Nov 21, 2011

From the Darkness and into the Light, Thirukkoviloor, Ashta Veerattaanam - 5

तमसोमा ज्योतिर्गमय |
“Lead me from the Darkness, unto Glorious Light”

Ah! The joy of stepping out from a dark and dank room into the bright and glowing sun; the sighs of relief when the power is restored at home, flickering up that solitary 10W bulb; the sight of a glorious fire burning away in the midst of the dark forest; and the familiar comfort of the teasing words ‘பல்பு எரியுதா?’ as you try to scratch your head in search of knowledge… Radiance, brightness, luminance, glow, sparkle, or whatever else you may call it, the very thought of ‘Light’ churns up a picture of warmth and happiness in our minds. It is this ecstasy of being led from the gloom into the glow, which can only be so much explained than experienced, that is requested for in the above verse from the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad.

Technically speaking, darkness is nothing more than the absence of light, the absence of knowledge, and the absence of direction. Fortunately or not-so-fortunately, it so happens that we often end up being smothered or misled, by these very absences of light or knowledge or direction, to the deepest lairs of gloom. Not many are known to have escaped from the all-pervading fingers of darkness, and almost every man ends up having a dark side, walking through a dark period of life, cherishing a dark secret, kindling a dark yearning, and enjoying a dark what-not! Sometimes, we remain so blind; we hardly realize that we are in our darkest hour yet.

So, from where do we derive that one glorious spark that is capable of driving away the darkness within? While some say that a loved one, like a family member or a trusted friend, is perhaps the best source of inspiration, for many others, it maybe the occurrence of a single event that eventually jolts them out of their nightmares. However, for a majority of us, the guidance has to come from within. The scriptures claim that the super-soul that resides within each of us; that spark of divinity that keeps our life-forces kindled up, is the sole provider of the light that is capable of drawing us out of the darkness. But of course, if the darkness has crept in to such an extent that there may be no return possible, then, the very same spark can simply destroy the individual - which will be the whole point of our post today! 

Long, long ago, the Goddess of spring, Vasantha, found herself to be in a very elated mood. She danced around on her toes, touching everything around her, infusing them with the same sense of joy that prevailed in her heart. Soon, the trees were sagging under the weight of their own nectar-laden flowers and big ripe fruits, the rivers ran full, making gurgling noises, with the fish jumping in and out of the flowing waters, the air was charged with the buzz of insects flying hither-thither and the contented cries of various animals that roamed the forests, and even the people of earth, the greedy and jealous human-beings, paused to enjoy the beautiful show that Vasantha was putting up for them. Everything was just too good to be true, and everyone was just too joyful to be normal.

On the slopes of Mandhara...
The gracious dance of Vasantha not only enraptured the lower souls residing on the earth, but also managed to sing its way into the hearts of the divine couple, Shiva and Parvathi, as they relaxed on the many mountains of the Himalayas. As the beauty of spring unfolded on the chilly vistas of Mount Mandhara, the divine couple roamed through the beautiful orchards and gardens that adorned the mountain slopes, dancing gently in-tune to the chirps of insects, enjoying the fresh aroma of every new blossom, and blessing every blade of grass that touched their sacred feet. The beauty of his own creation stunned Shiva, very much like a mother in awe of the prettiness of her own child, and he sat down to breathe in the ecstasy that was brimming through the three worlds. Just as charmed by the splendor of spring, Parvathi’s heart soared with happiness, and in a moment of playfulness, she crept up behind Shiva and closed his two eyes with her palms.

Darkness descended on the world like a thick veil, as the Lord of the universe, who sustained in his two eyes the sun and the moon, was momentarily blinded by the all pervasive Mother. Instinctively, Parvathi went numb with fear, unable to comprehend the reason behind the sudden cover of darkness, and she started sweating profusely from her palms – big globs of sweat that rolled down Shiva’s cheek. Almost simultaneously, Shiva opened his third-eye, which bore Agni, in an attempt to provide heat and light to the now dark world. Sweat from the Mother’s palms merged with the heat from the Father’s eye, and the thus fertilized sweat-drops rolled down to the ground. At around the same time, realization suddenly dawned on Parvathi, and she quickly withdrew her palms from Shiva’s eyes.

Sighs of relief went up as glorious light flooded through every corner of the earth, filling it up with a sense of life and happiness that was never seen before. The whole world, together with all the trees, animals, and humans, eagerly sucked in bursts of fresh air, as though they had just been born again.

While the citizens of earth celebrated their miraculous escape from near-doomsday conditions, Parvathi stood rooted to the ground; her eyes fixed on a spot near Shiva’s feet, where her sweat had fallen. There, in the place of her potent sweat, lay the ugliest baby that she had ever set her eyes upon. It was as dark as the night itself, sporting a fully-grown beard, a bushy moustache, jet-black matted hair, and humungous eyes that were totally white. The baby was as blind as a bat. A whole minute passed in absolute silence, with the exception of Parvathi’s racing heart-beats and raspy breaths, and then it happened…

The baby opened its tiny mouth and shrieked. Immediately, Parvathi’s and Shiva’s hands flew up to their ears, trying to block out the cacophony that was shredding the air around them. Somehow, the child had been born with the ‘incredible’ ability to screech like a hyena, a peacock, and a wolf, all rolled into one. Totally disgusted by the ugly looks and the horrendous cries of the baby, Parvathi fled from the scene, without even giving a second glance.

Shiva slowly looked at the bundle that lay cuddled up at his feet. Bending over, he picked up the baby cautiously, lest it screamed again, and spoke to it in cajoling tones. “You are one strong guy aren’t you, Andhaka (Andhaa – Blind)? Yes, that is your name. A-N-D-H-A-K-A. You will henceforth be called so, by one and all.”

Now, it became evident to Shiva that Andhaka would be less than welcome at his icy palaces at the top of Kailasha, given the look of repulsion on Uma’s face when she had laid her yes upon him. So where was this child to go? Who will bring him up as a person worthy of having been born from Uma’s sweat? The answer came in the form of Hiranyaksha.

Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, the sons of Diti and Kashyapa, were powerful Asura kings who terrorized the heavens and the earth alike. Hiranyakashipu, the elder brother, was wedded to Khayathu and she bore him four sons – Prahalada, Anuhrada, Samhrada and Hrada. Unfortunately, the same blessings, of being parents, were not bestowed upon Hiranyaksha and his wife Vrishadbhanu. Desiring a child, Hiranyaksha retired to the forests to invoke the blessings of the gods through intense penance and meditation. Even as he sat in the midst of a clearing, offering oblations to the Sacred Fire, Shiva appeared before him, carrying the newborn Andhaka in his arms.

“Hiranyaksha, I am pleased with your invocations, and I am also aware of the purpose of your penance. Unfortunately, you will never be a father, Hiranya. The stars foretell that and I see no reason to change what has been written. However, I am offering you a son, who is invincible, and extraordinarily powerful. Bring him up as your own and he will add glory to the Asura race.” Saying so, Shiva handed over Andhaka to an elated Hiranyaksha and vanished into the thin air. Good riddance!

The arrival of a foster son made Hiranyaksha proud and conceited. He soon increased his atrocities and tortures, and made life unbearable for the common people, the rishis and the Devas. Eventually, he picked up Mother Earth, tucked her under his muscled arms and went on to hide under the oceans. Shocked with his ruthless behavior, the Devas, headed by Brahma, appealed to MahaVishnu to save the Earth and all the others from the relentless deeds of Hiranyaksha. Thankfully, heeding to their prayers, Vishnu took the form of Varaaha, the divine boar, dived into the oceans, killed Hiranyaksha and rescued the earth.

The death of Hiranyaksha presented the Asura kingdom with a complicated situation. Tradition demanded Andhaka, the son of Hiranyaksha, to be the next in-line on the throne of the Asura clan. However, Andhaka was blind, ugly, and moreover, he lacked the charisma that is required for successful leadership. Seeing no other way, Sukracharya, the Asura-mentor, installed Hiranyakashipu on the throne.

Hiranyakashipu proved to be worse than Hiranyaksha, and redoubled his brother’s effort at terrorizing the innocent. He also nursed a growing grudge against Vishnu, whom he considered to be the murderer of his beloved brother. He destroyed all the temples dedicated to the various gods, and installed gigantic statues of himself instead. However, he met severe resistance from his young son, Prahalada, a staunch devotee of MahaVishnu who refused to stop chanting the sacred Ashtaakshara. Ignoring the fact that he was his own son, Hiranyakashipu ordered his guards to torture Prahalada until he saw sense, but only in vain. In the end, unable to see his devotee in any more pain, Vishnu emerged from a pillar as Narasimha (the man-lion) and tore apart Hiranya, killing him instantly, thus freeing the world of yet another menace. Later, Vishnu himself crowned Prahalada as the emperor of the Asura clan, and blessed him with long life, fame, and prosperity.

