The legend of Devi Kanyakumari
The powerful Banasura had wreaked havoc in the three worlds. Blinded with arrogance, he had ousted the king of the Gods, Indra and the other Devas from Devlok. The helpless Gods turned to Mahadev for help. But what could Mahadev do? After all, Banasura had been granted a boon by Brahma, that he could only be slayed by a virgin maiden.
Meanwhile, the young Punyakshi, who was Adi Parashakti herself, had set her heart and soul on attaining Mahadev. She set out for Kailash to intensify her penance. Pleased by her devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before her, and asked her what her wish was. Punyakshi said, “You have been my lasting wish, since I can remember. I want to become one with you, O Nilakantha!!” Mahadev told her that Banasura was now the biggest cause of concern for the devas, and asked her to go to the southernmost landmass, where the three oceans meet, and sit there in meditation. “Henceforth this beautiful place will be known as Kanyakshetra and also Tapasthala.”
Punyakshi went to Kanyakshetra, and then began her long wait…days turned to nights…weeks to months…months to years… And one day, Banasura happened to pass by. Smitten by her beauty, Banasura sought her hand. Punyakshi, who had dedicated herself to Mahadev, refused, following which Banasura tried to take her by force. In the ferocious fight that ensued, Punyaskhi slayed Banasura, and just moments before his death, Banasura realised that the One before him was no one but Adi Parashakti herself, and he sought refuge in her. The Ever Compassionate Mother, absolved him of all his sins…
Now that the Devas concerns about Banasura had been addressed, Punyakshi believed that the time had come for her to become one with Mahadev. She adorned herself in jewels, dressed up as a bride waiting for Mahadev, not realising that Shiva had not promised the boon she had asked for. Mahadev had only asked her to meditate at Kanyakshetra, he had not told her that he would come. Years rolled by….. as Punyakshi’s wait turned to despair, and she threw away all her jewels into the sea. She wiped away the Kajal from her eyes, the sandalwood paste from her body, the vermillion from her forehead. And then she returned to meditation, and in meditation became one with Mahadev….. her body turned into stone…
It is this stone idol of Kanyakumari which is worshipped to this day…
The Bhagavati Kumari Amman Temple is one of the 52 Shakti Peethas. It is believed that the back spine area of Sati’s corpse fell here creating the presence of Kundalini Shakti in the region.
The other attractions inside the temple are the Pathala Ganga Tirtha and Kalabhairava Shrine. Kalabhairava is a ferocious form of Shiva who annihilates kala, or time itself. Each of the 52 Shakti Peetha has a Kalabhairava shrine within the temple meant for the protection of the temple. The name of the Kalabhairava in Kanyakumari temple is ‘Nimish’ and the Shakti is ‘Sarvani’. There are also shrines to Vijayasundari and Balasundari, friends and playmates of the Goddess in her youthful form.
The presiding image is sported in standing posture with an Akshamala in her hands. There is an image of a lion in her pedestal indicating that she is the form of Adi Parashakti. One specialty of the idol is her diamond nose ring, which sparkles gloriously. The temple’s legend says that the nose ring was obtained from a king cobra and that light reflects off it so brightly that sailors would mistake it for a lighthouse, causing ship wreaks in the past. Hence the eastern entrance to the temple is open only on special occasions.
As directed by his Guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda visited the temple to seek Devi’s blessing in December 1892. After meditation for three days on the Sri Pada para, which is shaped as the Kumari’s feet, now also known as the Vivekananda Rock, He recieved enlightenment and he realised his inner calling of dedicating his life to missionary work and a higher level of action rather than being passive like the usual Sanyasis.