October 2009


Tamil Nadu has a lot of poets, siddhars, sages and many wise men who have left behind their experiences as the great wealth that future generations to learn and follow. However, Pattinathar is unique to list of great people that Tamil has as its pride. It would be surprising that Pattinathar was a tycoon who has business all over the world. He was born in an affluent family and yet he turned to be a Sanyasi. Thiruvenkadar, was his name when he became a Sanyasi. This post and the subsequent posts narrate the life of Pattinathar and the incidents that lead him to become a Sanyasi. Pattinathar has given us his experience and wisdom in the form of songs that we will see in these posts. His works include Koyinaan Manimaalai, Thirukazhumala Mummanikkovai, Thiruvidai Marudhur Mummanikkovai, Thiruvegambamudaiyar Thiruvandhaadhi, Thiruvottriyur Orupa Orupadhu. Now let us see how a legendary tycoon of Kaveripoompattinam (Poompuhar) turned into Sanyasi.

Pattinathar, also called Pattinathu Chetty, was born in an affluent tycoon family. His parents were Sivanesan Chettiar and Gnanakalai Aachi. They were so affluent, that in those days it was a customary that kings of the various dynasties and empires who rose to the throne will be crowned by the wealthiest in the country. And for three generations or more, Pattinathar’s ancestors have crowned the kings in the Chera, Chola, Pandya and the Pallava Kingdoms. That would give us an understanding of how wealthy their family should have been. They had a lot of ships that sailed across to various countries in the globe for trade purposes. Pattinathar was born and he was named Swetharanyan. He had an elder sister.

Swetharanyan grew up as kid with lots of love, affection and lenience. He spent most of his time playing and studies was a far distant thing to him. Pattinathar’s father was worried that his son does not study well, but his mother convinced him that they had wealth that would feed more than 10 generations, so why worry about their son not studying. A few years later, Pattinathar’s father died and his mother had to take care of business. Though she was able to manage that, her brother – Pattinathar’s maternal uncle – gave her a helping hand and looked after the business.

Swetharanyan, born in the lineage of traders, instinctively had the skills for trade. He picked up the nuances quickly and wanted to venture into the seas to get more hands-on experience about trade across the oceans. He became well-versed and later he was married to a girl named Sivakalai at the age of 16. In those days, marrying at a young age was practised. Over the years, he grew to be a man who can handle businesses himself and became the wealthiest trader in Kaveripoompattinam. Thereafter he was referred to as Pattinathu Chetty or Pattinathar.

For a long time, the couple did not have a child as the heir to their wealth. They went to a lot of temples but still God did not bles them with a child. They were worried, and Pattinathar’s mother even suggested that he married another girl. In those days, men used to have more than one wife. However, People in those days had a very high respect for their mothers, that they would not rebuke anything against their mother’s words, Pattinathar was not in a position  to show his refusal to his mother’s suggestion, however he expressed clearly his unwillingness and made it clear that he was not willing to think of any other girl as his wife. His mother, honoured his wish and did not talk about that later.

Pattinathar had a dream one night. In the dream, he saw an elderly couple near Thiruvidai Marudhur, who had a young infant and were worried as they were not able to feed for themselves, and feeding and bringing up that infant was worrying them more. Pattinathar heard a divine voice asking him to travel to Thiruvidai Marudhur. He woke up from his dream and the next day Pattinathar and Sivakalai headed to Thiruvidai Marudhur. And when he reached Thiruvidai Marudhur, he saw the same elderly couple that he saw his in dreams. He enquired about them, and they said that they were poor and the child was born at a very later age, and now they are weak to feed for themselves. So they both decided to go and meet Pattinathu Chetty and ask him to adopt the child for which, the elderly couple told, that Pattinathar would give them gold equal to the weight of the infant with which they could manage the rest of their life. Pattinathar and Sivakalai eyes were in tears and they thought that Lord Shiva and Parvathi themselves came as the elderly couple and blessed them with the child.

Then Pattinathar and Sivakalai, took the elderly couple to Kaveripoompattinam and said that they will adopt the child and gave the elderly couple a good amount of wealth for them to survive through their age. Then they planned for the adoption ceremony of the child. Now, Pattinathar’s sister, who thought that the wealth of Pattinathar will automatically be for her family as Pattinathar had no heir, had her dreams shattered by the adoption of this child. She argued and quarrelled with his brother. But Pattinathar made a firm decision that he is going to adopt that child and that child will be his heir. The adoption ceremony went very well in all its grandeur and they name the baby boy – Marudhavanan. They considered Marudhavanan as their own child and showed him a great love and affection.

To be continued in the next post.

More to come, until then…

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After a long time, I thought I should post about the less known legends about a mighty warrior. The warrior is none other than Bhima. The second of the Pandavas, he is known for his power and might in the warfront. Bhima is said to be a relentless warrior when it comes to the battlefield. He is said to have possessed the power of a ten thousand elephants. This mighty warrior, in reality, was such a soft-natured, honest, unswerving towards faith and justice and at times humorous too. Here are the less known legends that depict these characterisitics.

The first one goes like this. During his exile, Bhima was wandering in the forests and there he met with a rhinoceros. The rhino got agitated by a human presence and went raging towards Bhima. The rhinoceros then shouted at Bhima saying that Bhima was his slave as he has ventured into its territory. Bhima identified himself as one of the Pandavas and he is the mightiest in the world, in spite of that he also explained that he did not want any confrontation as they both have no enemity. He also said that he was willing to leave the territory at once. However, the raging rhino wanted a confrontation eventually leading to a fight. Bhima refused for a physical battle and said he will leave at once. The rhino not convinced wanted to somehow to enslave Bhima and threw a challenge before him. The challenge was that Bhima has to run ahead and the rhino will chase him. If the rhino catches before his territory ends, Bhima will be its slave, however if Bhima goes past its territory, he is free to go.