Now, the crowning of Prahalada was a tad too much for our Andhaka, who was already feeling down-in-the-dumps because of his lack of sight. Neither was he respected at the palace, nor was he allowed to indulge in the luxuries that were open to the others. He could neither go hunting, nor play ball, nor roam around in the gardens, nor enjoy the dances by the ravishingly beautiful royal danseuse. And now, to add more salt to the wound, he would never get an opportunity to be the king either. Life had been so ‘kind’ to him

Deeply disappointed by his own piteous state, Andhaka shunned everything that he owned, and retired to the forests to meditate upon Brahma. There, for a thousand years, he focused all his concentration on the form of the Four-Headed God, while he chopped off chunks of flesh from his body and offered it into the sacrificial fire. At long last, not being able to stand any more self-destruction of Shiva’s own son, Brahma appeared before Andhaka.

“Andhaka! Arise, Oh child! You have achieved your goal, and here I stand before you. Anything that you ask will be yours.” said Brahma, and then as an after-thought, he added, “Conditions apply though!”

Delighted with Brahma’s appearance, Andhakaasura prostrated before him and laid forward his three-part request. “Brahmadeva! I have been spurned all my life due to my blindness and my gory appearance. Pray, bestow me with vision and a beautiful body, as also a long, deathless life to make up for all that I have missed out on.”

Brahma shook all his four heads (a funny sight it must have been) and said, “Andhaka, I will grant you sight right away, as also the fine-looking body that you desire, but the final boon, I am afraid, you have to let go of it. Everything that is born must die. Everything that is created must, one day, be destroyed. This is the Cosmic Law, and I cannot play around with it. If you so desire, choose the condition under which you may die, and I will gladly grant you your wish.”

Andhaka’s brain immediately sprang into action, trying to choose between the various near-impossible death-scenarios that were running around his head. Finally, after much head-scratching and nail-biting, Andhaka looked up at Brahma. “Since you say that I must face death, let a woman be the reason for me to do so. The woman should be ravishingly beautiful, and should be like a mother unto me. Let me die when I descend to such a level of vulgarity, that I nurture lust towards her, for then I will no longer deserve to live anymore.”

Brahma, fully aware of the secret behind Andhaka’s birth and the identity of his true mother, mused inwardly at the plays of fate. “Granted Andhaka! May you live a long life and attain eternal fame.”

Made nearly-invincible by the virtue of Brahma’s boon, Andhaka returned to the kingdom, which was his birthright. His once proud and haughty cousins now trembled before the sight of him. Willingly, they heaped up all their riches at his feet and offered back their individual kingdoms. Andhaka smiled within. He had finally been accorded with the respect that he had always deserved.

In an act of joyous magnanimity, he gave back the kingdoms and the acquired wealth to his kith and kin, and crowned himself as the supreme emperor of the Asura clan. Andhaka, established a magnificent city at the foot-hills of the Mandhara Mountain and ruled over his Asura brothers from the capital. Soon, armed with his power, Andhaka took to invading Amaravathi. The glorious city of Indra was stripped of all its legendary wealth, and the Devas and Gandharvas were locked up in ghastly prisons. Now, Andhaka turned his sight towards the Netherworlds, and soon the mighty inhabitants of the Pathala found themselves in the company of the imprisoned Devas. Andhaka’s hordes did not spare anyone on earth either. They tortured innocent Brahmins, killed unwary travelers, destroyed sacrificial fires, tore down temples, and assaulted harmless women. The performance of daily rituals, the observance of monthly festivals, and the offering of seasonal sacrifices to the gods were all banned in Andhaka’s kingdom. Consequentially, the lands dried up and the rains failed to arrive on time. Thousands of years passed by thus, and people suffered everywhere – frightened, hungry, and ashamed of their fates. Andhaka, however, continued to enjoy the availability of lavish food, excellently aged-wine, and voluptuous women at his bedside.

One fine day, Andhaka was suddenly overcome with a desire to go on a trek in the lush green slopes of Mount Mandhara. Together with three of his trusted ministers (and equally crooked ones too), Duryodhana, Vighasa and Hasti, he started riding up the slopes. Soon, it was noon and the overhead sun scorched down on their backs. The ministers bade Andhaka to sit down under a shady tree, whilst they busied themselves with preparations for lunch. And the fateful happened – Vighasa stumbled upon a large cave. Inside, in the very depths of the cavernous structure, sat an aged ascetic engaged in meditation. A garland of human skulls adorned his torso and his hair was arranged in a knotted pile. With a crescent moon tucked into his hair, he sat on tiger skin, oblivious of his surroundings. Regular boring forest stuff!

But wait, who was that? In the brightness of the glow that suffused from the ascetics body, Vighasa had nearly missed out the woman who sat besides the ascetic. Emitting her very own aura, the woman was captivatingly beautiful. If all of feminine beauty, grace and chastity were to take one form, then that very form was there in the cave, sitting besides the ascetic. Vighasa’s gapingly open mouth failed to close and drool dripped out copiously. “She would be the perfect wife for the emperor, and in finding her, I would become his closest aide.” Excited by future prospects, Vighasa dashed back to Andhaka.

“My lord”, he said, panting heavily from the mountain running, “I have found her… I have found her… I have found the one woman who would be the ideal bride for you. Nay! In all senses, you are the only fit groom for her… She oozes beauty, charm, and character, and… and… I think it is best you see her to judge for yourself. She sits in the cave by the summit of the mountain, by the side of an ascetic who is blatantly unconscious of the ravishing beauty sitting beside.”

Andhaka’s face burst into a wide smile at the end of Vighasa’s excited narration. Lust blinded his judgement and soon enough his mind was going places. “What are you doing here then, you insane beings? Lead me to the cave.” he bellowed.

At this open order, the Asura generals escorted Andhaka back to the cave. Standing at the mouth of the gigantic subterranean chamber, Vighasa challenged the ascetic. “Ey! Aged saint! What use do you have for such a gorgeous wife? Why do you, who have already renounced the pleasures of the flesh, still keep her by your side? Give her to our Lord, the great Andhaka. He is rich, powerful, handsome, and is the ruler of the three worlds. Your wife would be fortunate enough to be his chief queen. Give her up and continue your penance in peace. Resist and you shall live no more.”

The ascetic, who, you must have realized by now, was none other than Maheshwara himself, briefly smiled at them. “If your leader is all that you claim him to be, ask him to come and take her away.”
Provoked thus, Andhaka grabbed his sword and charged to the cave, followed closely by his three generals. Shiva jumped down from his seat, bent low, and faced the attack. Instantaneously, the Asuras fell upon him like a pack of hunting dogs, only to be flung back like a bundle of sticks. There was a blur of sudden movements, and before they could even gather their senses, the generals lay panting on the floor, moaning and bleeding, but thankfully alive. Andhaka looked up at the ascetic with a blend of shock and fear, and in a flash he scuttled out of the cave. Looking up at the back of their quickly retreating king, the Asura generals too followed his lead and ran as fast as their bruised bodies could take them.

As he watched the Asuras running away, Shiva realized that the time was ripe for Andhaka’s life to come to an end. Andhaka himself had set the ball rolling when he had come in search of Uma. Turning around to Parvathi, he said, “It is time, Shakthi. He has to die and it must happen in accordance with Brahma’s boon. Pray, continue to stay in this cave for some time. He is bound to return sooner or later.” Parvathi bowed to her husband, “Have I ever gone against your orders, my Lord?” Shiva smirked and summoned Nandi, his trusted vehicle. “Nandi, guard the cave and protect Parvathi. I will return when the instant is right.”

Back at the foot hills of Mount Mandhara, Andhaka writhed with shame, disgust, anger, and most of all - uncontrollable lust. His very body felt like it was on flames. He could neither sleep, nor lie awake. He could neither eat nor drink. He felt weak and cheated. He had to lay his hands on her. The ascetic (if he really was one) had never allowed for even a fleeting glimpse at the woman. “Shame on you Andhaka!” he thought to himself.

Soon enough, his desire got the better of him, and just like Shiva had told Parvathi, Andhaka made a beeline for the cave. Only this time, he was accompanied by the entire strength of his military, complete with cavalry, infantry, and chariots. Andhaka marched on confidently, until he found himself facing Nandi. “Move!” he yelled, waving his hands sideways.

Nandi did move, only that he moved forward, knocking down Andhaka. Andhaka howled with fury, and war immediately broke out between Nandi and Andhaka’s generals. Time and again, Nandi drove back the vast Asura forces, only to be attacked yet again. Andhaka was not the one to give up easily. He repeatedly attacked the cave from different strategic positions and egged on his army to give their best fight. The war continued for over 500 years.

Inside the cave, as Parvathi anxiously awaited the arrival of her spouse, the feminine powers of Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara, Indra, Kumara, Varaaha, and Chandamunda manifested as Braahmi, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Aindri, Kaumari, Vaaraahi, and Chamunda (the Sapthamatrkas or Seven little Mothers) to offer protection to Uma. Together they waited in the cave, anticipating Shiva’s involvement in the battle.

Nandi was still valiantly battling with the Asura forces outside the cave, when help came in the form of Vishnu, Brahma, Agni, Indra and the other Devas. Sensing that the battle may soon end up in favor of the enemies, Vighasa, used his magical skills to turn himself into a gigantic mountain python, and in one large gulp he swallowed all of the enemy soldiers. Startled by this ploy, Nandi stood rooted to the ground, too numb to raise his weapons. And that was all that the Asuras needed. Making use of Nandi’s momentary loss of senses, the Asura forces managed to force themselves into the cave, only to be driven back by a powerful arrow that came whizzing at them. Like a perfectly launched missile, the arrow found its target and rammed into the head of the python that was Vighasa. SMACK!!! Blood-Shower!!!

Vighasa crashed into the ground, and his body split open. The ingested gods and Devas tore themselves out of Vighasa’s viscera and looked around for signs of their timely savior. With a blinding flash of light, Shiva rode out of the cave, His hands wielding the magnificent Pinaka bow and the resplendent trident, while across his back was strapped a quiver full of arrows. With sacred ash sparkling on His spotlessly white torso, and his throat shimmering like a brilliant sapphire, he rode majestically astride Nandi’s back. And besides Him, competing with Him in all aspects of charm, beauty, and grace, sat Parvathi. Clad in glistening shades of silk and gold, she appeared like the noon day sun, shining amidst the pearly white clouds. Instantly, the Devas prostrated before the divine couple, singing their praises.

नमः शिवाभ्यां वृषवाहनाभ्यां विरिंञ्चिविष्णिवन्द्रसुपूजिताभ्याम् | 
विभूतिपाटीरविलेपनाभ्यां नमोनमः शंकरपार्वतीभ्याम् || - उमामहेश्वरस्तोत्रं 
"Salutations to Lord Shiva and Goddess Shivaa, who ride the divine bull
Who are worshipped by Vishnu, Brahma, and Indra,
And whose bodies are anointed with sandal and holy ash,
Salutations to that Lord Shankara and that Goddess Parvathi "
- Umaamaheshwara Stotram

However, it was not just the Devas who were overcome with the appearance of the divine couple. Andhaka too, stood transfixed at the sight - for a different reason altogether. He just couldn’t take his eyes off the ravishingly beautiful woman riding alongside Shiva. “She must be the one.” he thought. “Vighasa was not wrong. She alone is worthy of being my queen. If she is to be mine, I would fight many thousands of battles like this one.” As his carnal desires invaded his senses, so did death begin to invade him - by the very power of his own boon from Brahma, for he had indeed lusted on a woman who was his very creator, his very own mother, and the mother of every other life on this earth.

“Soldiers!” bellowed Andhaka. “CHARGE!!!”

The Devas and the Asuras fell on each other once again. With the Lord in their midst, the Devas fought with a new found zest and decapitated many of the gory Asuras, but by some magic, not understood by the Devas, the dead Asuras woke up, as though from a deep slumber, and continued their fight. It was then that a few Devas discovered the source of the Asuras’ apparent immortality. The Asura preceptor and the Kula Guru of Andhaka, Sukracharya, an unequalled scholar and a great saint, was hovering around the battle field breathing life into the dead Asura soldiers, utilizing his mastery in the Mritha Sanjeevini Mantra (A secret chant capable of revoking the dead). The enraged Devas captured Sukra and turned him into a fruit. They then offered the fruit to Neelakantha, and requested him to ingest it. Shiva too consumed the fruit, thus bringing an end to the continuous revival of the dead Asuras.

Soon, in a short span of time, much of the Asura army lay wounded or dead. Andhaka stood on the field, a lonely warrior. And nothing seemed to deter him from fighting further. He singlehandedly battled against the large sea of Devas, but surprisingly, none of their weapons had any effect on Andhaka whatsoever. Vishnu’s Sudarshana, Indra’s Vajrayudha, the Agneyaastra of Agni, and even Shiva’s Pashupataastra failed to deliver their highly extolled results. On the contrary, to the utter dismay of the Devas, every little drop of blood that oozed out from Andhaka’s body gave rise to a new Andhaka the moment it hit the ground. Before long, the battlefield was overrun with thousands of Andhaka-clones, each as powerful and as talented as the original. Andhaka’s fallen blood also ran in tiny rivulets in all directions, crisscrossing the battlefield, forming 64 squares, in a chessboard like pattern. The Devas stood stunned, not knowing what to do and where to run. Pandemonium reigned on the battle-field.

Shiva was determined to bring the situation under control and with his powers he created a goddess, Bhairavi, from his right shoulder. She had several heads, each endowed with a long tongue hanging out of the mouth, and in her arms she held an enormous bowl. “Devi, do not let his blood spill onto the ground. Either drink it up or collect it in the Kapaala.” ordered Shiva. He also created 64 Bhairavas and stationed them in each of the 64 blood-etched squares to drink any stray blood. With Bhairavi efficiently running around the battle field, drinking up any blood that happened to fall, and the Bhairavas doing their work equally well, Shiva soon managed to destroy all the shadow-Andhakas who had populated the battleground. The real Andhaka once again stood alone on the field, his eyes still mesmerized with Parvathi’s extraordinary beauty. Lust, anger, and shame roiling within him, Andhaka charged forward with a blood-curdling howl.

Andhakaasura Samhaaram

In the blink of an eye, with an earth shattering roar, Shiva jumped from Nandi’s back, thrust his Trishula into Andhaka’s chest and lifted him high up. The Devas leaped in delight, their shouts of glee shaking the very heavens. Andhaka was finished!!!

Gangaala Moorthi
Amidst loud shouts of relief and elation, Shiva handed the trident with the impaled Andhaka to Rudra, one of his very many manifestations. Rudra gladly accepted the trident, and bearing it on his right shoulder, he danced around the world to the rhythm of his ‘Kodukotti’ (a small hand held drum) – a dance of joy and victory. One of Shiva’s Bhootha Ganas followed Rudra everywhere and drank up every drop of blood that trickled out of Andhaka’s corpse. Later, he was blessed with the fortune of being one of the Navagrahas – Angaaraka (Mars). (This form of Shiva, carrying an impaled Andhaka over his shoulders is widely worshipped as Gangaala Moorthi and is one of the 64 Maheshwara Moorthams. He is often depicted with all his paraphernalia including the drum, the following Bhootha Gana, and a deer which is shown to be eating Durva grass from one of Gangaalar’s hands. He is swathed in tiger skins and wears many serpents as his body ornaments.)

Shiva, the untainted and the benevolent, however, revived Andhaka and appointed him as one of his Bhootha Ganas. He was christened Bhringireeda by Parameshwara and was given a place amongst the ranks of the fortunate few who serve the Lord at Kailasha. (Bhringireeda is usually represented as a skeletal figure, to emphasize the lack of blood and other body fluids which were drained by Gangaala.) Shiva also freed Sukracharya, who was imprisoned in his stomach, and warned him about the possible catastrophic consequences of the Mritha Sanjeevini Mantra. With everything now back in order, and the world being a more peaceful place yet again, Shiva retreated back into the cave with Parvathi to continue his penance and meditation.

Spiritually, Andhaka’s story bluntly reminds us of our incapacity to recognize and make use of the boons that we have been blessed with. So often, we overlook our gifts and blessings in the quest for objects of far lesser worth. It also teaches us to make our choices after considerable contemplation, for some boons could be curses in disguise. Most of the time, it is far simpler to look up to God and leave everything unto him, rather than subjecting ourselves to disastrous consequences.
The story of Andhaka’s birth, his rise to power, and his ultimate death at the hands of Shiva is narrated in words and phrases in the Shiva MahaPurana and the Shivaparakrama texts. However, at the ancient shrine of Shiva at Thirukkoviloor, the legend of Andhakaasura is preserved and celebrated in stone and colour. The temple at Thirukkoviloor is steeped in ages and has been glorified in the Thevaram and other Shaiva Thirumurais. It is the oldest of the Ashta Veerattaanas and is categorized as the second Veerattaana Sthala. It has been sanctified by the visits of several notable saints and yogis of the past and recent times, including Avvaiyar, ThirugnanaSambandhar, Arunagirinathar and Ramana Maharishi. I too was blessed with the fortune of visiting the temple during my recent trip to India, and I was truly spellbound by its antiquity and cultural richness.

The presiding deity at Thirukkoviloor is Veeratteshwarar and the goddess goes by the names of Periya Nayagi and Sivaananda Valli. They are enshrined in separate temple compounds, each with its own Rajagopuram, Vimana, and Mandapas. Once upon a time, during its hay day, the temple premises were spread over several acres of land. Sadly, owing to lack of funds for upkeep and maintenance, it has now shrunk to a fraction of its past size. Nevertheless, it still stands tall by the southern banks of the Pennai river, housing a number of sub-shrines, each with its own  fascinating story to tell or an appealing trivia to know about.

