Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hridayaaleeswarar Temple, Thiruninravur

Hridayaaleeswarar Temple entrance
This time I choose to write about a temple that is very close to my heart. If I were to name my favourite location close to Chennai, I would say Hridayaleeswarar temple without any hesitation. The history of Poosalar Nayanar, his passion and devotion to the Lord, the magnanimity of the Pallava King, all make this place extra special. The vibration that you feel when you stand in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum is very strong. So why is Lord Shiva called Hridayaaleeswara here?
Poosalar was a poor devotee of Shiva who sat under an "Iluppai" tree in Tiruninravur chanting the name of the Lord all the time. He was called Poosalar because his body was always covered with Sacred Ash (Poosudhal means to apply in Tamil). For several hours in a day, he used to sit in a trance, lost to the material world, thinking about his Lord and chanting his name. People took pity on him, and offered him food and money for survival.
Inside the temple
Poosalar had one burning desire, which was to build a magnificient Shiva temple in Tiruninravur which did not have a Shiva temple at that time. So whenever someone offered him money for food, he would talk to them about his desire, and ask them for money to build a temple. People laughed at him. A man who did not have money to buy a square meal building a temple...that's impossible, they would say. Any amount of ridicule did not deter the spirit of Poosalar. He thought if he would not get money to build a temple, he would do so in his heart.
So he laid the foundation in his heart, and started constructing the temple for Lord Shiva. Step by step, stone by stone, he went on constructing the temple. Slowly the temple rose in shape as Poosalar desired. For several days he would go without food or water, engrossed in his construction and would sit motionless under the tree. The passers-by did not know what was happening to him, but would witness him sitting in utmost serenity, with a blissful smile on his lips. Finally, the temple was ready. Poosalar invited Lord Shiva to attend the consecration ceremony of the temple he had built in his heart.
Around the same time, the Pallava King Rajasimha was building the Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram. A magnificient exhibition of Pallava architecture, and a unique temple paralleled to no other, rose up exquisitely.
Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram
The most unique feature of this shrine was the Circumambulatory path around the Shivalingam, which signifies the various stages of human life. One has to enter the path on his back, which signifies birth into this world and then turn over and crawl a while. The tunnel then widens allowing a person to stand up and then go around. This signifies childhood and adulthood. As one goes around, the tunnel starting reducing in height, whereby one has to keep stooping. This signifies maturity and old age. Finally, the exit from the tunnel is on one's stomach, hands stretched forward, which symbolises "Saranaagathi" or final surrender to almighty and Death.
Having built such an architectural wonder, he consulted with famous astrologers of his land, and fixed the date for the consecration of his temple. That night, King Rajasimha, went to bed a satisfied man. Lord Shiva, appeared in his dream. The King was ecstatic. He prayed to the Lord and thanked him and invited him to attend the consecration. The Lord smiled and said " I cannot do so on that day, as I have already committed to my devotee Poosalar of Tiruninravur that I would attend the consecration of the temple he has built. Please choose another day and I will be there". With these words, he disappeared.
The statue of King Rajasimha at the temple
The King woke up confused and surprised. Who is this devotee who has built a temple that is more magnificient than the Kailasanatha shrine and how is his devotion better than mine that the Lord preferred to attend his consecration? The King asked all his courtiers about Poosalar's temple. None of them knew about it. So he set out to Tiruninravur. When he reached there, he asked the Brahmins whom he came across, about the temple. None of them knew of it, but they all knew Poosalar - the Sivanadiyaar who sat under the Illuppai tree. So they guided the King to him. Poosalar sat there oblivious to the whole world - his eyes closed, his heart full and his mind busy making all the arrangements for the consecration. The King waited patiently before him with folded hands waiting for him to open his eyes.

When he finally did, the King introduced himself, and asked him about the temple he had built, and expressed his desire to attend the consecration. Tears of joy rolled down the eyes of Poosalar. He could not believe that Lord Shiva had accepted the temple he had built in his heart and chosen to attend the consecration of the same, over the magnificient structure built by the King. With uncontrollable tears, he narrated the entire story.
The King stood still, listening to Poosalar. Tears rolled down his eyes, realising the nobility of Poosalar's actions, his love and devotion for the Lord that had won him recognition from none other than the Almighty.
He swore to construct the temple for Poosalar just the way he had imagined it to be. The King placed a magnificient Shiva Linga in the Sanctum Sanctorum along with an idol of Poosalar beside it, and called the Lord Hridayaaleeswara (Hridaya + Aalaya + Eswara) meaning the Lord of the Heart Temple.
The backside of the Sanctum Sanctorum shaped like a
Sleeping Elephant (Thoongaanai Maadam)

There are shrines for all the 63 nayanmars in several temples, but none of them, I think are privileged to share the same Sanctum Sanctorum as the Lord. Poosalar has this unique privilege which makes the Hridayaaleeswara temple so special. Anyone visiting the shrine is able to worship the Lord and his worthy devotee together.

The temple is about 1300 years old and bears testimony to the Pallava architectural style. It is right across the street from the Bhaktavatsala Perumal Temple, which is one of the 108 Divya Desams.
The Goddess here is called Maragathambigai. She looks at you with a kind smile that melts your heart.
Goddess Maragathaambigai
Tiruninravur is about 32 kms from Chennai and is well connected by suburban train( Chennai Central - Arakkonam) and buses from the Koyambedu Bus Terminus. The temple is open between 6 and 12.30 in the morning and from 4 pm to 8.30 pm in the evenings. Hridayaleeswara temple is also said to cure persons with heart ailments if they pray with ardent devotion. So if you want to visit a temple that would melt your heart, this is the place to go!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yoga Ramar Temple, Nedungunam

Rajagopuram of Nedungunam Yoga Ramar Temple
I received a call from my brother Mahi around December 2010. He spoke with excitement about a must-feature temple in Aalayam Kanden and wanted to take me there when I visited Tiruvannamalai next. I asked him for further details as usually I do not like to write about temples which are either not unique or have been extensively covered by other bloggers. What he described had me hooked. He also sent me a television footage and then there was no turning back. I had to visit here and document the same. So we set the date and the day dawned. I had reached Tiruvannamalai on friday evening from Vellore where I had gone for an official trip and we set out to Nedungunam early in the morning on Saturday.
Nedungunam is about 55 kms from Tiruvannamalai and about 24 kms from Arani. The Yoga Ramar temple is between Vandavasi and Chetpet and the temple falls on the bus route itself . The uniqueness about this temple is that here Rama is found sitting with eyes closed without any weapons ( his Kothandam) and his hand placed on his heart in Chin mudra as he listens to Hanuman reading out the scriptures to him.
The five tier Rajagopuram that has been painted with bright hues in the recent past with the words Rama Rama was very welcoming. I started walking a few paces ahead of the others in excitement. To the left of the Rajagopuram, was the temple tank. I peeped in and to my dismay found that it needed cleaning up. In fact it looked quite pathetic in comparison to the magnificiently painted Rajagopuram.
Sad plight of the temple tank
My disappointment quickly changed to surprise when I stepped into the Rajagopuram and found an equally magnificient gopuram inside which is called the " Kili Gopuram".
The beautiful Kili Gopuram with the Dwajasthamba in front

The story of the temple goes like this:
Sukabrahma Maharishi ( a sage with a parrot's head) had been meditating here, asking for the darshan of Sri Rama. Rama, pleased with his penance, came here on his return from Srilanka after killing Ravana, and spent one day with him on his request. Since Rama was returning after the war, he does not have any weapons with him. He is flanked by Lakshmana,( with bow to protect his brother and sister in law) and Sita while Hanuman is seen in front of Rama in a totally unusual posture with manuscript in hand reading out the "Brahma Sutra" and Rama is seen with eyes closed, hand held in chin mutra on the heart listening to Hanuman. The second gopuram is called Kili Gopuram in honour of Sukabrahma Maharishi (Kili means Parrot in tamil) who stands as a hill next to the temple. This hill is called Dheergachala (long hill) and looks like the head of a parrot from an angle. According to Badri Bhattar, the archaka at the temple, Sri Padham of Lord Rama along with Sanku Chakram ( Conch and Discus) are found on the top of the hill, bearing testimony to the fact that Lord Rama had given darshan to Sukabrahma Maharishi.
The Dheergachala Hill - Can you see the Parrot shape?
I stepped further into the kiligopuram and the sight I saw was a feast to my eyes. It was as if I was standing in a mini Hampi. Every panel of the gopuram had beautiful scenes from Ramayana and Dasavathara on it. There were two mandapams(Halls) facing one another with intricate craftsmenship and architectural excellence.
Dasavatharam on the wall panel
We went further into the temple and paid our respects to Garudalwar. The bhattar was inside the main shrine cleaning it and the hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum was being moped. So we decided to go around and look at all the other sannadhis while the screen opened after cleaning.

