Karaikkal Ammaiyar is one of the three women saints among the 63 Nayanmars, and is considered one of the greatest figures of Tamil literature. She was born in Karaikkal, which was, during the Chola period, a maritime centre. Ammaiyar was a great devotee of Lord Siva, and she is believed to have lived during the sixth Century. Named Punithavathi, , right from childhood she had great faith in Lord Siva and worshipped Him daily. As a young girl, she built a Siva Lingam in sand, stunning people. Her father Dhanadhaththan was a merchant.
As a young girl, she chanted ‘Namashivaya’, the mantra of Lord Shiva (V.A. Chellappa) several times daily and took care of the devotees of Siva coming to her village. Later, she (B. Saraswathi) was married to Paramadaththan (Sarangapani), son of a wealthy merchant from Nagapattinam. Devotees of Lord Siva continued to visit her, whom she fed and gave clothes to.
Once, her husband sent her two mangoes to be kept for him. That day, a hungry Siva devotee came to her residence. As lunch was not yet ready, Punithavathi gave the guest curd rice and one of the mangoes. Later, when the husband came home she served a mango, and he asked for the second. She was at a loss and prayed to Lord Siva. Suddenly, a mango appeared in her hands. She served the mango to her husband who found it extremely delicious, compared to the previous one and asked her how she got the second fruit. Since he was not religious, she was scared of revealing the truth. He began suspecting her and asked her to get another fruit. She gave him a mango that she got by prayer; the fruit disappeared when he touched it. He realised that his wife was no ordinary woman, but a divine person and began to call her ‘Ammaiyar’ (mother). As he could no longer treat her as his wife, he left her and moved to Madurai where he married another woman (Chellam) through whom he had a child.
Punithavathi prayed to Lord Siva to give her a different form, and her wish was granted — she became a fiery form of Kali. She was now fierce looking and people began to pray to her. In answer to a prayer, Siva asked her to visit him on Mount Kailash, walking all the way not on her feet but on her hands. She did it with great devotion, and walking on hands became extremely popular; it is associated with Karaikkal Ammaiyar to this day.
Lord Siva asked her to visit Him in Thiruvalangadu, which she again did travelling on her hands, and sang ‘Thiruvalangaatu Mootha Thirupathigam’ (two songs). This familiar tale was produced by Kandhan Company and C.V. Raman at Kandhan Studio, Coimbatore, with Raman himself directing it. Saraswathi, now totally forgotten, played the lead role while V.A. Chellappa as Siva was his usual brilliant self. T.S. Durairaj, M.E. Madhavan, and Kunchithapaadham Pillai provided comic relief. T.S. Jaya, popular those days, played Parvathi.
The dance drama ‘Shiva Thandavam’ was performed by the famous dancing pair Nataraj-Sakunthala, while the music was composed by Papanasam Sivan. However, the film did not do well. Many years later, the story of Karaikkal Ammaiyar was made again with the cult figure K.B. Sundarambal playing the saint.
Remembered For The familiar tale, impressive performances of Chellappa, Saraswathi, and the dance drama by Nataraj-Sakunthala….