Jun 3: Alangudi Periyavaal

3 Jun

The easiest way to Mukti is Mahamantra Kirtan. But we have been given this beautiful human body and life in order to attain liberation. In addition, we have been blessed with the ‘mind’ / intellect to lead us to that goal. The irony is that this very mind is a roadblock in attaining God Realization! When we are not able to focus the mind and concentrate it, it goes into worldly matters and takes us away from our goal. It is said that the destruction of the mind is liberation. Use the mind to destroy the mind, say our scriptures.

Bhagavan Ramana gives the example of ‘pinamchudu thadi’ – the stick that is used to hit the corpse burning in the pyre. When a corpse is lit on a pyre in a graveyard, owing to the heat, the corpse stiffens and rises on its own. The person burning it has a wooden stick in his hand with which he hits it whenever it rises. At the end, when the corpse has been burnt enough, he throws the stick into the fire and walks away letting the stick also be consumed by the flames. We should make our mind/intellect like the stick which we should use to hit ourselves in order to put it in its path. Eventually, the mind is also to be destroyed / put to the Lord’s feet.

Adi Sankara speaks of a sharp intellect as well, not to understand the Lord, but to appreciate and practice discrimination and dispassion in life and eventually offer it to the Lord as well.

Our Guru Maharaj says, when a piece of iron is to be broken, expose it to some wet weather and over time, this piece of iron transforms itself into rust (without any external chemicals involved). Soon, the entire piece of iron gets transformed into rust which easily flakes away, accomplishing our mission very easily. Our mind which is the cause of the problems, should be exposed to the moisture of Guru Kataksham and Satsangam and over time, it gets transformed / destroyed / dissolved in the feet of the Guru / God.

That is all we need to do: being in the sanctity and vision of the Guru / Lord awaiting His grace.

Following the introductions, Ramyaji from Bay Area gave the satsang talk.

A Mahatma who was an Avatara Purusha and was an exponent of Srimad Bhagavatham was Swamy Prakashananda Swamigal. His Aradhana normally coincides on the day of Nrisimha Jayanthi which was on May 16th of 2011. The satsang reminisced the life-history of this great mahan.

We all know that Srimad Bhagavatam is bestows liberation. It is a Moksha Granta. Mahans have opined that mere reading/listening to the Bhagavatam liberates one. The uniqueness of this Holy Text is that every letter in it is verily Lord Krishna! No wonder that mere reading about/listening to the Lilas of Jnani of all Jnanis [Lord Sri Krishna] bestows liberation not only at the end of one’s life on earth but also has the ability to bestow Jivan Mukti state [‘realising’ one’s nature even while living in the physical body]. This has been illustrated in the life of Sri Swayamprakasananda Saraswati Swami, popularly known as ‘Alangudi’ Periyava. He attained Jivan Mukti by merely reading the Bhagavatam.

Alangudi’ Periyava’s amadhi is in Mudikondan, a village near Tiruvaroor, Tamizh Nadu state, S.India.

Narayanar, a poor Brahmin lived in Alangudi, a small village Tamil Nadu. He had completed his Vedic studies and was a highly virtuous man. He earned his living through priesthood, assisting people in conducting Vedic rites and scriptural duties. A married man, he lived as per scriptural injunctions laid down for a householder and was deeply devoted to Gopala Krishna. After many years of marriage, through the Grace of his worshipping  diety Sri Venugopala Krishna swami, he was blessed with a son. They named the child  as Ramakrishna the parents brought him up with much love and care. The child’s ‘akshara-abhyas’ [learning to write] was performed at the age of five. When he turned seven the holy thread ceremony was performed; thereafter, he was left under the care of a great scholar for education. He learnt the Vedas wholly and became an adept in ‘Sikshai vyakarana’ that form part of the Vedas.

The parents desired to find a suitable bride for him. However, Sri Ramakrishna feared married life, as he felt it to be a block to Hari Bhakti [devotion to Lord Hari]. Feeling that the Grace of a Guru was most needed to strengthen his Jnana, Bhakti and Vairagya [wisdom, devotion and dispassion] he was in search of a proper Guru. Sri Balakrishnananda swami appeared in his dream, imparted Sri Nrisimha Mantra to him and also gave him Srimad Bhagavatam. After this Sri Ramakrishna’s Hari Bhakti [devotion to Lord Hari] reached its pinnacle. He began to remain in solitude doing Mantra japa and reading the Bhagavatam. Due to the Grace of Sri Balakrishnananda, Sri Ramakrishna earned deep love for Srimad Bhagavatam; and, through reading the Bhagavatam, earned deep Jnana.

The parents forced Sri Ramakrishna into marriage. Unable to go against the wishes of the parents he married a virtuous girl that they had chosen for him. Marriage did not have any effect on him. Sri Ramakrishna was deeply upset by the new bondage. One night, he had a dream in which he found himself in a forest and many dacoits trying to bind him. Suddenly, a lion appeared from nowhere, roaring ferociously. The dacoits threw the rope down and took to their heels. He realised that Lord Nrisimha would soon save him from the cruelty of his relatives who were the real dacoits trying to bind him to the world. The next morning he received the news of his wife’s death.

Mahans feel that the worldly ties are bondages that keep them away from their spiritual life. In Srimad Bhagavatam, we see how Sage Narada takes the death of his mother as an ‘anugraha’ [blessing]  (1:6:10). Sri Periyava had a similar feeling when he heard this news. He performed the death rites for his wife.

After the death of his wife his dispassion deepened. All worldly comforts seemed trivial. He spent all his time in meditating on his favourite Deity Lord Nrisimha who had protected his great Bhakta Prahlada. The relatives mistook his attitude to be longing for his lost wife and began to make plans for another marriage. Sri Ramakrishna sensed the danger. Days passed and suddenly one early morning, like the great Mahan Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra, he attained the ‘unmathha’ state. He ran away from home. He was twenty-eight years of age when he attained ‘self-realisation’.

He had no consciousness of the body and wandered about as an ‘avadhoota’ [naked sadhu]. Unaware of the world he wandered about like a madman.
[Srimad Bhagavatam describes the state of a Jnani as ‘unmathha, mookha, jadavat’ — he is like a madman, the dumb and the inert].

His unkept hair hung in knots. The body was frail. The mind, however, going beyond the differences of man and woman remained pure. Almost always he was silent or chanting the Divine Names of Lord Narayana. Filled with the nectar of the Lord’s Name he would at times dance, at times sing, at times shed profuse tears, at times cry out loudly. Wherever the Lord’s stories were recited he would go and listen to it. But this would push him into ecstacy and he would begin to sing, dance and cry. He would experience horripilation. He would cry out loudly, “Narayana! Narayana!” At times he would fall down in a swoon.

During his wanderings he came to the Holy Place Thiruvisanallur. Sri Ramasubbha Shasri, who was proud of his scholarliness lived here. He was a thorn in the way of all other learned scholars. Due to the pride of his learning he held an indifferent attitude to the great Bhagavatam. But he turned over a new leaf after listening to Srimad Bhagavatam from Sri Ramakrishna swami, just once! He earned deep faith and taste for Srimad Bhagavatam!

Suddenly, a deep desire to discourse on the Bhagavatam took hold of Sri Ramakrishna Swami.

He arrived at the village Kamakshipuram. Sri Panchanata Iyer, a resident of this village, welcomed him with all reverence. Many others joined him. But the great renunciate said to them, “I have not come here for food. I have come here with the deep desire to discourse on the Bhagavatam. Is anyone interested to listen to it?”

Hearing this, some of them prostrated to the Swami and said to him, “It is verily our fortune that you have come here to bless us. But some amongst us feel embarrassed to see you an ‘avadhoota’ [naked Sadhu]. We do not possess your spiritual maturity; hence, though we all deeply yearn to hear the Bhagavatam we hesitate to come to your presence on this account.”

The surprised Swami said to them, “If this state of mine proves a block to giving discourses or listening to the Bhagavatam I will embrace sanyas and live according to scriptural injunctions.”

All present there were wonderstruck. The Swami at once set out and received sanyasa, as per Scriptural injunctions, from Sri Panangudi Swami. Sri Panangudi Swami gave him the ‘diksha’ name of Swayam Prakasananda Saraswati [one who shines on his own] because like Prahlad he had had attained Jnana without a Guru in a human body. Sri Panangudi Swami comes down in a great lineage of Mahans who were all Krishna Bhaktas and loved Srimad Bhagavatam.

Sri Ramakrishna swami embraced sanyasa [ascetic life] a s his state of ‘avadhoota’ was a block to his rendering Srimad Bhagavata discourse. He desired to give discourse on the Bhagavatam even to the spiritually immature. Therefore, embracing ascetic life, he began to wear ochre colour loin cloth, ‘gopi chandan’ on his forehead and held ‘danda-kamandalu’ in his hand and scrupulously followed the various rules and regulations prescribed for this life. He was ever doing Bhagavata parayana [reading] and discoursing the Bhagavatam. The Divine Lilas and ‘gunas’ of Lord Hari drew the great ‘avadhoota’ into a life of scriptural discipline!

Is it not the Divine Lila of the Lord to attract the hearts of Jnanis and make them sing His glory? People who listened to the Bhagavatam from ‘Alangudi’ Periyava, who wandered about in the same state as Sri Suka, were indeed most fortunate. Sri Suka who had ‘realised his self’ and wandered about like the inert, dumb, child, took to Srimad Bhagavatam as he felt deeply attracted to the ‘gunas’ of the Lord: so too, ‘Alangudi’ Periyava had for sometime wandered about in this state and later, due to his deep love and taste for Srimad Bhagavatam, took to living as per strict scriptural injunctions and began to visit innumerable villages to give discourses on the Bhagavatam. He was the very personification of tolerance and patience. He was totally free from from anger and lust. He followed all the scriptural injunctions laid down for the ascetic way of life. ‘Alangudi’ Periyava loved children. He would gather them around and play with them. If a village did not have a pond, he would gather the youths of the village and dig a pond. He loved to maintain gardens, conduct ‘utsavs’ in Temples. He always stayed in a garden outside the village or in a Mutt or in a Temple. He wore only a loin cloth. He carefully followed the ‘asrama dharma’ as spoken in the Bhagavatam. He never touched money for any reason.
He would accept an invitation to a village only if people agreed to conduct Bhagavata saptaham there. He would refuse to visit for the sake of ‘bhiksha’ [food]. He used to visit some villages quite frequently He performed innumerable Bhagavata saptahams there. Even today one finds the people of these villages interested in Bhagavata saptaham and possessing Krishna Bhakti. Several disciples still recall his Bhagavatam discourse.

All these villages turned holy due to the stay of the Swamigal. All people were great devotees of the Lord. Due to his association many read the Gita and the Bhagavatam and many performed Namakirtan. Even women and children in villages blessed by his visits knew the Bhagavata slokas by heart. The Swami had great love for the commentary of the Bhagavatam by Sridhareeya. In his discourses, he would always quote from it.

At the end of every ‘Saptaham’ there would be Namakirtan in which the Swami would participate. The Namasankirtan would go all through the night; yet, the Swami would be fresh and give discourse the next day. Through these unique qualities and Bhakti he was a great solace and support to the householders.

Once, the Swami conducted Srimad Bhagavata saptaham in Dittacheri village. Every day Namakirtan was also performed. ‘Alangudi’ Periyava always enjoyed rendering Gajendra Moksha and Prahlad charitra. His discourse on Gajendra Moksha was excellent that day and he said,

“Lord Narayana is the Supreme Godhead. All other gods are in His control. Gajendra Moksha is a testimony to this. When Gajendra, in seeking refuge in the Lord, chanted a ‘sloka’ no deity rushed to his help because, this sloka calls out to the ‘One who is the prime cause of all’. They were well aware that there was someone else who had created them. Lord Vasudeva Himself came on His divine vehicle, the Garuda, and saved Gajendra. Therefore, Lord Hari [Vasudeva, Narayana] is verily the Supreme Godhead.”

There was a Pundit amidst the audience. He said that each Purana spoke of a different God as the Supreme Godhead. Gajendra Moksham in the Bhagavatam was a spin story to show Lord Hari as the Supreme Godhead and that one should not attach any importance to it.

‘Alangudi’ Periyava was deeply hurt by this. He said to him, “It is difficult for people like you to earn faith in Srimad Bhagavatam. Only the Grace of the Lord can clear your confused mind. My explanations will not suffice.”

The Pundit retorted, “Why don’t you own up your mistake? Being a ‘smarta’ [saivite] sanyasi why do you speak like a Vaishnava sanyasi holding Lord Vasudeva as the Supreme Godhead?”

The Swami said, “I spoke only the words of the Bhagavatam. You can accuse me of speaking wrongly only if it were my imagination.”

The Pundit walked away haughtily.

‘Alangudi’ Periyava bathed in the river there during the early hours of the morning. On one such morning the Swami had gone to bathe and a few of his disciples were with him. While the Swami was bathing a crocodile came up to him and caught hold of his leg. At once, the Swamigal lifted both his hands and cried out, ‘Hare! Hare!” and the crocodile immediately let go of his leg. However, the Swami’s leg was badly hurt. The Pundit who had watched this incident realised the greatness of the Swami and at once fell at his feet seeking his pardon. He said that his argument that ‘Gajendra Moksha’ was a spin story was due to his pride and that it was only to wipe out his ignorance that ‘Yateendra Moksha’ had taken place. [Yati means ascetic].

The Swami said to him, “Why do you beg my pardon? Do not feel envious if anyone speaks of Srimad Narayana as the Supreme Godhead.”

The Pundit became a great devotee of the Swami.

A deep wound had been formed on the Swami’s leg due to the bite of the crocodile. At the request of the disciples the Swami agreed to treat it. He asked them to collect some herbs and boil it in oil. He then asked them to pour it hot over the wound! No disciple came forward. The Swami said to them, “Hey, ignorants! why do you fear? Have not I repeatedly told you all that the Atma is different from the body? If it were true how would I, the Atma, suffer? Also, how would the body which is really inert suffer?” Uttering these words he removed the boiling oil from the oven and poured it over his wound and laughed loudly! This brought tears to the eyes of the devoted disciples. The leg healed within a few days.

Once, the Swami gave a discourse in the woods of Koothanur village. The day was quite hot. A snake suddenly wound its way through the audience and moved below the Swami’s seat.

Some of them requested the Swami to move away. The Swamigal said, “A man becomes eligible to embrace the ascetic life only when he earns the Jnana that all forms are verily the Lord. There is no difference between my body and that of the snake. It is verily Lord Nrisimha who is the Atma in both. Why fear? All of you sit quietly and listen to the Lord’s story.”

But is it possible for the people to forget the presence of the snake and listen to his discourse? By sheer grace of Swamigal he held their attention. The people totally forgot about the snake and were engrossed in the discourse. At the end of the discourse the Swami asked one of them, “Where is the snake? See if it is still here?”

The man feared lifting the seat to find out.The Swamigal laughed and lifted the seat only to find the snake gone. All were wonderstruck. The Swamigal said, “This is not surprising at all. The snake went back the way it came but all of you were totally engrossed in listening to the Bhagavatam and did not notice it!”

The people at once prayed to him to bless them so that their minds would always be engrossed in the Lord’s stories in this manner.

The Swamigal thus passed his days wandering about several villages conducting hundreds of Bhagavata saptaha yajna and preaching Bhakti to the people. He became old. He had not spent his life labourig for his family. Shunning worldly comforts he had spent his days in the thought of the Lord. The Swami’s eye sight failed and the disciples arranged for a surgery. Dr.Mahalinga Iyer was at first very indifferent towards the Swami. But soon he realised that the Swami had come to him with the excuse of a treatment only to bless him. The Swami refused to use anesthesia. He said that one could lose body consciousness without the anesthesia; and that when he did so, the doctor could perform his surgery. The Swami then lay in ‘savasana’ and lost consciousness of his body in yogic state. The doctor performed the surgery with deep reverence and devotion. All through the surgery the Swami lay without any movement. The doctor was simply amazed. He realised that the physical state of Jnanis were beyond their medical world, that the surgery he had conducted was only for his own good and that the diseases of Mahans were only their Lila. The vision of the Swami was restored and the doctor earned spiritual vision!

‘Alangudi’ Periyava, fully aware of the day whence he would shed his mortal coil, arrived at Mudikondan village. The fortunate ones there served him in various ways. The Swami decided to celebrate Lord Nrisimha Jayanti during Vaikasi month in ‘yuva varusha’ grandly. He celebrated Nrisimha Jayanti every year. A Bhagavata Saptaham was arranged in this connection. He gave discourse on the Bhagavatam in his own unique way. On the day of Sri Nrisimha Jayanati, celebration of Sri Rukmini Kalyanam came to an end in the evening. It was the last day of Bhagavata saptaham. At the end of the discourse, ‘Alangudi’ Periyava gave a brief discourse on Prahlada charitra, as it was the day of Lord Nrisimha Jayanti. He was narrating the scene of Prahalad offering his prayer to Lord Nrisimha.

A divine light [‘jyoti’] shot out of the top of his head. A few spiritually evolved people were blessed to witness this. The pure body of ‘Alangudi’ Periyava was buried as per scriptural injunction laid down for a sanyasi in Mudikondan.

The satsang ended with prayers and Namasankirtan.

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