Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Athulya Nadheswara Temple, Arakandanallur

The beautiful sight of Athulya Nadheswara Temple from the entrance
Arakandanallur, is about 2 kms from Tirukoilur. It was originally called Araianinallur (அறையணிநல்லூர்) Arai (Rock) Ani (Decorate) Nallur (Good Village). Since huge rocks were found aplenty in this village on the banks of the Thenpennai river, it came to be known as Araianinallur.
Today, it is called Arakandanallur.(அரகண்டநல்லூர்)  There are several intepretations for the same:
Arai (Rock) Andai (Nearby) Nallur  அறை+அண்டை +நல்லூர் - Since the village is found near the huge rocks,
Arai (Room) Kanda (found) Nallur - அறை+கண்ட +நல்லூர். The temple houses five rooms apparently created by the Pandavas by cutting a huge rock, in order to hide during their vanavasa.
Aram (Charity) Kanda (done) Nallur - அறம்+கண்ட+ நல்லூர் . When daughters of King Vel Paari , Angavai and Sangavai got married to Deiveegan and Yenadhi Kannan, the sons of King Thirumudi Kaari,      ( both kings well known for their generousity and philanthropy), the newly weds are said to have given away a lot of riches to the needy and poor at this place, because of which the name Aramkandanallur came to exist.
The beautiful seven-tiered gopuram
To me, Arakandanallur holds a special significance. My father-in-law is a native of Kollur, a village couple of kms away from Arakandanallur. He, however, migrated near Tiruvennainallur on account of education and work but his family stayed back and our ancestral diety, Pachaiamman resides in Arakandanallur. Over the last nineteen years,on the several occasions that I have visited our family temple, I have been amazed at this magnificient temple standing atop a huge rock, right next to the Pachaiamman temple. Whenever I enquired with my mom-in-law or other members of the family about it, all they used to say was "it is an Eswaran Kovil. It would be extremely hot and difficult to go there, and no one usually does". After a while, I gave up, although I did not stop looking wishfully at the temple tower, whenever I was in Pachaiamman Kovil.
This changed in early 2010 when I read all about this temple in Dr.Sudha Seshayyan's "Thevara Thiru Ula". When I came to know about the significance and the greatness of this temple, the desire to definitely visit grew and grew. But the time was not coming true. Finally, with the grace of my Guru, I was able to visit the temple last week.
Entrance to the main shrine
The Atulyanadheshwara temple (Coordinates: 11⁰ 58'25.70"N, 79⁰13'13.42"E) can be reached very easily. When you get to the Arakandanallur Police Station, turn right. There is a slight incline, and a signboard pointing to the temple can be seen. Take a right turn again and go up the inclined slope, to reach the temple. Vehicles can ply right upto the temple and there is ample space available. The huge complex with a seven tiered rajagopuram, seperate shrines for Arunachaleswara, and the goddess Soundara Kanagambikai, apart from the main shrine beckon you. There is practically no one in the temple but for a couple of women selling ghee lamps, and an old man who informs us that the Gurukkal is not available. We buy a few lamps from the women, and move in.
The feet of Tirugnanasambandar on a pedastal
As we enter the temple complex, we see two small feet on a stone pedestal. Whose feet imprints are these? When Thirugnanasambandar,part of the famous quartet of Samaya Kuravars and one of the nayanmars , a child prodigy and a great devotee of Lord Shiva, visited this temple, during the 7th Century, people from other faiths had blocked the entrance with boulders to prevent him from entering and worshipping here. However, when Thirugnanasambandar, sang verses in praise of the Lord, the boulders moved, giving way for him to enter the temple. On entering, his disciples showed him Tiruvannamalai from where he stood. Overcome with joy,at the sight of the Lord Arunachaleshwara, the young boy stood there and circumambulated, with eyes closed, and hands raised above his head. As he did so, his feet imprints were made on the stone. This has been raised on a pedestal and stands as a testimony to this historic event. 
The verses of Thirugnanasambandar inscribed
on the walls to the temple
From here, we offer sincere prayers and move towards the shrine of Arunachaleswara which is next to the pedestal. There was a rishi called Neelakandar who was on a pilgrimage in search of a cure for a curse he was undergoing. When he reached Arakandanallur and this temple, and saw Tiruvannamalai from here, he prayed to the Lord to give darshan to him as Arunachaleswara at Arakandanallur itself. The Lord answered his prayers by appearing before him in the form of Arunachaleswara and curing him of his curse. The saint worshipped him there and that is how we find the shrine of Arunachaleswara in this temple. There is also another version of this incident which says that Thirugnanasambandar could not visit Tiruvannamalai when he visited here, and was able to worship only from here and therefore he installed Arunachaleswara at this temple. 
Arunachaleshwara 
There is a separate shrine for the Goddess Soundara Kanagambai. In Tamil, she is known as "அழகிய பொன்னம்மை" . True to her name, she looks beautiful and magnificient will compassionate eyes and a divine smile. The Dwarapalakis on either side, with distinguished features, are a classic example of architecture of those days.
Goddess Soundara Kanagambikai
After worshipping the Goddess, we move towards the main shrine. The temple of the Lord Athulya Nadheswara- in tamil he is called " ஒப்பில்லாமணிநாதர்". How did he come to be called Athulya Nadheshwara meaning the Unique and Superlative God? This question is on top of our minds as we step into the cool interior of the temple. We find Lord Ganesha and Lord Nandiswara in the Utsava Mandapam on either side of the entrance that leads to the main shrine.
Ganesha in the Utsava Mandapam
Nandi on the other side of the Utsava Mandapam
The main shrine is locked as the Gurukkal is away attending a Kumbabhishekam. Through the locked doors, we see the Lord Athulyanadheshwara decorated in simple attire. There are two nandis in front of him, turning out on either direction. They are said to have turned away, to allow Thirugnanasambandar to have an unobstructed view of the Lord. We light the lamps we bought outside, in front of the shrine and pray to the Lord of the Light. So, why am I referring to him as the Lord of the Light? We will soon see.
The closed shrine and the lamps we lit in front of it
A view of the Lord - You can also see the turned
face of one of the Nandis!
The circumambulatory path around the Sanctum Sanctorum is in the form of a covered, raised platform, popularly called "திருநடைமாளிகை"(Thirunadaimaaligai) in those days. There are several idols of gods and goddesses in this platform - each one of them unique in their own way. We start with the right and find idols of Balamurugan and Gajalakshmi in seperate alcoves. 
Balamurugan
Gajalakshmi
Lord Vishnu
 We then find idols of Lord Vishnu , Lord Brahma with a Aksharamala and Goddess Jyeshta Devi. 
Lord Brahma with Aksharamala and Kamandalam


