Saturday, April 23, 2022

Murugeeswarar Temple, Thaiyur

The entrance to the Murugeeswarar Temple, Thaiyur

I had been invited to visit the Murugeeswarar temple at Thaiyur by Kaushik, a long-time volunteer of the Aalayam Kanden Trust, about three years ago. However, due to personal and COVID-19 situations, the visit did not happen. During this time, some of my blogger colleagues had the opportunity to visit and write about this temple.

Generally, Aalayam Kanden focuses on temples that are not popularly featured. So when Mr Uma Magesh, who takes excellent care of the temple, invited me again last week, I decided to visit, and make it a part of the monthly Aalayam Kanden Trust activity of distributing oil, ghee and vastrams at ancient and lesser known temples.While there, several things struck me about the temple, that I wanted to share my thoughts through this blog post.

Legend:

Lord Muruga mounted on a peacock with bow and arrow in hand

The sthalapuranam states that Lord Muruga had worshipped Lord Shiva here before proceeding to Thiruporur to fight Tharakasura. There is an old idol of Muruga placed in the Mahamandapa of the temple, believed to be made of sandstone. The legend says sandstone in Tamil was referred to as Thaijagam which gave the village its name. A pillar at the entrance of the temple has the icon of Lord Muruga on a peacock, bow in hand, setting out to fight.

Literary and inscriptional references:

The 15th century literary work "Uththandan Kovai" gives a great deal of background about Thaiyur. This work comprising of around 450 songs on Uthandan, a local chieftain, belonging to the Kalappalan clan (Mudaliars from Aamur Kottam to which Thaiyur belonged) describes the village as it existed then. This work whose author is yet to be confirmed, has been collected in portions, in manuscript form, by various sources such as the Oriental Manuscript library, the U.V. Swaminatha Iyer library, the Institute of Asian Studies and the descendants of Uththandan. These have been compiled to the extent possible by the Institute of Asian Studies and a bilingual publication titled "Poetic Verses in the Interior Landscape" has been brought out . The book brings forth various facets of Thaiyur which are worth mentioning, before we look in detail at the Murugeeswarar temple.

The word Thai (தை ) could be used to denote beautiful, joining or full of saplings. The Jatavarman Sundarapandiyan inscription at the Maragathavalli Ambal Shrine of the Murugeeswarar temple, describes the deity as Azhagiya Chokkanaar which probably indicates that Thaiyur meant beautiful village. Prior to the period of Rajaraja I, Thaiyur had been called "Thalasayanapuramaana Thaiyur". Thalasayana refers to the reclining Vishnu of Senganmal. Senganmal was a part of Thaiyur until the 15th century before it was seperated out as Irandaayiramvelipatru, and Thaiyur was labelled Ayiramvelipatru. We come to know this from the Senganmal temple mandapa inscriptions. 

Inscriptions at the base of the Murugeeswarar temple Thaiyur

Six inscriptions found in the Nithyakalyana Perumal temple of Thiruvidanthai mention grants given by people of Thaiyur. While three of them that belong to a period prior to Rajaraja I, refer to the word Thalasayanapuram, from the time of Rajaraja I it came to be called Jayamkonda Chola Mandalathu Aamoor Kottathu Aamoor Nattu Rajakesarinallur. During the Vijayanagara Period, Aamoor Nadu came to be referred as Kumuzhi Nadu. Kumuzhi referring to a place surrounded by water bodies extending from ponds and lakes to the ocean. It is during the time of Veerapratapa Achutharaya (1536 CE) do we find the mention of the word Thirumurugeeswara Nayanar which is the current name that the deity is referred to. This inscription spreaks about grants given by a person from Thiruvidanthai to the temple to repair it and carry out worship.

Period of the temple:

The Chandikeswara at the Murugeeswarar temple, Thaiyur

From some of the deities such as Ganesha and Chandikeswara present in the temple, we can derive the original period to be between the 9th and the 10th century CE. Majority of the current construction dates between 13th and 15th Century CE with the external superstructure a classic representation of the Nayaka period.

Antiquity:

Ganesha with the inscription "Sri Urumetru" at the Murugeeswara Temple, Thaiyur

The oldest deities at the temple are the Ganesha found in the Mukha Mandapa and the Chandikeswara in his destined position. The Ganesha is found without the usual pot belly with a single line inscription at the base which reads "Sri Urumetru". Dr Ramachandran, Senior Epigraphist, has interpreted this word as denoting heavy thunder. He states that this could probably refer to the Pallava title "Pagapidugu" and might belong to the later Pallava (Aparajitha or Kampavarma) period. However, he urges further research into this.

Lord Muruga believed to have been made of sandstone

There is no mention about the Muruga found in the Mukha Mandapa in any inscription so far read. His consorts are of a later period, and there are other deities like Chandikeswara, Mahavishnu, Kasi Viswanatha and a goddess, probably moved here from another temple, that was lost to time, placed in a tableau around him. Research says that there was a Vishnu temple in the village that had become dilapidated, and fearing invaders, the deities had been buried. Chances are that some of them were subsequently excavated and placed here. It also explains why there are three Murugas around the same place.

The pavilion around Lord Muruga at the Murugeeswarar temple, Thaiyur

Deities:

Lord Shiva is found in a beautiful sanctum with typical Nayaka period miniatures on either side of the door jamb, including a donor (mentioned in the inscription) who is lighting a Nanda Vilakku. The Artha Mandapa has the Ganga and Yamuna depiction, which would usually be found while entering the temple. The bronze Bhoga Shakthi of this temple has been moved out for safe keeping, and a stone replica has been placed at a later date within the sanctum. Apart from the two inscriptions already mentioned, a stand-alone stone inscription from 1565 CE of Thirumalai Deva Maharaya period refers to the deity as Thirumurugeeswaramudaiya Thambiraanaar. So it is evident that from the Vijayanagara period, the current name has been in vogue.

Lord Murugeeswarar of Thaiyur

Goddess Maragathavalli Ambal is found in a seperate shrine, holding Pasa and Ankusha. The shrine seems to have been constructed/renovated during the Pandya period. 

Maragathavalli Ambal of Thaiyur

The Koshta deities are all beautiful and the depiction of various mythological stories, such as Kirata-Arjuna, Kannappa Nayanar and Vyagrapatha and Bheema have been shown in the exterior walls in sequences. 

Vyagrapadha and Bheema episode at the Murugeeswara temple Thaiyur

Whatever is shown on the walls in the Southern side, goes up into the Naasikoodu (Alcoves) in the Northern side, showing that by worshipping God, a devotee can get spiritual elevation. The vimana of the temple is a three tiered structure, more like a Gopura. 

The vimana with the beautiful Naasi Koodus

The Kumbapancharas have playful monkeys jostling about with each other. There is another Ganesha shrine and a Subramania shrine in the circumambulatory path.

Kumbapancharas showing playful monkeys at the Murugeeswara Temple Thaiyur

Social initiatives:

The temple has a beautiful Nandavanam and Mr Uma Magesh has been taking special efforts to grow several herbal plants and trees within its campus. Mango tree is the sthalavriksham of the temple. He is nobly supported by a good team of volunteers from the nearby apartments who come every week, to clean the temple, clear the nandavanam and water the plants, wash vessels and clothes. The temple  even has a washing machine for this purpose. It was a pleasant sight to see these highly placed men and women contribute their weekend towards the upkeep of their neighbourhood temple. If only many more people come forward to spend a couple of hours at the temples in their neighbourhood, every temple would look as clean and green as this one.

The Nandavanam at the Murugeeswara Temple Thaiyur

While all this is appreciable, the whitewashing of the exterior walls is an eyesore. The nuances of the sculptures as well as the inscriptions are hidden within. If the temple gets help from volunteers to clear this without damage, it would restore the original look and identity.

Other temples in the vicinity:

Two other Shiva temples - the Mareeswarar temple and the Jalagandeeswar temple are found close to the Murugeeswarar temple. Two Ganesha temples, one built by Uthandan, next to where his palace was, and another of a later period are also found.

How to reach here:

Thaiyur is situated about 12 kilometres from Mamallapuram and 3 kilometres from Kelambakkam on the Old Mahabalipuram Road in Chennai. Once a very fertile agricultural village, surrounded by Thaigai hill (today's Pudhupakkam), tanks, ponds, lake and the sea, today is part of the IT corridor. The GPS coordinates of the temple are: 12.7780677,80.1913894

Temple Timings:

The temple is open between 7.30 am and 9.30 am in the morning and 6 pm to 8 pm in the evening

Contact details:

Mr Uma Magesh - 9940126814

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