Next stop was Thirupaasur, another Paadal Petra Sthalam (sung by the Nayanmars). The sthala vruksha here is Bamboo. New member Pratheep who had visited this temple many a times, used to rue the bad condition of this temple. Surprise, is that some HR&CE guy had woken up, had made proper roads to reach this temple, cleaned a bit and had lit the praharams. With some white wash and name boards, the temple is now approachable and tidy. The Swami’s name is Pasupatheeswarar and the amman is PasupatheswariBefore Thiruvalangadu, we had I am rewriting with inputs from a travelogue of one Lakshmi Srinivasan, who had written in her blog some years before.
Thiruvalangadu is a 90-minute drive from Chennai on the Arakkonam route.
Legend tell us about a lingam which was found in the banyan forest, and came to be worshipped by the celestials. They were interrupted by a reign of terror unleashed on them by two demons. They were the insatiable creatures… consuming everything, ever hungry. Shiva came to the help of the celestials. He sent Kali to tackle the fierce creatures. Eight armed, with 16 potent weapons, she descended from Kailash. Blood flowed as she went to war. But, the demons multiplied with each drop of blood that touched the earth. Kali turned to Shiva. He gave her a vessel (kapaalam), to collect the blood. Not quite knowing what to do to prevent even a drop from spilling, she drank the lot. Demonic blood, transformed her, and she went on the rampage attacking everything in sight. The gods appealed again to Shiva. You must come, they said, to humble Kali.
Kali, on seeing Shiva, challenged Him to a dance duel. The celestials built a stage, amidst the thick groves of the forest, by a gleaming pool of water. It is there even today, a beautiful kulam (tank), second in size only to the famous Kamalalyam in Thiruvarur. The two danced like thunder and lightning. Kali matched Shiva, step for step. He then let fall his left ear ring to the ground and in a flourish, picked it up with his toe, tossed it high in the air, and eventually restored it to His ear.
With that single breath-taking movement, when the kinetics of dance reached an ultimate crescendo, Kali was humbled, for she could not match it.This dance scene is well immortalized also in the two 20 feet statues in Meenakshi Temple opposite swami Sannidhi Outer prahara.
Tamed thus, Kali restored order in the forest, and for ever afterwards, celestials, saints and ordinary mortals have worshipped Shiva in this sacred spot. But not before making an appeasing visit to Kali’s shrine by the sacred waters.
This is the dance that Karaikkal Ammayar saw. She transformed herself into a scary old hag, roamed the forest and was mistaken for a demon. She was left in peace to do her penance. She walked on her head to see the dance of eternity. Other saints who followed her to the same spot were hesitant to set foot on the sacred earth which her head had touched.
Manickavasagar, Sundarar, Thrignanasambandar…. they all sang in full-throated devotion. But none sang with the fierce passion of a woman, shorn of beauty, her toothless smile her adornment. Karaikkal Ammayar eventually saw the dance of Shiva in a forest of banyan trees (Thiru Aalam Kadu – Thiruvalangadu). We see her as an exquisite bronze image, her matted locks crafted as intricately as the Egyptian coiffure of Cleopatra. She sits at the feet of the awesome figure of Shiva in His Urdhva Tandava pose. The Natya Shastra describes this dance where one leg is lifted vertically as if the the toes are stretching to touch theclouds. Camphor lights up the dark recesses of the temple to show us this mysterious couple, the dancer and the devotee.
SIXTY-three saints sang in ecstasy about Shiva, travelling through jungles, over mountains, down rivers, unmindful of personal hazards, until they had a vision of His dance. They then crossed over to another world, another realm, an afterlife, which promised an eternity of seeing the dance of their Ishta Devata (god of their personal desire). Their souls continued to sing and soar in ecstasy. One among them is immortalised in exquisite sculpture adorning temples in Tamil Nadu, Bali, Java, and even Cambodia. Karaikkal Ammayar, the saint – poetess sits at the feet of dancing Shiva, clinking her cymbals to punctuate the rhythm of an endless dance.
Karaikkal Ammayar’s story in the Periapuranam – the magnum opus by author Sekkilar, is brief. She is born in Karaikkal, as Punithavathi, who miraculously produces the most delicious mangoes for her merchant husband. He quickly realises that her devotion for Shiva does not allow her to be a dutiful wife, and releases her from the bondage of marriage. She, a free woman, wanders in search of the vision of the Lord’s dance. Today, pilgrims to Karaikkal celebrate a unique festival, throwing ripe mangoes in the air as the deity is taken in procession, nearly 1500 years after Punithavathi lived there.
The Kali temple besides the temple tank, is one which we missed to see. Here, I heard, the goddess is pre-eminent, and devotees from time immemorial, have acknowledged her power. Women particularly, pray for favours at Her shrine which is modest.People cook in the yard outside, and prepare oil lamps made of lemon skins to offer Kali. What I read on this Kali is repeated here…”… Hidden beneath the flowing red skirt adorning the oily black stone image are the feet of Kali, firmly planted on the ground, with the bells of a dancer around Her ankles. This is the sacred spot where she was defeated by Shiva in a dance contest. Her face is turned upwards as if she is seeing a shooting star. She was actually gazing in awe at the feet of Shiva which had touched the clouds. The contest was seen by celestials, demons and creatures of the forest, and the saints who had walked on their heads to be worthy of such a treat.
The most ancient legend has it that, Bharata Muni and his spouse Subhadra prayed in this Thiruvalangadu village for progeny, after taking bath in the Puthrakameshwarar teertham inside the temple, where the main deities are Puthrakameshti Lingam, Vatavaranyeshwarar and Vandarkuzhali Nayaki (Goddess Parvati). Other shrines for which this temple is famous are: Erattai (twin) Vinayakar – one of them very ancient and the one next to it called Puthra Santhana Pillaiyar, believed to be installed by Bharata Munivar. It is said that as an answer to the prayers of Bharata Munivar and his wife, Goddess Parvati took birth as their child. As a human being, she performed pujas to a Lingam in the nearby village of Kutralam to unite with Lord Siva as His consort. To this day, childless couples come to this shrine of Puthrakameshti Lingam and the belief is that they are blessed with progeny. Another note worthy shrine in this village temple is Jwaraharesharar who is prayed for the speedy cure of common ailments like fever.
Banyan is the sacred tree, Sthala Vriksha as it is called, for this pilgrim centre. This village is famous for its annual Panguni Uthiram festival, celebrated in March-April. `Swasti Vachanam’ recited by Vedic pandits, initiated by Natesa Dikshitar of those days, used to be one of the highlights during this festival. There is also a shrine for Lord Murugan and his two Consorts – the deft hand of the sculptor who made them is evident from the wonderful workmanship. Lord Murugan is on a peacock frame, adorned and enclosed in an arch like form – a sight worth to see.
Subramania Gurukkal, the present Sivacharya looking after the daily routines of the temple, has the distinction of his immediate predecessors having had the divine grace of the presiding deities of this temple – the grace appears to be passing on from one generation to next without break which explains the steadfast devotion of the family to this temple. Endless saints have sung on the Thiruvalangadu Vadaaranyeswarar.
Other than those mentioned above, Pattinathaar, Arunagirinathar, Kachiappa Sivachariar, Paamban Swamigal have sung hymns of this Lord and his dance on this “Rathna Sabai”.Rajavelu took us was a pre-historic megalithic Dolmen cyst burial stone monument in Pazhayanur itself!
What is surprising is that normally such sites are seen in hillocks or near riverbeds, but this is a rare find where the stone is on road level! It seems the Palayaar was the extinct river in this area and so the remanants of an ancient river bed is this Dolmen cyst site. These are burial monuments and a sure sign of ancestoral habitat. This site he said is supposed to be atleast 3,500 years old!
Pazhayanur has another thriller story to be heard!
The famous Pazhayanur Neeli story!
A married merchant while travelling in Kasi city, marries another beautiful girl, loving her at first sight. He along with his new wife and her brother come back to his village near Pazhayanur. On reaching his village, the merchant remembers his earlier wife and fears for showing his new love to her. Without hesitation, he takes his brother in law to a nearby pond and drowns him. When his new wife enquires about her brother, the merchant takes her to the pond acting as if they are out for search, unabashedly kills the new wed wife too in the same pond.
