Monday, November 16, 2015

Saraswathi - Goddess of Knowledge

Saraswathi - The Goddess of Knowledge, enlightenment, wisdom, music, arts, and learning. She is the consort of Lord Brahma and also part for trinity Goddesses - Mupperum Deviyar - Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi. Saraswathi is also the name of a river that flowed in the Indian subcontinent and was considered sacred on par with River Ganga. Moreover, many civilizations flourished on the banks of the river before it dried up. Be it a Goddess or a river, Saraswathi was a revered and worshipped and She has bestowed all the goodness, more importantly, knowledge with which mankind has come this far. In fact, this country - India - has another name Bharath that denotes land of Bharathi (Another name for Saraswathi) and hence it was the Land of Scholars.

Many wise men, poets and sages have prayed and worshipped Her for the blessings of knowledge that She bestows. And that is the reason, Knowledge comes first  of the three primary qualities that humans must possess, the other two being Wealth and Courage, in order. All the scholarly people would want wisdom and knowledge more than anything else, because wealth and weapons can be coveted but the knowledge dies with the person who has it. And hence, knowledge was equated to Goddess Saraswathi.

If we look back in the age old Tamil literature, many poets have sung lots of songs in praise of Goddess Saraswathi that proves the fact that Knowledge was more revered. As a matter of fact, people consider that one has to keep on learning throughout his life, rightly said by Avvaiyar in one of her songs - “Kattradhu Kai Mann Alavu, Kallaadhadhu Ulagalavu” which is engraved in one of the buildings in NASA - “What one has learned is a handful, what one hasn’t is like the earth”

கற்றதுகைம் மண்ணளவு கல்லாத துலகளவென்
றுற்ற கலைமடந்தை ஓதுகிறாள் மெத்த
வெறும்பந் தயங்கூற வேண்டாம் புலவீர்
ஏறும்புந்தன் கையாலெண் சாண்

Kattradhu Kai Mann Alavu Kallaadhadhu Ulagalavu Endru
Uttra Kalaimadandhai Odhukiraal Meththa
Verum Pandhayam Koora Vendaam Pulaveer
Erumbum Thann Kayyaal Enn Saan

meaning, “What you have learned is like the handful of sand, but what you haven’t is like the whole earth. Even the  Goddess of Knowledge (Saraswathi) realises this and is learning eternally. You being mere poets, don’t draw everyone into some lame competition to prove your mettle. Even the ant measure eight Jaans (Unit of measurement - From the tip of middle finger to the tip of the thumb with the palm stretched out wide open) measured with it own hand”

This song by Avvaiyar has a small story to its background. Avvaiyar was a poet who did not sing songs for money or wealth, she was a noble poet who appreciated people with good heart even though they were poor, so she sang a few songs in praise of those poor people who showed great amount of hospitality to her, in spite of their poverty.
A mischievous poet thought that she has been singing for the poor, when poets sing in the praise of of Kings and get their bounties. So in order to mock her, he picked up some sand and thought she would sing in praise of worthless handful of sand, if she is already singing in praise of the poor people. But, Avvaiyar, taught a lesson for that poet with the same sand in his hand. The lesson is not just for the poet, but for all of us, thereby also emphasising the importance of learning throughout one’s life

In the Thirukural, Thiruvalluvar has dedicated an entire chapter for learning and knowledge. He said that people are blind if they are not learning, even if they have physically proper eyesight. A few couplets from Thirukural that emphasises about knowledge

கண்ணுடையர் என்பவர் கற்றோர் முகத்திரண்டு
புண்ணுடையர் கல்லா தவர்

Kannudaiyar Enbavar Kattror Mugathirrandu
Punnudaiyar Kallaa thavar

“The learned alone are said to have eyes.
The ignorant/unlearned have merely two disgraceful sores/wounds called eyes”

தொட்டனைத் தூறும் மணற்கேணி மாந்தர்க்கு
கற்றனைத் தூறும் அறிவு

Thottanaith Oorum Manarkeni Maandharkku
Kattranaithoorum Arivu

“The deeper you dig the sand, the more the spring flows
The deeper you learn the wisdom flows”

