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Category: Epics and Itihaasa Page 2 of 5

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.

Chithirai Festival- Kallazhagar comes to Madurai

Chittirai festival happens every year in the month of Chitrai (or Chaitra) at Madurai when the celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai to Lord Sundareswara is celebrated. This is witnessed by thousands of people at Madurai and all over the world.

Earlier in my site, I have written this story under the title “Legend of Madurai”.

As a part of this festival, Lord Azhagar, who resides 20 kilometres away from Madurai, comes and steps into the River Vaigai but does not come and witness the wedding. This act of stepping into the river is celebrated as a great event.

This is the story behind this event.

Azhagar Kovil is a quaint village with a hill situated about 20 kilometres from Madurai. The place is very beautiful, lush with vegetation with the River Silambaar flowing by. Silambaar is also known by the name “Noopura Gangai”. Here Lord Vishnu is known by the name Soundararaja Perumal or Azhagar (the handsome one). It is believed that when Lord Vishnu took the form of Trivikrama and raised his foot to measure the earth, Lord Brahma poured water from his ‘kamandala’ to wash the Lord’s feet and few drops of the water washing the Lord’s anklet fell at this place and this river was born. Hence the name ‘Noopura Gangai’ or “Silambaar”. “Noopur” in Sanskrit means anklet and “Silambu” in Tamil means the same.

Once a sage by name Suthapas, lived in this beautiful place propitiating Azhagar. Suthapas could withhold his breath and stay under water for long and in order not to be disturbed while praying, he used to go deep under the waters of Silambaar and withhold his breath and meditate.

One day, as he was meditating, sage Durvasa was passing by the river with a group of Rishis. Durvasa, with his yogic powers knew that a sage was inside the river and as was his temperament expected the sage to come out and pay obeisance to him, he being so senior.

Suthapas, on the other hand was so deeply engrossed in his prayer that he failed to notice the presence of Durvasa and the other sages on the banks of the river.

Durvasa mistook this as arrogance and cursed the sage.

‘So arrogant you are, to remain under water, you are not fit to be a human being, may you become the frog that you are! Mandooko Bhava! (Become a frog)” cursed the sage in an angry voice.

The voice shook Suthapas and before he could realise what was happening, he noticed that his body was turning to become amphibian.

He rushed to the surface of the river and fell at the feet of the sage. “Pardon me O Great sage! I was deeply meditating on the Lord that I did not realized your presence. Please pardon me for I never intended to disrespect anyone” he pleaded.

The ring of truth in Suthapas’ voice brought Durvasa to his senses. He realized that he had indeed cursed a person without reason. However, it could not be undone immediately. Durvasa prayed for a moment to Sri Narayana and said to Suthapas, “O Suthapas, you will be known as Mandooka Maharishi and you will go to the banks of the Vaigai River and continue your prayer to Sri Narayana. This Azhagar will come to Madurai and relieve you from the curse” So saying he blessed Suthapas and went his way.

Suthapas, now Mandooka slowly moved to a village by name Thenur, near Madurai, by the banks of the Vaigai River and continued his meditation there. After many years, Azhagar came to Madurai. Since he had to pass through forests, he dressed like a bandit it is said and therefore the name “Kalla Azhagar”. The Tamil word for bandit is ‘Kallan”

Kallazhagar came to Madurai with his entourage and blessed Mandooka and relieved him of his curse. He blessed the sage with visions of his ten ‘avatars’.

This festival of Azhagar coming to Thenur was being performed for many years by the Vaishnavites as a separate festival where Kallazhagar used to go from Azhagar Kovil to Thenur and back.

The Chittirai festival with Goddess Meenakshi’s wedding used to be celebrated by the Shaivites at Madurai. Credit goes to the great ruler Tirumalai Nayakkar for combining this Azhagar festival with the Chitrai festival. Nayakkar not only wanted to create bonhomie between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites, but wanted all communities to participate and prosper by this festival by inviting Azhagar to Madurai during the celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi.

He planned this in a beautiful manner and created a beautiful lore for this purpose…

Goddess Meenakshi invites her brother Kallazhagar for her wedding with Lord Sundareswara. Kallazhagar promises to attend and starts from Azhagar Kovil well in advance. But he has the tendency to stay at every place his devotees ask him to stay and bless them and so by the time he reaches the banks of Vaigai, the wedding is over. Goddess Meenakshi and Sundareswara, along with another incarnation of Vishnu, come to meet and welcome Kallazhagar.

 Kallazhagar is very much angry and disappointed that the wedding has been performed without his presence and turns to go back but is overwhelmed by the affection of the people who revere him and agrees to go to Vandiyur with them to relieve the curse of the sage Mandooka.

Here, it is understood that Tirumalai Nayakkar shifted the venue of this ritual in 1653 AD from Thenur to Vandiyur probably because Vandiyur was nearer to Madurai. He built a ‘Mandap’ at Vandiyur by name “Thenur Mandapam” where the Lord Kallazhagar could be worshipped and the ritual of granting relief to Mandooka Maharishi could take place.

After blessing the Maharishi, Azhagar goes back to Madurai and blesses his devotees with the visions of the ten ‘avatars’ (He is decorated in the forms of the ten avatars one by one) through the night and stays for one more day at Madurai. The next day in a floral decorated palanquin, Azhagar leaves for his abode Azhagar Kovil.

This event is celebrated year after year with pomp and gaiety and for any person born and brought up at Madurai, the mention of the Chittirai festival and Azhagar brings lots of nostalgia and joy to the mind.

The moment Azhagar reaches Madurai, he is welcomed with flower showers, crackers and music – the traditional Nadaswaram and Thavil (drum). Ladies welcome the Lord with ghee lamps made of rice flour and jaggery and sprouts called Mulappari. It is a sight of great religious fervour and joy and the welcoming ritual marks the grand entry of Azhagar into the city. Lots of folk dancers perform dance and music wearing their traditional costumes with their musical instruments in the respective folk styles.

In those days since the festival was in peak summer, maybe to quell the heat and to settle the dust due to huge crowds, there was this practice of spraying water with a leather pouch with tubes attached. This has become like a vow now and people pray for the wellbeing of their families and do this ritual in return. The male devotees offering this vow wear a colourful special dress made of velvet called ‘salladam’. The Pudu Mandapam which was built by Tirumalai Nayakkar is now the house of numerous tailors stitching these clothing and special caps for this vow. Even on this day tailors make good profit in the festival by stitching these special costumes.

Also it is the strong belief that the colour of the silk worn by Azhagar prior to the entry into the river Vaigai indicates how the year would be for the people. When Azhagar comes from his abode he comes dressed as a bandit in bandit costume (to escape from the bandits in the forest route!) Prior to stepping into the river he changes costume.  A number of silk sarees are kept in a wooden box and the priest blindfolded picks out one from the box. If the colour is green, it is believed that the year would prove prosperous. If red, it indicated famine and drought, if white or blue, it would be not too good nor too bad and if yellow, it symbolizes lot of auspicious happenings. So the people who are gathered in lakhs to see Azhagar step into the river wait with bated breath to see the colour of his silk!

On the whole, the Chittirai festival in its entirety brought enormous joy to all as everyone took part in the activities and the city of Madurai wears a festive look buzzing with fairs and melas bringing people from all walks of life together to carry home beautiful memories.

That’s what festivals of our great land Bharat were intended for!

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.

The Legend of Holika Dahan

The festival of Holi was celebrated with much gaiety and fervour a few days ago, all over India. I am also happy to inform you that tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of this blog of mine, and to celebrate both, I bring to you the Legend of Holika Dahan which is done on the eve of Holi.

This legend is associated with Prahalad, the  youngest of the four sons of Hiranyakashipu. The story of Prahalad is present in the Srimad Bhagavatham (of which few stories are available in this blog) but  this legend associating him to the of Holika Dahan is not mentioned explicitly, though it mentions that Hiranyakashipu tried to burn him alive. However, this legend has come to stay as the reason for Holika Dahan, which symbolises victory over evil, and that is all matters.

Long long ago, the earth was ruled by an Asura king by name Hiranyakashipu. The story of who Hiranyakashipu was in his earlier life can be known by clicking this link.

Now, Hiranyakashipu had demonic qualities predominantly. His arrogant attitude and hatred towards the gods was furthered by his brother Hiranyaksha having been killed by the Lord Vishnu.  Driven by the single-minded thought of conquering the gods, he had done a lot of penance. His selfish motive of becoming the unchallenged monarch of the earth was achieved by this penance, and he had managed to get a strange boon of almost impossible death for himself.

Drunk with power and arrogance, knowing that nobody could kill him, his rule soon became a rule of terror, aggression and cruelty as he found joy in harassing all the living creatures. When he saw that all were frightened by him, his arrogance knew no bounds and he thought himself to be the God. He declared that he was indeed God and all should chant his name only.

There was no wonder that he was feared by all but there was one exception to this.

That one exception was his noble little son Prahalad. Prahalad, though very young was a spiritually advanced soul and strangely did not possess even a wee bit of demonic qualities. He was deeply attached to Lord Vishnu and firmly believed in Him. Hiranyakashipu did not attach much importance to his son’s attitude initially as he thought that he was influenced by Lord Vishnu’s devotees who may be meeting him in disguise. But as the boy was growing up, it pained Hiranyakashipu to see his son not mixing with boys of his age but preferring to meditate and pray all the time. He appointed special tutors Chanda and Amarka to educate Prahalad. He told them to isolate Prahalad and keep him at their home with them and see that he is not influenced by anyone else.

