It was early Sunday morning that my mother and I hailed an auto and made our way to the Jambukeswarar-Akilandeswari Temple, Thirukadaiyur in the town of Tiruchirapalli. Typical of any tourist, we congratulated each other for choosing a time before the crowd thronged the temple as we deposited our slippers in a shop nearby.
I gingerly placed my bare feet on the lukewarm stone floor of the temple and sighed in relief. The roasting I got the previous day as I walked through the many praharas of the Srirangam temple was still fresh in my mind. Trichy’s morning crowd bespoke its availability to serve its visitors. Bright beautiful ladies in their crisp fresh sarees and turmeric smeared faces beckoned us to buy jasmine flowers wound neat and tight in cotton threads from their straw baskets. I marvel how a generation that I belonged to often overlook the opportunity to enhance our morning couture by the simple adornment of deftly weaved jasmine strands.
The temple was already busy, with people selling vessels and puja samagri on the sides, noisily inviting us to invest into their wares. I ignored their entreaties and walked past. A temple elephant stood on the side with its mahout hoping to find his first customer in a whining child and its tired mother next to it. I pitied the poor elephant for its relegated position of bowing and posing for photographs in this kali yuga, musing wickedly perhaps if I should pay the mahout to skip looking for customers.
Coming across the temple gopuram, I paused to look up. While most people race towards the garbhagriha or the sancto-sactoram of the temple, gopurams or temple gateways are a particular weakness of mine, I always pay quiet homage to the Shilpi or artists who have frozen scenes from puranas, often related to the deity inside. How tirelessly they may have worked to bring their creations for a temple that may have taken longer than their lifetimes to be completed? For the results driven culture I am a part of, I wondered how it would be to work on something the final results of which you may never get to witness.
I was pleasantly surprised as my feet waded through water that was flowing from the temple tank. Lifting the blue folds of my saree, I walked through thankful to be able to wash my feet before I entered the temple. Jambukeshwarar, the shiva linga embodying the water element of the pancha boothas, wished for me to get intimate with water before I entered his premises.
The temple itself was deserted, and we were able to get in front of the line quickly. The priest summoned us inside to look at the swayambu lingam that was shaped like a mound. Leaning lower, I strained to see the Shiva lingam as my eyes adjusted to the darkness with a lamp lit nearby. I could barely hear the water trickling underneath the lingam.
The sthala purana speaks of Parvati's chastisement when she interrupted Shiva’s penance (there are other stories associated as well). In repentance, she came down from Kailash to fashion a linga of water from the nearby Cauvery river by the Jambu trees. Shiva is said to have imparted Brahma Vidya to her as they assume the roles of a guru and disciple so Kalyanotsavam is not held here. Keeping with this tradition, the priest wears a saree as a representation of Parvati, and does the ucchi (noon) kala pujai everyday.
We walked through the deserted precincts towards the Devis sannidhi. The Goddess of the “Universe that is fashioned as a Cosmic Egg” is the direct translation of Akhilandeshwari. A chance arrival of some VIP locked us near the sannidhi allowing for an opportunity to chant the Lalitha Sahasranamam. My mother nudged me to not miss the Devil's ear studs or thatakas.
The local legend is that originally a ferocious or ugra form of the Devi was installed which resulted in her devotees approaching with trepidation. The saint Shankara is said to have quelled her ferocity by the appropriate placement of a statue of Ganesha in her unwavering gaze and furnishing mystical yantras as her earrings. After all, what mother's gaze doesn't soften by the sight of her beloved son?
The venerable Muthuswami Diskshitar (1776-1835 AD) who was a devout practitioner of the Sri Vidya sampradaya had composed some of his choicest verses in her honor. He called her dark as a raincloud (shyamale), bestower of the arts (sakala kale) and the eternal life force of all the worlds (nikhile loka aatmike). As one well-versed in the traditions of the agamas (Agama sampradAya nipuNE), he beseeches her to protect him.
Amma and I stayed on in the sanctum to finish the chants and made our way out only to be delightfully greeted by the temple elephant. It was bringing the waters for the Devi’s abhishekam as was its habit every morning. We watched in wonder as it walked confidently, followed mutely by an attendant with a khumba or pot of water on his head.This queen of Trichy deserved no less I thought!