We have been seeing that Bhakti is one of the easiest means to attain the holy feet of the Lord. Although there are many paths to attain the Lord, the path of Bhakti is an enjoyable one and easy path compared to the other spiritual austerities. When we ponder on the term Bhakti is and the devotees of the Lord [Bhaktas], the most ardent devotee of the Lord is Prahlada. The reason why he is greatest of the bhaktas is because he did not have any specific reasons for doing bhakti to the Lord. His devotion to the Lord was a spontaneous and even when he faced problems and had afflictions from his own father, he did not cry out to the Lord for help and resolution. It was indeed the duty of the Lord to save Prahlada when he was in danger. Prahlada was a Sathyasandha [truthful person] and it is verily because he was truthful, the Lord came in front of Hiranyakashipu. The form of the Lord was not a beautiful form unlike the one Kardhama had seen “manasparsha smitekshanam” when Kardhama performed penance for thousands of years. The Lord also took a beautiful form to give darshan to little Dhruva. The Lord came in the guise of a Mohini in front of the devas in order to share the Amrutha. He took a beautiful countenance of a young lad and came down as Lord Vamana when he came to conquer Bali’s ego. The Lord did not take such a beautiful form when he came in front of Prahlada and Hiranyakashipu. He did not take the form of an animal nor a human-being. He had taken the half-human and half-animal form. That form of the Lord scared lot of people. But there was one person who was not scared and it was Hiranyakashipu. He thought that it was some animal which entered his courtyard and he started to fight the Lord who had come down as Lord Narasimha. The Lord tore him apart and took him unto Him. The angry nature of the Lord was clearly manifested in his growl and his fierce look. When the Lord sat in the throne, all the devas, right from Brahma, Rudra, Indra, pithrus, manas, sidhas at that very instant of time, started doing Stutis on the Lord in order to appease him. But alas it was in vain. The Lord was not able to be propitiated. His anger was so much that even Lordess Lakshmi was scared to go near the Lord. When all of them were gripping in fear on seeing the countenance of the Lord, there was one person who was not scared by his form and it was verily Lord Prahalad. He boldly went to the Lord and took a seat on his lap and started to do a stuthi. Before he started off with his beautiful stuthi, Prahalada cried out, ”Oh Lord, So many of them have sung beautiful verses in praise of you and yet you are still seem to be outraged. I am a foolish little boy and are you going reconcile by the song of mine? He immediately replied to his own question. He said “Oh Lord, yes you will be pleased with my song. Didn’t you not become happy with an elephant’s call in which he shouted your name for help. You came down to rescue him. Our Guru Maharaj puts this in a beautiful kirtan – “oru nazhikayil avan thapmaum thirdadandro” – nazhikai is a very small instant of time. It took the Lord a fraction of second for him to come down to save Gajendra.
“Naham bibhemyajitha theathibhayanakasya
Your gory appearance scares everyone. Your mane is all over the place and your hands and legs are all covered with blood. Your bow like eyebrows and the sharp teeth are indeed very scary. But Oh Lord! Do you think I am afraid of this form? No Not at all!
We become scared when we first see a small worm, but after some time when we see a snake, we are no longer scared of the small worm. Akin to this fact, Prahalada says he is afraid of something. He is afraid of the dreaded whirlpool called samsara which is even more gory and getting caught in the samsara is more sorrowful. Oh Lord you are the elixir [kalpataru] who can bestow moksha and liberate one from the clutches of samsara says Prahalada in his stuthi. He cries to the Lord that the deadliest disease that one can be afflicted is verily the samsara. Samsara does not mean family life but attachment to the family life. The moment one is detatched from family life and always thinking of the Lord is attaining moksha from this mundane world.
Our Guru Maharaj very lucidly says that the life of a house-holder is indeed a greatest blessing in this world. It is verily in this samsara that one can sing the glories of the Lord and yet enjoy the family life. The best way to develop dispassion and detachment from this worldly life and yet be a house-holder is to be in a satsang. One should always be reminiscing the guru and the glories of the Lord and always sing the Divine Names of the Lord.
Following this, Sudhaji from Dallas beautifully discoursed on the life-history of Vasudeva Thatha.
“Life is a combination of both joy and sorrow. It is neither filled with only joy nor with only sorrow. It is so not only with ordinary people but also with ‘Bhakthas’.”
“People visit the seashore; enjoy the seaside, the moon, the children playing around, etc. So it is while attending a wedding. It is all joyful, meeting relatives and friends. But when you pay a visit to a relative at the hospital the atmosphere there is very depressing, what with the hospital filled with patients suffering from various ailments! And participating in a funeral is all the more saddening. For an ordinary man while weddings, parties, outing, clearing a highly competitive examination, getting good employment are all occasions for joy, being afflicted with diseases, not clearing an examination, being jobless, meeting death are all causes of sorrow.”
