Whenever we hear of past happenings at the Sri Sannidhi, of the glory of Sri Malolan and of His intimate servitors the Azhagiasingars, it fills us with a fresh sense of devotion and commitment to the great institution of Sri Ahobila Matam. Some of these enthralling events have been recorded while some others still exist only in the memories of those who have been spell-bound witnesses to these occurrences or of their children, to whom the former have confided. Only those who have had the great good fortune to render service to Srimad Azhagiasingars can reveal such events. Narrated below is one such instance, which serves to highlight the greatness of not only the Acharyas who have adorned the throne of Sri Ahobila Matam, but also of those self-effacing souls who have rendered yeomen service to the Acharyas, claiming absolutely no credit or material benefits therefor and deeming the service allotted to them to be a unique pleasure, privilege and honour.
This happened during the time of Karakurichi Srimad Azhagiasingar, the 40th Pontiff in the lineage founded by Sri Adivan Satakopa Swami. Srivan Satakopa Sri Ranganatha Satakopa Yatindra Mahadesikan, as he was known, was a sage blessed with intense devotion to Sri Malolan. Karakurichi Vankeepuram Vidwan Sri Venkatakrishmacharya was his name prior to his becoming an ascetic. This Acharya’s reign was almost a century ago (1913-1923), but he is still spoken of with fond memories tinged with reverence. His temperament was so amicable that scholars and the unlettered were equally attracted to him. Sri Venkatesa Iyer, writing the history of Sri Ahobila Mutt, describes the Acharya as one of the greatest in the lineage and goes to the extent of saying, “He came, He saw, He conquered”. Such was the effect this Azhagiasingar had on people. This Pontiff was the first, after a long gap, to visit Ahobilam. He braved the innumerable constraints in travel, logistics and other infrastructural lacunae to reach and stay at Ahobilam for an extended time and to carry out extensive repairs/ renovations to the various shrines there.
Sri Nrisimha was the Acharya’s upaasana moorthi and so great was his love and affection towards the Deity that this Azhagiasingar used to converse with Malolan. You might wonder whether it is possible for the Lord to transcend the self-imposed barriers of Arcchaavataaram and speak with a mortal, however exalted the latter is. Examples galore can be cited in this regard, the most famous being that of Sri Tirukkacchi Nambi, whose conversations with Sri Deva Perumal (Aaru vaartthai) formed the foundation stones for our Sampradayam. This Azhagiasingar therefore used to converse freely with Malolan, reporting to Him daily in the morning about the happenings of the previous day, seeking instructions in respect of knotty problems confronting the Sri Sannidhi and so on.
This Azhagiasingar had attained mystic powers through his constant meditation on and repetition of the Nrisimha Mantram, though he would use them very seldom for any material cause. Once, the elephant of the Sri Sannidhi became wild with rage, apropos of nothing, a malady that affects all elephants periodically. It broke loose from its shackles and ran hither and thither, frightening people out of their skins. The 40th Pontiff, however, remained unmoved and walked towards Gajendra with his Tridandam held aloft in one hand, with the other holding a silver cup with Perumal Teerttham. Fearlessly walking towards the elephant, the Acharya stood before the pachyderm and sprinkled the Tirumanjana Teerttham on its head. There was an immediate and miraculous transformation in the elephant’s demeanour and it resumed its usual docility. Srimad Azhagiasingar caressed the elephant’s trunk with his hands, murmured some endearments and gave it some more holy water to drink. It is difficult to say which was the real reason for the elephant regaining normalcy—Perumal Teerttham or the soothing touch of a great bhagavata like Srimad Azhagiasingar—but the huge pachyderm became as docile as a rabbit and stood before Srimad Azhagiasingar with its head bent in respect and reverence to the Pontiff.
On another occasion during his visit to the princely state of Gadhwal, the Azhagiasingar found the idol of Kesava at the palace temple to be deformed and advised its replacement. However, everyone was reluctant to remove the idol for fear of contracting a curse. Such were the courage of conviction and determination of this Azhagiasingar that he singlehandedly removed the idol and arranged for its internment in the sands of Krishna River. Thereafter, new idols of Sri Kesava and His Consorts were duly installed and consecrated at the palace, bringing back peace and prosperity to the kingdom and its rulers.
Another Acharya who had the privilege of conversing with Malolan was the 34th Pontiff, Sri LakhmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka Srivan Satakopa Sri Satakopa Ramanuja Yatindra Mahadesikan, popularly known as Atthippattu Azhagiasingar. One day, during Ijyaaraadhanam, this Azhagiasingar was submitting the dishes of the day to Sri Malolan. The Acharya’s way of doing this was indeed unique. For him, it was not a chore, but a moment of extreme proximity, physical and mental, to the Lord. Srimad Azhagiasingar used to take each and every item of the day’s fare and submit it to Sri Malolan, watching His face all the while for signs of approval or otherwise. Having ministered to Malolan for long, the Acharya was able to discern His facial expressions as easily as those of a child. The day was one of a grand celebration, the day of birth of a great Acharya and as such, a sumptuous fare, with numerous items, had been cooked up by the Parichaarakas. Srimad Azhagiasingar was gratified to find Malolan’s countenance beaming with approval at the delectable fare submitted to Him with love and affection. All items had been offered and only the huge cauldron with Sarkkarai Pongal remained. Srimad Azhagiasingar had reserved this delicacy to the last, in tune with the Shastraic dictum madhurena samaapayet (which enjoins upon us to finish our meal with a dessert).
