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