CHAPTER – 21
When Namadharaka expressed further interest in listening to the stories of Sree Nrisimha Saraswathi, Siddha continued: “There was a disciple of Sree Guru by name Tanthuka. He used to attend to his worldly duties for three quarters of the day and devote only the remaining part of it for the service of the Master. Once, all his kinsfolk invited him to join them on a pilgrimage to holy Sreesailam in Andhra Pradesh. Tanthuka replied, ‘The muth of Sree Guru is my Lord Mallikarjuna.’ His kinsfolk considered him a fool and went away on their pilgrimage. Some days later came the holy festival of Shivaratri. On seeing him, Sree Guru said, ‘why did you not join your people on their holy trip?’ Tanthuka replied, ‘there is no holier service than the service of thy feet. Not knowing this, these people rush about to places of pilgrimage, in delusion.’ The lord said: ‘my son, it is not so. Even though the Supreme Lord is all pervading, his presence can more keenly be realized in the holy places. In those places, which were sanctified by the austerities of great saints down the ages, the Lord responds to the devotees’ call more readily. Therefore, people can achieve the goal of their devotions much more easily in such places. Having perfected and liberated themselves, the Mahatmas help others to do so by the power of their austerities. Indeed, the great sages and their divine powers were created only for the uplift of all creatures. Even the dust of the places where they move about is made so holy that it can bless people in their spiritual endeavors. That is why; people go to such places on pilgrimage. Now, I shall show you such holy places’. Then Sree Guru made Tanthuka wear his own sandals and commanded him to close his eyes for a while and open them again. The latter found that both of them had reached Sreesailam in a moment, through the yogic power of the Master. Then the latter told Tanthuka to witness the holy place and duly perform all the rituals of the pilgrimage, like shaving, bathing and taking darshan of Lord Mallikarjuna, the presiding deity of the place. There, his kinsfolk met him and said in astonishment: ‘when we invited you, you refused to join us. How then could you be here by the time we reached here?’ Tanthuka told them that it was rendered possible by the grace of Sree Guru, but they could not believe it. When he took darshan of Lord Mallikarjuna in the temple, he saw the form of Sree Guru in the Shivalinga there! After finishing his ritual worship, he returned to his Master and said, ‘Sir, even in this holy place, you alone are present. People do not recognize you for what you are and, in their ignorance, search for the Lord here and there. You are indeed all pervading!’
Sree Guru replied: ‘indeed, the Self is all pervading and yet, it manifests itself differently in different places. This holy place is capable of bestowing liberation on the devout. I shall recount a famous anecdote to illustrate the point: in the land of Kiraataas, there was a king named Vimarshana. He was kind hearted and devoted to the gods and pious Brahmins. Even though he learnt the merit of worshipping Lord Shiva in his previous birth, owing to certain misdeeds of that life, he used to eat and drink all those things, which were prohibited by Sastras and he led a profligate life. Once his wife asked him, “Lord, with all your vices, how could you come to have such deep faith in Lord Shiva?”
The king replied: “In one of my previous lives, I was a dog in the city of Pampa. On a holy Shivaratri, I happened to go to the temple of Shiva. The devotees who assembled there beat me severely and I died then and there. By the merit of dying in the presence of Lord Shiva on such a holy day, I am now born in a royal family. All the beastly traits you see now in me derive from my previous existence as a dog. Those subtle tendencies in me cannot but manifest themselves!” then the queen persuaded him to enlighten her about her own previous life. He said in that that she was a female pigeon at holy Sreesailam. “As a result of your life long stay at such a holy place, you have now become my queen.” The she asked him about the future lives of them both. He said: “In the next life, I shall be born as the prince of the kingdom of Sindhu and you shall be born in the royal family of the land of Sanjaya and we shall be united in marriage. In the life after that, I shall be the king of Sowrashtra and you, born, as the princess of Kalinga, shall be my queen. In the third birth hence, I shall be the king of Gaandhaara and you, as the princess of Magadha, will be my queen. In the fourth birth, I shall be the king of Avanti and you, as the princess of Dasaarna, will be my queen. In the fifth life, I shall be a king named Ananta and you, as the daughter of king Yayaati, will be my wife. In the sixth life, I shall be the very handsome king of Paandya and you, as the virtuous princess of Vidarbha, will marry me. In that life, we will enjoy kingly pleasures and perform many great religious sacrifices. In the seventh birth, we will attain liberation by the grace of Sage Agasthya. In this manner, even animals and birds will attain to higher states of existence. Indeed, it is human beings who, through the force of their earlier evil actions, will be born subsequently as various other creatures in nature. But the gods will ever take care that they do not fall away from their heavenly states.”
Then Sree Guru brought back Tanthuka to the Sangama near Gangapur in as mysterious a way and ordered him to retire to his village. A few people of the village had also joined him and, on the way, asked him why he got his head shaved. He told them how Sree Guru took him mysteriously to Sreesailam and how he got his head shaved there as per the custom of the place. They could not believe his words and said, ‘Till a few hours ago, this man was here! He is weaving fairly tales.’ At night, all of them came to the Sangama, observed fast and kept a vigil till dawn, chanting the name of Lord Shiva.
A fortnight later, all the kinsfolk of Tanthuka returned from Sreesailam. They wondered when they learned that he was back at Gangapur far ahead of them. They realized that it was all the grace of Sree Guru. The people at Gangapur also confirmed Tanthuka’s words. Through incessant service of his Master, he eventually freed himself from the shackles of his previous karma and attained the highest bliss that transcends the pairs of opposites like joy and sorrow. Who can ever know how many are the souls that were thus liberated through devotion to the Guru? In the same manner, there were two poets who attained liberation by celebrating the divine glory of Sree Nrisimha Saraswathi in verse. Infinite are the divine acts of the Lord and no one can ever know them in full. The Vedas themselves have betrayed their inability to comprehend HIS glory.”
Namadharaka longed to know the story of the two poets in full. So Siddha gladly resumed his account: “A Brahmin by name Nandi Sharma was afflicted by leprosy. In order to free himself of it, he practiced severe austerity (tapas) at Thuljapur. One day, goddess Bhavaani appeared to him in a vision and directed him to worship goddess Chandaleswari. Accordingly, he went there and practiced austerities for seven long months. One day, the goddess appeared in a vision and directed him to serve the sannyasi at Gangapur to realize his object! The Brahmin was shocked and even lost his patience and remonstrated her: ‘are you, a goddess, not ashamed to tell me to serve a common mortal? What happened to your divine power? If you could not help me yourself, why have you not told me so even earlier and spared me all my long, strenuous efforts?’ without a word, the goddess disappeared. The man again pursued his austerity to win her favor, but it was in vain. At last, finding no other way, one day he went to Gangapur to see the sannyasi, as per the direction of the goddess. Strangely enough, in spite of his repeated enquiries, no one at Gangapur directed him to the Lord. At last, an old man told him that the Master was due to arrive there for the holy Shivaratri. Meanwhile, some of the local devotees of Sree Guru had conveyed to Him the news of the arrival of Nandi Sharma.
Immediately, Sree Guru summoned Nandi Sharma and said, “why have you come here to serve a common mortal, leaving aside many deities? For, no mere mortal can ever free you of your fell disease.” Nandi Sharma immediately realized the stuff of which the sannyasi was made, that He was indeed the Supreme Lord Himself. He prayed, ‘Lord, pardon me my error. I am dull of intellect and a skeptic, a fallen sinner. You on the other hand, are the ocean of mercy and filial love for your devotees. I seek your refuge. I have none else to help me. Soon after my marriage, this foul disease afflicted me. Even my parents and wife have left me. Even the gods have refused to respond to my prayers. I find it better to end my life than to prolong such a tale of misery. Oh thou Supreme Self, if you too look on me with a cold eye, I shall be compelled to take my life!’ The merciful Lord was moved at his plight and said, ‘Do not fear, my son! This disease is a result of your previous sins, which can be washed off only through patient endurance. Indeed, you have gained this faith in me now, only because the results of your evil karma have worked out. Now you have to take a dip in the holy Sangama.’ Then the Guru turned to another disciple by name Samantha and said, ‘Take this Nandi Sharma to the river for a bath, guide him in worshipping the nearby peepul tree and then bring him back!’
Accordingly, Nandi Sharma finished bath and worship at the Sangama, returned to the Master and prostrated to his feet. The Lord lovingly raised him up and said, ‘My son, Nandi Sharma, stand up and look at your own body!’ Nandi Sharma was amazed to find that all his body was clean except for a small ugly patch was left behind. Sree Guru said, ‘You had a trace of doubt in your heart and hence this patch has remained.’ Nandi Sharma bowed to him and prayed earnestly, ‘Oh Supreme Lord, is it possible that a man should drink ambrosia and yet, simply because he mistakes it to be water, that he should be subject to death? Does the fire cease to burn, simply because a man touches it in ignorance?’
Sree Nrisimha Saraswathi said: ‘everything happens according to one’s faith. If a man loses his sight through his own fault, can he see the sun? At first, you had the doubt that nothing can be gained through the service of a guru. This patch is a consequence of it. Still, there is a means of getting rid of it. You sing a hymn of praise, which, on the basis of the teachings of the Vedas, express your realization that I am not a mere mortal. Thereby, you shall realize your object.’ The Brahmin felt helpless and trembled with apprehension and said, ‘o Lord Supreme, you are the in-dweller of the hearts of all creatures. What need I to tell you? How can I compose a hymn when I am totally illiterate? Tell me something else which is in my power to do.’ Sree Guru said, ‘My son, just as the tusk which has grown out of an elephant’s mouth cannot be withdrawn to its root, the words I have uttered cannot be taken back. You must do as you are told.’
At once, great learning and poetic ability welled up in Nandi Sharma’s heart. Love and reverence for the Guru had cloyed his heart. And he commenced singing his hymn in a trembling voice: ‘Oh Supreme Lord! Thou art That (Reality). You are the Doer, Sustainer, the Eternal Witness, and the true Self of all! You have projected all creatures from the three modes of prakriti (nature) and thereby projected the whole universe of things, both the moving and unmoving. Among all the sentient creatures, only a human being is fit for Enlightenment. Even he is deluded by Thy power of Maya. He is enmeshed in the web of motives and, in consequence of his sins, wanders about amidst the horrors of hell. And he cannot free himself even in the course of the vast cosmic epochs. Even if his soul passes to higher realms of existence by the force of his virtuous deeds, as soon as their effects are worked out, he falls back to the realm of the moon. There, he feeds himself of food and takes the form of sperm. At the time of conjugal union of his prospective parents, he merges with the oval secretion of the mother to be and settles down in her womb. There he stays for a day in the form of a thick fluid and, for the next five days, he assumes the form of a bubble. After eighteen more days, he assumes a more solid form. In a month’s time, he grows more solid. In the course of months, he develops the various parts of the physical body, such as a head in the first month, neck in the third, skin, nails and hair in the fourth. From the fifth month onwards, the orifices like nostrils, ears and mouth appear. Movement starts in the seventh. In the eight month, his body is fully formed, and he takes birth.
‘Oh Lord! Owing to the pulsations of the womb, the human being emanates from it and at once loses his understanding and is deluded. During his infancy, he has no freedom, nor can he communicate his agony to others. He loses sight of the very idea of winning his way of higher states of spiritual existence. During his boyhood, he forgets himself in play and in youth, he is totally preoccupied with sexual drives. Blind to all good and bad, he is engulfed in a hectic pursuit of sensual pleasures, like a beast. In old age, he will be obsessed with fear of approaching death. He is overtaken by illness like cough and breathing troubles. Finally, he dies without gaining and mastery over his senses.
In this way, a clear half of the whole span of man’s life is spent away idly in night and sleep. Major portions of what is left are wasted in play during boyhood, and worldly occupations in middle age. In old age, he is not free but is away. Human life proves worthwhile only through devotion to you and through association with the wise and the devout. Therefore, may you bless me with faith in you and worthy association all my life!’
Then Nandi Sharma turned to the people who gathered there and said: ‘Oh my brothers and sister, Sree Guru who is a right in front of us is the Supreme Lord Himself and not a common mortal, as he looks. Those of you who wish to gain your welfare would do well to take refuge in him, either through the practice of yoga, or through listening to and meditating on his teaching. The Lord ever abides by those who are thus, devoted to Him. For, he can be won over only through faith.
The Brahmin again turned to the Guru exclaiming, ‘Oh thou Supreme Lord, even the Vedas have failed to describe Thy glory. Indeed, no one can enumerate Thy glories which are infinite and are above the power of speech and mind to comprehend.’ When he finally bowed down in reverence, he found that even the little patch of dirty skin on his body had been cleared! Then, at the instruction of the Guru, he came away to Gangapur along with his wife, lived there for long and recorded the divine acts of Sree Guru.
One day Nandi Sharma read out his verses to another poet named Narakesari, living in a nearby village. The latter was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and he believed that the gods alone are worthy of adoration and worship. It was his vow to compose a verse in praise of Lord Kalleshwara (as the Lord Shiva was called in the local temple) every day. So he appreciated the poetry of Nandi Sharma’s verses, but objected to the glorification of a common mortal like Sree Nrisimha Saraswathi. Later in the day, during his daily worship of Lord Kalleshwara, when he was meditating on the Linga, Sree Guru appeared in that form, laughed and taunted him saying, “Where is your Lord Kalleshwara?” so he quickly concluded his meditation and rushed for darshan of the Lord at Gangapur! There, as he began to sing the five verses he had composed in his praise, Sree Guru said to him, ‘Why do you set aside the Supreme Lord and glorify a common mortal?’ Amazed Narakesari replied: ‘Lord I have indeed mistaken you for a common mortal. May you shower your mercy on me, dispel my ignorance and grant me true wisdom. My delusion is now dispelled and the merit of all my previous acts of austerity has borne fruit in this moment. May you accept me as your disciple and bless me!”
Sree Guru was pleased with the devotion of the visitor, gave him a comment and said, ‘you continue to worship Lord Kalleshwara at your place. For, I myself am there in that form.’ Narakesari submitted: ‘my lord, I am not to forego your immediate presence. Bless me with the good fortune of serving you. Without much difficulty I have gained you who are the divine, wish fulfilling cow (Kaamadhenu). I am the humblest of your disciples. May you not be indifferent to my plea.’ The merciful Lord then accepted him as his disciple and bestowed on him the bliss of Self-realization. Thus Narakesari also served the Master for long by singing his glory in his poems.”