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

Category: Saints of India

Ganpati Bappa Moraya – The story of Shri Moraya Gosavi

Ganesha, Ganapati, Gajanana, Gananayaka – the lovable god with so many names has his birthday today. Yes, it is Ganesh Chaturthi today.

Celebration of Chaturthi and worship of Ganapathy is a very ancient practice especially in our country. It is understood that Rg Veda carries hymns in praise of Ganesha.  Adi Shankaracharya is known to have classified the worshippers of various Hindu deities into six groups and codified the practices of worship for each of them. ‘Gaanaapatyam’ or worship of Ganesha is one of them.

And come Ganesh Chaturthi, one cannot help but think of the state of Maharashtra where this is celebrated as a full-fledged festival spread over ten days. The grand celebrations with Pandals, the vibrancy in the air, the excitement and joy of the all the people without any distinction whatsoever are all a separate class by itself. People treat Ganesha as their loving child or revered guest and take good care of Him while he is stationed in their houses as a ‘Murti’ for a full ten days or lesser as per the custom of each household. And the festival is not complete without the chants of Ganapati Bappa Moraya!

It is said that Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak who was one of the early freedom fighters of the nineteenth century popularized the household festivities of Ganesha Pooja on Chaturthi day in Maharashtra into a social and community festival to forge unity and camaraderie among the public.

This Chaturthi, I am bringing to you the story of the saint Moraya Gosavi who was instrumental to a great extent in spreading the Bhakti movement of Ganesha in Maharashtra.

In the late thirteenth century, there lived a couple Vamanbhat and his wife Parvatibai in the village called Shaligram in Bidar district of Karnataka. They were devotees of Lord Ganesha. The couple were childless for a long time.  So, they undertook a Yatra and reached Morgaon in Maharashtra, where Lord Ganesha was worshipped in the form of Mayureshwar with peacock as His vehicle. Morgaon is also said to have had plenty of peacocks due to which this name came about. The temple of Mayureshwar is on the banks of the River Karha there. It is one of the Ashta Vinayak temples of Maharashtra.

Vamanbhat and Parvatibai stayed on in Morgaon praying fervently for a child. One day Vamanbhat had an intuition that their wish would be granted. It was true and they were soon parents to a beautiful baby boy who they named Moraya after the Ganesh at Morgaon. Grateful to Lord Ganesha, they stayed back permanently at Morgaon.

Moraya was an intelligent child and was initiated to Vedic studies at the age of eight.

All was well but one day Moraya fell seriously ill. His parents took him to many Vaidyas (doctors) but it was of no avail. The high temperature would not subside and little Moraya could not even open his eyes.  The parents were extremely worried. Their sole refuge was Ganesha as usual and they ardently prayed to Mayureshwar.

 In a couple of days, a saint by name Nayan Bharti Gosavi came to Morgaon. He was also a worshipper of Ganesa. A worried Vamanbhat met the sage and expresses his anguish over his little son’s health. Nayan smiled and asked to be taken to their house. At their house, Nayan Bharti’s touch cured Moraya and Moraya was back to his cheerful bubbly self.

Moraya decided to take Nayan Bharti Gosavi as his Guru and learn all that was there to be learnt. With his parents and his Guru all being Ganesha devotees, Moraya was inclined to worship Ganesha naturally.

As days went by Moraya grew into a young man and now had an unending desire to see Lord Ganesha in person. He sought the advice of his Guru who advised him to do intense ‘tapasya’ at Theur.

Moraya went to the banks of the Mula Mutha river at Theur and meditated with single minded devotion. He had many obstacles hindering his mission. It is said that a tiger tried to attack him and when he sensed that, and opened his eyes, the tiger turned into a stone.  

On the 42nd day of his penance, Shri Moraya got the vision of Bhagwan Chintamani Vinayak. Moraya was ecstatic. Vinayak blessed him with the eight powers called ‘Ashta Siddhis.’  He also told Shri Moraya to get married and lead the life of a householder. He further said that He (Ganesha) would be born as his son and He should be named ‘Chintamani’.

Shri Moraya started using his powers to help the needy and people in misery. He came to be referred to ‘Moraya Gosavi’. He also married a maiden named Uma and started living the life of a householder with his devotion to Lord Ganesha intact. The place where Moraya sat and meditated at Theur is known as ‘Moraya’s Asana’ and preserved till date.

With Moraya Gosavi gifted with all the Siddhis, there were numerous miraculous incidents wherever he was present. There was a milkman supplying milk to Moraya Gosavi’s household regularly. One day he had to go somewhere and therefore sent a girl who was blind, to deliver the milk. The girl came with the milk-pot to Shri Moraya’s place. As Shri Moraya went in to fetch a vessel, the girl trod on the place where he had stood a while back and lo and behold! The girl gained the capacity of sight.

This and other such happenings brought lot of crowds seeking solutions to their problems from Moraya Gosavi. It was becoming unmanageable and more importantly hindering his meditation practices. Therefore, he left Morgaon in search of a quiet spot and reached Chinchwad area near which there was a dense forest. However, the people of Chinchwad were so affectionate and would not allow him to go deep into the forest. They built a small hut facilitating him to stay there in Chinchwad and continue his spiritual activities.

Moraya Gosavi was however very attached to Mayureshwar and so every month on the first day after new moon, he used to walk to Morgaon to be there on the Chaturthi day and after darshan he would come back to Chinchwad.

In this journey of his, once the Karha river was in heavy spate due to incessant rains. As Shri Moraya was contemplating how to cross the river, it is said that Bhagwan Ganesha came in the form of a fisherman and helped him cross the river and have darshan.

