Monday, September 25, 2017

Temples near Vrudhachalam

Vridhachalam Temple
According to me, the blogs need to be written with good purpose. Hence blog-writing need not necessarily be a hobby.It is not meant for showing the talent / wisdom for others. Sharing the pictures should not end with undesirable consequences. The sole aim is to take the viewers for a short journey which can inspire them to think over the message conveyed in each post. Though one can not expect a positive result over night, yes, it can make the reader think for a while. The purpose of life can be truly reflected through the blogs. Frankly speaking, I never believed in writing travelogues as people are likely to go through them the way they read stories and conveniently forget instantly. Of course, a negligible segment do read them seriously and try to see the places covered in the posts by expressing their willingness to visit the places covered in the posts. It is noteworthy to mention here that there are readers who live abroad have been kindled by these posts that they look forward to  their next visit to India as early as possible. Among the seven blogs I write, I was surprised to find that  Sivasankaravijayam , the travelogue has crossed  75000 viewers so far. But the  statistics did not please me much as the  travelogues did not seem to help in the way I wanted.  The less known temples continue to be rarely visited and ignored. When I was determined to drop the travelogue from my blog list, some of my friends prevented me by saying that it was enough if it had touched the hearts of few readers. I changed my mind,temporarily though, and continue to write the travel specific blog, sivasankaravijayam just to avoid disappointment for those few readers. With these words, I go ahead with the narration of my recent visits.

Vrudhachalam is a railway junction between Chennai and Tiruchirappalli on the Chord line of Southern Railway. It is well connected by road and provides good lodges for stay. However the foreign tourists would prefer to stay at Kumbakonam which has better lodges. They may be too happy to cover Ganagai Konda Cholapuram on the way. 

Vrudhachalam,the Sanskrit word means old Hill as the legend says that the place is just on top of the Oldest Hill of the earth. Thevaram Hymns call this place as " Mudhu Kundram ". It is a delight to watch the temple from a distance, that too from the Manimuthar bridge from where all the five Gopurams are seen. Vrudhachalam is considered superior to Kasi and the river Manimuthar on par with Ganges. The Temple has five prakarams,five flag posts, five Nandhis, five Theerthams (Ponds),five Ganapathis, five inner Mandapams and five outer Mandapams. 

Sivagama Sannadhi
Another Unique feature of this Temple is the presence of a shrine in the Prakaram  for Sivagamas which is not found anywhere. The 28 Agamas are represented as Siva Lingas and Lord Subramanya with His consorts is seen in the middle. The Temple authorities should show more attention to maintain cleanliness of this place. 

One of the breath taking Gopurams is named as Kandaradhithan Gopuram, named after the great Chola Emperor and Siva Bhaktha, Kandaradhitha who was also the husband of Sembiyan Madevi. While taking a round of the outer prakaram, we are thrilled with the beauty of each Gopuram on each side. There is a shrine for Sthala Ganapathi under the ground. It is known as "Aazhathu Pillayar" which indirectly means that He is seated  in His  devotee's heart at its bottom. 

The annual festival is held in the Tamil month of Masi when the deities are taken around the streets and Theerthavari is held. The sixth day of the festival is famous one as the " Periya Nayakar " is escorted by both Vrudhambika and Balambika. 

When Sundaramurthi Nayanar, one of the four Saiva Saints(Gurus) came here and worshipped by singing Thevaram Hymns, The Lord gave him 12000 coins of Gold. As Sundarar asked the Lord to suggest the way to carry the same safely to Thiruvarur, Vrudhagiriswara asked him to put it in Manimuthar to receive the same at Kamalalayam tank of Thiruvarur. Sundarar obliged immediately and got back The  Gift at Thiruvarur. Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam mentions about this miracle. 

Thirunel vennai (Neivennai)
We move on to the next temple called Thiru Nel Vennai, about 8 km from  Ulundurpet. Transport facilities to this place are less  and it is better to make own arrangement to save time. Now known as Nei vennai, this village remains as sleepy and backward. It has to be mentioned here that many temples of Villupuram are rarely visited and Nel Vennain is one among them. Only those Siva Bhakthas who recite Thevaram make it a point to visit here despite poor commutation.

Thevaram Padhigam on the wall
The Temple does not have a Raja Gopuram in the front . A big Nandi is seen outside the entrance. One can guess that the outer compound comprising the Nandi has gone and no attempt has been made to reconstruct it. Leaving it as such will invite encroachment and expose the temple. It has got one inner prakaram which houses the shrines of Ganapathi, Subramanya, The Goddess and Chandikeswara. Sambandhar who visited the Temple in the 6th century sang in praise of The Main Deity . The Child prodigy is seen here in the dancing posture . People offer butter on Monday mornings to be adorned to The Murthi at Sanctum. 

Inner Prakaram- Nelvennai
We once again appeal to the visitors to help the priests of such remote places liberally as they toil with poor income . Please remember that they will be forced to move out of these places in search of better income which will be detrimental for the running of the Temple. No outsider will be willing to take over the pujas at these places because of paltry income. 

Ilavanasur Kottai Ardha Nareeswara Temple
It is always desirable to read/learn/listen something about the legend and location of the temple before taking a pilgrimage. It was for the first time I came to know about a place called Ilavanasur Kottai in this region. The visitors are assured of awesome temples which are more than 1500 years ago. Historians may put the date that belong to Chola and Pallava era. Murthis on flat surfaces can be seen without being as crisp as those that belonged to later period. 

Maadak Koil
About half an hour drive from Nel Vennai towards Ulundurpet take us to Elavanasur Kottai. I should thank my friend for including this place during our trip which was not originally there in our iterinery.  A Raja Gopuram welcomes us at the entrance of Elavanasur Kottai. Since the priest was not available at that time, there was nobody to tell us the sthalapurana, and the meaning of "Elavanasur" , the presence of "Kottai"( Fort) etc. We could get some details written on the wall of the Prakaram.  

Ardhanareeswara Temple of Elavanasur Kottai is perhaps the one of the huge "Madakkoils" ,  ( built on a raised platform ) of Villupuram district. We reach the Swami Sannadhi after taking the steps. The Maha Mandapam in front of The Lord has many carved pillars of Murthis and dancing postures. The west facing Swambu Murthi, Ardhanareeswara has three Nandis in front of Him, all facing the opposite direction( West), the explanation may be given only by the priest. 

The prakaram around the Madak koil offers many idols of Ganapathi. Vinayaki can also be seen here which may be new to many of us.  Finally we reach the Goddess Brahan Nayaki's sannadhi ,also  facing west . The upkeep of this Temple is very poor obviously due to poor mobility of the priest who seems to be very old. Moreover, poor turnout  of visitors should definitely cause displeasure mentally to any priest. It is not known why the locals nearly abandon these marvels and allow them to crumble. They raise hue and cry only when the Temple faces extinction. Will good sense prevail? 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Amarneethi Nayanar

Pazhayarai temple
Pazhayaarai was one of the capitals of Chola Empire. Located at about 6 km from Kumbakonam, the town is now scattered into several small hamlets like Patteswaram, Sakthimutram, Cholan Maaligai,Muzhaiyur, Pazhayarai, Vadathali, Melthali, Thenthali, Udayalur etc. Though the Palace of the Great Cholas is not found there at present, the marvellous Temples built by them are still there to tell inspiring messages for the generations to follow in the form of inscriptions on the walls. Their dedication towards Lord Shiva was not just to build huge Temples. It also nourished many communities like artisans, Priests,Oduvars( who sung Thevaram Hymns). 
Temple building took a new style during their regime. The ambitious programme of King Raja Raja was followed by his son,King Rajendra , Raja Raja II and Vikrama. Outstanding Bronze images were also made and presented to several temples. They also initiated annual festivals at various places and created Endowments for them. Incidentally, the Great Saiva Saints Thirugnana Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar belonged to that period ( 6th-9th Century) and that had great impact on  the Kings to propagate the  Bhakthi movement.

It was during the regime of King Anabhaya Chola, Sekkizhar, his minister wrote Periya Puranam which elaborated the lives of 63 devotees (Nayanmars) sung by Sundarar in his Thevaram Hymn at Thiruvarur.  Pazhayarai is the birthplace of Nayanmars like Mangayarkkarasiyar and Amarneethiyaar. Managayarkarasi  married the Pandya King, Nedumaara (Nayanar) and became the Queen of Pandya Kingdom. On seeing her husband influenced by Jain monks, she invited Thirugnana Sambandhar to save Saivism. The child prodigy went there and defeated the monks and re established Saivism. 

Amarneethi Nayanar was a trader in Pazhayarai who never failed to serve the devotees of Lord Shiva and ensured to meet their expectations fully. On one day Shiva Himself visited him in the form of a bachelor to show the world the Greatness and commitment of Amarneethiyar. He handed over his cloth to Amarneethiyar and asked him to keep it safely in his custody and return it on his return. Amarneethiyaar gladly accepted the cloth and kept it safely and made arrangements to offer food to the bachelor. When the later returned after a bath in the river Cauvery, Amarneethiyaar received him and went inside to bring the cloth entrusted to him. He was stunned when he noticed that the cloth was missing! He pleaded innocence but the bachelor went on to keep  his cloth on one side of a balance and insisted for a compensation of anything that equals the weight of the one kept on the scale. Despite offering his entire wealth on the other pan, the scale did nit rise! Finally Amarneethiyar prayed Lord Shiva and stood along with his wife and son. The scale equalled and The Lord gave Dharshan to Amarneethi Nayanar and his family. They were blessed to attain the Lotus feet of the Lord and the incident took place in the Tamil month of Ani ,the star being Pooram. 

The nearest railway station (where only the passenger trains stop) is at Sundara Perumal Koil on Kumbakonam- Thanjavur section of Southern Railway. We have to cross  Karaikal road on the way before taking a right turn from there. The road leads us straight to Nallur Temple which faces east. A beautiful Pond is in front of the Raja Gopuram. Kunthi,the mother of the first three Pandavas worshipped the Lord here and took bath in this tank. The Annual festival is celebrated every year , ending on Masi Magam day. 

The Temple is built at a raised level in the form of a "mada koil" Kailasa Ganapathi is seen near the foot steps by which we climb the elevated platform . We notice the south facing Shrine of Goddess Giri Sundhari first in the lower level of the platform. Upon climbing few more steps,we enter into the Mahamandapam of Sri Kalyana Sundara Murthi . The moolavar, a Swayambu Murthi, changes colour five times in a day. Hence He is also known as Pancha Varneswarar. Brahma & Vishnu made in Sudhais are also seen in the worshipping posture by facing the Lord inside the Sanctum. One can also see huge sudhai structure of Uma Maheswara behind the Moolavar. This Temple is also famous for the Kali Devi's shrine in the outer prakara. 

During his young age, Saint Appar( then Marul Neekkiyar), joined Jain Monks and became Dharmasena. Distressed by the decision taken by her brother, Thilakavathi prayed Lord Shiva of Thiruvadhigai(Near Panruti) for the return of her brother into Saivism. Her prayer was answered when Marulneekkiyar got rid of the incurable illness when he returned to Thiruvadhigai and sang Thevaram Hymns on The Lord. But he felt unhappy with his own act of getting into the fold of Jain monks. On reaching Thiru Saththi Mutram,near Pazhayarai,he prayed The Lord to keep His Lotus feet  But he was asked to visit Nallur to receive the wish he asked for. Appar received the supreme blessing when The Lord placed His Lotus Feet on his head. The Saint acknowledges the Grace in his Hymn on this place. A crown bearing the Feet of The Lord is placed on the heads of all devottes even now to mark the incident.

