The many intricate stories attached with sages shows the importance of Murugan's abode for the devotees.
Continued from Part 1
The mandapam that precedes the sanctum has amazing pillar carvings. The Yali or mystical creatures, part lion and part another animal, are a common feature of most pillars along with everyday people in traditional attires in some pillars. These beautiful sculptures stand in a welcoming pose, greeting the devotees and guiding them towards the darshan of the main deity.
(The beautiful pillared mandapam in front of the sanctum sanctorum)
The construction of the current temple structure is associated with a Chera king who ruled this area sometime between the 2nd and 5th century CE. It is said that the worship of Dandayudhapani Murugan was forgotten in the course of thousands of years and the temple was lost. It so happened that the Chera king, Cholaman Perumal got separated from his party while hunting in this area. He became tired searching for the way and eventually fell asleep near this hill. He dreamt of Murugan, who told him to trace the statue and restore its worship. When he woke up, he searched for this statue and traced it. Thereafter he fulfilled Murugan’s wish and constructed this temple for the worship of the Nava Pashanam image.
The outer wall of the main shrine has dedicated one area to the Chera King and he is shown riding a horse while wielding his sword. The temple structure was later expanded in the time of the Pandya kingdom.
The outer walls of the main shrine have niches that host deities and sages. There is a little statue of sage Agastya, who has had a massive influence on the traditions of South India. We also find a tiny image of Kal Bhairav, a form of Shiva.
(Carving of Chera Raja; Tiny Kaal Bhairav; Garlanded Sage Agastya)
Inscriptions on the temple walls
Temple walls speak a lot, we just have to understand the writings and carvings on the walls. On the outer walls of this Murugan shrine, there are many edicts made by Pandya kings. Many kings such as Sadaiyavarman Sundarapandian, Sadaiyavarman Veerapandian, Veera Nanjana Udaiyar and Mallikarjuna Devarayar II have gifted lands for the upkeep of the temple and for regular poojas.
The edict by Sundarapandian, a famous king of later Pandyan dynasty whose reign started in 1251 CE, is probably the oldest of all such inscriptions.
(Several levels of inscriptions in different styles and of different eras)
There are numerous halls within the temple complex. These halls or mandapams have been made by different rulers of different eras and kingdoms. There are two Natya mandapams within these halls. The base is square and made out of granite. Four pillars on the four corners hold the intricately carved roof to this platform meant for performing temple dances in honour of the bhagwan. These Natya mandapams give a glimpse of the rich cultural and aesthetical heritage of the area.
(One of the Natya mandapams)
There is so much to see in the vast hill temple complex as there are numerous shrines and halls for a devotee to visit. The Vimana is golden that shines bright and is visible within the complex. This is a temple of abundance with devotees thronging the area in reverence.
(A glimpse of the golden Vimana of the main shrine)
The association of this temple with the siddhar sage Bogar is not restricted to his fashioning the image of Murugan with the Nava Pashanam. There is a lot more. Bogar’s life story is given in a fantastical write up called Bogar Jnana Sagaram (Bogar’s ocean of knowledge).
Bogar is portrayed as an adept in advanced yogic practices. His guru was the great siddhar called Kalangi Nathar, who was a great yogi from Kashi (Varanasi). Kalangi Nathar is supposed to have gone to China to teach Yoga. Bogar was called by his Guru to China and he reached the place via the existing trade route. He stayed there to learn the advanced yogic practises and became a renowned Guru. After Kalangi Nathar attained Samadhi, Bogar became the Guru.
It is here that this story goes into really fantastical elements. These esoteric tales include the ability of Bogar to travel across the world in the astral plane, his ability to use Kaya Kalpa and transform his body to defeat ageing and achieve the ultimate yogic action of raising his kundalini to the final chakra point of the crown of the head (Sahasrara). He is supposed to have used Kaya Kalpa medicine and transformed his and his chief disciple’s bodies to give them the power to defy ageing. The span of the story encompasses hundreds of years and there are tantalising hints of his presence being the reason for the rise of Lao Tzu and his philosophy of duality of Yin and Yang (like Shiv and Shakti) during the period of 600 BCE onwards in China. It is interesting to note that the most widely available Chinese tradition related to Lao Tzu mentions him as appearing directly as an adult with no traceable childhood. He is supposed to have left the boundaries of the known world of the Chinese kingdom on its western border and never returned. Quite a curious coincidence!
The reliability of such accounts can be difficult to fathom, but it is a fact that there are other Chinese Traditions which can be directly traced to Indian visitors or Indian linkages. Even the establishment of martial arts teaching in the Shaolin temple is attributed to a south Indian monk by the name of Bodhidharma, who travelled to China. Bodhidharma was a Pallava prince. It is a historically documented fact that the advent of Zen Buddhism in China was based on materials collected about the Yogakara practises under Theravada school of Buddhism by Xuan Zang (Hiuen Tsang) on his visit to the famed Nalanda monastery in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
Bogar returned to Palani and spent his last days here. His Samadhi is within the temple complex.
(The shrine wherein Bogar took Samadhi)
In this temple, Bogar worshipped the Goddess Bhuvaneswari and Shiva in the form of an Emerald (Margatham) Lingam. These items are still kept at the Bogar Samadhi. There is a small opening below the samadhi, which is supposed to lead to a cave below the sanctum sanctorum. Bogar handed over the upkeep of the temple to his faithful disciple Pulipani and went back to this cave via this small entrance. He is supposed to be in Nirvikalpa Samadhi in this cave. Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the highest stage of Samadhi in the yogic practises where all thoughts are dissolved and the Yogi becomes one with the divine.
