Monday, 29 June 2015

Sant Tukaram

Sant Tukaram was an ananya bhaktha of Lord Panduranga Vittal whose bhakthi flowed through music in the form of abhangs, like saint Thygaraja  whose intense devotion for Rama flowed through music in the form of Kirtanas. But unlike Saint Thyagaraja, Sant Tukaram was born of a family of traders who were not much literate and belonged to a lower Sudra caste.  But his family belonged to the Varkari group that was devoted to Lord Panduranga Vittal of Pandharpur and made annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur on the Ekadasi days of Ashada and Karthick months. His formal education had not gone beyond reading and writing.  Yet if he composed more than 5000 abhangs covering hundreds of topics that provide a vivid picture of the state of society, religion and the nation at that time, it is due to the blessing of Namdev as well as Lord Panduranga who blessed and inspired him by visiting him in his dream as he himself expressed in an abhang:

"I was sleeping when Namdev and Vitthal stepped into my dream.
'Your job is to make poems. Stop wasting time,' Namdev said.
Vittal gave me the measure and gently aroused me from a dream inside a dream."

Tukaram was born in 1608 A.D. at a village called Dehu in Poona district.  Despite their lower class status the family was well to do and enjoyed good social standing in the village. Tukaram's troubles started with the illness of his father, due to which he had to start supporting his family at the tender age of thirteen. Tukaram was married to Rukmabai at the age of fifteen, but as she was of weak health, he was soon married again to Jijabai.  Shortly thereafter, both his parents died. Soon thereafter his elder brother’s wife died and his elder brother went to Kasi seeking spiritual salvation. There was a famine and his first wife and also the son through her died in the famine.  As Tukaram's problems mounted with the death of his family members all his enthusiasm for worldly life left him and he turned to spiritual life. He educated himself by reading several Marathi works on Puranas and philosophy, having a number of Sanskrit books explained to him, and by attending performances of kirtans and readings of Puranas. The decline of interest in worldly matters led to the neglect of his shop which increased his economic woes.  At this point of time, he had a dream, in which one Babaji Chaitanya initiated him into the spiritual path.

Soon after Tukaram left his house and village and disappeared into the Bhamnath forest nearby. For fifteen days he stayed there meditating on Lord Panduranga, when he had another dream in which Namdev and Lord Vittal also appeared. This brought about second transformation, when he started singing abhangs on Lord.  In the meantime, Jijabai, who was searching for him everywhere found him in the hill and she brought him back to the house. Tukaram was now a totally changed person from the one who had left her a fortnight earlier. He had no love for his household, wife or relations and also for worldly possessions. Immediately after he came back, he gathered all the promissory notes which were in the house, and all the account books, and threw them into the Indrayani River, in spite of the protests of his relatives. Then, with his own hands, he reconstructed the family temple of Lord Panduranga in his place which had fallen into disrepair and began to spend his life day and night, in Bhajan and Kirtan.

He would forever be chanting, singing and dancing with tears in his eyes and Lord Panduranga in his heart.  Because he did not bother about running his business it went bankrupt and had to be closed.  He did not understand this materialistic world nor did he bother.  His wife knew about his character and knew he would not be able to bring money to run the family. So she decided to do household work in her locality and left home in the morning.  Tukaram seeing her going out in morning asked her where she was going. She then told him that there was no money left at home and that she had to feed the children and had agreed to do some household work to feed them. Hearing this Tukaram felt bad and asked her to stay at home and said that he would now go for some work and get her money to run the family. As he did not want to take money free and as nobody would employ him in Dehu, he went to a neighbouring village looking for work. 

He came across an old man who had a big field and asked him for a job. The man on seeing Tukaram liked him and asked him to take care of his field for the next two months from birds and other animals.  He gave him some grains and asked him to give it to his family and return for work. Tukaram delivered the same in his house and came back to the field and sat there. But whenever a sparrow or a cow came he would look at them as Panduranga and did not scare them away and protect the corn field. He would forever be lost in singing abhangs. After two months the old man came to see the farm and was very angry when he found that all his crops had been destroyed. He saw Tukaram standing on the scaffold dancing and singing, not knowing what was happening in the field. The old man scolded him and demanded Rs.2000 for the loss.  Tukaram did not know what to reply and said “Panduranga, Panduranga” with tear-filled eyes.  Hearing this, the old man got wild and asked him why he was saying Panduranga, Panduranga as if he was Tukaram Maharaj.  Tukaram then told him that he was called Tukaram. Hearing this, the old man prostrated to him and apologized to him for scolding him and gave him a load of sugarcane and asked him to take it home with him.

Jijabai heard about this and was happy that her husband had finally earned something and she asked him to go to the market, sell the same and buy a list of provisions. On the way when he saw the temple he got down to have a darsan of Lord. There were some children playing there and every kid in Dehu knew him. When they saw him with a load of sugarcane they went to him and asked him for sugarcane. He said “Yes” and as each child took one, only one was left.  With that single sugarcane he returned home.  Jijabai became very angry and took the sugarcane and beat him on his back. The sugarcane broke in to two. Tukaram did not get angry but smilingly told his wife that Panduranga had broken the sugarcane into two equal halves using her hands and his back so that both get an equal share. Taken aback by his calm reaction, she apologized to him.

People of all classes and castes began to consider him as a saint and treat him with respect.  This was resented by Rameshwar Bhatt, a local Brahmin who was well versed in Dharma sastras and who used to give discourses, as no one now came to his discourses but instead went to Tukaram’s kirtans. He commented that Tukaram had not read the Sastras and was blabbering something in Marathi and was misleading the people with his abhangs.  Tukaram who held the Brahmins in high esteem hearing about Rameshwar’s comments on his abhangs met Rameshwar Bhatt and asked him about the mistakes in his abhangs.   Bhatt told him that in his abhangs he was telling something of his own and as a Sudra to interpret the sastras was a sin for him.  Not only was Tukaram committing a sin, he said, he was also making others incur sin by listening to it. Tukaram felt bad and then told Bhatt with tears that he did not know that he was committing a sin by doing all this and sought his advice as to what he should do now.  Bhatt then asked him not to compose or sing any more abhangs and also asked him to throw out all his compositions.