In yet another instance, due to some reason, Shri Moraya was able to reach the temple at late night only. The doors had been shut and priests had gone home.  But Bhagwan Ganesha could not bear to see the disappointment on the face of his dear devotee and the locks unbolted on their own. Shri Moraya went and performed worship to his heart’s content and after he came out, the locks bolted again. This incident came to light only when the priests went in the next day and saw different flowers offered that what had been left behind them at night.  

Years passed and age was catching up with Moraya Gosavi. One day, when he was at Morgaon, sitting in deep meditation, Bhagwan Mayureshwar appeared to him in a vision along with his consorts Riddhi and Siddhi. Addressing Shri Moraya he said in the most majestic voice, “Moraya, I am pained to see you struggling to come here every month due to your advancing age. I cannot bear to see this anymore. So I have decided I will come with you to Chinchwad. Tomorrow when you bathe in the Ganesh Kund, you will find a radiant saffron rock. Know and accept it to be me and take it with you to Chinchwad. Bring Me in that form here, only on the Chaturthi days of the months of Jyeshta, Bhadrapada and Magha. I am in you always and we are one”

Moraya Gosavi was greatly pleased with this vision. The next day he was offering obeisance to the sun by cupping his hands and taking water from the Ganesh Kund where he was bathing. The third time when he put his hands in the water to take water, he found a huge luminous saffron rock and Shri Moraya realized that this was what Bhagwan Ganesha had told him in his vision the previous day.

Moraya Gosavi carried it ceremoniously to the sanctum of Mayureshwar and as he bent down to place the same in front of the god, the garland of Mayureshwar fell on the neck of Moraya Gosavi. Shri Moraya understood that Bhagwan Ganesha was signalling to him to take him to Chinchwad and took it as Ganesha’s Murti and reached Chinchwad. Thereafter, he built a temple, installed the divine rock and named him Mangalamurti. This was towards the end of the fourteenth century.

So from now on, Moraya Gosavi stayed back at Chinchwad worshipping Mangalamurti and taking him to Chinchwad only three times in a year as instructed by Lord Ganesha. (The practice continues till now). Gosavi saw Ganesha in helping the needy. He gave great importance to ‘Anna Daan’ (giving food to the hungry). So lot of ‘Anna Satras’ (places where free food was served) were built at Chinchwad. Yatras and Poojas were organized and Chinchwad was full of hustle-bustle with people from all places thronging to see Moraya Gosavi and Mangalamurti. According to him, in the worship of Ganesha there was no distinction between rich and poor, young and old, man and woman, caste or creed. This greatly influenced the devotion to Bhagwan Ganesha in the present state of Maharashtra.

After many years of serving thus, Moraya Gosavi wanted to attain oneness with his God Mayureshwar and prayed to him.

Then in the year 1561, (yes, he was a Siddha Purusha who lived more than a hundred years) Moraya Gosavi asked his son to construct a cave on the banks of the Pavana river where he would sit in meditation and attain Samadhi. His son, Chintamani, though very disturbed by this, could not help but obey his father and accordingly constructed the cave with stone. There were two platforms inside the cave and the Ganesha Purana was placed on one of them. Two oil lamps were lit.

Shri Moraya went from his house accompanied by his son and all the members of his household.  He bathed in the river and wearing new clothes and entered the cave. All the people of Chinchwad were standing on the banks of the river teary-eyed. As he sat down on one platform, the family members worshipped him and the womenfolk performed Aarti and Shri Moraya slipped into deep meditation and Samadhi. The members came out and Chintamani place a huge boulder at the entrance of the cave and installed the Murtis of Lord Ganesha and his wives Siddhi and Buddhi.

The Samadhi is considered to be a “Jeeva Samadhi” and people still throng to the place to seek Shri Moraya’s blessings.

It is said that one of the reasons behind the phrase “Ganpati Bappa Moraya” is to remember this great Sadhu Moraya Gosavi while taking the name of Ganesha.

Now that we know about this saint let us also chant “Ganpati Bappa Moraya” on this auspicious day! Wishing all of you a very joyful Ganesh Chaturthi and pray Bhagwan Ganesha showers his blessings in abundance on all of us.

Shri Moraya Gosavi before his Samadhi.

Ganpati Bappa Moraya!!

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part II

In the story Part I of Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj, we saw how Prayag Dutt came back to his home to his mother after having the divine vision of Sree Raja Ram and Ma Janki and how lucky he was to be touched by these divine beings. Those who have not read part I may click here to read and then proceed to Part II.

Prayag’s mother was waiting for his return anxiously. When she saw him coming back, with such a brilliant glow on his face, his mother knew that he had indeed seen Ma Janki in person. Prayag told his mother excitedly how he had met his sister Janki and brother-in-law Rama. He gave to his mother the remaining sweets which his sister told him to take home after having partaken it. The mother couldn’t believe her son’s luck and the grace of Ma Janki and was extremely happy. When she ate the ‘Prasad’ of the sweets, she felt so much divine bliss herself.

Mother and son could not stop talking about Janki and Raja Ram and about the vision Prayag Dutt had had and the compassion of his ‘Janki Didi’. Their days passed happily. After a year or so, Prayag Dutt’s mother passed away. Prayag was very sad. He now thought that he would go and stay with his sister all the time at Awadhpuri.

There was an old man in Janakpur who wanted to marry his daughter to Prayag Dutt but Prayag could not even imagine a life away from his sister and brother-in-law. Therefore, he left Janakpur to go to Ayodhya without telling anyone.

Reaching Ayodhya he was roaming around searching for his sister and brother-in-law. One day by chance he happened to meet Sant Trilochan Das who had taken care of him on his previous visit and given him the title “Mama”. The Sant took him to his house.

