The Holy land of India has witnessed the incarnation of countless saints. Srimad Bhagavatam proclaims that Lord would incarnate in this land in this age of kali in the form of Saints. True to the text, saints have blessed this land with the touch of their feet now and then. Each of them lived to prove the greatness of singing the Divine Names of the Lord. Not stopping with just immersing themselves in this bliss of chanting the divine names, these selfless souls strived to take this simple and sweet message to the masses. One such great saint Mother India gave birth to and nourished in her lap, was Sri Shridhara Ayyaval, who was an epitome of compassion and love.
Sri Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval (Part - 1)
Sri Shridhara Venkatesa, known as Sri Shridhara Ayyaval, was born as the only son of Sri Lingaarya. Sri Lingaarya was a great scholar and was respected by the King of Mysore. The king, who was much impressed with Sri Lingaarya’s scholarship, rewarded him with a high post in the court and huge wealth. As the only child of Sri Lingaarya, Sri Shridhara Venkatesa was the sole inheritor of all these riches.
Even as a child Sri Shridhara Ayyaval cherished great devotion towards Lord Shiva and spent most of his time in chanting the Divine Names of Lord Shiva. He learnt all the scriptures and became an expert at a very young age. At an appropriate age Sri Lingaarya found a good bride for his son from a good and devout family. She too proved
to be a fitting match for Sri Shridhara Ayyaval and his devotion.
After his father’s passing away, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval was offered the post of ‘Divan’ in the Kingdom of Mysore. A personification of dispassion that Sri Sridhara Ayyaval was, he
declined the offer as he considered any material comfort trifling compared to the wealth of bliss attained in worshipping Lord Shiva.
Days passed in loving worship of Lord Shiva. One day, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval decided to move from Mysore. His mind could find no rest in residing in the same place. He could easily sense the divine call guiding him to move around in this world and spread the divine message of true devotion and Nama Kirtan. This meant quitting his well-furnished home which was nothing less than a palace. Quitting the comforts that he had hitherto enjoyed was by no means, a tough decision for Sri Shridhara Ayyaval. But in the intent of knowing his wife’s and mother’s heart, he ran it by them, only to hear back that they were only too happy to follow him. Happily the family decided to leave the city that very moment. On knowing his decision, the king and people of Mysore gathered at his doorstep. Saddened at heart and overwhelmed with sorrow, they pleaded with him to stay back even if he does not want to accept the post in the court. But who can stop the one who is guided by a Divine force to move on? Addressing the loving crowd, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval said, “These riches belong to me no more! Anyone can walk in and take whatever he/she wants without any restriction. Everybody has a right on this wealth from now!” Saying so, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval walked out of his mansion followed by his devoted wife and loving mother, while the King and the people watched
After leaving the city of Mysore, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval passed through many cities and villages. He had taken to ‘Unchchavriti’ way of life wherein one goes on the streets singing the Divine Names of the Lord, accepting things offered as alms and partaking of the same after offering it to the Lord.
He would stop for a day or two in each village and teach the mass the essence of the scriptures. He would chant the Divine Names of the Lord and speak of its glory and ease of chanting it. After winning the hearts of the people there and hearing them chant with devotion, he would continue his journey.
Thus, moving about, Sri Shridhara Ayyaval reached the town of Tirichirapalli in Tamil Nadu, South India. He continued spreading his message of Nama Kirtan by discoursing in a simple language which helped people comprehend the profound truth with ease. His discourses emphasized devotion towards both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva without bias. Every evening he visited the temple of Lord Shiva and spent the afternoons in chanting divine names and reading scripture.
The king of Tirichirapalli was a devout Vaishnavaite (devotee of Lord Vishnu). A few people, who had heard the discourses of Sri Shridhara Ayyaval felt that he had more leaning towards Lord Shiva than Lord Vishnu. They voiced their opinion to the king and wanted him to test the devotion of Sri Shridhara Ayyaval towards Lord Vishnu. The king, who was a great devotee himself, did not like the idea of testing a saint and also feared that it might bring downfall to him and his kingdom. However, the desire to know the heart of this saint sprouted in him and hence he decided to test Sri Shridhara Ayyaval without malice and hit upon a plan. He ordered the priests to dress up Sri Mathrubhuteshwara, Lord Shiva in Tirichirapalli as Lord Krishna and take Him in procession. He thought that Sri Sridhara Ayyaval’s reaction would indicate his bias, should he have any. When the procession passed through the home of Sri Shridhara Ayyaval, he was meditating on Lord Shiva. Once out of his trance, he came out of his home hurriedly and finding Lord Krishna there spontaneously prayed to Lord Krishna “Oh! Lord Krishna! When will I spend every moment of my life in meditating on your Lotus Feet by reminding myself of the transitory nature of this world, being humble, knowing my deficiencies, turning blind to other’s faults, being compassionate towards all living beings, being a servant of the devotees of the Lord and eyeing both joy and sorrow alike?”
He thus composed 12 verses known as ‘Krishna Dwadasa Manjari’. In a few verses in this, he did not hesitate to sing that Lord Krishna’s vision was not easy for Lord Shiva Himself! Hearing this, the king was relieved and the people who had induced him to test fell at Sri Shridhara Ayyaval’s feet and apologized for their ignorance and arrogance.
Knowing Sri Shridhara Ayyaval to be a great saint of uncommon devotion and glory, the king wanted him to stay in his city forever. He spoke his mind to Sri Shridhara Ayyaval at an appropriate time. But when Sri Shridhara Ayyaval came to know of this, he decided to leave the city that very night. He knew that if he chose to stay in one place forever, then his mission of spreading the divine message to the world would not materialize.
He left Tirichirapalli that very night. The king could not console himself when he came to know of Sri Shridhara Ayyaval’s departure. Perplexed and worried, the king felt very restless, for he felt he had offended the saint by with his request. Sri Shridhara Ayyaval appeared in the king’s dream that night in the form of Lord Shiva and said, “Oh! King! Do not worry yourself. I have incarnated to spread the Divine Name in this world. I have left the city with this very purpose in mind.” It was only then that the king realized Sri Shridhara Ayyaval to be Lord Shiva Himself. Recounting the rare fortune of having been in the Lord’s presence all this while, he considered himself blessed.