- P.R.Kannan

Pushkara in Sanskrit refers to the energy that nourishes. Scriptures say thatPushkara is the son of Varuna, the presiding deity of all rivers. Once he prayed to Brahma and asked for a boon to reside in the sacred waters (emanated from the foot of Vishnu) of his Kamandalu with the intention of bestowing purity on all the Tirthas (Rivers). Brahma granted the boon happily.Pushkara also performed penance and acquired the JalaTattva Siddhi from Lord Siva as a boon. By virtue of these boons,Pushkara became Tirthapalaka, the Protector of all Tirthas,.
Pushkaram is an Indian festival dedicated to the worship of rivers. When Jupiter (Guru Bhagavan) transits to a zodiac sign, which is associated with a particular sacred river, AdiParasakti, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Indra and all the Devatas reside in that holy river for the initial and the final periods of twelve days of that year of residence of Jupiter.This year on the 12th of October, Jupiter enters the zodiac sign Scorpio (Vrischika) associated with the sacred river Tamraparni. Hence the TampraparniPushkaram festival is being organized from October 12 to 23, 2018. Sri KanchiKamakotiPeetham has chosen Tiruppudaimarudur (PutarjunaKshetra) near Tirunelveli as the main centre for convenient use by pilgrims for holy dip and other rituals including TirthaSraadha, Puja of River, ceremonial gifts etc.  Spiritual discourses, devotional music performances and cultural programmes are organized at this place and also in other shrines on the banks of the river during this period.

The river Tamraparni originates from the Pothigai hills above Papanasam and flows into Tirunelveli district. The old Tamil name of the river is Porunai. TamraparniMahatmyam, a Purana of 6400 verses written by Veda Vyasa, recounts many interesting stories of the blessings of Devi Tamraparni bestowed on Devas, humans, animals and even birds. The divine origin of Tamraparni is unique and very interesting. A garland handed lovingly by AdiParasakti to Parvati at the time of her marriage with Siva in Himavan’s capital of Oshadhiprastham, was in turn given by Parvati to Siva. When Siva wore the garland and then handed it to sage Agastya, it turned instantly into a beautiful, well decorated maiden, Tamraparni. Tamraparni, meaning maiden shining like copper, is a name given by Devas to the maiden deity. As instructed by Siva, Agastya proceeded southwards, accompanied by his wife Lopamudra and Tamraparni, and reached Malaya Parvata. Malayeswarawas only too happy to accept Tamraparni as his daughter; it was a blessing of Siva in consideration of his severe austerities performed earlier at Sivasailam. Even as a maiden, Devi Tamraparni wrought many miracles en route when their party was heading to Sripuram. When she found Kuntala, the wife of a sage, in tears, with her husband killed by a rakshasa, she instantly restored the dead sage to life. For the convenience of sages Atri and others, she created rivers Chitra and Ghatana.
Sripuram (the present Alwar Trirunagari) is the seat of Adi Parasakti. She was sitting in a cave on the lap of Sadasiva on a spread, which again was Sadasiva, on a cot of four legs, which were none other than Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and Isana. The day when Agastya, accompanied by Hayagriva, Narada, Kapila, Malayesvara and others, had darshan of AdiParasakti at Sripuram, was the day of Thai Poosam. That was the day when Tamraparni was destined to flow as a holy river. Parasakti bathed the maiden Devi Tamraparni with sacred waters brought from the oceans and rivers, and got her married to Samudra Raja amidst great joy and festivity. As instructed by Parasakti, Tamraparni then turned into a mighty river. Agastya and others travelled in a special celestial vimana along the course of the river as she flowed and finally met her lover, the sea. Vyasa, the poet enjoys the great scenes and sights the river provides in her tumultuous journey. Thevast sheet of foam appears to be her smile at one time, and her dress at another time; the fishes are her beautiful eyes; the lotuses are her face; she is seen dancing with the waves which are her arms; the whirlpool is her navel; the chakravaka birds are her breasts; the moss is her beautiful hair. She makes a deafening noise at times; quiet at other times. She is furiously fast at times; slow with the gait of an intoxicated elephant at other times. She travels up and down the hills and valleys, and in direction of not just east, but with sharp turns to north and south too. She presents various appearances – cloud, serpent, vimana etc. She divides herself into three rivulets at the place of joining the ocean in the east. Vyasa is thrilled to think that the three streams remind one of the three Vedas (Trayi- Rig, Yajur and Sama), and the three Agnis (Ahavaniyam, Garhapatya and Dakshinagni) of the householder. Agastya installed the image of Devi Tamraparni here and worshipped her. This kshetra is under the protection of Subrahmanya from the nearby Tiruchendur.

