The Legends of Venkatachala, Jagannatha and Badari Kshetras

Venkatachala : Skanda Purana described that  King Akasha performed an elaborate Yagna on the banks of Arani and while tilling in course of the Yagna tilled the land of Yagna and found a girl child whom he named as Padmavati  and brought her up with care and affection. Sage Narada who visited the King saw the child and predicted that as she grew of age would wed Lord Srinivasa of Venkatachala. Padmavati as she grew up went out to a forest along with her companions and encountered  a handsome youth called Anant ( Srinivasa) who tried to draw her into conversation and proposed but she rebuffed out of semi-acceptance. But Anant desired Padmavati immensely and sent an emissary named Vakulamala  to King Akasha and the latter was happy at the alliance and soon the holy wedding took place in style. Among the various celebrities, Devi Lakshmi too attended and congratulated the new couple! [ But Srinivasa had to borrow hefty money from Kubera to defray the wedding expenses and the interest money itself continues to be repaid till date from the earnings of donations being made by the lakhs of devotees!] Padmavati’s earlier birth was Vedavati who was a   companion of Devi Lakshmi and when the latter became Shri Rama’s spouse, Vedavati proceeded for Tapasya to forests but Ravanasura misbehaved with her and she ended her life by jumping into fire and cursed Ravana that soon he and his clan would be wiped out by Lord Vishnu’s Avatara. As the drama unfolded  of Sita’s abduction following Lakshmana’s  insult to Ravana’s sister Surpanakha, Ravana’s masquerading as a Maya Tapaswi, Maricha’s taking to the Form of a Maya Mriga (Deer), Rama-Lakshmana’s battle with Ravana and his clan and the latter’s great destruction, then the question of Sita’s purity of character was raised by Rama. Agni Deva who had  for long concealed  real Sita’s identity as she was transferred to Patala, Maya Sita was actually the wife of Agni viz. Swaha  Devi; indeed Swaha Devi was Vedavati who turned later as Maya Sita and thereafter as Padmavati Devi!

Skanda Purana delineated some telling episodes highlighting Venkateswara Mahatmya. One was that of a Nishad (Hunter) named Vasu, his wife Chitravati and son Vira. Nishad was the Chief of his clan living honestly and peacefully. His daily practice was to offer cooked rice and honey as ‘Naivedya’ to Venkatachalapati and eat the ‘Prashad’. One day, the Nishad who to go out and entrusted the task of offering the Naivedya to his son Vira but instead of performing the offer to Shrinivasa, he gave some to Agni, some to tree bushes and the rest was consumed. On return, the Nishad was extremely agitated that the daily offering was not made to Venkateswara and was even about to kill  his son for the greatest sin that he committed; just at that time Lord Venkateshwara appeared before the Nishad in full glory with his four hands ornamented and armed and prevented him from harming the son and said that the acts of his son was in fact worth emulation but not condemnation for he performed a ‘homam’ as an offering to Agni Deva, a homage to Nature and only the remainder as the  left over ‘Prashad with devotion. Bhagavan thus appreciated the father and son and blessed them.

The above happening was reported by the Nishad to the King of the Land named Tondaman. Even as a Prince, the King was noble, intellectual and devotional. Once as a Prince, he went on hunting in a forest and chased a wild elephant which crossed the River Swarnamukhi and reached the Ashram of Suka Maha Muni and found a parrot in the Ashram which was always screeching the name of  ‘Srinivasa, Srinivasa’. The Prince chased the bird upto the mountain top where it vanished but he met the Nishad who said that the parrot was a pet of Suka Muni and was always in the habit of screeching the name of Srinivasa. The Nishad then narrated his story of worship to Srinivasa by offering cooked rice and honey. In fact the Nishad took the Prince to have a darshan of Srinivasa and the latter was thrilled. On return to the Kingdom, the Prince was informed  by his faher to take over as the King since the latter was retiring.  On taking over the responsibility, Tondaman was busy; suddenly after a few monnths, the Nishad  approached the King agitated and conveyed that in a dreamt he visioned  a Varaha Murti and said: ‘Nishada! You must reach the King atonce and command him to perform  ‘Abhisheka’with lots of milk  to a ‘Shila’ (Stone) underneath a specific thick bush, pull it out and ask a Shilpi (Sculptor) to form a Varaha Murti with Bhu Devi on his lap. King Tondaman followed the instructions of Venkatachalapati as per the Nishada’s dream and consecrated the Temple in a magnificent manner. Among the Brahmanas who attended the function, one  requested the King to please arrange  look after his pregnant wife till he returned from a Tirtha Yatra . The King agreed and after a few months, the Brahmana returned but found the woman had a miscarriage and expired. The King felt extremely guilty and approached Srinivasa who in a dream directed his wives to take dips in Asthi Sarovara Tirtha; as they did so, the Brahman’s wife who had a miscarriage and died also emerged along with the Queens. This miracle was witnessed by thousands of devotees and the Brahmana was overjoyed!