To his great surprise, the Acharya found that though Malolan had accepted all the other items with relish, He appeared curiously indifferent to the Sarkkarai Pongal. Despite entreaties, He would not even cast His eye on the item, leave alone consume it. Since this was one of His favourite items, Srimad Azhagiasingar offered it to Malolan again and again, but to absolutely no avail—the Deity had turned His face against the dish that day and that was that. The Pontiff checked the dish for prima facie consistency, but found it every bit conforming to the strict standards prescribed by Sri Andal—paal soru mooda ney peidu muzhangai vazhi vaara. A liberal smattering of split cashews and dried grapes formed a sparkling top layer for the apparently appetizing Pongal: there were therefore obviously no quality issues in respect of the dish.
The puzzled Acharya tried to divine the reason behind the divine rejection. The paragon of humility and devotion that he was, he first engaged in an introspection—had he offered the item to Malolan with full love and affection? The Acharya remembered the Gitacharya’s dictum, tadaham bhakti upahrutam asnaami prayataatmana:, which requires all offerings to the Lord to be submitted with love, affection and sincerity. His soul-searching did not reveal any shortcoming—he had made the offering in all good faith and with the maternal affection with which he used to feed the Lord daily.
The Pontiff then called the persons in-charge of the kitchen: they were told of Malolan’s rejection of the item and asked whether they had indulged in any improper conduct while cooking the particular dish. Since the rest of the fare had been accepted by Malolan, obviously the malady was confined to the Sarkkarai Pongal and the Acharya asked the servitors repeatedly whether they had committed any offense like sampling the dish prior to its submission to the Lord. (It is an accepted fact that cooks the world-over sample their preparations prior to sending them out to the consumers: this is not due to any uncontrollable urge to gorge themselves before feeding their masters, but simply to ensure that sugar, salt, spices, etc. have all been added in appropriate proportions. However, cooks at the Sri Sannidhi and other temples are an exception to this rule: they don’t let even their breath soil the delicacies they prepare, leave alone sample them).
Unnerved by the Lord’s indifference to the Pongal and afraid that some unwitting action of theirs had caused the same, the cooks and other servitors did some introspection themselves and came up with the conclusion that they had prepared everything with their usual expertise and the usual standards of cleanliness, physical and mental. They submitted to Srimad Azhagiasingar, with tears in their eyes, that they were unaware of any particular reason for the Pongal not meeting with the Lord’s approval. Moved by their words, which obviously came from the bottom of their hearts, Srimad Azhagiasingar instructed that the cauldron with the offending dish be removed from the divine presence and poured out into another vessel for eventual disposal. Since the dish had not met with Malolan’s approval, it was not prasaadam and therefore unfit for consumption either by the Acharya or the other devotees.
With heavy hearts, the Parichaarakas removed the huge cauldron: it seemed to weigh twice as much as it usually did, perhaps because of its rejection. When they poured out the sweet porridge into another vessel, the servitors found a long strand of human hair nestling at the bottom of the vessel! The Paricharakas developed goose bumps at their finding. This, then, was the reason for Malolan’s rebuff!
The Paricharakas’ eyes filled with tears when they realized two things:
One, their divine master Malolan, to whose service they had dedicated themselves, was not a mere idol, appearing to approve of everything placed before it, but a living, pulsating Entity endowed with boundless wisdom and other innumerable auspicious attributes, demonstrating His divine will decisively as and when the occasion demanded.
Two, their apparently human master, Srimad Azhagiasingar, was no ordinary mortal constrained by the frailties of human coils, but was indeed a divine being eminently capable of discerning the divine will without any doubt or confusion, who had taken birth on earth to emancipate countless mortals.
The servitors ran to Srimad Azhaigasingar and apprised him of their findings. The Acharya was relieved to learn that the cause of Malolan’s disdain for the dish was external, caused by the carelessness of some passing person, rather than some internal reason (like absence of purity, of thought or conduct). Though the Pontiff was indeed concerned that an offering to the Lord had been contaminated, he was sure that the ever-merciful Malolan would pardon them all for the unintended offence.
However, the greatness of the Acharya is demonstrated not merely by his conduct prior to the aforesaid discovery, but also by subsequent happenings. Srimad Azhagiasingar went from his Ashramam to the Sri Sannidhi kitchen. The Paricharakas were astounded at the unusual and unannounced arrival of the Pontiff at the kitchen and assembled in a group with hands folded and heads bent in reverence. Addressing them in a voice aquiver with emotion, Srimad Azhagiasingar told them that he had come with a heavy heart. Unaware of the real cause of Malolan’s rejection of the dish, he had put searching questions to the servitors as to their possible misconduct while preparing the item and even as to whether they had sampled the same prior to submitting it for divine consumption. The Pontiff’s eyes filled with tears when he spoke of the possible Bhaagavata Apachaaram he could have committed vis-à-vis the Paricharakas, in having hurt the innocent souls with such questions. In their turn, the servitors were moved to tears at the Pontiff’s humility and hastened to assure him that they were not at all offended. And after all, they reasoned, it was Srimad Azhagiasingar’s duty, as their master, to ensure that all offerings to Malolan conformed to the highest standards of physical and mental purity in their preparation. As such, any action he took in this regard would be a discharge of his holy duty and would not at all constitute any offence to bhagavatas.
Srimad Azhagiasingar however refused to accept their assurances and having pronounced himself guilty of having suspected their fidelity, even if only for a moment, awarded himself the exemplary punishment of a day’s fasting, in atonement. Though the servitors fell at the Acharya’s feet and begged him to reconsider his decision, the former would not relent and did fast that entire day. The Paricharakas were moved beyond measure by the Pontiff’s actions and saddened by his decision not to partake of food. They could hardly touch food when their beloved Acharya was fasting and they too went without food or water that day. This they did without their Acharya’s knowledge, for it would have pained him more, had he come to know of their fasting.
Srimate Srivan Satakopa Sri Ranganatha Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore