Anecdotes from Sri Ayyaval's life

A test of Krishna-bhakthi

Sri Ayyaval was a devotee of both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. He never saw any difference between the two, and firmly believed in Hari-hara-aikya. There were many instances in his life when this was demonstrated clearly.

When Sri Ayyaval was residing in the holy town of Trichy, it was being rules by a vaishnavite king of the Nayakar dynasty. He was a fair and just king, liked by all his people. Some brahmins, who were jealous of Sri Ayyaval's popularity, being ignorant of his greatness, tried to set the king against Ayyaval. They carried a complaint to the king that in his discourses, Ayyaval's exposition of Shivabhakthi was more elaborate, and that he did not care for Lord Krishna.

The Maharaja, though, was aware that Ayyaval was a great saint. He did not want to offend such a holy soul and incur his wrath. He thought of a plan to satisfy the brahmins, without examining Ayyaval directly. He knew that Ayyaval was a devout worshipper of the local deity, Sri Mathrubhooteshwara. The king ordered for the deity to be taken out in procession, being decorated like Lord Krishna.

The procession was passing by Ayyaval's house. Ayyaval had just finished his daily worship and was in deep meditation. Hearing the sounds of procession, he ordered his wife to get the Pooja materials, and rushed out to have a darshan of the Lord. As soon as he saw the procession of the Lord dressed as Lord Krishna, he spontaneously composed the Krishna-Dvaadasha-manjari, and prayed to Lord Krishna fervently, describing that Lord Krishna was beyond the reach of even Lord Parameshwara. Seeing this, the king and brahmins understood the samabhaava with which Sri Ayyaval worshipped both Lord Shiva and lord Vishnu.


Reviving the Brahmin's son

In Trichy, Sri Ayyaval was staying in the Matrubhootam Koil street at Malakottai. There was a brahmin couple who lived in the same street. They did not have children for a very long time, and were fervently praying to Lord Matrubhooteshwarar for a child. With his blessings, they were blessed with a son. However, by a stroke of ill luck, the child suddenly developed some serious illness and died.

The brahmin and his wife were inconsolable. Sri Ayyaval, who was returning from the river after a bath, saw them lamenting and enquired about the reason. On hearing the reason for their sorrow, he was moved by compassion. He entered the brahmin's house, took a look at the boy lying still, and meditated upon Lord Matrubhooteswarar.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and declared, "This child is not dead. He has just lost consciousness". Thus assuring the parents, he chanted the Shiva Panchakshara mantra, and composed a hymn calles "Thaaraavali stotram", dedicated to Lord Shiva. This hymn contains 28 verses. At the end of each verse, Sri Ayyaval sprinkled some holy water on the child, and applied sacred ash on his forehead.

The child slowly started showing signs of life, and finally woke up, as if from sleep. The Brahmin couple were overjoyed and fell at the feet of Sri Ayyaval. To them, he was verily Lord Shiva, who came to their house and rescued their only child from the jaws of death.


Bhagavatha alive, Dewan dead!

King Shahaji of Tanjore had great respect for Sri Ayyaval. After the latter came to reside in Tiruvisalur in his kingdom, the king used to approach him often to seek advice regarding various matters of state. The king found Sri Ayyaval's judgement to be apt and appropriate always. Before long, he requested Ayyaval to be his Dewan.

Sri Ayyaval agreed, out of affection for the king. Yet, he longed to spend his time in contemplation of the Lord, chanting his divine names, and studying the scriptures. The unwanted attention and pubicity that accompanied his tenure as a Dewan was not at all to his liking. But the king was very insistent, and hence, Sri Ayyaval continued to advice him.

One morning, Sri Ayyaval was resting in the balcony of his house. A messenger from the king arrived. He did not recognise Sri Ayyaval, and enquired thus - "Oh Bhaagavata! Is the Dewan inside the house?" Hearing himself being addressed as a Bhaagavata, Sri Ayyaval got up in a blissful state, and immediately wrote a letter, and sent it to the king through the messenger. The letter read "The Dewan is dead, Only the Bhaagavatar is inside."

As soon as the king read this, he was shocked, and he hurried to Sri Ayyaval's house. To his intense relief, he found that Sri Ayyaval was still alive. He enquired Ayyaval as to why he had written such a letter. Sri Ayyaval replied, "Oh King! I have now got the Bhaagavatar' s post, which is much superior to that of a Dewan". The king understood his desire, and decided to leave him as per his wish, with his respect for Sri Ayyaval deepened.


Shivanaama and Raamanaama

Bhagavannaama Bodhendral, one of the trinity of Naamasankeertanam, was a contemporary of Sri Ayyaval. His ashram was at Govindapuram, very close to Tiruvisalur. Sri Bodhendral was very impressed by the hymns composed by Sri Ayyaval, and treated him with a lot of respect.

