I have moved!

•December 2, 2011 • 2 Comments

I have moved and so have all my entries. Please visit http://kshetrapuranas.blogspot.com/ to follow my blogs there. I am still in the process of migrating.

The same stories are there, in much more detail and grandeur and a slightly better sense of writing developed over the past few years. I hope to enjoy your continued blessings and viewership!

Grandeur Lost (The story of Lanka’s lone Shakthi Peetha), Thirukkonamalai [Sri lanka]

•December 5, 2010 • 2 Comments

It is but a well known fact that there are a number of holy places referred to as the Shakthi Peethas where the Mother has manifested herself in various forms to offer protection and happiness to all her devotees who take refuge in her. As I have written earlier, these places were chosen by the goddess herself, for these were the spots where many of her Angas (body parts) fell when they were cut off the body of the burnt Dakshayani by Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra (See Daksha’s Yagna). However, there is much confusion and controversy over the number of these Shakthi Peethas and their specific locations. Some mention them to be 51 (Panchasat Shakthi Peethas) in number while others say that there are 18, still others maintaining that there are just 4 Adi Shakthi Peethas.

Turning to literary evidence, one of the most authoritative works that we can lay our hands upon is the AshtaDasaShakthiPeetha Shloka by Shankara himself. Starting with the verses “Lankaayam Shankari Devi”, Shankara details the locations and the names of 18 Shakthi Peethas strewn across the body of the subcontinent. The first amongst them is what he mentions as the Peetha of Shankari Devi in Lanka. This is believed to be the spot where the groin of Sati Devi is said to have fallen and is exalted as one of the most sacred spots in Sri Lanka. Sadly, not many know the purana associated with the Shankari temple and many know not even of the exact location of this peetha.

Long long ago, in the Tretha Yuga Parvathi was suddenly hit with a strong desire. She wanted a house, a large palatial mansion, where she could live happily with Shiva and her children, Heyrambha and Skanda. Coyly, she approached Shiva. “Swami, I have one request to make of you” she said, her head hanging down with shyness.

Shiva smiled his all-knowing bubbly smile. “Devi, you know fully well the repercussions of your previous request to me. But still, you have a desire. Speak away.”

“I want a house Swami. I want to live in a lovely mansion, attended by Yoginis and playing with our children. Please grant me this wish” said Parvathi.

Shiva laughed. “Shakthi, who are you speaking to? Have you forgotten that you are talking to me, who is extolled as the yogi of yogis, who has achieved supreme control over his senses and who sees no difference between the luxurious and the mundane.”

“I fully understand Swami, but it is you who does not understand my intentions for the goodness of this world. I want a house and I want it now.” said Shakthi with a hint of finality.

Shiva realized the thought behind Shakthi’s request and finally he gave his assent. Waving his hands in front of him he said, “Vishwakarma, I am in need of your help”. Lo, before him stood the Devaloka Architect, with a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. He bowed to the divine couple and awaited his instructions.

“Vishwakarma, build me the best palace ever seen in this world so that Uma can have her desire satisfied.” intoned Shiva.

In an instant Vishwakarma flew southwards and chose a beautiful spot on the island of Lanka. There he raised a magnificent structure, gleaming with gold and gems, cooled with water fountains and filled with the smell of many divine flowers in the garden, a palace that qualified to be the residence of the Mother of the three worlds.

Parvathi was extremely pleased with the outcome and wanted to perform the Griha Pravesha of this beautiful palace with the help of the best of the Brahmanas. Shiva and Shakthi came down to Lanka to find a suitable brahmana for the Grihapravesha. It was then that the distant but powerful chant of “Om Namah Shivaya” reached their ears. Following the divine sound they came to a place where they beheld a ten-headed man, performing austere tapasya invoking Shiva. Shiva smiled at Shakthi and then spoke out.

“Ravana, you have achieved the purpose of your tapas. So strong was your tapa that it not only drew me to you but also attracted Shakthi along with me to the place of your penance. You will achieve all that you desire.” he blessed.

Realising that Ravana was the son of the great saint Vishravas and very well versed on all the four Vedas, Parvathi was suddenly sure that he would be the right brahmana to perform the Grihapravesha to her house. Ravana gladly accepted the invitation and set a date for the auspicious entry into the palace (Ravana is believed to have been an authority in Astrology too and is said to have authored a separate book on Astrology titled Ravana Samhita)

On the prescribed date, Ravana performed the ceremony with much grandeur and splendor, with the correct usage of all the mantras and shlokas. Shiva and Parvathi entered their mansion and added further sanctity to the spot. Parvathi was extremely pleased with Ravana’s prowess in the Vedas and offered him any boon that he wanted as dakshina for performing the ceremonies.

Shiva, however laughed silently besides Parvathi. “It is not proper for a Brahmana to ask what he wants for dakshina. He should be pleased with what the Yajamana or Yajamani gives him. However, as Shakthi herself offered you the boon, you may ask whatever you please.”

Ravana demands the Palace as a gift

Ravana smiled at the couple and realized suddenly what he wanted. He had fallen in love with the palace itself. He had admired every piece of woodwork, every carving and every room that had been designed by Vishwakarma. “Jaganmata, I would like this house of yours in return for my ceremonies.” He asked.

Parvathi smiled at the play of fate and granted him his wish. Ravana was visibly thrilled but at the same time guilt rattled him. He felt ashamed at robbing Parvathi of her house. “Devi,” he exclaimed, “do continue to live in Lanka as long as you please. This land is but equivalent to one speck of dust on your feet. Please give your consent to stay here and bless this land forever.”

Parvathi smiled again. “Ravana, I accept your invitation. My shakthi will always pervade this place. But on one condition- I will go away from the island the moment you disobey any of my commands.” Ravana agreed to her condition and with one last Tathastu, Parvathi returned to Kailasha.

Ravana built a gigantic temple, replete with architectural details, dedicated to the goddess Shankari Devi. The temple was located on the top a cliff that fell sharply into the magnificent sea below. Around the temple, Ravana set up a beautiful garden, the best in all of Lanka. The goddess smiled on the people of Lanka and the kingdom prospered.

Trouble began when Ravana, overcome by carnal desire, kidnapped Seetha and brought her to Lanka. Shankari devi was angered by this base action of Ravana. She asked him to leave Seetha and return her to Rama. But lust clung to Ravana like a leech and he did not obey Devi’s advice. Highly disappointed, Shankari left the island country and with her left all the peace and prosperity of the kingdom.

We are of course familiar with the remainder of the story detailing the Rama-Ravana war and the subsequent defeat of Ravana. When Vibheeshana was crowned by Rama as the emperor of Lanka, he prayed that Shankari devi once again take residence in the island nation. Shankari Devi accepted his prayers and re-entered her temple, bringing glory to Lanka once again.

Shankari Devi as described in the Dhyana Shloka

The place where Ravana had built Shankari Devi’s temple is believed to be the exact spot where the groin of Sati is said to have fallen. The magnificent cliff where the temple was built is by itself considered to be a part of Kailasha.

When this universe was born, Parameshwara had delegated various tasks to various gods and demigods and blessed them with the required powers. Adisesha was assigned with the duty of holding up the earth steadily until the next Mahapralaya. Having heard about this Vayu, the wind god, was furious. “Sesha”, he taunted, “how can you, who is afraid of Garuda, be the perfect choice to hold up this earth”. Adisesha was livid. “I live just by eating you, oh Wind. I am much stronger than you are” he slashed back. Blinded by fury, they attacked each other. Adisesha coiled himself around Kailasha and sneered at Vayu. “If you are as powerful as you say, try blowing away one peak of this great mountain”. Vayu turned into a hurricane and attacked Kailasha. The worlds trembled at the force of this combat and the devas yearned for refuge at Shiva’s feet. Shiva then ordered Brahma to create another Kailasha to the south and then descended with Parvathi to reside at the Southern Kailasha.

“Adisesha,” said Shiva. “All this is another play of mine. I have decided to protect the people of Bharatha Khanda from the south too. This war of yours will end just as successfully in my favour. Listen to me.” Adisesha lifted three of his thousand hoods to look and listen to the lord. At that instant, Vayu broke away three peaks from Kailasa. By Parameshwara’s orders he placed these three in Thondai naadu (ThiruKaalahasthi), Chozha Naadu (Thirichirapalli {See Thayumanavar}) and in Eezha Naadu (Lanka) respectively. The third hill came to be known as Thirukkonamalai and lies along the same longitude as Kailasha, thus earning the name Dakshina Kailasha. This was where the famed Shankari Devi temple was located.

For those of you who did notice the past tense in the last sentence, it was not a mistake. Sadly, the temple no longer exists. All that remains of the magnificent temple, that was lovingly build by Ravana, is but one pillar.

At its zenith, Thirukkonamalai was perhaps the richest and the most visited Hindu shrine, maybe more so than Rameshwaram or Puri. Extolled by the Nayanmar saints in the Tevaram and by Arunagirinathar in his Thiruppugazh, Konamaamalai was a great center of Shiva worship, second only to Chidambaram. It is one of the two Paadal Petra Thalams in Lanka. Archeological and literary evidence prove the existence of at least three temples on the cliff, with one gopuram taller than the other, the highest gopuram enshrining the main deity. The main temple itself was believed to have a thousand pillars supporting a humongous hall and many mandapas

Swami Rock, as the spot was named, in 1870

The rock carving near the temple, referred to as the Konesar Kalvettu places the beginnings of the temple circa 1580 BC. The temple has recorded history from as far as 300BC. Destroyed by the Buddhist king Mahasena and replaced by Buddha Viharas, the temple was renewed and reconstructed by the Chozha King Kulakotta Chozhan. He rebuilt the temple and the tank, earning his name (Kulam – Tank, Kattu – Build) and brought down the Vanniars to settle in the region and make it flourish. The temple was further served by the Pandya, Pallava and the Jaffna kings making it a magnificent place of pilgrimage that attracted people from all over the subcontinent. The kings and the Vanniars paid handsome tributes of gold, silver and pearl to the lord, making the temple prosperous and famous. The glory however became the very bane of the temple. On the Tamil New Year day (14th April) 1624, the temple was looted by the Portuguese. When the utsavar was taken out in a procession, the Portuguese entered the temple dressed as brahmanas and plundered its wealth. Gold, pearls and gems that were collected over thousands of years were looted in a few hours. The temple itself was cannon-balled and broken to pieces. Much of the temple’s masonry was used to reinforce Fort Frederick and the rest of it was pushed into the Indian Ocean. The fleeing priests buried much of the idols and sent the rest for safekeeping. The looting of the temple is perhaps the biggest plundering of the Indian temples by the western barbarians. An amazing yet true fact is the presence of a rock carving, dating to the early Pandya dynasty complete with the double fish Insignia, which foretells the fall of the temple into the hands of the Franks. Presently kept in the Lisbon Museum it prophesizes “O King, be warned, the franks will ruin the ancient temple built by Kulakottan and no future king will ever think of building it to its previous glory again.”

In 1689 a smaller temple was built nearby to house the idols that had survived in the procession. This Adi Konanayakkar temple still exists and so do the idols that escaped their fate on that fateful day. No worship was allowed to take place at the ruins until the Britishers entered the country. People then often went to the rock and broke coconuts, sometimes throwing offerings into the sea below where it reached the underwater ruins. In 1950, the ancient Konanayakar Utsavamoorthy made of Panchaloha, the idol of Ambal and Ganesha were discovered while digging for a well. 350 years after the destruction of the temple, the Lankans reinstalled the utsavar idols and in 1952 built a temple to Koneswarar at the spot near the ancient ruins. A diving team which included the author Arthur C Clarke (of Space Odyssey fame) took some stunning photographs of the underwater ruins of the temple and retrieved the ancient Swayambhu Linga which was later installed in the temple.

Ganesha drops the Shiva Linga

The story behind the Linga also dates back to the time of Ravana. After years worth of prayer Ravana had succeeded in obtaining a Linga from Shiva himself, which he planned to install in the Shankari Devi temple. Proud of himself, he flew towards Lanka when suddenly the sun set, signaling the time for his evening prayers. Afraid of keeping the sacred Linga down, he spotted a boy nearby and asked him to hold the Linga while he performed his prayers. The boy, who was none other than Ganesha, nodded his head. Ravana gave him the linga and went for his prayers. Ganesha coolly placed the linga on the ground and disappeared. On returning, Ravana realized that he couldn’t lift the linga and looked for the boy to spank him, but it was all in vain. Accepting defeat, Ravana now retreated to Dakshina Kailasha and prayed for a linga. Silence was all that he got in return. Furious at the lack of response, Ravana uprooted the entire mountain of Thirukkonamalai to throw it into the ocean. But Shiva just pressed his toe down on the mountain, crushing Ravana. Finally, happy with his immense bhakthi, the Trimurthis appeared and gave Ravana a linga each, which they asked him to install at the three corners of the hill (And hence the name of the place, Tri – three, Kona – Corners, Malai – Hill). Ravana duly placed the three lingas, the central one along with Shankari Devi and the other two lingas at the two corners and built three temples around them. This account matches with the historical record of the presence of three magnificent edifices on the cliff.

Ravana Crushed under Thirukkonamalai by Shiva

Thirukkonamalai is attached to another hill named Macchendira Malai. Legends speak of the story of an Asura, who after receiving extensive boons from Shiva had tormented the Devas to great extents. He had snatched the protective amulets worn by the Devas and had thrown them into the Indian Ocean. The Devas finally took refuge at Thirukkonamalai after which Shiva asked of Vishnu to take his Matsyavatara and retrieve the amulets. Vishnu obligingly took the form of a fish and retrieved the amulets. The body of the gigantic fish turned into a mountain that merged with Thirukkonamalai, thus earning the name Matsyendramalai which gradually got corrupted to Macchendira Malai.

The Long lost idols

The present temple is of much modest dimensions compared to the one of yore. Regarded as one of the Pancha Eeswarams of Shiva, Koneswaram has shrines to Ganesha, Subramanya and other Shaivite deities surrounding the central Garbha Griha which enshrines the ancient powerful Asura Linga, Thirukkoneswarar. The recently recovered Panchaloha idols are worshipped in the Vasantha Mandapam. There is a separate smaller temple dedicated to the goddess worshipped as Mathumai Ambal. Though many pilgrims worship her as Shankari Devi, the Peetha Nayaki of the Shankari Shakthi Peetha, she is not the ancient Shankari devi who was worshipped by Ravana and Adi Shankara, to whom the grandest temple on Lanka was built. The form of Shankari devi as described in the Dhyana shloka does not match the divine form of Mathumai Ambal. The original idol is lost forever. People worship the lone pillar standing at the summit of the hill as the only remnant of the grand Shankari temple. Many believe that the pillar itself marks the exact position of the Shakthi peetha though this is a debatable topic.

Thirukkoneswaram today

The temple theertha, the Mavaliganga, bubbles up from a well at the western portion of the hill, circumambulates the hill and empties into the Indian Ocean. It is believed that when Parvathi once examined Shiva’s matted locks, she caught the sight of a woman’s face for a fleeting second. The terrified Ganga froze into an ice drop which was covertly scooped up and dropped into the sea by Shiva. It is believed that it is she who wells up in the Sivanolipadam hills near Northern Lanka, flowing towards Thirukkonamalai as Mahabaliganga, towards Ketheeswaram (the only other Paadal Petra Thalam in Lanka) as Manikka Ganga and towards Kathirgama as Kaveri Ganga.

Thirukkoneswarar and Mathumai Ambal

The scriptures speak of Thirukkoneswaram having Nine prakaras, each named after a Navarathna, each containing various shrines and Ashramas. By lore, there also exist seven caves on the hill. Agastya and Pulastya are believed to reside in the northern cave. The North-western cave is rumored to hide an entry to the Nagaloka. The North-Eastern cave is capable of granting instant moksha, the western cave is the source of the Mavaliganga, the Southern cave is believed to have a silver temple in its depth, the south western cave has the Rathna theertha and the eastern cave houses the Mowthikka theertha.

The temple is thus steeped in history and mythical lore. The first of the 18 Shakthi Peethas, a piece of Mount Kailasha and the southern residence of Shiva, the sanctity of the temple is but incalculable. People have started revisiting this center of ancient Saivism only in recent times. Many still remain in darkness, not knowing the existence of this old sthala. But the visiting pilgrims leave the place with much to share, both spiritually and otherwise.

The Solitary Pillar marking the previous temple

The temple offers a spectacular vista of the calm Indian ocean stretching out for miles. By the edge of the cliff, stands an ancient Bilva tree, under which Sri Rama is said to have meditated. The temple itself stands on the cliff, not as grand as the three “many-tiered gopurams” lit by countless sparkling lamps, that had once drawn the Portuguese to it, but as a simpler, smaller space, that is exalted as being the Kailasha of the south.

Deepak

[PS : The temple is located on the North Eastern coast of Sri Lanka in a city that is presently known as Trincomalee (a vulgarized form of Thirukkonamalai). The city is well connected by roads. The temple itself is reached by a rigorous hike up the Konamalai. Vehicles can also drive up to the very door step of the temple. The place is as much Tamil as any temple in Tamil Nadu, with even the priests and commoners speaking the language, which is a great convenience.]

The Ghat of Kali, Kolkatta

•December 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

What a serene forest it was. The trees grew close to each other, their high reaching branches interwoven thickly to form one huge canopy through which a little sunlight dappled here and there. The chirping of birds and the roars and growls of wild animals added further charm to the enchanting orchestra that Mother Nature herself was conducting amidst these tall trees. Somewhere nearby one could hear the Ganges rushing through the forest in gurgles and splashes. The whole place reverberated with some power that was way beyond the ordinary.

Kapalikas freely roamed the forests, choosing places for performing their tantric worship to propitiate Shakthi, in her form of Kameshwari (She who quenches Shiva’s creative lust). On the other hand, rishis, sanyasis and sadhus had also set up ashramas by the banks of the Ganges, worshipping Lalitha Tripurasundari, the mother in her benign form. Shastra and tantra mingled freely adding to the already mystical powers of the place.

One such sanyasi was Brahmananda. He too had set up his own ashrama and was engaged in penance unto the goddess. He was dutifully served by his disciple Andaram. Andaram held guru-seva as his most important priority and he believed that this ashrama was equivalent to a temple. Everyday, on a routine basis, when Brahmananda sat in his Samadhi state trying to merge his mind with the lotus feet of Amba, Andaram went to the river to have his daily ablutions and collect flowers for his guru’s pooja and his own guru-pooja.

On that fateful day too Andaram had left his guru, sitting on his tiger skin rug, and proceeded towards the Ganges. Suddenly, without any preamble, the third eye (the mystical eye of knowledge) of Brahmananda threw itself open and Brahmananda beheld the vision of a glowing flame. Elevated to the highest stages of ecstasy, Brahmananda started to follow the flame which was moving slowly. His eyes were still closed and he allowed the flame burning in his mind to lead him, totally devoid of his other senses. And then he slipped and fell. Gone was the flame, the vision and all. Brahmananda pulled himself up and realized that he had fallen into a puddle and the reason for his fall was a tall black stone sticking jaggedly out of the waters.

Brahmananda touched the stone gingerly and immediately withdrew his hand. “This is not an ordinary stone. It is overflowing with some energy.” he thought. And then he saw the imprints. On the stone were the impressions of four toes from the right foot of a woman. With his Gnanadrishti, Brahmananda realized that these toes, each accessorized with a toe ring, were indeed the toes of Dakshayani, the daughter of Daksha. They had fallen here when Vishnu had cut her burnt body into bits with his Sudarshana Chakra (Refer Daksha’s yagna). Brahmananda felt blessed beyond words and he closed his eyes to thank the goddess for this find.

There, the flame reappeared again. “What now, oh gracious Devi” he asked the flame. Once again he followed the flame, eyes closed and still reeling from the overwhelming bliss. He felt the Ganges wetting his feet but he didn’t stop. The flame continued guiding him to the very depths of the Ganges and there Brahmananda felt a rock touching him gently. He opened his eyes.

Shiny black in colour, glistening with the wetness of water, the stone revealed itself to Brahmananda. And there, twelve feet tall, with an imposing presence stood Kali. Her beautiful face, the elongated tongue, her hands, her waist were all exquisitely carved on the stone. Every detail was beautiful beyond description except the four toes missing from her right foot.

This sight was a tad too much for Brahmananda, who had already reached the heights of his adrenaline level that day, and he swooned on top of the rock. Slowly, carrying the weight of Brahmananda, the rock floated along the Bhagirathi, bobbing gently.

Meanwhile, Andaram was overcome with shock on not finding his guru at the ashram. With anxiety making his heart-beat sound like hammer on anvil, he rushed hither-thither, calling out to his guru but only in vain. At long last he caught sight of his guru floating in the middle of the Ganges on the top of a rock. Relieved to find him, Andaram waded into the waters and pulled his guru out.

Brahmananda slowly regained consciousness and to Andaram’s surprise, gave him a smile. A smile that glowed with the knowledge of having realized the meaning of Brahman. He showed Andaram the puddle where he had discovered, or rather where She had made him discover Her four toes. He then installed the stone statue from the river next to the puddle and built a small hut around it to provide a shade residence for the Mother. Andaram was still surprised at the whole incident. He was happy beyond belief that the goddess had chosen his guru and himself to be the first people to have her darshan but he was still struggling to figure out why Devi had chosen this place to manifest herself.

Brahmananda once again smiled at his pupil. “The ways of our gods are not so transparent Andaram. They play their games their own cunning ways but finally it is all for the good of the people like you and me.” he explained. “There is a reason to her games as there is also an answer to your question.”

“Himavan was the king of the prosperous kingdom lying nestled in the shadows of the Himalayas. Blessed with immense riches, respect and law-abiding citizens, Himavan and his queen Maina had but one wish – that they have a child on whom they can lavish their love and riches alike. Every temple they visited, every yagna they performed and every time they played host to a rishi, they had but the same prayer.”

“Sometimes all that you need to do is ask and it shall be given. Pleased with their prayers, the gods smiled on the royal couple. Maina conceived shortly afterwards, to the great joy of the entire kingdom. Nine months later she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Being the daughter of Parvatharajan (the king of the Mountains), she was named Parvathi.”

“Parvathi was none other than Dakshayani, who had jumped into the Yagna fire at Daksha’s sacrifice, her final prayer to Shiva being that at least in her next birth she should be blessed with a father whom she could be proud of. Realising this, a number of rishis and sanyasis set up their ashramas on the green slopes of the Himalayas so that they could constantly see and worship Uma, who roamed the forests with her royal friends. The forests burst into blooms and rivers ran free to embrace the land which had been blessed with the touch of her holy feet. Parvathi too bloomed with the flowers into a beautiful maiden full of divine grace”

“One day, the trikala-gnani Narada happened to visit the kingdom. Himavan welcomed him with all due respects and offered him many priceless gifts. The time was right for Narada to begin his trademark work – cause chaos”

“Playing into his bait, Himavan, burdened with the weight of a daughter who was of marriageable age, asked Narada to tell him about the future of Parvathi.”

“Narada cast his glance on the face of the goddess and then he held her hand and looked at her palm. Finally he asked the royal astrologer to bring in Parvathi’s horoscope and spent a good deal of time poring over it. Himavan waited with bated breath”

“Finally with a long sigh Narada opened his mouth. ‘Oh King’ he said, ‘Your daughter is blessed with immense goodwill, morals and angalakshanas. She is indeed very gifted and unique. She has got all the qualifications to be worshipped by you as well as all the citizens of this earth and heaven alike. She will be praised as Bhavani, Uma, Lalitha and so on. Her planetary positions could not have been more exalted. She is nothing short of divine. But still she too has a dosha.’ Narada’s words distressed Maina and Himavan. ‘Oh best of Munis’ cried Himavan, ‘what dosha is it? What is the parikara that is to be done to get rid of it? I will not tolerate any dosha that causes pain to my daughter.’”

“Narada smile. ‘Himavan, have you forgotten that fate cannot be altered by mortals? But still here it is. In spite of all her good qualities and beauty, she will marry a man who is nowhere a match. He will not have a Rishi to trace back his roots to, neither will he have a mother nor a father. He will be gifted with no good gunas but neither will he have any negative qualities. As and when he wishes, he will smear his body with ash from the cemetery and dance ferociously in the graveyards. He will ride on a bull and will sport a garland of skulls around his neck. Totally devoid of desire and hatred, he will be the one to take your daughter’s hand.’ finished Narada.”

“Himavan was shattered at this prediction. How could he let the prestige of the royal lineage go into the ditch because of his daughter’s marriage. Maina fainted at the very thought. Slowly, looking much older than he did a few minutes ago, Himavan approached Narada. Narada smiled inwards at the success of his task but then looking at Himavan’s piteous condition, he told ‘But don’t worry, oh great king. Ask your daughter to undergo penance unto the lord of Kailaya. If he wills, your daughter will have a blissful married life, though the bridegroom will still be the same.’ And he disappeared. Himavan sat up, his mind much clearer than before. He then ordered Parvathi to go into the forests and perform tapas to gain the grace of Shiva. Parvathi at once obeyed her father and left home.”

Parvathi performs her penance

“Parvathi, the royal princess who had lived with every comfort at the palace, now resorted to the forests in seek of Shiva. For the first thousand years, she ate the fruits that grew in the forest. For the next thousand years she drank water alone and lived on it. For the next thousand years, she took in nothing but air and based her survival on it. Her skin, which had once glowed with the softness of the moon, had now become black and wrinkled. It was then that she heard an oracle from the skies- ‘Parvathi, go home. Your penance has been answered. The time has come for your groom to come in search of you. Inform your parents to start the preparations for the wedding.’”

“Overcome with joy, Parvathi ran home, and conveyed her parents the happy news that the oracle had announced. Himavan too was thrilled beyond words. The contagious happiness spread around the kingdom, and the king and the subjects alike eagerly awaited the arrival of the bridegroom”

“And arrive they did. But what a strange sight met Maina who had come to welcome the bridegroom at the gates of the kingdom with her arathi plate. A whole horde of people  or rather indescribable beings stood at the borders of the kingdom. They were led by a man on a bull (who Maina assumed to be her future son-in-law) holding a trident in one hand and a small damaru in the other. Snakes played delightfully on his body which was freshly smeared with ash from the graves. Accompanying him was the richest looking king she had ever seen, seated on a majestic white elephant with four tusks. And as if this pair was not weird enough, there were more people behind, all dressed in various states from priceless ornaments and colourful silks to human teeth necklaces and tree-bark coverings. Some of them had two heads, some had none. Some had one arm while some had ten. Further, each was riding on an animal that ranged from donkeys and dogs to pigs and rams.”

” Her subjects had scattered in all the four directions at this sight. Maina herself felt her heart shudder as she recalled Naradas words – ‘Himavan, have you forgotten that fate cannot be altered by us mortals’. Who was she, but a mere human, to have not realized that it was Parameshwara himself who had come asking for the hand of her daughter, accompanied by Indra, the devas and his entire retinue of Bhoothaganas.”

“It was then that Narada appeared at her side and informed her that it was none other than Neelakantha who presently stood at the gateways of her kingdom, waiting to be welcomed inside. How blessed she must have been to behold a sight that many rishis and munis have not been able to achieve even after years of undergoing the toughest of penance.”

“Joy rippled through the crowd that had gathered behind Maina as she returned to her senses and welcomed the protector of the seven worlds into her kingdom. Soon the people of Himachal had penetrated the ranks of devas and ganas freely mingling with them, giggling and laughing.”

“‘Oh you handsome ,bewitching, charming groom,

Smeared with dirty ash from the graves of doom.

The skulls are your garlands; a bull is your seat,

Is this how you come to sweep our princess of her feet?’

The citizens of Himachal howled with dire sarcasm at Shiva. Eshwara took all their jokes in good jest just as a father would love his son to say that his beard felt too prickly for planting a kiss. But of course the rest of the groom-side saw no reason to take this jibe lightly. They too ridiculed the bride to be in their choicest vocabulary

‘With the complexion of the deep night does the bride await,

Her shadow indiscernible from her body, on an evening this late

The crows will find her pleasing, her excellent fairness I say

But stay away from the fire, lest the coal dust burns her away’

To Parvathi, whose intense tapas had robbed her of her former beauty, her queenly gait and her fair complexion, these remarks felt like stabs with a sharp knife. Ashamed to show even her face to the assembled marriage guests, she accepted the Mangalsutra around her neck without lifting her bent head”

Gowri Kalyana Vaibhogame

“The marriage was over and the divine couple had retired to their home in Kailash. One day Parvathi had Shiva to herself, without the constant presence of his loyal attendants around him. The mother decided to move her pawn and she broached the topic with the bluntness of a broken pencil. ‘ Manaala, when your entire retinue made fun of me, why were you silent without asking them to be quiet? Were you enjoying it too?’ she asked, her eyes welling up with tears”

“Parameshwara laughed. ‘Oh Kali’, he said with a grin. ‘What is there in a colour? You are black, you are white and you are red too.’ This feeble attempt to calm her only added fuel to Parvathi’s anger. “Look, even you called me Kali (the black one). Until there comes a time when this black complexion goes away and you yourself call me Gauri (the fair one), I am going away from Kailash to once again undergo tapas, and that too fixing my mind on you.” she blurted and immediately left her hilly abode”

“And it is she who had left Kailasa that day who has reached me in the form of a stone today, Andaram”, said Brahmananda ending his narration. “But don’t be fooled by this game. Don’t you dare think that she is capable of being fooled by the mere colours of the skin. She has come here to prove that this sthala is a powerful shakthi peetha where the toes of Sati had fallen. Birth and death are natural occurences, Andaram, and so is rebirth. This Kali here is a perfect example of the concept of rebirth. She has manifested herself where her toes had fallen in her previous birth, to teach us that she is beyond this mundane cycle of life and death. This you must understand and worship her. She will remove the fog of Maya that clouds our life and grant us the bliss of Brahmagnana.” said Brahmananda, absent-mindedly stroking his long beard.

And thus did Kali arrive on the banks of the Ganges by the western coast of India. What was a thick dark jungle ten centuries ago today teems with concrete buildings and busy shops. The temple to Kalika stands amidst busy streets, with the Ganga gurgling nearby. Since Kali was found by the banks (Ghat) of the Ganges, the place came to be known as Kalighat and over time it’s pronunciation changed to what we know today as Kolkatta.

Kalighat's Gopurams

The temple was built on a piece of land that was gifted by Mansingh, the commander-in-chief of Akbar’s army, to Kali for fulfilling a dear prayer of his. Out of the 595 Beeghas of land that were transferred to the temple’s name, the present day temple occupies just one beegha. Topped with low parabolical towers painted white, the temple faces south towards a graveyard locally called Kevdathala. Everyday, Kali smiles at the many corpses that are brought to be burnt at this cemetery, rejoicing at the opportunity for the departed soul to be reborn in this land of hers.

The temple in its present form is only 200 years old and was build under the patronage of the Sabarna Roy Choudhary family. They replaced the temple that was built by Mansingh. It is believed that one day when Santos Roy Choudhary of the Sabarna family was walking by the forest, he was attracted to this sacred spot by the sound of a blowing conch and was blessed with the vision of several rishis worshiping Kali. Being a staunch Shakthi Upasaka he regularly started coming to the place and later built the temple for the Mother.

Kalighat Shri Kalika Devi

There are six entrances to the temple and one can have a clear darshan of the Mother standing at the entrance of the southern doorway. It is not an exaggeration when people describe their first encounter with her as scary or bone-chilling. Twelve feet tall, with three large eyes, showing a commanding insight into the past, the present and future alike, and sharp teeth glistening over a long hanging tongue, the goddess strikes fear and dread into the hearts of evil doers. But at the same time, her bhakthas find her eyes to be full of grace, ever ready to protect her children. Her nose-ring, teeth and tongue are all made of gold. She has four arms each holding a sword, a human head, the varada and abhaya mudras. The arms are made of gold too, each weighing a whooping 10 kilograms. Around her neck hangs a garland of human heads, also carved out of gold. Her head is covered with a priceless golden crown while her fingers play host to many rings with precious stones. But she is decked with red hibiscus flowers, and bright red sarees cover her from head to toe, so that the pilgrims get to see her graceful face alone.

Interestingly, swords are given as an offering to the goddess. People buy swords of various shapes and sizes made of wood, steel, silver or gold and place it at her feet, later offering to the temple. Draping the goddess with a red saree is another practice in vogue. Shops outside the temple are decked with sarees which cost anywhere between Rs 50 to several thousand. Pilgrims enter the temple with the purchased red saree, a few pieces of Peda, a garland of Shuli flowers and a one rupee coin. They place the coin on the goddess’ left hand, unburden their sufferings at her lotus feet, drape her with the saree and take the Peda as her Prasad.

Soshti thala

The lake to the east of the temple is today named Kali-kund. Fed by the Ganges, it is believed that it was here that the toes of the goddess were discovered by Brahmananda. Pilgrims usually take a bath in this kund before entering the temple. A curious sight meets you on stepping into the temple. People place their heads on the Bali Peetha facing the Sannidhi, a custom not seen anywhere else. It is a symbolic request to the goddess to cut this cycle of birth and death and give us eternal moksha. Right opposite the main entrance, at what is known as the Harkath Thala, there are two other Bali peethas that reek with blood. Here, goats and chicken are sacrificed to the goddess by various people, thanking her for her blessings in their lives. A little further down, the Samadhi of Brahmananda is marked by a small raised altar bearing a little cactus plant. Known as the Sosthi Thala, there are three flat stones embedded on the platform representing the goddesses Sosthi, Sitola and Mangol Chandi. Pujas over here are exclusively performed by women priests alone. From this spot, looking across the Ganges, one can have an excellent view of the beautiful temple dedicated to Dakshineshwari, the goddess who was once worshiped, woken up, fed with sumptuous food and put to sleep – every single day with loving care by none other than Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Behind the main Sannidhi at Kalighat is the Stala Vriskha with a shrine dedicated to Manasadevi at its base. Pilgrims whisper their wishes to her and tie threads onto the tree, a practice commonly followed throughout the country in many temples.

Just like any other Shakthi peetha, Kolkatta too is graced by a Bhairava moorthi named Nakuleshwar. This linga is believed to be a swayambhu and many claim that it too was found by Brahmananda immediately after the arrival of Kali.

Every day is a festival at the Kalika temple that sees a constant inflow of visitors. During the daily noon arati the goddess is offered with a hodge-podge of several vegetables and rice cooked together, which is known as Bhog. This Bhog is freely distributed to the devotees after the arathi. Durga Pooja that comes during the Shravana Navarathri and Kali Pooja that takes place amidst much dance and song on Diwali are two of the temple’s biggest festivals. The temple literally bursts with people during these occasions.

On the full moon day in the month of Jyeshta, the right foot of the goddess is washed with a fragrant mixture of milk, sandal and water and the abhisheka liquid is distributed to the devotees as Charnamrit. It is believed to bestow one with happiness and cure many diseases if ingested with devotion and belief.

The temple is situated bang in the center of Kolkatta and is easily reached by various forms of transport. The Bengalis swear in her name and her power. For them she is the beginning and the end, the reason for life and death and the journey beyond it all. Though Kolkata is famous for the tantric practices of shakthi worship, rigidly followed by the many Kapalikas who roam the graveyards and crematories, pilgrims still visit the place in large numbers, invoking the goddess in their own simple ways, believing that her grace alone is sufficient to cross this ocean of bonds and ultimately merge with her. And I couldn’t agree with them any more.

Jai Maa Kalika

Deepak

Lakshmi’s Earthly Residence, Kolhapur/Karvir

•December 1, 2010 • 3 Comments

“In the name of God, what is happening here?” shouted Ugrasena, the aged king of Mathura. He had been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of drums and conches, and of people running helter-skelter in the corridors. “Can’t an aged man have some rest?”

