Sunday 11 February 2024

The Audacious Boatman

“Hey, Kevat, get ready with your boat. You must ferry my dear friend, his wife, and his brother across the Ganga,” called out the tribal king Guha.

The boatman Kevat waited quietly until the passengers were close to the boat. Then, in a loud voice, looking straight at Rama, he shouted:

“Stop! I will not let you enter the boat unless you agree to my condition!”

“What do you want?” came the calm query.

“I will let you to step into the boat only after I’ve washed your feet and completely removed all the dust sticking to them!”

“Why this strange condition?”

“Well, I’ve heard weird stories about you, and now, I’m worried for my well-being. They say that when the dust of your feet fell on a stone, that stone turned into a woman called Ahalya! How do I know that the same dust will not turn my boat into another woman? I can’t take this risk, I’m a poor man and already finding it difficult to make ends meet – I don’t have the means to provide for another mouth!”

Lakshmana frowned in anger, ready to take on the boatman, but Rama and Sita only looked at each other and smiled knowingly at Kevat.

“OK, have it your way,” agreed Rama before Lakshmana could object.

Kevat brought water from the Ganga and washed those holy feet with loving care, quite in contrast to the harshness of his words.

Condition fulfilled, his passengers made their way into the boat.

Excitedly, Kevat called out to his wife and children, and all other people standing around.

“Hurry up, what are you waiting for? Here, sprinkle this holy water on your heads and be blessed forever!”

The boat set off across the Ganga, and soon, Kevat brought his passengers to their destination. Rama had nothing to give him as payment for the trip, and glanced at Sita. Understanding her lord’s predicament, she pulled the gold ring off her finger and handed it to him.

With a sweet smile, Rama held out the ring to Kevat.

“Thank you for ferrying us across the river. Here, take this as payment for your service.”

Kevat stood with his arms across his chest, refusing to accept the gift. When Rama insisted, he said:

“I cannot accept payment from someone who belongs to my profession!”

Outraged, Lakshmana burst out before Rama could intervene.

“How dare you! I tolerated your nonsense before, but now you’re going too far. You, a mere boatman, how do you have the audacity to pull my brother, the Chakravarti Ramachandra, to your petty level! I’ll take care of you!”

Restraining Lakshmana, Rama smiled at Kevat.

“What are you trying to say, my dear man? How can you say we belong to the same profession?”

“My Lord, I am an ordinary boatman, taking passengers merely across the Ganga. But aren’t You that extraordinary boatman who ferries souls across the bhavasaagara, the ocean of this samsaara? ”

An insignificant boatman had understood the secret that far more sophisticated people fail to recognize!

In the Mukunda Mala stotra, Kulashekhara Azhwar sings:

भव जलधि गतानां द्वन्द्व वात आहतानां
सुत दुहितृ कलत्र त्राण भार अर्दितानाम् |
विषं विशय तोये मज्जताम् अप्लवानां
भवतु शरणम् एको विष्णुपोतो नराणाम् ११

bhava-jaladhi-gatānāṁ dvandva-vātāhatānāṁ
viṣama-viṣaya-toye majjatām aplavānāṁ
bhavati śaraṇam eko viṣṇu-poto narāṇām

Travelling in this sea of birth and death,
Being tossed hither and thither ,
By the cyclone of love and hate,
Carrying the heavy care,
Of son , daughter and wife ,
And being drowned ,
In this troublesome sea of attachments,
The only boat to save us is our Lord Vishnu

Let us pray that Shri Rama bless us with the simple yet deep faith of Kevat!


Monday 5 February 2024

The One who Tasted the Lord!

A young boy ran into the Srirangam temple, yelling from afar to catch the Bhattar’s attention.

“Swamin, come fast, everyone is waiting for you at the Aryabhatta Gate!”

“What happened? Why the hurry?”

“Some people have come from Tirupati, carrying an utsava murthy looking just like ours! And they’re calling him AzhagiyamanavAzhan and claiming that He is the Lord of Srirangam!”

Bhattar and the boy rushed to the site of the pandemonium. A clash of words had broken out between the visitors – the Kodavar family of Tirupati, and the residents of Srirangam.

“We have our utsava murthy, our ThiruarangumAzhagiAr here already. Who is this Lord whom you bring?” thundered the Srirangam side.

“Sixty years ago, the Srivaishnavas from Srirangam were fleeing from the Mughal invaders. At the risk of their lives, they brought AzhagiyamanavAzhan to us, and all these years, we protected Him. Now that the danger of the invaders has passed, we wish Him to be installed in His rightful home!” came the firm reply from the Kodavar family members.

Everyone looked to Bhattar for the solution, but he was equally clueless. The issue was taken to the king.

“Look all over the kingdom! Find anyone who was living in those days during the Mughal invasion!” ordered the king. “Let us see if we can ascertain the truth of this claim.”

News spread of this strange turn of events.

An old washerman of the Srirangam temple tottered towards Bhattar.

“I was a young boy during the Mughal invasion. I can help you find out which is the original utsava murthy.”

“You! But you are blind! You can’t even see the form of the Lord!”

The old washerman explained his plan. Preparations were made at once. 

Thirumanjanam (ritualistic bath of the Lord) was performed to both the utsava murthys. 

The devotees waited with bated breath. 

Water was wrung out of the clothes of the two utsavar murthys. 

Bhattar offered this thirumanjana teertham of the newly arrived murthy AzhagiyamanavAzhan to the blind old washerman.

No sooner did he swallow it, then the old man sang out in ecstasy.

“NamPerumal! This is our Perumal!" 

"Are you sure?" asked a few doubting voices.

"Yes, I'm sure! All those years ago, before the Mughal invasion, everyday, my father  used to give me the tirumanjana theertham of the Lord. Today, I recognize that same old taste in the teertham of this murthy!" cried the blind old washerman.

After sixty long years, the Lord’s original utsava murthy had finally returned home.

And that is why till today inside the sannidhi, we have the rare sight of two utsava murthys being worshipped.

Image and information:

How great is the glory of this old washerman's devotion that he could not see the Lord, but he could taste Him!

In honour of his invaluable service, the washerman was given the name “Eeram Kolli” – which means “the one who recognized wetness”.

This incident brings to light how devotion can make even a blind man “see”.

But equally, important, it opens our eyes to the enormous efforts our ancestors took and the sacrifices they made to protect our Sanatana Dharma.

The least we can offer in homage is to lead our lives according to the teachings of that Sanatana Dharma.

Monday 29 January 2024

How the Banana Leaf Got its Form

The battle of Lanka had ended.

Ravana had been killed.

Vibheeshana had been installed on the throne of Lanka.

He had requested Rama to stay in Lanka for some time, but his offer had been politely declined.

The Lord was in a hurry to return home, because the 14 years of vanavaasa were getting over the next day, and the desperate Bharata was waiting anxiously for the return of his dear brother.

Bharata had even taken a vow that if Rama did not return on the promised day, he would jump into the fire and give up his very life!

Now Rama and Seeta along with Sugreeva, Hanuman, Vibheeshana, and hundreds of vanaras were in the Pushpaka Vimana, hurrying to Nandigrama.

Why Nandigrama? Why not Ayodhya?

Because Nandigrama is where the devout Bharata had installed the Rama padukas in whose name he was supervising the kingdom’s administration.


As the Pushpaka Vimana passed by the ashrama of Rishi Bharadwaja, the revered sage invited Rama to visit. Every moment was precious because dear Bharata was waiting, but how to refuse the hospitality of the great seer?

Rama found a way out.

He accepted the rishi’s invitation, but sent Hanuman to Nandigrama, to console Bharata with the news of their imminent arrival, and to explain the reason for the slight delay.

Yet again, Hanuman played messenger. Task completed, he returned to the sage’s ashrama.

Everyone had sat down to lunch, but there was no place for Hanuman, so he was told to please wait, and eat with the next batch.

Would Rama be able to bear this situation? No way!

He beckoned Hanuman to come and sit opposite Him. Using His nail, the Lord of Vaikuntha drew a line along the middle of the banana leaf, inviting His dear devotee to share His meal in the same leaf! That nail which had once destroyed the evil Hiranyakashipu to protect one devotee Prahlada, now became an instrument to create yet another example of the Lord’s affection for this devotee, Anjaneya!


Until then, it is said, the banana leaf was one big leaf without any partition. Thanks to the line drawn by Lord Rama for Hanuman, we now have the typical pattern of the banana leaf with a prominent midrib separating a single leaf into two distinct parts.

