Where Death Died!!!, Thirukkadaiyur
“To be immortal is to love god, for it is this love which is immortality”
Throughout the puranas and upanishads we come across, time and again, people who have sought immortality, only to be thwarted by the evil plays of fate. From Hiranya’s virtually “deathless” boon to the nearly impossible death boon of Mahishi, nothing has been able to grant total immortality to those who seek it. However, this much sought after status is enjoyed by people who hardly seek it at all. Of the eight great siranjeevis (immortals) in the puranas lies the name of Markandeya, a devotee par excellence who had the opportunity to get Yama himself back to life.
Mrigandu maharishi was a staunch devotee of Shiva. Together with his wife Marudhamathi, he led a simple life of worship and penance. The couple were happy with everything save one, the absence of a child to shower their love on. The couple however never gave up hope and continuously invoked Eeshwara to bless them with a child. Pleased with their prayers Shiva himself appeared before them and granted them their boon.
“Mrigandu, I am extremely happy at the devotion shown by you and your wife towards me. I am more than willing to bless you with Putra Bhagyam, but here are my conditions. Would you like to have a child who would be just like you in your wisdom and devotion but would live for only sixteen years, or would you prefer a hundred children who would live for many many years to come but would be challenged in their intelligence quotient? The choice is yours.”, said Shiva, his face alight with his beautiful smile.
“Maheshwara”, said Mrigandu, his hands raised in obeisance, “Give me that one intelligent son. I will be happy with that.”
“So be it, Mrigandu”, blessed the lord and then disappeared.
Soon after, Marudhamathi became pregnant and in due course of time gave birth to a lovely child. All the grahas were in auspicious positions at the time of his birth. The child himself had all the Lakshanams for a bright (but unforunately short) life. The couple named him Markandeya.
Markandeya grew up with time, and was liked by one and all. When he was at a suitable age, his father himself initiated him into the study of the vedas and puranas. Within a short span of time the boy mastered all the scriptures. His parents were proud of his achievements. Markandeya was very pleasing in his manners and behavior. He won the heart of everyone he spoke to.
At the age of twelve, he was initiated into the sacred and mystic Gayathri manthra. His upanayana was conducted with much fanfare and all the guests blessed the boy to have a long and happy life. It was then that the stark truth hit the couple. In four short years their son would no longer be with them. Gloom spread into their hearts which was brimming with pride and affection for their only son.
Days passed and their gloom became more tangible to Markandeya. He could see that his parents were inwardly grieving at something and hiding it from him. As his sixteenth birthday approached his parents were hardly seen without tears in their eyes. Not able to bear the secret any longer, Markandeya confronted his parents.
“Father, mother, I see that you are worried greatly about something. I am unable to figure out what is causing you so much misery. Would you not tell it to me? Isn’t it the duty of a child to allay his parents’ miseries?”, he begged.
Marudhamathi finally broke down with the truth. “Markandeya, when Parameshwara blessed us with a son, he gave us a choice of an intelligent short-lived son compared to many foolish long-lifed children. We ofcourse stuck with the first choice. And now, as you turn to be sixteen, we are afraid that Maheshwara will take you back from us. How can we bear the shock?”, she cried out her anguish.
Markandeya smiled at his parents. “Is that all? Is that the problem? I am sure Shiva can save me from the clutches of death. He is very benevolent to his devotees. Dont we all worship him as Mrithunjaya or the victor of death. He will not let me down. For your happpiness, I am going to pray to him to ask him for a longer life. I am sure he will grant me an extension”, said Markandeya, trying to calm down his mother.
“Father”, he said, “Grant me permission to take leave and bless me for success. I will return back to you only after I get his blessings”. Saying so he left the aashrama of Mrigandu, leaving both his parents in fresh bursts of anguish.
The boy came to the forest on the banks of the Kaveri and made a Shivalinga out of the wet sand. He offered flowers to it and fruits from the forest. Then sitting in front of the linga, with matted locks and dressed in the barks of trees, he immersed himself into the chanting of the holy Panchakshara. Days passed again and Markandeya showed no signs of hunger or thirst, of sleeplessness or fatigue. His body glowed with the heat that his tapas was emanating.
As the last day of his fifteenth year was drawing to a close Yama sent his Kingkaras with orders to take the life of Markandeya and return to Yamaloka. The Yama Kingkaras came down to the banks of the kaveri and approached the boy. However the heat that was being given out by Markandeya did not allow them to get anywhere close to him. Surprised by this unexpected hurdle they ran back to Yamaloka to report this to their master.
“Prabho”, they cried in unison, “The boy is unapproachable. A divine heat is pouring out of his body and we are unable to go near him.”
Yama was shocked and he himself came out to take Markandeya’s life. Seated on his buffalo, with a mace and his characteristic noose in his hands, he appeared before the linga that Markandeya was meditating on.
“Markandeya”, he cried, “your time in this world is over. You are now to accompany me to the legions of the dead.”
Markandeya opened his eyes. Yamadharma Raja who is usually not visible to the mortals appeared before him due to his intense devotion and piety. “Yama Raja, all I request of you is time enough for me to complete my worship. You can take me then”, said Markandeya, his face calm and serene.
“No”, cried Yama in shock. “I can not let you live even for a second after you are sixteen. I will fail in my duties if I did so. Come with me this very second”, he ordered.
Markandeya hugged the Linga in devotion, “No Dharma, I cannot leave my worship unfinished. I need to complete my prayers to Maheshwara before I leave my mortal coils”, begged Markandeya.
“Aaargh, I am not going to argue with you anymore. You will come with me now”, thundered Yama and in a flash he threw the noose around Markandeya. The noose fell around the rudrabhaga of the linga too. Yama then started pulling the linga along with the boy. Lo and Behold, the linga split open and out came Shiva looking furious. He kicked Yama with his left leg on his chest and in a moment he plunged his trishula into Yama’s body. Yama cried out in pain and sprawled down, lifeless. The lord of Death himself was dead, at the hands of the master of the universe.
All the devas came down to earth to the sacred spot where Shiva stood over the corpse of Yama. They cowered at the very sight. They all venerated Shiva and praised him as Mrithyunjaya and Kaala Kaala (the Yama of Yama himself). The lord’s anger cooled down and he returned to his Shantha swaroopa.
Markandeya approached Shiva and bowing to him said thus, “Parameshwara, restore yama back to life. The world will be unbalanced without the lord of death to keep control of their sins and good deeds. Please bring him back.”
Shiva was extremely pleased with Markandeya’s selfless intentions. He restored Yama back to life and warned him, “There is no death to my devotees. Those who venerate me and pray to me with the purest of hearts will not suffer problems from you. It will be good for you if you keep this in mind.” Yama nodded meekly at Shiva’s warning.
“Markandeya”, called Shiva, “to you there will be no death. You will remain sixteen forever. You will neither become old nor gray haired. Every desire of yours shall be fulfilled and you shall remain this young till the end of all times.” Blessing Markandeya thus Shiva disappeared from the spot. True to Shiva’s boon, the hindus believe that Markandeya is still very much alive, young and vibrant as always. They venerate him as one of their siranjeevis and pray to him for longevity.
The place by the banks of kaveri where Markandeya had set up the linga and where Shiva vanquished Yama is today known by the name of Thirukkadaiyur. Yet another of the Ashta Veeratta Kshetras, Thirukkadaiyur is located 20km from Mayiladuthurai. The Abhirami sametha Amrithaghateshwarar temple is one of the best known ones of the Veeratta sthalas. The moolavar linga is a swayambhu. The mark that was made by the noose of Yama can bee seen even today. It is believed that the linga was infact a part of the pot of nectar that came out of the Milk Ocean. During the churning of the ocean, the devas stole a bit of the nectar and hid it in a safe place. Vinayaka, who was besides himself with fury that the devas had not invoked him prior to the churning took the pot and hid it in another place. The devas searched for the pot but only in vain. It is this pot of nectar which presently graces the sactum of the temple as a Shiva linga. Since Vinayaka stole the pot of nectar, he is fondly called as KallaPillayar in this sthala (Kallan – thief).
When Brahma wanted to get Gnaanopadesam from the lord, he went to Kailasha and requested for the same. Shiva in reply gave him a few seeds of the sacred Vilva tree and instructed him thus, “Chaturmugha, sow these seeds of the holy Vilva at any place you wish. The place where the seeds sprout will be where I will appear to give you Gnaanopadesam.” Brahma tried sowing the seeds at various places, but only in vain. It was only when he came to Tirukkadaiyur did the Vilva seeds sprout. Hence the place is also known as Vilvaaranyam
The Abhirami sannidhi here is very famous. It was on this devi that Abhirami bhattar sang the much sung Abhirami Andhadhi. Abhirami bhattar was a scholar who lived at Thirukkadaiyur during the rule of Raja Sarabhoji. He was branded as a lunatic by his peers because of his blind devotion for the goddess. This allegation ultimately reached the king’s ears and he came to the temple to check it for himself. It was the sacred thithi of Amavasya or new moon day and the Bhattar was deeply engrossed in worship of the goddess. The king approached him and asked, “Bhattar, what thithi is it today?” The bhattar who was captivated by the shining moon like face of Abhirami told him, “Why my king, it is Pournami (full moon) indeed.” The king was aghast and repeated his question to which the bhattar answered back in his same tone “It is Pournami my lord.”
The king was furious and ordered, “If we dont see the moon tonight you will be consigned to flames. You will be made to sit on a swing which will be lowered gradually into a burning pit of fire. As the night passes without the appearance of the moon, the closer you will get to death”.
The bhattar was shocked when he came back to his senses. He looked at the idol of Abhirami, “It was you who made me say that it was a full moon and it will be you who will save me from the plight”. In the evening the bhattar was made to sit on the swing suspended over the fire pit and the swing was gradually lowered. The bhattar called out to Abhirami for help. He sang a hundred verses in praise of the grace and power of the divine mother. At the completion of the 79th verse Devi Abhirami threw one of her glittering earrings onto the heavens where it shown brightly like a full grown moon. The king and everyone gathered were ashamed at what they had done ta a devout soul like Abhirami Bhattar and begged him to forgive them. Bhattar forgave them all and continued his existence on the beauty of the Ambal. As a mark of his respect, the king decreed that one hundredth of the royal revenue should annually go to the descendents of the Bhattar. The copper plates proclaiming this decree are still owned by the surviving descendents of the Bhattar. The hundred verses he sang are now devotedly sung as Abhirami Andhadhi, invoking the blessings of the goddess.
The legend of Kungulinga Kalayar is also quite famous. This rich merchant Kalayar, used to offer Kungulingadhupam (an incense) to the lord everyday and hence he got his name thus. Due to an unseen turn in the fortunes he lost his wealth and was left penniless. One day, to have their daily meal, his wife had to part with her Thirumangalyam (sacred marital thread) to buy them some food. Such was the level of poverty that they had to endure. Kalayar took this to the market with a heavy heart. There, seeing a woman selling Kungulingadhupam, he lost himself and bought some for the temple. He rushed to the sanctum and immersed himself in the worship. The lord taking pity on his devotee and extremely happy with his selfless behaviour, filled his house with gold and grains to last for three generations and bade him to go home. Kalayar returned home, afraid of his wife’s scolding but was taken aback by the wealth that was piled in there. Realising the divine play, he danced with joy at the tender heart of the lord and continued his service to the lord till his very end. Even today, the temple that he worshipped at exists near the main temple and is called Kaaleswaralayam in his memory.
It is believed that in this temple even the Navagrahas pay allegiance to Shiva. Hence there is no pooja to the Navagrahas here. All worship is offered to Kalasamharamoorthi alone. The idol of Kalasamhara moorthi is once again an exquisite work of art. Shining in bronze, with Yama under his left feet, the lord looks majestic and awe-inspiring. The fact that Yama lies under the left leg indicates that the lord had planned to forgive him. With a pointed finger, the lord warns Yama not to take his devotees lightly and mistreat them, ever again. Markandeya is also present on the right side of the lord. The lower portion of the statue depicting the killing of Yama is kept closed and is opened only during aarathi. Upon closely observing the idol, one can see a Shiva gana pulling the corspe of Yama by its leg. This is believed to be Gundodhara. Since a dead body is considered to be inauspicious, especially in a temple, he is seen trying to remove the corpse from the divine presence of Shiva. Directly opposite to the shrine of Kalasamharamoorthi is a sannidhi dedicated to Yama, ever grateful to Shiva for being restored back to life.
When Markandeya worshipped Shiva, he brought water from the Ganges through an underground canal. Along with the waters came the flowers of Pinjilam (Jaathi malli). The Pinjilam is revered as the Sthalavriksha even today. The canal that was used by Markandeya is visible to this day. Only this water is used for abhishekam to the lord. Even if the waters of Ganga are brought down, they will not be used. During an Utsavam in Panguni, the idol of Markandeya is carried to this tank and special worship is offered. On that day, Markandeya himself performs the Theerthavari for the lord.
The temple wears a festival look every day as many people come here to celebrate their Sashtiabdhapoorthi (the completion of sixty years of life) and Sadabhishekam (the completion of eighty years or Sahasrapoornadarshanam, the sightings of a thousand full moons). Yaagas are conducted all around the prakaaram thanking god for the long life of the individuals. Ayushya homam, which is conducted at the end of a child’s first year is also conducted in the temple premises. There is a whole feel of great happiness in the temple, the happiness of being alive. The main festival is however the 18 day long Kaalasamhara thiruvizha in the month of Chithirai (April-may) when the entire episode of kalasamharam is re-enacted out. Thousands visit the temple to gain blessings for a long and happy life. The Sankhabhishekams during the five Karthika Somavarams (Mondays in the month of Karthigai) are also very famous and draw large crowds.
To us mortals, there is no better boon than making our short life on earth a well lived one. The fear of death only increases our hatred of mortality. While immortality is on no current to-do list of ours, it is no mistake to ask God for a long and healthy life, filled with happiness and comforts. And I am sure that the lord of Thirukkadaiyur will grant us this and many things more, if we appeal to him with a pure heart.