“Calm down Grandpa”, said Krishna. He was as immaculately dressed as ever which was a matter of concern as the night guard had rung the sixth hour after moonrise. “Jarasandha is attacking Mathura.” he informed the king, with the coolness of discussing the weather.

“Again?” shrieked Ugrasena, his voice thick with surprise. “Has sense still not penetrated through his thick skull after seventeen continuous defeats at the hands of the Yadavas?”

Jarasandha, the King of Magadha, was the father-in-law of Kamsa. Extremely powerful and an intense Shiva bhaktha, Jarasandha had married off his daughters, Asti and Prapti to the then crown prince of Mathura – Kamsa. His ties with Kamsa extended well beyond those that exist between a father-in-law and a son-in-law. Jarasandha even went to the extent of sending in troops to aid Kamsa in overthrowing his own father, the King Ugrasena.

Naturally, the death of Kamsa at the hands of Krishna changed Jarasandha’s friendly relationships with the kingdom of Mathura. Unable to see the pitiful condition of his widowed daughters, he vowed to kill Krishna and win over the city of Mathura. Seventeen times, he had attacked Mathura, gathering his armies time and again, only to fail repeatedly.

“It is different this time Grandpa” said Krishna. “His army is huge; surely at least ten times our own forces. And we have such short notice. I do not want to put the people of Mathura at risk.”

“So, what do we do? Surrender to him shamelessly without putting up a fight?” asked Ugrasena, his age suddenly showing on his face.

“Noooooo…” shouted a distant voice. “That is not necessary.” The owner of the voice had rushed into the royal chambers, his clothes in a total state of mess. It was Vikadru, an aged and experience statesman. “Maharaja”, he said, kneeling before the king, “a word of advice from your humble servant”. Ugrasena nodded.

“It is my perception that Jarasandha wants to take over Mathura for the sole purpose of capturing and killing our prince, Krishna. If by some way, the prince sneaks out of the city and Jarasandha comes to hear of it, then I don’t think he will attack Mathura.”

“So you expect Krishna to run away from the very city of which he is the prince, leaving it open to attack?” shouted Ugrasena.

But Krishna’s face shone brighter. “I say, that’s a smashing idea. I will leave the city. Jarasandha will not attack if I am not there. The city will be saved. I can even take Balarama with me for company. We will tour the country side.” he said with a snide grin.

“But where will they go? They are princes, not homeless nomads.” Ugrasena was livid with anger and fear.

“Oh King, listen to me. I have the perfect plan for the escape of the princes. In fact, they will go and take shelter in a city that is our very own. A city that was actually built by the very originators of the Yadava race.” Vikadru’s eyes shined with the excitement of a long kept secret.

“A city built by the Yadavas? Where is this Vikadru? How come we have never heard about it? When was it built?” asked a hyper excited Krishna. “Tell us about it Vikadru.”

“Then I will better start now. For it is going to be a long story” said Vikadru, settling into a comfortable couch.

“Ages ago, when in deep meditation at the time of creation, Brahma had created three Manasaputras – Gaya, Lavana and Kolha. By the blessings of their own father, these three were immensely powerful and virtually invincible. They became rulers of three vast and powerful regions on the earth.”

“However, Gaya and Lavana, owing to their ego and pride, somehow managed to get on the wrong side of Yama and Vishnu. Enraged by their acts of shameless behavior, the gods killed them. However, giving due respects to their status as Brahma putras, they were granted instant moksha and the place where they died became a holy center of pilgrimage, Vishnugaya.”

“Kolha, the youngest of the three was astounded on hearing about the death of his brothers. Enraged at the wicked doings of the gods, Kolha decided to avenge the death of his brothers. But instead of waging a war against the gods, he decided to dislodge them from their seats of power by performing intense tapas. He left his kingdom and proceeded to the mountains which are presently a part of the Sahyadris to lead the austere life of a Tapasvin. Years passed and the intensity of his penance increased.”

“In the meanwhile, Sukeshi, an asura by birth, had seized control of Kolha’s kingdom. Due to his tamasic nature he tortured rishis and burnt their ashramas. Religion no longer held its head up during his reign. Temples were destroyed and innocents were killed mercilessly. But the gods took no action, for they knew what was in store.”

“Owing to the intensity of Kolha’s penance, Brahma came down to earth and offered the entire universe at his feet. Powered by this new boon, Kolha returned back to his city. Shocked at the turn of events, he attacked Sukeshi and killed him instantly, taking back control of his kingdom. Everyone rejoiced, but this was hardly the end of the gods’ troubles.”

“Kolha then decided to hand over the kingdom to Karvir, his eldest son. And Karvir was just as bad as Sukeshi. His natural inclination towards aggression and bloodshed burst into flames of hatred when he learnt that the gods were responsible for the death of his two uncles. He took upon himself the task of seeking retribution. He demolished shrines, desecrated Yagnyashalas and slaughtered sages and brahmins.”

“Finally, unable to remain oblivious to the actions of Karvir, the Trimurthis came down and declared war on him. Karvir was a great warrior and the grandson of Brahma, which made him almost invincible. The battle went on for several days with heavy losses on both the warring sides. Ultimately Shiva pierced him with his trident and killed him, bringing joy to the gods. Along with Karvir, three of his brothers had died in the battle too. The Trimurthis named the place Karvirnagar in honor of Karvir according to a boon that Karvir had demanded just before his moment of death.”

“The old king Kolha was however boiling with fury when he heard the plight of his sons. His hatred towards the gods redoubled. The fire of vengeance burnt him from his very insides. But he was a wise man as we had already seen from his calm succession of the universe. He knew that Mahalakshmi was the power of all gods, the mother of all creation. If she was somehow overcome, then defeating the gods would become a cakewalk.”

“Shrewd as he was, he once again took to penance to appease the Devi. Pleased by his severe tapas Laksmi appeared before him to grant him a boon of his choice. Seizing this gift, he immediately asked Mahalakshmi to withdraw herself from Karvir for a hundred years so that he could humble the proud gods. Bound by her own words, Lakshmi had to leave Karvir and proceed towards the Himalayas.”

“Blinded by his victory, Kolhasur began his reign of destruction. He plundered and looted and destroyed temples. He allowed no one to live in peace. The gods looked helplessly at the destruction as the Devi had withdrawn herself from Karvir and with her all their powers too, had vanished. Mahalakshmi herself had become extremely restive due to the mounting atrocities of Kolhasur. The years passed and as the period counted down, Lakshmi gradually approached Karvir. Finally at the end of the period, supported by a large army of gods including Ranka Bhairav, Kala Vetal, Siddha Batukeshwar and Chamunda, Lakshmi entered Kolhasur’s kingdom.”

Kolhasura Vadaa

“With eighteen arms, bearing different weapons and seated on a majestic lion, the Devi looked fearsome. With one jump she was onto Kolhasur. At the touch of her lotus feet all evil intentions raced away from Kolhasur’s mind. He was the son of Brahma after all and by nature he was just as pure as Brahma himself. Realizing his mistakes and knowing that his time was up, Kolhasur asked Lakshmi for three boons. Firstly the place of his death was to become a holy center for pilgrimage. Second, that Devi should reside in her original abode and the place should be known as Kolapur after him. And lastly, a fruit named Kohala should be cut in his honor every year. The Devi granted him these boons and also granted him mukthi.”

“The many princesses of Devas, Nagas and Manavas who were imprisoned by Kolasur were freed by the Devi and these virgins, sixty four in number became the sixty four Yoginis of Lalitha. Further the four assistants of Kolasur – Rakthalola, Rakthabhija, Rakthaksha and Rakthabhojana were killed respectively by four of devi’s army leaders – Ujjavalambha, Katyayani, Siddha Bhatukesh and Kedar at the eastern, southern, western and northern gates of the city. To this day, these four assistants guard the four sides of the city from their shrines on the hills”

“As requested by Kolasur, Lakshmi stayed back in Kolhapur as the kshetradevata. The city of Kolhapur came into existence.”

“But, Kolhasur was no Yadava. Where did our race come into the picture?” asked a very sleepy Ugrasena.

“Aahaa!!! Here is the interesting part. The link to us, the Yadavas” cried Vikadru with the enthusiasm of a four year old.

“Remember Yadu, the founder of Yadukula and the son of Haryashva?” asked Vikadru in a teasing voice. “Well, that’s where the connection begins. Once when Yadu had gone to the sea to enjoy a game of Jalakrida with his two wives, all of a sudden the ruler of the underwater Naga-Loka, Dhumravarna, caught Yadu by his legs and dragged him down to his kingdom. Having been kidnapped thus , Yadu was in for a shocker at the capital of Dhumravarna. He was accorded the highest forms of welcome complete with a Poorna Kumbha and vedic rites. Dhumravarna himself escorted Yadu to his palace, seated him on a high throne and performed various Upacharas to the guest. Mildly surprised by the welcome, Yadu was very happy when Dhumravarna praised him and the prosperity of the lands under his reign. However, his biggest surprise came when Dhumravarna offered his five beautiful Naga daughters in marriage to him. Yadu, being a Kshatriya couldn’t refuse this and his doubts about this exorbitant offer were put to rest when Dhumravarna informed him that each of the offsprings borne by daughters would befit to be the crown prince of a king as powerful as Yadu. The marriages were celebrated on a grand scale with Dhumravarna giving away heaps of the famed Naga wealth to Yadu as a gift to his son-in-law. The five princesses were sent with Yadu back to his capital with all due formalities and much fanfare.”

“In due course of time, the five queens conceived and each gave birth to a son. The five newborns were a delight to behold, each blessed with various angalakshanas for royalty. Yadu raised them giving them the best of education in the shastras, warfare, arts and crafts. When they came of age, each was a powerful personality bursting with young blood. They asked Yadu to provide them with tasks with which they might be able to prove themselves. Yadu, highly pleased by his sons, set them the highly formidable task of populating the area to the south of the Vindhyas. Thus Muchukund founded Mahishmati by the banks of Narmada and also built another city Purika between the Vindhyas and Rikshavan ranges. Harita took control of some of the islands off the western coast of Bharathavarsha. Sarasa established the city of Kraunchapura. The last son, Padmavarna travelled far south into the heart of the Sahyadris and by the banks of Venna river, he built a city that was christened Padmavat. It is this city which is presently known as Kolhapur and it is here that I ask the princes to retreat while Jarasandha tries to attack Mathura.”

Giriyuddha by the brothers

“Hmmmm” said Ugrasena. And that was all that Krishna needed. He rushed off to just drag his bewildered brother, Balarama, onto his chariot and off they sped towards the south. However, their plan did not exactly work the way they had envisioned it. Jarasandha’s spy network was clever enough to tip him off about the princes’ escape and soon Krishna and Balarama discovered, to their dismay, that Jarasandha was close on their heels. It was then that they met Parashurama at the outskirts of Kolhapur. Their relief was however very short lasting when they learnt that Kolhapur was now controlled by a tyrant called Shrigal. They finally had to resort to Giri-Yuddha or Guerilla warfare from the Sahyadhris to attack the onrushing hordes of Jarasandha. With the help of Parashurama’s extensive knowledge of every kind of weapon, they were able to subdue Jarasandha and pack him home to Magadha. Krishna, with the help of a distant cousin Chhedi Raja also overthrew Shrigal off the throne that rightfully belonged to the Yadavas and crowned Shrigal’s son Shakradeva as the king.

The above narration of Vikadru detailing the history of Karvir occurs in “Harivamsha”, a supplement to the Mahabharatha that traces the lineage of Hari as Krishna, and provides much of the puranic information regarding what is one of the most important Shakthi peethas in the state of Maharashtra- Karvir or as it is known today, Kolhapur. This is where the eyes of Dakshayani are said to have fallen, elevating the kshetra to the status of a Maha Shakthi Peeth. Also known as Dakshina Kashi among the Marathis, it is believed that when Vishnu weighed Kashi against Kolhapur on a weighing scale, Kolhapur won hands down. The town is one of the four Shakthi peethas located in Maharashtra, the other three being Tuljhapur Bhavani, Saptashringi Jagadamba and Mahur Mahamaya Renuka Devi.

