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What does the compassionate Ambal look like in Kanchipuram?

She has a bow made of

sugarcane and arrows made of flowers. These two are held by one more person.
Manmatha, also known as Kama, has them. Kama and Kamakshi have in common the bow
made of sugarcane and arrows of flowers. The string for the sugarcane bow held by
Manmatha are the honey bees. From one bent end of the bow to the other are present
the honey bees like a string. Manmatha shoots the arrows of flowers from this bow
and rules the lives of all living things. In this world, all sweet dishes are made
either of jaggery or sugar. Jaggery is the base for sugar. The sweet sugarcane
(pertains to sense of taste) is Manmatha’s bow. Flowers are famous for their
fragrance (smell), beauty (sight), and softness (touch). Five such flowers serve as
arrows for him. The buzzing of the bees is pleasant to the ears (hearing). Through
his bow, the string and arrows, he appeals to all our five senses and binds the
world in endless desires. Instead of the regular bow and arrow, Ambal has given him
the sugarcane bow and flowers as arrows. She has blessed him with the power to
instill desire in all life forms. She has granted him this power to ensure that
life on earth continues.

But She does not wish that humans are forever trapped in the sorrow of sensual
pleasures. Even those leading a worldly life should not succumb to desires or
deviate from the dharmic way of life. Earning a living (Artha) and enjoying life
(Kama) should be done in accordance with dharma. The mind and the senses should not
be allowed to go wayward and should be channelized by following dharma. Having this
control without giving up on worldly pursuits is the first step. Later one will
attain the state of gnana where the mind and the senses remain steady. Once that
state is attained, there is no rebirth. Thereafter Manmatha has no work at all.
Ambal who gave Manmatha the power to generate desire, also created dharma to
control these desires, culminating in the state of gnana and moksha, thereby
relieving the Atma from the cycle of birth and death.

There was a time when She herself had to take away the sugarcane bow and the arrows
from Manmatha. She did it only out of abundant compassion. She wanted the Brahma
Swaroopam, immersed in meditation, to bless the outside world with dharma and
gnana. To achieve this, she took away the bow and arrow from Manmatha and appeared
as Kamakshi.

That was the time when Parameshwara had gone into the meditative state as
Dakshinamurthy. He took up a peaceful, unmoving posture, submerged in knowledge. As
Dakshinamurthy, He was Adwaita, the only one. If He were to remain in this state,
what would happen to the living forms? Who will give a helping hand to the living
to elevate themselves? Jaganmata (Kamakshi) decided that His compassion should flow
and bless the world. She could, of course, have protected this world with Her
compassion alone. But Her intention was to follow the attributes of an ideal wife
and at the same time bring credit to Eswara. He is not different from Her; they are
one. She wanted to combine Her gnana with compassion. The circumstances too were
conducive for Her to take up the sugarcane bow along with the arrows and become

That was also the time when asuras like Tarakasura and Surapadma were troubling the
inhabitants of the three worlds. They had performed extensive penance and had
acquired unbounded strength. They had secured a boon that only the person who
originated from the tejas of Parameshwara would kill them. But Parameshwara was now
in a state of meditation, immersed in the ultimate bliss, as Dakshinamurthy.

How could He be made to create a son? The Devas who were troubled by the Asuras
could think of only one solution. Parvati who was born as the daughter of
Himaparvatha Raja was serving Dakshinamurthy then. The Devas planned to utilize the
services of Manmatha to divert the attention of Parameshwara towards Parvati, so
that the birth of Siva’s son is ensured. They persuaded Manmatha to try his
influence over Parameshwara.
It was the force behind Parameshwara that had granted Manmatha the power to
influence the world. Had Manmatha surrendered his power at the feet of
Parameshwara, the desired outcome would have been achieved. But Manmatha approached
Parameshwara with arrogance and not with humility. He was proud of his power which
would influence Parameshwara get attracted towards Parvati. He shot the arrows made
of flowers on Parameshwara. This was something like showing off one’s cleverness to
one’s own mother!

