The Beautiful Peacock Hill, Kundrakkudi

•August 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The palace of Dwaraka constantly rang out loud with laughter and gentle talks, with Vedas and chants, with shouts of ecstasy and cries of joy. Soon it was joined by the cries of babies, of sons and daughters born to Krishna’s various queens. The city of Dwaraka on the whole celebrated the birth of the princes and princesses on a grand scale. The proud queens were paraded on the street with their babies cuddled close to their bosom. Happiness spread in waves every time a child was born in the palace and left everyone in a state of pleasure. Except for Jambhavathi, Krishna’s young queen, for whom the birth of another child brought pangs of pain in her heart.

Jambhavathi was the daughter of Jambhavan, the heroic bear leader of the battle of Lanka in the Ramayana. He had been forced by fate to fight against his own master when Krishna came in search of the famed Syamantaka jewel which Jambhavan had in his possession. It was only when Krishna revealed his true form that Jambhavan saw Shri Raama himself in Krishna. Begging for apology, Jambhavan gave the jewel to Krishna and along with the jewel he also gave Jambhavathi, his beautiful daughter, in marriage to Krishna.

Jambhavathi was a model wife and served well as a queen. But alas, she could never become a mother. Years passed and her womb still remained un-blossomed. Every time she heard the about birth of a child within the palace precincts she would weep uncontrollably for days together. “What sin have I done, to remain a woman incapable of bearing a child?” she would whimper to Krishna.

The lord stared helplessly at the suffering of his queen. He could not figure out what was causing the problem. He sought the help of Upamanyu Maharishi, a seer par excellence. “Thava Sreshta” said Krishna, “Why is Jambhavathi not able to bear a child? Is it her Karma to remain childless all her life? Is there any way that she could bear me a child? I cannot bear to look at her sufferings. Please show me a way out.”

Upamanyu smiled at Krishna, “You, who are the Omniscient approach me for a solution. You also know what I will say and what is to be done. I am a mere puppet in your hands and you make me speak back to you, the supreme. Can I refuse?”

“Jambhavathi is fertile. Yes. But what she needs is help from the heavens above. Take her to the South of Bharatha Kanda to Mayooragiri. There she will be blessed with the fortune to become a mother.”

“Maharishi”, begged Jambhavathi, “What is Mayooragiri? Who lives there? How did it come into existence? Wouldn’t it be more rewarding if we hear about the place from your own tongue?”

Upamanyu smiled again at Krishna, “Eons ago in Kailasha, Shiva split his power, his shakthi, into two. He called forth Skanda, his second son, and gave him one part of the shakthi. Skanda was very pleased by this act of his father. ‘Father, what do I do with this shakthi?’ he asked.”

“’Karthikeya, accept this shakthi and take over the left portion of Kailasha. Make a temple for yourself there and from the temple carry out the five cosmic duties.’ Shiva also gave him a beautiful peacock, Indraneelaratha, as a gift and asked Skanda to use it as his mount.”

“Extremely overjoyed with the command of Parameshwara, Skanda did exactly what his father told him. The temple on the left of Kailasha became Skanda’s abode.”

SigiVaaganar

SigiVaaganar

“One day Brahma came along to pay Skanda a long-pending visit. On reaching the temple entrance he looked at the peacock that strutted around the gardens with pride. His eyes were full of pity. Calling to the peacock he said, ‘Oh peacock, the mount of Guha, be warned. Sooran along with his brothers, Thaarakan, Singhan and Padman are at present performing severe penance in Kanchi to be granted the great fortune of being the mount of Skanda. If you are not careful, your days as his mount are counted.’”

“The peacock was very upset on hearing this. It knew no peace and walked around the gardens in a haze. The spring in its walk had disappeared. Immediately after Brahma left the peacock approached Skanda and expressed its fear. ‘Skanda, my lord, please do not neglect me. I cannot bear it if you shun away from me’, it cried. Skanda took pity on his mount and called upon the four brothers. He blessed them and made them his Bhoothaganas. The brothers accepted this unexpected fortune, but only grudgingly. The peacock breathed with ease again.”

“Ages passed and one day Vishnu and Brahma came together to meet Skanda and gossip. They left their mounts, Garuda and the swan respectively at the entrance of the temple and went inside.”

“The four Bhoothaganas immediately recognized Brahma as the person who was responsible for depriving them off their possible fortune of being Skanda’s sacred mount. ‘I am sure that is him. He was the one who shattered our dreams. We should teach him a lesson for poking his four noses into our lives’, shouted Sooran, his voice laced with a murderous rage.”

“After scratching their heads over what is to be done, the Ganas approached the peacock. ‘Oh most fortunate peacock, the mount of Kumara, the mounts of Vishnu and Brahma think lowly of you. They insult you saying that you are no match to their flight speed. We felt utmost ashamed and rushed to tell you this.’ they told the peacock slyly.”

“The peacock was livid with anger and in one go it swallowed the swan and Garuda.”

“When Brahma and Vishnu came out, they couldn’t find their mounts, search as much as they could. They went back to inquire about this strange disappearance to Skanda. The all knowing Kumara came out of the temple, fuming with rage and ordered the peacock to spit back Garuda and the swan. The peacock meekly regurgitated the mounts.”

“Skanda was extremely angered by the behavior of his mount and in his mounting rage he cursed the peacock, ‘May you become a mountain and remain so.’ He also cursed the Ganas to become asuras and remain thus until he himself freed them from their curse.”

“Accordingly, the peacock flew southwards and turned into a mountain. However, it still faced Kailasha, with its face looking north and its tail spreading south and began its penance to get relieved from the curse. The mountain came to be known as Mayooragiri (Mayoora- Peacock, Giri-hill). The Ganas too were born as Asuras who won many boons from Shiva and tortured the devas to no end.”

Kundrakkudi Temple

Kundrakkudi Temple

“As per his word, Skanda incarnated as Shanmuga (The Six Faced Lord) and killed the asuras liberating them from their curse. Then he proceeded to Mayooragiri and gave Vimochanam to the peacock too. Extremely pleased with its liberation, the peacock asked Skanda to grant a boon. ‘The Mountain that I was should remain as it is and you too should continue to remain here with your six faces and bless every human who comes here in need of any help.’ Skanda happily granted the boon and continued to reside on the peacock hill” ended Upamanyu. “It is here that I ask you to go Devi, for Shanmuga leaves no wish ungranted.”

Jambhavathi was extremely pleased to hear the purana and immediately started to Mayooragiri. After several days of worship and service at the temple, she too was blessed with a child. Krishna named him Sambha.

This temple at Mayooragiri is what is today known as Kundrakkudi Shanmuganathan temple. Located close to Kaaraikudi, the temple is an important place of pilgrimage for the people of the Chettiar community. The temple dedicated to Shanmughar is situated on the summit of a 200 ft high hill. At the bottom of the hill are three rock cut cave shrines dedicated to Shiva. They are located at the west face of the hill. The idol of Thennatru Naathar and Azhagammai were worshipped by Agastyar, the dwarf sage, and are believed to be swayambu moorthis. These shrines are rich with sculptural details and architectural wonders, containing a plethora of statues of various gods and goddesses in unique postures.

At the foothills there are two temples, the Thogaiyadi Vinayagar temple and the Dhandapani temple. Since the entrance to the hill temple, which is located at the foothills, appears like the trailing feathers of a peacock, the Ganesha temple located there is known as the Thogaiyadi Vinayagar kovil (Thogai –Peacock feather). The Dhandapani temple belongs to the Nagarathar division of the Chettiars. Surprisingly, the idol here is placed on a bar and is not fixed. Every year during the Thaipoosam festival, this idol is taken to Pazhani on foot.

While climbing 149 steps leading to the hill top temple, we come across the Karthigai Pillayar shrine and the Idumban shrine. Idumban was the first person who carried a Kaavadi in the form of two hills slung across his shoulders. Since he was cured of a severe stomach ache at Kundrakkudi, he continues to serve the lord here. Finally after passing the shrines of Veerabahu (Skanda’s assistant) the Raja Gopuram comes into view.

