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 




Saturday, March 1, 2014

Machilipatnam

Machilipatnam

Hrishikesh Sonalikar
1 March 2014

Machilipatnam is a calm and peaceful town in the state of Andhra Pradesh of India. The climate is humid as the eastern ocean is very near. I had never heard of this town until I visited Vijayawada city, situated at 1 hour distance from Machilipatnam. In Vijayawada, my friends told me about a miracle which occurred in Machilipatnam in the year 1929 AD, less than hundred years from today. After briefly listening about this miracle, I developed a desire to visit Machilipatnam. I was further delighted to know that the visit to Machilipatnam was the part of our trip to Vijayawada.

India has a great cultural history and very often you will learn about very astonishing things. Machilipatnam also has a very unique history which is related to a deity of Panduranga which self manifested here in the year 1929. Lord Panduranga, who is none other than Lord Krishna, is very famous in the state of Maharashtra since time immemorial. Every year millions of devotees visit Lord Panduranga in Pandharpur in the months of Ashadha and Kartika. The specialty of Machilipatnam is that the same Lord Panduranga appeared in Machilipatnam in the modern times of science and technology because of the prayers of his great devotee named Narasimha.

I will try to briefly narrate the events that led to the self manifestation of Lord's deity in Machilipatnam. Bhakta Narasimha was born in the year 1889. He was the devotee of Lord Krishna since his childhood. His childhood was quite troublesome because he lost his mother when he was nine and he had to take the responsibility of the family because of his early marriage at the age of twelve. After recouping from a serious illness at the age of eighteen, he decided to make a pilgrimage to Tirupati. On the way to Tirupati, he visited Machilipatnam for meeting a relative and ended up in staying there itself. In Machilipatnam, he started a business and earned a large sum of money. Six years later, he completed his unfinished pilgrimage to Tirupati.

Due to constant listening to the holy books such as Bhagvad Geeta, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhakta Vijaya, he developed detachment from the worldly materialistic life and became more serious about the spiritual life. He started a free food distribution program for the poor people, but initially it did not receive a good response and the program was stopped. Later he decided to start the free food distribution again, but this time he sent a formal letter of invitation to Lord Panduranga in Pandharpur. In that letter, he requested Lord to attend the food distribution festival along with His consorts Rukmini, Radha and Satyabhama. This time the program was very successful and Narasimha had to pray to Lord Panduranga for His mercy because he was worried about how to feed the thousands of people who were coming to have food. Lord answered his prayers and everybody was miraculously satisfied. After this incident, Narasimha became an ardent devotee of Lord Panduranga.

One night, a divine figure appeared in Narasimha's dream and told him to construct a temple for Lord Panduranga. The figure also told him that Lord Panduranga will self manifest here in Machilipatnam. After having this vision, Narasimha also had several more divine visions which encouraged him to become a serious devotee of Lord Panduranga. Due to these experiences, Narasimha decided to undertake a pilgrimage to Pandharpur in Maharashtra. When he reached Pandharpur, he met Mahipati Maharaj, who later became his spiritual master. Mahipati Maharaj gave a spiritual initiation to Narasimha and instructed him about the rules and regulations to be followed by the devotees of Panduranga. He also asked Narasimha to construct the shrines for Dnyanadev and Tukaram who are the great devotees of Lord Panduranga. He told Narasimha that by their blessings, he will be able to erect the temple for Lord Panduranga.

Next year Narasimha visited Pandharpur again. Apart from visiting Lord Panduranga and his spiritual master, he also wanted to collect some pebbles from the holy river Chandrabhaga. He wanted to use these pebbles in the ground breaking ceremony for the temple construction. But the river was flooded and it was very difficult to obtain  the pebbles. Seeing this difficulty, Narasimha very intensely prayed to the presiding deity of river Chandrabhaga to help him. After his prayers, very surprisingly, river waters near the bank made a small clearing and a patch of land was visible. Narasimha and Mahipati Maharaj went to that patch in a boat and found a special round stone which was shining like a gem. They collected this stone along with other pebbles and kept at the feet of Lord Panduranga. They saw that a flash of light emanated from the deity of Lord Panduranga and entered the round stone. After witnessing this miracle, Mahipati Maharaj became sure about Lords blessings on Narasimha and instructed him to start the construction of the temple immediately.

