Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Goddess Meenakshi as the 3-breasted Tadaatakai, Madurai

Photo credit: Suba Palani, Chennai Magic
The Meenakshi temple in Madurai is all about legends. Each idol, each carving, has something to tell. 

Today I'll tell you the story of the goddess as the three-breasted Tadaatakai.

In ancient Madurai, Queen Kanchanamala and King Malayadhwaja Pandyan performed prayers to be blessed with a male child. 

To their surprise, instead of a boy, from the sacrificial fire, there emerged a three-year old girl child. She was born with 3 nipples. She was named Tadaatakai.

The girl was bright and valorous. She was raised as a son, taught the arts of war and grew up to be the ruler of Madurai.  

Tadaatakai set off on a 'digvijaya' (to conquer all four corners of the world). She vanquished the entire world, defeating the armies of all kings. When she met with Shiva's armies, she defeated them too. Finally Shiva himself came out to battle. But when Tadaatakai came face to face with Shiva, she suddenly underwent a change. The fierce warrior-queen became a shy maiden, lost her 3rd breast, and stood silent before the handsome Shiva.

The marriage of the maiden with Shiva was celebrated with great pomp and splendour. Shiva came to live in Madurai as Sundareswara, the Beautiful One. And Tataatakai became Meenakshi, the Beautiful Fish-Eyed Goddess.

The Silapadikaram, one of the 5 Great Tamil Epics, describes Tadaatakai as a warrior Goddess, with a crescent moon on her matted hair. In her left arm, she holds a lotus, and in the right hand a sword. In the statue above, we cannot see the left hand, but we can see that instead of the sword, she holds a vel, a spear. The Silapadikaram also describes her body as being coloured two ways - the right side is crimson in colour, and the left is dark coloured.

The phenomenon of having an extra breast is called polymastia; and Darwin believed it to be a form of atavism. Other such atavistic phenomena include additional nipples (polythelia), vestigal tails (coccygeal projection), or even prominent canines. A more thorough understanding of this phenomenon can be found here, including mentions of the Greek goddess Artemis, who is depicted with many breasts.

To me it is interesting to see how these naturally occurring phenomena in humans are not ridiculed in legends. Neither are the people who have such 'abnormalities' denounced as witches. The goddess gives them their proud place under the sun. Truly Tadaatakai of the 3 breasts is unique among Indian goddesses.


  1. Beautiful inclusivity is what our tradition brings to the fore. Well written, Deepa.