sriranga mangala nidhim karuna nivasam
sri venkatadri shikaralaya kalamegam
sri hasthisaila sikarojwala parijatham
srisannamami sirasa yadhusaila deepam
– Swami Ramanujacharya
This popular shloka speaks about four important temples: Srirangam, Thirumala, Kanchipuram and Melkote. These four important Vaishnava shrines are referred to respectively as Bhoga Mantapa, Pushpa Mantapa, Thyaga Mantapa and Jnana Mantapa.
Srirangam is considered as Bhoga Mantapa, as the Lord enjoys every luxury and opulence there and is worshipped just as in Vaikuntha. Also all the acharyas wherever they were born, made Srirangam their headquarters and base, thus making the place a “receiving place of all goodness.”
Kanchipuram is considered as Thyaga Mantapa, as the quality of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in Kanchipuram is that He is known as the one who blesses the devotees the most. Also He sacrificed great acharyas like Ramanuja, Vedanta Desika and Kurathazwan to Srirangam. All of them were born near Kanchipuram and were servitors in Lord Varadaraja’s temple. At the appropriate time, Lord Varadaraja asked them all to move to Srirangam to spread Vaishnavism. He is like Lord Krishna in this respect of giving benedictions: no matter how much Krishna gave to those who sought His help, He was still not satisfied and always felt that there was room for more generosity. When His manifest pastimes were about to end, Lord Krishna cried because He felt He had not done enough for Draupadi. That kindness of Krishna is present in Lord Varadaraja too.
Melkote is considered as Jnana Mantapa for it was a seat of learning and Thirumala as Pushpa Mantapa, as the Lord is extremely fond of flowers.
In this section, we will narrate the great pastimes of devotees of Kanchipuram Varadaraja Perumal.
Thirukachi Nambi is considered as the foremost of the devotees of Varadaraja Perumal in Kanchipuram. It appears that the Lord of Kanchipuram gave darshana and conversed only with Thirukachi Nambi, and this privilege was not enjoyed by anyone else.
Early life and pastimes
Thirukachi Nambi or Kanchipurna was born in 1009 AD in the month of March, under the asterism of Mrugasheersha, in a place called Poonamallee near Kanchipuram, to the pious Vaishnava vaishya couple, Srimathi Kamalayar and Sri Veeraraghava Chettiar. The place of his birth was called Dharmapuri until Kanchipurna’s birth. Since Kanchipurna later cultivated and maintained a flower garden to serve the Supreme Lord, this place came to be known as Poonthamalli, meaning Poovirundhamalli (“where flowers blossomed” in Tamil).
Just as Swami Ramanuja is considered as an incarnation of Adishesha and Swami Madhvacharya is considered as incarnation of Hanuman and Vayu, Kanchipurna is considered as an incarnation of Vishwaksena, the commander-in-chief of the Supreme Lord in Vaikuntha.
Kanchipurna soon moved to Kanchipuram to serve his beloved Lord Varadaraja Perumal. He was given another name, Gajendra Dasar. He was bestowed this name by Sri Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal Himself, because He was pleased by Kanchipurna’s service of offering flowers in memory of the elephant Gajendra, who offered Him a lotus flower. Among Vaishnava devotees, he came to be known as Sri Kanchi Muni and Kanchipurna (in Sanskrit) and Thirukachi Nambi (in Tamil). He was renowned for the Thiruvaalavatta seva (fanning service) he offered Sri Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal.
When Kanchipurna reached adulthood, his father, Sri Veeraraghava Chettiar, divided his property among his four sons, with the advice to carry on their duties honestly and make profits out of their business. All his sons except his fourth son, Kanchipurna, fulfilled his wishes. So when he countered Kanchipurna and questioned about his business, Kanchipurna’s characteristic reply was that he spent it all in service to Sri Narayana. His only interest was to serve Lord Narayana.
After spending some time in temples like Thiruvallikeni (Triplicane), Kanchipurna returned to Poonamallee only to find that his brothers were demanding his share of the wealth and land too. Deeply distressed and saddened, he renounced everything to his brothers and went to the temple. At night he slept before Thirumalisai Alwar’s shrine in the temple. He dreamt that the Alwar himself appeared and asked him to establish a flower garden with his share of wealth and serve Lord Narayana, just like Sri Thondaradipodi Alwar and Periya Alwar had done, instead of just renouncing all his wealth for others’ material enjoyment. When he woke up, Kanchipurna realized his mistake and went back to Poonamallee to reclaim share of the family property, which he had given up earlier. He wanted to draw up a will to avoid any future claims of this share from his brothers. He was planning to put up a permanent endowment that his land should be used only in the service of Lord Narayana. When he was contemplating on this subject, Sri Varadaraja Perumal Himself appeared to Kanchipurna and directed him to write a will stating that his particular portion of the property belongs to Sri Varadaraja Perumal Himself. Surprised and happy at this divine intervention, Kanchipurna did as the Lord had commanded. He went to Kanchi every day, to offer Varadaraja Perumal the garland he had himself made from the flowers of his garden. The Lord was very pleased with his service, and sometimes to everyone’s surprise, the Lord Himself would appear and tell Kanchipurna what colour combination of garland He needed.
The birth place and temple of Kanchipurna in Poonamallee
At times, during Kanchipurna’s journeys from Poonamallee to Kanchipuram, he used to rest and drink water at the house of a devout brahmana, Sri Asuri Keshava Somayaji, who was an agnihotri brahmana in Sri Perumbudur. One day when Kanchipurna stopped at his house to have water, knowing Kanchipurna’s devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Somayaji, who had been longing for a child, requested him to ask Varadaraja Perumal to grant him this desire. Kanchipurna humbly agreed and when the Lord appeared to him, he put forward Sri Somayaji’s wishes. The Lord directed Kanchipurna to inform Somayaji to perform Putra Kameshti Yaga, like King Dasharatha, on the banks of the Kairaveni River, at Thiruvallikeni. Kanchipurna conveyed the Lord’s instruction to Sri Somayaji who in turn carried out these instructions and was soon blessed with the child who was none other than the great acharya, Swami Ramanuja.
One day, while performing his daily devotional service to Lord Sri Varadaraja, Kanchipurna humbly requested the Lord that he be initiated formally into the school of Srivaishnavism, the first step of which is ordination of Panchasamskara (initiation process in Srivaishnavism), whereby, the individual is duly admitted to the fold. The all merciful Lord directed Kanchipurna to Sri Yamunacharya who was the at that time the principal acharya of Srivaishnavism and had his base in Srirangam.
Left: Lord Parthasarathy who blessed Keshava Somayaji with Ramanuja (right)
Having got the blessings of Lord Varadaraja, Kanchipurna at once left for Srirangam, where, with the help and recommendation of a common friend Mahapurna (Swami Ramanuja was initiated by Mahapurna), he requested Sri Yamunacharya to initiate him formally. Since it was the word of the Lord Himself that was conveyed to Kanchipurna, Sri Yamunacharya duly initiated him by performing the diksha ceremony. Kanchipurna spent a few months in the ashrama of Sri Yamunacharya, learning all the precepts of Srivaishnavism. Then he returned to Kanchi in due course of time, to serve the Lord there.
Out of love for His devotee, Lord Varadaraja empathized with Kanchipurna for walking daily from Poonamallee to Kanchipuram and commanded him to stay at Kanchipuram, providing him a place to reside in. This place is now the Kanchipurna shrine in the Kanchi Varadaraja temple. True to the words of his Master, Kanchipurna resided permanently in Kanchipuram. But Kanchipurna was not able to continue his garland-making service as he no longer stayed in Poonamallee. Deeply regretting the lost opportunity of service, he implored the Lord to give him any kind of opportunity to serve Him. Moved by Kanchipurna’s devotion, the Lord then asked him to take up the fan and gently fan Him, to reduce the effects of heat radiated due to His appearance from the yagna of Sri Brahma (refer previous issue for story).
Kanchipurna and his service in Kanchipuram
After their duties of worship and cleaning in the evening, all the personal priests of Varadaraja locked the premises of the temple and left for the day. But Varadaraja Perumal commanded Kanchipurna to stay after everyone had left, to continue the fanning service until midnight, when the Lord and His consorts from Kachivaithan Mantapam (near the golden lizard in the temple) stroll through Vaiya Maligai corridor. The temple door which remained open for Kanchipurna to enter, because of the wishes of the Lord Himself, closed itself after the Lord dismissed Kanchipurna to retire for the night. The Lord was so pleased with Kanchipurna’s steadfast devotion and service for six months, that one day He began having conversations with him with the interest of helping other jivatmas. In ecstatic fervour because the Lord Himself was conversing with him, Kanchipurna could not compose himself, and the Lord very significantly explained that He is doing so to help Kanchipurna fulfil the purpose of his existence, of conveying the Lord’s instructions to other people. Kanchipurna very obediently followed and fulfilled the Lord’s wishes, as a true Srivaishnava.
The main deity of Kanchipurna at Kanchipuram Kanchipurna with his fan
It was customary for Kanchipurna to offer milk and betel leaf to Varadaraja Perumal daily. But one day, when the priests offered food (a vessel full of sweet pongal) to Perumal, He asked all of them to leave, except Kanchipurna. The Lord then commanded Kanchipurna to give Him the food offered with his own hands. Kanchipurna hesitated, since Varadaraja is the Omnipotent Lord Himself. But being only a humble devotee and servant of the Lord (as every Vaishnava actually is), he obeyed Sri Varadaraja Perumal and the Lord rapturously ate up all the pongal in the company of His devotee. Lord Varadarajan graciously accepted food from Kanchipurna’s hands, just as he had from the hands of Mother Yashoda. Such is the mercy of the Lord.
When the other priests came in after the Lord’s bhojana time, they found the whole vessel empty and saw morsels of pongal on Kanchipurna’s hands. They mistakenly believed that it was Kanchipurna who partook the offering and not Perumal. All the town’s people heard about this and blamed Kanchipurna for having taken the Lord’s food. The all- knowing Lord could not tolerate His innocent devotee suffering the ignoble blame. In order to make the people believe that it was He who actually ate the offering, the Lord appeared in a dream to a devotee, commanding him to offer 1000 vessels full of sweet pongal. The devotee obeyed the Lord’s command and this time too, Kanchipurna remain inside to serve the Lord. When the priests returned, they found all the 1000 vessels empty, making them understand that it was indeed Lord Varadaraja Himself who had taken the food and not Kanchipurna, thereby restoring the glory of Kanchipurna. The blame was completely lifted with the divine intervention of the Lord.
Kanchipurna in festival alankara (Left) and Kanchipurna during his appearance day festival (Right)
The Supreme Lord serves His devotee
One day, Kanchipurna was so completely immersed in listening to the Lord, that by the time he took leave of his duties to Him, it was night and raining hard. Kanchipurna had an assistant devotee boy named Varada, who helped him in his duties. So when he came out of the temple, Kanchipurna called out for the boy. The boy had fallen asleep as it had become quite late. Since Kanchipurna had called out, “Varada!” Lord Varadarajan Himself came out in the guise of the boy to serve him, using His Sudharshana disc for light and Adishesha for an umbrella. He even took Kanchipurna’s slippers in His hands. Later, when the boy woke up and realized that he had missed his master, he ran to Kanchipurna’s home to apologize. It was only then that Kanchipurna realized that the Lord Himself had accompanied him home.
On another occasion, one summer morning, Kanchipurna called for his disciple Varada at the entrance of the temple, to return home, but the boy was somewhere outside. Since Kanchipurna was calling out the name of the Lord, Varada, the Lord Varadaraja Himself appeared to him in the guise of the boy, to aid him, carrying an umbrella to shield him from the sun, gave him slippers and went away. Meanwhile the boy Varada returned and apologised to Kanchipurna for his absence. Then Kanchipurna realized that it was the Supreme Lord Himself who had come again to his aid. When he looked at the footwear, he noticed the emblem of tortoise (kurma) encrusted in them and while Kanchipurna gazed at them, they disappeared. Kanchipurna fainted in the ecstasy of experiencing the Lord’s mercy and blessings.
Lord Varadaraja with Kanchipurna Lord Varadaraja at Kanchipurna’s birth place
Kanchipurna leaves Kanchipuram
Kanchipurna decided to leave Thyaga Mantapam (Kanchipuram), as he felt that he would not be able to continue his service there to the Lord without incurring any offence to the Lord, since the Lord Himself was serving him at times. He decided to go to Thirupati in the anticipation of serving Lord Venkatesha for some time. On the way to Thirupati, Kanchipurna met a person who was cultivating flowers. He found out that the flowers are for Lord Venkatesha. Kanchipurna asked the man whether the flowers would bloom just then, to which the person sarcastically replied that the flowers would bloom as soon as he sows them. To that, Kanchipurna replied that they would, and to the person’s surprise, all the flowers bloomed immediately after the seeds were sown.
Kanchipurna wanted to offer flowers to the Lord of Thirupati so he took them in a basket and continued his journey to Thirumala. But on the way, he met a unbelievably handsome person who asked for the flowers. Kanchipurna, losing himself in the divine beauty of the person standing before him, gave him the flowers, and the handsome man decked himself with all those flowers, just as it would be done in the temple of Varadaraja Perumal, and disappeared. It was the Lord of Thirumala Himself! Kanchipurna continued his journey to Thirumala and on reaching there he requested Lord Venkatesha to grant him the opportunity of service and offered his expertise of fanning service at the disposal of the Lord. But Venkatesha Perumal humbly refused him, citing that the place in which He resides is itself cold because of the seven hills and waterfalls that surround it. Lord Venkatesha advised him to return to Kanchipuram and serve Lord Varadaraja there, as it was a very hot and humid area. But determined not to go there, Kanchipurna went to Srirangam in the anticipation of serving Lord Ranganatha. But Lord Ranganatha also refused, citing the reason that cold and chillness were present there due to the bounteous River Kaveri flowing on either side. So Kanchipurna went to the ashrama of Sri Yamunacharya, to spend his time serving his guru who had formally initiated him into Srivaishnavism. Meanwhile Lord Varadaraja, unable to bear Kanchipurna’s absence, appeared in Sri Yamunacharya’s dream and told him to convey to Nambigal that he is to return to Kanchipuram to serve his Lord. Sri Yamunacharya immediately conveyed this to Kanchipurna and he in turn, not wanting to disobey his guru, took his leave and duly returned to Kanchipuram, visiting other divya desams on the way. Upon his return, Varadaraja Perumal was so pleased to see His devotee after a long time, that He blessed him as a father would bless his son and asked him to continue his fanning service.
President of India has darshan of Athi Varadar, July 2019
Photo courtesy: Keshavabhashyam, Kanchipuram