Monday, November 7, 2011

தென்னாடுடைய சிவனே போற்றி ! என்னாட்டவர்க்கும் இறைவா போற்றி !!

 Shambho Vs Jumbo - Thiru Vazhuvoor, Ashta Veerattaanam - 1

தென்னாடுடைய சிவனே போற்றி !
என்னாட்டவர்க்கும் இறைவா போற்றி !!
“Praise be to Shiva, He who belongs to the southern lands
Praise be to the supreme, the Lord of all the earth-dwellers”

The first time I heard the verse, I was like rather taken aback by the possessiveness of the Tamil Shaivas in claiming the Lord to be their own. But then, when you start to look around the various cities and villages in the South Indian states, especially in Tamil Nadu, you will most certainly concede with the above couplet. Tens and thousands of temples are dedicated to Maheshwara, many of them dating back several centuries and millennia. Add to it the many ash-smeared foreheads, the rudraksha-clad necks and the countless bulls that roam around freely, it is like Shiva just shifted base from Kailasha to Tamil Nadu.

And it doesn’t stop with just that. Perhaps the best works in Shaiva Siddhantha were also composed in Tamil by a group of 63 devotees hailing from various walks of life. These 63 Nayanmars travelled from one temple to another, singing the praises of the lord, spreading knowledge, performing miracles and having darshans of Shiva at his many-many sacred pilgrimage sites. Their songs often preached esoteric truths about the Lord and his many plays, and are organized into twelve volumes that are collectively known as the Panniru Thirumurai. Out of these twelve volumes, the first seven were exclusively sung by just three of the foremost Nayanmars – Thirunavukkarasar, Sundarar and Thirugnana Sambandar. These seven volumes are today praised by the name of Thevaram (The Lord’s Garland). The three of them had visited 275 Shiva temples between them and had sung at every single shrine. These 275 shrines came to be praised as ‘Thevara Thalangal’ or ‘Paadal Petra Thalangal’ (sites which were sung by the trio). Apart from the 275 shrines, the trio has mentioned an additional 249 unvisited shrines in their verses, which are known as the ‘Thevara Vaippu Thalangal’. So much for just 3 of the 63 Nayanmars.

Amongst these 500 odd shrines, some of the temples are further grouped into smaller categories such as the Pancha Bhootha Thalangal, Saptha Vidanga Thalangal, Ashta Veerattaana Thalangal, Saptha Sthaana Thalangal and so on, depending on the Sthala Purana, the nature of worship etc. It is one such group of shrines that we will be traveling through in the upcoming posts – the Ashta Veerattaana Thalangal

காவிரியின் கரைக்கண்டி வீரட் டானங்
கடவூர்வீ ரட்டானங் காமருசீ ரதிகை
மேவியவீ ரட்டானம் வழுவை வீரட்டம்
வியன்பறியல் வீரட்டம் விடையூர்திக் கிடமாங்
கோவல்நகர் வீரட்டங் குறுக்கை வீரட்டங்
கோத்திட்டைக் குடிவீரட் டானமிவை கூறி
நாவினவின்றுரைப்பார்க்கு நணுகச் சென்றால்
நமன்றமருஞ்சிவன்றமரென்றகல்வர் நன்கே.
திருநாவுக்கரசர்ஆறாம் திருமுறை
"By the banks of the Kaveri, The Kandi Veerattaanam,
The Kadavoor Veerattaanam, The charming Adhigai Veerattaanam,
The large and spread out Vazhuvai Veerattanam,
The breathtaking Pariyal Veerattaanam, the residence of His bull
Koval Veerattanam, Kurukkai veerattaanam and the
Kotthittaikkudi Veerattanam. By chanting these
with our very lips, even the messengers of Yama will fear to come near
at the time of death, for we are the servitors of Shiva and that alone is glory"
-Sixth Thirumurai by Thirunavukkarasar

Sprinkled over the landscape of Tamil Nadu are eight temples dedicated to Shiva in his terrific form as the destroyer of the bad and the evil. These eight temples, which are collectively known as the Ashta Veerattaana (Veerasthana) Thalangal (The eight shrines of extraordinary valour), are the sanctified spots where the Lord revealed his wrath and strength, and in short tried to show off his heroism. The eight temples are worth a visit, not only for their mind-numbing sanctity, but also for the rare treat of beholding several uniquely beautiful bronze idols, of which there are no other copies in existence. They are unique in their form, pose and structure, and it is only by beholding them that one can fully appreciate the details of the craftsmanship and the flowing beauty of the sculpture. But most importantly, each of these eight temples has a lively story to tell and that’s where kshetrapuranas@blogspot comes in. So, on we go with our journey across these eight kshetras.

