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!


  1. all that graffiti - they ought to be ashamed. Beautiful murthis here. I only saw the ones on the outside

  2. Nice have written about every details of the temple.

  3. Murthis here are unusually wonderful. I only saw the portrait ones outside when I was there; wish I'd explored more.

  4. thank you so much for the explanation about this temple it makes curiosity to know more about this temple