17 February 2013

Goddess Kamakshi at Arunachala

Tiruvannamalai has many beautiful Temples dedicated to the Divine Mother, notwithstanding the glorious Unnamulai Shrine at the Arunachaleswarar Temple, there are also the renowned and powerful; Durga Amman Temple, two Kamakshi Temples, Pachaiamman Temple, Pavala Kundru Temple, Karumariamman Temple and the unique and precious Rajarajeshwari Temple. Previously I viewed photographs taken at the Kamakshi Temple near North Street, but always assumed that the Temple was a recent minor Temple at Tiruvannamalai. I have visited the beautiful Kamakshi Temple on Thirumanjana Gopura Street (near Thiruvoodal Street), and supposed that that was the more ancient of the two. So I was surprised when I visited the Thavasu Adi Kamakshi Temple near North Street for the first time a few days ago, and learnt that it is in fact one of the most ancient Temples in the District. History dates its age to be around 1,500 years old, and the statue of the Goddess in the sanctum sanctorum is also extremely ancient. The Temple is very powerful and the Goddess Kamakshi is renowned as a boon giver as she is an aspect of the shakti of Lord Shiva, and grants all the wishes of those who invoke her.

The goddess Kamakshi is a form of Tripura Sundari or Raja Rajarajeshwari, an embodiment of Universal power, an incarnation of Parashakti. She is also known as Lalitambika or Tripurasundari. As the Goddess that sits on the Sri Chakra, she is defined as the supreme Goddess of beauty.

Ancient Goddess Kamakshi Temple

Legend states that the Goddess Kamakshi appeared when Kamadeva (god of love) was burnt to ashes by Lord Shiva’s third eye. Lord Chitra Karma (god of art) collected the ashes and drew a picture of a man. When Lord Shiva glanced at the ash figure, it breathed into life. Chitra Karma advised the man that as he was born due to the glance of Lord Shiva’ s merciful eyes hence he should do penance to Lord Shiva and recite Shiva mantras. The man born from the ashes of Kamadev was able to please Shiva by his penance and the Lord blessed the man with lordship of the world for sixty thousands years. Hearing this Lord Brahma feared that there would be chaos in the world and cried out in despair ‘Bhand! hey Bhand!’ Therefore the man was known as Bhanda.

Left is doorway to Sanctum Sanctorum
Beautiful Nandi with back to Shrine facing Arunachala

Armed with boon of near invincibility, Bhanda defeated Lord Indra and caused great chaos on earth. In response Indra performed a yajna dedicated to the Shakti Goddess. From the sacrificial fire arose the Sri Chakra and on it appeared the beautiful Goddess Kamakshi.

Goddess Kamakshi

Promising to restore Dharma on earth, the Goddess engaged Bhanda in battle and defeated him on the fourth day. As she appeared to annihilate the demon that arose from the ashes of Hindu God Kama, her name is Kamakshi.

With Lingam pressed against Heart

One of the most unique features of the Goddess at the Kamakshi Temple, North Street, Tiruvannamalai, is that she is holding a Shiva Lingam in her hand which is pressed against her heart, whilst standing in a sea of flames to represent the austerity (thavasu) she had to perform in reparation for her sin in killing Mahisha, a Shiva devotee.
Standing in sea of flames of tapas

The story of the slaying is as follows: 

The Goddess and the Lingam 

“The Goddess pierced Mahisha with Her trident. His body was as big as a mountain range but he could not withstand the valour of the Goddess. He fell and rolled on the ground but could not extricate himself from the trident. He looked like a red sea with blood flowing from his face and limbs. The Goddess cut off his head with a sharp sword and stood dancing upon him. Seeing this the siddhas, gandharvas and Maharshis hailed Her as Goddess Durga. Indra, the king of the devas, bowed down before Her and with folded hands he praised the Goddess. He prayed that Her form as Mahishasura Mardhani (the destroyer of Mahisha) should be a source of prosperity and happiness for all creation. 