Thiru Vazhuvoor, which lies about 9 km from Mayiladuthurai is the sixth of the Ashta Veerattaana Thalangal. Here, the Lord is worshiped as Gajasamhaarar - the slayer of the elephant demon. The Gajasamhaara Moorthi is  revered as one of the SadaaShiva-Moorthams - 64 different forms of Maheshwara that find a mention in our puranas. The Ilankilainaayaki sametha Kiruthivaasar temple at Vazhuvoor is at least 1500 years old, and has been sung by Thirunavukkarasar as a Vaippu thalam in the Thevaram as also by Thirumoolar in his Thirumanthiram.

As is the case with many shrines, the legend and myth of Thiru Vazhuvoor is also intricately linked with other famous events mentioned in our puranas. So back we go to the starting point of perhaps every other myth in the hindu puranas - Ksheera Saagara Manthana or the churning of the Milk Ocean (See Thiruvalanchuzhi and Pradosha Purana).

Terribly weakened by Durvasa’s curse, the Devas were forced to seek help from their Asura cousins for churning the milk ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality. The vile Asuras, surprisingly agreed to extend their helping hands, subject to a single promise – that the Daityas were to be given an equal share of the Amrutha which would come out of the milk ocean. The Devas were so shamefully desperate for any help that they readily agreed to the Asuras’ clause. Finally, the churning began, with the Meru Mountain as the churn and the snake king Vasuki as the rope. After many initial hurdles and setbacks, the Ksheera Saagara ultimately started revealing the richest of its treasures. Out came Kaamadhenu (the sacred wish- yielding cow), Ucchaishravas (The winged horse), Airavatha(The celestial white elephant), Kalpakavriksha (the wish-bearing tree), Kausthuba (The divine jewel), Varuni (The Wine goddess), Maha Lakshmi, Chandran(The Moon) and many other objects of incalculable worth. The Devas and Asuras gleefully divided the extraordinary treasures amongst themselves. Indra claimed both the Kalpakavriksha and Airavatha, while the Asuras gladly accepted Ucchaishravas. Kaamadhenu chose the sage Vasishta to be her owner and Kausthuba decided to grace the chest of Vishnu. Maha Lakshmi too followed Kausthuba and garlanded Shri Vishnu as her groom (thus receiving an eternal spot in his heart) and Chandran decided to adorn the sacred locks of Shiva for eternity.

With the division of the treasures accomplished, the massive churning continued - for they had not yet achieved what they had started out for. Finally, after what appeared like eons, the creamy waves of the milk ocean opened up like a blooming lotus and out emerged Danwantari, the god of health. The water drops on his body shimmered like many jewels and in his hands he bore a jewel encrusted golden pot, brimming with Amrutha - the nectar of immortality. At once the Devas and Asuras pounced upon him, like a pack of hungry dogs on a slice of meat. But Danwantari was too quick for them and he set out like a flying horse. The Devas and Asuras followed, their faces taut with concentration and their arms snatching madly at the empty air in front of them. Each group wanted the entire pot for themselves and earlier promises lay long-abandoned in the race for ever-youthfulness.

It was then that Maha Vishnu decided to act in the best interests of the world that he sustains. The Asuras must be prevented from laying their hands on the nectar at all costs; else the three worlds would suffer. In a moment he transformed himself into the most ravishing beauty anyone had ever set their eyes upon – Mohini. She was so extraordinarily breathtaking that even the Apsaras blushed red with embarrassment. With a full sensuous body draped with the most suggestive of garments, she walked up to the Devas and Asuras who were fighting over the nectar.

