Translated from Tamil By J. Jayaraman

The Skanda Mahapurana and a portion from the Linga Purana were translated into Tamil verse by Saiva Ellappa Naavalar, who lived about three hundred years ago during the reign of the Tanjore Nayaks. Running to 649 verses this work, is known as Arunachala Puranam. It is an exquisite original composition and enjoys the status of a Sthala Purana (in Tamil) on the 'story' of holy Arunachala (Tiruvannamalai).

Sthala Puranas record divine events, royal deeds and people's piety, all relating to a particular sthala, region. The incident of Lord Siva appearing as a column of light, thus baffling the forces claiming absolute doership, is perhaps the primal (and eternal) act of Grace; for it contains Time itself in its womb. This story finds mention in some form or the other in the Vedas and various Puranas, and specific references to Arunachala occur in different Sanskrit texts of antiquity.

The Arunachala Puranam excels the original in many a place, especially where the poet revels in a description here or brings to light there a subtle point easily ignored by the reader in the original. In addition, the metre changes now and then, providing instantaneously the atmosphere and rhythm which blend with the events the poet seeks to convey through words. It is hoped that a reader not acquainted with Tamil will get a taste of the Puranam through these vignettes.

After the verses offering prayer to Ganesha and Nataraja, the poet extols Arunachala as the fertile and sacred region where the Suns and Moons, the Bhairvas, Vidyadaras, Devas, and those in charge of the Eight Directions, the Nagas, great Tapasvins and Munis, and Brahmas and Vishnus gather in such proximity that there is no place left to prostrate, and so their wave-like cry of "Hara, Hara!" drowns even the roar of oceans. The spectacle of the youthful women of this place, tender breasted, with pleasing mien, an ornament on either ear, makes one wonder whether a shining, cool, ambrosial moon (their face) had arisen in day-time accompanied by two suns (two ear-ornaments)!

Then follow verses praising Arunachaleswara (Siva), Unnamulai Amman (Parvati), Ganesa and Subrahmanya. These are followed by obeisance to the Tamil saints and finally to Nandi, Durga, Rishi Gautama and Chandikeswara. The poet then ridicules his own attempt at singing a few songs in the presence of eminent pandits skilled in composing songs pregnant with the eight Rasas[1]. He likens his bravado to that of a mosquito trying to show a thing or two about flying, in the presence of the Swan, mount of Brahma, and Garuda, mount of Vishnu.

The wise, however, would accept without ridicule his feeble attempts, because Arunachala is the theme of the songs, the same way as water by virtue of admixture with milk becomes elevated; or as a common thread becomes acceptable by virtue of being strung through fragrant flowers.

On the Glory of the Arunachala Sthala:

Once, the sage Markandeya, leading a group of Rishis, prayed to Nandikeswara to tell them about easy ways to cross the Ocean of Samsara and reach Mukti. The Lord deigns to reply that a dip in the holy Ganges at Kasi (Benares) done in full faith, or shedding one's mortal coils there; being born in Tiruvaaroor (Kamalalaya); a glimpse of the Dance of the Three-Eyed one at Chidambaram; a visit to Vriddhachalam where Vishnu offered worship to Siva and received the Chakra as boon; a pilgrimage to Kedarnath; Darsana of the Lord at Mallikarjuna whom Brahma worships prior to every creation - all these are ways to Mukti. Further, there is Kalahasti where Siva stands as a hill in order that Vishnu, wearer of the fragrant Tulasi garland, and Lakshmi, resident of the cool, honey-dripping Lotus, may have His direct Darsana from their holy abode on the Tirupati Hill. Not only that, He also resides on the hill of Kalahasti as the Linga worshipped of yore by the hunter-saint Kannappar. Further there are Kanchipuram of great renown, Kumbhakonam, Seerkazhi, Madurai, Rameswaram and many more which lead to Mukti by mere virtue of birth or death there or by worship of the Lord therein.

Hearing these words of Nandikeswara, Markandeya addressed him as follows: Visiting these diverse places and offering worship and engaging oneself in allied activities is quite a task even for the long-lived gods and siddhas. What then can mortal men hope to gain in a life-span brief as a flash of lightening? Worse still is the plight of animals and birds, and hopeless indeed the fate of trees and shrubs. I request you therefore to enlighten us about a place with power to grant Release not only for trees, beasts and birds, but also for the old, the inform and the lame among men for whom bathing in rivers, pradakshina, ritual worship and namaskara are out of the question. Please enlighten us about such a place in which any jiva could be confident of kaivalya, release. When thus the Sage Markandeya, the vanquisher of Death, worshipped with the other sages the Lotus-feet of Nandikeswara, the Lord raised his palm in benediction as if to say: "I shall tell you!" However the very remembrance of Arunachala in his Heart, prior to his uttering that word, struck Nandikeswara himself speechless in non-dual bliss! He sat still for long, with palms joined as if in prayer, hair standing on end all over the tingling body, with tear-filled eyes, and in a trance. Then as if awakening, he sang forth: "O Lord of Arunagiri, wearing the Ganges in your matted hair! O Lord of Flaming Eyes, who ever overwhelms us with your Grace!" He then proceeded to address the sages:

