In the Puranas themselves it is mentioned that they were narrated by Siva to Parvati or to Visnu. It is also said that Visnu taught them to Narada or some other sage. Thus the stories told by the gods were later passed on from one sage to another sage or to a king. In the end of Puranas were narrated by Vyasa to Suta, and by Suta to the sages in Naimisaranya.
It was from a high seat offered by the sages of Naimisaranya that Suta taught the Puranas. We may gather from this the esteem in which the Puranas were held. Also that knowledge was respected more than birth. We also realise that caste was no consideration when it came to learning noble subjects. The learned man, whatever his caste, was listened to with respect
They Speak like a Friend
There are three ways in which a good task may be accomplished. The first is by issuing an order or a command backed by the authority of the government. This is called"prabhusammita". A rich or powerful man orders his servant to do some work: it is also "prabhusammita". Whether or not the servant likes the work, he is compelled to obey the order for fear of punishment. Without occupying any seat of authority a friend asks us to do something and we do it- not out of fear but out of affection. A friend who is well disposed towards us is a "suhrd". His order given as a companion, as a sakha, is "suhrd-sammita". If there is any means by which you will do a work more willingly than in this manner, it is the loving words of your wife. The job your employer asks you to do is felt to be a burden, but the same is made lighter if it is a friend who asks you to do it. But if it is the wife who asks you to do the same it will be still lighter. This is "kantasammita".
The injunctions of the Vedas are "prabhusammita", the teachings of the Puranas are "suhrd-sammita" and the works of poets are "kantasammita".
Kantasammitaya yaya sarasatamapadya-
Kartavye kutuki budho viracitas-tasyai
-Prataparudriyam, stanza 8
The Vedas ask you to "do like this" or "do like that". They do not say why. To question them, it is believed, is to dishonour them. The Puranas, however, tell you in a friendly manner:"If you do like this you will benefit in such and such a manner. If you do the same in some other way you will suffer. . . "Such lessons are driven home to people through stories. Yes, the special feature of the Puranas is that they not only tell you why you should do a work, they also state the reason for the same through absorbing stories. "Hariscandra acted like this. Nala did like that. That is why they were happy in the end though they had in between to suffer much. Besides, they earned such fame for their virtuous life and noble character that they will be remembered for all time. "The moral derived from the stories of Hiranyakasipu, Ravana, Duryodhana and so on are the opposite. They occupied high positions and wallowed in pleasure but in the end they were ruined and are remembered today for their wickedness and the evil they did. Such stories are a source of inspiration as well as a warning for us: they encourage us to do good and pull us back from evil. The Puranas tell us true stories. A suhrd, a sincere friend, will not tell us false tales. He will speak to us only the truth and what is good for us in a persuasive manner.
What about poetry? What does the poet do? He mixes fact with fancy and invents stories with his power of imagination, exaggerating one thing, playing down another and repeating a third. He has the licence to do all this. The function of the poet is to invest reality with the imaginary or the fanciful so as to make his narrative compelling. The friend is unlike the wife. In trying to impress upon you your duty, he is persuasive but does not go beyond stating the facts. The wife is different. She is anxious to correct her husband and take him to the right path. She exaggerates a fact or plays down another, she adds and subtracts. By being "nice" to her husband she will somehow make him do the right thing. So goes at least the legend. Poetry, in the place of the wife; the Vedas, in the place of superior authority; and the Puranas, in between, in the place of a friend: the three teach us dharma in different ways.
Puranic Discourses and Films
In the days gone by Mother would rise with birdsong and go about her household chores. As she sprinkled the house and surroundings with cowdung water, , as she decorated the courtyard with kolam and as she churned the curds, she recited tales from the Puranas. Children got to know such stories by listening to their mother or grandmother. A deep impression is made on their youthful minds by listening to narratives that contain lessons in dharma, stories told with such art that the characters come to life. When the boys and girls grow up they add to their knowledge of the Puranas by reading or by listening to the pauranikas.
Today all such good practices are forgotten. From childhood itself people become addicted to film songs, politics, fiction, newspapers. It is true that puranic themes are enacted on the stage or potrayed on the screen and may be some people benefit a little. But it is doubtful whether they will have the right kind of knowledge of the Puranas from them. More often than not the impact made by puranic films is unhealthly since the producers usually attempt to make them as spicy or as exciting as possible with the addition of undesirable features for, after all, the purpose of making movies is popular entertainment, not providing moral or spiritual instruction. Cinema does not come under the category of kanta-sammita because the producers or directors abuse their licence, so much so that the original story is changed in an objectionable manner.
Those who frequently go to see a film or a dramatic performance become more interested in the qualities of the actors and actresses than in those of the characters of the stories itself.
You must listen to puranic discourses given by great men of virtuous conduct who are also steeped in the qualities of the high-souled characters whose stories they tell. Only then would you be drawn to the virtues exemplified by these characters and to the dharma practised by them. To listen to discourses given by pauranikas who are after money and fame and who do not practise the dharma that they ostensibly uphold is no better than seeing a drama or a movie. Dramatic (and cinematic) performances are likely to do good if they are based on the principles of drama enunciated in our canonical texts. For instance, only a couple married in real life can performance the roles of the a hero and a heroine [husband and wife] in a play. The sastras have also restrictions with regard to the enactment of erotic scenes [portrayal of srngara].
Nowadays puranic and other religous discourses are held almost every day in the towns and cities. I myself am amazed to see so many listed in the engagement columns of newspapers. Talks are given on religious themes, on stories, on the Puranas, in fact subjects I myself am not familiar with. People flock to them, educated people who may be said to be "modern" or "sophisticated". It seems as if there is a religious awakening.
But a point to consider is how far discourses given by pauranikas are in good taste. Adding a few stories on their own to the main theme is all right so as to enhance audience interest. Similarly, a little bit of humour and brief references to politics also seem to be not altogether improper. But these should not be far removed from the main story, the main theme, and must be without prejudice to the truths to be driven home to the listeners. Otherwise the whole exercise will be in bad taste ("rasabhasa" ). That which calls the Lord to mind is "rasa", a true flavour. The puranic stories must be told without straying too far from the text and a healthy impression must be made on the minds of the audience. The narrator must have faith in Isvara, must adhere to traditional customs and must firmly believe in dharma and in the principles he himself expounds in the course of his discourse. If he has profound knowledge of the subject of his talk he will not be tempted to depart from the main theme to tell irrelevant stories or make tangential references to current happenings. Puranic discourses will serve no purpose if they are treated as a pastime like films and fictions.
