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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.

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.

Kuroor Amma and her little Krishna

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.

Gomai – Saint of Pandharpur

This is a story from Bhaktavijayam written by Shri Mahipati in the 18th century. Mahipati lived between 1715 and 1790 AD in Ahmednagar district. It is said that in a dream, he was commanded by Sant Tukaram to write the biographies of the saints of the Deccan region and as a result, this book by name Bhaktavijayam was written. The title translates to ‘Victory of Devotion’, very aptly, for in almost all stories we see that pure devotion and love are only needed to reach God.

This story is about an old lady by name Gomai on whom Krishna showered His blessings in reciprocation of her pure Bhakti (devotion).

Gomai was an old widow who was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. She lived in a village which was at a distance from Pandharpur. She was a very poor lady who was too old to do work and had to beg for her food from door to door. She had no one to call her own. Though she was very poor, she was extremely fond of Lord Vittala and had a life-long desire to visit Pandharpur and see Lord Vittala and Goddess Rukmayi (Mother Rukmini).The temple of Vittala (also called Vithoba) was very well known and is visited by lakhs of devotees even to this day.

Her desire to visit Pandharpur was like a fire raging within her heart and she wanted to see Vittala at least once in her life time.

Finally, one day she left for Pandharpur. She carried a small bag in which there was a fistful of grains she had got as alms. Trudging slowly, she reached the village which was on the banks of Bhima River (also known as Chandrabhaga). Pandharpur was on the opposite bank and one had to cross the river by ferry to reach Pandharpur and visit the temple of Vittala.

To the dismay of Gomai, the river was in spate and there was heavy demand for the ferry boat service. Taking advantage of the situation, the men operating the ferry boats were making huge money, overcharging the passengers who were anxious to reach Pandharpur before nightfall.  

Gomai was not having any money and when she tried to board a ferry, the boatman pushed her rudely that she almost fell into the water. With great difficulty she balanced herself and told the ferry man that she could give some grain as the charge to use the ferry.

“Get away” shooed the ferry man, laughing scornfully at her. “I don’t take grain. Give money if you have or else don’t waste my time”

One after another all the men operating the ferry boats refused to take Gomai as she did not have money to pay them.

Gomai’s hope was shattered. Here she was, with not a paisa in her hand and this river in spate was between her and her Vittala. She waited and waited, with her hope ebbing away. As she had feared, the last passenger also boarded the ferry and it looked like the ferry service was over for the day. The sun was almost setting and Gomai had lost all hope.

“Krishna, Vittala” she said bringing the image of Krishna in her mind’s eye, closing her eyes. “I am so unlucky that I cannot see you even after coming this far” she said to him. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She was lost in thought, all alone on the banks of the Bhima.

Her thought was interrupted by a sweet voice.

 “Ma, O Ma!” said the voice. “You want to cross the river, do you?”

Gomai opened her eyes and to her surprise, a young fisherman was standing in front of her. He was dark and had very handsome features and an adorable smile.

Before she could collect herself, he asked again, “Do you want to cross the river Ma?”

“Yes, Yes” said Gomai eagerly nodding her head. “I want to reach Pandharpur to see my beloved Vittala.” Then, she suddenly realized that there was no ferry and was puzzled.

The young fisherman, as if understanding her doubt said, “Don’t you worry Ma.  I will carry you on my back and swim across. Come on!”

Gomai was hesitant. “I do not have any money my boy” she said. “How will I pay you?  Also if you swim with me on your back my clothes will get wet. I don’t have another set of clothes” she said pitifully.

“Never mind Ma!” said the young fisherman. “I don’t take money. I just help the poor and needy. And don’t you worry about getting wet. I will skillfully take you across the river without your clothes getting wet”.

Without waiting for her response, he lifted Gomai on his shoulders and entered the swirling waters of the Bhima and before she knew it both of them were standing on the other bank and she could see the view of the temple tower of her beloved Vittala. It was as if she had been magically transported to the other bank. When she asked him how he transported her so quickly that too without wetting her clothes, the young fisherman, with a mischievous smile said, “That is my trick. I often do this for pilgrims who don’t have money for the ferry boat”.  

She was overcome with joy and profusely thanked the young fisherman and could not resist herself from giving him some grain she was carrying.  

“Take this my boy!” she said. “You have brought me across the river so swiftly and with so much care”.

