A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Category: Tales of Places

Lord Nataraja at Konerirajapuram- The Swayambu Idol

In this New Year, “Arudra Darisanam”, the festival commemorating Lord Shiva’s incarnation as Lord Nataraja, falls on Jan 2nd,2018 and I thought it befitting to bring to you a lesser known legend of Lord Nataraja who resides in an equally lesser known place by name Konerirajapuram.

Konerirajapuram is a village in the Nagapattinam district of Tamilnadu, South India and lies between the two towns of Mayiladuthurai and Kumbakonam. This village houses a temple for Uma Maheswara (Lord Shiva) and in this temple is the Nataraja whose legend I am going to narrate.

The Cholas were mighty rulers in Tamil Nadu for the longest period between 3rd century BC and 13th century AD and their fame rose to dizzying heights between 9th century AD to 11th century AD. Many famous temples were built at this time including the Brihadeeswara temple at Tanjavur by the emperor Raja Raja Chola and its replica at Gangai Konda Cholapuram by his son Rajendra Chola. It is very significant that the ladies of the royal family also had enough wealth at their disposal. The queens mostly engaged in activities aimed at bringing the society together. Building temples and hospitals by the ladies of the royal families were common.

Though many queens had the title “Sembiyan Mahadevi”, the title mostly refers to the queen of the King Gandaraditya Chola, who was Raja Raja Chola’s uncle. Sembiyan Mahadevi was instrumental in building many Shiva temples for over sixty years, as she was an ardent devotee of the lord. This legend is said to have happened during her time.

King Gandaraditya Chola wanted a life size Nataraja idol with consort Sivakami to be made in the Uma Maheswara temple at Konerirajapuram. He wanted it to be very tall and instructed the sculptor to make an idol using ‘Panchaloha’.

‘Panchaloha’ as the name indicates is a mixture of Gold, Silver, Brass, Copper and Bronze and this mixture of metals is extensively used in making metallic idols even to this day. Usually such metal idols used to be in the range of two to four feet and making such a big idol as per the king’s wish was indeed a challenge for the sculptor.

The sculptor had built a shed inside the temple where he tried to execute this task but try as he might the idol always fell short of the king’s expectation, and three times the king had seen it and had rejected it outright.

One day on his usual visit to check the progress of the idol, the king got terribly annoyed that the sculptor was not being able to create the idol the way he visualised it for so long.

“What is the use of your knowledge, if you are not able to execute my order? I think you are not focussed enough to do the job I have given you. Your callous attitude is a disrespect to the royal family!” he shouted in anger. “I shall come again tomorrow evening and by that time if the idol has not been done as per my specifications, be ready for capital punishment!”

He stomped out of the place, his face, red with fury.

The sculptor was crestfallen. He was a much focussed person with great knowledge and greater commitment but somehow this time this image was eluding him. And he shuddered at the thought of capital punishment the day after. The images of his wife and young children and aged parents came to his mind’s eye and he was in tears thinking of what they would do without him. He was their life support.

He could not sleep a wink that night and the next day he again kept the pot to melt the metal for the last time and overcome by tiredness and fear, he was mentally pleading with Lord Shiva. He was feeling helpless. He was doing his very best but somehow the king could not be satisfied.

“Why are you testing me thus, O Lord? What harm have I done to anyone to deserve capital punishment?” he thought. He sat down , leaning his back against the wall, closed his eyes and was lost in thought, tears rolling down his cheeks. He was sobbing silently and deep in his thought was the Lord Shiva. He did not realise it was past noon.

“We have walked a long way in the heat. May we have something to drink?” – The deep voice of a man woke him up with a start. There was a couple at the entrance of the shed, near the stove where the metal mixture had melted and was boiling. The couple looked divine, but the anger and frustration of the sculptor overshadowed his sense of hospitality and in a fit of rage, the sculptor said, “I don’t have any water here. All I have is the molten metal. Drink it if you want!” and rudely turned back.

In few seconds, he thought he heard the sound of someone gulping the liquid and when he turned around, he was horrified to see the man and his wife drinking the molten liquid from two small containers, he had kept to pour it in the mould. Instinctively he darted across to snatch the containers from them and lo and behold, they had turned into the statues of Nataraja and his consort Sivakami and what beautiful statues they were. The statue of the Lord was more than life size (about 7 to 8 feet- still it is the tallest Nataraja idol in the world) and the statue of Sivakami was bewitchingly beautiful.

The sculptor was overjoyed and overwhelmed at this show of mercy of his beloved lord and he prostrated before the idol conveying his gratitude. The statue was so very life like including a mole under the left arm. So full of awe, peace and joy, he awaited the arrival of the king.

Soon, he heard the guards announcing the arrival of the king and queen and this time, he enthusiastically went to welcome them. The king and queen looked at the statues with awe and could not take their eyes off the idols. When the king asked the sculptor how he was able to make it, the sculptor, true to his nature, told them what had happened. The king thought he had stolen this idol from somewhere and was lying to him, and in a sudden fit of anger pulled out his sword to harm the sculptor when the tip of the sword hit the idol’s leg and instantly blood started oozing out. It was the turn of the King to be shocked and at that moment he realized his folly and sought forgiveness from the Lord and the sculptor. It is said that he had to endure some physical suffering as a result of his attitude towards the sculptor but after continuous repentance by offering prayers to the Lord, he was cured.

The statue is still at the temple for us to see, with the mole on the left arm and the scar on the leg caused by the sword…. The world’s largest Nataraja.

How Krishna came to stay at Udupi

Udupi is a town on the west coast of India and is situated in the state of Karnataka.

Udupi is associated with Lord Krishna just as Puri is identified with Lord Jagannath or Mount Kailash with Lord Shiva. But it is interesting to note that Krishna has been residing here from the thirteenth century. Before that, Udupi was a holy place where two other temples of Lord Ananteshwara and Lord Chandramouleeswara existed (which still exist). Both are Shiva temples and people from far and near came to visit these temples as they do even today. But how Krishna came to reside in Udupi is an interesting story.

Madhyageha Bhatta and his wife Vedavathi were a childless couple belonging to a village, eight miles away from Udupi. Bhatta was an ardent devotee of the Lord Anantheshwara and used to travel every day from his village to Udupi to pray for a child to continue his lineage. This was going on for twelve years.

One day, a devotee who seemed to be possessed and in a trance climbed up the flag post at the Anantheshwara temple and announced that an incarnation of Lord Vayu (Wind) would be soon born to guide the humanity along the path of right principles. Bhatta who was a witness to this oracle, somehow felt intuitively that the divine child was going to be his child.

In due course, Vedavathi gave birth to this divine child in 1238 A.D whom they named Vasudeva. Vasudeva was a very bright child and at the same time was extraordinarily strong and beautiful also. He excelled in swimming and martial arts and also possessed an extraordinary intellect. Vasudeva was initiated into the Vedic learnings at the age of five. He was very good in his studies and therefore at the age of eleven left to seek higher knowledge from a saintly teacher at Udupi by the name of Achyutapreksha. Achyutapreksha was very happy to have such a bright student and taught him all that was there to be taught.

After a year of staying with Achyutapreksha, Vasudeva wanted to be initiated into “Sannyasa” and renounce the world. Though his parents were not for it, Vasudeva became a monk and his teacher named him “Purnaprajna”.

Purnaprajna gained mastery over the Vedantas and travelled far and wide mostly in the South of India, participating in vedantic debates with learned scholars and was always the winner at the end. Now people started to call him “Madhva” or “Madhvacharya”. His philosophy was called “Dvaita” as against Shankara’s “Advaita”. Madhva then travelled to the Himalayas and Badrinath and is said to have met the sage Vyasa and learnt more intricate portions of the Vedantas and returned to Udupi. He wrote the commentary for the Bhagavad Gita and also many books and composed many hymns. He used to give lectures on the life of Lord Krishna in the Ananteshwara temple at Udupi. He had a deep desire to build a temple for his favourite deity Krishna, at Udupi.

One day, when Madhvacharya had gone to the Malpe beach with a few of his disciples he was absorbed there in composing a hymn “Dvadasha Stotra”. The sea was choppy and rough. All of a sudden, he could see a ship at a distance being tossed by the waves. There seemed to be people on board.

Madhva prayed to the Lord and waved his upper garment signalling to the people on the ship and slowly the sea became calm. However, due to the wind, the vessel ran aground. The people in the ship were happy that their lives were saved and the captain was so thankful to this monk. He got down with the help of a rope ladder and came to the shore to thank Madhvacharya. He was a Muslim merchant carrying goods from Gujarat. He knew that it was, by the power of this monk that the sea had become calm.