Presiding Deities - Veeratteshwarar & Sivaananda Valli

On entering the Swami temple and crossing the outer Prakaara, we enter into a Mandapa leading into the sanctum. The Swami temple is filled with interesting frescoes and paintings from the Pallava period, which are badly in need of a restoration. Straight ahead, housed in a large sanctum, is the Swayambhu Linga of Veeratteshwara. The Lord is believed to be present in his Bhairava manifestation, and hence is known to liberate devotees from the clutches of black magic and voodooists. In the dark sanctum, lit by a few twinkling lamps, the Linga Swaroopa stands out clearly, reinforcing the guaranteed destruction of darkness in the devotee’s heart once it has been offered to Eeshwara. Since Sukracharya was forgiven by the Lord at Thirukkoviloor, the shrine of Veeratteshwarar is also believed to grant relief to people who suffer from Sukra Dosha.

Samhaara Moorthi and Bhairavi - Marvels in Bronze

Samhaara Moorthi - older idols
Immediately to the left of the sanctum is the shrine of Andhakaasura Samhaara Moorthi. The older bronze idol, which has been receiving worship for several centuries, was recently replaced with a shining new bronze masterpiece (The older idols were quite different from the new ones and I believe that they are still being offered worship in the inner sanctum.) Shiva is shown to be holding Andhakaasura high up, impaled in his Trishula. He has several arms, each bearing a different weapon, and stands aloft, with one foot placed on the head of a Bhootha Gana. No amount of words can describe the flawless depiction of the angry face and the perfect poise. Also present are individual idols of the Goddess Tripura Bhairavi, who holds a dagger and a large basin for collecting Andhaka’s blood, Sukracharya, paying his obeisance to the mighty Lord, Daakini Pakshi, and of Parvathi. Each of the bronze idols is an excellent example of Dravidian workmanship and dedication. The bronze garlands of human skulls which adorn the torsos of Samhaara Moorthi and Tripura Bhairavi, are masterpieces by themselves.

Ashtabhuja Durga - the goddess comes alive!
Facing the Samhaara Moorthi shrine is the small wall-shrine dedicated to Ashtabhuja Durga. Devotees throng to her during the Rahu-Kaala poojas on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and light hundreds of lamps fashioned from the rinds of freshly squeezed lemons. When the priest waves the lamps before her serene face, her eyes come alive, and one can see the whites of her eyes as well as the pacifying black pupils. For a few moments it feels like she is right there, like a mother, assuring us with her gaze full of love.

Further down the Prakaara corridor is the Bhairavar shrine. Thirukkoviloor was where Shiva created 64 Bhairavas and their consorts, the 64 Bhairavis. Hence, the Bhairavar shrine is as equally exalted as the main deity’s. Regular Yagnas and Homas are conducted before Bhairavar on Ashtami days to rid the world of evil forces and to offer protection to the vast cosmos.

If one was look up at the ceiling diagonally opposite from the Bhairavar shrine, one would be surprised to see a bas-relief sculpture of Vaasthu Purusha. Usually, temples do not have any idols or pictures of the Vaasthu Purusha. However, Thirukkoviloor is an exception, for this was the very place where the concept of Vaasthu was first perceived. The 64 Bhairavas, who manifested from Shiva to occupy the 64 squares of Andhaka’s blood, are worshipped together with the squares as the traditional Vaasthu Mandala. During a Vaasthu Shanthi/Vaasthu Dosha Nivarthi poojas, these 64 Bhairavas are invoked to protect the house or building from all the 8 different directions. For this reason, Thirukkoviloor is a favorite destination for people who plan to build houses or office buildings. Often, after the Vaasthu pooja, the devotees take one or two stones from within the temple precincts and use it as the foundation stone for their constructions.

Periya Aanai Ganapathi
On completing the circumambulation of the sanctum, we come across twin shrines on either side of the main door, facing the sanctum. Both these shrines are of enormous importance in Tamizh devotional literature. At the south west corner of the temple is the shrine devoted to Periya Aanai Ganapathi. Avvaiyar, the grand-old lady of Tamizh literature, is said to have visited the shrine during her pilgrimage to Thirukkoviloor. When Avvai was blissfully worshipping Ganesha, she suddenly looked skywards to see Cheramaan Perumaan riding on a while horse and Sundarar riding on a white elephant (Sundarar and Cheramaan Perumaan are two of the Arupatthimoovars - the 63 Shaiva devotees from all walks of society who excelled in their devotion towards Maheshwara). They were heading towards Kailasha to offer their customary prayers to Shiva. Overcome with a desire to join them in their journey, she rushed forward with her worship in haste. Disturbed by Avvai’s change, Ganesha appeared before her and demanded, “Avvai, why are you in such a hurry?” When Avvai told him the reason, Ganesha laughed. “My dear Avvai! Continue your worship at your own pace. I promise you, that at the end of it, I will take you to Kailasha before the other two even reach there.” True to his words, at the end of Avvai’s pooja, Ganesha lifted her up in his trunk and placed her right besides Shiva and Parvathi at Kailasha (Since Ganesha had assumed a gigantic form to carry Avvaiyar to Kailasha, he came to be known as Periya Aanai Ganapathi). Overcome with his grace, Avvai burst forth into a beautiful Tamizh hymn glorifying the greatness of Ganesha. These verses are today sung across the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu as the famous Vinayagar Agaval.

சீதக் களபச் செந்தா மரைப்பூம்
பாதச் சிலம்பு பல இசைப் பாடப்
பொன் அரை ஞாணும் பூந்துகில் ஆடையும்
வன்ன மருங்கில் வளர்ந்து அழகு எறிப்பப்
பேழை வயிறும், பொரும்பாரக் கோடும்
வேழ முகமும் விளங்கு சிந்தூரமும்
அஞ்சு கரமும் அங்குச பாசமும்
நெஞ்சிற் குடிகொண்ட நீல மேனியும்
நான்ற வாயும் நாலிரு புயமும்
மூன்று கண்ணும் மும்மதச் சுவடும்
இரண்டு செவியும் இலங்குபொன் முடியும்
திரண்ட முப்புரிநூல் திகழொளி மார்பும்
சொற்பதம் கடந்த தூய மெய்ஞ்ஞான
அற்புதம் நிறைந்த கற்பகக் களிறே! - விநாயகர் அகவல் 
“With the anklets on your red hibiscus-like sandal anointed feet, 
merrily singing lilting tunes,
the golden girdle, and the flower-soft clothes, 
shining in the beautiful colors of the rainbow,
and your large paunch, weighty tusks, 
Elephantine face with saffron smeared on the forehead,
the five hands, bearing the goad and the noose, 
and your blue-hued body attracting our minds,
your pendulous jaws,  four mighty shoulders, 
the three eyes, and the required three holy marks,
fan like ears, your gleaming golden crown, 
and the breast aglow with the sacred triple-thread.
O Being, we contemplate on thee! Bright and beautiful!
 The wish-yielding elephant
born of the Master of Mystery at Kailasha” – Vinayagar Agaval

Avvai's journey to Kailasha - a bas-relief

The second of the twin shrines is dedicated to Shanmugar, the second son of Shiva and Parvathi. It is believed that it was indeed Karthikeya who was responsible for the name of the town. When Karthikeya was looking around for a suitable place to perform Shiva pooja to absolve himself of the sin of vanquishing SooraPadma, Parvathi is said to have come to his help. She took Karthikeya’s weapon, the Vel (lance), and threw it earthwards. The place where the Vel fell came to be known as ‘Thiru-Kai-Vel-oor’ (The city of the holy Vel from Her hand), which got perverted into its present day form of Thirukkoviloor. The monolithic idol of Shanmugar is stunning to behold, complete with six heads, twelve hands bearing various weapons, Valli and Devayanai, all housed beneath an intricately carved Thiruvaachi (Decorative Arch). Both Avvaiyar and Arunagirinathar (Thiruppugazh verses) are said to have sung verses in praise of the Shanmugar shrine at Thirukkoviloor.

There are also several smaller shrines dedicated to Somaskandar, Varadaraaja Perumal, Natarajar, Gajalakshmi, Ardhanaareswarar, Vishwanathar, Surya, Arupatthimoovar, Naalvar (Appar, Sundarar, Thirugnanasambandhar and Maanikka Vaasagar), Ayyanaar, Sapthamaatrkas, Veerabhadra, and the Navagrahas. Since it is a Maha Bhairava Kshetra, the temple is a potent Sani, Raahu and Kethu Dosha Nivarthi Sthala. Also, since Brihaspati is said to have obtained favours from Shiva at Thirukkoviloor, it also serves as a Guru Prarthana Sthala. 

The goddess, Periya Nayagi, is housed in a separate temple complex. Many years ago, there was a passage connecting the Swami temple with the goddess' shrine, which no longer exists. The goddess is shown to be standing, with four hands, two of them holding lotus buds and the other two in the Abhaya and Varada Mudras. Her ears are adorned with ear-rings that have the Sri-Chakra inscribed onto them. She is believed to be eternally meditating on the blissful form of Shiva, in repentance for having closed his eyes, and hence she is also known as Sivaananda Valli.

