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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)

Gods in quarantine

As the infection due to Corona virus is spreading in India also, there is lot of talk and practice of social distancing and quarantine, being alone in isolation. Even today, we are all under self-imposed curfew on this 22nd of March 2020.

Surprisingly, being in quarantine and isolation when sick is not restricted to human beings. There is an age old practice of “Anavasara” practiced in Puri, at the Jagannath temple, where the gods are ‘quarantined’ for fourteen days to help them recover from illness.

I thought it relevant to write about this now and so am just giving a brief write up on that today and not a full-fledged story.

Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra happens every year during the months of June- July and you can read more about it in my story Purushottam and Padmavathy by clicking here.

Eighteen days before the Rath Yatra, the full moon day of the Hindu month of Jyeshta is believed to be the birthday of Lord Jagannath.  On this day, there is a ritual called ‘Snan Yatra’, where the Murtis of the  Gods Balabadhra (Balarama), Jagannath (Krishna) and Subhadra (sister of Krishna and Balarama)  are brought from the sanctum sanctorum, in a grand procession with the accompaniment of cymbals, drums, bells and bugles to the ‘Snanabedi’ or bathing place within the temple premises near the Sithala temple.

There, these Murtis are bathed with 108 pitchers of cool scented water with the accompaniment of chants and music. Thousands of devotees come to witness this, as they believe their sins would be washed off by having a glimpse of the Gods bathing. This day is also known as ‘Deva Snana Poornima’ (Full moon day when the Gods bathe).

After the ritual bath, the Gods are initially dressed in the normal fashion. Later in the evening they are dressed in a grand manner resembling Ganesha and it is called ‘Gajabesha’. The huge crowd witnesses all the rituals. That day, the food for the Gods are also offered to them in full public view and after all this fun, at night, when it is time for them to go back to the sanctum sanctorum, the Gods are diagnosed to be sick, with a cold and fever!! Too much of cold water bathing in the hot and humid climate has done them harm, people believe.

The Gods cannot go back to their place in the temple!!

So Balabhadra, Jagannatha and Subhadra are taken to their private apartment, a place called “Anavasara Pindi” within the temple. This place is the ‘quarantine house’ for the Gods for the next fourteen days. No devotee is allowed to see the Gods. Only the ‘Raj Vaidya’ (the doctor) is allowed to see the Gods and ‘treat’ them for their illness. There are special servants (Daitapatis) akin to the nurses of today who ‘treat’ the Gods with special oils which are steeped with herbal extracts. These oils help in protecting the Murtis from insects since the Murtis are made of wood. They are also given a new coat of paint.

Interestingly, the Gods are offered only fruits, nuts and seeds in contrast with the ‘Chappan Bhog’ – the 56 types of food items offered to them on other days.

A representative picture (Pata Chitra) of the Gods is kept in the temple for people to worship. They are still there for the devotees even though physically not there. (Gods working from home??)

At the end of the fourteenth day of isolation, after all Ayurvedic treatments are over, the Murtis are believed to have gained “Naba Jouvana” or ‘new youthful vigour’ and they get ready for the Rath Yatra the next day.

This firmly drives in the fact that all activities need rest in between. Distancing and isolation is essential for returning back with renewed vigour!

Let us pray that this world overcomes this crisis and comes back with renewed vigour, by the grace of Lord Jagannath!

Narahari Sonar – The saint-poet

This is the lunar month of Kartik. This Hindu month is of immense importance to the devotees of both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva and both these Gods are worshipped with equal fervour in this month.

 Kartik month is also known as ‘Damodar Maas’ since, it is in this month that Lord Krishna who, as a child, was tied to a grinding stone by his mother as a punishment for his mischief. He thereby got the name Damodar. While crawling with the grinding stone tied to his waist, he granted salvation to two celestial beings who were cursed to be trees and hence this month is special for Lord Vishnu (Hari).

Similarly, Lord Shiva (Hara) at Somnath granted release to the Moon (Chandra) from a curse on the full moon day of the month of Kartik (Kartik Poornima). He is also believed to have vanquished the Asuras and destroyed their three cities as Tripurantaka on Kartik Poornima. Hence, this month is special for Lord Shiva.

This month being dear to both Hari and Hara, I want to share a story with you which tells us that Hari and Hara are one and the same.

In Pandarpur, there lived a goldsmith by name Narahari. He was called Narahari Sonar (meaning goldsmith). Theirs was a family of goldsmiths and Narahari was also following the family’s profession. He was an excellent and honest goldsmith who was known for his prowess in making the best jewelry. In those days there were no machines to make jewelry. All jewelry was hand- made.

Narahari was a staunch Shaivite.  Shaivites are worshippers of Lord Shiva. He was a fanatic Shaivite that he would not even look at the Gopura (Temple tower) of Lord Vithoba’s temple which was near his house.

 Pandarpur is the abode of Lord Vithoba (Vishnu) and Goddess Rukmini (Lakshmi) and one always associates Pandarpur with Vithoba and Rukmini. The shrine of Lord Vithoba is very famous and draws crowds from all over the world even now.

In those days also, there would always be thousands of visitors to Vithoba Rukmini temple at Pandarpur.

Narahari, however, always prayed to Lord Shiva at the Mallikarjuna (a form of Shiva) temple situated nearby Vithoba Rukmini temple but would be careful enough not even to look at the Vithoba temple. During temple festivals of the Vithoba Rukmini temple he would move to some other village nearby as he did not want to even hear Vithoba’s names and songs. Such was the extent of his extreme devotion to Lord Shiva.

One day, a rich landlord from a neighbouring village came to his shop.

“I heard that you are the best goldsmith in Pandarpur. I want to get a waistband made in gold embedded with precious stones. Can you make it?” he asked Narahari.

“Sure, why not?” said Narahari. Tell me for whose size it is to be made. Have you brought the person so that I can take the measurement?”

The landlord smiled. “No…no… I cannot bring the person here” He paused for a while as Narahari looked puzzled. “It is for Vithoba”, he said.

Narahari became furious as if the landlord had uttered something unpalatable.

“For that God? No. I will not be able to make it. You can go to anyone else”, he said rudely, showing the way out to the landlord.

The landlord was not the person who would budge. He did not even get up but started talking calmly to Narahari.

“Look here Narahari, I have been married for ten years and did not have a child till now. After praying to Vithoba, my wife and I have been blessed with a child. I had decided that, to express my gratitude to my God, I would adorn him with the best gold waistband made specially for Him. Therefore I came to you knowing that you are the best Sonar available. Your job is to make the jewel, whether it is for a human being or a God and I think it is wrong for you to treat a customer like this. After all, I am only asking you to make a jewel, not to pray to the God for whom you are making the jewel. Please therefore think again before you tell me to go”

Something in the voice of the landlord made Narahari to be a bit patient and think.

“What you say is correct” said Narahari. “But I will need the measurement to make this jewel and I will NOT come to the temple of this God how much ever you coax me to. It is left to you to decide what to do”.

The landlord thought for a while. “Okay” said he. “I will go and take the measurement of Vithoba’s waist with a thread and give it to you and you make the waistband. Is it OK?”

Narahari had no excuse and had to agree. The landlord gave Narahari few bars of gold and some precious rubies and emeralds to be embedded in the waistband which he was going to make.

The landlord then went to the temple and with the help of a thick thread, took the measurement of Lord Vithoba’s waist and returned. He gave the thread to Narahari and told him to make the jewel for the measurement given, as early as possible. Narahari agreed to keep it ready in a week’s time.

The landlord returned after a week to find the beautiful jewel ready. It was so exquisitely made and the gems embedded on it made it look so ornate and the landlord could not wait to see it adorn his beloved Vithoba. He thanked Narahari profusely for having put in his heart and soul into making this wonderful jewel and paid him the fees promised. He then hurried to the temple with his wife, child and family.

After doing Puja and other rituals, the landlord requested the temple priest to adorn Vithoba with the waistband. The priest tried to tie the band around the waist of Lord Vithoba and fasten the hook, but it was a tad too short that the ends of the waistband could not be hooked and therefore Vithoba could not be adorned with the waistband. The priest told the landlord to go back to the goldsmith and add a link to the waistband so that it would be a little longer and would fit the waist of Vithoba.

The landlord, though disappointed, could not help it and went back to Narahari and told him that the band was tight. Narahari was also puzzled since he had made it exactly as per the measurement given to him.

“How come there has been a flaw in my work” he thought to himself. However, he apologized to the landlord and told him to come the next day so that he could add a link to one side of the waistband to make it a little longer.

The landlord came the next day and checked if the link was added and satisfying himself took the waistband to the temple. “It will surely fit my Vithoba” he thought to himself.

This time also the landlord was in for a surprise. The waistband which was only  a wee bit short the day before, had become extremely long and loose and was sliding down the thighs of the ‘Murti’ of Vithoba.

Both the priest and the landlord and his family were shocked this time too.

