Thursday, November 12, 2015

Koogaimalai Kumara!

Belukurichi Palaniappa Temple
Belukurichi is a small village on a hillock called Koogai malai, on the Kolli range in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu. The Kolli hills are in the Southern part of the Eastern Ghats, yet untouched by commercial tourism which has helped them retain their surreal beauty. The hills find mention in epics like Silapathikaram, Manimekalai, Purananooru and Ainkurunooru. The village had been originally named after Lord Muruga (who is called Palani Appa now) as Velavan Kurichi.

The Palani Appa temple is unique in several aspects. One would have seen Lord Muruga depicted in various forms in different temples - such as Baladhandayuthapani, Gnana Skanda, Brahma Sastha, Subrahmanya, Arumuga, Valli Devasena Pathi, Jayanthi Nathan etc. but Lord Palani Appa of Belukurichi is different from any of these forms.

Why did he come to be known as Palani Appa? Bhogar, one of the eighteen Siddhars had the ability of making statues from an elixir of nine poisonous materials, commonly known as Navapashanam. Water used to bathe these idols when administered to patients, could cure chronic ailments. The famous navapashana statue made by him is in Palani hills. The deity here in Belukurichi is said to have been created by Bhogar much ahead of the one in Palani, from the Pashanams of Kolli hills and hence the Lord is called Palani Appa ( the one that came before Palani).
A view of the Kolli Hills from atop the Belukurichi temple
The Lord facing West is found here in the guise of a hunter. His hair is pulled into a knot on the right side of his head and a string of Konrai flowers (Golden shower) are found etched around it.

Three lines of sacred ash with a spear (Vel) in the middle are found on the forehead of the deity. This symbolises a union of Shiva and Shakthi. A string of golden shower flowers are also found tied around his waist, from where hangs a dagger! He is seen with a Vajravel in his right hand, and a rooster in his left, wearing footwear!
The enchanting Palani Appa of Belukurichi!
Usually, when deities are depicted holding weapons, the height of the weapon does not exceed the height of the deity. However, here we find that the spear is shown taller than the deity. Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma have bestowed their powers to the Lord through the spear, which is depicting having three parts denoting each of them. Due to this, the spear is shown taller than the deity himself.

On full moon days, thousands of people gather here to witness the midnight worship. It is believed that the eighteen Siddhars come here to worship him at that time. The abhishekam and alankarams are all completed by 11.50 pm and the doors of the sanctum are closed and all the devotees move outside to wait. At the stroke of midnight, the doors are opened. Signs of puja having been performed, and visible signs of changes in the alankaram are witnessed to this day.

Once the abhishekam is complete, sweat emanates from the deity's tip of the nose, chin and chest with three different fragrances!

A Shiva lingam has been etched above the entrance of the sanctum. On the ceiling of the Artha Mandapa, two snakes have been depicted swallowing the Sun and the Moon.  Meditating on the Lord, sitting on a green stone right under these snakes, is said to answer genuine prayers.

The Tiruchengode hill where Lord Shiva and Parvathi are found as Ardhanareeswara can be seen at eye level from the head of the peacock found in the Maha Mandapa. It seems as though Shiva and Shakthi are watching over the son who has been created with both their features, right from their abode.

The temple is said to have been built originally by Valvil Ori, who ruled this region around 200 CE. He was one of the seven philanthropists mentioned in Sanga Literature. Tales of his valour are being sung as part of folk lore even today. A statue of Valvil Ori is found at the entrance of the temple complex. Poet Avvaiyaar has also worshipped the deity here.

Kanda Shasti festival which begins today is celebrated with great festivity apart from Thai poosam, Panguni Uthram and Krithigai .

Other deities at Belukurichi
There are shrines for Ganesha, Goddess Kumarinayaki, Vishnu, Krishna, Nagas and Shani.

If you want to spend some quiet time, in the serene company of an enchanting deity, in the ethereal beauty of the Kolli hills, this is your destination.

How to get here:

Belukurichi is about 25 kilometres from Namakkal. On the Namakkal - Tiruchengodu route, Belukurichi is about 13 kms from Sendamangalam.

Temple Timings:

The temple is open from 8 am to 5 pm.

On full moon days, the temple is open from 8 am in the morning till 5 am the next morning.

Contact:  95244 49931

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dakshina Mookambiga - a temple in the middle of a lotus pond!

Dakshina Mookambiga temple at North Paravoor

The word Mookambiga immediately brings to mind Goddess Mookambigai of Kollur, in Udupi district of Karnataka. North Paravoor or Vadakkan Paravoor as it is called in Malayalam,  is a town in Ernakulam district which has the Dakshina Mookambiga temple.

What is special about this temple and why is it called Dakshina Mookambiga? 

The thampuran of Paravoor was a staunch devotee of  Kollur Mookambigai. Every year, during Navaratri, he made it a point to visit his favourite goddess in order to offer prayers. Over time it became physically difficult for him to undertake the long journey to Kollur. He was heartbroken that he could not longer get a darshan of his favorite goddess. The goddess appeared in his dreams and asked him to build a temple for her near his palace. Based on her instructions, the Dakshina Mookambiga temple was built in the middle of a lotus pond  and the Goddess Mookambigai was installed here in the form of Bala Parameswari.. 