Goddess Jyeshta Devi
Lord Vishnu took the form of Vamana and placed the third step on King Mahabali's head, and crushed him at Tirukoilur where he is worshipped in the form of Trivikrama or Ulagalandha Perumal. To absolve himself from the sin,he prayed to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva asked him to go to Bhoolokam and worship him. Lord Vishnu went looking for the Swayambu form of Shiva that would absolve him of the sins and found this unique and exquisite swayambu lingam on top of the rocks on the banks of Pennai river and worshipped him. Lord Shiva blessed Lord Vishnu and absolved him from his sins. Happy with this, Lord Vishnu called him Athulyanadheshwara or the "Unique and Superlative Lord". 

Moving on, we find the statue of Lord Bhairava. The unique feature here being that Bhairava is found here without his Vahana which is a rare occurence.
Bhairava without his vahana
There is also a separate idol of Lord Saneeswara. The navagraha contains a unique idol of Sani Bhagavan with one leg placed on top of his vahana - the crow.

Another unique feature here, is the Vishnu Durgai found in this temple, is facing South direction which is rare and very special.
South Facing Durgai
We cross the Navagrahas. To our right on the alcove of the main shrine, we find beautiful and exquisite idols of Lingothbhava and Dhakshinamurthy. The Dhakshinamurthy especially, absolutely unique and different. Since it was Guru Peyarchi Day, we spent a few minutes praying to him and seeking his blessings.
Lingodhbhavar
Dhakshinamoorthy
We also find alcoves containing idols of the Sapthakannis, and the four saints, Appar, Sundarar, Manickavasagar and Thirugnanasambandar. Especially Thirugnanasambandar is a delight to behold with the golden Thalams (Jaalra) that Lord Shiva himself gave him. 
Sapthakannis
The four Nayanmars
As we turn around almost completing the circumambulation of the sanctum sanctorum, we find two idols on the wall to the extreme left, next to each other along with a citation that describes the significance of the spot.
An ancient stone with handle for grinding sandal paste found
in the temple praharam
To understand this better, we have to move back in time to August 30th, 1896. A young lad was on his way to Tiruvannamalai. Having boarded the train at Villupuram, he had money enough to buy a ticket only upto Mambalapattu. He got off the train there and started walking along the track. At one point, he saw a huge rock and a majestic temple standing over it, near the railway track. He walked towards the temple and waited for it to be opened. Once it did, he went inside and sat to the left of the Sanctum Sanctorum. It was quiet and the little boy closed his eyes out of exhaustion and weariness. Slowly he could feel a light emerging from the Sanctum Sanctorum and growing in size as it came near him. It grew and grew, till it totally enveloped him in its golden warmth. The boy sat there basking in the light, till it disappeared.
An idol of Ramana Maharishi at the spot where
he experienced the Divine Light from the Lord
The boy was Venkatraman, whom the world celebrated as Ramana Maharishi later on. The spot where he sat and experienced the vision of divine light was the exact location where young Thirugnanasambandar had done so in the 7th Century.
The idol of Thirugnanasambandar next to that of Ramana
There is a granite slab at the foot of Thirugnanasambandar that describes the experiencing of divine light by both him and Bhagavan Ramana at this spot.
There is a picture of Ramana here and information that says that the recent renovation work of the temple has been carried out mainly by the Nippon Ramana Kendra. When I read that, I realised that what my family members had been saying over the years was true - that the temple was dilapidated, no one goes there and not much is known. The renovation work has been done around 2003.
Picture of Ramana Maharshi 
Near this spot we can see the Stala Vinayakar, supposedly a swayambu murthy and the idols of Kasi Vishwanathar with Goddess Visalakshmi .

Having completed the circumambulation, we sit down and meditate for some time. This temple is excellent, the environment conducive and the vibration facilitative for meditation. We pray once again to Lord Atulyanadheshwara and move out of the temple. Our next destination is the huge ornate door that leads to the Pandava Cave.
The door that leads out to the Pandava Cave
Once out of the door, we find that there are steps that lead down the huge rock on which the temple is placed. To the left is a rock cut shrine, which has five entrances that signify five rooms that were supposedly occupied by the Pandavas.
Going down the huge stone steps towards the Pandava Cave
It is believed that the Pandavas were hiding here during their Vanavasa. Bheema had created a pool called Bheema Theertham using his mace, and had built a room on top of a rock over the Bheema Theertham for Draupadi to stay safely. For the five brothers, he had created five rooms by cutting a huge rock.
A view of Bheema Theertham and the Draupadi temple over the rock
The path was full of stones,thorns and pieces of broken liquor bottles and it was quite apparent that the rock cut shrine was being used for undesirable activities. Stagnant murky water made entering the cave impossible. I do not know if there is proven evidence that the Pandavas had created this temple and had actually stayed here. But irrespective of this, it was sad to see a monument associated with history in such bad shape.
Reaching the cave
A closer look at its condition

Stagnant murky water inside the cave
There is also a Gangaiamman Temple near this cave maybe of later times. We did not cross over to the other rock to go to the Draupadi amman temple as it was extremely hot and difficult to walk among the thorns and glass pieces without footwear.
We moved back into the temple through the ornate doors and it was time to leave. I went to where the feet of Thirugnanasambandar stood. It had been a wonderful experience to be at such a spiritual place which I had longed to see for several years. My heart was full of awe and gratitude. I prayed that many many more people should visit here so that the glory of this temple spreads far and wide.
The temple is open between 7 and 11 am and 4 and 6.30 pm.I was given these phone numbers as contacts for the temple - 93456 60711 and 99651 44849.