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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who Left the Bilva Leaves Here?

(An incident that made Maha SwamigaL melt)
Author: Sri Ramani Anna (in Tamil)
Source: Sakthi Vikatan issue dated Feb 17, 2007
Publisher: Viketan Publications
Translator: saidevo

Once Kanchi Maha SwamigaL undertook his divya darshana yAtrA with his entourage to Sri Saila kSetra which is known as the 'Dakshina Kailash'.

When they reached Kurnool, AcharyaaL was given a grand reception at the borders of the city. SwamigaL was accommodated in a bhajan maNDapa where he gave a discourse on Sanatana Dharma in Telugu to the large gathering of devotees. At the end of the lecture, he gave the devotees his blessings and prasAda and continued on his yAtrA.

As they were at a small distance away from Kurnool, it started drizzling and increased to heavy rains in no time. The devotees of SriMaTham and the palanquin bearers (called bhogis) prayed to SwamigaL to sit inside his mena and not get wet. AcharyaaL did not accede. He said, "When all of you are walking drenched, only I should come in the palanquin? No, I too shall walk the same way like you!" and started walking fast. A Shiva temple became visible at a calling distance. SwamigaL visited the temple with his entourage, where he was given a warm welcome with the honour of pUrna kumbham. After everyone towelled and changed into new clothes, they had dharshan of the Lord of the temple. When the darshan was over, the rain had also stopped, and they resumed their journey.

After they passed a distance of seven or eight miles, a fertile Zamin village was sighted. All the people in the village with their family and children came to the boundary of the village and welcomed Maha SwamigaL with pUrna kumbham. Thereafter, the Zamindar of the village prayed to SwamigaL with humility: "Our village should become holy, sanctified by the holy feet of SwamigaL. You should stay here for a few days. There is a large choultry here with facilities for your stay and puja punaskArya. A clean puSkaraNi is also nearby."

The entire village prostrated to SwamigaL and prayed. AcharyaaL was moved by their AtmArta bhakti. He gave them his anugraha and announced to their immense happiness that he would stay with them for twenty-one days.

The village wore a festive look on the next morning. Arrangements for the ChandraMauleesvara puja were done, AcharyaaL having left for his bath in the nearby pond. The aged SriMaTham kAryastA asked the youth who were doing the arrangements with anxiety: "ENdAppa! You people have arranged for a large samRuti of flowers, but then there are no bilva patra (bhilva leaves) among them! How can Periyavaa do the sahasra nAmArcanA without them?"

The youths stood, wringing their hands. The kAryastA did not leave them at that. "ENdAppa, if you stand mute like this, will the bilva leaves arrive of their own accord? Go and tell the village people about the requirement of three-leaved bilva clusters for Periyavaa's ChandraMauleesvara puja and ask them to bring large numbers of them in bamboo baskets. Get someone who understands Telegu and talk to them. If that does not convey it properly... show them the nirmAlya leaves we have--the remains of the earlier pujas done by Periyavaa, and ask them to bring the leaf clusters!"

The youth came out with a person who spoke Telegu, bringing with them the nirmAlya bilva leaves. They showed them to the people in the village and requested them to bring the leaves within the next half hour. The people told them that they had never seen a tree that has clusters of three leaves on a single stalk. The village vedic pundits also confirmed that there were no bilva trees in their village. 

SwamigaL arrived, finishing his bath. The puja articles were ready in the centre of the hall. The first question Maha Periyavaa asked on having a glance at them was, "ENdAppa! Have you arranged for the bilvam for arcana?"

The MaTham kAryastA hesitated. AcharyaaL asked, "Why, what's the matter? Aren't bilva patrAs available in this place?" The kAryastA said in a soft voice, "Yes, Periyavaa! The village people and the vedic pundits here say that there are no bilva trees in this place."