Dakshina Mookambigai temple at North Paravoor (photo courtesy: Dakshina Mookambiga temple)
The goddess holds a japamala and a veda manuscript and shows Abhaya Hasta. The temple is symbolically placed within the lotus pond. Just like how a lotus blooms when the sun shines, the brain will bloom and glow when the spiritual light is bestowed upon it in this temple. 

Devotees flock the temple to worship the goddess and offerings here to the Goddess are considered to be equivalent to offerings made at Kollur.

Mookambiga is a popular goddess in this part of the world and about fifty percent of the footfall in Kollur is from Kerala. This is the only Mookambiga temple in Kerala and comes under the Travancore Devasam Board. The poojas are carried out by the tantris of Tripunithura.

The presiding deity is worshipped as Saraswathi and during Navaratri, which is probably the largest festival at this temple, thousands flock here for Aksharabhyasam or Vidyarambam on Vijayadasami Day. This ritual symbolises the beginning of education for a child. 

Vidyarambam at the North Paravoor temple (Photo Courtesy: Dakshina Mookambiga temple)
Children between the age of three and five years, sit before the gurus in the Saraswathy Mandapams, which are make shift tents that are created within the temple complex specifically for this purpose. The Gurus inscribe Harisree on the tongues of the children with gold rings and make them write Om on grains of paddy spread on a plate. Huge queues can be seen before the temple right from the middle of the night. The nada opens at 3 am in the morning after which the Poojayeduppu ceremony is performed.

The Vidyarambam begins at 5.30 am and goes on until 2 pm in the afternoon. Prasadam is served to all the devotees in the mandapa facing the temple tank. In the nine days preceding Vijayadasami, several cultural programs take place in the temple, wherein several budding dancers and musicians make their arangetram (stage debut).

Children performing arangetram at North Paravoor temple (Photo Courtesy: Dakshina Mookambiga temple)
During the rest of the year too, this temple is considered as an important destination for students seeking enhancement in education. A special pooja termed Sree Vidhya Mantra Pushpanjali is performed here and Mookambiga Kashayam is offered to the students as prasadam. This mookambiga kashayam contains select herbs that enhance memory and wisdom. This is generally offered around 7.30 pm in the evening after the Aththazha pooja. Students can also perform Saraswathi puja or offer Chuttuvilakku at the temple to get better results in their examinations. 

Apart from this, a ten day annual festival is celebrated in the month of Makaram (January - February). Other than the presiding deity, there are also shrines for Ganapathi, the remover of hurdles, Muruga - the Gnana devatha, Vishnu, Hanuman, Veerabadra and Yakshi.

How to get here:

The temple is about 23 kms from Ernakulam. Take the Pipeline Road to Salem - Kochi - Kanyakumari Highway in Edapally for about five kms. Follow NH 17 to North Paravoor. Continue on Peruvaram Road once in North Paravoor. Turn left into Fort Road and then at Mookambiga Junction turn into Mookambiga Road. The temple can be found on the right. Map Coordinates : 10.146567, 76.232293

Temple Timings:

5 am to 11 am, 5 pm to 7.30 pm

Contact Details:  093870 45353

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pancha Lakshmi Narayana!

Utsava is a sanskrit word wherein Ut means remove and sava means worldly griefs. The word Utsava Murthy is referred to those deities normally made of metal that are taken out in procession so that they may be worshipped by the devotees of all strata of society, to be rid of all worldly sorrows.

The Utsava murthis aid easier worship as Thirumanjanam or Kalyana Utsavam can be performed more frequently and economically on them. They can be taken to any place within and outside the temple so that a larger number of people can worship them.

There have been a number of examples in the lives of great saints when their prarthana murthis have granted the grace that one would normally associate with worshipping the moolavar (main deity) of a temple. A couple of such examples are the Moola Ramar worshipped by Sri Raghavendra Swamy, the Rama idols worshipped by Saint Thyagaraja.

One such deity is the Sri, Boomi, Neela, Mahalakshmi, Narayani samedha Sri Narayana Perumal of West Mambalam who has been granting the wishes of many a devotee from his humble residence.

Situated in the narrow and busy Baroda Street, next to the back entrance of the Sri B S Mootha Jain school, this Perumal is found with five lakshmis unlike most temples where he is seen with Sridevi and Bhoodevi.
This Perumal has been in worship for centuries in a private household of an industrialist and based on the divine instructions received , they have made worship of these deities public.

The grace of this perumal has spread far and wide and this place is often very crowded. Since the Perumal is found with five Lakshmis, he is worshipped by those seeking wealth, prosperity and good marriage alliances.

Moreover, Perumal's thirunakshathram is Pushyam (Poosam) and those born on Pushyam star are also said to benefit by worshipping him. Sridevi, Bhoodevi and Neeladevi are found on either side of the Perumal and Mahalakshmi is found as Thani Nachiyar.

