When Tirumala Venkateshwara Swami Himself Garlanded His Beloved Devotee

An extraordinary anecdote from the era of Srikrishnadevaraya opens up several profound vistas into the convictions, values and lifestyle of our ancestors. These are stories that must be included in our textbooks if we are to preserve our cultural continuity.
When Tirumala Venkateshwara Swami Himself Garlanded His Beloved Devotee

WE CAN INSERT an addendum to K.M. Munshi’s memorable approach to writing Indian history: that the history of India must be written as the story of its people and as a continuous tale of the spirit that moved them and the values that inspired and bound them together as a harmonious society and culture throughout the ages. This is the addendum: it must contain real-life stories of our people who lived these values, who had real names and who have indeed left behind hundreds—if not thousands of proofs testifying the manner in which they lived. These are available in a scattered fashion in what is dismissively known as oral legends, local folklore, inscriptions, and genealogies.

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When Tirumala Venkateshwara Swami Himself Garlanded His Beloved Devotee

Whether these accounts can be construed as “history” as declared by the colonial European academic fatwa has only a secondary importance. But what they unambiguously construe is entirely consonant with the Bharatiya ethos: maulya or value. In the scope of my limited studies, every such account that I have read reveals precisely this truth. They have moved me, elevated me and continue to shape the work at The Dharma Dispatch and elsewhere. To say this in a different fashion, the lived stories of our ancestors are real voices that are audible only if we keep our Inner Ear open.

Even on the mundane plane, these ancestral stories are invaluable guides that can help us near-fully reconstruct the social and cultural atmosphere of any period of Bharatavarsha’s ancient history. In the realm of art, Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s masterly Chanakya is perhaps the most glorious feat of this sort of reconstruction.

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When Tirumala Venkateshwara Swami Himself Garlanded His Beloved Devotee

This essay narrates one such real-life story randomly unearthed from the treasure-chest of our epigraphs and inscriptions. The infinite possibilities, insights and revelations it offers to us is left to the interpretative powers of you, dear reader.

A fundamental truth that must always be remembered while reading Hindu history is how our ancestors took their Dharma seriously. To them, the dictum of the Rishis was a tangible aspect that throbbed in their inner life and moulded their external living. One such dictum is the centrality of the gṛhasthāśramadharma or the Dharma of the householder, which has played such a profound role in sustaining Sanatana Dharma for at least fifty centuries:

As all living creatures subsist by receiving support from air, all social orders subsist by receiving support from the householder. Because men of the other three orders are daily supported by the householder with gifts of sacred knowledge (Veda) and food, therefore, the order of householders is the most excellent order.

This passage is from the much-reviled Manusmriti. Other writers of our Dharmasastras echo the same dictum in a different fashion.

Among other things, our story unambiguously shows how gṛhasthāśramadharma was not only upheld and valued by the society and the king but by Tirumala Venkateshwara Swami himself.

The Profound Garland of Anantacharya

The story begins with a profound devotee, Anantâchârya the direct disciple of Sri Ramanujacharya, founder of the Srivaishnava tradition. Anantâchârya was extremely attached to his Guru Ramanujacharya in whom he saw the Bhagavan himself. At the command of his Guru, he performed just one duty every day without fail: making garlands for Venkateshwara Swami. These garlands were offered to the Swami throughout the day during all sevas, from dawn to late in the night.

Anantâchârya’s sublime life found fulfilment doing only this service, and his lineage became sanctified as a result. As the saying goes, the punya or accumulated virtue of our ancestors will eventually manifest in and safeguard the genealogy itself.

Cut to 1516 CE, the seventh year of Sri Krishnadevaraya’s reign. In the prime of his youth, Govindaraja, the twelfth descendant of Anantâchârya, declared that he had chosen the life of an ascetic or Sanyasin. He would spend the rest of his life in the service of Sri Venkateshwara Swami. His horror-stricken family beseeched him to reconsider and fasted and prayed to the same deity to get the boy to change his mind.

Venkateshwara Swami did not disappoint. Once when Govindaraja was immersed in deep penance, the Swami gave him a vision and said that he was indeed a true Bhakta. He also told Govindaraja of his parents’ distress and instructed him to embrace the life of a householder in order to save his lineage from extinction. At the end of his discourse, Sri Venkateshwara Swami placed a fine garland of flowers around his neck and blessed him and vanished.

Anantâchârya’s exalted service had attained fruition in this fashion.

Needless, this episode serves to uphold the aforementioned value of gṛhasthāśramadharma so central to the Sanatana society and culture. The believability in the divine element in this episode is merely incidental to the value intrinsic herein as we shall see.

News of this extraordinary event quickly reached Sri Krishnadevaraya’s ears. The Raya was himself the greatest patron and Bhakta of Tirumala, and he wasted no time in honouring this outstanding devotee.

Accordingly, he summoned Govindaraja to Vijayanagara, the capital. There, on the banks of the sacred Tungabhadrâ River with Vijaya Vithalêsvara as the witness, Sri Krishnadevaraya made over a generous grant of an Agrahara named Krishnarâyapura together with some villages to this Bhakta who had compelled Venkateshwara Swami himself to garland him.

In turn, Govindaraja distributed a few of these granted villages to people in need and founded the Vîrâmbudhi Agrahara, now in Krishnarâjpet Taluk, Mysore district.

When the inscription describing this grant was unearthed as recently as 1894, the Department of Archeology wrote a note that “ even now, the representative of Anantâchârya's family is the only person, who is garlanded on visiting Tirupati.” Further, his descendants chant the following taniyan or memorial verse when they visit Tirumala:

âmnâya-vâchâm api mrigya-bhûmâ |
srî-Vênkata-kshmâdhara-s'ringadhâmâ |
dêvô anudhâvan pradadâti yasmai |
srajam bhajê ananta-gurum tam âryam ||

We offer our salutations to the Guru Anantâchârya who wove garlands for Sri Venkateshwara seated atop this sacred mountain-peak, who is the repository of the Vedas, who grants prosperity and purifies us, and whom we seek.

We are yet to find another country or culture that has preserved this awesome feature of cultural and civilizational continuity.

If this was not enough, the archeological note also reveals another eye-opening fact: “the disciples of Govindaraja at the present day are styled Mudumbai, Kadambi, Setlur, Kumandur, Asuri, Gomatha, Nallan, Kandadai, Madapusu, Somasiyandan, and Vinjimuru.” Our lived experience even today reveals the fact that these are all common surnames in the Srivaishnava or the Iyengar community. For example, there is a Setlur Street in Shantinagar in Bangalore; the spelling of Kandadai has been anglicized to Candade; the surname Vinjimuru is largely prevalent in Andhra-Desa as Vinjumuri.

This is their profound ancestry, battered, lost, and buried. In our own time, some folks bearing these surnames are debasing this divine ancestry by doing crass standup comedy shows in which they routinely berate their own lineage. Spitting on one’s noble heritage was never so lucrative.

Oh! And the Krishnarâyapura that Sri Krishnadevaraya granted to Govindaraja is today known as Mandya.

|| śrīkṛṣṇārpaṇamastu ||

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