Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pidaari Kalli Amman Temple, Pozhichalur

The Kalli Amman Temple at Pozhichalur
Sometimes, life is very strange. You keep searching for something and then out of the blue, what you were looking for, appears so easily and effortlessly before you, that all you can do is shed tears of happiness and gratitude.

The story of me and the Kalli Amman Temple in Pozhichalur is something that would fit neatly into the description above. In 1995 when I was in Coimbatore for my second confinement, I read about this temple in a tamil magazine. I was amazed at the description of the goddess and how she had come to assume this unique position. Since the location was Chennai, I made a mental note to visit the temple on my return to the city. So I tore the page from the magazine and put it in the pouch of my suitcase for safekeeping.

After I came back, life was extremely busy with two little ones - my daughter just two years old and my son a newborn. The piece of paper stayed where it was and after a few days or months, disappeared. But my memory was etched with the name of the goddess, her unusual position and the location.

Years rolled by and I made enquiries from time to time. No one knew about this temple. Those were the early days of internet and information was not so easy to find. Time moved on but my desire to visit this temple remained. In 2007, I started working in Tambaram Sanatorium and the first thing I did when I got familiar about my work place was to make enquiries about this temple. When I described the goddess, everyone was surprised, but did not know where the temple was.

In early 2010, I started sharing information about unique temples I had visited, through Facebook with my friends and family. This was appreciated and they prompted me to start writing formally through a blog. I started reading popular blogs on temples to know about the temples featured and the style of presentation. Wherever I saw posts on Pozhichalur I posed a question - did they know of Kalli Amman Temple? I kept drawing a blank.( In fact if you visit Sri.Saravanan's Dhivya Dharsanam blog on Pozhichalur Agastheeswarar temple, you can still find my question dated April 2010 :))

Several months and several posts in Aalayam Kanden later, the opportunity presented itself as a pleasant surprise. Last week, my husband suggested we visit the temple of Shani Bhagavan (Saturn) on saturday. There is a seperate Shani Bhagavan shrine near my house, and he had actually planned we visit there. For some reason, I suggested Agastheeswarar temple in Pozhichalur as it is a Navagraha Shrine devoted to Shani Bhagavan in Chennai and he readily agreed.

Agastheeswarar Temple at Pozhichalur
I usually try to get some information on the temple, and its deities, history and special features before I visit, so that they can be best appreciated during the visit. So I logged into the website of the Agastheeswarar temple and lo and behold,  it showed up the Kalli Amman temple as one of its sub temples. I almost shrieked in delight! A search of 16 years had finally ended in a positive result.

I was up by 3 am on saturday and ready ahead of schedule. I was really excited that finally I was going to visit the temple that I had so longed to see. After offering prayers to the magnificient swayambu Lord worshipped by Sage Agasthya and Shani Bhagavan, and the beautiful and ancient Goddess Anandavalli and performing Archanai to Shani Bhagavan we left the Agastheeswarar temple. I enquired with the ladies sellling flowers outside the temple how far away the Kalli Amman Temple was. They said, it was just around the corner.

My local guides :)
We were quickly able to find the temple. It was as if suddenly the location changed to a village scene just like changing the backdrop in a play. Three trees, and that too each one of them significant in their taste - Tamarind, Neem and Nuxvomica (Ettimaram) spread their branches to provide shade in front of the temple. Goats played around and some took rest on the steps of the temple.

The serene settings of the temple
The temple is just one shrine big, with a small room for the Annanmaar statues to its left. But the size of the temple is no yardstick to measure the magnificence of the Goddess inside. For a moment I froze. Any amount of reading about the temple does not prepare you for the sight that waits to delight you.

Kumaran, the poojari at the temple showed the harathi with utmost devotion. I introduced myself and told him that I had been searching for this temple for the last 16 years and wanted to write all about it on my blog. He smiled serenely, as if he had heard several stories in the past about her magnificence. Although I knew somewhat about the history of the temple, I asked him to narrate it again, which I am sharing below for your reading pleasure.
Kumaran, the dedicated Poojari at the Kalli Amman Shrine
More than 1000 years ago, the place where the temple currently stands used to be somewhat uninhabited and  dwellings were found only in Kunrathur and Mangadu. A small pond/brook separated these two landmarks and shepherds from the other side of the brook drove their goats to this side for grazing. They took refuge under the huge trees against the hot sun, offered their food to the Pidari Amman (frontier goddess - the word Pidari is derived from the sanskrit word Pida Hari which means destroyer of all evil)and ate and drove back their goats to the owners in the evening.

Goats can still be seen aplenty in the temple

One day, one of the shepherds found that a white goat was missing from his herd, and, petrified that the owner would penalise or punish him, prayed to the Pidari Amman to help him find his lost goat. He offered to give her one "Kuduvai" (small earthern pot used to store milk in olden days) of milk everyday if she helped him find his goat. Very soon, he was able to locate the goat that had gone astray. Happy that the goddess had helped him, he started giving one pot of milk to the Goddess every day thereafter.

Playful goats in the temple
Some days passed. The shepherd was grazing his sheep near the temple, which had a lot of cactus (Kalli) plants growing near by. As he pinched one of the cacti, he found a milk like secretion dripping from it. A devious plan developed in his mind. He quickly thought he could collect the cactus milk in the pot and offer it to the Goddess and in turn sell the milk that was usually offered to her.

So without further delay, he executed his plan. He placed the pot of cactus milk before the Goddess and to his utmost shock, the Goddess picked up the pot in her right hand, dipped the little finger of her left hand into the pot, and tasted the liquid. Her lips got blistered from tasting the cactus milk.

The Goddess, angered by the shepherd's betrayal, rose in her gigantic form, complete with ten hands, and killed the shepherd and placed him beneath her feet. She sits till date in the same posture, reminding people that evil deeds are not tolerated in her court. 

A temple was built over where she sits around the 12th Century by the Chola King (the place is called Pozhichalur which is an abridged version of Pugazh Chola Nallur) ruling over here (Possibly Kulothunga III?)


The Bali Peetam and Trident in front of the temple
I asked Kumaran if I could take pictures of the Goddess. He politely refused saying that since she was an "Ugraha Deivam" it would not be appropriate to photograph her. He also mentioned that even the temple authorities had never taken pictures of her. I hope some artist some day is able to draw a portrait of this wonderful deity so that the world can see how she looks like. 

Kumaran had mentioned that the Goddess sat on a Padma Peetam (Lotus Platform) with the body of the shepherd beneath her feet. I could not see anything as her saree fell to the floor. He explained that it would be possible to only see her fully during "Abhishekham" which happened around 9 am every day. I was disappointed, but took leave of Kumaran after making note of the temple timings, contact number etc. notifying him that I would call back if I had additional questions.

The Annanmaar Shrine at the temple
On coming home, I tried to visualize the Goddess and what she actually held in her ten arms. Other than the Kuduvai in the right and the inverted left hand with the little finger placed near the lips I could not clearly remember. The lips were covered with "Kavacham" (silver covering) as they have been bruised. But beyond that it was difficult to recall without pictures. I did not know how much I could gather over telephone. So I decided I must visit again, this time before the abhishekam is over, so that I can get a Nirmalya Dharshan of the Goddess.

So we set out again this morning, leaving home as early as 7.30 am to be in time for the abhishekam. But traffic at Kathipara was not friendly and it was around 8.30 when we reached the temple. There were a number of people gathered to witness the abhishekam. I rushed in, only to find that the abhishekam had been completed and the Goddess was adorned with new clothes and garlands!!!

I was really disappointed. Nonetheless, one does not get what he/she desires but only what he/she deserves!! So I strained my eyes to see the hands of the Goddess through the dim light of the sanctum sanctorum conversing with her all the time. Was I late or had she had her abhishekam early? I had come so eagerly to look at all her glory.

