5 January 2012

The Gates of Heaven

Vaikunta Ekadasi (Ekadasi is synonymous with fasting and abstinence) is an auspicious day dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It occurs in the month of Margashirsha (between December and January). In Tamil Nadu the festival is known as Mukkoti Ekadasi or Sorgavasal Thirappu.

On this day, fasting is an important aspect associated with this Festival. The austerity is associated with much deeper aspects associated with the following legend:

During the Krita Yuga, also termed the golden age, an asura called Muran harassed both devas and mortals. Unable to bear his tyranny, the devas sought refuge in Shiva. He directed them to approach Vishnu. Vishnu agreed to help the devas and went out to battle with Muran. During the long battle, which lasted one thousand celestial years, Vishnu needed to rest for a while. He entered a beautiful cave called Himavati in Badarikashrama to sleep.

Muran wanted to strike Vishnu while he was sleeping. However, Shakti (Vishnu's female energy) emerged out of his body and assumed the form of a beautiful damsel who fought Muran and vanquished him. When Vishnu awoke he was very pleased and named this maiden as Ekadasi and granted her a boon. The maiden said, "O Lord, if You are pleased with me and wish to give me a boon, then give me the power to deliver people from the greatest sins if they fast this day". Vishnu granted her the boon and declared that people worshipping her would reach Vaikunta. Thus, it is said, was born the first Ekadasi and devout people have since observed the Ekadasi fast.

Swarga Vaasal

Here, the demon Muran represents the tamasic and rajasic qualities in us. The import of the Ekadasi vrata is that one can conquer rajasic and tamasic tendencies through fasting (fasting means abstaining from anything that feeds the senses). This helps us reach our ultimate destination, Vaikuntha, which is the place or stage of no 'kuntitha' or dullness, stupidity and misery.

Venugopal with Devis believed taken
from Samudram Village

On this day, the Vaikunta Dwaram or the Swarga Vaasal, ‘The Gates of Heaven’ are believed to be kept open. The area encircling the sanctum is referred to Swarga Vaasal and devotees throng to gain entry into the Temple, to seek the Lord. The day of Ekadasi is to be spent in prayers and japam and, visits to the temple.

As the Lord Vishnu is celebrated as the founder of the Arunachaleswarar Temple, and Lord Brahma as the founder of the Adi Annamalai Temple, it is not surprising that this Vishnu festival is celebrated in such a grand style.

Lord Vishnu

There is also a fascinating story connected to the idols of Venugopala (with Rukumini and Satyabhama) whose shrine is immediately behind the Siva Sannidhi.

It is believed that the statues were originally in a small Vaisnava temple near Samudram Erie (lake) some 2 miles southwest of Arunachaleswarar Kovil. During certain festival, the villagers used to carry statues of their God to the large Vishnu temple at Tirukoilur (20 kms).

However, whenever Saiva idols from Arunachaleswarar temple passed, Vishnu devotees from the Samudram village would make a disturbance. As a response of continuous complaints, the King ordered the people of the Vasinava village to go in procession to Tirukoilur. When they were gone, he had the images of Venugopal (Krishna with flute) and his Devis removed from the Samudram Temple and installed instead in a shrine immediately at the back of the Siva Sannidhi at Arunachaleswarar Temple.

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