Let me tell a story that originated as a Purana, took the form of a saga and traversed through history to reach the present.
A story which should be repeated as a reminder for those who ridicule us by asking “Who are you insignificant people to protect Eshwara who is the protector of all?” But this is precisely the time to this story.
The story starts with the fruit that Narada Muni had with him when he came to visit the Uma-Maheswara duo at Kailasa. The fruit was no ordinary fruit. It was one which had hidden within it the taste of the highest knowledge. This knowledge would belong to the one who partook of this fruit and that is where this story begins.
If Narada muni brought a single fruit which could not be divided into two at Kailasa where there were two little boys playing and frolicking, he was only acting according to his innate character trait of initiating a quarrel between two people with the eventual goal of bringing good to the world itself. Naturally, a quarrel broke out between the two boys for the right to the fruit. However, the resolution to the question came very quickly. It was decided that whoever returned first after making a tour of the entire world would get the fruit of knowledge.
The elder brother had a tiny little mouse as his vehicle while the younger one had a strong and healthy peacock as his. The younger brother was smugly convinced that he would beat his obese elder brother in making one full trip around the world. Though the elder brother was slow in moving around, he had a very sharp brain and was way ahead of his younger brother. Outwitting his brother and using his sharp brains, he did not bother to make the trip.
Elder brother quickly made a trip around his parents Shiva-Parvati who embodied the world and declared himself to Narada Muni that he was the winner of the race. Being unable to refute Gajamukha’s argument that his mother and father were the entire universe, Narada Muni gave him the fruit of knowledge. When the one who wields the spear came back from his trip around the world, he saw elder brother smiling and holding the fruit, with a victorious expression on his face.
The little fellow could not accept the injustice of the situation when he understood that he had been cheated. If it was bad enough that brother and Narada muni did injustice to the little boy, the fact that his mother and father condoned their injustice and actually stood by them became a raw wound within the little boy’s psyche. In those minutes when he felt complete detachment from everything and everyone, the younger brother decided that he was withdrawing to become a renunciate.
He renounced everything including his mother and father and became a sanyasi. He tonsured his head, applied sacred ash on himself, picked up the Yogananda and left Kailasa. Proceeding in the southern direction he reached another hill which was the complement of Kailasa. When he realised that the place was ideal for tapas, he stayed back there and went into deep meditation.
In the throes of the most rigorous meditation, that little sanyasi understood the meaning of knowledge of the Atman or self. He saw and understood that the real form of the self was his father Parameswara, Mahadeva who filled the consciousness of his son became a treasure trove of love. Fatherly affection consoled the son who quarrelled against his brother for the fruit of knowledge.
“Unakku ethukku thaan antha njaana palam?
antha palame nee thaan appa”
“Why do you need that fruit of knowledge, my son?
You yourself is that fruit…”
He realised the precious concept of Tattvamasi (You are that) is same as the Ultimate Truth he listened from loving father as well as the verses in the golden Tamizh language. In the bliss of that knowledge, realising the great universal principle of “Palam-nee-appan” (you are the fruit or you are that), he became Palaniappan.
The sacred hill which witnessed the revelation of the greatest learning “palam-nee” became the “palam-nee-mala” or Palani mala. When the younger boy, having withdrawn all his renunciation vows returned to Kailasa, he was received by his elder brother with a heartfelt smile and given panchamrutam with the very same fruit that Narada muni had given him.
Siddha Bhogar who reached Palanimala after millennia sensed the fierce energy of the Dandayudhapani (spear-wielding) boy sanyasi there. Being one of the 18 Shaiva Siddhars, Bhogar had no difficulty in identifying the energy of Sri Muruga who attained Atmagyan by listening to Shiva Vani. Even so, he wondered why such a special hill with so much divine energy had not been taken up by people to establish a place of worship. No one had thought of invoking that energy into a deity form fit for worship which would ensure that blessings were showered on all people for all time. Hesitating to speculate on whose good deed it would be to fulfil this wish, the Siddha yogi went into deep meditation. In this intense meditative state, Siddha Bhogar saw the first Siddhar, Nandideva of his tradition. When he reached greater realms of meditation, he saw Lord Shiva himself. As he continued his meditation still further, he heard the same Shiva Vani that Sri Murugan heard.