I tried to jot down what I saw. My husband prompted me to ask Kumaran, who was busy attending to the devotees who had offered the abhishekam. I waited for him to become free, so that somehow I could get the accurate information, all the time praying to her to show me what I wanted. 

Kumaran came, and when I told him I could not see clearly among the garlands and clothes in the dim light, he smiled again, the quiet, serene smile. He showed me the "Kavachams" (the coverings that are used to adorn the goddess on special occasions) and explained the significance of each one of them.

Order from top on left side:
1. Jammankodai - An umbrella used by shepherds to guard themselves against the sun.
2. Skull
3. Bell
4. Lasso/Rope (Paasakayaru)
5. Inverted hand with the little finger close to the mouth

Order from top on the right:
1. Huge Sword
2. Damru with the face of the shepherd over it
3. Bow with dagger
4. Abhayahastham
5. Kuduvai or the earthern pot

She has her hair tied up with plaits (Jada Mudi) and a Skull Crown over it. He also showed me a glimpse of  the lotus platform with the shepherd's body over it.

I was so happy that I was almost in tears. The people who had arranged for the abhishekham were kind enough to offer us hot Chakara Pongal and Sweet Panchamirtham which was an added blessing. With a heart brimming over with gratitude, I took leave from the Goddess and Kumaran.

How to reach here:

If you are coming from Chennai city, take a left turn at the Areva Signal after crossing the airport.
You will go through the Pallavaram Shandy road. 
Take a right turn at the barricade at the end of the road, and left at the next junction. 
You will be on Pammal Main road, 
Continue on that road towards Kunrathur for a couple of kilometers till you reach a church on your right, and a board which says take a right turn for Pozhichalur. 
The right turn leads you to Pozhichalur Main Road. 
Go down the road till you reach the Agastheeswarar Temple on your right. 
After crossing the temple, take a right turn. 
You will see the Pozhichalur Bus terminus at a few feet. 
Cross the terminus, there is a Board which reads "Kalli Amman Nagar". (dont take the left here)
Go straight down the cement road which curves naturally to the left and you are at the temple.

Alternatively you can continue down GST Road till you reach the MaraiMalai Adigal Pallavaram Government Primary School. 
Turn right into Indira Gandhi Road and go right down the road till you reach the church mentioned above.
The rest of the directions are the same.

There are several buses plying from different part of the city to Pozhichalur - the 52 series, PP66 etc.

You could also reach Pallavaram by Electric train and take a share auto to the temple.

Contact Details:

Mr. Kumaran - Poojari - 72005 45235

You can also contact the Agatheeswarar temple trustee for information regarding this temple. Website : www.pozhichalursaneeswarartemple.org

Timings:

7 - 10 am 4-7 pm on all days except fridays and sundays
7 am to 7 pm on fridays and sundays

Special Festival:

Adi month 5th sunday is the "Koozh Vaarthal" Festival in this temple

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Orukkamalai

A View of Orukkamalai from Thiruchengode
Orukkamalai is about 40 kms South-West of Salem and about 5 kms from Sankagiri. This hill stands out majestically in this area, and what makes it unique is the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. 

