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Posted on: Jan 19, 2016
Many years ago in an informal interaction with late Mrs. Rani Subramaniam, a sincere spiritual seeker from yesteryears, Bhagawan said, “You don't have to read too much! Read whatever is necessary for inspiration.” Guiding her further, He said, “Different authors will only confuse you with their contradictions. Great philosophical and intellectual discussions are of no use. If you want to read, study the lives of saints. It could be any faith: Christian, Muslim, or Hindu. They have gone on the path. They have done the spiritual journey. Their path is clear. They have known the pitfalls and the obstacles. Their life will indicate all the problems to you and how they ultimately came to be a good example.”
This is exactly what Bhagawan has also told the students time and again. That is perhaps why in every drama staged by the students one always finds scenes from the lives of exalted devotees and servitors of the Lord.
As we begin this New Year, we in Radio Sai thought it would be a good idea to have this in our programmes too. So on Thursday, January 7, 2016 we started a series “Saints — the Soul of India.”
Our first discussion was on a saint who is much remembered and revered in this period of the year, especially in Southern India. On December 17, 2015 began the sacred lunar month of Margazhi, also called Dhanurmasam. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “If among the rivers I am Ganga, among the months I am Margazhi”. Obviously it is a highly propitious time. During these 30 days, people especially of Tamil origin undertake lot of vows and intense prayers and regularly recite the sacred hymn ‘Tiruppavai’, a timeless treatise on devotion, gifted by one who was born as a bewitching girl but rose to become a beloved Goddess — Saint Andal.
Her life in fact is an amazing confluence of the passionate love of Radha and the absolute surrender of Meera; the madness for His form like Radha and the experience of the stillness of His omnipresence like Meera; the crazy pining for Krishna's love like Radha and the glorious mergence with her beloved like Meera. How this happened and what lessons she has for us is what was deliberated upon in the first episode of this series which had two participants: Radio Sai's Bishu Prusty (BP) and Radio Sai volunteer Mrs. Lalitha Shekhar (LS). Presented below are some of the highlights of this interaction:
The Sacred Birth of Andal
BP: When I studied her life, I discovered that the way Andal came onto earth is so mysterious. She was actually found under a Tulasi plant in Srivilliputhur. Sri Vishnuchitta, who adopted her, himself was an Alwar, one of the twelve great Vaishnavite saints of South India.
What also occurred to me is that all these twelve messengers of devotion, of which Andal is perhaps the most widely remembered and revered, came at a time in Indian history (between 400 and 900 AD) when Buddhism and Jainism had great influence in society. Given the emphasis on desirelessness and asceticism in both these religions, in those times anything of the world was seen as anti-spiritual. One was considered to be ‘on the spiritual path’ only if he or she renounced home, hearth and worldly happiness and responsibilities of every kind.
But with the emergence of these exalted Alwars, people began to see how they can be in the world yet love the Lord like crazy — how God can actually become a part of everything you do in your daily life as well as in every stage of your earthly existence. Spirituality no more bifurcated their life but brought bliss into everything they were doing.
|'Alwar' means 'one who is immersed in God'; Andal was exceptional in the galaxy of 12 Alwars (only six seen in this image)
not only because she is the only lady saint but also the youngest
LS: Be in the world but let not the world get into you; they demonstrated this in their lives.
BP: Absolutely! Bhagawan says, “Hands in the society and head in the forest.” You can do anything but your focus should be on The Eternal.
LS: Basically, we do everything for the love of God and as an offering to Him.
BP: So when Vishnuchitta finds her under a Tulasi plant he is really drawn to her.
LS: Isn't it significant that she was found under a Tulasi plant?
BP: Without a doubt! That shows her divine origin. The Tulasi plant in fact is revered as a Goddess in India. In the state of Odisha, for example, she is worshipped as ‘Brindavati’ and women adorn her with saree, bangles, etc. and offer much ritualistic worship.
LS: Similarly, in Tirupati, no matter how many jewels Lord Venkataramana wears, the dearest to Him they say is the garland of Tulasi leaves. This is the first ‘ornament’ He wears daily.
