17. Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple, Madurai
We were already at Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple grounds by 5am. A large group of Ayyappa baktas came behind us and made their way to queue in line. It surprised us to see a long queue at that early hour. On enquiring about the special queue we were told by the police personnel that the counter for the sale of the tickets will only be opened at 6am. We had an hour to go. Since we sourced information about Siddha Samadhis through our AVM WhatsApp group as we approaced each town, members informed us that there were 16 numbers of Siddhar samadhi here! So we walked the outer court of the majestic temple checking in on each sannadhi to see if there was a Siddha residing there. We asked several people we met too but to no avail. Soon following the signs to Sundareshwarar’s sannadhi we found ourselves, unknowingly, within the inner temple complex. Again I asked another police personnel about the special tickets as we saw that the ticket counters were unmanned. As I was addressing the personnel I saw a man seated at a desk and observing us from a distance. Now figuring what next to do, suddenly I felt someone touch my shoulders. The man whom I saw a moment ago told me to follow him, “Yennodu Vanga”. I motioned to all the children who were scattered in clusters amidst the growing crowd and hurriedly followed the man trying to keep pace with him as he entered further and further into the moving crowd and against the flow. I was surprised to see so much activity within the walls of the temple at such an early hour. Before we realized he had brought us right in front of Goddess Meenakshi! After a quick darshan I mentioned to the man that we needed to do archanai. He brought us to another spot and stepped aside while the girls waited to do archanai. A priest came forward. Bala tells us that the priest had asked if the girls had purchased the ticket to conduct archanai. When Bala replied that the counters had yet to open the priest without another word received their offerings, entered the sannadhi, performed the puja and came back with the prasad. Their parikaram at Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple, in Madurai was complete.
Meanwhile the man draws out a card of authority and mentions to me that he was with the temple. I pass him some cash as a small token of appreciation for his assistance. He takes leave directing us the way out.
As we kept asking around for the Siddha Samadhi, we are pointed to the majestic temple of Sundarananthar Vallabha Siddhar, an avatar of Shiva, we are told. Here puja was in progress. We move some distance away from this sannadhi and sat to recite the Siddhar Potri, having Sundarananthar Vallabha Siddhar in our sight. Midway we hear percussions sound and thinking that it was a procession we stopped chanting to wait for it to go by. A priest with his entourage and musicians made their way to each sannadhi waving the arathi. That’s when we had an opportunity to chat with a couple of men. They spoke about Sundarananthar Vallabha Siddhar sannadhi and another passed us a booklet on Amman 108 Potri. We went back to our spot and finished reciting the Siddhar Potri. Bala decided to recite Madurai Sri Meenakshi Amman 108 Potri Archanai and Sri Sivaperumaan 108 Potri Archanai from the booklet that we received a moment ago. The energy at this spot was amazing as we kept chanting. I held out my hand to Tamil and Shanga on both my sides and we all in turn held our hands in a circle and began to imbibe the uplifting energy.
Bala meanwhile had again asked the police personnel about the whereabouts of the 16 Siddha Samadhis and with that information led us to the exact spot. The personnel had even mentioned how to go about circumambulating the samadhis so that we would not miss any of them. The girls lit up the oil lamp. Assured of the Siddhas blessings too we left the temple complex. As many in our team were first time visitors to India, Bala engaged a couple of auto drivers to take us back to the hotel although it was only walking distance. He wanted them to experience the feel in riding on an auto through the narrow lanes of Madurai.
As I reflected on Meenakshi on the way to our next destination, it was pretty obvious that I had entered another space quite different from the one I encountered with Tavayogi in 2005 at the Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple, in Madurai.
18. Pazhamudircholai Murugan Temple, Madurai
We thought we would have to skip this temple earlier due to our planned original stopover at Palani for the night before. Saha would have missed out on her parikaram at one of three Arupadai temple as required. But since then we had changed our decision, and stayed at Madurai, considering the distance that we needed to cover that night, if we were to lodge at Palani. We began moving for Pazhamudircholai, fulfilling Saha's needs finally.
On arrival I realized that this temple was not large or bustling with devotees as in other Murugan Stalams. We purchased a special pass and were shown the way to Murugan’s sannadhi by the kind personnel at the counter himself. The priest attended to us immediately and we had a wonderful sight of Lord Muruga, Valli and Deivanai. We were told to seat directly in front of Muruga and witness the puja. As we left the sannadhi, Bala was garlanded by the priest. I looked for a space to sit and recite the Siddhar Potri. Towards the end of the recital, we realized that Dyalan was deep into his meditation. We waited for him to come out of it which took some time. I took a seat directly opposite and across. When he opened his eyes he motioned me to approach me. I knew then that it was not Dyalan for he would come to me and not ask me over. I went over and knelt before “him”. He asked me a question, “Who is the female deity in green and carrying a trident or sulam?”. I answered that it was Madurai Meenakshi but added that the Siddhas see all forms of Dewi as Vaalai Thaai. He immediately told me that we had the grace and blessings of Vaalai Thaai. We realized later that that was the start of Vaalai Thaai soon following us at all sannadhis besides the Siddhas!
Sankar recommended that we walk a short distance uphill to a spot known as Noopura Ganga, a perennial waterfall with a temple dedicated to Rakkayi Amman. Initially we started for it but I decided that we shelf that thought and move on to Palani immediately for we had a long climb up ahead at Palani too. It would take some time to climb Palani as Ayya who guided Bala had strictly requested that Bala climb the steps and not take the winch.
|Photo courtesy of http://tamilnadu-favtourism.blogspot.my/2016/02/pazhamudircholai-murugan-temple-madurai.html|
Now we made our way to what I consider Twilight Zone – Palani. Palani has always amazed me! Each time I am here I cannot but recollect how Lord Dhandayuthapani's image never stood in my memory. Each time I visited this "portal" the space and walls are different too! So as we left for Palani my heart beat with excitement thinking what would be in store this time around?
On arrival at our hotel we realized that there were people living in the open,with only makeshift tents over their heads. There was a large number of tents pitched in an open space next to the hotel. Small children were seen roaming around too. We decided to perform an annadhanam for them later that day. We refreshed and made our way to Palani temple. Along the way we noticed another campsite and yet another at the base of the temple complex housing these people. Sugu wanted to shed his hair and found himself a barber. Tamil accompanied him. We prayed at the Vinayagar sannadhi at the foot of Palani before we entered via the Kobura Vaasal. Here we were met by another majestic Vinayagar. A priest was showing arati as passersby stopped to worship before beginning their climb. We too stood before Vinayagar. To our surprise the priest addressed us and revealed that we should pay homage to the feet of Lord Muruga engraved in stone beside a column, a spot we would all have missed if he did not mention. He pointed out images of deities and Siddhas engraved in the granite columns lined up at this place. Then he said that whatever we intended to do should start from a couple of steps further up! He added that one of us will bring back something to our homeland too!
Bala had asked for blessings from “Ayya” who came through a trance via his uncle. Ayya had given an elaborate account of what needed to be done and what to expect during this journey, especially in Palani. Bala desiring to kneel all the way up the steps of Palani, mentioned that to me while traveling. I nodded but cautioned him and refrained him from hurting himself. I reminded him to stop the very moment he felt any difficulty. It came as a surprise later when Bala told me both Saha and Malar too wanted to perform the same feat.
I had asked Bala to share with all the message from Ayya since if Bala were to forget or is oblivious to “the moments” and "signs of their presence", others would remember and could remind and caution him. And so the trio started climbing the steps on their knees as I led the others singing the Siddhar Potri. Along the way a lady clad in a green saree with a child in her arms began to follow us alongside. When the trio stopped for a breather, she too stopped. And so seeing a phenomena developing here, the words of “Ayya” struck me. I told Bala, “Bala Dhandayuthapaani was here” referring to the child in his mother's arms. He was shaved bald, presumably just some moments ago, since he had sandalwood paste applied on his shaved head. He wore a cute miniature vesti around him and was so adorable. I asked the mother to let him down. Bala taking note of what I said, immediately carried the child on his shoulders and continued his climb still kneeling. After some distance the boy wanted to alight and followed us on foot. Soon Sugu and Tamil joined us.
It was a difficult sight to behold seeing these youngsters go through the gruelling climb but with such devotion. Bala considering the difficult position he had had placed both Saha and Malar, asked me to end their climb. I picked all three of them up saying Dhandayuthapani Swamy had accepted their vow and that they could stop. All three rose and continued walking up the stairs with us. At Idumban’s sannadhi a priest who was seated rose and ushered us into the sannadhi and showed arati. Here we discovered a bunting of Agathiyar hanging on the wall.
Towards the top Bala signalled to me that he wanted to continue kneeling his way up and all three began their climb again. Reaching the top we gathered together at a spot and finished chanting the names of the Siddhas. Saha and Malar stood to perform their Madi Pitchai.
Bala, went to take his bath in the washroom as directed by Ayya. Sugu and Dyalan followed him. We purchased our special tickets and to our surprise were greeted by a priest who led us into the temple. That is when a priest comes up to me in a hurry crying out “Kaanikai! Kaanikai! Kaanikai”. I stopped in my steps and placed whatever rupees I had with me into his hands and he moved away as hurriedly as he had come, without another word. And that was when I realized that I stood in front of Dhandayuthapani Swamy, having a wonderful darshan this time around! I saw him and his form literally this time. My wife had jokingly told me that, "Make sure you see him this time!", before I left for India, the reason being that I never could remember seeing Dhandayuthapani Swamy on my earlier visits.