Eswara felt a sudden disturbance. He opened His eye. He has three eyes. But He did
not open all three of them. He gradually opened the third eye which is Agni itself.
That’s all! The fire from the eye burnt Manmatha and reduced him to ashes! Manmatha
was always proud of his beauty. As if to say that physical beauty is insignificant
in front of the fire of knowledge, Manmatha became just a heap of ash. Manmatha who
was known as ‘Sarva Anga Sundara’, (the most beautiful), had no physical body now;
hence he came to be known as ‘Ananga’ (one without physical body).

Manmatha’s wife Rati wailed in grief. Parvati Devi consoled her and blessed that
Manmatha would become visible, but only to Rati’s eyes. She then told Manmatha ‘I
have given you this bow and arrow with the power to cause passion in all living
things. If all the people were to be dispassionate like Sanaka and other munis,
many who are dead but need to be born again to redeem their karmas, will not have
the chance to be born. They will be in trouble. Only if they are born will they pay
back for all their karmas, develop purity of mind and transcend beyond the cycle
of birth and death. You were given powers only for this reason. But you have shown
your powers to your own superior. There is no use exhibiting your powers. You can
bind Him only with Bhakti. Let me show you how to get things done”. Saying this,
Ambal took Manmatha’s bow and arrow into Her hands. She went and stood in front of
Eswara. She looked at him with love. When She carried the sugarcane bow and the
arrows of flowers and looked at him with eyes filled with love, She acquired the
name ‘Kamakshi’. Kama means love; akshi means eye. She whose eyes are love laden –
is Kamakshi. Her name has other meanings too. The direct meaning is ‘She with love
laden eyes’- known as Kamakkanni (in Tamizh).

The name Kamakkanni has been in use in Tamizh since ancient times. ‘Kamak kanniyar
Nappasalaiyar was a poetess of the Sangam period. This name indicates that worship
of Kamakshi has been prevalent in Tamizh Nadu since very olden times. Let this be!
Let us get back to the story.

In the beginning, Manmatha shot arrows on Parameshwara. He fought like an enemy. He

was reduced to ashes. Whereas, when Ambal surrendered the bow and arrow and bowed
at his feet, Parameshwara accepted Her. This is the power of love and humility!

Looking at Her love laden eyes, love oozed in His heart too. Ambal is the great
force that churns all living things through their five senses and mind. The bow and
the arrows represent the mind and the senses. When She surrendered them at His
feet, He reciprocated with love.

Then Parvati kalyanam took place, followed by Kumara Sambhavam (birth of Lord
Muruga) and thereafter the destruction of Taraka and Surapadma.

Being defeated by someone is insulting. This has one exception though. One would
feel elated if one’s own child were to defeat him. This is reiterated in the saying
‘putrat ichhet parajayam’ (पपतततत इचछछतत परतजयमत). In keeping with this, Parameshwara too was
proud of His son Subramanya for having killed Taraka and other asuras who were
invincible. Parameshwara who was earlier in meditative state as Dakshinamurthy, the
supreme Guru, obtained the ‘Pranava Upadesa’ from Subramanya, thereby giving the
son an exalted status. It was because of His union with Ambal that Parameshwara
could take form of Subramanya, brighter, more knowledgeable and stronger than
himself. After Manmatha was burnt, She had taken the bow and arrow from him. She
became Kameshwari and won the affection of Parameshwara, paving way for the other
events (as mentioned above).

As if to reiterate the above story from the puranas, the Subramanya temple (Kumara
Kottam) in Kanchipuram is situated between the Ekambaranathar temple and the
Kamakshi Amman temple. In the figure of Somaskanda, Skanda (Subramanya) is present
seated between Eswara and Uma Devi. In Kanchipuram too, Kumarakottam is situated
between Kamakshi’s temple (also known as Kamakottam) and Ekambaranathar’s temple-

