On this occasion of Ardra Darshan, bringing you this story of Lord Sundareswara (Shiva) of Madurai from the Tiruvilayadal Puranam. This Puranam (legend) narrates the sixty-four ‘Tiruvilayadals’ (divine plays) of Lord Sundareswara of Madurai. This is one of them.
Long long ago, Madurai was ruled by King Rajasekhara Pandya of the Pandya dynasty. He was a very capable king and excellent administrator and was very well-read. In those days the rulers had to be knowledgeable about almost everything. Interestingly, in the ancient period, knowledge was classified under sixty-four branches. This went by the name “Aaya Kalaigal Arubathi Naangu”. The knowledge so classified covered everything from astrology to astronomy, to medicine and architecture, to training horses and elephants and warfare, to music, dance and drama, study of literature, language, mathematics and science, alchemy, gemmology, history and so on.
Rajasekhara Pandya had mastered sixty-three of the sixty-four branches of knowledge and was therefore highly respected by all.
One day, a wandering poet came to the court of Rajasekhara. Rajasekhara entertained the poet in his palace for a day or two. The poet, in the course of their conversation, casually mentioned about the neighbouring Chola King Karikala’s mastery over the sixty-four branches of knowledge. That casual comment triggered the thought in Rajasekhara’s mind about his own lack of knowledge of one branch of knowledge, which happened to be classical dance. He was concerned about this and the poet’s comment made him determined to learn dance immediately.
So, as soon as the poet left, Rajasekhara called his minister and expressed his wish to learn dance. A suitable teacher was found quickly and Rajasekhara started his classes. Slowly he started from the basics but soon realized how difficult it was to keep the postures lifting his hands and legs. He was after all, not very young and so it was indeed more demanding than he had imagined. However, he was resolved to fulfil his wish, come what may. And so the training continued.
One day, after a particularly strenuous class of dance, Rajasekhara went to the Meenakshi Temple as usual for his evening prayers. In the Meenakshi temple Lord Sundareswara is in the form of a Linga like in most Shiva temples. But there is also a Murti of the Lord of Cosmic dance, Nataraja.
As Rajasekhara was about to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Sundareswara, his sight fell on the Murti of Lord Nataraja. Lord Nataraja stood there majestically in his classic dance pose. His right leg was firmly placed on the back of the ‘Apasmara Purusha’ (ignorance personified) and His left leg lifted up. His right palm was showering grace while the left palm pointed to His left foot. With the broad smile on His beautiful lips, He looked as calm as ever.
The sight of Lord Nataraja’s smile made Rajasekhara stop. Now that he was a student of dance himself, he imagined himself in that pose of Lord Nataraja. Even in his imagination, he was not able to hold his balance even for a minute. He could feel pain in both his legs. What a difficult pose it was and here this Lord had remained in this pose always, that too, with a calm, beautiful smile. His mind was suddenly filled with so many doubts.
“Did it never feel uncomfortable for the Lord to remain like this?” he thought. “And, I have never even given a thought on how much it would have hurt Him to keep standing on one foot! What a fool I have been!”. Being a ardent devotee of Lord Sundareswara himself, Rajasekhara was overcome with a strong feeling of guilt and sorrow.
He stopped there near Nataraja Murti overwhelmed with emotion. To him, now the Murti looked real, as if in flesh and blood right next to him. He started addressing the Lord. “Oh Lord! I am extremely sorry that I did not even think how difficult it would have been for you all these years. What a sinner I am! Please for my sake, keep your left foot down and lift your right foot up for some time!”, he pleaded. There was no response from the Murti.
Rajasekhara’s feeling of remorse increased multifold. He started appealing to the Lord in many words, to accede to his request. The Lord simply stood there smiling.
With no response forthcoming still, Rajasekhara was getting into a frenzy. He kept imploring, persuading, entreating the Lord pouring out his feelings from his heart in front of Him and literally begging him to change the feet and dance.
The Lord stood there still with the same calm, broad, mesmerizing smile. Now Rajasekhara’s emotions went out of control. Addressing the Lord, he said, “O Lord Shiva, I do not know why you want to taunt me thus. I have been pleading with you all this time but now, if you do not listen to me, I will give up my life!”
Saying so, in an instant, he had drawn his sword from its sheath attached to his cummerbund.
The next moment he would have severed his own head. But the Lord was (and is always) faster.
There was a blinding streak of light and in that split second, the Nataraja Murti had changed position. The left foot was on the Apasmara Purusha and the right foot now lifted. Rajasekhara’s eyes welled with tears of joy looking at the Lord who was there for real. Just then, in a flash, the Lord turned back into the still Murti. But yes, now His right foot was lifted with the left firmly placed on the demon’s back. The Lord who was bound by the extreme devotion of Rajasekhara had indeed obeyed his command!
The legend goes on to say how Rajasekhara was overjoyed and ecstatic that the Lord had obeyed his word. To show the world the determination and devotion of king Rajasekhara Pandya, the Lord chose to remain in the same pose from then on. And he still does!
So, when you visit the Meenakshi temple at Madurai do not forget to see Lord Nataraja dancing with his right foot lifted.
And when you see Him, do remember this legend too.