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Tulasi and Saligrama

Lord Indra and Deva-Guru Brihaspati, were on their way to Kailasa to offer their salutations to Lord Shiva. Lord Sankara decided to test Indra’s devotion. He disguised himself and met them enroute. Angered at being blocked on their path, Indra asked him to move away. When Shiva refused to move, Indra took up his weapon, Vajrayudha and tried to hurl it at Shiva. The Lord was extremely angry at Indra’s behaviour and was about to punish him when Brihaspati pleaded on Indra’s behalf and sought forgiveness. The fire-of-anger that emanated from Lord Shiva crystallized and fell into the ocean and out of it emerged a small boy. Brahma, the creator appeared and asked Lord Varuna to look after the child who would ultimately become a rakshasa because of the anger element from which he had manifested. He was named Jalandhara (born or arose from water). Since he was an aspect of Lord Shiva, his death was also destined at the hands of Lord Shiva. Trained by the Rakshasa-Guru, Shukracharya, Jalandhara grew up to become very powerful and mighty.

Gandaki was an ardent devotee of Lord Sri Hari. Pleased with her faith and devotion, loyalty and commitment, Lord Vishnu granted her darshan and asked her what she wanted as a boon. Gandaki told the Lord she had only one wish and that was that she should always have the privilege of his association and he should never leave her. The Lord agreed and told her to take the form of a river – River Gandaki. He added that sometime in the future, he would be cursed to become a “stone”. And as a “saligrama stone” he would reside in her waters. 

On the other side, Jalandhara married Vrinda, the daughter of Kalanemi. She was also a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. She ardently longed for the eternal companionship of the Lord. However she had been cursed to take birth in the mortal world and become the consort of a rakshasa. When she approached the Lord, he assured her that after she was relieved from the curse, she would constantly be in his company. Thereafter, she was born as the daughter of Kalanemi and married Jalandhara. She was extremely faithful and loyal to her husband. The power of her purity and chastity was an armour and protection for Jalandhara. Knowing well that he was invincible because of his wife’s chaste conduct, Jalandhara waged war on the devatas and declared his superiority and lordship over them as well. Unable to withstand Jalandhara’s atrocities, all the gods approached Lord Vishnu. However Lord Vishnu could not annihilate Jalandhara because he was protected by his own devotee, Vrinda. Next the devatas sought help from Lord Shiva. A fierce battle ensued between the Sankara and Jalandhara. Even Lord Shiva could not kill him because of Vrinda’s intense tapas. Again the devatas appealed to Lord Vishnu to help them otherwise Jalandhara would create havoc amongst the noble and pious. 

For the sake of everyone’s welfare, Lord Vishnu approached Vrinda in the guise of Jalandhara. Thinking that it was her own husband who had come back from the battle, Vrinda abandoned her tapas to serve him. Vrinda’s mind had been diverted and that was the moment Lord Shiva was waiting for. That very moment, the Lord annihilated the rakshasa. Vrinda who was aware that Jalandhara was invincible by the power of her tapas, realised that it was Lord Vishnu who had come in the guise of Jalandhara. Overwhelmed by anger she cursed Lord Vishnu to become a “stone”. After the curse was pronounced, Vrinda repented. She prostrated to the Lord and sought his forgiveness. Lord Vishnu smiled and consoled his devotee. All that had happened had to happen! The Lord told Vrinda that in the future she would manifest as a plant – the most auspicious TULASI PLANT. She would be revered and worshipped by one and all. She would possess the unique properties of bestowing good and positive energy and annulling the negative influences around. Every part of the plant would possess immense medicinal value. And she would be extremely dear to Lord Vishnu. His puja would be considered complete only with the offering of Tulasi to him. Further the Lord added that he would appear in the waters of River Gandaki or Narayani in the form of a black stone – Saligrama. 

After Vrinda dissolved her mortal body, she manifested as the Tulasi plant. And as Tulasi she became the eternal consort of Lord Sri Hari in the form of Saligrama and is therefore known as Vishnupriye. Lord Shiva exhaustively extols the glories of Tulasi to Sage Narada in the Padma Purana. Every year, Tulasi Vivaha with the Lord (Saligrama) is celebrated on shukla dwadashi day in the month of Kartika. Where the Saligrama is not available, a branch of the Amla which represents Lord Vishnu is used. Tulasi represents Goddess Lakshmi and Amla represents Lord Vishnu. Hence puja offered to Tulasi and Amla signifies the invoking of Lakshmi and Narayana during the month of Kartika. 
Kartika Maasa heralds the onset of winter. And winter is characterized by darkness, chillness, drop in energy and immunity levels. Growth and expansion is curtailed to a large extent at macro as well as micro levels. These shortcomings are compensated by ushering in light, warmth and positive energy by lighting lamps everyday. To strengthen our immunity system and fight the cold we use the Tulasi and Amla which have immense medicinal and therapeutic value. The warmth and light (energy) from earthern, brass, copper or silver deepas and amla deepas  boosts and reinforces the metabolism of the human body. Hence lighting the lamps, extensive use of tulasi and amla becomes very significant during this month. And by invoking the respective deities, the spiritual dimensions get included and incorporated!

