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Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!

This is the chant heard all over South and other parts of India in the months of December-January when thousands of devotees observe the sacred ‘Vratha’ (vow of self-purification) to visit Sabarimala- the abode of Lord Sastha who is also referred to as Ayyappan. The celebrations culminate on the day the Sun transits from the zodiac of Sagittarius to that of Capricorn which generally is on the 14th or 15th of January.

Movies and serials have been made on the story of Lord Sastha as Manikantan – His birth, His miracles, His vanquishing the demoness Mahishi and so on. In many of them the name Ayyappan is used interchangeably for Manikantan.

However, it was not till a few years ago, I came to know that Ayyappan is different from the Manikantan or Hariharaputran mentioned in the Puranas.

I stumbled upon Shri Aravind Subramanyan’s blog https://shanmatha.blogspot.com a few years back and came to know that Ayyappan was a historical figure who is the reason for the survival of the ancient tradition of worship of the Sabarimala Sastha temple which continues today.

Shri Aravind Subramanyan has published many books on Lord Sastha of Sabarimala. The story of this historical figure of Ayyappan is the outcome of Shri Aravind’s laborious research. With his permission I narrate this story.

The worship of Lord Dharma Sastha with his consorts in our country exists from time immemorial. Manikantan or Hariharaputran is understood as an incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. The Puranas say that He was found and raised by a king, and later on performed arduous tasks like bringing the milk of a tigress to cure His stepmother’s ailment, curing His Guru’s mute son, slaying Mahishi and so on and finally took to Yoga at the Sabarimala. It is this temple of His which is situated at Sabarimala from the ancient times.

Now for the story of Ayyappan…

In the early tenth century, the ruling Pandya king of Madurai was persecuted by the Cholas. He escaped and fled to Kerala with his men. On reaching Pandalam, the king settled down there and established his kingdom. The ancient Shri Sastha at Sabarimala was the guardian deity of the region, and the king accepted Him as his family deity. The Pandya dynasty flourished.

Around the end of the tenth century, a dreaded dacoit by name Udayanan came with his gang from the Tamil regions beyond the borders. He started dominating the Pandalam region of Kerala.

Building fortresses on the mountains of Talappara, Injippara and Karimala in the forests of Pandalam, he became a perpetual threat to the people living in that area. The ancient temple of Sabarimala was on the route – a highway between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, along which the merchants travelled. Udayanan mercilessly plundered wealth from the travellers and killed people and the people in the area lived in constant fear.

At one point Udayanan became so arrogant that he and his gang attacked the Shri Sastha Temple at Sabarimala, ransacked it and broke the Murti of Lord Sastha into pieces. The gang also murdered the priest so that it would not be possible to conduct Poojas anymore.

The son of the priest by name Jayanthan, somehow escaped. Distressed by the gruesome murder of his father, he wanted to take revenge by killing Udayanan and his gang, and to rebuild and consecrate the Sastha temple at Sabarimala.

With this single focus, he, while wandering about the mountains in hiding, completed his education and mastered all forms of warfare. He then went to the various chieftains and kings seeking for help to kill Udayanan. Though the kings appreciated his valour, they were not forthcoming to help him as they feared the wrath of Udayanan.

Jayanthan then realized that the task needed divine intervention and went to Ponnambalamedu, where he started doing penance by meditating upon Lord Sastha.

Udayanan, meanwhile, in one of his looting expeditions happened to see the beautiful princess of the Pandya kingdom and wanted to marry her.

He sent the marriage proposal to the king, which was politely refused by the king. After all, who would want to marry off their princess to a gangster?

This refusal by the king enraged Udayanan. So, he raided the palace, and abducted the princess. He threw her into prison and gave her one month to make up her mind to marry him or face death. The soldiers of the Pandya king could not find out where the princess was hidden and also, they had no clue as to whether she was alive or dead.

One night, in the dream of the princess, Lord Sastha appeared and informed her that she would soon be rescued and He Himself would take birth as her son.

At the same time, the Lord also appeared in the dream of Jayanthan who was at Ponnambalamedu. He indicated the location of the prison and instructed Jayanthan to rescue the princess and marry her so that He could take birth as their son.

While Udayanan and his gang were traveling through the mountain routes collecting booty, Jayanthan made a lightning attack on the guards at the prison where the princess was kept and set the princess free. But since the princess was missing for more than 21 days from the palace, the royal family had considered her to be dead and performed all her last rites.

Eventually, as per the directions of Lord Sastha, Jayanthan married the princess and they settled in an inaccessible forest region (near the present Ponnambalamedu), engaging in intense penance and meditation. They earnestly prayed to Lord Dharma Sastha for a son who would be able to slay Udayanan and rebuild the Sabarimala Temple.

Soon, a child was born to them on 14-01-1095. He was named Aryan. Aryan is one of Lord Sastha’s well-known names. Aryan was trained in fields of spiritual, science and military art including warfare by his able father Jayanthan. Jayanthan’s objective was to bring up Aryan in perfect military discipline with sufficient background in spiritual matters. Aryan was exceptionally brave and intelligent for his age.

When his parents thought that the time was ripe for Aryan to be sent to his own palace, all details about his birth and up-bringing were written in a letter addressed to the king of Pandalam. Aryan was sent to his uncle’s palace with the letter.

The king was overjoyed to know that his sister was alive and such a divine looking young boy was his nephew! In fact, when the information spread, all the people were delighted by this wonderful news.

The king was greatly impressed by the military training Aryan had undergone under the tutelage of his father. He seemed to possess extra-ordinary faculties. So, the king made him a chief in his army and gave him all powers even though the boy was barely into his teens. He was given the name ‘Aryan Kerala Varman’ and addressed as ‘Ayyan’ or ‘Ayyappan’.

In spite of being in a luxurious palace amidst all worldly things, Ayyappan often sought solitude and seclusion at Sabarimala. He regularly went there and meditated, contemplating on the mission for which he had taken birth.

Once King Manivikrama Pandya of the Poonjar kingdom was attacked by Udayanan’s dacoits while he was travelling via Vandiperiyar. Suddenly, a boy of about fourteen years came riding on a wild elephant which he had tamed and chased away the dacoits and told Manivikrama to go home in peace. The boy was none other than Ayyappan who was roaming in the jungles.

The time had now come for completing Ayyappan’s life mission. So, he set about meeting the kings at Kayangulam, Ambalappuzha, Chertala, Alangad and the Pandya Kingdom.

The kings were very happy to assist Ayyappan. The king at Kayangulam offered warriors from all the ‘Kalaris’ in his region. (Kalarippayat is the martial art of Kerala and the place where it is taught is called Kalari).

Before Ayyappan left Kayangulam, news came that a pirate by name Vavar was attacking the people of the coastal areas. With the help of the minister of the Kayangulam Raja, Ayyappan defeated Vavar both in body and mind and Vavar became his disciple.

Ayyappan’s army now included Kochu Kadutha, the master swordsman, Talappara Mallan and Talappara Villan, the expert archers and of course, Vavar.

While Ayyappan was at the Kalari of Chera Mooppan at Chertala selecting warriors, the daughter of Mooppan confessed her love for Ayyappa. Ayyappan on the other hand, gave her such beautiful advice which lifted her mind from the mundane to a spiritual level.

Then with Erumeli as the centre point, the first attack against Udayanan was launched by Ayyappan but it was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Udayanan’s gang abducted Mooppan’s daughter and killed her.

Prior to the next attack, Ayyappan told his army to observe ‘Vratha’ for 56 days before entering Sastha’s Poonkavanam. They all then prayed to Kirata Sastha at Erumeli.

The army was divided into three divisions under the leadership of Kochu Kadutha, Vavar and Talappara Villan/Mallan respectively. They planned to attack Udayanan’s hideout from the North, South and East sides. Ayyappan had the central command. Ayyappan also asked the warriors to disguise themselves in tribal dresses so that they could not be easily identified by the enemy.

Right from the time Ayyappan and his entourage entered the Poonkavanam, Ayyappan’s demeanor totally changed, and he became so serene and blissful. He did not touch any weapon but merely led the army.

Soon the armies raided the hide-outs at Injippara, Karimala and Udumpara and very soon Udayanan was slain by Kochu Kadutha at Karimala Kotta.