Tukaram then came back to his house tied all compositions in a silk cloth and took the bundle to river Indrayani and with tear-filled eyes threw the bundle into the river.  Then he sat under a tree on the banks of the river and spent the whole night there crying “Panduranga, Panduranga”. The next morning when the priest went to open local temple in Dehu, he saw a bundle on Lord Vittal’s head.  On examination he found it to be the compositions of Tukaram.  He took the bundle to Tukaram who was still sitting in the river bank cryingly chanting “Panduranga” . Tukaram was happy Lord Vittal had saved the poems and restored to him which was a signal that his composition and singing had His blessings.  Rameshwar Bhatt hearing of this, came to Tukaram, and apologised for his words.  Tukaram said it was no one’s fault and this was only yet another Panduranga Leela.  After this incident Tukaram’s abhangs became very famous and many people started singing his songs and his collection of abhangs came to be known as Vaishnava Veda. 

Sant Samartha Ramadas and Chhatrapati Shivaji were his contemporaries. Sant Ramadas had asked Shivaji to visit Dehu and meet Tukaram.  When Shivaji met Tukaram accordingly, he understood the greatness of Tukaram and started visiting Tukaram frequently. One day Shivaji took some gold coins in a plate and went to meet Tukaram.  When Shivaji kept the plate in front of Tukaram he got up and ran away. The disciples then told Shivaji that Tukaram did not like the gold and so he ran away. Shivaji then went to him and apologized for what he did, and said he brought this gold to help Tukaram to feed the sadhus. Tukaram then told Shivaji that if he was worried about him having known him only for a few months now, wouldn’t Vittal be worried about him as he knew him not only from the day he was born but also for so many births. When pressed to accept the offerings to make him happy, Tukaram replied that he would not eat cow’s meat to please someone and that gold was equivalent to cow’s meat for him.

Tukaram's abhangs mostly deal with topics such as the Puranas, lives of Saints, praise of Lord Panduranga, self-scrutiny,  and moral instruction.  Even where it was autobiographical, the focus was on Lord Panduranga and not on Tukaram. Tukaram emphasized a life of devotion to God and loving service to mankind over the performance of religious rites and ceremonies.  The interpretation of Gita from Bhakthi perspective called Mantra Gita in abhang form is also attributed to him. He did not favour elaborate displays of asceticism or preoccupation with austerities, saying, "even dogs come in saffron colour, and bears have matted fur. If living in caves is being spiritual, then rats that inhabit caves must be doing sadhana" Tukaram opposed the acquisition of siddhis, viewing these as obstructions to authentic sadhana.  He exhorted his followers to see God in all, and to make God the centre of life

He passed away in his forty-eighth year, much adored by the masses. Tukaram's poetry retains its popular appeal even to this day. No other Marathi poet, medieval or modern is being so universally appreciated. Several of his lines have become household sayings. His works were officially published by the then British Government in 1873.   Tukaram firmly believed that his verse was not his own and  that his mouth was merely a vehicle for Panduranga.


Monday, 22 June 2015

Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra

Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra, Brahmendral in short, a contemporary of Sri Sridhara Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendra Saraswathy, who is remembered today for his divine compositions in Carnatic music like “”Pibare Ramarasam—“, “Manasa sanchara re--“ “Kreedthi Vanamali—“ etc., was an Avadhuta in his later years.  Avadhuta means a liberated soul, one who has "shaken off" all worldly attachments and cares.  As he has risen above bodily consciousness, duality and worldly concerns, he feels no need of observing any rules, either secular or religious.  He is not even bound by Sanyasa dharma. Practices like meditation, rituals, worship etc. are irrelevant to him. He is beyond conflicts of pain and pleasure, gain or loss, joy or sorrow. He has no use for social etiquette. He roams the earth freely like a child, like an intoxicated or like one possessed. He is ever immersed in bliss of Self-realization. He is pure consciousness embodied. Sri Dattatreya, who has authored the Avadhuta Gita, is considered to be the first and foremost Avadhuta.  An Avadhuta is described thus in Avadhuta Gita: 
The Avadhuta alone, pure in evenness of feeling,
Abides happy in an empty dwelling place,
Having renounced all, he moves about naked
He perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

Brahmendral was born in Nerur, near Karur, situated by River Cauvery, to a Vedic scholar named Moksha Somasundara Avadhani, a Telugu neogi brahmin.  As he was born as a result of Avadhanigal praying to Rama and Krishna and his wife, Parvathi, praying to Shiva, he was named Sivaramakrishna. He had his early education in traditional subjects under Ramabhadra Dikshitar who lived in Tiruvisainallur. Even from young age he developed vairagyam towards worldly matters. His parents thought that marriage and its responsibilities would make him behave normal like any other young man of his age. He tried to resist, but being a dutiful son he yielded to parents’ persuasions and got married at the age of seventeen.

Sivaramakrishna did not change after his marriage as his parents assumed. The vairagya and quest for knowledge continued to be deep rooted in him. In the meanwhile his wife came of age and their first night was arranged on a grand scale in his in-law’s house. Sivaramakrishna feeling very hungry tried to enter the kitchen to get something to eat.  His mother-in-law tried to keep him out of the kitchen by saying “You don’t have to wait too long for dinner. Please wait. Don’t step in”.  This sparked a turning point in his life. The innocent casual words ‘Don’t step in” conveyed a deeper meaning to him as  “Don’t step into Grahastasram”.  He made a fast decision and shot out of the house never to return.

