Thursday, December 26, 2013

Musical Ganeshas

Sri Kutchery Vinayagar Temple Cheyyur
Margazhi is the season for music when every auditorium is packed with Rasikas from morning to night eager to experience the best of music, dance and discourse. Aalayam Kanden takes pride in introducing to you two " Musical Ganeshas" not very far from Chennai.

Let us first visit the " Kutchery Vinayagar" temple at Cheyyur. Cheyyur, or Seyyur as it was originally known is not new to those who have been following Aalayam Kanden. The Kandaswamy Murugan Temple at Cheyyur (You can read the article here) is probably the only one in the world where there are Vedhalams for each one of the 27 stars.  The Vanmeeganathar Temple richly endowed with inscriptions of four Chola kings and a temple of worship for those born under the Uthiram star, and the remains of the Kailasanatha temple at Cheyyur which has a number of inscriptions from Rajendra Chola I's time are jewels in the crown of Cheyyur.

One of the unique features of the Kandaswamy Murugan temple are the Navasandhi Vinayagars. (Nine Ganeshas around the temple said to have been worshipped by the Navagrahas). The most prominent among those is the Kutchery Vinayagar. Now, why is he called the Kutchery Vinayagar? Let us go in and find out.

First View of the Kutchery Vinayagar
 During the Chola and Vijayanagara periods, there was a Sarva Vadhya Mandapam within the Kandaswamy Murugan  temple where all musical instuments were played and dancers performed at the time the Lord was taken out on procession. As the Lord moved into the Maada veedhis (streets surrounding the temple) musical performances were conducted at the Kutchery Vinayagar temple. All the leading musicians from the courts of the Kings right down to the famous devotional singers of this century such as K P Sundarambal have performed at the Kutchery Vinayagar temple. 

Kutchery Vinayagar 
Let us zoom in to take a closer look at the Kutchery Vinayagar. You would find that he is slightly tilted to the left. All the wonderful music that he has been hearing for centuries has made him sway!
There is an Elephant vahana in front of him instead of the Moonjuru which shows the ancient nature of the temple. 

Gnana Kutchery Vinayagar
Getting even closer, one can see the Aksamalai (string of prayer beads) and Angusam on the top two hands. Those who have a good voice and desire to excel in music visit this temple, sing before the Lord and perform abhishekam with tender coconut.  The Lord who loves good music and sways to it, grants them their wish.

Dussehra festival is celebrated in this temple with pomp and glory. On Tamil New year day, the Kutchery Vinayagar is taken out on proession through the streets of Cheyyur. Karthikeya Gurukkal who performs poojas at the temple says several reputed singers have visited the temple and taken the blessings of Kutchery Vinayagar.

Cheyyur is about 29 kms from Madhurantakam. On NH45, take the left just before the Melmaruvathur bridge and drive straight down for about 12 kms to reach the temple. One can also reach Cheyyur through the ECR.

The temple is close to the Cheyyur Bus Stand and is open between 9 and 10 am in the morning and 6 to 8 pm in the evening.  The Gurukkal can be contacted on 99943 16097.

Aanoor Astrapureeswara Temple
The next Ganesha we are going to see is at Aanoor, a small village about 13 kms from Chengalpattu. After crossing the Chengalpattu court, proceed towards Pon Vilaintha Kalathu. Aanoor is about 4 kms away from PVKalathur. If you brave the bad roads, a delight is in store.

Sangeetha Vinayagar
In an alcove on the dilapidated wall of the temple, is the "Sangeetha Vinayagar" said to date back to the 5th Century. The lower right hand is held in such a way that he looks as if he is putting Thalam (musical count). The Gurukkal at the temple mentioned that the Ganesha was a Varaprasadhi and worshipping him for seven days grants genuine wishes of devotees. For further information on the Asthrapureeswarar temple and the lovely murthis there, please read Raju Sir's article here.

Hope you visit these two Ganeshas in the musical month of Margazhi and be blessed!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Santhana Prapthi Kaalabhairava!

A portion of the Ramagiri Valeeswara Temple

At the end of the Ramayana war, Rama was affected by Brahmahathi Dosha (the curse of killing a brahmin) after killing Ravana. Ravana had a brahmin father,Vishrava and a Rakshasa mother Kaikesi. Killing a son born to a brahmin had resulted in Rama acquiring the Brahmahathi Dosha. Rama requested Hanuman to bring a Shiva Linga from Kashi so that he could worship the Lord and rid himself from the curse.

Hanuman dutifully obeyed Rama and brought a Shivalingam for Rama to worship at Rameswaram. On his way back, he was passing through a place called Thirukaarikarai. Kaala Bhairava was the Kshetra Palaka of this place. He saw Hanuman coming back with the sacred Shiva lingam. He was desirous of having Lord Shiva stay permanently at Thirukaarikarai. It was mid day and the sun was shining brightly. Kaala Bhairava sought Lord Surya (Sun God)'s co-operation in increasing the temperature further. The heat made Hanuman thristy and he got down and looked around for a water source.

Kaala Bhairava appeared before him in the guise of a young boy. Hanuman asked him if there was water nearby for him to bathe and drink. Kala Bhairava was able to make water run down the hill and collect in a pond nearby. He agreed to hold the Shivalingam till such time Hanuman returned. A happy Hanuman got down into the pond to bathe. The idyllic surroundings, and the cool,refreshing water made a weary Hanuman enjoy a long and thorough bath.