“Thank you, Holy Sir,” said the captain offering his salutations, “you have saved our lives. As a mark of gratitude, I want to offer you something. Kindly take whatever you want from the things I am carrying on board”

Madhvacharya accepted his invitation and went on board and found a big lump of clay (Gopi Chandana) which this merchant had put into his ship as ballast when he commenced his journey from Gujarat.

Madhvacharya intuitively knew that this was what was meant for him and told the merchant that he would take this big lump of clay. The merchant was happy that removing this lump of clay would also lighten the ship and the ship could move when the tide came in.So he gladly gave the lump of clay to Madhvacharya.

Madhvacharya and his followers took the big lump of Gopi Chandana from the ship and got down. As they were wading their way through the shallow waters and neared the beach, the lump split and broke and they could see a beautiful ‘murti’ (idol)  inside.

Madhvacharya was elated. He knew that the murti was that of his favourite deity Krishna.

“I have been waiting for you my dear Lord!” he said with tears of joy. There was a lot of clay still around the murti and the murti seemed to be heavier than before. The disciples could not lift the murti now. The Lord seemed to want only Madhva to carry him. Madhva bent down and embraced the murti with the clay and lifted it into his arms as a father would lovingly lift a child and, lo and behold, the murti was light enough to be carried.

Madhvacharya was in a state of ecstasy and as if in a trance, carried it to the tank near the Ananteswara temple and dipped it inside. Washed by the cool waters of the tank,the strikingly beautiful form came out of the Gopi Chandana to the joy of all the onlookers. Madhvacharya built a temple for this child God next to the Ananteswara and Chandramouleeswara temples and from then Krishna started residing at Udupi. Madhvacharya taught his eight disciples the rules of worshipping this Krishna. The eight disciples established their schools or “Mathas” and each head of the “Matha” gets the right to perform worship and administer the temple matters once in two years even now.

But I know you are wondering how the idol was found inside a lump of clay. Intriguing isn’t it? Well, let me tell you that story as well.

As we all know, Lord Krishna was born as the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva in the prison room of the demonic King Kamsa. On the very night of his birth, baby Krishna was carried to Gokul and was exchanged with the daughter of Nandagopa. Therefore, Krishna was brought up by Yashoda and Nandagopa. Devaki could meet Krishna only as a young boy after Kamsa was killed.

Devaki was having this grievance for a long time and in her old age when she was staying with Krishna at Dwarka, she told him one day about it. “Krishna, my son” she said, “I was destined to have eight children but was never able to see the childish pranks of even one of them. Yashoda brought you up and enjoyed your pranks and the gibberish you spoke. Every time I hear of your pranks from someone, I yearn to see you in that stage. Will you show me a vision of your childhood, my child?”

Krishna looked at his mother with affection. He thought of all the suffering she had undergone in spite of being a princess and he was filled with sympathy at the thought of her destiny.

With a benevolent smile, he replied, “Why not mother? Here I am!”. And to the surprise of Devaki, Krishna assumed the form of a three-year-old, and climbed on to Mother Devaki’s lap. Devaki was thrilled and cuddled the child Krishna with so much of love and affection, to her heart’s content.To satisfy her yearning, Krishna remained in that form for some time following her wherever she went. Remembering that she had heard that He loved butter, Devaki churned some butter, by which time he ran and took the churn and rope from her and snatched the butter, smearing Himself with butter. He was looking so very cute and mischievous, eating butter with relish, and speaking in such childish gibberish and Devaki was enchanted and on cloud nine witnessing this act of the Lord.

Krishna resumed his normal form. Devaki was overjoyed. Rukmini,Krishna’s wife who was watching it, was also enamoured with this child form of her Lord.

“I want this childhood figure of yours to be sculpted O Lord!” she requested Krishna.

Krishna smiled and the divine architect Viswakarma was called to sculpt the statue of the child Krishna with the rope and the churn. Viswakarma sculpted the figure exactly as they had seen. Rukmini worshipped this idol at her palace.

After the time of Krishna, Rukmini entrusted the safekeeping of the idol to Arjuna the Pandava and he in turn kept it in a place called Rukminivana near Dwarka. Over a period of time, the idol got covered by the Gopi Chandana clay and being exposed to the vagaries of weather, the clay hardened over the idol and it became a huge clay lump which was carried by this merchant as ballast in his ship and this is what was taken by Madhvacharya and installed at Udupi. This is how Krishna came to stay at Udupi.

And he is the loving child who we all worship at Udupi. Interestingly, the Lord is seen turning towards the west and can be seen only through a window. There is an interesting story on how this came about which I shall narrate later.

The photos in the image are taken by my husband during our recent visit to the Udupi temple.

Hirakani Buruj – Tribute to a Great Mother!!

Just back from a trip from magnificent Maharashtra and so thought of dedicating this story to a brave woman of Maharashtra….

I had been to the Lohagad fort at Lonavala and found it not so simple to climb even in broad daylight with almost proper stairs, an inexperienced trekker that I am. It brought to my mind the story of Hirakani who scaled down the Raigad fort in pitch darkness and had the honour of having a watch tower built in her name by none other than Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had acquired the fort at Raigad and made it an impregnable fort. The fort was at the top of a very steep mountain. It was a marvellous fort which contained a city within it and nobody could enter or exit the fort without the knowledge and permission of the gatekeeper. The fort’s giant gates opened in the morning and people who were living on the foothills of the mountain could go into the fort and come out till the gates closed again at sunset. The gates would not be opened on any account till the next morning except on the word of the Chatrapati.

There was a lady by name Hirakani who made a living by selling milk to the residents of the fort. She lived in the foothills and maintained a few cows and selling milk was her occupation. She had a small baby who was looked after by her mother in law when she went to deliver milk. The mother in law was very old and could barely manage the baby during the day time. Hira’s husband worked in the army of Shivaji Maharaj and used to be at his place of duty on most days leaving Hira alone to manage the house and the baby.

One day as usual Hira milked her cows and carried the milk to the fort. On that particular day she had to help out with the delivery of a baby of one of her friends who lived in the fort. In those days, babies were born at home and the pregnant mothers were helped by other ladies to deliver the child. Hira was delayed there and by the time she started for home she realised that the sun was about to set. “Oh God”, she thought to herself. “It’s going to be sunset, and the doors of the fort will close. What will my child do if I cannot go home on time? He will be crying with hunger! I have to rush…”

Thinking thus, she ran to the gates and just at the moment she reached the gates, they were closing with a screeching sound and the next moment, the lock was sealed.

“Guard” cried Hira, “please open the door once so I can go out. My infant son will be hungry and waiting for me. I need to go home. Please open the door”

The guard looked at her with no emotion. With a cold look in his eyes he said “Sorry, I cannot go against the order of the Maharaj and it is his order that the doors closed once should be opened the next morning only. You have been coming here for the past so many years and not new to the rules. If you were in such a hurry you should have come earlier”

“Oh Bhaiyya, I am extremely sorry” pleaded Hira. “I did not realise that it was so late. In all these years have I ever come late on any day huh? Please open the doors just this once”. Hira’s eyes were full of tears at the thought of her infant child crying for her in hunger.

The guard did not even look at her face. With the same stony voice he repeated what he had said before. “Go and stay in any of your friend’s house and go in the morning. Now, don’t bother me again and again hmmph…”

Hira was helpless. All her thoughts were with her baby son whose smile on seeing her would make her forget all the troubles of the day. The very thought of that smiling face crying in hunger and anxiety at her absence was intolerable to her. And she was helpless…..

Hira ran back the way she had come. She was determined to get out of the fort come what may. She walked all along the boundary walls of the fort which was perched high on the mountain. At one particular point she noticed that there was no wall built. The portion of the mountain where the wall was missing was so steep and the vertical drop from that particular spot was so very deep with thorny bushes that no one would probably be able to climb up from there and get into the fort and therefore no wall had been built at that spot.

Hira looked down. The sun had set completely and it was pitch dark and she could see nothing but outlines of thorny branches sticking out from the shrubs on the mountain. The thought of her baby kept on lingering in her mind and she decided to climb down from the mountain by holding on to the thorny shrubs. She placed her empty milk cans slowly on the ground fearing that the slightest clanking noise would alert any soldier nearby. She looked around cautiously to see if any soldier was coming on patrol. Fortunately none were in sight.

In an instant, Hira had jumped over the edifice on the side of the mountain and caught hold of a thorny branch with one hand. The sharp thorns pierced her skin and her hand was bleeding. Her dress was caught in another thorny bush below. With great difficulty, she extricated her dress which tore at many places as she was sliding down on the depths of the mountainside, her hands groping in the dark to catch hold of the successive branches. Her arms, legs, face and body were terribly bruised and bleeding. Now and then, owls flew over her head with a “Whoosh” frightening her out of her wits but the image of her son’s face crying for her only increased her pace and within a short while she touched the ground. But the dangers had not ceased.

In front of her eyes, she could see, even in the dark, long snakes slithering around freely, rustling the leaves as they went in search of prey. The various sounds of the insects and the croaking of frogs with the occasional sound of the cane of the soldier patrolling made it very fearful. If she was caught, she would certainly be punished. Somehow, hiding behind bushes and trees, Hira made her way home. As she had expected, the child was crying uncontrollably and her mother in law was helpless as there was no way for her to find out why Hira had not returned from the fort.

The moment Hira called out to her baby, like magic, the crying stopped. Quickly washing her wounds, Hira carried her baby, spoke endearing words to him and fed him and soon the baby was gurgling with laughter, the one thing that made Hira forget all her ordeal that night. With her mind at rest, Hira slept peacefully cuddling her baby.

The next morning as usual, Hira milked the cows and set out to the fort to sell the milk.

The guard who was there in the evening had not gone yet. When he saw her he was aghast! How could a lady whom he had not allowed to go out of the fort come from outside?? The fort as far as he knew did not have any weak point anywhere. It had such high walls and where there was no wall the mountain was so steep that no one could scale it…
As she neared the gate, he stopped her.

“Halt” he said in a gruff voice, “where are you coming from huh? I had not allowed you to go out of the fort yesterday and did not see you going out today. So where are you coming from? Tell the truth”

Hira laughed. “Why are you frightening me thus with your gruff voice Bhaiyya?” she said feigning a frightened look. “I jumped out from the side of the fort where there is no wall and climbed down the mountain. Can you not see my bruises?” she said pointing to her bruised hands, face and shoulders.

The guard was shocked beyond words. “A milk vending woman scaling down the steep mountain? Impossible!!” he thought to himself and said again, “Now Hira, you know the punishment for telling lies don’t you? Come on tell me the truth or I shall have to take you to the presence of His Highness Chatrapatiji”

Hira got angry. “Why will I tell lies?” she asked him angrily, irritated that he was not believing her and also that she was getting late to deliver the milk. “You did not let me go in spite of my telling you that my baby would be waiting for me. So I jumped the wall and went home. I am also showing the bruises I suffered and still if you do not believe then do as you like. Now let me go!” she shouted.

“No way” said the guard. “Come with me immediately to the presence of our Maharaj and only then you will tell the truth it seems. Looks like you are destined to get punished today by His Highness. Hmm… how can I prevent what is written in your destiny?”

He did not realize the great reward destiny had for her, at that point.

Marching ahead with Hira in tow, soon enough the Guard ushered her into the presence of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great ruler who was renowned for his sense of justice.

Shivaji Maharaj was perplexed on hearing the story told by the guard. He too did not think it was possible for a woman to do what Hira had done, but he could not disbelieve her too looking at the bruises sustained by her.

He thought for a while and said to her, “Well, show me from where you climbed down”.

Hira went to the place from where she had climbed down, followed by the King and the guard and on reaching the spot, pointed the place to the king. The king looked at her and said, “Well Hira, can you do that again now? Climb down now in front of me!”

Hira went near the edge of the rock and peered down. Seeing the steep fall made her dizzy. The sight of the thorny bushes crisscrossing, gave her goose bumps. For the first time she realized what a dangerous thing she had attempted. If she had slipped even once she would not have been alive now.

She looked at the King and the depth of the mountain again and again and suddenly realized she could not do what she dared to do the previous night.

Not able to look into the King’s eyes, with her eyes downcast she said, “Sorry Maharaj, I will not be able to do it now. I realize how deep and dangerous this side of the mountain is, only now. Yesterday, the motherly instinct in me and the anxiety to see my child who would be crying with hunger blinded me from seeing these dangers, but I have not lied to you Maharaj and therefore I am willing to accept whatever punishment you may deem fit for my action”

A moment of silence followed. Then the Maharaj spoke “Yes Hirakani. I have decided to punish you…”

Hirakani’s heart was beating fast.