Prayag was always talking about Janki and Rama and was wanting to see them once again. He was wondering why his brother-in-law and sister did not come and see him even now. Trilochan Das told him to be patient. He assured him that he would once again see his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’. By now the local people had started calling him “Mama”. Prayag Dutt had by now stopped caring for praise or mockery. His mind was full of only his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’

Months passed and Prayag had not met his sister still. One day as he was going past a temple, there was a discourse on Ramayana going on. The narrator was describing the boon of Kaikeyi and how Rama, Janki and Lakshmana had gone to Chitrakoot. He further went on to describe how Bharata took the Paduka of Sri Rama back to Ayodhya.

“Oh! This is why I am not able to see my sister!” thought Prayag. “She has gone with her husband and Lakshmanji to the jungle at Chitrakoot”. He could listen to the discourse no further and left the place and came home.

He was very troubled at the thought of his delicate sister being in the jungle. He poured out his heart’s feelings to Trilochan Das. He talked about the ‘insensitivity’ of his brother-in-law in taking his wife to the jungle. “Why could he not tell his father that he would not go to the jungle? Why could he not have sent my sister to my house in Janakpur while he roamed in the jungle? What is this foolishness of him not wearing sandals and also letting my sister walk on such a rough jungle path barefoot? What will my sister do if she encounters a wild animal when he and his brother go to pick fruits and berries? How can my brother-in-law be so ‘irresponsible’? So many questions troubled him for which no one including Sant Trilochan Das had any answer.

At one point, he decided he had to do something concrete. Nobody would help. So he went about to people begging them for money. People were considerate and everyone gave him a coin or two. He waited for a month or so and using all the money so collected, he got three wooden planks made. He also got blankets and pillows and pairs of sandals made – all three in number.

When everything was ready, he placed the planks on his head, put the blankets and pillows and shoes on top of that and started walking to Chitrakoot. He walked the whole distance of about three hundred kilometres carrying that load, over a period of few days and reached the jungles. He went into the jungles, shouting aloud, ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’ and ‘Lakshmanji. But there was no response nor could he see any human presence.

Prayag Dutt thought “My Jijaji must be scared that I will scold him for taking my sister to the jungle and that is why they are not showing themselves”. He chuckled to himself. He chose a clearing and spread out the planks, put the bedsheets on them and the pillows and placed on it the pairs of sandals which he had got made with so much concern. They were all not of the same size. The biggest pair was for his ‘Jijaji’ Sri Rama, the next smaller one for Lakshmana and the smallest decorated with sequins and laces for his ‘Janki Didi’. “I will wait atop a tree so that they don’t see me”, he thought to himself and climbed on the huge tree nearby.

As he had expected, after a while he saw Rama, Janki and Lakshmana dressed in wooden bark coming his way. As they reached the tree on which Prayag was sitting on top, he jumped down from the tree. He clasped the feet of his ‘Didi’ who was very ‘surprised’ to see him in the jungle. Prayag told them how bad he felt for their roaming in the jungle like nomads. He started to argue with Sri Rama putting forth all his questions which nobody had answered. Rama gave such answers that Prayag had no chance to speak further. Janki told Prayag of Rama’s vow and also how she was so happy to go with Rama and would not find peace at home without Rama.

Prayag was not the one to give up so easily. But finally had to give up, but not before making them use what he had brought for them. Prayag cajoled them and made them sit on the plank on the blanket using the pillow as a cushion. He pressed the feet of Rama, his sister and Lakshmana and wiped off all the dust with his upper cloth and slipped the sandals onto their feet and they fitted perfectly as if made to order. He tried to talk to Lakshmana to dissuade his brother from going into the jungle again, but a smiling Lakshmana told Prayag that he should go back to Ayodhya taking all that was brought by him and wait for them to come back after fourteen years. Rama and Janki echoed the same thought and Prayag had no other option.

With a heavy heart and a heavy load on his head he started walking back to Ayodhya. Just a short while after, he thought he would have a bath in the Mandakini river at Chitrakoot and freshen himself and then continue his journey. So he kept the planks, pillows, blankets and sandals on the banks of the river and went and took a bath immersing himself fully with his head under water three times (what is generally referred as ‘dubki lagaana’ in Hindi and ‘muzhukku’ in Tamil). The third time when he got up from the water, he was surprised to see that he was bathing in the Sarayu in Ayodhya. His sister, the ever compassionate Ma Janki had not wanted him to walk back with that burden on his head. Prayag was confused but he knew that it was a divine play of his sweet sister.

And so he chose a nice neem tree at Ayodhya, piled the planks one on top of the other under its shade, put the blankets on the top most plank along with the pillows and the sandals. He kept his clay bowl in which he collected food underneath the planks and he himself sat atop the planks happily engrossed in the thought of his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’ and waiting for them to come back after fourteen years.

People used to make fun of Prayag. Some used to say “Arre Mama, Bhajan to kiya karo” meaning, ‘O Uncle at least sing some Bhajans so that Rama and Seetha will come to you’. Mama Prayag Das as he was called now used to give a reply with a smile,

“Neem ke neeche khaat khadi hai, Khaat ke neeche karvaa

Prayag Das almastaa sove Ram Lala ki sarva”

Meaning- Under the neem tree are the wooden planks and under the wooden planks is my vessel. Prayag Das is blissfully sleeping on top. What is there to worry with Sree Rama as a brother-in-law?

Sree Rama and Ma Janki kept their word and it is said they met him after fourteen years and he shed his mortal coil to be with them forever.

Pranams to this saint!!

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part I

On the occasion of Sree Rama Navami, I am bringing to you the story of a lesser known saint of India. There is not much literature available on his life and I have gathered the story listening to various discourses by narrators mainly from North India about this saint, Sant Prayag Das Maharaj.

 Sant Prayag Das Maharaj is fondly known as Mama Prayag Das Maharaj. He was given the title “Mama” since he considered Goddess Seetha as his elder sister and Lord Sri Rama as his brother-in-law. Since people considered Goddess Seetha as their mother, her brother Prayag Das naturally became “Mama”!

