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Date: Wed Apr 09 1997 - 15:41:17 PDT
It is my great pleasure to share with you experiences of a different kind from what I have had before and probably what many of us have ever had in our lives. My 4 week trip to India in February was different from pervious trips. It did not include visiting family, friends or taking care of business. It was purely a pilgrimage trip and included 10 days with the travelling party of Srimad Azhagiya Singar. This tradition was started in 1398 by Srimate Adivan Satakopan Yateendra Mahadesikan and continues today 44 Azhagiya Singars later, with little change except for the bus replacing palanquins and paper replacing leaves. I started my tour by visiting Vrindavana, the place of Mukunda's bala leelas. After 5 days, I not only had the fortune of visiting many temples in a keshtram and also attending discourses, but also had to deal with fever, cold and upset stomach. Some Bhagavatas in Delhi saw to it that I made it to my train. The fever persisted in the train leaving me sleeping through most of the 34 hour journey. I arrived in Sri Ahobila Muth Triplicane only to find that Acharya's program had changed and that He was not there. A few phone calls later I found out that He was in Thiruvallore about 3 hours away by taxi. I strutted about in a dazed state because of the exhaustion caused by the fever and went to take Darshan of the neighbouring Parathasarathi Swami. I was wondering if I had the strength to deal with more taxi and auto drivers, when on my way back from the temple, I met Sri Devanathan, Secretary to the Jeer, who was also on his way to Thiruvallore. After accepting hospitality at his niece's place for the night we proceeded to Thiruvallore the next morning. Like major cities of America, there was heavy traffic on any Madras (sorry Chennai) road and the road to Thiruvallore was no exception. We passed by Thirumazhisai Azhwar's birth place on the way. Thiruvallore is a small but busy township with a variety of mechanized, non mechanized and animal drawn vehicles competing for the right of way. It is one of the 108 Divya kshetrams and main Perumal is Rama who goes by the name of Veera Raghava Perumal. He is in an ananta sayanam posture very similar to Ananta Padmanabha swamy. He even has a lotus sprouting from His navel from which Brahma is born. By His side is S_____ Rishi who did Tapas for a long time before Rama appeared there in order to fulfil the wishes of all those who pray at this kshetram. Veera Raghava Swamy is also known as Vaidya Veera Raghava Perumal, because of His reputation of curing all kinds of illensses. I never paid much attention this until a priest did an Archana for me without my asking him to do so. At the end of this archana, my exhaustion disappeared suddenly]] Acharya was also sick with a severe throat infection and fever. My Sambhavanai for Him consisted of things like saffron, Vitamin C 1000mg and Ben Gay. The Vitamin C certainly came in very useful] Thiruvallore temple came into the administration of Sri Ahobila Muth during the time of the 33rd Jeer Srimate Srivan Satakopa Sri Satakopa Yateendra Mahadesikan sometime between 1853 and 1879. It remained the headquarters of the Muth for a long time and has the Brindavanams (samadhi) of 5 Azhagiya Singars, including Injemetu Azhagiya Singar the renowned 42nd Jeer. After transacting his business with the Jeer, Sri Devanathan left for Madras, leaving me to experience the Mutt for the next 10 days, observing the practices, polishing up my anushthanam, and leading a kind of life that only a few privileged few get and, fewer still among this privileged class or those outside realize their fortune. The first change I noticed in myself was that I was not anxious about anything. I was determined to make the best of it, sickness, mosquitoes, lack of hot water etc notwithstanding. Life begins around 3 AM with everyone queuing up to complete morning necessities. THis is followed by Nitya karmas near the well. Once this is done those in charge of the cooking carry well water into the thirumadapalli (kitchen) after purifying the ropes and the area around the well with Mantras. Those responsible for the Aradhana have more rites to perform than almost anyone else. Around 5:30 Nadaswaram is played. Around the sametime a nearby mosque blares "Allah Ho Akbar...". I used to enjoy this Muslim prayer when I lived in Nagaland where there was no temple and this was the only thing to remind me of God. Here I considered it to be an interference. Here I was in the company of Parama Bhagavatas, while those chanting Allah did not know that their Allah was only a few yards away here in the form of Malolan or next door in the form of Veer RAghavan. At 7 O'Clock sharp the curtain opens for the general public to get their first view of Malola Lakshmi Nrsimha and more importantly for Malola to begin His day by glancing at Mahalakshmi present invisibly on the rear end of a cow that is brought in for Vishva Roopa seva. At this time Perumal and Thayyar are woken up by chanting the Lakshmi Nrsimha Suprabhatam. This is follwoed by many stotras. Acharya comes in around this time and does His Maanasika Aradhanam. During this time the curtains are closed and ladies sing for Perumal. When the Maanasika Aradhanam (mental worship by the Acharya) is complete, the bahya or external worship begins. At this time Mutt shishyas chant the Gadya trayam of Bhashyakarar and many other stotras. Acharya performs the Abhigamana Aradhana which is the most important Aradhanam for a Sannyasi. One cannot help feeling jealous of His state of perfection where He is able to enjoy the company of Perumal, enjoy the bliss of Kainkaryam here and now, which for most of us will come only after moksha. The stotra Parayanam gives way to Veda Parayanam and Divya Parayanam. Around 9 O'Clock Acharya personally gives Shathari to everyone present. This preceded by teertham and followed by curd rice prasadam. When this is over the cooks prepare for ijjya (noon aradhanam) neivedyam (offering to Perumal) and the aradhakas prepare for the ijjya aradhanam which begins after 10:30. This is the aradhana that most of us do at homes or our elders used to do at home. In the mutt unlike temples, the priest chants within the mind so that there is no risk of saliva desecrating the deity. Loud chanting is done by other shishyas who sit outside the altar. This aradhana is completed shortly after noon and lunch Prasadam is served thereafter. This is a full 3 course meal and depending upon the location could be serving anywhere from 100 to 5,000 people. Blessed are those that get to eat this Prasadam, for it is so potent that it can increase Sattva guna and suppress Rajo and Tamo gunas in anyone that enjoys the Prasadam. Some people may object to temple worship as a waste of money, or philosophy as a waste of time. But everybody enjoys food and consicously or unconsciously gets spiritually benefitted. This is the mercy of Sriman Narayana] The meal itself consists of rice with vegetables, kozhambu, saathu amudu, thiru kanna amudu and curd rice with vegetables and fried snacks like vadaam. It is only after Prasadam and clean up that is around 2 O'Clock in the afternoon that the Mutt shishyas who are responsible for the aradhana and cooking get some rest after nearly 11 hours of work. Yet these shishyas have been with the Mutt for 40 years or longer, managing with meagre salaries. These are the silent unsung heroes without whose service, Azhagiya Singars would not have achieved all that they did over the past 600 years. Sriman Narayana has indeed showered His choicest blessings on these shishyas. They have served Azhagiya Singar after Azhagiya Singar, while Kulasekhara Azhwar and Thondaradipodi Azhwar (please quote last Pasuram of Thirupalliyeuchi here with translation) who aspired to be the servant of the Lord's devotees now only get to do direct service to the Lord by adorning His divya sariram. After a 2 hour rest, the shishyas now begin for the Panaka Aradhanam. Acharya makes His appearance during this Aradhanam, but does not take an active part in the puja itself. While at Thiruvallore, I had the good fortune of witnessing a Brahma Utsavam. I remembered watching a royal parade of Queen Elizabeth on TV in England, and how the whole thing appeared to be a joke, since she was a head of state with no power. It was as if a whole nation was sharing a fantasy. However here in Thiruvallore, the announcement of the arrival of the emperor, the different types of Upacharams done after his appearance on the street, the letting of fireworks in celebration of the Divine Emperor making His appearance to the common man on the street, brought about completely different emotions. Here was the real parade, the real emperor, ruler of all the worlds imaginable and unimaginable. Here was the emperor who alone had the purity and the auspiciouness to make people want to attain moksha, and who alone had the ability to award moksha. Emperors generally do not make their appearance in prison houses. But this emperor is an exception. He has even chosen to make His appearance in the material world. Out of His infinite mercy He takes away our freedom, so that we never find happiness in material life and then hanker for the real happiness. It is again out of His mercy that He sends divine souls from Sri Vaikuntha, who then become Azhagiya Singars and purify us to the point where we also attain to Sri Vaikuntha at the end of just one lifetime] The upacharams complete, the emperor then waits to have the Darshan of Srimad Azhagiya Singar, who descended from Sri Vaikuntha and goes through all the tribulations of life on earth just as we do only for the purpose of our deliverance. Srimad Azhagiya Singar circumambulates Veera Raghava Swamy and after prostrating to His Divine Master, follows the procession with Tamil Divya Prabandhams being chanted in front of the procession and Veda Parayanam behind the procession. All of life's trials are worth it if it enables one to be present in such an auspicious event. I was in for a total shock and reduced to a state of tears when Acharya called me in and blessed me with the divine garland of Veera Raghava Perumal. He also asked me to drink in the beauty of the Lord, but I was not sufficiently free from sins to be able to do this the same way that He enjoyed the Lord. In the meantime, the shishyas took care to see that Malolan was comfortably put to bed and everybody got to bed between 9:30 and 10 to get a good night's sleep before getting up again at 3:00 the next morning. Good night's sleep has a different connotation in Thiruvallore. Since there are no beds, there are no mosquito nets that you could tie. I made liberal use of repellant creams and incence coils, but with celeings 25 feet high, the smoke rose straight up while mosquitoes made merry on my skin using my clothes to protect themselves from the repellant, and biting through the tiny gaps in the woven cloth] After 4 days in Thiruvallore, we moved to Pammal near Madras. Here we stayed in a school. I was just thinking to myself, how safe this place is when a drunk accosted me, accused me of harassing young kids and made threatening gestures. Sriman Narayana came to my rescue and he disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. The same routine followed in the Mutt. The unique nature about Pammal was the presence of a large number of Smartha devotees on the first day. >From Pammal we moved to a village called Oragadam. It was my first visit to a South Indian village. Most of the dwelling units were cottages with thatched roofs and oil lamps strategically placed in recesses in the walls both inside and outside the houses. There was plenty of greenery all around in the brightly starlight night one could just enjoy the sheer beauty of nature that is impossible in a city. The temple was the tallest and largest structure in the village. It had a beautiful altar of Sita Rama and outside were deities of all the Azhwars and some Acharyas including Adivan Satakopa Yateendra Mahadesikan. Malola chose to make this temple His residence for the 24 hours we spent here. >From Oragadum we moved to Madras. After one day in Triplicane, I moved out of the temple in order to able to meet the Bhagavatas that lived outside but serve the Mutt in many different ways. In conclusion I would say that living in the Muth is an experience not to be missed if one gets the opportunity. Perumal makes His anugraham in many different ways. It is here that one actually understands what Swami Desikan meant when He says that the Jivatma is like a crown prince entitled to the benefits that his Father, the emperor is willing to dote on His favourite son] Jaganath Bharadwaj.