LONG, long, ago when Europeans ruled Pondicherry, there lived an atheist who was a bosom friend of the governor of the state. No one knows for certain whether the governor and his friend were Dutch, Portuguese, English or French, for these were the four who ruled this historically renowned place at different times.
To come to the story, the atheist behaved like a despot and quite often ill-treated the natives. The governor neither questioned his attitude nor lent his ear to the grievances of the natives. Since none dared to question him, the atheist poked his nose into the worship of Hindu idols.
He had often seen the natives going to a temple, very near to the sea. He had nurtured a strong desire to throw away the idol of the temple into the sea and demolish the temple. One day the atheist went with his followers to see what the natives did in the temple. He was taken by surprise when he entered the temple. Some people prostrated themselves before the image; some lit camphors and broke coconuts against the stone slabs; some closed their eyes and recited mantras while some stood silently praying to the Lord. What was more surprising to the atheist was the curiously shaped image which the natives called God.
The image had a big and oval face with a long trunk for a nose. It had a pot like belly and its colour was pitch black.
“What the hell is the name given to the half elephant and half glutton?” the atheist enquired of his men.
“They call it Pillaiyar,” replied one from his gang.
The atheist laughed and his laughter brought utter silence in the temple. Everyone shivered.
“Go and lift that stone which they call God and throw it into the sea,” he commanded his gang men.
The unruly gang immediately jumped into action. Helpless, the natives stood watching the evil action of the thugs. With great difficulty they lifted the image and carried it to the seashore. They boarded a catamaran with the image, while the atheist stood on the shore happily watching their movements.
Soon his men returned to tell him that the stone image had been thrown into the deep sea.
Happy at heart, the atheist with his followers marched towards the temple to bully and insult the natives.
But he was taken aback to see the image of Pillaiyar seated in the very same place in the temple. He saw the natives praying in silence. He knew well that the natives could not have brought in another image within that short time. But at the same time he wondered at the sudden reappearance of the image.
“How did that stone come back?” he shouted at the natives in the temple.
“We do not know. When you left this temple we prayed with our eyes closed. And when we opened our eyes we saw Him seated in the vacant place,” said a native.
“Is that so? Does that stone presume to set its wits at me?” the atheist roared. He then commanded, “Carry the statue. Tie it to a bigger stone. Go a long distance into the sea and roll the stones together into the deep sea”.
His order was obeyed. But when they came back to the temple they were shocked to see the Pillaiyar again.
Suspecting some foul play, the atheist stared at the smiling faces of the natives. One mustered courage and said, “This Pillaiyar is a very powerful deity. No force on earth can destroy Him”.
The atheist wanted to make a final attempt. He told his men to lift the image and take it to the seashore. When it was done he asked all the natives who had gathered in the temple to quit the place. He then closed the doors of the temple and locked it. Carrying the key with him, he went to the seashore, boarded a boat with his companions and the image.
Under his supervision, the image was thrown into the deep sea. With great satisfaction they returned to the temple. When the atheist unlocked the doors of the temple, he was horrified to note the reappearance of the Pillaiyar.
A large crowd had already gathered there. Many laughed at the foolish action of the atheist. Sneering at the crowd, the atheist ordered his gangsters to fetch crowbars. When the weapons reached the place, he commanded, to the sorrow of the natives, “Use these crowbars against their Pillaiyar and break the idol into pieces. Let the powerful deity save himself”.
The gang men began to smash the sharp edges of their crowbars against the image. But they could not make even a dent on it. They repeated their action but to their great disappointment the crowbars broke up into tiny pieces and fell.
A splinter from a broken crowbar flew whizzing towards the atheist and hit his right knee-cap. Crying in pain he fell down before the image.
Later it was reported to the governor that the atheist went to the temple every morning and evening without fail to worship Pillaiyar, the powerful deity.
Impressive shrine for the Elephant God
The Manakkula Vinayakar temple in Pondicherry is as famous a landmark as Sri Aurobindo Ashram. PREMA NANDAKUMAR traces its history.
The awesome processional deity of Manakkula Vinayakar ...
GOING UP the steps to worship Manakkula Vinayaka in Pondicherry, I have always wondered how this deity has a different tale to tell. Whereas all other temples report of being diddled out of their endowments by unscrupulous people down the centuries, Manakkula Vinayakar has actually increased his temple space. As you turn left, a plaque with a gold sheen confronts you with the contents that are found both in English and Tamil:
"With the blessings of The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, A gift of a piece of land measuring 106x56 sq.m., was made for widening the southern side of Parikrama Arulmigu Manakkula Vinayagar Temple on 21.1.1969."
It appears that when the Sri Aurobindo Memorial Fund Society purchased the Montbrun House adjacent to the temple, the Mother sent word to the temple authorities that she would like to offer a portion of land to the temple so that the devotees could have a comfortable parikrama to go round the sanctum. This proposal was accepted eagerly and now we have a beautiful structure with more fanes and decorations and paintings. The Mother, who was herself a spiritual Power, had a deep devotion for Manakkula Vinayaka and kept with her images of Ganesha, to help her tide over monetary problems. She has also gone on record to reveal how He manifested before her as a flame of golden light encircled by a very brilliant golden aura while retaining his traditional image of an Elephant-headed God. Manakkula Vinayaka insinuated himself with poetic grace into modern Tamil literature by inspiring Subramania Bharati to write Vinayakar Naanmani Maalai. Other great devotees who have written poems on Manakkula Vinayaka include Vannacharbham Dandapani Swamigal, Jaffna S. Kandiah Pillai and Nagalinga Swami.
There is an attractive neatness about the temple. Once we enter theparikrama, we go straight to sanctum and whatever be the time of the day, it is a pleasure to watch the worship with lighted camphor, glowing lamps and recitations. The temple, situated on the seashore, is more than 500 years old and is on a street, which was originally populated by weavers. However, with the occupation of the French, the temple began facing problems. The Christian priests would not allow the public procession of the deity on Sundays and on Easter, and made the Governor sign an order to that effect in 1701. However, Hindu devotees rebelled when the government decided to demolish the temple structure. Skilled artisans joined the strike and people decided upon a mass exodus from Pondicherry. The Governor, Francois Martin came to an agreement and people gave up their plans after being promised that there would be no hindrance to temple worship.
In 1708 some Christian priests led Adi Dravidas into the temple and caused untold destruction to the temple property. Once again the Hindus of Pondicherry went on a strike and wrested an assurance from the Governor that there would be no interference in the religious activities of the Hindus. A royal spire of 24 feet and a flagstaff greet us and lead us to a huge mandapam held by 12 pillars. Close to the roof, one sees different Vinayaka figurines indicating the various appearances evoked in innumerable temples in India, Japan, Java, Nepal and China. Some of the figures, like the one in which Parvati is holding Vinayaka as a babe on her hip, have been imaginatively created. The little niche in the west corner has Balaganapathi with mango, jackfruit, plantain and sugarcane in his four hands. In the Northwest corner an identical niche has Balasubramania as the deity. Being a child with two hands, he is seen holding a lotus in his right hand.
The shining plaque that announces the Mother's gift of land to the temple ...
On the northern side, we have the Rest-Hall where we see Vinayaka with his consort. There is a bigger hall where we have an array of processional deities. Among them are Haridra Ganapati, Nartana Ganapati, Lakshmi Ganapati, Subramania with Valli and Deivayanai, and a Spatika Lingam.
Adjacent to this wall is a large mandapam where abhishekam for the processional deities takes place. Arrayed here are the mounts used for the processions.
They are Surya Prabha, Chandra Prabha, the Peacock, Adikara Nandi, a silver Elephant, the Wish-yielding Tree and a silver Bandicoot. There are also three temple chariots. One is made of wood and another of silver, while the third one is gold-plated.
The Vinayaka in the sanctum is a majestic figure. The sanctum also has a smaller Vinayaka image and that of a serpent helix. The worship of Manakkula Vinayaka goes on almost throughout the day. Every month witnesses a different set of festivals too, with a special accent placed on Vinayaka Chathurthi. The 18-day Brahmotsavam is colourful and there is plenty of public participation.
Both Manakkula Vinayakar Temple and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram have made Pondicherry a dynamo of religious and spiritual activity and one of holiest pilgrim centres in the country today.
- Prema Nandakumar