‘“Well, that’s the top and bottom of it, so to speak. Why dwell any further upon the matter? Due to your auspicious arrival, what I was thinking about has come to pass. You must speak to him who measured the earth in three strides and tell him that I, Brahma, adopting the form a swan, reached Lord Siva’s head.
Vamana (Vishnu) tricked Mahabali by requesting three steps of land on which to live. The request was granted. Vamana covered the whole of the earth, the heavens and the underworld in his first two steps. Seeing that there was nowhere else to place the foot for the third step, Mahabali offered his own head as a stepping place, thus gaining immortality and dominion over the nether regions.
The story is also referred to in verse 124.
‘“Do not call this deceit and despise me. It is permissible to tell the greatest falsehoods in order to save the lives of those who suffer. These are not unworthy words which one should fear to speak. Those who prize their friends will agree even to drink poison for their sake.
The idea in the last sentence is taken from Tirukural, verse 550.
‘“Screwpine flower, you who live upon the head of him whose forehead bears a third eye! There is no need to give this any further thought,” he said, and the screwpine flower assented and went along with him. Dropping swiftly down from the heavens, he came into the presence of Lord Vishnu, he whose strides measured the earth.
‘“Bearer of Lakshmi, hear the exploits which brought me here! Travelling a hundred thousand leagues in a mere instant, I perceived the head of the Primal Lord, and returned,” he claimed, and the screwpine flower attested that it was so.
‘At that precise moment, the mountain of fire exploded. The gods and rakshasas fainted away at the sound of the detonation. The elephants of the eight directions vomited blood, believing that the sun itself had melted. Then in the midst of that scene, eclipsing the ruddy glow in the sky, making even the beautiful flower of the murukku tree look soiled, the Three-Eyed One rose up, his radiant red form all covered in white ash, with a smile on his lips like the one he wore when he burned up the three cites of the asuras.
‘“Lotus-born Brahma, you have spoken out of sheer arrogance. A fine thing indeed!” said the Lord, and began to laugh, whereupon this world and all the worlds beyond trembled and grew dim. The radiance of all the heavenly bodies faded. Clouds disappeared from the sky. All that was fair and beautiful perished, and all that was worthless flourished and grew. The eight directions were twisted from their stations, and vast forests of trees were blackened, scorched and burned.
‘The gods were fearful, thinking, “Ayan has been destroyed!” and poured down a vast rain of flowers, as if the earth had been dug hollow. But joy blossomed in the heart of tall Mal as the black stain of arrogance departed from lotus-borne Brahma.
‘Realisation dawned upon fair-eyed Mal. He sang and offered up prayers. He danced in a transport of joy, running hither and thither. Becoming a worthy devotee of the immeasurable First One, he wondered to himself what boon he might ask of Lord Siva.
‘Seeing how the heart of Hari melted with devotion for him, the Lord graciously granted him many a boon. Then, turning to Brahma, he commanded, “You who dwell upon a fragrant lotus-blossom, all your temples and all worship of you will vanish from this earth”.
‘“Screwpine flower, for joining Brahma in this deception, I shall never touch you again.” Thus did he decree. Brahma himself, distraught on observing the depths of the Lord’s fury, fell at his feet, prostrating his body upon the ground and offering praises.
‘“You whose form is like fire, smeared with white ashes! Since my soul has been foully shrouded by the loathsome cloak of anava malam, I wander helpless here. How am I, a mean wretch, of any significance? Fair One! Heaven’s infinite sphere! You who are the four Vedas, and more than that, the Vedas’ ultimate import! Peerless First One! Let your anger against me cease! Let it cease!
Anava malam is the principle of egoity inherent in the unenlightened soul or jiva, which prevents it from recognising that God alone is the source of all its actions.
‘“If the seven oceans, into which all the earth’s waters flow, were mixed together and heated up, would there be any other water to cool them down? And if your anger remains at such a pitch, how will life here be able to survive? You who in former times drank the poison from the Milk Ocean! Let your anger against me cease! Let it cease!
‘“Crescent moon! Moon at the full! You who appear in female form! And again, as a man! Honeyed one! Fragrant blossom! Great mountain! Divine grace! Munificent cloud! Melodious sound! These are among the myriad forms in which you manifest yourself. Is this just? Over and over again I beg you, let your anger cease! Let your anger cease!
‘“I am not the hunter Kama with his bow and flowery arrows which sting! I am not that raging elephant with curving tusks, its temples streaming with the juices of the rut! I am not that red-hot fire, nor death-dealing Yama! Nor am I the three cities of the asuras! Do not consider me to be of sufficient importance to merit your anger!
‘“The moment I conceived the idea of reaching your unknowable summit, I assumed the form of a bird. Must I go on suffering further? Show your compassion to one who has been disgraced!” These words he spoke, and the Lord, who is like a warm fire to those who suffer in the cold, joyfully replied:
‘“Lotus-born Brahma, be no longer afraid! That puja performed by brahmins upon the earth will henceforth be your puja. And you may continue to ordain the seven worlds which are supported upon golden Mount Meru.” Such was the decree of that gracious Ocean of Compassion, who swallowed the poison from the conch-strewn sea.
‘“Since I have granted you both such boons in this holy place, may it flourish, to a distance of three yojanas [about 30 km] all around, as the pure and sacred dwelling place of divine knowledge. This great column of flame, assuming a lesser form, shall become a mountain with the power to grant boons. That mountain, which unfailingly confers the bliss of glorious final liberation, shall be known as Arunaipuri.
‘“I ended the suffering of Indra and the other gods the moment that, in their affliction, they turned their thoughts to me. Therefore I shall abolish the suffering of birth and death for those who fix their thoughts on this holy place. This mountain and this sthala shall possess the quality of being indestructible, even at the universe’s ending, and the winds from it shall blow in all directions bringing final liberation to all beings, animate or inanimate.
‘“Desiring to confer sweet salvation upon those of the earth who have performed arduous penance, we shall grant them the boon of birth in this fair and holy city. Here a single offering will be increased in worth a thousand fold. Wickedness and sin will not prosper here. For those who doubt, there will be no salvation. For such is my command.”
‘When the Lord had finished speaking, that pillar of fire shrank and became a mountain. When holy Mal and Ayan saw how it shone out spreading its beautiful rays far and wide, they made obeisance to the Lord and said, “It is not possible for the gods and ourselves to approach and gaze upon its brilliance. Let it be a simple mountain, concealing within itself all those countless fiery rays.”
‘“Immaculate Lord, conceal this beauteous light and make of it a mountain like all others,” cried He whose vehicle is a swan, and He whose vehicle is Garuda. Whereupon the Lord made of it a mountain like all others. And when those two devotees said, “May you gracefully grant that each day a bright light be seen upon its summit,” the Lord in his compassion spoke these words:
‘“In the month of Karttikai when the moon is in the constellation of Kritika I shall mount a bright beacon upon the summit of that mountain. They who see that most excellent light will endure and prosper upon the earth, free of disease and hunger. The obstacles confronting kings and great ascetics will be removed. We shall grant the boon of liberation to the kin of those who have praised or gazed up it down to the twenty first generation.
‘“This mountain shall have the power to cure the affliction of birth and death. Therefore one of its names shall be ‘Medicine Mountain’. Since it is red in colour, ‘Red Mountain’ will also be one of its names. For those upon the earth who recite its name but once, it will be as if they had pronounced the five holy syllables, [Namasivaya], thirty million times.” On hearing the pronouncement of the Lord whose throat is black with poison, Brahma and Vishnu were filled with joy. Bowing down to him, they began to speak:
‘“Red Mountain Lord, except for the rains that fall from the sky, who will be able to approach you and bathe you with water? Who, apart from the starry constellations, will be able to place about your holy neck a garland of pearls? You whose throat poison adorns, who will there be to show a bright lamp before you, other than the Sun with his rays? Accordingly we beseech you to manifest yourself in the form of a lingam at the foot of that mountain, that we may make obeisance and perform puja to you.”
‘“Then such shall I become. May you worship according to the precepts of the Kamika Agama,” said the Lord, withdrawing into the mountain. And so a Siva lingam manifested there, whose praises are sung in every land. Seeing this, they bowed down in worship, pouring down a dense rain of flowers, and dancing for joy in transports of bliss. Then they summoned Mayan who saw to the construction of gopurams, halls, and great walls, without equal anywhere.
Mayan is one of the Danavas, who served the devas and asuras as their architect and builder.
‘He built a rich and deathless city, with three hundred and sixty holy tanks, and made it beautiful. In its wells flowed the heavenly river whose waters never fail, and in its groves grew the celestial trees of Svarga. Gods and rishis in unending succession took birth there, and the courtesans of heaven incarnated there as dancing girls with eyes as black as the poison halahala.
‘Rising in the morning and bathing, Brahma and Vishnu put on clothing of bark, matted their reddened hair, covered their bodies in holy ash, put on necklaces of rudraksha beads and performed Siva puja, with ritual bathing, much sandalwood paste and garlands of flowers. Then they performed pradakshina of Annamalai, devotedly praising him until fourteen thousand years had passed, whereupon they assumed their divine forms once more.
‘Once its construction was complete, holy Arunai’s city became so desirable that even the Lord’s affection for Mount Kailash faded away. Since here was a mountain of pure gold, of what value was a mountain of silver only? The seven holy sites with Kasi at their head, whose glory is widely praised, and the golden realm of the gods all lost their allure, just as the stars lose their radiance as the pure rays of the Sun appear.
‘Though it is hard indeed to tell of the qualities of a mountain whose measure even Brahma and Vishnu could not know, I have tried in a small way to describe it insofar as my knowledge permits. Is there anything further I might need to speak of?’ said Nandi. At that, the rishi Markandeya, feeling greatly honoured, bowed down in worship and said, ‘May you show us your grace and recount to us the tale of how Uma appeared from the [Himalaya] mountain and merged with the left side of Lord Siva as his consort’. Whereupon Nandi began to speak…