Why did Kamakshi make Dakshinamuthy into a Kalyana Sundara (A handsome married
man)? It was not just for the destruction of Taraka and other asuras. Many of the
dead people had to take birth again to elevate themselves and get beyond the cycles
of life and death. A Supreme, Compassionate Eswara was needed to help them in
overcoming their sorrows and ignorance. As Dakshinamurthy, He had no thought for
this maya engulfed universe, its inhabitants or their troubles. Ambika became
Kameshwari and made him Kalyanasundara to change Him from an ocean of knowledge (in
the form of Dakshinamurthy) into an ocean of compassion (in the form of
Kalyanasundara). On Her own She was capable of showering blessings on this world.
Though we say She is instrumental in making Him shower blessings on this world, in
reality, it is She who does it. Remaining unmoving and static is His nature. All
actions are Hers. Still, She made it appear that He was doing everything. That’s
all. To establish the ‘Stree Dharma’ (सस धमर), She did everything through Him and
brought Him fame.

Kamakshi created a desire for her in Parameshwara. Why? He had to help people
control their desires and elevate themselves. She, as Sivakama Sundari, made Eswara
develop love for Her, only for the welfare of the world. Mooka Kavi says ‘It is
surprising that you, (who is capable of creating passion in the mind of
Parameshwara) are also capable of liberating men fully immersed in desires and
granting them Moksha’.

Even as She creates desire in Parameshwara, She drives out desires from within us.
Kama (Manmatha) uses the arrows made of flowers and the sugarcane bow to make our
mind and our senses go wayward. By holding these five arrows in Her hand, She
ensures that our senses are in Her hold and are not rebellious. The bow in Her
hand, representing our mind, ensures that the vagaries of our mind is controlled.
All the beauty experienced through sound, touch, form, taste, and smell come from
Her. She has taken up the divine form of Kamakshi with the sugarcane bow and the
arrows to indicate that our mind too is subject to Her control. She symbolizes the
sweetness of sugarcane and the softness of the flowers.

As Kamakshi, She generated passion with Her eyes in Eswara. If a slight glance from
those eyes were to fall on us, our desires will run away from us. We will see only
Her everywhere. Everything we see will be just that one ‘Adwaita’. There will be
nothing that is superior or inferior. ‘Those blessed by Kamakshi will find no
difference between a house, a forest, a friend, an enemy or an agile girl’s lips’
says Mooka Kavi. That state where all things appear equal is the state of ‘Brahma

At the time of Parvati’s wedding (with Parameshwara), the three worlds were
engulfed in joy. Manmatha alone was in sorrow since he did not have a physical
form. To avert this, Ambal and Eswara took compassion and restored his physical

Parameshwara who was meditating, came out of His meditative state and married
Then Kumara (Subramanya) was born. Manmatha considered this as his victory, in a
way. He wanted the world to show him respect for his accomplishment. His duty was
to ensure that marital relations were productive. Ambal Herself had granted him
this post! When something under his jurisdiction worked well, he wanted credit for
the job done. He understood that his wish would be fulfilled if he worshipped the
compassionate Ambal.

Manmatha learnt about the presence of the omnipresent power, Ambal, at Kanchipuram
as Kamakshi, a divine presence. If we consider the earth to be a woman, Kanchipuram
can be compared to the golden girdle around her waist. The word Kanchi refers to
the golden girdle worn around the waist. At the position of the naval is the abode
of Kamakshi, the sanctum sanctorum, The name is ‘Bilakasam” (बबलतकतशमत). Bilam means a
cave. Like the umbilical cord that nourishes the child in the womb, all living
things derive their powers and abilities from this Bilakasam, all due to the
blessings of Ambal.

Akasham (आकतशमत) is Atmaswaroopam in itself. The space spread everywhere is called

Mahakasham (Maha + Akasham). When that space is present within us as the self
realised atma, the Perambalam (the big stage or the outer space) becomes the
Chitrambalam (the small stage or the inner space – the mind). The Mahakasham
becomes the Dhaharakasam. Chidambaram also means the same. Chit means knowledge;
ambaram means space. When we attain the ultimate state of self awareness, we will
experience that one thing which is the source of all our thoughts and our breath –
the ‘Hrudaya Akasam’.

