The experience of having darshan of Shri Venkateswara at Tirumala is unparalleled. Many a devotee feels so enraptured that it is a wrench to leave the Sanctum Sanctorum. One wishes that one could stay as long as one lives within the four walls housing the Lord. While ordinary mortals leave the shrine with a heavy heart and hope to return soon, ancient India had saints who had the faith to ask the Lord to leave Tirumala and go with them to their ashram! Astonishing! Yes but true. The story of Gunaseelar, an ancient rishi is engrossing.
Gunaseelam, a small hamlet, about 16 Kilometers away from Tiruchirapalli, on the Salem – Tiruchirapalli Road, is the site where the rishi performed penance. This brought none other than Lord Venkatachalapathy himself to the Banks of the Cauvery to reside in a place which came to be known by the very name of the saint. Saint Gunaseela was the disciple of Saint Sreethalpya. He was such an adept at serving his Guru that he was bestowed with all the superior knowledge that the Guru possessed. Once Gunaseelar went on a pilgrimage to the Seven Hills and had darshan of Lord Venkateswara. So moved was he that he pleaded with the Lord to go with him to his Ashram, as he felt that he could not stay away from Him anymore. The Lord who is ever moved by the true love of his devotees spoke to Gunaseelar and told him that as he was in a state of debt, he could not leave Tirumala. He directed Gunaseelar to return to his Ashram on the banks of the Cauvery and do penance. The Lord told the saint that none other than Vaikuntavasa Shri Narayana would appear.
Gunaseelar did as the Lord had directed and many years later in Krtha Yuga on Saturday in the month of Purattasi on the day of the star Sravana, Venkatachalapathy appeared in the Ashram of Gunaseelar as a Swayambhu. Gunaseelar was overjoyed and spent his days performing pujas to his Lord. At the time, his guru Sreethalpya wanted to go to Badrinath and perform penance. He however didn’t feel like parting from his dear disciple Gunaseela. Gunaseela could feel the desire of his Guru and also his dilemma. But he was himself in the horns of a dilemma: Whether to go with his Guru and in the process forsake his dear Lord who came to his abode or to forsake his Guru and stay with his Lord? The ever-compassionate Narayana was so moved at seeing the predicament of his devotee that when he prayed to Him to clear his mind and make him do the right thing, the Lord blessed his devotee and bade him to serve the guru. Since Venkatachalapathy cleared his mind, Gunaseela made a prayer that all those who pray to win at Gunaseelam should be rid of illusions and delusions and be blessed with clarity of mind. This is why there is a belief that praying at this temple is a cure to insanity and madness.
Gunaseela left the Lord after appointing a small boy to take care of the vigraha and do the daily pujas. Unfortunately the small boy grew quite scared of the wild animals and the swirling waters of the Cauvery inspate, that he abandoned the Lord and ran away. In the flux of time on anthill grew over the vigraha of Venkatachalapathy and serpents lived in it. At that time one of the local kings Gnana Varman, who had his capital at Uraiyur, had established his cowshed near the present Gunaseelam. One day the cowherds noticed that the level of milk in the milk jugs had gone down mysteriously. The puzzled cowherds reported this to the king and he himself witnessed the mysterious disappearance of the milk. At that point an old Brahmin appeared and told the kind that if the anthill was dissolved with milk, the king could see the Lord himself. The anthill was dissolved with milk and Venkatachalapathy with a couch, discus, whip and sceptre was revealed. The Lord blessed the King who immediately took upon himself the job of constructing a temple. The Lord here is known as “Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal” and it is believed that those who are not able to visit Tirumala can obtain the grace of Venkatachalapathy here.
The most important feature in this temple is the special grace that the lord bestows on the mentally unsound. The temple priests splash holy water on all the devotees, first on the mentally unsound, twice a day to cure them of their problems, and then on the others. The pujas are done here as per the Vaikanasa tradition. Devotees from Chennai can conveniently reach Tiruchirappalli by rail and take a direct bus to Gunaseelam. The temple has three ‘choultries’ and one for the mentally unsound to stay. It is believed that staying for 48 days and taking the “Theertham” twice a day will cure insanity. The beauty of the deity beckons one and all.