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.
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.
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.
To the left of this mandapam, is the shrine of the Urthuva Thandava Moorthy. The beautiful moorthy holds everyone in rapt attention.
|Photo Courtesy: Dinamalar|
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.
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.
6 am to 12.30 pm
4.30 pm to 9 pm
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!