When we were in Coimbatore recently, we drove past where the Pannikoil, or the Temple of the Pig, flourished for a brief period. Here is the story of the unlikely prophetess.
This happened sometime between 1982 and 1986 – these were the years we spent in a house on VNK Thevar Street in the Ramanathapuram area in Coimbatore. If you come down Nanjundapuram Road from the Ramanathapuram junction, just after you pass Amsa the fishmonger’s shop, a left turn takes you past a Murugan temple to a Mariamma temple. This is our setting.
One day, some people saw a sow behaving strangely. She kept going round and round, making circles like a puppy chasing its own tail. The rather simple-minded folk that inhabited those parts came to the only logical conclusion possible to them – the sow had been possessed by Aaththaa – a generic name given to any of the local mother-goddesses (manifestations of Parvathi, the Little-tradition-Great-tradition proponents will scream, but never mind). The goddess had chosen the humble sow as her Prophetess, and the populace would do their best to make things comfortable for her.
Accordingly, a shelter was made under the sacred pipal tree that was conveniently nearby. Green coconut fronds were fashioned into a rough shelter, where the sacred sow was confined. She was smeared with turmeric, an honour usually reserved for cattle during the annual cattle festival (Maattu Pongal, for those in the know), and her forehead covered with vermilion. People came from all the surrounding villages to see the sow that was favoured by the goddess and they brought gifts of fruits and vegetables. Traffic jams in the area were frequent occurrences. The local people were gratified that they had been lucky enough to be chosen by the goddess, and they shed tears of joy.
The Porcine Prophetess herself, however, was not too impressed. She would frequently escape from her shelter, seeking the company of others of her kind. None too often, devotees of the goddess would run after her, and wrestle her back into the shelter they had made for her. Catching her was made rather easier by the fact that her diet of the choicest fruits and vegetables had made her a bit porky, and she couldn’t run very fast, nor very far. After a few such escape attempts, she realized that running away during the daytime was frowned upon, while in the nights there wasn’t anyone watching over her and she could do as she pleased. So she took to remaining indoors during the day and escaping during the night. She took care to return before daybreak, and all was well.
Like all good things, this too had to come to an end, and it did a few weeks later, when the Prophetess gave birth to a litter of twelve small piglets. Suddenly, the local populace decided that the goddess had left the Prophetess, and drove the sow out with oaths and sticks and stones. The rude shelter was pulled down, and the Temple of the Pig was no more.