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Dr Tangirala Simhadri Sastry
Magazine : Mother of All
Language : English
Volume Number : 10
Month : January
Issue Number : 1
Year : 2011

Serpent in the Hindu religious practices or mythology or folklore occupies a coveted place and is even worshiped in most regions of India. If we consider a serpent as’ Purusha’, the power or Shakti within the serpent can be taken to be ‘Prakriti’. It is known that in the spiritual path of Hatha Yoga, the ‘Kundalini’ is symbolically compared to a coiled serpent and when the ‘Kundalini’ is awakened, the coiled serpent is believed to unwind itself with ferocious power, the Kundalini shakti. The sadhaka in this Yoga path of Sadhana, under the supervision and help of a Guru, guides this Shakti through the ‘Shat Chakras’ (six centers of energy in the body) from ‘Mulaadhaara’ to ‘Ajna’ chakra and finally to the ‘Sahasraara. Thus we observe a close and undifferentiated association between the Serpent or Nagendra the Purusha and the Shakti the ‘Prakriti’.

When we go through the life of Jillellamudi Amma as described in the biographical book in Telugu, “Amma Jeevita Mahodadhi”, as also the experiences of some devotees who were the earliest to visit Jillellamudi and some instances revealed by Amma herself to these devotees, we find this kind of close affinity between Amma and Serpent, the Nagendra. This affinity or association seems to have both esoteric and occult significance. Several of these instances throughout Amma’s life are touched upon in the following, to show this close association

The first and foremost instance we come across is when the child ‘Anasuya’ (Amma) is handed over by Maridamma Tatamma (Great Grandmother of Amma) to Nagamma, the midwife, in Mannava after a function on a full moon day during her 3rd month. When Nagamma arrives at her house along with the child and a few relatives around, a big serpent (Cobra) stands straight with its hood raised and facing Amma, draws it down as if in prostration to Amma and later disappears as the people who gathered there hurry themselves to bring a stick to beat and kill it.

In her 6th year during her conversation with two police constables Ankadasu and Mastan in Bapatla, who turned young Amma’s devotees, having had already been blessed with visions and experiences during their first encounter with her, an old man appears on the scene. Amma had helped this old man a couple of days earlier offering him one of her gold bangles asking him to buy the essentials for food, pledging the bangles in a bank. This old man who has just been bitten by a snake comes searching for Amma, having been prompted by an unknown voice as to Amma’s location. During the conversation that ensued with Amma, at one stage, the old man on sighting a serpent standing behind Amma, shouts loudly saying “Amma!”. Though the two constables standing there think that the old man must be having a hallucination, he, in fact, finds a serpent winding so closely around Amma, with Amma gradually appearing as the serpent itself, leaving a normal face of Amma. Later, the old man is slowly relieved of his fear, as the belief in the Divinity in Amma gets firmly rooted in him.

* One day during the same period of her stay in Bapatla in her grandfather Chidambara Rao’s (hereafter referred to as CR) house, CR had an amusing conversation with Amma over the title of the Newspaper ‘Andhra Patrika’ a local daily in vernacular which he just finished reading. Just then, Maridamma tatamma (Chidambara Rao’s maternal aunt) asks Amma to bring the bottle of ‘Amrutanjan’, a pain balm for her headache. Even as she was telling this, a big serpent (Cobra) hides under a ‘Night Queen’ plant and Amma keeps standing there watching it. The gardener runs for a stick shouting about the snake and CR also hurriedly reaches there with a stick in hand. As Amma goes away to bring the pain balm, the serpent disappears and the gardener and CR come back and inform: “it appears to be Nagendra (a sacred serpent) and it is not an ordinary snake”. Unmindful of what was happening, Amma brings Amrutanjan and hands over to tatamma. Just then Amma’s brother Raghava Rao and Brahmandam Nageswara Rao (Nanna garu) arrive from Mannava. The ensuing conversation with tatamma, prompted Amma to ask who prepared it (the pain balm). CR replies saying it is by one Nageswara Rao. Then Amma asks tatamma as to by what name she called the serpent that appeared a few moments ago. To this tatamma said that it was her grandfather who called it ‘Nagendra’ and then tatamma called nannagaru addressing him as ‘Nagendra’ as it was her habit. Then Amma says within herself, as a monologue, that she is surrounded by ‘Nagendra’ – the Editor of the daily and the maker of pain balm (Nageswara Rao), her maternal aunt’s son (Nageswara Rao) and the serpent which they called ‘Nagendra.

