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April - June 2024

Devi Darshanam – through the verses of Abhirami Bhattar and Mookakavi

The recently celebrated Pushya Amavasya saw many people chanting the beautiful Tamil work of Abhirami Bhattar, known as Abhirami Antadi, which was composed on that day. History says that King Serfoji, the most famous among the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur, went to Poompuhar on that day for a sacred dip in the sea, and on his return, passed through the temple town of Tirukkadavur (known better as Tirukkadaiyur). That is when he encountered this seemingly mad priest in the shrine of Devi, and had the well-known conversation about whether it was a full- moon day or new-moon. Later, this priest, a devout Srividya Upasaka, composed the hundred verses of Abhirami Antadi, and the world witnessed a miracle She enacted for the sake of protecting his word. Devi’s ear- ornament was flung to the sky to become the moon. Indeed the sun and moon are Her ear-ornaments, as Lalita Sahasranama describes (“ताटङ्क-युगली-भूत-तपनोडुप-मण्डला”)

The verses describe many facets of devotion to Devi and it is wonderful to see that it has echoes of many other great works on Devi. We shall see some of these with respect to the five Shatakams of Mooka Panchashati, the five-hundred verses on Goddess Kamakshi of Kanchipuram.

(Legend : AA – Abhirami Antadi, AS – Arya Shatakam, PS – Padaravinda Shatakam, SS – Stuti Shatakam, KS – Kataksha Shatakam and MS – Mandasmita Shatakam)

The beautiful form of Devi

Kanchi Mahasvami once pointed out to a devotee that Abhirami Bhattar’s object of adoration was actually Goddess Kamakshi . Kamakshi is Tripurasundari, also called Lalita and it is her form (seated with a sugarcane bow, five floral arrows and noose and goad) which both the poets describe.

பனிமலர்ப்பூங்கணையும், கருப்புச் சிலையும்,

மென் பாசாங் குசமும், கையில்
அணையும் திரிபுர சுந்தரி

“panimalar poonkaNaiyum karuppuchilaiyum men pAsAnkusamum kaiyil aNaiyum tripurasundari” (AA 2) are the words in Abhirami Antadi which list these, while her form is “करधृत-कोदण्डबाण- सृण-पाशम्” (AS 2) as per Mookakavi. Interestingly both are the very second verses of the works.

Three dazzling objects come to Abhirami Bhattar’s mind when he wants to describe the Divine Mother, in the very first verse – the rising sun (உதிக்கின்ற செங்கதிர்) a ruby whose value only the wise know and the flash of lighning Mookakavi also uses these similes, calling her

तरुणारुणसम्प्रदायतनुलेखम् (AS 23) one whose form has the redness of the young (early morning) sun, “काञ्चीमध्यमहामणि” (SS 10), the great jewel of Kanchi, and शम्पालतासवर्णं (AS 53), the one resembling a streak of lightning.

Both poets also celebrate the many other forms She takes like Durga, Kali, Varahi and Matangi .

Abhirami Bhattar says She is மகிடன் தலைமேல் அந்தரி “mahiDan talaimEl antari” (AA 8) (Durga, standing on the head of Mahishasura.), while Mookakavi says “कामाक्षि मुदितभर्गा हतरिपुवर्गा त्वमेव सा दुर्गा” (O Kamakshi, you are Durga, delighting Shiva and destroying enemies).

Abhirami Bhattar sings an entire verse on Matangi (AA 70), a delightfully evocative vision of Her green form, Her Veena and sweet music. Mookakavi refers to Her being the mistress of the Matanga’s clan, “मतङ्गकुलनायिकां” (SS 80), and to Her abode being the forest of Kadamba trees “मुख्यकादम्बवाटी” (SS 101).

In a reversal, Varahi’s name alone finds mention in Abhirami Antadi (verse 50), while we see a whole verse dedicated to Varahi by Mookakavi (AS 90) where Her awe-inspiring form and weapons, the plough and club are described.

Across Her forms, the complexion of Devi changes into five colours. “பிங்கலை, நீலி, செய்யாள்,வெளியாள், பசும் பெண்கொடியே” “pingalai neeli, seyyAL, veLiyAL, pasumporkoDiyE” (AA 21). She can be golden yellow, blue, red, white or green in form, says Abhirami Bhattar. These find resonance across Mookapanchashati, where She is said to be red as a hibiscus, golden-hued, blue as a lily, white in form as Sarasvati and green as an emerald.

The glory of the Goddess

The Divine Mother is worshipped above the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), who acquire their powers from her. This is stated in Abhirami Antadi as: “கமலாலயனும், மதியுறு வேணி மகிழ்நனும், மாலும் வணங்கி, என்றும் துதியுறு சேவடியாய்,” “kamalAlayanum madiyuru vENi magizhnanum mAlum vaNangi enrum tudiyuru sEvaDiyAi“ (AA 7) (O One whose feet are saluted and praised by Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu!). Seeing her footprints near River Kampa, Brahma and Vishnu are thrilled, says Mookakavi “नानन्द्यन्ते नलिनभवनारायणमुखाः”(PS 55), because it means they can approach and worship Her.

Because She empowers the Devatas to do their tasks, it can also be said that She herself does the acts of creation, protection and destruction (or retraction) of the worlds. பூத்தவளே, புவனம் பதினான்கையும் பூத்தவண்ணம் காத்தவளே பின்கரந்தவளே “poottavaLE bhuvanam padinAnginaiyum pootta vaNNam kAttavalE!” (AA 13) (O One who caused the fourteen worlds to blossom out, who protects them and finally conceals them within yourself”) sings Bhattar. In the verse beginning “त्वयैव जगदम्बया भुवनमण्डलं सूयते“ (SS 96) Mookakavi says exactly the same thing: It is by you alone, that the entire universe is created, protected and reduced to nothing.

Devi creates as well as pervades the universe. Hence Bhattar says பாரும், புனலும், கனலும், வெங் காலும், படர் விசும்பும்,
ஊரும் முருகு சுவையொளி யூறொலி ஒன்றுபடச்சேரும் தலைவி “pArum punalum kanalum vengAlum paDarvisumbum oorum murugu suvai oLi ooroli onrupaDa sErum talaivi” (AA 68) (She pervades the five elements and the five Tanmatras – smell, taste, form, touch and sound). There is a similar verse By Mookakavi: धरणिमयीं तरणिमयीं पवनमयीं गगनदहनहोतृमयीम् (AS 18). (The mother who takes eight forms (Ashtamurti) – the earth, sun, wind, space, fire and Yajamana, water and moon).