23. Karaikkal Ammaiyar
(pronunciation = 'kaaraik-kaal ammaiyar')
By Swami Sivananda
Punithavathiar (as Karaikkal Ammaiyar was called), was born in a Vaisya family. Her father was Danadathan. He was a wealthy merchant. He was very virtuous, too. He and his dutiful wife prayed to the Lord for a child, and the child the Lord blessed them with a child they called Punithavathy. From her childhood, Punithavathy had an intense love for Lord Siva and His bhaktas. She was married to Paramadattan, a wealthy Vaisya. Both of them were leading an ideal householder's life.
One day Paramadattan sent two mangoes to his house. Punithavathy kept them safely so that she could serve her husband with them at meal-time. In the meantime, a Siva yogi appeared before her. He was hungry and completely exhausted. Punithavathy worshipped him and offered him bhiksha. She had nothing to give him, except the mangoes. She gave one to the guest.
At midday Paramadattan came to the house. The wife served him with one mango. He liked it, and asked for the other. She was upset as she had already given the other mango to the Siva yogi. She appealed to the Lord for help. When she finished her prayer, mysteriously a mango fell on the palm of her hand. She gave it her husband. He tasted it. It was exceptionally sweet. He asked her to tell him from where she got it, as he was quite sure it was not the mango he had sent.
Punithavathy told him the whole truth. Paramadattan, however, would not believe this and challenged her to produce another. She prayed again to the Lord. Another mango appeared on her palm. She gave it to him. But, at once it disappeared from his hand. He was astounded. He understood the greatness of his wife. He felt that it was a great sin to live with her as her husband. On the pretext of going to a foreign country for trade, he sailed with a ship load of goods. On return, he established himself in a big city in the Pandyan kingdom. He married a Vaisya girl and lived happily. He had a daughter by her and he named her Punithavathy, after his first wife.
Meanwhile, Punithavathiyar's relatives came to know of her husband's whereabouts and took Karaikkal Ammaiyar also there in a palanquin. When Paramadattan heard that Punithavathy was coming to see him, he, with his second wife and child, went forward, and fell at Punithavathy's feet. When the people demanded an explanation, he revealed that he regarded her, not as his wife, but as a Goddess. Punithavathy understood his mental condition, and prayed to the Lord, "In that case, Oh Lord, deprive me of the present physical charm and let me have a demoniacal form."
Her prayer was immediately granted and her charming body was transformed into a skeleton.
Then she went on a pilgrimage to the holy Kailasa. Feeling that it would be a great sin to place her foot on those sacred grounds, she made the last part of the journey on her head.
Lord Siva was extremely pleased with Punithavathiyar's devotion that He named her "Karaikkal Ammaiyar." Mother Parvathi was surprised to see Punithavathy's strange form and her wonderful devotion. Lord Siva told Parvathi of Punithavathy's greatness.
As Punithavathy went near Him, Lord Siva welcomed her with extreme love and granted a boon to her.
She fell at Siva's feet, and prayed, "Oh Lord of Mercy, give me sincere, pure, unalloyed, eternal and overflowing devotion unto you. I want no more birth. If, however, I have to take birth here, grant me that I should never forget you. Whenever you dance, I must be at your feet singing your praise. This is my only wish."
Lord Siva granted the boon and asked her to proceed to Thiruvalangadu to witness His dance. She went to that place and spent her life singing the praise of Lord Siva.
Sekkilaar, and G. Vanmikanathan. Periya Puranam A Tamil Classic On The Great Saiva Saints of South India. Ed. Dr. N. Mahalingam. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2000.
Sivananda, Swami. Sixty-Three Nayanar Saints. World Wide Web edition. India: Divine Life Society, 1999.