Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Goddess protects

Chhatrapati Shivaji was always known to be a devotee of the Goddess Bhavani; one legend has it that the Goddess gifted him the Chandrahas sword. Shivaji was also in the habit of reconnoitering his enemy's fortifications and strength incognitio. It is most likely that this habit brought him close to Fort St George 335 years ago this night. Since April of 1677, he had been criss-crossing the country around Madras; in fact, on three occasions, he sent emissaries to Fort St George requesting "cordial stones and counter-poisons" and suchlike things. After a couple of passages humouring him, the British turned down Shivaji's request for English engineers. 

Shivaji had at that time gone past Madras to capture Vellore and Gingee. Maybe he kept the refusal in mind when he came back in October, and camped to the north of Fort St George. In the Fort as Governor was Streynsham Master, who had been part of the defence when Shivaji had attacked the Company's factory at Surat in 1670. Probably recalling  his failure to penetrate Master's defences in Surat, Shivaji was trying to learn more about them. In that quest, he likely came across the Kalikambal temple on what is now Thambu Chetty Street - or maybe the temple was in its 'original' spot, closer to the sea in those times. The portrait in the temple commemorates that visit, of which there is no real record.

Kalikambal, the presiding deity of this temple was originally portrayed in a martial, fearsome form. That was replaced by a more benign representation of the goddess. Shivaji's prayers to her may have resulted in her tempering Shivaji's belligerence into pragmatism; he probably figured out it was not worth the effort trying to sack Fort St George and went quietly back to Raigad. In protecting her favourite son, Goddess Kalikambal also ended up protecting the young city of Madras!

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