12.8 BHASKARA RAYA (1690-1785)
Bhaskara raya is the unquestioned autority for all questions pertaining to the Mother Goddess. The worship of Shakti involves many hidden meanings of mantras and coded passages. The Hindu religious world owes a lot to Bhaskarra Raya for his writings on these meanings, revealed to him by the Goddess herself. His works number more than 40 and range from Vedanta to poems of devotion, from Logic and Grammar to the labyrinths and nuances of Tantra Sastra (the Science of Tantra worship) and from commentaries on rare works to original compositions on rare subjects. Particularly the three books Varivasya Rahasyam, Saubhagya bhaskaram, and Sethu Bandhanam are considered to be the holy triad on the worship of Mother Goddess through her most sacred mantras. They are most well-known and even today remain unequalled in content and depth. The first is a scientific commentary on Sr Vidya Mantra and Worship. The second is a commentary on Lalita Sahasranama and the third is a deeper technical treatise on Tantra practice.
Bhaskararaya was born in Bhaga in Maharashtra. His father was a great scholar who initiated the son in the scholarly traditions even at an early age. He was taken to Benares and put under the tutelaege of a renowned Pundit there. He was initiated into the Shri VidyA mantra (the most prestigious mantra of the Goddess) by Guru Shivadutta Shukla of Surat. Later he toured the Gujarat region and won in debate several scholars of the Madhwa tradition. The Raja of Tanjore invited him to the South and gifted him a whole village on the banks of the Cauvery. Bhaskara-raya made that village his headquarters for the rest of his life. It later came to be known as Bhaskararajapuram (Tanjavoor District, Tamilnadu). The village cherishes his memory today through a memorial hall built in 2004. Ritual worship of the Divine Mother is being performed there as a daily routine in the fashion originally initiated by him. During his long stay there and in nearby MadhyArjunam, the spiritual and psychic greatness of Bhaskara-raya got revealed through scores of miracles. Two of them may be cited here.
Once an ochre-robed Sannyasin was passing his house while he was sitting in the pial at the entrance to his house. The Sannyasi felt hurt that the householder Bhaskararaya did not rise and make a prostration to him as every householder would do on seeing a Sannyasi. Later on a suitable occasion he brought the matter in public and censured Bhaskara Raya. The latter immediately conducted a daring experiment in the presence of all. He pulled out the Danda (holy stick) which the Sannyasi was holding , put it on the floor, and made a full prostration to that stick. Lo and behold, the stick was immediately consumed in flames. Bhaskara Raya said that this was what would have happened to the Sannyasi if he had prostrated to him. It is rather difficult for us to believe this and acquiesce in this logic but the spiritual fire latent in Bhaskara Raya was known by his contemporaries to be that powerful.
Another one of a different kind. Several pundits were unhappy with his tantric leanings. They wanted to convert him by their scholarly argument and disputation. Once Bhaskara Raya invited many of them to his house for a participation in a Yajna. There they opened a debate with him and asked him intricate questions about Mantra and Tantra Shastras. Being an adept in these he shot back all the answers without the least hesitation. One witness to this drama, a Sannyasi, Kumkumananda-swami by name, cautioned the challengers and declared, ‘Bhaskara Raya cannot be defeated in debate or by questions, don’t think it is he that is answering these questions. It is the Goddess Herself standing on his shoulders who is answering all your questions. I am able to see her standing on his shoulders’. This Kumkumananda Swami himself was a great Upasaka (=worshipper in the most formal ritualistic manner) of Devi, the Mother Goddess. He was so much full of the Devi-consciousness that even vibhuti (sacred ash) thrown on his body immediately transformed into kumkuma (=saffron) and hence his name. They asked Bhaskara Raya an imporssible question. ‘The Lalita Sahasranama in one of its names for the Goddess Lalita, describe her as being served by sixty-four crores of angels called yoginis (‘mahA-chatus-shashTi-koTi-yoginI-gaNa-sevitA). Can you name each one of them, their origin and their qualities?’ Bhaskara Raya immediately replied:’Take down, here are the names and other information for you’. And so saying he reeled off one by one the names of the Yoginis, their attributes, which define them and other specifications. He was shooting off in a non-stop fashion, as if he was possessed. Hours passed, only the Pundits got exhausted in following him and the debate was called off!