Jun 17: Neelakanta Nayanaar

17 Jun

The “Rudram” in Yajur Veda is an invocation of Lord Shiva. ‘Namakam’ portion of the Rudram is a prostration unto the Lord with 300 Names of the Lord (all Names end with a Namah). The second portion is called “Chamakam” – (‘cha’ – ‘and’ conjunction). Two names in the Rudra are ‘ Kapardine namah’ and ‘vyupta keshAya namah’ – salutations to the one with matted locks, and salutations to the one with tonsured head. All of us know that Lord Shiva had matted locks. But no one has seen Lord Shiva with a tonsured head! Mahatmas expounding the Rudra say that the very Lord Shiva who is the greatest of the teachers (who taught through the medium of dynamic silence for 4 disciples) came down and taught using the medium of speech to millions of disciples, the same lesson of Jnana, Bhakti and dispassion. Hence he descended down as Adi Sankara Bhagavatpada in a holy kshetra called Kaladi. Being in mortal coil for merely 32 years, He accomplished the impossible – expounded Advaita and Bhakti. He was a great bhakta, who wrote short slokas on various deities in different meters–Ganesha Pancharatna, Subrahmanya Bhujanga, Panduranga Ashtaka, Krishna Ashtaka, Jagannatha Ashtaka, Yamunashtaka. Thus through his descent, he made true the Nama ‘vyuptakeshAya namah’.

Many of us have had the fortune of having the very incarnation of Lord Siva, the very incarnation of Adi Sankara, in our own times – as Kanchi Mahatma – His Holiness Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamiji – a ‘nadamaadum deivam’ born in ‘Anusha’ nakshatra this month.

An Upanishad says ‘Guru Prakaashe dheemaan’ – go and spread the greatness of your Guru if you wish to attain the supreme knowledge – three things are mentioned – preach the greatness of one’s Satguru, perform puja to the padukas of the Sadguru, perform Annadhaana. Sri Kanchi Mahaswamiji used to do these very religiously. He carried Adi Sankara’s Padukas wherever he went. He established ‘keerthi sthambas’ (pillars) glorifying Advaita and his Guru in many places. He also ordained that numerous Anna Dhaana be performed. We can see the same with our Guru Maharaj as well. Saptaha Shatakratus in Bangalore, Guruvayur, a Maha Samrajya Pattabhishekam for 9 days with 124 Bhagavatas in Bangalore – all of these were celebrated by our Guru Maharaj to mark Paramacharya’s Jayanti every year.

Following introductions, Narayananji continued to speak on the glory of Siva Bhaktas.

Bhakti is the simplest of paths to attain the Lord – ‘Bhaktya sulabho bhagavaan’. While other paths depend on individual’s mettle, Bhakti is a path that relies on the Lord’s grace alone. When a spiritual aspirant does enough good deeds (oblations etc.), he accrues merits, and at one point he may have accrued enough for Indra Loka. Likewise when one controls his senses and mind through dispassion and gets into deep Brahma Vichara, he attains the state of Brahma Loka eventually. These are similar to shopping in a market. As long as one has balance of the merits, he enjoys the Lokas, but when the balance decreases, he falls. It is like the status on a frequent flyer card when we have spent enough money travelling, we get entry into the executive lounge of the airport and even a free travel ticket. But when we exhaust those miles, we lose our status as well!

Krishna in Bhagavatam says that these means are all easy, but what is tougher for him is the path of Bhakti – ‘because an aspirant has enough merits and requests for Brahma Loka or Indra Loka, and I easily bestow it, like giving wages for effort. But very rarely do I bestow one with Bhakti, because when I bestow someone with Bhakti, I give myself to him and I end up going behind him!’

Krishna continues, ‘I bestow powers to those who perform Yaga and Brahma Vichara because they earn it. But a true devotee possesses powers that no one else does, if he wishes, because I who am omnipotent, am along with him. A true devotee can desire for anything and everything in this world, if he desires. But, the beauty of the matter is that He would not ask for anything else except for Me!’ Such is the greatness of a true devotee and devotion does not distinguish based on caste, creed etc. And this is true with both Krishna Bhakti and Shiva Bhakti

Bhagavatam is so interesting that where ever there is a mention of Krishna Bhakti, there is also a mention of Shiva Bhakti. When Prahalada Charitra is spoken about, immediately, Lord Shiva’s Tripura Samhara is mentioned.

Like there are 12 predominant devotees of Lord Vishnu, there are 63 devotees of Shiva called Nayanmars. One of them is Kannappa Nayanaar. He was a hunter and did a puja to Shiva Linga, gathering water in his own mouth, offering hunted wild animals itself as a food offering! Extremely pleased with his Bhakti, Lord Siva performs a leela with the Nayanmar.

Of all the Siva Kshetras in India, there are 12 Shiva Shetras called the Jyotirlingas. In the South, there are 5 Kshetras representing the 5 elements of Nature – Tiruvannamalai, Kalahasti, Chidambaram, Kanchipuram and Tiruvanaikovil.

Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram is called Sabhapathy – Sabha means a stage and ‘Pathy’ – the one who owns it. Lord Ranga Natha in Sriranga is also a sabhapathy – rangam means stage – and natha refers to the one who owns it. So Shiva and Vishnu are no different, Kanchi Mahaswamiji used to say.

Chidambaram is on the Eastern coast. A golden roof has been built for Lord Nataraja (the Name of Siva in this Kshetra) here. This forms the ‘akasa kshetra’ (Holy Place representing space – one of the five elements) of the ‘pancha bhoota kshetra’ (Holy places representing the five elements). All devotees of Lord Siva (‘Siva Bhaktas’) revere this Kshetra as ‘Bhoo loka Kailasa’ (the abode of Lord Siva on earth). A Siva Bhakta belonging to the caste of potters lived in this Kshetra. Spending only such time in making and selling pots as needed for the living, the rest of the time he spent in ‘Siva Bhakti’ (devotion to Lord Siva).

He never was without Siva darshan even for a day. It was for this very reason that he never went out of Town. Whenever time permitted he went to the temple and enjoyed the darshan of Lord Nataraja to his fill. Once, a discourser was discoursing on a Purana (Epic). Very wonderfully he explained that in spite of numerous Divine Names that Lord Siva had, it was the Name ‘Neelakanta’ that was very unique.

When the devas and asuras churned the Divine Ocean (‘parkadal’) ‘alakala visha’ (poison) was produced at first. The discourser explained, ‘Without any request from anyone Parameshwara (Lord Siva) went up and without a second thought consumed the poison voluntarily. This only goes to show his sacrificing nature.’ He went on to elaborate on this. Hearing this, this Siva Bhakta felt attracted to this Divine Name ‘Neelakanta’. From then onwards, he began to incessantly chant ‘Neelakanta!’ Neelakanta!’ It was because of this that he was addressed as ‘Neelakanta Nayanar’ by one and all.

Once, he and his wife visited the temple in the evening. It was a period when 16 kinds of ‘upacharas’ (various ways of offering worship) were being magnificently performed for Bhagavan. This includes dance, too. Just then in the temple a lady was dancing with deep ‘bhava’. As the dance was filled with bhakti Neelakanta Nayanar got drowned in it. His wife, however, mistook his intentions and left for home all alone leaving her husband in the temple. After the dance was over, Neelakanta Nayanar searched for his wife. He could not find her. So, he left the temple for home. Just then it began to rain heavily. He took shelter in a nearby home. Unexpectedly it happened to be the home of that dancer. Feeling happy that a devotee of Siva had come home, she invited him inside the house and offered him new clothes. She served him with affection in various ways and sent him home.

His wife had returned home in anger due to misconception of his behavior. While it was so, seeing him return with new dress her anger and suspicion deepened and she ordered him, “In the Name of Neelakanta do not touch me.” As they were couple of righteous conduct they lived without breaking the vow for a long time. They had now attained old age. At this time a Siva Bhakta came to their home for food. He gave them an ‘odu’ (a cup like vessel made of clay in which a mendicant begs for food) explaining that it was an unusual ‘odu’ that got filled up with food any number of times it was sought but that it would not work this way for others. He also told them to safekeep the ‘odu’ until his return from pilgrimage to Kasi (‘Varanasi’). However, as soon as he left the ‘odu’ disappeared!

The Siva Bhakta who returned from Kasi abused Neelakanta in various ways. He called him a thief. He accused him of being irresponsible. Neelakanta took hold of the Siva Bhakta’s feet and begged him, in several ways, to save him from this blame. But, the Siva Bhakta said, “I will believe your words if you and your wife hold each other’s hand and take a dip in the nearby pond and swear that you have not stolen the ‘odu’.
Nayanar, however, said, “We do not touch each other.”

The Siva Bhakta agreed to the two holding a stick and taking a dip in the pond together.

As soon as the couple took a dip in the pond and came out the Siva Bhakta was not to be seen! At the same time Goddess Parvati along with Lord Parameswara appeared on the ‘Rishaba vahana’ (Bull vehicle) in the sky! Moreover, the couple had attained the young age whence they had taken a vow not to touch each other! Also, their hands were held together on their own! As a proof of this, even today, we can have darshan of ‘Illamaiyakkinar’ (one who made [them] young) temple and the same pond in Chidambaram.

Puranas speak of Shiva and Vishnu Bhakti. Even in recent history we see this. Saint Thyagaraja a great Rama Bhakta and Sri GopalaKrishna Bharati were friends. Once the latter goes to Thiruvayyaru and meets Thyagaraja and they both sing a kirtan in exactly the same theme – Thyagaraja – “Rama nee samanamevaru…” and Gopalakrishna Bharati – “Sabaapathikku veru deivam…’! Our Guru Maharaj sings, ‘Ramakrishna harikku samana mandiram kandillene…’ in the same Raga!

Likewise, Tirumangai Azhwar and Tirugnaana Sambandar were close associates!

On the occasion of Kanhi Mahaperiyavaal’s Jayanti, we reminisced the charitra of a Nayanmar, for whose Bhakti, the Lord comes down!

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