Friday, June 12, 2015

Ahobilam

A holy place of Ahobilam is situated in Andhra Pradesh, India. The history of Ahobilam spans over a huge time period, starting from the earliest times after the creation of this universe. Therefore it is difficult to summarize everything in an article of a few pages such as this. As a result, all I can do is to give you a small glimpse.

Brief history of Ahobilam

According to the Vedic history, Lord Brahma is the first living entity born in this universe from the naval lotus of Lord Vishnu. According to the instructions of Lord Vishnu, he continued the secondary creation inside the universe. In the beginning, Lord Brahma gave birth to the four sons from his mind. These four sons are the great sages and their names are Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumar. They are famous as 'four kumaras'. Although they were great sages, they purposefully kept their bodies very small, so they looked like small children.

Once, the four kumaras wanted to see the supreme personality of Godhead Lord Vishnu. So they visited the spiritual world Vaikuntha. By the sweet will of Lord Vishnu, the two gate keepers in the spiritual world, named Jaya and Vijaya, did not allow the kumaras to see Lord Vishnu, thinking them to be ordinary children. The kumaras were very eager to see Lord Vishnu. When they were not allowed to see the Lord, they cursed the gate keepers Jaya and Vijaya to fall into the material world. Lord Vishnu then appeared on the scene and told Jaya and Vijaya to accept the curse of the kumaras. Lord assured them that this incidence has happened due to His will only. Lord also told them that they will be born as demons in the material world and Lord Himself will kill them and deliver them back to the spiritual world.

In their first life in the material world, Jaya and Vijaya were born as the demoniac sons of sage Kashyapa. They were known as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakahipu. Hiranyaksha was killed by the Varaha incarnation of Lord. Hiranyakashipu was killed by another wonderful incarnation of Lord in the form of Narasimha, the half lion - half human form. Ahobilam is a place where Hiranyakashipu had his huge palace and where Lord Narasimha appeared to finish him.

When his elder brother Hiranyaksha was killed by Lord Varaha, Hiranyakashipu developed enmity towards Lord Vishnu. To acquire power to kill Lord Vishnu, he started performing a very severe and difficult penances. Due to his performance of penance, a tremendous amount of heat was generated and the entire world was disturbed. In order to save the world from this heat, Lord Brahma appeared before Hiranyakashipu and told him to ask the boon for which he was performing the austerities.

Hiranyakashipu initially asked Lord Brahma the boon of total immortality, but this was not possible even for Lord Brahma to give, as Lord Brahma himself has a limited lifespan (although it is very large). Then Hiranyakashipu  asked Lord Brahma the promise that he will not be killed by any living entity which Lord Brahma has created, he will not be killed by any weapon, by any man or animal, or in a day time or night time, or inside the house or outside the house etc. By acquiring such a boon from Lord Brahma, Hiranyakashipu became almost unbeatable and immortal. He controlled almost entire universe single handedly.

When Hiranyakashipu was performing the penances, his kingdom was attacked and destroyed by demigods. During this time, Hiranyakashipu's pregnant wife Leelavati was taken care by sage Narada. Narada instructed Leelavati about how to perform a devotional service to Lord Vishnu which is the highest goal of human life. Hiranyakashipu's son in the womb of Leelavati also received these instructions. When the son was born, he was named as Prahlada. From the very beginning of his life, Prahlada was the great devotee of the supreme Lord Vishnu. He was always totally immersed in the meditation on the beautiful form of Lord.

When Hiranyakashipu returned home, he started ruling all the directions. He opposed all the activities dedicated towards Lord Vishnu. He sent Prahlada to the sons of Shukracharya to learn the political sciences. Prahlada however was not interested in learning these subjects and instead he used to teach his classmates about how to worship Lord Vishnu. When Hiranyakashipu understood that Prahlada is the great devotee of his enemy Lord Vishnu, he was totally disappointed. Despite all the good qualities Prahlada had, the anger of Hiranyakashipu reached such an extent that he arranged to kill his son Prahlada in different ways.

Although different terrible means to kill Prahlada were tried, Lord always protected Prahlada. When Hiranyakashipu himself tried to kill Prahlada by his sword, Lord Vishnu appeared from the pillar of the palace and manifested his wonderful form of Narasimha. Lord was extremely angry and within no time, He took Hiranyakashipu in his lap and killed him by piercing his body by his nails.  Lord also destroyed Hiranyakashipu's army. Lord was so ferocious even after killing Hiranyakashipu that even demigods like Lord Brahma could not pacify Him. When His devotee Prahlada offered wonderful prayers to Lord, He became pacified.

According to Brahmanda Purana, Ahobilam is a place where these incidences took place. The place where Prahlada attended his school, the place from where Lord Narasimha appeared from the pillar and many other places of spiritual significance can be found in Ahobilam.

After the appearance of Lord Narasimha, Garuda wished to have a vision of Lord. Therefore he performed penances on the mountains of Ahobilam. Therefore these mountains are also known as Garudadri or Garudachalam. Lord Narasimha granted Garuda the vision of His form and Lord manifested Himself in the deity forms at the different places in these mountains. Nine self manifested deities of Lord Narasimha are present in Ahobilam. Most of the temples housing these deities are situated on the two mountain sides which are separated by the Bhavanashini river. Each of these nine deities also has a separate history related to it. The brief description of the nine forms of Lord Narasimha is as follows.

The first of the nine deities of Lord Narasimha in Ahobilam is Bhargava Narasimha. This deity appeared from the fire sacrifice performed at this place by Parashurama. The temple is situated at the banks of a holy water pond called Bhargava kunda.

The next deity is Ahobila Narasimha or Ugra Narasimha situated at the base of the two mountains at the bank of river Bhavanashini. This is said to be the place where Prahlada pacified Lord Narasimha after killing Hiranyakashipu. This deity of Lord was worshiped by Prahlada himself.

The next deity of Lord is known as Kroda Narasimha or Varaha Narasimha. Here Lord is present in His Varaha form carrying mother Bhudevi on his shoulders. Lord sanctified mother Bhudevi at this place from the sin of studying the Vedic literatures herself, as women are not supposed to study the Vedic literature on their own, without any guidance.

The next deity is knows as Malola Narasimha. In this form, Lord Narasimha can be seen with mother Lakshmi as her beloved. Ma means mother Lakshmi and Lola means beloved. The place where Prahlada's school was situated is near from this temple.

The next deity is known as Jwala Narasimha. This is a place where Lord killed Hiranyakashipu. A small water pond is also present here, where Lord washed the blood on his hands after killing Hiranyakashipu. The Ugra Stambha or the pillar from which Lord Narasimha appeared is close to this temple.

The next deity of Lord is known as Pavana Narasimha. It is the only deity which is situated on the other side of the mountain. Sage Bharadvaja performed penances here to please Lord and Lord manifested his form here to bless the sage. All the deities mentioned till now are situated in the mountains covered by thick forest.

The next deity is known as Karanja Narasimha due to a Karanja tree situated nearby. Sage Kobila performed penance at this shrine to free himself from the curse given by sage Durvasa.

The next form of the Lord is known as Yogananda Narasimha. At this place, Lord Narasimha instructed Prahlada about the science of Yoga and Prahlada performed the meditation.

The last deity of the Lord is known as Chatravata Narasimha where two Gandharvas (celestial singers) sang the glories of the Lord and Lord appeared there, being pleased with the service of the Gandharvas.

I have mentioned these nine deities in a sequence in which I visited them. Other authors have described these deities in a different order.

Apart from these Nava-Narasimha temples, another shrine of Lord Narasimha is situated in Ahobilam village. This temple is called Prahlada Varada Narasimha. In this temple, Lord Narasimha along with His consort Lakshmi is worshiped. The history of this temple is also very interesting.

Shrinivas Acharya, a great saintly personality, was living in Kanchipuram in the house of his spiritual master (Gurukula). He was only 20 years old, when Lord Narasimha instructed him in dream to go to Ahobilam. After taking permission from his spiritual master, Srinivas Acharya came to Ahobilam where Lord Narasimha Himself came in a form of sanyasi and gave him the spiritual order of Sanyasa. Lord named him as Sathakopa Jiyar and instructed him to develop the holy place of Ahobilam. Lord also told him to select one the utsava murtis among the nine temple of Ahobilam. Sathakopa Jeeyar found it very difficult to select the utsava murti  and prayed to Lord  for help. Then the utsava murti of Malola Narasimha came by itself to the Jeeyar who was praying for Lord's mercy.

Lord Narasimha instructed Sathakopa Jeeyar to establish a proper temple for the deity of Prahlada Varada Narasimha. Following the Lord's instruction, Sathakopa Jeeyar established this temple by taking a help of a king who was ruling this region. The king was a devout follower of Lord Shiva. He used to make a golden shiva-linga everyday and after worshiping it, he used to donate it to Brahmanas. Once when the king came in the vicinity of Ahobilam, all the shiva-lingas that he used to make were getting converted into the deities of Lord Narasimha. When Sathakopa Jeeyar approached the king for requesting him to help build the temple for Lord Narasimha, King, inspired by Lord by showing this miracle, agreed to help build this temple.

The deity of Lord Narasimha in this temple was worshiped by Lord Balaji of Tirumala for one month. A temple of Lord Balaji and Lord Rama is also situated here.

In Ahobilam, mother Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Narasimha is known by a special name called Chenchu Lakshmi. According to the tradition of Ahobilam, mother Lakshmi appeared in Chenchu tribe of Ahobilam region and Lord Narasimha married her. Therefore the people of Chenchu tribe worship Lord Narasimha as their son in law.

My pilgrimage to Ahobilam

We visited Ahobilam in November 2014. Our Pilgrimage was planned for three days. We took a bus from Bangalore and reached Allagadda in the early morning of the next day. Then we took another bus from Allagadda to Ahobilam. On the first day, we celebrated an appearance day of His Holiness Bhakti Swaroop Damodar Swami. For the next two days, we visited different Narasimha deities of Ahobilam. Due to a huge gathering of wonderful devotees of Lord Narasimha, the whole pilgrimage became the constant source of inspiration and happiness, despite a good amount of trekking on the mountains. I thank Lord for giving me this opportunity.

Conclusion

Although Lord Narasimha's form is very angry, He is very merciful. He has mercifully allowed me to come and visit his home in Ahobilam, although I am very unqualified. My heart is full of unwanted things and I request Lord Narasimha and His devotees to help me in purifying it. I offer this essay as an offering to Lord Narasimha. I request Him and His devotees to mercifully accept it, though it is far from complete.

Acknowledgements
I thank Bhaktivedanta Institute, Bangalore for organizing a wonderful pilgrimage to Ahobilam.

References
1. Spiritual India handbook, Stephen Knapp, Jaico Publishing (2011).
2. Shrimad Bhagavatam, A C Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (2005).
3. Oral information received from the devotees of Lord at Ahobilam (2014).



On the way to Bhargava Narsimha Temple

The temple of Bhargava Narasimha

Devotees discussing the glories of Ahobilam in Pralhada Varada Narasimha temple


The entrance of Ugra or Ahobila Narasimha temple

Ugra stambha, the place from where Lord Narasimha appeared

The view of mountains from Jwala Narasimha temple

The cave in which Jwala Narasimha temple is situated

The way to Jwala Narasimha temple

The place where Pralhada's school was situated

The cave where Prahlada meditated on Lord

Chatravata Narasimha temple

The view from Chatravata Narasimha temple

Yogananda Narasimha temple

Pavana Narasimha temple

The view of a mountain seen from the way to Pavana Narasimha temple

Malola Narasimha temple

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hampi

Hampi
Hrishikesh S. Sonalikar
2 January 2014

Most of us are aware that long time ago, during Ramayana period, mother Sita was taken to Lanka by demon Ravana. Lord Rama and Lakshamana travelled in Southern direction in search of her and eventually reached a city named Kishkindha where they developed friendship with Hanuman, Sugriva and other Vanaras (Celestian monkeys and bears). Many wonderful events that happened there are vividly described in Kishkindha Kanda of Ramayana. Millions of years have passed since the time of Lord Rama but the record of historical events happened during that time is still available to us. Today, in this age of science and technology, we may wonder about the exact geographical location of the Kishkindha. It was a pleasant surprise for me when I came to know that the Kishkindha is situated on the banks of Tungabhadra river around the place called Hampi.

Hampi is a village situated near the Hospet city in the state of Karnataka. It is surrounded by many hills which are full of huge rocks and caves. In Puranas, this place is mentioned as Pampa Kshetra. Pampa is a presiding deity of Tungabhadra river. She performed penances and worshipped Lord Shiva here. Lord Shiva in His aspect called Virupaksha accepted Pampa as His wife. The temple of the self manifested Shivalinga and mother Pampadevi is a primary and huge complex of Hampi village. This temple, called as Virupaksha temple, is generally the first place that we see when we enter Hampi.

However the first place in Kishkindha where Lord Rama and Lakshmana arrived is a lake called Pampa Sarovar. After they observed the exquisite beauty of this lake, they visited Shabari who was a great devotee of Lord. Lord enjoyed the fruits offered to Him by Shabari on the banks of Pampa Sarovar. During those times Pampa Sarovar was a huge lake decorated with beautiful lotus flowers and different kinds of birds. Today also Pampa Sarovar is a very serene and beautiful place surrounded by hills from three sides. Although now it is smaller in size, the place is spiritually so vibrant that we can feel immediate spiritual nourishment when we go there. We are exceedingly sure about the purity of this holy place because Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also took bath in this lake.

After visiting Shabari, Lord Rama and Lakshmana proceeded towards Matanga mountain to meet Sugriva. This Matanga mountain can be seen when you stand in the door of the Virupaksha temple and see towards the East. Sugriva was a younger brother of the king of Kishkindha named Vali. He was living there along with his four ministers. Hanuman, who is the great devotee of Lord, brought Lord Rama and Lakshmana and introduced them to Sugriva. Sugriva and Lord Rama became great friends. Sugriva was living in hiding in sage Matanga's ashrama as Vali wanted to kill Sugriva due to a previous misunderstanding. Sage Matanga's asharama was the only safe place for Sugriva and his ministers because Matanga muni had previously cursed Vali to die if Vali enters the area of his ashrama. Lord Rama helped Sugriva by killing Vali and installing Sugriva on the throne of the kingdom of Kishkindha. In return Sugriva helped Lord to search and rescue mother Sita. Sugriva gathered all the vanaras and sent them in different directions in search of mother Sita. It was the search party of Hanuman and Vali's son named Angada who discovered that Sita was present in Lanka. Once mother Sita's location was known, Lord Rama proceeded towards Lanka along with the huge army of vanaras. They built a bridge to Lanka and after the great war with Ravana and his army, they rescued mother Sita. Sugriva, Hanuman along with millions of other vanaras and their leaders played a very instrumental role in this rescue operation conducted to bring mother Sita and Lord Rama together. After these events, Angada, the son of Vali, was made king of the Kishkindha.

Today we can find many places in Hampi which witnessed these events. Pampa Sarovar, Malyavan mountain, Hemakuta mountain, Anjaneyadri which is a birthplace of Hanuman, the entrance to Vali's cave, temple of Durga whom Vali worshipped, a place where Lord Rama and Lakshmana stayed during the months of rainy season, Shabari's cave, the place where Sugriva stored the jewels dropped by Sita when she was being taken away are some of these places.

Apart from the places of Lord's pastimes, Hampi is also famous as a capital of the Vijayanagara Kingdom. Many structures constructed by Vijayanagara kings are present in Hampi. Looking at these works of huge and beautifully carved stones to construct palaces, temples and water ponds, one can only imagine the prosperity that prevailed when the saintly kings like Krishnadevaraya ruled their kingdom on the basis of dharma. King Krishnadevaraya was a disciple in the line of Madhva Sampradaya and a great devotee of Lord. Today all we can see in Hampi is broken temples and palaces. The worship of Lord is absent in many of the temples as there is no deity. For a devotee and a spiritualist, looking and admiring the beauty of these vacant temples may not be enough.

Me and my wife visited Hampi during 24 to 26 December 2014. We spent the first day in Hampi looking at the palaces and temples constructed by Vijayanagara kings and it caused only pain and exhaustion in me. I actually started enjoying the Hampi trip when we visited the places related to Lord Rama and his devotees. On the second day, we walked towards Vitthala temple along the Southern bank of Tungabhadra river. On the way we visited Kodanda Rama temple. This temple has very big and beautiful deities of Lord Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The place where the temple is located is extremely beautiful. Situated nearby are the temples of Hanuman and Lord Ranganath. Then we proceeded towards the Vitthala temple where we crossed the river by boat and reached a village named Anegundi. This is where Pampa Sarovar, Shabari's cave and Anjaneyadri are located. First we visited Pampa Sarovar where I found myself very happy. After briefly visiting Shabari's cave and nearby temple of Lord Shiva, we proceeded to the birth place of Hanuman, Anjaneyadri. This hill is named after Hanuman's mother Anjana. She performed austerities on this hill and demigod Vayu impregnated her with Hanuman. I found myself fully energetic even after climbing around 600 steps to the top of Anjaneyadri where temple of Lord Rama, Lakshmana, Sita as well as Hanuman and Anjana is located. After visiting these places, we came back to Hampi by the same way. Spending every evening in the devotional environment of the Virupaksha temple in the central Hampi was also a nectarine experience for me. I spent a good deal of my time on the third day by just sitting on the banks of Tungabhadra river at different places. I also went to the base of Matanga mountain but did not climb up this time.

I was very fortunate to listen the story Ramayana from my maternal grandmother since childhood. During the beginning of my stay in IISc, Lord gave me opportunity to relish the reading of Ramayana in detail. This pilgrimage to Hampi, the Kishkindha of Ramayana, was a reminder for me to continue the spiritual journey which has started long ago.

There may be many people who may question whether Ramayana actually happened, whether Lord Rama was actually there or the information that I have written above is really true. The answers to these questions will be easily obtained when we associate with the devotees of the Lord, study the authentic Vedic literature like Ramayana in which activities of Lord are recorded and visit the holy places where these activities took place. This will bring a spiritual change in us, which is good. There will be always some people who will point out the contradictions in scriptures and different religious systems. But a genuine devotee is sure that all the contradictions are present in the Lord and still He is simple to understand for a devotee. He is वेदेषु दुर्लभं अदुर्लभं आत्मभक्तौ.

This article is certainly not a good guide to visit different places in Hampi. It also does not focus much on Vijayanagara history in which many people may be interested. But it is my hope that it will bring out some interest to carefully study Ramayana as well as to visit this place where the ancient events mentioned in Ramayana took place.

I am not very good at writing but the merciful devotees of Lord may accept this article and offer it to the lotus feet of Lord. I will be very happy if devotees become happy after reading this article.

Acknowledgements
I thank all the devotees of Lord and especially those in Bhaktivedanta Institute, Bangalore because of whom I can hope to make some progress in spirituality. I thank my wife who enthusiastically proposed to visit Hampi. I thank my friend Sudeep Nakhe for helping me in organizing this trip and giving me some important tips about food and climate. I also thank the people of Hampi and Anegundi villages.

References
1. Spiritual India Handbook, Stephen Knap, Jaico publishing house, 2011 (English).
2. Valmiki Ramayana Volume 1 and 2, Geeta press, Gorakhpur (Sanskrit, Hindi).

Virupaksha - Pampa Devi Temple

Tungabhadra river

Pampa Sarovar

Anjaneyadri

Matanga Parvat

View of Kishkindha from Anjaneyadri

Kodanda Rama Temple

View from Kodanda Rama Templa

View of Virupaksha Temple

Malyavaan Parvat and the temple of Lord on the top

Tungabhadra river

Pampa Sarovar


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Manipur

Manipur
Hrishikesh S. Sonalikar

27 September 2014 

The valley of Manipur is situated in the North-East region of India. It is surrounded by the trailing hills of the Himalaya Mountain. Many of us are not closely familiar with Manipur as it is situated in comparatively remote region. Therefore the ancient history of Manipur may come to you as a surprise. In this humble attempt, I will try to share with you some information I could gather from the ancient books.

From the Puranas, we understand that long time ago this valley was a huge lake. Lord Shiva emptied this lake and thus the valley was created. The valley was decorated with wonderful gems by the celestial snakes for the pleasure of Lord Shiva. Hence the name Manipur (Mani means gems).

The later history of Manipur is very closely related to Arjuna who is known as the great hero of Mahabharata war as well as the great devotee of Lord Krishna. In the Adi Parva of Mahabharata, we find that once Arjuna went on a pilgrimage. After visiting some holy places in Himalaya mountains, he reached Hardwar and stayed there for few days. While taking bath in the Ganga river at Hardwar, he was taken to the nether world of celestial snakes by a girl named Ullupi. She requested Arjuna to marry her. Arjuna in response accepted her in marriage but stayed there only for a day. Then he continued his pilgrimage towards the holy places in Eastern direction and eventually reached Manipur.

At that time, Manipur was ruled by a king named Chitravahana. He had a very beautiful daughter named Chitrangada. Arjuna requested Chitravahana to give him Chitrangada in marriage. Chitravahana happily agreed to this on a condition that the son of Chitrangada will be given the throne of Manipur. Then Arjuna was married to Chitrangada and a son was born to them. This son was named Babhruvahana. Arjuna stayed in Manipur for next three years and then continued his pilgrimage along the cost of Southern ocean. After returning to Manipur, Arjuna instructed Chitrangada to stay in Manipur and take care of Babhruvahana. He invited her to Hastinapur in future at the time of Rajasuya sacrifice to be performed by Yudhishtira.

In the Ashwamedha Parva of Mahabharata, we find that after the war of Kurukshetra, king Yudhishtira decided to perform a Ashwamedha sacrifice. In this sacrifice, a sacrificial horse is allowed to freely roam around the world for one year. The kings of different countries should either capture the horse and fight with the Pandava army or accept the sovereign of Pandavas over the world. After travelling to many kingdoms, this horse reached Manipur where, by that time, Babhruvahana was ruling. When Babhruvahana was told that a sacrificial horse has entered his kingdom, he captured it immediately. But when he understood that his father Arjuna himself was protecting the horse, he went to meet Arjuna in a humble and respectful mood. He wanted to return the horse to Arjuna but Arjuna, on other hand, wanted to see the valor and strength of his son. Therefore Arjuna did not receive the respect as well as gifts brought to him by Babhruvahana. In contrast, Arjuna challenged Babhruvahana to fight in the battle.

Babhruvahana was in dilemma about whether he should fight his father or not when Ullupi appeared there. She advised Babhruvahana to accept the challenge of Arjuna. In a great battle that followed, Arjuna's army was utterly destroyed and many great warriors on Arjuna's side were defeated. To our great surprise, Arjuna himself was beheaded and killed by Babhruvahana. After the battle was over, Babhruvahana and Chitrangada were overwhelmed with grief due to loss of Arjuna. But Ullupi, the only one who new the secret behind Arjuna's death, reassured both of them. She procured a powerful gem named Sanjeewani from the nether worlds. She brought Arjuna back to life by using the power of this gem. Ullupi also related the reason behind Arjuna's death to Babhruvahana and Chitrangada. She told that in the Kurukshetra war, because Arjuna had attacked Bhishma while putting Shikhandi in between them, the demigods named Vasus cursed that Arjuna will have to die in the battle. After hearing this, Arjuna was happily reunited with Chitrangada, Babhruvahana as well as Ullupi and continued his journey with the sacrificial horse.

The Ashwamedha Parva written by Jaimini gives a few more details of this incident. It tells us that Lord Krishna played a key role in bringing Arjuna back to life. Although the Sanjeewani gem was procured, the head of Arjuna was stolen by two envious celestial snakes and as a result the gem could not be used. It was Krishna who brought back Arjuna's head by using His mystic powers. This book also tells that although Arjuna's head was separated from his body, it was chanting the holy names of Krishna such as Govinda, Madhava etc.

The later kings of Manipur were faithful followers of Vedic culture. But it was during the time of the great King Bhagyachandra in 18th century AD that the Manipur accepted the culture of pure devotional service of Lord Vishnu (Krishna). When Bhagyachandra was a small child, his father was killed in the battle and his uncle took over the affairs of the kingdom. When Bhagyachandra grew up and started to rule the valley, his uncle became envious and conspired with Burmese kingdom to attack the valley of Manipur. Under this attack, Bhagyachandra and his mother had to flee and take shelter under the king Rajarshee of Ahom (now Assam).

A nice friendship developed between Bhagyachandra and king Rajarshee. King Rajarshee provided Bhagyachandra everything required for his peaceful and safe stay in Assam. But Bhagyachandra's uncle sent a letter to king Rajarshee saying that the person who is staying with the king is not a real Bhagyachandra but an imposter. The king of Assam was puzzled upon receiving this letter and decided to test Bhagyachandra. In this test, Bhagyachandra was to tame the wild elephant. If he could do that, the king of Assam would accept him as the real Bhagyachandra.

On a night before this test, Bhagyachandra was praying to Lord Krishna to guide him about how he should handle this difficult situation. In night, Lord Krishna appeared in the dream of Bhagyachandra. He told Bhagyachandra to approach the wild elephant with nothing but a flower garland and chanting beads. Lord Krishna also told Bhagyachandra that in future he will be the only ruler of the valley of Manipur. Krishna also asked Bhagyachandra to construct a temple for Lord Krishna with Lord's deity made in the exact form in which Bhagyachandra was seeing Him. Lord told that Bhagyachandra will find a jack-fruit tree on Kaina hillside. The wood of this tree would be used for making the deity. Lord also revealed the Rasa-Leela (Krishna's spiritual dance with gopis in full-moon night) in Bhagyachandra's dream and instructed the king to arrange for such Rasa-Leela dance performances for the pleasure of Krishna.

In the morning the crowds gathered to see if Bhagyachandra can control the wild elephant. When Bhagyachandra entered the arena, the elephant immediately charged towards him. As he neared, it was stopped by some unseen force as if it was hitting the invisible wall. This happened several times and finally the elephant knelt down in front of the king. Only Bhagyachandra could see Lord Krishna sitting on the elephant in full control. After taming the elephant, Bhagyachandra thanked Lord Krishna by giving him a flower garland. When Bhagyachandra mounted the wild elephant, the crowds as well as the king Rajarshee became cheerful. Then with the help of king Rajarshee and his army, Bhagyachandra defeated Burmese army and reestablished his kingdom in Manipur.

After regaining his kingdom, Bhagyachandra became so busy in organizing the state that he forgot the promise of building a temple for Lord Krisha. To remind the king of this promise, Lord Krishna appeared as a small boy and started to play trick with an old lady working in the farm. This farm was located near a hill where a particular jack-fruit tree was located. Krishna wanted Bhagyachandra to make a deity from the wood of this jack-fruit tree. Krishna then sent a message for the king through the lady. After making some tricky effort to gain an access to the king,  the old lady related a story about this boy. Bhagyachandra could understand that the boy was none but Lord Krishna. He immediately followed the lady to the spot where she had seen Krishna. Although Krishna had disappeared from there, the king found the jack-fruit tree for making a deity.

The king employed artists to make deity of Lord Krishna and told them about the form of Lord he had seen in the dream. The artists made five deities but none matched the description of the king. Each of these five deities were installed with great festival at different locations in Manipur. The king became  worried as the wood of the jack-fruit tree was about to finish. But when he saw the remaining piece of wood, he could understand that it was already having the required form. He immediately ordered the artists to prepare the deity from the last piece. This deity of Lord Krishna is known as Lord Govinda and is installed in the temple which is known as Govindji temple.  

King Bhagyachandra, his ministry as well as his citizens were all dedicated to the service of Lord Govinda. The king did not force anyone to give up their culture but encouraged everybody to engage in the service of Lord Krishna by his own example. He also engaged the artists to make the dresses of Lord Krishna as well as gopis exactly as he had been revealed in the dream by the Lord. Then he started the performance of Rasa-Leela dance for the pleasure of Lord. This is the origin of Manipuri style of classical dance as well as Manipuri dresses.

In the 15th century AD, the same Lord Krishna who protected the Pandavas in the times of Mahabharata, appeared in the secret incarnation of Lord Chaitanya to teach people about the glories of chanting the holy names of Lord. In 17th century AD, His great follower Narottam Das sent some of his disciples to Manipur to preach the glories of holy name. Even today the songs of Narottam Das are sung in the valley of Manipur. King Bhagyachandra later retired from the duties of the king and took shelter of Narottam Das. He stayed in Nawadweep Dham in West Bengal, dedicating his life for the devotional service of Lord Krishna.

Even to this day, the people of Manipur follow the Vedic culture of Vaishnava principles. Although the people following many other religions live in Manipur, traditional Vaishnava as well as tribal practices are highly regarded by everyone. The birthday of Lord Krishna is one of the biggest yearly festivals of Manipur. Other festivals related to the pastimes of Lord Krishna, like Holi, are also celebrated. A Rasa-Leela performance initiated by King Bhagyachandra is still a most important part of the culture. Apart from these practises, Manipur is also known for its martial arts as well as drum-dance.

In recent times, due to the efforts of His Holiness Bhakti Swaroop Damodar Swami (also known as Sripad maharaja), the culture and practices of Manipur have been rekindled. Apart from constructing a huge temple of Their Lordships Shri Shri Radha-Krishnachandra, he established The University of Bhagavata Culture to study and promote the ancient practices of Manipur. He has made special efforts to present the ancient Vedic culture in a modern scientific way as well as to spiritually unite the people following different religions. His contributions for preserving and promoting the culture of Manipur are priceless. Although today he is not present among us in person, his disciples are working hard to follow his instructions and continue his mission.  

I was given an opportunity to visit Manipur by the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Bangalore along with the other members of the institute. We took a train from Bangalore and reached Kolkata. From Kolkata we took a flight to Imphal, a capital of Manipur state. A huge festival to celebrate the 75th birth anniversary of Sripad maharaja was organized. This festival was the essence of Manipuri culture because it displayed all the aspects of Manipuri life and arts. A drama on the life of King Bhagyachandra, a Sanskrit drama based on Geeta Govinda, a drum-dance as well as Rasa-Leela dance were the performances which one can never forget. Apart from their spiritual nature, they were performed with a very high professional accuracy and creativity. We also visited the Govindji temple and other Krishna temples established by king Bhagyachandra. The deities of Lord Krishna in these temples are extra-ordinary in their beauty. We were staying near Radha Krishnachandra Mani Mandir of Imphal where festival was organized. I had a chance to have a wonderful interaction with some school students in Imphal. I found the people of Manipur very gentle and kind.

Many authors have written books about Manipur and its history. Compared to them, my research is very limited. I have considered only the spiritual history of Manipur, ignoring everything else. Therefore this article can not satisfy all the students of history. But it is my hope that this article becomes useful to devotees of Lord Krishna and persons who know His Holiness Bhakti Swaroop Damodar Swami who hails from Manipur.

My visit to Manipur has left some strong impressions on my mind. I was overwhelmed by the good qualities of Manipuri people. I feel it was an opportunity given to me by Lord to introspect myself in the best possible surroundings. Although I was in Manipur only for five days, I tend to think that I know Manipur.

Although I am unqualified to write this essay, I request the devotees to accept it as a humble offering. I hope the devotees will like this article because they are unlimitedly merciful. I thank Lord and His devotees because they have ignored my faults and given me opportunity to write this essay. Although my words are like that of a child who is just learning how to speak, I request the reader to forgive me for such a talk. 

References
1. Mahabharata, Krishnadwaipayana Vyasa, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur (India), Vikarama year 2070 (Sanskrit, Hindi).

2. Jaimini Ashwamedha, Vishnushastri Bapat, Varada Prakashan, Pune (India), 2002 (Marathi).

3. Srila Sripad in Switzerland, No authorship, Bhaktivedanta Institute, Kolkata (India), 2013 (English).

4. Spiritual India handbook, Stephen Knapp, Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai (India), 2011 (English).

5. A glimpse of 25 years of ISKCON in Manipur, No Authorship, Bhaktivedanta Institute and The University of Bhagavata Culture, Manipur (India), 2002 (English).