Strange is it not?

This saint was born in Janakpur (in present day Nepal) which is considered the birthplace of Ma Seetha. His parents did a lot of penance to beget a child. Since he was born after their visit to Prayag, they named him Prayag Dutt. He was their only child. When Prayag Dutt was a toddler, his father passed away.

After a few months of his father’s death, their house caught fire and all their belongings got gutted. Prayag Dutt’s mother, with great difficulty saved him and both of them survived. But they had lost all their wealth and belongings and now the mother was left to fend for herself and her little son by doing odd jobs.

Due to this series of misfortunes after Prayag was born, people considered Prayag Dutt an unlucky child and often taunted his mother about this. However, his mother could never even accept such a thought and loved him dearer than her life. Despite her poverty and difficulties, she brought him up with good values, striving to provide the best she could for him.

Once when Prayag Dutt was about seven or eight years old, the village was celebrating Raksha Bandhan. He noticed that all the boys of his age with whom he played, had sisters. Most of them who were married, visited their brothers and tied the ‘Rakhi’ thread on the wrists of their brothers on that day. The brothers gave sweets to their sisters and there was great joy everywhere. Prayag Dutt felt very sad that he did not have a sister to tie a ‘Rakhi’ thread on his wrist.

He asked his mother, “Ma, where is my sister? Do I have one?”

His mother did not want to disappoint Prayag Dutt and replied, “Yes son, but she lives elsewhere, very far from us.”

“Where is she? Is she so far that she can’t come on Raksha Bandhan to tie a Rakhi thread on my wrist?” he asked. “All my friends’ sisters come home for Raksha Bandhan and I am the odd one out with my sister not visiting me” he said.

The mother knew that she had uttered a false statement to her son. But she consoled herself that it was a true statement after all, since all the residents of Janakpur considered Ma Seetha (Janki) as their daughter. So she maintained it and said to him, “Well Prayag, your sister is very busy as the queen assisting your brother in law who is a king in his duties.”

“My sister is a queen? Where? Where does she live? Tell me, tell me!” asked Prayag Dutt, his eyes rolling wide in wonder.

“Yes, son” said the mother. “She lives at Awadhpuri”. (Ayodhya of today). “Her name is Janki and your brother-in-law Shri Rajaram is the king there. You can imagine how busy she would be assisting your brother-in-law in the administration! That’s why she never comes here. Now you go and play with your friends”.

The mother’s notion that the boy would stop asking about his sister was completely wrong since from that moment, Prayag Dutt kept talking about going to Awadhpuri to meet his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’. His mother told him that he could go when he grew up. But the spark of the thought of meeting his sister who was a queen grew into a fire consuming his mind all the time. He was totally fixated with going and meeting his sister at Awadhpuri.  Every four days he would tell his mother, “Ma, look I have grown up. Let me go now”. It was becoming an obsession. There was no way the mother could stop him chattering about this all the time and so she thought that if he went once to Awadhpuri and came back, he would be alright.

After a year or two, she found a group of pilgrims from Janakpur on the way to Awadhpuri. She asked them if they would take Prayag with them and bring him back. The pilgrims agreed.

Prayag was extremely excited and told his mother to give him some sweets for his sister. The poor lady borrowed some rice flour and jaggery and made ‘Kasar’ the traditional sweet of Janakpur and packed them in a leaf and rolled it up in a piece of tattered cloth and gave it to Prayag. He was very excited to go with the group.

All was going well, but after a few days, Prayag got annoyed that the group was stopping at every other place and doing Keertan and Bhajan. This was a natural thing to do, for a group of pilgrims but Prayag was so anxious to meet his sister that he thought he was wasting so much time with them. So he broke away from the group at the next place of their halt. He decided to ask the people around for directions and he managed to reach Ayodhya somehow.

On reaching Ayodhya, he was elated. He thought he was going to meet his sister Janki and her beloved husband, the king Rajaram in a short while. He presumed that since his brother in law was the king, everyone would know him. So he walked up to the first person he saw and asked him directions to the palace of his ‘Didi’. The man asked him who his ‘Didi’ was and as Prayag mentioned it was ‘Janki and Rajaram’ and told him his background and the man was confused.

So Prayag went and asked another person, and another and another. Some laughed at him, some sneered at him, some pitied him and at last one person showed him the way to Kanak Bhavan, the temple of Sri Rama at Ayodhya. Prayag rushed into the temple only to be disappointed. He saw only ‘Murtis’ made of marble while he had expected his sister and brother-in-law to be sitting there in flesh and blood. He asked the Pujari who laughed and said that the statues were his sister and brother-in law.

Prayag said “I want to see them for real. My mother told me that as soon as my Janki Didi sees me she will rush to me and hug me. I want to hug my sister. I want to share these sweets with her. My Ma told me Janki Didi will tie a Rakhi on my wrist. Why doesn’t anyone tell me where my Janki Didi lives?”

The Pujari thought that Prayag was a lunatic and did not bother to answer him.

Prayag then came out and roamed about in all the streets asking almost everyone where the palace of his ‘Didi and Jijaji’ was and found no one knowing where they lived. And his mother had extolled their praise so much!  Such a “Great king and busy queen” seemed to be living incognito! “Strange” he thought to himself.

In his anxiety and eagerness to meet his sister, he had not had a morsel of food or a drop of water from the time he had stepped into Ayodhya. He was now irritated with himself, his mother, his sister and brother-in-law. He was irritated with the people of Ayodhya for being so ignorant. Overcome by hunger, tiredness, mental fatigue he sat down near a tree near the Mani Parvat with the packet of ‘Kasar’ given by his mother and was crying hard at not being able to see his sister. It was almost sunset. He felt helpless and desolate. “Where are you Janki Didi? Where are you Jijaji?” he sobbed. “Neither have you sent anybody to meet me nor anybody knows your house here and mother was praising you like anything. What sort of a sister are you? I have been running around like a mad boy asking everyone about you but nobody knows you and it is a puzzle why our mother thinks you are so great” he scolded Ma Janki. He was so exhausted that he involuntarily dozed off under that tree.

