May 2018

If you cannot do great things yourself, remember that you may do small things in a great way. – Chinmaya

All cannot do great things. To do great things we need great talents or abilities, power or position, influence or contacts, strength or intelligence. Only a very rare few are blessed with even one of these.

But all of us can do small things in a ‘great way.’

When even the most insignificant things are done with great love, care and attention, with a selfless attitude, as a worship of the Lord, then that way of doing things is called ‘great way.’

Bruhadeeshwara Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva located in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu). It is one of the largest South Indian temples and an exemplary evidence of the greatness of ancient Hindu architecture. Built by Raja Raja Chola I, the temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the major tourist attractions in South India. It stands today as a monument of the prowess as well as the devotion of Chola monarchs.

Raja Raja was a mighty emperor who ruled during 985 – 1014 AD. The whole South India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were under his sway. He had a large fleet and the whole of modern Malaysia and Indonesia and parts of Burma were being ruled by him. Even at the heights of such power and glory, he held himself humble before the Lord.

The temple construction began by 1003 AD and was finished and consecrated by about 1009 AD. There is an interesting story connected with this temple.

Alagi was an old woman of the city, a very pious, meek and humble devotee of the Lord. She considered herself too low to receive any favour or blessings from the Lord. She loved all fellow beings with sincere warmth and affection. She considered all human beings as manifest forms of God on earth and so she never hesitated to perform little acts of service and help to men, particularly the saintly men.

She knew that the King was building a mighty temple to the Lord. Every day she would go to the temple site and watch the sculptors, masons, carpenters and engineers employed in the construction work. She envied their services and wanted to be of some help in their work. But on account of her old age, they could not employ her. Her devout mind was always seeking some way in which she could be useful in God’s work. Her love for her fellow beings showed her a way.

She had been visiting the construction site quite often and she noticed that the workers were feeling very thirsty and tired during the hot midday hour. She planned to help them at this hour. She took a few pots of buttermilk spiced with ginger, mustard, curry-leaves etc., went to the workers at their work spot and gave each enough cups of cool and refreshing buttermilk. This was very welcoming to them. They were thankful to her for her thoughtful service. The cool drink refreshed them and they were able to continue their work for their remaining part of the day without feeling exhausted.

She was doing this service for a long time. Finally, the finishing stage of construction work was reached. The vimana – a magnificent tower on the central shrine, 216 feet high – was nearing completion.

One day she approached the sculptors and said, “Brothers! I have a small request to make to you. Can you kindly comply with the request of this old woman?” She asked them. The sculptors and masons were all very grateful to her for the kindness she had been showing them for several years and so naturally they would willingly concede any request made by her. So their foreman said, “Grandma, you have only to say your wish. We shall all carry it out with pleasure.”

She said, “I have a large piece of granite stone in my courtyard. I have no use for it. I believe that it can easily serve as the coping stone for the central tower of the temple. You see, I also wish to serve the Lord. Can you bring that stone and use it for the coping? I shall then be satisfied.”

“We shall have it done this day,” said he. He went to her house with a band of workers, found the stone to be quite adequate for the purpose, brought it to the temple, chiselled it and in due time mounted it on the top of the tower.

The construction work was finally finished and the King’s priests fixed an auspicious day for the consecration of the temple. The King, as usual, inspected the work the day before and was feeling happy that the work of building such a majestic temple for Lord Shiva was after all over. He was naturally proud that he was chosen by God as the instrument for such great work. The temple had by then come to be known as the Great Temple.    

Finding everything in order, he gave the necessary last-minute instructions to his ministers for the consecration ceremony the next day and returned to his palace.

During the night, he had the vision of Lord Shiva (Bruhadeeshwara – the Great Lord) in his dream. The Lord said, “O King! I am happy to dwell in the shelter provided by the old woman Alagi in the Great Temple.”

King Raja Raja woke up. He could scarce believe his ears. The Great Lord dwelling in the shelter of the old woman? Had he not built the Great Temple? The conception of the temple, the whole plan, pooling of all resources – human and material, its execution and finish – it was all his and nobody else’s.  No old woman had any hand in it.

But the Lord Himself said so! So it must be true.

In all humility, the King went to the temple and tried to seek out an old woman who had some part to play in the building of the temple. But there seemed to be no such woman. He set his ministers to the task of finding the old woman, whoever she was.

After an elaborate enquiry, they learnt her story. Then they told him that Alagi, an old woman, used to go about among the workers distributing cool buttermilk to them during the hot hours of the day all the several years of the construction work.

At once the King realised that this little service of hers had pleased the Lord so much as to make Him say that she afforded Him shelter!

With folded hands, he sought her out in her little hut, brought her to the temple, honoured her before the public and only then proceeded with consecration ceremonies.

Alagi, humble as usual, bowed before the Lord for the recognition given to her humble and insignificant service and passed the remaining part of her days in the service of God and God’s servants.

People were wonderstruck when they realised how dear the Lord considered her little service. They celebrated her devotion with folklore and legend. The place where she has been living came to be known as the ‘Alagi Gardens’ and the small tank in front of the hut came to be known as ‘Alagi Tank.’ (The site which housed her hut in the 11th century now houses the city municipal office in the 20th century.)

When the Lord of our heart is pleased, then we have done our small things in a great way. The small squirrel with its humble service while building the bridge could win the love and affection of Lord Rama. Sudama won the heart of Lord Krishna with a mere pouch of beaten rice.

In Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says:

 पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं यो मे भक्त्या प्रयच्छति । तदहं भक्त्युपहृतं अश्नामि प्रयतात्मन: ||
(I accept even a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or even mere water when it is offered with devotion.)

What touches the heart of the Lord is not what we do or how much we do, but the devotion with which we do. He is touched not by the mighty magnitude we venture, but the unassuming attitude we nurture.

Hence let us focus on ‘great ways,’ not on great things.

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Posted in: Chintana

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