In the villages and the smaller towns not so many discourses and bhajans are held as in the cities and bigger towns. It is in places where more and more people have taken to the modern style of living (and perhaps as a reaction to it according to the Newtonian law) that you see a growth of interest in subjects related to our religious and cultural traditions. Religious or puranic discourses must be held in every village, also bhajans, at least on every Ekadasi
Even those who respect the Puranas are not prepared to accept that the Sthala Puranas, that is the short Puranas pertaining to particular places, are authentic. If educated people think the [major] Puranas to be nothing but lies, they go so far as to treat the Sthala Puranas as nothing better than rubbish. "It was here that Indra was freed from his curse. . . " "It was here that Agasthya witnessed the marriage of Siva and Parvati ". Such statements give rise to scepticism about the Sthala Puranas. "How are such things possible? " they ask. " These Puranas must have been made up. They must have originated in the desire of some individuals to give a certain importance to places to which they belong. "
People with faith who are acquainted with our traditions will tell you; "Kalpa after kalpa, the same stories are repeated, but sometimes with slight differences. Astory associated with one place in one kalpa may recur in another place in a different kalpa. "
It is natural for people to take pride in claiming that their birthplace is associated with the great men mentioned in the Puranas. This is a fact that all of us must recognise. Ordinary unlettered folk like to believe that Rama or Krsna had once visited their village, also great sages, and that they were freed from terrible sins. Encouraged by such belief they conduct the festivals of the local temples with great enthusiasm and are rewarded with faith and devotion. We should view this attitude with sympathy and understanding. Why should we who claim to be "intelligent" disturb the faith of these people of innocence and deprive them of their sense of fulfiment? The Lord himself says in the Gita that in such matters you must not produce some information as "fact"and create agitation in the minds of ordinary people. "Na buddhibhedam janayed ajananam karmasanginam. "
By this you should not take it that I am one with the critics who hold that the Sthala Puranas are not true, nor should you think that I accept them [these Puranas] only for the reason that, notwithstanding the fact that they are not true, they do some good to the people. I believe that the Sthala Puranas are by and large authentic. Some of the stories told in them may not be so, but for that reason I would not maintain that all Sthala Puranas are false
The Authenticity of Sthala Puranas
We ought to have implicit faith in the Vedas, so too in the statements made in the Tamil Vedas of Saivas and Vaisnavas- the Tevaram and the Divyaprabandham. There are places whose glory has been sung in the Tevaram of the Nayanmars and in the pasurams of the Azhvars. These songs allude to what is said about such places in the Sthala Puranas. That there are such references in these Tamil devotional works, which are 1, 500 years old, is proof of the antiquity of these Puranas.
For instance, take the Perumal of the Srirangam temple (Tamil Nadu). The idol is unique in the sense that it faces south. There is an explanation for this in the Sthala Purana pertaining to the temple. When Vibhisana was returning to Lanka after attending the coronation of Sri Ramacandra, Rama gave him the idol of Ranganatha that he himself had been worshipping. On his way the idol somehow got installed on the island skirted by the two arms of the Kaveri. Vibhisana was sad that he could not take it with him to his capital Lankapuri. So, out of compassion for him, Sri Ranganatha lay facing south. This incident is described in detail in the Sthala Purana of Srirangam. It is also mentioned in the songs of the Azhvars.
If the reason for Vishnu facing south in Srirangam was known during the time of the Azhvars, the Sthala Purana of that place must surely predate the work of these Vaisnava saint-poets.
The linga in the Ekamranatha temple in Kancipuram was shaped by Amba herself. At the time she was worshipping it the Lord created a flood, but she kept embracing the linga and it was thus saved from being carried away in the flood. The Lord then appeared from the linga. This Sthala Purana episode is told in the Tevaram also. Sundaramurtisvamin's poems sing the glory of Amba performing puja here.
In Jambukesvaram (Tiruvanaikka), near Srirangam, a great sage called Jambu was transformed into a jambu tree. Siva enshrined himself under it in his linga form. There a spider wove a conopy of web over the linga and worshipped the Lord. An elephant destroyed this canopy and performed abhiseka to the linga. The spider, naturally enraged, crept into the elephant's trunk, ascended up and bore into its head. The animal then dashed against the jambu tree and it was killed along with the spider. The spider was reborn as KoccenkotCola who built the Jambukesvaram temple. This story occurs in the Sthala Purana- and it is referred to in the Tevaram also. In the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, the Kaveri wells up all the time. This wonderful phenomenon is mentioned in the Tevaram of Appar and in the Patttupattu.
At midday, in Tirukkazhukunram, two eagles descend on the hill and receive sweet rice offered by the temple priest. After consuming the rice the birds fly away. Some people have doubts about the antiquity of this phenomenon. From the time of the Tevaram itself the place is known as (Tiru)kazhukkunram. What better evidence is needed?
In Tiruvidaimarudur (in Tanjavurdistrict) bathing on the occasion of Taippusam is specially auspicious according to the Ksetra-mahatmyam. Appar and Sambandhar have spoken about the festival in their songs dating back to 1, 500 years ago.
Srirangam, Jambukesvaram, Kancipuram, Tirukkazhukunram and Tiruvidaimarudur are great holy places. So it may be argued, there is nothing remarkable about their being mentioned in the old Tamil texts. But it is noteworthy that puranic stories associated even with smaller places are referred to in old Tamil religious works.
The Sthala Puranas have it that in certain places that are not so famous sages and celestials appeared as bees to worship the deities there. Even today we see huge honeycombs before the sanctum itself. One such place is Nannilam. It is also called "Madhuvanam". Sittambur, near Tirutturaippundi, is called Tiruccirremam in the Tevaram. Here too there is a honeycomb before the sanctum. The story goes that siddhas come here as honeybees to worship the Lord. Puja is performed to the honeycomb also everyday. Similarly, there is a honeycomb in the Vaisnava temple of Tirukkannamangai. There are references to such places in both the Tevaram and the Divyaprabandham.
