In our Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya every Ekadasi (the 11th day of bright & black fortnight) has a special name. Accordingly during the Krittika month, the Ekadasi during the bright fortnight is called Kaishika Ekadasi (today some use the term Koushika Ekadasi, which is wrong; Sage Vishwamitra has nothing to do with this Ekadasi). Kaishika is a raga in music. How is this raga related with this Ekadasi will become clear in the course of this article!
Sri Varaha Puranam has this episode in its body. Once upon a time the earth got submerged in water. Lord Sriman Narayana assumed the garb of a wild boar and without hesitation entered the muddy water and brought out the earth from the deluge. Sri Bhoomi Piratti, who is the presiding deity, was very much upset by this tragic event. She was consoled and comforted by Lord Sriman Narayana, keeping Her on His lap. At that time she was very much worried about Her children on the earth. Their sufferings gave Her great sorrow and she desired to know a means (Upaya) for their deliverance from the worldly bondage. The Lord narrated the episode that took place in the village Thirukkurungudi near Thirunelveli in South India and assured Her that the sole means of salvation is singing His glory (Gana Rupa Upayam).
The story is as follows: Once there lived a man at Thirukkurungudi. He was fondly called Nampaduvan” (We do not know his Original name). He was born in a Chandala family who were known for their merciless nature and activities. But quite contrary to his family behavior he was very pious and deeply devoted to Lord Sriman Narayana. He used to fast during every Ekadasi day. Getting up very early in the morning on the next day he used to go to the vicinity of the temple with his veena in his hands and remaining at a distance from the temple as per the prescription of the shastras he used to sing songs in praise of the Lord going around the temple.
Once during the month of Krittika on a bright fortnight Dwadasi i.e the 12th day, he went to the temple early in the morning as usual. On the way he was met by a Brahma Rakshasa who was very hungry and who therefore expressed his desire to eat him up. Nampaduvan was very happy to offer his body for the food of Brahma Rakshasa. That was because his suffering in this world would come to an end and he would reach the abode of the Lord. But he prayed to the Brahma Rakshasa to spare some time so that he may go to the temple and sing the songs and return. But the Rakshasa was not ready to grant his request, as he would never return having made this false excuse. But Nampaduvan made 18 oaths to the effect that he would certainly return.
- If I do not return as per my promise let me get the sin of a man who is a liar.
- Let me get the sin of a person who commits adultery, if I don’t return.
- While eating in the company of a person if a man differentiates in menu (i.e. serving inferior or less quantity of food to the guest), he gets a great sin (Papam). Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- If a man donates a piece of an earth to a Brahmin and takes it back after some time he will certainly accrue sin. Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- If a man enjoys the company of a woman during her youthful age and subsequently rejects her when she becomes old he is sure to get sin. Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- Having performed ablution rite (Tharpanam) on Amavasya day and then recourse (physical relationship) to his wife the same day, he will entertain great sin. Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- Having dined delicious dishes in the house of a host and then if a person showers heaps of abuse on his host, he is sure to meet with great sin. Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- A man makes a solemn promise that he would give away his young daughter in marriage to a youth but later on breaks his promise, which would entertain sin. Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- A man is prohibited from eating without taking bath on Shashti (the sixth day of both fortnight), Ashtami (the eighth day), Chaturdashi (the fourteenth day) and Amavasya (the fifteenth day of bright fortnight). Let me get that sin, if I don’t return.
- A man promises to donate something to another man but he doesn’t keep up his promise. Let me get the sin of breach of promise if I fail to come back.
- If a person tries to allure the wife of a friend who has helped him in manifold ways, he is sure of reaching hell. I will get that sin, if I fail to return.
- If a person, afflicted by lust, enjoys the company of his revered teacher’s wife who is responsible for his salvation; and so also the company of the wife of a king who endows all worldly pleasure to him – he will be the worst sinner. I will suffer that sin by not keeping up my promise.
- A man marries two girls without being impartial to both of them. If he evinces greater pleasure in the company of one rejecting the other, he is sure to accrue very great sin. Let me get that sin, if I don’t keep up my promise.
- If a man divorces his wife who is very chaste and has no one to care for her, he will become a sinner. Let me be equated to him for not returning.
- If a man causes obstruction to the cattle that are afflicted very much by thirst to drink water, he will get a sin. Let me also get that sin by breaking your faith in me.
- Killing a Brahmin, addiction to liquor, stealing gold, breaking a vow are considered to be heinous crimes. Severe punishments are prescribed for a sinner, who commits all these crimes. Let me suffer all these punishments in case I fail to get back to you.
- If some people worship only other deities and not Sri Vasudeva who is easily accessible to His votaries and is Omnipresent, they will get a great sin. Let me get that sin, if I do not return.
- Sriman Narayana is the supreme deity. He is the inner soul for all created beings, both sentient and insentient. He is worshipped by all karmas (i.e. by all holy rites prescribed by the Shastras). He is to be meditated by all who are desirous of liberation. He alone has the ability to grant salvation. He is to be reached by all the liberated souls. Having understood the supreme qualities of the Lord, if a man equates Him to all other angels who are bound by karma, He will be born in this world again and again. Let me get that sin by breach of this promise.
All these promises did not convince or satisfy the Brahma Rakshasa, but the 18th one totally convinced him about the certainty of Nampaduvan’s return. We therefore have to understand that the last sin is the greatest sin of all sins. Hence it is to be meticulously avoided.
The Brahma Rakshas became pleased by all these promises and saluted Nampaduvan and bade him farewell so that he may fulfill his vow and come back to him.
Accordingly Nampaduvan went to the neighborhood of the temple and sang the songs as usual. Afterwards the day dawned. Having completed the vow pertaining to Ekadasi (i.e. spending sleepless night) Nampaduvan surrendered to the Lord. With great speed, he returned to the Rakshas as his heart was filled up with pleasure owing to his desertion of his body, which was inimical to his attaining salvation.
On his way a person met him. That man questioned him “Hello, where are you going with such speed?” Nampaduvan replied him in a sweet manner – “I am going to Brahma Rakshas. If I don’t find him where I met him before, and departed having made several promises, I will go in search of him and offer my body as food for him.”
That man desired to test his mind on hearing his steadfast resolve. He said “There stands a Rakshasa by birth. He is not righteous minded like Vibeeshana, but a worst criminal. You cannot escape from his cruel clutches, as he is a cannibal. Don’t go to that strong devil.” Though exhorted by that man, Nampaduvan refused to listen to him and was very adamant in keeping up his promise. That stranger, who obstructed him and advised him, was none other than Sri Varaha (the Lord Himself). Nampaduvan found Brahma Rakshas at the same place and offered his body as a carcass (meat) for him, but the Rakshas, remembering his previous birth did not accept it. He narrated his previous life history. He was a Brahmin by name Somasarma in his former birth. While performing a sacrifice, he committed all sorts of blunder, as he was niggardly. Moreover a fatal disease in the course of performing sacrifice afflicted him. The result was his birth as Brahma Rakshasa.
Having given a detailed account of his previous life the Rakshasa knelt before Nampaduvan to grant him the merit of all these songs that he sang in praise of the Lord for a long time but the songster refused sternly. Finally being moved by pity he granted him the merit (Punya) of one song, which he sang that day morning which was in the raga named “Kaishika”. The Brahma Rakshas was relieved of his bond. Later he was born in a family of Vaishnava and at the end of the birth he reached Vaikunta.
This is the story narrated by Sri Varaha Perumal to Sri Bhoomi Devi. The whole episode as found in “Sri Varaha Puranam”, is taken up by Sri Parasara Bhattar for an elaborate commentary in Tamil. Every year the whole episode with all Sanskrit shlokas and commentary of Sri Bhattar is read out in all the Vishnu temples especially at Thirukkurungudi where the event actually took place. This is enacted on the stage even today. Those who take part in the festival or who hear the episode will be rid of their sins. Hence I gave this story in an abridged version.
What do we understand from this episode? Somasarma though a Brahmin became a Rakshasa, but Nampaduvan though a Chandala was able to expiate him of all his sins. Hence caste is not a criterion for us to salute a person. His deep devotion to the Lord, knowledge of the Lord and a total renunciation of all worldly pleasures are very important criteria. The caste is physical. It does not belong to the soul. Hence Nampaduvan was elevated to the highest order. In case of such holy men of that high order, consideration of the caste is an offence. They are equal to Nithyasooris. Hence our Acharyas equate Nampaduvan with Vishwamitra, Sri Vishnuchitta and ThondarAdiPodi Azhwar, all of whom sang divine songs in order to wake up the Lord (Thiruppalliyezhuchchi). The Lord (Sri Varaha) also showered on him love and affection and called him Nampaduvan (My Singer). Let us therefore be very careful in not committing Bhaagavata Apachara. This is what we learn from Kaishika Puranam.