apj abdul kalam

Donation from the President of India

The President of India donates 10 months Salary for Amma’s Charitable activities

The President of India Bharata Ratna Shri. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam contributed Rs 500,000/- towards Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s Charitable activities at Rameswaram. He expressed his desire to donate his ten months salary to Amma’s charities during Her visit to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 10th March 2003.

In a letter sent to Mata Amritanandamayi, the President says, “Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s mission of education, health-care and rural development in an integrated way always inspires me. I wish to give my ten month’s salary to the work of the Math at Rameswaram.”

Adi Sankaracharya: The Jagadguru of Advaita

The guru-disciple paramparas1 of India are like malas2 strung with gems; each jewel is precious and invaluable. Still, some shine with an attention-commanding splendor. Sri Adi Sankaracarya was such a diamond. Sri Sankara’s accomplishments were many, but he is singled out because his brilliant commentaries on the prasthana-trayam—upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Brahma Sutras—crystallized the Advaita Vedanta Darsanam3 forever, establishing it as the ultimate message of the Vedas. During his short life of 32 years, he travelled the length and breadth of India, on foot, engaging in debates with the leading proponents of the other Indian schools of thought. His various opponents—including the Purva Mimamsakas, who professed that the Vedas’ prime teaching was the performance of rituals for the attainment of heaven and otherworldly splendor—were knocked flat, as Sankara laid bare the defects of their philosophies with his one-two punch of scriptural authority and logic. As per tradition, once defeated by Sankara, they became his disciples.

As Amma herself says, Advaita is the ultimate truth—the inherent darsanam of the Vedas. Therefore, it should always be remembered that Sankara is not the father of the Advaita Vedanta Darsanam. The advaitic knowledge flowed down to Sankara from an illustrious parampara that includes not only Sankara’s direct guru, Sri Govinda Bhagavadpada, and grand-guru, Sri Gaudapada, but also Veda Vyasa4; its origin being the Almighty. Nor was Sankara the first to create Advaitic commentaries on the prasthana-trayam. This is something that Sankara himself never failed to acknowledge.

Due to the commandment of Govinda Bhagavadpada, who instructed Sankara to compose commentaries and propagate them throughout India, Sankara became Advaita’s Jagadguru—world teacher. For, even though Sankara himself never left India, his commentaries on the prasthana-trayam have been translated into dozens of languages and are today studied throughout the world. The acceptance of Advaita Vedanta as the ultimate truth professed by the Vedas has become so widely accepted that the word Vedanta itself has become a synonym for Advaita. With each passing year, the vision of Advaita Vedanta gathers more and more acceptance throughout the world. Perhaps one day it will truly become, as Swami Vivekananda predicted, a universally shared worldview.

Although Sankara’s advaitic commentary on prasthana-trayam was his magnum opus and his greatest contribution for the upliftment of mankind, we should never say that Sankara rejected dvaitic spiritual practices such as karma yoga and selfless service, meditation on God with form, mantra japa, bhajan, following dharma and developing values, etc. Not only did Sankara acknowledge the necessity of such practices for purifying the mind, but he also made outstanding contributions to them, including methods for conducting puja, the division of the Hindu pantheon and its worship into six major categories, and the composition of Sanskrit hymns such as Saundarya Lahari, Sivananda Lahari and the Mahishasura-Mardini Stotram. Sankara’s sole desire was to lead mankind to the ultimate realization: the supreme reality of the universe, of God and of all beings is one and the same—an eternal blissful consciousness. Yet in his wisdom, Sankara understood that, for this transformative understanding to dawn, the above-mentioned preparatory steps were needed in order to purify and refine the mind. Thus, the advaitin accepts dvaitic methods while always trying to imbibe the advaitic principle. As Swami Candrasekharendra Sarasvati, the 68th Sankaracarya of Kanchi, said: “[Adi Sankaracarya] has himself designed convenient steps for us to move up. Even when we follow those steps, we must have the thought within us that whatever we see is all one. The real experience that ‘everything is one’ may come in its own time. But from the beginning we have to develop the thought that this is the truth.”

Sankara laid bare the defects of their philosophies with his one-two punch of scriptural authority and logic.

