15 April 2018

Story of Agni Lingam—Lord of Light

“Arunachala Siva—On the Girivalam Path” by Dr. Bharat Bhushan imagines stories at each of the Asta Lingams on the perimeter of the Girivalam Roadway around Arunachala. Those stories have been created from memories of ancestral tales and legends and experiences of pilgrims.

The first chapter posted was of the “Kubera Lingam—Lord of Wealth and Auspiciousness”, which you can read at this link here.

The second chapter posted was of “Varuna Lingam—Lord of Rain and Water” available at this link here.

The third chapter available below is of the “Agni Lingam— Lord of Light”.

The Agni Lingam has south-east as its direction. It is situated close to Seshadri Ashram on Chengam road and is the only Lingam located on the right side of the Girivalam Path.

Lord Chandra (Moon) is the dominant Navagraha of Agni Lingam. Lord Agni, is the God of the fire of Knowledge. He has seven hands and seven tongues. Agni is the light of the lives of all creatures and is invoked in the performance of Homa. His vehicle is the goat Saga who serves as the sacrificial beast in the fires of Homa.

Worshipping this Lingam helps devotees get relief from disease, to maintain good health and also helps them face problems and difficulties in their lives.

Arunachala Shiva!!!
Let the lightning take me away, to you…

“Arunachala!” He thought to himself, “Protect me, tonight!”

His father had warned him repeatedly in his school days, “The eldest son or the only son should not walk alone after midnight in the open. Demons and ghosts will catch you.” And, for good measure, he had added, “Lightning in a thunderstorm can recognize the eldest son. In a stormy night, it will come searching for one, and will hit you, even if you are in a crowd!” Balaji Naidu wondered about his father’s words as he looked up at the silhouette of Arunachala, the ever merciful peak of Tiruvannamalai, hidden in the stormy night clouds, with the moon nowhere to be seen.

The bus journey had been very tiring. He had not been able to get the express bus and had somehow managed to get on the regular inter-city bus from Chennai. The normal 3-4 hour bus journey by an express bus took longer in this one, stopping at every small mofussil location. The seats had been extremely painful, and Balaji Naidu was exhausted. It was past midnight, long past midnight, at Tiruvannamalai. There was a rainstorm pouring down and he had no umbrella or raincoat with him. The streets were empty, and he searched the skies for protection from the silhouette of Arunachala, with the moon behind.

The city had gone to sleep in this storm, and he walked alone, talking to himself, “O Balaji, do not be frightened. This rain will not harm you. Demons and ghosts will not come for you. With Arunachala Shiva as your protector, this storm will not even attack you with its lightning.” He walked from the bus stand and past the great temple. He had to get back to the lodge, but it was too far away and there was no transport at this hour past midnight. The roads were empty and he was frightened. He had come all the way from Chennai and wanted to walk on the Girivalam, the path around the sacred hill of Arunachala Shiva. He would have to start on the fourteen kilometer walk, maybe early dawn, and be able to complete the entire route before it would get too hot.

It did not look like he would be able to reach the lodge in the pouring rain, he thought. He was near the Agni Lingam temple. He knew that the temple would also be closed at this time of night, for this was not the date for the Girivalam. He remembered that there were some shops nearer to the temple and they would be closed now. He could take shelter in their shaded shop fronts. He turned into the lane for the Agni Lingam temple and came up to the shops. As he had guessed, the shop front was dry, and the awning would protect him. He could rest here for the night, in front of the Agni Lingam temple.

He could see the sacred Arunachala, resplendent in the thunderstorm. It was lit up by the moon and the silhouette made the peak look very magical. Balaji was drenched, but he was happy. He was camped on the porch of a deserted shop front, opposite the Agni Lingam temple and he was protected by Arunachala. Opening up his haversack, he took out a dry lungi and towel, changed his clothes and placed the wet ones to dry on a nylon rope that was hanging outside the shop shutters. This was good, he felt. He could sit it out in the rain here, get his clothes dried, and early morning, if the rains stopped, he could begin his walk on the Girivalam, with prayers and offerings at the Agni Lingam temple, right here.

It must have been nearly 1.30 am, he thought, and he could sleep here, until dawn, without any disturbance. He could see Arunachala getting drenched, and the clouds bowing to its glory. The puzzling aspect was, as he thought back to his father’s advice, the thunderstorm was devoid of any lightning tonight. It must have been his prayers, of course, though Balaji to himself with a smile. He spoke a quiet prayer, and turning up to Arunachala, he spoke loudly, “Arunachala, Arunachala Shiva! Nandri, nandri!

Thank you. I am in your protection tonight. Thank you for not sending out any lightning to seek me out! I will go back to my father, with your grace and tell him that Arunachala Shiva protected me in this thunderstorm, and did not allow any lightning to get me!”

Upon speaking thus, in that dark stormy night, in that deserted shop front, Balaji got ready to lie down and sleep it out, resting his head on his haversack, and covering himself with a shawl that he had brought for this purpose. He must have drifted off to a deep sleep, and must have been in a strange dream, for he could hear some dogs growling nearby and a goat bleating softly. A man was talking and all these animals and the man seemed to be talking to Arunachala. Puzzled, Balaji woke up and sat still, worried and frightened at this very strange dream.

