Raghavendra Swamy who was known as Venkatanatha in his childhood days was a much loved member of the family. He was adored by his elder sister, Venkatambe or Venkamma.
His parents, Thimanna Bhat and Gopikamba, had gone to Tirumala where they had prayed for another son. The son born to them was none other than Venkatanatha. He had a brother Gururaja who was also an adept scholar of the times.
After Thimanna Bhatta passed away, Venkatanatha’s mother Gopikamba took good care of Venkatanatha.
Later, it was his brother-in-law, Laksmhinarayanacharya, who took him under his tutelage in Madurai where he resided and taught him Vedas and other scriptures. Venkatanatha by then had lost his mother, whom he respected and loved deeply.
Though Gururaja was reluctant to send his brother to Madurai, he did so in the interest of his brother’s education. Venkatanatha was a quick learner and he learnt all that he could from Lakshminarayana.
He stayed in the house of Lakshminarayana and Venkamma in Madurai. The couple looked after Venkatanatha in a loving manner. Lakshminarayanachar taught Venkatanatha all that he knw and. Venkatanatha married Saraswathi in 1614 after he returned to Kumbakonam from Madurai.
When Venkatanatha became Raghavendra Swamy in Thanjavur
in 1631 following Deekshe from Sudhindra Theertha of the Sri Matha, his wife Saraswathi was not present. It is not known if his sister was present but what we can infer is that he shared a close bond with his sister.
During his travel and stay at Kumbakonam, Thanjavur, Kadalur, Madurai, Srirangam, Rameshwaram and other pilgrim places, Venkamma could get news of her brother through the Matha officials and Raghavendra Swamy’s disciples.
But once he came down to Adoni in Andhra Pradesh and from there to Bichale and Gandhal in Karnataka and again to Manchale or Mantralaya in Andhra Pradesh, he had little contact with his poorvashrama sister.
When Raghavendra Swamy decided to enter Brindavana on Shraavana Bahula Bidige (August 8, 1671), he did keep Dewan Venkanna and his successor Yogendra Theerth, the Matha officials informed. However, he deliberately did not inform his close devotee, Appanacharya, as he knew he would never allow the Brindavana Pravesha.
We all know how Appanacharya swam across the Tungabhadra and reached the place where Rayaru entered Brindavana when the last stone slab was placed. We also know how Rayaru completed the last line of the Poornabhoda stotra that Appanacharya sang in sorrow.
However, what many do not know is that Rayaru had instructed Dewan Venkanna, Yogendra Theertha and others not to completely close the Brindavana. He had sent word to Venkamma about his Brindavan Pravesha and she could not make it on time.
When Rayaru discerned that Venkamma was on the way and that she would reach a little after Appanacharya came, he instructed people assembled that a small hole be left in the Brindavana.
He asked the officials and Dewan Venkanna to allow his sister to come upto the Brindavana and see him in the Padmasana stage.
He said the hole should be closed after his sister saw him.
Venkamma had been delayed coming to Manchale. When she reached the place, she found that she was too late and that her brither had already entered Brindavan. Venkamma shed tears when the gathering told her in detail about the last few moments before Rayaru entered Brindavana.
She wept aloud and called for her brother. The people gathered gently led her to the hole and told her that Rayaru had ordered them to bring her there. “Look into the hole”, they said.
When Venkamma looked into the hole, she found that her brother was sitting in the Brindavan, meditating and praying. Rayaru had a rare brilliance on his face and the while Brindavana was illuminated as if there was a light. She could make out Rayaru’s features very clearly. She wondered how her brother could enter Brindavana and stay in such a calm state.
Rayaru felt her presence and slowly opened his eyes. He looked at her and his eyes reflected his holiness and calmness. He smiled and raised his hands as if in benediction.
Venkamma could not control herself and she called out aloud for Rayaru. She called him by his poorvashrama name and asked him to come out. It was her affection for her little brother that made Venkamma call out for Venkatanatha.
In grief and umable to comprehend fully the holiness of the event, Venkamma asked Yogendra Theertha who was still standing despondently besides the Brindavana and other matha officials why they had allowed Rayaru to enter Brindavana alive. “How can you do this when my little brither is still alive”, she asked more in pain and sorrow than in anger and reason.
Yogendra Theertha replied to Venkamma that they had only carried out the wishes of Rayaru and it was at his insistence that the day and date of the Brindavana Pravesha was fixed. He said they had no control or rather say in such matters and it was a decision left entirely to an individual.
Venkamma remained unconvinced by the answer of Yogendra Theertha and she asked Rayaru to come out. How can you sit in that small place, she asked her brother. You cannot be comfortable and you have to come out, she insisted.
Raghavendra Swamy then told her that he was more than comfortable in the place. He asked her not to worry and told her that Brindavana Pravesha was part and parcel of life and since Hari had called him, he had to heed his call.
He bid her good bye and asked her to go back. “Do not worry. I am comfortable here. I have my Hari with me. I have no need for mortal things,” he said.
Venkamma then went back from the Brindavana a sorrowing woman even as Yogendra Theertha stood around to ensure that the hole beneath the Brindavana was filled up. Today, the Brindavana stands as it was built 342 years ago.
Thus, we see that Rayaru showed two of his miracles the day he entered Brindavana. If he showed himself in the Brindavana and completed the Poornabhoda Stotra of Appanacharya, he also showed himself in person before his sister.
If one example-the Appanacharya episode-tells us that Rayaru rewards devotion, another-the Venkamma tale-tells us that he rewards true love too.
No wonder, Rayaru has continued to shower his followers, disciples and even a handful of non-believers (who later became his ardent disciples) with his blessings and love.
Unfortunately, there is no first hand record of the Brinadavana
Pravesha of Rayaru. We have the Poornabhoda Stotra which was completed by Rayaru apart from the Raghavendra Vijaya of Narayanacharya and the Guru Gunavasthana which are regarded as the most authentic work on Rayaru. However, they too do not shed much light on the Brindavana Pravesha.
However, information on Raghavendra Swamy, his life and works and times, his contemporaries can be gleaned from records available at that time. His descendents too are a wealth of information as is the Sri Raghavendra Swamy Matha.