A view of Ambabai's temple

It is very obvious that Mahalakshmi rules the city completely from her temple located at the very heart of the town. Grand in it’s conception and construction, with tall towers (that are surprisingly devoid of any decorations) and numerous shrines, the temple is always bustling with people. The main door is on the western side and is known as the Mahadwara. The central shrine is dedicated to Mahalakshmi, who is present in all her glory, facing west. She is shown with four hands, the lower right holding a Matulinga fruit, the upper right with the mace Kaumodaki, the upper left holding a shield and the lower left bearing a vessel. She is crowned by a Naga-hood along with a Shiva linga. Behind her stands the lion as her Vahana. She is delightfully dressed everyday with jewels and gems worth many many lakhs and shines like the moon on earth. To add to her beauty twice a year the setting sun brightens the goddess’s face with his rays for three days during the Vernal and Autumnal equinox (Celebrated as the Kiran Utsav), a sight which draws many pilgrims to the sacred thirth. Also for the three days starting from Rathasaptami, the rays fall respectively at the goddess’ feet, her chest and the head, making us wonder at the accurate astrological calculations performed by the architects of yore.

Karvirnivasini in Various Alankaras

The northern shrine of the temple is dedicated to Mahakali while the south facing shrine is graced by Mahasaraswathi. Apart from these there are scores of other deities ranging from Ganesh, Rama, Krishna, Vishnu to a very unusually placed Shivalinga and Nandi on the second storey of the temple right over the Garbhagriha of Mahalakshmi.

It is believed that this peetha was originally dedicated to four deities – Lakshmi, Parvathi, Kanka Bhairav and Kolla. Historians say that the puranic Kolla was replaced by Mahasaraswathi, aptly justified by the fact that her shrine differs from the ones of the nearly identical shrines to Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswathi. The Kanka Bhairav shrine is nowhere in the vicinity of the temple but some historians link the Ranka Bhairav shrines nearby to the ancient Kanka Bhairav.

The kshetra was famous throughout all of the seven Kalpas. In the first it was known as Kamagiri and was the abode of Madana, the god of love. In the second it was known as Padmalaya after its ruler Padmaraja. During the third Kalpa, Shiva and Parvati resided here and it became famous as Shivalaya. The fourth Kalpa saw Brahma ruling the kshetra and it was called Brahmalaya on that count. Kubera ruled the kshetra in the fifth Kalpa and it was known as Yakshalaya. Next it became Rakshasalaya after the ruler Sukeshi. The last Kalpa saw Kolhasur in the saddle and then it was known as Rakshasapuri.

In the third Kalpa when Shiva and Parvathi had Karvir as their home, one day Parvathi lost one of her glittering Manikundal or earrings. Seeing the goddess in distress, the Shiva ganas searched the place with much ferocity. Finally, after digging many thousand metres into the earth, they recovered the earring. Extremely pleased with their service Parvathi made the gaping hole a theertha. Presently known as the Manikarnika kund after Parvathi’s earring, this theertha is located within the temple precincts and has a small shrine dedicated to Vishweshwara on its banks. It is customary to bathe in this theertha, offer respects to Vishweshwara and then proceed on to the Mahalakshmi shrine

The temple was served and supported by generations of kings from the Rashtrakutha, Kadamba and Chalukya dynasty. Much of the original architectural works are attributed to them. The earliest records found date back to 817 AD and tell us of the tale of Amoghavarsha, a valiant Rashtrakutha ruler who had cut off his fingers as a sacrifice to the goddess for bringing peace upon his people. However, much of this splendorous architecture was destroyed by the Moghul invasion of the Deccan. Consequently, the rulers, fearing damage to the icon of the goddess, had her removed to a safe place for protection. It was only after the Maratha regime was re-established with sufficient stability that the goddess was brought back to her ancient shrine and with many rituals was welcomed to her home on the Vijayadashami of 1715. Ever since, she has been worshipped by people from far and near who come to her for peace, guidance and support. Much of the destroyed architecture was repaired and redone, but in no way could it reach the perfection and beauty of the original ancient temple.

Beauty Non-Pareil

The temple performs Pancha Kala poojas everyday according to the Marathi traditions. The day begins with the waking of the goddess at five in the morning, followed by Abhisheka and alankara ending with the Kakad arathi. At eight, the second kala pooja begins where the goddess is offered with the Shodasopacharas (sixteen acts of welcoming and honoring the goddess). The third pooja at noon is the main worship and consists of the Shodasopacharas along with milk and Panchamrit abhisheka. The evening pooja again takes place at six and sees the offering of Panchopacharas (Five acts of worship) and finally the Goddess is put to sleep with milk and sweet at eight in the night to the lilting tunes of the Shej Arathi. Each of these poojas is accompanied by festive music played by the temple band in the mandapa. Fridays and full moon nights see the Palki procession of the goddess around the temple. The annual Rathotsava is celebrated on the full moon of Chaitra and the traditional Seemollanghan (Marathi practice of crossing the village border) is dutifully followed on the Vijayadashami day. Interestingly, while returning back from the Seemollanghan, the goddess comes through the traditional Shudra neighbourhood where she is welcomed with much enthusiasm. Navarathris are celebrated with great pomp and splendor as in every other major Devi shrine. Also, the shrine celebrates no particular annual festival. People trickle in and out to fulfill their vows and pay their respects. A number of the Marathi families have the goddess Karvirnivasini as their family deity and often seek her blessing during any important occasion in the family such as birth of a new born, marriage etc. The goddess is showered with offerings of bangles, kumkum, jewellery and sarees for fulfilling their prayers. In fact some of the priceless jewels and crowns that adorn the goddess on festive occasions were gifts by kings and zamindars in exchange for their prayers being answered.

According to the Puranic texts, the darshan of the Mahalakshmi alone does not end the proper pilgrimage to Karvir. The kshetra extends over a large area. It extends from the temple of Rameshvar-Mahadev in the village of Alate in the east upto Kaleshwar in the west to and from Chakreshvar in the south to Mallikarjun in the North.

A bhaktha desirous of undertaking a pilgrimage of the kshetra is to take bath either in the Manikarnika kund, or in the Panchaganga river (Incidentally the Panchaganga is the combination of five rivers – Shiva, Bhadra, Saraswathi, Kumbhi and Bhogavati, each created by one of the five Rishis Kashyapa, Kalava, Garga, Vishwamitra and Vasishta to provide a Mahanadhi for Brahma’s ceremonial bath at the end of a great Yagna). Then he should perform the ritual worship of Ganesh, distribute gifts and dakshina and begin the yatra on the subsequent day Starting with Tryambuli on the Tembalai hill followed by Sakshivinayak there are around twelve to eighteen temples that should be included in the itinerary, most of them in the temple courtyard and Ranka-Bhairav on the Rankala lake, Various tirths and kunds like Amrikund, Padmatirth, Suryatirth are also mentioned as meritorious places of worship.

Karvir is one of those rare places where one can get both their desires fulfilled and also attain Mukthi. It is the favorite residence of Vishnu, even above that of Vaikuntha for it is where Shri dwells. The divine couple will not desert the place even at the time of the Mahapralaya making it an Avimukthakshetra.

To visit this temple of Ambabai, as she is lovingly called by her devotees, is a blessing in itself. What more can one ask than to visit one’s loving mother, especially when she is the queen of the world.

Deepak

[PS : Sorry for the long hiatus. The gods were all against it I guess but I am back now  ]

Her Only Shrine, Koothanur

•October 4, 2009 • 6 Comments

Across the holy lands of Bharath, countless beautiful temples exist for Shiva and Vishnu. Every nook and corner has shrines dedicated to these two gods, who have been praised tremendously in various scriptural works. However, it is a matter of concern that no temple is dedicated to the Creator, Brahma. It is a well known fact that this predicament arose because of Brahma’s lies to Shiva at the foot of the Arunachala hill.

When Ayan and Hari were fighting over their superiority over each other, Haran appeared in the form of a glorious column of fire. The column knew no beginning and no end. It spewed heat and light and turned the dark night into a bright, hot day. Said Shiva, “He alone is superior, who finds either my foot or my head”. Vishnu immediately turned into Varaaha, the sacred boar, and started ploughing the earth in an attempt to get to the feet of the glowing torch. Brahma on the other hand, transformed into a swan to fly towards the head. But only in vain. Neither could locate the ends of the column of fire. While Vishnu admitted his failure, Brahma on the other hand brought down a Thazhampoo (Fragrant Screw Pine) and claimed that he had indeed seen the head and that the flower was from Shiva’s very crest. The flower too gave its false testimony to Shiva.

Angered at the lies that Brahma had uttered, Shiva spat out a curse, “Oh Chaturmugha, for your base lies, may you not have any temple on earth. You deserve it not. And as for the Thazhampoo, it will never be used in my worship again.” Saying so, the flame turned into the famed Arunachala hills, at the foot of which is located the Annamalaiyar temple, Thiruvannamalai.

Jagat Pitha Brahma

Jagat Pitha Brahma

And so, to this day, the Thazhampoo does not have a place in Shiva Pooja and neither does Brahma have a shrine on earth. No temple to the creator. Strange. However, it is equally strange that neither are there many temples dedicated to Saraswathi, Brahma’s better half. Though we worship her time and again, day over day, in the form of books and pens, of tools and weapons, there seems to be a dearth of temples for her too.

“Indian Women share their husband’s plight. It is only natural that she does not have any temples as Brahma himself is left without one. Further, as the Mistress of Speech, she resides on the tongue of Brahma. That is her highest, most sacred temple. She is the perfect Pathivratha.” – An Explanation by his holiness, the Saint of Kanchi.

Saraswathi Devi

Saraswathi Devi

However, there does exist one famed temple dedicated to Kalaivani, on the banks of the Arisalaar, a tributary of the Kaveri. The temple was built by a renowned Tamil poet of yore, Ottakoothar, and the town itself is named after him as Koothanur. Koothar was gifted this land by the Chozha kings, under whom he had served as the chief court poet. Kulothungan, Vikraman, Rajarajan II were all glorified by the presence of Ottakoothar in their court. It was on this land that he raised a temple to Vani, without whose grace he would never have been half as good a poet. However, the truth is that the land was indeed chosen by Saraswathi herself for the very purpose.

It was a time when Dakshayini had been reborn to Parvatharajan as Parvathi. Having attained a suitable age for marriage, she of course chose to unite with her lord, Parameshwara. Intending to please Shiva with her severe tapas, she went into a forest filled with sacred Vilva trees and began her penance to gain Shiva’s hnd. The place known as Vilvavanam was soon blooming and blossoming with flowers and birds. Such was the benefit of Parvathi’s presence and her intense penance.

Immensely pleased with Parvathi, Shiva decided to approach Parvatharajan and ask for her hand in marriage. However, there was one major flaw in the plan- Ganga. The second wife of Shiva, eternally sat in his matted locks, trickling down the Himalayas and flowing across the bosom of Bharatha. In the event that Parvatharajan came to know of this existence of another woman in Shiva’s life, it would be a very sticky situation indeed. Therefore, to avoid further disasters, Shiva turned Ganga into a young girl and himself into a Brahmin. He then handed over Ganga to Bhaskara Muni to take care of her while he supposedly went on a pilgrimage tour. Bhaskara Muni, who himself was involved in a penance to please Shiva, accepted the responsibility and took care of Ganga like his own daughter.

One day, by the playings of fate, Bhaskara Muni went down to the Arisol Aaru (river) to do his daily ablutions. Having forgotten to bring his Kamandala with him, he shouted to Ganga, “Oh Daughter, can you please get me my Kamandala from the ashrama?” Ganga too obediently brought out the Kamandala to Bhaskara Muni. Suddenly, at that very moment, realizing her previous self, and to the utter surprise of Bhaskara Muni, Ganga joined into the Arisol Aaru, Bhaskara Muni was totally flabbergasted at the sight and could only blink in return.

