Irumbai Maakaalam is a quaint village enroute Tindivanam (in Tamilnadu) from Pondicherry and the village houses an ancient temple of Lord Shiva by name Mahakaleshwar (or Maakaleshwar). The deity with the same name is in Ujjain in the North of India and in another temple near Kumbakonam also. This temple structure at Irumbai is said to have been built a thousand years ago by a Chola King though the deity should have been existing from much earlier as it is a place mentioned in the songs of Sri Tirugnanasambandar, Sundarar and Pattinathar. It is listed as the 32nd of the 275 temples (Padal Petra Sthalam) identified where the Nayanmars have visited and sang hymns.
There is a story of a Siddha associated with this temple which I am going to narrate here.
About five hundred to six hundred years ago, there lived a Siddha in this area now known to us as Kaduveli Siddhar. Siddhars are Tamil saints or mystics who were devoted to Lord Shiva. They were well versed in advanced yogic practices and most of them knew the art of preserving their bodies for hundreds of years and thus lived long lives. The “Siddha” system of medicine is based on the formulations of herbs as written in the ancient texts by the Siddhars.
Now, this Siddha in our story was doing intense penance under a peepul tree near this temple of Lord Shiva known as Maakaleshwar.
His tapasya or meditation was so very intense that he was generating lot of heat from his body and the whole area surrounding the temple and the villages had become very dry with lakes drying up and there was no rain. The King who was ruling from a neighbouring place called Edayanchavadi was also worried since the threat of a famine soon, loomed large.
The villagers could sense that the lack of rain was due to the intense meditation of the Siddha but they were afraid of waking him up from his meditation, fearing that he might curse him if awoken rudely. This news reached the King’s ears and he announced a reward for anyone who could successfully wake up the Siddha from his meditation.
There was a temple dancer in the village by name Valli and she also heard the King’s announcement.
“Well, let me try” thought she. She started observing the Siddhar day and night. He was sitting in padmasan (lotus pose) with his eyes closed all the time and was remaining so still that an anthill had started growing by his sides. She noted that occasionally he held out his palm, with eyes still closed and waited till a dry peepul leaf fell on his palm and when the leaf fell, he put it into his mouth and ate it, all the time his eyes closed. His only food was the occasional dry peepul leaf.
Valli got an idea. She prepared very thin rice appalams (chips) adding salt and took them to the place where the Siddhar was meditating. When he stretched out his palm to catch a falling leaf, she placed an appalam on his palm and he ate the same oblivious to the fact that someone was placing them on his palm.
This went on for a few weeks and the taste of salt brought in a change in the Siddhar and he opened his eyes to see what was causing this distraction to his meditation. Valli, with a group of villagers, stood in front, her palms joined in obeisance to the Siddha. Seeing the devotion and humility in the eyes of Valli and the villagers, the Siddha did not get angry.
“What do you seek?” he asked with kindness.
The headman of the village came up and said in a pleading voice, “O Holy Sir, our villages have not seen rain for months together since you sat for meditation. Please be kind enough Sir and bless us with rains!”
The Siddhar looked around at the sad faces of the crowd and said “So be it”. That very night it started raining heavily and the village got enough and more water. Meanwhile since the Siddhar had no house to stay, Valli offered him shelter in the verandah of her house where he slept, prayed and ate the food given by the villagers and Valli.
The King came to know that the heavy rain had been due to the blessings of the Siddha and wanted to have a grand celebration for all his people. As a part of the celebration, he wanted to honour Valli for her role in getting the Siddha’s blessings and so he gave her an opportunity to perform her dance in the temple in the presence of his royal family. The temple has a large courtyard even today where dance performances are held.
On the appointed day, Valli very happily came forward and started her performance in front of Lord Shiva. The royal family and the Siddha were seated on special seats and there was a huge crowd of public curious to see who this Siddha was.
One after another song Valli was dancing and the crowd was enthralled in the beauty of Valli’s dance with beautiful facial expressions and excellent footwork accompanied by the music performed by equally talented musicians who were singing and playing many instruments.
Suddenly one anklet from Valli’s left foot flew and fell near the Siddha. The link of the anklet was apparently loose. The Siddha who was absorbed in the dance was not seeing Valli as temple dancer, but was seeing Lord Nataraja in her. The sudden falling of the anklet was noticed by all and though the dance continued, the Siddha got up from where he was seated, picked up the anklet and went to Valli who was also confused as to why he was coming to her. She stopped the dance for a few seconds and he bowed down to tie the anklet to her foot. To him, the person in front was not Valli but the Lord Nataraja whose anklet had fallen and it was to Lord Nataraja that he was offering to tie the anklet.
When he bowed down, Valli and the whole crowd was aghast! This was blasphemy! A learned aged Siddha bowing to a dancing girl and wanting to tie her anklet…..
Valli was moving back step by step with the Siddha pleading with her to show her foot. And that also in a peculiar way… He was addressing her “My Lord, Lord of the Ponnambalam” and so on. (Ponnambalam refers to the temple of Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram)
“What cheap attitude!” someone muttered. “These days, everyone wears a saffron robe… haha” sneered someone else.
The mutters and mumbles grew to a large noise with people angrily commenting openly at the Siddha pointing fingers at him and accusing him.
Suddenly the Siddha realised that the people were jeering at him, some loudly and some laughing at him mockingly. He understood the situation in a jiffy and became terribly angry.
With the anklet in one hand he stomped to the sanctum of Maakaleswar, stood in front of him and addressing the Lord in a trance like state, said, “Oh Lord Shiva! You are a witness to what has happened here. You know that I saw your form of Nataraja in this girl who was dancing… but all these people here whose problem I solved by giving up my meditation have been so judgemental without knowing my connection with you. If what I am saying is true, please express your solidarity with me!”
As the crowd and the King watched, there was a deep rumbling sound and the Linga (form of Shiva) cracked into three pieces with shrapnel and dust flying from it falling far outside the temple.
The Siddha continued in an angry voice “The places upto which the dust from the Lingam have fallen shall not see rain again!”
He started to walk away from the temple when the King and the people realised the grave mistake they had committed and cursed themselves for their cheap thoughts. The King ran behind the Siddha and fell in front of him holding his feet and with tears in his eyes, repented for the bad happenings caused by his people.
“I will take on the punishment personally O Siddha Purusha! Please curse me instead. Please do not curse that there will be no rain. Please revoke your words O Holy man! I will give you whatever you seek, but please revoke your curse” he said.
The Siddha looked at him and was quiet for some time. Then he said “Well, I cannot revoke my curse but years later, people from foreign lands will come and settle here and then the place will be green again” Saying thus, the Siddha walked away not heeding to anybody’s pleading. The area became an arid land and the Siddha came to be known as “Kaduveli Siddhar”.
Legend has it that hundreds of years later when the Holy Mother came to Pondicherry as a disciple of Shri Aurobindo and people started coming from foreign lands, the Siddha’s words came true and the rains blessed the land again.
The temple at Irumbai is very well maintained and worth visiting and one can still see the Lingam which is split, which is held together by a copper wire.