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Category: Faith and Devotion Page 2 of 4

Kaduveli Siddhar of Irumbai

Irumbai Maakaalam is a quaint village enroute Tindivanam (in Tamilnadu) from Pondicherry and the village houses an ancient temple of Lord Shiva by name Mahakaleshwar (or Maakaleshwar). The deity with the same name is in Ujjain in the North of India and in another temple near Kumbakonam also. This temple structure at Irumbai is said to have been built a thousand years ago by a Chola King though the deity should have been existing from much earlier as it is a place mentioned in the songs of Sri Tirugnanasambandar, Sundarar and Pattinathar. It is listed as the 32nd of the 275 temples (Padal Petra Sthalam) identified where the Nayanmars have visited and sang hymns.

There is a story of a Siddha associated with this temple which I am going to narrate here.

About five hundred to six hundred years ago, there lived a Siddha in this area now known to us as Kaduveli Siddhar. Siddhars are Tamil saints or mystics who were devoted to Lord Shiva. They were well versed in advanced yogic practices and most of them knew the art of preserving their bodies for hundreds of years and thus lived long lives. The “Siddha” system of medicine is based on the formulations of herbs as written in the ancient texts by the Siddhars.

Now, this Siddha in our story was doing intense penance under a peepul tree near this temple of Lord Shiva known as Maakaleshwar.

His tapasya or meditation was so very intense that he was generating lot of heat from his body and the whole area surrounding the temple and the villages had become very dry with lakes drying up and there was no rain. The King who was ruling from a neighbouring place called Edayanchavadi was also worried since the threat of a famine soon, loomed large.

The villagers could sense that the lack of rain was due to the intense meditation of the Siddha but they were afraid of waking him up from his meditation, fearing that he might curse him if awoken rudely. This news reached the King’s ears and he announced a reward for anyone who could successfully wake up the Siddha from his meditation.

There was a temple dancer in the village by name Valli and she also heard the King’s announcement.

“Well, let me try” thought she. She started observing the Siddhar day and night. He was sitting in padmasan (lotus pose) with his eyes closed all the time and was remaining so still that an anthill had started growing by his sides. She noted that occasionally he held out his palm, with eyes still closed and waited till a dry peepul leaf fell on his palm and when the leaf fell, he put it into his mouth and ate it, all the time his eyes closed. His only food was the occasional dry peepul leaf.

Valli got an idea. She prepared very thin rice appalams (chips) adding salt and took them to the place where the Siddhar was meditating. When he stretched out his palm to catch a falling leaf, she placed an appalam on his palm and he ate the same oblivious to the fact that someone was placing them on his palm.

This went on for a few weeks and the taste of salt brought in a change in the Siddhar and he opened his eyes to see what was causing this distraction to his meditation. Valli, with a group of villagers, stood in front, her palms joined in obeisance to the Siddha. Seeing the devotion and humility in the eyes of Valli and the villagers, the Siddha did not get angry.

“What do you seek?” he asked with kindness.

The headman of the village came up and said in a pleading voice, “O Holy Sir, our villages have not seen rain for months together since you sat for meditation. Please be kind enough Sir and bless us with rains!”

The Siddhar looked around at the sad faces of the crowd and said “So be it”. That very night it started raining heavily and the village got enough and more water. Meanwhile since the Siddhar had no house to stay, Valli offered him shelter in the verandah of her house where he slept, prayed and ate the food given by the villagers and Valli.

The King came to know that the heavy rain had been due to the blessings of the Siddha and wanted to have a grand celebration for all his people. As a part of the celebration, he wanted to honour Valli for her role in getting the Siddha’s blessings and so he gave her an opportunity to perform her dance in the temple in the presence of his royal family. The temple has a large courtyard even today where dance performances are held.

On the appointed day, Valli very happily came forward and started her performance in front of Lord Shiva. The royal family and the Siddha were seated on special seats and there was a huge crowd of public curious to see who this Siddha was.

One after another song Valli was dancing and the crowd was enthralled in the beauty of Valli’s dance with beautiful facial expressions and excellent footwork accompanied by the music performed by equally talented musicians who were singing and playing many instruments.

Suddenly one anklet from Valli’s left foot flew and fell near the Siddha. The link of the anklet was apparently loose. The Siddha who was absorbed in the dance was not seeing Valli as temple dancer, but was seeing Lord Nataraja in her. The sudden falling of the anklet was noticed by all and though the dance continued, the Siddha got up from where he was seated, picked up the anklet and went to Valli who was also confused as to why he was coming to her. She stopped the dance for a few seconds and he bowed down to tie the anklet to her foot. To him, the person in front was not Valli but the Lord Nataraja whose anklet had fallen and it was to Lord Nataraja that he was offering to tie the anklet.

When he bowed down, Valli and the whole crowd was aghast! This was blasphemy! A learned aged Siddha bowing to a dancing girl and wanting to tie her anklet…..

Valli was moving back step by step with the Siddha pleading with her to show her foot. And that also in a peculiar way… He was addressing her “My Lord, Lord of the Ponnambalam” and so on. (Ponnambalam refers to the temple of Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram)

“What cheap attitude!” someone muttered. “These days, everyone wears a saffron robe… haha” sneered someone else.

The mutters and mumbles grew to a large noise with people angrily commenting openly at the Siddha pointing fingers at him and accusing him.

Suddenly the Siddha realised that the people were jeering at him, some loudly and some laughing at him mockingly. He understood the situation in a jiffy and became terribly angry.

With the anklet in one hand he stomped to the sanctum of Maakaleswar, stood in front of him and addressing the Lord in a trance like state, said, “Oh Lord Shiva! You are a witness to what has happened here. You know that I saw your form of Nataraja in this girl who was dancing… but all these people here whose problem I solved by giving up my meditation have been so judgemental without knowing my connection with you. If what I am saying is true, please express your solidarity with me!”

As the crowd and the King watched, there was a deep rumbling sound and the Linga (form of Shiva) cracked into three pieces with shrapnel and dust flying from it falling far outside the temple.

The Siddha continued in an angry voice “The places upto which the dust from the Lingam have fallen shall not see rain again!”

He started to walk away from the temple when the King and the people realised the grave mistake they had committed and cursed themselves for their cheap thoughts. The King ran behind the Siddha and fell in front of him holding his feet and with tears in his eyes, repented for the bad happenings caused by his people.

“I will take on the punishment personally O Siddha Purusha! Please curse me instead. Please do not curse that there will be no rain. Please revoke your words O Holy man! I will give you whatever you seek, but please revoke your curse” he said.

The Siddha looked at him and was quiet for some time. Then he said “Well, I cannot revoke my curse but years later, people from foreign lands will come and settle here and then the place will be green again” Saying thus, the Siddha walked away not heeding to anybody’s pleading. The area became an arid land and the Siddha came to be known as “Kaduveli Siddhar”.

Legend has it that hundreds of years later when the Holy Mother came to Pondicherry as a disciple of Shri Aurobindo and people started coming from foreign lands, the Siddha’s words came true and the rains blessed the land again.

The temple at Irumbai is very well maintained and worth visiting and one can still see the Lingam which is split, which is held together by a copper wire.

One Hundred Hymns – The Story Of Abirami Pattar

My dear readers, this is the hundredth story in this blog of mine. I thank all of you who have been following all the stories encouraging me with your comments. I look forward to your continued patronage and the constructive comments.

For the hundredth story, I wanted a story which had some connection with the number hundred and by the time I decided upon the story I was pleasantly surprised with its coincidence with the period the incident has happened. This incident is said to have happened on the new moon day of the Tamil month of “Thai” which is from Mid-January to Mid-February. This year the new moon day of “Thai” falls on 27th January 2017. I see this coincidence as a blessing of the Supreme Power.

The first story of my blog being on Lord Shiva, it is only apt that the milestone of the hundredth story should be on Shakthi, the Mother of the Universe.

I am giving this time the story of an unusual saint, Abirami Pattar, who lived three hundred years back and has authored the Tamil literary work called “Abirami Anthaadhi” amongst various others.

Abirami Pattar was born as Subramanian in the late seventeenth century in a place called Tirukkadayur.
Tirukkadayur is in Tamilnadu and is the abode of Lord Shiva who is called Amritaghateswara and his consort Goddess Shakthi is called Abirami Amman. The name Abirami literally means ‘one whose beauty cannot be measured’.

Subramanian was a simple man in spite of being a learned scholar in the languages of Tamil and Sanskrit and in the science of astrology. He was a great devotee of the goddess Abirami. His devotion could not be classified as devotion in the sense known to us, as in going to the temple, praying for our needs and coming back. His devotion was completely different. He would go to the temple would be there for hours together gazing at the goddess as if in a trance. The goddess was everything to him. In her beautiful face, he saw the universe in its splendour, with all the living beings, the solar system, the planets, the sun, moon and the stars and was awe struck by this vision, so much so that he lost interest in worldly affairs as he strongly believed that the Goddess was the only eternal being. All other beings and things were transient and did not matter to him. He never spoke to anyone nor was bothered about the mundane things in life.

He would be dressed in an unkempt manner and stand for hours together in front of Her and not even recognise the presence of others nearby. Sometimes he saw the form of the Goddess in some women coming to worship and would go after them calling them, “Abirami, Abirami” till he was shooed away by them. Sometimes he would not move from in front of the Goddess even when it was time for closing the temple and those days he would be literally carried by a few people and thrown out of the temple. But there was no reaction from him except a smile and sometimes tears of joy in his eyes. People who observed his behaviour called him mad, weird, arrogant and stupid. These nicknames and criticism never bothered Subramanian as he was not at all in this world and the Goddess only was his world and he considered himself as Her son. Nobody and nothing existed beyond that.

The only person who was sympathetic to Subramanian and could to some extent understand his devotion to the Goddess was the temple priest who also happened to be a distant cousin of Subramanian. The priest would always feel pity for his cousin who in spite of being a scholar and astrologer was subject to such mockery because of his devotion. “Poor fellow”, the priest used to mutter to himself, “What is the use of such knowledge? It looks like he is destined to be mocked at throughout his lifetime. Hmmm.”

One day Subramanian came to the temple with an almanac in hand. It was the morning of the new moon day of the Tamil month of “Thai”. As was his practice he entered the sanctum of the Goddess Abirami. The face of the goddess, on that day, appeared to him, as luminous as the moon on the full moon day. Almost instantly he went into a deep state of meditation and he could see only brightness and brightness all around. As usual, he stood transfixed to the ground with his focus fully on the lotus face of Goddess Abirami.

The King at that time Raja Serfoji I Bhonsle (1675 -1728), also called Sarabhoji, the Maratha King who was ruling from Tanjavur, had gone for a ritual bath in the sea at Poompuhar, being the new moon day and after the early morning bath, was coming to Tirukkadayur to offer obeisance to the Lord and Goddess. It was an unscheduled visit by the King and so the messengers came running to the priest and informed about the King’s plan to visit the temple. The priest immediately became busy in making arrangements to welcome the King that he forgot about the presence of Subramanian in the sanctum of the Goddess.

Subramanian who was least disturbed by the flurry of activity around him was still sunk in the brightness exuded by the Goddess’s face which he alone was experiencing in his mind’s eye. He could see the brightness of the full moon and the goddess’s face even brighter than the full moon. With his eyes closed he was smiling away, in his own world.

Noticing the presence of Subramanian at the last moment, the priest rushed up to him and yelled, “Subramanian, get out of here! The King is coming for darshan. Get out, I say!” It was of no avail. The priest, scolding himself for not having sent out Subramanian earlier was about to shout at Subramanian once again, when he saw the security guards followed by the King entering the temple.

Not able to do anything, he rushed to the entrance to conduct the ceremonial welcome to the King and led him to the sanctum. The King entered the sanctum only to see someone else standing in front of the goddess with folded palms, muttering some prayer.

The priest got panicky and quickly tried to push aside Subramanian. “Subramanian,” he said in a low voice. “The King has arrived to see the Goddess. Please go out, move, move away!”

Not one word was heard by Subramanian. He was still in his own world. The King was furious.

“Who is this fellow?” the King roared, “who has the audacity to stand like a stone in front of me not even acknowledging my presence eh?”

Some of the people in the King’s entourage were already those who disliked Subramanian and having got an opportunity, they started complaining about him.

“He is a mad fellow your Majesty. He has a very unstable mind!” said one.

“He is also very very arrogant and haughty your Highness. He does not even look at us when we come to the temple!” said another.

“He is a maniac who chases women, O King” said another. “I have myself seen him run after women shouting ‘Abirami, Abirami’. The temple has become very unsafe for women coming to pray. It’s high time some action is taken on him”

“He is born in a noble caste but will eat anything if given to him in the name of the Goddess, your Highness. He is a shame to his community”, said yet another.

“He calls himself the son of Abirami, yet he does not know culture”. The complaints went on and on.
Hearing all these allegations on Subramanian, the priest could take it no more.

“Please listen to me your Highness. This person Subramanian is actually a good man and a learned scholar. He has mastered Tamil and Sanskrit languages and also is a very good astrologer. The only thing is that … er… he is … too much devoted to the Goddess here that he totally forgets himself when in her presence. I feel it is wrong to portray him as a maniac or arrogant fellow or mad man. Please pardon him for my sake!”

“Oh, astrologer, did you say? Hmmm. That’s why he is carrying an almanac I see. Let me see how good he is”

At that very precise moment Subramanian addressed the goddess and said in a voice audible to be heard by others, “O Mother Abirami! why is your face a thousand times brighter than the moon outside today? I am indeed lucky to soak in the brightness of your presence” He started muttering some hymns once again, when one of the ministers went near him and shook him by his shoulder.

An angry Subramanian opened his eyes and asked, “Who are you and why do you disturb me thus?”

The minister was taken aback and said, “You are asking who we are? Can you not see the King standing near you and are you so arrogant that you cannot even bow to him huh?”

“Whoever it is King or pauper, they are all same in the presence of my Mother”.

As he was about to close his eyes once again, the king’s voice boomed, “Look here Subramanian. You have insulted me and my entourage in front of the public. I hear you are a great astrologer but I just heard you praise the Goddess’s face as a ‘thousand times brighter than the moon today’.”

“Yes, you are right King” replied Subramanian. “Goddess Abirami’s face is a ten thousand times brighter than the full moon today”

“The full moon today? Hahahahaha….” the King’s thunderous laughter sounded frightful. “You call yourself an astrologer, you carry an almanac and you call a new moon day a full moon day hahahahaha…….”

“New moon day? “ Subramanian had a confused look on his face.

“Check the almanac you pundit” sneered the King. “Check and tell me what day is it today.”
Subramanian checked the almanac but started looking at the Goddess with a great confusion.

“So, this is the level of your knowledge of astrology…. You do not know the difference between the new moon day and full moon day. Hmmm. Shame on you! ” the King’s voice thundered.

Subramanian stood there like a rock, and was intently looking at the face of the Goddess, his voice murmuring, “It is the full moon day today, it is the full moon day today”.

The people in the king’s entourage and the minister were getting restless. Too much attention was being given to a mad fellow, they thought. The minister, irritated at the perceived stubbornness of Subramanian went ahead with his hand raised in a bid to physically push him out.

“Stop”, said the King. “I still have not finished my conversation with this fellow”. The minister, obeying the king stopped.

“Tell me Subramanian, do you still believe it is full moon day today?” the king asked.

“Yes, it is Maharaja. Not because I said so but because She has spoken through me. I am her son and a toy in her hands. I do not speak on my own accord. It is she who makes me speak and if she has said it is full moon day today, well, it is and there is no doubt” Subramanian said in a defiant tone.

The king was getting irritated at this defiance. “Oh! Is that so? You are blaming the Goddess for your ignorance heh? I suppose you must be doing this every time your astrology goes wrong?”

The crowd giggled and there were murmurs and whispers amongst them.

“I am not blaming the Goddess. I am just saying that whatever words I am made to utter by Her will, shall be the truth, truth and nothing else”

“Why do you go on taking Her name? Why don’t you accept what you said was wrong?”

“Why should I not take Her name? She is my mother and She is the eternal Mother and She can never be wrong.”

The king got really furious and said, “Look here man, it is your good fortune that I have not given you any punishment for your arrogance till now. Even now, you can ask forgiveness and get out of my sight!”

“Sire, this is my mother’s temple and only She has the right to tell me to go. I told you I am Her son and Her son alone, and I have not spoken anything wrong or untrue and whatever has been uttered by me are Her words.” Subramanian’s tone was becoming harsh.

The temple priest feared that the argument was going beyond limits and that some capital punishment may be imposed on his cousin and so he tried to intervene, but the enraged king brushed him aside and said to Subramanian, “You are so arrogant that you still maintain what you said was true because your Mother said so, then let me see if your mother can bring the full moon tonight. If the full moon appears, you are saved. If it does not then, you will have to pay with your life, for if I do not punish arrogant people like you, it will set a bad precedent!”

When all expected Subramanian to break down, hearing the king’s verdict, Subramanian spoke in a calm voice, “Oh King! Even as you have pronounced your decision, I still maintain that I have not spoken anything wrong as all my words are Hers and since you have challenged Her, I would like to fulfil a long cherished desire of mine to sing a hundred hymns on Her in the Anthaadhi format and I am sure you will see the moon before I finish my hundred hymns”

“What if the moon does not appear?”

“Well, then I will take it as her will to punish me through you and you can put me to death as I end my hundredth hymn.”

“Ok be ready for the punishment tonight” said the king as he walked out of the sanctum.
Subramanian’s mind was filled with divine ecstasy and unfathomable joy at the thought of his dream of singing the Anthaadhi going to come true.

The Anthaadhi, as the name suggests, meant that the end or the Anth of a hymn would be the beginning or the Aadhi of the next hymn. The ending word of one hymn and the starting word of the next hymn would be the same.

Soon the word spread in the town about the event which would take place that night. All the people were talking of only that in shocked tones. Some of them who hated Subramanian thought it was a good riddance, while some others were feeling pity and said, “After all, he is a mad fellow. Is it right to challenge a mad man?”

The temple priest was feeling very sad. He was in tears as he was very certain that Subramanian would not be able to meet the challenge posed by the king and he would be put to death.

Standing in front of the Goddess whom he prayed to every day, he was conversing with Her in his mind. “Oh Abirami! you are the embodiment of compassion. You are the mother of all the beings. Yet you allowed your son to get entangled in such a row that he cannot get out of it in any manner. He who comes and stands before you hours together every day with no thought of food or water is being punished thus? He who believes that you are the only eternal being and you are the life of the universe is going to be punished by his life being taken? This punishment will not only end the life of Subramanian, it will end the faith people have had on you all through the ages. Will you bring the moon tonight or will it be eternal darkness for Subramanian? Oh Mother, please show your mercy!”

As he was praying mentally with teary eyes, the ground outside the temple was being prepared for the punishment.
A large, deep pit was being dug and lots of firewood was put into it. On the two sides of the pit two high poles were erected by crisscrossing two sturdy logs. Another log on the top connected the poles. Two pulleys were attached to the connecting log and long ropes were attached to the pulleys and a platform was attached to the rope. The punishment was that the fire would be lit and Subramanian would sit on the platform which would initially be held very high by the soldiers holding the ropes. After each hymn, the ropes would be lowered by few inches and by the hundredth hymn, if the moon did not appear, the platform would be let into the fire pit with Subramanian.
By this time the word had spread to the nearby places about the event and people were seen hurrying from the surrounding villages to see what would happen.

The sun set and darkness began to engulf the place especially since it was a new moon day. Soon, the king arrived with his entourage and Subramanian was already there, as calm as ever.

As the king signalled, the guards led Subramanian to sit on the platform hanging by the ropes held by the soldiers. Once he was seated, the platform was drawn high and the logs set on fire.

In those days there was no electricity and the blazing fire in the pit was the only source of light and sure it was bright enough gobbling up logs of wood. All eyes were on Subramanian who was sitting so high on the platform, his eyes closed outwardly but totally focussed on his Mother, Goddess Abirami, in his mind’s eye.

Suddenly, in a majestic voice, Subramanian started with a hymn to propitiate Lord Ganesh, “Thaar amar konrayum”. He then went on to begin singing on the Mother with the first hymn, “Udikkinra senkadhir” meaning the rising rays of the sun. The majestic voice and confidence of Subramanian somehow shook the king’s belief that Subramanian would meet his punishment.

An unperturbed Subramanian went on and on and on. The hymns were sung one by one and the divine blessing was evident that the words came like a flow of a river adhering to the rules of ‘Anthaadhi’ and each hymn’s ending was the beginning of the next one. After each hymn, the soldiers lowered the platform a few inches.

Subramanian, unmindful of the lowering of the platform after each hymn and the sweltering heat of the burning logs beneath his platform had sung 77 hymns. Just as he finished the 78th, which was about the luminous face of the goddess with her diamond earrings, equal to the full moon, a miracle happened. Much to the awe of the king and all watching the event, a luminous figure of a divine goddess was seen rising from the horizon and as they watched shocked, the goddess removed her earring and flung it into the sky and the next moment the area was flooded with moonlight and the full moon was shining bright right in front of them. By this time the 79th hymn was over and the goddess vanished and all had happened in a matter of seconds. Now, the full moon was brighter than the burning logs!

The elated crowds cheered loudly in praise of Subramanian and hearing the sound Subramanian opened his eyes to see the moon in the sky and all the people bowing in the direction where the goddess had appeared. Subramanian with all modesty completed the hundred hymns as he had intended and sang one more hymn extolling the benefits of surrendering to the Goddess Abirami.

The King and his entourage did not know what to do and they stood ashamed of their arrogant behaviour earlier in the day. They sought forgiveness from Subramanian the King honoured Subramanian with lots of gifts and lands and gave him the title of “Abirami Pattar”.

“Henceforth you shall be known as ‘Abirami Pattar’, for you have proved that you are really the son of the Goddess Abirami” said the king.

The people and their king, on that day witnessed and understood the power of man’s unshakeable faith in Abirami,the supreme power, in whatever name we may call her.

This incident is celebrated in Tirukkadayur to this day.

Little Gopal And The Cowherd

Greetings to my readers! With Janmashtami round the corner, this time I am posting a story of Krishna.

Long ago, in the present state of Odisha, there lived a poor widow Subala, with her young son. Her husband had died when the son was about a year old and she had no relatives to support her. The villagers however were very considerate and had jointly given her a small plot of land where she could cultivate some vegetables and earn a living out of selling them. They were also kind enough to look after the child when she went to the market to sell her vegetables.

This lady Subala was an ardent devotee of Krishna and believed that Krishna was taking care of her in the form of her neighbours, the villagers. Due to her deep devotion to Lord Krishna, she had named her son Gopal.
Gopal was a very loving child and very intelligent too. He endeared himself to the villagers and was their pet.