Meiporul Nayanar's deception!
The temple also houses the samadhi of Meiporul Nayanar, another one of the Arupatthimoovar. Meiporul Nayanar was the king of Thirukkoviloor and a devotee par excellence. He was also a just ruler and fine administrator. Envious at the prosperity of the kingdom, a neighboring king, Muthanathan, launched an attack on the city. However, he lost heavily at Nayanar’s hands. Maddened by the vast defeat, he resorted to unfair means to kill the Nayanar. Well aware of Nayanar’s staunch devotion, he disguised himself as a Shiva Bhaktha and walked into the palace with an armful of palm leaves. Nayanar had issued standing orders that no Shiva Bhaktha should be stopped from meeting him. Taking advantage of this open hospitality, Muthanathan walked right up to the king’s bed chambers where he was stopped by a guard named Dhathan. Muthanathan showed him the bunch of palm leaves and told him that he had to immediately teach the king a great Shaiva philosophy that was contained therein. On his disclosure, Muthanathan was granted entry into the chambers at once. On seeing the Shiva yogi, the king immediately sent his queen away and bowed before the visitor. On knowing the reason for his visit, he offered the yogi a seat and sat down at his feet, ever ready for the lessons. With the positional advantage, Muthanathan grabbed his dagger and thrust it into the king’s neck, thus avenging his defeat. Hearing the king’s stifled cries, the guard Dhathan came running into the room and drew his sword to kill the traitor. However, Nayanar forbade him from harming Muthanathan. With great pain, he managed to speak out two words, "தத்தா, நமர்" (Dhathaa, he is one of us), and he ordered Dhathan to lead the traitor in the guise of a Shiva Bhaktha to the boundaries of the kingdom without harming him. Nayanar then, painfully struggled to keep himself alive until Dhathan came back with news of the traitor’s safe journey. Only upon hearing that the enemy had been able to cross his borders unharmed did he breathe his last. Such was the depth of his devotion. He did not wish even his enemy to be harmed just because he was in the guise of a Shiva Bhaktha. Pleased with his heartfelt and untainted devotion, Maheshwara is said to have appeared before him during his last moments and is said to have blessed the Nayanar with a permanent abode at Kailasha in His eternal service. 

Thirukkoviloor is also the birth place of Narasingha Munaiyaraiyar, another renowned Shaiva, who was the foster-father of Sundaramoorthi Nayanar of Thevaram fame.

The temple hosts its annual festival in the month of Maasi (mid February to mid March) for 13 days. Special poojas are offered to the presiding deity and the Goddess throughout the 13 days and on the 6th day of the festival, the idol of Andhakasuravadha Moorthi is taken out in procession along the Maada streets. Apart from the Maasi Brahmotsavam, Kaarthikai Somavaaram, Aani Thirumanjanam, Aarudra Darisanam, Pradosham and Shivarathri are some of the other major festivals at the Thirukkoviloor temple. The Pennai river, which runs by the temple, is the Sthala Theertha, and the Sthala Vriksha happens to be the Sarakkondrai tree (Cassia Fistula). The temple has been sung by Appar and Sundarar, and is the 11th Paadal Petra Sthalam in Nadu Naadu.

The town of Thirukkoviloor also occupies an important place in the history of Tamil Nadu. It was a flourishing vassal kingdom under the Chozhas. One of its kings, Thirukkoviloor Malayamaan, was the maternal grand-father of Raja Raja Chozha. It is said that Raja Raja Chozhan was born, and spent much of his early years at the Thirukkoviloor palace. Malayamaan’s son, Deiveegan is said to have entered into wedlock with Angavai and Sangavai, the daughters of Paari Vallal (a great patron king of poets and scholars) at Thirukkoviloor. The wedding was graced with the presence of Avvaiyar and Kabilar (A scholar from the Madurai Tamizh Sangam, and a great fried of Paari Vallal). In fact, many towns surrounding Thirukkoviloor owe their names to this famous marriage – such as Kabilar Kundru (the hill where Kabilar gave up his life in memory of Paari) and Manam Poondi (where the wedlock was solemnized). The town was a thriving centre for Shaivas, Vaishnavas and Jains alike. Thirukkoviloor is also one amongst the 108 Sri Vaishnava Divyadesams. The Trivikrama Perumal/ Ulagalantha Perumal temple (more to come in later posts), located in the western part of the town, is as equally steeped in antiquity as the Veeratteshwarar temple and is also one of the Pancha Krishnaaranya Kshetras. The town was also home to some beautiful Jaina viharas, which fell into ruins over time.

A visit to Thirukkoviloor is bound to bring double blessings from these two great temples of yore. The temple town is about 30km south of Thiruvannamalai which serves as an excellent travel base. It is one of the two Veerattaana Sthalas in Nadu Naadu and needs to be popularized among the people, so that some of our precious arts like the wall frescoes and the bronze idols do not get lost way down into our future generations.

கருத்துறை அந்தகன் தன்போல் அசுரன்
வரத்தின் உலகத் துயிர்க்களை எல்லாம் 
வருத்தஞ்செய் தானென்று வானவர் வேண்டக் 
குருத்துயர் சூலங்கைக் கொண்டுகொன் றானே - திருமூலர்
“Andhaka, frightening unto the god of death, whose name he bore,
armed with boons divine, harassed all the worlds.
Thus the Celestial Beings moaned to the Lord;
Who, lifting high his trident sharp, pierced him straight to certain death”
- Thirumoolar


1.     Thirukkoviloor was the capital of Nadu Naadu (Nadu in Tamizh means centre), which got its name owing to its central location between the Chera, Chozha and Pandya kingdoms. Back in time, when it was at the peak of its glory, the region was also known as Sethi Naadu and Malaada Naadu.

2.      It is believed that during the war with Andhaka, several beings emerged from Shiva’s body. They include the 36 Maathru Ganas (Women Bhootha Ganas), the celestial bird-headed beings - Dakini and Yogini, 64 Bhairavas and their consorts, the 64 Bhairavis, Tripura Bhairavi and Vaasthu Purusha. Some believe that Vaasthu Purusha was born as a manifestation of the earth when it was fertilized by Shiva’s sweat.

3.    The Pennai river is often known as Dakshina Pinaakini, since it is said to have originated from Pinaaka, the bow of Shiva. During the wedding ceremony of Angavai and Sangavai, on Avvai’s prayers, the river is said to have run full of ghee, milk, and curds. Since the river abided by the requests of Avvaiyar, it is also known as Bhaarathi Neya Tharangini (Bhaarathi Neya – She who was blessed by Saraswathi, i.e. Avvaiyar)

4.   The local people believe that the mighty Malayamaan rulers, who ruled over Nadu Naadu, were direct descendents of Kuzhagar, who was a manifestation of the Lord himself.

5.   A lot of Tamizh history is associated with Thirukkoviloor. Details of its links with Raja Raja Chozhan, Malayamaan, Paari Vallal, Kabilar, Avvaiyar, Dheiveegan, Meiporul Nayanar, and Narasingha Munaiyaraiyar can be provided on request.

Sorry about the long hiatus. The last two months have been packed. But I am hoping to get back onto a regular writing schedule.

Jul 26, 2011

Of Shiva's Discus and Vishnu's Basil, Thiruvirkudi, Ashta Veerattaanam - 4

ஒரு தவறு செய்தால், அதை தெரிந்து செய்தால்
அவன் தேவன் என்றாலும் விடமாட்டேன்
“If one commits a blunder, and he does it knowingly,
I will spare him not, even if it is God himself.”

Remember the good old lines in the song from MGR’s famous movie EngaVeetu Pillai? Yes, I agree it sounds all too conceited, but wait, isn’t that what all our Puranas talk about. Wasn’t that the crux of Nakkeerar’s dialogue with Shiva, who had come as a rich pundit, which ended with the famous line “நெற்றிக்கண் திறப்பினும் குற்றம் குற்றமே” (Even with your third eye open, you have to accept that your fault is nevertheless, a fault)? Too filmy, eh? But even in the annals of this very blog, we can see some of the penalties that were meted out to various big-shots, from Indra to Krishna and more recently, even to Yama. There are scores of such examples, but the essence of these diverse stories is the same – you commit a mistake, and you will be punished, no doubts entertained.

Interestingly, there are certain characters in the Puranas, who are never corrected by punishments, no matter how harsh they are. They go back to their dirty old ways once the dark clouds have passed. Indra tops the list of such notorious demigods. I have virtually lost count of the number of times that he has been cursed, smacked, kicked and crushed, but he relentlessly pursues trouble, and even pays for it, sometimes heavily. The story that we embark on is yet another offspring of Indra’s ‘laudable’ behavior. This time, it was absolute snobbishness and disrespect to elders that had led to his chastisement and a whole lot of nasty aftertaste. The trouble came in the form of Jalandhara.

