On finishing his spiritual studies at Sri Rangam, Ramanuja went on a pilgrimage to Tirumala where his maternal uncle Srishailapurna was serving Lord Srinivasa. As the glories of Tirumala are mentioned in the eleven puranas and as nine out of the twelve Alwars had sung about the glories of Lord Srinivasa in their pasurams, Tirumala is considered to be one of the most sacred places on earth. Moreover, as Srishailapurna was considered to be a great devotee and a good interpreter of Valmiki’s Ramayana and was staying in Tirumala, Ramanuja was keen on going there.
Srishailapurna was staying in Tirumala which was a remote forest in those days at the behest of his guru Yamunacharya to serve the Lord. According to popular belief, Srishailapurna would directly speak to the Lord and was respected by the devotees who knew about him. Srishailapurna used to regularly fetch water for the Lord’s ablutions from Papavinashanam which is around six kilometers away from Lord Srinivasa’s temple at Tirumala. As Srishailapurna was getting older he started finding it difficult to fetch water from such a long distance. Once, he thought that it would be easier to continue his services to the Lord if the water source was situated close to the temple. The following day, Srishailapurna woke up early in the morning and went to Papavinashanam to fetch water for the Lord’s ablutions. When he was returning with a pitcher full of water towards the temple, a cowherd boy with enchanting looks approached him and asked him for some drinking water. Srishailapurna said, “My son, I am taking this water for the Lord’s ablutions and I am too old to go back to fetch water again. There is a lot of water just below this hill in Papavinashanam. Please go and quench your thirst there.”
The cowherd boy smiled at Srishailapurna and started walking down the hill. After a few moments, Srishailapurna’s pitcher became very light. Srishailapurna brought the pitcher down from his head and to his surprise all the water in the pitcher had vanished and there was a hole in the pitcher. Srishailapurna turned around to see if someone was playing mischief with him and the cowherd boy was smiling at him. As the boy had a bow and arrows in His hands, Srishailapurna understood that the boy had pierced his pitcher with an arrow to make a hole in it and became angry as the water which he was carrying for the Lord got spilt. Even before he could open his mouth, the boy took out three arrows from his quilt and shot them into the ground very close to the place where Srishailapurna was standing and water started oozing out of the ground. The boy vanished and immediately an ethereal voice said, “The water that comes out of this spring would be as auspicious as the water of the Ganga that flows in heaven. From now on, fetch water for My ablutions from here. This spot will be known as Akasha Ganga. If people perform devout activities by the side of this spring, they accrue the same benefits as if they were performed on the banks of the Ganges.”
Srishailapurna realized that the cowherd boy was none other than Lord Krishna Himself and offered obeisance to Him. He thanked the Lord for enabling him to continue his service by disclosing a water source close to the temple as desired by him. Akasha Ganga is situated between Lord Srinivasa’s temple and Papavinasanam on Tirumala hill. As the Lord had addressed Srishailapurna as “Thatha” which means grandfather or old man, when He appeared as the cowherd boy, Srishailapurna became popular as Thathacharya. Many pilgrims, who visit Tirumala, visit Akasha Ganga to take a bath and offer their prayers to Lord Venugopala whose temple is situated close by.
Let us know more about Ramanuja in the next post.