I recently finished reading Dr. Jeffery Martin’s book ‘The Finders’, which is about finders, or the people who have access to what he calls as ‘fundamental well being’. Those finders also include the category of people who have found what I often write about – the spiritual enlightenment. The academic name for fundamental well being is ‘persistent non-symbolic experience (PSNE)’.
The book is based on the research and interviews conducted on nearly a thousand people who claim to be finders – or experiencing the states which are often referred to using words like Nondual awareness, Plateau experiences, Unity consciousness, Deautomatization, Enlightenment, Samadhi, Transcendental experiences, Flow experience, Mystical experiences, Satori Cosmic Consciousness, The peace of God, Peak experiences, Silence beyond sound, Numinous experiences, Shamanic ecstasy etc. (This list of words is taken from the website for his own research project : nonsymbolic.org).
Regardless of the quality of the research and the accuracy of his conclusions, this book is extremely useful for people who have reached these states of consciousness. Most importantly, it is pretty interesting and useful for people like me who have gone beyond the sense of agency or experiencing oneself as the ‘doer’. Because, this book has documented many things based on the inputs shared by many people who are awake (and possibly many people who have glimpses and have non-abiding awakening).
I liked the articulation and simplicity where he has explained the features of narrative self and challenges that a finder faces, especially in relationships. I have gone through a divorce after becoming a ‘finder’ and I can relate to it a lot. The book is overall wonderful but many facts that are presented can be challenged. As the author himself says, the findings need a lot of refinement and I would consider the research as being in an initial stage. We need input from other researchers and further experiments of similar nature from others to take this forward.
From my perspective, I find the concept of continuum a little problematic. May be it makes certain things easier from an academic point of view. But it is misleading to a seeker, in my opinion. I am also skeptical about many other things said in the book, like the possibility of losing one’s fundamental wellbeing.
I have discussed more in this video:
He also had a ‘Finder’s course’ to help people reach the fundamental well being and I heard that the cost was about $3000, which is a lot of money. And the claim that majority of the attendees reached fundamental well being is indeed extra-ordinary. Currently he has a program called ’45 Days to Awakening Challenge’ which costs about $500. Because of the huge claim that is being made and a very high cost, many people ask if it is a scam. If you have completed any of the above mentioned programs, comment your experiences below.
Every one has a hole inside them; the hole is made up of a sense of lack that causes the feeling that things are not still good enough. This hole is huge and enormous; it exists even for people who appear more happy than others…
Spiritual enlightenment makes your sense of lack to disappear not by filling the hole but making you to realize that this hole is an illusion. This hole was created by your conceptual or narrative self that always creates a story out of what is happening.
After enlightenment, you not only realize that the hole is an illusion but you also realize that the narrative self itself is an illusion; the one who wanted to get enlightened didn’t even exist in the first place….
The greatest irony of enlightenment is to realize that it was never absent.. You were trying to attain something that you already have.
What is spiritual awakening? If you are new to this whole thing, than I am going to offer you a fuzzy guide. The reason why I call it as ‘fuzzy’ is because that is how any real guide for spiritual awakening for a ‘beginner’ is supposed to be…
Imagine that you are walking in complete darkness in an area where sun light cannot enter (may be an extra-ordinarily thick forest) ; you have been walking for ages and you have adapted yourself to it. Sometimes you see fireflies and you call it as ‘happiness’. I am telling you that there is something beyond this where you can get much more of what those occasional glimpse of fireflies offer.
I have to tell you that there is a way out of forest where you can open yourself to bright sunlight; but you have forgotten what sunlight means. So I have to use firefly as an example until I take you to a place where I make you see a ray of sunlight. Once you see that ray you can trace the path yourself and find your way out.
A complete spiritual awakening or spiritual enlightenment is that place where you are completely open to sunlight. A glimpse of a single ray while being in the forest is the moment of your first spiritual awakening. And your existing human condition is the condition of a person who is walking in absolute darkness. Those fireflies are the fleeting moments of true peace and fullness that you experience when you get what you want in life.
I am not going to write it all out here. I am going to present an animated explainer video to you that gives some idea. Exploring more of my work through my Youtube channel, my blog here and my book will help you getting a direction after that.
My previous post was in 2020 and I know that this blog is idle for a long time without any posts.. I have been quite busy with my English and Tamil Youtube channels. But finally I decided to resurrect my blog today and write some updates on a regular basis…
This post is an introduction to my Youtube channel on spiritual enlightenment… Videos are win win for both of us.. It is easy for me to talk and it is easy for you to listen. So if you are looking for spiritual guidance, subscribe to my channel now:Subscribe Now
All these videos are based on my own experience of spiritual awakening. I also review spiritual books, gurus and teachers, review scientific papers on spirituality and talk a lot about transpersonal psychology.
Here are a few popular videos:
I also do a lot of live sessions and answer questions on spiritual enlightenment. Here is the link to the playlist: spiritual enlightenment Q & A
This is a personal post, addressed to my readers, fellow bloggers and authors. Some of you may have contacted me and have communicated with me, while the rest of you may be reading my work in silence. I hope you are all doing fine during these tough times.
Just to give you a short introduction, I am an author of a few books and have Youtube channels in Tamil and English. I write and speak about a wide range of topics, covering the spectrum of religion and spirituality; it starts from the religion of layman that deals with myths and rituals at one end of the spectrum and the world of spiritual enlightenment or self-realization, evolution of consciousness etc on the other end. Searching for ‘Shanmugam P’ in Google will show you all my online profiles.
As I was evolving in the spiritual path myself, I used to think that the levels that an average Joe finds himself in are pointless and wrong. When I was growing out of the world of a personal God and his mythical relatives, the rituals and beliefs etc, I used to think how wrong I was before; I thought that much of what is in the religious domain is simply a waste of time. Now I know that it is not. Human experience is shaped by everything we learnt in the process; the richness of being a human is caused by all the colours and the layers in the spectrum.
My spiritual growth has helped me to find absolute fulfillment in the present moment and made me to live in the now. But due to practical reasons that help my survival, I have a rough agenda for the future. I know what I am good at and how I can give back to the society; rather than being employed under a boss who has goals that are totally different from mine, I want to make a living doing something on my own.
I have a variety of interests. Some of them include writing about temples and their history, interpreting and promoting spiritual literature and poetry in Tamil and Sanskrit, doing research on transpersonal psychology to create a stronger bridge between science and spirituality, sharing my own experiences to seekers etc. Probably starting an NGO will be a good idea. I am not interested in making profits; I just need to survive and help others while I live.
I think a lot may be possible with a network of friends. Your suggestions on this are welcome. I have also made donations easier. You can now donate to me via Paypal, Stripe or a direct transfer to my bank account.
I need your support here. If you are reading this, it simply means karma is bringing us together. I am destined to write this and you are destined to read this today. I am not saying that someone decided it before; I don’t believe in that type of destiny! I am saying that things are happening the way they are supposed to happen, obeying all the natural and scientific laws. That is exactly how Karma works.
At the moment I am divorced and don’t have a source of sufficient regular income; but soon I will be married; I don’t know who is destined to live with me and I am not sure who all will be a part of the network of people that support me. But I am sure that we can make a difference together. If you have been enjoying my content, kindly consider making a donation here: https://nellaishanmugam.wordpress.com/donate/
I went to Sithananda Swamigal’s Jeeva Samadhi, in Pondicherry on November 22nd and again on November 27th, 2020. This is an interesting place for spiritual seekers where Sithananda Swamigal, a Siddhar and a self-realized soul predicted his own death and was buried (Jeeva Samadhi) on May 28th,1837.
The temple is a wonderful place for meditation. There is a meditation hall inside the temple. People have reported good effects and experiences after meditating in this hall.
The most attractive thing you would notice in the temple is the presence of more than a hundred and eight statues of various Siddhars, Nayanmars (63 saints who were devoted to Lord Shiva), Mystics and Poets (scroll down to see the pictures from the temple). There are a few for Ramakrishna Paramahamsa too, who is my favorite.
This temple and the surroundings is the place where Tamil poet Bharathiyar composed his famous ‘Kuyil Pattu (the song of the Cuckoo)” poem.
I have been praying to the Almighty for the past two weeks since my first visit, to give me the clarity, energy and guidance to write about him and the temple. I want to give as much information as possible about the life of Sithananda Swamigal, what he was known for and the details about the temple, to my readers. I offer my prayers to Lord Vinayaga on this day of SankataHara Chaturthi as I begin my work about him.
To my knowledge, Sithananda Swamigal’s spiritual teachings are not available in print form but his life and his presence was a teaching in itself to seekers. He was also known to the public as a healer, as many found their illness to disappear after getting his blessings.
Birth and Early life of Sithananda Swamigal
Sithananda Swamigal was born in Vandipalayam near Cuddalore of present Tamil Nadu. As he grew up as a young boy, he regularly worshipped Lord Shiva at the famous Padaleeswarar Temple in Thirupathiripuliyur. He used to pluck flowers and make garlands for Periya Nayagi amman, the Goddess in the temple. He was also taking care of certain chores in the temple.
One day there was a heavy rain and a huge flood around the temple. People who were in charge of temple work and activities were wondering how to go inside; they were worried about not being able to perform everyday worship and chores in the temple.
Sithananda swamigal, who was a little boy then, also came there holding a garland for the Goddess. He jumped in the water without a second thought, swam and reached the sanctum of the temple. His love and devotion for the Almighty was too strong to worry about anything else.
As he finished worship, the flood and the rain increased and the boy couldn’t come out. He completely surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord. According to the legend, he had a vision of the Lord who granted him the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. He must have gone through a tremendous spiritual experience that day which changed his life forever.
(There is another variant of the legend, according to which Sithananda swamigal couldn’t go inside the temple with his garland because the temple door was locked by the priest. So, Sithananda swamigal left a note near the door to the Lord to come out and take the garland. When the priest opened the door the next day, the Linga inside was wearing the garland brought by the young Sithananda Swamigal.)
Meeting with Muthukumaraswamy Pillai from Pondicherry
As the years went by, Sithananda Swamigal was known to more people as a healer. Many came to him to get their illnesses cured; many invited him to their place. He was getting known in the towns nearby.
At the same time, a rich man called Muthukumaraswamy Pillai lived in Muthialpet near Pondicherry. His wife Annammal was suffering from an illness in her stomach which was getting worse with no cure available. This made Muthukumaraswamy very depressed; he and his brother went to meet Sithananda Swamigal. It is said that Sithananda Swamigal immediately asked him, “How was the journey from Pondicherry?”. Muthukumaraswamy was taken aback, as Swami was able to know where he was coming from, without anyone telling him. Seeing the misery that he was going through, Sithananda Swamigal agreed to come with him to Muthialpet to heal his wife.
Pondicherry is known for its presence of various saints, sadhus, mystics and siddhars during different times in the past. Because of the city’s association with wisdom and spiritual enlightenment, it is known as Jnanabumi (the land of enlightenment or wisdom). Sithananda Swamigal’s arrival to Pondicherry increased its spiritual importance.
Immediately after the arrival of Sithananda Swamigal, Annammal, the wife of Muthukumaraswamy, was completely cured. She had no traces of the previous illness and she no longer went through the pain she was going through. This surprised people as the whole area was familiar with the health issue she was facing.
On the request of Muthukumaraswamy and Annammal, Sithananda Swamigal agreed to stay in their house. From that day, people began to visit Sithananda Swamigal to get rid of their health issues and to get his blessings. Sometimes Sithananda Swamigal visited families on request. He became known as a healer.
More Miracles of Sithananda Swamigal
Residents of Muthialpet like Muthaiah Mudaliyar and Sokkalinga Mudaliyar were ardent devotees of Sithananda Swamigal. Once, Muthaiah Mudaliyar’s pregnant wife was going through severe labor pain; helpless Muthaiah Mudaliyar ran to see the guruji. Sithananda Swamigal understood what was going on through his siddhis and told him, “Don’t worry, your son is born now. Go home and see him! Name him ‘Anandan’!’. Happy Muthaiah Mudaliyar ran home to see both the mom and the newborn son; he named the boy ‘Anandan’ as per the instructions of the Swamigal.
As per another interesting anecdote, once Sithananda Swamigal was returning after visiting a devotee in Kuyavarpalayam, Pondicherry. There was a liquor shop on the way. A drunkard having a drink there said to Sithananda Swamigal, “Why don’t you have a drink? You can talk a lot of spiritual stuff once this goes inside”. Swamiji ignored him and continued walking. But the drunkard kept insisting him to have a drink. Swamiji then agreed and started drinking the liquor, emptying a huge barrel. While Sithananda Swamigal looked normal, the drunkard actually got high because of the huge volume of liquor drunk by Sithananda Swamigal. His pulse rate began to go down.
The shopkeeper fell at swamiji’s feet, asking for forgiveness. Swamiji started to walk at this point. Seeing what happened to the drunkard, the shopkeeper sent information to his family. Before his family and relatives came there, the drunkard’s situation got worse. They carried the drunkard to Sithananda Swamigal and his wife fell at his feet, begging him to heal her husband; Swamiji healed him and restored his condition. Then he made the drunkard promise that he wouldn’t drink again, before sending the couple home..
One day, Muthukumaraswamy took Sithananda Swamigal to his farm in Muthialpet. While they were taking a walk inside, Sithananda Swamigal started looking at a place inside the farm for a long time. Then he revealed a secret. He said to Muthukumaraswamy, showing his own body, that it was going to stay there. He said it thrice. He was implying that he was going to be buried there.
Then he showed another place to Muthukumaraswamy and said that his wife Annammal was going to be buried there. Muthukumaraswamy was shocked to hear all this. As years went by everything indeed happened according to Sithananda Swamigal’s predictions.
Sithananda Swamigal was fond of little kids. He used to play with them a lot. There is a village called Mailam near Tindivanam which is famous for its Murugan temple and the festivals conducted there. According to the anecdotes, Sithananda Swamigal had the power to show the festival in Mailam to the children while being in Pondicherry; Once the children fell asleep, everyone would have a vision of what was happening in Mailam temple.