The next Kural emphasis the same point Avvaiyar has mentioned that one has to learn until the end of his life

யாதானும் நாடாமால் ஊராமால் என்னொருவன்
சாந்துணையுங் கல்லாத வாறு

Yaadhanum Naadaamaal Ooraamaal Ennoruvan
Saandhunaiyum Kallaadhavaaru

“All lands and towns are learner’s own
Why not till death, the learning go on”

There is even a saying in Tamil, that one should not give up learning until his death

“பாடை ஏறினும் ஏடதை கைவிடேல்”

Paadai Yaerinum Edu Adhai Kaividael

meaning, “Even if you get on to the deathbed, don’t give up the books that you read”.

Kambar was a very ardent devotee of Goddess Saraswathi and he had Her blessings that crowned him with the name Kavichakravarthi (Emperor of Poets). He has written the Saraswathi Andhadhi (An interesting form of poetry where the last word of the first song becomes the first word of the next song and finally the last word of the last song will be the first word of the first song, and one could imagine the entire sequence as a garland of songs).

Kaalamegam has sung the following song in praise of Saraswathi that instantly provided him a seat to the level of the King who insulted Kaalamegam in front his court members. Reciting this song is believed to bring the blessings of the Goddess and get good knowledge

வெள்ளைக் கலையுடுத்து வெள்ளைப் பணிபூண்டு
வெள்ளைக் கமலத்தில் வீற்றிருப்பாள் வெள்ளை
அறியா சனத்தி லரசரோ டென்னைச்
சரியா சனம்வைத்த தாய்

Vellai Kalai Uduthu Vellai Pani Poondu
Vellai Kamalathil Veetriruppaal Vellai
Ariyaasanathil Arasarodu Ennai
Sariyaasanam Vaitha Thaai

meaning, My mother of knowledge who wears the white attire of purity, and adorns the white ornaments and sits on the white lotus, would bless me with the knowledge that will seat me on par with the kings.

The great poet of recent times, Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiar, was adorned with the title Bharathi (blessed by the Goddess of Knowledge). As with most poets, who sing the first song in praise of Goddess Saraswathi or the second song after the praise of Lord Vinayagar, Bharathi has song a lot of songs in praise of Goddess Saraswathi. One of his famous songs is the Saraswathi Devi Pugazh or the Vellai Thaamarai. Bharathiar emphasizes the importance knowledge and the importance of the people in the society being educated. The following are the few stanzas from the poem

வெள்ளைத் தாமரைப் பூவில் இருப்பாள்
     வீணை செய்யும் ஒலியில் இருப்பாள்;
கொள்ளை யின்பம் குலவு கவிதை
     கூறு பாவலர் உள்ளத் திருப்பாள்!
உள்ள தாம்பொருள் தேடியுணர்ந்தே
     ஓதும் வேதத்தின் உள்நின் றொளிர்வாள்;
கள்ள மற்ற முனிவர்கள் கூறும்
     கருணை வாசகத் துட்பொருளாவாள்.

இன்ன றுங்கனிச் சோலைகள் செய்தல்
     இனிய நீர்த்தண் கனைகள் இயற்றல்,
அன்ன சத்திரம் ஆயிரம் வைத்தல்
     ஆலயம்பதி னாயிரம் நாட்டல்,
பின்ன ருள்ள தருமங்கள் யாவும்
     பெயர்வி ளங்கி யொளிர நிறுத்தல்
அன்ன யாவினும் புண்ணியம் கோடி
     ஆங்கோர் ஏழைக் கெழுத்தறி வித்தல்.

நிதிமி குந்தவர் பொற்குவை தாரீர்;
     நிதிகு றைந்தவர் காசுகள் தாரீர்;
அதுவு மற்றவர் வாய்ச்சொல் அருளீர்!
     ஆண்மை யாளர் உழைப்பினை நல்கீர்!
மதுரத் தேமொழி மாதர்க ளெல்லாம்
     வாணி பூசைக் குரியன பேசீர்!
எதுவும் நல்கியிங் கெவ்வகை யானும்
     இப்பெருந் தொழில் நாட்டுவம் வாரீர்

In the last stanzas he says that providing education is much more important than establishing orchards, water resources, religious places of worship, establishments that provide free food for everyone. And he openly asks for donations from people who can afford and those who cannot just give good words in support of the effort to provide education for the needy. And it is true, the the literacy rate determines the growth of a country.

Kumaragurubarar who couldn’t speak until he was six years old, starting singing Kandhar Kalivenba with the grace of Lord Murugan who gave the start of the collection by uttering the word - Poo. Kumaragurubarar when he went to Kasi sang the Sagalakalavalli Maalai comprising of 30 stanzas in praise of Goddess Saraswathi.

Though Goddess Saraswathi is venerated and revered throughout history by all the learned and knowledgeable people, She has only one temple in Tamil Nadu where She is the main deity as she wanted to undergo the curse of Her consort Lord Brahma, who was cursed by Lord Shiva that Lord Brahma will not have any temple where He will be the main deity. However on the request of Ottakoothar, She fulfilled his wish by being the main deity at Koothanoor.

Koothanur Maha Saraswathi
Knowledge is one differentiation factor that has taken mankind this far in the evolution, and it is not surprising to see that man  has deified the differentiator as the Mother and the Goddess of Knowledge. In India, there are celebrations that are held yearly to worship the Goddess of Knowledge along with the Goddess of Wealth and the Goddess of Courage - The Dussehra or the Navarathri - Nine Nights of Worship.

Knowledge will take us even far if we remember “Kattradhu Kai Mann Alavu” and worship the Goddess of Knowledge

More to come, until then...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Divine Odhimalai

Swamimalai is well known for Lord Muruga explaining the meaning of Pranavam (Divine Rhythm/Supreme Being) to Lord Shiva, who Himself  is the Pranavam, thereby earning the name Thagappan Swamy (meaning, God/Guru for His Father).

A much less known hill that is related to the same incident is the Odhimalai. This is the place where Lord Muruga took up the creation process from Lord Brahma’s after imprisoning Lord Brahma. Lord Muruga did the creation by chanting the Veda hence the name Odhimalai - Odhi (Chant) Malai (Hill)

Odhimalai is about 45 kms from Coimbatore (via. Annur, Sirumugai route). We can drive up to the foothills and after that you will have to climb the stairs to reach the temple. Quite arduous climb of about 1800 steps but worth the experience Before, glimpsing at the Odhimalai experience, here are the legends associated with this divine hill.

The first legend, the one that is associated with the name of the hill. Brahma, once visited Kailash to see Lord Shiva, and when Murugan saw and wished him, but Brahma ignored and did not reciprocate. Murugan got irritated and when Brahma was on his way back, stopped him and mentioned that the Lord of creation should not such a diversion in his attention and asked him the meaning of the Pranavam.

Brahma could not answer and stood dumbfounded, and that provoked Murugan caught Brahma and imprisoned him and later Lord Shiva intervened to have Brahma released. That was when Shiva learned the meaning of Pranavam from his son as an obedient student at Swamimalai, thereby earning the name - Thagappan Swamy.

Meanwhile, before Lord Shiva intervened, Lord Murugan imprisoned Lord Brahma at a place called Irumbarai (meaning an Iron Room) and in order to prevent the imbalance that could be caused if creation is stopped as Brahma is imprisoned, he took charge of creation; climbed the hills of the Odhimalai and started the creation work. Lord Brahma used to have 5 heads but later he lost one because of his misdeed that he did, which is a separate story. So matching Lord Brahma, the deity at Odhimalai has 5 heads and 8 arms. Irumbarai is at the foothills.

The next legend is when Bhogar, one of the 18 Siddhars was on his way to Palani hills but when he heard about the Odhimalai deity, he worshipped the Lord and stayed at the place for quite sometime, and during his stay, he performed a lot of yaagams and poojas at the foothills and as a result that section of land called the Boodhikaadu (Viboothikaadu) was covered with a lot of Viboothi and turned white. Even today, that section of the land is still white, and people believe it is because of the yaagams of Bhogar.

