Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sri Sangameshwarar Temple, Erode

The tamil month of Aadi has several special features to it. "Aadi pattam thedi vidhai" is a famous tamil saying. Aadi is the month when farmers sow new crops in their fields. It is the time when fresh water rises in the river and special prayers are offered to Mother Cauvery to yield enough water for a prosperous harvest. This festival is called Aadi Padhinettu (18th day in the month of Aadi) or Aadi Perukku. Bathing in holy waters is said to bring enhanced blessings in the month of Aadi. "Aadi Sevvai Thedi Kuli, Araitha Manjalai Poosi Kuli" is a famous saying. If bathing in a holy river is considered auspicious, how about bathing in a place which is a Triveni Sangam (confluence of three rivers).

Just like the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad wherein Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi merge together, the Triveni Sangam of South India is in Erode where  three holy rivers, Cauvery, Bhavani and Amudha merge together. This place is popularly known as Bhavani Kooduthurai and several thousands of people gather here during Aadi Amavashya to offer prayers for their ancestors . It is believed that if final rites are performed here for those whose death has been untimely , their souls will rest in peace. Also when bodies are cremated here, the skull of the deceased does not burst which is of unique significance. Thousands of devotees gather here during Aadi perukku to take a holy dip in the river and float flowers, lamps and germinated seeds as offerings to the holy rivers.

The Sangameshwara temple stands close to the confluence of these three rivers. The temple is unique in very many different ways. The whole temple is considered to be a Shiva lingam and therefore the Nandi is found outside the temple near the car park in a seperate mandapam facing the temple.

As we enter the temple, the sthala puranam or history of the temple is clearly written (only in tamil though) so that the devotees can have a complete understanding about the significance of the temple before moving through the various shrines. The temple is very well maintained with small gardens and resting places. An interesting and thankfully useful feature is that devotees are allowed to take pictures after depositing Rs.25/- in the counter.

The Adikesava Perumal and Soundaravalli thaayar shrines along with the Narasimha shrine in between are found in the beginning of the temple. Again this temple is one where Shiva and Vishnu shrines are found next to each other within the same campus. 

We walked right down the temple complex to the river bank where a large group of people had gathered. Drums were being beaten and several women were in an exhilarated state. They were carrying pots of water with turmeric mixed in them and neem leaves in their hands. The air was reverbrating with the chants and sounds of the women moving rhythmically to the sound of the drums being beaten.

We stood enthralled, watching them for a while and then went down the steps to take a dip at the point of confluence. It is indeed unfortunate that such a holy spot is being maintained very poorly by the users. Several garments left behind by those who had performed rites for their ancestors lay strewn around the murky waters. Various ingredients used for performing rites are also found in several stages of decay. We had to move quite a bit along the bank to find a clean spot to take a holy dip. It would be good if both the temple authorities and the visiting public are more environment conscious and treat the place with respect and concern.

After our dip, we moved to the Amirthalingeswarar Shrine.  After the churning of the ocean, Sage Parasara is believed to have filled the pit containing the remaining nectar with the waters of all the holy rivers and made a Shivalinga with it. This he called Amirthalingeswara. Lord Shiva appeared in the Linga and promised to remove the sins of those who worshipped him in that form and grant their genuine desires. Those seeking child birth, come to the Amirthalingeswara shrine, and perform abhishekam. Then with wet clothes, the woman carries the Amirthalingam around the shrine thrice and offers sweet pongal to the Lord. It is believed that childbirth is definitely granted.

We then moved towards the Sahasralingeswara Shrine. This sahasralingam (one shivalingam containing 1008 small lingams) is said to have been worshipped by Ravana, the Lord of Lanka. Performing abhishekam to the Sahasralingam is said to rid one of Rahu - Kethu Dosha.

Apart from this, near the banks of the river, we can also worship Gayathri Linga, installed by Saint Vishwamithra. Sage Vishwamithra is said to have installed a Shivalingam here and chanted the Gayathri Mantra and worshipped him which is why it is called Gayathri Lingam.