This event is described by Tirumangai Azhwar in his composition, the Periya Tirumozhi as he prays to Lord Ranganatha, begging Him to shower this same grace on him!

The Lord of the entire Universe, performed the action of “Sahabhojanam” – sharing His meal – with a mere vanara! How great is His love for His bhaktas! Can we ever manage to sufficiently praise this quality of the Lord – the gunam of “soulabhyam” – the quality of being easily accessible to one and all!

He stayed in a tent for decades, content with the home given to Him, blessing all of us, nonetheless. Today as He is housed in a grand structure and accorded all the respects and glory due to Him, He continues to smile and bestow that same benevolent gaze and grace on all of us.

Jai Shree Ram! Jai Siya Ram!

Sunday 8 October 2023

How to Win Over the Lord?

The fighting was at its peak in the Kurukshetra war. Dronacharya had just been killed, and his son Ashwatthama was in a rage. In his fury, desperate to wipe out the Pandava army, he hurled the most powerful weapon in his arsenal – the Narayanaastra.

More dangerous that either the Brahmaastra or the Pashupataastra, this Narayanaastra made the sky dark, and a strong wind ripped through the battlefield. Against the darkness, thousands of chakras, gadhas, arrows and other weapons appeared like lightning in the sky, ready to rain death on the Pandava side.

The Pandavas, as always, turned to their one and only refuge Krishna, for guidance.

He knew that astraa too well, for, didn’t it bear His name?

“All of you throw down all your weapons! Remove the tiniest thought of resisting the weapon from your minds! Fall to the ground in surrender to the weapon!” came His strange order.

Unresisting, all of the Pandava army immediately obeyed the order. And what a surprise! The weapons hovering in the sky began to slowly disappear.

But suddenly, there was a rain of arrows from the sky on the pandava Bhima.


Because he held his gadha (mace) high, unbending, challenging the might of the Narayanaastra.

As always, Krishna stepped in to save the situation. 

He pulled Bhima to the ground and forced him to bow his head and fold his hands in prayer.

Immediately, the sky cleared, the sun shone bright again, and all the weapons from the sky disappeared.

Ashwatthama was stunned. The most powerful weapon in his arsenal had failed against the Pandavas!

What was the reason?

The Narayanaastra is the weapon of Lord Narayana. It is indeed the most powerful weapon in the world. Yet, there is something stronger than that, something that renders even the Lord powerless.

Sharanaagati. Surrender.

When we surrender to the Lord, He becomes powerless.

No longer is He able to look at our doshas (faults) and our papas (sins).

Karuna floods His heart, and He forgives all and accepts us unconditionally.

The gesture of prayer with hands folded in supplication is called “Anjali mudra”.

“Am jalayati iti anjalihi” – that which makes the Lord melt, is anjali.

Rishi Bharadwaja says

“Anjalihi parama mudra, kshipram deva prasaadini”

“The anjali is the best of all gestures and speedily secures on us the loving favour of the Lord”

Let us make it a practice to offer the anjali mudra to the Lord, and surely He will grace us with His blessings.

And perhaps with His grace, if we are able to surrender unresistingly when people of this world rain down the weapons of their angst  on us, maybe our lives will also become easier!

Sunday 1 October 2023

The Most Expensive Fruit

 “Tasty juicy naagapalam! Come and buy my nectarine naagapalam!”

Krishna was thrilled to hear the familiar call of the fruit-seller of Gokul. Always, Father Nandagopan would buy his son’s favourite jamun fruit from this lady. Today, he was too busy with other work and so, he instructed little Krishna to handle the business himself.

“Run to the backyard, Kanna, and bring some grains to give the fruit-seller. In return, she will give you as many fruits as you want!”

Baby Krishna sped to the backyard and dipped both His tiny hands into the sack of grains. In a hurry to savour His favourite fruits, He ran with the grains in His cupped hands to the courtyard of the house, unaware that most of the grain was spilling to the ground.

Finally reaching the fruit-seller, with a huge flourish, He emptied whatever little grain was in His hands into her fruit basket.

“Give me the naagapalam, Grandma!” He demanded.

“Oh, I will, but only if You give me something in return,” said the old woman with a calculating look on her face.

