Monday, 14 December 2015

Ajanta,Ellora etc.


When I decided to make a trip to Mumbai to meet my aunt Hema, the senior most living member of my family, before entering the eightieth year of earthly existence in this body and take her blessings personally, I planned to combine it with a visit to the cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora.  Fortunately there was a weekly express train to Aurangabad running from Chennai on Sundays.  Boarding this train on 15th November, I reached Aurangabad on Monday the 16th in the morning.  After freshening up in Hotel Pritam, where we stayed for two days we made our way to Ellora caves in the afternoon.


Ellora caves are 18 kilometres from Aurangabad,  Opposite to the car park is Cave no. 16, Kailashnath Temple, a beautiful piece of Hindu Architecture. Built in 760 AD under the Rashtrakutas, this is the largest monolith in the world. The temple is covered with exquisite sculptures depicting scenes from the great epics of Hinduism, Ramayana and Mahabharatha.  This dwarfs every other cave here. There are 34 caves in all in a 2 km stretch of mountainous path with lots of ups and downs, not counting the steps in individual cases. Of these 12 are of Buddhist, 17 of Hindu and 5 of Jain religion. Of these a few are not worth visiting. An important Jain cave is cave no.32 which is called Indra Sabha.  Here we have the figure of Mahavira seated on a lion throne. Cave 12 is an important Buddhist cave with an imposing huge figure of Buddha.  Photos taken at  Ellora caves can be seen in my Flickr album “Ellora caves” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157661505731141

Near the Ellora caves is Ghrishneswar temple, which has one of the twelve Jyotirlingas.  From there we went to nearby Khuldabad where we visited Bhadra Maruti temple and tomb of Aurangazeb.   Aurangazeb’s tomb is a simple one, as he had left instructions that his resting place should be built only with the money earned by him by stitching cloth caps and that it must be covered simply with earth.  In Bhadra Maruthi temple which is dedicated to Hanumanji, the imposing idol is seen in a rare posture of lying on its back, as if sleeping.  By then darkness had set in and we retired to the hotel in Aurangabad.



The next morning we started for the Ajanta caves, which is about 140 kilometres from Aurangabad.  Ajanta caves like Ellora caves is a world Heritage site and a protected monument and is renowned for Buddhist paintings some even dating back to second century B.C.  All vehicles are to be parked a few kilometres from the site and we take the special buses that are run from the car park to the site.  There are 29 caves and they are situated in a horse-shoe shape overlooking a deep gorge where flows Waghora river. Some of these are Chaitya halls or shrines, where we   have to leave the footwear outside.  There are paintings on the ceilings as well and most of them are faded.  As we had carried torch with us we could make out some figures.   Flash photography is prohibited within these caves.  Others are Vihars. monasteries used by Buddhist monks for study and meditation.  The paintings are either narrative scenes from Buddha’s life or illustrations of Jataka tales.  As we were going round the caves we met a group from Malysia in which a few were Tamil-speaking and they were very happy to interact with us and had also photos taken with us.  Photos taken in Ajanta caves can be viewed in my Flickr album “Ajanta Caves” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157660984136469

That evening we visited Bibi ka Maqbara, also called  “Mini Taj”, which is a tomb built by Aurangazeb for his wife Rabia Durani, modelling it after Taj Mahal.  It is a pity that there were not enough lights there after sunset.  The next morning we vacated the hotel and started our journey to Shirdi.  On the way we first visited a local attraction, Panchakki, a water-mill from Mughal times situated in a garden attached to the tomb of a Muslim saint, Baba Shah Muzaffar.  After visiting Panchakki, we made our way to Daulatabad fort. The fort has an interesting history. It was originally called Devagiri, built by a Hindu King.  Later it fell into the hands of Muslim rulers.  Muhammed bin Tugluk renamed it as Daulatabad and made it his capital, ordering all the inhabitants of Delhi, young, old and sick to march to Daulatabad.  After a brief period of reign from here he changed his mind and ordered a march back to Delhi.  Both these transplantations of population caused huge loss of lives and suffering.

The fort houses a palace situated on top of a 200m hill and 210 ft. tower called Chand minar, a 17ft. long cannon, a moat 40ft. deep, and a large water tank, close to its top, fed by an underground natural source.  As the climb was quite steep and stairs dark, we did not go beyond the subterranean passage. Photos of the fort and tomb among other things can be viewed in my Flickr album “Monuments etc., of Aurangabad” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157661671037516

We stopped again at Sani Singanapur where there is a famous temple dedicated to Lord Saneeswara.  There is no regular temple or a priest to perform daily pujas.  The idol is on a raised platform in the open ground and male devotees in wet clothes after bath can ascend the platform and perform puja and abhishekam.  Others can stand below and have Darshan. Another unique feature is the houses in the village have no doors as Lord Saneeswara is supposed to guard them.  Nowadays a few have a screen for privacy.  Not only the old houses but even the modern constructions like toilets in the premises have no doors which Rajam found quite embarrassing to use. We had a sumptuous lunch here in the Devasthanam hall which was provided at a subsidised rate of Rs.20/- per head.

We reached Shirdi in the evening and rested in Hotel Yog Palace where we had booked a room through Booking.com.   That evening we had Darshan at Samadhi Mandir making our way there through the special entrance for seniors.  The next morning we went to Nasik where we visited first Mukthidham, a beautiful temple in white marble where idols of all deities find a place.  From there we went to Panchavati where we entered sliding, Sita Gumpha, a small underground cave where Sita Devi lived in Vanvaas. and crawled with difficulty to the end of passage.  From there we went to Ram Kund and Lakshmi Ghat of Triveni Sangamam where rivers Varuni and Tharuni  unite with River Godavari.  We wetted our feet at the place used by Lord Ram for bath during vanvaas and splashed the sacred river water on the head and left for next destination, Trimbakeswar temple that is about 28 kilometres from Nasik.

