Friday Review

Desika's haven of peace on the other side of the cauvery

The 14th century was a time of emotional upheaval for the Sri Vaishnava community, for the Srirangam temple was sacked by invading Muslim armies. When news came to Srirangam of the Muslim army’s progress towards the temple town, the Sri Vaishnavas in the temple, with great presence of mind, sent the utsava idols to safety, under the care of Pillai Lokacharya, and walled up the sanctum sanctorum. Death at the hands of the invaders was certain for those who stayed behind. And yet Sudarsana Suri, author of Srutaprakasika, a commentary on Ramanuja’s Sri Bhasyam, chose to stay back. But he had to ensure that his work survived the onslaught, and that the Visishtadvaita philosophy was preserved. So he urged Vedanta Desika to leave Srirangam, with the manuscript of Srutaprakasika. Desika was entrusted with a further responsibility - he had to take with him the two sons of Sudarsana Suri.

Desika left Srirangam. The journey was dangerous. To escape death at the hands of the invaders, Desika would often tell the boys to lie among the corpses and hold their breath, pretending to be dead. Sudarsana Suri and the others who had stayed behind were killed. But his two sons and his work on the Sribhashyam were saved, for Desika beat all odds to reach Karnataka safely.

Amidst all the sorrow and loss, the guiding hand of the Lord was still evident, for Desika had reached Satyagalam, a village in Karnataka, on the banks of the Cauvery. From Srirangam on the banks of the Cauvery, he was once again on the banks of the same river, albeit in a new place. But how could separation from Lord Ranganatha be compensated for? But here again, Divine will had brought Desika to Satyagalam where there was a temple for Lord Varadaraja and Perundevi Thayar, and not far away in Sivanasamudram there was a temple for Lord Ranganatha. Desika took up residence in Satyagalam.

Satyagalam was conducive to Desika’s everyday routine. He had his bath in the Cauvery and observed his daily rites under a peepul tree. Every day as he returned home, a tortoise followed him. The tortoise expressed its wish to serve as the Acharya’s seat. The Acharya refused to use a living creature as a seat. One night in his dream, the Lord appeared and said that the tortoise was a good soul, and that the Acharya should oblige him. The next morning, Desika found that the tortoise had turned to stone! As instructed by the Lord, Desika began to use the koormasana when he performed his daily rites.

Despite having found a haven of safety and peace, Desika was troubled by the plight of Srirangam. He composed Abheetistava, a hymn addressed to Lord Ranganatha, urging Him to rid His devotees of their fears. When Srirangam was freed from the clutches of the invaders, Desika went back to the temple town. Those who had accompanied him returned to Chola Nadu, and some of them settled down in Rayampettai, near Tiruvaiyaru. To mark Desika’s stay in Satyagalam, almost every Vaishnava family of the village names a son Desikachar.

In 1929, Desika’s koormasana was brought to the temple by Abhinava Ranganatha Swamy of Parakala Mutt and installed there. But the temple itself fell into disrepair in course of time. It was renovated some years ago and now has regular worship. Apart from the Varadaraja and Perundevi thayar sannidhis, there is a separate enclosure for Poigaiazhwar, Bhoothathazhwar and Peiyazhwar. There is another sannidhi, where we find Nammazhwar, Ramanuja and Desika.

The utsava idol of Desika in Satyagalam is in a standing posture, whereas in all other temples, the Acharya’s utsava idol is in seated posture. Professor A. Srinivasaraghavachariar, in his foreword to D. Ramaswamy Iyengar’s English commentary on Abeetistava, writes that the standing posture in Satyagalam is probably because Desika “is ever ready to go back to Srirangam, the moment he has good news from there.”

n all utsava idols of Desika, his left hand holds a manuscript, and that is to remind us of the great service he rendered to the Sri Vaishnava community by saving the priceless Srutaprakasika.

While Desika’s birth star is Purattasi Sravanam, Desika festival is celebrated in Satyagalam to coincide with Aippasi Sravanam. Bhagavan Bhattar, the priest of the Satyagalam temple explains that this is because in Purattasi, devotees of Desika head to Thoopul, his place of birth. But having the celebration in Satyagalam in Aippasi, ensures the participation of thousands of devotees, who have a dip in the Cauvery and then proceed to the temple. This year the Vedanta Desika festival will be celebrated on November 13 in Satyagalam. Those who wish to contribute to the festival can contact kvrang1942@gmail.com. Bhagavan Bhattar can be contacted at: 9741617905

Satyagalam is 70 kilometres from Mysore, and 10 kilometres from Kollegal.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 9:05:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/haven-of-peace-where-desika-stayed/article16091748.ece

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