“Teach him all that is to be taught ” he said to the tutors. “And make him understand that I am GOD”, he would say, in a thundering voice. “If he has to chant, let him chant MY name”

The tutors nodded their heads, but in no time, found that Prahalad was not an ordinary child. He seemed to be knowing everything even before they taught him.

“Come on Prahalada, chant your father’s name”, they would say for which the boy, with a smile would appear to comply, but the chant would be “Om Namo Narayanaya”. The tutors could not punish the boy as he was the son of their king, but they tried to threaten him with punishment to make him comply to their instructions. They used the methods of ‘sama dana bedha’ as they tried their level best to make him chant his father’s name. But in return they would get to listen to a lecture by Prahalad, on the virtues of being devoted to Lord Narayana. In fact, the lecture would be so beautiful and convincing that they were afraid that their convictions would be wiped out by their interactions with him.

Their efforts though, went on continuously, but Prahalad always chanted the name of Lord Narayana. In fact, Prahalad created uncomfortable moments for them by chanting the name of Lord Narayana in front of his father when the father came on inspection when the classes were going on.

Initially, Hiranyakashipu found fault with the tutors for not prevailing upon his son, but soon understood that his son was a hard nut to crack.

He called for the tutors and asked them, “What do you think should be done to make this boy give up his stupid devotion to that wretched Narayana huh?”

The tutors said, “Your Majesty, we have tried the methods of Sama – telling him in a nice manner that he should only look upon you as God, Dana- enticing him with rewards to recite your name, Bedha – comparing him with the other children of his age who chant as they are taught to. However, your Majesty, we have not and cannot use the method of Danda which is punishment and only you can give him” They bowed their heads in fear of the ruthless king.

“Then punish him!” Hiranyakashipu roared.

“Come on! Let this child be trampled by elephants!”

The order was carried out, but when the elephants came near Prahalad who was in a trance-like state chanting the name of Narayana, the elephants could see only the Lord Narayana in his place and therefore, they bowed and moved away.

A furious Hiranyakashipu tried other methods such as throwing the child into the sea and hurtling him from atop a mountain cliff but the child came out unscathed always, thanks to his divine saviour.

Hiranyakashipu lost his patience. His son outwitting him with the help of his ‘God’  Narayana was unbearable. Just then he remembered his evil sister Holika. Holika had the boon of not getting burnt in the wildest of fires.

“Ha, now this boy cannot escape!” thought Hiranyakashipu. “I will ask Holika to keep him on her lap and enter fire so that he will be burnt alive and my sister can come out of the fire after that.”

He called for his sister who was ever obedient to him. She was already aware of the child’s ‘impudence’ in refusing to recite the name of her mighty brother.

“I am ready to do anything for you brother!” said Holika on hearing his order.

A huge pit was dug and piles of firewood were put in it. A hanging platform was fabricated over the pit and Holika sat on it with Prahalad on her lap. Prahalad shone like a full moon in the dark night. His lips were ever chanting the name of the all-pervading Narayana.

Hiranyakashipu, who had been driven to being so cruel to satisfy his ego, came to watch his son being burnt. The logs in the pit were lit and shortly the fire was raging. Initially it looked as if Holika was not hurt by the fire but suddenly she realised that the flames were happily licking her with great hunger. It was then, she remembered that the boon she had got was supposed to work only if she entered the fire alone.

“Haa… ha…. ha….” Holika screamed, writhing in agony as the fire was swallowing her. She was seated and could not get up as she would fall in the burning pit.  But the little child Prahalad, still remained calm and serene and strangely the flames were not touching him.

Hiranyakashipu stared in awe and disbelief.

Holika was totally burnt and suddenly there was a heavy downpour putting out the fire and Prahalad was saved yet again.

It is believed that the day on which Holika was burnt, is celebrated as Holika Dahan, banishing the negativity and bad thoughts as quickly as the fire consumed the evil Holika.  The next day Holi is celebrated with beautiful colours and sweets to usher in positive energy, good thoughts and joyful moments.

I will soon post the full story of Prahalad as it is narrated in the Bhagavatham.

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.

Vijayadashami – Victory of Good over Evil!

Today is Vijayadashami or Dussehra as it is called in the North of India and I am going to narrate the story of Vijayadashami.

Long long ago there lived a fearful asura or demon called Mahishasura. He had the head of a buffalo but could assume any form at will. He was the son of another asura by name Rambha. Mahishasura was, as all demons were, wanting to conquer everyone in all the worlds and rule all the worlds. So, he opted to do tapasya or meditation towards Brahma so that he could obtain the boon of immortality from him. Mahishasura did severe penance for a number of years giving up food and water and sleep and at last, Lord Brahma appeared before him. Mahishasura was overjoyed. There were only few moments between him and immortality, or so he thought.

“I am pleased by your penance” said Lord Brahma, “What boon do you seek?”

An overjoyed Mahishasura said “Immortality, my lord, freedom from death”, and looked at Brahma expectantly.
Brahma shook his head and said, “The rule of the universe is that any one born in this world has to die one day and therefore I cannot grant that boon to you. Ask for something else”

A disappointed Mahishasura thought for a moment and said, “Well, then, I should not meet my death in the hands of any man or animal or deva and any other being except a woman”

Women, he thought were the weakest of the weak and he felt ashamed to even think that he could be defeated by a woman.

“So be it” said Lord Brahma in his usual style and vanished.

Now Mahishasura was all powerful. No one in all the worlds had the power to vanquish him. True to the saying ‘Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely’, he started his atrocities against one and all. His already little sense of morality completely vanished and he took joy in torturing innocent people, annihilating masses and committing crimes every moment without a sense of guilt.

This went on and on and on and no one dared to take him on as they were all well aware of the boon given by Lord Brahma and knew that none of them including the gods could kill him. His eyes were now set on conquering Amaravati, the kingdom of the Devas. Taking his forces along, he went to Amaravati and challenged the Devas to war. The Devas in turn fled to Vishnu at Vaikuntha and pleaded with him to fight for them. Vishnu reluctantly agreed knowing fully well that he would not be able to succeed due to the immunity granted by Lord Brahma’s boon.

As expected, the war was in favour of Mahishasura and not even the Sudarshan Chakra, the most powerful weapon of Lord Vishnu was effective against the demon. In fact the otherwise invincible Lord Vishnu was knocked down by Mahisha’s bull and the Lord could take it no more and he quietly vanished to his abode. Not being able to spot Vishnu in the battlefield, lord Shiva and Lord Brahma also felt jittery and left the place quietly. Mahishasura drove away the other Devas as one would shoo away a fly, and occupied Indra’s throne. Indra and his clan fled to the mountains and forests on earth and were living in exile. But how long could they do that? They had to go back to their place and so with a heavy heart went to the Trinity (Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) once again.

“Help us O Lords!” they pleaded. “We are living like nomads in the forests while Mahishasura is enjoying in our palace” they lamented.

The Trinity had also had enough of complaints about the atrocities of Mahishasura and they decided to act. From the bodies of Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma rose dazzling lights of the hues of red, yellow and white. So dazzling the light was that the Trinity themselves had to shield their eyes to gaze upon the light. The light converged in the ashrama of Rishi Katyayan and all the other devas like Yama, Agni, Kubera and Indra sent their energy to merge in this light. Out of this light came the most beautiful woman this universe had ever seen. She was the manifestation of all the positive energy of all the celestial beings. Her beauty was unparalleled and she had eighteen arms. She had power, wealth and knowledge. She possessed the qualities of Tamas, Rajas and Satva. She appeared fearful and but had benevolence in her eyes, at the same time. Born with all the best qualities of all the celestial beings, she was Durga. She was also hailed as Katyayani as she appeared in the ashram of Rishi Katyayan.

All the celestial beings descended in the ashram and paid obeisance to her. They sung her praises and requested her to accomplish what was impossible for them to do – to slay the demon Mahishasura. Each of them gave their best weapon to her. Lord Shiva gave her his Trident (Trishul), Vishnu gave his discus (Sudharshan Chakra), Indra gave his thunderbolt (Vajrayudha), Agni gave his flaming dart, Yama gave his iron rod, Vayu gave her a mighty bow and Surya gave her a quiver and arrows. Himavan, the ruler of Himalayas gave her the most ferocious lion on which she mounted and was looking majestic. She was wearing a red saree and bedecked with jewels and diamonds. Durga listened to their prayers and as a compassionate mother would ferociously protect her children, she, with the good wishes of all present, proceeded towards the abode of Mahishasura.

On reaching Amaravati, she let out a deafening roar which even a hundred lions could not produce and the noise reverberated in the palace where Mahisha was holding his darbar (court). Rattled for a moment, Mahisha was puzzled and a wee bit frightened. Who was this who dared to come to his abode and roar like thunder? He sent his assistant to see what the matter was. The assistant came back and told him about the beauty of the Goddess and why she had come there. Though enraged to know her purpose, Mahishasura was very curious to see this epitome of beauty who had come to his doorstep.

On seeing the Goddess, he was so enchanted by her beauty that he wished to marry her. He expressed his thought to her. “Oh beautiful one!” he addressed her, “I am the greatest one on earth and I have never in my life begged anyone for any favour, but today I am compelled to beg you to marry me for I can never take my eyes off your beautiful form. Marry me, O doe eyed one!”

Durga was seething with anger “Hey Mahisha!” she said, “I think you have forgotten that I am the woman who has come to slay you. I am the woman who you thought could not overpower you. I am Durga, the manifestation of Shakti. You dare not talk to me like that. Give back the kingdom to the devas or else face my wrath in the battlefield”. She was looking frightful.

Mahishasura was irritated at her arrogance but was still in no mood to believe that a woman could defeat him. He went back to his palace in a huff and sent back his assistants to capture her and kill her army. The assistants were all ferocious warriors too. They were Madhu and Kaitabha, Dhoomralochana, Chanda and Munda, Shumba and Nishumba and Rakthabheeja. But to his utter surprise, none came back alive, not even Rakthabheeja, whose each drop of blood when it touched the ground would create another demon, hence the name Rakthabheeja (raktha- blood, Bheeja- seed). Durga had created her own all woman army and with the help of Kali, the fearful one, who sprang from Durga’s forehead annihilated Rakthabheeja for Kali drank up each drop of blood of Rakthabheeja before it touched the ground.

Mahishasura was shaken. He could soon see his end was coming near. He decided it was time, he went to war. Taking the form of a huge buffalo, he rushed wildly at the lion of Goddess Durga, The lion dodged him and an enraged Mahisha took the form of a mad elephant and rushed at Durga. Durga, with all her might, caught him by the trunk and tried to dash him to the ground when he suddenly changed himself into a lion and charged at Durga’s lion. But the mount of the Goddess was as sturdy as the one who gifted it to the Goddess and there was a fierce fight between the two lions, their paws slapping each other with ear-splitting roars. Now suddenly Mahisha changed himself into a buffalo and charged at the Goddess, when the lion swiftly tried to pin him down. He assumed the form of a demon once again and Durga, in a flash, pierced him with the trident and with a thunderous roar Mahishasura fell, never to get up again.

The Gods and all the beings in all the worlds rejoiced at this, for they were relieved of the atrocities of Mahisha.

It is said that Devi Durga fought for nine days and nights to vanquish Mahishasura and these nine nights and days are celebrated as Navaratri. In these nine days, all the women are considered as the representatives of the Goddess and are honoured specially. On the tenth day on which Durga vanquished Mahishasura, it is celebrated as Vijayadashami (Dasami -The tenth day of Vijaya – victory). There are other stories associated with Vijayadashami such as Rama vanquishing Ravana and Arjuna starting for battle after the exile, but in both the cases, both Rama and Arjuna propitiated Goddess Durga for their victory in their wars and emerged victorious with Her blessings.
Let us also pray to Durga Maa for Health, Wealth and Prosperity in our lives.

Jai Mata Di!!

Kubera and Ganesha

Dear friends, we have seen some Ganesha stories in this site namely the story of Nambiyandar Nambi and also the story of how Ganesha got the celestial fruit from his parents.

With Ganesh Chaturthi tomorrow, this time, I am giving you a story Ganesha and Kubera.

Kubera is the treasurer of the Gods and the ruler of the North direction. He has his beautiful palace in the city by name Alakapuri and he had all the best things in there. The best ornaments, the finest silks, the costliest furniture, the most beautiful garden by name Chaitra Ratha, with scented waters in their fountains, the ornately decorated palace with golden walls and diamond ceilings, the finest foods in his kitchen made by the best chefs in the world. He became so arrogant of his wealth and wanted to show it off to someone or the other.

“The others in Devaloka should come to know of my great wealth”, he thought to himself. “Well what do I do to spread the word? Hmm…”

He got an idea. “Yes. I know what to do. I will invite Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati for a lunch in my palace and then the word will spread”, he said to himself. “I will do this immediately”

He took his vimana (aircraft) and immediately proceeded to Kailash to see the Lord Shiva.

Shiva was very much there in his abode with Parvati and was surprised to see Kubera coming in.

“Welcome, welcome Kubera .What brings you here?” asked Shiva.

“Well…. Umm… My Lord, I have a request for you and Mother Parvati. I am hosting a lunch for you both tomorrow in my palace and came to invite you for the same. Please do not disappoint me O Lord. What time will it be convenient for you?” Kubera talked nonstop expecting an affirmative reply from Lord Shiva.

The Lord looked at Parvati and then said, “Kubera, though we would very much like to come for the lunch hosted by you, this is the month of Shravan and I keep fast for the whole of this month. As you know, Parvati will not eat if I do not eat…”

“Lord, please, please do not disappoint me. I have made special arrangements for you” said Kubera hurriedly, alarmed that his plan would fizzle out.

“Well…” said Lord Shiva thinking for a while as he noticed little Ganesha entering the hall. “Okay Kubera, we do not want to disappoint you. Instead of us Little Ganesha can come and have lunch at your palace tomorrow as our representative. Is it okay?”

Kubera turned around to see the little Ganesha chewing on a ripe guava and thought to himself, “Well, this kid will not eat much, but at least he will be fascinated by my riches and spread the word of my riches in the celestial world”

“Kubera?”

Lord Shiva’s voice brought him back to the present.

“Yes Lord, I am honoured by Ganesha’s visit to my palace” said he with a grin and turned to little Ganesha.

“Ganesha, please come to my palace tomorrow and I will see that you will eat the tastiest food you have ever eaten in your life” The voice was full of pride.

Ganesha meekly shook his head. Kubera went home happy that his plan was working.

The next day Ganesha went to Kubera’s palace at the appointed time. Kubera was waiting at the entrance to receive his little guest. He had a beautifully decorated tray with sweet smelling Sandal powder and rosewater in a diamond studded vessel used for sprinkling rosewater in functions. He had a sweet smelling flower garland with flowers in vibrant colours one would have never seen.

He sprinkled rosewater and offered the flower garland and walked him around his gardens.

“Have you seen such sweet scented water like in the fountains of my beautiful garden Chaitra Ratha?” asked he with great pride.

“And the flowering plants in my garden have been brought from various places. Have you even seen flowers in these colours before?” he asked Ganesh sarcastically. “And see the fruit trees, mangoes, oranges, bananas and pomegranates, there is enough to feed your father’s Bhootaganas (army of Lord Shiva), Hahaha….” he guffawed.

Ganesha gave a look of disinterest and asked Kubera, “Is the food not ready yet?” He looked at the direction from where the nice aroma of food was coming.

“Oh! Oh!” said Kubera. “I am sorry. I did not remember that you are after all, a little boy and you need to be given food on time. Come on, I will take you to the dining place”. So saying, he lead Ganesha to the huge dining hall where a silk mat had been spread for Little Ganesha to sit and in front of him, two huge banana leaves were spread out neatly.

Ganesha sat down and Kubera asked him, “Well my little guest, my chefs have prepared over five hundred dishes for you. What would you like to have first, child? Some sweet dish or Kheer or fruit juice or mixed rice? Tell me, boy.”

Ganesha sniffed in the direction where the kitchen and said, “Bring a little of everything for me to taste”

“Waiters!” ordered Kubera, “Bring a little of everything first and serve our little guest”

All the waiters lined up and started serving all the delicious dishes one by one. Ganesha with full gusto started eating them up as they were served and to the surprise of one and all each dish disappeared as the next was served.

“Little Ganesha is hungry I suppose” thought Kubera to himself. “Let him eat to his heart’s content and he will go and tell others about the tasty food of my kitchen”

Thinking aloud he said, “Eat Ganesha, eat as much as you want. There is enough and more to be served. You can carry food back home for your brother Kartik too!”

Ganesha did not reply but started eating faster. The waiters had to increase the speed of their serving. From walking at normal pace, they started to walk faster, and faster and faster… They had started to run now. The quantity of the prepared dishes was fast reducing now. The lunch had been prepared keeping into account all the members in the household and the servants which was over five hundred people, but the way Ganesha was eating, it seemed all would get over soon.

Kubera was watching in awe when Ganesh called out. “Kubera” he said, “I am very very hungry and these little portions served with ladles are very unsatisfactory. Why don’t you tell the waiters to bring the dishes in the vessels in which they were made huh?”

Kubera was already panicky but could not help but obey Ganesha.

“Waiters, bring the dishes with the vessels in which they were made”, he ordered and the men obeyed immediately.

But within moments of the dish being placed in front of him, they had to carry back the empty vessel. Liquid items like Kheer, Sambar, Rasam, Buttermilk, Aam Panna, Juices etc. were pulled in by Ganesha using his trunk like a huge straw and all other items which were solid were grabbed by the trunk in one go and vanished into his mouth.

All the waiters were watching with their mouths wide open and eyes rolling in fright. All the dishes were over and as the last dish was placed before Ganesha, Kubera was literally trembling as to what Ganesha would ask next.

Ganesha looked around. “Over?” he asked. When the waiters pathetically shook their heads, he said, “I am still hungry Kubera. I don’t mind uncooked foods also. Where is the store room?”

And before Kubera could even react, he got up and stomped into the store room which was adjacent to the kitchen.

Lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, millets, milk and curd and ghee were kept in there. After all it was Kubera’s store room and it was always stocked well beyond what was needed!

With his trunk swishing and swashing here and there it was a matter of minutes when the store room became a scene of total disarray with all the empty vessels rolling all over the place and vegetable and fruits getting over and grains and millets strewn over everywhere after Ganesha had eaten them. Even the peels of the vegetables and fruits that remained to be thrown away after the lunch had been cooked was eaten up in a gulp by Ganesha.

“What Kubera? You have got only this much food. I am still hungry” said Ganesha as he looked around keenly as to what he could lay his trunk upon. Kubera was watching helplessly as a bunch of coconuts on a coconut tree outside in the garden met the eyes of Ganesha.

“Wow! Coconuts!” exclaimed Ganesha, “I simply love coconuts” and off he went into the garden and with his trunk lowered the tree and plucked the coconuts and ate them. Many trees unable to bear the pull of Ganesha’s trunk broke into two and fell. After coconuts, it was the turn of bananas, then the chickoos and the pomegranates and in no time all the fruits vanished.The garden was a sight of destruction with trees broken and twigs strewn around.

Kubera watched in horror as Ganesha next started ripping the leaves of the trees and eating them.

“Oh, God!” thought Kubera, knowing fully well that next the inanimate things would be Ganesha’s target. Through the back door, he ran to Mount Kailash, panting for breath.

“Lord Shiva, Lord Shiva!” he shouted as he entered the hall where Lord Shiva was preparing for meditation.

“Kubera! What happened? Where is Ganesha? Did he not come to your place as promised?” asked Lord Shiva as if he knew nothing of what had happened.

Kubera was almost in tears. He narrated to the Lord how Ganesha had consumed every single thing which was edible and was now eating whatever was in his sight.

“Please O Lord” pleaded Kubera, “please for my sake stop your son! All my property is being ruined Please O Lord, please call him back. I will do whatever you tell me to do to stop Ganesha…”

Shiva, with a smile asked him, “Kubera, did you call me and Parvati to really honour us or….?”

With his eyes downcast Kubera in a low voice said, “I am sorry Lord. I really wanted to only show off my wealth so that others would come to know of it and I realise now that I was very vain of my riches. Ganesha has taught me a lesson. I am really sorry my lord! Please give me a solution to my problem”. So saying, he fell at Lord Shiva’s feet.

Lord Shiva who is always compassionate, knowing that Kubera had learnt his lesson said “Take this fistful of rice and go back to your palace and offer it to Ganesha with sincerity and humility and he will accept it”. Saying so, he gave Kubera a fistful of rice.

Kubera rushed back to his palace where he noticed, Ganesha was drinking up the scented waters of his fountains. He ran straight to where Ganesha was. Ganesha put forward his trunk seeing Kubera.

“I am still hungry, Kubera” he said.

Kubera knelt on his knees with raw rice in his cupped palms and cried aloud “Oh Ganesha! Please forgive me for my arrogance. I have learnt my lesson. Please accept this offering with my sincere prayer to you to give your blessings. I shall never be arrogant hereafter. Please eat this rice and satiate your hunger. I have nothing more to offer. This moment I have become a pauper. Please do forgive me”.

He bent down and his head touched the feet of Ganesha and his tears washing Ganesha’s feet. His regret was from his heart and Ganesha could easily see that Kubera’s pride had been humbled.

Ganesha looked at him with sympathy and smiled. “I accept this Kubera!” So saying, he drew the rice from Kubera’s palms and ate it with relish. He burped with satisfaction and said, “Well Kubera, my stomach is full. I shall take leave”.

And off he went hopping on to his Mooshak while Kubera learnt a lesson of his life not to be arrogant ever.

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!!

The city of Madurai is believed to be in existence for over thousands of years – one of the oldest living cities in the world. It is said that Megasthenes, the Greek historian  visited this city when he visited India in  302 BCE and has mentioned about  “Pandaie” and “Methora” which are interpreted as “Pandya” and “Madurai”

This city was the capital of the Pandya kingdom for centuries and was taken over by the Cholas during the tenth century CE. 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 Nayaka 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 two festivals into one and celebrated it in the Tamil month of Chitra ( Chaitra in the other parts of the country). The festival came to be known as ‘Chithirai festival’. 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’ meaning to ‘joining of the four towers’. 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 Pandya. 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 great 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. Therefore the name  “Aalavai” which 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 ‘Yaga’  seeking divine blessing for begetting a child. To the surprise of one and all, a young girl of three years, dressed in fine silk and bedecked with ornaments, came out of the fire of the ‘Yaga’ 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 to a son.

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

The king and the queen were extremely happy and felt 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 and she picked up everything with equal alacrity giving immense joy to her teachers.

In course of time Malayadwaja Pandya 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. Thereafter she proceeded north.

On reaching Mount Kailasha, she demanded to see the Lord Shiva.

“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. Lord Shiva then 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 he 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 gaiety. 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 is said to have 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 at the temple at Madurai every year during the Chithirai festival. This festival used to be 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.

The story of that is, 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 on the banks of the Vaigai River and said that he would be emancipated from the curse by the blessing of Kalla Alagar. This event also used to be enacted every year and celebrated by the Vaishnavites at a place called Thenur near Madurai.

When King Tirumalai Nayaka was ruling Madurai in the seventeenth century, he wanted unity between Saivites and Vaishnavites and therefore merged the two festivals into one. This is how he did it. He brought in the practice of making Lord Vishnu (Kalla Alagar) arrive for the wedding of Meenakshi with Sundareswara. But he made it such that  Kalla Alagar arrives late due to spate in Vaigai, and the wedding is over and therefore Kalla Alagar goes back in a huff, however blessing the sage Mandooka on his way back. Thus the festival was celebrated by Saivites and Vaishnavites jointly and by combining this festival there was more unity among people.

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 :
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.

Sangam Period – Is denoted as the period from 2nd Century BCE to 3rd Century CE when major literary works were composed by numerous poets which included the Tholkappiyam which is the oldest surviving treatise on Tamizh grammar.

Sahasra Kavacha – The one with a thousand armours!


Long long before the period of Mahabharata, there lived a king with demonic qualities by name Dambodbhava. He wanted to become immortal and so started doing penance to propitiate Lord Surya (the sun God). He did arduous penance for a number of years and Lord Surya who was pleased at his devotion appeared in front of him.

“What boon do you seek my son?” he asked Dambodhbhava.

Grinning wide as he was going to get his wish come true, Dambodbhava with his head bowing in obeisance said “Immortality. I wish to become immortal my Lord!”

Surya shook his head much to the chagrin of Dambodbhava. “I cannot grant you that” said he. “In fact no one can be immortal. Any being born in this earth has to die and I cannot change that” said he. “Ask for something else”

Dambodbhava was disappointed but had to think quickly on his boon. So he thought of a complicated boon and asked thus.

“Lord… then let me be protected by a thousand armours on my chest which can be removed only by a person who has done a thousand years of penance to be able to fight with me and he can remove the armour only after fighting for a thousand years with me. At a time only one armour can be removed and the moment the person rips off my armour, he should fall dead!”

Whoa! A super complicated boon to be immortal was sought by Dambodbhava.

Lord Surya who could not refute this as he was not asking to be immortal, granted it. The severity of Dambodbhava’s penance had created a soft corner in the mind of Lord Surya.

Now Dambodbhava was all powerful. A thousand shiny armours sat on his chest puffing up his already proud chest. He came to be known as “Sahasra Kavacha” or one with a thousand armours.

As it happens with all the demons who get such boons, Dambodbhava became intoxicated with the thought that he was unconquerable and started harassing celestial beings, human beings, animals and all forms of life. Such havoc, destruction and chaos was being created by him that all the beings on the earth were cursing him and were wishing for his end. But due to the queer boon he had obtained, he remained unbeaten.

Near Badrinath on the Himalayas, the daughter of Daksha by name Murthi was living with her two sons who were young sages. They were Nara and Narayana who were inseparable brothers and were the reincarnation of Sri Hari (Lord Vishnu). They complemented each other in all activities. It is said that Nara represented the human being, Narayana represented the divine power and human power in unison with divine power is invincible.

Whilst one of them was meditating, Dambodbhava came to their peaceful abode and started destroying whatever was in sight. Nara called out to him and told him to exercise restraint. Dambodbhava in his arrogance not only slighted his advice but called him for a duel. Now, Nara had done a thousand years of penance and started to fight with Dambodbhava and the fight went on and on and on for a thousand years. At the end of it Nara pierced the first armour of Sahasra Kavacha and the next moment he fell dead as per the boon given by Lord Surya.

A gleeful Sahasra Kavacha giving out a thunderous roar of victory turned around only to be shocked by what he saw. Nara was up and about and there was another similar young sage ready to fight with him. He did not know that by doing penance for a thousand years, Narayana had mastered the Mrita Sanjeevani mantra and with the help of that brought Nara to life and there, Nara was going to meditate while Narayana fought with Sahasra Kavacha. Again for a thousand years, Narayana fought with him and at the end removed the second armour and dropped dead, only to be brought back to life by his twin brother who took over the fighting as Narayana went to meditate.

This went on over and over again till nine hundred and ninety nine armours were removed. With just one armour left, Dambodbhava sensed that his end was near and ran to Lord Surya seeking asylum with Nara and Narayana in hot pursuit. Lord Surya could not refuse asylum to a devotee who had surrendered himself seeking refuge though he was such a horrible being. Much against his own wishes, he absorbed Sahasra Kavacha into his self thus saving Sahasra Kavacha’s life.

But try as he might, the demonic qualities of Dambodbhava were troubling Surya and he wanted to get rid of him at the earliest possible opportunity. This was the opportunity when Kunti called him to give her a son. Sahasra Kavacha was reborn thus as Karna with the last remaining armour of his and earrings. Krishna and Arjuna were Narayana and Nara reborn and thus the enmity continued till Karna was vanquished on the battlefield. It was because of Sahasra Kavacha’s boon that it became extremely necessary that his armour had to be removed prior to killing him or else Arjuna would have fallen dead the moment he killed Karna. Karna’s character was a mixture of good and bad since in spite of being a demon, he had resided in Surya for quite some time. So even though Karna’s actions like when he lied or instigated his friend to disrobe a helpless woman in public earn the ire of the people, he was endowed with the good qualities of bravery, being faithful to his friend ever and above all charity to people irrespective of their standing or status (just like the Sun) and indeed it was this quality that helped bring about his end in the Mahabharata War.

This is the story of Sahasra Kavacha.

 

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