Thursday, August 29, 2019

Garbha Rakshambikai Temple

Being a Friday, I pray my obeisance to the Goddesses – Durga, Lakshmi & Saraswathi who reside with their respective consorts all the time and bless us all the time. 

Today, I would like to share with you about Goddess Garbha Rakshambikai.

Legend has it that an ardent devotee of Goddess Parvati by the name Vedikai who was childless, prayed at this Mullai (a variant of jasmine flower) forest and the Goddess blessed her to conceive. However, at the time of delivery, Vedikai was almost about to lose her foetus, which is when the Goddess herself descended in human form and helped Her devotee to deliver the baby safely. Ever since, She resides here as “Sri Garbha Rakshambikai” and blesses Her devotees who even think of Her, not necessarily at her shrine particularly. 

“Sri Mullai Vana Nathar” is the name of Lord Shiva shrine here which is a svayambu idol made of a type of clay. Till date, there is no abhishekam that is performed on the Lord and only the paste of Punugu (Civet) is applied on the Lord’s Linga form on the 13th day after Pournami (new moon day), what is known as Valarpirai Pradosham day. The Punugu thus removed from the Lord’s idol is then distributed as prasadam to His devotees which is said to have a remarkable healing power for skin diseases among others.

Many people from all over the world visit Her to seek blessings for Child Birth. Again, one doesn’t have to visit Her in person, rather praying to Her will satisfy the Goddess and She shall bless the couple with fertility. There are thousands of Her devotees all over the world who narrate miraculous stories about Her benevolence and blessings towards child birth. 

Upon request and a payment made at the temple, the Priest performs pooja and offers Blessed Castor Oil to Her devotees which is said to help the woman for a safe delivery. The oil must be applied on the lower abdomen in the third trimester. The Woman can pray wherever she is and the Goddess shall bless her. The Oil can be requested either in person or through anyone else and there is no compulsion for the woman to visit Her in person during the Pregnancy. 

After child birth, the couple may visit the temple along with the new born baby and offer the bundle of joy on a cradle which is present at the temple premises and circumvent Her shrine. There are three cradles, wooden, silver and golden and one can anyone of them as per their wish and there's a small fee charged by the temple for this. It is ideal that this offering is completed before the baby turns One year old. 

The link above is the most popular Music Album eulogising Her sung by noted singer and Padmashri awardee Smt. Sudha Raghunathan. Hearing the songs and slokas during pregnancy is said to have healing effects on the foetus in the womb and the child can recognise the songs once they’re born as well. Nothing short of a miracle, indeed. 

Even after conception and child birth, continued prayers to “Sri Garbha Rakshambikai” is said to ensure well-being of the families and their children all their lives as well as being blessed in abundance. 

Here's a link to hear Her songs online as well.

The Temple is located at the holy place of "Thirukarugavoor", 15kms off Kumbakonam and is reachable comfortably by road through Public Transport as well as private vehicles.

Your Sarathy would be able to arrange a trip to visit Her and seek Her blessings. 

Bookings begin soon. 

Tirupullani Temple

While the Lord has innumerable forms and names, the most widely popular are the Dasavathara – the Ten forms. It is impossible to condense the incarnations the Lord has taken but these Ten forms largely narrate the human evolution. From the form of a living creature in the oceans and seas, the Lord’s forms take shape one after the other. The seventh form of the Lord in this series is that of a human. It is widely believed that the entire script around he abduction of Goddess Sita and the subsequent killing the Demon King Ravana is actually a byproduct, for the Lord took this incarnation only to tell mankind how a person should lead his/her Life. The incarnation is more about upholding values, be it as a faithful son for a Father or a dutiful son of a Mother, loving and caring Brother and a doting husband/father who lives by the word of Dharma. A role where the Lord shows the world what friendship is, how people of all castes or creeds are one and the same and how animals, be it a monkey or a squirrel are to be loved and cared for.

Lord Rama’s righteousness, values and His entire story can not be summarised even in a week long Upanyasa (Discourse) on Ramayana, and obviously not in this article. Every time we hear the Ramayana’s narration from someone, we learn something new about the Epic. Here’s one such interesting information that you may already know, or perhaps not. 

