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Temple rituals and communities

Since ancient times, the activ­i­ties of the tem­ple and the tourism dri­ve the econ­o­my of the city and pro­vide liveli­hood to sev­er­al peo­ple. In the entire town, one feels the pres­ence of the deity and the prin­ci­pal tem­ple. Var­i­ous activ­i­ties in the city are some­how or the oth­er con­nect­ed with the tem­ple and peo­ple have an inti­mate bond with the deity.

Madu­rai and Chi­dambaram are exam­ples of towns that have come up around a tem­ple and are known for their tem­ple. The tem­ple is locat­ed at the cen­tre or the Brah­ma sthaana in Vas­tu. The entire town is built around the tem­ple in a series of con­cen­tric man­dalas (rec­tan­gles) around the tem­ple. Gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies have been involved with the tem­ple in var­i­ous capac­i­ties and have depend­ed on the tem­ple for their liveli­hoods. Weavers, arti­sans and sculp­tors, priests and schol­ars, musi­cians, mer­chants and admin­is­tra­tors have been asso­ci­at­ed in spe­cif­ic capac­i­ties with tem­ple activ­i­ties for cen­turies. This is espe­cial­ly seen dur­ing fes­tiv­i­ties when arrange­ments and activ­i­ties are car­ried out by the locals with­out much out­sourc­ing. One is left to mar­vel at the well estab­lished ecosys­tem that a tem­ple cre­ates for its peo­ple.

Tale of Umapati Sivam

There is a tale of Uma­p­ati Sivam and his guru Marai­j­nana Sam­band­ha Sivam that beau­ti­ful­ly depicts the ancient rela­tion­ship that com­mu­ni­ties hold with the tem­ple. Uma­p­ati Sivam and Marai­j­nana Sam­band­ha Sivam belong to the parampara of Meykan­da Sivam, whose 4 acharyas known as the san­tana acharyas have cod­i­fied the philo­soph­i­cal prin­ci­ples of Sai­va Sid­dhan­ta in South India in their four­teen works col­lec­tive­ly called the Meykan­da Sas­tras

Uma­p­ati Sivam was born into a brah­min fam­i­ly that belonged to the Tillai Muvayi­ravar, the group of 3000 brah­mins who tra­di­tion­al­ly have been the priests at Chi­dambaram, belong­ing to the Dik­shi­tar com­mu­ni­ty. It is said the com­mu­ni­ty was cho­sen by Lord Natara­ja him­self for the wor­ship in Chi­dambaram when he appeared among one of them on their way back after a vedic sac­ri­fice in heav­en.

He was well versed in Vedas and Aga­mas and as a spe­cial hon­our for his accom­plish­ments he was car­ried around dai­ly in a pearl palan­quin accom­pa­nied by drums and a torch even in day­light. One day the pro­ces­sion was pass­ing a veran­dah where Marai­j­nana Sam­band­ha Sivam was teach­ing his dis­ci­ples. See­ing Uma­p­ati Sivam in such pomp, he said loud­ly, “Look! There is a per­son who is blind dur­ing the day, rid­ing around in a dead wood”.

Uma­p­ati Sivam was an evolved soul who was look­ing for a jnana guru. Instead of tak­ing these words as crit­i­cism, he took them as jnana upade­sa. He looked out of his win­dow to see who had spo­ken these and saw in place of Marai­j­nana Sam­band­har, Lord Natara­ja him­self!

He alight­ed from the palan­quin and fell at Marai­j­nana Sambandhar’s feet. While Uma­p­ati Sivam was lying on the ground, Marai­j­nana Sam­band­har began run­ning at great speed. Uma­p­ati Sivam also start­ed fol­low­ing him. How­ev­er due to the heat, both of them became exhaust­ed soon and fell in the veran­dah of a house belong­ing to a senkun­dar (weav­ing) com­mu­ni­ty. Marai­j­nana Sam­band­har was hun­gry and begged for food. All that the house­own­er could offer at that time was liq­uid starch used for siz­ing (coat­ing) the yarn. Marai­j­nana Sam­band­har how­ev­er accept­ed it and start­ed hav­ing it. Some liq­uid flowed down his fore­arm and start­ed drip­ping from his elbow. Uma­p­ati Sivam hearti­ly had those drips as Guru ucchistham, food left over after Guru has fin­ished eat­ing.

