Friday, June 12, 2015

Ahobilam

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

Brief history of Ahobilam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My pilgrimage to Ahobilam

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

Conclusion

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

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

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



On the way to Bhargava Narsimha Temple

The temple of Bhargava Narasimha

Devotees discussing the glories of Ahobilam in Pralhada Varada Narasimha temple


The entrance of Ugra or Ahobila Narasimha temple

Ugra stambha, the place from where Lord Narasimha appeared

The view of mountains from Jwala Narasimha temple

The cave in which Jwala Narasimha temple is situated

The way to Jwala Narasimha temple

The place where Pralhada's school was situated

The cave where Prahlada meditated on Lord

Chatravata Narasimha temple

The view from Chatravata Narasimha temple

Yogananda Narasimha temple

Pavana Narasimha temple

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

Malola Narasimha temple

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hampi

Hampi
Hrishikesh S. Sonalikar
2 January 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virupaksha - Pampa Devi Temple

Tungabhadra river

Pampa Sarovar

Anjaneyadri

Matanga Parvat

View of Kishkindha from Anjaneyadri

Kodanda Rama Temple

View from Kodanda Rama Templa

View of Virupaksha Temple

Malyavaan Parvat and the temple of Lord on the top

Tungabhadra river

Pampa Sarovar