Vyasa lists more than 140 Tirthaghattas along the course of the holy river; 64 of them very prominent. Many are the celebrated Kshetras of Siva, Vishnu and Devi on her banks.Banatirtham is associated with Siva’s Tripurasamhara. Vishnu, who had become an arrow, became extremely passionate with fury at the Asurasat that time. After the event Siva buried the arrow in a deep ditch. The place remained very hot for thousands of years. When Tamraparni flowed, she dropped into the ditch; a thick hot mist went up to the heavens. Soon the place became cool; the tirtha was given the hallowed name of Banatirtha by Hayagriva. Those who bathe in this tirtha get the special blessings of Siva and Vishnu in addition to Devi Tamraparni’s.
Tirunelveliis the best known kshetra on the banks of Tamraparni. It is celebrated as Brahmavriddhapuri, DakshinaKanchi, Paranubhuti etc. Siva once turned into a fence in order to protect the paddy fields from flooding; hence the place is ‘Salivatipuri’ (Salivati is paddy field) or Tirunelveli in Tamil. Nataraja’s Tamra Sabha adds to the glory of this great pilgrimage centre. Kantimati Devi conducted 32 dharmas (acts of charity and righteousness) here. Siva (Nellaiyappar) has assured that devotees who bathe in the sacred river and worship the SvayambhuLinga and Devi here are certain to attain salvation.

Tiruppudaimarudur, close to Tirunelveli, known by the name of Putarjunam, stands glorified not only in Veda Vyasa’s Sanskrit Purana, but also in a Tamil Puranam called ‘Narumpunathar (Putarjunam) TiruvilaiyadalPuranam’ by poet ChidambaranathaDesikar. Three Siva kshetras associated with abode in Arjuna tree (Marudam in Tamil) are famous. Mallikarjuna shines in Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh; Mahalingeswara gives darshan in Madhyarjunam (Tiruvidaimarudur) near Kumbakonam; Putarjuneswara bestows his grace here in Putarjunam. Putarjunam means a cavity in Arjuna tree; it is in this cavity that Siva resides as SavayambhuLinga. This place is hailed as Dakshina Kashi, which is protected by Siva even at the time of the Great Dissolution, much like the celebrated Kashi in the north. Here too Parvathi takes the dead person in her lap, Siva chants the Taraka Mantra of Rama Nama in his right ear, and the Jiva is taken in a celestial Vimana to Kailasa. The Tamil Puranam records that Vyasa, Vasishtha and many other sages witnessed such a divine spectacle when the wife of a sage died at the time when the sages had all assembled here. Many are the stories recounted in graphic detail in the Tamil classic, bringing out the greatness of the Kshetra, the deities Putarjuneswara and Gomathi Amman, and the river Tamraparni. Nataraja is celebrated in five places – Ratna Sabha, Kanchana Sabha, Rajata Sabha, Tamra Sabha and Chitra Sabha. But here he gives darshan in Nitya Sabha; Siva asked Vishnu and Brahma to come and witness the divine dance here on the sacred Thai Poosam day. Devendra incurred the unpardonable sin of Brahma hatya after he killed Vritrasura, and succeeded in getting rid of the blemish by residing in the Arjuna tree here and performing austerities for many years. It is here that Indrani observed the first ever KedaraGowriVratam for 21 days and could unite with Indra.

Adi Manu, the grandson of the legendary emperor Bharata (after whom our country Bharata is named), had no progeny. He prayed to Siva here; but finding no result even after sincere tapas for many years, he attempted to commit suicide by planting a spear in the Arjuna tree and forcing himself on the other sharp end of the weapon. Siva stopped him and granted him a son, and also the opportunity to build a nice temple for Siva and Gomati Amman. Brahma was once asked by Lord Visvanatha in Kashi to drop his Brahmadanda in Ganga there and to pick it up in the Tamraparni river in Putarjunam. The Tirtha where he picked it up in Putarjunam came to be known as BrahmadandaTirtha. Kulati, a Brahmana woman, killed her husband out of lust for a lover; even she was relieved of her Brahma hatya sin by bathing in the sacred waters here and worshipping Siva.KaruvurSiddhar prayed to Siva, who, while on the opposite bank of the river, tilted his head and gave darshan to him, and asked him to walk on the waters and come over to the other bank. Sushena, the Pandya king, was tricked into marrying the beautiful daughter of the Mleccha king Karanja and he changed his faith from Saivism to that ofMlecchas. He sent his lieutenant Ugra to behead his younger brother Virasena and minister Bodhendri, who were bitterly opposed to the king’s change of religion. The two took refuge in Siva in this kshetra as advised by sage Agastya; they were protected by Siva in a cave. Sushena came here with unabated fury. But ultimately Siva’s grace rescued him from Mleccha faith and brought not just him back to Saivism, but also Karanja.

Aladanta, the son of Musu, the king of Vasus, performed tapas here after Musu had been killed in a battle by Indra. Indra was now worried; he prayed to Brahma, who bade his Maya to take abode in the tongue of Aladanta and make him seek the boon of ‘Bhrama(confusion) Gnana’ instead of Brahma Gnana. But Siva gave darshan to Aladanta and made him pray for ‘ParamaGnana’. The prayer was granted; Aladanta attained the supreme state.Munriswara, the form which has all three divinities, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, has also manifested in a nearby place.

