by V.S. Krishnan
Murugan, the God passionately loved and worshipped in Tamil Nadu, is known as the God of Infinite Qualities. He symbolizes knowledge, compassion, kindness, valour and beauty. He is the God of love who protects his devotees and fulfills their aspirations. He is the God of beauty who is admired by millions of devotees throughout.
Lord Murugan is the embodiment of knowledge, the Lord who has taken the role of a master guru even to his father, Lord Siva at Swami Malai. He is the Lord of infinite power who has destroyed the mighty Soorapadman at Tiruchendur. He has taken the role of a Commander-in-Chief and mobilised army at Tirupparamkundram and came to be known as Deva Sena Pati.
Here, after marrying the daughter of Indira, he has also come to be known as Devasena Pati, husband of Devasena. By marrying Valli at Tiruttani, he has shown that it will be possible for the individual soul to unite with the eternal power by means of pure devotion. Just as the fruits appear fully matured, ready to be plucked, he appears at Pazhamudir Solai, as an old man, fully matured in knowledge and ready to impart his knowledge.
When Lord Siva brought a rare fruit of knowledge, both his sons, Ganesha and Murugan claimed it. Lord Shiva then put up a contest; thereby the fruit would go to one who goes round the universe and returns first. While Murugan went all over the universe, mounted on his peacock, Ganesha went around his parents, Siva-Parvati and claimed the fruit on the ground that one’s parents represented the whole universe and received the fruit. Here, the fruit remained as the symbol of ultimate knowledge.
While Lord Ganesa sought it from his parents, Siva-Parvati, Murugan sought it from the all-pervading universe. Addressing the disappointed Muruga, Parvati stated; ‘You are the fruit’ (‘Pazham Nee’) which is the reinstatement of maha vakya, Tat tvam asi (You are That). “You are the fruit of knowledge, you are the embodiment of knowledge”, said Parvati. According to legend, renouncing everything worldly, Murugan has gone to South (Pothigai Hills) and chosen his abode at Palani. Appearing as Jnana Pandita, he radiates the light of knowledge from here and blesses the devotees.
We find great significance being accorded to the weapon of Vel (lance) held by Lord Murugan. It is said that Goddess Parvati has presented Murugan with the powerful Vel as a weapon to destroy Soorapadman. Arunagirinathar has composed many songs like Vel Virutham on the significance of Vel. Yet, we find a staff (danda) and not a Vel with Dandayudhapani at Palani. Perhaps, the origin of Palani Andavar dates back to several centuries when the weapon of Vel had not got so much prominence.
According to legend, Saint Agasthiyar, an ardent devotee of Lord Siva, had asked his disciple, Idumbasuran to bring the two hillocks, Sivagiri and Saktigiri from Kailasha to the South for his worship. Idumban connected the two hillocks with the help of a wooden piece in the centre and tied the loose ends with a snake and proceeded towards South.
On reaching the South, he placed them at a spot to rest for a while. But later, when he tried to lift it, he could not. He then spotted a youth wearing a piece of loincloth and holding a staff (danda) atop the hill. He asked the lad to move away. But the child, claiming right over the hill, refused to oblige. Soon Idumban realised that the boy was none other than Lord Murugan and paid obeisance to Him. Lord Murugan showered His blessings and proclaimed that anyone coming to his place with similar arch-like objects would get prosperity and upliftment.
Thus was born the kavadi pattern of worship. The kavadi gets its name by the contents such as milk, flower, rose water, etc. In some rare cases they are said to contain fish (Matsya Kavadi) and snake (Sarpa Kavadi). There are artistes who swing and dance balancing the kavadi on their head.
Saint Bhogar, a siddhar, is credited with the creation of the idol of Palani Dandayudhapani. Bhogar had a vision of Lord Murugan and he has given shape to it with the powerful Nava Pashanam. He wanted the benefits of the grace of Murugan to reach all the devotees and so he made the Dandayudhapani Siddhar Bhogar idol with Nava Pashanam which is the combination of nine precious and rare components. A shrine to Bhogar exists in the southwestern corridor of the temple, which, by legend, is said to be connected by a tunnel to a cave in the heart of the hill, where Bhogar continues to meditate and maintain his vigil.
