At that time Sri Rangam was a part of the dominions of the Chola king, Koluttunga I, who had made his capital at Kancipuram. Although the Cholas had become devoted to Lord Narayana in the time of Yamunacarya, Koluttunga was a great devotee of Lord Siva and an avowed enemy of all Vaisnavas. It was his desire that all the devotees of the Lord give up their faith and surrender to Lord Siva alone. Lord Siva is the most powerful of the demigods, but still he is not on the level of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus all the Vaisnavas refused to abandon their worship of Lord Visnu, which satisfies the conclusion of all Vedic literature.
Koluttunga was well aware that Yatiraja was the greatest Vaisnava acharya in India, and he reasoned that if he could induce him to worship Siva, then the other devotees would also abandon their faith. Even if Ramanuja would not agree to give up his worship of Lord Narayana, the king felt that he would still be able to establish the supremacy of the worshippers of Lord Siva by putting him to death. Accordingly, he sent messengers to Sri Rangam to invite Ramanuja, along with his guru, Mahapurna, to come to Kancipuram for an audience with the king. Little suspecting Koluttunga’s evil intentions, Yatiraja agreed to go with them, and entered the asrama to make his preparations for the journey.
Kuresa, however, was considering the matter deeply, and after a while he said to Ramanuja, “I feel certain the king wants you to come to Kancipuram simply to put an end to your life. Please do not go there. While you are living and preaching the true religion of devotion to the Lord, the entire earth is benefiting. For fallen souls like myself, who are scorched by the miseries of material existence, you are the only refuge. Let me go in your place. You take these white clothes of the grhasthaasrama, while I put on the dress of a sannyasi and go with the king’s men. In this way you may still be able to escape from their clutches.”
Yatiraja considered Kuresa’s words for a few moments and then agreed to the proposal. Dressing himself in his disciple’s clothes, he left the asrama unseen and made his way quickly to the forest to the west of the city. Govinda and the other devotees also left the city one by one and joined Ramanuja in the forest.
KURESA AT THE COURT OF KING KOLUTTUNGA
In the meantime, Kuresa, adopting the dress and danda of a sannyasi, presented himself along with Mahapurna before the king’s men, who then escorted the two Vaisnavas to Kancipuram, completely taken in by the trick. Mahapurna was also fully aware of the danger they faced, but he was now so old that he could not leave Sri Rangam with the other devotees and was perfectly happy to leave this world if that was the will of the Lord.
When they arrived at the palace, Kuresa and Mahapurna went before the king, who welcomed them with respect and saw to it that they were properly accommodated. Koluttunga had good reason to respect Ramanuja, for the acarya had delivered his sister from an evil ghost when the king was just a boy of eight years. However, this memory did nothing to alter his intention of either forcing Yatiraja to renounce the Lord or else taking away his life.
After a few days, the king assembled all of his Saivite panditas and called for the two devotees, still believing Kuresa to be Yatiraja. When Kuresa and Mahapurna entered the assembly, Koluttunga addressed them in a respectful way, “O holy men, please be seated. We have invited you to our city just to hear auspicious talks on spiritual topics. All the scholars of my court are assembled here, eager to converse with you, for your reputation has spread far and wide. Now please tell us, what is the duty for men like us?”
“O King and panditas,” replied Kuresa unflinchingly, “Lord Visnu, the savior of all the worlds, is the Supreme Lord of all others. Therefore the duty of every man, whatever his position in life, is simply to worship Him with love and devotion. There is nothing more than this.”
On hearing these defiant words, King Koluttunga flew into a rage and spoke angrily to Kuresa, “I had heard that you were a great scholar and holy man. But now I see that you are an imposter, for you worship Visnu instead of Siva, who is the Lord and destroyer of all the worlds. Now you must give up this foolishness. Hear from these great scholars the real conclusion of all the scriptures and then become a devotee of Lord Siva. If you are obstinate and ignore their pure teachings, then surely neither of you will live to see another dawn.”
Immediately the court panditas began to present their false conclusions, using fallacious arguments to try to prove that Siva was the Supreme Lord. However, by dint of their vast knowledge of the scriptures, Kuresa and Mahapurna were easily able to refute all their arguments. Eventually the king became completely exasperated and cried out, “Enough of this wrangling! If you want to save your lives, then acknowledge that there is none greater than Siva”
To this Kuresa mockingly replied, “Why even Drona is greater than Siva” This was a play on words, for Siva and Drona were also the names of units of weight – and, of the two, the drona was the heavier.
