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Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 15: The Lord Preferred his Bhakti over Scholarliness: Poonthanam

Born in 1547 in Keezhattoor in Mallapuram region, Poonthanam was a devotee of Lord Guruvayurappan from a very young age. 

After many years of marriage, and long and arduous prayers to the Lord, his wife gave birth to a boy. On the child’s 1st birthday, however, the little one fell into the boiling rice and died. 

The inconsolable Poonthanam cried with agony at the feet of Guruvayurappan and the Lord Himself consoled him by lying in his lap for just a moment, like Poonthanam’s son. From that day on, Poonthanam began looking on the Lord as his own son, spent all his time reading the Bhagavatham, and composing poems and other writings praising the Lord’s glories. Most of his writing was in chaste Malayalam, since Poonthanam wasn’t well-versed in Sanskrit. 

Image courtesy: My Words and
Once, he wanted some help with his poetic work called Sri Krishna Karnamrutham and approached Melpattur Narayanan Bhattathiri, who was considered one of the greatest poets who wrote in Sanskrit, famous for his book called Naaraayaneeyam. However, the great man refused to help Poonthanam, saying he had nothing to do with compositions in Malayalam.

No sooner had he turned away Poonthanam, than he began suffering from severe pain in the joints. That night, Lord Guruvayurappan appeared in Melpattur’s dream. He declared, "To me, Poonthanam's bhakti is greater than your vibhakti (expert grammar). What you consider the lowly writing of Poonthanam is Malayalam, is dearer to me than your so-called great writings in Sanskrit!”

Once every month, Poonthanam would walk about 100 kilometres to have darshan of his beloved Guruvayurappan. On one such trip, he was attacked by robbers who snatched his ring and whatever money he had. Seeing him fiercely clutching a small bag, they wanted that too, thinking it contained some valuables. Poonthanam begged them to leave it alone, saying it only contained the Bhagavatam book that he used to read from everyday; but the robbers didn’t believe him. Helpless against their attack, Poonthanam loudly cried out, chanting the Lord’s Name, begging His help to protect his treasure.

A man who was passing by on horseback fought the robbers singlehandedly and got back Poonthanam’s money and ring, and also ensured no damage was done to the holy Bhagavatam. The man said he was the King’s minister, and guided Poonthanam to the temple. In gratitude, Poonthanam gifted his ring to the minister.

That night, the chief priest at the Guruvayurappan temple dreamt that the Lord told him, “You’ll find a ring on my murti tomorrow. Give it to my devotee Poonthanam who will come there.” He did exactly as bidden, and Poonthanam was shocked to realize that it was his dear Guruvayurappan who had come in the minister’s guise to help His humble devotee!

Poonthanam composed many poems in Malayalam and later, also in Sanskrit. He is best known for a composition called Jnanappana, which can be translated to mean ‘Song of Divine Wisdom’. In simple Malayalam, that even a commoner can follow, this text expounds the greatness of Namajapa – chanting the Lord’s Name. So popular is its appeal among the masses that it is sometimes termed the Malayalam Bhagavad Geeta! 

Quote courtesy:

Stories abound of the miracles wrought by Lord Guruvayurappan in Poonthanam’s life. This just goes to show that the Lord always takes care of those who surrender themselves to His lotus feet.

Can we try to start surrendering ourselves to the Lord, little by little at least, even if we cannot attain Poonthanam’s heights of surrender?

Can we stop trying to control everything around us, wanting things to go exactly as per our plan, and find joy in adapting to changing circumstances, accepting it as God’s will?


Monday, 30 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 14: Brother Gopal

Subala was a widow, living alone with her young son Gopal. She spun yarn on her spinning wheel and did odd jobs for other people, somehow eking out a living, all the time praying to her beloved Sri Krishna, singing his bhajans and chanting His name.

Soon, Gopal was old enough to be educated, so Subala got him admitted to the village school. Full of enthusiasm, Gopal set out for his first day of school. The path took him through a dense forest and as he walked deeper inside, the darkness and eerie sounds he heard scared him very much. Heart racing, he ran and ran till finally, he reached the school.

The teacher was good, and Gopal being a bright kid, could grasp all the lessons. He made some friends too, and they had great fun playing together. By late afternoon, it was time to go back home.

As evening fell, the forest became even scarier for little Gopal, but he somehow managed to run all the way home. Subala hugged him as soon as he entered, but before she could ask any questions, Gopal burst into tears and blurted, “Ma! I’m not going to school tomorrow!”

Shocked, Subala slowly drew the whole story out of Gopal. The school was fine; it was walking through the forest that scared him. “I’ll go to school only if someone comes with me, Ma!” was his ultimatum.

Poor Subala had no one to help. She couldn’t go herself for then, how would she earn her living? Desperate, she turned to her only source. Praying to Krishna to help her and Gopal, she went to bed.

The next morning, Gopal again flatly refused to go to school! “Get ready soon, Gopal. Your older brother is waiting to go with you!” she announced. Gopal was surprised. Who was this elder brother? Where did he live? How would he know where to come? Would he really come? With unwavering faith, Subala told Gopal, “Your brother is also called Gopal. He lives in the forest, and he will surely come ...all you need to do is call him when you feel afraid.”

Reassured, Gopal left for school. As soon as he entered the forest he called, “Brother Gopal! Where are you? Come to me!”

The next moment, Gopal heard the jingling of cowbells, and a boy little older than him, came, leading a few cows. “Come, little Gopal, Ma told me you would come. Let me take you to school!” 

Image courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha
Talking, laughing, playing, the two boys happily crossed the forest. The same thing happened on the way back. That night, Gopal was full of stories of his ‘Brother Gopal’ who wore a beautiful peacock feather in his headband, and Subala had tears in her eyes, grateful that her prayers had been heard.

This continued for a few days and then, it was the day of Guru Pournima, the day to honor the teacher. Gopal’s friends all spoke about costly gifts they would take for the teacher, and poor Gopal knew he would have nothing. When he asked his mother, she told him, “Ask your Brother Gopal, I’m sure he will arrange something.”

