Thanks to Sri Anand Vasudevan of Amritavarshini for sharing this wonderful article. HH Mahaperiyava had talked a lot about this Mahan. In fact, this morning when I was listening to Shyamala Navarathnamala upanyasam by Mahaperiyava where He talks about Ayyaval.
This utsavam is going to take place today at Thiruvisainallur. Please attend if possible to receive the blessings.
Don’t miss to read this wonderful article!
Sri Ayyaval padham port!
He alone is a true devotee who realizes Brahman revealed as Self in every human being, who not only learns Vedas but imparts that knowledge to others, who considers every life as sacred as his own, who entertains no attachment or aversion towards any one, who has no other thoughts except that of God and who at all times seeks to liberate himself from the world of Samsara. Sri Sreedhara Venkatesa Dikshitar, popularly known as Ayyaval, was one such devotee. Ayyaval was always immersed in the thoughts of Siva. Even when frogs created the sound ‘kar’ ‘kar’ during the rains, it appeared to him that the frogs were reciting the name of ‘hara’ ‘hara’.
Sri Sridhara Venkatesa was born as the only son of Sri Lingaraya, an erudite scholar who occupied a dignified position in the court of Divan of Mysore. Even as a child, Sridhara cherished great devotion towards Lord Shiva and spent most of his time in chanting the Divine Names of Lord Shiva. He studied scriptures and always engaged in the thoughts of God. Lingaraya, his father, got his son married at the appropriate age. When his father expired, Sridhara was offered the post vacated by his father. However, known for his spiritual disposition, Sridhara declined the offer. He fully engaged himself in the worship of Lord Shiva. He realized that Lord Shiva had set out a task for him; to highlight the glory of God by way of Nama Sangeerthan. He felt that Lord Siva was beckoning him. He then decided to renounce all his possessions and live a life of contentment. He adopted the practice of ‘Unjavriti’ which means going to every house in the neighborhood by singing the songs in praise of God and seeking alms. His wife and mother also adopted the same approach to life and followed him.
Sri Sridhara Ayyaval then decided to embark on a pilgrimage in order to visit holy temples and stress the importance of devotion to the people. Accompanied by wife and mother, he set out his journey, passed through many places, met many people and ultimately reached the town of Tiruchirapalli and settled there for the time being. At that time, Tiruchirapalli was being ruled by a king who came in the lineage of Naickar dynasty. That was the time when Saivite and Vaishnavite differences existed and the King happened to be a follower of Vaishnavite school of thought. After arriving at Tiruchchirapalli, Sridhara started conducting musical discourse. He did not differentiate between Saiva and Vaishnavite school of thought. Though people visualized God in different forms, Ayyaval firmly held the view that God is one. Soon his musical discourse attracted many devotees. Some of the jealous Vaishnavites misled the King into the belief that Ayyaval was leaning more towards Saivism in his discourses. They persuaded the King to test Ayyaval and find out his real position. The King then asked his servants to adore the idol of Matrubhuteswara in such a way that the idol looked like Krishna and bring the idol in a procession through the streets. As the procession reached the residence of Ayyaval on the Rockfort temple road, Ayyaval came out and saw that Matrubhuteswar idol dressed up and decorated as Krishna. But for Ayyaval, it did not make any difference. Since Matrubuteswar has been made to look like Krishna, he worshipped Matrubuteswar as Krishna. He saw one God in whichever form He appeared. He then instantly composed a song: “Oh Lord Krishna, I am suffering in the ocean of Samsara aspiring to reach the shore. Like a cow seeking greener pastures and falling into a well and struggling to come out, in my eagerness to come out of this world of illusion, I should not fall. Rescue me, Oh Lord Krishna”. He further said: “Oh! Lord Krishna! Let me spend every moment of my life meditating on your Lotus Feet. Let me be always conscious of the transitory nature of this world. Let me be humble always. Let me be always aware of my deficiencies and let not my mind turn to the fault of others. Let me ever remain compassionate towards all living beings. Let me be a servant of the devotees of God. Let me get the ability to take both joy and sorrow alike.” Impressed by these 12 verses titled Krishna Dwadasa Manjari, the King requested Ayyaval to stay at the royal court permanently but Ayyaval thanked him and pursued his spiritual journey.