On Ani Puram day, special abhishekams are performed in the morning and Bhikshadana murthi is taken in a procession and finally arrive at Amarneethi Nayanar's Mutt, near the Temple after "Theerthavari" in the Temple Pond. 

The incident which brought fame to the Nayanar is enacted in the evening inside the Temple. A huge balance is kept inside a four pillared Mandapam on the outer prakaram. The Deities of Amarneethi Nayanar & his family are brought to this place and the offerings are carried out by placing more and more clothes given by the nayanar. Finally The Lord gives Dharshan to the family and bless them. 

It is surprising that such a great incident goes unnoticed by many locals and outsiders. It is  disappointing to find very few devotees gather there to witness the event. Perhaps the greatness of the Nayanmar is not known to most of us. Efforts are to be taken to educate the people to participate in the important festivals of rural Temples.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sri Sadhasiva Brahmam

India is considered as God' s own Kingdom not just because it is the land of thousands of temples Holy Rivers and Mountains but because of the Great Sages and Saints who brought forward the sanctity to the entire World by their scriptures, commentaries,visits which protect the nation even now. 

Kumbakonam,a temple town in Tamil nadu had witnessed the emergence of Great Saints . Sri Bodhendra saraswathi ,  then Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sridhara Ayyaval of Thiruvisanallur and Sathguru Sadasiva Bramendra were contemporaries who stayed in that region and contributed to Bhakthi movement.

Sri Sadasiva was born in Madurai to a Telugu couple ,Moksha Somasundara Avadhani and Parvathi. His parents were childless for sometime and they prayed to Sri Ramanatha Swami of Rameswaram Temple and their prayer was answered. They named the child as Siva Rama Krishna.  When the family moved to Thiruvisainallur near Kumbakonam, Sri Sridhara Ayyaval was the classmate of Sivaramakrishna in the Veda Patasala. He was married at the age of 17  but the desire to join a Guru was deep inside his heart.

Suddenly he left his house and went to Thiruvenkadu where he met Sri Parama Sivendra saraswathi, the Kanchi Acharya. He composed many poetic works on his Guru ," Navamani mala',"Guru Rathna Malika",to name a few. He took Sanyas under the guidance of his Guru. As he was highly knowledgeable,he conquered many scholars. They got irritated and complained to the Acharya. The Acharya called Sadasiva ,(as he was known at that time) and asked him whether he could shut his mouth instead of arguing with others.Sri Sadasiva remained silent from that day onwards throughout his life. Subsequently,  Sri Parama Sivendra Saraswathi attained Samadhi at Thiruvenkadu.

Then he started wandering from place to place as a Digambara. He rarely met people as he was moving much away from the towns and villages ,more particularly in mountains and jungles. so that no one could notice him and disturb his meditation. He is said to have met  Thayumanavar,the poet-saint in the presence of Ragunatha Raya Thondaiman ,the Raja of Pudukottai in 1738 A.D.

Sri Sadasiva Bramendra,the author of many books on Advaitha Philosophy met Sridhara Ayyaval again when the later requested him to break his silence at the time of composing songs in praise of The Lord. Sri Sadasiva Bramenrda started composing many songs of which only 33 krithis are available.

He possessed great powers due to which he could perform miracles. Some children playing in the sands of River Cauvery at Mahadhanapuram wanted to see Madurai, he asked them to close their eyes for a moment. When they opened their eyes they found that they were in Madurai!

Once he was meditating near a heap of paddy. On seeing this, the farmer who owned the paddy field started hitting him with a stick. When Sadasiva Bramendra saw the farmer in a confronting mood, he made him to become a statue. On the next morning the Gurunatha saw the statue and smiled and gave life to the wrong doer. The farmer realised his mistake and sought to forgive him.

