Friday, October 23, 2009

Skanda Sashti Festival

Today the surasamhara festival is being celebrated at Tiruchendur. Thought of sharing the details about the Skanda Sashti Festival. Please read on to know more…

The Tiruchendur Temple is the celebrated seashore temple of Lord Subrahmanya. It is situated in the Tiruchendur taluk of the TiruneIveli District. The distance from Madras is about 443 miles. The temple is on the shore of the Gulf of Mannar. The surging cool tides of the sea wash the foot of the temple. There is no other shrine in Tamil Nadu with such a beautiful natural setting. The Gulf of Mannar is shallow and is safe for sea bath.

Before entering the temple pilgrims either wash their feet or take a bath in the sea. The bathing that contains nine teerthams according to the sthalapuranam. A bath in any of these teerthams is believed to confer miraculous benefits on a devotee. It is said that once, when Brahma lost one of his five heads due to the anger of Siva, he came to this teertha, took a holy dip in it and had his head restored. Similarly one Angasundari, a Pandyan princess born with the face of a horse, was blessed with a beautiful face after a bath at Vathararamba Teertham.

Nazhi Kinaru

About 200 yards south of this temple, at the seashore, there is a rare natural phenomenon inside a square. It is a well 14 sq. feet in area and with a flight of 34 steps. Inside this well, there is another small well, one square foot in extent and seven feet deep. The water in the smaller well is crystal clear and sweet to taste whereas that in the bigger well is highly sulphurous in smell and brackish. It is said that when Shanmukha’s troops returned to the shore after vanquishing Surapadman at Mahendragiri, they felt thirsty and wanted fresh water. To quench their thirst, Shanmukha planted his Vel on this spot and caused fresh water to gush out.

Skanda Sashti Festival

The advent of Shanmukha and the chastisement of the asura in his three manifestations of Surapatuman, Singha-mukhan and Târakan, which are but the three evils in man Anava, Mâyâ, and Kanma and the extermination of these evil forces is yearly celebrated by the Skanda Shasti festival in the month of Aippasi in October-November. The festival at Tiruchendur is of six days, commencing on the sixth day of the waning moon of the month, as in every celebration of it in the Tamil land.

The events leading to the vanquishment of Surapatuma are demonstrated on the seashore on the evening of the Sashti-day by actual representations of the several transformations of the asura and of his defeat every time. Senthil Nâyakar the processional deity officiates for Arumukha-Nainar in this festival, and receives worship at the Tiruvâvaduthurai Skanda Sashti Mantapa.

The annual Tirukkalyâna festival to Teyvayânai is celebrated the next day after the Soora Samhara in the Tirukkalyapa Mantapa of the Melagopuram. On such occasions, the people fast for all the six days and the Skanda Puranam is read and explained with solemnity, in temples and also at times in private houses. Such reading is deemed efficacious, apart from spiritual benefits, in warding off or alleviating disease and danger and bringing good fortune to the bhaktas of Muruga is general.

The Puranic Account

Muruga, the earliest and sublimest Tamilian concept of Godhead has been as long cherished and venerated in the Tamil land as its Sanskritised concept Subrahmanyam, which means “the all pervading spirit of the Universe, the essence from which all things are evolved, by which they are sustained and into which they are involved.” He, in gracious pity for humanity takes form sometimes as the youthful God of Wisdom—Swâminâtha; God also of war when wicked Asuras have to be destroyed: Kârttikeya; sometimes as the holy child Muruga, the type of perennial tender beauty, always and everywhere at the service of his devotees.

The puranic account runs thus: The Devas were hard pressed by the asuras Surapatuma and his brothers. Siva in Mount Kailâsa was appealed to by the Devas for deliverance. Six sparks of fire issued from the frontal eye of Siva and answered their prayers. These divine sparks of grace were received by Agni, the God of fire, and cast into Ganges from which they passed into the Himalayan lake Saravana. Here they were transformed into six babes. These were suckled by the six Krittikâ nymphs of the constellation Pleiades, and, became one by name Skanda; on being fondly clasped into one by Pârvati, the divine inseparable sakti of Siva. He came to be called Shadânana, Shanmukha, and Arumukha as being six faced, and on account of his youthfulness, beauty and godliness.

As the Warlord of the Gods, as became his divine commission, he was known as Kârttikeya. He then proceeded from Kailâsa to the South on his mission of subduing the Asuras, and freeing the Devas from their cruel bondage. At Tiruchendur, He and his hosts encamped. Kârttikeya desired a shrine of Siva for his worship. Mayan the celestial architect constructed the shrine for Siva at this sea-front.

Kârttikeya, as the son of the supreme Siva Mahadeva, then led his hosts and proceeded with the war against the asuras. For five days Surapatuma's sons, brothers, and their mighty hosts gave battle on land, under the sea, and in the air and most of them perished. On the sixth day, Surapatuma alone survived. The Lord's last bid to show the asura His grace was His Visvarûpa darshan. The asura realised Whom he was fighting but his pride prevailed. He would not give in and be subdued. He still gave battle from region to region.

Kârttikeya now took Indra as his charger in the form of a peacock; and his lance, the Vel sought the foe out in his hiding in the ocean. Surapatuma rose at last out of his island fortress 'Vîra-mahendram,' as a frightful and enchanted mango tree and attacked him. The lance pierced the tree and broke it in twain. The broken pieces instantly transformed themselves into a mighty peacock and a chanticleer (rooster). The former attacked Indra who was serving as the Lord's bearer. The asura had spurned his last chance for submission!

Shanmukha's grace however prevailed. As an act of forgiveness, he took the peacock as his permanent charger (relieving Indra) and the chanticleer on his banner. The story goes that the two (cêvalum mayilum) live in His presence ever after. Shanmukha's mission was now fulfilled, and the Devas were freed. He turned again to Tiruchendur, halted and worshipped Siva at the shrine Mayan had built for Him.

“The events leading to the vanquishment of Surapatuma, with the moral significance of the expiation of sin are yearly celebrated by festivals and feasts in Tamil land in the month of Aippasi (October-November) ending on Skanda Shashti the sixth day of the waxing moon. On such occasions, the Kanda Purânam is read and expounded with solemnity; also at times in private houses such readings are deemed efficacious, apart from spiritual benefits, in warding off or alleviating disease and danger and bringing good fortune.”


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Divine Grace of Mahaperiyava

Today is “Anusham” our Paramacharya’s birth star. The article is presented as an offering to our Paramacharya. A real life incident of a devotee and Paramacharya’s teachings is enclosed.

One day evening when Kanchi Mahaperiyava was giving darshan at the Kamakoti Peetam in Kancheepuram an old couple came there to have darshan and get the blessings of our beloved Paramacharya. The couples who were wearing new dresses came in front of our Acharya and offered their pranams / namaskaram to Acharya. Mahaperiyava then asked “Did everything went on well?”. The old lady was in tears. Periyava then asked them to sit there and started conversing with them. Though he was talking to them he started making garlands and finally prepared two garlands and then asked the couple to exchange the garlands. Also the Vedic Scholars who were present there started chanting the Vedic Mantras upon being asked by our Paramacharya. The old lady was murmuring “Sarveshwara Sarveshwara” all the time and was in tears. Mahaperiyava later blessed them and gave his send off.

Some of the devotees who congregated there were curious to know the reason as to why Paramacharya himself made two garlands and blessed them. One of the devotees approached the couple who told them that they belong to Bangalore and that day morning they celebrated “Bheemaratha Santhi” i.e. a function celebrated upon completion of seventy years and they were returning to Bangalore in the afternoon. The old lady expressed her desire to see our Paramacharya on the way and get his blessings but that her son replied that since he is having an urgent work the next day at Bangalore he cannot take her that day but will send her to Kanchi after couple of days. The old lady had no other option but to only mentally think and pray.

The entire family started in two cars from Chennai. They reached Vellore and when they are about to take a diversion one of the car’s axle broken down and the driver informed them it will take minimum two hours to get it repaired. The old lady then asked his son since Kancheepuram is nearby whether they can go and have darshan of our Paramacharya and return before the car got repaired. Her son also didn’t object to this idea. The couple then took one of the Car and reached Kancheepuram and we know what the special gift they got! How lucky they were to get the garland woven by Paramacharya himself.

This is one more incident of how Mahaperiyava showers his divine grace to his devotees.

“Deivathin Kural” (Sayings of Kanchi Paramacharya)

The Vedas are eternal and the source of all creations and their greatness is to be known in many different ways. As I have already stated, their sound produces in our nadis as well as in the atmosphere vibrations that are salutary not only to our own Self but to the entire world. Here we must understand "lokakshema" or our welfare of the world to mean the good of mankind as well as of all other creatures. This concern for all creation that finds expression in the Vedas is not shared by any other religion. "Sanno astu dvipadesancatuspade"-- this occurs in a mantra: the Vedas pray for the good of all creatures including bipeds, quadrupeds etc. Even grass, shrubs, trees, mountains and the rivers are not excluded from their benign purview. The happy state of all these sentient creatures and inert objects is brought about through the special quality of the Vedas.

The noble character of their sound apart, the Vedas are also notable for the lofty truths that find expression in the mantras. The tenets of these scriptures have aroused the wonder of the people of other lands, of other faiths. They are moved by the poetic beauty of the hymns, the subtle manner in which principles of social life are dealt with them, the metaphysical truths embedded and expounded in them, and the moral instruction as well as scientific truths contained in them.
Not all mantras that create benign vibrations are necessarily meaningful. In this context we have the example of the music. The alapana of a raga (the elaboration of a musical mode) is "pure" sound, that is, it has no words, but it is still is capable of producing emotions like joy, sorrow, etc. During the researches conducted by a university team, it was discovered that the vibrations created by the instrumental music quickened the growth of the plants and resulted in a higher yield. Here is a proof that the sound has the power of creation. Also to be noted is the fact that the instrumental music played to the plant does not obviously have any verbal contact--- this establishes that the sound has its own power.

The remarkable thing about the Vedas is that they are of immeasurable value as much for their sound as for their verbal content. While the sound has its creative power, the words are notable for the exalted character of the meaning they convey. There are Tamil hymns of a very high order. To read them is to be moved by them; they touch our hearts with their intense devotion. But we have recourse only to a few of them for repeated incantation to expel a poison or to cure a disease. The authors of these hymns like Nakkirar, Arunagirinadhar and Sambandamurti have composed poems that are more moving and beautiful. But the sound of the hymns chosen for repeated incantation are potent like mantras. Among our Acharya's works are the Saundaryalahari and the Sivanandalahari. the recitation of each stanza of the Saundaryalahari brings in a specific benefit. The same is not said about the Sivanandalahari. The reason is the special mantrik power (of the sound) of the former.

There are mantras that are specially valuable for their sound but are otherwise meaningless. Similarly there are works pregnant with meaning but with no mantrik power. The glory of the Vedas is that they are a collection of mantras that are at once notable as much for the energising character of their sound as for the lofty truths they proclaim. A medicine, though bitter, does the body good, while some types of food, though delicious, do harm. Are we not delighted to have something like kusmanda-lehya, which is sweet to taste and is at the same time nourishing to the body? Similarly, the Vedas serve a two fold purpose: while they have the mantrik power to do immense good to each one of us and too the world, they also contain teachings embodying great metaphysical truths. It must here be emphasised that on the doctrinal level the Vedas deal both with worldly life and the inner life of the Self. They teach how to conduct ourselves in such a manner as to create Atmic well-being. And their concern is not with the liberation of the individual alone; they speak about the ideals of social life and about the duties of the public. How the Brahmin ought to lead his life and how the king must rule his subjects and what ideals women are to follow: an answer to these-stated in the form of laws-is to be found in these scriptures. The Vedas indeed constitute the apex of our law-books.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Samartha Ramadass

I recently attended a discourse on “Samartha Ramadass” by Sri Ranganji. During the period of Samartha Ramadass the country was plundered by Muslim Rulers who were very cruel and unjust and tried to demolish and destroy various Hindu Temples. The ignorant and poor Hindu womens were spoiled by the invaders. There was nothing but darkness. People had to face all such cruelty helplessly. They were so poor and weak that they were quite unable to raise their heads and hands to protest it. Sri Samartha Ramadass had closely observed it and decided to increase their physical power by way of unity and also the importance of trust on Lord Ram. He established many temples for Maruthi/Hanuman. He was also the Guru for Chatrapathi Shivaji. Please read on to know more about Samartha Ramadass.

Early Life

Ramadas was one of the greatest saints of the world. He was the inspirer of Shivaji. He was born of Suryaji Panth and Renuka Bai in Jamb, Maharashtra, in 1608 A.D. His original name was Narain. Ramdas was a contemporary of Sant Tukaram. He was a great devotee of Hanuman and Lord Rama. He had Darshan of Lord Rama even when he was a boy. Lord Rama Himself initiated him. As a boy, Ramdas acquired some knowledge of the Hindu scriptures and developed a liking for meditation and religious study. One day he shut himself in a room and began to meditate on God. When his mother asked him what he was doing, Ramdas replied that he was meditating and praying for the good of the world. His mother was surprised at the precocious religious inclination of the boy and felt happy. When Ramdas was twelve years of age, all arrangements were made for his marriage. He sat in front of the bride. There was a screen between the bridegroom and the bride. When the priests chanted "Sawadhan!' (be alert), Ramdas bolted away from the place and disappeared within the twinkling of an eye.

Studies and Penances

For twelve years Ramdas stayed at Nasik on the banks of the Godavari. He used to get up very early in the morning, go into the Godavari river, and with his body half-immersed in water, recite the sacred Gayatri Mantra till about noon. Then he would go round for alms. He first offered the collected food to his Deity Sri Rama and then took it as Prasad. After resting a while, he used to attend religious discourses in the various temples of Nasik and Panchavati. Ramdas also studied Sanskrit and copied in his own hand the Ramayana of Valmiki. This manuscript is still preserved in the collection of Sri S.S. Dev of Dhubliah. Ramdas did Purascharana of the Rama Mantra of thirteen letters Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram thirteen lakhs of times at Tafali, near Nasik, on the banks of the Godavari. After the Purascharana was over, once again Ramdas had Darshan of Lord Rama. It is said that Ramachandra ordered Ramdas to visit holy places such as Nasik, Haridwar, Kasi, etc. Ramdas sprinkled over a dead body holy water uttering the name of Rama and the dead body was restored to life. Ramdas had to do this, because he had blessed a woman who had just lost her husband.


Ramdas was an Advaitin and a Bhakta in one. He had this very noble quality that he never hated any religion or nation. His main object was to spread the Hindu religion throughout India. Ramdas had not visited Pandharpur, as he had not known the existence of this holy place. One day, the tradition says, Lord Panduranga Vittal, in the form of a Brahmin, with a batch of three hundred pilgrims, appeared before Ramdas and asked him whether he had any objection to see Lord Krishna. Ramdas replied in the negative. Panduranga then took Ramdas to Pandharpur, and when the Bhaktas approached the temple, the Brahmin disappeared. Ramdas then knew that it was none other than the Lord that had brought him to that holy place. He entered the temple, and to his great surprise, found Sri Rama standing alone on a brick.

Ramdas addressed the Deity thus: "O Lord, what are You doing here alone? Where is Your brother Lakshmana and Your consort Sita Mata? Where is Maruti and where are the monkey hordes?". On hearing these words, the image at once transformed itself into Sri Pandarinath. Ramdas then praised Panduranga for His kindness, prostrated before Him and sang songs of joy for getting His rare Darshan. Ramdas now felt doubly convinced that the several incarnations of the Lord were but His several forms and preached that everyone should respect and worship the One who took care of one and all in the world. Ramdas then worshipped Panduranga to his heart's content and became a frequent visitor and Bhakta of Panduranga Vittal also. In Pandharpur, Ramdas came in contact with Tukaram and other saints of Pandharpur. In his pilgrimages, Ramdas observed and studied the social, political and economic conditions of Indians and their utter helplessness in life.

Temples for Maruti (Hanuman)

During his journey he setup nearly 1100 Maruti-temples. He established eleven principal seats of Maruti which emphasized the importance of physical development. These are the centers where people come together. He also appointed his devotees to look after these temples. This planning clears his foresight. Through Ramopasana and balopasana he wanted to build well-cultured and healthy society. It was his real dream. He installed the shrines of Sri Ramachandra at Champavati and introduced Sri Rama Navami Mahotsava and the procession of Sri Rama's chariot.

Meeting his Mother

Ramdas spent several years in visiting holy places of pilgrimage. He erected several Hanuman temples in Maharashtra. When he returned from his pilgrimage, somebody told Ramdas that his mother was pining for him, and that she had lost her eyesight on account of extreme sorrow arising out of his separation. Ramdas immediately went to see his mother. He made prostrations to his mother. His mother was exceedingly pleased to meet her son after an absence of many years. Ramdas touched the eyes of his mother. She got back her lost eyesight through the Yogic power of her son.

Chatrapathi Shivaji

At this time Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had started establishing his political power. Samartha was bringing religious and national awareness while Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was trying to establish Hindu-swaraj. Now fame of Samarth reached far and wide. Shivaji Maharaj was very keen to meet him. But unfortunately he could not see him at Masur. So he went back to Pratapgad. One day Shivaji Maharaja saw Samarth’s divine appearance in the night. When Shivaji Maharaja woke up in the morning he found a coconut which was given to him by Samartha as a token of blessings. So King Shivaji came to Mahuli to see Samartha. At the same time a disciple came from Samartha with a letter for King Shivaji. Samarth had praised Shivaji Maharaj in this letter. King Shivaji in his reply letter expressed his strong desire to see Samarth. King Shivaji presented himself at Masur. When he heard that Samartha was at Shinganwadi, he went there. Here met the two great personalities of different fields, different aims and of different dreams, in 1649. This was their first meeting. Here Samartha gave him ‘Anugraha’. Here onwards their relations became closer, loving and respectful. Shivaji placed the sandals of his Guru on the throne and acted as regent of the kingdom under the orders and guidance of his Guru and adopted as ensign the flag of orange colour.

His Preachings and Literary Works

Ramdas's ways were very peculiar. He appeared to the outside world as a mad man. He had a small bow. He used to have, by his side, a large number of stones with which he pelted every object he saw. To men really interested in his teachings, he gave the Mantra Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram. Ramdas had eleven hundred disciples, of whom three hundred were women. The women disciples were also expert preachers and were virtuous. Ramdas sent his disciples to all parts of India to spread the Hindu religion. His disciples and Mutts in the North directly or indirectly helped Shivaji and his work. Ramdas's organisation in the South, round about Thanjavur, helped Shivaji's son Rajaram to go to Jinji and carry on the Twenty Years' War with Aurangazeb. When Ramdas visited Thanjavur, Venkoji, who was the step-brother of Shivaji, became his disciple. Ramdas appointed Bhimaswami, his direct disciple, as the Mahant of the Thanjavur Mutt. The literary works of Ramdas such as Dasabodh, Manache Shlok (verse addressed to the mind), Karunashtakas (hymns to God) and Ramayana (describing only the conquest of Lanka by Sri Rama and the vanquishing of Ravana) are very popular.

Last Days

Ramdas generally preferred to live in the forest, where he would say, he had better meditation. In his last days, Ramdas devoted his time partly to literary activities and partly to the systematic building up of his disciples and Mutts, both in the North and in the South. It was as a tribute to Ramdas's extraordinary patience and determination in rehabilitating the Hindu religion in India that people named him Samartha (all-powerful) Ramdas, a name which he richly deserved.

King Shivaji Maharaj requested Samartha to live at Rajgad, Pratapgad or on the fort of Parali. As per King King Shivaji’s request Samarth Ramdas came to Parali in 1676. From that time onwards the fort was recognized and known as ‘Sajjangad’. Samartha set up the idol of goddess Mahishasurmardini at the eastern side of the Sajjangad which was found in the pond at Angapur and was named ‘Angai’ or ‘Anglai’. He also set up the idol of Maruti at the west to protect the Sajjangad and this ‘Maruti’ is known as ‘Dhabyacha Maruti’. While he was living on Sajjangad, Chatrapti Shivaji Maharaj left this world for ever. He left this world in 1680. Samartha became very sad. This great Guru of Maharashtra breathed his last in 1682 at Sajjangad Ramdas repeated the Rama Mantra with his last breath. At the time of his departure from the world, a dazzling light emanated from his body and Ramdas was absorbed in the image of Lord Rama.
The last instructions of Ramdas to his disciples were: "Do not think much of your bodily wants. Have Satsang with devotees. Keep the image of Lord Rama in your heart. Repeat the name of Lord Rama always. Annihilate lust, greed, anger, hatred and egoism. See Lord Rama in all creatures. Love all. Feel His presence everywhere. Live for Him alone. Serve Him in all beings. Make total and unreserved surrender unto Him. You will always live in Him alone. You will attain immortality and eternal bliss".