* Sri Laxmanacharyulu of Bapatla was a great ‘Upasaka” of Lord Narasimha. He is a close family friend of CR and as such, visits their house quite frequently. He was one of those deeply impressed by some inexplicable Divine qualities in the child Amma. During one of his visits to CR’s house one day when Amma happens to be staying there, a brief episode ensues when CR’s wife Annapurnamma serves food to her mother-in-law Narasamma and Amma appears to Laxmanacharyulu as his favorite form of Lord Narasimha.

Later, at Laxmanacharyulu’s request, Amma goes to his house. Here again he is blessed by Amma with the Divine vision of everything appearing as Amma. After a brief conversation with Amma, while both of them are returning to CR’s house around 12.0 midnight, a big serpent appears to Laxmanacharyulu to be standing between them. He shouts aloud asking Amma to move away. But the serpent continues to be standing and looking straight towards him. He remains stupefied and motionless, closing his eyes. When he opens his eyes after half-an-hour, the serpent appears to be winding around Amma! He immediately prostrates to Amma and asks her as to why this serpent has wound around her. Then Amma says to him; “That is not a serpent, my child! It is Nagendra and that Nagendra has wound around me, rather I had got this Nagendra wound around me. This Nagendra will come (later) as Nageswara (foretelling or hinting who her husband is going to be). He himself is my refuge and his very form is me”

During this period of Amma’s stay in Bapatla, a couple of days after the above incident, Laxmanacharyulu visits CR’s house and invites all of them for a puja in his house to Lord Narasimha Swamy, Amma suggests that all the members may go first and that she and her grandfather could join them later. So saying, she goes upstairs and sits there. When CR too goes upstairs and looks at Amma, he starts having visions of different people, different events that happened in his life and various kinds of experiences after he had a sight of Amma in the form of an elderly lady wearing glorious Hindu traditional form of gold ornaments from top to toe. As he experiences all these visions, he closes his eyes and falls on the floor. Even during this state of lying on the floor, he continues to experience various visions. Amma, in the meantime slowly and stealthily slips away from the scene to go to Lakshmanacharyulu’s house, as if she is unaware of the happenings there. All the members of CR’s family except Amma, return home around 11.30 p.m. As the rest of them retire to bed, Annapurnamma (CR’s wife) goes upstairs to find out what was happening to her husband. He remains in a state of sleep and as the fragrance of ‘Mogra’ flowers seems to be emanating from his chest region, she goes closer and removes a serpent (without being aware of it), which speeds away crawling.

In the Hindu religious tradition, particularly in South India, the ladies worship a serpent as Nagendra on the fourth day of the first half of the Lunar month ‘Karthikam’ (called ‘Nagula Chavithi’) going to a snake-pit and offering milk (pouring milk into the mouth of the pit, irrespective of the presence of a snake in it). On one such Nagula Chavithi soon after the two incidents described above, after all the ladies have left for the snake pit, Amma takes CR along there in spite of his reluctance to join a function performed mainly by ladies.

When Amma reaches there along with CR, she approaches the snake pit and pours water, instead of milk, into the pit. Even as Amma starts pouring water, a serpent which did not appear earlier when the other ladies poured milk, comes out with its hood raised and looking at Amma. As there was a slight drizzle accompanied by winds, all the ladies left the place, apprehending a heavy rain. Then Amma goes close to the pit, looks closely and directly into the face of the serpent (generally, people are scared of seeing a snake and run away out of fear) and asks CR whether he would like to put his palm over the serpent’s head. Shedding tears over Amma’s ways, he agrees to it if Amma makes him do so. Then Amma takes his palm and puts it along with hers over the serpent’s head. Then, caressing the hood of the serpent, she addresses it saying: “My dear child Nagendra! Have you come for me! Do you stay in every pit where milk is poured or only in this pit?” As if in reply to Amma’s query and saying that it is there wherever Amma is, the serpent jumps and settles on Amma’s shoulder in the way a child rests on its mother’s shoulder. CR stands dazed and rests on the other shoulder of Amma. When CR recovers to his normal senses, a discussion ensues between CR and Amma over the different qualities which are at the root of fear. As the discussion was likely to continue, Amma asked Nagendra to go. Then it slides down from her shoulder, touches Amma’s feet and goes into the pit.

* Now, we come across an incident involving Amma and a serpent. Following the demise of Sri Brahmandam Subba Rao, Amma’s father-in-law-to-be in CR’s house in Bapatla and after completion of his last rites, all the relatives depart to their respective places, while tatamma, Seetapathi, Amma and her brother as also Amma’s maternal aunt’s second son Lokanadham leave for Mannava by boat from Returu. As all of them start walking towards their house, with Amma walking a few steps ahead, a big serpent stands straight, waving its hood. Amma continues to walk along unmindful of its presence, even as her brother chides her for not taking notice of the serpent. When people gather there with sticks to beat it, the serpent which, till then was facing north, turns towards south and follows AMMA. The serpent later disappears before the people muster enough courage to strike it, keeping an earlier episode related to Madhava Charyulu of that village, at the back of their minds.

Here is an interesting episode involving the death of Madhavacharyulu, an ‘Archaka’ in Sri Chennakesava Swamy Temple in Mannava, (an Ayurvedic physician as also adept in Mantras that control snakes) and the subsequent events that followed. It has been a traditional Hindu religious custom for ladies in Mannava to perform ambulations (‘Pradakshinas’) around a reasonably large snake-pit in the local Shiva Temple where a serpent of moderately large size is believed to reside. The ladies belonging to childless couples and those who are sick, perform these ambulations with the firm faith that their wishes would be fulfilled. But Madhavacharyulu, who has a mocking attitude towards such acts, throws a challenge, saying he would see if it can do any harm to him if it is really powerful and godly, breaks the pit, holds the two serpents (instead of one believed to be there) by their tails with both of his hands and dies when the fangs of one of them gets stuck in his body ‘accidentally’ when he rotates them.

During this time one of the ladies, daughter of Sri Mannava Gopalakrishnayya, who had been earlier cured of her severe stomach pain after performing such ambulations, comes to know of this incident. She falls sick and remains in bed without taking food or water. Then, the serpent appears in her dream and says “why do you cry for me! Nobody has killed me. I am residing within you.” As she hears this from the serpent, she sees a four-year old girl by its side and the serpent appears to be merging with this girl. She also hears the girl saying “continue to perform ambulations and pour milk as usual. The other reptiles also consume it. Nagendra is not just the serpent. Nagendra is the one attached to us and which protects us”. So saying even the girl disappears. After this she goes to the spot where the snake-pit existed with the intention of pouring milk and cries over the absence of the snake pit and she sees the same girl there who appeared in her dream.

A month after this incident, she sees Amma one day and thinks that this girl is the same as the one she saw in her dream. Later, Amma makes a special visit to this lady’s house as she was preparing to go pouring milk in (at) the snake-pit. On seeing Amma, she gets an inspiration that the Nagendra to whom she was going to offer milk, himself came to her and shouts: “O! Nagendra! How kind are you! Have you come to create ‘Bhakti’ in a person who does not know what ‘Bhakti’ is with all your kindness?” So saying, she embraces Amma and takes Amma over to her shoulder and when she does so, she feels that it is Nagendra who is on her shoulder, coiled around her neck with its hood over the lady’s head. As this lady raises both the hands in a gesture of praying, she feels that Nagendra is pressing his hood over her head so that drops of an ‘Ambrosia’- like fluid flows from its mouth into the lady’s mouth. Swallowing this fluid, she cries: “O! Nagendra! Have you come for me? Are you merging me into you?” As she says this, the life force in her extinguishes and she drops dead. When people gather around her and pass varied comments over the cause of her death, Amma slowly slips away and stands unnoticed beside a wall watching all the happenings till the last rites are performed in the traditional Hindu way for a married woman.

(To be continued)

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