He could not see anything. The rain had increased in its intensity. He could not see Arunachala, and this frightened him some more. In panic, he looked at the Agni Lingam temple, and he could barely see the closed gates. He closed his eyes and looked up at Arunachala, and started chanting, “Arunachala! Arunachala! Arunachala!” Pacified a bit, and beginning to breathe normally again, he turned to look for the Agni Lingam temple. There seemed to be someone there, at the gate, ghostly, or not, he could not make out.

“Yaar ange? Who is there?” Balaji called out in fright, “The temple is closed. Come into this dry place and get out of the rain. Come here.” The person materialized from the pouring rain, and Balaji was calmer. It was an actual person. Not a ghost or demon, as his father had warned him. The man must have also got caught out in the rains and must have been seeking shelter in the rains. The man came walking up to Balaji and seemed to be accompanied by some animal that was following him.

It was a goat! So, it was not a dream after all, thought Balaji, in relief. He must have heard this man and the goat calling out, trying to seek shelter from the rain. The man and his goat entered the shelter of the awning and sat quietly. He seemed like a villager from the hills, for he had the appearance of one who would not be from the cities. The goat was huge and very strong, but quiet and docile. It came up on the stairs and sat next to the man from the hills. There seemed to be some sort of a complete understanding between the man and the goat.

He was indeed a very strange looking man, Balaji said to himself, for he could see him more clearly now, as he was sitting on the stairs in front of the shop front. He was huge, firstly, and the colour of his skin was unlike anyone that he had seen. Balaji had traveled through India, and in his job as a tour operator at the Chennai international airport, he had seen all sorts of foreigners. This man was certainly not a foreigner, for he was a local man from the hills. His skin was of a deep red colour, very reddish, dark, and not brilliant. He was dressed in some sort of a dhoti, encumbered around his waist, and dropping down to his ankles. Waist-above, he had no cloth or shirt banian of any sort.

But, he did not seem to be feeling uncomfortable at all. He did not seem to be noticing the rain or the night or the thunderstorm. He looked very relaxed, and patient and accepting. So was his huge goat that was sitting so very peacefully alongside. The man was watching the Agni Lingam temple very intently and demonstrated some amount of irritation, from time to time, muttering and speaking to himself. Suddenly, he looked up at the peak of Arunachala and grumbled about something, and shook his hands in seeming disgust. And again, he would sit patiently, waiting it out in the darkness of the thunderstorm. After a while, he stood up angrily, looked at the temple, spoke something, almost scolding the temple, and then, turned to the sacred Arunachala, and again, spoke in an irritated manner.

Balaji could not understand his speech. He was amazed and surprised that someone so very obviously familiar with the location, with the Agni Lingam temple and the very sacred peak of Arunachala, could be so angry with various aspects. What would it be that made him so very angry, he thought to himself, without talking it out with this strange man from the hills? He was wary about talking to this very strange reddish looking man. He looked large, and moment by moment, he seemed to be appearing larger and larger. It must be his imagination, thought Balaji. He looked at the quiet goat sitting nearby, and he was content and smiled. The goat seemed the same size, and it had not grown.

After a while, the man sat down quietly, and did not remonstrate at any aspect, including the temple or the sacred peak. He kept grumbling at times, and started talking to his goat in the unintelligible language that he spoke. The goat sat quietly, happy to be out of the rain. It looked quite happy to have the reddish looking huge man talking in bursts. The goat must have been familiar with this sort of behavior. Balaji wondered if the man would relax and sleep for a while, for if not, then he would not be getting any sleep until dawn, and he would be very tired in the Girivalam.

Getting curious, Balaji decided, that it would be better to talk it out with this strange man. After all, he must have just been some person from the hills nearby, and who was he to wonder about the colour of his skin or the language that he spoke. Taking courage, Balaji spoke, in the local Tamil dialect, “Hello, Saar, you know that you do not have to get upset about the rain. This is the season for rain. But then, who am I to tell you about the rain, for you look like someone from the hills of this region. Do not worry about it. Very soon, it will be daylight, and one can expect that the temple will be opened. If it continues to rain, we can take shelter in the temple. But, it cannot continue to rain like this.”

The man looked at Balaji, and heard him speak. He did not reply. He turned back to grumbling with himself and continued to talk to his goat. Since he did not get angry, and did not beat him up, Balaji thought, why not take up some more issues? Why not ask him something more about himself? Again, taking courage, Balaji spoke, “Ennaa Saar, do not get angry or upset. This rain will not harm us at all. My father used to tell me that such a thunderstorm was very dangerous, but I am sure that Arunachala Shiva will protect us. Are you from the nearby places? You do not look like you are from Tiruvannamalai or Gingee. Are you from Kanchipuram?”