In speaking these words Kuresa knew perfectly well that he was bringing his death inevitably closer, but he considered it his great fortune to be able to sacrifice his life in order to save that of his guru. The devotee of the Lord is known as abhaya, fearless, because he fully takes shelter of Lord Hari.
Thus Kuresa was not in the least disturbed by Koluttunga’s dreadful threats, but within his mind he began to pray, “0 Lord Hari, seeing the mercy that you are now bestowing on me by allowing me to serve Yatiraja in this way, I can partially realize the meaning of Sri Yamunacarya’s statement: namonamo ’nanta-dayaika-sindhave – I offer obeisances unto You, the unlimited ocean of mercy. Even this mighty king and his proud scholars know nothing of Your unlimited glories, but You have revealed them to such an insignificant person as myself just to increase my humility and surrender. What greater good fortune could I ever hope to achieve!”
KING KOLUTTUNGA’S CRUELTY
Seeing that Kuresa’s reply was intended to ridicule them, Koluttunga and all his panditas were filled with rage. The king ordered that the two Vaisnavas be arrested and bound. When this had been done, he told his courtiers, “Take these two blasphemers from our presence and put out their eyes. They deserve to die for the words they have spoken in our presence, but because Ramanuja once saved my sister from a ghost, I will spare their lives.”
Following this cruel order, the king’s men took Kuresa and Mahapurna to a secluded place, and, after subjecting them to various tortures, they plucked out their eyes. Despite the intense pain he was forced to undergo, Kuresa was undisturbed at heart, and he prayed to Lord Narayana for the forgiveness of his tormentors. He rejoiced that he was able accept these great sufferings on behalf of his spiritual master. When the king’s men had finished with Kuresa, he stood before them with folded hands and said, “May Lord Narayana bless you for allowing me to serve my guru in this way.”
On hearing these words and seeing the calm demeanor Kuresa was exhibiting, even those cruel-hearted men were filled with awe. They called to a beggar who was sitting nearby, and, giving him money for expenses, ordered him to lead the two devotees safely to Sri Rangam.
However, the atrocities that Kulottunga’s men had committed were too much for the frail body of Mahapurna to bear. Lying down on the road, he rested his head on the lap of Kuresa and said to him, “You must go alone to Sri Rangam, for I can tell that the time has now come for me to leave this world. There is nothing to lament over in this, for my mind is fixed on Sri Yamunacarya and I am longing to be reunited with that great soul. When you meet again with my beloved disciple, Ramanuja, offer millions of obeisances at his feet on my behalf.” Having said this, Mahapurna gave up his life, meditating on the feet of his guru.
Not long after he began these cruel persecutions, King Koluttunga became afflicted with an incurable disease and died a short time later. For one who causes distress to the Lord’s devotees everything is inauspicious. The son of Koluttunga, who was named Vikrama, then began to rule over the kingdom of the Cholas. Although his father had been such an ardent Saivite, VikramaChola later on became an initiated disciple of Ramanuja and learned from him the path of devotion to Lord Visnu.
YATIRAJA IN THE FOREST
Whilst his disciple was suffering at the hands of Koluttunga, Yatiraja had been able to escape from Sri Rangam undetected. In the forest to the west of the city he met up with Govinda, Dasarathi, Dhanurdasa, and his other followers. Fearing pursuit by the king’s officers, they proceeded quickly through the forest in a westerly direction, walking constantly for two days and two nights without food of any kind. Eventually they lay down exhausted at the foot of a hill, their feet blistered and their bodies cut by the forest thorns. In a short time, the whole party was asleep.
Near to where Ramanuja and his disciples lay was a village inhabited by candalas, men of very lowly birth. When some of the villagers saw a group of brahmanas sleeping near to their homes, they were very anxious to render whatever service they could to these holy men. Therefore, without disturbing the sleepers, they collected large quantities of different types of fruits from the forest and stacked them all around where the brahmanas lay. Then they lit a fire nearby and stood waiting for the brahmanas to awaken so that they could learn what had brought them to that remote region.