In due course Gopal grew up to be five years old, when the villagers started telling Subala that Gopal should be sent to a school for education. Subala also wished to educate young Gopal, but was reluctant as she was earning too less to send him to school.

Knowing the reason for her hesitation, the village headman said to her, “Subala, education is the only asset you can give your son and knowledge has been named as the greatest wealth in our shastras. We know you do not have enough money to send him to the city, but there is school a little farther from our village where the fee is less and the teacher teaches well. Why don’t you admit Gopal there?”

Subala was in a dilemma. Even if she put Gopal in that school which was not a gurukula, which meant he had to commute every day, she was doubtful whether she could go two times every day to leave him and bring him back from school owing to her vegetable business.

The headman read her mind and said, “Subala, in this age, the boy should start knowing what life is. One or two days it will be difficult, but Gopal, I think he will be able to go and come back himself. And if you think the distance is too much, there is a short cut through the woods by which he can reach home in a short time. Do not hesitate Subala, for the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami is round the corner and the Guru in the school admits children only on Vijaya Dashami”

Subala had no other go but to agree. Gopal was extremely excited to know that he will be going to a school where he would get lot of friends to play with. He played with the elders here but yearned for someone of his age as a playmate but all the other boys in the village were grown up and he had not got a proper playmate yet.
At last the great day came. Subala took little Gopal by his hand and led him to the school and enrolled him there. She went back again in the evening and brought him by the short cut through the dense woods and could reach home fast. Gopal took to the new atmosphere as a fish takes to water and he eagerly looked forward every day to go to the school. He made quite a few friends and was very excited about it. Subala felt happy to see the little one happy. She thanked Lord Krishna for guiding her to take this decision.

After a few days, Gopal had gained confidence to go on his own to school. “Amma,” he said, “You don’t worry. I know the way and I will come back safe in the evening”. In those days there was no motorised transport and the fear of road accidents was not there. Nor was the fear of kidnapping. Still since he was a young boy, the mother feared he might lose his way. “No Amma, I will not lose my way. I shall go myself” said little Gopal.

Gopal went to school and when it was time to come back, he started walking through the short cut. After Vijaya Dashami, the winter sets in and the days are shorter and darkness starts setting in early in the evening. The birds were returning to their nests and were making lot of noise. The noise of the crickets and occasional hooting sound of owls was heard. Since the woods were dense some monkeys were jumping from branch to branch. Even though these were there every day, Gopal had failed to notice them in the comfort of his mother’s presence and now when he was all alone, the sounds seemed magnified. He heard the grunt of a bull and thought it was the roar of a lion, even though there were no wild animals and started running fast. He ran and ran till he reached the clearing from where his hut could be seen.

Slowing down, puffing and panting for breath, he came home to Subala who was waiting for him at the doorstep.

“Why are you panting for breath my dear?” she asked as she put her hand lovingly around him. “Did you run? And, how was school today?”

For a while, there was no reply from little Gopal.

“Amma, I will not go to school from tomorrow” said he to a shocked Subala.

“Why, my dear, what happened? Did you have any quarrel with your friends or did anyone say any harsh words to you?” she asked.

“Amma… Amma… I …am afraid to come through the woods… I think I heard a lion roar. I don’t want to go Amma, please. I am afraid to come alone in the evening. Please amma… please…”

Subala was almost in tears thinking of her helplessness. Here was this child who was so intelligent and liked school but did not want to go as he could not come back alone.

“Hey Gopala” she prayed to Lord Krishna, “please show me a way out”

Then after a few moments, composing herself, she told Gopal, “Gopal dear, I forgot to tell you about your elder brother who lives in the woods”

Gopal looked up in surprise, his eyes rolling in astonishment. “Amma, I have an elder brother? Why did you not tell me before Amma? I want to see him Amma. What is his name? How does he look like Amma?” There seemed to be no end to his questions.

Subala calmly said, “Your Bhaiya’s (elder brother) name is also Gopal my dear. He is a cowherd and and lives in the woods. He is dark complexioned and extremely beautiful, wears yellow silk, sports a peacock feather on his hair and a beautiful tilak on his forehead and always plays lovely tunes on the flute he carries. He likes grazing cattle and always is surrounded by cows and calves. But Gopal” she continued, “you can call him only in the evening when you are frightened while coming back and he will come and be with you. Now, will you be a good boy and go to school tomorrow?”

Fascinated by the mental picture he had conjured with the description his mother had given of the lovely Gopal
Bhaiya, the little Gopal shook his head affirmatively. “Yes Amma, from tomorrow, I will call Gopal Bhaiya in the evenings. I am hungry now. What have you made for me??”

Subala was at peace now as she firmly believed that her beloved Giridhari (Krishna) would take care of her little Gopal.

The next morning Gopal went to school as joyfully as he did usually as he was sure his Bhaiya would come with him in the evening. The whole night he was dreaming of Gopal Bhaiya and was eagerly looking forward to meeting him.
After school, Gopal took his bag and slate (in those days that was all one carried to school and most education was oral!!) and left in the usual route.

After a while, the woods became dark and the sounds of the owls, monkeys and birds started to become louder. Gopal was confused as he expected his Bhaiya to appear. The sounds became louder frightening little Gopal.
“Bhaiya….” Gopal called out. “Gopal Bhaiya… Gopal Bhaiya… please come Bhaiya…”

There was no response.

There was a momentary silence by the birds and monkeys on hearing Gopal’s voice but the loud chatter started again.
Gopal called out again. “Bhaiyaa…. I am frightened Bhaiyaa… Amma told me you will come. Bhaiya…” The voice was shaky and panicky.

Suddenly from somewhere behind, a soft note on the flute was heard. That was followed by the jingle of the bells. The note continued and it was so enchanting that all the other noise stopped.
Gopal looked around thrilled at the sound. He could find no one. Again as he was about to call, a young handsome boy matching the exact description his mother had given jumped down from a tree branch a few feet away.

“Why are you afraid Gopal” asked the handsome Bhaiya. “I am here with you and I will come every day and leave you at the edge of the forest”.

Gopal also saw few beautiful cows and calves that appeared from somewhere near the bushes. Gopal and the cows and calves looked all so divine and enchanting that Gopal was so happy and at peace.

“Shall we play a game of hide and seek?” asked Gopal Bhaiya.

Gopal was more than happy. They both played around the bushes gleefully with the cows and calves happily grazing the grass and after a while Gopal Bhaiya took little Gopal by his hand and left him near the edge of the forest.
Subala was not surprised when Gopal told of his Bhaiya. She knew Krishna would not let her down and everyday Gopal Bhaiya was teaching new games, telling new stories and teaching little songs to Gopal.
Gopal studied well and was a very happy child.

Every year the students of the school honoured their teacher on Guru Poornima day by bringing him expensive gifts and the Guru on his part entertained all of them to a feast in his house.

Soon Gopal’s class was abuzz with the discussion of what gift each one would be giving the guru.

“My father will give the costliest silk to our Guru and Guru Ma (wife of Guru)” said one boy.

“My father has bought pearls and rubies from the merchants coming from overseas. I will give him a box full of them” said another with pride.

“My father is going to gift our guru a pair of hefty bullocks” said one.

“And mine is going to give him a beautiful cow and calf”

“My father has reaped a good crop of paddy and I will be giving our Guru one hundred bags of paddy”

The list went on and on and on Gopal was aghast on hearing all these gifts. First of all he did not have a father and of course did not have any money to even get anything small.

The kids noticed him and one asked, “Hey Gopal, what are you going to gift to the Guru?”

“Where does your father work?” asked another.

Overcome with shame and helplessness, Gopal, with his eyes full of tears looked down and swiftly left the place.

That evening, as usual Gopal Bhaiya met him in the woods.

“What is troubling you brother?” he asked little Gopal. “Why are you so sad and seemed to have cried? Did anyone say anything harsh to you? Did anyone beat you? Come on tell me” he said in a loving tone.

Gopal broke down. Sobbing loudly, he told Bhaiya of how everyone was going to gift the Guru something special on Guru Poornima day and how he neither had his father nor money to buy something special. “Please help me Bhaiyaa……” said he with tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Do not cry Gopal” said Bhaiya wiping Gopal’s tears with his lotus hands. “On the day of Guru Poornima, when you go to school, I shall come here and give you the gift you shall take. Now, be a cheerful boy, and let us play a word game, sit down”

Saying thus, he took out sweet berries from a knot in his upper garment. “Here, eat this. They are as sweet as you are. Come let’s play” he said.

Little Gopal totally forgot his worries and happily played and went home.

So happy was he with the assurance given by his Bhaiya that he forgot to even mention about the Guru Poornima event to his mother.

The great day came and Gopal did not realise it was Guru Poornima day. He started off to school and midway in the woods, there was his handsome brother with an enchanting smile, holding a small pot in his hands.

“Aah! Bhaiya, what gift have you brought?” Gopal asked eagerly. When he saw what was in the pot, his face fell. It was a pot of sweet smelling curds, looking fresh and creamy.

Gopal Bhaiya handed over the pot to little Gopal and looking at him said firmly, “Gopal, go and give this gift to your teacher for the feast today. Do not feel bad that this is a small gift. This is the tastiest curd your teacher would have ever tasted in his life”. Not giving any time for Gopal to respond, Bhaiya walked away and disappeared behind a huge bush.

Not knowing what to do, but bound by the stern but loving instruction of his Gopal Bhaiya, little Gopal walked fast carrying the small pot carefully.

As he reached the school, he could see many parents with their wards, dressed in their best and offering various gifts to the Guru and his wife who were seated on a decorated bench near the entrance. The gifts were being given and the children were touching the feet of the Guru and Guru Ma as a mark of respect. They were all in a line. Little Gopal who did not have any new dress was dressed as usual in clean but old clothes and he also joined the line. Some of the parents and children looked at him scornfully for he was alone and added to that carrying a small pot while they were carrying expensive gifts, fruits and sweets in large quantities in big cane baskets.
Little Gopal felt miserable to be in that line and felt as if it was ages by the time the people in the line moved forward.

At last it was little Gopal’s turn. As he faced the Guru, the expression on the Guru’s face also showed that he was disappointed with the small gift and when Gopal tried to give him the pot, he rudely said, “Hm… leave it in the kitchen. It is too big a gift to be displayed here” and when Gopal tried to touch the Guru’s feet he brushed him away much to the child’s agony.

Feeling too much ashamed, Gopal stood in a corner unnoticed by all. Finally the gifting ceremony was over and some parents gave speeches on the Guru’s greatness and then the Guru gave a thanks giving speech and invited all to be seated for lunch in the open ground which had been decorated with a shamiana or a Pandal as some call it. Banana leaves had been placed in rows and there were small mats to sit on.

All including Gopal went and sat down to eat.

Much of the sweetmeats and fruits that were gifted was served to all and the Guru Ma started serving varieties of vegetables and rice. Somehow, the vegetable dishes were spicy and some wanted curd along with it.

Out of his enthusiasm, Gopal cried out, “Guru Ma, I have brought curd for you” The Guru’s wife looked at him sarcastically and said, “Yes, you have brought enough for all of these people. I will show you how much” and with a cynical look took the small pot.

She served the first person in the row. The curd did not seem to diminish. She did not notice it and served the second and the third and so on and all were asking for more and more and more.

The curd was so tasty and everyone wanted more and more and suddenly, the lady realised that she had been serving so many people from that little pot and the level of curd was same. She was horrified. She placed the pot on the floor immediately and her face full of fear, she looked at Gopal and asked, “The curd is not reducing in spite of so many having eaten it? Have you done any black magic? Who gave you this pot huh?

