The highlight of Ammaiyar's story is that she asked Lord Shiva for a boon, one that would reduce her youth to a skeleton, demonic in appearance and would cease to be a distraction in her eternal devotion to the Lord.
The mysterious element in this Nayanmar's life is that her songs to the Lord are of a specific flavor, that brings alive an aspect of Shaivism fairly unknown in these times - the Aghori path of Shiva belief. As her story reveals, she was given 2 mangoes by her husband to keep safely so that he could have it during his meal. Reference has been made to a Shiva yogi who visited their house in his absence and she gives him one of the fruits with curd rice.
Drawing parallels, the Mangani Tirunal festival observed on Purnima in the month of Aani in Tamil Nadu, is a time when this incident is re-enacted and people are served mangoes and curd rice, the belief being that it was Shiva Bhikshatana who roamed around the world collecting alms and reached the door of KAraikkAl Ammaiyar. Shiva Bhikshatana's appearance can be paralleled with the aghori babas and naga baba's appearance where he is a naked mendicant, the difference being, he is also extremely sensuous and attractive.
Coming to some of the verses sung by KAraikkAl AmmaiyAr, her descriptions of Shiva Bhikshatana or Shiva Rudra residing in the cremation ground, render a stomach churning experience should one try to visualize this form!
Quoted from the " thiruviraTTai maNimAlai"
His matted hair of ruddy gold is adorned
With Konrai flowers which are buzzed and kindled
By chafers; there the serpent of venomous sacs stands hissing:
Such is He, the long-haired Brahmin.
He is indeed the Lord who will not passively witness
The misery of worshippers who hail Him
*Konrai: Cassia ; Indian Laburnum
*chafers: a type of beetle
O heart, for ever hail Him who is Sankara, the One
Of matted hair that dangles low, the righteous One who
On that matted hair sports a soaring serpent and the One
Who on that day saves you from the onslaught of misery.
* that day is the day of one’s death
Other forms of Shiva that are made references to:
In the world of eternal bliss, do what I bid you.
He, the Hero annihilated the triple citadels of His-foes;
He is eight shouldered, Bow, with delay none, at His feet
Which are like pure and fresh gold; be poised
In His worship for days without end.
He is the Lord of the supernal world; His asterism is betelgeuse;
His throat is dark with the aalaalam that He ate; they that chant
His mystic pentad—the chief of mantras--, adore Him and come by
The true import, can (alone) behold His feet of ruddy gold.
aalaalam: Halaahalaa poison that oozed out during the churning of the ocean.
O Righteous Lord that wears the heroic anklet!
The dry and strong-mouthed ghouls standing sing Your praise;
Bhootas stand and adore You; the great crematory is
Your theatre where You dance and dance. How is it
That You sped an arrow from Your bow and caused
The triple citadels of the Asuras to get gutted with fire?
How are we to attain Him in love?
The snake that dances on His person
Will suffer none to come near it;
Moreover, all that we behold before us
Are only a row of skulls and white bones.
Besides He but rides, in delight, a bull.
The description of the cremation ground, the theater where he performs has been vividly described in the another song of KArraikAl AmmaiyAr. Such a description brings alive the other side of the cremation ground, one that we humans do not get to witness, one that KArraikAl AmmaiyAr is a part of, in possible disbelief to the mortal world as she narrates what she sees.
Excerpts from the thiruvAlangATTu mUththa thiruppadhikam:
Fat melts and wets the ground, and the long toothed and sunken eyed ghouls observe this and enact the dance of tunangkai. They look around and put out the fire of the pyres eating the corpses to their hearts content and feel delighted, it is in such a fitting crematory, holding fire in his hand that the handsome Lord dances.
Jackals tug and draw away the stinking white heads punctured by birds, owls raise a hue and cry, owlets wave their wings, barn owls stare down and frighten those who look at them, and foxes howl around in great urgency. Such is this great charnel house, and it is here that the great Lord desires to perform his dance.
It was a corpse that a ghoul was not sure of as it advanced and pointed a finger at it screaching aloud. The ghoul roared and threw a fire at it yet not being sure of what it was. Frightened by the corpse, the ghoul ran far and beats its own stomach in bewilderment, observed by many other ghouls who took to their feet in sheer fear. It is in such a crematory that the Lord in the guise of a mad man dances.
Scorched by the rising flames, charred is the firewood, brains seep out of broken crania, cacti wilt in the heat, such is the fierce crematory where the wood apple trees abound, it is indeed his place of rest. It is in this wilderness that the Lord dances, with tiger skin as his girt and a spotted antelope dangling off his shoulder, he lights up this stage with his dance of destruction.
He sports the crescent moon on his matted hair, he forever dances his twirling dance, his waist is girdled with a serpent. Who ever by His grace is able to sing and dance out the poetry of KAraikkAl Pey(ghost), one with a fiery mouth and sharp teeth, who abides in the crematory will be freed of all sins.
This is the reality of the cremation ground, a description so vivid of activities when humans leave the bodies of the dead to burn by night. As jackals depict Shakti in the form of Kali Nayan Tara, and Lord Shiva dances among ghouls who feast on corpses as they witness his fiery movements, this world beyond death is a narrative that we capture in bhakti of a very different kind.
The life and immortal presence of this Nayanar, reveals that bhakti knows no bias, that love and music for the Lord can be found even in the wierdest of places where fear reigns supreme. Her narrative reveals a world beyond us, where the nature of ghosts includes that of feeling fear and joy, where their meal is absorbing the nurishment of burning corpses, where their company is that in the presence of foxes, jackals and owls in an ambience of the night as the crackling fire eats into wood and human remains perishing in the flames bringing alive the terrific world of Aghora.
Read her complete story.
Shamshan Tara, a form of Kali
Kalighat - Where death meets you face to face
Kalika Mata at Kalighat, a sacred Shakti Peetha
Taraka Mantra - Passage to heaven
Manikarnika Ghat: Where life meets the world beyond
Content courtesy: shaivam.org
Picture courtesy: Metropolitan museum of Art, natarajar.blogspot.com