तस्यां नरेन्द्र करभोरुरुशद्दुकुल श्रोणीतटालसगतिर्मदविह्वलाक्षी |
सा कुजति कनकनूपुरशिंजितेन कुम्भस्तनी कलशपाणिरथाविवेश ||
तां श्रीसखीं कनककुण्डलचारुकर्णं नासाकपोलवदनां परदेवताख्याम |
संवीक्ष्य संमुमुहु रुत्स्मीतवीक्षणेन देवासुर विगलितस्तन पट्टिकान्ताम ||
-          श्रीमद्भागवतं
“Oh King, that woman, dressed in a most beautiful sari, her thighs resembling the trunks of elephants
Walking very slowly because of her big, low hips, her eyes restless due to youthful pride,
Her golden ankle bells making tinkling sound,
Her breasts like water jugs with a pot in her hand, she entered the arena.
She appeared like a friend of Lakshmi, her, her beautiful ears adorned with ear-rings,
With attractive cheeks, nose and a charming face. Thus appeared the Supreme Lord.
Looking at her, who was glancing and smiling at them, the entire assembly became enchanted.
And the Deva-Asuras stared as her sari border moved against her ample bosom. ”
-Srimad Bhaagavatham
The Advent of Mohini
“Ahem”, she said, and in a heartbeat silence descended upon the scene like an invisible veil. Every mouth was open wide - some drooling and some just having a momentary attack of lockjaw. “If you don’t mind, Oh sons of Kaashyapa, I would like to distribute the nectar to you.” she said, her voice a combination of a billion nightingales. And the very next moment, the jar of nectar was in her hands. “Yes, Oh Beautiful Lady!!!” sighed the crowd in unison.

What followed is of course, no news to anyone. The Devas were offered all the nectar while the piteous (Oh well, at least they deserved their fair share of the reward) Asuras were cheated out of the deal. All the efforts made by the furious Asuras to fight back against the Devas went in vain, as the nectar had made the Devas invincible. Thus, Maha Vishnu had once again saved the day, and the whole of Devaloka rejoiced at the newly regained strength of its inhabitants.

However, the purpose of the Mohini Avataara had been fulfilled only in part. And so Mohini waited by the shadows of Darukaavana (the forest of Devadaru/Deodhar trees), for the destined time to arrive. She waited and she waited. At long last, on the faraway horizons of Mohini’s sight, appeared a man – the man she had been waiting for. And he was no ordinary being, for he was a perfect match for Mohini. Extremely handsome and strongly built, he had all the desired Lakshanas for an auspicious groom. Carrying a trident in one hand and a kapala (a cup made from a skull) in the other, he came to a standstill in front of Mohini. Mohini glanced up at him, her eyes twinkling with perfect understanding, for the man was none other than Shiva himself, in his enchanting form of Bhikshaadanar - the naked god of extreme beauty.

The Divine Union
The meeting of the two beauties was no mere coincidence. On the contrary, it was the only way to put an end to the atrocities of Mahishi, the buffalo demoness. Long ago, Mahishi had obtained a boon that she could only be vanquished by a male child born to Shiva and Vishnu, who has spent 16 years on earth, living the life of an ordinary mortal. The moment had finally arrived and the heavens awaited the ultimate union of Shiva and Vishnu to yield a male child. The cosmic dice rolled as Shiva came together with Mohini, and in the lush surroundings of the forests, their divine potencies merged. A beautiful child appeared on the green carpet of the forest floor, shining like a thousand suns, a tiny golden bell suspended from his conch-like neck. Shiva and Vishnu beamed down upon their cute offspring. They blessed him with all their powers and then, leaving their new born child on the forest floor, the couple proceeded onto the next stop of their very busy schedule. (The child was later taken up by the King of Panthala and was christened Manikandan. He went on to vanquish Mahishi, as destined, and finally left for his heavenly abode after 16 years of mortal life. We today know him variously as Hariharaputhran, Sastha, Ayyanaar and Ayyappan – the much beloved deity of Sabari.)

With Mohini at his side, Bhikshaadanar decided to roam around the sacred forest of Darukaavana, which reverberated with much peace and silence. The forest was home to a number of rishis and munis - sages who had taken a very different outlook to the existence of god. Over a period of time, they had come to believe that it is Karma (the fruit of one's actions) alone that is supreme and all-powerful, and that the worship of God in any of his countless forms does not yield any fruits. They had come to a conclusion that the Devas were bound by the power of the yagnas to grant them whatever they needed and accordingly, they immersed themselves in the performance of yagnas and meaningless-rituals, following their dogma of Karma endlessly. Their wives also took up their spouses’ view of Karma, and assisted the rishis in their daily rituals. Little did they realise the fact that these deeds could indeed yield the desired fruits only if there was someone to distribute the same? Their misconceptions had to be broken, and they had to be diverted onto the right path of both worship and Karma, else the results would be catastrophic. Shiva, who of course knew all this and much more, finally decided that the time was ripe to prick their balloon, and he set the ball rolling.

