DHARSHAN OF TEMPLES OF LORD SASTHA
DHARSHAN OF TEMPLES OF LORD SASTHA
(AYYANIN ALAYA DHARISANAM)
Sri Maha Saastru Priyadasan V. Aravind Subrahmanyam
Translated by Shri. Thiruvarur Chandrashekaran
(This series is also available in Tamil...those who wish to read it in the original language... please mail me)
Achchanaar Kovil Arase (The King of Achchanar Kovil)
Our plan was to start at all costs by 5.30 AM. So next day by dot at 4.00 AM one after the other, all the cell phones started ringing their wake up calls. (Of course no question of awakening those who did not even get a wink of a sleep)
By 4.30 AM all were wide-awake. Those who are accustomed to have shower in the bathrooms at Coimbatore, were all very eager to have a dip in the river Tambrabarani. To reach the riverbank one has to cross a channel (small feeder of water to the fields) as well as few paddy fields. We all left our rooms in the early morning darkness at 4.30 A.M. and reached the Siva temple, adjacent to the channel. Beyond that point there were no streetlights and it was all utter darkness.
So fear engulfed the minds of all the youngsters. I pointed out to them a spot having some light, beyond where we stood, and said that is where the bathing ghat is.
“Let us not bother Anna! Let us reserve the river bath for next day”. That was the unanimous opinion of one and all. So we all returned back to our rooms.
By then Gurumama was ready with hot steaming coffee for all of us. We all had a sip of our quota of coffee.
The motor of the borewell pump was switched on and directed the water coming out of the hose towards each one of us and thus gave a “shower” bath to all. When it was my turn for the shower bath he jovially started reciting the mantras (known as Srirudram,which is recited while doing Abhishegam to the Lord) Namah Somaya Cha Rudraya Cha Namah Sambhave…….and directed the hose pipe towards me. By the time we all had our bath and finished performing the morning Sandhyavandan and Japam, it was already 6.15 AM. Since by then the rest of our group members, from the other house, too joined us we commenced our journey towards Achchankovil.
The plan was to complete the dharshan at the three temples at Achchankovil, Ariyankavu,and Kulaththupizhai, in the forenoon itself. No sooner this was announced, Gurumama threw a challenge.
“I am prepared to give it in writing on a ten rupee judicial stamp paper that it is impossible to complete the dharshan of all the three temples by the forenoon”. He repeated it few more times too.
Right from the time we left Coimbatore he had been making similar dissenting statements, one or the other. When as an addendum to the plan, I announced, that after the dharshan at all the three temples by forenoon, we also plan to have the dharshan at the Sori Muththaiyan Kovil in the evening, it became the last straw on the camel’s back and a bone of contention as far as Gurumama, a known doubting Thomas was concerned!
He retorted saying “Absolutely Impossible!!! If, however, it so materializes, then I shall honour you in the traditional style, offering betel leaves, betel nuts, plantain fruits, coconut etc as a token of my respects.” I did not respond at all.
It is true that I prepared the tour programme, in consultation with my father. But at the last minute it was got re-written by the Lord Kulaththuran himself! So I kept quiet, under the firm belief and conviction that He himself would lead us to the temples and bless us with His dharshan too.
I had already intimated in advance about this visit of ours to Pradeep, the priest who is in charge of conducting daily puja at the sannidhi of Lord Karuppannaswamy, located within the Achchankovil temple complex. So we had carried with us all the items specially required for performing the puja of Karuppannaswamy.
Travelling from Kallidaikkurichi we passed through the beautiful green fields of Thirumalai temple and were nearing the Achchankovil. Throughout, on both sides of the highway leading to Achchankovil, situated in the border of the states of TamilNadu and Kerala, it was all lush green fields and greeneries only. There was a light, very light, drizzle with a gentle breeze too.
When my eyes fell upon a signboard on the road reading “Way to Pavur Chatram” the “story” of “Kanthamalai Sword” came to my mind.
One person, belonging to this place known as Pavur Chatram, was a staunch devotee of Lord Dharma Saastha, the deity of Achchankovil. He often used to visit Achchankovil and have dharshan of the Lord. He however had one desire in his heart of hearts.
A Great Desire! That of having a dharshan of the Lord with his two consorts, Purna and Pushkala, majestically seated in the Golden Temple of Kanthamalai.
Kanthamalai does not exist in this world. (It is in the celestial world) How can any ordinary human being witness such a dharshan unless one has His blessings and unless He so wills?
