Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dakshina Ahobilam, Avaniyapuram

Ever since I read about Avaniyapuram Navanarasimhar temple in Shri Raju's blog "Raju's Temple Visits", I had been very eager to visit the shrine. An opportunity presented itself during my last trip to Tiruvannamalai - Along with visits to Nedungunam Yoga Ramar Temple, I thought we could also have the opportunity of worshipping nine Narasimhars in one shrine too.
Climbing up the stairs to reach the main shrine
Avaniyapuram is about 75 kms from Tiruvannamalai.(Coordinates : 12°35'5.7152''N 79°23'10.5464''E).
The temple is in two levels - on the first level there is the Narasimha shrine and on the second level there is Lord Venkateshwara shrine. The most unique feature here - probably something that cannot be found anywhere else in the world is that not only does Lord Narasimha have the lion face, also the thaayar and Garudalwar are found here with lion face. The event when the Goddess prayed to Lord Narasimha to grant her his face, and obtained it through his blessings is celebrated once in 60 years (the tamil calendar has a 60 year cycle) during Sarvadhari Varusham Aani Maasam. This Avataara Utsavam has been performed last in September 2009.
Steps leading to the Narasimha shrine
We were very excited as we climbed up the first level of steps which were not too many or steep and reached the shrine. The temple is open from 6 to 12 am in the morning and 3 to 8 pm in the afternoon. On Saturdays it is open from 6 to 1 pm and 3 to 11 pm in the night. Once we went into the shrine, we found that there was no electricity. The grabagraham was quite dark and we were unable to see what we had come so enthusiastically to witness. We requested the bhattar to go inside and show us the face of the Lord and the Goddess in the light of the Harathi,but he refused saying that after the Utsavar had been placed, he cannot go inside and that even if he did we would not be able to actually identify the lion face in the goddess as the idol was very ancient and the features were no longer clearly evident.
Stopping by to pray to Anjaneya on the way up
We were extremely disappointed. There was hardly anyone inside the temple as they probably knew that there would be no electricity between 10.30 a.m to 12 p.m in the morning. We could see that the shrine across the sanctum sanctorum was that of Garudalwar, and there were shrines for Alarmalmangai thaayar, and five narasimhas to the left of Lord Narasimha but nothing was clearly visible. We decided to move up to the next level to take darshan of Lord Venkateshwara while we waited for the power to be resumed. We started climbing and the sight we saw was extremely spectacular.
Natural rock with lion face and raised paw

There was a huge rock formation in the form of a lion with face, eyes, nose, mane and a raised right paw....It was something that we could not take our eyes off.....indeed one has to see it to believe it!

We moved up the 100 odd steps and reached the next level....fortunately there was some light in the Venkateshwara shrine enabling us to see him clearly, and pray. The legend of the temple says that Lord Narasimha had given darshan to Brigu Maharishi in the form of five Divya desa deities...Tirupathi Balaji, Sholingur Narasimhar, Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal, Srirangam Ranganathar, and the Ahobilam Nava Narasimhars in the lower level.
Sri Venkateshwara at the upper level
Behind the Venkateshwara shrine, in a cave like structure the three shrines of Narasimha, Varadarajar and Ranganathar are found in a row. Here it was absolutely dark and the only way we could have darshan was with the use of the flash in our cameras.
Ranganathar in an unusual pose of facing the devotees
Varadharaja Perumal and Thaayar
From the pictures, you can imagine how dark it would have been. We just aimed in the dark and managed to shoot what we could. In fact the pictures of Narasimhar at this level and thaayar were too dark that I am unable to share them here.
We started moving down with the hope that power would  by then have been restored. But it was not to be. By this time, there were some more people who had come in to offer prayers. I tried my luck with the Bhattar again, asking him to show us the nine narasimhars in the shrine. He was not very friendly and merely said that the Moolavar, Utsavar, Another small Narasimhar in the sanctum sanctorum which was not visible from where we were, the Narasimha on the first level and the five Narasimhas to the left of the Sanctum Sanctorum,  it was nava narasimhars.
The Sanctum Sanctorum where the Moolavar and Utsavar
are partly visible. Over the shrine, you can see Lakshmi
with the lion face