Brother Gopal gave him a small pot of curds; everyone at school, including the teacher, sniggered at Gopal’s tiny gift. When the teacher began serving the curd, it was so delicious that everyone wanted second servings. Wonder of wonders! No matter how much curd was drawn from the pot, it kept getting replenished again and again and again!

The teacher asked Gopal where he got the curds from, and refused to believe when he said he had a big brother Gopal living in the forest. So little Gopal took him into the forest to show him and called out to Brother Gopal. Alas, no one showed up. Little Gopal burst into tears.

At that moment, a heavenly voice was heard. “Don’t cry, little brother Gopal! I’m here only, but visible only to those who are pure in mind, like you and your mother. Those who are impure in mind can never hope to see me!”

As we read this story, let us ask of ourselves – would we have been able to see ‘Brother Gopal’? 

As we go through our busy lives, how many times have we missed seeing ‘Brother Gopal’?

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 13: Rebel with a Cause: Atukuri Molla

Atukuri Kesanna Setti was a potter living in Gopavaram (a village near Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh). He and his wife were deeply devoted to Lord Srikantha Malleswara of Srisailam – a form of Lord Shiva. Around 1440, this devout couple was blessed with a girl baby whom they named Molla, which means ‘jasmine’ in Telugu.

Molla’s mother passed away when she was a young child, and she was brought up with great love by her father. Like him, she learned to pray to Lord Shiva, and considered Him her Guru. People of not just Gopavaram, but also the surrounding villages knew of Molla, and loved her for her generosity and kindness.

Raja Krishnadevaraya was the ruler in those times; and Tenali Ramakrishna was his famous court poet. Once, Tenali Raman passed negative remarks about a poet from Gopavaram, and it was considered an insult to the whole village. Taking up his words as a challenge, Molla claimed that she would compose the Ramayanam in Telugu in a mere five days. When Raman heard of her decision, he mocked her even more – saying someone of a low caste, and that too a woman, would never be able to achieve this task.

Sitting in her village temple, Molla began writing the Ramayanam, and by the Lord’s grace, finished it in exactly 5 days! Tenali Raman was humbled, and her village pride was restored! 

Postage stamp released in 2017 to commemorate Atukuri Molla
In those times, it was a custom to dedicate any composition to the King. But departing from tradition, Molla dedicated her work directly to Sri Rama Himself! Another common tradition was for the poet to write an introduction, speaking of his lineage, literary prowess, and the special features of his poetry; but all Molla wrote was a simple dedication to her father. 

Translation from book Women Writing in India; Edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha
The Molla Ramayanam has 138 shlokas, and focuses a lot on aspects of Sita’s life that are not treated in as much detail in other forms of the Ramayana.

Also, this work is written not in the literary style of those times, but in a language closer to the spoken Telugu because Molla believed that scriptures must be easy for common people to understand and appreciate.

As she grew more popular, Molla was invited to Raja Krishnadevaraya’s court to recite her Ramayana. She lived in Srisailam till the ripe old age of 90, spending time in her Lord’s worship.

Considering the social conditions of those times, Molla was nothing short of a rebel in her actions. But it’s important to understand that she was the right kind of rebel, who sought to make a positive change to society by her actions. Like Molla, can we try to do positive things never done before in our circles, and change things around us for the better?

Women Writing in India; Edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha available online

Saturday, 28 December 2019

MargazhiBlogotsavam: Day 12: The Lord became his weighing stone: Sadan Kasaai

Sadan was a butcher, but only because he belonged to that particular caste. His heart, however, was filled with compassion for all living beings. Forced to sell meat, he would purchase it from other vendors and sell in his shop; not once did he ever kill an animal himself. All through the day, whatever work he was doing, Sadan always had the name of Hari on his lips.
Image courtesy: Punjab Kesari

Once, walking by the riverbank, Sadan found a round, shiny black stone. He liked it so much that he brought it to his shop, and began using the stone as a substitute for a weight he had lost.

One day, a saint passed by Sadan’s shop and his eyes fell on the black stone. He immediately recognized it as a Shaligram (or Salagrama)! A Shaligram is a fossilized black stone, considered to be a form of Sri Vishnu, and worshipped in homes and temples. Upset at seeing the Lord in such impure conditions, the saint asked Sadan for the black stone. The compassionate Sadan immediately handed it over. 
Shaligram. Image courtesy: IndiaMart
Taking the Shaligram home, the saint cleaned and purified it, and worshipped it as per the prescribed rituals. That night, Sri Vishnu appeared in the saint’s dream, and said, “I’m feeling suffocated here. I miss the feel of Sadan’s gentle hands on me; I yearn to hear his voice talking kindly to the customers and repeating my name. Take me back to him at once!”

The next morning, the saint returned the Shaligram to Sadan and narrated everything. Sadan was full of remorse for having unknowingly defiled his Hari. He had never liked his profession; now he couldn’t bear to continue as a meat-seller anymore. Begging forgiveness of the Lord, taking his beloved Shaligram with him, Sadan left at once for the darshan of Lord Jagannath at Puri.

On the way, he sought shelter in a house. When all was quiet at night, the lady of the house came to Sadan with immoral intentions. Sadan prostrated at her feet, saying she was like his mother. She ran away and came back a few moments later with a sickle drenched in blood, crying, “I have cut off my husband’s head – now there is no barrier to our union!”

When Sadan continued to resist, she changed her tune. Crying loudly, she gathered all the neighbors and told them Sadan had killed her husband and tried to rape her. The crowd abused Sadan and beat him up; the King ordered that Sadan’s hands should be cut off as punishment for the crime. All through these events, Sadan was a calm spectator, trusting in his Hari, and continuing to chant His Name.

Even with blood gushing out of him, Sadan somehow covered the rest of the distance and reached Puri. Hari appeared in the dream of the Chief Panda (priest) of the Jagannath temple, and instructed, “My beloved devotee Sadan is coming to see me. He has lost both his hands and is lying unconscious outside the temple. Carry him into my presence at once!”

The priests found Sadan, revived him, and brought him into the temple. Hearing the bhajans being sung, Sadan tried to move the stumps of his hands, to clap to the rhythm. Lo and behold! Sadan’s missing arms reappeared! Crying tears of gratitude, he joined enthusiastically in the bhajan.