Eventually, Yatiraja and the others awoke refreshed from their sleep. When they saw the fruits, the fire, and the forest dwellers standing there ready to serve them, they could understand that Lord Narayana was protecting them from the dangers of the forest. They quickly bathed in a nearby river and then, after offering the fruits to Lord Hari, they satisfied their hunger by feasting on the prasadam. From the words of the villagers Yatiraja came to understand that they had crossed the border of the Chola kingdom and were now safe from the pursuit of Koluttunga’s men.
MEETINGS WITH VAISNAVAS
When they were fully rested, Ramanuja blessed the candalas and continued with his party on their westward journey. That afternoon they came to another village and were guided to the house of a brahmana named Sri Rangadasa. When they arrived the husband was still out begging alms, but his pious wife, Celancalamba, considered herself fortunate to get this opportunity to render service to Vaisnavas. She invited them into the house, seated them nicely and then immediately entered the kitchen to begin cooking. A short time later, Sri Rangadasa returned home and was also delighted to see so many Vaisnava guests in his house, including the famous Ramanujacarya.
When the cooking was completed, the food was offered to Lord Visnu, and then the prasadam was distributed to the devotees, who all ate very heartily. For two days they remained in the house of Sri Rangadasa, and just before leaving, Yatiraja gave initiation to both husband and wife.
When the Vaisnavas continued their journey, Sri Rangadasa went with them as a guide. By evening they had reached a place known as Vahnipuskarini, where they remained for two days. Then, taking leave of Sri Rangadasa, they continued on to the village of Salagrama, where they stayed with a brahmana named Andhrapurna, who was a very renounced devotee. Having seen his good qualities, Ramanuja initiated Andhrapurna, who then became his personal servant. From that time on he always remained with his guru, desiring only to serve his lotus feet.
Andhrapurna told Yatiraja of a great devotee named Purna who lived in the village of Bhaktagrama, not far from Salagrama. Passing through Nrsimha-ksetra, they then travelled to Bhaktagrama and remained for some time in the association of Sri Purna.
CONVERSION OF KING VITTHALADEVA
The king of that region was known as Vitthaladeva, and he was a follower of the Jain religion. For several years his daughter had been possessed by a ghost, despite all the efforts of the Jain priests to cast out the evil spirit. When the king heard that a group of Vaisnavas had come from the east and were residing in Bhaktagrama at the house of Purna, he invited them to his palace – hoping that they might be able to do something to help the princess.
Ramanujacarya, as a pure devotee, was always filled with divine potency and thus able to drive out the ghost just by looking at the girl’s face. King Vitthaladeva was delighted and amazed to see how easily this devotee of Lord Visnu had cured his daughter, and at once he became greatly devoted to Yatiraja. Desiring to understand the teachings of the Vaisnavas, he bowed down at the feet of the acarya and begged him to reveal the true conclusion of the Vedas.
As Ramanuja spoke about the glories of devotional service and pure love of God, the heart of the king was moved. He began to regret his adherence to the Jain philosophy, which is completely devoid of the spirit of love of God. He called for all the Jain priests and panditas to come into the assembly so that they might hear from this great devotee and philosopher. When Yatiraja began addressing the Jains, clearly explaining the position of the Personality of Godhead as the Absolute Truth, some of the audience began to jeer and make a disturbance, until they were ejected from the assembly on the order of the king.
When Ramanuja had finished speaking, the leader of the Jains arose to attempt to refute the statements that had been presented there. However, being unable to find any way to contradict the flawless logic of the Vaisnava philosophy, the Jain immediately launched into a blasphemous attack on the followers of sanatana-dharma, ignoring all the points that Ramanuja had put to him.
King Vitthaladeva, a man of keen intelligence, was in no way taken in by the Jain’s diversionary ploy and he spoke out, “There is nothing so simple as speaking ill of others. You are a great scholar. Refute if you can, with precise arguments, the doctrine expounded by your opponent. Otherwise you must give up your false teachings and be initiated into Vaisnavism”
The Jain could find no words to counteract Ramanuja’s presentation and was forced to shamefacedly resume his seat in the assembly. Several other Jain philosophers then attempted to establish their own opinions, but all to no avail.
Then the king stood up and addressed the assembly once more. “Today you have all seen the most learned of our Jain scholars utterly defeated by this Vaisnava acarya. What then is our present duty? To stubbornly adhere to doctrines which have been proven to be faulty or to accept and embrace the sublime teachings of loving devotion that we have heard so wonderfully presented? Any sane man will admit that bliss is preferable to affliction and knowledge to ignorance. Therefore let all of us, this day, be initiated into the true faith by this great devotee and thus become blessed.”