Most scholars agree that Sankara lived between 788 and 820 CE, although some say he was born as early as 77 BCE. Regardless of the date, all agree he was born in Kalady, which today is in the Ernakulam District of Kerala. He was initiated into Vedic study at five and mastered all four Vedas by eight, at which point he took sannyasa and headed north in search of a guru. On the banks of the Narmada River [in modern day Madhya Pradesh], he met the sannyasi who was to become his guru, Govinda Bhagavadpada. According to legend, when Govinda Bhagavadpada asked Sankara for his identity, the child burst forth with a spontaneous composition of 10 Sanskrit verses (today referred to as the Dasa Sloki), in which he illustrated the profundity of his wisdom and inner experience. He was immediately accepted as a disciple.

The legends associated with Sankara’s life are many and fantastic. Whether they are pure fact or not is not germane. For even if they are not true, they are Truth; the adamantine principles and reality they demonstrate have the power to uplift us. More relevant are Sankara’s actual accomplishments. To say they were vast would be an understatement. Aside from his commentaries and hymns, he also wrote many prakarana granthas5, including Vivekacudamani, Atma Bodha and Upadesa Saahasri. His mastery of Sanskrit was unparalleled. Unraveling the twists and turns of his poetic slokas is simply exhilarating. His verses are not only majestic and multi-faceted, but also of unfathomable depth. It was as if the language were his very breath. Furthermore, it should be noted that Sankara is said to have put down his pen at age 16.

Aside from his compositions, Sankara’s sanmata6 division and panchayatana7 system of worship, helped reintegrate a Hinduism that was in danger of fracturing into various cults, showing the various gods and goddesses to be but different personifications of the one ultimate reality. In many ways, Sankara was India’s first monastic organizer. He empowered the sannyasa tradition by revitalizing the dasanami structure, wherein monks were organized under 10 titles8. And to protect and propagate Sanatana Dharma, he established asrams throughout India, including four primary such institutions: one in Sringeri, Karnataka (southern India); one in Dvaraka, Gujarat (western India); one in Puri, Orissa (eastern India); and one in Jyotirmath, Uttarakhand (northern India), putting each one in charge of preserving a particular Veda. Towards the end of his life, Sankara ascended to sarvajna-pithams9 in Sri Nagar [Kashmir] and in Kanchipuram [Tamil Nadu].

Reflecting upon Sri Sankara’s life—which was the epitome of sannyasa—should annihilate any wrongheaded notion that renouncement of action is the crux of Hindu monasticism. As Sankara demonstrated, both in deed and word, what requires eradication is not action but the misunderstanding that one is the actor. Cidananda rupah sivoham sivoham—’I am consciousness-bliss. I am Siva. I am Siva.’ Sankara did not only pen this composition; he lived it. And having done so, he left his body at the mere age of 32, having ensured the truth of Advaita Vedanta would thrive not only in India but throughout the world.



1. Lineages
2 A necklace of prayer beads
3 The Non-Dualistic School of Thought based on the Upanishads found in the Vedas.
4 Among other accomplishment Vyasa is the author of the Brahma Sutras and codifier of the Vedas.
5 New compositions that serve to further illuminate the ideas expressed in the Upanishads.
6 Organizing the unwieldy Hindu Pantheon into the primary godheads of Siva, Visnu, Sakti, Ganesa, Surya and Skanda.
7 A type of puja wherein one simultaneously worships five deities, understanding that they are but multiple representations of the one supreme reality.
8 The 10 titles of the dasanami are Sarasvati, Tirtha, Aranya, Bharati, Asrama, Giri, Parvata, Sagara, Vana and Puri.
9 In order to ascend to a sarvajna-pitham—the Seat of the all-knowing—one must submit himself to, and satisfactorily answer, all questions posed by the a body of philosophical pundits, representing all schools of thought and fields of knowledge

Kumbha Mela

January 9 to February 21 2001, Allahabad, UP

The Kumbha Mela of 2001 was held from January 9 to February 21. The shahi snan dates were January 14, 24 and 29, and the main bathing date was January 24. About 40 million people were estimated to participate in the holy event.

The previous Kumbha Mela was held at Haridwar in 1998, and an estimated 10 million people took the ritual bath in the Ganga during the festival.

The Maha Kumbha is a fascinating occasion simply from the point of view of the mind-boggling number of people who participate. It is a gathering of the devout, where there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, class, colour or creed.

The Amritapuri Ashram set up a Yagnashala at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in January 2001. Several of Amma’s brahmacharis conducted special pujas and homas at the Yagnashala every day. An overwhelming number of leaders from various religious groups asked if Amma would be gracing the Kumbha Mela with Her presence.

The ashram puja team of brahmacharis also made all the necessary arrangements to conduct various pujas on the most auspicious days at the Kumbha Mela for the benefit of devotees.

Amma’s brahmacharis performing the special pujas and homas at the Yagnashala for the benefit of devotees.

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.

————- —- ——- —— —-
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.

Lord Ganesha: his birth story, symbolism meaning and practice

The birth of Ganesha

One day Goddess Parvati was at home on Mt.Kailash preparing for a bath. As she didn’t want to be disturbed, she told Nandi, her husband Shiva’s Bull, to guard the door and let no one pass. Nandi faithfully took his post, intending to carry out Parvati’s wishes. But, when Shiva came home and naturally wanted to come inside, Nandi had to let him pass, being loyal first to Shiva. Parvati was angry at this slight, but even more than this, at the fact that she had no one as loyal to Herself as Nandi was to Shiva. So, taking the turmeric paste (for bathing) from her body and breathing life into it, she created Ganesha, declaring him to be her own loyal son.

The next time Parvati wished to bathe, she posted Ganesha on guard duty at the door. In due course, Shiva came home, only to find this strange boy telling him he couldn’t enter his own house! Furious, Shiva ordered his army to destroy the boy, but they all failed! Such power did Ganesha possess, being the son of Devi Herself!

This surprised Shiva. Seeing that this was no ordinary boy, the usually peaceful Shiva decided he would have to fight him, and in his divine fury severed Ganesha’s head, killing him instantly. When Parvati learned of this, she was so enraged and insulted that she decided to destroy the entire Creation! Lord Brahma, being the Creator, naturally had his issues with this, and pleaded that she reconsider her drastic plan. She said she would, but only if two conditions were met: one, that Ganesha be brought back to life, and two, that he be forever worshipped before all the other gods.

Shiva, having cooled down by this time, and realizing his mistake, agreed to Parvati’s conditions. He sent Brahma out with orders to bring back the head of the first creature he crosses that is laying with its head facing North. Brahma soon returned with the head of a strong and powerful elephant, which Shiva placed onto Ganesha’s body. Breathing new life into him, he declared Ganesha to be his own son as well, and gave him the status of being foremost among the gods, and leader of all the ganas (classes of beings), Ganapati.

Meaning of the story of  Ganesh

At first glance, this story just seems like a nice tale that we might tell our children, or a myth without any real substance. But, it’s true mystical meaning is veiled. It is explained thus:

Parvati is a form of Devi, the Parashakti (Supreme Energy). In the human body She resides in the Muladhara chakra as the Kundalini shakti. It is said that when we purify ourselves, ridding ourselves of the impurities that bind us, then the Lord automatically comes. This is why Shiva, the Supreme Lord, came unannounced as Parvati was bathing.

Nandi, Shiva’s bull, who Parvati first sent to guard the door represents the divine temperment. Nandi is so devoted to Shiva that his every thought is directed to Him, and he is able to easily recognize the Lord when He arrives. This shows that the attitude of the spiritual aspirant is what gains access to Devi’s (the kundalini shakti’s) abode. One must first develop this attitude of the devotee before hoping to become qualified for the highest treasure of spiritual attainment, which Devi alone grants.

After Nandi permitted Shiva to enter, Parvati took the turmeric paste from Her own body, and with it created Ganesha.. Yellow is the color associated with the Muladhara chakra, where the kundalini resides, and Ganesha is the deity who guards this chakra. Devi needed to create Ganesha, who represents the earthbound awareness, as a shield to protect the divine secret from unripe minds. It is when this awareness begins to turn away from things of the world, and toward the Divine, as Nandi had, that the great secret is revealed.

Shiva is the Lord and Supreme Teacher. Ganesha here represents the ego-bound Jiva. When the Lord comes, the Jiva, surrounded as it is with the murky cloud of ego, usually doesn’t recognize Him, and maybe even ends up arguing or fighting with Him! Therefore, it is the duty of the Lord, in the form of the Guru, to cut off the head of our ego! So powerful is this ego however, that at first the Guru’s instructions may not work, as Shiva’s armies failed to subdue Ganesha. It often requires a tougher approach, but, eventually the compassionate Guru, in His wisdom finds a way.

Devi threatened to destroy the whole Creation after learning of Ganesha’s demise. This indicates that when the ego thus dies, the liberated Jiva loses interest in its temporary physical vehicle, the body, and begins to merge into the Supreme. The physical world is here represented by Devi. This impermanent and changeable creation is a form of Devi, to which this body belongs; the unchanging Absolute is Shiva, to which belongs the Soul. When the ego dies, the external world, which depends on the ego for its existence, disappears along with it. It is said that if we want to know the secrets of this world, which is a manifestation of Devi, then we must first receive the blessings of Ganesha.

Shiva restoring life to Ganesha, and replacing his head with an elephant’s, means that before we can leave the body, the Lord first replaces our small ego with a “big”, or universal ego. This doesn’t mean that we become more egoistic. On the contrary, we no longer identify with the limited individual self, but rather with the large universal Self. In this way, our life is renewed, becoming one that can truly benefit Creation. It is however only a functional ego, like the one Krishna and Buddha kept. It is like a thin string tying the liberated Consciousness to our world, solely for our benefit.

Ganesha is given dominion over the Ganas, which is a general term denoting all classes of beings, ranging from insects, animals and humans to the subtle and celestial beings. These various beings all contribute to the government of the Creation; everything from natural forces like storms and earthquakes, to the elemental qualities like fire and water, to functioning of the body’s organs and processes. If we don’t honor the Ganas, then our every action is a form of thievery, as it is unsanctioned. Therefore, instead of propitiating each Gana in order to receive their blessings, we bow to their Lord, Sri Ganesha. By receiving His grace, we receive the grace of all. He removes any potential obstacles and enables our endeavors to succeed.

Such is the greatness of Sri Ganesha! Jai Ganesha!


Sri Krishna, Amma & the cow

Symbolism of the cow

Due to the wise example and guidance of India’s ancient Rishis (Seers), who established the habit of honouring all aspects of life, cows, through their symbiotic relationship with people, were naturally given a high place in Indian culture. This high status was reinforced and high-lighted with the advent of Sri Krishna and His leelas, and is again receiving attention from Amma and Her teachings.

Amma Herself has always spoken in the highest regard for cows, making sure that the ashram cows are always lovingly cared for. Perhaps this is partly due to a remarkable relationship Amma had with one cow in particular, when She was young.

There was a time when She had been turned out by Her family, due to their intolerance of the inexplicable behaviour arising from Her profound mystical experiences. During that period, Amma would endure long stretches of time without eating or drinking anything, so absorbed was She in Her samadhi. One day a cow showed up, and stood nearby, waiting until Amma regained normal awareness. When Amma opened her eyes, this cow then moved close and allowed Amma to drink milk directly from her udders. The cow did this each day, and it soon became known that this cow had been selflessly walking over seven kilometers each way, just to feed Amma, and this even before feeding her own calf! All out of a deep universal sympathy she and Amma somehow shared.

From this it can be seen that cows are rightly honoured as a form of the Mother. Consider that this gentle creature offers such an abundance, despite taking so little. To begin with, cow’s milk and its by-products are taken as food in all parts of the world. In fact, many of us were raised on cow’s milk as a substitute for our own mother’s milk! And milk in turn can become so many things —cheese, butter, curd, cream, ghee, yogurt– much of which is used in a ceremonial context as well, such as pada puja and abhishekam. Even the waste products of a cow are beneficial. Cow-dung makes a superior manure, and the ash derived from burning dried cow dung is used in a sacred symbolic context. And both cow-dung ash, and cow urine are utilized for certain medicinal properties they possess.

Sri Krishna also has a special connection with the divine bovine. Growing up in Brindavan, Sri Krishna was known as Gopala, which means one who looks after the cow, and it was during his daily tending to the cows in the field that some of His most unforgettable leelas were unfolded. What’s more, his most dedicated devotees were the gopis, or cowherd girls, who in their simple purity and innocence could easily see the divinity within this mischievous and mysterious blue-hued boy, who ran and sang and played and danced with them in the open fields, mesmerizing all with his flute-song.

Something else Sri Krishna is famous for is being an incorrigible butter-thief. He used to absolutely love butter and ghee (both gifts of the sacred cow), and would go to any lengths to partake of their sweetness. The small fact that they usually didn’t’t belong to Him never seemed to matter much at all! In fact, He seemed as interested in the act of stealing, as in that which He stole! But it wasn’t out of any uncontrollable craving, or criminal leanings that He did this, for Sri Krishna was beyond desires and negative tendencies. What we cannot afford to forget is that each and every action of divine beings such as Krishna or Amma, are always pregnant with deep spiritual meaning. But, we need subtlety of mind to perceive them.

Amma says, “The gopis were always thinking about their hoarded butter. By stealing it, Krishna diverted their attention to Him.” Thus the significance of stealing the butter is that the Lord will finally steal our minds.

May we all be so blessed.