Tuesday, 12 October 2010


<%on error resume next%> Features | Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse Newspapers <%dim dbpath, pageTle, Section, Section1 %>


Retracing the Kannagi legend

legend has it that Kannagi, after burning the city of Madura, crossed over to Lanka and appeared first at Sudumalai, Manipay, Jaffna. The Sudu Malai Amman kovil for Kannagi Amman is now known as Rajeswary Amman kovil.

Sri Raja Rajeswari Amman kovil

This legend has nothing to do with the history of Pathini cult introduced by King Gajaba when he brought a statue of the lady with the silampu (anklet). Legends of Kannagi Amman visiting various spots in the North and East of Lanka are passed down to generations by word of mouth.

After Sudumalai in Manipay, her next stop was Panrithalaichi Amman kovil also in Jaffna. She then visited the East of the land. In Batticaloa, she stopped at seven places.

According to legend she came floating in a casket. The casket reached the shores of a place called Aarai Yampathy. She appeared in the dream of one teacher by the name of Sinnathamy, and told him, “My casket is on the shores of this village. Take that and set up a temple for me.” Accordingly, that teacher went to the sea shore, found the casket, took the statue and with the help of the people built a temple with the roof being of ola leaves.

This teacher being a farmer too, had gone to his field and while in the watch-hut fell asleep. Again, Kannagi Amman appeared in his dream and said, “Here I am getting wet in the rain while you are sleeping peacefully. Your paddy will be alright. Stop the roof from leaking.” The teacher got up saw the paddy heaped after winnowing, and ran to the temple.

He collected the men of the village and put up a stone structure for Kannagi Amman. He was worried as to who could perform the poosai.

Again Kannagi Amman appeared in his dream and told one Panthan Kaddadi generation would conduct the poosai. And so that family has been performing the poosai from then on.

The temple festival is in the Tamil month of Vaihasi: May 15 – June 15.

Besides Aaryampathy there are six other places which Kannagi Amman visited. Temples were constructed for her at Puthukudyyiruppu, Karainagar, Kokkatticholai and three other places. In all these places legend says miracles have taken place.People throng to the temple during the annual festival on the full moon day in Vaikasi and have ‘Pongal’. Almost in all Kannagi temples there are the usual scenes – Cavadi, fire walking and other penances – to fulfil a vow.

After her sojourn in two places in Jaffna, seven places in Batticaloa, she chose Mullaitivu as the 10th place. Originally it was ‘Paththam Palai’ (Paththam – tenth; Palai – resting place). In the course of time it has turned out to be Vattapalai. In Vattappalai too she appeared in person to some shepherd boys, as an old woman.

According to legend she had asked them to put up a hut for her. Later she asked them to light a lamp. When the boys told her there was no oil, she told them to get the sea water, and use it like oil. This tradition continues to this day. In all the ten places where she stopped, she had performed some miracle or other.

In Hinduism, each deity has a favourite tree. Amman prefers the neem tree. At many of these stop-overs, she was said to have sat on a dead fallen trunk of the neem tree and it had sprung to life.

At Vattappalai, she asked the shepherds to look for lice in her head. And when the children did so, they saw the head full of eyes – they got frightened she disappeared. Dead scared these children ran to the village with news of the strange visitor. When the village folk came running there, she was not there.

They knew it was Amman, and since she had eyes (Kann in Tamil) on her head they assumed it must be Kannagi Amman. That was how Kannagi temple was built at that very spot. Whether in Jaffna, Vanni or Batticaloa, Kannagi Amman temples appeared due to Amman appearing in person or in the dreams of ardent devotee be it king or beggar.

Thus in Lanka there were ten Palais (dwelling places) of Kannagi Amman. In these places legend and folklore play an important part and not history, in practising Kannagi worship.

Philosophy of Hinduism

Hinduism is a vast and profound religion. It is supposed to be the oldest religion. It has no beginning; in fact it predates recorded history. It should be noted that Hinduism has no human founder.

The Trimurthi: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

The major scriptures of the religion are Vedas, Agamas and more. Hinduism is embraced by nearly one million people, mostly in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Africa, Europe, North and South America. Hinduism has four main denominations; Saivaism, Saktism, Vaishavism and Smartism.

It worships one Supreme Reality called by many names and teachers that all souls ultimately realize truth. It accepts all genuine spiritual paths. Each soul is free to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation (Yoga) or selfless service.

The importance of temple worship, scripture and guru discipline tradition are emphasized. Festivals, pilgimages, chanting of holy hymns and home worship play a key role in Hinduism. Love non-violence, good conduct and observance of the law of Dharma are the finer principles of the religion.

It says that the soul reincarnates until all the karmas are resolved and God realization is attained. Hinduism is a mystical religion leading the devotee to personally experience Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one.

What is Karma

As Karma plays a major role in the life of a person the question arises what is meant by karma.