The legend of Jalandhara can be found in at least two Puranas as also in the Mahabharatha. Each source gives a slightly different version of the tale, and I have managed to pick out the relevant similarities between the ones in Padma Purana and the Mahabharatha, and weave it out into one fine, flowing story.

It was one of those times when Indra was on one humungous ego trip. Feeling elated at his self-importance, he decided to drop by at Kailasha for a friendly tête-à-tête with Parameshwara, where he might even get a chance to rub in his all-controlling-importance into his host. So, he went through the gates of Kailasha, past Nandi, and a whole lot of Shiva-Ganas without so much as a friendly nod. Finally, when he reached the heart of the Himalayas, where beautiful icicles formed exquisitely stunning pillars, he could see neither Shiva nor Parvathi nor either of their mischievous sons. Surprised by their absence, and dismayed at the lost chance of showing-off, he turned around, only to be faced by an aged hermit sitting on the rocks. Indra couldn’t recollect seeing him on any of his earlier visits to Kailasha. Haughtily, he approached the hermit and asked, “Ahem. Who may you be and do you happen to know where Shiva is?” Silence was all that he got back.

Now, the king of demigods was not used to being ignored, and especially, not by a lowly hermit. He repeated the question, this time, through gritted teeth. Silence again.

Fury surged through Indra, and with one quick move, he lashed out his Vajrayudha (thunderbolt) and hurled it towards the hermit. The Vajrayudha struck the hermit’s head with the momentum of a giant meteor, and crumbled to pieces. Indra hardly had the time to gasp at the sight of his powerful weapon disintegrating in front of his very eyes, when the aged hermit bounced up with the agility of a seasoned acrobat. Through the haze of all the crumbling dust, Indra could just make out the emergence of a glorious flame from the center of the hermit’s forehead. The third-eye of Shiva!

Indra was horrified on realizing what he had done. He had actually STRUCK Shiva, the sole sustainer of the universe, with his dratted (now destroyed) Vajrayudha, and he was going to pay for it big-time. His ego flew out of the window, as did all his snobbishness and dreams of a pleasant rendezvous. In a moment, he went from being vertical to lying perfectly horizontal, his hands stretched out, as he attempted to perform an Ashtanga Namaskaara (A yogic posture of submission in which eight (Ashta) parts (Angas) of the body touch the ground – the two feet, two knees, chest, forehead and two palms) to Shiva.

अन्यथा शरणं नास्ति त्वमेव शरणं मम 
तस्मात्कारुण्यभावेन रक्षरक्ष परमेश्वर ||
"I have no refuge but your lotus feet my lord, 
I seek your compassion alone. Protect me, Oh Maheshwara”

As easily pleased, as angered (and hence named Ashuthosha – the one who is easily pleased), Shiva forgave Indra. “Again Indra, let this add yet another chapter to the tome entitled ‘How not to behave with your Boss!’, that we can possibly write out of all your mistakes. It is high time you learnt to behave like the king of the demigods, and not like an immature teenager.” With that, he wiped out the strings of sweat that had sprung up due to the heat of his anger, and shook his now sweaty forefinger. The pearls of sweat, that had adorned the brows of Maheshwara, fell into the vast stretches of the Milk-Ocean, and in a flash, took the shape of an Asura baby boy. As the baby lay on the milky tides, crying loudly, in sync with the bobbing motion of the ocean, the ocean king, Samudra Raajan, gently caressed the boy with his tender wave-like fingers, and took him to Brahma for his Nama-Karana (Christening ceremony).

Feeling extremely proud of his newborn child, Samudra Raajan placed him on Brahma’s lap. Brahma looked down on the tiny-tot with his kind eyes, his lush-white beard flowing down from his four heads. Tickled by the movements of the long beard, the infant tugged at the few hairs that were sticking out at the bottom of the beard. “Ouch!” yelled Brahma. Tears immediately welled up from his eyes, ran down his cheeks and landed on the baby. That must have been one strong child.

Now, this was too much water to be associated with one person. He was born out of sweat that fell into the ocean and here, he even managed to get himself ‘drenched’ with Brahma’s tears. Brahma smiled, and safely tucking his beard away, he once again looked down at the child. “Jalandhara!” he announced, “He will henceforth be known as Jalandhara.” (Jalandhara can be split two ways - (a) Jala (water)+Andhar (within) = He who was born within the waters, and (b) Jalan (water) + Dhara (stream) = He who created a stream of water, which might be an indirect reference to the generous tear glands of Brahma)

Thus named, Jalandhara was brought up by his foster-father, Samudra Raajan, in a lavish and loving manner. Over the years, he was trained in all the 64 forms of arts that the ancient traditions upheld, and he excelled in every single one of them. Though he was always surrounded by many Devas, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Apsaras, and Kinkaras, his joy quadrupled every time an occasional Asura came to visit his father’s court – strong blood ties I guess. Eventually, his Asuric qualities dominated his decisions, and soon he crossed over to the dark side. It was not long before his exceptional leadership qualities, extraordinary strength, and razor-sharp instinct came to the notice of the Asura elders. Envisioning the grand future of the Asura clan in Jalandhara, they crowned him to be the king of the Daityas. They also got him married to Brindha, the surprisingly pious daughter of Kaalanemi, yet another Asura vassal.

Before starting his reign over the Asuras, Jalandhara felt that it was necessary for him to insure his life against the many wars that he was about to wage. So off he went to a peaceful forest to begin his penance towards Brahma. The Creator, as such easily satisfied, was even more so pleased with the penance of the boy whom he had christened. Hardly any time had passed since Jalandhara had sat down for his penance, when Brahma appeared before him, all beaming and proud (with his beard tucked away of course!). “And what are your needs today, my son?” he asked, in a singsong voice.

Jalandhara did not beat about the bush, and came straight to the crux. “I know that you will not grant me the boon of immortality.” Brahma nodded in agreement, all his 128 teeth on display. “Then, let it be that I die only when my wife Brindha, the best of the Pathivrathas that I have seen, foregoes her vow of chastity. Only when she entertains the thought of being with another man, even for the most fleeting of moments, should I become vulnerable to death.” Brahma frowned at the Asura’s absolute confidence in his wife’s utter devotion to him. Nevertheless, he granted the boon that was asked for, and returned to Satyaloka.

Jalandhara returned to the Asura kingdom from the forests, haughty and proud at his newly obtained boon. Almost immediately, he launched an attack on the palatial slopes of the Meru Mountain, where the Devas dwelt, amidst the pleasures of lavish wealth, rich food, and mouth-dropping-beautiful Apsaras. It was payback time for Indra’s behavior with the wise old hermit atop Kailasha, long-long ago.

Indra was driven out from his grand castle and Jalandhara seized the possession of the 16 exquisite treasures which had materialized during the churning of the Milk Ocean, including the Kalpaka Vriksha, Airavatha, and many of the Apsaras. Vishnu rushed to the help of the Devas, mounted on Garuda, but only in vain. The chastity of Brindha made it impossible to even make a single scratch on Jalandhara’s body. The Devas led by Vishnu, eventually retreated from Meru, after several thousand years of war.

In next to no time, Jalandhara marched over to Vaikuntha, and Sathyaloka, and captured them too. Even Vishnu and Brahma were forced to flee from their abodes, helpless against the immeasurable valour of Jalandhara and the unshakeable chastity of his wife.

Now, there was but one refuge that was still available. The Devas, led by Indra, Brahma and Vishnu, scuttled to Kailasha and sought asylum at the lotus feet of Shiva. “Mahadeva!” said Vishnu, “It is time to put an end to the atrocities caused by your own son. Pious, though he was, and though born from your very sweat, he is terrorizing the three worlds. The Devas have known no peace ever since he became the Asura king. You alone are capable of coming up with a solution.”

Shiva gave a throaty chuckle. “Narayana, the Devas are paying back for the deeds of their ‘virtuous’ king. What has been sowed must be reaped. Besides, you know that I can do nothing in his case. The boon that was granted to him makes me powerless before his wife, and I do not see her throwing away her chastity any time in the near future. Also, she happens to be one of your greatest devotees, Oh Madhava. Every time her husband goes to war, Brindha meditates on you, ceaselessly, so that no harm comes to him. So pure is her devotion that you were not able to raise your arms against Jalandhara, even when he invaded Vaikuntha.” Vishnu raised a quizzical eyebrow, which Shiva conveniently ignored. “Jalandhara chose his boon well. This is not a mere war of might, but also a war of the intellect. We have to think before we proceed.” Saying so, Shiva rested his face on one of his hands, while with the other he vigorously scratched his matted locks, rattling his head for a brainwave.

The Devas stared in dismay at this hopeless exchange of information between two of their foremost saviors. Did this mean that they have to endure the torture of the Asuras till the end of their lives, which would be like forever, because the Amrutha from the Milk-Ocean had made them immortal?

