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Maha Skanda Sashti II – Soora Samharam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidbits:

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

Maha Skanda Sashti I – The birth of Lord Skanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Shiva granted the boon and Soorapadman was exhilarated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narahari Sonar – The saint-poet

This is the lunar month of Kartik. This Hindu month is of immense importance to the devotees of both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva and both these Gods are worshipped with equal fervour in this month.

 Kartik month is also known as ‘Damodar Maas’ since, it is in this month that Lord Krishna who, as a child, was tied to a grinding stone by his mother as a punishment for his mischief. He thereby got the name Damodar. While crawling with the grinding stone tied to his waist, he granted salvation to two celestial beings who were cursed to be trees and hence this month is special for Lord Vishnu (Hari).

Similarly, Lord Shiva (Hara) at Somnath granted release to the Moon (Chandra) from a curse on the full moon day of the month of Kartik (Kartik Poornima). He is also believed to have vanquished the Asuras and destroyed their three cities as Tripurantaka on Kartik Poornima. Hence, this month is special for Lord Shiva.

This month being dear to both Hari and Hara, I want to share a story with you which tells us that Hari and Hara are one and the same.

In Pandarpur, there lived a goldsmith by name Narahari. He was called Narahari Sonar (meaning goldsmith). Theirs was a family of goldsmiths and Narahari was also following the family’s profession. He was an excellent and honest goldsmith who was known for his prowess in making the best jewelry. In those days there were no machines to make jewelry. All jewelry was hand- made.

Narahari was a staunch Shaivite.  Shaivites are worshippers of Lord Shiva. He was a fanatic Shaivite that he would not even look at the Gopura (Temple tower) of Lord Vithoba’s temple which was near his house.

 Pandarpur is the abode of Lord Vithoba (Vishnu) and Goddess Rukmini (Lakshmi) and one always associates Pandarpur with Vithoba and Rukmini. The shrine of Lord Vithoba is very famous and draws crowds from all over the world even now.

In those days also, there would always be thousands of visitors to Vithoba Rukmini temple at Pandarpur.

Narahari, however, always prayed to Lord Shiva at the Mallikarjuna (a form of Shiva) temple situated nearby Vithoba Rukmini temple but would be careful enough not even to look at the Vithoba temple. During temple festivals of the Vithoba Rukmini temple he would move to some other village nearby as he did not want to even hear Vithoba’s names and songs. Such was the extent of his extreme devotion to Lord Shiva.

One day, a rich landlord from a neighbouring village came to his shop.

“I heard that you are the best goldsmith in Pandarpur. I want to get a waistband made in gold embedded with precious stones. Can you make it?” he asked Narahari.

“Sure, why not?” said Narahari. Tell me for whose size it is to be made. Have you brought the person so that I can take the measurement?”

The landlord smiled. “No…no… I cannot bring the person here” He paused for a while as Narahari looked puzzled. “It is for Vithoba”, he said.

Narahari became furious as if the landlord had uttered something unpalatable.

“For that God? No. I will not be able to make it. You can go to anyone else”, he said rudely, showing the way out to the landlord.

The landlord was not the person who would budge. He did not even get up but started talking calmly to Narahari.

“Look here Narahari, I have been married for ten years and did not have a child till now. After praying to Vithoba, my wife and I have been blessed with a child. I had decided that, to express my gratitude to my God, I would adorn him with the best gold waistband made specially for Him. Therefore I came to you knowing that you are the best Sonar available. Your job is to make the jewel, whether it is for a human being or a God and I think it is wrong for you to treat a customer like this. After all, I am only asking you to make a jewel, not to pray to the God for whom you are making the jewel. Please therefore think again before you tell me to go”

Something in the voice of the landlord made Narahari to be a bit patient and think.

“What you say is correct” said Narahari. “But I will need the measurement to make this jewel and I will NOT come to the temple of this God how much ever you coax me to. It is left to you to decide what to do”.

The landlord thought for a while. “Okay” said he. “I will go and take the measurement of Vithoba’s waist with a thread and give it to you and you make the waistband. Is it OK?”

Narahari had no excuse and had to agree. The landlord gave Narahari few bars of gold and some precious rubies and emeralds to be embedded in the waistband which he was going to make.

The landlord then went to the temple and with the help of a thick thread, took the measurement of Lord Vithoba’s waist and returned. He gave the thread to Narahari and told him to make the jewel for the measurement given, as early as possible. Narahari agreed to keep it ready in a week’s time.

