With Janmashtami, the birthday of our beloved Krishna, round the corner, I am bringing you the story of one of the devotees who was so very dear to Krishna.
She was from Kerala and Kuroor Amma was her name.
Kuroor Amma was born as Dhathri Kutty in Kerala in Purayannur Mana to a pious Namboodiri couple in 1570 CE. Some say her name was Gauri Antarjanam. Dhathri Kutty was very attached to Lord Shri Krishna from a very young age.
Once an enlightened Yogi happened to visit her father’s house when Dhathri Kutty was still a young maiden yet to be married. As was customary, the Yogi was welcomed with due respect and was served a nice meal for lunch along with Payasam. The Yogi, tasted the Payasam and said to the Namboodiri, “This Payasam must have been offered to Lord Krishna which is why it is so tasty. Who made this Payasam? I want to see the person who made this”
Namboodiri was pleased and said “Yes Swami. This Payasam was prepared by my daughter Dhathri Kutty. But, she is a young maiden and so…” Namboodiri was hesitant, as it was not the practice, for young girls to meet men who were strangers.
“It is okay, please bring her. She is a blessed soul and I want to see her and there is nothing wrong” said the Yogi.
When he saw the shy Dhathri Kutty who looked so saintly, he asked her what she desired. Dhathri, without batting an eyelid replied that she wished to see the Lord of Brindavan and hear his flute always.
The Yogi said, “Well my girl, I will teach you a Mantra, which if you chant with sincerity and devotion, your wish shall be fulfilled.” He went on to teach her the Venugopala Mantra which she received with great devotion and chanted faithfully.
In due course of time, she was married to the Namboodiripad of the Kuroor Mana family which was near Vengilasery and she regularly worshipped with utmost devotion, the deity Venugopala, of Adat temple near her house. Guruvayoor was slightly farther away and she visited Guruvayoor also whenever she could and prayed to Lord Guruvayoorappan who was none other than Krishna.
Shortly afterwards, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was widowed. She had no children. Now Venugopala was her sole refuge. She, being the eldest daughter-in-law of the Kuroor Mana, came to be known as Kuroor Amma. And she considered herself Amma, to the little Venugopala and was a fiercely protective mother like any normal mother.
Years rolled by and age caught up with Kuroor Amma. All the other family members of Kuroor Mana had migrated to other places and she was left alone in that big house with no help whatsoever. Still she did not give up her routine of visiting the Venugopala temple and Guruvayoor.
Once it so happened that Kuroor Amma had gone to Guruvayoor to have darshan of her Krishna and that day it was raining heavily. In those days people had to go by walk only and Amma had to go back a long distance to reach her home. It was evening and as the rain reduced to a drizzle, Kuroor Amma set out to walk back to her home. The sun had set and there was no electricity in those days and Amma, due to old age, darkness and anxiety, missed the correct route and went into the deep dense jungle.
After going some distance, she heard the noises of wild animals. It was then that she realized that she had lost her way. Not knowing what to do, she started to pray to her Krishna. “Narayana, Narayana, Guruvayoorappa, Krishna” were the only words she was chanting. Suddenly she heard the sound of anklets nearby and as she turned around, a small boy who looked like a cowherd appeared.
“Amma, why are you going into the deep jungle?” he asked her.
“I lost my way Unni” she said. Unni is the word in Malayalam denoting ‘small boy’
“Come I will show you the way” said Unni and led her hand and slowly both of them walked back to Kuroor Mana.
Amma was so overwhelmed with gratitude and wanted to gift him something. But the boy refused. When Amma insisted, Unni said with a shy smile, “Amma, my loin cloth has become wet due to the rain and I need a dry cloth”
Kuroor Amma, unhesitatingly tore a piece of cloth from her red saree and gave it to Unni. The lad ran out of the house and vanished.
The next day Amma again went to Guruvayoor temple for the morning darshan which is called “Nirmalyam”. When the door of the sanctum sanctorum opened, Guruvayoorappan was dazzling in all the jewels and finery with which he had been draped, the previous evening, but what shocked everyone was that a piece of an old red saree was adorning him as his loin cloth. No one knew how it had come on the person of Lord Krishna. Why would anyone drape a piece of a used saree on the Lord?
