Bhavaji was a saint from North India. He was a great devotee of Lord Rama. He once came on a pilgrimage to Tirumala (Tirupati). The quiet and serene atmosphere of the Tirumala Hills was so captivating that he decided to stay there. He made a small kutia for himself and daily used to visit Lord Venkateswara temple, stand for hours together in front of the deity in whom he saw the Lord of his heart — Sri Rama. The temple priests got annoyed with his constant presence over there and told him to go away.
Next day and the day after, when he came to the temple, they refused to allow him into the temple. He pleaded for a glimpse of his Lord, but they refused. With a heavy heart he went back to his humble hut and cried his heart out to the Lord. At night, he couldn’t get sleep and to keep himself occupied he started playing the game of dice — he played for both the parties: he on one side and the Lord on the other side! After some time, he fell off to sleep. There in his vision, the Lord appeared asking him to get up and play dice with Him. He woke up and there was the Lord in front of him. His joy knew no bounds! He and the Lord played the game of dice, and the Lord was defeated. When the Lord asked him what he wanted in return, Bhavaji’s request was that every day the Lord should come and play dice with him. The Lord assured him and as promised, the next day Lord came to Bhavaji’s place. They played…..the Lord even rested for a while and Bhavaji sang for Him. This went on for a few days.
One day, after the dice-game, the Lord hurriedly left. The gem studded necklace that the Lord was wearing slipped down unnoticed and got left behind. Bhavaji later saw it, picked it up and kept it safely to give it to the Lord next day. In the meantime, when the priests opened the temple doors in the morning, they found the necklace missing around the Lord’s neck. The temple authorities were informed. The priests who disliked Bhavaji and had denied him entry into the temple suspected him. The search party reached Bhavaji’s place. They enquired and he immediately brought the necklace from inside, saying it got left behind the previous night when the Lord had come to his dwelling to play the dice-game. Nobody was prepared to believe this. Bhavaji was accused of stealing and covering it up with a fictional story.
The matter was taken to Krishnadevaraya, the king of the Vijayanagar Empire. The king saw the innocent face of the Lord’s devotee and suggested a test for him instead of punishment. Bhavaji was locked up in a cell with a huge stack of sugarcane which he had to consume and finish by next day morning. The cell was closed, the guards were posted outside. Bhavaji prayed fervently to Lord Rama and was lost in his contemplation. Lo! A majestic elephant appeared in the cell. Within a few minutes it consumed the entire bulk of sugarcane and woke up Bhavaji from his meditation with a huge trumpet. He was overwhelmed to see his own Lord Rama in the form of an elephant come down to save him. He again and again prostrated to the Lord. The guards heard the elephant’s trumpet and rushed in. The entire bulk of sugarcane had vanished, and they saw an elephant hurriedly leave.
The matter was reported to the king. Everyone came rushing. They saw an overwhelmed Bhavaji looking at the site where the elephant stood and uttering the words: “Hathi Ram! Hathi Ram!!”. Having heard of what had happened, the king and the priests asked for forgiveness from Bhavaji. Later on, he was made the Chief Priest of Venkateswara temple for many years. Since he was a devotee of Lord Rama who had appeared as Hathi (elephant), he came to be known as “Hathiram Bhavaji”. In the North, Lord Venkateswara is addressed as “Balaji” which is attributed to him. The Hathiramji Mutt was established in his name, and it exists even to this day. The Mahants of the Mutt used to administer the Tirumala Temple from 1843 to 1932 till the present Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board was created.
[PS: I request all to please forward and share these value based stories rich in our culture and tradition to elders, youth and children]