This temple devoted to Lord Siva, is another temple which has a Jyothirlinga.  There was a big queue and we had to wait for one and half hours for Darshan of Lord and there too we were not allowed to go down to worship Lord.  We had to be content with Darshan of the reflection in the overhanging mirror and that too hastily as we were pushed in "jaragandi" style of Tirupathi.  But we managed to enter a second time through exit gate due to a misunderstanding in communication with the sentry there and had a good darshan of the reflection as we were then not looking for the original. We returned to Shirdi from Trimbakeswar straight and that day being Thursday we could have a glimpse of the Palki procession as it made its way from Dwarakamayee Masjid to Chavadi.  Then we retired to hotel to leave for Mumbai next morning bringing to an end the nice interlude in our trip to Mumbai.  Photos taken at Sani Singanapur and Nasik can be viewed in the Flickr album “Sani Siganapur and Nasik” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157661821389186
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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Ordeal by water


It was the evening of Monday 30th Nov. 2015.  We had just returned from Pallavaram after escorting my niece Shyamala to her in-law’s place.  Right from Friday the 27th we had been busy in connection with her marriage, what with the pandakkal, bride anointment, bridal party welcome, Mappillai azhaippu. and the actual function of marriage. As we rested that night, the rains started and was pouring continuously all through next day.  I cancelled all my idea of going out to attend to some work before leaving for Palani which was planned for that weekend and concentrated on completing the uploading of Photos to Flickr and to Facebook when suddenly the lights went off.  Thank God I could complete the work on hand running the laptop on battery, for electricity supply came back six days later only. With no electricity, mobile phone could not be charged.  So when the land-line went dead next morning we were cut off from the outside world.  We could not bother about it at that time; for in the meantime the thoughtless act of the authorities of opening the lake waters. without giving us any prior warning had presented a bigger menace threatening life and property even in otherwise safe places.

For the previous night, Government had increased to ten times the release of water from Chembarampakkam Lake and that too at a high tide time.  The gushing waters breached the barrier wall in the banks near Jafferkhanpet and waters rushed out of the breach inundating Jafferkhanpet, parts of Ashok Nagar, K.K.Nagar and West Mambalam. The swirling waters from the 11th Avenue of Ashoknagar were rushing down the Kodambakkam lane and this raised the water level in our street so much that water entered the ground floor flats of our building. As the water started raising, filling the lift well and the first three steps of the staircase, one family from ground-floor, moved to our flat in the first floor and another family to a flat in the second floor.  The third family had fortunately vacated on 30th Nov. to a new flat in second floor in an adjoining area. The family that moved with us consisted of a young couple Rajamani @ Ganesh and Jaishree and Ganesh’s mother as their two daughters were with Jaishree’s parents in a first floor flat nearby. Ganesh’s mother, Lakshmi, who already knew Rajam, was a good company for Rajam diverting her mind from the shortages and TV-less, Telephone-less loneliness of darkness while Ganesh and Jaishree helped me to know other residents of the building as I had been so far treating my flat as a retreat during the days I stayed there. Further they brought with them the provisions they could salvage from their flat before leaving, which pooled with ours could help us to tide over the initial period without any serious problem.

We all watched from our balcony the rising level of water with fear, anxiety and concern. As water slowly rose covering the tyres, then doors and then the bonnet with only the windshield visible in a parked car in our compound, our BP also rose. And lo ! it stopped at the ceiling of the car covering the wind-shield, but without drowning the car though we could hear still the sound of the rushing waters in the street as if we had been standing on the  banks of a river in torrents. Blissfully the darkness fell and the torch was of no help to determine whether the level is static or raising or receding. So after a candle-light dinner that consisted of Upuma only and a short time of chit-chatting we retired to bed, outwardly hoping for the best and inwardly fearing the worst.

When the next day dawned, we rushed to see whether we could see the car and were relieved to find it has not submerged and water stood at ceiling level only. The relief was all the more when in the course of the day we could see the wind-shield  of the car and also noticed that the water had given up its attempt to climb the stairs and retreated to the level of first step.  The feeling of relief on this front was overshadowed by shortages in other fronts like water, milk etc. We decided to skip bath and bring rain water from the street for use in the toilet.  We conserved milk by drinking black coffee, saving it for buttermilk next day.  The next day as we were running out of drinking water, one Mr.Christopher from the second floor, offered us his can of water, as he was leaving for his native place. Using the hand-pump downstairs, Ganesh and Jaishree could also bring a few buckets of water for general use.  Further water has run out of our building by this time and so they also started the job of cleaning the slush left behind and took stock of their losses.  It was quite a heavy loss as the cot and mattress had soaked, fridge had toppled down and all the books and clothes in the storage compartment of the cot rendered unusable, Still they kept their cool and brought water for us, managed to get milk from somewhere, moved their mother to her daughter’s place and helped Jaishree’s parents as well with supplies braving the knee-deep stagnant water in the street.

The first big relief after deluge came when land-line telephone started ringing.  It was my niece Sandhya from T.Nagar who had been trying repeatedly and was successful then in contacting us.  Through her we sent message to our daughter, Suchy in Australia, that we were safe and the landline was working.  She promptly contacted us and it was a big relief talking to her ourselves. Rest of the day was mostly sent in receiving and making calls exchanging notes.   Our servant-maid, Mariamma, whose house was flooded and had been housed in a school also came for work and helped us by getting water from the sump downstairs and we could take bath after three days.  As Ganesh managed to bring milk and vegetables going round the few open shops, the dark days of our ordeal was slowly coming to an end.  It was complete when electricity was restored next evening and we felt like celebrating.  I was then reminded of a Mullah story.  He was struggling walking in tight shoes.  People asked him why he does not change to a bigger size shoe.  Mullah countered  saying how he can then savour the relief and joy that he gets when he removes the shoes.  So as the simple act of removing a shoe gave Mullah joy and relief so the simple act of restoration of electricity gave us great joy as now the fridge can be operated, motor can work, lift can fuction, TV can be seen, laptop can be worked, mobile phone can be charged, WI-FI can operate and what is more important than all these, we need not struggle in the dark as the sun goes down.  Though the ordeal was not over, we could now clearly see the dawn of its end
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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Kashmir Damaka



When we announced our plans to combine a tour of Kashmir with our visit to Delhi, it met with a mixed reception.  Our relatives were apprehensive in view of reports of firing in the border and of local unrest.  My niece with whom we were to stay in Delhi put it neatly as ‘It is okay for you if there is no problem.  But while you are enjoying your holidays, here we will be worrying about you.  So why don’t you choose some other place like Gangtok?”  We took time and trouble to allay their fears and took off to Srinagar by Indigo flight 6E-435.  We were received at the airport by the local contact of Goibibo, Riaz.  We had booked our tour with Goibibo, modifying their package, “Festive Damaka, Srinagar”.  Riaz introduced the driver, Mansoor, who is to be with us the whole tour.


First day of the tour we spent in the house-boat, “Morning Star” which is moored in the Dal lake.  It is a big boat in which more than one family can stay at any time.  But as it was off season we were the only family staying there. That evening we went on a Shikara ride in Dal lake.  Shikara is a long wooden boat which is a cultural symbol of Kashmir.  It is paddled from the rear and it is used for multiple purposes.  The ones used by tourists have a bright canopy and have cushioned seats with back rests. To ride in the placid waters watching the sunset and the moored houseboats on either banks and the floating shops selling all kinds of merchandise was a pleasant experience.  The multiple boats peddling various wares that criss-cross your path, distant mountains and the fountains at the farther end of the lake all these add to the charm of the ride. As we retired to the houseboat after the ride there was a slight drizzle, which later turned into a steady shower in the night. Photos of day 1 can be viewed in Flickr album “Dal Lake Houseboat,Kashmir” @ 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157660403557365

The next day braving the showers we shifted to Hotel Royal Batoo where our stay had been arranged for the next three nights.  In the afternoon as the rains had slowed down we went out to visit the Mughal gardens.  On the way we equipped ourselves with an umbrella each, so that we can go round the gardens even in the rains. But still our movements were restricted as the grounds were slippery. But what little we could see was quite impressive.  Shalimar gardens and Nishat gardens together are referred to as Mughal Gardens as they were built by Mughal kings.  We have such gardens in Delhi and Agra as well among other places.

The third day the rain had eased considerably and there were only drizzles now and then for a short spell.  So we could make the scheduled trip to Pahalgam without any problem.  Though we carried the umbrellas as a matter of caution there was little need to use it even in Awantipura, which was our first stop on the way to Pahalgam. Here we explored the ruins of Avantiswamin temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, built by King Avantivarman. We can still see the relics of beautiful carvings, big colonnades, and vast courtyards and could visualise mentally how imposing the temple would have been in its heyday.  On the way to Pahalgam we again halted briefly at an apple garden.  We could only see the rich ripe fruits hanging in several trees from a distance and we could not venture near the trees as the ground was very slushy and slippery.  Pahalgam is a hill station on the Lidder River and is a Bollywood favourite as it abounds in scenic spots. Here we can go on horse-ride ride to a nearby valley or a meadow.  We did not venture due to the uncertain weather, though there were no rains in the afternoon. We went round the place, which is also called “shepherd’s village” admiring the fast flowing river and the gorgeous mountains around. We returned enjoying the sights of the scenic valley in the emerging sunshine signifying the end of rains.

Next day we were greeted by glorious sunshine as we made our way to Gulmarg, another hill station.  This is within few miles of border with Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Gulmarg is in a different direction and also of a higher altitude as compared to Pahalgam.  In fact it had snowed in The Mountains of Gulmarg on the day when there were rains in Srinagar. Luckily thanks to the changed climate it was not that much cold as we feared. Here there is a Gondola ropeway connecting Gulmarg to Apharwat peak that runs in two stages. We only took the ride to the first stage, which is at a height of 2600m, and did not go further. We went on a horse-ride from car park to Gondola station. Photos taken during Pahalgam, Gulmarg trips can be viewed in Flickr album, “Pahalgam, Gulmarg” @ 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157658104553834

Next day was Bakrid and so the driver came only in the afternoon for our local trip.  Further there was an air of tension in the city in view of the agitation on cow-slaughter.  So as a precautionary measure internet connections had been cut from previous day itself and there was also visible presence of troops in street corners. It seems that there had been an incident of Pakistan flag-waving after Bakrid prayers that morning, in one place, which did not spread and of which we came to know only later.  The security was also tight in Shankaracharya hill which we visited that afternoon.  Shankaracharya hill is also alternately known as Gopadri hill and Suleiman hill.  There is a temple dedicated to Lord Siva at the top of the hill which is about 1000 feet above the ground.  We can go by car up to a stage and then climb 243 steps to reach the vicinity of the temple.  Another 10 steep steps have to be climbed to reach the temple. Not only for the temple but also for the magnificent view of the city and the Dal Lake the climb is worth making. There is also a small cave near the temple where Adhi Sankara had performed tapas. There is a security post near the place where cars are parked and no camera or mobile phone is allowed beyond that point.  Photos taken of Mughal Gardens and Shankaracharya  hill can be viewed in the Flickr album, “ Srinagar stay and sights” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157660373399962.

Next morning we left Srinagar by Indigo flight 6E-436 and reached Delhi safely with a load of memorable experiences, to the great relief of my niece and her husband.

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Friday, 31 July 2015

Saint Thyagaraja


The period spanning latter half of 18th century and the former half of the nineteenth century is considered the golden age of Carnatic music, as in this period were born the holy trinity of Carnatic music; Sri Shyma Sastry, Sri Thyagaraja and Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar.  As a strange coincidence all the three were born In Thanjavur district, the first two in Tiruvarur and the third in Govindapuram. Of the three, Sri Thyagaraja who is also known as Thyagabrahmam comes of a Telugu Brahmin family of scholars who shifted south when Vijayanagar Empire fell to Muslim invasion. Thyagaraja came of a highly cultured family of scholars. His grandfather Giriraja Kavi was a poet and musician, attached to the Royal court of Thajavur. His father Ramabrahmam was a Vedic scholar, who gave musical discourses on puranas and Ithihasas. 

Shortly after his birth, his father had shifted from Thanjavur to Thiruvaiyaru, on the banks of the River Cauvery. Sri Thyagaraja became well versed in Sastras under the guidance of his father while his mother Seethamma encouraged him to sing devotional songs. He studied Sanskrit, astrology and was also well versed in his mother tongue, Telugu.  He started learning music under Sonti Venkataramanayya, one of the foremost singers of the day, from his very early age.  He was given sacred thread at the age of eight. By that time itself he had become well versed in Jayadeva’s Ashtapathi and in the Keerthanas of Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramadas and Purandaradasa. He had also started composing kritis in Telugu from that age. His objective while practising music was purely devotional, as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of classical music.  He did not want to use his musical talents to make money or make a name as simplicity, spirituality, vairagya, and sense-control marked his lifestyle. 


He was a great devotee of Sri Rama and he had the good fortune of being initiated by one mahatma, Ramakrishna Yatindrar, in Sri Rama Taraka Mantra who asked him to chant it 96 crore times which he also faithfully carried out in 21 years with rigorous chanting of 1,25,000 Namas every day. One day when he was chanting he heard the knock on the door. He opened the door only to see in his doorsteps young Sri Rama as he was when he followed Maharishi Viswamitra to protect his yaga from desecration by asuras. With overwhelming devotion out poured from him the kriti in Ataana  “Ela nee daya radhu----”.  Though the sight of  Sri Rama disappeared from his physical eyes it did not from his mind and from that day he started worshipping daily the family idol of Sri Rama with Laksmana and Sita Devi with great fervour, singing kritis.  His attachment was for Lord only and his desire was for His Grace only.  So when his father died, and assets were divided among brothers he took as his share only the idol of Sri Rama with Sri Lakshmana and Sita Devi. As his attachment was only for the Lord and not for worldly riches, he did not claim anything else.

Sri Thyagaraja married, at the age of eighteen, a girl called Parvati who died without leaving any children. He then married her sister, Kanakamba.  A daughter, Seetalakshmi, was born to them but his lifestyle did not change.  He was satisfied with what he got in Unchavritti, and did not hanker for any patronage or favours from the rich and powerful.  Though many people adored him for his kritis, he had also his detractors who were commenting that his music, born of devotion is only for laymen who do not have knowledge of music and not for elite pundits. When this comment reached his ears his comment was only in the form of kriti in Danyasi “Sangeeta jnanamu Bhakthi Vina-----“

Now an incident happened which silenced his detractors and enhanced his reputation.  One day a sanyasi came to his house.  He told Sri Thyagaraja that he had come for special biksha and requested him to sing for him first. Sri Thyagaraja gladly entertained him with his kritis and after a while, the sanyasi gave him a book for safe custody until he returns after his anushtanams and left.  Sri Thyagaraja waited for him to return after anushtanams and when he did not come back even after a while, went in search of him.  He did not find him anywhere.  As he did not want to eat without feeding the guest, he went to bed that night fasting.  That night in his dream Devarishi Narada appeared and said that he came as a sanyasi only to hear him and the book he had given is for him only.  Sri Thyagaraja woke up with a start and saw the book he had received for custody was the book on swaras, “Swararnavam”.  Gratitude to Divine Guru flowed out in the form of kriti in Bhairavi,Naradha Muni Guru Raya ---“

Now his fame started spreading and he got disciples to learn from him but his life style did not change.  Unchavritti and  puja in the forenoon and classes to disciples, pravachanam, Bhajan and  Aradhana in the afternoon was the routine. Now an incident happened that made his brother who already had a grievance that he was not encashing his talents and fame, to get angry with him.  King Serfoji of Thanjavur, who wanted him to adorn his court as royal vidwan, invited him to the court, sending a palanquin with royal honours.  His brother was delighted to hear the news as this honour would bring royal grants of land and money that will enrich their lives and so he advised his brother to accept it and move to Thanjavur.  But Sri Thyagaraja who was not enamoured of wealth and honours saw the royal court only as golden prison taking him away from his Rama. So he refused the royal invitation politely with the kriti in KalyaniNidhi chala Sukhama----“. 

The king accepted his refusal gracefully, respecting him all the more for his devotion and detachment, but his brother could not accept his rejection.  The infuriated brother vented his anger on the idol of worship by throwing it in River Cauvery one midnight. Sri Thyagaraja was overpowered with grief when he found the idol missing the next morning and he started looking for it here, there and everywhere and was immersed in grief without proper food, rest and sleep for days.  Even his brother was taken aback and regretted his action. A few days later Sri Rama appeared in Sri Thyagaraja’s dream and indicated where the idol could be found. Sri Thyagaraja waking up with a start, rushed to the place revealed and there in the river-bed discovered the idol buried in sand. He danced in delight singing the kriti in BilahariKanugontini Sri Ramuni Nedu-----“

His brother now reformed also joined him in his Bhajans and Aradhana.  Many eminent people were drawn to him and they visited Thiruvaiyaru to meet him and hear him.   Muthuswamy Dikshithar, one of the trinity of Carnatic music, met him many times and discussed the nuances of Carnatic music.  The son of Shyama Sastry, the other member of the Trinity, joined as his disciple.  One day a visitor came to see him when his disciples were singing a kriti in Aabhogi.  When Sri Thyagaraja learnt the visitor was from Mayavaram, he asked the visitor whether he knew Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar who had written the musical drama on Nandanar.  And the visitor was none other than the Bhagavathar.   Then in the course of his talk, Sri Thyagaraja asked him whether he had composed any kriti in Aabhogi.   Bhagavathar did not reply immediately  but that night composed the Kriti in Aabhogi  “ சபாபதிக்கு வேறு தெய்வம் சமானமாகுமா ---“ and sang this kriti next day before Sri Thyagaraja  and won his appreciation. 

At the request of Sri Upanishad Brahmam, his father’s friend who was living in Kanchipuram, Sri Thyagaraja left on a pilgrimage for the first time with his disciples.  After staying for a few days in Kanchipuram, visiting various temples there and singing Kritis on Lord Varadaraja, and Devi Kamakshi, he went to Tirupathi. At the time he went to the temple the curtain had been drawn and he could not have the Darshan of the Lord.  He saw the curtain as his accumulated sins that come in the way of his vision of the Lord and sang in anguish the kriti in Gowli PantuTera Teeyaga Radha ---“, with a prayer to Lord to remove the inner screens of pride, arrogance and jealousy from him.  The curtain fell down and he had Divya Darshan of the Lord. 

On his return besides visiting Tiruvottiyur, Sholinghur and Chennai, he also stayed at Kovur, a Siva Sthala, accepting the hospitality of the local landlord, Sundaresa Mudhaliar  When they were leaving Kovur, Mudhaliar secretly placed in his palanquin thousand gold coins, telling the disciples to reveal it to him only on reaching his place.  When they were journeying through the forest in the night, thieves surrounded them and at that time only disciples told him about the money.  Sri Thyagaraja said nonchalantly that it was Rama’s money and started singing the kriti in DurbarMundhu Venuka------“  Suddenly the thieves dispersed as quickly as they had come but in the morning they came back.  This time they fell at the feet of Sri Thyagaraja and prayed they meet again the two handsome princes who were guarding his palanquin with bow and arrow.  Sri Thyagaraja knew it was Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana who were guarding his palanquin and tearfully congratulated them on their good fortune to have the vision of Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana.  On learning this they completely reformed as Rama bhakthas and joined the palanquin bearers in carrying the palanquin of Sri.Thyagaraja for the rest of the journey.
On his return he continued his Rama Nama Sankeertan more vigorously in Thiruvaiyaru till his death.   Sri Thyagaraja took sanyasa towards the end of his life and attained samadhi on 6th January, 1847.  Before his death Lord Sri Rama appeared before Him and assured Him that he will join the Lord within a few days.  This Sri Thyagaraja conveys in one of his last kritis, in ManohariParithapamu kani Aadhina Palukula marichithivo----", where he asks the Lord “Have you forgotten the words of assurance which you, seeing my anguish, lovingly expressed when you were on the golden boat on the river Sarayu in the company of the incomparable Sita, the assurance that you take me to you in another ten days." The Lord had not forgotten and it happened on the Pushya Bahula Panchami day in Prabhava.

On this Pushya Bahula Panchami day every year, thousands of people and hundreds of Carnatic musicians gather at his Samadhi in Thiruvaiyaru to sing in unison the Pancharatna Kritis, his immortal five gems of kritis, with accompanying artists on veenas, violins, flutes etc. as a climax to week – long festival of music commemorating the memory and works of this divinely blessed giant of Carnatic music.   His life was a confluence and symphony of three streams - spirituality, saintliness and sangeetha.  The divine words came vibrating from his soul as a moksha sadhana.  The goal of his music was to lay bare his soul at the feet of Sri Rama. Apart from thousands of songs of kriti type, of which only 700 are available now, he had composed Utsava Sampradaya Keertanas and Divya Nama Sankeertanas which are sung in devotional congregations.  He has also created two operas: Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka charitram.  While some of his kritis are in Sanskrit, the majority of them, including the operas, are in Telugu only.


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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Ramalinga Adigal


Ramalinga Adigal who is commonly known as Vallalar  was born on  05.10.1823 at Marudhur, a village 20 kms from Chidambaram in TamilnaduHe was the youngest of the five children of Ramiah pillai, who was a teacher in the local school and an ardent devotee of Lord Siva.  He was named Ramalingam.  The year after his birth, his father passed away and his mother Chinnammaiar shifted with children to her mother’s place near Ponneri.  After two years she again shifted the family to Chennai to stay with her eldest son, Sabapthy, who was working as a teacher there. When Ramalingam was five years old, Sabapathy put him to school.  But Ramalingam had no interest in formal education and he preferred to spend his time in the precincts of local Murugan temple known as Kandakottam.  Being a teacher himself, Sabapthy was upset with what he considered as the self-destructive behaviour of his younger brother and as a punitive measure he instructed his wife, Parvathi, not to give him any food. Parvathi being a compassionate person secretly fed him and gently prevailed upon him to pursue his studies at home. Ramalingam relented on condition that he is given a separate room which was agreed to.

Now in the solitary confines of the room Ramalingam set up a mirror and in front of it lit a small lamp and started mediating before it.   Unlike the other children of his age, he was totally disinterested in the usual games and pleasures of childhood.  He was proficient in Tamil language and his inclination was totally towards God.  He could compose wonderful devotional songs from a very early age of nine. Sitting before a mirror and meditating and composing poems and visiting the Kandakottam temple became the daily routine. He felt intensely devotional and poured out his devotion in the form of poems like Deiva Mani Malai, Kandar Sarana Pathu etc. One day Sabapathy who used to give religious discourses could not attend one engagement due to ill-health and he requested Ramalingam to convey the message of his inability to perform to the organisers.  As the organisers could not make alternative arrangements they requested Ramalingam to take up the role of his brother. A reluctant Ramalingam took the stage. His brilliant exposition and uninterrupted flow of words while enunciating a verse from the `Periyapuranam', and his brilliant exposition of Saiva Siddhantha kept the audience spell bound and awestruck.  “No ordinary person can perform a divine discourse as effortlessly and magnificently as Ramaligam” was the remark from the audience. Sabhapathy on coming to know of this felt proud of him and also ashamed that he could not recognize the greatness of his own brother.

Now his brother recognized that Ramalingam was a precocious child genius and let him carry on his routines undisturbed. The family also tried to anchor him to worldly life by getting him married.  Due to their insistence he married Danammal, his sister’s daughter. But he had no heart in the marriage and on the night he was supposed to consummate the marriage, Ramalingam recited his favourite work, Manickavasagar’s Tiruvachakam, to the bride. Marriage was no distraction from his spiritual yearning and religious activities and he did not lead an active married life. 

In 1858, Ramalingam accompanied by a few spiritually oriented friends and a disciple, journeyed southwards towards his birthplace. After worshipping in temples in places like Vaitheeswarankoil, Tiruvaarur, Seerkazhi and Chidambaram, he settled at Karunguzhi, near Chidambaram, where the village official of Karunguzhi, Venkata Reddiar, placed his house at his disposal. During his stay there Ramalingam used to be writing poems day and night.  On one day the people of the house had gone out to a nearby village and stayed there itself that night.  Ramalingam, whom we shall refer to as Adigal hereafter, was alone and writing.  As he was writing the lamp ran out of oil and absorbed in writing, he poured the contents of the vessel left by his side without looking into it, into the lamp and continued writing the whole night. The vessel had contained only water for his use which he had not noticed.  Yet the lamp continued burning on water.  Next day when the family members returned home they found the vessel empty and the lamp filled with water and burning.  After this miracle the people who were revering him as saint started to look upon him as God. 

There are also many other miracles attributed to him here and elsewhere. People now started seeing him not only as a saint and a poet but also as a mystic who can perform miracles to help them.   Adigal was not against performing miracles, as they formed the powers and plays of the Divine. However he was not for miracle mongering. But many started flocking to him not attracted by his teachings but only by his miracles and for deriving benefit from his power of Siddhis. So he later remarked regretfully towards the end of his life “கடை விரித்தேன், கொள்வாரில்லை (I opened the shop, only to find there were no buyers)

Adigal  gave beautiful expression to his devotion and his teachings through his poems. He composed many poems and 5818 of them divided into six Thirumurais were published under the title ‘திருவருட்பா”(Thiruvarutpa) i.e. Divine song of Grace, in 1867 by his first disciple, Velayutha Mudaliar, with his permission.  Thiruvarutpa is considered as an outstanding work of literature and of soul-stirring devotion, like Thiruvachakam, the work Adigal admired most.  Disciples thronged to hear these poems and drew immense inspiration from them.  There is an interesting incident connected with the name ‘Arutpa’.  Arumuga Navalar of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, an eminent Saiva Siddhanta scholar, filed a suit against Adigal in the court of the District munsif at Manjakuppam praying for a decree for the withdrawal of the name ‘Arutpa’ by the defendant, contending that it is ‘Marutpa’ (hymns of illusion) only.  On the day of hearing, Navalar was present in the court before time. Soon the Munsif resumed his chair and the defendant was called by name. Adigal entered the hall and the plaintiff, Navalar, stood in reverence and greeted Adigal with folded hands.  Munsif himself got up from the chair and paid reverence to Adigal automatically. After hearing the arguments from both sides, Navalar was asked why he stood up for Adigal and he admitted that Adigal was a nice and noble person blessed with mystic powers. The court in its judgement held that ‘Arutpa’ was a valuable treasure to the world of Tamil devotional literature and it is an outcome entirely based on Divine inspiration and also cited Navalar’s opinion of Adigal and his reverence to Adigal.  The court also held that in as much as it is admitted that Adigal is a wise spiritual soul, it cannot be argued that his renderings were of a worldly nature. So it decreed the case in favour of the defendant. The district munsif is the one who later became an eminent judge of Chennai High court, Justice Muthuswami Iyer. 

 In 1865, Adigal formed the ‘Sanmarga Sangh’ to preach his principles of one God, compassion towards fellow beings, jeeva karunyam, and adherence to vegetarianism, annadhanam etc.  In 1867, Vallalar established Dharmasala at Vadalur as a centre to give hospitality to the fatigued travellers, food to the indigent elders and medical aid to the patients without resources.  This Dharmasala continues to feed the poor every day since then and the kitchen fire has not been put out since it was first lit. As people started thronging the place at Vadalur, Adigal in search of solitude shifted to Mettukuppam, a village 5 kms from Vadalur. The hut where he stayed was named by him as ‘Siddhi Valagam’ which means ‘Place of Attainment’. Here he continued his long fasts and meditation and he also used to disappear and reappear without anybody knowing his whereabouts.

One day Adigal declared his wish to build a temple according to a design made by him. The devotees started work on it. It was inaugurated on January 25. 1872, and was called Sathya Jnana Sabhai.  This is not a temple in the usual sense as no offerings of fruits or flowers could be made, and no blessings were given. It was open to people of all castes except for those who ate meat, who can only worship from outside.  It was hexagonal shaped and had a lamp in its main altar. Daily pujas were performed for this lamp only. Puja consisted of one ritual only i.e. Deepa aradhana. There is a mirror in front of the lamp and the altar is behind curtains of black, blue, green, red, golden and white and multi colours, representing the veils of ignorance. When the curtains were removed, the Jyothi could be seen through the mirror.  Adigal lit the lamp on the inaugural day and it continues to burn to this day. There are no other rituals inside this Jnana Sabhai except the simple burning of camphor. There is a board restricting entry to vegetarians only.  The அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி அகவல் (Arutperunjothi Agaval) of Adigal is engraved here. 

In 1873 he started the movement Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Sathya Sangam, giving collectively to those present the "அருட்பெரும் ஜோதி” (ArutPerum Jothi) Mahamantra.  He said God is "அருட்பெரும் ஜோதி" and He is personification of mercy and knowledge. He said the path of compassion and mercy is the only path to God. He explained Samarasam as the the concept that encompasses all religious thoughts and respects all faiths and religions; Suddham as standing for purity and sublimity that is achieved through Indriya Ozhukkam, Karana Ozhukkam, Jeeva Ozhukkam, and Athma Ozhukkam;  Sanmargam standing for right and truthful path i.e. the one where there is no distinctions between humans. He underlined the principles which formed the foundation of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam as:
1)  God is one. He is ArutPerum Jyothi, the Vast Grace of Light.
  2) All are children of one God and there is no caste, religious or regional differences.
  3) One should recognize the divinity in every soul, respect it and live in peace and prosperity, in a spirit of love and unity.
  4) Compassion towards all fellow beings and compassion towards all lives such as animals, birds etc. should form the basis of all actions.
  5) To reach God, tread the path of simplicity and humility and not through rituals or extravagant ways of worship. 

  The essence of his teachings he outlined as பசித்திரு, தனித்திரு, விழித்திரு” (Pasithiru, Thanithiru Vizhithiru);  பசித்திரு representing the hunger for Moksha, தனித்திரு the freedom from delusions and விழித்திரு watchfulness over senses.

  On Thursday the 30th January, 1874 he told his disciples that he would be leaving his body and entering all the bodies of creation and asked them to continue the lamp worship as laid down by him leading a life of compassion, purity and simplicity.  After taking leave of all those present he locked himself inside the room in the Siddhi Valagam.  The news that Adigal had locked himself up in his room became known widely and it gave rise to all sorts of rumours necessitating Government intervention.  When the officials broke open the door there was not any trace of Ramalinga Adigal in the room. The police examined Siddhi Valagam and its surroundings extensively and later the collector and Revenue Member conducted an enquiry and it was finally concluded that there was no evidence to suspect any foul play as nothing could be found ‘’to lend the least support for any sort of suspicion’’. His disappearance was gazetted in Government records. His disciples concluded that he had merged with the Great Light of Grace, changing his body into subtle, invisible deathless body or as we would put it, realized total union with God.
  
   Ramalinga Adigal was a revolutionary bhaktha who took the role of a reformer seeing the many ills plaguing the society. Steeped in ignorance, people were following certain outmoded customs, dogmas, beliefs and practices. He felt the need of the hour was transformation in socio-religious practices changing wrong concepts. He wanted everyone to live in the spirit of universal brother-hood, showing compassion towards all lives. He was opposed to superstitions and rituals. He perceived God not as an identifiable image, not necessarily in the form of an idol or form restricted to a class or religion. He perceived God as all-pervading Divine Power. So he introduced the universal and uniform concept of Jyothi worship and Suddha Sanmarga besides advocating a casteless society and preaching that path to Moksha was through service to mankind only.  He says in one of his songs:
  சாதியிலே மதங்களிலே சமயநெறி களிலே
சாத்திரச்சந் தடிகளிலே கோத்திரச்சண் டையிலே
ஆதியிலே அபிமானித் தலைகின்ற உலகீர்
அலைந்தலைந்து வீணேநீர் அழிதல்அழ கலவே
நீதியிலே சன்மார்க்க நிலைதனிலே நிறுத்த
நிருத்தமிடும் தனித்தலைவர் ஒருத்தர்அவர் தாமே
வீதியிலே அருட்சோதி விளையாடல் புரிய
மேவுகின்ற தருணம்இது கூவுகின்றேன் உமையே


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Monday, 20 July 2015

Thayumanavar


Kediliyappa Pillai was a minister in the court of Vijayaranga Sokkanatha Nayagar who ruled from Trisirapuram, now called Tiruchirapalli.  Kediliyappa Pillai had given in adoption his first born to his elder brother, who had no children.  He got a second child only after long years of prayer to Thayumaneswarar and so he named the child Thayumanavar.  Thayumanavar was taught Tamil and Sanskrit, and he was a keen student of Vedanta and Siddanta, learning quickly Upanishads and Siva Jnana Bodham, besides Tiruvachakam, Thevaram and other works of Saivite saints.  Besides the study of sastras and religious literature, he was also seeking a Guru, who will satisfy his spiritual thirst. He preferred solitude to company, reflection to reading, introspection to seeking out and spent time in meditation and prayer at rock-temple. 

When Thayumanavar was in teens, Kediliyappa Pillai passed away and the king now requested Thayumanavar to take up his job, as he was impressed by his scholarship and spiritual disposition.  He took up the new responsibility but continued with it his quest for a Guru and his spiritual pursuits. In his quest for a Guru, he used to engage in discussion with any sage, asking them searching questions but could not convince himself to adopt any one of them as his Guru.  One day he saw at the entrance to the shrine of Lord Dakshinamurti, a Sage sitting in deep meditation, looking graceful. He approached the Sage with great reverence, eager to engage in discussion, putting his usual questions. But at a glance from the sage, his nerves failed him and he fell at the Sage’s feet speechless.  If he was lost for words, the Sage, known as Mouna Guru Arulananda Sivachari, also did not speak. With tears of joy pouring from his eyes, Thayumanavar poured out his heart to the Sage and requested the Sage to take him as his disciple. Mouna Guru, who speaks very rarely now took him aside and told him to continue in family life for the present and that he would meet him again when the time was ripe and then initiate him into Sanyasa.  In the meantime his advice was “Summa iru” meaning be quiet in body, mind and speech.  Thayumanavar parted from him reluctantly, to pursue his spiritual exercises more vigorously along with his ministerial duties. 

At this time an incident happened which made the king and the people regard him more as a spiritual master than as the country’s minister.  One day as he was in the court handling an important paper, he suddenly squeezed and threw it down unconsciously.  The king was aghast and the people in the court felt he had shown disrespect to the king.  He suddenly recovered, apologised and tried to put matters right without offering any explanation. What had happened was; though he was bodily present in the court, mentally he was in the shrine of Devi Akilandeswari at Tiruvanaikovil.  There the dress of Devi caught fire and he had acting on impulse quickly put out the fire by squeezing the affected part. This had been noticed by the Sivachariar who could not react as quickly as Thayumanavar.  When the Sivachariar reported this incident to the king, the king realized Thayumanavar’s mystic powers. Then on he became king’s minister cum master.

Soon after, the king passed away and  his queen Minakshiammai ascended the throne.  She wanted him to continue not only as her minister but also become her paramour as well. So one night he left Tiruchirapalli without informing anybody and went beyond the limits of the kingdom to Ramanathapuram.  Here he preferred to stay aloof and practice inner solitude and silence. But this could not last for long as his brother Sivachidambaram Pillai and cousin Arulaiyappa Pillai having heard of his departure from Tiruchirapalli, traced him to Ramanathapuram and entreated him to come to Vedaranyam and settle in household life.  Then he remembered the advice of the Guru at Rock fort temple and so went with them to Vedaranyam.  

There he married Mattuvarkuzhali, a fair and chaste woman who was a good companion to him in his life of Yoga and meditation.  He read to her ancient books of wisdom and taught her meditation.  They led a simple life, a life of purity and meditation.  Thayumanavar, like his father earlier to becoming minister, supervised the local temple.  They had a son who was named as Kanakasabapathi.  The duration of his household life was short as Mattuvarkuzhali passed away soon after. Thayumanavar placed the child under the care of his brother and waited for his Guru to come as promised. And the Guru came one day when he was meditating on the sea shore near Vedaranyam. Satisfied with the spiritual advancement of his disciple, the Guru ordered him to take to ascetic life, and instructed him in the higher stage of the Yoga, with a warning that he should not be carried away by the Siddhis that would unfold themselves but keep to the illumining and blissful road leading to Oneness with the Consciousness and Bliss of the Supreme. After initiating him in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Guru left him.

Thayumanavar left Vedaranyam as a wandering ascetic clad in loin cloth only, visiting various shrines, singing the glory of the Lord.  Many songs and places later he arrived back at Ramanathapuram.  This time he was given a grand welcome with royal honours. Thayumanavar rejected all royal honours and preferred to spend his life in a garden hut in Lakshmipuram.  There he practiced Nirvikalpa Samadhi in silence and was mostly in a state of trance. From that highest state of divinity, he poured out his spiritual intuitions in sublime verses. He wrote them on palm leaves. His disciples Arulayya and Kodikkarai Jnani copied and sang them to the public. The songs spread like wild fire. He wrote in silence, lived in silence and immersed himself in Divine Silence avoiding all publicity.  He suddenly felt one day that his mission was over and he wanted to shed the body. He entered into his room and closed the door, leaving a note outside wherein he entreated his disciples to live in silent meditation and enjoy the inner bliss. In the night when he did not appear for supper, the disciples went to call him and saw the note. They gently called and knocked. Getting no response they broke open the door and entered the room to find only the lifeless body with the face as serene as ever. The disciples adorned the body and took it in a procession singing his songs, in which the King and all the prominent local people joined and they later buried the body.

Thayumanavar was a great saint, philosopher and poet.  Like the saying “சாத்திரத்திற்கு திருமந்திரம், தோத்திரத்திற்கு திருவாசகம்Thayumanavar’s songs are said to be “சாத்திரத்திற்கு சாத்திரம், தோத்திரத்திற்கு தோத்திரம் as they combine both sastra teaching as well as praise of Lord. His songs are couched in simple language easily understandable by all and in that way he is said to be the forerunner of  Bharathiyar and Vallalar.  His key teaching is to discipline the mind, control desires and meditate peacefully.  Of the songs he wrote 1454 are said to be available now.  His philosophy is called Advaita Siddantham as his teachings outline Sivadvaitam.  He sees Consciousness as one’s Self;
பாராதி பூதம் நீ அல்லை – உன்னிப்பார் இந்திரியம் கரணம் நீ அல்லை
ஆராய் உணர்வு நீ என்றான்  (ஆனந்தக்களிப்பு)

He sees Lord as perfect bliss pervading everything and so he refers to Lord as பார்க்குமிட மெங்குமொரு நீக்கமற நிறைகின்ற பரிபூர ணானந்தமே. (பரிபூரணானந்தம்) and he says elsewhere
எங்கெங்கே பார்த்தாலும் எவ்வுயிர்க்கும் அவ்வுயிராய்
அங்கங் கிருப்பதுநீ அன்றோ பராபரமே. (பராபரக்கண்ணி 84.)
A few of his songs from பராபரக்கண்ணி which explains his philosophy, his teachings regarding mind discipline are as follows:
எல்லாரும் இன்புற் றிருக்க நினைப்பதுவே
அல்லாமல் வேறொன் றறியேன் பராபரமே. (221.)
ஒன்றே பலவே உருவே அருவேயோ
என்றே அழைப்பதுன்னை என்றோ பராபரமே. (118).
தன்னை அறிந்தால் தலைவன்மேற் பற்றலது
பின்னையொரு பற்றும்உண்டோ பேசாய் பராபரமே. (94).
சினமிறக்கக் கற்றாலுஞ் சித்தியெல்லாம் பெற்றாலும்
மனமிறக்கக் கல்லார்க்கு வாயேன் பராபரமே.(169).
கொள்ளித்தேள் கொட்டிக் குதிக்கின்ற பேய்க்குரங்காய்க்
கள்ளமனந் துள்ளுவதென் கண்டோ பராபரமே.(172.)
உள்ளபடி யாதுமென உற்றுணர்ந்தேன் அக்கணமே
கள்ளமனம் போனவழி காணேன் பராபரமே. (275.)
The songs of Thayumanavar are sparks of Divine essence and music of the inner Soul.   They were a favourite with Ramna Maharishi and he was sometimes so emotionally moved when he read out some of the songs of Thayumanavar, that he would be unable to continue; records Devraja Mudaliar. 
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