Saint Sridhara Ayyaval and the miracle well, Thiruvisanallur near Kumbakonam, TN

Miracle wellSridhara Ayyaval. Thiruvisanallur, Kumbakonam, TN.

Sridhara Ayyaval(1635–1720).

Presently when  lots of people with  a singular mind are chasing money in this mad, mad world,  in India there lived centuries ago scores of holy people of different religious faiths, who led a humble  and self-contended life, dedicating their entire lives  in the service of God. Particularly, in Hinduism, such people led a highly principled moral life of dedication to god and service to people. To them the splendor of riches was  nothing before the divine blessings  and grace of God.
Sridhara Venkatesa Dikshitar (13-8-1635–1720), also commonly  known as Sridhara Ayyaval,  a native of  Thiruvisanallur village (in the then Thanjavur Maratha kingdom) about 12 km from the temple city of  Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu  was  an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He used to visit the near-by  Mahalingeswarar temple, a huge ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at Thiruvidaimaruthur.  He was a pious Hindu Brahmin saint, dedicated  his life to  the spread  of  devotion to  god  through '' Nama Sankeerthanam''  singing divine songs  and conducting  Bhajans.  He was also a composer of  numerous  divine  songs in Sanskrit and lived in the Agraharam - a traditional  place  where  Brahmins live.

About   Ayyaval's ancestry,  very little information is available and  is subject to debate. His father  Sridhara Lingarayar settled in Thiruvisanallur  village during the reign of  Thanjavur Maratha ruler Shahuji ISome  accounts mention that his father held a senior position in the Mysore kingdom and upon his death,  the same post  was offered to Ayyaval. However.  Ayyaval did not take the post. Interested in the service of God,  he moved over to the delta region of  Thanjavur  to be near  the Shiva  temples  there.  Upon his arrival, the local Maratha ruler  who was known for his charity and munificence, impressed by his  bhakti  gave him assistance and patronized him. Soon he moved over to the Agraharam in Thiruvisanallur and settled down there along with his wife. 

Thiruvisanallur, near Kumbakonam,

On the day of giving Thithi/ Srardham (death anniversary) to his parents,  Ayyaval, being humane, fed  some hungry Dalits. who approached him for food. People doing pithroo karyam were not allowed to feed outsiders - those from other castes. This particular act was a taboo in those days among  Hindus, especially Brahmins.  The food was specifically cooked in an orthodox way at home for the 'Pitru Karya' (to the departed ancestors) and the priests (prohits) had to be fed that day.  Upon knowing Ayyaval's  act of breaking the long  held tradition, the  priests/pundits refused to conduct the ceremony and the local orthodox Brahmins  chastised him. They  insisted on his going to Kasi (Varanasi now in UP), thousands of miles away to take a bath in the Ganges to wash off sins. Legend has it, Ayyaval, having abiding faith in Easwara, prayed to him to get him out of this predicament. No sooner had he finished   reciting the Gangashtakam  slooga, invoking Ganga than water from the holy Ganges river started flowing  out of the well in his house. The water began to flood the village and was non-stoppable. Later  Ayyaval managed to contain the water in the well in his house.
This miracle happened on the Karthigai Ammavasai day and since then, to commemorate this event, every  year on this day, thousands  of devotees from Tamil Nadu  and  neighboring  states have visited  the house of  Ayyaval  to  bathe  in  the  holy  waters  of the miracle well, where the Ganges sprang up. This year this event called 'Gangashtakam  Mahotsavam' took place on the 11th of December, 2015. In the past on a couple of occasions I visited the serene  place with my family  and took bath in the near-by Cauvery river. It was an exhilarating experience for me,  my wife and children.  During my late childhood my uncles used to visit this holy place every year from near-by Veppathur village. Even in the early 1950s,  'Gangashtakam  Mahotsavam' was a grand event and lot of devotees used to throng this holy place. 

Ayyaval  is believed to have died in 1720 at the age of 85 and some accounts claim that  he disappeared mysteriously while on a visit to the Mahalingeswarar Temple, his soul left his body and entered the idol of Easwara in the garbhagriha  (sanctum), and became one with him.

Sridhara Ayyaval Mutt.

Sridhara Ayyaval Mutt,Thiruvisanallur,

Sridhara Ayyaval, his  contemporary Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi ( the 59th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.; his  ''Adhishtanam'' is in Govindapuram village  near Aduthurai on the way to Mayavaram) and  Sri  Maruthanallur  Sadguru  Swamigal (widely travelled, he compiled compositions by famous saints) form the trinity and popularized 'Nama Pracharam,'  singing holy hymns and bhajans.  Ayyaval  hold an important status in ''Dakshina Sampradaya Nama Sankeerthanam.'' Sadasiva Brahmendral song ''Tunga Tarange Gange'' was written on Ayyaval who brought the Ganges to his place. To  Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi 'chanting Rama Nama' is the way to attain purity of mind in Kali Yuga.
Bodhendral, Ayyaval and

Above image: Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi Swamigal (left), Sri Sridhara Ayyaval Swamigal (middle), Sri Maruthanallur Sadguru Swamigal (right). Sri Sridhara  Venkatesa  Ayyaval,  a highly respected  saint in the bhajana sampradaya of South India,  is one of the three acharyas who pioneered  'Naama-prachaara' movement in the south, along with Sri Bhagavan Nama  Bodhendra  swamigal and Sri Maruthanallur Sadguru swamigal.

Kanchi Acharya at the miracle well,

Above image: H Pujyashri Shankaracharya Swamigal visited the house of Saint Sridhara ayyaval   on 15 March-2021. Sri Ayyaval lived here in the 1600s. .......

Nama Japam or Nama Sankeerthanam, a sort of  japa (meditation) or Sankirtana of nama (name) of the Almighty is a way of expression of devotion to god. The devotee  has to choose   Ishta-deva or Ishta devata (Sanskrit iṣṭa-deva(tā), meaning "cherished  or desired divinity" or deva "deity") and repeatedly chant the name  vocally or in the mind any time, anywhere while at rest or on the move.  Like-minded  devotees can form a group and  engage in sankeerthanam or singing with devotion and dedication focusing on  the Almighty. Adi Shankaracharya, the Advaita philosopher and theologian, in  the verse 27 of  his hymn, Bhaja Govindam,  mentioned that  the Gita and Vishnu Sahasranama should be chanted and  Lord  Lakshmi-Narayana should always be meditated on.   Bhishma, one of the five Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata, expressed his view that  chanting of the Vishnu Sahasranama is the best and easiest of all dharmas; one of the ways to attain salvation (relief from all bondage and cycles of birth and death).