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Surdas

Once in the court of Akbar when all his ministers were present, the emperor called them to attention. “I would like to appoint a King’s representative to places like Mathura, Gokul and Brindavan. I would like to appoint Surdas for this post. What is your opinion on this?” he asked. All the ministers unanimously said that Surdas was the right person for the job.
Surdas was also happy that the King had chosen him and said that he would do his job in earnest. Soon he left for Mathura where he spent his time singing praises of Lord Krishna and the people and the places flourished under his guidance. However, he began donating money generously to the needy and his coffers began to dwindle.
Soon it was time for Janmashtami, the time to celebrate Krishna’s birthday. But there was no money for this and his cashier came and reminded him about that. He was in a dilemma as to how he would be able to celebrate the function on that day. He however told his cashier that Krishna will take care of this. At that time two men arrived with tax money to be paid to Emperor Akbar and told Surdas to send it across to the King. After they left, Surdas told the cashier to use the tax money and that they would explain the situation to the King at a later date.
The news reached Akbar that Surdas had used the tax money to celebrate Janmashtami and the King was livid. He sent his men to get the money from Surdas. Two of the king’s representatives were sent to Surdas. Seeing them Surdas told them to wait and went to his backyard. Here he took a big box and filled it with pebbles. Then he wrote a note to Akbar saying that he was willing to be punished after the festivities of Janmashtami were over and that he was sending some stones in the box just to delay his arrest and send the men who had come to take him away.
Meanwhile, after filling the box and writing the note, he told the waiting men that he had converted the money into gem stones as they would be safer that way and that they should take the box to the king and give him the note. The men went and relayed the information to Akbar. After reading the note Akbar was angry that Surdas had the cheek to send stones in the box and asked the men to open it. When the box was opened everyone around was surprised that the box was filled with gem stones of several kinds.
Impressed with Surdas’ devotion to Lord Krishna, Akbar returned the box with the gemstones to Surdas to serve his Lord and let him serve as his representative in the three cities.

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Samarth Ramdas

Legend says that Samarth Ramdas was born on Hanumat Jayanthi as an incarnation of Hanuman. Ramdas was a simple man with almost no needs and lived in caves meditating on Lord Rama. His disciples too were very simple and led a very pious life like their Guru. Except for one disciple. His name was Ranganath Goswami. There was a crowd around him at all times.

On each of his side there would be a person fanning him. Another would stand behind him holding an umbrella. He also used to travel a lot in a palanquin. Some people made snide remarks on Goswami for living ostentatiously . The disciples of Ramdas felt that Goswami was spoiling the reputation of their Guru with his actions. They even complained  to Ramdas about Goswami in the hope that their Guru would reprimand Goswami. But nothing like that happened.

One day when Ramdas went to bathe in the Godavari with his disciples tagging along, Goswami arrived there in his palanquin. He got out of his palanquin and paid obeisance to his Guru. Ramdas then told him to leave his people and the palanquin far away and sit quietly on the banks of the Godavari till he returned from his bath.

The other disciples were elated that Goswami was ticked off and were waiting to watch what their Guru would do next.

Meanwhile Chatrapathi Shivaji arrived there. He was surprised to see a disciple of Ramdas who he revered was sitting all by himself on the hot sands of the river bank. He went near Goswami and spoke to him. But Goswami never replied. Shivaji thought that Goswami was observing strict silence and asked his people to provide a makeshift shelter  for the disciple. He asked a few others to fan him and a few others to stay back with him.

When Ramdas returned after his bath, he looked at Goswami and asked his disciples what had happened. Goswami told Ramdas what had happened. After listening carefully Ramdas told his disciples “Do you understand now? Goswami is also a very determined person like you. “He is only reaping the benefits of his good karma. He is only being rewarded for his good deeds in his previous birth,” said Ramdas.

(The end of this story may seem a little lukewarm to readers, but I didn’t want to burden myself 😉 or my readers with a more philosophical and convoluted ending as given in the original.)

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Just when I was thinking that there was only one goddess who was lying supine, out came a story about another goddess who too was lying supine.
Periyayi amman is that Goddess in the small hamlet of Kuyilapalayam, in Vizhupuram district.
Once upon a time in the midst of this hamlet there was a
temple. Once on a Thursday the priest of the temple locked the doors to the shrine and left for his hut. As he entered his hut, he saw a dancing cobra in the living room. He screamed for help and the whole village assembled at his doorstep in no time.
They tried different ways to entice the snake outside but to no avail. Suddenly, a woman in the crowd let out a shriek as some spirit had entered her being.
The possessed woman said “I am Angala amman. I was the presiding deity in the west of this village and was guarding the village from evil spirits and made the village prosperous. But the villagers did not care for me, nor for their own fellow beings. I have left that village. I will let you know in seven days where I want to reside.” The possessed woman fell down in a faint. The snake was now nowhere to be seen.
The villagers waited eagerly for seven days. On the seventh day, the villagers congregated at the priest’s hut and invited the goddess using cymbals and dholaks.
Suddenly the priest began talking and walking like one possesses. The goddess spoke through him. “Follow me, she said. I will show you the place where I want to reside.”
The villagers followed the priest who went to the eastern side of the village. Circumambulating a peepul tree thrice the priest came to a stop and sat beneath the tree.
The villagers built an open top temple for the goddess here. Just outside this hut of a temple lies the Goddess also known as Periyayi amman. The statue of this goddess is 25 feet in length and 13 ft in breadth. At her feet are the idols of Ganesha and Muruga.
Another story doing its rounds here about the idols:
Once there was demon by name Vallala kandan who ruled Melmalayanur near Tiruvannamalai. He was meditating on Lord Shiva. Pleased with his devotion, Shiva appeared before him and asked what he wanted.
Vallalakandan said “I want a son who will be just like you.”
Shiva said that he will take birth as his son from the womb of the demon’s wife Vallalakandi.”
The demon was overjoyed. But Lord Vishnu on hearing this boon was scared. He rushed to talk to Goddess Shakthi, Shiva’s consort. If the demoness gave birth to Shiva, the bloodshed would cause lot of damage to the people and the earth. So both of them discussed what to do. In the end when the demoness went into labor, Lord Vishnu made every human being disappear using his powers. Since there was no one in the village to assist Vallalakandi during her labor Vallalakandan was worried. At the moment Goddess Shakti appeared as a midwife and the demon was happy to see her. He took her to his wife and there the midwife requested him to get her a dustpan, sickle and a pot. The suspicious demon asked her why she needed the above things. The midwife said “the sickle is to cut the umbilical cord, the dustpan would be used to collect the waste adn the pot to clean the place with water.”
Satisfied with her reply the demon went to wait outside the delivery room. Shakthi then took her own form with sixteen hands and killed the demoness and her child. She came out and killed Vallalakandan too. But she still thirsted for blood and wandered around in her ferocious form. Worried at the outcome, the devas decided to pacify Shakti. They built a chariot and made Shakti sit on it. However, this didn’t help, so they magically made the chariot disappear and the Goddess is said to have fallen supine. Just like the Devas had anticipated, the fall made her calm. That is the reason behind the supine idol of the Goddess in this temple.

This temple of Periyayi amman lies 8 kms from Pondicherry on the East Coast road. The temple is situated on the left of this road driving about a km, en route to Auroville, in village of Kuyilapalayam. The Goddess is considered the presiding deity of this village.

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Why the moon wanes and waxes

The 27 daughters of Daksha were married to the moon or Chandra. Out of the 27, Chandra favored Rohini the most and spent most of his time with her. It came to a point when he ignored the other wives totally. The 26 sisters were very upset with this and went to their father Daksha and complained that Chandra was always with Rohini.

Daksha called on Chandra one day and told him that it was unfair that he spent most of his time with Rohini and this should not continue. But Chandra chose to ignore his father-in-law’s warning. Seeing that Chandra had not bothered to be with his other wives even after being warned, Daksha cursed him.

“Let Chandra be inflicted with leprosy and die slowly of the disease,” cursed Daksha. Soon Chandra’s disease took its toll. He was soon losing his sheen. His power to travel across the earth suffered and soon darkness surrounded the earth. Even the seas raged without seeing the moon.

Soon Chandra took refuge in Daksha’s house and fell at his feet. He urged that he be relieved from his curse. But Daksha said that once he cursed, he did not have the power to revoke or revise it. But Daksha said that if Chandra could find a shiva linga and pray fervently he might be released from his agony.

Chandra looked everywhere on earth but was unable find a linga. Finally when he was about to give up, he found a linga in Prabhas Patan, a place near Virawal in Sourashtra. He consecrated the linga and did penance to Shiva.

Pleased with his devotion. Shiva appeared before him. But he said that he would not be able to release him totally from the curse by bestowing him his original form. He said that Chandra would lose his form first for 15 days and when he totally loses form, then from the next day he would again begin taking shape for the next 15 days to show his original form. Thus began the waning and waxing of the moon.

This temple of Somnath is popular among pilgrims for meditating upon Shiva. It is believed that since Chandra himself consecrated the temple for shiva, the deity in the shrine is all powerful. The temple is situated in Virawal in the western coast of Gujarat.

One other point to be noted is that Mohammed of Ghazni is believed to have ransacked this temple 17 times.

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Respect your teachers

Once a hermit was walking along with his disciples through a dense forest. Suddenly, the skies darkened and it was evident that soon thundershowers were going to start. Assuming the worst, hermit told his disciples that they would rest at the nearest shelter till the rains stopped. 

Soon a disciple spotted a dilapidated shelter and told his master that they could rest there. The hermit agreed. As they were about to reach the shelter a thunder struck and it was about to fall on the disciples. But wonder of wonders, it never fell, and seemed to hover above in mid air and all of them were surprised. 

The hermit closed his eyes for a minute and prayed. After a minute he said “Students! One of us has done an unpardonable sin. The thunder is waiting to strike one of us who has sinned.” 

The hermit also told them that each one of them should run over from the shelter to the tree right across. So as per the advice of their guru, the students went one after the other to stand under the tree. All the four disciples reached the tree unharmed and returned. They looked at each other and said “All of us returned unharmed. So that means our guru is the sinner. To think that we chose to be his disciples.” 

Now it was the turn of the hermit to go across to the tree and return. As soon as he stepped out of the shelter, the thunder fell on the unsuspecting disciples and the four of them fell dead.

The hermit sat amidst the dead bodies and cried “Oh god! I am older than them, I should have died and you could have spared them their lives.”

Immediately a heavenly voice was heard. “Oh hermit! Don’t worry. It was their fate. Also, due to  your powers they could have been saved, but since they doubted their guru, their sin doubled which is why they deserve death.”

 

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Purandaradasar

There are times, when you come upon a thing of the past, which you had misplaced or lost, and suddenly out of the blue you find it and you jump with joy. It was with similar joy that I greedily grabbed the book proffered by my dad when he visited me recently. The book in question is a well-thumbed copy of Maha Bhakta Vijayam, a collection of stories from the life of great poets like Thyagaraja and Purandaradasar and other religious masters. The book was first published in 1952 by The Little Flower Company

I have fond memories of this book as it belonged to my beloved Patti,  and who left it with my mom to feed her ‘hungry for story’ children. The story I have given today is my Patti’s favorite. I remember her telling this story each time we asked for one and she finished, we would say, “you have already told us this story tell another one” and she would oblige with a smile. This Gokulashtami as I welcomed Krishna into our home, I thought I would retell this favorite of Radha patti, to whom I dedicate this story.

In the small village called Vemannapuri, near Pandharpur, there lived a man by name Madhav Rao and his wife Rathnabai. They were blessed with a son after a long time, who they named Raghunath and they lavished their love on him. Just like his father, Raghunath was well versed in the arts and did well in his studies. When he grew up, his parents set him up with a pawn shop and also got him married to a girl Lakshmi bai.

After marriage, the couple lived happily. Raghunath’s business prospered and so did his greed. He charged exorbitant rates of interest to those he loaned money. He stopped charity work and if anyone reminded him of how his father was such a charitable person, they had to face his wrath.

His wife shed tears silently and was unable to talk any sense into him. They were soon blessed with a daughter who they named Rukmanibai. But even the birth of his daughter did not bring about any change in his activities.

One day, an old man who was passing by Vemannapuri enquired about Raghunath’s pawn shop. To those who asked him why he was looking for Raghunath, the old man answered that he needed financial help.

Some people even told the old man that if he needed money he should go to someone else and not Raghunath as he was not a good lender. The old man did not bother but finally reached the shop.

Seeing the old man in his tattered clothes, Raghunath brusquely told him “I am very busy, tell me what you want.”

The old man in reply took a lemon from his bag and after saying some prayers gave the lemon to Raghunath., who took it thinking that it is not for loan but for charity this man had visited him.

The old man then in a very polite voice told him that he needed thousand gold coins in donation to conduct his son’s wedding.

Raghunath was livid, he said “You don’t know about this business where there is no money for me. I don’t even get food to eat.” But the old man began giving a lecture about the country which had such great men and it was not wise on his part not do some charity at least.

Raghunath in his anger pushed the old man by the scruff of his neck. But the old man retaliated and both of them rolled in the dusty road. Raghunath finally pushed him away and ran into his shop.

Meanwhile, the old man dusted himself and walked over to Raghunath’s house thinking how his wife would welcome him.

Lakshmibai saw the old man and respectfully bade him to sit. The old man sat down and told her about what happened between him and her husband. He told her that he needed thousand gold coins urgently.

Lakshmibai was filled with sorrow that her husband had behaved in this way with such an old man and wondered how she could help him. She took her diamond nose-ring and told the old man that if he could sell it, he would get about three thousand gold coins and that he should leave quickly to the next village, lest her husband returned. The old man thanked her and left.

Meanwhile, a rich man entered the shop and showed Raghunath, a diamond nose ring. Raghunath valued it and said he could give the trader about thousand gold coins and not a penny more. The trader got angry, haggled a bit and then agreed for thousand. But Raghunath had a nagging doubt that the nose ring belonged to his wife. On the pretext of getting the money from home, he made the trader sit in the shop and went home.

Lakshmibai was scared that her husband would ask about the nose ring. Likewise, Raghunath asked her to bring the nose ring. She went inside and put on the act of searching for the nose ring in her box. She prayed to Krishna to help her in her time of need. Suddenly she noticed that in a corner of the box a tiny nose ring shined on her. She was surprised, but took it to her husband thanking Krishna for his timely help.

As soon as he took the nose ring, Raghunath knew that it was not his wife’s nose ring. Promising that he would not yell at her he asked her to tell how she got this superior nose ring.

Lakshmibai related how she had donated it to the old man. Raghunath knew it was Krishna who had come and he had not realized it. He went with Lakshmibai to his shop but the trader had left. There were a few flower petals in his place.

He realized how he had brought misfortune on several families by charging higher interests. He began focusing on turning over a new leaf. He gave away all his hoarded wealth to the needy and became a devotee of Krishna. Later, he became known as Purandaradasar, which is for another day.

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Once the King of Mountains Meru and his wife Menaka were blessed with twins. They were called Bhadran and Neelan. Both turned out to be ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu. Once Bhadran was meditating on the banks of the river Godavari. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Vishnu appears before him as Lord Rama with his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana. He tells Bhadran that the place where he worshipped Him would be known as Bhadrachalam henceforth. He also said that those who worshipped the Lord at this place will be cleansed off their sins. So saying he vanished and reappeared as an ant hill. Bhadran took care of the ant hill which also housed the statues of Rama and Sita.

Meanwhile, in the same town lived a woman by name Pogala Tamakka, who was a staunch devotee of Rama. One day she was searching for her adopted child and reached Bhadragiri where she came upon the ant hill. She looked inside the ant hill and saw that there was a statue of Rama and Sita inside. In her elation on finding her Lord, she fainted. When she came to, she took the statues and also found her adopted child near her.

When she reached home, while sleeping, she saw sage Bhadran in her dream. He told her that a devotee of Rama would arrive at her doorstep and would build a temple for Rama. “Till then worship Rama in the open”, he said. Tamakka also followed the advice of Sage Bhadran and did not build a shrine on her own for Rama.

A few years later, Gopanna, the Tahsildar of the Golconda Nawab Abdul Hassan Shah arrived in Bhadrachalam. Tamakka had a premonition that  Gopanna was the devotee mentioned by the sage in her dreams and she requested him to build a shrine for Rama.

Being a Tahsildar, Gopanna had a lot of tax money which people had given him to be paid to the Nawab. He uses that money to build a temple for Rama. The Nawab on finding that a temple had been built with the tax money, he jailed Gopanna in the Golconda fort.

A few days later, two men visited the Nawab and said that Gopanna had sent them to repay the tax money he had taken. The Nawab was surprised and went to meet Gopanna in jail. When he learnt from Gopanna that the Lord Rama himself had returned the money, he fell at the feet of Gopanna and apologised for his folly. Gopanna in turn fell at the feet of the Nawab saying that he had the good fortune of meeting the Lord in person. From that day he came to be known as Bhakta Ramadas.

 

(Bhadrachalam is a small town in Andhra Pradesh. The temple is in Khammam, en route to Hyderabad from Chennai. The deity here is known as Vaikuntaraman)

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