King Vallalan, after building his gopuram, felt great pride in his achievement. Lord Arunachaleswara, noting that the feeling ‘I have built this great gopuram‘, was strongly rooted inside him, decided to teach him a lesson. There is a ten-day festival in which Arunachaleswara is paraded each day through these streets of Tiruvannamalai. In the first festival after the gopuram had been built, Arunachaleswara initially refused to leave the temple via the passage in the centre of the new gopuram. For the first nine days of the festival, He always left the temple via a different route. On the tenth and last day the king realised his mistake and became more humble. He broke down and cried before the Lord, begging him to use the gopuram for just one day. Lord Arunachaleswara saw that the king’s pride had abated and granted his request. This particular festival is still celebrated in Tiruvannamalai. To commemorate King Vallalan’s attack of pride and his subsequent humility, Arunachaleswarar is only taken through the king’s gopuram on the tenth and final day.
Apart from the Vallala Gopuram and the wall adjoining it, there are other items in the temple that are clearly a result of his patronage. There are several statues of him, one of which is still garlanded every day. One shows him with a full beard, another shows him with one of this queens, and a third as an old man. He was also responsible for the Nandi, and its covering mantapam, which lies to the east of the Kili Gopuram. On the right-hand pillar there is a carving of King Vallalan and on the left-hand pillar there is a carving of the ganda-berunda, the imperial emblem of the Hoysalas.
And now back to the Arunachala Puranam.
[The sage] Narada, hearing that King Vallalan, as he proclaimed, was graciously bestowing gifts daily to blind people, to devotees of Siva, to the lame, to wandering minstrels, to those afflicted by the disease of poverty and [many] others, approached that king.
When he heard about the arrival of the muni, the great tapasvin, the king with great love descended quickly from his throne and, surrounded by all his ministers, approached the holy man, singing his praises, received him, and offered him a seat free from all impurities. Once the muni was seated, the king began to speak.
‘O great muni, you who were born from the tapas of Brahma and who sing with the vina in your beautiful hands, graciously enlighten me about the purpose of your visit to this lowly cur.’ Then the ascetic replied:
‘O king belonging to the lineage of Agni, which is one of the three ancestral lines [Surya, Chandra and Agni] praised by the world-renowned tapasvins and the praise-worthy ascetics who have conquered the five senses, I have heard of your flawless munificence and have come to learn about [it]. Tell me what is on your mind.’
‘O muni, O great tapasvin whom the rishis learned in the Vedas and sastras praise, please listen! I have no son to speak my name [at the time of my death] or to rule my great kingdom [after me]. I have therefore hoisted a flag so that I can lovingly give whatever in this world is humbly solicited by devotees of the Lord who shares half His body with the one whose hair is decorated by dewy flowers. But I know not the will of God.’
Then Narada replied, ‘The worthy Dharma Sastras proclaim that those who perform great charitable acts on this earth will obtain children. Furthermore, qualified people have also said so. So, by the grace of the Guru who protects everyone and who delights in wearing the crescent moon and the surging Ganga in his matted locks, a son will be born. Now, O king, grant me leave.’
Full of love, the muni went to see Lord Siva’s abode in Kailash to tell him of the king’s justice. As the Siva ganas [attendants or followers] were standing there, singing His praises, Narada prostrated himself to the dazzling form of Nandikeshwara, who was standing in the foreground. Then, beholding the beautiful scene of Siva with the crescent moon in His hair, surrounded by rishis, he praised the Lord and said:
‘O Lord of Lords, dwelling in luminous Kailash, praised be Your holy feet! Desiring a son to speak his name, a king called Vallalan in the flourishing, flawless city of Arunai, has hoisted a flag to proclaim that if anyone in the world asks for whatever he wants, he [the king] will gladly give it. Listen now to the glory of this king.’
‘He enables justice to flourish and is the guardian of the truth. He never swerves from righteousness. This great king was born into the world as the embodiment of the dharma that weeds out sin. He regards all beings on the earth as his own and treats them accordingly. He is Your devoted slave. Every day he prays in the following way: ”O First Cause, Your lotus feet are my refuge!”’
Narada’s praises are but a dim echo of the adulatory epithets and grandiose titles that King Vallalan bestowed on himself. Two epigraphs in the temple list a few of his titles. Some of the political ones can be used to corroborate events in his life.
1. ‘Destroyer of the Makara Kingdom.’ Makara is probably the same as Magada, the territory that contained Tiruvannamalai, but there is no indication of how, where or when he destroyed it. Though it was given to him by the Pandya king, he might have pre-empted the issue by forcibly occupying it first. This forcible occupation may have been the destruction of the kingdom that he referred to.
2. ‘Uplifter of the Pandya family.’
3. ‘Preceptor in establishing the Chola kingdom.’
4. ‘Preceptor in establishing the Pandya kingdom.’
Dated 1317, titles two, three and four indicate that he was a major player, possibly the major one on the Tamil political stage at that time. Other kings, nominally independent, clearly depended on him for support and for ensuring a smooth transition of power. Many of the Chola territories in what is now Andhra Pradesh were taken over by the Hoysala empire, while the Pandya kingdom of this period only held onto a small amount of territory in southern Tamil Nadu.
Epigraph 303 continues to praise him as:
5. ‘Tormentor of the Katava king.’
6. ‘Emperor of Komkana.’
7. ‘Vanquisher of Chola, Malava, Gauda and Gujjara countries.’ Since this epigraph dates from 1341, it can be assumed, if he is telling the truth, that the new names that appear here are all kings and territories conquered or annexed between 1317 and 1341. The same inscription gives him a string of more general titles:
8. ‘Great King of Kings.’
9. ‘The Supreme Lord of Kings.’
10. ‘The Unequalled Lord.’
11. ‘The Crest Jewel of the Omniscient.’
12. ‘The Vanquisher of Opponents.’
13. ‘Warrior Not Requiring Any Support.’
14. ‘Lion to the Elephant-like Opponents.’
15. ‘Cupid Possessing Unusually Beautiful Form.’
16. ‘The Emperor Possessing Undoubted Power.’
My favourite, though, also from 303, is ‘sanivarasiddhi‘ which means, ‘one who accomplishes great deeds on Saturdays’. No mention is made of what feats made his weekends so memorable, nor is it explained why his weekdays were so lacking in achievements.
Listening to the discourse of the muni who had come before Him, Lord Siva thought, ‘I will ascertain for Myself what this Vallalan is like’. Then the Peerless One said to the devas, rishis and munis, ‘All of you go to your respective ashrams’.
Immediately the Lord of Kailash summoned the king of Alakapuri [Alakesan, the god of wealth]. That king, who came with such a huge pile of gold that he was honoured by everyone, prostrated himself before the gracious feet of the Lord, whose body wears the rudraksha and the cobra as His ornaments, and praised Him. Then the Red-hued One graciously spoke a few words:
‘O king who rules Alakapuri, listen. I have decided to test the steadfastness of the king who dwells in Arunai. Therefore become My worthy disciple and accompany Me joyfully with lots of wealth.’ Thus said the Lord of Kailash.
Then Paramasiva, who shines with the indescribable Lady as one of His halves, took the form of a sangama [Saiva monk] that could now be worshipped by everyone. As Brahma and Vishnu looked on, they felt a joy they had never experienced before. All the devas showered forth a rain of flowers while the Vedas praised [Him].
All the beautiful Siva ganas dwelling in Kailash, the abode of the Lord became andis [mendicants] by the grace of our most excellent Lord Siva. Coming in a large group, they reached the beautiful city where Vallalan dwells and were praised by those who knew the ways of the king.
The mendicants proclaimed: ‘Are there no highly virtuous mothers who regard their husbands as gods? Are there no young men excelling in beauty? Is there no one to give food to the hungry? Are there no just monarchs? Are there no good-hearted ladies who will lovingly invite us and attentively serve as food?’
‘Even if gold is given, we don’t want [it]. If you give us beautiful ornaments, we don’t want [them]. We desire neither shining rubies nor long pearl necklaces. If you grant us sovereignty over kingdoms, our minds are not in that. However, should you offer us food and protection, we shall eat with great delight.’
The Lord, who had given up the deer He was holding to take on the appearance of a sangama, headed for the street in that excellent city wherein dwelled the devadasis, whose lips were like red fruit. His lily-like mouth blossomed, and He cried out like a beggar suffering terrible hunger.
Young girls became devadasis by being consecrated to the service of a temple deity. Although they were taught singing and dancing and were obliged to perform before devotees, they were often little more than prostitutes whose earnings went toward the support of the temple or its priests. The British, during their occupation of India, tried to put an end to the practice, but were not totally successful. The tradition still lingers on in some areas such as northern Karnataka.
Marco Polo, the famous traveller and chronicler of China, visited the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu in 1292-3, the early years of King Vallalan’s reign, and noted that there were ‘certain abbeys [temples] in which are gods and goddesses to whom many young girls are consecrated’.
Marco Polo’s accounts give an interesting insight into the cultural and economic activities of the time. He confirmed that the region was prosperous, having a large trade in jewels, mostly pearls and horses. Indeed, he corroborated other contemporary accounts that said that the kings of South India wasted a large amount of their income on importing horses every year from Arabia because they didn’t know how to look after them or breed them properly. The 20,000 horses that Malik Khafur looted from the South in 1311 would have made a major dent in the treasuries of the southern kingdoms. Though the wars and lifestyles of King Vallalan’s generation may seem to be far removed from today’s world, at the domestic level there has been a cultural continuity. Marco Polo’s account, the first eye-witness account of Tamil culture by a European, showed that ordinary people there were living in much the same way that they do today:
And let me tell you that the people of this country have a custom of rubbing their houses all over with cowdung. Moreover, all of them, great and small, kings and barons included, do sit upon the ground only… It is their practice that everyone, male and female, do wash the body twice every day … So also they drink only from drinking vessels, and every man has his own; nor will anyone drink from another vessel. And when they drink, they do not put the vessel to the lips but hold it aloft and let the drink spout into the mouth.
The Arunachala Puranam continues:
‘O Ladies,’ He said. ‘You who have eyes like a fish, whose speech is like a parrot and whose faces are like the moon; you who wear garlands of light flowers in your hair and have breasts like young coconuts rubbed with sandalwood fragrance! How much gold is needed to stay with you till dawn so that the suffering caused by Kama [the god of love or lust] with his five arrows is removed?’
The devadasis replied, ‘O Lord whose beauty defies description! You who resemble Paramasiva wearing the cobra with lifted head! Listen! We neither lie nor cheat. You must give 1,000 pon for one lady to make love all night. If you give this we will join our bodies with yours and remove the suffering caused by Kama.’
Siva immediately handed out the gold that the devadasis had demanded. Matching up one mendicant with each lady, he signalled to them with His eyes that they must stay together all night. Thus, in the city of Arunai, which grants many boons, Siva made the devadasi streets light up with the great assemblies of sangamas embracing all the devadasis.
Siva made sure that no devadasi was left unengaged and had everyone embrace according to the path of the lustful Kama. Then he set off for the king’s palace with His disciple [Alakesan, the god of wealth], who had experimented with [and followed] the path that leads to goodness. Seeing them come towards the palace, the king, who was an expert archer and the ruler of the land, approached the two sangamas deferentially, praised them, invited them inside and seated them there. Then the king began to speak:
‘Lord, Your golden feet have deigned to come here. Is it [because of] the tapas I have performed? What is the good deed I am performing in the world? If, due to my past merit, I am able to give whatever You ask, I will be honoured and I will receive Your gracious glance.’
Siva said: ‘O King, listen. May your kindness and your just path flourish for ever! I have come to you for a purpose that I will now tell. If you give me a woman to remove the misery caused today by the five arrows sent by the formless Kama, your fame will shine over the seven seas.’
The king replied: ‘I shall do more! For You, Lord, a beautiful marriage will be arranged.’ Hearing this, the Venerable One replied: ‘O king, listen. Marriage is a great bother. Only the devadasis have the skill and knowledge, which is a great treasure, to alleviate the suffering caused by the disease of lust.’
‘O sangama who teaches wisdom even to those who have made their minds steady, I shall act according to Your wish.’ Then the king called his guards and said, ‘Go immediately and fetch a beautiful devadasi‘. The guards set off faster than the wind.