Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lanka Veera Hanuman

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Ramboda
Hanuman Jayanthi is celebrated in the southern part of India during the Tamil month of Margazhi, Hanuman is seen as an embodiment of courage, true devotion, valour and loyalty and is worshipped not just in India, but in countries where the Indian diaspora are found. Hanuman's contributions in the Ramayana legend are signifant and praiseworthy, especially the finding of Sita in Sri Lanka and conveying to her the message that Rama was on his way to retrieve her.

Although Ramayana is primarily an Indian legend, Sri Lanka has over forty sites associated with it. Just like we have different versions of Ramayana in India - like the Valmiki Ramayana, Tulsidas Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana, several literary works in Sri Lanka revolve around the  Ramayana. Janaki Harana written by King Kumaradasa (506-516 AD) is one such work that focuses on the abduction of Sita. The Mahavamsa also makes references to Ramayana and traditions that evolved from it.

While in India, the focus is on Rama as the virtuous and Ravana as the tyrant who abducted Sita, the Sri Lankan versions focus on Vibheeshana as the follower of Dharma and Ravana as the glorious warrior, who even won the affection of Shiva, but faced his doom due to his passion for Sita.

The entrance to Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Rambodha Hills
The Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka have not been identified just on the basis of mythology and folk lore, but several universities such as the University of Peradeniya, and national and international scholars such as Anand Kentish Coomaraswamy, have done extensive research on this subject and identified these sites,  through a corroboration of literature with archaeology, geography, topography and marine geology, apart from archeo-astronomy by the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka, such as Rev. Bikku Chandrajothi Thero.

We shall see a couple of places pertaining to the journey of Hanuman to meet Sita in Lanka, below:

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Ramboda Hills

The author at the foothill of the Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Rambodha Hills
This is said to be the first spot where Hanuman landed in Sri Lanka, while in search of Sita. On the way to Nuwara Eliya from Colombo, one comes across two hills facing each other, with a deep valley in between. The first is the Ramboda hills, which is part of the Wevandan Hill range and has got its name because Rama's forces are believed to have camped here, based on the advice of Hanuman. The hill opposite is called Ravana Bodha where Ravana's army camped during the battle of Lanka.

The Chinmaya Mission has constructed a beautiful Bhaktha Hanuman Temple on the Ram Bodha hills. After a brief climb atop the hill, one can reach the serene and beautiful temple. Here, the 16 feet Hanuman, carved out of granite, is seen in a magnificent vishwaroopa form. Every full moon day, special prayers are conducted here, which are witnessed by thousands of devotees.

The 16 feet Bhaktha Hanuman at Rambodha Hills
The temple is open between 7 am and 12.45 pm in the morning and 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm in the evening. There is a vegetarian restaurant within the temple complex that serves tasty yet economical food for the devotees and the book shop that sells CDs and books about the Ramayana research that has been and is currently being undertaken in the island.

Sita Amman Temple, Ashok Vatika, Sita Eliya

We now take a look at the most important site in the Ramayana. It is the Ashoka Vatika where Sita had been kept by Ravana, in the hope that she would agree to marry him. It is here, that Hanuman meets Sita and assures her that Rama is on his way to rescue her from Ravana.

Sita Amman Temple, Sita Eliya
There is a small temple built right next to the Ashoka Vatika,  where Hanuman is supposed to have met Sita called Sita Amman Temple. The place looks delightfully scenic and one can well imagine why Ravana would have chosen such a beautiful spot to entertain Sita and perhaps change her mind. A stream runs right next to the temple with a narrow staircase leading down. " This is the route Sita Devi took every day for her bath" explains the priest.

The path that leads to the stream next to the temple
He also points out to the Ashoka Vatika and asks, " Do you see the huge footsteps on the rocks?"  After Hanuman reassured Sita, he decided to set fire to the trees in the Vatika. The priest tells us that even today there are frequent forest fires among the Ashoka trees, even though the whole area is wet and humid. "Moreover, the trees do not grow beyond a point, they wither and die ", he says, showing us several such trees. 

The huge footsteps of Hanuman at Ashok Vatika
He takes us to the front yard of the temple and shows us the hill ahead. " Can you see Hanuman there?"  he asks. And we do. The face of the cliff is clearly shaped like that of a huge monkey. " He is still here. We feel his presence every day in some form or the other," he continues. 

The hill face that looks like Hanuman
The original deities in the sanctum are said to have been installed by Vibheeshana after his coronation. Newer versions of deities are installed behind the old deities. There is also a separate shrine for Hanuman here.

Dieties said to have been installed by Vibheeshana at Sita Eliya
The temple here is open from 8 am to 1 pm in the morning and from 2 pm to 6.30 pm in the evening.

About 8 kms from Sita Eliya is Divurumpola, the place where Sita entered the fire, before leaving Lanka with Rama. Although this place is now converted into a Buddhist monastery, there is a platform and a plaque to signify the location where Sita entered the fire. Promises made at this place are still honoured and considered as testaments in Sri Lanka. 

The Buddhist monastery at Divurumpola - the site where Sita entered the fire
These are just a few sites that speak about the valour of Hanuman and his contribution to the retrieval of Sita. Archeo-astrologists in Sri Lanka have even dated the actual date when Hanuman met Sita in Ashok Vatika using the descriptions in literature, and matching them with lunar configurations in the geography and have arrived at 12th September 5076 BC. Not just this date, several other dates of events in the Ramayana right from Rama's birth, have been calculated and agreed upon by scholars and researchers. This is an entire topic in itself and Chinmaya Mission's documentary on this subject throws more light on the research findings. 

