Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Spiritual Diary: Chapter 31

After the conclusion of the mourning period for my departed aunt, my friend and I embarked on a six day pilgrimage that was intended to cover many temples in and around Madurai and Tirunelvelli.

We started off first, with a visit to Palani.

This magnificent abode of Lord Muruga sits on top of a hill and is perhaps the most venered among all the Aru Padai Veedus or literally, houses of Skanda.

A short haul by winch brought us to the top of the hill. We proceeded directly to the shrine of Bhogar, a famous ascetic/ siddha who was an ardent devotee of Muruga. His samadhi is djacent to the shrine and is considered a Jeeva ( living) samadhi as these sidhas possessed miraculous powers and were adept at kriya yoga that confers immortality to the fortunate few!

Indeed Bhogar is supposed to have lived for thousands of years , having perfected the art of transmigration into various bodies. He is believed to have travelled to various parts of the world like Egypt, Rome, China, Central America; made many scientefic discoveries and inventions like the first airplane, etc. It is believed he was a master of medicine as well.. Bhogar was an expert in combining herbs and poisons to find cures for an array of common ailments. He is largely attributed to have fashioned the existing stone idol of Muruga in the sanctum. This image has been made from an amalgam of substances and is believed to possess healing powers. The milk and Sandalwood ablutions to the main deity are greatly valued as they are believed to cure many diseases.

The shrine of Bhogar was in a small room. The figurines of the deities he had worshipped have been preserved carefully along with the yantra for each deity. On the day we visited, the priest informed us that the daily flower supply to this shrine had not yet been delivered. This was significant since we could see the powerful yantras clearly, without the camouflage of flowers. The Ganapathi , Bhuvaneswari and Murugan yantras are believed to be so potent that ordinary visitors are normally , not allowed to get a glimpse of them.

We were indeed lucky.

I sat for a while in meditation at this hallowed spot and prayed to Bhogar to guide me on my path.

Later, we entered the main sannidhi.

I was fortunate to get a seat on the threshold of the inner sanctum. The daily ablution ceremony started and I watched, mesmerised.

Later, while the idol was being decorated, a priest ( Odhuvaar) stood nearby reciting verses from the Thirumurugattrupadai. I closed my eyes and listened to this fervent prayer. “Help me, Muruga”, I beseeched. “I don’t want anything in this world but for you to be by my side”.

It was as if he heard my prayer. I slowly lost complete conciousness of my body as I sat there right on his doorstep. I was brought back to earth and life when the curtain in front swung open to a chorus of “Aro Hara- VetriVel Muruganikku”.

We left Pazhani , exhilarated by the darshan. On the way back to Madurai there was a quick stop at Tiru Avinankudi, another famous temple dedicated to Muruga and glorified by ancient poets like Nakkirar.

Yet another temple housing Kuzhandai Vadivelan merited a quick stop over and then we headed back.

Later that evening, we had an opportunity to visit Tirupurankundram , another abode of Muruga where he is believed to have married one of his consorts- the heavenly maiden Deivayanai.

This was followed by a stop at another Jeeva Samadhi . This was a small shrine venerating the saint, Kuzhandai Ananda Swamigal. This powerful, yet little known shrine is tucked away amidst the crowded shops and markets of Madurai.

Yet, entering inside, one can get a feeling of total tranquility. This Saint was an ardent devotee of Madurai Meenakshi and Lord Murugan. Many were the miracles he accomplished during his life time. A Sri Vidya Upasaka of the highest order, there is a separate shrine here housing the Sri Chakra Yantra that the Swami had used.

We rounded off our pilgrimage on the first day by a visit to the Meenakshi Amman Temple.

Despite the crowds, we were able to get a darshan of this benign goddess before retiring to the hotel for the night.

The following day started off with a visit to the Vaishnavaite temple at Sri Villi Puttur famous for the poetess- saint Andaal.

Sri Villiputtur is perhaps one of the most important among the 108 Divya Desams for Lord Vishnu.

This was the birth place of Andal and her foster- father, Periazhwaar, a great Vaishnavaite Saint.

The story here is that Periazhwaar was worshipping his Lord as Vatapathrasayee ( Lord in a reclining pose) at this hallowed place when, one day, he found a little child in the garden he maintained.

With great joy and delight, Periazhwar brought up Kothai, as he called her. Every day, flowers from Periazwar’s garden were used to make the flower garland for the Lord. Kodai, was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and extremely devout from an early age. She used to fashion beautiful flower garlands and then try them on herself, before sending them to the Lord. Attaining the supreme God- head was Kodai’s only desire in this world and it was her intense desire to ‘marry” or unite with supreme truth or reality.

One day, a strand of hair found in the flower garland incensed Kodai’s father and he soon discovered kodai’s customary practice of wearing the garland before sending it to the temple.

He forbade her to make any more garlands.

However, Lord Vishnu appeared in his dream and stated that it was Kodai’s galands he preferred!.

