Monday, September 16, 2013

Sundara Dasaratha Nandana!

Punnainallur - the name has become synonymous with the Punnainallur Mariamman Temple. But Punnainallur is not just about that. It also has the wonderful  and unique Saligrama Rama Temple. Having heard a lot about this temple, we decided to visit there during our recent Krishna Jayanthi trip.

It was 8.10 pm and our vehicle was moving through pitch darkness towards the temple. We were worried if the temple would remain open at that time of the night. So I called Venkatesa Bhattar, the priest of the temple. He mentioned that he was on a bus coming back from Coimbatore, and promised to check with his son if he was still at the temple and revert. We lost hope. The driver asked us if we should continue to proceed towards the temple or return to the hotel.

We decided to take a chance. We had nothing to gain by turning back about a kilometre away from the temple and if the temple was open we had everything to gain. Within a few minutes Shri. Venkatesa Bhattar called back confirming the availability of his son at the temple till 8.30 pm. This kind of customer service I have never seen in any other part of Tamilnadu at least. Not just here, we had another instance where a Gurukkal called back to let us know we could still reach in time to witness the Artha jama pooja, during this trip. About the next article!

We were just a few feet away from the entrance,when we received the call. Happily we got down from our vehicle and climbed up the stairs. The Rajagopuram had been decorated with serial bulbs for the festival.
We stepped in and saw young Venkataramanan, Shri Venkatesa Bhattar's son waiting for us.

Saligrama Rama, Seetha, Lakshmana, Sugreeva:

Without any further delay, we rushed into the artha mandapa. The idols in the Grabagraha are indeed exquisite and unique. Saligramas are found in the Gandaki river and are usually found as single stones. Sometimes, the stones gather together to form a large mass. This is extremely rare. Four such stones were gifted to King Pratap Singh, the Maratha ruler of Tanjore by the King of Nepal. These have been sculpted into the four idols of Rama, Seetha, Lakshmana and Sugreeva. This is probably the only temple in the world where all the main deities have been carved out of Saligrama stone. Even the anklets on Mother Sita's feet and the bells on Rama's kothandam have been carved out so intricately.

Why Sugreeva instead of Hanuman?

It is common to find Hanuman with folded hands with Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. But here one can see King Sugreeva, complete with crown, Kundalams, moustache and sword standing to the right of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana with folded hands. It is believed that in return for the assistance King Sugreeva rendered in finding Sita, he was given this special place here.

Utsavar Idols:

Photo Courtesy: Shri Venkataramana Bhattar, Punnainallur Ramar Temple
The Utsavar Idols are by far the most beautiful I have ever witnessed. With a smile turning up the corners of his mouth, Rama stands in an elegant posture, his hip slightly pushed out to the right, holding a Kothandam with bells in his left hand and an arrow withdrawn from the quiver on his right. Little Vinaya Anjaneya can be found at the feet of Mother Sita. These idols have been unearthed from Poovanur village near Needamangalam and installed at this temple. The idols date back to over 1400 years.

I was itching to take photographs, but Venkataramanan gently pointed out that it would not be possible as part of the Moolavar would also get covered while doing so. Instead, he gave me a picture from his mobile phone that had been taken earlier during an Ekantha Seva.

For several minutes, we stood in wonder in front of Rama, not wanting to move from there.  Realising it was almost closing time, reluctantly we moved from there.

There are pictures depicting scenes from the Ramayana on either side of the main shrine. The temple has recently been renovated and it has been done without use of jarring modern techniques. The environment in this temple is so peaceful and calm that we just wanted to stay there for ever.

History of the temple:
As mentioned earlier,this temple was built by Raja Pratap Singh in the 18th Century. Rani Emunambal Pahi Saheb has provided about 40 acres of fertile land in the villages of Ottakudi, Rishiyur, Kottaiyur, and Mahimalai for performing poojas at this temple.

Queen of the Maratha Emperor Shivaji Maharaj, Rani Kamakshiamba Pahi Saheb has contributed towards many activities of this temple in the year 1892.

Maha Sudharshana Moorthy: 

Another unique feature of this temple is the Maha Sudharshana Moorthy found with sixteen hands mounted on the Chakra. Worshipping him and the Narasimha behind is said to rid one of enemies, give long and healthy life and wealth.