"Listen. There is a place on earth which grants Deliverance to any created being, moving or unmoving, by the mere remembrance of its sacred Name. It has innumerable names. Some of these are: Gowri Nagara, Tejo Nagara, Arunachala, Sivaloka Nagara, Mukti Nagara, Jnana Nagara, Sthaleswara (the Supreme among sacred spots), Suddha Nagara, Dakshina Kailasa (Southern Kailasa), Sonagiri and so on. Being the Spiritual Centre of Creation it draws the gods, sages and Tapasvins, in short anyone who thinks of it, to itself. There is a Hill there which stands in Krita Yuga as a Hill of Fire, in Treta as one of Diamond, in Dvapara as a Golden Hill and in Kali Yuga as a Hill of Stone. When even Vishnu as a boar and Brahma as a swan had to abandon their long-drawn search to find its beginning and end, can we hope to find a Hill to equal Arunachala? The Sun, thirsting to sip from the springs on this Hill, the water of which even the celestial Ganges considers holy directs his chariot-horses to leap over Arunachala daily!

When dense clouds of white surround its base, it appears as though Arunachala were a rising peak amidst a snow-clad Himalayas! To cap it all, the Deepam which is lit on its summit during the cool month of Kartik seems like a prominent diamond on a grand crown worn by Mother Earth. Why, even Himavaan, the god of the Mountains, was once crest-fallen that he had to give his daughter Uma in marriage to a mendicant, the skull-carrying Siva. But leaping with joy when informed of how Siva had once silenced Brahma and Vishnu by assuming the form of a Hill, Himavaan exclaimed with obvious relief, "How wonderful to know that our son-in-law belongs to our race after all!"

Reiterating the greatness of Arunachala, Nandikeswara tells the assembled sages:

That even murderers, those of easy virtue, or the disabled and those that live far away, are assured of Mukti if they but remember well the holy Arunachala once. The place is Sivaloka itself and its every pebble the holy Linga; every tree and shrub there is a wish-fulfilling kalpaka tree; every spring therein is the holy Ganges issuing forth from the matted tress of Siva; to eat a morsel there is to partake of the amrta of gods, a mere perambulation of it is pradakshina of Earth itself. Any sound uttered therein is to utter Sruti profound! Need we add that even to sleep there, is to be in Samadhi supreme? Abandon therefore any possibility of finding an equivalent to Arunachala!

Saying these words of praise Nandikeswara remained still, where seated, immersed in Bliss. The sages prostrated again and again to the Lord, themselves lost in it.

Then Markandeya, son of Mrkandu, came forward and begged the Lord to narrate to them all, how the Arunachala Hill came to be formed. Nandi was pleased to say, "If a wretch should contemplate committing the pancha patakas, (the five sins of murder, theft, falsehood, intoxication, and abuse of Guru)[2] in that sacred place, he would purely by virtue of his remembrance of "Arunachala", be saved somehow, and led to Liberation. Such is the undisputed sanction of the sacred scriptures. Would this Supreme Grace be then withheld from those devoted, who seek to hear more and more about the Holy Hill? The benefits are assured for my own self too!"

In what follows, Nandi describes involution of Samsara, as the process of merger of Brahma into Vishnu into Rudra into Maheswara into Sadasiva. This entity in turn relapses into Bindu that into Nada, and finally into Sakti which is Awareness inseparable from Being, called Supreme Siva, Parama Siva. Srishti Krama, the process of evolution, appears in reverse, due to the very nature of Supreme Being. During such an evolution, when Brahma appeared, he held in mind the idea of "many". Almost instantaneously the Prajapatis, progenitors of races, came into being. Through them arrived in ordered succession the races of Adityas (Gods); Daityas (Rakshasas), and Danavas (the demonic races of Asuras); the intermediate beings called Kalakeyas, Gandharvas and nymphs, Garudas, Panis (serpents), Kinnaras, the Anthropoids and the great races of Rishis and Humans.

All this creation taking place by his mere contemplation of it was sufficient to turn Brahma's (many) heads. Puffed up with the pride of omnipotence that seemed to be his, he decided to put Vishnu in his place once and for all! (This was undoubtedly an oft-repeated occurrence throughout the cycles of Creation. Forgetfulness of one's Source has a lot to do with this, surely. For, there are other accounts of a nascent Brahma venturing out of the Lotus in which he found himself. After climbing over many a row of petals and then sliding a while down its seemingly endless stalk, he soon lost courage. Vishnu, from whose navel the divine Lotus grew in the first place, restores Brahma to his 'abode' with full paternal concern. It was a very grateful Brahma who went ahead with Creation on that occasion!) But things were obviously very different now.

