Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
It was pouring cats and dogs. The Rain-God was on a destruction spree and all fields bearing crop ripe for harvest were submerged. If the crop continued to be under water for a couple of days more, the grain would sprout, dashing the growers' hopes of a bountiful harvest and condemning farmers to another year of abject poverty. The flowing rainwaters had not spared dwellings too, and they were under a foot of water. Cattle, chicken, and other helpless creatures stood drenched, finding no dry place to take shelter in. Children cried in hunger and were hushed by the miserable parents, who could find no dry twig or leaves for lighting a fire and making food. The strong, icy wind pierced the skin like needles and made everyone shiver.
The talk in the temple centered on a single topic-what would happen to the vast lake on the outskirts of the village, if the torrential rain continued? People who had been adventurous enough to have a peek at the lake confirmed that it was almost full in the morning. It was a huge lake, capable of accommodating a vast quantity of water and catering to the irrigational needs of fields for a hundred miles around. It had strong bunds built high to contain and consolidate inflows, and had never dried up, however rainless be the season.
It was this lake that was causing not a little concern among the locals. What would happen if the unthinkable occurred? What if the lake were to breach, unable to contain the copious inflows brought in by the continuing torrents? The thought of all that vast expanse of water cascading down from the breached bunds was terrifying. It would wipe out the village and hundreds like it within seconds, leaving none to recount the disaster. Such a thing had never happened before, leaving those living near it secure in the belief of its invincibility.
However, nothing can stand in the face of nature's fury and the lake was no exception. Its bunds were of mud and stone only, and the immense pressure of water against them could just blow them away, opening the floodgates to misery.
A senior citizen, belonging to more religious times and who had seen the temple at the height of its prosperity and buzzing with spiritual activity, lamented the villagers' neglect of the temple and disinterest in its upkeep. He chided them for having angered the Lord through their irreverent and ungrateful attitudes. The mills of God grind slow, but they do grind sure and the old man was certain that nemesis had caught up with the unrepentant population.
The British were still ruling the country and the District Collector, a pious man by name Colonel Place, was in charge of the area. When the matter was represented to him in all its magnitude, he immediately realized the explosiveness of the situation and ordered his minions to arrange for strengthening the lake bunds and for monitoring the condition round-the-clock. The wheels of Government swung into action and an army of workers busied themselves in carrying out the Collector's orders.
The rain, however, continued to come down in torrents without any let-up and the water level in the lake kept rising menacingly. Though night had advanced, sleep eluded the British man, who paced restlessly in his quarters, worried at the lack of let-up in the downpour. He decided to inspect the bund-work personally and left with his retinue to the lake, paying scant attention to those who tried to dissuade him on the grounds of impending danger. As one used to leading from the front, he left for the lake and arrived amidst a steady downpour. He climbed to the top of the bund and the sight that greeted his eyes took away his breath, the enormity of the situation striking him with full force.
The water level had risen alarmingly, till it now lapped at his feet, at his position on the top perimeter of the bund. Another hour or so of the rain and the lake would breach, with cataclysmic consequences. And since rain was still coming down in sheets accompanied by a gale, there seemed little hope of averting the inevitable. It was as if these miserable, uneducated and uncultured masses were destined to a watery grave. Then a chilling thought struck him-in deciding to visit the scene of action, he had painted himself into a corner and had no way now of returning to safety. It looked as if he too would be sharing the watery graves of the people he had thought about disparagingly a moment before.
Was it the will of the Lord Jesus that he should die in a heathen land,forsaking his beautiful wife and affectionate children in distant England? The moment these thoughts occurred to him, he banished them with guilt-he was the District Collector, responsible for the lives and safety of thousands, be they heathens or unlettered. They looked up to him with child-like faith, hoping against hope that the tall, fair-skinned "Durai" would somehow work a miracle and save them all from certain death.
But what could he do in the face of Nature's unrelenting fury? The swirling waters of the lake were looking more menacing by the minute, and the wind had snatched away the umbrella held over his head by a lackey, apparently angered at the Collector's efforts at protecting his head while thousands of the proletariat were drenched to the skin stretched tightly over their skeletal bodies.
Colonel Place was desperate and could think of no way to prevent the waters rushing out on their terrible mission of destruction. The old man in the temple, who had spoken of the neglected Lord and the awaiting nemesis, was also one of the Collector's retinue. In the pushing and pummeling wind, he had reached the Collector's side and, picking up courage, told the Official that only Lord Rama could save them now, as the situation seemed beyond human intervention. He explained to the skeptical Englishman the immense power of the Lord and His matchless beauty. In the drenching downpour, despite the wind snatching away many of his words, and in his broken English, he gave the foreigner an account of the exploits of Sri Rama and of His bridging the vast ocean with the aid of mere monkeys. The old man spoke with emotion of the Lord's infinite mercy and His abiding concern for the innocent.
It all seemed pretty unreal to the Collector-he was standing in pouring rain on the bund of a gigantic lake on the verge of breaching, hours, perhaps only minutes away from certain death, listening to an old native blabbering about a heathen god. He shook his head in disbelief at his own predicament and tried in vain to shore up his sagging faith in life.
The old man, with little else to do, continued his enthralling narrative of the Lord's prowess with the bow and of how His emissary was able to just fly over the vast ocean, again speaking with tears of the infinite mercy that characterized this "KaruNA Kakuttsttha", the scion of a royal family who spent fourteen hard years in the jungle, just to obey an unjust command supposedly from His father and conveyed to Him by a step-mother who was intent on making her own son the heir to the throne.
When we are drowning, we tend to clutch at straws in desperation, especially when nothing else is available to hold on to. Colonel Place was in a similar situation. Though his strict Christian upbringing and military training prompted only skepticism and disbelief at the old man's tales, still an image began to form in his mind of a tall, handsome Prince, with a long bow held aloft in His powerful hands, the personification of mercy and righteous conduct, the symbol of sacrifice, His lotus-like eyes brimming with mercy for all mortals, and accompanied by an equally impressive figure, obviously a younger brother and ever ready to rush to the rescue of those in distress, at a mere call for succour, be it from whichever quarter. And once the image of the bewitching Lord entered his mind, Place found it difficult to shake it off and experienced an extremely pleasurable sensation, even amidst the desperate situation he found himself trapped in.
Still clutching at straws, his mind reluctantly veered round to the possibility of appealing to this mythological hero for aid, which seemed the only thing left, especially since all other efforts had failed. And once his mind accepted what was hitherto unthinkable for him, he felt unreasonably buoyed up and prayed in his heart of hearts to Sri Rama to somehow, somehow, lead him and thousands of his subjects out of this apparently inescapable end.
"Oh Ram!" prayed the Englishman," Please do this, if not for my sake, then for the sake of the thousands who believe in You with all their spiritual might and conviction. I was listening to the tales of Your impossible feats with only half an ear. However, if it was possible for You to conquer that vast body of waters (lying between You and Lanka) with the mere threat of retribution, it should be no difficult task for You to control the menacing waters of this MadhurAntakam lake and to keep them confined to the inner bunds. I know full well that these are the words of an infidel who lacks absolute faith in You: but Your reputation as the epitome of mercy prompts me to beseech You.
Do this for me and for the sake of the hundreds of men, women and children who are in peril, and I shall build a temple for Your Consort, whom You appear to love dearly. Lord, please do help me!"
The moment this secret prayer was concluded, the Englishman saw, in a brilliant flash of lightning, the figures of two extraordinarily handsome young men, both with bows held aloft, appearing on the tank bund in the pouring rain. Their luminescent eyes seemed to radiate compassion and benevolence. Their beauty was beyond description and their regal bearing exposed their flawless lineage. They were perfectly proportioned specimens of virility, with a majestic gait and magnificent deportment. The elder of the divine duo looked at the spell-bound Colonel Place with twinkling eyes that seemed to hold out an assurance of assistance, amused at the Englishman's effort at bribery through the offer of a temple construction for Sri Mythily.
The awe-struck foreigner, overwhelmed by the unbelievable apparition, just fainted and fell on the soddy tank bund with a thud, slipping into unconsciousness, obviously incapable of absorbing the full delight of the divine spectacle.
When he emerged from his trance, Colonel Place found himself in his comfortable bed in his own quarters, with his minions peering anxiously at his supine form. Reminded of the impossible situation in which he had fainted, the Collector sat up with a jerk and demanded from his subordinates the latest position on the flooding threat, and felt immense relief wash over him when told that the rains had stopped with miraculous suddenness during the night and the lake waters too, poised on the brink, had receded to fairly safe levels. Through a planned opening of the sluices, the water level was brought back to near normal and the threat had blown-over.
Colonel Place's skin tingled when he remembered the Divine Youth he had witnessed in that flash of lightning, who had appeared as if in answer to his
unuttered prayers, and effortlessly saved not only himself but innumerable
others too from a certain and watery grave. The vivid image of the Lord and His infinite mercy in answering the insincere prayers of an unbelieving foreigner continued to occupy the Englishman's thoughts forever, and he used to recount the tale with fervour to sceptical audiences even after his return to England.
However, Colonel Place's newfound faith did not desert him the moment his job was done, and he lived up to his part of the bargain by constructing the ThAyAr Sannidhi at MadhurAntakam. A plaque on the Sannidhi walls still stands testimony to the aforesaid legend, which has bestowed the Lord with yet another tirunAmam, lovingly coined by His grateful votaries-"Eri kAttha Raman".