If the world is considered to be a man (the Virat Purusha), the secret space
located within the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple is the heart of the
Virat Purusha. This space is referred to as the ‘Chidambara Rahasyam’. The same is
in Kanchipuram as the Bilakasam. The Bilakasam is within the sanctum sanctorum of
the Kamakshi temple. The sanctum sanctorum of the Kamakshi temple is referred to as
Kamakoshtam in Sanskrit and Kamakottam in Tamizh. Though the Bilakasam is within
the sanctum sanctorum, its power is spread all across the region of Kanchipuram. In
Chidambaram, the gnana Akasam is confined to the Chitsabhai. Here in Kanchipuram,
it is spread all over the region. This is what the Puranas say.

Ambikai, the Bilakasa Roopini is present there as Kamakshi with Manmatha’s

sugarcane bow and flower arrows in Her hands. Manmatha understood he would be able
to get his wish fulfilled if he woshipped Her – also known as Rajarajeshwari. He
came to Kanchipuram and performed penance.

The compassionate Ambal appeared in front of him.

“Mother! Parameshwara burnt me down. But later, He Himself developed affection for
you. You had appointed me to instill passion in the minds of living beings. If
someone were to fall in love, it should come under my jurisdiction” he pleaded.

He further implored: “Parameshwara’s marriage to you is a victory to me. The world

is aware that He burnt me down. But the fact that I could finally influence Him is
not known at all. You, Mother, should take pity on me and declare my victory”.

The sympathetic Mother agreed to the child’s request.

She immediately attracted all Her powers from the Siva temple at all Kshethrams
(divine places) including Kailasam and concentrated them into the Bilakasam. In
Kailasam, Parvati’s divine life force disappeared. So was the case with all the
Ambal figures present in all the Siva temples in this world. Parameshwara, present
in Kailasam and all the other Siva temples, experienced the pangs of separation
because of the absence of His dear wife. Was He not aware of Manmatha’s wish and
Ambal’s drama? He decided to concede to Manmatha’s wish, acted as if He was in
sorrow and played along. When Brahma saw Siva’s yearning in Kailasam and all the
Siva temples, he decided to act as a messenger on behalf of Siva and came to

Ambal said to Brahma: ‘The world now knows that Parameshwara is suffering from
pangs of separation. This was Manmatha’s wish too. I attracted my divine force from
everywhere and concentrated it here only to satisfy him’. She then sent back the
divine force to Kailasam and all other Siva temples. Ambika’s form in all these
places got back their force. Parameshwara was also satisfied.

This history is narrated in ‘Kamakshi Vilasam’. Engravings on stone are available

as proof of this.

Ambal Sannidhis in most of the Shiva temples happen to possess the name
“KamakOttam”, which becomes evident from the inscriptions found in the respective
Sannidhis. The renovation and maintenance works of these Sannidhis, being carried
out by many kings right from the Chozha period, have been recorded by few as
“Sasanam”. While speaking of the respective Goddesses of places like Avinashi,
Vijayamangalam, Thiruvotriyur, Thirukkattuppalli, Vallam, Thiruppazhanam, Koyiladi
and so on, it has been mentioned as “Thirukkamakottathu Nachiyar”,
“Thirukkamakottamudaiya Azhagamar Mangaiyar”, “Thirukkamakkottamudaiya
Akilanayagiyar” and the like. In olden days there were no different alphabets for
short syllables (Kuril) and long (Nedil) syllables. That was how “KamakOttam” has
become “Kamakottam”. There is a similar stone engraving in Chidambaram too. More
so, there is a “Sasanam” in Sanskrit, referring to the “Shivakameswari” residing
here as “Kamakoshta Sthithaayaaha” (कतमककबट बससततयतय).

Don’t the Puranas hold that the Divine life-source of all Shakthi KOttams got
attracted to Kanchipuram and then was sent back to the respective Kshetrams? That
is, the divine vibrations that we tend to experience in the Ambal Sannidhi of any
Kshetram is nothing but something which had once been pulled to Kanchipuram and
then sent back to that particular Kshetram. Thus the habit of referring to the
Ambal Sannidhis of so many places as “Kamakottam” must have come into being — only
because of the Divine source having come from “Kamakottam” Itself.

