth, it had gone up to 10,48,575!!  

The sun had set and the lights were lit and not even the halfway mark was reached. And when the full moon was smiling outside, thirty-two squares were completed, totalling to about 429,49,67,280 grains. To give you a rough idea, a kilogram of rice has approximately sixty thousand grains. And this meant that over seventy-one thousand five hundred kilos (in today’s measuring unit) had been brought.

All the courtiers and the Thampuran were staring wide-eyed and taken by surprise. A messenger came and informed the Thampuran in a hushed voice that all the rice in the granary was over. Rice had been collected from the citizens’ houses also and it was all over. Thampuran could simply not believe his ears. And there, Unni was sitting with his enigmatic smile watching the fun. The grain counters were making their calculations furiously and arrived at the figure of 18446,744,073,709,551,616 grains if all the squares were to be filled as per Unni’s request. This translated to 307 trillion kilos of rice!!

The people assembled were shell shocked. Where would they go for so much rice? Even if rice was to be borrowed from all the kingdoms in the country, it would take years and years to give the gift sought by Unni.

Unni’s was watching quietly – with a constant smile and a twinkle in his eyes.

It was only then Thampuran realized that Unni could not be a normal young man. With tears streaming in his eyes and palms joined together in obeisance, Thampuran spoke in an emotional voice, “Unni, I do not know who you are but indeed, you have humbled my arrogance completely. I do not know how I will keep up the word given to you. Perhaps I am destined to be shamed as the king who could not keep up his word.” He broke down sobbing , his voice choking with grief.

There was a glowing light around Unni. He spoke in a sweet voice. “Thampuran, I am the Srikrishna you worship in the temple. I am pleased with your commitment to keep up the word given. You or your dynasty will not be shamed. Do not worry. Do as I say. Prepare Paal Payasam with rice every single day for me at the temple and distribute the Prasadam to all who come to see me. Continue the practice till your debt is cleared. Shubhamastu!!”

And to the bewilderment of the onlookers, Unni disappeared in a flash.

And from that day Paal Payasam is prepared in huge quantities every single day using rice and milk and distributed to the public visiting the temple and the debt owed by the Thampuran is still being cleared!

Don’t forget to taste the Paal Payasam next time you happen to visit Ambalappuzha!

Some facts about the Paal Payasam:

  • Made every day in a huge brass ‘Uruli’ with about 9 kg of rice and a milk-water mixture in the ratio 100 litres:300 litres and about 30 kilos of sugar. This mixture reduces to about one fourth by boiling and evaporation for over seven hours. Water is from the temple well and the milk from the cows owned by the temple.
  • Cooking starts before sunrise and it boils till about 11.30 am
  • Lord Krishna is called out aloud by the priests before the sugar is added while cooking.
  • After cooking is over, the entire quantity is offered to Srikrishna before distribution.
  • Lord Guruvayoorappan’s Murti was brought to Ambalappuzha temple for safe keeping in 1789 CE fearing an imminent attack from Tipu Sultan’s savage army who were demolishing and looting Hindu temples in Kerala. The Lord was taken back to Guruvayoor twelve years later but from that time it is believed that Lord Guruvayoorappan developed a special liking for this payasam and therefore waits for his lunch till the mid-day Pooja at Ambalappuzha temple is over, since the Paal Payasam is offered to Lord Srikrishna at midday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly there was a scream!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayag Das almastaa sove Ram Lala ki sarva”

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

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

Pranams to this saint!!

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part I

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

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

Strange is it not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kacha and Devayani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The plan of the Asuras had badly backfired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Friends – A tale from Hitopadesha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bhageeratha ManObheeshta SiddhayE BhuvanAshrithE

BrAhmanAm Manah poorthyai mama koopE SthirA Bhava

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

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

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

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

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