Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra - Part 6
BY: SUN STAFF
Mahendragiri Hills, Panagudi Western Ghats
[Photo by Pasug@Flikr]
Feb 01, CANADA (SUN) A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.
Today we continue on to another of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's tirtha-yatra visits in South India, as summarized in Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya lila 9:
"Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then proceeded farther, arriving at Setubandha Ramesvara. At Sri Saila-parvata, the Lord met Lord Siva and his wife Durga in the dress of a brahmana and brahmani. From there He went to Kamakosthi-puri and later arrived at southern Mathura. A brahmana devotee of Lord Ramacandra's talked with Him. Then the Lord took His bath in the river Krtamala. On the hill known as Mahendra-saila, the Lord saw Parasurama. Then the Lord went to Setubandha and took His bath at Dhanus-tirtha."
In Madhya lila 9.198 we read further details of the Lord's visit:
durvasane raghunathe kaila darasana
mahendra-saile parasuramera kaila vandana
"At Durvasana Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple of Lord Ramacandra, and on the hill known as Mahendra-saila He saw Lord Parasurama.
"In Durvasana, or Darbhasayana, seven miles east of Ramnad, there is a temple of Lord Ramacandra overlooking the ocean. The hill known as Mahendra-saila is near Tirunelveli, and at the end of this hill is a city known as Tiruchendurd. West of Mahendra-saila is the territory of Tribankura. There is mention of Mahendra-saila in the Ramayana."
Point 'A' is Ramnad, point 'B' is Tirunelveli, and 'C' is Tiruchendur
A current map of the area described in Srila Prabhupada's purport shows that it's about 62 km. from Tirunelveli to Tiruchendur. On terrain maps it's difficult to see a running ridge of hills that go from Tirunelveli to Tiruchendur, but it's quite possible that either the place names have been moved from village to village, and that geographic elevations have simply worn down over the last 500 years. Either way, there seems to be no question about that fact that the Mahendra-saila Lord Caitanya visited was here, in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu.
Hills around Tirunelveli
In his book, The Inner Kalacakratantra by Vesna A. Wallace we read the following description of Mahendra Hill:
"Mahendrasaila is perhaps Mahendragiri, or Mahendracala, the portion of the eastern Ghats between the Godavari and Mahanadi rivers. A portion of the eastern Ghat near Ganjam is still called the Mahendra Hill. H.H. Wilson, Vol. I, p. 259, fn. 2, specifies Mahendra as the chain of hills that extends from Orissa and the northern Curcas to Gondwana near Gonjam. According to Buston (189), Mahendrasaila is in the district of Dhanyakataka, the famous site of Mahayana Buddhism." (Page 81 footnote)
Elsewhere we find mention of a Mahendrasaila in Orissa that is associated with the Ramayana, which is described as being a distance of 700 miles to Lanka, 'as the crow flies'.
When we consider Lord Balarama's travels, which also took Him to Mount Mahendra, the references to multiple manifestations of Mahendra, in Orissa and Tamil Nadu, become more intriguing:
gomatim gandakim snatva
vipasam sona aplutah
gayam gatva pitrn istva
ramam drstvabhivadya ca
pampam bhimarathim tatah
skandam drstva yayau ramah
drstvadrim venkatam prabhuh
kama-kosnim purim kancim
kaverim ca sarid-varam
yatra sannihito harih
rsabhadrim hareh ksetram
daksinam mathuram tatha
samudram setum agamat
"Lord Balarama bathed in the Gomati, Gandaki and Vipasa rivers, and also immersed Himself in the Sona. He went to Gaya, where He worshiped His forefathers, and to the mouth of the Ganges, where He performed purifying ablutions. At Mount Mahendra He saw Lord Parasurama and offered Him prayers, and then He bathed in the seven branches of the Godavari River, and also in the rivers Vena, Pampa and Bhimarathi. Then Lord Balarama met Lord Skanda and visited Sri-saila, the abode of Lord Girisa. In the southern provinces known as Dravida-desa the Supreme Lord saw the sacred Venkata Hill, as well as the cities of Kamakosni and Kanci, the exalted Kaveri River and the most holy Sri-ranga, where Lord Krsna has manifested Himself. From there He went to Rsabha Mountain, where Lord Krsna also lives, and to the southern Mathura. Then He came to Setubandha, where the most grievous sins are destroyed."
Given the fact that there is a Mahendra-saila mountain in Orissa as well as in Tamil Nadu, the question arises as to which of the two Mahendra's Lord Balarama visited. Srimad-Bhagavatam states that Balarama saw Lord Parasurama there, just as Caitanya-caritamrta (Madyha 9) states that Lord Caitanya saw Parasurama at Mahendra-saila, so one might assume they went to the same location. However, it's interesting to note the progression of holy sites described in the narration of Lord Balarama's travels.
The Gomati, Gandaki and Vipasa rivers are in North India, as is Gaya. Then Balarama went to the mouth of the Ganges, still in the north. Next He visited Mount Mahendra and saw Lord Parasurama. And next he bathed in seven branches of the Godavari River, then traveled further south. Not only is Orissa positioned between these latter two places – the mouth of the Ganges and the Godavari, but the Godavari River and its tributaries are well north of Tamil Nadu. The Godavari runs generally from west to south, traversing through Maharashtra and into the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh.
In his purport to the above Bhagavatam verse, Srila Prabhupada writes the following:
"Usually one goes to Gaya to worship deceased forefathers. But as Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti explains, although Lord Balarama’s father and grandfather were still alive, it was on His father’s order that He carefully worshiped His forefathers at Gaya. Drawing insight from the Vaisnava-tosani, the acarya further explains that although Lord Balarama was in the immediate proximity of Jagannatha Puri, He did not go there, since He wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having to worship Himself among the forms of Sri Krsna, Balabhadra and Subhadra."
Given all these indications, it does appear that Lord Balarama was at Mahendra-saila in Orissa rather than at the same Mahendra-saila Lord Caitanya visited. It that's true, than the fact that both Lord Caitanya and Balarama gave darshan to Parasurama at Mahendra is all the more inconceivable and wonderful.
In a lecture on this Bhagavatam verse given by HH Bhakti Caitanya Swami, he gives some of the details of Balarama's travels, and how they coincided with the beginning of the battle of Kurukshetra, and Balarama's reasons for not going to Puri, but instead traveling elsewhere. You can read the lecture here.
In a 2004 article by Rasananda das (ACBSP) entitled "Is Ceylon the Lanka mentioned in Ramayana?, he provides an excellent summary of the varied opinions amongst Ramayana scholars and Indologists as to the geographic location of various Ramayana events. Included there are a number of references to the possible location of the northern Mahendra. Rasananda prabhu also discusses the fact that Lord Balarama may have visited a different Mahendra than Lord Caitanya.
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