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Tag: Narayana

Chithirai Festival- Kallazhagar comes to Madurai

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

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

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

This is the story behind this event.

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

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

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

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

Durvasa mistook this as arrogance and cursed the sage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sahasra Kavacha – The one with a thousand armours!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the story of Sahasra Kavacha.

 

From The Bhagavatham – The Rescue Of Gajendra

Long long ago, in an island amidst the ocean was a huge mountain by name Trikuta. It had three peaks whose colours resembled iron, silver and gold. The mountain was very huge in its base and had terrific height also. It was surrounded by a dense forest. The mountain contained in itself many caves and there was a beautiful valley also. The scenic beauty around the mountain and the forest could not be described in words. The multi coloured birds making sweet sounds, the green trees, the fragrance of the flowers and the cool scented breeze made it a paradise on earth. There were lot of wild animals in the forest, lions, tigers, leopards and elephants.

There was a herd of elephants led by Gajendra, the majestic one. Gajendra  was always surrounded by many female elephants and elephant calves. Gajendra was indeed so majestic and powerful that he was a terror to all the other animals in the jungle. The trumpeting of Gajendra would send lions and tigers running for cover.

Near the valley around the mountain, there was a beautiful lake owned by Lord Varuna. It was a huge lake with great depth and it was a treat to the eyes with its blue coloured water and pink lotuses in full bloom. The animals of the forest quenched their thirst there and the lake was house to crocodiles also.

One day, Gajendra came with his herd to drink water in the lake. The herd was thirsty and on seeing the water, they got into the water and frolicked and played to their heart’s content.  Gajendra went inside deeper into the water. Suddenly, a crocodile came and caught his leg. A painful tug, and before he could realise what was happening, he was being pulled in deeper.

Gajendra was not the one to give up or even think of giving up. He tried to pull out his leg with all his might. Gajendra put up a brave fight trying to extricate his leg from the jaws of the crocodile but the crocodile would not give up so easily. It was a ‘tug of war’ which no one had ever witnessed ever before. Both of them seemed to possess equal strength. But as the saying goes, crocodiles are stronger in water. Gajendra , however strong he was seemed to be losing his might.

The herd of elephants, on seeing Gajendra’s plight, came and tried with their trunks to pull Gajendra out, but could not succeed. Soon they gave up and all they could do was to shed tears.

The fight went on for a long long time and slowly, Gajendra’s physical strength started depleting. He was overcome by fatigue and a feeling of helplessness. Once the physical strength diminishes, the mental strength follows suit.  Gajendra was becoming desperate. At the same time, the crocodile was gaining strength and was now confident of pulling Gajendra into the deeper waters.

Suddenly, the tired mind of Gajendra, in a flash, remembered Sri Hari, the Lord of all the beings. All this long Gajendra was fighting with his own might and when he could not manage anymore, he remembered his earlier birth in which he was a great devotee of Lord Narayana (Sri Hari). Now that he remembered the Lord, he knew that the Lord was his only saviour and therefore called out to the Lord , singing a hymn and seeking asylum.

With such sincerity and devotion did he call out that Sri Hari immediately mounted his Garuda and came to the rescue of Gajendra. The next moment the crocodile was vanquished by the Sudarshana Chakra of the Lord. Gajendra, overwhelmed by the Lord’s mercy, plucked a lotus and offered it to the Lord addressing him as “Akhila Loka Natha” (Lord of all the worlds). Tears were streaming from the elephant’s eyes in joy as the very appearance of Sri Hari was ever so blissful.

From the body of the crocodile, rose a Gandharva, who bowed to Lord Sri Hari, thanking him for releasing him from a curse that had made him live the life of a crocodile.

Now this Gandharva, by the name of Huhu in his earlier birth, was once bathing in river Godavari with his wives. In another part of the river was a Sage by name Devala who was in deep prayer offering Arghya (water offering) to the Gods. Huhu, wanted to amuse his wives and so swimming under the current, he went and pulled the sage’s leg. The sage was greatly angered by this act of Huhu and cursed him. “May you become a crocodile, as you are acting like one!” said the sage. Huhu immediately realised his folly and sought for forgiveness.  When he repented, the sage relented and said that the curse will be lifted when he would be hit by Sri Hari.

Huhu now having regained his beautiful original form, left for his abode.

The Lord was pleased with Gajendra and as he blessed Gajendra by keeping his hand on Gajendra’s head, a beautiful being who was as beautiful as Sri Hari emerged from the body of Gajendra and the being merged with Sri Hari.

Gajendra was, in his previous birth a valiant Pandya king by name Indradyumna. Though he was a king, he was a great devotee of Sri Hari and his mind was always filled with the name of the Lord.

Once when Sage Agastya went to his palace, the King was deeply engrossed in the thought of Sri Hari. So he did not realise the arrival of the sage and did not get up or welcome him. This enraged Agastya who cursed him. “You are acting so dull like an elephant and therefore may you become an elephant!”

Now, he was released from his curse by Lord Sri Hari himself and was given a place with the Lord permanently!

This is the story of Gajendra Moksham from Srimad Bhagavatham.

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