This post is part of a series on the Kokila Sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri, to read the introduction click here. An edition of the poem with an English translation will be released shortly by Rasāla, a kāvya imprint I have just set up. Please click here for more details or get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
After the city of Koṭṭayam, the hero asks his messenger to take a small diversion to Sampadgrāma towards the north of Kerala, just as Kālidāsa’s yakṣa urges the cloud to take a circuitous route in order not to miss Ujjain.
दिग्यातव्या यदपि भवतो दक्षिणा रक्षणार्थं
मत्प्राणानां पुनरपि सखे पश्चिमामेव यायाः।
धूतारामं मुकुटतटिनीमारुतैस्तत्र शम्भोः
सम्पद्ग्रामं यदि न भजसे जन्मना किं भृतेन॥
Even though you need to head south if you are to save me from death, my friend, fly a little further still to the west. If you don’t visit Sampadgrāma while you’re there, where the breezes from the Mukuṭa river bestir the gardens, this life will have been a waste.
Unni notes that Sampadgrāma was “was one of the opulent villages of ancient Kerala”, as its name ‘sampad’ ‘wealth’ and ‘grāma’ ‘village’ suggests. It is today known as Taliparamba or Perincelloor and houses the famous Rajarajeshvara temple, whose founding myth is told as follows:
Three Ṥivaliṅgas, created from the dust produced by the churning of the sun mixed with amṛta (a divine nectar), were presented by Parvatī to three kings. The kings were to install the lingams somewhere where no death had occurred. The first king, Māndatha, after a long search, found the current spot and thus installed it there. However the lingam eventually sank into the ground and the second king, King Muchukanda, again decided upon this spot to establish his lingam. It too sank. The third, King Shatasoma, came to the same spot and, seeing the lingam begin to sink even as he installed it, took the help of the legendary sage Agastya to keep his lingam above ground. It worked and, with the combined power of three Ṥivaliṅgas, the place thus became a major temple.
This temple too is connected to Paraśurāma, who had it renovated by heaven’s architect, Viśvakarma.
Rāma also worshipped at this temple on his way back to Ayodhyā after defeating Rāvaṇa. Out of deference to him – as an incarnation of Viṣṇu – devotees here do not enter the namaskāra-maṇḍapa where he worshipped.
सौधैस्तुङ्गैर्हसदिव सुधाक्षालितै राजताद्रिं
तेजोराशेः प्रविश भवनं धूर्जटेरूर्जितं तत्।
पार्श्वे पार्श्वे परिचितनमस्कारजातश्रमाणां
क्ष्मादेवानां क्षणमन्भवंस्तालवृन्तस्य लीलाम्॥1.51
Enter that mighty abode of the resplendent dreadlocked Ṥiva with its whitewashed turrets that seem to mock the silver mountain Kailāsa and for a moment or two enjoy the refreshing breeze from the fans of the Brahmins who are gathered on every side, resting after their customary namaskāras.
This temple is also the scene of several stories about our poet, Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri. As a notice board tells visitors even today, he was one of the most famous – possibly the original – recipient of the illustrious Kuttumparam award for excellence in a given field. This award ceremony is held in a small structure on the right of the main gate of the temple and the prize consists of a large gold bracelet, the vīraśṛṅkhala, awarded by a unanimous vote by the temple leaders.
The poet seems to make no reference to this but the very fact he spends nine verses describing this temple, far longer than any other, suggests a partiality. This partiality may also be attributed to another story which tells how Uddaṇḍa, who worshipped divinity in its most impersonal aspect as nirguṇa Brahma (Consciousness uncharacterised by any of the qualities we know and understand) and thus not in the habit of paying his respects to God embodied in a statue, found his palms spontaneously come together in prayer – as the lotus closes upon seeing the moon – as he stood before the Taliparamba Ṥiva [if anyone knows the verse to which this refers please let me know]. This then brings an added significance to the verse with which the hero asks the koel to praise God in this temple – the only such instance in this poem.
दिव्यैश्चर्यं दिशसि भजतां वर्तसे भिक्षमाणो
गौरीमङ्के वहसि भसितं पञ्चबाणं चकर्थ।
कृत्स्नं व्याप्य स्फुरसि भुवनं मृग्यसे चागमान्तैः
कस्ते तत्त्वं प्रभवति परिच्छेत्तुमाश्चर्यसिन्धो॥1.54
“For your devotees you wield a divine might, but you yourself live on the alms of others. You hold Gaurī tenderly in your lap, but you burnt the five-arrowed God of Love to ash. You have pervaded the whole world and appear throughout it, but the Upaniṣads are still searching for you. Who has the power to circumscribe your supreme self, an ocean of wonders, my Lord?”
इत्थं स्तुत्वा बहिरुपवनोपान्तमाकन्दशृङ्गे
यावद्भानुर्व्रजति चरमं भूधरं तावदास्स्व।
Sing his praises thus perched atop a mango tree in the grove outside until the sun travels beyond the furthest mountain. After that feast your eyes upon the tānḍava dance of the moon-crested Ṥiva, intensified by the lovely Parvatī flashing glances as she dances the accompanying lāsya.
The koel is promised a beautiful night’s rest in Ṥiva’s presence, fanned by the breeze from the nearby sea which brings with it the scent of the night-blooming water lily. In the morning as he sets off he is encouraged to visit the nearby Trichambaram temple. Interestingly the traditional way of visiting these two neighbouring temples, at least today, is the other way round – Trichambaram first and then the Rajarajeshwara temple.
दृष्ट्वा देवं परिसरजुषं शम्बरे बालकृष्णं
लोपामुद्रासखतिलकितं दिङ्मुखं भूषयिष्यन्।
कोलानेलावनसुरभिलान् याहि यत्र प्रथन्ते
वेलातीतप्रथितवचसः शङ्कराद्याः कवीन्द्राः॥1.61
Visit the nearby Ṥambara temple of the young Lord Kṛṣṇa in as you prepare to head south, the direction marked by Agastya. Go to the Kola lands fragrant with cardamom forests where great poets such as Ṥaṅkara*, whose famed verse has spread beyond every shore, are celebrated.
*Unni notes that this is a reference to a contemporary of Uddaṇḍa’s who composed the Ṥrīkṛṣṇavijaya
The Trichambaram – said to be a corruption of Tiru Ṥambara (tiru is the Tamil equivalent of śrī – a marker of respect) – temple is a small but nevertheless famous Kṛṣṇa temple which is just two kilometres from the Rajarajeshvara temple. This temple, which history places in the 11th century, is also linked to Paraśurāma – but in this case he is credited with its foundation. The two temples are linked by more than geography. Viṣṇu and Lakṣmī once came to pay their respects to Ṥiva in his temple here. When he saw Lakṣmī Ṥiva assumed the form of Viṣṇu to lure her into the garbhagṛham or inner shrine. He then had his attendants – the bhūtagaṇas – block her exit by permanently sealing the temple’s back door so that she, and the wealth she embodied, might remain there. [The bhūtagaṇas feature too in the temple’s construction. The local priests demonstrate how these huge walls, made of large stone blocks without cement, could not have been built by men – the bhūtagaṇas erected them.] The goddess was later claimed by her husband but her presence remains there. In celebration of this bond, the festival idol of the Trichambaram temple is brought to the Rajarajeshvara temple on three occasions each year, where it circles the large temple wall seven times, seated upon an elephant.
The Kola land to which the koel is next directed is closely linked with both of these temples. The Kola region was originally the dominion of the Mūṣika (or Mūṣaka – both variants, which mean rat or mouse, are used) kings and only later the Kolattiris, who give the land the name ‘Kola’ by which Uddaṇḍa refers to it. In the legend narrated above, the third king, Shatashoma, is a Mūṣaka king according to the Mūṣakavamśa. The Mūṣakavaṃśa is a mahākāvya that tells the story of these kings from their origins – the first king’s mother escaped Paraśurāma’s slaughter of kṣatriyas by taking refuge on the Ezhi hill, Ezhimala, which later became their capital – up to the 12th century. Other Mūṣaka kings worshipped at these temples and they were also evidently important places of worship and culture for the Kolattiris.
The hero tells the koel that the Kola land is fragrant with elā, cardamom. The Kola capital, Ezhimala, which means ‘mouse hill’ in Tamil and Malayalam, is celebrated for its wonderful fecundity which legend attributes to its unusual formation. The hills were originally portions of the Himalayan mountain top which Hanuman, after bringing them to the battlefield at Laṅkā to revive Rāma’s army, accidentally dropped on his return journey. A huge naval academy was recently built at Ezhimala and special clearance is needed for visitors. Uddaṇḍa though gives us a dramatic description of the view from this coast (as the hero seems to send the koel directly south to the sea’s edge, and as Ezhimala is due west of Taliparamba, the spot Uddaṇḍa has in mind is probably south of the capital):
उन्मज्जद्भिः पुनरिव जवात् पक्षवद्भिर्गिरीन्द्रै-
लक्ष्मीजानेः शयनसदनं पुष्पवाटं पुरारेः
पाकस्थानं निखिलमरुतां पश्य वारान्निधानम्॥1.62
See the ocean – Viṣṇu’s bedroom, Ṥiva’s garden and a kitchen for all the gods*. As flocks of great ships with curving sails dive about her it is as if the mountain lords are once again bursting up from the sea, their wings intact.
*Ṥiva wears the moon in the place of a flower, and as the moon was born in the ocean, the ocean is thus the garden from which he plucked his flower. The ocean also produced the amṛta or nectar which nourishes all of the gods.