THE STORY OF CIRUTTONDAR IN SCULPTURES – PART I

Public have remembered the stories of 63 Saiva Saints either by enacting their life on the stages or by singing the songs while they play kummi and Ammanai. In this respect, the life of Kannappar and Ciruttondar are the best examples.

In addition to this, the royal personages appear to have sculpted the stories of Saiva saints on the walls of temples. The best example of this comes from Rajarajeswarar temple, Darasuram, Tanjavur district, Rudrapati temple, Kilakadambur of Vallalar district, Siva temple, Siddaiyankottai, Dindigul district. But in these temples, the full story of any Saiva saint is not portrayed but only the important events in the Saiva saint’s life is sculpted. Pressing oil in Kaliyanar’s story, cutting the leg of his father in Chandasa’s, cutting the hands of his wife in Kalarsingar’s, cutting the nose of the wife of Karasingar in Serutunaiyandar’s, rising up from the tank by holding the stick at each end by the saint and his wife in Nilakanta’s etc. are the events found in panels.

On the other hand, the full story of Chandasa is found sculpted in panels on the walls of both Rajarajeswaram temples Gangaikondacholapuram and Thanjavur. In Tamilnadu, the complete story of Ciruttondar is found portrayed only at Kanchipuram. It is a known fact as to why Kanchi was chosen, as the need for narrating this story was not felt either during the Pallava or Chola period but only at the time of the Vijayanagar rulers.

Now, we will turn our attention to the sculptures found portrayed in the kanda portion of adhishtana of a mantapa built during Vijayanagar period as the royal emblem the bear, sun, moon and Katvanga are seen carved on its western wall. The adhistana portion of this mantapa abnormal and appears disproportionate compared to its height but it seems that the architect had deliberately built such a high adhishtana having in mind the need to find space for portraying this story. According to Periyapuranam, the story of Ciruttondar is as follows:

Paranjothi, born in a mattirar family at Changattankudi in Cholanadu, had grown learning Vedas, Sanskrit literature and the art of warfare. Besides, he had developed an unshakeable faith in Siva.

He served as general under a Pallava king probably Narasimha I. On one occasion, he took an expedition to Vatapi and won over the Chalukya ruler and returned to his capital with a large booty. Having heard of the victory, the emperor overwhelmed with joy, appreciated his valour. At that time, the ministers informed the emperor about Paranjothi’s attachment to holy services. Having, heard this message, he felt sorry for having sent him to Vatapi on the expedition and pleaded for his forgiveness.

Afterwards, he sent Paranjothi to his native place as he desired, with a large sum of money and gift of lands. Having, returned to his place, he resumed his holy services in the temple of Ganapaticcharam i.e. the Siva temple named after Ganapathi.

While he was living with the satisfaction of serving food to the devotees of Siva, he was blessed with a son and named him Siralan, who was duly sent to school.

On hearing of the devoted services of Ciruttondar, Siva desired to know his fidelity in it. Hence, descending from Kailash, Siva came to Tirucchengattankudi in the disguise of a Bhairavar. Obtaining Ciruttondar’s address he came before his residence and questioned if Ciruttondar who feeds devotees every day, was in that house.

Realizing that it was the voice of a devotee Sandananangai, the Tati (Servant-maid) of Thiruvankattunangai came to the entrance and requested the devotee to get into the house. Bhairavar refused saying where there was a lone female he would not enter into that house. Assuming that this devotee would go away, Venkattunangai who was working in the kitchen hurriedly came to the entrance and pleaded with Bhairavar to stay explaining that her husband had gone in search of devotees and would return shortly. In reply to her request, Bhairavar told her that he was a native of Uttarapati and came here especially to see Ciruttondar and as he would not wait in his house if he was not there, he would be under the shadow of an Atti tree in Ganapaticcharam.

When Ciruttondar bemoaned his bad luck at not seeing even a single devotee, his wife informed about the visit of a Bhairava and his sojourn waiting under the Atti tree in Ganapaticcharam. On hearing this message, Ciruttondar felt that he was blessed by the Almighty and hurriedly reached the spot where Bhairavar waited and pleaded with him to come to his residence for taking food.

Bhairavar replied to Ciruttondar that Ciruttondar could not offer food to him for it would be difficult. Ciruttondar promised he could offer whatever he desired. Then Bhairavar told that he needed the flesh of a cow. Ciruttondar readily accepted to give that saying that he had three kinds of animals namely cow, buffaloes and sheep. But Bhairavar immediately explained that the cow what he wanted was not an animal but a human cow, below the age of five without any fault. That too was not difficult for him replied Ciruttondar.

Then Bhairavar began to detail the kind of human cow he wanted.  He should be the only one in a family and should be cut by his father, with the mother holding him. At this Ciruttondar happily told him that nothing would be difficult if Bhairavar was pleased to take food at his residence.

Ciruttondar returned to his home and narrated the discussion to his wife. At once, Venkattunangai exclaimed how they could get a child who would be the only son of a family. Only if a huge amount was offered, could one get a child of that nature but would the father and mother agree to cut their child, asked Ciruttondar, and suggested that they could call their own son. Accepting the suggestion, Venkattunangai also requested him to bring their son immediately. Ciruttondar went to school and brought him carrying on his shoulder. He was received by his mother who bathed him after anointing him.

While the father caught hold of his son’s hair, the mother clutched the legs of her son between her thighs and caught hold of his hands. Then Ciruttondar cut off the head.

Venkattunangai cooked all the flesh except the head thinking that it would not be holy enough to offer. At once Ciruttondar went to the Atti tree and invited the Bhairavar with veneration. Bhairavar came to his house and was received with all respect by his wife. After requesting him to be seated, they served the flesh and panakam (sweet water). When Bhairavar saw the food, he enquired if all the flesh had been served. To this Venkattunangai replied that she spared the head since it would not be fit for the holy offering. Bhairavar said that he would eat that too. When Ciruttondar and his wife wondered what to do, Sandananangai, the maidservant brought the cooked flesh of the head saying that she had cooked that expecting that the Bhairavar would ask this too. Immediately, this dish was also offered.

At this stage, the Bhairavar wanted one more devotee to partake of the food. Finding no other devotee, Ciruttondar himself was asked by him to share the food. As Ciruttondar began to eat the food sitting by the side of Bhairavar, he was asked to call his son if he had one. Ciruttondar replied that his son would not be able to respond. However, due to his persistence, Ciruttondar and his wife came out of their house and called their son Siralan in a loud and sorrowful voice. To their surprise, Siralan came as if he came from the school. Embracing their son with immeasurable joy, they returned to the place where Bhairavar was seated. Alas, they could not see either Bhairavar or the cooked flesh. So deep sorrow they fell on the floor weeping and wondered where would he had disappeared. When they came out with sad faces, they were blessed with the holy appearance of Lord Siva, Parvati and Muruga on their mount the holy bull, Nandi. Pleased with Ciruttondar’s holy services, Lord Siva took Ciruttondar, his wife, his son and their maid-servant to Kailash, the abode of Lord Siva to be always at his feet.

To be continued…

Natana Kasinathan

 Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 2003


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