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.