Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Unearthing Local Histories from Temple Myths

Sasikala addressing on Konunattu Sthalapuranangal 
While today there are stringent rules against religious conversion through 'fraudulent' means, centuries ago, conversions of faith were carried out through still more enticing ways. As Buddhism and Jainism dismissed immortality and afterlife in their doctrines, Shaivism, a major branch of Hinduism, used clever strategies to lure people by promising them the impossibilities in life as possible by fabricating them in puranas and ithihasas.

“While Buddhism and Jainism lost popularity among the people for their rational views of life, Shaivism succeeded by creating and spreading unbelievable myths and fables” said G.Sasikala, a resource person in Tamil Virtual Academy and a researcher on temple myths.

Addressing on the topic 'Kongunattu Thalapuranangal' ( Temple myths in Kongunadu) in the monthly lecture series at The Vanavarayar Foundation recently, she compared the two incidents in the lives of Lord Buddha and Sundaramurthy Nayanar, a shaiva bakthi poet.

“ Once, a grieving woman, who lost her only son, came to Lord Buddha and prayed to him to bring her boy back to life. Though Buddha took pity on the poor woman, he wanted to teach her indirectly the fact of death being inevitable to all. He told her that he would resurrect her boy, on condition that she must bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house, in which no one had ever died. As instructed by Him, she visited a number of houses and realised that there could never be one such house on earth. By making her do so, Buddha made her know that none on earth can escape death”

But, Sundaramurthy Nayanar, in his Tevaram narrates an incident that he heard two discordant notes coming from opposite houses – one echoing joy and the other sorrow. The poet learned that two boys of the same age had gone to bathe in a tank, from which a crocodile emerged and devoured one of them. And after three years, the parents of the surviving boy were happily conducting Upanayanam ( Thread ceremony) for their son, while the parents of the dead were wailing over their departed son. Moved by this scene, Sundaramurthy Nayanar sang a pathigam ( poem in praise of a deity consisting generally of ten stanzas ), worshiping Lord Shiva to resurrect the dead boy. As a result, it is said that the crocodile appeared from the surging tank and ejected the boy, which it had swallowed !

“ Thus Shaivism brought the people into its faith by making them believe the impossible as possible”explained Sasikala.

An author of the research books Pullamangai, Thiruchennampoondi and Keeragaloor , Sasikala, however, said that sthala puranas are great resources to know the regional history of places.

Despite myths enveloping such local histories in sthala puranas, a serious researcher on them can separate out the facts “ noted Sasikala.

Muthupalaniappan, former Joint Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, who republished the works Avinashi sthala purana and Thirumuruganpoondi sthala purana, chipped in:

The Thudisai Sthalapurana has documented Sundaramurthy Nayanar's visit to Thudiyalur. As Lord Shiva is believed to have treated the devotional poet with a dish of mouth-watering Murungaikeeerai (cooked leaves of drumstick), the deity came to be called 'Viruntheeswarar'. Moreover the sthala puranas of Thirumurthi temple and Dharapuram temple in the Kongu region, were penned by a barber and the saatrukavi ( A poem in praise) for the works was written by a Muslim, whose profession was fixing laadam ( horse shoe) for oxen”

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