For Child is the Teacher of Man!

On Teachers Day each year, we often thank our teachers and our gurus, our professors and our parents for the role played by them in shaping our lives.

But seldom do we thank those little teachers who teach us some of life’s most important lessons – our Children!

Recently in the news was the story of ten-year old girl who saved over a dozen lives when her building in central Mumbai was gutted down in a fire. Remembering calmly the instructions she had followed during fire-drills in school, she told people to crawl instead of walking, cover their mouths with a wet cloth so they could breathe without difficulty and use the stairs to exit without panicking. The Mumbai Fire Department commended her efforts for saving many lives with her presence of mind.

10 year old saves lives in Parel.jpg
This ten year old saved many lives when her building in Mumbai caught fire in August 2018 by acting upon what she had learnt during fire-drills at school

Not long ago, another ten year old child had saved many people on the beaches of Phuket when she had watched and observed the strange waves rising from the ocean and remembered from geography lessons back at school, the signs of an advancing tsunami. Tilly made people on the beach go indoors. Those that heeded her advice survived. Those that didn’t listen were washed away.

tilly-smith.jpg

But it not just these kind of exceptional situations in which children become teachers and guides to adults.

In simple and ordinary ways, my children have taught me much and changed my views on Life.

From Patience to Priorities, I have gained much by learning to look at the world anew through their eyes. I know that I am more sensitive, more patient, more human today – because of their presence.

In their own simple ways, children teach us what is truly important in life and what is frivolous. Their presence helps us filter out the muck and value the precious. Their imagination transports us into another world where everything is possible. Their world has no space for pretensions. From Santa Claus to Potty – everything is discussed thread-bare without pre-conceived artificial notions.

Children make the world a more beautiful and joyous place to live in. My blog is all about Children and today’s story then is a tribute to Children – our little Teachers.

The Legend of Swami Malai

Swami Malai is a small town near Kumbakonam/Tiruchi in central Tamil Nadu. From this little temple town, comes the legend of a mighty father who became a humble student to his own little son.

According to the legend of the temple of Swami Malai (as narrated in the Tamil text Kanda Puranam, which is a hagiography of Lord Karthikeya), this was the place where Lord Shiva is said to have become a disciple to his son Karthikeya and accepted him as a guru.

ganesh muruga.jpg
While Ganesha is a popular deity in the north, it is Karthikeya who is more popular in the south. Known also as Subramaniam or Murugan, Karthikeya is iconographically represented with a spear in hand seated on a peacock.

Yes…Father becomes Student to the Son!

The story goes that a very long time ago, Lord Brahma visited Kailasha to meet Lord Shiva to discuss some matters of importance. After the discussion, Brahma took his leave and was about to return when he noticed Karthikeya, the son of Shiva, blocking his way.

“What’s the matter Karthikeya?” Lord Brahma asked the boy.

Miffed at not being greeted or given any attention by the visitor, Karthikeya demanded that Brahma introduce himself.

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Karthikeya is a major deity in Tamil Nadu and legends about his power and grace abound. He is both the God of Love as also the God of War!

“I am the Creator!” Lord Brahma is supposed to have said haughtily, paying little heed to the boy as he tried to leave.

“If so, where did you get your powers of Creation from?” little Karthikeya continued questioning and blocking Lord Brahma.

“I am powerful because of my command over the Vedas!” Brahma replied, dismissing Karthikeya with a wave of his hands.

“So,” Karthikeya wasn’t done yet, “Would you care to explain to me the meaning of the pranava mantra?” he asked, testing Lord Brahma.

Surprised by the little boy’s demand and annoyed with his persistence, Lord Brahma replied. But having become complacent and over-confident in his position, the answer was off the mark. Angered by his arrogance, Karthikeya locked him up.

With the Creator in chains, everything began to turn topsy-turvy. Night and day, summer and winter, birth and death – everything went awry.

All the creatures of the Universe rushed to Lord Shiva and pleaded with him to intervene to make matters return to normal once more. Shiva agreed and demanded that his son release Lord Brahma from captivity.

Murugan.jpg
Murugan with his vel (Spear) and Peacock, Presiding Deity of the Swami Malai Temple

“Very Well!” Karthikeya replied. “But father you must first know why I captured Lord Brahma in the first place! It was because he did not know the meaning of the most important of mantras. Listen and I will explain what it means!”

Shiva then sits down to listen as his son Karthikeya explains to him the essence of the priomordial sound OM. Bending closer, Shiva places his son upon his lap and listens as he turns from father to student and his child transforms into his guru.

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Father turns into disciple and son into guru at Swami Malai

It is this legend that is commemorated in the temple at Swami Malai where Karthikeya is celebrated as being teacher to his father. Hence Karthikeya is also called Swaminatha Swami or the Child who is Teacher to the Father.

And while you are at Swami Malai, the place also makes for an interesting stop to get a glimpse of the famous bronze casting process – an artwork that is the legacy of the Cholas of Tamil Nadu.

One of India’s most famous art contributions to the world is the making of spectacular bronze statues. It is said to have begun during the age of the Cholas. The bronze casters of Swami Malai claim a lineage from the Royal bronze workers of the Cholas.

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The Bronze Nataraja is one of the most famous examples of Indian Art and Iconography

I visited a Bronze casting workshop at Swami Malai and my children were able to see and understand the entire process of making bronze works and statues first-hand. The wax-mould and melting process is indeed fascinating and a very interesting learning experience.

Workers sculpting a Bronze Nataraja at a workshop in Swamimalai
Bronze workers in workshops at Swami Malai make bronze status through the lost-wax melting process, much the same way as it was made back in the days of the Cholas

To find out more about visiting bronze-casting workshops at Swami Malai, click here.

To read my article in the Free Press Journal about a visit to Swami Malai and nearby Darasuram (a UNESCO World Heritage site), click here.

So this Teacher’s Day then, as we think about our teachers, may we also remember those little teachers who have much to teach us and sit down humbly by their side, as Lord Shiva did in quiet submission.

While the famous quote “Child is the Father of Man” comes down to us from the pen of one of the world’s greatest poets, William Wordsworth, we have a legend of our own in India, celebrating the same legacy.

Share the Story onward with your children and others!

Happy Teachers Day!

 

To read more about this myth of Swami Malai, read this piece written by Sumathi Sridhar, expert on Tamil Mythology, who will also be writing the first Guest Post for India Travel Tales 4 Kids this weekend on Why Krishna is Blue in all our Story Books!

 

 

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I used to argue for a living. Now I write! India has been home and fascinates me no end. I love History - both natural and man-made. I enjoy engaging with children. I'm bitten by the travel bug. And I absolutely love Writing. I tossed a bit of all these in together and India Travel Tales 4 Kids was born! I also write on a variety of other subjects..for young and old, the serious kind and the profane! To check out my work visit www.mallikaiyer.com

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