“Jagaddhatri namastubhyam vishnoscha priyavallabhe; Yato brahmadayo devah srishtisthithanyantha karinah!” ~ Tulasi Stotra
“Aajanmakrutha papanam prayaschittam ya ichati; Saligrama shilavari papahari namostute!” ~ Saligrama Stotra

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Sri Vadiraja Tirtha of Madhva Parampara

Ramabhatta and Gowri were a pious couple living in Huvinakere near Udupi. Desirous of a child, they sought the blessings of Sri Vagisha Tirtha, the pontiff of Sode Math of Udupi. The saint blessed them and told them that their first-born will be a son who would belong to the Math! The couple were taken aback! However, the saint consoled them saying that if the child was born inside the house he would be with them; but if the child was born outside the house, he would belong to the Math. The couple agreed. Soon Gowri became pregnant. Great care was taken to make sure that she never stepped out of the house. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord! One day, when Ramabhatta was having his meal, a cow strayed into their agricultural land and started destroying the crop. Gowri went outside and while trying to drive it away, she moved far away from the house. Totally exhausted, she rested under a tree. And in the field, outside her house she delivered a male child! 

When Vagisha Tirtha was informed, he asked them to bring the child. The Acharya blessed the child and named him Bhuvaraha. He pointed the auspicious signs with which the child was born indicating its glorious future ahead. The parents were worried that they might have to leave their child in the Ashram. Vagisha Tirtha consoled the parents saying that Bhuvaraha would join the Math and get initiated into sanyasa only after their second son was born. When the couple was blessed with another son, Bhuvaraha, eight years at the time was initiated by Vagisha Tirtha and given the sanyasa name VADIRAJA TIRTHA. He started his studies under his Guru.
Vadiraja Tirtha was exceptionally brilliant in his studies. Once Vagisha Tirtha wanted to test his students. Silken clothes and variety of delicious dishes were laid out and the students were asked to choose whatever they wanted. All the students rushed forward and each took whatever he wanted. Vadiraja stood in a corner silently, far away from them all. The Guru asked him lovingly, “my child, you don’t want anything? What do you want?” Vadiraja burst forth with a beautiful verse: “Devotion to Guru I seek! Blessings of elders I seek! Constantly listening to the glories of Sri Hari I seek! True dispassion I seek! Worship of Sri Vishnu I seek! Constant Japa of the Lord’s Mantra I seek! Intense Tapas to reach the Highest State I seek! Control of Sense-organs I seek! Lord Sri Hayagriva’s Blessings I seek!” Vagisha Tirtha was overwhelmed at the young student’s extreme dispassion and total devotion along with his poetic abilities. After his studies, Vadiraja travelled extensively across the country and documented his experiences under the title “Tirtha Prabandha”. Wherever he went, he met scholars and participated in conferences, discussions and debates and upheld and established the supremacy of Madhva’s Dvaita Philosophy.
Sri Vadiraja worshipped Lord Hayagriva (Lord Vishnu with the face of a horse). A goldsmith living nearby was trying to cast a panchaloha idol of Lord Ganesha. However to his surprise, the idol took the shape of Lord Hayagriva. He tried again and again, but each time the idol cast itself in the form of Lord Hayagriva. That night, the Lord appeared in his dream and asked him to hand over the idol to Vadiraja. Next day the goldsmith along with others of his tribe met the Acharya and handed over the Hayagriva idol to him. Vadiraja was overwhelmed to see his Ishta-devata. On hearing the difficulties and hardships they were undergoing, Vadiraja brought their entire community into the folds of Bhagavatha-dharma. Every day, Sri Vadiraja Tirtha would offer a sweet dish made with channa dhal, jaggery, ghee and dry fruits as Naivedya to the Lord. Vadiraja would place a tray filled with the sweet on his head and sit down. On invoking the Lord Hayagriva, the Lord would appear in the form of a beautiful white horse, place both its fore-legs on Vadiraja’s shoulders and partake the sweet. This sweet dish is also known by the Lord’s name as “Hayagriva!” Vadiraja would sing his composition known as Dashavatara Stuti set to “Ashva-dhati” – tuned to the trotting of a horse! The Lord would dance while Vadiraja sang and then the horse would disappear into the idol!
While on tour, Vadiraja reached Pune where scholars from all over the country had met for a Vidvat Sabha. “Sishupala Vadha” by the great poet Magha was adjudged as the best literary work: a MAHAKAVYA. Vadiraja told them that there was a far more superior literary work and asked them to wait for a few days before coming to any conclusion! They agreed. In 19 days, Vadiraja composed “Sri Rukminisha Vijaya” in 19 cantos and presented it to the sabha. The entire sabha unanimously agreed that this was a literary work par excellence! Even the title “Sri Rukminisha Vijaya” was more auspicious than “Sishupala Vadha”. The manuscript was taken on an elephant in a procession round the city. Sri Vadiraja was duly honoured as the best amongst the poets. 
Sri Vadiraja Tirtha reached Pandharpur. He visited the famous Vittala temple and stayed there for a few days. Nearby was a field where lentils were sown. The owner of the field noticed a white horse entering the field and grazing. He tried to chase it away. After grazing it went into the Math premises where Vadiraja was staying. The landlord came to the Math and complained to Vadiraja that his horse had eaten and destroyed his crop. Sri Vadiraja told him that he did not own any horse but the landlord was not convinced. Vadiraja realised that it was none other than Lord Hayagriva himself who had visited the field and asked the landlord to go to the field the next day and especially check the places where the horse had grazed. When the landlord did so, he was surprised. Wherever the horse had grazed, he found golden lentils in place of the consumable lentils. He surrendered to Vadiraja and gifted the land to the Math.
Sri Vadiraja Tirtha composed many stotras and contributed to the Haridasa (Bhakti) movement. He authored many philosophical texts, both in Sanskrit and Kannada. Vadiraja Tirtha introduced the Paryaya system at Udupi Sri Krishna temple and also consecrated Sri Manjunatha (Shiva-linga) at Dharmasthala. Sri Vadiraja Tirtha entered the Brindavan alive after living a full 120 years.
“Jnananandamayam Devam Nirmala Spatikakrithim, Adharam Sarva Vidyanam Hayagrivam Upasmahe!”

