Tuesday 10 July 2007

Pilgrimage to Sri Arunachala

“IN SRI RAMANA LILA it is stated that while Sambandha was coming to Tiruvannamalai the forest tribes robbed him of his possessions. He was a man of wisdom and knowledge. What property had he?”, asked Suri Nagamma.

“Oh! That! He followed the path of devotion, didn’t he? Therefore he had golden bells and a pearl palanquin and other symbols of that nature according to the injunctions of Iswara. He also had a Mutt (an establishment) and all that a Mutt requires,” said Bhagavan.

“Is that so? When did he get all those?” Suri Nagamma further enquired.

Bhagavan replied with a voice full of emotion, “From the time when he acquired the name of Jnana Sambandha, that is, even from his childhood, he used to sing with uninterrupted poetic flow and go on pilgrimages. He first visited a holy place called Thirukolakka, went into the temple there and sang verses in praise of the Lord, keeping time with his little hands. By the grace of Siva, cymbals of gold inscribed with the mystic five letters were miraculously put into his hands, and with them he kept time to his songs. Thereafter he visited Chidambaram and other holy places and then went to a pilgrim centre called Maranpadi. There were no trains in those days, you see. The presiding deity in that place observed this little boy visiting holy places on foot. His heart melted with pity, and He created a pearl palanquin, a pearl umbrella and other accompaniments bedecked with pearls suitable for sannyasis. He left them in the temple and appeared to the brahmin priests and to Sambandha in their dreams, telling the brahmins, ‘Give them to Sambandha with proper honours,’ and told Sambandha, ‘The brahmins will give you all these; take them.’ As they were gifts from Gods he could not refuse them. So Sambandha accepted them with reverential salutations by doing pradakshina etc., and then got into the palanquin. From that time onwards, he used to go about in that palanquin wherever he went. Gradually some staff gathered around him and a Mutt was established. But whenever he approached a holy place, he used to alight from the palanquin as soon as he saw the gopuram (tower) of the shrine and from there onwards, he travelled on foot until he entered the temple. He came here (i.e. Arunachala) on foot from Tirukoilur observing the same principle since, as you know, the peak of Arunagiri is visible from there.”

A Tamil devotee said that that visit was not clearly mentioned in Periapuranam, to which Bhagavan replied as follows: “No. It is not in Periapuranam. But it is stated in Upamanyu’s Sivabhaktivilasam in Sanskrit. Sambandha worshipped Viratteswara, the presiding deity at Kilur and won the god’s favour with his verses and then he worshipped Athulyanatheswara, the presiding deity at Arakandanallur in the same way. From there he beheld the peak of Arunagiri and sang verses out of excess of joy and installed an image of Arunachaleswara in the same spot.

“While he was seated there on a mandapam, God Arunachaleswara appeared to him first in the shape of a jyoti (light) and then in the shape of an old brahmin. Sambandha did not know who that old brahmin was. The brahmin had in his hand a flower basket. Unaccountably, Sambandha’s mind was attracted towards that brahmin like a magnet. He at once asked him with folded hands, ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘I have just come from Arunachalam. My village is here, nearby,’ replied the brahmin. Sambandha asked him in surprise, ‘Arunachala! But how long ago did you come here?’ The brahmin replied indifferently, ‘How long ago? Daily I come here in the morning to gather flowers to make a garland for Lord Arunachala and return there by the afternoon’. Sambandha was surprised and said, ‘Is that so? But they said it is very far from here?’ The old brahmin said, ‘Who told you so? You can reach there in one stride. What is there great in it?’ Having heard that, Sambandha became anxious to visit Arunachala and asked, ‘If so, can I walk there?’ The old man replied, ‘Ah! If an aged man like me goes there and comes here daily, can’t a youth like you do it? What are you saying?’ With great eagerness Sambandha asked, ‘Sir, if that is so, please take me also along with you,’ and started at once with all his entourage. The brahmin was going in advance and the party was following behind.

Suddenly the brahmin disappeared. “As the party was looking here and there, in confusion, a group of hunters surrounded them, and robbed them of the palanquin, umbrella, golden bells, the pearls and other valuable items, their provisions and even the clothes they were wearing. They were left with only their loin cloths. They did not know the way; it was very hot and there was no shelter, and all were hungry as it was time for taking food. What could they do?

“Then Sambandha prayed to God, ‘Oh! Lord, why am I being tested like this? I don’t care what happens to me, but why should these followers of mine be put to this hard test?

On hearing those prayers, God appeared in his real form and said, ‘My son, these hunters too are my pramatha ganas (personal attendants). They deprived you of all your possessions as it is best to proceed to the worship of Lord Arunachala without any show or pomp. All your belongings will be restored to you as soon as you reach there. It is noon time now. You may enjoy the feast and then proceed further’. So saying he disappeared. “At once, a big tent appeared on a level space nearby. Some brahmins came out of the tent and invited Sambandha and his party to their tent, entertained them to a feast with delicious dishes of various kinds and with chandanam (sandal paste) and thambulam (betel leaves). Sambandha, who was all along entertaining others, was himself entertained by the Lord Himself. After they had rested for a while, one of the brahmins in the tent got up and said, ‘Sir, shall we proceed to Arunagiri?’ Sambandha was extremely happy and accompanied the brahmin along with his followers. But as soon as they set out on their journey, the tent together with the people in it disappeared. “While Sambandha was astonished at the strange happenings, the guide who had been leading them to Arunachala disappeared as soon as they arrived there. Suddenly, the tent along with the people in it and the hunters who had robbed them previously appeared on all sides, and placing before Sambandha all his belongings which they had robbed him of earlier, they vanished. With tears of joy and with a thrill in his body, Sambandha praised the Lord, for His great kindness, stayed there for some days, worshipped Him with flowers of verses in praise of Him and then proceeded on his journey. Out of His affection for Sambandha, who was serving Him with reverence. God Himself, it seems, invited him to this hill.

“Jnana Sambandha thus became one of the most famous bhaktas and was much sought after. He led a vigorous and active life and went on pilgrimage to several places in South India. He got married in his sixteenth year. The bride and the bridegroom went to have darsan of God in the local temple soon after the marriage ceremonies were over. A large party went with them. When they reached the temple the place was a blaze of light and the temple was not visible. There was however a passage visible in the blaze of light. Jnana Sambandha told the people to enter the passage. He himself went round the light with his young wife, came to the passage and entered it as the others had done earlier. The Light vanished leaving no trace of those who entered it. The temple again came into view as usual. Such was the brief but very eventful life of the sage.”

So saying, Bhagavan assumed silence, with his heart filled with devotion and with his voice trembling with emotion.

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