The Holy Mountain

Lord Shiva manifests as a pillar of fire to curb the egos of Brahma and Vishnu, who were fighting with each other in a dispute over which of the two was the greater, in this famous story from the Arunachala Puranam, the 17th century Tamil classic.

By Saiva Ellappa Navalar
Translated by Robert Butler

Quotation marks are shown only where someone starts or finishes speaking.

Verses 79 & 80

‘My Father! Most gracious Nandi! You who are easily accessible to your devotees! My mind is overcome with joy on hearing of Arunai’s glory. Pray tell us now, O You who possess the great wealth which is to serve Kailash’s King, who is clad in the skin of a rutting elephant with its warring trunk, how in that great city Lord Shiva manifested in the form of fire, how later that fire became a mountain, and how Mal and Ayan suffered, seeking in vain, one the foot, the other the head of that mountain of fire, until the Lord afforded them his grace!’ To which Nandi replied: (79 & 80)

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81

Were a man to entertain in his mind the thought of going to that holy place to commit the five heinous sins, the thought of that place would prevail and the succour of final liberation would be his. Such is the pronouncement of the holy Vedas. For those who sweetly sing its praises, what reward might be too hard to win? (81)

82

In telling this there is profit, not only for you who listen but for myself also. Now I shall tell as best I may how He who uproots sorrow and joy equally became, for the good of Mal and Ayan, a vast flame, growing upward till it pierced the very heavens, and then, how He took the form of the Bhoga Lingam. (82)

83

At the time of the universe’s dissolution, Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Mahesa, noble Sadasiva, Vindu, Natham and Sakti1 were drawn back in due order and remained latent within Parashivam. Other than that Parashivam, nothing was. He stood as the First Cause of the all-transcending universal constituents. (83)

84

Then out of Parasakti, evolving from Parashivam through his will, appeared Pure Maya,2 whence, in due order, unfolded the supreme tattvas.3 Then appeared the five Deities, emerging according to the order of their involution.4 Then the son of Mal5 turned his mind to the work of creation. (84)

85

And so he created the seven prajapatis ,6 Marichi, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, He who is learned in the four Vedas7 and Atri. Dakshan was born from the big toe of his left foot, Bhrigu from his breast and the Lord of Dharma8 from his face. (85)

86

From Marichi, one of the sons which Brahma created, Kasyapa was born. The renowned Dakshan begat sixty female children. Of these, that Kasyapa took thirteen in marriage. From the eldest of these, Aditi, the gods themselves sprang into being.9 (86)

87

Her noble younger sister Diti10 famously gave birth to the twin brothers Hiranya and Hiranyaksa.11 Of these two youths, Hiranya fathered four precious sons, one of whom was Prahlada. (87)

88

Prahlada fathered three children through the excellence of his austerities. Of the sons he created, Virocana fathered Mahabali,12 whom all revere. Mahabali himself gave birth to one whose name is Bana.13 It is he who performed puja to Lord Shiva and thus came to spend his days worshipped by Lord Brahma. (88)

89

Sambara, born of Danu,14 was the first of ten sons who together are known as the danavas. Goddess Simhika15 bore four children, the first of whom was fearsome Rahu.16 Her three younger sisters brought forth mighty asuras. (89)

90

Kala gave birth to the six Kalakeyas.17 Vinata18 bore four children, including Garuda19 with his huge wings, and Aruna.20 Kadru, whose eyes are like poison, spawned all the race of serpents.21 (90)

91

Of Arittai,22 two daughters were born, the first of which was Arambai.23 Shining Ilai24 brought forth twice eight classes of gandharvas through the compassionate austerities of a certain sage. From Kapila,25 she of the wild rolling eyes and piercing gaze, ten children sprang. (91)

92

Angiras with the other prajapatis also brought forth gandharvas26 and enduring Atri, both sun and moon. Pulastya’s sons were the arrogant rakshasas27 the gods and the kinnaras28 whilst Pulaha engendered first the kimpurusas29 and thereafter the beasts of the earth. (92)

93

[The prajapati known as] Dharmadeva brought forth the youths who are called the Vasus.30 The sage Bhrigu fathered Kavi31 and Saunaka.32 In addition to these he later brought forth fair Lakshmi. Of those youthful sons, it was Kavi who fathered the planet Venus. (93)

94

The Sun, whose goddess wife had fled in the form of a mare,33 took the form of a stallion, and pursuing her, infused his seed into her two nostrils, whereupon the two Asvins34 came forth in due order. Thereafter the myriad varieties of sentient and non-sentient beings came into being. (94)

95

The Lord of the Vedas, seated upon a lotus blossom, surveyed his work and became consumed with pride, thinking, “All this world is my own creation.” Rising in fury, he confronted Hari in his own city, intent on war with the One who wears a fair garland of tulsi leaves about which clouds of bees sweetly hum. Reviling him, he began to speak: (95)

96

“It is I who made the seven upper and lower worlds, the seven clouds, seven oceans and seven principal mountains. Then, in order to create all living things according to their species, I brought forth out of my mind sons, the first of whom was great Marichi. (96)

