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