Vipra Narayana was one of the twelve azhwars (Sri Vaishnavite Saints) belonging to the 8th century. He was born in Tirumandangudi, Tamilnadu. As a child he was very bright, intelligent, and very sattvic in nature. He mastered all the scriptures, was well versed in Sanskrit, good in poetry and music. As he grew up, his devotion to Lord Ranganatha also became more intense. He decided to dedicate his entire life to the service of the Lord and remained a celibate.
Once he went on a pilgrimage to the divine vaishnava kshetras and came to Srirangam. He was so overwhelmed by the divine darshan of Sri Ranganatha, that he decided to settle there. He cultivated a beautiful flower garden – Nandanavanam. Every day he would make beautiful flower garlands and offer them to the Lord in the temple. This became his daily devoted service.
One day, two sisters who were temple dancers, after their performance in front of the king were going back when they saw this beautiful flower garden. They also saw the young Vipra Narayana whose face shone with a divine aura. They tried to disturb his serene mind, but could not. The younger sister, Deva devi who was very beautiful felt humiliated because he could not be tempted by her beauty and charm. She challenged her sister and vowed to break his celibacy.
Next day she came dressed in simple attire posing as a great devotee of Sri Hari. She engaged in conversation with Vipra Narayana and convinced him that she was very pious. Every day she would go and help him to look after the garden, make garlands etc. As months passed by, his mind slowly changed and he started giving her more and more attention and yielded to all her charms. He neglected the garden, garland-making, going to the temple – he had completely become a slave to her and her beauty. Ultimately she had won the challenge! The very next day she walked out taking away the little wealth he had. Vipra Narayana was in a state of shock. However he was so infatuated by Deva devi that he went pleading to her, but she closed the door on him. Every day he would go to her and come back disappointed. He was completely a shattered person. It is at this time that the Lord of Compassion decided to reclaim his long-lost devotee.
One morning a stranger identifying as Vipra Narayana’s servant knocked at Deva devi’s door and said that his master had sent him to give her a gift — a beautiful golden vessel. She was so happy to receive such a priceless gift and when Vipra Narayana came she allowed him into her house. He did not understand her sudden change but was extremely happy. Next day in the temple of Sri Ranganatha, the priest found one of the golden vessels in the sanctum missing. They started searching for it and finally they found it with Deva devi. It was reported to the king. On questioning, she said that it was Vipra Narayana’s gift to her. On the other hand, he was shocked to see her take his name, because he was totally unaware of this transaction. He pleaded innocence, but the king had him imprisoned. He then realized his mistake, his slavery to her and his total neglect of the Lord’s seva.
The day prior to the day of punishment, early in the morning, the Lord, Sri Ranganatha came in the king’s dream and told him that Vipra Narayana was innocent and it was He, the Lord who had taken the guise of a sevak and handed the golden vessel which belonged to the temple to Deva devi. The Lord told the king to release Vipra Narayana from the prison because he is totally innocent and specifically told the king that Vipra Narayana was one of His greatest devotees. In the morning, when the king narrated this to one and all, and asked Vipra Narayana to forgive him. Vipra Narayana had completely forgotten the Lord, but the Lord still acknowledged him as His greatest devotee! With the Lord’s grace and blessings, he completely dedicated himself to the service of the Lord. With great humility, he called himself “Thondaradippodi Azhwar” which means “the dust at the feet of the bhaktas”. His compositions on Lord Ranganatha are exquisite poetry dipped in the honey of devotion!
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