Story & Trivia
Cauvery is one among the five sacred rivers of India and very beloved to people in southern India.
How Sage Agasthya came south
There was a mountain called the Vindhya, which was tall and good-looking. A meddlesome person once praised Meru, another mountain right in front of Vindhya. Wanting to be taller than Meru, jealous Vindhya started growing towards the sky.
Very soon the Sun was blocked out. People, animals and forests in Vindhya’s shadow, got no sunlight at all. The Sun was at a loss. However high he rose, Vindhya grew taller and blocked his light. The people, animals and forests begged Vindhya to stop, but he heard nothing.
Even the Gods were at a loss. In desperation they approached the powerful sage Agasthya for help. He went to the Vindhya Mountain and asked him to lower himself so he could cross over to the South. After he crossed over, he asked Vindhya to stay the way he was until he crossed back. Vindhya promised to stay that height until the sage returned. Once he came south the sage stayed back, to the happiness of the people around Vindhya.
The sage had to marry as he wanted to have a child. With his yogic powers he gathered the most beautiful parts of creatures in the forests and put them together into a beautiful infant.
Fitting the jigsaw piece together
King Kavera who lived in those parts, is said to have prayed to Brahma for a child. Coincidentally, Sage Agasthya needed someone to bring up the infant he had created. To bring the jigsaw pieces together, Lord Brahma had a daughter Vishnumaya, who craved to serve humanity on Earth.
With Brahma’s blessing, Vishnumaya was born as Lopamudra to King Kavera. It was the infant Agasthya had created. Lopamudra grew up into a beautiful woman, with her craving to serve humanity (Vishnumaya’s wish) very much intact.
Sage Agasthya on his many travels met Lopamudra, and asked Kavera for her hand in marriage. He was an older man and not really pleasing on the eye with his sage-like dress and hair. Lopamudra agreed to marry the sage on one condition – he was not to leave her alone for a great stretch of time. If he did, she would leave. Sage Agasthya was agreeable.
A refusal to accept the unfair
Lopamudra married the sage and they settled down in his ashram. Once, while traveling, the sage fell ill and turned unconscious. With no help, Lopamudra had to carry him home all alone. It was difficult, for the sage was a big man, but Lopamudra too was strong-willed. On the dark path home, his dangling foot touched a sleeping holy man. Fiercely angered, the holy man cursed the owner of the foot to death, at sunrise.
Lopamudra, thought this totally unfair. After all she was the one who had been carrying the sage and she had not meant to humiliate the holy man deliberately. So, she stated, “Let the Sun not rise if I have been a good wife by helping my husband.”
And the Sun never rose!
Earth was in darkness. The Gods were shaken. They came running to Lopamudra.
“Lift the ban”, they begged.
She explained her reason and offered to lift the ban, only if they lifted the uncalled for curse by the holy man. The Gods did. The sage lived and Lopamudra lifted her ban. The Sun rose and all was well on Earth.
Such was her strength of will in not accepting an unfair curse.
From Lopamudra to Cauvery
Legend goes on that Sage Agasthya once turned Kaveri into water and left her in his kamandala. On realizing that she had been left for a long time, Lopamudra flowed out as a river. The sage’s disciples tried to stop her, but she dived into the Earth and they could not track her. Eventually she reappeared at Bhagamandala. Much later the sage came looking for her and recognized her in the river Cauvery. Some believe that she did live on with Agasthya as his wife and also served the people as the river.
There is also a version which says that Agasthy had kept his wife in his kamandala as water. Ganesha in the form of a crow flew by toppling it over and letting the waters flow.
So how did she become the Ganga of the south?
After she flowed as a river, she was called Cauvery (Kaveri being the pre-British spelling) as she was Kavera’s daughter. Wanting to be the holiest river she prayed to Lord Vishnu and asked to be made holier than the Ganga. Vishnu explained that Ganga was holy as she started from his feet. He said Cauvery would be his garland, close to his heart and therefore more sacred. And so it is that three of the holiest shrines of Vishnu are found at Srirangapatna, Shivanasamudra and Shrirangam called Adi-ranga, Madhya-ranga and Antya-ranga respectively: in every one of these places the temple is on island with the Cauvery encircling it just like the mythical garland!
From this came the other legend that the Ganga comes via an underground route once every year to Cauvery for a cleansing dip.And so it was that just as Vishnumaya had craved, she flowed on Earth as Cauvery serving humanity.
An associated legend from Srirangam
The temple at Srirangam is one of the finest examples of south Indian temple architecture and the gopuram or the spire like structure above the roof is said to be the tallest of gopurams. Also, this is the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world.
The legend of the place says that Brahma once asked Lord Vishnu for an idol of his lying on the great serpent Adi-Shesha, so he could pray to it. It was granted and Brahma came to possess a beautiful statue of the Lord in the sleeping posture (called Ranganatha) lying on Adi-Shesha.
Thereon over millennia, the statue came into the possession of Ikshvaku after he performed a great penance for it. Rama of the Ramayana fame was Ikshvaku’s descendent. It came into his possession and he prayed to it with great devotion.
After the epic war between Rama and Ravana, Vibheeshana Ravana’s brother came along with Rama to mainland India for Rama’s coronation. As he was leaving, Rama asked Vibheeshana to ask for something that he would like. He asked for Lord Ranganatha’s statue. As promised, Rama handed it over and Vibheeshana started back.
There was a condition attached. If it were put down the statue would take root there. Flying back in his Pushpak Vimana, Vibhishana had to stop near Srirangam to complete some rituals. He needed his hands free. Spotting a cowherd, he asked him to hold it until he got back.
The cowhered said he would hold it up, but if his arms tired, he would put it down after calling out “Vibheeshna” three times. Agreeing to this arrangement, Vibheeshana went down to the river. The cowherd held it up for a while. When his arms tired, he called “Vibheeshana” three times and then promptly put it down.
On returning, Vibheeshana was horrified to see that the statue had taken root. He could not move it. Greatly angered, he ran looking for the cowherd, who had not wandered far. On spotting him, unthinkingly the angry Vibheeshana gave him a sharp thwack on his head. The cowherd changed into his real form – Ganesha.
Thoroughly ashamed, Vibheeshana apologized profusely and went back to his idol. Completely confused he wondered what he could do. Lord Ranganathswamy appeared and asked him not to worry. Though he could not make it to Lanka, he would always look towards Lanka.
The big temple complex we find today was built much later by a Chola king. Interestingly, the statue faces Lanka and the idol at the Ganesha temple has a slight bump on the head!
1. The Cauvery River originates in the Western Ghats and empties into the Bay of Bengal.
2. Kaveri is the original spelling of this river. Cauvery is the English spelling.
3. Asia’s first hydroelectric plant used water from this river to power the city of Bangalore.
4. While the waters of this river are shared between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu uses a majority of the resources.
5. The state of Karnataka complains that the water distribution is unjustly divided and this should be changed.
6. Talakad, a holy temple town in which the festival of Panchalinga Darshana is held every 12 years, is on the banks of the Cauvery. Devotees bathe in the waters of this river during the days of this festival.
7. The people of Tamil Nadu, who rely so heavily on the Cauvery River, celebrate its floods with a festival.
8. It is the most important water source to South India.