The present day Alangudi was earlier known as Thiruirumboolai. In this Kshetram
Tirugnana Sambandhar has composed a Dhevaram. In this he says ‘kacchi poli
kamakkodiyudan koodi’. Taking into consideration the short and the long syllables
mentioned earlier [ko and kO], here KamakOti is referred to as KAmakkOdi or
KAmakOdi. Having called Ambal in Alangudi as KAmakOdi, as if to clarify that this
name is not her usual name in this kshetram, Tirugnana Sambandhar further makes a
reference to Kanchipuram as ‘Kacchippodhi’. Appar Swamigal in his ‘Tiruvadhigai
Tiruttandagam’ says ’kozhum pavalacchengani vAikkamak kotti’. From these references
we can infer that Kamakshi’s power pervaded in all the other kshetrams too. Since
she is ‘kAma kotta vAsini’ Appar seems to have called her KAmakOtti’.

Kamakoti and Kamakkotti are different from each other. Kamakkotti refers to the
place of dwelling of Kamakshi. The end of kama (desires) is Kamakoti who is Kamkshi
herself. When we refer to her as the Murthy, we say Kamakshi. When we refer to the
Peetam, we say Kamakoti. At the sannidhi of Kamakshi is the Kamakoti Peetam. While
mentioning the visit of Parasurama to Kanchipuram in the course of his Teertha
Yatra, Srimad Bhagawatham refers to Kanchipuram as Kamakoti Puri (‘KAmakOti Purim
KAncheem’, the place of Kamakoti, i.e Kamakshi). This reinforces the fact that
Kanchipuram has, from olden times been known as Kamakoti Puri, in spite of the many
Siva and Vishnu temples present here.

Even as She returned the life force to all the Siva temples (including Kailasam),
Kamakshi was kind enough to consider that there should be a permanent reminder of
Manmatha’s victory at least in Kanchipuram, She ordered that all Siva temples in
Kanchipuram be without an Ambal Sannidhi and Kanchipuram be known as ‘Sivajit
Kshetra’. For all times in future, people would wonder why none of the Siva temples
in Kanchipuram have an Ambal Sannidhi and why the name of ‘Sivajit Kshetram’ is
given to it. They would then refer to the Puranas or enquire from others. They
would become aware of the blessing granted by Kamkshi to Manmatha. Conceding to
Manmatha’s prayer, She ensured that his victory was known forever, thereby blessing
him, even though he had committed a sin. To this day, none of the innumerable Siva
temples in Kanchipuram have an Ambal sannidhi in them. The only Ambal Sannidhi is
that of Kamakshi temple.

Sundaramuthy Swamigal, in his verses (Onakaanthanthaliyil), asks Lord Siva:

Vaarirunkuzhal Vaalnedungan Malaimagal,

Madhuvimmu kondraith

Thaarirum Thadamaarbu Neengaath Thaiyalaal


Kaarirumpozhil kachimoodhoork kaamakottam

Undaaga Neerpoi

Uridum Pichai Kolvadhenne

Onakaanthan Thaliyuleere

‘Your temple may not have an Ambal. But why do you have to carry the vessel and beg
for alms when Kamakshi, who feeds this whole world is present?’ Kamakshi grants not
just knowledge. Apart from feeding us the milk of knowledge, as Annapoorneswari she
provides food to this world. Tamizh manuscripts speak of her carrying out the
prescribed thirty two dharmas. She will provide us food to eat. She will grant our
wishes. The word Kamakshi also means that She will grant our wishes with Her mere

If we meditate on Her, Sivakama Sundari, who blessed Manmatha and transformed

Parameshwara to Kameshwara, all our desires will be wiped out. Her blessings will
ensure that even the most attractive object will fail to generate desire in our
mind. We should pray to Her to win over the six internal enemies namely desire,
anger, greed, lust, pride and jealousy, thereby cleansing our mind.