Kannagi’s Last Resort, Siruvachur
The Epic of the Anklet, more commonly known as Silapathigaram, is perhaps one of the best known Epics written in Tamil. Composed by Elangovadigal, the epic sang the story of a chaste woman, Kannagi.
Kannagi was a young woman of legendary beauty, as devout and chaste as she was beautiful. A fitting match was made when she was given in marriage to Kovalan, a wealthy merchant from KaveriPattanam. Life was a bed of roses for the loving couple until fate came in the form of Madhavi, a strikingly beautiful danseuse at the court of the Chozha king Karikaalan. Kovalan was at once enamoured by Madhavi’s dashing looks and totally forgot that he too had a wife, as beautiful and chaste. Lust took over the man’s senses and he started living with Madhavi.
Back at KaveriPattanam, Kannagi was heartbroken over the news of her husband staying in with a danseuse, but nevertheless she continued living as his wife, offering prayers for the well being of Kovalan, wherever he was.
Kovalan stayed with Madhavi for a year. Over the period, his lack of interest in trade made him loose all his wealth. He had spent all that he had had in pleasing Madhavi. Madhavi soon bore him a daughter whom they named Manimekalai (another epic in Tamil is based on this daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi). At the end of the year, totally devoid of any wealth, Kovalan’s senses managed to kick in and he realised what he had done under the influence of lust. He begged Madhavi to forgive him and rushed back to Kannagi, who welcomed him back with open arms.
The reunited couple decided to go to Madurai and start a new life all over again. Kovalan planned to restart his trade in the prosperous Pandian kingdom. But having lost everything, he had nothing to capitalise on. It was then that Kannagi came to his rescue once again and gave him one of her anklets. The anklet (silambu) was an exquisite work of art. Made out of gold and filled with precious rubies, it was worth a fortune. Kovalan reluctantly took it to the market place to sell it for a suitable price.
Unfortunately for Kovalan, the queen of Nedunchezhian, the king of Madurai, had had one of her anklets stolen by a greedy courtier. The anklets were very similar to Kannagi’s except for the fact that they were filled with pearls rather than rubies. So when Kovalan attempted to sell the anklet at a goldsmith’s place, the goldsmith immediately accused him to be the thief of her majesty’s anklets and promptly turned him in to the guards. Nedunchezhia Pandian, in a towering fit of rage over the fact that a theft had taken place in his prosperous city, ordered the guards to behead Kovalan without even holding a trial. Kovalan was beheaded and his head rolled onto the sands of madurai.
Kannagi on hearing the news was overwhelmed with anger and grief. She at once took her other anklet and marched onto the court of Nedunchezhian. There, in front of all the assembled courtiers, she challenged the king, “Pandia, in the land that is reigned over by the Goddess Meenakshi, you have committed an act of grave injustice”.
The King was shocked, “Pious lady, pray, what fault have I done? Why are you calling me unjust?”
“You have beheaded an innocent man. Your hands are soaked with the blood of a man who knew no harm, who knew no crime.”
“That man stole my queen’s anklets. He deserved to die. In this prosperous land of Madurai, which is overwhelmed with the blessings of the divine couple, no crime will be tolerated.”
“You fool, the man was innocent.”, screamed Kannagi, her eyes were red with anger.
“How do you know that? Do you know the man? Can you pove he is innocent?”
“What is the use, his life cannot be returned,” cried Kannagi, her voice chocked with grief. “He was my husband, my god, my everything. And those anklets he tried to sell were mine, not the queen’s.”
“Aaaah, nice story. How can a poor woman like you have such an exquisite anklet?”
“Base man, unjust king, behold this.”, she screamed and took out her anklet. The king was shocked. “The queen’s anklets are filled with pearls, but here is mine, the other of the pair, filled with rubies. Rubies, the colour of the innocent blood on your hands.” And she threw down the anklet. The anklet broke and rubies burst out of it. “There, do you see? Your act of injustice. You killed an innocent man. You have slipped in your duty as a king. Do you deserve the crown and the umbrella and all the other paraphernalia?” Kannagi shouted, her voice thick with anger.
The king and queen, could’nt bear the injustice that they had done and right there in front of Kannagi, they gave up their life. But Kannagi was not satisfied. She was burning inwards at her loss, at the injustice she had been subjected to. She tore off one of her breasts and flung it to the ground, “If I have been a true Pathivratha, then let this entire city of Madurai be reduced to ashes. The burning that I feel, let it burn up the city too.” she cursed.
And at once, tall flames burst up in the city. The whole of Madurai was burning, fed with the power of Kannagi’s chastity. People ran helter skelter and buildings just crumbled down into ashes. Finally, the patron goddess of the city, requested Kannagi to stop the raging fires. Kannagi agreed to the divine request and withdrew her curse. Badly burnt in the fires herself, Kannagi left the smouldering city of Madurai and proceeded northwards.
Near the city of Trichy, Kannagi came across a devi temple and decided to rest there for the night. The temple’s presiding deity was Chelliamman, fondly referred to as Chelli. Kannagi went into the deserted temple and prepared to rest for the night. It was then that something strange happened.
Chelli came out of the sanctum and said “Lady, I request you not to stay here.” she said to Kannagi.
Kannagi was astounded, “Devi, why are you asking me to go away. Are’nt you supposed to protect us?”
“Child, you dont know the situation. I am a powerful goddess, yes. But now I am bound to serve the whims and wishes of a cruel magician. He won my favor with his intense devotion towards me. And when I granted him any boon that he could wish for, he wanted me to be his servant, obeying his tiniest commands. By the power of my own boon, I am bound to him. He uses me to do all his wicked deeds. If he finds out that you have been here, he will surely kill you. Thats why I beseech you to go away as soon as possible.”, explained Chelli.
Kannagi was moved by Chelli’s problems and promised that she would help her to get out of the same. Kannagi and Chelli planned to kill the wicked magician. As night fell, Kannagi withdrew into the sanctum along with Chelli. She invoked her family deity, Kali, to help her in vanquishing the magician. Kali granted Kannagi all her powers to kill the evil sorcerer.
Soon the magician came by and ordered Chelli to come out. But to his great surprise, Kannagi sprang out and with one sweep of the sword she cut his head off. Before dying, the sorcerer made a final request that he sould have his samadhi in the very same temple and all the devoteed should stamp on him for all the evil that he had done. Kannagi granted him his final wish. Chelli too was freed from the bond and was happy beyond all measures.
Chelli looked at Kannagi, her eyes full of gratitude, ” Kannagi, I am so grateful to you for what you have done. I want you to stay over here forever more and protect the people of this village of Siruvachur. This place is mine no more. In this village, under your powerful rule, no deeds of evil can take place any more. People with evil intentions cannot even enter the village. Billi-soonyam, black magic and Devilic tantras will not workout here. Protect all of the people who come in search of refuge from the evil forces. I will now retreat into the forests of Periyasami hills. You are always welcome to visit me over there.”
Kannagi was overwhelmed with happiness and promised Chelli that she would do her best to rid the world of evil. “I will bless your devotees and mine with protection from all kinds of evil. But I will be down here only twice a week, on mondays and fridays. The other five days, I will be with you, up on the summits of Periyasami hills. I also request that you accept all the offerings and poojas at this temple before I accept them”, she said.
Chelli agreed to Kannagi’s conditions and left to her new abode at the Periyasami Hills
And so, Kannagi took over the seat of Chelli at the temple. She came to be known as Madhurakaliamman, since she had come from Madurai and had gotten rid of the evil sorcerer with the grace of Kali. Several other explanations are also given for her name. Soon, word of her power spread far and wide and people started pouring in. The town of Siruvachur became famous for the grace and protection of the presiding deity and has remained so ever since.
The town of Siruvachur is loacted near Perambalur in Tamil Nadu, around 50km from Trichy. The main deity at Siruvachur, Madhurakali, is an epitome of beauty and grace. Unlike the usual Kali with a face fuming with anger and tongue sticking out, the Devi here is calm and serene.
The temple is open only on mondays and fridays, as was commanded by Kali. All the other days it is believed that Madhurakali amman retreats into the Periyasami hills to spend time with Chelli. The temple teems with thousands of devotees on these two days. At every pooja, when the arathi is being offered, the priest first lifts the arathi upwards in the direction of Periayasami hills, offers prayers to Chelliamman and then only proceeds to worship Madhurakali.
In front of the main sanctum is present the samadhi of the evil sorcerer who had commaded over Chelli. The devotees stamp over the samadhi in the rush during the pooja, as had been requested by him. Also, it is believed that all the priests at the temple are descendents of the sorcerer. It is believed that Kali keeps a close watch on them so that they do not, in anyway, inherit the evil mind of their forefather.
The temple is known for protecting people from demonic forces and evil elements. In the times of yore, a board existed on the border of the town of Siruvachur claiming thus, “In the holy town of Siruvachur, ruled over by MadhuraKali, no form of evil will be allowed to exist. Eval, Billi Soonyam, Kaathu Karuppu will all fail to work and backfire on the originators. People with evil intents are warned from entering the town.” Even today, the temple happens to be on the top of the list of ways to counteract black magic and other similar stuff. I would strongly recommend people who doubt that they are being hindered by evil forces to visit this temple and take refuge in the shadows of Her holy feet. She will protect us all.
And so remains Madhurakali, in the village of Siruvachur, granting solace and refuge to all her devotees who come to her in times of need, just like she had protected and solved the problem of Chelli eons ago.