Sithananda Swamigal’s final years and Jeeva Samadhi
During his final years, Sithananda Swamigal lost much of his body consciousness; he wouldn’t eat or drink for months unless someone compelled him to eat something. Instead of using a plate, he used to use a flat stone from Muthaiah Mudaliyar’s house to eat. That stone was believed to have certain healing properties. Pregnant ladies who went and sat on that stone reported that they didn’t experience labour pain during delivery.
There was a potter who always used to visit Sithananda swamigal when guruji was teaching. He had been inviting Sithananda Swamigal to his home to have a meal. He also made a statue of Sithananda swamigal in clay. Once Swamiji agreed to come and visit him in the house and have a meal. He ate very well that day after a long time. Then the potter showed him the statue he had made. Sithananda swamigal looked at him for a long time and said, “This body is a shell made of skin; and this statue is a shell made of clay. The statue will son take the place of the body”.
Ten days before the Jeevasamadhi day of Sithananda Swamigal, he told Muthukumaraswamy that his Prarabdha Karma was going to be over on May 28th that year (1837). He asked him to let everyone know about this. He said that he would go deep into meditation and his life in the body would end; then he could be buried in a cross legged position, which is known as Jeeva samadhi.
According to another legend, it is said that Sithananda Swamigal came to the present temple where his tomb is built, on the day before he attained Jeeva Samadhi. Devotees expressed their concern about a muni, a disembodied being which was bothering people there, as it was a secluded spot by then. They were worried that they might not be able to visit his tomb regularly because of the fear. Sithananda Swamigal started staring at the sky in silence for a while; then a huge branch from a tree broke and fell down. Then Sithananda Swamigal told them, “the muni is gone now; so you don’t have to worry anymore!”.
On May 28th, 1837, Sithananda swamigal came to Muthukumaraswamy’s house. He closed his eyes for the last time and sat in a cross-legged position (Padmasana) in front of the devotees. They conducted Puja for his body before conducting the burial.
Siddhars are not cremated but buried; there is a detailed procedure for Jeeva Samadhi, which has been written by Siddhar Tirumular, the author of Thirumanthiram. According to him, the exact procedure should be followed so that it is beneficial to everyone.
There is an anecdote about another miracle which is said to have occured while Sithananda Swamigal’s body was carried for burial; he came to life for a moment just to tell people that the instructions for Jeeva Samadhi were not correctly followed; He gave proper instructions and went to samadhi again, never coming back to life. His body was then taken to Muthukumaraswamy’s garden in Karuvadikuppam, Pondicherry and he was buried in the same place that was mentioned by him earlier. A Linga was constructed over his tomb, which is the main shrine of the current Sithananda Swamigal Devasthanam (Temple) in Pondicherry.
Pondicherry was under French rule at that time. So, they had to get the permission of the French government to build a temple over it. Once the permission was granted, the temple was built.
Poet Bharathiyar’s Association with the temple
Bharathiyar, the famous Tamil poet, used to visit this temple often when he was staying in Pondicherry between 1908 – 1918. This place was full of trees and cuckoos. During his visits here, Bharathiyar wrote his famous “Kuyil Pattu” and many other poems including Kannan Pattu, Panchali sabatham, Kani Nilam vendum, Manakula Vinayagar thuthi and Desa Muthu Mariamma song.
In Kuyil Pattu, Bharathiyar describes the grove nearby as the place full of mango trees where hunters came to hunt birds. He called the well in this temple as ‘Jnanakeni, the well of wisdom.
Bharathiyar has also sung a song on the temple and mentioned the temple in one of his essays. So, there is a big statue of Bharathiyar near the Southern entrance; the song he wrote on Sithananda Swamy temple is carved near the main shrine which has the Linga.
Structure of the temple
The temple has two three-tiered Raja Gopurams, one facing the West and the other facing the South. Entry is possible both ways. There is a pond in the temple and a lot of trees and shrubs are present, making it an excellent spot for sitting in silence or meditation. The Western entrance is right on the East Coast Road between Chennai and Pondicherry. Southern Entrance is in the beginning of the Karuvadikuppam main road that goes towards Muthialpet.
Once you enter the temple through the southern entrance, you will find a Pipal tree on the left, along with the statues of nagar.
If you go straight, you will first reach the shrine of Sundara Vinayagar.
Right after the shrine, there is a shrine for Guru Dakshinamurthy. There is a lot of importance for Dakshinamurthy here and Thursdays are special days in the temple.
Then there is a separate shrine for Ayyappan on the left, which looks beautiful like a mini-temple on its own. The Ayyappa statue seated above 18 steps is very beautiful.
Then you reach the Western gopuram entrance and there is a Pipal tree and Neem tree on the left in the corner with the statues of nagar.
As you proceed further by taking right in the pradakshina path, there is a hall of annadhanam on the left. You see a huge bell on the top on the right. The temple was made in France and it has the precise sculpture of Sithananda swamigal; all the images of Sithananda swamigal are drawn by using the image on this bell as the model.
Right in front of you, there is the entrance to the shrine of Linga and the samadhi of Sithananda Swamigal. There is a beautiful sculpture of Nataraja on the top at the entrance.
There is a statue of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in the shrine for the Linga, along with many other sculptures.
The tomb of Muthukumaraswamy has been placed near the Linga on its right side, where the present day temple of Sundara Vinayagar stands. His wife Annammal’s tomb is behind the tomb of Swamiji and his brother Somasundaram’s samadhi is to the left. This was all according to the instructions of Swamiji himself.
After you have the darshan, you can reach the open space besides the pond.
There is a meditation hall nearby. A statue of a Sithananda Swamigal is placed in the front and a picture of the guruji is at the back of the hall. The statue of Saraswathi at the entrance looks very beautiful.
There are stone benches near the pond. There is a statue of guruji at the centre of the pond. This is a great place if you want to spend time in silence.
Here are the pictures near the pond and more pictures from the temple:
You can reach this temple while travelling on the ECR road from Pondicherry to Chennai. It is 5 Kms from Pondicherry Bus stand. If you go by bus, get off at the ‘Shivaji Statue’ stop. The temple is right there in the corner in the side of the road, near this signal. Guru puja, Maha Shivaratri and 108 Sankabishekam during the Tamil month of Karthikai are celebrated in this temple in a grant manner. Pujas on Thursdays are very special and attract a lot of crowd.
Let me end with a Tamil Venpa poem I wrote about Sithananda Swamigal today (4th Dec, 2o20):
தத்துவமே தானாகித் தன்னை உணர்ந்தறிந்து
முத்தி அடைந்த முனிவராம் – சித்தராம்
சித்தானந் தர்பாதம் போற்றி வணங்கினேன்
தித்திக்கும் வாழ்க்கை இனி.
(Meaning: “I praised and bowed down to the feet of Sithananda Swamigal, who was the essence of wisdom himself, a sage and a siddhar who realized himself and attained Mukti; my life will be sweet from now on”.)
Kanchipuram is a city in northern Tamil Nadu, which is known popularly as temple city. It is known for its silk sarees, temples and history. People have attributed a lot of holiness to this place and treat it as the Kashi of the south. It has also been an education and spiritual centre, and considered as a powerful place for spiritual practices. It is considered as one of the saptapuris, the seven sacred centres in India.
I was wanting to visit this city for a long time and my wish was fulfilled last week. I was there on 9th and 10th of November 2020. I went there on Monday morning (9th) from Kadapakkam (Edaikazhinadu), stayed there for the night after visiting some temples during the day, continued the temple visits the next day and returned in the afternoon. It was an amazing experience; I felt home in the city of Kanchipuram and I want to share that experience with the readers.
From the start of this year, my interest has been in exploring temples and their histories. I have already written two blog posts regarding some temples that sparked my interest in Pappankulam of the present Tenkasi district, Tamil Nadu and Edaikazhinadu of Chengalpattu district.
Kanchipuram is different; it is a city of temples and has way more than hundred temples. You can find a temple pretty much in every nook and corner of the city. In my limited time I could only explore a few of them. On the day before the journey, I prepared a list of temples I should visit and marked them in Google maps. It included the important temples which are Kamakshi amman temple, Ekambareswarar temple, Kumarakottam temple, Kailasanatha nathar temple, Vaikunta perumal temple and Varadaraja perumal temple.
The Morning session on Nov 9, 2020
At about 5: 45 AM in the morning, I took a bus that goes from Pondicherry to Chennai through ECR road and got off at Kalpakkam after more than an hour. Took a bus to Chengalpet from there. Having reached Chengalpet, took a bus to Kanchipuram. I reached Kanchipuram at about 9:30 AM.
I was very excited on reaching there and was pretty eager to visit Kamakshi amman temple first. I have always been devoted to the form of Kamakshi. Kamakshi is the ultimate reality personified as a meditating young woman. Paintings and pictures of Kamakshi amman is something that I have always been emotionally connected to. So, I had a feeling of a son going home to see his mother.
Sangupani Vinayagar temple
I knew from the maps that Kamakshi amman temple is very close to the bus stand. So, once I got off, I started walking towards the temple but saw Sangupani Vinayagar temple on the way. It is indeed a tradition to worship Vinayagar (Ganesh) before anything. So I went inside and had a darshan.
Temples of Vinayagar are abundant in Tamil Nadu and there is one almost in every street in Kanchipuram. But I did find out later that this particular temple is actually the most famous and important Vinayagar temple in Kanchipuram. He is called as Sangupani vinayagar because he holds Sangu (conch) in his hand.
Ulagalantha Perumal temple
This temple is also on the way to Kamakshi amman temple from the bus stand. When I was walking, I thought I had found Kamakshi amman temple but it was this temple that I actually saw. As I went closer, it became obvious that I am heading towards a perumal temple (Vishnu temple). Google maps indicated to me that it is the famous Ulagalantha Perumal temple in Kanchipuram.
Perumal temples also have an emotional connection. Whenever I went to my grandmother’s house in Thachanallur, Tirunelveli during childhood, I spent most of my mornings in Varam tharum Perumal temple there. I used to explore the Prakaram (outer part around the sanctum) , spending my time looking at the trees there. So prakarams of Perumal temples always attract me. I also enjoy the Tulsi and Teertham which is not offered these days in most of the temples.
Anyway, I felt like I was called by my maternal uncle for inquiry while I was on the way to meet my mother. So I went inside, had darshan and spent some time before visiting Kamakshi amman temple. This temple is connected to Vamana avatar of Vishnu. It is one of the 108 divyadesams connected to Vishnu; but it houses four divyadesams on its own. (Divyadesams are the 108 temples which are mentioned in the poems sung by Tamil Alvars.)
Kamakshi amman temple:
My favorite temple is very close to Ulagalantha Perumal temple. After a few seconds of walking, I could see the main gopuram (temple tower) of Kamakshi amman temple. I had my breakfast very close to the temple.
Among all those temples I visited in Kanchipuram, this was the only temple which was very strict in following the guidelines for Corona prevention. Wearing a mask was absolutely compulsory and it was checked at the entrance. People were only allowed after applying hand sanitizers. Circles were drawn on the way to darshan to ensure social distancing and it was also monitored by the staff to ensure that people follow it. But because of Corona restrictions, devotees were not allowed to circumambulate. Photography was also strictly prohibited; so I just took a photo of the gopuram.
The temple is a very important temple for Goddess worship in Tamil Nadu, along with Meenakshi amman temple in Madurai. It is one of the shakti peethas. Shakti peethas are 51 sites of Goddess worship situated in various places of Indian subcontinent. As per the legend, 51 body parts of Sati fell on these 51 sites after her self-immolation. This particular Shakti Peetha where Kamakshi resides is associated with Sati’s navel.
There are shrines for Durvasa and Adhi Shankara in this temple. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see them due to covid restrictions. Anyway, I want to say a few things on these shrines.
A Shrine for Durvasa
There is a shrine for Sage Durvasa here. He is known for his short temper in Indian legends. He was the one who consecrated the Bhu-Prastara Sri chakra (diagrammatic representation of the deity) in front of the main deity. He is considered as one among the three chief devotees or upasakas of the deity who form the upasaka traya – the triad of devotees consisting of Manmatha, Lopamudra and Durvasa. As per the legend, Durvasa was born and a dumb and deaf because of the curse of Goddess Sarasvati and was graced by Kamakshi amman. I have already written about Durvasa in my post regarding Pappankulam Thiruvenkadar temple.
The temple is associated with Sri Vidya tradition, a tantric tradition of spiritual practice towards spiritual enlightenment. I found the following interesting anecdote in the website of Kamakoti Mandali, a close-knit group of upasakas (https://www.kamakotimandali.com/):
“A certain lady from Trichy once described a wonderful experience. She was initiated into Srividya by her father-in-law at an early age and she visited Sri Kamalambika Devasthanam frequently. Her Guru passed away while she was still young and she knew nothing but the mula mantra given to her by her Guru. She practiced the same sincerely for years and longed for further guidance. A few years ago, while she was reciting Sri Lalita Sahasranama in the Sannidhi of Kamalambika, an old man with surprisingly sharp features appeared before her and instructed her to have darshan of Srividya Parameshwari at Kanchi, where she would get nyasa etc for her mantra. After she reached Kanchi and had darshan of Amba, she was surprised to see the same old man in the Sannidhi of Amba. The old man pointed to another gentleman and the lady rushed to fall at the feet of this gentleman. Surprised, the gentleman asked her who she was and she narrated the entire story and pointed to the old gentleman who still stood in Amba’s Sannidhanam. The gentleman was Sri Yagnanarayana Shastri, a great Srividya Upasaka from Mysore, and as myself and shastrigal watched in awe, the old man lifted his hands in blessing and disappeared. Later, when we were going round the mantapa and bowed in front of Durvasa’s Sannidhi, the very same face appeared in the Vigraha. Sri Yagnanarayana Shastrigal attained Siddhi in Bangalore in 2003 but Smt. Meenakshi Ammal, now his disciple, visits Kanchi every year and is blessed with the darshan of the great Guru without fail.”