The young fisherman flashing his enchanting smile again said, “Ma, tomorrow is Dwadashi. Give this grain to someone in need tomorrow in the name of Vittala. I take your leave now.” (People fast on Ekadashi day – 11th day of the fortnight of the waxing and waning moons and break the fast on Dwadashi -12th day)

So saying he walked away fast and disappeared in the crowd. Gomai was so happy that she could make it to Pandharpur at last and she went to the temple for the evening Aarti and worshipped Vittala fully satisfied.

She stayed over in a Chavadi (public guest house) and the next day morning also had Darshan of Vittala and Rukmayi and then, remembering the words of the fisherman, went out to give the grain she had to someone who was hungry. To her dismay, one after another all the persons to whom she offered the grain mocked at the humble offering and turned away.

She was feeling extremely sad that she had neither paid the young fisherman anything, nor was able to give the grain to anyone. While she was pondering thus, an old man came near her and said “Today is Dwadashi. I am poor and have nothing to eat. If you can spare me something to eat, I shall be extremely grateful”

 An overjoyed Gomai immediately put her hand into the bag and took out the grain. She noticed some cow dung cakes nearby and swiftly took them and lit a fire and roasted the grain on it and offered to the man. He took them with a grateful look in his eyes. “You also eat with me”, he told Gomai and she gladly ate some roasted grain with him. When the grain got almost over, an old lady approached them. The man acknowledged her arrival and said to Gomai “She is my wife. She must also be hungry. Give her some grains too”

Gomai was worried since she knew that there was not much grain left in the bag. She put her hand into her bag and lo and behold! There was enough and more grain. An elated Gomai took the grain and roasted some for the old lady which the lady ate with great relish. After they had finished eating, the man and the lady just disappeared into thin air in front of Gomai.

 It was then that she realized that they were indeed Lord Vittala and Goddess Rakumayi.

This is the story of Gomai as narrated by Shri Mahipati and this story once again reinforces the truth that to see God what is needed is pure love and devotion and nothing else.

You can read another story of Saint Narahari Sonar, also from the Bhaktavijayam here.

Eri Kaatha Ramar

Dear Readers, it has been quite some time from my previous story on Lingodbhava. This time I am sharing a story about an ancient temple near Chennai at a place called Madhurantakam.

For those who know about this place, the mention of Madhurantakam will immediately remind one of the temple of Sri Kodanda Rama and he is known as “Eri Kaatha Ramar” (E in Eri to be pronounced as ‘A’ in ‘ace’ and ‘ri’ as in river). Eri means lake or water reservoir in Tamizh and this Rama is said to have protected the town from inundation due to flooding of the reservoir. This reservoir is indeed huge – it is two thousand four hundred acres in area today! Could have been larger two centuries ago.

Madhurantakam is about one hundred kilometres from Chennai and this temple of Rama is more than a thousand years old. It is believed that the Cholas patronized this town and temple. It is possible that the water reservoir was constructed by them since they were well known for their excellent administration and interest in creating agricultural prosperity.

It is in this temple the great Vaishnavite saint Sri Ramanujacharya was initiated by his teacher Periya Nambigal.

Ma Seetha is known by the name ‘Janakavalli Thaayar” in this temple and she has a separate shrine in this temple. The story of today is of this shrine.

In the years 1795-1799, Madhurantakam came under the jurisdiction of the British Collector Colonel Lionel Blaze. During the monsoon season, the reservoir near the temple used to get filled up and sometimes would breach causing great flooding of the city. It had happened a couple of times and the Colonel had had a terrible time arranging to repair the breach braving the torrential rain and this time, he wanted to be extra cautious and decided to camp at Madhurantakam during the rainy season.

While staying there, he happened to visit the temple of Sri Kodanda Rama. He was received with honours by the priest and was shown around the temple, when he noticed that granite stones were stacked in a corner in the temple compound.

Looking enquiringly at the priest he exclaimed, “What are those stones kept for? They could be used for raising the bund of the reservoir.”

The priest said “Sir, we have planned to build a temple for Seetha Matha and those stones are for that.  Due to paucity of funds we have not started the construction”.

The Colonel looked at the priest with scorn and said, “Funds for building a temple? What is the need for a separate temple for your Goddess? There is need of fund for more compelling things like repairing the bunds of the reservoir. Or will your Rama prevent the bunds from being breached?”

His voice was full with contempt, seeming to mock the faith of the believers.

“Yes Sir, if one has steadfast belief in Rama and offer sincere prayers, he will surely prevent the bunds from being breached” the priest replied in a soft but firm voice. Colonel Lionel Blaze observed the priest but did not say anything.

That night it started raining. Within a short while it started pouring heavily accompanied by deafening thunder and flashes of lightning. It was becoming stronger by the minute and it was as if the water was falling in sheets. Colonel Lionel Blaze had set up his camp with a team of people in a makeshift tent, a little farther from the banks of the reservoir to monitor the situation. They were supposed to check for breaches in the bund every now and then and had kept sand bags ready in case the bunds were breached. But considering the size of the tank, it was going to be an extremely difficult task if there was a breach.

The night was advancing and there was no respite from the rain. The Colonel was worried and he had been going out of his tent every now and then, assessing the situation. The terrible thunder and lightning was also continuing and the members of the Colonel’s team were also going out with him and assessing the intensity of the rain and the level of water on the ground.

It was past midnight. Now, the Colonel went out once again with a few people from his team. The moment he went out there was a streak of lightning so bright, and there was this miraculous sight! Colonel Lionel Blaze could see the figures of two young men walking along the banks of the reservoir. They who were looking majestic and had the gait of lions. Both had bows in their right hand and a quiver full of arrows strung to their shoulders. The Colonel had goosebumps. The lightning flashed once again and he saw them again. There was a radiant glow around them and the Colonel could not take his eyes off them. Then, the rain suddenly stopped all of a sudden and the men vanished.

The Colonel then turned around to his team only to find that they were totally unaware of what the Colonel saw.

The Colonel was filled with deep bliss and slept peacefully. He realised that he had seen Lord Sree Rama and Lakshmana in person.

The day dawned with a bright sun and the Colonel whose anxiety had vanished went to the temple. He told the priests and people what he had witnessed and to the joy of all present undertook the building of the shrine of Janakavalli Thaayaar.

This incident is recorded in the temple in an edict and can be seen even this day.

Thus Lord Kodanda Rama earned the name of “Eri Kaatha Ramar”

Lingodbhava

Hello Readers, I am penning this story after a long gap today to celebrate the eighth anniversary of Storibuzz.in today.

Thank you all for reading the stories and giving me your valuable comments which I cherish. It feels so nice to know that the blog is being useful to many and serving the purpose with which I started it.

Mahashivaratri is around the corner and I am offering this story of Lord Shiva today as an offering to Him.

All of us would have seen the murti of ‘Lingodbhava’ in almost all Shiva temples. He is usually stationed right behind the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Shiva, on the outer wall exactly behind where the Linga is on the inside.

Lingodbhava is Linga Udhbhava which means, emergence of a Linga.

Now, what is this story or from where did this Linga emerge? This is the legend we shall see today.

Once upon a time, in heaven, there was a dispute between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu on who was superior. They could not arrive at a conclusion and decided to ask Shambhu (Another name for Lord Shiva) and so they went to Him.

As they mentioned about their disagreement, Lord Shiva disappeared and a huge column of fire appeared. It looked like a huge Lingam and was so huge that there did not seem to be an end to it nor could anyone fathom the beginning. The voice of Lord Shiva was heard, asking Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma to find the beginning or end of the column of fire. Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu knew that this fire in a Linga form, was Lord Shiva.

Lord Brahma said to Lord Vishnu, “I will search the end of this Linga of Fire” and he assumed the form of a swan and started flying upward.

Lord Vishnu had no option but to find the beginning or origin of the Linga. The Linga was going beneath the ground on the earth and no one knew from where it had begun. So Lord Vishnu chose to assume the form of a wild boar and with its horns, the boar dug the earth furiously around the Linga and went down little by little hoping to find the beginning of the Linga.

As he went down further and further it was of no avail. He was extremely tired and he was nowhere near the beginning.

Lord Brahma on the other hand also could not find the end of the fire column and he was also getting tired. But he was too egoistic to go and admit to Lord Vishnu that he had been unsuccessful. He thought that if Lord Vishnu had managed to find the beginning of the Linga, Lord Vishnu would be considered supreme.

He was pondering as to what to do when he suddenly saw a Ketaki flower falling from up. Ketaki flower is called as “Thazampoo” in Tamizh. Brahma stopped the Ketaki flower and demanded where it was coming from. The flower replied that it was falling from the head of Lord Shiva.

“Aha!” thought Lord Brahma to himself. “This is an opportunity for me to establish my supremacy. Let me try.” Thinking so he told the flower about his challenge with Lord Vishnu and tried to convince the flower to be his partner in crime.

“You come with me to Lord Vishnu and tell him that you are a witness to my finding the end of the Lingam. Lord Vishnu will believe you since you adorn Lord Shiva’s locks” said he, knowing fully well that it was wrong to cheat like that.

The Ketaki flower was reluctant at first, but agreed to do as Lord Brahma said, and it descended along the column of fire along with Lord Brahma. When they reached the ground Lord Vishnu was puzzled as he saw the Ketaki flower with Lord Brahma.

Lord Brahma uttered a lie to Lord Vishnu without any shame. “Lord Vishnu, I have seen the end of this Lingam, which is Lord Shiva’s head” said he with a proud smile. Pointing to the Ketaki flower, he said, “I have obtained this flower from the ‘Shiras’ (head) of Lord Shiva”. The flower nodded in agreement.

Lord Vishnu, who did not even imagine that Lord Brahma would try to cheat, immediately folded his hands in obeisance to Lord Brahma. “I accept your supremacy Lord Brahma” he said with utmost humility and was about to bow his head when a booming voice emerged from the huge Lingam.

“Stop!!” said the voice.

As Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma looked around bewildered, Lord Shiva emerged from the fiery Lingam, his eyes red with anger.

He was enraged as Lord Brahma had uttered a lie and was trying to cheat Lord Vishnu.

Looking at Lord Brahma Lord Shiva said in a thundering voice, “You, Brahma! You have cheated! How dare you tell a lie? You could not find the end of the Lingam but you lied to Lord Vishnu? I curse you that you will never be worshipped in temples by the people of the world. This is a punishment for your conceit!”

Turning to the Ketaki flower which was trembling with fear, Lord Shiva said, “And you, Ketaki! You also agreed to the words of Brahma and jointly cheated Vishnu? I am disgusted with your behavior! I curse you that hence forth you shall not be used for worshipping me! You don’t deserve to be in my company!”

Then, he turned to Lord Vishnu with a smile and held his hands and said lovingly, “Hari, you will be loved and worshipped by mankind as they worship me!”

From then, there are no temples for Lord Brahma and the Ketaki flower is not used in the worship of Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu, on the other hand is equally loved and worshipped as Lord Shiva is, in this world!

This is the story depicted by the ‘Lingodbhava’ murti in Shiva temples. Do not forget to observe Him when you go to a Shiva temple this Shivaratri.

Story of Meiporul Nayanar

Dear Readers, this time I am bringing a story of the Nayanmars after a long time.

If you are reading a Nayanmar story for the first time, you may read the background guide on Nayanmars by clicking here.

This is the story of Meiporul Nayanar. I do not know the exact timeline of Meiporul Nayanar but it should be before the 8th century since the eighth century saint-poet Sundaramoorthy Nayanar (Sundarar) has mentioned him in his Thiruthonda Thogai.

Meiporul was a chieftain of Miladu Nadu, which was the area around the modern Tirukkoyilur in Tamil Nadu. These chieftains had the title of Chedi Rayars and Meiporul was one of the best rulers Miladu Nadu had seen. He had all the qualities of a noble ruler and was strong both physically and mentally. No enemy could defeat him in whatever manner they tried. His subjects were extremely happy and satisfied under his rule.

Not only was he a good king, but he was also an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. So much was his devotion, that he would regard any one sporting holy-ash (Vibhuti) and Rudraksha as the form of Lord Shiva and worship them. Hence any Saivite saints (called Shivanadiyaars) could go to his palace to meet him at any time of the day or night without any security check.

Now, there was a chieftain of a neighbouring kingdom, by name Muthanathan who was envious of Meiporul and the prosperity of his kingdom. He was always aiming at annexing Meiporul’s territory. He had attacked the Tirukkoyilur a couple of times but met with defeat every time. He was fuming with the insult he had had to swallow and was wondering how he could kill Meiporul and usurp his territory. Meiporul did not have any vices and there was no way by which he could be enticed and trapped.  

Muthanathan thought for a long time and got a wicked idea.

After a few weeks, one night, a Saivite saint (Shivanadiyaar) was seen walking towards the palace of Meiporul. It was late night and very dark. The saint was dressed in saffron robes, sported a long beard and had Vibhuti smeared all over his body and forehead. He wore strings of Rudraksha beads on his neck, ears and around his arms too. He was carrying something that seemed to be old palm leaf manuscripts wrapped in a cloth. His hair was tied up in a bun on the top of his head.

The saint was walking straight into the palace as if he had an appointment with Meiporul. None of the security guards could stop and check him as they had strict instructions never to stop or question any Shivanadiyaar who wanted to meet Meiporul.

He entered the palace and walked past room after room looking for Meiporul.  Meiporul had gone to rest. The saint seemed to realize that Meiporul had gone to sleep and started walking towards the bedroom chamber. This was guarded by one Dathan. Instinctively Dathan did not like the sight of the saint walking right up to the bedroom chamber at this odd hour. He tried to prevent the saint from walking in.

The saint just brushed Dathan aside and went into the bedroom. Meiporul’s wife who had still not slept, stood up on seeing the saint and woke up Meiporul. Meiporul was extremely delighted to see a Shivanadiyaar walk straight in to meet him. He hurriedly fell at the saint’s feet and told his wife to bring a golden plate and some scented water to wash the feet of the saint. He offered the saint a seat.

“No need of any offering to me Meiporul.  I have come here to impart to you some rare knowledge on emancipation from this mortal life. This knowledge was imparted to me by none other than Lord Shiva himself” said the saint pointing to the packet he was carrying.

“I am ready to learn what you want to teach me O holy one!” said Meiporul as he sat at the feet of the Shivanadiyaar.

Dathan was watching from the entrance of the room with suspicion and Meiporul’s wife was also in the room.

The saint noticed them and told Meiporul, “Please ask everybody to go out of the room and close the door. What I teach must be heard only by you as per the instruction of Lord Shiva”.

Meiporul told his wife and Dathan to leave the room. He went and closed the door.

He came back and sat on the ground, at the feet of the saint who was seated on a seat. He bowed his head expecting the saint to tell him the secret knowledge in a low tone. The saint also bent down, pretending to open the cloth bundle and take out the palm leaf scripts and within seconds had stabbed Meiporul repeatedly on the back with a dagger which was hidden in the cloth bundle. All one could hear was the muffled sound of Meiporul. The saint was none other than Muthanathan.

Dathan’s sharp ears picked up the sound as he was just outside and he rushed in to see his beloved king on the ground in a pool of blood. Dathan recognized Muthanathan now and came swiftly towards him with a raised dagger when Meiporul stopped him. In a weak voice and panting for breath, he said, “Datha, do not harm him. Even if he is our sworn enemy, he is Lord Shiva to me as long as he is wearing the attire of a Shivanadiyaar. Please escort him to outside the city as our people will not spare him if they know what has happened. So please go and leave him safely and come back”

Dathan was in terrible sorrow and was crying bitterly, overwhelmed by Meiporul’s devotion to Lord Shiva and his magnanimity. He had to, however obey the king and he escorted Muthanathan. By this time many people had come to know what had happened and charged at Muthanathan with sticks and stones, but Dathan shielded him and told the people about Meiporul’s order. He then went and left Muthanathan at the outskirts and returned back to the palace and conveyed to Meiporul that his order had been complied with.

As Meiporul’s life was ebbing away Lord Shiva appeared to Meiporul and all present and blessed Meiporul to come with Him to Kailash. Meiporul breathed his last in this mortal world and entered the world of bliss with Lord Shiva. He came to be known as ‘Meiporul Nayanar’.

The story of Kanakadhara Stotram

Adi shankara taking alms of a dried gooseberry from the poor lady

Today is Adi Shankara Jayanthi, the birth anniversary of Guru Adi Shankara and as a tribute to the Guru, I am going to narrate the story behind his composition of the Kanakadhara Stotram on Goddess Mahalakshmi. This Stotram or hymn is considered to be very powerful in propitiating Goddess Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.

Shankara, who later on became known as Adi Shankara, was born in Kaladi in Kerala in 509 BCE. His parents were Sivaguru and Aryamba and they were blessed by Lord Shiva to have such an excellent child who was the epitome of intelligence and divinity.

After his father passed away when he was four years of age, Shankara started his studies at a Gurukul. It was the practice in ancient India for the students in a Gurukul to go and seek alms every day from strangers for their food. They would bring back what was collected and share it with the other students and the teacher and eat. They would have to go far and wide for this purpose. This practice of seeking alms from strangers brought in the attitude of humility in the students, since they had to give up their ego while begging for food.

Shankara, one day, as usual went for collecting alms and went to a hut. He stood in front of the hut when he saw that there was a lady there. He said in a melodious voice “Bhavati Biksham Dehi!” which translates into “Mother, give me alms!”