We decided to use the same technique as we had in the first level. With our camera aimed at the general direction of the shrine, we shot pictures of the sanctum sanctorum, the Pancha Narasimhars and the Alarmelmangai thaayar. By the time we could actually shoot the Garudalwar, more people walked in and the bhattar shooed us away.
Alarmelmangai Thaayar

Just like in Tirupathi, where Lord Venkateshwara is in Tirumala and Alarmelmangai Thaayar is at Tiruchanur, here also Lord Venkateshwara is in the first level, while the thaayar is found at the lower level. 
One can stay all day long in front of her and still not have the heart to leave. The Goddess here is so beautiful and magnificient, that one feels so light and joyous just looking at her.
Five Narasimhas in the same shrine
We worshipped the Narasimhars and came out. The sun was shining brightly. I was a little disappointed that I could not get a lot of interesting information about the temple through the Bhattar but,nonetheless this temple is unique in all aspects and definitely deserves a mention.My sincere thanks to Shri.Raju for his very descriptive narration that was useful for us to identify the various unique aspects of this temple.

Thulabharam is a famous prathanai here. We could see some people offering sugar, jaggery and coins equal to the weight of their babies. It is believed that if childless couples pray to offer thulabharam once their prayers were answered, their wish of childbirth is granted, and they come back with the child to offer gratitude.
A view from the top
Some words of caution for those visiting this temple:
1. There is no electricity for best part of the morning so it is better to visit early in the day or in the afternoon.
2. The Bhattar is not very friendly and therefore, may not give a lot of information about the temple.
3. There are not many hotels or eateries around here, therefore, you may want to carry food, snacks, and water.
4. There are several monkeys on the way, who are so sophisticated that even if you have a handbag and a snackbag together in your hand, they would just pull out the snackbag and walk away.
5. There are a large number of beggars who can be quite aggressive.
A monkey having a GOOD DAY at our expense :)
However, these are small challenges compared to the gloriousness of this temple.
The five Divya Desa deities and Nava Narasimhars at one place, a natural rock lion with a raised paw, Lakshmi and Garudalwar with lion faces received in blessing from the Lord and a most enchanting Alarmelmangai thaayar, stay in your eyes and heart as you move away.
Do visit if you happen to be around this part of the world!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chitraputhira Yamadharmaraja Temple, Coimbatore

There are several gods and goddesses in India and there are several places of worship for them as well, each with its own significance. There are a few shrines for Yama, the most feared of all Gods - the God of Death. There is one sannadhi in Srivanchiyam temple, near Kumbakonam, one in Dharmapuri and may be a few more in other parts of the country.
Similarly, there are a few shrines/sannadhis for Chitragupta, his faithful accountant who keeps track of each and every person's sins and virtues,( What is the English word for Punya?), the most well-known being at Kanchipuram.  But I do not know if there is any other temple in India where you can find both Yamadharmaraja and Chitragupta in the same sanctum sanctorum but for this temple at Vellalur Main Road, Singanallur, Coimbatore.
The month of Chitirai ( April 14 - May 15) is very special for Chitragupta and Yama, as on the full moon day of this month, Chitragupta is supposed to start his new book of accounts for the year. It is the time for special prayers to him and his Lord to pardon our sins, and to reduce the burden of punishments, and it is indeed my pleasure to share information about this temple in the wake of Chitra Pournami that falls due on 17th April.

Entrance to the temple amidst construction work going on
Once you enter Singanallur, and reach Vellalur Main Road, it is quite easy to reach the temple. There is an "aathupaalam" - a small bridge over a brook and once you cross that, anyone can guide you to the temple. There is a house being constructed close to the entrance and the building materials have been dumped right near the entrance to the temple. Watch your step as you take the very narrow path that is available among the debris to reach the entrance. A board saying Chitraputhira Yamadharmaraja Temple welcomes you.

The 310 year old temple is cool. There is a front yard which has the shrine of Rajaganapathi to its left. Lord Ganesha is seen here with serpents on either side. A board mentions that "Thulabaram" (giving jaggery, bananas or sugar equivalent to one's weight) can be given here as gratitude for prayers that have been answered.
Raja Ganapathi with Serpents on either side
We step into the inner mandapam. The most striking feature about the mandapam is the circular platform in the middle where 101 padayals (offerings) are made to Lord Yamadharmaraja and Chitragupta on Chitrapournami day.

We are greeted by Mr. Paramasivam, the priest at the temple, who is very friendly and offers us information about the temple. In fact, this is probably the only temple in Tamilnadu, where I have been to, in which I was immediately allowed to photograph the sanctum sanctorum....but with a condition. Women are not allowed beyond this mandapam, while men can step into the inner mandapam, close to the sanctum sanctorum. Therefore, he said I could take a picture from where I stood.
Mr Paramasivam, the priest at the temple
The Sanctum Sanctorum was one of its kind. A majestic Yamadharmaraja, sat astride a huge black buffalo, with one hand holding a spear ( Ankusham) and the other hand holding a rope ( Paasa Kayaru) to drag the departed souls to the other world at the appropriate time. Chitragupta, the faithful accountant of Yama, stands to his right, holding palm leaves in one hand and a quill in the other.
Sanctum Sanctorum
The priest explained that this temple is run and maintained by seven families of Rajakula Agamudayathevar community namely, Poththai, Thaali, Peyan, Kounda, Vaththana, Kanja and Righton, who take turns in being the priest and perform the rituals. The special 101 padayal is called Vanipongal and will be performed at 5 am on 18th morning. He mentioned that persons should not wear black coloured clothes while coming to the temple. Coconuts as you can see in the picture, are offered in full, without breaking them. The temple is open on all days between 7 am and 5 pm without being closed in between.
Across the sanctum sanctorum, we find another room, with a board outside stating that it is the shrine of Veeramachi amman, Pudavaikari Amman and Sapthakannis. Once you enter the room, there is another shrine inside. Here, women are allowed to go right into the sanctum sanctorum and worship.
There are three lingam like structures in one platform which are worshipped as the swayambu form of the three goddesses and there are seven similar but smaller structures nearby who are worshipped as the saptha kannis.
After praying at this shrine, we walk out of the room and take the circumambulatory path around the temple. To the left of the temple, is a seperate shrine for Andichi Amman, the sister of Yamadharmaraja. I was curious to go and see the temple, but found that it was closed and there were people sleeping in the frontyard. Moreover, the path to the other temple was strewn with building materials and therefore I decided against it.
As I moved around the path, I found that the backside of the temple was also circular, similar to the offering platform inside the shrine.
There was a menacing buffalo head that lay on the floor with some rope and plastic tubes nearby. It was a strange sight and looked as if Lord Yama was watching as I moved around the temple. It was time to leave and I thanked the priest for all his assistance. He gave us Vibuthi (Sacred Ash) and Sweet Pongal as prasadam. He also gave pictures of Lord Yamadharmaraja with the condition that the picture had to be kept only in a seperate pooja room and not in houses where shelfs housed gods and goddesses. With one final look at Lord Yama, watching us with his piercing silver eyes, we moved out of the temple into the scorching sun.

If you happen to be around this part of the world on 17th/18th of April 2011, you can take part in all the festivities in this temple on the special occasion of Chitra Pournami when Chitragupta and Lord Yamadharmaraja are in a benevolent mood, as the new books of accounts for the year are opened. If not, do drop by to pray at this very unique shrine of Lord Yama and Chitragupta in the same sanctum sanctorum whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

Added on 16th February 2012- through inputs from Mr Sudharshan:

Just before entering Yama DharmaRaja temple, on our left side, we can see another temple which is the Ayyanar and Aandichi amman temple. As we also visited here, I would like to share the information as told to us by the Priest Maariappan on this temple. 

Ayyanar here is worshipped with vegetarian offerings unlike Ayyanar in other (few?) temples. Children who pray to this Ayyanar for their education are blessed with good fortune. When a Siddhar visited both these temples, he told to the priests that since Yama Dharmaraja is very affectionate to his sister Aandichi Amman, Yama Dharmaraja always wanted to perform poojas for his Sister first and later for him. Due to this, people should seek blessings from his sister before entering Yama Dharamaraja's temple. Even if first timers who may miss to do this, after visiting sister's temple, they have to see Yama Dharmaraja again before leaving so that they get the 'palan' of visiting both these temples - as told by the priest.

'Uchi kaala pooja' on Sundays is special at 12 noon here. Sri Chitra Putra Yama Dharamaraja temple priest Paramasivam can be contacted on 98656 42946 and on 0422-2917789.