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Shri Guru Raghavendra Swami

Shri Guru Raghavendra Swami




Shri Guru Raghavendra Swami (1595-1671) is an influential 16th century Hindu saint who advocated Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu as the supreme God) and Sri Madhvacharya's Dvaita philosophy. He attained Jeeva Samadhi at Mantralayam in present day Andhra Pradesh in 1671.

His devotees' faith regarding his continued presence at his Brindavan in Mantralayam, either in physical or metaphysical form makes it a very popular religious destination in India.

Birth

Sri Raghavendra Swami was born as Sri Venkanna Bhatta, the second son of Sri Thimanna Bhatta and Smt. Gopikamba on Thursday, Sukla Saptami of Phalguna month in 1595, when the moon was in Mrigashirisha Nakshatra, at Bhuvanagiri, near present-day Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Thimmanna Bhatta was the son of Sri Kanakachala Bhatta and the grandson of Sri Krishna bhatta, a Veena scholar in the court of King Krishnadevaraya.

Sri.Thimanna Bhatta and his wife, Smt. Gopikamba had a son, Gururajacharya and a daughter, Venkatamba.

Sri Venkanna Bhatta was also called Venkatanatha or Venkatacharya in honor of Sri Venkateshwara at Tirupati, with whose blessings he was considered to have been born, as a gift to his parents for their devotion and diligence towards the deity.

Early life

Sri Venkatanatha proved to be a very brilliant scholar from a very young age who learnt to play the Veena very proficiently thanks to his father and grandfather.

After his father's demise, young Venkatanatha was brought up by his brother Sri Gururaja Bhatta and completed the initial portion of his education under his brother-in-law Lakshminarasimhacharya's guidance in Madurai .

Marriage

After his return from Madurai in 1614, Sri Venkatanatha married Smt.Saraswathi Bai in the same year and had a son Sri Lakshminarayanacharya.

After his marriage, Sri Venkatanatha and his family went to Kumbakonam where he studied the Dwaita vedantha, grammar and literary works under his guru, Sri Sudheendra Theertha.

Sri Venkatanatha was already very well versed in bhashyas and consistently prevailed over renowned and reputed scholars, irrespective of the complexity of the debates.

He was an ardent devotee of Sri Moola Rama and Sri Panchamukha MukhyaPranaDevaru (the five-faced form of Hanuman - Pancha meaning five, mukha meaning faces).

He spent a large part of his Poorvashrama life teaching Sanskrit and the ancient Vedic texts to children.

He never demanded any money for his services and endured a life of poverty along with his wife and son. They went without food several times a week.

But he was so devoted in his quest for a higher spiritual plane that these obstacles never deterred his faith in the Lord.

Poorvashrama Miracles

Once while he was touring Kumbakonam along with his wife, Sri Venkatanatha and his family was invited to attend a function.

Unfortunately, the hosts did not treat him well and wanted him to earn his food by running a chore. So they asked him to make some sandalwood paste for all the invitees.

Sri Venkatanatha per his habit, was chanting stotras and mantras while preparing sandalwood for Tilaka.

When the guests applied this paste, it induced a burning sensation all over their bodies. Surprised by this, the hosts sought a clarification from Venkatanatha.

He replied that the burning sensation was due to the Agni Suktam (hymn for the worship as defined in the Esoteric Vedas) that he was chanting while preparing sandalwood and thus eternal power of Vedic Mantras revealed itself. This happens only when chanted with absolute dedication and devotion. The power is enhanced since it was chanted by someone as virtuous and devoted to Bhagwaan Hari as himself. Upon realizing his devotion and power, the host apologized profusely to Sri Venkatanatha and sought his forgiveness.

Sri Venkatanatha then prepared the paste again but chanted the Vedic Mantra to Varuna (Vedic Rain Gods) this time.

It has been recorded that when the guests applied this paste, they were awash with a sense of being drenched in rainwater, reaffirming Sri Venkatanatha's power of devotion.

Ordination into Sanyasa as Guru Raghavendra

Thus while his life was spent in the worship of God and service of humanity, his spiritual guru, Sri Sudheendra Theertharu, was looking for a successor to his math.