After coming back to Machilipatnam, Narasimha started the construction of the temple. In addition to the main temple for Lord Panduranga, he constructed many other small shrines for the great devotees of Lord like Hanuman, Ambarish, Prahlada and others. Here in Pandharpur, Lord Panduranga appeared in the dream of Mahipati Maharaj and told him the day on which he will appear in Machilipatnam. Delighted to have this vision, Mahipati Maharaj immediately dispatched a message to Narasimha, telling him about the day of Lord's appearance. Narasimha completed the construction of the temple well in time and started eagerly waiting for the day of Lord's appearance.

The news of Lord's self manifestation quickly spread in the surrounding villages like a fire and people from all the directions started coming in. The British government officials were also keeping a keen eye on these happenings as they suspected it to be some kind of plot against the government. Because of their suspicion, the government locked down the temple and kept a police guard around it. They also threatened to punish Narasimha if the things do not happen the way he was saying they will happen.

The day of Lord's appearance arrived. In the morning, Narasimha became almost like a mad man due the excitement as well as anxiety. He went to the shrine of Hanuman and prayed to him, asking him whether the Lord will really appear or not. Listening to his prayers, Hanuman assured him about Lord's appearance. Hanuman told Narasimha that if Lord does not appear as promised, he will personally go and bring the entire Pandharpur and place it here in Machilipatnam. Saints Tukaram and Dnyanadev also appeared in his vision and encouraged him. After this, Narasimha went in front of the closed door of the sanctum sanctorum and started offering intense prayers full of love, and requested Lord Panduranga for His mercy.

When Narasimha was about to loose his life due to the anxiety and intense feelings, a tumultuous sound came from inside the locked doors of the innermost chamber of the temple. Hearing this great sound, the government officials ordered to open the doors of the chamber. But in spite of all the efforts, the doors could not be opened. At that time, Bhakta Narasimha could see that the great saints Dnyanadev and Tukaram were installing the beautiful deity of Lord Panduranga and Sage Narada was offering the obeisances to the Lord. Lord then ordered the doors of the temple to be opened. The doors of the temple then opened on their own accord. Everybody present their saw a divine smoke coming out the temple. After the smoke cleared, a beautiful deity of Lord Panduranga emerged. The form of the Lord was exactly same as that in Pandharpur. All the devotees of Lord present at that time became mad with the happiness. Everybody sang the glories of the Lord for his unlimited mercy.

Since that time Lord Panduranga is present in Machilipatnam. Even today one can go there and see Lord's self manifested form and touch His lotus feet. We might have heard about many miracles which happened hundreds of years ago, but I am sure we have never heard of such a wonderful appearance of Lord Krishna in the modern times. This appearance of Lord gives us a great faith in Him and encourages us to engage ourself in the efforts for spiritual enlightenment without any doubt. This incidence also shows us that Lord's interaction with His devotees was never limited to just ancient times, it is never limited by time or place. If one wants to see Lord face to face, all one needs to do is develop a pure devotion to Lord.

The temple of Lord Panduranga in Machilipatnam is quite spacious and it is situated in the area called Chilakalapudi. Apart from the self manifested deity of Lord Panduranga, one can also find other interesting things in this temple. There is a sacred water pond named Chandrabhaga. The water of this pond is considered as holy and purifying as that of river Chandrabhaga at Pandharpur. Also we can find a sacred Peepal tree. This tree is one of the seven sacred trees found in the area. Once Bhakta Narasimha told his third son named Venkata-Ramana that a great sage is engaged in penances under this tree for many years. Narasimha also enabled his son to see this sage. Also in the temple complex, you will find 108 shrines for different devotees, shrines of Rukmini, Radha and Satyabhama as well as many others shrines.