The strange man looked back at Balaji, seeming to understand that he was being asked a question. He chose not to reply again. He looked angrier and angrier, and perhaps, was getting upset with the questions from Balaji, or in his attempts to be drawn into a conversation. He turned back to shaking his hands at the sacred peak of Arunachala, and kept talking to himself, muttering almost angrily, talking to the goat. Balaji decided that it would perhaps be safe to make another attempt. He said, “Do not worry, my friend. This rain will soon stop and you will be able to go and get whatever it is that you are upset about. I am not frightened about this rain, and my father had advised me that I should always be careful about not going out in such a thunderstorm. Do you know why I am not frightened?”

Having been asked such a direct question, the strange man looked back at Balaji, and waited, expecting an explanation. He did not ask anything, but the intention was very obvious. Balaji continued, “My father had told me to be frightened about lightning during a thunderstorm. Do you know what I did? The first thing that I did when I got frightened, I prayed to Arunachala, and requested him to protect me from lightning. I was the only person moving around in this heavy rain, and I must have been the only devotee on the Girivalam route, and therefore, it must have been the only prayer tonight. Ha! Ha! Ha! How could Arunachala not refuse me? See for yourself, in this entire thunderstorm, there has not been any lightning, through the night. I knew that Arunachala Shiva would protect me.”

The huge reddish-looking strange man with the goat looked very startled, on hearing this explanation from Balaji. He seemed to get angrier and perhaps, thought Balaji, he may actually resort to some violence. Why would this strange man be upset that there was no lightning in the thunderstorm, or that Arunachala Shiva was protecting his devotees? The strange man got out of the shade of the shop and walked back to the Agni Lingam temple gate, touched it, and turned back to face the sacred peak of Arunachala, and raised his hands, and spoke something angrily. He did this, 2-3 times, and returned to the shade of the shopfront, and sat with his goat, and grumbled.

What a puzzling man, thought Balaji. He actually looked angry that there was no lightning in the thunderstorm. What would he want with the temple, and why was he so upset with Arunachala? How could anyone be angry with Shiva himself? Did he not know that he was getting angry with the deity? He could not understand this man. He was actually angry. Let him be, reasoned Balaji. Better to get some sleep, and save himself for the Girivalam. Let this strange man argue it out with Arunachala and let him worry about his answers or any angry reaction from Shiva, he thought.

The man came closer to Balaji, and stood facing Arunachala, and spoke, and this time, Balaji seemed to be able to understand, though it was not spoken in Tamil. The strange man spoke angrily to the sacred peak of Arunachala, “How can you allow this? You do not allow me to do my work? What is the wrong that I have done? Do I harm your devotees? Do I stop them when they are on the Girivalam? This is not correct, O Arunachala!”

Amazed, Balaji looked at the strange man. He did not actually hear him speak in Tamil. How did he manage to understand what he spoke? Perhaps, it was because he could actually hear him clearly, finally, for he had only been muttering and grumbling in undertones to the goat, and at the Agni Lingam temple and at Arunachala. Who had not allowed this strange man to do his work? How did Arunachala stop him from his work? What was this strange looking reddish man’s work? How could his work harm the devotees on the Girivalam? So many questions, he thought.

Suddenly, the thunderstorm became more intense, heavier and the sound was angrier. Was Arunachala getting angry with this strange man? Balaji spoke to the strange man, “Swami, why are you angry? I only spoke in jest. I did not mean to stop you from your work. How can I stop you? I do not even know you. Please do not get angry with my Arunachala, and please do not accuse HIM of being wrong. How can HE be wrong? HE is the most graceful.”

Hearing Balaji, the strange man spoke again, to Arunachala as before, “Did you hear him? He had not even asked you to stop the lightning in a serious prayer. He did not even mean it. And, you stop me from doing my work! It is my job, as given by you and you have denied me, my tasks. He was merely frightened of some rain, that’s all. Let me do my job, for, never have you stopped me from doing it. O Arunachala! Let me do my job in this thunderstorm. How can it be a storm without any lightning?”

Saying thus, the strange man stood still, and worshipped Arunachala, in a steady chant, and began to relax and drop his anger. As the chant grew in its intensity, he turned to face the sacred peak, and raised his hands and clapped. The sound was enormous; the sound of the claps grew in its volume. Balaji looked on in amazement, and wondered at the man’s devotion. Suddenly, the strange man stopped his clapping, and beckoned, and said, “Come, come, O Arunachala, release me from inaction tonight. Release me from not doing my duty tonight.”

And, in that very instant, the sacred peak of Arunachala looked that much calmer, almost content, and peaceful, within the great rush of the thunderstorm. In the next moment, there were two thick lines of lightning bursting out from the skies, and they were followed by an amazing unstoppable roll of thunder, that kept going on and on. He looked for the strange man, and he saw him, with his goat, walking up the slopes of the sacred peak of Arunachala, in the heavy rains, in the darkness. Balaji did not feel any fear at the sound of the thunder and the sight of the lightning. He sang, “O Arunachala, do not bless me anymore, for I am blessed a thousand and million times in your presence. Let the lightning take me away, to you, to you, to you.”

1 comment:

Itinerant Yogi said...

Lovely post Meenakshi. Thanks for sharing