The Nandi theertham created by Kala Bhairava at Ramagiri
When he got out of the water, the little boy was nowhere in sight. He looked around to find the Shivalingam placed on the ground. In panic, he rushed to the spot and tried to lift the lingam and continue with his journey. But, despite several attempts, he was not able to even move it an inch from where it had been grounded. As a last ditch effort, he looped his tail over the Baana (top portion) of the lingam and tried to uproot it. All that he could do was to tilt it a bit, but the lingam would not budge. When Hanuman removed his tail from around the lingam, he saw the impression it had created on the Baana. He understood that it was divine will that the lingam was to stay there forever. So he worshipped it, and started back towards Kashi to get another lingam for Lord Rama.
Sthalapurana Mural of Sri Valeeswara Temple, Ramagiri

The place came to be known as Ramagiri as Hanuman had brought the Lingam for Rama and the Lord is known as Valeeswara as Hanuman tried to uproot him with his Vaal (Tail). Even today one can see the huge lingam slightly tilted to one side with tail marks on the baanam.

Although Lord Shiva is found here, this is one of the few temples where Kaala Bhairava is worshipped as the main deity. In this temple, he is worshipped as "Santhana Prapthi Kala Bhairava" - a Bhairava who grants boon of childbirth.

Several hundreds of devotees throng this temple through the year to offer prayers to Kaala Bhairava and be blessed with the boon of a child.

Stone Puppies offered at the Ramagiri Temple

Procedure for performing pooja for childbirth:

The Nandi Theertham created by Kaala Bhairava is perenially filled with cool water that flows from the hill and collects in the pond from the mouth of a Nandi. The water is said to bring with it the herbal goodness of the various medicinal plants that grow on the hill.

  • Couples desirous of performing poojas for child birth at Ramagiri, have to come to the temple, early in the morning on an empty stomach. 
  • They must both bathe in the Nandi Theertham and with wet clothes, go into the temple, light eight lamps in the specified place, and perform archana to Sri Kaala Bhairava. 
  • The priest then gives the couple a stone puppy which they both carry around the shrine and peform eight circumambulations.
  • They feed biscuits and food to the several dogs that are found within the temple complex. It is surprising to see the dogs not fighting with each other, or getting excited when people try to feed them. They do not eat anything that falls on the sand. When food is respectfully placed, they take turns to come and quietly eat the food.
  • Once their prayers are answered,they come back with the baby and perform abhishekam to Kaala Bhairava and place a stone puppy as a token of gratitude.

Several puppies offered by devotees are found in the Ramagiri temple
Special poojas and abhishekam are performed on Theipirai Ashtami (Eighth day after Full moon) every month between 9 am and 11.45 pm. It is better to arrive early in order to find seating space within the Artha Mandapa.

About the temple:

The temple is said to have been originally constructed by the Pallavas, and renovated over time by King Vira Rajendra Chola. From inscriptions, one can understand that a king called Sangama Kula Virupaksharaya tried to construct a Raja Gopura at the temple.
It is probably the only temple where Lord Hanuman can be seen in front of the Shivalingam in a worshipping state in the place of Nandi.
Thirukaarikarai  is a Devara Vaippu thalam sung by Sundaramurthy Nayanar.
There is a Murugan temple atop the hill and there are steps leading to it from near the pond.
Steps leading to the Murugan Temple on top of the hill
How to reach here:

Ramagiri is about 100 kms from Chennai on the Periyapalayam - Uthukottai - Suruttapalli - Nagalapuram route and about 3 kms from Nagalapuram.

Temple Timings:

Morning 8 am to 11.45 am
Afternoon 3 pm to 5.45 pm

Contact Details:
Shankarraj Gurukkal - 09490008887

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lord in the middle of the river- Reliever of all Doshams!

A view of the Nattatreeswara Temple from the banks of River Cauvery

Sage Agasthya was summoned by Lord Shiva. The Occasion - the celestial wedding of Shiva with Parvathi in Kailash, to which all Gods and Rishis were invited. Lord Shiva was concerned that the South may go down because of this unexpected movement of visitors to the North and hence requested Agasthya to maintain the balance by stationing himself down South. Agasthya was disappointed. "What have I done that I do not get to witness the celestial wedding?" he asked sadly. Lord Shiva promised him that only he could provide this balance and hence was being commissioned on the task and the Celestial wedding will be shown to him wherever he was.

Happy with this, Sage Agasthya agreed to move to South India. Lord Shiva gave him five tasks to accomplish:
1. To provide a Jeevanadhi (a perennial water source) to South India
2. To put an end to Illvalan and Vatapi, the rulers of the city of Manimathi, who were cruel to Brahmins and subjects
3. To support Rama in vanquishing Ravana
4. To create a Sangam for Tamil literature
5. To enhance medicine through the age old secrets of the Rishis

 There are two versions of how River Cauvery came into existence. The first version is that Sage Agasthya carried the water of seven holy rivers in his Kamandalu, and when he was meditating, Lord Ganesha came in the form of a crow, and toppled the Kamandalu, thus facilitating the creation of River Cauvery.

The other version is that Cauvery(Kaveri) was Vishnumaaya born as the daughter of Kavera Maharishi and Sage Agasthya took her as his second wife after Lopamudra, the daughter of the Vidharbha King. Vishnumaaya agreed to marry Agasthya with the condition that she would run as a perennial river in order to help her father attain Moksha. Agasthya agreed to the condition and took her in his Kamandalu and the rest is as above.

