Author: Sri S. Ramani Anna (in Tamil)
Source: Sakthi Vikatan issue dated Jan 18, 2007
It was the time when Kanchi Maha SwamigaL was staying in Kalavai, many
years before. It was a Sunday. A large crowd had gathered for darshan.
One by one the devotees prostrated to the sage, received his blessings
and moved away. A middle-aged couple prostrated to AcharyaL and stood
up with folded palms. Keenly looking at them, SwamigaL said, "adede...
who (is this)... Palur Gopalan! You came a year back. That time you
spoke about some problems. Aren't you fine now?" and laughed.
That Palur Gopalan replied, "We are very fine Periyavaa. As directed
by you, from the time we started feeding an atithi in the noon time
everyday, only good things are happening, Periyavaa! Good harvest in
(my) fields. The cows don't die as before! The money that dripped out
of hands without control for expenses stays in hands now. All that is
(due to) the greatness of the atithi bhojana you have asked us to do,
by your anugraha. I am doing it daily. Nothing else (is the reason for
the prosperity)." Tears filled his eyes as he spoke. His wife who was
standing by his side was also in tears of joy.
AcharyaL said, "besh, besh. It is fine if you have understood that
good things happen due to the act of atithi bhojana. Alright. Today
both of you have come over here. There in Palur--who will do the
atithi bhojana?" AcharyaL inquired worriedly. Gopalan's wife replied
promptly, "We have made alternative arrangements for that Periyavaa.
atithi bhojana will not be missed even for a day."
Maha SwamigaL was very happy to hear it. "That's the way you should do
it. You must have a resolution to feed the hungry. Doing atithi
upacAra will give such an anugraha and safeguard the family! One day
[i]sAkSAt Parameshvara himself will come in the form of an atithi,
will sit and eat, you know that?"
SwamigaL was talking with kutUhala. To listen to these anugraha words,
the people standing in the queue surrounded him. He asked everyone to
sit down on the floor. The crowd of devotees sat down.
A devotee asked SwamigaL: "Is there such greatness in doing atithi
SwamigaL replied immediately. "Yes yes! It is a maha puNya dharma that
could lead to mokSa! It has benefited a number of people! Only when
you ask people like this Gopalan who have experienced it, they will
tell you. Such a lofty dharma is this one!"
A devotee got up and prostrated to the sage. He said with humility,
"My name is RamaSethu. Tiruvannamalai is my native place. We all pray
together to AcharyaL. We desire to listen more elaborately about the
greatness of this atithi bhojana in a way we can understand it.
Periyavaa should take mercy on us!"
SwamigaL asked him to be seated. The devotee complied. Everyone was
watching the walking God in silence. That parabrahmam started talking
"My memory is that it was (the year) thousand nine hundred and thirty-
eight or thirty-nine. SriSankara MaTham was doing its administration
from KummoNam (Kumbakonam). I am going to tell (you about) an incident
that happened at that time. If you listen to it devotedly, the
greatness that lies in this (incident) can be understood! I shall tell
you (now), listen (carefully)."
Swamigal stopped for a brief while and then continued: "There was a
large house on the western bank of the Kummonam Maamaanga (Mahamaha)
kulam. A grocer by name Kumaresan Chettiar was living in that house. I
remember very well... The name of his dharma patni was Sivakami Achi.
They belonged to Pallathur near Karaikudi. That couple had no
children. They had brought a dependable boy from their native place
and kept him with them for taking care of the grocery shop.
"At that time, the age of Kumaresan Chettiar was perhaps fifty or
fifty-five. That Achi's (age was) perhaps within fifty. At all times
only the nama smaraNa 'Shiva Shiva... Shiva Shiva' would be issuing
out of the mouth of those two people. There was no other talk!
Chettiar had in his house a singlebullock cart. Seating Achi in the
cart, Chettiar himself would drive! Every day both them would arrive
in their cart at the banks of Kaveri to take bath.
Finishing (their) bath, they would come to our MaTham, prostrate,
receive the blessings and go back. They were such an intimate couple.
About them, I am going to tell (you now) something that will
overshadow all these, look (listen)!"
He took to silence to keep them in suspense for sometime. The devotees
were waiting with eager expectations. AcharyaL started speaking again:
"You know what work that couple had been doing for many years? To
serve and feed the atithis! Don't be surprised! They would entertain
the Shiva disciples with food, every day at noon in the hall of their
house, without shrinking a face, whatever the number of disciples they
received as guest. They would seat the disciple in the thinnai at the
entrance (of their house), wash his feet with water, wipe with a
cloth, apply sandal paste and vermillion to them and lead them to the
hall and seat them there.
"They did not have any cook in their house! That amma would cook with
her own hands, whatever number be the guests of Shiva disciples!
Another important thing--if you ask what it is--is that they would
inquire from the Shiva disciples the details of the vegetables and
dishes they like, go and get them, cook and serve them! Such an
elevated mind! Do you think how SwamigaL knew about all these
things... There is no sort of secrecy about it. (One Sri) Sundaram
Iyer, who was close to the MaTham, was looking after the accounts of
Kumaresan Chettiar. Only he would tell me these things when he was
free. Understand now?"
AcharyaL stopped for sometime and relaxed. None of the seated moved an
inch. They were all looking with fixed eyes at Maha SwamigaL.
That walking God continued: "One day it was raining very well. (It
was) noon time. Kumaresan Chettiar came to the entrance (of his house)
and looked (here and there). No atithi was in sight! Holding an
umbrella, he descended the steps of the Mahamaham pond and surveyed
the scene. A Shiva disciple was seated after bath in a small building
there, wearing vibhUti (all over his body). Chettiar prayed to him and
brought him for dining (at his home). He seemed somewhat like a well-
read Shiva disciple. He came singing Thevaaram. Washing his feet,
Chettiar led him to his hall and seated him. The couple prostrated to
the Shiva disciple.
Chettiar's dharma patni went to the disciple and asked, 'What
vegetables are the favourite of Swamy? Please tell me, so I can go to
the shop, get and serve them after cooking.' "It seemed that the Shiva
disciple was in good hunger. He got up and went to the backyard and
looked around. He saw sprouts of tender spinach there. He came inside,
called the mother and said that he needed nothing except the tender
spinach in koottu and their stems in sambar and that it would be
sufficient for him.
Chettiar went to pluck the spinach with a bamboo plate in his hand.
The rain had stopped by then. Since it was becoming late, the Shiva
disciple who was very hungry, decided to give a helping hand for
plucking the spinach, so he asked for a bamboo plate and went to the
backyard. "Sivakami Achi was standing at the backyard entrance,
watching the two men pluck the spinach. Both of them placed their
plates inside the house after enough spinach was plucked. You know
what that amma did immediately? She washed the two spinach plates
separately. She lit two furnaces, kept the spinach in two separate
pans on the furnaces and started cooking.
The Shiva disciple who was looking at her act was surprised! He was
confused: 'What is this? Both the plates has the same spinach sprouts.
Without using a single vessel to cook them why this mother lights two
furnaces and cooks them separately?'
"After sometime, that amma took the pans out of the furnaces, took the
disciple's spinach only to the puja room and offered it as nivedana to
Swami. The disciple who was watching it was pleased with immense
pride! Know what he had thought? He decided, 'I am a big Shiva bhakta.
Sannyasi. So this mother has understood that Lord Shiva would accept
only the spinach I plucked and offers it as nivedana. Still I would
ask the mother herself after my meal about the offering.'"
Stopping here briefly, SwamigaL watched the devotees sitting opposite
Nobody lowered a jaw. He continued: "The Shiva disciple, who had
finished his dining, asked that Achi about his doubt. You know what
reply did the Achi give? (She said 'Ayya, when the spinach was plucked
in the backyard, I was watching. My husband chanted the name 'Shiva
Shiva...' and plucked the spinach. So it became ShivArpaNa then and
there. There was no need to offer it again. You plucked (the spinach)
without chanting any name. That is why, I lit a furnace, cooked your
spinach separately and offered it to the Lord.' The disciple was
embarrassed to hear this.
The couple then prostrated to the disciple. He appreciated the Achi's
bhakti and wisdom and started on his way. They were a couple who
served annam in such a way..."
AcharyaL stopped. The crowd of devotees was sitting with amazement.
Nobody lowered a jaw. SwamigaL continued: "You know what was the phala
prApti that was given to them for such incessant atithi bhojana? Some
years later, they celebrated their shashti apta pUrti (completion of
60 years of age). On a Maha Shivaratri day they sat for darshan of the
four sessions of puja in the Kumbeswarar temple. When they returned
home, that amma, who sat in the puja room complaining of exhaustion,
stretched out and breathed her last. Shocked, the Chettiar called her
by name and went inside, but he too fell down and breathed his last.
That was all. On that very day of Maha Shivaratri both of them
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