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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

Tomorrow, 19/4/2019 is Chitra Poornima. And I am naturally reminded of the “Azhagar Festival”.

This festival happens every year on the Poornima day of Chitrai (or Chaitra) month two days after  the wedding of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai to Lord Somasundara (the handsome one wearing the Crescent moon) which 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”. The “Azhagar Festival” where the Lord Azhagar comes and steps into the River Vaigai is also an integral part of the “Chithirai festival”.

Now I am going to narrate the story of “Why Kallazhagar steps into Vaigai River?”

Azhagar Kovil is a quaint village with a hill situated about 20 kilometres from Madurai. The hill was in the form of a bull and was called Vrishabadri. Legend has it that the Lord of Death, Yama once was enchanted by the beauty of this place and meditated upon Sri Narayana here. When Sri Narayana appeared before him, Yama requested him to stay in that place forever. Lord Vishnu obliged Yama and stayed on as Soundararaja Perumal or Azhagar (both meaning ‘the beautiful one’). The place is also known by the name “Thirumaliruncholai” literally translating to ‘the garden where Thirumal or Narayana lives’

The place is very beautiful, lush with vegetation with the River Silambaar flowing by. Silambaar is also known by the name “Noopura Gangai”. 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.

Now, one sage by name Suthapas, lived in this beautiful place propitiating the lord there. 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, Soundararaja Perumal (Azhagar) came to Madurai. Since he had to pass through forests, he dressed like a bandit it is said and therefore the name “Kallazhagar”. Another view that since he resided in the remote hill, he was the deity of the ‘kallars’ (thieves) and therefore the name “Kallazhagar”. Yet another view is that he steals the hearts of his devotees with his beauty and therefore the name!

Whatever be the reason behind his name, the Lord 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 Chitrai festival with Goddess Meenakshi’s wedding used to be celebrated by the Shaivites at Madurai. Credit goes to the great ruler Tirumalai Nayak for combining this Azhagar festival with the Chitrai festival. Nayak 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. Let’s see the lore created for this purpose…

Goddess Meenakshi invites her brother Kallazhagar to attend her wedding with Lord Sundaresa. 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 by name “Koodalazhagar”, 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 Nayak 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 fervor and being a person born and brought up at Madurai, the mention of the Chitrai Tiruvizha and Azhagar brings lots of nostalgia and joy to my mind.

There are a lot of interesting things about this event “Azhagar Aatril Irangudhal” (Azhagar stepping into the river).

From the start till reaching Madurai, Azhagar visits all the communities who welcome Him to their hall or ‘mandap’. There are hundreds of these halts and everywhere food and drink is distributed in abundance. All the communities have the only goal of welcoming Azhagar and work in close coordination. He also visits the Muslim area to the place of ‘Tulukka Nachiyar’ a Muslim devotee and the Muslims of that area take part in the festival. Tirumalai Nayak was indeed great in achieving peaceful coexistence and inculcating camaraderie amongst all religions and communities through this festival.

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 Maavilakku (Ghee lamp lighted in a vessel made of rice flour and jaggery) and Mulappari (sprouts). It is a sight of great religious fervor and joy and the “Ethir sevai” (welcoming) 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 “Pudumandapam” which was built by Tirumalai Nayak now hosts 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 a silk 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 Chitrai festival in its entirety brought gaiety and prosperity 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!

From the Panchatantra – The King Elephant and the King of mice

This time, I am narrating a story from the Panchatantra under the section “Mitralabha” which translates to ‘gaining of friends’. In the background guide, I have given some idea about the origin and details of Panchatantra.

This story is about the friendship between the King Elephant and the King of mice.

Long long ago, in the forests of Central India, there lived a herd of elephants. They were a merry lot, and were led by a King Elephant. The forests were lush and green with lots of ponds and waterholes and there was no dearth of food and water and the elephants were living happily.

As we all know, all good things come to an end, and true to the saying, in the next year, there was no rain at all. The green forest withered and all the grass and trees dried up. The sun was blazing hot and the summer was terrible. The worst thing was that the waterholes started drying up quickly.  The elephants could survive eating dry leaves but they needed water to drink and bathe, and this had now become a problem. The King Elephant who was witnessing this was worried.

“This is becoming serious”, he thought to himself. “If we do not find an alternate source of water, we will all perish”.

Just then, a sparrow which was the King Elephant’s friend flew up to him.

“What are you worrying about, my dear friend?” she asked him.

“It is the water situation” said he. “My friends, family and I are finding it very difficult without water. If we do not get water to drink in the next few days, I dread to think what will happen to us”. He was sounding really concerned and anxious.

“Don’t worry friend” said the sparrow. “Go north from here till you reach the mountain and near the mountain there is a river which is full of water.  However, it is far off and will take a whole day for you to reach the place” said the sparrow and flew away.

The King Elephant trumpeted loudly. The members of his herd came running from all directions to find out what had happened.

“We will all march north” announced the King Elephant.

He then told his herd about the river in the north near the mountain. His words brought joy to the members. “We will start now so that we reach by tomorrow!”, said the King.

“Hooray, we will go!” they cried in joy and started walking. They walked and walked for a long time and by the late evening were crossing a clearing where a lot of mice had built their homes by burrowing in the mud.

Some of the young elephants who were leading the herd, walked with great speed over the burrows and a few of the mice were trampled to death. The other elephants were coming behind.

The other mice who were inside the burrows rushed out to see what was happening as the walking of the elephants had shook their homes like an earthquake.

Looking out, they were shocked to see some of their friends dead and could see the elephants going away at a distance. They understood what had happened.

Looking back, they could see a cloud of dust at a distance with sounds of trumpeting and they knew that a larger group of elephants were on their way.

The King of the mice looked around and took a quick decision. “I will go and speak to the leader of the elephants” he said angrily. “They cannot simply trample our houses and kill us like this”.

The other mice warned him “They are elephants and we are little mice. If we go and talk to them, they may be angered and it will be disastrous”

The King of mice was firm.  “I am not changing my decision” he said.  “There is a saying that, if you do not fight for what you want, you should not cry for what you lose”

He marched off in the direction from which the elephants were coming. A few mice joined him.

Luckily for him, the King Elephant was coming in the front and the King of mice went up and stood before him in his way.

Elephants being much stronger, the King Elephant could have just kicked the mice away and moved on, but as he was a noble soul, he stopped and looked at the mice.

“What do you want?” he asked.

The King of mice spoke. “We are all living a short distance away in burrows. Just a while ago some elephants of your herd carelessly trampled our burrows killing some of our friends in the process. I request you therefore to please take your herd in a different path to the river, to which I guess, you are heading”

The King elephant was amused at the fearless attitude of the little mouse. He thought for a while and said, “Alright, I will do as you say. Please tell us the alternate way”

The King of mice was very happy.