The landlord returned after a week to find the beautiful jewel ready. It was so exquisitely made and the gems embedded on it made it look so ornate and the landlord could not wait to see it adorn his beloved Vithoba. He thanked Narahari profusely for having put in his heart and soul into making this wonderful jewel and paid him the fees promised. He then hurried to the temple with his wife, child and family.

After doing Puja and other rituals, the landlord requested the temple priest to adorn Vithoba with the waistband. The priest tried to tie the band around the waist of Lord Vithoba and fasten the hook, but it was a tad too short that the ends of the waistband could not be hooked and therefore Vithoba could not be adorned with the waistband. The priest told the landlord to go back to the goldsmith and add a link to the waistband so that it would be a little longer and would fit the waist of Vithoba.

The landlord, though disappointed, could not help it and went back to Narahari and told him that the band was tight. Narahari was also puzzled since he had made it exactly as per the measurement given to him.

“How come there has been a flaw in my work” he thought to himself. However, he apologized to the landlord and told him to come the next day so that he could add a link to one side of the waistband to make it a little longer.

The landlord came the next day and checked if the link was added and satisfying himself took the waistband to the temple. “It will surely fit my Vithoba” he thought to himself.

This time also the landlord was in for a surprise. The waistband which was only  a wee bit short the day before, had become extremely long and loose and was sliding down the thighs of the ‘Murti’ of Vithoba.

Both the priest and the landlord and his family were shocked this time too.

The landlord could not help but exclaim his surprise aloud. “Oh Vithoba! How can this be? Yesterday it was only little bit short….”

The priest felt bad for the landlord and said to him, “I think the measurement was not taken properly. Do not worry. Go back to the goldsmith and bring him in person to take the measurement”. He did not know that Narahari had made the jewel.

The landlord was feeling very sad and silently walked back from the temple once again to Narahari’s place.

“What happened now?” asked Narahari in an irritated tone. The landlord sadly told what had happened and requested Narahari to come personally to take the measurement of Vithoba.

You can imagine how furious Narahari was. “I CANNOT AND WILL NOT COME TO THAT TEMPLE” he yelled angrily.

The landlord was not the one to give up so easily. He calmly pleaded, then argued, quarreled with Narahari and finally made him accept to come to the temple of Vithoba to take the measurement himself.

“But one condition” said Narahari wanting to have the last word. “I will only come blindfolded to the temple and you will have to lead me to your God to enable me take the measurement. I do not want to see your God even by accident. Are you agreeable to this?”

The landlord was waiting for this moment and gladly agreed to the condition.

So Narahari took a thick black cloth and made the landlord blindfold him by tying the cloth tightly across his eyes. He held the hand of the landlord and proceeded to the temple of Vithoba walking slowly. Finally they reached the ‘garbagriha’ (sanctum) of Vithobha, with Narahari standing exactly facing Vithoba ready to measure him.

Since he had no idea of the ‘Murti’ of Vithoba, he was groping about the ‘Murti’ trying to locate the waist of Vithoba. But he thought he felt a tiger skin. He moved his hands a little further up and he felt something like a “Rudraksha”. “Am I imagining?” thought Narahari. Tiger skin and Rudraksha belonged to his Lord Shiva and he thought he was measuring Vithoba. He paused for a moment and again felt the upper part of the ‘Murti’ and what was that? He felt a slimy thing like a snake and also felt water droplets fall on his hands. Wasn’t that Ganga from the matted locks of his beloved Shiva??

He was overcome with curiosity and without a thought removed his blindfold and there was Vithoba smiling at him.

Narahari immediately shut his eyes tight.

“Wrong, wrong, forgive me Lord Shiva” he mumbled hurriedly and put on his blindfold once again.

“Tighten the blindfold further” he said in an angry tone to the landlord as the landlord obeyed not knowing what was happening to Narahari.

Narahari once again tried to measure the waist, now that he had seen a glimpse of the “Murti” but once again, he felt a snake like a belt and a deer skin. He thought he heard the strains of the Damru (Shiva’s drum) “dum dum dum dum” along with the rhythmic jingle of anklets.

Getting goosebumps, he immediately removed the blindfold and there was Vithoba smiling at him once again, just as a dad would play Peekaboo with his kid. Narahari did not close his eyes this time, as he could not resist looking at the endearing smile of Vithoba and the longer he stared at Vithoba, he could not decipher if it was Shiva or Vithoba he was seeing,  as the ‘Murti’ appeared to him both as Shiva and Vithoba.

That was his moment of realisation!

Realisation that Vithoba and Shiva were one and the same. Narahari felt so ashamed of himself.

