varaha_bhumidevi_sliderIn the heart of Tamil Nadu, a little distance away from Chennai, flows the Varahanadi also known as Cankaraparani River. It is a perennial in a land of seasonal rivers and carries the mythologies of the region within her waters as it rushes into the sea, south of Pondicherry. This is the river around which the old and famous kingdom of Gingee flourished and where the epic heroine Draupadi came to reside and establish her cult.

The story of the river however has nothing to do with Draupadi but is linked with that of Vishnu and Shiva. Its name Cankaraparani is another name for the Ganga; it is the Tamil version of Shankarabharani which means the ornament of Shiva.  In ancient times Gingee was considered to be a holy site, much like Benares where the Ganga flows. It was known as Sheo Gingee (Shiva’s Gingee). The main story of the river has more to do with Vishnu than Shiva. According to Alf Hiltebeitel (The Cult of Draupadi 1-Mythologies: From Gingee to Kurukshetra), the birth of the river is linked to a relatively unknown king of Kanchipuram known as Nantacola Raja.

The king was a devotee of Vishnu who he worshipped in the form of Varadarajaswami. In his kingdom, he had built a temple in honour of the god and a flower garden which would provide an inexhaustible supply of fresh flowers for his worship. His plans were dashed when a group of boars devastated his garden. They ran amuck among the flower beds, digging up the plants and bushes. The king chased them all away but one big boar escaped with a lime tree bush, a flowering bush and some earth (mud) from the garden on his tusk.  The king rode after him. The boar led him to Gingee. It stopped for a while at a spot that lay to the west of Gingee and dug up a spring for the king who had grown quite thirsty by that time. The king slaked his thirst and gave chase to the boar again who led him east and as it fled, it dug a course with his tusk for the water to follow. Finally the king and the boar reached a place called Cinkapuram where the boar entered a cave and dropped the plants on his tusk to the ground. The plants flourished on the spot. The king followed into the cave and to his utter amazement saw that the boar had become Vishnu in a human avatara. The king built a temple at the spot for Varadarajaswami and the river took on the name of the boar (Varaha)

Hiltebeitel points out that the story carries a common motif found in many myths of Tamil Nadu: a boar destroying a flower garden. He also records several versions and in some the founding of the kingdom is attributed to another king. He also points out that the story presents a parallel to popular myths. Through its name, it reminds us of Ganga’s fall to earth and how she was caught in Shiva’s mane. And the boar running away with the bushes on his tusk is similar to Vishnu in the Varaha avatar where he carries his wife Bhudevi or earth to the surface from the bottom of the cosmic ocean.

Story collected by:  Arundhuti Dasgupta

Text source: Alf Hiltebeitel, The Cult of Draupadi 1-Mythologies: From Gingee to Kurukshetra

Location: Tamil Nadu