My dear readers, this is the hundredth story in this blog of mine. I thank all of you who have been following all the stories encouraging me with your comments. I look forward to your continued patronage and the constructive comments.
For the hundredth story, I wanted a story which had some connection with the number hundred and by the time I decided upon the story I was pleasantly surprised with its coincidence with the period the incident has happened. This incident is said to have happened on the new moon day of the Tamil month of “Thai” which is from Mid-January to Mid-February. This year the new moon day of “Thai” falls on 27th January 2017. I see this coincidence as a blessing of the Supreme Power.
The first story of my blog being on Lord Shiva, it is only apt that the milestone of the hundredth story should be on Shakthi, the Mother of the Universe.
I am giving this time the story of an unusual saint, Abirami Pattar, who lived three hundred years back and has authored the Tamil literary work called “Abirami Anthaadhi” amongst various others.
Abirami Pattar was born as Subramanian in the late seventeenth century in a place called Tirukkadayur.
Tirukkadayur is in Tamilnadu and is the abode of Lord Shiva who is called Amritaghateswara and his consort Goddess Shakthi is called Abirami Amman. The name Abirami literally means ‘one whose beauty cannot be measured’.
Subramanian was a simple man in spite of being a learned scholar in the languages of Tamil and Sanskrit and in the science of astrology. He was a great devotee of the goddess Abirami. His devotion could not be classified as devotion in the sense known to us, as in going to the temple, praying for our needs and coming back. His devotion was completely different. He would go to the temple would be there for hours together gazing at the goddess as if in a trance. The goddess was everything to him. In her beautiful face, he saw the universe in its splendour, with all the living beings, the solar system, the planets, the sun, moon and the stars and was awe struck by this vision, so much so that he lost interest in worldly affairs as he strongly believed that the Goddess was the only eternal being. All other beings and things were transient and did not matter to him. He never spoke to anyone nor was bothered about the mundane things in life.
He would be dressed in an unkempt manner and stand for hours together in front of Her and not even recognise the presence of others nearby. Sometimes he saw the form of the Goddess in some women coming to worship and would go after them calling them, “Abirami, Abirami” till he was shooed away by them. Sometimes he would not move from in front of the Goddess even when it was time for closing the temple and those days he would be literally carried by a few people and thrown out of the temple. But there was no reaction from him except a smile and sometimes tears of joy in his eyes. People who observed his behaviour called him mad, weird, arrogant and stupid. These nicknames and criticism never bothered Subramanian as he was not at all in this world and the Goddess only was his world and he considered himself as Her son. Nobody and nothing existed beyond that.
The only person who was sympathetic to Subramanian and could to some extent understand his devotion to the Goddess was the temple priest who also happened to be a distant cousin of Subramanian. The priest would always feel pity for his cousin who in spite of being a scholar and astrologer was subject to such mockery because of his devotion. “Poor fellow”, the priest used to mutter to himself, “What is the use of such knowledge? It looks like he is destined to be mocked at throughout his lifetime. Hmmm.”
One day Subramanian came to the temple with an almanac in hand. It was the morning of the new moon day of the Tamil month of “Thai”. As was his practice he entered the sanctum of the Goddess Abirami. The face of the goddess, on that day, appeared to him, as luminous as the moon on the full moon day. Almost instantly he went into a deep state of meditation and he could see only brightness and brightness all around. As usual, he stood transfixed to the ground with his focus fully on the lotus face of Goddess Abirami.
The King at that time Raja Serfoji I Bhonsle (1675 -1728), also called Sarabhoji, the Maratha King who was ruling from Tanjavur, had gone for a ritual bath in the sea at Poompuhar, being the new moon day and after the early morning bath, was coming to Tirukkadayur to offer obeisance to the Lord and Goddess. It was an unscheduled visit by the King and so the messengers came running to the priest and informed about the King’s plan to visit the temple. The priest immediately became busy in making arrangements to welcome the King that he forgot about the presence of Subramanian in the sanctum of the Goddess.
Subramanian who was least disturbed by the flurry of activity around him was still sunk in the brightness exuded by the Goddess’s face which he alone was experiencing in his mind’s eye. He could see the brightness of the full moon and the goddess’s face even brighter than the full moon. With his eyes closed he was smiling away, in his own world.
Noticing the presence of Subramanian at the last moment, the priest rushed up to him and yelled, “Subramanian, get out of here! The King is coming for darshan. Get out, I say!” It was of no avail. The priest, scolding himself for not having sent out Subramanian earlier was about to shout at Subramanian once again, when he saw the security guards followed by the King entering the temple.
Not able to do anything, he rushed to the entrance to conduct the ceremonial welcome to the King and led him to the sanctum. The King entered the sanctum only to see someone else standing in front of the goddess with folded palms, muttering some prayer.
The priest got panicky and quickly tried to push aside Subramanian. “Subramanian,” he said in a low voice. “The King has arrived to see the Goddess. Please go out, move, move away!”
Not one word was heard by Subramanian. He was still in his own world. The King was furious.
“Who is this fellow?” the King roared, “who has the audacity to stand like a stone in front of me not even acknowledging my presence eh?”
Some of the people in the King’s entourage were already those who disliked Subramanian and having got an opportunity, they started complaining about him.
“He is a mad fellow your Majesty. He has a very unstable mind!” said one.
“He is also very very arrogant and haughty your Highness. He does not even look at us when we come to the temple!” said another.
“He is a maniac who chases women, O King” said another. “I have myself seen him run after women shouting ‘Abirami, Abirami’. The temple has become very unsafe for women coming to pray. It’s high time some action is taken on him”
“He is born in a noble caste but will eat anything if given to him in the name of the Goddess, your Highness. He is a shame to his community”, said yet another.
“He calls himself the son of Abirami, yet he does not know culture”. The complaints went on and on.
Hearing all these allegations on Subramanian, the priest could take it no more.
“Please listen to me your Highness. This person Subramanian is actually a good man and a learned scholar. He has mastered Tamil and Sanskrit languages and also is a very good astrologer. The only thing is that … er… he is … too much devoted to the Goddess here that he totally forgets himself when in her presence. I feel it is wrong to portray him as a maniac or arrogant fellow or mad man. Please pardon him for my sake!”
“Oh, astrologer, did you say? Hmmm. That’s why he is carrying an almanac I see. Let me see how good he is”
At that very precise moment Subramanian addressed the goddess and said in a voice audible to be heard by others, “O Mother Abirami! why is your face a thousand times brighter than the moon outside today? I am indeed lucky to soak in the brightness of your presence” He started muttering some hymns once again, when one of the ministers went near him and shook him by his shoulder.
An angry Subramanian opened his eyes and asked, “Who are you and why do you disturb me thus?”
The minister was taken aback and said, “You are asking who we are? Can you not see the King standing near you and are you so arrogant that you cannot even bow to him huh?”
“Whoever it is King or pauper, they are all same in the presence of my Mother”.
As he was about to close his eyes once again, the king’s voice boomed, “Look here Subramanian. You have insulted me and my entourage in front of the public. I hear you are a great astrologer but I just heard you praise the Goddess’s face as a ‘thousand times brighter than the moon today’.”
“Yes, you are right King” replied Subramanian. “Goddess Abirami’s face is a ten thousand times brighter than the full moon today”
“The full moon today? Hahahahaha….” the King’s thunderous laughter sounded frightful. “You call yourself an astrologer, you carry an almanac and you call a new moon day a full moon day hahahahaha…….”
“New moon day? “ Subramanian had a confused look on his face.
“Check the almanac you pundit” sneered the King. “Check and tell me what day is it today.”
Subramanian checked the almanac but started looking at the Goddess with a great confusion.
“So, this is the level of your knowledge of astrology…. You do not know the difference between the new moon day and full moon day. Hmmm. Shame on you! ” the King’s voice thundered.
Subramanian stood there like a rock, and was intently looking at the face of the Goddess, his voice murmuring, “It is the full moon day today, it is the full moon day today”.
The people in the king’s entourage and the minister were getting restless. Too much attention was being given to a mad fellow, they thought. The minister, irritated at the perceived stubbornness of Subramanian went ahead with his hand raised in a bid to physically push him out.
“Stop”, said the King. “I still have not finished my conversation with this fellow”. The minister, obeying the king stopped.
“Tell me Subramanian, do you still believe it is full moon day today?” the king asked.
“Yes, it is Maharaja. Not because I said so but because She has spoken through me. I am her son and a toy in her hands. I do not speak on my own accord. It is she who makes me speak and if she has said it is full moon day today, well, it is and there is no doubt” Subramanian said in a defiant tone.
The king was getting irritated at this defiance. “Oh! Is that so? You are blaming the Goddess for your ignorance heh? I suppose you must be doing this every time your astrology goes wrong?”
The crowd giggled and there were murmurs and whispers amongst them.
“I am not blaming the Goddess. I am just saying that whatever words I am made to utter by Her will, shall be the truth, truth and nothing else”
“Why do you go on taking Her name? Why don’t you accept what you said was wrong?”
“Why should I not take Her name? She is my mother and She is the eternal Mother and She can never be wrong.”
The king got really furious and said, “Look here man, it is your good fortune that I have not given you any punishment for your arrogance till now. Even now, you can ask forgiveness and get out of my sight!”
“Sire, this is my mother’s temple and only She has the right to tell me to go. I told you I am Her son and Her son alone, and I have not spoken anything wrong or untrue and whatever has been uttered by me are Her words.” Subramanian’s tone was becoming harsh.
The temple priest feared that the argument was going beyond limits and that some capital punishment may be imposed on his cousin and so he tried to intervene, but the enraged king brushed him aside and said to Subramanian, “You are so arrogant that you still maintain what you said was true because your Mother said so, then let me see if your mother can bring the full moon tonight. If the full moon appears, you are saved. If it does not then, you will have to pay with your life, for if I do not punish arrogant people like you, it will set a bad precedent!”
When all expected Subramanian to break down, hearing the king’s verdict, Subramanian spoke in a calm voice, “Oh King! Even as you have pronounced your decision, I still maintain that I have not spoken anything wrong as all my words are Hers and since you have challenged Her, I would like to fulfil a long cherished desire of mine to sing a hundred hymns on Her in the Anthaadhi format and I am sure you will see the moon before I finish my hundred hymns”
“What if the moon does not appear?”
