Tuesday, January 17, 2012

God's Own Footwear!


God's Own Footwear? Sounds puzzling, does it? To understand better, you must travel back with me to late 7th Century. Puthur Village, in Tamilnadu, wore a festive look. People were seen dressed in their best, walking towards an exquisitely decorated marriage hall ,where the wedding rites of Nambi Arooran with the daughter of Shadongavi Shivachariyaar were being performed.

The groom looked majestic in his regal attire, wearing a crown of gold, and garlands of sweet smelling flowers. His body was anointed with sandalwood paste. Chains of gold, and sacred thread decorated his torso. With a smile on his face, he was performing the rituals, looking from the corner of his eye, at the beautiful maiden who sat by his side, her head bowed with shyness. The mangalsutra was being carried around to elders for their blessings. The drums and nadaswaram blared, announcing the auspicious time for the holy thread to be tied. 


At this point, an old brahmin walked into the marriage hall. His body was smeared with sacred ash. His long locks of hair and dangling Rudrakshas in his ears swung on either side of his face. He carried a staff in one hand and a palm manuscript in the other. Wooden "Padharakshaas" (footwear) clattered as he walked. " Stop the marriage" he cried out. "You are my bondsman", he said pointing to Nambi Arooran. 

The young man laughed. " How can a brahmin be a bondsman of another brahmin? Are you joking, Piththa (Mad Man)? Show me the record that I am your bondsman" he smirked. " Don't laugh, young man. Here I have- the document written by your grandfather as proof of your bondage" said the old man, waving the palm manuscript at Arooran. The young man lunged at the old brahmin, trying to grab the manuscript from him. The old man tried to dodge, but Arooran was too quick for him. 

He grabbed the palm leaf from the old man, and tore it up. " Is this fair?" cried the old man to the village elders gathered at the wedding. " I will now take him to my place - Thiruvennainallur, before the village elders to settle this dispute" he said. They had no choice but to permit it.


The old man walked to the Tiruvennainallur Temple, called Thiruvarutturai in those days, where the village elders were gathered at the hundred pillared hall. Arooran and his relatives followed him. " This man, Arooran tore up the record written by his grandfather, declaring him as my bondsman" he complained. The village elders questioned Arooran " Can you ensure success to your plea by tearing up the old man's record forcibly? What do you have to say on your behalf?

The hundred pillared hall where the case was discussed
Arooran replied angrily " This man is a piththan (mad man). How can a brahmin be a bondsman of another brahmin?" At this, the old man responded " The record torn by Arooran was a copy. I have the original record written by his grandfather here". He pulled out the document from his upper garment and gave it to the Karnam to read. The document mentioned that Aarooran, Aadhi Saivaite Brahmin of Naavalur, had executed the deed in favour of Piththan of Vennai Nalloor, in full possession of his senses and willingly, that he and his descendants would be his bondsmen. To confirm the signature, another document written by Nambi Aarooran's grandfather was brought out and compared and found to be a match.

The village elders ruled that Aarooran was indeed the bondsman of Piththan. They asked the old man, " You say you belong to this place. Show us your house". " Follow me to my abode" said the old brahmin, and started walking. Nambi Aarooran followed him. He walked into the temple and disappeared.


The young man was amazed. He ran into the temple, weeping, realising the Lord had indeed appeared before him, and argued for so long, to make him his bondsman. The Lord appeared again before Aarooran, with his consort, on Rishaba Vahana. 
The window seen above is where the Lord had appeared
before Sundarar
"Oh Sweet Lord! What grace have I gained to be restrained by you this way?" he wept. The Lord narrated how he - Aalaala Sundarar had been his "Anukka Thondar" (personal assistant) in Kailash.He had desired two of the Lord's attendants - Kamalini and Anindhithai. The Lord granted him the boon to be born on earth to attain these earthly pleasures. Sundarar had requested him to rescue him if he was found to falter which was why he had appeared in the guise of an old brahmin. The Lord asked Sundarar to sign hymns in praise of him. He also gave him the title of "Van Thondaar" as he had bitterly argued with the Lord. Awe-inspired, Sundarar could not think of how to sing on the Lord. The Lord prompted, " You had called me Piththan (Mad Man) during our argument. Start with that word". And so Sundarar sang " Piththa, Pirai Soodi, Pemmaane Arulaala" - The first hymn to have been sung by Sundarar, who came to be known as Sundaramoorthy Nayanar, which is now featured in the Seventh Thirumurai of the Devaram.

The footwear worn by the Lord when he appeared as an old man
The Padharakshaas worn by the Lord Himself and left behind when he disappeared into the temple, have been  preserved safely during and after Sundarar's time in the Thiruvennainallur Kirubapureeswarar Temple. Today it is covered in silver and placed in a glass chamber in the Sanctum Sanctorum. The priest, after offering harathi to the Lord, also shows harathi to his footwear and worships it with utmost reverence. Even today people take back a pinch of sand from the temple and preserve it in their pooja room, as the Lord Himself had walked here.