A while later at midnight, he was awakened by the melodious sound of beautiful Shehnai music and Bhajans accompanied by the Dholak and as he opened his eyes, he heard a loud voice announcing “Rajadi Raja Chakravarthi Maharaj Parabrahma Paramatma Swaroopa Akhilanda Koti Brahmanda Nayaka Bhagawan Sree Raja Ramachandra Ji Padhar rahe hain…….” 

Now wide awake, rubbing his eyes in disbelief, as he looked up, he saw a majestic white elephant with a broad back on which was placed a bejeweled golden ‘Howdah’ that was glittering. In that, sat the most beautiful divine couple he had ever seen with the radiance of a thousand suns. The mahout controlling the elephant was Hanuman. There were sevaks on either side fanning the couple. The group playing music was walking ahead of the elephant with all sorts of musical intruments.

Prayag Dutt’s eyes then met the lotus eyes of the embodiment of compassion and grace, Ma Janki and in that instant he recognized that she was his sister who his mother had described to him.

As he looked dazed by the compassionate glance of Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram, the elephant stopped and sat on its knees and somebody brought a golden ladder which was placed on the side of the elephant and Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram alighted from the elephant. Janki advanced towards Prayag with open arms as he rushed into her arms.

“Bhaiyya at last I saw you!” exclaimed Ma Janki hugging the little boy. Typical of a child, Prayag Dutt’s anger came back and he tried to get out of her clutches and asked her, “Why did you come so late to see me? Why does nobody know where you live? Is this how you treat your younger brother?” Questions rained like arrows, with Prayag Dutt sobbing all the while.

Ma Janki comforted him. She wiped his tears away and affectionately ran her palm over his head. “Not everyone knows where we live Prayag” she said. “Very few want to actually see us and only they know where we live. Anyway I have come here to see you and you should not worry anymore. Tell me, has Ma sent something for me?”

“Oh yes! How will I come empty handed to my Didi?” said Prayag as he took out the packet wrapped in the tattered cloth. “Ma gave this for you and Jijaji”

And he opened the packet carefully and took out a ‘Kasar’ and gave it to her. But Ma Janki gave that to Raja Ram who was smiling so beautifully. Raja Ram put the sweet into his mouth and savoured it. Janki then took one sweet and fed Prayag Dutt with her own hands. She then took one for herself and ate it, relishing the taste. She then wrapped the packet and gave it back to Prayag. “Give this to Ma when you go home” she said. “Now, show me your wrist”.

And as Prayag held out his hand, Ma Janki had manifested a golden thread and tied Rakhi on his wrist.

Prayag Dutt was exhilarated. And was in a world of bliss. He had experienced so easily, the touch of that Supreme being , that touch, for which millions of yogis and yoginis do penance for years together.

Prayag said to Ma Janki, “Didi I will stay with you only from now on! I don’t want to go back to Janakpur”.  She replied in the most musical voice, “Prayag, you should not do that. Ma will be waiting for you and you should not disappoint her. So go back now. You can come back after some days”

The vision of Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram disappeared but the Rakhi was there for real and so were the left over ‘Kasars’. Prayag Dutt lay there in a state of trance with tears of bliss overflowing from his eyes as a result of the divine touch of Ma Janki. He lay there for almost a full day and the next day a Sant by name Trilochan Das saw him in this state of exalted bliss under the tree. He, being a Sant himself, realized that the boy was not suffering from any ailment but had been impacted by something divine. He sat near Prayag and when Prayag opened his eyes, enquired about him. Prayag explained how he had seen Janki and Raja Ram and how Janki, his sister had lovingly comforted him and tied a Rakhi and also fed him with the sweet he had brought.

The Sant took him to his place of stay. Prayag had not eaten anything for the whole day. Just then two ladies came over to the Sant and said that they were from a house nearby and came to deliver ‘Prasad’ for them to eat. The big plates they were carrying were covered with banana leaves and the Sant and Prayag did not see what was in the plates. The ladies also mentioned that they could keep the plates themselves after they ate their food. They then went away. Sant Trilochan Das had never seen these ladies in the vicinity earlier.

As the Sant and Prayag removed the banana leaves covering the food, there was a wonderful spread of food on a banana leaf on the plate. They both ate the food which tasted so divine and extraordinary. It was then that they discovered that the plates were made of solid gold. Sant Trilochan Das realized that the food and the gold plates would have been sent by none other than Ma Janki. He told Prayag “Son, we all think of Ma Janki as Mother but she has accepted you as her brother and so you are Mama for us!  I think these plates have also been sent by Ma Janki to help you and your mother come out from poverty. Take these plates and go home and live a happy life”

Prayag was shocked as if Sant Trilochan Das had uttered something blasphemous. “Take the gold plates to my home? No way!” he said. “You say that my Didi has sent these plates. Don’t you know that we do not take anything from a sister or daughter? We only give things to them. My mother will not let me enter my house if I took this home. You can keep it if you want.” But Sant Trilochan Das also said that he had no use for gold as he was a sanyasi and so Prayag took the plates and threw them in Ganesh Kund, a lake and proceeded home, eager to meet his mother.

What happened after that? Did Prayag come back to Ayodhya? Did he see Ma Janki and Raja Ram again?

You will know that in Part II of the story which will be published shortly.

Kuroor Amma and her little Krishna

With Janmashtami, the birthday of our beloved Krishna, round the corner, I am bringing you the story of one of the devotees who was so very dear to Krishna.