Things turned out to be more complicated, when Shiva returned back as the Brahmin and asked Bhaskara Muni for his daughter back. The Muni remained silent out of fear, not letting a word out. But when Shiva threatened him that he would complain to the King about this, things got really nasty and Bhaskara Muni narrated the unfortunate turn of events. He was trembling with the fright and the sheer shock of the sudden disappearance of a young lady. Not wanting to test his devotee any further, Shiva appeared before Bhaskara Muni in his true form and blessed him. The place where Ganga merged with the Arisol Aaru came to be known as Rudragangai. Since Gauri had performed her penance there, it is also known as Gaurivanam.

Eons passed by, peaceful and quiet, until one day, at Brahma Loka a verbal battle broke out between Brahma and Vani. “It is because of me that Brahma Loka has attained so much popularity and fame”, argued Brahma. “No way dear, it is due to my presence that the flag of Brahma Loka flies high. The moment I leave, the place loses its sheen”, defended Saraswathi. Quite soon, the tempers rose high and in a fit of rage, the cursed each other. As a result of the curse, they were born to a Brahmin named Punyakeerthi, as daughter and son. The son was named Bagukanthan and the daughter, Shraddhai.  When they had attained a marriageable age, Punyakeerthi, as a responsible father, took efforts to find suitable matches. It was then that Brahma and Saraswathi realized their previous positions, and aghast at the complexity of the situation they prayed to Shiva to save them from this.

“Saraswathi”, cried a voice from the heavens, “Go to the Rudragangai River near Gaurivanam and merge in there with the waters. In the times to come, you will soon be honored with a temple near Arisol Aaru. Stay there as MahaSaraswathi and shower your grace on those who come to you.”

Brahma too was relieved from the curse. “Mahadeva, it would be really great if you think over your previous curse of me not having any temple on earth”, he requested Shiva. “Brahma, though you will not have any temples on earth, in all Pitr Karmas you will be invocated with the Brahma Pooja. People will worship you this way”, offered Shiva and disappeared.

And so Saraswathi went to the Rudragangai and merged herself with it. It is a different story that much later when Yamuna was suffering from the doshas of the people who bathed in her, Krishna suggested that she be relieved of them by bathing in the Rudragangai and meditating on Shiva. And so Yamuna too joined into the Rudragangai. With the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi into the Arisol Aaru, the place came to be known as Dakshina Triveni Sangamam.

Koothanur Gopuram

Koothanur Gopuram

It was on such a sacred spot that Koothar chose to build his temple for Sakalakalaavalli, the Mistress of all Arts. Located on the Mayiladuthurai-Thiruvarur route, near a village named Poonthottam, Koothanur is a small work of wonder. With a three-tiered gopuram, the humble temple is located by the Koothanur Agrahaaram. Outside the temple doors are shops selling white lotuses, coconuts and fruits – sacred offerings that are found outside any temple. However, at Koothanur alone, there are shops selling books, pens, pencils, slates and chalk pieces. Strange yet again.

On entering the temple, we come across the Bali Peetam followed by a beautiful MukhaMandapam. During Navarathris and other festival days, the Mandapam echoes with the sounds of Vedas and chantings. Then comes the Artha Mandapam housing Vallabha Ganapathi, Brahma, Brahmapureeswarar and Bala Dandayuthapani. And finally, in the sanctum sits MahaSaraswathi, the glow of Knowledge emanating from her serene face. Clothed in white silk, with four hands, the upper two bearing the Akshara Mala and the Book of Knowledge (Palm Leaves), her lower left hand having an Amrutha Kalasha and her lower right in Chinmudra, her Veena, Kachapi, across her lap, with Jatamudi, the third eye of Knowledge and eyes full of grace, her very vision raises Goosebumps on our raw flesh.

Koothanur MahaSaraswathi

Koothanur MahaSaraswathi

On the ninth day of Navarathri, pilgrims to this temple have the rare opportunity of offering worship to the goddess’s feet with their own hands. The priests make it appear that that the feet of the goddess, extend from the sanctum to the Arthamandapam, where people can personally touch and worship the feet with flowers and milk. On the tenth day of Vijayadasami, the temple wears a festive look with hundreds of people flocking to the shrine for the Aksharabhyasam/ Vidyarambham of their children. The priests smear the tongues of hundreds of tiny tots with sacred honey to form the shape of Pranava and give them the blessings of Saraswathi for a life brimming with knowledge and arts. The devotees buy the books, pens and other stationeries from the shops outside, keep them at the feet of the goddess and take them back home.

It is believed that people who worship Mahasaraswathi during the Navarathri or the sacred Vaikasi Visakam day are bestowed with the ability to compose beautiful poems and Kavyas. As a fitting example to this stands Kavichakravarthi (The king of Poets) Kambar, the author of the famed Kamba Ramayana in Tamil.

Kulothunga Chozhan was so impressed by the Ramayana that was written by Valmiki that he wanted it to be translated into Tamil so that the people of his nation could enjoy it too. He called together, two of the greatest poets of his time, Ottakoothar and Kambar and gave them this mammoth task of translating the epic. He also gave them enormous funds and materials for the same. Koothar immediately dived into the work and worked day and night, reading and re-reading, taking notes and composing on his own. Kambar on the other hand, being of a more playful nature, frolicked around the town, spending all the money. However, Kambar was an exceptional devotee of Saraswathi and he had complete faith in her. One day, Kulothunga called the poets to enquire about their progress. Koothar immediately launched into his compositions and sang out a few examples. He told the king that he was done until the part when the Vanaras prepare to build the bridge to Lanka. Everyone in the Court applauded him.

Kavichakravarthi Kambar

Kavichakravarthi Kambar

Kambar on the other hand, had no idea of what the Ramayana was. But now, with Koothar’s explanation he had got hold of the general gist of the epic and steeled himself to play along. “Chozha Chakravarthi, I have done until the point where the Vanaras are already throwing the rocks into the sea to build the bridge”, he said. Kulothungan asked him to sing a few verses and Kambar, completely blessed with the grace of Saraswathi, composed a verse impromptu and sang it out.

“துமிதம் தெறித்து மேலோகம் சேல்ல

அமிர்தமென தேவர்கள் வாய்பிளந்தனரே”

“Thumidham Theritthu Melokam Sella, Amirthamena Devargal Vaypilanthanare.”

Roughly, it translates to: The water drops that splashed from the oceans reached the heavens and the Devas opened their mouths to receive it, for it tasted so much better than Amrutha.

Koothar was furious that the irresponsible poet had come up with the verse on the spot. “Kamba, your verse has a flaw in it. Thumidham (meaning drop) is no longer used in contemporary Tamil. You cannot use it in your work.”

“Kootha, I can prove that the word is still in use today”, argued Kambar, “Come with me to a village where I can show my proof.”

Taking leave of the king, Koothar went with Kambar. Now Kambar was in a fix. He knew that the word was not in existence at all. But he was also sure that it was Saraswathi herself who had sung from within him and she would show him proof. And so they reached the outskirts of Koothanur. There was a group of children playing near an old woman who was churning butter. Suddenly the woman shouted

“குழந்தைகளே தள்ளிப்போய் விளையாடுங்கள்

துமிதம் தெறிக்க போகிறது.”

“Children, move away and play. The drops may splash on you.”

And that was Kambar’s proof. When he turned back to look at the woman, she had disappeared. Kambar immediately understood that it was Saraswathi herself and was overcome with ecstasy. Koothar too realized the divine play and accepting his defeat before Kambar, he threw his half composed work into the fire. Kambar however dived in and was able to rescue two of the Kandams out of the four that Koothar had composed. He added them to his own work which we now know as Kamba Ramayanam, an epic par excellence in Tamil. Such is the grace of the Goddess at Koothanur.

It is indeed a great fortune that I have had a chance to visit this temple of Koothanur and there are no words in existence to convey what I felt while standing before Her, the Goddess of all Words (What an Irony!!!).  As I meditate on her graceful form, the lyrics of Kumaraguruparar float into my head :

“விண்கண்ட தெய்வம் பலகோடி உண்டேனும் விளிம்பில் உன்போல் கண்கண்ட தெய்வம் உளதோ சகலகலா வல்லியே.”

“Though there exist crores of deities in the heavenly abodes, is there anyone so graceful as you Sakala Kala Valli?”

And how much truer could that be.

Deepak

The Exorcist, Chottanikkara

•September 25, 2009 • 30 Comments

It was a thick, dark forest. So dark was it inside that a person couldn’t see two feet in front of him. The sound of a flowing river eternally echoed through the trees and shrubs, an eerie noise of gurgling and gentle swooshing. Beasts freely roamed the place adding to the strange spooky sounds. And within the forest, far flung from civilization lived a band of tribal people.

Kannappan was one such tribal inhabiting the dense jungle of Parasurama Kshetra. However, unlike his peace loving neighbours, Kannappan was a notorious dacoit. He made his daily living by hiding in the bushes and jumping at unwary travelers and smuggling them of their precious belongings. Though a rough man by nature, he was a very loving father. He doted on his only beautiful daughter and showered his love on her. Days passed by with him robbing the travelers and taking care of his necessities.

One day, a lone man happened to fall on the prying eyes of Kannappan. He was walking through the forest with a heavenly looking, healthy cow. The cow’s neck was strung with a beautiful chain of bells that clanged through the forest with their jingles. Kannapan’s eyes shined with lust the moment he set his eyes on the cow. With a nasty shout he sprung from the bushes and stood in front of the traveler, his dagger drawn out.

“Hey you, leave the cow behind and run back.” growled Kannappan.

The man hesitated, but one look at Kannappan’s glistening dagger was sufficient for him to turn around and run from the spot, without a word of refusal.

‘Ah, that was easy.’ Kannappan thought to himself. Taking the cow by its tether, he pulled it towards his house. “I will slaughter this cow and sell the meat for a fortune. And with its hide, I will make the best clothes of leather and sell them too. What a lucky day.” He murmured to himself all along his way home.

All of a sudden the cow gave an almighty lurch and freed itself from Kannappan. And it ran into the forest, its bells jingling aloud.

“Ah, you wretched beast. Come back here.” shouted Kannappan and started running behind the cow. But all of a sudden, the bells stopped their jingles and the cow could not be seen ahead. Kannappan was startled at the sudden silence. He looked around the bushes, under the trees and even by the river banks, but only in vain. He was not able to trace the cow. Dejected at having let such a golden opportunity to slip out of his hands, he returned home.

And what did he see? Wonder of wonders. There in their courtyard was the very cow which had made him roam over half the forests that day in search of her. The cow was being fondled by his daughter, her face alight with laughter and happiness. Ashamed at his ignoble intentions, he decided against killing the cow and beamed back at his daughter and her new pet.

Unfortunately, the very same night, Kannappan’s daughter fell victim to a sudden bout of illness and attained the thresholds of heaven. Kannappan was deeply distraught at losing his only precious daughter. He suddenly lost interest in everything around him. He had done everything for the welfare of his daughter, and now that she was gone, he didn’t even feel like living anymore.

Feeling shattered, he restlessly turned in his bed, hardly able to get a wink of sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, having slept somehow, Kannappan had a dream. A very strange one. In the dream, a woman, divine and shining with an unearthly glow, summoned him towards her. She was richly dressed and had a number of hands, each bearing a different weapon or symbol. It was Bhagavathi herself, the patron goddess of Parashurama Kshetra. Kannappan fell at her feet, shedding tears of joy.

“Kannappa, do not grieve. Your daughter is in safe hands. It was all a play staged for universal good. It was I who came as the cow that you intended to butcher. I was the cow which brought about the transformation in you.  I will always be present in this forest, blessing the people who come to me with all health and prosperity. Live life to the fullest and reach me in the end.”

Kannappan, woke up from his dream, sweat glistening on his face. He could just make out the sky turning pink on the east. Jumping out of his bed, he ran to the cowshed in his courtyard to check on the cow, but the cow was gone again. However, in its place glimmered something tall and wide. Kannappan strained to see through the pre-dawn darkness. Suddenly, the sun came up and in the light he could just make out what it was. “Oh”, he gasped, his mouth open wide at the shock

Right where the cow had been tied up, on a sacred pedestal stood a laterite idol of Bhagavathi and right next to her, on the same peetha, a smaller statue of Mahavishnu. Stunned at the sight and overwhelmed with ecstasy, Kannappan prostrated before the statues. Tears ran down his cheeks at the thought of his good fortune. Time and again he fell at the feet of the pedestal

Deciding to house the idols in a proper place, he built a tiny hut around the pedestal and worshipped the Goddess with all due formalities. However, with the passing of Kannappan, the shrine fell into gradual disrepair with no one to take care.

Bhagavathi

Bhagavathi

Years later, a Pulaya(outcaste) woman was roaming in the area, cutting grass to eke out her daily living. Finding a particular bunch of green grass, she reached out and sharpened her scythe on a nearby stone. Suddenly, the stone started bleeding. Red, thick blood. Horrified at the very sight, she screamed and soon a crowd of Pulayas were at her side calming her down and looking at the strange sight.

A bunch of the men went to Edathu Namboothri, a visiting priest, with the strange news. Namboothri immediately rushed to the place and feeling the strong vibrations of energy field, he realized that the stone was Parashakthi herself. He immediately dug up the stone and offered his prayers.

Soon, other Namboothris gathered and performed a Deva Prasannam. The Prasannam threw everything to light. It was revealed that the stones were idols of Shakthi and Vishnu and that they were to be worshipped together as Lakshmi Narayana. Edathu Namboothri installed the idols with all pomp and grandeur and built the initial shrine for the idols, and looked after the temple until his final breath.

Around this humble shrine grew the famous pilgrim spot of Chottanikkara. Located near Ernakulam and coming under the administration of the Cochin Devaswom Board, the Bhagavathi Temple at Chottanikkara is perhaps one of the most important of the temples that are spread all over Kerala and surely a highly celebrated one.

The Goddess is worshipped as Rajarajeshwari, the Ruler of all kings. The laterite idol is irregular in shape, red hued and untouched by human hands, a Swayambu. The true form of Mother can be seen only at the wee hours of the morning, when the doors open for Nirmalyam. Usually, the idol is covered with a golden kavasam, decked with flower garlands and precious jewels. Her upper hands hold the Conch and the Discus while her lower hands are in the Varadha and Abhaya mudra. Interestingly, the idol is not fixed to the pedestal with Ashtabandhana but rather stands in loose sand. As a result, all the abhisheka waters percolate through the sand and it is believed that they join the thirtha of Onakku Bhagavathi further down the way.

The goddess is worshipped as Saraswathi in the morning dressed in white, as Badrakali at noon draped in crimson and as Laksmi in the evenings swathed in blue. It is indeed believed that the Goddess was brought here by Shankara himself. However, the Goddess decided to stay at Kollur in Karnataka but agreed to accept her morning worship here first and then only at Kollur. Even to this day, the Mookambika temple at Kollur opens only after the first prayers of the day have been done at Chottanikkara (See Kollur Mookambika).

The temple complex also houses shrines to Sastha, Shiva, Ganapathy, Subramanya, Naga devatha etc. The place where the Goddess was first unearthed by Edathu Namboothri is today known as ‘Pavizhamallithara’ and lies to the south of the temple.

The shrine of DharmaSastha has its own story to tell. Once when the Goddess was out on a procession for the ceremonial offering of paddy to Meppazhur, the people accompanying the procession were attacked by a few rogues. Therefore, to have a safe return trip, Meppazhur Namboothri sent his family deity Sastha with them for safeguarding the goddess. Sastha, however, decided to stay back at Chottanikkara and it is he who we see at the shrine today.

Bhagavathi and Badrakali

Badrakali and Bhagavathi

An equally celebrated shrine is that of Badrakali at Kizhakavu. This is situated slightly below the main complex towards the east. It is believed that the statue of Badrakali was installed by Vilwamangalam Swamiyar. And it is by the shadows of this very temple does the most sought after service of the temple take place- Exorcism.

The temple at Chottanikkara is said to be the ultimate healing center for people suffering from various mental illnesses, be it epilepsy, neuralgia, psychological ailment or the influence of evil spirits and wicked forces. From times immemorial, people from all over the country have headed to this temple to relive their near and dear ones from spirits and ghosts which have possessed them.

Valiyaguruthy

Valiya Guruthi

Every night, after the Athazha pooja in the evening, the Priests of the temple go to the Kizhakkavu to perform what is known as the Valiya Guruthi, or the Great Sacrifice. Twelve humungous pots are filled a blood colored liquid known as Guruthi. This is prepared from a concoction of lime water and turmeric and is made to have the appearance and color of blood. The Melsanthi offers this Guruthi to Badrakali, sprinkles it around the temple and pours down some of the liquid creating a very gory re-enactment of a sacrifice.

At the time of the Guruthi pooja, the people who are thought to be under the influence of an evil spirit are brought to the Kizhakkavu temple. It is believed that the goddess, envigorated by her offering of blood (Guruthi) forces the spirit out of the person’s body. It is a sight to behold, with women and men, their bodies shaking violently, hair flying around, as the spirits try to resist the Goddess but finally succumb to her repeated warnings and leave the person in peace. The possessed are made to hit a nail into a tree with their heads and this act totally cures them from any sign of mental sickness. The astounding number of nails that populate the Paala tree near the Kizhakkavu temple is proof enough of the miraculous powers of the goddess.

The nail stricken Pala tree

The nail stricken Pala tree

People also perform the Guruthi pooja to relieve themselves from great burdens and anxieties, and pray for a peaceful and prosperous life. The Guruthi is partaken after the pooja and a part of it is taken home and buried in the four corners of the dwelling to protect the house and its dwellers from any evil undertakings.

Bhajanam is yet another important worship undertaking in the temple. This requires a person to stay on the temple premises for two days, take part in all the poojas and eat only the temple prasadam. This involves a lot of self-control and sacrifice. People who follow the whole ritual correctly are believed to be blessed with great good fortune and health. Their every wish is answered for.

 

Amme Narayana- Pencil Sketch by Deepak

 

 

Mandapathil Pattu is perhaps the greatest observance at Chottanikkara. Claimed to be equivalent to the Uddhayasthamana Pooja at Guruvayoor, this worship requires a lot of planning and execution. On the day of the worship, the temple is decked with auspicious mango and coconut leaves. A mandapam in front of the sanctum is decorated and filled with tender coconut leaves, silk and satin clothes, fragrant flowers and yellow spikes of coconut and arecanut trees, several Niraparas (huge wooden measuring units filled with raw rice, fried paddy, and paddy) and other ceremonial materials associated with bringing good luck and prosperity. Huge brass lamps are hung in the mandapam to shower light on the proceedings. Throughout the day classical devotional songs are sung at the mandapam accompanied by suitable instruments. All poojas done to the main deity are performed at the mandapam too. It requires a thousand eyes to witness the grandeur of the event.

It is said that long ago, one Guptan Namboodri was going from Tripunithra to Chottanikkara to watch a Kathakali performance. While he was walking on the lonely, dark road, singing to himself, he suddenly saw a beautiful maiden standing on the roadside looking totally lost. The maiden, announcing herself to be a member of the Varrier household, requested him to accompany her till Chottanikkara. Guptan was overjoyed at the unexpected company and readily agreed to do so. And off they went, chatting lightly, until Guptan reached the house of his Guru Kosapalli Namboodri, where he had to deliver a copy of the Devi Mahatmya. It was only when Kosapalli came out to meet Guptan did he realize that the damsel was indeed a terrible Yakshi who was following his student to kill him. He called Guptan aside and gave him a sacred towel to keep with him. When Guptan obtained the towel he too was able to see through the disguise of the Yakshi. He also realized that it was the power of the Devi mahatmya which had protected him this long. Horrified beyond wits he ran towards the temple at Chottanikkara, waving the towel. The Yakshi, realizing that her game was up, gave up her disguise and chased Guptan. After a long chase, Guptan reached the temple doors, threw the towel and jumped inside. At that second, the Yakshi caught him by his leg and dragged him out. Having lost all hope, Guptan sent up a prayer to Bhagavathi entreating her protection. The merciful goddess immediately appeared on the spot, beheaded Yakshi and threw her head into the southern tank. The tank until this day retains the red color of the Yakshi’s blood and is referred to as the Yakshikulam or Rakthakulam. There is also a shrine for the Yakshi in the temple complex.

Though the temple sees crowd all throughout the year, it is the Makam Thozhal which draws people in large number. On this day, it is believed that a darshan of the goddess grants immense Mangalya Bhagyam for women besides other uncountable benefits. Apart from this, the 9 days of Navarathri, Thirukarthika, Vidhyarambam on Vijayadasami,Onam, Vishu, the Goddess’s birthday etc are also grandly celebrated with special poojas, elephant processions, fireworks and music. Daily poojas like Poomoodal, Rudrabhishekam, Seeveli etc are also observed with traditional methods and styles. The Lakshadeepam festival during which the entire temple glows with a thousands of oil lamps is yet another highlight of the festival calendar.

Chottanikkara temple

Chottanikkara temple

A visit to the temple is believed to take great burdens off your back and vanquish all difficulties in your life. Immensely powerful and just as gracious, the Mother Goddess at Chottanikkara is a wish granter, a protector nonpareil and a divine healer.

The temple is located at a short drive from Cochin, on a small hillock surrounded by lush green woods and golden farms. I promise you, that once you go there, you will be tempted to go again and again. Such is the charm, the pull and the power of the place. Such is Chottanikkara, one of the most powerful Shakthi Kshetras in all of India.

Amme Narayana, Devi Narayana.

Lakshmi Narayana, Badra Narayana.

Dance With the Song, Nine Nights Long

•September 19, 2009 • 1 Comment

It is that time of the year again, when the excitement of the festive season descends on us with a flurry of celebrations dedicated to various deities and rishis. People run about the house cleaning it up, decorating while the heavenly smell of festive cooking fills the air. Mmmmmm… 

Central to the season is the celebration of Ashada Navarathri (See also Vasantha Navarathri), or the Autumnal Invocation of the Mother Goddess for nine long nights, praying for her blessings and grace which is the sole reason of our very existence. The legend of Ashada Navarathri is told in the Markandeya Purana and is much elaborated in the second and third chapters of the Devi Mahatmya. 

The narration starts with the penance of Rambha and Karambha, two asura brothers. The penance was no ordinary one, but was directed towards the Trimurthis themselves to get a boon and rule over the three worlds.  So severe was the penance that smoke and fire issued from the meditating brothers as a result of the Tapagni. Now, seeing the severe penance, Indra, the king of devas, got the jitters and afraid that he might lose his kingly position, took the form of a crocodile and killed Karambha when he was involved in the deepest of meditations. 

Rambha was furious to see his brother get killed in such a cowardly way. However, he controlled his anger and focused it onto his penance. His efforts at calmness paid off. Finally the Trimurthis appeared before Rambha and asked in their bored tones, “Rambha, ask what you please.” Rambha was very much pleased with the appearance of the Trimurthis and bowed before them, “I ask the same wish as my ancestors, My lords, that I cannot be killed by any human, deva or asura.” Sick and tired of granting equally similar boons they agreed to it, “Thathastu, So be it.” 

Rambha was ecstatic about the boon and started on his way back. It was then that he saw a she-buffalo grazing in the field nearby. And all of a sudden, he fell in love with the she-buffalo. Unexplained are the strange desires of the asuras. Rambha immediately assumed the form of a male buffalo and started flirting with the she-buffalo. He made love to the buffalo and was about to get back to his normal form, when a real male buffalo came in and gored him to death. In his moment of triumph, he had not asked for invincibility against animals, and I am sure the Trimurthis did not remind him to do so. 

As he lay on the field, his soul gone, the she buffalo, distraught at the death of her lover, built a pyre to cremate Rambha and jumped into it too, committing sati. It was from the pyre that a baby was born, the result of the union of Rambha and the buffalo. The baby could turn into a buffalo and back at will. He was named Mahishasura (Mahisha- Buffalo) and happens to be the villain of our story. 

Mahishasura was no less ambitious than his father. He too wanted to rule the three worlds and subject everyone to his reign. He undertook tapas towards Brahma seeking absolute immoryality, tapas that shook the earth and sent out clouds of fire, tapas that created torrential rains and severe cyclones. Brahma appeared before him, drawn by his intense devotion.ab 

“Oh, Brahma, make me invincible. Let no one be able to kill me. I should live beyond this universe and the next” 

On hearing the request for immortality, the creator was appalled. “Everything that is created should be destroyed Mahisha, I cannot grant you total immortality. Ask something else”, said Brahma, smiling sheepishly. 

Mahisha was sorely dejected. He went into a state of deep thought and slowly, an evil grin spread on his face. “Then, Oh Brahmadeva”, said Mahisha, “if death should come to me, let it come to me through a woman. This is my request.” Brahma, who was relieved at this, gave the boon and hopped back onto his swan to fly away. 

Mahisha's Statue on Chamundi Hills

Mahisha's Statue on Chamundi Hills

 

Armed with the boon and confident that he could not be killed by a person of the fairer sex, Mahisha went about wrecking havoc. He brought the three worlds under his control and tortured the devas and rishis to no end. He established a capital in the south of Bharathakanda and named it Mahishur, after himself. Such was his self-conceit. From the seat of power at Mahishur, he shook the entire world with his atrocious activities. 

Slowly, the unbearable tortures of Mahisha reached the ears of the Trimurthis. Unable to see the devas suffer anymore, the supreme godheads decided to bring an end to this nuisance. When the Trimurthis themselves were helpless, there was little that they could do than to turn to their progenitor, the Mother of All, Adi Shakthi. They sat down together, to meditate upon She who reigns over all. 

Suddenly, from Vishnu emerged a brilliant ball of flame, shining with the power of a thousand suns. Into this ball merged a lustrous flame that had simultaneously originated from the third eye of Shiva. At the same moment, similar flames rose up from the bodies of Brahma and all the assembled devas and merged into the great fireball which was spreading its light in all the eight directions. Glowing brightly, the flame took the form of a graceful lady, whose brilliance blinded everyone. All of the devas shielded their eyes from the source of light. Surya himself couldn’t stand the brightness of the Goddess. Slowly, the brilliance dimmed and before them stood Adi Shakthi herself, incarnated as Durga to win over the evil demon. 

Her face was as white as Shiva, her hair as black as Yama and her arms the deep blue of Vishnu. Her two busts were shining like Chandra and her hips reflected Indra’s glory. From the power of Varuna were formed her thighs, from the Earth her back, from Brahma came her feet and from Surya were formed her toes. The Ashta Vasus were her fingers, from Kubera came her nose, Prajapathi formed her teeth and Agni shone in her three eyes. The Sandhyas (Dawn and Dusk) became her eyebrows and Vayu formed her ears. No poet could sing enough of her beauty and no artist could draw it to perfection. So beautiful was she that she put the Apsaras, the heavenly damsels, to shame. 

The Mother of All

The Mother of All

 

The devas were extremely pleased to see her and worshipped her time and again. Shiva gave her his trident, Pinaka, and Vishnu lent her his Sudarshana and his mace, Kaumodaki. Varuna gifted her a conch, Vayu, a quiver of ever replenishing arrows and Agni, a spear. From Indra she obtained the Vajrayudha, from Airavatha, a bell, while Brahma gave her a rosary and a kamandala. Surya gifted her his eternal brilliance and Kala gave her a sword and a shining shield. Draped in brilliant clothes gifted by the Milk Ocean, the Nagabaranas of Anantha, the many-many shimmering jewels gifted by Vishwakarma and wearing the never fading garlands sent by Samudra Rajan, Durga shone with divine splendor that captured everyone’s devotion. Finally she accepted a goblet of nectar gifted by Kubera and laughed. Yes, she laughed and the laugh shook the very foundations of Mahishur. 

Mahisha was shocked by the sound of the feminine yet powerful laughter. It had produced an effect that he had never felt before in his life, one of Fear. He at once gave out orders to his commanders to keep his armies at ready and immediately set out to meet his enemy. At the boundary of Mahishur stood the armies of Chandika, lead by Durga herself, seated on a golden lion gifted by Himavan. 

One look at the extremely beautiful form of the Goddess was enough to infuse lust into the base heart of Mahisha. He shouted across the battlefield, “Oh Lady of extreme beauty, I will fight you not, for I want to marry you. Let us stop this war and be happy. I will make you the queen of all creations for I am the master of the universe.” 

He then sent two of his most powerful demons Chanda and Munda to take across his proposal to the supreme Goddess. Chanda and Munda walked across the field, confident and proud, and placed Mahisha’s proposal before Durga. She, but smiled. “But I am already the queen of all creations, inclusive of your conceited king.” she said. 

“Vain woman, if you do not agree to this proposal, we are afraid you will be facing very grave consequences.” threatened Chanda. And that was it, with one sweep of her sword, she beheaded the asuras. The whole of Mahisha’s army trembled in fear. Mahisha shook with wrath and sent forth his men to attack the Goddess, “Grab her and produce her before me in chains. I will show her who I am.” 

The armies of the demon king rushed towards the army of Durga. But with a wave of her arms, she vanquished them all. More forces were sent to attack her, led by the demons Camara, Hala, Chiksura and many more. They all fell before the power of the Goddess, helpless against the greater power. 

Humiliated by the defeat, Mahisha himself went before the Mother and asked her hand in marriage. 

Durga laughed again, “Ah, but I will only marry the man who defeats me in a battle. Will you? I think not.” She taunted him. 

“Then fight we will”, shouted Mahisha. 

A great battle followed between two equally matched contestants. Time and again Mahisha attacked the Goddess, as a buffalo, a loin, an elephant, a goat and many other forms. And every time Durga managed to break through the maya of the Asura’s power. The very worlds shook with the vibrations of the great war. The Goddess too repeatedly attacked him with her paraphernalia of weapons. But the demon seemed to be invanquishable, and he rose back again and again to battle against her. 

Realizing that her weapons indeed had no effect on Mahisha, Durga jumped of her lion onto the buffalo-headed Asura. She kicked his head with her tender feet and stomped him down. Mahisha, who had been immune to all weapons, fell senseless at the touch of her divine feet. Then with one plunge of her trident she stabbed the breast of Mahisha, killing him immediately and granting him instant liberation. Such is the sanctity of her holy feet. Mahisha was dead. 

Mahishasura Mardhini

Mahishasura Mardhini

 

The heavens immediately resounded with the blowing of conches, trumpets and the beating of drums. The gods descended onto earth venerating the Goddess with verses and hymns. From the earth came the yakshas, kinnaras and many spirits. The sages worshipped her with flowers and lamps, all very happy with the death of Mahisha. She was praised as Mahishasura Mardhini, the Vanquisher of Mahishasura, and Chamunda, the killer of Chanda and Munda. 

“Stay with us, Oh Shakthi, and protect us forever”, they prayed. 

Said the Goddess, 

“I am always with you. I am the mother who feeds you, the sister who supports you, the daughter who charms you, and the nymph who enchants you. 

I am Saraswati who bestows upon Brahma the knowledge to create the world; I am Lakshmi who gives Vishnu the wherewithal to preserve the cosmic order; I am Parvati who allures the ascetic Shiva into worldly life. 

I am the heat of fire, the movement of wind, the moisture of water, the radiance of sun, the luster of moons, the sparkle of stars, the fecundity of soil, the sovereignty of Kings. 

I am Prithvi, the sacred earth, bringing forth life, nurturing all plants and animals. I am Grama-Devi, the village Goddess, on whose body man builds houses and grows crops. 

My essence is present in every woman. They, like me, are vessels of fertility, sources of love and life.” 

- The Devi Mahatmya 

Thus saying and promising that she would be there for them whenever they needed her help, she disappeared. 

The battle had lasted for nine long days, with Durga killing Mahishasura on the tenth day. The devas decided to celebrate it time and again in memory of the great war and the victory that the Goddess had obtained for them. Thus came about the first Navarathri celebrations, which were observed by the devas themselves. They worshipped the Goddess for nine nights and held a grand festival in her honour. The Goddess, extremely pleased with their devotion, promised them eternal protection and happiness. She also asked them to hold this celebration year and again for the benefit of humanity as such. And so came about the custom of observing Navarathri every year, invoking the Goddess for the good of all. 

Navarathri traditionally begins on the Prathama following Mahalaya Amavasya and continues on until the Dasami thithi which is celebrated as Vijayadasami (Vijaya-Victory, Since Durga had triumphed over Mahisha on Dasami, it is named so). Lalitha panchami, Maha Sapthami, Durgashtami, and Maha Navami along with Vijayadasami form the five days of traditional worship during Navarathri. The goddess is invoked every day in a different form and worshipped along with a suitable naivedhya. Maha Navami is also observed as Saraswathi Pooja/Ayudha pooja when one worships his books, stationeries and tools of work. Vijayadasami is considered to be the apt day to start any new venture or join kids into schools. Vidhyarambam (The beginning of education) is usually held on Vijayadasami in a number of places. 

Bomma Kolu

Bomma Kolu

 

In the Southern portions of India, Navarathri is synonymous with the Kolu. This refers to a display of beautiful dolls, artistically arranged on rows of steps that are put up in some households as a part of the celebrations. Dolls of gods, goddesses, devas, rishis, men and animals are placed on the steps and worshipped every day. Guests are invited to view the Kolu and are often entertained and provided with prasad. Women and young girls are given trays containing Kumkum, combs, mirror, turmeric and other auspicious items. After keeping the Kolu for nine days, the dolls are taken down on the day following Vijayadasami. 

The gigantic Ravan Effigy

The gigantic Ravan Effigy

 

The North of India, however, celebrates Dusshera to commemorate the victory of Rama over Ravana in the battle of Lanka. It is believed that Sri Rama obtained the blessings of the Supreme Mother by observing this autumnal worship of the Goddess and was thus successful in the war. Cities in the North hold Ram-lila on large scales over the ten days and gigantic effigies of Ravana are burnt by people enacting as Rama on the Dasami night, celebrating the victory of good over evil. Dandiya, Garba and Raas gatherings are held all through the nine days where people get to dance and enjoy a lot. In the North, it is more of a community festival as opposed to the private worship done in the south. 

Arati at a community Pandal

Arati at a community Pandal

 

But nowhere is the festival celebrated as grandly as in the Eastern states. West Bengal particularly, accounts for some of the largest Durga Puja celebrations in the country. Every home has a gigantic idol of the Goddess installed in its shrine of worship. Huge community Puja Pandals are also set up and for the whole ten days, it is sheer joy and madness wherever you go. It is believed to be that time of the year when Uma, the wife of Shiva, comes down to visit her parents at Yajnodaka Desha ( See Daksha Yagna) in the plains, along with Ganesha and Skandha. The people consider Uma to be their own daughter and welcome her into their homes. They pamper her for ten days with food, dance and games. On the tenth day, the idols are taken out and dissolved into the sea with tearful farewells. 

The procession of Chanmundeshwari

The procession of Chanmundeshwari

 

However, the grandest of the Dusshera celebrations take place at the very site where the battle between Durga and Mahisha was fought, Mahishur, or as we know it today, Mysore. The present descendents of the king of Mysore host the Dussera festival to worship Chamundeshwari, their royal deity. The hilltop temple dedicated to the goddess wears a festival look all day long and special poojas are performed. The palace is also kept at its very best, twinkling with lights and fireworks. On the Dusshera day, hundreds and thousands of bejeweled elephants, horses and liveried men parade before the grand palace at Mysore. A golden image of Chamundeshwari, gifted by the erstwhile Maharajas of Mysore, is taken on a procession over an elephant from the palace to the hill top shrine. The whole procession lasts for several hours and is attended by several thousands of spectators. It is indeed a sight to behold. 

Mysore Chamundeshwari

Mysore Chamundeshwari

 

With Navarathri beginning today, the 19th of November 2009, I am in full spirit to observe the celebrations for the ten days. Here in the US, we have to keep it down and be satisfied with small pujas and simple Naivedyas. However, I intend to celebrate it my style. For every day of Navarathri I will publish a post on different temples dedicated to Shakthi here @ kshetrapuranas (not necessarily within the nine days). This will be my offering for the Goddess this Navarathri. So keep checking this page. 

Happy Navarathri!!! 

Deepak

 
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