Saturday, December 30, 2006

Vaikunta Ekadesi

Ekadasi as the name suggests is the 11th day of a lunar month. There is a sukla (bright) paksha ekadasi and the krishna (dark) paksha(fortnight) ekadasi. Ekadasi appears every Vedic/Hindu/Tamil month with Vaikunta Ekadasi being the most popular among the Ekadasis, primarily because it appears during the month of 'Maarga Sirisha'(Maargazhi/Dhanur), the most favorite month of Lord. Krishna. This year the festival falls on December 30th, 2006. This is also the day when Lord Krishna delivered all 18 chapters of Bhagavad Githa to Arjuna and also the day when Krishna lifted the Govardhana mountains to protect his country men from rain and thunder. There are many legends as to why Ekadesi is observed. The first reason for observing Ekadasi is attributed to Sage Durvaysa, who apparently is a very angry man and easily prone to cursing other people. In this instance, he happened to secure a garland from a young lady. This young lady had initially won that garland as a gift from Goddess Mahalakshmi for her impressive singing prowress. Durvasa wanted to gift this garland to Indira. However, Indira in some act of momentary madness casually discarded the garland. This garland was crushed by an elephant. Unimpressed by Indira's manners, Durvasa gave Indira yet another of his famous curses. This curse deprived Indira of Goddess Mahalakshmi. She walked out in a huff from Indira-loka and settled beneath the Milky Ocean leaving Indira-loka bereft of wealth and prosperity. Sympathetic to Indira's cry for help, Mahavishnu advised him to churn the ocean. So Mahameru became the churning rod, vasuki became the serpent with which the rod was churned and Mahavishnu avatared as the tortoise that balanced the rod. On this magnificent Vaikunta Ekadasi day, they devas churned and churned the ocean. The ocean first sprang a poison leak, which was gulped down by Shiva (which in-turn was gulped down by Vishnu residing as Shiva's antaryamin). The ocean then gave many gifts (Parijatham flower, Kamadhenu - not the theater, comes to mind). Finally Mahalakshmi reappeared in Indira-loka the next day, on the day of Dwadesi. The Devas fasted the entire Ekadasi day conquering their greed for hunger, sleep and many other material desires to realize their objective. From that day forth, people fast during Ekadasi to realize Mahalakshmi's benefits on Dwadasi.

This leads us directly to the second source of Ekadasi celebrations, a more popular one at that. Vishnu was on a quest to slay this Demon called Mura. As the quest prolonged, Vishnu decided to spend a night in a cave. Privy this momentary lapse in Vishnu's defense, Mura attempted to enter the cave and slay Vishnu. However, a woman called Ekadasi (popularly known as Vishnu's female attribute) appeared and slayed Mura. Much pleased with the women's benevolence, Vishnu decided to name the Ekadasi day after the lady. From then on men have tried to fight the Rajasic and Tamasic temptations of food, sleep, etc on this day. This is done to develop self-control and purge the sins accumulated since the previous Ekadasi.


Srirangam Thiruvarangam, or Srirangam as it is popularly called is a marvelous island near Trichy and its beauty and glory are cherished by people who have visited the place. On account of its huge size (155 acres), it is called as the "biggest functioning Hindu Temple in the world". It has Lord. Vishnu in the reclining posture (The kidanthaan of 4 poses associated with Vishnu shrines - kidanthaan, irunthan, ninraan, nadanthan). It is so important to the Tamil tradition that the term 'kovil' is assumed to be Srirangam unless it is prefixed with something else. This is where Kamban initiated his Ramayanam. Barring Madhurakavi, this is the only temple where all the Azhwars have sung hymns in praise of the presiding deity. Divya Prabhandams are recited in a very expressive fashion (Araiyar Sevai) in this temple. Srirangam has a long history with the Ekadasi that appears on the month of Margazhi. Maasanam Margasheershoham, is a quote attributed to the Para Vasudeva. It means "Among the months, I am Margashirisha". So month coinciding/ending with the star Maargasirisha, the Dhanur Maasa (or Maargazhi) is very special for Vishnu Bhaktas all over the world. The 30 days of this months is spent reciting the 30 verses of Andal. The Ekadasi day corresponding to this month is called Vaikunta Ekadasi and is the most special among all Ekadasis. It is a Sukla Paksha Ekadesi. Srirangam is the oldest, largest, and most important of all the Vishnu temples in the world. It is the leader among vaishnavite temples. It is the primary temple, which every Vishnu devotee seeks to visit. So the celebration of Vaikunta Ekadasi in Srirangam is as big as it gets. While most Vishnu temples in the Southern parts of India observe Vaikunta Ekadasi and attract large crowds, Srirangam in all its 'Vaikunta Ekadasi' glory is a special sight to behold. All the 155 acres and the thousand pillars of the temple assume a festive look on this day.

Pagal Pathu/Raa Pathu: Vaikunta Ekadasi is celebrated for 21 days in Srirangam. The First 10 days preceding Vaikunta Ekadasi is called Pagal Pathu. Then comes the important Vaikunta Ekadasi Day and then the 10 days following this day is called Raa Pathu. As the names suggest, Pagal pathu is when the festivities are done during the day. Raa pathu has festivities during the night. On the day of Vaikunta Ekadasi, the Lord is decorated grandly (it is a popular belief that once upon a time, the now famous 'Orloff' Russian Diamond adorned the Lord) and carried to the Parama Pada Vaasal, which is the northern gate of the temple. This is the 'Vaikunta Vaasal' and is only opened once a year - on this day. The crowd that comes to witness this event has to be seen to be believed. It is a common belief that the real Vaikunta vaasal in heaven (Heaven's doors) open on this day. Nam-Azhwar attained moksha today. It also a popular belief that people who die today are destined for moksha. At the end of the first 15 days of thiurpaavai, Andal would have woken up all her thozhi's. Tomorrow, on Dwadesi, she would request permission from Dwara-Balakars (Guardian's of Vishnu's door) to enter the lord's abode and visit him. ("Nayakanai nindra nandagopan'udaiya kovil kaapane, kodi thondrum thorana vaayil kaapane, manikathavam thaal thiravai")

The tradition: 1000 years ago Ramanuja, laid down the procedures that needed to be followed during this month. Almost all those rituals and traditions are followed in Srirangam to the minutest detail. If one visits Srirangam, one may also witness the 'Saathadha' Vaishnavas. These vaishnavites are people who do not wear sacred thread. Ramanuja, a revolutionary in his time, initiated women and non-Brahmins into important roles within the faith. They occupied important positions in matters concerning religion and spreading of the faith. He was very interested in religion spreading to the common man and not being a possession of the elitist classes and therefore aspired for a caste-free vaishnavism. Unfortunately, it only remained a dream in his immediate future. Apart from this one may get to see several dance processions by turban clad individuals ( in the backdrop of Azhwar songs), and Veena recitals by the successors of the women-religious-heads appointed by Ramanuja 1000 years ago(Hear-say - I have not personally seen this).

18 comments:

Subbu said...

What a wonderful post! Spreading knowledge about our traditions and history - surely, your good deed for the year.

Happy New Year :)

Juggernought said...

you should start a hawk-e-pedia!

WA said...

I am trying I am trying very hard but am having difficulties walking away without saying anything, I thought Kovil meant Chidambaram :)

Nilu said...

i agree with wa...

iyengaar athikkam ozhiga..

Vi said...

I've always observed Ekadeshi with my parents but never really knew why..thanks. :]

Hawkeye said...

subbu,

thanks :-)

hamsini,

apporam everyone will try and catch me. i dont wanna be running all my life.

Hawkeye said...

wa,

welcome to the club! :-) we have something in common. something which we thought was very obvious from childhood is not so obvious for other people. we should sit down and discuss how it feels to be in that situation.

nilu,

umma 'kovil' ethira periyaar selaiirukka voi. k.veeramani'ku therinja alavu kooda umakku theriyalai.

Hawkeye said...

vj,

ekadasi came into my life with marriage :-) at least u shld be glad that you are already prepared.

Anonymous said...

Pradosham is Ekadesi quivalent for iyer wals :)...shivan kovil kootam alla modhum...

Srivathsan

Terry What(?!) Lee said...

Srivathsan,
Not equivalent.
VE comes only once every year.
Pradosham more often.
Sani Pradosham is more special.
Thiruvadarai is the probably a closer correct equivalent.

MLC said...

paadhi iyengaar-a irundhundu kooda yenaku idhellam theriyalai!! i might not remember each and every detail that u've mentioned here but i now know enuf to join in a conversation of this kind, if & when it comes up anywhere!! thnx for sharing the info.
Here's wishing you and yours a very happy 2007!

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The history of perfume goes back to Egypt, although it was prevalent in East Asia as well. Early perfumes were based

on incense, not chemicals, so aromas were passed around through fumes. The Roman and Islamic cultures further

refined the harvesting and manufacturing of perfumery processes to include other aromatic ingredients.

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MadhavaKrishna said...

The author should have clearly differentiate the words Indira and Indra. Indira means Goddess Lakshmi and Indra means the king of Gods.

Thanks,
Madhava Krishna Sarma

nAradA said...

A fairly good account about Srirangam, although not comprehensive. A couple of comments:
1. I have heard of onlly "ninRa", "irundha" and "kiDandha" kOlam . Can you amplify on the "naDandha" kOlam and where it can be seen in any vishNu temple.
2. As someone said here Ekadasi can be considered equivalent to pradOsham in saivaite concept. Both occur twice a month. The real equivalent for VaikunTa ekAdasi is Sivaratri for saivites.

Hawkeye said...

madhavakrishna,

i apologize. it was a spelling mistake.

narada,

nadanthan is as a result of the vamana avatharam. Temples having Nadanthan thirukolam have vishnu either walking to put a feet in the sky, earth or mahabali's head.

1. thiru koil oor (near vizhu puram) is the most popular

2. Kanchpuram has 2 nadanthar thiru kolams among the 11 vishnu temples.

3. Thiruneer Malai (near pallavaram) has a nadanthar thiru kolam.

the key is the temples are a continuum and capture the different stages of the 'nadanthar' kolam. the raised'ness of the leg differs.

3.

MaySan said...

I thought Tadalan Sannidhi - Seerkazhi, near Chidambaram, was an important Nadandaan too?

Amazing post otherwise. This was the first post I had read in your blog, way back in early 2007.