The antiquity and authenticity of the Sthala Puranas are supported by such stories (stories relating even to minor incidents associated with not so big places) occuring in the Tevaram, Tiruvacakam and the Nalayira-Divyaprabandham
The events described in one Sthala Purana are linked to those mentioned in another. Thus the strand of the same story is taken through a number of Puranas. We have to read them together to learn the entire story. That one Sthala Purana begins where another ends is one proof of their authenticity. Another proof that could be adduced is that it is these Sthala Puranas that fill the gaps in the 18 main Puranas and Upa-puranas.
Once Siva and Amba(Parvati) played dice in Kailasa. "I have won the game, " said Amba. "No, I am the winner, " said Siva. The two played thus to impart lessons in dharma to mankind. If now their game of dice ended in a quarrel it was because the divine couple wanted the world to learn that playing for stakes was an evil, that it leads to disputes and misconduct.
To resume the story. In his anger Siva cursed Amba thus: "You shall be born a cow and shall keep roaming the earth. " Siva is Pasupati, lord of animals. Yes, he is the Lord that controls the animal senses(the indriyas) that are in a frenzy. It is to demonstrate that he does not bless people with a big ego that he cursed even Parasakti(the Supreme Power). Though she is Mahasakti herself she realised her error and, the great pativrata that she is, she became submissive to her husband. She roamed the earth as an ordinary cow.
In her One Thousand Names ("Sahasranama") Amba is extolled as "Gomata, Guhajanmabhu. " She came to the earth as Gomata(Mother Cow).
Visnu is Amba's brother, is he not? He is very much attached to her and, as soon he knew that his brother-in-law(Siva) had "driven her out", he thought to himself:"Let him not protect her, lord of animals though he be. I will have my sister under my protection. " So taking the guise of a cowherd he accompanied the divine cow. He was not the victim of any curse that he should roam the earth thus. It was to demonstrate to the world the dharma of filial affection that he came down to the world of mortals with her. (He developed a liking for the job of the cowherd now. That is how he took delight in grazing cows in his incarnation as Krsna. He then came to be called Gopala which name also means "Pasupati". If you reflect on these two names of Siva and Visnu you will cease to make any distinction between the two gods. )
Tiru-Azhundur is the place to which sister and brother came as cow and cowherd. It is the same as "Terazhundur". It also happens to be the birthplace of Kambar and in fact there is a locality here called "Kambarmedu". Tirumangai Azhvar performed the "mangala sasanam" in a temple here. Visnu is in the sanctum sanctorum as Gopala with the cow. Since he came as a companion of the cow he is called "Gosakha". "Gosakhaksetra" is another name for Terazhundur. "Gosakha" in Tamil is "Amaruviyappan", the initial "a" in the name meaning cow. There is a temple to Siva also here. According to our ancient system of town-planning there must be a temple to Siva at one end of a village or town and one to Visnu at the other. If the Visnu temple at Terazhundur is associated with the songs of the Azhvars the Siva temple is associated with the Tevaram hymns of Jnanasambandhar. The places sung by the Azvars are said to have had "mangalasasanam", while any place associated with the Tevaram is called "patal perra sthalam" [place that has been sung]. Many places in the South have had both types of distinction. Terazhundur is one of them. Near it is a village called Pillur where Visnu, as the cowherd grazed the cow that was Amba. ("Pillur" means a place where grass grows, pil meaning grass. In the Tanjavur region pul is known as pil. ) Mekkirimangalam also is one of the places where Visnu grazed the cow and An-angur another(an=cow).
For brother and sister to worship Siva, Visnu installed Vedapurisvara(Siva) in Gosakhaksetra. (Both the Vedapurisvara and Amaruviyappan temples are today under the same manegement. )
The cow as well as the Brahmin is essential to the practice of Vedic dharma. Milk and ghee are indispensable to sacrifices, while without the Brahmin the sacrifices cannot be performed. This fact is underlined in the prayer, "Gobrahmanebhyo subhamastu nityam" [May cow and Brahmin ever prosper].
The one (that is Siva) who had cast a curse on Amba came as Vedapurisvara to the same place where Amba had also come. Until recently there were many Brahmins in this place learned in the Vedas and sastras. Sambandhar often refers to them as "Azhundai Maraiyor"(Vedic scholars of Azhundur). The Azhvars call Visnu by these names: "Chandoga", "Pauzhiya", "Taittiriya", "Samavediyane".
One day, when the cow (that is Amba) was grazing, her hoof dug into the earth and a stone was revealed. It proved to be a Siva linga. The cow, thinking that she had commited an offence against Siva, ran about in bewilderment. Visnu pacified her and brought her back. The place where this incident occured is "Tirukkulambiyam". Visnu was pained by all these developments and regretted that his sister had shown herself to be egoistic, albeit playfully, and that this fact had led to such unfortunate consequences.
It was Visnu who had married Minaksi to Sundaresvara. Wishing to unite them again he now performed puja to propitiate Siva. The latter was pleased and he said to Visnu: "Keep grazing the cow until you come to the river Kaveri. Bathe her in the river and she will be restored to her original form. I shall tell you later when I will marry her. "
Visnu, as bidden by Siva, bathed the cow in the Kaveri. The place where the cow was seen after she had bathed in the river is "Tiruvaduturai". (It is also important for the reason that it was here that Tirumular composed his Tirumantiram. )
Amba was restored to her original form and Siva himself appeared on the scene. But he wanted to play a game again. There is a place called Kurralam. (It is not the same as the Kurralam in Tirunelveli district that is famous for its waterfall. This Kurralam is near Mayuram in Tanjavur district. It was once called Tirutturutti. This is one of the 44 places which Appar, Sambandhar and Sundaramurti have sung. ) A sage was performing austerities here for Amba herself to be born as his daughter. Siva thought that this was the opportune moment to grant his wish. He said to Amba: "Go and be born the daughter of the sage at Tirutturutti. I will come and marry you at the appropriate time. "
Siva made his appearance as promised. There is proof for the fact that the one who gave his word at Gosakhaksetra appeared here also in that in this place too the deity is called Vedesvara. The sage and Visnu- the latter had been waiting for the day his sister would be married again to Siva- received Siva and took him to the place of marriage. The spot where Siva was received came to be called "Etirkolpadi". The "vrata" before the marriage was performed by Siva in a nearby place which later came to be called "Velvikkudi". The spot where he saw Amba as the bride and performed the palika ceremony is called "Kurumulaippali". The marriage pandal was spread over two or three villages. The one in the middle came to be called "Tirumananjeri ". It was here that Visnu married Parvati to Paramesvara and it was an occasion of great joy for him.
From this account you will realise how wrong it is to dismiss Sthala Puranas as of no significance. The present story contains a warning against the evil consequences of ahamkara and gambling and tells us how a wife should be dutiful towards her husband and how a brother should be affectionate towards, and concerned about, his sister. Actually I did not tell the story with this idea in mind. I wished to demonstrate how a number of Sthala Puranas fit into one another, how the incidents narrated in different Sthala Puranas are woven together- those of Terazhundur, Pillur, Anangur, Tirukkulambiyam, Tiruvaduturai, Kurralam, Etirkolpadi, Velvikkudi, Kurmulaippali and Tirumananjeri. The interconnected narrative also shows that the story must be authentic.
A story with which people of Tanjavur should be more familiar links Kumbakonam with places in its neighbourhood.
During the great deluge Brahma prepared himself for the next creation. He put all the seeds in amrta(the elixer of immortality) and kept them together in a mudpot to the chanting of Vedic mantras. With due ceremony, he placed a coconut with mango leaves on it and invested the same with the sacred thread. Now he placed the pot on the summit of Meru. When it came floating in the waters of the deluge, Paramesvara wished to recommence creation. Then the coconut on the pot was dislodged in the storm and fell into the water. At once the water receded revealing the land there. This spot is four miles north-west of Kumbhakonam. The deity here is even today called "Narikelesvara", ("narikela" means coconut). Then the mango leaves fell off. The water receded there too revealing land. This is Tiruppurambayam, four miles north-west of Kumbhakonam. "Payam" [or bayam] is "payas", that is water, but in this context deluge. "Puram" means outside or beyond something: the name of the place [Tiruppurambayam] thus means"outside the waters of the deluge". Now the sacred thread(sutra) also got loosened from the pot and fell off. The deity in the place where the sutra fell is "Sutranatha", "sutra" meaning the "sacred thread".
The kumbha(pot) had a "nose" in addition to a "mouth"- it was like a gindi or kamandalu. My pot too has a nose in addition to its mouth. Water is filled in the pot through the mouth and poured out through the nose. The pot with the amrta was also similiar. Paramesvara watched the scene. Since the pot with the elixer and the seeds in it were not overturned on their own, he decided to break it with his arrow so as to bring out its contents. The place where he discharged the arrow is called "Banapuri"- now it is known as "Vanatturai". The deity here is "Banapurisvara" and the spot where the mouth of the pot fell in pieces is "Kudavayil"("Kudavasal"). Paramesvara wanted the amrta to be discharged in the sastric manner, from the nose of the pot. The place where the nose broke and the elixir or ambrosia fell is holier than other places. It is called "Kumbhakonam", "kon"("konam") meaning nose. In the Tevaram the place is referred to as "Kudamukku". Here the mudpot itself came to be the linga and even today it is so. The linga is ceremonially bathed along with a protective wear outside. "Kumbhesvara" is the name of the deity. The Mahamagham pond is the spot where the amrta first fell.
Since the place is hallowed by the fact that it was here that the amrta fell, the Vaisnava deity here, Sarngapani, is called "Ara-amudan" by the Azhvars. To Vaisnavas Kumbhakonam itself is "Kudandai".
Thus there are many sacred places that are interconnected, which fact also confirms that the Sthala Puranas are authentic. Tiruvazhundur, Kumbhakonam, etc, are situated within a radius of four miles. There will be further confirmation of the authenticity of these Puranas if we note how the places mentioned in them and which are far apart are connected together. Ramesvaram, Vedaranyam and Pattisvaram are not near one another. Ramesvaram, in Ramanathapuram district, is on the seacoast. Vedaranyam is in a corner of Tanjavur district and is also on the seashore in the taluqa of Tirutturaipundi. In the same district, but by no means close by, is Pattisvaram which is near Kumbhakonam. These places which are far apart are connected by the same thread of a story. Would you call such a story baseless?
In all these three places there are great Siva temples and the name of the deity in each is "Ramalinga", suggesting that they are connected with Rama. That he installed lingas in these places strengthens the concept of Saiva-Vaisnava unity. These places have some other special features too. Of the four great religious centres, known as "car-dham", Ramesvaram alone is in the South. In the North is Badrinath(a), in the west Somanath(a), in the east (Puri)Jagannath(a) and, of course, Ramesvaram in the south.
Vedaranyam is associated with the salt sathyagraha during the freedom movement. The place is mentioned in the Tevaram as "Tirumaraikka"(Tamil for Vedaranyam). Here the temple door was closed after the Vedas had worshipped the deity Siva. Appar sang his patigam here and the door flung open. Tirujnanasambandhar made the door shut again when he sang before the deity.
Pattisvaram is the place where Siva was worshipped by Patti, one of the four daughters of Kamadhenu. Like Tiruvaduturai mentioned before there are many places where the cow has performed worship. Tiru-Amattur is near Panrutti. It is connected with Appar. Here too the cow has performed puja. Pattisvaram is a similiar place. When Jnanasambandhar was a child he sang the praises of Siva and went dancing before the deity in the hot sun. The Lord was moved by the sight and ordered his attendants to build a pandal to protect his devotee from the sun. Jnanasambandhar was an incarnation of Subrahmanya. Govinda Dikshita was a minister to the Nayaka kings of Tanjavur. He was very much drawn to Pattisvaram and made additions to the temple there. Images of Dikshita and his wife may be seen before the sanctum of Amba.
Where did Agastya witness the marriage of Siva and Parvati? Three places are mentioned, that is three places are associated with the same event. As mentioned before, the Ramalinga was installed in three places, but in each place a different reason.
Rama commited a threefold sin by slaying Ravana. Ravana, the son of the sage Visravas, was a Brahmin. By killing him Rama incurred the sin of "Brahmahatya". To wipe away the same he installed the linga at Ramesvaram.
Some people today describe the war between Rama and Ravana as a quarrel between Aryans and Dravidians. Such a view is totally baseless and there is no better proof of this than the fact that Ravana was a Brahmin. If the Ramayana is a lie so must be the battle between Rama and Ravana. It cannot be claimed that there is a historical basis for this battle alone. If the Ramayana is accepted as true the account of Ravana contained in it must also be taken to be so. It is said again and again in the epic that Ravana was the son of a sage, that he was conversant with the Vedas, that he pleased Siva by chanting the Samaveda and that it was for this reason that he was saved from being crushed under Kailasa. It does not stand to reason to accept only that part of the Ramayana which suits you and reject the rest.
Leave aside the Ramayana and what it says about Ravana: the temple of Ramesvaram is there for all of us to see. It has the biggest corridor in the world ("prakara", ambulatory). All India worships Ramanathasvamin in the form of the linga Rama installed for the removal of the sin he had incurred by killing the Brahmin Ravana. For centuries our forefathers in Tamil Nadu never thought of Ravana as belonging to a caste other than that of Brahmins.
Apart from being a Brahmin, Ravana was also a great warrior. All the worlds trembled before him. He fought successfully all the powerful rulers of the time except two- Kartaviryarjuna and Vali. By killing such a warrior Rama committed the sin of"virahatya". It was in expiaation of it that he installed the linga(Ramalinga) at Vedaranyam.
In addition to the qualifications already mentioned, Ravana had another; he was an ardent devotee of Siva and proficient in playing the vina, besides being a singer. Excellence such as this comes under the term "chaya": it means both light and shadow. The goddess Minaksi is addressed as "Marakatachaya" (emeraldine in radiance). By killing Ravana who possessed chaya, Rama also earned the sin of "chayahatya". To expiate it he installed the linga at Pattisvaram.
From the sastric point of view, by slaying Ravana Rama brought on himself the threefold sin of Brahmahatya, virahatya and chayahatya. Actually Rama is patita-pavana and he cannot be tainted by any sin. By uttering His name a man is freed from the most terrible of sins. So Rama has no need to perform any prayascitta (he does not have to do any expiatory rite)- he is "Taraka Rama ". But he had descended to this world to serve as an ideal for all mankind and so he acted strictly according to the canons even with reference to matters that might be considered trivial. In the observance of dharma according to the sastras no one excelled Him. Throughout the Ramayana we see this remarkable trait in His character. He regarded himself as an ordinary individual, observed all the rules of the sastras; in this way he also performed the prayascitta according to them. This is not mentioned in the Ramayana of Valmiki; but the Sthala Puranas of Ramesvaram, Vedaranyam and Pattisvaram fill the gap.
"The Ramayana does not contain these incidents. They must some old wives'tales. " To think so is not correct. The incidents described in the Sthala Puranas are in keeping with Rama's character. He must have performed the three types of penitence. What is left out in the Ramayana of Valmiki is mentioned in the Sthala Puranas.
Ravana had caused suffering to all mankind and it was with an evil intent that he had stolen Sita, the mother of the world. Rama killed such a wicked character amd made all the world happy. At a time when there was a universal rejoicing over his victory, Rama thought himself to be a sinner because he had killed an enemy eminent in three different ways. The loftiness of His character is further enhanced by these acts. That he installed the linga in three different centres goes to demonstrate the unity of Hari and Hara (Visnu and Siva).
These Sthala Puranas do not contradict one another nor is there any overlapping in them. Those pertaining to Ramesvaram, Vedaranyam and Pattisvaram deal respectively with how Rama, by installing the linga in each place, was freed from the sins of Brahmahatya, virahatya and chayahatya. Rama must have proceeded north from Ramesvaram along the coast. From Vedaranyam he must have gone to Pattisvaram in the interior. It is the strand of the same story that takes us through three Sthala Puranas. The three places are 150 or 100 miles apart from one another. When there were no fast modes of transport these distances correspond to 1, 500 or 1, 000 miles today. The fact that the stories belonging to the three places fit into one another shows that the Sthala Puranas relating to them must be true.
I would like to express a view that might seem strange to modern researchers and traditional scholars alike. It is generally believed that the Sthala Puranas cannot be considered authoritative to the same extent as the Ramayana. But I think that such of them as are authentic are more authoritative than the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Visnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana, and so on. I have come to this conclusion from examples like the one I have cited above.
Now I am going to speak about Sthala Puranas that connect places in different parts of the country.
There are two versions of the Kaveri Purana. One gives importance to the Amma mandapa on the Kaveri in Srirangam. It states that bathing in the Kaveri in the month of Tula(October-November) is specially meritorious. The chief character in this Purana is the Cola king Dharmavarman. He reigned from Niculapuri. The Sanskrit words "nicula", "nicola", "coli" mean a garment covering the body [or a part thereof] like a case ("urai" in Tamil). The place called "Uraiyur" is known in Sanskrit as "Niculapuri". The kingdom with its capital as Niculapuri came to be called Coladesa (Cozhadesa). What is remarkable about a corn-cob? The grains growing on the top of the stalk are encased in the "cob". It means the grains of the cereal called colam or maize wear a coli so to speak.
In the second version of the Kaveri Purana the bathing ghat called Tula-ghattam in Mayavaram [Mayuram] is given importance. It is popularly called "Lagadam": the word must be a distortion of "Tula-ghattam". This ghat has been specially built for the convenience of pilgrims who bathe in the Kaveri in the month of Tula. There are such ghats in six or seven other places on the Kaveri, all built to the same plan. While in the first version of the Kaveri Purana Srirangam and Dharmavarman figure as important, in the second, apart from Mayavaram, a Brahmin couple find a prominent place. The couple were liberated by bathing at this ghat.
The Brahmin was called Nathasarman and his wife Anavadya. They were freed from wordly existence by bathing day after day in the Kaveri in the month of Tula in the manner prescribed by the sastras.
The Brahmin couple had during their pilgrimage visited Kedara and Kasi. (This story is known only in Mayaram. ) Kasi is a thousand miles from here. One of the ghats there is called "Kedarghat". The Sthala Purana of Kedarghat mentions that the Brahmin couple, Nathasarman and his wife Anavadya, bathed there.
People in our parts are not much familiar with the story of Nathasarman. He is not like Rama, Krsna, Hariscandra, Nala and so on to be known all over the land. It is amazing that the story of such a man as told in the Sthala Puranas of Mayavaram and of Kasi, a thousand miles away, tally. This story shows how wrong it is to be sceptical about the authenticity of Sthala Puranas.
Kasi, which is a thousand miles from Kancipuram, is famous for the goddess Annapurni. In Kanci too, when the World Mother observed the 32 dharmas, she distributed food among people. Opposite the doorway of the sanctum of the Kamaksi temple in Kanci is the sanctum of Annapurnesvari. It has a vimana or tower that is unlike that of any other temple in the South. It has six spires ("sikharas"). The explanation for this is the fact that the tower of the Annapurnesvari temple in Kasi too is similar. Even in such small matters there is agreement about places as far apart as Kanci and Kasi. Are Sthala Puranas then to be dismissed as of no consequence?
Importance of Sthala Puranas
n my opinion, the Sthala Puranas not only enables us to have an insight into history but also enrich our knowledge of local culture and local customs. It seems to me that if they are read together in a connected manner they will throe more light on our history than even the 18 major Puranas and Upapuranas. In fact, they fill the gaps in the major Puranas.
Local legends do help in a proper understanding of history. For instance, educated people today do not believe that Sankara Bhagavatpada visited any of the temples or that he brought the puja performed there under a certain system. "The great non-dualist that he was and exponent of the path of jnana, " they argue, "he would not have concerned himself with devotion, temple worship, the Agasmas, and the like. " But let us examine the stories that tell us that he gave new life to certain temples, temples that are thousand miles or more apart. Their connection with the Acharya is confirmed from such stories and local legends. The priest who conducts the puja in Badrinath(a) in the Himalaya is a Namputiri Brahmin from Kerala -he is called "Rawal". Here, in Madras, the puja at the Tripurasundari temple at Tiruvorriyur is also by a Namputiri. This is proof of the oral tradition according to which the Acharya was a Namputiri who engaged fellow Namputiris to conduct puja in the temples he revived.
In teaching us lessons in dharma also the Sthala Puranas are in no way inferior to the major Puranas. It is in fact these local Puranas which are a few hundred in number that throw light on the finer points of dharma. Unfortunately, even the religious-minded among the educated class today think poorly of them. But, until recently, these Puranas were treated with respect by learned men in Tamil Nadu. Distinguished Tamil scholars have written Puranas after those existing in the name of great sages and also a number of Sthala Puranas. There are works in Tamil describing the importance and significance of places and temples - they are known variously as Sthala Puranas, manmiyam, kalambagam, ula, etc. ("Mahima" means greatness or glory; manmiyam is its Tamil form. )
Tamil literature is divided into the Sangam, Tevaram-Divyaprabandham and Kambar-Ottakuttar periods. Scholars describe the 16th century as the period of the Sthala Puranas. The chief authors of such works are Kamalai Jnanaprakasar and Saiva Ellappa Navalar. We know the worthiness of Sthala Puranas from the fact that among their authors are Kacchiyappa Sivachariyar (he composed the Kanda Puranam), Paranjyoti Muni (he is the author of the Thiruvilayadal Puranam), Umapati Sivachariyar (a distinguished teacher of Saivism), Sivaprakasa Svami, the Irattai Pulavars, Antakkavi Viraraghava Mudaliar, Kottaiyur Sivakkozhundu Desigar, Trikuta Rasappakavirayar. In recent times there was Mahavidvan Minaksisundaram Pillai who was the guru of U. V. Svaminatha Ayyar. He has written a number of Sthala Puranas. We learn from this that Sthala Puranas have a place of honour in the Tamil religious tradition and literature.
A distinguished Sanskrit scholar and authority on the sastras, Karungulam Krsna Sastri, has written a Tamil work called Vedaranya Mahatmyam.
Tamil rulers gave their support to Sthala Puranas and their propagation. More than four and half centuries ago, the Puranas relating to Pancanadaksetra (Tiruvaiyaru, Tanjavur) was translated into Tamil. The translator mentions that he undertook the work as desired by Govinda Diksita who was responsible for the founding of the Nayaka kingdom of Tanjavur
Preserving the Puranas
For a thousand or ten thousand years our temples and the festivals associated with them have nurtured our religious traditions against various opposing forces. Every temple has a story to tell; every temple festival has a legend behind it. These have been preserved in the Puranas. To ignore or neglect this great heritage, this great treasure, is to cause serious hurt to the religious feelings of our people.
In the past, when there was no printing press, the palm-leaf manuscripts were jealously guarded generation after generation. Is it right to keep them in neglect when so many books are churned out by the printing presses today, the majority of them injurious to our inner advancement? It is our duty to preserve the Puranas for future generations. Not to do so is to deprive them of great source of inspiration
Hindu Dharma: Dharmasastra
Realising the Ideals of the Puranas
The noble characters who figure in the Puranas serve as an ideal for all of us to follow. When we read their stories we are inspired by their example and we ask ourselves why we cannot be like them ourselves, why we should not share their qualities. But, even if we wanted to emulate their lives, would we be able to live like them without deviating at any time from the high principles that they upheld?
Man by nature is always unstill: he cannot keep his mind quiescent even for a moment. Bhagavan says in the Gita : "Not for a moment can a man remain still, without doing work". So one must know the right path for work. One must make one's mind pure, acquire the highest of qualities and, finally, transcending these very qualities, realise the Brahman.
How can we live according to the tenets of our religion? How can we wash away our sins and cleanse our Self? And what must we do to attain everlasting happiness? Is not our present birth a consequence of the sins we committed in our past lives? We have to free ourselves from them and be careful not to sin afresh. We must elevate ourselves, our mind and character, so that we are not embroiled in sin again. The purpose of religion is this, to ennoble us and turn us away from sin. But how? How do we live according to the teachings of our religion? We do not know how.
In our present condition, what do we claim to know? Perhaps a little bit of Ramayana, the Bhagavata and other Puranas. We learn about the religious life lived by the characters portrayed in these works. But neither the Puranas nor the epics deal with the rights in a codified form, nor do they contain directions for their proper performance.
The Puranas and the epics give a dominant place to devotion. Is it possible to be engaged in devotion all the time, or to keep singing the glory of the Lord day and night? Or, for that matter, to be similarly engaged in a puja and meditation throughout? No. We have a family to look after. We have to bath and eat and we have so much other work to do - all this takes time. The remaining hours cannot be set apart for puja. It would all be tiresome and we have, besides, to do other good works. How do we get such information?
From the Dharmasastra.
Of the fourteen branches of learning (caturdasa-vidya) Dharmasastra comes last. Puranic characters, who represent our ideal, show us the goal. The path to attain that goal starts with the performance of karma, works. The Dharmasastra contain practical instructions in our duties, in the rites to be performed by us. In the Vedas these duties are mentioned here and there. The Dharmasastra is an Upanga that deals with them in detail and in a codified form.
There is an orderly way of doing things, a proper way, with regard to household and personal matters including even bathing and eating. The ordinances of Vedas cover all aspects of life and to conduct ourselves according to them is to ennoble our Self. Whatever we do must be done in the right manner - how we lie down, how we dress, how we build our house. The idea is that all this helps our being. Life is not compartmentalised into the secular, worldly and the religious. The Vedic dharma is such that in it even mundane affairs are inspired by the religious spirit. Whatever work is done is done with the chanting of mantras and thus becomes a mean of Atmic progress. Just as worldly life and religious life are integrated, harmonised, so are the goals of individual liberation and common welfare kept together.
The devotion we imbibe from the Puranas is part of the Vedas also. But with it is associated a good deal of karma. When devotion takes the form of rite called puja there are certain rules to be observed. Apart from puja there are sacrifices and rites like sraddha and tarpana as important elements of the Vedic dharma. But these are not codified in the Vedas nor is any procedure laid down for each of them.
"Vedo khilo dharmamulam, " says Manu (The Vedas are the root of all dharma. ) The work that the Vedas bid us perform for our inner well-being also serve the purpose of bringing good to the world. What is called dharma is that which fosters both individual and social welfare. The Vedas are the root of this dharma, its fountainhead.
But the rites and duties are not given in an orderly form in the Vedas, nor is the procedure for works laid down in detail. Of the Vedas that are infinite we have obtained only a very small part. And we do not comprehend fully the meaning of many of the passages even of this small part.
As we have seen the sixth Vedanga, Kalpa, contains the Dharmasutras, Grhyasutras and Srautasutras, relating to rites based on the Vedas. But the sutras are brief and do not constitute a detailed guide. The dharmasastras elaborate upon them without leaving any room for doubt.
The Dharmasutras (by Apastamba, Gautama and others) are terse statements and are so according to the very definition of the term "sutras". The dharmasastras (by Manu, Yagnavalkya, Parasara and others) are called Smrtis and are in verse and detail in treatment. Their basis, however, is constituted by the Vedas. The function of Dharmasastra is to analyse and explicate the sutras of Kalpa which have to some extent systematised the Vedic rules and injunctions. If Kalpa gives instructions about the constructions of the Vedic altar, of houses, etc, Dharmasastra provides a code of conduct embracing all human activities.
We want to perform a ritual, but how do we go about it? We do not know where the propriety or otherwise of performing it is mentioned in the Vedas. Nor do we know where instructions are given about it. What are we to do then? We do not know anyone who has mastered all the Vedas. Extracting information from them about the rite we want to perform is impossible because they are like the expanse of a vast ocean. If the Vedas bid us "Do like this, " we do so. But since we do not know their ordinances well enough, what are we to do? The answers to this questions are given by Manu: "The sages who had mastered the Vedas composed the Smrtis. Find out what they have to say. "What we call Smrtis make up Dharmasastra.
"Vedo'khilo dharmamulam / Smrtisile ca tadvidam".
"Smrti" is what is remembered. "Vismrti" is insanity. Manu observes :"There is Smrti for the Vedas in the form of notes. The sages who had a profound understanding of the Vedas have brought together the duties and rites (dharma and karma) mentioned in them in the form of notes and they constitute the Smrtis. They are written in a language that we can easily understand. Read them. They tell you about your in detail, the do's and don'ts, and how the rites are to be performed. "
We have seen that the sixth Vedanga, Kalpa, contains instructions about the Vedic works. The Grhyasastras, Dharmasastras and Srautasastras of Kalpa deal with sacrifices and other rites. The Smrtis elaborate on them and contain detailed instructions with regard to the rite one has to perform through one's entire life. Actually, there are rituals to be conducted from the time of conception until death. The Smrtis also lay down the daily routine to be followed by all of us.
Smritis and Allied Works
Manu, Parasara, Yajnavalkya, Gautama, Harita, Yama, Visnu, Sankha, Likhita, Brhaspati, Daksa, Angiras, Pracetas, Samvarta, Acanas, Atri, Apastamba and Satatapa are the eighteen sages who mastered the Vedas with their superhuman power and derived the Smrtis from them. Their works are known after them like Manusmrti, Yajnavalkya-smrti, Parasara-Smrti and so on, and they contain all that we need to know about all the dharmas to be adhered to and all the rituals to be performed during our entire life.
Apart from these eighteen , there are eighteen subsidiary Smrtis called Upasmrtis. It is customary to include the Bhagavadgita among the Smrtis.
What we find in one Smrti may not be found in the other. There may also be differences between one Smrti and another. These give rise to doubts which are sought to be cleared by works called "Dharmasastra Nibandhanas".
There are some Smrtis which do not contain instructions with regard to all observances. For instance, some do not mention sandhyavandana. The reason must be it is such a common rite that everybody is expected to know it. Then some omit the sraddha ceremony and some others are silent on various types of "pollution" (for instance, that due to the birth of a child in the family or death of a relative). Certain matters are taken for granted. After all, we do not have to be told about how to breathe or eat.
The nibhandanas do not leave out any rite or dharma. Differences between various Smrtis are sought to be reconciled in them.
Each region follows its own nibhandhana. In the North, it is the one authored by Kasinatha Upadhyaya. In Maharastra, it is the Mitaksara: it has the force of law and is accepted as such by the law courts. Nirnayasindhu by Kamalakara Bhatta is also accepted as an authority there. In the South, Vaidyanatha-Diksitiyam by Vaidyanatha Diksita is followed. These are the important authorities for householders. Sannyasins follow Visvesvara-samhita. In Tamil Nadu the Dharmasastra means the Vaidyanatha-Diksitiyam. The nibandhana has been translated into Tamil.
The Dharmasastras are not as difficult to follow as the Vedas and can be understood with a little knowledge of Sanskrit
Vaidyanatha Diksita's own name for his work is Smrti-Muktaphala-Nibhandana-Grantha. We know very little about the author of this extremely useful book. Diksita must have lived some two hundred years ago; he belonged to Kandiramanikkam, near Nacciyarkoil (in Tanjavur district). It must be noted that he himself practised the dharmas he had dealt with in his nibhandana and he is also believed to have performed big sacrifices.
Vaidyanatha-Diksitiyam is considered superior to similar works by Medhatithi, Vijnesvara, Hemadri and so on. Exhaustive in nature, it deals with the duties and rites pertaining to the different castes and asramas (the four stages of life), ritual purity, sradhha, prayascitta, stridharma, dayabhaga, dravyasuddhi. It even gives directions about the division of paternal property. When the Hindu code Bill was introduced in free India some put forward the view that the division of property must be based on the sastras. Such division is called "Dayabhaga". The division of property in Kerala, in the uncle-nephew line, is called marumakkatayam. The word "dayadi" is derived from "daya".
Diksitiyam is the last among the nibhandanas. In the preparation of this work Vaidyanatha Diksita had the advantage of making a comparative study of all the previous works on Dharmasastra. Before it the authority followed it to some extent in the South was the nibhandana of Tozhappar. Vaisnavas and Smartas alike today accept the Diksitiyam as an authority.
The nibhandanas are not like the Vedas (Sruti), the Kalpa-sutras and the Smrtis. Since they came later it is not easy to make them acceptable to all. Diksita, it must be noted, does not show the least trace of bias in his work and has followed the Mimamsa in determining the meaning of Vedic texts. He has brought together previous sastras and arrived at conclusions only after resolving the contradictions in them. This is the reason why his work is considered as authority in the South. When the Smrtis differ in some matters, he takes a broad view and suggests: "Let each individual follow the practices of his region and the tradition of his forefathers"
Freedom and Discipline
There are a hundred thousand aspects to be considered in a man's life. Rules cannot be laid down to determine each and every one of them. That would be tantamount to making a legal enactment. Laws are indeed necessary to keep a man bound to a system. Our sastras do contain many do's and don'ts, many rules of conduct.
There is much talk today of freedom and democracy. In practice what do we see? Freedom has come to mean the licence to do what one likes, to indulge one's every whim. The strong and the rough are free to harass the weak and the virtuous. Thus we recognise the need to keep people bound to certain laws and rules. However the restrictions must not be too many. There must be a restriction on restrictions, a limit set on how far individuals and the society can be kept under control. To choke a man with too many rules and regulations is to kill his spirit. He will break loose and run away from it all.
That is the reason why our Sastras have not committed everything to writing and enacted laws to embrace all activities. In many matters they let people follow in the footsteps of their elders or great men. Treating me as a great man and respecting me for that reason, don't you, on your own, do what I do-wear ashes, perform Pujas and observe fasts? In some matters people are given the freedom to follow the tradition or go by the personal example of others or by local or family custom. Only thus will they have faith and willingness to respect the rules prescribed with regard to other matters.
Setting an example through one's life is the best way of making others do their duty or practice their dharma. The next best is to make them do the same on their own persuasion. The third course is compulsion in the form of written rules. Nowadays there are written laws for anything and everything. Anyone who has pen and paper writes whatever comes to his mind and has it printed.
Hindu Dharmasastra has come under attack for ordering a man's life with countless rules and regulating and not allowing him freedom to act on his own. But, actually, the sastras respect his freedom and allow him to act on his own in many spheres. Were he given unbridled freedom he would ruin himself and bring ruin upon the world also. The purpose of the code of conduct formulated by our sastras is to keep him within certain bounds. But this code does not cover all activities since the makers of our sastras thought that people should not be too tightly shackled by the dharmic regulations.
You may feel that with regard to some aspects of life there is an element of compulsion in the sastras, but you may not feel the same when you follow the tradition, the local or family custom or the example of great men. Indeed you will take pride in doing so. This fact is accepted, in the large-heartedness of its author, by the Vaidyanatha-Diksitiyam. Previous works on Dharmasastra shared the same view. The Apastamba-sutra is an authority widely followed. In its concluding part the great sage Apastamba observes: "I have not dealt with all duties. There are so many dharmas still to be learned. Know them from the fourth varna. "From this it is clear that the usual criticism that men kept women suppressed or that Brahmins kept non-Brahmins suppressed is not true. In a renowned and widely accepted dharmasastra such as that of Apastamba women and Sudras are authoritatively recognised to be knowledgeable in some aspects of dharma.
Asvalayana and some other "original" authors of sutras say that the word of women is to be respected in the matter of the arati in weddings and application of paccai. The posts supporting the marriage pandal are installed to the chanting if mantras. Even so, if the servant or worker erecting the pandal has a story to tell about it or some tradition connected with it, you must not ignore it. In this way everyone is respected in the sastras and given what is called "democratic" freedom.
The dharmasastras include the samskaras and other rituals to be performed by the fourth varna. That caste has not been ignored and its duties and rituals are dealt with in the chapters on varnasrama, anhika and sraddha in the Diksitiyam.
The dharmasastras have usually chapters on "acara" and "vyavahara". The first denotes matters of custom and tradition that serve as a general discipline. The second means translating them in terms of outward rites or works
Signs and Marks
If we call ourselves Hindus we must bear certain external marks, outward symbols.
The boy scouts have a uniform of their own. Army and navy men are distinguished by certain insignia. There are number of divisions in police force. Even though their functions will not change if they wear one another's uniforms or badges, there is a strict rule with regard to their dress and insignia. The policeman's cap must not be worn by the sailor. There is a certain discipline and orderliness among all these forces.
This discipline as well as orderliness is essential in religion also. That is why different jatis and different asramas have different functions and signs. According to the dharmasastras we must wear the dhoti or the sari in such and such a way or apply the mark to the forehead in a particular manner. All this is not meant for social discipline alone. There is a high purpose, that of purifying our inner life.
The court attendant has a tavali. The officials do not have it. Is it sensible to why? But we do not take the same attitude with regard to the different signs and marks assigned to the people according to their vocations and family customs. We make a noise in the name of equality. Even though we remain divided in the matter of vocations-which indeed is for the welfare of the entire community-we are of one heart. This is the ideal behind the social arrangement in which different jatis are assigned different rites and external symbols, these in keeping with their natural qualities and callings. There is no high or low in all this. But we keep fighting among ourselves imagining that there is.
Now we have come to such a pass that nobody wears any of the external marks of our religion. At the same time, we are not ashamed of wearing other types of signs or badges. To wear those marks that bring uplift of the Self we are ashamed. We dismiss all religious marks and symbols as part of superstition. But those who want to proclaim themselves to be reformers don a particular type of cap or upper cloth and these external trappings are given greater importance than symbols of a divine nature
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)