The Guru was also looking angrily at Gopal and said, “You brat… you bought such a small pot of curd and now you have done black magic have you??”

Saying so, he came to screw Gopal’s ears when Gopal said pleadingly, “Guruji… please believe me. I do not know of any black magic. My elder brother Gopal Bhaiya gave me this pot in the morning as a gift to you. I really don’t know what you are saying…” and he started crying.

“Elder brother? What elder brother? Do you have one at all? Your mother told me you are her only son, when she came to admit you. Are you lying you….” He came near with his hand raised in anger and Gopal fell at his feet. He told him the whole story of Gopal Bhaiya and his appearance and how he came every day to lead him from the woods.

The Guru could not believe Gopal’s words but the curds seemed to be the evidence of what he was saying and the curd pot was still full as it was in the beginning.

“Come on”, said the Guru, “take me to the woods and show him to me”

“But Guruji” said little Gopal innocently, “Bhaiya will come in the evening only”

“No way will I believe” said the Guru. “Then how did he come in the morning and give you this pot huh? If what you say is a lie, then you had it, understand? Come on, Hmm”

As the Guru started walking little Gopal followed helplessly praying secretly to his Bhaiya to make his appearance.
After a while the Guru asked, “Mm. Where is he? Where does he appear every day?”

“There, under that Peepul tree Guruji” replied Gopal meekly.

“Call him now!” thundered the Guruji.

“Bhaiya…. Bhaiyaa…. Gopal Bhaiyaa…” called out little Gopal in a loud voice. But there was no sign of the usual sound of flute and jingling of the bells and the sweet sandal smell that Gopal experienced every day.

The Guru was getting angrier. His eyes rolling in fury as if they may pop out at any time, he shouted, “Gopal, I know you are lying… I will…..”, so saying he came fast to hit Gopal when suddenly, the melodious sound of flute wafted in the air accompanied by the sweet scent of sandal. Both Gopal and the Guru were surprised and Gopal looked up the tree. He could see his Bhaiya on the top most branch playing the flute.

“Guruji, look on the top branch, Bhaiya is sitting and playing the flute” he said excitedly. The Guru peered through the branches but could see nothing.

“See he is climbing down” said Little Gopal and the sound of the flute came nearer. Nothing was visible to the Guru though. Little Gopal ran near the tree and seemed to be hugging his brother, but to the Guru it appeared he was hugging the thin air!

The music stopped. A sweet but firm voice spoke “I am visible to all who believe in my presence with unflinching devotion. Little Gopal believed in my presence as an infant places faith in its mother. You do not possess that faith and so I will not be visible to you but I stand by what Little Gopal has said. “

The voice continued, “Gopal from today you will be blessed with lot of courage and intelligence and a healthy and prosperous life. Take care of your mother. I will always be there when you look upon me for guidance”

The voice stopped and the sandal scent vanished. The Guru was awestruck and suddenly he realised that the little boy in front of him was physically so small but was a great soul indeed.

He mentally thanked the boy for making him realise what utter surrender and faith in God is and felt sorry that he was not mature at such an old age while Little Gopal still did not bear any hatred or ill feeling towards him. Gopal became a learned man in due course and lived a fruitful life.

The Legend of Madurai

meeeeeeeeeeeee kalyanam

Today is the start of the new year for Tamils and in this Chithirai month, I am going to narrate the legend of Madurai which is synonymous with the Chithirai Festival!!

Madurai is one of the oldest cities of the world and is believed to be in existence for more than 7000 years before Christ. It is said that Megasthenes visited this city when he visited India in the fourth century BC.

This city was the capital of the Pandya kingdom for centuries and was taken over by the Cholas during the tenth century A.D. Later it was regained by the Pandyas. Afterwards, it came under the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire and one of the chieftains of the Vijayanagara Empire Tirumalai Nayak who ruled from Madurai added glory to the city by building new structures and enhancing the beauty of the temple by expanding it. He is credited for building the Pudumandapa, which has lot of sculptures, the huge artificial pond (Teppakulam) and the Perumal Temple at Tallakulam, Madurai. He also combined various festivals into one and celebrated it in the month of Chaitra. The festival came to be known as ‘ Chithirai festival’. Chaitra is Chithirai in Tamil. By doing this he facilitated the people to be together and celebrate together. This was something akin to the Ganapati festival in Maharashtra where the objective is more of bonding and celebration.

The city is well known for its famous temple dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara with its four imposing towers giving the city the name ‘ Naan Maada Koodal’ literally translating to ‘four tower joining’. It is interesting to note that here Goddess Meenakshi is given precedence and Lord Sundareswara is seen only after one has darshan of Meenakshi. She is the queen who rules Madurai.

We will see the story of how Madurai came into being.

Legend has it that Lord Indra who was suffering from a curse, came to the earth and was wandering about searching for peace of mind. When he reached a particular spot which had lot of Kadamba trees, he saw a Shivalingam and his mind was filled with strange bliss. He found a pond with golden lilies and started to worship Lord Shiva there. A merchant who was going by noticed this and reported it to the King Kulasekara. The king with the help of Indra and the divine architect Viswakarma, built a beautiful temple for Lord Shiva and a city around the temple. These structures and the city were blessed with drops of nectar from Shiva’s locks and therefore the name Madhura (Sweetness).

Madurai has also been referred to ‘Tiru Aalavai’. It seems that there was a deluge in the second Sangam period wherein the city was destroyed excepting for the temple and four hillocks and the then king prayed to Lord Shiva to help him rebuild the city by showing him the borders of the city as it existed before the deluge. Shiva obliged and the snake worn as Shiva’s bracelet went around demarcating the city. “Aalavai” translates to ‘the mouth of poison’.
Tirugnanasambandar has sung the “Tiru Aalavai Padigam” when he visited Madurai.

King Kulasekara who built the temple thus, had a son by name Malayadwaja Pandya. King Malayadwaja and his wife Kanchanamala Devi had all the treasures except children. They prayed for an heir for long and performed a yagna seeking divine blessing. To the surprise of one and all, a young girl of three dressed in fine silk and bedecked with ornaments, came out of the fire and went and sat on the lap of Malayadwaja. There was a divine voice (ashareeri) informing the audience that this was a divine child who had come to rule Madurai. “Treat her like you would treat a son and teach her all the skills you would impart your son.

The royal couple were overjoyed, but soon found that the child had three breasts. As they were concerned the voice further went on, “the third breast will vanish the moment she sets her eye on her suitor”.

The king and the queen were extremely happy and blessed with this happening. They named the girl Tadaathagai Piraatti. She was also known as Meenakshi as her eyes were beautifully shaped like fish. (Meen – fish, Akshi – eyed). Meenakshi was soon the darling of everyone in the kingdom. As instructed by the celestial voice, Malayadwaja imparted all the skills to her right from music and art to horse riding and warfare.

In the course of time Malayadwaja died and Meenakshi was crowned as the princess and was ruling the kingdom.
After sometime, she asked permission from her mother to conquer all the kings and expand the kingdom. With the permission of her mother, she set out with her army conquering all the neighbouring kingdoms and she proceeded north.

On reaching Kailash, she demanded to see the Lord.

“You cannot see him. You will have to fight us first “said the bhootaganas (the attendants) of Lord Shiva. Effortlessly Meenakshi vanquished them and as she was advancing, she was confronted by none other than Nandi, the Lord’s bull. He was no match to Meenakshi’s prowess when Lord Shiva came out to see what the commotion was all about.

When Meenakshi turned around to see Lord Shiva, her third breast vanished and she knew that this was her suitor.

Meenakshi’s general Sumathy was also aware of the prophecy and requested the Lord to come to Madurai to seek the hand of Meenakshi.

The Lord accepted their request and assuming the most beautiful form of Sundara Easwara (Handsome lord), Shiva traveled all the way to Madurai to meet the queen Kanchanamala. The queen mother was too happy to have Lord Shiva as her son in law and so the wedding took place with great pomp and show. All the celestial beings rushed to Madurai and Lord Vishnu, the brother of Parvati (Meenakshi) gave her hand in marriage to Sundareswara.

During the wedding feast one of the dwarf bhootaganas of Lord Shiva, by name Gundodhara became very thirsty. No amount of water would satiate his thirst. All the water in the city was brought in all sorts of utensils but Gundodhara’s thirst could not be quenched. Lord Sundareswara asked him to cup his hands. He ordered him “Vai Kai” which means ‘keep your hand’ and the next moment Ganga in the matted locks of Lord Shiva surged and flowed through Gundodhara’s hand and thereafter his thirst was quenched. This water turned into the river Vaigai.

The couple stayed back at Madurai with Goddess Meenakshi and Shiva as Sundara Pandya, ruling the kingdom. They were succeeded by their son King Ugra Pandian who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Kartikeya.

These events which are stated in the Tiruvilayadal Purana are being enacted every year from time immemorial. This festival was mainly celebrated by the Saivites. In Madurai, there was another Vaishnavite festival celebrated in another month in which Lord Vishnu by the name Kalla Alagar, came from his abode Alagar Koil, to bless a sage Mandooka who was cursed to be a frog in the river Vaigai.

Legend has it that Sage Mandooka once insulted Sage Durvasa who in turn cursed him to become a frog and live in the River Vaigai. When Mandooka repented for his behavior, Sage Durvasa told him to propitiate Kalla Alagar and said that he would be emancipated from the curse by the blessing of Kalla Alagar. This event was also enacted every year and celebrated by the Vaishnavites.

When King Tirumalai Nayak was ruling Madurai in the seventeenth century, he wanted everyone to celebrate together and therefore merged the two festivals into one by making Lord Vishnu (Kalla Alagar) arrive for the wedding. But by the time he arrives late due to spate in Vaigai, the wedding is over presided by the local Alagar (Koodal Alagar). Therefore he goes back in a huff however blessing the sage Mandooka on his way back. Thus the festival was celebrated by everybody and by combining this people could celebrate it efficiently too.

The festival is celebrated to this day in Madurai and goes by the name Chithirai Festival and Lord Kalla Alagar’s crossing the river is celebrated on Chitra Pournami.

Glossary :
Sangam Period is the period in the history of ancient southern India (known as the Tamilakam) spanning from 3rd century BC to 4th century AD. This is further divided into Pre historic, Ancient and Medieval Sangam periods.
Bhootaganas – are lieutenants of Lord Shiva having strange figures, sometimes huge, sometimes dwarfed figures with long teeth, big faces, some with big bellies, long nails etc. They are supposed to be the attendants of Lord Siva. They have terrifying forms.

The Story Of Pundalik

In ancient times, in present day Maharashtra, in a place called Dandivana, there lived a pious couple Janudev and Sathyavathy. They had a son by name Pundalik. He was a very smart boy and also pious like his parents and worshipped Lord Krishna. He also loved his parents.

When Pundalik attained marriageable age, his parents got him married to a suitable girl. After marriage Pundalik’s attitude towards his parents changed drastically. He started treating them very badly and disrespecting them.  He expected them to do all the household chores while his wife also did not say a word against what he did, or rather she sided him. She enjoyed life while the old couple were slogging at home. Pundalik also forgot Krishna altogether.

The parents were thoroughly vexed and frustrated. They decided to go to the holy city of Kashi and spend the rest of their lives there. They were making preparations to go when Pundalik and his wife came to know of it.