 “What an idiot I have been!” he lamented. “Oh! Vithoba, not knowing you are the same as my Shiva, how many years I have missed seeing your beautiful face! What an ill-fated destiny I have had, not to see your lotus feet whilst living so near to your abode! Forgive me O’ Lord!”

Saying thus he fell flat at the feet of Vithoba who was still smiling sweetly as if amused. Tears were streaming from the eyes of Narahari. His heart was throbbing with bliss and out of the bliss poured out beautiful lines of poetry. All the people who were witnessing this were awestruck as Narahari Sonar described his experience through a beautiful song.

Narahari became “Sant Narahari” and his life changed drastically after this event. He composed many devotional hymns on Vithoba and became his staunch devotee.

It is said that Sant Narahari bid goodbye to this world in 1311 but his songs live on. Narahari’s story is found in the Marathi text “Bhakta Vijaya” written by Mahipati, in the 18th century. This text contains the biographies of poet saints who lived between the 13th and 17th century.

This story is available on Spotify as an Audio story. To listen, click here.

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, unusually, 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 sales 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 provisions 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 no rice in the house, 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 grain 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 vessel. 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 – though the exact ‘l’ sound is not available in English language)

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 murti’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 of the Chola dynasty, 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 procession of the chariot (Ther in Tamil) of Nataraja which was scheduled to start shortly.

The King, priests and guards rushed to the place where the chariot was ready for the procession but could not locate Senthan as there was a huge crowd. .

As they were wondering what to do next, the time for pulling the chariot was nearing and as was the custom, the King also went to hold the sturdy rope with the help of which the ‘Ther’ would be drawn. Little did he realise that Senthan was also holding the same rope behind him. Pull as they might, the chariot would not move even a millimeter, as the wheel of the chariot 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 Ther 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’.

Why Durva grass or Arugampul is dear to Lord Ganesha…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tirukurippu Thonda Nayanar

In the ancient town of Kanchipuram lived a saintly washer man by name Tirukurippu Thondar. He was a washer man by profession, but he considered it his duty to serve the devotees of Lord Shiva and just by looking at the facial expression of a devotee, he would know what he needed and do that service to the devotee. “Kurippu” means expression and since by seeing the “Kurippu” on the devotees’ faces, this saint did “Thondu” that is voluntary service, he came to be known as Tirukurippu Thondar.

The main service rendered by Tirukurippu Thondar was to wash the dirty clothes of the devotees of Lord Shiva. He believed that by cleaning the outward dirt and stains in the clothes of the devotees, his mind would be cleansed of the dirt of arrogance and ego. He was very sincere in his belief and continued doing this service. He believed that he could escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Lord Shiva by doing this service to the Lord’s devotees.

The Lord was pleased with this service of Tirukurippu Thondar and wanted the world to know about his greatness.

One day an old man appeared in the town. It looked that he was a devotee of Lord Shiva since he had holy ash smeared on his forehead and was wearing the holy Rudraksha. He was wearing a very dirty upper cloth which were almost in tatters. Tirukurippu Thondar sighted him and as was his custom, immediately offered to wash the upper garment of the old man.

“It is my duty to clean your garment, holy sir”, he said. “Kindly allow me to serve you”

The old man appeared hesitant and Thondar understood the reason of his hesitation. “I shall wash this immediately and dry it and give it in a couple of hours”, he said. “Do not worry that it will take time O Revered one”

The old man nodded his head. In a feeble voice he spoke. “I have only one upper garment to keep me warm, young man. If I do not get this garment by the evening, I shall not be able to bear the chill of the night. Hence please make sure that you give the garment by evening”

Saying so, the man removed the upper garment and gave it to Tirukurippu Thondar. Thondar promised the man that the garment will be delivered as promised as the sun was up and it was a very hot day with hot winds blowing. “If I do not deliver as promised” said he, “I will consider myself to be sinned”.

Tirukurippu Thondar took the garment and went to the river where he used to wash the clothes on a big stone. He washed the cloth well to remove the dirt and did it carefully as it was almost in tatters and wringed it to get rid of the excess water.

Just then something unexpected happened. There was suddenly the sound of rolling thunder. A startled Thondar looked up to see dark clouds suddenly moving towards the river and cool breeze blew from nowhere. Tup… Tup… Tup… Big raindrops started to fall. Before Thondar could realise, it started pouring in torrents. With a huge noise, the rain was pouring.

Thondar was in a state of shock. Just an hour back, the sky was so clear with the sun high up in the sky and now, when he had promised to deliver the old man’s upper garment…….

“It will stop shortly” Thondar consoled himself.  “After all this is not monsoon season and so this will soon stop”, he said to himself and looked up at the sky with great hope.

But the rain was not in a mood to stop. It poured and poured and poured. Noon became evening and the sun was preparing for his exit but the rain did not stop.

Thondar was devastated. Now, his promise would go unfulfilled for the first time. He was ashamed of himself, of the ignorance with which he promised the old man. Now what would the man do at night? Did he not specifically say that he needed his upper garment at night? Now, what reply would he give him?

The more he thought of the helpless situation he was in, the more depressed he became and at one point, decided that death was the only punishment he could award himself. He had no weapon to kill himself but he saw the washing stone.

Without a moment’s delay, he began to hit his head on the stone.

Dum… Dum… Dum… It was as if someone was trying to break a coconut. Blood started oozing out of his head and the few people who were standing under a big tree nearby watched Thondar in shock as he continued to bang his head on the stone.

Suddenly when Thondar banged his head on the stone, he did not hit the hard stone but felt he hit a soft sponge. The pain vanished and the blood stopped.

Thondar looked at the stone and was surprised to find the palm of the Lord come out of the washing stone. He realized that he had banged on the palm of the Lord. The palm, the Abhaya Hasta, which was the savior of the world, was looking magnificent, in the colour of the pomegranate flower, and the wrist was adorned with golden bangles and Rudraksha, smeared with the Holy Ash.

Thondar was overwhelmed with joy and he joined his palms in reverence to the Lord’s arm and his eyes were filled with tears of joy!!!

The arm was visible to the onlookers also and they were equally dazed at the appearance of the Lord’s arm and they also chanted “Om Namasivaya… Om Namasivaya…” in ecstasy with folded palms.

Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun shone gloriously. A sudden light brighter than the sun appeared in front of Thondar and the others and there they could see Lord Shiva with his consort on the majestic Nandi. Lord Shiva looked at Thondar showering his grace and the next moment Tiruthondar’s soul merged with the Lord.

His devotion to Lord Shiva earned him a place amongst the sixty three Nayanars (Saivite saints)

 

 

Tirunavukkarasar- The ruler of speech.

This is the story of another of the famous Nayanmars,  Tirunavukkarasar. Tirunavukkarasar literally means ‘Ruler of the tongue’ (speech) and this title was bestowed upon this Nayanmar by Lord Shiva himself. He is counted as one of the ‘Nalvars’ or foursome who extensively sang on Lord Shiva.

In the 7th century AD, in the village of Tiruvamur, in Tamilnadu, there lived a pious farmer couple Pugazhanar and Madiniyar. The couple were very devoted to Lord Shiva and they were blessed with two children, the elder daughter named Tilakavathi and the younger son who was named “Marulneekki” which means ‘dispeller of darkness’. Both the children took after their parents as far as the devotion to Lord Shiva was concerned. Both of them were very intelligent and excelled in whatever they did.

In course of time, when Tilakavathi was nearing twelve years of age, her marriage was fixed with an army general by name Kalippahayar. He was working as the army commander of the Pallava King during that time. However, before the marriage took place, duty beckoned Kalippahayar and he was sent for battle by his king. He promised to return after the battle and marry Tilakavathi.

Meanwhile Pugazhanar contracted some incurable disease and passed away unexpectedly. Madiniyar, who could not bear the separation of her husband also died shortly.

The loss of both parents at once came as a great shock to the young children. Anyway there was a ray of hope that Kalippahayar would return and marry Tilakavathi and they would become part of a new family. But that ray was shattered with the news that followed shortly that Kalippahayar had died a martyr fighting for the country. The children were plunged in grief once more.

Tilakavathi was heartbroken and wanted to die as she felt that Kalippahayar would have been her husband had he not died in the battle and that she belonged to him. However, Marulneekki pleaded with his sister not to do so as he would be orphaned in totality and said to her, “Sister, from now, I look upon you as my mother and father. You are everything to me. If you die, I shall also commit suicide.”

Tilakavathi was moved by his plea and gave up the idea of killing herself and did not marry anyone. She decided to live her life as a spinster, doing service to Lord Shiva in His temples. They donated the wealth earned by their parents but Marulneekki’s mind was not in peace at all. He went in search of solace for his disturbed mind. His wandering brought him to Pataliputra and he was influenced by the Jain monks there. He stayed there and learnt all their scriptures and became the head of the monastery with the name Dharmasena. He also became close to the king who followed Jainism.