Kundrakkudi Shanmugar

Kundrakkudi Shanmugar

The utsavar, Arumuga Nayinar, gives darshan in a beautiful mandapa embellished in marble. In the sanctum Skanda is found as Shanmuga, the six faced vanquisher of Soorapadman, seated on a peacock, with the Vel in his hands. On either side are his wives Valli and Devayani, each seated on individual smaller peacocks, lighting up the sanctum with their smiles. This is a rare sight indeed, for no where else do Valli and Devayani sit on individual peacocks.

The temple has provided shelter for many and granted the wishes of people who come there seeking help. Among many other notable stories, it is believed that it was here that Brahma regained his lost sheen for having lied to Shiva. When Shiva stood as a column of fire and asked Brahma and Vishnu to find his head and foot respectively, Vishnu accepted defeat after much searching. However Brahma lied that he had sighted his head. Shiva, extremely irritated, cursed him for his lie and Brahma obtained liberation from the curse at the foot hills of Kundrakkudi.

It was here that Surya came running in his time of distress. When Ushadevi, the wife of Surya, ran away from the skies not being able to bear the heat of her husband, Surya was greatly saddened. As he went from place to place in search of his beloved, it was at Kundrakkudi that he lost a part of his shine and thus convinced Usha to come back with him.

The temple was held in great respect by the warrior clan of the Maruthupandiyars. While riding into Kaaraikkudi or while riding out, the Maruthupandiyars used to walk on foot, pulling their horses along, while the gopuram of the temple remained in their sight. Such was their devotion.

Sanctified by such tales and glorified by the songs of Arunagirinathar and Pamban Swamigal, Kundrakkudi promises to be a place worth seeing on any pilgrimage trip in the south. The birth place of the Violin Vidhwan Kunnakkudi Vaidhyanathan and richly endowed with the unique cultural heritage of the Chettiars, Kundrakkudi is easily reached from Kaaraikkudi and Pillayarpatti. The beautiful peacock hill!!!

“It is here that I ask you to go, for Shanmuga leaves no wish ungranted.”

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And Off Went His Fifth Head, Thirukkandiyur

•July 30, 2009 • 5 Comments

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).

Saraswathi and Brahma

Saraswathi and Brahma

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.

Brahma Sira Chedakam

Brahma Sira Chedakam

“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.”

Biksha from Lakshmi

Biksha from Lakshmi

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.

Kandiyur Gopuram

Kandiyur Gopuram

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.

Hara Saaba Vimochanar

Hara Saaba Vimochanar

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.

Brahmasirachsetha Moorthi

Brahmasirachsetha Moorthi

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.

Deepak

P.S.

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.

To Make a Discus and Use it Too, Thiruvirkudi

•July 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Thiruvirkudi, a small town near Thiruvarur, is the penultimate one on our list of the Ashta Veeratta Sthalas. It was here that Shiva destroyed an asura named Jalandhara, with a discus. Since Maheshwara had assumed his terrific form to destroy Jalandhara, this place too is considered to be a Veeratta sthala.

The story of Jalandhara and his death is told in the Mahabharatha. Indra once came to Kailasha to meet Shiva. However, having searched everywhere, he was not able to find Shiva. Suddenly, he saw a hermit resting on a rock nearby. Approaching the hermit, Indra asked him, “Respected rishi, do you know where Shiva is?”.

Silence. No answer came forth.

Indra repeated the question again. Silence. Indra’s wrath exploded at the disrespect of a mere mortal towards him. He whipped out his Vajrayudha and hit him on his head. But surprise of surprises, the hermit did not die. He hardly moved at all. Instead a column of fire emanated from between his eyes and charged towards Indra. Indra realised that it was indeed Shiva in the guise of a hermit and, realising his mistake, he immediately prostrated at Shiva’s feet apologising profusely. Shiva, the ever graceful, pardoned him at once.

But the fire sparks which had come out of the forehead of Shiva could not be extinguished. They reached high into the heavens and bounced back deep into the oceans. In the oceans, the sparks transformed into a baby and lay floating on the waves, crying loudly.

Not being able to bear its cries, the devas rescued the baby and carried it to Brahma. When they placed the baby on Brahma’s lap, he attempted to stop the cries by patting the baby. However, the baby pulled Brahma’s long, lush beard with such a force that it brought tears to Brahma’s eyes. Deeply shocked at the surprising strength of the little baby, he christened the child Jalandhara (The one who was born in the waters).

Jalandhara grew up at Sathyaloka over the years. But in spite of the continuous company of the devas and gandharvas, Jalandhara was more attracted by the occasional asura who came to visit Brahma. Before long, to the surprise of no one, he was over to the dark side. There, seeing his exceptional leadership qualities and extraordinary strength, he was crowned the king of asuras. He married Brindha, a pious woman, the daughter of another demon king and started to rule over the asuras.

Just like his predecessors,the power hungry Jalandhara waged wars with the various kingdoms on earth and won over every ruler. Very soon, the entire earth was under his rule. However, not being satisfied with the capture of earth alone, he set his sight heavenwards. Gathering a large army of asuras, he attacked the devas. Taken by surprise, the devas fought valiantly, but unable to bear the demonic forces, they succumbed to Jalandhara’s army. Indra and the devas were driven out of Swarga and Jalandhara took over Indra’s throne. Soon Jalandhara marched over to Vaikuntha and Sathyaloka and captured them too. Surprisingly, no one was able to stop his march of victory.

Having no other place to go, the devas ran to Kailasha. Falling at the feet of Shiva, the pleaded him to put an end to his own son. Shiva smiled at the devas and asked them to explain everything to him in detail. As Indra narrated the countless tortures of Jalandhara and his surprising strength, Shiva listened with rapt attention. When Indra was finally done with his long tale, Shiva smiled yet again. The same smile which moves the earth and all creations.

“Jalandhara is no doubt a terrible asura. However, there is something that stops even me from defeating him. It is that power which has given him all his victories and made him to survive all the wars. As long as that exists, we cant do anything about Jalandhara”, announced Shiva.

The devas jerked their heads up on hearing this sudden bit of news. “What is this power that keeps him alive Mahadeva?”, they demanded.

“It is his wife, Brindha. She is an exceptional Vishnu Bhaktha. Everytime Jalandhara leaves for a war, she sits down and meditates on Vishnu, praying him to save her husband from all dangers. It is this highest from of devotion that has saved Jalandhara from every single danger and catastrophe. Even when Jalandhara invaded Vaikuntha itself, it was the power of her prayer to Vishnu which kept him alive. Such is her Bhakthi.”, said Shiva, smilingly.

“So is there no other way to destroy him?”, demanded Vayu, shocked at this new bombshell.

“There exists exactly one way. As Jalandhara marches to Kailasha this very moment, his wife is already in deep meditation on Vishnu. If she is brought out of the meditation even for the tiniest amount of time, Jalandhara can be vanquished.”, explained Shiva.

The devas now summoned Vishnu, praising him and his grace. Vishnu appeared before them, mounted on Garuda, with angels fanning him on both the sides. Getting down from Garuda he asked the devas the reason for summoning him.

“Jagannatha”, cried the devas, “you alone can save us from our present plight. As Brindha prays for her husband, you must somehow distract her from her concentration. Then alone can Jalandhara be slain and the world be free of distress.”

“But that will totally be against dharma. Brindha ties me up with her devotion. It is my duty to protect my devotees.”

Seeing Vishnu protest, the devas fell at his feet and begged him again. “For the good of the world, you have to do this for us, Narayana. It is also your duty as the supreme protector to ensure the welfare of the world and its inhabitants”, they pleaded. Finally Vishnu gave in to their pleas and agreed to distract Brindha.

Back at the palace of Jalandhara, Vishnu took the form of Jalandhara himself and walked in calling out for Brindha. The true pathibhaktha that she was, Brindha immediately stopped her prayers and thinking that Jalandhara had returned, she rushed outside. And that was enough for Shiva to slay Jalandhara.