“I am going to punish you by building a watch tower at this very spot”

Hirakani looked up surprised.

Shivaji Maharaj was smiling and continued, “You have displayed exemplary courage and motherly affection by risking your life. But, if an untrained woman like you can scale this dangerous mountain, it indicates that I have to be careful that trained soldiers of the enemy do not use this very route to come into my fort which all along I was thinking was impregnable… So, I am ordering a watch tower to be built here and it will be named after you, the Hirakani Buruj. Not a severe punishment I hope….”

Hira was relieved and conveyed her happiness to the king with folded hands bowing her head in respect.

And the tower which was built in honour of Hirakani came to be known as ‘Hirakani Buruj’ and is still seen at Raigad fort. The tower which reminds us of both Hirakani’s exemplary courage and the greatness and humility of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj!!

PS: The photo collage which is shown in this story is not that of Raigad fort but is of Lohagad fort.

The Legend of Madurai

meeeeeeeeeeeee kalyanam

Today is the start of the new year for Tamils and in this Chithirai month, I am going to narrate the legend of Madurai which is synonymous with the Chithirai Festival!!

Madurai is one of the oldest cities of the world and is believed to be in existence for more than 7000 years before Christ. It is said that Megasthenes visited this city when he visited India in the fourth century BC.

This city was the capital of the Pandya kingdom for centuries and was taken over by the Cholas during the tenth century A.D. Later it was regained by the Pandyas. Afterwards, it came under the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire and one of the chieftains of the Vijayanagara Empire Tirumalai Nayak who ruled from Madurai added glory to the city by building new structures and enhancing the beauty of the temple by expanding it. He is credited for building the Pudumandapa, which has lot of sculptures, the huge artificial pond (Teppakulam) and the Perumal Temple at Tallakulam, Madurai. He also combined various festivals into one and celebrated it in the month of Chaitra. The festival came to be known as ‘ Chithirai festival’. Chaitra is Chithirai in Tamil. By doing this he facilitated the people to be together and celebrate together. This was something akin to the Ganapati festival in Maharashtra where the objective is more of bonding and celebration.

The city is well known for its famous temple dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara with its four imposing towers giving the city the name ‘ Naan Maada Koodal’ literally translating to ‘four tower joining’. It is interesting to note that here Goddess Meenakshi is given precedence and Lord Sundareswara is seen only after one has darshan of Meenakshi. She is the queen who rules Madurai.

We will see the story of how Madurai came into being.

Legend has it that Lord Indra who was suffering from a curse, came to the earth and was wandering about searching for peace of mind. When he reached a particular spot which had lot of Kadamba trees, he saw a Shivalingam and his mind was filled with strange bliss. He found a pond with golden lilies and started to worship Lord Shiva there. A merchant who was going by noticed this and reported it to the King Kulasekara. The king with the help of Indra and the divine architect Viswakarma, built a beautiful temple for Lord Shiva and a city around the temple. These structures and the city were blessed with drops of nectar from Shiva’s locks and therefore the name Madhura (Sweetness).

Madurai has also been referred to ‘Tiru Aalavai’. It seems that there was a deluge in the second Sangam period wherein the city was destroyed excepting for the temple and four hillocks and the then king prayed to Lord Shiva to help him rebuild the city by showing him the borders of the city as it existed before the deluge. Shiva obliged and the snake worn as Shiva’s bracelet went around demarcating the city. “Aalavai” translates to ‘the mouth of poison’.
Tirugnanasambandar has sung the “Tiru Aalavai Padigam” when he visited Madurai.

King Kulasekara who built the temple thus, had a son by name Malayadwaja Pandya. King Malayadwaja and his wife Kanchanamala Devi had all the treasures except children. They prayed for an heir for long and performed a yagna seeking divine blessing. To the surprise of one and all, a young girl of three dressed in fine silk and bedecked with ornaments, came out of the fire and went and sat on the lap of Malayadwaja. There was a divine voice (ashareeri) informing the audience that this was a divine child who had come to rule Madurai. “Treat her like you would treat a son and teach her all the skills you would impart your son.