Meanwhile Tilakavathi who had also grown old, left her village and relocated to the place called Tiru Athikai on the banks of river Gedila and built a small ashram and served the Lord Shiva in the temple by sweeping and mopping the temple, plucking flowers and making garlands for the Lord. She felt extremely sad that the brother for whom she had lived this life had embraced a different faith and was living somewhere. She would however try to dissolve her grief in praying to the Lord Shiva.

One day Marulneekki had a terrible stomach ailment like intestinal colic. He was administered lot of medicines by the monks in the monastery but all of that was of no avail. They read scriptures and chanted mantras to cure him but there was not a bit of improvement in his condition. In fact it worsened and he was suffering excruciating pain. It was at that time that he suddenly remembered his sister. He sent two messengers to his hometown, and they, on reaching there found that she had moved to the nearby Tiru Athikai, went and told her the matter. They also said that Dharmasena (Marulneekki) wanted to see her and that she should accompany them. However, Tilakavathi, a staunch Shaivite as she was, refused to come to the monastery and told them that if her brother wanted to see her, he should come to her place.

When Marulneeki (Dharmasena) heard the news, he felt guilty and with the suffering and agony, left the monastery alone in the night and reached his sister’s place in a few days with great difficulty.

On seeing Marulneekki after so many years, the motherly instinct in Tilakavathi would not let her be angry. She welcomed him with open arms and was in pain to see him suffer with the stomach ailment. She taught him the Panchakshara mantra and after applying the Vibhuti, took him to the presence of Veerattaneswara, the presiding Lord Shiva of Tiru Athikai.

The moment he entered the sanctum sanctorum, there was a transformation in him and he broke into a verse “Kootrayinavaaru vilakkagileer” and sang ten verses impromptu. He realised then that his stomach ailment had vanished. He then heard a divine voice saying “You are Navukkarasar”(King of speech). He then travelled to many Shiva temples singing verses which are called ‘Thevarams’.

The Jain monks were in the meanwhile very disappointed that their head had left them to embrace Shaivism and therefore, they went to the king and complained about Dharmasena saying that he had pretended to have a stomach ache in order to go back to his religion. Navukkarasar was then subjected to many punishments by the king, through all of which he came out unscathed, including being thrown into the sea tied to a big stone.

Navukkarasar then travelled to Sirkali to meet Thirugnana Sambandar ( see Thirugnana sambandar story). Sambandar was a young boy whereas Navukkarasar was in his fifties. However, the moment he saw the divine Sambandar, he prostrated at Sambandar’s feet and Sambandar, lifting him up called him “Appare..” (O father!!) from which time Navukkarasar is also known as Appar.

Appar spent his life in service to Lord Shiva. He was involved in resurrecting many temples in South India and led groups called ‘Uzhavarappadai’ to clean dilapidated temples. His pictures depict him with the spade like tool he used to clean the temples and remove the weeds. He has composed about 5000 hymns sung at about 126 abodes of the Lord, but we have about 300 hymns only traced today.

His hymns have created miracles as in the life of Appoodhi Adigal (see Story of Appoodhi Adigal), when the son of Appoodhi Adigal was brought back to life. In fact in his own life, when he was subjected to severe punishments by the king, like being thrown in a lime kiln, he sang the hymn, “Maasil Veenaiyum” where he describes the cool shade of the Lord’s feet . When the hot kiln was opened after seven days, he was not a wee bit burnt, but was in blissful meditation. Similarly, when he was thrown into the sea with a huge boulder tied to him, he sang “Sotrunai Vediyan” whereby the boulder, instead of sinking, floated like a wooden boat and he came ashore.

Navukkarasar, whom out of respect is referred to as Tirunavukkarasar lived upto the age of 81 till his union with Lord Shiva.

The Story Of Somnath

On the day of Kartik Poornima this month, I had the good fortune of being at Somnath, the first of the twelve Jyotirlingas and after the elating darshan of Lord Somnath or Somashekhar, I wanted to tell you all the story of this great place.

Legend has it that the Lingam of Somnath has been there from aeons ago as a “Swayambhu” which means one which is not manmade, but how the Lord came to be known as Somnath is an interesting story. The Lord Shiva was known as Mrutyunjaya and Bhairavanatha amongst many names before he came to be known as Somnath.

According to the Skanda Purana, Daksha Prajapati, who was the son of Lord Brahma, had many daughters amongst whom he married off twenty seven to  Chandra, the Moon God. The twenty seven were Aswini, Bharani, Krittika, Rohini, Mrigasirsha, Arudra, Punarvasu, Pushya, Aslesha, Magha, Poorva , Uttara, Hastha, Chitra, Swati, Visaka, Anuradha, Jyestha, Moola, Poorvashada,Uttarashada, Sravana,Dhanishta,Sadaya, Poorva Phalguna,Uttaraphalguna and Revathi.

Chandra was an extremely handsome person and was somewhat proud about his looks too. When the marriage took place, Daksha Prajapati told Chandra that all his twenty seven daughters should be treated on par and to be treated well. Chandra also agreed to be impartial and treat all his wives equally well.

However, after the wedding, Chandra developed a fondness for his fourth wife Rohini. She became his favourite and he spent almost all the time in her company. The other wives were patient at the beginning but soon started feeling neglected as their sister Rohini kept Chandra with her all the time.

One day, three of them, Krittika, Magha and Anuradha were discussing this problem amongst themselves.

“He has not spoken a word to me for almost a month!” said Krittika.

“You are talking of speaking. He has not even smiled at me for the past two months”, Anuradha said with a sigh.

“You both do not know that he has not even glanced at me for as long as I remember” Magha said with tears in her eyes. “Let us wait here. He will come in a short while to go to Rohini’s palace and we shall ask him what he has in mind. Does he not remember the promise he made to our father?” Magha’s voice was trembling with anger.

Hearing the conversation, Chitra came and said “ You are waiting for our husband? Hmph… He has not come out from Rohini’s palace since yesterday. Where will you meet him? I think we shall go and complain to our father. Come on!”

“That is the right thing to do” the sisters chorused and went to meet their father taking all their other sisters with them.  Daksha was shocked to see the twenty six of his daughters teary eyed coming to see him so late at night.

“What happened my dears?” he asked, “And where is Rohini? Who has dared to trouble the daughters of the mighty Daksha Prajapati?” he roared.

The girls broke down. They told their father about  Chandra’s indifference to them and his partial treatment to Rohini.

“We cannot take it any more” they said. “Please help us”

Daksha, terribly angered by the behaviour of his son in law, stormed into Rohini’s palace. Chandra was taken by surprise and did not expect this.

Pointing at Chandra , Daksha said, “You…. You have failed in your duty as a husband. You have made all my daughters sad, much against what you promised me at your wedding! You are proud and arrogant because you are handsome. I curse you now, that you will lose all your sheen and beauty and the brightness because of which you are arrogant!”

The moment the curse was uttered, Chandra’s glow started to reduce. Chandra was almost in tears. He fell at the feet of Daksha and said, “Sir, Indeed I am sorry for my behaviour. Please recall your curse and bless me”

Daksha was in no mood to be pleased. He turned away and said angrily , “I cannot recall my curse. The power to remove your curse is only with Mahadeva”.  Saying so he stomped out of the palace.

Chandra was alarmed and so was Rohini. She was guilty that she was also party in bringing about the curse but both were helpless. Slowly day by day Chandra’s sheen and brightness started to reduce.

Chandra was desperate. And so were the devas, since the world was becoming darker night after night. They consoled Chandra and asked him to propitiate Lord Mahadeva. Chandra went from place to place praying to the Lord seeking relief from his curse.

When he came to this place near Veraval in present day Gujarat and found this Mrutyunjaya, he prayed fervently and asked the Lord to release him from the curse, The Lord was pleased and appeared before him.

“Chandra”, he said, “I cannot relieve you fully from the curse of Daksha, but, you will wane for one paksha  (15 days) and wax for the next paksha. I will also wear you as a crescent on my matted locks”

The next moment Chandra regained his sheen , he was glowing as a full moon and he, along with Rohini fell at the feet of the Lord. Tears of gratitude were streaming from  Chandra’s eyes.

“Rise up” said the Lord  “and treat all your wives equally well. This place will henceforth be known as Prabhas Patan” (Prabhas means glittering, illuminating and patan means city in Sanskrit) “I will be known here as Somnath” (Som is another name for Moon)

And the Lord vanished. The day on which Chandra’s curse was released was the day of Kartik Purnima and therefore it holds special significance for this place.

Chandra is said to have built the temple for the Lord in Gold and it is said that Lord Sri Krishna in Dwapara Yuga rebuilt the same with Sandalwood. It is significant to mention that the place from where Lord Sri Krishna left this world hit by a hunter’s arrow is also very near this place.

