18 September 2008

Wheel of Time

“Giripradakshina or circumambulation of the Hill . . . . is traditionally performed following the movement of the planets around the unmoving sun, which means keeping the Hill always at one’s right. The eight cardinal points are marked by Shrines, Tanks and Mandapams, for those edifices date from an earlier medieval period when the Vaishnava faith was in the ascendant over the Saiva faith, and the Hill was then regarded as the Wheel of Time in the hands of Mahavishnu, the Lord of the Sun.”
[Monica Bose -- Hill of Fire]

The late Moonapar Swami is the person responsible for the restoration of the Asta Lingam Shrines which he believed were essential to the revitalisation of specific fields of energy and influence surrounding Arunachala. However the Asta Lingams were only restored comparatively recently, previously and specifically during the lifetime of Sri Ramana Maharshi the primary, cardinal Lingams were all in a serious state of neglect and decay.

Hopefully I may be able to get further information and citations about the eight cardinal points mentioned by Monica Bose in her book, 'Hill of Fire,' to ascertain whether they are in fact the same as the Asta lingams

If one believes that at one time the Vaishnava faith was in the ascendant over the Saiva faith in this area, then the Wheel of Time referred to in Monica Bose’s book, ‘Hill of Fire,’ refers to the Discus (i.e. Chakra) of Lord Vishnu.

Chakra means wheel or force field. Legend says that it was made by Shiva and gifted to Vishnu as a token of love. The story goes that Vishnu offered a thousand lotuses to Shiva everyday. One day in order to test the sincerity of Vishnu, Shiva hid a lotus. But in order to complete his worship Vishnu plucked out one of this eyes and offered it in place of the missing lotus to Shiva. In his pleasure at the sacrifice, Shiva gave his prized weapon, the chakra to Vishnu.

The Vishnu Purana identifies the chakra with the human mind whose "thoughts, like the chakra, flow faster than even the mightiest wind." When used as a weapon, the distinguishing feature of the chakra is its ability to return to the hand of he who throws it. Thus does Vishnu describe himself: "The world rests as the lotus in the palm of my hand, the cosmos revolves around my finger like a discus. I blow the music of life through my conch and wield my mace to protect all creatures."

Vishnu holds the chakra as a terrible weapon but also to preserve the Universe as whenever this energy is released it would instantaneously end time and causation. Hence the chakra is representative of the Wheel of Time.

Monica Bose elaborates her contention in her book Hill of Fire that:

“. . . . The area surrounding the Hill is like a palimpsest*, for besides the Vaishanava and Saiva monuments, much older forms of worship survive, such as the cult of fertility trees. To this day, women who wish for a child go to such a tree, usually a pipal tree, and tie to its branches a strip of cloth in the shape of a cradle, much as in ancient Celtic practice. Nearby there is usually a small stone chamber of dolmen (e.g. Idukku Pillaiyar Shrine) through whose narrow central channel the women pass in a re-enactment of birth, yet another way of awakening the life-giving force of the Great Mother of all beings.”

[* A palimpsest is a manuscript page, whether from scroll or book that has been written on, scraped off, and used again]

Idduku Pillaiyar Shrine, Hillround Roadway

Nowadays even gents and children go through the shrine in the belief that they will receive a general blessing of auspiciousness

There is a belief in parts of India that if a woman who is unable to bear a child after marriage, ties a cradle (miniature of either cloth or wood) to a Temple Tree and prays for a child, her prayers will be answered. [In India makeshift cloth cradles hang from the ceiling in the house or from trees in the compound or garden].

Photograph of Tiruchendur Murugan Temple

Wooden Cradles

The relevance of tying the representation in either cloth or wood of a cradle on the Temple Tree is to invest it with the power of the Deity, and thus create a ‘wish fulfilling tree’, to answer the desire for a child.

Sthala Vriksham (Temple Tree or Abode Tree)
“This literally means Sacred Tree at God’s abode. Almost every Temple has one special tree designated as 'Sthala Vriksham'. It appears from Indian literature that in ancient days God's deity was worshipped in the open, under trees. Such worship, with or without rituals or sacrifices went on for a long time. Sivalingas (Lord Shiva's Deity) came to be worshipped under the trees in a similar manner and such trees gained importance as "Sthala Vrikshams".

Devotee at Pipal Tree

Later to protect the deity under the tree from the sun and rain and from wild beasts, people built around them fences with the cut wood of the surrounding trees. Its only much later (mostly during the medieval period) these temporary structures were expanded (mostly by affluent kings) into huge Temples that we see today. But even after the Temple is built, the 'Sthala Vriksham' in isolation was considered very powerful and divine and was left untouched and not destroyed. They became part of the Temple tradition.”
[Sankar Salvady]


Alan said...

Look forward to hearing more about this. Fascinating information that I've never come across before.

Anonymous said...

I've heard about the tribal and primitive worships at Arunachala in previous times, but the Vaishnava worship is new.

Veronica said...

Have you ever gone through the Idduku Pillaiyar shrine Meenakshi?

Meenakshi Ammal said...

So far no I haven't tried to go through the opening at the Shrine. I am a little plumpy and am nervous might get stuck halfway through!

Anonymous said...

We were told there is a pillar in the middle of Idduku Pillaiyar shrine, making the opening extremely narrow. We are not sure if it will be wide enough for my wife. Can't tell from this picture you have up. I guess we will just have to try it out when we get there.

By the way, this is great information you have up on this really nice blog.


Meenakshi Ammal said...

There is not a pillar in the middle, but the large opening at the back narrows to a small slit in the front -- in fact its so narrow that an adult person has to adjust their body sideways to fit through.

Don't know the size of your wife, but I'm on the plumpy side myself and would never dare risk trying to crawl through.