97

The children of these sons of mine are the gods themselves with their priests, the moon and sun, the sons of Danu, the gandharvas, kimpurusas, and siddhas, the Chiefs of Shiva’s hosts, and with Indra at their head, the Guardians of the Eight Directions. (97)

98

Forget your claim that you are the Supreme Being in whom nothing is lacking, and that I am your ‘lotus-born’ son. Had I not created the world with my own hands, how might you then have been able to preserve it? How could a picture exist unless there were sound walls to paint it on? (98)

99

If you do not abandon in your heart your arrogant claim to be the guardian of all things, I will call into existence another to take on this work of preservation. Therefore submerge yourself in the chilly ocean and hide yourself there, before the hordes of my divine progeny come to dispatch you! (99)

100

Through incurring the displeasure of the wise sage Bhrigu, you entered upon a series of ten incarnations.35 Do you not comprehend? Just look how my hands have been defiled in the creation of those very forms! (100)

101

Do not insult me by saying that I am the One who was born from the lotus blossom in your navel! Formerly, you sprang into being from a pillar.36 Are we to say that that pillar was your father? Or that it was your mother? Speak! When a bright red flame is kindled, it can consume the bamboo stem that gave it life, can you not see?” (101)

102

These words of Brahma entered his ears, burning into him like a well-honed weapon, heated upon the fire. Smoke issued from the mouth of Vishnu as he smiled bitterly, paused briefly in thought, then rebutted him in the following manner: (102)

103

“You quite forget the manner in which you came to be. You overlook the fact that my navel is your own mother! Perhaps you spoke these words like a small child who believes that his father will be indulgent towards his misdeeds. However, this lack of respect is something I will not tolerate. (103)

104

When they held me in contempt, the raging Madhu and the elephant-like Kaitabha,37 both I slew, even though they were my own children. After committing such a heinous sin, can a son remain a son? For who would hesitate to cut out the canker in his own body? (104)

105

When the divine madman, Lord Shiva, tore off one of your heads and cast it aside, were you not powerless to restore it, and make it your own again? What kind of Supreme Being are you? Is this the kind of power that will enable you to call into being this world which rests upon the hooded serpent Adisheshan’s head? (105)

106

Incarnating in the form of a fish, I recovered the entire corpus of the Vedas. Those wily sons of Danu, I defeated and put to death. Even so, I am loath to slay you, just as one who has nurtured a poisonous tree might be loath to cut it down. However, it would be no great task for me to do so.” (106)

107

So many angry words flew back and forth from one to the other, as they angrily smacked each other’s shoulder with the flat of their hand. Rising up, they leapt down into the world of men, shrinking themselves down, then rising up tall again, shooting dense streams of fire and sparks from their narrowed eyes. (107)

108

Mountains were ground into dust. The cosmic shell exploded into fragments. The hot rays of the sun and the moon’s cool beams, all were blotted out. Even the serpent Adisheshan writhed in pain, unable to bear the weight upon his head. The [unblinking] gods themselves blinked, thinking that the end of a world age must be at hand. (108)

109

The stars in their constellations and the massed clouds fell from the sky like falling leaves, as the dust rose up and all the tormented worlds fell into total disorder. Bhagirathi38 and all the lesser rivers ran dry, and the Elephants of the Eight Directions bellowed in terror. (109)

110

Now they tossed each other up in the air and fell down again, only to charge at each other once more, bending towards one another to exchange their barbed retorts. Now they traded blows and grabbed at each others’ clothing, whirling hither and thither like a thousand tornadoes. It was like the powerful onset of ruddy evening and black night, both at the same time.39 (110)

111

All creatures that crawled, hopped or walked took to the air and flew. Anything that stood was toppled. Trees of all the manifold species were snapped off and destroyed. Thick blackness enveloped everything. Mount Meru itself trembled, as the seven oceans turned to mud. (111)

112

At the height of all this destruction the gods went in fear to Indra, but before they could explain what had happened, Indra himself recounted to them all the troubles he had himself endured, after which he asked them the reason for their visit, to which they replied in detail: (112)

113

“Brahma and Vishnu together are waging a mighty battle upon the earth. For our salvation we have no other recourse; we must go and pay homage to Lord Shiva, the creator of us all.” (113)

114

On receiving the assent of their King, the Hosts of Heaven went to pay homage at the pure lotus-like feet of the supreme Lord, saying, “You who share your form with the Maiden Divine! We beg you to end the suffering being wrought by the trickster Mal and Ayan. For who is there to help young children upon this earth, if not their own mother? (114)

115

To escape the darkness of birth and death, which follow one upon the other on this earth like a rolling cartwheel, we have sought refuge in you, so that we may realise the final truth, and seeking the shelter of your feet, may bathe in the boundless sea of your grace. (115)

116

You who bestow the grace of true knowledge to dispel the defiling ignorance of those unable to bear the burden of their maggot-ridden physical forms! To dispel this base impurity, which could not be removed even were we to bathe each day in an entire ocean of water, we have sought refuge in you. (116)

117

You are our only hope; show us your compassion.” Even as the gods told their story to Him who bears a third eye upon his forehead, the Lord already knew what had happened. Indeed, how could He fail to know, He who permeates all life forms as oil permeates a sesame seed? (117)

118

To dispel the fear of all the trembling gods and rishis, to put an end to the conflict between holy Mal, who has a serpent for a sleeping couch, and Ayan, whose throne is a lotus blossom, and to ensure that all the worlds in their established order were preserved, avoiding destruction, He bent his divine will upon compassion, and, taking the form of an invincible mountain of fire, set off to restrain the two of them. (118)

119

In the deepest hell the serpents who dwell there trailed about it like hanging tendrils, whilst its thick roots plunged down far below. Growing upwards through the earth, it expanded through all the realms of the gods, bursting through the lofty vault of lotus-born Brahma’s sphere. Going out beyond the universe’s enclosing shell, it traversed the furthest limit of the vast ethereal region, looking for all the world like a Mount Meru of pure fire. (119)

120

Rushing out beyond all the worlds, far beyond the reach of those twin horses who draw the sun’s chariot as he spreads the rays of the dawn, dispelling the enveloping sapphire-like darkness, it shone out like a bright beacon set on high, so that all the oceans glowed blood red, as if the immeasurable submarine fire at the world’s end had spread abroad, and the seven great mountains resembled nought so much as tiny red sparks which had showered down from its summit. (120)

121

Seeing this fire extending to the limit of the heavens, lotus-born Brahma and flute-playing Krisna stood back in fear, unable to see its limit. For lest they possess the eye of true knowledge, could it be easy for those having only the flawed and defective physical eye to perceive our Lord? (121)

122

Seeing that bright effulgence, beyond the eye’s power to measure, they were both much troubled. Both agreed that he who could reach the head or foot of this measureless apparition would be the greater of the two. “I shall know the foot of this mountain,” cried the Great One who sleeps upon a serpent’s hood, transforming himself into a boar. “And I shall traverse the heavens to find its summit,” cried Ayan, adopting the form of a swan and flying swiftly heavenward. (122)

123

Swiftly taking flight, Ayan traversed a thousand leagues in a mere fraction of a second whilst in an instant Vishnu tunnelled down a thousand leagues into the earth, which rests upon the serpent Adisheshan’s spotted hood. To comprehend what occurred, imagine the long bar of an irrigation machine,40 made of pure gold and studded with gems, with small pots attached at either end, one set with bright pearls, and the other with dark sapphires. (123)

124

Burrowing down beyond the earth, Hari entered the nether worlds, traversing each in turn. Passing through the city of Bhogavati, watched over by the demon Mahabali,41 he forged on, paying homage with hand and head to Hatakesvara,42 whose supreme effulgence the gods adore. In former times he had measured the three worlds,43 yet now, though he fathomed all seven lower worlds, he could not find its foot. (124)

125

Those long pointed tusks, like the waxing moon, soon became worn down, like the moon on the wane, and even as his enthusiasm for the task faltered, his hooves and finely honed fangs grew ever thinner and weaker. After a thousand years of unimaginable suffering he turned to the Lord in praise, and setting aside his fatigue and exhaustion, returned through the seven nether worlds, emerging at last from an ocean of woes. (125)

126

Seeking out that holy place where the First One has risen up in the form of a column of flame to put an end to their struggle, he realised with absolute certainty that lotus-borne Brahma too could never reach its upper limit, and remained there paying homage over and over to Lord Shiva, the Distant One, so hard to reach for those who have no faith, and about whose shoulders fresh flowers are draped, along with [the flower of] his very own eye.44 (126)

127

Whilst all this was happening, he who had just now flown up in the form of a swan to seek that fiery mountain’s head, traversed full one thousand leagues in the twinkling of an eye. (127)

128

Piercing even the universe’s outer shell and leaving it far below, he rose on upward, travelling for a thousand years. And though he traversed ten millions of leagues on his search, still there was no end to that column of fire. (128)

129

His feathers fell away and his impetus began to fail. Overwhelmed with suffering his sighs grew long, and as his woes increased and his sense of isolation grew, the Vedas’ Lord began to mull over certain things in his mind: (129)

130

“Will great Mal reach the foot, and then return? Or will he give up his quest midway and come back, unable to reach it?” Thus did his anguished mood swing back and forth, as his thoughts ran away with him, like wax over a flame. (130)

131

I did not realise that this could only be Lord Shiva himself,” he reflected. “By confronting Hari I have forfeited his friendship also. Ever since I have been drowning in this ocean of sorrows. Is this due to my own stupidity? Or perhaps it is the fruit of former misdeeds? (131)

132

Thus far have I travelled, still unable to discover its upper limit. Even if I were to lie about it, what proof would there be, other than my word that I had reached it?” he sobbed sorrowfully. Just then he noticed a screwpine flower falling towards him. (132)

133

He hardly had time to think where it could have come from before it reached him, and he caught it in his hand. “Let me go at once,” it said with a heartfelt sigh, since it was a faded flower which had fallen from the crown of our Sovereign Lord. (133)

