Friday, December 10, 2010

Tail end Areas of Cauvery

Pilgrimage in Chola Kingdom has always been a wonderful experience. Though a large area of this region does not contain mountains, it is amazing to see large number of temples made of granite structures and sculptures.That shows the dedication of the Emperors who ruled the region. During the recent visit to Mayiladuthurai and its suburbs, I was joined by my friend,Shri Ganesh who was equally interested in visiting the ancient temples. In my opinion, it is not going to help either the temples which remain isolated in small villages or the priests who conduct daily pujas for a negligible income.if people just visit them , admire the historic structure, idols and inscriptions and go back to their places to write travelogues. That is why we have been repeatedly appealing for field work by volunteers. Although few groups are engaged in cleaning the temples on monthly basis, it is not at all enough if we consider the number of neglected temples. It is with this purpose we undertake visits with prayer on our lips. It also helps to identify the places where renovation is required and other conditions prevailing over there. Only one "Kaala" Puja is being conducted in many village temples where four "Kaala pujas" were held. That too is erratic in few places. We need to address all these issues jointly on our return from the pilgrimage.

It was raining cats and dogs when we entered Sri Lakshmipureeswara Swami Temple at Thiruninriyur, on the way to Vaitheeswaran Koil. The deity is worshipped by Mahalakshmi, Parasurama and sage Agasthya and sung in Thevaram Hymns by all the three Acharyas. The priest lives near the main entrance of the temple. We took him inside the shrine to enable us to worship the deities. The temple is being maintained by Dharmapuram Adheenam. The last Kumbabishekam was conducted some 50 years ago and the temple needs urgent renovation as the roof was badly leaking in both swami and ambal sannadhis. It was pathetic to see the archaka standing in ankle dep water in ardhamandapam to perform the pujas. The outer prakaram was no way better !! Plants were seen all around and rooted in temple tower too. The situation was similar when we visited the other temple managed by the same Adheenam at Thalaignayiru. Kumbabishekam for this temple was conducted by the then Head some 50 years before.

It is always fascinating to visit the tail end areas of Cauvery Delta. It is rich with historic temples on both banks of the river until it joins the sea at Poompuhar ,the capital of Karikal Chola.
We proceeded to Marudur and visited Sri Rajarajeswara Swami temple accompanied by Sri Swaminathan of Kumbakonam, a native of this place. It is a well maintained temple, suroounded by beautiful plants,herbs and trees. The atmosphere is so divine that everyone could wish to stay for a long time. My friend takes lot of effort to complete the renovation work and conduct the Mahakumbabishekam at the earliest. Our Sabha also made its contribution for this noble cause.

Melapathi is a place close to Marudur which is on the way to Poompuhar. It has two beautiful temples of ancient origin. The first one is Navaneetheswarar(Vennai nathar) temple which has arjuna (Marudha) vriksham(tree) in the prakara. The tree is quite old and stands as a testimony to the ancient nature of the temple. 13 chapters of Brahmanda Puranam describes the legend pertaining to this temple. The Shiva Linga Bhanam is white in colour as Brahma established it in the form of butter. The deity is also worshipped by one Susarma, who became a cat on eating the butter kept by Kanva Maharshi for Shivapuja. One can se the marks made by the cat on the Bhanam even now. It is equally amazing to see the age-old sthalavruksha (Arjuna tree) which is hollow,yet bearing branches and leaves. The temple priest is knowledgeable and dedicated. He stays close to the temple.

On the east of Navaneetheswara temple is Jwarahareswara temple of Chola Period. It is also maintained very well and the Goddess is around 7 feet tall and full of grace. The shrine looked great even though the light was poor at the time of sunset.

Thiruvilayattam is a place located on Sembanar koil- Nallaadai route. It is a Maada Koil, built by Kochchengat Chozha Nayanar. The Mahalingam is "swayambu", hence called "Thaan thonreeswarar". Ambal is known as "Mullaivana Nayaki". The temple has been renovated in 2003 and looks good. Unfortunately, the pujas are not carried out regularly as no archaka wishes to perform it for the poor income. The locals have made some temporary arrangements and are looking for a permanent solution.

