Sri Matre Namaha
Bhakthi-gamya – The One Hundred & Nineteenth name in Lalitha Sahasranamam.
bhaktya (= samradhanena) gamya (=pratyaksa)
She is attainable by devotion.
In srutis and smrti it is said that though Brahman is unmanifest, it becomes perceptible through devotion.
She who can be reached by devotion
Bhaktih (=laksana), taya gamya (=bodhya)
The word bhakti according to this interpretation, means indication and gamya means to be known. This is declared in the Trisati
She can be attained only by devotion. Since She likes pure devotion, She can be attained by such a devotion only.
Upanishads explain devotion in detail. Brahma Sutra says that the Brahman is realized through act of devotion, contemplation, deep meditation etc. Chandogya Upanishad II.23.1 says ‘brahmasmsthah amrtatvam eti’ meaning one devoted to Brahman attains immortality. Attaining immortality means staying with Brahman, without rebirths. This is possible only through devotion.
Katha Upanishad II.i.1 says “Self-created God (Shiva) has also created sense organs that see outside and cannot see the Self within. But wise men seeking immortality (not willing to leave the Brahman) withdraw their senses from the external objects and see the Self within”. Such a realisation is possible only through devotion. Taittiriya Upanishad says ‘satyam, jnanam, anantham Brahma’(this epithet is often used by Satya Sai Baba) meaning truth, knowledge and everything is Brahman. It is apparent that the Brahman cannot be explained at all. At the most the Brahman can be compared to those things which we are aware of. But such comparisons cannot fully describe the Brahman. Such a great thing beyond comprehension can be known only through devotion. That is why Lalitha Trisati (nama 192) says that She can be attained only by devotion.
Krishna confirms this by saying (Gita 18.55) “One can understand me by devotional service and when he is in full consciousness of me by such devotion, he can enter my kingdom”. “Only by undivided devotional service I can be understood as I am….and can thus be seen directly…” (Gita 11.54) This nama categorically affirms the importance of bhakthi (devotion) in realizing Her. In simple term devotion is nothing put pure love without expecting anything reciprocally.
Devotion to God, sincere and heartfelt, has been the simplest, most effective way to reach Her. While the paths of wisdom, knowledge and performance of one’s duties also help a person to attain this goal, faith and devotion form the cornerstone of every mortal’s ultimate endeavour. The Upanishads tell us that whatever we pray we will experience. But the experience of Prahlada is unparalleled. When asked, “Where is God?” the boy-devotee countered the challenge with “Where is He not? He is present even in your words.” Such fervour and piety resulted in the spontaneous manifestation of Vishnu as Nrisimha, whose ferocious demeanour notwithstanding, He is an epitome of grace and beauty to His devotees.
“Bhakti is the path to Love; it is the simplest path to reach God Realization, but yet it is rarely achieved.Bhakti is the simplest and sweetest way to reach God realization. Bhakti is a divine power of god. In order to receive this power, we have to win God.Can anyone win god?In order to win god, we must understand what god is.God is known as AUM.He is one in number & at the same time, he is 2 in number.Also neither one nor two.He is neither He nor She.He has form & at the same time he does not have form.He is the Father of the universe & at the same time he is the Mother of the universe.”
So be it devi or shiva or vishnu. God can be looked upon as As a Friend,As a Master,As a Parent,As a Child,As a Sweetheart.Bhakti is having this sweet relationship with God. It directly relates to devi, who is beyond Maya. This is why bhakti is called nirgun. It is very simple and sweet. All you have to do is having 100% faith in Her and She will bestow Her Grace upon you. This faith, love, remembrance, asking and humbleness are called bhakti.when you have faith in someone, you begin to like him. When you like him more, you begin to love him. When you love him, you like to serve him. When you serve him you become humble and like to be near him, and all that ends up into deep affinity. A true affinity has no demands and no requisites. There is only one desire to love him and to serve him and to make him happy, because you feel happy in his happiness; such feeling is bhakti.
A simple sloka from Mukunda Mala such as:
Namaami naaraayana paada pankajam – I salute the lotus feet of Narayana
Karomi naraayana poojanam sada – I always worship of Narayana
Vadaami narayaana nama nirmalam – I always utter the crystal pure name of Narayana
Smaraami narayana tatvam avyayam – I always contemplate the unchanging nature of Narayana
brings about communion with the Lord.
In Sivananda Lahari, Sri Sankraacharya says:
Amkolam nijabija santati ayaskantopalam suchika
Saadhvi naija vibhum lata kshitiruham sindhussaritvallabham
Praapnoteeha yatha tatha pasupatehe padaaravinda dwayam
Cheto vrittihi upetya tisthati sada sa bhaktirituchyate
“Just as the seeds of the Amkola tree stick to it again, just as the iron needle is attracted to a magnet, a youthful woman comes to her husband, a creeper entwines a tree and the river flows into the sea, so an individual is attracted to and reaches Pasupati’s (Siva’s)feet . Bhakti is the state of the cessation of antahkarnas (inner mental tools- manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaram) and remaining thus always.”
Many more beautiful expressions about bhakti are available in our literature. The most famous bhaktas (devotees) are spread throughout our country. The alwars and nayanamars of Tamil country; Chaitanya Maha Prabhu, Jayadeva, Tukaram, Sakkubai, Purandaradasa, Annamayya, Ramadasu, Kabir, Suradas, Haridas, Meerabai, Narayanateertha, Sadasivebrahmendra, Tyagaraja and many such eminent personalities.
This is all saguna bhakti. Saguna bhakti involves using manas and other antahkaranas to pray, chant, sing and use poetic and intellectual abilities to express the devotion. Here the auspicious qualities of the favourite deity are meditated upon, chanted and sung during the spiritual journey.
In nirguna bakti the antahkarnas are trained to be tuned to their source, the state of Atman/Brahman, and no personal God or Goddess is worshipped. It is complete concentration on tatvam – tat tvam –and involves only Jnaana marga (the path to God through knowledge).
Swaswaroopa anusandhanaam bhakti iti abhidheeyate (“Tuning the mind to its source, its original state is bhakti“) is a famous nirguna definition of bhakti. This has interesting implications. Bhakti is tuning ourselves into our original state and thus experiencing shaanta rasa (the emotion of peace). This original state (rasa sthiti) is the state of bliss, peace and silence. In these experience states, our identity as an individual is merged in the real identity that is ego, time and thought transcending state of mind. This happens when we contemplate spiritual expressions and arrive at our intended destination, rasa sthiti. This approach is the path of artha bhaavanam (contemplation on the meaning). When we understand we experience. When we experience we understand.
Experience and understanding are simultaneous. By experiencing the meaning of uttered (heard) sounds and sentences or by comprehending divine utterances and their implications we are able to reach the tatpara (absorbed and being one with Tat) or taatparya (purport or import or rasa) state of language. We must be aware that we use the same mind to learn and master languages and other disciplines as we use for doing routine tasks. The state of thoughts or feelings is known as the vibhakti state of mind. Of course in grammatical terminology, vibhakti refers to nominal case terminations. Patanjali and Bhartruhari have initiated, nurtured and developed a theory of language acquisition and communication making use of the same Advaita concept of Vedantins.
Here is a story from Mahabharata which illustrates how god helps his devotees.
We are told that Asvatthama, one day, approached his father Drona and said: “You teach everything to Arjuna, whatever you have taught me. What is the difference between a disciple and a son? No difference at all? The son naturally is dearer than disciples. You teach Arjuna everything. Will you not teach me something which Arjuna does not know?” Drona thought: “This is a very foolish son, not as wise as Arjuna, and I should not teach him mysteries that may enable him to work havoc”.
But Asvatthama went on pressing the father with importunities: “Teach me something which Arjuna does not know, otherwise what is the good of my being your son.” All the Astras Arjuna was taught. There was nothing that Arjuna did not know, because of instruction from Drona. But on account of a fatherly affection for even a stupid son, which every father has, Drona finally agreed. “All right, come here, I shall give you something, but beware. I am giving you fire in your hands by which you can burn the worlds; but my child, do not use it against devotees of God, because it will not work against devotees of God. It will work against real enemies. This is the Narayana-astra, the missile that is invoked with the power of Narayana. I am telling you this today, and I am initiating you into this mystery. If you release this, all the world can be reduced to ashes; but do not use this. I am warning you, lest you should be yourself in danger when you misuse it.”
Yet Drona was cautious. He did not tell him how to withdraw the missile, because if he could withdraw it, he would go on using it again and again. He knew the lack of understanding of Asvatthama and the eagerness of his to use it one day or the other! So he could use it only once. Once if is let off, it is let off forever. It could not come back for a second use. But there is a method of withdrawing it also, which in this particular case, Drona never told Asvatthama.And you know, the occasion came for it. When Drona left his mortal coil, the fury of Asvatthama knew no bounds. He said: “I know the secret; today the Pandavas shall not be in this world. My father has told me something, and today there shall be none remaining on the Pandavas’ side, not Yudhishthira, not Bhima, not Arjuna; and he took out his ‘cat out of the bag’, and he let it out with the invocation of Narayana-mantra. Well! You know what happened? Not even an atomic bomb can work such havoc. It multiplied itself into a million-fold.
Everywhere, the whole sky was filled with burning missiles; and there were no stars, no sun, no moon, no sky. It was all fire. That was all. And when Arjuna saw that sight, Krishna was accosted: “O Lord! What is this that is coming? I cannot understand it. Some new thing is coming which I have not seen up to this time.” Krishna said: “I know what it is, and there is no remedy for this. No one can stand against this. The best thing for you all is to stop fighting. It shall not do any harm to those who will not fight it. It is destructive only to the enemies. Those who prostrate themselves before it are not its enemies, and so the best thing for you would be to cast down your arms and offer prostration to it, and then it shall exhaust itself”
Nobody knew what this mystery was, what it was that was coming; but then Krishna said that there was no fighting with it; and to all it was proclaimed loudly: “Cast down your arms, prostrate yourself before this Fire that is coming; that is the only way of saving yourself.” And all did this except Bhima. He retorted: “I am not a coward. I, a Kshatriya to cast down arms – nothing doing! I shall see to it.” He took up his mace and began brandishing it. Krishna and Arjuna went there and told him: “This is not the time to show your valour, friend, please listen to us.” But he would not listen; then he was pulled down by Krishna and Arjuna. “Come down, stupid man, you do not know what you are doing.” Since there was nobody to fight, the Astra went here, there, everywhere, seeing and searching for a single enemy. Nobody was there to fight with it, and so, finally, it extinguished itself. Thereafter, the flame entered the body of Krishna, because He was Narayana Himself. It entered the body of Narayana.
Mrigandu maharishi was a staunch devotee of Shiva. Together with his wife Marudhamathi, he led a simple life of worship and penance. The couple were happy with everything save one, the absence of a child to shower their love on. The couple however never gave up hope and continuously invoked Eeshwara to bless them with a child. Pleased with their prayers Shiva himself appeared before them and granted them their boon.
“Mrigandu, I am extremely happy at the devotion shown by you and your wife towards me. I am more than willing to bless you with Putra Bhagyam, but here are my conditions. Would you like to have a child who would be just like you in your wisdom and devotion but would live for only sixteen years, or would you prefer a hundred children who would live for many many years to come but would be challenged in their intelligence quotient? The choice is yours.”, said Shiva, his face alight with his beautiful smile.
“Maheshwara”, said Mrigandu, his hands raised in obeisance, “Give me that one intelligent son. I will be happy with that.”
“So be it, Mrigandu”, blessed the lord and then disappeared.
Soon after, Marudhamathi became pregnant and in due course of time gave birth to a lovely child. All the grahas were in auspicious positions at the time of his birth. The child himself had all the Lakshanams for a bright (but unforunately short) life. The couple named him Markandeya. Markandeya grew up with time, and was liked by one and all. When he was at a suitable age, his father himself initiated him into the study of the vedas and puranas. Within a short span of time the boy mastered all the scriptures. His parents were proud of his achievements. Markandeya was very pleasing in his manners and behavior. He won the heart of everyone he spoke to.
At the age of twelve, he was initiated into the sacred and mystic Gayathri manthra. His upanayana was conducted with much fanfare and all the guests blessed the boy to have a long and happy life. It was then that the stark truth hit the couple. In four short years their son would no longer be with them. Gloom spread into their hearts which was brimming with pride and affection for their only son.
Days passed and their gloom became more tangible to Markandeya. He could see that his parents were inwardly grieving at something and hiding it from him. As his sixteenth birthday approached his parents were hardly seen without tears in their eyes. Not able to bear the secret any longer, Markandeya confronted his parents.
“Father, mother, I see that you are worried greatly about something. I am unable to figure out what is causing you so much misery. Would you not tell it to me? Isn’t it the duty of a child to allay his parents’ miseries?”, he begged.
Marudhamathi finally broke down with the truth. “Markandeya, when Parameshwara blessed us with a son, he gave us a choice of an intelligent short-lived son compared to many foolish long-lifed children. We ofcourse stuck with the first choice. And now, as you turn to be sixteen, we are afraid that Maheshwara will take you back from us. How can we bear the shock?”, she cried out her anguish.
Markandeya smiled at his parents. “Is that all? Is that the problem? I am sure Shiva can save me from the clutches of death. He is very benevolent to his devotees. Dont we all worship him as Mrithunjaya or the victor of death. He will not let me down. For your happpiness, I am going to pray to him to ask him for a longer life. I am sure he will grant me an extension”, said Markandeya, trying to calm down his mother.
“Father”, he said, “Grant me permission to take leave and bless me for success. I will return back to you only after I get his blessings”. Saying so he left the aashrama of Mrigandu, leaving both his parents in fresh bursts of anguish.
The boy came to the forest on the banks of the Kaveri and made a Shivalinga out of the wet sand. He offered flowers to it and fruits from the forest. Then sitting in front of the linga, with matted locks and dressed in the barks of trees, he immersed himself into the chanting of the holy Panchakshara. Days passed again and Markandeya showed no signs of hunger or thirst, of sleeplessness or fatigue. His body glowed with the heat that his tapas was emanating.
As the last day of his fifteenth year was drawing to a close Yama sent his Kingkaras with orders to take the life of Markandeya and return to Yamaloka. The Yama Kingkaras came down to the banks of the kaveri and approached the boy. However the heat that was being given out by Markandeya did not allow them to get anywhere close to him. Surprised by this unexpected hurdle they ran back to Yamaloka to report this to their master.
“Prabho”, they cried in unison, “The boy is unapproachable. A divine heat is pouring out of his body and we are unable to go near him.”
Yama was shocked and he himself came out to take Markandeya’s life. Seated on his buffalo, with a mace and his characteristic noose in his hands, he appeared before the linga that Markandeya was meditating on.
“Markandeya”, he cried, “your time in this world is over. You are now to accompany me to the legions of the dead.”
Markandeya opened his eyes. Yamadharma Raja who is usually not visible to the mortals appeared before him due to his intense devotion and piety. “Yama Raja, all I request of you is time enough for me to complete my worship. You can take me then”, said Markandeya, his face calm and serene.
“No”, cried Yama in shock. “I can not let you live even for a second after you are sixteen. I will fail in my duties if I did so. Come with me this very second”, he ordered.
Markandeya hugged the Linga in devotion, “No Dharma, I cannot leave my worship unfinished. I need to complete my prayers to Maheshwara before I leave my mortal coils”, begged Markandeya.“Aaargh, I am not going to argue with you anymore. You will come with me now”, thundered Yama and in a flash he threw the noose around Markandeya. The noose fell around the rudrabhaga of the linga too. Yama then started pulling the linga along with the boy. Lo and Behold, the linga split open and out came Shiva looking furious. He kicked Yama with his left leg on his chest and in a moment he plunged his trishula into Yama’s body. Yama cried out in pain and sprawled down, lifeless. The lord of Death himself was dead, at the hands of the master of the universe.
All the devas came down to earth to the sacred spot where Shiva stood over the corpse of Yama. They cowered at the very sight. They all venerated Shiva and praised him as Mrithyunjaya and Kaala Kaala (the Yama of Yama himself). The lord’s anger cooled down and he returned to his Shantha swaroopa.
Markandeya approached Shiva and bowing to him said thus, ”Parameshwara, restore yama back to life. The world will be unbalanced without the lord of death to keep control of their sins and good deeds. Please bring him back.”
Shiva was extremely pleased with Markandeya’s selfless intentions. He restored Yama back to life and warned him, “There is no death to my devotees. Those who venerate me and pray to me with the purest of hearts will not suffer problems from you. It will be good for you if you keep this in mind.” Yama nodded meekly at Shiva’s warning.
“Markandeya”, called Shiva, “to you there will be no death. You will remain sixteen forever. You will neither become old nor gray haired. Every desire of yours shall be fulfilled and you shall remain this young till the end of all times.” Blessing Markandeya thus Shiva disappeared from the spot. True to Shiva’s boon, the hindus believe that Markandeya is still very much alive, young and vibrant as always. They venerate him as one of their siranjeevis and pray to him for longevity.
The place by the banks of kaveri where Markandeya had set up the linga and where Shiva vanquished Yama is today known by the name of Thirukkadaiyur. Yet another of the Ashta Veeratta Kshetras, Thirukkadaiyur is located 20km from Mayiladuthurai. The Abhirami sametha Amrithaghateshwarar temple is one of the best known ones of the Veeratta sthalas. The moolavar linga is a swayambhu. The mark that was made by the noose of Yama can bee seen even today.
Abhirami bhattar was a scholar who lived at Thirukkadaiyur during the rule of Raja Sarabhoji. He was branded as a lunatic by his peers because of his blind devotion for the goddess. This allegation ultimately reached the king’s ears and he came to the temple to check it for himself. It was the sacred thithi of Amavasya or new moon day and the Bhattar was deeply engrossed in worship of the goddess. The king approached him and asked, ”Bhattar, what thithi is it today?” The bhattar who was captivated by the shining moon like face of Abhirami told him, “Why my king, it is Pournami (full moon) indeed.” The king was aghast and repeated his question to which the bhattar answered back in his same tone “It is Pournami my lord.”
The king was furious and ordered, ”If we dont see the moon tonight you will be consigned to flames. You will be made to sit on a swing which will be lowered gradually into a burning pit of fire. As the night passes without the appearance of the moon, the closer you will get to death”.
The bhattar was shocked when he came back to his senses. He looked at the idol of Abhirami, “It was you who made me say that it was a full moon and it will be you who will save me from the plight”. In the evening the bhattar was made to sit on the swing suspended over the fire pit and the swing was gradually lowered. The bhattar called out to Abhirami for help. He sang a hundred verses in praise of the grace and power of the divine mother. At the completion of the 79th verse Devi Abhirami threw one of her glittering earrings onto the heavens where it shown brightly like a full grown moon. The king and everyone gathered were ashamed at what they had done ta a devout soul like Abhirami Bhattar and begged him to forgive them. Bhattar forgave them all and continued his existence on the beauty of the Ambal. As a mark of his respect, the king decreed that one hundredth of the royal revenue should annually go to the descendents of the Bhattar. The copper plates proclaiming this decree are still owned by the surviving descendents of the Bhattar. The hundred verses he sang are now devotedly sung as Abhirami Andhadhi, invoking the blessings of the goddess.
The legend of Kungulinga Kalayar is also quite famous. This rich merchant Kalayar, used to offer Kungulingadhupam (an incense) to the lord everyday and hence he got his name thus. Due to an unseen turn in the fortunes he lost his wealth and was left penniless. One day, to have their daily meal, his wife had to part with her Thirumangalyam (sacred marital thread) to buy them some food. Such was the level of poverty that they had to endure. Kalayar took this to the market with a heavy heart. There, seeing a woman selling Kungulingadhupam, he lost himself and bought some for the temple. He rushed to the sanctum and immersed himself in the worship. The lord taking pity on his devotee and extremely happy with his selfless behaviour, filled his house with gold and grains to last for three generations and bade him to go home. Kalayar returned home, afraid of his wife’s scolding but was taken aback by the wealth that was piled in there. Realising the divine play, he danced with joy at the tender heart of the lord and continued his service to the lord till his very end.