That night, Hari appeared in Sadan’s dream and told him, “In your last birth, you were a good Brahmin. Once a cow was escaping from the butcher and asked you for help. But you only put your arms around the cow, stopped her, and handed her over to the butcher. That cow was reborn as the woman you met, and that butcher became her husband. As punishment for your misdeed, you had to have your arms cut off.”

Sadan lived for long in Puri, singing and chanting Hari’s name till his last breath.

Like Sadan, can we learn to do even things we dislike with a smile and God’s name on our lips always?

When someone points out our mistakes, can we feel genuine remorse and try to change our behavior instead of justifying why we are right? 

Realizing that our difficulties are results of our actions in past lives, can we act appropriately at least in this life?

Can we learn to see God’s hand behind all that happens in our lives, and trust in Him to make things right?

Bhakt Charitank (Bhaktamal). Gita Press. Gorakhpur

Friday, 27 December 2019

MargazhiBlogotsavam: Day 11: The One Whom the Lord Traveled to Meet: Kurmadas

Kurmadas was a pious man who lived in Paithan of Maharashtra. Born a cripple, he could move only by rolling his body over the ground. One day he attended a kirtan where the preacher sang and narrated the glories of Lord Vitthal. Overcome with devotion, Kurmadas declared that he would go to Pandharpur and see the Lord.

People mocked him, saying, “We, who are in good health, have ourselves not been able to go to Pandharpur. How can you, with no hands and feet, ever reach there?” Their ridicule only made his resolve stronger. “If Vitthal so wishes, I will reach Him, if not, let me die trying,” he said. And off he went, crawling and rolling as well as he could, towards Pandharpur.

He traveled about 2 miles and when darkness fell, he rested in a Hanuman temple. Hungry, thirsty and bruised all over, he cried out to his Vitthal for help. A merchant came there shortly and they got talking. The merchant said he was also going to Pandhari (another name for Pandharpur) and they could go together. Kurmadas warned the merchant saying he would be very slow; the merchant replied that he would go at his pace, do his business on the way, and stop after 2 miles for Kurmadas to catch up and they could rest for the night, and be going again the next day.

Kurmadas agreed and the merchant dressed Kurma’s wounds and cooked food. They ate and went to sleep. The next morning, they began their journey and in the evening, they met up again. This routine went by and in a few days, they came to a place near Pandharpur called Lahul.

The next day was the auspicious Ashada Ekadashi. The merchant said, “If I wait for you, I may miss reaching Pandharpur in time for the darshan.” Kurmadas told him, “You have helped me enough all these days. You please go ahead. When you reach Pandharpur, tell Vitthal that a cripple named Kurmadas is coming to meet Him.”

The next morning, the merchant left, and Kurmadas sat where he was, singing bhajans of Vitthal, and telling all the passing pilgrims to remember him when they stood in front of the Lord.

Meanwhile, in Pandharpur, the bhajans started as usual in the temple.

All the devotees sang and danced, lost in chanting the Lord’s Name. One of the pilgrims remembered Kurma’s message, and told Vitthal, “Your bhakta Kurmadas is waiting for You in Lahul. He is a cripple and cannot come here fast enough.”

Hearing this, Vitthal started walking out of the temple; seeing this, Dnyaneshwar and Namdev followed him, and the Lord told them of Bhakta Kurmadas. The two saints also wanted to have the darshan of such a great devotee so they joined the Lord. On the way, they passed the fields of Savata Mali, and the Lord slipped inside without telling the two saints, because He wished to give that devotee His darshan, too.

In Lahul, Kurmadas sat thinking, chanting, and crying out Vitthal’s Name. Appearing in front of His crippled devotee, the Lord hugged him and held him on His lap.

“Ask me what you want, Kurma, and I will give it to you,” said Vitthal.

“Give me Your blessings, and never depart from this place,” is all that the joyous Kurmadas asked. 

Image courtesy: Wikipedia
Ever since Lahul is considered as sacred as Pandhari, and devotees make it a point to visit this place too where the yatra of Kurmadas is celebrated on the Ashada Ekadashi.

By the way, did you guess the identity of the merchant who had brought Kurmadas to Lahul, caring and cooking for him?

Are we, able-bodied people, like the ignorant villagers who ridiculed Kurmadas?

Can we learn from Kurmadas about how to not let obstacles come in the way of efforts to achieve our goal, however difficult they may seem?

Can we stop cribbing about our difficulties which are surely not as bad as being crippled?

Can we learn to see the good that happens to us, and find in that, the hand of God?


Thursday, 26 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 10: The One Whom Shiva Served: Vidyapati

Vidyapati, born in the Mithila region that spans parts of Bihar in India and Janakpur in Nepal, was a poet of great repute. He is also called ‘Maithil Kavi Kokil’ which means ‘poet cuckoo of Maithili’. His writings in Maithili and Sanskrit languages have had a great influence on the literature of Eastern India. In fact, his name itself indicates that he was a master (Pati) of knowledge (Vidya). 

Image courtesy: Bhagavatham Katha

Besides his love poems expressing the divine relationship of Krishna and Radha, Vidyapati is best known for his devotion to Lord Shiva which forms the theme of much of his poetry. Till today, his creations survive in the form of folk songs. There is one incident in particular that highlights Vidyapati’s bhakti. 

Once, a cowherd boy called Ugna came to Vidyapati and saying he was an orphan, pleaded for help. Reluctantly, Vidyapati employed him to take care of his cattle and do odd jobs around the house.

A few days later, Vidyapati had to participate in a royal event hosted by King Shivasimha, so he left for the capital city, taking Ugna with him. They passed through barren lands without even a drop of water and overcome by thirst, Vidyapati fainted. Ugna gave him some water and revived his master. Vidyapati felt the water tasted like Ganga-jal and demanded to know where Ugna had found it. The cat was out of the bag now! Ugna appeared in His original form, as Lord Shiva in front of Vidyapati. He had drawn water from his matted locks (jata) and that’s why it tasted like Ganga-jal!
Ugna Mahadev Temple
Image Courtesy: Bhartendu on Trell
Overwhelmed with happiness at seeing his Lord, Vidyapati fell at Ugna’s feet, who warned him to keep this a secret. If the truth was revealed, Ugna would go away forever. Even Sushila, the wife of Vidyapati wasn’t to know the truth.

