Marundeeswarar Temple and Tank glow in the morning sunlight (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons).
All faiths speak of miraculous healers. Saibaba, the saint of Shirdi, was known to have cured many from serious ailments. There are countless tales of saints, savants and holy men who have miraculously saved people from various miseries and illnesses. Ramakrishna Paramananda, Ma Anandamayi, Sree Karunakara Guru and Satya Sai Baba are known to have performed many miracles. At some places, however, He manifests himself as the healer. South India is testimony to divine healing. Three prominent sites are a constant source of miracles: Vaitheeshwaran Koil near Chidambaram, the Saneeswaran Temple in Karaikal and the Marundeeswarar Temple in Chennai.
Vaitheeshwaran Koil is approximately 22 kms away from the famed Chidambaram Temple, where Shiva is worshipped as Nataraja, doing his ‘thandava’. Here, he takes on a diametrically different avatar—worshipped as Vaidyanathaswamy, the healer of maladies, big and small. For 15 years, Ramalinga Tambiran, member of the Dharmapuram Adheenam which governs the temple, has seen numerous people come to this temple from Bangalore, Chennai, Salem, Karaikudi, Hyderabad and Delhi hoping for a miracle. Mostly the pilgrims seek help for heart problems and brain illnesses. “A total of 4,448 diseases have been recorded since ancient times. For all of these, there is deliverance for those who offer prayers here,” he says.
A dip in the temple tank is purported to be beneficial to health. People dip their feet in the tarn and take a palm full of water to splash on their heads.
Twelve-year-old Pratap Singh from nearby Kumbakonam, who has just taken a dip in the tank, is all smiles as his mother dries him off vigorously. “He keeps coming down with fevers and we are certain the grace of the Lord will cure him,” says Pratap’s mother with assurance. Inside the temple, there is a constant ebb and flow of people. We are encouraged to buy pepper and salt and place them as offerings to the Lord. These are believed to banish illnesses from the devotees. Just as dissolving jaggery in the temple tank is said to cure skin diseases. Nagaraj from Kolar, near Bangalore, with a large entourage in tow is busy circumambulating the temple. What brings him here?
“This temple has a shrine dedicated to the planet Mars (Angaraka) and we are here to offer prayers to him,” he reveals. Legend has it that planet Mars once suffered from leprosy and was cured by Vaidyanathasamy. The temple precincts contain a shrine dedicated to Angaraka as well as Dhanvantri, the divine physician. Medicinal properties are ascribed to the huge margosa (neem) tree on the temple premises. A tablet containing neem leaf and sandalwood powder, which is known to cure all kinds of diseases if taken for 45 days, is sold here.
Saneeswaran Temple, Karaikal: Few figures are feared as much as respected in the Hindu pantheon as Saturn or Shani. Various miseries such as loss of money, mental peace, marriage — and progeny-related difficulties and various illnesses are attributed by astrologers to the malefic influence of Lord Shani. The Saneeswaran Temple in the small town of Thirunallar in Karaikal (Puducherry) is a holy site that draws thousands of visitors daily.
While Shani Bhagwan is undoubtedly the crowd puller, the presiding deity here is Lord Dharbaranyeswarar (Shiva). Sri Dharbaranyeswara Swamy Devasthanam and the Saneeswar Bhagavan both add up to the same. Bakkiri Samy, superintendent of the temple for 28 years, has witnessed faith in numbers—the temple receives about 5,000 visitors daily, with the count touching a lakh on Saturdays. “While we get people from all over, it’s interesting that people from Karnataka, especially politicians, make a beeline for this place. H D Deve Gowda was the first to start visiting this temple and others soon followed suit,” he says and adds, “What astounds me are the French tourists who come here to meditate”.
Apart from politicians and foreigners, there are people like Murthy who comes with his wife and daughter to this temple with the express purpose of wiping away past karmas. A group of three women from Rajapalayam look cheerful as one of them explains, “We have come here to pray that no difficulty befalls us.” Another cheerful lot is a bunch of ISRO employees from Bangalore. “I have been coming here for the past 10 years and the Lord’s grace has kept me in good health and prosperity. My visits give me confidence that things will get better,” says scientist Murahari. His colleagues nod in agreement.
At one corner of the temple, devotees are quietly lighting small diyas praying Shani to bestow his grace on them. Arulraj, from Salem, has a melancholy look about him as he goes about lighting a lamp. “I am praying that my health will improve,” he says and then as an afterthought adds, “hopefully, there should be better job prospects for me as well.”
Raja Swaminathan, the chief priest, says that people fear Shani but the latter is just doing what comes naturally to him—dispensing justice. Be it king or pauper, they have to suffer for sins committed in all births. “Of all the navagrahas, people invoke Shani for longevity making him easily the most powerful of the planets,” says Swaminathan adding, “Illness is prompted by him. Hence, people pray to him to banish their health problems as well.”
Lore has it that Lord Shani did not even spare the legendary King Nala, who was cured after offering prayers at the Shani temple here. The temple tank, “Nala Theertham”, is named after him. Says Bakkiri Samy: “Devotees first take a dip in this theertham, then offer prayers to Perumal (Lord Krishna), following it up with prayers to Lord Dharbaranyeswarar and finally Lord Saneeswar.” No other navagraha idols are installed here out of respect for Lord Saneeswaran — the dispenser of karmic justice.
Marundeeswarar Temple, Thirumvayur, Chennai: Along the scenic East Coast Road in Chennai, Lord Shiva holds court as Lord Marundeeswarar — the god with the power to heal — attracting hordes of devotees to this ancient temple dating back to the Chola and Pallava periods. Numerous legends surround the temple. Sage Agastya, the Sun god and the Moon god were cured by the deity; Valmiki visited here to seek the lord’s blessings and the divine cow Kamadhenu showered milk on the idol of Lord Shiva, earning him another appellation — Paalvannanathar.
The Saivite saints, Thirunavukkarasar (Appar) and Thirugnanasambanda who lived in the 7th century and Arunagirinathar of the 15th century, have composed many hymns in honour of the lord. Many like Vidya, who comes here regularly, are firm believers in the deity’s curative abilities. “I stay close by and I am a regular visitor to this temple. Once my son, then a young lad of eight, happened to break his leg. I took him to a doctor who asked me where I lived. He jocularly asked why did I bring him here when the excellent physician Lord Marundeeswarar was close by.”
Gowri Sundaresan and Rama have been coming here regularly for the last 30-odd years, to chant the Vishnu Sahasranam and Lalitha Sahasranam. “Thanks to the Lord’s grace, my husband lived a good healthy life for 10 years after his heart surgery, says Rama, adding, “Even doctors at the Apollo hospital recommend partaking of the Prasad (milk abhishekham) to critically ill patients.”
Divine intervention in matters of health seems then to be more the norm than an exception. Perhaps this is the reason why signboards of some clinics often display the legend, “I treat, He cures”.