“antha palame nee thaan appa”
“You are that fruit, my son!!”
The golden Tamizh that spoke of Tattvamasi reverberated in the Palani hills and the Siddhar knew, that reverberation was a response to his doubt. Once he repeated to himself “I am that”, he returned to the jagruti stage from his meditative state. Siddhar Bhogar who was also a great vaidya and alchemist decided that the murti of Sri Murugan should be one that would be the healer of all diseases and one that brought relief to all ailing people. He prepared to create a form of Murugan, the spear-wielding one, with nine types of poison (Nava Paashanam) which would be the most lethal poison when taken alone but become the most potent medicine when mixed in certain fixed proportions. He diligently and painstakingly separated 81 medicines from more than 4000 useful herbs. He mixed them in different proportions to get Nava Paashanam. Veeram, pooram, rasam, jati lingam, kantakam, gouri pashanam, vella pashanam, mrudarshinkk, shilasatth were the 9 poisons. He then heated these 9 poisons to a particular temperature, cooled them, buried them in the earth, took them out again, heated them once more and mixed them into the material going to be used to make the murti. He made three portions of the resulting mixture and began to work on creating the Palani murti.
Bhogar was so enthralled by the face of the Sri Murugan murti that he had created that he kept on working the shine on it and re-designing the features to make it more beautiful. He spent a considerable amount of time doing this. Only after spending enough time chiselling the face of the murti to his satisfaction, he realised that the hot mix was beginning to get cold after which it would be difficult to do anything further as it would harden. So he hastily created the body of the murti.
But by that time, the difference between the mastery in the head portion and the body portion of Palani Murugan was obvious with just one look and Bhogar could see it. However, he went ahead and completed the fabrication. Then, in an auspicious muhurtham, Siddha Bhogar himself decided the tantras to be followed in practice and did the first puja himself to the Nava Paashana murti of the Palani Muruga whose face radiated perfection and body glowed with the profundity of incompleteness
He melted the remaining mix and made two more similar murtis and then, carrying them, reached the mouth of the cave on the south-west side from where the main murti was located and via the tunnel in the cave, walked into the secret inner cave in the middle of Palani hill to go into Nirvikalpa samadhi by meditating on Murugan.
Followers of Murugan staunchly believe that Siddha Bhogar is sitting in samadhi right below the Murugan murti and that when the time is right, he will come back with the remaining two murtis from his samadhi. He will then take these two murtis to the south and north of the country and establish them there and thereby restore the glory days of ancient Kumara dharma. And they also believe that until then, the Palani murti of Murugan will selflessly protect the world.
Before going into nirvikalpa samadhi, Siddha Bhogar passed on the tantra practice to be followed at Palani to his disciple Pulippaani Siddhar. Doing abhishekam with milk and panchamrutam to the deity and then giving it to the devotees as prasad ensured that the medical properties of the murti as a healer of all diseases are made available to all. Pulippaani Siddhar learnt about the rules and the times to be followed for abhishekam to deity, the puja rituals to be followed, the dominant bhava to be worshipped and other things regarding the deity from Bhogar. Vizha puja, ucchi kalam, saaya rakshai, raakalam were the four types of pujas that were decided for the four times of the day. The 6 bhavas such as, sanyasi, hunter, boy, vaidika, king, old man were decided for the Alangara of Palani Muruga deity.
From the time his guru entered into samadhi, Pulippaani Siddhar stayed at Palani hills to worship Palani Murugan as instructed by his guru. After the time of Bhogar, Pulippaani who became famous as Gurukkal kept the worship style going without lapse through his lineage.
In the 4th century, Perumal, a king from the Chera dynasty had a vision of Balamurugan in his dreams when he, tired and weary, stopped at the foot of Palani hills after getting lost during a hunting expedition. The scion of the Chera royal family understood that it was his destiny to build and consecrate the great energy radiating from the deity living in the hills in the most appropriate way. He cut out a path through the densely wooded hills by using elephants and brought construction materials to the top of the hill.
The Murugan Kovil praised worldwide now rose up majestically atop the Palani hills.
The Pandya kings who came later re-built the temple and made it even more magnificent. That murti made of 9 poisons stood tall among the Palani hills for many more centuries. To be precise, until the second half of the 19th century, when anti-Hindu forces recognised that the only way to destroy temples would be using governments and laws. Their task became easier when they could buy some Hindus who were so deracinated and greedy to even sell gods and satiate their greed and lust for wealth. It was in 1983–84 that the conspiracy against the Palani temple came out into the open.
By the 1970s itself, plenty of Siddha clinics started to mushroom in and around Palani hills. They all advertised that they were combining the Nava Paashana mix of the Palani hills Murugan murti into their medicines. As we know, this nava paashana mix was a wonder medicine that could heal any illness. As is normal, people began suspecting that the temple archakas were scraping and breaking off powder and pieces off the Murugan murti to sell outside as medicine.
Later, during investigations, it was revealed that this was all a lie spread by vested interests to besmirch the guru who had access to the deepest vaults inside the sree kovil. They wanted that devotees should lose belief in the guru. There were not even traces of the nava paashana in any of the medicines given by any of the newly sprouted siddha clinics around Palani. So, all the siddha clinics which used false advertising to cheat the public were investigated by the State Drug Control Department and made to shut down. The attempt to spread falsehoods that the Palani murti had become worn out or that it was being broken up, was thus nipped early in the bud. However, this did not mean that efforts to destroy this pilgrimage place were deterred. Those interested were in no mood to give up.
From 1983 onwards, lots of petitions were submitted to the government alleging that the murti at Palani was in danger, that its body was cracked in places, and that the murti could break up at any moment. More than 100 petitions from various places, organisations and individuals were submitted to the government on this issue. The demands made were either to remake the murti or install a brand new murti at Palani. Other petitions elaborated on the nature of problems with the murti. Some said that the completeness of the face and its shine were not matching with the torso, some said if you compare sizes, that the bottom portion seemed stunted, some others said that the knees were so vulnerable and weak that there was a chance of the murti getting toppled at any moment. However, the gurus who were archakas at the temple maintained that there was absolutely no change in the murti. They said the murti has been the same ever since they knew it. They insisted that there are legends which established and explained how these so-called defects like the difference between the face and torso, the stunted lower half and the weak knees happened at the very time the murti was consecrated by Bhogar.
In 1984 itself, the then Chief Minister MGR had declared that in order to protect the Palani temple, it was necessary to change the millennia-old nava paashana murti at Palani and re-install with a panchaloha murti. The days following that declaration saw widespread and strong protests across Tamil Nadu.
The Palani temple was special. The act of replacing the existing murti with a new one was not the same as in other temples across Tamil Nadu. The primary importance of the Palani temple itself stems from the particularities of the murti that was consecrated by Siddha Bhogar and the beliefs associated with it. Changing that murti and installing a new one would be akin to making the Palani temple as one among the scores of other temples dedicated to Muruga worship. Without the nava paashana murti, the Palani temple wouldn’t remain the temple it was. Tamil Nadu’s Muruga worshippers who had entrusted their lives to Palani Murugan could not bear the thought of suddenly locking up one day, the Dandayudhapani deity that they had worshipped for thousands of years, in some cold dungeon. In those times it seems there was a question people used to ask themselves and others.
“Palani Murugan protects everyone…who will protect Palani Murugan?”
The answer to the question echoed itself inside every devotee endlessly and it was the Shiva Vani that Murugan and Bhogar heard.
“Nee thaan appa!! (You are that)”
They understood that it was their dharma to express their gratitude and duty towards the deity who had protected them for so long. They did not use the occasion to test the energy of the deity and steered clear of trying to establish Murugan as a divine being by testing whether he could protect himself as a god. They knew very well that the murti had an obligation only to protect those who protected him and safeguarded the methods of worship for him fixed millennia ago. They also realised that Palani Muruga continuing to exist there was not his need at all but theirs.
