PARVATHI’S PENANCE AT KANCHI
SANAKA addressed Brahma thus: O Bhagavan! Having obtained the grace of Siva through you, it has been possible for me to hear with joy the glory of Arunachala. I now understand that the beginningless and endless Siva himself stands as the Aruna Hill in order to grant the devotee the fruits of his penance, that the Hill destroys all sins and that one obtains Liberation by merely uttering ‘Arunachala’ once. All desires are fulfilled when one stands before it. All tendencies (vasanas) are destroyed. The very name ‘Siva’ is nectar. Repeating the name is itself worship of Siva. Pray, tell me, who else worshiped Arunachala, the bestower of boons? On hearing this, Brahma, the Lord of the celestial beings, mentally prayed to the Lord of Arunachala, the embodiment of compassion, and resumed his narrative:
Child! I shall now narrate how in days of yore, the Universal Mother, Goddess Parvati sought and won the left-half of Her Lord, Arunachala. Once on Mount Kailas, it was spring time and the place was filled with the balm, incense and scent of beautiful flowers. Bees swarmed and hummed among the hanging clusters of flowers. Peacocks spread out their colourful feathers dancing to the tune of humming bees. Elephants and lions, natural enemies, strolled about in harmony and contentment. Sages chanted hymns from the Rig, the Yajus and the Sama Vedas, the last mentioned being most dear to Siva. Brahmarishis and Rajarishis were deeply absorbed in the Self, while devas, siddhas, ganas, the protectors of the quarters and holy devotees of Siva wearing sacred ash and rudraksha beads stood in prayerful attitude. Hosts of Apsaras (celestial damsels) sang and danced to the accompaniment of the sweet-sounding veena (a stringed musical instrument), the venu (the flute), the mridangam (a small drum) and other musical instruments. Lord Siva and Parvati, the Universal Parents, sat on their throne in all their glory, pouring their Grace on their children who were worshipping them.
Devas, rishis and other hosts of devotees, after being granted the boons they desired, prayerfully took leave of their Lord. Now Lord Siva rejoiced in the company of Goddess Uma (Parvati) on the snow-clad peaks of the Himalayan mountains. A cool and refreshing breeze from the rivers below wafted gently, carrying with it the sweet scent of flowers from the plains. In a joyous mood the Goddess, who thought that Her Lord’s attention was entirely centered on Her, slipped behind Him and playfully covered the three eyes of Sambhu with Her lotus-like hands, and asked, ‘Tell me, who is it?’ As soon as the three eyes representing the Moon, the Sun and the Fire of Knowledge were covered, a dismal darkness spread over the universe. It lasted for millions of years because half a moment for Siva is aeons for us. The darkness produced by the playfulness of the Goddess proved to be the cause of the untimely dissolution of the worlds, for in the dense darkness no activities were possible and consequently, living beings perished without giving birth to new generations. The devas became inert and the Vedas could not be chanted. By this unforeseen darkness cause and effects were nullified. Seeing this state of affairs, the ever glorious siddhas by their yogic powers discovered the cause, but could not comprehend the divine play of the Lord.
The siddhas prayed to Sambhu with devotion and addressed Him thus: “Glory to Sambhu, the origin of the universe and the Supreme Immanent Being. The power (sakti) which is not apart from you sportfully creates, sustains and dissolves the universe. She (Sakti) is half of you. Siva and Sakti together constitute a single form.
The great Lord is One. There is nothing different from you. An untimely deluge has now overtaken the worlds on account of the Goddess’ sport. But your compassion is infinite. May it reveal itself now for the well-being of the universe. Therefore, O Sadasiva! (Eternal Siva), Kala! Embodiment of time), Embodiment of Compassion! Be merciful. Pray, stop this sport!
In response to this prayer of devotees and siddhas, Siva commanded: ‘Gowri! Leave my eyes alone’. Immediately the Goddess removed Her hands from Siva’s eyes. Light pervaded the worlds. On asking the siddhas who stood in an attitude of worship, as to how much time had elapsed, they replied, ‘Half a second for Thee, but millions of years for us.’ On hearing this the Lord turned with a smile to his beloved and graciously spoke some words on dharma and artha: ‘Gowri, how can you be so thoughtless! You who are the Mother of the world have been the cause for its dissolution. O, how can you, the very embodiment of love and compassion, cause pain to your children?’
On hearing Sambhu’s words of reproach, Uma, stricken with remorse, pleaded with Him to advise Her as to the course to be adopted for expiation of this fault of hers. At this Lord Siva was pleased with the repentance and devotion of the Goddess and said: ‘What penance can you perform without me? All dharma, Srutis (Vedas), Smritis (scriptures based on the Vedas), karmas (rituals), kalpas (code of virtues), various branches of learning, the devas, etc., are all your forms only. You who symbolise my power and who desire to recreate the world are not different from myself. Goddess! The timeless Vedas declare you to be the All. Therefore I shall prescribe a penance for you in accordance with prevailing practice. I cannot remain without you even for a moment. Being the universal Self, I shall myself go through the austerities. Let the entire world become sacred by the glory of your penance. People will be relieved of all troubles by surrendering at your lotus feet. By having your darshan when you perform austerities and by association with you they (the devotees) will get sanctified. May you perform meritorious acts for the welfare of all creation. People will acquire firm faith in dharma by seeing you performing penance. There is no doubt about it. Your grace shall sustain the earth and its dharma.
‘The city known as Kanchipuri is heaven on earth. A little penance done there yields boundless results. Even devas, saints and others desire to live there. There flows the holy river, the Kampa which washes away the sins of all the people living in its vicinity. At that place there is a divine mango tree which is always shady, full of leaves and fruit. Homas (fire offerings), japas (repetition of sacred names), and the least good action performed under its shade yield boundless merit. May the many groups of celestial beings headed by Vishnu surround and worship you. I shall also remain there in the lotus of your heart in my formless state as the Absolute Pure Being. Therefore you need not suffer the pangs of separation from me.’ On hearing this the Goddess with Her companions proceeded at once to the holy city of Kanchipuram situated on the banks of the Kampa to do penance. There She saw the pure and holy waters of the Kampa worshipped by hosts of sages and a magnificent mango tree full of fruits and flowers among which koels sang and sported. Amidst such a beautiful setting the Goddess meditated on Her
Lord. Her body tortured by the pang of separation from Her Lord, immediately became emaciated as if She had been performing penance for a long time. Turning to Vijaya, one of the maids who stood near Her, Goddess Gowri, in uncontrollable sorrow spoke thus: ‘Those who perform austerities with the object of worshipping Siva directly seek this sin-destroying mango tree and always live here. This well-known Ekamra (lit., a mango tree which bears just a single fruit) increases my pain of separation. How am I to bear this? The sure remedy for this must be to remember and concentrate in the heart on Chandramouleeswara (the wearer of the crescent moon).’ At this Vijaya bowed devotedly to Ambika and praised Siva fervently in order that the Goddess regain Her composure.
She said: ‘Oh Devi! You will not be abandoned by Siva at any time. For, you are His very life and the Supreme Sakti. It is only when you desire to spread out your maya (power of illusion), that the Lord, though always one with you, appears to be separate. You have come here at the command of Sambhu to worship Him and you cannot transgress it. You may perform tapas in this temple erected by Siva without any rituals (karmas). Moreover, as you are yourself the world, the protection of the world is in your power. You will again join Siva and uphold dharma. That being so, Parvati, how can you feel the pain of separation? Devotee of dharma, may your religious observances become known to the world and set an example to your devotees.’
On hearing her maid speak thus, Gowri continued to practise austerities on the banks of the Kampa. She discarded Her fine clothes and ornaments and wore the bark of a tree as garment and beads of rudraksha. Her entire body was smeared with sacred ash. She subsisted on corn picked by herself. The name of Siva was always on Her lips. Thrice a day She bathed in the Kampa, lovingly shaped its sand into a linga and devoutly worshipped it with leaves as traditionally prescribed. The Goddess observed the dharma of alleviating the misery of all creatures thus showering Her compassion on Her children. In summer She surrounded herself with fire, lay on the bare ground in the rainy season and stood in ice-cold water in winter. She respectfully welcomed the holy sages (Maharshis) who came to pay homage to Her. The sages were struck with wonder at Her austerities.
One day, Parvati collected flowers from the forest and began to worship a linga made of sand on the bank of the Kampa. Siva, to reveal to the world Her devotion to Him, made the waters of the river Kampa suddenly rise and overflow its banks. Seeing the spate of the river, Her companions raised an alarm, whereupon the Devi opened Her eyes and saw the approaching flood. Distressed at the danger to Her worship, She at once embraced the linga lest it dissolve. She then addressed Her maids, ‘What is to be done? Worship ought not be discontinued, come what may. In this world, only those blessed ones who have acquired merit can reap the benefits of their good deeds and establish dharma which is capable of fulfilling one’s desires. This
Sivalinga is made of sand. It will dissolve in this flood. Should this happen, a true devotee of the Lord cannot bear it. This flood has risen through the maya of Siva to test the sincerity of my devotion. I shall continue without the least fear. Friends! Go away quickly!’ Saying this, Parvati though surrounded by the fast rising waters, devoutly adored the linga clasped to Her breast and with open eyes meditated on Sadasiva with one-pointed devotion.
Then a divine voice was heard: O child, noblest of beings! This great flood has subsided. You can now let go of the linga. This linga worshipped by you will achieve everlasting fame as the one worshipped by the gods and will be capable of granting boons. May your penance be successful! May the human beings who have darshan and worship this linga installed for the upkeep of dharma attain their lives’ goal! I myself shine on this earth in the form of the Effulgent Arunachala for the liberation of mortals. The name signifies that the accumulated sins of the worlds will completely vanish at the sight of it. Rishis, siddhas, gandharvas, yogis, etc., come to Arunachala and fervently worship it, forsaking even the peaks of Kailash and Mount Meru. You may go there and learn from the Sage Gautama about devotion to me and the glory of Arunachala and perform further penance. I shall reveal to you my Effulgent form there in order that all sins of the world may be destroyed and may prosper.
On hearing these words of Siva, the Devi said, “So be it”, and got ready to leave at once for Arunachala. Turning to the rishis who desired to follow Her, She said, “Devas! Rishis resolute in religious observances! Remain where you are. Perform your austerities on the bank of the sacred Kampa. This linga of sand which removes all sins and brings all kinds of prosperity bears the marks of my embrace. Worship it. Let my devotees know that I shall be known as Kamakshi as I fulfil all their desires and bless them. Let them also worship me and obtain the boons they desire. I am entirely under the control of Sambhu, the Lord of the devas. I shall therefore go to Arunachala and carry out His command. After I have performed penance there and obtained the grace of Sambhu you may come and see me.”🌹...See more