As I walked onto my terrace as a newly-arrived bride in Madurai, the first sight that met my eyes was a panoramic view of the western tower of the Meenakshi Temple, with its tiers of exquisite sculpture. My husband and I habitually ended our day with a late evening visit to the temple – fairly deserted in those laid-back, early eighties! In time, my two sons joined us. Aadhi Veedhi, the outermost corridor, with its omnipresent breeze (even on a sweltering summer day!), was our Marina Beach: the boys played tag, ‘rode’ a broken-tusked stone elephant and angelically chanted “Om Namah Shivayah,” as taught to them by their devout grandfather.
Always an enthusiastic reader and teller of stories, the temple was a treasure trove of tales to me. I plunged into the delights of the Thiruvilayaadal Puranam, which were everywhere. The walls of the Pottramarai Kulam recounted the tales in colourful murals and the stories were chiseled in stone in numerous halls. Shiva’s divine play is never far away for us Maduraiites, as it constantly comes alive in our city: we enact and celebrate everything, from Meenakshi’s Coronation to the Celestial Wedding. We even have a special day on which we gorge ourselves on the steamed rice cakes that Shiva bartered for his labor on the Vaigai embankment!
Needless to say, writing Shiva in the City of Nectar has been a joy. I have drawn my material from a variety of sources - elderly friends and family, murals and sculptures. Here, I must acknowledge G. Shankaranarayanan’s Stories from Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam and Shaivam.org’s Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam. For the most part, I have taken these treasured tales, passed on orally through the generations, and fleshed them out with the lavish play of an affectionate imagination.
Dear Readers, this book aims to bring the stories of Shiva’s sport to a larger, non-Tamil audience. I hope this narration will thrill your senses and bring you to Madurai, the City of Nectar, where the Gods once walked in our midst.