The bewitchingly beautiful Lord, accompanied by his equally charming companion, walked onto the streets of the Darukaavana aashramas, begging for alms with the kapala in his hand - the supreme Lord of the universe, who is worshipped continuously by Kubera himself, was begging for alms!!! And out came the rishipathnis (the wives of the rishis), bearing rice and vegetables in their dainty hands. They had been busy all day, preparing a feast for their husbands who were performing yet another yagna. With a haughty nod of their heads, they looked up at the beggar. Their one look at the charming form of Shiva was all that it took for them to give a reaction similar to the one that the Asuras and Devas had given for Mohini – a loud and heavy sigh of amazement and wonder. In a moment, their hearts were no longer with them and they started following the Lord down the streets like lost zombies, letting out deep sighs of yearning and loud shouts of admiration of his captivating form.

Meanwhile, Mohini went on to the yagnashala and danced and sang in front of the rishis. Her perfect movements and her mesmerizing beauty, took little time to distract the rishis from the yagna proceedings. Lust flared up in their little hearts. They abandoned the yagna fire and approached Mohini, their eyes unfocused and drooling by the litres. Just about then, the conglomeration of Bhikshaadanar and his enthusuastic admirers walked past the site of the yagna. The cacophony caused by the crowd of rishipathnis was enough to make the rishis snap out of their lusty trances and look up at what was going on. Their jaws fell open instantly, for they were dumbstruck with two sights- the extraordinary beauty of the Lord and the utter stupidity of their wives. To see one’s wife following another man, with a wild look of lust in her eyes, is any man’s worst nightmare. The rishis were similarly flabbergasted by the lack of virtues that their wives were so flamboyantly exhibiting. Angered by their behaviour, they called out to the leader of the procession. "Hey, you stranger! Why have you come to these woody regions, where we try our best to perform our karmic duties?" they questioned him.

Bhikshaadanar calmly walked over to Mohini and said, "Oh great saints, I too have come here to perform meditation and practice austerities with my wife." Now, that was another blow to the rishis. They had just come to know that their love-interest for the past few minutes was actually the wife of this vain man. "She is your wife?" they demanded. "Look at the way that she behaved in front of us rishis, with all her sensual dancing and cooing. Whatever happened to her vows of chastity?" Bhikshaadanar laughed again. "Look who is talking", he teased, "the rishis who left their yagnas and rituals to drool at my wife. My wife is so much better than all the womenfolk standing right behind me, who have shamelessly followed me. I was told that they were your wives. It is like the pot calling the kettle black." The rishis were dumbstruck at the quick wits of the charming man and had to be content with just glaring at their wives, while the celestial couple moved deeper into the forest.

Bhikshaadanar and Mohini then visited the aashrama of Vasishta, where  they were welcomed with much warmth and respect. Vasishta and his wife seated them on suitable mats and offered them food, water, betel leaves and cool sandal paste. Shiva and Vishnu were extremely pleased with their hospitality, and after blessing the rishi-couple, the divine beings then returned to their respective abodes.

Back at Daarukaavana, the rishis were fuming at their recent embarrassment. They were furious at their wives, at Mohini, at Bhikshaadanar and at themselves. In the midst of all the fury, a single, totally insane thought struck their tainted minds - Why not kill the man who was responsible for this mess? The rishis unanimously agreed to perform an Abichaara Homa (Black magic sacrifice) to kill the Lord. In the burning fires of their yagna they poured in chilies and potent spices. Smoke, thick and black, rose from the fires with an overwhelming smell, as the rishis chanted in strange tongues. Out of the searing fires of the yagna emerged a snake, hissing loudly and spitting venom. It flew like an arrow at the Lord’s neck, egged on by the rishis. But Neelakantha, the drinker of Hala Hala, caught hold of it with a single finger and wore it around his slender waist as his belt. The infuriated rishis now raised a tiger from the fires, but alas the tiger was killed instantly with one quick movement of the Lord’s hand; its skin ending up around the Lord’s hip. Further angered thus, the rishis now sent out evil fire and a drum that produced an ear-splitting fatal noise. The Lord smiled calmly at the receiving end, as he caught both of them in his arms. The fire now glowed with an auspicious yellow tinge and the drum reverberated with the sound of Pranava (Om). The poisonous bee from the yagna became the official shruthi-box for Shiva's dance and the short-demon, Muyalagan, who was capable of inducing various diseases, became the foot stool for the Lord to dance on. Shiva smiled at the rishis once again; this time with mockery twinkling in his eyes. That’s when the rishis lost it all, and their fury burst out in waves. Jumping up, they poured a large volume of libations into their fires and called out to all the evil spirits to help them in their endeavor. The fires burnt tall and bright, licking up the libations that were being offered.

Suddenly, with a shudder that rocked the entire forest, the sacrificial fires finally threw up an elephant, black as the smoke. Large and fearsome, the elephant’s eyes glinted with anger. It thrashed its tail against the tall trees, bringing them down in an instant, and its restless legs created a mini-sandstorm. The rishis looked up at their creation and ordered the elephant to kill the man who was the cause of all their distress. The rogue pachyderm now charged at the Lord, who was standing as relaxed as ever, with his trident on one shoulder. With a vile look, the elephant rushed down, trumpeting madly, its tusks raised high to gore into the Lord. It came nearer and nearer, and the Lord showed no reaction, whatsoever. Finally, when it was barely a few inches from the target, in a flash, Shiva assumed a miniscule form and jumped into the trunk of the elephant. Instantly, the world was engulfed by suffocating darkness. All life and movement stopped abruptly. Neither did the winds blow nor did the seas churn. All was quiet. The Devas panicked and the rishis of Daarukaavana danced in joy. Parvathi, who was playing with baby Kumara at the moment, picked him up and began to run hither-thither - her motherly heart beating with anxiety, for the well-being of all her children as well as the reappearance of her beloved Lord. Back at Darukaavana, the elephant too came to a sliding halt, surprised by the totally unexpected victory.

A moment passed, perhaps two, and all of a sudden the rogue elephant started behaving strangely. It trumpeted loudly again, but this time it was a cry of pain and not of fury. Soon it was rolling all around the clearing, thrashing against the trees. Undoubtedly, the elephant was experiencing some excruciating pain - a continuous internal burning rather. Not being able to bear it any longer, it ran in search of a cool water body. At long last, spotting a pond, the elephant rushed towards it and jumped in with a loud splash.


Gajasamhaarar, Art by Deepak Saagar
BOOM....Without warning, the waters suddenly flew up from the pond, like an explosion-of-sorts, and out came Shiva, bursting through the stomach of the rogue elephant. With six arms holding various weapons and two other hands holding the torn skin of the elephant, the Lord was terrific to behold. With one leg resting on the elephant’s head, the other leg lifted up, eyes glinting with fury and hair flying out, Shiva appeared as Gajasamhaarar. So frightening was the sight and so gory was the Lord’s appearance, that Shakthi herself was overcome with fear. Acting instinctively, she tried to remove herself from the spot, all the while restraining a restless baby Kumara, who was apparently super excited at the dramatic appearance of his short-lost father!!! 

Seeing the catastrophic results of the yagna, Veda-Purusha, who had stood by the rules of the yagna, took the form of a deer and surrendered at Shiva's feet, apologising profusely. Shiva took the deer in his left hand, and ordered it to whisper the Vedas into his ear at all times.

With both the Veda-Purusha and the Yagna-Purusha deserting them, the rishis of Daarukaavana started to experience the consequences of their sins against Shiva and Vishnu. They finally realised that it was the Lord himself who had come to teach them a lesson and they surrendered unconditionally at his feet, apologising for their blatant ignorance. The Lord, as quickly calmed as angered, forgave them instantly and granted moksha to the elephant. The rishipathnis also returned to their normal states and blushed with shame at their acts of lust. The rishis had thus finally learnt their lesson on the importance of self-less worship, and with the satisfaction of a mission well-accomplished, the Lord withdrew himself from Darukaavana.

