Thursday, May 31, 2012

The legend of Nageshwara!

This is the second of the two part series on Nageswaraswamy Temple, Kumbakonam. In the first part, we  focused upon the Ramayana Miniatures, placed like a border around the main shrine. In the second, we will dwell upon the other unique features of the Nageswara Temple.

The main deity Nageswara Swamy is a Swayambu Lingam - a small Baanam over a large base. This deity is said to have been worshipped by Lord Surya and Lord Nagaraja. So why did they worship Shiva here?

After Daksha's Yagna, and the subsequent attack on the attendees by Veerabadra, Lord Surya lost his eyesight. He then worshipped Lord Shiva in seven places popularly known as the Saptha Bhaskara Kshetrams. (Read about Panayapuram, the Seventh of the Bhaskara Kshetrams where his eyesight was restored completely  here). In the Nageswaraswamy shrine, one of the Bhaskara Kshetrams, Lord Surya has created the Bhaskara Pushkarani, which can be found opposite the South Gopuram entrance. Till date, Lord Surya continues his worship of Lord Shiva. Every year, on the 11th, 12th and 13th day of the tamil month of Chithirai, from 7 am to 9 am, the sun's rays fall directly on the Moolavar.

The story about Nagaraja goes like this:
In earlier days, Nagaraja is believed to have been holding up the world on his heads. As time went by, it became difficult for him to do this, as the weight of the world increased with the sins that people committed. So he went to Lord Shiva, and asked him to give him the strength to support the world. Lord Shiva asked him to go down to the Earth and worship at the place where the Bael Leaf (Vilvam) on top of the Kumbam fell during Pralaya. Nagaraja came to the temple and worshipped the Swayambu Shiva who came to be known as Nageswara since he had granted the wish sought by the snake God.
The temple tank created by Nageswara is called Singa Theertham. It is well maintained,with iron gates and steps leading down to the tank. Bathing in the Singa Theertham and worshipping Nageswaraswamy on Mondays and Thursdays rids one of Naga Dosha and it is common to find several people performing poojas on these days for matrimony and child birth.

This wonderful 1500 temple lost its grandeur, was neglected and became dilapidated in early 20th century. Thick vegetation grew all over the temple, the bushes and snakes drove away even the few worshippers who sought the temple. Seeing this pitiable state , Sri Padagachery Ramalingam Swamy, took a vow to restore the temple to its lost glory. With a brass vessel tied around his neck, he went around collecting funds for the renovation. Little by little, the temple was renovated and the Kumbabhishekam was performed in the year 1923. As a mark of respect, the idol of Sri Padagachery Swamigal is placed on the gopuram.

On entering the temple, our attention is drawn to the architectural wonder - the Anandha Thandava Nataraja Sabhai. Structured like a Ratha, this mandapa is drawn by horses and elephants. The wheels have the 12 rashis as spokes. The horses are like a cantilever.

This whole mandapam is a visual delight. Apart from the beautiful elephants this mandapam has Nataraja dancing, along with Sivakami Ambal appearing to provide thaalam and Lord Vishnu playing the flute.The colour scheme used in the mandapam is very pleasing to the eye .

To the left of this mandapam, is the shrine of the Urthuva Thandava Moorthy. The beautiful moorthy holds everyone in rapt attention.

As we enter the main shrine, after crossing the Shiva Shiva mandapam and a board announcing 63 nayanmars while showing 70 pictures, we come to the shrine of "Thandoonriya Vinayakar" - Ganesha stylishly leaning on to a stick !

After worshipping Lord Nageshwara swamy and Goddess Perianayaki we move to the shrine of Pralaya Kala Rudra. This again is a very unique moorthy, not commonly found in temples.

Photo Courtesy: Dinamalar
Worshipping this Rudra on Sunday during Rahu Kaalam (4.30 to 6 pm) helps people overcome diseases and fear of death.

After worshipping him, we now go into the outer praharam to view and worship the wonderful moorthis there. The most remarkable among them is that of Ardhanareeswara, appropriately called Umaioru Baahan.
A stunning beauty indeed. The two halves depict each gender so perfectly that one could just stand there and keep watching this moorthy for hours together. Several people are found worshipping here on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays to enhance matrimonial harmony. Those couples who are either separated or in the verge of separation have found worshipping this moorthy bring them back together. 

Not just the Ardhanareeshwara, the Brahma and the Vishnu Durga are equally charming.The Goddess Durga especially is worshipped for good marriage alliance and success in career. There is also a shrine for Jurahara Ganesha who is worshipped to safeguard people against fever and other ailments.

One noteworthy shrine is that of Bagavar swamy. This is a small, dark shrine which enjoys lesser attention than the others. This gives an impression that this temple at some point could have been a jain temple, and then subsequently became a saivaite shrine, although there is no such mention in the sthala puranam.

As this is a temple worshipped by Nagaraja, there are also separate shrines for Nagakannis. I somehow got separated from the rest of the group and wandered alone to this isolated shrine close to dusk. While I circumambulated around the shrine, I was positive I could hear low hissing noises. Initially I thought I was imagining things. But when I stopped to listen, I did hear the hissing noises again. I hurried back to join the group after I had goosebumps all over. It was one incident that would clearly stay in my mind for many years to come.

Of course, the Ramayana Miniatures here need special mention. Overall, the Nageswara Shrine is indeed a treasure trove of Indian art and architecture, a must-see on every culture lover's diary. It is sad to see foreigners outnumbering Indian visitors at this temple. If enough awareness is created about this temple, there is no doubt that the beautiful treasures here can be protected.

Otherwise, this would soon be the plight of other moorthys as well.

How to reach the temple:
The Nageswara temple is very close to the Kumbeswara temple.

Temple Timings:
6 am to 12.30 pm
4.30 pm to 9 pm

Contact Details:

I could not get a mobile number of the priest at this temple as we spent many hours taking pictures of the miniatures that it was quite dark by the time we were ready to leave. The priests were nowhere to be seen then. As my usual practice, I went into the temple office to ask for a copy of the Sthalapuranam. I received the standard reply that it had gone for printing.

Seeing my visible disappointment, one of the staff members offered to help. He told me that there was a box of sthalapuranams in the office wherein an abridged version could be found if I could take the effort to do so myself.

When he opened the box, I almost jumped. In a huge wooden box, there were hundreds of sthalapurams of several temples that came into the jurisdiction of the Nageswara temple, that had never seen the light of day. Some of them had already started yellowing, and the corners were being eaten away. I picked out one copy each of all that I could manage and the man was happy to give them away for free. He said that every year they printed the copies expecting the people would ask for them, but only very few do so.

I am indeed grateful that he went out of the way to facilitate because of which I got a lot of information about  the temple.

I will definitely update the post once I obtain a contact number of a priest at the temple.

If you happen to be in Kumbakonam, Nageswara temple should be on your to do list!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ramayana Miniatures of Nageshwara!

Nageshwaraswamy temple (not to be confused with Thirunageshwaram) in Kumbakonam, referred to as Kudanthai Keezhkottam by Thirunavukkarasar in his hymn is found to the east of the Kumbeshwara Temple.

This temple constructed over 1500 years ago is a treasure trove of architecture. The Lord Nageshwara Swamy  is a Swayambu Moorthy, is said to have been worshipped by Lord Surya and Nagaraja. I had the opportunity of visiting this magnificient and unique temple recently along with members of REACH foundation. After coming back with loads of great pictures, I was in a dilemma about how to present this temple in Aalayam Kanden.

On one side, there was the huge temple with fascinating mythology and awesome murthis. On the other, the Ramayana Miniature panels needed an entire post about themselves! So after great deliberation, I have decided to write two posts - One focused on the miniatures and the other focused on the temple mythology.

The temple is a visual delight. We were lucky to visit at a time when it was not too crowded. Apart from a few other foreign tourists crouched near the panels, the temple was practically empty. What you see above is a whole wall of inscriptions with idols of women in the alcoves. If one lowered their eyes to the feet of these idols, what would they see?

Can you see the three panels below the feet of the statue in the picture above? I have deliberately increased the size of the picture so that you are able to appreciate the number of figures in each one of those miniatures and the level of detail that has gone into this magnificient work of art.

Let us now look at a close up shot of one such panel.

This is the first scene in the panels. What do you see? Sage Rishyashringa performing the Putra Kameshti Yagna. King Dasaratha and his queens look on anxiously. See the person emerging from the fire carrying the pot of "Payasam" for the King. Almost ten people with complete features and symmetry in a panel so small. Look at the actual size of the panel in the picture above. Isn't it amazing?

We were lucky to be in the presence of Prof. Sivaramakrishnan of the College of Arts, Kumbakonam. He is an authority on the Ramayana Miniatures and watching him explain the various panels made them come to life. The glow in his eyes, the ethereal expression on his face and the passion with which he took us around the temple, jumping into the narrow ditches to get better access, and climbing out with agility, transported us to another world. We could actually visualise how these panels would have been created, what actually ran in the minds of the great artisans who had produced these beautiful pieces of art.

My sincere thanks to Shri. Ashok Krishnaswamy for allowing me to use his videos in this post.

The four part video clearly explains each panel. Just look at the size of the panel. You can get an understanding by comparing it with the size of the pen that the professor is holding.

Watch the Soorpanaka episode. It is absolutely mindblowing!

I would strongly advice watching these videos on full screen so that the complete panel can be better appreciated along with Prof. Sivaramakrishnan's narration.

Although this is one of the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams, there is limited awareness about this temple, especially about the unique Ramayana Panels. You can see even in the first screen above, lamps lit very close to the panel causing soot to be deposited on the miniature. The miniatures are placed like a band around the temple. In some places, these have been damaged during plastering for civil works undertaken during recent times. But most of the panels are intact.

As I wrote earlier, this temple has many other interesting features that one post would not be sufficient to talk about it. Therefore, I conclude the post on Ramayana Miniatures at Nageshwara here. The sequel will be about the other unique features and mythology of this wonderful temple.

This temple is very close to the Kumbeshwara Temple and Mahamaham Tank. It would be definitely worth visiting during the next trip to Kumbakonam.

Temple Timings:

6 am to 12 30 pm
4 30 pm to 9 30 pm