“Thank you O King!” he said. “We will never forget your help. I will show you the alternate way. Also please do not hesitate to call me if you need any help anytime”

The King elephant was even more amused now. “A small mouse offering help to us mighty elephants!” he thought to himself. Anyway, he told his herd to go by the alternative way as told by the King of mice.

The herd followed the instruction of their king and thereby all the other mice were saved.

After walking for some more distance, the herd could hear the gentle gurgling of the river and there it was!  A lush green spot with lot of trees was at the foot of the mountain by which the river was flowing with crystal clear water.

The joyous cry of the elephants on seeing the water, could be heard from afar as they rushed into the river to quench their thirst. They were so happy as they playfully sprayed water on each other, frolicking happily in the water.

They decided to live there till the monsoons came when the drought in their earlier abode would be over.

Now, near this place, there lived a group of poachers who would catch animals and birds and make a living by selling them or killing them.  One day, they saw this herd of elephants and reported it to their leader.

“Ahaa! What good news you have brought me!” he said. “A herd of elephants means so much money. Note the habits of the elephants for a few days and lay the trap, for we shall capture them and sell them to the King”

The poachers hid in the bushes and trees for a few days and noted when the elephants were going to the river and when they went back. After planning carefully, they brought in enough ropes to capture all the elephants and laid the trap inside the river.

The elephants along with their king, unaware of the trap laid in the river walked in and started to bathe when the poachers climbed down from the trees and pulled the ropes tight so that the elephants were caught. They then tied the ropes to the trees securely.

Suddenly the elephants realized that they had been trapped. They looked at each other in dismay and cried loudly in distress but nobody was there to help them. The elephants could not move from the water.

They could see the men at a distance and the leader was instructing them loudly. “Leave them in the water for a few days. Let them be hungry and tired so that they will not have the strength to resist and we can pull them easily” The other men nodded and they all left the place.

The King elephant was horrified. The very thought of staying tied up in the cold water for days together without food and without able to protect themselves was terrible.

“Who will help us?” thought he, in despair. As he looked around, he suddenly noticed that one of the members of his herd was missing. Confused, he looked around again but could not find the youngest member. Just then, he heard a loud trumpeting and the young elephant was coming from the clearing towards the river. Clearly, he had strayed away when they came to the river and luckily escaped from being trapped.

The King Elephant waved his trunk fast signalling the young one not to come into the water. The young elephant noticed and suddenly realized that the whole of his herd except him had been trapped.

As he neared the river, the members told him how they had been trapped and were not hopeful of being freed. They were all so much in grief and the young elephant felt very sad both because they would be taken away and he would be left alone. He was pondering as to what could be done.

Suddenly he had an idea. “Hey!” he said, “why not seek the help of the King of mice?”

The King Elephant looked up in admiration and gratitude at the young elephant. “What a brilliant idea!” he said. “Go immediately and tell the King of mice that we need his help urgently”

The young elephant ran as fast as he could to the place they had met the mice. The King of mice was there. He heard out the young elephant and was upset at what he heard.

“Do not worry. I will help you with all my subjects. It is the duty of a friend to help another who is in need”

Saying thus, he called his subjects. “Come on, every one. Our friend, the King elephant and his herd are in danger. We have to help them. Come quick”

As all the mice assembled, a tiny voice squeaked, “The river is so far away. When will we get there if we start walking now?”

The King of mice looked up. “Yes, he is right. Will it not be dark by the time we get there? Will we be able to render any help at all?” he asked.

“Do not worry” said the young elephant. “All of you climb on to my back and I will take you there fast”.

All the mice clambered on to the young elephant’s back and he rushed to the river as fast as he could. Meanwhile the elephants in the river were in a state of anxiety as the evening was fast approaching.

The moment the young elephant reached there, the mice climbed down, but how could they enter the river? The King elephant who was in the front, came and thrust his trunk out near the bank and the mice jumped on to that and climbed to his back. Quickly they tried and gnawed away the ropes with all their might and just in a few minutes, The King elephant was free.

With his might, the King elephant kept pulling at the ropes which were being gnawed by the mice with their sharp teeth and one by one all the elephants were freed.

The elephants were joyous. “Thank you dear friend!” said the King Elephant to the King of mice. “You saved us from grave danger. When you told me that you would help us in need, I was wondering how a little creature like you could help me, who I thought was invincible, but now I realise that I should never under estimate the power of any one.”

“It is our pleasure to have helped you, friend” said the King of mice.

“Yes” said the King elephant, “A friend in need is a friend indeed!”

Veera Mangai Velu Nachiyar – The first woman to rise against the British rule in India.

“Entaro Mahanubhavulu, antariki vandanamu” sang the poet saint Thyagaraja meaning, “Salutations to the many great people of the world”.

So many great people have lived and gone in this beautiful country Bharat. Some of them we know about and some of them we do not know.

Amongst the many freedom fighters who fought to end the British rule in India there have been many untold stories of exceptional valour, in our history books.

It is indeed sad that these brave hearts have not been showcased in the history taught in our schools.

This time, I am attempting to narrate a story of one such brave heart, in fact, the first woman to wage a battle against the British. “Velu Nachiyar” was her name and she lived between 1730 and 1796.

Before I come to the story, a brief introduction on the political situation in those days for the benefit of the youngsters reading this story.

India was a conglomeration of many provinces and kingdoms, ruled by kings or chieftains, in those days before Independence. The area in and around the present Ramanathapuram district was ruled by the chieftains who had the title of ‘Sethupathi’.

Similarly another kingdom which was ruled by Chieftains was called Sivaganga which is now a district in Tamil Nadu. Sivaganga kingdom was founded by Sasivarna Periya Oodaya Thevar in 1730.

These Chieftains were originally working for the Nayak Kings of Madurai and when the King’s rule weakened, these Chieftains became the rulers of the provinces under their control.

Velu Nachiyar was born on January 3,  1730 to Sellamuthu Vijaya Reghunatha Sethupati (who was king of Ramnathapuram from 1747 till 1762). She was the only child of her parents.

Being born in a royal family, Velu was a natural warrior and was trained in horse riding, martial arts, archery, and in using the Valari, a dreaded weapon made of iron, which was a boomerang used widely in war. She was also taught the rules of war and various strategies used in war. Velu was also taught six languages apart from her mother tongue Tamil, namely, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, English, French and Urdu. She mastered all of them and was fluent in all.

It is really interesting to note that the female child as a heir was treated as equal to a male heir and trained in everything a male heir would have been trained in!

Growing up to be a bold young lady, Velu was married to Muthuvaduganatha Thevar, the son of the Chieftain of Sivaganga, Sasivarna Periya Oodaya Thevar at the age of sixteen. Four years after her marriage, Muthuvaduganatha Thevar became ruler of Sivaganga after his father’s demise and Velu became Rani Velu Nachiyar (Queen Velu Nachiyar).

With the able guidance of his educated wife who took a very great interest in tax reforms and development of waterways and other infrastructure, things were going on very well for the Muthuvaduganatha Thevar and the Kingdom.

Kalayar Kovil was an important town in the Sivaganga province and it had a beautiful temple and Fort.

With the British aspiring to gain more control in South India, they were teaming up with the local kings and playing them against each other and were taking advantage of the situation by grabbing the territory so won. The reasons for waging war were frivolous.

 In one such instance, in 1772, the British, led by General Joseph Smith and Colonel Abraham Bonjour colluding with the then Arcot Nawab attacked Kalaiyarkovil. Muthuvaduganathar, who was present there with his another wife Gowri Nachiyar was taken unawares and was killed treacherously in the most gruesome manner. So many civilians were massacred and the temple was ransacked and plundered. There was looting and arson everywhere and the beautiful town turned into a graveyard with hundreds of bodies strewn around in no time.

During that time, Rani Velu Nachiyar had gone to a nearby place Kollangudi with her young daughter Vellachi. As soon as she came to know of this ghastly attack, the Rani rushed to Kalayarkovil fort only to witness how inhuman this incident had been. It was heart wrenching. The King, Queen, men, women and children had been slaughtered alike without distinction. The temple had been plundered by the British and the Nawab’s soldiers. It is said that  they looted about 50000 pagodas from there. (The pagoda was the unit of currency in use in those days and was made of gold or semi gold).

Rani Velu Nachiyar was devastated at the sight of the destruction. It was sheer fate that saved her, her daughter, the Minister Thandavaraya Pillai and the Marudu brothers who were well known warriors, who served her loyally. They had all been to Kollangudi and escaped the massacre.

The Rani, though overcome with grief at the gruesome incident, had to make up her mind fast. Either she could immolate herself on the pyre of her husband as a ‘faithful wife’ or she could take revenge and wreak havoc on the British the same way they had done to her.

It is said that the Rani took the inspiration from the legendary Kannagi who brought destruction to the city of Madurai over the injustice that was meted out to her husband. She spoke her mind to the minister Thandavaraya Pillai who had been her like a father figure to her. He was her late father in law’s minister too and he concurred with her idea that the British should be taught a lesson. But the time was not ripe yet for the mission. So on his advice, the Rani sought asylum with her daughter in a place called Virupachi near Dindigul which was ruled by one Gopala Nayakkar who was also against the British. The Marudu brothers would live in the outskirts of Sivaganga, in the woods to be the Rani’s informants and to create trouble for the Nawab whenever possible.

In the meanwhile, General James, who came to know about the valorous wife of the slain king wanted to make sure that she was also murdered. He went in search of her to Kollangudi and came to know from his spies that one particular young woman knew the whereabouts of the Rani Velu Nachiyar. He zeroed in on the woman and questioned her repeatedly. Despite the mental torture inflicted by the General, the woman would simply not give away the whereabouts of the Rani. As a result the lady was inhumanly cut up with a sword in the most ghastly manner by the General. 

Rani Velu heard of the incident and was deeply saddened. She performed the last rites of this valiant young woman at Virupachi. It is said that in her later days, the Rani named her army “Udaiyal Padai” in memory of this young woman.

In the safe haven of Virupachi, Rani Velu was planning her next strategy. She badly needed an ally and forces to go against the British. With the consultation of her Minister, they decided that approaching Hyder Ali, the de facto ruler of Mysore would be the best thing to do. Hyder Ali was a strong force to reckon with as he was also dead against the British rule. Secondly, allying with a Muslim king would prevent the Nawab of Arcot from offering assistance to the British.

In the meanwhile, Sivaganga had been renamed Hussain Nagar by the Arcot Nawab and his son Ameer- ul- Umara was ruling there as the Nawab’s representative.

Rani Velu initiated the correspondence to Hyder Ali seeking military assistance and a letter was sent to him. It was planned to meet Hyder Ali in person also.

Unfortunately, Rani’s minister Thandavaraya Pillai passed away and so the meeting did not materialise. However, shortly thereafter, Hyder Ali made a visit to Dindigul and Rani Velu met him and conversed with him in chaste Urdu.

It is said that Hyder Ali was greatly impressed by the tenacity of this lady and more wonderstruck in the way she spoke flawless Urdu. Both being against the British rule, they discussed the problems created by the British at length and on how to quell the British.

Hyder Ali sanctioned the Rani a princely sum to maintain herself at the Fort and raise an army. He also gave instructions to one Syed Karki to make her stay in the Dindigul Fort as comfortable as should be for a queen and treat her like a queen.

Since Rani Velu Nachiyar was a devotee of the Mother Goddess, he also facilitated her daily worship at temple of Goddess Rajarajeswari within the Fort premises.

Rani Velu Nachiyar started raising a Women Military Regiment and was the trainer herself for her recruits.

The army was given rigorous physical training and was also trained in guerrilla warfare under the careful eye of the Rani.  The army had women captains and spies as any other army in the world would have. One of the Captains was Kuyili, who was a close confidante of the Queen.

 In addition to this army, the Rani also got 5000 cavalry and 5000 infantry from Hyder Ali to assist her when she would launch the attack to restore Sivaganga.

In 1780, the army of women, along with Rani Velu Nachiyar headed towards Sivaganga in disguise.         

 The British also suspected that something was to happen in Sivaganga, but could not get to know clearly what would happen. In anticipation of any attack they had stored lot of ammunition in the arsenal near the Rajarajeswari temple within the Sivaganga Fort.

Kuyili came to know of this. The Rani was apprised of the situation and they had to decide quickly on their strategy.

It was the day before Vijayadasami (during Navaratri) in the month of October. The temple in the fort premises being that of the mother Goddess, it was the usual practice of hundreds of ladies to come for worship in the temple from far and near and were allowed freely into the fort.

The whole army, carrying baskets of fruits and flowers and oil and ghee for worship entered the fort. What the British soldiers and the Nawab’s men did not know was the baskets had weapons like the deadly Valari concealed in them. They were easily hoodwinked.

It was twilight and the sun had almost set. Kuyili went inside the temple and drenched herself with the oil and ghee. In a swift move, carrying a lighted wick, she dashed into the arsenal where the ammunition was kept, lit herself and threw her burning self on the ammunition.

The huge blast that followed, shook the entire town and the hearts of the British alike. It was unthinkable and probably the first suicide bombing in history. Kuyili had become a human bomb and sacrificed herself for her province.

In the meanwhile the cavalry and infantry had entered the town and in the panic that followed, lot of the Nawab’s men and the Britishers met the same fate in the hands of the women’s army, as Rani Velu’s people met eight years ago. The Nawab was captured alive and his flag brought down and the flag of the Rani hoisted.

The province was rid of the British and the Nawab’s men and the Rani was crowned Queen of Sivaganga.

She ruled the province for ten years thereafter with the able assistance of the Marudu Brothers and in 1790, handed over the administration to her daughter Vellachi.

It is said that as a thanksgiving gesture to Hyder Ali, Rani Velu Nachiyar built a mosque at the place called Sarugani near Sivaganga. She also maintained friendly relations with Tipu Sultan, son of Hyder Ali, after the passing away of Hyder Ali in 1782.

