Monday, November 12, 2018

Kathithamalai Kumaran

Kathithamalai Vetri Velayudha Swamy Temple
Kathithamalai, which is now referred to as Kaithamalai, is near Uthukuli in Tirupur District. The Vetri Velayudhaswamy temple, set amidst rustic and ethereal surroundings, attracts a huge crowd of devotees every year.


Once Sage Agasthya was visiting all Muruga temples in the Kongu region. He was accompanied by Sage Narada and the Devas. When they came to this place, Sage Agasthya was extremely thirsty. There was no water to be found anywhere nearby. So, he prayed to Lord Muruga who appeared before him, and hit the ground with his spear (Vel). Immediately, water came gushing out from the pit formed when Muruga's spear hit the ground. Since it was an ootru (spring) which came forth from a Kuzhi (pit), the place came to be known as Utrukuzhi which slowly morphed into Uthukuli. 

Sage Agasthya was very grateful to Lord Muruga for having appeared before him to quench his thirst. So he installed him in the same place in the form of a swayambu. This swayambu which looks like a small mound or lingam is in the sanctum sanctorum right next to the idol of Lord Muruga.

The temple is found on a small hillock. There are steps to climb and vehicles also ply right upto the entrance of the temple. There is a beautiful five-tier Rajagopuram at the entrance and the temple is spotlessly clean and freshly painted. As we enter, we are welcomed by screeching peacocks which move from one mandapa to the other, unmindful of the crowd beneath.

In the sanctum sanctorum, Lord Muruga is unusually found alone, without Valli and Devayanai, who are found together in a seperate shrine behind the temple. The legend again explains that both of them were desirous of marrying Lord Muruga and came here to worship him and since this was a pre-marriage shrine, they are found together behind the temple, but away from Lord Muruga. Therefore in this temple, Lord Muruga is found as an embodiment of Gnana, without Valli and Devayanai who are the Ichcha Sakthi and Kriya Sakthi.

Because of this, on every Tuesday, special abhishekams are performed to Lord Muruga at 5 am. Then from 6 am to 7 am, a special prayer comprising of 300 verses called Shatru Samhara Thrisathi is performed. Those desirous of obtaining success in their career, marriage, or education, or those who want to get rid of enemies, evil forces or competition, come here to perform the Thrisathi and find success in their lives. It is because of this that he is called Vetri Velayudha Swamy. The sthalavriksham of this temple is Vilvam.

Near the Valli Devayanai shrine, there is a frontier deity called Sukkumalaiyaan who is worshipped by devotees, by tying cradles on the Paalai tree (Blackboard Tree, also known as Saptparni), under which he sits.

Beneath the temple on the South, there is a samadhi of a saint Mayuranatha Siddhar which is popularly known as Subbarayar Kovil. There is a huge anthill inside this temple and it is believed that the anthill has developed over the samadhi of the siddhar. Till some time ago, the samadhi was open to public for worship. Currently there are three snakes that live within the anthill. They appear before the devotees periodically, but do not harm anyone.

Few months ago, someone set the anthill on fire accidently while lighting camphor, post which, the anthill is cordoned off. Devotees are also prohibited from pouring milk and eggs on the anthill. There is a seperate enclosure for making offerings, and for sacrificing hens.

Those suffering from Rahu, Kethu Dosham, come to the Subbarayar temple and worship him by offering milk and eggs to the snakes in the anthill. 

While it is believed Arunagirinathar visited Kathithamalai and sang about Vetri Velayudhaswamy, no direct Thirupugazhs are attributable to this temple, at the moment. 

While all festivals associated with Murugan are celebrated here with a lot of splendour, the most famous is the Thai Poosam. On the fourth day after Thai Poosam, devotees pull the decorated temple car around the hill. This is probably the only temple where the wooden car is pulled around a hill.

This temple features amongst the six Kongunattu Arupadai Veedu for Lord Muruga. It is considered to be a very powerful place for worship and hundreds of devotees throng here every day.

How to get here: Kaithamalai is 15 kilometers from Tirupur city on the Tirupur - Erode Road.

Temple Timings: 5.30 - 2 pm, 4-8 pm

Contact Details : 04294-262052

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Our lady of Glory Pulicat - the first Parish of Tamil Nadu

The new church of Our Lady of Glory in Pulicat
Last year, during Madras week, I had been on a heritage trip to Pulicat, organised by Aarde Foundation, led by architect Mr Xavier Benedict. Xavier and his team have done magnificent work in documenting the history and heritage of the city, where the Arabs, Portuguese and Dutch landed much before the British did and in a way, was the forerunner to the founding of the city of Madras.

As usual, this post, which should have been written months ago, got buried in my professional commitments along with 30,000 other images waiting to see the light of day.

The waters of Pazhaverkadu were deep enough for the ships of the Arabs, Portuguese and the Dutch to land and trade diamonds, pearls, textiles, herbs and spices. The world famous Palayacatta Lungies originated from Pulicat. The prawns and crabs, caught in the waters of Pulicat, till date are said to be among the tastiest.

One day, when a fisherman cast his net, all that he caught was a log of wood . Angered, he threw it right back into the waters, and went home disappointed. The next day, the same log was caught in his net. This time, the frustrated fisherman, threw the log into the shore, and cast his net again. He ended up catching a huge amount of fish, and went home happily.

A woodcutter, who saw the piece of wood on the shore, started cutting it for firewood. The moment his axe hit the log, blood splashed from it, and he lost his eye-sight. He was wandering about on the beach, weeping, unable to find his way home. His wife, finding that her husband did not return home that evening, went looking for him, and found him, weeping on the beach. On hearing what happened, she found the log. She prayed to it fervently, seeking apology for the unknowing act of her husband. She then collected the blood from the axe, and smeared it on the woodcutter's eyes. This restored his eyesight.

They returned home happily, carrying the log with them. They shared the incident with everyone in the fishing village. The villagers installed the holy log in a hut and started worshipping it. The next year, a Portuguese ship returning from Malacca reached Pulicat and on hearing from the villagers about the holy log, confirmed that it was the wooden idol of Mother Mary which they had lost in the cyclone on the shores of Pulicat when they started to Malacca.

It was the year 1515 CE and they helped the villagers install the wooden idol of Mother Mary in a small shrine, and called her Our Lady of Joy, due to the joy of rediscovering her after losing her in the storm.

Several miracles followed in the years to come. The Lady of Joy helped several people in distress. So her name and fame grew, and the shrine attracted more and more people to it. Because of this, the Dutch who came after the Portuguese, expanded the shrine and called Mother Mary, Our Lady of Glory, a name that refers to the church till date.

Although over time, even the British added architectural additions to the church, the original altar from the Portuguese time remains to date. The church is filled with paintings that depict the history of events and photographs of how the structure has changed over the years.

Sadly, all that remains of the old Portuguese structure is the altar and the house of the priest, that was built at the time the church was, by the Portuguese and redo by the Dutch subsequently. The original church has been pulled down in 2008, to give way to a new and larger building. The original church had been built like a cross with a central arch and praying hall and chambers on either side, It was of typically Gothic architecture style. Aarde Foundation has tried to recreate a model of the church that had been in existence and displays the image of a 3D regenerated model in its small museum.

The church also contains a copy of the decree by the Archbishop of Madras - Mylapore declaring it as the first Parish in Tamil Nadu.

Apart from this church, which still attracts several thousand people from across the world to it because of its glory and miracles, there is another church in Pulicat, the St.Antony's church in the North Eastern side of Kottaikuppam, which still retains its original Dutch architecture and a relic of St.Antony.

Although most of rich heritage of Pulicat has been lost to deliberate destruction and passage of time, it is important that we understand, appreciate  and recognise the structures that are still left, before they too undergo transformation and change beyond recognition.

How to get here: Pulicat is about 60 kilometres north of Chennai. GPS coordinates (13.422564, 80.315257)

Contact Details : 044 2797 6460

Monday, August 6, 2018

Chennaiyin Rameswaram!

Adhi Kesava Perumal Temple in Kuvattur
Kuvattur - A name ringing in Tamil news channels a few months ago, is home to the quaint Adhi Kesava Perumal Temple. Set within the village on East Coast Road, the temple has eight wells representing the eight holy rivers of India. In the past, devotees bathed in these eight wells, similar to Rameswaram, and worshipped the gigantic Adhi Kesava Perumal to be rid of ancestral curses (Pitru Dosha).

Legend :

One of the wells representing a holy river inside the temple
The eight holy rivers : Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi, Sarayu, Godavari, Narmada, Thungabadra, Kaveri were upset that they were becoming more and more unclean due to washing the sins of those who bathe in them. They approached Lord Brahma and asked for a remedy. He in turn asked them to go to Bhoolokha and meet Sage Vedagosha, who would give them a solution.

The rivers thanked Lord Brahma and came down to Bhoolokha in search of Sage Vedagosha. They found him in a forest worshipping Lord Adhi Kesava Perumal. They bowed before him and explained their predicament.

Sage Vedagosha listened to them. He asked them to stay there and pray to Lord Adhikesava Perumal in whatever way they wished, with steadfastedness and devotion, whereby they would be rid of their burden. The women started performing different tasks for the worship of Lord Adhikesava Perumal. Ganga gave water for abhishekam, Yamuna helped grow flowers for worship, Sarayu grew fruits and vegetables for offering, Saraswathi, cleaned all the vessels and helped the Sage with the requirements for pooja, the Narmada and Godavari cleaned the ashram and decorated it with vines and creepers and made pretty patterns on the floor. Tungabadra and Kaveri sang beautiful hymns in praise of the Lord with devotion.

This went on for many months. The women were steadfast in their devotion. Their interest and passion did not come down as days passed by. They continued their worship with singleminded devotion. Pleased with their worship, the Lord Adhi Kesava Perumal appeared before them on a Panguni Uthiram day at sunset.

The eight women bowed before him, and sought a solution to their problem. The Lord promised to rid them of all the sins they had accumulated from sunrise to sunset every day, and by the time the sun rose again, they would be relieved of all the sins and be crystal clear again. The women thanked the Lord and the Veda Gosha Maharishi. As a token of gratitude, they promised to stay in the same location, in the form of eight wells, till the Sun and Moon rose. They also promised to grant anyone who bathed in all eight wells and worshipped Lord Adi Kesava, the benefits of bathing in these eight rivers.

The eight rivers then manifested in eight wells around the sanctum and  Sage Narada and Budhan (Planet Mercury) who were witness to this incident worshipped Lord Adhi Kesava Perumal and built a Mayura Mani Mandapa around his sanctum. The place came to be called Kuvattur as Koopam or Koovam means well.

From then on, devotees started worshipping here to get the benefits of bathing in the eight holy rivers and being rid of all sins in their present and previous births. Similarly, since Budha had himself worshipped the Lord here, those with Budha Dosha in their horoscopes also worship here to be relieved of their dosha.

Lord Hanuman's Dosha: 

Hanuman at Adhi Kesava Perumal Temple Kuvattur
After the Ramayana War, Rama wanted to perform Shiva linga Puja to be rid of the Brahma Hathi Dosha that he had acquired by killing Ravana. He asked Hanuman to bring him a Shivalingam from Kashi. However, Hanuman was delayed and Sita, created a lingam out of sand for Rama to worship. When Hanuman returned, he saw that the lingam had already been installed and the prayers were complete. He was upset that Sita had not waited for him to arrive. Seeing his crestfallen face, Rama asked him to install the Lingam he had brought and worshipped that as well.

Hanuman was ashamed of his action. He also realised that he had cursed Sita who was equivalent to his mother. He wanted to be rid of the sin of cursing his mother. So he visited several temples but was not relieved of the pain and suffering in his heart. Finally he reached the Adhi Kesava Perumal Temple in Kuvattur. When he reached the temple and bathed in the eight wells and worshipped Lord Adhi Kesava Perumal, the Lord appeared before him and relieved him from the dosha of having cursed his mother. Hanuman, sought a boon, that anyone who had not taken care of their mother, or not performed service to them while alive, or thier rites after their death, can be relieved of the Matru Shapam by worshipping Lord Adhi Kesava Perumal here.

Similarly, when Yudhistra came to know that his mother had not revealed the fact that Karna was their brother, he uttered that no woman will be able to hold any secret to themselves. This angered other women who cursed Yudhistra for unnecessarily affecting their lives. Yudhistra came to Kuvattur to worship Adhi Kesava Perumal and be rid of the Sumangali Shapam he had acquired.

The temple:

Adhi Kesava Perumal
Although there are no inscriptions in this temple, the inscription recorded at the Angalamman temple near the Adhi Kesava Perumal temple, is from the time of Sadashivayyadeva Maharaya, son of Saluva Manga Udaiyar Devamaharaya of the Vijayanagara Dynasty. 

The deities at the temple are also presumably of the Vijayanagara period. Hanuman is found in a seperate shrine across the road with the Sarayu theertham behind his shrine. The Deepasthambam of the temple was originally between the two temples, but with the development of roads into the village, the deepasthambam has been brought into the Adhikesava perumal temple. The seven wells are around the temple. Gopu Bhattar, the archakar at the temple says that the wells are full during the rainy season, but during the summer months, only one of them has water which is used for abhishekam and aradhanam.

The Sudharshana, albeit being small, is a delight to watch. With a smile around the corner of his lips and sixteen arms holding multiple weapons, he is so endearing. The Narasimha behind him, is no less in beauty. Seated on the Naga, with Chakras in all four arms, he is ever waiting for the devotee to grant his genuine wishes.

Lord Adhikesava Perumal looks gigantic and majestic. His dwarapalakas, and Garuda are equally beautiful. 

Goddess Maragathavalli and Andal are founded in separate shrines.If you happen to cross the ECR, do stop by to worship the majestic Adhi Kesava Perumal and witness the eight holy rivers in the form of wells.

How to get here: Koovathur is about 80 kms from Chennai and 14 kms from Kalpakkam on the East Coast Road (GPS coordinates: 12.443852, 80.106224)

Temple Timings: The temple is open through the day for the benefit of devotees. The bhattar lives right next to the temple and facilitates with pooja until 7 pm.

Contact Details: Gopu Bhattar 9790846554

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Dakshina Bhadrachalam

Dakshina Bhadrachalam Sri Kothandarama Temple, West Mambalam
Vankayala Kuppaiah Chetty was restless. His health was failing and he could not comprehend why. Especially that night, he felt as if he was swinging between life and death. It was as if a load was placed over his chest, making it extremely difficult to breathe. "Rama, why am I going through such an ordeal?" he asked his favourite deity. 

For years, he had spent hours in the divine company of Lord Pattabhirama, whom he felt was the guiding source of his life. The Lord was in a small, dilapidating shrine. But his glory, grace and presence were in no way small. 

Adi Narayana Dasa, a descendant of Kancherla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhadrachalam Ramadasu, had installed Lord Rama in a small shrine in Mambalam village in the 19th century. The deity was similar to that of Bhadrachalam. Lord Rama in a pattabhisheka kolam, with Sita Devi on his lap, Lakshmana holding an umbrella to the divine couple, and Hanuman holding Rama's foot. He stayed nearby and worshipped Lord Rama with devotion. Every year, he celebrated Rama Navami, with great pomp and glory.  Over the years, the small temple popularly called Dakshina Bhadrachalam, became dilapidated, desperately needing repairs and renovation. However, the grace of the Lord, continued to draw ardent devotees such as Vankayala Kuppaiah Chetty.

The Kothandaramar Temple, West Mambalam
By now, Kuppaiah Chetty was sweating profusely. He called out to his wife, Andalamma to bring him some water. However, the liquid did not go beyond his throat. It was as if his body was on fire. His wife gently fanned him, as he slipped into semi-consciousness. It was then, that the room was filled with a bright, dazzling light. Kuppaiah Chetty felt he was being transported from his body to stand up straight and peer into the divine light. Lord Rama, his divine companion,stood before him as Kothandarama. His compassionate gaze enveloped Kuppaiah Chetty who burst into tears. He was able to see that he was being slow poisoned by his relatives, who were desirous of usurping the vast properties of the childless couple. The divine gaze seemed to penetrate into the body of Kuppaiah Chetty and remove all the toxins that the poison had created. Just as the light entered the room, it reduced into a spot and disappeared. Kuppaiah Chetty was now breathing normally, and slipped into deep sleep.

A painting depicting how Lord Pattibhirama and Kothandarama are found in the sanctum
Next morning, when he woke, he was feeling fit as a fiddle. It was as if all his ailments over the past few months had disappeared into dewdrops in the sun. He recalled how the Lord had revealed what happened and cured him of his ailment. He ran to the temple to offer thanks to Lord Pattabhirama. As he entered the temple, he saw Denuvagupta Venkatrangayya Haridasar, the manager of the temple sitting with a worried expression. But Kuppaiah Chetty was more eager to seethe Lord and thank him for his mercy. After worshipping him, he came out of the shrine. Now, he was able to see Haridasar better. The worry in his face, drew him towards him. Haridasar started sharing his worry - he had Rs.5000 in hand - Rs.1000 from sale of old things at the temple, and Rs.4000 from donations. But that was hardly enough to renovate the beautiful, yet languishing temple. 

Kuppaiah Chetty knew why the Lord had given him a rebirth. His mission was to renovate the beautiful temple built by Adi Narayana Dasa as Dakshina Bhadrachalam. The mission began on that day in 1926 and within a year, the temple was renovated beautifully. He added another Moolavar, Sri Kothandaramar, as he had appeared before him, as well as Lord Ranganatha, who has installed by the side of the sanctum. After that, the temple came to be known as Kothandaramar temple.

A house in the Mambalam Agraharam
Today, the temple stands in pristine condition in what was originally the agraharam of Mambalam village, remainders of which can still be found around the temple. The house in which Adi Narayana Dasa lived and performed Rama Navami, Harikatha and Bhajans, still stands close to the temple, and the urchava murthis worshipped by him are being worshipped till date.

Hanumad Theertham
The temple tank known as Hanumad Theertham was installed in January 1909 by Tummala Penta Narayana Chetty and his wife Kamakshamma. An inscription to that effect is found on the banks of the tank, with a beautiful Sanskrit verse written in Telugu which mentions the creation of a water body as the holiest among dhaanams (grants). 

Inscription at the Hanumad Theertham
The main deity Pattabhirama as well as the Kothandarama installed by Vankayala Kuppaiah Chetty, are flanked on either side by Sri Ranganatha and Sri Yoga Narasimha. So in one row, one gets to worship the Lord in Kidanthan, Ninran and Irundhan postures.

The goddess Ranganayaki Thaayar and Andal are found in seperate shrines. Across the courtyard, facing Sri Rama is Sanjeevi Parvatha Anjaneya Swamy. A very unique Hanuman with the Sanjeevi Parvatha in his right hand, and his left hand showing Abhaya Hastha, he stands facing North (Kubera Moolai). Devotees throng his shrine to worship him and have their genuine prayers answered.

Sanjeevi Parvatha Hanuman (Photo Courtesy: Sri Kothandaramar Temple)
The vasantha mandapam has also been renovated where the Vasanthotsavam happens every year. An inscription describing the temple as Dakshina Bhadrachalam is found in the Vasantha Mandapam.

The Mahamandapam pillars have images of both Vankayala Kuppaiah Chetty and his wife Andalamma. Peepal tree is the Sthala Vriksham of the temple and the poojas are carried out as per the Vaikhanasa Agama. 

Shri Vankayala Kuppaiah Chetty 
Every month, is a festival month at this temple. Brahmotsavam is celebrated with great glory for ten days in the tamil month of Chithirai, followed by the Vasanthotsavam in Vaikasi, Jyeshtabhishekam and Garuda Sevai in Aani, Gajendra Moksham in Aadi - this is a must watch, when the entire Gajendra Moksham episode is recreated for the benefit of the devotees, Aadi pooram and Andal Kalyanam are also conducted in this month, Krishna Jayanthi in Aavani, Pavithrotsavam in Purattasi, Ten days Manavala Mamunigal Saatrumarai in Aipasi, Karthigai deepam in Karthigai, Vaikunta Ekadesi and Hanumad Jayanthi in Margazhi, Theppothsavam and Laksha Dheepam in Thai, Masi Magam Garuda Sevai, and Sri Rama Navami and Panguni Uthiram Thirukalyanam in Panguni  are the main festivals apart from numerous other events.

How to reach here: The temple is very close to the Madley Road Subway and the Mambalam Bus stand as well as railway station.

Temple timings: 7-10.30 am in the morning, 5-8.30 pm in the evening.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Thiruvananthapuram of Tamil Nadu!

Inside the Aavarani Anantha Narayana Temple
Thousands throng the temple of Lord Ananthapadmanabha Swamy, at Thiruvananthapuram, despite strict security and dress regulations to worship the 18 feet Lord, reclining on a five headed Anantha (Adhisesha) witnessed through three entrances, whereby his Thirumukam (face), Thiruvudal (Body) and Thirupadam (feet) are visible.

Come to lesser known Aavarani, in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, where Lord Vishnu is seen as Anantha Narayana, also known as Aabharanadhari, his gigantic 21 feet form reclining on a seven- headed Anantha. This Lord, even larger than Ananthapadmanabhaswamy can also only be viewed through three entrances through which his Thirumukham, Nabhi (navel with Brahma rising from it) and Thirupaadham are visible. The only difference here, is that this temple is relatively unknown and one can spend minutes or even hours before the Lord, without any disruption.


The Lord Aabharanadhari reclining on the seven hooded Adisesha

The village Aavarani, was originally named Aabharanadhari after the Lord. It is an extension of Thirukkannangudi, one of the 108 Divya Desams. It is believed that Lord Rama on his return to Ayodhya from Sri Lanka, passed through here and on the request of Brigu Maharishi and Veda Vyasa rested here in the form of Mahavishnu. 

The legend of this temple is associated with the life and times of Thirumangai Alwar. According to the Sthala Puranam,  the Alwar, desirous of raising resources for the Srirangam temple, came to Nagapattinam to steal the Golden idol of Buddha at the Vihara . He collected some banana stems from a place called Vazhakarai, stole the Golden idol, hid it among the banana stems during the day, and travelled over night towards Srirangam. The place where he hid the statue during day has come to be known as Porulvaithacheri (now called Poravacheri near Sikkal). He then visited Aavarani and worshipped the gigantic Ananthanarayana Perumal. Seeing the huge Lord, he adorned his body with Tulsi garlands which are said to have turned into different jewels. He then called him "Aabharanadhari Narayana". Because of this, the place came to be known as Aabharanadhari. 

From here, he went to the Thirukannangudi Damodhara Narayana Perumal temple and worshipped the Ninraan and Irundhaan (Veetrirundha Perumal) forms of the Lord.  In his mangalasasanam of the Thirukkanangudi temple, the stanza beginning with "Vangama munneer", according to Vaishnavaite scholars, describes the Ananthanarayana Perumal of Aavarani who is reclined on the Anantha ("sangamaarangai thadamalarundhi samameniyen") and hence it is inferred that this sthalam must have been part of the Thirukkannangudi Divya desam originally. Government records also mention Aavarani village as Thirukkannangudi Agaram which reemphasises the fact that Aavarani was a Brahmadeyam (tax free land provided to Brahmin scholars) of Thirukkanangudi.

The Lord

Lord Ananthanarayana at Aavarani
The gigantic form of Lord Ananthanarayana Perumal completely fills the sanctum. Reclining on  seven hooded Adisesha, with a Marakkal (measuring utensil) as headrest,  his head is placed in the Southern direction and feet towards North. He has a right hand supporting his head, and a left hand extended upto his knee.  He wears a number of ornaments on his body true to the name of Aabharanadhari. On his head, he wears a crown, kundalams in his ears, katakas on his arms, a beautiful Nalankilar Haram on his broad chest, sacred thread, and anklets on his feet. Brahma raising from his navel, and Sridevi and Bhudevi found by his side, are also wearing ornaments. Apart from them, Sage Bhrigu and Veda Vyasa are found at the head and foot of the Lord respectively as he gave vision to them at this site. 

Other Deities
Goddess Alankaravalli
On entering the temple, one can see the Pakshiraja Garudalwar facing the Lord. He is seen with snakes as ornaments on his body. He is flanked by a beautiful Hanuman, known as Padma Hanuman. Goddess Alankaravalli is found in a separate shrine . The temple well is very special as the water is said to be extremely sweet. The temple tank is called Ananthapushkarani and bathing here and chanting Achutha, Anantha, Govindha thrice, rids one of all problems and turns them towards liberation.


The beautiful well at the Aavarani Temple
A total of eleven inscriptions have been read at this temple. Out of which nine are from the Chola period, one from the Pandya period and another from the Vijayanagara Period. The oldest among them is from the time of Raja Raja Chola II from 1150 AD. This inscription calls Aavarani as Aabharanadari Chaturvedimangalam. The inscription also mentions a Siva temple known as Thiruvirameswaram which probably existed in Aavarani.

There are six inscriptions belonging to the period of Kulothunga Chola III, and one of Jatavarman Kulasekhara Pandyan.  A 1474 AD inscription of Thippayya Devamaharaya refers to the village as Aabharanadhari yaana Uttaranandapuram and the Lord as Pallikonda Perumal.

The rest of the inscriptions talk about temples nearby. One of the inscriptions refer to Simmavishnu Chaturvedimangalam and a deity called Parvatheeswara mudaiyar and about grants given to the temple. This inscription also mentions the villagers of Ranajaya Chaturvedi mangalam giving grants to Parvatheeswara mudaiyar. This probably was another temple near Aavarani.  Another inscription mentions Chitralekha Perumpalli which probably was a Buddha Vihara nearby. There have been exchange of land between the Parvatheeswara mudaiyar temple and the Chitralekha Perumpalli.

Other significance:

Padma Anjaneya at the Aavarani Temple
This temple is one of the Pancha Narayana Kshetrams referred to in the Garuda Puranam as Pancha Badra. The others being the Damodara Narayana Perumal in Thirukannangudi, Yadava Narayana Perumal in Keevalur, Deva Narayana Perumal in Devur and  Varada Narayana Perumal in North Alandhur.

How to reach here:

This temple is found on the Nagapattinam - Thiruvarur route, about four kilometres from the famous Sikkal Murugan temple.  GPS Coordinates : (10.74561792, 79.77533913)

Contact: S Kumar Bhattar - 97885 17247

Temple Timings: 9-11 am, 5-7 pm

Updated on 04 June 2018:

Inspired by the Lord Anantha Narayana, Poet Diwakara Tanujaha (Mr Sudharshanam) has composed a beautiful verse on him which he has also rendered as an audio file for our listening pleasure:

ஆவரணி ஆபரணம்

(எண்சீர் விருத்தம் – விளம் காய் மும்முறை இரட்டித்தது)

இடதுகை நீளவல(து) எழுதலை வாங்கக்கைக்
...கடகமும் குண்டலமும் கால்களில் தண்டையுமாய்ப்
படியணைந் தாவரணி படுத்துளான் பார்க்கிலனே!
...பணிலமா ரம்பொலிதோள் பொன்முகம் ஒருவாசல்
படைமல ரன்முகிழ்கொப் பூழ்நலங் கிளராரம்
...பாதுகம் இருவாசல் முப்படக் கிடக்குமணி
நெடுவடி மூவேழாய் நீண்டநல் ஆபரணம்
...நிறைமலர் நகையாக்கி நெகிழ்ந்தவன் காணாமோ?

(கடகம் – கையில் கட்டும் கங்கணம்; படி – தானியங்களை அளக்கும் மரக்கால்; பணிலம் – சங்கு; ஆரம் – சக்கரம்; படைமலரன் – படைக்கும், மலரில் இருக்கும் பிரமன்; கொப்பூழ் – தொப்புள்; நலங்கிளர் ஆரம் – பெருமான் அணிந்திருக்கும் நலங்கிளர் எனப்படும் ஆரம்; பாதுகம் – கால்கள்; நிறைமலர் – நிறைந்த மலர், இங்கு துளசி இதழ்)

இடது கையை நீட்டி வைத்து, வலது கையை, உயர்த்திய தலைக்கு முட்டுக் கொடுத்து, கையில் கங்கணமும், காதில் குண்டலமும், கால்களில் தண்டையும் அணிந்துகொண்டு, தானியங்கள் அளக்கும் படியைத் தலைக்கு அணை கொடுத்து, ஆவரணி என்னும் ஊரில் படுத்துக் கொண்டிருப்பவனை நான் இன்னும் பார்க்கவில்லையே!

சங்கும் சக்கரமும் தாங்கிய பொலிகின்ற தோளும், பொன்போல் ஒளிர்கின்ற திருமுகமும் ஒரு வாசல் வழியே, நாம் காணுமாறும், நலங்கிளர் என்னும் ஆரத்தைத் தாங்கும் மார்பையும், படைக்கும் தொழிலைச் செய்கின்ற பிரமன் முளைத்த நாபியையும் நமக்கு இன்னொரு வாசலில் காட்டியபடியும், மூன்றால் வாசலில் தனது பாதங்களைக் காட்டியும், முப்பகுதியாகக் கிடக்கும் மணி அவன்;

நிறைவு பெற்ற மலரான துளசியை, தனக்கு இட்டவரின் பக்தியில் நெகிழ்ந்தவனாய், நீண்ட உருவமாய், இருபத்தொரு அடி நீளத்தில், ஆபரணமாகவே விளங்குகின்ற அவனை நாம் காண வேண்டாமா?

(திருமங்கை ஆழ்வார் இட்ட துளசி மாலை, அவனுக்கு மணிகளாக மாறி அலங்க்கரித்ததால், அவனை ஆபரணதாரி என்றே அழைக்கிறார்கள். மேல் விவரங்களுக்கு வலைப்பூவைப் படிக்கவும்.)

Audio Link to the verse

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dattagiri Guhalayam

Dattagiri Murugan Temple
Kongu region in Tamil Nadu is well known for its Murugan temples. As the Tamil porverb goes " Kunrirukkum Idamellam Kumaran Iruppan", every hillock in this region has temples where Lord Muruga is found in all his glory. One among them is the temple at Dattagiri.

The hillock found on the Namakkal - Sendhamangalam road known as Sanyasikundru, has come to be known as Dattagiri. There are two temples found on this hillock - one is a temple for Lord Muruga, known as Guhalayam and the other, a temple for Dattatreya, giving the hillock its new name. Both temples are being maintained by the Sri Shantananda Swamigal Sathsangam.

The Dattagiri Guhalayam seen on top of the Hillock
The Guhalayam is most sought after by those longing for the gift of child birth. Gone are the days when having a child was a routine occurence. Today, technology, poor lifestyle and delayed marriages are causing fertility issues in a number of couples, who seek divine intervention along with modern medicines to bring forth a baby into their lives. The Dattagiri Guhalayam has couples from different parts of world coming here with prayers of child birth. 

Procedure for worship:

Procedure for worship at the Vijayaraja Vinayaka and Kasi Viswanathar shrines
Those couples praying for child birth carry water in their own hands and perform abhishekam to Vijayaraja Vinayaka and Kasi Viswanatha found midway while climbing the hillock. They can also perform abhishekam with milk or sandal paste. Worship is permitted in these shrines from sunrise to sunset only (6 am - 6 pm). Not more than five minutes is permitted per couple to ensure everyone who has travelled far gets a fair and equal chance to perform pooja here. The couple chant Sivaya Nama 108 times while performing the abhishekam. They then begin the ascent towards the Guhalayam. Right from the foothills till such time the prayers are completed, they are expected to maintain silence, focusing on the supreme power and sincere prayers for their desire to be fulfilled.

Shri Swayamprakasa Brahmendra Saraswatavadootha Mahaswami
After climbing fifty steps, they first worship at the Dattatreya shrine. This shrine is found in two levels, the shrine for Dattatreya, son of Sage Athri and his wife Anusuya on the higher level, with the samathi of his long term devotee and disciple, Shri Swayamprakasa Brahmendra Saraswatavadootha Mahaswami on the lower level below the idol of Lord Dattatreya.

Afer praying here, they reach the Guhalayam and perform milk abhishegam to the beautiful deity. Then then come down from the shrine, and worship Heramba Panchamukha Ganapathy, Panchamukha Hanuman, Dakshinamurthy, Vanadurga and Veerabadra Swamy. Post which they descend the hillock and perform a circumambulation of the hillock and offer their salutations.

Dattagiri Murugan
The Vibhuti (sacred ash) provided at the end of the abhishekam is taken back with them and worn daily with reverence by the couple, to find their prayers answered soon. They then come back with their little one to offer thanks and perform abhishekam to the Lord again. 

Panchamukha Hanuman

As this temple is of recent origin, I had not originally been interested in it. However, after hearing so many instances from friends and family about prayers of child birth being answered here, I decided to visit in order to share the benefits with a larger audience.

Although the temple is new, the serenity and cleanliness of the environment and the very pleasant ambience facilitate divinity. One can see several couples visiting with their little ones, offering words of encouragement and support to those who have come here to pray. Overall, it is a very positive environment, worth visiting.

Heramba Panchamukha Ganapathy

How to reach here: Sanyasikunru or Dattagiri hill as it is called today, is found on the Namakkal- Rasipuram State Highway, about 12 kms from Namakkal.

Temple Timings: Morning - 6 am to 12 pm Evening 5 pm to 7.30 pm

Contact: 91504 11378, 99448 48962

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Manavur Karkadeswara

The Karkadeswarar Temple at Manavur
While I was involved in the mapping of temples along the river Cooum, the Koova Puranam served as the main source of reference about sites along the Cooum river. This puranam mentions Koovam was made up of 18 kottams and 24 cheris. Since the river has shrunk over time, and the areas along the coasts have got habitated, some of the kottams and cheris are no longer close to the river. Also, temples have been converted to other buildings or places of worship in some places. Hence the temples from these places did not get featured in the director " The Gods of the Holy Koovam" which was released in February 2017. 

However, that does not make these temples less significant. I have always been wanting to write about them in Aalayam Kanden, but as I have mentioned several times before in earlier posts, which post gets written has always depends on divine will and only now has the time come true to write about Manavur Karkadeswara.

Manavur is on the Chennai - Arakkonam rail route. It has a number of temples out of which the most popular and well known temple is the Thirunandhiswarar Temple, where Lord Shiva is said to have given a vision to Sage Agasthya and Nandhi in Kalyana Kolam after his visit to Tiruvalangadu. Very close to the Thirunandhiswara temple is the equally ancient Karkadeswara Temple. 

The sad plight of the Karkadeswara temple

The Legend

Jayantha, the son of Indra was notorious for his annoying deeds. Several puranas quote instances of curses he incurred because of this.  On one occasion, Jayantha met Sage Athri on his way. Rather than pay his respects or even greet him, he mocked that the sage was walking like a crab. Angered by his arrogance, the Sage cursed him to become one. 

Mortified, Jayantha sought pardon and remedy for his curse. Sage Athri asked him to go down to Thiruvalangadu, where Lord Nataraja showed his divine dance to Karaikal Ammaiyar. After worshipping him, he asked Jayantha to reach Manavur and worship Thirunandheeswara in order to regain his form. 

Jayantha did as suggested. He came to Manavur and worshipped Thirunandhiswara in his crab form. He dug a tank near his temple, called Karkada Theertham. He meditated on the Lord on its banks. 
Days and months passed. One day, as he was praying, there was a flash of light and the Lord appeared before him as a Swayambu Linga. The crab was overwhelmed with his mercy, and prayed to him and as he did he regained his real form. 

Swayambu Karkadeswara at Manavur
Jayantha performed abhishekam and pujas to the deity before leaving to his abode. A temple was subsequently raised by the Kings of Thondaimandalam, out of which Manavur was a Kottam. Shrines were added for Poi Sollaa Pillayar and Goddess Kamakshi. Those born under Kataka Rasi or the Sun Sign of Cancer came here to worship Lord Karkadeswara. It is also believed that those suffering from cancer get solace by performing abhishekam to the Lord with milk, and consuming jaggery offering to him. 

Situation Today

Goddess Kamakshi
Over time, this temple became less patronised and started getting dilapidated. The temple tank dried up and the festivities stopped. There is a priest who is performing one time puja now at the temple. 
A few months ago, a devotee of Lord Shiva from Gudiyatham, has come forward to perform repairs and renovate the Swami and Ambal shrines and Mahamandapa. Balalayam has been performed and the cleaning and construction work has begun. However, there is still a lot to be done. The Chandikeswara shrine and the beautiful Poi Sollaa Pillayar shrines are to be renovated. A compound wall needs to be constructed to ensure there are no encroachments, as already a water tank has been built by the Panchayat, precariously close to the heritage structure.

Water tank precariously close to the heritage structure
The Ganesha here is found in a separate shrine which is at some distance from the Karkadeswarar shrine. This Ganesha is called Poi Sollaa Pillayar. He has been treated as a judge for deciding disputes in the village. When there is a dispute between two parties, they are brought before the Ganesha and asked to swear that they are speaking the truth. If anyone still lies, then they have unpleasant occurences in their lives and therefore, they normally confess or agree and the dispute is amicably resolved. Therefore, the Ganesha has come to be called Poi Sollaa Pillayar.

Poi Solla Pillayar Shrine
The Nandi here is equally unique. He looks more like a calf and is found in a seperate mandapa that also needs immediate repairs.

Nandi at the Karkadeswara Temple
Likewise, the huge Kataka Theertham tank has to be restored and fortified, before it turns into a "Chennaikku Miga Arugil" site. The priest and volunteers at the village are eagerly looking for patronage. When the Chola inscriptions were read at the Thirunandheeswarar and Kandaswamy temples at Manavur, the priest says the inscriptions at this temple were also read and recorded. However, he does not have access to the same. The inscriptions are no longer found in the temple, so any help with the inscriptions of this temple would greatly help the villagers to document history and period of the temple. Similarly, the priest says that there are local tales that Adishankara had visited and worshipped at this temple. However, there are no documented evidences regarding this.

Poi Sollaa Pillayar
I have a personal experience of getting jaggery from this temple, for the benefit of my friend's uncle who was suffering from cancer. Although the doctors had given him only a few months to live at the time I sent the prasadam, his belief and the grace of Lord Karkadeswara, prolonged his lifespan to over a year and a half and he was able to have a peaceful Mukthi as well.

Construction work has commenced in the Karkadeswarar temple
Patronage and resources are eagerly sought for this temple. You may contact the numbers provided below to directly support the temple or may send your donations to Aalayam Kanden Trust for onward transmission to the cause through Account No. 6028000100005596, Punjab National Bank, West Mambalam, IFSC Code: PUNB0602800. All donations enjoy Sec 80G exemption as per the provisions of the Income Tax Act. If you prefer to send a cheque or demand draft, please do so to Aalayam Kanden Trust, Flat A Nutech Saradambal Apartments, No 36 Kripasankari Street, West Mambalam, Chennai 600 033

How to reach here: 

This temple is about 300 metres from the Thirunandheeswara Temple in Manavur. The nearest suburban train station is Manavur from where share autos are available to the temple. GPS Coordinates: 13.102158, 79.805257

Kataka Theertham tank today
Contact :

For worship, please contact priest Mr Srinivasan at 80987 95873 prior to visiting so that he is available to open the temple. For donation and information, please contact the Arulmigu Kamakshi Samedha Karkadeswarar Aalaya Thiruppani Kuzhu at 8012247358, 9444799854, 9444060815, 9841060503, 9941927877

The Thirunandheeswarar Temple as seen from the Karkadeswarar temple
To read more about the Cooum temples, check out this link in Aalayam Kanden :

To purchase an e-version of the book "The Gods of the Holy Koovam" on Amazon, please click here:
All proceeds from the sale go towards supporting the Tamil section of the Madras Literary Society Library, one of the oldest libraries in Chennai and a Cooum heritage landmark.