We then moved towards the Sanctum Sanctorum of Sri Sangameshwara. The huge shrine has several sculptures and beautiful stone carvings on the pillars. One notable feature was the "Kolu" like display of the nayanmars in bronze. Thirumuruga Kripananda Vaariyaar Swamy also finds his place as the 64th nayanmar ,which was a sweet surprise. One can also see Somaskanda - Lord Subrahmanya   flanked by his parents to the right of the Sanctum Sanctorum.

After having a divine darshan of the magnificient Lord, and spending a few minutes praying to him to grant all happiness to everyone, we went around the shrine. The circumambulatory path contains the "Pancha Bhootha" Lingams behind the Sanctum Sanctorum. Similarly the Dhakshinamoorthy found on the circumambulatory path has a very short "Kallala" Tree behind him which looks more like a tuft of a turban.

We then moved towards the Sthala Vriksham Ilandhai Maram. (Jujuba Tree). It is under this tree that Lord Shiva appeared before Kubera as a Swayambu Lingam. It is surprising to find that the tree is still bearing a lot of fruit. The Lingam seems extremely ancient. The story goes like this:
Once Kubera was flying over sacred shrines in his Akasa Vimana when he found a Deer, Cow, Tiger, Elephant, Lion, Snake and Rat drinking water peacefully together in the river here. Knowing that this definitely must be a very sacred place, he came and meditated here to have a vision of Lord Shiva. Pleased by his devotion, Lord Shiva appeared as a Swayambu Lingam under the Jujuba Tree. Kubera worshipped him to his heart's content.

Kubera Lingam

There are seperate shrines for Shani Bhagavan and Dattatreya near the Kubera Lingam.

One other unique feature of this temple is a seperate shrine for Jurahareshwara (Lord of Fever). Jurahareshwara with three heads, three arms and three legs is found only in a few temples in Tamilnadu. He is found here in a seperate shrine and interestingly the dwarapalakas in this shrine also have three heads, arms and legs. Offering Rice, Pepper Rasam, and Araikeerai Kootu (Greens with Dhal) to the Lord is said to relieve people of fever and other ailments.
 Chanting of
"Bhasmayudhaaya Vidhmahe
Raktha Netraaya Dheemahi
Thanno Jurahara Prachodhayaath" 
and worshipping him with Bilva leaves, while offering pepper and cummin seeds is said to relieve people of chronic gastric ailments.

We then moved to the Goddess Vedanayaki Shrine. This shrine again has a mandapam in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum and it was interesting to note that there was a huge book shop there selling various devotional literature. One of the unique features of this mandapam is that there are two identical statues on the pillars on either side facing the sanctum sanctorum. When water is poured over them one of the idols has a smiling expression while the other takes on a crying expression.  This is a classic example of the sculptural excellence of the craftsmen of yore.

Goddess Vedhanayaki, also known as Bhavani and Sangameshwari has been worshipped by the four Vedas themselves which is why she bears that name. She looks divine and welcoming as if waiting for us to visit her. In a moment our hearts become light and we feel her welcoming eyes enveloping us with compassion. To the left of the Sanctum Sanctorum here, there is a special chamber that houses the Golden Cot given to the temple by a British Collector, William Garrow in 1804. 

Garrow, who was then the Collector of Coimbatore had visited Bhavani and was staying in the Traveller's Bungalow. One night, a young girl came to the bungalow as he slept and asked him to come out. As he came out, lightning struck the building and it collapsed. When he turned around to thank the little girl, she had disappeared. Believing that the girl who had come to save him was Goddess Vedanayaki, the Collector wanted to worship her. Since entry to foreigners was restricted at that time, he asked for three holes to be made in the outer wall of the temple facing the Goddess's shrine through which he worshipped the Goddess. As a token of gratitude, he has presented a Golden Cot to the Goddess on 11.1.1804. A stone inscription bearing this information is available outside the chamber wherein the Golden cot is placed.

