The Mystery of the Sweating Idol, Sikkal
SIKKAL. Huh? What a word? Why would a place ever be named so? (To the tamil uninitiated it means “Dilemma” as also “Caught”). And why does this tiny town go crazy with stampeding people every November? Fitting anwers await in this post to these perplexing questions about a shrine located near Nagapattinam dedicated to Skandha, the Commander of the Deva Army and the chief god of Kaumaram of the shanmadas just like Ganesha is that of Ganapathyam.
The legend takes us back to the times of Vashishta. Kamadhenu, the celestial cow, being cursed for a sin was forced to descend to earth and live there until she had served her penance. She chose to live near the present location of Sikkal, which was abound with sweet smelling jasmine creepers thus earning it the name Mallikaaranyam. Kamadhenu shed all her milk, which overflowed to form a small pond and then turning herself into a tiger she started her penance.
Ages passed before Vashishta, the kula guru of Ikshavakus, passed that way. Attracted by the smell and the stunningly white milk lake he decided to rest and offer his evening prayers at that place. He gathered the butter floating on the lake and very lovingly fashioned a shiva linga out of it. To this Butter Linga he offered his prayers. Since the lord was caught in the butter of Vashishta’s devotion, the place earned its name Sikkal. Some people also say that when Vashishta found that his linga could not be moved he was caught in a dilemma (Sikkal again). The dilemma was however cleared when the lord himself appeared and granted him his darshan.
Kamadhenu, finds herself being freed of her curse with the appearance of Shiva. Out of gratitude she chooses to remain with Vashishta to provide him with all the requirements for an ascetic life. The presiding deity of the place, having been made out of butter, is known as Navaneetheshwarar or Vennainaathar (The Butter Lord). The linga to this day bears the impression of Vashishta’s fingers which were used to model the Linga. All this forms one interesting part of the sthala purana. The other part is slightly more interesting and surely intriguing.
Subramanya was created by Shiva for the sole purpose of destroying Surapadman, the demon king who was giving much a hard time to the devas. Having reached a suitable age, Skandha, chose this very place to meditate upon his parents, to pray for sufficient mental and physical strength to overcome the demon king. Parvathi, pleased with her son’s prayers created a lance or the Vel from a part of herself and presented it to Skandha along with her hearfelt blessings for his success. Since the lance was given by Shakthi, it is called Shakthi Vel and the Devi in this sthala is named as Velnedunkanni Amman (She whose eyes are as shapely and sharp as the Vel).
Skandha does manage to win over Surapadman and is struck with the brahmahathi dosha. Though sooran was an asura, he was a brahmin by birth and an ardent devotee of Shiva. Killing a brahmin is one of the maha paapas according to the vedas, and Skandha was no exception. He returned to Sikkal and once again meditated on his parents. When he took his ablution in the holy Ksheera theertha or the milk pond that kamadhenu had created, he emerged out free of the brahmahathi and shining with light, all traces of his war wounds gone. Very true to this, the presiding deity of Murugan here is named Singara Velavar (the handsome Vel bearer) and is very beatiful to behold by the shining camphor. And again, the ksheera theertha is thought to be able to deliver a person from the worst of sins and make him a new man all over.
The main festival celebrated is the Maha Skandha Sashti which comes in the month of Aippasi (Mid October-Mid November) and celebrates the victory of Karthikeya over the Asura. The festival is celebrated for six days, commemorating the six days of war with Soora Padman. On the fifth day of the festival Skandha receives his Vel from his mother Velnedunkanni, amidst much gaiety and colors, to vanquish the asura. This is known as the “Vel Vaangum Thiruvizha” and is the highlight of the festival. The amazing fact is that when Skandha prepares to receive his Vel, the utsavar idol of Singara Velavar breaks out into profuse sweating (The tension and the anger of a lord who awaits to kill the asura). This happens every year, even upto the present times and defies explanation. The priests continuously wipe the idol’s face with silk cloth and the sweat is sprinkled on the crowd gathered as divine theertha. People throng the streets to witness this miracle and if blessed possibly get a drop of that sweat on themselves. The sweating subsides when he returns to his sanctum, the owner of the divine Vel. On the sixth day, the soorasamhaaram takes place. Though it is not as grand and large as is celebrated at Thiruchendur, the slaying of the demon king still drives home the point ‘Evil, Beware! Guha in all his divinity will protect us’.
Sikkal still remains a major pilgrim center for people who find themselves in difficult situations (sikkal) in their life. A visit to the temple is believed to show them the right path. The shatru-samhara pooja in which one prays for deliverance from one’s enemies is supposed to be very potent here. Sikkal is located near Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and happens to be a must see on my temple list. May the Lord of Valli forever remain a gracious wish fulfiller.