Long ago, close to holy adobe of Lord Murugan in Pazhani, lay a small village called Kolinjivadi. The village like many other in the kingdom, flourished along the banks of the river Amaravathi. It was the harvest season, and work was at its peak. But Chandra was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of Amaravathi.
‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly.
Hearing Chandra’s voice, Karpagam, who was searching for Chandra, turned her direction and was relieved to find her. She came sat next to her at the banks.
“I’ve been searching all over the place for you. Here you are sitting all by yourself. We still have a lot of work to finish at the fields,” she said in one breath.
But Chandra was not interested in what Karpagam had to say. Chandra was Karpagam’s sister-in-law and the two were thick as thieves. Seeing Chandra being very distant today worried Karpagam.
“What is bothering you Chandra?” she asked with concern.
“Karpagam, do you know what my son calls me?” she asked.
“I would think the same as any other 3 year old would call his mother,” answered Karpagam with a smile.
“No, he calls me Chandra! I am his mother and he calls me by my name,” said Chandra disapprovingly.
Karpagam laughed out loud at this. Chandra gave her a sharp look and she tried to control her laughter unsuccessfully.
“He addresses my husband with respect,” she continued. “How come the mother doesn’t get the same respect?”
Karpagam put an assuring arm around Chandra’s shoulders and said, “He sees you all day and he is closer to you. Hence he is taking the liberty of calling you by name.”
“No!” she protested. “He sees my husband calling me by my name and me addressing him with respect and he is mimicking it. Children are so impressionable.”
“That might be true. But is that what’s bothering you now?” asked Karpagam.
“Frankly, I am upset at how your brother, my husband, treats me in front of his friends. They all have a good laugh at my expense and he likes the popularity he is getting by derogating me when he is with them. I am afraid my son will soon take after his father,” said Chandra now close to tears.
Subramaniam, Chandra’s husband, was a hard-working, god-fearing man, who handled the family’s rice fields. Subramaniam, like all other men in his village, had but one vice, which was his lack of respect for women.
“The men-folk in Kolinjivadi think it is manly to stand above their wives,” agreed Karpagam.
The two fell silent for a while, pondering over their helplessness. Then, all of a sudden, Chandra stood up with a resolute face.
“You know what we should do? We should make my husband treat and address all women with respect,” Chandra said with determination.
“Are you serious Chandra? That is never going to happen and even you must agree what you ask for is very unconventional,” said Karpagam.
Chandra started, “There is nothing unconventional about it. People from Vedic time revered their women. Even the gods addressed their wives “Devi”. And rightly so too. Look at King Shivaji, where would he be if it wasn’t for his mother Jijabhai. Women are in no way-”
“-That’s enough Chandra devi,” interrupted Karpagam with a smile. “I give up! But how do you propose we make my brother agree to this?”
Chandra was elated hearing this. “We will let God himself do that,” she answered to a puzzled Karpagam. Chandra then laid out her plan to Karpagam, who was ecstatic to hear it.
“We will need one more helping hand for this plan to work,” finished Chandra.
“Maa!” they both exclaimed. The duo then rushed to the fields to find Maa.
Maa was the mother of Subramaniam and Karpagam, and Chandra’s mother-in-law. Maa loved Chandra as she did her own daughter and Chandra knew for sure that she could count on Maa for help. They found Maa at the cotton fields overseeing the work being done there.
“Maa, come over here,” shouted Chandra beckoning Maa to a banyan tree Chandra and Karpagam were standing under.
The three women met under the tree. Chandra and Karpagam hurriedly briefed their plan to Maa and pleaded with her to help. Maa was not able to understand half of it and she certainly couldn’t phantom the reason Chandra wanted to do this for, but one look at Chandra’s eyes convinced Maa that this was important to her and that was all Maa needed to agree to it.
The three then split up with each having a specific task crucial to their plan. They agreed to meet under the banyan tree again before sunset.
As daylight faded away and the sun drowned himself into the river Amaravathi to rest, Subramaniam took a bath in the river after a hard day of work at the fields. He returned home to find the three women cooking dinner. He changed clothes and played with his son. Soon, dinner was ready and he sat down to eat.
‘Yenanga, try the chutney,” Chandra said as she served him a spoonful of the green blob.
“This is new! What is this chutney Chandra?” inquired Subramaniam.
“It is to kill any worms inside your stomach,” answered Maa, “I used to feed you when you were a kid. I thought it would be good for all of us to eat it today.”
Subramaniam nodded not wanting the image of worms in his mind during dinner and finished his meal quietly. As night approached, Subramaniam realized he was more tired than usual and so, retired to sleep. Before he knew it, he was fast asleep.
It must have been midnight or close to dawn. Subramaniam didn’t realize how long he has slept when he was woken up suddenly by a loud clanging noise. He was shocked to see his house engulfed in smoke. Subramaniam strained his eyes to look through the smoke and saw a figure standing in front of him. The figure had a Trishulam on one hand and was wearing tiger skin. One look at the fiery eyes of the figure and Subramaniam knew it was Lord Shiva.
“Subramaniam!” bellowed Lord Shiva.
Fear took hold of Subramaniam as he trembled. He found it hard to utter even a single word.
“Subramaniam!” said Lord Shiva. “I am very displeased with you Subramaniam.”