King Dasaratha – he was named such because he could control Ten Rathas at a time, such was his valour and a famous ruler of Ikshvaku’s Kshatriya clan of the Surya dynasty. All said and done, he wasn’t blessed with a Child which was one of his biggest qualms. He descended all the way to Tirupullani which houses the “Adhi Jagannatha Swamy” shrine. The Lord is seen here in a seated position with Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi alongside. The King prayed the Lord to bless him with a son who had every ideal which was ever bestowed upon any human being. The Lord said there’s nothing as such created until now and therefore He shall Himself be born to the King and shall bless the world. After performing the Ashwamedha Yagna, the King and his three wives were blessed with not one but Four children. 

Many years later, when Lord Sri Rama was about to cross the mighty ocean to secure Goddess Sita from Lanka, he is said to have prayed to the deity here to seek his blessings for a successful victory across the border and shore. This is perhaps the only such shrine in the world at any Hindu temple where one can see Lord Sri Rama in a reclined posture, (usually connoted with Lord Sri Ranganatha who is seen reclined on the celestial Snake, Adisesha). The Lord is seen lying on the holy darba grass along with Lakshmana, Hanuman, The Sea God and Sea Goddess, Sugriva and the 36,000 devathas. 

A few kilo metres from here is the exact place where the Lord is said to have embarked his journey to Lanka. The locals say that until a few years back, they have seen the so-called floating stones which was used by the Lord to cross the Sea, although the general public cannot access this area any more. 

If you haven’t visited Tirupullani yet, do mark it in your Places-To-Visit in 2019. Among the 106 Divya Desam shrines on Earth (The Celestial Ocean and the Vaikunta being the other two) – places sung by Sri Vaishnavite Azhwars in praise of the Lord Sriman Narayana, the temple is about 20 kms from Ramanathapuram and a two-three hour drive by road from Madurai which also houses a large Airport. Your Sarathy will be able to arrange a trip for you. Soon.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lord Shanaischaran

Today is Saturday. A day dedicated to Lord Shanaischaran (Saneeswarar is more colloquial).

Shanaischaran means someone who walks slow. The Lord, among the Nine Planets is the son of Lord Surya and is apparently handicapped in his leg and hence moves very slowly once He enters one's Janma Rashi, 7 1/2 years to be precise.

But that’s not always the case, for He is a very benevolent, great Teacher and guides His devotees in the path of righteousness during this period. Yes, he pushes one to the brim but when the said devotee surrenders to Him completely, one can only come out with worldly wisdom and knowledge.

The Lord has many shrines for Him, especially and mostly inside Shiva temples as part of the Navagraha shrine or even as an individual one. The Lord is almost always facing West and his back towards His father, Lord Surya who is always facing East. Lord Shani likes dark blue and black colours and Till is the preferred offering to the Deity. 

But the two most popular ones are separate shrines at Sri Abatsagayeswarar Temple, Thirunallaru in Puducherry and a Swayambu Shrine at Kuchanoor in Tamil Nadu (near Theni hillside). One can reach Thirunnalaru by road from Chennai via Pondy or by road from Mayiladuthurai aka Mayawaram. Kuchanur is reachable only by road while driving from Theni towards Cumbum.

Did you know there are two more interesting shrines for Him?

One is at Nachiyar Koil near Kumbakonam where He is present with His two wives Mantha Devi and Jeshta Devi and two children, Mandhi and Kuligan. This is also a Shiva temple where Sri Ramanatha Swamy is the main deity. Legend has it that King Dasharatha once fought against Lord Shani, not with a sword but with his intellect and Lord Shani was mighty impressed with him in this regard and sanctioned him a boon, to which the King requested the Lord to remain on Earth and bless all those who came there to seek his divine vision. Many years later, Lord Sri Ramachandramurthy visited the place where His father during this incarnation has installed the Lord Shani idol and He also installed a Shiva Linga, which surprising measures exactly the same as the one in Rameswaram. Such is the greatness of this holy shrine which is less than 1,000 metres from the famous Nachiar Koil Temple which houses Sri Maha Vishnu & Maha Lakshmi.