Deciding to take matters into his own multiple hands, Brahma confronted Vishnu, as the latter lay on his bed of snake, and taunted him thus: "It is very clear to me now, that I am the cause of all this Creation that is taking place. So abandon any idea you may have that you are my Parent. If it were not for my act of Creation, you would be unemployed! Useless!" Vishnu spoke out: "My dear son! It does not befit you to talk disrespectfully to your Parent." Brahma, inflamed, let forth much abuse: "Enough of this. Give up right away the hallucination that you are the Great Preserver! Otherwise I shall create another one and entrust him with your job." When Vishnu replied rather casually as if tolerating an errant junior, Brahma blew up in anger. "Oho! So you seem to have forgotten that the wonderful Ocean on which you reside is merely the accumulated sweat of my toils. Better hide yourself in it before the Cosmic powers that I might well create, surround you and destroy you!

Hearing these wicked words Vishnu felt as if red-hot spears had been driven through his ears. With mounting anger he laughed spewing smoke, and after some thought replied, "Foolish fellow! You have neither bothered to enquire about your origin, nor shown inclination to accept my navel as your mother. Perhaps you assumed that as your parent I would tolerate any amount of mischief from a toddler like you. Beware! There is a limit to everything. The asuras Madhu and Kaitabha opposed me, and, though they were born of my body-sweat, I destroyed them. One cannot show mercy even if it be one's own child that did wrong. Does anyone shy from surgically removing a painful boil on one's own body? It is indeed comic that you consider yourself to be at the head of all creation, when you are unable to fashion for yourself a head and replace it - the fifth head, once plucked by Siva! Is it with these unenviable credentials that you set about creating this world, which after all is held aloft by Adisesha, my servant? And have you forgotten so soon that you squealed for help when an Asura ran away with the Vedas, and it was I who came to your rescue? I took the form of a fish then, out of my own sweet will. Innumerable have been the times when I have rushed to your succour by routing the Danavas whenever they tormented you. One who has planted a tree is reluctant to uproot it even if it turns out to be a poisonous one. Though I hesitate on account of your being my son, I shall have to punish you if you persist in your invective."

Can fire subside by adding fuel to it? The exchange of hot words culminated soon in each drumming on his own chest, and the two circling each other like ferocious wrestlers, now advancing, now retreating, now leaping to the ground, now getting close, and goring each other with gimlet-eyes aflame with anger. All of creation went hay-wire. Mountains crumbled to powder, galaxies blew up in explosion, hot suns and cool moons disappeared enmasse. Rivers turned dry in a trice, stars and nebulae scattered like confetti and the guardians of the Eight Dimensions (Ashta Dik Paalakaas) feared the worst. Even the gods, who are of steady gaze, found themselves wincing, shocked by this sudden cataclysm. The fight for supremacy took a higher pitch with the combatants delivering blows to each other in the cosmic Arena. Punching each other, lifting the fallen one by his thighs and twirling him rapidly before throwing him far and high, the two, near equals, kept switching roles of victor and vanquished. The rise and fall of the dark-hued Vishnu and bright-hued Brahma looked like night following day amidst a pugilistic pell-mell.

The sequel is well known: the sudden appearance of a blazing Column of Light growing beyond the seven planes below and the seven above; the search for its limits by the proud pair, which reminds one of an ignorant child reaching out to grasp the moon reflected in the water, Brahma's lie; the eventual humbling of the two by the appearance of Siva from the effulgence; His command proscribing all worship of Brahma on earth, and His appeasement by the contrite couple, who sing His praise.

On the Holy Descent of the Divine Mother:
Nandikeswara continued: Listen, O Markandeya! I shall tell you how the divine Mother, Sati, came to be born as Parvati, daughter of Himavan, the King of the hills, and how she was wedded to Siva, the non-dual One, and how she came to be born on earth.

The Episode of Sati:
Daksha, the progenitor born of Brahma's right-thumb, was never too happy about the skull-carrying Siva whom fate had decreed to be his son-in-law. He bore a grudge ever since the latter had paid him, his father-in-law, no special attention and respect in an august assembly where he had been Siva's guest.

Soon he organized a Brhaspatisavana sacrifice, inviting all the Twelve, the Eleven, the Eight, and the Seven[3] and also the Serpents, Kinnaras, Yakshas and Siddhas, and a host of sages. Vishnu and Brahma were there with their consorts. Behold, my Lord Siva and Sati, being uninvited, were absent. When Sati expressed to Siva her wish to attend her father's great Yaga, sacrifice, the Lord replied that they had not been invited. But knowing well what was to follow, He smiled teasingly and said, "Go yourself, and come back soon!" She reached her parents' place. Her warm embrace of her mother Asikini was rebuffed. Her misguided father uttered words mean and mordant when she prostrated before him. Stung to the quick, Sati stormed out of the place but not before cursing the precincts and the participants to a moribund ravage.

Elsewhere, the crescent moon on the matted locks of the One ever her other half, began to spew out heat, and out of His angered third Eye emanated a fierce form that sent shock-waves through space. Dark as a cloud, wearing an emerald crown, like a motile Meru mountain, mouthing thunder and spouting virulence, Veerabhadra appeared with bloating body and twitching eye-brows before Siva, saying: "Command, command, command, my Lord!" Bidden to rout a rascally ritual, Veerabhadra sped thither; the mighty hordes, the Siva Ganas, close on this heels. With the hordes holding for him umbrellas pearl-studded, Veerabhadra went forth on a 100-bull-elephant-drawn chariot amidst the Ganas blowing war-calls from crores of Conches. Furious at the considerable slight to their Lord, the Ganas entered the Yagasala. The Lords of the Eight Directions clashed with the irrepressible invaders. The field was but a blur of sword, spear, mace and guided missiles. With the leisurely ease of Ammanai, a woman's parlour game, the Ganas made mincemeat of the Devas and their celestial vehicles. There was a tense moment when eight of the Bhutas fell and the rest stood in shock, but Veerabhadra cast eight projectiles which drank the life-blood of some gods and wounded the rest. The rider of the Cloud hopped off it in haste and took flight, changing himself into a cuckoo. In shame Nirriti, Varuna, Vaayu, Kubera and Isaana showed a clean pair of heels. Yama, lord of death, died, Agni, lord of the leaping flames, had his seven hands severed like the round of births by mere remembrance of Arunachala. Painlessly cutting away the ears of milady's mother with his laser-like Vajra, Veerabhadra confronted Daksha who rushed at him drunk with sacrificial Soma and wielding an uprooted pillar. It was a terrible scene, for the Yajamaana, the head of the Yaga, was himself beheaded. In a trice the head went rolling, and instantly, an impatient Gana went and gobbled it up!

Veerabhadra's work continued: his wielded trident left a trail of death where it went. The crowds of Rudras, Maruts, Vasus and the groups of Rishis hiding behind bushes or on trees - none, neither god nor goddess was spared. Veerabhadra and the Ganas routed the ritual and the ritualists, putting to flight divinities who had the temerity to attend a sacrifice to which their Lord, Siva, was not welcome.

Noticing that Brahma kept creating more gods, Veerabhadra cut off his hands, and impaled with the Trident the heads of the ten gods that Brahma, crippled in hands, had created through mind. That done, he took on Vishnu.

What follows may strike some devotees as irreverent, but we should not forget that the Puranas are united in their intent: that, however exalted a power one may be, there is a price to pay if ego emerges. And so, when Vishnu found his volley of arrows foiled by Veerabhadra, he threw a sword which the latter broke with an arrow that aped on to kill Garuda. With a face further darkened by the turn of events, Vishnu[4] hurled the space-warping Discus. Swifter than light, deadlier than death, it sped toward Veerabhadra, and took refuge at his feet. Had not Vishnu once offered worship of a thousand choice flowers to Siva, and at the very end of it, finding himself short of a flower, readily offered his own lotus-eye? Had not Siva presented him then with this Chakra, discus? What wonder then? Vishnu vanished, reappearing as a boar, then a lion and so on. Veerabhadra's weapons proving invincible, he hid himself as a fish deep in the ocean's bowels. He who had once swallowed the earth[5] once again did it, hiding in its bowels. When Siva heard of all that had happened through Veerabhadra, His anger was quenched. The lesson taught, He revived all who had fallen prey to His wrath, and restored each to his status quo ante bellum.

What of Daksha and Sati? He who begot Sati got a goat for his head. Sati, unable to bear the shame of being called daughter of the one who insulted her Lord, had already taken her life by her yogic will.

The Episode of Parvati:
Sati was reborn as the lovely child of Himavan (Lord of the Himalayas) and Mena, in answer to their Tapas and prayer for a daughter who would marry none other than Siva. How can I describe greatness of the Tapas of Himavan and Mena which brought forth Sakti? The Sakti which, while ever remaining as Para united with Siva, also springs forth as Creative Energy Aparaa, giving birth to the Seer-Seen duo and the Knowledge-Will-Action (Jnana-Iccha-Kriya Sakti) trio. The Sakti from which pure Maya gives birth to the potential and the manifest, the Implicate and the Explicate, the Nada and the Bindu. The Sakti, the primal seed from which sprout powers of Cosmic Management (called Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra).