Literally Karma means ‘deed or act’ and in a broader sense it is the universal principle of cause and effect. Its action and reaction which governs all life. In this context it is more appropriate to quote from the book ‘Principia Ethica’ authored by GE Moore who says that all actions are governed by cause and effect relationship.

Karma is a natural law of the mind just as gravity is a law of matter. In the real sense karma is not fate for man acts with free will creating his own destiny. The Vedas say that we reap what we sow.

If we do good we will reap goodness. In fact karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. How to overcome karma? It lies in intelligent action and dispassionate action. All the karmas do not react at once.

Some of Karmas accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other births. It is interesting to note that there are several kinds of karma. They are personal, family, community, natural, global and universal. Ancient rishis perceived personal karmas as of threefold order.

The first is sanchita the sum total of our past karmas yet to be resolved. The second is prarabdha, the portion of sanchita to be experienced in this life. The third type is kriyamana is what we are currently creating.

In the follow up the next question paused is: is there good karma and bad karma. All experience offers opportunities for spiritual growth. Selfless acts yield positive, uplifting conditions. Selfish acts yield conditions of negativity and confusion.

Good loving actions bring to us lovingness through others Mean selfish acts bring pain and suffering. Kindness produces sweet fruits, called punya while unkindness yields spoiled fruits called papa.

As we mature, life after life we go through much pain and joy. Actions that are in tune with Dharma help us along the path, while Adharmic actions impede our progress. The divine law whatever karma we are experiencing in our life is just we meet at the moment and nothing can happen but that we have the strength to meet it.

Even harsh karma when faced in wisdom can be the greatest catalyst for spiritual unfoldment. Performing daily Sadhana, keeping good company, pilgrimages to holy places, seeing to others needs – these evoke higher energies, direct the mind to useful thoughts and avoid creation of troublesome new karmas. The Vedas explain: According to ones acts so does he become one becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action.

Athma and Paramathma

Our soul was created in the image and likeliness of the Primal Soul God Siva but it differs from the Primal Soul, in that it is immature. When Siva is unvolutionary perfection, we are in the process of evolving it is less resplendent than the primal Soul still evolving while God is unvolutionary perfection.

The soul can be compared to an acorn, which contains the mighty oak tree but a small seed yet to develop. The soulbody matures through experience, evolving through many lives into the splendour of God Siva. Ultmately realizing God Siva totally in nirvikalpa Samadhi. Ultimately the soul merges with the Primal Soul drop of water merges with its source the ocean.

Moksha or liberation

The destiny of all souls is moksha, liberation from birth on the physical plane. Moskha comes when earthly karma has been resolved, Dharma well performed and God fully realized.

The soul never dies, only the physical body dies. Life, death and the after life are all part of our path to perfect oneness with God. For Hindus death is nobly referred to as Maliaprasthana the great journey. When the lessons of life have been learned and the karmas reach a point of intensity the soul leaves the physical body which then returns to elements to the earth.

The awareness, will, memory and intelligence which we think of as ourselves continue to exist in the soul body. Death is the most natural experience, not to be feared. It is a quick transition from the physical world to the astral plane, like walking through a door leaving one room and entering another.

At death we leave the body through crown chakra entering the clear white light and beyond in quest of Videhamukti. The Vedas affirm,’ when a person comes to weakness be it through old age or disease, he frees himself from these limps just as a mango, a fig or berry releases itself from its stalk.’ After death, we continue to exist in unseen worlds, enjoying or suffering the harvest of earthly deeds until it comes time for yet another physical birth.

Because certain karmas can be resolved only in the physical world we must enter another physical body to continue our evolution. The action set in motion in previous lives form the tendencies and conditions of the next. Reincarnation ceases when karma is resolved. God is realized and moksha attained.

The vedas say he who has desires continues subject to birth.

Vaishnavism in a nutshell

Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu or his associated avatars, principally as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God. This worship in different perspectives or historical traditions addresses God under the names of Narayana, Krishna, Vasudeva or more often ‘Vishnu’, and their associated avatars. Its beliefs and practices, especially the concepts of Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga, are based largely on the Upanishads, and associated with the Vedas and Puranic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, and the Padma, Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas.

The followers of Vaishnavism are referred to as Vaishnavas or Vaishnavites. A large percentage of Hindus are Vaishnavas, with the vast majority living in India. Awareness, recognition, and growth of the belief have significantly increased outside of India in recent years.

Temple dedicated to the worship of Vishnu as Venkateswara

The Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of the tradition has significantly increased the awareness of Vaishnavism internationally, since the mid-1900s, largely through the activities and geographical expansion of the Hare Krishna movement, primarily through ISKCON and more recently, through several other Vaishnava organizations conducting preaching activities in the West.

The term Vaishnavism entered the English language in the 19th Century. It was formed by attaching the suffix ‘ism’ to Sanskrit Vaishnava (IAST: vaisnava), which is the vriddhi form of Vishnu meaning “relating, belonging, or sacred to Vishnu” or “a worshipper or follower of Vishnu”.