After this episode, KODAI was called Andal ( one who has conquered the Lord through love and devotion) or Choodi Kodutha Nachiyar- ( maker of flower garlands_)

Andal is credited with composing many soul- stirring devotional works in praise of he Lord- Tiruppavai, Vaaranam Aayirm and Nachiyar Thirumozhi, the latter dealing with the passion felt by a young girl wishing to get married to Lord Vishnu.

The legend is that She finally entered the sanctum of Sri Rangam on an appointed day and disappeared into it!

The temple at Sri Villi Puttur is magnificent with sculptures, frescoes and paintings dating back to the Nayak period.

What struck me as most impressive is a huge hall in front of the sanctum of the Lord Vatapatrasayee, panelled entirely in wood with intricate carvings and paintings depicting various incidents in the Ramayana and Bhagavatam.

The temple Of Andal is especially beautiful and she is seen in all her splendour alongside her Lord with Garudan, the sacred mount standing respectfully with them.

Shankara Narayanar Temple was our next stop. This temple also over a thousand years old and is famous especially because it celebrates the unity of Shiva and Vishnu.

Here, Lord Hari Hara is worshipped in a single image; Lord Shiva on the right and Vishnu on the left holding aloft in their hands, the respective symbols, the trident and discus. Lord Shiva is also present as Shankara Lingam in a separate sanctum, while his consort Gomathi Amman has her own imposing, sannidhi.

Situated on the banks of the river Tambiraparani, this ancient and enormous temple is a magnificent complex of vast corridors and open spaces.

There is a local belief that the snake-pits here are divine and eating the “puttru marunthu” or the mud from these snake- hills is supposed to cure a person of psychological, mental and physical ailments.

We wandered through the seemingly, never- ending corridors visiting the various shrines and marvelling at the sculptures. The image of Ambal was singularly beautiful. I sat for a while in a sacred spot directly in front of the goddess. A Sri Chakra is supposed to be present here, embedded in the ground. I closed my eyes and fervently prayed for the great mother’s protection.

We were soon speeding off in the direction of Tirunelvelli, a sleepy town in the deep south of Tamil Nadu.

After a short break for a rather late lunch, we proceeded to the famous sea-shore temple for Murugan at Tiruchendur.

I could scarcely believe my luck. Since the previous day, I had already visited two of the Aru Padai Veedus. This was the third temple for Skanda that I was destined to go to.

An Abhisekham for the lord had been arranged here.

We reached the serene and peaceful abode of Skanda around 5 p.m. in the evening. The temple is located right on the sea shore and the evening breeze wafted gently as we waded in the waves to wash our feet.

As we entered inside, I noticed that a puja of Lights/ Deepams was going on in a huge hall in the first enclosure. It was rather beautiful to see two long rows of lighted lamps with women seated in front of them offering sacred chants. For a long time, I sat and listened to the prayers, resounding in this long and narrow corridor. Then, we went inside the main sanctum.

To my great delight and surprise, the priest who was escorting us came up to me with a huge pot of milk. He requested me to carry it into the inner sanctum and to be the first person to start off the abhishekam ritual for the Lord.

I was quite stunned! There I was carrying this enormous milk-pot, accompanied by the musicians playing nathaswaram, proceeding directly and regally up to the main sanctum!

It was as though Murugan was welcoming me back in style to visit him.

The hour that followed is one time that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.

I was seated right on Muruga’s doortstep, and, the ritual abhisekham started.

Accompanied by the chants of Rudram, the stone image of Senthil Andavar was bathed with a variety of liquids; milk, honey, sandal paste, panchamritam, a nectar made from fruits, etc.

I sat, scarcely moving, almost rooted to the spot devouring the scene in front of me. Behind me , a lot of other families who had also paid to see the abhisekham were seated. It was crowded outside the sanctum and inside the inner sanctum which was a very small cave-like room with a low ceiling, about 20 priests were shouting the rudram at the top of their voices, their torsos completely drenched with sweat!

An hour later, the image was decorated and, as the alankara deepam was shown, I sincerely thanked the Lord for giving me such a glorious darshan.

Tiruchendur temple is the only one of Muruga’s abodes that is not located on top of a hill. This was the staging ground for the battle between the young warrior god and the demon Surapadman. However, following the defeat of the demon, Murugan prays to his father, Shiva.

In fact, directly behind the sanctum ( which is formed out of a cave in the cliffs), is a small passageway leading into a small, airless chamber. Here, there are five Shiva lingas. The only source of light comes from a hole in the roof and a solitary ray of fading sunlight gently illumined this most sacred spot!

As we emerged from inside, we noticed that the temple chariot was being taken around the temple and I had the opportunity to join along with the crowd and pull this “ratham” (chariot) for a short distance. The final arathi was done to the Utsava Murthis on the top of the chariot and then we departed Tiruchendur.

This was a visit I shall always cherish.

Murugan had asked me to finish his painting and when I did, He had rewarded me with the most exhilarating darshan!!

1 comment:

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