Arunagirinathar was born to a pious couple in Tiruvannamalai (15th century). Soon after his birth he lost his father. Arunagiri was brought up by his mother and sister and they instilled in him the religious and cultural traditions. He was intelligent, religious and devoted to the Lord. However as he grew up, he associated himself with court dancers and started spending all his time in their company. He spent all the money he had on the women. He sang praises of the rich and wealthy people and whatever he earned from that was all invested in his sensuous life. He totally neglected his duties, and constantly demanded money from his sister. His mother and sister were worried about him but there was nothing they could do to stop his wayward life. His health started to fail him because of his wrong habits but still he continued his extroverted life.
One day, as usual he asked his sister for money. She replied that she did not have any money to give him. Extremely angry with her for denying, he picked up a quarrel with her. Overcome with anger and tired of his unethical and immoral habits, she told him that she had no money to give him and if he still wanted money, the only way was by “selling her”. Her words stung him to the core. It was like molten liquid being poured into his ears. Suddenly it dawned on him as to how selfish and sinful he had been all these years. He was a shame to his family and the entire town. Overcome with remorse and feeling extremely guilty, Arunagiri hit his head hard on the stone pillars of the temple and decided to end his life. He climbed up to the tower of Arunachaleswara temple and jumped down. But instead of landing on the hard granite, he landed in the hands of his saviour. He looked to see who had saved him. The smiling saviour told him, “You are not to fall and die. Yours is a life to save and help others to rise. You have a divine mission to accomplish. Write and sing the glories of Lord Muruga“.
Arunagiri’s saviour was none other than Lord Karthikeya himself! Lord Muruga in all his glory and splendour stood in front of him with the Vel in his hand. His vehicle, the peacock stood next to him. Arunagiri was overwhelmed and overjoyed at the compassion of the Lord who had come all the way to redeem a sinner like him. He prostrated to the Lord. Lord Shanmukha wrote his sacred six-lettered mantra, SARAVANABHAVA on Arunagiri’s tongue with the pointed tip of his Vel. Arunagiri was initiated by Lord Muruga himself! What a blessing! What a transformation! Arunagiri was instantaneously blessed with all the knowledge of Kavya (poetry) and Sangeeta (music). Lord Muruga started the devotional-poem for Arunagiri with his own words: “muthai tharu patthittirunagai!” Being blessed, Arunagirinathar continued singing praises on Lord Kartikeya which came to be known as “Tiruppugazh”.
Arunagirinathar’s, “Tiruppugazh” is a masterpiece which was initiated by Lord Muruga himself. The glory and grandeur of Lord Muruga in his six sacred abodes is beautifully described in these verses. The beautiful lyrics are woven intricately with complex rhyme and rhythm. The philosophical content soaked in devotion is beautifully couched in divine music! His “Kandar Alangaram” is another beautiful garland of verses describing the beauty and splendour of Lord Muruga from his sacred head to his lotus feet! Arunagirinathar’s works are incomparable and they ushered in an era of Naada Upasana.
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)!”
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]