“But I already gave you the grains that my father said I should give!” complained little Krishna.

Gesturing for the little boy to step closer, lowering her voice conspiratorially, the fruit-seller voiced her very specific demand.

“Grant me moksha, and I will give you the naagapalam that You so love!” she whispered.

Krishna blinked His eyes in surprise. Never in the history of His entire creation had anyone made such an outrageous demand!

“Naagapalam in exchange for moksha!! Do you think moksha comes so cheap, Grandma?” He asked, a tender smile tugging at the corners of His lips. “Besides, how do you know that I can grant you moksha?”

“Don’t think that You can fool me with Your sweet words, O Lord! When You were emptying the grains from Your tiny hands into my basket, I glanced at Your palms. You think I didn’t see the sign of the chakra on Your right palm and the shankha on Your left palm? I may be old, but I’m smart enough to know what that means!”

“Well, what does it mean, Grandma?”

“That You are the Lord Srimannarayana Himself who has descended from Srivaikuntha! Now tell me, do you think I’m foolish enough to lose this opportunity to get the coveted prize of moksha from You?”

“You have won my heart, Grandma! Ok, done! Your wish for moksha is granted!”

And so it came to pass that an unlettered, simple old fruit vendor of Gokula attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death to gain eternal service of the Lord in Srivaikuntham.

That which eludes the great jnanis poring over the Vedas and Upanishads, the great yogis engaged in arduous penance and the deities like Brahma and Indra with all their opulence, was attained by this innocent fruit-seller of Gokula. 


By the sheer force of her love for the Lord!

Can we learn to foster such love for Him in our hearts, too?

Note: This narration is based on an account of this episode in Part 378 of the Srimad Bhagavatam series of Sri U. Ve. Velukkudi Krishnan Swamy. I'm assuming it is based on the Azhwars' (Tamil saints') experience of the Lord's leelas, because in the actual text of the Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 10.11.11), the story is that in exchange for the fruits, Krishna filled the fruit seller's basket with jewels and gold. However, for the true bhakta, it is moksha that is the ultimate desire, and not any worldly jewel or gold!

Sunday 24 September 2023

The Blemishless Luggage of Bharata

All arrangements were finally in place. Bharata stepped forward to receive the blessings of his parents and Guru Vasistha before embarking on the journey to Kekaya desha, the land of his maternal uncle. Just as he finished paying his obeisance, there was a slight commotion.

Shatrughna stood in front of all the elders, with a bowed head and folded hands.

“Please grant me too your blessings,” he requested softly.

“Why? Where are you off to?” demanded the Guru.

“I’m accompanying Bharata on his journey.”

“But we have not taken you into consideration while finding the auspicious day for travel! Today was a good day as per Bharata’s horoscope. Now, if you are going along, we will have to check the charts to see if today is the right time for you to travel!”

In a soft voice full of conviction, Shatrughna replied.

“With all due respects to the Guru, I would like to ask if the rules demand that a prince check the horoscope of the luggage he carries along on the journey?”

Everyone was confused, but Guru Vasistha nodded his approval and let young Shatrughna proceed with Bharata on the journey.

Such was the humility of Shatrughna that he considered himself as nothing more than a piece of luggage that would accompany Bharata!!

Shatrughna with flowers, ready to serve!

"GacchatA mAtula kulam BharatEna saha anagha:
ShatrughnO nitya ShatrughnO neeta: preeti puraskrita:"

In this shloka, Sage Valmiki says that Shatrughna was “taken” by Bharata to his maternal uncle’s kingdom, and it gives us a glimpse into how completely the younger brother had surrendered to the elder one, that he was no more an entity than a piece of luggage in the entourage traveling with Bharata!

When Bharata brought the padukas of Lord Rama, and installed them at Nandigram, refusing to enter Ayodhya till his brother returned from vanavaasa, it was the devout Shatrughna who managed all the activities of administration and took care of the welfare of the mothers, on behalf of Bharata.

The Srivaishnava acharyas draw our attention to how, if Lakshmana was steeped in “Bhagavad-bhakti” (devotion to Lord Rama), Shatrughna was immersed in “Bhaagavata-bhakti” (devotion to the Lord’s devotee, Bharata).

The name Shatrughna indicates that he was a destroyer of enemies. Sure, Rama and Lakshmana destroyed many rakshasas, but except for one Lavanasura, there is no description of any other enemies killed by Shatrughna. Then why this name for him?

