The time God came to visit

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

It is said that there are 330 million1 gods shining throughout the temples and epics of Bharat. They take the form of men, women, animals and man-animals. They regularly come down from their heavenly kingdoms to interact with man, fulfill his prayers and uplift him spiritually. India’s Puranas tell tales of these gods competing with another, making families with one another and even giving birth to each other. To read the exploits of all of India’s gods could easily take one a lifetime. For not only are there the 18 Maha-Puranas and 18 Minor Puranas, but in addition to these practically every village in India has legends about the time, say, Lord Vishnu or a given mahatma deemed it fit for one of their divine plays.

Even before Amma’s time, Alappad Panchayat, the 18-kilometre-long peninsula upon which Amma took birth, had its own folklore. The fishermen there trace their lineage back to the Sage Parasara. It is Sage Parasara who married the fishermaid Satyavati, mother of Sri Veda Vyasa, the renowned codifier of the Vedas. And it is also the people of Alappad’s belief that Lord Shiva once cursed his son Subrahmanya to take birth as a whale. The whale terrorized the waters off Alappad for months until Shiva himself came in human form to rectify the situation. {Click here to read the full story}

According to India’s scriptures and mahatmas like Amma, God, in truth, is the eternal, all-pervading consciousness. In fact, to have God’s darshan in the ultimate sense is to come to identify with that consciousness as it illuminates both thought and the absence of thought. This consciousness is the ultimate reality of God, of the universe and of our very Self. But just as H2O can take the form of vapor, water or ice, so too can the supreme consciousness assume any form. The common man needs a human face to tell his sorrows and joys, to worship with all his heart, to meditate upon and dedicate all his actions. Through this finite and localized symbol, he can touch, the infinite and all-pervading. In this way, man can both unburdened himself and be uplifted. Consciousness has no limits. It can take any form. For proof, just look around you. According to the saints and sages, the very computer screen you see before you is nothing but solidified consciousness. To please 330 million people, God will gladly take 330 million different forms. What is your taste? How do you like your God? Man? Woman? Child? Animal? The element of water, earth or space? In India, the Lord aims to please.

As to what is fact and what is myth, it is impossible to truly say. Regardless, even the legends that were created out of the imaginations of the Saints and Sages have had their intended effect on humanity. Many stories were created to serve a given social purpose or to explain a certain principle. This was the intent of the storie’s authors from the beginning.

Furthermore, it is only because of Bharat’s 330 million gods that India has given rise to the richest spiritual culture on the planet—a land where one cannot look or listen without being reminded of the world’s inherent divinity. Without Vishnu, Shiva and Devi, etc, where would India’s dances and dramas have come from? Her poetry and epics? Her temples and festivals? Cities with names like “Gokarna2” or “Guruvayoor3” It is only because of India’s infinitude of gods and mahatmas and their divine plays on her very soil that when one walks down verily any village road in India all one need do is ask to learn about “the time God came to visit.”

Each year, as Amma travels across India as part of her Bharata Yatra, Amma herself adds to the country’s legends. Already villagers speak about the time “Mataji stopped and gave darshan” or the time “Amma came and sang bhajans”… in this field… by this river… in this truck stop… in this coal factory… Already villages have been renamed “Amrita Kupam,” “Amritamayi Nagar” and “Amritapur,” etc.4 From now on, as Amma travels the width and breath of Bharat, not only will we report on the “Sthala Puranas in-the-making,” but also on the ones millennia old.



1 The figure 330 million is stated in numerous Puranas. It is said that there are also an equal amount of demons. Perhaps that was the population at the time the Puranas were written. Now, as the population has grown, the number of gods and demons should be at least 10 times that, in order to reflect the subtle likes and dislikes of each man, woman and child.

2 Literally meaning “cow’s ear,” Gokarna is the place in Karnataka where the demon Ravana was tricked out of a sacred Shiva Linga by Lord Ganesha. The lingam became fixed to the ground there, and Ravana, in his anger, tried to uproot it, but only succeeded in deforming it into the shape of a cow’s ear.

3 When Sri Krishna’s kingdom of Dwaraka started sinking after Krishna’s maha-samadhi, Guru and Vayu Deva (the Guru of the devas and the God of Wind) rescued an idol of Krishna and installed it in this central Kerala city).

4 The three villages that the Ashram reconstructed after the 2001 Bhuj earthquake—Mokhana, Dagara and Modsar—were renamed by their village chiefs as “Amritapur,” “Amritamayi Nagar” and “Amrita Nagar,” and Samanthempettai, a Tamil Nadu village reconstructed by the Ashram after the 2004 tsunami was renamed as “Amrita Kupam,” by its people.

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The places & the legends

Shiva, Parvati & Subrahmanya: A Legend of Alappad Panchayat

The City of the Peacock: Legends of Chennai

Legends of Kovai, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu

Legends of Kanya Kumari

Meenakshi & Kannagi: Madurai’s Women of Power & Grace

The Golden Fish & other Legends of Nagapattinam

Legends of Ramanathapuram

Legends of Tiruchirapalli

Padmanabha Swami: The Reclining God of Tiruvanantapuram

Brahma Mystified by Vishnu & Rama’s Children Raised in Wayanad

Mysore: The City of the Buffalo Demon

Mumba Devi Reclaims Bombay

Dadhichi Saves the Gods in Ahmadabad

The Nose of Brahma’s Pot: Legends of Kumbhakonam

Pune’s Lord of Knowledge

Legend of Alappad Panchayat

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

Shiva, Parvati & Subrahmanya: A Legend of Alappad Panchayat


In the Alappad Panchayat1, district of Kollam, Kerala state, South India, there is a small village named Parayakadavu. This village lies amidst an endless expanse of coconut palms stretching along a narrow peninsula separated from the mainland to the east by an intercoastal waterway, while the western shore of the village is buffeted by the sparkling blue-green Arabian Sea.

The people of the village belong to a humble clan of fishermen who proudly trace their ancestry as far back as the sage Parasara. It is sage Parasara who married the fishermaid Satyavati, mother of Sri Veda Vyasa, the renowned codifier of the Vedas. There are many legends told about the sanctity and greatness of this village where daily life and social custom are still closely associated with divine myths, stories which the villagers strongly believe took place thousands of years ago. One such legend is as follows: Once Lord Subramanya2, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, committed a serious error. Infuriated by the transgression of His son, Lord Shiva cursed Subramanya, causing him to be born as a fish. Dejected by the fate of her son, Parvati requested the Lord to forgive Subramanya’s fault. Instead of consoling Her, Shiva became more angry and condemned Parvati as well to be born as a fisherwoman. Later when Lord Shiva’s anger had subsided, He told Subramanya that He Himself would come and liberate both of them at the appropriate time and thus blessed them. In accordance with Lord Shiva’s curse, Lord Subramanya assumed the form of a fish, rather, of a huge whale. Appearing in the sea of Alappad, the whale caused the fishermen terrible harm. Accustomed to fishing both during the day and night, the fishermen could now no longer venture into the seas. Sometimes the whale tore the cast nets of the fishermen to shreds, and at others it overturned their boats, endangering their very lives. The villagers were doomed to poverty and starvation.