The fifth Lakshmi, Narayani, is found in the heart of Narayana Perumal. Since Perumal has the Thayar as part of his body, he is adorned with a waist belt (Oddiyanam) and anklets on his feet . The Perumal looks resplendent in his Paramapatha Kolam and those worshipping him in this form are said to be relieved of all their sins and can reach the lotus feet of the Lord at the end of their lives.

The temple is currently looking for a bigger space as more and more people are coming here everyday to worship Sriman Narayana and be rid of their problems. Efforts are on to raise funds to build a temple with Moolavars for these deities as well.

Thirumanjanam is performed at 7.30 am on Poosam star every month, apart from important festivals and Purattasi Saturdays. On these days, Vishnu Sahasranama is chanted at 4.30 pm and Oyyali sevai is performed at 5.00 pm.

How to get here:

This temple is found in Baroda Street, the lane that is behind the Duraiswamy Subway which connects T. Nagar with West Mambalam.

Temple Timings:

Mornings : 7.00 to 9.30 am
Evenings: 5.30 to 8.30 pm

Contact Details:

Kalai Bhattar - 98404 57113

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Ganeshas of Thandalam

While we were on the recce visits of the temples along the banks of the river Cooum, we visited a village called Thandalam, which is one of the eighteen Kottams of Koovam as per the Koova Puranam. This village has the famous Thaduthaleeswarar Temple where there are two sanctum sanctorums for Lord Shiva and the Goddess is found with a  Thali (mangalsutra) carved into her neck.

As the case with most village temples, this temple was not open when we reached there. While we waited for the priest to arrive, our attention was attracted by the small temple across the road. Little did we realise what was in store for us.

This temple was also closed and on peering into it we found that it was a Ganesha temple and he is found here with his consorts Siddhi and Buddhi.

The priest had still not arrived at the temple opposite, so we thought we would wait here for a few minutes. A casual look at the Vimanam showed us that there were more Ganeshas there.

We decided to go around, braving the broken glass bottles strewn there. It was so delightful to watch the Ganeshas on the Vimana taking the form of the Koshta Devathas of each direction. As Yoga Ganapathy in the form of Dakshinamoorthy for the South,

We had Ganesha in the form of Brahma with four heads on the lower and upper levels of the Vimana

In the form of Vishnu with conch and discus on both hands on another

In his own form, but as Nardhana Ganapathy, and Mooshika Ganapathy on yet another side.

We were amazed to see this depiction in such a small temple.

Such are the beautiful treasures that lie unnoticed along the banks of the Koovam river!

To know more about the Cultural mapping of the Cooum, like our facebook page

To check out some articles on Cooum temples on Aalayam Kanden, click

How to get here:

Thandalam is a village in Tiruvallur district near Sevvapet and Putlur.

Google Coordinates: 13.15692291, 79.95499007

Contact details: Mr Kumar 9894657112

Monday, August 31, 2015

Where Sri Raghavendra chose to reside!

Vadavaru, Thanjavur
The Prince of Thanjavur was in a pensive mood as he walked along the banks of the Vadavaru. His thoughts, as always, were with Guru Raghavendra Swamy, who had entered Brindavana a couple of years ago. He thought of the grace his grandfather Sri Raghunatha Boopal (Raghunatha Nayak 1600-1634) had enjoyed in organising the Pattabhishekam of Sri Raghavendra Swamy in his palace in the year 1621. He had also had the opportunity to serve the Guru during his stay at Thanjavur for 12 years on the banks of the Vadavaru river where he had entered Sanyasa.

That was not all. His father Sri Vijayaraghava Nayak (1634-1673) had also had the grace to invite Guru Raghavendra Swamy to Thanjavur to help him during the great famine of 1642 when the Swamy through his prayers and Yagna brought heavy rains which filled up the tanks and rivers and ended the famine that threatened to kill thousands of people.
The Pattabhishekam of Guru Raghavendra Swamy in the Thanjavur Palace
But all that had changed. Today, he was all alone. The power and the glory of the Nayakas was on the wane and he desperately needed to do something. He missed the presence of the great saint who had helped his father and grandfather. Deep in thought, he had reached the spot where Guru Rayaru had obtained Sanyasa. As usual, his eyes closed and he sat down there in meditation. Somehow, he felt comforted. "All I want, is for you to be with me for ever,"he prayed to the invisible presence of Sri Raghavendra Swamy.

His guards watched him quietly, and in pain. That night, when the prince was asleep, Guru Raghavendra Swamy appeared in his dream. "Do not worry. I will stay with you in Thanjavur. Build a Brindavana for me" he said. The prince was overwhelmed with joy.  Next morning, he gathered his officials together for a meeting, and said that they must build a Brindavana for Guru Raghavendra Swamy in Thanjavur.

The courtiers were happy. "Where is the chosen location, Your majesty?" asked one of them. The Prince just then realised that the location had not been revealed to him in his dream, nor had he asked for it. So that night, before going to sleep, he spent a long time in prayer and meditation, beseeching the Guru to reveal the place where the Brindavana needed to be built.
The pillars are a reminder of the old structure that has been modernised over time

The Guru did not test his devotee's patience much. He appeared in his dream again, asking him to go back to the banks of the Vadavaru river and wait for the location to be revealed. The prince was overjoyed. Next morning, he gathered his courtiers and ladies of the palace and went to the Vadavaru river. They started walking along its banks chanting "Om Sri Raghavendraya Namaha".