When the Delhi ruler Allaudin Khilji imprisoned King Shivasimha, who was Vidyapati’s friend and patron, Vidyapati went to rescue him. Khilji set the condition that if Vidyapati won in a debate against his court-poet, Shivasimha would be released. But the debate had to be in Persian. With Ugna’s blessings, Vidyapati could create poetry even in a language he didn’t know! Defeating the Emperor’s poet, he got King Shivasimha released.

One day, Sushila got angry with Ugna for not doing some work correctly, and started hitting him. Unable to bear this torture of the Lord, Vidyapati blurted out the truth about Ugna’s identity. The next moment, Ugna disappeared from there! Mad with grief at losing the Lord, Vidyapati wandered here and there in search of Ugna. Finally he found Him in Nandanvana, but the Lord refused to return; however, He promised that He would help Vidyapati whenever required.

How deep must have been the affection of Vidyapati, if the Lord Himself wanted to live as his servant!

Can we learn to cultivate a bhakti as deep as this?

Even if we cannot draw the Lord towards us, can we at least learn to see Him in everyone around us, and let this realization dictate how we behave with them?


Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 9: For Whom the Lord Knocked at a Dancing Girl's House: Thondaradipodi Azhwar

Vipranarayana was born in Thirumandangudi, located near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. Well-versed in the Vedas, he would follow all the rituals of worship as prescribed and had decided to remain celibate, a Brahmachari. Every day, he would collect flowers from the garden he tended himself, and make a wonderful garland for Sri Ranganatha of Srirangam.

One day, two dancing girls passed by the garden while Vipranarayana was also there. Piqued by how he ignored them, the sisters argued with each other. Finally, the younger girl, Devadevi said, “I’m so beautiful and yet, he ignores me! I’m going to take this as a challenge, and make him feel attracted to me.”

Devadevi began dressing like a Vishnu devotee – yellow robes, gopichandan on the forehead and a tulasi mala around her neck. She began to visit the garden frequently and yet, Vipranarayana did not pay any special attention to her. One day, she intentionally got wet in the rain, and begged him for shelter inside his hermitage; on humane grounds, Vipranarayana agreed, and that proved to be his undoing! He was now bewitched by Devadevi and spent every possible moment in her company. Forgotten was the garden, the garland, and even Sri Ranganatha.

Now that Devadevi had won her challenge, there was nothing more in the relationship for her. She went back to her place, and when Vipranarayana followed her there, her mother drove him away, saying he could see Devadevi only if he brought money. Vipranarayana had nothing, and so, lamenting his fate, he went away.

The Lord had seen enough – he never forsakes His true devotees, and always finds some way of bringing them back to the right path.

The next moment, a man went to Devadevi’s house, saying he was Vipranaryana’s servant, and handing over a huge golden bowl, he said Vipranarayana had sent it. Pleased with the gift, Devadevi’s mother allowed Vipranarayana to meet Devadevi, without telling him the reason for her change of heart.

The next morning, the priest in the Srirangam temple found one of the golden bowls missing from the sanctum sanctorum. The information reached the king. Soon, through the maid working in Devadevi’s house, the word also reached him about the bowl being in Devadevi’s house. Vipranarayana was declared the thief and thrown in jail for having robbed the golden bowl.

Lying in the dark cell, Vipranarayana’s mind went over all the events that had unfolded. His eyes opened, and he wept tears of remorse, repenting his folly in getting enticed by Devadevi, ruing the fall that blinded him to Sri Ranganatha, crying at his sins of forgetting to worship and serve the Lord.

That’s all that Sri Ranganatha was waiting for. He appeared in the King’s dream and narrated the real story. Vipranarayana was his dearest devotee and innocent; it had all been the Lord’s doing. 

Tondaradipodi Azhwar Pic Courtesy:
Vipranarayana was released and the King begged his forgiveness. Overwhelmed by the kindness and mercy shown on him by the Lord, Vipranarayana sang songs full of bhakti, in praise of Ranganatha. Never again did he stray from his single-minded focus on the Lord. Not just the Lord, he took great pleasure in serving the Lord’s devotees too, and that gave him the name “Thondaradipodi Azhwar.” (Thondar=servant of God, Adi podi=dust at the feet of).

Thondaradipodi Azhwar is famous for his two compositions called Tirupalliezhucchi and Tirumaalai. Today, the day of the Jyeshtha nakshatram, is celebrated as his birth anniversary.

Through this story, can we learn to ignore worldly pleasures that divert the mind from God?

Can we see through the transient nature of all our cravings and not get carried away by them?

Can we make our devotion so strong that when we err, the Lord Himself feels moved to put us right?

Even if we cannot directly serve the Lord, can we serve those who serve Him, and thus, attain the Lord’s grace?


Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 8: Narsinh Mehta: Rescued by the Lord Himself

Narsinh (or Narsi) Mehta was born in 1414 and was brought up by his grandmother Jaykumari because his parents expired when he was very young. As a child, Narsinh couldn’t speak and this worried Jaykumari. Once, while returning from a discourse in the Shiva temple, she met a saint and told him of her worry. The saint sprinkled a little water onto Narsinh and whispered in his ears, “Say Radhakrishna.” At once, Narsinh repeated, “Radhakrishna!”

After this, Narsinh’s bhakti for Krishna grew day by day. He used to love to listen to His stories and would always be engrossed with people singing bhajans of Radhakrishna.
Image courtesy: Shri Mathura ji
Narsinh lived with his married brother and once, unable to bear the taunts of his sister-in-law, he went away to the Shiva temple inside the forest. For one whole week, he worshipped the Lord, without eating or drinking anything. Finally, he fell unconscious. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Shiva came there, and took Narsinh to Vrindavan to see Lord Krishna.

Narsinh then came back to his brother’s house and at once, fell at the feet of his sister-in-law, thanking her for driving him to leave home and ensuring he got Krishna’s darshan!

Narsinh used to be so lost in his bhakti that often, Krishna Himself would come to His devotee’s rescue. Such instances abound, but we’ll see one or two today.

Once, during the annual rites of Narsinh’s father, there was no ghee in the house. Narsinh went to the market to buy it but on the way, he saw a group of people singing Krishna’s bhajans. Lost in the bliss of bhajan-kirtan, he totally forgot about the Shraadha ceremony and the ghee. After a while, he returned home with the ghee, only to find his wife cleaning the house.

“I’ve brought the ghee. Use it and finish your cooking. But, where is everyone? And why are you cleaning up before the rites are completed?”

“Why did you buy the ghee again?” asked his wife, confounded.

Can you guess what may have happened? Yes! The Lord had stepped in to do Narsinh’s work. In the guise of His bhakta, Krishna had delivered the ghee home in time for the rites!

Narsinh was very fond of the raga “Kedar” because singing it made Krishna appear in front of him. A man once came to Narsinh asking for money for his daughter’s marriage. Narsinh didn’t have the money, but he agreed to take a loan of 500 rupees from the money lender to help that man. The lender wanted some security and the only valuable thing Narsinh had was his Kedar raga, so he agreed to mortgage that. That meant Narsinh couldn’t sing that raga till the money was returned with interest.

Even months after the marriage, the borrower didn’t return the money. Narsinh was in turmoil at being separated from Krishna. At the same time, some people complained to the King that Narsinh was faking his devotion. The King decided a test should be held.

Narsinh was to sing bhajans in the hall where a garlanded murti of Krishna was placed. If his devotion was true, Krishna Himself would walk and place His garland around Narsinh after a set amount of time. Accepting everything as Krishna’s will, Narsinh sat down and began to sing; but he couldn’t sing raga Kedar that would manifest the Lord – because, remember, it was still mortgaged to the moneylender.

Away from the palace, the moneylender heard a knock on his door. He opened it to find Narsinh with money to redeem the pledged raga. He took the money and gave Narsinh the receipt.

Back in the palace, it was decision-time. People began whispering that Krishna wouldn’t come and that Narsinh was a fake. The very next moment, the money lender’s receipt dropped into Narsinh’s lap. Raga Kedar flowed from his lips in bliss, even as tears flowed from his eyes in gratitude! Krishna walked ahead, removed the garland around His own neck and placed it around Narsinh! Yet again, the Lord had come to His devotee’s rescue!

Like Narsinh, can we learn to find joy in singing the praises of God?

Can we cultivate a spirit of gratitude towards even those who ridicule us, seeing them as the medium for some change in our lives?

Can we be selfless enough to part with something we love, to help someone in need?

Can we learn to trust that the Lord will always come to our rescue?


Monday, 23 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 7: The Gardener Saint: Savata Mali

(Credit for today's post idea: My sister Komala)
India celebrates 23rd December as Kisan Divas or National Farmer’s Day. Why this particular date? Because it is the birth anniversary of India’s 5th Prime Minister Choudhary Charan Singh, who brought about legislation for the betterment of farmers.

So today’s story is of a farmer called Savata Mali who was born in the year 1250 in a village called Aranbhendi in Solapur of Maharashtra. From a young age, Savata would be engrossed in singing the glories of Lord Vitthal even as he went about his duties on the farm, seeing God in nature

Image courtesy: Reference 1

Being busy the year round, he never went on the annual piligrimage called “Vari” that all people undertake to Pandharpur. However, he would extend hospitality to all the pilgrims who passed through his village, serving them with food and vegetables grown in his field. 

As Savata’s devotion increased, people flocked to his field to listen to his bhajans. When anyone expressed their inability to go to Pandharpur, and felt despondent, Savata would console them saying, “What is the need to go so far and worship Vithoba? Learn to see Him in your field and house; you will get His blessings here itself!”

This irked the Brahmins of that area, who found that people no longer came to their discourses. So they hatched a plot. They secretly buried a figurine of a deity in Savata’s farm. Savata found it while ploughing his field and then, the crooks insisted a temple must be built in that very spot, right in the middle of Savata’s fields. Savata, who saw his fields as the property of Vitthal, and himself as a mere keeper of Vitthal’s property, did not agree to this; so the crooks got him beaten up, and destroyed the crops and vegetable plants growing in his fields. Ruing this, Savata told his wife, “I’m not upset that they beat me up; I’m worried that they destroyed Vitthal’s crops!”

A few days later, one of the Brahmin’s son’s fell seriously ill and was at death’s door. Hearing this, Savata rushed there with some herbs grown in his fields, prepared a medicine from them, and on consuming it, the boy recovered. That Brahmin fell at Savata’s feet, begging forgiveness for having tortured him; all Savata did was to console him, saying everything happens only as per Vitthal’s wish!

The renowned saints Namdev and Dnyaneshwar were Savata Mali’s contemporaries and it was said that Vitthal was always with them. One day, when Savata was in his fields, engrossed in bhajan, he suddenly felt the area enveloped by the fragrance of Tulasi. The next moment, he saw Lord Vitthal standing right in front of his very eyes! As Savata fell at his Lord’s feet and wept tears of joy, Vitthal lifted him up, and asked, “Namdev and Dnyaneshwar are searching for me everywhere. Please give me a place to hide in your fields, Savata.” 

What could Savata do? He asked the Lord, “Vitthala, you are the all-pervading Lord of the Universe! How can I hide YOU somewhere? Can one hold the sky in one’s fist? Or the ocean inside a pot?” But the Lord wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, Savata found a way out – he seized a sickle lying nearby, ripped apart his chest, and asked the Lord to hide inside his heart!

A little while later, the two famed saints came there, and asked Savata if he had seen Vitthal passing that way. Truthfully, Savata replied that he had seen Vitthal in his heart and nowhere else. One of the saints commented sarcastically, “Yes, that’s right! You’ve never gone even once to Pandharpur, how will you know Him?” The next moment, Vitthal emerged from the heart of Savata, and gave the two saints His darshan, saying, “One does not need to come to Pandharpur to see me. Like Savata, those who worship me with pure devotion in their hearts, and see me in everything, I will always live in their hearts!”

Before every meal, can we remember our farmers with gratitude for all the hard work they do to ensure we get food to eat?

Can we make sure we don’t ever waste food?

Like Savata Mali, can we learn to see the Lord in the work we do every day?

Can we give up the sense of ownership, and see everything as the Lord’s property and ourselves as mere caretakers?

Even if we cannot go to temples or on pilgrimages, can we bow mentally at the Lord’s feet wherever we may be?


Sunday, 22 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 6: Chokha Mela: Even his bones sang Vitthal! Vitthal!

In the14th century, in Mangalvedha in Maharashtra, there lived a man named Chokha Mela. As per the social norms of those days, he was considered an untouchable because of his caste, and lived with his wife Soyara on the outskirts of the town.

Chokha Mela did all the work expected of him – working in the farms, removing the dead animals from there, disposing off them etc. Through all the hard work, and the injustice meted out him because of merely his caste, he kept his mind on Lord Vitthal. He composed many poems expressing his anguish at the social norms and prevailing discriminatory casteist systems.

After listening to the discourses and kirtans of Sant Namdev during a visit to Pandharpur, Chokha found his love for Vitthal grow so much, that he moved with his family to Pandharpur. When he went to the entrance of the temple there, he was prohibited from entering it because of his caste. Yet, he cleaned the temple premises every day, and standing outside the temple door, he worshipped his Vitthal from afar.

People made fun of Chokha, and ridiculed his devotion by openly commenting that it had no value, for, he would never be allowed to enter inside the temple. Deeply hurt by these comments, Chokha gave up food and wept tears of frustration and longing to see Vitthal. Lo and behold! Lord Vitthal Himself appeared, embraced Chokha, and took him inside the temple!
Pic courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha

The impure eyes of the priest couldn’t see the Lord, but saw only Chokha, in the sanctum sanctorum. The temple had been desecrated, he screamed. He ordered Chokha out of not just the temple, but also the place itself, and banished him to a place across the Chandrabhaga river.

The Lord never disappoints his true devotee. Every afternoon, Vitthal started visiting Chokha’s hut, and eating lunch with him. One afternoon, the temple priest was passing by and hearing voices, peeped inside. He heard Chokha reprimand his wife Soyara for spilling food on the Lord’s clothes. The priest, who could not see the Lord, thought Chokha was taunting him by trying to show off his own devotion to Vitthal. He ran in, and slapped Chokha hard across the face!

Now, by touching Chokha, he felt desecrated himself, and after bathing in the river to purify himself, he went across the river and entered the temple for the evening rituals.

As he looked at the murti of Lord Vitthal, he was shocked! Vitthal’s cheek was an angry red, swollen and imprinted with finger marks, as if He had been slapped! The priest was stunned into a realization of how intense Chokha’s devotion was, and how he lived for and in the Lord Himself! Begging forgiveness, the priest asked the Lord to regain His normal form, but nothing happened. Finally, the priest brought Chokha into the temple and the Lord only obliged when Chokha pacified Him.

Some time later, Chokha was forced to return to Mangalvedh. He was working on the construction of a wall, when the wall collapsed, and he was killed. Sant Namdev went there to bring Chokha’s mortal remains but the disaster had left the dead bodies so disfigured, that no one could be identified. As he searched helplessly, he suddenly heard the murmur of “Vitthal! Vitthal!” emanating from one place. Such was Chokha’s devotion that even in death, his bones were chanting the Lord’s Name!

Chokha’s bones were brought to Pandharpur, and buried in the ground at the bottom of the steps outside the temple’s main gates – the very spot where Chokha would stand and pray to his Vitthal.

Like Chokha, whatever work we do, can we remember God at all times?

Whatever difficulties arise in our lives, can we do our best to face them, with God as our support always?

Can we learn to treat all people alike, whatever their status or class in life?


Saturday, 21 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 5: Karaikal Ammaiyar: The Mother of Shiva

Punithavathi was the daughter of Danadattan, a rich merchant of Karaikal (in present-day Puducherry). From a very young age, she was a devotee of Lord Shiva, worshipping Him and chanting His mantra every day. She grew into a beautiful young woman and was given in marriage to Paramadattan of Nagapattinam. Punithavathi continued her worship and served Shiva devotees who came to her house with diligence. 

One day, Paramadattan sent home two mangoes, with the message that he would eat them at lunchtime. That noon, a Shiva devotee came to their house, and because the afternoon meal wasn’t yet cooked, Punithavathi served him one of the mangoes.

Later, Paramadattan came home, and she served him lunch and one mango. He finished eating it and asked for the second one. Punithavathi didn’t know what to do for there was no second mango to give. She prayed intensely to Lord Shiva for help and the next moment, a mango fell into her hands!

Punithavathi served this mango to Paramadattan who found it much more delicious than the first one. He realized it wasn’t the one he had sent, and asked his wife where she got it from. Hesitantly, she told him the truth. Disbelieving her, he asked her to produce another fruit in front of him.
Pic courtesy: K N Ramesh
Punithavathi said a fervent prayer, and yet another mango appeared in her hands. When Paramadattan touched the mango, it disappeared! Realizing the divine nature of his wife, who could so invoke items through prayer alone, Paramadattan now felt embarrassed to think of her as merely his wife. Making some excuses about going out for business, he left the house.

Punithavathi waited patiently for her husband to come back, but in vain. Some years later, her relatives heard that Paramadattan was living in Madurai, having married again, and that he had a daughter by the second wife. They took Punithavathi to Madurai. When they reached there, Paramadattan, his wife and child came and prostrated at Punithavathi’s feet. Paramadattan told the people gathered around that he could not think of Punithavathi as his wife, but that he considered her as a Goddess.

Accepting his emotion, Punithavathi prayed to Lord Shiva, asking Him to take away her physical beauty, and her appearance changed into a demoniacal form. Lord Shiva called her “Karaikal Ammaiyar” (Ammaiyar means ‘mother’ in Tamil). Flowers rained down from heaven on Ammaiyar, and singing the praises of Lord Shiva, she went away from there.

