Sri Sridhara Venkatesha Ayyaval is a highly respected personage in the bhajana sampradaya of South India. He is one of the three acharyas who headed 'Naama-prachaara' movement in the south, along with Sri Bhagavannama Bodhendra swamigal and Sri Marudanallur Sadguru swamigal. Sri Ayyaval was a remarkable alloy of Jnana, Bhakthi and Vairagya maargas.Sri Ayyaval spent most of his life in the village of Tiruvisalur, situated 10 Kms. from the city of Kumbhakonam, in the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu (approx. 335 Kms. From Chennai, the Capital of Tamil Nadu), on the banks of Cauveri river in the fertile Chola-nadu. Sridhara Venkateswara Shastrigal (respectfully addressed as Sri Ayyaval) resided in this village in an agraharam established by Shahaji, the then ruler of Tanjore. He was well-versed in the shastras, and was a staunch believer in the greatness of Bhagavan-naama. Tiruvisalur has seen various devotional moods of this saint and stands sanctified by the dust of his feet. Today, the small mutt which housed this great soul stands as a witness to the life & times of this saint.Under the able trusteeship of a few devotees, the mutt is involved in various spiritual activities which were heralded by Sri Ayyaval during his time. Apart from the routine daily activities like Prabodhanam, Paaraayanam, Nitya Pooja, Naama Sankeertanam & Dolotsavam, monthly functions like the Ekadashi Divyanamam Bhajan, Sri Mahanyasa Rudrabhishekam on Amavasyas etc. are conducted with devotion.
Once Sridhara Ayyaval was preparing to conduct a Srardham for his ancestor. The meal was cooked already and the brahmins were given oil for bath. Sridhar Ayyaval was also returning from Cauvery after his oil bath and saw a person “about to die” because of starvation on the way. In a dire situation, he brought that person to his house and offered the food that was prepared for the Srardham to the dying person. He thought it is a play of the Lord Himself to test him (Normally, on a Srardha day, even the kolams with rice flour will not be put since the pithrus may come in the form ants and eat the rice flour and go away thinking that’s all was prepared for them. Even the remains of vegetable waste will not be put away for the same reason till the Srardham is over).He then did the cleaning process as per vedic rules, cooked the Srardha meals again and invited the Brahmins. The brahmins who were already very jealous of Sridhar Ayyaval refused to participate in his Srardham and excluded him from the caste (Jathi prashtam). Sridhara Ayyaval, then completed the Sradham by placing the Koorchams in place of the Brahmins (it’s a process allowed when we are not able to get the Brahmins) and completed the Srardham.When the next year Srardham approached, Sridhara Ayyaval was unable to convince the Brahmins in spite of several requests. Then he asked for some remedy (‘prayachitham’) for his act and the Brahmins suggested to take a bath in Ganga to cleanse himself off from the sin. Since there were only a few days left for the Srardham and also his health didn’t permit, taking a dip at Ganga was an impossible task for him. So he suggested that he will bring the river Ganga to the well at his house itself. The Brahmins yelled at him and expected that he will just take a dip in the well water and say that he Ganga was present in the well. But Sridhara Ayyaval affirmed that he will bring the Ganga to the well to the acceptance and full view of everyone but no one believed. Then Ayyaval went to the well in his house and sang the hymns of “Gangashtakam”. There was no surprise when the Ganaga responded when the avathar of Gangatharan himself called her. The Ganga flowed out from the well as a pravaham to the agaraharam street and the whole village. Sridhara ayyaval told the Brahmins very calmly, “I have already taken the Ganga snan, why not you also? it will take time and money to go to Ganga but now is the chance to take it at your door steps, come on..”. The Brahmins, understanding their mistake and the generated pralayam, apologized to Sri Ayyaval and requested him to stop the Ganga from flowing out immediately. Knowing the pitiful state of the Brahmins, Ayyaval sang a hymn and requested the Ganga to stay in the well permanently for the benefit of the people. This incident took place on the New moon day of the Kartigai month.Ever since I heard this incident, no wonder, I was longing to visit this place. So when I went for a marriage at Tanjore, I took the opportunity to visit the place, Thiruvisainallur village around 8 kms from Kumbakonam.