“Why should your parents go to Kashi and live peacefully huh?” said Pundalik’s wife. “Who will do the house work of sweeping and mopping and washing vessels if your mother goes? And who will do the odd jobs your father does?”

Pundalik nodded his head in agreement. He could not prevent them from going. He thought for a while and said, “You are right my dear. We will do one thing. We will also go with them and then they will be compelled to come back with us. Pack our things also”

“But I will not be able to walk such a long distance. And your parents will be riding our horse…” Pundalik’s wife said complainingly.

“Don’t worry my dear. You ride on the horse. Let them walk. They are used to hard life” said Pundalik.

So they both joined his parents on the tour and while Pundalik’s parents trudged along with barefoot on the harsh road, Pundalik and his wife happily rode the horse with not a bit of remorse. The other group members were aghast but no one had the guts to talk to Pundalik as he had become very arrogant and had nothing but harsh words for others.

In those days since people undertook pilgrimage by foot or on horseback or carts, they used to halt for the night at places open for the public to rest or at times in ashrams which were inhabited by holy men. Sometimes they would halt for a few days at one place and then proceed.

Thus, after travelling for many days, the group of devotees including Pundalik’s family reached Kashi. They visited the places to be seen and soon it was time for them to return. For the entire duration of the trip there was not a kind word from Pundalik and his wife towards his parents. On the return trip also, the daughter in law happily rode on the horse while the old parents had to walk

After travelling for a few days, the group reached a big village and decided to halt at the ashram of a sage Kakkut Muni for a couple of days. The ashram was on the banks of the Ganga and all the members were very tired.

As all of them were in deep sleep, in the middle of the night, the sound of anklets awoke Pundalik. Still very sleepy, he opened his eyes and noticed that three young women who were extremely beautiful, but wearing very dirty and filthy clothes came in to the ashram. They went around and swept and mopped the other rooms and washed the sage’s clothes, cleaned the kitchen and did all the chores and went out of the ashram and what surprised Pundalik was that their clothes had become spotlessly white while going! Pundalik could not believe his eyes. It seemed to be a mystery. Pundalik decided to watch the next day also and the same thing happened once again.

The third day Pundalik could no longer contain his curiosity and as they were preparing to exit, he got up and went to them.

“Pray may I know who you are and the mystery of you clothes becoming spotlessly white?” he asked them.

The three maidens looked at each other and one of them spoke. “We are the three rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathy”, said she.

“People who commit lot of sins come to us and have a dip in our waters and we cleanse them of the sins taking them upon us and that is why our clothes become dirty. When we come here and serve the sage by doing his chores wholeheartedly, the sins carried by us are removed and therefore our clothes become white once again” said another.

“And you are one of the worst sinners since you have been continuously wounding the hearts of your parents, who are the very cause of your existence in the world!” said the third and giving him a despicable look, the three left the ashram.

Pundalik was shocked to hear someone accuse him straight on his face and he had no reply to the accusation. He felt deeply ashamed of himself. He could not sleep a wink after the incident. Memories of his parents showering affection on him when he was a child and memories of his crude rude behaviour haunted him so much that he got up feeling very restless and despondent.

It was very early in the morning and Kakkut Muni had got up to perform his austerities. As he was going out of the ashram, he noticed Pundalik and sensing that something was wrong, beckoned him to come near.

“What is the matter son?” he asked softly. “Are you not keeping well? It looks that you have not slept!” said he.

Pundalik was on the verge of crying. He poured out his heart to the Muni and told him about the incident of meeting the three maidens and about how bad he had been behaving towards his parents over the past few years.

“I have realised now that I have been senseless all these years and how much pain I have caused to my dear parents. Will I ever be rid of those sins in this life?” he sighed. The pain on his face reflected the turmoil that was going on in his mind.

Kakkut Muni looked at him with compassion. “Come my son”, he said as he took him along to the river bank.

“What the maidens told you was true” he said. “They come and serve me like my daughters to get rid of the sins they acquire and you can also get rid of your sins only by serving your parents wholeheartedly”

“But Sire” said Pundalik, “What will my parents think of me if I suddenly change? Will they believe me?”

“Why not Son?” said Kakkut Muni. “Parents are the only ones who love their children unconditionally. Even now, for all the hatred showered by you, they have only love and affection for you and not a shred of hatred”

That moment changed Pundalik’s life forever. He decided that from that moment his life would be only for serving his parents.

That morning his parents were in for a pleasant surprise. They could not decipher how this change happened overnight but nonetheless they were too happy to have their delightful son back.

Pundalik’s wife was also surprised, but Pundalik made her see that he meant what he said. She had no way to disagree and soon fell in line with him.

Pundalik became so much dutiful to his parents that it became the talk of his village and soon started spreading much beyond.

Lord Krishna in the form of Panduranga was watching this and wanted to show case this devotion to the world.

One day, he came as a young man to Pundalik’s house. By this time, Pundalik’s parents were very ill and needed help for every need of theirs. Pundalik was happily catering to their needs. When the Lord came to Pundalik’s house, Pundalik was busy massaging his father’s feet as was his practice  when his parents went to sleep every day.

Lord Krishna called out to Pundalik from outside.

“Who is it?” cried Pundalik from inside, continuing to do what he was doing.

“I am Vitthal” said Krishna. “I have come to see you. May I come in?”

Pundalik could see from the opening of the door that it was indeed the Lord of the Universe in the form of a young lad, dark hued, wearing fish shaped earrings, with a beautiful sandal Tilak on his forehead, dressed in his resplendent yellow silk, standing outside. But Pundalik was only half done with his duty to his father and could not receive Krishna.

The floor was wet outside and Pundalik took a brick and threw it outside. “Please stand on it my Lord” said he. “I will finish my duty to my father and come”

Vitthal, with a smile on his lips and hand on his hips, stood on the brick waiting for Pundalik to come and receive him.

Pundalik finished his job and when his father slept, he came out and welcomed the Lord.

“I am sorry, I could not receive you earlier” he said with sincere apology.

The Lord smiled. “Your parents are your first gods Pundalik” he said. “Your service to your parents is your prayer and it will reach me. I am so pleased by your devotion that I want to give you a boon. Tell me Pundalik, what do you want?”

Pundalik thought for a moment and said calmly, “Lord, please stay here for the benefit of mankind. Please stay in this place and bless those who come here!”

Vitthal was pleased and said “So be it”.

And from that day onwards, Vitthal with his consort Rukmini has stayed there which is the present day Pandharpur.

 

 

 

 

 

Tirukurippu Thonda Nayanar

In the ancient town of Kanchipuram lived a saintly washer man by name Tirukurippu Thondar. He was a washer man by profession, but he considered it his duty to serve the devotees of Lord Shiva and just by looking at the facial expression of a devotee, he would know what he needed and do that service to the devotee. “Kurippu” means expression and since by seeing the “Kurippu” on the devotees’ faces, this saint did “Thondu” that is voluntary service, he came to be known as Tirukurippu Thondar.

The main service rendered by Tirukurippu Thondar was to wash the dirty clothes of the devotees of Lord Shiva. He believed that by cleaning the outward dirt and stains in the clothes of the devotees, his mind would be cleansed of the dirt of arrogance and ego. He was very sincere in his belief and continued doing this service. He believed that he could escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Lord Shiva by doing this service to the Lord’s devotees.

The Lord was pleased with this service of Tirukurippu Thondar and wanted the world to know about his greatness.

One day an old man appeared in the town. It looked that he was a devotee of Lord Shiva since he had holy ash smeared on his forehead and was wearing the holy Rudraksha. He was wearing a very dirty upper cloth which were almost in tatters. Tirukurippu Thondar sighted him and as was his custom, immediately offered to wash the upper garment of the old man.

“It is my duty to clean your garment, holy sir”, he said. “Kindly allow me to serve you”

The old man appeared hesitant and Thondar understood the reason of his hesitation. “I shall wash this immediately and dry it and give it in a couple of hours”, he said. “Do not worry that it will take time O Revered one”

The old man nodded his head. In a feeble voice he spoke. “I have only one upper garment to keep me warm, young man. If I do not get this garment by the evening, I shall not be able to bear the chill of the night. Hence please make sure that you give the garment by evening”

Saying so, the man removed the upper garment and gave it to Tirukurippu Thondar. Thondar promised the man that the garment will be delivered as promised as the sun was up and it was a very hot day with hot winds blowing. “If I do not deliver as promised” said he, “I will consider myself to be sinned”.

Tirukurippu Thondar took the garment and went to the river where he used to wash the clothes on a big stone. He washed the cloth well to remove the dirt and did it carefully as it was almost in tatters and wringed it to get rid of the excess water.

Just then something unexpected happened. There was suddenly the sound of rolling thunder. A startled Thondar looked up to see dark clouds suddenly moving towards the river and cool breeze blew from nowhere. Tup… Tup… Tup… Big raindrops started to fall. Before Thondar could realise, it started pouring in torrents. With a huge noise, the rain was pouring.

Thondar was in a state of shock. Just an hour back, the sky was so clear with the sun high up in the sky and now, when he had promised to deliver the old man’s upper garment…….

“It will stop shortly” Thondar consoled himself.  “After all this is not monsoon season and so this will soon stop”, he said to himself and looked up at the sky with great hope.

But the rain was not in a mood to stop. It poured and poured and poured. Noon became evening and the sun was preparing for his exit but the rain did not stop.

Thondar was devastated. Now, his promise would go unfulfilled for the first time. He was ashamed of himself, of the ignorance with which he promised the old man. Now what would the man do at night? Did he not specifically say that he needed his upper garment at night? Now, what reply would he give him?

The more he thought of the helpless situation he was in, the more depressed he became and at one point, decided that death was the only punishment he could award himself. He had no weapon to kill himself but he saw the washing stone.

Without a moment’s delay, he began to hit his head on the stone.

Dum… Dum… Dum… It was as if someone was trying to break a coconut. Blood started oozing out of his head and the few people who were standing under a big tree nearby watched Thondar in shock as he continued to bang his head on the stone.

Suddenly when Thondar banged his head on the stone, he did not hit the hard stone but felt he hit a soft sponge. The pain vanished and the blood stopped.

Thondar looked at the stone and was surprised to find the palm of the Lord come out of the washing stone. He realized that he had banged on the palm of the Lord. The palm, the Abhaya Hasta, which was the savior of the world, was looking magnificent, in the colour of the pomegranate flower, and the wrist was adorned with golden bangles and Rudraksha, smeared with the Holy Ash.

Thondar was overwhelmed with joy and he joined his palms in reverence to the Lord’s arm and his eyes were filled with tears of joy!!!

The arm was visible to the onlookers also and they were equally dazed at the appearance of the Lord’s arm and they also chanted “Om Namasivaya… Om Namasivaya…” in ecstasy with folded palms.

Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun shone gloriously. A sudden light brighter than the sun appeared in front of Thondar and the others and there they could see Lord Shiva with his consort on the majestic Nandi. Lord Shiva looked at Thondar showering his grace and the next moment Tiruthondar’s soul merged with the Lord.

His devotion to Lord Shiva earned him a place amongst the sixty three Nayanars (Saivite saints)

 

 

The Story of Manickavasagar

Tiruvadhavoor is a village near Madurai.  In this village in near about 9th Century AD was born to a pious couple, a son, whom they named Vadhavooran. Vadhavooran’s father belonged to the saivite temple priest clan.