The king of the fishermen failed to find a solution. His treasury was becoming bankrupt, as he was feeding the starving people. Finally, in an attempt to solve the problem, he made a proclamation: the person who could catch the troublesome whale would be richly rewarded, and would also be given the hand of the king’s beautiful daughter in marriage. Yet the huge whale was so fearsome that nobody came forth to accept the challenge. The king and his subjects were completely disheartened, when an old man mysteriously appeared from the north. Nobody knew who he was. Approaching the king, his back bowed with age, he boldly declared that he could catch the huge whale and save the people from complete devastation.

Accompanied by the astonished king and his subjects, the old man walked confidently toward the sea. Making a long rope by twisting long strands of vines, the old man threw one end into the sea while holding the other end tightly in his hand. The rope of vines encircled the place where the huge whale was lying submerged. Passing the rope to the fishermen, he instructed them to pull with all their strength while chanting a particular mantra. As instructed by the old man, the fishermen started pulling the rope while chanting the mantra. After hours of tremendous effort, the giant fish, entrapped in the vine rope, was dragged to the shore.

Suddenly, to everyone’s amazement, the whale vanished, and in its place stood Lord Subramanya, released by Lord Shiva from the curse. A temple for Lord Subramanya was built on the spot where the giant fish had been shored. That temple stands today as a living monument to remind us of the old story.

The legend does not end there. Now Lord Shiva, in the guise of the old man, stepped forward and stood before the king, demanding the reward of the hand of the princess in marriage. The king, who had promised his only daughter to the champion who saved his people, was now trapped in a dilemma. He and his subjects were completely distraught. How could a father, especially as king, give his exquisite young daughter in marriage to an old man? The king begged him to ask for anything in the entire kingdom but his daughter. The old man calmly replied that a king must keep his promise and be truthful to his word.

Now the king was in a real quandary. Truth was the strength of the fishermen; they firmly believed that truth was their protector. If one were not truthful, they said, one who went fishing was jumping into the wide-open, fierce mouth of death. The king was paralysed; he could neither break his vow nor give his beloved princess in marriage to the old man. At this point, the princess, who was in fact Goddess Parvati Herself, stepped forward and spoke without hesitation: “Father and most noble king, it is everyone’s duty to protect and preserve righteousness (dharma). Nothing should stand against it.” Despondent, the king had no choice but to allow her to depart with the old man. No one suspected that the humble fishing kingdom had become the stage for a divine drama in which Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati had been reunited. With heavy hearts, the people followed the divine couple for some distance asking, “Where are you going? We would like to come with you.” They replied, “We don’t have any particular dwelling place (uru); the spot we reach will be our dwelling place (chellunna uru).”

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati continued on their way, followed by the fisherfolk, finally reaching a spot where they stopped. As Lord Shiva stood facing east and Goddess Parvati faced west, the two became transformed into stone images. Chelluruna uru (the place reached) later became Chenganoor of the present day.

In time a temple was constructed and daily worship was begun, when something very strange occurred. Whenever water was brought to the sanctum sanctorum to perform the worship, the priests found a fish in it. This made the performance of the daily worship impossible. In order to find a solution, the temple authorities made an astrological calculation and discovered the whole story of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, and the curse of Lord Subramanya. The astrological forecast further revealed that the marriage ceremonies of the old man and the princess had never been conducted. According to the custom, the people of the Alappad coast, where Goddess Parvati had been born as a fishermaid, should come with dowry and other marriage presentations to Chenganoor in order to conduct the marriage. Subsequently the necessary preparations were made in Chenganoor and Alappad. The villagers of Alappad duly assembled the paraphernalia and travelled to Chenganoor to conduct the divine marriage ceremony. To this day, every year during the festival season, this custom is followed in memory of the ancient legend. The temple still remains a centre of attraction to thousands of devotees.

A few decades ago an interesting incident took place in connection with this story. One year the people from the Alappad coast did not participate in the festival by observing the customary rules and preparation, thinking it meaningless and wasteful to spend a lot of money to travel all the way to Chenganoor. They thought, “Why should we cooperate in a festival which is conducted in a distant place?” Mysterious happenings immediately took place in the Chenganoor temple.

The decorated elephant that was to carry the Lord’s idol in the procession stood still, refusing to take even a step. All efforts to make it move failed. Word was immediately sent to Alappad of this inauspicious occurrence, but too late. Smallpox had already broken out there. Realizing their foolish mistake and with deep remorse, the villagers made their way to Chenganoor without delay, bringing all the preparations for contributing to the festival according to the custom. Such is the ancient lore that is intimately interwoven with this coastal landscape and its people. Is it a wonder then that this sacred place has again become centre stage for a divine drama?

1 An alliance of five villages, the governing body overseeing local affairs.

2 Another name for Sri Muruga, the brother of Sri Ganesh.


This is taken from “Mata Amritanandamayi: Life & Experiences of Devotees” by Swami Amritaswarupananda (published by Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust)

Legends of Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

Tiruchirapalli (“Trichy”) is home to some of the most legendary and ancient temples in India, as well as to some beautiful stories and history. Here are but a few:

Sri Rangam Temple & Uchi Pillayar Temple

srirangam temple

Perhaps its most famous temple in the city is the Sri Ranganath Swami Temple. The full account of the temple’s idol have been collected in the Sri Ranga Mahatmya. Here is the story as presented in that sacred text:

Once, when Brahma was in a state of deep meditation, Lord Vishnu blessed him with an idol of himself known as Ranga Vimana1.

It said that Lord Brahma then gave the idol to Viraja. From Viraja it was handed down to Vaiswatha, then to Manu, to Ishwaku and then to Lord Rama. Each of these saints is said to have worshipped the idol in their day. After defeating the demon king Ravana in Lanka, it is said that Rama gave the idol to Vibhishana, Ravana’s righteous brother, for his support during the war. But when Vibhishana tried to take the idol to Lanka with him, he was tricked out of it by Lord Ganesha.

Although Vibhishana was devoted to Rama and had helped him in the war, he was still a demon by birth. The gods did not like the idea of the Ranga Vimana being taken off Indian soil. Using the help of Lord Ganesha, they devised a plan to keep it in Bharat.

When Vibhishana was passing through Tiruchirapalli, he decided to bathe and do his daily worship in the Kaveri River. But he was in a bit of a predicament, because Rama had told him that the idol would become permanently fixed to the ground wherever it was first set down.

Not knowing what else to do, Vibhishana tried to find someone to hold the idol while he took his bath and performed his ablations. This is where Lord Ganesha came in. Disguising himself as a young cowherd, he offered to hold the idol for Vibhishana. Then when Vibhishana was bathing in the river, he set the Ranga Vimana idol firmly on the ground, where it is fixed to this day.

Upon seeing the cowherd’s deception, Vibhishana ran after him. Lord Ganesha climbed up to the top of a large nearby cliff. But, there, Vibhishana caught him and struck him on the forehead. At that moment, Ganesha revealed his true form to Vibhishana, who immediately apologized2, asked for his blessings and continued on his way to Lanka.

The area where the Ranga Vimana was set down by Vibhishana eventually was covered by a thick forest, and thus the idol was lost. It was re-discovered thousands of years later when a Chola king was chasing a parrot and accidentally stumbled across it. It was the king who established the Sri Rangam Temple, which today is one of the largest temple complexes in the world. The enormous rock Lord Ganesha climbed upon now forms the Uchi Pillayar Temple, only a few kilometers from Sri Rangam.


Tayumanavar Temple

Once there was a pregnant woman living on the banks of the Kaveri River, which flows through Tiruchirapalli. As her time of delivery grew near, her husband crossed the river in order to bring back her mother for the birth. After he’d crossed over, however, heavy rains came and the river became flooded. The woman was in great distress, knowing that her husband most likely would not be able to cross back over in time for her delivery. She began praying desperately to Lord Shiva. Filled with compassion for the woman’s plight, the Lord disguised himself in the form of the woman’s mother and delivered the child. When the flood subsided and the husband and mother were able to cross, they were shocked to find that the woman had already successfully delivered her child. Soon the family realized that it had all been a play of the Lord. As Lord Shiva came in the form of a mother, the temple erected there is known as the Tayumanavar (meaning “He also became a mother).” The child is said to have grown up to become a saint,


Thiruvanaikkaval Temple

This temple is one of the pancha bhuta sthalams (temples wherein God is worshipped in the form of one of the great elements of air, wind, water, fire and earth). In this temple, Lord Shiva is in the form of the element of water, which continually bubbles forth from the springs in the sanctum sanctorum. There is also a Shiva Lingam3 in the temple, which has a beautiful story surrounding it, involving a spider and an elephant.

It seems both the spider and the elephant were devotees of Lord Shiva. Every day both the spider and the elephant would visit a natural Shiva Lingam located deep in a forest in Trichy. Out of devotion, the spider would spin a web over the lingam to give it shade. Similarly, the elephant would come and offer the lingam abhishekham4 by spraying it with water from his trunk. Each day the spider would come to find his web ruined by the elephant’s spray, and everyday the elephant would find the web obstructing his worship. Finally the elephant decided to totally destroy the web. As he was doing so, the spider climbed into his trunk. With this clashing of egos, both the elephant and the spider died. But at the moment of their death, Lord Shiva appeared before them and explained to them how they in fact were both brothers in devotion.

It is said that in his next birth the spider was born as King Kochchengan, the builder of  the Thiruvanaikkaval Temple. Interestingly, the sanctum sanctorum of the temple has been constructed in such a way that no elephant would be able to enter it. The entrance is very low, has a very small vestibule and the lingam itself resides in an even smaller chamber.

It is also said that even if the Kaveri River dries up in the peak of summer, the water within this chamber is ever bubbling forth. Thus, there is water surrounding the lingam year round.

Three of the four Nalvars5 have sung in praise of the Lord in the Thiruvanaikkaval Temple in the Devaram, a collection of devotional verses about Lord Shiva.


Tiruverumbur Temple

Fearing the demon Karan (of the Kara-Dhushana duo of the Ramayana), the gods are said to have taken the form of ants to worship Lord Shiva in the form of this Shiva Lingam. As such, one can see that the lingam tilted forward in order to accept the worship of his tiny devotees.



1 In Vishnu Purana, Vishnu will be taken as the All-powerful Lord and the other gods will be as subservient. In Shiva Purana, Shiva will be the All-Powerful, etc. As the ultimate reality of God is one of pure consciousness, this is not a contradiction, but merely a way of presenting the Almighty in various forms so as to conform to the mind sets of various groups of people.

2 Vibhishana’s response stands in sharp contrast with the story of the Gokarna Shiva Lingam, which Ravana was tricked out of in a similar fashion. Ravana could have cared less who had tricked him out of the Shiva Lingam. And in his anger and frustration, he tried to rip it free from the soil, only succeeding in twisting a piece of it into the shape of a go karna [cow’s ear].

3 An obelisk-shaped abstract representation of Lord Shiva.

4 Ritualistic bathing of a sacred object.

5 The four Nalvars (literally meaning “four respected people”) are the most esteemed of the 63 Nayanars, the famous Shaivite saints of Tamil Nadu.

Legends of Kovai, Tamil Nadu

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

The town of Kovai (also known as “Coimbatore”) is situated at the base of the Nilgiri Hills on the western boarder of Tamil Nadu. It is centred around an ancient temple dedicated to Koni Amman. From the name of this goddess alone the name “Kovai” evolve.

Coimbatore District, in general, is very rich in temples and, of course, the stories surrounding them. Here are but a few:


According to the Puranas, two of Lord Shiva’s most precise gifts to humanity were Kamadhenu and the Kalpataru—a wish-fulfilling cow and tree, respectively. For ages, these two miracles of the Lord would bestow upon anyone anything they wanted. Eventually, however, Kamadhenu grew tired of people constantly asking her to fulfil their worldly desires, and she asked the Lord if he would permit her to retire. Lord Shiva agreed and told Kamadhenu that in her next birth she would be born as an ordinary cow and that he would come to her personally to bestow liberation upon her.

In her next birth, Kamadhenu bore a calf. One day the two of them were grazing in a forest in Perur (about 10 km from Kovai). As Kamadhenu’s calf frolicked about, its legs struck an anthill and it became stuck. The calf began crying, and Kamadhenu came running to free her child. But being an ordinary cow, there was nothing she could really do. Finally, out of desperation, Kamadhenu drove her horns down into the anthill. When she raised her head, one horn was covered with blood. Kamadhenu immediately realised that this was not an ordinary anthill but, in fact, was storing her Lord in the form of a Shiva Lingam1. In reverence, she immediately expressed her milk over the anthill, thus performing an abhishekham2. Lord Shiva, then appeared before Kamadhenu and, as promised, bestowed her with liberation.

After some time, a temple was erected around this Shiva Lingam. Today that temple is known as Perur Patteshwarar. And if one looks at the Shiva Lingam, one can still see where it was pierced by Kamadhenu’s horn.

