Category Archives: lord shiva

Sri Sankara Bhagavadpada!

Sankara was born to Aryamba and Sivaguru in Kalady. He exhibited extraordinary intelligence and mastered all that was taught to him and even composed – Balabodha Sangraha. Even at that young age, Sankara wanted to embrace sanyasa. However his mother did not give him permission, but someday he hoped that his desire would be granted. One day when he was taking a dip in the river, a crocodile caught hold of his leg and started pulling him into the river. He cried out to his mother who was on the banks of the river for help, but she was helpless. At that moment, Sankara cried out and told his mother that now he was in the jaws of death and nothing could be done. He pleaded with her to atleast grant him permission to take on the sanyasa robes at this crucial juncture. The desperate mother agreed. Sankara loudly chanted “sanyastoham…sanyastoham…sanyastoham” (I have renounced). Miraculously the crocodile released its hold on his legs!

Sankara came out of the waters, and he requested her to give him permission to go in search of his Guru, now that she had allowed him to take sanyas. The mother agreed to let him go with a promise from him that he will be there by her side at the time of her death. Sankara promised her that he would be there at the time of her death.

Just before Sankara left, he had a vision of Lord Achyutha who directed him to go to the ascetic Sri Govindapadacharya, the disciple of the great Sri Gaudapadacharya of the Mandukya Karika fame at Omkaranath. Sankara composed tha Achyutha Ashtakam in praise of the Lord during this time.

Sankara walked Northward. As he was travelling, he came across a place where he saw something astonishing. A huge cobra had spread its hood like an umbrella over a frog to protect it from the scorching heat of the sun. Creatures who are inimical by nature were in harmony and peace with each other at this place! He concluded that it must be because of a great tapasvi’s presence somewhere around. It was the place where Maharshi Rishyasringa had performed tapas. Sankara immediately decided that if ever in future he established a math it would be at this sacred place. Years later, he established the Sringeri Math over here. 
Walking ahead, Sankara came to the banks of river Narmada. Sri Govindapadacharya lived in a cave very close by. He searched for the Mahatma and finally found him in meditation in a cave. Coming out of his meditation, yet with closed eyes, the Acharya asked him (Sankara) who he was. Sankara composed a beautiful hymn, known as Dasa Sloki expressing his perfect identity with the Supreme Reality. Sri Govindapadacharya opened his eyes and saw in front of him a young realized soul prostrating at his feet. The Master was filled with joy. Sri Govindapadacharya accepted Sankara as his disciple. The young ascetic stayed there with his Guru for three years and mastered all the scriptures.

Once during the rainy season, when Sri Govindapadacharya was meditating in the cave, there was sudden flash-floods in the river Narmada. The waters kept rising and rising and threatened to enter the cave, and disturb the Master who was in deep samadhi. At that time, Sankara placed his kamandalu at the entrance of the cave saying that it would absorb the waters into itself. As the waters rose and reached the kamandalu, the flash-flood immediately subsided and in a couple of minutes everything was back to normal. The other disciples were wonderstruck at Sankara’s feat and narrated it to the Master later on. Supremely happy at his disciple devotion and extraordinary achievement, Sri Govindapadacharya blessed him saying, “just as you contained the flood waters in the kamandalu, similarly you should write commentaries on the scriptures which will carry the essence of all the Vedas. This will bestow upon you eternal glory”. Sankara prostrated at his Master’s feet. To test the student’s calibre, Govindapadacharya asked Sankara to write a commentary on Vishnu Sahasranama – his first ever commentary. The teacher was extremely pleased with Sankara’s work. 

Sankara was sent to Kashi to invoke Lord Vishwanatha’s grace and wait for further instructions. Lord Vishwanatha blessed him and directed him to write commentaries on all the sacred scriptures. Many disciples reached him to pursue their vedantic studies. His disciples reverentially addressed him as SANKARACHARYA. 

Sankaracharya then decided to go to Badarikashram. It is here that he wrote the commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Geeta which are known as Prasthana Traya. Later Bhagavan Veda Vyasa blessed Sankara with an extension of another sixteen years (he was sixteen years at that time). Sankara extensively travelled from place to place across the length and breadth of the country to establish the supremacy of Advaita Philosophy and adorned the Sarvagnya Peeta – the Throne of Omniscience. He composed beautiful Hymns on all the principle deities and authored books on the fundamentals of Advaita Philosophy. He organised the Dashanami Sampradaya for the monastic order and unified the Sanmatha tradition of worship. In spite of the various different traditions, customs and rituals followed by the people, Sankaracharya with his lofty vision and zealous missionary successfully brought about integration amongst the people – indeed, a UNIFIED CULTURAL REVIVAL in BHARAT! NATIONAL INTEGRATION through SPIRITUALITY!! 

