Where The Pillar Split, Thiru SingaverKundram-Part I
In the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, about 40km from the Nandayal Taluk head quarters rise seven glorious mountains covered with a thick green growth. These mountain ranges are thought to be a part of Adisesha himself, with his head at Thirumala, his middle torso near Nandayal and his tail stretching unto SriSailam. And nestled amidst these seven mountain ranges are temples dedicated to Sri Narasimha in his nine forms. Called SingaverKundram in Tamil and more commonly known as Ahobilam/Ahobalam, the place forms the very heart of Narasimha worship and happens to be one of the 106 Bhooloka Divyadesas. It also happens to be the very place where the whole Narasimha episode of the Srimad Bhagavatham unfolded, the very place where Hiranyakashipu had built his magnificent palace.
The story of Hiranya and his son, the divine prodigy Prahalada, is one that is well known throughout the length and breadth of India. Hiranyakashipu was one of the most powerful kings of the Asuras. His very name made Indra go weak at the knees. So great was his prowess and strength. He had obtained a boon from Brahma that death should not befall him through a man or an animal, neither at day nor at night, neither inside the house nor outside and not with any of the various weapons known to the devas and asuras. And that was literally a boon of immortality.
Hiranya had one major goal in his life, to find and kill Hari, the supreme protector. And the reason, Hari had killed his brother Hiranyaksha in his avatar as the Sacred Boar (Sri Varaha). Hiranya was convinced that Hari had resorted to trickery and magic to kill his brother and was a coward by nature. He firmly refused to believe the fact that Hari was trying to save Mother Earth from Hiranyaksha. And so he lived his every moment planning against Vishnu and scheming up plots to vanquish him. It was during one of these thought sessions did he realise that he had another duty to fulfill. As the Asura king, he had to wage a war against the Devas on a periodic basis. So off he went, with his huge army, marching on towards Indraloka.
But even the greatest asura king had a deep fear, that Hari may find his pregnant wife and kill her along with his unborn heir. So before setting off to frighten the Devas, Hiranya left Khayadu, his wife, under the custody of Narada, the divine sage.
Months passed as the Deva-Asura war waged on. Khayadu was treated with all respects at Narada’s hermitage and her unborn child grew within her. Everyday, as the rishis at the hermitage performed yaagas and poojas round the clock, making offerings and chanting mantras invoking the blessings of Hari for the welfare of everyone, the foetus of Khayadu absorbed all the mantric vibrations and words and repeated them along with the rishis. Even while Khayadu slept, the foetus was wide awake, ever chanting the Ashtakshara, ‘Om Namo Narayanaa’. And with the passage of time, the foetus had mastered all Vedas, while it was still in it’s mother’s womb.
Hiranya returned after seven long months, having tortured the devas to no end. Narada handed over Khayadu to him and blessed the couple for a happy life. In due course, Khayadu gave birth to a baby boy and he was christened Prahalada.
Years rolled by as Prahalada grew through his childhood years. As Prahalada grew, so did his father’s atrocities. He tortured the rishis on earth, pulled down temples and proclaimed himself as the supreme lord. Yagas were no longer done and people lived in eternal fear.
The Devas could’nt bear this any further and went to Shri Hari to ask him to intervene on this grave situation. “MahaPrabho, the deeds of Hiranyakashipu are going from bad to worse. Please help us from the unvanquishable terror”, they pleaded. Narayana just smiled and said, “Time will set right everything.” Dejected at the cold response, the devas resigned themselves to whatever was to come, good or bad.
By this time Prahalada had attained an age to start his gurukula vaasa. Hiranya sent him to the hermitage of Shukracharya, the guru of the asura clan, to learn all that was necessary. He was to live in the hermitage with the other students till his education was complete. However something happened the very first day, that made Shukracharya take him to the palace immediately.
The first mantra (or so it is said) that was taught to the sishyas at the gurukula was ‘Om Hiranyaaya Namaha’, or Salutations to Hiranya. However, when the gurus tried to teach it to Prahalada, all that he would repeat was ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’. Shukra was furious and dragged him back to court.
There, however much Khayadu pleaded with Prahalada, he refused to say any other mantra apart from the holy ashtakshari. Hiranya was livid with anger. His son, his very own son was a devotee of Hari, his arch enemy. His body burned with the shame of the thought.