The lady was wearing tattered clothes and had a pale and haggard appearance. She was apparently very poor. However, Shankara did not choose to move away, since anyway, after calling out three times, if there was no response, the practice was to move away and go to the next place. The lady noticed Shankara and acknowledged his presence with a smile. Then she seemed to be frantically searching for something.

The fact was, that she was terribly poverty-stricken and there was not a grain in the house. But the virtue of hospitality was so abundant in India in those days and now also to a certain extent, that one deemed it a privilege to feed strangers and wholeheartedly served strangers with the best of what they had.

Such being the case, this lady was frantically searching in her hut inside the pots and pans for some rice and dal, but alas! There was none. Her face wore a worried look. Here, there was this young innocent child who was face shone with intelligence,waiting at the doorstep for food. . He was looking like the Sun God in the form of a child.

The lady felt she had to give him something. It was the day of Dwadashi (twelfth day from waning or waxing of moon) and generally people who observed the Ekadashi fast would break the fast on Dwadashi by consuming a gooseberry fruit (amla). She remembered that there was a gooseberry left and searched on the upper shelf in the kitchen and found the one which she had kept for herself. The fruit had dried up and was in the size of a pea.

She took that and brought it with great trepidation to Shankara, who was waiting outside. She was not sure whether a dried gooseberry could be given as alms, or whether Shankara would even accept the same. With great hesitation she came to Shankara and placed it in his begging bowl. She could not control her tears and told him that it was the only thing available in her house which she could offer him and requested him earnestly to accept this offering.

Shankara was moved by the woman’s selflessness. Here was a woman who did not have anything for herself but unhesitatingly gave away the only thing she had, so as to not send back Shankara empty- handed. This feeling in him poured out as a beautiful Hymn in praise of Goddess Lakshmi. In this spontaneous outburst, he prayed and pleaded with the Goddess of Wealth Devi Mahalakshmi to cast her grace on this poor lady. The words of the hymn which contains twenty one stanzas were very lyrical and divine.

Goddess Mahalakshmi was moved by the beautiful hymn of the little Shankara (who was all of five years old then), and appeared in the skies, and suddenly, there was a downpour of gooseberry fruits made of gold on the hut of the poor lady, who was taken by surprise and could not believe her eyes. But it was true. It just rained and rained of golden gooseberries.

This hymn which Shankara sang, came to be known as Kanakadhara Stotram (Kanaka – Gold; Dhara – continuous pour).

The lady’s hut where this happened in the village Punnorkode came to be known as ‘Swarnathu Mana’ (Gold House). Punnorkode is in Ernakulam district of Kerala.

It is pertinent to mention that in as recent as 2001, the land where the house stood was acquired from the previous owners, and a beautiful Mahalakshmi temple has been constructed in the very same place where the incident happened. This temple was consecrated in 2018.

This is the story behind the Kanakadhara Stotram.

Adi Shankara lived for a very brief period of thirty-two years on this earth and has authored innumerable sacred hymns and texts.

I shall come back with the full story of Adi Shankara sometime later.

Bhadrachala Ramadasu

Greetings to all on the auspicious Ram Navami which was celebrated few days back!!

Ram Navami is the birthday of Lord Sri Ramachandra of Ayodhya and I am narrating the story of one of Sri Rama’s devotees Bhadrachala Ramadasu.

Bhadrachala Ramadasu was a 17th century devotee who was born as Kancharla Gopanna (or Goparaju). He was born in 1620 CE at Nelakondapalli which is in Khammam district of present day Telengana. His parents Linganna and Kamamba were affluent brahmins, and his two uncles Madanna and Akkanna were ministers in the court of Qutb Shahi Sultan Abul Hassan Tana Shah, also known as Tani Shah.

Tani Shah was the eighth and last ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golkonda till 1687, when he was defeated and captured by Aurangazeb as his relations with the Mughals had become strained.

Gopanna was devoted to Lord Sri Rama since his childhood and had unwavering faith in Him. After he finished his education, he was appointed as the Tehsildar (tax collector) of Palvancha Taluk by his uncle Akkanna, who was working under Tani Shah.

It is said that Gopanna was a very sincere person with the highest level of integrity and did his job of collecting revenue of Palvancha Taluk in a splendid manner, but at the same time not giving up his worship of his Ishta Devata Sri Rama by always chanting the ‘Rama Nama’ and feeding the poor.