The temple around the Murugan shrine at Palani was built by King Cheraman Perumal, the contemporary of Saint Sundarar, sometime in the eleventh century. Arunagirinathar mentions this in his song Nadha Vindhu…Cherar Konguvai Kavoor Nannattathil. King Cheraman Perumal was a great Siva devotee. While he composed poems on Siva in Tamil, he scripted poetry in stone for Murugan at Palani. Though Cheraman Perumal constructed the temple, it is believed that the presiding deity of Dandayudhapani existed even long before.
The magnificent temple that keeps attracting lakhs of pilgrim is located at a height of 150 metres and on foot one has to climb 693 steps to reach the sanctum sanctorum. There is also a long winding steep way known as the elephant path. As the devotees reach the top they are greeted by the majestic Raja Gopura. Dandayudhapani appears as an embodiment of knowledge, (Gnana Swaroopa) his serene face radiating the spirit of love and harmony.
Palani Malai by night
While every day Palani wears a festive look, it is a spectacular event on the day of Thai Poosam. This is the sacred day which falls in the Tamil month of Thai on the star Poosam (15 January-15 February) . This is the day when Parvati gave Murugan the powerful Vel, the weapon to destroy the evil forces represented by Sooran. The Thaipoosam festivities start ten days in advance and end on Poosam day. Devotees carrying Kavadi throng the hill during this time.
Six different pujas are performed to the Palani idol, symbolising the six points of time, from dawn to dusk. It is also said that they represent the six divine gunas of Arumuga. It is remarkable to see the Lord majestically inching His way round the temple with the twilight sun casting its golden rays on the decorated golden chariot.
The traditional direction of most of the temples is facing east but Palani Andavar faces west. A devotee from the neighbouring State of Kerala said that by facing west, Palani Andavar is showering His blessing on the people of Kerala, God’s Own Country. Tirupalani Thaipoosam Annadhana Sangham, Calicut, has been conducting mass feeding (annadanam) during Thaipoosam for many years.
An important part connected with various rituals at Palani is abhishekam, anointment. Abhishekam is done to the idols with various items like pure water, sandalwood paste, vibhuti (sacred ash), milk etc. The most prominent abhishekam is with panchamrutam, a sacred paste made with jaggery, ripe hill plantain, dates, etc. It is believed that milk and panchamrutham that pass through this idol in abhishekam get high medicinal value. After the abhishekam, the idol is adorned with various attires and garlands.
The Lord appears in grandeur and splendour in the role of a King (Raja Alangaram), ruling over the entire universe, bringing prosperity and affluence. But soon, the Lord appears as Dandayudhapani, with a loin-cloth, giving out the message that one who renounces his aspirations and withdraws from the world alone would reach the Lord.
Palani temple finds mention in many religious texts and Sangam literature. Saint Arunagirinathar has composed over 90 songs about Palani Andavar and about Bala Murugan at Tiru Avinangudi, at the basement. Some of the notable songs are Arumugam Arumugam, Ulaga Pasu Pasa, etc.
Palani MuruganApart from saints like Nakkeerar, Kachiappa Sivachariyar and Arunagirinathar, many other saints like Sri Chidambara Swamigal, Sri Kumara Guruparar, Sri Devaraya Swamigal, Vadalur Sri Ramalinga Adigalar, Sri Vannacharapam Dandhapani Swamigal, Sri Bala Murugan Adimai, Sri Pamban Swamigal, Sri Sachidananda Swamigal and Sri Murugan Kripananda Variar have hailed the glory of Muruga.
To the ever-increasing number of devotees who climb the hill to worship Him, the Lord showers his bountiful blessings. Palani Dandayudhapani is the Lord of abundant grace, the ultimate refuge for the people caught in the illusions of life. He is Kali Yuga Varada, He who liberates the people from the morass of ignorance and delusions.
One who goes to Palani after discarding his individuality and ego, with a mind of detachment, with a heart full of love, and worship Murugan with full of devotion would free himself from all the consequences of karma and evil effects and attain the Lotus Feet of Murugan.
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