We went to Perambur which is primarily a Subramanya shrine. It also houses a Shiva shrine (sung by Appar as "Vaippu sthalam") . Dhakshinamurthi is in the form of Guha Dhakshinamurthi. A peacock is seen at His feet instead of the usual "Muyalagan".

Our next leg of the tour was Kaliyakudi where Goddess Kali worshipped Shiva after destroying the demon,Ambaran. A sculpture showing Kali worshiping Shiva is seen on the wall.
We wound up the tour by visiting Pazhayar, Pavattakudi and Thalaiyur,the birth place of Rudra Pasupathi Nayanar.

At the end of the tour, we thought of honouring Sivacharyas of this region sometime in March/April next year which alone can make the pilgrimage purposeful and cherishable.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Annabishekam at Big Temple

Annabishekam is performed in all Shiva Temples of Tamilnadu on Full Moon Day in the month of Aipasi ( Oct-Nov). "Annaanaam Pathaye Namah:" - This is how Lord Shiva is described in Sri Rudram,the central part of The Vedas. It is to give back with gratitude whatever He has given to the mankind. Cooked Rice is applied on the Lingam as abhshekam on this auspicious day. It is to be noted that Annabhishekam is performed everyday at Chidambaram to Sri Chandramouleeswara, the Lingam kept near Sri Nataraja. Agricultural products like Brinjal,Ladies finger,pumpkin,cucumber,banana etc are offered and used to decorate the murthi during Annabhishekam day. It is prayed to invoke blessings of the Lord for a hunger-free society and rich output of agricultural products.

Preparations for Annabhishekam begin around 11 a.m on this day and the time taken to apply cooked rice and vegetables depends on the size of the murthi. For instance, it takes nearly 4-5 hours to complete the abhishekam at The Big Temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram where the murthis are very tall. People wait for the dharshan right from 3.30 p.m to have a glimpse of Brahadeeswara at both the places. The doors open around 5 p.m in the evening and devotees throng in large numbers. Due to the huge size, the murthi is seen from a good distance itself. It is a Divine experience with no parallel.

Since the Annabhishekam is conducted only in the evening, the morning session can be utilised to see places in and around Thanjavur. We proceeded straight to a place called Vennaathankarai, on the way to Thiruvaiyaru. It is situated on the banks of the river,Vennaar,hence the name. Here we come across three Vishnu temples, sung by Aalwars. Of the three, the one namely Narasingaperumal shrine is bigger than the other two and well maintained. The same priest takes care of all the three temples. Possibly his main source of income is from the devotees who come from other places.

Thanjapureeswarar temple is facing west and located close to Narasingaperumal temple. The main deity is worshipped by Kubera who sought asylum after loosing all his wealth. There is a separate sannadhi wherein Kubera and Lakshmi are seen worshipping The Siva Linga. Aanandhavalli,the Goddess , faces south.

Our next stop was at Kandiyur en route to Thiruvaiyaru. Bhairava removed the fifth head of Brahma here. This place is one among the eight places called ashta veerattaanams where Lord Shiva had exhibited His Valour. The main deity at this Chola Temple is known as Brahma-sira-kandeeswarar. It is considered on par with Sri Kalahasthi and also known as Dhakshina Kailasam.On the right of Sanctum is a sannadhi meant for Brahma and Saraswathi. The idol of Brahma is quite big and people offer pujas here in good numbers. The Nandi at the entrance is eye-catching. The vimanam at the sanctum is also beautiful to watch. A Vishnu temple,sung by Alwar is situated nearby.

We took a diversion here towards west on Thirukkaattupalli road and reached Thiruppoonthuruththi. The murthi (Pushpavaneswarar) is sung in Thevaram Hymns by Saiva saints. Appar stayed here for a long time and sung several Padhigams in praise of the deity.When Sambandar arrived here in his palanquin, Appar carried his palanquin on his shoulders. It is said that Shiva Himself wanted to see the beauty of the Child Prodigy coming to the temple in palanquin and ordered the three Nandhis infront of Him to move a little. Hence we find the three Nandis not falling straight to the Sanctum as found in all other Siva temples. The Vimanam on top of the Sanctum is as beautiful as the one seen at Kandiyur. Special mention has to be made for the superbly carved Ardhanariswara & Veenaadhara Dhakshinamurthi in Deva koshtas.