“Now, Bhaktas, too, face joy and sorrow. But with a difference! Bhagavatham says even the ‘gopis’ (playmates of Krishna in Vrindavan whose love for Krishna is the ultimate in Bhakti) faced joy and sorrow The gopis were filled with joy while being with Krishna but were drowned in sorrow when He was not amidst them. The very thought that Krishna must be suffering being away from them saddened them further! This is not so with just the ‘gopis’ but is the case with all the bhaktas of God. For the Bhaktas, joy is being with the Lord and sorrow is being away from Him.”
The Upanishads say that if one fails to understand the true Brahman in his life-time, it is indeed a big loss. There is a god who is the cause for all this creation.The life-histories of Mahans show that one can see the Lord in the present birth and this can be accomplished by true devotion. The life-history of Sri Vasudeva Brhamam clearly shows this fact.
Thiruvaheendrapuram is one of the 108 Divya Desams. (Divya Desams are those Vaishnava Kshetras sung by the Alwars).
In this holy town lived the pious couple Venkatranga Iyengar and Alamelu Ammal. In the Tamil month of ‘Ippasi’ (October-November months) in ‘Sravana Nakshatram'(star) on ‘Maha Navami’ Alamelu Ammal gave birth to a son. The child was named Rajagopala Desikan. When the child was about six months the father carried him to the ‘sannidhi’ of Sri Rama in the Devanatha Swamy temple. Sri Rama here is very fine-looking – much more than the Vaduvur Thillai Vila Ramar who is renowned for his beauty. It is on this Rama that ‘Raghu Veera Gadyam’ has been sung by Sri Desikan.
As the father stood in front of this sannidhi holding the six months old baby Rajagopala Desikan in his hands, a bright light (Divya Tejas) from Sri Rama’s eyes shot out and hit the child. The baby’s body reacted as if struck by lightning and seemed unable to bear the strain of it. All these were visible to the father and he was at once joyful (as it showed the extraordinary signs of the baby) and fearful (for the baby seemed to cringe under the impact of the light). Back home he informed his wife of the happening and said, “This is no ordinary child that we have been blessed with. We should bring up this son of ours with all the care in the world.” But, within a few days the child contracted a strange fever and appeared to be dying. The father was shocked and wondered how a child of this extraordinary stature could face death at such an early stage.
In this holy town lived Sri Ananthacharyar, a Brahmachari devotee of the Lord. A man of great tapas he was doing ‘nandavana kaingaryam’ (supplying flowers to the Lord from the garden). People used to approach him for solutions to their various problems – both worldly and spiritual. The perplexed Sri Venaktaranga Iyengar found Sri Ananthacharyar pass his house and rushed to him for help. In the Vadagalai Vaishnava tradition is the practice of ‘prapatti’ (surrender). A competent person, usually the Guru, surrenders the dying person to Lord Vishnu. Sri Ananthacharyar, too, with this ‘prapatti’ in mind went to Sri Devanatha Swamy temple and prayed to the Lord to accept the ‘jiva’. However, things took a new turn with the child recovering quickly. The parents’ joy knew no bounds.
Even as a child, Rajagopalan was drawn to God. He was unlike other children of his age. He could not play like they did. He always kept watching the ‘Perumal’. He attended the discourses on various devotees of the Lord. When he heard the stories of Dhruva, Prahalada, he yearned for such devotion. He longed to experience such deep devotion. The child Rajagopalan spent most of his time on the banks of river Gatila in solitude and cried his heart out for the Lord’s darshan. When his father found him crying and questioned him about it he would not reveal the real reason, for, he wished to keep his yearning for God a secret. Instead he would only say that he felt neglected by the other boys and that saddened him. A true devotee does not make loud talks about his devotion but keeps it hidden in his heart. Anger, lust, desire will never take him to God. However, if he does get to a Mahatma he will change, for, these would leave him.
One day Rajagopalan heard the discourse of Tiruppanazhvaar. He listened to Sri Ranga Vaibhavam in rapt attention. The man at the dais explained that Sri Rangam was ‘Bhooloka Vaikuntam’ (the abode of Lord Vishnu on earth). When Rajagopalan heard the description of the beauty and the grace of Sri Ranganthar he felt that Sri Ranganathar must be the true Lord and he at once decided to go over to Sri Rangam. When he reached Tiruchirapalli the child in all earnestness looked out for the person whom he believed Lord Ranganathar must have deputed to receive him at the station! This was so because in the discourse he had heard that the Lord had sent some people to receive ‘Tiruppanaazhvar’. But none seemed to await his arrival. Yet, the child ran up to those whom he found wearing the vaishnavite mark on their foreheads and asked them if they were indeed here at the Lord’s behest to receive him! Such faith for the Lord the child entertained in his heart!
