Remembering Manimegalai

Jan 14 2022–12:20 PM

I got a chance to read the great Tamil epic Manimegalai recently, where the main character Manimegalai, a pious young lady, renowned for her great beauty renounces a life of worldly pleasures in her quest to find the truth about life and becomes a buddhist monk.

One of the most important aspects in the world of Manimegalai is her procuring of the “Amudha Surabi”, the divine pot that keeps generating food endlessly. Manimegalai identifies her purpose in life after she begets the pot and starts travelling across many hamlets to feed the hungry and poor.

Somehow it hit me today while looking at the many interesting “Pongal wishes’ ‘ that this harvest festival may also be a tribute to the legendary Manimegalai and I’d like to correlate these facts to the tradition of Pongal.

When Manimegalai gets the “Amudhas urabhi” — she wants to start her noble work of feeding the people with the blessings of a pure being and she chooses Aadhirai, a chaste and spiritual woman to be the first person to offer food into the divine pot. Aadhirai, understanding the essence of the Amudha surabi — blesses Manimegalai with these words as she places food into the Amudha surabhi

பாரகம் அடங்கலும் பசிப்பிணி அறுக என

ஆதிரை இட்டனள் ஆருயிர் மருந்து”

Āthirai worshiped Manimekalai, circled her and said,

“May hunger be unknown in the whole world.”

Food, the wonderful remedy for hunger, filled the pot Amudhasurabhi and from it Āthirai gave food to Manimekalai.

It isn’t common to see that the symbol of pongal is a pot overflowing with food which could be an analogy to the amudha surabhi that Manimegalai had. Sans symbolism and entering into the message — The overflowing food pot teaches us to share our food with those that have no food and abolish hunger from the face of this world. I personally take pongal as remembering Manimgelai in the noble deeds and souls of those who bring food to our table.

Interestingly the previous owner of Manimegalai’s divine pot (Amudha Surabhi) is Aaputhiran.

Aaputhiram — translates to Cow’s son.

Aaputhiran was the illegitimate child who was abandoned in the forest where a cow came to his rescue and started nurturing him as her own son. He is later adopted by a couple who eventually disown him as he tries to free a cow that was held for sacrifice and the people of the village brand him as a thief. He becomes a vagabond and finally surrenders to the ever loving goddess Chinta devi who gives him the Amudhasurabhi to sustain his hunger. Interestingly Aaputhiran, knowing the pain of hunger, uses the Amudhasurabhi to feed everyman’s hunger — like the loving cow that came to feed him as he was crying in hunger as a baby.

Aaputhiran’s resolve to stop hunger and his love for all human beings is a lesson he learns from the cow that nursed him to life.

It is also interesting to note that the second day of the harvest festival commemorates Cows — Mattu Pongal — which could very well be a tribute to Aaputhiran and the love of a heart that offers food to the hungry and solace to the weary.

While these are my own interpretations of how the epic Manimegalai can be related to Pongal, I think I would reminisce on the beauty of these divine, all loving characters in Manimegalai every Pongal going forward.

Love all beings.

Provide food for the hungry.

Lokesh

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