Within the limited time available, a brief visit was made to Thanjavur palace,Art Gallery,Saraswathi Mahal Library and Bangaru Kamakshi Temple.

It was 4 p. m when we reached the Big Temple to witness the Great Annual Event. We understood that it would take another one hour to have dharshan, we went round the temple to admire the sculptures and the engineering marvel- the Vimanam. The admiration grows everytime whenever we visit the Temple. We notice something which had been missed during the previous visits. According to me, it may require three full days to derive satisfaction of seeing the Temple to a large extent. While looking at the sculptures of Uma Maheswara,Durga,Kala Samhara murthi on the walls and of course ,the Great Brahadeeswara , the least we can do is to gratefully remember the King, Raja Raja Chola.

Friday, September 17, 2010

On the banks of Thambrabarani

Many villages and small towns at the foot of western Ghats/Podhigai Hills in Thirunelveli District present scenic beauty as the river Thamrabarani adds wealth to her banks.Nature is at its best and it is a feast to the eyes to look at the tall coconut groves and plantain trees all around.This place is not only fertile but also known for many temples. Nava Kailash and Nava Thirupathis are the cluster of temples in this region and it will be nice to plan the route before undertaking the journey. In places like SriVaikundam & Then Thirupperai, both Shiva & Vishnu temples are present within a short distance and a proper planner is not likely to miss either of them. Hence it is wise to cover both Shiva and Vishnu temples together so that revisiting the same place on the next day is avoided. Normally it takes two days to cover all the 18 temples. It is better to hire a cab at Thirunelveli for visiting these places as few of them are in remote places where bus services are not frequent.

A big board installed at Sri Kailasanatha swami temple at Then Thirupperai gives an account of all the nine Kailasams with a distance map.If we follow the sequence given in the board, lot of time can be saved on travel. The Nine Kailasams are at 1) Papanasam 2)Seran Mahadevi 3) Kodaganalloor 4)Kunnathur 5)Murappanadu 6)Sri Vaikundam 7)Then Thirupperai 8) Rajapathi & 9) Serndhapoomangalam. The Lord is called as Kailasanatha in all the places. There is also a view that the first Kailasam is not Papanasam but the one at Brahmadesam off Ambasamudram.As Navagrahas (Nine planets) have worshipped Sri Kalasanatha at these places, many people visit them on the advice of the astrologers.

Papanasa Swami temple at Papanasam is about 50 KM from Tirunelveli. The sanctum is situated near a "Mukkila" tree,which signifies three Vedas. Thr river Thambrabarani reaches the plains near the temple and flows in South-North direction As Indra,the King of Devas got rid of all sins at this place, the Lord is known as "Papanasa Swami" (Destroyer of Sins).Shiva is said to have shown His Dharshan here to Sage Agasthya & his wife Lobamudra. This place is associated with the Sun God(Soorya) for whom the "Pariharas" are offered.Turmeric is crushed as powder inside the temple complex and ladies offer it to the Goddess Logambikai who is believed to fulfill their desires.

The second among the Nava Kailasam is at Seran Mahadevi,which is 24 KM from Thirunelveli. The temple is 3 KM away from the town. As this place is not served by buses, cabs or autos have to be engaged to reach the temple. Moreover, the temple is kept open between 7 and 8 A.M and 5-6 PM. Since we reached the temple around 9.30A.M., the gates were locked and our attempts to bring back the archaka was in vain. Two sisters who were staunch devotees of Lord Shiva have constructed this temple.The Lord is also known as Ammanathar.Moon is associated with this temple.

Kodaganalloor is the third Kailash among the group of temples. It is reachable from SeranMahadevi. This "Ankaraga Nivarthi sthalam" is also known for the removal of "Sarpa Dosham". People looking for good alliances for their daughters offer garlands made of Turmeric to Nandi who is said to be very powerful.

Kunnathur is about 10 KM from Tirunelveli en route to Thiruvengadanathapuram.This "Rahu Parihara sthalam" is surrounded by hills and the location is beautiful. Peacocks in large numbers fly freely in this isolated place. We were fortunate to capture a peacock in our camera when it was sitting on the compound wall of GothaParameswara temple at Kunnathur.Six headed idol of Sri Subramanya in the outer prakara is beautifully carved.This temple is also kept open for few hours in the morning and in the evening.