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Raksha Bandhan – Significance

Raksha Bandhan is a day on which sisters tie the sacred thread (rakhi) on the wrist of their brothers. A sense of responsibility, well-being, bonding between family members, sharing, etc., is inculcated into the family members through the ritual of raksha-bandhan. The ritual not only stands for the health, wealth, prosperity, happiness and long life for the brother, but it also represents the brother’s commitment to protect the honour and dignity of the sister.

However, in its larger perspective, “Rakhi” is known as “Raksha Sutra” (thread for protection). The day chosen, who ties the raksha-sutra, and to whom, etc., depends on the occasion and the purpose. The raksha-sutra is first placed at the altar of the Lord. It is sanctified by prayerfully invoking the Lord’s Grace and Blessings. It is then tied round the wrist of the individual.

The raksha-sutra is used to invoke the Lord’s blessings for protection from all dangers, harms, calamities etc. Usually, after invoking the Lord’s blessings, the sacred thread, is tied round the concerned individual by the priest or the eldest in the family. By tying the raksha-sutra round the wrist of relatives, friends and well-wishers it also encourages a sense of oneness and harmony in the society.

In almost all puja-sankalpas and vratas undertaken, during celebrations like marriage, namakarana, grihapravesha etc., tying of raksha-sutra is mandatory. The raksha-sutra symbolizes the sacred bonding between the individual (jivatma) and the Lord (Paramatma). The sanctified raksha-sutra is tied round his wrist with appropriate chants and rituals. In this case it is called “kankana”. The individual is “kankana-baddha”, meaning committed to his sankalpa or vow. When the sankalpa or vow is fulfilled, the “kankana-visarjana” (removing the thread round the wrist) is carried out with specific chants. The colour (red, yellow, black, etc) of the thread depends upon the sankalpa. Undertaking a sankalpa or vow demands discipline and earnest self-effort on the part of the individual. The thread or sutra or kankana itself represents the SANKALPA or VOW. It is a TAPAS, whether undertaken for one’s own self or for someone else. It is a reminder that the wearer should constantly engage himself or herself in noble and purposeful activities ensuring the well-being and welfare of everyone around including himself or herself.

The use of Raksha-Sutra or Rakhi goes back to the Puranic age. On the Poornima (full moon) day of Sravana, Goddess Lakshmi pleased with the hospitality of Bali Chakravarti’s tied the “raksha-sutra” round his wrist; and the divine couple, Sri Lakshmi Narayana bestowed upon him their grace and blessings. Hence the tradition of women tying the “raksha-sutra” not only to brothers, but to all their well-wishers, wishing them happiness, health, plenty and prosperity, and they in turn promise to protect the dignity of their mothers, sisters and daughters. Also, during Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya Yagna, Draupadi tore a part of her vastra and tied it round Lord Krishna’s finger which was injured and bleeding because of the sharp edges of the revolving Sudarshana Chakra which had just killed the evil Sishupala. The Lord reciprocated by protecting her with “akshaya vastra” in the Kaurava court. Therefore, Raksha Bandhan also represents Sri Krishna protecting Draupadi who considered the Lord as her brother.

