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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 5 – Pancha Aranya Sthalams

Kumbakonam is a town which is filled with, and surrounded by temples. What is amazing about these temples is that each and every one of them is huge, and has an interesting story to go along with it. While some are historical, and others are based on mythology, there are some which are based on the geography of the area they are placed in. One such group of temples is the Pancha Aranya Sthalams. Aranyam means forest, which is what this whole area must have been, once upon a time. Even today, in spite of so much development, electricity and water reaching the most far flung areas, this part of the land bears vestiges of the days gone by. Somehow, when we visit these temples, we are reminded of the jungles which once surrounded them. The five temples which collectively make the Pancha Aranya Sthalams are


The Thirukkarugavur temple is a famous one, for it is the abode of Garbharakshambigai, the goddess who protects the womb of women, and also the foetus. The sanctum of the goddess is perennially full of people praying for a child, or for safe delivery of children, or cure of diseases related to the uterus.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Thirukkarugavur Temple

According to a legend, a rishi and his wife, Vedhika, lived in this town, and were ardent devotees of Shiva and Parvati. The rishi once left town for some days, leaving his pregnant wife behind. Tired after the household chores, Vedhika fell asleep. Just at that moment, another rishi arrived, and asked for water. Getting no response, the rishi got angry and cursed Vedhika, due to which she developed a terrible disease, which would also affect her unborn child. The goddess Parvati couldn’t bear to see the unborn child suffer and she transferred the foetus to a pot, where it was fed milk through Kamadhenu. Thus, she protected the unborn child throughout its term, and brought the child out safe when the rishi arrived home. The blessed couple requested that the goddess remain at that place and bless other couples in the same way. The Devi is thus known as Garbha-Raksha-Ambigai in Sanskrit, and Karu-Kaatha-Nayaki in Tamil, both of which mean – the One who protects the womb.

The main deity in this temple is Lord Shiva as Mullaivananathar – the lord of the Jasmine forest, or Mullai Vanam in Tamil. This lingam was originally found at this place, which was then a forest of jasmine creepers. The lingam has the marks of a jasmine creeper over it, which can be seen during the deeparadhana. Traditionally, this is this is the first temple to be visited amongst the Pancha Aranya Sthalams.


Avalivanallur is the second among this group of temples. It was once situated in a forest of Trumpet Flower trees, called Pathiri Vanam in Tamil. The temple is an ancient one, and according to the sthala puranam, lord Shiva was worshipped here and at Haridwaramangalam nearby during his avatar as Varaha – the boar.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Avalivanallur Temple

The legend of the temple is an interesting one. The priest of this temple was an ardent devotee of Shiva, and soon after his marriage, decided to visit Kashi. Leaving his young and beautiful wife behind, he proceeded north for the long and arduous journey to Kashi. Completing all the rites and rituals required, he returned after a number of years. Meanwhile, his wife fell sick, and her sister arrived to nurse her. When the priest returned home, he saw two women in the house – one sick and covered with rashes, looking rather ugly, and the other a beautiful girl, resembling his wife. He immediately assumed that the beautiful one was his wife, and proceeded to the river to bathe and get ready. Lord Shiva was the only one who realized the mistake his devotee had made, and hastened to correct the error. He appeared in front of the priest with Parvati, informed him about his wife’s illness, and explained that the beautiful one was his sister-in-law, not his wife.

Since the lord acted as a witness, he is named Sakshi Nathar, and the goddess – Soundarya Nayaki. Behind the lingam in the sanctum is a panel with the image of Shiva and Parvati on the Rishabha Vahanam, the form in which they gave darshan to the priest. The priest, his wife, and his sister-in-law are all immortalized in the temple, with their statues adorning the pragaram along with the other deities such as the Navagrahas.


Haridwaramangalam is barely 3 Kms from Avalivanallur, and shares almost the same sthala puranam. It is believed that lord Vishnu in his avatar as the wild boar – Varaha – went deep into the earth searching for the feet of Shiva. Finally, not finding it, he gave up and returned at this place and meditated on Shiva. I read on the net that there was a pit (now closed) outside the sanctum which is believed to have been made by Vishnu while coming out and hence the name – Hari-dwara-mangalam.

The temple is evidently an ancient one, dating back to the days before Raja Raja Chozhan. Most of the original structure has fallen into disrepair, and the temple is being renovated, but one can still see some parts of the original structure like an arch here and there. Of course, once it is all painted over, it might be difficult to notice such things unless you are expert, but I suppose that is the price we pay for renovation and modernization. This temple was once in a forest of Vanni trees (called Sami in Sanskrit), and today, there is a lone tree standing in the temple premises, testifying itself as the Sthala Vriksham.

The deity here bears the name of Pataleswarar (originating from the story of Varaha burrowing into Patala – the netherworld) and Alangara Valli.


Alangudi has attained fame due to its position as the Guru Sthalam among the Navagraha temples. It is also a part of the Pancha Aranya Sthalams, and is, interestingly, also among the Parivara Sthalams, which I shall come to, in due course.

While the deity who attracts the maximum crowd at Alangudi is Guru Bhagavan, or Dakshinamoorthy, the main deity in the temple is Shiva as Aapatsahayar – the one who aids his devotees in troubled times. The goddess is named Elavarkuzhali. In the temple premises is housed a smaller sanctum to Ganesha, who, it is believed killed the demon Gajamukhasuran at this holy place, and is called ‘Kalangaamal Kaatha Vinayakar’. The forest associated with this temple is the Poolai Vanam, or forest of Silk Cotton trees, though there is not a single one left in this much-visited temple any more.


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Entrance to Thirukkollambudhoor temple

The last temple in this group is Thirukkollambudhoor, located in a forest of Bilva trees. The deity, is, not surprisingly, named Bilvavaneswarar, and the goddess is Soundarya Nayaki.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Main Gopuram - Thirukkollambudhoor

The temple is quite well maintained, and has been recently renovated. As in most of the less – visited temples, the priest leaves after completing his regular pujas. Thankfully, the temple has a young boy who acts a watchman, and spends his time sitting and studying on the temple premises. While Sankar went in search of the priest to his home nearby, the boy kept us engaged, telling us about the temple.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Gopuram Detail - Thirukkollambudhoor

To me, the most interesting thing about this temple was the presence of 3 life-size statues facing the deity, just outside the sanctum. It was dark when we entered the temple, and we walked straight inside, without looking around us. When I turned back to see if Samhith was behind me, I got the shock of my life when I saw what I thought was a man standing in front of a pillar. It was only after a whole minute that I realized that it wasn’t a real person, but just a life-like statue of a man over 6 feet tall. Once the lights were on, we realized that he was one of three – apparently, he was the Chettiar (merchant) who paid for the temple to be built, and he was accompanied by his wife and younger brother. It took all my determination to control myself from taking photos inside the temple pragaram, something I have consciously tried to stick tour, during this whole trip. I have photographed the gopurams and outer pragarams, taking photographs inside only when specifically allowed to do so.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

How to visit the Pancha Aranya Sthalams

This was a question I asked myself again and again as I struggled to make a plan for visiting these temples. It took a lot of time and research on the net to find out where these temples were exactly, and how to approach them. Let me share the results of my search, as well as our experience with all of you.

The first temple to be visited is Thirukkarugavur, which is 22 Kms from Kumbakonam, and 7Kms from Papanasam. Traditionally, this temple is to be visited early in the morning, between 5:30 and 6AM.

The second temple in the list is Avalivanallur, to be visited between 9:30 and 10 AM. Avalivanallur is 13 Kms W of Alangudi, and 3 Kms from Haridwaramangalam.

Haridwaramangalam should be the next temple on the itinerary, to be visited between 11AM to Noon. This temple is about 13 Kms W of Alangudi, and is just about 10mins drive from Avalivanallur.

Alangudi is fourth on the list, being 17Kms S of Kumbakonam, 35 Kms E of Thanjavur and 6Kms from Mannargudi. Visit this temple after lunch and a siesta, between 5:30 and 6PM.

The last and final temple is Thirukollambudhoor, 7Kms E of Alangudi, on the road to Thiruvarur. This was the temple we had most trouble finding. This temple is most easily approachable from Kumbakonam via Kudavasal and Selur. Another option is from Thiruvarur via Koradacheri and Selur. If you are going to take the traditional route and visit the temples in order (unlike us), you can reach this temple from Alangudi via Needamangalam and Koradacheri. This temple is to be visited between 8-8:30PM.

These are all beautiful temples, and worth spending a whole day visiting them. Not only is it auspicious visiting them in a day, the temples are beautiful and interesting enough to spend an hour or two at least at each temple. So, the next time you are in the vicinity of Thanjavur or Kumbakonam, add these temples to your itinerary, and don’t forget to let me know what you thought about them!!!!!


  1. excellent!Mami.Well given details!Should be preserved for future generations,

  2. Really excellent Mam. you have great shared information am little confused about last Aranyam bcz of spelling it showed me it is in near pudhukottai please share such wonderful informations in future also

  3. Thank v much mam ur information is really useful even in future pls update such wonderful things

  4. Tomorrow I will be visiting these temples


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