The present temple was invaded many times from the 11th century onwards and the last invasion was by Aurangazeb.  Rani Ahilyabai Holkar (1725 to 1795 AD) who was instrumental in restoring many temples which were destroyed, was moved by the desecration caused to this temple and built a similar temple very near the original, which is still revered.

The original has been restored to a glorious condition thanks to the efforts of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel and Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

The Story Of Amaraneedhi Nayanar

Amaraneedhi was a rich merchant belonging to the town of Pazhayarai which was the ancient day capital of the Chola kingdom.  It still exists with the same name in Tanjore District of Tamilnadu, India. Amaraneedhi traded in gold, gems, jewellery and silks. He was a very honest trader and also an ardent Shiva devotee. Though he earned lot of wealth in his trading activity, he spent an equal amount in charity to devotees of Shiva.

He built a “Matam” or choultry at Tirunallur which was nearby, to serve the Lord’s devotees who came to visit the temple there. A choultry is a resting place built by charitable persons/institutions for devotees to take rest. Amaraneedhi himself used to be at the choultry with his wife and son to serve the devotees who came to visit the Shiva temple at Tirunallur. After feeding them sumptuously it was the practice of Amaraneedhi to present the devotees with blankets known and “kandhai” and loin cloths known as “keeludai” along with money. This practice was going on for many years.

One day, a young mendicant appeared at the doorsteps of the choultry. He was a very handsome person, with holy ash smeared liberally on his forehead, His hair was matted and he was wearing rudrakshas for his earrings. Apparently he was a ‘Shivanadiyar’ (a devotee of the Lord Shiva)

He was also carrying a staff, on one side of which a bag of holy ash and two loin cloths were tied. He was so divine looking that Amaraneedhi stood up as if in a trance, to welcome him.  He offered a seat to the mendicant and told him that lunch would be ready in a few minutes. The mendicant smiled in acceptance and said, “Well, the fame of your charitable acts have spread far and wide and I will accept your hospitality, but I will go and have bath in the river Kavery and come back and then have lunch”. Amaraneedhi joyfully nodded his head when the mendicant continued, “And Amaraneedhi, please keep one of this loin cloths here. It looks like it will rain. If it rains while I go for a bath, I will need this when I come back. But make sure you keep it safe for this is very valuable to me”. Then, handing over one of the dry loin cloths which were tied to his staff, he left for his bath.

Amaraneedhi took the loin cloth inside and kept it safely in the cupboard. He went outside and waited for the mendicant to return. As the mendicant had predicted, it rained and after a while the mendicant returned, totally drenched. Looking at Amaraneedhi, he said, “Please bring the dry loin cloth I gave you”.

Amaraneedhi went inside and opened the cupboard but the cloth had vanished miraculously!! Amaraneedhi was surprised but thought it would have fallen down and looked all around. But it was nowhere to be seen. Amaraneedhi was very upset and came outside with faltering steps. He was holding another loin cloth as he had many in his possession as it was his practice to gift them. He stuttered and stammered and said “Holy Sir, I….. I.. am not able to.. Er…. find the cloth you gave me. But..  I have a new one for you. Please take this …” His eyes could not meet the eyes of the mendicant as he felt very guilty of being so careless.

The mendicant got very angry. “I told you to keep the cloth safe and in spite of that you have been so careless. This shows your arrogance… “

“Shiva Shiva…” uttered Amaraneedhi. “Please listen to me, O saintly one. I did not do this intentionally and have not been careless like this before. I am myself surprised that such a thing has happened. Please forgive me and take this new one”

“Oho, so this is how you give charity, I see. You steal from one and offer it to another in the name of charity huh! I thought you were an honest trader but it does not seem to be so….”

“Please, please O Holy One” pleaded Amaraneedhi. Tears were streaming from his eyes. Full of remorse for being so careless he said “Please don’t utter such harsh words. I will not be able to bear such harsh words of suspicion. Please believe me…  Please, forgive me and accept this cloth!”

By this time the passersby saw this argument going on and gathered to see what was happening. Amaraneedhi was embarrassed and looked up to the mendicant pitifully.

The mendicant was quiet for few minutes and then said, “I already told you that the cloth I gave you was very valuable to me and you go on telling me to take another. I cannot accept anything which is not equal to the one I have”

Amaraneedhi got some hope and begged the mendicant to suggest a way out.

“Bring a balance” said the mendicant. Taking the other wet loin cloth which was tied to his staff, he continued, “I shall keep this in one scale of the balance. I shall take whatever is equal to this in weight”.

