Saturday, September 29, 2012

Young Again!

The Gopuram and the Gurukkal of Elamai Aakinar Temple, Chidambaram

Thiruneelakanda Kuyavanaar was a resident of the temple town of Chidambaram. No one really knew what his real name was. This potter was well known for his deed of giving away a bowl of alms (Thiruvodu) free to a Sivanadiyaar ( devotee of Lord Shiva) before selling his other wares. His lips chanted "Thiruneelakandam" all the time that he came to be called "Thiruneelakandar".

His wife, Ratnachalai, was an equally pious woman and she supported her husband ably in all his activities. Thiruneelakandar's youthful feelings happened to lead him to solicit another woman. When his wife came to know of this, she was shattered. When Thiruneelakandar tried to touch her, she forbade him, swearing in the name of Thiruneelakandam that the hand that touched another woman should never touch her.

Thiruneelakandar was shocked, but repentant. Since that day, he never made an attempt to touch his wife or any other woman. They stayed together, and performed all other tasks as a married couple. Time went on, and both Thiruneelakandar and his wife grew old. But their noble task of making and giving away bowls of alms to devotees of Lord Shiva continued. They spent every moment of their lives in prayer and thoughts of the golden feet of the Lord.

Painting depicting the various events that took place in the life of Thiruneelakanda Nayanar

No one knew about this vow and the issues with them. As days passed, Lord Shiva had a desire to test the strength of devotion of Thiruneelakandar. He appeared before him in the guise of a Sivayogi. Thiruneelakandar welcomed him with happiness. The Sivayogi gave him a "Thiruvodu" and asked him to keep it safely till he returned from pilgrimage. The potter took it and placed it safely in his house. 

The Yogi returned after a few days and sought the bowl he had left behind. Despite searching high and low, Thiruneelakandar was unable to find it. He told the Sivayogi that he was not able to find the bowl, but would give him a bigger and better bowl instead.

The Yogi was angry. He refused the offer of a new bowl and insisted that his own special bowl be returned, failing which he would make a complaint to the 3000 Dikshidhars of Thillai (Chidambaram) that Thiruneelakandar had stolen his bowl.

The potter was aghast. He told the Yogi that even in his thoughts he had not dreamt of stealing the vessel and he sincerely did not understand how it had gone missing. If that was the case, the Yogi asked him to hold his son's hand and swear that he had not stolen the bowl.

Thiruneelakandar and his wife Ratnachalai

Thiruneelakandar told him that he did not have a son. So the Yogi asked him to hold his wife's hand instead. Thiruneelakandar said he could not do that either. So the Yogi took the case to the Thillai Dikshidhars who ruled that Thiruneelakandar had to hold his wife's hand and dip in the tank of the Thirupuleeswarar temple in order to prove his innocence.

Without knowing what to do, Thiruneelakandar and his wife dipped into the tank, both holding either side of a bamboo stick. When they came out of the water, they found that their youth had been restored and the Lord appeared before them with Devi Parvathy and praised their sincere devotion, due to which they had spent their entire youth in celibacy just to upkeep the vow that had been taken in the name of Thiruneelakandam.

The Thirupuleeswaram temple was called so because Sage Vyagrapathar had installed the Thirupuleeswarar and Goddess Tripurasundari at the temple and worshipped them. From the time, Thiruneelakandar and his wife regained their youth, the temple has come to be known as Elamai Aakinaar Koil and the Lord and Goddess are called Yavaneshwarar and Yavanambigai.  The temple tank is called the Elamai theertham.

The Elamai Theertham where Lord Shiva turned Thiruneelakandar and his wife young again

It is indeed heartening to see the tank clean and well maintained, with the gates displaying notice from the Police Department that using the tank to bathe or wash clothes is punishable. The temple is large and empty. 
We went around the empty praharam, while I was busy visualing how the temple would have looked during Thiruneelakandar's times. The praharam had idols of Thiruneelakandar and his wife, standing apart, as well as the "Naalvar". 

A large Nandi that was probably placed in the Sanctum Sanctorum once upon a time, lay discarded, now being used as a stand for the water hose.

Abandoned Nandi

Another noteworthy feature of this temple is that it is not just associated with the life and times of Thiruneelakanda Nayanar but is also associated with Kanampulla Nayanar.

The story of Kanampulla Nayanar is heartwarming. He was from the village of Irukkuvelur, near Salem. He was a rich man, whose passion was to light lamps in temples of Shiva and worship him. Desirous of worshipping the Lord in Chidambaram, he came to the Thirupuleeswarar Temple, and continued his service of lighting lamps.

Lord Shiva wanted to test his devotion as well. His wealth started depleting and he was compelled to sell his household articles one by one, in order to buy oil for the lamps. This did no deter him from continuing his service. Very soon, he did not have any article to sell. He then started cutting straw from the riverside (Kanampul) and selling it. With the money he got, he purchased oil for the lamps. 

One day he could not sell any straw. Disappointed and not knowing how he could light the lamps at the temple, he came to Thirupuleeswaram and tried to light the lamps with the straws that were unsold. But the straws burnt out immediately. Determined to continue his service at any cost, he burnt his hair in order for the lamp to continue burning. 

Pleased with his devotion, the Lord appeared before him, and took him into his abode.

Kanampulla Nayanar who burnt his hair in order to keep the temple lamp burning

There is an idol of Kanampulla Nayanar in the outer praharam in memory of the events that took place in this very temple. After worshiping Lord Yavaneswarar and Yavanambigai, we moved out of the temple. Worshipping them, is said to keep one, young and healthy and couples who have misunderstandings or lack of harmony among them, are believed to become united again after worshiping the Lord and Goddess.

Another notable feature of this temple was the huge granary that it had. The temple is clean and well maintained by the Nagarathar community. It would be wonderful if the tourists who visit the Nataraja temple, also make an effort to visit this very significant temple not very far away from it.

The Ancient Granary

During your next visit to Chidambaram, please do make an effort to visit this wonderful shrine!

Contact information:

Elamai Aakinaar Temple,
Kasu Kadai Street,
Near Bazaar,

Gurukkal Mobile: 94426 12650. The Gurukkal is available from 8 am to 9 am for daily pujas and then again in the evening. You may also contact Sri Rathnathandava Deekshidhar of the Sabanayagar temple on 94438 94098 for guidance.

Temple Timings: 8 am to 12 pm - 5 pm to 8 pm