Monday, January 19, 2009



Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple
Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple’ is a historic temple located in the holy city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Sundareswarar or Beautiful Lord and his consort, Goddess Parvati in the form of Minakshi. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai.

Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Madurai

The temple has a stunning architecture and a significant testimony for Vishwakarma Brahmins for their master architecture in sculpting this temple. This was a frontrunner in the election for the modern seven wonders of the world for its architectural importance.

The complex houses 12 magnificent gopurams or towers that are elaborately sculptured and painted. As of December 2008, the temple gopurams are covered in scaffolding which completely obscures them from view. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and have been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is believed to have been built only recently in the early 17th century.

According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati. Parvati had earlier descended to earth in the form of a child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai.

After growing up to adulthood, she began ruling the city. The Lord appeared on earth and proposed to her. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Minakshi, was travelling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam.

Due to a divine play, he was tricked by god Indra and delayed on the way.

Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god Koodal Azhaghar. This angered Lord Vishnu, and he swore never to enter the city, settling on the outskirts at a beautiful hill called Alagar Kovil.

He was later appeased by other gods, and he proceeded to bless the divine couple - Shiva and Parvati.

Azhakar Thiruvizha

Both the marriage and the Vishnu’s pacification are still celebrated as the biggest festival in Madurai, called Chithirai Thiruvizha also called as Azhakar Thiruvizha the festival for the Beautiful Lord.

This temple was built on the basis of Tamilnadu’s largest Shiva temple Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli. Another legend says that Shiva’s idol, in the form of the lingam, was discovered by the God of heaven, Indra, who built the original temple. This tradition is still followed in the temple - the deity is accompanied by a model of Indra’s vehicle, during festive processions.

Indra who was suffering from Bramakarthi dosam was travelling in a Puspavimanam over a Kadamba Vanam Forest - full of Kadamba Trees, suddenly his dosam get relieved.

He got down there and saw a Siva Lingam and a tank full of lotus. He worshiped the god there and placed his vehicle Iravatam White Elephant as pillar and constructed the shrine of Sundereswar.

The White elephants are still visible on the side walls of the swami shrine. Kadamba Tree is the Stalavirutchan Tree of the Temple.


The Shiva shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later.

The Shiva shrine also consists of an unusual sculpture of the Hindu god Nataraja. This famous Hindu marquee and a dancing form of Shiva that normally has his left foot raised, has his right foot raised in this temple.

According to the legend, this is on the request of the Rajasekara Pandya king who asked the Lord to change his position, as he felt that always keeping a single foot raised will pose enormous stress on that, based on his personal experiments in dancing.


Vegetarianism in Hinduism
Professor M. Sivasuriya

While stressing the fundamental concept of adhering to vegetarianism the above article which appeared some time ago in the ‘Hinduism’ page of the Daily News tries to justify animal slaughter/sacrifice to some extent in accordance with the Vedas.

It stated that ‘killing’ of animals and eating their flesh are only provided in the Vedas for sacrificial purposes and that the Vedic mantras and rites are considered so effectual in themselves that the souls of the animals offered to sacrifice are purified and despatched at once to some form of grace or other while the performers of the sacrifice are given some form of grace or other in a secular plane.

This grace (according to the writer of the article) is compared to the fee a tutor gets in return for the instruction that he imparts to his pupil.

My humble view/opinion in this regard is if it had been stated so in the Vedic Mantras it is sheer nonsense/rubbish and/or absurd! We born as human beings are blessed/endowed by our Creator to possess an ‘intuition’ to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ unlike the animals which lack this attributes of speech and perhaps judgement.

Nothing could be more horrifying than seeing an animal undergoing painful agony and torture/suffering when it is killed/slaughtered for its flesh for ‘consumption’ or ‘sacrifice.’

The ‘folly’ of animal sacrifice has now been realised/recognised by most right minded Hindus and animal sacrifice has been ‘banned’ in most Hindu temples though I was saddened to watch quite recently on a Television programme which showed the most cruel slaughter of goats by ‘chopping’ off their necks with a ‘sword’ like knife as a ritual of animal sacrifice in a Hindu shrine in Nepal. It was ‘horror’ indeed - at least for me!

In this context let me quote the late Swami Sivananda (a medical practitioner himself) who attained ‘enlightenment’ at Rishikesh in India for the benefit of those who value and treasure ‘Ahimsa’ (compassion) and ‘Mettha’ (loving kindness) or reverence to all animal life in general.

“In the Hindu view of life the real value is placed upon the moral and spiritual worth of the man. Moreover flesh eating involves the exercises of cruelty which is not an elevating virtue. It is a bestial quality.

It degrades man. Cruelty is condemned by all great men. Thus the cruel slaughter of animals and the taking of innocent lives which flesh eating entails makes it abhorrent to all right thinking men and women all over the world.

People who are slaves to flesh eating cannot give up animal diet, because they have become confirmed and inveterate meat eaters and hence they try to justify their habits by various arguments and statistics.”

If only animals could ‘talk’ or ‘express’ themselves they would convey the following to ‘man’ if they knew that they were being taken by him for slaughter for their flesh to be ‘consumed’ or for animal ‘sacrifice’.

“We will pray for you”

“Save our lives! We love you”

“Long life to you”

“Thank you for your compassion.”


Understanding Hinduism -12:

Symbols and Purpose
K. S. Sivakumaran

Symbols play a significant part in the practice of Hinduism. As symbols are used in Geometry to explain theorems so are visible things used to explain and elucidate some philosophical concepts.

As most of us know the Hindu trinity has three functions: Creation is attributed to Brahma, Preservation to Vishnu and final destruction of both to Siva. Creation and preservation are within Space, Time and Causation.

Destruction really means freeing of the Soul from all bondage; that is why it is more important than the other two. To convey this idea mythology is used in explanation. Here is an example.

Once it was recorded that there was a heated discussion between Brahma and Vishnu as to who was Master of the Show. Each claimed absolute authority. There was no end for their dispute. They went on and on.

Suddenly they saw a pillar of light extending from earth to Heaven. There was no bottom, no top. Brahma went up to see the head while Vishnu dug through the earth to ascertain the feet of the unexplained column of brilliant light.

They failed in their pursuit. Then they realised that there was something else beyond and superior to both of them.

Sometimes the Hindus are mistaken to be Pantheists when they say that ‘everything is God’ or that ‘God is everything.’ But this has a deeper meaning.

When the Hindu says that’ there is nothing which is not Brahman, his concept is that the ‘Universe is but ONE expression of Brahman. That is to say that ‘God minus the Universe is not Zero’. God is something much more than that. - Beyond all Nature, beyond all Description.

Using symbols and mythology to enlighten the uninitiated with spiritual ideas at most times is dangerous. This is because people are likely to concentrate on the symbol and the story and forget the principle involved. While the senior Hindus could understand the concept, the younger ones may not readily accept this feature.

That is why the young people should learn their religion and understand the significance of symbols, ceremonies and observations practised in the daily routine at Hindu homes.

The majority of the Hindus, if I may say, are intellectually lazy, despite the heritage left to them by their ancestors. They know by heart what the Vedas have said. They can interpret the texts of the Puranas and epics in different ways to the great enjoyment of the listeners.

They observe the ceremonies and religious rites to the very letter of the law, build temples, do charities, go on pilgrimage to sacred places, honour the self-styled swamis and yogis that are claiming attention towards themselves through modern facilities and finally erect tombs in advance for their burial and provide funds for their maintenance. Carried away by the swift current of materialist progress, the Hindu, one may say, has lost his balance.

Understanding the concepts and precepts are essential than blindly following practices for self satisfaction. This series of articles will stop at this point for the present.


Principles and philosophy of Saivaism
Thilaka W. Wijeyaratnam

Up to now we have been dealing with Hindu Mythology and Legends that have been passed down from generation to generation. These articles are not meant for the esoteric knowalls, but for non-Hindus and Hindu students who are mystified with the Pantheon of Hindu Gods and the rites and rituals followed during Hindu occasions.

Now that we have had a knowledge of Hindu Mythology and of the lives of realised saints, we can now delve into the religion proper. Starting with Saivaism - a sect of Siva worshippers, we will discuss the principles and philosophy of the religion.

Chin Mudra

The Saivaites hold Siva as the supreme God and He takes various forms to perform various functions. He is referred to as Pathy and the Souls/Athmas yearning for His grace as Pasu. Pasu is not able to reach divinity because of Pasam - attachments. The Athma or Soul is pure.

But there are some impurities that surround the Soul and prevent it from reaching divinity. What are these impurities? This attachment or Pasam is bound by these impurities. The worst of the impurities is Aanavam - ego. This only causes troubles and hardships. Ego leads to arrogance, hatred, jealousy, desire, greed, miserliness and fanaticism.

There is a legend to illustrate the fact that ago will never lead a man to divinity. Once there was a king. He heard that there was a holy man in an ashram in the jungles in his kingdom. The king wanted to meet him and be his disciple. So one day he went with all the pomp and pageantry and his retinue to meet the hermit. He didn’t go himself. He sent word through his courtiers that he has come to learn from him (the sage). The sage sent word saying, “Come after ‘I’ die”.

The king went back. He returned a few days later and sent word to the sage that he has come. Again the sage sent the same message. The king went back and consulted his Chief Minister. The Minister knew why the hermit sent such a message. He told the king - “I” is ago. His going in glorious a sign of ego.

