Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sugarcane saint

As temples go, this doesn't look like much. After having been neglected for a couple of decades, the Pattinathar Thirukkoil at Tiruvottiyur has had some clean up done around it in the last year or so. After all, what is a few years here and there when we are talking about a legend that has been in the making for over five hundred years?

A native of Kaviripoompattinam, Thiruvenkadar was a leading merchant of his time. Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and advised him to adopt Marudavanar; it was much later that Thiruvenkadar learnt that Marudavanar was the Lord Himself. After one of his apprenticeship trading trips, Marudavanar disappeared, leaving behind a box of his 'earnings' from the trip. Thiruvenkadar opened the box to find cowdung, husk and an 'olai' (ஓலை) with the phrase "not even an eyeless needle will accompany the soul on its last journey". Realising it was a message from Shiva, Thiruvenkadar renounced his material comforts and turned an ascetic, travelling to various parts of the land, going as far north as Kailas before heading back to south India. No longer Thiruvenkadar, he was now known as Pattinathar - the man from Pattinam. During these journeys, Pattinathar had a vision of Lord Shiva telling him that he would gain salvation at a spot where sugarcane tastes sweet. It was finally at Tiruvottiyur that he came across "pei karumbu" (பேய் கரும்பு) - wild sugarcane that nobody would touch, for it was viciously bitter. Pattinathar however found it sweet; and it was here that he attained samadhi. 

The ascetic's temple is also spartan. Though there are the routine pujas and festivals, it is believed that Pattinathar rejects pomp, and anything more than simple offerings or prayers would result in a negative reaction!

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