Note: This is a sequel to The God of Geriatrics-I
The Greek Pantheon had many different Gods for different functions. My guess is that the Hindus have a thousand more of them; Hinduism is an amalgam of many faiths (including non-faith) so, it is natural to have a God for every function, context, place, mood….So too, every temple has purpose.
In Hindu faith, Tirukadaiyur is the temple to worship for a long and healthy life. Couples come to offer prayers for their Sashtiabdapoorthy (60th birthday), Bhimaradha Shanti (70+), Sadhabhishekam (80 years) and other birthdays. Why? These conventions are deeply rooted in our folklore. Here are the stories about our Gods.
The Devas and the Asuras churned the Ocean (Paarkadal) and extracted Amrutam (the elixir of immortality). In order that Asuras may not lay their hands on it, Mahavishnu placed it in a clean and safe place — the Amruta Pushkarni Tank at Tirukadaiyur. When the Devas went retrieve it, they found that it had been stolen. In panic, they reported back to Mahavishnu, who correctly diagnosed that it was hidden by Sri Ganapathy.Ganapathy was peeved that the Devas had not prayed to him before the project commencement, as was the tradition. The Devas prayed to Ganapathy at Tirukadaiyur and the Amrutam was restored. Thus we have a special sanctum for Ganesha who is called Kallavaarana or Chora Ganapathy (Thief Ganapathy). The Amrutam was stored in a Ghatam (earthen pot). When they opened it, it had congealed into a Siva linga called the Amruta-Ghata-eswara. Thus any person who sincerely worships Amrutaghateswara procures the Lord’s blessing for a long healthy life.
Sage Mrikandu and his wife were childless for many years, so they prayed to Siva. The Lord appeared in person and offered them two options: (1) A mediocre child with long life or (2) a great child with only 16 years to live. The couple chose Option 2. Soon a son, Markandeya, was born. He was everything that Siva promised: intelligent, loving and spiritual. He was a great devotee of Siva as well. As he neared his 16th birthday the parents were distressed that his end was near. But young Markandeya went and hugged the Sivalinga at Tirukadaiyur and refused to let go. Yama, the God of death, tried to disengage him, but Markandeya’s grip was steadfast. Siva warned Yama to keep off as the boy was under His protection. Yama said he was just doing his job and tried to throw his Paasa-kayiru (lasso) on the boy. It fell around Siva as well. Angered that Yama had disobeyed Him, Siva kicked Yama and knocked him out. He then granted a boon to Markandeya that he would technically never cross 16 so Yama could never touch him— in effect eternal youth! At Tirukadaiyur there is a sanctum for Kaalasamhara Murthy (the God that vanquished Kaalan or Yama). It is believed that one who prays to Him will be given a trouble-free long life.
Every temple that I have seen has a separate enclosure for the Navagrahas; Tirukadaiyur has none. The logic is something like this: people who worship the Navagrahas pray for relief from the negative effects of their influence. Once someone has worshipped Amrutagateswara and KaalasamharaMurthy, where is the question of the Navagraha’s influencing anything?
Thus, Tirukadaiyur is a favourite pilgrimage of geriatrics. If you are a non-traditionalist (like me) I would advise you to visit Tirukadaiyur on a day other than a Muhurtha Naal (auspicious day as per almanac). Crowds tend to be lesser—giving you a more peaceful Dharshan and time to admire the architecture and enjoy the music of the Nadaswarams and Oduvaars. If you do want to perform a ritual puja, then you should book well in advance at the temple office.This should not be a problem, since the temple officials and priests are helpful. The Vadyaar who did the puja for us was a learned man who took to pains to explain the meaning behind the rituals and made us feel that the Gods had smiled upon us. Indeed that day, the Gods truly did !
Asuras = Demons
Navagrahas = The nine heavenly bodies that influence our fate
Oduvaars = Traditional singers of relgious songs
Vadyaar = Pundit/ Purohit/ Priest