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Tag: Tanjore

Shridara Venkatesa Ayyaval – The saint who invoked River Ganga in the well in his house

This is the month of Kartika. The Amavasya (No moon day) of this month holds special significance for the quiet village of Tiruvisanallur in Tanjore district the story of which I narrate below.

Four hundred years ago there lived a Dewan in the Mysore Samsthan by name Lingarya who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Lingarya had an illustrious son in 1635 who was named Shridara Venkatesa. Shridara Venkatesa studied all that was to be learnt and became an erudite scholar in his youth. He was deeply devoted to Lord Shiva as well. He was married to a pious lady by name Lakshmi and the family was very well off.

On the passing away of Shri Lingarya, the post of Dewan was offered by the King to Shridara Venkatesa. But Shridara was so spiritually evolved that he just wanted to leave everything and go on a pilgrimage doing good to humanity and in search of the Absolute Truth. He expressed his desire to his mother and wife and they readily agreed to accompany him. He then conveyed his mind to the King. The King tried convincing him repeatedly to stay back, but failed.

Shridara and his family just left behind their palatial house with all the riches as it was, telling the public to take whatever they wanted, and set off along the path of the river Kaveri.

They reached the city of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) in Tamil Nadu and found the place pleasing to the mind and started staying there leading a simple life. Shridara used to visit the temple of Mathrubhuteswara regularly and propounded the teachings of Sanatana Dharma by way of discourses. He did not seek worldly pleasures but was full of compassion for all and saw the Lord in all living beings. He was now called Sridhara Ayyaval. (Ayya is a term of respect in Tamil)

Once, while at Trichy, as he was on his way back after a bath in the river Kaveri, he saw a couple crying inconsolably, as their only son, who they had begot after long years of prayer, had died suddenly due to some mysterious disease. On hearing their story, Ayyaval was overwhelmed with compassion for the family and he entered their house and looked at the child who lay on the floor motionless. He then meditated upon Lord Shiva. He sang 28 verses called Tharaavali Stotram on Lord Shiva, applying the sacred ash on the forehead of the child after every verse. After a few minutes, the child got up smiling as if nothing had happened. All the people were pleasantly surprised.

Ayyaval, not impacted a bit by the miracle he had brought about went away unperturbed. To him all that had happened was due to the abundant grace of Lord Shiva. But the people now thought that he was a magician and people started thronging to his place seeking solutions to mundane problems. He had, out of sheer kind-heartedness tried to save the child and it was Lord Shiva’s absolute mercy that  brought the child back to life but the people did not understand that and continued to come to him for their daily problems.

Not wanting to stay there anymore, Ayyaval left the place with his family one night and walked his way to Tanjore where the Marathi King Shahaji was ruling. This King also had heard of the greatness of Shridara Ayyaval and welcoming him to his kingdom, granted him a house in the village of Tiruvisanallur, a village which was specifically created by the king for learned Brahmins. The king also consulted him for all state matters as Ayyaval was very knowledgeable.

Soon the King offered him the post of Dewan in the Tanjore kingdom. Ayyaval, with his rich knowledge guided the King and wrote many books including a Sanskrit dictionary by the name ‘Padamani Manjari’.

However, after some years Ayyaval wanted to withdraw from the busy life as a Dewan and devote his time in doing prayers, studying scriptures and singing the name of God by way of Namasankeertana. The King Shahaji respected his wishes and relieved him from the post of Dewan. Ayyaval now had all his time for his spiritual pursuit.

 The then pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, Shri Bodhendra Saraswathy, who resided in the nearby Tiruvidaimarudhur and Ayyaval had great respect for each other and used to meet often to discuss spiritual matters. Ayyaval composed many Stotrams on Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva and the famous Gangashtakam on River Ganga.

Once it so happened that it was the day of the Shraadh ceremony at Ayyaval’s house and Ayyaval was just returning from the river Kaveri to perform the ceremony. On the way he saw a poor man who was lying on the road almost unconscious, famished by hunger. Ayyaval’s heart melted and as benevolent as he was, brought the food cooked at home for the ceremony, and fed it to the poor man.

Since on the day of the Shraadh, food should be offered to the representatives of the ancestors before it is partaken by anyone else, Ayyaval arranged for fresh food to be cooked once again for the ceremony and offered it to the priests who had come to participate in the ceremony.  The priests however refused to come citing that Ayyaval had committed blasphemy by offering food to the dying man first.

Ayyaval did not want to antagonize them and asked them what remedial measures he should take for atonement of the “sin”. The priests replied that bathing in the Ganges was the only remedy and that he should have a bath in the Ganges after which they would take part in the ceremonies of his house.

