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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

Our Tirunelveli Temple Run : Part 1 - An Introduction and the Nellaippar Temple

Have you played the game ‘Temple Run’? I haven’t. I only know of it thanks to my son. However, it was the name which struck me, when I began writing about all the temples I visited during our #summertrip to Tirunelveli. Over a period of three days, we visited almost 40 temples, and the planning, organization and execution of the feat involved a whole lot of research work, and timing it just right. It was way more adventurous, and fun, than the game can ever be, at least for me!

I have received many queries about the temples we visited, and, after much deliberation, have a few points to clarify before I begin.

  • First, I am writing about them in the order we visited. This was based on temple timings, and convenience, and isn’t based on any particular order that has to be followed. Some people do tend to visit certain temples in order, but we had only one aim – to visit as many temples as possible in the short time we had.

  • Second, it is impressive to think that we visited forty temples in three days. However, you must understand that we were pressed for time, and didn’t spend too much time at many temples. Besides, I was with my mother and mother-in-law, who had visited many of these temples before. For me, this was a first visit to Tirunelveli, and I wanted to see as much as I could. I can always return to see some temples at my own leisure. I don’t need to visit all of them again. If you plan to see the temples in a leisurely manner, following my list will not help.

  • Third, by my own choice, I do not click photos inside temples, except when I see something sensational. Even then, I ask for permission, and only click when allowed to do so. Considering that many temples in the south are averse to photography, you can understand the lack of photos in these posts.

  • Fourth, I will restrict my accounts of these temples to the stories and my experiences in the temples. These posts aren’t meant to be detailed posts on every temple we visited. I will, of course give some details which I may have, as and when applicable.

Having made my intentions clear, let me begin with the first temple we visited at Tirunelveli – the temple associated with the city, and its name – the Nellaiappar Temple

Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli

The gopuram of the Nellaiappar temple was clearly visible, as we drove through the main road of Tirunelveli. For once, I rued the fact that it was raining, and I couldn’t click photos. Entering the main door, I looked up, awed at the beautiful woodwork on the ceiling, and regretted leaving my camera behind in the car!

It is said that the Lord, as well as the town, get their name from an incident that occurred here, in times long past. In this region, it is believed, lived a farmer who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He thought of the Lord at all times, no matter what chores he was doing. Once, he was harvesting the grain from his fields, when the clouds gathered, and it began to rain. Unseasonal rain, as we well know, destroys crops, especially those ready to be harvested. The farmer prayed fervently to the Lord, and begged him to help. The Lord was so moved by his prayers that He himself appeared, and covered the fields, fencing it in from the rain. Thus, the place came to be known as Thiru-Nel-veli – where the Lord fenced the paddy fields (nel is paddy and veli is fence in Tamil), and the Lord as Nellai-appar, he who protects the paddy.

The temple had just opened for the evening shift, and we easily had darshan of Lord Shiva as Nellaiappar in the main sanctum. We then made our way to his consort – Kanthimathi Amman. Now, Kanthimathi was my grandmother’s name, and is also my sister’s. I also have an aunt by the same name. While the name is common in families belonging to this district, in our case, it is a throwback to some forgotten ancestor, for we have no direct connection to Tirunelveli. However, the name has always made me curious about the goddess, and I looked forward to seeing her.

We had every intention of having a quick darshan of the goddess and moving on. The goddess, it soon became apparent, had other ideas. We entered the shrine just as the evening Abhishekam was about to begin, and before the thought of leaving had entered our heads, the priest gestured, asking us to wait. And so it was, that we spent the next half an hour, simply watching Her, as if she knew that all we had really wanted here, was to see her!

One of the most interesting things about the temple is a sanctum for Vishnu in a reclining posture, right next to the main sanctum of Nellaiappar. He is called Nellai Govindan, and is believed to have arrived here to witness the marriage of Nellaiappar and Kanthimathi, though why he is in reclining posture is something I haven’t been able to understand so far!

There is so much to see in this temple – from the musical pillars to the life sized statues of the Nayaka kings, who were the main patrons, to the long, pillared halls with figures of women carrying lamps, the Tamara Sabha (Copper hall) of Nataraja, which is one of only 5 such impressive ones, the Saptha Matrikas, who are a regular feature of almost all the Shiva temples in this district, and the many, many subsidiary shrines, each with their own stories. You can easily spend a whole day here, and still miss something interesting!

Outside the temple is the famed Iruttu Kadai Halwa, one of the most popular delicacies of the town. The shop was already closed for the day, but there was lots more for us to indulge in, such as the piping hot polis, that I don’t think I can ever have enough of!

Nellaiappar Temple:

And that was the story of the day we arrived at Tirunelveli. The visit to the Nellaiappar temple was but a first stop, before we began the ‘Temple Run’! I shall be starting the story of the actual ‘Temple Run’ with the next post, so keep your eyes peeled!

For those interested, we hired a car at Tirunelveli, through a family member. You can contact Mr. Shanmughavel on +91 9585966999 to get in touch and hire a vehicle. The drivers as well as the car he sent us were excellent, and we were able to visit so many temples in the limited time, thanks to their efforts. 

 This post is part of my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here

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      1. You have a follower in Vermont, USA. I read and see your frequent posts and appreciate the time and effort you devote to I lived in India quite a few years and continue to follow India in quite a few ways. Keep up the good work!

      2. 40 temples in 3 days, that's A LOT! Thanks for the informative post...


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