And Off Went His Fifth Head, Thirukkandiyur
Thus finally, after wading through the mytsh and folklore that glorify seven of the Ashta Veeratta Sthalas, we finally come to the last of them at Thirukkandiyur. Kandiyur occupies its own place of prominence among the Veeratta Sthalas. Thus far, we have seen the anger of Shiva and his subsequent Samharas of various demons, demigods and other celestial beings at various places. However, at Thirukkandiyur, Shiva is worshipped as the punisher of Brahma, one of the Trinities. The very fact that the Creator himself was punished, once again strikes deep at one of the basic tenets of Hinduism, that even for the ruler of the universe, the laws of Karma remain the same. No one escapes punishment for a misdeed, whatever it may be.
The legend behind Thirukkandiyur is much shorter than the long ones we have been through. The Vedas claim that the Supreme Creator, Brahma, was initially born with a single head. However, when he created Saraswathi out of one of his own limbs, he fell in love with her at once. Saraswathi was, on the other hand, trying to run away from him out of her shyness. Now, to keep track of the movements of Saraswathi in every direction, Brahma created four more heads for himself. The five heads together kept a thorough watch in all the four cardinal directions as well as the upward direction to report the whereabouts of Saraswathi (This was why, when Saraswathi wanted to get away from Brahma at Prayaga, she took the form of a river which flowed into the earth, the only direction in which Brahma could not see).
With his five heads, Brahma strutted over the whole wide world, swollen with pride and glory at the beauty of his creation. He spoke ill words about the devas and the other Trimurthis. He became vain and intolerable and soon the Devas were vexed with his behavior. They approached Shiva and pleaded him to end this new found pride of Brahma.
“Maheshwara”, they cried in unison, “the deeds of Brahma are becoming weirder every day. We find it difficult to listen to his vain talks on his own glories. Please put an end to this whole thing.”
Shiva nodded, “Yes, Brahma has to be taught a lesson. But he is yet to anger me. I cannot punish him without an established reason. The moment he tries his trickery with me, rest assured he will be punished”, he said.
The devas now gathered to plot a simple way to get Brahma to anger Shiva. They all agreed in unison that the best and the simplest way was to just send him to Kailasha. “With that big mouth of his, he is sure to annoy Maheshwara sooner or later”, one of the devas quipped. Everyone agreed with the idea and went to Brahma. They simply told him to pay a visit to Kailasha to have a friendly chat with Shiva and Brahma immediately agreed.
And so Brahma entered Kailasha, ready for a long awaited friendly chit-chat with a co-trinity. Shiva was out on his daily tour of the universe and Parvathi alone was there. Seeing Brahma from a distance, the divine mother thought that Shiva had returned and rushed to him with materials for required for Paada Pooja (An interesting fact is that Shiva too has five faces –Sathyojatham, Eeshanam, Aghoram, Vamadevam and Tatpurusham. So it is agreeable that Shakthi mistook Brahma for Shiva). Without even looking up at the face, Shakthi started worshipping Brahma’s feet. Brahma stood silent, inwardly enjoying this act of respect.
It was then, that Shiva walked in. One glance at Brahma’s sheepish face was enough to explain everything. His anger erupted.
“Brahma, what are you doing. Is this right?”, he shouted.
Brahma stuttered, “Mahe… mmm… I.. I…”
Shakthi looked up, and seeing the livid face of Shiva, she at once realized her mistake and ran away from the spot.
Shiva continued, “Just because Shakthi didn’t see your face and offered Paada Pooja to you, does it mean that you accept it without protest? What a base man you have become. I have heard enough complaints about you, but I punished you not. Today, I see before my very eyes, the truth of it all.”
Brahma simply hung his heads, his chattering mouth, for once, was zipped.
“Since it was your five heads that caused this whole problem, may you be without them.”, Shiva exclaimed. And with a quick movement, Shiva tore of Brahma’s fifth head and fulfilled his promise to the devas. Brahma became four-headed as we know him today and meekly walked away, his heads hung in shame.
However, that was just the beginning of an untold misery for Shiva. Since Shiva had tortured Brahma, the chief Brahmana, he was inflicted with the Brahmahathi Dosha. Brahma’s skull (Kapalam) stuck to Shiva’s hands and refused to fall off.
Shiva was aghast at this unseen complexity. Now he was stuck with this stupid skull on his hand. In his anxiety he asked Agni, the supreme purifier of everything, to blow off the kapala from his hand. But, however much Agni tried he was unsuccessful. To make it worse, Agni also contracted the Dosha.
Shiva was now terror-struck. He went all around the world searching for a remedy. It was then that Parvathi came to her husband’s rescue. “Swami, Vishnu alone can get you out of this misery. Go to various sthalas and take biksha in the Kapala. The place where the Kapala overflows will be where you will be freed from the Dosha.”
Accordingly, Shiva went from one place to another in search for liberation from the curse, as Bikshadanar, bearing the kapala in his palm. Wherever he got biksha, it would immediately disappear on touching the kapala and the Kapala continued to remain empty.
And so, hopping from one place to another he finally came to Thirukkandiyur. There, the Sthala Perumal sent Mahalakshmi to give biksha to Shiva. Mahalakshmi too came out in all her glory and started emptying biksha into the Kapala. The Kapala at once overflowed and fell to the ground (Some legends also claim that Mahavishnu cut his chest and offered the pouring blood into the Kapaala). Shiva was released from the curse at once and thanked Vishnu for his timely help. Since Vishnu had ridden Shiva of his curse, he came to be known as HaraSaabaVimochanar. Shiva remained in the place as Brahma Sira Khanedeeshwarar. The temple is situated across the street from the Hara Saaba Vimochanar temple.
The temple at Thirukkandiyur is a very simple one, with two prakaras, extending over an acre, with a west facing entrance. The main deity is known as Brahma Sira Khanedeeshwarar and also Veerattaneshwarar. The devi is widely known as Mangala Nayagi. The temple also has a separate shrine for Durga. The temple has been build at such a latitude that the sun rays illuminate the sanctum during the 13th, 14th and 15th days of Maasi.
An astonishing feature of the temple is a shrine dedicated to Brahma and Saraswathi. It is widely believed that Thirukkandiyur had a temple dedicated to Brahma in the days of yore. However, the temple did not withstand the test of times and eventually the main idols from the Brahma temple were installed in the Shiva temple. With the grace of the Trimurthis overflowing the Kshetra, Thirukkandiyur is exalted as a Trimurthi Sthalam. Thirukkandiyur also happens to be one of the 108 Divyadesams of the Vaishnava Sampradaya.
The temple at Thirukkandiyur also has the unique distinction of being included amongst another set of Shaiva temples. The temple is also one of the Sapthasthaana Sthalas, the seven temples of Shiva related to the marriage of Nandi.
Nandi, who was born to Siladha Maharishi, undertook severe penance unto Shiva to gain his grace. Shiva, extremely pleased with the penance, not only appointed Nandi as the chief of the Shivaganas but also got him married to a suitable bride.
The marriage of Nandi took place at Thirumazhapadi, near Thiruvaiyaru. During the marriage as a part of the Sapthapadi ( A Hindu marriage ritual in which the couple go around the holy fire seven times, making a vow at the end of each circumambulation) Maheshwara took the newly married couple to seven Shiva sthalas around Thiruvaiyaru. These seven kshetras are collectively known as the Sapthasthaanams. Every year in the month of Chithirai, this episode is re enacted when the lord of Thiruvaiyaru (Ayyarappan) leaves on a glass palanquin to visit these seven kshetras. At the boundary of every kshetra he is received by the lord of that particular sthala who then escorts him to the next sthala. Thus Ayyarappan makes a complete round of these sthalas and returns back to Thirvaiyaru. Thirukkandiyur happens to be the sixth of the Sapthasthaana Sthalas.
The Navagrahas at the Kandiyur temple are placed in an odd way. Here, Surya stands at the center accompanied by his wives, Prathyusha and Chaaya, and all the grahas face Surya. This anomaly in the positions of Navagrahas can be seen in many temples around Kumbakonam.
The main festival of Kandiyur, the Brahmotsavam, is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi, when the punishing of Brahma is acted out. The Sapthasthaana festival is yet another famous festival on the list. Other festivals on the Shaivite calendar such as Shivarathri, Thiruvadhirai and Pradhoshams are also celebrated periodically.
This Trimurthi Kshetra is located near Thanjavur and has been sung both by Thirugnanasambandhar and Thirunavukkarasar in their pathigams. The sthala vriksha is the sacred vilva and the sthala theertham is the Kapaala Theertham.
A visit to this kshetra gives the triple pleasure of being blessed by all the three supreme godheads of Hinduism. It makes sense to visit the temple during the SapthaSthaana festival to take part in the celebrations. The other Sapthasthaana Sthalas can all be visited within a time frame of 4 hours. Blessed with the presence of the Trimurthis, the place is a great pilgrim center for any person in search of spiritual enlightment.
With this I end my narratives on the Ashta Veeratta Sthalas. The whole experience of researching and writing about them has been highly exhilarating indeed. Hope I get to visit them all someday and see in reality the beauty and the power of these kshetras. Till then, I will revel in the glory of their stories alone.