The landlord could not help but exclaim his surprise aloud. “Oh Vithoba! How can this be? Yesterday it was only little bit short….”

The priest felt bad for the landlord and said to him, “I think the measurement was not taken properly. Do not worry. Go back to the goldsmith and bring him in person to take the measurement”. He did not know that Narahari had made the jewel.

The landlord was feeling very sad and silently walked back from the temple once again to Narahari’s place.

“What happened now?” asked Narahari in an irritated tone. The landlord sadly told what had happened and requested Narahari to come personally to take the measurement of Vithoba.

You can imagine how furious Narahari was. “I CANNOT AND WILL NOT COME TO THAT TEMPLE” he yelled angrily.

The landlord was not the one to give up so easily. He calmly pleaded, then argued, quarreled with Narahari and finally made him accept to come to the temple of Vithoba to take the measurement himself.

“But one condition” said Narahari wanting to have the last word. “I will only come blindfolded to the temple and you will have to lead me to your God to enable me take the measurement. I do not want to see your God even by accident. Are you agreeable to this?”

The landlord was waiting for this moment and gladly agreed to the condition.

So Narahari took a thick black cloth and made the landlord blindfold him by tying the cloth tightly across his eyes. He held the hand of the landlord and proceeded to the temple of Vithoba walking slowly. Finally they reached the ‘garbagriha’ (sanctum) of Vithobha, with Narahari standing exactly facing Vithoba ready to measure him.

Since he had no idea of the ‘Murti’ of Vithoba, he was groping about the ‘Murti’ trying to locate the waist of Vithoba. But he thought he felt a tiger skin. He moved his hands a little further up and he felt something like a “Rudraksha”. “Am I imagining?” thought Narahari. Tiger skin and Rudraksha belonged to his Lord Shiva and he thought he was measuring Vithoba. He paused for a moment and again felt the upper part of the ‘Murti’ and what was that? He felt a slimy thing like a snake and also felt water droplets fall on his hands. Wasn’t that Ganga from the matted locks of his beloved Shiva??

He was overcome with curiosity and without a thought removed his blindfold and there was Vithoba smiling at him.

Narahari immediately shut his eyes tight.

“Wrong, wrong, forgive me Lord Shiva” he mumbled hurriedly and put on his blindfold once again.

“Tighten the blindfold further” he said in an angry tone to the landlord as the landlord obeyed not knowing what was happening to Narahari.

Narahari once again tried to measure the waist, now that he had seen a glimpse of the “Murti” but once again, he felt a snake like a belt and a deer skin. He thought he heard the strains of the Damru (Shiva’s drum) “dum dum dum dum” along with the rhythmic jingle of anklets.

Getting goosebumps, he immediately removed the blindfold and there was Vithoba smiling at him once again, just as a dad would play Peekaboo with his kid. Narahari did not close his eyes this time, as he could not resist looking at the endearing smile of Vithoba and the longer he stared at Vithoba, he could not decipher if it was Shiva or Vithoba he was seeing,  as the ‘Murti’ appeared to him both as Shiva and Vithoba.

That was his moment of realisation!

Realisation that Vithoba and Shiva were one and the same. Narahari felt so ashamed of himself.

 “What an idiot I have been!” he lamented. “Oh! Vithoba, not knowing you are the same as my Shiva, how many years I have missed seeing your beautiful face! What an ill-fated destiny I have had, not to see your lotus feet whilst living so near to your abode! Forgive me O’ Lord!”

Saying thus he fell flat at the feet of Vithoba who was still smiling sweetly as if amused. Tears were streaming from the eyes of Narahari. His heart was throbbing with bliss and out of the bliss poured out beautiful lines of poetry. All the people who were witnessing this were awestruck as Narahari Sonar described his experience through a beautiful song.

Narahari became “Sant Narahari” and his life changed drastically after this event. He composed many devotional hymns on Vithoba and became his staunch devotee.

It is said that Sant Narahari bid goodbye to this world in 1311 but his songs live on. Narahari’s story is found in the Marathi text “Bhakta Vijaya” written by Mahipati, in the 18th century. This text contains the biographies of poet saints who lived between the 13th and 17th century.

Tiruvadirai Kali – An interesting legend

Yesterday was Tiruvadirai (Ardra) star of the Margazhi month. Margazhi in Tamil and Mrigasira in Sanskrit and some other languages, this is the period between Mid-December to Mid-January.  Ardra or Tiruvadirai as it is known, this star mostly coincides with the full moon and sometimes is a day before or after full moon day. This day is dear to Lord Shiva and is celebrated in the South of India as “Ardra Darisanam” (Darshan of the Lord Shiva on Ardra day).

There are a couple of legends associated with this day, but I am going to narrate the legend associated with the sweet dish made on this day as an offering to the Lord Shiva, in Tamilnadu.

In the 10th century CE, there was a woodcutter by name Senthan, who lived near Chidambaram. Senthan was illiterate, and was an ardent devotee of the Lord Shiva of Chidambaram. In Chidambaram, the Lord is in the form of Nataraja, the dancing Shiva.

Though poor, Senthan had the practice of feeding a good meal to one devotee of Shiva every day. His means were limited and he had a hand to mouth existence. His only income was from felling and selling wood. Still, unless he fed one devotee of Shiva every day Senthan would not rest.

 “Feeding a devotee of Shiva is equivalent to feeding Lord Shiva himself” he used to say to himself.

Fortunately, his family supported his good deed and he had managed to carry on this practice for years together without a break.  Senthan’s life was going on peacefully.

One day in the month of Margazhi , early in the morning, there was a heavy downpour. It was so heavy that very soon there was ankle deep water everywhere. The rain did not stop and it went on drizzling the whole day.

Senthan went out to fell wood but the trees were all so wet. In spite of the rain, Senthan managed to get some wood and brought them to the market. He was in for a shock as people refused to buy wet wood.

“Sentha, you know we cannot use the wet wood in our stoves. How can we buy from you?” they said. “Dry them up after the sun comes up and we shall buy afterwards”. They were perfectly right in not buying the wood. Who would buy wet wood?

Senthan was worried about his income that day. No selling meant no money, no rice, provisions and fresh vegetables for the guest and no feeding of devotee that day.

“Please, please buy at least some wood today” was all that he could plead with the people who were shopping for wood. He could not tell them his worry of not being able to feed a devotee. His pleas were of no avail as people went about to other shops who had stocked dry wood.

Depressed by the day’s events, Senthan went home with a heavy heart. It was nearing late afternoon and there were not many people on the road due to the continuous rain.

He sat on the verandah of his house, contemplating on how to keep up his vow. He had neither the rice to cook for a devotee nor a devotee to feed that day. He could not, but reconcile to the situation by thinking that it was the Lord’s will indeed that his vow should be broken.

“I surrender to you O Lord” he mentally prayed. “If this is your will, so be it”. He bowed down his head as if the Lord was in front of him.

As he raised his head, he saw a person clad in saffron, wearing the Rudraksha beads, walking towards his house. The person’s face exuded saintliness and radiance. It was as if he was some divine being.

Senthan was, for a moment overjoyed, that he got a person to feed, but the very next moment, remembered that there was not a morsel of rice to cook. He was in a dilemma, as to what to do. By that time, the saintly person had reached the verandah of Senthan’s house. In a deep and melodious voice he spoke, “I have been travelling all day long and I have a long way to go. Could I get something to eat?”

Senthan was trembling with joy. “Of course, Holy Sir! It is my privilege to feed you. Please, please do come in” The words had come out of his mouth involuntarily. As he gave the person water to wash his feet, Senthan’s logical mind came to the front. “What are you going to feed him Sentha?” it said. “You know very well there is not even a morsel of rice at home”

As if reading Senthan’s mind, the holy person said, “I am not particular about rice, my friend. I will happily partake whatever you give me. All I want is some food”.

Nodding his head in a hurry, Senthan rushed in to see if anything was available in the kitchen. His eyes fell on the small quantity of Ragi flour kept in a corner of a shelf and some little bit of jaggery in a small tin. Coconuts, being grown almost in all houses, used to be available in the house always.

After making his guest comfortable and giving him water to drink, Senthan quickly whipped up a sweet dish with the ragi flour, jaggery and coconut scrapings, the dish had the consistency of thick halwa and could be shaped into balls. It was called “kali” (pronunciation – ‘Ka’ as in cup and ‘Li’ as in liquid)

Praying to Lord Shiva to forgive him for not feeding rice and a full meal, Senthan offered this “kali” to the guest with great hesitation. The guest was so happy consuming the dish and kept telling Senthan that the dish was extremely tasty so much so that he wanted some of it to be packed for his dinner!

“I love this tasty preparation of yours. If something is still left, can you pack it for me so that I can eat it on my way for dinner?” said he.

Senthan was overjoyed and packed the remaining “kali” in a banana leaf using a thread made of banana fibre and gave it to the saintly guest.

The guest thanked Senthan and went his way.

The next day was the star of Ardra and early in the morning, there would be special worship to Lord Shiva at Chidambaram as in all Shiva temples. As the priests opened the doors of the sanctum of Chidambaram, they were shocked to see “kali” strewn around on the floor. Bits of “kali” were also sticking to the idol’s mouth and hand and there was a contented smile on Lord Shiva’s face.

The priests were aghast at this happening. Never was “kali” considered fit to be served to the Lord and never had it been served ever in the temple. So it was a mystery to all as to how this had happened in the locked temple. The harried priests immediately informed the happening to the King Gandaraditya Chola who was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva.

Gandaraditya was the second son of Parantaka Chola I who succeeded his father in 950 CE. Gandaraditya was himself a great devotee of Lord Shiva of Chidambaram. So was his queen Sembian Mahadevi. In fact Gandaraditya was a very reluctant ruler and was more of a saint that he gave up his throne to his brother Arinjaya Chola within a few years of becoming King, so that he could pursue religious activities full time.

It is said that in the everyday worship of Lord Shiva at his palace, at the end of the worship, Gandaraditya used to hear a soft tinkle of the Lord Nataraja’s anklets as a mark of the Lord’s presence there. This particular day the King did not hear the sound and was quite concerned as to whether something went wrong in his worship. He went to sleep with this thought nagging in his mind.

Early that morning, Gandaraditya had a dream in which Lord Shiva had appeared and told him that He had gone to Senthan’s house to eat “kali” and therefore was not present in the palace the previous evening. The King was wondering who this “Senthan” was and what was the “kali” Lord Shiva was referring to.

Just then, this news of ‘kali’ strewn in the sanctum of the Lord came in. As soon as he heard the news , the King, overwhelmed, rushed to the temple. He was overjoyed at the sight of the “kali” strewn all over. Describing his dream to the priests he asked eagerly, “Where is the great Senthan? I want to see him. He has fed the Lord with his own hands”

The priests were dumbfounded at the King’s revelation but they also did not know who this Senthan was. The King sent his guards into the town to find out about Senthan and came to know that Senthan had gone to witness the Rath Yatra of Nataraja which was scheduled to start shortly.

The King and priests rushed to the place of the Rath Yatra but could not locate Senthan as there was a huge crowd. .

As they were wondering what to do next, the time for pulling the Rath was nearing and as was the custom, the King also went to hold the sturdy rope with the help of which the Rath would be drawn. Little did he realise that Senthan was also holding the same rope behind him. Pull as they might, the Rath would not move even a millimeter, as the wheel of the Rath got stuck in the muddy ground as a result of the heavy rain the previous day.  

Suddenly, a booming voice was heard from the sky (Ashareeri). “Sentha”, the voice commanded, “sing Pallandu for me and the Rath will move”.

The voice was heard by all, loud and clear and all the people in the crowd were looking as to who this ‘Senthan’ was. Senthan himself was shocked at his name booming from the sky, but he was very sure that it was not he who was being addressed.

“I am an illiterate. So it must be some other Senthan in the crowd who is being addressed”, he thought to himself.

As if to respond to his thoughts, the voice boomed again, “You are the person Sentha! Focus on me and you will sing!”

Senthan immediately realised that it was his Shiva who was commanding him. He closed his eyes and meditated on the beautiful form of Nataraja and poetry flowed out of his mouth as a river would flow from its origin!

He, who had not even studied an alphabet, sang thirteen verses of the “Pallandu” in chaste Tamil. “Pallandu” is a song of blessing. In this song, Senthan has had the privilege to bless the Lord of the Universe thirteen times in the thirteen verses.

Gandaraditya, who had recognized Senthan by then was overcome with joy and respect and wanted to be blessed by him.

Lord Shiva, had once again showcased the devotion of an ordinary person, to the world, to reinforce the fact that to Him all are equal.  

And ‘kali’ became an offering to Lord Shiva on Ardra Darshan day!!

Tidbits

  • Gandaraditya was a composer of divine poetry himself. He has been acknowledged by Saivite scholars for his work called “Tiruvisaippa” which is a part of the Ninth Thirumurai of Saivite literature.
  • The offering of ‘kali’ is made these days with finely broken rice and jaggery. It is not known when the ingredient changed from Ragi to broken rice. Also some say that Senthan offered greens or mixed vegetables along with the sweet ‘kali’ and so a ‘koottu’ or mixed vegetable is also made and offered along with ‘kali’.

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