A Shrine for Adhi Shankara
My interest to learn Sanskrit was inspired a lot by my wish to read the Bhagavad Gita commentary of Shankara in the original language. One of the 6 schools that I studied in (Jayendra Golden Jubilee School, Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli) is also associated with Shankara, and particularly with the monastery that Shankara founded in Kanchipuram.
Adhi Shankara is also believed to have installed Sri Chakra in this temple. He is also believed to have spent the last minutes of his life in Kanchipuram.
Once I came out of the temple, I bought a picture that has three deities together: Samayapuram Mariamman, Madurai Meenakshi and Kamakshi Amman. Then, I bought two books from a small shop called ‘Dheivigam” which had some rare collection of Tamil books. Most of the books there had only one copy each; the shopkeeper said that they are not sold in bookshops. Only a few copies for interested readers are made and they are ordered directly from the publisher (similar to Tamil translation of Bhutanatha Gita for which I have written a commentary on this blog).
The next day, November 10, was Aippasi Pooram according to Tamil calendar and it is the actual birthday of Kamakshi amman. It is called ‘ambal Aavir bhavitha dhinam’ which means ‘the day ambal (Goddess) appeared’. But I knew this only after leaving Kanchipuram.
Then I went to Kumarakottam temple. It is just a short walk from Kamakshi amman temple and is situated in the main road.
Kumarakottam is a temple for Lord Murugan, situated close to Kamakshi temple. It is also in between Kamakshi temple and Ekambareswarar temple, where the former is for Parvati (Kamakshi), the Goddess and the latter is for Shiva, the mythological husband of Parvati. Spiritually the couple represent Prakriti and Purusha respectively, as I have often discussed in my blogs. Murugan has also been discussed in my blog posts and he is considered as the son of Shiva and Parvati.
Lord Murugan is in the form of Brahma Shastha, the divine teacher of Brahman or the absolute reality. Kandha Puranam, the Tamil version of the famous Skanda Purana, was composed in this temple by Kachiappa Sivachariyar, a Tamil poet who worked as a priest in this temple.
I read the complete abridged text version of Kandha puranam when I was about nine years old. It is the legend about Lord Murugan. It was composed in a hall in this temple which still exists as ‘Kandhapurana Arangetra Mantapam’. The priests in the temple now are the actual descendants of the poet.
Arunagirinathar, a famous saint and a devotee of Murugan has sung hymns on this temple. Pamban swamigal has also visited the temple. After having darshan, I took some photographs and sat on the steps of ‘Kandhapurana Arangetra Mantapam’.
Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham (monastery)
I left Kumarakottam temple and walked on the same road to visit Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham situated in the corner. It is a monastery established by Adi Shankara.
Visitors are allowed to visit the brindavan inside the mutt. Just like Kamakshi amman temple, wearing a mask and applying hand sanitizer were compulsory. Samadhis of Chandrashekarendra Saraswati swamigal and Jayendra Saraswati swamigal are inside the Brindavan. After spending some quiet time inside, I came outside to visit Ekambareswarar temple.
Ekambareswarar temple is very close to the monastery. The tower of this temple is very tall and hence the presence of the temple is known from a long distance.
Once I entered, I was greeted by the wording ‘anbe sivam’ (Love is God) written on the top of a hall. It is one of my favorite sayings and is a part of Thirumular’s Thirumanthiram.
The gopuram was very beautiful to look at; it is an abode of a lot of parrots too, which were making a huge noise around the temple. The pleasantness of the breeze, the sound of the parrots, the beauty of the temple towers, the shade of the trees outside and everything else about that temple took me to a different world.
It was already about noon and the temple door was soon going to be closed for the afternoon. So, I had to hurry up to make sure that I cover everything in the temple that is worth seeing.
The temple is one of the 5 panchabhuta sthalas dedicated to Lord Shiva. Each of them represent one of the five prime elements. This temple was for the element of earth (‘Prithvi’ in Sanskrit). It covers about 25 acres and has four temple towers; the southern tower is the tallest and is about 58.5 metres (192 feet tall).
There is an old mango tree inside the temple; the board says that it is about 3500 years old. It is the sthala vriksha (sacred, monumental tree) of the temple. The place around the tree is an ideal location to sit in silence or take photographs. Once I came out, I bought two books: one was about temples of Kanchipuram and another one was about temples of Tamil Nadu in general.
It was lunch time. All the temples will be closed until about 4 or 5 pm in the evening. So I went in search of accommodation for the night. I was looking for something very simple and of low cost, preferably under Rs.800. All I needed was a place to sleep, use the toilet, charge my phone and take a bath. I thought of finding something very close to the Ekambareswarar temple. One auto-driver took me to a lodge close to the temple but it was full . He then asked me to find something close to the bus stand but he also warned that I wasn’t going to find anything for a low price that I was expecting.
So I finished lunch and took an auto to the bus stand. When I talked to the auto-driver this time, he also said the same thing that the first one said; but then he stopped at a small hotel and said that the manager may give a discount. I went in and told the manager that I was a single person wanting to visit temples and was looking for some place to stay. He was kind enough to give me a room for a discounted price that I could afford. It was Hari residency, which is very close to the Kumarakottam temple. There are just three or four shops between the temple and the hotel. Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is also on the same road, just in the corner which is a few steps away.
The room was pretty comfortable. I had a wonderful stay there. That afternoon I took some rest in the room and also went through the booklet about the temples in Kanchipuram. Then I took a bath and planned to go to Varadharaja perumal temple.
The temples I visited so far are pretty close to each other. But this one that I was going to visit was in little Kanchipuram, a suburb which is about 3 kilometres south east to the bus stand. The area is also known as ‘Vishnu Kanchi’ because of the presence of a high number of Vishnu temples.
I went and had a coffee in the coffee shop right next to Kumarakottam temple. From the shopkeeper, I came to know that I have to take a share auto (Rs.20) to reach the temple which is the last destination in the south for any trip in share auto within the city.
The Afternoon Session on Nov 9, 2020
Varadharaja Perumal Temple
Varadharaja Perumal Temple was just another extraordinary beauty. I got that familiar ‘perumal temple feeling’; the temple was indeed the best choice for an evening visit.
This temple is also one among the 108 divya desams. The temple is famous for the form of Vishnu known as ‘Atthi Varadar’; the idol is made of the Atthi or the fig tree. It is stored in an underground chamber inside the temple tank and taken out only once in every 40 years. Once it is taken out, it is kept for worship for 48 days. Last time this happened in 2019.
Inside a temple, there is a room upstairs where two lizards are depicted on the roof; a larger one in gold and a little one in silver. As per the legend, two disciples of sage Gautama were cursed to become these lizards. You have to pay Rs.2 to see the lizards; devotees believe that their sins will be washed away after seeing them.
When I came out, it was extremely beautiful to watch the sunset as the sun was coming down behind the temple tower. The architecture is amazing and sculptures are beautiful, which is common for most of the temples in Kanchipuram.
I visited two more Perumal (Vishnu) temples on the way back; they are situated opposite to each other: Yathothkari Perumal Temple and Ashtabhuja Perumal temple.
Yathothkari Perumal Temple:
I asked in a coffee shop near Varadharaja perumal temple, who told me about these two temples. Once I got down I crossed the road and went first to this Yathokthakari Perumal Temple.
This temple also is one of the 108 divya desams. In Tamil, the form of perumal is called ‘Sonnavannam Seitha Perumal’, roughly translated as the deity of Perumal who did what he said. With the little Sanskrit I know, I could recognize that the compound word is made of three words: yatha – ukta-kari. Yatha means ‘how or what way”; ukta -means ‘that which is said’; ‘kari’ means ‘the doer”. Poigai Azhwar, one of the Tamil poet saints or alwars, was born in this temple.
There was almost nobody inside except the priest and a couple of others. Once I finished the darshan, the sun had set and it was dark. I crossed the road and went to Ashtabhuja Perumal temple which was on the other side.
Ashtabhuja Perumal temple
This temple is again another one among the 108 divyadesams. Ashtabhuja means ‘with eight arms’. Vishnu here appears with eight arms.
This temple is associated with a legend of Brahma doing a penance towards Vishnu. As per another legend, an elephant called Gajendra used to worship the deity here everyday using the lotus from the temple tank. Once a crocodile in the tank caught its leg. Elephant prayed to Vishnu for help; Vishnu killed the crocodile with his discus. This incident is known as gajendra moksham.
I took another share auto and asked the driver to drop me at Kachabeswarar temple, a Shiva temple very close to the hotel I was staying at. It is in the same street where this temple is in the southern end and the monastery of Adhi Shankara is in the northern end.
‘Kachchapa’ in Sanskrit means ‘Tortoise’. The temple got this name because according to the legend, Vishnu worshipped Shiva by taking the form of a tortoise.
I could see a lot of students studying with their books in many corners inside, as the campus of the temple was very spacious. Since it was about 7 pm in the evening, there were more people. If you need a spacious place to spend your evening in a peaceful manner, you can go to this temple. If you are a student and need a good place to study for your exams, then this is an awesome place. It was obvious as there was someone sitting with a textbook near every shrine.
I still had time left for the day. I heard that Kailasanathar temple would have closed by 5 pm in the evening. So I decided to walk to Vaikunta perumal temple, which is near the bus stand. While I was walking, I saw a small temple named Chitragupta temple on the left side of the road; so I went in.
Chitragupta is a mythical person who keeps the account of our good and bad deeds; he is the assistant of Yama, the God of death. You don’t usually see a Chitragupta temple in India; that’s very unusual. I didn’t know he was worshipped in temples until I went here. Then I found that there is one more temple for him in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.
Chitragupta is associated with Ketu, the ninth graha in Indian astrology. So people who have issues in their birth chart related to Ketu visit this temple.
Vaikunta Perumal temple
I reached this temple when it was about to be closed. This is also one among the 108 divya desams. The temple is also called as ‘Thiru Parameswara Vinnagaram’. It is famous for its architecture and the sculptures.
The temple has three vertically aligned sanctum sanctorums but the public are allowed to visit only the one at the ground floor. It was dark when I went there and that wasn’t really the best time to go there. I didn’t take much pictures as it was dark but you can find a lot of beautiful pictures of this temple on the internet.
There is an Ayyappan temple opposite to this temple. I went there too and had a darshan. Then I started walking towards my room. I had dinner on the way and had a very good sleep.
The Morning session on Nov 10, 2020
I got up at about 5 am in the morning and took a bath, as I was planning to have darshan in any temple as early as possible. Once I walk out of the room, Shankara mutt is on the right side and Kachabeswarar temple is on the left, both are at the two ends of the same street. Taking left from Kachabeswarar temple goes to the bus stand and Vaikunta perumal temple, whereas taking right goes to Kailasanathar temple. I was planning to take right and explore the area, to see what other temples are there.
I had a coffee and started walking on the road towards Kailasanathar temple. I went into the streets to see what other temples were there; none of them were open. I reached Kailasanathar temple only to find out that it would open at 9 AM. There was a lot of time until that.
A Shiva temple very close to Kailasanathar temple is Anekadhangavadeswarar Temple. It was on the way, just before I reached Kailasanathar temple. I decided to go there, and visit other temples as well until this one opened.
Anekadhangavadeswarar Temple is one of the Paadal Petra Thalams (temples that are revered in the verses of Saiva Nayanars in the 6th-9th century CE). As per the legend, the Linga in the temple was established by Vinayagar or Ganesh, the son of Lord Shiva. The temple was also worshipped by Kubera, the king of wealth.
When I went there, the gate was open but the main shrine was closed. There was nobody inside. The place was kind of a secluded spot. While I was circumambulating the temple, the priest came and opened the door. I had a chat with him for a few minutes. Then I started walking back to explore the area near Ekambareswarar temple.
There is a corner where two roads meet, close to Brahmakumaris Rajayoga meditation centre. I had some idlis for breakfast in a kaiyendhi bhavan (a roadside shop where you usually stand and eat) there.
Chandaveli (or Santhaveli) amman temple
This is a temple located in a busy street and it is a bit close to another famous perumal temple called Pandava Dhootha temple. This is a family deity for many people and has a lot of village guardian deities inside.
As per the legend, Kamakshi amman set up guardian deities in eight directions when she was doing the penance, so that no one would disturb her. This deity is one among the eight deities; she was originally called Chandraveli amman. She got this name because the temple is close to Chandra Pushkarini theertham.
There is a cow shed inside with a lot of cows. Then there are various statues including the ones for Madurai Veeran, Nagar, Mariamman etc. People worship this Goddess to get relieved from various diseases.
Draupathi Amman temple
I started walking towards the north after coming out of Chandaveli amman temple. I went in search of nearby temples and ended up in Panjupettai big street, which goes towards the street north to the Ekambareswarar temple. Draupathi Amman temple is a small temple in Panjupettai big street.
Draupadi or Draupathi is the wife of Pandavas in Mahabharata. She is also believed to be an incarnation of Mariamman. She is a family deity for many communities.There was no one here. Spent a few minutes here.
Gangai amman temple
This temple is in Panjupettai big street, very close to a famous Shiva temple called Ona Kantheeswarar Temple. It is a very small temple where river Ganges is worshipped as the Goddess. I went inside and had a darshan before going to the Shiva temple right next to it.
Ona Kantheeswarar Temple
This is also one of the padal petra sthalams. The temple is located in an elevated structure. So you have to climb a few steps to enter.
The temple has three different shrines of Shiva with names Oneswarar, Kantheswarar and Jalandareswarar. These three lingas are believed to be self-manifested (swayambhu moorthy). As per the legend, three asuras (demons) worshipped the three lingas.
Chevandheswarar Temple is the next temple I went to, which is also a Shiva temple. I had to continue walking in the Panjupettai big street and take left at the end to reach this temple. This is behind Ekambareswarar temple.
People visit this temple to eliminate Chevvai Dosham or Mars Dosha . A Dosha is a term used in Indian astrology to mean the unfavourable position of a planet in a person’s birth chart. Since it was Tuesday, there was a huge crowd in the temple. As per the legend, Vayu, the lord of winds, worshipped Shiva here using Chrysanthemum flowers.
Once I finished darshan here, I walked back to enter a street that runs along the back side and then the left side (Eastern) of Ekambareshwar temple. The temple compound wall is very tall and the gopuram looks very beautiful from the streets around the temple.
Arasu Katha Amman temple
I found this Arasu Katha Amman temple as I walked in the road which runs right opposite to the gopuram of Ekambareswarar temple. The name of this street is Ekambaranathar sannidhi street. Just like Chandaveli amman, Arasu Katha amman was also one of the deities guarding the penance of Kamakshi amman, as per the legend; in fact, she was the leader of this guardian gang. Usually, the forms of mother Goddess Parvati or Amman is seen with a lion as the vehicle; but this Goddess has elephant as the vehicle, which is very unique.
The Amman is also called as sampathkariswari. Sampath means wealth and kari means elephant. The Amman got this name because she bestows wealth while riding on the elephant. ‘Arasu’ means kingdom and ‘katha’ means the one who saved; she got the name ‘Arasu katha Amman’ because she was the custodian to Chola kingdom.
Once I finished darshan in Arasu Katha Amman temple, I went to the street right next to it to visit Meikandeeswarar temple. This temple is a part of ‘Thondai Mandala Atheenam”, a Shaivite monastery established in the 14th century.
There was no one inside. I just saw the beautiful linga. After having darshan, I walked out and found ‘Renugambal temple’ in the corner of the same street.
Renuka is a Goddess who is also called Yellamma or Yellai Amman. It was probably because of the merger of two different traditions. Renuka was the wife of sage Jamadagni and was known for her chastity. I visited the temple and sat inside for a few minutes in silence. Then I went back to the previous street to visit two more temples there.
I saw this Thanthondreeswarar temple in Ekambaranathar sannidhi street. Unfortunately the temple was closed. There is a big statue of Shiva on the top, at the entrance.
At the entrance, it was written that Shiva in this temple was worshipped by sage Upamanyu. I kept walking towards the north, facing Ekambareswarar temple tower, to reach Jurahareswarar temple which was just a few metres away.
Jurahareswarar temple is another beautiful Shiva temple with wonderful architecture, in a peaceful location. People worship in this temple to get cure from fever; the name Jurahareswarar literally means the one who takes away the fever or diseases which happen along with a rise in body temperature. As per the legend, Devas worshipped here to get recovery from fever.
I sat there for a few minutes admiring the beauty of the temples and the trees around. The occasional sounds of birds and the coolness of the shade added an additional flavour to the experience.
Pandava Thoothar temple
Once you leave Jurahareswarar temple, you have to take the next left which is right after the temple and walk another few metres to reach Pandava Dhootha temple (or Pandava Thoothar temple). This is again one of the 108 divya desams dedicated to Vishnu.
I had been trying to visit this temple since the morning; I went there twice (once at 6:30 AM and then again at 7:30 AM) but it was closed. My third attempt was successful.
The temple is associated with Krishna of Mahabharata, who is one of the avatars of Vishnu. His statue inside the garbhagriha is about 25 feet tall and he is in sitting form. Krishna Janmashtami or the birthday of Krishna is a very important festival in this temple.
Swami Arulala Perumal Emperumanar, also called Yagnamurthy came to this temple and had a debate with Sri Ramanuja; he was defeated and became the disciple of Ramanuja. So, the birthday of Swami Arulala Perumal Emperumanar (Bharani of Karthigai month) is also celebrated in this temple.
The time was about 10 AM as I was about to leave from there; my next destination was Kailasanathar temple, the long awaited one, which was supposed to open after 9 AM. The temple is a bit away from all the other temples that I visited that morning; it is in the western limits of Kanchipuram city, on the bank of Vegavathy river.
Kailasanathar temple is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram. This is also one of the most important temples in Kanchipuram. It is a beautiful temple with wonderful stone carvings.
The temple has about 58 small shrines of various forms of Shiva. The place where it is situated is one of the three kanchis (short form for Kanchipuram) called Shiva Kanchi; the other two are Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi. There is a secret tunnel inside the temple used by kings to escape when their safety was threatened.
The temple was built during Pallava’s period (640-730 AD) along with Vaikunta Perumal temple. You will get a different feel and experience in this temple. There is a grassland before the temple and a couple of stone benches are there to sit. You can sit and enjoy the view. I spent a long time there, admiring the beauty and taking pictures. The photos I took here will speak more than these words; so check them out.
The time has crossed 11 AM. I have to check out the hotel by noon. To walk back to the hotel, I have to walk on the straight road until Kachabeswarar temple and then take left from there. I began to walk slowly, having one last look at both sides of the road and checking if there was anything else to visit on the way.
This is not a temple; this is something interesting I saw on the way. Kanchi Kudil is an ancestral property which has been turned into a tourist place. The board caught my eye.
I went inside and met a lady who was sitting in the reception. She said that there is a ticket to enter, which costs Rs.10. I bought the ticket and went inside. The lady gave me an introduction about the place.
How did the house of a joint family in Kanchipuram that survived on agriculture about 100 years before look like? Kanchi Kudil takes you back on time. This house is about 100 years old; they have preserved the furniture, utensils, clothing, equipment and more of those days. The house reminded me of some ancestral houses I have seen in Tirunelveli district when I was young.
Airavateswarar Temple is right opposite to Kachabeswarar temple; there might be a natural tendency to ignore the temple since it looks so small and simple in front of the large Kachabeswarar temple with a high temple tower. Also, the temple has a small entrance and one has to look twice to recognize the presence of a temple there.
It is one of the oldest temples, built during Pallava’s time. Since this temple is on the way back to the hotel, I went inside and had a darshan.
The Final Hour
The time is up. I went near Kamakshi amman temple, for two reasons. If the temple was open I could go there once more; if the Deivigam book store was open I could browse for more interesting books.
But the bookstore was closed; a single door in the Kamakshi amman temple was closed, indicating that they were just waiting for the devotees who were already inside to come out. Anyway, it was Aippasi Pooram day as I mentioned in this post, which I came to know only after leaving Kanchipuram.
I went back to the room, put my phone on the charger and took a rest for some time. Then I packed my things and told the manager that I was checking out; I had already made the payment the first day.
The owner called me near and asked me how the stay was. I told him it was very good and I thanked him for the discount. I also asked for his card. I left a positive review with 5-star ratings in Google Maps.
I walked to Kanchipuram bus stand and had lunch in a restaurant inside. I got a bus directly to Kalpakkam, from which I could take a bus to Kadapakkam. I reached my residence in Kadapakkam in the evening.
We are living in an age when spiritual wisdom has been demystified enough, though “spiritual enlightenment” or ‘self-realization’ still remains a mystery for people who are seeking it. This is also an age when the general public seem to have no idea about the true authentic spirituality, the science which explores the mechanics of human suffering and the way out of it. This is also an age when many so-called gurus use the weaknesses of the spiritual seekers to their own advantage, become spiritual entrepreneurs and earn millions in their spiritual business. Also, this is the age when seemingly contradicting and confusing theories in spiritual science confuse the clueless seeker and leave him in despair.
My book “The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta” has been helping seekers around the world to reduce the confusion and get more clarity on the path. It has received many positive reviews, mainly highlighting the honesty and clarity they found in the book. I wrote this book when I was beginning to understand what was happening to me, two years after spiritual enlightenment. About four years has passed since then; if I look back at the last six years, I feel compelled to share a few things which may be helpful for sincere seekers.
My Life as a seeker
I was pushed into spiritual seeking because of my own emotional problems in my life which were the results of a traumatic childhood. I felt like I didn’t belong to this world and its people, and this huge lack of a sense of belonging was very depressing. When my peers were spending their time in understanding people and the world and learning the survival skills that are necessary to survive in this cruel, competitive world, I was spending all my energy to find out how to cope up with my emotional issues and be happy. There were only two choices: 1) Suicide 2) Survive, seek and find the way out. The second option led me into spiritual seeking; I somehow got the trust that I can find the way out by getting the help of the saints of the past and the wisdom that they have left for the world.
Sometime during the end of 2002, I went through an experience which changed my worldview and my life completely. I was in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu for my semester holidays and I saw that there is a part of ‘self’ in me which is just pure conscious witness and it was unchanging. Identifying with this observer self or Sakshi (witness) was a great relief. It made me realize that I am a part of an infinite wholeness and can’t be separated from it. It gave me enormous strength to face the world and its challenges. I felt like a secret door to inner exploration had opened. I can classify this experience as a kind of ‘conversion experience” that psychologist William James discusses in his classic, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. The joy that this experience gave me never left me for the next six months. Many people, especially in the West, mistake this transformation for spiritual enlightenment but it is not.
It is only after this I came to know that the spiritual enlightenment which was accessible to Buddha, Mahavira, Shankara, Jesus and Muhammad was not a sole possession of such special people but it is a potential of every human being. But contrary to the path of renunciation and abstinence which was commonly discussed in popular spiritual books of the past, my way was of surrendering control and accepting life. This doesn’t require running away from life, controlling or going against one’s natural desires or torturing oneself. I practised a meditation called Sakshi bhavana (witnessing meditation), which is just being a witness or sakshi to what happens in the mind and the body, instead of identifying with the contents of consciousness. Sakshi bhavana basically creates a gap between an experience and the conscious observer self that witnesses this experience; this gap lessens the severity of pain or suffering that the experience brings.
Spiritual Enlightenment – The reward of the spiritual seeking
12 years of practicing Sakshi Bhavana, reading spiritual literature and hunting spiritual gurus came to an end on July 12, 2014, on the day of Guru Purnima. I felt like I have dissolved myself in the infinity and the wholeness of this existence. My perception of ‘self’ was no longer limited to this finite body and mind. I felt to be everything: I was the sky, the earth, the trees and everything around me. I stopped feeling like I was locked inside a body. I felt like I, as a person, stopped existing, as If I have simply melted in a soup of conscious experience and become everything. In fact, I was surprised to see that I could still function and carry on with my regular tasks without actually feeling that a personal limited self was doing them. There was no doubt that this is the advaita or oneness that all scriptures were talking about and this way of experiencing life still continues after these six years. The reward that this transformation brought was a great freedom and strength which cannot be put in words.
Challenges after self-realization – The untold downsides of Spiritual enlightenment
This is the part that I haven’t clearly discussed so far because I didn’t want to scare people. But now I have proceeded to throw some light on it, so that people can be prepared. This can also help people who are actually struggling to get some help after self-realization.
Spiritual enlightenment gives a different dimension to your mundane existence. We can call this as spiritual existence, which is totally different from the ‘human existence’ that everyone is familiar with. This spiritual existence makes ordinary experiences of life so rewarding; in fact, simply being alive has its own beauty, freshness and bliss in spiritual existence. Since it is so rewarding, it is very easy to actually neglect, ignore, deny or suppress the human existence which you still possess or still important. In fact, it may be very hard to see the truth that this spiritual existence is not a replacement for human existence, but only an addition to it.
It is not very uncommon for many self-realized people to neglect their body, health, relationships, careers etc because their importance fades before the majesty of self-realization. But when the situation demands your fullest attention, you may face an extremely challenging situation and no one would understand you. You have to go through some pain in correcting the situation.
For months after my own realization, I continued my job; but I didn’t think about anything at all. My mindset was similar to a small kid trying to explore the surroundings. I totally forgot about the responsibilities of my job and what I was supposed to do to keep my job. I was working in a call center and making sales was my responsibility. But I was so excited to meet every new person on the phone and I totally forgot that I had to convince the guy for a purchase. My mind was not thinking about an end or a goal. It is only after a few months I realized that I have to have a goal or end in my mind in order to survive in society. I couldn’t think of anything in the long term but I have to accept ‘making sales’ as a purpose to my existence.
I also kind of forgot that I was a human being with an independent existence and I was being watched by the world around me for all reasons. In fact, I kind of even forgot to realize that my today’s existence was a continuation of my yesterday’s existence. I didn’t realize that people were behaving with me in a certain way as a result of my own recent past behaviour. Past and future simply didn’t exist for me. I stopped keeping a track of what I did everyday or what happened to me everyday. I didn’t give a damn about what others thought about me to the extent of ignoring the fact that I was behaving like a lunatic at times. For example, I used to scare the hell out of people by keeping prolonged eye contact with them; I used to totally forget to think how weird it could be for another person. It was the idea of being a ‘person’ that carried the continuation from one moment to another moment; but since I lacked the idea of being a person in my conscious experience, I must have appeared as a totally funny guy to people.
This kind of compromised my career and relationships. It is only when they got compromised and when I felt answerable, I paid attention to what was happening to me. There was a time when I had to go for a job interview for a new job; that’s when I realized that I really didn’t have a version of myself in my mind. In fact, I absolutely had no immediate answer to the usual and common interview question, which is, “Could you tell me a bit about yourself?”. I felt like that was the most difficult question to answer.
There was also another confusion, which requires some explanation to understand. The world around you treats you in a certain way because you are a certain kind of person, projecting a certain image. In fact, the society simply reacts to how you are as a person, the patterns of your reactions, speech, behaviour etc. In turn, you learn your own behaviours and reactions depending on how the world treats you. All of our behaviours are simply learnt unconsciously using the three methods of learning: Classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.
But after self-realization, many things change in you. Even the simple things like the way you gaze, the way you speak etc undergo changes. Your face reactions are now a lot different. Since you are different, the way the world treats you is also different. This will literally shock your system even though this appears as an ordinary issue. Personally, I noticed that people started to talk to me with respect, strangers very easily started a conversation with me and people would even forgive me so easily when I messed up; people also took me for granted because I was less judgemental, less argumentative, less problematic and less complaining. This was all totally new to me. You may think that it is cool but it does bring its own challenges. The behaviours you already learnt will be totally out of place and will not fit with your changed persona. Because of this you may misunderstand people and reality. In fact, it is normal to go through a period of mild schizophrenia; it is a disorder which makes you misinterpret reality.
Also, you won’t sound much complaining and you won’t worry much. This is a good thing right? Not always… Your lack of worry will irritate your partner. You will be seen as irresponsible by your boss. People may start to think that you have become careless. They may bother you with a long monologue of useless advice; if you don’t pay attention to that they may feel extremely hurt because of all the good intentions they had.
Your lack of fear can be easily misinterpreted as lack of humility. Your boss at work may feel like you lack respect. You will keep offending people who have strong egos, which can actually become a threat to you. Some people may even try to hurt you because your simple presence may be offensive to them.
There is more to it. There is a reward center in your brain which controls your behaviour, by rewarding certain behaviours like eating, sex etc. You repeat behaviours which are rewarding and you refrain from behaviours which cause pain. One of the things which is very rewarding to a normal human mind is the feeling of personal accomplishment. It is this which motivates us humans to do a lot of self-preserving actions. It is this which kind of rules the world. People compete in elections, try hard to win a race or a competition, try to show off and even like to achieve goals because the sense of personal achievement they get out of it is extremely rewarding. After spiritual enlightenment, the reward you get in the feeling of personal achievement fades in comparison with the rewards and gifts your spiritual transformation brings. But this can result in compromising your human existence a lot. People who are close to you can actually start hating you for this.
Also, the people who were close to you in the past, like an old friend or your school classmate, can mess up your ‘spiritual existence’ by simply coming in touch with you. Meeting a human being from the past means a lot to your brain. All the neurons and pathways associated with this old human gets activated and a lot of old thought patterns can also get activated along with it (look up ‘classical conditioning). Your emotional state after such an acquaintance may surprise you. Please remember, your brain doesn’t know that you are enlightened! In general, people who know you before your spiritual enlightenment are hard to deal with, because the impression that they have about you was from the older ‘self’, while you are no longer the same person. These people can misunderstand you quite easily and the transactions or interactions are not always smooth.
‘ If you were addicted to any substance or drug like nicotine, alcohol etc, and if you didn’t work on your addiction before spiritual enlightenment, then you can’t quit that easily after enlightenment. First of all, addiction is a serious brain disease, not just a habit. It hacks the reward center of your brain and messes up the system. So getting over it is a huge work. A person quits using a drug because of the incentive he gets out of quitting: a feeling of personal accomplishment, restored health, more social acceptance etc. He has to convince himself that such rewards are greater than simply continuing to use the drugs, which is challenging for normal people. It gets more challenging after spiritual enlightenment because such rewards are nothing before the new ‘spiritual existence’ which rewards you for simply being you. In general, bringing any kind of behavioral change is more difficult, especially for the first few years after spiritual enlightenment.
Also, after spiritual enlightenment, all spiritual seeking disappears because the person who was seeking is no longer there. But growth or evolution is still possible. There is much more potential to a human being and spiritual enlightenment is just a beginning of the new dimension. Since seeking anything in the future is completely absent now, it is only the challenges and pain you face help you with any further evolution. So, your psychological wellbeing can still be affected after spiritual enlightenment but you can be assured that the end results are always good. So the ‘end of seeking’ is actually a problem here because you no longer seek a next stage in your evolution; it won’t even make sense to you. It is true that there is no higher stage or a ‘more enlightened’ state; but there is a richness in realizing the full potential, which is possible by facing the challenges of a normal life. There is a beauty in the maturity of spiritual enlightenment when you learn to live an ordinary life with this new ‘spiritual existence’. You accomplish this evolution when you continue to “chop wood and fetch water” after spiritual enlightenment.
To conclude, spiritual enlightenment is pretty much like a rebirth. You have to explore this new dimension and learn how to live with it all by yourself. It takes a few years to kind of stabilize things after spiritual enlightenment. There is much more to the spiritual enlightenment than what you find in spiritual literature and from the gurus. The rest, you have to find out by entering this realm yourself.
Pappankulam is a small village near Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India which has some beautiful teples and beautiful stories associated with them. It is my own native place and I had recently gone there. The main Shiva temple (Arulmigu Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple) was once damaged; but it was renovated in 2017 and now it looks beautiful.
The village also has many other temples like Ramaswamy temple (Lord Rama), Sadai Udayar sastha temple, Palani Andavar temple, Muppidathi amman temple, Chandika devi amman temple, a temple for Ganesh etc. The temple myths seem to convey messages that glorify the village. They seem to indicate that this village gave a lot of importance to arts and crafts, wisdom and Vedas.
I am going to go into the details of the myths and explain the possible reasons that such myths were created in the first place. Because, myths are not historical incidents. But they are created to make a point, convey a message, give a theological narrative or a supernatural explanation for a real incident, to glorify a person or a place etc. So they may carry hidden historical explanations even though a story in itself may not be a faithful narrative of a historical event.
There are a couple of stories about Pappankulam which are related to Hindu Varna system. But I will use those stories to remove certain misconceptions about Indian Varna system. In fact, It is not really as worse as it is portrayed by some political parties in India.
This post will also help you to know about an important village in Tamil Nadu which gave so much importance to arts, knowledge and Vedic education. This is very obvious by the stories associated with this place.
Pappankulam – A Land Donated to a Brahmin
Let us first see why this village was named Pappankulam. There is an anecdote which is not a myth but likely to be historical.
Aditta Varma (or probably Aditya Varma) was a Pandiya king and was also a devotee of Shiva. He built many temples of Shiva and they were designed by a sculptor named Chaturvedi. Chaturvedi was probably his last name as it is a common last name among Brahmins which means ‘the knower of four Vedas’. It could also be just a nickname since his original name was forgotten.
Chaturvedi was an excellent sculptor with good mastery in his skills and a great sense of art. So the king Aditta Varma was very pleased by his work and donated some land. It was called Chaturvedi Mangalam (an old Sanskrit name for Pappankulam).
Chaturvedi later went through so many problems in his life. When consulting astrologers, it was found that Graha dosha was the reason. In Astrology, Graha Dosha is an instance of one celestial body afflicting another. Chaturvedi was advised to consecrate a Shiva Linga with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone or sodium potassium aluminium silicate) and build a huge temple with Navagrahas (nine grahas or celestial bodies in Indian Astrology). He was told that building such a temple will get rid of his problems.
Chaturvedi built a Shiva temple and also dug a pond near it. The temple is now beautifully renovated and known as Sri Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple, Pappankulam. The pond is called Kalkurichi pond. Once he built this temple, it is believed that his problems were solved.
Another version of the story says that the temple already existed before the time of Aditta Varman but the king prayed here to have progeny. He didn’t have children for a long time. But once he prayed in this temple, he was blessed with a child. So the king Aditta Varman expanded the temple with the help of sculptor Chaturvedi and also donated him some land. This information is available in the temple inscriptions.
The word ‘Pappan’ in Pappankulam is a distortion of the Tamil word ‘pArpAn’ (பார்ப்பான்) which means a Brahmin. ‘Kulam’ means pond. The village got this name possibly because all four Vedas were taught, recited in this village and because of the fact that Vedic culture flourished here.
Some people also give another explanation. The Tamil word ‘pApAngu’ means the young one of a bird. Since a lot of small birds constantly make noise in this pond, it was called by this name. But I really think that this explanation was forced. The first explanation about Pappankulam being the village of Brahmins and Vedas suits this village for many reasons.
Goddess Saraswati and the Curse of the sage Durvasa
In Hindu Myths, sage Durvasa is known for his short temper. But sage Durvasa was a real person, probably a self-realized jnani with a short temper.
This may sound strange because many people believe that something like self-realization or spiritual enlightenment would certainly make a person get rid of anger. But even a self-realized person retains certain vasanas and many other older habits according to his own karma or nature, so that he is able to interact with the world and society. So each enlightened person carries at least 1-2% of imperfections from his past, which do not cause anymore bondage. For Durvasa, anger was a tool and it is often referred to as sAtvika krodha, the anger arises from balance and compassion. Durvasa has composed Sri Tripura Mahimna Stotra: https://www.kamakotimandali.com/srividya/mahimnah.html
There is another story associated with Thiruvenkadar temple. One day, Durvasa was reciting Vedas but committed a small mistake by using a wrong letter or sound. Hearing this, Saraswati, the Goddess of arts and wisdom, started laughing.This angered Durvasa. So he cursed that Goddess Saraswati should go to earth and live for 64 years and teach all the 64 arts to humans. Because of that curse, both Goddess Saraswati and Brahma (her consort) came to earth, worshipped Tiruvenkadar of Pappankulam and lived there for 64 years, teaching arts and wisdom to people. Thamirabarani Mahatmyam has many stories associated with places near Tirunelveli, including the curse of Durvasa on Saraswati.
This story was probably created to explain the existence and growth of various fine arts in this village 500 years before. It is a theological narrative to explain how many people in this village learnt arts those days. The temple was a small stone temple during Kulasekara Maravarman’s reign (1268–1308 CE). The inscription in the temple says ‘ராஜசதுர்வேதி மங்கலத்தின் வடமேற்கே வேளார்குறிச்சியில் பகவதி விண்ணகர் ஆழ்வார்’ (Northwest to Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam, in Velarkurichi, Bhagavathi Vinnagar Azhwar.)
There is a small stage called Jeeva Kalaiarangam very close to the temple, where plays are conducted every year during the car festival. (When I was a school boy, I acted in a few of those plays myself, especially in comedy roles. Just in one play, I appeared in a court scene as a lawyer). A writer in our village writes these plays every year and they last for one hour.
Vada Kalai Nayagi – The Goddess of arts
The Shiva in the main temple is called Thiruvenkadar and his consort Shakti in this temple is called Vada Kalai Nayagi. Vada (vAdA) means ‘never fading’; ‘Kalai’ means ‘arts’; Nayaki means ‘Chief’. So the name Vada Kalai Nayagi literally means Goddess of arts. The temple is based on Karanagama.
Also, the Goddess is depicted to show 32 expressions (Samudrika Lakshana) in a single sculpture and that is considered to be very special, showing the unique skill of the sculptor.
The Confluence of Ramanathi and Kadana nathi rivers – A Confluence of Tamil and Sanskrit
Pappankulam is the place where two small rivers, Ramanathi and Kadana nathi (Gadananadhi or Gatananadhi) meet and merge with each other. Both rivers have an interesting story.
Ramanathi is said to have originated from a drop from the Kamandalu (an oblong water pot) of sage Agastya. Kadana nathi is said to have originated from the water that sage Atri obtained as a loan from river Ganges.
Again, while thinking about the reasons for these myths, they seem to indicate something that is unique about Pappankulam. Sage Agastya is associated with Tamil language and it is believed that Agastya came up with the Tamil grammar for the very first time. (Agastya is also a Rig Vedic rishi). Atri is associated with Gangetic plain and Vedas. It is where Vedic civilization and Sanskrit education thrived. So this story was probably created to explain that just like Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet here, Tamil and Sanskrit also meet here.
This makes a lot of sense. Since the village got its name because of Bramins and Vedic recitations, it was certainly a place where Sanskrit met Tamil. Today we have both Brahmin priests who chant in Sanskrit and Tamil odhuvar priests who take care of certain temples; they recite Tamil hymns from Tevaram.
It is also important to note that there are mountains with the name of both Agastya (Agastya hills) and Atri (Athri malai) just a few miles away from Pappankulam. Devotees can trek both these mountains after getting permission from the forest department. People believe that sage Atri had an ashram in Athiri malai and created Kadana nathi for his disciple Shri Korakkanathar.
Threefold Classification: Thiruvenkadu (Uttarapuri), Madurai (Madhyapuri) and Pappankulam (Dakshinapuri)
People also say that the temple town Thiruvenkadu is considered as Uttarapuri or northern town, Madurai is considered as Madhya puri (the town in the middle) and Pappankulam is considered as Dakshina puri or the one in the south. The suffix ‘puri’ is usually used at the end of the names of many towns and villages.
I was wondering why there is such a classification and what is common between these three places. I am just writing what seems to be obvious.
Thiruvenkadu is a village located near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam. Thiruvenkadu means “white forest’. This village has a famous Shiva temple called Swetharanyeswarar Temple. The name of Shiva in Pappankulam is Thiruvenkadar, which is the literal Tamil meaning of Swetharanyeswarar. So, it may be said that the temple in Pappankulam was based on the original temple in Thiruvenkadu.
There are many stories which are associated with Thiruvenkadu and this is one of them (from Wiki):
“Achyutha Kalappalar, a local chieftain was childless. His guru Sivacharya analyzed his horoscope and read out an ancient palm leaf manuscript. It had the verse of Sambandar, one of the major Saivite saints Nayanars. Chieftain was advised to pray at Venkadu to be blessed with a progeny. He prayed at the place along with his wife and was blessed with a boy. The boy later went on to write Sivagnana Bodham.”
Sivagnana Bodham is considered to be the best Tamil text in Saiva Siddhanta. The author of Sivagnana Bodham is Meykandar, who is shown as the blessed boy in the above story. This superior Tamil text of spiritual wisdom is associated with Thiruvenkadu. Just like that, Madurai is a place associated with three Tamil sangams and the huge body of Tamil literature associated with it. So, the only thing that is common for all the three places is their association with wisdom, literature and knowledge.
Based on that, it is likely that Pappankulam is listed as one of the three places because of its association with wisdom and knowledge.
Association of Pappankulam temple with Budha (Mercury)
Budha (Mercury) is one of the nine grahas in Indian astrology. The main temple of Budha in Tamil Nadu is actually Swetharanyeswarar Temple in Thiruvenkadu near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam, where there is an image of Budha. But Budha is said to have also worshipped here in Pappankulam too.
Budha is said to be a graha related to wisdom and intellect. According to astrology, Budha dosha, a malefic effect of this graha is believed to cause nervous and mental issues and poor academic performance. Budha as a person is also considered as superior among jnanis or self-realized people.
Since Budha is associated with intellect and wisdom, it is reasonable to assume that association of Budha with Pappankulam temple is to show the association of wisdom with the village.
Pazhani Andavar temple, Pappankulam
There is a temple called Palani Andavar (or Pazhani Andavar temple) very close to Thiruvenkadar temple. The word ‘Pazhani’ here refers to the hill temple for Murugan in Palani, Tamilnadu. The temple for Skanda or Murugan in Pappankulam has the same name as the deity of temple in Palani hills.
