Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra, Part 55

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BY: SUN STAFF - 4.11 2021

Pusha and Vidhaata with King Narasimha Varma I
Siva Vedagiriswara Temple, 7th century

A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.

Paksi-tirtha

Today we are covering another of the Tamil Nadu tirthas visited by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu during His South Indian preaching sojourn. Although not mentioned by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in his summary comments preceding Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya lila 9, the Lord's visit to Paksi-tirtha in 1510 A.D. is described elsewhere in that chapter:

Madhya 9.72

paksi-tirtha dekhi' kaila siva darasana
vrddhakola-tirthe tabe karila gamana

"At Paksi-tirtha, Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple of Lord Siva. Then He went to the Vrddhakola place of pilgrimage.

PURPORT
Paksi-tirtha, also called Tirukadi-kundam, is located nine miles southeast of Cimlipat. It has a five-hundred-foot elevation and is situated in a chain of hills known as Vedagiri or Vedacalam. There is a temple of Lord Siva there, and the deity is known as Vedagirisvara. Two birds come there daily to receive food from the temple priest, and it is claimed that they have been coming since time immemorial."

Paksi-tirtha, also called Tirukadi-kundam, is located 15 kilometers southeast of Chingleput, and 17 kilometers to the west of Mahabalipuram, a famous temple town in Tamil Nadu. Mahabalipuram is 55 km south of Chennai, and 1 km inland from the Bay of Bengal on Tamil Nadu's east coast.

Veda-giri Hill at Tirukadi-kundam

Prior to visiting Paksi-tirtha, Caitanya Mahaprabhu was at Trikala-hasti in the Tirpuati area of Andhra Pradesh, and after Paksi-tirtha He went to Vrddhakola, near Sri Mushnam, Tamil Nadu.

There are numerous spellings used for Tirukadi-kundam, including Tirukkalukundram, Tirukalikundram, Thirukazhugu Kundram, and Tirukkazhukkunram.

Sri Vedagiriswara Temple on Veda-giri Hill

Mahabalipuram is one of the 108 Divya Deshams, or holy places of the Sri Vaishnavas. Nearby Tirukkalukundram is also a famous tirtha, for several reasons. For countless years, devotees have thronged to Paksi-tirtha to witness a phenomenon that has gone on every day for the past 5,000 years, until just over a decade ago. For all those years, and perhaps longer, two great birds have come to the summit of Veda-giri mountain at Paksi-tirtha, to the temple of Lord Vedagiriswara. The birds came each day to take the prasadam of Lord Siva, which was hand-fed to them by a local brahmin. Every day the two birds came, and countless numbers of pilgrims have gathered at the tirtha to witness this event.

Temple priest feeding a bird

The birds were fed with ghee and sweet rice cooked by a hereditary desikar. The birds would make three rounds of the temple, disappearing until their return the next day. It is said that the birds bathed at Kasi, took prasadam at Pakshi Teertham, at 11:30 am went to pray at Rameshwaram, then rested at Chidambaram.

Much to the dismay of temple priests and devotees, in 1998 the two eagles suddenly ceased their visits. Temple priests explain that the two birds were great devotees of Lord Siva, and it was arranged that they would come daily to Veda-giri for the duration of one yuga. That yuga has apparently come to an end for the birds, leaving the devotees more sad at their absence than worried on their behalf.

Evidence of the antiquity of the daily arrival of these two personalities is found in a stone pillar in the temple courtyard, into which is carved an image of the birds. The Archeological Survey Department (ASI) of India has dated the stone pillar to the 7th Century A.D. Additional information is available from the ASI's branch at Chennai.

Sri Vedagiriswara Temple mural

 

The Legend of the Birds

The two birds are sometimes referred to as Eagles, Kites, or Vultures. The legend associated with the birds states that in Kreta yuga (Satya-yuga), Chanda and Prachanda, two dwarpals (temple guardians) of Vaikuntha appeared before the sage Tiruva to enjoy a feast. They were cursed to be born as vultures, and in that state they worshipped Lord Siva, becoming one with Siva at the end of the Kreta yuga.

In Treta-yuga, the two birds took the form of vultures, named Sampathi and Jatayu. There was a fight between the two, each believing that he was the mightiest. Both flew towards the sky from the peak of Mount Meru, and both were cursed to instead arrive at Tirukalikundra, where they again eventually became one with Siva. These birds, Sampathi and Jatayu are the same birds depicted in Ramayana.

In Dvapara-yuga, the birds were known as Sankunathan and Mukundan, the great devotees of Siva and Parvati. They were cursed by both Shiva and his consort to roam as vultures, and they performed penance at Tirukalikundram. Again, both are said to have attained liberation at the feet of Lord Vedagiriswara.

In Kali-yuga, the birds were known as Pusha and Vidhaata, two sages who performed austerities in Tirukalikundram. Having transgressed the orders of Siva, they became vultures. It is said that the small tank on top of the hill was formed by the beak of these birds who, according to legend, would attain freedom at the end of Kali-yuga. As mentioned above, local temple brahmins believe that the duration of their embodiment as birds ended about a decade ago, thus they disappeared from view.

The name, Tirukalikundram means 'hill of sacred vultures'. Likewise, the Sanskrit term 'paksi' generally refers to birds.

View of Tirukalikundram from Sri Vedagiriswara Temple

Sri Vedagiriswara Temple at Paksi-tirtha

Siva Vedagiriswara's temple sits high atop the Veda-giri Hills. There is a long expanse of steps leading up the temple, which sits on a foundation of three enormous blocks of stone that also form its inner walls.

The presiding deities, Siva-lingam and Parvati are joined by Subrahmanya in the sanctum sanctorum. Siva is also there as Dakshinamurti, along with murtis of two Rishis who are the personalities embodied in the birds. There is another murti of Siva Chandeswara with Nandikeswara.

Sankha Teertham

There is a beautiful temple tank situated part-way down the hill known as Sankha Teertham, in which a Valampiri (right-turned) conch is said to manifest once every 12 years. A temple priest dreams about the exact location in the large tank where the conch will appear. There is always a 'buzzing' sound coming from the chaunk, which is worshipped in the temple.

The extraordinary carved granite pillar next to the sanctum, dated by the ASI to the 7th Century, depicts the two birds sitting on Vedagiri hill, next to the Chola king Narasimha Varma I, who is thought to have built the temple in the 7th Century.

Holes worn by the rubbing of beaks

 

After taking prasada each day, the two birds would fly downhill from the temple, to a cave area where they cleaned their beaks. There are many indentations there in the rock, said to have been caused by thousands of years of the birds rubbing their beaks on the stone.

Another unique feature of Siva Vedagiriswara is the deity of Parvati Devi, which is astagandha, or composed of eight different herbs. Only six other temples in India are said to have such a deity. The deity must be handled very carefully by temple priests, who perform abhisheka only once yearly, at the Birth star of Parvati. The abhisheka remnants are said to cure any illness.

And of course, one of the most unique features of Paksi-tirtha is the fact that Lord Caitanya Himself visited there, distributing His mercy to the deities, the devotees, and the great birds, Pusha and Vidhaata.