Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
There is the sweet fragrance of Saranagati in the air. If you listen carefully, the twittering birds on treetops appear to cry out, “Prapatti!” Prapatti!”. Every grain of sand inhabiting the place appears to bear mute testimony to the divine drama enacted on the soil aeons ago, laying down Saranagati as the sole strategy for achieving not only liberation, but of every possible desire that can seize man. The unending waves in the ocean nearby do not roll or thunder, but lap gently at the coastline, as if trying to find and touch the lotus feet of the Model Man, who lay on the shores long ago. The waves return in disappointment, unable to locate their refuge, but ever optimistic, they rush towards the shore again, hopeful of finding Him sometime or the other.
There are 106 “Divya Desams” or temples on this earth, sanctified by the visits of Azhwars. All of them are indeed branch offices of the Lord, opened for the specific purpose of enticing and emancipating errant souls. Thus at every divya desam, Emperuman awaits our arrival patiently, having spread the net far and wide through His agents– the Acharyas. Every divya desam is thus a dispenser of that panacea, Saranagati.
Though this might be so, there is a particular divya desam that is known specifically as “Saranagati Kshetram”. It was this particular abode of the Lord that was eyewitness to the great episode of Vibhishana Saranagati, which Emperuman used as a vehicle to demonstrate the unfailing efficacy of Absolute Surrender.
Having left Lanka and with it all his near and dear, untold riches and royal privileges, Vibhishana fell at the Lord’s lotus feet, on the shores opposite Lanka. Those in the Vaanara sena justifiably doubted his motives in deserting his blood brother and defecting to the enemy camp, especially on the eve of a war. When Vibhishana started wondering when he had indeed made the right move, it was Chakkravartthi Tirumagan who stepped in, convinced the antagonists that those who surrendered—“Prapannaas”– should be protected at all cost, even if their conduct was suspect and even if they were the embodiment of evil—“dosho yadyapi tasya syaat”. It was at this divya ksetram that the Prince of Ayodhya enunciated clearly His philosophy of protection to all those who surrendered, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, race, merit or qualification. Whoever says to the Lord with sincerity, “I am yours. Please save me”, performing Saranagati at His lotus feet, is entitled for emancipation, says Raghunandana, in His famous pronunciation—
“Sakrit eva prapannaaya tavaaham asmi iti yaachate
Abhayam sarva bhootebhyo dadaami, etat vratam mama”
It is for this scintillating display of Saranagata Rakshanam that Sri Rama is acclaimed till today, as the “Sarva avasttha sakrit prapanna janataa samrakshna eka vratee”.
And the place where it all happened is Tiruppullaani, situated on the southernmost shores of India. The name has obviously evolved from “Pull anai” or a bed of grass, referring to the Darbham which Sri Rama lay on (“tata: saagara velaayaam darbhaan aasteerya Raghava:”), during His own ineffective Saranagati addressed to the Samudra Raja, seeking the latter’s cooperation in building a bridge across the ocean to Lanka, for transporting men and materials for war.
One might ask if Saranagati is touted to be a fail-safe mechanism for achieving one’s desires, how come Sri Raghava’s own effort (in surrendering to the Samudra Raja) failed?
The answer is that Prapatti is a strategy to be adopted by a helpless person, who has no other means of accomplishing his goal. “Aakinchanyam” or absolute helplessness is thus an essential pre-requisite of Prapatti. Since the Prince of Ayodhya could by no means be termed helpless, and was in fact the all-powerful Parabrahmam, His Saranagati to the deity of the waters was doomed to failure ab initio.
We thus find that Tiruppullaani was the stage on which the Lord enacted two episodes of Saranagati, both intended to drive home to mortals the cardinal principles and pre-requisites of Prapatti. It is thus Tiruppullani that showed the rest of the world the real route to Liberation. When we realise that we are actually standing on the shores where Sri Rama stood, that we are stepping on the same sands that He lay down upon for three conseuctive days, the same beach sanctified for posterity by the steps of Siriya Tiruvadi and countless Vaanara Veeras, tears of devotion cloud our eyes and our mind cannot but re-enact the glorious scenes on the sands that took place in Treta Yugam, but appear as real today as they were then.
A short distance from the Sannidhi is the seashore where it all happened. And it is this shore, from which the Rama Sethu, the bridge across the ocean to Lanka, was built by that accomplished engineer, Nala, in just five days flat. We are told that the Vanara veeras brought huge hills, tall trees, massive boulders and rocks, wrote the Rama nama on them and threw them into the waters—and they floated due to the glory of the divine name, adhering together and forming a beautiful, sturdy and unprecedented bridge across the unbridgeable ocean. Sri Valmiki is so taken up with the mind-boggling logistics, superhuman effort and enormity of endeavour that went into the project, that he enthuses over the Sethu time and again, calling it “Mahaa Sethu”, “Sreemaan” etc.
It is no small tribute to Tiruppullani that even the most insignificant of its inhabitants, creatures like squirrels, rushed to participate in the kainkaryam of Sethu bandhanam, by dipping their bodies in water, rolling in the sand and shaking off the sand particles adhering to their bushy coats, in an endearing effort at filling the ocean. Looking at the monkeys’ efforts, the squirrels, even though endowed with much less strength and size, participated in the service to the best of their capabilities. Pleased at this endeavour, Sri Rama is said to have caressed the squirrels’ back, resulting in three lines that can be witnessed on their backs even today. This is no old wives’ tale and has the sanctity of mention in Tirumaalai—recording the squirrel’s contribution for posterity, Sri Tondaradippodi says,
“Kurangugal malayai nookka, kulitthu taam purandu ittodi
taranga neer adaikkaluttra chalam ilaa anilum polen”
Though the term “Kulitthu” refers to the squirrels taking a dip in the ocean so that sand would stick to their bodies, we cannot help but think that they might have tried to purify themselves with Samudra snaanam, before participating in Bhagavat Kainkaryam.
And if one needs proof positive that all this happened, that all this is not merely another Stthala Puraanam concocted to confer greatness on the divya desam, one just has to go out in the sea a little distance, to witness to one’s eye’s content the remnants of the Rama Sethu. A couple of years ago, satellite pictures taken by NASA of the USA were circulated on the web, confirming for even the most die-hard doubters, the existence underwater of a bridge-like structure linking the present day India and Lanka. That this bridge existed seven hundred and odd years ago, is borne out by Swami Desikan’s tribute to this structure, in Sri Varadaraja Panchasat—
“Tam veekshya Sethum adhunaapi shareeravanta:
Sarve shadoormi bahulam jaladhim taranti”
Swami Desikan tells us that a mere sight of this glorious and sacred bridge that Rama built, ensures our emancipation. The word “adhunaapi” conveys wonderment at the Rama Sethu remaining visible to mortal eyes till date, even after the passing of several Yugas. The glory of this immortal bridge is chronicled by the great Venkataadhvari Kavi of Arasaanipalai, in his “Visva Gunaadarsa Champoo”, thus—
“Ya: puraa paapa dasakacchede saadhanataam gata:
Sa Sethu: na katham shakta: paapa panchaka bhanjane”
“When this Sethu was instrumental in the destruction of the ten heads of the dreaded Ravana, what difficulty can it have it destroying our five types of sins (“Pancha mahaa paatakam”)? And the adage, “Tiru Anai kandaal aru vinai agalum” confirms our conviction in the purificatory powers of this Sethu. Swami Desikan is so impressed with the idea that he repeats it in Daya Satakam too—
“Vyabhajyata Sarit pati: sakrideva kshanaat tat kshanaat
prakrishta bahu paataka prasama hetunaa Setunaa”
The glories all our Acharyas and elders have attributed to the Sethu have their origins in the Srimad Valmiki Ramayana Slokam, where Sri Rama, on his return journey to Ayodhya in the Pushpaka vimaanam, points out to Sri Mythily the beautiful bridge across the ocean built solely for Her rescue and remarks about the holiness of the waters at the shores of Tiruppullaani—
“Etat tu drisyate teerttham saagarasya mahaatmana:
Sethu bandha iti khyaatam trilokyena abhipoojitam
Etat pavitram paramam mahaa paataka naasanam”
The reality and glory of the bridge that Rama built, is further borne out by references in the Mahabharata. During his travels in the south, Sahadeva is said to have met Vibheeshana and also had a darshan of the Rama Sethu, which prompted in him thoughts of Rama’s glory—
“Lankaam abhimukho Rajan! Samudram avalokayat….
…Tatra drishtvaa Rama Sethum chintayaamaasa vikramam”
What about the Lord of this great divyadesam?
There appear to be quite a few contenders for the sobriquet “Periya Perumal”. This title is applied to Emperumans, mainly because Perumal (Chakravartthi Tirumagan) is said to have worshipped them. First and foremost to come to our thoughts at the mention of “Periya Perumal” is of course our Ranganatha, the Kula Deivam of the Ikshvaaku Dynasty, whom Sri Rama worshipped along with His Consort, on the day prior to His infructuous coronation—“Saha patnyaa visalaakshyaa Narayanam upaagamat”. The second claimant to the title is Sri Nrisimha, whom Sri Rama is said to have worshipped at Ahobilam, en route to Lanka.
You would be surprised to learn that there is a third “Periya Perumal” too, the Adi Jagannatha Perumal of Tiruppullani. Prior to the battle with Ravana, Sri Raghava is said to have paid obeisance to the Kalyana Jagannatha Perumal of this divya desam and obtained a divine bow from Him, with which Ravana samhaaram was carried out. That this Emperuman was in possession of and sported a mighty bow, is borne out by Sri Tirumangai Mannan’s mangalaasaasanam, calling Him “Deiva Silayaar” (Silai=bow).
The Lord sits in the sanctum with His twin Consorts, one of His palms extended in a protective pose (“Abhaya mudra”), while the other palm beckons to devotees (“Aahvaana Hastam”) to come and seek refuge in His holy feet. The other two hands at the back hold the Shankham and Chakram respectively. According to the Stthala Puranam, Dasaratha Chakravartthi, apart from performing Putrakaameshti, worshipped at this divya desam and it was Adi Jjagannatha Perumal who blessed Him with progeny. (Sri Valmiki perhaps hints at Sri Raghava being an amsam of Adi Jagannatha Perumal, when he says “Prodyamaane Jagannatham sarva loka namaskritam”, while recording Rama’s birth.)
Those belonging to the school of Meemaamsa hold that Yagyas and Yagas are by themselves productive and bestow the desired fruit on the performer. However, Vedantis affirm that it is Isvara, pleased by the performance of these sacrifices (which are only modes of worshipping Him) who confers the favours sought on the devotees. Similarly, though Dasaratha performed Putrakaameshti, it was Adi Jagannatha Perumal who actually blessed the Emperor with four illustrious sons in His own mould.
If this Emperuman is reputed to be a “Varaprasaadi”, we owe it in no small measure to His Consort, Sri Padmaasani Taayaar, whose sannidhi is nearby. The Divine Consort’s compassionate countenance captures our hearts, with its welcoming smile.
As we perform a pradikshinam, we come to the shrine of Sri Raghava, appearing to us as He did to Vanara veeras aeons ago, recumbent on a bed of grass. In this Sannidhi, however, the Prince of Ayodhya is seen lying on a snaky bed, with Brahma seated on the lotus growing out of the Lord’s navel—all of this indicating that He is indeed the Parabrahmam, despite His protestations to the contrary (“Aatmaanam maanusham manye”). Sri Hanuman is seen at the Lord’s left foot, in a posture of devotion. Unusually, a huge sword lies beside the Lord, contrary to the popular perception that Emperuman’s favourite weapon during the Ramavatara was the Bow Kodandam. The Lord is seen in “Veera Sayanam”, with his right hand placed beneath His head as a pillow, and the left hand stretched alongside.
This pose of the Lord brings to our mind the relative couplets from the Epic, which prompt the conclusion that the Lord displayed four hands to those present on the Tiruppullani beach, on that day in Treta Yuga. Describing Rama’s supine posture on a bed of darbham, Sri Valmiki says that He had His arms folded in supplication (“anjali”). Simultaneously, one of His arms was placed behind His head as pillow with another stretched out. Here is the relative sloka-
“tata: saagara velaayaam darbhaan aasteerya Raaghava:
anjalim praang mukha: kritvaa pratisisye mahodadhe:
baahum bhujaga bhogaabham upadaaya ari soodana:”
Thus two of the arms were engaged in a gesture of supplication, with folded palms beseeching the Samudra Raja to permit access, while another arm was placed as a pillow behind the head. This definitely presupposes the existence of four arms, since one cannot use two arms to perform the function of three. It is thus clear that in this instance, Sri Rama must have displayed His Paratvam (Supremacy) at Tiruppullani (with the four-armed posture.
Sri Vibheeshana stands as a sculpture just outside the sanctum sanctorum, the embodiment of devotion, reminding the onlooker of the immeasurable fruits he derived from his exemplary Saranagati at the Lord’s lotus feet.
Two other worthies we see at this Sannidhi are Shuka and Saarana, ministers of Ravana. These Rakshasas are despatched by Ravana for ascertaining the strengths and weaknesses of Rama’s army, but are caught immediately by Sri Rama’s sentinels, as they land on the beach. When they are brought to Rama’s presence, bound hand and foot and facing certain death at the hands of the enraged vanaras, Rama intervenes and displays His strategic wisdom. He tells the spies to have a good look at the army and advises Vibheeshana to take them on a guided tour of the encampment, so that they could gain a true picture of the army’s invincible might and numerical superiority and report back to their leader. And Rama’s ploy pays off, when these Rakshasas return to Ravana with glowing accounts of the opposing army, its numbers, the might of its commanders, etc., fervently pleading with Ravana to return Sri Mythily to Rama with honour and escape certain annihilation.
In turn, we reach the Sannidhi of Sri Pattabhirama, with Sri Sita and Lakshmana, adorned in all their finery.
Unlike other Emperumans who have had to be content with a line or two, or at best one pasuram, from an Azhwar, this divya desam can boast of no less than twenty pasurams from the pen of Sri Tirumangai Mannan. Azhwar, floored by the incredible handsomeness of this Emperuman, has donned the role of a girl stricken with unbearable yearning for the Lord of Pullaani. Sri Kalian waxes eloquent in portraying Pullani, with such enchanting phrases as–
“poovaar manam kamazhum Pullaani”, “poru tiraigal pondu ulavu Pullaani”, “chezhum tadam poonjolai soozh Pullaani”, “pon alarum punnai soozh Pullaani”, “ Poonserundi pon soriyum Pullaani”, “Punnai muttham pozhil soozhndu azhagaana Pullaani” etc.
Indicating to us the extremely close association this divya desam has with Saranagati, Sri Tirumangai Mannan punctuates most of his pasurams with the phrase “tozhudum ezhu”, signifying absolute surrender to this Emperuman. Apart from Azhwars, the Adi Jagannatha Perumal and the Darbhasayana Rama have drawn poetic tribute from a host of admirers, ancient and modern, as is evident from several beautiful compositions like the “Pullai Andaadi”, “Pullaani Maalai, “Kadavu Tirattal Paattu”, “Vaahana Maalai”, “Vanna Viruttam”, “Deiva Silayaan Tiruppugazh”, “Nalangu”, “Tiruppullaani Nondi Naatakam”, etc.
An account of Tiruppullaani would be definitely incomplete without a mention of the Stthala Vriksham, the holy Peepal Tree that spreads its leafy branches over the Darbhasayana Raman Sannidhi, in an effort to keep the Lord shaded from the radiation of the overhead Sun. This is indeed a huge specimen, growing vertically as well as horizontally, spreading its roots and branches far and wide. In view of its phenomenal growth, this tree is acclaimed as “Valar Arasu”. A mere sight of this holy tree is reputed to cure us of incurable diseases. Our reverence for the Vriksham multiplies manifold, when we learn that it has officiated as arbiter, to determine the correctness of Vedic intonation. We are told that Saraswati took birth on earth and begot a scholarly son—Saarasvatan—who was well versed in the Vedas and other Shastras. When a group of Vidvaans found fault with Saarasvata’s intonation of the Shruti, the latter appealed to Brahma for arbitration. Brahma, however, directed the contending parties to the Asvattha Vriksham at Tiruppullani. Saarasvata and the other Vidvans agreed that that version was correct, which the tree heard with rapt attention, without even a movement of its leaves. After hearing both parties, the Asvattha tree ruled in favour of Sarasvati’s son.
For those suffering from the heat and dust of Samsara as well as the overhead Sun, the beautiful tank opposite the Sannidhi, pleasingly filled with cool water, affords great relief. Known as the Chakkra Teertham, this tank is as holy as the waters of the Sethu.
Abutting the holy tank is Swami Desikan Sannidhi, with palms folded in supplication to his favourite deity—the Karunaa Kaakuttstha, the Mahaaveera—whose praise he has sung with fervour in his innumerable compositions. Quite an ancient shrine, lovingly looked after for centuries by doting devotees, it now belongs to Srimad Andavan Ashramam. Sri Ahobila Matam has a large and spacious Sannidhi for Sri LakshmiNrisimha, located very near Adi Jagannatha Perumal Koil, with provision for accommodating Sevaartthis visiting this divya desam. A new Vanamamalai Mutt too has come up adjacent to the Sannidhi. All these institutions ensure that devotees who visit Tiruppullani are assured of shelter and prasaadam.
Poorvacharyas like Sri Periya Nambi, Sri Bhashyakara, Sri Bhattar, Sri Nanjeeyar, Swami Desikan and Sri Manavala Mamuni are reputed to have performed mangalasasanam of this Emperuman. Sri Mamunigal is reported to have composed the beautiful and extremely moving “Aarti Prabandam” at this divya desam, while his Acharya and maternal uncle Sri Tiruvaimozhi Pillai was born at Sikkil Kidaaram, near Tiruppullaani. The glories of this holy place are chronicled in detail in nine chapters, in the “Bhuvana kosa varnanam” of the Aagneya Puranam.
The Tiruppullani temple has undergone renovation and Samprokshanam recently and the Gopuram stands tall, beautiful and imposing, a majestic symbol worthy of its Inner Dweller. The Shrine is under the administration of the Setupati Samstthaanam, whose rulers have been devoted to the Lord and have performed several kainkaryams, generation after generation. This dynasty is incidentally reputed to have been founded by a warrior who was of assistance to Sri Rama and was crowned by Him as ruler of the “Sethu Naadu”. Figures of generations of Setupatis adorn the prakaarams of the Sannidhi, their palms folded in devotion to the Lord of Tiruppullani.
For the information of intending visitors eager to have a glimpse of this wonderful Emperuman and to purify their bodies and souls through Sethu Snaanam, Tiruppullani is a small village around 10 kilometres from Ramanathapuram, which in turn is around two and a half hours from Madurai. The area is well connected by road and rail, with all creature comforts. Till date, this divya desam is thronged by devotees with varied wish lists ranging from progeny to Paramapadam. Till some years back, we are told that Acharyas used to test the conviction and spiritual strength of their Sishyas seeking Saranagati, by advising them to perform Sethu Snaanam. Apart from being a powerful panacea for all ills, this holy dip is specifically prescribed for ridding oneself of impurities accruing from an overseas trip involving crossing of oceans, officiating in the 11th and 12th day ceremonies following the passing away of a Sri Vaishnava, etc.
Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore