History & Culture

Kulasekara: A king among Azhwars

Remembering Kulasekhara, whose Titunakshatram was celebrated on Sunday last

Ghushyate yasya nagare Rangayaatra dine dine |

tam aham Sirasa vande rajanam Kulasekharam ||

(That person (king), inside whose capital city the word(s) Ranga yaatra (journey to Srirangam) are being uttered every day, I bow my head down to that Kulasekhara.)

Kulasekara Azhwar was a royal saint, a crown jewel in the lineage of the kings of Travancore who ruled the kingdom as Padmanabhadasa. This was true of Kulasekara, born in Masi Punarvasu in Thiruvanjikkalam. He describes himself as “Kolli Kavalan, Koodal Nayagan and Kozhiyarkone,” meaning his empire comprised Chera, Pandya and Chola kingdoms. A popular king, he had a huge army and his administration was characterised by virtue, justice and happiness. Then one fine day, his spiritual eye opened.

Already well read in the Vedas and Upanishads thanks to his learned father Dhridavvrita, Kulasekara arranged Ramayana discourses in his palace on a daily basis. Love for the Lord and contempt for the world grew in his mind in inverse proportion. He longed for a visit to Srirangam to worship Lord Ranganatha.

As he was hearing the discourse, the story of Lord Rama fighting single handedly 14,000 Asuras at Janasthanam was being narrated. Kulasekara could not imagine Lord Rama battling singly. Instantly he gave marching orders to his army to help Ramachandra. Taken aback, the Ministers and advisors set up a group of armed men to come in the opposite direction and meet the king. When the two forces met, the news was broken to Kulasekara:

“When Sita looked upon her Lord

His foemen slain, the saints restored,

In pride and rapture uncontrolled

She clasped him in her loving hold” (Valmiki Ramayana part 3- sloka 30 and 39)

On hearing Rama’s victory Kulasekara’s joy knew no bounds and he returned home. The daily chanting of Ramayana was leading to a repeat of this drama. The king was always surrounded by Srivaishnavites. In order to wean him, the Ministers made a false accusation that the Srivaishnavites were guilty of stealing the jewels of Sri Rama being worshipped by the King.

The King ordered a vessel with a live cobra in it. “If the Srivaishnavites were honest in thought, word and deed,” said the King, “I will not be bitten by the Cobra. But if they are crooked, let the cobra kill me.” So saying, the king put his hand inside the vessel and withdrew it unscathed. The disgusted ruler entrusted the kingdom to his son Dhridavvrita and started on his pilgrimage to Srirangam.

Perumal Thirumozhi, the 105 pasurams that poured from him represent quintessential spiritual and emotional literature at its best. An inscription belonging to the period of Kulothunga Chozha, 1070-1112, informs us about Lord Ranganatha seated under the Punnai tree during the night and hearing the beginning of the first decad with “Thettarum thiral” and the distribution of prasadam. The first three decads sing the glory of Srirangam and the Lord, representing Azhagiya Manavalan Vishayam. In these pasurams, he mixes Bhagavad Vishayam and goes on to explain that the Lord loves those who love his devotees.

Thiruvenkatam: Kulasekhara had a weakness for the Lord of the Seven Hills. He wishes to be born as a herb or a worm or a fish or stone or dust or a shenbaga tree or finally the step leading to the sanctum sanctorum after a bath in the Swami Pushkarani. He visits several other shrines. The decad devoted to Thirumathakode represents the essence of the Charanagathi Tatva. He depicts the distress of Devaki who envies the privilege of Yasodha watching a young Krishna with butter in his hand and mouth. He says that Krishna, fearing that the mother may punish him, is crying with folded hands (thollai inbathu irudhi kandale).

The decad covering Dasaratha’s remorse on sending away Rama to the forest is full of pathos. Should Rama have heeded the father’s words and kept up his promise? Acharyas in their commentaries point out that Dasaratha did not attain Moksha but only went to Swarga because he sent the young Prince to the forest to keep his own word. He should have known, who Rama was. Viswamitra had told him,

“Aham Vedmi Mahatmanam Ramam Satya parakramam... Vasishtopi Maha Teja Ye Chanye Tapasi Stitaha.”

Dasaratha chose to abide by samanya dharma in preference to the sacred dharma of retaining the Lord.

Kulasekara completes the Thirumozhi by sketching the Ramayana story as he worships at Thiruchitrakootam.

Among all the Azhwars, Kulasekara is the only one Azhwar to get the appellation Kulasekara Perumal, elevating him to the level of God. The final step at Tirumala hills leading to the sanctum sanctorum is known as Kulasekaran padi. A beautiful temple has come up at Thiruvanjikkalam, very near the ancient temple of Mukunda.

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Printable version | Mar 26, 2020 7:42:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-king-who-became-a-devotee-of-lord-vishnu/article26330987.ece

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