How Lord Balaji is still paying interest to Lord Kubera for the loan that he took for his wedding is known to us very well. This legend is about how Lord Balaji still owes money to an old woman for eating the ‘sundal’ (spicy cooked pulses) lovingly prepared by her and sold to him. Though this story is not widely known, it has been narrated from one generation to another. It shows that true devotion will always win the affection of the Almighty.
Several years ago, close to Tirupati, there was a town called - Chandragiri. In this town, there was a tiny hamlet called as Mangapuram. An old lady called Gangammal lived in this village. Gangamma had no one whom she could call as her close relatives. As she had no one to support her, Gangamma earned her livelihood by selling sundal. She had lost the will to live. She was living life in a desultory manner as she had nothing to look forward to. Age had caught up with her. She ate very little.
She was constantly muttering to God - "Oh God, you have made me live this life of an orphaned woman. I have nothing to look forward to in life. Why don't you call me so that I can be rid of this useless life? Have I become such a destitute that even you do not want me? Or is that my duties are still not over? Oh, God, why have you kept me in this pitiable condition? She kept on praying to God day in and day out. She felt a huge inertia overcoming her when she thought of taking care of herself in our old age with no support. But an individual's life and death is not in his/her hands. Everything is pre-ordained, isn't it?
She started becoming frustrated as days passed by. Then one day she saw a troupe that was proceeding to Tirumala. She asked them , " Gents, where are you going? Who is the Lord that you are looking forward to have a darshan of? Why are you undertaking this yatra? Who is the Lord who resides behind those 7 hills? What is the benefit of visiting his shrine?". Some members of the troupe were irritated with the old woman's ignorance. But one member patiently answered her queries. " Mother, Lord Venkateshwara resides in this temple. He is Lord Krishna , he is Lord Balaji whose complexion mesmerised the Gopikas. He is Lotus eyed that is filled with compassion for his devotees. He has all the weapons in his hands to decimate evil. He is someone who has given place in his heart for Sri Lakshmi to reside. He is the protector of all the three worlds. He is our jeev-adhar (life support)".
When the old woman heard this, she replied, " Yes, I have heard this. But Lord Vishnu is supposed to reside in Vaikunta. What is the reason that he is now based in Tirumala?"
The leader of the group who was also a hermit replied, "Mother, Lord Balaji is in tirumala to protect his devotees in kalyug. There are certain things that are inscrutable to ordinary mortals". Gangamma replied, " I am surprised with your assertion. But give me an indication that Lord is living in these hills. I am illiterate. I am unable to understand this. This is the reason I am asking you this question. Please forgive me for asking you these stupid questions".
The hermit was touched by Gangamma's innocence.
(to be continued)
The hermit replied calmly - " This is easy. There are many saints and hermits who are doing penance in these hills. They are doing penance only to attain salvation and become one with God. Even famous kings leave everything and come to Tirumala to meditate and seek Lord Balaji's grace. Unknown to the human eyes, even the rishis from deva-loka do visit Tirumala. Tirumala is a holy place. Your sins will be washed off here if you surrender at the Lotus feet of Lord Naryana.
If you go to Tirumala, you can see the hermits and saints. If you are still not convinced, look at the number of pilgrims who visit Tirumala every day. They are coming in droves, taking bath in Swami Pushkarini and have a darshan of Lord Venkateshwara.What is it that brings them here? Faith. It is the Lord's divine power that is attracting everyone like a magnet".
Gangamma was thrilled to bits. She exclaimed, " Lord, please take me along with you. I do not have anyone to call my own. I am an unnecessary burden on this earth. I am tired of seeing this cycle of life and death. I am no longer lured by this physical being of mine. I have only one desire left. To serve the Lord. To serve Lord Venkateswara. I wish to attain salvation. I have heard that the only way to attain this is to have a darshan of the Lord. But I wasn't aware about the road to achieve this goal. Don't think that this stupid old woman is blabbering something. Please show me the way, my Lord." so concluded Gangamma.
The hermit was shocked. Some of the troupe members looked condescendingly at Gangamma thinking how greedy this old and destitute woman is. Some people laughed at her. Some people made fun of her. But the hermit silenced them. He told the woman, " Mother, your desire is legitimate. But I do not know how you can see God. May be the saintly souls in the hills who are meditating upon the Lord can guide you. But many of them do not speak. They are completely engrossed in their meditation. In case they have pity on you, they may guide you. But I cannot assure you anything."
Gangamma's mind took a resolve. " Lord, I am an orphan. What difference it makes if I live or die? I don't have any great ambitions in life. Neither do I have a strong desire to lead a long life. I will go to the Tirumala hills and serve the saints. I will continue to serve them till I live. If they feel any sort of compassion towards me, let them do the needful and guide me. Or else I believe that the good karmas of mine in this birth will help me in my next birth." So saying Gangamma left her abode with whatever little she had and proceeded to Tirumala.
During those days (two hundred years ago), the roads were not good. There was no transportation facility at all. Devotees walked to Tirumala. They took breaks in between staying in traveller's homes or the homes of good samaritans.