Acknowledgements
I thank Bhaktivedanta Institute, Bangalore for giving me an opportunity to visit Manipur. I also thank the devotees in Manipur for making our stay pleasant. I thank all the people of Manipur who have preserved the culture despite all kinds of challenges. I thank my friend Appala Naidu for sponsoring the entire set of books containing Mahabharata (Ref. 1). I also thank my wife for obtaining a copy of Jaimini Ashwamedha (Ref. 2) after taking much efforts.

Contact author
Hrishikesh S. Sonalikar,
Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics,
Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore 560 012.
email: hrishikeshsonalikar@gmail.com
Shri Shri Radha Krishnachandra Mani Mandir, Imphal.

A picture depicting Lord Krishna's Rasa-Leela dance with Gopis

Inside of Shri Shri Radha Krishnachandra Mani Mandir

A wood carving of Garuda created by devotees from Bali, Indonesia. All the wooden art in the temple is in Balinese style.

Govindji temple established by King Bhagyachandtra

Lord Krishna along with Radha, Lalita and Vishakha dressed in Manipuri dress.

Performance of Drum-dance
Portrait of Narottam Das Thakur

A Picture of Shrila Bhakti Swaroop Damodar Swami (Dr. T. D. Singh, PhD.)

Portrait of King Bhagyachandra of Manipur, A great devotee of Lord Krishna.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Melkote

One day trip to Melkote
12 October 2014, Sunday

For registration contact
Hrishikesh Sonalikar
hrishikeshsonalikar@gmail.com
hrishikesh@iap.iisc.ernet.in
+91 9535145705

Melkote
Hrishikesh Sonalikar
22 April 2014

 
Introduction:
Melkote is a place of great spiritual significance. Many ancient events related to Lord and His devotees have taken place in Melkote. The two very ancient deities of Lord Vishnu as well as another ancient deity of Lord Narasimha can be found in Melkote. All these deities have come down to this planet Earth through the hands of the great devotees of Lord as well as different incarnations of Lord Vishnu Himself.

As the hill of Melkote is closely associated with Lord Narayana, it was knows as Narayanadri in Satya Yuga. In Treta Yuga, this hill was known as Vedadri because Lord Dattatreya taught Vedic knowledge to his disciples in these mountains. Great personalities such as Medhatithi and Prahlada studied the Vedic scriptures here under the guidance of Dattatreya. In Dwapar Yuga, this hill was known as Yadugiri because Yadu family often came down here to worship Lord Narayana. In Kali Yuga, this hill is known as Yati Shaila because Shripad Ramanuja rebuilt and revived this place in the 11th century AD. As a number of great sages such as Narada, Vyasa, Bhrugu, Shandilya etc. came here to acquire knowledge, this place is also known as Dnyana Mantapa meaning "The house of knowledge".

The spiritual significance of Melkote is described in different Vedic scriptures such as Naradiya Purana, Matsya Purana, Ishwara Samhita as well as Kashi Mahatmya. Therefore a serious spiritualist will be very curious to know more about the history of Melkote. In this article I will try to share the spiritual history of Melkote as far as my limited capacity permits.

Arrival of Lord Tirunarayana:
The temple of Lord Tirunarayana (Vishnu) is the main temple of Melkote town. This temple is situated at the base of Yadugiri hill. How the deity of Lord Tirunarayana came here is a very interesting fact. Lord Brahma, who is a secondary creator of the universe, wanted to have a deity of Lord Vishnu for worship. Lord Brahma performed austerities to obtain the deity of Lord Vishnu. When his austerities were successful, the deity of Lord Vishnu appeared before Lord Brahma in a beautiful celestial plane. This deity of Lord Vishnu is known as Lord Tirunarayana. Lord Brahma worshipped this self-manifested deity for a long time in Brahmaloka, which is one of the highest planetary systems in the universe. Later, Lord Brahma's son Sanatkumar requested his father to give him the deity of Lord Tirunarayana so that he could worship the Lord. Lord Brahma then gave the deity to Sanatkumar who brought it to this planet and installed it in Melkote for the benefit of masses. In this way Lord Tirunarayana came to Melkote and today He is present in His temple which is situated in the town.

Arrival of Lord Ramapriya:
There is another deity of Lord Vishnu which is known as Ramapriya. This deity is present in the temple of Lord Tirunarayana itself. This deity is a utsava murty, which is taken out of the temple for procession during the days of festivals.

When Lord Brahma gave the deity of Lord Tirunarayana to his son Sanatkumar, he once again performed austerities to obtain another deity of Lord Vishnu for his daily worship. This time Lord Vishnu manifested a very beautiful deity from His heart along with the deities of Shridevi (mother Lakshmi) and Bhudevi (mother Earth). This deity is known by two names. The first name is Shri Cheluvaraya Swami and the second name is Ramapriya. In this article we will refer to this deity by its second name Ramapriya because it is easy to remember and pronounce. These deities were made of auspicious metals and they were worshipped by Lord Brahma in Brahmaloka.

Later in the times of Ramayana, Lord Rama came back to Ayodhya after defeating daemon Ravana. At that time, a deity of Lord Ranganath was present in Ayodhya and it was being worshipped by Lord Rama and His family. Lord Rama made Vibhishana the king of the golden city of Lanka and instructed him to go to Lanka and rule there. Lord Rama gave Vibhishana the deity of Lord Ranganath so that he can take it to Lanka. But on the way to Lanka, the deity of Lord Ranganath decided to stay at Srirangam and it can still be found there. Because of these happenings, Lord Rama did not have any deity of Lord Vishnu for His daily worship. Seeing this situation, Lord Brahma gave the deity of Ramapriya along with Shridevi and Bhudevi to Lord Rama. Because these deities were very dear to Lord Rama, they are known as Ramapriya. Lord Rama worshipped these deities with great love and opulence. Later, Lord Rama's son Kusha worshipped these deities. Kusha's daughter Kanakamalini was married to Yadushekhara of Yadu dynasty and she took Ramapriya with her. In this way the deity of Ramapriya came from the Solar dynasty of Lord Rama into the Lunar dynasty in which Lord Krishna and Balarama appeared later.

In the times of Mahabharata, Lord Krishna and Balarama used to worship Ramapriya in their house. Once Balarama came to south India on pilgrimage. When he visited Lord Tirunarayana in Melkote, He found that the deity of Lord Tirunarayana is strikingly similar to the deity of Lord Ramapriya in their house. When He came back home, He told Shri Krishna about this similarity. After this incidence, Krishna and Balarama brought the deity of Ramapriya to Melkote and installed it here. Today, this deity is also situated in the temple of Lord Tirunarayana. Lord Krishna and the members of Yadu family often visited Melkote to worship this deity. Therefore Melkote is also known as Yadugiri.

In this way, the two ancient deities namely Lord Tirunarayana and Ramapriya are still present in the town of Melkote in the same temple.

Melkote lost in the sands of time:
After Lord Krishna left this planet and the age of Kali started, the spiritually vibrant atmosphere of Melkote was greatly affected by the forces opposing the religious principles. Melkote suffered attacks of foreign invaders who plundered the wealth of the temples. During these hard times, the temple of Lord Tirunarayana was lost and the area of the Melkote town was eventually covered by thick cover of forest. The deity of Lord Tirunarayana was covered under ground and the knowledge of its existence and whereabouts was lost to human kind. The deity of Ramapriya was taken by the foreign invaders as a loot from the temple and the knowledge about this deity was also lost. The spiritual significance of Melkote was hidden from the human society for a long time. In the 11th century AD, one of the great spiritual masters of India, Shripad Ramanujacharya, re-established the temple of Melkote. Now we will review a fascinating historical account of how Ramanujacharya found the lost deities and re-established a spiritual glory of Melkote.

Ramanujacharya's archaeological discovery of Lord Tirunarayana:
Ramanujacharya was one the greatest spiritual masters of India. He was mainly stationed in Srirangam but due the persecution of Lord's devotees started by the King of that region, Ramanuja had to leave Srirangam. After travelling to many places, he reached a place called Tondanur. The king named Bittideva used to rule that region. He was a follower of a Jain philosophy but after Ramanuja released the king's daughter from the control of evil spirits, the king became an ardent disciple of Ramanujacharya and changed his name to Vishnuvardhana.

In the year 1090 AD, Ramanuja was running short of a white sand required by devotees to put a holy mark on their forehead. One night, Lord Tirunarayana came into the dream of Ramanuja and told him that He is very near in the town of Melkote. Lord instructed Ramanuja to go to Melkote and find the deity of Lord Tirunarayana as well as the white sand required by him.

Ramanuja was extremely happy to have this revelation. He sent the message to Vishnuvardhana telling him about his arrival at Melkote as well as the divine revelation. Vishnuvardhana engaged many men to clear the forest around Melkote for the search of the deity. On the first day after Ramanuja reached Melkote, they were unsuccessful in finding the deity as well as the location of white sand.

On that night, Lord Tirunarayana again appeared in Ramanuja's vision and gave him the specific directions for finding the deity. Lord told him that He was situated under a big ant-hill which was located between a Champaka tree and Vakula tree near the south-west corner of a water pond named Kalyani. Lord also told Ramanuja that the sacred white sand was located near the north-west corner of the same Kalyani pond.

Ramanuja immediately followed the direction given by Lord and found the ant-hill. Ramanuja and his disciples removed the earth and found the deity of Lord Tirunarayana situated in its spiritual glory. Everyone present there was intoxicated with spiritual bliss after they found the Lord. Ramanuja then bathed the Lord with milk and made arrangements for the worship of the deity as well as the festivals that were to be observed. A temple was erected over the ant-hill and Lord Tirunarayana was thus reinstalled after the ages of oblivion. Ramanuja also found the sacred white sand near the north-west corner of the Kalyani pond. The Vedic scriptures explain that this Kalyani pond was formed by the drops of water which fell here when Lord Varaha was carrying mother Earth. Also the sacred white sand was brought here by Garuda from the planet named Shweta Dweepa where Lord Vishnu resides.

Ramanuja's discovery of Ramapriya:
After the revitalization of the town of Melkote, Ramanuja wanted to have an utsava murty in the temple of Lord Tirunarayana. Ramanuja was continuously thinking about how to accomplish this task. One day, Lord Tirunarayana appeared in the vision of Ramanuja and told him, "My utsava murty named Ramapriya is in Delhi inside the house of the Turkish king. Please go there and reclaim the deity of Ramapriya from the king."

Following Lord's order, Ramanuja travelled all the way to Delhi on foot with some of his disciples. When Ramanuja visited king, he requested the king to return the deity of Ramapriya. King told Ramanuja that he had plundered thousands of deities from all over India and showed him his collection of these deities. Ramanuja wanted the deity of Ramapriya alone, but he could not identify the required deity. That night, when Ramanuja was anxiously thinking about how to find Ramapriya, Ramapriya Himself appeared in his vision and told him, "I am with the king's daughter. She plays with me treating me as her husband and I also reciprocate with her in that way. Please come and find me there."

Next day, Ramanuja visited the king and told him about the vision. The king was very much impressed with this revelation and he also developed a respect and adoration for Ramanuja although the king was the follower of Islam. The king took Ramanuja to the inner chambers of his palace where no other man was allowed to enter. Ramanuja saw that king's daughter had placed Ramapriya on a couch. Ramanuja then called Ramapriya by his name and asked him to come towards him. The deity of Ramapriya then jumped down from the couch and walked towards Ramanuja and sat in his lap. The king also witnessed this most astonishing incident and honoured Ramanuja with many gifts.

When king's daughter came to know that Ramapriya was about to be taken away from her, she could not bear the separation from Lord Ramapriya. She had developed a deep love for Ramapriya. She requested her father to allow her to go with Ramapriya to Melkote. King happily gave the permission and sent his daughter with Ramanuja along with untold amount of wealth and gifts. The king told Ramanuja, "Your Lord Ramapriya does not go alone but with a wife. Please take care of her." After reaching Melkote, Ramanuja arranged a wedding ceremony between Ramapriya and king's daughter. She served the Lord in Melkote till the end of her days. Today her temple can be found on the top of Yadugiri hill where she is known as Beebi Nachiyar.

Personally I feel that Lord's marriage with king's daughter is one of the most astonishing event. From this event, we learn that Lord sees only the devotion and love of His devotee. He does not care whether the devotee is born in a family of Hindus or Muslims etc.  

The temple:
The temple which houses Lord Tirunarayana as well as Lord Ramapriya is situated in the Melkote town. It also houses the deity of goddess Yadugiri Amma who is the consort of Lord Tirunarayana. She is situated at the feet of Lord Tirunarayana. The temple also houses the deity of goddess Shri Cheluvanayaki who is the consort of Lord Ramapriya. Goddesses Shridevi and Bhudevi sit on the two sides of Lord Ramapriya. All these deities are extremely beautiful and well decorated. The look on the faces of the deities is so compassionate that we will be very assured of the protection of devotees by Lord and His consorts. On the walkways inside the temple there are deities of Shri Sudarshana Alwar, Ramanujacharya  and Anjaneya. The current temple was built in the time of Ramanuja (11th century AD). Kings of Mysore have contributed many later additions to the temple.

The Yoga Narasimha temple:
The temple of Lord Narasimha is situated on the top of the Yadugiri hill. As Lord Narasimha is sitting in a yogic posture, this deity is known as Yoga Narasimha. In the Satya Yuga, Prahlada, a great devotee of Lord, engaged in the meditation on Lord Narasimha on this hill. As a result he received this deity of Lord Narasimha which he installed here. Therefore this temple is also very ancient. The details about the life of Prahlada can be found in Bhagavat Purana as well as many other Vedic scriptures.

The jewelled crown of Ramapriya:
One of the most precious items present in the Melkote is a jewelled crown of Lord Ramapriya. The deity of Lord Ramapriya wears this crown only for a few days in the year. The story of this jewelled crown is also very interesting. Once Prahlada's demoniac son Virochana visited Lord Vishnu and saw that Lord Vishnu was in meditative trance. Virochana saw the opportunity and stole a jewelled crown which Lord Vishnu was wearing. He took this crown and went to the lower planetary systems of the universe. The devotees of Lord requested Garuda, who serves Lord Vishnu as his bird carrier, to go and retrieve the crown. Garuda then went to lower planetary systems and after fighting with Virochana, took possession of the crown. On the way back, He saw Krishna playing with his cowherd friends in Vrindavana. Garuda understood that Lord Krishna is non other than Lord Vishnu and surrendered the crown to Krishna. Krishna decorated the deity of Ramapriya with this crown and it came to Melkote when Krishna brought Ramapriya to Melkote.

Other holy places of Melkote:
Melkote is surrounded by many other holy places and holy water ponds. Many spiritually significant events took place at these places. These places are listed in Table 1 and Table 2 along with their brief description.

Table 1: Holy places in Melkote
Number
Name of the place Description
1
Paridhanashila Kshetra A place where Dattatreya taught Vedas to His students. Also Ramanuja gave up his white clothes and received safron robes here. Located on the banks of Veda Pushkarini pond.
2
Yoga Narasimha Kshetra A place on the top of the hill where Prahlada received the deity of Lord Narasimha.
3
Dnyana Ashwattha Kshetra A Peepal tree under which five great intellectuals named Shuka, Pundarika, Rukmangada, Ambarisha and Prahlada attained the spiritual realization. Located near the west bank of Kalyani pond.
4
Taarkshya Kshetra A place located near Kalyani pond. Garuda brought sacred white sand from Shweta Dweepa and stored it here by the order of Lord Vishnu. This sand is still available.
5
Nayana Kshetra Located in the row of hills near Yadugiri. The deity of Lord Keshava is present here. A Brahmin called Vishnuchitta performed austerities here.
6
Varaha Kshetra Located on the east bank of Kalyani pond. At this place, Lord Varaha taught issence of Vedic knowledge to Bhudevi (mother Earth) who was sitting on Lord's lap.
7
Seeta Aranya Kshetra Located on the southern entrance of Kalyani pond where Lord Rama stayed along with mother Seeta and Lakshmana.

Table 2: Holy water ponds in Melkote
Number
Name of the place
Description
1
Veda Pushkarini
A place where Dattatreya taught Vedas to His students.
2
Yadava Teertha
River Yadavi flows by the side of this pond. A king named Yadavendra performed Yoga on its banks and attained liberation.
3
Palasha Teertha
A pond surrounded by many Palasha trees. Sons of sage Vasishtha were released from the curse they had got from sage Vishwamitra after bathing in this pond.
4
Darbha Teertha
Dattatreya used a Darbha grass grown on the banks of this pond. Shandilya lecured on Pancharatrika system of worhip at this place.
5
Padma Teertha
Sanatkumar used lotus flowers of this pond for worhipping Lord Tirunarayana.
6
Maitreya Teertha
Sage Parashara preached Vishnu Purana to sage Maitreya at this place. Also known as Parashara Teertha.
7
Narayana Teertha
Located in Nayana Kshetra where Lord Narayana blessed a Brahmin called Vishnuchitta.
8
Vaikuntha Ganga
A pond foemed from the drop of Viraja river which flows in the spiritual world.
9
Dhanushkoti
A place where Lord Rama shot arrows into the rock to bring out the water for mother Seeta for bathing.

Our Pilgrimage:
We visited Melkote on 17 February 2013 along with 35 students from Indian Institute of Science as well as the senior members of Bhaktivedanta Institute Bangalore. After reaching Melkote we visited the temple of Lord Tirunarayana and paid obeisances to the deities. Then we climbed on the Yadugiri hill to visit the temple of Yoga Narasimha.  While climbing the hill we sang the holy names of Lord accompanied by the musical instruments such as Mridanga and Kartal. After praying to Lord Narasimha, we performed Sankirtan on the top of the hill for some time. The view of Melkote town from the hill-top is very beautiful. The spiritual atmosphere was so vibrant that everybody was totally immersed in the bliss. After coming down from the hill, we visited Kalyani pond. Although due to timing constraints we could not visit all the holy places in Melkote, this spiritual trip was one of the most memorable trip of my life.

Conclusion:
From the histories of Lord Tirunarayana and Ramapriya, we understand that these deities are not different from Lord Vishnu Himself. Therefore we should not take these deities to me mere sculptures made of stone and metal. These deities have all the opulence and power of Lord Vishnu Himself.

One has to possess a great fortune to have the faith in our ancient Vedic literature. A person who does not have such fortune is generally very quick to question the authority and accuracy of Vedic literature. But the places like Melkote are the witnesses to the ancient historical accounts mentioned in the Vedic literature. Today's historians may be entirely dependent on different stone markings and documents for knowing about the events that occurred few centuries ago. But Vedic literatures are our only reliable source if we wish to learn about the historical and spiritual events that happened millions of years ago, even the events that occurred just after our universe was created. I hope that the history of Melkote will help one to develop at least some amount of appreciation for our ancient books.

Lastly I note that the large number of events that occurred in Melkote may cause a confusion in the mind of reader. It may not be possible to comprehend everything written in this essay in one reading. Therefore I request the readers to contact me if they have any queries about this article. I will be pleased to clarify their doubts as far as possible.

I do not wish to call myself the author of this article as it may result in unnecessary pride. Such pride will be an additional obstacle in my spiritual journey because my mind is already filled with many filthy thoughts. I am totally dependent on the mercy of Lord Krishna and His devotees for protection of my spiritual progress. I request all the Vaishnavas to accept this essay as a humble offering at the feet of Lord although it is full of imperfections.

References:
1. Melkote An Introduction, Haripriya, Samskriti Publications, 2011.
2. The life of Bhagavad Ramanujacharya, Alkondaville Govindacharya, Jeeyar Educational Trust, 2006.
3. Spiritual India Handbook, Stephen Knapp, Jaico publishing house, 2011.
4. Mystical Melkote, Swami B. V. Giri, Gaudiya Touchstone Issue 4, January 2013.

Acknowledgements:
I thank Bhaktivedanta Institute, Bangalore for organizing a wonderful trip to Melkote. I thank the scholars of IISc Bangalore for enthusiastically participating in this trip. I thank my friend Prof. Arulalan for gifting me a book mentioned in reference 1. I also thank my friend Tamilarasan who took wonderful pictures of Melkote. Finally I thank all the readers of this blog for constantly encouraging me through their kind words.

Contact Author
Hrishikesh S Sonalikar,
Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics,
Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore 560 012, India.
email: hrishikeshsonalikar@gmail.com

Lord Tirunarayana Swami temple

Walkway in Tirunarayana Swami temple

On the way to Yoga Narasimha temple on Yadugiri hill

Gopuram of Yoga Narasimha temple on Yadugiri

Devotees singing the glories of Lord at Yadugiri

The gopuram of Yoga Narasimha temple

View of Kalyani pond from the top of Yadugiri

Kalyani pond

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Srirangapatna

Srirangapatna


Hrishikesh S Sonalikar
15 March 2014

Srirangapatna is a town which houses a very ancient temple of Lord Ranganath (Krishna). This town is situated on a big island formed in a holy river Kaveri. The huge deity of Lord Ranganath is not made by the hands of men, as many of us might think. The deity of Lord Ranganath is self manifested. How Lord Ranganath appeared in Srirangapatna and how His temple was established here is a very interesting historical account which involves river Kaveri as well as sage Gautama.

Birth of river Kaveri: Let us start with knowing little more about river Kaveri. In ancient times, there was a sage named Kavera. He was performing penances for spiritual advancement in Himalayan mountains. Pleased by his efforts, Lord Brahma, the secondary creator of the universe, appeared before him and relayed a message given to him by Lord Vishnu. Lord Brahma told sage Kavera that Kavera will have a daughter who will be none other than Vishnumaya, Lord Brahma's own daughter. She will expand herself in two forms. In one form, she will flow as a holy river and in other form she will become famous as Lopamudra. Because of having such an extraordinary daughter, who will be able to purify even the greatest sinners, Kavera will become totally purified and attain the lotus feet of Lord. In due coarse of time, a daughter was born to sage Kavera and was thus named as a Kaveri. 

Kaveri comes to south India: When Kaveri attained proper age, Lord Brahma instructed sage Agastya to approach sage Kavera and ask his daughter Kaveri in marriage. When Agastya approached sage Kavera, Kavera accepted the proposal of marriage between Kaveri and Agastya. Before marriage, Kaveri divided herself into two parts. By one part, she entered the earthen pot of sage Agastya in the form of water, and by second part she appeared as lady Lopamudra. Then the marriage ceremony of sage Agastya and Lopamudra was performed by the assembly of demigods. In due coarse of time, sage Agastya came to south India along with his wife. He also took with him the water form of Kaveri in his earthen pot.

Kaveri flows as a river: Once Lord Brahma came to the Sahyadri mountains (Western Ghats) and found Lord Vishnu situated there in the form of Amalaka tree. He wanted to worship Lord Vishnu and therefore brought the waters of Viraja river to wash Lord Vishnu's feet. Viraja river flows in the spiritual world, therefore its waters are very pure as they are always in touch with Lord's body. The waters of Viraja river which were used by Brahma to wash Lord Vishnu's feet started flowing as stream. At that time, Lord Vishnu instructed river Kaveri to flow out of the earthen pot and mix with the waters of Viraja river. Thus instructed by Lord Vishnu, Kaveri joined the pure waters of Viraja and started flowing as a river. When sage Agastya realized that Kaveri has flown out as a river, he became extremely happy and instructed Kaveri about the coarse she should take while flowing towards the Eastern ocean.

Appearance of Lord Ranganath: River Ganga is considered the holiest river of all the rivers as she directly touches the feet of Lord Vishnu. River Yamuna is considered the most fortunate because of her intimate association with Lord Krishna. Both these rivers as well as most of the places where Lord performed His activities are in North India. River Kaveri is situated in South India, quite away from these places. River Kaveri also wanted to have the intimate association of Lord like other fortunate rivers. Therefore, in order to please Lord, river Kaveri performed severe austerities in the area of Srirangapatna. When Lord Vishnu was pleased by the austerities of Kaveri, He appeared before her and blessed her with benedictions. Lord Vishnu was so pleased with Kaveri that He gave her the status of the holiest river. He also told her that Srirangapatna will become the holy place and He Himself will take residence in Srirangapatna to reside in Kaveri's lap. Kaveri was thus immensely blessed by Lord Vishnu. Then Lord manifested His deity on the island of Srirangapatna in a secret location. How Lord arranged for His deity to be found is another interesting historical account.

Lord Ranganath found: By Lord's arrangement, once there was a great famine in the country. Most of the water resources were exhausted and different hermitages of sages became devoid of all the natural resources like water, fruits, milk and grains. Therefore sages who were living in those hermitages had to leave in search of water. These sages  arrived at the banks of river Godavari and saw a beautiful hermitage of sage Gautama. Sage Gautama happily welcomed all the sages. For making proper arrangements to fulfil the daily requirements of the sages, sage Gautama planted large amount of fields and plants to produce grains, fruits etc. along the banks of Godavari. Seeing the extraordinary opulence of Gautama's hermitage as well as it's serene setting, the visiting sages became envious and the thought of taking possession of this hermitage by driving out sage Gautama took hold in their minds. On one fine morning, all these visiting sages conspired to fulfil their desire and produced a mystic cow which started grazing in the fields planted by Gautama. When Gautama saw this cow destroying all the crops, he instructed his disciples to drive the cow out of the fields. When the disciples started chasing the cow, the cow mysteriously ran towards sage Gautama and fell dead at his feet. All the visiting sages then accused Gautama of killing the cow, which is one of the greatest of the sins (killing a cow is considered equal to killing one's own mother). The visiting sages asked Gautama to immediately leave the hermitage and go on a pilgrimage to purify himself of the sin of killing a cow.

Sage Gautama was extremely disturbed by these happenings. By his mystic powers, he realized the plot conspired by the cruel sages. Gautama cursed these unqualified sages that they will become averse to Vedic teachings. After cursing them, Gautama left his hermitage and went on a pilgrimage. During the course of his pilgrimage, he reached Srirangam in Tamilnadu and started worshipping Lord Ranganath who is residing there (this deity of Lord Ranganath is also self manifested). There Lord Ranganath appeared before Gautama and told him that in Srirangam He is being worshipped by Vibhishana, Ravana's younger brother. Lord told Gautama that He has already manifested Himself on the island of Srirangapatna in a secret location and instructed him to proceed towards Srirangapatna.

On receiving this instruction, Gautama came and established his hermitage in Srirangapatna. One day, when Gautama was teaching his disciples about the history of Srirangapatna, other great sages like Parashara, Bodhayana, Yajnavalkya, Atri, Kanva, Shuka also came to his hermitage. Gautama was overjoyed by their arrival. All these sages organized a grand Vedic sacrificial ceremony for the satisfaction of Lord Ranganath. When the ceremony was successfully completed, Lord Ranganath personally appeared before the sages and revealed the location of the deity of Lord. The huge deity of Lord Ranganath was to be found in the dense Tulasi forest under a particular anthill. After this great revelation, sages headed by Gautama entered the Tulasi groove and found the anthill. Gautama then summoned the different demigods, who descended there from their heavenly realms. They had brought a celestial cow called Kamadhenu with them. Sages then poured the milk of Kamadhenu on the anthill. When anthill was thus dissolved, a huge and beautiful deity of Lord Ranganath emerged. Lord was lying on the bed of huge five hooded serpent called Anantashesh. Lord was peacefully lying in a meditative trance. The feet of Lord were placed in the lap of Kaveri who was serving Lord's feet.

The form of the Lord is so beautiful that Gautama and Lord Brahma praised the Lord by spontaneously composing beautiful poems for a long time. Pleased by their prayers, Lord Ranganath gave them a benediction that Srirangapatna will also be known by a name Gautama Kshetra and the temple of Lord Ranganath will be always worshipped by the name Brahmananda Vimana. Then sage Narada instructed Gautama in the Pancharatrika system of deity's worship which then Gautama started following for worshipping Lord Ranganath in the temple. The day on which these incidences happened is still celebrated as Sriranga Jayanti (the day of appearance of Lord Ranganath). When Lakshmi Devi, the wife of Lord Ranganath, saw these wonderful pastimes of Lord Ranganath, she also came to Srirangapatna and took bath in Kaveri river. After worshipping her Lord Ranganath, she also appeared here in the beautiful deity form and became known as Ranganayaki.

The temple: The temple of Lord Ranganath is very beautiful and spacious. It houses the deity of Lord Ranganath as well as Lakshmi Devi (Ranganayaki). There are other beautiful deities of Lord Narasimha, Garuda and Venugopal. The original shrine is established by sage Gautama. Later many great kings and administrators have added and expanded the temple over the period of many centuries. In the 11 century AD, the king of Karnataka, formerly known as Bitti Deva, became disciple of Ramanujacharya and later became famous as king Vishnuvardhana. He made valuable contributions towards expanding and reinforcing the temple, its walls as well as the fort surrounding the temple. Later Muslim rulers took possession of the temple and made many valuable donations towards the temple. Especially king Hyder Ali, father of Tipu Sultan, was a devotee of Lord Ranganath and made many valuable additions to the temple.

Our Pilgrimage: After one independent but failed attempt of visiting Srirangapatna, this time Lord Ranganath allowed me to see Him along with the devotees of Lord connected with Bhaktivedanta Institute as well as  28 scholars of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. We left Bangalore in the morning 7:00 am and reached Srirangapatna around 12:00 noon. We visited Aprameya Swami temple in Mallur on the way. After having a beautiful  darshan of Lord Ranganath, mother Ranganayaki as well as other deities in the temple, I felt a spiritual bliss in my heart. My happiness was further enhanced when we went to Gosai Ghat on the banks of Kaveri. The divine atmosphere in the Srirangapatna town and the natural beauty surrounding it is a unique combination. The crystal clear, tasty and soothing waters of Kaveri is something which gives complete satisfaction to the heart. We sang Lord's holy names on the banks of Kaveri. We also witnessed a beautiful dance performed by a peacock on one of the small islands formed in the river. This pilgrimage gave me opportunity to develop friendship with many people who were new to me. At 5:00 pm in the evening, we started our return journey. Thoughout the journey we played games based on the scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is one of the pilgrimages which I will remember for a very long time.

Lesson in atmospheric sciences: It is very much clear from the history of river Kaveri that the present state of atmospheric and oceanic sciences does not completely describe the origin of rivers, especially a holy river like Kaveri. From Vedic scriptures, we understand that there is a presiding deity behind each and every river. Moreover, as we learned, the coarse taken by the river is not randomly decided. In case of Kaveri, the coarse of the river was suggested by sage Agastya and followed as such by Kaveri. From the history related above, we can conclude that the atmospheric and geographic events are not random or just due to the changes in pressure and temperature. They are conducted under the control of powerful sages and celestial beings working under the direction of Supreme Lord.

Conclusion: The spiritual and historical significance of Srirangapatna is beyond the description of words uttered by an insignificant person like me. Currently the real history of Srirangapatna related to Lord Ranganath has become distorted because most of the books and internet resources focus on the invasion of Srirangapatna by British army and its unsuccessful defence by Tipu Sultan. It is my hope that this essay sheds enough light on the main topic of history of Srirangapatna.

I feel that Lord Ranganath as well as river Kaveri are the blessings which are not deserved by the Kaliyuga people like us. They are still available for our purification due to the unlimited mercy of Lord Ranganath and His devotees. I pray to Lord Ranganath for giving me ability to somehow remember His beautiful form.

I am not supposed to be a person who should be writing this article because I have no sufficient qualification for this task. I am daring to do this anyway just so that somehow my mind will be engaged in the thoughts about Lord and his great devotees. I seek forgiveness from the readers for the mistakes or imperfections present in this essay. I offer this essay as a gift at the feet of merciful devotees of Lord. I request them to pass on this gift to the feet of Lord because I cannot do so directly.

References:
1. Sri Ranganath Swami Mandir, S. Narasimha Rangan, AVV Compugraphics, Mysore (Hindi booklet that can be obtained in the Ranganatha temple).
2. The Gaudiya visit to Srirangapatna, Subha Krishna Dasa, article found at http://www.purebhaktibangalore.com/content.php?pageID=38
3. Sri Tula Puranam (English translation of Sri Tula Kaveri Mahatmyam), P. R. Kannan, found at thanjavurparampara.com/pdf/Sri-Tula-Puranam.pdf

Contact Author:
Hrishikesh S Sonalikar,
Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics,
Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore, India.
560 012.
email: hrishikeshsonalikar@gmail.com