In the present day Mylapore (in Chennai), there lived a merchant by name Shivanesan during the period of Tirugnanasambandar (7th Century AD). Shivanesan was a prosperous merchant who owned ships and traded in gold and precious gems. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and greatly revered all Shaivite saints, especially Tirugnanasambandar about whom he had heard a lot. (You can read the story of how Tirugnanasambandar was blessed by Lord Shiva here.)
Shivanesan had a daughter by name Poompavai. She had been born to him after years of penance and therefore he loved her very dearly. Poompavai was an icon of beauty with eyes of a doe, thick, black and curly hair, a broad forehead and a charming face. Since Shivanesan had heard the greatness of Tirugnanasambandar so much, he had decided to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to Tirugnanasambandar only and had also publicly announced so even without meeting Sambandar in person, even once.
One day, Poompavai , when she was twelve years old, had gone to play in the garden with her friends. Unfortunately, there, she was bitten by a poisonous snake, when she was plucking jasmine flowers and the poison caused her to swoon immediately. Her friends rushed in carrying her. Shivanesan immediately summoned the best doctors but his efforts were of no avail. Poompavai died shortly thereafter. Shivanesan and his family were totally shattered by this incident. Shivanesan was so attached to his daughter that even after her death, he announced that if anyone could revive his daughter he would gift all his wealth to them. In the three days following her death, many magicians and reputed physicians came and tried their luck but their efforts bore no fruit.
Then Shivanesan consoled himself that since he had already decided to give her to Tirugnanasambandar, he would mourn no more. So after her cremation, he collected her bones and ashes and placed them in an urn made of clay. He decorated the urn with sandal, jewellery and flowers and silks and placed it on the bed of her room . He offered rice and milk every day to the urn and also kept an attendant in the room for the urn, treating it as his daughter herself.
Years passed and one day Shivanesan heard that Tirugnanasambandar was visiting Tiruvotriyur which is in the north of today’s Chennai. Shivanesan arranged a floral pandal all the way from Tiruvotriyur to Mylapore and went with his assistants to request Tirugnanasambandar to come to Mylapore. Coincidentally, Sambandar was leaving from Tiruvotriyur to visit Mylapore to have darshan of Lord Kapaleeshwara. Shivanesan gladly accompanied the saint to Mylapore.
On the way, some of Shivanesan’s assistants told the saint about the incident that had happened concerning Poompavai. Sambandar smiled but did not say anything. The entourage of Sambandar accompanied by Shivanesan and his men went to the Kapaleeshwara temple and had darshan of the Lord. After that when they came out of the temple, Tirugnanasambandar turned to Shivanesan and said, “ Please bring the urn in which you have placed your daughter’s remains to the entrance of this temple, which is the abode of the Lord who dances in cremation grounds ” .
Shivanesan, was greatly pleased and after bowing to Sambandar, went home, and brought the urn in a palanquin, accompanied by his daughter’s friends and placed it where Sambandar told him to. Meanwhile lot of crowd had gathered in curiosity to see what was going to happen.
Sambandar looked intently at the urn for some time meditating upon the Lord Shiva. Then, he called out her name and started to sing the hymn starting with the words “Mattitta Punnai” . He sang ten hymns and in each hymn, the first three lines would describe the various festivals of Kapaleeshwara temple and the beauty of the Lord and the last line said “Is it fair for you to have gone away without seeing all this, Poompavai?”
The divine hymns had a marvellous effect. As he sang the tenth hymn “Urinchaya Vaazhkai”, the urn broke open and Poompavai appeared, as grown up as she would have been if she would have been alive. She appeared like a goddess, extremely beautiful with no trace of anything having happened.
All the people were overwhelmed and uttered “Hara Hara , Hara Hara” marvelling at the grace of the Lord Kapaleeshwara. Poompavai , walking gracefully came and bowed to Tirugnanasambandar praying to him. Sambandar turned to Shivanesan and told him to take his daughter home. Shivanesan, bowing to the saint said,” Sir, I have vowed to get my daughter married to you and request you to please accept her hand”. Sambandar looked at him and said, “Your daughter died of a snake bite. Due to the grace of the Lord, she got her life back for which I have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord and it is not proper for me to marry her (for he was like a father to her now) . She is now the daughter of Lord Shiva. Hence, it is not appropriate for you to speak thus”
Shivanesan and his family were not at all convinced and fell at the feet of Sambandar to accept their request. But Sambandar consoled them with quotes and advices from the ancient texts and took leave of them and went his way.
Eventually Shivanesan gave up his idea, but thought that since he had mentally given away his daughter to Sambandar, he could never accept anyone else as his son-in-law. Poompavai also thought exactly the same way and spent her life as a spinster indulging in devotion to Lord Shiva.
This is the story of how Tirugnanasambandar revived Poompavai from death.
Interestingly , the songs sung in this set (Padhigam) about 1300 years ago, (Sambandar’s period is said to be 7th century AD), mentions Aippasi Onam, Karthikai Deepam, Margazhi Tiruvadirai, Thai Poosam, Masi Magam (bathing in sea), Panguni Uthiram, and the Pavitrotsavam and Tirukkalyanam festivals. This, as a form of recorded history, shows how ancient these festivals are which are being still celebrated today in Kapaleeshwara Temple!!