Jaya Veera Anjaneya Swamy:

The Anjaneya Swamy Shrine in this temple is also unique in many ways.With a raised Varada Hastham, and a Lotus flower in his left hand, he faces South. In the mandapam outside the Sanctum Sanctorum, the twelve sun signs have been painted on the ceiling and there are boxes painted on the floor below it.

By standing on the box right under one's own sun sign and praying, it is believed that the wishes so asked come true.


One can find Hayagriva in a seperate shrine in the Rathamandapa. Special poojas are performed to him on Thiruvona Star every month.

The temple is well managed and maintained by Sri S.Babaji Raja Bhonsle, the current Maratha Prince of Thanjavur.

Other facts about the temple
How to reach here:

Punnainallur is about 7 kms from Thanjavur.One can drive via State Highway 99A and Coimbatore Nagapattinam SH66 to reach here. The temple is very close to the Punnainallur Mariamman Temple.

Contact Details:

Shri. C Venkatesa Bhattar : 97897 42778
Shri. V. Venkataramanan (Bhattar's son) : 90957 91383

Temple Timings:

7 am to 12.30 pm, 5 pm to 8.30 pm

The serene calmness and ethereal atmosphere of the temple has to be experienced by every bhaktha, so if you happen to be in the vicinity, do not miss the Punnainallur Saligrama Ramar Temple!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Uriyadiyo Govinda!

The Venkatesa Perumal Temple at Varagur lit up for Krishna Jayanthi
Varagur - the mere mention of the name conjures up images of Krishna Jayanthi Celebrations that it is famous for -especially the Uriyadi ! The whole village comes together to celebrate this festival irrespective of being Vaishnavaites or Shaivaites and it is amazing how the houses are thrown open to all visitors to the village who witness the celebrations that extend through the night!

Now how did it all start? How did this village become synonymous with Krishna Jayanthi? Why do people from all over the world (really!) reach here to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna? 

To find out all about it, we have to go back about 300 years in time to Mangalagiri in Andhra Pradesh where a little boy was born. His parents, Gangadhara and Parvati named him Govinda and brought him up with love and care.

Govinda was very devoted to Krishna and spent most of his time singing and praying. On growing up, he took Sanyasashrama under the name of Narayana Theerthar. He then went on pilgrimage to many holy places in India. When he reached Tirupati, he developed severe stomach pain. When the pain became unbearable, he prayed to Lord Venkateswara to relieve him of the pain.

The Lord appeared in his dream and asked him to go towards the banks of the river Cauvery. Narayana Theerthar did as he was instructed. One night when he was camping at Naducauvery, the Lord appeared in his dream again, and asked him to follow the first animal he sighted when he woke up the next morning. He said " You can find me when the animal disappears".

The next morning, Narayana Theerthar spotted a white boar (Varaham) when he woke up. He started to follow the animal. The boar went into the Varagur Lakshmi Narayana temple (Varagur had been known till then as Bhoopathirajapuram) and disappeared. Narayana Theerthar knew he had found God. For seven days he meditated in front of Lord Lakshmi Narayana and on the eighth day which happened to be Sri Krishna Jayanthi, the Lord gave darshan to Shri Narayana Theertha in the form of Sri Venkateswara of Thirupati.

Overwhelmed, Narayana Theertha started singing the Sri Varahapuri Venkatesa Sthuthi which came to be known as the "Krishna Leela Tharangini". The Stuthi describes the entire life of Krishna and it is believed that as Narayana Theerthar composed the songs, Lord Krishna danced before him to its tune. Narayana Theerthar would continue to sing as long as he heard the sound of Lord Krishna's anklets and the moment it stopped he would bang his head against the wall, after which the sound of anklets would resume. When the Stuthi was completed, Narayana Theerthar's stomach pain disappeared.

To celebrate the appearance of the Lord on Krishna Jayanthi day, Narayana Theerthar instituted the night long festivities including the rituals of Uriyadi and Vazhukku Maram.

The festival begins on Prathamai and ends on Dasami with the highlight on Navami night. At around 11 am on Navami day, Lord Venkatesa Perumal decorated as Vennaithaazhi Krishna (Krishna holding a pot of Butter) is taken out on procession through the streets of Varagur after which he is placed inside the Karungaal mandapam ( a hall on the banks of the river) where the decorations begin.