Once, Gopanna had to visit a village fair in the nearby Bhadrachalam. There was an old temple of Lord Sri Rama at Bhadrachalam. It was in a very dilapidated state.

When Gopanna saw the state of the temple, he was very mentally disturbed. The temple was ancient, and it was said that Sri Rama had visited Bhadrachalam on his way to Kishkintha. This temple was also said to be the place where Sri Rama had given directions to another great poet Pothana to translate the Bhagavatham into Telugu.

Such a historically significant temple lying in ruins was something which Gopanna could not digest.

The idols of Rama and Seetha were dressed in dirty oily clothes with no ornaments whatsoever and the scene filled Ramadasu with tears. “He is the one who provides everything for all the beings in this universe. And here He is not being taken care of…” the very thought left Ramadasu distraught.

“It is Rama who has made me visit this place, as I am destined to restore this temple to its original glory” he said to himself.

He enquired with the people there.

“We do not have the resources to renovate the temple Sir” they said.

“True” thought Gopanna. “To renovate the temple earnestly and restore its grandeur, it will cost a lot”

Thinking thus, he told the people, “Do not worry, we will all join and renovate this temple. Please contribute whatever you can”

The people were very willing to contribute whatever they could by way of money and jewels and Gopanna pooled in his resources and in the process emptied all his savings also.

The temple was coming up very well but Gopanna was not satisfied as he wanted to give the very best only to his beloved Sri Rama. He made so many ornaments with gold and pearls, like the Chintaku Padakam, Patchala Padakam and other ornaments to decorate his beloved Rama and Seetha. His unending love and devotion to Rama and Seetha made him feel that whatever was done was not enough at all. So the renovation went on and on with magnificent structures being continuously added.

There was no more money left and when the villagers came to know of this, they suggested to him that he should use the revenue collections for the remaining amount and they (villagers) would replenish the amount after the harvest.

Gopanna, being an honest and upright person, thought for a while, but his love for Rama was so much that he did not think it was a wrong idea after all…

So, he used up the revenue collections as and when he collected and completed the truly magnificent temple for Sri Rama. The total amount of revenue collections used by him was six lakhs rupyas – without the permission of Tani Shah.

Historically, the silver coins were called ‘Rupyakam’ or ‘Rupya’. Interestingly the word ‘Rupee’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Rupyakam’ meaning silver coin.

After the completion of the temple, Gopanna was pondering on fixing a Sudarshan Chakra on the pinnacle of the Gopura of the main temple. That night, Lord Rama appeared in his dream and asked him to go and take a bath in the Godavari which flows near Bhadrachalam. When Gopanna went and did as the Lord instructed, he found a perfect Sudarshan Chakra in the river bed and took it as the Lord’s blessings and installed that on the Gopura.

The temple was consecrated with a very grand celebration and people from far and near came for the function. They were amazed by the sheer grandeur of the temple and the ornaments worn by the deities – all of which was given by Gopanna, who had by this time earned the name of Ramadasu – servant of Rama.

Word spread about the wonderful temple and very soon the news reached the ears of the King Tani Shah.  

Tani Shah, knowing the integrity of Gopanna, was perplexed on why this activity was not informed to him by Gopanna. It was strange that he got to know of a magnificent temple in a land ruled by him by someone, and not through Gopanna who was employed under him.

As he was enquiring about the cost of the temple and other details, some enemies of Gopanna who somehow got to know that Gopanna had used the revenue collections, used this opportunity and told Tani Shah that there was something fishy in this matter.

“You must investigate thoroughly, your Majesty!” they said, chuckling at the thought that Gopanna would soon be behind bars.

Tani Shah ordered an enquiry immediately. Gopanna admitted that he had spent all the revenue collections amounting to six lakhs rupyas.

“Yes. I have spent the money for the temple” he said without any remorse. “I have spent it for my Rama and all the villagers will help me in replenishing the money. I will deposit the money once I collect from them”

Tani Shah was furious. “Such audacity! Hmmm… Throw him in the dungeons till we receive six lakhs rupyas” he thundered. “No mercy for embezzlement and arrogance!”

The next moment Ramadasu was dragged by the burly soldiers of Tani Shah and thrown into a dungeon-like prison. It had no ventilation whatsoever, except for a hole at the top through which food would be thrown in.

The prison cell was ghastly. It was a terrible place to be in. Still, Ramadasu never believed that what he had done was wrong. He bore the heat and the cold and the darkness and loneliness by chanting the ‘Rama Nama’.

