Saturday, January 17, 2015

Where the Lord is worshipped through a hole!

The Kodi Kodutha Nathar Temple 

Oru Kodi - is not just a number (denotes one crore in Tamil) or the prize money in a popular game show. It is also the name of a non-descript village about 7 kms from Villupuram. How did this village come to be known as Oru Kodi? and what is so special about it?

It is believed that one crore saints (oru kodi siddhars) got together to perform a mega penance and created a Shiva linga for this purpose. They installed the linga in the middle of the forest, put all their manuscripts and other invaluable treasures before him and sealed up the temple. An opening of the size of a brick stacked vertically was made in the wall through which the Lord could be worshiped.

The hole in the wall before the Nandi through which the Lord is worshipped at Oru Kodi

Several centuries passed. The place where the Siddhars congregated came to be known as Oru Kodi. Those who were destined to worship the Lord were blessed with great wealth and prosperity and the Lord came to be known as Kodi Kodutha Nathar (The God who gave crores).

As time went by, the Kings who were blessed with abundant wealth by worshipping the Lord wanted to expand and improve the temple. Shrines were added for Lord Ganesha, Dakshinamurthy, Chandikeswara and Goddess Abirami. Around the fifteenth century, the temple was opened up to include the Goddess Shrine, and provide access to worship the Lord like a normal temple.

Chandikeswara at Oru Kodi Temple
It was then that the huge amount of manuscripts were discovered within the sealed walls of the temple. The golden treasures are said to have disappeared miraculously from within the confines of the temple into the well outside of it. People say that even a few years earlier, when a stone was thrown into the well, a sound similar to that of a stone hitting metal was heard.

The well has subsequently been renovated. There is still water in the well.

The stone well supposedly containing the treasure now having been reconstructed.
The Goddess came to be known as Yedu Paditha Nayaki (the Goddess who read the manuscripts). The villagers say that the manuscripts contained very rare medical combinations and cures. No one knows what happened to them though - they might have been stolen or taken away by those who had the ability to read them.

The view of Goddess Olai Paditha Nayaki from the entrance
Even though the temple has been opened up, people prefer to worship the Lord through the opening in the wall as recommended by the Siddhars and use the entrance to worship the Goddess from outside.

Although the opening is very small that you almost have to view the Lord with one eye, it is surprising how one is able to get a very clear view of the sanctum sanctorum and the deity inside.

A view of Lord Kodi Kodutha Nathar through the opening in the wall.
To me, the vision was almost like a Mukha Lingam. I could actually see a forehead, eyes and nose on the Lingam. I moved back thinking it was my imagination. But in a few minutes, my mother-in-law said the same thing to me. It was indeed a very divine experience.

Today, the Lord who gave crores to several devotees is in a very pitiable environment. The shrines are all cracking up and Mr Singaram,who is the committed caretaker of the temple, is patching them up with concrete or constructing new ones as and when a stray visitor comes along and donates some money.

Lord Ganesha has been moved from the beautiful shrine on the right to the concrete
shrine on the left 
Lord Ganesha has been moved from his beautiful habitat into a concrete shrine that has been constructed recently while Lord Dhakshinamurthy's shrine has been patched up.

Lord Dhakshinamurthy at Oru Kodi

The area inside the temple is quite pathetic. Reeking of bat excreta and dampness due to minimal use, the walls are stripped of cover. The wall along the Goddess's shrine has been recently plastered.

The interior of the temple at Oru Kodi.
Apart from these deities, there are other old icons that are strewn around the temple. Some of them are really old and similar to the ones seen at Marangiyur in the same district. The article on Marangiyur can be accessed here.

Icons at Oru Kodi
It was difficult to photograph these idols in the fading light. Clearly there were a Durga/Kotravai and an idol quite similar to the one found in Marangiyur (probably of the same period - Kalabhras?) and also an idol of that of Mhudevi or Jyeshta Devi.

Jyeshta Devi at Oru Kodi

Clearly these icons talk about the ancient nature of this temple. The temple is desperately looking for funds for its upkeep and maintenance as well as for renovation. At the moment as I had mentioned the caretaker is building/repairing in an adhoc fashion depends on the funds he receives here and there. If there is a focused initiative to renovate using the existing materials or traditional methods of construction, the temple would be restored to its lost glory and Kodi Kodutha Nathar can give Kodis to many many more devotees.

