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

Category: Faith and Devotion Page 2 of 5

Gods in quarantine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narahari Sonar – The saint-poet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narahari immediately shut his eyes tight.

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

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

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

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

That was his moment of realisation!

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

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

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

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

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

Tiruvadirai Kali – An interesting legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senthan was, for a moment overjoyed, that he got a person to feed, but the very next moment, remembered that there was no rice in the house, to cook. He was in a dilemma, as to what to do. By that time, the saintly person had reached the verandah of Senthan’s house. In a deep and melodious voice he spoke, “I have been travelling all day long and I have a long way to go. Could I get something to eat?”

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

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

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

After making his guest comfortable and giving him water to drink, Senthan quickly whipped up a sweet dish with the ragi flour, jaggery and coconut scrapings, the dish had the consistency of thick halwa and could be shaped into balls. It was called “kali” (pronunciation – ‘Ka’ as in cup and ‘Li’ as in liquid – though the exact ‘l’ sound is not available in English language)

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

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

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

The guest thanked Senthan and went his way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King, priests and guards rushed to the place where the chariot was ready for the procession but could not locate Senthan as there was a huge crowd. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidbits

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

Purandaradasa- Sangeeta Pitamaha

Dear Readers, it’s been over a month since my last story. Here I am once again, and this time I am going to narrate the story of Saint Purandaradasa. Before we go to the story, let us see some historical facts.

This saint lived in the period 1480 AD (or 84) to 1564 AD. He is believed to have born in a place called Purandaragadh near Pune (though latest research suggests that he was born in Karnataka at a place called Tirthahalli in Shivamogga district). He spent the last part of his life in Hampi just before the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Purandaradasa is considered to be one of the chief proponents of South Indian Classical music and has structured the basic exercises for learning of Carnatic music. He was a prolific composer of Bhakti literature and his songs were classified as Dasa Sahitya and they were woven around the Madhwa philosophy. But how did Purandaradasa become a saint? It is the story we are going to see.

Varadappa Nayaka was a reputed diamond merchant who lived with his wife Leelavathi. Though a great businessman, he sadly did not have the joy of having a child for many long years.

After many years of prayer to the Lord Sreenivasa of Tirupati, he was blessed with a baby boy whom he named Sreenivasa Nayaka. Sreenivasa Nayaka was given a good education and he gained proficiency in Kannada, Sanskrit and music. When he came of marriageable age (which was about 16 in those days), he was married to one Lakshmamma in accordance with his family customs. Lakshmamma was very pious and God fearing in addition to being very generous and charitable.

Years went by and Sreenivasa, by assisting his father at work, gained good knowledge of the business of diamonds and gemstones. When he was twenty years old, his parents passed away one after the other and he was left to inherit the huge diamond business built by his father. In due course, Sreenivasa and Lakshmamma were the proud parents of four children.

A shrewd businessman , as he was, Sreenivasa Nayaka managed the business very well and was in no time much more prosperous than his father was, and thereby came to be known as “Navakoti Narayana” literally meaning the Narayana owning nine crores worth of assets. But as his business empire grew, his humaneness shrunk in direct proportion and soon people were talking on how miserly he was. His nature was in total contrast to his wife’s nature. He would never part with one coin towards charity.

Though Lakshmamma knew about it and felt very bad, there was nothing she could do about this.

One day an elderly brahman from a nearby village wearing tattered clothes came to the shop of Sreenivasa.

On seeing him Sreenivasa knew that he had not come to buy or sell diamonds in his so but to seek alms.

As expected, the man slowly approached him and said, “Sir, I am planning to conduct the thread ceremony of my son and require some money for it. May I request you to please give me whatever financial help you can? I will certainly repay the amount”.

There was so much hesitation on the man’s face and shame felt by the man in seeking alms was very evident. He was genuinely poor and required help and it was apparent that he had no other way out.

Sreenivasa in his arrogance did not even look at him and said, “Is this the time to come and ask for alms? Can’t you see I am busy? Hmph… Come tomorrow”

The man with his head hung walked away without saying a word. He again came the next day. Sreenivasa pretended not to even see him and after a long time looked at him and told him the same answer as the previous day.

The man went back and kept coming back almost every day for nearly six months only to get the same reply from Sreenivasa.

When the man came next, Sreenivasa decided to tease him even more and took out a fake gold coin he used to play with, in his childhood and gave it to the man with a cynical smile and said, “I think this will be enough to meet your financial need. Now, go away from here and don’t come back again and disturb me”

The man knowing that it was a cheap coin was distraught at insult being added to injury, left the place with his head hung in shame and tears in his eyes.

As he was passing by Sreenivasa’s house in the next street, he saw Lakshmamma sitting in the verandah of the house cleaning some grain. She looked so graceful and divine like a goddess and her eyes were flowing with benevolence. The man did not know it was Sreenivasa’s wife and felt that she would certainly help him out. He hesitantly walked towards the house, the coin in hand.

Lakshmamma looked up and true to her nature, stood up and welcomed the man.

“Welcome Sir!” she said with a sweet smile. Not waiting for his reply, she quickly went into the house and came with a small pot of water for him to wash his legs.

“Please wash your legs and come in. It is so hot outside” she said.

The man whose mind was soothed by her words, washed his legs and went in. She offered him a seat served him with a glass of cool water and casually enquired about him since she knew he was not from this village.

The man, as though waiting to pour out his grief almost cried while narrating his tale of woe not knowing that the lady to whom he was speaking was the wife of the ‘villain’ he was talking about.

Lakshmamma though, realised that it was her husband he was talking about and was pained at the behaviour of her husband. She felt very distressed at the old man’s plight.

“I wish I could help you Sir!” she said with real concern in her voice. “I am only concerned at what my husband would say, as he is not here at the moment….”

The man understood her hesitation and said, “I appreciate your intention Amma, but is there not anything you can give me without asking your husband?”

Lakshmamma thought for a while and suddenly her face lit up. She removed her diamond nose ring.

“Don’t worry Sir, here is my diamond nose ring. This was given to me by my parents and so I can gift it to you. Please sell this and conduct your son’s thread ceremony”

The nose ring had eight diamonds in it.The man was taken by surprise at her generosity which seemed to have no bounds. He looked at her with reluctance. But she was insistent. Not able to refuse, the man took the ring and wrapped it carefully in a piece of cloth he had in his bag and thanking her profusely, left the place.

And where did he go to? Straight to Sreenivasa’s shop! Sreenivasa was examining some diamond and when he chanced to look up, he was surprised to see the same old man coming back but there was an air of confidence about him which puzzled Sreenivasa.

Before Sreenivasa could utter a word, the man said, “Sir, I have not come to beg you for money but to either pledge or sell this diamond ring”. So saying, he carefully pulled out the cloth packet and took out the dazzling diamond nose ring.

The moment Sreenivasa saw it, he recognised the ring. When he enquired about it, the man told him that a ‘noble hearted lady’ had gifted it to him. Knowing who the ‘noble hearted lady’ was, Sreenivasa took the ring and put it in the cash draw in a silver cup,locked the draw and stuffed the keys in the secret pocket in the fold of the dhoti in his waist.

He told the man, “This has to be valued and only then I can give money to you. It is lunch time now and I am going home for lunch. Wait here till I come back”. Seething with anger, he stomped out of the shop and rushed to his home, making the man wonder why he was so angry. The man settled down in the verandah of the shop waiting for Sreenivasa.

Back home, Sreenivasa’s suspicion was confirmed when he saw that the nose ring was missing on Lakshmamma’s nose. Lakshmamma also noticed that he was glancing at her nose and knew that she was in for big trouble.

“Lakshmamma,” he said in an angry voice, “Where is your nose ring huh?”

“Er…. mm… I….. I…. have removed it… since… I took oil bath today….” Her faltering speech in a trembling voice was enough to give her away.

“You are lying aren’t you??” shouted Sreenivasa, his eyes red with anger. “Go… and bring the nose ring from wherever you have kept it and show it to me now!”

Lakshmamma who had never ever lied in her life and who had always lived as per Sreenivasa’s whims and fancies was terrified at the thought of her fate when Sreenivasa would know the truth.

“It is better to die than to suffer this insult”, she thought to herself and went and stood in front of the altar in their house. She poured out some poison in a small silver cup and kept it in front of her favourite Lord Krishna. With her eyes tightly shut and tears streaming from the eyes, she was mentally pleading with Krishna to forgive her for the sin committed by her and telling him that she would repent for it by giving her life.

After a few minutes of this intense prayer, calming down, she took the cup of poison, ready to drink it and when she just lifted it near her chin, there was this sound ‘clink’. Something seemed to have fallen into the cup. The puzzled Lakshmamma looked into the cup and lo and behold! The nose ring was in the cup of poison gleaming. Startled and pleasantly surprised at this turn of events, Lakshmamma quickly controlled her emotions, thanking her Krishna profusely in her mind, took the ring out, washed it in water and wiped her tears and went to the hall to Sreenivasa who was waiting impatiently for the ring.

“Here it is!” said she, not daring to look into his eyes and dropped the ring on his extended palm.

Now it was Sreenivasa’s turn to be shocked. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the ring. It was the very same ring which he had locked in the cash draw half an hour back. Unwittingly his right hand was reaching the secret pocket in the folds of his dhoti to check for the keys and the keys were there intact. So where did this ring come from?

Bewildered beyond words, Sreenivasa, without saying a word literally ran back to his shop holding the ring tightly with his fist closed. As soon as he entered the shop, he tried to pull open the draw thinking that he might have forgotten to lock it. But it was locked. Taking out the keys with a trembling hand, he opened the draw and the jewel was missing. The cup was very much there but the ring was not.

Confused and almost mad at what was happening, Sreenivasa rushed home once again and Lakshmamma was anxiously waiting at the door.

Suddenly it struck to Sreenivasa, that this was not humanly possible. Visibly shocked for words, he stuttered and asked her, “Tell me, what is happening. Are you doing some magic??

Lakshmamma started sobbing and told him all that had happened. He was totally perplexed. This power of devotion or Bhakti of his wife was matchless! He could not bring himself to believe that the all-encompassing divinity was so submissive to her devotion.

And that one surreal moment was the trigger for the miserly Sreenivasa Nayaka to transform into a saint. Something changed in him suddenly. He was not the miserly diamond merchant anymore. He had realised that it was the Lord Krishna who was in each and every atom of this universe and the claims of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ were meaningless. He would give up everything of his and become the ‘Dasa’ (servant) of Hari, who was indeed the Lord of the Universe. He ran to the shop to fall at the feet of the man who he knew was Krishna but the man had vanished!

The very next day, he called his friends gave up all his wealth and belongings to them and left the place with his wife and family to live a saintly life travelling to the abodes of Lord Krishna, seeking alms by singing the glory of the Lord.

It is said that in his wanderings he met the saint Vyasatirtha who advocated Madhwacharya’s teachings and it is believed that he gave a formal initiation to him and bestowed him with the name “Purandaradasa”. Purandaradasa also travelled extensively through the length and breadth of the then Vijayanagara Empire. He was a contemporary of Saint Kanaka Dasa as well.

Purandaradasa, played a great role in systematizing Carnatic music, the way it is sung today. He introduced the Raga Mayamalavagoula as the basic scale for studying music at beginner’s level. He also brought in a series of graded lessons for the beginners which is followed even this day. In addition to this he also composed thousands of hymns on Lord Vishnu and many of his hymns are highly popular to this day. He used the phrase ‘Purandara Vitthala” as his signature in the hymns he composed.

In his last years, he settled at Hampi and sang in Emperor Krishnadeveraya’s durbar. He died at the age of eighty in 1564.

Being a student of music, I feel greatly honoured to narrate this story in my own words as I have heard it and may Lord Krishna bless us all!

Lord Nataraja at Konerirajapuram- The tallest Swayambu Murti.

In this New Year, “Arudra Darisanam”, the festival commemorating Lord Shiva’s incarnation as Lord Nataraja, falls on Jan 2nd,2018 and I thought it befitting to bring to you a lesser known legend of Lord Nataraja who resides in an equally lesser known place by name Konerirajapuram.

Konerirajapuram is a village in the Nagapattinam district of Tamilnadu, South India and lies between the two towns of Mayiladuthurai and Kumbakonam. This village houses a temple for Uma Maheswara (Lord Shiva) and in this temple is the Nataraja whose legend I am going to narrate.

The Cholas were mighty rulers in Tamil Nadu for the longest period and their fame rose to dizzying heights between 9th century CE to 11th century CE. Many famous temples were built at this time including the Brihadeeswara temple at Tanjavur by the emperor Raja Raja Chola and its replica at Gangai Konda Cholapuram by his son Rajendra Chola. It is very significant to note that the ladies of the royal family also had enough wealth at their disposal. The queens were mostly engaged in activities aimed at bringing the society together. Building temples and hospitals by the ladies of the royal families were common.

Many Chola queens had the title “Sembiyan Mahadevi”. However the title is generally taken to refer to the queen of the King Gandaraditya Chola, who was Raja Raja Chola’s uncle. He was deeply devoted to Lord Shiva and  his queen Sembiyan Mahadevi was instrumental in building many Shiva temples for over sixty years, as she was also an ardent devotee of the lord. This legend is said to have happened during her time.

King Gandaraditya Chola wanted a life size Nataraja ‘Murti’  with consort Sivakami to be made in the Uma Maheswara temple at Konerirajapuram. He wanted it to be very tall and instructed the sculptor to make it using ‘Panchaloha’.

‘Panchaloha’ as the name indicates is a mixture of Gold, Silver, Brass, Copper and Bronze and this mixture of metals is extensively used in making metallic idols even to this day. Usually such metal idols used to be in the range of two to four feet and making such a big ‘Murti’ as per the king’s wish was indeed a challenge for the sculptor.

The sculptor had built a shed inside the temple where he tried to execute this task but try as he might he always fell short of the king’s expectation, and three times the king had seen the ‘Murti’ and had rejected it outright.

One day on his usual visit to check the progress , the king got terribly annoyed that the sculptor was not being able to create the ‘Murti’ the way he had visualised it for so long.

“What is the use of your knowledge, if you are not able to execute my order? I think you are not focussed enough to do the job I have given you. I am terribly disappointed with you!” he shouted in anger. “I shall come again tomorrow evening and by that time if the ‘Murti’ has not been made as per my specifications, be ready for severe punishment!”

He stomped out of the place, his face, red with fury.

The sculptor was crestfallen. He was a person with great knowledge and greater commitment but somehow this time this ‘Murti’ was eluding him. And he shuddered at the thought of  punishment the day after. The images of his wife and young children and aged parents came to his mind’s eye and he was in tears thinking of what they would do without him. He was their life support.

He could not sleep a wink that night and the next day he again kept the huge pot on the stove to melt the metal for the last time. Overcome by tiredness and fear, he was mentally pleading with Lord Shiva. He was feeling helpless. He was doing his very best but somehow the king could not be satisfied.

“Why are you testing me thus, O Lord? What harm have I done to anyone to deserve punishment?” he asked the Lord. He sat down , leaning his back against the wall, closed his eyes and was lost in thought, tears rolling down his cheeks. He was sobbing silently and deep in his thought was the Lord Shiva. He did not realise it was past noon.

“We have walked a long way in the heat. May we have something to drink?” – The deep voice of a man woke him up with a start. There was a couple at the entrance of the shed, near the stove where the metal mixture had melted and was boiling. The couple looked divine, but the anger and frustration of the sculptor overshadowed his sense of hospitality. In a fit of rage, the sculptor said, “I don’t have any water here. All I have is the molten metal. Drink it if you want!” and rudely turned back.

In few seconds, he thought he heard the sound of someone gulping the liquid “glug glug glug glug…” and when he turned around, he was horrified to see the man and his wife drinking the molten liquid using two small containers which he had kept to pour the liquid in the mould. Instinctively he darted across to snatch the containers from them and lo and behold! They had turned into the ‘Murtis’ of Nataraja and his consort Sivakami and what beauties they were! The ‘Murti’ of the Lord was more than life size (about 7 to 8 feet- still it is the tallest Swayambu Nataraja in the world) and the ‘Murti’ of Sivakami was bewitchingly beautiful.

The sculptor was overjoyed and overwhelmed at this show of mercy of his beloved Lord and he prostrated before the ‘Murtis’ conveying his gratitude. They were so very life like including a mole under the left arm of Lord Nataraja. So full of awe, peace and joy, the sculptor awaited the arrival of the king.

Soon, he heard the guards announcing the arrival of the king and queen and this time, he enthusiastically went to welcome them. The king and queen looked at the ‘Murtis’ with astonishment and could not take their eyes off them. When the king asked the sculptor how he was able to make them, the sculptor, true to his nature, told him what had happened. The king did not believe him. He thought the sculptor was lying to him, and in a sudden fit of anger pulled out his sword to harm the sculptor when the tip of the sword hit the  leg of the Murti of Lord Nataraja and instantly blood started oozing out.

It was the turn of the king to be shocked and at that moment he realized his folly and sought forgiveness from the Lord and the sculptor. It is said that Gandaraditya had to endure some physical suffering as a result of his attitude towards the sculptor, but after continuous repentance by offering prayers to the Lord, he was cured.

The statue is still at the temple for us to see, with the mole on the left arm and the scar on the leg caused by the sword…. The world’s largest Swayambhu Nataraja.

How Krishna came to stay at Udupi

Udupi is a town on the west coast of India and is situated in the state of Karnataka.

Udupi is associated with Lord Krishna just as Puri is identified with Lord Jagannath or Mount Kailash with Lord Shiva. But it is interesting to note that Krishna has been residing here from the thirteenth century. Before that, Udupi was a holy place where two other temples of Lord Ananteshwara and Lord Chandramouleeswara existed (which still exist). Both are Shiva temples and people from far and near came to visit these temples as they do even today. But how Krishna came to reside in Udupi is an interesting story.

Madhyageha Bhatta and his wife Vedavathi were a childless couple belonging to a village, eight miles away from Udupi. Bhatta was an ardent devotee of the Lord Anantheshwara and used to travel every day from his village to Udupi to pray for a child to continue his lineage. This was going on for twelve years.

One day, a devotee who seemed to be possessed and in a trance climbed up the flag post at the Anantheshwara temple and announced that an incarnation of Lord Vayu (Wind) would be soon born to guide the humanity along the path of right principles. Bhatta who was a witness to this oracle, somehow felt intuitively that the divine child was going to be his child.

In due course, Vedavathi gave birth to this divine child in 1238 A.D whom they named Vasudeva. Vasudeva was a very bright child and at the same time was extraordinarily strong and beautiful also. He excelled in swimming and martial arts and also possessed an extraordinary intellect. Vasudeva was initiated into the Vedic learnings at the age of five. He was very good in his studies and therefore at the age of eleven left to seek higher knowledge from a saintly teacher at Udupi by the name of Achyutapreksha. Achyutapreksha was very happy to have such a bright student and taught him all that was there to be taught.

After a year of staying with Achyutapreksha, Vasudeva wanted to be initiated into “Sannyasa” and renounce the world. Though his parents were not for it, Vasudeva became a monk and his teacher named him “Purnaprajna”.

Purnaprajna gained mastery over the Vedantas and travelled far and wide mostly in the South of India, participating in vedantic debates with learned scholars and was always the winner at the end. Now people started to call him “Madhva” or “Madhvacharya”. His philosophy was called “Dvaita” as against Shankara’s “Advaita”. Madhva then travelled to the Himalayas and Badrinath and is said to have met the sage Vyasa and learnt more intricate portions of the Vedantas and returned to Udupi. He wrote the commentary for the Bhagavad Gita and also many books and composed many hymns. He used to give lectures on the life of Lord Krishna in the Ananteshwara temple at Udupi. He had a deep desire to build a temple for his favourite deity Krishna, at Udupi.

One day, when Madhvacharya had gone to the Malpe beach with a few of his disciples he was absorbed there in composing a hymn “Dvadasha Stotra”. The sea was choppy and rough. All of a sudden, he could see a ship at a distance being tossed by the waves. There seemed to be people on board.

Madhva prayed to the Lord and waved his upper garment signalling to the people on the ship and slowly the sea became calm. However, due to the wind, the vessel ran aground. The people in the ship were happy that their lives were saved and the captain was so thankful to this monk. He got down with the help of a rope ladder and came to the shore to thank Madhvacharya. He was a Muslim merchant carrying goods from Gujarat. He knew that it was, by the power of this monk that the sea had become calm.

“Thank you, Holy Sir,” said the captain offering his salutations, “you have saved our lives. As a mark of gratitude, I want to offer you something. Kindly take whatever you want from the things I am carrying on board”

Madhvacharya accepted his invitation and went on board and found a big lump of clay (Gopi Chandana) which this merchant had put into his ship as ballast when he commenced his journey from Gujarat.

Madhvacharya intuitively knew that this was what was meant for him and told the merchant that he would take this big lump of clay. The merchant was happy that removing this lump of clay would also lighten the ship and the ship could move when the tide came in.So he gladly gave the lump of clay to Madhvacharya.

Madhvacharya and his followers took the big lump of Gopi Chandana from the ship and got down. As they were wading their way through the shallow waters and neared the beach, the lump split and broke and they could see a beautiful ‘murti’ (idol)  inside.

Madhvacharya was elated. He knew that the murti was that of his favourite deity Krishna.

“I have been waiting for you my dear Lord!” he said with tears of joy. There was a lot of clay still around the murti and the murti seemed to be heavier than before. The disciples could not lift the murti now. The Lord seemed to want only Madhva to carry him. Madhva bent down and embraced the murti with the clay and lifted it into his arms as a father would lovingly lift a child and, lo and behold, the murti was light enough to be carried.

Madhvacharya was in a state of ecstasy and as if in a trance, carried it to the tank near the Ananteswara temple and dipped it inside. Washed by the cool waters of the tank,the strikingly beautiful form came out of the Gopi Chandana to the joy of all the onlookers. Madhvacharya built a temple for this child God next to the Ananteswara and Chandramouleeswara temples and from then Krishna started residing at Udupi. Madhvacharya taught his eight disciples the rules of worshipping this Krishna. The eight disciples established their schools or “Mathas” and each head of the “Matha” gets the right to perform worship and administer the temple matters once in two years even now.

But I know you are wondering how the idol was found inside a lump of clay. Intriguing isn’t it? Well, let me tell you that story as well.

As we all know, Lord Krishna was born as the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva in the prison room of the demonic King Kamsa. On the very night of his birth, baby Krishna was carried to Gokul and was exchanged with the daughter of Nandagopa. Therefore, Krishna was brought up by Yashoda and Nandagopa. Devaki could meet Krishna only as a young boy after Kamsa was killed.

Devaki was having this grievance for a long time and in her old age when she was staying with Krishna at Dwarka, she told him one day about it. “Krishna, my son” she said, “I was destined to have eight children but was never able to see the childish pranks of even one of them. Yashoda brought you up and enjoyed your pranks and the gibberish you spoke. Every time I hear of your pranks from someone, I yearn to see you in that stage. Will you show me a vision of your childhood, my child?”

Krishna looked at his mother with affection. He thought of all the suffering she had undergone in spite of being a princess and he was filled with sympathy at the thought of her destiny.

With a benevolent smile, he replied, “Why not mother? Here I am!”. And to the surprise of Devaki, Krishna assumed the form of a three-year-old, and climbed on to Mother Devaki’s lap. Devaki was thrilled and cuddled the child Krishna with so much of love and affection, to her heart’s content.To satisfy her yearning, Krishna remained in that form for some time following her wherever she went. Remembering that she had heard that He loved butter, Devaki churned some butter, by which time he ran and took the churn and rope from her and snatched the butter, smearing Himself with butter. He was looking so very cute and mischievous, eating butter with relish, and speaking in such childish gibberish and Devaki was enchanted and on cloud nine witnessing this act of the Lord.

Krishna resumed his normal form. Devaki was overjoyed. Rukmini,Krishna’s wife who was watching it, was also enamoured with this child form of her Lord.

“I want this childhood figure of yours to be sculpted O Lord!” she requested Krishna.

Krishna smiled and the divine architect Viswakarma was called to sculpt the statue of the child Krishna with the rope and the churn. Viswakarma sculpted the figure exactly as they had seen. Rukmini worshipped this idol at her palace.

