A Tale of Three Cities, Thiruvadigai
In this life of ours we so often get entangled in the three impurities of bondage, namely, Ego, Karma and Maya. Once caught in the web, we hardly get to come out or even worse, realise that we are caught in the illusion at all. This is when the divine seeks to help us out of the trouble that we have put ourselves into. To destroy these three impurities requires a strong willed belief that we are indeed nothing more than puppets in the cosmic act of puppetry. It is this realisation along with the divine grace which can burn these illusions and grant eternal bliss to us.
Taaraka was a great asura king. He was a devout Shiva bhaktha and regularly performed Shiva pooja. However, the bad blood that came along the long lineage of Asuras was there in him too. He wanted power and invincibility. Through a series of severe penance he won the grace of Shiva. When Shiva appeared before him to grant his boon Taaraka very cleverly demanded that he could be killed only by a son of Shiva and no one else. Shiva too granted this boon and disappeared. Since Shiva had no sons at that time and Sati had immolated herself at Daksha’s yagna, Taarakasura was overjoyed that he had tricked the lord to grant him immortality. The story of Kumara who was born to Shiva and Parvathi, to kill Taarakasura is what Skandhapurana details about.
Now the asura Taaraka had three sons, Vidhyunmaali, Taarakaksha and Kamalaaksha. They too were staunch devotees of the lord. But like their father their love for power and immortal life saw them too going into severe tapas towards Brahma. For thousands of years they meditated on one leg, inhaling only air. Brahma, the easiest to please of the Trimurthis rushed down to them and agreed to grant their boons.
“Sons of Taaraka, what is it that you seek? Ask and it shall be given.”, pronounced Brahma.
The asuras asked in unison, “We seek immortality. Death should never befall us”.
“That, I am afraid is not in my power. Ask for something else.”
“Then, Oh mighty creator”, began the asuras, “Grant us two boons. The first being that no one in this creation of yours should be stronger than us.”
“That is fine.”, granted Brahma.
“And grant us three forts, one made out of gold, one of silver and one of iron. These three forts should be able to fly and go to anyplace that we desire. The forts will be separate from one another and will come together only very rarely. Only a single arrow which can bring all the three forts together and burn them will result in our destruction. This is our wish.”
Brahma, though startled at this strange request, granted the wish and disappeared.
Maya, the danava architect was commanded by Brahma to build the three cities. Maya built three beautiful cities, filled with palaces and divine space chariots. The golden fort was built in the heavens and was occupied by Taarakaksha. The silver one was built in the skies and went to Kamalaaksha. The iron fort was built on earth and was inhabited by Vidhyunmaali. The forts floated around the worlds causing no hindrance to anyone at all.
The devas however did not like this at all. They were jealous and afraid of the Tripuras (three cities). They ran and complained to Brahma, who just looked at them meekly. It was because of his very boon that the three cities existed at all. Shiva too turned his face away stating that the asuras had not performed anything wrong and hence could not be punished for no reason at all. The devas finally resorted to Vishnu and begged him to show them a way out.
Vishnu, the preserver, smirked lightly. “If they have not yet performed any sins, dont we just have to make them do some?”, he suggested coyly.
The devas stared back in confusion. Vishnu smiled again and with his powers he created a man. The man had a shaven haed and wore faded clothes. In his hands he carried a water pot. The man approached his creator, with a piece of cloth covering his mouth and asked, “Master, what are my orders?”
“You, who have been created by me will learn a new religion and preach the same. I will be your guru and teach you the religion. You will believe that there is not swarga and no naraka. The religion will strongly deny the fact that the rewards and punishments for your acts will be meted out after death. The very religion will be against the vedas and all its messages. You will then go and preach this religion to the Tripuras to take them away from the path of good deed. That will give us an excuse enough.”
Vishnu himself then taught the man and four of his disciples the intricacies of the new formed religion. They then resorted to forests near the Tripuras and started teaching the religion. Since Vishnu himself had trained them, their act was pretty convincing. Even Narada got confused and adapted the new religion. In fact, Narada was the one who carried the news of this new religion to the court of Vidhyunmaali. Hearing the greatness of the religion from Narada himself, Vidhyunmaali took lessons from the teachers and converted to the religion. His two brothers soon followed suite.
As they started practicing the tenets of the new religion, they forgot the message of the vedas. They acted rashly and started waging wars against the devas. They stopped worshipping the sacred linga, the salagrama and other symbols of hinduism. Day by day their atrocities increased.
Knowing that the time was ripe, Vishnu and Brahma led a delegation of devas to Kailasha to petition for the destruction of the Tripuras. “Mahashiva”, they prayed, “the deeds of the Tripuras have gone beyond the limit of tolerance. They no longer tread the path of righteousness. It is high time they are destroyed.”
Maheshwara smiled and promised that he would destroy the Tripuras. He ordered the devas to prepare for the war. Shiva then made the earth his chariot. The sun and the moon became the wheels of the chariot. The devas then stationed themselves in the various parts of the chariot. Shiva then took up the Meru mountain as his bow and used Vasuki, the king of serpents as the bow string. Vishnu himself became the fatal arrow and Agni became the tip of the arrow. With Brahma driving the chariot and the four vedas as the horses, Shiva climbed into the chariot. At once, the wheel hub broke. Shiva realised that he had forgotten to invoke Ganapathi. He got down from the chariot, prayed to his son and then got on again. With the speed of light the chariot took off into space.
The Tripuras flew everywhere, trying to block the progress of the chariot, protecting themselves. Shiva finally put the arrow, which was Vishnu, to his bow and in a split second shot it at the Tripuras. The three forts were merged into one and set aflame by the cosmic arrow. The demons had been destroyed and everyone rejoiced.
Another version tells that when everything was ready for the destruction of the Tripuras, the devas prided themselves on the fact that they were going to help the lord in bringing about the end of the Tripuras. The lord too played along with them until the very last moment. When the Tripuras came together, Shiva just smiled and with the smile the three cities were left burning. A smile alone was sufficient to destroy the cities and the devas were humbled of their egos. It is believed that the Rudraksha emerged from the eyes of Shiva (Rudra- Shiva, Aksha-eye) during Tripurasamhara. Along with the destruction of the Tripuras, Shiva had destroyed the garva of the devas too.
The lord however revived the three asuras and made them his ganas. The preachers of the new religion were sent away to the deserts to live there until the beginning of kali, when they would start their teachings afresh. Shiva than danced his Tripura Natyam, to celebrate the destruction of the Tripura and to console Saraswathi who was anguished that Brahma had been a charioteer. Everyone was finally happy and they worshipped Shiva for his great feat of Tripurasamharam. The lord too blessed everyone for the good times to come.
The temple town of Thiruvadigai near Banrutti in Cuddalore district celebrates this destruction of the Tripuras by Shiva. The temple is presided by Veeratteswarar and is another of the Ashta Veeratta Sthalas. The goddess goes by the name of Tripurasundari, who had accompanied Shiva on the destruction of the Tripuras. Swami is also known as Tripuraari, Tripuranthaka Moorthi and so on. It is a paadal pettra sthalam and has been graced by the presence of Appar and his sister Thilagavathi Ammaiyar.
It was here that Appar got his name Thirunavukkarasar. Appar was born in a village named thiruvamoor near Thiruvadigai. He was a staunch follower of Jainism, while his sister remained a Shaiva and worshipped Veeratteswarar continuously. Once Appar suffered from severe stomach ache. No amount of mantras from the Jain Moks could alleviate the pain. The suffering on the other hand increased with time. Appar was taken to his sister in Thiruvadigai and he begged her to cure him. Thilagavathi ran into the sanctum and taking some holy ash rubbed it onto Appars stomach and asked him to ingest some. The moment the vibhuti entered his mouth, the ache vanished leaving absolutely no trace at all. Appar immediately realised the greatness of the temple and became a Shaiva at once. He sang his very first pathigam on the Lord of Thiruvadigai and thus was born Thevaram, the sacred Shaivite hymn. Extremely happy with his song Shiva gave him the title Navukkarasar (King of tongues). Appar stayed at Thiruvadigai and with his sister performed the Uzhavaarathondu or the cleanup of the temple. To this day the temple remains sparklingly clean.
The temple also sports the soolatheertham. It is believed that people who drink water from the theertham will be cured of ulcers, stomach aches and any gastointestinal disease. The temple is itself built like a chariot to comemmorate the chariot that Shiva had ridden on for the Tripura Samharam. The practice of having car festivals at temples also originated at this place. It is also believed that Raja Raja Chola modeled the famous Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur after this temple. The shadow of the gopuram at Thiruvadigai does not fall on the ground at any point of time.
Thiruvadigai is the only veeratta sthala to be graced by the Thevara moovar of Appar, Sundarar and ThirugnanaSambandhar. The sanctum has a beautiflu shivalinga. Behind the linga is a stucco work depicting the marriage of Swami and Ambal. Shiva gave darshan to Appar in his Thirumana Kolam (Married form) at Thiruvadigai and hence a lot of marriages are solemnised in the temple premises. The sthala by itself happens to be a thirumana kshetra like Madurai, where the goddess is located to the right of Parameshwara.
A popular belief exists that the lord of the place delivers his devotees from Ego, Karma and Maya, the three impurities of mortal beings. People who come to the temple with Aanava (the ‘I’ factor) do not get to return again. Such is the power of the temple. Temple protocol demands that the devotees remain with their heads bowed to the lord. While applying the sacred ash, one has to bend his head and do so to represent the fact that we are submitting to him full-heartedly.
There are two main festivals in the temple. The appar thiruvizha takes place in the month of Chithira and lasts for 10 days. It celebrates the curing of Appar’s disease and the Darshan given by Maheshwara to him. The second one takes place in Vaikasi and is the brahmotsavam of the temple, when the Tripura Samhara is acted out and grand scale poojas take place.Apart from these, Karthika Somavaram, Thiruvadhirai and Pradhoshams also see a large gathering of devotees.
Thiruvadigai is a place worth a visit by any human being. As was said earlier, it is only with the destruction of the three impurities of the mind does divine bliss come to us mortals. And what better place to seek for the same than where the Lord had symbolically destroyed them himself.
Thiruvadigai is located very near to Cuddalore, Pondicherry and Banrutti and is easily accessible by road and rail.