“Jaya Jaya Sankara! Hara Hara Sankara! Hara Hara Sankara! Jaya Jaya Sankara!!”

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Bhasmasura : The Intellect!

Vrukasura undertook intense tapas to propitiate Lord Shiva. Pleased with his austerity, the Lord appeared before him and asked him what he wanted. Vrukasura asked for the boon of “fire-touch” — anything that he lays his hand on should gets burnt! Lord Shiva granted him the boon, because of which he became known as BHASMASURA. The asura decided to test the efficacy of the boon and proceeded to place his outstretched hand on Lord Shiva’s head. Knowing the unfailing power of his boon, Shiva started running with Bhasmasura following him. Sankara reached Vaikunta. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Lord Vishnu with the help of his Yoga-maya assumed the form of a young brahmachari and appeared before Vrukasura. With the power of his speech and art of communication, Lord Vishnu convinced Bhasmasura to place his hand on his own head. Overwhelmed by the Lord’s Maya, the asura followed the Lord’s advice and placed his hand on his own head and reduced himself to ash (bhasma).

Significance: Bhasmasura represents the human INTELLECT. The extroverted, out-going, objective-knowledge seeking INTELLECT seeks, searches, analysis, probes, investigates the entire outer world of things and beings. And whatever it is trying to understand it can do so only by studying it in “parts”. The WHOLE is investigated and understood by studying it in PARTS — hence the intellect breaks, dissects, divides, differentiates……

This intellect, very efficient in dissecting, analysing and studying the WHOLE problem through PARTS, now wants to “know and realize” Shiva-tattva – the very “power” that lends dynamism to the intellect to function. The more the intellect tries to reach out to the Shiva-tattva, the more IT seems to move away from the intellect. This is represented by Bhasmasura with outstretched hands running behind Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu as the brahmachari represents the Guru, the embodiment of spiritual knowledge, who comes into the seeker’s life and advises him to turn inward – represented by the hand moving not outward but towards oneself. This represents inner contemplation.

The intellect is transcended at that point and the seeker realises intuitively that what he was searching for outside – the Shiva-tattva – is he himself. In the ‘”white heat of meditation”, in the “fire of knowledge” invoked within himself, the whole world of plurality dissolves away. When anything is burnt, bhasma (ash) is the residue. What is left behind after transcending the intellect is the One Undifferentiated, Undivided, Pure Shiva-tattva — the Absolute Existence which lends existence to the entire world of things and beings! This is Mukti, Enlightenment — the real and true Glory (Vibhuti) of a Man of Realization!

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Nandanar: Devotee for whose sake Nandi moved!

Nandanar was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He is considered as one among the 63 Nayanars (Shaivite Saints). Nandanar belonged to a small village known as Adhanur in Tamilnadu. He belonged to the community that made percussion instruments and in those days they were looked down by the upper community. After his daily work, he would spent most of his time singing the glories of the Lord.

Nandanar once visited Lord Shiva’s temple at Thiruppunkoor. Since he was not allowed to enter the temple, he stood outside and prayed fervently to the Lord. He longed to have darshan of the Lord from far, but the huge Nandi was right in front of the Lord and was obstructing his view. Nandanar prayed to Nandi to move a little so that he can have a glimpse of the Lord. His prayers were answered and Nandi moved a little so that Nandanar could have the darshan of Lord Shiva! Even to this day, Nandi is tilted slightly to one side in this temple!

Nandanar cherished a deep desire to go to Chidambaram and have the darshan of Lord Nataraja. Every day people would ask him when he planned to visit Chidambaram. But the thought of not being allowed to enter the temple made him postpone his visit and he would tell people that he will “go tomorrow”. Every day he would tell people, “I will go tomorrow”. All the people started mocking him. They concluded that he would never go to Chidambaram and started calling him “tirunalaipoovar” meaning “one who will go tomorrow!”

One fine day, having made up his mind, Nandanar asked his landlord for permission to go to Chidambaram. The landlord asked Nandanar to first plough his agricultural land and only then he would give him permission. It was a huge task which would take days. Nandanar prayed to the Lord and started ploughing the field. Late into the night, he was exhausted and fell off to sleep. When he woke up next morning the entire field had been ploughed and was ready for sowing. The landlord was surprised and realized the greatness of Nandanar and immediately allowed him to go to Chidambaram. 

Overwhelmed by the Lord’s grace, Nandanar happily proceeded to Chidambaram, but he was not allowed to enter the temple. Singing the glories of Lord Sankara, he went round the holy city a number of times. Lord Shiva decided that it was time the world realized the greatness of Nandanar and his supreme devotion. The Lord appeared in Nandanar’s dream and beckoned him to enter the temple. Next day, in the morning, Nandanar joyously started walking towards the temple. At the temple, the priests had lit up the huge Vedic fire for a yagna. With a mind soaked in single-pointed devotion to the Lord and oblivion of the surroundings, Nandanar walked straight into the fire-kund which was right in front of him. Everyone around were stunned at the sight of Nandanar entering the homa-kund. But nothing happened to him! He came out of the fire unscathed. Nandanar’s physical form was shining like burnished gold! The presence of an inexplicable divine aura around him was evident. The priests realized the greatness of the Lord’s devotee and respectfully escorted him into the sanctum of the Lord. In the presence of all those assembled, that very moment, Nandanar merged and disappeared to become one with Parameshwara: the Lord-of-his-heart! 

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Karaikal Ammaiyar

Punithavati was a great devotee of Lord Shiva belonging to the merchant community in Karaikal (Tamilnadu). She belonged to the 6th century AD, and is one of the 63 great Shaivite saints known as Nayanmars. She spent her time in glorifying the Lord and serving His devotees, especially those who came visiting the town. A wealthy businessman, Paramadattan from Nagapattinam married the beautiful Punithavati. She devoted herself to household chores as well as continued her religious duties. 

One day a relative of Paramadattan visited him at his shop and gave him two mangoes. Paramadattan sent them to his house through his servant. Punithavati received them and placed them at the altar of her Lord. A little later, a Shiva Bhakta came along seeking for alms. Since nothing had been cooked, Punithavati gave away one mango to the sadhu. 

Later, Paramadattan came home and sat down to have his meals. He asked for the mango. She brought the one which was at the Lord’s altar and gave it to him. He found it extremely sweet and asked for the second one. It was not there. She had given it away as bhiksha to the sadhu. Knowing her husband’s temper and not knowing what to do, she ran to the pooja altar. With eyes overflowing with tears, she prayed fervently to the Lord to save her from the situation. As she pleaded with the Lord, a mango appeared in her hands! Overwhelmed at the Lord’s grace, she quickly went and gave it to her husband. This mango was far more sweeter in taste than the first one!! How could two mangoes from the same tree differ so much in taste? Obviously this was not the same mango that he had sent home. Paramadattan asked her to tell him the truth. Slowly she narrated everything to him. He was stunned. With absolute disbelief, he told her to ask Lord Shiva for one more mango. She was reluctant, but he insisted. She again went to the Lord and prayed to Him. Another mango appeared in her hand. She gave it to Paramadattan. The moment he touched the mango, it disappeared. Paramadattan realized that his wife Punithavati was not an ordinary woman but one of the greatest devotees of Parameshwara. He was filled with awe and respect for Punithavati. He no more considered her as his mortal wife. To him she was his Guru who had opened his eyes. He silently left home and settled down in the neighbouring Pandiyan kingdom. He married a local merchant’s daughter and even named his daughter Punithavati!

When Punithavati came to know that her husband had settled down in Madurai, she completely and totally dedicated herself to the Lord. Realising that her beauty and youthfulness was the greatest impediment, she pleaded with Lord Sankara to take away her beauty and give her an ugly form. The Lord granted her wish! Suddenly she became old in appearance and frightfully ugly to look at. Her frightful look brought fear to some, but evoked respect from others. She was reverentially addressed as: KARAIKAL AMMAIYAR. Many beautiful and devotional compositions on Lord Shiva are attributed to her. Desiring to have a glimpse of her Lord, she proceeded to Kailasa. The moment she saw the divine mountain, the abode of the Lord, she was reluctant to place her feet on them. She placed her head down and started walking with the help of her hands! Pleased with her devotion, Lord Shiva and Parvati gave her darshan. She asked for mukti. And if at all she had to be born again, it should be as His devotee only. She expressed her desire to see His Urdhva Tandava, while she sang for Him. The Lord told her to go to Tiruvalangadu where she would be able to witness his divine Nritya. Ammaiyar proceeded to Tiruvalangadu where Lord Shiva is worshipped as Vataranyeswara. With a pair of cymbals in hand Ammaiyar sang ecstatically while the Lord danced. Of the five famous sabhas attributed to Lord Nataraja, Tiruvalangadu is known as Ratna Sabha – the Hall of Gems. Ammaiyar stayed here singing the Lord’s glories and continued her devoted services unto the Lord till she finally merged with Lord Shiva.

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