The magnificient Dwarapalakas flanking the Yoga Ramar Sannadhi

There are several beautiful sannadhis around the main shrine, namely the Chakrathazhwar Sannadhi, Kalyana Venkatesa perumal Sannadhi, Sanjeevihanuman sannadhi, alwars etc. One of the most striking features is the seperate sannadhi for Vykanasachaaryar who originated the Vykaanasa Agama.
Beautiful Chakrathaazhwar



Kalyanavenkatesa Perumal

Sanjeevi Hanuman Can you see the
Two hanumans one over another?

Vaikanasacharyaar 
By now the main shrine was open and we stepped in. The sight of Sri Yoga Rama looking splendid and magnificient caught our attention spellbound. The whole room vibrates with energy. We prayed with complete concentration. The statue of Rama looks so real - the aristocratic nose, the long eyes, and the Chinmudra held by him look too perfect to be man-made.
The Yoga Rama with Lakshmana and Sita Devi
(Photo Courtesy: Mahendran Karmayogi)

Bhadri Bhattar mentioned that Sri Krishnapremi Swamiji of Paranur, popularly known as Paranur Anna, had visited the shrine a few years ago while it was dilapidated and had mentioned that the main idols were infact swayambu and the temple could have been renovated during the times of Sri Krishnadevaraya. The Bhattar further pointed out that while the sanctum Sanctorum and the hall in front of it were small, the area outside it was large with several mandapams, which could probably mean that it was initially a small shrine which was developed subsequently by kings like Krishnadevaraya.

I cropped the previous picture to show a closeup picture of
Yoga Rama just to show how magnificient he looks!
I had by then introduced myself and the purpose of my visit and he was kind enough to allow us to step in one by one and look at Hanuman who is not visible from the front as he sits opposite to Sri Rama reading out the Brahma Sutra.We were able to see Hanuman from the side in an unusual posture as described above.
Hanuman as seen through a mirror (Photo Courtesy: Mahendran Karmayogi)
Yet another significant feature of the temple is that the circumambulatory path is below the sanctum sanctorium. One has to step down a few feet into a chamber and then perform a circumambulation. The architecture here exhibits the ancientness of this temple.
The circumambulatory path

By this time, some more people started come into the temple to witness the aradhanam. Two ladies, Mrs. Kanaga Devi and Mrs. Renuka Devi, sisters and natives of the village started chatting with us. They were kind enough to take us around the temple and show us various things and narrated several incidents about the temple.
Mrs. Renuka took us to the Dwarapalakas and narrated an incident she had heard when she was a small girl. A little girl had been accidently left behind in the temple and the doors had been shut for the day. According to temple tradition, the doors once closed can only be opened at the appropriate time the next morning. The parents and relatives of the child were extremely worried about the child. While this happened, the child who was alone in the temple in darkness and hunger, did not know what to do. It toddled up to the Dwarapalaka and started suckling on the big toe. The next morning, when the doors were opened the anxious relatives ran in to find the state of the child. The child was sleeping safely below the feet of the Dwarapalakas.She showed
us the chewed up portion of the big toe of the Dwarapalaka.While the autheticity of this story is to be established, it was extremely amazing to actually find only the toes of the huge statue damaged!
Chewed up portion of the Dwarapalaka's big toe!
Mrs. Kanaka took us to the two mandapams that we had seen on either side while entering the temple. One of them is called Kili Mandapam ( Parrot Hall). This is called Kili Mandapam again in honour of Sage Sukabrahma Maharishi. The roof of the mandapam has a beautiful structure to depict its name.
I have turned the picture around so that the parrot is clearly visible!


The Square structure represents a pond, the lotus is in full bloom within the pond, and a parrot can be seen sitting on the lotus. All this has been carved from below. It is a hanging lotus flower from the top with the inverted parrot sitting on it! Beautiful indeed! She also pointed out that it was only in this mandap that a miniature prototype of the Yoga Rama was available.
A prototype of the Moolavar in the Kili Mandapam
She then took us to the Panels of the Gopuram. As I had mentioned earlier, several scenes pertaining to Ramayana and Dasavathara are found in the panels. She showed us Vali and Sugreeva fighting on one side and right across that was Rama shooting through seven trees to kill Vali.
Vali and Sugreeva fighting
Rama shooting at Vali
Our next stop was at the Muthu Mandapam. This was so named after a Devadasi called Muthu, who was the daughter of Manickam. Once when Thirugnanasambandar had visited, he had been received with due respect and a performance was given by her in his honor in this hall. Appreciating her devotion and excellence in performance, the temple had given her three "Kuzhis" of land in Kolambadi which is now part of Chetpet and the workers were instructed not to receive any wages to work in her land. The hall was also called the Muthu Mandapam in her honor. I was really surprised that Thirugnanasambandar had visited a vaishnavite shrine. If he had, then it is an excellent example of the Saivaite-Vaishnavaite harmony in those days. Alternatively, there is a shiva temple right across the road called Dheergachaleswarar Temple. May be he would have come there and the reception could have happened here.....just guessing!
The beautiful Dance Hall
We then moved towards the Thaayar shrine. The goddess here is enshrined seperately and bears the name of Senkamalavalli Thaayar. That shrine is equally beautiful with lovely dwarapalakis in front. She is connected to the Utsavar, Sri Vijayaraghava Perumal.
Senkamalavalli Thaayar
In front of the Sanctum Sanctorum, is a hall with lovely architecture. Mrs. Kanaka pointed out Krishna leela in one of the pillars and also showed us Krishnadevaraya as he stands humbly with folded hands in reverence and humility.

Krishna stealing the clothes of the Gopikas

Krishnadevaraya
By now, the Aaradhanam had started and the ladies were ready to move into the shrine. We had to move on as we had plans of visiting other shrines before they closed up for the morning. Reluctantly, we thanked Badri Bhattar and the two ladies for all the patience and support and started moving towards our vehicle.
Ms. Kanaka and Renuka who were very helpful in
showing us around and telling us various tales
about the temple


We took one last look at Yoga Rama - his presence seemed to fill us with peace and serenity. A must visit place if you happen to be passing by this side. For further information, please visit www.nedungunamramar.com or contact Badhri Bhattar at 94452 15776

Lakshmana's Bow now visible

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Navabrindavan, Shenbakkam

Approach to the Shenbakkam Dhakshina Navabrindavanam

Shri. Rajendra Rao, whom we affectionately call "Raghavendra Mama" is a selfless person who goes around collecting donations towards annadhanam and Raghavendra aradhana absolutely unmindful of his age and frail health. He used to coordinate with the Brindavana at Satyavijaya Nagaram near Arani and conduct the Aradhana there earlier. Over the last couple of years, he has been performing the same at the Shenbakkam Navabrindavanam collaborating with Sri Guru Raghavendra Brindavana Sema Samithi Shenbakkam. It was my first visit to the Navabrindava two years ago on the occasion of Sri Raghavendra Aradhana.
The beautiful Golden Gopuram that welcomes you!
I was pleasantly surprised to find the Navabrindava here quite different from the one at Anegundi. The similarity of course is that while the Anegundi Navabrindavanas are on a small island on the banks of River Tungabadra, the Shenbakkam Navabrindavanas are found on the banks of Paalaru. But the structure inside is entirely different. While the Anegundi brindavanas are arranged almost in a circle and are found in the open air, here the brindavanas are at different levels. The other striking feature is that there are saints from two different Madhwa mata branches who have become Brindaavanastha here.
A huge painting of Hanuma, Bheema, Madhva on the wall
The importance of this Navabrindavana lies in the fact that

  •  Sri Madhvacharya has visited here and written a grantha on Vishnu Sahasranamam.
  • Sri Vyasaraja, the previous incarnation of Sri Raghavendra has installed a Sanjeeviraya Hanuman Idol here.
  • Sri Raghavendra, has stayed here and meditated for fourteen days

Anjaneya installed by Sri Vyasaraja
Thus this holy place has been witness to these three holy saints who have visited it to enhance its divinity.
 As we enter, we find the brindavanas of Sri Sripathi Theertha and Sri Kambaal Ramachandra Theertha of the Vyasaraja Matha.
Sri Sripathi Theertha:
He was the fifth guru of the Vyasaraja Matam after Sri Vyasaraja and attained Brindavana in 1612.
Brindavana of Sri Sripathi Theertar
Sri Kambalu Ramachandra Theertha:
He was a direct disciple of Sri Sripathi Theertha. He was well known for his knowledge and spiritual powers. Jealous with his popularity, a man called Nanjundappa tried to kill him by pushing a huge stone from the top of the tree under which he was meditating. The stone came down and stopped in mid-air. The disciples were shocked to see this and gathered around him to find out what would happen when he opened his eyes. The saint finished his prayers and meditation, opened his eyes and got down from the platform under the tree. The moment he did so, the huge stone fell down. Quickly the saint assimilated what had happened. He called a visibly frightened Nanjundappa down and forgave him and made him one of his disciples. Not only that he asked his disciples to place the stone on his brindavana after his time. The stone still stands on top of his brindavana bearing testimony to this incident.
The stone that was dropped on Kambalu Ramachandra Theertha
 placed on top of  his brindavana
On the first floor, the brindavanas of Sri Vidyapathi Theertha and Sri Sathyathiraja Theertha of Uththaradhi Matt are found side by side.
Sri Vidyapathi Theertha:
He was second in line to Sri Raghotama Theertha whose Jeevabrindavana is found in Tirukoilur.
The first floor brindavanas in this complex
Sri Satyadhiraja Theerthar:
Sri Satyadhiraja Theertha was deeply inspired by Sri Vidyapathi Theertha was wanted to become brindavanastha near him. He was probably the most eminent saint in the history of this Navabrindavana. Once the son of the Nawab of Arcot was terminally ill and any amount of medication was not curing him. The Nawab hearing about Sri Satyadhiraja's spiritual powers, brought his son to him. The Saint gave him theertha prasada and the boy was cured. To express his gratitude, the Nawab agreed to pay for the matt's daily pooja expenses. At that time, it was one rupee a day. Till date, a grant of Rs.365 a year is being paid to the matt for its pooja expenses.
Sri Satyadhiraja Theertha Brindavana (Photo courtesy:DMag Video)
The Nayak kings of Arcot, Timmappa Nayak and his son Chinnabommi Nayak, also called Sevappa Nayak, started building a mighty fort at Vellore. But every time, a portion of the wall was constructed it would collapse. Also the water in the moat would drain away. Not knowing what to do, they approached Sri Satyadhiraja Theertha. He prayed to Lord Varuna and Samudraraja and gave them a stone and asked them to drop it in the moat. He also asked them to build brindavanas on the walls of the fort. Till date, the fort and the moat around it bear testimony to this incident. Since Sri Satyadhiraja Theertha gave a stone to hold the fort up, Vellore is also called Rayavelur - Rayi means stone in Telugu.

Sri Vidyapathi Theertha Brindavana (Photo Courtesy Dmag Video)
Below their brindavanas, in a somewhat underground chamber we find the smaller brindavanas of Sri Kesava Udayaru, Sri Govinda Madhava Udayaru, Sri Bhoovaraaga Udayaru, and Sri Raghunatha Udayaru, about whom not much is known.


Entering the underground chamber below the brindavana 

The brindavanas of the four disciples of
Sri Satyadhiraja Theertha in the underground chamber
Other than these eight brindavanas, there is a mrithika brindavana of Sri Raghavendra Swamy which is of recent times ( early 90's ) making it a Dhakshina Navabrindavana.
Glorious Alankara for Sri Raghavendra Swamy on Aradhana Day
While I visited the shrine, I could not gather much information as it was extremely crowded and everyone's focus was on the aradhana, but a DVD that was distributed there on the brindavana and its history and heritage brought out by the Sri Guru Raghavendra Brindavana Seva Samithi was an extremely valuable guide to appreciate the greatness of the saints who were part of the shrine.
Beautiful Vigraha of Sri Raghavendra at the Navabrindavana

After watching the video, I was extremely eager to go back and visit the shrine in leisure when I can relive all the exciting happenings that were associated with the great mahaniyaas there. Unfortunately, I could not go last year due to professional commitments and I look forward to do so this year in August.

The third Navabrindavan as I had mentioned in an earlier post is in Vasanta Nagar,Pallipalayam, Erode. I was blessed to be there as well and hope to share information on that too soon.

How to reach there:
While going from Chennai to Vellore, you will come across a huge bridge at the entrance of the city. Go down the bridge and take a right turn at the third intersection. The road will automatically lead to the Navabrindavan. There are also signboards to guide visitors.
Contact Info: Mr. Venkatramanan - 9994582779 - Secretary.
Mr. Krishnan who performs the pooja there is also very helpful in giving information.