After coming into contact with Sri Ayyaval, Sri Bodhendral moved to Tiruvidaimarudur, which is much closer to Tiruvisalur. Sri Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendral would meet often, and spend their time in philosophical discussions.

Sri Ayyaval composed a work called 'Aakhyaa Shashti', which describes the greatness of Shivanaama beautifully in sixty verses. Some devotees of Sri. Bodhendral happened to recite these verses in his presence. As the recitation was going on, Sri Ayyaval himself arrived, prostrated before the swamigal, and stood by the side silently chanting Lord Shiva's name.

While Sri Bodhendral treated both Vishnunaama and Shivanaama alike, he had a great personal liking for Raamanaama. Hence, though he immensely appreciated Sri Ayyaval's Aakhyaashashti, he wanted to hear the greatness of Raamanaama from Sri Ayyaval. He said thus - "You should have actually named this work as Shiva-aakhyaa-shashti, instead of just Aakhyaa shashti. Though the greatness of all names of the Lord is the same, since you have dealt with the name of only Lord Shiva, it would have been an appropriate name. Sri Ayyaval guess his intention, and immediately replied, "I have praised Lord Maheshwara in sixty verses in this hymn. That very Maheshwara however enjoys the sweet nectar of Raama naama, and chants the Raamanaama incessantly. Who then can describe the sweetness of Raamanaama?" Hearing this, the Swamiji shed tears of joy.


Come Home, Krishna

Sri Ayyaval was an ardent devotee of both Shiva and Vishnu. In his mind, he saw absolutely no difference between the two. And he disliked any external artificial display of devotion. He used to worship both the deities as it pleased him, and never tried to prove his devotion to anybody.

Once, during Gokulashtami, the Brahmins is Tiruvisalur invited Sri Ayyaval to participate in the celebrations. Sri Ayyaval disliked their show of arrogance in the name of devotion during the celebrations. Hence, he chose not to attend, and spent the night at his own house reading Dashama skandha of Srimad Bhaagavatam.

Late in the night, a procession of the Lord was being taken around the village. Hearing the music and sounds of procession, Ayyaval realised that the Lord's procession was passing by is house. He did not want to show disrespect to the Lord who came to his door. Hence, he came out of the house along with his wife with all necessary materials for worship. However, the Brahmins shouted at him angrily, saying "The Lord does not accept the worship of one who does not have any devotion". Sri Ayyaval calmly replied, "Krishna alone knows whether I have true bhakthi or not". Saying thus, he went forward and looked fervently at the Lord's portrait mounted on the chariot for procession. Immediately, he was lost in the sakhya bhaava of Gopis, who looked at Sri Krishna as their true friend. He prayed to the Lord to his heart's content, and returned home.

The procession continued. As it reached the next house, the brahmins were shocked to see that the portrait of Krishna was missing, and only the empty frame stood in the chariot now. They realised their folly and rushed to Sri Ayyaval's house. There, they found the Lord seated in a swing inside the house. Sri Ayyaval was performing Dolotsavam, with the bhaava of a mother cradling her little child. In the same bhaava, he composed the work Dolaa-Navaratna-maalikaa. The brahmins realised their mistake and begged Sri Ayyaval to forgive them.


Bringing rains to end drought

Tiruvisalur is a Shiva kshetra, also known as Karkateshwara Kshetra. Once, a gandharva cursed by Lord Indra was born as a crab. Even in the garb of a crab, he retained his Shivabhakti, and used to pluck lotus flowers from the tank of the Shiva temple and offer it to the Lord. The crab used to enter and exit the sanctum sanctorum using the opening provided for drainage of abhisheka water. The priest noticed that somebody was stealthily plucking flowers and offering it to the Lord even after he had locked the temple doors at night. He was frightened and informed the king about this. The king's guards detected the crab and gave it a chase. The crab quickly climbed up through his usual route, and hid behind the Shivalinga. The Lord who offered shelter to the crab (Karkataka means Crab in Sanskrit) came to be known as Karkatakeshwara.

Once, it so happened that there were no rains in the area. Crops were dying, and people were suffering a lot. It was the month of Karthikai (Nov-Dec), and it did not rain even under the Karkataka yoga, which is traditionally believed to usher rainfall.

Sri Ayyaval was moved by the hardship of people. He entered the temple and prayed to the Lord for rains. In answer to his prayers, rains immediately poured, bringing relief to the people and ending the drought.


Lord Shiva's darshan

Thiruvidaimarudur is a Shiva kshetra close to Tiruvisalur, on the other back of the river Cauveri. It is also known as Madhyarjuna Kshetram, and the presiding deity of the kshetra is Mahalinga swamy. Sri Ayyaval used to visit this shrine daily without fail, and offer his prayers to Lord Mahalinga.