Lord Manikandan, in whose dictionary the word “No” does not exist, could not however remain a silent spectator particularly when one of his staunch devotees was waiting for long with such a desire in his heart.
So He deputed, Lord Karuppannaswamy, the head of his divine army, to bring that devotee, sitting at Achchankovil temple premises, to witness His divine presence at Kanthamalai.
Lord Karuppan immediately appeared before that devotee. And advised him to close his eyes but hold on to his hands firmly. Before that he also cautioned him as under.
“In the Sannidhanam of the Lord please have His dharshan only. Don’t ever dare to think of anything else at that place”.
In a fraction of a second the devotee was standing in front of the sannidhi of the Lord at Kanthamalai. It was a golden temple. The roof was glittering in gold. In the front were seated Lord Ayyappa along with His two consorts Purna and Pushkala.
Unlike the silent stone idol which he was accustomed to see and enjoy at Achchankovil, here the Lord was seen alive, flesh and blood, with a smile on his face. Here was a speaking deity! He was spell bound and speechless. Tears of joy rolled down from his eyes! He thus had a wonderful memorable Dharshan of his lifetime.
After some time, even while standing before the Lord in his Sannidhanam, slowly lustful human thoughts started entering his mind.
“Soon I will have to return to my village. But none there would ever believe me if I tell them about this dhrashan of mine!!!”
With such a thought in his mind, when he turned his head, his eyes fell upon a Golden Sword kept there.
Now another thought occurred to him that if he carries this sword with him back to his village and exhibit it to the people there, it would be easy for him to convince them of his dharshan of the Lord at Kanthamalai. So he stretched his hand to lift the sword.
Next nanosecond..... !
He was found lying at the entrance of the Achchankovil temple .The sword was also lying by his side .He however lost his eyesight. This was the “reward” for ignoring the warnings of Lord Karuppan. He humbly accepted this as a “ punishment” for his undesirable action. Even today one heir of this family is born blind and thus the punishment is perpetuating till date.
As a material witness of this miraculous incident, even today this sword of the Lord, the Kanthamalai sword, is in existence amidst us.
The weight of the sword is another unresolved mystery. The sword is made of pure gold and it is said to have divine powers. It is an annual practice to weigh and check the weights of all ornaments of the Lord, a King of Achchankovil, before bringing them from the safe custody of Government Treasury. While all the ornaments have their individual weights recorded against each, in the case of the Knathamalai sword, it is always recorded “Weight cannot be determined”, since its weight is said to vary from place to place!!!
This holy sword is available for public view at the temple premises during the showering of flowers (abhishekam) on the idol of the Lord on the day when Revathy star occurs in the month of Thai (Tenth tamil month starting from Chaitra)
As our journey continued towards Achchankoil, with all eyes and ears on me, my thoughts however hovered around Punalur Sri Subrahmanya Ayyar. He was a strict disciplinarian in the observance of all the traditional practices as well as the daily routines as laid down in the scriptures. He was known as Anushtana Simham. By the grace of the Lord he lived an exemplary life – a legendary one-an embodiment of virtue- to show to all as to how one should lead a life.
He began his life in this forest area only. He successfully bid in most of the “Coop” auctions of the forest and was known by the title Tollgate Swami. The road to the temple at Achchankovil in use today was built by him in his individual capacity and by his personal efforts. I mentally offered my prayers to this Bhaktha Shikamani(The Gem amongst the devotees), the great gurunathar (Acharya),the Punalur Thatha (grandfather of Punalur)
At the request of all the members present, both Vibhu and Shyam started singing the praise of the Lord. The following lines of one of the songs appeared to be most appropriate and befitting for the occasion.
“adiththaalum anaiththaalum niyE thuNai
naan thudiththaalum thuvandaalum niyE thuNai”
(Whether I am beaten or hugged THOU art my only savior and support. Whether I throb in pain or wither away THOU art my only savior and support)
Just then we had the first glimpse of the Sannidhi of Kottaivasal Karuppanna Swamy, situated in the border of Tamilnadu and Kerala states. The temple of Lord Karuppannaswamy is situated somewhat down below the main road. I bowed in reverence to Him from the Van itself and sought his permission and blessings.
Achchankovil is the Kendra (pivotal center) of Lord Karuppannaswamy.
Proceeding to have dharshan of Lord Dharma Saastha, without first seeking the permission of Lord Karuppannaswamy, would ultimately end up as a futile attempt only. . Stories are in abundance of vehicles getting stranded on the road due to breakdown because of total disregard of the Lord Karuppannaswamy. Such incidences are a very common sight on the roads in this area.