Ayyaval was not in a physically fit condition to undertake such a long journey to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges and therefore, decided to invoke the river Ganga at his place and therefore recited the Gangashtakam- eight verses on River Ganga in front of the well in the courtyard of his house. He implored Her to appear in the well and wonder of wonders, River Ganga appeared gushing in the well and within minutes, the water rose up the walls of the well and started overflowing into the village. Ayyaval took bath in the water and invited all to come and bathe in the water of River Ganga.

The priests who had behaved so arrogantly realized their folly and the greatness of Ayyaval and they were all now terrified that the flow of Ganga would submerge the village. They asked for forgiveness from Ayyaval and pleaded with him to either send Ganga back or retain her in the well of his house. Ayyaval prayed to Mother Ganga and sang thus:

Bhageeratha ManObheeshta SiddhayE BhuvanAshrithE

BrAhmanAm Manah poorthyai mama koopE SthirA Bhava

Meaning ‘O Mother Ganga, as per the wishes of the priests, please stay put in my well’

This incident is said to have happened on the Amavasya day of the Kartika month.

This day is celebrated as Ganga Akarshana Mahotsavam every year at his Mutt in Tiruvisanallur where the well is still present and all devotees go to get blessed by the water of Ganga from this well on Kartika Amavasya.

This great saint lived till 1720 and one day, merged with Lord Shiva into the Shivalinga at the Madhyarjuna Kshetram Tiruvidaimarudur.

The Story Of Appoodhi Adigal – one of the sixty-three Nayanmars

This is the story of Appoodhi Adigal who is one of the sixty three saivite saints (Nayanmars).

Appoodhi was a Brahman living in Thingaloor, which is situated near Tiruvaiyaru of Tanjore District. He was a great philanthropist as he believed that service to mankind was service to God. He built many buildings, roads etc. and used to erect Thanneer Pandhals in summer. Thanneer Pandhals were kiosks erected to supply cool water and buttermilk to thirsty people in summer.

Appoodhi Adigal was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and loved to serve the devotees of Lord Shiva. He had heard a great deal about Saint Tirunavukkarasar and revered him equal to God even without seeing him! His respect for Navukkarasar was so much that he named every thing, every being as Tirunavukkarasar. The road built by him were Tirunavukkarasar road, his cows were named Tirunavukkarasar, the things in his house were referred to as Tirunavukkarasar and his sons were also named Periya Tirunavukkarasar (meaning Senior) and Siriya Tirunavukkarasar (Meaning Junior).

Once, it so happened that the Saint Tirunavukkarasar was visiting a temple near Thingaloor and since it was a hot day, went to have some water at the Thanneer Pandhal there. Just as he had water he noticed the name engraved in bold letters “TIRUNAVUKKARASAR THANNEER PANDHAL”. The saint was amused that his name was written so boldly and enquired with the people there about this. The people told him about the devotion Appoodhi had towards Saint Tirunavukkarasar and told him that he had just left the Pandhal a while back to his house which was nearby. The Saint wanted to meet Appoodhi and went to his house.

Sighting a Saint outside the entrance of his house, Appoodhi came hurriedly and welcomed him with all warmth. The Saint then congratulated Appoodhi on the good work he was doing, but asked him why everything was named after someone else and not in his name itself. Appoodhi Adigal was enraged at the word “someone else” and he admonished the saint about not knowing about Tirunavukkarasar despite being a Saivite saint. The time had come for Saint Tirunavukkarasar to disclose his identity. “I am that ‘some else’ ” said he, much to the pleasant shock of Appoodhi Adigal. “I am that Navukkarasar who was tested by Lord Shiva many a time”. Appoodhi Adigal was overwhelmed with joy and tears rolled down his cheeks. He did not for a moment know what to do. Then, he called out to his wife and children and introduced Saint Tirunavukkarasar to them. They were equally overjoyed and honoured the saint by washing his feet and fell at his feet for blessings. Appoodhi Adigal insisted that the saint should have lunch with them and the saint agreed.

Appoodhi’s wife cooked a good meal and called out to her elder son, “Periya Tirunavukkarasu” said she, “go to the garden and get a big plantain leaf for the guest”. The boy hurried with a knife in hand and just as he cut the leaf, a snake on the tree, dug its poisonous fangs into his hands. The boy shrieked and realised immediately that he would fall dead any moment but his thought was all that the leaf should be delivered to his mother so that the guest would not be delayed for lunch. So he ran back staggering under the effect of the poison which was working real fast and handed over the leaf to the mother and fell dead at her feet.

The lady immediately realised what had happened and was shell shocked and called in her husband and told him what had happened. But then the foremost thought in both their minds was that the guest should not go away if he knew this had happened. So they both decided to pretend that nothing had happened and so wrapped the body of the boy in a mat and kept it in the back yard.

The guest was invited to the inner room where the lunch was to be served. It was the habit of Saint Tirunavukkarasar to smear the Holy Ash before partaking food. So he smeared the Holy Ash on himself and also gave the same to Appoodhi, his wife and younger son.

Noticing that the elder son was absent he asked Appoodhi, “Where is Periya Tirunavukkarasu? Call him, for I will give him also Sacred Ash before I start eating”. Appoodhi could say nothing and said “He is not in a position to come now O’ Lord. Please go ahead and have your food”. The Saint was insistent. “No”, he said, “please call him. I will have food only after I give him the Sacred Ash”. Now Appoodhi Adigal had no other go than to tell him the truth. He reluctantly told him what had happened, with more concern that the guest would go away without having food.

Saint Tirunavukkarasar was moved by the philanthropic attitude of the entire Appoodhi family and told Appoodhi Adigal to bring the body of his dead son to the Shiva Temple there. Appoodhi Adigal and his wife, trembling with mixed emotions, brought the body of their dead son and placed him outside the temple. The Saint then, prayed to Lord Shiva and sang ten songs starting with “Onru Kolaam”. The dead boy got up as if waking up from sleep and came and got the blessings of his parents and the Saint. The onlookers were surprised beyond measure.

The Saint went back to Appoodhi’s house and had food. It is said that even at that juncture Appoodhi and his wife were asking for forgiveness for the delay caused by their family in feeding the guest!!! Saint Tirunavukkarasar stayed with Appoodhi family for some time giving them great joy!!

The Story Of Srirangam

On the occasion of Vaikunta Ekadashi, I thought of posting the story of Srirangam. Srirangam , which is a town in Southern India has the famous temple of Sri Ranganatha or Lord Vishnu.

There is an interesting story on how the Lord Ranga came to stay at this place on the banks of the Cauvery river.
The idol of Lord Vishnu, by name Ranga Vimaanam, was being worshipped by King Ikshwaku, who was the ancestor of Sri Rama. As we all know, King Dasaratha conducted a fire sacrifice for begetting children. He had invited all kings from all over the country and one Chola king from the South by name Dharmavarman also attended the sacrifice. He was mesmerised by the Vishnu Idol possessed by King Dasaratha and wanted to take it to his kingdom in the South. However King Dasaratha was not willing to part with the idol which he had acquired as ancestral property. Dharmavarman, disappointed returned to his kingdom and started to do penance to attain the idol.

In the course of time King Dasaratha had four sons Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrugna and we all know the story of Rama. Now, after Rama came back from Lanka and his Coronation performed was giving away gifts to all present. Vibheeshana, the brother of Ravana, who was also attracted to the idol which was now being propitiated by Lord Rama, asked permission from the Lord to take the Ranga Vimana with him to Sri Lanka. The Lord granted his wish but told him that the idol should not be kept down at any cost as it will not be able to take it back, once kept down. Vibheeshana agreed and left for Lanka with the idol.

Dharmavarman had prayed hard all these years that he should get the Ranga Vimana to his Kingdom. His prayers were to be answered shortly.

As Vibheeshana was crossing Southern India, he remembered he had to perform his evening prayers. He looked around and saw a boy there. The boy was none other than Lord Ganesha. Vibheeshana called the boy and told him to hold the idol till such time he finished his ablutions. He specifically told him not to keep it down at any cost. The boy nodded his head and took the idol.

After a while, the boy called out to Vibheeshana thrice and when Vibheeshana was deeply engrossed in his prayers, kept the idol down and ran away. When Vibheeshana finished his prayers he was alarmed to find the idol placed on the ground and try as he might, the idol would not come from the ground. It was stuck there. Vibheeshana was very very sad and disappointed when Lord Narayana appeared to him and told him that he would stay there but he would always have his eyes resting on Lanka from there. And therefore the Lord lies in Srirangam, with his head on the Western Side and eyes seeing the south. The entrance to the temple is also from the south and the sanctum also faces the southern direction.

Dharmavarman was greatly pleased and built a nice temple around the idol and was worshipping the same. Years passed by and over time the Cholas had shifted their capital to Tanjore. As it happens always,the fury of Nature prevailed and the temple was buried under the sands and its existence became unknown. Dense forests had grown over the soil not leaving a trace of the temple buried underneath.

After many years, a young Chola prince who went hunting near the Cauvery river was resting under a tree when he heard a parrot say a sloka in chaste sanskrit about a temple being buried underneath. The prince was surprised and tried to excavate, but could not find anything. Dejected, he started to build a new temple in the spot. The next day, Lord Narayana appeared in his dream and guided him as to where the Lord exactly lay. Overjoyed, the prince excavated in the spot and found the temple with its deity.
With great happiness and devotion he restored the temple to its earlier glory. The prince henceforth came to be known as Kili Cholan as he had acted according to the parrot’s directions.

This is the story of Sri Rangam.

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