He went to Tiruvisainallur and while wandering aimlessly in the woods nearby, he met his Guru Sri Paramasivendra Saraswathi who initiated young Sivaramakrishna into Sanyasa and named him “Sadasiva Brahmendra”.  Sadasiva Brahmendra i.e.Brahmendral served ardently the guru and composed many kirtanas and wrote commentaries on Brahma Sutras and Patanjali Yoga Sutras. He composed poetic works Navamani mala , Guru rathna maalika and Dakshinamurthi dhyana in tribute to the Guru. While in a sense all his poems are in adoration of the Guru, whom he looked upon as his God, the short Navamani-mala is specifically in praise of Paramasivendra, who, in his words, “from the purest compassion bestowed on me the dazzling gem of the Athma Vidya”.  

He was a keen debater and never lost an opportunity to challenge pundits to debate. One pundit who argued with him and lost felt humiliated and he complained against him to his Guru.  Guru who was also feeling he was becoming too talkative gently chided him “Sadasiva! When will you learn to be quiet?”. He promptly replied, “Right now, Master”. He fell into silence and remained silent and resumed composing and singing kirtanas only after being told by Sridhar Ayyaval at a later date, that his Mounam should not come in the way of singing about Lord. He gradually withdrew from the world, introspected and plunged into intense penance. He discarded all norms of accepted behaviour, wandered naked aimlessly in the hills and along the banks of Cauvery. He looked wild and insane. When someone reported to Sri Paramashivendra that his disciple had gone insane, the Guru realized he was enjoying the bliss of Athma Jnanam and was delighted and exclaimed “Will I ever be so fortunate!”  He realized that his disciple was now an Avadhuta. 

Brahmendral remained in that state, beyond body consciousness, not bound by ordinary social conventions and worldly concerns for a long period.  He spent his time mostly in secluded places in Cauvery banks as an Avadhuta, only occasionally emerging out.  His state is best described in his own words as given in his work Athma Vidya Vilasa, a poetic work running into 62 verses in Sanskrit, in which the characteristics of an Avadhuta, his state of mind, his attitude and behaviour is described.  It describes the ways of the Avadhuta, as one who is beyond the pale of social norms , beyond Dharma , beyond good and evil, one who has discarded scriptures, Sastras, rituals or even the disciplines prescribed for Sanyasis, one who has gone beyond the bodily awareness, one who has realized the Self and is immersed in the bliss of Self-realization. The text which undoubtedly is a product of Brahmendral’s experience is also a sublime text on Advaita and remained the most favourite spiritual text of Sri Chandrasekhara Bharathi Swami the 34th Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharadha Peetam. The Swami, who parted with all his meagre possessions a week before his passing away, kept his copy of Athma Vidya Vilasa till end. A few incidents which illustrate these qualities and his rare show of siddhis, we shall see.

One afternoon Brahmendral was relaxing beside a heap of grains. He was lost in his meditation unmindful of the passing of time. In the evening, the farmer came there.  Mistaking Brahmendral for a thief he raised his stick to hit him.  But his raised hand, he could not bring down nor could he move.  He remained as a statue with a raised hand for the whole night. The next morning, Brahmendral came to his senses and smiled at the farmer. Then only he came back to life. Realizing the greatness of Brahmendral, he fell at his feet and asked for his forgiveness. But Brahmendral being beyond all these feelings, walked away silently with a smile.

Once he was sitting on the banks of Cauvery River and was lost in Samadhi. He was cut off from the world outside. Suddenly it started raining heavily. People advised him to move but their words did not reach his ears, being dead to the outside world, with his mind and senses turned inward.  He was washed away into the river and the people took him to be dead and were feeling sorry for his demise.  Three months later when a farmer was loading his cart with sand from the banks, he noticed blood stains in the spade. When he carefully examined the sand bank he saw Brahmendral seated in the same meditating pose as he was three months before. When the news spread people started to come and offer prayers to him.  Then in the midst of their prayers  he came to his senses and smiling at the people and singing a kirtana, he simply walked away. 

On one occasion an orthodox Brahmin criticised his silent habits as a pretext and his Avadhuta-life as a drama.  Brahmendral simply smiled and silently moved to a dhobi who was near him and inscribed a few letters on his tongue. The illiterate dhobi  chanted Vedic mantras that described the life-style of a Yogi.  The humbled Brahmin, never again crossed his path.

He was once walking through a residential area where Muslims lived.  They felt it was an insult to their womenfolk that one should be walking naked in that street. One of the Muslims confronted him. As Brahmendral neither acknowledged nor replied he ruthlessly cut off one hand which fell down. But Brahmendral was nonchalantly walking ahead with blood flowing down the shoulder, as if nothing had happened.  The assailant could not believe his eyes.  He rushed to him with the severed hand and handed it.  Brahmendral coolly placed it at the severed place and pressed it. It clung to the shoulder as before. Then he continued walking without any conversation.

During his last days he was settled in Nerur. He always liked children for their unspoilt innocence. Once a few children expressed their desire to see a fair in Madurai.  He asked them to close their eyes. When they opened their eyes they were at the fair in Madurai.  After they went round the fair, he asked them to close their eyes again. This time when they opened their eyes they were back in Nerur. When the parents learnt about it, this became the talk of the town.  Next day a sceptic youth approached him and asked that he also be taken to Madurai. The same way he was transported to Madurai. On reaching there, he could not find Brahmendral anywhere. So he had to make it back the hard way by walk.

Brahmendral lived in Nerur at the time he shed his mortal body.  Before his death he sent a message to his devotees that his days were over. To the grief-stricken devotees his last message before laying down life was written as the kirtana “‘Sarvam Brahmamayam – Re Re”.  His Samadhi in Nerur is now a shrine to a large number of devotees.  32nd Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharadha Peetam, Sri Narasimha Bharathi arranged for the upkeep and maintenance of Brahmendral’s Samadhi. His successor Sri Satchidananda Sivabhinava Narasimha Bharathi was an ardent admirer and devotee of Brahmendral and he had composed two poetic works Sadasivendra Stuthi and Sadasiva Pancharathna in his praise.  His successor, whose attachment to Brahmendral’s work Athma Vidya Vilasa we saw earlier, emulated Brahmendral and evolved into an Avadhuta in his later years.  The Aradhana at his Samadhi in Nerur is celebrated annually on the Jyeshta Krishna Paksha Dasami i.e. during May every year. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Sri Bhagavan Nama Bodhendra Saraswati Swamigal

Bhagavan Nama Bodhendra Saraswathy Swamigal, Bodhendral in short, was a pioneer of Nama Sankeerthanam in south. His association with Sridhara Ayyaval, another pioneer in this field, has been described in an earlier blog titled “Sri Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval”. We had also seen Ayyaval’s praise of Bodhendral as:
यस्य स्मरणमात्रेण नामभक्ति: प्रजायते I
तं नमामि यतिश्रेष्ठं बोधेन्द्रं जगतां गुरुम् II
I prostrate to the revered Yogi, Jagat Guru Bodhendra Saraswathy, thinking of  whose name itself Devotion for the Divine Name of the Lord  flows in one.

Bodhendral had been the head of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt for 48 years, before stepping down from it after anointing a successor and settling in Govindapuram and devoting himself totally to the spreading of Bhagawan Nama.

Bodhendral’s original name was Purushothaman. His father was in the service of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt and he worshipped the then head of the Mutt, 58th Peedathipathi, Sri Viswadhikendra Saraswati Swamigal, Swamigal in short, as his Guru. His parents had been childless for a long time and after they prayed to the Guru for his blessings to beget a child, Purushothaman was born.  One day when Purushothaman was a little boy he was taken by his father to mutt, as he was crying to accompany his father. Swamigal struck by the radiance of the boy’s face asked him to hand over the boy to the Mutt for bringing up to which his father readily agreed. Swamigal arranged for his education.  He studied with another boy, Jnanasekaran, who had joined the Mutt as an orphan.  After study of scriptures both were sent to Sri Kirvanendra Saraswathi Swamigal for study of Advaitic works.  When they completed their studies they wanted to meet Swamigal and take his blessings.  Swamigal by that time had left for Kasi.

So they both started their journey to Kasi. On the way Jnanasekaran fell ill and passed away. This deeply affected Purushothaman whose parents had also passed away earlier.  So Purushothaman decided to end his life in Ganges after meeting the Swamigal and so proceeded along to Kasi after performing the final rites for his close companion.  Meeting Swamigal in Kasi, he told him what happened and sought his permission to end his life in Ganges.  Swamigal who had plans of anointing him as his successor suggested a way out that will not compromise with Purushothaman’s resolve.  Swamigal suggested his taking up sanyasa, which according to Sastras is akin to new birth. That way he would not be going against Sastras which condemned suicide. Purushothaman agreed to Swamiji’s suggestion and the next morning he was initiated into sanyasa on the banks of Ganges with the new name “Bhagawan Nama Bodhendra Saraswathi” and was given Mantropadesa.  Bodhendral stayed with Swamigal for some time and studied under him. 

After a time Swamigal asked him to go south and spread the greatness of the Divine name of God. Swamigal also instructed him to meet a Mahathma, Lakshmidhara Kavi, at Puri and get the book “Bhagawan Nama Kaumudi” which dealt with the greatness of Bhagawan Nama.  Swamigal also asked him to write books based on this text. Accordingly, Bodhendral went to Puri. It was about midnight when he reached Lakshmidhara Kavi’s home. Not willing to disturb them at night, Bodhendral slept in the pyol outside the house. Bodhendral woke up on hearing a Brahmin banging the door of the house at night and decided to watch the event from darkness. The Brahmin was accompanied by a Muslim lady wearing a veil. When door was opened by a person, the Brahmin started narrating his tale in tears: The lady in veil was his wife, although dressed in Islamic outfit. They left Tamil Nadu for Kasi, but she was kidnapped on the way as they were passing through Bhamani kingdom. The lady was dishonoured and disfigured by Muslim extremists, but she managed to escape from them and joined her husband as he was returning from Kasi later. She then asked her husband cryingly to have her as maid if not as a wife and take her away from that place. The husband then told her that if the Sastras allowed it he would even take her back as his wife and they were advised to seek the advice of Lakshmi Kanth, son of Lakshmidhara Kavi, on what the Dharma Sastras said.  The young man said that he was Lakshmi Kanth, son of Lakshmidhara Kavi and advised them  to take a dip in the pond adjoining the Jagannath temple chanting the “Rama” Nama thrice which would purify her and then he could take her. 

The next morning the lady entered the pond as people watched and chanted Rama Nama thrice with devotion standing in the water.  As she came out of the pond her Muslim outfit had gone as also the disfigurement and now she had the traditional Brahmin dress with kumkum in her forehead.  This miracle established the effectiveness of Rama Nama on everybody present.  Bodhendral later met Lakshmi Kanth, introduced himself and told him the reason for his meeting. Lakshmi Kanth gave the book Bhagawan Nama Kaumudi to Bodhendral saying that his father had instructed his mother before his death that she should preserve Bhagawan Nama Kaumudi and pass it on to a saint from South India who would approach her later. Bodhendral gratefully received the book and proceeded to Kanchi.

Bodhendral elaborated Bhagawan Nama Kaumudi and composed 8 books like Namamrutha Rasodayam, Nama Rasayanam, Nama Suryodayam, Nama Tharangam, Namarnavam, etcThese were dedicated to his Guru Sri Kirvanendra Saraswathy Swamigal and to Sri Viswadhikendra Saraswati Swamigal.  Sri Viswadhikendra Saraswati Swamigal returned from Kasi to Kanchi. To complete Kasi Yatra in the traditional manner, he left for Rameswaram with Bodhendral. On the way, near Villupuram, in VadaVambalam village, Swamigal passed away.  Then Bodhendral ascended Kanchi Peetam as 59th Peedathipathi and completed the journey to Rameswaram. A few of the miracles attributed to him are as follows.

Bodhendral was once camping in a village called Perambur in Nidamangalam, near Mannargudi.  There he was invited by a person to his house for Biksha. His son was dumb and deaf. Bodhendral would go to places only where people chanted Rama Nama. So he initiated this person with Rama Nama and also asked him to ask his wife to chant the name of Rama while cooking.  When Bodhendral came to his house for Biksha Bodhendral felt sorry for the boy as there was no way for him to say or hear Rama Nama since he was deaf and dumb.  After the Biksha when the family prostrated to Bodhendral, he was filled with tears in his eyes for the boy. Bodhendral then explained to the person that he was deeply sorry for the boy not because he was dumb or deaf but as to how he would attain God, not being able to hear or utter Bhagwan nama. The man immediately told him not to worry as he is now sure his son will definitely attain God in view of the Guru Kripa, shown by Bodendral.  As Bodendral took leave of the couple, they reverentially accompanied the Swamigal to the camp.  The boy who had been hungry all along reached out to the leaf that Bodendral had eaten from and ate from the remnants. When he tasted the ‘Uchchishta’ from Bodendral’s leaf, he began singing the Rama Nama.  When the parents saw this on coming back, they were filled with gratitude for Bodhendral, who had performed this miracle out of compassion for their son.

During his yatra Bodhendral once went to a village called Thirukokarnam for Nama pracharam. He was initiating everyone in that village with Rama Nama. A dasi (sex-worker) came to him and asked if he would initiate her also.  Bodhendral initiated her with Rama Nama without any hesitation. As he directly initiated a woman and that too a dasi, some of the villagers started speaking ill about him. Soon after Bodhendral left the village. The dasi was chanting Rama nama religiously and would chant throughout the day. Bodhendral happened to come back to that village after some time. By that time she had finished chanting crores of Rama Nama. She came to have a darshan of Bodhendral and in his presence after prostrating to him she shed her life attaining Kapala moksham, like a true Yogi.  The villagers who were speaking ill about Bodhendral now sought his forgiveness, realising their mistake.

Arcot was once hit by plague epidemic for which there was no treatment. The Nawab was also not spared by the epidemic and it so happened that Bodhendral was there in Arcot then. The people in the city went and prayed to Bodhendral for relief from this scourge of an epidemic. He asked them to get together and chant Rama Nama. They followed his advice and were cured and epidemic also left without trace. The Nawab also became his follower and gave some land to the mutt.

After leading Kanchi Peetam for 48 years, Bodendral left it to his successor Sri Advaitatma Prakasendra Saraswati Swamigal to lead the Peetam, and departed for Govindapuram, a village next to Tiruvidaimarudur  and from there he pursued the Nama pracharam vigorously. One evening,  Bodhendral  was sitting in the banks of river Cauvery after his regular ‘anushtanas’, watching the small kids playing. He joined them and asked them to bury him in the sand and said that he would come out of another place. Fascinated by this play, the kids wanted to do it again and again. This continued for some time. At one point, Bodhendral was covered under the sand and he did not come out of the other end. The kids panicked and called the elders nearby. The elders rushed in and decided to dig the ground in search of Bodhendral.  Just then, a voice came from inside asking them not to do so as he had gone into Jiva Samadhi there.  Respecting his wishes they left the place. Soon this location was forgotten.   Over 100 years later, Sri Maruthanallur Sadguru swamigal decided to find this Samadhi and build an Adhishtanam around it. He searched for the exact location on the river bank in Govindapuram.  He would tie his legs and crawl on the river bank so that he would  not accidentally place his feet on the Samadhi. At one place he could hear Rama Nama being chanted and he immediately deduced that it was the location where Bodhendral had attained Samadhi. He also found there the Bhagawan Nama Kaumudi that Sri Bodendral had carried with him all along.  He then built the Adhishtanam there with the help of the king of Thanjavur.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Sri Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval

Sridhara Ayyaval, also referred to as Ayyaval in short for Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval, is one of the pioneers of Nama Sankeertanam movement in the South. He is considered as one of the trinity of Dakshina Bharatha Sampradaya Naama Sankeertanam, the other two being Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi and Marudhanallur Sathguruswamy.  Nama Sankeertanam involves singing of the one’s chosen name of the Lord and is considered more efficacious as it involves no elaborate rituals or sacrificial materials and is not conditioned by place, time, caste or sex. 

Sridhara Ayyaval was born as the only son of Lingaraya who was the Diwan of Mysore.  He was initiated into the study of Vedas and sastras at an early age and became well-versed in them quickly. From his young age he was also a devotee of Lord Siva, chanting Lord’s name in his free time.  This led to his developing Vairagyam towards worldly matters and material wealth.  So when his father died and the king offered him the Diwan’s post he declined and preferred to lead a  Unchavritti way of life, wherein one goes on streets singing divine Names of the Lord and accepting whatever is offered by devotees.  So renouncing all his wealth, he moved out of Mysore and started travelling south, singing Lord’s name and giving discourse on scriptures in simple language wherever he stayed which was not for more than a day or two. Thus spreading Nama Sankeertanam, he reached Tiruchirapalli.