It is also said that two Tamil saints attained liberation in Perur, and this is eternally reflected by Mother Nature in that palm trees grown in the area have abnormally long lives and, on the converse, tamarind will not sprout there3. This is symbolic of how the saints transcended samsara, the cycle of birth and death.


Another story that took place in Perur involves Sundara Murti Nayanar, one of the 63 Nayanars [Shivite Saints of Tamil Nadu]. The story goes that Sundara Murti Nayanar would regularly travel to Perur to visit Lord Shiva. As per the divine play of this Saint, each time he met Lord Shiva there, he would only ask him for material things—gold and jewellery, etc. Finally, Lord Shiva wanted to teach the Nayanar a lesson. So he left his abode, and told Nandi, his devoted bull, that the next time the Nayanar came looking for him that he should not tell him that he and his consort, Goddess Parvati, had gone out.  But when the Nayanar came, Nandi did not feel he could completely lie to him. On the other hand, neither could he disobey his Lord. Therefore, when the Saint asked where Shiva and Parvati were, Nandi simply turned his head, looking back over his shoulder. From this, the Saint was able to infer that the divine couple indeed had left and were somewhere behind him. He immediately set off to find them.

In fact, Shiva and Parvati had assumed the guise of two farm hands and had spent the entire day working in a nearby field. When Sundara Murti Nayanar came across them, they were in the process of supplicating to the farm owner for their day’s wages. Seeing his Lord supplicating to a farmer for money was too much for the saint. He quickly approached Lord Shiva and asked him what he was doing. Shiva told him that as he did not have any money he was doing his best to obtain some. Although Sundara Murti Nayanar was shaken, he was not completely freed from his obsession with money. And when he took leave from the Lord, he once again asked him for riches. At this point Lord Shiva spoke frankly, “My son, do you want my money or my grace?” Finally, the Nayanar realized that he had been a fool to ask the Lord for something as trivial and perishable as money. He immediately fell to his knees and asked him for grace and grace alone.


There is another name for Perur, and that is “Mela Chidambaram” [“Upper Chidambaram”]. Located approximately 250 kilometres southeast of Coimbatore, Chidambaram is home to a one of India’s most famous temples. In fact, the temple’s original idol is not even an idol as such, but Akasha Deva—space itself. Therefore, when one enters the temple grounds, they are said to verily be entering God. The legend goes that two saints—Patanjali and Vyaghrapadar—were performing austerities in Chidambaram. Pleased by their devotion, Lord Shiva spoke offered them a boon. They requested him to reveal himself to them. Lord Shiva told them that he was in fact pervading everything they saw in the form of consciousness. But the saints were not happy with this answer. They told Shiva that while they knew what he said was true, they still wanted to see him in a human form. The Lord agreed and immediately manifested as Nataraja, the King of Dance. Then, the Lord began to dance, and when the Lord’s heel struck the ground, a piece from one of his chilankas [belled anklets] broke off and went flying. It landed 250 km away in Perur—thus giving the town its second name.


One final legend from Coimbatore District surrounds the Avinashi Lingeswarar Temple (about 30 km from the town of Kovai). This story also involves Sundara Murti Nayanar.

Once, when the Nayanar was passing through Avinashi, he heard two discordant sounds coming from opposite houses—one reflecting joy and the other, sorrow. It seemed that three years earlier, two boys of the same age were bathing in a nearby water tank when one of them was devoured by a crocodile. The boys were five years old at the time. On that day, they both would have been eight. As such it was time for their upanayanam samskara [sacred-thread ceremony]—hence, the joy in the house of the living boy and the anguish in the house of the dead boy.

Sundara Murti Nayanar was extremely moved by the sorrow of the dead boy’s parents. Therefore, he spontaneously broke out into a prayerful song to Lord Shiva, begging him to resurrect the dead child. His prayer was answered. Rain clouds quickly gathered and poured forth, filling the empty tank with water. Soon, the tank overflowed, expelling the infamous crocodile. The croc then regurgitated the child—an unharmed eight-year-old boy.

The story is further reflected by the name of a nearby Coimbatore town—Karuvalur. “Karuvalur” means “raincloud” in Tamil. It is said that when Sundara Murti Nayanar prayed for the boy’s resurrection, that the clouds formed over this town. Hence its name.



1 An obelisk-shaped abstract representation of Lord Shiva, often black and made of stone.

2 Ritualistic bathing of an idol or divine image as a form or worship.

3 Normally, all one has to do is to drop tamarind seed on the ground and within a few days it will sprout.

Legends of Chennai

The city of the Peacock

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

One of the most famous temples in Chennai is the Kapaleswarar Temple1, located in an area that is today referred to as Mylapore. In fact, Mylapore is an Anglicized form of “Mayilapur,” which literally means “City of the Peacock.”2

In the Puranas, Lord Shiva is the guru of his divine consort, Parvati Devi. The legend says that once when Shiva was imparting wisdom to Goddess Parvati, she became distracted by a beautiful peacock. Shiva then cursed her to take birth as a peahen, telling her that he would join her after she worshipped him in the form of a Shiva Lingam3under a Punnai tree. After many years of searching, the peahen finally found such a Shiva Lingam in Mylapore (Southern Chennai). She then worshipped her Lord in this form, offering him flowers that she carried in her beak. Fulfilling his promise, the Lord then appeared Parvati and reunited with her.

The story shows how when we become enamored with the objects of this world (the peacock) and forget their divine essence (Shiva), we remove our self, as it were, from God. But as soon as we remember the divinity inherent in the world and its objects, we are immediately reunited with the Supreme.

There is another story associated with this temple, this one involving the Shaivite Saint Tiru Jnanasambandar Nayanar4.

The story goes that one day a girl by the name of Poompavai was gathering flowers in a garden for the daily worship when she was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Her father, a merchant named Shivanesan Chettiar, had deep faith in Tiru Jnanasambandar.

After her cremation, Shivanesan Chettiar placed his daughter’s ashes in a pot with the firm conviction that the saint would resurrect her when he came to through the area in the near future. Indeed, when Tiru Jnanasambandar to the Kapaleswarar Temple, Shivanesan Chettiar approached him with his daughter’s ashes. Hearing the man’s sad tale, Tiru Jnanasambandar heart overflowed with compassion. He then broke out in a spontaneous 10-versed hymn in praise of Shiva in the form of Kapaleswarar5. When he reached the final verse, Poompavai emerged from the pot alive and well.

Tiru Jnanasambandar did not cast even a glance at Poompavai, the beautiful young lady he had brought back to life. Instead, he attributed the miracle to the grace of Lord Shiva, claiming no responsibility of his own. Shivanesan Chettiar offered Poompavai’s hand in marriage to the saint, but he gently declined and continued on his pilgrimage.