When the Goddess was praised in this manner and worshipped by Indra and adored by the rishis, She complied with their request and said, “Let it be so”. She created an image bearing all kinds of weapons and installed it in the world of the devas. Then She took Her place here again assuming Her tranquil form surrounded by Her companions. She looked at the severed head and neck of Mahisha. Seeing a lingam there She quietly took it with the object of worshipping it. She looked at the blood smeared lingam carefully for a long time. When She did so the lingam stuck to Her hand. She could not remove it! She exclaimed: 

“Why has this happened?” In distress She went to Maharshi Gautama and said: “This devotee of Siva was killed by me. I am therefore overcome by sorrow.” Pained at what She had done She continued: “O Sage! You know all the dharmas! I wanted to protect the devas. So I assured them of my protection. While fulfilling my promise, though meant for protecting dharma, I have committed an act of adharma. This lingam which was around his neck clings to my hand. How shall I expiate the sin of killing a devotee of Siva? Until I obtain the Grace of Siva I shall go on a pilgrimage with this lingam and do penance. Afterwards I shall bathe in the holy waters flowing at places sacred to Siva and expiate my sin.” 

Gautama who was well-versed in the dharma of Siva said: “Gowri! Do not fear that you killed a devotee of Siva by mistake. Mahisha could not be conquered by the devas not because he had the good fortune to possess the lingam, but because he had to be killed only by you, the beloved of Siva. He roused the anger of Maharshis who were the devotees of Siva, hated them and scorned them. Consequently he was cursed by them thus: 'As you behave like a buffalo you shall become a wild bison.' And he immediately became Mahisha (bison). But when he bowed to them, praised them and begged for release from his curse, they were pleased to give him the following advice: 'Although you have become a bison, by Siva's command, you will be slain by the Goddess herself. You need not be depressed at your plight. Who is not punished for scorning the siddhas who are actually Siva? Although you have, on account of your sin become a bison, you will be released from the curse through the grace of the siddhas.' 

“O Gowri, Mahisha has been killed by you because of your penance. If necessary you may for the sake of pleasing Siva, have darshan of Arunachala, the Effulgent Lingam. Mahisha was a devotee of the Lord of Arunadri in his previous birth. Afterwards he became a wild buffalo but somehow he acquired a lingam. Who is there in the three worlds who can kill the wearer of a lingam? “It is said that a lingam which is worn without proper initiation will bring ruin upon the wearer. Or perhaps, he swerved away from the virtuous path by evil counsels. There is no doubt that he has been liberated by coming into contact with your lotus feet, as a result of the austerities performed by him in his former lives, by the remembrance of his real nature and the wearing of the lingam. In any case, the sight of this noble Hill is the sure means of expiating all sins. 

“Goddess! This sin can be expiated in the following manner: You must bring some followers of Saiva Siddhanta and settle them here. You must then make all the holy waters meet here and form a single holy pond, in which you must bathe wearing the lingam and uttering the aghamarshana mantra (mantra which expiates sins). You must bathe thrice daily and, at the end of one month, perform Deva Yaga (sacrifice for the gods) and worship the Lord of Arunadri.” 

When Bhagavati learnt from the muni this secret about Siva, She took the necessary steps for bathing in such a holy pond and expiating Her sins.” 


Anonymous said...

Would any authority in Tiruvannamalai have a list of all these ancient temples in Tiruvannamalai? Only recently, I went to the Durgai Temple up on a hill near the main temple and was surprised to find how beautiful and powerful she is. There was no one there except a cleaning lady I had seen working in the Main temple.

Meenakshi Ammal said...

There are a number of books available in English and Tamil, which give some information about the Temples at Tiruvannamalai -- but they mostly only go into detail with the more famous Temples.

I hope on my Website http://www.arunachalasamudra.org to eventually have a comprehensive list of all the major Temples of Arunachala.

Currently I have good, informative pictorial narratives already on my Arunachala Samudra website regarding:

Pachaiamman Temple. Rajarajeswari Temple, Asta Lingam Temples, Adi Annamalai Temple and Arunachaleswarar Temple.

Arvind Lal said...


Thanks so much for the writeup. I have never been to this apparently lovely temple. Will make it a point to visit next time am in Tiru.

Best wishes

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Yes, do please visit this lovely and POWERFUL ancient Temple. The priest is very helpful and even shone a light on the murti in the shrine so that I could view the embossed Lingam near the heart of the Goddess. With the light, he also showed the embossed flames at the bottom of the murti, upon which the Goddess is standing.

Kamakshi is an aspect of the Goddess, to which I particularly resonate, so now feel impelled to soon do a write up of the Kamakshi Temple near Thiruvoodal Street.