Thinking that his problem would be solved in a short while, Amaraneedhi brought from inside the huge balance he used to weigh gold bars and silks in his trade. He respectfully, took the wet cloth from the mendicant and kept it on one scale. He brought a new loin cloth and kept it on the other scale. There was no change in the balance. The plate with the wet cloth was down and the other was high up. Amaraneedhi brought few more cloths and kept them. Hmm… No change.

Puzzled, he went and brought the entire stock of new cloths kept for donating and kept them on the plate. Status quo continued. By this time the people who had gathered were also surprised at the way the balance was behaving! The mendicant with a nonchalant look turned at Amaraneedhi as if to ask, “Is it all?”

Amaraneedhi ran inside and brought the blankets kept for donating and put them on the balance. The single wet cloth sat on the one scale like an iron block, whilst all of the things kept on the other scale could not move the scale down even a wee bit. Amaraneedhi could not gauge what was happening. He brought out all the silks in his possession and put them on the plate. Still no change. Amaraneedhi ran back inside and brought all the money, the gold and jewellery in his possession and put them on the scale. But the scale with the cloth remained down as if stuck to the ground.

Amaraneedhi had nothing else to offer. Overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness, he, mentally surrendering to the Lord he worshipped, called his wife and son, and looking at the mendicant said tearfully, “O Saint, I know that you are not an ordinary human being. I have nothing in my possession left to offer, equivalent to the cloth of yours. Hence I am offering myself, my wife and my son!” Saying thus, he climbed on the scale, followed by his wife and son and with closed eyes, said, “If our devotion to Shiva devotees has been sincere all these years, let the scales become equal”.

Lo and behold, the scale with the wet cloth rose and the other scale came down and both stood equal. The people around were awestruck and the mendicant vanished. In his place stood a smiling Lord Shiva along with his consort Parvati and son Subramanya.

Before Amaraneedhi could come to terms with what was happening, the scales turned into a Vimana (flying craft) and Lord Shiva spoke, “I am pleased with your service Amaraneedhi”, he said. “Now it is your turn to enjoy the bliss of Shivalokam. Come and be with me”

And to the surprise of the onlookers, the Vimana with Amaraneedhi and his family vanished and so did Lord Shiva.

This is the story of Amaraneedhi, who is known as Amaraneedhi Nayanar. The temple at Tirunallur, of Kalyana Sundareswarar, still stands majestically and the temple is mentioned in the Tevarams of other Nayanars. Its age is dated back to the 7th to 9th century during which the Nayanars lived in Tamilnadu.

For knowing more about Nayanars, please see the background guide.

 

 

 

The Story of Mars (Chevvai)

India has succeeded in the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in the first attempt just a few days ago and it occurred to me that I should write the mythological story of Mars.

In our Puranas, it is said that once when Lord Shiva was in deep meditation, a drop of sweat from the brow of the Lord fell on the ground. It was transformed into a boy named Angarakan.

Since it fell on earth, Mother Earth known as Bhooma Devi took him and brought him up as her own son. When he was a young child, she took him to Sage Bharadwaja who took him under his tutelage and taught him all the knowledge there was to be learnt especially in the martial arts and warfare. After his learning was over Angaraka wanted to do severe penance and did penance for many years and Lord Shiva, who was pleased with his penance appeared before him and granted him the status of a planet.

Mars is known in modern times as the red planet. But amazingly, our Puranas have told this long back wherein he is called “Chevvai” which word has its origins in the word “chemmai” meaning red. Chevvai is described as being red, wearing red garland and red clothes. He is supposed to affect the blood and bone marrow of the human beings. His influence is also attributed to war or warlike situations, sibling rivalry and land dealings.

It is known that even the Romans considered Mars as the God of War and the month March is named after him. It is said that they celebrate festivals in honour of Mars. The festivals consist of mainly military activities.

Now for some interesting titbits.

In Astrology and numerology, the number nine is assigned to Mars or Chevvai. An interesting thing is that in the bloodiest war which is there in the Puranas, that is the Mahabharata war, the number 18 is predominant. 18 when added as 1+8 totals to 9.

The Mahabharata war lasted for 18 days

The Gita which was told by the Lord has 18 chapters

There were a total of 18 divisions or “akshauhinis” as there were called – 11 of the Kauravas and 7 of the Pandavas.

Each Akshauhini had chariots, elephants, horses and infantry in the ratio 1:1:3:5 and had 21870 (2+1+8+7+0=18) chariots, 21870 elephants, 65610 (6+5+6+1+0=18) horsemen and 109350(1+0+9+3+5+0=18) infantry in each Akshauhini.

 

 

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