It is also said the Sri Rama stopped at the Kapaleswarar Temple on his way back from Lanka.



1 Kapaleswarar (kapala + iswara) literally means “The Lord with the skull-bowl.” Here, Shiva is depicted standing with an ascetic’s bowl in the form of a skull in his hand. The skull is supposed that of the fifth head of Lord Brahma. Shiva is said to have plucked off Brahma’s fifth head after feeling him to be arrogant. Brahma represents the creation principle, and Shiva represents destruction. The story symbolizes how everything that is created must one day be destroyed. Furthermore, Shiva’s kapalam represents how the universe at end of a cosmic cycle is resolved into seed form. Then, from this kapalam, eventually springs forth the next creation.

2 In Brahmanda Purana, circa 3000 BC, Mylapore is mentioned as “Mayurapuri.”

3 An obelisk-shaped abstract representation of Lord Shiva.

4 Tiru Jnanasambandar was on of the primary four of the 63 Nayanars, the Shaivite saints of Tamil Nadu. He is said to have lived around 650 CE.

5 The Poompaavai Patikam is still available today.

Meenakshi & Kannagi of Madurai

Meenakshi & Kannagi: Madurai’s Women of Power & Grace

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

According to the legend, on the day the Madurai was to be named, Lord Shiva blessed the land and its people while divine nectar showered from his dreadlocked hair. The city hence came to be known as “Madhurapuri”—the City of Divine Nectar.

Perhaps the two most famous legends associated with Madurai are those of Kannagi and Meenakshi—the first a woman who ascended to the status of a goddess, the second a goddess who’s legend has become one with the history of the city’s people.

Madurai is centred on its 2,500-year-old Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple1; the city’s streets and thoroughfares expand out from there, one after another, in a concentric fashion, as if like a lotus flower.

The legend of Meenakshi Devi

The legend of Goddess Meenakshi begins with her father, Emperor Malayadwaja Pandyan, the successor to Madurai’s founder Kulasekhara Pandyan.

For years, Malayadwaja and his consort Kanchanmala were unable to conceive any children. In attempts to beget a child, Malaydwaja conducted many Vedic homas [rituals involving a fire pit]. Finally, in the middle of one such ritual, a three-year-old girl with three breasts2 emerged from the homa flames and sat on Kanchanmala’s lap. The girl in fact was Goddess Parvati, who had taken birth as Kanchanmala’s daughter in response to a prayer of hers in her past life.

In fact, Malayadwaja was a bit sad that he was not blessed with a son. But suddenly he heard a disembodied voice tell him that he should name the girl “Tatātakai” and to raise her as if she was were a son. The voice ensured Malayadwaja that Tatātakai’s third breast would be absorbed back into her body when she first cast her eyes on the man who would become her husband—Lord Shiva.

Malaydwaja obeyed the divine command. He named Tatātakai his successor and taught her the art of war. After Malayadwaja’s death, Tatātakai ascended to the throne. She was the beloved of the people and came to be known as “Meenakshi”—the one with fish-like eyes3. Meenakshi embarked on a dig-vijaya, a military campaign of victory across the length and breadth of India. After numerous victories on earth, Meenakshi attacked Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. She defeated all the soldiers and generals of the Lord. Seeing this, Shiva himself came to fight the undaunted queen. But as soon as Meenakshi saw the Lord, the prophecy of her youth bore fruit: she instantly fell in love with him and her third breast went back inside her body.

Shiva directed Meenakshi to return to her home city, promising her that he would join her in eight days as her bridegroom. And this is exactly what happened. They were married in Madurai with Lord Vishnu himself giving away Meenakshi to Shiva. Meenakshi Kalyanam—the marriage of Meenakshi with Shiva—is celebrated annually to this day.

According to the sthala purana—Tiruvilayadal Puranam, written by Paranjothi Munivar in the 16th century—Meenakshi and Lord Shiva ruled over the city of Madurai for a long time in the form of mortals.

(Emporer Sundara Pandya being considered to be Lord Shiva. His son, Ugra Pandya, considered to be Lord Subrahmanya.) The 64 miracles of Lord Shiva that are enumerated in this later-day Tamil purana are taken from the Sanskrit Halasya Mahatmyam.

The story of Kannagi

In fact, the Madurai that we know today is not the Madurai of ancient times, for it is said that the entire city was once destroyed in an all-consuming fire. The story behind that fire is told in the 5,270-lined epic poem Cilappatikaram [“The Story of the Jewelled Anklets”] written by a Jain monk by the name of Ilango Atikal in the 5th century C.E. According to the author of the poem, it is a story about the importance for kings following dharma, the glory of a chaste woman and the effects of past-life karma.

Although Cilappatikaram was written only 1,500 years ago; the story itself is much older. The poet-monk only learned of the story when visiting the countryside near the Periyaru River with his brother, Senkuttuvan, a Chera King. On the banks of the river, villagers told the king and Ilango the story of Kannagi, a woman with a single breast who sat down under a tree and did austerities for 15 days, without food or water, until she died. The villagers worshipped Kannagi as the Goddess of Chastity, and her story so inspired the king that he asked his brother to immortalize it in poetry for the benefit of mankind.

Rather than retell the story, here are lines extracted from the translation by Professor A.L. Basham from the original Tamil.

Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant in Kaverippattinam, married Kannagi, the lovely daughter of another merchant. For some time they lived together happily, until, at a festival at the royal court, Kovalan met the dancer Madavi and fell in love with her. He bought her favours and in his infatuation forgot Kannagi and his home.

Gradually he spent all his wealth on the dancer. At last he was penniless, and returned repentantly to his uncomplaining wife. Their only fortune was a precious pair of anklets, which she gave to him willingly. With these as their capital they decided to go to the great city of Madurai, where Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade.

On their arrival at Madurai, they found shelter in a cottage, and Kovalan went to the market to sell one of Kannagi’s anklets. But the queen of Nedunjeliyan, the king of the Pandyas, had just been robbed of a similar anklet by a wicked court jeweller.

The jeweller happened to see Kovalan with Kannagi’s anklet, and immediately seized it and informed the king. Guards were sent to apprehend Kovalan, who was then killed on the king’s orders. When the news was brought to Kannagi, she went out into the town, with her eyes ablaze with anger, carrying the remaining anklet in her hand as proof of her husband’s innocence. [The city caught ablaze from the fire in her eyes.]

At last the patron goddess of the city [Meenakshi] interceded with Kannagi, and she agreed to withdraw her curse, and the fire abated. Weak with loss of blood from her self-amputated breast, Kannagi struggled to a hill outside the city4, where after a few days she died, and was reunited with Kovalan in Heaven. Meanwhile the news of her death spread throughout the Tamil Land. She was deified, temples were raised and festivals held in her honour, and she became the patron goddess of wifely loyalty and chastity.

“Chaste women of Madurai, listen to me!
Today my sorrows cannot be matched.
Things which should never have happened have befallen me.
How can I bear this injustice?”…

All the folk of the rich city of Madurai
saw her, and were moved by her grief and affliction.
In wonder and sorrow they cried:
“Wrong that cannot be undone has been done to this lady!
Our King’s straight sceptre is bent!
What can this mean?

“Lost is the glory of the King Over Kings,
the Lord of the Umbrella and Spear!
A new and a mighty goddess
has come before us,
in her hand a golden anklet!
What can this mean?

“This woman afflicted and weeping
from her lovely dark-stained eyes
is as though filled with godhead!
What can this mean?”

Thus, raising loud accusing voices,
the people of Madurai befriended and comforted her,
and among the tumultuous throng
some showed her her husband’s body.
She, the golden vine, beheld him,
but her he could not see. …

Then the red-rayed sun folded his fiery arms
and hid behind the great mountain,
and the wide world
was veiled in darkness.
But he saw not the agony of her grief
as she mourned in sorrow and wrath. …

“Are there women here? Are there women
who could bear such wrong
done to their wedded lords?
Are there women here? Are there such women?
“Are there good men here? Are there good men
who cherish their children
and guard them with care?
Are there men here? Are there such men?

“Is there a God here? Is there a God
in this city of Madurai, where the sword of a king
has slain an innocent man?
Is there a God here? Is there a God?”

Lamenting thus she clasped her husband’s breast,
and it seemed that he rose to his feet and said,
“The full-moon of your face has faded,”
and he stroked her face with his hands.
She fell to the ground, sobbing and crying,
and clasped her Lord’s feet with her bangled hands;
and he left behind his human form
and went, surrounded by the gods.

“I will not join my lord
till my great wrath is appeased!
I will see the cruel king,
and ask for his explanation!”
And she stood on her feet,
her large eyes full of tears,
and, wiping her eyes,
she went to the gate of the palace.

Then came a cry from the gate:
“Ho, Gatekeeper! Ho, Gatekeeper!
Ho, Gatekeeper of the King who has lost wisdom,
whose evil heart has swerved from justice!
Tell the King that a woman with an anklet,
an anklet from a pair of tinkling anklets,
a woman who has lost her husband,
is waiting at the gate.”

And the gatekeeper went to the King and said:
“A woman waits at the gate.
She is not Korravai, goddess of victory,
with triumphant spear in her hand. …
Filled with anger, boiling with rage,
a woman who has lost her husband,
an anklet of gold in her hand,
is waiting at the gate.”

Kannagi was then admitted to the King’s presence.

“Cruel King, this I must say. …
My Lord Kovalan came
to Madurai to earn wealth,
and today you have slain him
as he sold my anklet.”
“Lady, said the king,
it is kingly justice
to put to death
an arrant thief.”

Then Kannagi showed her anklet to the king.
On comparing it very carefully with the remaining anklet of the pair
belonging to the Queen, he realised that Kovalan had been innocent.

When he saw it the parasol fell from his head
and the sceptre trembled in his hand.
“I am no king,” he said,
who have heeded the words of the goldsmith.

“I am the thief. For the first time
I have failed to protect my people.
Now may I die!”
[And he fell to the ground, dead.]

Kannagi said to the Queen:

“If I have always been true to my husband
I will not suffer this city to flourish,
but I will destroy it as the King is destroyed!
Soon you will see that my words are true!”

And with these words she left the palace,
and cried out through the city, “Men and women
of great Madurai of the four temples,
listen! Listen you gods in heaven!
“Listen to me, you holy sages!
I curse the capital of the king
who so cruelly wronged
my beloved lord!”
With her own hand she tore the left breast from her body.
Thrice she surveyed the city of Madurai,
calling her curse in bitter agony.
Then she flung her fair breast on the scented street. …

And the burning mouth of the Sire-god opened
as the gods who guarded the city closed their doors.
The high priest, the astrologer and the judges,
the treasurer and the learned councillors,
the palace servants and the maids,
stood silent and still as painted pictures.

The elephant-riders and horsemen,
the charioteers and the foot-soldiers
with their terrible swords, all fled from the fire
which raged at the gate of the royal palace. …

And the street of the sellers of grain,
the street of the chariots, with its bright-coloured garlands,
and the four quarters of the four classes
were filled with confusion and flamed like a forest on fire. …

In the street of the singing girls
where so often the tabor had sounded
with the sweet gentle flute and the tremulous harp,
the dancers, whose halls were destroyed, cried out:
“Whence comes this woman! Whose daughter is she?
A single woman, who has lost her husband,
has conquered the evil King with her anklet,
and has destroyed our city with fire!”



1 Amma was taken to this temple as a young girl by her father. According to Suganandan Acchan, Amma went into samadhi and the temple priest came before her and performed arati.

2  This could be symbolic in the same way as the third eye—as a symbol of spiritual wisdom, the milk of spiritual knowledge.

3 Indicates the beauty of the eyes. In Lalita Sahasranama, mantra 18 refers to Devi as “She whose eyes possess the lustre of the fish that move about in the stream of beauty flowing from her face. [vaktra lakshmi parivaga calan minabha locana.] According to Indian mythology, a fish is also supposed to hatch its eggs by staring at them intently. Thus, Devi’s glance is supposed to bring about a spiritual rebirth.

4 In fact, Amma herself has said that Kannagi did her tapas in Kodungallor, the city in Kerala, where the Ashram built its first Brahmasthanam Temple.

Legends of Ramanathapuram

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

Ramanathapuram—or Ramnad—is located approximately 50 kilometres from the island immortalized as “Rameswaram” after Sri Rama’s army built a bridge from it to Sri Lanka in order to rescue Sita from the demon king Ravana1 . But Ramnad is not only significant for its proximity to Rameswaram. It has a rich spiritual history of its own.

Sri Rama Setu: NASA’s satellite picture of the bridge built by Sri Rama connecting India and Sri Lanka.

After the maha-samadhi of his guru, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda wandered for several years throughout the length and breadth of India. Towards the end of this period of parikrama, the spiritual visionary met two kings who encouraged him to act upon his idea of going to America in order to propagate Vedanta—the Maharaja of Mysore, and Bhaskara Setupati, the ruler of Ramnad.

Both kings offered to bear all of Vivekananda’s travel expenses. Swamiji left for America in 1893, where he won over countless hearts and minds through his discourses at the Conference of World Religions in Chicago. Swamiji returned to India in 1897. When Vivekananda came through Ramnad on his journey homeward, the horses carrying his carriage were unhitched and Bhaskara Setupati and the people of Ramnad drew Swamiji through the streets themselves—such was their respect and devotion for the dynamic samnyasin.

It was also in Ramnad that yogi and saint Sri Tayumana Swamigal performed austerities and ultimately took maha-samadhi2 in 1783. The sight of his samadhi is maintained to this day in the form of a temple maintained by Ramakrishna Math Tapovan.3

Tayumana Swamigal hailed from Vedaranyam, Tamil Nadu. His parents were devotees of Lord Shiva in the form of Tayumanavar {news} in Tiruchirapally4 , and they named him after that Lord. He was born in 1707. Tayumana was a householder who held the position of Minister of Finance in the then small kingdom of Tiruchirapally. However, he was spiritually inclined, and after the early death of his wife, he quickly became a disciple of Mauna Guru, a samnyasin who taught him both spiritual disciplines as well as passed on to him the spiritual wisdom of the advaita tradition in the Tirumular line. At some point, Taymana Swamigal relocated to Ramnad to engage in full-time spiritual discipline and contemplation.

Tayumana Swamigal enriched the canon of spiritual literature with 1,400 poetic verses that he began composing as a spiritual seeker and continued to do so as a liberated soul. One of the most famous of these is called the Paraparam. His verses were oft quote by Ramana Maharshi. Hailed as veritable spiritual guidebook, Tayumana Swami’s verses are simple, beautiful and packed with meaning. Many are in fact sutras5 meant for deep contemplation. Tayumana rarely mentions form in his devotional and instructional verses, but instead indicates the ultimate reality in terms of bliss and consciousness absolute. Two of his main themes were the absolute necessity of transcending the mind and of renunciation—be it internal or external—for realization to take place. All 1,400 of the verses remain available today in Tamil, with some having been translated into English by Swami Chidbhavananda of Ramakrishna Math Tapovan.

Although it is not a part of recorded history, according to the people of Ramnad, Sri Tayumana Swami’s maha-samadhi has an interesting tale behind it. The legend goes that the saint was absorbed in samadhi—completely unaware of inside and out, day and night. Seeing Tayumana Swamigal frozen in that supreme reality, some of his attendants believed that he had died. With sorrow it in their hearts, they erected a funeral pyre and began his cremation. However, as the flames reduced his body to ash, the poet saint began to sing, issuing forth final spiritual instructions to his devotees through yet more verses

Here are a few verses from the 1,400.

The lure of the charming phenomenon is so enticing that people madly pursue it day and night. A few fortunate ones, after sufficient experience, come to know that pursuing it amounts to pursuing the will-o’-the-wisp. A few fortunate ones come to know the futility of this mad chase. Still, they repeatedly fall into its snare. Fewer still pray to the Lord to save them from the fall. Fortunate are the still few who strongly seek the grace of the Lord alone for their redemption.


The uncontrolled mind is capable of wrecking the entire spiritual career.
Still I hold fast to the ideal of vanquishing this demon.


O rare gold, O gem, O my love, intelligence residing in love, the flood of bliss that comes from my intellect; addressing you thusly, I sang, I danced. With a panting heart I sought your communion. I got annoyed with you. I shouted; with horripilation, I folded my hands and shed copious tears like rainfall. Being dejected in mind, I prayed for your grace.


As the moon vanishes from sight once a month, this phenomenon is also a passing phase.
O mind, be not drawn to it. Be not attached to vain disputation.


Silence is not in keeping the mouth shut; it is in the negation of the mind.


Woe unto me who am carried away by the advice of anybody and everybody. A girl ignorant and indifferent to sense pleasure seeks it ardently after marriage. As that is so, I, who am tossed about by varying views, will get fixed in divine bliss if I get a slight taste of your grace.



1 Satellite photographs have revealed a succession of slabs that look strikingly like a bridge linking the islands of Rameswaram and Sri Lanka.

2 When one who has realized his true nature as being the Self drops his mortal coil it is referred to as maha-samadhi.

3 At the request of the Ramakrishna Tapovan Math who manage the ashram and Tayumanavar Samadhi in Ramnad, Sri Mata Amritananamdamayi Devi visited the samadhi sight on 7 February 2007.

4 Tayumanavar literally means “He who also became a mother.” It is in reference to a tale from Tiruchirapalli wherein Shiva took the form of a woman’s mother in order to deliver her child.

5 A sutra is a short scriptural statement that reveals a great wealth of spiritual knowledge when contemplated upon.

Legends of Nagapattinam

The golden fish & other  legends of Nagapattinam
Sthala Puranas of Bharat

Nagapattinam has a very ancient history. In fact, in Brahmananda Purana [circa 3000 B.C.E.], it is said that the area’s Soundarvaraja Perumal Temple has existed in all four yugas 1.

According to the Purana, Nagapattinam was originally called “Soundaranyam.” It’s current name, which means “City of the Serpent” is derived from the fact that, in Satya Yuga, Adisesha2 performed austerities here in order to obtain the boon of remaining with his Lord forever.

The purana also says that in the same yuga, the Vishnu devotee Dhruva performed austerities here. Dhruva’s intention was to get Lord Vishnu to appear before him and request the boon of becoming ruler of the entire world. According to the legend, the Lord did appear, but Dhruva was so overwhelmed by the Lord’s beauty that he forgot his wish and simply requested the Lord to remain in Nagapattinam as Soundarya Rajan [The King of Beauty] and bless the devotees. This is how the temple came to be.

Brahmanda Purana says that in Treta Yuga, Bhoomi Devi performed tapas here, and in Dwapara Yuga, Sage Markandeya. In Kali Yuga, there is a story about a Chozha King falling in love with a Naga princess at the temple.

Perhaps the most beautiful of Nagapattinam’s sthala puranas involves Adibattha Nayanar, the Shaivite Saint who was fisher-king of Nambiar Nagar. According to the story, after each day’s catch, it was Adibattha Nayanar’s practice to select the best fish and offer it back to Lord Shiva by releasing it in the sea. Eventually, Lord Shiva decided to give him a test in order to let the whole world know the glory of Adibattha’s devotion.

Suddenly, the nets of Adibattha and all the other fishermen of his village starting coming up empty. Amongst all the villager fishermen, only one fish a day would be caught. And this, Adibattha would continue to return to the sea. Soon the villagers had no choice but to begin selling off all their belongings in order to survive. But still the dry spell continued. The people eventually began to starve, yet still only one fish would be caught, and Adibattha would always reverently return it to the sea.

When the village’s plight reached its peak, Adibattha had an amazing catch—a single golden fish embedded with precious gems. Selling it would have solved all the village’s problems. It was the supreme test of Lord Shiva. Would Adibattha Nayanar sell the fish or return it as an offering to his Lord? Adibattha did not even flinch. Knowing that all prosperity comes from Lord Shiva alone, he offered the golden fish back into the sea as per his tradition.

At this moment, the Lord appeared and revealed that all had in fact been his divine play. He then blessed Adibattha Naynar and his people with everything they needed.

There are many other stories surrounding this area, including ones involving Sage Vasishta, Kamadhenu, Lord Krishna and Lord Rama.



1 According to the Vedas, a cycle of creation involves for yugas, or ages: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga.

2 The serpent upon which Lord Vishnu eternally rests.

Pune’s Lord of Knowledge

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

Alandi, a town 25 kilometres from Pune, in the Pune District of Maharashtra, is a revered pilgrimage site for a number of reasons, but foremost is the fact of it being the home of the 13th-century Maharashtran saint, Sant Jnaneshwar (Jnanadev).

In fact, Jnanadev spent most of his short life (1275-1296 C.E.) in and around Alandi, finally taking maha-samadhi there. Jnanadev is mostly known for his poetry, a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita known as the Jnaneshwari and a poetical-philosophical work known as Amritanubhav.

In his short biography on Sant Jnaneshwar, Swami Sivananda, says that the spiritual master was born with full knowledge of the ultimate reality. “Jnanadev lived for a few years, but he did wonders,” Sivananda writes. “He was a genius, a yogi of deep spiritual experiences and a sage of supreme order. He boldly criticized his predecessors. He was a great social and religious reformer. He laid the foundation of the great bhakti movement in Maharashtra. He was a fine poet to boot.”

Jnanadev was one of three brothers and a sister born under strange circumstances to a sannyasin named Vittalpanth and his wife, Rukmabai. Vittalpanth was initiated into sannyasa by a guru named Swami Ramananda without disclosing to the master that he was married. When, through a twist of fate, Ramananda discovered that not only Vittalpanth had been married but that also his former wife was heartbroken over his renunciation, he ordered Vittalpanth to return to householder life. After this, the four children were born to the couple, all of whom came to be considered as mahatmas. As it was a violation of sannyasin dharma to live the life of a householder, Vittalpanth and his family were exiled by the Brahmins of Alandi and treated as pariahs.

Even though Jnanadev’s parents drowned themselves as a prayascittam karma [corrective rite], the Brahmins of Alandi would not initiate Jnanadev and his brothers into Vedic study through the upanayanam [sacred thread] ceremony without a letter from the Brahmins of Paithan [a village in Maharashtra about 300 km from Pune]. At Paithan, Jnanadev and his brothers entered lengthy debate with the Brahmins. Jnanadev was expounding the Advaita Philosophy. The Brahmins were irritated with the precocious wisdom of the child Jnanadev  and his bold claims that everything in the universe was fundamentally the same consciousness. They were also making fun of his name, which means “God of Knowledge.” At that time, a buffalo came by carrying water, which also happened to have the name Jnanadev. “This buffalo is also known as Jnanadev,” the Brahmins said. “If you are both the same consciousness then he should be able to chant Vedic mantras like you. It was then that Jnanadev placed his hand on the back of the buffalo and it began to chant the first mantras of Rg Veda in perfect meter and tone. (Today, there is even a samadhi site for this buffalo in the village of Ale in Pune District.)

The remainder of the short life of Jnaneshwar, and of his brothers and sister, is filled with miraculous stories and moments of philosophical triumphs throughout the state and the country. One such story involves Jnaneshwar demonstrating his yogic power to animate insentient objects by “riding” a wall. This wall still stands in Alandi.

The Jnaneshwari was the first commentary written on the Gita in a language other than Sanskrit. Jnaneshwar desired to bring the wisdom of the text to the common man of Maharashtra, and he knew this was only possible if he broke with tradition and composed it in Marathi.

When Jnaneshwar was only 22, he told his friends and siblings that he desired to enter maha-samadhi, which he did on a cave in a hill in Alandi on the 13th day of the dark half of the month of Kartik in 1296. He was still alive when the tomb was sealed. It is said that anyone who read the Bhagavad-Gita at his samadhi will have all his doubts removed.

Swami Sivananda writes, “Within a period of 25 years, they [Jnaneshwar and his siblings] broke down the bigotry of the Brahmins of the period, raised them from the darkness of ignorance, firmly established the path of devotion and knowledge, made people realize that all were equal and that it was the actions which counted for the glory and excellence of a man and not the accident of birth or the mere study of the Vedas and Vedanta.”


Mumba Devi reclaims Bombay

Sthala Puranas of Bharat

In the mid-1990s, many state governments officially re-Indianized their citie’s names. In 1995, the capital of Maharashtra officially switched from Bombay to Mumbai, thereby re-invoking a goddess considered by the Koli1 to be the area’s protectress. (The name “Mumbai” comes from a mix of mumba and ai, both of which mean “mother” in Marathi.)

Initially, Mumbai was not part of mainland India as it is today, but a string of several islands, which the British began connecting in 1782 and completed in the early 1900s. It is believed that one of the settlements in this string of islands was known as Mumba Devi.

A Mumba Devi Temple where people come to worship the patron goddess stands today in the Kalba Devi area of Mumbai. The original temple was at the Phansi Talao (Gibbet Tank) on the city’s Esplanade, within the current limits of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Although the original temple managed to escape demolition during Muslim and Portuguese rule, it was demolished by the British in order to provide additional space for fortifications in the mid-1700s. The temple was rebuilt in it current location in 1830. The general belief is that the original temple was constructed in the late 14th century.

The legend of Mumba Devi was recorded from the Sanskrit sthala-purana by scholar and city historian K. Raghunath in a book called Hindu Temples of Bombay, published in 1900. In that book, he writes:

“It is stated therein that in times of yore, there lived in this island a very powerful and mighty giant bearing the name of Mumbarak, and the island had derived its name from him.

‘By means of austerities he pleased Brahmadev and prayed to him to be favoured with a blessing that he would be incapable of meeting with death at anybody’s hands, and that he would ever prove successful.

‘Having once secured the blessing, he set out to harass both people and the Gods on earth. All the Gods therefore proceeded en masse to Vishnu to seek his protection and prayed to him to destroy their foe.

“Upon this, Vishnu and Shiv extracted a portion of lustre, each from his own body, and made of it a goddess or Devi for the destruction of the giant. The goddess then beat Mumbarak almost to death and threw him down on the ground and told him to ask for a blessing. He entreated her to join his own name with hers and to perpetuate that name on earth.

“The goddess accordingly granted his prayer and named herself Mumbadevi.”



1 The Koli are a community of fisher-folk who live in coastal Maharashtra. The Marathi word “koli” means “spider” or “one who weaves a web or net.”