Saint who underlined the power of Namasiddhanta
Every significant event that happened in the life of Narayana Tirtha was ordained by Lord Krishna, says A. RAMJI, tracing the saint's spiritual journey.
Sri Narayana Tirtha
THERE ARE several versions of the life and achievements of Saint Narayana Tirtha but common to all of them is the indisputable divine influence right from the beginning of his life up to the moment he entered Jeeva Samadhi.
The saint was named Govinda Sastri by his parents and mastered Vedic literature and Srimad Bhagavatham at a very young age. He also showed great interest and aptitude in music. He was married to Uchamma. Once, he was on his way to his wife's house. He had to cross the Krishna and was caught in the floods. Apprehending that his end was near, he removed his sacred thread, pulled out a hair as a token of having shaved off his head, chanted the appropriate mantra and took "apat sanyasa."
The current, however, dragged him into a bush and he was saved. He reached his wife's house and Uchamma, who opened the door, found a radiant sanyasi standing before her! Govinda Sastri realised that although he wanted to suppress the `apat sanyasa' episode, it was divine will that he should become an ascetic. He retired to a lonely hill nearby and performed penance (tapas) for over a decade. Still, self-realisation eluded him.
At this juncture, a divine voice commanded him to go to Kasi, where he joined a group of sanyasins discussing Vedanta. One of them was Sivaramananda, who was deeply impressed by the brilliance of Govinda Sastri. He took him under his wings, named him Narayana Tirtha and guided him to read "Proboda Sudakaram" of Adi Sankara for gaining atma-gnana or self-realisation. "The only way to master the fickle mind is by constant chanting of the name of God," told the master to the disciple. He asked him to proceed to the banks of the Cauvery in the South and seek enlightenment from Swami Bodendra Saraswati.
With his penchant for music, Narayana Tirtha started singing the glory of Krishna as he moved to the south via Prayag, Mathura, Puri, Mangalagiri, Kuchipudi and Athangi before reaching Tirupati. At Tirupati, he found a bright Brahmin lad with Vaishnavite marks all over his body eating temple prasadam. The boy brought more prasadam, offered some to Tirtha and continued to indulge himself. Declining the offer, Tirtha told him: "You will get stomach ache if you eat like this." Retorted the boy: "On the contrary, you may get a stomach ache for refusing to take this prasadam." The next instant Narayana Tirtha felt acute pain in his stomach and soon was in agony. The young boy clapped hands, laughed and danced at his discomfiture. In that dance, Narayana Tirtha recognised the divine rhythm of Govinda and the Muse in him gushed out spontaneously. It is said that his gitam, "Bala gopala mamuddara," was composed here.
By the time Sri Tirtha reached south, Sri Bodendra Saraswati as well as his disciple Sridara Ayyaval of Tiruvisanallur had attained siddhi. He read their great writings on Nama-Siddhanta, which helped to reaffirm the fundamental teaching of his Guru that the royal road to Salvation lay in chanting the name of God. Nowhere has the great power of Namasiddhanta been expounded more brilliantly than in his gitam, "Rama Krishna Govindeti," where he proclaimed that the utterance of the names of Rama, Krishna and Govinda had more sanctity than a bath at the holy Prayag in the sangam of the Ganga.
Tirtha's stomach pain became acute when he was at a place called Nadukaveri and he prayed that he should be given the strength to go back to Tirupati, where it all started. Again, a divine voice asked him to follow a boar (varaha) to wherever it led him.
The varaha led him to Bhupatirajapuram, which came to be known as `Varahur' later. The people of the village knew that a maha-purusha was coming. With their help, he raised the temple for Sri Lakshmi Narayana and Lord Venkateswara and settled down on the banks of river `Kudamurutty' the name by which the Cauvery was known at this place.
While Narayana Tirtha was at Kasi, Siddendra Yogi, adept in dance, had become his disciple. After seeing him perform "Bhama Kalapam" in Yakshagana style, Narayana Tirtha felt irrepressible `waves' of Krishnanubhava reverberating in his mind. These waves took shape as `Gitams' and `Gadyams' in chaste Sanskrit, set to melodious music. Thus was born his magnum opus, "Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini," most of which was composed at Varahur. He used to recite his tarangams in Varahur temple after the evening puja, and after the curtains were drawn, and the village folk assembled to hear these beautiful songs.
It is said that the Lord expressed his approval by sounding His anklets. Whatever was not endorsed by Him was not included in "Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini." Like "Narayaneeyam" of Bhattadri and "Geeta Govindam" of Jayadeva, this work had the seal of direct divine endorsement. No wonder the contents reflected the highest Vedic thoughts and Upanishadic philosophy.
Once the serious contents of tarangams came in for criticism by Varadaraja Kavi of Varahur, who had portrayed Krishna Leela in a lighter romantic vein in his work, `Madana Madhavam.' Varada Kavi is said to have lamented that Narayana Tirtha had left Sri Krishna in the company of old women like the Vedas and Upanishads, while He liked to dance in gay abandon with the gopikas. When this comment was heard by Tirtha, he said with tears that being a sanyasi he was not able to depict the Sringara bhava of Krishna Leela. That night, he had a vivid vision of Lord Krishna and Radha talking intimately. Out came the Gitam, "Kalaba Gati Shobha" which is perhaps the only song in Sringara rasa in the entire work. It is well known that Narayana Tirtha was associated with Bhagavata Mela tradition and had composed a dance drama called, "Parijathe Apaharanam" in Telugu when he went to Melattur.
In the evening of his life, Sri Narayana Tirtha longed for solitude. It is said that he wandered from Varahur, along the banks of the Cauvery and was fascinated by the natural beauty of Thirupoonthuruthi. He entered Jeeva Samadhi here, under a sprawling mango tree, on Masi Shukla Ashtami, Guru Varam, Krittika Nakshatram day. Thirupoonthuruthy comes alive as the Aradhana Committee commemorates the occasion with the rendering of tharangams and namasankirtanam by eminent musicians for four days.
BEGINNING FEBRUARY 13, Tirupoonthuruthy will resonate with music and discourses for four days. Musicians will render verses from the ``Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini continuously. Namasankirtanam by bhajan groups including that of Sri Thukaram Ganapathy Maharaj (on February 16, Aradhana day) and Udayalur Kalyanarama Bhagavatar on the inaugural day are the highlights. The festival will conclude with Anjaneya Utsavam on February 16.
AIR will broadcast live the concerts in the National Programme on February 13, 10-11 p.m. Doordarshan also will telecast excerpts.
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