Maragatham refers to emerald, a precious stone considered special in the worship of Lord Siva. For instance, the Mangalanathar temple at Utirakosamangai has a 6-foot tall maragatha Natarajar. Similarly, there are various temples that may feature a maragatha Lingam. These are small lingams, which are brought out during various pujas.
Maragatha lingams at various temples are worshipped as a specialty, often as part of the daily pujas. However, there are even seven temples – together called the Sapta Vitanga Sthalangal, where the maragatha Lingam is associated with the legend of Muchukunda Chakravarti. Sapta Vitanga Sthalangal are different from the Tiruvaiyaru Sapta Sthanam temples.
Vitanga means “not chiseled”, ie, naturally formed. A Vitanga Lingam is one where both the top portion (banam) and the base (avudai) are naturally formed and not chiseled, as opposed to most lingams where the avudai is hand-made. Another meaning of Vitanga, which is also important for this story, is “moving” or “dancing” (eg, procession idols are often called veedhi vitangar).
Legend of Muchukunda Chakravarti
Once, a tiger was chasing a monkey, and in order to escape, the monkey climbed a tree, while the tiger waited below. As night fell, the monkey started plucking leaves from the tree and dropping them down, to stay awake. The monkey was unaware it was Mahasivaratri night, and that there was a Siva lingam on which the leaves fell. The Lord was pleased and gave the monkey a boon to be reborn as a valiant king (but with a monkey’s face, because the monkey requested so). The king so born was Muchukunda Chakravarti.
Many years later, one day, the king and his troops went to hunt wild animals that were troubling the people living near a forest. After much hunting, the group came across some rishis and Siva bhaktas, who told them it was Mahasivaratri that day. Realizing his fault for hunting animals on such a day, the king discarded his royal attire and joint the rishis. Appreciating his realization, Lord Siva gave darshan to him. This happened at Tiruvaimoor, where the Vaaimoornathar temple is a Paadal Petra Sthalam.
The Maragatha lingam is believed to be the foremost representation of Siva, said to have been resting on Vishnu‘s navel, when Vishnu lay in sayanam on Adiseshan in Vaikuntam. It is the Lingam that Vishnu worshipped. Later, Vishnu gifted the maragatha Vitanga Lingam to Indra as a recognition for his services, with strict instructions to perform regular puja to it. However, Indraloka being a place of pleasure and festivities, and not worship, Siva wanted the Lingam to be taken away from Indra, and so deputed Muchukunda Chakravarti for this task.
Muchukunda Chakravarti assisted Indra and the Devas in defeating the demon Valasuran. In return, Indra offered Muchukunda Chakravarti any gift other than his parasol and Airavata. Muchukunda Chakravarti asked for the Vitanga Lingam, which upset Indra, who didn’t want to part with it. So Indra asked for six replicas to be quickly created, and asked Muchukunda Chakravarti to identify and select the real one. Due to Lord Siva’s divine assistance, the fragrance of senkazhuneer flowers emanated from the real Lingam, and Muchukunda Chakravarti was able to spot the correct one. Pleased with his piety, Indra gave Muchukunda Chakravarti all seven lingams, which Muchukunda Chakravarti installed at different temples. Each of the temples is also associated with a different nadanam or dance form, of Lord Siva. These are as below:
- Tiruvarur – Veedhi Vitangar – Ajapa Nadanam (dance without chanting, as Thyagaraja did on Vishnu’s chest)
- Tirunallar – Nagaradangar – Unmatha Nadanam (dance of an intoxicated person)
- Nagappatinam (Nagai Karonam) – Sundara Vitangar – Villathi Nadanam (dance like the waves of the sea)
- Tirukkaravasal (Thirukaraiyil) – Aadi Vitangar – Kukuta Nadanam (dance like a cockerel)
- Tirukkuvalai – Avani Vitangar – Bringa Nadanam (dance like a bee hovering over flowers
- Tiruvaimoor – Nila Vitangar – Kamala Nadanam (dance like a lotus swaying in the breeze)
- Vedaranyam (Tirumaraikkadu) – Bhuvani Vitangar – Hamsapadha Nadanam (dance like the gait of a swan)
All seven places above are Paadal Petra Sthalams.
The king also asked Lord Siva to stay, which he did by staying back in the original Veedhi Vitanga Lingam at Tiruvarur.
In all these places the utsava murti is taken out on the palanquin and the people carrying it move slowly as if dancing. The murti is never hurried in the procession. The Vitanga Lingam is quite small and is kept inside a special box. At certain temples, in addition to abhishekam to the Vitanga Lingam during select daily pujas, the temple priest may permit devotees who request, to view and worship it. It is believed that praying to the Vitanga Lingam ensures heaven after death.