Vadhavooran was a very bright child who mastered various subjects, scriptures of various religions and arts before he was sixteen years of age. Once the King of Madurai Varaguna Pandian who was also known as Arimardhana Pandian chanced to witness the brilliance of Vadhavooran’s knowledge and acumen that he immediately appointed him as his minister. Vadhavooran discharged his ministerial duties with elan and provided an effective administration in the kingdom, but his mind was focussed on getting salvation from this mundane life and he constantly prayed to Lord Shiva to show him the path or to show him a guru (teacher) who would show him the path to salvation.

Once, Arimardhana Pandian came to know that good Arabian horses had been brought by traders to the Coastal towns in the Chola Kingdom and he was eager to acquire good horses to improve his cavalry. He gave gold coins to his trusted minister Vadhavooran and told him to go to the Chola Kingdom and acquire horses.

Vadhavooran accepted the assignment and commenced his journey to the Chola Kingdom. He had to pass by a place called Tirupperunthurai, which is in Pudukkottai district now. As he was passing by the place, he heard the chant of Vedic hymns and was drawn to it. He saw an old man sitting under a Kurunthu tree and the very moment Vadhavooran’s eyes met the old man’s, he decided that he was the Guru he was seeking all these years. He forgot all about his mission and stayed with the old man learning about the glory of Lord Shiva.  He realised that all the material things in this world were temporary and decided that the Lord was the only source of permanent bliss and therefore started to build a temple for the Lord there. He sang many hymns on the Lord and the most famous one was Tiruvachagam. On hearing it the old man gave Vadhavooran the name of Manickavasagar – literally translated means gem worded or more specifically,  ruby worded, that is,  the words spoken by Vadhavooran were equivalent to rubies.

Meanwhile, the King, at Madurai was waiting eagerly for the horses to come but there was no news of that. He sent his spies in search of Vadhavooran and he got the shocking news that Vadhavooran had not gone any further than Tirupperunthurai and he was constructing a temple and feeding the poor with the money meant for buying horses. The King was furious and asked his men to immediately bring Vadhavooran to Madurai. Only when the men told Vadhavooran about the King’s order, he remembered his mission and was aghast that all the money had been spent by him in charity and temple construction.  He asked them for some time and went inside the temple to meet the old man who was none other than Lord Shiva and he surrendered to him. He told Him about the mission of his and the dilemma he was facing now.

The old man patted Vadhavooran and said, “Do not worry. Go back to your king and tell him that the horses will arrive on Avani Moolam day. (Avani is the name of a tamil month and Moolam is a star. Each day of the month is dedicated to a star in Tamil culture) The old man took out a diamond ring from nowhere and gave it to Vadhavooran and said, “Go and give this to your King as a token from the horse dealer”.

Vadhavooran took the ring as if in a trance and he completely believed every word of the old man without even thinking how it would ever happen and went back to the kingdom. He gave the ring to the King who was surprised and even suspected whether his spies had lied to him on the activities of Vadhavooran. He spoke kind words to Vadhavooran and was expecting the horses to come on the day promised by Vadhavooran.

Since an army of horses were supposed to arrive the spies of the king were looking for clouds of dust from afar since the galloping of so many horses would have caused a dust storm, but everything was calm and clear. The spies went and told the King that what Vadhavooran told him was a lie since the very next day was Avani Moolam day and there was no sign of any horses.

“Be patient!” said the King. “Let us see till the appointed day!”

Lord Shiva wanted to play some mischief and see the fun. That very night, all the foxes in the jungles near Madurai got transformed into horses and suddenly out of nowhere, there were hundreds of horses, being led by some horsemen and they had a leader also. Early in the morning, the gatekeepers of the palace were surprised to see this extremely handsome man leading the other men and horses and they ran to the King to inform him. The King was puzzled but pleasantly surprised that Vadhavooran had after all not cheated him and therefore, he along with Vadhavooran came and received the horses.  The horses were looking very high class and of a rare breed and the King was extremely happy and very much impressed by the leader of the horsemen. Vadhavooran somehow thought that the leader of the group resembled the old man he had met at Tirupperunthurai. The leader then explained to the King about the method of upkeep of the horses, their feed etc. and took leave of the King. The King arranged for all the horses to be stabled and went to bed a very happy man, eager to try riding the horses the next day.

But Lord Shiva had other plans. That very night, the horses were transformed back into foxes and suddenly, there were packs and packs of them jumping out from the stables and pouncing at the horsemen and some real horses and injuring them. They ran hither and thither, howling away and the security guards were taken by surprise and it was chaos all around and the guards who were running for their life left the gates open and the foxes ran back into the jungles.

The King was told about the happenings and he was furious. He thought that Vadhavooran was practising some black magic and ordered him to be arrested immediately. It was a real hot day as the monsoon had not yet set in and the Vaigai river was fully dried up.

“Make him stand in the hot bed of the River Vaigai in the hot sun for the whole day!” the king thundered and immediately Vadhavooran was taken to the riverbed. The white sand of the river looked beautiful but was burning hot. It was like the coal which looks harmless with ash over it, but really hot inside. Vadhavooran was pained at the turn of events. He was crying to the Lord silently that such a thing had happened and was very disturbed as he could not figure out why and how this happening.

The hot sand of the Vaigai riverbed was baking his feet and he was not able to stand still even for a second. But his mind solely dwelt on the Lord surrendering himself to Him even though tortured by the heat and the pain .

Suddenly from nowhere thunderclouds gathered and there was a heavy rain. It rained for two or three days together that Vaigai was in spate. The water was gaining more and more momentum that it looked like the river banks would be breached very shortly. The King ordered one person from each home to come and help in strengthening the embankment by putting sand. An announcement was made in the streets of the city of this order of the King and all the citizens sent an able bodied person from their houses. The King’s order had to be obeyed at any cost.

Now, there was an old lady by name Vanthi in Madurai who eked out a living by selling a south Indian delicacy called “Pittu”. Pittu is a powdery sweet made from rice flour and jaggery. This lady Vanthi was an orphan and she sold Pittu and earned money. Every day when she made Pittu, she would first offer it to Lord Shiva and then commence her sales. She was old and had no one to send for the arduous job the King had given.

As she was pondering what to do Lord Shiva appeared as a young boy at her doorstep.

“Hello is there any one inside?” cried the lad. “Does anyone have a job to give me?”

The old lady was surprised and happy and she came out hurriedly and saw this handsome young lad with a turban tied around his head and innocent looks.

“Who are you boy?” she asked him “and what do you want?”

“Patti”, he said (Patti is grandmother in Tamil); “I am on the lookout for a job. Do you have any odd jobs to be done Patti?” he asked very humbly.

“Hmmm” sighed Vanthi. “Well, I am in need of a person to carry out the King’s order”. She then went on to tell him about the King’s order for persons to come to help strengthen the embankment of River Vaigai.

The boy listened to her and said, “I will do the work on your behalf Patti, but what will you pay me?”

Vanthi’s face fell. “I do not have much money to pay you boy” she said sadly. “I earn my living by selling Pittu”.

“Aha, Pittu!” jumped the lad. “My grandma also gives me Pittu every day. It is alright Patti. You give me Pittu instead of money” he said.

Vanthi was happy and expected him to go for the job immediately, but he was standing there expectantly.

“What do you want?” asked Vanthi. “Go and do the job I have told you, go”

“Patti… hmm.. Patti… I want…. I want to have the Pittu before I go. I am feeling very hungry Patti” said the boy.

Vanthi, being an old woman was moved when this young lad was saying he was hungry.

“Wait a minute” she said, “I shall give you the Pittu. You go after eating” . She went in and brought the lad  a good amount of Pittu in a banana leaf.

The boy looked at it eagerly and ate it with great relish. “This Pittu is great” he said. “Just like what my grandma makes”. And licking his fingers he did not leave a speck of the Pittu. “OK Patti”, he addressed her. “Give me a spade and I shall go and do the job as you wish”.

He took the spade and went to the river bank where everyone was busy struggling to put mud on the embankment. The rain had temporarily stopped. The boy looked around and found a big tree nearby with huge roots. He put the spade down and took of his turban and spread it on the roots of the tree and settled down reclining himself on the bark of the tree and in a few minutes was snoring away gently.

The people there were looking at him in awe for he was disobeying the King’s order so blatantly. Soon after, the King accompanied by his courtiers came on horseback to inspect the work that was being done. He was seeing the progress and suddenly, his eye caught the sight of this happy lad snoring away without a care. The king got very angry.

“Hey You!” he shouted at the boy. The boy did not wake up. “Are you deaf?” he yelled at the boy again. The boy slowly opened his eyes as if nothing had happened and stretched his arms and body with a loud yawn, “Aaaaww”. He just looked around and was about to settle down once again when the King came near him.

“Who are you?” the king roared. “And without doing work, how dare you sleep huh?”

“I am the servant of Vanthi” said the boy in a sleepy voice. I had lot of food and am feeling sleepy”. So saying, he turned to sleep again when the furious king took out his whip and in a moment, the whip snapped on the back of the boy. The very next moment, the pain was felt by all the living beings around including the king and a loud “Aaaah!” emanated from all the people around there and the horses writhed and neighed in pain and the birds around shrieked in pain.

The King was shocked by what had happened and his mind went blank for a moment and the very next moment he understood that the boy was none other than Lord Shiva and he also understood that this great drama unfolded only for the sake of Vadhavooran, whom he had punished.

The same time, the boy disappeared and the flood waters receded. The King rushed to Vadhavooran  and sought his forgiveness. Vadhavooran accepted the apology but gave up his chief ministership and visited various temples of Uttarakosamangai, Tiruperunthurai, Tiruvannamalai, Kancheepuram and Chidambaram in Tamilnadu . He stayed back at Chidambaram which was close to his heart.

He composed many more hymns including Tiruvempavai , and Tiruppalliyezhuchi and one day again Lord Shiva came to him assuming the form of an old man and asked him to repeat the Tiruvachagam. He took some palm leaves and started to write down as Manickavasagar was reciting the Hymn. After the whole hymn had been written down, the man signed with his verse that “as Manickavasagar told, the Lord Tiruchittrambalam wrote this” and left the script on the steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The next morning, the script was picked up by the priests who were surprised to see the Lord’s signature. They asked Manickavasagar the meaning of the hymn for which he showed them the Lord Nataraja and said “he is the meaning of all that has been written” and then, Manickavasagar merged with the Lord as a flash of light. He was thirty two then.

The Tiruvachagam has been translated into English in by G.U.Pope in 1900  and again in 1921. Manickavasagar has not been placed in the list of the 63 saivite saints but he finds a place in the Nalvar (foursome) who are Thirugnanasambandar, Tirunavukkarasar, Sundarar and Manickavasagar.

The Story Of Purushottam Dev and Padmavathi

In the 15th century AD, present day Odisha was ruled by King Purushottam Deva of the Gajapati Dynasty. This king, apart from being a brave and handsome person, was a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha of Puri.

Once, he went on a trip to Southern India. There, he was the guest of the King of Kanchi (who was perhaps one of the chieftains of the Vijayanagara Empire) for a few days. He chanced to meet the King’s daughter Padmavathi who was a very beautiful maiden. Purushottam and Padmavathi liked each other and the King of Kanchi put forth the proposal of her marriage with Purushottam Deva to him.

Purushottam was overjoyed and accepted the proposal and after a few days returned to his kingdom. The Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannatha was upcoming and he being the King and a great devotee of the Lord he had to make preparations for the grand event. While leaving, Purushottam invited the King and his family and ministers to come for the Yatra and witness the grand celebrations.