“Well, then I will take it as her will to punish me through you and you can put me to death as I end my hundredth hymn.”
“Ok be ready for the punishment tonight” said the king as he walked out of the sanctum.
Subramanian’s mind was filled with divine ecstasy and unfathomable joy at the thought of his dream of singing the Anthaadhi going to come true.
The Anthaadhi, as the name suggests, meant that the end or the Anth of a hymn would be the beginning or the Aadhi of the next hymn. The ending word of one hymn and the starting word of the next hymn would be the same.
Soon the word spread in the town about the event which would take place that night. All the people were talking of only that in shocked tones. Some of them who hated Subramanian thought it was a good riddance, while some others were feeling pity and said, “After all, he is a mad fellow. Is it right to challenge a mad man?”
The temple priest was feeling very sad. He was in tears as he was very certain that Subramanian would not be able to meet the challenge posed by the king and he would be put to death.
Standing in front of the Goddess whom he prayed to every day, he was conversing with Her in his mind. “Oh Abirami! you are the embodiment of compassion. You are the mother of all the beings. Yet you allowed your son to get entangled in such a row that he cannot get out of it in any manner. He who comes and stands before you hours together every day with no thought of food or water is being punished thus? He who believes that you are the only eternal being and you are the life of the universe is going to be punished by his life being taken? This punishment will not only end the life of Subramanian, it will end the faith people have had on you all through the ages. Will you bring the moon tonight or will it be eternal darkness for Subramanian? Oh Mother, please show your mercy!”
As he was praying mentally with teary eyes, the ground outside the temple was being prepared for the punishment.
A large, deep pit was being dug and lots of firewood was put into it. On the two sides of the pit two high poles were erected by crisscrossing two sturdy logs. Another log on the top connected the poles. Two pulleys were attached to the connecting log and long ropes were attached to the pulleys and a platform was attached to the rope. The punishment was that the fire would be lit and Subramanian would sit on the platform which would initially be held very high by the soldiers holding the ropes. After each hymn, the ropes would be lowered by few inches and by the hundredth hymn, if the moon did not appear, the platform would be let into the fire pit with Subramanian.
By this time the word had spread to the nearby places about the event and people were seen hurrying from the surrounding villages to see what would happen.
The sun set and darkness began to engulf the place especially since it was a new moon day. Soon, the king arrived with his entourage and Subramanian was already there, as calm as ever.
As the king signalled, the guards led Subramanian to sit on the platform hanging by the ropes held by the soldiers. Once he was seated, the platform was drawn high and the logs set on fire.
In those days there was no electricity and the blazing fire in the pit was the only source of light and sure it was bright enough gobbling up logs of wood. All eyes were on Subramanian who was sitting so high on the platform, his eyes closed outwardly but totally focussed on his Mother, Goddess Abirami, in his mind’s eye.
Suddenly, in a majestic voice, Subramanian started with a hymn to propitiate Lord Ganesh, “Thaar amar konrayum”. He then went on to begin singing on the Mother with the first hymn, “Udikkinra senkadhir” meaning the rising rays of the sun. The majestic voice and confidence of Subramanian somehow shook the king’s belief that Subramanian would meet his punishment.
An unperturbed Subramanian went on and on and on. The hymns were sung one by one and the divine blessing was evident that the words came like a flow of a river adhering to the rules of ‘Anthaadhi’ and each hymn’s ending was the beginning of the next one. After each hymn, the soldiers lowered the platform a few inches.
Subramanian, unmindful of the lowering of the platform after each hymn and the sweltering heat of the burning logs beneath his platform had sung 77 hymns. Just as he finished the 78th, which was about the luminous face of the goddess with her diamond earrings, equal to the full moon, a miracle happened. Much to the awe of the king and all watching the event, a luminous figure of a divine goddess was seen rising from the horizon and as they watched shocked, the goddess removed her earring and flung it into the sky and the next moment the area was flooded with moonlight and the full moon was shining bright right in front of them. By this time the 79th hymn was over and the goddess vanished and all had happened in a matter of seconds. Now, the full moon was brighter than the burning logs!
The elated crowds cheered loudly in praise of Subramanian and hearing the sound Subramanian opened his eyes to see the moon in the sky and all the people bowing in the direction where the goddess had appeared. Subramanian with all modesty completed the hundred hymns as he had intended and sang one more hymn extolling the benefits of surrendering to the Goddess Abirami.
The King and his entourage did not know what to do and they stood ashamed of their arrogant behaviour earlier in the day. They sought forgiveness from Subramanian the King honoured Subramanian with lots of gifts and lands and gave him the title of “Abirami Pattar”.
“Henceforth you shall be known as ‘Abirami Pattar’, for you have proved that you are really the son of the Goddess Abirami” said the king.
The people and their king, on that day witnessed and understood the power of man’s unshakeable faith in Abirami,the supreme power, in whatever name we may call her.
This incident is celebrated in Tirukkadayur to this day.