The lotus face

The post of Mundagakanni Amman temple (‘Fifth Friday of Aadi’) drew a response from Srini, who asked what ‘mundaga’ meant. I thought it meant ‘head’. He said that it meant ‘lotus’. Guru google throws up a news story from Hindu newspaper, which says that mundaga-kanni means “lotus eyed Goddess”.

Mundaga also means ‘forehead’ or ‘head’. And if you see the pictures of Mundaga-kanni amman, you will see just a ‘head’ – no body. The idol mounted on ceremonial-chariot that was outside the temple was just that – ‘the face of the Goddess’.

As the temple is dedicated to Renuka Devi, I felt that the name alluded to that too. Renuka Devi is depicted as the “head”. As per legend, Renuka is wife of Jamadagni, the sage. She is kidnapped by Kaartaveerya, a Hyhaya King. Her husband, Rshi Jamadagni gives his powers to his son, Parasurama and asks him to rescue her. Parasurama kills the Hyhayas and rescues his mother. However, Jamadagni believes that her holiness has been tainted. So he asks Parasurama to severe her head, which he does. But the head continues to live. Parasurama then prays to Jamadagni to restore Renuka, which he consents. That’s the story in brief.

In this story, the King symbolises ignorance, ‘body identification’ and sense enjoyment; ergo, ego. ‘Renuka‘ is radiance in the individual, which gets deluded by the ego. Jamadagni is Iswara. Parasurama is Knowledge, which destroys ego, beheads the ‘body identification’. With the beheading of individuality, Renuka merges with Iswara, and that then is the radiant Kingdom of the Self-abidance.

So it is that Renuka Devi is depicted as the ‘head’ that is divinity-alive.

She it is, who is revered as Mariamman across South India. And as Mundaga-kanni Amman in Mylapore.

(Afternote: The symbolism that is suggested here is from purely non-dual view point. A more appropriate and better explanation on the symbolism, from the ‘human’, ‘here and now’ viewpoint, is given in the comments  below by Smitha…)

3 Responses to “The lotus face”

  1. Smitha Says:

    I think this story reflects upon a time when the laws were terribly unfair to women. In present day circumstances, the actions of Jamadagni, Parasurama as well as the king would be judged by different laws. So it is a bit difficult for me to understand why you justify their actions and find a positive symbolism there.

    I like to think of Renuka as symbolising the indomitable human spirit, frail yet surviving against all odds. It is finally Renuka who is revered – which just shows that violence, brute force and unjust laws cannot conquer the world.

    Have you thought about the significance of the lotus? Why a lotus ? The lotus has roots in the muck at the bottom of the pool. Yet it’s stem travels through the water to the surface with its face to the sun and is a beautiful flower. What do you see on the surface of the water ? Not the whole plant but just the beautiful flower or the ‘head’. Is Renuka perhaps
    like the lotus striving towards light from the darkness of the pool ? It is not only light which makes the lotus flower but also the nutritiion
    that it draws through the roots from the bottom of the pool. One cannot survive without the other. Is that perhaps why Jamadagni restored her body as well ?

    Tell me what you think – I don’t know much about Hindu mythology and philosophy, but would be very interested to hear your answer.

  2. gkamesh Says:

    Smitha

    Your description of the lotus symbolism is very insightful and so well articulated. Thanks.

    I feel that laws themselves do not bring about change of heart. That said, the Kali in Dakshineshwar stands on the body of Shiva…

    The worship of Shakti, the power, as feminine aspect is symbolized.

    The lotus eyed, or lotus faced is not specific to gender. Aravindakshan, Kamalakkannan…Vishnu is described as mukhambujam – lotus faced…

    But yes…the lotus symbolism as described by you is very appropriate. That and the mystic flowers in the Chakras in the path of Kundalini yoga – those too are described as inverted lotus buds that rise and bloom – when the Sadhaka becomes a Siddha….And that happens when Kundalini Shakti awakens…and that Kundalini is represented as Renuka Devi.

  3. Smitha Says:

    Thanks for that wonderful explanation, Kamesh. Looking forward to more such pieces telling of mythological tales associated with the places that you have been visiting.

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