After the time of Krishna, Rukmini entrusted the safekeeping of the idol to Arjuna the Pandava and he in turn kept it in a place called Rukminivana near Dwarka. Over a period of time, the idol got covered by the Gopi Chandana clay and being exposed to the vagaries of weather, the clay hardened over the idol and it became a huge clay lump which was carried by this merchant as ballast in his ship and this is what was taken by Madhvacharya and installed at Udupi. This is how Krishna came to stay at Udupi.

And he is the loving child who we all worship at Udupi. Interestingly, the Lord is seen turning towards the west and can be seen only through a window. There is an interesting story on how this came about which I shall narrate later.

The photos in the image are taken by my husband during our recent visit to the Udupi temple.

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  temples (Padal Petra Sthalam) identified where the Nayanmars have visited and sang hymns.

This 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 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 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 this announcement.

“Well, let me try” thought she. She started observing the Siddha 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 extremely thin paper-like rice appalams (chips) with salt in it and took them to the place where the Siddha 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 intake of salt brought in a change in the Siddha 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 Siddha 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 Siddha 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 song after another, 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 the anklet of Valli’s left foot flew off and fell near the Siddha. The link of the anklet had been apparently loose. To the Siddha who was absorbed in the dance Valli appeared as Lord Nataraja himself. 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 moved 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). To him, she still appeared as Lord Nataraja.

“What cheap attitude!” someone muttered. “These days, cannot trust anybody…great Siddha he is, huh?” sneered someone else.

The sounds of muttering and mumbling grew and now people angrily commented openly at the Siddha pointing fingers at him and accusing him.

Suddenly the Siddha, who was in a state of bliss, realised that the people were jeering at him, and laughing at him mockingly. He understood the situation in a jiffy and became furious.

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.

This story was gathered by me when I visited this temple.

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.

This story was told by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Guru of Sri Vivekananda, to his disciples.

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!!

The city of Madurai is believed to be in existence for over thousands of years – one of the oldest living cities in the world. It is said that Megasthenes, the Greek historian  visited this city when he visited India in  302 BCE and has mentioned about  “Pandaie” and “Methora” which are interpreted as “Pandya” and “Madurai”

This city was the capital of the Pandya kingdom for centuries and was taken over by the Cholas during the tenth century CE. 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 Nayaka 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 two festivals into one and celebrated it in the Tamil month of Chitra ( Chaitra in the other parts of the country). The festival came to be known as ‘Chithirai festival’. 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’ meaning to ‘joining of the four towers’. 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 Pandya. 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 great 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. Therefore the name  “Aalavai” which 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 ‘Yaga’  seeking divine blessing for begetting a child. To the surprise of one and all, a young girl of three years, dressed in fine silk and bedecked with ornaments, came out of the fire of the ‘Yaga’ 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 to a son.

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

The king and the queen were extremely happy and felt 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 and she picked up everything with equal alacrity giving immense joy to her teachers.

In course of time Malayadwaja Pandya 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. Thereafter she proceeded north.

On reaching Mount Kailasha, she demanded to see the Lord Shiva.

“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. Lord Shiva then 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 he 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 gaiety. 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 is said to have 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 at the temple at Madurai every year during the Chithirai festival. This festival used to be 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.

The story of that is, 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 on the banks of the Vaigai River and said that he would be emancipated from the curse by the blessing of Kalla Alagar. This event also used to be enacted every year and celebrated by the Vaishnavites at a place called Thenur near Madurai.

When King Tirumalai Nayaka was ruling Madurai in the seventeenth century, he wanted unity between Saivites and Vaishnavites and therefore merged the two festivals into one. This is how he did it. He brought in the practice of making Lord Vishnu (Kalla Alagar) arrive for the wedding of Meenakshi with Sundareswara. But he made it such that  Kalla Alagar arrives late due to spate in Vaigai, and the wedding is over and therefore Kalla Alagar goes back in a huff, however blessing the sage Mandooka on his way back. Thus the festival was celebrated by Saivites and Vaishnavites jointly and by combining this festival there was more unity among people.

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 :
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.

Sangam Period – Is denoted as the period from 2nd Century BCE to 3rd Century CE when major literary works were composed by numerous poets which included the Tholkappiyam which is the oldest surviving treatise on Tamizh grammar.

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