He should destroy ego and go in all humility. So the third time the king went to the hermit by foot without any of his pomp and pageantry - a humbleman. The hermit accepted him as his disciple. So you see it is ago that blinds us.

It is usually symbolised by the darkness of ignorance. Once the ignorance is dispelled by Gnana or true knowledge, the pure soul is revealed and dedicated to God. The other two impurities are delusion (maya) and kanman (deeds) for the souls to perform deeds, ego only prods them on. Deeds could be good or bad.

The good deeds are - earning merit by being truthful, being compassionate, being charitable and observing fasts. The harmful deeds are - speaking untruth, thieving, killing, jealousy and so on. The soul or athma will pay for its deeds in one birth or many births.

Delusion - (Maya), due to delusion, the athma is pushed on by ego to perform good or bad deeds. Everything around is Maya says Saivaism. This philosophy is best illustrated by examining a coconut fruit.

The outer leathery coat is Maya - delusion. The mesocarp - middle fibrous layer is synonymous with Kanmam - deeds. The hard nut of the coconut is ego. This part is only difficult to break. Once the two impurities (delusion and deeds) are removed, the ego remains. When it is smashed it breaks to reveal the pure white kernel and the water which symbolises compassion. This is offered to God. Never in the records of the religion is it mentioned that coconuts are smashed to invoke God to cause harm to another.

The breaking of coconuts in temples is to symbolically say that if ego is destroyed it reveals the pure white soul which is merciful and compassionate denoted by a liquid.

Saivaims started more than 5,000 years ago, as per excavations at the Indus Valley Civilisation with the protosiva mentioned by Marshall. Nobody founded this religion. Like gravity that was there, the Vedhas also were there always. These Vedhas were revealed by God Siva Himself to four disciples - Sanakar, Sanathanar, Sanathkumarar and Sanathar.

Even then it was not conveyed by words but in silence - by vibration by the Chin Mudra where the thumb is referred to as Pathy (Lord), the index finger as Pasu (Athma) and the next three fingers as Pasam - attachment due to Ego, Delusion and Kanmam. When the athma detaches itself from the three impurities it attains divinity. This was later spread by these sages. This is the philosophy of Saivaism.

According to Saivaims there are four means to reach God. They are the four steps for salvation. They are:

Sariyai - This is serving God physically like working in the temple, cleaning the premises and collecting flowers for poosai. Saint Thirunavakkarasar performed this by moving grass in the temple premises.

The next step is called ‘Kiriyai’. Lord Siva is depicted by Sivalingam which has a form and is also formless. Worshipping this symbol of God Siva both outwardly or in mind leads to Moksha - blissful state of Nirvanam.

The fourth is known as Yogam. It is also worshipping the formless God, by meditation and Yoga.

The last step is Gnanam, where worship is done with full knowledge of God Siva who is formless. Much practice is needed to attain this stage. Reading books of religion, listening to lectures on religion, meditation and reaching the state of Yogam are ways of worshipping God.

All these four methods lead the athma or soul to reach the Lotus Feet of God Siva.

This apart, let’s go back to the impurities that block the soul - athma to reach divinity. The worst as mentioned earlier is ego. Mythology talks of monsters called Asuras, Rakshasas. These are personifications of ego. Due to ignorance man is egoistic. His feeling of “‘I’ the great” is akin to the arrogance of these Asuras. Out of ego or ignorance of what is the real truth the total truth man does many evil deeds.

When he gets enlightened, that is gains true knowledge his ego vanishes. This true knowledge is symbolised by the weapons of the Gods. The lance or spear of God Murugan, the Trident or Shirisoolam of God Siva and Sakthi, the Chakra (disc) and Club and Chang (conch shell) of Lord Vishnu. So these stories from Mythology are allegories like the characters in John Bunyans “Pilgrim’s Progress”.

If seen in this light the meaning of all these mysterious stories of legends and mythology are as clear as crystal to the reader.

The Monster or Rakshasa or Asura called ego is within a person.

“If mild, very little harm is done. If strongly egoistic then it will lead one to do all the atrocities possible - thieving, lying, killing, stealing another’s property and spouse, what not? These heinous sins are all committed out of ignorance. The only way to vanquish ego is to pray to the Gods to help. With knowledge and wisdom ago vanishes.

“Air rushes into where there is vacuum, Absolute rushes into where there is no ego,” said Swami Sivananda.

Saint Thayumanavar asks, “As the atmosphere merges itself in space when shall I be able to merge myself in the blissful beyond?” The answer you will all know by the time you read through this script.

The first step is to vanquish ego. Next is absolute surrender to the Absolute and lead a righteous life of Dharma for as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsar said, “Dharma is the apt word for Hinduism, Dharma upholds the universe.”


VASAVAN said...

I am native of Madurai and its pleasure to view an article about my own town named 'Temple City'. Best wishes for your blog

Shan Nalliah / GANDHIYIST said...