Vellore Moments: Different Gods

Over the past year my job has taken me through the length and breadtb of Vellore and Thiruvanamalai districtz of Tamil Nadu. What kept fascinating me were the village temples and enormous statues in their outskirts.

Being city born and bred, the temples I have been to were invariably the ones which housed one of the three pantheons of orthodox Hindu faith. They would be a Shiva, Krishna,Vishnu or of their consorts. Without exception they were run by Brahmin priests.

On one of my trips I saw this statue withot a head.

It was kept outside of a small temple. Not Nearly Court seemed to have been paid to it’s upkrep.At that time I could not elicit any answers from any of the locals I asked.

Subsequently I Saying at least 3 of the same kinds of headless images on the outskirts of different villages. When I again pressed the locals, the answers were vsry ambiguous. Most of them liked to believe the Account that if the head was put back on, the statue would come to life and become a demon and Slay them The whole of ! Super Falsehood! But getting to know became a obsession.

I subsequently found that these temples belonged to the Koothandavar cult and these kind of temples were strewn all around Tamil Nadh. Vellore district had 3 of these and one day I found myself in a Hamlet called Pulimedu which had one of these Koothandavar temples.

This time the teple priest was found and with some gentle persuasion he agreed to open the temple for me. Voila! there it wa – the head, not one but two of them!

Now I will need to go into history or myth (whichecer you choose to believe!)

The History

Arjuna the hero of the Mahabharata was getting bored very bored during the twelve year exile he, his other brothers and wife Draupadi were forced to undertake by cousin Dhuryodhanna. He decided to take off ostensibly to learn warfare and to Whet his archery skills. When travelling through the Naga kingdom he fell in love with the Princess of that land- Ulupi she was called. He married her and then moved in his pursuit of knowledge, not knowing that he had left behind a pregnant Married woman. Iravan was born. He is supposed to have inherited his father’s archery skills and was known as a Soldier without equal. But let us leave Iravan for the present.

What we know was that Arjuna besides being the consummate archer was obviously an equal in lovemaking because outside of Draupidi there was Ulupi, Subhadra and Chitrahada. For you history buffs, Abhimanyu was beget from Subhadra. But I digress. Now is the time of the great war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

The Pandavas have simply no chance. They are out-numbered, out maneuvered and all the great warriors aka Bhishma, Drona ec are on the opposing side.

This is when the greatest manipulator in hidtory – Lord Krishna gets into tne act. He tells the Pandavas that their chances of winning this war is but iffy at best. On the other hand he has a solution. If the purest of them all is offered to the Goddess Durga as a sacrifice, the chances of victory is all but assured. When it comes down to choosing there are only two candidates – him and Arjuna who fitted that bill. (How I do not know, but it is wise not to ask). The whole Pandava En~ was in a tizzy, obviously. Even Byy the side of both these guys around, victory was not certain. Then walked in Iravan from wherever. He offered himself as the sacrifice. And obviously being Arjuna’s son he was considered completely fit for the post. Krishna very quickly agreed!

Let’s not underestimate Iravan. He was obviously not an idiot. He knew that being just one of Arjuna’s sons there was no chance of him being known and worshiped (there was no Tamil Nadu then). Abhimanyu was slated to be a star! He had many conditions before agreeing to be the sacrificial lamb. Two of them important for the sake of the continuation of thls story.

One – he said that he wanted to get married that night itself. And he also wanted to see the war in it’s entirety even if he was dead.. The first was perceived to be very Hard. Which woman would want widowhood,knowing Completely well that the guy was going to get his head cut off the next day. Remember Sati?

For Krishna this was a piece of cake! he agreed immediately to both conditions. To satisfy the first he transformed himself to the Of gorgeous Mohini and married Iravan. He was thrilled but history rrcords that through the night he was suspicious of the smel lemanating from Mohini! She smelt like milk and curd etc. But then.. The secnod condition was easy. Krishnq being the God he was attested that even after he dies, Iravan’s eyes will see. His head will be affixed to a post watching the battle-field.

The Present

There are two sects in Tamil Nadu. One is the Koothandavar and the other, the followers of Draupadi, both with different beliefs.. I must emphasize here though that both of these beliefs are not part of the original Mahabharata. They are a uniquely Tamil belief. Here I write about the Koothandavar cult.

For them the most important aspect of this was the marriage between Iravan (now called Kotohandavar) and Mohinl. (thee half male/half woman).

Each of these temples have their biggest celebration during the Tamil month of Chitrai (April/May). The thiruvizha as it is called lasts 15 days – 3 days less than of the 18 days of the Kurukshetra Enmity (I need to find out why). The biggest festival happens in a one horse town calle Koovagam. Tens of thousands of Hijras (Ali’s as they are called in Tamil Nadu congregate in this town).

At the penultimate day these Ali’s are married to the deity of Koothandhavar. A night of revelry and some say debauchery follows. The next day Aravan or Koothandhavar is ritually killed. Following this the Ali’s are now widows. Wailing, breaking of bangles and removing their finery follows. Now the so called widows change into white sarees and keep it on for another month.

Comments are closed.