There was a Chola emperor by name Muchukunda chakravarti. Why was his name Muchukunda chakravarti? Because his face was like a monkey’s. Why was his face like a monkey’s? There is a historical anecdote for it. Once, on a night, a monkey, chased by a tiger, climbed up a tree to save his life. The tiger was prowling below. Frightened that he might doze off and fall from the tree and get eaten by the tiger, and not knowing what else to do, the monkey began to pluck the leaves of the tree one by one and drop it down below. That night happened to be a Shivaratri, and below the tree was a Swayambhu lingam. And the leaves that were plucked by the monkey and dropped onto the Swayambhu lingam happened to be Bilva leaves. (Bilva leaves are considered to be very special in the worship of the Shiva lingam.)
So, pleased with this monkey who had worshipped him with a great many leaves, Shiva appeared and said to him,“Ask of me a boon.”
The monkey said,“I desire to conquer the world. But I do not wish to relinquish my identity. I want to be born with the same face – that of the monkey that I am now.”
Hence, he was born as Muchukunda chakravarti in the Chola kingdom. Once, he went to Indraloka (the world of the celestial beings), because Indra, the king of the devas, had sought his help to defeat a powerful demon called Vaalasuran. Extremely pleased with Muchukunda chakravarti and full of gratitude for him, Indra said, ”Ask of me anything whatsoever that you desire. I shall grant you the boon.”
Muchukunda chakravarti replied,” I saw you worshipping a maragatha (emerald) lingam here. My heart is drawn to it. I desire to take it to Bhuloka (earth) to install it there and worship it.”
Now, this vidanga* lingam had been presented to Indra by Mahavishnu himself, who had held it in worship. Indra held this image in great reverence. He did not wish to part with it. So he said to Muchukunda chakravarti,”Alright, come tomorrow.”
Indra did not wish to part with that linga. But at the same time, he could not take back his word. So he had 6 other identical lingams made and the next day, he showed Muchukunda the 7 lingams, all of which looked exactly like the lingam presented by Mahavishnu and which Muchukunda chakravarti desired. Indra offered him, ”Please take with you whichever lingam that you like.” Muchukunda chakravarti looked at the 7 lingams. Praying to the Lord that he may make the right choice, the king picked the right lingam as soon as he set his eyes upon them! Happy with the true devotion of Muchukunda, Indra gave away all the seven vidanga lingas to the king, who decided to install them in and around Thiruvarur.
Now, this vidanga lingam (Vidanga refers to a lingam that has not been chiselled out and is of Divine origin. Vi + danga – the form untouched by the sculptor’s hammer) had been presented to Indra by Mahavishnu himself, who had held it in worship. Indra held this image in great reverence. He did not wish to part with it. So he said to Muchukunda chakravarti,”Alright, come tomorrow.”
Though Muchukunda chakravarti was a native of the Kongu region near Karur, understanding the spiritual greatness of the Cauvery delta region, he installed the original Veedhi Vidangar (the emerald lingam once worshipped by Mahavishnu himself and presented to Indra) in Thiruvarur, the Sundara Vidangar at Nagapattinam, Avani Vidangar at Thirukuvalai, Nagara Vidangar at Tirunallar, Adi Vidangar at Thirukkaravasal, Nila Vidangar at Thiruvoimur and Bhuvani Vidangar at Vedaranyam
It is this Maragatha Vidanga lingam that was installed in Thiruvarur as the image of Thyagarajar – Maragatha Nataraja. The places where the 7 Vidanga lingams were installed are called the Sapta Vidanga sthalam. Sapta means seven. The Saptha Vidanga sthalams are the seven places around Thiruvarur with Lord Shiva as Thyagaraja. Thyagaraja is the name given to the manifestation of Shiva at Thiruvarur called Somaskanda, and 6 of the other Sapta Vidanga sthalams. This image of Thyagarajar is referred to as Veedhi Vidangar** in the sacred Tamil Thevaram hymns. The term Vidanga (Veedhi Vidanga as in Thiruvarur) represents the Thyagaraja image, as well as the Shivalingam (made of Maragatha (emerald), placed in a silver casket) that is installed in the shrine dedicated to Thyagaraja.
