Sri Bhagavan Nama Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal
On this Guru Poornima day, we start a section about the great Mahans and Bhaktas in the glorious past. We take one Saint at a time and make an earnest attempt to give a brief history and life of the great Saint.
The first in the series is “Bhagavan Nama Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal”. A great Mahan who had lived and still lives, spreading the fragrance of the Divine Name throughout the world. Can there be a more apt Mahan to reminisce on this happy occasion?
kAshAya danda karakAdi vibhUshitAngAm
vairAgyabhAgya jaladE karuNAnidhE tvam |
bodEndra dEva mama dEhi karAvalambam ||
yasyassmaraNa mAtrENa nAmabhaktiH prajAyatE |
tam namAmi yati srEshTam bOdEndram jagatAm gurum ||
bhagavan nAma sAmrAjya lakshmI sarvasva vigraham |
srimad bodEndra yogIndra dEshikEndram upAsmahE ||
Sri Bhagavan Nama Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal
In this Kali Yuga, all the great saints who have incarnated in this holy ‘Bharata’ Desa have chiefly shown us one of the easiest paths to liberation – singing the Divine Names of God. The chief among them was the great saint from South India by the name Bhagavan Nama Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal.
All the Mahans who have ascended the Kanchi Kamaktoti Mutt have belonged to Adi Sankara’s lineage, Bodendra Swamigal being one of the most prominent among them.
More than 300 years ago, in the ‘Mandana Misra Agraharam’ of Kanchipuram, Suguna Devi, the wife of Sri Mohana Pandurangan gave birth to a handsome baby boy. They named him Purushottaman.
The little boy grew up by leaps and bounds. Even in his childhood, he possessed all the qualities of an ‘Avatara Purusha’. The parents were very happy about this.
Sri Mohana Pandurangan worked in Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam in the service of the then Peetadhipati, Sri Viswadhikendra Saraswati Swamigal. One day, when the father was leaving home for his work at the Mutt , Purushottaman cried adamantly that he would accompany his father. No sooner had the Peetadhipati seen Purushottaman’s radiant face and his lustrous form than he enquired as to whose child it was. Sri Mohana Pandurangan at once said that the child belonged to the Mutt! That was because the child was born after the couple was blessed by the Guru.
Pleasantly surprised by the response, Sri Viswadhikendra Saraswati Swamigal asked if he really meant it, or if he was just joking. The father said that he was serious and subsequently, the couple happily gave away the child to the Mutt.
The Guru arranged for the education of Purushottaman and left for Varanasi. The child, along with another mate named Jnanasagaran, learnt the Vedas, Shastras, Itihasas, Puranas and all the scriptures. After having mastered the scriptures, both the students desired to have the darshan of their Guru, who was then in Varanasi. The intensity of their desire made them undertake a journey to Varanasi by foot. Thus both Jnanasagaran and Purushottaman started out from Kanchi for Varanasi.
Jnanasagaran was an expert in ‘jyotisha’ (astrology).From his astrological calculations based on the time of departure, he predicted that they wouldn’t reach Varanasi together and that one would die on the way. The two young boys were grief stricken. Then and there they decided and took the vow that the one who survived would, after the performance of last rites of the dead friend, proceed to Varanasi, have darshan of the Guru and then give up his life by falling into the Holy Ganga.
Just as foreseen, Jnanasagaran passed away en route. Purushottaman reached Varanasi, had darshan of his Guru and paid his respects. Narrating the story about his journey along with Jnansagaran, their vow and his friend’s death, he said that he was going to jump into the Ganges and give up his life. His Master stopped him and advised him that one had no right to commit suicide. This earthly body is a gift of God and we do not have any right to destroy it ourselves. By commiting suicide, one suffers unsaid tortures after death.
The Guru explained to Purushottaman in detail why he should not end his life. But Purushottaman insisted in falling into the Holy Ganga and end his life as he had given his word to his friend. Then his Guru said, ‘You have been born in this world to liberate those millions of souls who are struggling in the ocean called Samsara. Take up Sanyasa. According to Shastras, taking up Sanyasa is akin to taking a new birth. Thus, both your promise and my wish shall be fulfilled.
Purushottaman agreed. The next morning, on the banks of the Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi, Purushottaman was accorded Sanyasa. He was given the name, ‘Bhagavan Nama Bodendra Saraswati’. For a while, the Guru kept Sri Bodendra with himself and gave him mantropadesa.
One day, the guru called Sri Bodendra Saraswati and asked him to go out to the world and spread the greatness of the Divine Name of God. He said, ‘the Vidwans are well learned and would question the statement that mere Divine Name can lead to liberation. You are to properly argue with them based on Shastras and establish the greatness of Bhagavan Nama.”
He instructed his disciple to go to Puri Kshetra and meet a Mahan by the name Lakshmidhara Kavi in order to obtain the book “Bhagavan Nama Kaumudi” which dealt with the greatness of Bhagavan Nama. The Guru asked him to write Granthas based on this Text.
Adhering to his guru’s words, Bodendra Saraswati set out to Puri. It was about midnight when he reached Lakshmidhara Kavi’s home. Not willing to disturb the household at night, the ascetic rested in the pyol outside the house.
That night, a strange incident happened. A Brahmin accompanied by a woman whose form and features resembled one of a lowly caste knocked the door of Sri Lakshmidhara Kavi. A young man came out of the house and enquired what they wanted. The visitor said that he had a doubt that he wanted clarified from Lakshmidhara Kavi. The young man said that he was Lakshmidhara Kavi ‘s son, Jagannatha Kavi. He said that his father was out of town. However he had taught him all the Shastras and that he could clarify the visitor’s doubt. The Brahmin said, ‘I hail from South India. I went on a pilgrimage to the north and when I returned, could not find my wife. It is just now that I found her. However, she has the form and features of one from a lowly caste. I wanted to know if I could lead a family life with this lady again.” Jagannatha Kavi immediately said, ‘Tomorrow morning, take her to the pond adjoining the Jagannath Temple. Dip her in the pond chanting the “Rama” Nama thrice. When she emerges, she will be purified and you can lead family life with her again. His mother, who peeped from the house, corrected him saying that, uttering Rama Nama once would do!
Sri Bodendra was taken aback witnessing this incident. He immediately introduced himself to them and requested them for the book and studied it thoroughly.
The next morning, the whole city was gathered around the pond adjoining the temple. The Brahmin brought the lady and dipped her in the pond chanting the Taraka Mantra. To everyone’s surprise, when the woman emerged out of water, she had shed her current form, and had exactly the same form and features when she lived with the Brahmin earlier, clearly illustrating the power of the Rama Nama. To prove that she had been purified by the Rama Nama, Sri Bodendra Swamigal asked her to cook the meals for the day, and he himself partook of it.
Later Sri Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal returned to Kanchipuram and wrote 8 different Texts that spoke about the greatness of Bhagavan Nama. “Bhagavan Nama Rasodayam” was the most important among them. He instated his successor to the Peetam and set out to live like a real ascetic, relinquishing all pomp and grandeur. Independent in his own way, he reached out to every nook and corner of Tamil Nadu and spread the glory of Taraka Mantra. He initiated everyone who came to him with Rama Nama, irrespective of caste, creed or religion and purified them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is virtually no place in Tamil Nadu where he has not set his foot.
One day, Sri Bodendra Swamigal was camping in a village called Perambur in Needamangalam, a place adjacent to Raja Mannarkudi in Tamizh Nadu. A couple came to have his darshan and invited him to their home for lunch. The Swamigal also agreed to come the next day.
On the following day, Sri Bodendra Swamigal arrived at the couple’s residence. He sat down to eat. A plantain leaf was laid and food was served. Just then, he noticed a little boy in the house and asked him to sit down beside him and have his food too. In spite of his repeated requests, the little boy was unresponsive. The parents slowly explained to the Swamigal that the boy could neither hear nor speak. He was deaf and dumb by birth. Hearing this, tears rolled down Swamigal’s eyes. He cried uncontrollably because, just a while back, he had made a proclamation in one of his works that one would escape the fear of death if he sings or hears the Taraka Nama even once. He had thought that the Taraka Nama could spare none as everyone would at least hear the Divine Name knowingly or unknowingly during their lifetime. He felt bad that for this little boy because the little one could neither utter nor hear the Lord’s Name during his lifetime and there was no way out for him!
The devoted couple consoled the Swamigal, “This is our karma and we have accepted it. Swamigal should not shed tears on this account. Please do accept the ‘bhiksha’ [food].” At the tearful pleadings of the hosts Sri Bodendra Swamigal had three handful of food and then took leave of them. The couple reverentially accompanied the Swamigal to the entrance to the village. Hungry that this boy was, he reached out to the leaf that Swamigal had eaten from, and ate from the remnants. No sooner had he eaten the ‘Uchchishta’ from Sri Bodendral’s leaf than he began singing the Names of the Lord! When the parents returned to the house, they could not believe their eyes seeing their hitherto deaf and dumb child jumping in joy crying out Bhagavan Nama in Bhakti. Indeed, the Uchchishta of the great saint had performed this miracle!
One evening, in the place called Govindapuram, next to Tiruvidaimarudur, Sri Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal sat on the banks of river Cauvery after his regular ‘anushtanas’ . He watched the small kids playing and joined them. He asked them to bury him in the sand and said that he would come out of another place. Fascinated by this play, the kids wanted to do it again and again. This continued for some time. At one point, Swamigal was covered under the sand and he did not come out of the other end. The kids were panicked and called the elders nearby. The elders rushed in and decided to dig the ground in search of the Swami. Just then, a voice came from inside asking them not to do so and that Swamigal had gone into Jiva Samadhi there and wished to be so forever.
Even today, we have Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal’s Jiva Samadhi in Govindapuram, a place between Aduthurai and Tiruvidaimarudur, next to Kumbakonam. It is said that Bodendra Swamigal lives there chanting the Rama Nama all 24 hours and round the year.
Devotees who go there and chant the Taraka Mantra in His Samadhi can hear Rama Nama emanating from the Samadhi when they spend their night there. A few can even see the form of the Mahan in Danda and Kamandala circumambulating the Samadhi chanting the Rama Nama.
Today, anyone going to Sri Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal’s Samadhi Govindapuram with problems and sufferings in their heart and pray with Bhakti are ridden of their ills. That is the greatness of the Mahan who lived more than three hundred years back, and lives in his Samadhi even today.
Bhagavan Nama Bodendra Sadguru Maharaj ki! Jai!