BP: These traditions were passed on to us by our ancient sages and they were unquestionably great scientists. Not many know that Tulasi is a great air-purifier. Unlike every other plant which give out O2 (two molecules of oxygen), Tulasi releases O3 (three molecules of oxygen). It is the only plant in the universe to give out an extra molecule of oxygen. Our sages simply said, “Keep Tulasi plant in your house without fail. Your house will be pure.”
Even where science has not yet given us evidence I guess it is wise on our part to just follow the advice of our saints as documented in our scriptures.
So, yes, it is really significant that the Lord wanted Andal to be found under a Tulasi plant. Vishnuchitta, as his name suggests, was someone whose chitta (mind) was suffused with Vishnu. So Andal came into a home that was charged with Krishna consciousness.
|On the Lord's right is His dearest Andal and on the left is His vehicle Garuda|
LS: In fact it is said that Vishnuchitta was so immersed in Krishna that whatever he did — be it swinging the cradle for the baby or feeding her — he always imagined himself to be Mother Yashoda and her as little Krishna. She was then called Kothai, meaning, ‘the beautiful one’. So growing up in such an environment, Kothai only naturally grew in love for Krishna.
BP: I am reminded of our days in the hostel when Bhagawan was physically there. Whatever one did, be it singing, acting, running, chanting, or anything, the only aim was to go close to Swami and get one more moment of proximity with Him. That is why someone wanted to become a better singer or sportsman or actor or painter. It was indeed a competition as to who can pray with greater intensity to get more attention of the Lord.
LS: Such a life becomes a penance.
BP: Yes, whatever you do, you always want to do your best. Also you always want to be the best for the Lord. That is why even though darshan was a daily affair when He was physically there, every day each one was at his or her best.
LS: The Lord too was at His best always. Swami used to dress so impeccably; He led by example.
BP: Always! So Kothai grew up in such an ambience. Her father used to make garlands for the Vishnu shrine in Srivilliputhur where he was the priest. Slowly Kothai took on that job of creating lovely garlands. In the hostel, when we used to make a dish for Swami, one of the boys would taste it to see if it is prepared well.
LS: It is the same with all of us. Whenever we make anything at home to be offered to the Lord as Naivedyam, we always taste it because we want to make sure it is good and nothing is more or less. Before it goes to the Lord, it should be perfect.
BP: Someone beautifully said that we sometimes get into this mistaken notion that just because we have not touched something it is absolutely pure. What we do not know is the Ganga water that we offer to the Lord might have in it the spittle of many fishes. Similarly, the nectar in the flower might have been already half-drunk by a bee, or the cow's milk that we get might be the leftover after the calf had its share. So how can we ever be sure of any material product's purity?
LS: Swami once said, “Even before you offer it to the Lord, your senses are enjoying it. You see it, smell it, feel it and so on. Therefore what is important is not so much the purity of the product as much as the purity of the intention. It is the heart behind the offering that really matters.”
Garlanding the Lord with Her Deep Love
BP: What Kothai used to do was, she would make the garlands and once she was finished, she would wear that string of flowers herself. So interesting! She would look in the mirror and evaluate: “Is it good? Am I looking nice? If tomorrow the Lord wants to see me, am I looking as beautiful as I can be?” Every day, it was a fresh feeling of looking very beautiful for the Lord.
If the garland looked gorgeous on her she was satisfied, as she felt it would look grand on the Lord too. So with this feeling every day she would check the garlands and then place it in the basket for her father to take to the temple. But Vishnuchitta had no idea of this.
One day when he was about to offer the garland to the Lord, he sees a strand of hair in it. He is stunned and shocked; he feels this is sacrilege. “How can I offer a desecrated garland to the Lord?” Absolutely distraught, he returns home and makes another garland himself and then places it on the Lord. He is now satisfied.
But that night the Lord comes in his dream says, “Vishnuchitta, what is this garland that you have given Me? There is no scent of Kothai in it! I want only those garlands which have the scent of Kothai. Please remove this.”
LS: Wow! The Lord only looks at the purity of our thoughts and intentions.
BP: Yes. The paraphernalia of our devotion is inconsequential to the Lord. Only the purity of our devotion is of consequence to Him. In fact from that moment onwards, Kothai was called ‘Andal’ meaning, the ‘One who ruled over the Lord’.
LS: So incredible! Recently I came across this beautiful story. There was an old lady living in the erstwhile Ganesh shed in Prasanthi Nilayam. One day she had a wish to offer betel nut to Swami. Bhagawan in those days used to have paan (betel leaves with nuts). So she had picked up some betel leaves and nuts and packed everything in a small cloth pouch. She went to the mandir with it.
But seeing the soiled pouch and her crumpled saree, people in the veranda thought there is little chance of her getting Swami's attention because Bhagawan is very particular about cleanliness. At the same time they did not want her to get disappointed. So they told her, “Amma, there is little chance of Bhagawan coming down now. However if you still want to wait, you can sit here.”
Bhagawan had already gone inside for lunch. And after this usually He would retire. So this lady sat there, waiting for the Lord. Given her advanced age, she was tired and dozed off, quite unconsciously. Suddenly Swami's room door opened and the Lord came down. Bhagawan came straight to her, gently woke her up and then in a soothing tone and tenor said, “Amma, where is the betel leaf and nut you got for Me?”
The lady got up with a start. She was too shocked to see Swami up so close, right in front of her. Swami asked her again for the paan. So she hurriedly took the black-coloured soiled pouch and tried to open it. In all that excitement of seeing Him, she was not able to open it. Swami now very sweetly took the pouch and opened it Himself. He took out the betel leaf and nut with a bright smile, and right then and there put it in His mouth. Not only that, He complimented her for the paan's make and taste!
BP: So moving! It reminds me of Sudama and Shabari from our scriptures.
LS: Yes, we only read accounts of such stories but here and now such incidents happened; in fact, countless of them.
BP: So true. In the 1990s, there was a three-day music festival in Prasanthi Nilayam when pioneers of Indian classical music performed in the divine physical presence.
One evening during this programme, when Bhagawan was returning to the Poornachandra auditorium (His residence then) He spotted an old lady sitting way behind the crowd. He beckoned her. She had a little bag with her. When she came near, Swami stretched His hand and almost grabbed that bag from her. As He neared the residence, the boys assisting Him offered to carry that bag but He flatly refused. In fact He was holding it tight to His bosom.
Once He reached His residence, He called the 3-4 students who were living with Him then and asked them to sit around Him, and now excitedly opened this bag. It had roasted peanuts. Swami with great joy burst the husk of each groundnut and started giving it to the boys to eat. This went on for quite a while. The floor was actually filled with peanut husks and skins. But Swami was least concerned. He was not bothered even about the music session in progress on the stage. Those peanuts meant the world for Him.
Later one of the students became inquisitive and tried to find out more about the source of these lucky nuts. It was then he found out that this lady used to specially cultivate, harvest, process and roast these nuts only for Bhagawan and she used to do this many years ago. But now crowds had increased and she came intermittently. However whenever she was in Prasanthi Swami never missed to see her and ask for her bag, no matter where she was seated. No one recognised her but the Lord always did.
LS: That is why it is said, “Bhagavanthudu Bhavapriyudu — the Lord is moved only by feelings.”
BP: I recall another beautiful incident, again from the '90s. It was during Dasara celebrations. One evening, there was a cultural programme wherein great poets and mightily distinguished litterateurs of Telugu showcased their brilliance and mastery over this language. In fact Swami had arranged thrones, like the ones which are placed for Him, for each of them. The audience was in awe with their skill and on-the-spot creation of literary masterpieces.
While the people were mesmerised, I remember Swami was simply not in the scene; it seemed He had ‘travelled’ because most of the times His eyes would be closed and His hand would be mystically in the air. Of course after the programme was over, He presented them with gifts and it was a grand success, so to speak.
The next day was a ‘Kavi Sammelan’ by the students — about 15 boys had written original poems. It was all in multiple languages — from Assamese, English and Bengali to Gujarati, Odiya, Hindi and Malayali. But this day Swami was completely involved. He listened to every song and poem with rapt attention. He expectedly waited for the next when one boy finished.
When it was over, with great joy He came onto the stage, asked for shawls to be brought and personally opened each shawl and draped it around every student, one by one. The crowning moment was at the end when with a chuckle on His face He opened another shawl and draped Himself with it — becoming just One among us. What a scene it was! He then called all the budding poets to Him for a group photograph. Each one was clinging to Him... Everyone had become one in a big hug with the Lord. It was so ecstatic!
|'Kavi Sammelan' by students during Dasara celebrations in Poorna chandra auditorium, 1993|
Later I found out that Swami had spent the entire afternoon selecting shawls. Many white ones were brought which He rejected. Then brown ones came still He was not happy. Different shades of brown were brought and now after a lot of back-and-forth finally He settled on a design. Interestingly the name of this program was ‘Soul Inspirations’. It was driven by the soul, not by the ego-self of the mind.
I remember asking the teacher in-charge the previous day if all the participants of this programme should have rich costumes because the poets from Andhra Pradesh the other day were looking so regal. He simply said, “Let us go like dust, if He wants He will make diamonds out of us.” Looking back, that is exactly what happened.
This is how Andal's relationship with the Lord was — completely heart to heart. In fact she became so full of Krishna consciousness that now nothing else seemed interesting or worth pursuing in the world. So when the time came for her marriage, she unequivocally told her father, “I can get married only to the Lord. He is my only One. My connect is only with Him, none else absolutely.”
It came with so much conviction that it left Vishnuchitta stunned and clueless. Of course by then she had already proven herself. The Lord at Srivilliputhur every day was already wearing the garlands that she had worn and okayed. So in a sense what was left was only the Lord putting the garland on her!
Finite to Infinite
LS: She reminds me of Meera who chose the Lord as her husband right from the time she was a little one. A marriage procession was on and she innocently asked her mother, “Where is my groom?” and she got a little statue of Krishna in reply. That's it. She made up her mind.
BP: Yes, so similar to Andal's saga! In fact after this the Lord comes in the dream of Vishnuchitta and says, “Dress Andal like a bride and bring her to Me at Srirangam”. Lord Ranganatha, reclining on the Divine Serpent Adisesha, is the principal deity there. Srirangam is the largest functioning Hindu shrine in Asia. The whole area of the temple is 156 acres with a 10,000 feet perimeter.
At the same time, the Lord comes in the dream of the priests of Srirangam and says, “My bride is coming. Welcome her and prepare for the wedding.”
LS: Oh wow!
BP: The eagerness with which Andal goes for this wedding is out-of-this-world. She just cannot wait to see the Lord. As soon as she reaches the shrine, she jumps out of the palanquin and rushes to the Lord, and instantly disappears into Ranganatha. There is no two anymore.
LS: Wow! That is the only true union!
BP: Happiness is union with God, as Baba says. Till this day for generations her composition ‘Tiruppavai’ is recited with great devotional fervour and this sacred work is all about the journey of a devotee to see the Lord and finally merge with Him.
Apart from its profound philosophical thought, it is also a literary marvel in Tamil. Andal merged with the Lord when she was 14! And Tiruppavai might have emerged from her when she was even younger. It is all so incredible.
In fact, this 30-stanza song is all about getting up from our slumber, and preparing to go to the Lord — not individually but together.
LS: Yes, Andal is clear that it should be a collective effort. I think every saint had this objective — the welfare of all, not just their own salvation.
In fact Ramanujacharya, the propagator of Visishtadwaita (qualified non-dualism), was so fond of Tiruppavai that he recommended everybody to recite it especially in this month and because of this, people started calling him ‘Tiruppavai Jeeyar’ or ‘the Guru who propagated Tiruppavai'. He also included parts of it in the sacred ritual Shodashopachara (sixteen-fold worship) Puja.
Well, that is what happens when anything is done out of pure love for the Lord.
BP: Undoubtedly! Also the name ‘Ranganatha’ means ‘the orchestrator of this drama called creation’. Indeed the statue of this Lord in Srirangam is a swayambhu, meaning it emerged on its own. Andal too just appeared like Mother Sita. So it was really a beautiful play staged by the Lord to teach mankind how intense our connection with Him should be.
In one Pasuram (or stanza), she says, “If we are pure in body and we dwell on Him, and sing His praises offering flowers, all our sins of past and present will just burn away like cotton wool evaporates in a blazing flame.”
Towards the end of the Tiruppavai, there is again a beautiful line: “We ask of nothing paltry, Oh Lord! In every birth we should be with You. We should be serving only You. Burn any other wish that we have. Let there be no other wish!”
LS: She has surrendered to the Lord not only her wishes but also her right to make any wishes.