At Kailasha, as Jalandhara forced himself through the gates, Shiva once again took the form of an old man and blocked Jalandhara’s path. “Oh great king”, he said, “What purpose do you have in Kailasha today?”

Jalandhara laughed loudly at the question. “Why, to defeat Shiva and conquer Kailasha ofcourse”, he said, continuing to laugh.

“Mighty king, I would like to test your strength before you proceed to war against the creator of all universe. If you pass the test that I am going to keep, you will surely conquer Kailasha.”, tempted the old man.

Jalandhara scoffed at the old man’s offer but nevertheless accepted the challenge. The old man drew a circle on the sand with the Big toe of his right feet. Then, pointing to the circle he said, “There, if you are able to break apart the circle from the ground and lift it high, I am sure you can win over anyone.”

Jalandharavadha Moorthi

Jalandharavadha Moorthi

Jalandhara bent down, laughing at the ridiculousness of the task. However, the earth was very difficult to break. With much effort he finally managed to crack the circle of earth and breathing heavily he lifted it overhead. At the moment, as Jalandhara stood savouring his triumph, the old man revealed his true form. Shiva in all his glory, stood before Jalandhara and in a flash he transformed the disc of earth into a chakra and forced it through Jalandhara’s body, killing him that very instant. Jalandhara was DEAD.

When Brindha came to know the truth, she was mad with anger. In a fit of rage she cursed Vishnu, “I believed you and worshipped you day and night. In the end you tricked me and plucked away the very thing that I prayed for. Is this what your dharma says? May you be turned into a stone for your trickery.” And with that she jumped into her husband’s pyre and immolated herself.

The true bhaktha that she was, Vishnu was forced to end up as a stone. The salagramas that are found along the banks of the Gomti river are considered to be this stony form of Vishnu and are held to be very sacred. Vishnu, however, blessed her to be born as a Tulasi plant in her next birth, so that she could always adorn him. That was the reward that Brindha got for her pure heartfelt devotion.

The temple at Thiruvirkudi enshrines Shiva in his Jaladharari Moorthi form, or the Vanquisher of Jalandhara. The main deity of the sthala is Parimalambigai Sametha Veerattaneshwarar Swamy. However, much of the attention goes to the utsavar, a bronze statue depicting the death of Jalandhara which shows Shiva holding the discus in his hand and killing Jalandhara. This is one of a kind statue, where Shiva is shown to be holding the chakra, which is usually an aspect of Vishnu.

Chakradhaanaswarupa

Chakradhaanaswarupa

Some Shaivite legends even claim that it was this chakra that was obtained by Vishnu from Shiva. Vishnu, who wanted a powerful weapon to carry on with his duty of the universal sustainer, coveted the chakra that Shiva had used to kill Jalandhara. Desiring the chakra, he decided to worship Shiva with a 1008 lotuses chanting his 1008 names. Collecting the flowers Vishnu commenced his worship. However, on completing 1007 names and after offering the 1007th lotus, Vishnu realised that he was short by one lotus. Not wanting his worship to end, Vishnu was about to pluck out his eye and offer it to the linga, when Shiva appeared before him and gave him the chakra. Pleased with his intense devotion Shiva also bestowed him with the name, Kamalanayana (The lotus eyed one). This legend is celebrated in the form of the Chakrapradha Moorthi which depicts Shiva handing over the chakra to Vishnu.

There are a number of other legends associated with Thiruvirkudi. One of them praises the place to be the location where Vishnu’s broken bow fell when it was damaged by the devas who had become termites. The nearby kshetra of Thiruveezhimalai is where the Chakrapradhar form of Shiva is worshipped. It is also widely believed that during the year long incognito hiding period following the 12 year long vanavaas, Arjuna hid the weapons that he had obtained from the Himalayas in the temple here. Shiva granted him a boon that the weapons would appear as serpents to anyone who approached them and thus would remain safe.

Interestingly, the sthala vriksha of Thiruvirkudi is the sacred Thulasi. It is believed to be the reincarnation of Brindha. Thiruvirkudi is one of the very few places where Shiva is worshipped with Thulasi rather than Vilva.

