Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
This happened during the reign of Srimath Mukkur Azhagiyasingar. As we all know, towards the evening of his glorious life, Srimath Azhagiyasingar was confined to Dasavatara Sannidhi, for building the magnificent Raja Gopuram at the southern entrance to Srirangam. Sri Sannidhi’s family consisted not only of human kainkaryaparas and their relatives, but also of an elephant, a horse, etc. Even the animals proudly performed service to Sri Malolan: the elephant, for instance, attended Visvaroopam in the mornings and paid obeisance to both Sri Malolan and Srimath Azhagiyasingar. It was an extremely docile animal, large only in size but with the heart of a child. Its conduct was uniformly good, with none of the arrogant behavior attributable to animals of its height, girth and weight.
This elephant’s health was affected one day. It started behaving strangely, not allowing even its mahout near. When someone tried to approach, it reacted angrily and trumpeted threateningly. This went on for hours together. Though the pachyderm was indeed chained to a stone pillar, considering the rage it was in, it appeared to be only a matter of time before it broke free of its shackles. And when it did do that, people were afraid of what havoc it could wreak to life and property. The news spread beyond Dasavatara Sannidhi that the Mutt Elephant was in a rage and could take to the streets any moment, with possibilities of heavy damage to the life and limb of ordinary citizens. All of us know how fast rumours spread and in no time half of Srirangam was terrified that the animal could barge into their house any time.
The elephant’s health thus became a matter of heated discussions, with some “concerned citizens”, who are ever ready to fish in troubled waters, petitioning the District Collector in this regard. It had thus ceased to be the Mutt’s own issue and assumed the proportions of a law and order problem. With an administration known for its unsympathetic approach to anything religious, the District Collector decided to take stringent action in the matter. When he was told about the nature and stature of Srimath Azhagiyasingar, he decided to intervene personally and arrived at Dasavatara Sannidhi with his retinue. When he wanted to meet Srimath Azhagiyasingar and would brook no delay, Kainkaryparas, intimidated by the weight of the Government descending upon Dasavatara Sannidhi, immediately escorted him to the presence of Srimath Azhagiyasingar, who was in meditation. Belonging, as he did, to an administration which had scant respect for religious persona and spiritual activities, the Collector imperiously told the Pontiff that the elephant posed a grave threat to the public at large and that in the interests of preventing any untoward happenings, he had issued a “shoot” order against the animal. He said he had come personally to inform the Mutt head out of protocol considerations.
Srimath Azhagiyasingar did not speak a word to the Collector: instead, he called the Kainkaryaparas and chided them for having let him in. He said that Dasavatara Sannidhi was a private property and that the Mutt was quite capable of taking care of its properties, whether they were buildings or animals. No one could poke their nose into the Mutt’s affairs and there was absolutely no question of shooting down an elephant which was engaged in the Lord’s service. All of us remember Srimath Mukkur Azhagiyasingar and his assertive ways—he would not bend down or resile from his righteous position, even if the country’s president were to come and request him to. And it hurt him terribly to hear of the Collector’s proposed action—to shoot an elephant that had grown old in the service of Sri Malolan, simply because it exhibited aberrant behavior once in its life time. The Acharya had a heart of gold and could not brook any harm coming to any of his wards, human or animal. His was a nature that could not be mute witness to any suffering, reaching out to all and sundry and cutting across considerations of caste, creed, economic status and even type of life form.
In the meantime, kainkaryaparas took the Collector aside and told him that they assumed responsibility for the elephant’s health and would ensure that nothing untoward happened. They said that Srimath Azhagiyasingar had been performing japam for the past three hours, praying to the Presiding Deity of the Mutt to restore the animal’s tranquility. Though skeptical about the powers of the Pontiff to heal an elephant in obvious rage, the Collector decided to leave for the present and return the next day, ready with the gun and if required, a Magistrate’s order and police force, to shoot down the “rogue” pachyderm.
Srimath Azhagiyasingar continued with his japam late into the night and in the morning, went in person to the place where the elephant was tethered, with water sanctified by the japam, with a kainkaryapara bearing the silver plate with Mantrakshatai. Not at all intimidated by the raging elephant, Srimath Azhagiyasingar sprinkled the water over the elephant and threw Mantrakshatai on its head. There were onlookers galore from all over Srirangam, who had assembled to witness the imminent shooting down of the elephant. The rumour mill had worked overtime during the night and half the citizenry, forsaking their usual tasks, came over to Dasavatara Sannidhi to ogle at the animal.
To their chagrin, however, the elephant started returning to normal gradually. Its beady eyes, suffused with rage, resumed their normal hue. The unceasing and aggressive movements of the trunk and head slowly wound down to normal pattern. The tail which was thrashing about in the air, resumed its normal position. Looking at the gradual transformation in the animal, the mahout made bold to approach it with a bunch of bananas and the pachyderm took them quite calmly, shoving them deep down into its cavernous mouth. In short, within an hour from sunrise, the elephant was back to its docile behavior. Anyone who had not witnessed its earlier state would have been hard put to believe that this was the animal which had caused so much concern with its rage the previous day, warranting a Collector’s personal visit.
When kainkaryaparas mentioned the matter of the elephant’s return to normalcy to Srimath Azhagiyasingar, he did not evince any surprise, since it was his japam that had cured the animal of its aberrant behavior. He just told servitors to go and tell the Collector that he was welcome to come and check the matter personally, but without a gun. And when the Collector did come, he prostrated before Srimath Azhagiyasingar and profusely apologized for his distrust and haughty “shoot” orders.
Ever the consummate diplomat and exhibiting his natural gracefulness, Srimath Azhagiyasingar told the Collector that if everyone were to be shot down for temporary aberrations, then the world’s population would probably be halved. He praised the Collector for taking his duties seriously, but advised him to be selective in enforcing draconian measures. Devotees and kainkarparas, who were witness to the momentous happenings of the past couple of days, heaved a sigh of relief that all had ended well.
One shudders to think of what would have happened, had Srimath Azhagiyasingar meekly agreed to the orders of the District Collector for the execution of the innocent elephant. However, the word Meekness was not in the dictionary of the Pontiff, who always believed in taking the bull by its horns and providing acceptable solutions to all problems. Though it was indeed in discharge of his duty for upholding law and order and preventing the occurrence of untoward happenings, that the Collector had passed the impugned orders, the official had overestimated the danger and ordered irreversible measures. As far as Srimath Azhagiyasingar was concerned, it was just a case of a family member being unwell and requiring treatment: we do not shoot down relatives simply because they exhibit abnormal behavior temporarily. The elephant was indeed a member of Malolan’s retinue and could not be sacrificed just because it was unwell. And with his absolute confidence in the power of sacred formulations to cure anything and everything, Srimath Azhagiyasingar could achieve what was considered impossible.
Jeeva Kaarunyam or extreme concern for all types of life, the intolerance to others’ suffering, etc. were hailed to be the hallmarks of Sri Koorattazhwan. Alas, we were not fortunate enough to be around during his times. however, we can justly take pride of having lived in the same times and age of another great Mahama, Srimath Mukkur Azhagiyasingar.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore