The Goddess Apitakuchamba of Thiruvannamalai always had my sympathy. Firstly there is the matter of name – nobody ever pronounced it correctly. It was always Abitakuchamba or Abitagucamba or Abitakujamba or worse Abitakuchalambal! The name was always subject to some low humour, after all it did mean She whose teats had not been suckled. The legend has it that the Goddess here is newly married to Lord Arunachaleswara and so has not yet had children but then who goes into so much of detail? In Tamil too the name was frequently mangled – Unnamulai became Unnamalai, to rhyme with Annamalai, the Tamil name of the Lord. I am informed by my aunt Dr Kamala Venkataraman that the Goddess gets this name because worshipping Her ensures no rebirth and so there will never be the suckling of teats as infants once again for devotees.

Unlike shrines such as Thiruvanaikka or Madurai, the Goddess here is not equal to Shiva or the dominant partner. Like in Chidambaram, the Lord here is central to the place. Even Muthuswami Dikshitar chose to be content with just a line on Apitakuchamba in his kriti ArunAchalanAtham in sAranga. No separate song on Her.

Lord Arunachaleswara and Goddess Apitakuchamba – courtesy the Sanmar Group’s calendar

These days, what with the lockdown and the continuing uncertainty caused by COVID, I keep looking out for prayers to ward off fevers. There are kandar shaShTi kavacham, IndrAkshi stotram, subrahmaNya bhujangam and some stand alone verses. In recent times, particularly while I was researching for our Vellore tour a couple of years ago, I came across Appayya Dikshitar’s Apitakuchamba Stavam. It is a beautiful prayer, to ward off fevers. I translated it with the help of Dr Kamala Venkataraman, my aunt, and am providing the meaning below. The lyrics themselves have been taken from the site and I thank those who run it. The link to the shloka is here.

It is very interesting that to ward off fevers, Appayya Dikshitar chose a Goddess who resides in the kshetra dedicated to fire. To him it would appear that while Lord Shiva here is worshipped as Agni, the Goddess is coolness personified. The shloka is replete with imagery of the moon, water, amrita or nectar, snow and flowers, all associated with the quenching of heat. In a way this is a companion to Muthuswami Diskhitar’s aruNAcalanAtham where he uses so many epithets of fire and light to describe Shiva. Now I realise why the great composer chose to not create a song on the Goddess. Where was the need when this stotra existed already?

The following is a free-wheeling translation and is not to be taken word for word. I express my thanks to those who after reading this point out errors if any and I will correct and duly acknowledge them.

रासेविनाममृत-निर्मित-वर्तिमक्ष्णोः ।
अंब स्मराम्यहमपीतकुचे वपुस्ते ॥ १॥

O ripple on the ocean of bliss,
One who showers nectar with Her eyes
Upon those who ever worship
He who bears the nectar-filled moon on His locks
Mother Apitakucha I meditate on Thy form
Which is a like a creeper of bliss
Full of flowers that are
Ever drenched in ambrosia!

नित्यं सुधानिकरवर्षि पदं त्वदीयम् ।
मूर्छाकरज्वररुजा मम तापितस्य
मूर्ध्नि क्षणं सकृदपीतकुचे निधेहि ॥ २॥

O Mother, your soft and resplendent feet
Are like the just blossomed lotus
And forever showering nectar
I am faint and tormented by
The heat of fever and illness
Please place Your feet O Apitakucha
On my head at least momentarily

शीतांशुकोटि सुषमाशिशिरैः
कटाक्षैः अव्याजभूतकरुणारसपूरपूर्णैः ।
कर्पूरधूलिमिव दिक्षु समाकिरद्भिः
अंब क्षणं स्नपय मामरुणाद्रिमान्ये ॥ ३॥

Your glance like a million moons
of incomparable beauty and coolness
Which is filled with nectar of compassion
And given to all without partiality
O Goddess worshipped at Arunadri (Thiruvannamalai)
Please shower me just for a moment
With those rays
That are like the dust of camphor

(this verse is very similar in its imagery to verse 20 of Adi Sankara's Soundarya Lahari, which too is a prayer to ward off fevers)

आविर्भव क्षणमपीतकुचे पुरस्तात्
अंब ज्वरेण महता मम तापितस्य ।
येन त्वदङ्घ्रिरुचिजाल-सुधाप्रवाहे
मग्नस्तदैव तनुतापममुं त्यजेयम् ॥ ४॥

I am suffering immensely
From the heat of the fever
O Mother Apitakucha, please do come
And be with me momentarily
For those who are ever immersed
In Your feet
Have their fevers immediately
Quenched with flowing nectar

आनीतमूर्छमधिकं क्षुभितैर्ज्वराद्यैः ।
आश्वासय क्षणमपीतकुचे कराग्र-
क्रीडाकनत्कनकहल्लकसौरभेण ॥ ५॥

Despite the treatment
With lily leaves and others
My fever only increases
As does my delirium
O Apitakucha!
For a moment reassure me
By waving that resplendent
Golden lotus that You sport in Your Hand

(the goddess in Thiruvannamalai is two armed and wields a golden lotus)

कण्ठे विषं विषमुचो भुजगाः कपर्दे
पार्श्वे च भूतपतयः प्रमथाश्च भीमाः ।
शोणीचलेशमुपसृत्य भजेत को वा
न स्यात्तवांब सविधे यदि सन्निधानम् ॥ ६ ॥

O Mother!
Poison in throat; poison-exuding serpents in the braided hair; fearsome chief head-ghosts by the side;
Mother, if not for Your presence in [His] proximity,
who would approach and worship the lord of shoNIcala?” - I thank Sri Jajwlyamana for posting this correction.

(Through this verse, Appayya Dikshitar appears to be rebutting the general opinion that Goddess Apitakuchamba is less in stature to Lord Arunachaleswara. This is in line with ShAkta thought as is evident in the opening verse of Sankara’s Saundaryalahari - if Shiva has the strength it is only because of the Goddess)

भोगेषु दिव्यमहिषी तरुणेन्दुमौलेः ।
सिद्धिः करप्रणयिनी तव सन्निधानं
यन्नासि तस्य तदपीतकुचे न जाने ॥ ७॥

O Force that is the cause
Of Creation, Protection and Destruction
O Great Queen who is
The consort of the moon-wielding Shiva
Beyond the overarching
Grace of your sanctum
I do not know of anything
O Apitakucha!

त्वं साक्षिणी प्रलयभैरवताण्डवानां
त्वं शेषिणी सहरिधातृ चराचराणाम् ।
त्वं मोचिनी सकलसंसृतिजालकानां
त्वां ब्रह्मसंविदमपीतकुचे नमामि ॥ ८॥

You, the witness to
Shiva's dance of destruction
You that remains
After Vishnu, Brahma and others
You that offers salvation
To all creation in its many forms
To You O Supreme
Apitakucha, I offer my salutations

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You may also want to read – The Viprothama in Dikshitar’s Arunachalanatham