A great devotee of Vishnu called Vishnuchitta, a resident of Srivilliputtur, had developed a flower garden mainly for the purpose of offering everyday a garland chiefly to tulasi leaves to the temple in the vicinity. His labour of love behind the offering was intense. His faith in God was equally unique and unwavering.
One day, as he was on his routine job of earth-work excavation in the garden, he stumbled across a box containing a female child almost similar to king Janaka’s exciting experience of being rewarded with Sita in the land dedicated for religious sacrifices. It was a day ruled by the stellar constellation of Pubba in the lunar month of Ashada – a month noted for purity and therefore well-suited for religious exercises to invoke divine blessings for material prosperity too. Vishnuchitta brought her up as his own daughter. As a gift from Bhu-devi, she was called Godadevi and celebrated all over world as ‘Andal’, as a divine incarnation of Neeladevi.
His daily routine consisted of preparation of the garlands in the morning followed by a dip in the river and after the oblations and prayers on the bank, he would then get back home, pick up the garlands and walk up to the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Ranganatha temple and offer them with all devotion to the deity. He would receive the theertham and return with the prasadams.
There was, however, a tremendous change in Godadevi’s mental resolutions after she came of age. Every morning, she used to adorn herself with the flowers brought home by her father and ostensibly meant for the Lord. She would have the flowers, and then look at the mirror to find out if she would really make a fair and fit match for Sri Ranganatha. Imagine anybody conjuring up visions of becoming the consort of the Lord! After the self-examination as to eligibility, she would remove the flowers from her tress and put them back in the original place. Her father, not knowing what had transpired before his visit to the temple would offer the flowers used by her; the very flowers which for a while decorated her would find a place on the Lord!
Sri Ranganatha’s intentions, however, appeared to be different. One day, Vishnuchitta returned home from a dip in the river only to discover to his shock and amazement his daughter wearing the very garland of flowers meant for the Lord! Far from displaying even a trace of anger or indignation at seeing something apparently sacrilegious on the part of his foster daughter he loved intensely, he left the used garland behind but took only the tulasi garland for Sri Ranganatha. He was however very much depressed to see that his unbroken record of daily decoration of the Lord with flowers suffered a jolt and that he was deprived of the singular symbol of his devotional service to the Lord.
Strangely enough, Lord Sri Ranganatha appeared in his dream that very night and asked him, in a vein of protestation, why he did not bring the flowers. Vishnuchitta told him what transpired at home. “Everyday”, said the Lord, “That was exactly what was going on! She used to put on the flowers first and then put them back in the original place! As the flower exuded more aroma than before they were acceptable to me. I would therefore direct you to bring in future the very flowers used by her as their fragrance was enhanced by her hairs which exuded natural fragrance because of her intense devotion”. This earned her the reputation of being called by the unusual appellation of “Shudikuduthanaachiar”.
The phenomenon of this episode is evident in the latter half of the mangalacharanam of “Thiruppavai” by Godadevi who came to be called “Andal” and the composition in Ashtapadi verse is suggestive of the Upanishadic message of identity of Jeevatman with the Paramatman. It is said that all followers of Sri Ramanujacharya, exponent of Vishishtadvaita, recite this stanza first before embarking upon any services to the Lord or before any recitation of sacred texts, namely Paasurams or Prabandhams.
The turning point:
Once the Pandian king of the day arranged an open debate on metaphysical disquisitions into the Ultimate Reality of Existence and had announced rewards for the most convincing arguments to be advanced in the gathering meant primarily for scholars and intellectuals. Impelled by Sri Ranganatha who appeared in a dream, Vishnuchitta, though an illiterate also went to the capital to participate in the conference. Blessed by the Lord, he delivered several Vedic lectures and put forward an argument to establish that Sri Narayana was the greatest among Gods. At the end of his address, the sack containing the monetary reward opened itself and fell in front of him. Supremely satisfied, the king ordered that Vishnuchitta should be brought in a howdah carried by a decorated elephant in a colourful procession to the palace with all royal honours. Vishnuchitta had a unique ecstatic experience in store as Sri Ranganatha manifested himself and gave him darshan on the way. Overwhelmed by his grace Vishnuchitta sang praises of the Lord (known as Pallandu) and gave away the hand of his daughter in marriage to Sri Ranganatha. He also made over the royal reward to the Lord as a humble token of his abiding faith and reverence.
In the Mangalacharanam Sloka of the Pasurams, Vishnuchitta’s humility of surrender is very significant.
“Gurumukhanadhitya-praahave daanaseshaannarapathi-parikliptam shulkamaadaatu-kaamaha, Shwashuramamara-vandyam Ranganathasya saakshaat dwijakulatilakam tam Vishnuchittam namaami”.
The original composition of Pashurams in Ashtapadi is reputed to have been sung by Godadevi – a manifestation of Neeladevi. The tattva contained in the work is such that the celebrated Sri B. Venkatacharya has called it “Neela Gita”.
It is not perhaps known to many that it was again a Pandian king was invited scholars and the knowledgeable alike to participate in a written contest to decide the entry throwing light on whether the aroma exuded by some woman’s lock of hairs is attributable to application of aromatic scents or perfumes or to a natural manifestation.
One day, the king spent a few very pleasant moments with the queen whose hairs exuded a captivating smell. He asked her if she used any perfume after the bath. She replied she did not use any. But the king was curious to know the origin of the pleasant smell. He announced the reward of a thousand gold sovereigns for the best explanation. Lord Shiva blessed a poor Brahmin with the revealing answer that raised many a eyebrow but sent the king to ecstasy, raptures and sense of satisfaction – that by divine grace, a pure-hearted woman’s lock of hairs would radiate natural fragrance and a Pativrata , devoted as she is to her husband, would invariably sport such a gifted one of great aroma. Although the poet laureate of the king did not accept the existence of a nexus between a pure physical frame characterized by qualities of a virtuous life and the emergence of an innate smell from the hairs, the leela of Lord Shiva was such that he manifested himself in the king’s court and personally upheld the validity of the dictum.
When there is a destruction of bodily consciousness, the subtleties in the body do attain sublimation and an alchemic change and the apparently inexplicable wave of pleasant smell is within the experience of many spiritualists. After all, “gandha” or the spell of aromatic smell is so strongly felt because divinity pervades all the ramifications of the subtle elemental structure of the microcosm and the macrocosm elemental structure including “gandha”, one of five tanmatras.
No wonder, Godadevi’s exuberance of love for the Lord was such that divinity had pervaded every cell in her body to make even the hairs to radiate a smell sui generis that imparted additional aroma to the flowers she wore – a rare circumstance of used flowers being acceptable to Sri Ranganatha!
According to the concluding portion of Godadevi’s exciting legend, Sri Ranganatha asked Vishnuchitta to send her to his sannidhi (sanctum sanctorum). Mysteriously enough, Godadevi entered the sannidhi and disappeared into the Lotus Feet of the Lord! The history about the disappearance is the secret of the merger of the Jeevatman with the Paramatman signifying the vanishing point of all corporeal appendages.
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