She was from Kerala and Kuroor Amma was her name.

Kuroor Amma was born as Dhathri Kutty in Kerala in Purayannur Mana to a pious Namboodiri couple in 1570 CE. Some say her name was Gauri Antarjanam. Dhathri Kutty was very attached to Lord Shri Krishna from a very young age.

Once an enlightened Yogi happened to visit her father’s house when Dhathri Kutty was still a young maiden yet to be married. As was customary, the Yogi was welcomed with due respect and was served a nice meal for lunch along with Payasam. The Yogi, tasted the Payasam and said to the Namboodiri, “This Payasam must have been offered to Lord Krishna which is why it is so tasty. Who made this Payasam? I want to see the person who made this”

Namboodiri was pleased and said “Yes Swami. This Payasam was prepared by my daughter Dhathri Kutty. But, she is a young maiden and so…” Namboodiri was hesitant, as it was not the practice, for young girls to meet men who were strangers.

“It is okay, please bring her. She is a blessed soul and I want to see her and there is nothing wrong” said the Yogi.

When he saw the shy Dhathri Kutty who looked so saintly, he asked her what she desired. Dhathri, without batting an eyelid replied that she wished to see the Lord of Brindavan and hear his flute always.

The Yogi said, “Well my girl, I will teach you a Mantra, which if you chant with sincerity and devotion, your wish shall be fulfilled.” He went on to teach her the Venugopala Mantra which she received with great devotion and chanted faithfully.

In due course of time, she was married to the Namboodiripad of the Kuroor Mana family which was near Vengilasery and she regularly worshipped with utmost devotion, the deity Venugopala, of Adat temple near her house.  Guruvayoor was slightly farther away and she visited Guruvayoor also whenever she could and prayed to Lord Guruvayoorappan who was none other than Krishna.

Shortly afterwards, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was widowed. She had no children.  Now Venugopala was her sole refuge. She, being the eldest daughter-in-law of the Kuroor Mana, came to be known as Kuroor Amma. And she considered herself Amma, to the little Venugopala and was a fiercely protective mother like any normal mother.

Years rolled by and age caught up with Kuroor Amma. All the other family members of Kuroor Mana had migrated to other places and she was left alone in that big house with no help whatsoever. Still she did not give up her routine of visiting the Venugopala temple and Guruvayoor.

Once it so happened that Kuroor Amma had gone to Guruvayoor to have darshan of her Krishna and that day it was raining heavily. In those days people had to go by walk only and Amma had to go back a long distance to reach her home. It was evening and as the rain reduced to a drizzle, Kuroor Amma set out to walk back to her home. The sun had set and there was no electricity in those days and Amma, due to old age, darkness and anxiety, missed the correct route and went into the deep dense jungle.

After going some distance, she  heard the noises of wild animals. It was then that she realized that she had lost her way.  Not knowing what to do, she started to pray to her Krishna. “Narayana, Narayana, Guruvayoorappa, Krishna” were the only words she was chanting. Suddenly she heard the sound of anklets nearby and as she turned around, a small boy who looked like a cowherd appeared.

“Amma, why are you going into the deep jungle?” he asked her.

“I lost my way Unni” she said. Unni is the word in Malayalam denoting ‘small boy’

“Come I will show you the way” said Unni and led her hand and slowly both of them walked back to Kuroor Mana.

Amma was so overwhelmed with gratitude and wanted to gift him something. But the boy refused. When Amma insisted, Unni said with a shy smile, “Amma, my loin cloth has become wet due to the rain and I need a dry cloth”

Kuroor Amma, unhesitatingly tore a piece of cloth from her red saree and gave it to Unni. The lad ran out of the house and vanished.

The next day Amma again went to Guruvayoor temple for the morning darshan which is called “Nirmalyam”. When the door of the sanctum sanctorum opened, Guruvayoorappan was dazzling in all the jewels and finery with which he had been draped, the previous evening, but what shocked everyone was that a piece of an old red saree was adorning him as his loin cloth. No one knew how it had come on the person of Lord Krishna. Why would anyone drape a piece of a used saree on the Lord?

Kuroor Amma recognized the red cloth. Indeed it was the piece of her saree she had given to the boy the previous day! She was in tears when she realized the Krishna had come as Unni and led her home.

Few more years passed and Kuroor Amma had aged even more. She was not able to walk long distances or go to the temple. She found it difficult to do even small chores and wished for some company to be with her and help her. One day a small boy came to her.

“I don’t have a place to stay Amma” said the boy. “May I stay with you?”

Kuroor Amma smiled sadly and said, “Unni, I am not able to do my own chores as I have grown very old. How will I look after you?”

The boy replied, “Amma need not look after me. I will look after Amma!” 

He stayed on in her house. He helped her in everything right from washing clothes, cleaning the house, cooking and arranging for Pooja and all the household work and was of great solace to Amma.

Now in the same period, there lived a Sanyasi by name Vilvamangalam Swamiyar who was also a devotee of Shri Krishna having been initiated by the same Yogi who gave the Mantra to Kuroor Amma. And Swamiyar was lucky for Krishna played with and teased him many a time showing his true form as a little boy, to Swamiyar’s eyes.

One day Kuroor Amma invited Vilvamangalam Swamiyar to her house for Bhiksha (Feeding). The Swamiyar was supposed to go to Kuroor Mana, perform Pooja to Lord Krishna and accept the food offered by Kuroor Amma. On the same day another family from Chemmangat Mana also had called Vilvamangalam Swamiyar to their house for Bhiksha. Kuroor Amma came to know of this and was worried, but Unni consoled her and said with great confidence that Swamiyar would certainly come to their house only. Unni also made all the arrangements for the Pooja.

Although he had promised Kuroor Amma that he would come to her house, Swamiyar changed his mind at the last moment and asked his group to move with him to Chemmangat Mana for Bhiksha. The protocol was that, before the Swamiyar left for any place, a conch would be blown by a person of the entourage and only then the Swamiyar would start. Now, when the conch was attempted to be blown, no sound emanated from it. Different persons tried to blow the conch but of no avail. Then the Swamiyar realized that it was because he was breaking his promise made to Kuroor Amma. He told his disciples to change the direction and move towards Kuroor Amma’s house and then, when the conch was blown sound emanated beautifully from the conch.

Now, Swamiyar went to Kuroor Mana to be welcomed by a small boy who washed his feet and led him and his group in. The Swamiyar went inside the Pooja room to find a beautifully decorated altar and all the requirements perfectly fulfilled. Swamiyar looked up questioningly at Kuroor Amma as he wondered how she could have done such elaborate arrangements at this age and Amma smilingly indicated that Unni had done all the arrangements. Swamiyar sat down to perform Pooja and started offering flowers at the feet of the Murthi of Krishna which was kept on a pedestal. To his shock, the flowers went and fell at the feet of Unni who was standing nearby.

One of the Swamiyar’s disciples chided Unni and told him to move further away. Still the flowers fell near Unni’s feet leaving Swamiyar puzzled. Krishna then decided not to tease Swamiyar anymore.

After the Pooja was over, Swamiyar was to be offered Bhiksha and traditionally the protocol was that rice should be served by a married man of the household where the Bhiksha was offered. When he sat down to eat, Unni came and served the rice and Swamiyar got really angry.

 “Is there no Grihasta (married man) belonging to this household? Don’t you know that Bhiksha to a Sanyasi is to be done by a Grihasta and not a small boy?” he asked.

Unni curled his lips and gave a sarcastic smile.

 “Thrilokee Grihastaya Vishno Namaste” he chanted. “Adi Sankara said that. Don’t you know?” he asked Swamiyar. This verse meant “I pay obeisance to that Vishnu, the householder of the universe”

Swamiyar was taken aback. Praying to Lord Krishna, he looked at Unni. Unni showed his true form to Swamiyar, but signaled to him to not tell Kuroor Amma. It is said that in 1640 CE Kuroor Amma blissfully reached the Lotus feet of her Krishna after relishing his divine company for many years without even realizing that it was He who was at her service, in return for her unwavering faith in Him.

P.S: I am thankful for the grace of Yogini Kuroor Amma and Shri Krishna without which I would not have stumbled upon the article of Shri Chittoor Narayanan which has been published in the Bhavan’s Journal in August 1984 and which gave me lot of inputs for this story.

Gomai – Saint of Pandharpur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her thought was interrupted by a sweet voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story of Meiporul Nayanar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glimpses from the life history of Sri Mahaperiyava

Today is the 127th birth star of His Holiness Shri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Hence I thought of bringing you the glimpses from His life history as a tribute to Him. I have taken inputs from various books on the Paramacharya.

Fondly known as “Mahaperiyava” (Meaning – the Great One) or “Paramacharya” to his devotees, he is also referred to as the “Nadamaadum Deivam”, (the walking God).

The name “Mahaperiyava” was to differentiate Him from the other Acharyas of the Kanchi Mutt and hence I am using that name throughout.

Mahaperiyava, was born on 20th May 1894, at Villupuram as Swaminathan to his parents Mahalakshmi Ammal and Subramanya Sastry. He was their second child. He had an elder brother, two younger brothers and a younger sister.

His father was employed as supervisor of schools in the education department and was serving at Villupuram (In today’s Tamil Nadu) when Swaminathan was born. Swaminathan was a very bright boy with remarkable grasp of anything that was taught and his father decided to educate him at home till his eighth year. In 1905, the family had to move to another city Tindivanam (also in today’s Tamil Nadu) when he was admitted to second form (today’s seventh standard) at the Arcot American Mission High School there.

Swaminathan displayed remarkable intelligence and stood first in all the subjects and got prizes including one for proficiency in the Holy Bible.

In 1906, the school was staging Shakespeare’s King John and Swaminathan was selected at the last moment to played lay the role of Prince Arthur. Earlier his teacher thought he was very young for the role but the Headmaster wanted him to take up the role. He had to get special costumes for the same and though initially his father was reluctant because of his financial condition, he could not refuse young Swaminathan’s wish and within two days, Swaminathan learnt all the dialogues by heart . Needless to say, his performance was stellar and he won accolades for the same.

Later that year, Swaminathan’s father visited with family a place called Perumukkal where the 66th Acharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam was camping. The Acharya’s gaze fell upon Swaminathan and he made detailed enquiries about Swaminathan and his family. It seemed like the Acharya had decided in his mind to select Swaminathan to succeed him as the next Acharya of the Peetam. He announced to the people present that Swaminathan would be a great person in the future. His parents thought that it was a general blessing and were very happy. Little did they know that the young one would soon leave the family permanently.

In February 1907, the family received a telegram from the Kanchi Mutt addressed to Subramanya Sastri to bring Swaminathan to Kalavai, a place near Kanchipuram where the 66th Acharya was camping. Since Subramanya Sastri was on official tour to Trichy, the neighbours arranged for Swaminathan to go with his mother Mahalakshmi Ammal and his siblings by train to Kanchipuram. They went to the Kanchi Mutt at Kanchipuram and from there a horse cart had been arranged to take Swaminathan to Kalavai alone, much to the surprise of his mother and siblings. They were asked to come in another vehicle. Swaminathan was barely 13 years then. While he was wondering why he was being taken alone, the person who had come to take him slowly revealed that he would never go back to his family as the 66th Acharya had passed away.

