Since ancient times, the activities of the temple and the tourism drive the economy of the city and provide livelihood to several people. In the entire town, one feels the presence of the deity and the principal temple. Various activities in the city are somehow or the other connected with the temple and people have an intimate bond with the deity.
Madurai and Chidambaram are examples of towns that have come up around a temple and are known for their temple. The temple is located at the centre or the Brahma sthaana in Vastu. The entire town is built around the temple in a series of concentric mandalas (rectangles) around the temple. Generations of families have been involved with the temple in various capacities and have depended on the temple for their livelihoods. Weavers, artisans and sculptors, priests and scholars, musicians, merchants and administrators have been associated in specific capacities with temple activities for centuries. This is especially seen during festivities when arrangements and activities are carried out by the locals without much outsourcing. One is left to marvel at the well established ecosystem that a temple creates for its people.
Tale of Umapati Sivam
There is a tale of Umapati Sivam and his guru Maraijnana Sambandha Sivam that beautifully depicts the ancient relationship that communities hold with the temple. Umapati Sivam and Maraijnana Sambandha Sivam belong to the parampara of Meykanda Sivam, whose 4 acharyas known as the santana acharyas have codified the philosophical principles of Saiva Siddhanta in South India in their fourteen works collectively called the Meykanda Sastras
Umapati Sivam was born into a brahmin family that belonged to the Tillai Muvayiravar, the group of 3000 brahmins who traditionally have been the priests at Chidambaram, belonging to the Dikshitar community. It is said the community was chosen by Lord Nataraja himself for the worship in Chidambaram when he appeared among one of them on their way back after a vedic sacrifice in heaven.
He was well versed in Vedas and Agamas and as a special honour for his accomplishments he was carried around daily in a pearl palanquin accompanied by drums and a torch even in daylight. One day the procession was passing a verandah where Maraijnana Sambandha Sivam was teaching his disciples. Seeing Umapati Sivam in such pomp, he said loudly, “Look! There is a person who is blind during the day, riding around in a dead wood”.
Umapati Sivam was an evolved soul who was looking for a jnana guru. Instead of taking these words as criticism, he took them as jnana upadesa. He looked out of his window to see who had spoken these and saw in place of Maraijnana Sambandhar, Lord Nataraja himself!
He alighted from the palanquin and fell at Maraijnana Sambandhar’s feet. While Umapati Sivam was lying on the ground, Maraijnana Sambandhar began running at great speed. Umapati Sivam also started following him. However due to the heat, both of them became exhausted soon and fell in the verandah of a house belonging to a senkundar (weaving) community. Maraijnana Sambandhar was hungry and begged for food. All that the houseowner could offer at that time was liquid starch used for sizing (coating) the yarn. Maraijnana Sambandhar however accepted it and started having it. Some liquid flowed down his forearm and started dripping from his elbow. Umapati Sivam heartily had those drips as Guru ucchistham, food left over after Guru has finished eating.
When the brahmin community at Chidambaram heard that one of their members had food from the body of Maraijnana Sambandhar, they barred him from entering the temple and carrying out his priestly duties.
Umapati Sivam was unconcerned and continued to study under Maraijnana Sambandhar and eventually attained jnana. He had continued to do his pujas mentally. He later established his math on the outskirts of Chidambaram in a place called Kodravan Kudi.
At the beginning of the annual festival, the temple priests began to hoist the flag but it wouldn’t rise. The priests could not understand what to do. A disembodied voice came from the Sabha inside, “If you bring Umapati Sivam here, he will be able to raise the flag for you.”
The priests immediately reached out to Umapati Sivam and requested him to hoist the flag. He agreed to their request. Upon reaching the temple, Umapati Sivam in place of hoisting the flag manually, stood next to the flag pole and recited the following four verses known as kodik kavi. The flag started rising as Umapati Sivam began singing these words. (they are now part of Saiva Siddhanta canon and are sung in flag hoisting ceremonies).
ஒளிக்கு மிருளுக்கு மொன்றே யிடமொன்று மேலிடிலொன்
றொளிக்கு மெனினு மிருளடராது உயிர்க்குயிராய்த்
தெளிக்கு மறிவு திகழ்ந்துளதேனுந் திரிமலத்தே
குளிக்கு முயிரருள் கூடும்படிக் கொடிகட்டினனே.
Light dwells with darkness in same place
One does conceal the other when strong,
And yet darkness can’t prevail
The Light of light of souls though shines
The soul is plunged in Trimala.
So that the soul may Grace attain
I hoist aloft the holy flag. (1)
பொருளாம் பொருளேது போதேது கண்ணே
திருளாம் வெளியே திரவேது – அருளாளா
நீபுரவாவையமெலாம் நீயறியக் கட்டினேன்
கோபுர வாசற் கொடி.
Which is the Sat of Sat, which Bloom?
Who is the seer? Which is light
In darkness sure, which might, Oh Grace!
In all the earth that owns your sway,
That Thou mayst know, on Tower’s front,
I hoist aloft the holy flag. (2)
வாக்காலு மிக்கமனத்தாலு மெக்காலும்
தாக்கா வுணர்வரிய தன்மையினை – நோக்கிப்
பிரித்தறிவு தம்மிற் பிரியாமைதானே
குறிக்கு மருணல்கக் கொடி.
With speech and mind at any time
His nature rare is hard to find.
When seen too close, He dost appear
As Ananya. His grace to get
I hoist aloft the holy flag (3)
அஞ்செழுத்து மெட்டெழுத்து மாநெழுத்து நாலெழுத்து
பிஞ்செழுத்து மேலைப் பெருவெழுத்து – நெஞ்சழுத்தி
கூசாமற் காட்ட கொடி.
The letters five and eight and six
The letters four and ‘va’ and ‘si’
These in the heart well impressed.
The soundless one and that with sound
To manifest them without doubt
I hoist aloft the holy flag. (4)
He later called the senkundar weaving community and expressed his gratitude to them, “You are the ones who gave food to my Guru and assuaged both his thirst and his hunger. By this act you also enabled me to consume the Guru’s ucchistam. Therefore, out of gratitude, I am going to honour your community by issuing a proclamation that from now on your community will have the exclusive privilege of offering the cloth that is used in the flag-hoisting ceremony.”
This tradition continues to date not only in the Chidambaram Temple, but also in most other Siva temples including Arunachaleswarara Temple in Tiruvannamalai.