One of the most interesting things about temples is their connection to mythology (of course, if you are interested in mythology!). Much as we may be skeptical towards stories from Indian mythology, there is a certain attraction about them, which is hard to resist (at least for me :-) ). Samhith too is following in my footsteps, asking a hundred (sometimes more :-( ) questions about the stories related to every temple we have been to. He was especially fascinated by the story of Tirupati, and made me relate it again and again till he had every detail fixed in his mind. He was so enthusiastic about it, I wondered if other kids would have similar interests too, and whether their parents would be able to satisfy their curiosity….. this story is for all of you out there….. Moms, dads, grandparents, kids (those of you who can read this…)……
The story begins at a conclave of sages, who had come together to perform a special yagna. They were interrupted by sage Narada, who is famous for his mischievous doings. Narada asked them whom they were dedicating the yagna to. This led to an argument, with no clear result, and they turned to their questioner for the answer. Narada in turn, asked them to find out for themselves, who among the trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) was the best – the calmest, the most understanding, and the most righteous one. After much discussion, it was the great sage, Brighu, who was nominated to perform this difficult task. Accordingly, Brighu set out to test the trinity.
First, Brighu Maharshi went to Brahma Lok, where Brahma sat, engrossed in listening to the divine sounds of the Veena played by the goddess of music, Saraswati herself. He was so engrossed that he did not hear the greeting of the sage, who decided that one who was so immersed in pleasure was not eligible for the fruits of the yagna. He next went to Mount Kailas, where Lord Shiva was dancing with Parvati. They were so lost in their dance, that when the sage interrupted them, Shiva grew angry and spoke harshly to the sage, and bade him leave before He cursed him. The sage decided that one who could not control his anger was certainly not the best, and went on to Vaikuntam. Here, lord Vishnu reclined on Adishesha, attended to by Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Attempting to test the lord, the sage directly went up to the lord, and kicked Him on the chest! Imagine his surprise when the Lord himself arose and, taking the sage’s feet in His hands, started massaging them! At the same time, the lord quietly removed an eye which the sage had on his foot, something he was proud of… thus punishing the sage for his act of disrespect…… The sage knew that he had found the one he had come looking for, and departed, oblivious of the chain of events he had set in motion, which would lead to the Lord coming down to earth at the place we know today as Tirumala.
While the gods were aware that the whole episode was an attempt to benefit mankind during the dark age of Kali Yuga, the goddess Lakshmi was angry that the sage had chosen to kick the Lord on His chest, where the goddess resided. Refusing to be placated, she left for earth, taking her abode at present day Kolhapur, where she entered into a deep meditative state, leaving the Lord alone, and helpless. After all, what is Vishnu without Lakshmi…..? When the goddess of wealth left him, he lost his prosperity and well-being, and he too came down to earth, wandering as an ascetic. He arrived at Seshachala, as this hill is known, and found an ant-hill to repose in.
Meanwhile, Narada was sorry to see the state his beloved lord was in, and approached Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva for assistance. They, in turn, approached Lakshmi, and apprising her of the situation, hit upon a plan to provide sustenance for the lord. Lakshmi took on the form of a female cowherd, while Brahma and Shiva took the forms of a cow and calf respectively. They headed towards the palace of the Chola king who ruled the area, who liked the cow and calf and agreed to buy them. He ordered them to be well cared for, and the milk to be sent to the palace directly.
The cow herd cared for them well, and took them to graze in the lush green mountains of Seshachala. Here, the cow sought out the ant-hill where the lord resided, and emptied its milk into it, providing the Lord with divine nourishment. When they returned to the palace, there was no milk left, which infuriated the king. Suspecting the cowherd, he took him to task. The cowherd pleaded ignorance, and promised the king to find out the truth.
The next day, the cowherd kept a close watch on the cow and calf as they grazed, and soon observed them emptying the milk into the ant-hill. Wondering what or who was in the ant-hill, the cowherd raised his axe and brought it on the ant-hill. Blood spurted out of it, and he fell unconscious, shocked by his own deed. The cow and the calf which were also spattered with the blood went back to the palace, where the king was stunned by their appearance. The cow led the king back to the ant-hill, where the lord was now revealed, with a cut on His fore-head.
In his anger, lord Vishnu cursed the king – he would turn into an asura – since it was he who was responsible for the cowherd hurting him with the axe. The king accepted responsibility for his action, but begged the lord’s forgiveness. At last, He relented, and deemed that the king would regain his form when the lord himself got married to Padmavati.
Once again homeless, and also badly hurt, the lord roamed over the mountains of Seshachala, looking for herbs which would cure him. In his wanderings, he came across Varaha Swamy – Lord Vishnu himself in the form of Varaha, a wild boar, a form which he took to kill the demon Hiranyaksha. Varaha Swamy had retired to these mountains after his duty was done, and these hills thus belonged to him.
The lord asked Varaha Swamy permission to reside on these hills, to which he was told that according to the laws of the Kali Yuga, accommodation could be rented out, but not given free, so the lord would have to pay for staying on these hills. Since goddess Lakshmi had deserted him, lord Vishnu had lost all his wealth and prosperity, and there was nothing he could offer Varaha Swamy as rent. However, he asked Varaha Swamy to give him the place under one condition – all devotees coming to visit the lord would have to visit Varaha Swamy first and make their offerings to him. This would be the rent due to him. Only after these offerings were made, would the lord accept the offerings given to him. This had led to the tradition of first visiting the temple of Varaha Swamy, which is just a few minutes away from the main temple. Only after we visit him can we proceed to the main temple.
Coming up : Part 2 - The Lord finds a mother... and also a wife!