The hill temple at Palni is perhaps the most famous Subrahmania temple in India. The legend describing how it came to be is fascinating to say the least.
It goes like this. The sage Narada decided to visit Siva and Parvathi at their home in Kailas in the Himalayas. He had one ‘pazham’ (a fruit, usually a banana) in his hand and as he reached Kailas, the two sons of Siva and Parvathi, Ganesha and Subrahmanian, went to him and wanted the ‘pazham’. Narada did not know what to do as he had only one fruit and both the boys were demanding it. So he thought of a solution.
Narada told the boys that as he had only one fruit he would have a contest and give it to the winner. He said he would give it to the one who goes round the world first. As soon as he heard this Subrahmanian got on his vehicle peacock and left. Ganesha thought for a moment. He knew that with his vehicle, the mouse, he would not be able to beat his brother. So he went round Siva and Parvathi once and went to Narada and demanded the fruit, saying that since They are the world going round them is equal to going round the world. Narada had to accept His reasoning and give the fruit to Ganesha.
Meanwhile Subrahmanian went round the world and came back expecting to get the fruit. But He saw His brother sitting and eating the fruit. He became so angry that he had been cheated of his fair reward that he once again climbed on His vehicle, the peacock, and left Kailas. When He did not come back Siva and Parvathi became upset and went looking for Him. They could not find Him for a long time.
Finally when They came to the south They saw Him sitting on a hill with His peacock beside Him.
Siva and Parvathi were so happy to see Their son again that They went and hugged Him saying ‘pazham nee’ which meant ‘You are our pazham’. They were trying to tell Him that He got angry about a fruit and left Kailas but for Them He was more important than any fruit.
‘Pazham nee’ became Palni. Later a temple was built there and we are told that is how it got its name.
Before one had to climb the hill to go and worship at the temple but about fifty years ago a winch was built to take the devotees up in small groups and to bring them down after offering worship at the temple. The winches keep going up and down throughout but still many devotees prefer to climb the steps rather than take the easy way out. After every set of steps there is a landing where the devotees can sit down and rest before going on to the next climb. If you go with children there are ladies who come and offer to help with them for a small sum.
Many devotees climb with ‘kavadi’ a wooden frame that is carried as part of the penance.
In Nadi in Fiji the Subrahmania temple was built by the early south Indian settlers who established the Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam. When they got the deity from India they wanted it to look like the deity in Palni.
The festivals that are celebrated in Palni are also celebrated grandly in Nadi. In January there is the nine day ‘thirunal’ for ‘Thai poosam’ and in March again there is the three day festival, ‘Panguni Uthiram’ Former residents of Fiji come from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA etc. to participate in these festivals. Many of them also arrange their children’s marriages at the temple. For the south Indians of Fiji the Nadi temple is their Palni temple. The only thing that is missing is the hill!