I recently wrote a small article in Kannada (avaravara bhaavakke avaravara bhakutige) based on a personal experience and posted it on my blog, maatu-kate for my kins to read. The kins who read the piece seemed to have concentrated more between the lines and seemed to have detected ‘Rayara mahime’ (greatness/miracle of ‘Raayaru’) in the article which I am sure was not there when I wrote it. That certainly must have been ‘Rayara Mahime’!
Since I found considerable enthusiasm amongst them in discussing ‘Rayara Mahime’, I thought that I would make it the subject matter in this piece and provide more food for their thoughts. And so, here I am.
Disclaimer : I am only the narrator of this ‘Ghatane’ (Incident) as told to me by Anni (we called our father ‘Anni’) and do not vouch for the veracity of the incident. (And I do not think Anni made it up just to pull my legs.)
Before I proceed, for those who may need some basic information: Raghavendra Teertharu or Raghavendra SwamigaLu or ‘Raayaru’ as he is popularly known as, lived between 1595 - 1671, and was called Venkanna before he accepted ‘Sanyasa’(renouncing of the worldly affairs). He is said to have refused Sanyasa as he was married and it would not be fair to his wife and child. He is supposed to have relented after goddess Sharadadevi appeared in his dream and asked him to be a ‘Sanyasi’ and provide spiritual guidance for the betterment of this world. He was initiated into ‘Sanyasa’ by his guru Sri Sudheendra teertha and was named Sri ‘Raghavendra teertha’. After the time of Sri Sudheendra teertha he assumed the leadership of the Matha (an organization meant for spreading spiritual knowledge) which later became popular as ‘Raghavendra Matha’. He effectively undertook the task of spreading the Dwaita philosophy (Of Madhwacharya), was a great scholar, author and musician. He chose Mantralayam, a village near Adoni in Andhra Pradesh as the place for his Matha and Brindavana. (The final resting place or a sacred tomb for the Pontiff or the head of a Matha).
Raayaru is said to have entered the Brindavana alive in 1671 and while doing so, said to have mentioned that he would continue to be alive in his physical form inside the Brindavana for the next 300 years and then in a subtle form for another 400years. The day he entered the Brindavana is the day of his ‘Aradhane’(special worship) and in this context the 300th Aradhane held during 1971 assumes significance.
‘Raayara Aradhane’ is a big day in any Raayara Matha (subsidiary or a franchise of the Matha in Mantralayam - hundreds of them all over India) and more so in Mantralayam. Lakhs of people visit Mantralayam during Aaradhane which falls in Shravanamasa of the Hindu calendar, usually July - August, during rains. There was great excitement and enthusiasm amongst the devotees during the 300th Aaradhane, a very huge crowd was expected to visit Mantralayam and suitable arrangements were made. I must have been in 10th standard during the time and remember having read/heard about it.
Mantralayam in 1971 was not what one sees today. The infrastructure was limited and communication, poor. I believe many temporary shelters had been erected to accommodate the large number of devotees and the overflow was expected to accommodate itself on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, which flows close to the Matha. Since the Aradhane is performed over three days, people were staying overnight and a large area around the Matha had to be illuminated. One of Anni’s relatives, a prominent devotee of Raayaru and an electrical contractor, had taken the task of lighting up the area.
I understand that arrangements had been made expecting a big crowd but by the afternoon on the first day of ‘Aaradhane’ it was evident that the organizers had underestimated Raayaru’s influence on people. Rather, people’s faith in ‘Raayaru’. The arrivals were already double of what was expected and the second day being the most significant, it was going to increase further. The organizers tried to do their best and Anni received a frantic message from his relative, the electrical contractor, to get there by next morning (second day) with as much of wiring, fittings and tubes as possible. (For those who do not know Anni, he was employed with a dealer of electrical goods and was capable of organizing the material at short notice.)
Anni left for Mantralayam by evening carrying the goods and a bag containing a towel and a dhoti for himself. (Anni always travelled light. If he was going to any other place, he would have added a shirt to his personal luggage but he felt that there was no need for a shirt in Mantralayam as one does not wear shirts in a Matha.)