I am quoting the temple legend of Palani murugan temple from Wiki:
“According to Hindu mythology, “Sage Narada once visited the celestial court of Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash to present to Him a fruit, the gyana-pazham (literally, the fruit of wisom), that held in it the elixir of wisdom. Upon Lord Shiva expressing his intention of dividing the fruit between his two sons, Ganesha and Muruga, the sage counselled against cutting it. He decided to award it to whomever of his two sons first circled the world thrice.
Accepting the challenge, Lord Murugan started his journey around the globe on his mount peacock. However, Ganesha, who surmised that the world was no more than his parents Shiva and Shakti combined, circumambulated them”.Pleased with their son’s discernment, Lord Shiva awarded the fruit to Lord Ganesha. When Murugan returned, he was furious to learn that his efforts had been in vain. He left Kailash and took up his abode in Palani hills in South India. It is believed that Murugan felt the need to get matured from boyhood and hence chose to remain as a hermit and discarded all his robes and ornaments. He went into meditation to know about himself”.
I am also quoting my interpretation of the same story, as I have written in my post ‘3-level meditation’:
“First of all, Shiva and Shakthi represent two things: Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is the pure witness; the consciousness without any attributes including actions or qualities. Prakriti is everything that is witnessed by Purusha. Prakrithi includes everything that is witnessed in your conscious experience: the external world and its internal representation consisting of thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes, intellect, ego, memories etc. Essentially Purusha and Prakriti are inseparable, just like fire and heat are inseparable. So this union of Purusha and Prakriti constitutes absolute reality or what we call as God.
Realizing this absolute truth in one’s experience is Jnana or self-realization. Usually, self-realization is compared to a fruit, since it represents the fruit of spiritual sadhana. You will see the word ‘Phala’ used in many Buddhist texts as a synonym for enlightenment. There is even sutta in Buddhist canon called samannaphala sutta, which means the fruit of asceticism.
There are always two kinds of people in the world. People who realize that the truth is very close because it is inside them and people who search for the truth outside. The story of Ganesha and Skanda competing for Jnanapalam (fruit of wisdom) has a striking similarity to this concept. Ganesha realizes that the truth is within, so he immediately gets the fruit by reaching the Shivasakthi which is very close to him. On the other hand, Skanda goes around the world and realizes that he did not get jnana in spite of going around the world. (this is illustrated by the story that Skanda could not get the fruit). So finally he realizes his folly and takes Sannyas. He sits in one place and goes within to find the truth.”
The presence of a temple whose deity is associated with the fruit of wisdom again reinforces the fact that the village Pappankulam is associated with wisdom, especially, spiritual wisdom that is realized through self-realization.
The Beliefs and Uniqueness About Pappankulam Thiruvenkadar Temple
For rainfall, people do Tara homam. People say that the result is instantaneous. It is also said that an eagle makes rounds on the sky during the homa.
Legends say that Chola and Pandya kings worshipped Saneeswaran (Shani) and were able to win battles. It is a general belief that by worshipping Saneeswaran here, one can win his enemies.
The linga is made with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone). People used to believe that this stone gets its coolness from the moon and also keeps the room cool. People believe that this stone is good for meditation and calmness. Chandrakanta stone is worn as a gem and popularly known as lover’s gem as people believe that it helps them to find true love. Moon is linked to the mind; so this gem stone is linked to both emotional balance and intellect.
Inside the temple, there is a shrine of a siddhar who attained moksha. The details about him are not available. Every full moon day, there is a special puja in this shrine. Some believe that it might be Thiruvenkadar who was popularly known as Pattinathar. (There have been three people by the same name).
The statue of Skanda or Murugan with his consorts is made of a single stone.
In the shrine of Guru bhagawan, a snake is sculpted under his feet. It is believed that people can get rid of Raghu Kethu dosha by worshipping Guru bhagawan here.
The lingam appears bigger if seen from the flagpost (kodimaram) and smaller if viewed from the mandapam near sanctum sanctorum. This is something unique about the architecture of the temple.
Since Budha was believed to have worshipped here and since he is thought of having the power to remove the malefic effects caused by other planets in astrology, people believe that by worshipping him one can get rid of all graha doshas.
The abhishekam (bathing of the deity) water is believed to possess medicinal qualities. People attribute this to Chandrakanta stone.
Sthala Vriksha (the monumental and holy tree) of this temple is night-flowering Jasmine.
The theertham (holy water available in the pond nearby) is called Brahma theertham.
There is a snake depicted separately at the feet of Dhakshinamoorthy. This is something unusual as the snake is usually just drawn in the other temples. The snake represents Kundalini.
People who have problems in getting married visit this place during the Tamil months of Adi and Ani (roughly from the middle of June to middle of August), take bath in the place where the two rivers merge (called irandathu mukku or the corner of two rivers), and worship Thiruvenkadar with oil lamp. They believe that this gets rid of the problem.
Association of Lord Rama and killing Shambuka
Ramayana is an epic based on wisdom king model (Dharmaraja) whereas Mahabharata is based on a warrior king model (Chakravartin). In Ramayana, Rama is shown as a king who protects Dharma, the right way of life, during his reign. Here we need to remember one thing (which I will elaborate on later); the norms of those days were different. And the society was also a lot different.
In Pappankulam, there is a beautiful temple of Rama known as Ramaswamy temple. According to temple inscriptions, it was built before 12th century AD by Pandiya king Maravarman I.
It is not surprising that Rama, an icon of wisdom, has a temple here. But the temple is also associated with one of the most controversial episodes of Ramayana, the killing of Shambuka by Rama.
In Uttarakanda (Final chapter or Ramayana), sargas 73-76 narrate the story of Shambuka. Shambuka was a Shudra (lower caste) ascetic who was slain by Rama for attempting to do a penance. Rama considered this penance of Shambuka as the act in violation of dharma as he believed that the negative consequences or karma, resulting from this act, caused the death of a Brahmin’s son in his kingdom.
Uttarakhanda is not usually considered as written by Valmiki, the original author of Ramayana. It is usually seen as a later addition. But this episode is seen as controversial and often used to criticize Ramayana as a whole, as promoting caste based discrimination. There are some problems with such a conclusion. To understand, we need to see how the whole Varna system (the system of four varnas including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) evolved and how it was seen in Ancient India.
History of Varnas
There is already a hypothesis called Trifunctional hypothesis, according to which three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen) existed in prehistoric Indo-European societies. This was something which naturally happened.
Even in Ancient China, there were the shi (gentry scholars), the nong (peasant farmers), the gong (artisans and craftsmen), and the shang (merchants and traders) forming a fourfold classification. So, there has been a natural division of society based on what people did.
Vedic civilization also initially had these threefold divisions. Brahmins (priests, writers, poets, teachers and intellectual pillar of the society), Kshatriyas (king and the army), and Vaishyas (merchants and farmers). There was no fourth varna.
Among the three varnas, there was no strict birth based division. But it was natural for the son to follow the father’s occupation. A teacher was someone who initiated the people from all three classes to Vedic study, which not only included studying hymns and rituals, but also included studying etymology, prosody, astrology, phonetics and grammar. And certainly, it should have included basic education like basic Mathematics, Geometry, knowledge about various plants and their uses etc. Because, this was the only form of study until there was a university in Taxila. But that was a place for scholars and elites, not common people.
Now, who was a Shudra? One who was not initiated into Vedic study. So initially, the following were Shudras:
All people, from the time they were born until they were initiated into Vedic study were Shudras. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
Tribes who were following a tradition different from Vedic religion. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
Tribes who deviated from Vedic traditions and hence the people born now are no longer initiated into Vedic studies. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
When we are looking at the cultures in a huge landmass over a time period of more than 3500 years, we need to keep the following things in mind.
The meaning of the word changes many times throughout history. Customs and rules also change throughout history. We tend to think of a static homogeneous system when we think of Varna system. But that is not really the case. Even the meanings of the words like Brahmins and Shudras have had different meanings and connotations during different times of the history.
Until Kuru kingdom was formed, there were no strict rules in the society. From Michael Witzel, we know that initiation into Vedic studies was open to anyone. This was very true in the early Rig Vedic period. So anyone, regardless of what tribe they belonged to, what language they spoke at home, what food they ate were initiated into Vedic study. This was the time the whole Rig Vedic samhitas were not yet compiled into one collection.
At this point, basically, if a person makes a living through a means that is not natural to his Varna, he is doing something that he is not qualified for. The real intention behind formulation of various rules for various Varna was that a person should do the work which suits his personality, ability, other genetic traits, conditioning and nurture etc. This rule will apply even right now. If your friends say you look like a bodybuilder but you are looking for a high-paying job in a company for a post that you don’t qualify for, the confusion is obvious. But it is true that some of the rules that existed then were very cruel.
Once the Kuru Kingdom was established, things began to change gradually. Because of getting patronage and money, it was very easy for traditional priests to do a good job and prove their worth. So it was not usual for someone to change their varna. Slowly, Shudras became a fourth caste who should serve other three classes. And Varnas became birth based, even though it was not strictly and universally followed. You can find evidence for it in Vedas themselves:
yathemāṁ vācaṁ kalyāṇīṁ avadāni janebhyaḥ | brahma rājanyābhyāṁ śūdrāya caryāya ca svayāya caraṇāya ca ||
Just as I have revealed this salutary auspicious teachings to all humans, so should you. I have revealed the Vedic truth to brahmins, kshatriyas, sudras and Aryas, to personal servants and to the lowest of servants (araṇāya) also. (Sukla Yajur Veda 26:2)
It also looks like there was a discussion. Some say Shudras should not be initiated; and some say that they should. In this context, there are certainly talking about a strictly birth-based four-fold varna system. But the fact that there was a discussion indicates that the rules were relaxed, even though some took advantage of it to show their prejudice.
vidyate caturthasya varṇasya agnyādheyam ityeke
Some say that all four varnas are eligible to consecrate the 3 sacred fires (Bhāradvāja śrauta sutra 5:2.8.)
Markandeya Purana says that Shudras can perform Yajnas or fire sacrifice:
dānaṁ yajño’tha śuśrūṣā dvijātināṁ tridhā mayā |
vyākhyātaḥ śūdra dharmo’pi jīvikā kāru-karmajā |
tadvad dvijāti śuśrūṣā poṣaṇam kraya vikrayaiḥ |
The religious duties of a Shudra are works of charity and the performing of yajñas and serving others. They earn a living from being artisans, tradesmen, craftsmen etc. from service professions, from nurturing and from selling and buying. (Markaṇḍeya Purāṇa 25:7-8)
Prejudice is natural in human beings, and to get rid of that one has to develop a certain clarity; to get read of it completely, one has to walk on the spiritual path and attain atma jnana or self-realization. But it can be kept in check and channeled properly. One can bring more awareness to it.
Among any two groups, the problem of ‘we’ vs ‘you all’ is bound to occur at some point of time. When a person associates his self-image to the whole group he belongs to, the notion that the other ‘group’ is inferior can very easily arise. Today, we see the same prejudice and hatred taking place in the name of caste, religion, language, nationalities, races etc.
At any point of time, a society has all kinds of people with different personalities, character, intentions, mental purity etc. So, it is very safe to assume that in any culture, some kind of prejudice would have resulted in oppression and hatred of the ‘other’ group. But how can anyone get an entire picture of the situation at any point of time in the ancient past? So, it would be a mistake to consider that Varna system was a rigid division that existed throughout the entire subcontinent, throughout the whole past.
The episode of Rama and Shambukha
Let us come to Rama’s situation in the story of Ramayana. He hears that someone who is not initiated into how to do rituals and penance is doing a penance and it resulted in the cause of a Brahmin’s death.
Rama approaches the Shudra ascetic, And here is what Valmiki Ramayana says:
“On this that Prince approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said “Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung, O Thou who hast grown old in mortification and who art established in heroism. I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha. What purpose hast thou in view? Is it heaven or some other object? What boon dost thou seek by means of this hard penance? I wish to know what thou desire in performing these austerities, oh Ascetic. May prosperity attend thee! Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully!” Then the ascetic, who was hanging head downwards, thus questioned by Rama, revealed his origin to that Prince born of Dasaratha, the foremost of kings, and the reason why he was practicing penance. Hearing the words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head still hanging downwards, answered “O Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka.” As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head.”
— The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri p1585
Rama is a person who doesn’t seem to be too sensitive about the divisions of Varna and certainly he doesn’t seem to exhibit any prejudice. We see that throughout Ramayana. We see his loving interaction with Shabari, an old Shudra woman. And here he is facing a situation.
Everyone says that this Shudra ascetic needs to be slain; that seems to be the public consensus according to the norms of the day. He is not qualified, uninitiated but his penance was believed to be the cause of the death of a son of a Brahmin, the person who initiates many people. And here he says that he does this penance to attain the status of Gods. Those days, it should have sounded pretty much like, “I don’t have a driving license and I am drunk but I am on my way to participate in a car race now”. You hear this from a guy after you have heard from someone that he had been the cause of the death of someone’s son.
Penance is done for the welfare of the society. An unqualified and uninitiated person doing a penance for attaining the status of God while already being accused of having caused a Brahmin’’s death posed a threat to the society. And everyone asks to kill him. As a responsible king, Rama killed Shambuka. Looking at it from a modern lens, it may sound too cruel; but the past is past. Whoever wrote this story has just reflected the norms of the days when it was put into composition.
But personally, I don’t take epics as history, They might have been inspired by multiple stories and traditional lores; some of them may be true; some of them may be a mixture of two different stories. The fact that people had the liberty to compose different versions for stories like Ramayana indicates that they didn’t take the epics as faithful historical narratives as we do today.
Ramayana has a spiritual meaning though. It symbolizes our consciousness getting kidnapped by the three malas: anava, karma and maya. Or it could indicate our senses getting kidnapped by the root ignorance or avidya. An entire text called Adhyatma Ramayana was written to allegorically interpret the story of Hindu epic Ramayana in the Advaita Vedanta framework.