Vazhuvoor Raja-Gopuram
It is believed that the Lord’s heroic feat of vanquishing the rogue elephant, was staged near the present day town of Vazhuvoor in Southern Tamil Nadu. Since this holy town has somehow always managed to slip (வழுவி - Vazhuvi, to slip ) away from any destruction at the times of Pralaya (Cosmic Deluge), it came to be known as Vazhuvoor. The place is also referred to as Veerattaanam in the puranas and is believed to be surrounded by Pippalavanam, Darukaavanam, Badharikaavanam and Sameevanam. The temple’s presiding deity is Ilankilainaayaki sametha Kiruthivaasar, a Linga swaroopa. The goddess is believed to be a granter of Santana-Bhagyam (the fortune of motherhood) to women who pray to her with true devotion. The moolavar Kiruthivaasar is a swayambhu of extraordinary beauty and is adorned lovingly with many serpentine ornaments (Nagabharanam). The temple has been visited by Jyeshta devi and the Sapthamathars, and the Lingas that they had worshiped can be seen even today.

Gajasamhaara Moorthi at Gnanasabhai
The main attraction of the temple is however, the Gajasamhaarar shrine, where the bronze idol of Gajasamhaara Moorthi is worshipped. The shrine is reverentially referred to as Gnanasabhai, or the hall of knowledge, similar to the Kanaka Sabhai in Chidambaram. The idol is of course, an exceedingly beautiful work of art. A peculiar feature of the idol is that the underside of the lord’s left foot is visible. This can be seen in none of the other 63 SadaaShiva Moorthams and is unique to the Gajasamhaara Moorthi. The foot is usually kept covered and is made visible at the time of ritual worship. The complete beauty of the idol can be realised only while circumambulating the shrine. One can then behold the elephant hide covering the back of the idol, the legs hanging loose by the sides, and the intricate depiction of the lord’s weapons - all flawlessly sculpted in bronze. Of particular interest is the intense expression of anger that has been brought out on the Lord's face by the talented sculptor. This idol is placed alongside an idol of Shakthi with Skanda in her arms. Shakthi is portrayed as trying to reluctantly run away from the spot, confused between her care for her husband and her apparent fright. Skanda, on the other hand, is depicted with his index finger pointing towards the Moorthi of Gajasamhaarar as though crying out, “Oh, there is dad, Mommy”. The whole set of bronze sculptures has a very lifelike appearance about it. Just like at Chidambaram, a powerful Yantra has been installed behind the moorthi of Gajasamhaarar. Special worship is often offered to this Yantra to negate the effects of witch-craft and black magic. The Gajasamhaara Taandava is considered to be a form of Oordhva Taandava (Dance of Fury) of the Lord and the Gnanasabhai is praised as one of the Lord’s nine famous dance halls.

Out of the 64 Maheshwara Moorthams, only the Gajasamhaara moortham and the Saha-Uma-Skandar (Somaskandar) moortham, portray the Lord in the presence of both Parvathi and Muruga. On a more esoteric note, the Gajasamhaara Moorthi represents the vanquishing of the untold miseries caused by ignorance and the realization of true knowledge. Skanda, though having originated from Shiva, acts as the middleman between  us and his father, by guiding us on the correct path to the absolute truth. It is to represent this that he sits on his mother's lap and points his finger towards his father in the Gajasamhaara Moortham.

Apart from these, there are separate shrines for Ayyappa (this is believed to be his birthplace), Vinayaka and other Parivara Devathas. Interestingly, at the Navagraha shrine  in the temple, the Planets are positioned in a strange manner. Guru, who is usually antagonistic towards Shani, is shown to be facing Shani here, hence making it a Grahamithra Kshetra. Shani also has a separate shrine dedicated to him, where he is shown to be bearing a bow. There is also a shrine dedicated to the bewitching moorthi of Bhikshaadanar and his companion, Mohini. The idols of Bhikshaadanar and Mohini are some of the other marvels in bronze that grace the temple of Vazhuvoor. 

