Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Karnataka Divyadesam‏

Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

Karnataka Divyadesam

I can almost see your eyebrows going up in surprise—“Divyadesam in Karnataka? Since when?” I hear you ask.  By definition, Divyadesams are those abodes of the Lord which have been sanctified by eulogies of Azhwars. The tribute Azhwars have paid to a particular sannidhi might consist of a hundred or more verses (as in the case of Tirukkannapuram and Tirunarayur) or a mere phrase (like the cryptic Aatrankarai kidakkum Kannan in the case of Kapisthalam): still, even if Azhwars have sung just a word about a particular temple, it becomes a Divyadesam. And conversely, any other abode of Emperuman, however popular and however significant it may be spiritually, is not entitled to the epithet “Divyadesam” (for instance Tirunarayanapuram, Mannargudi, Madhurantakam, etc.).  And all the 108 Divyadesams are identified and well-documented by Sri Pillai Perumal Iyengar, (in his Nootrettu Tirupati Andaadi) with none being able to add or subtract from the number or substitute one temple with another—there are 40 Divyadesams in the Chozha Naadu, 18 in Pandya Naadu, 2 in Nadu naadu, 22 in Tondai Mandalam, 13 in Kerala, 11 north of Tamilnadu, with two more located beyond this mundane universe. There is thus no question of a Divyadesam cropping up anew in Karnataka.
“Why then the caption?”, you may ask.  For us samsaris, the Lord is pretty much beyond reach. Though it was the Azhwars who sung His glory in magnificent verses dripping with devotion, travelling over hill and dale to His abodes located in the nooks and crannies of Bhaarata varsham, the fact remains that they lived in the distant centuries past: we learn of the Lord and His auspiciousness only through our current Acharyas, who in turn have inherited the priceless heirloom of wisdom and devotion from their own preceptors. By this reasoning, Acharyas (and their entire lineage) are much dearer to us than even Azhwars and Emperuman—Achaaryaat iha devataam samadhikaam anyaam na manyaamahe says Swami Desikan, placing our preceptors on an extraordinarily lofty pedestal. Going by this, the temples frequented by our Acharyas, present and past, would be as venerable to us as any sung by Azhwars and while we may not call them Divyadesam in popular parlance, any abode of the Lord which was the favourite of our Acharyas would definitely qualify for the description, if not in word , at least in spirit. I may hence be excused for terming Satyaagaalam a Divyadesam.

Karnataka boasts of several Abhimaana Sthalas-- magnificent abodes of the Lord consecrated with love and devotion by maharshis and monarchs and patronized by our Acharyas for several generations. It is a land of unalloyed devotion and unadulterated veneration, which has provided a willing refuge for successive Sri Vaishnava Acharyas facing persecution in their own Tamil homeland.  Be it Sri Ramanuja or Swami Desikan, it is to Karnataka Desam that they repaired, when they encountered hostility in Srirangam. And to the further credit of Karnataka, it has given birth to several Acharyas of repute like Sri Anantaazhwan, Sri Nanjeeyar, Sri AdivanSatakopa Swami, et al. A small indication of the immeasurable Acharya bhakti that the land has for Acharyas is this--if you interact with Sri Vaishnavas from Karnataka, you would find that they refer to Nigamaanta Guru invariably as “Desikar”, deeming it more respectful and appropriate than the “Desikan” we of Tamilnadu casually use.

Satyaagaalam, the subject of the present piece, is rather off the beaten track, as far as the average pilgrim to Karnataka is concerned—people normally visit Sriranga Patnam, Tirunarayanapuram, etc. near Mysore and the more adventurous tour the interior districts of Karnataka, filled with Hoysala temples dedicated to Sri Nrisimha and Chenna Kesava. Nonetheless, Satyaagaalam is definitely equal to the other kshetras, whether it is in spiritual significance, on account of Preceptor’s patronage or the invigorating presence of Kaveri.
Any narration of Swami Desikan’s life and times would be woefully incomplete without a mention of Satyaagaalam, for, so close is its association with the Acharya. It would be no exaggeration to say that apart from Srirangam and Kanchi, and perhaps Tiruvaheendrapuram, Satyaagaalam is the only kshetram where Swami Desikan spent a significant portion of his extremely productive spiritual life—various accounts place the total length of the Acharya’s sojourn at this place between 12 and 40 years. And according to most versions of his history, Swami Desikan dwelt here for two fairly long spells, making Satyaagaalam a definite place of pilgrimage for Desika bhaktas.