He stayed in Tiruchirapalli for a while leading a simple life engaged in Unchavritti and Pravachanams. Though he was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva, he was not biased against other forms of the Lord, be it Vishnu, Krishna or Rama.  Some Vaishnava Brahmins not knowing this and feeling jealous of his popularity tried to set up the Vaishnava king against him.  The king to test him ordered that Lord Mathrubutheswar, whom Sridhara Ayyaval was worshipping daily in Tiruchirapalli be dressed up as Lord Krishna and taken in procession before his house. Sridhara Ayyaval, when he saw Lord Krishna spontaneously poured out twelve verses, now known as “Krishna Dwadasa Manjari”, on Lord Krishna. The jealous Brahmins who carried tales to the king now fell at his feet and apologised for their ignorance and arrogance. The king who ordered the test also felt contrite and now wanted him to settle in that city only thereafter.  Sridhara Ayyaval who could not stand the bustle of city life, left that night the city to continue his travels.

Visiting many shrines he reached Thanjavur. King Shahaji who had heard of his scholarship and devotion met him and felt blessed by his darsan and Ayyaval also loved the king for his devotion and sincerity. But in Thanjavur also he did not stay, but chose to settle in a small serene village in the kingdom by name Tiruvisainallur, which was on the banks of Cauvery and close to Tiruvidaimaruthur with its temple of Lord Mahalinga.  King Shahaji visited him often and sought his advice.  Ayyaval had such a great affection for him that he consented to serve as Diwan from that place. Soon he felt that his new responsibilities as Diwan were coming in the way of his detachment from worldly affairs. One day as he was pondering over this a messenger from the king who did not know him came and asked him “Oh Bhagavatha, Is the Diwan in?”  Ayyaval was happy to be addressed as Bhagavatha and sent a reply in writing “The Diwan is dead.  Only the Bhagavatha remains”.  A shocked king rushed to Ayyaval’s house believing he was dead and was relieved to find Ayyaval alive.  Ayyaval explained to him that he valued more the post of Bhagavatha than the post of Diwan. The king understood his desire to stay out of worldly affairs and left him with heightened respect for his devotion.
Early morning everyday he used to cross the river, go to the temple of Lord Mahalinga, have Darsan, offer prayers and return. One day there was heavy floods in the river and no boatman was willing to ferry him across the river. Ayyaval stood on the banks of the river and with tear-filled eyes, uttered a soulful prayer “Aarthi Hara Stotra” and stayed looking in the direction of the temple. Then he saw a priest of the temple coming to him.  He told Ayyaval that as he did not find him in the temple that morning he brought him the Viboothi Prasad and handed over the Prasad.  Overjoyed, Ayyaval prostrated before the priest and accepted the Prasad.  Next morning as the floods had subsided he went to the temple and again thanked that priest for bringing him the Prasad the previous day. The priest was confused and denied ever having crossed the river to meet him, much less to hand over the Prasad. Ayyaval then realized it was Lord Himself out of compassion had come to him and given the Prasad. Thrilled with joy, he sang the glory and compassion of the Lord in 100 verses in the hymn “Daya Shatakam”.
He had the Advaitic vision of oneness of all human beings and looked upon all living beings as incarnation of Lord only. Once on a Sraardha day, as he was returning from river he found an outcaste lying on the ground overcome by hunger.  He went home, brought the food prepared for Sraardha and fed him. He then took bath again, went home and had fresh food prepared for Sraardha and invited the priests for the ceremony.  The priests who were already jealous of Ayyaval took this opportunity to condemn him for giving food to an outcaste before feeding the Brahmins and refused to perform the ceremony and walked out.  His pleadings quoting scriptures that it was no sin to feed a hungry man at any time went in vain.  As he did not want to show disrespect to the priests, he asked them to suggest a Prayaschittam and they told a bath in the Holy Ganges was the only way.  He composed “Gangaashtakam” and prayed to Ganga Matha to appear in his well and save him from this predicament. The well began to swell with water and it started flooding the streets. The frightened Brahmins now cured of their vanity and arrogance rushed to Ayyaval prostrated before him and asked for forgiveness.  They also prayed that the Ganges may be confined to his well and they be saved from floods. So Ayyaval prayed to Ganga Matha: “To fulfill Bhagiratha’s wish You came to earth.  Now for assuaging these Brahmins’ fears kindly stay in my well only”.
The Holy River receded to his well. This incident happened in the month of Karthick on New Moon day. Even now pilgrims gather in Tiruvisainallur on this auspicious day to take bath in this well water and 'Gangaavatarana-mahotsavam' is celebrated by  Sri Sridhara Ayyaval Mutt every year this time. Sadasiva Brahmendra, who was a contemporary of Ayyaval is supposed to have based his song “Tunga Tarange Gange” on this incident. Several songs composed on him and sung in Sampradhaya Nama Sankeertanam are followed by the namavali “Gangadhara Gangadhara” referring to Ayyaval as the bringer of Ganges.
Another eminent contemporary of Ayyaval was Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi, another doyen of Nama Sankeertanam, who had settled in Govindapuram after relinquishing the headship of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Though Ayyaval and Bodhendral (in short for Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi) had their hearts set in the names of Lord Siva and Lord Rama respectively, this did not stand in the way of their affection and respect for each other.  Ayyaval had referred to Bodhendral thus: "Yasya Smarana Matrena Nama Bhakthi Prajayathe; Tam Namami Yathi Sreshtam Bodhendram Jagatham Gurum".(Remembering whom itself Nama Bhakthi wells up in the heart, that eminent Yogi, Jagat guru Bodhendra I salute”). And Bodhendral had composed a song for his disciples to worship Sri Ayyaval, whom he considered as incarnation of Lord Siva, which ended as "Tam Vande Nara Roopam Andakaripum Sri Venkatesam Gurum" (Obeisance to Sri Venkatasa Guru, who is Shiva Incarnate).   Bodhendral has also quoted as a reference, Ayyaval’s work “Nama Bhushanam” in his works “Nama Rasayanam” and “Namamrutha Rasodayam”. 