Those were the days when telecommunication was at a primitive stage and so one had to depend on the postal services for telegram etc. and telephones in houses were unheard of. So, while the telegram was being sent to bring Swaminathan, the 66th Acharya was suffering from small pox and wanted to appoint Swaminathan as his successor, but in his final moments, since Swaminathan had not arrived, had initiated the cousin of Swaminathan, by name Lakshmikanthan as his successor.

Lakshmikanthan was 18 years old and was well versed in Rig Veda. Unfortunately Lakshmikanthan had also contracted small pox and lived only for eight days. However before passing away he had approved of Swaminathan as his successor to the Kanchi Peetam.

This unexpected turn of events was indeed a rude shock for the little Swaminathan and for his parents.  The parents were deeply worried as the life of a Sanyasi required the highest level of self-discipline, meditation and complete disconnect with the family members. The very thought of giving up a child to live a monastic life was unbearable for them.

However, Swaminathan regained his composure very quickly and was reconciled to the reality and told them, “Why are you hesitant? I feel I have the complete blessings of my Acharyas. Please permit me whole-heartedly to become a Sanyasi and fulfil my duties ”

The parents had no other option but to let him go.    

Swaminathan was then anointed as the 68th Acharya of the Kamakoti Peetam at the age of 13. He was given the title of “Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi”.

(From now on I will be using the term “Mahaperiyava”)

During the 18th century in the time of the 62nd Acharya, the administrative headquarters of the Kanchi Mutt was shifted to Kumbakonam due to political turmoil and continued to function from there. Hence Mahaperiyava went and stayed at Kumbakonam from 1908 and learned the Vedas, Sanskrit scriptures and fine arts under the guidance of learned scholars. However, the constant stream of visitors to the Mutt was causing great disturbance to His studies and therefore the Mutt officials identified a beautiful village called Mahendramangalam, on the banks of the river Cauvery. This village was accessible only by ferry and so not many people would come.

In 1911, Mahaperiyava moved to Mahendramangalam and continued His studies.

He learnt Sanskrit grammar, logic and Vedanta , epics, history of holy places, archaeology, world history, mathematics, astronomy , astrology, in addition to English , French, Tamil grammar and literature. He was deeply interested in Tamil classics like Tirukkural, Thevaram and Tiruvachagam. Erudite scholars in these subjects came and stayed in the village and taught Him all these subjects. A Marathi scholar was specifically brought in from Maharashtra as Mahaperiyava was interested in researching Marathi books. The teacher stayed there for three years and taught him Marathi.

While at Mahendramangalam, He used to go to the middle of the Cauvery where there were sand dunes and He enjoyed the scenic beauty of Mother Nature. He was also very interested in photography and knew the intricacies of a camera and nuances of photography very well.

In 1914, within a period of six years Mahaperiyava was well versed in a whole range of subjects and languages. At the age of twenty, He took on the whole responsibility of the Kanchi Mutt. His only goal was welfare of mankind and He strove towards that through His thought, words and deeds. He had taken many initiatives keeping the welfare of all in mind. These initiatives were wide-ranged. From restoration of ponds and digging of wells, providing medical aid for the poor, encouraging students and scholars in their fields of studies, providing food for the needy, to restoring cultural heritage. Emphasis was given for protection of the cow and the Vedas which were the backbone of the Indic culture ages ago.

Mahaperiyava toured the length and breadth of India by foot, meeting so many people. He never cared for any comfort and used to stay even in cow-sheds. Though He did not care for his comfort, He was always keen that his visitors should be taken care of well. With his frail body He used to walk from place to place at such a fast pace that would stun His followers. His daily schedule included long hours of worship and meditation, meeting visitors from far and near. He ate minimal food only once a day. His complete control of the senses coupled with His real concern for the well-being of the world seems to have given Him the strength, both physical and mental to undergo such arduous journeys. He was an avid reader and would keep Himself abreast of all the happenings in India and the world.

Mahaperiyava respected all religions that believed in the existence of a God. That was the reason why scholars from all religions found themselves comfortable in His presence and would come and discuss with Him on the religions of the world. He was always of the opinion that one should stick to one’s religion at birth and continue to practice their worship to their Gods.

He was equally well versed in the matters of the state as He was in Vedanta which drew many political leaders and royal families from India and abroad to Him.

Artists and artisans of all fine arts including sculpting used to go and present their works to Him to which He would meaningfully interact and give valuable inputs.

There are a lot of incidents connected to Him which show His greatness and humility and I will be writing on them from time to time but I am just giving one incident here.

In 1933, Mahaperiyava visited Varanasi and was given a rousing welcome by the king of Kashi and all the learned scholars there. However some of the scholars were not happy that a young man in his late thirties be called a ‘Jagadguru’ (literally translating to teacher of the world)

So one of them asked Mahaperiyava in Sanskrit, “Who is this Jagadguru?”

 “I am” replied Mahaperiyava with great humility.

“Oh! So you are the Jagadguru” said the man with sarcasm in his voice.

Mahaperiyava replied, “I am not the Guru of this Jagath (world). All the living beings in this Jagath are my Guru” (jagathAm guruh na, jagathi padyamanAh sarvE mama guravah)

The man was taken aback by this explanation.

By then they had reached a hall where a scholarly debate was about to take place and Mahaperiyava then pointed to a sparrow’s nest on a ledge in the ceiling and asked the man “What is this?”

The man replied “A nest”

“Who built it?”

“Sparrows” said the man.

“The sparrow which does not have hands and legs like us can be so creative and build a nest whereas we cannot. Hence the sparrow is my Guru” He said.

That was His spirit and that is what He preached- take only the good qualities of others and learn to respect them. He always practiced what He preached.

Mahaperiyava lived a whole hundred years before he attained Siddhi on January 8, 1994. His physical body is interred in a place inside the Kanchi Mutt itself and He lives forever in the hearts of all and his divine presence is evident even to this day as experienced by His devotees.

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