The other temple is at Thirukollikadu, inside Sri Agnieeswarar Temple where the Lord is famously known as Pongu Saneeswarar, which is located 55 kms from Kumbakonam. Pongu Sani is the second time one inherits the 7 ½ Shani period in their lives. It is said that the Lord relieves His devotees of their dush karma if they visit this shrine during their 7 ½ Shani period.

Sarathy, your friendly Travel Companion will be able to arrange trips to these Temples soon. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ahobila Kshetra

Among the various incarnations of Sriman Narayana, there are a few which are endeared by mortals – Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and Lord Narasimha, in no particular order of preference. 

Perhaps, this is because of a simple reason that these three Avatars have the most number of shrines on the Earth. While Rama & Krishna are closer to devotees because of their human-like form and qualities such as having a normal family, affectionate towards their friends, duty-bound to elders & parents, mischief like other kids, having a Guru and following their orders and so on, Lord Narasimha is always considered as among those incarnations who can bless devotees the most due to his benevolence. Although Lord Narasimha took this role to protect his ardent devotee in a fierce form, HE is also considered the most loving and peaceful deity, with his various forms such as  Sri Lakshmi Narasimha, Sri Yoga Narasimha & Sri Prahlada Varada Narasimha, etc. and is believed that HE would give any and every boon or wish when HIS devotees seek with earnest devotion. 

It’s been my lifetime desire to visit Ahobilam where the Narasimha Avatara is supposed to have occurred. Incidentally, while all Avatars took many decades to begin and end, this one Avatara of Lord Sri Maha Vishnu is supposedly the shortest, which is to have completed in less than 45 minutes according to various transcripts and experts, since the mighty Lion King came out of the Pillar around sunset time and it was all over within minutes ahead of moon rise. 

This Independence Weekend, we travelled by road from Chennai to Ahobilam in my SUV and were blessed by the Almighty to get HIS darshan and blessings. There are Nine shrines at Ahobilam where Lord Narasimha appeared and these are Swayambu idols here. 

Let me explain one by one, with my limited knowledge of reading & hearing from various sources. Do pardon me if there are any errors in my understanding of the Bhramanda Purana which explains the formation of the holy avatar of Lord Narasimha. 

1) Jwala Narasimha

This is the place where Lord Narasimha tore apart King Hiranyakashipu – at the doorstep of the latter’s palace as per his boon received from the creator Lord Brahma, that he cannot be killed inside or outside a tenement. The only solace that Brahma had at the time was the boon included anything and everything created by Him cannot destroy Hiranya, much to His relief, since He knew that Sriman Naarayana was anyway around to take care, who is none other than the Creator’s Creator. Perhaps, Brahma was the first one to use the coinage “*Conditions Apply” while executing this offer to his beloved Hiranya! 

The Lord is seen here in a seated position with Hiranya on his lap tearing him with the nails of a Lion – Vajra Naka. Also seen with him are other deities of Lord Narasimha appearing out of the Pillar, Lord Narasimha displaying his valor with Hiranyakashipu, Lord Narasimha with Sage Sukracharya and another of Lord Sri Maha Vishnu. 

Thus, completes the sloka – 

“Ugram, Veeram, Maha Vishnum, Jwalantham Sarvatho mukam…”

Right atop this shrine is the Pillar which was split across when the Lord appeared as prayed by Prahlada, that HE manifests anywhere and everywhere – known as Ugra Sthambha. Apparently, the entire area of Ahobilam was the Palace of Hiranya which was completely destructed during the rage with which Lord Hari appeared in this most fierce form.

Outside this shrine, one can also see the “Rakta Kunta” – the place where Lord washed his hands after killing Hiranyakashipu. The water stream which reaches here from atop the upper hills is red in color but becomes colorless once it reaches the small pit.  The hill is also known as Garudadri – the Lord appears in this Avatara as is to his vahana Garuda as per the latter’s wish since Garuda wasn’t present during the previous three Avataras.

This is the first Shrine among the Nine Shrines in Ahobilam and is the toughest to reach by foot. The climb to Ugra Sthambha from this shrine is nothing short of a terrific trek which I didn’t attempt although a few people do try and make it once in a while. 

From the Upper Ahobilam point beyond which vehicles cannot drive any further, the walk to this Temple would take about one hour. It’s a very, very steep climb, intermittent with rocks and cement steps. There was neither heavy rains nor water alongside rive Bhavanashini which flows all along from the Ugra Sthambha, so the climb was relatively easier. 

Kids below 10 years and adults above 50 years and those with other health ailments could find it difficult, although the climb can be achieved with passion - “vairagya” and of course only and only with HIS blessings. 

2) Ahobila Narasimha

After killing Hiranyakashipu, Lord Narasimha arrives at this spot to calm down and is seen with Prahlada standing opposite to Him. When Prahlada asks Lord Narasimha where was his father, HE tells Prahlada that Hiranyakashipu is on his lap and can be seen here in the same form. It is said that Lord Shiva performed prayers here to calm down Lord Narasimha after the massive destruction of Hiranyakashipu. The temple also has a separate shrine to Goddess Chenchu Lakshmi, which is located right next to the Lord. Chenchu Lakshmi is the official consort of Lord Narasimha in this Avatara.

The shrine is actually a cave inside which the presiding deities are present and the temple structure as it is seen now has been carved outside the cave by successive Kings and devotees. The temple is quite a large precinct and is undergoing a lot of renovation work with scaffoldings all over and the place where this temple is located is known as “Upper Ahobilam” where vehicles are parked for devotees to climb up to other shrines. 

This temple is a few steps away from the parking area and is quite accessible to people of all ages. There are a few shops here which sell snacks, beverages etc. and this is also the place where the Trek to Jwala Narasimha Shrine begins. After this place, one cannot buy anything to eat or drink. There is a Bhojanashala here which offers free food to devotees all day. 

3) Malola Temple

Ma refers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lola means the beloved. Malola Narasimha is Her Beau in a peaceful form as Lord Narasimha. After tearing apart Hiranyakashipu, the Lord is seen seated here along with Mahalakshmi on his lap and the reason for His peaceful form is none other than the Goddess. Also, since the official consort of Lord Narasimha is Chenchu Lakshmi, Goddess Mahalakshmi is not too happy and hence Lord Narasimha can be seen pacifying Her.

This temple could be reached in two ways – while climbing up from Ahobila Narasimha shrine or while climbing down from Jwala Narasimha shrine, although the trek on both ways is extremely arduous and one must be extra careful while climbing up or down. 

4) Kroda Narasimha

In this shrine, Lord Narasimha is seen alongside an idol of Sri Varahaswamy. The two Avatars of Lord Varaha and Lord Narasimha happened for the same purpose; and Sriman Narayana took these two incarnations to destroy the brothers Hiranyaksha & Hiranyakashipu. Interestingly, the brothers are none other than the Lord’s securitymen – Jaya Vijaya. Due to a curse by Sanatkumaras, the duo were to be away from the Lord for 100 births. However, the duo pleaded to the Lord that they could never stay away from Him for so long. So, the Lord offered a choice – be away from me for 100 births as my devotees or my enemy for 3 births. Despite being born as Asuras, the duo chose the latter and were born as Hiranya Brothers, Ravana & Kumbakarna and Shishupala & Dantavaktra.

Hence, the Lord appeared in both forms of Varaha & Narasimha to bless the duo and the devotees who would throng the place in future. This is the only such shrine where both Avataras can been seen together and is a boon for devotees like us to see HiM this way. 

This shrine is on the way from Ahobila Narasimha Shrine to Jwala Narasimha Shrine and is on the banks of the river Bhavanashini, which flows all the way from the Ugra Sthambha.

5) Karanja Narasimha

This is perhaps the only shrine of Lord Narasimha in a unique form. Let me explain how. 

Lord Hanuman arrived at Ahobilam to pray and perform penance in this forest through which Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Lakshmana had once travelled during their “vanavas”. While Hanuman was chanting “Ram, Ram”, Lord Narasimha appeared in front of him. Lord Hanuman rejected this form asking Him not to disturb his penance, to which Lord Narasimha appeared with a Bow and also opened his “Third Eye” to prove HE is none other than Sriman Narayana much to the happiness of Hanuman. There is also a separate shrine for Lord Hanuman here. 

This temple is on the way from Ahobila Narasimha Temple towards Lower Ahobilam and can be quite easily reached by road through personal or local transportation. 

6) Bhargava Narasimha

This is the shrine where Lord Parasurama also known as Sage Bhargava is said to have prayed to Lord Narasimha where we wanted to have darshan of Sriman Narayana in the same form as HIS avatar.

It is here that the sage created a tank which is known as Akshaya Tirtha, where the water never recedes and till date, can be seen with water coming from underground. Sage Bhargava would fetch water from this tank daily to offer prayers to Lord Narasimha here.

This shrine is not accessible by foot. One has to hire a jeep from Lower Ahobilam to reach this place which is a treacherous drive as well.

7) Yogananda Narasimha

Ever since his father was destroyed by Lord Narasimha, the Lord took the role as a father to Prahlada and taught him several Life skills including Yoga and thus, this shrine is named Yogananda Narasimha where the Lord is also in a happy form.

This shrine is about 3 kms from Lower Ahobilam and can be easily accessed by any three / four wheel vehicle (self-driven or local transportation). 

8) Chatravata Narasimha

Another unique posture of Lord Narasimha which cannot be seen elsewhere in the world.

Once upon a time, famous Gandharva duo Hahaa-Huhoo came here and performed music much to the delight of the Lord. Hence, here Lord Narasimha is seen seated with one hand on his lap as though he is tapping it, enjoying the music of the Gandharvas.

This shrine is about 3 kms from Lower Ahobilam and can be easily accessed by any three/four wheel vehicle (self-driven or local transportation).

9) Pavana Narasimha

Chenchu Lakshmi is the Lord’s consort, who grew up in the forest. Located on the banks of the river Pavana, the name of the shrine therefore is Pavana Narasimha. Legend has it that Sage Bharadwaja absolved his sins at this shrine. Therefore, it is believed that one would absolve themselves of all sins committed knowing or unknowingly by visiting this shrine. 

Since Chenchu Lakshmi is a tribal woman, some people offer animal sacrifice here till date.

The ride to this shrine is perhaps the most arduous of all, since it can be taken up only through inside the dense forest areas in a jeep which is available from Lower Ahobilam. The drive time is approximately 50-55 mins. Brace yourself if one of the 20+ year old Mahindra Armada Jeeps breaks down mid-way only to be rescued by another jeep from Lower Ahobilam. Alternatively, there is a walking pathway from the Ahobila Narasimha shrine although many people say it would take more than an hour to reach here and the trek is extremely difficult too.

Apart from the Nava Narasimha Shrines, there are two more important places to visit.

Ahobila Lakshmi Narasimha

The family deity of Kali Yuga’s pratyaksha Lord Sri Srinivasa (Tirumala fame) is none other than Lord Narasimha. Legend has it that after HIS celestial wedding that happened amid much fanfare at Tirupati (at Srinivasamangapuram to be precise), the divine couple visited Ahobilam and the Lord installed the idol of Sri Lakshmi Narasimha and offered his obeyance. The temple has been further built by King Krishnadevaraya and his successors and has a resplendent temple architecture seen in the other parts of India, of the erstwhile era of the Rayas. 

There is a separate shrine for Goddess Mahalakshmi here as well. This is the temple right in the town of Ahobilam.

Prahlada Patashala

King Hiranyakashipu was a staunch Shiva bhaktha although he believed that he was the most powerful creature on earth after receiving a boon from Lord Brahma. Therefore he expected his son Prahlada to chant his name all the time to which Prahlada refused and argued there is only one creator of this world which is none other than Sri Hari, Sriman Narayana, Maha Vishnu. Irked by this, Hiranyakashipu tortured Prahlada and in one instance, was pushed atop a hill to fall down, where he was rescued by a Lion which was residing in a cave.

At this place, one can see the cavern from where Prahlada was pushed and rescued by Lord Narasimha in the form of the Lion. In the same hill, there are transcripts, apparently written by Prahlada himself that there is only one God and that is Sri Hari.

The shrine can be reached after an arduous 20 minute trek from Malola Narasimha Shrine and one has to pass through the rocks, sometimes which would have River Bhavanashini flowing and then climb up a narrow step to reach the cave inside which the Lord can be seen along with Prahlada, Lord Sudarshana and Lord Maha Vishnu. 

The Nine Planets have also visited Ahobilam and prayed to each of the Nine Narasimha Shrines and have been blessed by the Lord Himself.

On the Poorva Aradhana Day of Sri Raghavendra Swamy, we were blessed to visit this punya Kshetra where Sriman Narayana appeared to save and bless His ardent devotee Prahalada who reincarnated in this Kali Yuga as Sri Raghavendra Swamy. I am blessed to write and file this article on the Main Aradhana day and seek the Blessings of the Almighty to protect us from evil forces and bless us with abundance.

Om Namo Narayanaya. Om Namo Bhagavathe Vasudevaya. Hari. Hari Hari.

Trip Itinerary

There are multiple group tours which are organised from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, etc. to Ahobilam. The trip cost depends on the operators. There is nothing here as Government supported Public Transport albeit there are buses which pass through Ahobilam once in a while. Within the town, there are 3 / 4 wheeler private vehicles which ferry people around. 

If you are driving down yourself, the onward journey would take about 8-9 hours depending on where and when you start your trip at Bangalore or Chennai. On day One, assuming you arrive by 2pm, after completing a quick lunch, one could complete the visits to Pavana Nararimha and Bhargava Narasimha shrines, which would together take about 3 hours by local jeeps to complete. 

On Day two, the trek to Jwala Narasimha shrine may begin by 7am after a quick bite and would be back in town by 2pm during which one would complete visits to 5 shrines including Jwala Narasimha, Ahobila Narasimha, Kroda Narasimha, Malola Narasimha and Karanje Narasimha. This trip can be undertaken in your own vehicle or through local vehicles.

Post Lunch, one can complete the visit to the shrines of Chatravata Narasimha and Yogananda Narasimha by 5pm and then visit Ahobila Lakshmi Narasimha to complete the trip.

Please note that all Hill shrines open at 7am and close by 5pm with a brief Lunch break in between which the Priest decides basis the crowds thronging the shrines. The two temples in Lower Ahobilam open at 7am and close at 6pm. The Ahobila Lakshmi Narasimha temple is however open every day until 8pm.

Ahobila Mutt has a few rooms which are available for a nominal rent. One can call the office of Ahobila Mutt and enquire room availability. They also offer hygienic & tasty Satvik breakfast, lunch and dinner if informed in advance and subject to availability of the Cook cum Priest. Alternatively, there are private guest houses which charge Rs. 1,500 onwards  per night for a double-bed room with attached toilet & a/c, but the room rates are seasonal and may fluctuate.  

Apart from bottled branded water, juices, snacks & fresh tea / coffee, there is not much hygienic food available in public areas, save for Ahobila Mutt or private guest houses. 

Best season to visit Ahobilam is from July onwards although Aug-Sep is usually rainy season and it could get too cold during winters and the early summers, mid-summer could be extremely hot and would make the treks and climbs impossible due to the heat.

There are local guides who are available to escort the pilgrims and charge upwards of Rs. 1,000 per day to take the devotees through the terrain and also explain about the temples.

The nearest Fuel station is located 9 kms away from Ahobilam and the nearest bigger town is Allagadda which is about 20 kms from the holy shrine.  

I hope the above description of Nava Narasimha shrines at Ahobilam would be useful to you and those who seek detailed information about the place. Do pardon me if there are any mistakes in my research and writing and help me correct wherever possible. Please send me your feedback and queries, if any to