When the brah­min com­mu­ni­ty at Chi­dambaram heard that one of their mem­bers had food from the body of Marai­j­nana Sam­band­har, they barred him from enter­ing the tem­ple and car­ry­ing out his priest­ly duties.

Uma­p­ati Sivam was uncon­cerned and con­tin­ued to study under Marai­j­nana Sam­band­har and even­tu­al­ly attained jnana. He had con­tin­ued to do his pujas men­tal­ly. He lat­er estab­lished his math on the out­skirts of Chi­dambaram in a place called Kodra­van Kudi.

At the begin­ning of the annu­al fes­ti­val, the tem­ple priests began to hoist the flag but it wouldn’t rise. The priests could not under­stand what to do. A dis­em­bod­ied voice came from the Sab­ha inside, “If you bring Uma­p­ati Sivam here, he will be able to raise the flag for you.”

The priests imme­di­ate­ly reached out to Uma­p­ati Sivam and request­ed him to hoist the flag. He agreed to their request. Upon reach­ing the tem­ple, Uma­p­ati Sivam in place of hoist­ing the flag man­u­al­ly, stood next to the flag pole and recit­ed the fol­low­ing four vers­es known as kodik kavi. The flag start­ed ris­ing as Uma­p­ati Sivam began singing these words. (they are now part of Sai­va Sid­dhan­ta canon and are sung in flag hoist­ing cer­e­monies).

ஒளிக்கு மிருளுக்கு மொன்றே யிடமொன்று மேலிடிலொன்

றொளிக்கு மெனினு மிருளடராது உயிர்க்குயிராய்த்

தெளிக்கு மறிவு திகழ்ந்துளதேனுந் திரிமலத்தே

குளிக்கு முயிரருள் கூடும்படிக் கொடிகட்டினனே.

Light dwells with dark­ness in same place

One does con­ceal the oth­er when strong,

And yet dark­ness can’t pre­vail

The Light of light of souls though shines

The soul is plunged in Tri­mala.

So that the soul may Grace attain

I hoist aloft the holy flag. (1)

பொருளாம் பொருளேது போதேது கண்ணே

திருளாம் வெளியே திரவேது – அருளாளா

நீபுரவாவையமெலாம் நீயறியக் கட்டினேன்

கோபுர வாசற் கொடி.

Which is the Sat of Sat, which Bloom?

Who is the seer? Which is light

In dark­ness sure, which might, Oh Grace!

In all the earth that owns your sway,

That Thou mayst know, on Tower’s front,

I hoist aloft the holy flag. (2)

வாக்காலு மிக்கமனத்தாலு மெக்காலும்

தாக்கா வுணர்வரிய தன்மையினை – நோக்கிப்

பிரித்தறிவு தம்மிற் பிரியாமைதானே

குறிக்கு மருணல்கக் கொடி.

With speech and mind at any time

His nature rare is hard to find.

When seen too close, He dost appear

As Ananya. His grace to get

I hoist aloft the holy flag (3)

அஞ்செழுத்து மெட்டெழுத்து மாநெழுத்து நாலெழுத்து

பிஞ்செழுத்து மேலைப் பெருவெழுத்து – நெஞ்சழுத்தி

பேசுமெழுத்துடனே பேசாவெழுத்தினையுங்

கூசாமற் காட்ட கொடி.

The let­ters five and eight and six

The let­ters four and ‘va’ and ‘si’

These in the heart well impressed.

The sound­less one and that with sound

To man­i­fest them with­out doubt

I hoist aloft the holy flag. (4)

He lat­er called the senkun­dar weav­ing com­mu­ni­ty and expressed his grat­i­tude to them, “You are the ones who gave food to my Guru and assuaged both his thirst and his hunger. By this act you also enabled me to con­sume the Guru’s ucchis­tam. There­fore, out of grat­i­tude, I am going to hon­our your com­mu­ni­ty by issu­ing a procla­ma­tion that from now on your com­mu­ni­ty will have the exclu­sive priv­i­lege of offer­ing the cloth that is used in the flag-hoist­ing cer­e­mo­ny.”

This tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to date not only in the Chi­dambaram Tem­ple, but also in most oth­er Siva tem­ples includ­ing Arunachaleswarara Tem­ple in Tiru­van­na­malai.

Ref­er­ences:

  1. https://shaivam.org/scripture/English-Translation/1347/kodikkavi

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