Kuroor Amma recognized the red cloth. Indeed it was the piece of her saree she had given to the boy the previous day! She was in tears when she realized the Krishna had come as Unni and led her home.
Few more years passed and Kuroor Amma had aged even more. She was not able to walk long distances or go to the temple. She found it difficult to do even small chores and wished for some company to be with her and help her. One day a small boy came to her.
“I don’t have a place to stay Amma” said the boy. “May I stay with you?”
Kuroor Amma smiled sadly and said, “Unni, I am not able to do my own chores as I have grown very old. How will I look after you?”
The boy replied, “Amma need not look after me. I will look after Amma!”
He stayed on in her house. He helped her in everything right from washing clothes, cleaning the house, cooking and arranging for Pooja and all the household work and was of great solace to Amma.
Now in the same period, there lived a Sanyasi by name Vilvamangalam Swamiyar who was also a devotee of Shri Krishna having been initiated by the same Yogi who gave the Mantra to Kuroor Amma. And Swamiyar was lucky for Krishna played with and teased him many a time showing his true form as a little boy, to Swamiyar’s eyes.
One day Kuroor Amma invited Vilvamangalam Swamiyar to her house for Bhiksha (Feeding). The Swamiyar was supposed to go to Kuroor Mana, perform Pooja to Lord Krishna and accept the food offered by Kuroor Amma. On the same day another family from Chemmangat Mana also had called Vilvamangalam Swamiyar to their house for Bhiksha. Kuroor Amma came to know of this and was worried, but Unni consoled her and said with great confidence that Swamiyar would certainly come to their house only. Unni also made all the arrangements for the Pooja.
Although he had promised Kuroor Amma that he would come to her house, Swamiyar changed his mind at the last moment and asked his group to move with him to Chemmangat Mana for Bhiksha. The protocol was that, before the Swamiyar left for any place, a conch would be blown by a person of the entourage and only then the Swamiyar would start. Now, when the conch was attempted to be blown, no sound emanated from it. Different persons tried to blow the conch but of no avail. Then the Swamiyar realized that it was because he was breaking his promise made to Kuroor Amma. He told his disciples to change the direction and move towards Kuroor Amma’s house and then, when the conch was blown sound emanated beautifully from the conch.
Now, Swamiyar went to Kuroor Mana to be welcomed by a small boy who washed his feet and led him and his group in. The Swamiyar went inside the Pooja room to find a beautifully decorated altar and all the requirements perfectly fulfilled. Swamiyar looked up questioningly at Kuroor Amma as he wondered how she could have done such elaborate arrangements at this age and Amma smilingly indicated that Unni had done all the arrangements. Swamiyar sat down to perform Pooja and started offering flowers at the feet of the Murthi of Krishna which was kept on a pedestal. To his shock, the flowers went and fell at the feet of Unni who was standing nearby.
One of the Swamiyar’s disciples chided Unni and told him to move further away. Still the flowers fell near Unni’s feet leaving Swamiyar puzzled. Krishna then decided not to tease Swamiyar anymore.
After the Pooja was over, Swamiyar was to be offered Bhiksha and traditionally the protocol was that rice should be served by a married man of the household where the Bhiksha was offered. When he sat down to eat, Unni came and served the rice and Swamiyar got really angry.
“Is there no Grihasta (married man) belonging to this household? Don’t you know that Bhiksha to a Sanyasi is to be done by a Grihasta and not a small boy?” he asked.
Unni curled his lips and gave a sarcastic smile.
“Thrilokee Grihastaya Vishno Namaste” he chanted. “Adi Sankara said that. Don’t you know?” he asked Swamiyar. This verse meant “I pay obeisance to that Vishnu, the householder of the universe”
Swamiyar was taken aback. Praying to Lord Krishna, he looked at Unni. Unni showed his true form to Swamiyar, but signaled to him to not tell Kuroor Amma. It is said that in 1640 CE Kuroor Amma blissfully reached the Lotus feet of her Krishna after relishing his divine company for many years without even realizing that it was He who was at her service, in return for her unwavering faith in Him.
P.S: I am thankful for the grace of Yogini Kuroor Amma and Shri Krishna without which I would not have stumbled upon the article of Shri Chittoor Narayanan which has been published in the Bhavan’s Journal in August 1984 and which gave me lot of inputs for this story.