Murappanadu is situated between Tirunelveli and Tuticorin and the distance from Tirunelveli is 17 km. This is considered as "Guru Parihara sthalam". The temple is on the western banks of the river Thambrabarani. The river flows from South to North in this place and is viewed on par with Kasi and Ganges.

Srivaikundam is 24 km away from Tirunelveli on the road that leads to Thiruchendur. It is considered as "Sani parihara sthalam" This town is the birth place of Sri Kumaraguruparar,the Adhi Guru of Sri Kasi Mutt.

Then Thirupperai is on the way to Thiruchendur (38 km from Tirunelveli.) This "Budha preethi sthalam" is also known for Kala Bhairava worship.He has six hands and his vehicle(Dog) is not there.The temple is renovated and kept neat.

Rajapathi is 35 km from Tirunelveli on Tiruchendur route. One has to travel about 5 km from Thenthirupperai towards Athur. The temple is newly constructed to house the ancient Siva lingam. Commuting to this "Kethu parihara sthalam" is not that easy.

Sernthapoomangalam can be reached from Athur on Tiruchendur route. The river Thambrabarani meets the ocean at a place called Punnakkayal near here. This "Sukra dosha Nivarthi sthalam" has Kubera in the vimanam.

One should not miss visiting Brahmadesam,Thiruppudaimarudur and Sivasailam which can be accessed from Ambasamudram.Kalakkadu is another important place near Nanguneri which has to be covered during the trip to Tirunelveli District.The magnificent temple of Kasi Viswanatha at Thenkasi is a feast for art lovers. Needless to add, the glorious temple of Nellayappar at Tirunelveli should be the starting point of the whole agenda.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Podhigai Malai Kumaran

A visit to Thirunelveli Dt should cover important abodes of Lord Subramanya. Thiruchendur is a well known temple which draws large number of pilgrims everyday. The temple is kept open throughout the day to enable those who come late in the afternoon. In fact,it is the ideal time for the pilgrims who want to have peaceful dharshan at the sanctum. Of course, this may not be possible during festive days.

There are other temples of historic background in this district that do not draw huge crowds on non festive days. Kazhugumalai,near Kovilpatti is one such place where we find a rock cut temple for Subramanya. The Lord gives an unusual dharshan here with one head and six hands. Arunagirinathar has sung Thiruppugazh on this deity.

The peacock is normally on the right side of Muruga. But it is on His left at this shrine. Kazhukaachalamoorthi's sanctum is on an elevated place,well carved out of a huge rock. Temple Tank is close to the rock and well maintained. Subramanya's shrine faces west and Shiva's shrine faces East.

This temple belongs to Ramayana period when the bird Sambathi visited this place and worshipped the Lord to attain salvation. Ashtabandhana Mahakumbabishekam of this temple was conducted on 1.7.2010 and Mandalabisheka poorthi will be carried out on 15.8.2010.

Kurukkuththurai is on the outskirts of Thirunelveli. The sanctum is cut on a rock that lies right inside the river Thamrabarani. The flood waters enter the sanctum during rainy days and poojas will commence only when the waters recede.

There is yet another temple carved out of huge rock at Valliyoor. It can be reached by travelling on Thirunelveli- Nagercoil highway. One can see many small and big hills enroute that are delightful. Nanguneri is a famous vaishnavite pilgrim centre on the way. The road leading to Kalakkad passes through Valliyoor. The temple is situated 3 K.M away from the town at a place where there are not many houses nearby. Lord Subramanya and His Consorts give dharshan inside the cave which is cut out of the hill.

