From the Darkness into the Light, Thirukkovilur
This is one of my very favourite prayers. Oh, the joy of asking the lord to lead us from the darkness into the light and the realisation of the same. Every man has a dark side, a dark period of life, a dark secret, a dark yearning, a dark…!!! And again to bring brightness to the dark is something that is possible only with a spark of divine help. A spark that may even destroy the person, if the darkness has crept in too much.
Long, long ago, when the spring was in full bloom and the flowers were shaking happily with their load of nectar, when the whole air was charged with the buzz of insects running hither thither and the satisfied cries of various animals, when everything was just too right for normality, when happiness overflowed the world, Parvathi and Shiva were relaxing in the pleasant gardens on Mount Mandhara. The divine couple roamed the garden, dancing lightly to the chirps of the insects, smelling flowers and blessing every grass that touched their foot. Shiva sat down to enjoy the happiness that flowed within his creation. Parvathi, in her playful mood crept up behind her husband and closed his eyes.
The whole world darkened as the lord of the universe was momentarily blinded by the all pervasive mother. Parvathi got tensed at this sudden darkness and in her exertion her palms started sweating. A few drops of her sweat mixed with the sweat from Shiva’s body and fell to the ground. Parvathi pulled back her hands in shock and the whole world breathed again. And with the re-life of the whole creation was the birth of yet another being. A dark, fierce boy child lay at the foot of Shiva where the sweat had fallen. The child roared and roared and created a lot of ruckus. Jagathjanani looked down at him, lifted him up and christened him Andhaka as he was born out of darkness.
Andhaka was blind by birth, since the whole world had been plunged into darkness at the time of his birth. He had a lot of asuric qualities and Parvathi was always apprehensive about him. So when the asura Hiranya Nethra performed severe penance to Shiva, requesting for a child, Maheshwara gave Andhaka to him and blessed the father and son. Good riddance!!!
Andhaka was crowned the Heir Apparent of Hiranya’s kingdom. The fact that an adopted son was to be made king was not taken well by the cousins of Andhaka. They sought to wage a war against him for the kingdom. Deeply hurt at this, Andhaka left his kingdom and retired to the forests to meditate on Brahma. For a thousand years he focused his concentration on the form of the Four Headed god. He chopped off chunks of flesh from his body and offered it to the sacrificial fire. Not being able to take it any more Brahma materialised before him.
“Anything that you ask will be yours”, Brahma said, “Conditions apply though!!!”
And like every other foolish asura, misguided by the plays of Maya, Andhakasura asked for the boon of immortality. “Let no god nor demon, no deva nor asura, no man or woman be able to kill me.”, he damanded.
Brahma shook all his four heads (a funny sight it must be) and said, “That alone is not possible. Everything that is born must die. Everything that is created must be destroyed one day. Choose the condition under which you may die and your boon will be granted.”
Andhaka thought furiously and then looked up at Brahma, “Since I must die, let it happen only when I become so base as to lust for a women who is like a mother unto me.”
Brahma granted this boon, surprised at the request. He mused inwardly at the plays of fate.
Andhakasura, made powerful by the boon of Brahma returned to his kingdom. His cousins who had come to hear of the powers that he had acquired willingly gave back his kingdom to him along with all of their properties too. He invaded heaven and imprisoned the devas and gandharvas. He conquered the netherworld and brought it under his control. He troubled the brahmins and the yagnaas that they conducted and he banished the performance of rituals and worship. For millions of years he rules the three worlds, frightening everyone into accepting him as the supreme lord.
One day, Andhaka decided to visit his birth place. Together with three of his trusted generals, Duryodhana, Vighasa and Hasti he left for the divine mount. Captivated by the beauty of the place he decided to spend some days there and he ordered his generals to prepare for the stay. The generals started exploring the place for a suitable place to stay. It was then that they came across a cave, in the depths of which sat an ascetic deep in meditation. He wore a garland of skulls and had his hair arranged into a knotted pile. With a crescent moon tucked into his hair, he sat on tiger skin, oblivious of his surroundings. Besides him was a woman. The woman was undoubtedly the best beauty in the universe, full of feminity and grace. She sat quietly by the ascetic. The asura generals were ecstatic. They decided that she would make a perfect wife for their lord. They quickly ram back to Andhaka.
“My lord”, they chorused, “In the depths of a cave at the mountain summit is a maiden of extraordinary beauty. She would be a fit bride for you.”
Andhaka smiled with lust, his mind already going places. “What are you waiting for then, go get her”, he ordered. The asura generals rushed back to the cave. They challenged the ascetic, “Oh saint, what use do you have for such a gorgeous wife. Give her to our Lord, the great Andhaka. He is rich and handsome and is the ruler of the three worlds. He would keep her real happy.”
The ascetic, who was none other than Rudra himself, smiled at them. “Ask your leader to come and take her away.”
Hearing this Andhaka grabbed his sword and charged to the cave, only to be met by Nandi, the chief of the ganas. With much ease Nandi defeated Andhaka and his generals. But Andhaka did not give up. He repeatedly attacked the cave from various positions for over 500 years, only to be thwarted by Nandi, time and again.
Finally he gathered a large force to launch a massive attack. Brahma, Vishnu, Agni, Vayu, Indra and the other devas rushed to fight against the asuras. But with one large breath, Vighasa swallowed them all, including Vishnu. The whole of devaloka was shocked at this spectacle. Shiva, who had been patient for so long and had not taken part in the battle, mounted Nandi along with Parvathi and came out of the cave.
Andhaka stood transfixed at the sight. He was enamoured by the beautiful woman riding alongside Shiva. Lust covered his senses and with a renewed vigor he started fighting again, for the woman of his dreams. A woman who was his very creator, his own mother, and the mother of every other life form on earth. His hour of death had been decided, by the power of his own boon from Brahma.
Shiva charged down Vighase first and tore him apart. All the gods were rescued from the viscera of Vighasa and they gratefully thanked Shiva. The gods fought with a new founded zest, killing more and more of the asuras. However, the asura kula guru, Shukracharya, a great scholar and a master of the sanjeevini mantra (A chant to revoke the dead), went around the battle field breathing life into the dead asura soldiers. As the gods kept killing the asuras, so did they wake up again as thought from a deep slumber. Vexed with the turn of events, Shiva took Shukracharya into his arms and swallowed him whole.
Very soon, all the asuras were wounded or dead. All, except Andhakasura. Nothing seemed to harm him, neither Vishnu’s Sudarshana, nor Indra’s Vajrayudha. The little drops of blood that came out from the body produced more Andhakasuras the moment they hit the earth. In a short span of time, the battlefield was overrun by clones of the asura, each as powerful as him.
Shiva decided to bring the situation under control and with his powers he created a goddess. She had her tongue out and held an enormous bowl in her arm. “Devi, do not let his blood drop to the ground. Either Drink it up or catch it in the kabala”, ordered Shiva. With the help of the goddess, Shiva destroyed all the shadows of Andhaka that had populated the field. Finally, there was just the original Andhaka left. His eyes were still dazed with the charm of Shakthi. With a earth shattering roar, Shiva leaped from Nandi, and thrust his Pinaka(the trident) into the chest of Andhaka and lifted him up. There he held him until every drop of blood from his body had been drunk by the goddess. Andhaka was dead. The devas rejoiced at their new found freedom and praised Shiva for his victory.
Shiva, the pure and the benevolent, however, revived Andhaka and appointed him as one of his ganas. He was christened Bhringi by Parameshwara and was given a place in the ranks of the people who serve the lord. Bhringi is often portrayed as a skeletal figure, as there is no blood that is left in him anymore. Shiva also released Shukracharya from his stomach and blessed him. With everything in order, he went back into the cave with Parvathi to continue his penance and yoga, followed by his ganas led by Bhringi himself.
The ancient shrine of Shiva at Thirukkovilur is dedicated to this great victory of Shiva over Andhakasura, the demon of darkness. The temple is steeped in age and has been glorified in the Thevaram and other Shaiva Thirumurais. Yet another of the Ashta Veeratta Sthalas, Thirukkovilur has been visited by many saints and yogis including Avvayar, Thirugnanasambandhar, Arunagirinathar, Ramanar etc. The main deity is Veeratteshwarar and the Ambal is Sivanandavalli Devi. Like in the other Veeratta sthalas, the bronze idol of Andhakasuravadha Moorthi is something that is worth to be seen. No amount of words can describe the flawless depiction of the angry face and the perfect poise. The shrine to Durga has a wonderful idol of her, her eyes coming alive during the arathi due to flashes of white which appear on the stone near the eyes.
The statue of Ganesha at the south-west entrance of the temple was supposed to have been worshipped by Avvayar when she came to visit the place and is connected with an interesting tale. When Avvai was worshipping the idol of Ganesha, she looked skywards to see Cheramaan Perumal riding on a white horse and Sundarar riding on a white elephant heading towards Thirukaiyilayam. Wanting to join them in their journey, she started performing her worship in haste. Looking at her hasty worship Ganapathi appeared before her and asked her the reason, “Avvaiye, why the haste?” When Avvai told him the reason he asked her to offer the worship at her own pace and promised that he would take her to Kailasha before the other two even reached there. True to his words, when Avvayar completed her worship, he held her in his trunk and took her to Kailasha in a fraction of a second. Such was his grace.
The temple also has the samadhi of Meiporul Nayanar, one of the 63 great devotees of Shiva. Meiporul Nayanar was the king of Thirukkovilur and a devotee par excellence. He was a just ruler and an able administrator. Envied by the prosperity of the kingdom a neighbouring king Muthanathan launched an attack on the city. He lost heavily at Nayanar’s hands. Maddened by the loss he decided to kill the Nayanar by hook or crook. Disguising himself as a Shiva Bhaktha, he walked into the palace with an armful of palm leaves. By the standing orders of Meiporul Nayanar that no Shiva Bhaktha should be stopped from meeting him, Muthanathan walked right upto the king’s bed chambers where he was stopped by a guard named Dhathan. Muthanathan explained to him that he had to immediately teach the king the great shaiva philosophy that was contained in the palm leaves and entered the room. The king immediately sent the queen away and bowed to the Shiva Bhaktha. On hearing his reason of visit, he offered him a seat and sat down near his feet ready for the teaching. With the positional advantage, Muthanathan took out his dagger and pierced it into the king’s neck, thus avenging his defeat. Hearing the stifled shout of the king, the guard Dhathan came running inside and drew his sword to kill the traitor. However the king forbade him and begged Dhathan to take the traitor in the guise of a Shiva Bhaktha to the boundaries of the kingdom without any harm befalling him. With that order the king held his last breath for Dhathan to report the safe journey of Muthanathan. Only when he had heard that the enemy had been able to cross his borders did he breathe his last. Such was the devotion that he had. He did not want even his enemy to be killed just because he was in the guise of a Shiva Bhaktha. Pleased with his intensive and pure devotion, Uma Maheshwarar appeared before him during his last minutes and blessed the Nayanar with his highest abode.
The temple celebrates its annual festival in the month of Maasi (mid February to mid March) for 13 days. Special poojas are performed for the lord and the goddess all through the 13 days and on the 6th day of the festival, the idol of Andhakasuravadha Moorthi is taken out in procession along the mada streets.
The temple is nearly 1300 years old and is in need of much maintenance. The Rajagopuram of the temple is 70ft high and is the fourth tallest in the state of Tamilnadu. The frescoes that have been painted on the ceilings and walls are supposed to be of much interest and tell the tale of a period when art flourished under the patronage of the great Pallava kings.
The town is also famous for the Ulagalantha Perumal temple, one of the 108 Divyadesas, which celebrates Vishnu in the form of Trivikrama, who had asked for three steps of land from Bali in his Vamana Avatara. He later covered all of earth with one step, all of heaven with his second and for his third placed his foot on Bali’s head. The moolavar in the temple is seen with one of his legs lifted above to conquer the heavens. The very first verses of the Naalayira Dhivya Prabandham were sung here (more to come in posts). This is also considered to be one of the Pancha Krishnaranya Kshetras.
A visit to Thirukkovilur is bound to bring double blessings from these two great temples of yore. The temple town is about 30km south of Thiruvannamalai which, serves as an excellent travel base. It is one of the two Veeratta Sthalas in Nadu Naadu and needs to be popularised among the people, so that some of our precious arts like the wall frescoes and the bronze idols do not get lost way down our future generations.