There is no doubt that Hanuman is the real hero of Ramayana! Let us worship and celebrate him on his Jayanthi!

Hanuman at Sita Eliya
Information Courtesy- Chinmaya Mission Ashrama, Rambodha Hills, Sri Lanka

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Will the curse of Talekad be finally broken?

Wednesday 6th December, 2017 saw the Royal family of Mysuru and public rejoice alike at the arrival of baby boy to the titular King of Mysuru, Yadhuveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar and his wife Trishika Kumari Devi. The news was received with both cheer and hope as the baby may break the curse of Queen Alamelamma, commonly known as the Curse of Talekad. While the news has been the source of joy of many, especially the Royal family that has borne the brunt of the curse for the last 400 years, speculations are also on as to whether this child will be able to break the jinx of alternate kings in the Mysore Wodeyar dynasty not having children and resorting to adoption to continue the lineage to the throne.

CNN- News 18 image of Queen Trishika Kumari with the new born

Who was Alamelamma and what triggered such a curse?  Has the time now come for the curse to end?

Alamelamma was the wife of Tirumala Raja , the viceroy of a declining Vijayanagara Empire. Both were great devotees of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangapatna. Alamelamma, in particular, took special interest in adorning the Lord and his consort with her jewels every day. 

The ruins of Talekad

Raja Wodeyar, a chieftain of Mysore, was a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire. He was desirous of overthrowing Tirumala Raja and obtaining power. In 1610, Tirumala Raja who was suffering from a tumour in his back, decided to travel to Talekad with his first wife to offer prayers at the Vaidyeswara temple and stay there for some time, as medicines were not helping him much. Seizing the opportunity, Raja Wodeyar captured Srirangapatna, and cornered Alamelamma, asking her to hand over all her jewellery.

Entrance of Vaidyeswara Temple at Talekad

Alamelamma parted with her pearl nose ring that now adorns Goddess Ranganayaki at Srirangapatna, but managed to escape with the remaining jewellery to Talekad. The soldiers followed closely behind, to take her prisoner and confiscate the exquisite jewellery. On reaching the banks of Cauvery, she jumped into the river, but not before uttering the following words:

                                                               Talkādu Maralaāgi, 
                                                               Mālingi maduvaāgi, 
                                                               Mysuru dhorege makkalagade hōgali, 

which translates into let Talekad be covered by sand dunes, Malingi, (a town across Talekad on the opposite bank of Cauvery), turn into a whirlpool and Mysore Kings not have heirs. 

The Sand dunes that now encompass Talekad
The curse has held good for four hundred years. Raja Wodeyar’s four sons died within a year of Alamelamma’s suicide, and he was forced to adopt a heir. In fear, he erected her statue inside the Mysuru palace to appease her. Even today, on the ninth day of Dussehra, the King and Queen offer prayers to her. Ever since the curse was uttered, alternate Kings have been adopting cousins and nephews to ascend the throne after them, and that has continued till the previous King of Mysuru, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, who died issueless and without naming a successor and his wife, Queen Pramoda Devi, adopted his grand-nephew who became the titular King. Now with the birth of a baby boy to the royal couple, is there a chance for Alamelamma's wrath been appeased? Only time can tell.

Broken pillars and stones are strewn everywhere demonstrating the buried temples underneath
How has the curse affected Talekad, a once flourishing town, right on the banks of the Cauvery river, patronised by the Gangas, Cholas, Kadambas, Vijayanagara and Hoysala Kings?

Over thirty temples along the Cauvery still lay submerged within the sands that have been advancing into the town year after year, forcing the population to move higher and higher upland. Seven temples have been so far unearthed by the Archaeological Survey of India, but sand gets piled repeatedly, requiring frequent clearing. This sand has been found unfit for any purpose, even though it is from the banks of such a fertile river. While scientists and geologists propose different theories to explain these phenomena, they are unable to explain why every alternate generation in the Mysore Wodeyar dynasty goes childless ever since the curse was uttered. 

Inside the Vaidyeswara Temple
Alamelamma's curse seems to have also cast its shadow on the Vaideeswara who could not save her husband from his tumour.  This typically Chola temple is within the village and is the first one on the circular route that has been created to visit the unearthed temples. A Pancha Linga Darshana festival happens once in a few years (often seven years) when on Karthigai Somavara (Monday in the Tamil month of Karthigai) Vishaka Nakshtra and Krishnapaksha amavasaya also occur. 

On this day, thousands of devotees gather at Talekad and special poojas and prayers are conducted at all the five Shiva temples - namely Vaidyeswara, Arakeshwara, Pathalaeswara, Maraleshwara and Mallikarjuneswara.

The beautiful Dwarapalaka at Vaidyeswara

While the Vaidyeswara Temple is probably the largest and most beautiful among the unearthed temples, it does not seem to enjoy the kind of recognition and devotion that the Keerthi Narayana Temple, that Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana built for Saint Ramanuja seems to. Vaidyeswara has huge Dwarapalakas, ornate pillars and a magnificent deity. A silver face of Lord Shiva has also been placed strategically behind the linga adding on to the ethereal environment of the temple. Several artifacts unearthed at Talekad have found refuge within this temple. The highlight is an icon of Ganesha (the elephant God) riding his Mooshika(mouse)

Vaidyeswara in all his glory
Right next door to the Vaidyeswara temple, is the Veerabadra temple. His consort, Bhadrakali is found in an adjacent shrine. Veerabadra is the Kshetra Palaka of the temple town of Talekad. Parents pray here for the bravery of their children and adorn them with bracelets that decorate the sword of Veerabadra.

Ganesha riding Mooshika at the Vaidyeswara Temple
The path to the remaining excavated temples on the banks of the Cauvery begins here. A canopy has been placed over the circuitous route within the wilderness to facilitate the comfort of the tourists. One has to walk in ankle deep sand that makes movement difficult. On either side of the canopy, are burnt and broken trees. An occasional owl, and a jackal’s cry from nowhere, sends shivers of fear within. The sound of the rain hitting the metal canopy adds to the eerie sound effects. 

Wading through ankle deep sand to visit the excavated temples at Talekad
The first temple that appears on the track,  as if out of the blue, is the Pathaleswara temple. As the name suggests the temple is about thirty feet below the ground. There are steps that lead to the temple. These steps are covered with sand and more sand keeps falling from above as people walk and because of the rains.  “No more temples can be excavated” says the priest. They are all under the whirlpool and Alamelamma does not desire them to be cleared”.

Pathaleswara Temple at Talekad
The Arakeswara, Mallikarjuna, and Maraleswara temples are similar in nature. Small, single shrine temples, that have been excavated and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. These temples only come to life during the Pancha Linga Darshana. 

The Maraleswara Temple at Talekad
The Keerthinarayana temple, the only Vaishnavite temple that has been uncovered, was constructed by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana. Vishnvardhana, the younger brother of Veera Ballala I, was originally a Jain and was called Bitti Deva. He is said to have been influenced by Saint Ramanuja to convert to Vaishnavism, and took the name of Vishnuvardhana. When he won Talekad from the Cholas during the Battle of Talekad, he built the magnificent Keerthi Narayana Temple, to celebrate his victory and dedicated the temple to his Guru, Ramanujacharya. He also took the title of Talekadugondan.

The resplendent Keerthi Narayana Temple at Talekad
The circular path of over a kilometre connects the excavated temples and ends at the Keerthinarayana temple where one can get a closer view of the intricate Hoysala architecture within.  

A view of the walking path around Talekad from outside the Keerthi Narayana Temple
Talekad still has a number of signs and symptoms that bear testimony to the curse of Alamelamma. So have the happenings in the Mysuru Royal Family over the last 400 years. Will the baby boy make Alamelamma's curse a thing of the past and bring forth an heir into the world?  Only time and God can tell. 

Update on 11th December 2017:

Here I share a post written by Ms Preethi Sukumaran, a descendant of Alamelamma in response to this article :

Of Boldness & Bhakti: the Talekkadu curse
“And then, she got off her horse, turned to face the horsemen who were chasing her. She extended her hand and muttered the curse. As she finished the last words of her curse, she vanished and the ground started to shake, filling up with sand.”

There wasn’t a lot to do in Harihar in the mid 1980s. There probably still isn’t. The most fascinating part of Harihar to my cousin and I was the Harihareshwara temple and the flowing, magnificent Tungabhadra river just behind the temple.

Fed up of chasing us down every evening to the Tungabhadra river, our mothers tried scaring us with stories of crocodiles waiting to tear off the limbs of unsuspecting children who played in the river. When the crocodile story made us stay longer at the river, hoping to catch a glimpse, the Mothers got together with the Aunts to DO SOMETHING.

The SOMETHING, was the story of Alamelamma, our illustrious ancestor who cursed Talekad and the Wodeyar dynasty.

My mother’s family remains a puzzle to me, even now. Sometime about 500 - 600 years ago, a bunch of my Mum’s ancestors decided to move from SriRangam and settle down in various parts of Karnataka. Once they did, they stubbornly continued to hold onto their Tamil roots, but the evolution of the Tamil language passed over their heads as they dug roots in Hubli, Belgaum, Mysore, Srirangapatnam and finally Harihar.

Many of the phrases they use are stubbornly archaic, pure Tamil delivered in a Kannada accent which still has people scratching their heads today.

One branch of the family followed Tipu Sultan and became ministers and support staff in his regime. In more recent times, my Mother’s family fought for the Freedom movement and hosted leaders like Gandhiji when he came down south to their neck of the woods.

However, to draw two young girls away from the lures of the bustling Tungabhadra, the story of Alamellama needed to be told.

oThe story of Alamelamma has seen great interest in the last few years. I have read many renditions of the story, with details that were not a part of our family’s folk lore.

In our family’s history, we have documented evidence in the form of letters written by Alamelamma to her husband, and a written down account of her curse which was witnessed by one of the men who chased her down to Talekad. These letters and documents are today, sadly missing as many of my older aunts and uncles who held onto it are no more.

Our family tradition states that Alamellama's husband was the custodian of the “abharanam” of the deity at Sri Ranganatha Swamy of Srirangapatnam due to his position of a vizier in the King's court. The temple was rich in land and jewellery as it had been endowed from the time of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana, one of the early followers of Ramanujacharya.

The viziers of the town were traditionally responsible for protecting the temple’s land, property and wealth. In the absence of her husband, Alamelamma was the second in command and would look after their territory, its people and the temple’s wealth.

It would have been easy for Alamelamma to surrender Perumal and Thaayar’s jewels, we were told. After all, the king coveting them was a vassal, and a Hindu. Some compromise could have been worked out by her husband, and the King could have been persuaded to present other jewellery to the ornaments.

But Alamelamma’s objection was to the King’s covetousness and greed, as he coveted the ornaments that were adorning the Jagat Pita and the Jagat Mata themselves. Ornaments worn by Divinity could not and should not be taken by human beings. The King’s army was much larger in number, and if the fight remained in Srirangapatnam, many innocent people would suffer.

So Alamelamma took the decision to out-run the King’s army, hoping distance would put some sense into them and they would realise the consequences of what they were doing.

Many miles later, desperate, tired and with a horse that was out of steam, Alamellama was surrounded by the King’s men. The bag of ornaments she was carrying was tied to her saddle. She carried no weapons and had no real offence or defence to offer. Our family legends say that she attempted to negotiate with the group that followed her. She explained that these were “holy” abharanam which were the temple’s property for hundreds of years. These had been lovingly donated by individuals and grateful chieftains to show their respect and love for the deity. Some of them were worn especially during temple festivals. All of them carried the vast divine energy of the Gods, and there were consequences to looting these jewels.

The raiding party smelt success. Bolstered by the fact that they were facing one unarmed woman, they scoffed at Alamelamma and asked her to throw the ornament bag to them. She would then be allowed to go back to Srirangapatnam – in fact they promised to escort her with full State honours as was due to her position.

With no saviour in sight Alamelamma turned to the heavens and cast her curse on Talekad and the Mysore Wodeyars .( Talekad because the entire town watched as a defenceless woman was chased down by a group doing Adharma and coveting the God’s jewels.)

Alamelamma disappeared, as did her bag of jewels. Talekad was instantly sunk as a whirlwind of sand appeared converting the once fertile town to a desert. And the Mysore Wodeyars found that they were never able to beget a Male heir to the throne.

For many summers after the first time we heard Alamelamma story, my cousin and I would sit on the carvings of the Nandi in the Harihareshwara temple and pretend we were riding a horse and escaping the Wodeyar’s men. We plagued our mothers and Aunts for more details and were disappointed when none were forthcoming.

I often think about why this story continues to stay with me. To someone living in 2017, the very idea of Siddhis which enable you to transform land to sand is unreal. Try as any of us might, we may not have too much success in transforming water to sand.

More than magic or Siddhis, what continues to stay with me is the bravery, boldness and ability to take charge and assume responsibility that was evident in my ancestor’s tale.

It is hard to imagine a bleaker scenario then what she faced – but she persevered, in her own fashion. I like to think that her lineage continues to carry some part of her Boldness and Bhakti in us. And when we are called up, as she once was, we too would make the right decisions.

This post was inspired by Padmapriya Baskaran 's post on Aalayam Kanden about the possible lifting of Alamelamma’s curse.

Thank you for this Preethi Sukumaran! I am privileged to know you !

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Vayalanallur Kandaswamy!

Kandasamy Murugan at Vayalanallur
This post is two years late. Although I had visited this temple first in 2015, and then several times since, even taking people on heritage trips, I never got around to writing about the Lord who had become one of my favourites. As I have always seen in Aalayam Kanden, everything happens with His will and he has willed that this post be written on the account of Kanda Sashti in 2017 and so here it is. 

Two years of documenting the temples along the Cooum threw open several rare heritage treasures. One such priceless treasure is the Murugan temple at Vayalanallur. The Topographical List of Inscriptions of Madras Presidency Volume 8 by T V Mahalingam was one of my guiding documents for my study and it spoke about three temples in Vayalanallur, one of which was a Kandaswamy Murugan temple, the second a Durga temple and the third, the Shakthimutreswarar temple.

The current status of the Kandasamy Murugan Temple with the Aditya I inscription luckily intact
Our search of the temples led us first to the Komaleeswaranpet temple, at Kolappanchery. We met Nagahariharan, the priest at Kolappanchery who incidentally mentioned that he was the priest at the Vayalanallur Murugan temple and offered to take us there. He has been conducting the poojas as a volunteer for some years now, purely because his Kuladeivam (family deity) is Murugan.

We were touched by his commitment and followed his two-wheeler into a narrow lane. What would have once been a huge temple, has now been reduced to a single shrine. " Nobody comes to the temple, except on important festival days such as Panguni Uthiram or Thai Poosam where we somehow collect enough money to offer food and prasadams to attract a decent gathering,"said Hari as he opened the door of the temple.

We were awestruck by what we saw. By far, the most magnificent of the Brahma Sasthas that we have seen in that region, stood before us on the floor. Over seven feet tall, with an Akshara Mala in his hind right arm and a Gendi on the left, he stood with a smile turning up the corner of his lips.  There was no pedestal below his feet, no garlands around his neck nor any adornments. Just a humble vastram was all that he had.

The magnificent Murugan at Vayalanallur
Hari offered the prasadam he had carried from his house and performed Harathi. We were moved. All that remained of the antiquity of the temple, was the inscription from the time of Aditya I  (895 AD) about a gift of land made to the temple by Gunakirti Nambadugan, the Kilan of Ayandampakkam for Sribali and other services at the temple which is still found on the footsteps of the temple.

The Shakthimutreswara temple next to the huge temple tank had been lost to time. A look at the gigantic deity gave us an idea of how large the temple would have been in yore. The three inscriptions of this temple, two from the time of Parthivendravarman and one from Rajaraja I have disappeared along with the original temple and several deities that stood there. 

The Shakthimutreswara when we saw him first in 2015
When we enquired with Hari about the Durga temple he did not know much as to where it once stood. However, he remembers villagers saying a huge goddess was lowered into a well because it had become damaged! 

Several deities have been found while excavating around the original site of the Shakthimutreswara temple out of which a Bhairavar has been installed in the Vishnu temple and the Surya placed next to the Shakthimutreswara.

With the grace of the Almighty and generous patronage from the loyal supporters of Aalayam Kanden, we have been successfully supporting the Thai poosam festivities at the Kandaswamy Murugan temple over the last two years. 

Supporting the Thai Poosam festivities through the Aalayam Kanden Trust
The Shakthimutreswara temple has since been rebuilt in a small way, and the deity has found a secure place inside the sanctum.

The Kandaswamy Murugan has since became a member of the Aalayam Kanden family and he was gracious enough to bless the first copy of "The Gods of the Holy Koovam" which was the compendium of ancient sites along the Koovam. 

The Kandaswamy Murugan with the first copy of The Gods of the Holy Koovam
The temple still has very little support or patronage. As we celebrate the victory of good over evil on this Kanda Sashti, let us do our bit to protect and patronise the rare heritage treasures still left among our midst!
Kandasamy Murugan in all his glory after Thai Poosam alankaram
How to reach here: The temple is about 2 kms from Kolappanchery. From Kolappanchery head North. Pass Chokkanallur bus stand and turn right. The temple is on the left. Bus route 54C from Poonamallee to Thandarai is available once an hour. GPS Coordinates : 13.08565622, 80.06954102

Temple Timings: Please inform the Gurukkal before going and he will ensure the temple is opened.

Contact Information: Naagahariharan 90031 54640

Friday, October 20, 2017

Koonthalur Kumara!

Koonthalur Jambukaranyeswara Temple 
Roma Rishi -  he was so called because of the hair that covered his body, his flowing mane and long beard. This Rishi stayed on the banks of Arisilaaru and worshipped Lord Jambukaranyeswara who was called so because he resided within a grove of Guava trees. A hair would drop from his body with the passing on of one Brahma and it would take 35 million Brahmas to pass on from him to leave his mortal confines.

Roma Rishi due to his yogic powers, was able to bring gold coins out of his beard, to help those in need. Over time, this made him conceited. One day, as he sat on the banks of the river, Lord Brahma, wanting to teach him a lesson, took the guise of a barber and passed him by. Romarishi called out to him to shave his beard. As the hair dropped from his face, it turned into gold coins and Brahma quickly gathered them in his towel, thanked the Rishi and went away. The Rishi's beard grew back quite immediately. But something else also happened. The next time he tried to bring gold coins from his beard, he was unable to do so.

Roma Rishi
Enraged at being outwitted, he marched angrily towards the shrine of Jambukaranyeswara. He was livid that the Lord whom he worshipped every day, had let him down. Lord Shiva, sent his sons, Ganesha and Muruga to pacify the sage. The two boys met him mid-way and paid their respects. The Sage was moved. Muruga also created a Theertham for the Rishi to refresh himself.

The pleased sage requested Ganesha and Muruga to stay with him at Jambukaranyam forever. They readily consented. While Ganesha took his abode in the South East (Agni Moolai). Romarishi invited Muruga to take his abode in the most sacred of locations, namely the North East (Easanya Moolai). Here he is seen in a shrine raised much higher than that of the Lord.

Koonthalur Kumara Gurupara
Right across him, Shatru Samhara Shani Bhagavan can be seen. This kind of an arrangement is extremely rare and quite unique. Because of this arrangement, those who are affected because of the planetary movement of Mars and Saturn in their horoscope, or who have both Mars and Saturn in the same house, and as a result of which, undergo poor health, delay and hurdles in life, marriage or child birth, find relief by worshipping both Murugan and Shani Bhagavan here.

Shatru Samhara Shani Bhagavan across Kumaragurupara at Koothalur
Murugan in his role as pacifier, and Shani in his role of destroyer of evil, combine to help people rid themselves of problems that are beyond their means to resolve. Roma Rishi is found in a seperate shrine. He is worshipped to be rid from depression, indecisiveness, and mood swings.

Lord Jambukaranyeswara is seen in a small shrine found lower than that of Muruga. The original Pallava fluted Lingam and Muruga in the form of Gnana Sastha are found in separate shrines behind the sanctum. Similarly, the original Goddess Anandhavalli is installed in the Artha Mandapa, while the later version is found in a shrine to the left of the sanctum.

Jambukaranyeswara and Anandhavalli at Koonthalur
Numerous other damaged idols are found in the temple premises. One among them is that of Kulothunga Chola III, who has given a number of grants to the temple. The current version of the temple seems to be that of the Vijayanagara times. Two inscriptions have been recorded in this temple - one from the period of Veerapratapa Krishnadeva Maharaya (1519 AD) which speaks about grants given for conducting poojas at the temple. This inscription refers to Koothalur as Sozha Mandalathu Kulothunga Chola Valanaatu Thirunaraiyur Patru Keezh Koonthalur. The other inscription is about 400 years old which talks about one Vinaitheertha Mudaliar giving land on all four streets that surround the temple as grants based on the request of Easwara Aiyer.

A damaged icon of Kulothunga Chola III
The temple has two tanks - One the Kumara Theertham, installed by Muruga for Roma Rishi, and the other, Sita Theertham, created by Sita, to take bath when Ravana was carrying her away to Lanka. It is believed that she left some pieces of ornaments and locks of hair near the pond, with a hope that Rama would identify them. As her hair fell there, and also because of Roma Rishi, the place came to be known as Koonthalur.

A view from the sanctum of Koonthalur temple
The Lord been sung by Thirunavukkarasar (Appar) and the Lord Muruga has been sung by Arunagirinathar. The latter refers to Muruga as Kumaragurupara and describes him as the nephew of Rama who defeated Ravana with ten heads and twenty arms. The specific reference to Rama here seems to be due to the connection the shrine has with Ramayana. 

The temple is well maintained. The trustee lives close by and is happy to open the temple for visitors on request. There is a good Nandavanam and a small function hall attached to the temple. This hall is also opened up for pilgrims to rest or stay overnight at a nominal cost.

The Jambukaranyeswara Temple at Koonthalur

How to reach here: This temple is on the route from Kumbakonam to Poonthottam. All buses that ply via Eravancheri and Poonthottam stop here.

Temple Timings: Can be worshipped at any time during the day.

Contact Numbers : 96886 77538 / 94435 24737

Monday, June 19, 2017


There are a number of temples associated with the Nayanmars and the miracles performed by them in their journey of worship and promotion of Shaivism. Each one of them has unique rituals and commemorative festivals too. But Thirumarugal stands out with multiple specialities. One could go on and on about the various facets of this small, yet significant temple.

The Sthalapuranam of this shrine is said to have been rendered by Lord Shiva himself to Lord Brahma, when he sought a place to meditate to overcome the curse of the Rishis and regain creation.

The tale of Kusakethu Maharaja:

King Kusakethu was a fair and just king. One day when his men were clearing the dense banana groves, their spades would not move at a particular point. So the king got down and started digging. When his spade hit a solid object, blood started gushing out. Shocked, the king dug further to find a Swayambu Linga. Overjoyed, he cleared the land and made a temple for him. The Lord who sits on a square avudaiyar, still bears the cut from Kusakethu's spade on his shoulder.

Once there was a famine in his kingdom. The King did all that he could to help his subjects. He opened up his granary and coffers. He performed several yagnas for rains and donated food and gold. None of this brought rains. 

Men and cattle were dying of hunger. The King even meditated in the middle of fire. Nine years passed but yet there were no rains. The king felt there was no point in him living, when he could not help his subjects . So he hung himself on Vaikasi Visakam day. At that moment, the Lord appeared before him. Rains of precious gems and stones started for a ten mile radius around Thirumarugal and continued for several days. The Lord asked Kusakethu what he wanted for which he sought the Lord should ever stay in Tirumarugal and protect his subjects from famine and death. The Lord happily agreed. Since there were heaps of precious stones around the Lord, he came to be known as Rathnagiriswarar and Manickavannar. 

Brahma's penance:

Lord Brahma once told the Rishis that they too would be reborn. The rishis who had been performing penance with an aim of attaining mukthi were angered by this and they cursed him to forget the art of creation. Brahma panicked and sought the help of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva told him about Thirumarugal - one among the eighteen most holy places in the world and asked him to go there and worship him. Brahma did as suggested. and on Chithirai star in the month of Chithirai, the Lord appeared before him, and gave him back the knowledge of creation. A humbled Brahma performed a nine - day festival and drew the deity around the temple in a chariot, and offered food to Rishis in repentence of his folly.

Beginning of Varalakshmi Viratham:

Once, all Rishis got together on the banks of the Ganges and decided to perform a Yagna. They could not come to an agreement as to who would receive the offerings, since some were devotees of Shiva, others of Vishnu and few others of Brahma. So they decided to send Bhrigu Maharishi to find out who was the most deserving. Bhrigu went to Brahma and Shiva's abodes but they were too busy to notice him. Frustrated, he went to Vaikuntam. Vishnu too did not notice Sage Bhrigu first. Angered, Bhrigu kicked him on his chest. But instead of getting angry, Lord Vishnu held the Rishi's foot and pressed it saying it might have hurt while kicking.

This humbled Sage Bhrigu returned to the Rishis to say that Lord Vishnu was the most deserving. However, Goddess Mahalakshmi who resides in Vishnu's chest felt angered that her husband did not stop the Rishi from kicking her and instead pressed his feet and offered apologies. So she left him and came down to Bhooloka. She was drawn to Thirumarugal because of the divine aura it was emitting. She created a tank there called Lakshmi Theertham and started meditating on Lord Shiva. The Lord asked her to perform a Vratha by worshipping him with Bilwa and observing Mouna on Mondays, Fridays and Full Moon Days. She did so with devotion. A pleased Lord Shiva brought Lord Mahavishnu to her on a Friday in the Tamil month of Aavani and together they worshipped Lord Manickavannar. It is believed that Goddess Mahalakshmi asked her devotee Charumathi of Magadha Kingdom to perform the same Vratha for the wellbeing of her family, and that is how the Varalakshmi Vratham, originally advised by Lord Shiva to Goddess Lakshmi came to be observed. Even today, several devotees bathe in the Lakshmi theertham and worship the Lord on Fridays to be rid of debts, and to gain prosperity, family unity and happiness.

The Tale of Sage Parasara:

Once Sage Parasara wanted to cross the river Yamuna. So he approached a maiden named Machaganthi, and asked her to ferry him across. While she was, the sage was drawn towards her beauty and asked her to marry him. A hesitant Machaganthi agreed and soon Sage Vyasa was born.

Sage Parasara realised that he had actually married a girl much younger to him, of a lowly caste due to lust and hence wanted to perform penance to be rid of his sin. So he sought the help of Sage Narada, who advised him to go to Thirumarugal and worship Lord Manickavannar. The sage bathed in the Chandra Pushkarani every day and performed penance. The Lord appeared before him on Chitra Pournami. Sage Parasara repented for his sins and asked the Lord to help every devotee who has erred due to lust be rid of his sins by worshipping at Thirumarugal.

The Tale of the Chettiar Girl:

There was a merchant called Daman Chettiar in Vaippur. He had seven daughters. His nephew, who was poor, sought the hand of his daughter. However, the merchant not wanting his daughters to marry a poor man, gave one excuse after another, and got six out of seven married to other boys. The youngest daughter, knowing that her father was being unfair to her cousin, offered to marry him. The two eloped. As it was late at night by the time they reached Thirumarugal, they decided to stay in a choultry there. That night, the boy Vasanthan was bit by a snake and died. The girl did not know what to do as she had left her family and her only hope, had also died. 

