Sunday, December 23, 2012

An Electrifying Experience at Agni Theertham!

Agni Theertham
When I wrote about Vanniyappar Temple in Aalayam Kanden a couple of weeks ago, I had mentioned I would be writing a separate post on Agni Theertham, the original place where Agneeswara who is today called Vanniyappar had existed.

Agni Theertham, is on the banks of the Patha river. During Dwapara Yuga, the Saptharishis were performing a Yagna to protect people from being killed by the Pralaya. Fearing his power would be lost, Agni did not help the burning of the sacrificial fire. Angered by this, the Rishis cursed Agni to lose his heat, light and energy. Agni was shocked and wanted to escape from the Sapa Hathi. So he took the form of a fish and hid in the Herambayar Theertham near the Patha River.

Since Agni went missing, the Saptharishis asked his three elder brothers to take the Havi (offering) of the Yagna to Lord Shiva. The three brothers, not having the strength to carry the Havi, perished. In the meantime, the Sapa Hathi came looking for Agni, found him hiding in the Herambayar Theertham, and caught him.

Agni lost his heat, light and energy. When Sage Sudama came to the Theertham for a holy bath, Agni knelt at his feet and asked for a way out of his misery. The Sage asked him to install a Shiva Linga there and worship him to be rid of his curse. Agni did as advised and soon regained his strength and vigor through the grace of the Lord. He also helped the Saptharishis complete the Yagna by carrying the Havi all by himself. Since Agni installed the Shiva Linga here, the place came to be known as Agni Theertham.


The idol of Sri Agneeswara was worshipped by several saints and Siddhars over time. The water of the Patha river flowed around Agneeswara bathing and worshipping him. Over time, Agneeswara was removed from there by Sri Vijayendra Bhupathy Mudaliar who placed it in a grove of Vanni Trees (Shami) and built a small temple around it. Once he was placed in a Vanni grove, he came to be known as Vanneeswara.

When we reached the Agni Theertham it was around 5.30 pm. The entrance to the pond was neatly painted and the birthdays of the eighteen Siddhars was inscribed in one of the walls. Mr Sivakumar who is the caretaker of the place welcomed us warmly and took us down the steps into the Theertham.



The Multi-pillared Mandapa around the pond was clean and well maintained. Mr. Sivakumar, pointed out the panel on one wall depicting a Shiva Lingam and Sage Agasthya performing Abhishekam beneath which the spring of water came in and filled the pond.


 On one side of the Mantapa was the Athistanam of a Siddhar who had attained Samadhi there. While his details are not known, the Lingam over the Athistanam is called Theerthapaleeswara. The Dhandam of the Siddhar is also worshipped here to date.




















The vibration when you get down into the Agni Theertham is electric. The setting sun, the gentle sound of the water pouring into the pond from an unknown source, the vibrance of Sri Theerthapaleeswara all added to the divine experience. I could feel goosebumps raising in my arms as I sank down on the floor to take in the complete experience of the environment. It was indeed an extremely special place. After meditating there for some time, we went across to the Sri Balasubramania Temple. The pillars in this temple have images of several Siddhars as well as Arjuna doing penance. The main deity Balasubramania Swamy stands alone, looking majestic in his simple Alankara.




When I told Mr Sivakumar that this place was so soothing and divine, he shared the experience of the Uzhavara Kuzhu in restoring this temple from its previous dilapidated state.

With the main diety being moved to the Vanniappar Temple, the Agni theertham  lost its glory. Several Siddhars had spent years in meditation at the Agni Theertham thereby enhancing the vibration. The Balasubramania Temple next to the Theertham was a shelter for the Sages and Yogis who stayed in the Mandapa and worshipped at the Agni Theertham. But this too lost its glory and very soon it became dilapidated and deserted.

Mr. Sivakumar, promised to send me pictures of how the place was when the Uzhavara Pani Kuzhu had started the restoration work and how they had worked relentlessly with the help of the villagers of Azhwarkurichi to raise the temple to what it was now.  As promised the pictures reached me in two weeks time in a CD.  I had tears in my eyes when I started looking at the pictures.



From this dilapidated condition, the temple has been raised to what it is now.The Uzhavara Pani Kuzhu of Alwarkurichi and the villagers have worked relentlessly with a commitment to bring thetemple back to its lost glory.

The Kumbabhishekham of the temple was completed in the year 2010. Every year on the Makam Star in the  tamil month of Maasi (Maasi Makam) 10,008 lamps are lit around the Agni Theertham. On every full moon day lamps are lit and the Siddhars are worshipped.




This temple is one among the Dakshina Pancha Krosa Kshetrams. Since this theertham flows from the North, it helps to remove one's sins and help him attain Mukthi. The Theerthapaleeswarar in Agni Theertham has been worshipped by Vidhyadharas, Gandharvas, Siddhars, especially Agasthya and Athiri Maharishi as well as Naga Kanyas. Residing one day in Agni Theertham is said to relieve one of the worst of sins as well as Pithru Sapam and fear of death. 

According to the Tamiraparani Mahatmiyam, worshipping here on Solar and Lunar Eclipse days as well as Tamil New Year, New Moon and Full moon days and Ashtami will help one see the vision of the Lord in the form of Light. It will also help them gain all kinds of wealth.

How to get here:

Alwarkurichi is very close to Ambasamudram. It is about 35 kms from Tirunelveli and 25 kms from Tenkasi. Buses plying from Tirunelveli to Tenkasi stop at Alwarkurichi. Nearest Railway station is Tirunelveli. The Agni Theertham is a stone's throw away from the Vanniyappar Temple.

Temple Timings:

The priest at Balasubramania Swamy Temple is available from 6.30 to 9.00 am in the morning and 4.00 to 7.30 pm in the evening. His contact number is 97501 52566.

The Agni Theertham however is open throughout the day. Contact person Mr. Sivakumar 93606 69929.

The Agni Theertham is definitely a must visit place if you happen to be passing by this area. Visit the Theerthapaleeswara worshipped by the Siddhars and the Siddhanathan - Sri Balasubramania Swamy here.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Lord who opens his eyes!

