Karaikal Ammaiyar comes alive at museum

CHENNAI: Chennaiites have got a rare opportunity that has not taken place in the past 1,000 years! The Government Museum at Egmore has exhibited a bronze idol of a Chola-era Karaikal Amm

Published: 31st August 2011 12:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 05:41 PM   |  A+A-


CHENNAI: Chennaiites have got a rare opportunity that has not taken place in the past 1,000 years!

The Government Museum at Egmore has exhibited a bronze idol of a Chola-era Karaikal Ammaiyar for the general public as part of the exhibits of the week.

With this, the Chennai museum has become one of the few museums in the world to display the idol of the revered Shaiviite saint in its gallery, after Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and Metropolitan Museum of Art at New York in the United States of America.

The bronze image of Karaikal Ammaiyar of the 11th century belongs to the Chola period. Squatting cross legged, the idol has cymbals in its hands. Some literature about the idol stated that the artist had bestowed his full attention in embellishing the features, through the story that he heard and perfectly moulded this image.

According to sources in the museum, it is one of the master pieces of the Chola times, besides a rare bronze idol, which was accidentally unearthed while constructing a mandapam for the Shiva temple near Tiruindalu at Nagapattinam district in 2010. The bronze idol was part of 13 other objects belonging to the same period (11th century) that were excavated from the village.  The story of Karaikal Ammaiyar kindled the imagination of generations of artists who produced powerful images of the emaciated woman saint. It also allowed much scope for creativity and artists produced more than one masterpiece, generally depicting her bizarre, skeletal form, though very occasionally as the beautiful woman before her self-requested transformation. Based on the myth, ‘mängani thiruvizha’ is celebrated in and around Karaikal even today. This stands as testimony to how much people are devoted to this woman saint.

The story of Karaikal Ammaiyar

Karaikal  Ammaiyar, who was christened as Punitavati by her parents, was born in a wealthy family and was married to Paramadatta, a rich merchant. The couple lived a harmonious life and the doors of their house were always open to Siva devotees. One day, Paramadatta sent two large mangoes with instructions that they should be served to him with his midday meal.

When an elderly sage appeared at the door and asked for food, Punitavati, who had not yet started cooking that day, gave him one of the mangoes, whereupon the sage offered blessings and departed. At lunch, Paramadatta ate one mango served to him and asked for the second one. Punitavati was so perplexed that her mind automatically sought the holy feet of Siva in prayer and a mango appeared in her hand, which she served her husband. Realising the different taste of this mango, Paramadatta asked Punitavati about the second mango. When she told the happenings to him, he asked her to do the magic again. Punitavati prayed and there appeared a mango in her palm which, when Paramadatta wanted to take away, vanished.

Overawed and perturbed by his wife’s spiritual power, Paramadatta decided that he could not lead a normal life with her any longer and left her. She prayed Lord Siva to strip her of her flesh and bestow upon her the skeletal form of the ghouls, who worship Siva’s dancing feet in the burning grounds. Siva fulfilled her wish and the beautiful Punitavati metamorphosed into the emaciated figure and was called as Karaikal Ammai.

(Source — Government Museum in Chennai)


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