Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Sthalapuranas are the local legends preserved by the temple authorities. These sthalapuranas usually describe the history of the temple, its legend and the lord consecrated within. These are generally legends amalgamated with historical references providing some valuable information to understand the background behind a temple and veneration to the lord. We find two versions of sthalapuranas, version 1 is found in the Mackenzie collection (manuscript book no. 33, CM 787, section 9) and published in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science vol. VIII and version 2 is found in Carr’s Seven Pagodas. Both the sthalapuranas mention that these are part of the Brahmanda Purana however that is not true.
As per the manuscripts, the brief account of the sthalapuranas is as below:
Version 1– In early times, one Mallasudu lived at this place. Refusing to feed a Brahman, he was cursed by the same to turn into an alligator. Once a sage, named Pundarika, to pluck lotus flowers, came into the lake where this alligator was living. The alligator held the foot of the sage, however the rishi dragged it out of the lake. Coming out of the lake, the alligator regained its original form and went to the heaven. The sage thought to present the flowers to lord Vishnu but the sea did not give him way. He started bailing out the sea.
While he was occupied, god Vishnu came in form of an old Brahman and asked him for boiled rice. Pundarika asked the old Brahamn to help him carrying out his task while he can go and prepare the rice. The old Brahman agreed and Pundarika went to prepare rice. When the old Brahman took a single handful of water, and the sea retreated by a mile. When Pundarika returned, he found that the old Brahman is lying posing in same manner as Vishnu’s reclining image.
Pundarika recognized the lord and built a fan over the image. The place was known as Mallapuri on behalf of Mallasudu till it was renamed to Mahavalipuram. Those ignorant of the sthalapurana, inferred that Maha Bali ruled here therefore the name Mahabalipuram. Some also term it as Mavalipuram however this is also wrong. This sthalapurana is included in Brahmanda Purana from 93rd to 100th chapters inclusive.
In the Kali yuga, Singham Nayadu the zamindar of Vellugotivaru ruled here. In that time, during a famine, many artificers resorted hither, and wrought on the mountain a variety of works, during two or three years. Ignorant people term these works of Vishvakarma, but mark of chisel tell otherwise. Besides Singahama Nayadu built a palace, remains of which are above the hill.
Version 2 – This another version of sthalapurana is found in the Seven Pagodas by M W Carr. This was also told to be included in the Brahmanda Purana, under Kshetrakakhanda, chapter 93-100 as Mallapurimahatmya. As mentioned, above the chapter 93-100 of Brahmanda Purana does not narrate any such story as mentioned in these sthalapuranas. The brief account of this sthalapurana is as below:
Once upon a time, Narada got disassociated from meditation and became impure. Narada decided to perform a penance and departed to Meru mountain to perform the same. Narada found many sages on the mountain and asked them their permission to perform his penance. The sages told him about his father, Brahma, how he faced a similar situation earlier. Brahma, by Atri’s curse, got disturbed in his mind, and on advice of Madhava, performed the difficult penance at Brahmashrama on the Meru mountain.
The sages told Narada to perform his penance at Brahmashrama. Narada did penance for many years however he did not get peace in his mind. He went to his father, Brahma, and told his problem. Brahma asked him to remember what might be cause of his disturbance. Narada mentions that inaccessibility of Vishnu is the cause of his troubles. Brahma then told him a conversation which took place between Agastya and Suta which involved Shiva answering Parvati on how to access Vishnu.
Shiva told the story of muni Pundarika. Pundarika worshiped Vishnu at Yadugiri, and then he visited various places on the east coast reaching Varahakshetra at the last. He saw magnificent lotuses in a lake and went inside to pluck those. A voice from the sky said that these large and priceless lotuses should only be offered to Vishnu. While a crocodile in the lake, mistook lotus stem as muni’s foot, got pierced in its tongue, lay dead on water.
The muni went near to it, and it narrated its story telling that in its previous birth, it was the king of the whole earth running at Mallapuri. His son was Satananda, a votary of Vishnu, and celebrated as Mallesvara. He then told Pundarika how Varahaswami came to Mallapuri, the story he heard from his forefathers.
Once there was a king Harisekara, who was in habit of going daily with his aged and pious mother to worship Vishnu at Varahakshetra, a yojana distance from Mallapuri. One day, Hari came to Mallapuri in disguise as an old Brahman accompanied with his daughter. The old man asked the king to give him food. The king told the old man to wait as he can serve him once he is back from Varahakshetra. However the old man asked for immediate relief as he was very hungry.
The king suspected that the god had visited him and he immediately provided food for the old brahman. The king then saw the Varahaswamy in the original form with goddess Earth on his right hip. The king asked the god to stay at Mallapuri and the god agreed. The god looked at west and being asked why he looked towards the west, the god replied that Punyakotivimana was to come in the east at a distance of five yojanas.
The crocodile told his father’s name was Harinandana and his own name was Haripriya. Then he told the story of how he was cursed. He was cursed by a Brahman when the king failed to serve him. After this, the crocodile took his original form and went to heaven. Pundarika, in order to worship Vishnu as the lord of the milk sea, arrived at the sea shore. The muni started bailing out the ocean to make way, and he continued it for a year.
Then an old brahman approached him and asked for food. Pundarika asked him to help in bailing out the sea while he can go and find food. The old Brahman agreed and Pundarika went out for food. With a single handful of water from the sea taken by the old Brahman, the sea receded by a kos. Pundarika returned and finding this spectacle realized that the old Brahman can only be Vishnu.
He offered him the lotuses from the lake. Vishnu asked him for a boon and Pundarika asked the lord to stay over that place. The lord consented. King Satananda, with people from the city, visited the place and worshiped the god. On being asked under what name he would dwell, Vishnu replied, “Know me as Sthalasayi, who here reclined on the ground”.
So these were the accounts coming from the sthalapurana of the Sthalasayana_perumal temple at Mamallapuram. These puranas specifically mention Mahabalipuram as the name of the town. As both these sthalapuranas refer to the lotus offering to Vishnu episode, it is very probable that this episode was inspired from a similar episode found in Avantisundari of Dandin. As per Avatisundari, when Dandin was at Mahamallapuram, he saw that a lotus came along with sea waves into the feet of Vishnu image and then being converted into a gandharva, flew away. The same theme is taken intact in these sthalapuranas as a curse to a king that he will only get his form back when he meet someone truly devoted to Vishnu.