The young Rajagopala Desikan somehow managed to reach Sri Ranganathar in Srirangam Temple. He cried out in anguish to Ranganathar for Darshan but when his cries seemed lost in the air the child felt that there was absolutely no difference between Devanatha Swamy in Thiruvaheendrapuram and Ranganathar in Srirangam but for the fact that the former was in a standing posture while the latter was in a ‘sayana’ (lying down) posture. Feeling let down and lost, the child spent his days on the banks of river Cauvery. His mind and heart ever filled with the thought of the Lord and longing for His Darshan, he knew no hunger or sleep. A pilgrim took pity on the child and offered him his token for free food at the temple. In spite of the fast for seven days Rajagopalan refused it saying to himself, “Why have I come here? Is it for food? No, I shall not eat until and unless the Lord appears before me.”
His parents received a message from some friend that Rajagopalan had been spotted at the banks of river Cauvery, in Srirangam. The father rushed there and found his son. The father consoled him and brought him back to Thiruvaheendrapuram. Sri Rajagopalan returned to school and completed his education.
As he grew, Rajagopalan’s longing to have darshan of the Lord deepened. Under the notion that marriage would cure the God-afflicted Rajagopalan, the parents got him married! But, alas! the marriage instead of being a distraction became a supportive one as the wife was totally devoted to her husband.
Days passed by and the first Deepavali after his marriage, a special occasion for the newly-wed, approached. He packed off his wife to her parents’ home and himself set out to Tirupathi. While he was climbing the mountain on foot he suddenly threw away everything he had, including his clothes, and with only the loin cloth on him, challenged the Lord. He cried out, “Since my childhood I have been crying for you but there seems to be no response. I wish to know whether you exist or not. Tell me. I just need an answer to this query of mine. I want a proof of your existence.” He went deep into the forest and sat under a tree. It was all dark but Rajagopalan experienced no fear whatsoever. He did not do any japa (chanting) or dhyana (meditate). All that he demanded was a proof of the existence of God.
Meanwhile, a Komitti Chetty, a staunch devotee and upasagar of Sri Srinivasa Perumal, had come for Perumal’s Darshan. Perumal, Srinivasa Perumal, along with His consort, appeared in the Komitti Chetty’s dream and instructed, “A Mahatma, a Siddha Purusha and a devotee of mine is sitting in the forest up the mountain. There are wild animals in the forest and he may be harmed. I need to protect him. So go over and bring him safely down to your place.” Perumal appeared to this Chetty thrice and repeatedly asked him to bring his devotee safely. The Komitti Chetty immediately set out with a ‘doli’ (palanquin carried by two or four men) and with a man holding a ‘torch’. He soon found Rajagopalan as the Lord had showed him the exact place where he sat challenging the Lord.
The Komitti Chetty called out to Rajagopalan. Rajagopalan was a very short-tempered man and could not tolerate anyone who disturbed him from his set goal. He turned towards the Chetty angrily mingled with surprise that someone should find him in this jungle at this hour! He was shy of any propaganda (of his devotion to the Lord) and that someone should have found him, raised his anger. “Who are you? Why have you come here at this hour?” he asked the Chetty angrily. The Komitti Chetty explained, “Perumal appeared to me and said that you were His devotee. It was He who showed me this place, as He is concerned about your safety. The Lord has bid me to take you away from here to a safe place. So I have come to take you. Please come with me.”
Rajagopalan was dumbstruck at the kindness of the Lord in answering his prayers. He rushed to a nearby rock and hit his head against it as he realized that if only he had demanded to ‘see’ the Lord ‘He’ would have appeared to him. He said to himself, “Oh! Lord! I asked You for a proof of Your existence and You have given it to me. Curse on me that I did not demand to have Your darshan!” He accompanied the Chetty to his room and later went to Perumbakkam, near Madras, his father-in-law’s town. He told his family that he had been robbed of all his things. Such bluffs are pardonable when one is on the path of God realization.
After a while Rajagopalan accepted an offer to teach English to a child of a Chettiar. He offered to go over to the Chettiar’s house everyday to teach the child. In this house he found a beautiful picture of Lord Kodandarama. (Lord Rama holding a bow and arrow). The picture was vibrant. When he was asked about his fees for the tuition he requested in all earnestness, “Will you permit me to perform puja to this Rama? I ask this as my fees for teaching English to your child!” The father of the child was surprised as well as delighted with this request and said, “You are a great devotee of the Lord. It is our pleasure that one such as you should perform puja to Sri Kodandarama. You can come here any day, any time and perform the puja for any length of time as you wish.” This was enough for this devotee of the Lord. He visited the Chettiar’s house regularly but said to them, “Whatever puja that you people perform regularly please do it and I will do mine later. This is because my puja might take hours!” Yes, it was indeed so. His puja was a never-ending one. He would start offering flowers in archanai. As he uttered the ‘Namavali’ his mind’s eye would see the various divine plays of the Lord and he would be lost in it. He would speak to Rama, “Oh! Rama! How much affection You bestowed on the old woman Sabari! Valmiki says, ‘You are an ocean of compassion that you will not remember the biggest sin commited but will remember even the smallest good deed done.”
One day as Rajagopalan performed puja to Lord Kodandarama, the ‘Kodandam’ – the bow – from the picture of the Lord fell out onto him! And Rajagopalan cried out, “Rama! Rama! Seethe! Seethe! Kodandama? (Is it the bow)” and fell in a state of Samadhi! He remained in this state of Samadhi for six months!
Ever since Rajagopalan had darshan of the ‘Kothanda’ (bow) of Sri Rama he became further involved in the thought of Rama. He instructed his mind,”Hey! Mind! How much have you wept since your childhood! As a result of this you have seen the Lord’s Kothanda. Beware! Never doubt His Presence! And do not think of anything other than this Sri Rama!” After this he was ever, while awake or asleep, in Sri Ramadhyana. He could not involve himself in any external worldly matters. After resigning his job in Madras he returned to the village.
In Madras on the terrace of the English company where he worked he did his Sandya Vandanam. He sat there doing Nama Sankirtanam. He was then around 35-40 years of age. He sang out loudly, “Vasudeva pahimam! Vasudeva Pahimam!” He heard someone repeat after him and looked about angrily. He called out, “Who is that?” It was the Devas! They had gathered there to hear him do Nama Sankirtanam with such deep devotion. They had formed a circle high above and went round clapping their hands, repeating the Lord’s Nama after Rajagopalan and also declaring, “He is a Siddha! (Siddha here means one who has realized the Self) He is a Siddha!” The Devas showered flowers on Rajagopalan.
He later moved over to Perumbakkam village. To support the family he conducted ‘thinnai’ school. He taught the children in the pyol of his house. As he taught Vedanta to the children the parents removed them from his school. Many a job he secured and resigned. Thus, he moved from one place to another until he reached Tanjore. But no place, no job suited him as he was ever steeped in Rama Bhakti. By now, his mother had attained the Lotus Feet of the Lord.
Very frequently he conducted Sita Kalyana Mahotsva and fed everyone sumptuously with ‘prasada’. He gave up rice and water. He began consuming three mouthsful of any one of the these – Neem leaves, ‘kathazhai’, milk, fruit, curd, jaggery and tender coconut drink! Since his 32nd year till his last breath he kept away from food but he was hale and hearty. He never lay flat but would recline on a chair all through the night and be in dhyana or sing Nama Sankeertanam. He considered himself the lowest of the lowly. He was not a ‘Guru’ to anyone. He did not like anyone prostrating to him but treated all with respect. He could not tolerate anyone behaving against vaideehic norms. So people mistook him to be short tempered. All the offerings from devotees were immediately used for Rama Utsav. He had not a pie to his account to the last. To the last he lived with faith in Sri Rama. And Sri Rama also never failed him.
Vasudeva thatha went on Bharata yatra seven times, at times with the family and at other times all alone. Though Sri Rama had always been with him, Vasudeva thatha had not ‘seen’ the Lord directly (‘pratyaksha’). He went deeper into his japa. His father attained the Lotus Feet of the Lord while in Srivilliputtur. Vasudeva thatha reached Srirangam. By the grace of Rama Mantra and tapas performed for ages Vasudeva thatha attained Atma sakshatkara.
Vasudeva thatha entertained a deep desire to show Bhagavan to the world for he felt this would bring ‘adharma’ to an end. He began performing deep tapas with this aim. But Sri Rama said to him that as far as he (Vasudeva thatha) was concerned the Lord would show Himself. He should not worry about the way of the world. That was His (the Lord’s worry). Finally, in the year 1969, 31st January (Keelaka varsha, ‘thai’ month, suklapaksha trayodasi, Friday) in the early hours of the morning (around 3’o clock), amidst the sound of Upanishad and Bhagavan Nama, Vasudeva thatha (Sri Rajagopalan) attained Parama Pada (the Lord’s Lotus Feet).
The satsang ended with prayers and Namasakirtan.