Sunday, July 7, 2013

Give my clothes back!

The stories of Nayanmars and the incredible acts they performed for the love of God never fail to amaze me. Aalayam Kanden aims to share information on the temples that are closely associated with the lives and times of these Nayanmars.So far I have been lucky to cover the following temples - Click on the link to visit the Aalayam Kanden article pertaining to each Nayanmar.

Sundaramurthy Nayanar - Thirunavalur
Thiruneelakantar and Kanampul Nayanar - Elamai Aakinaar Koil, Chidambaram
Poosalar Nayanar - Hridayaleeswarar Temple, Thiruninravur

I had been planning to visit the Muktheeswara Temple at Kanchipuram for a very long time and was able to do so only recently. This temple is associated with the life and times of Thirukurippu Thondar.

Thirukurippu Thondar was a Dhobi (Washerman) who lived in the city of Kanchipuram. He was an ardent devotee of Shiva and every day made it a point to wash the clothes of a Sivanandiyar (a devotee of Shiva) for free before washing others clothes. Come rain or shine, normal day or festival day, he made sure he adhered to this practice.

One day, it so happened that no Sivanadiyar turned up near the river. Thirukurippu Thondar waited and waited. Lord Shiva, who wanted to test his devotion, appeared before him in the form of a Sivanadiyar. Noticing a Sivanadiyar with very dirty clothes, Thirukurippu Thondar approached him and requested him to hand over his clothes and promised to wash them well. The Sivanadiyar was hesitant. He said he did not mind his clothes being dirty, it at least kept him warm. Thirukurippu Thondar promised to wash his clothes and return them before the end of day. On that condition, the Sivanadiyar agreed to part with his clothes.

With utmost devotion, Thirukurippu Thondar started washing the clothes. After washing, he set out to dry the clothes, when suddenly dark clouds gathered, and it started to rain heavily. The washerman ran here and there, trying to find a secluded spot to dry the clothes, but the rain would not let up. He thought of taking the clothes home, and drying them by the fire.

As he set out towards his house, a sudden gush of wind snatched the clothes from his hands and carried them away. Thirukurippu Thondar ran behind the clothes, trying to catch them, but they were thrashed and torn by then. Startled and not knowing what to do, he stood rooted to the spot.

At that exact moment, the Sivanadiyar came by, asking for his clothes. When Thirukurippu Thondar explained what had happened, the Sivanadiyar was very angry. He accused Thirukurippu Thondar of deliberately cheating him, by forcibly asking for his clothes when he was not ready to part with them. The washerman offered him new clothes in place of the ones that were damaged. " Give me my clothes back" demanded the Sivanadiyar. " I will not take anything else".

Thirukurippu thondar was aghast with what he had done. After having failed in his duty towards a Sivanadiyar, he did not have the will to live. So he hit his head against the washing stone, in an attempt to kill himself. At that exact moment, a hand came out of the washing stone, to support Thirukurippu Thondar's head.

The rain stopped and there was a shower of flowers from heaven. Lord Shiva appeared before Thirukurippu Thondar and gave him mukthi. The place where Lord Shiva appeared is where the Muktheeswara Temple stands today. The Lord is called Muktheeswara as he gave mukthi to Thirukurippu Thondar.

Another unique feature of this temple is that it is built and governed to this day by people belonging to the Ekali (Dhobi) community. This is a clear example of social inclusion in those days. It is indeed heartening to see the temple maintained in an excellent manner.

An idol of Thirukurippu Thondar at the temple
Every year, Chithirai Swathi, the birthday of Thirukurippu Thondar is celebrated with a lot of festivity at the temple.

This temple has yet another unique feature. It is probably one of the very few temples where twin pradhoshams are celebrated.

Apart from Muktheeswara, the temple also has another Shivalingam installed by Garuda. The tale connected with Garudeswara is equally interesting.
Kadru and Vinatha were Sage Kashyapa's wives. They were both jealous of each other. Once they got into an argument as to who was more beautiful. They decided to take this issue to Sage Kashyapa and whomsoever he chose would have the other person as their slave. Sage Kashyapa declared that Kadru was more beautiful than Vinatha.

As per their agreement,Vinatha became Kadru's slave and Kadru imprisoned her. Vinatha begged to be released. Kadru agreed to release her if she brought Amrit from heaven which would make her ever young and beautiful. Vinatha prayed to Lord Shiva to help her. Lord Shiva told her that her son Garuda will help to release her from prison. So Vinatha called for Garuda and asked him to bring Amrit from heaven and have her released.