Virkudi Temple

Virkudi Temple

The temple at Thiruvirkudi has two Prakarams with an imposing Rajagopuram over the western entrance. The temple is situated amidst lush vegitation between two rivers. Since the mound of earth on which the temple stands between the two rivers resembles the ear of a cow, the place is also known as Gokarnam (Go-cow, Karna-Ear). There are also several theerthas in the sthala. People throng to the temple in large numbers during the Jalandhara Samhara Thiruvizha, when the killing of Jalandhara is re-enacted. Otherwise it is a calm and crowd free place, situated in serence surroundings.

Thiruvirkudi is easily accessible from both Mayiladuthurai and Sirkazhi. Buses and other forms of public transport are available in plenty that take one right to the temple entrance.

There come certain situations in our life which give one a lot of torture and agony. All such influences are believed to vanish when one worships Jaladhara Samhara Moorthi. The temple in Thiruvirkudi is sanctified by the trio of Moorthi (Jalandharari), sthalam (Virkudi) and Theertham. And that alone makes it a place worth a visit.

Deepak

Cupid’s Sad Tale, Thirukurukkai

•July 3, 2009 • 4 Comments

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.

Parvathi at service

Parvathi at service

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.

Manmatha

Manmatha

“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.

The penance of Parvathi

The penance of Parvathi

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.

Kamari Moorthi

Kamari Moorthi

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.

Parvathi Kalyanam

Parvathi Kalyanam

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.

Sculptures reciting the Sthala Purana

Sculptures depicting the Sthala Purana

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.

Kaamanganasini Sabhai

Kaamanganasini Sabhai

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.

Deepak

The Price of Self-Conceit, Thiruppariyalur

•June 30, 2009 • 2 Comments

As we have seen and will be seeing, the Ashta Veeratta Sthalas glorify Shiva for his various valorous deeds of killing demons and protecting the general good of the world. But a deeper analysis into the significance of these deeds paints a very different picture than that of the gory demons and mighty asuras. It tells a story of how the good inside each and every one of us fights the bad and the ugly. The various samharams of Shiva, in fact, subtly represent the victory of knowledge and purity over ignorance, negative thoughts, ego, bondage, lust etc.

Of all the evil that is portrayed as being overcome by the Lord, the devil of Ego is highlighted time and again in various Sthalas. Even if a man overcomes ignorance, wealth, bad thoughts, lust and every other possible evil intention, unless he gives up his sense of ‘Aham’, he does not understand the great plans of the divine. And to those, who consider themselves to be far greater than the creator himself, nothing but destruction awaits.

The tale of Daksha is a very apt example for the doom that awaits the egomaniacs. The story of Daksha’s vain sacrifice has been dealt with before in much detail (Refer Daksha Yaaga ). Daksha was the grandson of Brahma and one of the great Prajapathis. He was a pious man and regularly performed Yaagas and Homas, invoking the devas for the welfare of the world. Daksha was blessed with a radiant girl-child, whom he named Sati. Sati, turned out to be one of the best Shiva Bhakthas ever. Even when the other girls used to play outside, she used to make a linga out of the sand and worship it. When she reached a suitable age for marriage, her great grandfather Brahma visited her and told the household that she is destined for the great lord of Kailasha alone. Following Brahma’s instruction Sati meditated on Shiva, seeking his hand and very soon won the heart of the staunch ascetic. Their marriage was celebrated amongst much pomp and show, and soon afterwards Sati left for her new icy abode.

However, the son-in-law and the father-in-law frequently met each other at various gatherings and occasions. Over the period of time, Daksha had developed a peculiar pride, an ego that he was the master of the universe and the father-in-law of Parameshwara himself. The ego did no good. He demanded respect at every place and strutted about the world. It was at one such gathering, where Daksha himself was the guest of honour, where the things went out of hands. When Daksha entered the arena, shining like a thousand suns, bright with glory, the entire assembly stood upto welcome him with their palms and bowed down. Every soul except Shiva. Daksha was furious that his son-in-law had insulted him. He did not realise the fact that if the Lord of the Universe bowed to him, it would bring only calamity on himself. In the heat of his anger he insulted Shiva, the pure, with various offensive terms and labeled him as a lower caste god. But Neelakantha maintained his calmness. Further maddened by this indifference, Daksha stormed out of the arena.

Daksha's insult-Shiva Sati-Sati Burns

Daksha's insult-Shiva Sati-Sati Burns

The whole world is familiar with the subsequent happenings. Daksha planned to hold the largest and the grandest sacrifice ever. He deliberately failed to invite his daughter and Shiva to the sacrifice and also refused to give Shiva his customary share in the sacrificial offerings.  Sati, on hearing this, paid no heed to Shiva’s warnings and came to the sacrifice to demand justice for herself and her husband. When Daksha not only abused Shiva, but also refused to even consider Sati as his daughter, Dakshayani, distraught with the fact that she was even born to such an uncouth man jumped into the sacrificial fire and immolated herself.

Daksha, though shocked at the end that his daughter had chosen for herself, went on with the yagna. However, at the site of the yagna, various evil omens portended the arrival of a catastrophe. Time and again, Daksha’s left arm, thigh and eye pulsated. There were thunderstorms that lashed across the yaaga. The sacrificial fires died down to tiny shimmers and the howls of werewolves reverbrated across the large gathering. Every one of the assembled devas shuddered at the signs and cursed Daksha for his foolish behavior.

Mayhem at the Yagna

Mayhem at the Yagna

At Kailasha, the ganas who had accompanied Sati, poured out their woes to Shiva, a mixture of grief and anger in their voices. They had been driven out by the soldiers who had been created by the brahmanas at the yaaga. Shiva listened to the happenings, livid with rage. With the eyes the colour of blood and his Jatamakudam all gone astray, he stood up and plucked a lock of hair. He dashed it to the ground and the lock split into two. Out of one came Bhadrakali, with pointed teeth and angry eyes, eager to have a go at Daksha. Out of the other piece emerged Veerabhadra, the gory form of the lord, with eighteen arms and deadly looking weapons. They needed no words of command. With a large army of the Bhoothaganas lead by Nandi himself, they charged down to the site of the yaaga.

Daksha Samharam

Daksha Samharam

At the sacrifice, the army burst through the doors and killed everyone in sight. The devas including Varuna, Agni, Yama and Indra themselves, were defeated and lay unconscious. With the whole sacrificial grounds now looking like a warfield, Veerabhadra hunted for the culprit – Daksha. Daksha, white with fear, cowering at the terrifying figure of Veerabhadra, tried to dodge and hide, but to no avail. With the ease of a baby picking up a small toy, Veerabhadra lifted Daksha. He placed Daksha on the slaughtering board used for killing the sacrificial animals, and with one sweep of his sword beheaded Daksha – the master of the sacrifice, now being the sacrificial animal himself.

Even as Daksha’s corpse lay at the sacrificial field, Brahma rushed to Shiva and asked him to forgive his grandson. He variously extolled Parameshwara and laid forward the fact that the Yaaga had to be completed for the welfare of the world. Shiva, thus cooled by the soothing words of Brahma agreed to revive Daksha and complete the Yaaga. Since the head of Daksha had been burnt in the fires, Shiva ordered the ganas to behead the sacrificial goat and bring its head to him. He fixed the goat’s head on Daksha’s severed neck and with a sprinkling of water from his kamandala, he brought Daksha back to life.

To Forgive is Divine

To Forgive is Divine

The goat headed Daksha, now fell at Shiva’s feet and begged for mercy, praising the tolerance and the grace of Rishabarudan. Shiva blessed Daksha and in the very presence of Shiva, the yaaga was completed and the Poornaahuthi performed. While everyone was rejoicing the happy end of everything, Shiva alone retired back to Kailasha, deprived of his beloved, to immerse himself in meditation once more, until Shakthi takes another incarnation to join him for all eternity.

Note: The complete details of Daksha’s Yagna and its consequences appear in Canto 3 of Srimad Bhagavatham in a conversation between Vidura and Maithreya Maharishi. I have uploaded the PDF of the conversation here [Srimad Bhagavatham-Canto 3].