Without bothering the flash floods in Cauvery, the Guru was sitting near the sands of the river,deeply meditating. Soon he was covered with a hump of sand and carried away. The villagers tried to trace him by removing the accumulated sand.The shovel hit the Saint but he came out and walked away as if nothing had happened.

After hearing the greatness of the Saint, Sri Vijaya Raghunatha Thondaiman, the Raja of Pudukottai met the Saint at Sivagnanapuram near Avudayar Koil in 1738 A.D.and sought His blessings. Sri Sadasiva Bramendra wrote the Moola mantra of Sri Dakshinamurthi on the sands. The ruler collected the sand on which the mantra was written and took it for worship at his palace in Pudukottai. It is still preserved in the palace and open for public on Thursdays. 

Once he entered into the Palace of a Nawab without notice. The Nawab ordered his servants to chop off the hands of the saint. When the order was obeyed, the Saint was walking freely as if nothing had happened to him . The Nawab took the chopped hands and placed them in front of the saint and pleaded pardon. To the surprise of all, the hands rejoined the saint in the original position and he walked away.

Once he took pity to an illiterate dumb boy and blessed him to gain speech. The boy instantly gained the power to speak and he was known as Akasa Purana Ramalinga Sastry whose relatives were living in Nerur until the last century.

He did penance at Gokarneswara Swami Temple,Pudukottai, Sri Kamakshi Temple and Devadhanampatti. He was instrumental in installing the Deity at Punnainallur near Thanjavur. He installed the murthi of Hanuman in Srinivasa Perumal temple at Nalu kadai veedhi, Thanjavur. He also installed Ganesa Yantra at Thirunageswaram near Kumbakonam and Jana Akarshana Yantra at Thanthonri Malai near Karur and Sri Chakra at Madhurakali amman temple,Siruvachur. His Padhukas are preserved at Sri Achala Dheepeswara Swami Temple at Mohanur. 

He left for Nerur,near Karur on the banks of south flowing river Cauvery ,considered on par with Kashi and Ganga. He found the place suitable to carry out meditation in the way he wanted. He attained Maha Samadhi  in 1755 A.D. on a Vaishaka Sukla Dasami day when the star was Makha(m) . As per his wish, a Bilva sapling was planted above his samadhi. It has grown  tall now where the Annual Aradhana is held. He is said to have attained Samadhi at Mana Madurai also.

About the Holy Bilwa Tree
During His visit to Trichy,Sri Sachithananda Narasimha Bharathi ,then Pontiff of Sri Sringeri Mutt felt that his palanquin was dragged by some external force. Upon meditating at that place for three days,He took yathra towards Nerur and reached Sadasiva Bramenral's Adhishtanam. He composed two Hymns on Sri  Sadasiva Brahmam. 

Nerur takes a festive look on the Aradhana day. People from different parts of the state assemble at about 8 A.M to witness the Abhishekam and Aradhana at the Samadhi. The Adhishtanam is inside Kashi Viswanatha Temple. The Samadhi is seen right behind the Sanctum in the outer prakaram of the Temple. Abhishekam is performed at the Bilwa tree where the Saint had attained Sidhi. Deepaaradhana & Archana are held and a portrait of  Sri Sadasiva Brahmam is taken to a Mutt where bhajans are sung. 

Veda Parayanam at the Adhishtanam
Nerur is located about 10 km from Karur . Bus facility is there from Karur bus station. For boarding and lodging, Karur is a good place. One should not miss visiting Sri Pasupatheeswara Swami Temple at Karur which is sung by Thirugnanasambandhar. Venjamakkoodal is another Shrine,sung by Sundarar which is located around 20 km from Karur. Kulithalai(Kadambar koil),Eengoimalai, Vatpokki(Iyer Malai) , Thirupparaithurai are nearby places where Temples sung in Thevaram are located.