Kings of Devotion


By Ojaswita Krishnaa Chaturvedi

Devotion to the supreme Lord has been praised as the ultimate goal of human birth among all our scriptures. Hari bhakti is the definitive abstract of all pious activities ranging from daily good karma to big yagnas. Saints and sages have described hari bhakti to be the unsurpassed, most enriching and fulfilling methods of attaining the Lord. It is only bhakti, or devotion which is capable of destroying all past karma and releasing the soul from the un-ending cycle of birth and death.

Generally, when we think of devotion, a picture of a saintly being having no possessions or family comes in front of our eyes. And that is why; people end up fearing devotion instead of understanding it deeper. Devotion poses no barriers for one’s life – if lived according to scriptures. And there are no pre-requisites of performing devotion to the Lord. One need not be of a certain age, calibre, caste, creed or become a renunciate in order to get accomplishment in bhakti. Bhakti is independent, soothing and blissful.

This article describes the life and activities of two kings (in summary) who lived their life in complete bhakti to Sri Hari while maintaining not only their own personal lives but also being exceptional kings who managed their kingdoms with full authority and dedication. These extracts have been obtained from Shri Bhaktamaal of Saint Shri Nabha das ji.

Sri Madhukar Shah

Shri Madhukar Shah was the emperor of the Orchha kingdom in Madhya Pradesh. His valour was praised and recognised by all other kings, to the extent that Akbar offered him alliance instead of declaring war with him. He was well-known for his devotion towards Shri Hari. On a certain occasion, Akbar invited him to Agra. In order to test his devotion, Akbar made an announcement that whoever comes to the court with his anointed with the holy tilak (tirunamam) will be punished – his head will be burnt using heated iron rods. All other kings and subordinates were frightened by this order and none of them had a tilak on their foreheads the next day.

But, Madhukar Shah ji anointed his head with the tilak as usual even on that day and walked fearlessly into the court. Akbar reminded him about the order he passed on the previous day threatening him for punishment. Upon hearing this, Shri Madhukar Shah said ‘My Lord Ramachandra is the king of all kings and a much higher authority than yourself! His orders are far more acceptable to me than yours and hence I will never take out this tilak from my forehead!

For me, my dharma is more important than my life!’. Such was the bravery of the king and staunch faith in his Lord. It is bhakti which is shown in his stability and assurance towards his Lord. Akbar was pleased with his attitude.

King Madhukar ji had a strong confidence towards the saintly get-up and outlook of Vaishnavas. He would respect anyone who came to his door adorned with tulasi and tilak. Looking at his progress and valour, some of his relatives wanted to prank him. They found a donkey and draped his legs with tulasi beads, applied the tilak on his head and led him towards the doorstep pf the king. The king was overjoyed, he gracefully sung that until today, I was only blessed by saints with two feet, but today the Lord has abundantly blessed me by sending me a saint with four feet to be worshipped! He was a king with simplicity and devotion filled in his heart. It is kings of such nature that were able to nurture their kingdom successfully under the shade of righteousness and build in devotion even among their population.

Madhukar Shah ji used to visit a temple every evening and perform keertana there. On one particular occasion, he was delayed due to his duties at the court and by the time he reached the temple, the doors of the sanctum sanctorum were closed. The king meticulously paid respects and went towards the backside of the temple to perform keertana following his daily routine. As he was immersed in the ecstasy of the sweet names of Shri Hari, the Lord appeared and began singing with him.

The heavenly beings showered golden flowers upon this miraculous scene and at that moment, the whole sanctum sanctorum of the temple moved 180 degrees to face the king. It is said that whenever a coronation occurs at Orchha, the preceding king is shown the golden flowers.

Kulashekhar Azhwar

The famous Azhwars of Southern India, the leading pioneers of Vaishnava dharma, the overall epitome of devotion of Lord Shri Hari – have a king included in their group. Yes, King Kulashekhar Azhwar who was the emperor to the Kerala region. He was renowned for his ruling capabilities as well as his unflinching devotion towards Shri Hari. He has been praised as one who quelled the powers of his adversaries, jewel among kings and the righteous ruler of Kollinagar. He was specifically attracted to Lord Shri Rama, he shared the birth star with Lord Rama and is known to establish a kingdom of righteousness just as Shri Rama did.

King Kulashekhar used to listen to the recitation of Shri Ramayana every evening from an assigned Brahmin. On one occasion, as the Brahmin recited the episode of Shri Ramachandra fighting with Khara and Dushana alone, King Kulashekhar becamed overwhelmed and ran forth for about tem kilometres with his weapons to the assistance of his Lord. A group of saints had him pacified and returned safely. It was acknowledged by the Brahmin that our king is extremely ecstatic and emotional when he absorbs himself in thoughts of Shri Hari and therefore he would refrain himself from reciting the sections which may cause any turbulences for the King.

But, one day, as the Brahmin fell ill, he sent his son to recite Ramayana for the King. The young boy was not well-versed with the nature of the King and accidentally he recited the chapter of the abduction of Devi Seeta. King Kulashekhar was immediately affected by the recitation and waves of ecstacy arose in his heart. He climbed his horse and took his sword and ran towards the ocean shouting ‘I shall kill that fallen soul today and rescue my mother Seeta!’ Shouting thus, he rode his horse into the ocean. Looking at the state of his devotee, Lord Shri Rama appeared with Mother Seeta assuring him that Ravan has already been killed. Such was the greatness of King Kulashekhar Azhwar and his devotion towards the Lord.

King Kulashekhar also showed immense respect and love for the devottees of Shri Hari and saints. His doors would always be open to all saintly beings. Once, the ministers tried to trick the king by telling him that one guest saint had stolen the diamond from the treasure house. King Kulashekhar steadfastly refuted the statement saying that saintly persons will never perform lowly activities. He proved himself correct by removing a gold coin with his hands from a pot full of venomous snakes. His faith in Shri Hari was admired and respected not only by all vaishnavas but all other citizens as well.

The above two instances are not the only ones whereby great kings and emperors are seen to be situated in unwavering devotion to the Lord. This article was aimed to clarify the usual picture of devotion that is embedded in the minds of human population today where people think that making your child a devotee will cost him all the comfort and his family. Here are examples of kings who very perfectly carried out both duties – worldly and spiritual.