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Posts Tagged ‘Manikkavaasagar’

Refer the earlier post on the horse sculpture of Aavudayaar koil - we had mentioned about the legend connected with the origins of this temple. Today we are to see a lovely panel depicting this and the interesting happenings in the life of saint Manikkavasagar, the author of “The Thiruvaachakam”. Thanks to Arvind for spotting this panel in Paapanasam Paalaivananadhar temple and Geetha Madam for helping in getting the finer details.

The whole Panel to start with.

papanasam full panel

Lets see the story from the start. Manikkavaasar was born in Vadhavoora, a village near Madurai, on the banks of river Vaigai. He was named Vadhavoorar. Even a child he exhibited extraordinary intelligence and by the time he was sixteen, his prowess reached the Pandya King - Arimarthana Pandya. Seeing his divine intelligence he was appointed as minister in the famous Pandyan Kings court and given the title Thennavan Brahmaraayan. Though he was adept minister, he was always feeling slightly aloof and didnt want to take part in the normal pleasures of such a post. He seemed to searching for inner peace.

Once, the King’s Generals complained that their cavalry horses were all aged and sick and need to be replenished and that a consignment of pure bred horses had just landed down south in Chola Kingdom. The King requested his minister to take as much funds from his treasury and proceed in haste to secure the horses. ( apparently he loaded the funds for the purchase on a camel - but couldn’t spot it in the panel - is this a camel ? Dont think so)

manikkavasar praying

Just as Brahmarayan was proceeding towards the port, he passed through the temple town of Tirupperunthurai, he felt a strange peace and heard the chanting of Shiva’s name. He was so drawn to it, that he followed it to see where it was originating. Thereupon he came across a heavenly site, of a seated Shiva - as Guru, teaching his learned people, the essence of all his teachings. Immediately, he felt that this was the end of his journey. He prostrated to the teacher and asked him to make him one with him. Shiva too accepted him and on that, he uttered verses that were so beautiful to hear that he was anointed maanikka vaasar ( maanikkam - ruby, vaasar - speech or speaker) by Shiva himself. Having become one with Shiva, Manikkavaasar gave up all his belongings including the King’s wealth to Shiva. Shiva accepted and asked him to use the funds for Godly purposes. Having noticed that the temple at Tiruperundurai was in need of repairs and renovation, he spent all the money on building a beautiful temple.

Days passed, and the King was growing impatient that his minister hadn’t returned with his horses. Meanwhile, his spies began bringing him news that the horses were never bought and all the funds had been misappropriated. The King sent his trusted men with his ring, to implore on his minister to make haste and bring the horses, but having seen the Lord’s brilliant face, the minister didn’t even want to look at the message. Shiva himself read the message, along with a precious jewel, sent back the messenger saying on an auspicious day, the horses will come to Madurai.

As the days went by, the King’s ministers constantly fed information to the King, that there were no horses bought and all the funds were used by Manikkavaasar to rennovate the temple. Hearing this, the King flew into a rage and put Manikkavasar behind bars and started torturing him.

Shiva decided to teach the King a lesson and when auspicious day came, he converted all the howling jackals / foxes in the forest into high breed horses, his bootha ganas ( assistants ) into horsement and himself mounted the lead horse dressed as a commoner and led them into Madurai. The King was overjoyed and gave him a present of a very expensive robe - the rider non nonchalantly extended his whip and took the robe, put it on his horse and went away. The king was very happy and he released Manikkavasar immdly and took him back with full respects.

Lets look at the panel now. Notice the lovely depiction of the majestic horses.

shiva leading herd of purebred stallions

We also see the detailing of the present being taken on his whip

rich cloth given as a gift by the king taken on his whip

All is well, the King is very happy. He takes his minster back, but my nightfall, Shiva’s play starts. The horses are transformed back to jackals and they bite all the remaining horses in the King’s stables.

overnight the horses turn to jackals and bite all the king's horses

The message reached the king through his soldiers, whereupon, he threw Manikkavasagar into prison again.

once again manikkavasar is arrested

Seeing this, Shiva again decided to teach the King a lesson. He caused the Vaigai river to rise in devasting flood. The distressed Pandiyan king ordered every family in Madurai to send one man for each family to help to throw embankments to contain the waters of Vaigai.

the kings palace - vaigai is breaching her embankments, the king calls one person from each house to help built banks

An old lady Vanthi, who used to sell “Pittu” could not send anyone from her family to throw embankments to contain the waters of Vaigai.The lady was a disciple of Lord Shiva. As much as she reasoned with the King’s soldiers they would not accept to consider her plight.

single old women selling rice cakes

So, Lord Shiva planned to help the old lady and he appeared as a labourer infront of her.She, being a poor lady said that she didnt have any money to afford a labourer. For which Shiva replied that his only wage would be what Pittu feel loose ( Pittu is steamed rice and normally would stay in the shape of its mould with some loose shavings fall away - Shiva wanted to be paid only the shavings). However, try she may, all her Pittu would not stay firm and hence Shiva in the guise of the labourer had his fill of it. After such a heavy meal, he felt sleepy and went of to sleep. Notice the detailing in the sculpture, Shiva’s hand seem to be placed on his tummy to show how full he is and how casually he has used the wicker basket ( used to carry sand) as a pillow.

shiva as a labourer, has a good meal and is sleeping ( notice the wicker basket as a pillow)

The Pandiyan King was inspecting the bund works, and was shocked to see one portion with no work done on it. He rushed there to see Vanthi’s servant sleeping and woke him up and asked him to start work. As Shiva started towards the bank with his headload, the King landed a good lash of his cane on his back - the impact was felt through every living being.

the king canes the labourer ( shiva)

The Lad, threw his headload on the embankment and it filled up everything miraculously. The flood abated and the Lad vanished. A divine voice of shiva was heard, saying Manikkavasar is his devotee and he had played with both him and the King….This event is celebrated every year during Avani.

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Happy Pongal wishes to all readers ( our harvest festival)

One of our avid readers Kavitha had placed a request for sculptures from Avudaiyar temple - and my friend Sivaram Kannan had been good enough to send me his photos of the temple while on assignment in the US. So thanks to them we are going to see some wonderful sculptures.

Before we go into the sculptures as such, there is an interesting story associated with the temple which gains prominence in today’s context ( Satyam Computers 7000 Cr scam) - this temple could also technically qualify as such. Though how much has not been quantified, the fact that temple, in the 8th Century, was built out of state funds misused by a minister is startling.

Known as Tiruperunthurai in ancient times, Avudaiyar Koil, situated in Pudukottai, is 45 km from Pudukottai via Aranthangi. The story goes thus, An young boy, Vadhvuraar from the town of Thiruvadhavur near Madhurai exhibited amazing intelligence and mastered all by the time he was sixteen. The Pandya Kind Arimarthana Pandiyan heard of his fame and promptly took him in as his minister - naming him Tennavan Brahmmaraayan. In due course he grew in ranks to become the prime minister. All was well, when the King heard of a shipload of excellant Arabian Horses destined for a Chola port - the King desirous of having the steeds in his stable, sent his Prime Minister with a huge cache of gold to secure them.

Enroute Vadhuvurar reached Tiruperundhurai, a miracle happened and he saw Shiva sitting in the form of a shaivite sage under a tree elucidating the pupils. Immediately he was taken in by the site and all his senses were immersed into shiva - he sung his first verse hymns to the Glittering Feet of the Lord offering his body, belongings and soul - his first thiruvAchakam song shivapurANam starting n^amachchivAya vAzka ). Shiva heard the songs and blessed him with the name mANikka vAchakar ( Maanikka - Gem, vaachakar - speach). He then ordered mANikka vAchakar to build an abode and disappeared.

The divine sanction was enough for the devotee, who (mis) used all the Kings Gold and built this splendid temple for the Lord. (The temple has no Lingam in the sanctum. Instead it only has the base, (Avudayar), which has a metal cover placed on it. This represents formlessness, the absolute ultimate. Swami’s name is Atmanathar. This is a south facing temple ( which is very rare )the legend is Brahma was taught the Gayatri Mantra here by Atmanathar, when all the four Vedas appeared before Him. Hence, this place is also called `Chaturvedapuram”.In south indian historical texts and manuscripts this place is called Chatur veda mangalam.

So lets see how the King’s gold was spent ( what happened when the king came to know of this misappropriation is more interesting and we shall see that in a subsequent post) but since it bore the supreme’s assent it is money well spent ( apologise for the reference to current Satyam Debacle but its just of topical interest) - there are some interesting threads from this - did God want the funds to be diverted away from military pursuits towards a spiritual cause and the fact that there was active trade between the middle east and south India in the 8th C ( while it may surprise some of you, the trade has been on from much earlier - infact there are Greek accounts of trade with India as early as the 3rd C BC)

For a more topical sculpture post on the episode check

Before we go out and see the actual sculptures, i wanted to present to you some of my favorites - the lesser ones, often neglected, going unnoticed, yet would have required the masterly skill of the sculptor. Even stone in this temple is a treasure trove of stone craft, very unique to this temple. Some of the structures dwell on the realm of impossibility, only a magician could have even attempted to sculpt them, but when they stand in front of us, we have to believe. Ok, dont want to keep you all waiting any longer. Here come the magnificent stones of Avaudaiyar Koil.

Lets start with this long short of a corner ceiling - can you make out something ( vaguely similar to thalakkad), ok, lets go closer. Yes, its a fantastic snake carved complete with its undulating coils into the ceiling stone.

ceiling innocuous
the corner snake - watch its coils
the snake carved into the ceiling
the snakes coil
corner of ceiling snake

Ok, we have seen similar before, so whats so special about this? you may ask. Hang on, see this - a ceiling sculpted, well - let me give you the photos first. Watch the rods and the variety in them.. Well they are stone. Cant beleive, see this twisted rod - How on earth did they even try to visualise something of this scale and complexity. Seems the sculptor wanted to showcase this as a veritable explosion of his skills. Wait that’s not all

Check the stone rod - 4 sided
anther view of the stone rods ( a bit damaged)
check the stone rod - 8 sided
how on earth
see the diff kinds of rods - stone mind it
the diff rods
twisted rod of stone
wow rods again

Here come the crowning pieces in the ceiling and the pillar and ceiling decorations.

a long shot of this magnificent work
another ceiling
ceiling decorations
check out the ceiling decoration
closeup of celing
lintel decoration
pillar decoration

Stumped. hang on for the piece de resistance…
Here they come - a ceiling, sculpted into stone - with hanging chains.

stone chain part of ceiling
stone chains from ceiling
the masterpiece
wow, no words
a long shot of this magnificent work
how on earth did they sculpt this

Sorry, i got to take a break now and catch my breadth.

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