Ilanji is a place that looks like God's own country. It is surrounded by hills and paddy fields. Subramanya shrine is on the right of Shiva's shrine. The atmosphere is truly Godly and one has to experience it. It is said that the Murthi at the entrance represents Siva shanmugha , a combination of Shiva and Shanmugha (with 5 heads of Siva and 6 heads of Subramanya). Hence the Murthi has 11 heads) which can be seen rarely(probably only at this place). Lord Shiva is called "Iruvaaluga eshwara" as "vaaluga"denotes white sand. Since the Bhaanam is made is sand,abhishekam can be conducted after placing a "kuvalai"over it. Subramanya is called as "Ilanji Kumara" and "Varadharaja". Sage Dhurvaasa has worshipped Subramanya here and requested Him to stay at this place and bless all devotees. Saint Arunagirinatha has sung four Thiruppugazh songs on this deity.He describes the nature's abundant feast to the eyes at this place in one of his songs.

Aaikudi is a tiny village which can be accessed from Thenkasi. The Subramanya temple at Aaikudi is small but well known to His devotees.Once the prayers are fulfilled, the devotees draw the silver chariot of Balasubramanya and offer "Paayasam" to Him. The temple is situated on the banks of the river,Hanuman. "Padi Payasam " offer is unique to this place.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vallimalai Vijayam

When Lord Subramanya stayed at Skandhagiri after conquering Soorapadma and his army, Devendra prayed the Lord to marry his daughter,Gajavalli, who performed penace to join Sri Subramanya.Sri Shanmukha married her at Thirupparankunram near Madurai. As the Sage Naradha informed Him to bless Sundaravalli who was also conducting "Tapas" at Valli Malai near Vellore to marry the Victorious Lord, He went to Vallimalai and stood in front of Sundaravalli who was born there and brought up by the King of Hunters. Whenever the King appeared there,the Lord stood as "Vengai" tree and once he vanished,He took the form of a young Hunter as if He was mad after Valli. Without realising the fact that the Lord Himself has appeared in front of her,she hesitated the very presence of the young "Hunter" and the Lord finally took the form of an old man and expressed His willingness to marry Her. When Valli turned down the request, the Lord thought of His big brother,Ganapathi. The Elephant God appeared as an Elephant to frighten Valli. On seeing the elephant she asked the old man to chase away the elephant and obliged to marry him. Sri Subramanya appeared in front of her and the marriage took place in the presence of her family members.

Vallimalai can be accessed from Katpadi, the nearest Railway Junction on Chennai-Jolarpet route. Buses are available from Vellore,Thiruthani and Thiruvalam. Those who want to reach the place by road have to take Bangalore High way. After crossing the outskirts of Kanchipuram, a Vaishnavite temple called Thirupputkuzhi can be reached. Mahavishnu in sitting form facing East, gives dharshan at the sanctum. Sri VijayaRaghava Perumal had performed rites to Jatayu of Ramayana period and the tank in front of the temple is called Jatayu Theertham. Thirumangai Alvar has sung pasurams in praise of the Lord.

A 15 minutes drive from Thirupputkuzhi takes us to Thiruppaarkadal ,near Kaverippaakkam where we find two old temples ,the first one dedicated to Srinivasa perumal ,standing on an "aavudayaar" and the other one also a Vishnu shrine, wherein the Lord is seen in the form of Ranganatha,a huge deity.

If we drive further for another 40 minutes,we can reach a historic Shiva temple at Thiruvalam on the banks of Neevaa nadhi. Both the Swayambhu Linga murthi (Vilvavaneswarar)and Nandhi in front of Him face east. The Nandhi near the flag post is huge in size .The Lord has been sung by Thirugnanasambandar in Thevaram Hymns.The Goddess in this temple is known as Dhanurmadhyaambikai.

While proceeding towards Vallimalai,we come across a wonderful Chola Temple,maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The main deities are known as Somanadheshwarar and Thapas kruthaambikai.This place is known as Melpadi,referred in Kanda Puranam. Arinjaya Chola's Pallippadai (Samadhi koil) is said to be close to the site. Those visiting Vallimalai should make it a point to visit this temple.

As soon as we reach Vallimalai, we come across a majestic entrance to the Subramanya temple at the foot of the Hill. Then comes the Temple Tank on the way to the Hills.We have to take nearly 500 steps to reach the top where we find a Subramanya temple,carved inside a rock.A small shrine for Valli carved out of the rock is seen at the entrance. Small ponds of water are also seen at this height!! This deity was sung by Saint Arunagirinathar in his Thiruppugazh. A special mention has to be made for Sri Vallimalai Swamigal, who stayed here in a cave and propagated Thiruppugazh to his disciples. His ashram can be reached on the other side of the hill.There are no proper steps to reach this place.However one can reach there within 30 mins. without difficulty. Swamigal's samadhi is seen near the ashram. the rock nearby looks like a huge elephant- that reminds us Ganapathi who came to scare Valli at the behest of Subramanya.

Another spot called Ponnai is a must for devotees as there is a rare Ganapathi (Swarna Ganapathi) temple in which there are atleast 108 idols of Ganesa are seen. Navagrahaas are seen behind the sannadhi with respective trees&vahanas. People call it as Navagraha Kottai.
Thus our Vallimalai Vijayam covers temples of Ganapathi, Shiva,Vishnu, Subramanya and Navagraha on the same day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Celestial Wedding

Thirumazhapadi is a small village situated on the banks of the river Coleroon,a branch of Cauvery. This river is flowing northwards in front of the temple.It is auspicious to have dip in the river that runs towards North("Uththara Vaahini"). This place is connected by road on the ThiruMaanur- Tiruchirappalli route via Pullambadi and Lalgudi..The bus stops right in front of the temple. It is a very big shrine,built and renovated by the Chola Emperors. Sambandar,Appar and Sundarar have sung Thevaram Hymns in praise of the deity, Vaidhyanatha,also known as Vajrasthamba Natha. The Goddess is named as Sundarambikai.Lakshmi Theertham is a small Tank facing Her shrine.

A five story RajaGopuram is at the entrance followed by another Gopuram at the second entrance. An enclosure for Nandi can be seen in between these Gopurams.

People offer poojas to Nandi on auspicious days.The outer prakara has majestically carved Veerabhadra,and Somaskanda(in a single stone),sixty three Nayanmars and shrines for Kaathyaayani devi,Balambikai,GajaSamhara murthi,Durga and Ardha Naareeswara.A palm tree and a dais having four richly carved nandis are also seen in the prakara.

Deva koshtas include Ganapathi,Dhakshinamurthi,Lingothbhava,Brahma & Durga.Two Dwarapalakaas stand at the entrance of the Sanctum.Lord Vaidyanatha in the form of Shiva Linga faces East. Ambal shrine is on His left with separate prakaram.

This village witnesses a great event every year in the Tamil month of Panguni(March/April) coincided by the star Punarvasu. The legend says that Adhikara Nandikeswara is born to a sage called Silatha Rishi at Thiruvaiyaaru which is 5 km east of Thirumazhapadi.The Lord Himself comes forward to conduct the wedding of Adhikaranandikeswara at Thirumazhapadi,where the bride was born.Usthava idols of Lord Panchanatheeswara and Dharmasamvardhani are decorated and taken to Thirumazhapadi in a palanquin fitted with glass pieces.People who carry the palanquin on the shoulders cross the river by foot as the level of water at this part of the year is too low. Lord Vaidyanatha and Goddess Sundarambika are also taken in a palanquin to receive Panchanadheeswara on the sands of the river along with Adhikara Nandhikeswara.The whole village takes a festive look.Plantain trees are tied at the entrance of many houses to greet the newly wedded couple and the Divine couple.

The marriage starts in the evening in a dais situated near the Rajagopuram. The Divine couples in palanquins are brought near the dais to witness the marriage.Adhikaranandhikeswara and the bride(Suyasambika) are beutifully decorated and the marriage is conducted. Then the deities are taken in a procession and brought towards the sands of the river.Crackers are burst to give a nice send off to the newly wedded couple. Finally the palanquin of Panchanadheeswara departs for Thiruvaiyaaru along with Adhikaranandikeswara and Suyasambika. Lord Vaidyanatha's palanquin returns to Thirumazhapadi temple to mark the end of the event.

People throng to see the wedding in large numbers from surrounding villages and the administration arranges special buses for the event from Ariyalur,Thanjavur,Trichy and Thirumanur.There is a saying in Tamil,"Nandi Kalyanam kandaal Pindhi kalyanam Illai", which means that if a person witnesses Nandikeswara's wedding(at Thirumazhapadi) will not have Married life in his next birth.In other words there is no rebirth for those who witnesses the marriage of Adhikara Nandhikeswara.