Subramaniam struggled to muster all the courage he could and addressed the deity, “Aandava! I am your devotee. What have I done to displease you?”
“Insolent!” Lord Shiva roared. “How dare you call yourself my devotee while you treat your wife like the way you do?”
Subramaniam whimpered as he searched for words.
“Shivan is Shakthi and Shakthi is Shivan. Devi is half of me and she represents all womankind. You men have forgotten what the Vedas have taught you and have angered me. I shall smite you from the face of this world,” said Lord Shiva angrily.
Subramaniam fell on his feet and bowed to the ground pleading with the manifestation of anger, “Parameshwara, forgive me. I shall treat my wife nay all women with respect from now on. I shall repent for my mistakes.”
Silence followed as the loud clanging stopped. The smoke cleared. Subramaniam lifted his head to see the Lord has disappeared. As Subramaniam signed a breath of relief, a strange fatigue took over him again and he fainted.
Early next morning, as the village woke up to the crowing of the rooster, Subramaniam lay wide awake. He wasn’t sure whether the events that transpired last night were a dream, reality, or his own imagination. But his body trembled whenever he thought about it. He forced himself to get up.
Chandra found Subramaniam go about his morning chores silently. She exchanged glances with Karpagam and Maa, who also had no clue about what happened to Subramaniam. The day passed without any event as the family toiled in the fields and returned home at dusk. As Subramaniam sat down for dinner, he looked at Chandra bringing in the food to serve him. He smiled at her to the surprise of Chandra.
“Yenanga!” exclaimed Subramaniam.
Chandra was taken aback hearing this.
“Why don’t we eat together?” asked Subramaniam. “In fact my mother and sister should join us as well,” said Subramaniam now looking at Maa and Karpagam.
The trio reluctantly joined Subramaniam as he served food to all three and helped himself to the food as well. No one dared to ask him about the sudden change. Subramaniam shared his story over dinner and how he has realized his mistake. The ladies were exuberant at the turn of events.
Days passed and word spread around the village about Subramaniam. As the traders visited the village to barter for rice, they marveled at this individual who would address his wife “Yenanga” and were fascinated to hear how the Lord himself came to him. Through the traders the news reached the farthest corners of the kingdom. Soon it would reach the ears of the King. The King was pleased to hear about a man in his kingdom who respected his wife. He summoned for the man and his wife immediately.
Subramaniam was at work in his fields like any other day when a messenger came looking for him. He couldn’t believe his ears when he learnt that the King wanted to see him. He hurried off to find Chandra at the fields and excitedly gave her the wonderful news. The couple were asked to leave for the capital that evening with the messenger.
As Subramaniam hurried home to prepare for the trip, Chandra stood at a corner watching him pack their clothes and some food. Subramaniam turned to see something was bothering Chandra.
“Yenanga, why don’t you pack? We haven’t got a lot of time,” said Subramaniam.
Chandra asked reluctantly, “Why does the King want to see us?”
“To hear our story of course!” answered Subramaniam.
“Yenanga, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t bear to see the King and his ministers laughing at you” cried Chandra.
“What do you mean?” asked Subramaniam.
“It was I who came to you in Shiva’s form. Maa, Karpagam, and I drugged you using a plant Maa found and I came to you dressed as Shiva, as Maa clashed utensils to make clanging noises and Karpagam burnt leaves to fill the house with smoke. I just wanted you to treat me with the same respect I had for you and stop making fun of me with your friends. But now I can’t bear to see my husband being made fun of at the King’s court. They would find your story ridiculous,” finished Chandra.
Chandra looked at Subramaniam teary eyed expecting him to billow with anger but found him smiling.
“Chandra, it didn’t take me very long to realize it was your doing. I found the Trishulam made with sticks and the cloth painted to look like tiger skin hidden away at the back of house a few days after the event,” said Subramaniam.
“Then why did you continue calling me “Yenanga”?” inquired Chandra.
“Shiva visiting me might have been a lie but the truth was that you were upset at how I treated you and I realized that. I was making you unhappy and that is not something I wanted. I wish you were forthcoming about my mistake sooner. But I took the opportunity to make it right to you. Frankly, nothing makes me happier than seeing you happy,” said Subramaniam.
Chandra was elated. She finally understood the love and respect Subramaniam had for her. She wanted nothing else the world could offer her now.
“I am sure the King will not make fun of me. He is a great man with a lot of respect for women. Nothing is going to impress him more than the fact that it was this Shakthi in the form of Shiva, who reminded this man to respect her. I am going to tell the King the truth,” said Subramaniam with pride.
Chandra couldn’t stop herself from smiling. She happily packed for the journey.
As the two prepared to leave their house, Saravanan, Subramaniam’s friend and neighbor, was waiting at their doorstep.
“What brings you here Saravana?” inquired Subramaniam.
“Subramaniam, you are not going to believe this but it happened to me too,” said Saravanan.
“What happened?” Subramaniam asked.
“Lord Shiva came to my dream too yesterday. I didn’t take it seriously when I heard it happened to you and took you for a fool, but I was the fool. I shall address my wife with respect like you do from now on,” said Saravanan.
Subramaniam looked at Chandra, who had a mischievous smile on her lips. A change was coming forth and it was all thanks to one woman, Chandra.