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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Diwali Tour Part 4 – Thiruvaiyaru

Thiruvaiyaru – literally (in Tamil) the holy land of five rivers is about 15 Kms from Thanjavur. The five rivers are the tributaries of the Kaveri and form a sort of network around this town, giving it its name. The main temple here is to the lord who shares the name with the town – Panchanadeeswarar in Sanskrit, or Ayyaarappan in Tamil.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thiruvaiyaru Temple Gopuram

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Detail of Ravana Lifting Kailas on his ten heads, on the Thiruvaiyaru Gopuram

The story of how the temple came into being is an interesting one. A king’s chariot once got embedded in the ground. While digging around the wheels of the chariot to get it out, they chanced upon a lingam. A wise minister advised them to dig further, but carefully, and they were rewarded for their efforts with the idols of the goddess Dharmasamvardhini, Vinayaka, Muruga, and also a Nandi. To top it all, they also found a Siddhar (saint) deep in meditation underground. The saint advised the king to build a temple at the same place, and also told him to dig under the hoofs of the Nandi where he would find the wealth needed for building the temple.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The temple is huge and beautiful. The pragaram surrounding the sanctum of Panchanadeeswarar has some lovely wall paintings, of which you can see a sample below.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Temple paintings

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Outside the temple (the back entrance), is a shrine to Alkondar, a form of Shiva, where He is shown as a fearsome deity, wearing a garland of scorpions and other poisonous creatures, and is believed to be the form in which He punished Yama, the god of death. There is a huge pit outside the sanctum of Alkondar, where kungilyam (Benzoin) is offered to fire. It is believed that the smoke from the Benzoin removed the fear of death, and also wards away death due to the bite of poisonous creatures.

Saptha Sthaanam Temples

The Thiruvaiyaru temple is one among a group of seven, collectively known as the Saptha Sthaanam temples. These temples are unique, for they are related to the marriage of Shiva’s foremost attendant, Nandi, and the part that Shiva played in this marriage.

Nandi was born to Siladha Maharshi and performed great penance to his favoured deity, Shiva. Shiva was so pleased with his worship, he not only made Nandi his prime attendant, He also got him married. The marriage itself took place at Thirumazhapadi near Thiruvaiyaru, and Shiva took his devotee around these seven temples as part of the Sapthapadi. Every year, this occasion is celebrated in April/May with the idol of the Lord starting out in a beautifully decorated glass-encrusted palanquin from Thiruvaiyaru, and taking a round of these seven villages. At each village he is received at one boundary by the Lord of that village and accompanied by him to the next village, where he is received by the next one. In such a way, he completes a full circle and returns to Thiruvaiyaru. These seven temples are:

1. Thiruvaiyaru

2. Thiruchotruthurai

3. Thiruvedikudi

4. Thirupponduruthi

5. Thillaisthanam

6. Kandiyur

7. Thiruppazhanam

All these temples are situated around Thiruvaiyaru (see the map) and it is possible to visit all these temples within 4 hours.

From maps
Map of Saptha Sthaanam Temples

Most of these temples open at around 7AM and close at Noon. Some of these temples are scarcely visited, and hence the pujari tends to leave after completing the puja. At some temples, the main sanctum remains locked, but the deity is visible from outside. In any case, at most of these temples, the priest lives just outside and he is usually most eager to open up the temple and perform deeparadhana, and is delighted with even the most meager offerings. In fact, this is just what we had to do at many of the less visited temples, and I am glad to say that we were successful in most cases it was in just a couple of temples that the priest was unavailable, having gone away somewhere, that we were unable to have darshan of the deity.

We started from Thanjavur after a sumptuous breakfast at Vasantha Bhavan, and reached the first temple on our list, Kandiyur, at about 8:15AM.


Kandiyur has the distinction of being one among two sets of temples – the Saptha Sthaanam temples I was talking about, as well as one of the Ashta Veeratta Sthalams – temples where Shiva has shown his power by overcoming someone. Here, at Kandiyur, he crushed the ego of Brahma by plucking off his fifth head. He is therefore known as Brahma Shira Kandeeswarar. Hence the name – Kandiyur. Brahma also has his plac at this temple. He is seated with Saraswati, facing Shiva, in a separate sanctum on the left, seen when we do a pradakshina. The Devi here is Mangalambigai.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Kandiyur Temple

An interesting thing about this temple, and indeed, many other temples in this area (Thanjavur, Thiruvaiyaru and Kumbakonam) is the position of the Navagrahas. Generally, the Navagrahas have Surya in the middle, with the eight others facing in different directions. However, in many of these temples, all the eight face Surya. Another interesting thing is that Surya is accompanied by his wives, Usha and Sandhya.

Take a look at the glass – encrusted palanquin which escorts Panchanadeeswarar through this village. Of course, it needs cleaning, but from what I have heard, it is a stunning sight to see the lord in the palanquin!

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip


The next temple we visited was Thiruppoonduruthi, which is about 20 minutes drive from Kandiyur. Here, the deities are Pushpavaneswarar and Soundaryanayaki. The temple has a number of Nandis, staring from the outer pragaram to the sanctum, and all them, are slightly displaced from the centre. It is believed that they moved so that Shiva could see the approach of Thirugyaanasambandhar, one of the saivite saints.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thiruppoonduruthi Temple

Another interesting thing about this place is that there are seven gopurams in all, and all of them can be seen from one particular point on the outer pragaram. There is a board to that effect in the temple, and trying it out, we were delighted to see all the seven gopurams from one place!


Our next destination was Thiruvedikudi, again about 20 minutes from Thiruppoonduruthi. This was among the most dilapidated temples we saw that day. In fact, for a moment, we wondered if we were at the right place, but yes, the name of the deity written on the wall was correct, and the glass palanquin was there too, but in much worse shape than the others we had seen.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thiruvedikudi temple

The deities here are Vedapureeswarar and Mangayakarasi. While we were doing the pradakshina, we were amazed to note the number of lingams installed in the pragaram. Samhith, who is, at present, fascinated by lingams, started counting them, and soon, I too joined him. We were amazed that there were in all, 135 lingams there! While it was sad to see that the Dakshinamoorthy idol was missing, we saw a beautiful stone idol of Lakshmi Narayana standing by itself in a corner.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Most of our temples are full of such contrasts – beauty in abundance and scarcity of funds and maintenance. Ironically, it is in such almost broken down temples that we can see a glimpse of the beauty and grandeur of days gone by, without the hands of modernity showing their influence.


Our next halt was at Thiruchotruthurai, barely 15 minutes away from Thiruvedikudi. Here, the deities are Othavaneswarar and Annapoorneswari. According to the legend, it was here that the food for the marriage of Nandi was prepared by Arularar and his wife. The lord presented them with an Akshaya patram for this purpose, and this story is immortalized in the temple with images of Arularar and his wife holding the Akshaya patram outside the main sanctum of the deity.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thiruchotruthurai temple

This is quite a large and well maintained temple, and in the outer pragaram are groups of lingams, replicas of those in the Saptha Sthaanam temples, Pancha Bhoota Sthalams, etc.


Thillaisthanam was the next temple we visited, about 20 minutes from Thiruchotruthurai. Here, the deities are Nei aadi appar and Balambigai.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thillaisthanam temple entrance

This was the first temple where we met with failure, for the temple was closed, and the priest was nowhere to be found. The only people at the temple were workers who were engaged in cleaning and renovating the temple. They were busy having breakfast, and the smell of hot pongal permeated the whole temple. To their credit, they asked us to join them while one of them went searching for the absentee priest. We excused ourselves and spent the time looking at the Kaveri passing by, while Samhith amused himself with a goat and kid. After about 15 minutes of waiting, it became clear that no one had any idea where the priest would be, and, with no knowledge of our waiting for him, he would not be in a hurry to return. Regretfully, we turned our van towards Thiruvaiyaru.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Samhith and Sandhya play with a goat and its kid

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
The bathing Ghat onthe kaveri at Thillaisthanam

Since I have already described the Thiruvaiyaru temple which we visited next, I shall pass it, and go on to the last temple in the list – Thiruppazhanam.


Thiruppazhanam is about 15 minutes from Thiruvaiyaru, towards Kumbakonam. Here too, the temple was closed, and the priest was out, but when we approached his wife, she quickly sent a child with the key, and we were able to have darshan of the lord, even though it was close to noon, when most temples are closed. This temple, we were told is open from 8 AM to Noon, and from 4-6 PM. During this time, even if the priest is out, someone or the other will be available to open up the temple, which is kept locked for safety concerns.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thiruppazhanam Temple

Here, the deities are Aapatsahayar and Sundaranayaki. Here, it must be mentioned that all the lingams in the Saptha Sthaanam temples are of the same size and shape, except the one at Thiruvaiyaru, which is a swayambhu, and much smaller and of a different shape. In fact, the lingams are so similar; they might have been made together by the same hand, as if from a single mould.

We were surprised to see a group of youngsters playing volleyball in the grounds of the temple, and Sankar could not resist joining them for a game. We had time to spare, as it was noon, and we had nothing to do except have lunch, for which we were going to the maternal home of my mother-in-law, which was nearby.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Sankar extreme left) joins in a game of volleyball

While we were through with the Saptha Sthaanam temples, which were the first group of temples on our list, these were by no means all the temples we visited near Thiruvaiyaru. Here are some other temples in the vicinity.

Other temples around Thiruvaiyaru

Thyagaraja Samadhi

Thyagarja – the composer-saint needs no introduction. Even those who have no knowledge of carnatic music could not have failed to hear about him, especially as the Thyagarja aaradhana is celebrated every year with such pomp, musicians coming from every part of the country to sing his compositions and pay tribute to him, and now broadcast live on TV.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Entrance to Thyagarja Samadhi

The Samadhi is on the banks of the Kaveri, a simple structure which brings peace and solace to the heart of a visitor. There is a vast expanse of open land, which is where the yearly Aaradhana takes place. Inside, apart from the saint’s Samadhi are the idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita which were so dear to him. This is a place worth a visit, for I shall always remember the peace and calm it radiated, even in these days.

Ganapathy Agraharam

This is an ancient Ganapathy temple dedicated to Ganesha, 12 Kms from Thiruvaiyaru. It is a quaint temple with interesting sculptures. We reached the temple just after it opened for the evening, and there was no one to guide us around. We ourselves noticed a few interesting sculptures and bronze idols, but it was only after I returned and was looking up the temples we visited for more information about the things we had noticed, that I read about an interesting idol of half- Ganesha and half-Hanuman. Such an idol is unique, and if you ever visit this temple, make sure you do not miss it.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Ganapathy Agraharam Temple


Thingalur is one of the Navagraha Sthalams, well known for its shrine of the Moon God – Chandran. Here, the main deity is Kailasanathar and his consort, Periyanayaki. I shall write in detail about this temple when I write about the Navagraha Sthalams in Thanjavur, so look out for that post!

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Thingalur temple

This temple is very near Thiruppazhanam, being adjacent villages. Here is an interesting story concerning this place, and a Shaivite saint, Appoodhi Adigal.

According to the legend, Appoodhi Adigal lived in the village of Thingalur and was a great devotee of Shiva. He heard the greatness of the saint Thirunavakarasar and became a great devotee of his, though he had never met him. He named everything he owned after the saint, including a place where water was provided for travelers. One day, the saint Thirunavakarasar passed through this place, and stopped for water. He was amazed to see his name on the board, and asked people for an explanation. When Appoodhi Adigal learnt that the saint had arrived, he happily invited him home for a meal. While his wife prepared the meal, Appoodhi Adigal served the saint and asked his son to gather the plantain leaves to serve food to the saint. While the son was gathering the leaves, he was bitten by a snake and died on the spot. After some time, Appoodhi Adigal went to look for his son, and found him dead. Controlling his emotions, he carried on as if nothing had happened, continuing to serve and saint, washing his feet and serving him food. Once the food was served however, the saint called for the family to have food with him. Adigal and his wife stood there, uncertain about what was to be done. When the saint repeatedly asked for his son, Adigal had no choice but to tell him the truth. The saint was shocked and he sang one of the thevarams then and there to the lord, and when he called for the son, the child appeared as if he had woken up from a nap! Such was the devotion of Appoodhi Adigal that he not only got his son back; his family was able to share food with the saint whom they idolized. Till today, there is a place between Thingalur and Thiruppazhanam where travelers are provided water, still named after the saint Thirunavakarasar.


Kapisthalam is midway between Thiruvaiyaru and Kumbakonam, about 14 Kms from each. Here is one of the 108 Divya Desams, or Abodes of Vishnu.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Kapisthalam temple

This is considered to be the site of the Gajendra Moksham (the story where a king, reborn as an elephant, is caught by a crocodile, actually a cursed demi-god. When the elephant recalls his previous birth and calls out to Vishnu as Aadi Moolam – the cause of everything in the world – Vishnu arrives on Garuda and uses his chakra to cut off the crocodile’s head, giving moksha to the elephant – Gajendra – as well as the crocodile). The lord is therefore called Gajendra Varada Perumal, and his consort is Ramaa Mani Thayar. The Utsava moorthy has two consorts – usually Sridevi and Bhoodevi – here called Potramarai Thayar and Shenbaghavalli Thayar.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Vishnu arriving on Garuda- kapisthalam temple gopuram

This is one of the Pancha Krishna Sthalams – where the saints saw visions of the idols as Krishna. The other four are at Thirukannapuram, Thirukannamangai, Thirukannangudi (all around Thiruvarur) and Thirukovilur (near Vriddhachalam).

An interesting thing about this temple is that the idol of Garuda opposite the sanctum of the deity is accompanied by an idol of Rahu. Hence, this is also considered a Rahu Sthalam.

The idol of Hanuman in this temple is accompanied by an idol of the sage Parashara. It is believed that when the sage visited this temple, he wished to have darshan of the lord delivering his Bhakta, Gajendra. The lord obliged him by giving him a vision of the Gajendra Moksham episode here, and this story is immortalized by the statue of the sage.

This is no means a complete list of the temples in this area. This is only an account of the temples that we visited during this trip. While searching for information regarding these temples, I came across a huge number of temples here, each of them having something interesting about them. Once I complete this series of articles about the temples I have visited, I plan to write a series of articles about the temples that I would like to visit. Meanwhile, my blogs are getting longer and longer, and I am spending more and more time writing. So I shall call an end to this one, and start the next one as soon as I get the mood to type once again. Goodbye till then……………


  1. I need the address of Alkondar swamy Tiruvaiyaru

    My Email address is as follows :-
    12,St.Mary's Road Mandaveli
    Chennai - 600028

  2. Hi Anuradha Shankar !! Thankyou so much for your travellogue. It really helped me , plan my trip . Good news is most temples are being renovated now. Here is the link to my experience would love to hear from you. Thanks again, Keerthana


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