It was not one but three governments that had to bow down to the will of those who were aware of the principle of ‘That I am” and who protested vehemently at the attempts to desecrate Palani hills. The first round was in 1984 during the tenure of M G Ramachandran. In the face of stiff protests from believers, the MGR government had to withdraw the decision to change the murti and ask for a commission to study the issue. This commission was headed by Justice Sadashivam. The commission duly studied the issue and submitted its report to the government, where it stated that there was no need to change the nava paashana murti and that it would be sufficient to just regulate and limit the abhishekam to protect the murti from future damage.
This did not deter anti temple forces or make them stop their attempts to desecrate the temple. They continued to go around gathering support from many to force a change of murti. The same demand was repeatedly placed before successive governments. The first Jayalalitha government in 1994 took it as a matter of pride to implement the declaration made by MGR. Again, attempts were started to replace the nava paashana murti with a new one. And again there were massive protests by devotees. Finally, the government had to change its stance and withdraw the order.
Once again in 2002, the Jayalalitha regime started work on replacing the old murti with a new panchaloha one. The decision was to replace the nava paashana murthi with a new one weighing 200 Kgs for the purpose of abhishekam. Famous sculptor and winner of the Padmashree award, Muthaiah Sthapathy was given the task of chiselling out the new murti by the Tamil Nadu HR&CE department and temple executive officer K K Raja.
At midnight on 25th January 2004, defying the wishes of the devout, the new murti was consecrated in place of the old one in the Palani temple. But the devotees of Palani Muruga were not willing to accept defeat. They continued their protests with even more vigour demanding to see and seek the blessings of the murti consecrated there by Siddha Bhogar. They exposed the faults and shortcomings of the new murti one by one. Hiding the original deity with a duplicate abhisheka murthy, there were plans afoot to smuggle away the original to foreign shores. This conspiracy was exposed by the devout. The government couldn’t run away from the ever increasing and determined protests for too long. Just five months after being consecrated, on 7th June 2004, the new murti was removed from the premises and an inquiry was launched into the alleged problems in its construction.
It was in this year i.e 2018, on March 26th that the then Executive Officer K K Raja and the chief architect Mutthaiah Sthapathy were jailed in connection with the scam regarding the panchaloha murti that was constructed to replace the old murti in the Palani temple. They were found guilty of cheating the HR & CE department to the tune of one and a half crores, fudging gold quantities used in the panchaloha murti, and attempting to smuggle the old murti of the Palani temple.
There have been demands to strip the Sthapathy of his Padmashree as more instances of his fraud in the construction of other murtis have also come to light. A final decision on this is being deliberated upon by the government is what we have heard.
The forces, individuals and government officials who were behind the conspiracy to erase the Palani murti since 1983 are no more. However, the murti that they threatened would break up and fall apart any minute has withstood all 35 years since that claim was first made and continues to reign over Palani hills showering devotees with blessings even today. That temple is still existing due to the brave and relentless resistance offered by ordinary Tamilian devotees.
When asked who will protect Palani Murugan, the answer “I” that was bravely put forth by the Tamilian, is the reason Palani Murugan is still standing as protector of the world. Had he even for a moment felt apprehensive, or given in even an inch, or stepped back, or expressed doubt, or felt defeatist, or broken ranks during protests, or gotten steeped in disappointment, surely today there would have been no Palani Murugan.
There are many lessons for the Malayali to learn from this story of vigour, bravery, perseverance and fortitude. The Tamilian who protested the imposition of Hindi, the jallikattu ban which threatened his cultural heritage and the usurpation of the Palani temple, so that his beliefs and heritage are protected, is a great role model. What he brought down with his strong and vocal protests without bothering about the quality or reputation of the opposition, was multiple governments which had to bend before the might of such resistance.
Ayyappan is the brother of Palani Murugan.
‘Nee than appa’ is the tamil of Tatvam asi (you are that)
Picture Credits: By SivRami - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6854184