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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Respect the Puranas

Source: Hindu Dharma - Universal way of Life (English version of selected discourses by Maha Periva)
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.

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.

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