Once it was festival time at the Achchankovil temple. The jewel box of Lord Dharma Saastha of Achchankovil was kept at the temple premises. During nighttime a gang of dacoits enters the temple and loots the Thiru Abharana Box (jewel box) and vanishes from the scene.
The next day morning the Melsaanthi (Chief Priest) had a shock of his life as the jewel box was missing and he stood perplexed not knowing what to do. Shortly, one by one, more devotees assembled at the temple premises. None knew what to do.
In the meanwhile one amongst the crowd exclaimed in anguish:
“The entire forest area of the Achchankovil is known as the fortress of Lord Karuppannaswamy. How come a dacoity like this could take place right under the nose of the Lord Karuppannaswamy?”
The next moment Lord Karuppannaswamy, who possessed one amongst the crowd roared;
“Under my regime no theft can ever take place!”
He then described about a particular spot inside the forest and directed the assembly of people to proceed to that place and witness the scene therein. Immediately the entire crowd along with the temple authorities rushed to that spot. The scene they witnessed therein was funny and astonishing.
The entire gang of dacoits, who looted the jewel box the previous night, was seen going around a tree, non-stop. The jewel box was found lying at the roots of that tree. The dacoits were unaware of what they were doing. Right from the time they reached this place the previous night, till the time the people arrived here this morning, the dacoits have been behaving like this!!!
This is the story of the recovery of the stolen Jewel box of the Lord! The dacoits realized their mistake and had a miraculous change of mind and started leading a new lease of life, rendering service at the feet of the Lord.
Suddenly the van driver swayed the vehicle and exclaimed “My Goodness! What a big Snake it is!!!”
By the time I turned my head it had vanished. Of the many miracles of Achchankovil this is also one. That is in case of any snakebite in this area none runs after any doctor or village vaidyar.
There is a Maha Vaidyar, great physician, in this place. People bring the snake bitten person to Him only.
“yasya dhanvanthrir maathaa pithaa rudro bhishakthamaha
tham saasthaaram aham vandhe mahaa vaidyam daya-nidhim”
(I salute the Saastha, who is the greatest doctor, who is the treasure of mercy and whose mother is the great doctor Dhanvantri (MahaVishnu) and father the supreme physician, Rudra (Lord Baidyanath)
The temple gates are opened at any time of the day or night, whenever a snake bitten person is brought to the temple. In the case of all snakebites, even if it were a case of very poisonous snake, the Melsaanthi, brings the holy water and sandal paste prasadam from inside the sanctum sanctorum and applies the sandal paste at the spot where the snake has bitten and sprinkles the holy water too. Nothing else is done. The snake bitten person then gets up duly cured. This remains a mystery and challenge to the medical world till date.
When I was compiling the book Maha Saastha Vijayam I did some research to know the reason behind this miracle at this place, but not elsewhere and I stumbled upon certain astonishing information.
The entire mountainous region of Podhigai Hills, where this temple too is situated, is recognized as the empire of Sidhdhars and Yogis, who frequent this area. The Skhaanda Puran refers to Lord Dharma Saastha as Yogeeswaran. It was Lord Parasurama who invoked and installed Lord Dharma Saastha, the Yogeeswaran, the captain of all the yogis, at the Achchankoil. It is said that daily the Siddhars in their celestial body, which cannot normally be seen by human eyes, visit this temple and worship Him reciting the veda mantras known as Sarpa Sooktham. From this one could deduce that it is due this very reason a force exists as an antidote for serpent poison at this place.
Since by now the van had reached Achchankovil temple, we all got down enthusiastically. Whenever we visit a place it is necessary for us to ascertain the traditions being followed therein and follow them. I had already said that only after salutations to the Lord Karuppannaswamy, one should proceed to have the dharshan of Lord Dharma Saastha. But in their over enthusiasm most of our group members just hurried into the Saastha Temple without even bowing their head at Lord Karuppan.
But a few of us, however, went first to the sannidhi of Lord Karuppan. Mr Pradeep, the priest who does daily puja to Lord Karuppan recognized me immediately. We handed over all the puja materials brought by us and offered, Samastha Abharaadham, our pardon on behalf of all group members, particularly those who had directly rushed inside the temple. After requesting Mr.Pradeep, to arrange for the Puja, we proceeded towards the sannidhi of Lord Saastha.
In front of the temple there are steps to climb up. I would call it as the 18 steps, but made of concrete!
Below that there was a mandapam, which looked like a sannidhi .
Arun enquired which God is inside that sannidhi.
