“The best laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry” wrote Robert Burns.
Nothing can describe our Tirunelveli Temple Run better than these words, written over two centuries ago!
|Entrance to the Nanguneri Temple|
When we planned our Tirunelveli trip, I had made elaborate plans, trying to find the timings of every temple we were visiting, and trying to ensure that we had ample time to cover all we had in mind. Then, at Tirunelveli, the driver we hired had his own suggestions. The final itinerary was a combined effort – my mother-in-law’s extensive knowledge of temples, my research and his local expertise. After all that discussion, we hit a roadblock at the very first temple on our list – at Nanguneri! My research told me that the temple only opened at 8 AM. The driver insisted that all temples opened at sunrise, and I gave in. We reached there at sunrise, only to learn that the priest would arrive only after 8:30! The driver was a quieter man, as we headed to our next stop – Valliyur.
Valliyur Murugan Temple
|Our first sight of the Valliyoor Temple|
Valliyur is home to a rock cut cave temple, dedicated to Lord Muruga, or Karthikeya. The village gets its name from His consort, Valli, whom he brought here after they married. The temple is simple, but beautiful as well as serene. The first thing you see when you approach is the gopuram, rising over the rocks, and it is indeed an arresting sight. Inside, the temple is surprisingly huge, having been expanded by the Pandya Kings, from the simple rock cut cave, which is the main shrine.
|Lord Muruga as he is seen in the sanctum, on the gopuram|
The weather was perfect when we arrived at Valliyur – the summer skies darkened with clouds, adding a touch of drama, the intermittent showers keeping us cool. This wasn’t how we had imagined our summer trip to turn out! Breakfast at the Om Saraswati Bhawan Tiffin House at Valliyur only helped brighten our day, and off we went, continuing our temple run!
|Such beautiful views, and the weather, made our trip a truly enjoyable one!|
|A beautiful Krishna at the entrance to the Tirukkurungudi Temple|
Our next stop was Thirukkurungudi, home to not just one, but 5 temples, all dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The main temple itself has the Lord seen in three postures – sitting, standing and sleeping. Besides, there are the other temples, smaller, but equally interesting. One among these is located atop the hillock, near a spring, and is said to be extremely beautiful, as well as peaceful. We, however, only visited the main temple. The temple was under renovation, so much of it was covered. There was no one around, not even the priest, as the temple had just been opened. The watchman at the entrance waved us in, assuring us that the sanctum was open! We wandered in, marveling at the beauty of this temple, and by the time we walked out, we realized that this temple, and the 4 others nearby deserved a day to themselves. Another trip was indicated, and as I left, I prayed to the Lord to call me one more time!
|A mandapam outside the Thirukkurungudi Temple. Look closer and you will see beautiful carvings on the pillars.|
There is so much to write about Thirukkurungudi, but I will instead direct you to two articles which truly do justice to this remarkable temple….
Kalakkad Sathyavageeswarar Temple
|Entrance to the Kalakkad Sathyavageeswarar Temple|
Our next halt was the Sathyavageeswarar Temple at Kalakkad. I was fascinated by the temple from my very first sight of the gopuram. The huge tower is covered with stucco figures showing various forms of the Gods. More interesting are the paintings which adorn the inner walls of the gopuram. I had read about them, but sadly, we couldn’t find anyone who could help us in our quest to see them! The priest simply told us that they were out of bounds. However, there is much to see in the temple itself. Like almost all other big temples in this region, this one too has huge halls, with musical pillars, as well as elaborately decorated ones, besides a few murals, sadly in not too good a condition, which make you want to just stop and stare. That, unfortunately, we had no time for, as we had to rush to the next temple on our (long) list!
|Shiva and Parvati on Rishaba Vahanam on the gopuram|
Meanwhile, before I move on, the temple has an interesting story… one associating it with the Ramayana. According to the temple version, the Kalakkad forest was where Sita was abducted from, and this is where Rama and Lakshmana prayed to Shiva, asking him for help in getting Sita back. Shiva appeared, and promised them that he would be by their side. Later, after defeating Ravana, they came back to pay their obeisance to the Lord, and called him ‘Satyavageeswarar’ – the one who speaks the truth!
|A section of the gopuram showing so many different figures, and stories!|
Our drive now took us to Cheranmahadevi, where temples are scattered amidst the fields.
|A temple spire rises among the fields at Cheranmahadevi|
The temple to Bhaktavatsala Perumal here is the biggest one, and also the most intricate and beautiful. You can see a number of photos as well as a detailed description of this temple at http://indiancolumbus.blogspot.com/2014/07/cheranmadevi-bhaktavatsala.html. I have also read of the Ramaswamy temple, which is in a bad shape… http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/article2369180.ece. However, the temple we wanted to visit was dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is counted among the nine temples together called ‘Nava Kailasam’. It would be more appropriate to talk of these temples together, so I will go on to the next one….
Athalanallur Gajendravaradar Temple
The Athalanallur Gajendravaradar Perumal temple is one of those where the story is far more interesting than the temple itself. This temple is, as the name of the Lord suggests, associated with the story of Gajendra Moksham – of Gajendra, the elephant king, who, caught by a crocodile, prays to the Lord, who arrives on Garuda, and chops off the head of the crocodile. The story is one I have heard from childhood, and outside the main shrine is a stucco image of the scene, as it has always been depicted… the elephant, its foot in the mouth of the crocodile, a lotus in its trunk, facing Lord Vishnu, who is on Garuda, his discus ready to be launched.
On the temple spire is a smaller image, depicting the scene too, but in a simpler way.
In the sanctum, the Lord is in standing posture, with four hands, Bhudevi and Sridevi by his side. Standing on the side, facing the Lord, are the sages Brighu and Markandeya, whom the Lord blessed here in this form.
The next temple we arrived at is possibly my favourite one from the entire trip. Why? Wait for my next post, to find out!
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.
- Our Tirunelveli Temple Run