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Karaikal Ammaiyar

Punithavati was a great devotee of Lord Shiva belonging to the merchant community in Karaikal (Tamilnadu). She belonged to the 6th century AD, and is one of the 63 great Shaivite saints known as Nayanmars. She spent her time in glorifying the Lord and serving His devotees, especially those who came visiting the town. A wealthy businessman, Paramadattan from Nagapattinam married the beautiful Punithavati. She devoted herself to household chores as well as continued her religious duties. 

One day a relative of Paramadattan visited him at his shop and gave him two mangoes. Paramadattan sent them to his house through his servant. Punithavati received them and placed them at the altar of her Lord. A little later, a Shiva Bhakta came along seeking for alms. Since nothing had been cooked, Punithavati gave away one mango to the sadhu. 

Later, Paramadattan came home and sat down to have his meals. He asked for the mango. She brought the one which was at the Lord’s altar and gave it to him. He found it extremely sweet and asked for the second one. It was not there. She had given it away as bhiksha to the sadhu. Knowing her husband’s temper and not knowing what to do, she ran to the pooja altar. With eyes overflowing with tears, she prayed fervently to the Lord to save her from the situation. As she pleaded with the Lord, a mango appeared in her hands! Overwhelmed at the Lord’s grace, she quickly went and gave it to her husband. This mango was far more sweeter in taste than the first one!! How could two mangoes from the same tree differ so much in taste? Obviously this was not the same mango that he had sent home. Paramadattan asked her to tell him the truth. Slowly she narrated everything to him. He was stunned. With absolute disbelief, he told her to ask Lord Shiva for one more mango. She was reluctant, but he insisted. She again went to the Lord and prayed to Him. Another mango appeared in her hand. She gave it to Paramadattan. The moment he touched the mango, it disappeared. Paramadattan realized that his wife Punithavati was not an ordinary woman but one of the greatest devotees of Parameshwara. He was filled with awe and respect for Punithavati. He no more considered her as his mortal wife. To him she was his Guru who had opened his eyes. He silently left home and settled down in the neighbouring Pandiyan kingdom. He married a local merchant’s daughter and even named his daughter Punithavati!

When Punithavati came to know that her husband had settled down in Madurai, she completely and totally dedicated herself to the Lord. Realising that her beauty and youthfulness was the greatest impediment, she pleaded with Lord Sankara to take away her beauty and give her an ugly form. The Lord granted her wish! Suddenly she became old in appearance and frightfully ugly to look at. Her frightful look brought fear to some, but evoked respect from others. She was reverentially addressed as: KARAIKAL AMMAIYAR. Many beautiful and devotional compositions on Lord Shiva are attributed to her. Desiring to have a glimpse of her Lord, she proceeded to Kailasa. The moment she saw the divine mountain, the abode of the Lord, she was reluctant to place her feet on them. She placed her head down and started walking with the help of her hands! Pleased with her devotion, Lord Shiva and Parvati gave her darshan. She asked for mukti. And if at all she had to be born again, it should be as His devotee only. She expressed her desire to see His Urdhva Tandava, while she sang for Him. The Lord told her to go to Tiruvalangadu where she would be able to witness his divine Nritya. Ammaiyar proceeded to Tiruvalangadu where Lord Shiva is worshipped as Vataranyeswara. With a pair of cymbals in hand Ammaiyar sang ecstatically while the Lord danced. Of the five famous sabhas attributed to Lord Nataraja, Tiruvalangadu is known as Ratna Sabha – the Hall of Gems. Ammaiyar stayed here singing the Lord’s glories and continued her devoted services unto the Lord till she finally merged with Lord Shiva.

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Prakriti and Purusha (Annapoorna and Mrityunjaya)

The SUPREME REALITY, the Parabrahma is One-without-a-second: NAMELESS, FORMLESS, ATTRIBUTELESS. This Reality alone becomes Purusha (Spirit or Energy) and Prakriti (Matter). The play of these two factors is “Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution” – the space-time world in which the cause-effect relationship exists as the plurality and the multiplicity that we see within and without us. 

PURUSHA acknowledges PRAKRITI: Once in Kailasa, Lord Shiva who is ever rooted in his Absolute State of Perfection was playing a game of dice with Parvati who is His Sakti. As they were playing, Shiva mentioned that all creation was nothing but a whiff of imagination and from the absolute standpoint it really never exists – it is all an illusion! Parvati, who is none other than Prakriti, was not happy with the Lord’s statement. Maya is indeed a mighty power, and tangible too. Shiva did not agree with her. To prove to Sankara the importance of Maya-sakti, she withdrew her prakriti-aspect from ‘anna’ or food, and settled in Kashi in all Her glory as Mother Annapoorna – the Goddess of Food and Nourishment. Because of this, the entire food-system collapsed. Though Lord Shiva did not need food, all the living creatures including his attendants needed food. Deprived of food, everyone in all the three worlds lost their power and strength. Lord Shiva realized the power of His own Sakti, and came to Kashi. Food was available only in the kitchen of Sri Annapoorna in Kashi. Sankara came to her with a begging bowl seeking alms from her. Goddess Annapoorneswari served the Lord with payasam (sweet delicacy made of rice, milk and sugar) from a gem-studded golden vessel. Shiva, who represents Purusha, acknowledged the importance of Prakriti in the ‘creation-sustenance-dissolution’ of the all the worlds. By accepting alms from Devi, the Lord also points out the sanctity and importance of both, the food and the giver-of-food.

PRAKRITI acknowledges PURUSHA: Markandeya, the young son of Sage Mrikandu was destined to live only for sixteen years. When he was informed about this, he undertook intense tapas and invoked Lord Shiva. When death approached him in the form of Lord Yama, Markandeya did not in the least get frightened or disturbed, but held onto to the Shiva-linga in a tight embrace. In spite of repeated calls by Yama, he did not leave the Shiva-linga. Finally, Yama flung his deadly noose which not only went around Markandeya but it went around the Shiva-linga also. Yama had dared to put the noose around Shiva! Lord Shiva manifested Himself in the Linga and told Yama to go away because He had given His protection to the young boy. When Lord Death refused to go, Shiva got angry, lifted his left leg and flung Yama back to his Yama-loka. Markandeya was saved. Back at Kailasa, Sankara narrated the whole episode to Parvati and told her that he had flung Yama back to his abode just by the touch of his left leg. Parvati did not like Shiva’s self-glorification. She told Shiva that it is she who resides in the left portion of his body and therefore it was actually her shakti that taught Yama a lesson. Shiva smiled and told Parvati that the left leg cannot be lifted and used even a little, without the right foot firmly established on the ground. And it is He who resides in the right foot! Here Prakriti acknowledged the importance of Purusha!

Prakriti and Purusha are both equally important. Their characteristics and qualities are completely different and are in opposition with each other. Yet, they align and complement each other very beautifully. One cannot exist without the other. Both the aspects: PRAKRITI and PURUSHA together alone constitute ONE WHOLE. 

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Kartika Purnima: Tripura Samhara & Dev Deepavali

Tripurantaka

Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali and Kamalaksha were the sons of Tarakasura. Lord Subramanya engaged Tarakasura in a fierce battle and killed him. To avenge the death of their father, the three brothers decided to perform penance and acquire powers from Lord Brahma. They meditated for a hundred years standing on one foot, for the next thousand years by only taking in air, and then for another thousand years by standing on their heads.

Pleased with their tapas, Lord Brahma appeared and asked them what they wanted as a boon. All the three brothers asked for immortality. The Lord denied them immortality because according to the Laws of Nature, death is inevitable for one who is born. Alternatively they asked for three flying cities with forts, one fort made of gold in the heavenly region to be ruled by Tarakaksha, a silver fort to be ruled by Kamalaksha in the sky (intermediate space) and the third fort to be ruled by Vidyunmali made of iron on the terrestrial plane. Each fort which was capable of flying was a huge city by itself. They were together called as “TRIPURA”. They would align once in every thousand years for a very short interval of time, and if anyone could destroy all the three forts with one arrow when they aligned, that would also be the cause of their death. Lord Brahma granted their unique wish.

Ruling over these flying cities created by Maya, the architect of the asuras, these asuras gradually became arrogant and followed the path of adharma. They tormented the devatas, the rishis and beings on earth. All the devatas along with Brahma and Vishnu went to Lord Shiva and asked him to annihilate the asuras.

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva agreed and waited for the right time when the three of them would align themselves. Bhu-devi (Mother Earth) became the golden chariot artistically crafted by Viswakarma, the celestial architect. Brahma became the charioteer. Mount Meru became the bow and Vasuki, the serpent became the string of the bow. Lord Vishnu himself became the arrow called the Pashupatastra. All the celestial beings assembled in the sky to witness the destruction of Tripura. When all the three city-forts aligned themselves, which was hardly for a few seconds, Lord Shiva who was waiting with all alertness, released the arrow which went through all the three cities. The cities as well as the three asuras were burnt with the fiery astra. The day of TRIPURA SAMHARA happened to be on Purnima, the full moon day in the month of Kartika. Lord Shiva is known as TRIPURANTAKA. The Lord adorned his forehead with three horizontal strips with the ash left over and danced in ecstasy. His dance is known as TRIPURA NASHA NARTANA or TRIPURA TANDAVA! The overjoyed devatas who were witnessing the rare and unique event came down to the bathing ghats of the sacred River Ganga in Varanasi and took the holy dip in her sacred waters which is known as Kartika-Snan, and celebrated the victory of GOOD over EVIL by lighting rows and rows of deepas (lamps). Hence the Kartika Purnima became known as DEV DEEPAVALI. It is also known as TRIPURARI PURNIMA.

Significance: The three cities as a whole represent an individual’s three EQUIPMENTS, the body, mind and intellect. They also represent the three periods of TIME – past, present and future; the three STATES which we go through – waking, dream and deep sleep states; the three QUALITIES associated with the mind – sattva, rajas and tamas; and the three WORLDS – higher, mortal and lower worlds. An individual is associated with the three equipments, the three states, the three qualities of the mind and he also transacts in the three worlds in the three periods of time. All of them are constantly in a state of flux (change). 

Shiva represents a seeker in his seat of meditation striving to transcend all the tri-groups and reach the State of Enlightenment. The alignment of the three cities represents the state of stable and neutral equilibrium reached by the seeker within himself. The arrow released indicates the transcendence of all the tri-groups and consequently the realization of the Supreme State of Absolute Oneness. In the Highest Vision of Oneness experienced within oneself, all plurality and multiplicity dissolves away or gets burnt down. This is represented by the ash which the Lord adorns himself with. Vibhuti means ‘ash’ and it also means ‘divine glory’. The glory, ornament and beauty of a Jeevanmukta is his REALIZATION.

Devatas taking a dip in the Ganga signifies a spiritual seeker taking a dip into the scriptural knowledge represented by Mother Ganga and ultimately experiencing the State of Enlightenment represented by Kashi or Varanasi. This is the All-full (Poorna) State indicated by Kartika Purnima. It is significant to note that the term Kartika denotes the faculty of viveka or discrimination exercised by the seeker in his seat of contemplation.

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Devi Kanyakumari

Banasura was a powerful rakshasa who undertook severe penance to gain the boon of immortality. Pleased with his tapas, Lord Brahma appeared in front of him and asked him what he wanted. He asked for immortality. The Lord said that it was not possible to grant immortality, but he could chose how death should confront him. He thought for a moment and said that his death should be at the hands of Devi in the form of Kumari (virgin girl). He knew that the Mother of the Universe, Parvathi was wedded to Lord Shiva and therefore according to the boon she would not be able to kill him. Brahma granted him the boon. Thinking that he was now invincible, he started torturing and killing all the sages and rishis.

All the devatas gathered together and invoked Parashakti in Her Kanya form. Devi appeared as a young girl – Kanyakumari, also known as Sri Baala. They handed over to Her all their weapons. Kanyakumari descended down to the southern most tip of the subcontinent and sat down in penance to propitiate Lord Shiva. After years of rigorous tapas, Lord Shiva was pleased and decided to marry Her as per Her wishes. The auspicious time for the marriage chosen was brahma-muhurtha. She was ready in all her bridal attire. Lord Shiva started from Suchindrum, his divine abode.

All the devatas now got worried. If Shiva marries Kanyakumari, then it would be impossible for Her to destroy the Rakshasa as per the boon. They approached Sage Narada and asked him to somehow stop the marriage. Narada immediately became a cock, and when the marriage party of Lord Shiva was almost approaching the venue, he crowed. A cock crows always announcing the break of dawn. Assuming that He was late and the muhurtha had lapsed, Shiva returned back. Kanyakumari waited in vain. She became very angry at what had happened. All the food items turned into sand. The tiny pebbles resembling rice and the different shades of sand found on the shore is attributed to this. Kanyakumari again sat down in penance. 

Meanwhile Banasura came to know of a young girl in contemplation. He came and saw Kanyakumari. He became infatuated with Her beauty and asked for Her hand in marriage. Kanyakumari denied, but he insisted. In his anger he attacked her and a fierce battle ensued between the two. Finally She killed Banasura with the divine chakrayudha. The devatas expressed their happiness and sang in praise of Her. She decided to make that place Her permanent abode. 

Even today, Kanyakumari stands in penance with a japa-mala in Her right hand. The unique feature about Her is the nose-ornament that She wears. Its glow and brilliance is incomprehensible. Mother Kanyakumari stands facing East. The light from her nose-ornament is so powerful and focussed that sailors used to mistake it for light-signals from the shores and approach the mainland. Their ships used to get wrecked because of the rocks in that region. Hence the eastern entrance is closed and pilgrims enter from the northern entrance even today. The eastern dwara is opened only on special occasions.

The rock on which Kanyakumari performed penance before killing Banasura is the same rock on which Swami Vivekananda sat for three days (25-27 December 1892) and meditated before he came up with the plan and resolution for National Revival.

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