Bhikshaadanar - yet another bronze marvel
Popular belief has it that nearly 48,000 sages performed severe penance at this kshetra and were blessed with the highest of all knoweledge – the Brahma Gnaana. One of the many strange features of the temple is the location of the Theertham or the sacred pond. Usually, in Shiva temples, Nandi is found between the pond and the Linga. However, at Vazhuvoor, the theertham is found to be between the Nandi and the Linga. This theertham has five wells and is famously known as the Pancha Mukha theertham. Every new moon day sees many devotees having a dip in this theertham and worshipping the Lord.

The Vazhuvoor temple celebrates all the major festivals on the Shaivite calendar, but the grandest spectacle is the Gajasamhaara Thiruvizha that is held in the months of February-March (Maasi). It is a three day (on the Pusam, Ayilyam and Magha Nakshatras) celebration, with the actual Gajasamhaaram taking place on the evening of the second day. The first day sees the flag-hoisting ceremony and the beginning of the poojas in the yagna-shaala, followed by a procession of the Chandrashekhara Moorthi. On the second day, the beautiful idols of Bhikshaadanar and Mohini are taken to Rishithoppu, a dense woody area in the nearby village of Peruncheri. People believe that Rishithoppu was Daarukaavana in the times of yore. The divine couple stay there the entire day, and are worshiped with ritual bathing and lamps. They return to the temple in the late evening, and are then seated in the Vasantha Mandapa, facing each other. Amidst the chanting of hymns, the Deeparadhana is done to them both at the same time, and a beautifully adorned idol of Ayyappa is revealed. The ritual celebrates the union of Shiva and Vishnu, and the subsequent birth of Ayyappa.

Later in the night, the idol of Gajasamhaara moorthi is decked up with flowers and jewels, and brought outside to the banks of the Pancha Mukha theertham. This is believed to be the pond into which the rogue elephant had jumped after it had swallowed Shiva. The elephant is said to have jumped into the North-Western corner of the pond and Parameshwara gave darshan as Gajasamhaarar at the South-Western corner. Following the sthala purana, the Utsavar is taken to the north-western corner of the tank. The goddess is simultaneously carried to the south-eastern corner. Initially, a person runs towards the Lord, bearing a fire-pot in his hands, followed by others who carry a large snake fabricated from hay and paper. There is also a man dressed as a large demon and several  others, representing the various objects that came out of the rishis' Abichara yagna. Finally, a huge elephant enters the arena, crafted from colourful clothes and decked with bright flowers. The Lord’s dance of destruction begins as the palanquin-bearers move to the beat of the resounding drums. The elephant then rushes at the Lord and the idol of Gajasamhaara Moorthi is placed within the interiors of the cloth-elephant. With the disappearance of the Lord, all lights are turned off at every home and temple in the town, and the whole town is immersed in a pitch black darkness. Under the cover of darkness, the elephant is rushed to the south-western corner of the pond, where the cloth-elephant is torn apart and the Lord emerges from within. Lamps and camphor are waved before the Gajasamhaara moorthi and the lights are lit up again, bathing the town in brilliant colourful hues. The entire re-enactment of the Gajasamhaara episode, and the following celebrations, continue into the wee hours of the morning. The festival draws to a close the next day with the lowering of the temple flag and a ritual bath for the Lord in the Pancha Mukha theertham. This grand scale re-enactment of the divine feat is unique in itself and takes place at no other place except Vazhuvoor.

Hence, here did Shiva vanquish the rogue elephant and teach a lesson to the self-obsessed dogmatic rishis. Here did he come as Bhikshaadanar to charm the rishipathnis of Darukaavanam, and here he stays, blessing all the devotees, crushing the elephant like negative energies that may trouble them from time to time. Here at Vazhuvoor, in the hall of Knowledge, remains Shiva, the terrific and yet the benevolent, the Lord of Shakthi and the master of all.

முத்தீ கொளுவி முழங்கொ வேள்வியுள்
அத்தி யுரியர னாவ தறிகிலர்
சத்தி கருதிய தாம்பல தேவரும்
அத்தீயின் உள்ளெழுந் தன்று கொலையே

திருமூலர் திருமந்திரம்

“They lit the Fires Three, the sacrificial blaze roared high.
From inside which arose an Evil Elephant, whose hide the Lord peeled.
Seeking to rival the Lord's might, the Heaven's beings performed a sacrifice unholy,
And all that from that fire arose, The Lord smote for the very fire to consume.”

-Thirumoolar Thirumanthiram

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