Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
We had recently read about the glory of Emperuman as Du: Svapna naasana: or the destroyer of bad dreams. It is equally true that He is also Su: svapna kaaraka: or the creator of good dreams. In the following piece, we shall see how he blessed an ardent devotee with a delightful dream, benefiting not only the latter but Himself too in the process.
Srinivasan was an exemplary student. He had absorbed all that his father taught, very much like the parched earth lapping up drops of rain. And by the time he was fifteen, he had mastered the Vedas, Divya Prabandas, Kavyas and Saamaanya Shastras, imbibing everything from his scholarly father. And the result of all this prodigious learning did have an effect on the youth—his face shone with the light of wisdom. Mere wisdom, they say, without good conduct, is akin to a dog’s tail—suna: puccham iva—it doesn’t perform its function of hiding what ought to be hidden. However, this was not the case with Srinivasa, whose conduct, even at that tender age, was exemplary. Not only did he excel in aachaaram and anushttaanam—his attributes were enviable. He was kind to everyone, never spoke in anything but a soft and pleasing tenor, his obedience to elders was legendary and his standards of honesty and integrity lofty. In short, he was the ideal son anyone would be proud to have begotten and his father was justly so.
Detecting the signs of greatness in Srinivasan, his father sent him to Kanchi, a great centre of learning in those days, to pursue his studies in Vedanta under a famed teacher. And Srinivasan excelled there too, with his usual industry, application, devotion to the preceptor and his innate brilliance. By now, he had grown tall not only in wisdom, but physically too—he was a handsome youth of twenty, impressing everyone with his adorable qualities too. Finding no bachelor more eligible than him, proposals for marriage began to pour in and people with daughters sounded both his Acharya at Kanchi and father at his native place as to their mind in the matter. Unlike most youth of his age, however, Srinivasan showed not the slightest inclination in matters mundane, reserving his passion for his studies and performance of duties. He evinced little interest too in earning money and avoided gatherings of the erudite where knowledge was displayed for gaining gold coins.
Though normal parents and Acharyas would be worried at such an attitude, Srinivasan’s parent and preceptor were overjoyed at his spurning all material temptations. They felt that this boy would surely be a leader, a great spiritual leader born to emancipate masses.
It happened when Srinivasan was twenty: after a hard day’s toil, both physical (in the form of service to the Guru) and mental (imbibing the golden words of the erudite Guru from dawn to dusk), Srinivasan went to sleep on the hard wooden plank he used as his bed. Around 3 a.m., Srinivasan had a dream. “Come immediately to my abode!” commanded Sri Nrisimha of Ahobilam. The eyes of the Man-Lion were smiling with compassion, His voice was as soft as the one He used while speaking to Prahlada, His form every bit as beautiful as acclaimed by Azhwar (Azhagiyaan taane, Ariyuruvan taane).
The young Srinivasa woke up with a start and wondered about the possible purport of the dream. While delighted in the extreme about the appearance of the Lord in his dream, he was mystified as to why Emperuman should command him to come to Ahobilam, of all places: even the hardy wandering minstrel Sri Tirumangai Mannan, known for frequenting inaccessible abodes of the Lord like Salagramam, Badarikashramam, etc., had warned intending pilgrims to Ahobilam of its remoteness, categorically issuing a travel advisory that the place was capable of being accessed only by Deities—Deivam allaal chella onnaaa Singavel Kundram—and beyond mortal worship—chendru kaandarkku arriya koil. He had also painted a bleak picture of the environs—of raging forest fires, predators lying in wait to pounce on unassuming passersby, robbers waiting to waylay pilgrims, etc.
All this graphic but forbidding portrayal of Ahobilam did not discourage Srinivasan from setting forth on the arduous journey, after recounting the dream to his Acharya and parents and obtaining their permission. Little did the parents know then that they were going to lose their beloved son forever! Can you imagine anyone doing this—a mere twenty year-old embarking on a journey that would be more dangerous than that undertaken by Sri Rama in Dandakaranyam? Yet, Srinivasan never had a second thought about the journey: his mind was set on the Lord’s command and like a determined sailor guided solely by the Pole Star, the young man covered the vast distance between Kanchi and Ahobilam on foot, his journey made miraculously easy by the Lord, who wished him to reach there safe and sound.
Undaunted by the forbidding environs and spurred on by the divine command, Srinivasa reached Upper Ahobilam, situated amidst dense jungle and populated by predators. After performing his ablutions and nitya karmas in the holy Bhavanaasini River, Srinivasan prostrated before Ahobilesan and told Him—“Lord! As ordained by you in my dream, I am here. Please guide me!”
No sooner than he had uttered these words, an old man appeared before Srinivasa, who was astounded at the sudden materialization. Describing the newcomer as “an old man” would be a gross injustice to him, because the stranger was a Sanyasi, clothed in ochre robes and holding aloft the Tridandam, the unique insignia of Sri Vaishnava Yatis. His face shone with the dazzling light of divinity and His eyes too were alight with wisdom and compassion. His deportment was regal and His gait leonine.
Srinivasa prostrated before the stranger and apprised him of why he had come to Ahobilam. The stranger smiled—it was a smile that lit up his entire face and eyes too and put the young boy at his ease immediately. The Sanyasi said in a sonorous voice which the hills around picked up and echoed—“Dear Srinivasa! It was I who brought you here. You will immediately renounce all your worldly ties and regard me as your sole relative. Henceforth, you have an exalted mission to perform—that of ensuring the emancipation of mortals. You and your spiritual successors will go from village to village and town to town, accompanying Me, spreading the message of the Lord and banishing gloom from the minds of people. You will bless them with Samashrayanam and Bharanyasam, thereby liberating countless souls who have so far been immersed in the mundane morass”. So saying, the elderly Yati instructed Srinivasa in the Presha Mantram, a pre-requisite for those renouncing this world. He took the spare ochre robes and Tridandam kept in the shrine of Sri Ramanuja at the temple and offered them to Srinivasa.
Having repeated the esoteric formula for renunciation after the divine preceptor, Srinivasa, clad in the kaashaayam and holding aloft the Tridandam, became a Sanyasi himself. Though he was only twenty, he had absolutely no reservations about accepting Sanyasam, which people normally embrace only in their sixties or later. The senior Yati told the young man, “You will henceforth be known as Satakopa Jeer”
Moved beyond words by this divine dispensation and with tears of joy in his luminous eyes, Sri Satakopa Jeer prostrated again and again before the elderly Yati, who promptly disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared, leaving the Jeer in no doubt as to the identity of the benefactor—it was indeed Sri Nrisimha who had initiated him into the exalted state of renunciation. Overjoyed at being chosen as the Lord’s instrument for enabling the emancipation of fellow men, the Jeer set forth on his journey of redemption. In a thanksgiving gesture, he first visited the nine lovely shrines of the Lord at Ahobilam, offering worship to Ahobilesan, Malolan, Bhargavan, Varaha Nrisimhan, Jwala Nrisimhan, Kaaranjan, Chhatravatan, Pavana and Yoganandan.
And when the Jeer was at the sannidhi of Malolan, sitting before Him in meditation, another miracle happened: the processional idol (Utsava Moorthy) left its place in front of the Moola Moorthy and landed on the lap of Sri Satakopa Jeer. Remembering the elderly Yati’s words, the Jeer carried Sri Malolan wherever he went, performing aaraadhanam daily with exemplary love and devotion.
Thus, then, was born the Sri Ahobila Matham, founded by Sri Satakopa Jeer, nay, by Sri Lakshmi Nrisimha Himself. And redeeming the absolute faith reposed in him by the Lord, Sri Satakopa Jeer travelled the entire length and breadth of Bharata Desam, spreading enlightenment among princes and paupers alike, accumulating a phenomenal number of disciples from all walks of life, who were extremely impressed by the youthful preceptor’s wisdom and devotion. The Jeer performed many exemplary services to the Lord at various divya desams: however, the most significant of these was the restoration of Sri Nammazhwar to his rightful shrine at Azhwar Tirunagari, rescuing the idol from the depths of Tamraparni where it had been consigned by people of a different faith. This resulted in Azhwar’s conferring our Jeer with the honorific prefix “Aadi Van”: from then on, the Jeer was acclaimed as Sri Adi Van Satakopa Yatindra Mahadesikan. And since he was considered to be no less than an incarnation of Sri Nrisimha (who is also known as Azhagiasingar), the Jeer was also lovingly called Sri Azhagiasingar, a title that has been borne by all the successors to the exalted spiritual throne of Sri Ahobila Matham.
Setting the model for his spiritual heirs to follow, Sri Adi Van Satakopa Swami embarked on a life-long mission of redeeming lost souls, performing services at various abodes of the Lord and authoring/commissioning numerous spiritual works to enlighten followers.
Why did the Lord invite Sri Satakopa Jeer to distant Ahobilam, when He could have equally initiated him into Sanyasam at a more convenient and nearby divya desam? Though it is difficult to divine the inscrutable will of the Lord, the following do strike you as possible reasons for the choice of the hilly abode:
1. The Lord wanted to rid Himself of the stigma that He was residing at a man-forsaken land, affording access only to Deities. Tinaittanayum chella onnaa Singavel Kundram says Sri Kalian, practically accusing the Lord of sitting on an inaccessible hill top beyond the reach of mortals. Emperuman was sure that the Jeer and his successors, especially the 45th Pontiff, would make the hills totally accessible to the common man and restore His magnificent attribute of Soulabhyam.
2. The Lord was tired of His isolation too —sa ekaaki na ramate—and wanted to make Ahobilam as popular as any other divya desam. Anointing Sri Satakopa Jeer was for ensuring that the divya desam became popular and that the hills of Ahobilam resounded with the cries of “Narasimha”, emanating from the masses, rather than the forbidding roar of wild lions, calls of wolves and trumpeting of elephants. Going by the current state of the hills, teeming with pilgrims, one would conclude the Lord’s wish has indeed come true (He being a Satya Sankalpa) and that successive Azhagiasingars have served as effective instruments of His dispensation.
3. The Lord could foresee that due to the misfortune of mortals, the other sites of His avataras, like Ayodhya and Mathura, would eventually become matters of dispute and lose their sanctity due to forcible occupation and alien constructions. He wanted to ensure that the holy location of His Nrisimha avataram, at least, remained pristine pure and sacred. What better way to achieve this than to entrust it to the loving care of a band of dedicated servitors, who would preserve the purity of the kshetram and protect it from pollution?
4. It is a proven fact that the Lord likes to travel—His padukas have what they call wanderlust. If you observe keenly, you would find that the holy foot of Sri Malolan is adorned with a golden sandal, proving His penchant for travel. Till the arrival of Sri Satakopa Jeer, this Emperuman was confined to His sannidhi, rooted to Ahobilam. By appointing Jeer as His emissary and personal servitor, the Lord ensured that wherever the Jeer went, He would also go, blessing people who were unable to visit Ahobilam for various reasons and enthralling everyone with His immeasurable beauty.
We shall conclude this article after dealing with one more question, which arose a few decades back. We normally find that Utsava moorties confine themselves to brief outings during utsavams, always returning for the night to the sanctum sanctorum. This is said to be as the Agamas, since the Utsavar derives His power and potency from the Moolavar, drawing them in the morning and surrendering them at night. Hence, continued separation of the Utsavar from the Moolavar would appear to deny the former of His divine powers. What then would be the position of Malolan, who is for the most part away from His Moolavar at Ahobilam and enjoys reunion only during the visits of Azhagiasingars to the divya desam, perhaps once or twice annually?
Srimad Injimettu Azhagiasingar has quoted several scriptural texts to point out that the Utsavar Sri Malolan remains as omnipotent as ever, whether in the company of His Moolavar or away. He has also furnished precedents in this regard of Utsavars being separated from their Moola Beram for more than a night—Sri Namperumal during the muslim invasion, Sri Varadan taking up residence at Udayaarpaalayam for quite long, Sri Selvappillai’s considerably long sojourn in Delhi, etc. Sri Kallazhagar during the annual Vaigai utsavam, Sri Devanathan during His teertthavaari at the sea, etc. are some more instances of the Utsavar remaining away from the Moolavar for more than a day. In all these cases, Srimad Azhagiasingar points out, the respective Utsavars returned to their original abodes after significant periods of separation from the Moola Beram, (sometimes amounting to several decades) but were welcomed back with enthusiasm and reinstalled with all due reverence by distinguished devotees who very well knew the nuances of Aagamic prescriptions. Sri Tirumangai Mannan is said to have reverentially brought the idol of Sri Nammazhwar from Azhwar Tirunagari to Srirangam year after year for Adhyayanotsavam, with Azhwar returning to his aastthaanam after a fortnight or more.
The presence of a Paduka on Sri Malolan’s foot is definitely indicative of His desire to travel and since it is in pursuance of His own glorious will that the Utsavar is accompanying Azhagiasingars, there is no question at all of any reduction in the divinity of this beautiful and beloved idol. It is Sri Nrisimha Himself who ordained Sri Adivan Satakopa Jeer to carry Him from place to place for the benefit of devotees—graame graame cha gatvaa pada kamala nataan, Maam griheetvaa abhiraksha!. As such, Sri Malolan remains in full possession of all His magnificent auspicious attributes, whether or not in the company of His Moolavar, concludes Srimad Injimettu Azhagiasingar, dispelling misconceptions in this regard.