Legends of Indian Temples: Kanyakumari Temple

There is a spot from which one can at once see the waters of three seas. That is Kanya Kumari or Cape Comorin – the ‘Lands’ End’ of India. There you can see the sun rise over the Bay of Bengal and set over the Arabian Sea. If you keep the Bay of Bengal to your left and the Arabian Sea to your right, the expanse of water in front of you is the Indian Ocean.

If you stoop down and pick up a handful of small pebbles you will notice that they are of varied colours. And if any old man of the locality sees you appreciating the pebbles, he might stop to tell you why they are so.

They are sweetened, fragrant, coloured rice, and turned into small pebbles. Then, during the course of the conversation, he may tell you one of the saddest legends you have ever heard.
In the days of yore, the land was threatened by a demon-king, Vanasura. Even the gods were terrorised. The Divine Mother, with the purpose of getting rid of the demon, descended upon the earth as the daughter of a monarch who lived at Land’s End.

She grew up to be a beautiful princess. Her father now thought of her marriage and looked around for a suitable bridegroom. The goddess, who had momentarily forgotten about her divine self, suddenly woke up to the fact that there was no question of her marrying a mortal. If marry she must, she must wed Shiva, her eternal consort.
The princess meditated on Shiva. On Mount Kailash, the abode of the great god, Shiva woke up from his deep trance and knew that it was time for him to go down to the far south and marry the princess. The auspicious hour for the marriage was fixed. The ritual was to be performed at midnight.

Shiva descended from his citadel of snow, sufficiently in advance of the time, and started walking towards Land’s End. But the proposed marriage made the
gods and the sages pensive. The goddess had taken birth as a princess to kill Vanasuia. She could do this only while she was still a maiden. If she married Shiva and went away to Kailash, the very purpose of her incarnation would be defeated.
Narada, the clever sage, was requested to do something about it. He assumed the form of a cock, and hiding under a bush at Land’s End, he crowed loudly. The absent-minded Shiva was shocked to hear the cock. He felt sure that the auspicious hour had passed and that it was already dawn. He sat down remorsefully. And for him, sitting down, only meant entering a deep trance.

Thus Shiva never reached the bride’s home. He remains in Suchindrum temple, Soon Vanasura, who had heard about the charming princess, appeared on the scene a few miles away from Kanya Kumari, towards the interior of the land. He demanded to marry her. When his demand was turned down, he tried to take her away forcibly. The princess took hold of a sword and, after a brief combat, put an end to the audacious demon.
The princess, in her bridal attire waited for a long time for Shiva. The rice that had been cooked for the wedding feast turned, in course of time, into tiny pebbles. That is why the pebbles are so colourful at Kanya Kumari.

The goddess still stands inside the last monument on the Indian land in the farthest south. The image of the deity is extremely beautiful. She looks eastward, the horizon of the rising sun, and awaits the arrival of Shiva. Thus she symbolises eternal hope. She is also the presiding deity of the sacred Indian border. She killed the demon and she emerged unscathed, showing that eternal India was inviolable.
The small hills, with bushes and woods, and the miles and miles of coconut trees through which one passes on one’s way to Kanya Kumari, remain ever green in her memory. The temple of Kanya Kumari is not an imposing building, but it has been considered most sacred for many centuries. The deity was once worshipped by the famous Pandya kings who ruled the Tamil region for hundreds of years. The temple, which we see today, appears to have been built by them over an old one, in the 12th or the 13th century.

In the month of October, the Navaratri festival takes place. It commemorates Kanya Kumari’s victory over Vanasura. The batde between the goddess, the incarnation of purity and truth, and Vanasura, the personification of lust and pride, is enacted in an interesting manner. This is perhaps to remind man that the conflict is not yet over.

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