Suddenly, Shiva jerked up from the self-imposed reverie, a wide smile on his face. With his eyes, he summoned Vishnu to come closer, and started whispering into his ear. Vishnu listened patiently, his eyebrows rising with every passing second, until they disappeared right into his crown. Once or twice, he shook his head vigorously, and attempted to walk away, but Shiva pulled him back every time. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to the distraught Devas, Vishnu nodded, and the two ended their whispering conference. Shiva still had the grin on his face, but Vishnu looked like he could do with some cheering up. “The problem will be resolved, Oh Devas. You will soon be able to return back to your very own palaces, but until then, you are all welcome to stay on the beautiful slopes of the Himalayas.” said Shiva, dispersing the assembly.

It was not long before the news, of the Devas seeking sanctuary at Kailasha, reached the ears of Jalandhara. He roared with laughter. “So the cowards have finally sought the asylum of Shiva? I will go there this very moment and pulverize the whole of Kailasha.” he yelled. Brindha came running out of her chambers at the sound of her husband’s lunatic laughs. “No Swami!” she pleaded. “Please do not risk your life by going to war against Mahadeva. I have been seeing terrible omens all day. My right eye, shoulder, and thigh, have been throbbing all morning. Please don’t leave to Kailasha today.” But Jalandhara turned a deaf ear to all her pleas. When the end is near, one’s senses tend to go berserk, and refuse to take in a good word, or two. Jalandhara too, became a prey to the plays of time. Feeling conceited about his extraordinary powers and unmatchable strength, he marched onto Kailasha, all alone.

Upon hearing the news of Jalandhara’s intended attack on Kailasha, Shiva transformed himself into an old hermit once again, and stationed himself at the gates of his mountain palace. Jalandhara approached the gates, like a bull in rage. Shiva calmly stepped onto the middle of the path, blocking his progress. Jalandhara stared at the puny hermit and growled, “Who may you be to block me?”

“I am one of the many hermits who live here, hoping to be blessed with a vision of the Lord on his bull, before I breathe my last” replied the hermit. “But, what brings you to the gates of Kailasha today? You seem like a king - a very angry one at that.”

“I heard that the king of Devas has wimped out and sought refuge at Kailasha. I plan to drag him out, and kill him, and with him, all the Devas too.” said Jalandhara.

“But they have been granted sanctuary by Shiva himself. He will surely come to the rescue of the Devas. What will you do then?” asked the hermit, in a voice laced with so much concern that it actually sounded true.

“Aaah! Then we just have to assume that it is a very bad day for Shiva too, don’t we? Now get out of my way, before I blast you to the side.”

“Relax, oh great king. If you don’t mind, I would like to test your self-bragged prowess before you advance to wage a war against the great god. If you pass my test, I am sure that you would triumph against Shiva. What say?” cajoled the hermit-who-was-Shiva.

Jalandhara rolled his eyes at the puny hermit in front of him. “Whatever!” he said, and accepted the challenge.

In the meanwhile, Vishnu prepared himself to set the ball rolling on the other half of Shiva’s grandiose plan. It had taken a long time for him, to bring himself to do it. He took deep breaths and consoled himself from time to time, whispering softly. “It’s all for the Greater Good… for the Greater Good… Greater Good.”

Slowly, he took the form of Jalandhara. “Urghhh! It feels positively nasty to be an Asura.” he thought out aloud. Then, bracing himself for all the possible after-effects, he barged into Jalandhara’s palace. “Brindha! Oh Brindha!” he yelled, “I am back.” Relief flooded Brindha’s heart on hearing her husband’s voice, and she jumped up from her Vishnu-Dhyana. Rushing outside, she threw her arms around Jalandhara’s (Vishnu’s) frame, and hugged him in a tight embrace. Jalandhara’s protection shattered instantly. His wife had embraced another man! Target achieved.

Back at Kailasha, the real Jalandhara stood towering over the hermit, who had challenged him to an exhibition of strength. Leisurely, the old hermit inscribed a circle on the ground with the big toe of his right foot. Jalandhara sighed. His patience was fast reaching its limits.

The hermit admired his handiwork (rather ‘footiwork’) for some time, and looked up at Jalandhara. “There you go. If you are able to break apart this disc of earth, and lift it over your head, then I am sure that victory would be yours - anywhere, anytime, and against any person.”

Jalandhara smirked at the ridiculousness of the task. Dusting his hands, he bent down to break the circular piece of earth.  It was hard and dirty work, but Jalandhara finally managed to break away the disc, and with great effort he raised it over his head, panting heavily like a dog in pursuit. At that moment, as Jalandhara stood upright, proudly savouring his triumph, the hermit revealed his true form. With one subtle chuckle, Shiva transformed the disc of earth into a deadly-looking discus and forced it through Jalandhara’s body. Blood splattered over Shiva, as the two lifeless halves of Jalandhara’s body fell to the ground. The glorious discus flew back into the hands of Shiva, its task complete. It was finally over. Jalandhara was dead.

Jalandhara Vadham
The moment Jalandhara’s soul fled from his mortal body, Brindha, by the virtue of her true devotion to her husband, came to know of the whole grand plan that was schemed up by Shiva and meticulously executed by Vishnu. The great Vishnu, whom she had come to believe as her sole savior, her greatest hope, and her only solace while Jalandhara went crazy with wars, had now tricked her into widowhood. Disgusted, she broke away from the clasp of the illusionary Jalandhara, her blood boiling with rage and shame. Vishnu too realized that the game was up, and he assumed his original form, smiling meekly.

As Brindha looked up at the mighty, four-armed God who stood before her, her rage burst out spontaneously, and she hurled a curse at Vishnu. “Oh Madhava! What is this that you have done? I placed all my trust upon you and the unbreachable security offered by your sacred name. I believed that you would bless me with a long and contented married-life, and every single day, I invoked that goddess, who resides in the lotus of your very heart, to grant me the same eternal-bondage that she enjoys with you. But now, you have let me down with your cheap acts of trickery. Oh Mayava! Is this what true devotion begets? Is this how you reward those who have faith in you? I don’t deserve this, and you don’t get to stand there, smiling at your victory, while I endure this suffering. If it is true that I have been faithful to my husband all my life, if it is true that I have never swerved away from my devotion to you, then, let it be so that you too will, one day, experience the same grief that is tearing me apart from the insides this very moment.” Saying so, she rushed out of her palace, and jumped into the fire that was consuming her husband’s mortal remains. As her soul fled towards Vaikuntha, the Gods and Demigods lined up in the skies to catch a glimpse of that great Pathivratha, whose intense devotion had prevented even Shiva and Vishnu from laying a finger on her husband.  Brindha had attained a permanent place on the list of some of the chastest women in Indian heritage, along the ranks of Seetha, Mandodari and Anusuya.

Brindha / Tulasi Devi
As the three worlds celebrated the fall of Jalandhara, Vishnu retired to Vaikuntha in silence. His heart was heavy with guilt at the treachery that he had just committed to one of his foremost devotees. The guilt burned him from within, until he could take it no longer, and he dashed to Kailasha. Realizing Vishnu’s pitiable condition, Maheshwara planted a seed in the ashes of Brindha. In a flash, the seed germinated and a plant burst out from the ashes – giving rise to the very first Brindha plant, more commonly referred to as the Tulasi or the Holy Basil.

Shiva himself strung a beautiful garland from the leaves of the plant and placed it around Vishnu’s neck. As the very first leaves of the garland caressed his dark blue skin, the burning sensation subsided instantaneously, and Vishnu let out a loud sigh of relief. Shiva smiled at his ‘partner-in-crime’ and said, “Narayana, I perfectly understand your present mind-set, but you should come to terms with the fact that this is an occupational hazard that comes with the position. We may destroy to protect, but only rarely do we protect to destroy. What we planned and executed was for the greater good of the universe, and if someone had to be sacrificed in the process, well, then that is the way it is meant to be so.”

ஒரு நாட்டைக்  காக்க ஒரு ஊரையே தியாகம் செய்யலாம்
ஒரு ஊரைக் காக்க ஒரு குடும்பத்தையே தியாகம் செய்யலாம்
ஒரு குடும்பத்தைக் காக்க ஒரு குடும்ப நபரை தியாகம் செய்யலாம்,
இதுவே உசிதம்.
“To save a country, an entire city can be sacrificed.
To save a city, an entire family can be sacrificed.
To save a family, a single member from the family can be sacrificed.
And this approach alone is the most apt.”
-An excerpt from Chanakya’s Arthashastra

[Though the Padma Purana and the Mahabharatha end their versions of Jalandhara’s story right here, some Shaivite legends go onto narrate the story of Shiva giving away the newly created discus to MahaVishnu.]

As time passed, Vishnu, who had always desired a powerful weapon to carry on with his duty of the universal-sustainer, now started to covet the Chakra that Shiva had used to kill Jalandhara. Knowing that the best way to lay his hands on the Chakra is Rudra-Prassanna (Causing the happiness of Rudra), he decided to worship Shiva with a 1008 lotuses, offering a blossom at the chanting of each of the 1008 names of Mahesha. Immediately, he set forth to collect the flowers and other objects that were required for worship. Then, choosing a suitable spot, he started his worship, with MahaLakshmi sitting beside him, handing him the lotus blossoms.

