Athri Hills, Alwarkurichi – Legends
This place had once been a desert. Athiri Maharishi was performing his tapas here. Once he asked Anusuya Devi to get him some water. Anusuya Devi prayed to Ganga Devi and requested her to be in these hills always. Even today there is a water source near the temple which always has the same water level even during summer seasons.
Origin of the Name:
It was around 2500 years ago, that the great sage Athiri travelled to the region of the Athiri Hills with his wife Anusuya Devi and his disciples. He then performed a penance for Lord Shiva. Heart-warmed by the unwavering devotion of his disciple Lord Shiva appeared as a vision before the sage. Hence the mountain range came to be known as Athiri Hills after the great sage. The idol of Lord Shiva in the form of Athiri Maharishi was formed and a small Temple was constructed at the place.
Lush Fertility of the Hills:
The hills are lush with evergreen trees and rare medicinal plants and herbs. It is believed that these hills served as the abode of several great sages like Agasthiyar, Athiri Maharishi, Korakkar, Theraiyar, Sage Bodhi Dharmar and other siddhars. The places where the sages and siddhars made herbal concoctions stand untouched by time even today. The region is so lush and fertile that streams and rivers that originate in these hills have never turned dry all through the years.
As soon as the cool breeze from these mountains touches us, we feel rejuvenated and refreshed. This region is the home to mystical and divine herbs. Until four hundred years back, yogis and siddhars and other commoners made use of these medicinal plants. Sadly, the knowledge on how to identify and use the herbs has got lost with further generations.
Legend of the Origin of Athiri Gangai:
The river that flows through these hills is known as “Athiri Gangai”. This is a perennial river and never dries even during harsh summer seasons. There are two different legends that speak on the origin of the Athiri Gangai.
It is believed that the Sage Athiri to quench the thirst of his disciple, Korakkar, created the Athiri Gangai.
Another legend says that the wife of sage Athiri, Anusuya Devi felt it time-consuming to fetch water from the Kadana River at the foothills of this mountain. So she prayed to Goddess Ganga Devi (Ganges River) and requested her to flow in these hills forever.
It is an astonishing fact that scientific tests carried on the waters of this mountain stream prove that the water has the same characteristics of the water of the holy Ganges.
Carpenter curing the disease of Travancore Queen:
Once, the queen of Travancore was suffering from an incurable disease called Rajapudai. The royal physicians were unable to ease her pain. Even tantric magicians from all over were not able to find a cure. The King couldn’t bear to see the royal queen suffering. So he announced a prize for anyone who cures the queen. At this time a poor carpenter from Pottal Pudhur was returning from his journey to Athiri. He was a true devotee of Ganga Devi.
Goddess Ganga Devi wanted to help her devotee and also cure the queen’s disease. So she sent the carpenter to the Travancore palace. The people at the palace didn’t believe that the poor carpenter was a physician and he was denied entry into the palace. So he decided to spend the night at the royal cow-shed. He prayed to Goddess Ganga Devi to help in curing the queen. The Goddess appeared in the King’s dream and instructed him to fetch the man sleeping in the cow-shed to cure the queen’s disease.
The king did just as instructed by Ganga Devi. The carpenter asked for a Bronze pot and used the pot to heal the queen. The king was overjoyed and he gifted gold and other treasures for the carpenter. The carpenter also asked for a Bronze pot, a trident and a vessel for holding holy ash. Goddess Ganga Devi not only healed the queen but also made her disciple rich at the same time. The joyous carpenter constructed a temple for the Goddess at his village, Pottal Pudhur. The goddess is worshipped even today as Ganga Parameswari.
The gifts given by the King to the carpenter are worshipped at the temple. The temple of Gangai Amman is at Sandhai Pottal in Pottal Pudhur. The annual festival of this temple is celebrated on Thai Ammavasai (New Moon Day that occurs in the Tamil Month of Thai). During this festival, the holy bathing of the idol is done only with the holy water of Athiri Gangai flowing in the Athiri Hills.