King Kulasekhara & The Alwars and Nayanmars

by Aranyakananda

mabhir manda-mano vicintya bahudha yamis ciram yatana
naivami prabhavanti papa-ripavah svami nanu sridharah
alasyam vyapaniya bhakti-sulabham dhyayasva narayanam
lokasya vyasanapanodana-karo dasasya kim na kshamah

O foolish mind, stop your fearful fretting about the extensive torments dealt out by Yamaraja. How can your enemies, the sinful reactions you have accrued, even touch you? After all, is your master not the Supreme Lord, the husband of goddess Sri? Cast aside all hesitation and concentrate your thoughts on Lord Narayana, whom one very easily attains through devotional service. What can that dispeller of the whole world’s troubles not do for His own servant?

– from “Mukundamala” by Kulasekhara

Kulasekhara was a ninth-century Indian king who became a saint. He was one of a lineage of 12 Alwars, Sri Vaishnava bhakti saints (devotees of Narayana), beginning in the 7th Century A.D. of the Gregorian Calendar. The Alwars all appeared in various places in southern India.

They formed the basis of the four Vaishnava Sampradayas (main traditions) today. They seem to be most notably associated with Sri Vaishnavism and the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and later ISKCON. The Alwars are said to have come to restore the Vedic Dharma laid out by Bhagavan Krishna in the Gita. They were not Avatars of Vishnu, though one, called Goda, a female, is considered an incarnation of Maa Lakshmi Devi.

Kulaksekhara was a king of Chera Nadu from A.D. 800-820.
Like Janaka he became enlightened.
Like Buddha, he eventually renounced his Kingdom and all of its trappings, becoming a sannayasi.

He apparently became conscious of the lives he had caused to be taken as a conquering king, experienced a heavy burdensome guilt, and could no longer bear it. He devoted himself to Rama. The most famous anecdote about Kulasekhara as a devotee took place before he renounced his kingdom, and goes thusly:

One day a yogi was giving a talk in the temple explaining the Ramayana. He was telling the story of Rama being surrounded by demons in the forest. Kulasekhara was in such devotional rapture during the telling of the story that he ordered his army out to protect Rama. Luckily the yogi finished the story, assuring Kulasekhara that Rama was unharmed.

If this story sounds like more than a shade of Caligula to you, then you probably are not alone. Debate goes on about what appears to be “saintly insanity” amongst bhakti saints. But the King’s concern for Rama is also seen as an expression of Kulasekhara’s being able to expand his consciousness to experience Rama’s pain as though it were his very own.

Kulasekhara and other Alwars would write stunning devotional music and poetry devoted to Vishnu in the forms of Narayana, Krishna, Rama, and to Maa Lakshmi Devi.

The Shaivite tradition has a similar lineage of saintly devotees, all in the Tamil Nadu region of Southern India. There were 63 Nayanmars, saints devoted to Shiva. The thing about the Nayanmars is that their devotion was decidedly more in the karma yoga vein rather than bhakti. The Nayanmars notably maintained the lifestyle/caste they were born into. For example they were shoemakers, farmers, potters, etc., but none of them renounced these vocations.

I wrote above that the 12 Alwars became the forefathers of the 4 Vaishnava Sampradayas. I don’t know that these 63 inspired directly the different types of Shaivism. But I do know that bhakti tends to be a Vaishnav path while many of the Shaivites that I have encountered have been primarily Karma yogis or Jnana yogis. With the understanding that a well-lived life incorporates all three, of course, the lives of these 75 sainty men and women give us a peak at how Hinduism as we know it today was informed 12-14 centuries ago.

Jai Sri Sathyanarayana Aum!

This entry was posted in American Hindus, avatars, Avatars of Shiva, Avatars of Vishnu, bhakti, Bhaktivedanta, biography, Buddha, devotional music, dharma, Dharmic Faiths, Divine Consciousness, Eastern Philosophy, faith, Gita, God, Hare Krishna, Hindu Sects, Hinduism, hippies, History, India, Indian classical music, Indian culture, inspiration, ISKCON, japa, jnana yoga, karma, karma yoga, Krishna, Krishna Consciousness, Lakshmi, Lord Rama, lyrics, mala, meditation, music, myth, Narayana, poetry, Prabhupada, quotes, Radha, Rama, Ramayana, religion, religious conversion, Sanatana Dharma, Shaivism, Shiva, Sita, social commentary, spirituality, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Trimurti, Vaishnavism, Vedanta, Vedas, Vishnu, Western Hinduism, White Hindus and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to King Kulasekhara & The Alwars and Nayanmars

  1. Br. Jay says:

    Fascinating information. I too have noticed the Vaishnavas tend to go towards bhakti. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Pingback: No Words | Sthapati

  3. Pingback: Bhakti-yoga |

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