As they neared the spot where Guru Raghavendra Swamy attained Sanyasa, a five headed serpent appeared out of nowhere. On seeing it, the prince fell on the ground, calling out to his Guru Sri Raghavendra Swamy. Tears of joy ran down his face. The crowd went up in shouts of awe, and happiness.
The serpent moved slowly and gracefully down the river bank, to a spot under a tree. It raised up its hood, hit the ground with it thrice and disappeared.

It was not long before the Brindavana was built in this location. Usually a Koorma Peeta (Tortoise base) is placed below the Brindavana, but here, since Guru Raghavendra Swamy had himself appeared in the form of a five headed serpent, a Naga Peeta is found at the bottom of the Brindavana.  Moreover, there is no ceiling over it, as instructed by Guru Raghavendra Swamy. "Let it be open to the elements of nature, as I was, when I spent 12 years there" was the instruction received by the prince. Till date, the Brindavana has no roof.
The Brindavana with the Sarpa Peeta (Photo Courtesy: Sri Raghavendra Mutt)
This Brindavana has yet another unique feature. Usually all Brindavanas outside of Mantralayam, with the exception of Bhikshalaya, have Mritika (sand) brought from the Brindavana at Mantralayam placed inside them. Whereas here the Brindavana, has been built without Mritika as the Guru himself decided to reside there. However, the sand from the location where he meditated for twelve years, is sieved and placed on top of the Brindavana and given to the devotees as prasadam.

This Brindavana opens around 7 am in the morning and and closes by 12.30 pm on all week days except Thursdays. The priests do not worship Rayaru after they have had food. The Nayak kings had handed over the Brindavana for maintenance to the forefathers of of Sri Vijendran, the current trustee of the temple, and his family has been maintaining the Brindavana over several generations.

The Naaga Pedastal at the Vadavaru Brindavana
Whatever rituals had been observed while Guru Raghavendra was in meditation here, continue to be observed even now as he is believed to be in meditation in the Brindavana. Wet flowers or flowers tied together with thread are not accepted here. Similarly flowers that do not have any natural fragrance are also not accepted. There are a number of boards explaining the strict rules that have to be adhered to here so that the devotees are able to understand and follow the same.

A very very quiet and serene Brindavana where one can spend hours basking in the grace of Guru Raghavendra Swamy! A must visit if you are in Thanjavur next.

The Brindavana at Vadavaru, Thanjavur

How to get here: 

The Brindavana is about 2 kms from the Thanjavur Old Bus Stand.
Google Coordinates: 10.805000, 79.125278

Temple Timings: 7 am to 12.30 pm on all days except Thursdays when it is open also in the evenings.

Contact Details: D Vijendran 9245111085
                         R Kabijan    9994488297

Friday, August 21, 2015

Kailaaya Eswaram!

The Kailaaya Eswaramudaiya Mahadevar Temple at Kesavaram
Kesavaram is a small village in Vellore District. It is here that a dam has been built across the Cooum river splitting it into two, diverting one branch into the Poondi reservoir while the other continues to flow as the Kusasthalai or Koratalaiyar river. In many ways, the dam whose sluice gates probably have never been opened have ensured no water has flown in the river beyond this. This has resulted in palm trees growing in the dry river bed and with no option of a natural flush out, the city has diverted its solid waste into the river bed, thereby converting the once holy river into a nauseous cesspool.

Kesavaram is the current twisted abbreviation of Kailaaya Eswaram. In the past, the Kesavaram village was a small island surrounded by the waters of these two rivers. Since the Koratalaiyaar flows in a South - North direction, it was believed to aid Mokshaa and hence was known as Moksha Nadhi. The island which was formed in between the two rivers was called Mokshadweepam or the island of Moksha. It is here that Ezhulagamudaiyaal, wife of Kulothunga I, gave grants to construct a temple for Kailaaya Eswaramudaiya Mahadevar.

Inscriptions at the temple
The village of Uriyur which is currently about three kilometres from Kesavaram was provided by the King Kulothunga I as tax free land in order for the regular poojas and worship at the Kailaaya Eswaramudaiya Mahadevar temple. An inscription at the temple talks about this temple being the Dakshina Kalahasthi, equal to Kasi and Gaya Kshetras, and anyone bathing in the Moksha Nadhi and worshipping the Koodal Sangameswarar atop the Panchatchara Giri and then Kailai Eswaramudaiya Mahadevar will be relieved from future births and attain Moksha.

Well let us look at the status of the temple today.

The status of the Kailaaya Eswaramudaiya Mahadevar temple at Kesavaram
The Moksha Nadhi has dried up. The Panchatchara hill does exist, but only fragmental remains of the Koodal Sangameswarar temple that once existed can be seen. The Kailaaya Eswara Mudaiya Mahadevar temple that gave the Kesavaram village its name, today lies unkempt and dilapidated.

A closer look at the crumbling structure

Greedy individuals have usurped all the lands that belonged to the temple, that one has to walk through the private agricultural lands in order to reach the temple. It was saddening to hear that the private landowners are even reluctant to provide a pathway to reach the temple from the main road.