But the story of Shambuka does teach one thing, which became hidden because of time. One should follow his svadharma, or make a living that suits his personality traits, abilities, interests and experience. Shambuka’s story also teaches about the quick justice that happens to an offence in the state that was believed to have caused a serious consequence. But one shouldn’t interpret this as a careless justice given without proper investigation. At least, the author of this part of the story wants us to understand that it was an emergency, according to their norms and situation.
In Pappankulam, the story of the temple goes like this. According to the temple myth, when Rama wanted to kill Shambuka, he was hiding somewhere nearby the Kadana nathi river. Rama stood on a rock here to locate him. It was the spot where the rivers Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet. It is said that Shiva appeared as a light near Madavarvilagam and helped Rama to locate Shambuka. Rama is also said to have done Sandhya Vandhanam there. So the rock is called Sandhya rock or Sandhya parai. It has an inscription of a chakra and a footstep. It is believed to be the footstep of Rama, according to the temple myth. After killing Shambuka, Rama is believed to have taken shelter under a tamarind tree, which is the same as the location of Ramaswamy temple in Pappankulam. The killing of Shambuka is believed to have taken place in Sambankulam near Sivasailam.
Chandika Devi Amman temple in Pappankulam, Parashurama and Tripura Rahasya
On the way to Kadana nathi river, there is another temple for mother Goddess Shakti or Parvati. The temple is called Chandika Devi Amman and usually referred to as Sendika Devi Amman by locals. Many people name their daughters as Sendika (my father’s elder brother’s daughter is one of them). I couldn’t find anything much about the existence of Chandika devi amman temples in other parts of Tirunelveli district. But I am assuming they should exist as small temples, as there are stories associated with Chandika and Parashurama.
“Parashurama (Sanskrit: परशुराम, IAST: Paraśurāma, lit. Rama with an axe) is the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Born as a Brahmin , Parashurama carried traits of a Kshatriya and is often regarded as a Brahma Warrior. He carried a number of traits, which included aggression, warfare and valor; also, serenity, prudence and patience. Like other incarnations of Vishnu, he was foretold to appear at a time when overwhelming evil prevailed on the earth.The Kshatriya class, with weapons and power, had begun to abuse their power, take what belonged to others by force and tyrannize people. Parashurama corrects the cosmic equilibrium by destroying these Kshatriya warriors. Bhumihars claim that their ancestors were Brahmins who were set up to take the place of the Kshatriyas slain by Parashurama. (Bhumihars are a Hindu caste mainly found in Bihar (including the Mithila region), the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, and Nepal.).”
There is a legend associated with Chandika worship. Whenever we talk about any myth or legend, we need to understand that it need not be historical. Parashurama is generally associated with Northern India and his birthplace is believed to be on top of the Janapav hills in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. He is also associated with many temple consecrations in south India, including the Sabarimala temple and Kanyakumari temple.
But was Parashurama really a historical person? He was probably a Brahmin who stood up against the oppression of kings and helped with consecration of many temples. Parushurama might have been a real name or just a nickname. But it is usual for people to attribute myths about the person they liked and admired. People also attribute the work of the descendants of an important person to the person himself. It is also usual for disciples to compose a work and name their own guru as the author. So, even with careful and critical analysis of various sources, confirming historicity of an incident is very challenging.
The myth associated with the worship of Chandika goes like this. Guru Dattatreya preached the essence of Advaita Vedanta to Parashurama in Gandhamadana Parvatha hills, Rameshwaram. He went over the three states of consciousness which are waking, sleeping and dreaming and explained that the consciousness that witnesses these three states is more real than what is being witnessed. It can be understood well with the screen and movie metaphor popularized by Ramana Maharshi. This consciousness is personified as Chandika, who rules over all three states as if they are three cities or Tripuras. So she is also known as Tripura Sundari.
Later, Parashurama is said to have lived in Pothigai hills in Tirunelveli and did a spiritual practice on Chandika for 12 years. He imparted this truth to his disciple Haritayana. Haritayana compiled the teachings as Tripura Rahasya.
There are no temple myths associated with Chandika Devi amman temple in Pappankulam. It is a very small temple. But the form of Chandika is used in a lot of myths and famous texts.
Chandika or Chandi appears in Markandeya Purana, in the section known as Chandi or The Devi Mahatmya. This is what she says about herself:
“I resemble in form Brahman;
From me emanates the world
Which has the Spirit of Prakriti and Purusha;
I am empty and not empty;
I am delight and non-delight;
I am knowledge and ignorance;
I am Brahman and not Brahman!”
The basis for Chandi worship is found in Devi Bhagavatam and Devi Mahatmya. The Goddess is also understood as a combined force of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali. The Chandi worship might have originated in West Bengal and might have been popularized by Parashurama (or one of his descendants) in the South. Parashurama is understood as someone who created or developed the iconography of Chandika in south Tamil Nadu.
Chandika, Maheshwari and Skandamata are associated with the 5th day of navaratri. Chandika also refers to a 7 year old girl. Chandi is depicted as a very angry Goddess.
Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple, Pappankulam
On the way to Kadana nathi, there is a small Shiva temple in the Agraharam street called Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple. This temple is not in a good condition and needs renovation.
The original Sankara Narayanan Gomathi amman temple is in Sankarankovil, Tirunelveli district. The temple is associated with religious tolerance between Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The myth about Gomathi Amman is there to explain that Shiva and Vishnu are different names of one Supreme divinity.
As Rig Veda says, the truth is one but called by various names by wise people (Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti – Rig Veda 1.164.46). This also applies to names like Allah and Yahweh. Gomathi amman can be taken as an embodiment of religious tolerance, who preaches the truth about the essential oneness of various paths.
I ended up writing about Gomathi amman in the past which was a result of some amazing coincidences that I witnessed. I have written about such coincidences in the following posts:
Sadaiudayar Sastha is our family deity. Shasta means a teacher or a guru. Just like there are various forms of Shiva, there are various forms of Shasta too and one of them is Sadaiudayar.
Again, I would like to remind the readers here that names like Shasta, Shiva, Vishnu etc are different names for one divinity and each of these names may highlight a particular aspect of divinity more than the others.
Sastha is the personification of a divine teacher. When you consider Almighty or the Supreme reality as a divine teacher or if you are attracted to the image of a teacher more than anything else, then you can choose one of these forms for worship: Sastha, Skanda guru, Dakshinamurthy.
The true form of worship involves surrender and love, as shown in Bhagavad Gita; but which form you are devoted to doesn’t matter at all, as long as you feel more emotionally connected with your chosen form. The devotion purifies the mind and prepares the ground for self-realization.
Just like there are eight forms of Lakshmi called Ashtalakshmi, there are eight forms of Sastha too. I have elaborated on the etymology of the word Lakshmi and the eight forms of Lakshmi here: 3-Level Meditation
Let us now see about Ashta Sasthas:
Adhi Maha Sastha – Similar to Adhilakshmi or Mahalakshmi, he represents the highest wealth of a human being which is self-realization or Atma jnana. Adhi Maha Sastha is depicted with two consorts: Poorna and Pushkala. Poorna means fullness; Pushkala means abundance or an absence of any sense of lack. This actually means that self-realization changes the way you experience your life in such a way that you feel full and complete and do not sense that anything lacks when it comes to your ultimate well being. Adhi Maha Sastha is more popular in villages of South; Sadaiudayar Sastha is just one form of Adhi Maha Sastha.
Dharma sastha: Dharma sastha is someone who takes care of Dharma or cosmic order. Dharma dictates the way of life that contributes to the well being of oneself and the other. The concept of avatar is closely linked to Dharma. So an avatar of Sastha should be considered as a human representation of Dharma sastha.
Manikandan, who is popularly worshipped as Ayyappan is considered as an avatar of Dharma sastha. This doesn’t mean that Almighty took the form of a person. Almighty is always Avyakta or impersonal; but it is that which manifests as everything. Manikandan was a human prince who practiced celibacy; but once his time is over, he has merged himself with the Almighty; it is explained by saying he merged with Dharma sastha. So the distinction between Manikandan and Sastha is the same as the distinction between Krishna and Vishnu.
Just like there is Bhagavad Gita for Krishna, there is Boothanatha Geeta (or Bhutanatha Gita) for Manikandan. It is a very rare text. You can read a short commentary on it here: Bhoothanatha Geetha – The Song of Ayyappa
Gnana Sastha: He is the lord of wisdom. He is depicted as sitting under a banyan tree just like Dhakshinamoorthy. He also holds a Manikka Veena instrument just like Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. Please note that the same icons have been reused for the iconography of Sastha. He exclusively represents the part of a teacher or a guru. He can be compared to Vidya Lakshmi among Ashta Lakshmis.
Kalyana Varadha Sastha: He is a symbol of marriage and auspiciousness. Can be compared to Vijaya Lakshmi. He is also depicted with his two consorts.
Gajaarooda Sastha: He is the annihilator of enemies. Just like Gajalakshmi who represents royal power.
Sammohana Sastha: Represents conjugal bliss and harmony and depicted with Poorna and Pushkala.
Santhana Prapthi Sastha: Symbol of progeny, just like Santanalakshmi. He has a consort Prabhavati who holds Manikka Veena and also a child Satyagan. He is also called Brahma Sastha.
Veda Sastha: He represents Vedas and the knowledge they give. He is also called ‘Simharooda Sastha’ (the one who rides a lion).
Veera Sastha: Similar to Dhairya Lakshmi, he represents courage and valour. This form of Sastha is mentioned in ‘Adi Sankara Vicharitham’ which has Adi Sankara worshipping Veera Sastha in a place called Kudhiran.(Between Trichur and Palghat).
Building a complete Ashta Sastha Temple at Veppampattu, Salem was a dream of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma, who was ordained by Paramacharya. But this project is not complete yet and Villivakkam Sree Viswanatha Sharma Ashta Sastha Temple Trust is currently looking for financial assistance.
I can see a similarity between this Ashta Sastha project of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma and Skandasramam project which was completed by H. H. Swami Santhananda Saraswati Avadhoota Swamigal. Skandasramam is also about Skanda guru, the form of divine guru like Sastha (Gnana Sastha, in particular). Both are in Salem, Tamil Nadu. I have opened up regarding some amazing coincidences in a video regarding this, and this video is available on the page about 3-level meditation.
The Village as a Temple – A Unique Feature of Pappankulam
There is a unique feature of the part of the land in Pappankulam where all the above mentioned temples are present. The whole piece of land somehow resembles a temple in itself in which Sastha is the mulavar or the primary deity.
Whenever you look at a Sankalpa mantra in the Puja Vidhi (rules of worship) for any deity, you will notice that the worship of Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari comes first.
शबरिगिरीशाभिन्न पूर्णा पुष्कलाम्बा समेत श्री हरिहरपुत्र पूजां करिष्ये ॥ (द्विः) आदौ महागणपति , श्री दुर्गा परमेश्वरी पूजनं च करिष्ये ॥
These two lines in Sanskrit say, “I am going to perform Puja for the one who lives in Sabari giri, or Harihara putra (Ayyappa) who is with Poorna and Pushkala. First, I will perform Puja for Maha Ganapathi and Durga Parameshwari.”
When you enter Pappankulam village through its western bus stop, you will soon be greeted by a Ganapathi temple under a banyan tree and a small Muppidathi temple on the two sides of the same street in the same location. (Just next to Ganapathi temple is the home of my father’s elder brother and I stayed there for one year when I was 15 years old.).
Mupidathi is the third of eight forms of Kali. Pidari means head. It became pidaari and then pidaathi. Temple myths in Tirunelveli district say that 8 Kalis after coming from Kailash went to Podhigai hills and started gracing devotees in various temples in place near Tirunelveli. These 8 Kalis are the forms of one divinity which is the same as Chandika, Tripura Sundari or Durga Parameshwari.
So, when you step inside Pappankulam to visit Sastha temple, you are greeted by Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari at the entrance of the long street that leads to Sastha temple and Kadana nathi.There is a pond nearby, just like there is a pond near all the temples. After you walk for five to ten minutes, you reach the cross roads where you take left to visit Tiruvenkadar temple and Palani andavar temple (for Skanda); then take right to visit Ramaswamy temple. Then you proceed to visit both Chandika temple and Shankara Narayanan Gomathi temple. Finally, when you are about to reach the river, where you visit the mulavar which is Sastha. After having a darshan of Sastha, you reach the river bank of Kadana nathi, where you can proceed to visit the confluence of two rivers. This symbolizes the disappearance of duality and realization of oneness.
My Own Experiences in Pappankulam
From June 1999 to April 2000, I spent my days in this village as I was studying in my 10th standard. This is the village where my father was born; my grandfather Shanmugam who is well known as Pappaiah Pillai in the whole village had passed away sometime during 1992. I was named after him. I had never spent much time here except coming for holidays and staying for four or five days. But during that one year, I lived here and enjoyed the beauty of rural life.
During those days, Thiruvenkadar temple was damaged. The place looked like a haunted place. The area around the temple was used as an open toilet by locals. The place was filled with thorny bushes, and pigs which were feeding on human excreta. I used to sit in the entrance of this Shiva temple for hours in loneliness, composing poems, thinking about stuff, meditating etc.
During the annual holidays that year, I wrote two Tamil poems in classical Tamil meters, one for Shiva and one for Goddess Saraswati. Here are the links:
I also composed a short hymn, a Venpa (Tamil metra) on Thiruvenkadar and Vada Kalai Nayagi.
But those days I didn’t know anything about the temple myths; I didn’t know that Goddess Saraswati was associated with that very temple which was my ground of contemplative thought, creative writing etc. I only knew about the story regarding Durvasa’s curse on Saraswati last month, February 2020. I visited Pappankulam for the death of my father’s elder brother, who I personally see as my own father and that is when I became curious about this village. So, my composing a poem about Saraswati was a pure coincidence.
I now see all this as a miracle.
Conclusion – What do Vedas teach and who is a Brahmin?