All but a few of the Jains accepted this proposal and were initiated as Vaisnavas. The king also accepted Yatiraja as his spiritual master and was given the name Visnu-vardhana. From that time on this was the name by which he was always known.
DISCOVERY OF SRI YADAVADRI-PATI
After the conversion of Visnu-vardhana and his priests to Vaisnavism, Yatiraja remained in that city for several months in order to properly instruct his new disciples. Then, accompanied only by the followers who had come with him from Sri Rangam, he travelled on to the town of Yadavadri.
One morning, a few days after their arrival, Ramanuja was walking through a tulasi grove when he saw something unusual sticking out a little way from underneath an anthill. Calling for his followers, he had them dig in that place, and it quickly became apparent that what Yatiraja had discovered was a beautiful Deity of Lord Narayana. The Deity was cleansed and then installed upon an altar.
The older inhabitants of the town recalled their fathers speaking of a Deity known as Yadavadri-pati, who had previously been worshipped there. “When a party of fierce Muslims attacked this country,” they continued, “all the inhabitants of the town fled in terror. The brahmanas hid the Deity somewhere to prevent the invaders from seizing Him. Since that time nobody has seen Lord Yadavadri-pati. Because of the greatness of your devotion, it seems the Lord has decided to make Himself visible once more”
Ramanuja then confirmed the words of the elders by saying, “This is certainly Lord Yadavadri-pati, for last night He appeared to me in a dream and requested that His service be re-established in this place Now all of you must work together to construct a beautiful temple for the worship of the Lord.
Following the order of the acarya, Yatiraja’s disciples and all of the townspeople set to work. That same day they constructed a spacious straw cottage in which Lord Yadavadri-pati might be worshipped.
In less than one year, by dedicated performance of devotional service, a beautifully decorated stone temple was built in the town of Yadavadri, and with great pomp, the Lord was moved to His new residence. A nice lake was dug outside the entrance to the temple, and the water was used for the daily bathing of the Lord. Around the shores of the lake the white clay used by Vaisnavas for marking their bodies with tilaka was discovered. Previously they had to bring all of their tilaka clay from the village of Bhaktagrama, and so this discovery saved them considerable inconvenience.
RECOVERY OF SRI RAMA-PRIYA
It is the custom in south India for two Deities to be worshipped in each temple. One Deity is worshipped daily by the temple priests, while the other, generally smaller in size, is carried out of the temple for processions on festival days. This form of the Lord is known as the Utsava-vigraha or the Vijaya-vigraha.
One night, a short time after the completion of the new temple, Sri Yadavadri-pati appeared to Ramanuja in a dream, saying, “Ramanuja, I am very pleased with your service, but as My Vijaya-vigraha is not present here I am unable to leave the temple to bestow my blessings upon all of My devotees. Therefore, please endeavor to install this Deity, known as Rama-priya, who is at present kept by the Emperor of Delhi, having been carried to the north by the Muslim raiders.”
Accepting the order of the Lord as his life and soul, Yatiraja departed for Delhi the very next day, accompanied only by a few of his disciples. After travelling northwards for two months, they finally arrived in that famous city.
As Ramanuja’s reputation had by this time spread all over India, he was admitted into the presence of the Emperor, who was very pleased by his purity and scholarship and asked him the purpose of his arduous journey. When Ramanuja informed him of his desire to return Sri Rama-priya to south India, the Emperor agreed to his request. The Vaisnavas were then conducted into a large halt where many different Deities were kept, all of them having been seized by the Muslims on their various raids across India. However, even after a thorough search, Ramanuja saw that Rama-priya was not to be found in that place and returned to the Emperor disappointed.
The Emperor then told them that there was one more Deity in his possession, the most beautiful of all. This form of the Lord was so attractive that the Emperor’s daughter was keeping Him in her own apartment. When Yatiraja was shown the Deity he recognized Him at once as Sri Rama-priya and fell down to offer his prostrate obeisances. With the permission of the Emperor, the devotees took possession of the Lord and set off at once for south India. They walked day and night, for Ramanuja was well aware that, if the princess wanted the Deity restored to her, the affectionate father might easily change his mind.
THE PRINCESS’S DISTRESS
In fact, when the princess, whose name was BibiLachimar, came to learn that some brahmanas had taken the Deity away, she was overwhelmed with grief, and all her father’s efforts to console her were in vain. She refused to eat and grew weaker day by day, until it seemed she would certainly die if something were not done at once to remedy the situation. In great anxiety, the Emperor prepared to dispatch a company of soldiers to pursue the brahmanas and take the Deity from them – by force if necessary. When BibiLachimar heard of this, she begged that she be allowed to accompany them, and the doting father readily acceded to her request.
Therefore, in command of the troop of soldiers and surrounded by many servants, the princess mounted a decorated palanquin the next day and departed from the city of Delhi to find the form of the Supreme Lord who had so captivated her. A young man named Kuvera very much desired to marry BibiLachimar, and, in hopes of winning the princess’s favor, he also went along with the party.
In the meantime Ramanuja and his followers had been travelling as swiftly as they were able, and by this time they were far ahead of their pursuers. On this journey they were greatly assisted by the candalas, who carried the Deity and showed them the easiest routes to the south. Aided in this way, the Vaisnavas arrived at Yadavadri still a long way ahead of the pursuing Muslims.
Thinking that there still might be danger, Yatiraja had Sri Rama-priya installed in a concealed room in the temple, where He was worshipped in secret with only a few devotees aware of His presence.
Meanwhile the princess continued southwards with her retinue, determined to recover the Deity who was the Lord of her heart. However, when they reached the borders of her father’s domain, she became filled with despair, believing that she would never again set eyes on her worshipful Lord. Overwhelmed by lamentation, she shed many bitter tears, and none of Kuvera’s words of consolation could alleviate her suffering.
BIBI LACHIMAR FINDS HER LORD
One night, unknown to anyone, Princess BibiLachimar slipped away from her attendants into the darkness of the forest. Only Kuvera noticed her absence, and he also left the party and went with her as she continued on farther towards the south. Thinking only of her beloved Lord, the princess journeyed on, while Kuvera acted as a servant, bringing fruits from the forest to keep her alive.
After travelling for several weeks, the couple arrived at the town of Yadavadri. As if by divine inspiration, BibiLachimar was certain that their long quest would end at this place. Being guided by the townspeople, she came to “the temple of Sri Yadavadri-pati. There she fell at the feet of the Vaisnavas and begged them to allow her to see her beloved Rama-priya once more. When Yatiraja came there, he saw at once that the girl’s heart was filled with pure devotion. Thus, although she was a Muslim by birth, he ordered that she be admitted to the temple to behold the beautiful form of Sri Rama-priya.
From that time on BibiLachimar remained at Yadavadri, engaging in the service of the Lord and constantly singing His glories. After a short time she gave up her body. Being immersed in continual thoughts of Sri Rama-priya, she returned to His eternal abode.
THE DEVOTION OF KUVERA
For all this time Kuvera also remained at Yadavadri, rendering service to the princess like a menial servant. When she gave up her life, he was so overcome with sorrow that he could no longer stay there. Abandoning his Muslim ways, he went to Sri Rangam and took shelter of the lotus feet of Lord Ranganatha. Although he was not allowed to enter the temple, Kuvera remained outside singing the praises of Lord Narayana. He lived on whatever alms the visitors to the temple would give him, seeing everything as the mercy of the Lord.
Once, while absorbed in meditation on the Lord, he heard a voice speaking to him, saying, “Because you are unable to enter the temple, I cannot bestow My full mercy upon you. Therefore you should go to Nilacala, for Lord Jagannatha is the deliverer of all beings.”
Having received this order, Kuvera journeyed to JagannathaPuri. There he was able to see the transcendental form of Sri Jagannatha as He rode to Gundica in the Ratha-yatra parade. Constantly glorifying the Supreme Lord, Kuvera passed the remainder of his days at JagannathaPuri. By his unalloyed devotional service he became completely pure at heart and liberated from all material attachments.
Although BibiLachimar and Kuvera were born in Muslim families, they attained the highest perfection of life by the purity of their loving devotion. Devotion to God is always completely spiritual, transcending all barriers of race, caste, and creed. To this day the Deity of BibiLachimar, the pure devotee of Rama-priya, is worshipped in several Vaisnava temples in south India.