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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Three Breasted Queen of Madurai

                                                                                            हिन्दी में यहाँ देखें

Recently I was searching for some specific pictures of an early Pandyan cave in Thiruparankundram, hence had made an appeal for viewers near madurai to help with pictures. One of my friends Smt. Shoba Ramakrishnan sent me her collection but it was from the famed Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple. While going through it - i came across this Gem of a sculpture. Initially I was bit hesitant to publish this post, for it concerned usage of certain sensitive ( in these days) descriptions and some explicit sculpture. But was emboldened by the strength of the legend and the need to explain a sculpture as it is. So in order to prepare myself in advance for any backlash, i tried to seek assistance from friends on authentic texts - found the Thiruvilaiyaadal puranam authored by Paranjyothi Munivar
Ok, enough of beating around the bush - today we are going to see the sculpture and the story behind the three breasted Queen of Madurai - a name so synonymous with the city that the very mention of her name or the city - brings up the other.
Since the legend is long and well known - starting off with the sculpture first. How would a sculptor show a three breasted maiden, who should be ravishingly beautiful, full of pride bordering on manliness, majestic as a ruler, yet befit the title of the future consort of shiva - add to this her fame as the fish eyed one. Simple task for our master sculptor.
Now we go to the legend, the Pandyan King Malayadhwaja was a great devotee of Shiva and Shakti. Despite this, the couple were unhappy that they did not have any issues and as a King, he had to have a male heir to continue running the Kingdom. Hence, King Malayadhwaja along with his wife Kanchanamala perform a penance. From the great yaga, a three year old girl comes out of the fire. The child was ‘Ayonija’ (not born out of the womb). However, the King was shocked to see that she had three breasts. He pleads that he has been a devote follower and done the penance according to strict rules, yet he has been blessed not with a boy but with girl and she too with three breasts. Just then a divine voice is heard
“Don’t fear. Whatever has taken place is for good only. You bring up this child like a man. Whatever education and training is given for a man, all such education may be given to this child. Name her Thadathagai ( endowed with irresistible valour) When she sees the man who is to be her husband, the third breast will disappear. ”

Since she had eyes shaped beautifully like fishes (Meena) she was called Meenakshi. She grew to be a very beautiful young woman despite her birth defect. After the Kings’ demise, she ruled the country herself - Her valor was unparalleled and she was unmatched in battle. Kingdom after kingdom fell to her might till she had no one else to conquer by Shiva himself. Destiny drove her on and she marched with her massive army to Kailash to face Shiva.
Shiva meantime, knew of this and came to meet her - clad in his tiger skin, sporting snake ornaments, sacred white ash allover his body, wearing the sacred thread - he smiled knowingly at her. In that instant she realized who she was, the third breast disappeared, the manly valor gave way to feminine shyness, as she realised it was Shiva her beloved, who had given half of himself for her - who was in front of her…
Vijay Kumar from Singapore
Photo Credits: Shobha Ramakrishnan