Whenever you study a scriptural canon or a spiritual/religious movement, it is important to try and understand the original intentions for such a tradition to come into existence. We should also pay attention to how ideas evolved. We should learn to see things from multiple perspectives. The story of blind men and the elephant comes to mind. You can read this post for more clarity on this: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism
The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge:
Knowledge that deals with practical things (this includes all kinds of practical knowledge: knowing which is the closest restaurant from your home to knowing the technical details of building an aircraft).
Self-knowledge or knowing yourself, which is completely realized at self-realization or Atma Jnana. Upanishads deal with this subject.
Now the scope of Vedas includes both kinds of knowledge. No, I am not saying that knowledge about quantum mechanics or general relativity is found in the four Vedas which are in Sanskrit. But I am saying that the modern scientific knowledge which deals with such topics are also essentially a part of Vedas (or simply put, the body of knowledge we have so far as humanity). So that is what Vedas actually mean.
The four Vedas of Sanskrit deal with a lot of subjects. At the first glance, it may seem like Vedas are mostly talking about some complicated rituals which are no longer practiced. But why did they do those rituals in the first place? They tried to find explanations for what was happening in nature and human life, and they tried to manipulate it according to whatever they knew and understand. We are still doing it! Scientific community does exactly that!
Now, if we take this approach and ask ‘why’ questions instead of ‘what’ questions, you can understand many things.
First we need to understand that early Vedic religion did not have concepts like Atma jnana, Mokha, Samsara or Karma. These concepts were influenced by Sramana traditions . It is not that Vedic and Sramana traditions were two different traditions which did not overlap. While Vedic tradition is a tradition that was collectively followed by a social group, Sramanas were independent ascetics who had certain teachings and followings. So, a Sramana could be a Vedic rishi who gave up the rituals and became an ascetic, after being taught by someone else, who is also an ascetic.
Ritualistic Vedic Tradition and Sramana Tradition
Let me quote from a part of a post I wrote which is ‘Hinduism and Dharma’. It differentiates the concepts of early Vedic tradition from Sramana tradition:
“In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.
So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.
But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed dharma as we know today.
But the heart of Dharma lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal whereas Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.
If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.”
The Essential message of Vedas
Based on what he have seen above, here is the gist of the message in Vedas:
When you look at the sun, the moon and stars, the changing seasons etc, everything seems to follow a Law. They also seem to contribute something to us humans. When Vedic people applied the same logic to human life, they concluded that humans should also follow a Law and give something back to the society and nature. We receive help from many sources; so we are obligated and indebted to all such sources and we have to fulfill that obligation.
So what is the Law that humans should adhere to? This basically asks the question, “How should you live your life so everyone including yourself can live a happy and peaceful life?”
According to the consensus that we have so far, a human being should strive for righteousness (Dharma), wealth and education (Artha), pleasures needed to meet one’s psychological and emotional needs (Kama) and the ultimate liberation that one attains through self-realization (Moksha). There are various means to attain the first three and in the modern days we don’t have much to take from religious and spiritual texts regarding the first three goals of human life..
But there is an enormous wisdom in the world literature that discusses the fourth goal which is liberation from all the psychological bondage and suffering, while living. The knowledge about it is obscured and distorted because of various issues: changing meanings of words, meanings lost because of translation, meanings misunderstood because of poor articulation or usage of confusing words, lack of people who are capable enough to impart this knowledge to others etc. A part of my work is to make sure that all that wisdom is made available in my blogs and books.
Who is a Brahmin?
So, who is a Brahmin? In practical life, a Brahmin is none other than anyone who excels in intelligence, knowledge and virtue than others (and not just anyone who is from a particular caste).. If a person is intelligent, ethical and knows enough about essential stuff, he is a Brahmin. He should be given preference in roles like teaching, writing, scientific research, spiritual research etc. When a person who is not competent enough takes the role of a Brahmin (by becoming a teacher, a law maker etc), that will create a huge problem in the society. In fact, the intellectual gap between a stupid teacher and a brilliant student can mess up a lot of things. I will write a different article explaining in detail about how huge ‘intellectual gap or difference’ can lead to a major social issue.
I will give you a clue. Try convincing a typical right wing online troll about anything; try talking to him with logic. He would reply with either ad hominem or whataboutery. There are people who have a hard time understanding simple things but are completely convinced that they are intellectually better than others. When these people take up important positions in the society, it will lead to social disorder, poverty, unemployment, riots, chaos etc. It is exactly what is happening in India today.
This is exactly what Gita says as ‘Varna Samkara’ or the mixture of Varnas (Gita 1.43). In the earlier days, a quick shortcut to prevent Varna Samkara was to follow a birth based Varna system. But today’s society is very complicated. Varna Samkara in the modern context can be interpreted as a confusion in determining the roles and qualifications of people. To resolve that confusion, everyone should work on finding their own uniqueness and choose a way of living that suits one’s personality, abilities, interests etc. In other words, everyone should follow their own svadharma.
There is also a deeper meaning for the word Brahmin. A knower of Brahman or a self-realized person is the one who is truly a Brahmin. He is Brahmavid, one who knows what Brahman is, in his experience.
People who are caught up in the modern concept of religions, religious divisions etfc may have a hard time in being open to many things written here. If you do, then go through these posts:
Every culture has influenced every other culture during mutual interactions. It is only because of this influence that humanity has achieved a lot. But many people today call such cross-cultural interactions, influences, adaptations etc as ‘copying’ or ‘plagiarism’ which is both sad and stupid.
For example, today Indians wear shirt and pant, celebrate birthdays using English calendar, cut cakes and blow candles etc. Should we say India copied this from West or West influenced India?
Of course, a lot of Catholic churches and many Sufis have adapted certain cultural things from India as well. So yes, Indian culture has influenced Indian Christians and Indian Muslims. There is no question about it. Have you ever wondered why the Bible is called as Vedagamam in Tamil? It is not plagiarism but influence! Plagiarism or copying means a person using somebody’s work without attribution. This doesn’t apply to cultures.
Let me give you a lot of examples:
The story of Adam in Bible is heavily influenced by Enkidu from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.
The story of Noah and Manu was influenced by the great flood in the epic of Gilgamesh.
The old testament doesn’t have the concept of hell or heaven. The divine justice is delivered on earth itself, which is indicated by fall or rise of states. This idea of divine justice was also borrowed from Sumerian-Mesopotamian cultures.
The idea of Good and evil (Satan) in Bible was adapted from Persian religion; and Persian religion itself heavily borrowed from early Vedic religion.
Vedic religion itself adapted many deities from other cultures: Dyaus, Usas and Ashvins come from proto-Indo European culture. Indra and Soma come from Bactria-Margiana culture. And according to Asko Parpola, Varuna was a deity native to Indus valley civilization ( I am a little skeptical of Parpola’s claim though).
There was an ancient University in Taxila founded in 10th century BCE which should have certainly attracted students from all over the world, Even though majority of the people were unaware of other states and empires, there were certainly elites and traders who travelled long distance from the Near East. It is through the influence of this University, many ideas which existed in cultures close to it has travelled to far away lands. A lot of such ideas got distorted, modified, re-interpreted and even developed in the places where they reached. I see no other reason for development of new ideas during Axial age ( 800 BCE to 300 BCE) all over the world.
Early Vedic religion did not have the concept of samsara, moksha or karma. But some individual rishis of Rig Veda might have been aware of such ideas already. These ideas were influenced by Sramana traditions and re-interpreted within Vedic context. Also, early Vedic religion neither had temples or idols.
The stance against idolatry in Judaism was strongly influenced by the representation of the king and the state through images in Egypt . So, the stance against idolatry has a hidden and lost message: Do not consider a human being as infallible authority! But the Hebrew Bible is a theological and mythological narrative to explain real political events, such as the conquery of Israel by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and others. Along with this, Jewish mysticism which is close to Eastern traditions existed and their ideas also influenced the old Testament.
Followed by Taxila university, Plato’s academy was established in Greece in c. 387 BC in Athens. The idea of eternal hell was developed by Plato as a social tool to discipline people who wouldn’t listen to reason. Later it was adopted by Abrahamic traditions. Plato’s allegory of cave is another metaphorical distinction between real and unreal, just like Vedanta.
Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Damascus every year for trading. In Damascus, he must have been exposed to various mystical traditions. No, he didn’t copy them. He simply brought it to Arabia which by that time had no state, no law, and no justice; People had primitive social norms, killed female infants, raided caravans, married irresponsibly and abandoned orphans and widows. Once thing I can infer is, the intellectual gap between Muḥammad and his followers was very large. As historians agree, Islam indeed improved the status quo of pre-Islamic Arabia and was an improvement to the existing conditions . So many ideas which we think from Islam were already existing before Islam; Muhammad just managed to reform some of them but compromised and adapted some olden values too.
Vedic religion had a concept of Rna or indebtedness. It simply means human beings are obligated to follow a law or Dharma and settle the debts he owes for the society and nature. Failure to do so simply means a lack of gratitude. Dharma means law or way of life. Initially, Dharma was only about ethics and order, wealth and pleasure. But after being influenced by Sramana traditions, Dharma also included the way to attain eternal peace. They came up with three means to do that: karma (doing your obligatory duties without being too attached to the fruits of actions), Jnana (a direct inquiry into the nature of existence) and bhakti (surrender and love to one and only supreme God). Now let us see how all this fits into Islam. Muhammad did not call Islam as a religion but called it as Deen. It means law or way of life, just like Dharma. And the word comes from Arabic for ‘dayne’ which means ‘debt’ (just like rna). And Muḥammad insisted that submission to God as true form of worship. Jihad means struggle, which is the same as Srama in Sramana. And the word ‘khafir‘ originally meant someone who lacked gratitude or someone who hides the truth. If you put together all the pieces and see the whole picture, it will make a lot of sense.
12. Muhammad did not claim that he was bringing something new. He simply claimed he was restoring the original form of worship by Abraham. Who is Abraham? People have noticed strong similarity between Abraham and Brahma and have suggest that Jews and Brahmins were the same. A passage that is quoted often for this is:
“The similarities between the names of Abraham and Brahma have not gone unnoticed. Abraham is said to be the father of the Jews, and Brahma, as the first created being, is often seen as the father of mankind…’ We might also note that the name of Brahma’s consort Sarasvati seems to resonate with that of Abraham’s wife, Sarah [… each one’s identity as a wife and/or sister]. Also, in India, the Sarasvati River includes a tributary known as the Ghaggar…. According to Jewish tradition, Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant…. Both Brahmins … and Jews see themselves as the ‘chosen people of God.’ The Hebrews began their sojourn through history as a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). Likewise, Brahmins are also a community of priests. — Rosen in Essential Hinduism, p. 12.”
But I don’t think it is true; there is strong evidence against it. It will make more sense to consider Abraham as a metaphor for a Brahmin who lives between the rivers Sarasvati and Ghaggar. So who is the God of Abraham? It is more likely to be the fusion of aspects of Vedic deities Rudra and Varuna. When I was researching the origins of devotion or bhakti, I was able to trace it back until Varuna, who is described as the Lord of justice, expects surrender and repentance, just like Abrahamic God. And just like God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Varuna asks Harischandra to sacrifice his son. Later, the benevolent deity Yahweh (who is similar to Rudra, later syncretized with Shiva) absorbed all aspects of hundreds of older Jewish deities and the aspects of God of Abraham too. This also makes sense, because the same story about human sacrifice make a re-entry in India through a Tamil Text ‘Periya Puranam’ several centuries later. And this time it is Shiva (who absorbed Vedic Rudra) who comes in disguise as a sadhu and asks for human sacrifice of his son. Makes sense?
13. The lost or unknown years of Jesus in the Bible between the age 12–30 has been explained by many by saying that he has travelled the world, including Indian subcontinent. There is a document in monastery in ladakh which actually talks about Jesus studying there and it has been witnessed and translated by many. Jesus also said that he came to establish the Law (Halakha in Hebrew, which means the same as Dharma).
14. All cultures evolve their dharma like this: an animistic tradition that doesn’t have a concept of God but only believes in various spirits inside real world objects —-> Clan deities of various tribes forming a pantheon, sacrificial rituals and accompanying poetry — Evolutionary monotheism which happens by syncretism of various deities into one —-> Worship and surrender to one supreme God with names like Ishvara, Allah, Narayana etc. —-> The mystical path that involves realizing God as all that exists (Brahman, which is usually thought a direct result of worship and surrender to one God, along with Karma and Jnana. In Islam, there is Sufism; in Christianity there is Christian Mysticism; in Judaism, there is Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism. They all start with surrender and worship in the beginning of the path but also talk about the higher truth of oneness of Brahman; But since they use different names and concepts, use different teaching methods, enumerate the contents of consciousness differently (which is nothing but the actual meaning of Samkhya) and also define the stages of the spiritual paths differently, they all seem different. In addition to it, there are cultural, historical, political, linguistic, and geographical differences which has all been wrapped as a package to come up with the modern concept of religion .
15. Apart from Vedic and Sramana traditions, there were thousands of folk traditions with thousands of deities in India. Many were benevolent but absorbed into Buddhist mythology as yakshas and yakshinis who were the disciples of Buddha. They are also seen as various extensions of one reality in meditation. Vedic religion did the same thing by Sanskritizing all these deities and absorbing them into Shiva or Vishnu; if they were female deities, they merged with Shakthi or Lakshmi. And Shiva and Shakthi are again considered as two aspects of one divinity. Many people, especially from South of India think that this is bad. No, it is really not; the only negative consequence of this was denying entry and access to temple worship to people of specific social class. This is similar to ancient Egyptian tradition in which priests were the only ones who had access to temples and other people can only see the deity during processions. This Sanskritization of folk deities led to various monotheistic traditions like Shaivism and Vaishnavism, which were all united by Adhi Shankara as various paths of single dharma.
16. If you stop seeing things with modern lens using modern concept of religion, you can see the truth; if you take this modern concept as your identity and tend to feel superior towards it, it will certainly lead to intolerance. But if you go to the roots and see that it is all about dharma and its three aspects (bhakti, jnana and karma), then everything will be clear. You will agree with what I have written in this post: Shanmugam P’s answer to Why is Hinduism spreading so fast all over the world?