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