Sempiternal ‘Pattiṉi’: Archaic Goddess of the Vēṅkai-tree to Avant-garde Acaṉāmpikai
A seal of the Indic culture represents a Goddess standing close by tree, and receiving sacrifices. Seven more goddesses, hypothetically the Ēḻukaṉṉimār or Sapta Mātkā, are linked with the Tree Goddess. The ancient Tamil Caṅkam literature, Naṟṟiṇai and Cilappatikāram (down to 450 CE), mention a Goddess of the vēṅkai tree, Vēṅkaik-kaṭavuḷ. Tiṭṭakuṭi in south Ārkkāṭu district is the venue of a temple for Acaṉampikai-sameta-Vaidhyanāthasvāmi. Acaṉāmpikai or Vēṅkai-vaṉanāyaki, cf. Dārukavana or Vaiṣṇava divyadeśa-Naimisāraṇya. The presiding Goddess of Tiṭṭakuṭi according to the sthalapurāṇam is ‘Mistress of the vēṅkai Forest’, based on oral tradition (twelfth to the eighteenth centuries). Caṅkiliyāṉpāṟai (district Tiṇṭukkal) at the foothills of Ciṟumalai, the Sañjīvi-parvata (Hill of medicinal herbs and trees) associated with Hanūmān of the Rāmāyaṇa fame, is a centre of folk worship. Recently, scholars claim to have discovered some pictographic inscriptions resembling the Indic heritage. Several hypaethral temples for Caṅkili-Kaṟuppaṉ (the Black tied with iron chain), Ēḻukaṉṉimār (Seven Virgins) and [Ārya]-Śāsta (equated with Ayyappaṉ of Śabarimalā) are under worship. People from the nearby villages congregate on certain occasions to worship the gods and goddesses, and undertake periodical and annual festivals. It seems a “sacred thread” links the archaic traditions of the Indic culture (c. 2500 BCE) with the contemporary faiths (cf. Eliade 1960, Brockington 1998, Shulman & Stroumsa 2002) of Tiṭṭakuṭi and Caṅkiliyāṉpāṟai. The article examines the story of the Tree Goddess, the neo-divinity (vampat-teyvam) or numen (cf. Vedic devamāt-Aditi) with reference to the Caṅkam lore, datable since the third century BCE (cf. ‘Chōḍa Pāḍā Satiyaputo Ketalaputo’ in Aśoka’s Girnar Edict - Mookerji 1972: 223), Vēṅkaikkaṭavuḷ, Acaṉāmpikai of Tiṭṭakuṭi and the Caṅkiliyāṉpāṟai vestiges. Why the invisible folk cults are linked with the invincible Vedic is an open secrecy or question!
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