SwamigaL smiled to himself. It was 10:30 hours in the morning. SwamigaL walked hurriedly towards the backyard of the choultry. He entered the cattle shed of the cows. He climbed and sat on a rock of black stone found there, and lapsed into meditation. The SriMaTham notables were worried that the bhikSA vandanam for ChandraMauleesvara and Periyavaa might stop for want of bilva leaves. Tears started welling up in the eyes of the kAryastA. The news reached the Zamindar who sent people to search for the bilva trees in their place, but was disappointed. The time was 11:30 hours. People had gathered around the cattle shed, waiting silently with anxiety. The sight of Maha SwamigaL in meditation on the rock reminded them of sAkSAt Sri Parameshwara sitting in the Kailash mountain. Suddenly they saw a SriMatham devotee coming from the entrance, carrying on his head a large basket. His face was full of happiness. He heaved the basket down in the hall--and what wonder, the basket was full of bilva leaves! Everyone was happy at the sight and SwamigaL whose meditation was disturbed descended from the rock.

His first question to the kAryastA was: "The bilvam for the ChandraMauleesvara puja has arrived now (right)? besh, let us get inside."

SwamigaL took a few laves in his hand from the basket. They sparkled with the lushness of green. AcharyaaL asked his kAryastA, "Who plucked these leaves with such care that not a single cluster of them is defective? People said that there were no bilva trees in this region. Did you ask where these leaves were plucked?"

The kAryastA looked at the man who brought the bilva basket. That youth said, "Periyavaa, I casually went to the entrance and noticed that this basket was kept on the eastern side under the pandakkAl. When I rushed and checked, it was full of bilva leaves, Periyavaa."

"That is alright, but did you ask who brought it and placed there?"

"I asked Periyavaa, but nobody among those assembled there had any idea."

"Then who could have placed it there?" asked AcharyaaL laughingly. No one had anything to reply. As he moved towards the puja spot, AcharyaaL smilingly turned and said, "Perhaps our ChandraMauleesvara Himself has brought the leaves?" 

SwamigaL started the puja. His arcana to Sri ChandraMauleesvara with the lush green bilva leaves made everyone rapturous. The prasAda was distributed after the puja. In the evening, AcharyaaL held an upanyAsa on Srimad RamayaNam in Telugu. The entire village litened to it with happiness. On the morning of the next day, a bhajan troupe of that village sang and danced with ecstasy at the entrance of the choultry. The entire village wore the look of an occasion of wedding. AcharyaaL went to the pond with some of the people of the MaTham.

The kAryastA who was busy with some work at the backyard asked the youth who brought the bilva leaves the previous day, "ENdAppa, lots of bilva are required for today also. You seem to be a lucky man. Check if anyone has left a basket under the pandal staff today also."

The youth ran to the entrance. What a wonder! Like the previous day, there was a basketful of bilva leaves kept in the usual spot! The youth carried the basket happily and reported to the SriKAryam (manager), "I found this basket at the same spot today also; don't know who kept it there and when was it placed."

SriKAryam was surprised and confused as to who was bringing the bilva leaves with such secrecy. AcharyaaL returned. When he noticed the bilva leaves kept ready for puja in the hall, he turned his face meaningfully at SriKAryam. The man prostrated to AcharyaaL and said, "Yes, Periyavaa. Another bilva basket at the same place today also. Nobody knows who kept it there."

SwamigaL completed the ChandraMauleesvara puja. When he finished his bhikSA and was sitting in solitude, he called SriKAryam and told him, "You should get up early tomorrow morning and do one thing. Take someone with you, and check without anyone seeing you. Find out who is leaving the bilva basket. And bring that person to me. You need not ask that person anything. You understand?" AcharyaaL smiled. SriKAryam gave an affirmative nod, prostrated to the sage and moved away.

On that evening also, SwamigaL's Srimad RamayaNa upanyAsa was held. As before, the entire village listened to it happily. It was early morning the next day. The bhajan troupes of the village had gathered and were singing merrily at the entrance to the choltry. SriKaryam and his two assistants stood hiding behind the large banyan tree at the entrance and were keenly looking at the pandal. At 8:30 hours, a boy emerged from the mango groves on the eastern side. He had a large, dry basket on his head. He sported a tuft of hair and wore a dirty dhoti tucked under this thighs as mUla kaccha. He looked here and there, went near the pandal staff, heaved his basked down and started turning back. SriKAryam ran and stood before him. The boy's hands and legs started shivering as he looked at the man before him. He immediately prostrated to the man who asked him, "Is it you who kept this bilva basket here for the last two days?"

The boy nodded yes to this question.

SriKAryam told the boy, "Alright. Go and have a bath, tie your tuft properly, wear what you usually wear on your forehead and come here in the afternoon. I shall take to the Periya Sami. You can get his blessing. You come looking bright, without this dirty dhoty, understand?" The boy nodded yes and ran away.

SriKAryam narrated the event to SwamigaL, who said, "Besh, besh! For the last two three days, he has been doing a large service. Shall bless him and give prasAdam", and left for his bath.

It was 3:00 hours in the afternoon. As ordered, the boy came. SriKAryam pointed him who was standing hesitatingly in the corner of the courtyard wall, to SwamigaL and said something. SwamigaL called the boy near him. The boy came near him, prostrated and stood with folded hands. AchayaaL had a laugh, looking at the boy's appearance, who looked bright with vibUti streaks on his forehead and all over the body, wearing a white dhoti as mUla kaacha, and a tuft of neatly tied hair. SwamigaL asked him to sit down in the courtyard, but he did not sit.

"What name?" SwamigaL asked him in Telugu.

"Purandara Kesavalu", he replied clearly in Tamil. AcharyarvaaL was surprised as he said, "Besh, you talk Tamil well! What was the name you said?"

"Purandara Kesavalu(nga)." The boy spoke his name slowly and clearly.

AcharyaaL raised his brows as he asked him, "You talk in Tamil!"

"My story, you should listen to it, Saami..." His eyes were stringed with tears.

"Besha. Tell me, tell me..." SwamigaL urged him. Purandara Kesavalu started talking.

"My native place is Usilampatti(nga), near Madura(i). Within two years of my birth, my mother passed away in an illness. From that time, only my father raised me. When I was six years old, he came to this region with me to earn a living. He got the job of tending the cattle in the Zamin of this village. I did not read or go to school. But I have learned a lot from my father. My father was very fond of music. He would sing the songs of Purandaradasaru and Tiruvaiyaru Thiyagarasa Saami very well. He has also taught me to sing and I too can sing those songs. Because of his liking for music he named me Purandara Kesavalu. He is no more now. Two years since he reached his mOccham (liberation). I am tending the Zamin cattle now. They feed me in the Zamin and pay me. I am now twelve years old, Saami."

SwamigaL was moved at his words and asked him with surprise. "Alright. Since there is no bilva tree in the surroundings here, where did you get this much of bilva?"

Purandara Kesavalu replied humbly. "There is a large growth of grass and shrubs on the foothills at three miles from here, Saami. From the days of my father, we used to go there and let the cattle browse. There are three large bilva trees there! My father would bring me the leaves of those trees and tell me, 'Elay Purandara, this leaf is called bilvam. It is ambuttu (such a) visheSham-daa (speciality), to perform puja to Sivaperuman with this leaf! Have a look.' That was in my mind Saami. When I saw the people of this MaTham show a sample of this leaf on the day before yesterday and ask for a lots of them, I understood immediately, ran to the place and brought them in a basket. Since I feared that if you came to know that the leaves were brought by a cowherd boy, you might not accept them for puja, I kept the basket here without anyone knowing it. This is the satyam Saami!"

Moved further at the words, AcharyaaL kept silent for sometime. Then he said with affection, "Purandara Kesavalu, what do you want? Tell me what is your wish. I shall ask it to be fulfilled from the MaTham."

At the sage's words, Purandara Kesavalu exclaimed, "Siva, Siva!", patted is cheeks and said, "Saami, my father used to tell me, 'Purandara, we should not desire for anything in this world. But we should wish for only one thing.' I have two wishes now. If you permit me, I shall speak one of my wishes now. The other one I shall ask you on the day you leave this place, Saami." The boy's eyes were filled as he prostrated and rose.

SwamigaL went melting. He urged the boy, "Come on, tell me, what is your wish." The boy said hesitatingly, "It is nothing else, Saami. My father has taught me a number of songs of Purandaradasa Saami and Thiyagarasa Saami. I should sing them before you Saami, till you stay here! You should listen to them and grace me!" AcharyaaL was immensely happy at the boy's wish.

"Purandara Kesavalu, definitely, you sing here. I shall listen to your songs. I shall ask everyone to listen to them. You come everyday in the afternoon at three o' clock. Sit down and sing before me. Let ChandraMauleesvara Swami's grace be with you." SwamigaL blessed him. "You will rest in properity."

Purandara Kesavalu went happy. AcharyaaL persisted. "This is alright Purandara Kesavalu. Say what is your other wish, let's hear it."

"When you leave this place, I shall pray to you with that wish, Saami", he replied with respect. SwamigaL asked SriKAryam to give him prasAdam and a lovely tulasi garland. Purandara Kesavalu was very happy to wear it. He prostrated to the sage and took leave. From the afternoon of the next day he started to come and sit down on the courtyard floor and sing the kIrtanas of Sri Purandaradasa and Sri Thiyagaraja known to him. SwamigaL listened to his singing, sitting in the hall. His voice was sweet. SwamigaL corrected the pronunciation mistakes the boy made in singing.

It was the twenty-first day of their stay. After completing Sri ChandraMauleesvara puja and taking his bhikSA, SwamigaL started from that village. Coming out of the choultry, he gave a lecture of blessing to the people who had gathered to bid him farewell. Everyone was in tears listening to his parting words. Then he moved away with his entourage, but AcharyaaL suddenly remembered something and looked back at the choultry. Purandara Kesavalu was standing sobbing under the pandal there, his hands around a staff. 

SwamigaL asked the boy to be brought to him. He came running, prostrated on the ground and got up. The parabrahmam looked at him with affection, smiled and said, "Purandara Kesavalu! For the bhakti, shraddhA, jnAna you have, you should rest in prosperity. You spoke about your other wish on that day! What is that, my boy?"

Purandara Kesavalu said: "When I was tending the cows with my father, he used to tell me, Saami: 'What we should pray to God, you know? We should pray, 'God, I don't want maRu poravi (another birth); I should go to moccham (liberation); you shoud give me your grace (for that).' For that we should live with satyA and dharma. If you meet anymahaan in any of the times, you pray to them to get you moccham.' You should get me that moccham, Saami."

That parabrahmam was surprised to listen to such words from the mouth of a twelve year old boy. Then he said with a laugh as he blessed him, "Don't worry. At the apt time, Bhagavan will you give you the blessing of the attainment of that mokSa." AcharyaaL called the Zamindar of the village and told him, "Inform SriMaTham immediately about anything that concerns this Purandara Kesavalu", and left the village. Everyone came up to the boundary of the village to bid farewell to SwamigaL.

It was a day several years later, and the time was around two in the afternoon. AcharyaaL, who was conversing with devotees in Sri Kanchi MaTham, suddenly rose and came out of the MaTham and started walking briskly. People followed him. He halted at the Kamakshi Amman PurshkaraNi and took bath. Then he started chanting something with closed eyes, standing in the waters of the pond. An hour later, he did another bath and japam. In this way, he repeated the sequence for seven or eight times, until it was six in the evening. Before he climbed the steps of the bathing ghat and sat on a step, a person from the MaTham came running and stood before him. AcharyaaL looked at him inquisitively. He said, "A telegram from Kurnool. Says that Purandara Kesavalu is seriously ill. Don't know who is this person, Periyavaa."

SwamigaL told the people around him, "That Purandara Kesavalu is no more now! He had his kAlagati just a little while before. When I stayed in their village he asked me on the last day to get him mokSa. I told him that he would get it by the grace of ChandraMauleesvara Swami. Suddenly he took ill with some terminal fever and was suffering (now), anxious about his mokSa. In the order of things, he should take another six births to attain mokSa. I did the japam and prayed for him that somehow he (will skip the remaining births and) attain mokSa. Purandara Kesavalu is a good Atma!" With these words, AcharyaaL started walking briskly back towards SriMaTham.

The people of the MaTham stood transfixed with amazement on the steps of the pond!

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