Somaskanda – Sa + Uma + Skanda = Shiva along with Uma and Skanda. This form features Shiva, Uma and Skanda (Muruga or Karthikeya who is their son). Lord Shiva is seated with Parvathi to his left and Skanda seated in between them. It represents Sat – Shiva (Existence), Chit – Shakthi (knowledge) and Ananda – Skanda (bliss) arising out of their union. Veedhi Vidangar – The unchiseled form of the processional deity who is taken out in the streets. ‘Veedhi’ in Tamil means ‘street’.
So what is special about these 7 places? All the 7 places have the image of Nataraja, but what is different and special about each one? When the deity is carried in a pallak, or palanquin, it is not a straight procession where people simply walk carrying the deity in a palanquin, as we might usually imagine. It is a dance procession where the people perform special dance movements while carrying the deity in the pallak. Every Vidangar is associated with a peculiar and unique nadanam or dance form that has a spiritual meaning attached to it. In 7 places in and around Thiruvarur, prathishta has been done for the images of Nataraja. Let us look at each of these places and its unique dance procession.
ThiruvArUr — veedhi viDaNgar — ajapA naTanam
The original Veedhi Vidangar was installed by Muchukunda chakravarti at Thiruvarur. Thyagaraja is associated with the ajaba nadanam. The ajaba mantra is “hamsa – soham”. It is the voiceless, silent japa represented by inhalation and exhalation of breath. Thyagaraja is said to perform this dance on the chest of Vishnu who is in yoganidra. This controlled breath is known to yogis.
In Thiruvarur, the evening abhishekam is referred to as Saya rakshapuja and Indra himself is believed to come here with all the devas everyday during this time, to conduct the pooja.
Thirunallar – “Unmatha nadanam”
The main deity is darbaraneswarar. Here Nataraja performs the unmatha nadanam. Nataraja is in an intoxicated state while performing this dance. In Tamil, one can say mei marandhu – forgetting oneself in bliss of God consciousness.
Nagaik kArOnam — sundhara viDangar — Villathi naTanam
Shiva is worshipped as Kayaroganeswarar. Here, the dance is like the waves of the ocean – villathi nadanam. Kadal alai konjiyum varum, seeriyum varum. The waves can be soft and playful, or they can be wild and raging. When the deity is taken on a procession in a pallak, the people who carry the pallak enact these dance movements – the movements of waves in an ocean. Hence Nataraja’s dance at this sthalam resembles waves – small waves and big waves. The people who carry the pallak would know the procedure as to how to coordinate each of their movements so as to bring about this dance motion.
Thirukkaraiyil – Adi Vidangar, “Kukuta nadanam”
The main deity is Kannayiramudayar. The dance is like that of a cock, seval – kukuta nadanam. People perform movements resembling that of a cock, while carrying the deity in the pallak during the procession.
Thirukuvalai – Avani Vidangar, “Bringa nadanam”
Shiva is worshipped as Brahmapureeswarar. Here, the dance resembles the movements of a beetle, vandu – bringa nadanam. The circular patterns of movement, the vertical and horizontal movement and the jumping movement of a beetle are enacted while carrying the pallak, during the procession of the deity.
Thiruvaymur – Nila Vidangar, “Kamala nadanam”
Shiva is in the form of vaimur nathar. This is the temple where Lord Shiva invited Thirunavukkarasar saying “thiruvaimurukku va”. The dance resembles the gradual blossoming of a lotus flower. The blossoming happens from the inner to the outer. When they bring the deity in the pallak, they do so following the movement of a blossoming lotus – from below to above. They do not carry the deity at a fast pace. The dance is slow, because it resembles a lotus swaying gracefully to a gentle breeze. Hence the pallak is carried in a slow manner, gently swaying from side to side.
Thiru maRaikkAdu — buvaniviDangar — hamsapAda naTanam
Shiva is worshipped in the form of Vedaranyeswarar. Here, the dance resembles the gait of a swan – hamsa paada nadanam. The dance motion while carrying the deity in the pallak resembles the graceful movements of a swan.
Hence, we see that various unique dance forms exist at the Sapta Vidanga sthalams.
Generally, we imagine that a procession is just the carrying of the deity in a palanquine . Actually, there are different procedures to carry the deity in the pallak. Each deity has a different procedure by following which, it must be carried. This “nadana procedure” has been followed for generations together. Even today, when people carry the deity in the pallak, they follow the procedure pertaining to the unique nadanam of that deity.
Acknowledgement: Thanking Mrs. Anandhi Jeeva who had narrated the stories during Anaadi Shivodaya 2017.