South India is the Treasure House of many temples, among them Sri Vasavi Kanyaka Parameswari temple situated in Penugonda, a town in the West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. The temple is a fascinating multi-colored (Gali Gopuram) seven storied tower with a beautiful architecture. This Penugonda Kshetram is considered as the ‘Kasi of Vysyas' and is a holy place for Vysyas.
Kusuma Sresti or Setty was the Setty king of Vysyas also known as Pedda Setty (Elder among Settys) who's territory was a Vassal state of Vangi Desa (Vanga Kingdom), which was ruled by Vishnu Vardhana (Vimaladitya Maharaja). His capital was Penugonda (Jestasailam) city for all the 18 paraganas during 10th and 11th century A.D. He and his wife Kusumamba were considered an ideal couple and led a peaceful domestic life. They worshiped Lord Siva (Nageswara Swamy) as the part of their daily duties.
Though they had been married for many years, the couple did not have peace of mind as there was no successor to the kingdom. Their many prayers and sacrifices did not bear fruit and hence they were grief stricken. They approached their Kula guru (family Teacher) Bhaskara Acharya also a Komati who was well versed in shastras and by virtue of his profession was treated as a Komati Brahman. He advised them to perform Puthra Kamesti Yaga, which Dasharatha had observed.
During the auspicious hour, the couple started the yoga. The Gods were pleased and sent prasadam (blessed fruit from god) through Yagneswara (fire God). They were told that they would beget children after eating prasadam. With devotion they ate the Prasadam and within a few days the signs of pregnancy were found with Kusumamba. She expressed unusual desires, which indicated that she would give birth to children who would fight for the welfare of all.
Birth of Vasavi Devi
During spring season, there was pleasure everywhere. Amidst this beauty, Kusumamba gave birth to twins, one male the other female on Friday the tenth of Vaisaka (Telugu month) at twilight during convergence of Uttara Nakshatram and Kanya (Virgo). The male child was named Virupaksha, and the female Vasavamba. During childhood, Virupaksha showed the features of becoming a powerful king, whereas in Vasavi, the inclination towards art & architecture, adoration music and philosophical approach were seen.
Under the guidance of Bhaskara Acharya, Virupaksha learnt the Puranas, fencing, horse riding, martial arts, archery, statecraft etc.., which were essential to rule his Territory. Vasavi learnt fine arts and mastered philosophy and was proud to be an intelligent woman.
When Virupaksha attained proper age he married Ratnavati, daughter of Aridhi Setty of Aelur Town. The huge gathering thought that even Vasavi's marriage would one day also be observed with the same pomp and grandeur.
When King Vishnu Vardhana went on expedition to expand his empire, he visited Penugonda, where King Kusuma Setti received him and took him in a procession and arranged a felicitation program in the colorful auditorium. After Manamatha (God of Romance) threw his sweet arrows on him, Vimaladitya (Vishnu Vardhana) spotted Vasavi among the crowd and fell madly in love with her. He felt he could not live without her and was determined to marry her. He sent a minister to enquire about her. The desire of Vishnuvardhana (Vimaladitya) was like a death blow to Kusuma sresty. He was neither in a position to accept it nor to deny. The fact that the Emperor was already married, was much older, the difference in caste and the fact that he was not in a position to prevent this from occurring all caused extreme stress for Kusuma Setti.
He discussed these issues with his closest family and friends and they unanimously decided to let Vasavi decide. Vasavi frankly expressed her desire to be a Virgin throughout her life and intended not to concentrate on worldly matters.
Kusuma Setti sent a denial message to king Vishnuvardhana. The king was furious and sent a Battalion with orders to attack mercilessly and to get Vasavi for him. The brave Komti's of Penugonda by using the techniques of Sama, Daana, Bheda and finally Danda, defeated Vishnuvardana's army.
At this crucial juncture, Kusuma Sresti called for Great Conference of the Chief of all the 18 cities and the leaders of all 714 Gotras in the presence of Komati Kula Guru Bhaskara Acharya.
In the conference, there was difference of opinion. The Chiefs of 102 Gotras made a firm decision thought that "Those who are born must die and cowards die many times before their death but the valiant taste death but once. Even if the opponent is stronger, can't the spark burn a heap of straw? Hence, let us fight for a good cause. Whereas, the leaders of the other 612 Gotras felt that the matrimonial alliance would be safer and more beneficial."
Bhaskara Acharya said: "We must safeguard our respect even at the cost of our lives". These words acted as a catalyst for Kusuma Sresti. Even though they formed a minority he was determined not to give his daughter Vasavi in marriage to the king. With this incident, the unity of the Komti's was broken. The Emperor, like an injured Cobra, took the lead of his huge army with strong determination to destroy his opponents. In Penugonda necessary arrangements were made with the supporters of the 102 Gotras to face the consequence.
Vasavi Devi's reaction
Vasavi entered into scene and said: "Why should there be bloodshed among us for the sake of a Girl? Why sacrifice the lives of soldiers for our selfish desire. It is better to give up the idea of war. Instead, let us rebel in a novel way. We can control war through non-violence and self-sacrifice. Only people with strong will power and moral strength can participate in this kind of self- sacrifice. Vasavi's new idea was delightful to her parents and they decided to act in accordance with Vasavi's directions.
As per the directions of Vasavi, at the holy place of Brahmakunda on the banks of Godavari, the royal servants arranged 103 Agnikundas (fire pits) in a special way. The whole city was observing that day as a festival day. Then Vasavi asked the couples of the 102 Gotras: "Will you plunge into this holy fire along with me?" Every one of them whole heartedly gave their consent. They suspected Vasavi must be an incarnation of God and requested her to show her real nature or swarupa.
She smiled and revealed her true self, which had the glittering radiance surpassing the brightness of sun. She said: "I am the incarnation of Adiparashakthi." To safeguard the dignity of woman and to protect Dharma, to destroy Vishnu Vardhana and to reveal to the world the magnanimity of Komti's I come here in Kaliyuga. Like Sati Devi who was insulted entered into holy fire, I too plunge into the holy fire and enter the other world. Kusuma sresty during last birth was a great Saint by name Samadhi as per his aspirations he could attain salvation along with the people of 102 Gotras. That is why I asked you all to undergo Atma Balidana." Vasavi advised the gathering about patriotism, honesty, social service, and tolerance etc.
Vishnu Vardhana’s death
Devi disappeared as soon as the divine words came out of her mouth and people saw her in human form. Then all of them entered into holy fire after meditating upon their Gods.
Though Vishnuvardhana felt bad Omens, he marched ahead and reached the main entrance of Penugonda. Then his detectives reported what all had happened in the city. He could not bare the great shock and his heart shattered into pieces. He fell down vomiting blood and he was no more.
The self-sacrifice of Vasavi and the end of Vishnuvardhana was the talk of the town. People condemned the deeds of Vishnuvardhana and appreciated the epoch maker Vasavi and her non-violent principle.
Sri Vasavi Devi's legacy
The son of Vishnuvardhana, Raja Raja Narendra rushed to Penugonda and repented about the incident. Later on Virupaksha consoled him and said: "Brother, let us learn and formulate the present and future on the strong base of past. Vasavi had come to rescue of the people without giving room for great bloodshed. Her non-violence gave a good result", hence forth Komatis shall not fight or rule states but shall engage in the service and as well wishers of others including services like trade, agriculture etc..,
Virupaksha visited many pilgrim centers like Kasi, Gaya and other under the guidance of Komati Kula guru Baskara Acharya. To commemorate the pilgrimage they installed 101 lingams for each Gotras in Penugonda. Then, Narendra installed a statue of Vasavi as a token of respect. From that day onwards all Komti's began performing Pooja to her and is considered as Komatikula Devata-Vasavi Kanyaka Parameswari.
Vasavi's life is worth remembering because of her faith in non-violence religious values and her defense of status of women. She became immortal as she has been mainly responsible for the propagation of reputation of Komatis throughout the world. Vasavi, who had rejected worldly pleasures, won the minds of Komatis and is the champion of peace and non-violence and will be remembered at all times by one and all.
Some of the text was extracted from the Free Wikipedia.