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 and their fame rose to dizzying heights between 9th century CE to 11th century CE. 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 to note that the ladies of the royal family also had enough wealth at their disposal. The queens were mostly engaged in activities aimed at bringing the society together. Building temples and hospitals by the ladies of the royal families were common.
Many Chola queens had the title “Sembiyan Mahadevi”. However the title is generally taken to refer to the queen of the King Gandaraditya Chola, who was Raja Raja Chola’s uncle. He was deeply devoted to Lord Shiva and his queen Sembiyan Mahadevi was instrumental in building many Shiva temples for over sixty years, as she was also an ardent devotee of the lord. This legend is said to have happened during her time.
King Gandaraditya Chola wanted a life size Nataraja ‘Murti’ 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 it 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 ‘Murti’ 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 he always fell short of the king’s expectation, and three times the king had seen the ‘Murti’ and had rejected it outright.
One day on his usual visit to check the progress , the king got terribly annoyed that the sculptor was not being able to create the ‘Murti’ the way he had 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. I am terribly disappointed with you!” he shouted in anger. “I shall come again tomorrow evening and by that time if the ‘Murti’ has not been made as per my specifications, be ready for severe punishment!”
He stomped out of the place, his face, red with fury.
The sculptor was crestfallen. He was a person with great knowledge and greater commitment but somehow this time this ‘Murti’ was eluding him. And he shuddered at the thought of 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 huge pot on the stove to melt the metal for the last time. 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 punishment?” he asked the Lord. 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. 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 “glug glug glug glug…” and when he turned around, he was horrified to see the man and his wife drinking the molten liquid using two small containers which he had kept to pour the liquid in the mould. Instinctively he darted across to snatch the containers from them and lo and behold! They had turned into the ‘Murtis’ of Nataraja and his consort Sivakami and what beauties they were! The ‘Murti’ of the Lord was more than life size (about 7 to 8 feet- still it is the tallest Swayambu Nataraja in the world) and the ‘Murti’ 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 ‘Murtis’ conveying his gratitude. They were so very life like including a mole under the left arm of Lord Nataraja. So full of awe, peace and joy, the sculptor 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 ‘Murtis’ with astonishment and could not take their eyes off them. When the king asked the sculptor how he was able to make them, the sculptor, true to his nature, told him what had happened. The king did not believe him. He thought the sculptor 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 leg of the Murti of Lord Nataraja 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 Gandaraditya 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 Swayambhu Nataraja.