I jokingly told him that it was a very important sannidhi! The Hundi (donation box)!
On climbing the steps we reach the sanctum sanctorum of the “king” of the Achchankovil, the Lord Saastha.
The Lord here is known as Manikanta Muththaiyyan.
The Lord appears with his two consorts Purna & Pushkala. In other words He appears as a grahastha (married person) with both of his consorts.
The Lord appears in seated posture, while on both sides, his two consorts Purna and Pushkala are in standing posture, a rare sight and feast to the eyes!
At Achchankovil the main Vahan (vehicle of transport) for the Lord is Horse.
The glory, name and fame, which Achchankoil has is unique, which no other Saastha temple can boast of. Lord Parasurama established almost all the Saastha temples in Kerala. However with the passage of time and due to floods, fire accidents, disfiguring of the idols or some such reasons, the main idols consecrated by Lord Parasurama with his own hands, in almost all the other Kshetras, have been got replaced. Even the idol we see at Sabarimalai nowadays was remade in the year 1952.
It is only at Achchankoil we still have the original Moola Murthy, which was established by Lord Parasurama with his own hands. Many of our group members were very happy to hear this information. Anand, a member of our group, was virtually in “tears” of joy.
Though it was an unwritten understanding, by all the members of our group, that at no temple any one would go in for “individual” archanai sankalpams (with their birth star, name, gotram), many of the members, went ahead with individual archanai, pushpaanjali, neeranjanam (camphor arathi) etc!!!
Then we all fervently prayed and recited together Loga Veeram.And after offering a vastram to the Lord Manikanta Muththaiyan, we went around (circumambulate) the prakaram of the Lord.
Behind the sannidhi of the Lord, on a slightly raised platform, the Yakshi Kavu is situated. I enquired from one of the priests “Where is the sannidhi of Yakshi in this temple”? as if I am ignorant of it. He was emphatic in his reply and said that there is no such sannidhi in this temple!
I then pointed out to him the Yakshi Kavu and asked him what was that?
He nonchalantly replied that is Manja Matha!
On hearing this I had a swirling in my head!!!
There is no connection, none whatsoever with Manja Matha and the Saastha of Achchankoil. (Unlike Manja Matha & the Saastha at Sabarimalai).
I would not at all be surprised, if some one at a later date refers to it as Vavarswamy! Both Vibhu and myself exchanged glances and smiled within us. It was here in Achchankoil that Lord Saastha kept Yakshi under control by binding her with a golden chain and later blessed her to become a part and parcel of his own self.
What should I say, if people belonging to this place and closely associated with this temple, are unaware of these incidents and speak otherwise, totally ignorant of such Leelas of the Lord?
It is very much essential that those who are in charge of performing regular puja in a temple, (like Archakas/Pothis/Priests/Namboodris) must have a strong connection, a sort of attachment, with that Kshetram, and must also be aware of its history as well as the Leelas of the Lord of that place.
If, just like a clerk working in a bank, the Melsanthi and Keezhsanthi (chief priest and his deputy) are sent from time to time on deputation to various temples and are also frequently transferred, once in every two years or so, by those in charge of the temple affairs, this type of situation only would perpetuate.
Because of propagation of various imaginary stories and scenes in cinemas depicting Yakshi differently, many of us are afraid of it, as if it is a ghost, or a frightening unnatural being. However, the ghost like beings and Yakshi are not one and the same. Yakshi is of a different kind. The Yakshi who playfully frequents the sannidhi of Lord Saastha is, in fact, an Amsam (part and parcel) of Raja Mathangi Devi. She is known as Verikkal Yakshi.
Initially when she appeared as an ugraswaroopini (ferocious form) and started harassing all the people, Lord Hariharaputra, controlled her by tying her around with golden chains.
He then enlightened her of her heavenly connection and enrolled her as a soldieress of his army and she accompanys him everywhere as one of his bodyguards. We recollected the scene that took place in our Saastha Preethi celebrations, when along with the person possessed by Lord Saastha one person got possessed by Yakshi, who then went around with a trident in the hand. We then paid our obeisance to the Yakshi Devi.
At the entrance of the temple the flag mast was majestically glittering in golden colour. Sabari just exclaimed, “ Look ahead! How fine the flag mast is glittering in gold!” For my part I then added saying, that it was Sri (kottaram) Viswanathan, hailing from Coimbatore who converted the ordinary flag mast of Achchankoil into a golden one.
The service rendered by him was really very great. One cannot even dream of it. How much did he toil to collect several kilogrammes of gold for use in conversion of the Achchankoil flag mast into a golden one! I am aware of the many hurdles he had to face and the testing times he had to pass through. He himself had told them to me several times. While I was standing in the sannidhi of the Lord, for a brief period of few seconds, my thoughts hovered around him. Of late his health had been affected very much. I did not then realize that the Lord had already decided to call it a day for all his sufferings once for all and to bestow on him a state of permanent peaceful existence.
(Yes... exactly at the same moment, the Lord had taken him under His fold at Coimbatore and had merged him under His lotus feet! This, however, I came to know later when I was back at Coimbatore.)
Once again I had dharshan of the Lord and after sending off every one, I once again had a dharshan of the Lord. I advised every one to proceed to the sannidhi of Lord Karuppan and returned to have dharshan of the Lord once again.
I went on repeating this action!
“paNikinRavarkku uyirththuNai enRa viruthutan
baavikkum sukuNa seelan-baktha paripaalan enRu
\eththisayum pugazkinRa puurNa si-nthamaNikku iNaiyaana
maNikka maNi maarbanaam-enathu ishta kula theyvamaagi
vantha ivar irukkumbOthu kavalai ENO? manam irangki
emakku inRu kaN kaatchi tharuvaar.
kaNi kaNdu koNdu kaNmaNi enRu ivar paatha kamalaththai
idai vidaamal kaaththu irunthaal namakku ERRa
varamum tharuvaar-kaivalya murthy enRa
aNi vElavarkku iLaiya! maNithaasar hruthayaththil
aruL thathva bOthan enRu Athi sathur vEthankaL
Othum param jOthiyE! Engkal accanaar kOvil arasE !”
(You are renowned as the savior of soul of all those who surrender at your feet. You are the embodiment of all virtues. You are the caretaker of all your devotees. Your chest is adorned with the ruby, equivalent to the world-renowned gem, the poorna chinthaamani. (which has the power to grant all one aspires for). When you are present here as my favorite family deity why should I worry about any thing? You would take pity on me and grant me your wonderful darshan today. Having seen the beautiful darshan if we patiently wait at his lotus feet, the connoisseur of our eyes, he would grant us the right boons. He is the younger brother of the beautiful Lord Velavar (Lord Murugan), known as the kavailyamurthy. In the heart of Manidaasar, you are realized as the Arul Thathva Bodhar (preacher of the meaning of Mercy) as referred by the ancient four Vedas. Thou art the supreme light of the universe! Thou art the King of our Achanar Kovil!)
My mind was fully engrossed there itself. I was also vexed with the thoughts that we have to make a move from there. At least next time I should come with the plan of staying here for few days.
With a heavy heart we left that place and reached the sannidhi of Lord Karuppan, which was situated opposite to the Saastha temple but somewhat at a lower level.
At Achchankovil there is no dearth of Parivarangal (idols of associated deities.). Village deities like Sapparamundan, Kochchittaanan are also residing there. Kalamadaswamy, an Amsam of Lord Nandikeswar is also present there. In the same surrounding area Sri Bhoothanathswamy is also housed and called by the name Sangili Bhothaththaan (Lord with chains in hand). Lord Karuppan and his consort Karuppayee are also standing facing the Saastha temple.
By now Mr Pradeep, the priest of Lord Karuppan, was waiting for us ready with all preparations for the puja. Pradeep believes in doing the puja in all sincerity and with utmost caution (with shradda). So he had made a request to me for providing him with a copy of the ancient ashtotthara namavali (108 names) of Lord Karupannaswamy. I had it with me. Since mine was written in Sanskrit (devanagari libhi) I had got it rewritten in Malayam language and brought it with me. I handed over that to Mr.Pradeep .The puja started and we had the dharshan of Lord Karuppan.
“mu-nthaya sEnaikkellam mudhalvan ivanE enRu
sa-nthira vaaLai E-nthi manthira pEyaik kondu
thanthiramaagavE thaan sEnaiyai velvEn enRu
su-nthara mugaththaan munnE karuppanum thOnRinaan
(Lord Karuppan, as the leader and head of the entire army and holding the crest shaped sword in hand and having the demons under his control and announcing that I would secretly defeat and win over the forces of the enemies, appeared before the beautiful looking Lord Saastha )
Befitting the above description mentioned by Manidaasar, Karuppan appears majestically with a big twitching moustache and holding a scythe in his raised hands as if ready to cut off the head of the enemy.
We had a wonderful dharshan of all the deities and finally took leave from the king of Achchankovil, Lord Saastha.
to be continued......