Rani Velu Nachiyar passed away on December 25, 1796 suffering from a heart ailment.

She is remembered in her Tamil Nadu as the “Veera Mangai”, meaning, the daring woman.  

The Government of India has honoured her by releasing a postage stamp in December 2008 and the Tamil Nadu Government has built a Memorial for her in 2014 at Sivaganga.

It is a matter of immense pride that Rani Velu Nachiyar was the first lady to rise up against the British rule in India!

Today is Rani Velu Nachiyar’s 289th birth anniversary.

Tiruvadirai Kali – An interesting legend

Yesterday was Tiruvadirai (Ardra) star of the Margazhi month. Margazhi in Tamil and Mrigasira in Sanskrit and some other languages, this is the period between Mid-December to Mid-January.  Ardra or Tiruvadirai as it is known, this star mostly coincides with the full moon and sometimes is a day before or after full moon day. This day is dear to Lord Shiva and is celebrated in the South of India as “Ardra Darisanam” (Darshan of the Lord Shiva on Ardra day).

There are a couple of legends associated with this day, but I am going to narrate the legend associated with the sweet dish made on this day as an offering to the Lord Shiva, in Tamilnadu.

In the 10th century CE, there was a woodcutter by name Senthan, who lived near Chidambaram. Senthan was illiterate, and was an ardent devotee of the Lord Shiva of Chidambaram. In Chidambaram, the Lord is in the form of Nataraja, the dancing Shiva.

Though poor, Senthan had the practice of feeding a good meal to one devotee of Shiva every day. His means were limited and he had a hand to mouth existence. His only income was from felling and selling wood. Still, unless he fed one devotee of Shiva every day Senthan would not rest.

 “Feeding a devotee of Shiva is equivalent to feeding Lord Shiva himself” he used to say to himself.

Fortunately, his family supported his good deed and he had managed to carry on this practice for years together without a break.  Senthan’s life was going on peacefully.

One day in the month of Margazhi , early in the morning, there was a heavy downpour. It was so heavy that very soon there was ankle deep water everywhere. The rain did not stop and it went on drizzling the whole day.

Senthan went out to fell wood but the trees were all so wet. In spite of the rain, Senthan managed to get some wood and brought them to the market. He was in for a shock as people refused to buy wet wood.

“Sentha, you know we cannot use the wet wood in our stoves. How can we buy from you?” they said. “Dry them up after the sun comes up and we shall buy afterwards”. They were perfectly right in not buying the wood. Who would buy wet wood?

Senthan was worried about his income that day. No selling meant no money, no rice, provisions and fresh vegetables for the guest and no feeding of devotee that day.

“Please, please buy at least some wood today” was all that he could plead with the people who were shopping for wood. He could not tell them his worry of not being able to feed a devotee. His pleas were of no avail as people went about to other shops who had stocked dry wood.

Depressed by the day’s events, Senthan went home with a heavy heart. It was nearing late afternoon and there were not many people on the road due to the continuous rain.

He sat on the verandah of his house, contemplating on how to keep up his vow. He had neither the rice to cook for a devotee nor a devotee to feed that day. He could not, but reconcile to the situation by thinking that it was the Lord’s will indeed that his vow should be broken.

“I surrender to you O Lord” he mentally prayed. “If this is your will, so be it”. He bowed down his head as if the Lord was in front of him.

As he raised his head, he saw a person clad in saffron, wearing the Rudraksha beads, walking towards his house. The person’s face exuded saintliness and radiance. It was as if he was some divine being.

Senthan was, for a moment overjoyed, that he got a person to feed, but the very next moment, remembered that there was not a morsel of rice to cook. He was in a dilemma, as to what to do. By that time, the saintly person had reached the verandah of Senthan’s house. In a deep and melodious voice he spoke, “I have been travelling all day long and I have a long way to go. Could I get something to eat?”

Senthan was trembling with joy. “Of course, Holy Sir! It is my privilege to feed you. Please, please do come in” The words had come out of his mouth involuntarily. As he gave the person water to wash his feet, Senthan’s logical mind came to the front. “What are you going to feed him Sentha?” it said. “You know very well there is not even a morsel of rice at home”

As if reading Senthan’s mind, the holy person said, “I am not particular about rice, my friend. I will happily partake whatever you give me. All I want is some food”.

Nodding his head in a hurry, Senthan rushed in to see if anything was available in the kitchen. His eyes fell on the small quantity of Ragi flour kept in a corner of a shelf and some little bit of jaggery in a small tin. Coconuts, being grown almost in all houses, used to be available in the house always.

After making his guest comfortable and giving him water to drink, Senthan quickly whipped up a sweet dish with the ragi flour, jaggery and coconut scrapings, the dish had the consistency of thick halwa and could be shaped into balls. It was called “kali” (pronunciation – ‘Ka’ as in cup and ‘Li’ as in liquid)

Praying to Lord Shiva to forgive him for not feeding rice and a full meal, Senthan offered this “kali” to the guest with great hesitation. The guest was so happy consuming the dish and kept telling Senthan that the dish was extremely tasty so much so that he wanted some of it to be packed for his dinner!

“I love this tasty preparation of yours. If something is still left, can you pack it for me so that I can eat it on my way for dinner?” said he.

Senthan was overjoyed and packed the remaining “kali” in a banana leaf using a thread made of banana fibre and gave it to the saintly guest.

The guest thanked Senthan and went his way.

The next day was the star of Ardra and early in the morning, there would be special worship to Lord Shiva at Chidambaram as in all Shiva temples. As the priests opened the doors of the sanctum of Chidambaram, they were shocked to see “kali” strewn around on the floor. Bits of “kali” were also sticking to the idol’s mouth and hand and there was a contented smile on Lord Shiva’s face.

The priests were aghast at this happening. Never was “kali” considered fit to be served to the Lord and never had it been served ever in the temple. So it was a mystery to all as to how this had happened in the locked temple. The harried priests immediately informed the happening to the King Gandaraditya Chola who was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva.

Gandaraditya was the second son of Parantaka Chola I who succeeded his father in 950 CE. Gandaraditya was himself a great devotee of Lord Shiva of Chidambaram. So was his queen Sembian Mahadevi. In fact Gandaraditya was a very reluctant ruler and was more of a saint that he gave up his throne to his brother Arinjaya Chola within a few years of becoming King, so that he could pursue religious activities full time.

It is said that in the everyday worship of Lord Shiva at his palace, at the end of the worship, Gandaraditya used to hear a soft tinkle of the Lord Nataraja’s anklets as a mark of the Lord’s presence there. This particular day the King did not hear the sound and was quite concerned as to whether something went wrong in his worship. He went to sleep with this thought nagging in his mind.

Early that morning, Gandaraditya had a dream in which Lord Shiva had appeared and told him that He had gone to Senthan’s house to eat “kali” and therefore was not present in the palace the previous evening. The King was wondering who this “Senthan” was and what was the “kali” Lord Shiva was referring to.

Just then, this news of ‘kali’ strewn in the sanctum of the Lord came in. As soon as he heard the news , the King, overwhelmed, rushed to the temple. He was overjoyed at the sight of the “kali” strewn all over. Describing his dream to the priests he asked eagerly, “Where is the great Senthan? I want to see him. He has fed the Lord with his own hands”

The priests were dumbfounded at the King’s revelation but they also did not know who this Senthan was. The King sent his guards into the town to find out about Senthan and came to know that Senthan had gone to witness the Rath Yatra of Nataraja which was scheduled to start shortly.

The King and priests rushed to the place of the Rath Yatra but could not locate Senthan as there was a huge crowd. .

As they were wondering what to do next, the time for pulling the Rath was nearing and as was the custom, the King also went to hold the sturdy rope with the help of which the Rath would be drawn. Little did he realise that Senthan was also holding the same rope behind him. Pull as they might, the Rath would not move even a millimeter, as the wheel of the Rath got stuck in the muddy ground as a result of the heavy rain the previous day.  

Suddenly, a booming voice was heard from the sky (Ashareeri). “Sentha”, the voice commanded, “sing Pallandu for me and the Rath will move”.

The voice was heard by all, loud and clear and all the people in the crowd were looking as to who this ‘Senthan’ was. Senthan himself was shocked at his name booming from the sky, but he was very sure that it was not he who was being addressed.

“I am an illiterate. So it must be some other Senthan in the crowd who is being addressed”, he thought to himself.

As if to respond to his thoughts, the voice boomed again, “You are the person Sentha! Focus on me and you will sing!”

Senthan immediately realised that it was his Shiva who was commanding him. He closed his eyes and meditated on the beautiful form of Nataraja and poetry flowed out of his mouth as a river would flow from its origin!

He, who had not even studied an alphabet, sang thirteen verses of the “Pallandu” in chaste Tamil. “Pallandu” is a song of blessing. In this song, Senthan has had the privilege to bless the Lord of the Universe thirteen times in the thirteen verses.

Gandaraditya, who had recognized Senthan by then was overcome with joy and respect and wanted to be blessed by him.

Lord Shiva, had once again showcased the devotion of an ordinary person, to the world, to reinforce the fact that to Him all are equal.  

And ‘kali’ became an offering to Lord Shiva on Ardra Darshan day!!

Tidbits

  • Gandaraditya was a composer of divine poetry himself. He has been acknowledged by Saivite scholars for his work called “Tiruvisaippa” which is a part of the Ninth Thirumurai of Saivite literature.
  • The offering of ‘kali’ is made these days with finely broken rice and jaggery. It is not known when the ingredient changed from Ragi to broken rice. Also some say that Senthan offered greens or mixed vegetables along with the sweet ‘kali’ and so a ‘koottu’ or mixed vegetable is also made and offered along with ‘kali’.

The Power of Truth

Dear Readers,

It’s a long time since my last story…

Now, I bring to you, a folk tale from my own state, Tamilnadu.

Long long ago in the present state of Tamilnadu, there lived a young man by name Perumal. Perumal was extremely intelligent but very lazy and had fallen into bad company in his childhood. As a result he was an expert thief whose every word was a lie. He drank a lot and gambled and had all the bad habits of which he was not a wee bit ashamed.

Perumal’s parents had died when he was only three years old and he had been brought up by his paternal grandmother, the only person who was very fond of him and the only person whom he was very fond of. She loved her grandson so much that in spite of his having all the bad habits, she never reprimanded him.

On the back of her mind though, she was much worried about Perumal’s future especially with the recent taking over of the prince as the new king of their kingdom. The prince was known for his honesty, bravery and intelligence.

“What if my Perumal gets caught red handed one day?” the old lady used to worry. “What if he is given capital punishment by this new king?” The very thought sent chills down her spine. She had no one to look after her and could not imagine a life alone. She shuddered to think of her grandson spending his whole life behind bars or being banished to some distant land where he would have no one. In those days banishing one to some far off land or island was a common punishment.

“I will have to start reforming this boy” she thought to herself, knowing that this was not going to be an easy task at all. She pondered on this thought for a few days and one day after Perumal had come back to his house after way-laying and robbing some tourists, she slowly broached the topic. She talked of how important it was to give up all the bad habits and seek a proper job and live a normal life. She went on and on, while Perumal was listening half-heartedly. He knew that she was speaking with genuine love and concern for him and he could not bring himself to say a flat “No” to what she was saying.

As he was fighting a mental dilemma of what to counter her with, as if striking a deal, she said, “Well, my grandson, let us do things one at a time, okay? As a first step, you stop telling lies. You will speak only the truth from tomorrow, okay?”

Perumal was sort of relieved that she was ending her sermon, and with no other option, agreed to her condition.

Over the next few days, Perumal went about stealing and robbing as usual. The next day was a new moon day and the new king who was known for his bravery, decided to go for rounds in the city at night.

New moon nights were days of bonanza for Perumal as he could rob more due to the absence of moonlight. In those days electricity was unknown, and street lamps would be lit with oil and would go off once the oil was exhausted. So Perumal had started late at night and was roaming around deciding where to strike.

The king sporting a beard and a cloth covering his whole face except his eyes was coming on his horse and at the same time Perumal was also coming out of a bush nearby. The quick eye of the king caught Perumal and Perumal also saw him and hesitated for a moment as he was on a horse.

“Hey you!” shouted the king, dismounting from his horse, “who are you, where are you from and what are you doing in this late hour of the night huh?”

Perumal remembered his Grandma’s instruction on speaking the truth and said, “My name is Perumal and I am a robber. I live in the outskirts of this city and I am out for doing my work”.

The king was amused by this straightforward answer and decided to entertain himself. He said, “Well young man, if you want some real wealth, I can tell you where it is inside the palace and I can also show you the way in avoiding the security guards. Are you interested?” Perumal jumped at the idea. “Yes, yes, tell me” he said enthusiastically. The king took him behind the palace where there was a small trap door on the compound wall about which only the king knew.

“Go in through this door” he said pointing to the door. “Go around alongside the wall so that you will not be spotted by any one. When you reach the other side, there is a long rope hanging from a balcony. Climb up with the help of the rope and you will reach the window of the king’s chamber. Next to the King’s chamber there is a room with an almirah. You can take anything you want from there. Now go! I shall wait for you here”

Perumal also followed the instruction of the king and an expert robber he was, reached the room with ease. He opened the almirah and found some expensive clothes and pairs of sandals. He rummaged under them and found a box with three diamonds, nice and big, shining and sparkling. “Oh my luck! These would be worth so much of money” he thought. As he was going to take all the three, he stopped for a moment. “Will I need all the three? No, I think even one will fetch a large sum of money”.

With such thoughts crossing his mind, he finally kept one diamond back in the box and took the two diamonds. “I will give one to the fellow who helped me” he decided. He left the box open in the top shelf of the cupboard. The clothes and sandals which had also fallen down while he was rummaging the shelves, lay on the floor. The door of the almirah was left wide open.

He successfully came out unnoticed by the guards through the secret door and true to his word, the king was waiting in the same spot.

“Thank you my friend” said Perumal smiling at the king. “I found these… in a box in the almirah. Here, keep one for helping me” The king was pleasantly surprised at his magnanimity and asked him, “Were there only two diamonds in the box?”

Perumal, remembering his grandma’s instruction to speak truth and said “No, there were three of them. I thought of taking them all but then, thought that one was enough for me, but took another one for you and left one in the box”

The king took the diamond, thanked Perumal and said he had some urgent work and rode away. Perumal did not suspect anything and thanking his stars, went home.

The king, on reaching his chamber went to the room and checked the box and true, there was one diamond left. He left the things as they were.

Early in the morning, the maid who came to clean the room, saw the almirah open and many clothes and sandals fallen down. Shocked,she raised an alarm. She went and told the king who was in the next room that she suspected a theft.

The king acted surprised and called for his minister.

“Go and see what has been stolen from the almirah!” he ordered the minister as the minister went to check. He saw the open box kept on the top shelf with one diamond in it. He was aware of the three diamonds which had been gifted by another visiting king. He thought to himself, “What a fool the thief is! He has left one of the valuable diamonds behind!”

Now, this minister was not a man of integrity and another thought crossed his mind. “The King does not know what is stolen and so if I take this diamond and accuse the thief of stealing this diamond also, the king will not know. And if and when the thief is caught, the king will not believe him even if he tells the truth also, for the king will never believe a thief”.

Thinking so, he slowly looked around and there was no one to be seen. He quickly took the diamond and hid it in his belt.

He came rushing back to the king and said, “Your Highness! Nothing other than the three diamonds which were gifted to you, have been stolen. The thief should be flogged in public and banished from the country! Such audacity to rob from the king’s almirah! Hmph… The security guards should also be dismissed.”

“Did you see properly?” the king asked.”Is anything else missing?”

“Yes I did” lied the minister, ignorant of the king’s knowledge of the happening.

The king was seething with anger at the minister’s dishonesty knowing that it was he who had taken the third diamond. He called out to the guards.

“Go to the outskirts of the city and ask for a young man by name Perumal and bring him here right now!” he ordered.

The minister stood there not able to figure out what was happening.

In a short while, Perumal was brought in front of the king. He was terrified and stood before the king with his hands folded.

“Come on, narrate what happened yesterday night” commanded the king.

Perumal narrated the whole story truthfully without any hesitation.

The people around were surprised and the courtiers and minister had by now understood that the ‘man’ who Perumal told about was none other than the king.

The king loosened his cummerbund (a large cloth tied around the waist) and took out something and there it was, the second shining diamond!

“Search this minister!” the king ordered the guards. The minister was taken by surprise and the guards found the third diamond hidden between the cloth belt and the fold of his dhoti. The minister was shivering in fear.

“Well,” said the king, his eyes red with anger, “You had told me what punishment is to be given to the thief and the same shall be given to you! From today Perumal shall be my minister… till such time he speaks only the truth”

Perumal looked on with surprise and was overwhelmed at the luck which had come to him following his decision to speak the truth. With tears of joy, he thanked the king and promised to be truthful till he lived.

“Now, I want to tell another truth your highness!” he said to the king. “The truth is, everyone makes mistakes, just as I was living the life of a thief. Therefore everyone deserves a second chance. Hence it is my sincere advice that the punishment to the minister should be restricted to banishment for a few years. Let him be spared of the flogging. If he repents and changes, he can come back and it is for you to accept him or not”

The king agreed and Perumal became his able minister and lived a happy, truthful life thereafter.

Purandaradasa- Sangeeta Pitamaha

Dear Readers, it’s been over a month since my last story. Here I am once again, and this time I am going to narrate the story of Saint Purandaradasa. Before we go to the story, let us see some historical facts.

This saint lived in the period 1480 AD (or 84) to 1564 AD. He is believed to have born in a place called Purandaragadh near Pune (though latest research suggests that he was born in Karnataka at a place called Tirthahalli in Shivamogga district). He spent the last part of his life in Hampi just before the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Purandaradasa is considered to be one of the chief proponents of South Indian Classical music and has structured the basic exercises for learning of Carnatic music. He was a prolific composer of Bhakti literature and his songs were classified as Dasa Sahitya and they were woven around the Madhwa philosophy. But how did Purandaradasa become a saint? It is the story we are going to see.

Varadappa Nayaka was a reputed diamond merchant who lived with his wife Leelavathi. Though a great businessman, he sadly did not have the joy of having a child for many long years.

After many years of prayer to the Lord Sreenivasa of Tirupati, he was blessed with a baby boy whom he named Sreenivasa Nayaka. Sreenivasa Nayaka was given a good education and he gained proficiency in Kannada, Sanskrit and music. When he came of marriageable age (which was about 16 in those days), he was married to one Lakshmamma in accordance with his family customs. Lakshmamma was very pious and God fearing in addition to being very generous and charitable.

Years went by and Sreenivasa, by assisting his father at work, gained good knowledge of the business of diamonds and gemstones. When he was twenty years old, his parents passed away one after the other and he was left to inherit the huge diamond business built by his father. In due course, Sreenivasa and Lakshmamma were the proud parents of four children.

A shrewd businessman , as he was, Sreenivasa Nayaka managed the business very well and was in no time much more prosperous than his father was, and thereby came to be known as “Navakoti Narayana” literally meaning the Narayana owning nine crores worth of assets. But as his business empire grew, his humaneness shrunk in direct proportion and soon people were talking on how miserly he was. His nature was in total contrast to his wife’s nature. He would never part with one coin towards charity.

Though Lakshmamma knew about it and felt very bad, there was nothing she could do about this.

One day an elderly brahman from a nearby village wearing tattered clothes came to the shop of Sreenivasa.

On seeing him Sreenivasa knew that he had not come to buy or sell diamonds in his so but to seek alms.

As expected, the man slowly approached him and said, “Sir, I am planning to conduct the thread ceremony of my son and require some money for it. May I request you to please give me whatever financial help you can? I will certainly repay the amount”.

There was so much hesitation on the man’s face and shame felt by the man in seeking alms was very evident. He was genuinely poor and required help and it was apparent that he had no other way out.

Sreenivasa in his arrogance did not even look at him and said, “Is this the time to come and ask for alms? Can’t you see I am busy? Hmph… Come tomorrow”

The man with his head hung walked away without saying a word. He again came the next day. Sreenivasa pretended not to even see him and after a long time looked at him and told him the same answer as the previous day.

The man went back and kept coming back almost every day for nearly six months only to get the same reply from Sreenivasa.

When the man came next, Sreenivasa decided to tease him even more and took out a fake gold coin he used to play with, in his childhood and gave it to the man with a cynical smile and said, “I think this will be enough to meet your financial need. Now, go away from here and don’t come back again and disturb me”

The man knowing that it was a cheap coin was distraught at insult being added to injury, left the place with his head hung in shame and tears in his eyes.

As he was passing by Sreenivasa’s house in the next street, he saw Lakshmamma sitting in the verandah of the house cleaning some grain. She looked so graceful and divine like a goddess and her eyes were flowing with benevolence. The man did not know it was Sreenivasa’s wife and felt that she would certainly help him out. He hesitantly walked towards the house, the coin in hand.

Lakshmamma looked up and true to her nature, stood up and welcomed the man.

“Welcome Sir!” she said with a sweet smile. Not waiting for his reply, she quickly went into the house and came with a small pot of water for him to wash his legs.

“Please wash your legs and come in. It is so hot outside” she said.

The man whose mind was soothed by her words, washed his legs and went in. She offered him a seat served him with a glass of cool water and casually enquired about him since she knew he was not from this village.

The man, as though waiting to pour out his grief almost cried while narrating his tale of woe not knowing that the lady to whom he was speaking was the wife of the ‘villain’ he was talking about.

Lakshmamma though, realised that it was her husband he was talking about and was pained at the behaviour of her husband. She felt very distressed at the old man’s plight.

“I wish I could help you Sir!” she said with real concern in her voice. “I am only concerned at what my husband would say, as he is not here at the moment….”

The man understood her hesitation and said, “I appreciate your intention Amma, but is there not anything you can give me without asking your husband?”

Lakshmamma thought for a while and suddenly her face lit up. She removed her diamond nose ring.

“Don’t worry Sir, here is my diamond nose ring. This was given to me by my parents and so I can gift it to you. Please sell this and conduct your son’s thread ceremony”

The nose ring had eight diamonds in it.The man was taken by surprise at her generosity which seemed to have no bounds. He looked at her with reluctance. But she was insistent. Not able to refuse, the man took the ring and wrapped it carefully in a piece of cloth he had in his bag and thanking her profusely, left the place.

And where did he go to? Straight to Sreenivasa’s shop! Sreenivasa was examining some diamond and when he chanced to look up, he was surprised to see the same old man coming back but there was an air of confidence about him which puzzled Sreenivasa.

Before Sreenivasa could utter a word, the man said, “Sir, I have not come to beg you for money but to either pledge or sell this diamond ring”. So saying, he carefully pulled out the cloth packet and took out the dazzling diamond nose ring.

The moment Sreenivasa saw it, he recognised the ring. When he enquired about it, the man told him that a ‘noble hearted lady’ had gifted it to him. Knowing who the ‘noble hearted lady’ was, Sreenivasa took the ring and put it in the cash draw in a silver cup,locked the draw and stuffed the keys in the secret pocket in the fold of the dhoti in his waist.

He told the man, “This has to be valued and only then I can give money to you. It is lunch time now and I am going home for lunch. Wait here till I come back”. Seething with anger, he stomped out of the shop and rushed to his home, making the man wonder why he was so angry. The man settled down in the verandah of the shop waiting for Sreenivasa.

Back home, Sreenivasa’s suspicion was confirmed when he saw that the nose ring was missing on Lakshmamma’s nose. Lakshmamma also noticed that he was glancing at her nose and knew that she was in for big trouble.

“Lakshmamma,” he said in an angry voice, “Where is your nose ring huh?”

“Er…. mm… I….. I…. have removed it… since… I took oil bath today….” Her faltering speech in a trembling voice was enough to give her away.

“You are lying aren’t you??” shouted Sreenivasa, his eyes red with anger. “Go… and bring the nose ring from wherever you have kept it and show it to me now!”

Lakshmamma who had never ever lied in her life and who had always lived as per Sreenivasa’s whims and fancies was terrified at the thought of her fate when Sreenivasa would know the truth.

“It is better to die than to suffer this insult”, she thought to herself and went and stood in front of the altar in their house. She poured out some poison in a small silver cup and kept it in front of her favourite Lord Krishna. With her eyes tightly shut and tears streaming from the eyes, she was mentally pleading with Krishna to forgive her for the sin committed by her and telling him that she would repent for it by giving her life.

After a few minutes of this intense prayer, calming down, she took the cup of poison, ready to drink it and when she just lifted it near her chin, there was this sound ‘clink’. Something seemed to have fallen into the cup. The puzzled Lakshmamma looked into the cup and lo and behold! The nose ring was in the cup of poison gleaming. Startled and pleasantly surprised at this turn of events, Lakshmamma quickly controlled her emotions, thanking her Krishna profusely in her mind, took the ring out, washed it in water and wiped her tears and went to the hall to Sreenivasa who was waiting impatiently for the ring.

“Here it is!” said she, not daring to look into his eyes and dropped the ring on his extended palm.

Now it was Sreenivasa’s turn to be shocked. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the ring. It was the very same ring which he had locked in the cash draw half an hour back. Unwittingly his right hand was reaching the secret pocket in the folds of his dhoti to check for the keys and the keys were there intact. So where did this ring come from?

Bewildered beyond words, Sreenivasa, without saying a word literally ran back to his shop holding the ring tightly with his fist closed. As soon as he entered the shop, he tried to pull open the draw thinking that he might have forgotten to lock it. But it was locked. Taking out the keys with a trembling hand, he opened the draw and the jewel was missing. The cup was very much there but the ring was not.

Confused and almost mad at what was happening, Sreenivasa rushed home once again and Lakshmamma was anxiously waiting at the door.

Suddenly it struck to Sreenivasa, that this was not humanly possible. Visibly shocked for words, he stuttered and asked her, “Tell me, what is happening. Are you doing some magic??

Lakshmamma started sobbing and told him all that had happened. He was totally perplexed. This power of devotion or Bhakti of his wife was matchless! He could not bring himself to believe that the all-encompassing divinity was so submissive to her devotion.

And that one surreal moment was the trigger for the miserly Sreenivasa Nayaka to transform into a saint. Something changed in him suddenly. He was not the miserly diamond merchant anymore. He had realised that it was the Lord Krishna who was in each and every atom of this universe and the claims of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ were meaningless. He would give up everything of his and become the ‘Dasa’ (servant) of Hari, who was indeed the Lord of the Universe. He ran to the shop to fall at the feet of the man who he knew was Krishna but the man had vanished!

The very next day, he called his friends gave up all his wealth and belongings to them and left the place with his wife and family to live a saintly life travelling to the abodes of Lord Krishna, seeking alms by singing the glory of the Lord.

It is said that in his wanderings he met the saint Vyasatirtha who advocated Madhwacharya’s teachings and it is believed that he gave a formal initiation to him and bestowed him with the name “Purandaradasa”. Purandaradasa also travelled extensively through the length and breadth of the then Vijayanagara Empire. He was a contemporary of Saint Kanaka Dasa as well.

Purandaradasa, played a great role in systematizing Carnatic music, the way it is sung today. He introduced the Raga Mayamalavagoula as the basic scale for studying music at beginner’s level. He also brought in a series of graded lessons for the beginners which is followed even this day. In addition to this he also composed thousands of hymns on Lord Vishnu and many of his hymns are highly popular to this day. He used the phrase ‘Purandara Vitthala” as his signature in the hymns he composed.

In his last years, he settled at Hampi and sang in Emperor Krishnadeveraya’s durbar. He died at the age of eighty in 1564.

Being a student of music, I feel greatly honoured to narrate this story in my own words as I have heard it and may Lord Krishna bless us all!

The Legend of Holi

The Legend of Holi

 

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 Holi.

Though there are a couple of legends associated with Holi I am going to narrate only the one associated with Prahalad, the son of Hiranyakashipu. The story of Prahalad is present in the Bhagavatham (of which few stories are available in this blog) but it looks like this legend associating him to the festival of Holi was added later as there is no mention of this particular incident in the Bhagavatham.

Long long ago, the earth was ruled by a 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. He was deeply attached to Lord Narayana and firmly believed in Him. Hiranyakashipu did not attach much importance to his son’s attitude initially, 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 to educate Prahalad.

“Teach him all that is to be taught to a future king!” 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 Prince, 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 and so by using the methods of ‘sama dana bedha’ 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 the 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”

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. It was 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 burning 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 Holi, banishing the negativity and bad thoughts as quickly as the fire consumed the evil Holika and ushering in good thoughts and joyful moments.

This is one of the legends associated with Holi. I will soon post the full story of Prahalad as it is narrated in the Bhagavatham.

Birbal Outwitted

It’s a long time since I wrote on Akbar and Birbal and so I am giving a short and sweet tale of Birbal’s sharp intelligence.

Once, there was some argument between Akbar and Birbal over some issue and Akbar shouted at Birbal and said, “Don’t ever show your face to me again!”. Poor Birbal did not retort as he walked out with a red face. Of course, Akbar did not mean it when he told Birbal not to show his face again, but Birbal, this time wanted to make the king realise that he could not shout at anyone just because he was wielding power, and so without informing anybody, he went away to live in hiding in a nearby village.

The next day Birbal did not turn up in the court. Akbar did not give much thought to it since he knew Birbal would be angry. “He will come tomorrow!” he said to himself, smiling. But Birbal did not turn up the next day as well, and the next and the next.

Akbar was worried and sent a messenger to Birbal’s home but the messenger brought a message that Birbal had gone away even without informing his family, which was indeed true. His family members were also anxious about his whereabouts but had not dared to ask the king, as Birbal had told them about the argument.

Now Akbar was more worried. He felt bad about having shouted so badly and now he found no way to get his favourite minister back. The courtiers who were jealous of Birbal were very happy. “Good riddance!!” they chuckled to themselves. “Now the king will ask us for suggestions instead of asking that cheeky Birbal” they thought. But Akbar was missing his intelligent friend badly and could not find a way to locate him. Somehow, it occurred to him that Birbal would not have gone away to a very far place.

Ten days passed and now Akbar was desperate to see Birbal’s face and hear his witty anecdotes. He thought for a long time and came up with an idea. After all he had been with Birbal for so many years and had imbibed some of Birbal’s qualities.

Few days later, there was an announcement in the city and the suburbs by the security guards. In those days, there were no newspapers or television or such media and announcements had to be made by persons in a loud voice, and to attract the attention of the people, they would usually come beating drums and stand in a public place and make the announcement.

“Dum dum dum dum”

“Hear O People of this kingdom!” said the man who was making the announcement in a loud voice. “Our Emperor, His Royal Highness Akbar Sultan has announced a competition for all. The winner of the competition will be given a hundred gold mohurs”

Now, ‘mohur’ was the name of the coins issued by various kings from the sixteenth century in India. A gold ‘mohur’ was the coin in gold and used to weigh about 10 to12 grams.

All the people gathered there were curious. “A hundred mohurs??” said one. “Then it must be very difficult task” said another. “What is the occasion for this competition?” asked yet another. At the same time, each one jostled with the other to come nearer the announcer and hear the details. When many had gathered around him, the announcer continued, beating his drum.

“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”

“The Emperor has announced that anyone who can walk one hundred metres in the sun and the shade at the same time will get one hundred mohurs. Whosoever wants to compete may come walking day after tomorrow and meet the emperor”

“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”

The people looked at each other puzzled. “Who can walk in the sun and shade at the same time? What sort of contest is this?” they murmured to themselves, looking disappointed that they could not get the prize announced by Akbar.

The crowd melted away as the announcer went to the next spot to announce the same contest.

On the appointed day Akbar was holding his court in the open courtyard under a makeshift pandal(shamiana), wondering if his idea to locate Birbal would work out. The court was almost over and it was going to be one o clock and Akbar was looking up now and then hoping that someone would take part in the contest and come to him.

Suddenly from afar, he saw a queer sight. A man was walking towards him, carrying a cot made of rope.(It is called ‘charpai’ in Hindi). As Akbar peered at him, the courtiers also turned around to see what had caught the attention of the emperor.

The man walked and came and stood in front of the pandal , in the sun but he was still holding the cot aloft with both his hands over his head. He seemed to be a very poor man as it was seen from his tattered clothing and bare feet.

To the puzzled emperor, he said in a weak voice, “Huzoor! I heard of the contest you had announced. I am very much in need of money and therefore I have participated in this”. The emperor and the onlookers were still puzzled when he continued, “Huzoor, look at me. I am in the sun and shade at the same time! Will you give me the promised prize??”

It was only then that all noticed that the sun was shining on him through the rope cot and therefore the shade of the rope was also falling on him.

Akbar was truly amused at this idea. But he knew that none other than Birbal could have thought of this and so he asked him, “Is it your idea or did any one else give you this idea? Tell the truth”.

The man replied “Huzoor, an elderly traveller has come two weeks back and is staying in my neighbour’s house in my village and when I was telling my friend about this contest, it was he who gave the idea, but anyway told me to take the prize money if I won, as he is well placed already it seems”

Akbar smiled to himself and said to the man “Well, you are the only contestant and I will give you the money for the smart idea, but I want to see the fellow who gave you this idea. So, go with my guard on horseback and bring that person here”

The man could not disobey and went with the guard and Akbar was waiting without even taking his food as he was eager to know if his idea was going to bring back Birbal to him. True to his expectation, in about half an hour the person returned with his ‘elderly traveller’ and the man was none other than Birbal!

The emperor was so happy to see Birbal again and gave him a warm hug much to the ire of the jealous courtiers. Birbal was also very happy to be back. Even though he had been upset when Akbar shouted at him, in his heart of hearts he was longing to come back.

“Now you have outwitted me Huzoor!” said Birbal beaming with happiness and the two were united once again.

Lord Nataraja at Konerirajapuram- The Swayambu Idol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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