Monday, February 22, 2010

Bhakthi As I Know It

My faith in my God, is very simply put, like the faith of a child who is catching the  pleats of his mother's saree, and is content to watch the world go by from the relative security of standing behind that fold, knowing full well that she is there to take care of him and  no harm can befall him.   While life has come in many colours, I have never felt the need to ask for anything in return from my God. As I know what my children need, and prepare in advance for it, I feel that my Lord would have more than prepared for my needs. Whatever, is in store, is by his will and if it is okay by him, it is okay by me. I know that if he feels that it is important to put me through a difficult moment, then he also stands by my side giving me the courage to face it. I have always found him with me when I need him and he has never ever failed me yet. I dont believe he ever will. I dont know how to pray; yet I believe he does hear my thoughts and knows my innermost feelings. I am content to sing his name and read about him and talk about him with people who share this love. Satsang gives me great joy. I see him in my thoughts of my parents and that of my father-in-law, all of whom I revered and are now no more.  I feel his presence in my children, in my work, in the many simple people I meet during the course of my work. He is there in my work, well done or other wise. Over the years, I have found that nothing that I see or experience seems important in comparison to thinking /reading / talking about Him. Yet I am attached to these shallow experiences as I realise that they are all his. Hence, I find a detached attachment 
to things small and big. 

I donot know if this is the right path or if it will lead me to Him. I know that to me Bhakti is that Bhava which will help me to see Him in everything that I do & in every path of! my life. It doesnt ask for much intelligence or erudition from me but asks me to submit my will to His, and to trust in Him, putting my faith to rest in his feet.

Kodai - A little girl in love with Ranga

This is a beautiful story of a small girl who decided that she would marry only Lord Krishna and no one else.

In a small town called Srivilliputur, near the city of Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, lived a very pious devotee of Lord Sri Krishna. His name was Vishnuchitta. He loved Lord Krishna deeply as a mother would love her child. He would spend the whole day working, yet thinking of Krishna and his pranks; of how Yashoda would have managed and taken care of Him. Thinking of Krishna, or chanting and singing The Lord’s names, Vishnuchitta would spend a good part of the day, tending to a beautiful garden of flowering plants – watering them, cutting their branches, keeping the garden clean etc. Then he would gather the flowers and tulasi  for the day and make a beautiful garland for the Lord Ranganatha and give it at the temple at Srirangam.  All the while, his mind would be filled with Krishna and stories of his life.

Vishnuchitta was not a very learned man – he had studied some shastras but was not a great scholar. However, his devotion to Krishna filled all his time, space and mind. So, while his hands worked at the plants, flowers  & the garden, his mind constantly thought of the baby Krishna and all his tales. He would constantly be chanting his name. He thought of himself as Yashoda, Krishna’s mother and cherished Krishna as his own child. In such a devout manner, the days passed happily for Vishnuchitta.

One day while plucking the flowers and tulasi for the garland, Vishnuchitta heard the cry of a small baby. He moved towards the sound and found a beautiful baby girl, kicking and smiling, under the tulasi plant. The baby had a divine quality about her and was beautiful. Vishnuchitta  had no child of his own so he took the baby into his hut. Though he was pleased to have this child for his own, he wondered how he would bring up a small baby. However, the worry vanished in an instant when he realized that Krishna would take care of all his problems!! He thought to himself,  Krishna has sent this child to me -  he will take care”. Vishnuchitta named the baby “Goda – meaning “from the earth”. In Tamil, he lovingly called her Kodai.

Every day, Vishnuchitta usually ate only the offerings or prasadam given at the  Ranganatha temple at Srirangam.  And this is what Kodai  too grew up on. Throughout the day, while he worked, Vishnuchitta kept telling Kodai, stories and pranks of little  Krishna. Over a period of time, the pious atmosphere of the home, the constant service of making garlands for the lord, listening to his stories, singing his names -  all became deeply embedded in Kodai’s mind. And time flew by.

As a young girl of now about 6, Kodai, was deeply attracted to Krishna. Like her father, she too wove garlands for him and thought of him all the time.  Her love for Krishna became such a force that filled all her being. She desired to marry only Lord Rangantha.  This thought soon became a firm resolve and  she could think of nothing else.

