Life History of Sri Ayyaval

सर्वभूतेषु संव्याप्तं वासुदेवं सनातनम् । यः पश्येत् प्रेमभावेन स हि भागवतोत्तमः ॥

"He who beholds with affection the eternal Lord Vaasudeva, pervading all living beings, is the best among bhaagavatas" (Vaishnava Samhitaa of Sri Krishnapremi Swamigal, Chap 13, Shloka 1)

Sri Sridhara Venkatesha Ayyaval was a true `Bhaagavatottama' in every sense, and saw the presence of the Lord everywhere. Even frogs croaking 'kar kar kar kar' in the rain, it seemed to him, were chanting the name of the Lord as 'Hara Hara Hara Hara'. Immersed always in thoughts of his Lord, he knew nothing else. To him, the whole creation was nothing but the immeasurable love of his Lord.

Read Sri Ayyaval's life history Anecdotes from Sri Ayyaval's life Songs and shlokas in praise of Sri Ayyaval

Sri Sridhara Ayyaval was born in Mysore. His father, Sri Lingaraya, was a minister in the Mysore court, a scholar in the shaastras and was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Sri Ayyaval was initiated into the study of vedas and shaastras at a young age, and became well-versed with them. He was married to Sow.Lakshmi. After the decease of his father, he rejected the post of Dewan of Mysore offered by the Maharaja, and decided to move out of Mysore with an intent to plunge deeper into his pursuit of Bhakti.

Sri Ayyaval visited many places, and finally reached the holy town of Trichy. He stayed there for a while, engaged in worship of the Lord, adhyayana of shaastras, and pravachana. He led a simple life, engaged in `Unchavritti'.While in Trichy, Sri Ayyaval composed Sri Krishna Dvaadasha Manjari, in praise of Lord Krishna. He also composed a hymn called `Taaraavali' in praise of Lord Shiva, to bring back to life the child of an old brahmin couple. He was respected by everyone in the city, including the King, who had realised that he was very fortunate that his city was blessed by the presence of such a great saint. But Sri Ayyaval did not want to get bonded to the people there and lose sight of his mission of spreading Naamasankeertanam. Hence, he left Trichy and continued his pilgrimage, visiting various shrines on the way.

Sri Ayyaval reached the kingdom of Tanjore, ruled by King Shahaji. He lived there for some time, but preferred to settle down in the solitude of some village, from where he could peacefully carry on with his spiritual pursuits. This brought him to the village of Tiruvisalur, close to Thirunthuthuvengudi (Karkateswara Kshetram/Shiva Yoginatha Kshetram) on the banks of river Kaveri. King Shahaji was instrumental in the development of this village, and had set it up specifically in honour of learned vedic brahmins.

After Sri Ayyaval settled down in Tiruvisalur, he quickly earned respect through his knowledge and devotion. King Shahaji himself was very devoted to him, and used to consult him regarding various matters of the state. Before long, he was instated as Dewan of the king. On king's request, Sri Ayyaval composed 'Padamani Manjari', a Sanskrit Dictionary. Out of affection for the king, he also composed 'Shahaji Raja Charitram' or 'Shahendra Vilasam', a biography on the king.

Despite receiving so much attention from the king, Sri Ayyaval was more attracted towards contemplation of the Lord, singing his names and reading scriptures. He decided to resign from the post of the dewan, and the king, respecting his wishes, let him go. Sri Ayyaval now immersed himself completely in worshipping his Lord and singing his glory. He composed several works proclaiming the grandeur of the lord's names. Fifteen of his works are available today. (For text of these works, see works of ayyaval)

Sri Ayyaval was a contemporary of Sri Bodhendra Swamigal, who had set up his ashram at Govindapuram, close to Tiruvisalur.The two had immense mutual respect for each other. After coming into contact with Sri Ayyaval, Sri Bodhendral moved to Tiruvidaimarudur, which is much closer to Tiruvisalur. Sri Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendral met very often, and spent time in discussion of various spiritual matters, often joined by Sri Sadashiva Brahmendral, another contemporary saint.

Sri Ayyaval was firmly entrenched in deep devotion to both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. He composed the Dolaa-Navaratna-Maalikaa on Lord Krishna, in the bhaava of a mother with her little lad. He has also composed hymns like `Aartihara stotra' and 'Dayaa-Shatakam' on Lord Shiva.

Sri Ayyaval looked upon all living beings as the Lord incarnate, and never showed any feelings of discrimination towards anybody. Once, overcome by compassion, he fed the food prepared for shraaddha to a chandaala dying of hunger. Coming to know of this incident, other brahmins in the village, who were jealous of the fame and respect that Sri Ayyaval had earned, conemned him and refused to take part in the shraaddha ceremonies. Sri Ayyaval, though convinced that he had done no wrong, did not wish to disrespect the brahmins. He asked them to suggest a `praayashchitta' for his sin, and was told that a bath in the holy Ganges was the only way. Sri Ayyaval's physical health would not allow him such a long journey, and hence, he decided to invite the Ganges to where he was. He composed the 'Gangaashtakam' and devoutly prayed mother Ganga to appear and relieve him of his trouble. In response to his prayers, Ganga appeared in his well, and started flooding the streets of Tiruvisalur. The brahmins, realising their vanity and the greatness of Sri Ayyaval, prostrated before him and asked for forgiveness, requesting him to send back the Ganges, or atleast, keep her confined to his well. Sri Ayyaval then prayed to the Ganga thus –
भगीरथमनोभीष्टसिद्धये भुवनाश्रिते । ब्राह्मणानां मनःपूर्त्यै मम कूपे स्थिरा भव ॥
Ganges withdrew and stayed in the well at Sri Ayyaval's house. This incident happened on the Amavasya in Kartikai month. Even today, people come in large numbers on this auspicious day every year, and take a bath in this holy water. The 'Gangaavatarana-mahotsavam' is celebrated for ten days by the mutt every year.

Due to the efforts of Sri Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendraal, the tradition of Naama-sankeertanam was firmly established in the south. Sri Ayyaval was satisfied that he had accomplished his mission on earth. He cast his mortal frame, and merged himself with Mahalinga Swami at the Madhyarjuna shrine of Tiruvidaimarudur. His last prayer to his Lord was thus –
संसाराख्य-विशाल-नाटक-गृहे सर्वाणि रूपाण्यहो धृत्वाधोमुख-योनिकां यवनिकां निर्हृत्य निर्गत्य च ।
सर्वज्ञस्य दयापरस्य तव देवाग्रे चिरं नृत्यतः श्रान्तस्यापि ममालमित्युचित वागेवास्तु विश्राणनम् ॥

"Oh Lord! In this big stage of worldly life, I have raised the curtains, donned various roles, and have been dancing before you for long. Oh Omnicient Compassionate Lord! I am tired now, and may your words, saying 'Enough', be my rest."

Sri Ayyaval is looked upon as an incarnation of Lord Parameshwara himself, who appeared on the earth in this Kaliyuga to guide poor mortals suffering in bhava-bandhana and show them the easiest past to salvation – singing the glory of the Lord. Indeed, Sri Shuka says in Srimadbhaagavatam, that this is the greatest good quality of Kali – that it is possible to attain salvation simply by singing names of the Lord.
कलेर्दोषनिधे राजन् अस्ति ह्येको महान् गुणः । कीर्तनादेव कृष्णस्य मुक्तबन्धः परं व्रजेत् ॥

Anecdotes from Sri Ayyaval's life
Songs and shlokas in praise of Sri Ayyaval