Drawn by her devotion to the Lord, Ammaiyar decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mount Kailasa. When visiting such a holy place, she did not want to make it impure by placing her feet on that hallowed ground. So, she climbed the mountain using her hands!
The entire story of Ammaiyar in one picture. Image courtesy: K N Ramesh
Pleased with Ammaiyar’s devotion, Lord Shiva offered her a boon. All she wanted was, “A pure, eternal Bhakti to You, O Lord of Mercy! No more births, but if I must be born, let me never forget You! Wherever You dance, let me sing Your praises there, always at Your feet!”

Granting her desire, Lord Shiva sent Ammaiyar to Tiruvalangadu, where he danced as Nataraja, for her joy.

Karaikal Ammaiyar is one of the 63 great devotees, called the Nayanmars, who are famous for their single-minded devotion to Lord Shiva. Ammaiyar is the creator of 2 major works called Arputha Tiruvantadi and Tiru Erattai Mani Malai that continue to inspire Shiva-bhakti till this day.

Can we cultivate devotion as simple and intense and a mind as pure as Ammaiyar’s?

Like her, can we turn to God always, trusting He will care for us?

Like Paramadattan, can we develop the ability to recognize greatness in people around us irrespective of their position in comparison to us?


Friday, 20 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 4: Guru Veda Vyasa's incarnation: Sant Jayadeva

Bhojadeva and Bhama Devi were a pious couple living in the village of Tundubilva (also called Kendubilva as per some sources) near Puri in Odisha. Their son Jayadeva had a great liking for reading the Bhagavat Puran and he developed a deep devotion to Krishna from a very young age.

Once, feeling restless, Jayadeva went away to the forest. He walked alone, lost in ecstasy, as he sang of the glories of his Radha-Krishna. 

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
A few weeks later, still chanting “Bhaja Radhe Govindam,” Jayadeva returned to his village, only to learn that his parents had passed away. One Niranjan Babu, to whom Bhojadeva had owed some money, came and asked Jayadeva to repay the loan, lying about the amount. 

Suddenly, Niranjan Babu’s daughter came running there, saying their house was on fire! Jayadeva rushed with them, and still chanting Krishna’s name, he entered the burning house. What a miracle! The fire died down, and nothing inside was burned!

Once, Jayadeva set out to worship Lord Jagannatha at Puri. Walking in the heat, he swooned but soon woke up to find his head cradled on the lap of a young cowherd, who fed him some cool curds. Both of them proceeded to the Puri temple, and forgetting the cowherd, Jayadeva rushed inside to see his Lord.

Lo and behold! The form of Lord Jagannatha transformed into that of the cowherd who had nursed Jayadeva!
Image courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha
In Puri, a man offered Jayadeva his daughter Padmavati in marriage, saying he had been directed to do so by Lord Jagannatha Himself. Jayadeva married her and returned to his village to set up home. He composed a Sanskrit poem telling of Radha’s immortal love of Krishna. This poem, the Gita Govinda, spread far and wide and was on all people’s lips.

King Satvik had also composed poems about Krishna called Gita Govinda and he was angry that it was being ignored. He passed an order that only his composition should be recited, but all people resisted it. Finally, it was decided to let Lord Jagannatha Himself choose.

Both versions of Gita Govinda were placed at the Lord’s feet and the temple doors were locked. The next morning, Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda was still there, while the King’s had been flung outside the temple doors! 

Once Jayadeva’s rich devotee pressed on him a gift of gold coins. Bowing to the man’s wishes, Jayadeva took it and began walking back home. Two dacoits, masquerading as travelers joined him; at night, they cut off Jayadeva’s hands, threw him into a dry well, and ran away with the gold. Unperturbed, Jayadeva continued to sing the Lord’s name.

King Lakshmana Sena who was passing that way rescued Jayadeva, who refused to blame anyone for the mishap, simply saying, “It was God’s will and it happened that way!”

The King’s physician healed Jayadeva’s wounds. Jayadeva began giving discourses every day and encouraged the King to take good care of his people, especially the saints. Hearing of the king’s generosity, the same 2 dacoits came there in the guise of sadhus. On seeing Jayadeva, they were shocked and turned away, but Jayadeva called them back, and requested the King to honor them with gold, and have guards escort them back to their village.

The guards asked the disguised dacoits about how Jayadeva knew them. The dacoits lied, saying Jayadeva was a thief in another kingdom, sentenced to death, but they had helped him escape and only cut off his arms to show the king. They further claimed the gold coins were a bribe given by Jayadeva to keep their mouths shut.

No sooner did they utter these words, than the earth trembled violently, and opened up, devouring the 2 dacoits. The guards rushed to King Lakshmana Sena and narrated the events. The very next moment, Jayadeva’s hands were restored!

A few days later, to test Padmavati’s devotion to Jayadeva, the queen sent word to her saying Jayadeva is dead. Hearing this, Padmavati collapsed and died. Aghast, the queen fell at Jayadeva’s feet, begging forgiveness. Jayadeva recited the Gita Govinda, and Padmavati came back to life.

Can we try to develop devotion like Jayadeva?

Like him, can we learn to accept even unpleasant situations as the will of Krishna?

Can we give up our craving for more and more wealth and worldly possessions?

Can we give up the desire for revenge against those who wrong us?


Thursday, 19 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 3: Pundalik: The One for Whom The Lord Waited

A devout couple Janudev and Sathyavathy lived in a place called Dandirvan in Maharashtra. Their only son called Pundalik (also Pundarik) began ill-treating them after his marriage. To escape from this misery, the parents decided to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi. Pundalik and his wife insisted on accompanying them. The aged parents would walk with the other pilgrims while Pundalik rode on horseback with his wife. Pundalik made his parents groom the horse every night, while he relaxed.

One night, they reached Sage Kukkutswami’s ashram. The next day, at dawn, Pundalik saw some beautiful women in dirty clothes enter the sage’s ashram. They cleaned the floor, washed the sage’s clothes, and fetched water for him. When they came out after a while, their dirty clothes had been replaced by spotless ones!

When this happened again the next day, Pundalik gathered the courage to ask the women who they were. They replied, “We are the holy rivers of India – Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati…Our clothes are dirty because of taking up the sins of pilgrims who bathe in us. By serving Sage Kukkutswami, we cleanse ourselves and our clothes become spotless again.”

Then they gave him a scornful look and said, “But you are the greatest sinner because you are ill-treating your parents, and hurting them by your behavior!”

Hearing this, Pundalik was shocked into a realization of his misdeeds and had a sudden change of heart. He returned to Dandirvan a changed and pious man and began to serve his parents with deep love and devotion.

One day, Pundalik was busy caring for his ailing parents, when someone came to his door, calling out his name.

“Who is it?” asked the busy Pundalik.

“I’m Krishna, and I’ve come to see you,” a sweet voice replied.

“I’m serving my parents; I can’t come to see you right now. Here, stand on this,” said Pundalik and threw a brick for Krishna to stand on, since the ground outside was wet and muddy.
Image courtesy: Bhakti Maarga Nederland
With a sweet smile playing on His lips, hands on His hips, Sri Krishna stood on the brick, waiting for Pundalik to come and see Him! In Marathi, ‘Veet’ means ‘brick’ and ‘Thala’ or ‘Obha’means ‘standing’. That’s how this form of Krishna came to be known as Vitthala or Vithoba. 

A little later, Pundalik came out begging the Lord’s pardon. Pleased with Pundalik’s devotion to His parents, Krishna offered him a boon. Pundalik had only one request, “Please stay in this place, and bless all those who come here seeking You!”And so it came to be, that Vitthala stayed on in that place called Pandharpur where today a temple stands on the banks of the river Chandrabhaga.

Sri Vitthala at Pandharpur
 Pundalik is the founder of the famed Varkari sect that later saw the emergence of revered saints like Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram. Till today, Pundalik retains his prime position, coming even before the Lord Himself, with devotees raising the slogan, “Pundalika varadey - Hari Vithal!” (Meaning: Pundalik – the one who got the boon from Hari Vithal!) Till today, a visit to Pandharpur is incomplete without visiting the temple of Pundalik located a little away. 

Can we be like Pundalik, and mend the hurtful behaviors we may have acquired over time? 

Like Pundalik, can we care for our parents with love and selfless devotion?
Can we wait patiently with a smile like Vithala for good things to come to us?

And in case this internal cleansing feels very difficult, can we at least go on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur, or any other holy kshetra, praying for the Lord’s help in our transformation?
To listen to an abhang praising the form of Vitthala, visit this link.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 2: The Blind Singer: Soordas

Unable to bear the teasing of his playmates, the little boy stumbled home. But there was no respite there either for Soor. His mother scolded him and gave him less food than his brothers; his father refused to teach him; he didn’t get new clothes for Diwali like his brothers – all because he was born blind. 
Pic courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha
One day, sitting alone on the verandah of his house, Soor heard passing mendicants singing the glories of Sri Krishna. He felt strangely moved, and wanted to learn to sing like them. The next time another singing group passed by, Soor followed them, repeating their chants. When the group stopped for the night, they noticed the blind boy who had joined them, and fed him. But how could they care for him? So, they left early the next morning while Soor was still asleep.

Left all alone, Soor began singing songs and bhajans of Sri Krishna. People passing by would stop to listen to his melodious singing. They gave him food to eat. Over time, using his 6th sense, he began predicting things. From far and near, people flocked for the darshan and advice of "Soordas" as he was now called.

Playing his stringed instrument, singing the glories of Krishna, Soordas was a happy man. One night he dreamt that Krishna was calling him to Vrindavan, and the next morning, he rushed out, leaving behind the disciples who had gathered around him. 

Pic courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha

In one place, Soordas stumbled and fell into an abandoned well. What could he do? He just kept singing, calling out to Krishna for help. Then, he heard a child’s voice say, “I will help you out of the well, hold my hand and walk.” Lo and behold! Soordas found himself out of the well, but the boy had disappeared! Soordas walked on, singing of how his Gopala had rescued him!

One day, the great saint and teacher Vallabhacharya came to see Soordas. Overjoyed to see the bhakti and humility of Soordas, the Acharya stayed with him, and taught him more about Krishna and the scriptures, and granted him initiation with the mantra “Shree Krishna Sharanam Mama.” Obeying his guru’s instructions, Soordas began serving as the chief singer at the temple of Srinath ji in Govardhan. His fame spread far and wide, people came to listen to his singing, and his songs were on everyone’s lips.
Pic courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha
One day, after the bhajan session, two men followed Soordas home and fell at his feet, saying they were his brothers. They begged forgiveness for having ill-treated him when he was a child. In reply, Soordas embraced them both, saying, “Dear brothers, don’t embarrass me by saying such things. Don’t regret your actions, my life today is full and rich because of them!”

Hearing of the fame of Soordas, King Akbar sent a messenger, asking Soordas to come and sing in his court. But Soordas politely refused, saying he only sang in the court of his beloved Krishna! When the king offered him a few villages, Soordas sang in reply, “This whole world belongs to Krishna, what is the need to transfer some part of it to me?”

Despite being blind, Soordas would describe, in his bhajans, the Lord’s adornment exactly as it was on a given day. Indeed people said he had the divine sight which revealed the form of God to him!

Can we, people with sight, spend a few moments every day, admiring our Lord’s form?
However good or bad our voice, can we sing a small bhajan of Krishna every day?

Whatever our situation, can we pray for the Lord’s help to succeed in our work?
Like Soordas, can we grow so full of love that we give up our grudges against those who hurt us?

Can we nurture the faith that whoever is or isn’t there, 
God is always there for us?
Listen to some of Surdas ji's famous bhajans here:

Main nahin maakhan khaayo (Krishna-Yashodha arguing over stealing butter)  : 

Mero mukh neeko ki tero Radha pyaari (conversation between Krishna and Radha - the divine and the devotee :

He Govinda rakho sharan (Gajendra moksha episode) :