With his mission accomplished, Ayyappan led the army to the temple which had been pillaged by Udayanan. He told his men to deposit their arms under a big banyan tree there, as carrying weapons to a place of worship is sacrilege.

After leaving their weapons they went to the temple where Ayyappan’s father Jayanthan was ready with a new ‘Murti’ for installation.

The broken temple had to be renovated for the new deity to be installed. Ayyappan stayed back in the forest engrossed in deep meditation till the renovation of the temple was completed and made ready for re-installation of the new deity and consecration.

On the first day of the month of Makaram (mid-Jan) when the Sun moved from the zodiac of Dhanus to that of Makara, the re-installation of the idol and re-consecration of the Sabarimala temple was ceremoniously conducted by Ayyappan.

Soon after the ceremony was over, a holy flame was seen at Ponnambalamedu and no one saw the Prince Arya Kerala Varman – Ayyappan thereafter.

It was then, that they realized that their beloved Arya Kerala Varman – Ayyappan, who had been their lovable, gentle, merciful prince was none other than the incarnation of Lord Sri Dharma Sastha!

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!!

Maha Skanda Sashti II – Soora Samharam

Please read Part I here before proceeding to read this story.

Skanda, then proceeded to the city of “Seer Alaivai” which is known to us as Tiruchendur. Tiruchendur was by the sea-shore and Soorapadman’s city of Mahendrapuri was located on the sea at a distance.

On his way to Tiruchendur, while coming south from Kailasa, Lord Skanda and his army saw a huge mountain with many tunnels running through it. This was actually not a real mountain, but the magical illusion of the Asura Krauncha who was the assistant of Soorapadman’s brother Tarakasura.

Kraunchasura would transform himself into a mountain and when people unwittingly walked in through a tunnel, the entrances and exits would close, thus trapping all the people inside. Krauncha had once tried to trap sage Agastya and was in turn cursed by the sage to remain in that spot to be killed by Lord Skanda at a later date.

Veerabahu and his army who were going ahead of Lord Skanda happened to walk into the tunnel pathways of the mountain and in a few minutes the entrances and exits closed, trapping them inside the mountain.

When Lord Skanda came to know of this he was furious. He destroyed the mountain which was shattered to pieces killing the Asura, thus releasing Veerabahu and the other warriors.

Tarakasura, who was shocked by this action of Skanda, started attacking him and he also became a prey to the spear of Lord Skanda.

Skanda then proceeded to Tiruchendur and camped on the sea-shore.

Following due protocol, he first sent Veerabahu as a messenger to Soorapadman, requesting him to set free the Devas and return their city and belongings failing which he would have to face war.

Soorapadman was drunk with excessive arrogance and power. He did not even offer a seat to Veerabahu. Veerabahu, however, manifested a wonderful throne by the grace of Skanda and sat in front of him and conveyed the message. The incident slightly shook Soorapadman but he did not take it seriously.

In the meanwhile, the news of Tarakasura’s demise reached them and Soorapadman’s brother Simhamukhan realized that oppressing the young boy-like Lord Skanda was going to be disastrous. He tried to make his brother understand.

“Brother!” he said. “I think it is not wise to provoke this young man. He has single-handedly destroyed Krauncha and our brother Taraka. We also risk losing our lives if we fight with him. So…”

“Stop it Simhamukha!” said Soorapadman. “Are you not ashamed to talk to me thus? What happened to your valour and courage? What makes you shudder at the sight of that young inexperienced boy huh? Have we not won over so many kings and others who were way more experienced than this young fellow? What happened to you? Come to your senses!”

Simhamukhan tried once again to reason that it was Soorapadman who should be coming to his senses but could not convince his elder brother to surrender.

With Veerabahu’s peace effort bearing no fruitful result, the war started. Lord Skanda with all his warriors fought for six continuous days.

Soorapadman used many tactics and magic in the war in his effort to frighten Lord Skanda. He assumed the forms of the Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. He transformed himself many fierce animals and birds. He kept appearing and vanishing from near and afar with thunderous roaring laughter. He created illusionary darkness, thunder, fire and lightning using different weapons all the while.

However, Lord Skanda was unfazed and showed his magnificent Viswaroopam in which the whole universe was contained. The figure was so fearful that for a moment, Soorapadman paid obeisance to the Lord. However, the next moment Skanda was back to his old form and Soorapadman forgot who he was fighting with and continued his fight.

First Simhamukhan was killed. It was followed by the death of Banu Gopan and Agni Mukhan, the sons of Soorapadman. Almost all the Asuras were killed. As Soorapadman was in despair, he went and met his mother Maya.

Being a sorceress, she advised him to get some herbs from the Mandara hill. As soon as the herbs were brought, the fragrance gave life to all the dead Asuras and the fight resumed.

The next day Skanda had to act fast. It was the sixth day of fighting. He took up the Paasupata and in lightning speed killed all the Asuras.

Soorapadman under tremendous pressure, now transformed himself into a huge mango tree which sprung from the middle of the sea.

Skanda aimed and threw his “Vel” and in an instant, had split open the tree into two. One part of the tree turned into a fierce huge peacock and the other turned into an aggressive cock of a massive size. Both the birds tried to pounce on Lord Skanda and attack him. But the very glance of the Lord Skanda turned them into meek birds and the peacock submitted himself to Lord Skanda as his vehicle and the cock merged with his flag.

The war was over. The Devas were extremely grateful and thanked Lord Skanda. Lord Indra offered the hand of Deivaanai, his beautiful daughter and Lord Skanda married her at Tirupparankunram.

This victory of good over evil is celebrated on the Maha Skanda Sashti.

The Skanda Sashti festival is celebrated by most of the devotees of Lord Kartikeya with great fervor and devotion especially in the Southern part of Bharat and at the temples of Muruga (especially in the six abodes – Arupadaiveedu). The celebration is grandest at Tiruchendur where the incident is said to have happened and on the sixth day, the war between the Asura brothers and Lord Skanda and the Soora Samharam (vanquishing of Soorapadman) is enacted on the sea-shore, witnessed by thousands of devotees. The celebration concludes with the marriage of the Lord Skanda on the next day.

Let us all propitiate Lord Skanda on this day and receive his blessings!

Tidbits:

  • The legend of Lord Skanda is narrated with slight differences in the northern and southern parts of Bharat.
  • The version in North India does not mention Tarakasura and Soorapadma.
  • The versions in Southern India especially in Tamil Nadu according to Kanda Puranam and Kandar Kali Venba and other accounts are similar.
  • In Ramayana, Valmiki narrates to Sri Rama and Lakshmana, the story of Lord Skanda.
  • In the Gita, Lord Krishna says, “SenAninAm aham skandah” meaning, “Of all the war commanders, I am Skandah”.
  • The ritual of Lord Skanda receiving the spear (VEL) from Parvati Maa is celebrated with great fervor in the Murugan temples in Tamilnadu on the fifth day of the Sashti festival.
  • The temple at Sikkal in Nagapattinam district holds special significance for this ritual and even on this day, it is said that the Murti of the Lord perspires when the VEL is given by his mother. This festival is witnessed by thousands of people every year.
  • There is the Parvati Kumaraswamy temple at Krauncha Giri near Bellary. This temple is said to be built in the 7th to 8th century by the Badami Chalukyas.

Maha Skanda Sashti I – The birth of Lord Skanda

Happy to narrate the story of Lord Kartikeya on this day of the Maha Skanda Sashti.

Maha Skanda Sashti denotes the sixth day following Amavasya (No-moon day) which happens after Deepavali. This day is celebrated by the followers of Lord Kartikeya in a grand manner. The celebrations start on the first day after Amavasya and culminate on the sixth day (Shashti) and this is celebrated as Maha Skanda Sashti.

What is the significance of Maha Skanda Sashti? It is on this day that Lord Skanda killed Soorapadma, a dreaded Asura, and restored peace to heaven. This is the story is narrated in two parts of which this is part I.

Skanda, Muruga, Kartikeya, Shanmukha, Kumara, Mahasena are all the
various names of this handsome second son of Lord Shiva who is also the commander of the Army of the Devas.

Long long ago, there lived a demon king Asurendra with his wife Mangalakesi. They had a daughter by name Maya. Maya was a sorceress. She married Rishi Kashyapa and they had three sons and a daughter. The first son was Soorapadman, the second one was Simhamukhan and the third one was Taarakasuran. The daughter was Ajamukhi. The three sons, though strong and valiant, had mostly demonic qualities of wanting to subjugate others. They wanted to gain extraordinary power and strength to do so. Therefore, Soorapadman decided to perform penance to propitiate Lord Shiva and get boons from him.

Accordingly, Soorapadman started to meditate upon Lord Shiva and went on to perform ‘Ghor Tapasya’ subjecting himself to tortures, surrendering food, drink and sleep and constantly chanting the name of the Lord. Lord Shiva was pleased and appeared before Soorapadman and offered him a boon as a reward for his severe penance.

Soorapadman wanted the gift of immortality while the Lord told him
it was not possible.

 “Then” said Soorapadman, “Let me and my siblings be destroyed only by your offspring”

Lord Shiva had lost his wife Sati and not being able to bear the separation was living the life of a recluse, immersed in deep meditation. Soorapadman who was aware of this, thought that Lord Shiva would never be involved with worldly things and keeping this in mind, asked his boon.

Lord Shiva granted the boon and Soorapadman was exhilarated.

Soorapadman happily accepted the boon and went away to his brothers and narrated the boon as he had received.

“We are as good as immortal!” he told his brothers and mother. “Come on! Let us rule the earth!”

And they went about all over the earth destroying everyone who would not submit to them. Soon, they found pleasure in torturing and killing people for fun. Everywhere there was fear and chaos and people were terrorized by the actions of these brothers. This went on for years together.

Now, the brothers wanted to rule the heaven as well. “Come on, let us capture the Devas and make them our slaves! Hahahahaha………” commanded Soorapadma, laughing thunderously.

The brothers took their armies and went on a rampage to Amaravati, the capital of Indra destroying everything that came in their way. Innocent people and their properties were destroyed mercilessly on the way. On reaching Amaravati, the brothers fought a bloody battle with the Devas and defeated them all.

Soorapadman ordered the divine architect Viswakarma to build for him the most opulent palace ever, on the surface of the sea. Viswakarma had to oblige out of fear and this place was named by Soorapadman as Mahendrapuri.

All the Devas including, Vayu, Agni, Varuna and even Indra’s son Jayantha were brought to Mahendrapuri and treated like slaves by the brothers. They were denied a respectable living and were asked to do all household chores. The Devas were facing great difficulty and it was indeed a very bad time for them.

The Devas, sneaked to each other secretly and consulted amongst themselves as to how to get out of the predicament.

“Let us meet Lord Shiva” said someone to Indra.

“Better not meet him. Don’t you know the fate of Kamadeva when he
tried to disturb Lord Shiva?” said Indra.

Kamadeva had been burnt to ashes earlier when he had tried to distract Lord Shiva from his meditation.

“But that was long back and he was restored” chipped in another Deva. “Now Lord Shiva is happily married to Parvati Maa and he will surely bless us.”

“Ok, I will try” said Indra and one day taking a few of the Devas, he stealthily went and met Lord Shiva and cried out his woes and the troubles faced by all of them under the rule of Soorapadman and his brothers.

Shiva heard him patiently and decided it was time for decimating the three brothers.

And as the Devas stood there, they witnessed a spectacular sight.

Six effulgent sparks of fire emanated from the third eye of Lord Shiva. The sheer fiery nature of the sparks was frightening. The light emanated by the sparks was like a thousand suns. The Devas looked on with great fear.

Lord Shiva then bade Agni and Vayu to carry those sparks and place them in the cool waters of Maa Ganga. The heat emanating from the sparks was so intense that it was extremely difficult for both Vayu and even Agni himself to carry them. They rushed to Maa Ganga and deposited the sparks in her cold waters. But the heat was so very powerful that it was not possible even for Maa Ganga to handle it. Her waters started boiling. So, she in turn, took them all the way to the Sharavana Lake (Sharavana Poigai) at the foothills of the Himalayas. The Shara Vana as the name indicates was a forest of reeds and there
was a lake nearby which was considered a form of Parvati Devi herself. There, Maa Ganga placed the sparks in the water of the pool and lo and behold!

The sparks turned into six beautiful baby boys each lying on a lotus flower. Six maidens by name Krittika maidens happened to be present there and each of them lovingly took one child and nourished them and took great care of them.

When the babies grew into little boys, Lord Shiva appeared there with Parvati.  Parvati was overjoyed to see the beautiful boys and clasped them all together in her arms and kissed them. The bodies of the boys merged into one with six faces and twelve arms. Thereby the boy came to be known as “Shanmukha” or “Shadaanana” meaning six-faced.

So many people had been instrumental in aiding the Avatara of Shiva’s son. Lord Shiva, therefore addressed his son by so many names – born to be an attacker of the enemies, he would be called ‘Skanda’; as he was carried by Maa Ganga, he would be ‘Gaangeya’; as he was born near the Shara Vana (Reed forest), he would be ‘Sharavanabhava; as he was reared by the Krittika maidens, he would be referred to ‘Kartikeya’ and as he would be the commander in chief of the army of the Devas, he would be referred to as Mahasena. He is also called Muruga in Tamil Nadu. ‘Murugu’ in Tamil means beauty.

Parvati then glanced at the baby boy once more and he was transformed to a normal boy with one head. And so handsome was he, that there were no words to describe his beauty. Parvati picked him up and handed him over to Shiva who was seated on Nandi and Skanda was blessed by his father.

Just then, from the Navaratnas (nine gems) on Parvathi’s anklet, there appeared nine ‘Kalikas’ (forms of Kalis). From them appeared nine strong young men and they walked up to Lord Shiva and bowed to him. The leader who was called Veerabahu would be lieutenant to Skanda. The other warriors would fight for Skanda.

Skanda being the superior divine being absorbed all the knowledge there was to be learnt. He was then apprised by the Devas about the troubles they were facing due to the three Asura brothers. Skanda knew that the very mission of his birth was the destruction of the three Asura brothers and their armies.

Lord Shiva blessed Skanda with eleven weapons to fight Soorapadma. Maa Parvati gave all her power in the form of a spear which is called “Vel” (pronounced as Vale in Tamil).

The story continues in Part II which you can read by clicking here.

Kacha and Devayani

This is one story which is etched in my childhood memory and has been in my ‘to narrate’ list for a very long time and so here it is:

The Devas led by Indra, had Brihaspati, who was the son of Sage Angirasa as their Guru. The Asuras, on the other hand had Sage Shukracharya who was the son of Sage Bhrigu as their Guru. Both Brihaspati and Shukracharya were extremely knowledgeable and had a healthy rivalry between them though they had immense respect for each other’s knowledge. This was the time when there were frequent wars between the Devas and Asuras.

 The Asuras had an advantage, that their Guru Shukracharya had the complete knowledge of “Mritsanjeevani Mantra” the key to the science of bringing back the dead to life. He had, due to his great ‘Tapasya’ gained this knowledge from Lord Shiva and he used this to resurrect all the Asuras who died in the wars with Devas. Naturally, the Asuras did not lose manpower and had the same strength every time while the army of the Devas was depleting. This was very disturbing to the Devas.

The King of the Devas, Indra expressed this concern of theirs to their Guru Brihaspati. “We feel they have an unfair advantage” he said bowing to his Guru. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to fight them with our depleting army and we will have to do something about this. How do we gain the knowledge of the Mritsanjeevani Mantra O Guru?” asked he.

Sage Brihaspati thought for a while. Meanwhile the son of Sage Brihaspati, a young lad by name Kacha, was present there overhearing this conversation.

“I will go and learn the Mantra from Guru Shukracharya, father!”  said Kacha.

Kacha was a young, handsome and extremely charming and intelligent boy who was very capable of going and learning the Mantra. Both Indra and Brihaspati were sure of Kacha’s success, if he went.

Sage Brihaspati agreed. Though he was worried to send his son to the dreaded Asura kingdom to learn this knowledge, for Brihaspati, it was commitment to his king which came first before everything else. Therefore, much to the joy of Indra, it was decided to send Kacha to Guru Shukracharya to learn this Mantra.

Kacha travelled to the kingdom of the Asuras as instructed by his father and met Guru Shukracharya.

“O Gurudev, I am the grandson of Sage Angirasa and son of Sage Brihaspati” said Kacha to Shukracharya introducing himself. “I have come here to be your pupil and serve you and learn all that is to be learnt. I promise to serve you with utmost sincerity and will never indulge in anything which will bring a bad name to you. Kindly accept me as your student” he said, with all humility.

Shukracharya was pleased with the humility and sincerity of the lad and the way in which he had openly stated his background and intention. So, he accepted him as his student. “Your father Brihaspati is my friend and I see you as Brihaspati and so I grant you permission to stay in my hermitage and be my pupil” said he.

Kacha was happy that he had been accepted by Guru Shukracharya and started staying in the hermitage. He learnt with great sincerity whatever was taught to him. He was otherwise also very dutiful, looking after his Guru and preparing the things needed for his meditation, fire sacrifice, collecting flowers for worship etc. He also tended to the cattle belonging to the Ashram leaving no worries for his Guru.

Shukracharya had a very beautiful daughter Devayani. She was very dear to her father and she did not have her mother. Her mother Jayanti had left Shukracharya and gone away years before. So Shukracharya had always wanted to bring up his daughter without she realizing her mother’s absence. This resulted in Devayani being a spoilt child, pampered to the greatest extent and getting whatever she wanted, with no questions asked.

Devayani was almost the same age as Kacha when he came and joined as her father’s pupil and therefore she developed a special liking for him. Kacha was also devoted to her and took good care of her as his Guru’s daughter while being fully focused on his studies and the purpose for which he had come there. He never got distracted from his mission and was waiting to learn the Mritsanjeevani Mantra from the Guru which seemed to be eluding him. Even after long years of study with the Guru, the Guru was open to teach him anything but the Mantra for which he had come. He would see Shukracharya resurrecting dead Asuras with the Mantra being silently chanted by Shukra, but Kacha had to be initiated and learn it properly for it to be used by him.

Slowly the Asuras somehow guessed the purpose of Kacha’s studying under their Guru. They had their doubts even as Kacha had joined Shukracharya years back, but could not bring themselves to tell their Guru what he should do. They were afraid of his wrath and had kept quiet. But now, they were discussing their fears amongst themselves and decided to do away with Kacha before he learnt the Mantra. They knew his daily routine and so planned to kill him.

Accordingly, once when Kacha had taken the cattle out for grazing into the woods, they stealthily followed him, pounced on him and killed him. They then cut him up and fed the pieces of the body to wolves. In the evening, the cattle returned on their own to the hermitage without Kacha. Devayani was worried.  She waited patiently for some more time, often peering at the entrance to the hermitage, but there was no sign of Kacha. It was time for the evening prayers of the Guru. Fresh water had not been brought for his rituals. The mat was not spread and the lamps not lit. Guru Shukracharya came for his prayers and was puzzled. Kacha, had not for once, been negligent in his duty in all these years.

Just then Devayani came up to him with teary eyes. “Kacha has not come back with the cattle” she said, almost sobbing. “I fear that the Asuras would have harmed him father. Please do something and save him” she went on. “I cannot live without Kacha, dear father. Please save him. My instinct says something has happened to him”.

Shukracharya could not bear to see his darling daughter in tears. He sat down and started to meditate. With his divine power, could see what had happened to Kacha. He immediately visualized Kacha and chanted the Mritsanjeevani Mantra. All the pieces of Kacha’s body came tearing out of the wolves’ bodies and rejoined themselves and lo and behold! Kacha appeared in his charming form at the hermitage. He narrated to the Guru how he had been attacked by the Asuras. Shukracharya called the offenders and sternly warned them against acting in this manner. But Asuras were Asuras, and so after some months, they planned the second attack on Kacha.

This time they wanted to make sure that he was completely decimated and so they killed him, burnt the corpse and mixed the ash in the sea waters. This time again, with the intervention of Devayani, Guru Shukracharya, by chanting the Mritsanjeevani Mantra, collected him from the sea and he came back whole and bowed to his Guru and told him what had been done to him by the Asuras. The Guru reprimanded the Asuras with strong words once again and warned them. However, they would never change their habits.

And the third time, they decided that they would do something so severe that it would be impossible for Kacha to be retrieved. They lay low for some time and when they got an opportunity, they killed Kacha, burnt the corpse, mixed the ash in wine and served it to the Guru. Shukracharya unwittingly drank the wine and now Kacha was inside the Guru’s stomach.

In the evening, once again Devayani noticed that Kacha had not returned and when she told her father, he in his deep meditation, realized that Kacha was in his stomach. He told Devayani. Devayani who was pleading with her father to bring Kacha back, was in a total dilemma. She knew that if Kacha came out of her father’s stomach, her father would die. She loved both the men dearly and wanted both of them to live.

Now there was only one way, that was, to impart the Mritsanjeevani Mantra to Kacha so that Kacha could resurrect Guru Shukracharya, once he came out of Guru Shukracharya’s stomach. Guru Shukracharya also had developed a soft corner for this boy who had been so loyal, sincere and dutiful. So, with no other option left, he taught him the Mantra and explained the method in which it had to be chanted to resurrect the dead. Kacha heard and learnt the Mantra staying inside the stomach of Sage Shukracharya. The Guru then chanted the Mantra in the prescribed manner praying for Kacha to come back alive. Kacha came out tearing the stomach of Shukracharya. Shukracharya now lay dead, much to the shock of Devayani.

Kacha could have walked away back to his kingdom, but a gem of a person, that he was, he knew that there was no repentance for betrayal of the trust of anyone, especially of the teacher who had given him everything. He immediately meditated and chanted the Mantra the way it was taught to him, so that Guru Shukracharya would come back to life and slowly the Guru rose up, having been resurrected by the Mantra chanted by Kacha.

The plan of the Asuras had badly backfired.

Shukracharya felt so ashamed that he vowed not to touch any intoxicant from then on. Further he also forbade Brahmins from touching liquor, due to his own nasty experience.

Devayani was ecstatic as both the people she loved dearly were alive now. Kacha wanted to take leave of his Guru and go back to Indra’s kingdom as his mission was over now and the Guru gladly gave leave to him.

Devayani now took the opportunity to express her love for Kacha and requested him to marry her. Kacha however, refused her proposal. “I have come out of your father’s stomach” he said. “Just as a part of your father is in you, he is in me also and hence I can only look upon you as my sister and it is not proper for me to marry you”. The firmness and decisiveness in Kacha’s voice made Devayani extremely furious. She had never been refused anything before in her life and here was a man who was telling her “No”.

“I curse you!” she said, her face red with anger. “I curse you that this knowledge you have acquired will be of no use to you!”

Kacha remained calm. “I cannot swerve from the code of conduct Devayani” said he. “I had always considered my Guru as my father and more so now, since I have come out of him. Therefore, I cannot even think of you as my wife. Well, if this knowledge I have learnt will not be of use to me, I will teach it to others so that they can benefit. I am leaving!”

So saying he bowed to his Guru Shukracharya, who did not say a word against what Kacha had said, for he knew the worth of Kacha whose esteem had gone up multifold in his eyes.

Devayani eventually went on to marry King Yayati which is another interesting story I will narrate sometime later.

The Legend of Deepavali

Today we celebrate Deepavali – the joyous festival of lights.

Deepavali or Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated on the 14th day of the waning moon of the seventh month in the Hindu calendar. This month is known by the names Aippasi / Ashvayuja / Ashwin.

This festival is one of the most ancient festivals celebrated all over Bharat (India) with no distinction whatsoever. Taking bath with hot water with oil smeared on one’s head early in the morning, yummy sweets, savouries and delicacies, new clothes, prayers to the goddess of wealth, fireworks, feasts and meeting friends and family are all the beautiful images one conjures up at the mention of the name “Deepavali”.

However, along with the slight cultural differences in the above rituals, in the South of the country, the victory of Krishna over Narakasura is celebrated as Deepavali while in the North the celebration is for Lord Rama returning from Sri Lanka after successfully vanquishing Ravana.

Whatever the legend be, the core is, celebration of victory of Dharma over Adharma, or good over evil.

While the Ramayana is very popular, the story of Narakasura’s defeat by Lord Krishna is not so popular and hence this attempt to know the story. This story is narrated in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Naraka, it is said was born to Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth) from a drop of sweat which fell from the brow of Lord Varaha (Sri Mahavishnu in his earlier incarnation), as he retrieved the earth from the clutches of Hiranyaksha.

Naraka grew up to be a very arrogant and powerful demonic king (hence Naraka Asura) and ruled over Pragjyotishapura. He had done many penances and obtained boons to become invincible. And as the saying goes “Power corrupts”, this inexhaustible power he had obtained through boons, corrupted his mind so much that he started harassing the gods in their realm. He snatched the ear rings of the mother of the Gods, Adithi and imprisoned thousands of young women in his palace. He had also snatched the umbrella, which was a part of the insignia of Lord Varuna. He had looted and plundered so many things from Indra’s capital Amaravathi.

Indra, the king of gods was no longer able to bear this harassment and complained to Lord Krishna to put an end to this nonsense and Krishna agreed. He flew with his wife Satyabhama on his royal mount, the Garuda and reached Pragjyotishapura.

Now, this city was protected by so many layers by Naraka. Firstly, the city was surrounded by tall mountains which were practically un-scalable. The city was also covered by a thick net of Pashas (sturdy ropes), after which one had to cross barriers of water and fire. Further Naraka had appointed the demon Mura to guard his city.

Lord Krishna flying on the Garuda the invincible bird, broke the mountains with his club and entered the city. He used his discus, the Sudarsan Chakra to destroy the layers of water and fire and with his sword he cut open the net of ropes and suddenly Mura who was relaxing heard the deafening sound of the Panchajanya, Lord Krishna’s conch. He was taken by surprise as he had never imagined anyone could even attempt to attack this impregnable city.

Mura was also a terrible demon with five heads and ten arms and possessed fearsome weapons like the trident and mace. Krishna soon proved that he was more than an equal to Mura and finally when Mura ran towards Krishna with upraised arms to take him on, Krishna’s discus killed Mura and hence the name Murari for Krishna.

Now, Mura had seven sons and all of them came out, enraged at this action of Krishna, along with Pita, the commander in chief of Narakasura. But very soon, they also joined their father.

Now Naraka had to come out and he came with his impressive army of noble elephants resembling Indra’s elephant Airavata and it was a sight to behold!

Naraka fought with all his might and courage but was not able to withstand the might of Krishna and his mount, Garuda, and soon his army of elephants were either wounded or killed. The death of Narakasura followed, carried out by the Sudarsan Chakra on Lord Krishna’s command.

There was great jubilation and on the request of Naraka’s mother, Bhoomi Devi, Bhagadatta, the son of Naraka was crowned king. All the stolen things were placed at the feet of Lord Krishna which were returned by the Lord to the respective owners.

This day when the shroud of darkness over Pragjyotishapura was destroyed by the arrival and subsequent victory of Lord Krishna over Naraka or Bhoumasura as he was called, and good prevailed over evil, is celebrated as Deepavali.

This is the legend of Deepavali in the Southern part of Bharat.

Lingodbhava

Hello Readers, I am penning this story after a long gap today to celebrate the eighth anniversary of Storibuzz.in today.

Thank you all for reading the stories and giving me your valuable comments which I cherish. It feels so nice to know that the blog is being useful to many and serving the purpose with which I started it.

Mahashivaratri is around the corner and I am offering this story of Lord Shiva today as an offering to Him.

All of us would have seen the murti of ‘Lingodbhava’ in almost all Shiva temples. He is usually stationed right behind the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Shiva, on the outer wall exactly behind where the Linga is on the inside.

Lingodbhava is Linga Udhbhava which means, emergence of a Linga.

Now, what is this story or from where did this Linga emerge? This is the legend we shall see today.

Once upon a time, in heaven, there was a dispute between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu on who was superior. They could not arrive at a conclusion and decided to ask Shambhu (Another name for Lord Shiva) and so they went to Him.

As they mentioned about their disagreement, Lord Shiva disappeared and a huge column of fire appeared. It looked like a huge Lingam and was so huge that there did not seem to be an end to it nor could anyone fathom the beginning. The voice of Lord Shiva was heard, asking Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma to find the beginning or end of the column of fire. Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu knew that this fire in a Linga form, was Lord Shiva.

Lord Brahma said to Lord Vishnu, “I will search the end of this Linga of Fire” and he assumed the form of a swan and started flying upward.

Lord Vishnu had no option but to find the beginning or origin of the Linga. The Linga was going beneath the ground on the earth and no one knew from where it had begun. So Lord Vishnu chose to assume the form of a wild boar and with its horns, the boar dug the earth furiously around the Linga and went down little by little hoping to find the beginning of the Linga.

As he went down further and further it was of no avail. He was extremely tired and he was nowhere near the beginning.

Lord Brahma on the other hand also could not find the end of the fire column and he was also getting tired. But he was too egoistic to go and admit to Lord Vishnu that he had been unsuccessful. He thought that if Lord Vishnu had managed to find the beginning of the Linga, Lord Vishnu would be considered supreme.

He was pondering as to what to do when he suddenly saw a Ketaki flower falling from up. Ketaki flower is called as “Thazampoo” in Tamizh. Brahma stopped the Ketaki flower and demanded where it was coming from. The flower replied that it was falling from the head of Lord Shiva.

“Aha!” thought Lord Brahma to himself. “This is an opportunity for me to establish my supremacy. Let me try.” Thinking so he told the flower about his challenge with Lord Vishnu and tried to convince the flower to be his partner in crime.

“You come with me to Lord Vishnu and tell him that you are a witness to my finding the end of the Lingam. Lord Vishnu will believe you since you adorn Lord Shiva’s locks” said he, knowing fully well that it was wrong to cheat like that.

The Ketaki flower was reluctant at first, but agreed to do as Lord Brahma said, and it descended along the column of fire along with Lord Brahma. When they reached the ground Lord Vishnu was puzzled as he saw the Ketaki flower with Lord Brahma.

Lord Brahma uttered a lie to Lord Vishnu without any shame. “Lord Vishnu, I have seen the end of this Lingam, which is Lord Shiva’s head” said he with a proud smile. Pointing to the Ketaki flower, he said, “I have obtained this flower from the ‘Shiras’ (head) of Lord Shiva”. The flower nodded in agreement.

Lord Vishnu, who did not even imagine that Lord Brahma would try to cheat, immediately folded his hands in obeisance to Lord Brahma. “I accept your supremacy Lord Brahma” he said with utmost humility and was about to bow his head when a booming voice emerged from the huge Lingam.

“Stop!!” said the voice.

As Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma looked around bewildered, Lord Shiva emerged from the fiery Lingam, his eyes red with anger.

He was enraged as Lord Brahma had uttered a lie and was trying to cheat Lord Vishnu.

Looking at Lord Brahma Lord Shiva said in a thundering voice, “You, Brahma! You have cheated! How dare you tell a lie? You could not find the end of the Lingam but you lied to Lord Vishnu? I curse you that you will never be worshipped in temples by the people of the world. This is a punishment for your conceit!”

Turning to the Ketaki flower which was trembling with fear, Lord Shiva said, “And you, Ketaki! You also agreed to the words of Brahma and jointly cheated Vishnu? I am disgusted with your behavior! I curse you that hence forth you shall not be used for worshipping me! You don’t deserve to be in my company!”

Then, he turned to Lord Vishnu with a smile and held his hands and said lovingly, “Hari, you will be loved and worshipped by mankind as they worship me!”

From then, there are no temples for Lord Brahma and the Ketaki flower is not used in the worship of Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu, on the other hand is equally loved and worshipped as Lord Shiva is, in this world!

This is the story depicted by the ‘Lingodbhava’ murti in Shiva temples. Do not forget to observe Him when you go to a Shiva temple this Shivaratri.

Laaye Sanjeevan Lakhan Jiyaye

Pleasure to narrate the tale of Hanuman who brought the ‘Sanjeevani’ herb
also called ‘Mritasanjeevi’ along with the ‘Oushadi Parvata’ (Mountain with herbs) to bring Lakshmana back to life in the battle with Ravana.

In the words of Goswami Tulsidas in his Hanuman Chaleesa, “Laaye Sanjeevan Lakhan Jiyaye”

The way in which this pandemic is putting people down, we surely need
Hanumanji’s grace to revive us as he revived the scores of the Vanaras who had succumbed in the war and Lakshmana, without whom Rama could not have ever completed his life’s mission.

It is very interesting to observe here that in Ramayana, the ‘Vayu Putra
Hanuman’ has been the ‘Prana’ of the epic, as he saved the lives of Sita Mata,
Lakshmana and Bharata!

When Hanuman found Sita Mata in the Ashok Vatika, contemplating suicide as she was steeped in agony having lost hope of finding Rama, Hanuman was there just in time and saved her life. Similarly, when Rama and Lakshmana fainted in the battlefield and once again when Lakshmana was wounded and lost consciousness, Hanuman brought the ‘Sanjeevani’ and saved them. Again, when there was delay in Rama reaching Nandigram and Bharata had already prepared to give up his life, there came Hanuman and saved his life.

Did you know that the ‘Oushadi Parvata’ with life-saving herbs was brought
by Hanuman not once but twice from the Himalayas? We shall see how that
happened.

When the mighty Kumbhakarna was killed by the Rama, Ravana was devastated. He could not believe the words of his messengers. He fainted and fell down filled with shock and pain.

When he woke up with teary eyes, Ravana’s another son Trishiras consoled
him. He offered to go and fight the army of Rama and sought permission. He was joined by the other sons of Ravana named Devantaka, Narantaka and Atikaya (who resembled Kumbhakarna). The young blood in them was itching to go and fight.

After all, they were all well-trained warriors and could not resist fighting if given a chance.

Ravana felt that they might win and therefore permitted them to go with his
blessings. They took a huge army and went to fight and as expected there was a dreadful encounter. However, Hanuman killed Trishiras. Devantaka and Narantaka were slain by Angada.

Atikaya who was over-confident went straight to Rama and said that he would fight only with someone ‘worthy enough’. Lakshmana was furious and challenged him and finally killed him.

Ravana was extremely worried at the turn of events. Due to grief and anxiety
he kept fainting and waking up again and again, his mind filled with confusion.

Indrajit heard of the happenings and came to Ravana.

“Don’t worry dear father!” he said. “There is no need to be dejected while I
am alive. No one has ever defeated me. I will go immediately and fight with the enemy and annihilate them.”

Saying thus, he immediately went and performed fire oblations as was his
practice each time he went out for battle. He then invoked the ‘Brahmastra’ to his possession, kept it in his chariot and worshipped the chariot along with the bows and arrows.

He then got on to his chariot and flew in the sky with the chariot, provoking
the Vanaras to fight him. The Vanaras fought valiantly but Indrajit rained
deadly arrows on them injuring almost everyone including Sugriva and Angada. Many Vanaras died.

Indrajit then proceeded to where Rama and Lakshmana were and hid himself in the sky and started raining arrows on them both.

Rama knew that Indrajit was using the ‘Astra’ given by Brahma and hence advised Lakshmana to bear the onslaught so that Indrajit would leave the place and damage to their army would be reduced. So, both the brothers submitted themselves to the weapons and fainted, fell down and lost their consciousness. As Rama had anticipated, Indrajit thought that they had been felled and he returned to the city shouting in glee.

The only persons who were not at all affected by Indrajit’s weapons were
Hanuman and Vibhishana. But they were so depressed at the turn of events. They went around the field searching for the warriors who had survived the weapons of Indrajit. That was when they found Jambavan injured and lying on the ground.

Jambavan was relieved to hear that Hanuman was unharmed and told Hanuman of the ‘Oushadi Parvata’ which was situated between the Kailasa peak and Rishaba hill on the Himalayas.

“You are the only one” said he, “who can go and get the herbs ‘Mritasanjeevi’ (to bring back to life), ‘Vishalyakarani’ (to heal the wounds), ‘Santanakarani’ (to heal fractures) and ‘Savarnyakarani’ (to restore the skin). These grow on the ‘Oushadi Parvata’. These herbs glow in the dark. Please go immediately and bring them”

Hanuman immediately assumed a gigantic form as he had done while coming to Lanka for the first time. Off he took to the skies, flying at the speed of the wind towards the northern direction. It was as if a massive mountain was flying. Soon he found the ‘Oushadi Parvata’ but could not identify the herbs. In a fit of anger, Hanuman uprooted the mountain in its entirety and carrying it in one hand, flew back to the battlefield in Lanka.

The moment he placed the mountain on the battlefield, the medicinal smell of all the herbs wafted across and all who had swooned and fell into a coma
including Rama and Lakshmana woke up as if, from a trance. All the traces of their wounds had also disappeared.

Interestingly the dead bodies of the Rakshasas had been thrown into the ocean under Ravana’s standing instructions and so no Rakshasa came to life. Hanuman lifted the mountain once again like a child’s play and went back and kept it in its place in the Himalayas and came back to Lanka.

This was the Mission I Sanjeevani.

Now for the Mission II Sanjeevani.

After this, it was the turn of Kumbhakarna’s valiant sons Kumbha and
Nikhumba to fight to death and meet Yama in the hands of Sugriva and Hanuman respectively. The morale of the Vanara army was boosted after the death of these brothers.

Now, Ravana had to send Indrajit again. Indrajit, after his usual fire
rituals decided to fool the army by deceit. He brought in his chariot the ‘Maya Sita’ (Exact Sita-like person created by Maya). He was accosted by Hanuman who believed that it was indeed Sita Mata and was deeply pained and shocked. As Hanuman charged to attack him, Indrajit, with a loud laugh slashed the chest of ‘Sita’ and killed her. Hanuman was shattered and walked away from the battle, feeling utterly miserable that the very reason for whom the battle was on, was killed.

Indrajit was happy to have diverted the attention of the enemy camp as he
had planned a secret ritual at a place called Nikhumbila, on the completion of which, he would become invincible. He proceeded with his followers to
Nikhumbila to start and finish the ritual as early as possible.

When Hanuman came and told Rama of ‘Sita’s’ demise Rama could not bear to hear it and swooned. The army along with Lakshmana who were also in great sorrow at Rama’s state were trying to revive Rama frantically.

It was then, that Vibhishana arrived and on hearing the account from
Hanuman, told them that it would have been a ‘Maya Sita’. He then told them about Indrajit’s ritual which had to be stopped before its completion and urged them to go to Nikhumbila failing which Indrajit would become invincible.

Rama who had now regained his consciousness sent Lakshmana and Hanuman along with the army. They went with Vibhishana to Nikhumbila and interrupted the ritual much to the ire of Indrajit and a fierce battle ensued between Lakshmana and Indrajit. Using the Aindra Astra, Lakshmana killed Indrajit. The whole of the Vanara army and Rama were thrilled at this achievement.

Benumbed with great shock at the death of his invincible son, Ravana swooned and fell. It was just too much for him to bear.

Slowly recovering from the jolt, he then sent some of the last few warriors to
attack Rama’s army. They were also extinguished in no time.

Finally, Ravana came with the last three warriors Mahaparshva, Mahodhara and Virupaksha and started battle with Rama. The three warriors were killed.

Ravana was greatly enraged to see his brother Vibhishana being protected by
Lakshmana and hurled a weapon by name Shakthi at Lakshmana. This weapon never missed its victim.

Before it hit Lakshmana, luckily Rama uttered “May the weapon fail in its vigour and leave Lakshmana unharmed”. Shakthi, though lost its strength, entered the chest of Lakshmana and pierced the ground. Lakshmana fell on the ground bleeding profusely.

Rama was wild with anger at Ravana.  Although Lakshmana was wounded, Rama had to fight. Entrusting Lakshmana to Hanuman and Sugriva he fought with so much fury that Ravana decided to leave the field for the day.

Rama’s grief poured out, now that Ravana had left. Weeping profusely, he
declared that he had no desire to live nor rescue Sita without Lakshmana being alive.

Sushena, the physician, then examined Lakshmana and diagnosed that he was not dead. This was when Hanuman was again requested for the ‘Vishalyakarani’ leaves from the ‘Oushadi Parvata’.

“Hanuman” said Sushena. “You have to bring the Oushadi…”

The ever-ready Hanuman was air borne already. Within moments he reached the Himalayas and impatient as he was, lifted the whole mountain once again in one hand, and was back in Lanka within minutes. Hanuman had assumed such a huge form that the big mountain in his hand looked like a small block of soil.

The moment Hanuman landed and kept the mountain down, Sushena climbed the mountain and took the ‘Vishalyakarani’ leaves and administered the juice in the nostrils of Lakshmana. Lakshmana woke up as if from a trance. He was completely cured and was feeling more energetic than ever. All the other injured Vanaras also were rejuvenated.

Rama was overjoyed at Lakshmana’s revival. Ravana was slain subsequently and the mission of Rama accomplished.

This is how Hanuman saved the warriors by bringing the ‘Sanjeevani’ not once but twice!

Jai Hanuman!!

Shami Tree and Vijayadashami

Today is Vijayadasami, the tenth day following the ‘Nine Nights’ or ‘Navaratri’. This was the day when Goddess Mahishasura Mardhini gained victory over the evil Asura clan, and also Rama’s victory over Ravana. The day is also considered auspicious to start new ventures and for learning.

On this day, in most parts of our country ‘Ayudha Pooja’ is done for tools of work and war, and musical instruments. They are cleaned and decorated with flowers, sandal and ‘kumkum’, and are worshipped. The Shami tree and Goddess Durga are worshipped as well, and the leaves of this tree exchanged among people.

Today’s story relates to this practice of worshipping the tools of work and the worship of the Shami tree on Vijayadashami day.

 In the Mahabharatha, as a result of the Game of Dice played between the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas, the losing side – the Pandavas – were punished to a twelve year exile in the forests, followed by one year of ‘Agyaata Vaasam’ which means living in disguise incognito. A further condition was that if any one of them were to be recognized in public during this one year, they would have to go in exile again for a period of thirteen years.

The Pandavas had to agree to this condition and they, along with Draupadi were roaming in the forests from place to place like nomads for most part of their exile. Some of their hardship was eased when they acquired the ‘Akshaya Patra’ from Lord Surya, which gave them abundant food.

Arjuna spent most of these twelve years acquiring divine weapons like the Paasupata in preparation for the Great War. But he already possessed the great bow ‘Gandeeva’, acquired from Lord Agni. It is said that even the twang of the Gandeeva when the arrows were shot was deadly. The other brothers also had weapons in which they specialized in. Yudhishtira, in addition to his bow ‘Mahendra’, was well versed in fighting with his spear. Bhima’s favourite weapon was his lethal mace and both Nakula and Sahadeva were practiced archers. Their weapons were so well known that even if the Pandavas were in disguise, they could be recognized by the weapons they held.

Now, this was a problem. According to the condition of the Game of Dice, in the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile, if they were recognized, they would have to go back in exile for twelve years. So they had to plan to keep the weapons safely in some place for a year after which they could retrieve them.

Duryodhana had his spies working overtime to find out the plans of the Pandavas and was hell-bent on finding them out when they were in disguise, so that he could send them back for another round of exile into the forest.

The Pandavas had decided that they would enter the Kingdom of Matsyadesha ruled by Virata in different disguises and seek employment with the king there, but the weapons were a problem. They prayed to Lord Krishna, their friend and guide, and there he was.

“What is your worry, dear Yudhishtira?” said the Lord.

“We have decided where to go incognito, but we don’t know what to do with the weapons, dear Krishna” replied Yudhishtira.

Krishna thought for a while and advised him suitably. The Pandavas thanked him and proceeded. On their way to the kingdom of Virata, there was a forest and a burial ground which looked very eerie. There was a Shami tree near the burial ground which had thick foliage. The Shami tree is known as ‘Vanni maram’ in Tamil, ‘Banni’ in Kannada, ‘Jammi’ in Telugu and Shami in other parts of India. This tree is a very versatile tree which has many medicinal properties and serves as fuel (firewood), and the leaves, as nutritious food for livestock. Perhaps because it has so much energy, it is called ‘Vanni’. ‘Vahni’ in Sanskrit means fire.

 The Pandavas took all their weapons and bundled them up in a cloth. Arjuna then took the bundle to the top of the tree and tied it securely to the sturdy branches, which had thick foliage. The parcel resembled a corpse and looked dreadful. Being near a thick forest, there were snakes slithering up and down the tree which made it look all the more fearsome.

Yudhishtira then prayed to Goddess Durga to bless them with success during the ‘Agyaata Vaasam’ and to keep their armaments safe. He sang verses in praise of the Goddess, which has come to be known as ‘Yudhishtira Krutha Durga Stuthi’. It starts with the verse ‘Yashodha Garba Sambhootam, Narayana Vara Priyaam, Nanda Gopa Kule Jaatham, Mangalya Kula Vardhaneem’.

So ardent was his prayer, that the Goddess Durga appeared before him and answered him. She assured him that victory would be theirs and that they would not be recognized while in the kingdom of Virata. Having blessed the Pandavas thus, the Devi disappeared.

The Pandavas then disguised themselves. Yudhishtira disguised himself as Kanka, an expert in administration and in the game of dice and joined the King Virata’s court. Bhima disguised himself as Ballava and joined the king’s royal kitchen as a chef. Arjuna used a curse he had earlier begotten (but could use at his will), and transformed himself into Brihannala, the eunuch and went to teach music and dance to the ladies in the palace. Nakula, disguised as Granthika, joined as a caretaker of horses in the King’s stables. Sahadeva disguised himself as Tantipala and joined as a caretaker of the cows in the palace, and Draupadi, disguised as Sairandhri, took up a job as maid to queen Sudeshna, King Virata’s wife.

The Pandavas lived up to the disguise successfully through the year, although towards the end, Duryodhana suspected that they might be living in Virata’s kingdom since Virata’s brother in law Keechaka, was killed mysteriously. Duryodhana knew that it would take the might of a person like Bheema to kill Keechaka. The prosperity of the Virata kingdom had also increased in recent times due to the effort of Sahadeva, who was tending to cows in the palace.

 In those days the quality and quantity of the livestock, especially the cows, used to determine the prosperity of a kingdom. This was because cattle was the backbone of the economy. Agriculture was the main occupation and cow dung, cow urine and buttermilk were natural pesticides and fertilizers. Bulls were the only animals used for ploughing the land and cows were the source of milk, curd, butter and ghee apart from giving natural manure. So, whenever a kingdom was attacked, the first objective would be to drive away the cattle to the aggressor’s kingdom.

The period of ‘Agyaat Vaasam’ was coming to an end and there were only two to three weeks left for the exile to come to an end. Duryodhana was desperate to expose the disguise of the Pandavas. So after careful planning, Susharman – a king who had been constantly attacked by Keechaka – was roped in by Duryodhana to attack Virata, considering that Keechaka was dead and gone. Susharman, went with his army and started driving away herds of cattle from Virata’s kingdom to his, and this was reported to Virata. Virata immediately went to war and also took Kanka (Yudhishtra) and Ballava (Bhima) with him. Susharman attacked Virata very fiercely and almost captured him, but on the advice of Yudhishtra, Bhima (Ballava) came to the forefront and captured Susharman alive instead.

While this was going on, Duryodhana came to know that Virata was not in his palace, and went personally to attack the palace. Virata’s son Uttarakumar was there, but he had never faced war in his life and was frightened. Brihannala (Arjuna) was furious and told Uttara Kumar that he would come as his charioteer to fight Duryodhana.

Arjuna then rushed to the Shami tree and to his great relief, the parcel of weapons was intact on the branch. He paid his obeisance to the tree which had borne the weapons for a year, and retrieved his weapons, taking them back to the palace. This was the day of Dashami, after Navaratri. Uttarakumar mounted the chariot with Arjuna as his charioteer, and went out to fight with Duryodhana, but the fighting was mostly by Arjuna! When he took out the Gandeeva, Duryodhana recognized Arjuna and was momentarily ecstatic, but to his dismay, he found that the thirteen years were over one day before. He retreated hastily and the war was thus won.

 The Pandavas felt that the Shami tree had bestowed energy on the weapons and thereby they were victorious. It is said that Arjuna took a vow to worship the Shami tree every year on this day. Therefore the Shami tree is worshipped on this day and so also, all tools of work and weaponry.

There is also a belief that since ‘Vijaya’ (Arjuna was also known as Vijaya) retrieved his weapons on this Dashami day and attained ‘Vijaya’ (Victory), the day is known as Vijaya Dashami.

In some states of our country, people gift Shami leaves to each other on this day, as they believe the leaves are worth their value in gold and will bring prosperity. This practice is prevalent in Maharashtra and Karnataka, in particular.

The kings of Mysore used to take their Royal Sword in a grand procession on this day to the Shami tree which they call ‘Banni’ tree and pray to the Shami tree and the Goddess Chamundeswari (Durga). This practice is continued even now and the Dussehra procession culminates in the Banni Mantapa.

Even as I am writing this, I am witnessing the Mysuru Dusshera procession on TV!

Ganesha and the Moon

Greetings to my readers on Ganesha Chaturthi!

Today is Ganesha’s birthday and it is celebrated on the Chaturthi (Fourth) day of the waxing moon in the month of Bhadrapada.

If you have observed, the moon is very prominent on this day and many are prompted to see the moon even if they do not want to.

But why would they not want to see the moon on Chaturthi? Let us see the story behind this.

Ganesha is the cherubic young son of Shiva and Parvati and he is extremely fond of goodies like Modak, Vada, Laddus and fruits like Jamun, Guava, Wood-apple and Sugarcane, to name a few items.

Once, on His birthday, Ganesha had visited the houses of people who had invited him and had a whole lot of sweets and fruits till his tummy was full or rather over full.

He was, with great difficulty trying to walk back to his place and His gait and expressions were funny since He was plump. As he trudged along, He tripped on a small stone and fell headlong. The sudden impact made His body roll for some distance. As He hurriedly picked Himself up, there was the loud sound of scornful laughter from the sky.

A startled Ganesha looked up to see who was laughing at Him and he saw Chandra, the handsome Moon laughing loudly at him. Chandra always had the arrogance of being very handsome. Ganesha was short and rotund and his belly was so round and big (Lambodhara) and He was moving so very clumsily and slowly and when He tripped and fell, Chandra could not contain his laughter.

Ganesha wanted to teach Chandra a lesson for the haughtiness he had exhibited.  

He looked at him and pronounced a curse.

“You who are blinded by the pride of your beauty shall lose your sheen and be as dark as the night sky!” he said.

Only then Chandra realized the gravity of the mistake he had committed. And by then he had started to lose his brightness. Ganesha had started to move on.

“Please, please, O Lord, please do not curse me thus! I did not realise I was making fun of you. Please forgive me and remove your curse”

Ganesha just did not hear and moved on.

Chandra did not leave Him and kept on pleading with Him. He really repented his mistake and was genuinely praying to Ganesha.

 Now, there was very little light as Chandra was losing his brightness.

The celestial beings were alarmed. There was going to be total darkness henceforth on all nights. This had to be reversed. They also joined with Chandra and pleaded on his behalf.

Ganesha’s heart melted at the sight of all the beings pleading with Him. After all, the sole purpose of punishment was to arrest Chandra’s conceit. And now, it seemed Chandra had realized his folly.

Ganesha stopped. “Okay, I forgive you Chandra” he said. “The curse however cannot be removed fully.”

Chandra was alarmed and looked pleadingly to Ganesha.

“You shall wane for fifteen days and wax for fifteen days!” pronounced Ganesha. “And anyone who looks at you on the day of Bhadrapada Chaturthi would be subject to mental torture arising out of false allegations. They will get my blessings if they pray to me though”

So saying Ganesha walked away and the moon has been waxing and waning since then. People shudder to look at the moon on Chaturthi days especially in the month of Bhadrapad.

 It is said that even Lord Krishna was not spared of this. He was falsely accused of stealing the Syamantaka Gem and after a lot of suffering, prayed to Ganesha to get back His mental peace.

Why Durva grass or Arugampul is dear to Lord Ganesha…

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, one of the largest festivals celebrated in our country with lot of fervour and grandeur and I am going to narrate the story of how the Durva grass, called Arugampul in Tamil became dear to Lord Ganesha. You must have noticed that however much Ganesha is decorated with costly ornaments made of gold, silver and precious stones, a garland of the simple Durva grass always makes its way to adorn the Lord as it is said to be dear to Him.There are more than one legend on this aspect of Durva being dear to Lord Ganesha. This story which I am going to narrate, is only one of them.

Before coming to the story, some information on Durva grass or Arugampul which is also called Bermuda Grass. This grass grows in all the warm climates in the world and is used in the sports fields as it recovers quickly from damages. It was named Bermuda Grass by the Americans probably because it arrived from Bermuda to America. When there is dearth of water, this grass dries up but does not die and when there is water once again, it springs back to its green colour, probably teaching us that we should not lose heart in life’s adversities. Arugampul also has a whole lot of medicinal value whether consumed or used externally. It is used widely in Siddha medicine for treatment of many diseases due to excessive heat in the body, eye problems, purification of blood, skin problems etc. And it is so easily available and affordable for everyone!

Coming to the story, there once lived a demon by name Analasura. “Anala” means ‘heat’ or ‘fiery’ in Sanskrit and Hindi. In Tamil, it is ‘Anal’, both ‘a’s pronounced as in ‘advice’.

And the story goes that this Analasura, true to his name was a demon who emitted fire from his eyes. He had done years of penance to win the favour of Lord Shiva, and had taken the boon of emitting fire from his eyes. And wherever he was, it was unbearable heat due to the fire and he took joy in troubling all the creatures of the earth and heaven by burning them up and destroying their homes and fields with fire. It was becoming worse day by day and the creatures of the earth and heaven were living a troubled life not knowing when they would be attacked by Analasura.

No one dared to go near him as his one glance would burn them to ashes. He had challenged Lord Indra, the ruler of the heaven to come for a combat and Indra, fearing destruction ran away from heaven with all the other celestial beings and Analasura was now occupying the throne of Indra.

Indra was desperate to go back to his kingdom and as advised by his Guru Brihaspati, he along with a delegation of sages, met Ganesha to request him to save them from this plight. “Please, Lord Ganesha, save us from this terrible state”, they pleaded. “No one in heaven and earth have peace and it is only you who can deliver us from this situation”

Ganesha was also aware of the terrible Analasura. He felt pity for the living beings on earth and heaven and promised to intervene. “Go back in peace” He said, “I will take care” The gods and sages left to their hiding place in the jungle where they were living in constant fear of Analasura.

Assuming the form of a small child, Ganesha called Analasura for a duel. Analasura was enraged. “You, a small fellow, are calling me!” he roared with laughter. “I think it is bad time for you. I pity your parents” he said not knowing that it was the child’s parent who had granted him the boon.

“Come on Anala” said Ganesha. “Do not waste my time”.

This enraged Analasura further and he charged at Ganesha, his eyes emitting huge fire balls destroying everything around. Ganesha dodged the fireballs since He was small in size and this made Analasura mad with fury. In a sudden swoop, with his mouth wide open, Analasura attempted to swallow Ganesha but Ganesha being Ganesha took a gigantic form and before Analasura could realize what was happening, Ganesha swallowed him.

That was not the end because, Anala was not to die down so soon. He continued to emit fire balls inside Ganesha’s stomach and was causing severe burning sensation to Ganesha. All the Gods who were witnessing the duel who were happy at Analasura being vanquished, were in despair now, to see Lord Ganesha writhing in pain due to the heat.

Parvathi, Ganesha’s mother applied lot of Sandal on Him but the burning sensation continued. It was nightfall and the moon’s cooling rays even were not enough to soothe Ganesha’s suffering.

As word spread around, Sage Kashyapa collected Durva grass and came to the Lord and offered the grass to Him to eat. He also kept bunches of Durva grass on Ganesha’s head. The moment Lord Ganesha consumed the Durva grass, the burning sensation stopped completely.

Ganesha was immensely pleased and proclaimed that whoever adorns Him with Durva grass would be dear to Him and would be showered with His blessings.

And that is how Durva grass/ Arugampul finds an important place in rituals and worship of Ganesha.

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