Enthralling story of ruby-studded stirrups

The ruby-studded stirrups donated to Goddess Meenakshi by Rous Peter. —Photo: R. Ashok  

The Chithirai festival of Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple has many things that seamlessly link Madurai to the past. A pair of stirrups made of gold and studded with rubies links it to the British rule. On the fifth day of the festival, Goddess Meenakshi is taken on a golden horse around the Masi streets wearing the stirrups.

“The sole and exclusive administration of the Civil and Military Governments of all the territories and dependencies of the Carnatic” came under the East India Company from July 31, 1801, following an agreement signed with the Nawab of Arcot. The administration of Madurai and its temple also came under the EIC from that date. Thomas Bowyer Hurdis, Madurai Collector, took charge as the ‘Thakkar’ (Fit Person) of the temple in 1801. Rous Peter, who took over as the third Collector in 1812, is held dear to the heart of Madurai. Historians recall that Rous Peter acquitted himself as the administrator of the temple with sincerity and respected the religious sentiments of people.

He is said to have begun his official work by going round the temple on horseback in the morning. His contributions to the Meenakshi temple and Sundararaja Perumal temple in Alagarkoil are celebrated in folk songs. According to a legend, Rous Peter was woken up from sleep by a three-year-old girl in his room and led by the hand outside, where it was raining heavily. When the Collector stopped and looked back, lightning struck his bungalow. The girl ran away in the direction of the temple. Goddess Meenakshi is believed to have appeared as a three-year-old child thrice. The first was in Ezhukadal, where Malayuthavaja Pandian and Kanchanamalai performed a ‘putrakameshti yagam,’ praying for a child. The next appearance was before poet Kumaraguruparar when his ‘Meenakshi Amman Pillai Tamizh’ was made public. The third instance involves Rous Peter.

In another legend, Rous Peter had to run for his life when an elephant attacked him during a hunting expedition. He prayed to Goddess Meenakshi and killed the animal with a single shot.

The Collector donated a pair of gold stirrups, studded with rubies, to Goddess Meenakshi, who had saved his life.

Refusing to go back to England after superannuation, Rous Peter spent his last days in Madurai.

As per his wish, he was interred at the St. George’s Church.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 3:04:54 PM |

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