O, Adimoola (Primordial One)! thou art my ANGA-RAKSHA (My Sole Protector & Saviour)! Lord of Sree, thou alone art my JIVA-RAKSHA (Protector of Life)! Purushottama, the consort of Bhudevi, thou art my BHUMI-RAKSHA (Protector from Terrestrial Calamities)! Lord who reclines on the vast ocean is my JALA-RAKSHA (Protector from Water Calamities)! Yagna-murthi, in the form of the sacrificial fire, thou art my AGNI-RAKSHA (Protector from Fire Calamities), Lord of Hanuman, the son of Vayu, thou art my VAYU-RAKSHA (Protector from Air Calamities)! Vishnu, the All-pervading One, who measured space with His lotus foot, thou art my AKASHA-RAKSHA (Protector from Spacial Calamities)! Lord of Venkatadri thou art my SARVA-RAKSHA (my All-in-all Protector)! The kirtan can also be interpreted as: “the Lord who supports, nurtures and nourishes the BEINGS in the form of the Elements of Nature – Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Space” ~ Sri Annamacharya (Poet-Saint).

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Devi Karpagambal of Mayil-puri!

Lord Brahma, the Creator had five heads and therefore he considered himself to be superior to Lord Shiva. Once when he went to Kailasa, he disrespected Lord Shiva. To teach him a lesson, Lord Shiva plucked off one of the head of Brahma and made the skull (kapala) into his begging bowl. Lord Brahma realized his mistake and undertook severe penance to atone for his mistake in a place called Shukra-puri (Shukracharya performed penance here and regained his lost eye) or Veda-puri (Vedas worshipped Lord Shiva here). Brahma installed a Shiva-linga over there and named it “Kapaleeswara.”

Parvati once asked Lord Shiva to explain to her the importance of the “Shiva Panchakshara”: Na Ma Si Va Ya which can be spelt in the reverse order also as Si Va Ya Na Ma! The Lord started explaining to her the significance of the mantra. However, Parvati’s attention got diverted to a flock of peacocks dancing beautifully. Her mind got carried away. Shiva was annoyed at her attitude and cursed her to become a peahen. She was ordered to go down to bhu-loka and perform tapas to redeem herself of the curse. Parvati came to Veda-puri and performed severe penance in the form of a pea-hen under a Punnai tree. After years of penance, Lord Shiva granted her darshan and she regained back her original form. The place became known as Mayura-puri (Mayura means peacock). Later the place came to be known as Mylapore, in Chennai.

Parvati after regaining her most beautiful and enchanting form decided to make Mayura-puri her abode along with Sri Kapaleeswara for the sake of devotees. She is known as Karpagambal (Karpagam: Wish-yielding tree and Amba: Mother). She stands there to fulfill all the wishes of her devotees. Lord Karthikeya prayed to Sri Karpagambal over here before fighting with Surapadma, and she blessed him and gave the sacred Sakti-Vel to him.  

Sivanesa Chettiar was a wealthy tradesman residing in Mylapore. He was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He had a beautiful daughter by name Poompavai. One day while plucking flowers in the garden she died by a snake bite. The grieving father collected the ashes of her dead body and preserved it in a pot and waited for the great Saint Thirugnanasambandhar to come to Mylapore. When the Saint came to Mylapore, Chettiar met Thirugnanasambandhar and told him of his daughter’s demise. He pleaded with him to restore her back to life.

Thirugnanasambandhar prayed to Lord Kapaleeswara and Devi Karpagambal. Thirugnanasambandhar addressed the pot of ashes, “O Poompavai! The very purpose of human birth in this world is to be of service to the Lord and his devotees, and to witness the grand utsavam of Lord Kapaleeswara. If this be true, arise in the presence of all. Do you want to go away without witnessing the Lord’s utsavam?” The great Saint then sang the glories of the Lord and when he had just completed the tenth verse, Poompavai rose up from the ashes as though she had woken up from sleep! Everyone gathered there were overwhelmed at the grace of Lord Kapaleeswara and Sri Karpagambal and the greatness of Thirugnanasambandhar.

“O Devi Karpagambika, residing in the sacred kshetra of Mayil-puri (Mylapore)! You are the embodiment of Sat-Chit-Ananda! Pray, cast your divine compassionate glance on thy devotee!”

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