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10 days with Azhagiya Singar and Malolan

Jaganath.Bharadwaj_at_nrecatao.nreca.org
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.