 “Om Shivaya Namaha!(1)
Om Haraaya Namaha!(2)
Om Mridaya Namaha!(3)
Om Anarthitaaya Namaha!(1005)
Om Agunaaya Namaha!(1006)”

As Vishnu reached out to take the 1007th lotus, he realized that he was touching Lakshmi’s bare fingers. There were no more blossoms left to offer. He glanced at Lakshmi, and saw that she was as surprised as he was. How could it be? He had personally counted the 1008 lotus blossoms into the flower basket, and that too, with great care. But now he was short of two and time was fast running out.

Vishnu receives the Chakra
It was then that he was reminded of the many epithets that his devotees praised him with. Aravindaaksha! Kamalanayana! Pushkaraaksha! Padma-Nibhekshana! - All of them hailing him as the possessor of two eyes that were as beautiful as freshly-bloomed lotuses. Without hesitating any further, he grabbed his sword, Nandaka, plucked out his eyes and offered it to Shiva. Immediately, Shiva appeared before him and restored his eyes. “Narayana! I am extremely pleased with your devotion and your intense sense of sacrifice. I had intentionally hidden the lotus flowers to test you. You surpassed my expectations. I am elated to give you the object that you seek.” Saying so, he handed over the Chakra to MahaVishnu. “Henceforth, this Chakra will be as inseparable from you as you are from me. Use it well.” And that is how the Sudarshana Chakra came to Vishnu, at least according to certain legends.

The legend of Jalandhara and his death is eulogized in the southern shrine of Thiruvirkudi, where the Lord is worshipped in his form as the Vanquisher of Jalandhara. The temple-town is the next stop on our tour of the Ashta Veerattaanas and is conveniently located near the yet-another-famous temple town of Thiruvaroor. The presiding deity is Veerattaaneshwarar, while the Goddess goes by the name of Elavaarkuzhali/Parimalaabigai. The shrine has been praised in the Thevaram by Thirugnana Sambandhar, and hence, is also one of the 274 Paada Petra Thalangal in Tamil Nadu. The main temple is situated amidst lush-green vegetation, on an island between two rivers. Since the mound of earth between the two rivers, on which the temple stands, resembles the ear of a cow, the place is also known as Gokarnam (Go-cow, Karna-Ear). The temple is graced by a five-storied Raja Gopuram which faces the Chakra Theertha that lies before the entrance. Past the ornate entry doors is a beautiful Mandapa supported on pillars that boast of exquisitely carved sculptures. The outer prakaara also houses a Brindhavana, a Tulasi garden, where it is believed that Maheshwara planted the seed to give rise to Tulasi. Adjacent to the Brindhavana is a small sub-temple which is claimed to be the place where Vishnu worshipped Shiva to cure him of his burden of guilt. Incidentally, Tulasi happens to be the Sthala-Vriksha at Thiruvirkudi. Thiruvirkudi is also one of the very few Shiva-Kshetras where the Lord is worshipped with Tulasi, rather than the more commonly used Bilva.

The inner Prakara houses the central shrine dedicated to Veerattaaneshwarar, a swayambhu Linga mounted on a square pedestal. The Goddess’s shrine is located to the left and is preceded by yet another Mandapa, into the ceiling of which is carved a wheel inset with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The Gomukhi from the Goddess’s shrine, which conducts the Abhisheka water, is also carved such that it is shown to be supported by a beautiful woman. Immediately next to the Goddess’s shrine is the room where the processional deities are safeguarded. Occupying the central position is a brass Utsavar idol of Jalandharaari/ Jalandhara Vadha Moorthi, also known by the name of Veerattaaneshwarar. The idol is one of its kind, where the Lord is shown to be in a standing posture, bearing the discus in his lower right arm, and his lower left arm depicting the Ayudha-Mudra (Scissor hand-posture). In his upper two hands, he holds the deer and the goad. Special poojas are held for Jalandhara Vadha Moorthi during all major festivals in the temple. The rest of the temple is replete with small shrines to other deities such as Ganesha, Subramanya, Mahaakshmi, Surya, etc. Also, apart from the Chakra Theertha in front of the temple, there is also the Shankha Theertha, which is located behind the temple

The temple acts as a Parikaara Sthala for Vaasthu. People who encounter difficulties during the planning and construction of their dream homes, often come to the temple, take a brick from the premises, and use it as a part of their construction. Devotees also throng to the shrine to offer worship that would rid them, as well as their ancestors, of any curse that may have befallen their dynasty. Such pilgrims bathe at the Chakra Theertha and worship Jalandharaari to rid them of their curses.

Virkudi Gopuram
Thiruvirkudi is also believed to be the place where the broken bow of Vishnu fell, when the Devas took the form of termites and gnawed away at the bowstring to awaken Vishnu, who was in his Yoga-Nidra. For this reason, the place is also referred to as Dhanushapuram in the Puranas. Certain verses in the Mahabharatha also point to Thiruvirkudi as being the secret place where Arjuna had hidden his powerful weapons during the year long incognito hiding, immediately following the 12 years of exile. It is believed that Shiva himself had directed Arjuna to the shrine at Thiruvirkudi, and had also granted him a boon that the weapons would appear as snakes and other dangerous reptiles to anyone else other than the Pandavas. The erstwhile presence of the Pandava bows could be yet another reason to name the town as Dhanushapuram.

The temple celebrates all the major festivals on the Hindu calendar, though I am unsure if there is a separate festival that commemorates the killing of Jalandhara, like at the other Veerattaana Shrines. Devotees throng to the temple in large number during the festivals; else it is a calm and crowd-free place, situated in serene surroundings, that makes it an ideal location for a quiet spiritual retreat.

Thiruvirkudi is easily accessible from both Mayiladuthurai and Thiruvaroor. Buses and other forms of public transport are abundantly available, that take pilgrims all the way to the temple entrance.

எங்கும் கலந்தும்என் உள்ளத் தெழுகின்ற
அங்க முதல்வன் அருமறை யோதிபாற்
பொங்குஞ் சலந்தரன் போர்செய்ய நீர்மையின்
அங்கு விரற்குறித் தாழிசெய் தானே.  திருமூலர்
“He who pervades all, as also my heart he fills with joy,
He who spoke out the very Vedas and our Scriptures,
Him did the haughty Jalandhara challenge to a duel,
And in the toe-marked circle did he see the monster’s end.”


1.    The legend of Tulasi is narrated differently in the several different Puranas available. I have chosen a version that easily blends with the Sthalapurana of Thiruvirkudi. However, whatever the reason maybe, Tulasi is considered to be one of the best offerings that one can make to Mahavishnu. Additionally, performing Tulasi archana to Shiva on Mondays is believed to bestow one with good health.

2.  The curse of Brindha was one of the many reasons for the Raamavataara, in which Vishnu was forcefully separated from his beloved wife, and consequently had to endure much suffering and torture. Again, certain other sources claim that Brindha had cursed Vishnu to turn into a stone, and hence Vishnu was forced to take the form of Salagrama – the sacred stones that are found on the banks of the Gandaki River in Nepal.

3.   It is believed that Jalandhara had built his palaces in the Northern reaches of Bharathavarsha. The place is today know as Jalandhar in his memory, and is a major industrial hub in Punjab.

Chakrapradha Moorthi
4.     Thiruveezhimizhalai, is a neighbouring town of Thiruvirkudi, where the Chakrapradha Moorthi of Shiva is worshipped. Here, even today, one can see the single eye that was offered by Vishnu, at the feet of the Linga. Hence, the presiding deity is known by the name of Nethraarpaneshwarar. Also, the processional deity is shown to be in a seated posture, with Parvathi at his side, in the act of giving the Chakra to Vishnu.The sacred tank in the temple was created by Vishnu himself and is hence known as Vishnu Theertha.

5.      It is believed that the soul of Jalandhara, remained on the earth for a long period of time, yearning for Moksha (liberation). The soul established a Shiva Linga at Kanchi, and offered regular worship, until the Lord finally took pity and merged the soul with him. The Linga worshipped by Jalandhara is now enshrined in the temple of Jalandharesam, a few miles away from the Ekambareshwarar temple at Kanchipuram.

Jalandhara Vadha Moorthi
6.      Jalandharaari is often depicted in certain texts in a manner that is quite different from the processional deity at Thiruvirkudi. He is shown to be a tall-reddish hued, terrifying, three-eyed, man, carrying an umbrella in his right hand and a water-pot, Kamandala, in his left. Next to him stands Jalandhara, yellowish in colour, bearing the Chakra between his hands, and a sword hanging from his waist. This form of Jalndharaari is a closer match with the description of the hermit, who had met Jalandhara at the gates of Kailasha.