Not very long ago, there lived a Brahmin named Subramanyam Iyer in a small town called Thirukadaiyur in Tamil Nadu. His town had a famous Shiva temple where the presiding deity was Lord Amrithaghateswar and his consort, Goddess Abhirami (an avatar of Parvati).
Subramanyam was a regular visitor to the temple. He was deeply devoted to Goddess Abhirami. So intense was his faith that he saw the goddess in every woman and much to the discomfort and annoyance of the women in his town, he chased them around and showered them with flowers before prostrating at their feet at every given opportunity. Naturally then the women reacted in horror and anger and the town dismissed him as a lunatic.
On one new moon day, the local king, Sarfoji, came to the temple for a darshan. At the sanctum sanctorum of the goddess, he found Subramanyam deep in meditation. The king, who was used to having people rushing to his beck and call, but Subramanyam’s complete oblivion to his presence angered him. Sarfoji asked the locals who had accompanied him to the temple and they were quick to tell the king that this was a mad man.
The king decided to run a test of his own on the man sitting before him. He nudged the meditating Subramanyam and asked him if he knew what day of the lunar month (thithi) it was. Now everyone knew it was the new moon day, when the night sky would be moon-less and dark. But Subramanyam, whose eyes were fixed on the face of the goddess which looked like a thousand moons aglow at one time to him, blurted out that it was a full moon day.
Incensed by the wrong answer, the king ordered that Subramanyam be punished. As per the king’s order, Subramanyam was to be suspended on a wooden deck hung over a blazing fire with the help of ropes. The deck hosting Subramanyam was to be purged into the fireplace below, at dusk, if the moon did not rise, as he had predicted.
But, as happens with all men of god, Subramanyam remained unperturbed. It is said that, it was while hovering over the blazing fire that Subramanyam composed and rendered over a 100 hymns in praise of Goddess Abhirami. After each hymn was rendered, the deck was lowered further. The onlookers waited with bated breath to see what would transpire.
Legend has it that just as Subramanyam finished rendering his seventy-ninth hymn, Goddess Abhirami appeared before him, removed her earring (jhumka) and threw it at the sky where it shone like the silvery moon. Subramanyam’s words had indeed come true! There was now a round silvery moon that shone like a brilliant jewel, turning an otherwise dark night sky into a brightly lit celestial canvas. The king’s pride took a fall and he sought forgiveness from Subramanyam and set him free.
From that day on, Subramanyam came to be known as Abhirami Bhattar. The hymns are called Abhirami Andhadhi, a unique piece of devotional poetry, where every verse starts with the same word that the previous verse ends in. Abhirami Andhadhi is still read and rendered by millions of Tamils even today. It is believed that rendering these hymns on full moon and new moon days can make the most impossible of a devotee’s dreams come true.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Sumathi Sridhar
LOCATION: Tamil Nadu
SOURCE: As narrated by the collectors aunt, Smt. Revathi Subramanian