King Tondaman was in the daily habit of worshipping Bhagavan Venatachalapati with golden lotuses. He wondered one day how Tulasi leaves pulled out of muddy plants got mixed up with the lotus flowers and a voice came from the Skies that there was a pot-maker (Kumhara) in Karmapuri who also did daily puja to the Lord and that he accepted  both the pujas of the King and the Kumhara too in the same manner! The King reached the Kumhara and the latter and his wife denied that they never perfomed any puja but they heard a voice that the King would knock at their door and simultaneously a  Pushpaka Viman would land to take them to Vishnuloka! Apparently the Kumhara couple did great pujas in their previous births! The King returned to Venkateshwara and a benign Lord appeared and bestowed lasting bliss to him too!

In the vicinity of Tirumaleshwara Temple are Tirthas like Swami Pushkarini, Papanashana Tirtha, Krishna Tirtha, Akashaganga Titha, Chakra Tirtha and so on; each one of these Tirthas had a Sacred Background. For instance Swami Pushkarini  washed off the sin of Brahmana Kashyap who had the power of saving a curse; King Parikshit was cursed by Shringi , the son  of Samika Muni, as he was infuriated that  the King put around a dead snake around the neck of the Muni who was engrossed in deep tapasya. The Great Serpent Takshaka was to bite the King within a week’s time as a result of the curse and Brahmana Kashyap  had powers of  preventing Daksha to do so but the Brahmana was purchased by Daksha and thus did the sin of not saving the King. Papanasha Tirtha eradicated the extreme poverty of a Vedic Scholar called Bhadramati with several sons and daughters and as per an advice of Narada Muni gave a token of ‘Bhudaan’of five feet of Land that he received from a rich donor. As the Bhudaan was given away to another vituous Brahmana the Lord appeared in person and fulfilled all of his desires and provided Salvation later; indeed the Brahmana who received the donation was Venateswara himself! Akasha Ganga Snaan was prescribed  by Matangi Muni to Anjana Devi and Vayu Deva as the Snana bestowed to them an Illustrious Son Hanuman! On a subsequent time, a Brahmana called Ramanuja  did Tapasya of extreme rigour with Panchagnis or Five Sacred Flames around him irrespective of Heat-Cold-Rain and attained Narayana Darshana and gave the double boon of Enlightenment and the presence of an Eternal Water Spring of Akasha Ganga.

Eight-folded approach to Venkateshwara: While Suta Muni narrated Skanda Purana to the congre -gation of Sages at Naimisharanya  he prescribed an Eight-fold Bhakti Route to Lord Venkateshwara: 1) To display ‘Snehabhava’ or feelings of Friendship sincerely towards His Devotees; 2) To provide Service and Satisfaction to the Devotees; 3) To perform Puja without expectations;4) To direct or dedicate all actions to Him; 5) To generate Bhakti and love in all the Jnanendriyas or Sense Organs like eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin and the corresponding Karmendriyas or Actionable Organs like seeing, hearing, smelling, speaking and feelings of the Lord; 6) To hear and cogitate about the ‘Mahatmya’of the  Lord and accord importance to whatever is said, described, sung, taught and thought of the Lord; 7) To always keep the name of Srinivasa on one’s  lips, thoughts and heart and 8) finally dedicate oneself  to Lord Ventateshwara  and take comprehensive and absolute refuge unto Him! Those who are fortunate of seeing even a glimpse of  the Idol of Venkateshwara are sure to experience the awe and satisfaction of nearness and lasting memory and familiarity. Those who think of Srinivasaeither of curiosity, greed, love of materialism, fear, or  a casual occurrence undergo a tangible tranformation of outlok, approach to life and morality. If even a casual approach to the Lord has a multiplier effect, one could imagine the far reaching impact of the Eight-fold dedication to Him! Just as Fire is capable of pulling down a huge mansion within minutes, the stock-pile of sins gets ablaze into ash as fast, provided one takes the shelter of Srinivasa. Human life is indeed difficult to attain compared to several other species and asylum unto the Lord would surely assure Salvation.