He came down from the throne and picked up Prahalada. He cajoled his beautiful son and asked him to stop saying Hari’s name. But Prahalada was as stubborn as a mule. His lips moved with his constant chanting of Hari’s name.
Hiranya decided that some punishment was all that would be needed to set things right. He ordered his guards to lock him up in the darkest of prisons and not feed him for a few days. Prahalada was dragged down to the dungeons and locked up there. But young Prahalada was not scared. He sat down and meditated on ShriHari continuously and Vishnu himself came down in the guise of Khayadu to feed him everyday. When the guards opened the prison after several days, they were aghast to find Prahalada looking all hale and hearty, showing no symptoms of hunger. This incident only further kindled Hiranya’s wrath and soon he was ready to kill his son rather than hear him speak Hari’s name.
He ordered Prahalada to be rolled off a cliff, to be dropped into the middle of a raging ocean and even to be forcefully fed poison and every time Prahalada returned back, his Narayana Mantram always playing on his tender lips. He even asked Holika, his sister to take Prahalada into a burning fire. Holika had this gift of being able to stay amidst a fire without burning herself. This time though, it was Holika who perished in the raging flames and Prahalada came out unharmed (This is one of the various legends behind the celebration of Holi). Hiranya was by now tired of his antics and finally decided to have some man-to-man talk with his son.
“Prahalada, you base fool”, he shouted, “I am real. I am living in blood and flesh. And yet you give me up for another person who doesnt even exist in this world? He is the biggest coward, a moral-less trickster and you worship him. How crazy can you be boy?”, he roared, seething with anger. Prahalada calmly looked at his father and said, “Narayana exists too. He exists everywhere. Thoonilum iruppan thurumbilum iruppan (He exists in a pillar as also in a tiny piece of rust)”. And this was what Hiranya wanted. He wanted to meet Narayana, drag him down and kill him for murdering his dear brother.
“Then, my all-knowing-son, does he exist in this pillar”, he demanded at Prahalada, pointing to a nearby pillar. Prahalada nodded enthusiastically. “Then out he should come”, shouted Hiranya and with his mace he hit hard on the pillar.
For a moment Prahalada thought that the whole world had exploded. So huge was the sound as the pillar cracked. And from within came the strangest figure ever seen. Standing in the broken depths of the pillar was an awe-stirring figure, with the face of a lion and the body of a man. His body was strong and broad, with a powerful chest, adorned with the Kausthubham and Vanamali. A shining yellow cloth was wrapped elegantly around His hips, falling to His legs. In His various arms he had a number of weapons, the foremost being the Sudarshana and Panchajanya. And His Leonine eyes were red with wrath. The devas were shocked at the sight of his form and trembled in fear as the lion let out an almighty roar, shaking the earth to its greatest depths. Narasimha had arrived.
Hiranya was taken aback too, but only for a moment. He immediately seized his mace and attacked the lord. The Lord parried back and hit him with his Kaumodaki, and Hiranya went flying. Not to give up easily, he got up and charged again, only to be sent flying in the other direction. The fight continued as Prahalada watched it unfold in front of his very eyes. The Devas had descended along with Brahma and Shiva to witness the great duel taking place. It was nearing sunset and neither of them seemed to give up.
The sun was just dipping into the mountains at in the west, when, with an earth shattering roar, Narasimha pounced on Hiranya and lifted him up like a rag doll. The devas became ecstatic and shouted out praises of the Lord’s great strength (“Aho Balam (Lo!!! Behold His strength)”).
“Aho Veeryam Aho Souryam Aho Bahuparakramah
Naarasimham Param Daivam Ahobilam Aho Balam”
He walked over to the Palace entrance and putting Hiranya across His lap, He dug His nails into Hiranya’s stomach and tore it right across, killing the demon king in an instant. Hiranya was dead, and he was killed neither by a man nor by an animal. He was killed at twilight which was neither day nor night, and on his palace threshold which was neither inside his house nor outside. And finally he was killed with the nails of Shri Narasimha, which under no scientific classification can be described to be a weapon. Hari had saved the world again, finding the perfect loop hole in Hiranya’s boon.
But Narasimha was not satisfied. He wanted more blood. He tore out the intestines of Hiranya and wore it as a garland and roaring loudly He walked hither-tither in the palace. His anger had still not subsided and the devas trembled with every roar. It was then that Brahma sent Prahalada forward to calm down Hari, for he knew the peculiarity of the Narasimha avatar. While all the other avatars of Vishnu were taken to save the world as such from the demons and daityas, the Narasimha avatar was taken to save one single person, Prahalada, a devotee par excellence.
Even as Prahalada approached the heart stopping terror of Narasimha, the Lord seemed to shed his anger and finally calmed himself down to bless Prahalada. “My son, I am very pleased with you. Your devotion in the face of death and your staunch belief in me are some of the best I have ever seen. May you live long as the Asura king” and saying so, he installed Prahalada on the throne and crowned him as the King of Asuras.
Thus did Hari reward the devotion in little Prahalada and He returned back to Vaikuntha promising that He would ever be looking down on the little boy. Prahalada ruled for a long time and finally ascended to Vaikuntha to be in eternal service of his Savior.
After Prahalada the asuras shifted their capital and the palace of Hiranya was left to the elements of nature. Over the years, the vagaries of time brought about destruction to the beautiful palace structures of Hiranya, to result in a natural mountain range that marked the place of incarnation as the Narasimha Kshetram of Ahobalam, named aptly after the praise of Narasimha’s strength by the devas.
Eons later, Garuda had the desire to have a darshan of the lord in his Narasimha form. MahaVishnu himself directed Garuda to meditate on His divine form in the Nallamalai ranges to achieve the intended goal. Garuda too arrived at the mountainous range and sitting down in the depths of a huge cave, he started chanting the Narasimha mantra. Years rolled by and Garuda still sat at the spot, stubborn about getting the desired darshan.
Finally one fine morning he opened his eyes to the sound of a loud roar and coming out of his cave he saw the sight which he had been waiting for. On the mountain top directly opposite to him, besides a column of stone stood Narasimha, oozing divine glory. Garuda prostrated in front of him and sang his praises. He was then directed by the Lord to a cave nearby, where Garuda found the swayambhu moorthi of Sri Jwala Narasimha. He was besides himself with joy and worshipped the moorthi with many sthotras. Having worshipped the moorthi over an extended period of time, Garuda left flew back to Vaikunda a happy man (Bird???). The place from then came to be known as Ahobilam (“the great cave”), a fitting name exalting Garuda’s penance.
The place is also known by various other names as Garudachala, Garudadri, SingaverKundram and so on. In the days long past, the Lord’s ugram was felt at the place as heat emanating from the caves. It is believed that when grass was thrown into the caves, it would immediately burn to ashes. Many rishis inhabited the forest surrounding the hills of Ahobila. With the prowess of their tapas grew the fame of the place and in due time nine moorthis of Narasimha were located and established at different places in the mountainous range, and the NavaNarasimha Kshetra of Ahobilam came into existence.
The Divyadesa of Ahobilam has a peculiar speciality. It is the home to Ahobila Mutt, a devotional institution that was established by the very first jeeyar, for eternal service to the Lord of Ahobilam.
In the late 14th century, the Lord appeared to a srivaishnava, Srinivasacharya of Thirunarayanapuram, and directed him to come to Ahobilam. There, the then Chenchu (the local tribe of Ahobilam) chieftain Mukundaraya, welcomed the Srivaishnava with all due respects and made him comfortable.
Narasimha himself came down in the form of a yogi and initiated Srinivasacharya into the folds of monkhood. He was instructed to establish the holy order of Ahobila, which would help in the general running of the temples of Ahobilam as well as serve as a shining spiritual beacon to those desirous of following the divine path. Srinivasacharya established the mutt and himself became the very first jeeyar, Satakopan Yati. The jeeyars of Ahobila mutt have the unique distinction of being Aradhakars to the Lord of a divyadesam, a post enjoyed by no other jeeyar. The Jeeyars are also commonly known among the devotees as Azhagiya Singhars (Handsome Lion). Today, the 45th Jeeyar, Srivan Satakopa Sri Narayana Yathindra Mahadesikan adorns the aacharya peetam of the mutt, continuing on the path that was established by Satakopan Yati, nearly 600 years ago.
This is the story of Ahobilam, the foremost of all the Narasimha kshetras and the very seat of the Ahobila mutt. The only place on earth where Narasimha is worshipped in all his nine forms, in individual dedicated temples and where Mahavishnu himself came down heeding to the tender call of help from Prahalada, to vanquish one of the most feared asura of all times. This is where an ordinary pillar split to reveal the most fearsome of all his avatars. This is Ahobilam, the Swayam Vyaktha Kshetra of Sri Narasimha.
To be concluded.