When the Mother showed the moon to save her son…

Kalidasa’s great epic Kumara Sambhava opens with a salutation to Shiva and Parvati where he refers to them as the parents of the world who are as inseparable as a word and its meaning.

In Indian thought, the title of mother is not just restricted to Parvati but to all our goddesses. They tend to their devotees as a mother tends to her child.

Here’s a sthalapurana of a temple from deep down south, where the goddess rushed to the help of her devout son when he needed her most.

So the story goes that sometime in the 18th century AD, there lived a Brahmin named Subramanyam Iyer in a small town called Thirukadaiyur in Tamil Nadu. His town had a famous Shiva temple where the presiding deity was Lord Amrithaghateswar and his consort was Goddess Abhirami.

Subramanyam was a regular visitor to the temple. He was deeply devoted to Goddess Abhirami. So intense was his faith that he saw the goddess in every woman and much to the discomfort and annoyance of the women in his town, he chased them around and showered them with flowers before prostrating at their feet. This quirky behaviour of his earned him the title of a lunatic.

On one new moon day, the local king Sarfoji, came to the temple for a darshan of the goddess. At the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, he found Subramanyam  deep in meditation. Now, the king was used to having people rushing to his beck and call. So, Subramanyam’s complete oblivion to his presence angered him. Sarfoji enquired the locals about Subramanyam and was told that Subramanayam was a mad man.

The king decided to run a test of his own on the man sitting before him. He nudged the meditating Subramanyam and asked him if he knew what day of the lunar month (thithi) it was. Now, everyone knew it was the new moon day (Amavasya), when the night sky would be moon-less and dark. But Subramanyam, whose eyes were fixed on the face of the goddess that looked as bright as the glow of a thousand moons, blurted out that it was a full moon day (Purinma).

Angered by the wrong answer, the king ordered that Subramanyam be punished. As per the king’s order, Subramanyam was to be suspended on a wooden deck hung over a blazing fire with the help of ropes. The deck hosting Subramanyam was to be purged into the fireplace below, at dusk, if the moon did not rise, as he had predicted.

But, as happens with all men of god, Subramanyam remained unperturbed! It is said that, it was while hovering over the blazing fire that Subramanyam composed and rendered over a 100 hymns in praise of Goddess Abhirami.

After each hymn was rendered, the deck was lowered further. The onlookers waited with bated breath to see what would happen!

Legend has it that just as Subramanyam finished rendering his seventy-ninth hymn, Goddess Abhirami appeared before him, removed her resplendent earring and threw it at the sky where it shone like the silvery moon!

Subramanyam’s words had indeed come true!

On a supposedly no-moon night, there was now a round silvery moon that shone like a brilliant jewel, turning an otherwise dark night sky into a brightly lit celestial canvas.

The king, who witnessed this miracle, realised the extreme devotion of Subramanya Iyer, sought his forgiveness, and set him free.

From that day, Subramanyam came to be known as Abhirami Bhattar. The hymns he composed are known as Abhirami Andhadhi, an exquisite piece of devotional poetry, where every verse starts with the same word that the previous verse ends in.

Abhirami Andhadhi is still read and rendered by millions of Tamils even today. It is believed that rendering these hymns on full moon and new moon days can make the great mother grant the most impossible of her children’s dreams!

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