During the journey, Gangamma did not open her mouth at all. She did not complain. She did not feel any sense of fatigue. Determination characterised her walk to the hills. She did not feel hungry and neither did she feel sleepy. When she reached Tirumala, she found a sense of serenity and calm pervading her. On the hills, near the forests, she first visited the ashrams of saints who lived there in close proximity. Within no time, Gangamma created a small hut for herself.
From then on, Gangamma started serving the saints and the hermits selflessly. She got up early in the morning and cleaned all the ashrams. When the hermits woke up, they were surprised to note that someone had broomed their premises to keep them spick and span. Then after finishing these chores, Gangamma went to her hut and prepared cooked pulses. After partaking some, she took the balance for sale. The meagre earnings that she received every day was used by her for cooking her dinner. Then in the evenings she would visit the ashrams again and continue with the small errands even when no one asked her.
This continued for several days and years. 12 years had passed by. The hermits saw Gangamma's selfless service day in and day out. They whole-heartedly accepted her service. They blessed her. But nothing happened beyond that. Neither did Gangamma expect a quid-pro-quo by going and explaining to them the reasons for her self less service.
But what has to happen will happen. Even if Gangamma did not ask them, the hermits began thinking about this. One day the hermits decided to perform a yagna to propitiate the Lord. They saw the old woman doing her chore as usual. One of them said, " This woman has been doing service to us for so long . We have no clue who she is. But she is seeking something from us. Let us speak to her and find out. Her patience and humility deserve reciprocation from our end. Her resolve is commendable, so is her devotion. Whatever be her request, we should help this old woman. It is our duty."
What happened next?
(to be continued)
Part - 3
When the hermits asked what was that that Gangamma wanted, Gangamma prostrated before them. In all humility, she beseeched them to help her. She pleaded with them, " Oh, revered gurus and learned scholars, I am an orphan and I do not have anyone to call me as my own. Even if I die, I am not sure whether I will get a decent funeral. Please help this destitute woman attain moksha. Let me have a darshan of Lord Srinivasa. Please tell me when and where can I meet him."
The hermits, on hearing this, were dumb-founded. Their thoughts ran in this direction - " We have been meditating on the Lord for so many years - the luck that does not favor us, the piety that has still not favored us, how is it going to help this poor old woman. This woman can attain moksha if she can meet god and offer him something to eat. But is it possible?"
After thinking for a while, an elderly hermit told Gangamma, " Mother, your desire is legitimate. Your love for Lord Balaji is so pure. Some distance away from this place you can see a snake-hill. This snake-hill is located just below the tamarind tree in that area. But we are not so fortunate. We have not been able to seek his grace by meeting him directly. But who knows? You may be lucky. But you can never say. Lord's wonders are always inscrutable. You cannot predict them and neither can we. His maya is unique. What you do - you prepare the cooked pulses and wait near the tamarind tree. The moment the Lord comes out of the snake hill, you go and offer your pulses. Don't leave him. Insist that he must have your cooked pulses. If he partakes your offering, you will attain moksha at the earliest".
Gangamma bowed before the revered hermits and took leave of them assuring them that she would follow their instructions religiously. So innocent was the old woman that the next day she woke up early and finished all the chores in the ashrams. She then rushed to a nearby waterfall, took bath and came home and prepared the cooked pulses. Then she took the pulses along with her and walked to the lake (that is now called Swami Pushkarini).
On the banks of the lake was the tamarind tree and nearby the snake hill. She waited near the place. She muttered to herself Lord I shall not have food today unless and until you have these pulses. She waited for Lord Balaji to emerge from the snake hill. The Lord knows everything - what his devotees are upto. The old woman's resolve and determination was an indication that it was time for her good deeds to bear fruit. What else could explain her fortitude.
Sometime later the Lord emerged from the snake hill and taking the guise of an old man started walking . He pretended as if he had not seen the woman. On seeing him the old woman rushed to him. " Lord you are looking famished and tired. This poor woman has only this cooked pulses. Please partake them." The old man ate a small portion of the pulses. It was so tasty that he kept on asking for more. The woman kept on offering him the pulses even as the old man continued to munch them. Then he said " My hunger is satiated . Let me take your leave."
The old woman ran behind him asking him for money but the old man said he did not have any. The woman started screaming. Oh Lord is this justified? Can you buy anything for free in this world ? The old man said that she should have told him in advance. Nevertheless he agreed to pay her the day after.
The old woman agreed to offer him cooked pulses the next day also and the old man agreed to settle her dues. This continued for a few days. The Lord could not service the debt that he had incurred by partaking the cooked pulses that were so lovingly prepared by the old woman. Eventually the Lord ensured that the old woman attained moksha. Even now whenever the Lord is taken in procession in this area there is aa custom of the Lord hiding for sometime before continuing with the journey. This is to show to the world that the Lord had not paid the dues to the old woman who also happened to be his staunch devotee. The God's playful tactics may be beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. This legend proves that if you surrender at the lotus feet of Lord Srinivasa rest assured that he will take care of you and alleviate your burden.