Once, during his stay at Srirangam, Swami Desikan was perusing the Sri Bhashyam, as was his wont, seated in the forecourt of his house.  Sri Kandaadai Lakshmanacharya, an AcharyaPurusha, passed by in his palanquin, in the street
where Swami Desikan had his humble residence. Immersed in
the delightful lines of Sri Bhashyam, Swami did not
notice the Acharya's procession, till some of Sri
acharya's disciples barged into Swami Desikan's
house and berated him for not having paid his respects
to the passing Ach
arya. Immediately, Swami Desikan
rushed to the Achary
a's residence, apologized to him
for the unintended omission and returned with regret for having
occasioned such a response on the part of Sri
Lakshmanacharya's disciples.

The episode however was the final straw on the proverbial camel’s back, for it added one more instance to a series of insults that Swami Desikan had to face from jealous opponents unable to tolerate his erudition and growing fame as an unparalleled exponent of the Sampradayam. The Acharya’s pain at being repeatedly persecuted is very much evident in the lines of his prayer to Sri Ranganatha, seeking the company of well-wishers—paraspara hitaishinaam parisareshu maam vartayasva.
Rather than remain at Srirangam and face further impediments to his spiritual quest, Swami Desikan decided to move away to a far off place, where he would find peace and solace. And being a true disciple of Sri Bhashyakara, Swami Desikan too chose Karnataka as his second home and set off from Srirangam, passing through Coimbatore, Sathyamangalam and Kollegala. A little distance beyond Kollegala, he was received by a party of villagers, along with their chieftain. Their village had been affected by severe drought for the previous couple of years, but all of a sudden there were copious rains within the space of a couple of days, reviving prospects of agriculture and animal husbandry. When they wondered as to the cause of the sudden precipitation, a village elder told them that it must have been due to the presence of a mahatma in the neighbourhood. Anxious to find and invite the sage to their village, they set out and came across Swami Desikan, shining with the halo of wisdom, and his disciples. Learning about the Acharya’s self-imposed exile from Srirangam, the village chieftain fell at the Acharya’s feet along with his acolytes and prayed to the former to stay at their village, known as Satyaagaalam, for as long as he liked.

Though our Swami did not accede immediately to the request, when he found that the village had a beautiful shrine of Sri Varadaraja and Sri Perundevi Tayar, (his mentors from his favourite Kanchi) along with Sri LakshmiNrisimha and that Mother Kaveri too flowed nearby, he decided to spend some time at Satyaagaalam.
The idyllic ambience, the atmosphere of peace and quiet reigning at the village in contrast to the strife and hurt rampant elsewhere, the suitability of the place for pursuing his faultless anushttaanam as well as spiritual studies and dissemination, etc., tempted Swami Desikan into spending quite a few years at Satyaagaalam. His days at the village were spent in performing his morning ablutions and Sandhyavandanam at the Kaveri, seated on a naturally-formed Koormaasanam on its banks, returning to the Kote Varadaraja Swami temple for worship, study of the scriptures and dissemination of Sri Bhashyam to the ardent disciples who had accompanied him from Srirangam. Twelve years were spent thus, which also included occasional visits to Tirunarayanapuram. So enamoured was Swami Desikan of Satyaagaalam that every time he went to Melukote for worshipping his icon Sri Bhashyakara and Selvanaaranan, he stayed there but for a few days, returning to Satyaagalam and his spiritual routine. The grand old Peepal tree under the shade of which Swami Desikan performed his anushttaanam on the banks of the Kaveri, known as the Gnaana Asvattha, survived for several centuries as a mute witness to the glorious times past (despite the impermanence of river-bank trees as brought out by Sri Kalian—aatrankarai vaazh maram pol), till it was struck down recently due to natural forces.