Jyotirvana (the present day Seval) is another centre, noted for miracles of Siva. When Sundara Pandya (Sundareswara) ruled from Madurai along with Tatatakai (Minakshi), his eldest son Ugrasribaladhi (Ugra Pandya), who was none other than Subrahmanya, was made the king of the area south of the legendary Meru mountain. Ugrasribaladhi had his capital at Manalurpuram on the banks of Tamraparni. One day when he was seated on his throne, three Sivalingams dropped from the sky; there was also a shower of gems in the city. An aerial voice instructed him to install the Lingams at a place where there will be continuous natural bright light (Jyoti). Rishi Sanatana came and took him to Jyotirvana and asked him to install a Linga there. This was the place where Bhaga (an aspect of Surya), who had lost his eyes at the hands of Virabhadra during Dakshayagna, got his eyesight restored by the grace of Siva. An intense band of light emerged from the Linga installed by Ugrasribaladhi. The king entered the Light and met his father at Madurai and returned after receiving instructions from him. His sons established the remaining two Lingas here. A city came up in Jyotirvana.

Nadambujam(the present day Cheranmadevi) is a seat of prayers of Veda Vyasa himself. Vyasa completed all his task of producing works of spiritual guidance to humankind, viz. Brahmasutras, Mahabharata, 18 Puranas and 18 Upapuranas. He then proceeded to Brahmaloka and asked Brahma for guidance on the path to attaining Moksha. Brahma guided him to worship Vishnu in a kshetra on earth. He said: ‘There are 40 kshetras of Vishnu on earth; 10 of them are outside Bharatavarsha and can only grant mundane pleasures; 20 kshetras in Bharatavarsha can bestow AshtaMaha Siddhis and can thus promote Rajoguna; only 10 kshetras can grant Gnana and Moksha. Nadambujam on the banks of Tamraparni is the best among them, as Vishnu is very kind and compassionate here.’ Brahma had himself prayed to Vishnu in this very kshetra at the time prior to start of creation. A great Jyoti appeared before him; a loud chant of Pranava (Omkara) emanated from the Jyoti; an eight-petalled lotus and then a swan emerged from the Jyoti; Vishnu then appeared on the swan and taught Brahma the Vedas and bestowed on him the ability to perform creation. Pranava is the foundation and the subtle potential repository of all creation; the lotus and swan represent the Satva and gross aspect of the creator and creation; Vishnu is the eternal source of all creation in subtle as well as gross stages. The place derives its name Nadambujam from Nada (the Omkara sound) and Ambujam (the lotus representing the gross creation). Vyasa came and prayed here. Vishnu gave him darshan and said that he would reside here along with Vyasa till the arrival of Dissolution, showing Gnanamudra to devotees and blessing them with salvation. The reason why the omniscient Vyasa sought Brahma’s guidance for Moksha was that he wished to demonstrate to the world the inescapable need of an aspirant to seek out a Guru and his guidance, however learned the aspirant might be. This is a central thought in the Upanishads and Sankara’s philosophy.

GajendraMoksham, the celebrated act of compassion of Vishnu towards Gajendra, was enacted at a place on the bank of Tamraparni close to Putarjunam. Vishnu declared that he would reside here at all times and grant Moksha to all those who bathe in the sacred Tirthaghatta here and worship him.Sri

SarvagnatmakaIndraSaraswati, the first Peethadhipati of KanchiKamakotiPeetham after AdiSankaracharya and Sureswaracharya, the caretaker head, hailed from Brahmadesam near here. He came to Kanchipuram as a boy of six and engaged in a serious debate lasting over three days with AdiSankara while the Acharya was ascending the SarvagnaPeetham. Impressed by his erudition and qualities of head and heart, AdiSankara chose the young boy to succeed him in the venerated Peetham.

SriTamraparniMahatmyam of Veda Vyasa asserts:
Smaraṇātdarśanātdhyānātsnānātpānādapidhruvam | Karmavicchedinīsarvajantūnāṃmokṣhadāyinī ||

“Tamraparni is the river, which destroys the karmas of all living beings, who think of her, who see her, who meditate on her, who take bath in and who drink her waters. She bestows even Moksha on them.” Many names of Devi Tamraparni have been given in the Puranamfor chanting.  Vyasa cites various specific sacred days for bathing at different Tirthaghattas, different mantras to be chanted at the time of bathing etc. However, if we bathe in any one place in the sacred river during Pushkaram, we reap the fruit of bathing in all the Tirthaghattas on various sacred days. Sri KanchiSankaraMatham has facilitated at Tiruppudaimarudurthe performance of various rituals to be observed while bathing. Come, let us make full use of it.

P. R. Kannan
Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham