In search of the blessed breasts

Recently I came across a brilliant researcher and author Tho. Paramasivan. I found his books after his death and he is one author, whom I miss a lot. I love to read books which are close to my home. And Paramasivan is so close to home. I wish he lived longer and I have read his books before his death. I still have a lot of questions to ask him, but he is no longer living among us.

In his book titled This is Democracy(இதுவே சனநாயகம்) there is an essay titled திருமுலைப் பிரசாதம். It kind of translates to Offering from the blessed breasts. It speaks about a statue in a temple near Ambasamudram. From the moment I had read this essay, I wanted to travel here to see it in person. I went in search of these blessed breasts and this post is about the search.

It was easy to locate the temple in Google maps. I visited this temple as part of my solo road trip. When I started this road trip, I didn’t have any particular place in mind. So I decided my first destination for the day. It was in search of this temple near Ambasamudram in Tenkasi district.

Sri Rajagopalaswami Temple is a 11th century temple built in the times of Rajendra Cholan I, by a Chera king. I was able to reach the temple with ease, but only after I reached there did I realise that the temple was closed. I was there around 2PM and the temple was going to be opened only at 5PM. So I had three hours to kill and I was pondering what to do.

I came across this nine year old kid Muthukumar, who was roaming around. I asked him when the temple will be opened and hence started our conversation. We started our conversation with the temple timings. He went to the gate, opened it and asked me to get into the temple. I didn’t know it was that easy to get in. He showed me the place where they give Sakara Pongal in the evenings and the store rooms in the temple. He also showed me a place where they bring in the temple cows.

I was taken back a bit. I never knew that temples owned cows. My first guess was that the temple would manage a herd of cows, something similar to a modern day dairy and the money from it would help run the temple. Later in the trip I did meet a person from the HRCE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) and he clarified that I was right. These cows were initially given to the temples as donations/tributes. In Brahmanism donating a cow is considered a very sacred thing to do, and the temple runs it similar to a diary to take care of these cows and eventually makes money out of it. But today this approach is stopped and devotees are asked to give the temple money which is worth a cow.

Muthukumar explained to me that the temple belongs to the priest. The Paramasivan reader within me wouldn’t agree with it. I tried explaining to him that the temple belongs to the public and the priest is only working there. I don’t think the kid understood a word I spoke to him. He understood my interest in the statues there and started showing me all the statues around the Mandapam.

I did notice a statue in the front Mandappam which probably is the statue of the person who commissioned this Mandapam. I really liked his belly. It was not a six pack tummy but one with all its glory filled with fat. The tummy was so life-like with its curves so perfectly carved in stone.

I was not able to enter the inner walls of the temple, as it was still closed. Muthukumar was able to give me access to only the front Mandapam. I had to wait till 5PM to enter the temple. So I decided to climb the nearby Thoranai Malai temple and return back here after it.

I bid bye to Muthukumar and came back after hiking to Thoranai Malai temple. It was raining during my first visit to the temple in the afternoon and it was monsoon time.

In the evening, the rains had stopped but the ground was wet and so were the temple walls. From the essay, I knew the exact location of the statue I was looking for, even before entering the temple. And the statues were big enough that one would not miss that so easily.

The statue is of a lady holding her breasts in one hand. The breasts have an opening at the top from where milk can be poured in and another opening in the nipples from where the poured milk will flow out. According to the author this statue denotes the common man’s tradition and had nothing to do with Vedic culture. The big temple is built according to the Vedic culture and this statue was added later. He makes a point of how mainstream religions have evolved by consuming local traditions. This is only one such temple where a statue like this can be seen.

I walked into the temple and faced issues with finding the whereabouts of the temple. Growing up I have never entered such a big temple and I never knew how to behave inside. I am used to copying others inside a temple. If they bend and touch a stone, I do it too. Not because I believe in it, but I am worried that I might offend someone in the temple because of my activities.

I walked into the temple and someone asked me to visit the upper floors till the main shrine was ready. That is something I didn’t expect. I have never seen a temple with Gods on three floors. This is the first such temple I visited.

The first floor had Vishnu lying on the five headed snake with his consort Lakshmi. The walls outside were painted with women serving God. They were half nude. It respresnted the Kerala style of dressing during the time.

The second floor also had a Vishnu shrine. The view from the balcony was so amazing. I was the only one in this part of the temple. I walked around enjoying the view and also the sound of parrots settling down in the trees around the temple.

Once I was done, I moved to the main shrine. I was again shocked to see the similarities between this temple and the rituals in Ayyavazhi. That is something I will have to research later.

I wanted to stay longer in the temple and if possible speak to the priest. But it was getting darker and I was not able to find any place close to stay. I had to drive till Courtallam to find a place to stay and it started raining heavily and I was a bit scared to drive alone in this condition. The roads received traffic in the opposite direction and the heavy rains made it very difficult with almost zero visibility.

Also before hiking the 1000 steps to reach the Murugan temple, I made a detour to Ayyanarkulam to see the Brahmi scripts. I jumped from a small rock and landed on a tree bark which slipped and hurt my knee. The pain was manageable when I climbed uphill and when I started downhill the pain became unbearable. I was the last one to come down.

The gates were closed and I had to climb it too. Now all the pain is back and I had to drive to Courtallam. So I decided to start the drive earlier and have a good rest before I continue with my journey the next day.

Sri Rajagopalaswami Temple
The statue I came in search of.

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