Tag Archives: Saints of Tamil Nadu

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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Full moon on Amavasya day!

Abhirami

Subramanya Iyer was a great devotee of Devi Abhirami (Parvathi) of Tirukadaiyur. He would sit for hours together lost in contemplation in front of Devi. So intense was his devotion that he looked upon all women as manifestation of Mother Goddess and run to them and fall flat at their feet addressing them as ‘O! Mother’, whether in the temple or on the street. People even thought he was mad.

Serfoji I Bhonsle, who was King of the Thanjavur Maratha Empire from 1712 – 1728, came to the temple for darshan on a particular new-moon day. Everybody there made way for him. But Subramanya was sitting right in front of the deity, completely immersed in dhyana. On seeing him, the king enquired and was told by people around that he was an insane person. To test this, the king put forth a question to him asking what was the ‘tithi‘ that day. Subramanya who was in ecstasy, mentally seeing nothing but Devi’s divine face, beautiful and shining like the full-moon in the autumn sky, blurted out that it was full-moon day! The angry king walked away with a challenge that if he failed to see the full-moon at dusk, Subramanya would be burnt alive.

The temple priest woke him up from his meditation and explained what had happened. Subramanya was unperturbed. He said, “My divine Mother made me utter these words and so it is now Her responsibility to keep up Her words”.

Subramanya was made to climb onto a suspended wooden plank which was slowly being lowered. Down below was raging fire. It was dusk. Subramanya invoked His Mother, Sri Abhirami with beautiful verses. When he had just completed the 79th verse, Goddess Abhirami gave darshan to him in the skies. She removed Her diamond ear-ornament and tossed it into space. It stood there in the sky shining like the full-moon for all to see! Subramanya continued to sing Her praises. The ropes snapped, the fire got extinguished. The king realized his mistake and sought forgiveness from the great devotee of Abhirami.  Subramanya was henceforth called “Abhirami Bhattar”. His beautiful collection of verses are known as Abhirami Anthaadi. Anthaadi means “End – Beginning”. The last word of each verse is the beginning of the next verse! Even to this day, devotees sing these verses on Amavasya and Poornima days at Devi’s Altar.

[PS: I request all to please forward and share these value based stories rich in our culture and tradition to elders, youth and children]