134

“Fair screwpine flower,” said Brahma, “whence have you come, and on what errand?” “I have slipped and fallen from the flower wreathed head of the Primal Lord, whose measure neither the Vedas’ Lord nor Narayana can know,” said the flower. (134)

135

“Since slipping from that head, which is graced by a bright garland of kondrai flowers, I have been falling for forty thousand years. Agree to my request, and let me go.” However Brahma, dismissing any hope of seeing our Father, began to speak: (135)

136

“Screwpine flower, dear companion! Be my friend and help me escape the torment of any further wandering. Other than you, there is no one whom I can trust with my life. I am no stranger, nor am I really a swan. (136)

137

My name is Brahma. I and Vishnu set our minds on revealing the extent of this wondrous object. Off he went burrowing into the earth, whilst I, for my sins, sought and failed to reach its holy summit. (137)

138

Well, that’s the top and bottom of it, so to speak. Why dwell any further upon the matter? Due to your auspicious arrival, what I was thinking about has come to pass. You must speak to Him who measured the earth [in three strides] and tell him that I, Brahma, adopting the form of a swan, reached Lord Shiva’s head. (138)

139

Do not call this deceit and despise me. It is permissible to tell the greatest falsehoods in order to save the lives of those who suffer. These are not unworthy words which one should fear to speak. Those who prize their friends will agree even to drink poison for their sake. (139)

140

Screwpine flower, you who live upon the head of Him whose forehead bears a third eye! There is no need to give this any further thought,” he said, and the screwpine flower assented and went along with him. Dropping swiftly down from the heavens, he came into the presence of Lord Vishnu, he whose strides measured the earth.45 (140)

141

“Bearer of Lakshmi, hear the exploits which brought me here! Travelling a hundred thousand leagues in a mere instant, I perceived the head of the Primal Lord, and returned,” he claimed, and the screwpine flower attested that it was so. (141)

142

At that precise moment, the mountain of fire exploded. The gods and rakshasas fainted away at the sound of the detonation. The elephants of the eight directions vomited blood, believing that the sun itself had melted. Then in the midst of that scene, eclipsing the ruddy glow in the sky, making even the beautiful flower of the murukku tree look soiled, the Three-eyed One rose up, his radiant red form all covered in white ash, with a smile on his lips like the one He wore when He burned up the three cities of the asuras. (142)

143

“Lotus-born Brahma, you have spoken out of sheer arrogance. A fine thing indeed!” said the Lord, and began to laugh, whereupon this world and all the worlds beyond trembled and grew dim. The radiance of all the heavenly bodies faded. Clouds disappeared from the sky. All that was fair and beautiful perished, and all that was worthless flourished and grew. The eight directions were twisted from their stations, and vast forests of trees were blackened, scorched and burned. (143)

144

The gods were fearful, thinking, “Ayan has been destroyed!” and poured down a vast rain of flowers, as if the earth had been dug hollow. But joy blossomed in the heart of tall Mal as the black stain of arrogance departed from lotus- born Brahma. (144)

145

Realisation dawned upon fair-eyed Mal. He sang and offered up prayers. He danced in a transport of joy, running hither and thither. Becoming a worthy devotee of the immeasurable First One, he wondered to himself what boon he might ask of Lord Shiva. (145)

146

Seeing how the heart of Hari melted with devotion for Him, the Lord graciously granted him many a boon. Then turning to Brahma, “You who dwell upon a fragrant lotus blossom, all your temples and all worship of you will vanish from this earth,” He commanded. (146)

147

“Screwpine flower, for joining Brahma in this deception, I shall never more touch you again.” Thus did He decree. Brahma himself, distraught on observing the depths of the Lord’s fury, fell at his feet, prostrating his body upon the ground and offering praises. (147)

148

“You whose form is like fire, smeared with white ashes! Since my soul has been foully shrouded by the loathsome cloak of anava malam,46 I wander helpless here. How am I, a mean wretch, of any significance? Fair One! Heaven’s infinite sphere! You who are the Four Vedas, and more than that, the Vedas’ ultimate import! Peerless First One! Let your anger against me cease! Let it cease! (148)

149

If the seven oceans, into which all the earth’s waters flow, were mixed together and heated up, would there be any other water to cool them down? And if your anger remains at such a pitch, how will life here be able to survive? You who in former times drank the poison from the Milk Ocean, let your anger against me cease! Let it cease! (149)

150

Crescent Moon! Moon at the full! You who appear in female form! And again, as a man! Honeyed One! Fragrant blossom! Great mountain! Divine grace! Munificent cloud! Melodious sound! These are among the myriad forms in which you manifest yourself. Is this just? Over and over again I beg you, let your anger cease! Let your anger cease! (150)

151

I am not the hunter Kama with his bow and flowery arrows which sting! I am not that raging elephant with curving tusks, its temples streaming with the juices of the rut! I am not that red hot fire, nor death-dealing Yama! Nor am I the three cities of the asuras! Do not deem me worthy of your anger! (151)

152

The moment I conceived the idea of reaching your unknowable summit, I assumed the form of a bird. Must I go on suffering further? Show your compassion to one who has been disgraced!” These words he spoke, and the Lord, who is like a warm fire to those who suffer in the cold, joyfully replied: (152)

153

“Lotus-born Brahma, be no longer afraid! That puja performed by Brahmins upon the earth will henceforth be your puja. And you may continue to ordain the seven worlds which are supported upon golden Mount Meru.”47 Such was the decree of that gracious Ocean of Compassion, who swallowed the poison from the conch-strewn sea. (153)

154

“Since I have granted you both such boons in this holy place, may it flourish, to a distance of three yojanas all around, as the pure and sacred dwelling place of divine knowledge. This great column of flame, assuming a lesser form, shall become a mountain with the power to grant boons. That mountain, which unfailingly confers the bliss of glorious final liberation, shall be known as Arunaipuri. (154)

155

I ended the suffering of Indra and the other gods, the moment that, in their affliction, they turned their thoughts to me. Therefore I shall abolish the suffering of birth and death for those who fix their thoughts on this holy place. This mountain and this sthala shall possess the quality of being indestructible, even at the universe’s ending, and the winds from it shall blow in all directions bringing final liberation to all beings, animate or inanimate. (155)

156

Desiring to confer sweet salvation upon those of the earth who have performed arduous penance, we shall grant them the boon of birth in this fair and holy city. Here a single offering will be increased in worth a thousandfold. Wickedness and sin will not prosper here. For those who doubt, there will be no salvation. For such is my command.” (156)

157

When the Lord had finished speaking, that pillar of fire shrank and became a mountain. When holy Mal and Ayan saw how it shone out spreading its beautiful rays far and wide, they made obeisance to the Lord and said, “It is not possible for the gods and ourselves to approach and gaze upon its brilliance. Let it be a simple mountain, concealing within itself all those countless fiery rays. (157)

158

Immaculate Lord, conceal this beauteous light and make of it a mountain like all others,” cried He whose vehicle is a swan, and He whose vehicle is Garuda. Whereupon the Lord made of it a mountain like all others. And when those two devotees said, “May you gracefully grant that each day a bright light be seen upon its summit,” the Lord in his compassion spoke these words: (158)

159

“In the month of Karttikai when the moon is in the constellation of Krittika I shall mount a bright beacon upon the summit of this mountain. They who see that most excellent light will endure and prosper upon the earth, free of disease and hunger. The obstacles confronting kings and great ascetics will be removed. We shall grant the boon of liberation to the kin of those who have praised or gazed upon it down to the twenty-first generation. (159)

160

This mountain shall have the power to cure the affliction of birth and death. Therefore one of its names shall be Medicine Mountain. Since it is red in colour, Red Mountain (Arunagiri) will also be one of its names. For those upon the earth who recite its name but once, it will be as if they had pronounced the Five Holy Syllables (Namasivaya) thirty million times.” On hearing the pronouncement of the Lord whose throat is black with poison, Brahma and Vishnu were filled with joy. Bowing down to Him, they began to speak: (160)

161

“Red Mountain Lord, except for the rains that fall from the sky, who will be able to approach you and bathe you with water? Who, apart from the starry constellations, will be able to place about your holy neck a garland of pearls? You whose throat poison adorns, who will there be to show a bright lamp before you, other than the Sun with his rays? Accordingly we beseech you to manifest yourself in the form of a lingam at the foot of this mountain, that we may make obeisance and perform puja to you.” (161)

162

“Then such shall I become. May you worship according to the precepts of the Kamika Agama,”48 said the Lord, withdrawing into the mountain. And so a Shiva lingam manifested there, whose praises are sung in every land. Seeing this they bowed down in worship, pouring down a dense rain of flowers, and dancing for joy in transports of bliss. Then they summoned Mayan49 who saw to the construction of gopurams, halls, and great walls, without equal anywhere. (162)

163

He built a rich and deathless city, with three hundred and sixty holy tanks, and made it beautiful. In its wells flowed the heavenly river whose waters never fail, and in its groves grew the celestial trees of Svarga. Gods and rishis in unending succession took birth there, and the courtesans of heaven incarnated there as dancing girls with eyes as black as the poison halahala. (163)

164

Rising in the morning and bathing, Brahma and Vishnu put on clothing of bark, matted their reddened hair, covered their bodies in holy ash, put on necklaces of rudraksha beads and performed Shiva puja, with ritual bathing, much sandalwood paste and garlands of flowers. Then they performed pradakshina of Annamalai, devotedly praising Him until fourteen thousand years had passed, whereupon they assumed their divine forms once more. (164)

165

Once its construction was complete, holy Arunai’s city became so desirable that even the Lord’s affection for Mount Kailash faded away. Since here was a mountain of pure gold, of what value was a mountain of silver only? The seven holy sites with Kasi at their head, whose glory is widely praised, and the golden realm of the gods all lost their allure, just as the stars lose their radiance as the pure rays of the sun appear. (165)

166

Though it is hard indeed to tell of the qualities of a mountain whose measure even Brahma and Vishnu could not know, I have tried in a small way to describe it insofar as my knowledge permits. Is there anything further I might need to speak of ? said Nandi. At that, the rishi Markandeya, feeling greatly honoured, bowed down in worship and said, ‘May you show us your grace and recount to us the tale of how Uma appeared from the [Himalaya] mountain and merged with the left side of Lord Shiva as his consort.’ Whereupon Nandi began to speak… (166)

Verses from the Arunachala Mahatmya translated by Sri Ramana Maharshi

नृणां च दर्शनादूरे कैवल्यं स्मरणेन वा।
अस्तु वेदान्तविज्ञानं न साध्यं निष्प्रयासतः ॥

ca — and, nṛṇāṁ for men, astu — let there be, kaivalyaṁ — liberation, darśana—adure — through non-distant sight, vā — or, smaraṇena — through recollection [of this mountain], [since] Vedānta-vijñānaṁ — the true understanding of Vedanta, [is] na sādhyaṁ — not to be obtained, niṣprayāsataḥ — without [great] difficulty.

Let there be liberation for men by seeing [this mountain] from near, or [simply] through recollection of it, [since] the true understanding of Vedanta is not to be obtained without great difficulty.

Aruṇācala Māhātmya, Uttarārdha, Ch. 16, sl. 26.


உருத்தெரி யெல்லை யுற்றுகண் ணுற்றாற்
கருத்தினாற் றூரக் கருதினா லும்மே
வாருத்த முறாது வராதவே தாந்த
வருத்தவிஞ் ஞான மார்க்குமுண் டாமே.

kaṇ uṟṟāl — If they see [this mountain] with the eye, ellai uṟṟu — being at a distance, uru teri — from which its form may be perceived, tūra karutiṉālum — or if they meditate [upon it] from afar, karuttiṉāl — with the mind, Vētànta arutta viññāṉam — the true knowledge of Vedanta, varāta — which does not come, varuttam uṟātu — without [great] troubles, ārkkum uṇṭām — will arise in all.

The true knowledge of Vedanta, which may not be gained without great difficulty, will arise in all who come within sight [of this mountain], or simply dwell upon it in their thoughts from afar.

Aruṇācala Māhātmiyam, v. 5 in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi.


योजनत्रयमात्रे ऽस्मिक्षेत्रे निवसतां नृनाम̖ ।‌‌‍
दीक्षादिकं विनाप्यस्तु मत्सायुज्यं ममाज्ञ्या ॥

nivasatāṁ nṛnām — for men dwelling, asmin kśetre — in this holy place (kśetra), yojana-traya-mātre — to a distance of three yojanas, astu — let there be, mama ājñayā — at my command, mat sāyujyaṁ — union with myself, dīkṣādikaṁ vinā api — even without the requisite initiation.

With regard to those men staying in this holy place, to the distance of three yojanas (thirty miles), let them, at my command, have union with myself without the requisite initiation.

Aruṇācala Māhātmiyam, Uttarārdha, Ch. 16, sl. 24.


யொசனை மூன்றா மித்தல வாசர்க்
காசறு தீக்கை யாதின் றியுமென்
பாசமில் சாயுச் சியம்பயக் கும்மே
யீசனா மென்ற னாணையி னானே

eṉ taṉ āṇaiyiṉāṉ — by the command of myself, īcaṉ ām — who am the Lord, eṉ pācam il cāyucciyam — union with myself, free of worldly bondage, payakkum — will result, i tala vācarkku — for those dwelling in this sthala, yōcaṉai mūṉṟu ām — to a distance of three yojanas, ācu aṟu tīkkai yātu iṇṟiyum — even without initiation which removes impurities.

By the command of myself, who am the Lord, union with me, free of worldly bondage, will result for those dwelling in this sthala, to a distance of three yojanas, even in the absence of initiation which removes impurities.

Aruṇācala Māhātmiyam, v. 6 in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Notes

Note 1. These are the navabhedam: 9 manifestations of Lord Śiva. The commentary expands it to say, ‘All life forms were reabsorbed into Brahmā, Brahmā was reabsorbed in Viṣṇu, Viṣṇu was reabsorbed into Rudra...’ and so on. Vindu is the female aspect of the divine seed and natham the male. They both evolve from sakti which emanates from Paraśiva, and they are the source of the succeeding manifestations, ending up with Brahmā. [Return to text]

Note 2. Tamil kuṭilai, a synonym for suddha māyā. [Return to text]

Note 3. para tattuvam – the 96 essential properties of things. These are archetypal essences, rather in the Platonic sense, with no direct connection to the physical manifestation. They include the five elements, the organs of sense, the organs of action, and so on. [Return to text]

Note 4. aivarum oṭuṅkiya muṟaiyil vantār – and the Five came forth in the manner of their being absorbed. The implication, of course, is that they came forth again in the opposite order to that of their involution. [Return to text]

Note 5. Māl is a name of Viṣṇu, and Brahmā is the son born from the lotus in his navel. [Return to text]