Oh! The Tapas of Himavan and Mena to have given birth to the Womb of all creation before and after! Lovelier by the day the lass grew, like the waxing moon, and like the sugarcane grown fondly by Kama (Cupid) for enticing the three-eyed One some day. Narada, knower of arts, science and the Vedas, came there one day, and informed Himavan that from certain marks that he had noticed in lovely Uma, it was certain that she would soon develop a half-eye on her forehead and a trident in one of her hands. The breast on that side would gradually disappear. Half her emerald-green body would turn coral-red, and half her lovely hair would turn matted. Himavan who was overjoyed to infer from this that Uma was indeed the bride-to-be of Siva, was further elated when informed that Siva, the eternal Celibate, was for some mysterious reason performing Tapas very near Himavan's abode. (We however know that Siva somewhat dejected with the loss of Sati took to a life of seclusion and meditation). Offering his obeisance to Siva, Himavan bade Uma, assisted by her friends, to remain there with the Lord and serve him with devotion.

There were other developments elsewhere. The demon Taraka, empowered by Tapas, was making a hell of heaven. A shocked Brahma found himself facing a high level team that looked quite downcast. Deprived of their godly crowns, there they stood: Indra with his broken Vajra, Isana with his blunted Hatchet, Yama with his Trident twisted, and so on. "Taraka . . ." was all that they could stutter, in reply to Brahma's query regarding the cause of their ignominy. Seized by the horrible threat from Tarakasura to the gods, Brahma advised: Abandon any hope of saving the situation through individual efforts. This demon Taraka had got the boon that he could be defeated only by a son born to Siva the eternal recluse. Rather clever of him. So busy yourself conjuring up ways to consummate the marriage of Shailaja (hill-born Parvati) with the Celibate.

Returning to Amaravati, Indra had only to think of Manmatha, Cupid, when he appeared before him asking: 'Whose Tapas do you want disturbed? Which damsel do you want stricken with my Arrows? Why this sorrow-laden face?' Much depended on what Mara (Cupid) could do. Re-enacting the characteristic drama of new-found intimacy in times of distress, Indra embraced his friend Manmatha with both his arms, and according him an honoured seat, explained to him the role of Mara had to play in enticing Chandramauli[6] from his austerities. Convinced that this was nothing short of asking for the moon, Manmatha explained: 'Who can disturb the Tapas of the One who is ever beyond epistemology (means of knowledge) in the form of sensation (Pratyaksha), mentation (Anumana, inference), or citation (Sruti)? By the very Sannidhi (proximity) of the consummate Virgin and the faultless Celibate, creation emerges, stays, and merges, like thought-forms in Mind. Though He is described as Tamasic, His Svarupa, essential form, is Fire. He cannot be framed by form; nor can He, as formless, be circumscribed. Worse still, I could do my Job only if I knew for sure that my target was a male or that it was a female. Siva is neither male, nor females, nor both! I am sorry. It's beyond me to budge the Bull-rider.

Realising that the situation called for drastic measures, Indra got up, and launched into heady adulation of Ananga's[7] prowess. 'Have you forgotten that it was by your amorous ammunition that Vishnu got Lakshmi seated in His breast, and Saraswati took residence on Brahma's tongue? Why! Was it not due to our virile greatness that even I, Indra, came to acquire a thousand eyes?[8] Now clasping Kama's arm with both his hands, Vajrabahu[9] shot his bolt. 'Please go for my sake! Success with Siva spells birth of Skanda. And that means life again for all Devas. It is the supreme moment for you! Please do not refuse. Grant me this one boon!'

Thus thoroughly seduced, Kama sped to Kailas, to move the Immovable. Armed with bow made of sugar-cane strung with a row of bumble-bees serving as bow-string, and his quiver of just five arrows tipped with five fragrances, Mara marched on. Riding with his consort Rati, on Southern Breeze that served as his fish-flagged chariot, and with indulgent Spring as his Prime Minister, Kama sped on. While the Moon wove its delicate web of lover's light, the cuckoos sang atop trees flush with flowers, and amidst the buzz of bumble-bees, emanating as calls to war from conch-like white jasmines, and with flowers being strewn about in honey-dripping flood all along the road, the female warriors of Kama, capable of melting even iron, copper and stone with their street talk, ambled on, holding in their hands, deadly harps that played on heart-strings. The romantic Night was Ananga's army of dark elephants; the twinkling stars were the silvery decorations on the faces and trunks of the elephants; and crimson sunset the Bindi-dot adorning their foreheads. Parrots were the Cavalry, while warriors - dainty damsels with doughty breasts and coral lips sauntered on swishing their sword-sharp eyes.