Once River Cauvery came into existence, Sage Agasthya proceeded with the killing of Illvalan and Vatapi. They were the sons of Sage Durvasa and Ajamukhi, the sister of Shurapadma. In order to rid himself from the Brahmahathi Dosha, Sage Agasthya created a lingam right in the middle of the river Cauvery with sand and started meditating before the same. Since this Ishwara was in the middle of the river (நடு + ஆறு ) he came to be known as "Nattatreeswara".(நட்டாற்றீஸ்வரர் )

Sri Nattatreeswara - the sand lingam installed by Sage Agasthya

It was the first day in the Tamil month of Chithirai (April 14th usually) when Sage Agasthya came out of meditation, having been rid of Brahma Hathi Dosha. When he tried to dissolve the lingam made of sand, he found that it had hardened and he was unable to move it from where he had installed it. At this point, he heard Lord Shiva instruct him to leave the Lingam where it was, for the Lord had decided to stay there in the middle of the river, to rid all those who worshipped him on the first day of Chithirai from all the Doshas that they have been afflicted with.

Sage Agasthya happily left the Lingam where it was. Since it had been installed on a small hillock in the middle of the river, all that he could offer to the Lord was porridge made of Bajra and yoghurt. (கம்பங்கூழ் ). Till date, this ritual is being followed. Mr Gandhi, the Secretary of the temple trust, tells us that on the first day of Chithirai, a minimum of one lakh people gather at the Nattatreeswarar Temple for worshipping the Lord and relieving themselves of all doshas. He says they grind around 15 bags of Bajra brought all the way from Tiruvannamalai and prepare about 150 drums of porridge. This is then mixed with 5000 litres of curd brought specially for this purpose from Erode and offered as prasadam to all the devotees who visit on the first day of Chithirai.

How does one reach the temple?

The Coracles waiting to take visitors to the Nattatreeswara Temple

During the months when the river is in full flow, the only means of reaching the temple is by coracles (பரிசல் ). The boatman charges Rs.10 per person for two way transportation. But during the month of April, the flow of water is reduced, the dam is closed and people can either walk across the river or drive down.

Mr. Gandhi, further mentioned that efforts are on to construct a bridge at a cost of Rs. 2.25 crores across the river to the temple, with the support of the Electricity Department and approvals from Water Resource Organisation. He narrated how they were able to establish that the temple was exactly in the middle of the river not just length wise but also breadthwise. The river is 760 kms long out of which this temple is located at 380 kms from either side thereby making it the exact central location.

Not just this, there are several other interesting features in the temple.

Sthala Vriksham : The sthala vriksham at this temple is the Athi Maram (Fig Tree). It is indeed a wonder how this tree grows on a rock in the hillock. It is also equally amazing that no new branches have sprouted in this tree for several decades. There is a Ganesha installed under the Sthala Vriksham facing the Cauvery, and is called "Kaveri Kanda Vinayagar".

Sthala Vriksham at Sri Nattatreeswara Temple, Erode
Walking Muruga: 

Lord Muruga is found here in a walking posture with a parrot in his hand. It is believed that when Lord Agasthya came here to worship Lord Shiva, Lord Muruga went forward to receive him and hence is found in this posture. The Parrot in Muruga's hand is believed to be Saint Arunagirinathar.

Lord Muruga in a walking posture with parrot in hand
See the right foot being ahead of the left!

Goddess Nallanayaki: 

The Goddess is known as Nallanayaki and is found in a seperate shrine. Adi Pooram is celebrated in her shrine with great festivity when 108 Sankabishekam is performed.

Clean Cauvery Yatra:

Mr. Gandhi further mentioned that about 350 ascetics from different mutts have been proceeding on an annual Clean Cauvery Yatra for three years now, with a mission to spread awareness about cleaning the river Cauvery. They start their yatra from Talacauvery and go up to Kaveripoompattinam, visiting and worshipping at various shrines along the way. They perform special prayers and poojas at the Nattatreeswara Temple, as it makes up the midpoint.

With Mr Gandhi, the Secretary of the Temple Trust, and other officials of the temple.
To my right is Ms Kasturi Prakash,, a close friend and our hostess for the trip

How to get here:

Nearest Railway Station: Erode

By Road: From Erode, proceed towards the Kodumudi - Karur Road. After about 13 kms, you will reach Chavadipalayam Pudur. At the four road junction there, proceed east for about 2 kms to reach the banks of the Cauvery from where you have to take the coracle to the temple. There is a board at Chavadipalayam pudur junction.

Temple Timings:

6.30 am - 12.30 pm
3.30 pm - 6 pm
On the first day of Chithirai, the temple is open through the day.

Contact Details:
Mr. Gandhi, Secretary - 98420 22017

A view of the River Cauvery from the Nattatreeswara Temple

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Kalyana Avvaiyaar!

Sri Karapuranathar Temple Uththamacholapuram
There are a number of special temples for marriage prayers such as Thirumananjeri, Thiruvidanthai and Mudichur. But this temple in Salem District also famous for marriage is unique because here the prayers are placed before the tamil poet Avvaiyaar!

Kalyana Avvaiyaar!
Which temple is this? Why did it become significant for marriage prayers? Let us go back in time to find out!
Welcome to the Karapuranathar temple, Uthamacholapuram.


It is believed that Khara and Dushana, the brothers of Ravana performed penance here to get a vision of Lord Shiva. After many years when the lord did not appear, the brothers decided there was no point in living further and decided to burn themselves to death. As they lit the fire and were about to jump into it, Lord Shiva appeared before them. Kara worshipped him with joy and built a temple around the Swayambu moorthy and the place came to be known as Karapuram and the lord Karapuranathar.

A little boy called Gunaseelan once wanted to worship the Lord but the Lingam was too tall for him. After several attempts to garland the Lord, the boy was disheartened and started to weep loudly. Just at that moment a miracle happened! The Lord lowered his head to one side to allow the little boy to garland him. The boy was overjoyed and completed his worship with satisfaction. Even today, the Lord is found with his head tilted to one side and hence is also called "Mudisaithanathar".

Karapuranathar - The Lingam tilted to one side.
Marriage of Angavai & Sangavai:

Vel paari, one of the "Seven greatest bestowers" of the last Sangam Era had two daughters Angavai and Sangavai. The Chera, Chola and Pandya kings in their desire to expand their territory, lay siege on the territories of King Paari. After a long drawn war, Paari was killed treacherously. His death left the two girls orphaned and Poet Kabilar, a bosom friend of the King took them under his care. He approached several Velir kings to accept the girls as brides for their sons, but they refused, fearing the wrath of the Moovendar (Chera, Chola & Pandya). Kabilar handed over the girls to a brahmin in Thirukoilur and fasted to death. The place where he fasted to death is called Kabilar Kundru and can be seen till date in Thirukoilur. The brahmin thought the only person who could solve this problem and get the girls married was Poet Avvaiyaar and brought the girls to her.

Avvaiyaar approached Deiveegan and Yenadhi Kannan, the sons of Malayaman Thirumudi Kaari to marry Angavai and Sangavai. The young princes agreed to marry the girls provided the Moovendhars did not have an objection. Avvaiyaar came to Karapuram and worshipped Lord Ganesha and asked him to assist in convincing the Moovendhar. Lord Ganesha who is found in the name of "Vinai Theertha Vinayagar " in this temple wrote the marriage invitation on a palm leaf and invited the kings. The Moovendhars promised to provide consent if Avvaiyaar was able to make fresh leaves sprout from a dried palm tree at the temple. Avvaiyaar sang hyms in praise of Lord Karapuranathar and with his grace, the tree bore not just new leaves but also fruits.

The Moovendars happily consented to the wedding and Kanjamalai Karadi Siddhar who worshipped Karapuranathar in the form of a bear was the witness to this agreement. The Jeeva Samadhi of Karadi Siddhar is found in this temple.
The Jeeva Samadhi of Karadi Siddhar
Marriage Prayer at the temple:

Boys and Girls seeking good marriage alliance come to this temple with three garlands - One for Lord Karapuranathar, One for Goddess Perianayagi and the third for Avvaiyaar, preferably on the date their birth star occurs during the month. After performing archana to the God and Goddess, the garland that adorned the Lord in case of a girl and the Goddess in case of a boy is given to them. They wear the garland and go around the temple carrying coconut, flowers and a garland for Avvaiyaar. They garland Avvaiyaar,break the coconut and make sincere prayers for an early marriage. Soon the alliance is fixed, and they come back to offer new saree and the first invitation to Avvaiyaar.

Several marriages thus fixed also take place in this temple. Many love marriages happen here, as this is the temple where Angavai and Sangavai had overcome several obstacles to find a good groom. The temple actually has a notice board which gives the list of documents that are required to register a marriage!

Avani Moolam Festival:

One of the 64 divine acts (Thiruvilaiyadal) of Lord Shiva was carrying mud on behalf of an old lady called Vanthi who offered him Puttu ( a sweet rice dish) in return. This Avani Moolam festival is enacted on the banks of Manimuthaaru River every year. It is believed that the Pandya king took pearls from the Manimuthaaru and used it to garland Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai and these pearls still adorn the Goddess's neck. There is an idol of Vanthi in the Artha Mandapam at the temple.The symbols of Chera, Chola and Pandyas are also found here.

How to reach here:

The temple is on the Salem - Sangagiri Main Road near Ariyaanur.

Temple Timings:
7.30 am - 12.30 pm in the morning
4.30 pm - 7.30 pm in the evening

Contact Details:

S. Anandhan Gurukkal - 97887 18970

Goddess Periyanayagi

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sundara Dasaratha Nandana!

Punnainallur - the name has become synonymous with the Punnainallur Mariamman Temple. But Punnainallur is not just about that. It also has the wonderful  and unique Saligrama Rama Temple. Having heard a lot about this temple, we decided to visit there during our recent Krishna Jayanthi trip.

It was 8.10 pm and our vehicle was moving through pitch darkness towards the temple. We were worried if the temple would remain open at that time of the night. So I called Venkatesa Bhattar, the priest of the temple. He mentioned that he was on a bus coming back from Coimbatore, and promised to check with his son if he was still at the temple and revert. We lost hope. The driver asked us if we should continue to proceed towards the temple or return to the hotel.

We decided to take a chance. We had nothing to gain by turning back about a kilometre away from the temple and if the temple was open we had everything to gain. Within a few minutes Shri. Venkatesa Bhattar called back confirming the availability of his son at the temple till 8.30 pm. This kind of customer service I have never seen in any other part of Tamilnadu at least. Not just here, we had another instance where a Gurukkal called back to let us know we could still reach in time to witness the Artha jama pooja, during this trip. About the next article!

We were just a few feet away from the entrance,when we received the call. Happily we got down from our vehicle and climbed up the stairs. The Rajagopuram had been decorated with serial bulbs for the festival.
We stepped in and saw young Venkataramanan, Shri Venkatesa Bhattar's son waiting for us.

Saligrama Rama, Seetha, Lakshmana, Sugreeva:

Without any further delay, we rushed into the artha mandapa. The idols in the Grabagraha are indeed exquisite and unique. Saligramas are found in the Gandaki river and are usually found as single stones. Sometimes, the stones gather together to form a large mass. This is extremely rare. Four such stones were gifted to King Pratap Singh, the Maratha ruler of Tanjore by the King of Nepal. These have been sculpted into the four idols of Rama, Seetha, Lakshmana and Sugreeva. This is probably the only temple in the world where all the main deities have been carved out of Saligrama stone. Even the anklets on Mother Sita's feet and the bells on Rama's kothandam have been carved out so intricately.

Why Sugreeva instead of Hanuman?