Bhima agreed to the challenge and started his run furiously, the rhino chasing him equally furious. The chase went on for sometime, and even at times, the rhino nearly caught Bhima. And when Bhima neared the end of the rhino’s territory, he jumped to the free himself from the clutches of the rhino. While half of his body cross the border, unfortunately, the rhino caught hold of Bhima’s legs just within the end of its territory. Now Bhima exclaimed that he has reached the end of the rhino’s territory and hence he was free. The rhino argued that it caught Bhima right within its territory and that it did not venture out of its territory to catch Bhima and hence Bhima was its slave. Bhima though he said that he has crossed the border, could not deny the rhino’s claims. So, he suggested that they call his brother Dharmar (Yudishtra) to arbitrate on this controversy. The rhino agreed, as Dharmar is known for his unswerving attitude towards justice.

Dharmar came to arbitrate on this issue and heard to the arguments of the both the parties. It was indeed a tough decision to make as his brother Bhima made it to be out of the territory, however, the rhino’s claim that it caught Bhima’s legs from within its territory was quite valid. Then Dharmar came to a decision and told the rhino to take that half of the Bhima’s body that the rhino caught within its territory and to leave the rest of the body free. That could not happen without killing Bhima. The rhino was moved by this verdict, in spite of Bhima being his brother, Dharmar gave a verdict that was just and fair. So, the rhino blessed him and left Bhima free and gave Bhima a wish that half of Bhima’s body will be bestowed with the powers of the Rhino. From then on, half of Bhima’s body looked armoured like that of a rhino. Though Bhima was powerful enough to fight a rhino, he did not blindly make use of his powers to fight the rhino that he never knew before. This stands as a proof that Bhima used his physical prowess wisely and only in times of need.

The second one is about faith, though it might look a bit mythical, the message this one conveys is very good and important too. Arjuna was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, he used to perform a lot of poojas during the day with lots of flowers offered to Lord Krishna. But Bhima would loiter aimlessly in the garden, plucking flowers and closing his eyes, smelling the fragrance of the flowers and they throwing them away. He used to do this, sometimes, for the whole day. This made Arjuna proud that he is offering more prayers and flowers to Lord Krishna than Bhima does and hence is a much better devotee of Lord Krishna. That night, Arjuna had a strange dream. He was walking along the country, where he saw loads and loads of bullock carts, fully loaded with flowers walking their way across the country and towards the skies. He was puzzled about how bullock carts were making their way to the skies. He enquired one of the persons who was riding the cart, the rider answered that the carts were carrying flowers offered by devotees to Lord Krishna and they were en route to the heavenly abode. Arjuna was surprised and asked the rider who the devotee was. The rider uttered the name Bhima. Arjuna was surprised, he then started asking the names of the devotees to each rider thereafter, all of them answered it was Bhima except the last one who answered that it was Arjuna. Arjuna was totally puzzled, how come Bhima who just wanders along the gardens, plucking flowers, smelling them and throwing them away could have offered so many flowers while Arjuna performing poojas throughout the day offered only one load full. He was puzzled and woke up to realise that he got the message in the dream. The next day morning, he found Bhima as usual in the gardens doing the same thing, he went to Bhima and asked why he was plucking flowers, smelling the fragrance the throwing them away. Bhima responded saying that when he plucks the flowers he closes his eyes, prays to Lord Krishna that the flower in his hand is for the lotus feet of Lord Krishna; then smells the fragrance and throws them away. He considers this to be an offering to Lord Krishna and he has been performing this all through the day. Arjuna realised that true faith is not just by lavish offerings but through immersing the soul and thought in the pure faith in Lord Krishna, and fell at Bhima’s feet for teaching him the lesson.

The third one is a bit humorous but does conveys a very deep meaning that for doing good deeds there is no good time or bad time. It has to be performed immediately then and there. One evening when Dharmar was in the palace, a poor man came for alms. In those days and even today, it is a practice that if the lights are lit in the homes in the evening, people don’t give away money, gold or loan of items (esp. money, if not others). That day the palace was lit for the evening and as it was a customary not to give away money/gold, he asked the poor man to come the next day, as the palace has been lit. Suddenly, Bhima went shouting all over the palace that his brother has transcended “time” and has become immortal. He bounced like anything in joy and was shouting like the merriest person in the whole world. Dharmar could not understand, he was smiling at the unusual act of Bhima however Dharmar was a bit annoyed thinking that Bhima was making fun at him. He stopped Bhima and asked him why he behaved like that. Bhima politely answered – “Brother, time is indeterminate and unpredictable. Everything around us is an illusion, the one who lives today thinking that he will live for long vanishes tomorrow”. Bhima continues “I am not sure you will live tomorrow, or I will live tomorrow and such is the nature of our lives. When you said for sure that you will give alms to that poor man the next day. It seemed to me that the only possibility to say those words was only if you were immortal. And, so, I jumped out in joy”. Dharmar realised that Bhima was right and good deeds have no excuses to be postponed and he immediately gave the alms to the poor man and sent him. Dharmar was proud of his brother and thanked him.

Bhima has stood the test of time for being the most mightiest man on earth. The legends too will stand the test of time. Though Hercules, Bhima’s western counterpart, is remembered more in the west. The analogy for power and might in India is Bhima, let us remember Bhima not only for his might, but also for his witty characteristics that these legends say.

More to come, until then..