Fearing a direct confrontation, Kama hid himself out of view of the serenely seated figure of Siva and began to wonder what to do. He saw Uma approaching, and was suddenly filled with renewed confidence in having found a female accomplice. What was a crisis was not a cake-walk! As he bent his sugar-cane bow - the poet makes a delightful play on words here - Kama thought, "Even if this bow of the form of sugar-cane, karumburuvam (Karumbu + uruvam)[10] be broken in the bargain, why should I worry? Have I not the black brows, karumburuvam (karum + buruvam) of Uma, to stand in as two more brows!" What followed this is history. As Kama released the arrows, he was burnt to ashes by a ray from Siva's third Eye.
Later, leaving that sport, Siva returned to Kailas and calling the sages to His side told them that Parvati was engaged in long Tapas for gaining Him as her husband, and so He instructed them to go to Himavan and inform him that Siva was happy to seek her hand in marriage. Himavan and his family were thrilled to hear of this. The auspicious date for the Supreme alliance was fixed and communicated back to the Lord. Soon invitations were despatched to the near and dear - the seven (kinds of) hills, the seven Oceans, Devas, Siddhas and Rishis.

Soon thereafter the Oceans, the garland meandering Rivers, the blue-mountain (Nilgiris) and other ranges, and Siddhas and Munis and Devas began to arrive. The Eight directions on earth were jammed with chariots and flags, the free space above was a packed parking-lot for aerial limousines. The streets were filled with garlands, festoons, and stumps of large-leaf plantains and areca palms planted as arches over doorways. The fragrance of the civet-paste obtained from the hills charged the environs. The pomp and circumstance shamed Vishnu's Vaikuntha, Brahmaloka, Kubera's Alagapuri and Indra's Amaravati put together.

The ladies of the hills bathed the Bride in the waters from Ganga. Her slim waist weighted with silken dresses, Uma was decorated with ornaments of pearl and gem and garlands of fragrant flower, and adorned with the Kasturi Tilaka on her forehead. Siva, habitual wearer of the sacred ash, who scorched to ashes the flower wielding Smara (Kama), now Himself was bedecked with flowers from the divine Kalpaka tree! Aided by Brahma and others, who clothed Him in habits studded with diamonds, Siva for once forsook from His neck and arms the fearsome Snakes that concealed lustrous diamonds in their heads (maa mani ppanigal neekki), and put on necklets and armlets of nine gems (maa mani ppanigal pootti). Then sporting a brilliant bejewelled crown that seemed as if the heavenly stars had all gathered at His tresses to be near their Master the crescent Moon, and wearing kundalas (large rings) that made it seem as if the Sun and Moon of His eyes had taken residence just below His ears, the resplendent bridegroom mounted the Rishabha, Bull.

When Vishnu best-man came near and uttered words of praise, the Lord lovingly spoke to him; when Brahma, lord of the lotus-bloom, approached in respectful obeisance, he was greeted with a nod of the crown (that 'contained' the head of the Infinite); when Indra next came forward singing a paean of praise, Siva the Plenum of Stillness bestowed on him a special smile! The other gods followed, paying their obeisance. Had the crescent Moon, nourished by the Ganges hidden in His tresses, grown so large as to become the wide, white canopy held aloft above Him? Were the two chowries (whisk fans waved by royal attendants) the white spray of the Ganges and the Moon? As the Lord proceeded now towards Kailas, Vishnu, Lord of Lakshmi, followed with the betel-bag, Indira, king of the celestial Kalpaka, carried the Tambula-vessel to receive the red remains, Brahma fanned, while Narada's sweet strains and the drone of his divine Tambura floated afar. Yama was just a wee bit behind bringing the wooden Sandals; while Vayu was busy burning Sambrani (incense of fragrant benzoin) and Isana duly carried in velvet the regal Sword.

While Saraswati and Lakshmi sprinkled holy rose-water on all the guests, the divine damsels bore bags holding rare garments, the Naga nymphs came carrying apparel sewn with all sorts of gems; and the Kinnaras playing on their lutes, and the Vidyadaras singing in chorus "Pallaandu, Pallaandu" (Long Live!), and the clang of cast bell, the rhythm of diverse drums, the crash of cymbals and solemn siren of conch was a son et lumiere truly for the gods! As the Lord rode through the city of Himavan, the women along the streets feasted their eyes on the One who would marry their princess. Some said: "Ah! Uma's Tapas has not been in vain" Some craned curious necks wondering": "Which is the eye of fury which burnt up Cupid?" Some other pronounced: "All the archery of Ananga (Kama) is to no purpose really, for all of Creation remained placid to his passion as long as Siva remained in Yoga. On the other hand, even with Kama no more, all are now aquiver with ardour merely by the Pinakin[11] (Siva) bestirring himself to desire. Surely it is He who is the primal Cause of pining Passion!"

Himavan leading his mountainous Family came forth and welcomed the Groom and his swelling crowds amidst much bonhomie and mutual embrace. With Brahma giving Him a helping hand, the Immeasurable, beyond beginning and end, alighted from the Bull-mount. The waving of saffron-water and light followed. Then, resting His right hand on both hands of the best-man (Vishnu), the Lord proceeded to the hall of marriage, and took the Groom's seat before the glowing Fire. With their ample breasts announcing their origins, the maidens of the mountains conducted Kali (Parvati the black beauty) the embodiment of Grace, as if she were a delicate flower, to the right side of her consort. As the moment of Muhurta neared, Brahma progenitor of the Vedas, now as the chief Priest, voiced them once again. The Ritual came to a close when the Primal One offered puffed rice to the ghee-fed flames, and then, chanting the crucial mantras circumambulated the Fire (his own essence), holding the hand of the Virgin, Mother of the seven Worlds.

When the gods gathered to pay their obeisance to the newly-married, the Lord acquiesced to their combined entreaty, and, to the delight of Rati, resurrected Kama from the ashes, now Ananga (bodiless). The Marriage over, the gods dispersed, each returning to his or her station in the cosmic Scheme.

Ganesa and Subrahmania were born soon thereafter and while the gods, who had suffered long enough, watched in suspense; Subrahmania waged war with the redoubtable Tarakasura and destroyed him with his valiant Vel (Spear).

On the Blind-Folding of the Lord:
The Newlyweds would have tiffs, then make up; garland each other, listen to their praises sung by the Rishis, play on the Veena; dally in spirited sport or pass time in games, winning and losing them to one another. On one such occasion Parvati asked her Lord, "Won't you tell me what the Moon and Sun are?" He replied, "Dear lass of lush Lips! The two lights are but my Eyes!" Thinking that he was teasing her, the mother of Kartikeya went behind him and, without any warning, closed his Eyes. The momentary closure meant aeons of darkness for the gods. All of embodied life behaved as if born blind. Aye! Order and organisation broke down in the absence of the Eye-energy. In what was a trice for him, the Lord opened the Third Eye on his uncovered fore-head. The Destroyer had turned Life-giver! As Gauri drew her hands back, the three Eyes shone like the three Vedic fires (dakshina, garhapatya and ahavaneya) powering the 'unplanned' power-cut. When Parvati begged for forgiveness Siva replied, "You are ever taintless and beyond Karma. However, if you desire to set an example of purification, go to Kanchi which is greater than Kasi, Avanti, Dwaraka and Mathura." Narrations of the holy Mother's Tapas at various places are scattered through the Puranas. Was the Lord now advising her of the superiority of Kanchi over those places of her earlier visits?

What follows is well known. From Kasi Parvati reaches Kanchi; makes a sand-Linga by the Kampa River and worships it day and night. The Lord wills a flood in order to test her devotion. She embraces the Linga in protection unmindful of her own fate in the spate. Pleased, the Lord appears before her, "with his shoulders bearing the marks of the Pandya king's cane[12], his feet the marks of crowns of countless gods, his chest, embraced recently, bearing the mark and sandal-scent of Parvati's breasts and bangles"! She requests for the ultimate boon of Idappaham, of being his left Half. The ultimate asking; the adviteya. The Ultimate, giving, said, "purified in Kanchi, proceed now southward to holy Tiruvannamalai. Resident as the primal Linga contracted to a Hill; there I shall grant this boon!" Parvati, wise after the event, said, "Following your advice I came to Kanchi 'superior to Kasi'. And now you mention Arunachala! Please let me know right away if more places exist!" The Lord gave her his word that the Tejolinga (Arunachala) is the Terminus.

Enroute to Arunachala from Kanchi, Parvati encamped for the night at Seyar, the Son's River. It was here that Lord Subrahmania got a hut made of plantain trees for Her rest and the following morning enabled with a thundering arrow, a river of pure water to flow for Her ablutions.

Passing then through paddy fields Parvati reached Tiruvannamalai. After obeisance to the Lord at the Temple to the east, she began to look for a spot to purse Tapas. At the nearby Pavazhu Kunru, Coral hillock, a spur of Arunachala Hill, she met the Rishis assembled at the Sage Gautama's Ashrama who sang the praise of Mother Parvati.

"Bringing forth the Eternal Siva from within you, you appear then within Him as the animating Sakti! With this, They mysterious nature (of Siva-within-Sakti-within-Siva), you procreate your multiple jivas. Is there anyone capable of finding out your nature which for ever remains non-dual!"

"If the Supreme Reality of Siva becomes Maheswara, Rudra, Brahma and Vishnu you become simultaneously the Saktis known as Maheswari, Rudri, Saraswati and Lakshmi. Other than these should He assume any 'other'. You become correspondingly. Is there anyone capable of knowing you!"

When the Munis and Rishis were praising Parvati thus, Gautama arrived, and coming near Her with hands raised above his head in supplication, prostrated before her lotus-like feet.

Gautama, lofty in devotion, then addressed Her to Her delight, "What immense good have I done that Thy divine feet, that even Brahma (the First-born) and the Ashta Dikpalas (the sentinels of the eight Quarters) cannot hope to place on their heads bowed low, should be gracing this most humble abode of mine!" Hearing this, Parvati, gentle as a creeper, said, "Should need arise I shall go to the Spear-Wielder (Subrahmania), or the Tusker (Ganesa) to remove my want. Or else I shall come to you, dear son, who have such love for me."

She then related in detail all that had taken place till then during her penance on earth. Hearing the Mother of all speak thus, Gautama who had (by a curse) bestowed on Indra, doer of a hundred Yagas, in times of yore a thousand eyes, spoke as follows:
"This Abode, the primal One, is known as the Abode Supreme and is sacred par excellence. One good deed done here multiplies manifold of itself. Therefore do Thou conduct ardent penance here. They Lord will then surely come on His bull-mount and reabsorb you as His left Half."

"(O Mother) even Vishnu, Brahma, the Vasus, Indra, and a host of Munis had in days gone by, made their dwelling here and completed the penance of solitude. The place is right and the time auspicious. Thy penance is thus assured of success."

The sage Gautama told her, "This holy place is ideally wooded for a radius of two yojanas (18 miles) and teems with life and life-giving streams. The distraction of crowds of gods and siddhas that frequent this Hill for worship has made me take shelter in the thick but secluded forest of this spur. Therefore do you too choose a spot nearby!" (The Purana indicates clearly that Gautama's Ashrama was at Pavazha Kunru to the east and that Parvati did Tapas near his Ashrama. This is also consistent with later events: she kills the demon and cleanses herself at the Khadga Tirtha which lies near the spur she then begins, the pradakshina of the Hill from the east, and completes is there). Then the Mother Supreme, the Womb of all creation said, "Indeed I shall do Tapas here and gain my end."

On the Episode of Obtaining Idappaham, Merger:
Indeed the aranyakas, forests, are the fountain springs germinating and sustaining all that is best in Vedic wisdom and life. The Light of the Upanishad was communicated under the shade of the silent tree. Parvati began her Tapas in the forest of Tiruvannamalai, then home to Nature's wild splendour. Could such magnificence escape the malefic marauder? The troops of the demon king Mahishasura came from afar to capture the wild elephants, and to hunt for flesh and fancy the wild board, bison, leopard and doe which roamed free in the forest, alert and aware. Mahisha's lusty letter to Parvati led to her warning him, "This is the residence of those committed to the ideal of Dharma. Those who misuse their advantage to evil ends here will lose their ease and die diseased, all their strength and authority wiped out. Do not incite Lord Arunachala, fiery by nature, towards anger, lest you should be destroyed. Beware!"

(The events that followed are well known and we shall confine ourselves to certain interesting aspects alone). In the battle that ensued, Mahisha, the buffalo-headed demon, proved redoubtable to Durga, the militant emanation from Parvati. When decapitated, the 'buffalo' took the form of a mad elephant. Beheaded, he went on successively taking the forms of a horse, of darkness and even appeared before her as Brahma and Vishnu. Then Durga prayed to Uma in her heart. The Supreme directed her to continue till the Asura assumed his original buffalo form. She was then to cut off his head and hold it under her foot. Mahisha met his end thus.

After slaying Mahisha, Parvati went in pradakshina of the holy Hill. Half-way, near the west, the Lord gave darshan on his bull-mount. Her going round the Hill was like Parvati's earlier circumambulation of the sacred Agni on the day of her Marriage! As she neared the east completing her pradakshina, the Lord absorbed her as his left-Half.

[1] Romance, Valour, Humour, Compassion, Ferocity, Disgust, Wonder and Fear.

[2] Murder: To ascribe birth to oneself. Theft: Illegal appropriation of false individuality. Falsehood: To believe "I am this limited, evolving body-mind". Intoxication: Self in search of happiness and Self-realization. Abuse of Guru: Not surrendering individuality while prostrating to Siva or Self.

[3] Adityas, Rudras, Directions, Rishis, respectively.

[4] As Krishna, he is already dark.

[5] A leela of Krishna.

[6] Siva with the moon in his matted locks.

[7] Kama, the bodiless; called so here in tragic anticipation!

[8] Indra's caper with Ahalya earned him this curse from Gautama Rishi.

[9] Indra, wielder of the Vajra, thunderbolt.

[10] Buruvam (also pronounced as puruvam) is the Tamil for the Sanskrit bhruva (Brow).

[11] Wielder of the Trident (Pinaka).

[12] See Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam.