Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mul Padukalam!

Selliamman Temple, Oottathur
Through the length and breadth of India, there are several unique places of worship with very unique rituals. The devotion with which these rituals are performed over time go to prove the faith that people have in the Gods and Goddesses of the land, which makes India what it is.

A couple of months ago, we visited the Oottathur Suddha RatneswaraTemple (Aalayam Kanden article on the temple here). While we were there, the local youth told us about the Selliamman Temple nearby and the unique ritual of Mul Padukalam at the temple. Intrigued, we wanted to visit the temple immediately.

It was just around the corner from the Suddha Ratneswara Temple - A massive Banyan Tree in front of it welcoming us. We entered the temple and went straight to witness the magnificent Selliamman.

The huge Banyan Tree in front of the temple
"A very powerful Goddess", said Ashok, one of the youth who were escorting us. "Even new born babies are placed in the Mul Padukalam and nothing happens to them, thanks to the grace of Selliamman" he continued.What is this Mul Padukalam and why is it conducted? I was bursting with curiosity.

" Finish your prayers and the Poojari will tell you all about it", he said. We went into the Artha Mandapa and stood before the Goddess. 

Goosebumps rose in my hands as I looked at her. Her ten hands rose majestically holding various weapons. She had a demon pinned below her foot and sat on another. She wore the intestine of the third as a garland around her neck. Her look was one of satisfaction, having won over evil. I had seen a number of goddesses who had demons or asuras under their feet. But this was the first time, I was witnessing a Goddess who not only had a demon under her foot, but also sat on one (can you see the crown and feet of the second demon on either side of the green saree?) and wore the third's intestine as a garland. What was the mythology behind this?

We came out and the Poojari gave us prasadam. I requested him to narrate the story of Selliamman and the Mul Padukalam. While he was narrating the story, he became emotional a number of times. His voice shivered and I could barely understand what he was saying. 

The story of the Mul Padukalam, as told by the Poojari:

Once there was a brahmin in Madurai who had seven daughters. When the daughters were very young, his wife passed away. Unable to bring up his daughters, the brahmin gave them in adoption to seven different kings. The Kings found the girls to be with divine powers and hence treated them with respect. They created small living areas for them where they could stay undisturbed. These subsequently became temples, and are known as Madhukarai Selliamman in Madurai, Vekkaliamman in Trichy, one more Selliamman in Madurai, Neikulam Madhakulathamman, Oottathur Selliamman, Siruvachur Madurakaliamman,and Arunakarai Amman.

The Selliamman that is now in Oottathur was in Madhakulam originally and that Amman was here in Oottathur. There were four bad men in the village who were captivated by the beauty of the girl and wanted to have her. They started following and harassing the girl, asking her to agree to their desire.

Fed up with the harassment, the younger Selliamman who was in Oottathur went to her elder sister in Madhakulam and sought her help. She offered her the first pooja and first sacrifice (Mudhal Poosai, Mudhal Kaavu) if she helped her tide over this problem. Agreeing to this, the elder Selli offered to switch places with her younger sister.

So the younger Selli stayed back in Madhakulam, while the elder sister took her place in Oottathur. Not knowing this, that night, the four men came to the residence of Selliamman, and knocked on the door. "Open up Selli, we have lost patience" shouted the drunk men and started banging on the door. There was no response from inside. Angered, the men asked one of them to watch outside, while the other three broke the door and entered.

In a flash, Selliamman assumed her divine form, with ten hands, armed with weapons, she tore open the stomach of one of them, and wore his intestine as a garland. The other two soon fell and she sat on one, while pinning down the body of the other under her foot. 

Having accomplished her mission, Selli wanted to set out to reach Madhakulam where her sister waited to give her first sacrifice and first pooja. But the fourth fellow, was still waiting outside. Disguising himself as a brahmin youth, he shaved his head and wore a dhoti and sacred thread so that she would not be able to recognise him. 

The Padukalam festival happens on the last day of the fourteen day celebrations which start on the first tuesday in the tamil month of Panguni where people from different communities of the village take turns to guard the temple to ensure the fourth man waiting outside, does not enter the temple. The Poojari said that they even climb on a ladder and on the tree outside to see if he was coming.

On the last day, the Goddess sets out to visit her sister. In order to prevent the man waiting outside to come in, thorns (Mul) are spread over 250 to 300 feet around the temple and people lie down on these thorns forming a human protection as the Goddess goes thrice around the temple. Even new born babies and senior citizens vow to do this ritual and complete it with utmost faith and devotion."Nothing happens to those who lie on the thorns, including infants" says the Poojari. 

This Mul Padukalam festival and the Car Festival that happens three days later attract huge crowds from many parts of the country as this is very unique to this temple.

The Poojari narrating the story of Selliamman
Amazing story and amazing ritual, indeed! What was even more astonishing was the personal experience that my sister-in-law underwent. Hearing the story and the devotion with which the Goddess is being worshipped, she prayed to her to sort out a long pending issue regarding an encroachment of land belonging to her. Just as we got into the car to drive away, she got a call from a relative regarding this issue and a possible solution. Within a week's time, the issue that had been pending for many years got sorted out amicably and she hopes to be able to take possession very soon.

If you happen to be in the vicinity of this temple, do make it a point to visit.

How to get here:

Oottathur is about 35 kms from Trichy and 5 kms from Padalur. The temple is close to the Suddha Ratneswara Temple, Oottathur.

Temple Timings:

The temple is open from 9 am to 6 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Weekends.
On Tuesdays and Fridays it is open from 9 am in the morning till 8 pm at night.

Contact Details:

Mr. Moorthy Poojari - 97880 61622
Mr. Karthikeyan - from the Vazhipaatu Mandram - 88838 52198

With the members of the Vazhipattu Manram of Oottathur