This temple is open between 5.30 am to 1 pm in the morning and 4 pm to 9 pm in the evening. It serves as an excellent "Parihara Sthalam" from child birth to death.  Contact Details : 04256 - 230192.
The third day from Rathasapthami in the tamil month of Maasi (later half of February - first half of March) is a special day here as the sun's rays fall over Sangameshwarar and Goddess Vedanayaki. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Varadaraja Perumal, Chandramouleeswarar and Vakrakaaliamman Temple, Thiruvakkarai

The tamil month of Aadi is devoted to the worship of "Shakthi" - Amman, Ambal, Devi,  Ambigai, Thaayar, Eswari, Mariyatha, Kaaliyatha whatever be the name we call her by, she encompasses everyone in the warmth of her grace and compassion. The new moon day in the month of Aadi is even more special when ancestors are remembered and prayers and offerings made.

This year, Aadi Amavashya fell on a saturday and we decided to visit an "Amman" shrine and what better choice than the Vakrakaaliamman temple in Thiruvakkarai . Being sensitive to the fact that a large number of devotees may be expected, we left early and reached the temple around 8.30 am.

After purchasing a garland of 108 lemons, pooja items and entrance tickets, we entered the temple. There were about 25 - 30 people in line at the Rs.10 special entrance (this becomes Rs.50 on full moon days) and we quickly joined the queue . A portion of the sanctum sanctorum wall has been broken up to form the special entrance and we waited patiently to move through the narrow passage.

Once we got into the sanctum sanctorum and my eyes adjusted to the dim light inside, the first thing I saw was four women in odd sizes,with tonsured heads, in the place of Dwarapalaka(i)s. While we waited for the coconut to be broken  by the designated person,I asked him about them.He said that those women had been milkmaids who sold milk and  curds adulterated with water for high profit. When the King heard about this, he ordered  their heads to be tonsured, and then chopped off. The women, realising their mistake, ran to the temple and cried at the feet of the Goddess seeking forgiveness. The Goddess appeared before them, forgave their sins and kept them as her Dwarapalakis. What an interesting incident to illustrate the benevolence of the Goddess!

By the time I heard this tale, the crowd in front of me had moved on and I got a full view of the Goddess.   Her appearance is indeed magnificient.

Her head is surrounded by a halo of flames. She wears a skull crown, and the corpse of a new born in her right ear as "Kundalam". Her eight hands carry different weapons like lasso, discus, sword, dagger, damroo, shield, skull cup and her index finger in one left hand points downwards towards the ground. She wears a garland of skulls. She is supposed to have been a fierce Goddess, after destroying a Rakshashi called Dunmukhi. Saint Adi Shankara is said to have calmed her down by installing a "Sri Chakra"under her left foot. She now stands with her eyes looking downwards, her face calm and serene.

How did she come to be called Vakra Kaali amman? Why is everything in this temple contrary to normal manifestation? Long ago, there was a demon called Vakrasura who lived here. He worshipped Shiva by placing the Aathmalingam on his throat .After long penance, Shiva appeared before him. The Asura sought immortality. Lord Shiva said that it was not possible. Therefore, the Asura asked to be killed only by God and that too not by Lord Shiva.

The empowered Asura, started harassing innocent people .Those affected by him sought asylum in Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva sought the assistance of Lord Vishnu to destroy the Asura. Lord Vishnu, took the form of Varadaraja Perumal,  fought with the Asura and killed him with the use of the Chakrayudha.(Discus)

But that was not the end. Vakrasura had a sister called Dhunmukhi. Once her brother was killed,she wanted to take revenge and started tormenting innocent people. Lord Vishnu sought the help of his sister Parvati, to destroy Dhunmukhi. Parvati took the form of Kaali, and fought with Dhunmukhi who was pregnant at that time. As the killing of a child or pregnant woman is against Dharma, the Goddess tore open the stomach of Dhunmukhi, took the foetus out and wore it as an earring. She then killed Dhunmukhi and stood there as Vakrakaaliamman.

The Poojari brought lemon and kumkum as prasadam and we took them, prayed sincerely to the Goddess and moved out of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Just outside the main shrine there is a Shivalingam called Kandalingam. This is the Shivalingam that had been worshipped by Vakrasura. This lingam is said to be cool in summer and in the rainy season, droplets of water are found over it.

Deepa Lakshmi Shrine
Opposite the Sanctum Sanctorum, there is a shrine for Deepalakshmi. Girls seeking marriage alliance, light lamps in lemon peel and tie yellow threads on the goddess. This offering is mainly done on full moon days.   This place is abuzz with activity. There are several families clustered here, tying threads, offering pongal and panchamrutham and lighting lamps. There are several Naga Statues to which people pray to to get rid of Naga Dhosham.

A word of caution: Be sensitive to the transgenders who throng this area. They offer to remove the evil eye for Rs.21 per person. If you humour them, they start demanding money. While not being harsh with them, one can gently ward them away.

There is a beautiful kalyana mandapam with a hundred sculptured pillars opposite to the Deepalakshmi Shrine. Although this remain closed, the important temple festivals are conducted here.

We moved around the Vakrakaliamman shrine where several people were lighting lamps and camphor cubes.The Goddess Vakrakaliamman is said to be the Adhidevatha for both Rahu and Kethu. Because of this, devotees circumambulate five times clockwise and four times anticlockwise around the Sanctum Sanctorum. 

One of the significant features of this temple is the "Jothi Darisanam" at 12 noon on New Moon Day and 12 midnight on full moon days. A stone column stands to the left of the main entrance on which camphor cubes are lit at the set time on both days. Several people visit the temple to witness this Jothi Darisanam. We found that preparations had already started for this ritual being new moon day.

As we completed the circumambulation,we found a Nandi half buried in a small stone pit. Not sure why? There are also  several inscriptions at this temple, which had been built during  907 - 957 AD  by Raja Aditya Chola, son of Paranthaka Chola I and his brother Kandaradhitya Chola.
The Nandi in front of the Atmalingam

We then moved towards the Chandramouleeswarar temple. The Shiva temple is in a seperate complex with its own Nandi and Gopuram. We stood for a few minutes taking in the sight of the magnificient Nandi, towering above the two Ganeshas found on either side of it. The Nandi faces the entrance of the Chandramouleeswara shrine.

However, the Nandi is not in a straight line with the entrance, dwajasthambam and the Shiva shrine. Each one of them slightly away from the other (vakram) which is yet another unique feature of this temple.
The Nandi in front of the Chandramouleeswara

Although this is a site where Lord Varadaraja Perumal destroyed Vakrasura, and Goddess Vakrakaali destroyed Dhunmukhi, this place has come to be known popularly as the Chandramouleeswarar temple as it is one of the 275 Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams. Thirugnanasambandar, Thirunavukkarasar and Sekkizhar have sung hymns in praise of Sri Chandramouleeswara. We walk into the shrine not anticipating the delight that awaits us.

Usually Lord Shiva is found in the form of Lingam in temples dedicated to him. It is very rare to find Shiva or Lingam with a human face. There are Shivalingams with five faces in Nepal and Kalahasti. Thiruvakkarai is the only place in India and probably in the World where Lord Shiva is seen with three faces. 

The huge lingam with the three faces for Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma respectively, holds you spellbound. The Shiva face is found in direct view. Wearing the Crescent Moon on his head and with Kundalams in his ears, Lord Shiva looks absolutely magnificient. The two faces on either side depicting Vishnu and Brahma respectively can be seen through the mirror while Harathi is performed. The Agora Mugham of Shiva facing the devotees has fangs on either side of the mouth that can be clearly witnessed during Milk Abhishekam.

To the right of Chandramouleeswara, one can find the Nataraja Shrine. This is also unique (vakram) since Nataraja has his right leg lifted up and left leg placed on the ground, contrary to the normal posture. Also his hair is tied up and not flowing, like in other temples.

The circumambulatory path around the Chandramouleeswara temple is a treasure trove of ancient sculptures. The Ganesha under a tree, and another Ganesha with a 2.5 feet Mooshikha in front of him (almost like a Nandi) are enchanting. The Vishnu Durgai found here is half Vishnu and half Durgai, something I have not seen anywhere else.  To the left of the Chandramouleeswara shrine, Goddess Amirthambigai can be worshipped in a seperate shrine.

Kundalini Maharishi Samadhi: 
The Samadhi of Kundalini Maharishi is found to the right of the Chandramouleeswara Shrine. A huge Shivalingam is found above the samadhi and there are several people in the forecourt of the shrine meditating. We too sat there and meditated for some time. The ease of concentration, and the inner peace felt due to the positive fibrations here are worth mentioning.

We then moved towards the Varadaraja Perumal Shrine which is behind the Chandramouleeswara shrine. One could not help, but notice, the difference in patronage and resources between the Vakrakaaliamman temple and the other two temples in the same complex. It was sad to find the Bhattar in the Perumal shrine instructing people to contribute liberally. The Lord was absolutely breathtaking. Over six feet tall, with a prayoga chakram in hand, he stands alone, without the company of Sridevi and Bhoodevi.

Varadaraja Perumal with Prayoga Chakram
On the inner wall opposite Varadaraja Perumal, one can find a unique stone carved "Ramakrishna." Lord Krishna is seen with Bama and Rukmani holding a bow and arrow in his hand!
This shrine has been built by Kochengat Cholan.

After worshipping Lord Varadaraja Perumal, we moved towards the Navagrahas. When every shrine in this temple speaks of something unique (Vakram) can the Navagrahas be far behind?
We see Shani Bhagavan with the crow is turned towards left, contrary to what we find in other shrines.

Thiruvakkarai is a "Graha Vakra Parihara Sthalam". Worshipping Vakrakaali, Vakralingam and Vakra shani on three consecutive full moon days is said to rid one of any problems arising due to retrograde movement of planets as per horoscope. 

Thiruvakkarai is also famous for petrified wood and the Geological Survey of India has created the National Fossil Park here which attracts a large number of visitors to it. The locals believe that these fossils are the bones of Vakrasura that have turned into stone.

How to reach the temple:

Tiruvakkarai (79.65 N, 12.03 E) is about 137 kms from Chennai and about 16 kms from NH 45 (GST Road). While travelling from Chennai,about 2 kms from Tindivanam,there is an intersection at Kooteripattu. Take the left there. This road is called Mailam Road. You will find the Mailam Balasubramaniar Temple, 3 km down this road. Go further down the road. You will find the Vakrakaaliamman temple arch about 10 kms from the Mailam temple.Turn right at this arch. Keep driving and you will reach the temple in about 3 kms.  If you are travelling by Bus, there are several special buses from different parts of Tamilnadu to Thiruvakkarai on New Moon and Full Moon Days. On other days, one can travel upto Tindivanam and then take another bus upto Perumbakkam. There are several share autos that ply from Perumbakkam to the temple and back.(7km one way) If one is coming from Villupuram side, they can come via Thirukkanur - Perumbakkam - Thiruvakkarai . Thiruvakkarai is about 30 kms from Pondicherry.

Temple timings: 
6.00 am to 12.30 pm - 6.00 pm to 8.30 pm. On full moon days the temple closes after midnight.

Contact Information:
Arulmigu Vakrakaaliamman Temple, Thiruvakkarai - 604304
Vanur Taluk, Villupuram District, Tamilnadu
Phone : 0413 - 2688949, 2680870