The beautiful stone vimana at the Kesavaram temple

The beautiful stone vimana that can be seen in other Cooum sites like Sivapuram, is being held together with metal reinforcements. The front mandapa is crumbling and a beheaded Nandi which shows signs of having once being beautifully bedecked welcomes us.

The remains of a beautiful Nandi at the temple
The Goshta Devathas are all stunning. A beautiful Ganesha, a heavily damaged Dakshinamurthy with an oversized Muyalagan at his feet, and a stylish Durga hold us enthralled. The Gajaprasta vimana has Narasimha over Lingothbhavar which is a unique feature here.

Beheaded idols of a Dwara Ganapathy, and Uma Sahitha murthy lay dumped in a corner. The villagers speak about efforts made by certain miscreants to steal the statues in the goshtam, which was however thwarted by the caution of the local people and volunteers. It seems such a shame that such treasures are being allowed to rot and ruin.

The damaged Uma Sahitha Murthi at Kesavaram
After witnessing all the damage and destruction outside, if you stepped into the Artha Mandapa, all peace engulfs you. In the dim natural light, the Lord of Moksha, sits quietly, awaiting the lone devotee who might brave walking through the narrow bunds of agricultural fields just to see the Lord in all his glory.

Kailaaya Eswaramudaiya Mahadevar at Kesavaram

Goosebumps spring up in your hands in his calming presence. What can you do but to pray to him to change the situation that the temple currently is in? There is encouraging news. There have been a group of volunteers who are taking efforts to repair the temple and reinstate it to its lost glory.

Dakshinamurthy at the temple
The villagers share numerous tales of people who have come to the temple after seeing the Lord in their dreams. They speak about recent episodes of people with loco-motor disabilities getting cured after praying here. Yes, the Lord is most benevolent and magnificent! Provided people reach out to him.

The Durga at Kesavaram

How to get here:

The Kesavaram temple is about 6 kms from Thakkolam.

Temple Timings:

The temple is open through the day. However, make sure you reach before it gets dark as it would be difficult to maneuver yourselves through the narrow bunds in the agricultural fields once it becomes dark.

Contact details: 81222 74612

Friday, July 24, 2015


The Mahadevar Temple at Thiruvanchaikalam
Thiruvanchaikalam or Thiruvanchikulam is the only Devara Padal Petra Sthalam in Malai Nadu (Kerala). That's not all - It is also the place from where Sundaramurthy Nayanar left to his abode of his Lord on a white elephant that was dispatched to carry him. It also stands testimony to the friendship between Cheraman Perumal (believed to have been the Chera King Rajasekhara Varman) and Sundaramurthy Nayanar.

Thiruvanchaikalam or Thiruvanchikulam as it is also called is about three kms from Kodungallur, the place that has the famous Bhagavathi Amman temple wherein the main deity Bhagavathi is believed to be Kannagi who reached there after the burning of Madurai,  before proceeding to her heavenly abode. Today it is an ASI protected monument as well as a Muziris Heritage site. They say this temple dates back to over 2500 years making it one of the oldest temples in South India and the Mahadevar in this temple was the family God of the Cochin Royal Family over centuries and Mahodayapuram, the capital of the Kulasekaras was built around this temple.

Cheraman Perumal/Kazharittu Arivaar/ Perumakothaiyaar

Perumakothaiyar who was chosen as the Chera King was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. It is believed that once when he was surveying his kingdom, he saw a dhobi who was returning from the river after washing clothes. There were streaks of dried sand all over his body, which looked like smeared sacred ash to the devout Chera. Thinking the dhobi was a devotee of Shiva, the Chera King got off his elephant, and bowed before the dhobi with folded hands. The shocked dhobi fell at the feet of the King, saying, Oh King! Why are you bowing before me? I am a mere dhobi" The King smiled at him, and said, "So what, I am a mere Chera".

Cheraman perumal spent several hours worshipping Thiruvanchaikalathappar. At the end of his pooja, when he performed the Harathi, he would here the sweet sound of Lord Shiva's anklets which he would consider as acceptance of his sincere prayers.One day, he did not hear the sound of Lord Shiva's anklets atthe end of his Pooja. Fearing that the Lord had not accepted his prayers, he decided to take his life. As he was about to slit his throat, he heard the voice of the Lord, asking him to stop and apologising for having been mesmerised by the hymns sung by Sundaramurthy Nayanar in Chidambaram thereby causing a delay in acknowledging Cheraman Perumal's prayers.

Cheraman Perumal was keen to meet the saint whose songs had pleased Lord Shiva. So he travelled to Chidambaram to see Nataraja and reached Tiruvarur to meet Sundaramurthy Nayanar. Here he sang a hymn on Lord Thyagaraja and after worshipping him, met Sundarar. Soon, both became close friends. On Cheraman Perumal's invitation Sundarar went with him to Chera Kingdom and visited the wonderful temples of Shiva there.