(Goddess Bhuvaneswari and Lord Shiva in the form of an Emerald Lingam)
The story behind this practise of carrying a Kavadi on one’s shoulders is also very interesting. It refers back to the earliest of times when struggles between the Devas and the Asuras was at its peak. Murugan is the commander of the Deva army. He defeated the Asura king Surapadam in a decisive battle (the place is identified as Tiruchendur in the deep South of Tamilnadu, another one of Murugan’s sacred abodes). Interestingly this event is celebrated every year on the same day as Chhath Puja (Surya Puja) is celebrated in Bihar. One of the defeated Asuras called Idumbar regretted his role in the war and became a follower of Murugan. Idumbar is linked to Palani through the ancient sage Agastya.
(A devotee with a Kavadi performing circumambulation of the main shrine)
The association of Sage Agastya with a plethora of religious sites south of the Vindhya matches with the tradition according to which he moved permanently to Southern India. One of the traditions maintains that there was a big gathering of sages at the home of Shiva at Mount Kailash, where Mahadeva was to explain the meaning of the Vedas. The world tilted towards the north due to the accumulated weight, hence Shiva asked Sage Agastya to move to the Southern part of the country to act as a counterbalance. Agastya had such great spiritual merit that he alone was treated as sufficient to restore the balance. He wanted to take two hills along with him as a memory of the Himalayas. He asked Idumbar to carry these hills along with him and he carried both hills on his shoulders in a form of Kavadi. When he reached Palani, he felt tired and kept them down. After a rest, he tried to lift them but could not lift the hills even after his best efforts. He discovered that there was a small child wearing just a loincloth, standing on one of the hills. He asked him to get down but the child refused. There was a fight and the child, who was none other than Murugan killed Idumbar. Agastya interceded with Murugan on his disciples’ behalf and Murugan reinstated Idumbar’s life. Idumbar was also granted a boon that anyone who carries a Kavadi for worship at this temple will be blessed and their wishes will be fulfilled.
Apart from being one of the foremost Vedic sages, Agastya has many important attributes associated to him in southern India. As an accomplished Siddhar, he is considered as one of the originators of Siddha school of medicine (A medicine practise like Ayurveda). He is also associated with the formulation of the grammar of Tamil language along with architectural practices. The still extant practise of Nadi Jotisham, forecasting a person’s future based on palm leaf scriptures (supposed to contain future of all individuals ever born), is also traced to him. The whole encyclopaedic volume of these sets of forecasts, written on sets of Palm leaf manuscripts is supposed to have been written by him millennia ago.
The eighteen siddhars who are supposed to have assembled along with Bogar have been given individual shrines just at the exit point of the main temple. Agastya is mentioned even before Bogar, befitting his status of the foremost guru in Siddha practice. Apart from Bogar and his disciple Pulipani, there are other well-known names represented in this group like Dhanvantari, Patanjali, Karuvoorar etc.
(Shrine devoted to Agastya, Bogar, Pulipani and the other sages)
The identity of Idumbar is inextricably linked with the Palani temples. Just a short distance away from Palani hill, across the main parking lot, there is a smaller hillock known as the Idumbar hill. There is a shrine for Idumbar worship on its peak. It has been constructed recently. Many devotees go there to offer their worship.
(The Idumbar Hill)
Shrines on the pathway
A good way to explore the Sivagiri hill is to take the steps on at least one way, although for the devout, climbing the pathway to the hilltop Murugan shrine is an important part of the ritual. It signifies the spiritual effort required to obtain divine blessings. On the steps up the hill, there is a shrine representing Idumbar. One of the pillars of this shrine has a sculpture showing Idumbar carrying two hills in a Kavadi on his shoulders.
(Idumbar depicted carrying the two hills like a Kavadi)
One of the striking sculptures in this shrine has the six-faced form (three visible faces carved on stone) of Murugan standing with his parents Shiva and Devi Parvati. In keeping with the theme of this location, the representation of Murugan is the dominant form in this sculpture. This composite sculpture depicts Shiva and Shakti requesting their son to come back. Goddess Parvati is seen imploring her son. This depiction evokes emotion and one can only marvel at the shilpkar’s dexterity with stone sculpting.
(An emotional depiction of parents imploring their son to return home)
Water sources are extremely important in the hills and frequently associated with the sacred. It is no wonder that a water source has been selected for establishing a shrine for Valli Amman, considered to be one of the two wives of Murugan. This place is called Valli Sonai and it has assorted deities of local importance assembled on a platform under a makeshift arrangement. There are numerous Naga deities worshipped in this shrine and many such statues are brought by visitors and placed in this area.
(The Valli Amman shrine and Naga deities)
A colourful melange of the marriage scene of Murugan and Valli has been recreated through beautiful statues near this underground natural water cistern. The courtship of Murugan and Valli has been shown by representing Murugan as a visitor to the hill and the local girl Valli meeting him. These representations are very recent creations.
The Palani temple is undoubtedly the most important place for the pilgrims in Tamilnadu. Millions of devotees come to worship Murugan in one of his sacred homes and to offer worship to the Dandayudhapani on his hilltop temple. The special properties of the materials used for Panchamritam and the curative properties of the prasadam are one of the unique aspects of this great temple. The traditions and stories associated with this temple encompass the sacred geography of the whole subcontinent and beyond.