Cupid’s Sad Tale, Thirukurukkai
Of the many, many wondrous works of Mahakavi Kalidasa, Kumarasambhavam occupies its own place of prominence. An epitome of the beauty of Kavya poetry, Kumarasambhavam sings a story of the love that exists between Shiva and Parvathi, the divine parents, and the ultimate birth of Kumara, their warrior son. Kumarasambhavam, by itself, literally means ‘The advent of Kumara’, and borrows heavily from the Skandha Purana for its base story. However, we are interested in only a tiny portion of this great work – ‘Kamadahanam’ or the Burning of Kama.
Taraka was a great Shiva bhaktha. Through continuous penance, he won the heart of Brahma and like every other body-loving-mortal, demanded immortality and invincibility. Brahma refused, reiterating the fact that all that was born has to die and asked Taraka to change his wish. Taraka thought for a while and then with a subtle nod, turned to Brahma and asked thus, “If I have to die, then let me die at the hands of He who is born out of the one who has three eyes and rides the bull. No other person should be able to kill me.”
Sighing deeply at growing insanity of the boons that the asuras demanded for, Brahma said “Thathastu!!! Granted, my son.” It was only when Brahma noticed the wide smirk on the asura’s face, did he realise that yet again, he had granted a boon of near immortality. “Aaargh, come on.”, he muttered, under his breath. How could he forget that Shiva had no son 😀 !!! Leave the son, he did not even have a wife!!! And that meant…trouble for the world.
Upon the death of Sati [See Daksha’s Yagnaa and Death of Sati], Shiva had retired to the highest reaches of Kailasha to engage himself with the most severe of penances. Even the other two of the Trimurthis dared not to disturb him, lest they be engulfed by his Yogic fires. There, free from the noise and stress of the mundane world, he meditated on himself and the cosmos. Deep, deep meditation.
Sati, having self-immolated her physical coils at Daksha’s yagna, was now reborn to Himavan, the king of the mountains. She was christened Parvathi (Parvath – Mountain). Even from a very young age, she was adamant about gaining Shiva’s hand in marriage. Brahma himself visited the mountain palaces of Himavan and advised Parvathi to meditate on the Lingaswaroopa of Maheshwara. Parvathi too, dutifully followed the worship rituals. She regularly visited Kailasha and served the meditating lord, accompanied by her friends. But everything went unnoticed by the lord in his state of supreme penance.
In the meantime, Taraka had started showing his true colours. He imprisoned the devas and spoilt sacrificial offerings. He tormented the rishis and the innocents. Brahma and Vishnu, looked on the whole mess, unable to offer the tiniest bit of help. They needed Shiva’s son to be born. They needed to get him to marry Parvathi, and for that they needed to get him out of his penance.
All the surviving devas hurriedly gathered for a meeting with Brahma and Vishnu, to hatch out an effective plan to wipe out Taraka. After long, tiring discussions, it was Vishnu who suggested a possible way out.
“Hmmmm…”, he said, “I believe that only one amongst us can help us out of this situation.”
“Ksheerabdhi Shayana”, implored Brahma, “Who is this person?”
“Why, it is Kama of course. He alone has the ability to make Shiva come out of his long penance and fall for Parvathi.”, declared Vishnu with a flourish.
“And how am I supposed to achieve that?”, demanded a beautiful voice. Kama appeared on the scene. Though visibly shaken by Vishnu’s plans for him, his beauty just could’nt be overshadowed by his momentary distress. His skin was flawless and shining with health. His eyes were darting mischevously alll over the place and with every step he took, a sweet smell filled the air. The god of love had arrived.
“Here is my plan.”, explained Vishnu, “Kama, has to disturb Mahesha by target ing him with his arrows of flowers. We know that the arrows have never yet failed and I am pretty sure that they will achieve their purpose this time too. If we make sure that Shiva’s eyes fall right on Parvathi, when he opens them, then everything will fall into place by the power of Kama’s arrows. This is our best bet.”
Every one of the assembled devas nodded eagerly in agreement to the proposed plan. Every one, except Manmatha, who looked as though he was sick. “I feel so terrible about doing this.”, he confessed.
“We will take care of all the consequences”, said Brahma, laughing lightly. “For your help, you can take Vasantha. She will create the perfect atmosphere for your arrows to work. Right now we need Shiva to come out of his shell and you are the only man I can think of.”
Apprehensive though he was, Kama agreed to do the deva’s biding. Arming himself with his sugarcane bow adorned with a string of bees, his five beautiful arrows, each tipped with a flower that can control a particular human sense, and accompanied by Vasantha, the goddess of Spring, Manmatha entered into the holy premises of Kailasha. With every step Vasantha took, the icy hills blossomed with sweet smelling flowers and shrubs. Bees and birds flitted around, singing merry tunes. Spring was in the air at Kailasha. And with that hopefully love too.
Parvathi was there, at the foot of the steps leading unto Parameshwara’s seat. She was as usual, deeply engrossed in the worship of her lord. Taking a careful view of the settings, Kama went into action. He selected a suitable place to hide behind and shoot his arrows from. Making himself comfortable, but still sweating profusely in the icy winds of Kailasha, Kama took aim. Slowly and steadily, he fitted his very first arrow onto his bow and let it fly at Shiva.
Bam… The arrow found its mark.
Shiva, was back from his meditation. But was he furious. His red eyes flashed with rage at being disturbed. Looking straight at Kama’s hiding place, his yogic fire burnt through his third eye and shot at Kama. And in the blink of an eye, Kama was gone. All that was left of Kama, was a pile of ash at the place where he was last seen to be standing. Mission accomplished, Shiva once again went into his perpetual state of unlimited bliss. The infallible arrows of Kama, had finally met their failure. They were of no match to the supreme lord, for whom lust is, after all, his own creation.
The devas were shocked by the unexpected turn of events and finally realised that only sincere devotion could get Shiva out of his yogic state. Together with Rathi, Kama’s wife, they ran to Kailasha and praised the lord and his grace. For days together they worshipped him with the purest of hearts. Pleased with their devotion, Ashutosha opened his eyes and looked at the devas with grace and love.
Rathi immediately launched into a long speech, apologising on her husband’s behalf and mourning his death. “Mahesha, my husband knew no harm. He was just trying to help the devas to bring you back to your watchful state. Please forgive him and give him back to me lord. He acted upon the insistence of Vishnu and Brahma and had no idea of the possible consequences. Oh Great Lord, would you bring him back to life, for my sake?”, she pleaded.
Shiva looked upon her, “Oh Rathi, whatever the reason, Kama did commit a mistake and he deserves the punishment. That is the law of the world. Every sin will be punished. However, for your sake, pleased with your prayers, I will bring him back to life, yes, but he will be visible only to you and to no one else. That will be his burden, for all the yugas to come.”
Rathi was overwhelmed with the lord’s grace and readily accepted his condition. Maheshwara brought Manmatha back to life, forgave him and made him to be visible only to Rathi. And so even to this day, Kama is often referred to as Ananga (the formless one), and remains visible to his beloved wife alone.
Everything ended well, with Shiva marrying Parvathi as a reward for her severe penance and the deva’s worship of him. A large chunk of Kumarasambhava deals, in quite a bit detail, about the grahastha life of Swami and Ambal. The divine play of romance is brought out very well in the captivating cantos of beautiful poetry. Soon Skandha was born and as promised, he vanquished the demon king Taraka and released the devas from his captivity. With that, the great work comes to an end, praising the divine family for their boundless grace and blessings, and asking them to protect us human lings from the clutches of evil for all ages to come.
And Kama still hovers around, formless and silent, walking among couples, inducing them with his darts of love, the Indian Cupid.
The tiny hamlet of Thirukurukkai near Mayiladuthurai is dedicated to the event of Kama Dahanam and enshrines Shiva in his Kamari form. Since this is one of the places where the anger of Shiva was experienced, it too features as one of the Ashta Veeratta Shalas. Situated by the Pazhavaru river, the 2.5 hectare temple is presided over by Veerateswarar, also variously known as Kaamaanga Naasan (The destroyer of Kaama’s form), Yogeeswarar (the one in eternal yoga) etc. The shrine for Nataraja also goes by the name of Kaamanganasini Sabhai. The river is said to have been formed from the tears of joy that Shiva shed in his state of meditation and as such is known as Gnaana Theetham. The Ambal is also known by the name Gnaanambigai (the granter of Knowledge). It is said that a rishi name Dheergabahu (the long armed one) visited the place and through his yogic powers brought the Ganges down to bathe the lord. This was his regular custom at all the Shivasthalas. However, at Kurukkai, when he was engaged in his meditation, his arms shrunk to their normal size. The rishi upon realising this, was in great joy and praised the lord of the place. Since his arms (kai in Tamil) had shrunk (Kurum) at the kshetra, it came to be known as Thirukurunkai. Another legend states that since Shiva was meditating under the Kodukkai tree, the place came to be known as Thirukodukkai and gradually distorted into Thirukurukkai.
An interesting difference from the other Veeratta temples is the fact that there is no bronze image that glorifies the Kamari aspect of the lord. However, to make up for this, about a quarter kilometer away from the temple, is a garden with a sort of pit at the center. While the garden by itself is covered with lush plants and red mud, the pit contains white powdery textured sands. These are believed to be the ashes of Kama. Some people even claim that it has the distinct odour of Vibhuthi or the sacred ash. Devotees who come to Thirukurukkai, take a bit if the ash as prasad from the temple.
The temple itself is very old and is adorned with a lot of beautiful statues on the gopurams and the walls. The linga has a stunning lotus carved into the aavudayar and is an exquisitely beautiful one. The temple also had idols of Manmatha and Rathi, which are offered regular worship. The sthala vriksha is Kodukkai and the theertham is Pashupathi theertham along with Pazhavaru.
A lot of the surrounding villages too have names associated with the Kamadahana episode of Skandha purana. For example there is Kanganamputhur, where Kama vowed to break the penance of Shiva (kanganam-vow). And then there is Villinoor where he picked up his sugarcane bow (Vill- bow). Paalakudi was where Kama drank lots and lots of milk after having been brought back to life. And many many more.
The temple celebrates its main festival in the month of Maasi (February-March) and is known as the Kama Dahana Thiruvizha. The destruction of Kama is enacted on Maasi Magham (the full moon in Maasi), with the festival concluding two days later. The festival of Thiruvadhirai in Margazhi and the Paksha Pradhoshams are also observed with much gaiety.
Thirukurukkai is known to be a pilgrimage place for those who seek to conquer lust and gain mental strength. It is also considered to be an ideal place to be initiated in the studies of yoga and meditation. The town is located some 20km away from Mayiladuthurai, which makes an excellent travel base. The whole village is silent and serene (lest the penance of the lord be disturbed again) and as such makes a very good place for relaxation and rest, away from the hustle and bustle of the mundane world.