Periya Puranam, a Tamizh magnum opus of sixty-three Nayanars (poet saints of Lord Shiva) compiled by Sekkizhar in the 12th century is a literary masterpiece evoking a wide range of emotions from tears of joy to astonishment to bliss. Chidambaram or Thiruchitambalam, one of the pancha sabhas which witnessed the tandava of Lord Nataraja is a mesmerizing tirthasthala with fascinating stories of Lord Nataraja’s leelas.
One such leela led to the tradition of offering kali on the auspicious occasion of Thiruvadhirai in the month of Dhanus (Margashirsha). Thiruvadhirai is a very important festival for Tamilians and Keralites and celebrated with great pomp and show. On this day known as Nataraja Darshanam or Arudra Darsanam, the world was privileged to witness the divine Cosmic Dance of Lord Shiva.
According to Tamizh texts, Cendanar (Senthanar) lived on the outskirts of the sacrosanct town of Chidambaram. He had fallen on hard times and earned a meagre income cutting wood and selling it. His faith in Lord Shiva was unwavering and he abided assiduously to the age-old custom of feeding one devotee of Lord Shiva every day with his earnings.
Lord Shiva had been watching this for a long time and decided to pay him a visit. One day, it rained heavily and all the wood cut became wet. Cendanar was unable to sell wood and therefore, was extremely upset as he did not have any money to buy food to serve a devotee.
Cendanar had a little flour at home and prepared kali by adding jaggery to it. He waited patiently for a devotee to appear but no one knocked on his door. Lord Shiva decided to lift his spirits and came to his house in the guise of a devotee.
Cendanar was delighted to see him and served his frugal meal with love and devotion. Lord Shiva asked him to pack the remaining kali for his travel.
Meanwhile, the king, a great devotee of Lord Nataraja was used to hearing the sound of anklets while doing his puja indicating the arrival of the Lord. On that particular day, the king did not hear any sound and went to sleep deeply troubled.
He had a vivid dream in which the Lord said that he had visited the house of Cendanar and that he would meet Cendanar tomorrow at the ratha utsav. The king woke up and rushed to the temple to find the priests standing in the sanctum sanctorum speechless with shock.
The remaining portion of kali that the Lord had taken with him was scattered all around. The king recollected his dream and asked his soldiers to find Cendanar. At that moment, Cendanar had arrived at the temple to see the ratha utsav. When the king and his men tried to move the chariot, they found that it refused to move no matter how hard they tried.
Suddenly a heavenly voice resonated in the air. The voice commanded Cendanar to sing a song. Cendanar was overcome with emotion and realization dawned on him that it was his beloved Nataraja who had partaken his offering the previous evening. Cendanar experienced immense bliss and started singing praises of Lord Shiva.
Such was his devotion that the chariot moved on its own accord rendering everyone awestruck. The king realized that there was a great saint in their midst and fell at his feet. The king then narrated his dream and learnt from Cendanar that kali was offered to the Lord on Thiruvadhirai.
This prasad is made from rice, jaggery, ghee, coconut and spices. 1 measure of raw rice is dry roasted till brown. It is cooled and powdered fine. 1 measure of jaggery is heated on low flame with a little water till it dissolves. Once it starts boiling, 1 measure of rice powder is added slowly into this jaggery water with 2 measures of water.
It is allowed to cook on low flame. Freshly grated coconut is added along with hot ghee and cardamom powder.
This delicious dish is best enjoyed with pulangiri and the must-have Thiruvathirai ezhu curry koottu made from seven vegetables. Kavathu kizhangu, avarkai, pumpkin, beans, yam, ash gourd, raw banana and brinjal are the commonly used vegetables for this special koottu.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
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