Diwali Tour Part 10 – The Navagraha Temples around Kumbakonam

Navagrahas – the nine planets – Sun (Suryan), Moon (Chandran), Mercury (Budhan), Venus (Sukran), Mars (Angarakan or Sevvai), Jupiter (Guru), Saturn (Shani) and the two shadow planets Rahu and Kethu, form an important part of Hindu Mythology and beliefs. They are believed to govern each and every aspect of our lives, our actions, and even the results of our actions. They inspire varied feelings such as awe as well as fear in the hearts of people, who wonder what effect a particular planet will have on their lives.

Every temple in south India has images of the Navagrahas standing in a 3×3 matrix, facing in different directions. However, as we discovered on this trip to Thanjavur and surrounding areas, this is not necessarily true. In many temples in this area, the Navagraha group has Surya in the centre, with all the other 8 facing him. This is the case in most of the Saptha Sthaanam temples, and most Ashta Veeratta Sthalams. Another interesting layout of the Navagrahas is seen in the Saptha Vidanga Sthalams as well as a few other temples around Thiruvarur, where the Navagrahas, all 9 of them, face the main deity – Shiva. In many of these temples, the navagrahas are in a straight line.

While all the temples have navagrahas, there are certain temples around Kumbakonam, where one of the Navagrahas holds an important position. These are known as the Navagraha temples of Kumbakonam. Of these, Suryanar Kovil is the only one where the main deity is Surya himself. This is also the only temple where every graham has a sanctum of its own. At all the other temples, Shiva is the main deity, and the graham or planet has its regular place in the temple.

These Navagraha Temples are
Starting from Thanjavur or Kumbakonam, a tour to all the 9 temples will take about 2 days. On this trip, you can sneak in a number of other temples which come along the route. For those who suffer from the problem of not having much time, and wanting to visit as many temples as possible, it is possible to cover all these 9 temples in a day, starting from Mayiladudurai early in the morning and finishing off with Thingalur near Thiruvaiyaru before the temple closes for the night.

Here is a map showing the locations of the Navagraha temples in Kumbakonam.

Suryanar Kovil (Suryan – Sun)

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The sun is the centre of the solar system, and it also takes centre- place among the navagrahas. Perhaps that is the reason the sun-god has temples built for him alone, unlike any of the other planets. (Today, Shani, or Saturn poses a threat to him, for there are a number of temples cropping up for him, all over India – the fear towards him is so high these days!)

Suryanar Kovil is about 15 Kms from Kumbakonam, 3 Kms from Adudurai on the Kumbakonam-Mayiladudurai road, and 30 Kms from Mayiladudurai. It falls in the hamlet of Thirumangalakkudi, where the navagrahas are believed to have been relieved by Shiva of a curse. Traditionally, the temple at Thirumangalakkudi has to be visited before Suryanar Kovil.

This temple is dedicated to Surya, and the main deity itself is called Siva Surya Bhagawan. He is flanked by his wives, Chaaya Devi and Usha Devi.

Opposite the deity is an idol of Guru (Brihaspathi or Jupiter), which in itself is a rarity, as Suryan and Guru are generally considered to be opposing grahams. Hence, it is believed that prayers in this place yield beneficial results to those affected by either of the two planets.

One enters the sanctum from the main door at the entrance, which is just opposite the main gate to the temple. There are doors on both sides of this sanctum too. Normally, when we visit a temple, we exit the sanctum from the left door and circumambulate the shrine in clockwise manner (Pradakshinam). In this temple, however, we were told to exit by the door to the right, leading to the shrine of Chandran (moon) and then move in an anticlockwise direction (a-Pradakshinam) , visiting in succession, the shrines to the other grahams – namely Angarakan, Budhan, guru, Sukran, Shani, Rahu and Kethu, finally arriving at the shrine to Chandikeswarar, where we turn again and return in a clockwise direction. I have attached a map of the layout of the temple and the method of Pradakshinam for the convenience of my readers.

Suryanar Kovil Layout



The last deity to be seen after this Pradakshinam is Ganesha, who goes by the name of Kolvinai Kaatha Vinayakar, who rid the planets of their curse. There is a place marked on the floor outside the main sanctum where one is supposed to do the Namaskaram.



Thingalur (Chandran – Moon)

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Thingalur is 3 Kms from Thiruvaiyaru and 30 Kms from Kumbakonam. This is the farthest of the Navagraha temples, and it is a good idea to either start with this temple or leave it till the end, for all the other temples are comparatively nearer to each other.

I have already described Thingalur in my blog about the temples around Thiruvaiyaru. The main deities here are Kailasanathar and Periyanayaki. According to the Sthala Puranam, the moon –god Chandran prayed to Shiva at this place, and Shiva asked him to remain here and bless those who came to him. Thus, Chandran has a small sanctum to himself in this temple. This is a small temple, which has attained eminence as a Chandran Sthalam, and temple is most crowded on Mondays, which are special for Chandran. The most popular story of this temple is not related to the moon, but to Appoodhi Adigal, the story I have already mentioned, which you can check out here.


Vaitheeswaran Kovil (Angarakan – Sevvai – Mars)

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

A long corridor lined with pillars on either side marks the entrance to the Vaitheeswaran Kovil, which is 13 Kms from Mayiladudurai towards Sirkazhi, and 6 Kms from Sirkazhi. The main deity is Vaidyanatha Swamy, who is believed to have arrived as a Vaidyan or healer, in response to the prayers of Angarakan (Mars) to cure him of the leprosy he was suffering from. His consort is Thaiyalnayaki, who accompanies him, with a vessel containing medicinal oil. There is also a shrine to the divine healer, Dhanvantari in this temple.

Angarakan resides in this temple, blessing those who come to him, as a bronze idol (Utsava Moorthy), which is taken out in procession mounted on a goat every Tuesday.

The medicine which Shiva is believed to have given to Angarakan is made from the ashes of the homa kundam in front of the Subrahmanya shrine, is called Thiruchaandu urundai, Rituals are performed where a mixture of earth and ashes from the homa kundam are shaped into pills and placed at the Thaiyalnayaki shrine and distributed. This is the main Prasadam in this temple, and is believed to cure every type of illness.

Devotees bring a mixture of rock salt and black pepper and offer it to the lord outside the shrine, praying for their health and well being. It is also a tradition to dissolve Jaggery in the temple pond, which is believed to dissolve any type of congestion - lungs congestion, heart blockage, etc. recently however, this practice seems to have been stopped by the temple authorities, and separate bins have been placed outside the shrine for salt, pepper and jaggery, in order to reduce the pollution of the pond.

It is believed that Rama performed the last rites to Jatayu at this place. Another interesting thing about this temple is that the navagrahas are in a single file, because they are believed to be looking at Vaidyanatha swamy here.


Thiruvengadu (Budhan – Mercury)

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The Budhan Sthalam at Thiruvengadu lies about 20 Kms from Mayiladudurai towards Poompuhar, where the Kaveri flows into the sea. This is one of those temples where Shiva danced his Tandavam, and the main deity here is Swetaranyeswarar. There are a number of legends connected to this temple, the foremost being the story of the Rishi Swethaketu being saved from the clutches of death by Shiva.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

It is also believed that it was here that Shiva took the fierce form of Aghoramoorthy to vanquish the demon Maruttuvan. There is a shrine to Aghoramoorthy with a huge image which is at once beautiful to look at, in terms of the artistry, and yet, terrible, as suits this, one of the most angry forms of Shiva. Here is a photograph of Aghoramoorthy, as depicted on one of the gopurams of the temple.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The goddess here has a separate temple to herself, and is known as Brahma Vidayambigai, the goddess of knowledge. Just outside her sanctum is the shrine to Budhan or Angarakan, the graham known to preside over knowledge.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip


Alangudi (Guru – Jupiter)

Guru – the preceptor is the fifth of the Navagrahas. While Brihaspathi, the preceptor of the gods, is generally the one depicted as the graham, it is also Shiva himself as Dakshinamoorthy, who imparted the supreme knowledge to the sages and the gods, who is regarded the ‘Guru’ and takes his position on the south facing wall of the sanctum of every Shiva shrine in the south.

The temple for guru as Dakshinamoorthy is at Alangudi, 17 Kms from Kumbakonam and 35 Kms from Thanjavur. Alangudi is only 6 Kms from Mannargudi. I have already described Alangudi among the Pancha Aranya Sthalams. You can check it out here.

It is believed that Shiva as Dakshinamoorthy preached to the Devas while they were swooning from the poison that emanated from the ocean during the churning. He also absorbed all the poison, earning the name Aapatsahayar – the one who protects us from trouble. The main deity in this temple is Aapatsahayar, and Dakshinamoorthy as guru has his shrine outside the main sanctum.

Thursdays are special for guru, and every Thursday, the temple is likely to be extremely crowded.


Kanjanur (Sukran – Venus)

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Sukracharya was the advisor, or guru of the Asuras, and was allotted the post of a planet by Shiva, who was pleased with his prayers.