The dead woman comes out as a wandering spirit (Neeli in tamil), and carrying the brother’ ghost as her kid, follows the merchant. The merchant nearing his village, crosses Pazhayanur. Night falls and the merchant had to take rest. The Velaazhars (today’s merchant community) of Pazhayanur are known for their wisdom and integrity. They welcome the guest of their village, feed him and request him to take rest there and go to his native the next day.
The “Neeli”, the ghost appears in the disguise of his true wife along with the kid (ghost too,of course) and requests before the Village heads that the merchant had ignored her and is running away from her. She pleads with them to unite them. The merchant knows very well that there is no chance of his wife appearing at that spot, fearing the worst, refuses to have the woman with him.The guests are intrigued and ask the merchant to have his wife and kid with him that night, in the same room, as it was already late night. Neeli, the ghost is smart and asks the village headmen to make her husband remove the sacred knife he carries along to thwart evils, saying that it is disgusting that a man does not even believe his own wife and carries a sword! She also adds that she fears for her life and that of her kid, that this man may kill them when they are fast asleep! Seeing her sob and narrate a pathetic story, the village head men believe her and order the merchant to have her in his room.
The village head men 70 of them, the Velaazhars back the Neeli for staying with the merchant. With no other choice, the merchant agrees, but asks guarantee for his life. The village heads (63 of them) promise that if something untoward happens to the merchant, they will also perish themselves, jumping into the fire, before the Shivalinga of Pazhayanur!And as expected, the worse happens! The neeli kills the merchant, throws away the ghost kid on her way backto hell besides, crushes the kid ghost beneath her feet and disappears! The village headmen, on seeing the gory death of their guest, feel they are responsible for his death. plunge into the big fire before the Shivalinga! One head man who is left out, is again called by the Neeli, (taking the form of the wife of the headman himself!), asking him why he is alone here, while the others have jumped to death, to keep up their promise! The headman, was ploughing the field by then. Hearing that his bethren have perished, slays his heda off with the plugh edge and suicides himself to keep up the promise!
The place of their death, the Satchibudeswarar Shivalinga and the temple where the oath was taken, are still seen in this village!
The very site which witnessed this story of courageous village headmen, who kept their promise to uphold their promise and village law, also the place where the Neeli crushed the ghost kid, all are seen still today!
A memorial is built in the place where the village head men jumped to death, and was opened for common public by the Chief Justice of Madras High Court! The three kings, Chera, Chola and Pandya have sung in praise of this sacrifice, so had sung the mystic poets Sekhizar, ThirugnanaSambandar and Umapathi Sivam! So much for keeping up promises, those days!!
In Tamil, there is a hymn sung by the Saint Thirugnanasambandar explaining this story as well as Sekhizaar in his Periya Puranam narrates this story elaborately. This shows the temple is of sangam age.
The tamil quote:-பழையனூர் பேயை நினைத்து திருஞானசம்பந்தர் தம் பதிகத்தில் “முனை நட்பாய் வஞ்சப்படுத்தொருத்தி வாணாள் கொள்ளும் வகைகேட்டு அஞ்சும் பழையனூர்” என்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார். சேக்கிழாரடிகள் தம் நூலில் பழையனூர் நீலி கதையை விரிவாகக் கூறியுள்ளார்.
Also, the three saivaite saints who wanted to worship the Shiva of Thiruvalangadu, stop at Pazhayanur, claiming that it is a sin if they tread on the Thiruvalangadu soil on which Karaikkal Ammayar walked on her head to attain Shiva moksha! This Pazhayanur Kailasanathar temple is in ruins, with trees grown on the vimanam and the stone inscription becoming the stepping stone for the nearby well, tells us the gory nature of the temple. The stone inscriptions you see on your right side, is made as a stepping stone to the temple well! What a bad sight!
Few farming families still visit this temple, as they say it is their family practice generations together to come to Kailasanathar temple for any occasion.Contributions, toward renovation, can be in the form of DD, Cheque can be sent to REACH FOUNDATION, payable at Chennai.
Thanks to member Karthic who had taken the photos shared in this travelogue.