The royal couple were overjoyed, but soon found that the child had three breasts. As they were concerned the voice further went on, “the third breast will vanish the moment she sets her eye on her suitor”.

The king and the queen were extremely happy and blessed with this happening. They named the girl Tadaathagai Piraatti. She was also known as Meenakshi as her eyes were beautifully shaped like fish. (Meen – fish, Akshi – eyed). Meenakshi was soon the darling of everyone in the kingdom. As instructed by the celestial voice, Malayadwaja imparted all the skills to her right from music and art to horse riding and warfare.

In the course of time Malayadwaja died and Meenakshi was crowned as the princess and was ruling the kingdom.
After sometime, she asked permission from her mother to conquer all the kings and expand the kingdom. With the permission of her mother, she set out with her army conquering all the neighbouring kingdoms and she proceeded north.

On reaching Kailash, she demanded to see the Lord.

“You cannot see him. You will have to fight us first “said the bhootaganas (the attendants) of Lord Shiva. Effortlessly Meenakshi vanquished them and as she was advancing, she was confronted by none other than Nandi, the Lord’s bull. He was no match to Meenakshi’s prowess when Lord Shiva came out to see what the commotion was all about.

When Meenakshi turned around to see Lord Shiva, her third breast vanished and she knew that this was her suitor.

Meenakshi’s general Sumathy was also aware of the prophecy and requested the Lord to come to Madurai to seek the hand of Meenakshi.

The Lord accepted their request and assuming the most beautiful form of Sundara Easwara (Handsome lord), Shiva traveled all the way to Madurai to meet the queen Kanchanamala. The queen mother was too happy to have Lord Shiva as her son in law and so the wedding took place with great pomp and show. All the celestial beings rushed to Madurai and Lord Vishnu, the brother of Parvati (Meenakshi) gave her hand in marriage to Sundareswara.

During the wedding feast one of the dwarf bhootaganas of Lord Shiva, by name Gundodhara became very thirsty. No amount of water would satiate his thirst. All the water in the city was brought in all sorts of utensils but Gundodhara’s thirst could not be quenched. Lord Sundareswara asked him to cup his hands. He ordered him “Vai Kai” which means ‘keep your hand’ and the next moment Ganga in the matted locks of Lord Shiva surged and flowed through Gundodhara’s hand and thereafter his thirst was quenched. This water turned into the river Vaigai.

The couple stayed back at Madurai with Goddess Meenakshi and Shiva as Sundara Pandya, ruling the kingdom. They were succeeded by their son King Ugra Pandian who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Kartikeya.

These events which are stated in the Tiruvilayadal Purana are being enacted every year from time immemorial. This festival was mainly celebrated by the Saivites. In Madurai, there was another Vaishnavite festival celebrated in another month in which Lord Vishnu by the name Kalla Alagar, came from his abode Alagar Koil, to bless a sage Mandooka who was cursed to be a frog in the river Vaigai.

Legend has it that Sage Mandooka once insulted Sage Durvasa who in turn cursed him to become a frog and live in the River Vaigai. When Mandooka repented for his behavior, Sage Durvasa told him to propitiate Kalla Alagar and said that he would be emancipated from the curse by the blessing of Kalla Alagar. This event was also enacted every year and celebrated by the Vaishnavites.

When King Tirumalai Nayak was ruling Madurai in the seventeenth century, he wanted everyone to celebrate together and therefore merged the two festivals into one by making Lord Vishnu (Kalla Alagar) arrive for the wedding. But by the time he arrives late due to spate in Vaigai, the wedding is over presided by the local Alagar (Koodal Alagar). Therefore he goes back in a huff however blessing the sage Mandooka on his way back. Thus the festival was celebrated by everybody and by combining this people could celebrate it efficiently too.

The festival is celebrated to this day in Madurai and goes by the name Chithirai Festival and Lord Kalla Alagar’s crossing the river is celebrated on Chitra Pournami.

Glossary :
Sangam Period is the period in the history of ancient southern India (known as the Tamilakam) spanning from 3rd century BC to 4th century AD. This is further divided into Pre historic, Ancient and Medieval Sangam periods.
Bhootaganas – are lieutenants of Lord Shiva having strange figures, sometimes huge, sometimes dwarfed figures with long teeth, big faces, some with big bellies, long nails etc. They are supposed to be the attendants of Lord Siva. They have terrifying forms.

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