And what was happening at Srirangam in the interregnum? Sri Lakshmanacharya, whose disciples had offended Swami Desikan, developed several health problems, apparently apropos of nothing. His
health began to deteriorate day by day. Suspecting
this to be the outcome of some major sin, he enquired
of his sishyas whether any of them had indulged in
unbecoming conduct. Two of them confessed to having
abused Swami Desikan verbally and physically, for
reasons indicated above. Overcome by
remorse at the bhaagavata apachaaram committed by his disciples, Sri Lakshmanacharya immediately rushed to Satyaagaalam and
prostrated before Swami Desikan, seeking his pardon. Sri Lakshmanacharya resided for a whole year at Satyaagaalam, imbibing Sri Vedantacharya's
Sripaada teerttham and regained his
health. As an additional and beneficial fallout of imbibing the Sri Pada Teerttham, he was also blessed with a son. To remind him eternally of this episode,
he named his newborn son, "Teerttha Pillai".

After a sojourn of several years at Satyaagaalam, Swami Desikan developed a longing to see Namperumal and set off to Srirangam, bidding a tearful farewell from the villagers of Satyaagaalam, who sought his early return. The Moovaayirappadi Guruparampara Prabhavam tells us that the Acharya left his family at Satyaagaalam, which would indicate his intention to return there early. Reunited with the favourite deity of Azhwars and Acharyas alike, Swami Desikan stood before Sri Ranganatha with tears of joy in his eyes and continued the kainkaryams he had been performing earlier.

Then occurred the Muslim invasion of Srirangam, causing the loss of more than 12000 lives of Sri Vaishnavas. In the melee, to save Namperumal, Sri Pillailokacharya and others hid Him in a palanquin and spirited Him away to Madurai. Swami Desikan was entrusted by elders with the task of safeguarding the two sons of Sri Sudarsana Bhattar and also Bhattar’s commentary on Sri Bhashyam, the Shrutaprakasika. To escape the murderous muslim army, Swami Desikan hid in the fields, lying on the ground with the other dead bodies. After dark fell, he set off once again with his new wards. And when he wondered where he could go, immediately Satyaagaalam came to his thoughts and there he went with all expedition. Having reached the safety of Satyaagaalam, Swami Desikan resumed his spiritual routine, to which was added the exposition of the Shrutaprakaasika. The sons of Sri Sudarsana Bhattar underwent upanayanam and other qualifying ceremonies at Satyaagaalam and learnt Sampradaayic lore from Swami Desikan along with his other disciples.

Though Satyaagaalam did afford Swami Desikan security, solace and peace, the sufferings Sri Vaishnavas underwent at the hands of the invading army of infidels remained green in his memory and concerns for the safety of Namperumal constantly plagued his thoughts. He was forever awaiting news of the utsavamurthy and of the bhagavatas who accompanied Him. It is thus that we find Swami Desikan’s vigraham at Satyaagaalam in a standing posture, not to be seen at any other of the hundreds of temples boasting of the Acharya’s icons-- the stance symbolic of his constant thoughts of Srirangam and the eagerness with which he awaited news of restoration of Sri Namperumal to Srirangam. (There is indeed one more idol of the Acharya in a standing posture, at Srirangapatnam, but this is reported to be of subsequent origin).

 This constant concern for the wellbeing of Sri Ranganatha and His devoted acolytes led Swami Desikan to compose at Satyaagaalam a beautiful stotram seeking the banishment of fear generated by external causes—turushka yavanaadibhi: jrumbhamaanam bhayam  and the return of Namperumal to His original abode. Aptly named Abheetistavam, this stotram contains some of the most poignant verses that ever originated from Swami Desikan’s prolific pen.

When one of His dearest devotees seeks something, how can the Lord remain silent? He immediately arranged for the re-capture of Srirangam from alien forces and the re-establishment of Himself under the holiest of holies, the Ranga Vimaanam. With normalcy in religious routine having been restored, word was sent to Swami Desikan about the restoration of Srivaishnavite supremacy in Srirangam. Even before the emissary could reach the Acharya, Namperumal appeared in Swami Desikan’s dreams and announced that He was back in Srirangam, ordering the Acharya to resume his kainkaryams at the holiest of holies.

