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.