The crumbling beauty at Oru Kodi
How to get here:

On the Villupuram - Mambalapattu - Thirukoilur route (State Highway 7) , there is a village called Thogaipadi at about five kilometres from Villupuram. Take left at a board which reads Kanai. You will come to the Venkatesapuram Railway Gate. Oru Kodi is less than 2 kms from here. The Perumbakkam Perumal temple is quite close to this temple.

Google map Coordinates: 11.9267919, 79.4389612

Contact Details : Mr Singaram through Mr Karthikeyan - 94437 92233

Temple Timings : The deity can be worshipped through the day through the opening in the wall. The caretaker is also available through the day at the temple.

The crumbling temple of Oru Kodi

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Soundara Pandiswara!

The rustic beauty - Soundara Pandeeswara Temple at Karuvelankulam
I keep talking about this probably in every single post - because it just amazes me how the timing or choice of articles is determined by Him. Several months ago, REACH Chandra and I had visited different sites in Tirunelveli district for an assessment. During this time, as we passed Kalakkad, we found a damaged temple car in a thatched shed a few kilometres ahead, that looked extremely interesting.

The temple car of Soudara Pandeeswara Temple, Karuvelankulam
We almost jumped out of the moving vehicle, which really frightened the driver, who had to literally stand on the brakes to avoid us getting injured. A closer look at our surroundings revealed the temple and the details of the car. We were amazed at the miniatures that were found all around the cart. Most of them, were different forms of Lord Shiva.

Somaskanda Murthy on the temple car. The pen shows the dimensions 
We went round and round the temple car awestruck, trying to brush away the cobwebs and take pictures of the different forms of Shiva, so beautifully depicted throughout the chariot. It was clearly a master piece of art, lying neglected in a little corner of Tamilnadu.

The various forms of Shiva found on the car of Soundara Pandeeswara Temple
I would have loved to post every individual picture on this article, but owing to constraint of space, I am forced to post this collage. The individual pictures can be found on the Aalayam Kanden Facebook Page here.

After having spent considerable time with the temple car, we decided to explore the temple. There was a temple tank nearby with clean water, and a tower right in the middle. Intrigued, we went into the temple and spoke to Mr Nellai Nayagam and Nambi Krishnan of Karuvelangulam village as well as Thavamani Bhattar, the priest of the temple. The discussions revealed many more interesting facets of the temple.

The temple tank at Karuvelangulam with the small tower in the middle
Legend associated with the Soundara Pandiswara Temple:

This temple is said to have been built by Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandyan, the son of Rajendra Chola I (study of the inscriptions that remain here might confirm the fact). While he was the viceroy of Madurai, his daughter is said to have been afflicted with a chronic mental ailment. Treatment by the physicians from far and wide did not yield any results. The prince, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, is said to have sought his divine intervention to cure the young girl.

One day, a Nampoothiri visited the Prince, and asked him to take his daughter around the Pandya Kingdom. He was asked to stop at a tank where elephants would be found circumambulating  it, and bathe the young girl in its waters, after which her chronic ailment would be cured. The Prince did as he was instructed. When he reached the place that is today called Karuvelan kulam, he found elephants circling a tank of water. His daughter bathed in its waters, and was immediately cured of her chronic mental ailment.

Wanting to show his gratitude, he built this temple. The Lord is named after Sundara Pandya and also because he helped the young girl regain her beauty (Soundaryam) he is called Soundara Pandiswara.  A tower was built by Sundara Pandya in the temple tank where the young girl bathed and got rid of her disease.

The place came to be known as Kari Valam Kulam (the pond that was circumambulated by elephants). Over time it has come to be known as Karuvelam Kulam.

To date, Lord Soundara Pandiswara is being worshipped by people suffering from mental ailments and they come back to offer gratitude once they are cured of their ailments.

Lord Soundara Pandiswara!
That is not it. The temple has beautiful mandapas both before the sanctum sanctorum and also before the Nataraja shrine. These mandapas have moving and musical pillars which are a delight to watch.

A demo of the rotating pillars at the Soundara Pandiswara Temple
Nataraja at Soundara Pandeeswara Temple:

We were told that the Nataraja at this temple was one of the oldest in the region and said to have been made by the same person who made the Chidambaram Nataraja. The same Sthapathy is said to have made five such Natarajas with the first being in Chidambaram and the others in Sepparai, Kattarimangalam, Karisoozhndha Mangalam,and Karuvelankulam.

The Nataraja at Soundara Pandiswara Temple Karuvelan Kulam
We were told that the temple now gets grants from the Thiruvananthapuram royal family and hence is able to maintain itself well. As we went around the temple, each of the icons we saw delighted us. There were a number of shrines, all spotlessly clean.

Dakshinamurthy at Soundara Pandiswara Temple
We finally reached the Koothambalam, the place where the ten day Arudhra festival happens in the month of Margazhi every year. Starting with the flag hoisting on the day of Sadhayam star, it ends on Thiruvadhirai, the day of Arudhra Darisanam, the day that celebrates the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva in Tamilnadu, and is commemorated as the birthday of Lord Shiva in Kerala.

The Goddess is named Gomathi Ambal as in many temples in this region and emanates compassion and grace in a separate shrine.

Goddess Gomathi Ambal at Soundara Pandiswara Temple
Aalayam Kanden had earlier focussed an article on Parama Kalyani, the Goddess of fertility and child birth in this region in the article on Vanniyappar Temple at Alwarkurichi. (The article can be accessed here.) Goddess Parama Kalyani is also found on the pillars of the Soundara Pandiswarar Temple and is worshipped by those who yearn for child birth and pregnant ladies who seek safe delivery.

Goddess Parama Kalyani

We had seen the beauty of wood and stone earlier and now it was the turn to see beauty in colours. The whole Kootambalam is painted with murals of different Gods and Goddesses. It is sad that most of them have faded and it is difficult to even identify the figures in some of them. However, it is heartening to note that the walls have not been painted over or redone in gaudy acrylic colours.

A mural of Sankara Narayana - the Sankara and Narayana differentiated
by the Green and white colours at Soundara Pandiswara Temple
A complete wall is devoted to Nataraja as he performs the cosmic dance surrounded by Goddess Sivakami, Pathanjali, Vyagrapadha and Manickavasagar.

Mural of Nataraja at the Koothambalam of Soundara Pandiswara Temple
The Nataraja is placed in a beautiful wooden Mandapa during the Arudhra Festival and is taken out on procession on the Arudhra Darisanam day. Thousands flock here to witness the dancing God wearing splendid white on the 7th day of the festival and then again on the Thiruvadhirai day.

Nataraja Mandapa at the Kootambalam of Soundara Pandiswara Temple
It is interesting to note that each pillar in the wooden mandapa has the idols of Pathanjali, Vyagrapadha, Gnanasambandhar, and Karaikal Ammaiyar in it.

The temple has been last consecrated in 1944. At this time, several stones have been removed and relaid and we find inscriptions both of Rajendra Chola I as well as Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya and others at odd locations. A study of these would clealy help in knowing more about this wonderful temple.

Inscriptions laid on the floor at the time of renovation
Going back to where I started, although we had visited this temple several months ago, and had been amazed at its beauty, I never got around to writing about it. It so happened that when I was thinking of what article should come up as the 100th post on Aalayam Kanden, that I remembered the Nataraja and the Arudhra Darisanam festival at this temple, and the article comes to you on Arudhra Darisanam Day through His divine intervention. Is it not true then that "Avaninri Oranuvum Asaiyaadhu" (Even an atom cannot move without God)

How to get here:

The temple is about 37 kms from Tirunelveli. One can reach here via Kalakkad or Seramadevi. Google Map Coordinates: 8.530669, 77.564083

Temple Timings:

Morning : 6.30 am - 10 am
Evening :  5.00 pm -  7 pm

Contact Details:

Thavamani Bhattar : 99447 35288
Nellainayagam       : 99437 58928
Nambi Krishnan    : 94864 83033

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