~ Jagad Guru Chris Butler (Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa)

Andhra-Vyasa Part I

By Prof. Nishi Kanta Sanyal M.A.
As published in The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)
Edited by Paramahamsa Paribrajakacharyya Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj

JANUARY 15, 1935

Biographies play not a mean part in the formation and modelling of character of a man or a nation. They have their utilities in their own spheres. We all know that the lives of great men carry with them an electric influence which we often times cannot escape. Both in the mundane as well as in the spiritual realms, life-sketches of great personalities generate in the minds of men an impetus to emulate them to try to follow in their foot-steps.

Biographies of men, who, by dint of their own sheer personal exertions or through the chance concatenations of favourable circumstances brought into force by the god of fortune, have attained to the highest enviable positions in the material as well as intellectual worlds, are not wanting in these days. It will not be our business to add one more chapter to such biographies with which the country is over-flooded. But the value of history cannot be ignored in proving that in spite of all the manifold greatnesses achieved by men both in the physical and in the intellectual regions, people lag behind the goal of human existence viz., peace and happiness and bliss in the only true sense of the term--the summum bonum of life.

The glare of sensuous enjoyments, both physical and mental, oftentimes, lead, rather tempt, men to become imitators of the successful heroes of the world. It is our business to keep ourselves away from such deluding enjoyments and confine our attention to the history of those devoted souls who have led a saintly-life for the service of Godhead which includes the lasting welfare of humanity and is promotive of eternal peace and never-ending, unmixed bliss. Enjoyments of this world, like will-o'-the-wisps, leading men astray from one pit to another, ultimately delude them to their damnation. God-loving saints or sadhus, who came down to and move in this world not for any selfish worldly purpose of their own but solely for the welfare of humanity, are no other than the agents of the Lord, deputed by Him for the regeneration and uplift of all fallen souls (jivas).

To return to our narrative. There appeared in ancient times in the Presidency of Madras, many a holy saint who, sanctifying the land where they lived, preached and taught the processes for the attainment of the service of the Supreme Lord. Many of those names are not quite well-known to the people of Bengal. It is true that the Gaudiya-Vaishnava literatures teem with the path of devotion; but the Tamil and Telugu literatures of Madras do not also fall short of the teachings of the doctrine of devotion. In this short sketch a few anecdotes relating to the great devotee Pothan, the compiler of the "Andhra Bhagabat" are being placed before our readers. He appeared in the village of Aksita Nagaram in the district of Kuddapa in Madras. The exact time of his appearance cannot be definitely ascertained at this distant date; but scholars are of opinion that he made his appearance in 1300 Saka Era. His father's name was Keshon who was an ordinary cultivator. The father had not the means to engage servants and so he managed to till his lands, as far as he could do it, by his own labour. He could maintain his family with difficulty on his small income from the scanty products of his lands, Pothan, born in this poor family of a cultivator, had to assist his father in his humble work from his childhood.

No other traces of his early career have been handed to us save and except the fact that in his early life he had no opportunities for receiving any literary education. On one occasion when he was grazing his father's cattle in a hilly part of the country, he came across a great saint (sadhu) who was absorbed in meditation in a cave of the hill. At the sight of that sadhu the door of his heart opened and it became filled with feelings of Divine ecstasy. The sight inspired him with some feelings which he had never experienced before and prompted him to fall prostrate at the feet of the sadhu with folded hands and to pray for his mercy in the form of initiation. The meditating sadhu finding Pothan in this attitude, could gauge his mind to see that there lay hidden in the secret corner of his heart the perennial fountain of devotion. Satisfied with the intensity of his heart's cravings and considering him to be a fit disciple, the sadhu initiated him into spiritual life.

Thus began the spiritual career of Pothan. Henceforth he began to feel utter disgust for worldly affairs and a longing to pass his days in seclusion, fully absorbed in the service of Godhead. The culture of devotion washed away, like a clear stream, all the evil propensities of his heart (anarthas). One day after bathing in the river Tungabhadra as he was chanting within himself the mantras received from his Guru, he found standing before him the Sree Murti of the Object of his devotion, who also appeared to be highly pleased with him. The sight of the most exquisitely beautiful Form of the Lord of his heart filled it with infinite delight and made it dance in ecstasy. All the honest endeavours of his life were now completely fulfilled, his life was crowned with its supreme success and his whole ancestry was sanctified. It is said that the Lord inspired him to compile Sreemat Bhagabata in the Andhra language and to dedicate the same to Him. Inspired by the Lord Himself Pothan complied with the dictates of the Lord and came to have the reputation of a compiler of the Shastras in the land where he is known to this day as the Andhra-Vyasa or Sahaja Pandit.

At the time of which we are speaking, the Province of Madras was divided into several small kingdoms, each with a king of its own. In these days it was a custom with the authors or compilers of books to dedicate them to one or other of their kings and to seek favours from him in lieu thereof. Any departure from the prevailing custom entailed punishment by the king. But Pothan, as advised and directed by God, instead of dedicating his book to his king, did so to the Supreme Lord as a mark of his heart's devotion to Him. Nobody in those days would have dared to dedicate his book to any but the king, save and except for the reason that the lord Himself had agreed to accept the offering. It is accordingly written in the first sloka of the Andhra Bhagabata 'that Bamera Potha Raju (such is his full name) having had no desire for worldly riches from any king in the act of the dedication of his book dedicates the same to the Lotus Feet of the Lord for the eternal welfare of humanity.' The news of his determination not to dedicate his book to his king circulated in the land and filled the authors of the day with great astonishment, and enraged and mortified his king. Taking this conduct of Pothan to be a haughty and deliberate offer of insult and flouting of authority of himself, the king determined to inflict the condign punishment on him.

Mysterious are the ways of heaven which are beyond the limited comprehension of the conditioned jiva. There is no power in all the worlds which can crush a devotee of Godhead. As declared in the Bhagabata Geeta, the Lord Krishna has promised that His devotees will never be crushed. Instances of the kind may be multiplied, but we confine our attention to the particular case before us. When Pothan was writing about the Avatara of Varahadeva in the third skandha of the Andhra Bhagabata, fully absorbed in thought about the Transcendental Pastimes of Sree Varahadeva, his king, in order to punish him, surrounded his house with a body of armed soldiers. Pothan was so lost to himself with the contemplation of the absorbing Leela of Sree Varahadeva that the tumults from outside failed to reach his ears. The king was about to realise his hope of punishing Pothan when lo! A great wonder happened! All on a sudden a ferocious boar with terrible tusks appeared on the scene and nobody knew from where he came. By his thunderous roar he created so much terror in the minds of all persons that the soldiers dispersed through sheer fright. The Hand of the almighty God is always found to come to the help of His devoted servants. Pothan was miraculously saved by the Grace of the Lord. It may be said that the Lord enacted His Varaha Leela for the second time in this world solely to save one of His most devoted servants, Pothan.

This incident had its effect in marking out Pothan to the high and the low as a self-realised soul and as one of the favourites of the Lord. Since then people's regard for him increased apace.

But there are often exceptions to the general rule. There was one such in the person of Sreenath, the poet laureate of the king's court, whose heart burned with malice at the sight of the rising fame and reputation of Pothan, and he began to find loopholes in his character to lower him in the estimation of the public.

To be continued...