Did you ever visit a place that seemed to just fill you with curiosity? For me, such a place was Madurai, I realized I wanted to continue and expand the story of my visit to Madurai. This is an important temple town,where according to legend or myth, as well as Hindu faith, a celestial wedding between Gods took place. I wanted to write a blog on the architecture, literary and other wonders about the temple, which was the venue of the myth or faith, fable or history.
The Meenakshi Amman temple had been proposed to be declared as another world wonder for many reasons,one of which was the temple tank called the “Porthamarurai Kulam”,or the Golden Lotus Pond. It is believed it was a sacred,temple tank where the Hindu Gods Indra, Shiva and others, manifested into human form, for one reason or other.Thirukural,a Tamil text of more than a thousand couplets, many religious legends such as the Thiruvizhaiadal Puranam, poets who were Nakeeran, Appar, Samandar, Thiruvalluvar and the many Pandya kings who ruled the land, were all associated through history, folklore, belief or fiction, related to the temple and its tank.
The temple and tank garnered so much of my interest,that I did not care about the very hot sun. Wearing the traditional dhothi and sandals,instead of my regular trousers and shoes,I drove to the East gate,car park. I walked a few metres to be confronted by the tall tower and the huge temple walls. I was obligated to leave my footwear for safekeeping at a counter meant for the purpose. And, since photo and videos were prohibited, I had to leave my camera as well as my iPad at the next counter for a fee which was a mere two rupees, or one cent in $ terms. Access into the temple was free and guide services were for nominal cost.However, before I even began, as were all visitors, I was security checked by the Police, for prohibited articles, which were banned items, similar to the ones displayed at airports, from being carried on board.
I walked into the temple through and under an imposing eight storey tower which was about 60 meters or 180 feet high. The entrance door was made of wood and bronze plates, secured by a thirty foot gate, large enough for two Elephants to go through at the same time. Being a festival day,a religious procession was led by an elephant ridden by a man in the traditional clothes of the Tamil Kings. This scintillating sight was enriched by a fascinating procession of musicians playing Tamil musical instruments such as the nadaswaram a wind instrument, the Thovil, a kind of drum which is a skin instrument and a smaller version of the cymbals which added up as percussion.It was followed by two men holding flaming torches and many carrying a Deity in a well decked palanquin. This was followed by a group of young men distributing “prasadam” or a religious offering meant for devotees.
The festival commemorated the day, which according to the Thiruvilaiyadal puranam coincided with the day when Shiva manifested as a young man to teach a lesson to a tyrant king and his subservient people. Legend says that several thousand years ago,a Pandya king wanted to build a huge bund around the temple town. He ordered that one man from every family should work in the construction, or the family be punished. A poor old widow who had no family and none to help offered “puttu”, a delicacy made of roasted ground rice flour, to any one who would substitute her. As no one came forward, fearing punishment she prayed to Shiva to help her out of her predicament. The god ,taking mercy, manifested himself as a young man and offered his services on her behalf but on the condition he be fed first. Having eaten sumptuously the god went to sleep in the shade under a tree. The king who happened to come that way found the young man snoring instead of attending to work and enraged, struck the boy with a cane. By a miracle the stroke that hurt the back of the lad also hurt the back of the king, his guards and everyone else. It was then that the lad transformed himself as Shiva and advised the king to withdraw his draconic law for its inherent flaw as well as the punishment which pained everyone including him. Having learned this lesson from a legendary belief, I waited alongside the worshiping devotees and the amazed visitors, as the procession of the “puttu thiruvizha” passed by.
This was faith transcending beyond borders. If this was just one of the manifestations connected with the temple town and its God, what could the rest be? I wondered but sure enough, I realized, I was in for a treat of surprises and a host of wonderful fascinating moments.