When the time came, he got the instructions from Lord Murugan to start his journey to Palani. And to guide Bhogar, Lord Murugan took the form with one head and 4 arm and the remaining form with 5 heads and 8 arms stayed at Odhimalai. Lord Murugan guided Bhogar till a place, some say as Velayudhapalayam and some say as Kumarapalayam, and showed Bhogar the way to Palani Hills. There is a Murugan temple at the place where Lord Murugan stopped. Bhogar walked his way to Palani where he created the famous Navapaashana idols at Palani.

Now, let’s look at the pictures  of Odhimalai. Odhimalai is a very serene and beautiful hill, the arduous climb is worth the effort for enjoying its beauty. As we climb the hill we will be getting a beautiful view of the Bhavanisagar Dam. Halfway through, we meet Lord Ganesh in his own shrine, after which the climb becomes even steeper and more arduous. A few intermediary Mandapams have been built and the interesting thing is that all those constructions in the hill were built  using the bricks, sand and cement that were carried by the devotees from the foothills till the top. Even today, devotees who climb carry sand, bricks cement etc in small bags that could hold one or two bricks; or about a kg of sand or cement.

Now, the snaps of the divine hill


The Divine Hill that we are going to climb

Guys (Pradeep, Ravi, Suresh) with their share of sand bags
The ascent starts

View of the foot hills at the start of the climb

At the first mandapam

The steep stairs from the mandapam

View of the plains from about half the hill - Top left is Bhavanisagar

 Another view of the plains

 At another mandapam, start to feel exhausted

 The steep stairs, worth the effort

Bhavanisagar Dam is seen as we ascend

Pradeep continuing with the climb

The vegetation in the hills

Lord Vinayagar Shrine - half way at the hill

The stairs get steeper from Lord Vinayagar temple 

View of Bhavanisagar gets better as we climb

The steepness is very exhausting

The last few steps

Shrine before the main temple

The entrance to Odhimalai Temple

The entrance to Odhimalai Temple

Lord Odhimalai Andavar Shrine

 Lord Shiva Shrine

Odhimalai Andavar Shrine from behind

Goddess Parvathi Shrine

Waiting for Poojai to start

Scenic view of Bhavanisagar Dam and plains

Rain over the of Bhavanisagar Dam

View of the plains from the top

We were lucky to see a double rainbow

Poojai Starts

Odhimalai Andavar carried around the temple after the Poojai

The descent starts

Devotees offering at each step from the foothills

Awestruck at the painstaking effort, if climbing alone was arduous, imagine this

The sand bags have reached their destination

View of the foothills

View of the foothills while descending

 Nearing completion of the journey

The glorious hill that we climbed

It was the grace of Odhimalai Andavar for making it happen. It wasa  wonderful experience, go there once and get the blessings of Lord Murugan

More to come, until then...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Serene Singaperumal Kovil

The Pallavas who ruled a part of the southern India left behind great legacies for generations to cherish and admire. They were the masters of the rock-cut temples, Mammallapuram being one such masterpiece. The Pallavas have built a lot of temples primarily in and around the Kancheepuram region. One such stupendous temple, that stands amidst the daily bustling activities of the city, is the Singaperumal Kovil. The main deity is Lord Narashimar (Singaperumal). The historical name of this temple is “Paadalaadhri” which means Reddish (Paadalam) Hill (Aadhri). Lord Narashimar is in his fierce form - Ugra Narashimar. The fierceness of the Lord is attributed to the name of the temple (Paadalam - Reddishness).

The historical name of the temple and the surrounding place was Paadalaadhirpuram later got changed as Singaperumal Kovil. It is a rock cut temple in which the Pallavas were experts at building.Accompanying the main deity Lord Narashima is His consort Ahobilavalli Thaayaar also accompanied by Aandaal. The temple also has separate shrines for Lakshmi Narashimar, Ramanujar, Garuda - His vehicle/mount. The speciality of Lord Narashimar is that He has three eyes and hence the name Thrinethra Narashimar and the third eye is shown whenever the “deepa-aaradhanai” is done. The Pradosham day (Thirteenth day after the full moon) is considered to be auspicious in this temple and the poojas (rituals) are conducted during this day. Normally, Pradosham is day when people go to Shiva temples to get the blessing of Lord Shiva  because He saved the world by intaking the dreaded poison (Aala Kaala Visham) during the twilight. Likewise, Lord Narashima saved the world from Iranyakashibu by killing him in the twilight and so Pradosham is auspicious in this temple.

There are some interesting legends associated with this temple. We will see two of those legends that related to the temple’s origin and history. One is that of Maharishi Jabaali and the other is that of Vyakra Paadhar.

Maharishi Jabaali went on a deep meditation just doing a mental incantation of Lord Narashima’s form. He wanted to worship him in the form as shown to Prahaladhan. Lord Narashima pleased with the worship appeared before Maharishi Jabaali in the form he requested in the very place where the Singaperumal Kovil is today.

The other legend is Maharishi Vyakara Paadhar wanted to worship Lord Narashima came to this area which was then a jungle. He met a hunter who was living in that part of the jungle. The hunter curiously asked the Maharishi about why he was there in this perilous jungle. The Maharishi thought the layman hunter will not be able to understand his purpose visiting the jungle and hence he said that he ventured into the jungle in search of an animal. The hunter told that he could help the Maharishi with that.

But the Maharishi thought that the hunter being an illiterate layman and said that the hunter could not find such an animal that he was searching for. The hunter vowed to find the animal and bring it before the Maharishi within the end of the day else he would die before the Maharishi and asked how the animal would look. The Maharishi told that the animal would have a lion’s face and human’s body picturizing Lord Narashima hoping that the Lord would never appear before the hunter because he doesn’t even have the knowledge of who Lord Narashima was.

The hunter challenged that he will find the animal of Maharishi’s description before sunset else he would die in front of the Maharishi. The Maharishi smiled thinking that Lord Narashima has not appeared before a person like him who has showed so much devotion and meditation, how will he appear before a hunter who doesn’t even have the knowledge of Lord Narashima.

The hunter wandered all day long in the forest scanning thoroughly in search of the beast that Maharishi described. The sunset was close and he couldn’t find the beast, so, dejected he walked back to fulfil his promise of dying before the sage. When walked back, suddenly he heard a loud roar. And there! he found the beast he was searching for. He felt joyed and without wasting time he pounced on the beast and tied its hands with a rope and took him to the Maharishi.

He exclaimed to the Maharishi about his find and pulled the beast in front of the Maharishi. The Maharishi was surprised as he could see nothing, but just a rope hanging in mid-air the other end of which the hunter was holding. Confused, the Maharishi asked where the beast is as he could not see. The hunter said that the beast was right in front of him. That was when the Maharishi heard the Divine Utterance, Lord Narashima told that the Maharishi had the pride and arrogance but not the dedication, so He did not appear before him. But the illiterate hunter showed the dedication thinking all the day without any deviation in his mind and he was able to see Him.

The Maharishi realised his mistake and started to worship with the dedication and later Lord Narashima appeared before him to bless. The jungle where this event happened is the Singaperumal Kovil

Now let’s see some pictures of this great temple

The entrance to the Singaperumal Kovil

The vimanams of Lord Narashimar and Ahobilavalli Thaayar

Another view of the vimanams of Lord Narashimar and Ahobilavalli Thaayar

The vimanam of Lord Narashimar from behind the temple

The sacred Azhinjil or Kadamba Tree inside the temple it is also the Sthala Virutcham

Me and Lord Narashimar Vimanan

My brother Rajesh and Lord Narashimar Vimanam

The Sthala Virutcham. People do some offerings in the tree like tying cradles and sacred threads hoping for prosperity, children and better life

Another view of the Sthala Virutcham

View of Sunset from the temple

 Garuda Azhwar Statue in the North-West corner of the temple wall

There is also the shrine of Lord Hanuman and big pond outside the temple but not known to many who visit the temple

The Pallavas did a great deed of building this temple by which Lord Narashima has been showering his blessings on the people who flock to worship him. One should visit this temple to enjoy the serene beauty and the divine grace.

More to come, until then...