Located near Mayiladuthurai is yet another of the Veeratta sthalaa which glorifies this valourous deed of Mahesha at the Ilankombanaiyyal sametha Veeratteswarar shrine. Thiruppariyalur by name, the kshetra is also known variously as Keezha Parasalur, Dakshapuri etc.

Daksha Yagnahara Moorthi

Daksha Yagnahara Moorthi

Once upon a time the Devas were tormented by a powerful demon called Dharuka. All the three Trimurthis turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Devas. Vexed with the indifference, the 33 crore devas came to Keezha Parasalur and performed a penance to seek protection from the atrocities of the demon Dharuka. The Trimurthis appeared before the Devas and explained the reason for their pathetic plight. “Since you, the sons of Aditi, failed to propitiate the gods as duty required and since you remained aloof to your duties, you had to undergo the suffering for such a long time”, they pronounced. “Now, however, that you have realised the mistake, you will be saved from Dharuka in due time.” The Devas, hearing this, apologised profusely, and requested the Lords to protect them. Shiva accepted their heartfelt prayers and created Kali out of himself to kill the asura. Kali’s victorious killing of Dharuka and her resultant fierce mood is celebrated at the Kodungallur Bhagavathi shrine in Kerala. Since the Devas were taken to task for their mistakes, the sthala came to be known as Thiruppazhiyalur (Pazhi-revenge), which gradually got contorted into Thiruppariyalur.

This is considered to be the place where Veerabhadran killed Daksha and destroyed his Yagna. Hence the place is known as Dakshapuri and the lord also known as Dakshapureeswarar. The idol of Yagasamharamoorthi is once again believed to be an example of great craftsmanship and tells the tale of Daksha’s spoilt yagna.

The temple itself is very small, with only a single Prakara. One of the walls of the sanctum has a beautiful carving of Daksha worshipping the linga. The main deity is a Linga Moorthi with a square Vishnubhaga. It is believed to be a swayambu of large dimensions. A peculiar feature is the absence of the Navagrahas and the worship of Surya alone. Also famous is the Arthajaama worship that is offered at night to Bhairavar, the guardian deity of the temple. Taking part in this worship is supposed to help in the destruction of enemies and black magic.

The present day temple tank is also believed to be the site of Daksha’s grand Yagna and during times of drought, when the water dries out, the actual altar is visible at the bottom of the tank.

The annual festival takes place in Karthigai and the deities are taken around in a procession. Especially the Sundays in the month of Karthigai are held to be highly sacred and large crowds throng the shrine. Apart from this, Nangu Kaala Poojai (Four services of Worship) is observed every day to both Swami and Ambal.

Pariyalur Temple

Pariyalur Temple

Though small is size, the Sthala is great in its spiritual benefits. After all, this was the place where He destroyed the ego and pride of a very vain man and taught him a lesson for life. Visiting Thiruppariyalur will bring a change not only in your fortunes but also in your general outlook of life.

Deepak

From the Darkness into the Light, Thirukkovilur

•June 28, 2009 • 3 Comments

“Tamasoma Jyothirgamaya”

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.

At the gardens of Mandhara

At the gardens of Mandhara

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.

Andhakasura Vadham

Andhakasura Vadham

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.

Frescos on the Ceiling

Frescoes on the Ceiling

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.

Andhakasuravadham - A beauiful sculpture in Mahabalipuram

Andhakasuravadham - A beauiful sculpture in Mahabalipuram

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.

Meiporul Nayanmar

Meiporul Nayanmar

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.

Trivikrama Swamy

Trivikrama Swamy

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.

Deepak

A Tale of Three Cities, Thiruvadigai

•June 27, 2009 • 4 Comments

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 complaint of the saints

The complaint of the saints

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.”

Preparations for Samharam

Preparations for Samharam

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.

Tripuranthaka Moorthi

Tripuranthaka Moorthi

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.

Tripura Tandavam

Tripura Tandavam

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.

Thirunavukkarasar

The Story of Thirunavukkarasar

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.

The Ratha like Sanctum

The Ratha like Sanctum

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.

Deepak