In those days, girls were married away at a very young age. Hence, as she grew a little older, Vishnuchitta now began thinking of finding a suitable husband for his daughter. He called Kodai and gently patting her head, asked her, “Its time that I do my duty as your father and find you a suitable husband. What kind of person would you like to marry, my child?”. Kodai, very clearly said, “Ill marry only Lord Rangatha and no mortal man shall touch me”. Vishnuchitta was unsure if his child understood the meaning of what she was saying. He worried for a moment – how was he to get the Lord to marry this little child of his? “She is just a child and maybe this is just a childish fancy. She will grow out of it. Can this really happen?’  The next moment he decided, “Anyhow, it is the Lord himself who has put this desire in Kodai’s heart. So he himself will show the way”.

Thus happy to let the Lord take care of his problems, Vishnuchitta spent his days happily in service to the Lord and in delightfully watching his daughter grow.

One day, she saw the garland made by her father lying in the basket. She thought, “If I wear this garland and put it back in the basket, then the priest in the temple will put this garland for the Lord. It will be as if Lord Ranganatha and I have exchanged garlands. Isn’t that one of the most important rituals in the wedding ceremony?” She quietly took the garland and wore it. As she looked into the well and saw her beautiful reflection in the water, she admired the garland. It seemed to her that  it would indeed look even more beautiful on the Lord Rangantha. She quietly put it back into the basket  to be taken to the temple. Vishnuchitta  took the basket to the temple and offered the garland to the Lord, unaware that his daughter had already worn the garland.

While Vishnuchiita went to the temple, Kodai waiting excitedly for the news that the Lord had accepted her. She began to imagine herself garlanding Lord Rangantha  and marrying him.

At the temple, in the meanwhile, Vishnuchitta offered the garland to the priest. As the priest was about to offer it to the Lord, he found a long strand of Kodai’s hair in it and immediately understood that some girl had worn it. He became deeply disturbed and gave the garland back to Vishnuchitta saying, “ How could you have brought a used garland for the Lord? You have delayed the Pooja now and the Lord will have to wait for a new garland.” Concerned that  the daily pooja for the Lord was delayed because of him, and that his beloved Kodai had committed such a sin, Vishnuchitta ran back home in tears. Hearing from her father about his sorrow, Andal’s heart filled with grief – “If my garland is not fit enough to be accepted, then surely, Lord Ranganatha will not accept me as his wife!” He quickly wove another garland, ran back to the temple. Only this time, when Vishnuchitta entered the temple with the new garland in his hands, the lord would not accept it. Instead He spoke to him and said, “Why have you not brought me the garland worn by my Kodai. It has the fragrance of her love that makes it special. Bring that garland and offer it to me! I don’t want any other garland!”  Stunned by this reply from the Lord but thrilled to hear that the Lord had accepted his daughter’s devotion, Vishnuchitta rushed back. He  hugged his child and shed tears of joy. He gave her a new name – “Andal- one who rule the heart of The Lord”. When Kodai heard that The Lord had asked for her garland, her joy knew no bounds. It was an indication to her, that he had accepted her love for him. More importantly, she realized that he too loved her in return -  her happiness knew no bounds.

That night Vishnuchitta had a dream  - The Lord Rangantha Himself came in his dream and asked Vishnuchitta to prepare his daughter to be His bride. He would marry her the next day. He told Vishnuchitta, “I shall send a palanquin for my Kodai along with all the finery fit for a divine bride. All the necessary arrangements shall be made. I shall personally come to marry her.”  Vishnuchitta startled, woke up from his dream excited and worried all at the same time. He was thrilled that the lord himself had accepted his child and her desire to marry him. But as a father, he was equally concerned – how was he to get all the finery required to dress his precious child fit to be the bride of Lord Ranganatha himself?

He need not have worried at all! The lord had made all the arrangements! The same night Lord Ranganatha also came in the dream of the head priest of the temple at  Srirangam . The Lord gave him Instructions, “I wish to marry Kodai, the daughter of my devotee, Vishnuchitta. So, go to Srivilliputtur tomorrow, with a palanquin and all finery fit for my bride. Go to the house of Vishnuchitta and give him all the gifts on my behalf. where I shall marry her.”

The priest and scores of attendants woke up the next morning and made haste to Srivilliputtur with all the wedding finery and a bedecked palanquin fit for a queen. When they reached the house of Vishnuchitta, a poor Brahmin, his joy knew no bounds.

Meanwhile, Kodai too had dreamt the previous night of her marriage with the Lord and she became excited and shy at the same time.

With all the finery sent by Lord Ranganatha to Vishnuchitta, Kodai was dressed to be Lord Ranganatha’s bride. As in the dream, Lord Ranganatha himself arrived at their doorstep. No one except Vishnuchitta and Kodai knew who he was. All people of Srivilliputtur were wonderstruck – “How had this poor Brahmin managed to strike such a princely alliance for his child? How did this mad child who kept blabbering all the time about Ranganatha coming in to marry her, find such a stroke of good luck and get  such a handsome and rich husband?”  The Gods attended the wedding as ordinary mortals. Goddess Parvati, Lord Ranganatha’s sister, herself came with the bridal saree and helped Kodai wear it. She brought her to the marriage pandal and seated her beside her Lord. The shy Kodai was breathless as she saw each and every part of her dream coming alive including the decorations at the wedding function, the sweets being served, the music being played!!! Everything! Everything was exactly as she had dreamt! What a wonder!

Soon the wedding over, Kodai climbed into the palanquin ready to leave for Srirangam. The Lord walked alongside it in long strides and poor Vishnuvitta made haste to catch up with them. However, he was soon left a little behind the eye-catching procession. The whole of Srivilliputtur came out to watch this grand spectacle of a young girl whose dream to marry the lord Ranganatha was about to come true! They all walked behind the palanquin. It was a fine procession that soon reached Srirangam.

As the procession reached the temple sanctum sanctorum at Srirangam, Lord Rangatha as the bridegroom, walked in and merged with the idol. Kodai was dumbstruck! What should she do? In a flash it occurred to her that now she was his wife and had every right to be with him! She gave a quick smile and climbed onto the idol of Ranganatha to sit beside him. In a blinding flash of light, she disappeared. A few minutes later a panting Vishnuchitta arrived at the inner precincts of the temple only to find that neither his beloved daughter nor his new Son-in-law were anywhere to be seen. In fact if all this talk around him were true he may never see them again!! His eyes welled up with tears.  He was not sure whether the tears flowing down his cheeks were those of joy or sorrow – The joy of becoming the father-in-law of the Lord or the sorrow of losing  his daughter forever. As his thoughts raced from one emotion to another and he stood with tear stained cheeks and folded hands, he heard the voice of the lord. “Vishnuchitta, don’t feel sad. Your daughter is with me and shall always be by my side. And you too shall always be close to me as the father of my Kodai and also as my special devotee. Go back to Srivilliputtur and build a temple for both of us and lay down the ceremonies to be performed as they were today. Spend the rest of your days in making my flower garlands and singing my name. You too shall soon reach me.”

Vishnuchitta returned home to Srivilliputtur with joy in his heart. He built the temple of Lord Ranganatha at Srivilliputtur and spent the rest of his days singing the glories of the Lord.
In her short life of 6 years, Kodai or Andal, sang 2 great works - 

  1. Tiruppavai – a garland of 30 songs, where she identifies herself with the Gopis of Vrindavan and for 30 days keeps the Katyayani vratam to reach Krishna

  1. Nachiyaar Thirumozhi – a set of 143 verses in which an eager & restless Andal tries various methods by which she can attain union with Krishna. Vaaranam Aiyaram, a part of this, is a set of verses where Andal vividly describes her marriage with the Lord.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Qualities of a vaishnava

I listened to the pravachanam of Velukudi krishnan swamigal on what are the qualities of a Vaishnava. Here is what I learnt.

On the day of Panguni Uttaram when Rangnayaki thaayar and Ranganatha Swami come together on the same platform, Ramanujar, went and pleases with thaayar and then to Perumal.

He said, “Whatever sins there are, I have done all - what the Vedas said don’t do, I have made sure that I did them, and what the Vedas prescribed that I must do, I ensured that I didn’t. I have done bhaagavatha apachara, also bhagavatha apachara, asakhya apachara - offending everyone for no cause. I have been collecting all these sins over so many births. I don’t deserve any of what you have given me, but forgive me all the sins that I have done, am doing and will be doing. “ The Lord was pleased to grant Ramanuja this boon. Then Ramanuja asked, “ Please give me para bhakti, para gyana, parama bhakti.” The Lord smiled and granted Ramanujar this boon too. When asked what else he wanted, Ramanujar asked for Moksham or Liberation. The Lord granted him this too and said that at the right time, he would come to Vaikuntham. Yet Ramanujar waited uneasily. "Now what?", asked Ranganathar. Ramanujar said, “It is not enough for me alone to get moksham - I want moksham for all my followers too. ” The lord was not willing to give such a blanket order and asked Ramanujar as to how he would know who Ramanujar's followers were and how could he identify them. Ramanujar then assured The Lord that his followers will be identified by a Code of conduct that will ensure a fool-proof system of identifying them. The Lord then readily granted this boon out of love and affection fro Ramanuja and said "for as long as the world exists, all your followers will be given moksham" He also named Ramanuja as Uadayavar – the owner of the 2 vibhutis of the Lord – Nitya Lokam (Sri Vaikuntam) & Leela Vibhuti ( 14 lokas ) – since he bestowed on Ramanuja the right to decide who should be given moksha.

Ramanujar immediately installed 74 simhasanadipatis - these Pidhadhipatis would have the right to administer the Panchasamskara to identify who should be the followers of Ramanuja. (explained below). The Lord was then told that all the vaishnavas identified by the simahsanadipatis should be identified as Ramanuja’s followers and be given moksham regardless of all their sins.

Before we proceed –

 We don’t normally go out and select our acharyas ourselves, but take on the acharya to which our forefathers belong. Most of us would belong to one of the 74 simhasanadhipathis.

 Anyone can be a Vaishnava i.e. a Ramanuja dasan to become eligible for moksham. There is no discretion on any parameter to become eligible to become Ramanuja dasan. Anyone can seek this.

The Marks of a Vaishanava

As laid down by Ramanuja, the marks of a vaishnava must be given to a jiva at the earliest – can be as early as 7 years of age. This is provides an antidote to the sansara bonds like how immunization helps protect a child even though she doesn’t know why she is getting the shots. The child need not understand the process at that time. Regardless it helps her to be related to the Lord as early as possible. This is essential since this life time is limited and none of us know how much time we have. If we die before we get ordained as a vaishnava, we would have lost a golden opportunity to seek moksham.

As prescribed by Ramanujar, a code of conduct exists for Vaishnavas. These are some external and internal marks which identify him as the followers of Ramanuja:

External Marks of a Vaishanava:

1. Since Tulasi is very dear to our Narayana Perumal, wearing the tulasi mala is the 1st sign

2. Panchasamskara

a) Tapa (insignia) - Getting the samascharanam done on our forearms, where the shankam and chakram of the Lord are marked on us. This identifies us as Narayana’s dasas.

b) Pundra - Wearing the 12 urdhva pundras on 12 different parts of the body

c) Nama - Change to vaishnava name – Till the time we become his dasas, we are called as sarma, verma, gupta & dasa - based on the varna we come from. Eg Brahmins will add the suffix sarma to their name, vaisyas will add gupta to their name etc. Once we get the samascharanam done, we all become his dasas and hence the only suffix we now add to our name is ramanuja dasan, We still have to follow our varna ashrama dharma or duties, but we are all seen as equal followers of Ramanuja. So, both “Raghavan Sarman” and “Raghava Gupta” will now become “Adiyen Raghavan Ramanuja dasan”.

d) Nama( knowing the Rahsya-triya)

(i) Tirumantaram – being given upadesam of the Tirumantaram “Om Namo Narayana”. It is not enough to know the mantram but also one must know its real meaning - when broken down, it defines that “I am narayana’s dasan alone”,

(ii) Dwayam – This is the dual chant “Om Narayana

Saranou Saranam Prabathe - Srimathe Narayanaya Namaha” – The meaning of this is that “I surrender (Saranagati) completely to your feet” The Lord then asks what should I grant you, to which we reply “ Give me service to your (narayana’s) lotus feet.” With this a vaishnava renounces all his material wants and seeks only spiritual liberation.

(iii) Charama Slokam This is the 66th slokam in 18th chapter – “Sarva Dharman Parithajya Ma Mekam Saranam Vraja” It helps us to remember, that his feet are our only refuge.

Only if we master this Rahasya-triya, understand this and have complete faith in it completely, are we eligible to do thiruvaaradhana for Perumal

e) Yaga - Tiruvaradhana kramam to be performed daily

This Panchasamsakara now qualifies me to become a follower of Ramanuja and seek moksha.

How does this happen?

Now that we have the external marks, we are ready to be linked to the eternal garland of acharyas called as Sri Vaishnava Guru Parampara – This is a garland of acharyas in the following order - Narayana – Mahalakshmi – Vishvaksena - Nammalvar- Nathamuni – Uzhakondar – Mannakal Nambi – Yamunacharya (Alavandar)- Periya Nambi - Ramanuja- 74 Simhasanadhipatis (we belong in lineage to one of these 74)

Having introduced us to the Panchasamskaras, our guru turns towards Perumal . He tells him , “ This jiva wants to have Ramanuja sambandham since he believes that Ramanuja alone can lead him, to moksham and your feet. He believes that he cannot be pardoned for all his sins and hence needs this anugraham from Ramanujam. This jiva believes that I can give him the Ramanuja sambandham since I myself belong to Him.” Having introduced the jiva thus, the Acharya then requests the lord to show compassion and give us moksha due to our connection to ramanuja. He reminds the lord of his promise to Ramanuja more than 1000 years ago to give moksha to all ramanuja followers. Thus we become eligible for moksham.

Now we need to work on Internal marks of a Vaishanava

A vaishnava :

1. Helps all people in need – He cant see another's pain. He understands that all the jivas are related to lord. This is irrespective of any differences. He doesn’t wait to see who the jiva is- what form, caste, sex, creed or whether he deserves to be helped. He rushes to help any one who needs it. While offering help, we do not have the right to decide who is bhaagavtha or whether he deserves to be helped - all jivas are considered as bhaagavathas by a vaishnava

2. Never hurts or offends anyone in thought, word and deed – whether the lord or bhaagavatha. Remember all jivas are bhaagavathas. Hence Ahimsa is essential.

3. Renounces wants towards material benefits – focus on his permanent liberation

4. Holds on to Narayana's feet as his only refuge – A Vaishnava practises saranagati – He understands that we are all His property. Hence He will protect us and take care of all that we need. With this faith, a vaishnava makes no effort to protect or take care of his needs,

5. Has absolute faith that narayana will protect – He is completely confident that the Lord will certainly not leave him. That He will not abandon, That He will accept him ( vaishnava) as he is and will give him moksham. This faith is called Maha Vishvasam.

6. Is confident about getting srivaikuntam yet he longs for spiritual union, to go to vaikuntam and do service to the Lord. He laments and yearns for it since he feels that he does not deserve it.

Having thus surrendered a vaishnava is expected to pass his time fruitfully by

7. Visiting Divya desams since the Lord loves to be there. He loves the Lord and those desams.

8. Staying close to the Divya desam & living there.

9. Listens to the stories of the lord and the kshetra puranams as well as the attributes of the Lord of that desam

10. Does kainkaryam to bhagavan and bhaagavatha –this service includes temple and social & community service

11. Thinks & expresses about his negatives and positive attributes – He is therefore simple and humble.

12. Develops vairagyam – practises detachment from the material world. This means that he does his duties as service to the Lord. He believes that nothing belongs to him. He looks at all his duties, as if the people and wealth he has, belongs to the Lord and it has been bestowed on him as a duty to take care of. Hence he does it with an anxiety to do it well and please the Lord. To enhance detachment, a Vaishnava reduces material wealth and wants.

13. Doesn’t hate anyone,

14. Is friendly with everyone,

15. Shows compassion towards all

16. Serves his acharyas with devotion and faith

17. Has absolute faith in all 3 - the Trimantram, the Lord (Narayana) mentioned in the mantram and the Acharya who preached the mantram to you. This love and faith itself will lead us to moksham.

18. He seeks both Sama – Dama. This is the control of external senses and mind. Vaishnavas both are needed. This control of his senses and mind will help him to lead a pious life and practice the Vaishnava qualities

Stories about Hari's devotees...

India is a land of action or karma, where many saints have taken birth through the ages, to help apsirants personalise their spiritual journey and evolve. Listening to ther life stories, helps deepen faith and realise your personal God.

This series is an attempt to share the stories about some of these devotees and emotionally getting connected with them. It is particularly meant for children in whose hearts it is very easy to sow the seeds of love and devotion.

I have chosen devotees of Vishnu right now, since it is easy for me to connect with them due to my own faith. It helps me to get involved and write with passion