The humble entrance to the Kari Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Nerkundram
Awesome! Wow! How Divine! 

These were the words predominant in our minds as we walked out of the Nerkundram Kari Varadaraja Perumal Temple this afternoon. Every month, through the Aalayam Kanden Trust, we have been going to a lesser known, ancient temple and lighting lamps and distributing ghee and oil, This month, we chose the Kari Varadaraja Perumal Temple and feel extremely pleased about having done so.

For pictures of the Lighting of Lamps event at this temple and to join our future events or contribute towards distribution of ghee and oil , please check out our Facebook page by clicking here

So what is so special about this temple to have evinced such a response from us? Well, this is probably the only temple where the Lord actually opens his eyes and looks at his devotees! Surprised? Read on.

This temple has a very interesting mythology connected to it. 

King Indrajyudhman was a very staunch devotee of Vishnu. Despite being a King, he spent many hours of the day worshipping Lord Vishnu. One day, Sage Agasthya came to visit him. The King, was lost in his thoughts of the Lord and did not notice the sage. Angered, the sage cursed him to become an elephant.

Indrajyudhman was shocked. He told the sage that he was a devotee of Vishnu and had not ignored him deliberately. The sage said that once a curse was given, he could not take it back and that the King could pray to Vishnu to give him Shapa Vimochana.

When the King prayed to the Lord, he heard a voice (Asariri) telling him " I am in a place where Nel (paddy) is heaped like a Kundram (hill). Come there and worship me every day and you will get moksha" said the voice.

So the King who had then turned into an elephant, came down to Nerkundram, and found the Varadaraja Perumal Temple next to a Pushkarni. Every morning, he would pluck a lotus from the Pushkarni and worship the Lord by placing the lotus at his feet.

A humble Garudalwar with the lamp lit by us before him

One day, a Gandharva called Hoo Hoo and his wife came down to Bhooloka and were playing near the Pushkarni. When Hoo Hoo noticed the elephant plucking a lotus, and worshipping Lord Vishnu, he was very impressed. He wanted to stay back and watch what happened. So he and his wife took the form of crocodiles and swam around in the Pushkarni.

At that moment, Sage Bharadwaja came to the Pushkarni to perform his Sandhya Vandhanam. Hoo hoo, now in the form of a crocodile did not see the sage and trying to chase his wife, banged against the Sage standing in water. Sage Bharadwaja became angry at this impertinent act. Realising that the crocodile was a Gandharva, he cursed him to turn into a crocodile permanently. Hoo Hoo was sorry for his inadvertent act and begged the Sage's forgiveness. The Sage told him that when he held the foot of a Vaishnava he would be forgiven and would attain his original form.

The Crocodile immediately thought of the elephant who was a loyal devotee of Vishnu and decided to hold his foot. The next day, when the Elephant got into the water to pluck a lotus, the crocodile swam quickly towards him and caught his foot. The Elephant tried to pull his leg from the Crocodile's grasp,but could not do so because the crocodile is more powerful in water. In pain and distress, the Elephant sought the help of his Lord " Adhimoolame" he bellowed.

Does this story sound familiar to Gajendra Moksham? Well, not completely. When the Lord heard the cry of  the elephant, he wanted to come out and save both his devotees - the Elephant and the Crocodile. So he sent out his Sudharshana Chakra and asked him to bring both Elephant and Crocodile to the shore. The Chakra went swishing and sliced through the water, to carry both the creatures out of the water.

Once on land, the elephant gained strength and was able to pull his leg out of the crocodile's mouth, with some effort. When that happened, both the elephant and the crocodile gained their original forms of King Indrajyudhman and HooHoo and the Lord gave both of them the boon of Paramapadha.

As this Lord granted the boon of Paramapatha to an elephant (Kari) he came to be known as Kari Varadaraja Perumal.

Moolavar Sri Kari Varadaraja Perumal with consorts
Photo Courtesy: Sri Sugendra Bhattachar
Now from that magnificient history to reality. Today, this temple only has the main Moolavar shrine intact. Small semi permanent structures house Anjaneya Swamy and Garudalwar. A large hall covered by thatch is where the devotees gather and wait to go into the Artha Mandapa in batches. A statue of Nammalwar stands in a corner behind the book stall only to be noticed when Thaligai is submitted to him.

Sri Varada Anjaneya Swamy

Why this pitiable state? Shri. Sugendra Bhattar, the hereditary trustee of the temple, speaks with a lot of sadness and frustration. He says over time the lands belonging to the temple have been occupied by private parties and despite going to court and taking their best efforts with the available limited means, the temple which once had enough means to conduct various festivals over the year, today is unable to support even the painting of the permanent shrine that they have managed to construct for Shri Anjaneya. (This task has subsequently been completed, thanks to the kind hearted donors through Aalayam Kanden appeal).

Nammazhwar in an alcove behind the book stall. Ms. Sivakami, the lady in blue
works at the temple and answered phone enquiries. She was very helpful for this visit.
He invites us into the Ardha Mandapam to witness what we had come to see. Once inside, he tells us about the significance of worship at this temple. The Lord Kari Varadaraja Perumal, is the Lord of 27 stars. He is also the Adhibadhi of the Number 9. So for every wish or prayer that a devotee makes they offer a contribution of Rs.9 to the Lord which is then placed at his feet. The devotees come back (most often within nine days) to offer thanks for the wish having been granted. He also said that if a devotee came for 27 months on his birth star without a break he could definitely achieve whatever he wished.

The Lord has Sridevi and Bhoodevi on either side and Neela Devi and Mahalakshmi in his heart, which is a unique feature here. His right hand shows Varada Hastham and the left hand holds a Gadhayudham. The two rear hands have Sanku and Chakra. He also has a Simhamukham below his navel.

The Lord's Avatara Nakshatram is Hastham and Thirumanjanam is performed on those days at the temple. Those who wish to perform Thirumanjanam or offer Vastram (nine yard sarees are used to adorn the Lord) can contact the temple atleast fifteen days in advance.