The girls did archanai. Bala who did not have any parikaram was asked for his birth sign and star. Bala replied that he had no archanai but the priest insisted to know. The priests left for the inner sanctum and returned with the prasad. Bala was overwhelmed at this happening because he was refused an archanai the last time he came here although he had purchased a ticket for Rs200 to perform the archanai. Bala realized that Dhandayuthapani Swamy had settled the score, given back his dues this time around.
We moved over to Bhoganathar’s sannadhi. As we lined up in the outer corridor to enter his inner sanctum we noticed a “lady” meditating. Soon she was behind us in the inner chamber too chanting a hymn for Bhuvaneswary, an aspect of Vaalai Thaai. Bala tells me she had asked them to receive the kumkum that the young priest handed out. She then left the sannadhi hurriedly ahead of us. We needed to sing the Siddhar Potri and so decided to re-enter Bhoganathar’s sannadhi and find a corner along the corridor to chant. The lady who we thought had left, was back in the corridor and sat beside Bala who had began chanting. Someone placed a bottle in our midst. It was closure time and the temple helpers hurried the devotees on. Soon they closed the grills to the sannadhi too. They signalled to us to end our chanting as it was time to close the sannadhi. Bala kept pleading for a few more moments through hand gestures. To our surprise the lady seated beside Bala motioned him to speed up the chant but never stop. While the aids wanted us to end the chant she on the contrary asked Bala to continue chanting. Bala sped up the chanting. We who followed uttering "Potri Potri" too sped up. As they were trying to get us to stop, I stood up just to satisfy the aids while the rest remained seated and continued chanting. Finally just as we ended the Potri the mysterious lady took off into Bhoganathar’s sannadhi. Bala and I prostrated to Bhoganathar before stepping into his sannadhi a second time. The lady was waiting for us to turn up. I was told she applied prasad to the forehead of the girls and Bala and wished them well, saying all shall be fine. The children remembered that she mentioned that, that was the reason she came! She sped off with a certain urgency. Now visibly shaken by the whole event, and since the aids asked us to take a seat in the open courtyard outside Bhoganathar's sannadhi, we took heed. They tell us that the bottle that they passed to us was Palani theertham or holy water explaining that someone did not turn up and that it was now ours! That is when the young priest attending to the puja and arathi inside the sannadhi came out towards me and handed me a lime and prasad with a mesmerising wonderful smile. His body shone bright and full of tejas Not uttering a single word, he turned back into the sannadhi. I prostrated behind him.
I requested Bala to give some handouts in cash to the aids for extending the closure time, while waiting for us to finish the Potri. The aids who were all around us accepted the cash. Another young priest shook his head and did not want the money. Bala moved back into Bhoganathar’s sannadhi only to return saying the young priest who had attended to us too refused to accept.
As the temple gates were closing we hurried out of the complex and found ourselves in the midst of the 18 Siddhas. We gathered around at Agathiyar’s murthy. That is when the young priest stopped right where we stood, now dressed in a shirt and we supposed he was leaving the temple. He spoke to Bala. What he said amazed and surprised us. “Do not destroy our relationship by giving money” he said. “Panamkudutthu naam uravai pirichidaathei.” He gave him an orange and prasad and left still carrying that tejas around him.
We all took a breather wondering what had taken place at this favourite spot of mine Twilight Zone!
We took dinner at a hotel and as the food was good and seeing that there were hardly any customers at that time, we enquired if they could prepare food parcels for us. They agreed to prepare 70 parcels as we waited on. Filling the parcels in three boxes we headed out to distribute them to the people we saw earlier. We handed out the food parcels at the base of the temple, midway towards the hotel and those who resided beside the hotel. That’s when they tell us that they are Nadodis or nomads on the move seeking to sell their wares at fairs on temple grounds. The only disappointment was that we had not many food parcels to provide for all.
We decided then that AVM would adopt a policy to conduct prayers and immediately provide annadhanam at all places of worship beginning from that moment. Agathiyar and Avvai had mentioned, that Tavam and Thanam goes hand in hand.
After distributing the food, we returned to the foothill to seek out Pulipani Siddhar’s Jeeva samadhi. We located it and were ushered in by the temple aids and priest. The priest showed us the various sannadhis and we asked permission to sing the Siddhar Potri. He obliged us although it was their time to close the temple. Shrimath Sivananda Pulipani, the current administrator of the ashram and jeeva samadhi dropped by and Bala recognized him, having seen him in Malaysia during his visit some time back. Bala reminded him of those moments. The temple closed its doors as we left the complex fully contented.