Category Archives: Tamil Nadu Saints

King Kulashekara

Kulashekara Alwar and Lord Venkateshwara

King Kulashekara belonged to the Chera dynasty. Being a very powerful warrior he soon had the Pandya and Chola regions also under his control. He was a very virtuous and just king and endeared himself to his subjects. He was spiritually inclined and was a great devotee of Lord Rama. Lord Vishnu’s padukas adorned King Kulashekara’s crown known as Cheramudi. He longed to visit Srirangam and he also urged people of his kingdom to visit the holy city of Srirangam. As a reminder, every day there would be an announcement of a yatra to Srirangam on the streets of his kingdom. Knowing the king’s strong spiritual roots, the ministers used to arrange for kirtans and readings of the Ramayana in the palace and thus prevented the king from undertaking the pilgrimage to Srirangam. 

However, the king started spending more time with the Vaishnava saints and devotees. This irked the ministers and therefore they devised a plan to stop the holy men from coming to the palace. They hid some of the ornaments of the royal deity worshipped by the king and told him that the ornaments had been stolen. They charged the vaishnava devotees of theft. Kulashekar refused to believe that the Lord’s devotees had stolen the ornaments. He decided to go through a test on behalf of the vaishnavites and prove that there were innocent. He asked for a vessel with a poisonous cobra inside it. The king put his hand into the vessel and proclaimed to everyone present that if the vaishnavites were innocent, nothing would happen to him. Sure enough he retrieved his hand from the vessel safely. The poisonous cobra had not harmed him in the least. The ministers were stunned and shocked and revealed the truth to the king. 

King Kulashekar was very unhappy and disturbed that the Lord’s devotees had been falsely charged with theft. Already a renunciate within, he decided to hand over the kingdom to his son and leave for Srirangam. King Kulashekar was considered as one amongst the Alwars. He composed beautiful verses in praise of the Lord and it is said that the Lord himself used to come and listen to him. Kulashekar Alwar visited all the sacred vaishnava temples. His philosophy was of absolute surrender (saranagati) to the Lord. He never asked the Lord for mukti or liberation. He only longed to be a “servant of the servant of the servant of the Lord”. He was even ready to be born again and again but only as a devotee of the Lord. He was overwhelmed at the darshan of the Lord of Tirumala, Sri Venkateswara, and cried out to the Lord to make him a stone, a worm, a blade of grass, a fish in the pond of the sacred Tirumala hills! He entreated the Lord, “in Thy sweet remembrance, may the swan of my mind enter RIGHT NOW the cage of Thy lotus feet. At the time of death, which is riddled with pain, and when all the equipments are failing, is it possible for me to remember Thee?” And he prayed to the Lord, “make me a step (threshold) at your sanctum sanctorum so that I can joyously gaze on at your beautiful charming lotus face constantly.” The step or threshold of the sanctum in the Sri Venkateswara temple in Tirumala is known as “Kulashekara Padi” (Kulashekara Step) in honour of this glorious devotee of the Lord.

“I bow down my head to Raja Kulashekara in whose kingdom every day Ranga Yatra (pilgrimage to Srirangam) used to be announced (proclaimed)!”

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Peter Padukas of Goddess Meenakshi!

Madurai, the temple city was the capital of the Pandyan kings. Though they ruled the kingdom, they considered Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi as the Divine Rulers of the kingdom and they were only their representatives. Once a year, symbolically, the sceptre of the Goddess was received by the kings, kept with them for a day and returned back to the temple the next day. In the present times, the temple administrators go through this procedure.

Rous Peter was the collector of the temple town of Madurai from 1812-1828. The famous Meenakshi temple also was under his administration. As one who respected other religions, he went about the temple administration also with great respect and sincerity. He treated the people of other faiths with love and respect. Every day, on his way to his office, he had to cross the temple. When he came to the temple, he would get down from the horse he was riding, remove his hat and boots, offer his salutations to Sri Meenakshi and carry the boots in his hands till he crossed the temple. The people of the town started addressing him as ‘Peter Pandian’. The title ‘Pandya’ is associated with the dynasty of the great kings whose ruled in South India, with Madurai as their capital.

