|Dowager Queen Sembiyanmadevi|
Prince Madhuranthakar went to his mother’s quarters for a private audience upon her request. Everybody in the kingdom unequivocally respected and revered this dowager queen for her single-minded devotion towards Lord Shiva. The Prince too had great respect for his mother once but now he bore only rage and contempt towards her. She was the sole reason for his lack of kingship.
How could a mother act thus, that too towards her own son? Even in stories, legend and myths it’s hard to come across a mother who would deny the throne to her own son. Why did he have the misfortune of being born to such a mother?
He found her sitting placidly with divine serenity on her face and his anger simmered down a little. He knelt and took her blessings as he would always did and she blessed him thus, ‘May your devotion to Lord Shiva know no bounds!’ and bade him sit next to her. The Prince’s temper rose again when he heard her blessing.
“Madhuranthaka! Is my daughter-in-law in good health? Is your father-in-law well?”
“Everybody is in good health and are fine but why would you be worried about them?” said the Prince muttering the last few words to himself.
“Did you meet the Chakravarthy before you left Thanjavur? How is his health?”
“I met him briefly before I left Thanjavur. His health is indeed declining day by day. He has more pain in his heart than anywhere else but I have heard that that’s how it is with people who feel guilty of wrongdoing,”
“Child! What are you saying? What wrongdoing did the Chakravarthy do? Why should he feel guilty?”
“He is guilty of snatching a kingdom that rightfully belongs to me. He has wronged me gravely and that’s why he is feeling guilty,”
“Child! Who is responsible for the venom that you bear in your innocent heart? Who has poisoned your mind thus?” asked the queen pitifully.
“No one has poisoned my mind. Do you believe that your son is such a fool that he has no brains to speak of?”
“No matter how intelligent a person is it is possible to poison their mind with the choicest words. Didn’t Kaikeyi start hating Prince Rama thanks to Mantarai?”
“Yes I do know that a woman’s mind can be meddled with very easily…”
“Madhuranthaka! Whom are you referring to?”
“Mother! Why did you summon me?”
“Child! You seemed distant during the recitation,”
“That’s true. You brought that pious beggar to the palace, seated him upon the throne and honoured him with gold and grants. His pride must have multiplied a thousand-fold…”
“Ayyo! Do not talk such words my child! He might have been young in years but his wisdom and knowledge about this world is much more than anything you and I could ever learn…”
“Alright let him be a saint. If he is truly so, nothing that I say is going to lower his worth. I would like to know why you summoned me?”
Sembiyanmadevi sighed aloud and said, “I am astonished to see how changed a man you have become. I never dreamed that two years of living away from me in Thanjavur along with the Pazhuvetarayars would turn you against me thus. Be that as it may, I still have to do my duty towards my husband and fulfill my responsibility. Child! Before I tell you why I summoned you I need tell you how I married your father. Will you listen to my story patiently?”
Madhuranthakan rested his hands on his seat indicating that he was willing to listen to her.
“I was born in Mazhapadi. When you were a small child I had taken you there twice. The Shiva Temple at Mazhapadi was built by Kochankada Chola and was one among the 64 shrines that he built during his lifetime. Your grandsire and my father was an important man with a large household. The history of our clan is quite ancient and we were formidable warriors and kings of Mazhapadi. During the wars fought in Vijalaya Chola’s time our clan allied with the Pandya King. When the Cholas won the war, they stripped us of our power, lands and reduced us to the state of mere lords. However when I was young, I never once thought about all this and neither did they mean much to me. My heart and soul was fully engaged with Mazhapadi’s Lord Nataraja.
When I was very young someone told me the story of Sundaramurthy Nayanar and how he discovered this temple. Once while he was traveling with his disciples through the village he failed to see the temple that lay on his way due to thick grove of trees. And then he heard a divine voice, ‘Sundaram! Have you forgotten me?’ he turned around and asked his disciples whether they heard anything. Then he asked around if there was a Shiva temple somewhere close by. Soon he made his way to the temple and sang the divine Devaram “Ponnaar Meniyaney”.
|Thiru Mazhapadi Temple Today|
Photo Courtesy: http://ancientindiantemple.blogspot.in
This story made a great impression on me at a very young age. I would visit the temple daily and sit before Lord Nataraja and say the divine hymns of Devaram countless times. As I grew into a young maiden my heart yearned for Lord Shiva. I began daydreaming that the Lord would come out of that stone idol and claim my hand in marriage. I would imagine myself to be Uma, Parvathi, Dakshayani and would sit in meditation to make myself a worthy consort for my Lord. If someone in my family spoke about my marriage, I became frustrated. As years went by, my devotion to Lord Shiva became more steadfast and resolute. People around me started calling me ‘mad’ but they longer mattered to me. I spent all my waking hours at the temple serving my lord with all my heart and soul. I used to make hundreds of garlands and would meditate for hours together wishing for but a mere glimpse of his divine form.
One day, while I was thus engaged in meditation, someone arrived at the temple. Upon opening my eyes I saw many soldiers and a man stood there in front of them. I thought that my penance had been successful and that Lord Shiva himself had come to claim to my hand. I stood with my hands folded together with streams of tears rolling down my eyes. Lord noticed my tears and asked, ‘who is this maiden? why is she crying thus?’ and then I heard my father say, ‘This is my daughter. She is an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. She serves her lord here with flowers, songs and hymns and is forever found meditating.’
My father’s words woke me up and then I realized that it was not Lord Shiva who had come there but some man. I felt mortified. I ran all the way from there to home to hide my shame. But he didn’t leave me alone. He followed me back home and then asked my father for my hand in marriage. That’s when I knew that the man I saw at the temple was King Gandharathithar, my child!”
The dowager queen paused for a while. Memories of past events brought pearls of tears to her eyes. She wiped her eyes with the edge of her saree and continued. “I learned all about your father that day. He had ascended the throne a few years ago and since then he had been touring the Kingdom and visiting as many Shiva Temples as he could. He was around 40 years of age and was a widower. His first wife had died many years ago and he had no inclination to marry anybody else after that. However his chaste heart became restless after meeting me. In the presence of my father, he asked me whether I would marry him. I was overwhelmed and dazed. My heart sang to me and said that it was Lord Shiva who had come to me in mortal form to claim me. I agreed to marry him wholeheartedly. We were married soon enough and after that your grandsire was granted back all the ancestral lands that were taken away from us and he became the petty king of Mazhapadi again.
“My child, after our marriage your father and I decided to dedicate our lives to serve Lord Shiva. Therefore we decided that we would not sire a child. There was an important reason behind this decision. I never thought that I would be forced to share all this with you but now it is imperative that you learn why we acted so.”