BP: That is fantastic!
LS: Today Tiruppavai, set to music, has become part of every Tamil household. Since it is not in Sanskrit but in a language that the common man can relate to, it has seeped into every aspect of people's lives. It is chanted when a child is born or a girl comes of age or when she is married or when one passes away and so on. What is also interesting is that the Gopuram of the Srivilliputhur Andal temple is so beautiful and so artistically done that it has become the insignia of the Tamil Nadu Government.
BP: Also as many would know, in Tirupati, during this sacred month of Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January) it is not the usual Venkateshwara Suprabhatam but Tiruppavai which is chanted. Moreover every time there is Venkateshwara Kalyanam (marriage ceremony of the Lord) in Tirupati, the garland comes from Andal's temple in Srivilliputhur. The Lord raised her to the level of being His consort — it is femininity to Divinity. It's like the Lord is saying, “If you have this much love for Me, see what I make of you!”, just like Swami has so significantly placed Hanuman on top of all other Gods in the Hill View Stadium in Prasanthi Nilayam.
LS: I remember a song from my childhood days which says Lord Rama considered the brothers as His own self or extensions of Himself. He made someone who had come to Him as a friend as the emperor of Lanka; Sugriva too was crowned as a king. But the one who surrendered to Him totally and said, “I am Your servant”, was made into a God.
BP: Wow! That is how even a monkey became a deity.
LS: Purity and single-pointed focus are all that matter. Love the Lord just to get closer to Him and get the Lord; nothing else.
|Femininity to Divinity - A testimony to what devotion can do!|
BP: In the Lalitha Sahasranamam (1000 names of the Divine Mother), there is one name called ‘Nirakula’ which means ‘the one who cannot be attained by confused people’. If we have to attain the Lord, we have to be very clear.
LS: If we look at it, the only confusion that we as human beings have is what to choose: world or the Lord? If we want the world, we have to give up something; maybe we will not be as close as we want to get to the Lord. But if we want the Lord, we think we will miss so much of the world. As long as we are in a dilemma, the Lord always waits for us to decide and come out of our confusion; He has all the time and patience. Once we are clear He takes care.
In fact in one discourse Swami says, “Everything you see in the world is nothing but Prakriti (Mother Nature). There is only one Purusha (Primordial Being). And Prakriti always keeps the Lord in her heart. Once you worship Prakriti or Nature with the sole intention of getting to the Lord, she will show you the way.” Swami never said, “Don't participate in worldly activities.” All He said is, “Your focus should be on the Lord. Live in the world but love the Lord.”
|Amazing celebration of Andal's Love in Prasanthi Nilayam|
The Festival of Andal's Awesome Love in the Presence of Her Beloved
BP: Beautiful! I cannot help but remember at this point the beautiful Andal Kalyanotsavam that was held in the divine physical presence of Bhagawan in September 2009. Bhagawan was so eager to see it. When He arrived that evening, He keenly saw how beautifully bedecked Andal was. Then He went into the interview room. When He emerged the wedding started.
Now Swami did not want to sit on the stage; He parked Himself down along with the boys right in front of the stage. It was as if He wanted to get a clear and straight view of the proceedings.
It was such a glorious sight. Swami seemed completely interested and involved in every ritual. He was blessing every article of marriage that the priests would get. He was so excited and delighted as if it was His marriage! Why was this marriage so extraordinary? Because it was a story of mergence with the Lord!
LS: I think the Lord is always waiting to see when we will get ready and sincerely wish to go to Him, reach Him, want Him and nothing else. When such a thing really happens like with Andal, He just celebrates!
BP: Yes, He feels so happy, maybe saying to Himself, “Finally I have got someone whose real Kalyanam has happened!” Marriage is referred to as ‘kalyanam’ but He is waiting for our real marriage — the ultimate welfare.
LS: For any Atma, the real welfare is to go back to the Paramatma. That is when the Lord truly rejoices! Maybe Swami is waiting for all of us, to celebrate all our weddings with Him.
BP: Yes! The Lord is the ‘Ranganatha’ who orchestrates everything. We have to pray that He takes away the right from us to even wish for anything else. That should be our prayer in this New Year. Let us surrender and beseech Him to be with us always.
- Radio Sai Team
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