I encourage everybody to visit Machilipatnam and take blessings of Lord Panduranga.

This article is far from complete. I have given just a glimpse of a history related to the events occurred here. I have hardly discussed a deeper aspects of life of Bhakta Narasimha because of whose purity and prayers Lord appeared here. A complete volume can be written on the historical and spiritual significance of these events. I beg forgiveness of all the readers for the mistakes and shortcomings of this essay. I offer this article at the feet of the devotees of Lord Krishna. Without their blessings my life is devoid of any inspiration.

Source of information

This information is given by the third son of Bhakta Narasimha who is currently the priest of the temple. The description of incidences mentioned here can also be found in British historical records.

Panduranga tample

Holy pond near the temple

Other shrines in the temple complex

Sacred Peepal tree near the temple

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mangalagiri

Mangalagiri

by
Hrishikesh Sonalikar
2 January 2014

I seek blessings of Lord Krishna and His devotees for successfully completing the task of writing this small article about the holy place called `Mangalagiri'. Currently my spiritual journey is going through a lot of turbulence. Although I have acquired some theoretical knowledge about spiritual teachings, I find myself totally unsuccessful in applying it in my day to day life. In such a situation, it is really hard to find the complete satisfaction and peace in one's life. I think Lord Krishna saw my awkward situation and mercifully decided to give me a glimpse of a hundred percent spiritual experience. This golden opportunity came to me when devotees of Lord Krishna invited me for a pilgrimage to Vijayawada, Mangalagiri and Machalipatnam.

Out of these holy places, Mangalagiri is a home of two very ancient temples of Lord's half-man-half-lion incarnation Narasimha. Historical events that took place in Mangalagiri do not date back just to few hundred or few thousands of years. Like many other holy places in India, the history of this place goes back into the ancient times of the Satya Yuga. The only source of authentic information about the events hidden so deep in the past are the ancient historical records of India collectively known as Purana Samhita, organized in eighteen main books and many smaller books. The description of Mangalagiri can be found in the books such as Skanda Purana and Brahma Vaivarta Purana. In the following paragraphs, I will try to tell you about how this hill came into existence and how Lord Narasimha appeared on this hill.   

In the Satya Yuga, there was a prince named `Hrishya Shringi'. His father, king Pariyatra, was very displeased with the prince because of his physical deformities. To get rid of his deformities, the prince decided to secretly leave home and perform penances. The prince chose a holy place called Pradita Ashrama on the banks of Krishna river to perform austerities. When the king came to know about his son's odd behavior, he decided to bring the prince back to home. When the prince realized that his father is coming for him, he composed many prayers to please their Lordship Lakshmi-Narayana and requested them to appear before him in the form of Lakshmi-Narasimha. Pleased by the prayers of Hrishya Shringi, Lord Narasimha and mother Lakshmi awarded their presence to the prince. The prince requested Lord to stay in this place eternally to bless others. For the same purpose, the prince transformed himself into an elephant and then into the hill which is now Mangalagiri. Since then Lord Narasimha along with mother Lakshmi stay there. As prince Hrishya Shringi composed many songs (Stotra) to please the Lord and convince Him to reside in this place, this hill is also called as Stotradri. When we look at this hill,  we will see that it has a shape of a sitting elephant.

Another important event that took place on this hill is the death of demon Namuchi by the Sudarshan Chakra of Lord Narasimha. Demon Namuchi was a cruel son of sage Kashyapa. He undertook the performance of the great austerities in order to become powerful. Due to his penance, the huge amount of heat and fire started to flow out from his body. The living entities as well as demigods were disturbed by this fire. When the chief of the demigods named Indra went to Brahma to solve the problem created by Namuchi's fire, Brahma agreed to appease Namuchi by granting him a boon in order to stop his austerities. When Brahma appeared before Namuchi, Namuchi asked that he should not be killed by anything that is either dry or wet. Brahma had to grant this boon. After becoming almost immortal in this way, demon Namuchi started to harass demigods. As demigods could not harm Namuchi in any way, all of them took shelter of Lord Vishnu and requested Him to device a way by which Namuchi could be killed.

