Batu Malai (Batu Caves) in Malaysia is an abode of Lord Murugan, and many Hindu visitors to the country generally make it a point to climb the steep 272 steps to the upper limestone cavern to pay obeisance to their Lord at his shrine. A few years ago, some relatives of ours from Sri Lanka, a young couple with a year-old baby, visited my parents in Malaysia, and of course, the Batu Caves was first on their list of places to visit. My parents planned to leave early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, at least in one direction of the journey. Forgetting about the ritual aspect of the journey, my father brought home packets of nasi lemak (a typical Malaysian meal made with anchovies) for breakfast before setting off. They all paused upon my mother’s concern about eating non-vegetarian food before a pilgrimage but, then went ahead and enjoyed the treat before proceeding to the sacred caves.
The visitors ascended to the shrine but my parents, who were unable to make the strenuous climb, stayed below. As they waited at the foot of the stairs, my mother chanted the nerisai venpas (closing verses) of the “Thirumuruhaattup-padai” – a hymn, to the glory of Lord Murugan, composed by the poet Nakkirar. The third stanza of the nerisai venpas is a veneration of the sacred weapon of Lord Murugan, his Vel. ‘Sakti Vel’ is the ‘spear of power’ that was bestowed upon Murugan by his mother Parasakti (highest female power). ‘Vel’ is the name, and form, by which the personification of Lord Murugan is abstracted.
Nakkirar had been the thousandth prisoner to be held in a cave by the Demoness Karkimukhi, with the intention of feasting upon the reaching this number of victims. In desperate prayer to Lord Murugan, Nakkirar composed and sang the verses of the Thirumuruhaattup-padai. When he finished, a miracle occured! The sealed mouth of the cave opened wide and all the prisoners flowed out, escaping with their lives. From that day on, the Thirumruhaattup-padai has been a prayer of great power. It is believed that reciting these verses will instantly bring the Lord’s grace in the form of relief from the sufferings experienced in life.
When the visitors came down from the caves, the party had a vegetarian meal at the base of the caves and began the drive home. In the midst of heavy afternoon traffic, and under the blazing mid-day sun, my father’s car came to a stop. The engine has stalled and it just refused to start up again. Without the air-conditioner, the interior rapidly became unbearably hot. With the baby crying and with my old parents rapidly weakening in the heat, they all began to panic.
Lo and Behold! Before the day could take its toll on the vulnerable company, a young man rode up on a motorbike. Stopping on the driver’s side of the car, he asked what the problem was. He happened to be a motor mechanic. First he pushed the car to the side of the road, allowing the impatient Kuala Lumpur drivers to pass. He then got to work under the bonnet and very soon the engine was running and, to great relief, the air-conditioner was on again. As he set off, refusing remuneration of any kind, my father thanked him and asked his name. He replied casually, “Sakti Vel”!
It was clear to all of them, in that moment at least, that the Lord had just appeared! Having admonished them for knowingly breaking a taboo, He had showed his grace by sending his “Sakti Vel” to their aid! The Thirumuruhaattup padai has worked its miracle!
“MURUGANUKKU AROHARAH” – Praise be to Murugan!