It is common to find Hanuman with folded hands with Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. But here one can see King Sugreeva, complete with crown, Kundalams, moustache and sword standing to the right of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana with folded hands. It is believed that in return for the assistance King Sugreeva rendered in finding Sita, he was given this special place here.

Utsavar Idols:

Photo Courtesy: Shri Venkataramana Bhattar, Punnainallur Ramar Temple
The Utsavar Idols are by far the most beautiful I have ever witnessed. With a smile turning up the corners of his mouth, Rama stands in an elegant posture, his hip slightly pushed out to the right, holding a Kothandam with bells in his left hand and an arrow withdrawn from the quiver on his right. Little Vinaya Anjaneya can be found at the feet of Mother Sita. These idols have been unearthed from Poovanur village near Needamangalam and installed at this temple. The idols date back to over 1400 years.

I was itching to take photographs, but Venkataramanan gently pointed out that it would not be possible as part of the Moolavar would also get covered while doing so. Instead, he gave me a picture from his mobile phone that had been taken earlier during an Ekantha Seva.

For several minutes, we stood in wonder in front of Rama, not wanting to move from there.  Realising it was almost closing time, reluctantly we moved from there.

There are pictures depicting scenes from the Ramayana on either side of the main shrine. The temple has recently been renovated and it has been done without use of jarring modern techniques. The environment in this temple is so peaceful and calm that we just wanted to stay there for ever.

History of the temple:
As mentioned earlier,this temple was built by Raja Pratap Singh in the 18th Century. Rani Emunambal Pahi Saheb has provided about 40 acres of fertile land in the villages of Ottakudi, Rishiyur, Kottaiyur, and Mahimalai for performing poojas at this temple.

Queen of the Maratha Emperor Shivaji Maharaj, Rani Kamakshiamba Pahi Saheb has contributed towards many activities of this temple in the year 1892.

Maha Sudharshana Moorthy: 

Another unique feature of this temple is the Maha Sudharshana Moorthy found with sixteen hands mounted on the Chakra. Worshipping him and the Narasimha behind is said to rid one of enemies, give long and healthy life and wealth.

Jaya Veera Anjaneya Swamy:

The Anjaneya Swamy Shrine in this temple is also unique in many ways.With a raised Varada Hastham, and a Lotus flower in his left hand, he faces South. In the mandapam outside the Sanctum Sanctorum, the twelve sun signs have been painted on the ceiling and there are boxes painted on the floor below it.

By standing on the box right under one's own sun sign and praying, it is believed that the wishes so asked come true.


One can find Hayagriva in a seperate shrine in the Rathamandapa. Special poojas are performed to him on Thiruvona Star every month.

The temple is well managed and maintained by Sri S.Babaji Raja Bhonsle, the current Maratha Prince of Thanjavur.

Other facts about the temple
How to reach here:

Punnainallur is about 7 kms from Thanjavur.One can drive via State Highway 99A and Coimbatore Nagapattinam SH66 to reach here. The temple is very close to the Punnainallur Mariamman Temple.

Contact Details:

Shri. C Venkatesa Bhattar : 97897 42778
Shri. V. Venkataramanan (Bhattar's son) : 90957 91383

Temple Timings:

7 am to 12.30 pm, 5 pm to 8.30 pm

The serene calmness and ethereal atmosphere of the temple has to be experienced by every bhaktha, so if you happen to be in the vicinity, do not miss the Punnainallur Saligrama Ramar Temple!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Uriyadiyo Govinda!

The Venkatesa Perumal Temple at Varagur lit up for Krishna Jayanthi
Varagur - the mere mention of the name conjures up images of Krishna Jayanthi Celebrations that it is famous for -especially the Uriyadi ! The whole village comes together to celebrate this festival irrespective of being Vaishnavaites or Shaivaites and it is amazing how the houses are thrown open to all visitors to the village who witness the celebrations that extend through the night!

Now how did it all start? How did this village become synonymous with Krishna Jayanthi? Why do people from all over the world (really!) reach here to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna? 

To find out all about it, we have to go back about 300 years in time to Mangalagiri in Andhra Pradesh where a little boy was born. His parents, Gangadhara and Parvati named him Govinda and brought him up with love and care.

Govinda was very devoted to Krishna and spent most of his time singing and praying. On growing up, he took Sanyasashrama under the name of Narayana Theerthar. He then went on pilgrimage to many holy places in India. When he reached Tirupati, he developed severe stomach pain. When the pain became unbearable, he prayed to Lord Venkateswara to relieve him of the pain.

The Lord appeared in his dream and asked him to go towards the banks of the river Cauvery. Narayana Theerthar did as he was instructed. One night when he was camping at Naducauvery, the Lord appeared in his dream again, and asked him to follow the first animal he sighted when he woke up the next morning. He said " You can find me when the animal disappears".

The next morning, Narayana Theerthar spotted a white boar (Varaham) when he woke up. He started to follow the animal. The boar went into the Varagur Lakshmi Narayana temple (Varagur had been known till then as Bhoopathirajapuram) and disappeared. Narayana Theerthar knew he had found God. For seven days he meditated in front of Lord Lakshmi Narayana and on the eighth day which happened to be Sri Krishna Jayanthi, the Lord gave darshan to Shri Narayana Theertha in the form of Sri Venkateswara of Thirupati.

Overwhelmed, Narayana Theertha started singing the Sri Varahapuri Venkatesa Sthuthi which came to be known as the "Krishna Leela Tharangini". The Stuthi describes the entire life of Krishna and it is believed that as Narayana Theerthar composed the songs, Lord Krishna danced before him to its tune. Narayana Theerthar would continue to sing as long as he heard the sound of Lord Krishna's anklets and the moment it stopped he would bang his head against the wall, after which the sound of anklets would resume. When the Stuthi was completed, Narayana Theerthar's stomach pain disappeared.

To celebrate the appearance of the Lord on Krishna Jayanthi day, Narayana Theerthar instituted the night long festivities including the rituals of Uriyadi and Vazhukku Maram.

The festival begins on Prathamai and ends on Dasami with the highlight on Navami night. At around 11 am on Navami day, Lord Venkatesa Perumal decorated as Vennaithaazhi Krishna (Krishna holding a pot of Butter) is taken out on procession through the streets of Varagur after which he is placed inside the Karungaal mandapam ( a hall on the banks of the river) where the decorations begin.

Devotees taking a sneak peek at the decorations in progress inside the Karungal Mandapam 
The streets wear a festive look with huge kolams adorning them. The agraharam stretching from the Kailasanatha Temple on one end to the Venkatesa Perumal Temple on the other, is buzzing with people, the locals and several hundreds of devotees,coming from far and wide to witness the celebrations. Households in the agraharam invite visitors to take dinner. This is indeed a very noble gesture. After delicious dinner, people find vantage points on the "Thinnais" in front of the houses and wait eagerly for the festivities to begin. It is the most difficult wait for them for the actual proceedings only start slightly after midnight.

The Lord, decorated so beautifully that you cannot take your eyes off him, leaves the Karungaal Mandapam a little after midnight and it takes him close to two hours for him to get to the other end of the agraharam. Several hundred devotees perform "Angapradakshinam" (roll on the floor) and "Chappani Prarthanai" (sitting on the floor and moving forward or moving in a squatting position as one would while milking the cow). Earlier all devotees performing these prarthanas used to do so behind the Lord whereas now many of them do it inside the temple.

All set to watch the festivities
Once the Lord reaches the entrance of the Venkatesa Perumal Temple, the Uriyadi festival begins.
The rope that is tied to the Uri is swung up and down and young boys and men, with sticks in hand shout "Uriyadiyo Govinda" as they jump up to hit the Uri (pot). After several attempts, the Uri is broken and shouts of "Narayana Govinda" and "Venkatramana Govinda" go up.

The Lord in all his glory moving into the Pandal to witness the Uriyadi
Once the Uriyadi is over, it is time for the Vazhukku maram. A tall wooden pole is planted right in front of the temple and has butter smeared all over it. Young and old men gather around the pillar with buckets of yellow water, ready to deter the boys attempting to climb up this slippery pole. On top of the pole are the goodies - Huge murukkus tied to a bamboo plate.

Vazhukku Maram in progress 
Once again, shouts of "Narayana Govinda" and " Uriyadiyo Govinda" fill the air. The group of boys compete with one another to go up the pole, only to come sliding down. Dhoties are passed on and tied to the pole to prevent slipping. Steadily and without a break, the water is poured on the boys climbing up, and soon, they start tiring. This is clearly a test of physical fitness, practice and agility. One young man, Sriram, knows what he is doing. Totally undeterred by the water and the shouting around him, he meticulously goes about his business.

Finally the Murukkus are mine!
A couple of hours and many dhotis later, he reaches the top of the pole to claim the goodies there. He plucks the Murukkus off the plate and flings them all around into the hands of the crowd that goes up in cheers. After collecting all the Murukkus, he comes down and is carried on the shoulders of other young men into the temple.

It was almost dawn. Hot coffee is served in front of many households for the devotees who had stayed up all night to witness the festivities. The Lord himself who was in all splendor around midnight,looks a little disheveled and tired. But there are still a lot of things to be done. After harathi to remove all the "Drishti", the Lord is taken into the temple and he is taken around the Garuda Mandapam six times, to the chanting of pasurams.

The Lord being taken in procession inside the temple
Once the six Pradhakshinas are over, there is a Konangi who narrates the Sthalapuranam of the temple. After this Rukmini Kalyanam is performed. As we walk out from the temple, we see the pillar that had been used for the Vazhukku Maram being pulled out by some men, to facilitate movement of vehicular traffic through the agraharam. In many ways, this symbolised the village returning to its business as usual.

The pillar being pulled out at the end of the festivities
One of the best things about attending the Uriyadi festival is tasting the delicious Pongal that is served as prasadam once the Konangi ritual is completed. By far the best pongal you would have ever tasted so far. After all, " Chola Naadu Sorudhaithu !"

How to reach here:

Varagur is about 28 kms from Thanjavur via the Thirukandiyur route. There is an arch at the entrance of the village ( there is a village called Konerirajapuram right before Varagur - not to be confused with the Konerirajapuram in Nagapattinam district famous for its Nataraja). One could also approach Varagur through the Trichy - Kallanai -Thirukattupalli route. The temple is about 10 kms away from the famous Appakudaththan temple at Koviladi (one of the 108 Divya Desams).

Contact Details: 

04362-287510, 98421 52113

Temple Timings: 

On other days of the year, the temple is open between 7 am and 12 pm in the morning and 5 pm and 8 pm in the evening. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mul Padukalam!

Selliamman Temple, Oottathur
Through the length and breadth of India, there are several unique places of worship with very unique rituals. The devotion with which these rituals are performed over time go to prove the faith that people have in the Gods and Goddesses of the land, which makes India what it is.

A couple of months ago, we visited the Oottathur Suddha RatneswaraTemple (Aalayam Kanden article on the temple here). While we were there, the local youth told us about the Selliamman Temple nearby and the unique ritual of Mul Padukalam at the temple. Intrigued, we wanted to visit the temple immediately.

It was just around the corner from the Suddha Ratneswara Temple - A massive Banyan Tree in front of it welcoming us. We entered the temple and went straight to witness the magnificent Selliamman.

The huge Banyan Tree in front of the temple
"A very powerful Goddess", said Ashok, one of the youth who were escorting us. "Even new born babies are placed in the Mul Padukalam and nothing happens to them, thanks to the grace of Selliamman" he continued.What is this Mul Padukalam and why is it conducted? I was bursting with curiosity.

" Finish your prayers and the Poojari will tell you all about it", he said. We went into the Artha Mandapa and stood before the Goddess. 

Goosebumps rose in my hands as I looked at her. Her ten hands rose majestically holding various weapons. She had a demon pinned below her foot and sat on another. She wore the intestine of the third as a garland around her neck. Her look was one of satisfaction, having won over evil. I had seen a number of goddesses who had demons or asuras under their feet. But this was the first time, I was witnessing a Goddess who not only had a demon under her foot, but also sat on one (can you see the crown and feet of the second demon on either side of the green saree?) and wore the third's intestine as a garland. What was the mythology behind this?

We came out and the Poojari gave us prasadam. I requested him to narrate the story of Selliamman and the Mul Padukalam. While he was narrating the story, he became emotional a number of times. His voice shivered and I could barely understand what he was saying. 

The story of the Mul Padukalam, as told by the Poojari:

Once there was a brahmin in Madurai who had seven daughters. When the daughters were very young, his wife passed away. Unable to bring up his daughters, the brahmin gave them in adoption to seven different kings. The Kings found the girls to be with divine powers and hence treated them with respect. They created small living areas for them where they could stay undisturbed. These subsequently became temples, and are known as Madhukarai Selliamman in Madurai, Vekkaliamman in Trichy, one more Selliamman in Madurai, Neikulam Madhakulathamman, Oottathur Selliamman, Siruvachur Madurakaliamman,and Arunakarai Amman.

The Selliamman that is now in Oottathur was in Madhakulam originally and that Amman was here in Oottathur. There were four bad men in the village who were captivated by the beauty of the girl and wanted to have her. They started following and harassing the girl, asking her to agree to their desire.

Fed up with the harassment, the younger Selliamman who was in Oottathur went to her elder sister in Madhakulam and sought her help. She offered her the first pooja and first sacrifice (Mudhal Poosai, Mudhal Kaavu) if she helped her tide over this problem. Agreeing to this, the elder Selli offered to switch places with her younger sister.

So the younger Selli stayed back in Madhakulam, while the elder sister took her place in Oottathur. Not knowing this, that night, the four men came to the residence of Selliamman, and knocked on the door. "Open up Selli, we have lost patience" shouted the drunk men and started banging on the door. There was no response from inside. Angered, the men asked one of them to watch outside, while the other three broke the door and entered.

In a flash, Selliamman assumed her divine form, with ten hands, armed with weapons, she tore open the stomach of one of them, and wore his intestine as a garland. The other two soon fell and she sat on one, while pinning down the body of the other under her foot. 

Having accomplished her mission, Selli wanted to set out to reach Madhakulam where her sister waited to give her first sacrifice and first pooja. But the fourth fellow, was still waiting outside. Disguising himself as a brahmin youth, he shaved his head and wore a dhoti and sacred thread so that she would not be able to recognise him. 

The Padukalam festival happens on the last day of the fourteen day celebrations which start on the first tuesday in the tamil month of Panguni where people from different communities of the village take turns to guard the temple to ensure the fourth man waiting outside, does not enter the temple. The Poojari said that they even climb on a ladder and on the tree outside to see if he was coming.

On the last day, the Goddess sets out to visit her sister. In order to prevent the man waiting outside to come in, thorns (Mul) are spread over 250 to 300 feet around the temple and people lie down on these thorns forming a human protection as the Goddess goes thrice around the temple. Even new born babies and senior citizens vow to do this ritual and complete it with utmost faith and devotion."Nothing happens to those who lie on the thorns, including infants" says the Poojari. 

This Mul Padukalam festival and the Car Festival that happens three days later attract huge crowds from many parts of the country as this is very unique to this temple.

The Poojari narrating the story of Selliamman
Amazing story and amazing ritual, indeed! What was even more astonishing was the personal experience that my sister-in-law underwent. Hearing the story and the devotion with which the Goddess is being worshipped, she prayed to her to sort out a long pending issue regarding an encroachment of land belonging to her. Just as we got into the car to drive away, she got a call from a relative regarding this issue and a possible solution. Within a week's time, the issue that had been pending for many years got sorted out amicably and she hopes to be able to take possession very soon.

If you happen to be in the vicinity of this temple, do make it a point to visit.

How to get here:

Oottathur is about 35 kms from Trichy and 5 kms from Padalur. The temple is close to the Suddha Ratneswara Temple, Oottathur.

Temple Timings:

The temple is open from 9 am to 6 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Weekends.
On Tuesdays and Fridays it is open from 9 am in the morning till 8 pm at night.

Contact Details:

Mr. Moorthy Poojari - 97880 61622
Mr. Karthikeyan - from the Vazhipaatu Mandram - 88838 52198

With the members of the Vazhipattu Manram of Oottathur 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Give my clothes back!

The stories of Nayanmars and the incredible acts they performed for the love of God never fail to amaze me. Aalayam Kanden aims to share information on the temples that are closely associated with the lives and times of these Nayanmars.So far I have been lucky to cover the following temples - Click on the link to visit the Aalayam Kanden article pertaining to each Nayanmar.

Sundaramurthy Nayanar - Thirunavalur
Thiruneelakantar and Kanampul Nayanar - Elamai Aakinaar Koil, Chidambaram
Poosalar Nayanar - Hridayaleeswarar Temple, Thiruninravur

I had been planning to visit the Muktheeswara Temple at Kanchipuram for a very long time and was able to do so only recently. This temple is associated with the life and times of Thirukurippu Thondar.

