The ‘English’ Miracle, Madhuranthakam
My mind has been playing truant all day. All day long, in the labs, the class and even while eating, all I could think of was the vadaparuppu, neermore and paanagam that typically makes the food for the day on Shri Rama Navami. Another festival away from home, missing the food and fun, but life just goes on. I even ate a nice juicy chicken sub in my state of absent-mindedness. Abachaaram!!! 😀 . And so as a self imposed punishment, here I am in front of wordpress, spinning out another tale of awe and wonder, infused with divine splendour (wow, that is so rhyming!!). A tale every child in Maduranthakam is familiar with and a tale that is quite recent given our loooooooong history.
It was 1884 and the monsoons were at their peak. Winds ripped by and the roads were flooded with fast flowing water. Visibility was near zero and people were hesitant to wander out.
The district collector of the East India Company for the village of Madhuranthakam, Colonel Lionel Price, was running high with anxiety. The lake in the village had proved itself to be the biggest pain for the last several years. Beautiful though it was by the summer time, it became equally vicious with the arrival of the monsoon winds. Whatever efforts the East India Company took to wall the banks of the lake proved to be futile. The bund always broke over and the village was flooded time and again. The waters washed away the roughly built waste weir adjacent to the lake. The villager’s efforts at farming were all reduced to zilch because of this annual flood.
This year, Price decided to be extra careful. He had decided to camp at the village some time prior to the onset of the monsoons, to supervise the annual building of the lake wall. He had arrived at the village with his huge army of stonemasons, servants and other workers, prepared well for the tough monsoons. On entering the village, his eyes first fell on the magnificent stone edifice of the Sri Kothanda Raamar temple, rising tall and splendid, soaring above the other buildings. Greatly attracted to the architecture, he lost himself in its wonder and wandered into the temple.
The temple archakas came running out to welcome him into their holy precincts. Though a christian by birth, Price showed great interest in the history of the place and was eager to know about its origins and such. “Priests of the temple”, he started, “I like this temple very very much. Why was this place built? I know that each temple in India has a story behind it. What is the one behind this one in the village of my administration?”
The head priest was only too happy to hear such interest in their temple. He humbly went on to sketch out the sthala purana to the Jagirdar.
“Eons ago, when Sri Vishnu came on earth in the human form of Sri Raama, this place was called Bagulaaranyam or the forest of Magizham trees (Mimusops elengi) . A sage by name Vipandakar, devoutly worshipped the idol of Karunaakaran, whom he assumed to be Sri Raama himself, who was born in Ayodhya, way up north. Such was his devotion, that when Sri Raama was exiled from Ayodhya, by the order of his own step-mother, some mysterious force pulled him towards the aashrama of Vipandakar. Unfortunately, at that point of time he could’nt stay back because he was grieving about his lost wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by the demon king Raavana. He however promised Vipandakar, that on his way back from Lanka, he would come there along with Sita and Lakshmana to enjoy his hospitality to his heart’s content.”
“Time flew and the Raama-Raavana war ended with Raama killing Raavana, thus fulfilling his duty on earth. He mounted the Pushpaka Vimana, the ancient flying chariot that was owned by Raavana, along with Sita and sped northwards. They were flying over a dense forest, when the Vimana stopped mid flight. To everyones surprise, it refused to budge inspite of the Vanaras pushing and pulling in all directions. It was then that Sri Raama remembered his word to Vipandakar. ‘I get it’, he told aloud, ‘the vimana wants me to keep up my word to the rishi. I had promised him that I would come and visit him on my way back’ And so Raama visited the place along with Sita and Lakshmana. He stayed with the rishi for some time and enjoyed his devotion and hospitality to the fullest extent possible and then returned to Ayodhya.”
“After the visit of the Divine couple, the place bloomed with happiness and sweetness. The flowers were loaded with nectar and there was eternal spring in the air. To comemmorate the sweet visit of the divine couple, the people named the place Madhurantakam”
Colonel Price listened to the entire story with rapt attention and was totally lost in it. And then his eyes fell on a large stack of uncut granite slabs piled up against one of the walls. “What are these doing here?” he demanded. The priest once again spoke out, “We are in the process of building a shrine for the lord’s consort, Sri Janakavalli Thaayar. However due to paucity of funds, we had to stop suddenly. We are sure that She would show us a way out. After all, she was the goddess of wealth incarnate”
Price now had an idea, “Holy men of my village, I promise to build the new shrine to your goddess, if your deities can protect the lake from flooding over this year. Is that a deal?”, he asked.
The priests could obviously not say no to such a generous offer. They had nothing to lose afterall. Unanimously, they all nodded their heads in agreement. With this Colonel Price walked out of the temple, and he had not even had a darshan of the lord. Maybe it was a personal challenge between him and Raama.
The tank bund was built in time for the rains, but it was not anymore stronger than the previously built ones. If the rains were as heavy as they usually were, this one was not going to last a few hours into it. As an extra precaution, Colonel Price asked the people to evacuate the village to ensure their safety. So except for a very few staunch devotees, who were totally against abandoning the temple, the other villagers left to visit their family and friends in the neighbouring villages.
The promised winds blew up, bringing along with it the dreaded storms. It was worse this year than ever. The storm uprooted trees with surprising ease. Rain poured down in torrents and the lake began to fill up. Days went by, and the lake slowly started to swell, threatening to flood over.
One night, the rains were particularly terrible. Colonel Price dared to go out, with his attendent holding the umbrella, to look at the state of the lake bund. He had this nagging notion that the bund would’nt be able to hold on any further.
Wading through the waters, the colonel reached the banks of the lake. The lake looked terrible. Black as death and swelling with every passing moment, it offered the picture of calamity. But wait, who were the two men walking on the other side of the lake. The villagers had to be absolutely nuts to walk out in this weather. The colonel watched in surprise, as the two figures continued to walk along the tank periphery. And then he realised that they did not even look like the villagers. Tall and well built, with crowns on their head, they looked like kings. And each was holding a bow in one hand and a bunch of arrows in the other. This was definitely the weirdest sight ever. He watched the men as they walked around the lake and then realising the wet state that he was in, the colonel walked back to his dwelling, pondering over the strange vision that he had just had.
Next day dawned bright and nice. The rains had stopped and the sun was shining. Colonel Price rushed to the lake, and to his utter amazement, saw that the lake bund had held. He ran to the temple, to tell the priests this happy news. “The village has been saved”, he shouted over and over again. The priests were delighted and invited him to join in their ritual worship. The Colonel was led towards the sanctum by the priests. The doors of the sanctum were closed, as the ritual alankara was going on. The colonel waited for them to open, while the priests chanted in some unknown language totally strange to him.
The bells of the temple tolled and the sanctum was opened and what a sight met the Colonel’s eyes. Two men, dressed as kings, each bearing a bow and some arrows accompanied by another woman. There they stood as stone idols, richly decked with garlands and shimmering with jewels. The colonel couldnt believe it. Were’nt they they men who he had seen the previous night?
The colonel was ecstatic. He could’nt hide his happiness. The priests noticed this too and enquired about his sudden state of joy. The colonel explained the happenings of the previous night and his surprise when he had seen the two men being worshipped in the temple that day. The priests were very happy at the turn of events. They assured him that it was indeed Sri Raama and Lakshmana who had appeared the previous night to protect the lake from flooding. They also lamented over the fact that they had not been able to get a glimpse of Sri Raama after their years of devotion to him, while the colonel had been able to have his darshan a few days after stepping into Madhuranthakam. A miracle indeed.
Colonel Price kept up his word and built the shrine to Janakavalli Thayar. Even today, the inscription outside the shrine reveals the fact that the shrine had been built using the generous contributions of Colonel Lionel Price, the Jagirdar of the East India Company. His name also appears on the waste weir that was built adjacent to the lake.
Thus was built the Thaayar shrine at the Madhuranthakam temple. And the deity at the temple came to be known as Sri Eri Kaatha Raamar (Raama who Protected the Lake) after the miraculous incident that had occured to Colonel Price.
The temple town of Madhuranthakam is situated 77km south of Chennai and is beautiful to look at with the shimmering lake and the whitewashed temple towers. The temple is small but beautiful, with separate shrines for Andaal and Ramanujar apart from the main shrines to Sri Kothanda Raamar and Janakavalli Thaayar. One speciality of the temple is the presence of two utsavars, Sri Kothanda Raamar and Sri Karunaakaran (the idol that had been worshipped by Vipandakar).
The lake is situated right opposite the temple along with a shrine for Anjaneya along its banks. The sthala vriksha is ofcourse the Magizha tree. It was under this tree that Periya nambi performed the Pancha samskaaras to Sri Ramanujar. Sri Ramanujar had lived in this town for a considerable amount of time and had served the lord. Apart from Ramanuja, Thirumazhisai alwar had also lived in the town and worshipped the deities.
The temple celebrates it Brahmostavam in Aani and the Thirukkalyana Utsavam in Panguni along with the Rama Navami celebrations. The temple sees a constant stream of pilgrims during these festivals. The town also makes a good picnic spot with its beautiful lake and serene atmosphere and many people drive down for just the very same purpose. So when any of you has time to drive down, just dont hesitate to do so.
And thus ends my penance for my unconscious mistake. A fitting story that I got to write on Shri Raama Navami 2009 😀 (His blessings I guess). May Shri Raama save us from all the floods in our lives just like he had saved the lake from flooding into the village of Madhuranthakam. And hope you all had a fabulous time eating the deilicacies I had missed out on.
Sri Raama Raama Raamethi
Rame Raame Manorame||
Sahasra naama Thathulyam
Raam Naama Varaanane||