Devotees taking a sneak peek at the decorations in progress inside the Karungal Mandapam 
The streets wear a festive look with huge kolams adorning them. The agraharam stretching from the Kailasanatha Temple on one end to the Venkatesa Perumal Temple on the other, is buzzing with people, the locals and several hundreds of devotees,coming from far and wide to witness the celebrations. Households in the agraharam invite visitors to take dinner. This is indeed a very noble gesture. After delicious dinner, people find vantage points on the "Thinnais" in front of the houses and wait eagerly for the festivities to begin. It is the most difficult wait for them for the actual proceedings only start slightly after midnight.

The Lord, decorated so beautifully that you cannot take your eyes off him, leaves the Karungaal Mandapam a little after midnight and it takes him close to two hours for him to get to the other end of the agraharam. Several hundred devotees perform "Angapradakshinam" (roll on the floor) and "Chappani Prarthanai" (sitting on the floor and moving forward or moving in a squatting position as one would while milking the cow). Earlier all devotees performing these prarthanas used to do so behind the Lord whereas now many of them do it inside the temple.

All set to watch the festivities
Once the Lord reaches the entrance of the Venkatesa Perumal Temple, the Uriyadi festival begins.
The rope that is tied to the Uri is swung up and down and young boys and men, with sticks in hand shout "Uriyadiyo Govinda" as they jump up to hit the Uri (pot). After several attempts, the Uri is broken and shouts of "Narayana Govinda" and "Venkatramana Govinda" go up.

The Lord in all his glory moving into the Pandal to witness the Uriyadi
Once the Uriyadi is over, it is time for the Vazhukku maram. A tall wooden pole is planted right in front of the temple and has butter smeared all over it. Young and old men gather around the pillar with buckets of yellow water, ready to deter the boys attempting to climb up this slippery pole. On top of the pole are the goodies - Huge murukkus tied to a bamboo plate.

Vazhukku Maram in progress 
Once again, shouts of "Narayana Govinda" and " Uriyadiyo Govinda" fill the air. The group of boys compete with one another to go up the pole, only to come sliding down. Dhoties are passed on and tied to the pole to prevent slipping. Steadily and without a break, the water is poured on the boys climbing up, and soon, they start tiring. This is clearly a test of physical fitness, practice and agility. One young man, Sriram, knows what he is doing. Totally undeterred by the water and the shouting around him, he meticulously goes about his business.

Finally the Murukkus are mine!
A couple of hours and many dhotis later, he reaches the top of the pole to claim the goodies there. He plucks the Murukkus off the plate and flings them all around into the hands of the crowd that goes up in cheers. After collecting all the Murukkus, he comes down and is carried on the shoulders of other young men into the temple.

It was almost dawn. Hot coffee is served in front of many households for the devotees who had stayed up all night to witness the festivities. The Lord himself who was in all splendor around midnight,looks a little disheveled and tired. But there are still a lot of things to be done. After harathi to remove all the "Drishti", the Lord is taken into the temple and he is taken around the Garuda Mandapam six times, to the chanting of pasurams.

The Lord being taken in procession inside the temple
Once the six Pradhakshinas are over, there is a Konangi who narrates the Sthalapuranam of the temple. After this Rukmini Kalyanam is performed. As we walk out from the temple, we see the pillar that had been used for the Vazhukku Maram being pulled out by some men, to facilitate movement of vehicular traffic through the agraharam. In many ways, this symbolised the village returning to its business as usual.

The pillar being pulled out at the end of the festivities
One of the best things about attending the Uriyadi festival is tasting the delicious Pongal that is served as prasadam once the Konangi ritual is completed. By far the best pongal you would have ever tasted so far. After all, " Chola Naadu Sorudhaithu !"

How to reach here:

Varagur is about 28 kms from Thanjavur via the Thirukandiyur route. There is an arch at the entrance of the village ( there is a village called Konerirajapuram right before Varagur - not to be confused with the Konerirajapuram in Nagapattinam district famous for its Nataraja). One could also approach Varagur through the Trichy - Kallanai -Thirukattupalli route. The temple is about 10 kms away from the famous Appakudaththan temple at Koviladi (one of the 108 Divya Desams).

Contact Details: 

04362-287510, 98421 52113

Temple Timings: 

On other days of the year, the temple is open between 7 am and 12 pm in the morning and 5 pm and 8 pm in the evening.