A moving saga of one of the chief saints of the Sri Vaisnava tradition.
Maharaja Kulasekhara was one of the greatest saints of South India. He was born to a king named Maharaja Drdhavrata who lived in Kerala and belonged to the Chera dynasty. For a long time Maharaja Drdhavrata remained childless. So he worshiped and prayed to Lord Narayana for a child, begging that his child must be a devotee. Finally, he got a son, whom he named Kulasekhara. Drdhavrata Maharaja trained him in the arts of government, war, and also the Vedic literatures. When Kulasekhara came of age, Drdhavrata installed him as the king, and himself accepted Vanaprastha and entered into the forest.
King Kulasekhara, following the tradition of his fore-fathers, everyday would personally read a report of the kingdom, before the Deity of Ananta Padmanabha, the prominent Visnu Deity of Trivandrum. In fact the whole dynasty believed with complete conviction that it was Ananta Padmanabha who was the real king, and any one who was serving in kingly role was only a trusted representative of the Lord. Kulasekhara ruled in that spirit and he ruled well. He subjugated all of his enemies. He kept in a submissive state all the minor kings who were serving under his sovereignty, and he was also very fair and very charitable. He treated everyone with great respect and, therefore, he had the love and affection of his entire kingdom.
He was a perfect ruler materially, but spiritually he was blind. He was thinking himself to be independent due to forgetfulness of his real relationship with God as His eternal servant. He lived in this way for years, but by the grace of God a transformation took place. He began to see the emptiness and futility of materialism. He could see that arrogance and conceit were practically inseparable from every person. He saw it in others and he could see it in himself and he felt that this type of arrogance was a chronic disease, disgusting, and distasteful. Simultaneously a sense of the beauty of spiritual life and wonders of God and His incarnations was growing in his heart. So Lord Narayana sent Visvaksena, His commander-in-chief, to Kulasekhara to initiate him into Vaisnavism.
As he began to hear the scriptures, Kulasekhara came to the conclusion that in the present world men were simply thieves of their bodies, which are nothing but dead corpses. Srila Prabhupada in that spirit writes in , Srimad-Bhagavatam: "Everyone is a dead body flapping only for a few days, and yet all the energy of human life is being wasted in the decoration of this dead body." Kulasekhara was thinking, "People are so much attached to this dead corpse, relishing sensual pleasures in life, and these joys alienate them from their relationship with God. To associate with people absorbed in material affairs is like standing at the gallows and strangling oneself with a strong rope. To take pleasures in the great royalty sitting on an elephant wearing a crown is like immersing oneself in the midst of a blazing fire. I do not want a crown on my head that is given by other men, the only real crown I want on my head are the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore, let me follow in the foot-steps of Vibhisana and renounce this kingdom, renounce this family, renounce this whole world, and , go to Srirangam."
He was obsessed with the idea of giving up everything he had and live in , Srirangam. He wrote prayers depicting this mood and everyone around him heard him speak about taking shelter of , Srirangam, where the Supreme Personality of Godhead was residing. But at the same time he had his duties as a king. So to pacify his heart he began inviting sadhus into his palace. These sadhus
were the Vainavas of the Sri sampradaya. They would read to him the Vedas, Puranas, the Itihasas and other scriptures and he would spend major portions of his days just hearing spiritual truths from the devotees. It was from these readings that he was attracted to the most priceless gem of Vedic wisdom through which he wrote the celebrated book – "Mukunda-mala-stotra", which , Srila Prabhupada and our acaryas would be very pleased to quote again and again.
LIVING THE RAMAYANA
Daily he relished with great attention and sabsorption the reading of Valmiki Ramayana. Due to the awakening of love in his heart he was not hearing Ramayana as some history that took place ages ago; he was hearing Rama's pastimes as if they were happening today. It was not his imagination; it was his love.
One day the person who was reciting Ramayan explained the passage of Lord Ramachandra in Nasika Pancavati , and the story of Surpanakha who had come to satisfy her passionate demoniac desires with Rama. The only way for her to obtain Rama was to kill Sita. When she attacked Sita, Rama shouted, "Laksmana, punish this evil woman!" Laksmana, with his sword, cut off her nose and ears.
This was a great insult. It was not just painful to her body; it was unbearably painful to her false ego. She was hysterical with anger. She went and told her brothers Khara and Dusana, "Just see! This is what that Rama has done to me. What kind of brothers are you? What kind of Raksasas are you? What kind of ksatriyas are you sitting here while I am suffering due to this disgrace? Catch him and punish him." Khara and Dusana were incited by this rebuke and they marched with fourteen thousand Raksasa soldiers against Rama. When Rama saw them coming, He told Laksmana, "You must protect Sita. I will fight with them alone." In Pancavati there still exists that underground cave where Laksmana hid Sita, and stood in front of it guarding her. Ramacandra entered into Janasthana alone. Khara and Dusana were major maharathi Raksasas with fourteen thousand well equipped warriors and Rama was alone.
When Maharaja Kulasekhara heard this he went into a frenzy of ecstatic love. "Rama is alone in the Janasthana against fourteen thousand soldiers and Laksmana is not helping Him; he is protecting Sita, it is his duty. I cannot tolerate this-I am Rama's bhakta, I am Rama's devotee, I cannot sit in this kingdom, when He is all alone against fourteen thousand Raksasas." Maharaja Kulasekhara immediately commanded his armies, "My entire army! Take all your weapons and march towards Janasthana and we will side with Rama, we will fight along with Him and we will destroy all the Raksasas." He took all his most vicious weapons and loaded them in his chariot, and he had thousands and thousands of soldiers marching behind him. They were going really fast, because it was an emergency; the fight was already going on.
His minister did not know what to think. This was the battle that had happened millions of years ago; it was in a book. But still he was the king, he had given his order, and all the soldiers were marching. It was a long way from Trivandrurm to Pancavati, Maharashtra and they were galloping faster and faster and ministers were thinking, "Our king has gone crazy, what are we going to do?" Then they sent an advance party to go ahead north of him, and meet him as he was going ahead. That party informed the king, "We have just come from Janasthana and have a brought a very good news for you. Rama has slain, single handedly, Khara, Dusana, and all the fourteen thousand Raksasas. They are dead and gone and Sita is safe."
King Kulasekharaa felt inexpressible joy and bliss and cried out, "Sita is safe and Rama is victorious! Let us go back to our city." Thus, they returned to Trivandrum.
After this incident, the minister advised the person who read Ramayana everyday, "Only read the happy parts, and do not read the dangerous and sad parts, because we do not know what our King would do next." The reader complied.
King Kulasekharaa had a temple with Deities of Sita, Rama, and Laksmana, and he would worship Them with much devotion. Every day, according to the reading of Ramayana, Lord Rama would do something great and the king would go into euphoria. He would hold festivals in the whole kingdom to celebrate what Rama had done according to the reading. He would decorate the kingdom, have wonderful celebrations and yajnas, music, and dancing, and at the end of the festival he would make a big feast for all the Vaisnavas and give profusely in charity to all the people. This happened everyday.
One day the reader was given an assignment somewhere else and so he told his son to read. But he forgot to tell his son the policy that the ministers had made. The son read the part about Ravana abducting Sita, how Ravana had killed Jatayu and then taken Sita to Lanka where he was tormenting her. Again Maharaja Kulasekhara became uncontrollably emotional in a frenzy of ecstatic love. He jumped from his seat and shouted, "Ravana! You Raksasa! I will personally march with my soldiers and annihilate your entire dynasty. You are giving pain to Sita, the worshippable Goddess of my heart, the love of my Lord Rama." He commanded his entire army to march to the sea to attack Lanka. He picked up his sword and was roaring, as he led his army forward. The minister did not know what to do; the soldiers, all they could do was obey. As Maharaja Kulasekhara marched, his eyes were angry like fire. He was crying out, "Sita! Sita! I am coming for you. I will personally bring you back and put you in the loving hands of Rama. And I will destroy that ten headed demon. That coward Raksasa Ravana! On this very day I will cut off his heads with this sword. He will die of my hands."
He just ran all the way to the sea and entered it with a sword in his hands. His ministers and soldiers did not know what to do. He was going deeper and deeper into the sea until it was up to his neck. He could not walk any further but he was committed and determined to swim to Lanka alongwith his sword, and if his soldiers did not follow him it didn't matter. He was not going to sit comfortably anywhere while Sita was tormented in the Asoka grove by Ravana. All his ministers and soldiers were staggered with disbelief, stunned. They did not know what to do; he was on the verge of death. He was swimming in the ocean with the sword above his head. His situation was critical.
King Kulasekhara had given his life, his soul, everything to Lord Ramacandra. He worshipped Him with love. The Lord always protects His devotee. Now there was no one else to save him. Suddenly, king Kulasekhara saw Lord Rama and Sita coming from the direction of Lanka towards him. Lord Rama called out to him in a very joyous voice, "The war has ended. I have just killed Ravana and have destroyed the entire Raksasa dynasty. I have coronated my own devotee Vibhisana as the king of Lanka. And I am reunited with Sita. See, She is holding my hand. My dear Kulasekhara, it was because of your prayers that I was victorious. So, there is no need to go anymore, the war is over."
Kulasekhara however, at that point was very deep in the water. Lord Rama personally lifted him up with His own arms and brought him to the shore, just as He lifts His devotee from the ocean of birth and death and brings him to the shore of His eternal abode.
A PLOT AGAINST THE VAISNAVAS
The ministers meanwhile, did not know what to do with their king. In their eyes he had gone mad. They considered that he had a mental disease and the cause of the disease was his association with the Vaisnavas. The major highlight of his life was inviting these sadhus to his palace and to be with them. He gave them every possible freedom and facility within his kingdom: they could go anywhere they wanted, could come and see him any time they wanted. If he was sitting in an important conference and he saw any Vaisnava come, he would just stop the ministers and talk harikatha with the Vaisnavas. There were hundreds all over the place and the king loved them. Even before he would worship his Deities he would first honor and serve the devotees.
"It is because of their harikatha and harikirtana," the ministers thought, "that he has become mad and crazy. We have to do something. But at the same time, if it wasn't for the Vaisnavas, the king would definitely leave the kingdom and , go to Srirangam. The only thing that pacifies him to stay in this kingdom is the Vaisnavas. What to do? If vaishnvas leave we loose our king, and if Vaisnavas stay our king is just mad after Rama and doesn't think of anything else." The ministers considered that the kingdom was in emergency situation. They assembled together and made a plot. "The only way to salvage our king is that we must break his faith in the Vaisnavas. If we break his faith in Vaisnavas, it will also break his faith in going to Srirangam, because that is what Srirangam is all about – living with Vaisnavas.
According to the plan the ministers stole a beautiful, costly, bejeweled necklace made out of priceless jewels, that decorated the king's worshippable Deity every day. Then they told the king, "Your Lordship! The Deity's jewellery has been stolen. We have made detailed investigations and have found that it is the Vaisnavas who have done it. They are the ones who dress the Deities and have access to the Their treasury; there is no one else who could have done it. We caught them red handed and therefore we are going to arrest and punish them."
When King Kulasekhara heard them speak like that he became extremely enthusiastic to state what he felt in his heart. In a loud voice thundering with emotions he said, "A lover of God is incapable of stealing from the Deity. This is simply impossible. It's impossible for a great devotee to even think of sinful things what to speak of acting that way. These are holy men; these are people who have given their heart and their lives in service to God. They are living by the holiest virtues. I swear, I swear by their innocence and just to show you my conviction," he called one of his assistants, "bring me one vessel with a venomous cobra inside." They brought him a pot with a deadly cobra. He said, "Now I will stick my arm at this very moment, and I declare: If the Vaisnavas are innocent there is no possible way that the cobra can cause any harm to my body, and I swear, if they are guilty the cobra with the venomous fangs will bite me and I will die." Before he finished these words he plunged his arm in to the vessel with the deadly cobra. Some moments later, he took his arm out, unharmed, and said, "The lovers of God will never sin in this way. They are innocent." This was a very dramatic expression of his faith. His ministers bowed their head at his feet and admitted their guilt. They were very afraid and were trembling after seeing what the king had done. They admitted, "It was our plot. We wanted you to get rid of these Vaisnavas. Now we beg forgiveness." King Kulasekhara was a devotee of Lord Rama and he really followed the footsteps of his Lord. Just as Lord Rama forgave the crow who bit Sita's body and made Her bleed, similarly, King Kulasekhara forgave his ministers.
THE KING RETIRES
After this incidence he was thinking, "No more shall I live with these vile scheming ministers. What to speak of these ministers, this whole world of materialistic people is making me so weary. I would rather live in a blazing fire than be amongst men and women who have turned against God."
King Kulasekhara then installed his son as the king, and he left behind his kingdom just like Bharat Maharaja. He left behind all of his fame and all of his prestige, like a person leaves behind stool on the ground. Then he went to his cherished destination, Srirangam, and it was here that he spent the rest of his life. The king also brought his daughter with him and married her to Lord Ranganatha, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.(Kulasekhara's daughter is considered a portion of Nila devi, one of the Lord's energies.) For the rest of his life he engaged in pure devotional service to Lord Ranganatha and His devotees. With great love sometimes he went on pilgrimages to Tirupati, Kanchipuram, Ayodhya, Chitrakuta, but his life and soul was Lord Ranganatha. And to this day King Kulasekhara remains one of the greatest inspirations for all Vaisnavas from all the four sampradayas.
Let us bow our heads at the feet of this great soul and pray to obtain even a trace of his devotion to the Lord. All Glories to King Kulasekhara.
Based on an original article by Syamasundar Dasa, with inputs from Nityananda Dasa.