Garuda went to heaven, and fought with Indra's guards. After defeating them, and driving Indra away with the wind from his wings, he picked up the pot of nectar (Amrit) and started on his way back. Midway, he was stopped by Lord Vishnu and a fierce battle ensued between them for 21 days. Pleased with Garuda's valour, Lord Vishnu asked him to seek a boon. Garuda asked to be the vehicle of Lord Vishnu and his boon was granted.

After worshipping him, Garuda came back to Kadru, gave her the pot of nectar and released his mother from prison. He wanted to take revenge on Kadru and kill her sons who were snakes. For this purpose, he installed a shivalingam that came to be known as Garudeswara and worshipped him. Worshipping Garudeswara is supposed to help one overcome challenges posed by enemies.

The twin Pradhosham that happens at this temple is unique, says Dhandapani Gurukkal. Abhishekam is first performed to the Nandi in front of Garudeswara, then to Garudeswara himself, after which it is performed for the Nandi in front of Muktheeswara and finally for Lord Muktheeswara. Several people from different places come to witness this unique event.

This temple stands humbly among the several hundreds of temples in Kanchipuram. However, the significance of this temple and the sincere devotion of Thirukurippu thondar that led him to attain mukthi cannot be ignored. If you happen to be in the vicinity, do take time out to visit this small yet significant temple.

Shri Dhandapani Gurukkal, Archaka at the temple
How to get here:

On the busy Gandhi Road of Kanchipuram, after crossing the Addisonpet Bus Stop, this temple is flanked by D.R.Ganesh Sah Silk Store on one side, and Hotel Gowri Dharma on the other. Right opposite to the temple, is the MGR Silk Society.

Temple Timings:

Morning : 6.30 am - 12.00pm
Evening: 5 pm - 9 pm
On Saturdays, the temple is open upto 10 pm in the evening.

Contact Details:

Shri Dhandapani Gurukkal - 96009 99761

Visit Mukhteeswara! Be Blessed!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Suddha Ratneswara - The Purest Gem!

In May 2013, I got a call from Mr. Karthikeyan inviting me to visit the Suddha Ratneswara Temple at Oottathur, about 35 kms from Trichy. He had sent me data and pictures from the temple which kindled my interest to visit immediately.However, It almost took me one full month to find an appropriate date to visit the temple.

King Raja Raja Chola I: This temple, said to have been originally built in the 7th Century, has been rebuilt by Raja Raja during his rule. It has received further patronage from his son Rajendra Chola I and grandson, Rajadhiraja Chola. There are over fifty inscriptions in this temple from the times of Raja Raja, Rajendra and Rajadhiraja.

Raja Raja Chola Valanaatu Oottathur Naatu Oottathur
King Raja Raja had constructed a temple to the North of Oottathur called Chozheswaram. He often visited the temple. The original Suddha Ratneswara Temple had been buried under the sand during that time and was covered by thick Bilwa trees and bushes. The King's men set out to clear the path for the King to pass through comfortably.

As they cut the bushes, one of the men found that his spade encountered an object below the ground. As it made contact, blood started gushing out from it. Startled, the men cleared the ground around. To their utmost surprise, they found a Shivalingam made of the purest form of ruby (Suddha manickam or Suddha Ratnam)with a deep cut on top from where blood was gushing out. The King rushed to the spot, found the priceless treasure, and decided to build a temple for this unique God. Further excavations revealed the intact remains of the old temple, which was renovated and extended to the form that exists today by Raja Raja.

Truly, this temple is unique in every single aspect.

27 Stars, 12 Sun Signs and 9 Planets:  We entered the temple through the Rajagopuram and found that a marriage was in progress near the Dwajasthambam. The youngsters from the village who have formed a "Vazhipadu Committee" took us around the temple and explained the various unique features. On the ceiling, near the Dwajasthambam, can be seen the 27 stars along with the 12 sun signs facing the ground below and in a seperate panel nearby are the 9 planets. Any yagas or homams performed beneath these panels is said to yield complete results immediately. People born under any star can perform homams here.Because of this,the Oottathur Suddha Ratneswara Temple is popularly sought after for conducting marriages.
The 27 stars and 12 sun signs on the panel 
The panel containing nine planets
Brahma Theertham: Once there was an argument between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma as to who was the greater among them. For determining this, they chose a challenge. They decided to find the base (foot) and top of the head of Lord Shiva. Brahma took the form of a swan and went up to find the top of Lord Shiva's head while Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug into the ground below to find his feet. They went on and on for a long, long time but were not successful in their mission.

On his way up, Brahma encountered a Thazampoo (Ketaki Flower) that fell from Shiva's head. He asked the flower if it would stand witness if he were to declare that he had reached Shiva's head. The flower agreed. So Brahma proclaimed himself to be the greater of the two as he had been able to bring evidence from the top of Shiva's head. Vishnu humbly accepted defeat. Angered that Brahma had lied and used a false witness, Shiva cursed Brahma that he would not have a separate temple anywhere and that Ketaki flowers would not be used for Shiva's worship.

Brahma begged forgiveness and asked to be relieved of his curse. Lord Shiva told Brahma to worship him with water from all the holy rivers in the world. Brahma came to Oottathur and created a spring of water which came to be known as Brahma Theertham right in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum. To this spring, he added water from all the holy rivers in the world. The village came to be known after this spring (Ootru - Spring, Ootraththur which has now transformed to Oottathur).He performed poojas and abhishekam with the water of Brahma Theertham and was relieved of his curse.

A view of the Brahma Theertham
Even today, only the water from Brahma Theertham is used for abhishekam for Lord Suddha Ratneswara. This water is said to have medicinal properties and is capable of curing several diseases and ailments. It is believed that when Raja Raja was unwell, he came here and sprinked the water of Brahma Theertham on himself and that gave him good health for the rest of his life. Till date, several hundreds of devotees carry back the water of Brahma Theertham and are relieved of ailments.

Ashok, one of the members of the youth group, mentioned that in Perambalur district it was difficult to find ground water anywhere above 25 feet. However, the water in the Brahma Theertham is perennial in source and remains at the same level (around 10-12 feet) throughout the year. It is indeed unique that a spring is found right in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum. There is an underground tunnel connecting the Suddha Ratneswara Temple and the Perumal Temple opposite to it through which water from the Brahma Theertham used to be carried for the Abhishekam of the Perumal as well. This tunnel is now closed.

Nandhiyaaru Nandhikeshwara: 

It is usual to see Nandi facing the Lord in the sanctum sanctorum. But as far as the Suddha Ratneswara temple is considered, the usual is unusual. Apart from the usual Nandi, there is another Nandi facing the East, on one side of the Artha Mandapa. The story behind this is really interesting.

Once there was an argument among the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindu, Kaveri and Thungabadra as to who was the holiest among them. They brought this issue to Lord Suddha Ratneswara. He ordered Nandikeswara to drink up the waters of all seven rivers. The Nandi did as ordered and lay down facing the East. Only the Water from the Ganga flowed out of his mouth. This formed a river near the temple which is called Nandiaaru (Nandi River). This river flows into the Kollidam and from there joins the sea.

A local legend says that Raja Raja wanted to immerse the ashes of his father Sundara Chola in Varanasi. On his way, he stopped overnight near the Nandi River. To his surprise, he found that the bones and ashes had turned into sweet smelling flowers. When he went to Varanasi and opened the urn, they had turned back to ashes and bones. Not wanting to immerse the ashes there, he came back and immersed them at the Nandi River. There is a saying " Kaasikku Veesam Kooda" which means performing the last rites on the banks of the Nandi river is better than performing the same in Varanasi. Raja Raja is said to have built a Kasi Viswanatha Temple on the banks of the river which does not exist now. (historic facts of this story to be verified)

Suddha Ratneswara - The Lord Himself

Suddha Ratneswara 

If the temple itself has so many special features, can the Lord be less in magnificence?

Suddha Ratneswara as the name depicts - the purest of gems, the real ruby, stands magnificently in the Sanctum Sanctorum. It is indeed a scintillating experience, to watch the light of the Harathi reflect on and within the Baana of the Lingam. This is an experience I have never before encountered in any other temple. As the priest, Shri Ramanatha Gurukkal, moved the Harathi slowly and steadily near the Lingam, the light reflected on the surface. To me, it looked as if the Lord was manifesting in the form of light for those who sought him.

Panchanadhana Nataraja:

To the left of the Sanctum Santorum, is a seperate shrine for Nataraja and his consort Sivakama Sundari.

Panchanadhana Nataraja
There are five types of stones which are used to make statues of Gods and Goddesses, namely, Aalinga Nadhanam, Panchanadhanam, Singanadhanam, Yaanainadhanam and Yaazhinadhanam. Out of these, Panchanadhanam stones have the ability to absorb sun rays. The root of a plant called Andhaka Narimanam will pierce through and break one in a million stones. Such stones are called Panchanadhana Stones. When struck with a coin, they emit a sound equivalent to "Aum".

The Nataraja at Oothathur is made out of Panchanadhana Stone. This unique and beautiful idol stands majestically and is being worshipped ardently by those who suffer from kidney ailments. They garland this Nataraja with Vetiver and perform abhishekam with the water of Brahma Theertham. This water is then collected and given to the concerned person. On consuming the water for 45 days, the patients are relieved completely of their ailments. There are a number of testimonials available in the temple of those who have tried this remedy and found relief.

It is believed that Indra regained his lost power and position by worshipping this Nataraja and like him anyone who worships the Nataraja with sincere devotion will regain lost power. Several politicians and those with political aspirations frequent this shrine.

Goddess Sivakamasundari
If Lord Nataraja is so special, can his consort be any less? If you stand in front of her, she looks right at you. If you look at her from any other angle, you can see that she has her head titled to one side, admiring her Lord as he dances merrily!

Sun worship:

Sun' s rays fall on the idol of Suddha Ratneswara for three days in the tamil month of Maasi (12, 13, 14) and for three minutes on Vaikasi Visakham day.

Goshta Devathas:

Going around the temple, one feels as if every single idol here was meant to be different, was made with extra care and dedication.


The Dakshinamurthy here is a delight to watch.With the Kallala tree behind him, designed to look like a fan, a small straw bag and a piece of cloth hanging from it, reminding one of the Dakshinamurthy mural in the Big temple of Thanjavur, his unique hair style, in short everything about him, is simply superb. I loved the way my son exclaimed with joy when he saw the Dakshinamurthy. A true expression of delight! Worshipping him for eleven weeks in Guru Horai between 4.30 and 7 am by adorning him with garlands of chick peas (kotthu kondalai) is said to grant sincere prayers.

Goddess Durga with Fangs

The Goddess Durga at the temple can be seen with fangs on either side of her mouth. Worshipping her with lemon garlands for 11 weeks grants the boon of marriage for those girls who seek good alliances.

Kala Bhairava:

In this temple, Lord Bhairava faces Gajalakshmi, which I have not seen in any other temple. Performing Sahasrama Archana for 11 weeks here, is said to cure children of irrational fears. This Bhairava is also worshipped to ensure livestock are not affected by the outbreak of an epidemic. Those suffering from chronic ailments, worship this Bhairava on Ashtami day and recite the Kalashta Mantram.This rids them of the fear of death and helps to improve their health condition.


The Veerabadra Swamy at the temple carries a Shiva Lingam over his forehead.


When Appar, one of the Nayanmars tried to visit Oottathur from the place now known as Paadalur, he was amazed to see the whole path to the temple covered with Shivalingams. Fearing he cannot put his feet at a place covered with lingams, Appar stood at Paadalur and sang about the Suddha Ratneswara temple. Since he sang from there, the place came to be known as Padalur (the place where the song originated) which has now been transformed to Paadaalur.

The shrine of Goddess Akilandeswari is found in the second praharam behind the temple.

So, what are you waiting for? This temple should be on every heritage lover's wishlist.

The young volunteers and Shri Ramanatha Gurukkal with the trustees of Aalayam Kanden

How to get here:

Oottathur is about 35 kms from Trichy and about 5 kms from Padalur. On the NH 45 when you are travelling towards Trichy after you cross Thanthai Hans Roever College and Sanjeeviraya Hanuman Temple on your left, you would find a board reading Padalur. Turn left and proceed for about five kms on the Oottathur Scenic Driveway. At one point, you will find that the road forks into two, and there is a huge stone crushing unit there. Take the right and you will reach the temple in a couple of hundred metres.

Temple Timings:

Morning - 5 am to 12.30 pm
Evening - 4 pm to 8.30 pm

Contact Details:
Ramanatha Gurukkal and Nataraja Gurukkal
04328 - 267126 and 97880 62416
Karthikeyan - 8883852198/8015402683