According to the Sthala Puranam, during the Vamana avataram, when Vishnu took the form of a small boy and asked Bali for 3 steps of land, Sukracharya had his doubts about the boy. When Bali refused to heed his advice, he took the form of a bee and hid in the mouth of the kamandalu from which Bali would pour water to donate the three steps of land. When water did not flow out of the kamandalu, Vishnu in the form of Vamana pricked Sukracharya with a darbha grass sue to which he lost an eye, and had to come out. In due course of course, having had his wish, Vamana took his huge form and measured out the land and the sky, and as the 3rd step, placed his foot on Bali, blessing him. Sukracharya however was angry with Vishnu, and cursed him. It is believed that Vishnu prayed to Shiva at Kanjanur, where he was relieved of the curse. Shiva not only blessed Vishnu here, he promised to remain and bless those who came with prayers to Sukran, seeking his favour. Unlike the other Navagraha temples in this area, there is no idol or image of Sukran at Kanjanur. It is Shiva himself who takes the position of Sukran here.

Kanjanur is 18 Kms from Kumbakonam and 26 Kms from Mayiladudurai. It is just 3 Kms from Suryanar Kovil and 5 Kms from Adudurai.

At Kanjanur, Shiva is called Agneeswarar, for Agni (the Fire god) is said to have prayed to him at this place, and the goddess is called Karpagambal. The lord is believed to have blessed Brahma with a vision of his marriage to Parvati at this shrine. This is an interesting temple, for the Pragaram is full of lingams, supposedly prayed to by the various gods. Interestingly, there is also a lingam which is supposed to have been installed by Kamsa. I wonder what Kamsa was doing here! The Nataraja idol in this temple is beautiful!

Haradatta Sivacharayar, originally a Vaishnava by the name of Sudarshana underwent great ordeals to prove his devotion towards Shiva to his fellow Vaishnavites here. There are a number of images in the temple Pragaram relating his story and the ordeals he underwent.


Thirunallar (Shani – Saturn)

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Thirunallar is a very interesting temple in this area. Not only does it have a shrine to Shaneeshwara, probably the most feared of the navagrahas, it also features among the Saptha Vidanga Sthalams, which I shall describe once I am through with the temples of Kumbakonam and Mayiladudurai. For the moment, I shall restrict my description of this temple to the shrine of the graham it houses – Shani.

Thirunallar is 40Kms from Mayiladudurai towards Nagapattinam. It is situated in Karaikal, which is part of the union territory of Pondicherry. A special permit is required for vehicles to visit this area, and a permit can only be used once to enter and exit Karaikal. Once we leave Karaikal, it is impossible to re-enter. If you are panning to visit a number of temples around the area and then visit Nagapattinam, it is advisable to cover all the places north of Thirunallar, such as Poompuhar and Mayiladudurai and visit Thirunallar last, so that you can move to Nagapattinam from here. Nagapattinam is barely 20 Kms from here, while going around Karaikal will make you cover a distance of over 70 Kms.

The main deity in this temple is Darbharanyeshwarar, for this temple was originally situated in a forest of the sacred Darbha grass. However, there are two other forms of Shiva unique to temples in this area – Thyagarajar and Somaskandar, who are equally important. The goddess here is Pranambigai. The deity drawing the maximum crowd is of course, Shaneeswarar, the most feared of the nine planets, who has a shrine to himself just outside the Shiva and Amman sannidhis.

The importance of Shani at this temple is related to the legend of King Nala. The righteous and handsome king, under the influence of Saturn, lost not only his kingdom, but was separated from his wife and children, lost his health and good looks, and had to wander around like a beggar. Finally, when the 7 ½ years of Shani’s influence was almost over, he came to Thirunallar, where he bathed in the tank and prayed to Shaneeshwara and was finally relieved of the troubles that had dogged him. He eventually was reunited with his wife and children, and won his kingdom back. Even today, it is considered auspicious to cover oneself with sesame oil and have a bath in the Nala Teertham before going to have darshan of Shaneeswarar.

Incidentally, of all the navagrahas, it is only Shani who is given the privilege of using the suffix – Eeswarar meaning Lord. This is apparently due to a blessing of Shiva, for not even the lord of all is exempt from the effect of Saturn. It is believed that once, Shiva went into a remote cave to meditate and escape the effect of Shani for 7 ½ years. He finally returned, thinking that he had succeeded, only to be informed by Shani, that the period was over, and that it was under the influence of Saturn that the lord had to hide in the first place! Shiva was astounded, but pleased at this dedication of Shani, and declared to him to be Shaneeshwara.

The temple is extremely crowded on Saturdays, and apparently the waiting time for darshan can run into hours, so unless you are going there specifically for pujas, it is advisable to avoid Saturdays here. On other days too, there is quite a crowd, but if you pay for the Abhishekam, you get a front row seat and have a wonderful darshan. It is considered auspicious to light oil lamps in the temple. If possible, talk to the priest and collect balls of Til rice from the temple kitchen and feed crows in the Pragaram. This is supposed to please Saturn, for his vehicle is a crow. (If you arrange for the Abhishekam of Shaneeswarar, the priest will be too happy to direct you for all these things)


Rahu and Kethu

The churning of the ocean was evidently a great occurrence and it has thrown up many legends, one of which is about Rahu and Kethu, the shadow planets. It is believed that when Vishnu took the Mohini avatar, and bewitching the asuras, started distributing the nectar to the Devas alone, a single Asura stealthily came and sat in the row of Devas, between Surya and Chandra (Sun and Moon). As soon as Surya and Chandra realized this, they alerted Vishnu, who immediately, cut off his head. Unfortunately, he had already partaken of the nectar, and though cut into two halves, remains immortal, and regularly swallows up the sun and the moon, a phenomenon we know as eclipses. Scientifically, these are the north and south lunar nodes, where the sun and moon’s paths cross each other, causing eclipses. Rahu, the north lunar node, is depicted as the top half of a snake – its head; while Kethu, the south lunar node, is depicted as its bottom half – the tail. The diagram reproduced below explains this is more detail.



 

The shrine dedicated to Rahu is at Thirunageswaram, 7 Kms from Kumbakonam, and just about 2 Kms from Uppiliappan Kovil.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

It is believed that Rahu prayed to Shiva at this shrine. Since Rahu is a serpent (Naga), the main deity is Naganathaswamy and this place is named Thirunageswaram. In this shrine, Rahu is accompanied by his two wives – Naga Valli and Naga Kanni. When Abhishekam is performed to Rahu during the Rahu Kaalam, the milk when it falls on the body turns blue, and again turns to white when it leaves the idol. Visit the temple any day during the Rahu Kaalam and you can see this wonderful sight for yourself. Some years back, a snake skin was found on the deity, draped like a garland, when the temple was opened in the morning. This has been kept in the temple, and can be seen.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

There are two shrines to the main deity in this temple. The first one is the shrine to Naganathaswamy. The second is the shrine of Ardhanareeshwarar.

There are also two shrines of the goddess – Piraiyanivanudalumai and Girigujambigai. While the former is housed in a separate shrine in the same temple as Naganathaswamy, Girigujambigai has a temple to herself. There is no sculpted idol of the goddess in this shrine. She is in the form of an ant-hill, decorated with a golden kavacham. It is believed that when Indra was cursed by Gautama rishi, he prayed to Parvati here, anointing her with Punugu (the fragrant excretions of the civet cat). Till date, there is no Abhishekam to the goddess, but she is regularly anointed with Punugu. Every year, for 45 days in the period from Jan to March, a special festival to the goddess takes place, starting with the Devi being anointed with Punugu on the 15th of January, the first day of the Tamil month of Thai. During these 45 days, it is believed that Indra himself arrives to worship the goddess. Hence, a curtain is placed till the neck of the deity during this period, and only her face is visible for devotees. In this shrine, the goddess is flanked by Saraswati on the left and Lakshmi on the right.

This temple also has an interesting idol of Bala Sastha, who is said to be the guardian of the goddess.


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

25 Kms from Mayiladudurai towards Poompuhar is Keezhperumpallam, where Kethu is believed to have prayed to Shiva. The main deity in this temple is Naganathar and his consort is Soundaryanayaki. There is a separate shrine to Kethu, who is depicted with a five hooded snake over his head, hands held together in the posture of worship to Shiva.

It is interesting to note that the depiction of Rahu and Kethu varies in different temples. There seems to some ambiguity regarding which of them is the head/tail portion of the snake. While in most temples Rahu is depicted with a human/ Asura head and snake tail, there are other temples where he is depicted with a hooded snake over his head and two legs. Similarly, Kethu s sometimes depicted as having a five hooded snake in place of the head, and sometimes with a snake tail.

Well, with this, we complete the group of temples around Kumbakonam dedicated to the navagrahas. Again, let me emphasize that these are the Navagraha temples around Kumbakonam. There is another set of temples dedicated to the navagrahas, where the main deity itself represents one of the planets. These are:

Suryan – Suryanar Kovil

Chandran – Tirupati

Angarakan – Vaitheeswaran Kovil

Budhan – Simhakkal Chokkanathar temple, Madurai

Guru – Thiruchendur

Sukran – Srirangam

Shani – Thirunallar

Rahu and Kethu – Kalahasthi

Comments

  1. very good input. enjoyable. clear and precise.

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  2. Lovely photos and beautiful blog. So much info as well... so glad you posted this Anu.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Navagraha Temple in kumbakonam is the best place for traditional output . For kumbakonam Navagraha Temple visit contact us

    ReplyDelete

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