Sundarar leaving for heavenly abode

On his second visit to Kodungaloor, at the age of 18, Sundarar had had enough of the earthly pleasures and wanted to be back in Kailash along with his Lord. So he came to the Vanchaikulathappar shrine at Thiruvanjaikalam on Aadi Swathi day, and sang a hymn on Lord Shiva, asking him to relieve him of the earthly burden and take him back to Kailash. On hearing his plea, Lord Shiva sent the white elephant Airavata, to escort Sundarar. When Cheraman Peruman saw his beloved friend depart to his heavenly abode, he did not want to be separated from him. So he got on his stately mount, chanted the Namasivaya mantra in his ears, which made the horse soar up in the air.

Cheraman Perumal circumambulated Sundarar thrice in his horse and reached Kailash before him. He then sang a hymn called Thiru Kailaaya Ula which described his journey to Kailash and this was sent back by Lord Shiva through Ayyanaar to be inaugurated at the Thirupattur Arangetra Aiyanaar Temple (close to the Tirupattur Brahma Temple. Read about the Brahma Temple on Aalayam Kanden here.

Sundarar also sang a hymn on his way to Kailash and Lord Shiva requested Varuna, the rain God to reach it back to the Thiruvanjaikula Mahadevar Temple.

About the temple:

Vanchikulathappan is a Swayambu murthy. There is no separate shrine for the Goddess here as in the past there was no practice of worshipping the Goddess as a separate entity from the Lord. This is probably the only temple in Kerala which has a Nataraja Bronze. This is said to have been brought from Chidambaram.
There is a separate shrine for Cheraman Perumal and Sundaramurthy Nayanar. On the passage to this shrine, the hymns sung by Sundarar and Cheraman Perumal have been inscribed in Tamil.

During the Aadi Swathi Guru pooja, Sundarar is taken around the temple in a white elephant along with Cheraman Perumal in his horse, signifying the journey to Kailash.

Sundarar and Cheraman Perumal in the separate shrine
This is a huge temple with over twenty five sub shrines. A look at these shrines tell us how ancient this temple is. In the evenings, the lighting of Chuttu Vilakku, all around the periphery of the temple is a delight to watch. Every month, through Aalayam Kanden Trust, we distribute ghee and oil and light lamps at ancient temples. It was indeed our proud privilege to have been able to do this at the Thiruvanjaikalam Mahadevar temple.

Yet another important pooja that happens here is the Dampathi Puja which is followed by the Palliarai Puja, which is putting the Lord to sleep for the night. Watching the Dampathi Puja and Palliarai Puja, is said to bring couples who are split by differences closer, and promote affection among them. There is a huge rush to perform the Dampathi Puja on Full moon nights, sometimes the wait list going up to months.

This temple is an evidence to the life and times of Sundaramurthy Nayanar, the Lord giving himself to his devotee as a friend, the special bonding that existed in life and liberation between Sundarar and Cheraman Perumal, and to true devotion in itself. Please do try and visit this temple, if you happen to be in this part of the world!

To know more about the life and times of Sundaramurthy Nayanar, check out these posts on Aalayam Kanden!

1. Tirunavalur and the birth place of Sundaramurthy Nayanar - In Tambiran Thozhar's land!
2. When and how the lord initiated him as a friend - God's own footwear!

How to reach here:

This temple is about 38 kms from Trichur and about 3 kms from the Kodungalloor Bhagavathi temple on one side and the N.Paravur Mookambiga temple on the other. About this wonderful unique temple, watch this space on Aalayam Kanden.

Temple Timings:

5 am to 11 am , 5 pm to 8 pm

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mangudi Maakali !

The old Brahmin woke up with a start. He had just witnessed a very divine dream. Goddess Kali had appeared in his dream, promised to come to Mangudi village on a specific day as a Pancha Bootha Swaroopini.

He shared this great news with his kith and kin and everybody in the agraharam were excited. They all gathered on the banks of the river Pandavai on the said day, with flowers and fruits, incense and camphor, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Goddess.

Morning turned to noon. There was absolutely no movement in the river. The villagers were anxious but stayed put. Evening turned to night. The crowd was slowly dispersing. But the Brahmin and those who believed his words stayed put. It was midnight and the dim lights were flickering. Not a leaf moved and the water seemed to have come to a standstill too.

The old brahmin and those with him peered into the darkness with weariness. The Brahmin had not lost hope. He knew for sure that the Goddess would come as promised. Suddenly, a divine fragrance wafted in. As if in a trance, the Brahmin stood up. "She is here, she has come", he murmured.  He stepped forward into the water. Those with him, lit torches and got close to the water.

A gentle breeze wafted in, forming ripples in the water. In the light that shone on it, they could see an unburnt earthern pot, covered with Neem leaves moving gently towards them. The Brahmin ran towards it, with tears of joy, and hugged the pot close to him. "Amma, Maakali! You have come as promised!", he wept.

He raised the pot over his head, and carried it out of the water, chanting praises of Goddess Kali. The crowd followed him, singing and rejoicing. The old brahmin placed the pot in the raised platform in front of his house, and started worshipping Goddess Maakali.

The Goddess, as promised in the dream, had appeared as a Pancha Bhootha Swaroopini. In an earthern pot (Earth), propelled by the wind (Air), she had appeared through water (water), in the form of Neem Leaves that are used to reduce heat (Fire) and without a defined form (Sky).

For many years, the Goddess stayed on the frontyard of the Brahmin's house, bringing harmony, good health and happiness to the people of Mangudi. Those who came after him, desired to build a temple for the Goddess and a humble mandapa with a thatched roof was built.

About four hundred and fifty years later, in the 1950s, the first temple was built for the Goddess,which over time was developed into the current structure, with a Gopuram, Maha Mandapam, Artha Mandapam and a separate shrine for Lord Ganesha.

This Ganesha is said to have been found below the ground while digging for the foundation of a house in the village and has since found place next to Goddess Maakali!

The Goddess is now housed in the main shrine of the temple. The earthern pot in which she came has been fixed to the platform on which she resides. The Kalasam is decorated with fresh neem leaves which form the face of the Goddess. These neem leaves are changed every Friday and the water in the Kalasam is given to devotees to rid them of diseases.

The vibration in the sanctum is unbelievable. Usually, in temples, there is an idol which has been consecrated. Several yagnas are performed and mantras chanted, the Ashtabandhanam and the abhishekams add to the sanctity and divinity of the shrine, which in turn result in the vibrations.

Goddess Maakali of Mangudi
But here we are, in a shrine that has the Goddess in the formless form, manifesting through neem leaves in an unbaked earthen pot, and the vibrations are really strong. Every year, the Laksharchanai festival is celebrated with great glory. During this time, the priest goes up to the Pandavai river, to collect water in a new earthern pot, he then covers it with neem leaves and garlands, and performs avahanam of Goddess Kali and carries it over his head. Several villagers, start dancing to the tune of drums and chanting, and take turns to carry the earthern pot into the temple. The miracles that the Goddess has performed in this temple, must be heard narrated by the villagers. It is such a divine experience.

Apart from the Laksharchanai, festivals like Navarathri, Fridays in the months of Aadi and Thai are celebrated with a lot of festivity. Devotees flock here to offer Maavilakku, and garments to the Goddess. The favourite offering is Panakam ( a sweet drink with dried ginger and jaggery)

Acknowledgment: My sincere thanks to Swaminathan Natarajan and his brother-in-law Mr Ganesh Kumar Sundaresan whose Kula Deivam is the Goddess, for providing lovely pictures of the Goddess and the history of the temple during the Kumbabhishekam last year which prompted me to visit this very divine temple in June this year.

A close up picture of the Goddess Maakaali of Mangudi
How to get here: Mangudi is about 4 kms from Tiruvarur.

Contact Details: Sri T Narayanaswami aka Mani Iyer - 98943 67113
Kindly be mindful to call him during morning or evening hours if you want directions to the temple. He is senior in age, but nonetheless more than willing to help anyone visiting the temple. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pagasalai Padhiri!

The Murugan temple at Pagasalai

There are a number of temples in Tamil Nadu where Lord Muruga is found alone, without his consorts Valli and Deivanai. Out of these temples, those in which he stands as Brahma Sastha are noteworthy. Lord Brahma had once become arrogant, that he was indeed the creator of the entire universe, and without him, the world would come to an end. Lord Muruga wanted to humble him and asked him the meaning of Pranava Mantra.
Lord Brahma did not know the meaning. Lord Muruga imprisoned him in order to punish him,  and took over the role of creation. He also acquired the symbols of Lord Brahma, namely, the Akshara Mala and the Kamandalu. This form of Lord Muruga is referred to as Brahma Sastha, where he is found with the Akshara Mala and Kamandalu in his rear arms and the right fore arm is shown as Abhaya Hastha and the left fore arm is placed on his waist.

There are a number of places such as Ayanavaram, Thiruvottriyur, Vayalanallur, Poondi and Manavur around Chennai City where Lord Muruga is found in the form of Brahma Sastha. By far, one of the most beautiful of them resides in Pagasalai, a small village between the Cooum and the Kusasthalai rivers. In fact, Pagasalai is closer to Kusasthalai (Kortalai River) than to Cooum, but it is significant to include Pagasalai in the list of Cooum sites, because in the past, Cooum comprised of eighteen Kottams or sub-divisions out of which Pagasalai was one.

Saint Arunagirinathar has sung three hymns on this temple. In them, he lists all the ailments that one could suffer from, thereby taking them to the graveyard, and seeks Lord Muruga's blessings to save him from all those and make him focus on the golden feet of the Lord. Truly, to this date, the Pagasalai Murugan is known to save his devotees from all kinds of ailments.

People suffering from diseases or their family members pray for their speedy recovery and light ghee lamps for forty eight days, using lotus wicks, within which period the patient's health condition improves. During our visit to the temple, stories about devotees poured from the villagers. Recently a seventy year old lady had come to light lamps for the health of her son. As she was weak and old and had to travel by suburban train to reach the temple every day, the priest and others at the temple, offered to light the lamps on her behalf asking her to pray in her house every day and come back on the forty eighth day. However, the old lady was adamant and kept coming every day.

After twenty days, she brought her son along with her, and both of them started weeping in front of Lord Muruga. Perplexed, the priest asked the old lady what had happened. She explained that those were tears of joy. Her son had had speech difficulties from birth, owing to which he had issues in finding a good job and getting married. The lady was worried about his future after her time and had vowed to light lamps to Lord Muruga. Wonder of wonders, her son's speech disorder vanished as if it had never been there, and he was able to speak normally like anyone else.

Similarly, there are a number of stories of patients on ventilators, where even doctors had given up hope, who had recovered and are leading normal lives, thanks to the grace of Pagasalai Murugan.

Lord Ganesha on the wall to the Sanctum Sanctorum

This temple has not just been worshipped by Saint Arunagirinathar, but also by Adi Shankara and Guru Raghavendra Swamy. The temple is found on the banks of the river Kusasthalai and is mentioned in Matsya Puranam, Koorma Puranam, Bhavishya Puranam, Linga Puranam and Markandeya Puranam. The Kusasthalai river is referred to as Dakshina Sivaganga Theertham and as Uttaravahini as it flows from South to North.

The image of Adi Shankara in one of the pillars in the temple
Any river flowing from South to North is said to be holier and benefit those who meditate on its banks seeking liberation or mukthi. Hence saints like Adi Shankara and Guru Raghavendra Swamy have worshipped at this temple. Guru Raghavendra Swamy spent fourteen years meditating at Kakkalur Anjaneya Swamy temple. The idol in this temple was installed by Saint Vyasaraja, the previous Avatara of Guru Raghavendra Swamy. During his life time, Saint Vyasaraja, has created and installed about 730 idols , out of which Kakkalur Anjaneya Swamy is one.

During this period, Raghavendra Swamy has also visited Pagasalai and worshipped Lord Muruga and Lord Shiva found in the form of a Maragathalingam (Emerald Shivalinga) with the name Thirumoolanathaswamy. The Shiva temple is right on the banks of the river. There is also a beautiful but completely dilapidated Adhikesava Perumal Temple in this village.

The image of Guru Raghavendra Swamy in one of the pillars
Lord Muruga at this temple has also been worshipped by Sage Agasthya, Lord Brahma, Chitragupta, Narada, and the nine planets as per the Puranas.

The temple has been recently consecrated and looks clean and beautiful. The original single granite shrine has been extended on both sides to form Mandapas and circumambulatory space. During the annual Brahmothsavam in the Tamil month of Maasi, (Feb-Mar) a special pooja happens here. The Sakthi Vel (spear) of Lord Muruga is worshipped by the devotees in this pooja, and they find that they are relieved from chronic problems in their life.

The Vel Mandapa in the temple where the Vel Pooja happens
Pathiri Ayya:

Lord Muruga in the form of Brahma Sastha - over 5.5 feet tall, looks majestic in the sanctum sanctorum. He is commonly known as Padhiri Ayya or Padhiriyar. There is an interesting legend behind this name. During the British Period, there was a collector who was travelling along the river. As he rested under the shade of the trees, he found the idol of Lord Muruga in the then, single shrine granite structure. In the form of Brahma Sastha, holding Akshara Mala and Kamandalam, he seemed from a distance, like a priest holding a Rosary to the British officer. So he wanted to take a closer look at the Padhiri.(word for Priest) Those with him thought it was not a good idea, as he may not be allowed access into a Hindu temple.

However, it is believed, that Lord Muruga, came in the form of a priest and took him into the temple that night. The Collector was overwhelmed . From then on, the Lord has came to be known as Pathiri Ayya.

Till date, during the Aadi Krithigai festival, a number of Christians join the Hindus in breaking coconuts thanking the "Pathiri" for fulfilling their prayers. The temple is an excellent example of communal harmony where people of both religions come together and offer their gratitude side by side.

There is a separate shrine for Saint Arunagirinathar. Along with him idols of the other Muruga devotees, namely, Saint Pamban Swamigal, Chidambaram Swamigal who installed the Murugan at Thiruporur, and Kumara Gurubarar. The priest at this temple was formerly working in the police department as Sub-Inspector. He visited the temple once and was immediately drawn towards the Lord. He has since left his position and has been serving as a priest in the temple over the last twenty years. He performs the poojas with a lot of care and devotion.

Procedure for lighting lamps to be rid of diseases:

Those who are desirous of being rid of diseases or a representative from the family, vows to light lamps with ghee and lotus wicks for forty eight days. If this is followed sincerely and with true devotion, the person's health improves within the time period. In case of those unable to come to the temple daily, the priest offers to light the lamps on their behalf. Once they are better, the devotees or their representatives come to the temple and perform 108 circumambulations or Anga Pradakshinams (rolling around the temple) to offer thanks.

How to reach here:

Pagasalai is in the Tiruvalangadu Taluk of Tiruvallur district, about 58 kms from Chennai. It is about 4 kms away from the Manavur railway station on the Chennai Arakkonam suburban train route, and a number of autos and share autos ply from the Manavur station to the temple.

Map Coordinates - 13.0669281, 79.78960249

Temple Timings:

Morning - 7.30- 11 am
Evening - 4.30 - 7 pm

Contact : Ganesh Gurukkal - 91765 29893