Thirukurippu Thondar was a Dhobi (Washerman) who lived in the city of Kanchipuram. He was an ardent devotee of Shiva and every day made it a point to wash the clothes of a Sivanandiyar (a devotee of Shiva) for free before washing others clothes. Come rain or shine, normal day or festival day, he made sure he adhered to this practice.

One day, it so happened that no Sivanadiyar turned up near the river. Thirukurippu Thondar waited and waited. Lord Shiva, who wanted to test his devotion, appeared before him in the form of a Sivanadiyar. Noticing a Sivanadiyar with very dirty clothes, Thirukurippu Thondar approached him and requested him to hand over his clothes and promised to wash them well. The Sivanadiyar was hesitant. He said he did not mind his clothes being dirty, it at least kept him warm. Thirukurippu Thondar promised to wash his clothes and return them before the end of day. On that condition, the Sivanadiyar agreed to part with his clothes.

With utmost devotion, Thirukurippu Thondar started washing the clothes. After washing, he set out to dry the clothes, when suddenly dark clouds gathered, and it started to rain heavily. The washerman ran here and there, trying to find a secluded spot to dry the clothes, but the rain would not let up. He thought of taking the clothes home, and drying them by the fire.

As he set out towards his house, a sudden gush of wind snatched the clothes from his hands and carried them away. Thirukurippu Thondar ran behind the clothes, trying to catch them, but they were thrashed and torn by then. Startled and not knowing what to do, he stood rooted to the spot.

At that exact moment, the Sivanadiyar came by, asking for his clothes. When Thirukurippu Thondar explained what had happened, the Sivanadiyar was very angry. He accused Thirukurippu Thondar of deliberately cheating him, by forcibly asking for his clothes when he was not ready to part with them. The washerman offered him new clothes in place of the ones that were damaged. " Give me my clothes back" demanded the Sivanadiyar. " I will not take anything else".

Thirukurippu thondar was aghast with what he had done. After having failed in his duty towards a Sivanadiyar, he did not have the will to live. So he hit his head against the washing stone, in an attempt to kill himself. At that exact moment, a hand came out of the washing stone, to support Thirukurippu Thondar's head.

The rain stopped and there was a shower of flowers from heaven. Lord Shiva appeared before Thirukurippu Thondar and gave him mukthi. The place where Lord Shiva appeared is where the Muktheeswara Temple stands today. The Lord is called Muktheeswara as he gave mukthi to Thirukurippu Thondar.

Another unique feature of this temple is that it is built and governed to this day by people belonging to the Ekali (Dhobi) community. This is a clear example of social inclusion in those days. It is indeed heartening to see the temple maintained in an excellent manner.

An idol of Thirukurippu Thondar at the temple
Every year, Chithirai Swathi, the birthday of Thirukurippu Thondar is celebrated with a lot of festivity at the temple.

This temple has yet another unique feature. It is probably one of the very few temples where twin pradhoshams are celebrated.

Apart from Muktheeswara, the temple also has another Shivalingam installed by Garuda. The tale connected with Garudeswara is equally interesting.
Kadru and Vinatha were Sage Kashyapa's wives. They were both jealous of each other. Once they got into an argument as to who was more beautiful. They decided to take this issue to Sage Kashyapa and whomsoever he chose would have the other person as their slave. Sage Kashyapa declared that Kadru was more beautiful than Vinatha.

As per their agreement,Vinatha became Kadru's slave and Kadru imprisoned her. Vinatha begged to be released. Kadru agreed to release her if she brought Amrit from heaven which would make her ever young and beautiful. Vinatha prayed to Lord Shiva to help her. Lord Shiva told her that her son Garuda will help to release her from prison. So Vinatha called for Garuda and asked him to bring Amrit from heaven and have her released.

Garuda went to heaven, and fought with Indra's guards. After defeating them, and driving Indra away with the wind from his wings, he picked up the pot of nectar (Amrit) and started on his way back. Midway, he was stopped by Lord Vishnu and a fierce battle ensued between them for 21 days. Pleased with Garuda's valour, Lord Vishnu asked him to seek a boon. Garuda asked to be the vehicle of Lord Vishnu and his boon was granted.

After worshipping him, Garuda came back to Kadru, gave her the pot of nectar and released his mother from prison. He wanted to take revenge on Kadru and kill her sons who were snakes. For this purpose, he installed a shivalingam that came to be known as Garudeswara and worshipped him. Worshipping Garudeswara is supposed to help one overcome challenges posed by enemies.

The twin Pradhosham that happens at this temple is unique, says Dhandapani Gurukkal. Abhishekam is first performed to the Nandi in front of Garudeswara, then to Garudeswara himself, after which it is performed for the Nandi in front of Muktheeswara and finally for Lord Muktheeswara. Several people from different places come to witness this unique event.

This temple stands humbly among the several hundreds of temples in Kanchipuram. However, the significance of this temple and the sincere devotion of Thirukurippu thondar that led him to attain mukthi cannot be ignored. If you happen to be in the vicinity, do take time out to visit this small yet significant temple.

Shri Dhandapani Gurukkal, Archaka at the temple
How to get here:

On the busy Gandhi Road of Kanchipuram, after crossing the Addisonpet Bus Stop, this temple is flanked by D.R.Ganesh Sah Silk Store on one side, and Hotel Gowri Dharma on the other. Right opposite to the temple, is the MGR Silk Society.

Temple Timings:

Morning : 6.30 am - 12.00pm
Evening: 5 pm - 9 pm
On Saturdays, the temple is open upto 10 pm in the evening.

Contact Details:

Shri Dhandapani Gurukkal - 96009 99761

Visit Mukhteeswara! Be Blessed!