After having told us the significance of praying at this temple, he asks us if we were ready with our prayers. We wait with bated breath, as he closes the door to the Sanctum Sanctorum, and switches off the electric lights.

The doors are closed for Nethra Darisanam
Now the Bhattar takes the ghee lamp near the face of the Lord. Lo and Behold, the eyes that you see closed in the idol while the lights were on have suddenly opened. The almost human like eyes are rolling left to right as the Bhattar moves the ghee lamp beneath the Lord's face. He asks us to seek our wishes while the Lord's eyes are open, and we do with sincerity and devotion. 

The Utsavar here is Sathyanarayana Perumal. Sathyanarayana Pooja is performed here on every full moon day. Another special utsavar is Sri Santhanagopala Krishnan. For those seeking Childbirth, the Bhattar gives the Utsavar in their hands and the woman or her mother (using the woman's vastram) receive the Krishnan with devotion in the pallav of the saree and swing him gently from side to side as the Bhattar sings pasurams. This Krishna with butter in his hand grants the boon of childbirth without fail. We saw some people distributing sweets at the temple as their wishes had been granted.

The doors have opened and the next batch goes in
Another unique feature of this temple is the community prayers that happen on tuesdays and saturdays in the morning at 11 am. On Tuesdays, since the crowd is relatively less, the community prayers are accompanied by the recital of Vishnu Sahasranamam and on Saturdays, since the crowd is larger, the community prayers are led in Tamil by Shri. Sugendra Bhattachar.

He invited us to join the prayers and we joined the group of people who had lined up on either side of the main shrine in the meditation hall. The Bhattar handed over Tulsi leaves to each and every one of us and asked us to hold it in our hands as we prayed for each person and then finally hand it over to him to be taken to the feet of the Lord with all the prayers embedded.

It was indeed an amazing activity. The power of community prayer need is well known and does not need detailed description. To know that this is a regular activity twice a week at this temple, where the prayers are conducted in Tamil instead of Sanskrit, so that people understand and participate sincerely was something appreciable indeed.

Once the offering of prasadam to the Lord was completed, the Bhattar started by asking those whose wishes had been fulfilled to share their experiences. Ms. Ramya, an engineering student, distributed sweets and chocolates to those gathered, as her prayers for her sister to have a child had been granted and she had delivered a boy baby through normal delivery.

One by one, the devotees share their concerns and everyone else prays for them
When Shri. Sugendra Bhattachar asked me what my prayer was, all I could think of is that Kari Varadaraja Perumal should get back all his property so that the temple is restored to its lost magnificence. It was indeed heart warming when everyone prayed for it to happen. The Bhattar also prayed that Aalayam Kanden should be able to do good service to the society by identifying and supporting several deserving temple. What more do we want?

After each one's concern was heard and prayers made, delicious Pongal was distributed as prasadam and we left the temple, with our hearts and stomach full.


Aalayam Kanden Team in conversation with Shri. Sugendra Bhattar
An Appeal:

The temple is currently housed in a thatched shed as you can see from the pictures and plans to have a semi-permanent shelter before the Samprokshanam on 15th September 2013 for which it requires Rs.1,40,000/- It seeks funds from noble hearted souls to complete this task on time and perform the consecration which has not happened in 24 years. Please contribute generously through cash or materials to support this wonderful temple.

Aalayam Kanden has committed to support this initiative. Please send in your contributions through cheque, Demand draft favoring Aalayam Kanden Trust, Flat A, Nutech Saradambal Apartments, No. 36, Kripasankari Street, West Mambalam, Chennai 600 033. You may also use the bank transfer option to transfer funds into our Punjab National Bank account, West Mambalam, Chennai 600 033 
Account No: 6028000100005596, IFSC Code: PUNB0602800. 

How to get here:


This temple has easy access from all parts of Chennai. From Koyambedu Bus Terminus, take a left at the Roundtana towards Poonamallee High Road. Once you cross the HP Petrol Pump on your right, you will find a First Choice Car showroom, with a green car suspended high up in the air on your right and the Vengaya Mandi Bus Stop on your left (it would be the first bus stop after Koyambedu if you take buses plying from Koyambedu towards Maduravoyal).

Turn left opposite the First Choice Showroom. Turn left again after you enter the road. The temple is the second building on your right. Do not look out for Gopuram or Vimanam as you would be sadly disappointed. There is a garments company called Shamili Garments next to the temple.

Contact Details:

Shri. Sugendra Bhattachar, Heriditary Trustee

Ph: 99625 59123, 99628 11792

Temple Timings:

Mornings: 8.30 am to 12.30 pm
Evenings:  5.30 pm to  8. 30 pm

Thank you Blog Adda for choosing this post as a Amazing posts

Aalayam Kanden thanks Mr Sethupathy for sharing his experience about the temple and includes it in this post with his permission.


I had seen number of temples in different parts of India which are architectural marvels but this type I have not seen. Even if we assume it is the shilpi's art work in sculpting still it is unique.In normal times it looks like any other statue in temples.When bhattar closes the door and switch off lights and shows arti lamp we can see literally eyes exactly like human beings with white background and eyes seeing you.The experience is unique and suganubhavam and we feel god has opened his eyes to bless you and your problems will be solved.
It is the practice here that we have to take a copy of the horoscope of the person for whom we are praying alongwith what we want to be written as KORIKKAI and pay 27 Rs  as Rs 1 per star and bhattar will keep on the feet of the lord  the horoscope  letter and the money.When the arathi is shown it is believed that he sees your horoscope,and the letter and that is how by HIS grace and glance your problems get solution. 
After this each set of papers is sent to hanumanji who keeps track and follows up with the lord.
In many cases marriages have taken place very quickly or to the surprise of everyone.It is told that 3 sisters had come for their children and when praying and writing there, one of the sisters got call to immediately
rush to the house as people have come from Boy's side unexpectedly with the proposal to marry without even seeing the girl formally.
My son is in US and wanted to see in person the girl before saying yes which was very difficult to match with the dates when he comes and we were losing many good girls as he was not willing to see in web or skype.  When some printer lost all hope of getting a new machine to improve business out of frustration he came and prayed and unknown person has helped him to get new machine and he could not believe. After his telling we went there and prayed. In a week's time my son okayed the girl we saw by seeing only in web though not to his satisfaction of seeing and met her only at the time of marriage. This we could not convince him for nearly 3 to 4 years. I feel it is his grace and we were thrilled. And still all are asking how he has agreed suddenly.
After this when my sister told this to others and many have thanked her for showing the way to the temple. as their different problems have found solution.  After my son's marriage when we went there with him and his wife the driver was in mental agony and simply he wanted to accompany us inside and we readily agreed.  Next day he profusely thanked as his vehicle was about to be seized for non payment of dues and there is no way to get money in a day. As a brahmin owner driven tourist vehicle for fast track he lost all hopes.
But his problem got solved and still he is running the vehicle after paying all dues.
I think I have given enough to interest in seeing this temple. If we sincerely pray ,which we do when we are having problems, this lord in the temple really solves them .
For people who want to visit, the route is from koyambedu to poonamalle road get down at vengayamandi stop and ask there. Only thulasi malai is required and nothing else. Many are coming from outstation as well.
I have just added what I had experienced and informed to me to the wonderful article already given.
I hope many will get the grace of the God of this ancient temple not known to many.
Regds
SETHUPATHY

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Garbarakshambigai in Tirunelveli District!

The Gopuram of Vanneeswarar Temple, Alwarkurichi
There are planned travels you undertake, when you read up about the places you intend to visit, their significance, uniqueness and everything else that would make your visit complete and wholesome. Sometimes, unplanned travel has a number of hidden surprises for you which become much-cherished and treasured memories.

My recent visit to Tirunelveli District was one such trip. When Mr. Chandrasekhar, PRO of REACH Foundation, told me that he was going to Tirunelveli District for survey of a couple of dilapidated temples, and invited me to go along, I agreed enthusiastically. Our guide, Chandra mentioned, would be one Mr. Podhigai Kudumban who has done extensive research by foot all over the district on sixteen different themes pertaining to history, heritage and mythology. The name was itself very unique and intriguing so I was all excited.

When our train chugged into the junction, it started pouring heavily and by the time we decided on a route map, went up to another temple about which I would be writing shortly, and boarded the bus to Cheranmadevi, it was noon. We were tired and hungry. It was at the Cheranmadevi bus stand, that Podhigai hired his friend's share auto for the rest of the day for us.

Sometimes, it is these small time transport operators in these towns and villages, who turn out to be a godsend. Mr. Ramar, who belongs to Mukkudal and drives the auto drove us from Cheranmadevi to Kallidaikurichi where we were kindly hosted by a common friend's Chandru's family, and then from there to Ambasamudram, Azhwarkurichi and back.
Another view of the gopuram and the walls ready to fall


The auto was spacious and comfortable and he only charged us Rs.1000/- for the whole day. He was extremely patient as we went from one temple to another, never got annoyed when we stopped at every single " Nadukal" or mural painting in an abandoned mandapa, or spent hours taking pictures.

I would strongly recommend Mr. Ramar for anyone who is planning to travel around these places. He charges Rs.1000 - 1200 per day, depending on the time and distance which is much cheaper than the ambassadors who charge Rs.2000 per day. The most important thing is that he knows temples that exist in hidden corners of towns and villages around here. Contact Details of Mr. Ramar : 99449 20014

When we started out in the morning, Chandra had explained our interests to Podhigai, who in turn insisted that I visit and write about Vanneeswarar Temple at Azhwarkurichi wherein resides Garbarakshambigai.

I was surprised. I had visited other temples connected with marriage and childbirth in other parts of Tamilnadu like Putlur Poongavanathamman Temple, Thirukarugavur Garbarakshambigai Temple, Pidaari Karukathamman Temple, Mamallapuram, Karuvalarcheri etc. but somehow not come across or heard about this temple, despite belonging to the district.

Podhigai showed me pictures on his digital camera, of idols on the main gopuram of women helping another woman to deliver, various yoga postures for pregnant women etc. that I was super excited by the time we reached there.

It was almost 5.30 pm when we reached the temple. The temple was stooped in darkness like all other parts of Tirunelveli which experiences ten hours of power cut in a day. The battery on my camera was dying down because of all the action since morning and not being able to recharge the battery. As soon as we reached, I asked the junior bhattar at the temple, Mr. Meenakshinathan, if I could see the idols on the gopuram. He agreed and took me up. This was the first time in my life that I got an opportunity to climb up a temple and that too, one where the stones were shaky and ready to crumble.

I was surprised to hear that Meenakshinathan is also a snake catcher. He showed us pictures of how he had caught sixteen feet King cobras and other snakes around Azhwarkurichi. It was indeed amazing to take a look at those pictures.

View from the top
When we went around trying to locate the idols, Meenakshinathan remarked that every other day the idols were disintegrating and falling from the gopuram and the ones that had been captured by Podhigai some months ago, did not exist any longer! It was highly disappointing and quite saddening to see the state of affairs.

The temple is quite well maintained inside, and they are looking for patrons and donors to renovate the gopurams and the wall around the temple, which again is leaning and ready to crumble at any moment.

Inside, the temple is a treasure trove. Every single pillar has sculptures depicting an image connected to childbirth. There are quite a few erotic sculptures as well.

The Bhattar at the temple, Shri Narayanan welcomed us and started narrating the history of the temple, in the dim light provided by the inverter.

The story goes like this:

During Dwapara Yuga, the Saptharishis performed a Yagna to prevent human beings from perishing in the fire. Fearing his power would be lost, Agni did not help the burning of the sacrificial fire. Angered by his act, the Saptharishis cursed him to lose his skills and competencies.