Lord Vishnu assured the demigods and told them that when proper time arrives, he will make sure that Namuchi is killed. He also asked Indra to destroy Namuchi's army. Then Lord Vishnu, in his form of Narasimha dipped his Sudarshan Chakra into foam (which is considered neither dry nor wet) and gave it to Indra. Lord Narasimha Himself was present at the center of Sudarshan Chakra. Indra sent this Sudarshan Chakra to kill the demon. When Namuchi saw Lord's weapon coming to kill him, he gave up his physical form and went into a cave for protecting himself. Sudarshan Chakra followed Namuchi into the cave and killed him.

After killing the demon Namuchi, Lord Narasimha was still in extremely angry mood. All the demigods were fearful of this form of Lord Narasimha. To please the Lord and calm Him down, demigods offered a pot of nectar to Lord Narasimha. Lord Narasimha drank half of the nectar and was satisfied. At that time, Lord Narasimha told the demigods that in Satya Yuga, He will drink half of the nectar offered to Him. In Treta Yuga, He will be satisfied by drinking Ghee. In Dwapar Yuga, He will be satisfied by drinking milk and in Kali Yuga, he will drink half of the panakam offered to Him. As currently Kali Yuga is going on, Lord Narasimha drinks thousands of litters of panakam every day at Mangalagiri. Because of this reason, the name of Lord Narasimha at Mangalagiri is Panakal or Pana-Narasimha.

The temple of the Pana-Narasimha is situated on the slopes of Mangalagiri. Lord Narasimha is situated in His deity form in the innermost chamber of the temple. Only the face of the Lord is manifested here. The face of the Lord is of metal. Behind His face, there are symbols of conch (Shankha) and wheel (Chakra). Few dim lights enlighten this small chamber. Before entering the temple, we can purchase the pot of panakam for offering. The priest in the temple allows only few people to see the Lord at a time. We can stand very near to the Lord when the priest is pouring the panakam into Lord's mouth using conch shell. The priest can understand when the Lord is satisfied by drinking the panakam. When Lord is drinking the panakam, we will not hear any sound of water hitting anything. The panakam goes into Lord's mouth as if there is no bottom and mysteriously disappears. The remaining drink is given back to the devotees as prasadam. Even though  there is sweet water everywhere in the temple, it is very interesting that we will not find a single ant or fly inside and in the area of the temple.

From the temple of Lord Narasimha, there are few steps going up the hill which lead us to the shrines of Lakshmi Devi, Lord Venkateshwara as well as Hanuman. Mangalagiri is a special place of Hanuman who is the great devotee of Lord in His form as Ramachandra. After the battle of Ramayana was over, Lord Rama asked Hanuman to stay at Mangalagiri and after obtaining blessings, stay in this world till the end. Therefore Hanuman is maintainer and guardian (kshetrapalaka) of Mangalagiri. On the left side of the shrine of mother Lakshmi Devi, we will find a cave. This cave is a secret way to the caves of Undavalil but currently the cave is very dark and it may not be possible to reach the other end of the way through this cave. In the ancient times, the sages used this way to regularly visit Krishna river for taking the holy bath.

When we reach Mangalagiri, we notice a huge gopuram at the base of Mangalagiri. This gopuram belongs to another temple of Lord Narasimha which is situated in Mangalagiri town. Before going up the hill we can visit this temple. During the times of Mahabharata, Pandava brothers visited Mangalagiri when they were in exile. Because the form of Lord Narasimha situated on the slopes of Mangalagiri was ugra (very angry) and less accessible to people in general, they established another temple of Lord Lakshmi-Narasimha at the base of Mangalagiri so that people can very easily worship the Lord. Therefore this temple is more than five thousand years old. The outer parts of the temple as well as eleven story high gopuram were constructed by later kings and administrators. The deity of Lord Narasimha with Lakshmi Devi in this temple is very beautifully decorated with ornaments as well as the garland of 108 Shalagram Shilas. There is another separate shrine of Lakshmi Devi established by the King of Vijayanagar, Krishnadevaraya, who was disciple of the great spiritual master Ramanujacharya. This form of Lakshmi Devi is extremely beautiful and well decorated.