Once, there were heavy rains, and the river was flooded. There was no boat available for Sri Ayyaval to cross it. Ayyaval was filled with sorrow at being deprived of the darshan of his Lord. He thought, "I must have surely committed some grievous sin, because of which the Lord is keeping me away". Grief-stricken, he looked at the gopura of the temple which was visible at a distance, and composed a hymn known as 'Aartihara stotram'.

As Ayyaval was thus crying out to his Lord, a priest of Madhyarjuna temple who was passing by approached him. He said, 'Swami! I see that you are upset because you cannot cross the river and go for darshan of Lord Mahalinga. I have just now been to that temple. Here is the sacred ash prasadam of Mahalinga swami. Please take this". Sri Ayyaval joyfully received the prasadam and fell at his feet, thanking him profusely. The priest walked away, and Sri Ayyaval partook of the prasadam.

After a few moments, a thought stuck him. He wondered how the priest was able to cross the flooded river and come over to Tiruvisalur, when Sri Ayyaval himself had not been able to cross the river and reach Tiruvidaimarudur. Sri Ayyaval also remembered that despite the heavy rains, the priest's clothes were dry, and even the vibhuti on his forehead was intact. With a shock which ran through his body, Sri Ayyaval realised that it must have been Lord Mahalingaswami himself, who had come in the disguise of a priest to relieve the sorrow of his devotee.

To confirm his suspicion, Sri Ayyaval went to Tiruvidaimarudur early next morning, and sought out the priest who had given him the prasadam previous night. He asked, 'How did you come to Tiruvisalur yesterday in that heavy rain, and offer me the prasadam?". The priest laughed- "How could I come to Tiruvisalur, sir? No man could have crossed the Cauveri in her flooded state yesterday". Sri Ayyaval was overcome with happiness, and he praised the merciful Lord by composing a hymn called 'Dayaashatakam'.


Kaliyuga Bhageeratha

Once, on the occasion of a shraddha, Sri Ayyaval had gone to the river Cauveri for bath. All preparations were going on at his home, and brahmins had been invited cordially. On the way back from his bath, Sri Ayyaval saw a chandaala who was fighting for life owing to hunger. Sri Ayyaval was moved by the sight, and without any hesitation, offered food prepared for Shraddha to this chandaala. The chandaala ate food to his heart's content and went away happily.

Later, keeping with tradition, Sri Ayyaval cleaned his house once more, cooked fresh food for the brahmins, had bath again, and invited the brahmins to conduct the ceremony. However, the brahmins, who were jealous of Ayyaval and were waiting for an opportunity to humiliate him, used this issue. They refused to perform the Shraddha, and quoted shaastras saying "A person who has fed food prepared for Shraddha to an outcaste should be treated as an outcaste himself."

Sri Ayyaval tried to convince the brahmins with appropriate answers from the shaastras, but they refused to listen to him, and walked away. Ayyaval was now in a fix, as the ceremony had to be performed at any cost. He prayed to the Lord, and carried on the ceremony by placing Darbha grass as a representative of each of the Brahmins where they were to be seated. Such was his devotion that when he chanted mantras denoting the darbhas to represent his ancestors, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, etc, all of them appeared as Brahmins and took their seat!

Time passed, and the next ceremony was fast approaching. Sri Ayyaval invited the Brahmins, and again they refused. Despite being a great devotee of the Lord, and being able to perform the ceremonies flawlessly even without these Brahmins, Ayyaval did not deem it appropriate to neglect them. He humbly prostrated before them and asked how he could absolve himself of his sin of feeding the chandaala. The brahmins told him that the only praayashchitta was a bath in the holy river Ganga. Sri Ayyaval's health did not permit him to undertake the long arduous journey to the north. He therefore said, "I shall invite Gangaa to our village, and take bath in it". The Brahmins ridiculed him, and said that he was just trying to fool them by some trick.

Sri Ayyaval proceeded to the well in his courtyard and composed a hymn on the divine river, titled 'Gangaashtakam'. As he recited the verses with ardent devotion, Ganga started flowing into his well, and out of it. All streets were flooded, and the brahmins ran to Sri Ayyaval to save their lives. They fell at the feet of Ayyaval, apologised for thei behaviour, and requested him to send Ganga back to where she came from. Sri Ayyaval wanted the holy water to remain in his village, for the benefit of all the poor people who could not afford travel to a distant place to take a plunge in it. Finally, heeding the request of Brahmins, he prayed to Ganga to confine herself to the well in his house. Floods receded from streets as Ganga heeded the prayers of Sri Ayyaval.

Sri Ayyaval was thus hailed as Kaliyuga Bhageeratha, who propitiated Ganga and brought her down to the South. This incident happened on the Amavasya of the month Karthikai. Every year, Gangasnanotsavam is held on that day, when thousands of people assemble to take bath in the holy river flowing into the well in Sri Ayyaval's house.

Read Sri Ayyaval's life history
Songs and shlokas in praise of Sri Ayyaval