During my visit to my friend's farmhouse last year, she showed me the hill from her terrace and spoke about Lord Varadaraja with a lot of devotion. She mentioned that the genuine prayers to the Swayambu God on top of the hill were always answered. However, the promised offerings had to be given, else he would not tolerate. I became curious...so what were the offerings that were normally made? I asked. The answer she gave me made me vow to visit the temple and see it all for myself. The other friends with me warned against praying to the Lord since there was no roadway or steps up the hill and one had to climb all the way through rocks and thorny bushes and it was just a casual visit and who knew when we would come back to that area.
But I had made up my mind. If He wanted me to come to him, he will find a way. So I prayed for my daughter's examination results. Needless to say, the prayers were answered. As soon as the results were published, I called my friend excitedly and asked her when we could visit the temple. She was extremely happy that I was keen on fulfilling my prayer and so immediately made arrangements. We spoke to our friends and most of them were willing to join.
My friend's Farm!
She then spoke to her relatives in Sankagiri about appropriate day and time to climb up the hill and the answer she got came as a pleasant surprise to both of us. Someone from nearby had bought a new JCB and as a token of gratitude, had created a rough roadtrack till about half way up the hill. Therefore time and effort to climb up would be reduced to half. Not just that, the proposal to pave a cartrack all the way up had also been sanctioned by the Government and work is expected to start in three months time. This was so exciting - as I had strongly believed if you had a genuine desire, He will make the way!
The Beginning of the Journey to the top!
So the day dawned and we set out excitedly. Our car took us up till the end of the dirt track and from there we started climbing. In all our excitement, we forgot to take the banana bunches as planned. Why do we need banana bunches? If you do not know the answer already, keep reading.
The crude path up the hill
Well, the path up was definitely not very structured or senior citizen friendly, but the eagerness to reach the top egged even the not-so-young among us to move ahead with determination. I had heard several stories in the meantime about the offerings made at this temple that I was so anxious to get there soon. It was a saturday and we had been warned that the temple remained extremely crowded through the day. The poojari at the temple reached there in the morning by tractor and stayed till dusk, accepting offerings of "Thirukkodi (திருக்கோடி)"made by the devotees whose prayers had been answered.
The wilderness on the way up
So what was so special about this temple? What was "Thirukkodi"? To whom was the offering made? Enough questions for a reality tv show. To quickly find out, let us move on. We soon reached the top of the hill. For a moment, I caught my breath. In front of me, was a rock, closely the size of Krishna's butter ball in Mahabalipuram, under which was this small concrete structure which housed the shrine of Sri Varadarajaswamy. I tried my best to capture the entire rock and the temple through my camera, but the space I had ,to work from was limited, and this was the best I got with my humble camera.


The magnificient entrance to the temple
There were several people waiting for the offerings to be made and the Thirukodi to be lit. My friend guided us into the shrine crowded with people jostling in the small space available between the rock and the sanctum sanctorum. The Sanctum Sanctorum was small and dark and we could see idols of Lord Varadaraja Perumal with Rama and Lakshmana covered in Silver Kavacham. The Priest was extremely busy attending to the several devotees.
The Sanctum Sanctorum inside the cave
When he came out, I asked him about the history of the temple, and the reason why the place was called Orukkamalai. He went on to briefly narrate the story. About 100 years ago, this area used to be primarily used by cowherds to graze their cattle. One such cowherd discovered that there were naturally formed Vaishnavite Symbols (Sanku, Chakram and Naamam) inside a cave and a naturally formed Hanuman (it looked too perfect to be natural!) on the rock outside the cave. He then spread the news to his friends, who started worshipping these shrines every day.
The figure of Hanuman found on a rock outside
On one such day, a cow came to the temple area and lay down refusing to get up. The cowherd who was in a hurry to take the cow back to its owner, tried all tricks he knew to make the cow get up, but did not succeed. He then prayed to the Lord Varadaraja Perumal, that he would give One Paise ( ஒரு காசு ) as offering if the cow got up and reached its destination. The cow that had been so obstinate till then, got up without a whimper when called, and went along with the cowherd. The Cowherd was happy that his prayers had been answered and went home.
A View of the massive rocks outside the temple
He forgot all about his promised offering and went about his daily chores. One day passed, and then two and another, till it was almost a week after he had promised the Lord about offering a coin. The same cow, which was grazing outside the temple, came and lay down in front of the sanctum sanctorum. Any amount of coaxing or disciplining by the cowherd, did not make it budge from there. It was then that the cowherd remembered his promise to the Lord, and offered the coin. As soon as he did so, the cow got up and started walking. The Lord would not tolerate failure of promise of even one coin - which is why the place came to be known as " ஒரு காசு பொறுக்கா மலை" (Oru Kaasu Porukka Malai) which abbreviated to "Orukkamalai".
A view outside the Sanctum Sanctorum
 People pray here for various things and once their wishes are answered offer "Thirukkodi". "Kodi" is the term used for new clothes in tamil and Thirukodi is a new dhoti that is used a wick to burn oil in a huge lamp that is placed on an ancient lamp post outside the cave. Several Thirukodis are lit in a day depending on the number of offerings made. For every thirukodi, there is a pooja and offering of food. 
The lamp post on which the Thirukodi is lit
The food that is offered to the Lord is cooked within the temple. A huge cake of steamed rice, with bananas mashed and placed over it are offered for each Thirukodi that is lit. The size of the wick and the amount of oil used depend upon the money that the devotee has promised to offer to the Lord. We wanted to watch a Thirukodi being lit, but the previous one had just happened a few minutes ago,  and the Poojari said that we had to wait atleast for an hour before the next one. So we gave him the money that we had promised to offer to the Lord and asked him to perform the ritual on our behalf .
Food being cooked inside the cave to be offered to the Lord
Several questions were buzzing in my mind - The poojari had mentioned that the idols of Varadaraja Perumal, Rama and Lakshmana were installed subsequently, and the silver Kavachams (armours) covering them were removed and taken away to the priest's house for safeguarding every evening. So, why was there no idol of Sita or any other goddess? What was the significance of having Rama and Lakshmana with the Varadaraja Perumal? Why did he come to be called so? Well, he was too busy to answer and none of the localities seem to know. There were a lot of figurines lined up along the rock in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Possibly a King? or a Chieftain?
Who is this?
Some of them seem to believe that it was the idols of Ponnar - Sankar, while the others do not know who it was. The idols have been decorated with flowers with Kumkum applied on the forehead, but their identities are yet to be strongly established. We now move out of the temple with the rice cake with mashed bananas in our hand, in order to complete the offering that was promised. This according to me is what sets this temple apart from any other that I had seen or heard.

The door of the temple

There are supposedly around 3000 monkeys on the hill. These are considered as an incarnation of Hanuman and any offering of food that is made to the Lord is shared with these monkeys. It is an amazing sight to watch several of them on the huge rock in front of the temple, waiting patiently for their share of the food. The localities say that they seldom attack visitors (unlike in other temples) and snatch away food, but wait till they are offered. Several people bring bananas, fried gram, groundnut and other produce from their fields as an offering to these monkeys so that their next yield is productive. The localities also say that the monkeys eat only prasad and they would often go without food during rainy season when it is difficult for people to access the temple.
The monkeys with the cake of food

Here, he goes!
Puffed Rice is offered by a devotee


Groundnuts on the Menu too!

Women who have brought baskets of  Roasted Gram offer it
to the monkeys
This to me was the most satisfying thing about this temple. Feeding so many animals, who come so near you, but are so well behaved was really exciting. In fact, they say that the Poojari comes every day and feeds the monkeys even if there are no offerings made by the public, which I think is a really compassionate act. He says they wait patiently till the abhishekam and the pooja are over before moving close to the temple to claim their food.
One of the monkeys drinking the milk left after Abhishekam
I still had several bits of information about this temple missing, but we had to move on, to keep up with our schedule. If any of the readers of this post can provide more information on the history of this temple it would be extremely useful.
Bananas Too!
I had shot several pictures of the monkeys but just sharing a few here. It was a delight watching them, so serene, absolutely uncompetitive,waiting to be served!

Aview of some more monkeys
We started our descent. This place is indeed special and a must visit if you have the inclination and physical ability. Orukkamalai is on the Salem Erode National Highway NH 47, after you cross Sankagiri, you will find Ashok Leyland and MRF Retreads SLUS Building on the right, turn left opposite this building and it will take you to the foothills. Caution: There is a Sign Board on the Highway indicating this left turn which mentions Orukkamalai as Korukkamalai, so dont be misguided. Try to carry some food for the monkeys if you are going on a day other than Saturday, when the temple is less crowded and there are less Thirukodis lit. 
The phone number I have for the temple is 042283244314. I request readers of this post to share any additional information about the history of the temple that they are aware of.
A view from the foothills