There are around six hundred steps leading to the temple of Pana-Narasimha on Mangalagiri hill. On this stairway, we can see a shrine which displays the footprints of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who visited Mangalagiri during His south India pilgrimage in year 1512. It is said that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu ecstatically offered many prayers to Lord Narasimha on Mangalagiri. These footprints are established  by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur in honor of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Another interesting place to see on Mangalagiri is a Milk Tree. This tree is considered to be non-different from the great sage Narada Muni. The history behind this tree is as follows. When a king name Shashibindu was visiting the different holy places, he met Narada Muni on Mangalagiri. During their meeting, the king told sage Narada that he is tired of running behind worldly pleasures and is seeking transcendental happiness. Narada Muni advised the king to perform austerities at Mangalagiri and the king agreed. The queen considered the instruction given by Narada Muni to be ill-advise. She became furious and cursed the sage to become a Milk Tree (Kshira Vriksha) on the hill within the easy reach of devotees, so that it can bless women at its sight with property, children and also purify them of sins committed out of ignorance or oversight. Sage Narada did not take it as a curse but as a blessing. He blessed the queen with a happy life with her husband as well as a thousand children. Even today, thousands of women visit and worship this tree for begetting nice children.

There are three things about Mangalagiri which are of geological importance. First, when the Sudarshan Chakra of Lord killed demon Namuchi in the cave, a blood that began to flow turned into a stream called Raktakalya. This stream spread into the surrounding area turning the soil's color into red. Today we can see this red soil surrounding the temple. Secondly, it is believed that the hill of Mangalagiri was once a volcano and different offerings to the deity of Lord Narasimha have prevented the volcanic irruption. Lastly the sitting elephant shape of the hill as explained previously with reference to prince Hrishya Shringi. The Mangalagiri is considered as a part of Eastern Ghats of India.

Mangalagiri literally means an auspicious hill. This name is given to this hill because Lord's pleasure potency Lakshmi-Devi performed penances on this hill. This hill is also known as Muktyadri which literally means a hill which grants salvation even to the sinners. Even the chief demigod Indra has advised the residents of heaven to do penance here in order to get liberation from the material bondage. It is said that demigods still attend this temple to offer their own worship to Lord  Narasimha. For this reason, the temple is open from morning to afternoon. It is believed that demigods start their worship after noon. Sometimes the priest who opens the temple in the morning finds evidence of this.

My visit to Mangalagiri was a very pleasing exchange of happiness with other devotees. Members of Bhaktivedanta Institute of Bangalore requested me to attend the 76th Vyaspuja celebration of His Holiness Bhaktiswaroop Damodar Maharaja (aka Shripad Maharaja) in Mangalagiri. On Friday, 6 December 2013, we first took a bus from Bangalore to Tirupati and then a train from Tirupati to Vijayawada. We reached Vijayawada on Saturday afternoon. Devotees in Vijayawada had arranged a vehicle to take us from Vijayawada to Mangalagiri. In Mangalagiri, we found that our guest house was situated just in front of the huge gopuram of  Lakshmi-Narasimha temple. After having bath and lunch, we went to Lakshmi-Narasimha temple to have a wonderful darshan of Lord Narasimha and Mother Lakshmi. We also visited a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva which is situated nearby.

Next day (Sunday) was full of different activities. In very early morning at 4:30 am, we went to Iskcon Radha-Shyamasundar temple in Vijayawada. After attending a beautiful morning Aarati there, we returned to Mangalagiri and went uphill to see Lord Pana-Narasimha. An amazing group of devotees was performing Sankirtan. When the temple priest arrived, we had a wonderful and close darshan of Lord Narasimha. After drinking panakam, and visiting the shrines of Hanuman as well as mother Lakshmi, we came downhill, all the way singing Lord's holy names. Then we attended the Vyaspuja celebration. This celebration consisted of offering worship and words of glorification to the spiritual master and it ended with a wonderful lunch feast. In evening, we visited an orphanage named Shree Krishna Chaitanya Vihar in Vijayawada and performed Sankirtan with children. It was my first visit to an orphanage.