The aachaaryaas explain that this was because he had destroyed those dangerous inner enemies – kaama, krodha, lobha, moha, madha and maatsarya – the six foes of lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride and jealousy.

The shloka mentioned above also refers to Shatrughna as “anagha” – the one without a blemish. The aachaaryaas explain that this indicates that he was free from the fault of “Raama-bhakti”!

Isn’t it blasphemous to say so?

No, comes the vociferous reply from the aachaaryaas. Shatrughna’s whole life revolved around service to Bharata – service of the Lord’s devotee. In this scenario, “Bhagavad-bhakti” would be an unnecessary diversion that would interfere in his performance of “Bhaagavata-bhakti”.

The Lord is full of divine qualities. Serving Him and practising devotion to Him is therefore not very difficult. But the devotee of the Lord, who is as human as you and me, being able to serve him is not as easy and therefore, truly a test of our devotion.

Can we try to inculcate the spirit of Shatrughna, work on destroying our inner enemies, and try to be of service to those who are bhaktas of the Lord?

Sunday 17 September 2023

Providing for the Provider

Swami Ramanuja frowned. Something was wrong. Lord Ranganatha did not have His usual radiant look. He looked quite dull, almost ill.

Swami questioned the priest about the prasadam that had been offered to the Lord that day.

“Daddojanam” came the reply, indicating that curd-rice had been the offering.

“And? Anything else?” persisted the great Acharya

“Oh, I forgot! Yes, we also offered Him a few of His favourite Nagapalam fruits!” indicating that the jambhul or Indian blackberry fruit had been fed to the Lord.

Swami Ramanuja was upset.

“No wonder Ranganathar looks ill! The combination of daddojanam and nagapalam must have given Him a cold!”

Immediately the Acharyar sent for the vaidya (physician) and instructed him to prepare a kashayam (herbal decoction) for the Lord!

Only after the kashayam had been offered, and the Lord had regained His usual bright look did Swami Ramanuja leave the temple!

It was time for the Lord’s evening worship. Nadadoor Varadaguru waited inside the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the Varadaraja temple at Kanchipuram. The priest hurried in with milk to offer to the Lord.

Suddenly, Varadaguru moved forward and snatched the vessel from the priest’s hands. The priest was shocked at this sacrilege, but before he could give words to his ire, a strange sight met his eyes.

Tears were streaming down the face of Varadaguru!

In a trembling voice, Varadaguru questioned the priest, “How can you give such hot milk to the Lord? Will it not burn His tender tongue?”

As Varadaguru proceeded to fan the milk to cool it down, a divine voice called out.


Both the priest and Varadaguru looked up in surprise.

Moved by the vaatsalya (motherly love) of Varadaguru, it was Lord Varadaraja Himself who had lovingly called out like a child to it’s mother!

And ever since that day, the devout Nadadoor Varadaguru came to be known as Nadadoor Ammal.

We pray to the Lord for all kinds of help. We are always seeking this and that from Him.

Have we ever thought of caring for His needs?

That Supreme Lord has left all the comforts of Vaikuntha and descended to this earth to bless us. That One who is the Master of the Universe resides in the place we create for Him – whether in the temple or in our tiny pooja room – ready to accept whatever we offer Him.

What do we feed Him every day? 

Do we feed Him every day?

In the Bhagavad Geeta (3.13), Lord Krishna says,

यज्ञशिष्टाशिन: सन्तो मुच्यन्ते सर्वकिल्बिषै: |
भुञ्जते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात् ||

yajña-śhiṣhṭāśhinaḥ santo muchyante sarva-kilbiṣhaiḥ
bhuñjate te tvaghaṁ pāpā ye pachantyātma-kāraṇāt

The spiritually-minded, who eat food that is first offered in sacrifice, are released from all kinds of sin. Others, who cook food for their own enjoyment, verily eat only sin.

Let us cook with the consciousness that it is for the Lord’s pleasure.

Let us offer what we cook to Him first and then consume it as His prasadam, with gratitude for all He has given us.

When we do this consistently, surely the Lord will bless us with the ability to experience Him as a living presence in our life with the same bhaava as Swami Ramanuja and Nadadoor Ammal.