The Arudradarisanam at Chidambaram is one of the dearest festivals for Saivites. It falls on the day of Tamil star, Tiruvadirai. Of all the stars, Tiruvadirai is special for Siva, while Tiruvonam is associated with Vishnu. The Tiruvadirai abishekam in Chidambaram is world renowned and attracts thousands of devotees from all over.
According to legend, the Tiruvadirai festival, and the delicacy kali in particular, are Nataraja’s personal favourite. The person who introduced Siva to kali is Sendanar, a devotee of Nataraja.
Sendanar was employed as an accountant in the house of Pattinathar, a staunch devotee of Siva. One day, he deeded away all his wealth to charity, after realising that one needs mukti to attain moksha, and not money. However, his family members suspected Sendanar of having influenced Pattinathar.
Therefore, they lodged a complaint against him and the king’s court sent Sendanar to prison.
After serving his sentence, Sendanar and his wife moved to Chidambaram. However, Sendanar was unable to find a job. He then became a woodcutter, and based on his daily earnings, his wife would prepare food that was first offered to Nataraja, and then a sivandiar (Siva’s devotee) before they consumed the same. Nataraja watched His devotee very keenly and decided to test his faith once.
Accordingly, He arranged for a torrential downpour on Tiruvadirai. Unable to go to the forest to chop wood and bring home the sale proceeds, a worried Sendanar informed his wife that they may have nothing to offer to Nataraja. However, she informed him that she has a small amount of broken rice. Sendanar advised her to prepare a kali with the broken rice and jaggery. As the rain continued, the couple was worried that no one would come seeking alms. However, a sivanadiar came calling.
The devotee of Siva offered kali to the sivanadiar, who ate the first offering and asked for a second helping.
The couple generously gave him what he desired. Sivanandiar then said, “Can you pack some for me for the road?” The couple packed what was left—which was their meal—and sent the sage on his way, while they fasted and went to bed, having drunk a glass of water. The next day, when dikshidars opened the sanctum sanctorum of Nataraja, they were shocked to find morsel of kali on Nataraja’s shoulder, chest etc.
They decide to approach the king to complain of vandalism, when Nataraja makes it known to all that He was the sivanadiar who ate the kali in Sendanar’s house. From that day, Tiruvadirai is celebrated by devotees across the world with special emphasis on the kali.
This year, Tiruvadirai falls on January 2.
On this day, Nataraja is taken on a procession in a chariot. Interestingly, the processional deity is also the moolavar in Chidambaram.
In a rare sight, both the front and back of Siva is visible for all devotees when He is on the Tiruvadirai procession. Devotees seek a darshan of both His front and back, praying for the same grace that he showed to Sendanar.
—The writer lectures on spirituality