Ramananda is one of the chief figures in North India. Born in Prayaga in 1400, he was a follower of Ramanuja's shrivaishnava sect and the vishista-advaita philosophy when he resided in South India. However, on his return to North India, he settled down in Kashi and established the sampradaya called the shrisampradaya. His twelve disciples founded subsects, known as the dvaras. His sect is more popularly known as 'Ramanandi' and is one of the largest sampradayas in India. Distinct from other vedantic sects, Ramananda accepted women and members of all castes, education levels and made exclusive use of the vernacular in preference to sanskrit. Ramanada attained mahasamadhi in 1470, after establishing a sect with revels in the love of Rama-Sita.
If Eknath established a close link between Sufism and Hinduism, Kabir blended both Islam and Hinduism. His rich poetry is an outpouring of his heart. One is amazed on how a simple man with no scholarly knowledge can write so wonderfully. Maybe that can be explained by his verse
'I have stilled my restless mind, and my heart is radiant, for in Thatness I have seen beyond Thatness.
Born in Kashi in 1440 to Muslim parents, he approached Ramananda numerous times for initiation. Each time, he met with refusal. One day, he hid near the steps leading to the Ganges river anticipating to confort Ramananda again. Ramananda, however, by mistake stepped on Kabir and and uttered 'Ram, Ram.' Kabir took this as a sign of initiation and Ram as his mahamantra. Ramananda is said to have accepted this.
Kabir never retired from the world to become a recluse. He was married, had children and was a weaver by profession. He saw life filled with God in the form of love and joy. However, Kashi, being an orthodox city, considered him a heretic and ordered him to leave in 1495. Unfazed, Kabir spread his joy of divine love through various songs throughout his travels in North India. In 1518, his health broke down and he left his body, but never did he forget the love of Ram.
Several of Kabir's verses are sung to this day in India. One can find many of his poems and songs translated into English by the famous poet, Tagore.
Tukaram is another example which shows that the Love of God is not based on rigid caste, creed, education, race standards but on love itself.
Born in 1598, in the state of Maharastra, to an illiterate farmer, Tukaram went on to write some of the wonderful verses in the Marathi languages in the form of abhangas. He married and had a son but due to a famine, lost both of them due to starvation. Despite these personal tragedies, he never lost the love towards Krishna. His songs were the spontanteous expression of devotion through singing and dancing of kirtans in honor of Krishna. However, Tukaram faced many problems in his own spiritual quest. Other than the personal tragedies, he was filled with frustration and doubt. One day, when he was prepared to commit suicide, he experienced the divine. From that moment on, his life changed. His philosophy was simple and effective 'Sit silently and repeat the name of the Lord. That alone is enough for realization.' He constantly emphasised that ethics and orthodox religion like the study of Vedas were just formalities and the real use of religion is in realization of the divine through Love.
In one of his poems he says, 'How merciful He is! In those who are helpless He feels His chief delight. He bears their burden on His head; He undertakes the care of acquiring and keeping for them. He endures them not to stray from the path, He takes them by the hand and leads them. Tuka says, This is the reward if you follow Him with absolute devotion. Though the idea of a second is dispelled, yet Hari remains undiminished: we need not search for His seat ourside ourselves. If you desire to know so much, know it by the mind within the mind; know it as the expert hunter knows the signs where gaem may be found. First, is the body a reality? Are the correlatives of the body facts? It is a mere scarecrow: it is something that the thief takes for a sentinel. Tuka wakens you and cries, "Do not be idly frightened! Open the inner eye, you will find you are in Himself!"'
Ramprasad is one of the most inspired poets in Bengali literature. Born at Kumarhati in West Bengal in 1718, he was well educated in medicine and languages. However, he had no interest in material life. It is said that, after marriage, he obtained a job as a book-keeper for an accountant. However, he wrote Divine Mother's name all over the ledgers. The employer saw this and recognized a saint in making. He sent him home with a promise to support him and his family.
Ramprasad used to wade into the river Ganges up to his neck and sing the songs in honor of the Divine Mother. Boats cruising the Ganges would stop to listen to his songs, people dying on the banks of the river would ask Ramprasad to sing to them. Ramprasad became a favorite of the local king but he was never attached to riches till he passed away in 1775.
Ramprasad's songs are still sung to his day by everyone, even school children. His songs became very famous in the west because Shri Ramakrishna used to quote from it.
He was one of the best poets ever to have graced Bharat. His verses were written in Hindi and accessible to everyone. He is well known for the work, which was referred to as the greatest book ever written by Gandhiji, 'Ramacharita manasa' It is impossible to write a brief note about Tulasidas and be content about it. The reader is kindly advised to read in detail Rama charita manasa for a deeper appreciation of Tulasidas, the person, the poet, the philosopher, the saint and, more importantly, the devotee of Lord Rama.
Tulasidas was born in the year 1532 to a brahmin family in the town of Rajapur. He suffered separation from his parents at a very young age and was not taken care of by his relatives. He came into contact with some saints who advised him to surrender to Lord Rama. Thus, he got associated with a Hanuman temple and ate whatever was given to him. Not much is known about Tulasi's guru, but he met him in Sukarkheta. Since tulasidas was not mentally equipped at that time for complex philosophies, his guru advised him to take up the path of devotion to Rama. As time grew on, Tulasi's love for Rama grew deeper and deeper.
However, in his youth, he got married to a woman named Ratnavali. Once his wife went to stay with her parents for a while. Tulasi, not being able to bear the separation, went to meet her. Ratnavali is said to admonished Tulasi by saying 'I am just a bag of flesh and bones. Why are you so attracted to it ? Why don't you love Lord Rama with the same fervor?' This type of retort is not typical of Indian wives (atleast during that time). One wonders whether Ratnavali was itself spiritually inclined or whether God determined it was the appropriate time for Tulasi to leave the family life. Anyway, Tulasi contemplated on this remark and left all connections with the family life.
After bidding goodbye to family life, he lived in Chitrakuta for some time before 1564. He used to go around houses for alms. One day, he came to the house where his wife and father-in-law lived, but he did not recognize them. Though the wife recognized him, she just gave him alms and food. When she insisted that he partake spices like pepper, salt etc, he replied that he had his own supply of spices in his possession. Early next morning, when Tulasidas was preparing to leave the house, his wife requested him to take her with him. But, he refused saying that he has renounced family life. Ratnavali was angered and remarked, 'You have spices in your possession, but not wife. What kind of renunciate are you ?.' Tulasidas recognized the folliness of being attached to food, and thanked his wife for the lesson and threw away all his remaining possessions. He, then, migrated to Kashi. Scholars have rightly pointed out that Rama charita manasa would never have been written if not for Ratnavali's remarks. Though he made several pilgrimages throughout the country, his permanent residence was in Kashi. He commenced writing rama charita manasa in Ayodhya but came back to Kashi.
Nabhaji, the author of Bhaktamala (1600), writes that Tulasidas was an incarnation of Valmiki itself born again to explain Ramayana in the vernacular langauge. This raise in his fame naturally created many enemies, who attacked his caste, his asceticism etc, but Tulasi does not seem to have been bothered by this.
Tulasi was a personification of humility. He declares in the Manasa that he is no poet and he is imperfect and only sings the excellence of Rama according to his poor wit and understanding. This is the case in his other works Gitavali (1571), Kavitavali (1612), Barvairamayana (1612) and one of the best works, Vinaya Patrika (request to Rama). Tulasi, should not, however, be considered partial to Rama in exclusion to others. He appreciated the diverse tenets of Saiva, advaita and samkhya philosophies. He authored 22 different works. He never became attracted to miracles or money. Once the powerful king Jahangir offered him money in return for the performance of some miracles. Tulasi retorted 'Who needs money when one has the love of (and for) Rama ? What use is miracles before his glory ?'
In Kashi, he became the head of the monastery in lolarka kunda and was designated 'Gosain.' Around 1612, he started to suffer from acute arm pain, boils causing uprooting of his hair and also seems to have suffered from the epidemic in the local area. Having dedicated his life to Lord Rama, these were considered to mere trifles and Tulasi passed away on the third day of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravana in 1623.
Having examined the life of Tulasidas, let us encounter the work 'Rama charita manasa.' There is no book which is considered more valuable by millions of devotees of Lord Rama in North India. The Manasa ministers munificently to the fancy of millions of Indians whose companion is Tulasi's poetry. Many a friend of mine utter tulasi's kritis when idling or hum his verses during monotonous work.
When the country was plunged in a gloomy atmosphere during the Muslim rule, the bhakti movement which inspired hundreds of people arose. Whether it was Chaitanya, Ramananda, Vallabha, Mirabhai, Tukaram, Ramanuja, Madhva, Kabir, Suradas etc.., the common thread was the bhakti exhibited toward Rama or Krishna. But the epic Manasa brings the common people hope even nowadays in the darkness of Kali yuga.
Tulasi is so magnificent in telling the episodes, whether it is Bharata's lamentation on arrival at Ayodhaya, kaikeyi in the chamber, or the conversation of Narada and Rama, that it is extremely moving and coherent. Tulasi is so passionately devoted to Lord Rama that by the sheer liveliness of his poetic imagination, he brings into life Rama, not as a son of Dasartha but as a qualified incarnation of Vishnu and also as Brahman itself. Yes, the same Brahman which the vedas and upanishads struggle to define and comprehend and resort to negativity as 'neti neti' (not this, not this). The basic religious principle of Tulasi can be found in the Uttarakanda of the Manas in the dialogue between Garuda and Bhushundi. As Tulasi points out, the name Rama means 'like a sun who dispels the darkness of ignorance.' Tulasi's Rama is thus Satchitananda. He is the all prevading Brahman and as Shiva says 'the story of Rama is an axe which fells the tree of Kaliyuga.'
Though bhakti in all its glory, it is also advaitic. Often, he lets debates and long verses interrupt the storyline to pour a whole philosophy of advaita. However, neither the intregity or the unity of the story is ever lost. Tulasi cries out 'I am the servant and He my master.. Hold fast to this doctrine and worship the lotus feet of Rama.' but in the same breath, he says 'I am That - this unbroken mental state is the flame which burns away the ignorance. No distinction is possible at this state.' When there is genuine faith in Rama, the material objects does not lead one astray. When the senses are controlled, discrimination is cultivated. With discrimination, the essence of real and unreal is ascertained and with this and the Grace of Rama itself -mukti is obtained. Tulasi stresses the importance of loss of the individual in attaining the supreme state of bliss.
Some western scholars have alleged that this work is just a translation of the sanskrit ramayana by valmiki. One should remember that both Rama charita manas and ramayana are both biographies of Lord Rama. Naturally, there should not major changes between the two. Tulasi is an independent poet who creates a world using metaphors and similes which though overall consistent with Valmiki's rendition differs considerably in many places. For example, the uttarakanda in the Manas does not even resemble the Valmiki's Ramayana.
Some scholars have noted that Tulasidas is Kalidas of Hindi literature. Actually, he is much more. Kalidas was a great sanskrit poet, and there is no doubt of that, but he did not spread a social and bhakti movement. Whether it is in usage of rasa, similes or metaphors, Tulasidas parellels and even exceeds the versatality of Kalidas. Another issue is the use of various chandas (meters). Kalidas is a deft poet who in his Raghuvamsha literally plays with the language. Tulasi is not far behind, he also uses many meters including anushtubh, totaka, vamshastha, to name a few.
The Manasa abounds in metaphors. For example in the balakanda, the devotion of Rama is the season of rain, his faithful servants are the growing rice. Right thoughts are the earth and the heart a deep place within it. Vedas and Purana-s are the sea and the saints the clouds which rain down praise of Rama's glory in sweet, refreshing showers. The rain refreshes the rice-fields (and thus the life of his devotees). The cleansing waters falls on the earth of understanding and flows in one stream and fills the lake (mind) and settles there bringing it permanent bliss.
Tulasi, as many who preceded him like Abhinavagupta, holds that rasa is the main characteristic of a kavya. Among the many rasa (sentiments), the common ones are love (rati), grief (shoka), hasya (humor), krodha (anger), utasha (energy), bhaya (fear). He brings out the beauty of love when Rama and Sita meet in the garden of Janaka, the grief in the separation of Rama from Sita, the energy when Rama encounters the demons, the anger in Kaikeyi, the fear when describing the evil spirits. These are just a small sample of the various rasa-s described by Tulasi.
Next is the use of similes. Rama's wedding, according to Tulasi, is in spring; his departure to the forest is in the heat of summer; a blessing to the gods is in the rainy season (indicating showering); the rule of Rama in the season of pleasantness - autumn; the character of Bharata is that of coolness (equanimity) etc. Even the constant repetitions of certain phrases like 'lotus feet', 'streaming eyes', 'quivering frame' etc have their use. Tulasi's ramayana is not meant for recitation or debating but for reading and rereading. It is an epic which moves the reader so much that one is marvelled by the skill of Tulasidas. He, not only provides hope and security in the midst of an ever-changing world, but also provides a sanctuary of love and peace. Tulasi shines like a lamp of divine guidance and by the light generated by Manasa dispels the ignorance into knowledge and wisdom.
Tulasidas was not writing a biography of Rama, but expressing a love towards Lord Rama in his work. All of Tulsidas's Rama charita manas is inscribed on the marble walls of Tulasi Manasa Mandir in Kashi. Even his sandals and couple of his minor possessions are preserved in this mandir. When I stood at the mandir, eyes closed and hands folded, I understood the real meaning of Rama charita manas, nay, life itself. Whatever the trials and tribulations, successes and elations the mind feels, they are all completely unreal and everything happens only due to the Will of Rama. But life is not just an abject surrender to the will of Lord Rama with a mere acceptance of both good and bad as consequence of karma but a positive affirmation of 'I am That.'
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The Saiva Siddhanta philosophy evolved in Tamilnadu, a state in India. The philosophy is primarly based on the scriptures called Thirumurais. There are 12 Thirumurais and over 18,000 verses, being the outpourings of twenty six saints. The first seven Thirumurai are collectively known as the thevaram (the first three by (thirujnana)sambhandar, the next three by appar, and the final one by sundarar). The eighth thirumurai is the famous thiruvachakam by Manikkavachagar, the ninth is a collection called thiru-isaippa, and the eleventh being another miscellaneous collection. The tenth thirumurai is the wonderful tirumanthiram by thirumoolar. In tirumanthiram, one can find many parellels to the yoga suutras of patanjali.
The last thirumurai is called periyapuranam. It was compiled by sekkizhar and describes the life of 63 saints (nayanmars) wonderfully. If I was asked to picked a document, which depicts bhakti irrespective of caste, creed, color, intellegence or any other measurable factor, I would pick this document. Periyapuranam shows clearly that the only path to God is through Love. Knowledge of scriptures, ability to perform yajnas etc are only secondary to the Love one can offer God.
The hagiography of sixty three saints over a 1000 year period in Tamilnadu does not mean there were only 63 worthy of mention. Nor does it mean that one saint is superior than the other. Nine of the 63 lived before sambhandar, 11 were his contemporaries, twelve were contemporaries of Sundarar and nothing else could be said about the time of 29 others though we might venture to say that Kannappan lived in the BC's. Though Sekkhizar lived at a later time, his detailed research has enabled us to understand the biography of verious saints. Many of the facts have been verified by modern archeaologists. However, we should not attach too much importance to dates. Sambhandar lived till he was 16, Appar till 80. It does not matter how long or when one lives, but how he lives that matters.
Theologians have argued based on various philosophies what kind of mukti Appar attained, as opposed to sambhandar etc. The arguments will continue to last as long as philosophers exist, but we must remember that these are just speculations by men. Wise men, nevertheless, men. Love towards God can be written about, read in books but it can never come close to the experience itself. The magnificence of meditating on the banks of Ganges or on the Divine Mother (for example) can not be described in words.
If there is a common thread among these devotees, it is that they were ascetics. Oh, no ! Not the kind who just wear an orange ochre or those who have taken the oath of sanyas. These were people who went through their normal life, most of them being householders, having a living as a weaver, a potter, a singer etc but all the while dedicating themselves to the lotus feet of Lord Shiva. They were renunciates, not of material possession, but of greed, anger, envy, pride, lust. Even if it so happened that they were caught in the web of maya, they appealed to Lord Shiva for help and not to mere mortals. Every appeal was granted since a true devotee's cry never goes unanswered !
The path followed by each of the devotee described is different. One composed a number of poems (like sambhandar), the other just threw a fish back into the water for Lord Shiva everyday. Thirumoolar knew all about yoga, kundalini etc while Kannappar was illiterate. Lord Shiva (and Shakti) don't look into what the devotees offer but how they offer it. Whatever is offered through pure Love is accepted (irrespective of whether it is meat offered by kannappan, or flowers offered by ordinary devotees, or jewels offered by kings).
The following story maybe illustrates what the Lord looks for in a devotee,
Once there was a king who built a very good temple for Lord
Shiva and claimed it to be the best temple in his town. He
worshipped etc, and became proud. Lord Shiva appeared in his
dream and said 'Yours is not the best temple for me. There is a
temple built by a Brahmana.' The king searched for the Brahmana,
employed his spies to find out where the Brahmana built his
temple. The report was this person was very poor. Finally, the
king got frustrated and visited him, and asked him 'How can you,
a poor brahmana, build a better temple than me ? Where is your
temple that Lord Shiva praised so much ?' The Brahmana smiled and
pointed to his heart !!
[The word Brahmana is used appropriately here. The reference is not to the caste one is born in, but the knower of Brahman].
Lord Shiva's words on the devotees and their greatness as recorded in the chronicles of periyapurana sums it up. He said 'Shortcomings they have none.'
Though sekkizhar describes the lives of 63 saints in over 4000 verses the periyapuranam, he devotes a half of the work to four devotees, sambhandar, appar, sundarar and thirumoolar and over a quarter of it to sambhandar (1256 verses). This alone should stand testimony to the greatness of this devotee. Shankara prays tribute to thirujnanasambhandar by calling Him dravida sisu in his saundaryalaharii. If it can be said that Shankara came to put the finishing touches to the demise of buddhism in India, thirujnanasambhandar contributed greatly for the fall of jainism in Tamilnadu. One should remember that what is largely discounted in Buddhism/Jainism is the philosophy of voidness and the non-theistic approach. While Buddha may have preached a wonderful philosophy closely resembling the jnana marga of vedanta, it lacks the power of Love for God inherent in Bhakti. However, some vedantists say that Buddha was misinterpreted by his followers since he never denied Brahman.
Considering that Shankara and sambhandar attained mahasamadhi at the ages of 33 and 16, respectively, one is awed with their accomplishments. In less than 50 years together, they were able to change the whole destiny of Bharat.
The dates for Sambhandar can be inferred from the dates for Thirunavukkarasar, who was lovingly referred to as 'Appare' (Father) by sambhandar in their first meeting. Thirunavukkarasar lived during the reign of two kings from 610 to 691. He met sambhandar shortly after sambhandar's upanayanam. Hence, sambhandar should have been around 7-8 years old. Since this was in 651 AD, the dates of sambhandar can be thus be fixed as 643-659 AD.
Sambhandar was born to civa-pada-hirudayar who prayed for the eradication of jainism, and his wife bhagavathiyar. It is often asked whether he was an avathaar (incarnation) of Lord Shiva. Does it matter ? If you are really interested, please read thoughts on this subject. Let us be content to say that sambhandar was an isvarakoti (please see Ramakrishna's definition in the gospel of ramakrishna for a definition of this word). Basically, it means someone who comes into this world, not because of residual karma but of his/her own will.
Being the only child, he was brought up with the usual pampering. One day as his father was preparing to go the temple, sambhandar who was three years old started crying and wanted to go with his father. Relutanctly, the father took him and made him stand on the banks of the temple pond while he took bath. The heat of Sirkazhi must have got to him, and Lord Shiva must have found this was an opportune time Sambhandar started crying loudly, but since the father was in the water, no one was around to hear him. No one ! How often do we use those words without thinking ? How often we say there is no one for me all the while forgetting the divine parents ? Lord Shiva riding his bull appeared at the instance of the child crying and requested Uma Devi to provide milk to the child. The Devi, whose breast have never been suckled, drew the milk in a cup and feed it to Sambhandar. He stopped crying after drinking the jnana milk provided by Her. Who wouldn't ?
The father shortly came out of the water and noticed milk dripping down the cheek of the child. Raising a stick in anger, he asked 'Who provided you the milk ?' The smiling child raised one foot in a Nataraja pose pointed to the sky and sang this hymn (which is the first thiruppathikam in panniru thirumurai).
Thoodudaiya cheviyan vidai eeriyoor thuuven madhi choodi
Kaadudaiya sudalaip podi poosy ennullam kavar kalvan
Eedudaiya malaran munainaat panindheetha arul seidha
Peedudaiya piramaapuram meeviya pemman evan andree
Which is translated as 'The God with a ring in His ears appearing on the Holy Bull, has a moon on his head, who wears the ashes of the burnt bodies in the cremation ground. He is the one who has blessed Brahma and He is the thief who has stolen by heart. He is the Peruman (Lord) of the Pirammaapuram (Sirkazhi).'
There are several hidden meanings in this verse itself. It starts with the first consonant of the vedas (th) and the first vowel of the vedas (o). The poem enumerates the five major actions of Lord Shiva (creation, protection, destruction, hiding, and blessing).
Sambhandar continues to sing a total of 11 verses. In the eighth verse he recounts the humbling of Ravana by Lord Shiva, in the tenth he discounts the non-theistic policy of Jainism, and the last verse is on the power of namasmarana and the eradication of misery by singing the Lord's name. Sekkizhar expands on the eighth verse to mean that Lord Shiva (united with Shakti) is a parent, who is stern like a father, and loving like a mother.
We should pause for a moment and reflect on the above. Here a child of three sings eleven stanzas in perfect tamil with excellent poetic sense. This is at an age in which the average child can not even speak sentences coherently, let alone compose songs which reflect the glory of Lord Shiva.
When thirujnanasambhandar was invested with the sacred thread in an upanaya ceremony at the age of seven, he did not talk about the gayatri mantra which is imparted on this day but about the glory of aindhezuththu (Panchaaksharam) that is NAMASHIVAYA. Every major saint in the saiva siddanta has composed a poem on the panchaaksharam. A fact is that this is the core (middle) of veda itself, since among the three vedas, yajur is in the middle. In the eleventh anuvaaka, which is the center of the seven cantos of yajur veda, the rudram is the sixth sookta (the middle of the eleven sooktas of that anuvaaka). In the center of the panchaaksharam is the syllable Shiva. Thus one can say that Rudram is the center of the veda as a stotra; as a mantra, panchaaksharam of namashivaya is the middle of the vedas; as a word Shiva is the center of vedas.
He undertook five different tours of all the temples in Tamilnadu and composed the first three thirumurais, as mentioned previously. These are also called Thirukkadaikkappu. It is worthy of mention that he met Appar three times in his life. There are too many incidents in his life to recount that it is impossible to do justice to that in a few words. Among them the most famous is the conversion of the king of the Pandya kingdom (who was a patron of jainism) back to Hinduism.
The parents fixed the marriage of Thirujnana Sambandar in Nallur perumanam. On the day of marriage he sang the greatness of the panchaaksharam. Inwardly he did not not want to lead the married life. In one of the songs earlier he sang ("Mulaiththada muuzkiya") "God, you saved me from lust". So he sang to Lord this song again and he along with the other saints and his bride disappeared into a light which appeared. Thus in 16 years of his life, he had re-established the glory of Shiva, composed hundreds of verses, and fulfilled his life purpose.
My friend, Shri Ganesh, has compiled a wonderful page on Saiva Siddhanta and provided details of every saint in the periyapurana and much much more. Please visit this site and also look into the books he suggests.
Let us examine the biography of Vasishtha first. The seventh mandala of the rig veda is attributed to him. He composed many hymns in praise of Varuna, the god of goodness. He is said to have been born from a pot (see Rig veda 7:33) and supposed to have begotten two sons. In the mahabharata, Vasishtha is mentioned over a hundred times, and Shankara mentions him as the first sage of vedanta school in his commentary on the bhagavad gita.
One of Vasishtha's sons, Shakti, died in a battle while Vasishtha's grandson, Parashara was also a rishi (though not a warrior priest). One day as Parashara was crossing the Yamuna, he fell in love with the fisherman's daughter, Satyavati, who was ferrying him across. To them was born a son named Krishna. The location is near the present day Kalpi in Uttar Pradesh.
When Krishna (later renamed Vyasa) grew up, he left his mother and joined his father and brought up under the tradition of the Vasishthas. He became an ascetic but had a son named Shuka.
Meanwhile, Satyvati fell in love with the king of hastinapur, Shantanu. Since Shantanu already had a son (Bhishma), the fisherwoman's father said that Bhishma and his lineage would become the heir to the throne and his daughter and her sons would be neglected. Bhishma then vowed that he would never marry. Therefore, Shantanu and Satyavati married and two children were born, Chitravirya, and Vichitravirya. They were unable to bear any children, and Bhishma had already taken a vow. Therefore, Satyavati called upon her ascetic son, vyasa and asked him to continue the lineage. Vyasa mated with three people in order to continue the lineage of the king. The three women were his two step-brother's wives, and a maidservant. To them were born Dhritrashtra, Pandu, and Vidura, respectively. The mating may be have against the inclinations of Vyasa and others, but the duty had to be carried out, however unpleasant it may be.
Dhritrashtra bore hundred sons namely the Kauravas, while Pandu's wife bore five sons namely the Pandavas. Vyasa viewed the conflict of their characters, temperaments and predicted that there might be a battle between them. Hence, he requested his mother, Satyavati, to retire to the forest. The struggle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas is the story of Mahabharat, finally culminating in the battle at Kurukshetra.
Vyasa is the compiler of all the vedas, purana-s, Mahabharata, and the Brahmasutras. He collected all the vedic mantras and wrote them down in a standard form and accent, which is faithfully perserved to the present day. Thus he was given the name Veda Vyasa. It is said that he presided over forest universities at the modern pehava and kurukshetra. His brilliant son, Shuka, and his primary disciples, Sumantu, Jaimini, Paila, and Vaishampayana also presided over various sections.
There is a background story on His writing of Mahabharata. Wanting to write the complete Mahabharata as a poem, he requested Lord Brahma to suggest a suitable person who could write based on his dictation. Lord Ganesha was suggested. Ganesha promptly agreed that he would write down the poem if it was dictated in such a manner that he did not have to lay down his pen (which eventually was the tusk) even once. Vyasa countered saying that he would satisfy this request if Ganesha promises to write down everything only after he understood the matter. Thus Mahabharata of over 100,000 verses was written in around three years.
Vyasa had a burning zeal to safeguard Dharma and founded a lineage of ascetic followers. The purana-s revere him and many feel He is the architect of the spiritual heritage of Bharat. Without Him, we would not have most of the vedic literature.
He is said to have left the mortal body in a place called vyasasthali, a few miles from Kurukshetra. I stood under the ancient banyan tree in present day Naimisharanya where Vyasa is said to have composed the Mahabharata. With tears in the eyes and with the utmost reverence, I could only mutter the verse recited in his praise,
To Him who is Brahma but without four faces; To Him who is Vishnu but with two hands; To Him who is Shiva but without the third eye; To Vyasa in the form of God; To God in the form of Vyasa; To Vasishtha's heir, who was established in Brahman, To Him I humbly bow.
The Periyapurana, a Saiva Siddhanta scripture, extols the lives of sixty-three devotees of Lord Shiva. Among them, the real life story of Nandanar explains the grace of Lord Shiva and the Love He confers upon His devotees irrespective of gender, caste or other worldly considerations.
In a village, engaged in the trade of selling the carcasses of cows and tending his landlords farm was an unusual person called Nandanar (his original name is not known). He had great love for Lord Shiva and was desperate to visit the temple of Thiruppunkoor. This place is situated a mile from the famous Vaidheeswaran temple, around an hours journey from Chidambaram (Thillai) [Lord Shiva has kindly permitted me to visit this temple many times].
However, his landlord would not grant him leave and allow him to go, despite frequent requests. Finally, one day in frustration the landlord said, If you can till all the 40 acres of my land in a single day, you may go. The devotee, who knew no one else to help, prayed to Lord Shiva and pleaded with Him to fulfil his wish of visiting His temple by removing this worldly obstacle. Overnight, while Nandanar was soundly sleeping at home, Lord Shiva tilled the land for His devotee. This is ample proof that Lord Shiva will even undergo discomforts to please His true devotee.
Amazed at this miracle, the landlord fell at the feet of Nandanar and recognized him to be a great person. He immediately gave Nandanar the necessary things for the journey and bade him farewell. Nandanar, who arrived at the temple with great expectations was disappointed to know that he could not enter the temple since he belonged to the lowest caste by birth. Therefore, he stood outside the temple and tried to see the idol of Lord Shiva. But his vision was blocked by the idol of Lord Shivas vahana, the bull Nandi.
Nandanar prayed to Lord Shiva that he should be granted a vision of His image in the temple. It is, however, said that Lord Shiva was even more anxious to see the bliss of His devotee and, therefore, requested Nandi to move to the side. The Nandi moved several feet and has remained there even to this day. With the movement of Nandi, Nandanar could see Lord Shiva despite standing outside the temple. Since he made the Nandi move, the devotee became to be called Nandanar. Elated with the vision, he wanted to do something for the temple. But what can a poor devotee do? Seeing that the temple lacked a water tank, he built a tank in honour of Lord Shiva.
After Nandanar returned to his village, he wanted to go to Thillai but he was caught up in his work. He expressed his desire to everyone, and slowly people started asking him every day, When are you leaving for Thillai? He used to say Tomorrow I will go. It is said that everyone started calling him Naalai because he used to say tomorrow every time. Finally, one day he decided to leave.
In Thillai, because of his low caste (parrayan), he stopped at the top of every street and shouted Varuhalamo (May I come in?) The high caste people would close their doors and stay inside till he crossed the street. Nandanar was very afraid to enter the temple and stayed in the city.
The song Varuhalaamo (May I come) is very beautiful. The second stanza goes:
You are the treasure of compassion, are you not?
This parrayan, is he fit to pay you compliments?
To see your blissful dance, May I come in?
O Thillai Varadaa One who can extinguish
my feverish longing (of seeing you)
May I come in?
Shiva taking pity on him appeared in the dreams of many brahmins and told them there was a superior bhakta, and that the brahmins were to construct a fire and Nandanar would enter it and come out unscathed.
Therefore the Brahmins built a huge fire and called Nandanar to cross the fire. The story goes that he crossed the fire without any burns and entered the temple, but did not come out of the temple, because he merged into the Lord Nataraja there.
This story has not been told in Periyapuranam in detail but Bharatiyar brings the cruel situation of casteism/racism between people and shows how the Lord does not look at the jati (caste) but only prema (love). Such is the Lila of the three-eyed one, who dances eternally to please His devotees and whose Love has no equal.
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