Purushottama (Jagannatha) Kshetra: Sage Jaimini narrated the Story of King Indradyumna,an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu who was keen on having a darshan of the Idol of Neela Madhava at a Temple situated in the Nilachala Mountain on the East Coastal side of Bharata Varsha in the Utkala Region and asked his Priest to ascertain the route and arrange for the trip. One of the Pilgrims (Bhagavan Himself) who said that he just returned from there and described the details of the route. The King and his large entourage undertook an arduous journey and having crossed Mahanadi camped overnight and the Local Chief of Utkal Region gave the disheartening news that there was a huge sand storm and the Idol of Neela Madhava was underneath a heap of debris. Brahmashi Narada appeared and consoled the King and asked him perform hundred Yagnas and then NeelaMadhava would manifest from under the debris. Narada further said that a ‘Vata Vriksha’ (Banyan Tree) with four branches would appear near the debris; that Vishvakarma the Celestial Artist would carve out four Idols of Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra the sister of the brothers and a Sudarshana Chakra; that a conch-shaped Purushottama Kshetra would get materialised and that Lord Brahma himself would consecrate the Wooden Idols but the instructions of Neela Madhava must be followed by the King in spirit and deed. Sughat the son of Vishwakarma completed the construction of the Temple within five days while made the Idol of Nrisimha Deva which was installed by Narada. The task of carving wood from for the four major Idols was taken up and a celestial voice was heard saying that the Idols would emerge on their own, that the oldest worker be sent inside the the Main Gate which should be closed till the job was over, that the sound of drums be kept on till the task was going on inside to cover the sounds from there, that if somebody heard the sounds from inside then  he or she would be stone-deaf forever and if somebody saw any activity from inside that person would lose vision forever! On the fifteenth day a celestial announcement was heard that the Idols were almost ready; instructions were given about the colour schemes of the Idols viz. deep blue cloud for Janannatha, white for Balabhadra, Crimson red like rising Sun for Subhadra and deep red to the Sudarshana Chakra. As the finishing touches were being provided, Indradyumna was in trance and at the time of consecration, Narada, the King and the entire entourage entered the Sanctum Sanctorium chanting Dwadasha Mantra viz.Namo Vaasudevaya in praise of the Lord, Purusha Suktum addressed Balabhadra, Sri Suktam for Subdhadra Devi and appropriate Mantras to invoke  Sudarshana Chakra. Finally at the Muhurat Time , Lord Brahma initiated the most hallowed function of ‘Kumbha-bhisheka’ on Shuddha Vishakha Ashtami on Thursday with Pushyami as the Nakshatra as witnessed by Deva-Yaksha-Kinnaras and Maharshis. The famous nine day Ratha Yatra commenced on Shuddha Ashadha Vidiya and returned from the banks of Bindu Tirtha on the eighth following day.The Annual Ratha Yatra continues till date.

Badari Kshetra: Badari Kshetra is one of the most outstanding and ancient Pilgrimage Points on Himalayas where  Bhagavan Narayana resides. Maha Deva himself was stated to have advised Skanda Kumara that among the various Kshetras of Bharata Desha,  Badari was the unique Place of worship as that not only carried the footprints of Vishnu but Kedara Kshetra was in the same region where the magnificent Shiva Linga was also present  thus affording double advantage of worshipping Shiva and Narayana, signifying the unity of both the Swarupas of the same Deity. Again, Badari had been the abode of Agni Deva as he was called ‘Sarvabhakshaka’ or the Consumer of each and every material and was rightly acclaimed as ‘ Sarva Papa Naashaka’ or the destroyer of all kindss of sins; Vishnu gave the boon to Agni that he would be a purifier par excellence. Lord Shiva also sensitised Skanda that there were Five Sacred Shilas (Rocks)  representing Naradi, Narasimhi,Varaahi, Garudi, and Markandeyi and each one of the Rocks was capable of bestowing boons to whosoever  worshipped to them as these were the very Shilas that the Five of  the Illustrious Personalities did extreme Tapasyas and secured the Vision of Vishnu in His full and glorious Form.

Another legend  ascribed to Badari Kshetra related to a mass Prayer by Devas to Brahma that in the successive yugas access to Vishnu was a great facility but in Kali Yuga it was not so easy. Brahma headed the Delegation of Devas to Narayana lying on ‘Ksheera Sagara’ or  the Ocean of Milk and complained . Narayana replied that all the Devas were irresponsible and ignorant that Narayana was difficult to reach in the Kali Yuga ! In fact, he was far easier to access in the Kali Yuga than in the earlier Yugas and the Delegation should realise that a fulfleged presence of His was readily available to only to Devas but to human beings even at Badarikashrama! As Devas were ashamed of their lack of awareness, they made instant Yatras along with their families and that was how there was added magnificance of the Kshetra. There is a strong belief down the ages in the current Yuga that visitors who visit the Hallowed Place would have their sins demolished and attain Vishnu Swarupa whose heart would be replete His vision, whose tongue and ears with His glories, whose belly full of even a morsel of the Prashad offered to Him, and whose kneeled head touched the feet of His Idol.

Kapala Tirtha in Badarika is popular for performing ‘Pinda Danaas’ to ‘Pitru Devas’ as that was the hallowed place where Maha Deva snipped Brahma’s fifth head as the latter did the great sin of infatuation of his own daughter Devi Saraswati. Brahma Tirtha was the Place where  Vishnu in his incarnation as Hayagriva emerged and expanded his broad thighs to kill Madhu-Kaitabha demon brothers as the latter secured permission from the Avatara that they should be killed simultaneously on the Sea where there was no water. Badari is one significant Place where River Saraswati is visible with her full force adjecent to the Kapala Tirtha where Pitru Karyas are executed.

Sri V.D.N.Rao and Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham presents the Essence of Puranas in English, condensed by Sri. V.D.N.Rao, devotee of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Compiled, Composed and Interpreted by V.D.N.Rao, Former General Manager, India Trade Promotion Organisation, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi Ministry of Commerce, Govt. of India The author can be contacted at [email protected]