Bodhendral also shifted his residence from Govindapuram to Tiruvidaimaruthur to be closer to Ayyaval. Ayyaval and Bodhendral met very often, and spent time in discussion of various spiritual matters, often joined by Sadashiva Brahmendra, the Advaita Avadhutha.  Sri Ayyaval composed a work called 'Aakya Shashti', which described the greatness of “Shiva Nama” beautifully in sixty verses. When Bodhendral read this he told Ayyaval that he should have called it as “Shivaakyashashti” as it glorified only the names of Lord Siva. Ayyaval could guess Bodhendral’s mind, and so immediately replied, how could he dare to sing the glory and beauty of “Rama Nama” that Lord Siva, whose glory he had sung in these sixty verses, Himself chanted incessantly.  Hearing this, the Bodhendral shed tears of joy.

Ayyaval led a simple life and as in life-style, in devotion also he valued sincerity and avoided mere pomp and show.  So when once Janmashtami festival was celebrated with much fanfare he did not attend the celebrations. That night when Lord Krishna’s picture was taken in procession in a chariot, it did not stop at his house, though he waited with the offerings.  Rather the organisers accompanying the chariot remarked without accepting the offerings that Ayyaval lacked true devotion to Lord Krishna and so the offering was unacceptable.  Ayyaval only said that Lord knew who His real devotee was and went inside the house. The procession continued. At the next house where it stopped, the organisers were shocked to see that the portrait of Krishna was missing, and only the empty frame stood in the chariot. They realised their folly and rushed to Ayyaval's house. There, they found the missing Lord in a swing inside the house. Ayyaval was performing Dolotsavam, with the bhava of a mother cradling her little child. In the same bhava, he composed the work “Dolanavaratnamaalika”. The organisers realised their mistake and begged his forgiveness.
Ayyaval lived up to a ripe old age of 85. He along with Bodhendral firmly established the tradition of Nama Sankeertanam in the south. As per his followers, Ayyaval cast his mortal frame and merged with Lord Mahalinga in the temple at Tiruvidaimaruthur.  In his last prayer before shedding the mortal coil he prayed "Oh Lord! In this big stage of worldly life, I have donned various roles, and have been dancing before you for long. Oh Omniscient Compassionate Lord! I am tired now, and may your words, saying 'Enough', be my rest."

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Sant Ekanath

Ananaya Bhaktha of Panduranga Vittal 

The state of Maharashtra has produced a galore of ananya Bhakthas of Panduranga Vittal of Pandharpur of whom Sant Ekanath occupies a prominent place, as he was also a scholar and poet who helped the revival of interest in Hindu epics that had declined due to the invasion of idol-hating Muslim rulers.  Ekanath was born in a pious Brahmin family at Pratisthan, called Paithan now.  His great grandfather was sant Bhanudas who brought back the sacred image of Lord Panduranga from Vijaynagar to Pandharpur.  Ekanath was devoted to Vittal, who was their family deity.  When his parents passed away at an early age, he came to live with his grandparents.  When he was twelve years old his grandfather entrusted him to the care of Janardhan Swami who was a great Yogi and who had an ashram in a forest near Devagiri.  Besides philosophy, scriptures and grammar he also learnt the works of Sant Jyaneswar. 

He spent there twelve years, taking care of the ashram as well besides learning.  One night as he was tallying the accounts for the day he found difference of a paisa in cash on hand.  He was searching for the wrong entry and could not locate it even by midnight.   When he found it at last, he was so happy that he let out a shout  “Found it, Gurunatha.”   Janardhan Swami, who was awakened by the shout came to him and asked what did he find.  He apologised to the Guru for awakening him and explained that it was the eluding paisa which had kept him awake that long.   Janardhan Swami appreciated his sincerity and went to bed.  Before going to sleep he prayed to Lord Dattatreya that He should give Darshan to Ekanath and bless him with His Grace.  Next day as Ekanath was returning from his bath in Godavari River, Lord Dattatreya appeared before him in his divine form with Vedas and Dharma Devata in attendance as four dogs and bull.   Ekanath prostrated before the Lord and Lord blessed him.  He did not seek any favour but returned to the ashram and started doing his work as usual without any excitement.  Janardhan Swami came and asked him whether anything unusual happened that morning and Ekanath casually narrated that he had the Darshan of Lord Dattatreya while returning from bath.  Janardhan Swami was puzzled and asked him how he could be so casual about the Darshan of Lord.  Ekanath replied that his Guru was his God and he valued more his Darshan and blessings than anything else.  Janardhan Swami was moved and he said that his blessings will be with him all the time.  He then asked him to go home, get married and lead a family life.

Ekanath returned to his grandparents, got married and started leading a family life.  His wife, a devout woman was a great support to him in his spiritual activities. He would conduct discourses besides performing Bhajans and Kirtans and was also engaged in translating Sanskrit works in Marathi. He also composed several abhangs and sang about saints of Maharashtra like Namdev, Jyaneshwar and Janabai. He wrote a Marathi version of Bhagavatha Purana and Ramayana, which are widely popular in Maharashtra as Ekanath Bhagavatha and Ekanath Ramayana. Besides writing other works in Marathi on Vedanta, Gita etc., he also devoted himself to compiling a correct version Of Dhyaneswari, Jyaneshwar’s treatise on Bhagavat Gita in Marathi. Thus he greatly contributed to revival of Marathi bhakthi literature and interest in epics.

One day as he was reading Bhagavatha, a 12 year old boy came to him and introduced himself as Kandiya Krishna from Dwaraka and wanted to be his sishya and learn from him. Ekanath accepted him as sishya and treated him with love and care as his own son. He not only attended on his Guru but also ran all sorts of errand for Gurumatha as well.  One day Ekanath was performing ceremony for his ancestors.  Before feeding the Brahmins he gave part of the prepared food to a hungry untouchable.  This angered the Brahmins who had come to the ceremony and they left without taking food.  Then Ekanath was worried that the ceremony could not be completed.   Kandiya Krishnan suggested that he could offer it to holy grass (Darbai)  and complete the ceremony.  Ekanath started performing rituals invoking ancestors in the holy grass, when Lord Vittal Himself came first and  and  then ancestors themselves came and blessed him uttering Mantras and left.  The intrigued neighbours thought the blessings had been chanted by Ekanath and sishya disguising their voices to fool them.

The Brahmins met in the Brahmin Samaj and prohibited any contact with him until he does pariharam for this act of feeding an untouchable with food meant for ancestors and then faking completion of the ritual.  Ekanath met and pleaded with them that for annadhanam there is no caste discretion and that hunger has no caste.   Since they did not relent he agreed to do pariharam.  They drew up a big list of land, cows, gold and silver for gifting.  He agreed and started the sankalpam for the ritual.  At that time a leper came there asking for Ekanath.  When the Brahmins asked him to go away, the leper told he should see him urgently as he had been told by Lord Triambakeswar  in his dream that Ekanath alone can perform  prayachittam  for his sins that had brought about  the disease.   Kandiya Krishnan who was listening to this took him to Ekanath overruling their protests.  The leper wanted to do Padapuja to Ekanath and take the Padatheertham.  First Ekanath refused and then when the leper repeated it was Lord Siva’s command, he agreed.  The leper then performed the Padapuja and drank the water that was used to wash the feet and to the surprise of all assembled the leprosy vanished and he became normal.  Kandiya Krishnan looked at the Brahmins and asked whether they stll insisted on pariharam. They apologised to Ekanath for not realising his greatness and said it would amount to blasphemy to insist on pariharam and left.

Soon after this a Brahmin came to Ekanath looking for Krishnan.  Ekanath asked him to wait and continued reading Bhagavatham, which is his daily routine.  Shortly after, Krishnan came with a vessel of water collected from Godavari and went straight inside without glancing at the Brahmin.  The Brahmin too took no notice of him.  This intrigued Ekanath and he asked the Brahmin how he knew Krishnan.  The Brahmin then narrated that wherever he went and worshipped he had been blessed with the Darshan of the Lord of the temple.  When he went to Dwaraka, he did not have the Darshan. So he fasted in the temple. After 12 days of fasting he had a dream in which Lord Krishna told him that he was at Ekanath’s house and so he had come to have his Darshan.  As he was finishing his words Ekanath rushed inside looking for Kandiya Krishnan, but he had disappeared leaving the vessel of water in the kitchen.  Ekanath realized it was Lord Krishna who had been serving him and cried his heart out that he could not recognize Him and remembering what all Lord did for him  went into a trance.  The Brahmin visitor stayed back as sishya of Ekanath.

Ekanath had a gentle nature and could not be provoked at all.  In fact this became a cause of wager among a group of gamblers in Paithan.  One of them wagered that he will make Ekanath get angry. The next morning as Ekanath was returning from his bath in Godavari, he waited for him on the way and as Ekanath came near he spit the pan he was chewing on Ekanath, while the other gamblers were watching from a distance. Ekanath just looked up and then without a word went back to the river, took bath again and came back. Again the gambler spat on Ekanath and again Ekanath returned to the river without a word. This cycle was getting repeated a few times when the gambler got frustrated and shouted at him whether he had no self-respect at all.  Ekanath calmly replied that if he reacted, his mind would get dirty and that dirt cannot be washed off as the dirt on his body.  The gambler was overcome with guilt and remorse and he fell at his feet and sought his forgiveness saying he did it for a wager foolishly.  Ekanath felt sorry for him stating that he would have faked anger if he had known about the wager and thanked him for making him take bath a number of times in the holy river, which he would not have done normally any day.

Ekanath blended his ananya bhakthi for Lord with Advaitic vision of oneness of all living beings, human or animal.  His attitude to untouchables we saw early. He also preached against its practice.  One day he was sitting under a tree and opening a packet of chapathis.  A dog which was nearby snatched the packet and ran away holding the packet in the mouth.  Ekanath started running after it while onlookers shouted at him in vain to let it go as they would provide him with alternate chapathis.  He ran and caught hold of the dog and grabbed the packet from its mouth. Onlooker’s derision turned into admiration as he lovingly circled its neck and fed the dog  the chapathis, now spreading  them with the ghee which he was carrying separately while at the same time admonishing it  gently for trying to eat dry chapathis, that would choke its throat. Another time when he was returning from a pilgrimage to Benares carrying Ganga Jal, he unminding the protests of others in the group fed a donkey dying of thirst with the Ganga Jal, gently caressing it.

Ekanath was one of the earliest reformers in Maharashtra, who preached and acted against untouchability.  He was greatly instrumental in bringing to light and popularising Sant Jyaneshwar’s works among the masses. His teachings are summarized as “Vichar, Uchchar and Achar” i.e. purity in thought, speech and action.  According to scholars, Ekanath's place as philosopher-writer-saint is second only to Sant Jyaneshwar's in Maharashtra.  His main achievement is seen as the revival of the Hindu religion that had suffered due to the onslaught of iconoclastic Muslim invaders and the spread of its philosophy down to the lowest stratum of society.  As a biographer stated, philosophy that reigned in the clouds with Sant Jyaneshwar, came down to earth and dwelt among the people with Sant Ekanath.