He had a dream where the Lord indicated that Sri Venkatanatha would be the right person to succeed him as the pontiff.

Sri Venkatanatha initially refused due to his responsibility towards his young wife and son but was soon blessed by the Goddess of Learning, where she in a dream indicated that he was to seek salvation as a Sanyasi.

Sri Venkatanatha treated this as an omen and changed his mind.

The sanyasa ordination took place in 1621 on the Phalguni Sukla Dwitiya at Tanjore.

Moksha of Smt. Saraswathi

On the day of Sri Venkatanatha's ascension into SanyasAshrama, his wife, Smt.Saraswathi was seized by a sudden desire to see her husband's face for the last time.

She ran towards the Matha throwing caution to the winds and accidentally drowned in an old and unused well on the way.

Per the tenets of Hinduism, she became a ghost trapped mid-way between Heaven and Earth due to her untimely death. Since her last wish of seeing her husband was not fulfilled, her ghost went to the matha to witness the ordaining function. However, by the time she arrived, her husband had become a Sannyasi Sri Raghavendra Theertha.

However, Sri Guru Raghavendra could immediately sense his wife's presence with his spiritual powers. He sprinkled some holy water from His Kamandalu on her as a means of granting her last wish.

This action granted her moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths and was considered her reward for a lifetime of dedicated and selfless service to Sri Raghavendra Swami.

Sri Sudheendra Tirtha Swamiji

On handing over the Peetha to Sri Raghavendra Swami, his guru, Sri Sudheendra Tirtha Swamiji left for his heavenly abode. His Brindavana was constructed at Anegunde near Hampi under the personal supervision of Sri Raghavendra Swami.

Sri Sudheendra Tirtha Swami's Brindavana is the ninth Brindavana at that location, earning the region the popular moniker of "Nava Brindavana". It is an extremely holy pilgrimage centre for Madhvas.

Sri Yadavendra Tirtha and Sri Raghavendra Swami

Much before Sri Raghavendra Swami ascended as Peethadipathi of the Mutt, Sri Yadavendra Tirtha had been given Sanyasa by Sri Sudheendra Tirtha Swamiji.

When he came back to Tanjore from his Teertha Yatra across Southern India, Sri Raghavendra Swami offered to make him the Peethadipathi of the Matha and offered him the idols of Sri Moola Rama.

However Sri Yadavendra Tirtha, on seeing the devotion and spiritual prowess with which Sri Raghavendra Swami was pontificating the Mutt, declined the offer and continued on his pilgrimage.

Thus Sri Raghavendra Swami then continued to enrich Dvaita Vedanta from Kumbakonam where numerous shishyas joined the Matha.

Kumbakonam Drought

During Sri Raghavendra Swami's time at Kumbakonam, the Tanjore district as a whole was reeling under the effects of a severe 12 year long drought.

The Maharaja of Tanjore approached Swamiji for spiritual solace and was advised to perform some Yagnas. No sooner were these rites performed, was the region flush with rain and prosperity.

As a mark of gratitude, the Maharaja gifted the Matha with a necklace embellished with precious stones.

Swamiji offered the necklace as a contribution to a yagna that he was performing then.

The Maharaja took affront at this action.

When Swamiji realized this, he immediately put his hand into the homa kunda and retrived the necklace in a condition identical to which it was given to him by the King.

Neither the necklace nor Swamiji's hand showed any indication of having been in a raging fire.

This incident only served to reaffirm the greatness of Swamiji and converted the Maharaja of Tanjore into an ardent Bhakta.

Tour of South India

Sri Raghavendra Swami embarked on a tour of South India, spreading the Dvaita Philosophy and visiting famous pilgrimage centers such as those at Rameshwaram and Srirangam.

At Rameshwaram, he clarified the origins of the Siva Linga as the one that was installed by Lord Rama himself before his journey to Lanka to fight Ravana. In this context, he also clarified that Ravana was a Rakshasa since he was born to a Rakshasi mother and Brahmin father.

He rebuffed the claim made by some scholars that Lord Rama, as the Supreme One, is not bound by Brahma Hatya Dosha (or any other doshas) for eliminating Ravana.

He also traveled to Kanyakumari, Thiruvananthapuram and Madurai where he met his Poorvashrama brother-in-law with whom he had spent a large part of his childhood.

As part of his Yatras, he traveled to Vishnu Mangala, Kukke Subramanya and Udipi in Karnataka, amongst other such spiritual centers and impressed one and all with his mastery of Dvaita philosophy, won many admirers, gained many devotees and published stellar works of literature and philosophy some of which were carried around in processions of elephants as a mark of respect for its brilliance.

Dewan of Adoni

On one of his numerous travels, Sri Raghavendra Swamy came across a young cowherd who prostrated before him in respect. Swamiji blessed him and told the little boy to think of him or pray to him in times of adversity.

A few days later, the Nawab of Adoni was riding by the same region.

Being illiterate, he asked the same boy to read him the contents of a letter he was carrying then.

The little boy too was illiterate.

Hence he was unable to do read the letter and was too afraid to disclose his handicap to the Nawab. Hence he simply said that he would be unable to read the letter.

This enraged the Nawab who threatened the boy with dire consequences for failing to obey him.

The boy, who was in desperation by then, remembered the benevolent Swamiji who had passed by the same route a few days ago.

He prayed hard to him and tried reading the letter.

Miraculously, he is said to have told the Nawab the contents of the letter.

Since the information was favorable to the Nawab, he was impressed and the boy became the Dewan of Adoni.

Many years later, the Nawab learnt about Sri Raghavendra Swami from his Dewan.

Nawab of Adoni and Mantralayam

Much after the above incident had occurred, Sri Raghavendra Swami got an opportunity meet the Nawab of Adoni face-to-face.

The Nawab, instead of being respectful to him, decided to test his spiritual skills and placed before the Swamiji, a plate of non vegetarian delicacies completely covered with a piece of cloth, in the guise of offering alms.

Per Hindu customs, alms are customarily offered to a visiting saint to seek his blessings.

Swamiji took some water from his Kundalini, meditated and sprinkled it on the covered plate, as part of his regular practice of purifying any food before consumption.

He then opened the plate.

It contained fresh fruits.

The Nawab immediately became remorseful and became an ardent devotee of Swamiji then on.

As an apology, he offered to give the Swamiji any amount of land and wealth.

While Swamiji refused any such gift for his personal gains, he asked that the land around Manchale (present day Mantralayam), which was part of the Nawab's kingdom, to be handed over to his Matha.

Though the Nawab of Adoni offered to give him a more fertile region, Sri Raghavendra Swami insisted on the dry and barren region around Mantralayam, on the banks of the Tungabhadra river.

Many years later, he told a devotee that it was the region where King Prahalada had performed his yagnyas to Lord Rama during the Dwapara Yuga and was hence an extremely holy land.

Thus the Matha moved to Mantralayam where Sri Raghavendra Swamy continued his spiritual journey.

At Mantralayam, Sri Guru Raghavendra encouraged Annadhanam (donation of food) to all devotees. It is a practice that is followed by the Matha to this date and is heavily subsidized by donations.

Sri Raghavendra Swami at Mantralayam
Panchamuki

Sri Guru Raghavendra performed penance at a place called Panchamukhi, near Mantralayam, in present day Andhra Pradesh where He received darshan of Hanuman in the form of Sri Panchamukha MukhyaPrana.

Sri Guru Raghavendra is considered by his devotees to be a reincarnation of Prahlada, the devotee who was saved by Vishnu in his avatar as Narasimha (see Vaishnava Theology).

Prahalada in turn is believed to be a reincarnation of Shankukarna, a Devatha, in the Dwapara Yuga.

Hence, Sri Raghavendra Swamy chose Mantralayam as the location of his Brindavan

Jeeva Samadhi

Sri Raghavendra Swamy Moola Brindavan at Mantralayam on Akshaya Trithiya

On Dwitiya Day of Sravana Krishna Paksha in 1671, Raghavendra Swami gave a soul-stirring speech to hundreds of devotees who had gathered to watch the event. Some quotes from that speech are as follows -

* "Without right living, right thinking will never come. Right living is performing one's ordained duties according to one's station in life without hankering after the fruits of the actions and on the other hand offering all one's activities to the Lord. This is real sadachara (right living). This is real karma yoga."

* "Social work done for the good of worthy people should also be considered as the Lord's worship. In short, our life itself is a worship. Every action is a puja. This life is precious. Every second of our life is precious. Not even a second that has gone will come back. Listening to the right shastras and always remembering Him is the highest duty."

* "Always keep away from people who merely perform miracles without following the shastras and yet call themselves God or guru. I have performed miracles, and so have great persons like Srimadacharya. These are based on yoga siddhi and the shastras. There is no fraud or trickery at all. These miracles were performed only to show the greatness of God and the wonderful powers that one can attain with His grace. Right knowledge (jnana) is greater than any miracle. Without this no real miracle can take place. Any miracle performed without this right knowledge is only sorcery. No good will come to those who perform such miracles and also those who believe in them."

* "Have devotion to the Lord. This devotion should never be blind faith. Accepting the Lord's supremacy wholeheartedly is true devotion. Blind faith is not devotion. It is only stupidity. We should have devotion, not only for the Lord, but also for all other deities and preceptors in keeping with their status."

After this speech, Sri Raghavendra entered the Brindavana specially constructed for him with stone brought from Madavara village, near Manchale. Per his advice these stones were sanctified by Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana's footsteps when they visited the village during Dwapara Yuga.

He had advised his disciples to start arranging slabs around him once the japamala in his hand becomes still.

He began reciting the pranava mantra and slipped into deep samadhi. Once his japamala became still, his disciples arranged the slabs up to his head and then, as per his earlier instructions, they placed a copper box containing 1200 Lakshminarayana saligramas that had been specially brought from Gandaki river in Nepal. Then they placed the covering slab over it and filled it with earth. They poured twelve thousand varahas (abhisheka) over the brindavan that they had built.[citation needed]

Thus Sri Raghavendra Swami attained Jeeva samādhi on Dwitiya Day of Sravana Krishna Paksha in 1671.

This date is celebrated each year as Sri Raghavendra Swamy Aradhana at Brindavans all over the world. The Raghavendra Mutt in Mantralaya housing his Brindavan is visited by thousands of devotees every year.

It is believed he would live for

* 76 years physically on the Earth.
* 100 years physically inside the Brindavana.
* 300 years through this literary works.
* 700 years in the Brindavana without a physical form.

Sri Appanacharya and Sri Raghavendra Stotra

Sri Appanacharya was one of Sri Raghavendra Swami's foremost disciples at Mantralayam.

Knowing his unstinting devotion and that he would try and thwart his Jeeva Samadhi, Sri Raghavendra Swami sent Sri Appanacharya to a town in Karnataka on the opposite bank of the Tungabhadra river before entering the Brindavana to attain Jeeva Samadhi.

Upon hearing of his beloved Swamiji's decision to enter Brindavana, Sri Appanacharya came rushing back to Mantralayam only to find the Tungabhadra in full spate due to the rains.

Unable to cross the river, he burst into a 32-stanza hymn, now popularly known as Sri Raghavendra Stotra as a prayer to his beloved Swamiji. It is said that on hearing the hymn, the Tungabhadra abated and allowed him to walk on her.

As Sri Appanacharya rushed into the Matha, he was mid-way through singing the last stanza of his hymn. At the same time, the last slab was placed on Sri Raghavendra Swamy in the Brindavana.

On seeing this, Sri Appanacharya was overcome with emotion and was unable to sing any further to complete the stanza.

Suddenly, a voice from inside the Brindavan said "Sakshee Hayastotra Hee", completing the Stotra and implying Sri Hayagreeva (an avatara of Lord Vishnu with the Horse head and Human body)and Prahalada and hence Sri Guru Raghavendra himself was witness to Sri Appanacharya's hymn.

This 32 stanza sloka has acquired fame as Sri Raghavendra Stotra or Sri Poornabodha sloka, since the first stanza starts with the words "Sri Poornabodha".

Another famous 2-stanza sloka praising Sri Raghavendra goes thus

Poojyaaya Raaghavendraaya Satya Dharma Rathaayacha

Bhajataam Kalpa Vrukshaaya Namathaam Kaamadhenave