Agni hid himself in the banks of the river near the temple in the form of a fish to escape from the curse. But the Sapahathi came looking for him, found him and overcame him. Agni then prayed to Rishi Sudama to help him to get back his skills. The Rishi adviced him to install a Shivalinga with his own hands and worship him and be relieved from the curse. Agni did so on the banks of the river and was soon relieved of his curse.
The place where this lingam was installed came to be known as Agni Theertham. There is a perennial spring of water that keeps coming into the pit where the Agniswara Lingam existed and several Siddhars have meditated and attained samadhi around it. A separate post on Agni Theertham can be found here on Aalayam Kanden.

Lord Agniswara
Over time, since the river got flooded frequently, a wealthy trader, Shri.Vijayendra Bhupathy Mudaliar had moved the Lingam from the Agni Theertham into a grove of Vanni Trees (Prosopis Cineraria or Shami Tree ) and built a small shrine around it. Because he rested in the midst of Vanni Trees he came to be known as Vanniappar.

Subsequently, the Cholas had built the temple and extended it. When the Pandyas came into power, they moved the original Agniswara to the East of the temple as a Easanya Lingam, and built a larger Shivalingam in the Sanctum Sanctorum. They also added the shrine of Goddess Sivakami Ambal. The Nandi in front of the new Pandya Lingam, is however, the old Chola Nandi.


The original Nandi
This original Vanneeswara now called Agniswara again, sits quietly, in the eastern side of the temple, waiting for devotees to visit him. Try meditating in front of him. The vibration is awesome! The new Nandi made by the Pandyas has been installed near the Dwajasthamba and Bali Peetam, by far one of the most beautiful Nandis I have seen so far.

The New Nandi

Unique methods of worship at the temple:

As I had mentioned earlier, this temple is a reputed worship site for marriage and childbirth. There is a pillar in the temple which has the images of a goddess in bridal attire named Kalyanambal and another goddess fully pregnant named Garbarakshambigai.

Goddess Kalyanambal
Devotees worship Goddess Kalyanambal to have prayers of good marriage proposal answered. The procedure is very simple but effective.

The person seeking to be married or a blood relative (preferably mother) has to perform abhishekam with their own hands to Goddess Kalyanambal in the first week. Archanai is performed in the following three weeks by the Bhattar on behalf of the prospective groom or bride. Once the wedding takes place, the couple come back and offer garlands and new clothes to Kalyanambal as you can see in the picture above. He said that several people come to do this pooja. Abhishekam can be performed at any time of the day other than Rahu Kaalam.

For those who seek childbirth, the same procedure is done but with Garbarakshambigai. The opportunity to perform abhishekam with their own hands is something unique at this temple. After childbirth, the couple come back with the infant to offer prayers and thanks to Goddess Garbarakshambigai.

Goddess Garbarakshambigai
This temple is also a place of worship for Kalasarpa Dosham. On the ceiling outside the Artha Mandapam, there is a Yantra of entwined snakes, and snake charmers which is unique in this temple.

Those who suffer from Rahu Dosham, perform abhishekam (again with their own hands) to the Krishna standing on a five headed snake and those suffering from Kethu Dosham can perform abhishekam to the Shiva lingam under a one-headed snake and those suffering from Kalasarpa Dosham or Kalasarpa Yogam perform abhishekam to Rahu and Kethu in a single icon to be rid of these dosham. Point to note: Other than the Yantra and these icons, there is no Navagraham in this temple.
Kalasarpa Yantram
By now, the battery on my camera had run out and I was reduced to shooting from my mobile phone, aiming into the darkness. Kindly bear with the poor and grainy quality of pictures here forward.

The other interesting features here are as I mentioned several sculptures of yogic postures depicted for pregnant women.
                                                                      

Another absolutely adorable feature of this temple is the unique depiction of the 63 nayanmars. Instead of the standard format where all of them have similar faces, and stand with folded hands, here each one of them is depicted to show incidents that happened in their lives that made them Nayanmars.

Siruthonda Nayanar with his son Seeralan at his foot
Pugazhchola Nayanar with the head of the
Sivanadiyar in his hand













The entire history of each Nayanmar's life is written in the wall behind them for easy reference and understanding which again is something interesting and useful. Also the nayanmars are not arranged based on the order they appear in Thiruthonda Thogai. They are organised based on common threads in them. For example, Ninraseer Nedumaran, Mangayarkarasiyaar and Kulasiraiyaar are together, Sundarar, his parents and Narasinga Munaiyaraiyar are together and so on.

Both Narayana Bhattar and Meenakshinathan spoke about the exquisite large Nataraja made of a single stone, by far one of the earliest stone Natarajas which belonged to this temple, but has now been moved to another temple nearby for safe-keeping since the walls of this temple can collapse at any time. We could not see the exquisite Nataraja because the other temple was closed.

Vanniyappar and Sivakami Ambal wait with compassion and grace to answer prayers of those who come to their doorsteps.

How to get here:

Nearest Railway Station: Tirunelveli
By Road: Alwarkurichi is very close to Ambasamudram and about 35 kms from Tirunelveli and 25 kms from Tenkasi. Buses going from Tirunelveli to Tenkasi via Ambasamudram stop at Alwarkurichi.

Temple Timings:

To facilitate those devotees coming from different parts of Tamilnadu and Kerala by various means of transport, the temple is open from 7 am in the morning till 7 pm at night. It is better to visit the temple during the day because electricity is not available in the evenings and it is a little difficult to enjoy the beautiful treasures of the temple in the dark.

Contact Details:

Narayana Bhattar: 97904 01895
Meenakshinathan  96599 66003
For general guidance regarding travel and heritage research (especially early types of nature worship, Nadukals, Kaval Deivams, Astromical signs in Temple Architecture etc) you could contact Podhigai Kudumban Mobile No 96981 76089. A word of Caution - he is a very intense and passionate researcher and often loses track of time, hunger and other logistical needs that normal travellers would experience :)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tall, Dark and Handsome!

A view of the Vimanas and Gopuram of Sri Amirthambigai Samedha Sri Aavundeeswarar Temple, Nemam

On the second saturday of every month, through the Aalayam Kanden Trust, we visit an ancient, lesser known temple, and donate ghee and oil for lamps. We also light lamps in all the shrines and in front of all the Goshta Devathas on that day. The details of the temple, and the time of the activity are informed well in advance through the Aalayam Kanden Facebook Page for the benefit of those who wish to participate and/or contribute. This month, for some reason, we were not able to decide on the temple. Several options were analysed, but no decision was arrived at. With just one week left , I started receiving phone calls from anxious friends. It was then that the Nemam Avundeeswarar temple came into my mind.

Eagerly, I started reading about it. Two articles, one written by renowned astrologer Shri AMR, and the other that appeared in Agasthya Vijayam, made me decide on the temple. We called the trustee Mr. Kumar to agree upon the time. What he said was music to our ears. He suggested, that we visit on Sunday instead of Saturday as Sunday was Pradhosham . So the date and time were quickly set, and we waited eagerly for Sunday afternoon.


We reached the temple around 3.45 pm. The Gurukkal was just opening the door as we arrived. He welcomed us warmly and introduced us to Mr. Kumar, trustee, and the man instrumental in making this temple rise from dust. As we waited for him to freshen up and meet with us, we walked around the temple admirng the various idols and their beauty. The Gurukkal took us into the temple. There was no electricity and with the help of an emergency lamp, he opened the door of the sanctum sanctorum.

My heart stopped at the sight of the magnificient Avundeeswara. Almost 4.5 feet tall, the long Baana on a square Avudaiyaar in the dimly lit Grabagraha, reminded me of Thirugnanasambandar's verse - " காதலாகி, கசிந்து, கண்ணீர் மல்கி" as my hands automatically rose above my head, and I felt goosebumps all over. He looked every bit the title of this post. 

The Gurukkal pointed out to the dampness on the walls around, to the height of the Lord. He said that the source from where the water was seeping through the walls was unknown, but it was through the year and did not raise beyond the height of the lingam.

He also mentioned about the Amudha Yogeeswara Bhairavar at the temple. He said that it has been witnessed that he guards the temple at night - such a living, strong presence! Worshipping this Bhairava on Saturdays rids one of problems faced due to Shani Dasa and also due to Seivinai (Mantrikam/Sorcery)

Sri Amudha Yogeeswara Bhairava - The Guardian of the Temple!

We went around the temple which was spotlessly clean and well maintained. Soon, Mr Kumar joined us and took as to the Meditation Hall that has been built recently. The hall had pictures of the 18 Siddhars placed on the wall, and ambience conducive for meditation. Mr. Kumar started talking about the history of the temple and how it was raised from shambles.


He recalled how until 1999 the whole temple had been covered by thick vegetation and there was no passage available even to get close to the temple. No one ventured close, fearing the giant sized bats and reptiles crawling around! Right from childhood, Kumar had the desire to get close and see how the temple looked like and when he along with some friends, finally managed to do so, this is how the temple looked like!


                       

From what it was, it took eleven years of struggle, patience and support from people from different parts of the world, and the consecration was performed in the year 2010. He said that over these years of struggle to raise over a crore of rupees, it was the Siddhars who guided him at every step. This temple is also said to be the Aikiya Sthalam of Gantha Siddhar (காந்த சித்தர் ).

History of the temple:

After Pralaya, when Lord Brahma started creation of human beings again, it is believed that he sprinkled the holy nectar (amirtham) on Nemam and that the Devas had offered the Amirtham first to Goddess Amirthambigai. Hence this Kshetram is known as the Amirtha Janma Bhoomi. Being a Janma Bhoomi from where creation started, the Goddess grants prayers of childbirth with generosity and compassion.

Couples seeking childbirth, perform Ko Puja (puja to the Cow and Calf) here, circumambulate them 12 times, and offer Abhishekam to the Lord and Goddess with the fresh milk and take the milk as prasadam. After childbirth, they perform the abhishekam again as a gesture of gratitude.

The Goddess Amirthambigai with her head tilted to the right and left knee bent as if to place a foot forward, waits to listen to the Abhilashas of each one of her devotees, and grant them instantly.

It is desirable for every woman born in this world to worship Goddess Amirthambigai at least once in their life time.

Those girls seeking suitable marriage alliances, offer garlands of glass bangles to the Goddess Amirthambigai on fridays and during Navarathri.

This temple is also believed to be a Parihara Sthalam for those born under Makam and Pooram Stars.


This temple is south facing, with the Lord facing the East at the Eesanya Corner of  Nemam. Eesanya Lingam is said to be one that gives mukthi and hence this temple is also known as Pitru Mukthi Kshetram, and performing rites to ancestors here, is said to be even more beneficial than Kasi. 

The Oushadha Theertham behind the temple, is said to contain medicinal properties. The once huge tank has now been reduced, to gain more land for the temple and also for effective maintenance. It is believed that the Ashtadhikpalakas bathe in this tank to rid themselves of their fatigue.

The Oushadha Theertham also known as Agni Theertham
Over time, the temple had been covered by sand and Lord Shiva waited patiently for the time to come to show himself to the world again. During this time, the cows that were being grazed through this area, used to shower their milk over the hidden lingam. Mr. Kumar, put his hand on the top of the Baana to show the soft portion on the head of the lingam where a dimple had been formed (just like the head of a new born baby)due to the constant showering of milk on the lingam. 

The cowherd did not understand why the cows were showering their milk on a sandhill and in a fit of anger, raised his whip and started beating the cows. It is believed that Lord Shiva rose from the sandhill and hugged the cows close whereby the whiplashes fell on him. Till today, the marks of a whip striking against him can be seen on the Murthi. As he protected the cows, he came to be known as Aavundeeswara. This temple is a preferred place of worship for those people whose name starts with the sylabble "Go" like Gopalakrishnan, Gomathy, Govindarajan, Govardhan etc.

Built in the 11th Century by Jayamkonda Chola (Rajadhiraja Chola I) this temple lost its glory over the years, only to be reconstructed again at the turn of the 21st Century. (1999 - 2010).

The Sthala Puranam depicted through this sculpture on one of the pillars
Apart from the ancient shrines of Ganesha, Muruga, Veerabadra, Bhairava, Brahma, Vishnu, Vishnu Durga and Chandikeshwara, new shrines for Navagraha and a separate shrine for Shani Bhagavan as well as Saptha Matrikas has been constructed. A notable feature of this temple is the existence of Jyeshta Devi.

The ancient Murthis at the temple

By now, it was time for the Pradhosha Abhishekam to start. After worshipping the Nandi and witnessing the Abhishekam being performed, we moved into the Artha Mandapam. The temple is built in such a way that we enter from the South. go around the temple, worship the Nandi, then enter the main temple, after worshipping Goddess Amirthambigai, and then turn left to face the Lord, who is being worshipped by Nandi through a stone lattice.

The magnificient Avundeeswara!
Through the grace of the Almighty, I have been blessed to visit several temples over my life time. But the peace and tranquility and the vibration we experienced as we sat before the Lord was something special. Tears of joy automatically welled up in my eyes. There were a few local people who had come to witness the Pradhosha Abhishekam and as the priests started the abhishekam, to the rendering of Thevaram songs, in the dim light of the emergency lamp, it was as if we had been transported to another world. 

After the abhishekam was performed, we were able to light lamps at all the shrines in the temple and also give away ghee and oil for the rest of the month to Mr. Kumar.

For pictures on the lighting of lamps at this temple, and to like our Aalayam Kanden page and participate in our future events click here.


After witnessing the procession of Lord Shiva and Parvathi on the Nandi Vahanam around the temple we started from the temple, with the satisfaction of an evening well spent!

How to get here:
When driving from Chennai, on the Chennai-Bangalore Highway, turn right at Thirumazhisai. Drive down the road towards Nemam. After crossing the Lotte Chocolate Factory, take the next left at the Ambedkar Statue. You can see the temple from there through the greenery along the way. After about a kilometre, turn left at the end of the stone wall, and it leads directly to the temple.

Temple Timings:

8 am to 12 pm, 4 pm to 8 pm

Contact Details:

Mr. Kumar,
Trustee, Sri Amirthambigai Trust,
No 73 Vellalar Street, Nemam Post,
Chennai 602 107
Phone: 98407 70248

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A town named after a saint!

At the entrance of Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha Moola Brindavana
Sri Sathyapoorna Theerthar, Pontiff of  Uttaradhi Mutt was travelling through the town of Mannargudi in Tamilnadu when he heard of a young brahmin called Balachar and his knowledge about Vedas and Agamas. He decided to meet this young man.

Balachar was surprised that the saint had wanted to see him and he immediately came to his camp. Sri Sathyapoorna Theerthar asked him give up his sadhana of several months, and then come back to meet him. Without speaking another word, Balachar got ready to do as instructed. Moved by his devotion, Sathyapoorna Theerthar accepted him as his successor and named him "Sri Sathya Vijaya Theerthar".

Prior to meeting Balachar, Sri Sathyapoorna Theerthar had already named Sri Sathyapriya Theertha as his successor. Sathyapriya Theerthar had proceeded to North India on pilgrimage.

Understanding that his end was drawing near, and unable to reach Sathyapriya Theerthar, Sri Sathya Poorna Theerthar had made the move of appointing Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha as his successor.

Soon after this event, Sri Sathyapoorna Theerthar entered Brindavana. Sri Sathyapriya Theerthar was still away. So, Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha took over all the responsibilities of the Uttaradhi Mutt and executed them with care and diligence.

During his tenure, Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha visited several places and finally reached Arani, a town in Tamilnadu.

Hanuman at the Sathya Vijaya Theertha Brindavana
The then Jagirdar of Arani was Sri Srinivasa Rao Sahib. The Jagir had been received by his ancestors for the services rendered to Chattrapati Shivaji's father, Shahaji. The Jagirdar received the Swami with utmost respect, and made all arrangements for his comfortable stay.

One day, the Swami and the Jagirdar were walking along the banks of the Kamandala Naga Nadhi, when they saw a five headed snake with a raised hood. The Swami asked the Jagirdar to move his palace close to that spot. The Jagirdar built a new palace called Diwan Khana here and made it his headquarters. He also named the place Sathya Vijaya Nagaram in honor of Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha.

In 1737, Sathyavijaya Theertha called the Jagirdar and told him that his end was drawing near. He requested the Jagirdar to have his body carried eastwards till it became so heavy that it could not be carried any further and for his Brindavana to be built there.

He also requested the Jagirdar, to hand over a list of items belonging to the Mutt meticulously prepared by him to Sathyapriya Theerthar, his predecessor, who was still on tour. He asked for his idols of worship and Dhandam to buried close to his Brindavana . The last instruction was that Sathyapriya Theerthar should take these in exchange for his Dhandam.

Few days later, Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha left his physical body. As instructed, the Jagirdar's men carried him eastwards till such time that they could no longer carry the body. It was the exact location where the Jagirdar had seen the five headed snake. A beautiful Brindavana was built there.

The Brindavana of Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha
Sri Sathya Priya Theerthar returned from pilgrimage, a few days after Sri Sathya Vijaya Theerthar had entered Brindavana. The Jagirdar shared Sri Sathya Vijaya Theerthar's final words with him. Sri Sathya Priyar was a little perplexed about the exchange of Dhandams as he was senior in line and did not find it appropriate. However, he had a vision of Hanuman from the idol that was installed by Sri Vyasaraja (previous incarnation of Sri Raghavendra) at Sathya Vijaya Nagara which clarified that it would be perfectly right for him to do so, as Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha had performed poojas and rituals at the Uttaradhi Mutt for a long time which he had not and hence, that made him worthy to have his Dhandam exchanged.

The Brindavana of Sri Sathya Veera Theetha
That is not all. The Brindavana of Sri Sathya Vijaya Theerthar also contains the Mrithika Brindavana of Sri Sathya Veera Theerthar, who was third in line as Pontiff after him. The Jagirdar is said to have been issueless for a long time, and it was through the grace and blessings of Sri Sathya Veera Theerthar that he was blessed with a son who he named after him. As a token of gratitude, he installed the brindavana of Sri Sathya Veera Theertha after his demise, next to Sri Sathya Vijaya Theertha. For a picture of the Jagirdar placing Sri Sathya Veera Theertha on his throne, and other interesting details about Sathya Vijaya Nagaram, please visit www.arnijagir.com

The Brindavana Complex also has a Mrithika Brindavana of Sri Raghavendra installed in 1997. Every year, the Aradhana celebrations are held here with a great deal of festivity.

Mrithika Brindavana of Sri Raghavendra Swamy
How to reach here:

Sathya Vijaya Nagaram is about 7 kms before Arani when one takes the Chennai - Bangalore Highway.

Temple Timings:

The Achar's family lives close to the temple complex. Therefore, on a normal day one could call up the Achar before visiting.

Contact Details:

Sri Sathya Vijayachar - 99444 63550 . If you do happen to visit Sathya Vijaya Nagara, do make it a point to visit the Hanuman installed by Sri Vyasaraja, which is quite close to the Brindavana.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Grand Chola Experience!

A part of the Chennai Super Bloggers Team - Winners of the First Indian Bloggers League!

A blogger meet organised by Indiblogger is something every blogger looks out to- as a perfect opportunity to meet, greet and rub shoulders with the wonderful people who are known through their writing, with awesome venues, great food and lots of fun thrown in as a bonus.

This time round, the Indiblogger meet provided a sneak preview into Asia's largest hotel, the ITC Grand Chola at Guindy and it was little wonder that 95% of the registrants reached despite the really short notice.

When I reached the venue, the car was guided along to circumambulate the hotel to reach the Chola entrance, and believe me, it was like circumambulating the Big Temple at Thanjavur! All along the walls, were motifs of elephants (machine cut, and not handmade as I had visualised)welcoming the visitors.

One good thing about the Grand Chola is the pre-reception lobby containing escalators on either side, which enable users of the banquet halls and restaurants to move upstairs without having to enter the main reception!
How efficient!

The indiblogger meet was organised at the Rajendra Banquet Hall, a pillarless wonder that can house upto 3000 people if the panels were all opened up or could be divided into eight smaller conference halls.

Rajendra outside the Banquet Hall

The hospitality of ITC was amazing. With unlimited welcome drinks doing the rounds, the participants settled down comfortably in the round tables, which had i-pads configured for bloggers to participate in the #TweetsForTreats competition organised as part of the launch, whereby winners get awesome treats for innovative tweets about the hotel.

The Marketing head of ITC Grand Chola made a brief presentation about the hotel and its special features and it was indeed amazing to note that the entire hotel was operated on wind energy and this was achieved by the numerous windmills installed in Salem.

After a warm up round of HUR...HUR....HURRAY, and some fun questions by Anoop about the capabilities of the I-pads in the ITC Grand Chola hotel rooms, that earned participants experience vouchers of Rs.500 each (self included :)) and a musical chair to the tune of Gangnam Style, we were all set to enjoy the awesome hi-tea which was almost a meal, and the royal guided tour of the hotel with our charming hostess Meghna.

The Suites have been named after Karikala and Rajaraja, the Board rooms after Kaveri and Thanjavur and the Banquet Hall after Rajendra. The Sangam Lobby has a lotus motifed ceiling with acoustics planned in such a way that the voice of a person who spoke below it was magnified. This, we were told was an inspiration from the durbar halls of the Chola Kings (!) where such an arrangement existed, so that everyone heard when the King spoke.

Our tour started at the Sangam Lobby, resplendent with marble, the curving staircases fit enough for a king. We were told that different types of marble from many parts of the world were used liberally in the construction of the hotel as the Cholas had used marble to build palaces and temples. (Is that true? I thought the Mughals had specialised in using marble for construction).

The Sangam Lobby with the splendid chadeliers and the lovely staircase

We went through the different entrances - the Kili entrance for the Serviced apartments and the Sembian entrance for the Conference facilites.

We peeped into the restaurants and coffee shops - Madras Pavilion, Cafe Mercara, and Ottimo,
had a lovely mocktail at the Tranque"bar"- a bar named after Tharangambadi of the Chola Kingdom,
breezed through Cheroot - the Malt and Cigar Bar and Nutmeg, the wonderful chocolate and cake place,
and the Kayakalp Spa, before checking out the Tower Room, where every move was "I-Pad" controlled, the spacious Gym and the lovely swimming pool.

Sipping a Mocktail at the Tranque"bar"
Our final stop was at the Kavery and Thanjavur Board Rooms - the State of Art Board rooms with elegance and efficiency where everything happened at a touch of a button.

The die-hard Chola fan in me was a little disappointed that other than the antique artifacts from different parts of India, there was no other symbol or reference from the Cholas in the restaurants or rooms - but then, I guess they have done the best they could, considering business priorities. It would also help immensely if the staff were given a lesson in Chola history so that they are able to relate and narrate facts better.

Meghna told us that the Sembian entrance was named after Sembianmadevi, a queen who was well known for her hospitality! I could not resist telling her that the Cholas took the name of Sembian, to show that they were descendants of King Sibi and Sembianmadevi was well known for her philanthropy and devotion to Lord Shiva and that she had spent many an year in her life and a huge part of her wealth in renovating Shiva temples and in popularising the thevaram! (Phew!)

Bottomline: I decided not to apply too much of history and to enjoy the ambience that had been so meticulously put together by several thousands of people!

I do not want to go into repeating every single detail that Meghna told us, to spoil the fun for those who want to check out the regal splendor and responsible luxury of this hotel that spans over 6,00,000 sq. ft, but here are some glimpses of images that stayed in my mind long after I went home!

That Wonderful Grand Chola Experience! - Through my eyes! Do read the description of each picture, to understand more about the unique features of this magnificient hotel.

A sincere thanks to Indiblogger and ITC Grand Chola for a wonderful fun-filled evening, great food, and  lovely treats to take away as parting gifts! We will be back soon to enjoy the regal ambience yet again! May the glory of the Cholas live on!