On the occasion of Kaisika Ekadasi, the most important festival of the year, the Azhagiya Nambi temple in the Vamana Kshetram of Tirukurungudi (Divya Desam 40 km south-west of Tirunelveli) wore a festive look on Saturday last.
Thousands, many of whom were children, who had gathered at the Kaisika Mandapam waited with excitement to watch Kaisika Natakam.
Just before midnight, to the beating of drums emerged a huge demon like figure. It was the hungry Brahma Rakshasa who had come there to consume Nampaduvan. For the next three hours, the devotees of Lord Nambi were treated to a pleasing and passionate presentation of the Kaisika Puranam.
Kaisika Puranam, which is a part of Varaha Puraanam, showcases Lord Narayana as the supreme force. Parasara Bhattar, son of Koorathazhvaan, took up the story of a complex Kaisika Puranam (in Sanskrit) and wrote the vyakyaanam, in Tamil, in a simple, easily understandable language.
Kaisika Puranam revolves round Nampaduvan, belonging to the Baanar family, his unflinching faith in Lord Nambi and how he was instrumental in liberating a Rakshasa from a curse. The Kaisika Puranam is also a perfect case study on the values of life and how it is important to keep one's promise at any cost, including one's own life.
Caught by the demon, Nampaduvan pleads with him to allow him to go to the temple and observe the Ekadasi ritual, that of singing the Lord's praise.
Unable to convince the Rakshasa, Nampaduvan talks about Sathya Sankalpam: “The world was created through ‘promises' and continues to exist as a result of trust in each other.”
Nampaduvan makes 18 promises that night to the Rakshasa. Through these promises, narrated beautifully in the Kaisika Puranam as part of this lengthy discussion between Nampaduvan and Brahma Rakshasa, one comes to know of the basic values in life.
It is the eighteenth promise that finally moves the demon. It goes thus: “Swarva Swamiyum Moksha Pradhaana Sriman Narayananaiyum Devathai Galaiyum Samamaaga Bhaavikiravan Yaavaroruvan, Avanai Poley Nithya Samsaari Aaven.” (“If I do not return, I would have committed the biggest sin that exists – that of comparing and equating Lord Narayana with others. And I will become a sinner who will never get liberation from this cycle of births.”)
This extraordinary promise moves the Rakshasa and he lets Nampaduvan go. After having spent the entire night (possibly for the last time) in front of the Tirukurungudi Nambi temple, he makes his way back to the Rakshasa, rejecting the offer of a Brahmin (Lord Nambi in disguise) to protect him.
The Rakshasa, now, has changed his mind. He wants the fruits of Nampaduvan's devotion, for his own liberation.
Nambaduvan shares with him the ‘Kaisika' verses, which he had sung that very night in front of Lord Nambi. Just listening to these verses helps the Rakshasa attain Vaikunta Moksham.
Back to its glory days
Over the past decade, the Kaisika Natakam in Tirukurungudi has seen a revival thanks to the efforts of Anita Ratnam (TVS Group), the trustee of Arangam Trust, who brought together the Bavupillai Bharatanatyam troupe (led by B. Herambanathan) all the way from Thanjavur to present this dance drama every year on Kaisika Ekadasi night.
Gopi, an amateur artiste working as a Junior Assistant at Sastra University, Thanjavur, played the powerful role of the Brahma Rakshasa with ease. While the entire portrayal was exemplary, it was the last scene - where he pleads with Nampaduvan to relieve him from the curse of his previous birth and to help attain moksham - that brought tears to the eyes of the devotees and won him an ovation. (Gopi has now specialised in the role of Brahma Rakshasa, this being the tenth year of his performance at the Tirukurungudi temple.
Interestingly, Gopi has also been playing the role of ‘Hiranyakasipu' for the past five years at the annual Bhagavata Mela in Melattur village near Thanjavur).
Equally commendable was the performance of Dr. Sumathi Sundar, who played the role of Nampaduvan. She matched Gopi scene for scene and was especially impressive in the portrayal of Sathya Sankalpam - the 18 promises of Nampaduvan, where she captured the imagination of the audience with a pleasing display. M.A. Arunodhaya too impressed in the role of Lord Nambi disguised as a brahmin.
The clock had ticked to 2.30 a.m., but it was not time to leave yet. The devotees stayed back after the Kaisika Natakam to watch an outstanding ‘Araiyar Sevai' performance by Araiyar Bala Mukundan of Srivilliputhur. His abhinayam for the Periya Thiru Mozhi Paasuram (Akkum Puliyin Athalum Udaiyar… Kokkin Pillai Vel Iravu Unnum Kurungudiye) showcasing Tirukurungudi's greatness drew great appreciation from the devotees who watched his sterling performance in absolute silence.
Also, the Araiyar, through this Abhinayam, brought out an important historical information relating to the temple - that of Lord Siva being alongside Lord Nambi. He followed it up with the Abhinayam of the Thiruvoi Mozhi Paasuram (Enganeyo Annaimeergaal, Ennai Munivathu Neer……..Senkani Vaai Onrinodum Selkinrathu En Nenjamey).
Araiyar Sevai was followed by the recital of the Kaisika Puranam.
While Tirukurungudi temple is home to Kaisika Puranam and this traditional Kaisika Natakam has been revived to its past glory, it would be a worthwhile exercise for Anita Ratnam to consider taking it to more Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu.
How to reach Tirukurungudi
Take a train to Valliyur (on the Tirunelveli-Nagercoil route) - Kanyakumari Express, Ananthapur Express - from Chennai. One can reach the Nambi temple in 30 minutes by bus from Valliyur.