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CHAPTER – 23

 

Namadharaka asked Siddha: “Holy one, you have vividly described to me the greatness of these holy places. It was as though I could see them all clearly with my own eyes. Wherever the Lord manifests himself, there abide all the gods and holy places. Therefore, as you have said, this Sangama is as holy as the confluence of Ganga and the five holy rivers. In this place, even the birds and beasts, which take a dip in the river and drink this water, are sure to obtain liberation. Even by listening to the holiness of this place, our hearts are purified. For, those who live in this place, the final state of liberation is at their command. Those who yearn for liberation resort to the path of Bhakti. Earlier, I too longed for liberation. By listening to your accounts, devotion to the Lord without any other motive has banished even the desire for mukti.  The only thing that pleases me now is singing the glory of my Lord. Sweeter still is drinking the nectarine accounts of the divine acts of the Lord. The whole of your being is filled with such accounts. Therefore, be pleased to recount the same to me. Who was the Muslim king you spoke of? How could such a fallen one earn the grace of the Lord?”

 

Siddha commenced his account: “Namadharaka, it is by the grace of the Lord that such a noble longing has captured your heart. You are indeed blessed. I too enjoy immensely the pleasure of recounting the stories of the Lord.

 

When Lord Sreepada Swami lived in flesh and blood at Kurupura, a washer man used to take his darshan, bow to Him and serve Him with all his heart. One day the Lord, pleased with his devotion, said, ‘Fellow, one day you will be a king!’ the man was immensely happy to hear the word. One day, he happened to see the ruler of the land, sporting in the waters of the river, in the company of beautiful maidens and thought: ‘great must be the guru of this king! Else, how could he have come by such royal pomp and luxury? He is truly blessed. How can I ever dream of such a good fortune?’ at once, Lord Sreepada (who too came there for his dip) knew his innermost thoughts and said to him: ‘my dear, you are now quite old; you will not be able to enjoy such pleasures even if you get them now. I assure you that in your next life, you will be a king and enjoy such pomp and power. Do not feel anxious.’ The washer man said, ‘Lord, the blessing you have given agrees with my heart’s desire. It will be possible only for a youth to enjoy such pleasures in full. But pray, grant me that I shall be blessed with firm faith in you, in spite of my royalty, in my next life.’ Sreepada blessed him saying, ‘May it be so!’

 

After sometime, the washer man died and was reborn in a royal Muslim family in the city of Vaidhurya. In course of time, he became a king. Yet, owing to the force of the subtle tendencies of his former birth, he was endowed with a high sense of justice, a sense of loving equality to all creatures and loving regard for the Hindu gods and pious Brahmins. Some of his fanatical ministers were not pleased with his spirit of tolerance. They often counseled him saying, ‘Oh mighty king! It is proper for you to stick to the tenets of your own religion. Your present ways are unworthy of even being conceived of in your mind. When all human beings are equally endowed with similar organs, flesh and blood, how can you, for instance, approve of the Hindu institutions of caste-system? How can the Supreme Lord abide in such inert and material objects like idols, and trees like the peepul, which Hindus worship?’

 

The king replied: ‘it is the dullness of your intellects that makes you think so. By creating different individuals with different aptitudes and abilities in thought and action, the Lord Himself has created the various castes. The Supreme Lord is all pervading. Just as children are taught alphabets and simple words and are thus, in gradual stages, led to higher levels of understanding, it is proper that the simple hearted folk should first learn to practice steadiness of heart and mind in meditation with the help of idols and forms. Such steadiness in meditation leads to higher states of understanding and wisdom. Then they will be able to comprehend the Supreme, all pervading formless God. Even a mirror, when it is covered with dust, cannot reflect the object properly. When the dust is wiped off, a clear image is obtained. So too, as long as the mind is impure, it cannot grasp a clear conception of the Lord. But when it is purified through such devotional practice as meditation, it can understand the glory of the Formless. It is therefore proper that I respect pious Brahmins too who are the knower of the perennial wisdom of the Vedas, which is its own authority. For, their practice accords with their understanding. You too will do well to imbibe my attitude to them. Such Brahmins are deemed divine even by the gods. Indeed, all those who live in accordance with the holy laws enunciated by the Vedas and the smritis are worthy of reverence. Therefore, you should outgrow your fanatical and communal prejudices.’ The counselors were not pleased with his logic, but they could do nothing else than keeping their own counsel.

 

After some time, the king was laid up with severe boils on his thigh. Several physicians had failed in their efforts to cure him and the king could not bear the suffering. He could not even take the food. One day, he sent for a pious Brahmin and humbly requested him to suggest a way of getting rid of the disease. The Brahmin said, ‘Sir, you are a Muslim king and I am an orthodox Brahmin. If you do what I say, your people will not spare you. So I shall offer my suggestion only in strict privacy.’ The king agreed and accompanied the Brahmin to a far away place, a Teertha. There, the Brahmin said to him: “Disease is always a consequence of the sins of our former lives. It can be cured by giving away religious gifts (daana), or by administering medicine, or by worship of deities. But the most efficacious means is to take darshan of great mahatmas, which indeed cleans us, all of our sins. I shall recount a story to illustrate my point:

 

Once upon a time, there lived a fallen Brahmin in the city of Ujjain. He left off the principles of right conduct enjoined by the Sastras to the winds and lived the life of a libertine. Besides, he was infatuated with a courtesan named Pingala. However, by virtue of the religious merit of a former life, sage Rishabha once came to their house. The Brahmin and his concubine received him with due reverence and worshipped him. They partook of the washings of his feet, fed him sumptuously and put him to sleep on cozy cushions. As he slept peacefully, they stood by in attention, with folded hands, ready to answer his calls. The next morning, the sage woke up and went away. By the virtue of such a meritorious act, both the Brahmin and his woman were born in their next life in a pious Kshatriya family. The Brahmin was born as the son of king Vajrabahu of the land of Dasaarna. One of the other wives of the king was jealous of her good fortune and poisoned the royal queen when she was pregnant. However, by the grace of the God, the queen did not die, but gave birth to a handsome son. The bad effect of the poison, however, showed itself by causing ugly blebs and boils to appear on the bodies of the mother and the child. No physician could cure them. As they could not take any food, they were emaciated and very ill. The king was persuaded by his other wives to desert them in a wild forest. Henceforth, he lived happily with his second wife. The unfortunate queen suffered much on account of the boils on the body, dangers from the wild beasts in the forests and stones and thorns all along the path. Often, she prayed to gods in this manner:

 

‘Oh Lord, I cannot bear this suffering any longer. It would be better for us to be devoured be a lion or a tiger. Only such an event seems to be capable of relieving us from this plight.’ In the course of her wanderings, one day, she saw a herd of cows. Approaching the herdsmen, she cried out to them that she was about to die of thirst. They showed her the way to the nearest lake. She went there, quenched her thirst and rested herself for a while. Meanwhile, a group of women came there to take home drinking water in pitchers. She then addressed them and enquired who the blessed king of the land was, that they should all look so happy and contented. They told her that their king was of a wealthy merchant caste and his name was Padmaakara. Even as they were telling her of the noble disposition of the king, the royal attendants came there. The unfortunate queen followed the guards to the royal palace and poured her tale of woe to the king Padmaakara.

 

The king was moved by her account and accorded her his protection. In course of time, the condition of her son deteriorated and he succumbed to the boils. The unfortunate mother lamented: ‘oh my son, you have deserted me in this ocean of misery! Do you not care for all the hardships I had to face for your sake? I was separated from my husband and parents only on account of you. I loved you as my very life. I cannot live without you!’

 

By a strange coincidence, sage Rishabha came there, heard her lamentation and said, ‘Mother, why do you wail in vain? This world is illusory and transcient. The merely material, mortal body does not deserve to be invested with the illusory fondness and feeling for a son. Just as the worm dwells in its improvised nest of thorns and acts in proper manner as long as life exists in it, the soul inhabits the body, which is built in accordance with one’s previous actions and undergoes the various karmic effects. The soul, which seems to have sprung from the workings of karma, the modes of nature and time, is indeed an aspect of the all-pervading consciousness. Indeed, he is originally beyond all relationships and difference of sex. The phenomenal body, which has both births and deaths, is based on ignorance. Still, as this nescience is beginning less, the jeeva or the individual soul is said to be endowed with bodies from times without beginning. Knowing this, you should keep up your mental poise and face your praarabdha with courage. Devote the rest of your life to the service of the Lord!’

 

The unfortunate mother replied: ‘Lord, the wisdom, which you have so compassionately expounded to me, cannot take root in the heart of me who am in the grip of ignorance. May you do to me that which would console my heart. When I am in such dire distress, you have come to me as the embodiment of the Lord’s grace’. The compassionate sage knew by his yogic power, that her dead son was his devotee in his previous life, and sprinkled a little sacred ash on the corpse. At once, the boy came to life and sat up like one who woke up from deep slumber! The sage, by his mysterious power, blessed the boy with a sword, a divine Armour and the strength of 12000 elephants and told the mother, ‘your son is blessed with long life and royal authority. He will be invincible’ and the sage went away. In course of time, the blessings of the sage fully bore fruit. Thus the power of holy sages cannot be adequately described. Therefore seek the protection of such a one”, said the learned Brahmin.

 

The Muslim ruler was pleased. He said, “You have well delineated the divine competence of saints. But where can we now find such a one? Be pleased to tell me, if you happen to know of such a one. Do not hesitate to do so for fear that I am an alien, being a Muslim.” The Brahmin said: “I heard that there is, at the celebrated confluence of Bheema and Amaraja rivers, the greatest of renunciate sages, a sannyasi who is omnipotent as the Lord Himself. Seek his protection and you will realize your object!”

 

The ruler at once returned to his capital and set out with all his royal retinue, to pay homage to the sage. He first arrived at Gangapur and enquired of the people there, “Where is the holy sage of this place? Please direct me to him!” the innocent folk were scared at the sight of the ruler and of an alien faith and would not speak. The ruler assured them, “Sirs, I have come only to pay homage to the holy one. Please do not entertain suspicions regarding my intent. Please tell me where I can find him!” only then did they tell him that the Guru was at the Sangama.

 

The prince alighted from his royal palanquin and humble proceeded to the hallowed spot on foot. On seeing him, the Guru addressed him with loving familiarity, “Oh my dear washer man, why didn’t you see for so long?” at once, the memory of his previous life was awakened in the prince and all his former devotion was stirred in his heart. With a quivering voice, he recalled: “Lord, you were the holy one, Sreepada, and I was the washer man and your humble slave. Now I am a prince only through the power of your former blessing. Thou, of omnipotent will, pardon my delay!” He said, “Immersed in the royal pleasures and pomp with which you have blessed me, I lost sight of Thee, the bestower of it all! Have mercy on me, I your humble servant and a fallen one. This, my stubborn illness, has proved instrumental in securing me for this blessed meeting with thy holy self. Thereby was my forgetfulness dispelled and the former facts vividly recalled!” The loving Master smiled and demanded;

 

“Show me thy diseased parts!” the prince looked up and said, finding no such in any part of his body was amazed. He burst out in a flood of praise: “Lord this illness, I feel was but thy servant. It has dragged me, an unrighteous one and a sinner to thy blessed presence. Having accomplished its allotted task, it has vanished. Pray, uplift me, who am lost in this ocean of miserable existence which is but a shadow without any substance, through thy teaching!” The Master, in a voice full of authority asked, “Have you fully enjoyed the royal pleasures, or have you any more desires left unfulfilled? Consider well and say!”

 

the prince submitted, “By your grace, all my longings have been fulfilled. But I wish that your holiness should see the regal splendor you have blessed me with.” The Master replied, “Oh prince, how can I ever step in your realm where holy cows are slaughtered? If I do so, the people of the four castes (i.e., native Hindus) will blame me, and so will your fellow Muslims blame you for according me such a royal welcome.” The latter pleaded: “I am not a prince in fact! I am but a washer man and your humble servant when you were Lord Sreepada! I shall prohibit the slaughter of cows in my principality. Pray, grace it with your visit!” The lord yielded saying, “It is not in my nature to turn down or ignore the wishes of my devout ones. I will go with you!”

 

The prince was overwhelmed with joy and bore the Master’s Padukas (sandals) on his head. He seated Sree Guru and his disciples in royal palanquins and followed them on foot. The Master noticed it and said, “Son, we have a long way to go. It does not behoove a prince to proceed in this fashion.” The prince protested, “Pray, do not address me as such, for I am no prince. I am but your slave and a washer man! I shall at once transfer my royal authority to another and I shall devote my life to implicit obedience to thy dictates.” The lord said, “Son, ruler ship is always a manifestation of the divine guardians of the cardinal directions. Being blessed with such, it does not behoove you to treat yourself that way. You may deem it as my command and come along on horse back!” The prince obeyed. As they proceeded, the Master again said: “We that are adherents of religious law and renunciate, should not travel with a princely personage like you and of an alien faith, lest it cause confusion and misapprehension in the minds of the people. So I shall go ahead and you come after and join me there”. So saying, the Master reached the holy place of Papanasa Teertha, 44 Kos away, miraculously, in just half a minute. The disciples who were there were pleasantly surprised to find Him in his devotions. Naganatha then took him home and offered him worship and bhiksha. After lunch, the Master said that a Muslim price was coming to meet him at the holy spot and went there again.

 

After a little while, the Muslim ruler arrived at Papanasa Teertha and, seating Sree Guru in the royal palanquin and taking all disciples with him, proceeded to the city of Vaidhurya. The whole city was well beautified with floral arches. Sree Guru was taken in a royal procession with song, dance, music and a rich pageant. Cries of “Glory to Sree Guru!” went up in the air. Then the Master was led, walking on a silken carpet, spread all along the way and was finally seated on the royal throne. Music and dance were ordered in honor of the august visitor. Thus the prince showed the Master to all his people. The bigoted ones among the Muslim population were displeased at the honor accorded to a Hindu saint. But the devout ones praised him. Then Sree Guru said to the prince, “Now that I have seen your people, are you satisfied?” “Not completely, noble sir. Accord me the blessed opportunity of serving you and uplift me spiritually too. I surrender all that is mine to your holiness!” said the ruler. “son, right worthily have you acted and I am pleased with your gesture. I shall grant your wish” said Sree Guru and crowned the ruler’s eldest son as king and successor. Then he said to the former ruler, “son, renounce all desires and proceed to Sreesailam. I shall give the necessary instruction to my disciples (at Gangapur) and then proceed thither. There you will again be blessed with my darshan.” Then he bathed in the river Godavari and went to the confluence of Bheema and Amaraja. The devotees there were delighted to see him and threw a dinner for all to celebrate the occasion. Then the Guru said to them: “Our fame has spread everywhere. Even those who are devoid of true devotion will flock to this place, out of selfishness and greed. Hence I shall leave this place and proceed to Sreesailam. “

 

When the Master got ready for departure, the natives of the village rushed to him and begged him not to deprive them of his divine presence, but to stay on. The Lord said, “Do not feel sad that way. How can I bear to be away from my devotees? I only seem to leave for Sreesailam only to the grosser vision of the physical, but I will ever abide here in my real state as the Spirit or the real Self. I will seek my noon bhiksha in this village and accept your loving devotional services in this muth. My living presence will be experienced by anyone who bathes in the Sangama, worships the holy peepul tree and takes darshan of my padukas here”.

 

Then the natives of Gandharvapura and the disciples accompanied Sree Guru and his four companion-disciples up to the limits of the village and accorded them a moving send off. When they all returned to the muth, they verily found the Master seated in it! Then they realized that whatever he said was literally true. Some of the disciples, Krishna Saraswathi, Bala Saraswathi and Upendra Saraswathi were already away on their and wanderings to holy places. Saayamdeva, the two disciple-poets and I accompanied the Master to Sreesailam.

 

When we all reached the Paatala Ganga, as per the Master’s wish, we prepared a beautiful float with the leaves of banana and flowers. And singing the glories of the Lord, we placed it on the waters of the river. Sree Guru stepped in and sat on it. Only then could we divine his intent (That it was our final parting) and we shed tears. The Lord smiled and consoled us saying, ‘I am always with you. You need not grieve. As a token of that, when I reach my real abode, four flowers will come to you, floating in the river. That will be my ultimate prasad to you’.

 

That was a Friday, in the dark-half of the month of Magh, in the year of Bahudhanya. The Lord, seated on that floral float, drifted along the flowing river. Soon after, as per the Master’s promise, flour flowers came to us, drifting on the river, against the current! We four of us picked them up.” So saying, Siddha showed the holy flower, which he lovingly treasured as the Guru’s final gift, to Namadharaka and added:

 

“The Master can be seen even today by the virtuous and the devout. Only the unrighteous cannot experience his living presence. Taking his daily dip at the holy Sangama, he ever abides there. In fact, he has been blessing devotees with his divine acts on countless occasions. Whoever can fully plumb the profundity of his divine power? The aspirations of those who worship him there with true love will be fulfilled. Indeed, the Lord is ever present with those who incessantly adore him. The miraculous experiences of such will ever remain hidden in their own hearts. Hence, worship him with the simplicity of your heart’s love and remember, he is the granter of prayers!”

 

Namadharaka was immersed in the ecstatic joy of having listened to the stories of the Lord’s play and bowed to Siddha in profound gratitude.

 

Thus ends Sree Vasudevananda Saraswathi’s Samhitaayana Guru Dwisahasri (being a Sanskrit paraphrase of the original Marathi work Sree Guru Charitra of Gangadhara Saraswathi) made by him at the specific command of Lord Dattatreya. 

Om Sree Dattatreyaaya Namah!