Swami Desikan worshipped Sri Varadaraja and Perundevi Tayar at Satyaagaalam for a lost time, his eyes brimming at the thought of parting with the Perumal who had afforded him refuge not once but twice. Perumal too, though loathe to part with Tooppul Pillai, gave him a reluctant farewell (piriyaa vidai) along with the residents of Satyaagaalam, whose grief knew no bounds. Compelling himself to leave, Sri Nigamaanta Guru bid adieu to all his admirers at the village and set off to Srirangam. Thus ended Swami Desikan’s second sojourn at Satyaagaalam.

During his enforced but enjoyable exile at Satyaagalam, Swami Desikan found his separation from his beloved Periya Perumal compensated to a great extent by the invigorating presence of a beautiful Sri Ranganatha at Madhyarangam, a mere 7 km from Satyaagaalam, where he used to go frequently. Also situated on the banks of the Kaveri, this is a small but wonderful temple housing the idols of Sri Ranganatha, Sri Ranganayaki and Swami Desikan, perhaps in memory of his mangalasasanam.  And there are those who say that the following slokam of Abheetistavam is addressed to the Emperuman Jagan Mohana Rangan of Madhyarangam and not to the Lord of Srirangam as is popularly attributed—
Rama dayita! Rangabhooramana! Krishna! Vishno! Hare!
Trivikrama! Janaardana! Triyuganaatha! Narayana!
Itiva subhadaani ya: patati naamadheyaani te
Na tasya yama vasyataa naraka paata bheeti: kuta:?

Local historians recount an episode which occurred in the life of Swami Desikan during his sojourn at Satyaagaalam. One night, Swami Desikan had a dream, in which a sagacious person sought the opportunity to do kainkaryam to Swami Desikan. Pondering over the dream and its possible purport, Swami Desikan was returning from his morning bath in the Kaveri, when a tortoise followed him to the temple and raced past him. The same night, Sri Varadaraja appeared in the Acharya’s dream and instructed him to bless the stranger by affording him an opportunity for service. The next morning when he went to the Kaveri, Swami Desikan found a stone peetham in the form of a tortoise (known as a koormaasanam and an ideal seat for performance of penance), under a Peepal tree. Till he left Satyaagaalam, Swami used this koormaasanam for the performance of anushttaanam. This unique koormaasanam remained on the banks of the Kaveri till 1924, till Sri Abhinava Ranganatha Mahadesikan of Sri Parakala Mutt, concerned at the possibility of its being washed away in river floods, had it removed and reinstalled at Swami Desikan’s sannidhi at the Varadaraja Swamy temple. This Acharya also arranged for a partial renovation of the temple.

Coming back to Satyaagaalam, the village appears to have been quite famous even prior to Swami Desikan’s visit. Folklore handed down from generation to generation speaks of Sri Rama’s stay at the village. Adding credence to these accounts is the presence of a hill nearby known as Gavi Rama Male, where Raghunandana is reported to have slain an asura hidden in a cave, on his way to Lanka. It was at the Kaveri at Satyaagaalam that Sri Rama performed obsequies for Dasaratha Maharaja with pinda pradaanam , say the local bhagavatas, proudly proclaiming that the kshetram is also known as Dakshina Gaya, a place to propitiate forefathers.

After Swami Desikan’s times, his son and heir to the spiritual throne, Sri Kumara Varadacharya, is reported to have visited Satyaagaalam and consecrated the idol of his illustrious father at the Varadaraja Perumal sannidhi. Even prior to Swami Desikan’s visit, Satyaagaalam appears to have been a flourishing centre of spirituality, with the temple of Sri Varadaraja quite well known. This is borne out by a 11th century royal edict recording the donation of lands to the temple, for its maintenance. And it is quite possible too that Sri Ramanuja had visited the temple, for Talakkadu, where the Bhashyakara had established the Kirtinarayana Temple, is but a short distance from Satyaagaalam.

Such a glorious and magnificent sannidhi appears to have fallen into disrepair in the recent centuries and the utsavams performed for the Lord gradually stopped due to the emigration of the Sri Vaishnavite population from the village and its vicinities. In fact, even the identity of the village, as the place of choice for Swami Desikan’s prolonged sojourn, appears to have been almost lost, for the Guruparampara and subsequent works indicate the name of the village variously as Satyamangalam, Saktimangalam, etc. However, since there is no Kaveri or Swami Desikan’s sannidhi at Satyamangalam, the fame and name of Satyaagaalam have been reestablished and its credibility reinforced by the visit of various Acharyas. Sri Parakala Matham has a close association with the temple, as is borne out by a branch of the Mutt adjoining the temple. For quite a long time, Acharyas of the Mutt performed regular worship at the temple periodically, the frequency of which appears to have reduced with time.

Srimad Akkur Andavan performed mangalasasanam at Satyaagalam in 1934 and is reported to have expressed his distress at the state of the temple, overgrown with bushes and offering refuge to hundreds of bats, with the Lord’s idol not being offered due worship. Srimad Tirukkudandai Andavan visited the temple twice during the sixties and arranged for building a room for the archaka. The idols of Sri Varadaraja, Sri Perundevi and Swami Desikan were removed for some time and installed at Madhyarangam for security reasons, since the doors and windows had been eaten away by moth. Just to keep the tradition alive, a one-day utsavam was performed for Swami Desikan, between1964 and 1995. In 1995, prakritam Srimad Azhagiasingar, SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikan, performed mangalasasanam at the sannidhi and, concerned with the serious dilapidation that had occurred, constituted a committee of committed servitors for bringing the temple back to its original glory, kick-starting the effort with his own munificent contribution . Around ten years ago, Sri Rangapriya Swami visited the temple and contributed for the building of a bathing ghat at Kaveri, near the haloed spot where Swami Desikan is reported to have performed his anushttanam. This elderly Yati’s association with Satyaagaalam is very close, as his ancestors are reported to have arrived at Satyaagaalam along with Swami Desikan from Srirangam. Swami’s own tirunaamam in his poorvaashramam was Satyaagaalam Varada Desikacharya.

The power of mangalasasanam by numerous Yativaras did have its effect and soon things started moving, with the committee cleaning up the temple premises, building a compound and a madaippalli, renovating the well, arranging for beautiful flooring for the entire temple and making it a worthwhile abode for its divine dwellers. The trustees then took up an ambitious project of building a Rajagopuram and finished it in record time. Funds for all these kainkaryams came from enthusiastic devotees from India and abroad. The temple now presents a majestic, spruce and magnificent appearance, well-maintained and managed.  From its looks, you really wouldn’t believe that this is a temple situated in a small village. An annexe has been built with facilities for pilgrims to stay overnight, with modern toilet facilities including WC. Realizing the importance of the place to Desika bhaktas, the secretary and committee members have tried their best to provide intending pilgrims with all facilities not only for a glorious spiritual experience, but also a comfortable stay. There is perhaps none who has visited the temple and gone away hungry—the hospitality of the archaka swami and other temple staff is to be experienced to be believed. The committed members of the managing committee are extremely helpful (Mr. Selvanarayanan, Secretary, is available to all Desika Bhaktas any time over his phone no 09880417514). And all this is done solely in the spirit of bhaagavata kainkaryam, with no expectations of a quid pro quo. Though the utsavams are yet to recommence in all their erstwhile glory, for the present, an annual event is held in Nov. in the month of Iyppasi (this year it falls on 13th Nov., a Sunday) with Sri Parakala Swami gracing the occasion, when a grand tirumanjanam is performed on the banks of the Kaveri for Swami Desikan and his mentor Sri Hayagrivan. This is indeed an event not to be missed, for such is its grandeur and the spiritual rejuvenation that the participants experience and for the opportunity of having a sacred dip in Kaveri in the month of Thula.

Having gone to Satyaagaalam recently and returned with rich memories, I would request all devotees of Swami Desikan to make a pilgrimage to this village, which is no less significant than divya desams like Srirangam, for it was the favoured abode of the Acharya for quite a long time. The temple has its own well-designed website with a wealth of information—http://www.sathyagalamtemple.info/, which may be accessed for further details.

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
 dasan, sadagopan


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