Gnanasambandar who was camping in Thirumarugal came to know of her plight. He saw the heartbroken girl weeping and even in her misery, singing the praises of the Lord, and beseeching him to help her. This moved him and he invoked Lord Shiva to break the poison and save the Chettiar boy. The boy was brought back to life and Gnanasambandar, in the absence of their relatives, got them married with the well and the Vanni Tree (in picture) as evidences. Every year, during the ten day festival in the Tamil month of Chithirai, the wedding of the Chettiar girl is performed on the seventh day. 

The Temple:

The temple originally built by King Kusakethu was rebuilt by Kochengatchola Nayanar as a Madakoil (a temple that cannot be climbed by an elephant). To know more about Kochengatchola Nayanar, click here.

The Lord Manickavannar sits on his elevated shrine.  The Sthalavriksham of the temple is the Marugal Banana also known as Kalvaazhai. This banana does not grow anywhere outside the temple if planted.

No one dies of snake bite in and around Thirumarugal. Even if someone is bitten by a snake, they come to the temple and the priest sings Gnanasambandar's hymns and ties a "Kattu" which ensures that the person is not affected by the poison. The Ganesha in the temple is called "Vidantheerndha Vinayakar" and people worship him and are relieved of the effects of the poison. There is also another Ganesha who is called Surantheertha Vinayakar who is said to relieve fever. He too is worshipped by those suffering from fever for relief.

When Gnanasambandar was in Thirumarugal, Siruthondar Nayanar invited him to visit Thiruchenkattankudi. However, the Lord in Thirumarugal manifested as the Lord at Ganapatheeswaram (one of the two main deities at Thiruchenkattankudi) at Thirumarugal itself and Sambandar sang a hymn covering both shrines here. Seeralan, the child of Siruthondar was studying at a Matam at Thirumarugal and even today there is a pond named after him near the Matam where people bathe in and worship the Lord to beget children.

The Lord Muruga at the temple has been sung by Saint Arunagirinathar.

Goddess Amodhalanayaki :

Goddess Vanduvarkuzhalammai or Amodhalanayaki is found in a separate shrine. She is one of four sisters, the others being in Thirukannapuram, Thirupugalur and Thiruchenkattankudi. She is also known as Soolikambal and is worshipped for safe pregnancy and delivery.

Those who have hurdles in getting married come to this temple for pariharam. For boys, the Rudra Thirisadhi is performed to the Lord and for girls, Sahasranamam using turmeric is performed to the Goddess. The girls are asked to use this turmeric powder for bathing and by the time it gets over a good alliance is finalised.

At the moment, there is only one inscription belonging to 1882 AD which takes about the King of Thanjavur giving grants of gold to the temple, which the then trustee, Thiravinai Theertha Mudaliar used for various poojas at the temple.

How to reach here: 

Thirumarugal is about 10 kms from Nannilam and close to Thirupugalur and Thiruchenkattankudi. It is accessible by bus from both Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam.

Temple Timings:

7 am - 12.15 pm, 4 - 8.30 pm

Contact details:

Sundaraganapathy Gurukkal - 97861 92196

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Appar Guru Poojai at Tirupugalur!

Appar - A Brief History

Appar also known as Tirunavukkarasar was born Marulneekiyar in an agriculturist family of Thiruvamur in Tirumunaipadi Nadu. He lost his parents in an early age and was brought up by his sister Thilakavathiyar. He grew up as a pious young man, with a seeking to know the best among religions. So he went to Pataliputra,where he was drawn towards Jainism. He was renamed Dharmasena, and became a Jain monk. In the meantime, his sister Thilakavathiyar, was beseeching Lord Shiva at Thiruvadhigai Veeratam, to make her brother see reason, and return to Saivism. The Lord, moved by her prayers, gave Dharmasena severe stomach pain. The Jains did all that they could to cure the pain, but all their actions only ended up aggravating it. When the pain became unbearable, Dharmasena decided to return home, to see his sister one last time, before giving up his life. 

When he came home, Thilakavathiyar took him to Thiruvadhigai Veeratam and asked him to sing a hymn in praise of the Lord. With His grace, Marulneekiyar was immediately relieved of pain. He was overjoyed, and took to Saivism. He went from place to place, carrying a sickle (termed Uzhavaram in Tamil) singing the praise of the Lord, and cleaning temples of vegetation. The Jains unable to see Dharmasena leave their fold, did all they could to put an end to his life. They influenced the Pallava King who was also a Jain at that point, to put him into a lime kiln, to give him poison and to throw him into the sea tied to a huge boulder. Each time, he was able to come out unscathed due to the grace of the Lord. The King was moved by his devotion, and he himself converted into a Shaivaite and built temples for Lord Shiva. With the grace of God, he went around spreading Shaivism, through hymns and performed several miracles. Due to the sweetness of his words, the Lord gave him the title Thirunavukkarasar.

On hearing about Saint Thirugnanasambandar, he desired to meet him. When Gnanasambandar came in his pearl palanquin, Thirunavukkarasar became one of the bearers. Gnanasambandar was equally eager to meet Thirunavukkarasar, jumped down from it, and fell at his feet calling him "Appare" (My father). As he grew older, Appar desired to visit Kailash. He walked up North, till such time he could walk no longer. He then started to crawl. His muscles got wasted and blood started to pour. His bones were getting ground and began to break. He would still not stop moving in the direction of Kailash. Moved by his devotion, Lord Shiva restored his health and asked him to go to Thiruvaiyaru where he showed him the vision of Kailash. 

Last days of Appar at Thirupugalur

After spending some time in Thiruvaiyaru, he reached Tirupugalur. The Agneeswara Temple at Thirupugalur has several specialities,

Lord Bhootheswara
  • It is a temple where the Lord is worshipped in three different forms - Bhootheswara for the Past, Varthamaneeswara for the present and Bhavishyeswara for the future.
  • It is the temple where Agni worshipped Lord Shiva also known as Sharanyeswara or Kona Piraan and gained a human form with two faces, seven flames, five arms and two legs.
Lord Agni
  • It is here that bricks were turned to gold for Sundaramurthy Nayanar, because of which, till date the temple is a popular Vasthu Sthalam, from where people take back three bricks and use them in the construction of their new house, to be rid of Vasthu Doshas.
  • The Goddess Karuthazh Kuzhali also known as Soolikambal, is one of four sisters who grants wishes of safe pregnancy and delivery.
  • The temple is surrounded by a moat said to have dug by Banasura. The Lord is called Kona Piran as he is supposed to have titled when Banasura tried to uproot him for his mother's worship.
The magnificent moat around the Tirupugalur temple
Appar is said to have come here and performed Uzhavara pani, namely clearing of vegetation using a sickle. The Lord wanting to test him, made precious gems and diamonds appear in the midst of rubble. Appar without a second look, dumped the gems along with the stones and pebbles he was clearing from the pathway. The Lord then sent the Apsaras - Ramba, Menaka and Urvashi to distract Appar and make him fall to worldly ways. But Appar was undettered by the glamorous maiden and their sensuous moves - he started singing hymns in praise of the Lord, on hearing which the maiden bowed before him and returned to their abode. 

Knowing that his end was near, Appar went around the temple, singing a hymn " Podhuginren Unnadike Poompugalur Meviya Punniyane" and entered the sanctum sanctorum on Chithirai Sadhayam wherein he merged with the holy consciousness of the Lord.

Appar Gurupoojai :

Every year, the commemoration of Appar attaining mukthi is celebrated on Sadhayam star in the Tamil month of Chithirai. Devotees from far and wide, gather at the temple to witness this spectacular event.  There are several events that take place as a fore-runner to the Gurupoojai.

The Tirupugalur temple decorated for the Gurupoojai
On the morning of the event, the 63 Nayanmars are taken in procession through the streets surrounding the temple. In the afternoon, an episode of Kattamudhu, where the Lord brought packed food for a hungry Appar is recreated at the Kattamudhu mandapam, by the side of the temple. The crowds start to swell as dusk approaches. The festivities of the evening, begin with a discourse on the life of Appar. Around 10 pm, a beautifully decorated Appar is brought around the temple Praharam. The devotees who are waiting patiently cheer in joy to see him approach. 

The Velakurichi Aadheenam, Srila Sri Sathya Gnana Mahadesika Paramacharya Swamigal, leads the procession. He then, proceeds to recreate the Uzhavara Pani of Appar where the Lord tested him by making precious gems and diamonds appear amidst pebbles and stones. This is done in a small pit, where sprouts are grown specifically for this purpose. Coins are thrown into the pit as the sprouts are cleared using the sickle while devotees sing Appar's hymns.

    Once all the coins are thrown away along with the weeds, the procession of Appar moves forward to where the Apsaras are waiting for him. Arambayar Natanam, as this event is called is a very interesting Jugalbandhi where the Apsaras dance gracefully to different songs which are interspersed with Appar's devaram recited by the Sivanadiyars. This continues till the early hours of the morning, when the Apsaras finally accept defeat and return to Devaloka.

    Appar then leaves on his final journey around the village of Tirupugalur. By now, the Nadaswaram has been silenced, the dancers have departed and a very solemn air hangs over the devotees who are singing the hymns of Appar as he is taken around in procession through the streets of Thirupugalar. The numbers that have been growing over the evening are now at its maximum. A frenzy of devotion seems to have caught on, as even those who were sitting silently through the dancing, are now seen singing. Some devotees are seen weeping as the procession goes around. 

    Appar going around in procession one last time
    It is around dawn when the procession approaches the temple. By now the maha mandapa, and the front passage into the temple are jam packed as people are jostling with each other to make sure they have obtained a vantage position to witness Appar merging with the divine consciousness. The Adheenam is waiting for the procession to enter.

    It seems like forever for the procession to enter the temple and reach the front mandapa. The Sivanadiyars are singing the final hymn of Appar " Podhuginren Un Adikke Poompugalur Meviya Punniyane". Many of them are visibly choking over their tears and the air is absolutely solemn. Slowly yet steadily, the idol of Appar is raised into the mandapa leading to the sanctum. Within minutes, he is taken over by the priests who lead him into the sanctum. The lights are dimmed and Appar is placed at the feet of Lord Agneeswara also called Saranyapureeswara, as Appar took his final refuge in him.

    When the Harathi is shown, a ray of light is seen emerging from Appar and merging with the Lord. The crowds that were waiting the whole night, for this moment, cry out loud. It is a moment of ecstasy for everyone present, to see the Lord's greatest devotee merge with him. 

    The priests step out and the doors are closed. Slowly the crowds trickle out, with a sense of fulfilment, of peace and joy of having experienced a once in a life time event. 

    About Mangala Rural Retreat:

    Tirupugalur is clearly out of the regular tourist circuit dotted with good hotels and restaurants and this divine experience was made possible thanks to Mangala Rural Retreat, an agraharam house converted into a home stay by Prakriti Foundation. It is a very well maintained property right behind the temple, with five well appointed airconditioned rooms, awesome traditional South Indian vegetarian food, delightful double swings, a courtyard and Thinnai to boot. And what's more - it also has modest Wifi!
    If you intend to be around here, do check out Mangala!

    A view of the rustic interiors of the Mangala Rural Retreat
    For more details look up