There lived in Tiruchirapalli a Brahmin couple who was blessed with a boy child after their repeated prayers. The parents bestowed their love on the boy and hoped that he would grow up and make great achievements. Unfortunately, one day, the boy was afflicted by a disease from which he could not recover. He was almost in a coma. While Ayyaval was returning after his morning rituals, he heard this disturbing news. Instantly, he proceeded to their house, sat on meditation and then rendered a hymn (stotra) on Lord Parameswara. After the sthotra, he sprinkled the holy water on the boy. The boy who was lying still all along suddenly got up bringing cheers in the face of the parents. The king and the people in general were very much moved by the miraculous power of Ayyaval, his humility, his knowledge and above all his unbounded devotion. They made an appeal to Ayyaval to stay at Tiruchirapalli permanently. Great personalities are like clouds and they would always be moving around. They cannot confine themselves within the boundaries of a town and they like to keep moving to spread the message of devotion. Ayyaval thanked the king and the people and moved on to Tanjore. Tanjore region was then being ruled by the Maratha King, Shahaji who was very pious at heart and who respected Pundits and saints. Having come to know that Ayyaval has come to Tanjore, the king went up to the camp, met Ayyaval and sought his blessings. After visiting the temples nearby, Ayyaval reached Tiruvisainallur; the place where he found many pundits and scholars. He composed ‘Padamani Manjari’ from here. He also composed works like Bhagavan Nama Bhooshanam, Aakya Shashti, Dayashatakam, Stuti Paddhathi, Shiva Bhakti Kalpalatha, Shiva Bhakta Lakshanam, Achyutaashtakam, Dola Navaratna Malika etc.
Bhagawan Nama Bodendra Swamigal occupies a pre-eminent position in Nama Sangeertanam tradition. In order to perform certain rituals in accordance with the wish of his guru, Sri Visvadikendra Sarawathi, Bodendra Swamigal went on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram. Thereafter, he went to many holy places like Palani, Srirangam, Tiruvanaikkaval, Kumbakonam etc. and reached Thiruvidaimaruthur. Here, he heard people praising high about Sridhara Ayyaval. Sri Bodendra Swamigal, who had already come to know about Ayyaval earlier, has now become very anxious to meet Ayyaval. While returning after worshipping Lord Mahalinga, his joy knew no bounds when he found Ayyaval just before him in all humility, humbleness and reverence. Setting aside the formalities of Acharya, he embraced Ayyaval. Later, they met again Thiruvisainallur. Ayyaval has composed 60 verses on the glory of Siva called ‘Akyasashti’. Having seen this composition, Bodendra Swamigal asked whether Ayyaval was not interested in composing works on Rama. Ayyaval replied: The very Lord Shiva on whom I compose my works is always reciting the glory of Lord Rama. When Lord Siva Himself is reciting the name of Rama at all times, it is impossible to explain the importance of the name of Rama.” Thereafter, they went together to many sacred temples and underlined the importance of Nama Sangeertanam.
It was the regular practice of Ayyaval to visit the temple of Lord Mahalinga, a famous Siva temple in Thiruvadaimarudhur. He used to take food only after returning from the temple. While Ayyaval lived on this side of river Kaveri, the temple was located in the opposite side which can be reached only by travelling in a boat. On that day, when Ayyaval reached the banks of Kaveri he found the river overflowing. Since there was strong current, the boatmen stopped their service. Ayyaval never wanted to return home without worshipping. Looking at the temple tower, he composed a song called ‘Aarthi Hara Stotra’. “Oh Lord! Bestow your loving gaze upon me who is suffering from the pangs of separation from you! You are known for relieving the sorrows of your devotees. ‘Save me Oh! Lord Shiva!’ At that particular moment, a priest of the Shiva temple came to him and said: “I know that you would not eat a morsel of food without getting the sacred ashes of Vibhuti and applying it on your forehead. I have therefore come straight from the temple to give you the Prasadam”. Ayyaval, whose joy knew no bounds, prostrated before the priest and accepted the sacred ashes with reverence.
While Ayyaval was heading home, a doubt arose in his mind; “how did the priest manage to cross the flooded river? Since onward journey was not possible due to the rising water, the inward journey also would not have been possible.” He also recollected the image of the priest who was not wet. The sacred ash that was given to him was also dry. Sri Sridhara Ayyaval wondered how the priest engaged in the temple work could cross the river and come to him just to give the prasad. Next day, when the flood subsided, Sridhara Ayyaval went to the temple, met the priest there and thanked him for having brought the ‘prasad’ for him the day before. The priest was utterly confused hearing this. He said: “Oh Pundit, I never came to the other side of the river yesterday. Who could have dared to cross the river which was in spate?” Sridhara Ayyaval then knew that it was Lord Siva who had come to him in the garb of the priest. He then composed a hymn ‘Dayashatakam’ extolling the compassion of God. “Oh Lord of compassion, one is cleansed of all his sins the moment you cast your glance on him! When will you bless me so that I will always be immersed in the bliss of chanting the Divine names like ‘Madhava’, ‘Murari’, ‘Shiva’, ‘Mahadeva’, ‘Govinda’ and ‘Madhusudana’! Be pleased to give two boons for me! That my mind may always be established in the Divine Form of Lord Siva and that my tongue always chants the Divine Names! In my last breath, let me chant the Divine Name ‘Siva’!”
Sri Ayyaval was embodiment of compassion. In one of his works, Daya Satakam, he vividly describes the compassionate qualities of Lord Siva. One day, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval was returning after his bath at River Kaveri. It was the day of ‘Sraddha’ (annual death rites for ancestors) in his home and all food offerings were ready. On the way he found a poor low-caste man lying down in an unconscious state due to hunger. Unable to bear the sight of the sufferings of the poor man, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval rushed back to his home and returned with the food prepared for the ceremony. He gave it to the man. Sri Shridhara Ayyaval, who saw the Lord in everyone, had no second thought about doing this. He knew that by fulfilling the hunger of this man he would be pleasing the Lord. After giving him food Sri Sridhara Ayyaval went back home, arranged to cook fresh food for the priests and invited them for performing the ceremony. The conservative priests came to know to this. Steeped in dogmas and superstition, they believed that by attending to the needs of a low caste person, Ayyaval has polluted the food prepared for the ceremony. Though Ayyaval explained to them that the act of showing compassion to the poor and needy is very much in accordance with the principles of Sanatana Dharma, the priests did not see reason and refused to enter Ayyaval’s house. Sri Shridhara Ayyaval accepted this too as the divine will of Lord and continued the ceremony without the help of the priests. Then three strange persons came to his house and participated in the ceremony whole-heartedly and left with complete satisfaction. There was no doubt that the three persons were the Trinity — Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma – who graced the function of their devotee by their divine presence.
Sri Sridhara Ayyaval faced the same problem next year. The priests refused his invitation. They said: “you take a dip in the holy Ganga and that is the only atonement for the sin you have committed”. Sri Sridhara Ayyaval then prayed to Holy Ganga through eight verses of Gangashtakam instantly composed by him. Surprisingly, water gushed out of the well in the backyard of Sri Sridhara Ayyaval’s home! Seeing this miracle, the priests fell at the feet of Ayyaval and begged his pardon. The Holy River Ganga paid heed to his prayer and subsided into the well. This incident occurred on the new moon day in the month of ‘Karthika’. Even this day, many pilgrims who come to Tiruvisainallur, take a dip in this well.
One day, while on his way to the temple of Lord, he gave a discourse on the value of Nama Sangeerthan. Ayyaval was satisfied that he has accomplished his mission; to lay the foundation for the tradition of Nama Sangeerthan in South India. He was now longing for union with God. He then entered into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. He brushed aside the priest who tried to stop him. Even while others were watching, Sridhara Ayyaval embraced the Lord. The Linga shone brightly like a sun for some time. Soon, the devotee was merged into the Lord. What appeared as two has reached its natural state of one-ness.
Ayyaval has made significant contribution in establishing the tradition of Dakshina Nama Sangeerthana Sampradaya and is one among the Nama Sangeerthanam Trinity, the other two being Sri Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal and Sri Sadguru Swamigal. He was contemporary to Sadasiva Brahmendral and Bodendral Swamigal. Several songs composed on him are rendered during the Nama Sangeerthanam session. The kritis are always followed by Namavali; “Gangadhara Gangadhara” referring to Ayyaval as one who brought Ganga. Sri Shridhara Ayyaval spent every moment of his life to give us the nectar of Divine Names of the Lord and uplift us from the world of Samsara. Let us all pray to Sri Shridhara Ayyaval to bless us all with a taste for the Divine Names of the Lord.
Annual Unchavruthi Bhajan Conducted by Thiruvasanellur Sreedhara Ayyaval Madam in Sekharipuram On 21-10-2012
Source: 1. From the article, ‘Nama Ruchi Thanthavargal” in the souvenir brought out on the occasion of Bhajanotsam 2007 organized by Nama Sangeerthana Trust, Ramnagar, Coimbatore. 2)From the article, ‘Tiruvisanallur Sri Sridhara Ayyaval’ – Golden Jubilee Souvenir, ‘Nama Thapovanam’ brought out on the occasion of Sri Rama Navami Mahotsavam at Erode.