Lives of Saints: Kulashekhara Alvar

Who are the saints? The saints are perfect examples of what it means to be a bhakta. They are ardent lovers of God. They have attained the very goal we seek in our own lives. By reading the stories and meditating on the lives of the saints, we can learn and be inspired. We can learn how to walk with the path of bhakti and be inspired by their love for God. Each month we'll share with you the story of a saint. We hope you learn from them and are as inspired by them as we are. This month we are sharing the story of Kulashekara Alvar - one of the twelve alvars and a great bhakti saint.

kulashekara alvar lives of saints painting

Written by: Achala

Kulashekara wanted to remind devotees that you are not just human beings. When you have taken shelter to the Feet of Sriman Narayana, it is the Lord who is residing inside of you. You may not know about it, but by constantly reminding yourself of that you start to feel Him, you start to love Him, you start to build a relationship with Him, just like Dhruva, Prahlad and all the great saints have done.

Paramahamsa Vishwananda

Kulashekara was seventh of the twelve mystic Vaishnava saints of South India known as Alvars. Like each of those great souls, he was an incarnation of one of the attributes of Sriman Narayana Himself. In his particular case, he was an incarnation of the Kaustubha gem, which is always adorning Lord’s chest. Vishnu Dharmottara Purana explains that Kaustubha jewel represents jnana or Divine wisdom, which is why Lord Narayana Himself is sometimes called kaustubha-bhrt, 'the one, who nourishes jnana in the form of stainless Kaustubha mani by his bosom'.

During this year’s Navaratri, Paramahamsa Vishwananda said of the gem, 'That jewel is always residing the heart of Sriman Narayana. So, whatever is happening inside that heart, that jewel knows about it. Such jewels, when they come, they can't keep this for themselves.' Such was the life of Kulashekhara Alvar.

Born a kshatriya, he became a great king. He ruled his kingdom well but was drowning in sense pleasures. But by the grace of the Lord, he started to shake off the may that hung heavy over him. Eventually, under the guidance and initiation of Vishwakshena, he underwent an immense transformation. He became a king mad for God. Kulashekara was a great devotee of Sri Ram and He would often enact the Rama-lila, unaware of his surroundings, to the despair of the ministers of his kingdom. He would have regular readings of the Rama-lila and get lost in listening to the lila. He lived the Ramayana, seeing it happen before him. Upon hearing of Sri Ram in danger, Kulashekara would order his own army to go and support Sri Ram, believing that the entire Ramayana was happening at that moment. His ministers danced around him, trying to maintain the kingdom as Kulashekara continued to lose himself in his bhav with Sri Ram. 

I think of you only as my wealth and want no other riches. I am your slave and I want only you.

Kulashekhara Alvar, Perumal Thirumozhi

With time, Kulashekara developed the longing to go on pilgrimage to Srirangam. His ministers knew if he left for pilgrimage he would not return to rule the kingdom and devised a plan to get him to stay. They knew if they invited Sri Vaishnavas to the kingdom Kulashekara would stay to host them. While they managed to solve one problem, the created another as the more Kulashekara associated with the great Vaishnavas, the madder for God he became. The ministers concocted another plan and stole the gem adorning Kulashekara's Sri Ram and falsely accused the Vaishnava guests of the act.

Kulashekara knew the accusation to be false and called for a cobra in a pot. He stuck his hand inside the pot and said if the Vaishnava's were innocent, he would not be bitten. By the grace of Sri Ram, he removed his hand from the pot unbitten. The ministers, full of remorse, bowed and confessed their actions. At this point, Kulashekara gave up his kingdom and left for a pilgrimage to Srirangam. 

Kulashekara Alvar expressed his bhakti to the Lord in the Sanskrit poem, Mukunda-mala-stotram, which is now being sung every evening at Shree Peetha Nilaya. We can also find 105 verses written by him in his Tamil work called Perumal Thirumozhi, which is a part of Divya Prabhandam. In his poems, Kulashekhara praises not only the Lord but also the greatness of bhakti itself and the greatness of the Lord's devotees. 

My heart loves and praises the feet of the devotees who love Thirumāl and shed tears, melting in their hearts as they worship Him.

Kulashekhara Alvar, Perumal Thirumozhi

Kulashekhara’s life was a reminder for everyone around him about the greatest jewel hidden in the heart of each and every one of us: bhakti, devotion to the Lord.

twelve alvars around krishna and sri ramanuja