He wrote thousands of songs on Rama during this time, even scolding Rama in some of them! For instance in one song he sang, “Who made jewels for you, your uncle Janaka or your father Dasaratha? Your father made you leave all the ornaments in the palace and sent you to the jungle dressed in bark.” In another song he asked Seetha to represent his case to Rama. In yet another song he teases Rama and says, “Why don’t you open your mouth and say something? Is your mouth filled with pearls that will fall out if you open your mouth??”

Ramadasu languished in the dungeon for twelve long years and nothing happened. Then…

On a dark night when Tani Shah was blissfully asleep in his heavily guarded chamber, he heard the sound of someone calling out to him by name. “Tani Shah!” the deep majestic voice called. “Get up”.

Startled, Tani Shah got up to see in the dimmed oil lamp, the figures of two handsome lustrous youth beside his bed.

Shocked that someone had come into his chamber getting through the heavy security and stunned beyond words at the radiant glow emanating from the faces of the youth, he got up and stuttered “Wh.. who… are… you?”

The elder youth said, “I am Ramoji and this is my brother Lakshmoji. Here is the money which Ramadasu spent on building the temple. Take this.” And short of flinging he dropped a bundle of coins which landed with a jingle on Tani Shah’s bed. “Count it” said the younger lad, “Hmm… go on, count it and give us a receipt and the order for release of Ramadasu”. The voice was so powerful and mesmerizing that Tani Shah could not but obey it. He counted and counted and there were exactly six lakh coins- not silver rupya but Swarna rupya (gold coins) with the name Ram engraved on them. (The coins are still at the Bhadrachala Temple museum).

Tanisha picked up a feather used for writing and wrote with the dye a receipt for the money and the order for release of Ramadasu. In those days palm leaf was used as a writing sheet. The brothers took the receipt and left before Tanisha could collect himself and reconcile to what was happening.

It took some time for Tani Shah to come to his senses and upon realisation that he had seen Sri Ramachandra in person, he rushed to the dungeon where Ramadasu was languishing to see him released by the jailor who had been given the order by Ramoji and Lakshmoji. Tani Shah then described to Ramadasu what had happened and sincerely sought his forgiveness. He pledged to send pearls to the Bhadrachalam temple every Ram Navami, which is continued to this day by the Telengana government. (The government sends silk clothes and ‘Muthyala Thalambralu’ – Plates of pearls on every Ram Navami to the Bhadrachalam temple).

Ramadasu, instead of being happy to be released was more depressed that Sri Rama chose to give darshan to Tani Shah, who was a non-follower instead of to himself, who was singing Sri Rama’s praise day and night all these years. Following his release he went home. The only thought in his mind was on why Sri Rama did not appear to him in person and chose Tani Shah.

That night, he had a dream. Sri Rama appeared in the dream and told him of Tani Shah’s earlier birth where he had propitiated Shiva to a great extent but one day, in a fit of anger that Lord Shiva was not appearing before him, broke the Shiva Linga with the milk pot used for bathing the Shiva Linga.

His darshan to Tani Shah was the effect of Tani Shah’s propitiating Lord Shiva, said Sri Rama.

“But what about me? “asked Ramadasu. “What did I do to deserve the hell of a twelve year prison sentence?”

Sri Rama smiled. “You had caged a parrot for twelve days in your earlier birth. Every action of all beings have reactions. Now you are free. I will call you to me when the time comes”

Saying thus Sri Rama disappeared.

Ramadasu then lived up to the age of sixty, singing the praises of Lord Sri Rama, and died in 1680 CE.

Ironically, Tani Shah when defeated by Aurangazeb, when he captured Golkonda in 1687, was imprisoned for twelve years at Daulatabad before he died in 1699.

The compositions of Ramadasu well known to Carnatic musicians and he has also composed a collection of one hundred poems by name ‘Dasharathi Shatakam’.

Saint Thyagaraja, who was another ardent devotee of Rama, who lived in the next century has sung of Rama’s grace in ending Ramadasu’s misery, in his song “Ksheera Sagara Sayana” where he says,

dhIruDau rAma dAsuni bandhamu tIrcinadi vinnAnurA”

Meaning – I also heard (vinnAnurA) about Your bringing to an end (tIrcinadi) the incarceration (bandhamu) of the brave (dhIruDau) rAma dAsu (dAsuni)

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