One night it rained very heavily. The river Vaigai was overflowing. Peter who was sleeping in his residence was woken up by the sound which was similar to the tinkling of anklets. He woke up and found a little girl, about three years old dressed in the typical silk pavada (silk long skirt or lehenga) and wearing beautiful ornaments in his room. She took hold of his hand and with the words: “Peter come, Peter come”, she almost dragged him out of his residence. The moment he came out, lighting struck his house and it collapsed. Peter was stunned. He looked back and saw the little girl running in the direction of the temple. He only heard the sound of the anklets and also noticed that she ran barefoot! 

Peter Stirrups

Peter was convinced that it was Devi Meenakshi herself who had come in the little girl’s form to save him. To express his gratitude to Goddess Meenakshi, he decided to offer something to her. Since she had come barefooted to his residence, he decided to offer to her,  a pair of golden stirrups to cover her feet. The stirrups were made of gold with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and other precious stones. The name ‘Peter’ was engraved behind the stirrups. Even to this day, during the Chithirai festival, on the panchami (fifth) day, when Goddess Meenakshi rides on her ashwa (horse) vahana, these stirrups adorn her feet. They are also known as “Peter Padukam”. 
After retirement, Peter refused to go back to England. He stayed in Madurai. His last wish was that he should be buried with his eyes facing Goddess Meenakshi. His wish was fulfilled and he was buried with his face towards the temple. 

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The Glory of Srirangam!

Lord Brahma worshipping Lord Ranganatha in Satya Loka

Lord Brahma, the Creator before beginning his work of creation, performed severe penance to invoke the grace and blessings of Sri Narayana. Pleased by his tapas, the Lord manifested Himself in archa-moorthi (idol) form as Sri Ranganatha inside a Pranavakara (OM) Vimana. The Lord and the Vimana were borne by the celestial Garuda, with Adisesha’s hood as the canopy over Him. Vishvaksena (Ganapati) was leading from front. The Sun and Moon were fanning the Lord on either side. Narada and Tumburu were singing the glories of the Lord. Rudra and other devatas were chanting sacred hymns and Apsaras were dancing in ecstasy. There was a shower of flowers from above. The Lord told Brahma to install Him in Satyaloka on the banks of the heavenly river Viraja and worship Him strictly according to the Agamas. Lord Sun was chosen as the priest for the daily worship of the Lord.

Lord Rama gifting the moorthi of Lord Ranganatha to Vibhishana

Years passed. When King Ikshvaku of the Solar dynasty performed rigid tapas, Brahma was pleased with him and asked what he wanted. He asked for the moorthi of Sri Ranganatha and Brahma bestowed upon him the divine gift.  He brought the moorthi of the Lord and installed it in his palace in Ayodhya on the banks of the sacred river Sarayu. From that day onwards, Lord Ranganatha who was every day worshipped by none other than Lord Sun himself became the family deity of the Kings of the Solar dynasty. And when Lord Narayana was born as Sri Rama, he also daily worshipped the royal family deity. 

After Lord Rama went to the forest in exile, killed Ravana and came back, He was crowned as the King of Ayodhya. After the Pattabhishekam ceremony, Rama personally gave away gifts to everyone and especially to those who had helped him in the war with Ravana. When it was Vibhishana’s turn, the Lord gifted the moorthi of Sri Ranganatha along with the Pranavakara Vimana to Vibhishana. Vibhishana was overwhelmed and received with great joy the idol of Ranganatha and was carrying it from Ayodhya to Lanka.

Vibhishana placing Lord Ranganatha on the banks of river Kaveri

It was dusk time – sandhyavandana time. Vibhishana looked down and saw river Kaveri flowing down below. He immediately descended down to the holy place called as Chandra Pushkarini where Ananta Sesha was worshipped. He placed the idol on a sesha-peetam there and went to the river for sandhyavandana. After he finished the rituals, when he tried to lift the idol of the Lord, he could not. The idol had found its permanent place for installation. Vibhishana was very unhappy and prayed to the Lord. Lord Ranganatha consoled him saying that He had promised His devotee, King Dharma Varma that he would come to his kingdom in the South and take up His abode there on the banks of the holy river Kaveri. As a consolation to Vibhishana, Sri Ranganatha told him that though His abode will be Srirangam, He would face South sending His divine grace and blessings constantly to Vibhishana. Not only is the Lord facing South, but the Sanctum as well as the main entrance of the temple are facing South in Srirangam – a very unique feature! The Lord also told Vibhishana that everyday at midnight he can come and worship Him at Srirangam. 

“My body melts in sheer devotion seeing your divine crown towards the West, your lotus feet towards the East, your back towards the North and your smiling face towards Lanka (South), O Divinely Beautiful Blue-hued One!” ~ Thondaradippodi Azhwar on Lord Sri Ranganatha

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Sri Vidya Upasaka: Dikshitar

Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775 – 1835) was one of the greatest Musician-Saints and is one among the Carnatic Music Trinity, the other two being Saint Thyagaraja and Shyama Sastri.

Dikshitar’s father was Ramaswami Dikshitar who was a Sanskrit scholar and an accomplished musician living in Tiruvarur in Tamilnadu. When Dikshitar turned twenty five, the great Chidambaranatha Yogi of Varanasi visited their house and requested Ramaswami to send Dikshitar with him for further education. His father agreed and Dikshitar went to Varanasi. He was initiated into “Sri Vidya Upasana”, and his Guru told him to constantly worship Sri Annapurneswari, the Bestower of material needs (Bhukti) as well as liberation (Mukti). He mastered the scriptures, the science of mantras, astrology, music, and was an expert in playing the veena. He came under the influence of Hindustani classical music and Western band music.

After a few years, the teacher told him that it was time for him to go back home because he had learnt all that had to be learnt. The young disciple asked the teacher what was the proof that he had learnt everything. The teacher asked him to go to Mother Ganges and take a dip. If his learning was complete, She would reward him. He went to the Ganges, took a dip and invoked Her. Mother Ganges was there in front of him with a beautiful veena in Her hand. She handed it over to him. It had “RAMA” inscribed on it and was different from the normal veenas. The tail end of the veena which is called ‘yaalimukha’ is turned upwards. In normal veenas it is turned downwards. This veena that Dikshitar used is even now preserved in their ancestral home.

With the blessings of his teacher and with this unique veena gifted to him by the Mother of Knowledge, Dikshitar travelled back. He arrived at Tiruttani, one of the famous six abodes of Kartikeya in Tamilnadu. Dikshitar was sitting and meditating on the Lord on the steps of the temple, when Lord Kartikeya came in the disguise of an elderly man, asked him to open his mouth and put sugar candy into his mouth and disappeared. At that very moment, he composed a beautiful kriti on Kartikeya with the mudra (signature) GURU-GUHA. Kartikeya also known as GUHA had come to him as his GURU.

He has composed songs on almost all deities, all pilgrimage centres and brought into the kritis the uniqueness and speciality of them all. Along with Sangeeta sastra, he incorporated the “mantra sastra” into his songs and therefore to render them with correct pronunciation and bhava, with a little understanding of its meaning will bring all prosperity to the singer as well as the listener – singing of his keerthans is equivalent to chanting the mantras.

Instances of Dikshitar bringing relief and solace to individuals as well as to the community through his keerthans are many. With a Kriti in raga Amruthavarshini, he brought the rains down on the parched land of Ettayyapuram (Tamil Nadu). He also brought health back to his disciple Tambiyappan by warding off the evil effects (graha dosha) of Jupiter, by composing a kriti on that planet. 

On the eve of Deepavali in 1835, after he had finished Devi Puja, he had a vision of Sri Annapurneswari and sang “Ehi Annapurne” – his last kriti. He remembered what his Guru had told him and knew it was time for him to leave his body. He asked his disciples who had gathered there to sing his composition “Meenakshi me mudam dehi” (Meenakshi bestow upon me Your grace) in the Raga Gamakakriya. When they sang the lines: “meena lochani pasha mochani” (O! Fish-eyed One, who cuts asunder the knots of bondage), he asked them to repeat these phrases once more. As they were repeating them, Dikshitar uttered “Shive pahi, Shive pahi, Shive pahi” and left his physical body to merge eternally with the Mother of the Universe whom he invoked and worshipped all his life. 
His compositions called “Kamalamba Nava-avarana” Krithis which are full of mystic significance are rendered even today with great religious fervour during the Navaratri festival.

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