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!!
- 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’.