I love our temples. They may be sculptural masterpieces or just turmeric paste-smeared granite blocks on cement platforms under trees. We come and go, offering our prayers in a hundred exuberant ways. We hang miniature wooden cribs on trees; we light lamps made from lemon halves before Durga; we throw butter balls on deities; we whisper secrets into Nandi’s ears; we break coconuts; we push and jostle in queues; we smear our foreheads with ash and vermilion; we circumambulate the Navagrahas nine times; we ring bells; we drop money into hundials and into the hands of beggars; we knock our foreheads with our knuckles before Vinayagar; we burst into songs and chants; we knock back ladoos and murukkus; we buy glass bangles and holy pictures; we feed puffed rice to the fish in the tanks; we let elephants thump us on our bowed heads with their trunks; we carry wailing babies with freshly-shaved, sandalwood paste-smeared heads in our arms; we drop coins into wells; we sprinkle water over
our heads; we roll on the stone slabs. And, whatever we do, we do in complete faith, raising our hearts to God.
I love our temples – and the Sthala Puranams, or Temple Legends, associated with each one of them. These stories, like our prayers, are an exhilarating mix of devotion, myths, history and folklore. We sometimes find them printed on forgotten boards somewhere on the temple premises. At other times, we find them on the temple walls, telling their tales of miracles and faith in fading natural dyes. Some temples sell their stories as small pamphlets, mostly in the vernacular. Very often, a generous currency note on the aarti plate is enough to persuade the Aiyar to take time off to narrate the story associated with that particular temple. And what stories these are! Stories of the gods taking on myriad different forms to bless and test their devotees; of wondrous cures and redemption from curses; of wicked demons and talking beasts; of the triumph of good over evil; of the power of chastity and renunciation – every story a precious gem to be heard and treasured.
Dear Readers, I have chosen my favourite Sthala Puranams to share with you. As you look at the temples through the lens of my stories, I hope these temples will take on new life and meaning for you. I hope you will discover stories to delight your heart and mind. I hope each story will remind you of your rich heritage and strengthen your roots. Above all, I hope you will pass on these stories to your children and grandchildren to endure and be cherished over the generations.
Happy reading to you all!