Brihadeshwara temple first kumbhabhishekam - Bhakthi precedes over language

"Which one will you choose? A raw mango or a ripe mango?" Thiruvalluvar asked and he did not wait for an answer from cultured people like us. On the auspicious occasion of the Grand Kumbabishekam for the Great Brihadeshwara temple in Thanjavur we did not choose to fight over the language of the ceremony, but we chose to contemplate on the Bhakti of unsung Heroes who made the majestic temple stand there for over a millennium like Azhagi, the old lady. Her story now:
Azhagi, was an aged lady, when the big temple was under construction at the center of Thanjavur, the Chola capital. She had the distinction of being a contemporary of King Raja Raja the Great. Nobody knew whether she was older, younger or of the same age as the King or was really handsome true to her name. (In Tamil ‘Azhagi’ means a beautiful maiden) But her inborn qualities of piety, devotion, compassion and selfless services to her neighbors were so familiar as to get into historical records and even got the Lord’s declaration that He dwelt under her shelter! For all that she was still an unlettered, innocent rustic lady admired alike by both the royalty and divinity! She received divine grace without an iota of knowledge of the artifices of the world! 

Azhagi, the heroine of this invaluable and memorable story, dwelt in a little cottage in a vacant land near the Big Temple, then under construction. Raja Raja built a huge temple in granite to Lord Brihadheeswara in his Capital City, Thanjavur. Pious and devoted to the service of God as she was, Azhagi knew that the King was building a mighty temple to the Lord at a place not far from her residence. She loved her fellow beings with true warmth and real affection and considered all human beings as manifestations of God on earth. As such, she used to do what little service she could do to others, whenever she could. Every day she used to go to the temple site and watch the mammoth work executed by the sculptors, masons, carpenters and the chief mason employed for the greatest construction work. Being very sensitive by nature, she used to be moved at the sight of hard work of the toiling craftsmen, who were engaged in work from Sunrise to Sunset daily, for cutting huge blocks of stone, shaping them to specific forms of the deities. Hence, her concern for them grew in her heart! 

It was a habit with her to visit the work spot at all hours of the day, whether morning, midday or evening. One day she noticed that the workers were feeling thirsty and tired during the midday. So she decided to help them during this time. How? She thought over it. Finally, the hour came. One day she saw a woman walking along the street selling curd and buttermilk in earthern pots, carrying them in her head. It was a midday. Immediately an idea flashed in her mind. She purchased the whole quantity of buttermilk from her, paid some amount to her, asking her to come the next to collect the balance amount. The woman agreed and went away caring little to collect the balance amount. Azhagi never saw her anywhere. So, she thought that Lord himself came in the form of that woman to show a way to her to do her own humble service to Him, along with that great service of the King! From that day her services to the artisans started. She carried a few pots of buttermilk, spiced with ginger, mustard and curry leaves everyday to the work spot during midday and gave each a cup of fresh buttermilk, which everyone of them liked very much, in the hot hours of the day and felt refreshed to continue their work. This humble service she was doing for months and years till the completion of the temple. 

However one important thing was waiting to be cleared. That was the closing of the opening in the Vimana over the head of the Lord, at the ceiling. A bright idea entered the mind of Azhagi. She knew that they were in search of a suitable stone slab for the purpose. As usual, she went to the temple site, this time with a special request to the master sculptor. Azhagi told them, “I have a piece of granite stone in my little garden. I find no use for it. It is there for a very long period. I believe that it will serve the purpose of ceiling the Brammanandra to be completed very soon…Can you make use of it” 

When they went to her garden, they found it quite suitable for their purpose. Immediately they brought it to the temple site, chiseled it to their requirement and mounted it over the sanctum and fixed it on the ceiling right above the Head of the Lord, at the auspicious time fixed for it. King Raja Raja naturally felt proud that he was chosen by God as an instrument for undertaking such a mammoth work. 

During the night before the day of Kumbabishekam, Lord Siva, Brihadheeswara, appeared in his dream and said, “Arunmozhi Theva, I am happy to dwell under the shelter provided to me by that woman Azhagi, in the Great Temple” and vanished. Raja Raja woke up in the morning and was quite surprised about what the Lord told him in his dream. “How could it be for a little-known woman to give shelter to the Lord in the Great Temple built by me over the years, with the assistance of best artisans, well skilled sculptors and expert guidance could be shadowed, as by an eclipse…looks quite mysterious!” the King thought again and again. 

In all humility Raja Raja went to the temple as usual and tried to gather information on the whereabouts of that woman who had such a significant part to play in the building of the temple, so loved by the Lord. On knowing about the whereabouts of Azhagi and what work she has done, the King immediately went to her cottage with his ministers, met her and conveyed his great appreciation to her unique service to the Lord. Then he escorted her to the temple, honoured her before the public, earlier to the commencement of the Maha Kumbhabishekam. Azhagi with her usual humility bowed before the Lord for the recognition given to her humble services to Him and His devotees! Thousands of people, who gathered in the temple to take part in the first Kumbabishekam, were very much elevated in spirits, when they realized how God recognized even a small service done by a humble person quite unknown to others. 

Her devotion to God and her compassion to the toiling fraternity became a legend in her own days. She continued her services to God and his devotees with the same humility all her life. The site where she lived came to be known as “Azhagi Thottam” and the small tank in front of her cottage has been called “Azhagi Kulam”. The site where her cottage stood ten centuries ago in the center of Thanjavur, now houses the building of the City Municipal Office of the 21st Century! Is not public service, the chief function of a Municipality? Perhaps it is destined to come up there! Who knows, with her blessings too! 

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