Diwali tour part 9 – Around Kumbakonam – Some other important temples

In the days gone by, the Shaivite saints used to walk from one temple to another, living on the temple premises, cleaning it up, performing the rituals, singing songs in praise of the Lord, and then move on to the next temple. This way, they managed to visit an astounding number of temples on foot. After visiting the temples in the Thanjavur – Kumbakonam belt, it seems to me that they were wise, for that is certainly the best, and maybe the only way one can see all the temples in the area. The city of Kumbakonam alone has about a hundred temples. One can then imagine the number of temples there are around the city. In fact, for every kilometer in any direction, one comes across at least one Shiva and one Vishnu temple. Every village seems to have a big temple, either dedicated to Vishnu or Shiva. While the Vaishnava temples are well maintained and seem prosperous, most of the Shiva temples, though built beautifully, are in disrepair, and lack funds. Many of them don’t even have enough funds to pay a priest to stay there the whole day, which is why many of them perform pujas at one temple before moving on to another one, leaving the temple unattended. We came across this at a number of temples we visited, especially the lesser known ones. Of course, a number of temples have recently attained fame, especially due to some Tamil magazines which specialize in temples and the benefits of visiting temples.


We visited some temples around Kumbakonam before going on to Mayiladudurai to continue our trip. Here are some of them. For a detailed list of temples around Kumbakonam, click here.

Swamimalai, the abode of Muruga, one of the Arupadai Veedu (6 special shrines of Muruga), is about 8 Kms from Kumbakonam on the Thiruvaiyaru road. This is a beautiful temple atop a small hill, approachable by steps. There are 60 steps to this temple, signifying the Hindu cycle of 60 years. On the ground floor is the sannidhi of Sundareswarar and Meenakshi.


According to mythology, this is the place where Muruga imparted the knowledge of Pranavam (Om) to his father, Shiva. The story goes that Brahma once visited Kailas, and ignored the child Muruga. Playfully, Muruga asked him the meaning of the Pranava Mantra, and Brahma was unable to answer. As a punishment, Muruga imprisoned him. With the imprisonment of Brahma, creation came to a standstill, and the Devas prayed to lord Shiva, asking him to release Brahma. When Shiva asked Muruga to release Brahma, Muruga refused, saying it was a just imprisonment. Shiva asked Muruga if he himself knew the meaning of Pranavam, and Muruga replied that he did, but would impart it to Shiva only if the latter accepted him as his guru, and asked politely, as a disciple should. Shiva accepted, and taking the posture of a disciple, learnt the meaning of the Pranavam from Muruga. Since Shiva accepted Muruga as his ‘swami’, this place came to known as Swamimalai and the presiding deity as Swaminathan.

Thiruvalanchuzhi is about a kilometer away from Swamimalai. The main deities here are Sadaimudinathar (or Kabardeeswarar) and Periyanayaki. However, the most important deity in this temple is Swetha Vinayakar, a Ganesha made of Sea Foam. According to the legend, when the Devas and asuras were churning the ocean, they forgot to worship Ganesha. They realized their error when the poison came out, and Indra immediately made an image of Ganesha out of the sea foam which had collected as a result of the churning of the ocean. Ganesha was pleased, and the Devas were able to obtain nectar. This is the Ganesha present in the temple.


The temple is a beautiful one, and has several interesting idols on the circumambulatory path. One such idol is that of Ganga Visarjaneshwarar, depicting Shiva holding Ganga.


It is believed that Sage Durvasa once performed a yagna here, and 22 Maharshis who attended the yagna installed lingams that they prayed to, in this temple. Thus, there are several lingams in this temple, associated with several sages.


Once, it is believed, the river Kaveri went inside the earth and a rishi named Heranda Muni sacrificed himself at the site where she disappeared, after which, the river re-appeared, and flowed in a semi-circle around the temple. Since the river curves towards the right, this place came to be known as Thiruvalanchuzhi (twisting to the right)


In the outer Pragaram is a sanctum dedicated to the goddess with 8 arms, known as Ashtabhuja Mahakali. She is believed to be the patron deity of Raja Raja Chozhan, who prayed to her before setting out for any war. It is she who is believed to have blessed him, die to which he never suffered a defeat in his lifetime.





The 108 Shivalayam at Papanasam, about 15 Kms from Kumbakonam, on the Thiruvaiyaru road, is probably the only temple when one can see 108 lingams, not just as a decoration, but being actually prayed to, on a regular basis. It is believed that Rama, during his return from Lanka, installed these lingams here, to atone for his sin of killing asuras such as Khara, Dushana and Trishiras in the Dandaka forest. This place is also known as Keezhai Rameswaram.


Rama is believed to have installed 107 lingams here – the principal one being that of Ramalingaswamy, the main deity in this temple, and the other 106 in an enclosure just outside the main sanctum. These lingams can be viewed from outside the enclosure easily, but tickets are available at the office at the rate of Rs.5/- per person for entry into this enclosure. One can then circumambulate all the 108 lingams. Oil lamps are continuously lit inside this enclosure, and at the rate of Rs.50/- one can also participate in this activity.
Outside the compound of this temple is the 108th lingam, this one installed by Hanuman, and known as Hanumantha Lingam.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




10Kms from Kumbakonam is Patteeswaram. Though this is a Shiva temple with an interesting history, the most famous deity in this temple is Durga. Patteeswaram Durga is said to be a very powerful deity, and draws devotees from all over. She is basically a Kaaval deivam (or a guardian deity) of this temple, and has her sanctum right at the entrance. Though Durga is generally considered an angry deity, in this temple, the black granite idol of the goddess with her vehicle the lion, eight arms holding different weapons, killing the demon Mahishasura, has a smiling visage, which seems to reassure us.


It is believed that the holy cow Kamadhenu and her daughter Patti worshiped Shiva here. Hence, while the village is known as Patteeswaram, the lord takes the name of Dhenupureeswarar, and the goddess is named Gyaanambigai. There are also other legends connected to this temple. Sage Vishwamitra is believed to have been given the title of Brahmarishi here, and Rama is believed to have worshipped Shiva here to absolve himself of the sin of killing Vaali.


There is another interesting story attached to this temple regarding the Shaivite saint Thirugnyaanasambandhar. Shiva presented Sambandhar an umbrella made of pearls (Mutthu Pandal) to protect him from the heat as he walked from one temple to another. As Sambandhar approached Patteeswaram, Shiva was impatient to see him, and asked Nandi to move aside so that He could see Sambandhar coming towards the temple under the Mutthu Pandal. Till this day, the Nandi in this temple stands slightly to the side, just as it moved so many years ago.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




This temple is a lesser known one, almost next door to the Patteeswaram Temple. According to the Sthala Puranam, Parvati meditated on Shiva, standing on one foot, and he appeared in front of her at this place as a column of fire. Parvati hugged the fire as her lord, and he took the form of a lingam. Just outside the main sanctum is an idol showing Parvati clasping the fire-lingam in her arms. Here she is known as Brihann Nayaki. The main deity is known as Shaktivaneswarar or Shivakozhundeeswarar.


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip


This must have been a majestic temple at one time. Today, though it is not really falling to pieces, it is in need of repair and maintenance.


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




8Kms from Kumbakonam, Thirubhuvanam is famous for two things – Sarabheshwarar in the temple, and the silk-weavers outside the temple.


The legend of Sarabheshwarar is linked to the legend of Narasimha – the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu as a man-lion. When the lord took the fierce form and killed the demon Hiranyakashipu, his anger did not subside, instead, his thirst for blood posed a danger for everyone around. In fear, the Devas prayed to Shiva, who appeared in the form of half bird (Sarabha) and half Yaali (a mythical creature resembling a lion), and enveloped Narasimha with his wings, calming him down. Since he removes trembling due to fear, the main deity in this temple is known as Kambahareshwarar (Kampa = trembling, hara = to remove), and is worshipped as a lingam. This is one of the few temples where the Moolavar (main deity), though a lingam, is a form of Sarabheshwarar.
From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




The deity attracting the maximum crowd is the Utsava Moorthy, which is taken out during festivals. This is a very descriptive figure of Sarabheshwarar, made of Panchaloha. He has the face of a lion, nose of an eagle, body of a human, two huge wings representing Soolini Durga and Pratyankara Devi, eight legs, four arms carrying fire, rope, axe and deer respectively, fingers with sharp nails, holding Narasimha firmly with his front legs. Narasimha is depicted fighting to free himself from this grip using his legs, and two of his hands folded in prayer.
From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




The ideal time to worship Sarabheshwarar is during the Rahu Kaalam on Sundays, between 4:30 and 6 PM. Incidentally, we happened to visit the temple during this time, and as expected there was a huge rush. However, there are special darshan tickets available for just Rs.5/-, with which we were able to approach the deity through a shorter queue, and had a wonderful darshan. The priest seemed surprised, for we were the only ones in the crowd who had no material for puja or archana. He himself showed us the aarti and explained about the deity. Indeed, the sight of this fierce deity is something I shall remember, both for the talent of the sculptor who made it and the power it radiated, making me unable to take my eyes off the deity.


Thirubhuvanam is also famous for the fantastic patterns woven on silk sarees. The road outside the temple is lined with shops selling these sarees, and if you take a walk through a couple of lanes of the village, you will come across the weavers themselves weaving their magic with fine silk threads on looms which may date back centuries, but which hold their own against modern methods any day.



10 Kms from Kumbakonam, Uppiliappan Kovil is the only temple where the lord is served food cooked without salt. Anytime you visit the temple, you will be served the Prasadam of Puliyodarai (Tamarind Rice). Every morsel of this Prasadam is so delectable; one would hardly believe that it is cooked without even a pinch of salt. The reason for such a unique Prasadam lies in the Sthala Puranam, according to which, Lakshmi incarnated as a child under the Tulsi Plant being worshipped by Markandeya Rishi. The sage brought her up lovingly as his own daughter, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to come and marry her. One day, an old man arrived and asked for her hand. The rishi replied that he (the suitor) was old, while his daughter was young, too young to even know how to cook properly with salt. The old man replied that it didn’t matter. If the girl cooked even without any salt, he would accept it happily, but he wouldn’t leave the place without marrying her. Not knowing how to handle the situation, the sage prayed to his lord, and realized that the old man was in reality the lord he worshipped. He opened his eyes only to see Vishnu standing in front of him holding the Conch and Chakra, as He would be in Vaikuntam. The sage asked for forgiveness and happily handed his daughter to him in marriage. The lord keeps his promise till date of having food cooked without salt.


The main deity in the temple is Uppiliappan (also called Oppillaappan – Oppaar illappan – he who as no comparison) along with Bhoomi Devi, his wife and her father, Markandeya Rishi.
Further details about the temple are available on their website: http://www.oppiliappan.org/


Natchiar Kovil is about 5 Kms from Uppiliappan Kovil. The main deities are Srinivasa Perumal and Vanchulavalli Thayar. According to the Sthala Puranam, Madhava Rishi found a baby girl (an avatar of Lakshmi) under a Vanchula tree, and named her Vanchulavalli. In due course, Vishnu arrived and married her at this place. The Lord manifested himself in the Pancha Vyuha forms and married Vanchulavalli Thayar. The Pancha Vyuha forms are Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Purushothama and Vasudeva, and these idols can be seen in the garba griha.


A special shrine in this temple is dedicated to the Kal Garudan (Garuda made of stone), on which the Utsava Moorthy is taken out for procession. Normally, in most temples, the deity is taken for procession on a Vahanam made of metals or wood. This is one of those special cases where the temple deity rides a stone Vahanam. However, what is really interesting about this ritual, which takes place in the Tamil month of Margazhi (Dec-Jan), is that the weight of the Kal Garudan increases exponentially as it is taken out of the shrine, and decreases in the same way as it brought back inside. When the deity is taken out of the shrine, merely 4 people are required to carry it. By the time the deity steps out of the temple, 64 people are required. Again, during the return of the deity to the temple, the weight keeps on reducing, till only 4 people can carry the deity again.


When Vishnu descended on earth as Narasimha to save his devotee Prahalada, Shiva arrived as Sarabheshwarar to cool his anger after Hiranyakashipu was killed. While Sarabheshwarar enveloped Narasimha with his wings, Pratyankara Devi came out of one of the wings and fought with Narasimha, eventually succeeding in calming him down. According to another legend, in ancient times, when two sages, Pratiangiras and Angiras were meditating on a moola mantram, a goddess appeared. She privileged the rishis by allowing herself to be named after both of them as Pratyankara Devi. She is depicted in a few temples on pillars as lion faced, and sitting on a lion or on a throne with four lions for legs.


The only temple dedicated to Pratyankara Devi is the ancient one at Ayyavadi, which is very near Natchiar Kovil and Uppiliappan Kovil. According to legend, this is the place where Ravana’s son Indrajit performed havens for victory over Rama, which Lakshmana interrupted. This temple is surrounded by Maayanams (Cremation grounds) in all 8 directions. The location is perhaps apt, for the Devi is known to be effective in warding off evil, especially witchcraft. Special homams are performed on every new moon day, the main ingredient of which are dried red chillies. Normally, when red chillies are put in fire, the smoke is enough to make anyone choke on it; however, the specialty of this homam is that there is not even a little bit, even when barrels of red chillies are put in the sacrificial fire!
An interesting thing about this temple is the Sthala Vriksham – the sacred tree, which is a banyan, has 5 different kinds of leaves growing on the same tree!


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




Bodhendra Swamigal was the 59th Pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and he propagated Rama Nama Japam as the way to achieve salvation. He chose to enter Jeeva Samadhi at Govindapuram, about 6 Kms from Kumbakonam, near Adudurai. Even today, one can feel the spiritual presence of Sri Bodhendral in His Adhisthaanam at Govindapuram. It is said that ardent devotees can feel in the calm silence of the night a melodious voice uttering Rama Nama rising from subdued tones to a crescendo, and then fading into silence again. It is a calm and peaceful place, eminently suitable for the great soul it houses. One feels at once that it is an extremely sacred place. Even Samhith, who normally runs around, causing havoc wherever we go, remained quiet while we circumambulated the Samadhi. Recently, several additions have been made to the Adhisthaanam, the newest being a big statue of Hanuman.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip




2 Kms from Adudurai (which is 15 Kms from Kumbakonam) is Thirumangalakkudi. The main deity here is Shiva as Praneswarar or Prananathaswamy and Mangalambigai. Parvati, in the form of a parrot is said to have been relieved of a curse at this holy place, and the divine marriage is said to have taken place on Makara Sankranti day. Hence this place came to be known as a Mangala Kshetram. This is also known as a Pancha Mangala Kshetram, because the Ganesha here is known as Mangala Vinayakar, the name of the place is Mangalakkudi, the goddess is Mangalambigai, the Vimanam is Mangala Vimanam, and the main Teertham is Mangala Teertham.


It is believed that the minister of a Chola King used up taxes in building this temple. When the king found out, he ordered the minister to be killed. He granted the minister his last wish to be cremated at this place. The minister’s wife ardently prayed to the goddess to forgive her husband, and the goddess blessed her by returning the minister to life here.


The older legend of this temple states that the Navagrahas – nine planets were relieved of their curse after praying to Shiva at this place. It is believed that this temple should be visited first, before going on to visit Suryanar Kovil nearby, which, in spite of being dedicated to Surya, the Sun god, has separate sanctums for all the navagrahas.


While we were waiting for the priest at the temple, we noticed a board stating that Vidangar Abhishekam would be between 11:30 AM and 12 Noon. We were, of course unable to wait (in fact, the priest never turned up, and we had to have darshan of the lord from outside – thank god at least the main doors were open!), but if anyone has any more information regarding this, it would be helpful. The only Vidangars I know are the Saptha Vidangars, which we visited, and which I shall come to, in due course. Any information regarding this is welcome.


This brings me to an end of this part of my travelogue. There are many more temples left to describe, for this is by no means the complete list of temples in this area. So keep reading, and keep coming back for more!!!

Comments

  1. Nice to see this blog,i've been to some of the temples mentioned here and the others mentioned,make me want to visit these places again!Thanks for compiling!

    ReplyDelete
  2. i feel much happy. thank u for visiting ayyavadi also thank u for sharing info abt ayyavadi, bcoz im living in ayyavadi ly.. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Rajesh.....

    glad to hear from you....

    ReplyDelete

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