On Monday, after taking blessings of Lakshmi-Narasimha in the morning, we left for Machalipatnam which is the home of Lord Panduranga (Krishna).

I have heard that Lord's form as Narasimha is very angry by nature and He expects His devotees to be very strict in following spiritual discipline. But I have also heard that in this fallen age of Kali, in which most of the people are not able to follow a proper spiritual discipline, the same Lord Narasimha gives up His angry mood and blesses even those like me who are full of faults. I consider myself very lucky to get blessings of the Lord who resides in Mangalagiri. The spiritual atmosphere of Mangalagiri is very conductive for one's spiritual well-being and its history gives us a faith in our ancient culture. I thank Lord Narasimha, who always blesses and protects His devotees, for allowing me to visit His house in Mangalagiri. I pray to Lord that no matter what happens in my life, let me always remain His humble servant, let me always remain in the company of His devotees.

Meanings of Sanskrit words:
1. Satya yuga. According to Vedic time, four ages named Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga and Kali Yuga(the current age) appear one after another in the cyclic manner. The time duration of the Satya yuga is 1,728,000 solar years. The last Satya Yuga started 3,893,000 years ago and ended 2,165,000 years ago.
 2. Sudarshan Chakra. One of the weapons of Lord. Sudarshan Chakra has a shape of a disc with one thousand spokes. It is not just an ordinary weapon, apart from having a great power, it has a conscious personality.
3. Brahma. The secondary creator of the universe. He is born of Lord Vishnu and given all the primary ingredients to carry out further development of universe. Each universe has one Brahma. 
4. Panakam. A sweet drink consisting of water mixed with jaggery (cane sugar), camphor, cardamom and black pepper. Tastes awesome.
5. Prasadam. Spiritual food. Food taken after first offering it to the Lord.
6. Gopuram. Tall ornate towers that mark the entrances of the temple, especially found in south Indian temples. 
7. Shaligram Shila. The sacred stone which is considered as a direct form of Lord Vishnu.
8. Vyas puja. Celebration of spiritual master's birthday by his disciples. This occasion is celebrated even after physical disappearance of the spiritual master.
9. Darshan. Seeing the deity in the temple and offering obeisances.
10. Aarati. Worship of Lord in the temple by using items such as incense, flowers, lamp, cloth and fragrant liquids etc.
11. Sankirtan. Loudly singing Lord's holy names in group.
Om Tat Sat
Acknowledgements
I thank the members of Bhaktivedanta Institute for organizing this wonderful pilgrimage. I especially thank devotees at Vijayawada for their hospitality and gifts. They put in so much hard work for making arrangements of our stay, food as well as travel. This pilgrimage would be simply impossible without them. I thank my friend Appala Naidu for translating some Telugu text about Mangalagiri for me. I also thank Netra Kulkarni, Nishant Goyal, Rishikesh Kulkarni and Sudeep Joshi for their suggestions during the preparation of the manuscript.

References
1. Spiritual India Handbook, Stephen Knapp, Jaico publishers, 2011.
2. www.mangalagiri.net

Note
Anybody is free to redistribute this article without making any changes to the text.

Contact author
Hrishikesh S. Sonalikar
Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics,
Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore, 560012.
Phone +91 9535145705
Email: hrishikeshsonalikar@gmail.com

Article History
Mangalagiri visit: 7,8 December 2013
Beginning: 15 December 2013
Completion: 23 December 2013
Reviewed: 1 January 2014
Published: 2 January 2014

Mangalagiri and the temple of Pana-Narasimha

11 story gopuram of Lakshmi Narasimha temple in Mangalagiri town

Deity of Lord Pana-Narasimha

View of Mangalgiri town from the temple of Pana-Narasimha