Patanjali – the snake bodied saint

We have already seen the interesting post of the Tiger legged saint Vyagrapadhar. Today we are going to see his contemporary – The snake bodied saint – Patanjali. There are many versions and legends associated with this interesting person again liked to Chidambaram and the Dance of Shiva.
( Thanks to Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam for the excellent narration in tamil and Picasa contributor Ms. Komilla for the stunning pictures)

The dating of his time is difficult – some say its from time primordial. Legends associate him as an incarnation of Adhi Sesha, the mount of Vishnu with an interesting anecdote. Some say when Vishnu took the different incarnations, Adhi Sesha took to the earth as a Rishi- as he fell, he was found as though prostrating at the feet of a pious women and hence the name – Paadha – feet, anjali – oferring salutation. There is another interesting anecdoate – Once Vishnu was resting on Adhi sesha he was able to visualise the cosmic dance of Shiva in his dreams. As he smiled in his sleep, Adhi Sesha also realised the weight of the Lord increasing. When He asked the Lord for reasons for the same, Vishnu beautifully explained the delightful dance of Lord Shiva, hearing this Aadhi Sesha was filled with desire to personally witness the dance of Shiva, and hence Vishnu directed him to go to Chidambaram to wait to see the performance! I due course Adhi Seshan was born as the son of Rishi Athirki and Anusuya.

His contemporary is said to be Pusha Mitra ascertained to BC 3 rd C, so he is also dated to that period by some. Others ascertian him to be a contemporary of noted Siddhar Tirumoolar – one of the 18 Siddhars. Some others opine that Tirumoolar’s Tirumanthiram is the translation of the sanskrit work Maha Bhasyam of Patanjali. All these are theories and its very difficult to pass judgements on them. Lets see what Tirumoolar writes about him

Patanjali was born to Athiri maharishi and Anusuya. The Rishi had desired to have the three main gods of the Hindu trinity – and hence were born Thatatreyar, Durvasar and Patanjali. Also was born Arundathi who later married Vashistar. About 100 kms from Coimbatore is a place called tirumurthi hills, is ascertained as his birthplace ( in days of yore this area was referrred to as Southern Kailash). Athiri Rishi prayed to the Amanilingeshvaram shrine there and he counts Patanjali as one of the 18 Siddhars.

He also mentions that Patanjali along with his 7 friends learnt Yoga under the direct tutelage of Nandhi.

One of Siddhar, Bogar 7000 writes thus about Patanjali. In his quest for ultimate enlightenment through Yoga, he is led to the right part of Kundalini Yoga and asked to study the path set by Patanjali, Vyagrapadhar, sivayogi Munivar. There are many more references to patanjali in Bogar’s 7000.

The Patanajli who authored the dance scriptures and the one who authored Yoga scriptures along with the one who wrote the Maha Bhasyam – are they one and the same or different individuals. Is a questions that is difficult to answer.

It is said that since Patanjali’s very breath was toxic, he always tutored his pupils from behind a screen. However, one day, one of pupils had just left to answer natures call outside his class, when the rest got the best of human curiosity and lifted the veil – and were all destroyed. The only surviving pupil was the one who had gone out and he brought out the texts and since he missed part of the lecture there are missing infos!!

Here is an interesting anecdote on him: The very first people who witnessed the cosmic dance of Shiva are Patanjali , vyagrapathar but nandhi always claimed that he was the foremost to witness the divine spectacle. He had watched it standing by the side and it got to his head. Similarly Vyagrapahar also felt a bit heady that the feet of the tiger that the Lord gave him to fetch the fresh blooms even before the sun rose, made him resemble the lord who wore the Tiger skin as his garment. Further the tiger legs also gave him swifter speed to match the dancing steps of the Lord. So both of had great pride in themselves and looked down at Patanjali.

Further during the special days of Pradhosham, the Lord danced within the two horns of Nandhi – Nandhi visualised this eternally and even heard the ringing of his ankle bells and rhythmically shook his head often to keep the beat. Oneday, Shiva decided to introduce a new form of dance and there was a huge audience gathered comprising of Devas, Patanjali, Vyagrapadhar – Nandhi was standing with his Drum.

Nandhi started talking to Patanjali and Vyagrapadhar on he witnessing the Lord cosmic dance in Chidambaram. Vyagrapadhar sang the praise of his tiger legs and how with their benefit he too could match the Lord, and hence he is the one who enjoyed the dance more. And since he was watching, the Lord too showed his entrordinary prowess in dance on that day ! Hearing this Nandhi laughed, dismissing Vyagrapadhar claims, he talked of the special dance of shiva during Pradhosa days, for he dances specially for him. so saying both of them look down at Patanjali – belittling him, for he has no horns or tiger legs. Patanjali felt really sad and for once tought that maybe since he had a snakes body and a human head he could not fully appreciate the dance of Shiva.

Just at that time Shiva entered with tremendous fanfare, having known of the banter of Nandhi and Vyagrapadha, and wanting to teach them a lesson, he tells Patanjali – that he should set the rhythm and the song for his new dance. The specialty would be that there would be no horns or legs in the song ( pun – in tamil – the long vowels are written with additional marks – which are called horns and legs) – so Patanjali was filled with joy and gleefully composed a song without any long vowels. Thereby teaching both his learned friends a lesson in humility

We now see an interesting mural from Tanjore big temple corridor – The Lord of dance blissfully dancing away with Vyagrapadhar and Patanjali in rapt attention.

Birungi – The three legged skeleton saint

While we were discussing the posts on karaikkal ammai and Puli Kaal muni, we had mentioned about Bringhi Rishi. He is quite a character but very rarely seen in sculpture.

He was such a staunch shiva devotee that he refused to pray to anyone other God. Once when he went to visit Shiva in his holy abode of Kailash, he saw much to his discomfort that he was giving darshan ( private audience) with his consort Parvathi seated beside him. Such was the saints devotion to Shiva that he felt that he could not even pray to his consort.

Inorder to overcome the problem, the saint morphed into a bee and flew around shiva three times. There is a version of story which says that its due to this that Parvathi got shiva to offer her half his body ( as Artha naari) . Anyway, she was greatly enraged that this devotee refused to worship her and would only pray to her husband. Enraged, she took back her strength ( parvathi is called shakthi – the life force) since he did not want to pray to her, why would be want her strength alone.

Deprived off this, the saint became a mere skeletal form and could even balance himself, Shiva took pity on him and lent him his staff to learn on which got transformed to a third leg. What happened after this is a longer story which we will see later. ( There is another version which states that as the Saint was walking towards Shiva, Parvathi realised his intentions not to worship her and hence edged closer and closer to Shiva. When the Saint still managed to squeeze through inbetween them,she demanded one half of Shiva’s body – and hence he became Ardhanaari.. yet the rishi persisted and taking the form of a bee, bored through the shiva part and came out !!! so much for devotion)

But we return to the sculpture, had searched high and dry for this sculpture and at last found it in the outside hall pillar in tiruchendur. Though the skeletal form is not well sculpted, you can clearly see the three legs and the arms raised in devotion.

To see the skeletal forms, please view this collection of pictures.
Images courtesy:
Temple Dairies – Part 1


South Indian shrines illustrated By P. V. Jagadisa Ayyar

A delightful sculpture of the tiger legged saint -Madhavizhagam

I am fortunate to have met so many eager friends in the past 2-3 years – thanks to the net, without their tireless efforts and constant encouragement, this site would’nt have even been conceived. One such is Chandra – for his size, he packs quite a punch, never seen such a dedicated person, oferring constant advise, suggestions, ever eager to assist, take up issues, spearhead movements – selfless acts – such is his devotion to the cause of temple renovation.

He has today shared a very unique and beautiful sculpture of Vyakarapadar / Puli kaal muni ( tiger legged saint) – we have already seen his story in the earlier post of him in the pillar of the big temple.

This exquisite sculpture is from Madhavizhagam , a non-descript village seen next to Vayalur, an ASI monument. What struck me with this sculpture is the unusual seated position of the saint, for a second just close the top half of the sculpture and view the bottom half – you can see the classic lines of a seated or crouched tiger. Such is the beauty and intellect of the artist – that he did not just stop with depicting the feet of the saint as tiger claws, but he has shown the characteristic seated post of a tiger !

Otherwise the sculpture is splendid, the elaborate hair do of a wandering ascetic, his rosary beads, the classic poses of his hands, the sublime devotion expressed in his face – the benign smile, the closed eyes – he is lost deep in devotion.

Sadly the temple roofing is totally gone and needs water proofing. The Flag staff ( Kodimaram) is stripped out of its copper and the bare trunk ( athi maram) is exposed.

Thanks again to Chandra for sharing this amazing sculpture with us.

The saint with Tiger Paws

Today we are going to see a very special pillar from the tanjore big temple. Who is this man depicted? Do you notice anything unusual ? Well the topic of this post does give it away !!

Its special because it portrays a very special person, who was so great a devote that the most sacred of towns is named after him – yes, we are talking of Puli Kaal Muni in tamil – puli ( tiger), Kaal ( legs), Muni ( saint) or Vyagrapadhar in sanskrit.

He was one of the earliest devotees of Lord Shiva of Thillai ( Chidambaram) which was called from time immemorial as Puliyur or Perumpatrup puliyur ( perum – great, patru – devotion – puli – tiger, ur – city or town)

The legend goes that the great saint, would go early into the forest to collect the choicest of flowers to offer the Lord of Dance. But however early he went, the bees and ants would still get to the blossoms, so he went even earlier – even before the sun rose to find the flowers before the insects. This gave him problems as the dew drops wouldn’t have evaporated yet and he found the branches slippery.

So great was his devotion and his intent to get the best for his Lord, that he prayed to the Lord to endow him tiger paws, so that he could climb the trees effortless – and the Lord obliged. With great delight, he went on to collect the flowers before the first rays of dawn, beating the insects to the race to find the most beautiful and aromatic flowers, that so delighted his Lord. There are many references to him in literature ( pl see tamil portion of this post to read the references)

Now see him beautifully sculpted in the pillars of the big temple, down to the last detail imbibed into the pillar.