Note 6. The Tamil is caṉapati, Sanskrit, janapati, which means the same as prajāpatiLord of creatures. They are responsible for creating all life on earth and beyond. Their exact number, identity and manner of birth varies across the various Puranic sources. The ten listed here are the same as those listed in the Vedas, apart from the Lord of Dharma, who replaces Nārada. [Return to text]

Note 7. Vasiṣṭha, who is known as a great Vedic sage even in the Vedas themselves. The Tamil commentary takes He of the four Vedas to be adjectival, qualifying Kratu, and gives the meaning as, Kratu, he who created the 60,000 hermits who chant the four Vedas. However this means that there are only 6 prajāpatis in the enumeration, not 7, as stated in the text. [Return to text]

Note 8. Aṟattu iṟai – the Lord of Dharma. In addition to the seven mind-born sons mentioned first, other prajāpatis sprang from various parts of Brahmā’s body. Another account says that Dharma burst forth from his right nipple. [Return to text]

Note 9. The prose version adds the further information that the gods to which āditi gave birth were thirty-three crores (330,000,000) in number. [Return to text]

Note 10. Diti gave birth to the daityas, a clan of asuras; they were a race of giants. [Return to text]

Note 11. Iraṇiyar and Iraṇiyakkar, Sanskrit Hiraṇya and Hiraṇyakṣa (golden eyed) were daityas . Hiraṇyakṣa was killed by Viṣṇu in his boar incarnation. Hiraṇya , also known as Hiraṇyakaśipu, tortured his son Prahlada for his devotion to Lord Viṣṇu, who eventually appeared in his Narasiṁha incarnation to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu . See also v. 101. [Return to text]

Note 12. Māvali in Tamil. [Return to text]

Note 13. Vāṇaṉ in Tamil. [Return to text]

Note 14. Danu is the third of Kaśyapa’s 13 wives. She gave birth to the danavas , another race of asuras . [Return to text]

Note 15. Siṅkikai in Tamil; the fourth of Kaśyapa ’s wives. [Return to text]

Note 16. The serpent Rāhu, is a demon with a dragon’s tail. When the gods churned the ocean for amrita, he disguised himself as one of them and stole a portion, thus becoming immortal. The sun and moon revealed the fraud to Viṣṇu who cut off his head, but, being immortal, he has ever since wreaked vengeance by occasionally swallowing them, causing them to disappear temporarily. His tail is known as Ketu, and both are regarded as planets in Vedic astrology. In scientific terms they represent the ascending and descending nodes, the points where the moon’s path in the sky crosses the ecliptic, the sun’s path in the sky; these are the only points near which eclipses can occur, since at those points all three celestial bodies, the earth, the moon and the sun, are in the same plane. [Return to text]

Note 17. Kālā was another wife of Kaśyapa. She gave birth to the asuras who are known collectively as Kālakeyas, and number about 60,000. [Return to text]

Note 18. Tamil Viṉatai, is another daughter of Dakṣa and wife of Kaśyapa. [Return to text]

Note 19. Garuda is the bearer of Viṣṇu (hence often called Viṣṇu ratha ), represented as having the body and limbs of a man but the head, wings, talons and beak of an eagle; the face is white, the wings red and the body golden. Garuda is regarded as the king of the birds and the great enemy of serpents. [Return to text]

Note 20. Another son of Kaśyapa and Viṉatai. [Return to text]

Note 21. Katturu in Tamil; another wife of Kaśyapa, although she is said in the Rāmayāna to be his daughter. She is the mother of ādiśeṣa , the serpent who supports the world on his head. [Return to text]

Note 22. Ariṭṭai, Sanskrit Ariṣṭā, is another wife of Kaśyapa. She gave birth to the male gandharvas. [Return to text]

Note 23. Arambai, Sanskrit Rambhā, is one of the most beautiful of the apsaras – heavenly maidens. [Return to text]

Note 24. Tamil Iḷai, possibly Sanskrit Irā, one of the wives of Kaśyapa, credited with creating grass. [Return to text]

Note 25. Kapilā, another wife of Kaśyapa. [Return to text]

Note 26. The gandharvas are male nature spirits, husbands of the apsaras. Some are part animal, usually a bird or horse. They have superb musical skills, guard the soma and make beautiful music for the gods in their palaces. [Return to text]

Note 27. The rākṣasas were another race of giants, goblins or fiends who, along with the asuras, opposed the devas. [Return to text]

Note 28. The kinnaras are celestial musicians, with the human figure and the head of a horse. [Return to text]

Note 29. The kimpuruṣas are another class of celestial musicians. [Return to text]

Note 30. The Vasus are attendant deities of Indra, and later Viṣṇu. They are eight elemental gods representing aspects of nature, fire, wind, earth, atmosphere, sun, sky, moon and stars. [Return to text]

Note 31. In his first incarnation Bhṛgu fathered five children from his wife Khyāti, one of whom was Kavi. Kavi is mentioned in the Mahābhārata as being among the sages who stole the lotus of Agastya. [Return to text]

Note 32. Cavunar is probably Śaunaka , a sage who is descended from a later incarnation of Bhṛgu but is not a son. It may also be Cyavana who is a son in the same incarnation of Bhṛgu. [Return to text]

Note 33. When his wife, Saṁjña, fled from him, overpowered by his brilliance, she turned into a mare and sought the shade of a forest, but Surya pursued her as a stallion. See also v. 216 and note. [Return to text]

Note 34. The text actually says maruttavar iruvarum – the two maruttavar (physicians). These are the Aśvins, the physicians of the gods. They are Vedic gods symbolising the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, bringing treasures to men and averting misfortune and sickness. They are often referred to as having the heads of horses. Aśva is the Sanskrit word for horse. [Return to text]

Note 35. Bhṛgu cursed Viṣṇu to be born upon the earth as a mortal in a series of ten incarnations for the sin of killing his wife Pulomā, who had supported the asuras in a war against the devas. [Return to text]

Note 36. In his Narasiṁha incarnation Viṣṇu appears out of a pillar to kill the daitya Hiraṇyakaśipu. [Return to text]

Note 37. Madhu and Kaitabha were two asuras born from the ear wax of Lord Viṣṇu, and eventually slain by him on account of their arrogance. [Return to text]

Note 38. The heavenly river Ganges came down to earth as a result of the penances of king Bhagiratha . Hence she is sometimes called Bhagirathī. [Return to text]

Note 39. Brahmā’s body colour is red, like the evening, and Viṣṇu’s, black like night. [Return to text]

Note 40. What is being described here is an irrigation machine, consisting of a long beam, pivoting on top of a tall pillar, and known in English as a piccottah. These structures were quite imposing, as one can see from the following description of their use in North Arcot district in the early 20th century: ‘In the comparative treelessness of the landscape picottahs stood out conspicuously, with two or three men plodding patiently on the swinging beam that works this primitive pump, alternately towards and away from the wooden pillar, some 15 or 20 feet high, on which it hinges, but always, in either direction, climbing upwards, for the picottah combines the characteristic features of the see-saw and tread-mill.’ This interpretation is based on emending the word pūṭṭu to pūṭṭai. There appears to be no viable translation using the word pūṭṭu. Some other form of water drawing machine may be intended, such as a rāṭṭiṇam, which has more the appearance of a windmill. This has small pots, which are suggested by the word kuṇṭikai used here. [Return to text]

Note 41. Māvali, Sanskrit Mahābalī was the asura tricked by Viṣṇu, in his incarnation as Vāmana, a Brahmin dwarf, out of his dominion over heaven and earth, and banished to dwell in the nether worlds. [Return to text]

Note 42. Hatakeśvara is Śiva’s form as Lord of the nether worlds. [Return to text]

Note 43. Another reference to Viṣṇu’s Vāmana incarnation, in which he tricked Mahābalī by growing so great that he covered heaven, earth and the lower worlds in two steps. [Return to text]

Note 44. This refers to the incident in which Viṣṇu, being short of a single flower to complete his worship of Lord Śiva, used one of his own eyes as the final flower. [Return to text]

Note 45. See the note to v. 124. Vāmana tricked Mahābalī by requesting three steps of land on which to live, and, when his request was granted, covering the whole of heaven, earth and the nether regions in the first two steps. Unable to accommodate the third step, Mahābalī offered his own head as a stepping place, thus gaining immortality and dominion over the nether regions. [Return to text]

Note 46. āṇava malam is the principle of egoity inherent in the unenlightened soul or jīva , which, in the Saiva Siddhānta system of belief, prevents it from recognising that god alone is the source of all its actions. [Return to text]

Note 47. Lord Śiva’s grace towards Brahmā is attested in the following slokas from the Māhātmya:

stutyā evam asya viṣṇoś ca prārthanena prasedivān, dūrjaṭiḥ sṛṣṭikartṛtvaṁ punar asya abhyamanyata. samajyāsu dvijānāṁ ca pūjanaṁ ca anuśiṣṭavān...

Being pleased on account of his (Brahmās) praise and Viṣṇu’s prayer, Dūrjaṭi (Śiva, as having matted locks ) permitted him to resume his work of creation. Ordaining the worship (of Brahmā ) by Brahmins in the sacrificial assemblies… [Return to text]

Note 48. As stated here and in the Māhātmya, pūja in the Aruṇācaleśvarar temple is always performed according to the rule laid down in this Saiva āgama.

kāmiko ’ktena mārgeṇa mām arcayitum arhathaḥ.

You should worship me according to the method laid down in the Kāmika [āgama ].

Ar. Mā, Utt. Ch. 16, sl. 49b [Return to text]

Note 49. Mayaṉ is one of the danavas, who served the devas and asuras as their architect and builder. [Return to text]

Text copyright © 2012, 2014 Robert Butler

Robert Butler (b. 1947) is one of the world’s leading translators of Tamil devotional and Puranic literature, and has also translated one of the major collections of secular Classical Tamil poems, the Kuṟuntokai. He lives with his wife Jani in England where they grow pumpkins and cook dosai.

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This page was published on September 17, 2019 and last revised on September 17, 2019.


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