Rath Yatra is an annual event held at Puri when the Lord Jagannatha (Krishna), his brother Lord Balabhadra (Balarama) and their sister Subhadra along with Sudarsana (Deity of the Lord’s wheel of flame) are all taken out in a magnificent procession (Yatra) in separate chariots (Rath).  The Raths are as huge as 45 to 50 feet high and are constructed anew every year. This Yatra has been there from times immemorial and it is said that even the Puranas have vividly described the Yatra. It is usually in the month of Ashaada (July- August).

Coming back to the story, the King of Kanchi could not make it to the Yatra and therefore sent his minister to attend the celebrations and also officially put up the wedding proposal to the King Purushottam Deva. The minister went to Puri and was accorded a warm welcome by the King and had good arrangements to stay and witness the Yatra.

Next day, the Yatra commenced. The whole city was in a festive mood. Just before the Raths started moving, people were in a frenzy. Bells were ringing, conches were being blown, drums were being beaten and groups were singing bhajans and dancing. The minister had never witnessed such a huge celebration and was awestruck at the magnificence of the Raths, their beautiful colours and sculptures engraved on them and the imposing idols of Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra.

Just then, he noticed a strange thing. He saw King Purushottam Deva on the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, holding a broom in his hand and sweeping in front of the Lord. He was totally aghast. In those days, sweeping was considered a very menial job fit to be done by the lowest rung of people in the society. But here, the King was not only holding broom but sweeping the chariot too.

There is this very significant ritual associated with the Rath-Yatra known as the ‘Chhera Pahara.’ In this ritual, during the festival, the King used to wear the dress of a sweeper and sweep all around the deities and chariots.  Chhera Pahara meant sweeping with water ritual and the King used to clean the place before the deities and also road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkle sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion.

Even though the King is considered the person with the highest social status in the kingdom, he still rendered the menial service to Jagannatha signifying that under the lordship of Jagannatha, there is no distinction between the sovereign of the Kingdom and a person doing a menial job.

The minister, not knowing of this ritual or significance was watching with great consternation with a frown on his face and to his dismay, the King got down and started sweeping around the chariots. The minister could bear it no more. He went back to the place of his stay and not informing anyone, packed his belongings and went back to Kanchi.

After reaching Kanchi, he immediately sought an audience with the King and told him about the scene he saw during the Rath Yatra.

“It is extremely disgusting your Highness!” he said. “I cannot imagine our dear princess marrying a sweeper. He is doing the job which is done by the lowest caste with no shame! Hmph! It is better you arrange for the wedding of Padmavathi with someone else!”

The King of Kanchi was also equally angry and felt cheated. “It is good that I sent you during the Yatra”, he said to the minister, “or else, I would have been cheated of marrying off my daughter to a sweeper. I shall arrange for a Swayamvara for Padmavathi. Let her choose a king worthy of her stature. Invite all kings except Purushottam Deva”, he instructed the minister.

Accordingly, the King of Kanchi was making arrangements for holding a Swayamvara. Meanwhile, Purushottam Deva had noticed the unceremonious exit of the Kanchi minister and sent his spies to find out what the matter was. He got the news that a Swayamvara was being planned for Padmavathi and that he was not going to be invited for it.

“I will wage a war on him!” he said with great anger to his minister. “I will capture him and his daughter. Prepare for war!”

Accordingly in the next few days, the army of Purushottam was marching to Kanchi and a battle raged among the two kings. Purushottam lost heavily and his camp was set to fire and he had to beat a hasty retreat to escape being captured. He was very depressed and ran back to his kingdom with a heavy heart.

Padmavathi was also not happy at the turn of events and was praying that she should get to marry Purushottam who she had liked in the first instance.

Purushottam went to the temple and stood before Lord Jagannatha. He prayed fervently to Him. “I served you and that was being mocked at”, he said to the Lord. “You have let me down badly. Is this the reward I get for serving you with my body, mind and soul?”

He was praying with his eyes closed, deep in thought when he thought he heard a voice say, “Come on Purushottam. Get up and go for war again. I will be with you this time!”

Startled and puzzled, he looked around and could see no one. But something in him said that now he had divine help and he got the courage to go again to war. He started garnering the army and preparing to leave in a few days.

The day before he left his Kingdom, Lord Balabhadra and Lord Jagannatha, assumed the form of soldiers and went riding on horses to Kanchi. Balabhadra rode a white horse and Jagannatha rode a black one. After riding for quite some distance, Jagannatha was thirsty and they both saw an old lady by name Manika selling buttermilk. The brothers rode up to her, got down from the horses and asked her for buttermilk. She gave them the two pots full of buttermilk she had and they both drank it heartily. When she asked for money, Jagannatha removed his ring and gave it to her and said, “Manika ma, we are both going to Kanchi to help the King in the war. Tomorrow, our King will be passing by this route with his army. Show this ring to him and take the money for this buttermilk you gave us”.

So saying, the brothers left.

The next day, as told by the brothers, King Purushottam leading his army went by the same route as told by the Lord. At one point, he was stopped by the old lady Manika.

“Victory be to the King!” she hailed. Purushottam Dev stopped his chariot and asked her what she wanted. She flashed the ring given to her by Lord Jagannatha and said, “Your Majesty, two of your soldiers went by this way yesterday. They bought buttermilk from me and drank and gave this ring to me. They told me to show this to you and take money from you.”

The surprised king took the ring from her wondering who had the audacity to tell him to pay for the buttermilk they drank. To his pleasant surprise, he found that the ring was of his beloved Lord Jagannatha and he was overwhelmed by the Lord’s mercy and became extremely confident that he would win this war.

When he reached Kanchi, again a bloody war raged and this time, Purushottam captured both the King of Kanchi and his daughter.

Looking at the King with anger and scorn he said to him, “Oh, you had decided to marry off this daughter of yours to someone else since I was sweeping the Lord’s chariot eh? Now that I have captured you and your princess, I shall get a real sweeper and marry her off to him IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES”

The king of Kanchi could do nothing but cry silently at his destiny.

Purushottam took his captives back to his capital. He told his minister to get hold of a good sweeper to whom he could marry off Padmavathi.

The minister, though unable to refuse the order of Purushottam was feeling very bad that Padmavathi should be punished for no fault of hers. He knew that Purushottam was very adamant and would not change his mind with any amount of advice.

Padmavathi was also crying silently in agony at her fate. “I shall consume poison and die instead of bearing this humiliation” she said to herself.

Days passed and whenever Purushottam asked his minister, the minister kept telling him that an ‘eligible’ sweeper was not yet found for Padmavathi.

A year rolled by and it was time for the year’s Rath Yatra and yet again it was time for celebration. Princess Padmavathi and her father were brought in chains to witness the Yatra.

The sweeping ritual started and Purushottam Dev had finished sweeping the chariot of Lord Balabhadra and just as he was going to sweep the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, he saw his minister coming swiftly from a distance followed by Princess Padmavathi whose hand were tied.

“My Lord, Wait… wait” he cried.

As Purushottam looked at him puzzled, he said, “I have found the sweeper for Padmavathi. We can conduct the marriage right here now”.

Purushottam looked at him and said, “Let the Rath Yatra be over, my dear minister. I do not have the time now to see Padmavathi’s groom. Let me continue my service”

So saying as he bent down to sweep, the minister announced in a loud voice to the public, “Dear people of this land, our King Purushottam had entrusted to me the job of finding an eligible sweeper to marry off this beautiful princess Padmavathi whom he had captured from Kanchi. I have found the most eligible sweeper now and he is none else that King Purushottam himself! He is the most eligible sweeper at this moment and therefore let us all request him to marry this beautiful Princess” he said pointing at the Princess.

Both Purushottam and Padmavathi were pleasantly shocked and so was the King of Kanchi who had by now realised his folly. Purushottam had been outwitted by the minister but all is well that ends well and Purushottam married Padmavathi in the presence of his dear deities Balabhadra, Jagannatha and Subhadra with their blessings.

It is said that Purushottam reigned over his kingdom for over three decades.

Nambiyandar Nambi

There is a village in South India called Thirunaraiyur. It has this name since it is believed that a stork worshipped Lord Shiva here.

In this village, in the family of Shaivite priests, was born a child, who was named Nambiyandar. His father was the priest in a Ganesha temple in the village. The Ganesha was and is called Polla Pillayar.

Every day when he went to the temple, Nambi, as he was affectionately called, accompanied his father and observed how the prayer (pooja) was conducted. When the time for offering the food to the Lord came, his father used to ask him to wait outside and close the door. Then with the ringing of the bells, he used to offer the food to Lord Ganesha.

The young Nambi learnt all the rituals in conducting the pooja by the time he was about seven years old.

One day, Nambi’s father had to go to another village for attending a function. He called Nambi and giving him the keys of the temple said to him, “Nambi, I am going to the neighbouring village for a function. Go to the temple and conduct the pooja to Lord Ganesha. Be careful not to lose the temple keys.”

Nambi nodded his head dutifully. “Yes, Appa, I will be careful and will perform the pooja as you have taught me” said he taking the keys of the temple from his father.

Early next morning, Nambi’s father left the house. After a while, Nambi’s mother gave him a vessel filled with “Kozhukattai” (rice dumplings with jaggery and coconut) to be offered to the Lord. Nambi went to the temple, opened the doors, cleaned the place and decorated Lord Ganesha with flowers and sang the songs his father used to sing. When it was time to offer the food to the Lord, he closed the doors, kept a plate full of bananas and broke a coconut and opened the vessel with the offering and looked at the idol of Lord Ganesha.

“Look what I have brought for you” he said. “Amma used to tell me that you like ‘Kozhukattai’ the best. Is it so?” he asked the Lord and looked eagerly for the idol to answer. There was no response.

Nambi was worried. He expected the Lord to come out from the idol and eat the sweet that he had brought. But there was no movement in the idol.  Nambi was puzzled. Did the Lord not hear him or was he cross with him for something?

Nambi looked at the lord pleadingly. “Are you angry with me?” he asked the Lord. “Why then are you not eating what I brought for you huh? “

Still there was no response from the idol.

Nambi was perplexed. Why was this God not eating?

Yes!  Maybe he was not hungry! Nambi remembered how his mother coaxed him to eat when he was not hungry.

Looking with great affection in his eyes, he said to the lord, “You are not hungry, are you? Come on, be a nice boy and eat this up, pleeeeease…… Amma made this especially for you. Shall I tell you a story? ”

The idol remained as it was. No response.

Nambi’s eyes were brimming with tears. He was worried as he did not seem to reason out why Ganesha did not have the food he brought. He was also worried that his parents would scold him for not ‘making Ganesha eat’.

“Well,” he said to the idol of Ganesha, “If you do not eat what I have brought I will end my life here and here itself”.

So saying, he held the base of the stone idol and hysterically started to bang his head on the stone.

Who would not be moved by such sincere devotion?

The next moment he felt the soft trunk of Ganesha on his back. Looking up, to his awe, he saw the God smiling at him, his ears swaying. His majestic figure enthralled Nambi.

Remembering his mission, he looked at the God and said, “Eat My Lord. Eat the sweet my mother has sent for you. Eat these fruits and coconut!!”

Ganesha obliged him and smilingly ate up the sweet dumplings and with on swoosh of his trunk took the bananas and coconut and ate them up.

Nambi was pleased immensely. He closed his eyes and said, “Thank you, my lord, thank you!” and when he opened his eyes, the God had disappeared.

