Sunday, January 20, 2019

Arutperumjothi - A journey through the life of Ramalinga Vallalar!

Arutprakasa Ramalinga Vallalar
Thai Poosam - the day when Poosam star falls on a full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai, is not only celebrated by the followers of Lord Muruga across the world, but it is also a day when several thousand people gather in the small town of Vadalur, near Chidambaram, to watch the Jothi Darisanam - the stripping of the seven veils to display the Arulperum Jothi - the Supreme Light of Compassion. This practice was started by Saint Ramalinga Vallalar in 1872 and continues to this day, attracting several thousand people from across the globe.

Saint Ramalinga Swamigal, also known as Arulprakasa Vallalar, lit this eternal lamp, to symbolise a religion beyond religions, a path where everyone who practised Jeeva Karunyam (compassion towards all living beings) was welcome into. This path he called the "Samarasa Sudha Sanmarga Sathya Sangam" and the Sathya Gnana Sabai where this event happens, is the demonstration of all that he practised and preached. The Jothi Darisanam on every Poosam day, culminating in the ultimate Darisanam when all seven veils are removed to show the vision of the Supreme Light is something every devotee and believer of Ramalinga Swamigal looks forward to.

Birth and early Life
Saint Ramalinga Swamigal was born as Chidambara Ramalingam, on 5 October 1823, the fifth child of  Ramayya Pillai and his sixth wife Chinnammai, in Marudhur near Chidambaram. The house where he was born has been converted into a memorial. One has to climb down a few steps to reach the house though, as the level of the road has gone up considerably over time.

The house where Ramalinga Vallalar was born
First experience with Light
When he was five months old, Ramalingam was taken to the Chidambaram temple by his parents, and when the light of the Harathi was brought near him, the boy clapped his hands and laughed, a sign to show that he was indeed a realised soul even at that tender age. At the age of two, Ramalingam lost his father, and his mother took him to stay with his oldest brother Sabapathy in a house in Veerasamy Street, in Sevel Wells area of Madras.(Chennai). 

The house where Ramalinga Vallalar lived in Veerasamy Street, Seven Wells, Chennai
Chennai Life and seeing Lord Muruga in a mirror
As a young boy, Ramalingam was hardly interested in studies. Instead, he would spend hours in the Kanda Kottam Murugan temple or the Siva temple in Tiruvottriyur.  Sabapathy, wanting to discipline his brother, asked his wife Pappathi Ammal not to give him any food. However, the kind lady made sure she fed him, without her husband's knowledge. She also gave him a room on the first floor of the house where he could study without disturbance. 

Young Ramalingam asked for a mirror and a lamp and would spend all his time, in meditating on the light reflecting in the mirror. It was in the mirror that he received the first vision of Lord Muruga. One night, when he came back late from the temple, he slept on the verandah without any food as he did not want to wake anyone. Goddess Vadivudai amman of Tiruvottriyur appeared before him in the form of his sister-in-law, and fed him. The first five Thirumurais of the Tiruvarutpa were sung while at this house. The Tamil Nadu  Government has converted this house into a memorial.

The room where Ramalinga Vallalar received a vision of Lord Muruga
Ramalingam had to once substitute for his brother and delivered a discourse on the Periya Puranam. The audience and his brother were stunned at the depth of his knowledge and wisdom in delivering the same in a simple, understandable manner.  Ramalingam stayed in this house from 1825-1858. It was here that he was forced to marry his sister's daughter, Dhanammal, even though he had no desire for a material life.

Lighting lamps with water

In 1858, he wanted to move away from Chennai, and travel to Chidambaram. He met a person called Venkata Reddiar, who invited him to stay in his house in Karunguzhi. He stayed here for a total period of nine year from 1858 - 1867. It was here that his poems were slowly turning from singing about deities to singing about the one Supreme Light that was religionless, formless, and all encompassing. He was compassionate about all living beings, and felt sad even when he saw dried crops. Which is why the songs he composed came to be known as Thiru Arutpa.

One night, when he was writing, the lamps dimmed due to lack of oil. Ramalinga Vallalar filled the lamps with water, and they continued to burn through the night, enabling him to complete his writing.

The room in which Ramalinga Vallalar light lamps with water in Karunguzhi
Apart from this, he has also created a drinking water source in this village for both lifestock and people and till date, this water source remains perennial, feeding thousands of lives.

It was here that he started the Samarasa Vedha Sanmarga Sangam in 1865. In 1872 it was renamed as Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Sathya Sangam - a society for pure truth in universal selfhood. 

Establishment of Sathya Dharma Salai

Ramalinga Vallalar, as he came to be called, did not want any living being to suffer from hunger. He advised humans to refrain from taking non-vegetarian food, which involved killing of other living beings, and instead encouraged them to feed vegetarian food to those who were hungry and needy. On 23rd of May, 1867, he started the Sathya Dharma Salai, a facility to feed people throughout the day, in Vadalur. The stove that was lit by him in 1867, continues to burn till date, feeding hundreds of people on a daily basis.

Anaiya Aduppu - the stove lit by Ramalinga Vallalar continuing to feed people to this day
 Construction of Sathya Gnana Sabhai

Sathya Gnana Sabhai or the Hall of Wisdom was constructed by Ramalinga Vallalar in 1871. It was inaugurated in January 1872. This octagonal shaped building has the Sathya Gnana Deepam, the Supreme Light, as lit by Vallalar, which is covered by seven veils that represent the various factors that prevent a human from realising the light within him. The whole building is bound by chains made of 21,600 links to depict the number of inhalations a human takes during the day. It is astonishing to see the chains do not have any joints in them, which shows they were put together by Ramalinga Vallalar using his yogic powers.

My colleague Mr Ganapathi holding up the chains for us to see

On Poosam day every month, the veils are lifted to show the light within. A total of seven veils are said to cover one's soul - namely, the very dark first veil of Maya Shakthi, the bright blue second veil of Kriya Sakthi, the all Green third veil of Parasakthi, the flamboyant red fourth veil of Iccha Sakthi, the golden yellow fifth veil of Gnana Sakthi, the milky white sixth veil of Aadhi Sakthi and the mixed colour seventh veil of Chit Sakthi. When these veils are shed one by one, the soul is able to experience the supreme Light within. 

On Thai poosam day, all the veils are lifted, whereas on all other poosams, only the first six veils are lifted. The veil lifting happens three times starting from 7 pm in the evening and several thousands of people gather in the open air outside the main shrine, to witness this.

Witnessing Jothi Darisanam at the Sathya Gnana Sabai Vadalur
Siddhi Valagam and Disappearance
Ramalinga Vallalar moved from Karunguzhi to Mettukuppam, a village about 6 kms from Vadalur to a one room tenement which is now called the Siddhi Valagam. Here he lit the Sathya Gnana Deepam, and meditated upon it for four years. He then placed it outside his room, and asked all his devotees to consider it to be the most Supreme light, and meditate upon it.

The Sathya Gnana Deepam at Siddhi Valagam
He also launched the Sanmarga Flag which is yellow on top and white at the bottom on the 7th day of Aipasi (October 22, 1873), the practice of which is continued every year, at 8 am .

On January 30, 1874, Ramalinga Vallalar, entered his room and before locking it, told his followers not to open it and even if they did, they would not find anything. Hearing about Saint Ramalingam not coming out of his locked room for days, the British authorities forced open the doors in the month of May 1874, only to find that he had disappeared with his mortal body. This has been documented in the South Arcot District Gazette, by the British.


Saint Ramalingam wrote close to 6000 poems which have been compiled into the Thiruvarutpa with ten volumes. He practised and preached vegetarianism, feeding the poor and needy, a religion beyond religions where the true supreme power was light.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my colleague, Mr S Ganapathy, for facilitating a visit to the important sites associated with the life of Sri Ramalinga Vallalar. 

Since most of the events happen in the evening, the quality of pictures is poor and I apologise for the same.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Varkala Janardhanaswamy!

Steps leading to the Varkala Janardhanaswamy Temple
Varkala is a beautiful town on the shores of the Arabian Sea. It comprises of unique Cenozoic Sedimentary formation cliffs in the otherwise flat coast of Kerala, and is a notified geological monument. The cliffs overlooking the spotlessly clean beach attract thousands of tourists across the world each year. Equally significant is the number of pilgrims who visit the unique and ancient Janardhanaswamy temple here.

Janardhana refers to one who destroys birth and provides salvation or mukthi. There are very few temples in India, where Lord Vishnu is called Janardhana and these places are significant for mukthi and pitru pariharam ie. for performing rites for ancestors, and praying for salvation. Varkala Kshetram is also known as Dakshina Kasi.

Legends of the temple:
The temple of Janardhanaswamy has a number of legends associated with it. 

Brahma's Yagna
Once Lord Brahma came to earth, to perform a yagna. He chose a calm and serene location by the sea, which is the current day Varkala. He got so engrossed in the Yagna that he forgot the duty of creation. The worried Devas requested Lord Vishnu to intervene. Vishnu came to the Yagna site as a very old Brahmin. The brahmins who were assisting Brahma in the yagna,  received the old man and offered him food. He started eating all the food that had been prepared effortlessly.

Suspecting the old man was no ordinary person, the brahmins alerted Brahma. When Brahma saw him, he knew it was Vishnu. At that moment, he was taking water in his hand and with the word aabhojanam was about to do aachamanam (the process of cleansing oneself after food, by shaping the palm like the ear of a cow, and drinking water from it thrice). Brahma stopped him mid-way , saying if he consumed the water, the whole world would be drowned in a deluge.

Lord Vishnu asked him to finish the yagna and resume his role of creation and Brahma obliged after seeking a vision of his Vishwaroopa. He requested Vishnu to stay in the place forever as Janardhana and give mukthi to those who worshipped him. The Devas built a temple here for Janardhana with his right arm in the process of performing aachamanam and the place came to be known as Janardhanapuram.

Another glimpse inside the Janardhanaswamy Temple, Varkala
Narada and the Navaprajapathis
One day, Narada walked towards the earth signing songs in praise of Vishnu. Pleased with his devotion, Vishnu followed him unobtrusively. Lord Brahma crossed their path, accompanied by the Navaprajapathis. On seeing Vishnu, he bowed towards him. The Navaprajapathis who could only see Narada, thought Brahma was saluting his own son, and made fun of him. Lord Brahma told them what had actually happened. 

The Navaprajapathis ashamed of their impertinence, asked Narada for the right place to do penance to be rid of this sin. Narada threw his valkalam (upper garment made of deer skin) and it landed in the spot where Sri Vishnu resided as Janarthana. The place came to be known as Valkala, now morphed to Varkala. The Navaprajapathis requested Vishnu to create a theertham there by bathing in which people would be rid of all their sins.Vishnu released the Sudharshana Chakra to create a theertham to the North of where Janardhana resided. This theertham is called the Chakra theertham and is about 240 feet wide. 

Beautiful maiden in the Janardhanaswamy temple, Varkala
Balarama and Janardhana
The legend further states that Balarama, a manifestation of Adi Sesha, worshipped Janardhana here. Over time, the temple of Janardhana became dilapidated and was swallowed by the sea. The idol sank to the depths of the sea and remained there for centuries.

Janardhana Recovered from the sea
A Pandya king was once haunted by spirits. Any intervention by his physicians and priests did not give him relief. So he set off on a pilgrimage. When he came to Varkala, he was very tired and decided to spend the night there. In his dream, he saw a dilapidated temple on the seashore. He also heard a voice that instructed him to go there the next morning,  where he would find the idol of Janardhana in the place where a huge amount of flowers would be floating on the water. Further, the voice instructed him to repair the damaged left hand of the idol with gold and install him on the cliff nearby. The King did as suggested and worshipped Lord Janardhana. On doing this, the King was cured of the spirits that haunted him and went back happily.

Sri Janardhana Swamy at Varkala (Photo Courtesy: Our Heritage Vaishnavam)
Temple Inscriptions
  • The temple as we see it now was built in the 13th century. According to a Tamil inscription in Vattezhuthu, found on the South base of the central shrine of Sri Janardhana Swamy, King Vira Padmanaba Marthanda Varma Thiruvadi (1240-1252 CE), of the Venad Dynasty,  converted the temple of the Bhattaraka of Varkalai Udhayamarthandapuram to stone from Adhistanam to Uthiram, He further had the Sri Vimana covered with copper sheets, renewed the Mukha Mandapa and consecreated the temple on Karkataka Rasi, Wednesday, 21st day of the Rishabha Month, in the Kollam Year 425 (1252CE),  (2/1084,T.A.S Vol 4, Pg 151)
  • Another inscription found on the North base of the mandapa in front of the Janardhanaswamy shrine, containing a Sanskrit verse, written in Grantha characters. This inscription has been intepreted in depth by Prof. Kielhorn in Epigraphia Indica Volume 4. It says King Goda Marthanda, had the god Hari, bathed by Brahmins around mid-day on Thursday 11th May, in the Kollam Year 655 (1480 CE). The inscription mentions Varkala as Vayka. (Prof Kielhorn is of the impression that it could also be referring to Vaikkom).
  • An inscription in the East Prakara, belonging to Raja Ravi Kulasekara Perumal, of Attingal Swarupam, who performed Hiranyagarbha and Tulabhara in Tiruvananthapuram, speaks about repairs executed to the temple in Kollam year 700 (1525 CE).
  • There is a bell found in the southern side of the temple installed in the year 1757 CE. A Dutch ship that was passing by Varkala, who suddenly stop and not move despite the wind being in favour of the ship. All attempts made by the crew to move the ship proved futile. At that time, the captain Michael Everard was advised to pray to Janardhanaswamy and he did with all sincerity. Soon the ship started to move. In gratitude, he came back to Varkala to install this bell, in which his name is inscribed.
  • An inscription on the East and North base of the Dwajasthamba, belonging to King Rama Varma (Kollam Year 1071- 1896 CE) mentions that the flagmast was set up by the King on Thursday, the 4th day of the Makara month, when Sun was in Mrigasirsha.
The temple as it exists today

The Janardhanaswamy temple is situated on top of the cliff in Varkala. One has to climb around 70 steps to reach the temple. There are two entrances to the relatively small temple built as per Dravidian architecture. It overlooks the Papanasam beach, named so because the curse of the Navaprajapathis was removed here.

Words fail one while attempting to describe the beauty of Janardhana Swamy. The sanctum has been placed in such a way that one cannot see the face of the Lord standing straight, unless they get close to the sanctum. On entering, one has to bend down to glance at his divya mangala swaroopam. With the conch and discus in his top hands, and a mace on his left hand, he is seen as if performing achamanam. They say the palm of the right hand is always wet, and the arm has been moving up over time.

It is believed that the world will be submerged in a deluge, when the hand reaches up to Janardhanaswamy's mouth and he completes the aachamanam. They match up the folded arm, with an attachment on the left side, and decorate Lord Janardhanaswamy as Venugopalaswamy, Narasimha or Mohini. Apart from the main deity, there are shrines for Lord Shiva, Ganesha, and Naga Devatha. There is also an Ayyappan temple nearby. 

Vedi Vazhipadu - worshipping with firecrackers is a common practice here, and there are people available, to facilitate this worship for a price. A large number of people come here to perform the annual rites of their ancestors, as it is believed that if the rites are performed here, they would attain mukthi. There is a huge peepal tree, with hundreds of cradles hanging from it. These have been tied by devotees who are desirous of begetting a child.

The Arattu festival that happens in the Malayalam month of Meenam is a ten day extravaganza where thousands of people from across the world participate. The festival starts with Kodiyettu on Karthigai day (flag hoisting) and ends with Arattu on Uthiram day, when there is a grand procession and cultural performances through the ten days.

Dress Code: Men have to take off their shirts while entering the temple. Traditional wear is recommended for women.

How to get here: Varkala is about 45 kilometres from Trivandrum on the Trivandrum - Kollam road. It is about three kilometres from the Varkala railway station and the nearest airport is Trivandrum.

Temple Timings:  5.30 am to 12 pm, 5 pm to 8 pm

Contact details : 0470 2607575

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Mr Suresh Uthaman, Varkala for his assistance with pictures for this article. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Palatrangarai Veera Anjaneya Swamy!

Hanuman, Anjaneyar, Anjana Maindhan, Vayuputra, Bajrang Bali, Mukhya Prana Devaru, and Siriya Thiruvadi - Many names, one diety! The embodiment of devotion, loyalty, valour, strength and super power!

For many years, I had heard about this temple where Hanuman sleeps between two rocks in the middle of Palar river. However, attempts made to visit did not fructify easily. Maybe He wanted to test my patience and intent. Finally, made it a few months ago.

The picturesque settings of the Palatrangarai Anjaneya Swamy Temple
The temple is located in extremely picturesque settings on the banks of the Palar river on the foothills of the Govinda and Thadakachi Hills in Pollachi district of Tamil Nadu. There is an arch on the main road that leads to the Aliyar Dam, guiding visitors to the temple. The sound of flowing water on either side of the access calms one's senses and prepares them for worship. One can see joyous children and families squealing with laughter and jumping about in the crystal clear waters that lap around their ankles.

The rustic settings with a mild drizzle around the temple

The legend of this temple mentions that while Hanuman was carrying the Sanjeevi Parvatha to the war site in Sri Lanka, he stopped by here to rest. When he saw water between two rocks, he bent down to look at it, in order to refresh himself. His reflection stayed as an impression on the rock below.  Water continued to flow over the rock over several hundred years and when it finally started to recede, the impression was discovered. There is also another version of the legend which mentions that this was one of the 729 Hanumans created by Saint Vyasaraja, the Raja Guru of the Vijayanagara Empire and the previous avatara of Sri Raghavendraswamy. Saint Vyasaraja, had the ability to draw the form of Hanuman on a rock using his Angarakatti, which would then turn into a 2D carving. 

A temple has been built over the Swayambu Hanuman about 500 - 600 years ago.  Today it is a modern temple, maintained very well.

Twin Hanumans in the Sanctum Sanctorum
Since the image of the Swayambu Hanuman is on the floor of the sanctum and hence not visible clearly to the devotees, another Hanuman has been installed over him. The stone for making this standing Veera Hanuman has been brought from Marunthuvazh Malai, on the Southern most tip of the Western Ghats in Kanyakumari district. Marunthuvazh Malai is believed to be a portion of the Sanjeevi Parvatha, that broke off while Hanuman carried it to revive Lakshmana during the war with Ravana's forces. Even today Marunthuvazh Malai, has a huge number of unique herbal plants and creepers with medicinal capacities, capable of curing several ailments. The stone brought from Marunthuvazh Malai also has the ingrained healing capacities and therefore, it is not only blessed to have been carried by Sri Hanuman himself, but is also generating relief to those who seek him to be relieved of their illnesses.

The standing Veera Hanuman is seen with Abhaya hastha. the other arm on his hip, and holding a mace. His tail is found in a loop over his head. His face faces the direction of Lanka, says the priest.

Normally, Hanuman would be seen as a sub-deity in a Vaishnavaite shrine. But here, since the whole temple was built over his manifested form, he is the main deity. Water from the Palar still seeps around the swayambu Anjaneya swamy within the sanctum. Having two Hanumans, one over another in the sanctum, enhances the divinity of the sanctified space and people say that prayers of marriage, child birth and most importantly, good health, debt relief and fear of enemies are definitely answered. Devotees offer three garlands to Anjaneya while praying to him - namely, Tulasi, Betel Leaf and Vada. Once their prayers are answered, they offer special abhishekams, beaten rice with jaggery (Vella Aval) and smear the deity with butter (Vennai Kappu).

Apart from the main deity, there are seperate shrines for Yoga Narasimha, Chakrathazhwar and Vinayaka with two faces. Usually one would find Rama in Hanuman's temple. However, here only his feet have been installed.

Hanumad Jayanthi, Aadi and Thai Amavasya and Saturdays are special days at the temple. Yet another significant feature here is the annadhanam. Meals are served every day from 12.30 pm and one has to experience the lovely hospitality and tasty food. We were invited to partake of the food, as though we were guests to the house. The food was simple, extremely tasty and served with such love and devotion.

Ramar Padham

So if you happen to me around Anaimalai, Top Slip or Pollachi, do swing by to this surreal little temple that is guaranteed to bring solace to the soul !

How to get here:

Palattrangarai is situated on the road to Aliyar Dam,  not very far from the Masaniamman Temple. It is also on the way to Samathur Palace and Top Slip. Regular bus services are available from Pollachi upto the arch and one has to walk about a kilometre from the arch to reach the temple. Cars and two wheelers can ply close to the temple.

Temple Timings: 7 am to 6 pm

Contact : Archakar 98657 86001