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