Few people who were waiting outside to get a small portion of the offering they got daily were disappointed when Nambi told them that the God had eaten it all. They muttered amongst themselves that Nambi, being a small kid would have devoured everything behind the closed doors and they left the temple grumbling.

Nambi ran home happily with the empty vessels and told his anxious mother about the pooja he performed. His mother was very happy. But the happiness lasted for a short moment. When the next moment Nambi said that the food offering was eaten up by the Lord, his mother’s heart sank.

“When did this small boy learnt to tell lies so skilfully?” she thought to herself. When Nambi repeated the same story again and again, the mother started imagining the worst, that the boy had become unstable in mind. Due to her love for the child, she did not beat him but could only curse her ill luck.

The next day also Nambi’s father did not return and his mother prepared sweet rice and told him to come back immediately after the prayer was offer. This day also Nambi did the pooja sincerely but since the Lord knew of his devotion, He appeared at the first call of Nambi and ate up the offerings. Nambi went home with the empty vessels and found that his father had just come back.

“Come my boy” said the affectionate father. “Did you perform the pooja well?”

“Yes Appa” said the enthusiastic Nambi, I performed it properly and saw to it that Ganesha ate all that I took for Him!”

It was then that the father noticed the empty vessels. He was shocked.

“Where is the ‘prasad’ Nambi?” he demanded to know. The food after being offered to God is known as ‘Prasad”.

“I told you Appa, Ganesha ate it all!” And he was so happy with the tasty food”. Nambi replied with such innocence, his eyes sparkling with glee. “He was so beautiful Appa” he continued.

The father’s face changed drastically. He was furious that the little boy was lying to him without a wee bit of guilt.

“What did you say?” he roared, as his heavy hand fell on Nambi’s tender thigh. “How dare you lie to me you little fellow? If you wanted to eat up the delicacies, you could have told your mother and she would have made them for you. Instead, you ate all the prasad secretly and are lying, you brat!” The father rained blows over and over on the little Nambi who was pleading and crying hard.

“No Appa, I am not lying. Please do not beat me, Appa, please believe what I say!” he wailed.

Meanwhile hearing the commotion, the neighbours ran out and came to Nambi’s rescue.

“Do not beat the child” said an elder. “Yesterday also he ate the food like today. Maybe he wanted to eat some sweet and ate it up. It is after all a matter of food. You please give the child what he likes. Don’t beat the child!”

“Yes, what he says is right” echoed the others.

Nambi’s father though enraged at hearing that the previous day also this had happened, however stopped beating him and said, “Well, let me see for myself tomorrow how Ganesha comes and eats. I have been performing prayers in this temple for years together and can anyone believe that Ganesha, who has not appeared to me till date has appeared to this little rogue? Hmm. Liar!”

Nambi went to sleep sobbing and wondering why his father did not believe him. Was it that Ganesha was not coming and eating every day?

The next day Nambi’s father told him to accompany him to the temple and when they reached the temple, told Nambi to perform the pooja rituals. He stood outside the sanctorum watching how his son was faring and was even moved by the soulful rendering of hymns.

Finally, when the time for offering food came, Nambi closed the doors as usual. He pleaded to the Lord to come and eat today too. He was telling the Lord how his father did not believe him. Now, Nambi’s father had moved near the keyhole and was peering through it. He saw Nambi talking to the idol and thought his son had gone mad.

And suddenly, the Lord appeared in bone and flesh. Nambi’s father almost fainted in awe. He steadied himself and kept peeping through the hole only to see Ganesha happily eating the stuff Nambi had brought. The Lord was smiling at Nambi, nodding his head, his ears swaying like huge fans. After Ganesha finished eating Nambi stood with his head bowing in obeisance and his eyes closed, and Ganesha patted the boy’s head with his trunk and the next moment he was gone.

“Nambi! Nambi, my boy” cried the father exhilarated. He banged the doors and as Nambi opened them, he almost fell at the feet of the boy as Nambi skilfully caught him and said, “No father, you should not bow to me. I am your child after all”

“You are great my son!” said his father hugging him tight and carrying him. “What a fool I was to suspect your innocence my child, forgive me, child, please do forgive me!” The father was sobbing now!

All the people who had gathered in the temple were filled with surprise and awe at what had happened.

From that day, Nambi started doing the prayer to Lord Ganesha every day and it is said that this Lord guided him with solutions for many problems.

Nambi went on to become a great Tamil scholar and he was the contemporary of the great Raja Raja Chola (985 – 1013 A.D). This great Chola King heard Nambi sing the Tevaram (Hymns of the Saivite saints Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar) and was so impressed by the hymns. Nambi explained to the king that what he sang was what he learnt by oral tradition and that the scripts written on leaves were nowhere to be found.

Raja Raja took it upon himself to find the scripts and sought the help of Nambi. It is understood that Nambi had the divine help of the same Lord who enjoyed his hospitality which lead to them finding the leaf scripts half eaten by white ants in a chamber in the temple of Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram. Only ten percent of the scripts were intact. Nambi undertook the onerous task compiling all the hymns into ten “Tirumurais” (roughly translates as book) and added his own hymns as the eleventh Tirumurai.

Nambi also wrote a book of the memoirs on the lives of the sixty three saints (Nayanmars)

From The Bhagavatham – The Story Of Dhruva

Today is the second anniversary of my blog and I thank you all readers for encouraging me so much. Incidentally, this is my seventy fifth post in this blog. Please keep reading the stories and enjoy!!

This is yet another story from Srimad Bhagavatham from which earlier I have retold the stories of The Syamantaka Gem and The Rescue Of Gajendra.

This is the story of Dhruva, who, as a young boy exhibited tremendous determination in his goal and achieved what he wanted.

Long long ago, there lived King Uttanapada, with his two wives Suniti and Suruchi. Suruchi, being the younger wife was the favourite of the King. She was also very beautiful and arrogant. Suniti had a child Dhruva and Suruchi’s son who was slightly younger than Dhruva was named Uttama.

One day, when Uttanapada was seated on his throne, Uttama, the son of Suruchi climbed up his lap to play with his father. The King also fondled Uttama and was speaking loving words to him. Suruchi was standing nearby.

Dhruva, who was also playing nearby, also had a wish to climb on to his father’s lap. All of five years then, he rushed to his father and tried to get up on his lap. Suruchi who was nearby got furious and pushed Dhruva down saying “You are not fit to sit on your father’s lap and as king on this throne as you have not been born of me. Go, go to the jungle and pray to Sri Hari to make you my son in your next birth and then, you can sit on your father’s lap”

The King did not rebuke Suruchi or console Dhruva. He remained a mute spectator as his love for Suruchi prevented him from saying anything harsh to her. Dhruva was very much hurt more at the act of his father than his stepmother and with his eyes full of tears, ran to his mother’s room. Suniti was aghast at seeing the sobbing child and when she came to know what had happened, all she could do was to hug the child and shed tears.

Seeing his mother in tears, Dhruva stopped crying and asked his mother, “Mother, who is Sri Hari?”

Dhruva’s mother, little aware of the child’s thoughts said, “Dhruva, Sri Hari is Maha Vishnu and the ultimate Lord. He is one who can give you everything you ask! Why do you ask?”

Dhruva came out of her embrace with a decisive look on his little face and said in the most determined tone she had ever heard, “Mother, then I shall go to the jungle and meditate on Sri Hari. I shall pray to him for us to live happily with father!”

Saying thus, he did not look back and started walking out; Suniti was at a loss as to what to do. The child walked and walked and was nearing the jungle, when Sage Narada chanced to see him.

Curious as he was to see Dhruva, with swollen eyes, walking furiously towards the jungle. The sage knew Dhruva as he was a regular visitor in King Uttanapada’s court. He stopped Dhruva and asked what happened. Dhruva told him what happened and the purpose for which he was heading to the jungle.

Sage Narada was surprised at the grit of the child and tried to dissuade him from going to the jungle. “There are many wild animals, child!” said he. “They will eat you up fast. Please go back now and come back to do penance after you attain a certain age. Go back”.

Dhruva listened to the sage but his face showed that his mind was made up already. “Nothing will happen to me O Sage”, he said. “Please bless me so that I can go ahead with my tapas. I want to see Sri Hari.”

Narada was astonished at the determination of Dhruva and decided he would help Dhruva. “Child Dhruva!” he addressed him tenderly. “Come here and I shall teach you how to meditate on my beloved Lord Sri Hari!”  He described the beautiful form of Sri Hari and then taught the child the nuances of meditation and initiated him to chant the Lord’s name “Om Namo Bhagavathe Vasudevaya”.  Dhruva grasped the knowledge which was given to him and set out to meditate. Narada also told him to go to the place called Madhu Vana near the river Yamuna and start his penance there.

The first month, Dhruva sustained on some fruits he found in the jungle. The next month, it was leaves and thereafter a handful of grass and in six months time, he had controlled his hunger and thirst and gained the control of his breath and was standing on one leg, with eyes closed in meditating upon the glorious form of Sri Hari as Sage Narada had described to him. He was oblivious of the surroundings. His penance was causing lot of vibrations and the king of the Devas, Indra was perturbed thinking that Dhruva was doing penance to become the king of Devas. He wanted to distract and if possible destroy the child but the seven celestial rishis formed a circle around him to protect him.

When the tapas (penance) became more severe, it started to affect the atmosphere. Changes in the climate were visible and the heat became unbearable. The Devas then rushed to Sri Hari to request Him to save them. The Lord smiled and said that he would grant their wish and shortly appeared before Dhruva. Dhruva had his eyes closed and was meditating upon the form described by Sage Narada and the Lord had to call again to make the child aware that He was present in front of him.

Dhruva opened his eyes and to his joy found Sri Hari looking at him with great affection. “What do you want my child” the Lord asked in a loving voice.

Dhruva realised that he had forgotten everything he wanted to ask the Lord. The sight of Sri Hari was so blissful that he wanted only to remain with the Lord forever.

“I want to remain with you forever, my Lord” he said. His voice was full of peace and longing to be with the Lord.

Sri Hari said, “Dhruva, I know the purpose for which you came here to meditate. Now, you go back to your palace with no fear. Your father will welcome you and you will live a wonderful life and rule the kingdom for numerous years. After your tenure is over in this earth, you shall come to me and I shall give you a place where nobody can reach you. Go Child, go back!”

Dhruva prostrated to the Lord and got up and Sri Hari vanished.

Meanwhile as soon as Dhruva had left the kingdom, Uttanapada felt remorse for his action and the bad treatment which had been meted to Dhruva, who was a mere kid. He decided to bring him back and set out on the mission when Sage Narada came and pacified Uttanapada.

“He will come back after achieving his goal” said Narada. “He is an extraordinary child! You wait patiently at the palace.” Uttanapada returned to the palace reluctantly and was eagerly awaiting Dhruva’s return.

Now, that Dhruva was coming back, Sage Narada came to the king and announced that his child had surpassed great sages in his meditation and attained the impossible – the darshan of Sri Hari within such a short span of time. The king was elated and so were the queens Suniti and Suruchi. Suruchi had also realised her fault and was repentant. Uttanapada sent elephants, horses and chariots to escort little Dhruva home and it was the most joyful reunion!

Dhruva succeeded his father to the throne and ruled the country for many years. At the time of his leaving this material world, Sri Hari sent two Vishnu Dhootas (messengers of Lord Vishnu) and made him the Pole Star, who would shine till the Universe existed. His mother was also given a place near him.

Even today, we can see the Pole star, Dhruva shining happily as if immersed in the bliss of Sri Hari!!

 

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