He arrived in Mantralayam the next morning much to the relief of his relative and immediately got involved in the task of installing the lights all the way up to the river. He was so much involved in his work that he did not have the time to stand in the long line to enter the Matha and offer his respects to Raayaru nor he had time for his lunch. He finished the task by late afternoon and was terribly tired and hungry. It is customary that those who visit a Matha for Aaradhane have their lunch there but it was long past lunch time and so Anni went to the river for a bath and was hoping to be able to just enter the Matha for ‘Darshana’ (traditional viewing of the idol) before trying to find something to eat in one of the small eateries in Mantralayam town. He came to the Matha and was surprised to find that there were a large number of people who were yet to have their lunch and that the food was still being cooked.
I understand that due to the unexpectedly large crowd, the food grains stocked for Aaradhane was inadequate and the food prepared for lunch was exhausted by the time half the people had eaten. The organizers were desperately trying to procure more grains but Mantralayam being a very small place there was not much hope. The prospect of thousands of devotees going without 'Prasada' (food served to devotees after the traditional offerings to the lord and Raayaru) was looming large when a truck carrying a load of food grains had arrived - a contribution to the Aaradhane from one of the big traders in Andhra and the food was being cooked with renewed enthusiasm. People waited patiently. Since there was time for lunch, Anni stood in the line for Darshana.
By then the arrangements for lunch began. ‘Patravalis’ (plates made by stitching leaves together) were spread on the ground in the tents erected for the purpose and people rushed there and sat waiting for the lunch to be served. So did Anni. ‘There is no god greater than the stomach god’ (ಹೊಟ್ಟೆ ದೇವರಿಗಿಂತ ದೊಡ್ಡ ದೇವರಿಲ್ಲ ) goes a Kannada saying. There was a mild drizzle outside. Just as the food was brought out to be served, the mild drizzle turned to a torrential downpour and water started flowing on the ground carrying with it the patravalis. Traditional serving was abandoned and people were asked to pick up their ‘plates’ and stand up to receive the food.
Most of the patravalis (which were also in short supply), had been washed off and there were many without a ‘plate’ to hold their food. People stood cupping their hands together to receive the food and crowded around those who were serving. The situation was getting chaotic. The food that was poured into the hands was freshly cooked and hot and people had to juggle it in their hands, to prevent burning their hands. Then they had to eat it fast without burning their mouths and ask for the next serving. But nobody complained. They felt lucky and happy that they received the ‘Prasad’of the 300th 'Aaradhane'.
Anni had no intentions of fighting through the crowd to get his 'Prasada' and so, while the concentration was on the ‘Prasada’ he went for the 'Darshana', offered his respects to Raayaru but decided to cut short his visit and return to Bangalore the same night. The bus stand was a little away from the Matha and there was still time for the bus. So Anni decided to spend time on the river bank and go to the bus stand in time for the bus, eat whatever was available in the local eateries and catch a bus. He went to the river, away from the crowd, and sat on a rock contemplating on the recent happenings.
He was sitting there lost in his thoughts when he heard a voice “Son, take this. You must be hungry”. (ಹಿಡಿ ಮಗು, ಹಸಿವಾಗಿರಬೇಕು ನಿನಗೆ.) He opened his eyes to find an old man standing in front of him with a container in hand. As if by reflex, Anni cupped both his hands together and held them out and the old man poured some ‘HuLiyanna’ (rice mixed with vegetable curry) from the container into his hands. Anni was very hungry and he began eating eagerly without even thanking the old man. It did not take long to finish what had been put in his hands. Anni looked up holding his hands out for another serving but there was no old man anywhere in sight! And even though Anni had eaten just a few mouthfuls he felt strangely full and contented. He did not want anything more!
Anni found a place to sleep in one of the makeshift tents erected along the river bank, had a sound sleep, participated in the Aaradhane celebrations of the third day, had a memorable lunch in the Matha and returned to Bangalore by the night bus.
This is what he told me. Did a stray old man carrying Huliyanna really come looking for Anni that evening? Who was he? Was Anni so hungry and tired, that he hallucinated? Did he make up a story just to pull my legs? Am I making up a story to pull your legs? I leave the answers to avaravara bhaava, bhakuti and brains.