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The man from the egg, p.10
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       The Man from the Egg, p.10

           Sudha Murty
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  Narada, however, did not heed his father’s words

  and only smiled mockingly at Brahma before going on his way.

  A few days later, Narada visited Vishnu, and his conversation with Brahma came up.

  Vishnu smiled mysteriously. Suddenly, he coughed and glanced at his devotee. ‘I am very thirsty. Will you please bring me a glass of water from the lake nearby?’ the god asked.

  Narada promptly went to fetch water, kamandalu in hand. While dipping the water pot into the lake, he saw a series of stunning white steps below the surface of the water. Curiosity got the better of him and he could not resist going down the stairs. As he had the power to wander anywhere, Narada was able to go deep under the water. A short while later, he came across a large palace. A beautiful maiden was sitting in the garden in front, making a garland.

  ‘Who are you?’ asked Narada in surprise.

  ‘I am the princess of this palace,’ the woman replied.

  ‘Who is this garland for?’

  ‘For Vishnu, of course. I am his devotee and I am getting the garland ready for a puja.’

  Narada was charmed by the maiden’s devotion and beauty, and he joined her for the puja. By the end of it, he had fallen in love with her and asked her to marry him.

  Shyly, she agreed.

  The two were married in a grand wedding ceremony and Narada lived in the underwater palace with the princess.

  Decades went by, and Narada became the father of sixty children. Life was utterly blissful.

  One day, a terrible storm came out of nowhere, and the palace came tumbling down. Narada tried his best to save his family, but failed. One by one, he saw all his children die before him. Narada and his wife cried bitterly at their helplessness. Suddenly, a big wave emerged and his wife was swept away with it. Before he could react, he found himself staring at the eye of the storm. As Narada held on to a tree for dear life, he remembered Vishnu. ‘Please save me, please save me,’ he chanted and closed his eyes in preparation for death. He became afraid and realized that the life he had was important to him. He wanted to live.

  And then he felt someone tapping on his shoulder. When he opened his eyes, he found Vishnu standing beside him. The storm had subsided and everything was quiet and dry.

  ‘Narada, what is the matter?’ asked Vishnu.

  ‘Has the storm passed?’ Narada asked him in disbelief.

  ‘Why? What happened?’

  Narada sobbed. ‘I lost my wife and my children, and now I have nothing! I don’t deserve to live without them.’

  Vishnu chuckled. ‘What are you talking about, dear Narada? I only sent you to fetch some water for me, and here you are sitting and daydreaming by the lake. Look around you. There is no storm. Tell me now, what’s bothering you?’

  Narada stared around him, flabbergasted, and told Vishnu the whole story.

  The lord finally admitted, ‘I am the one who created that maya for you. You are neither married nor do you have children. Maybe now you can understand what attachment feels like and how hard it is for the common man to be detached from it all. If an accomplished sage like you can get caught in this web of illusion, just imagine how others must cope with it. Your father is absolutely right, dear devotee.’

  Narada bowed his head in shame.

  Vishnu smiled. ‘I want people to remember this unique incident, and so the names of your sixty children will represent each of the upcoming sixty years or samvatsaras. At the end of sixty years, the cycle will repeat itself.’

  This is how the Indian calendar or samvatsara came into existence.

  The Debt for a Wedding

  One day, the sage Kashyapa was performing a yagna on the banks of the Ganga with other ascetics when Narada, the wanderer of the realms, visited them. Narada asked the group, ‘O respected sages, which god are you aiming to please with this ritual?’

  There was no consensus among the sages, so they asked the sage Bhrigu to visit Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and find out which god would be pleased with their worship.

  First, Bhrigu went to Satyaloka, the abode of Brahma. There, he observed Brahma and Saraswati, who were busy reciting the Vedas. Without drawing attention to himself, he quietly left and made his way to Mount Kailash. When he reached the mountaintop, he found Shiva and Parvati deep in meditation. Finally, he made his way to Vaikuntha, the home of Vishnu.

  When he reached Vaikuntha, Bhrigu saw Vishnu resting on the snake Adisesha. The goddess Lakshmi was at Vishnu’s feet, completely entranced by her consort. Sage Bhrigu became upset. The god was not doing anything useful. In fact, he had not even noticed the sage! Growing angry, Bhrigu came forward and kicked Vishnu on the left side of his chest.

  Vishnu was known to be gentle to his devotees. His response to the kick was to just get up and press Bhrigu’s leg, as if to appease him. The real reason, however, was something else. Vishnu knew that Bhrigu had a powerful eye under his feet, which caused the sage to behave aggressively. Under the pretext of pressing Bhrigu’s feet, Vishnu had taken away the extra eye. Immediately, Bhrigu’s demeanour changed; he calmed down and apologized to the god. At that moment, Bhrigu realized that Vishnu would be the god who would be most pleased with the yagna by the river.

  After Bhrigu departed to tell the other sages, Lakshmi turned to Vishnu, her irritation obvious. ‘I know your devotees are dear to you, my lord,’ she said, ‘but you must see to it that they don’t take you for granted. Bhrigu may be a great man, but what he did was wrong and you didn’t even give him a piece of your mind.’

  Vishnu tried to pacify her and tell her about Bhrigu’s third eye, but Lakshmi refused to hear him out. ‘Bhrigu kicked you on the left side of your chest and that’s where I reside—in your heart. How do you expect me to continue staying there?’

  Hurt and upset, Lakshmi went away to a place called Karvirapura.

  Without Lakshmi, Vishnu was rather lonely in Vaikuntha and so he went down to earth, to the kingdom of Chola. He took shelter inside a huge cave-like structure under a tamarind tree on a hilltop, without realizing that he had entered an enormous anthill. Soon, he began to meditate without food or sleep. In time, an anthill mound developed around him.11

  Meanwhile, Brahma and Shiva felt sorry for Vishnu and decided to make sure he at least had something to drink. So they took the form of a cow and a calf and joined Chola’s herd of cows, grazing on the same hill where Vishnu was meditating.

  When the royal cowherd took the cows to the hill, the cow and the calf made their way to the anthill. The cow deliberately began dripping milk through the visible holes in the anthill and Vishnu ended up drinking the milk that trickled into his mouth.

  After a few days, the kitchen staff became quite concerned. Whenever they wanted to milk the new cow, they found that her udders were empty! The cowherd was worried that people would start to think he was stealing milk from the new cow, and so he decided to follow the beast while she was grazing.

  The next morning, he let the cow out and stealthily tracked her from a distance. As usual, the cow placed her udders on top of the anthill, and milk freely flowed into it. The cowherd, who had been watching from behind a bush, was enraged. He brought out his axe and ran towards

  the cow with the intent of cutting off her head. Realizing the danger despite being in meditation, Vishnu rose from the anthill to save the cow. The herdsman was caught off guard and, in his panic, dropped the axe on Vishnu’s forehead before collapsing on the ground and dying of shock. The god’s forehead began bleeding and the cow returned to the palace with bloodstains on her body.

  When word of the cow’s blood-streaked body reached the king, he knew that something was amiss and so he let the cow loose again and tracked her just as the cowherd had done. The cow returned to the anthill out of habit. The king recognized Vishnu in his human form.

  Vishnu, however, was extremely distressed. ‘O king, your royal cowherd—the protector of the cows—was ready to kill one from his very own herd. Since he was your servant, as his sup
erior, you are responsible for his errors, and so you will be punished. You will be reborn as an asura in your next birth.’

  The king pleaded his innocence and eventually, Vishnu took pity on him. He said, ‘After you complete your punishment, you will be reborn as another king—Akasha Raja.’

  Vishnu then left the kingdom and began wandering in the forests.

  After more than a century, his prophecy came true. King Akasha Raja was born to rule over a kingdom known as Tondamandalam. The king had everything except what he wanted the most—a child to call his own. Finally, he decided to perform a yagna. As part of the ritual, the king had to plough a few fields. The moment the king touched the plough, it transformed into a huge, beautiful lotus. When he examined the magical lotus, he was delighted to find a baby girl inside. ‘See what the lord has blessed us with,’ he said to his wife. ‘We will name her Padmavati, or “the one who emerged from the lotus”.’

  The years flew by and Padmavati grew up to be a fine princess.

  By now, Vishnu had a different name—Srinivasa—and he would always be found wandering the seven hills of Tondamandalam.

  In this form, Vishnu met a lady named Bakula Devi. As soon as she saw Srinivasa, she felt a wave of maternal affection for him. Srinivasa smiled and agreed to become her child, because she was a reincarnation of Yashoda, the foster mother of Krishna.

  Though Yashoda had raised Krishna in her original life, she had not seen any of his eight marriages, a fact that had greatly upset her. And Krishna had promised her that she would be responsible for his marriage in one of his births.

  One day, Srinivasa went hunting on Venkatadri, one of the seven hills. While he was chasing a wild elephant, he happened to reach the royal gardens, where Padmavati and her friends were picking flowers. The wild elephant ran past the gardens and disappeared from sight, even as the maidens screamed. The sight of the elephant had scared the princess and her companions.

  When Srinivasa entered the gardens, still in pursuit of the elephant, the maidens thought that he was a trespasser, and so they threw stones at him. Srinivasa, however, was not the least bit concerned about the elephant by then. He had fallen in love with Padmavati the moment he had lain eyes on her and wanted to marry her. And unknown to him, Padmavati had also taken a fancy to this mysterious stranger.

  Srinivasa left the gardens and ran back home to tell his mother about the beautiful princess and his intention to marry her. After listening to his declaration of love for Padmavati, Bakula Devi agreed to help him. She offered to visit the king and queen and request for the princess’s hand in marriage on behalf of her son, but Srinivasa had to be patient and wait a while.

  Meanwhile, Padmavati could not get the handsome stranger out of her mind. She did not know anything about him, and she was too shy to tell her parents about her feelings. Days passed and the princess became depressed. As a result, her health started to deteriorate.

  Bakula Devi disguised herself as a soothsayer and staged a chance meeting with Padmavati and her friends. Padmavati’s friends told the soothsayer that the princess was pining for a handsome stranger and insisted that she foretell the princess’s future.

  ‘She will marry the man she loves and he will be the most deserving of her,’ predicted the soothsayer.

  A few days later, Bakula Devi visited the palace as herself and convinced the king and queen to give Padmavati’s hand in marriage to Srinivasa. And the wedding was fixed!

  Everybody wanted to attend the auspicious ceremony, but Srinivasa had no wealth because Lakshmi had long left him. Kubera, the god of wealth, offered to loan the money for the wedding. And so Srinivasa and Padmavati were married in a grand celebration held in Narayanavanam.

  At the wedding, Lakshmi came to bless the couple and said to Srinivasa, ‘Please don’t worry about the loan. I will forever reside in the homes of all your devotees, who will later help you repay the loan.’

  According to our scriptures, there are many yugas (or eras), out of which Kali yuga is the last one. When Kali yuga eventually arrived, Srinivasa wanted to return to his abode but all the rishis pleaded with him to stay through the dangerous yuga and protect everyone from the hilltop. Princess Padmavati chose not to accompany her husband and stayed back. She is popularly known as Alamelumanga and depicted as an auspicious deity sitting on a lotus.

  Vishnu, however, went up to Seshadri Hill. The hill belonged to a deity known as Varahaswami, who was concerned that everyone would worship the more popular Srinivasa instead of him. But Vishnu promised him that all the devotees would first visit Varahaswami’s temple before visiting Tirumala.

  Vishnu turned into a stone statue with four hands. He carried the shankha in one hand, the chakra in the second, while the palm of his third hand faced downward—with the front depicting Vaikuntha—and the fourth was balled into a fist. Srinivasa also came to be known as Venkateshwara because he was now considered to be the lord of the hill Venkatadri.

  There is a belief that Venkateshwara turned into a statue before he could pay back Kubera’s loan. His devotees, having decided to help him repay his debt, make huge donations to the present-day Tirupati temple. Apparently the amount of money loaned was so huge that the sum being collected from the devotees visiting the temple every day is still only paying the interest on the principal amount. Legend has it that Govindaraja, a deity who was Venkateshwara’s foster brother, used to measure the money received in huge pots. However, he grew tired of this job and fell asleep. So he also turned into a statue! His statue can be seen in Govindarajpatnam.

  There is also a statue of Lakshmi, depicted with open palms. It appears as though she is blessing the devotees with wealth. The statue is located next to a hundi, or money pot, and all devotees bow before her and ask for her favour.

  Every year, the Padmavati and Lakshmi temples receive saris as gifts from Lord Venkateshwara.

  The Tirumala temple and its deity have been worshipped for thousands of years, and many kings, queens, princes and princesses have donated generously to develop the temple. Several different styles of architecture have been added to the original temple over the years and can still be viewed today. Many songs have been composed in Vishnu’s glory. Srinivasa (also called Balaji) attracts people from all over India. Devotees believe that one glance at the statue of Venkateshwara is a wondrous moment because it is but the real god in the form of a statue. The number of people visiting the deity and donating to the temple range from 65,000 a day to about five lakhs during festivals. This is what has made Kubera, the treasurer of the gods, one of the richest beings in the world.

  Karvirapura is better known today as Kolhapur. It is believed that Lakshmi continues to reside there.

  One of the seven hills of Tondamandalam is now named Garudadri because of its resemblance to Garuda.

  Padmavati was a reincarnation of Vedavati, a pious woman who had performed an intense penance out of her desire to wed Rama. Rama had said to her, ‘Vedavati, I cannot marry you in this lifetime. But I promise that you will be my wife in another.’

  The Asura and the Super-God

  Guha was an asura and a great devotee of Lord Brahma. Like most asuras, he wanted to live forever and prayed to Brahma in the hope of attaining immortality. Brahma eventually appeared in front of him, but before Guha could utter his wish, the god said, ‘Guheshwara, please don’t ask me for immortality! Anything but that!’

  ‘Lord, then bless me with such a boon that will ensure that I can’t be killed by anyone—neither god nor human,’ replied Guha. He knew that if the gods couldn’t kill him, then nobody could.

  ‘So be it,’ said Brahma.

  Guha soon became the king of the asuras and defeated all those who opposed him. He even tormented learned men and scholars. There was no peace in the land—only chaos reigned.

  People prayed to Shiva and Vishnu for help. ‘What a boon he has been given! Please relieve us of this anguish. Either kill him or kill us. We cannot bear to live in this land any more!’

nbsp; Shiva and Vishnu assured the devotees that they would take care of the matter and tried to come up with a plan. There was no easy solution as Brahma had decreed that even the gods could not defeat Guha!

  Then Vishnu had an idea. He said to Shiva, ‘What if we join our bodies? Then we are not one god, but two! And with your might and my mind, perhaps we can slay Guha?’

  Shiva agreed.

  And so the right side of Shiva—with the crescent moon, River Ganga, the trident, the damru and half of his third eye—joined with Vishnu’s left side, which had the chakra, the gada, his crown and Garuda.

  The new being was called Harihara and once he was formed, this super-god made his way straight to Guha, who ran away in terror. But Harihara soon managed to catch him on the banks of River Tungabhadra. Guha surrendered and said, ‘I know I won’t survive this, but I have one last desire. Please let me be under your holy feet.’

  So Harihara brought down one foot on the asura’s head and he entered the lower realm, thus relieving the earth of the demonic presence.

  This super-god Harihareshwara is worshipped by devotees of both Shiva and Vishnu. In the eleventh century, a temple carved out of stone was built by the Hoysala kings. The temple contains the statue of Shankar Narayana or Harihara, and displays the features and qualities of both Shiva and Vishnu. Today, the town of Harihara stands near the Tungabhadra.

  1 In olden times, daughters usually got their names from their fathers’ names or the kingdoms they belonged to. For instance, in the Ramayana, King Janaka’s daughter, Sita, was popularly known as Janaki. Her other names include Vaidehi (derived from Videha, her father’s kingdom) and Maithili (from Mithila, the capital of Videha). Similarly, in the Mahabharata, King Drupada’s daughter was called Draupadi or Panchali, as Drupada ruled over the kingdom of Panchala.

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