Principal historic branches

Bhagavatism, early Ramaism and Krishnaism, merged in historical Vishnuism, a tradition of Historical Vedic religion, distinguished from other traditions by its primary worship of Vishnu. Vaishnavism is historically the first structured Vaishnava religion as “Vishnuism, in a word, is the only cultivated native sectarian native religion of India.” Although it is usual to speak of Vishnu as the source of the avataras, this is only one of the names by which the god of Vaishnavism is known.

The other names include Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna; each the name of a divine figure with attributed supremacy, which each associated tradition of Vaishnavism believes to be distinct. For example, in the Krishnaism branch of Vaishnavism, such as the Gaudiya Vaishnava, Nimbaraka and Vallabhacharya traditions, devotees worship Krishna as the One Supreme form of God, and source of all avatars, Svayam Bhagavan, in contrast to the belief of the devotees of the Sri Sampradaya.

Principal beliefs

The principal belief of Vishnu-centred sects is the identification of Vishnu or Narayana as the one supreme God. This belief contrasts with the Krishna-centred traditions, such as Vallabha, Nimbaraka and Gaudiya, in which Krishna is considered to be the One and only Supreme God and the source of all avataras.

The belief in the supremacy of Vishnu is based upon the many avataras (incarnations) of Vishnu listed in the Puranic texts, which differs from other Hindu deities such as Ganesha, Surya or Durga.

The latter are instead classified as demi-gods or devas. Vaishnavites consider Shiva, one of the Hindu Trimurti (Trinity) as subservient to Vishnu, and a Vaishnava himself. Swaminarayan, founder of the Swaminarayan faith, differs with this view and holds that Vishnu and Shiva are different aspects of the same God. Notably, the Swaminarayan view is a minority view among Vaishnavites.

A few Vaishnava schools also identify the God of the Abrahamic religions with Vishnu; this is problematic in instances where YHWH/Allah is viewed as a single eternal being, outside, beyond and separate from his creation. Vishnu is viewed through the panentheistic lens of Hinduism where all existence is a part of God, and God includes all existence.

Another distinguishing feature of the Vaishnava teachings, is that God (Vishnu and/or Krishna) “is a real person and His variegated creation is also real”. This diffusion of God in creation is also evident in many Abrahamic traditions. Kabbalistic teachings regarding YHWH as Ayn Sof are more compatible with Vaishnavism.


Vaishnava theology includes the central beliefs of Hinduism such as pantheism, reincarnation, samsara, karma, and the various Yoga systems, but with a particular emphasis on devotion (bhakti) to Vishnu through the process of Bhakti yoga, often including singing Vishnu’s name’s (bhajan), meditating upon his form (dharana) and performing deity worship (puja). The practices of deity worship are primarily based on texts such as Pańcaratra and various Samhitas.

Within their worship Vaishnava devotees consider that Vishnu is within them, as the Antaryami or the God within and as the foundation of their being; which is a part of the definition of the name Narayana.

Unlike other schools of Hinduism whose goal is liberation (moksha), or union with the Supreme Brahman, the ultimate goal of Vaishnava practice is an eternal life of bliss (ananda) in service to Vishnu, or one of his many avatars, in the spiritual realm of ‘Vaikuntha’, which lies beyond the temporary world of illusion (maya).

The three features of the Supreme as described in the Bhagavata Purana—Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan—are viewed as the Universal Vishnu, Vishnu within the heart, and Vishnu the personality respectively.


Vaishnavas commonly follow a process of initiation (diksha), given by a guru, under whom they are trained to understand Vaishnava practices. At the time of initiation, the disciple is traditionally given a specific mantra, which the disciple will repeat, either out loud or within the mind, as an act of worship to Vishnu or one of his avatars.

The practice of repetitive prayer is known as japa. The system of receiving initiation and training from a spiritual master is based on injunctions throughout the scriptures held as sacred within the Vaishnava traditions:

‘Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”(Bhagavad Gita)

“One who is initiated into the Vaishnava mantra and who is devoted to worshiping Lord Vishnu is a Vaishnava. One who is devoid of these practices is not a Vaishnava.”(Padma Purana)

The scriptures specific to the Gaudiya Vaishnava group also state that one who performs an act of worship as simple as chanting the name of Vishnu or Krishna can be considered a Vaishnava by practice:

“Who chants the holy name of Krishna just once may be considered a Vaishnava. Such a person is worshipable and is the topmost human being.”(Chaitanya Charitamrita)

Attitude toward scriptures

Vaishnava traditions refer to the writings of previous acharyas in their respective lineage or sampradya (see below) as authoritative interpretations of scripture.

While many schools like Smartism and Advaitism encourage interpretation of scriptures philosophically and metaphorically and not too literally, Vaishnavism stresses the literal meaning (mukhya vritti) as primary and indirect meaning (gauna vritti) as secondary: sakhad upadesas tu shrutih - “The instructions of the shruti-shastra should be accepted literally, without fanciful or allegorical interpretations.”

Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2006 - 2013 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor