MelkoteWHILE THE hills in the Tamil country are generally associated with temples for Lord Muruga, in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka they house many Narasimha shrines, such as the Nava Narasimha Temples at Ahobilam, Simhachalam, Mattapalli, Mangalagiri and Yadavgiri near Melkote, in Karnataka. One of the earliest incarnations of the Lord, who upheld righteousness and punished the wrong doers, Lord Narasimha is in the heart of every being, according to the Scriptures.

The Narasimha Poorva Thaapini Upanishad says that God appeared before Brahma as Narasimha at first and gave him the Mantra Narasimha Anushtup with which he was able to develop the Vedas. The verse beginning with the words, ``Ugram, Veeram, Mahavishnum....'' is said to represent the nine forms of Narasimha — Ugram (anger), Veeram (bravery), Jwaala (fire) and so on.

One can worship these nine forms of Narasimha at Ahobilam. There are also other places such as Thiruvali-Thirunagari, near Sirkazhi, in Tamil Nadu and in and around Yadavgiri or Melkote in Karnataka, where one finds a cluster of Narasimha temples.

The Lord's form at the Narasimha temple, in Melkote, atop Yadavagiri, is really frightening. It is one of the many Narasimha shrines in the area, the others being those at Saligramam, Thondanur, Padmagiri, Srirangapatnam and Srivarasamudram (Sivasamudram).

According to a few Vaishnavite scholars there are nine Narasimha temples in the area, though they have not been identified.

Works such as Ramanuja Divya Charitam say that Pancha Narayana Sthalas, (five temples for Lord Narayana), were established by Saint Ramanuja in the area including the Thirunarayanaswami Temple at Melkote.

The verse in the Ramanuja Divya Charitam says that Mudaliyandan or Dasarathi, Ramanuja's chief disciple, was deputed to Velur (Velupura-Belur) to inaugurate the Narayana Temple there. Belur, in ancient inscriptions, bears the name of Velupura or Veluir and is also called Dakshina Varanasi or Southern Benares. Its holiness is due to the celebrated temple of Chenna Kesava there, built by the Hoysala King, Vishnuvardhana, to mark his change of faith, influenced by Ramanuja's teachings.

The king was also said to have gifted to Ramanuja and his followers the tract of land on either side of the River Cauvery at Srirangapatnam. The villages there were known as ashtagramas (eight villages).

According to historians, Ramanuja's stayed in the Hoysala country for not less than 20 years. He used the opportunity to give a firm footing to Vaishnavism in the area and also indulged in humanitarian tasks.

Ramanuja had made the Tondanur Narasimha temple his abode before proceeding to Melkote to retrieve the idols of the Lord. The Jains in the area, numbering 12,000, marched to the temple, angered by the king changing his faith to Vaishnavism and demanded that Ramanuja answer their questions on religion and philosophy. Being an Aparavatara of Adisesha, Ramanuja, took the form of the 1000-headed serpent and vanquished them.

Similarly Ramanuja defeated the Buddhists in a religious battle at Padmagiri. At Saligramam, the birthplace of another important disciple, Vaduga Nambi, he stayed in the Narasimha Temple and gave religious discourses. It was here that Vaduga Nambi was cured of a serious ailment after washing Ramanuja's feet and taking the holy water.

While bathing in the Kalyani tank at the foot of the Yadavagiri hill one day, Ramanuja received news of the death of the Chola King, who persecuted Vaishnavites. Messengers led by Maruthi Andan, who had trekked all the way from Srirangam, gave him the message. Ramanuja and his followers were elated by the news as they could now return to Srirangam. They climbed the steps to reach the temple of Narasimha at Yadavagiri and prostrated before the Lord.

The hill temple is small but beautiful. A cave known as Puli Kugai and also as Piladwaram, through which one can crawl with great difficulty is found just below the Moolavar idol of Narasimha, and passing through it is a divine experience indeed! The cave which was kept closed in the past has been reopened now.

Ramanuja, after returning to Melkote and getting the Lord's permission for returning to Srirangam, appointed 52 persons to administer the Thirunarayanaswami temple.

On knowing that Ramanuja will not be in Melkote to guide them in the temple affairs and other religious activities, they wept. But the saint consoled them and left behind an image of himself, which was filled with his power. He also told them to take care of the idol of Sampathkumara who was like a son to him, and left a detailed code of temple procedures.

It is said that he took a long time to get out of the place, as he felt very much attached to the Lord there. One of the glorious chapters in Ramanuja's life thus came to an end.

Unswerving faith

IT WAS in Karnataka that Ramanuja had three important disciples — Vaduga Nambi or Andhra Purnar, Tondanur Nambi and Milagazhwan. Of them the first, Vaduga Nambi, was the closest follower of Ramanuja. He staunchly believed in the principle of Panchamopaya or the path of placing unswerving faith in one's preceptor.

The second helped Ramanuja find a firm foothold in the Hoysala country by introducing him to the Hoysala King Bittideva, whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit. When the spirit was driven away by the saint, the king and his subjects became Ramanuja's followers with the king changing his name as Vishnuvardana.

The third was Milagazhwan, who got that name perhaps because of his short stature. His figure is found in one of the beautifully carved pillars of the shrine of Goddess Yadugiri Nachiar at Melkote. It is the firm belief of Vaishnavites that to reach heaven, they ought to visit Melkote and worship the deities there and also Milagazhwan.There is an interesting anecdote about him. He used to prepare food for Ramanuja wherever he went. He used unbroken pepper for this and when asked he replied that the pestle used for breaking it, reminded him of Siva Linga and hence he would not touch it. Such was his devotion to Ramanuja and Lord Narayana.