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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kanchipuram Temples -Vaikunda Perumal-Kachapeswarar

28 July'08: The Vaikunda Perumal Temple was built by the Pallava king Nadivarman II during the 7th century. This is particular temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Lord is in the sitting posture. The Goddess is known as Sri Vaikundavalli Tayar. In fact, Lord Vishnu's image can be seen in standing, sitting and reclining forms on the towering vimanas. There are also many beautiful lion pillared cloisters as well as several bas reliefs in the main shrine of the temple. Inscriptions on the walls that tell of the history of the temple as well as of the city itself . The sculptures are mindblowing and comparable with those in the Kailasanathar temple as they belong to the same era. These sculptures are a legacy of India's architectural history & richness and must be preserved at all costs for the sake of posterity. India's Department of Archeology maintains & preserves this temple.
As per legend devoted worshippers of Siva, on the occasion of Maha Sivarathri, would be blessed with sons who will be devotees of Lord Vishnu. The Pallava king was blessed with a son Parameswara Varman who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and built this Vaikuntha Perumal temple, in the 7th century A.D.
This temple gains local importance on the holy night of the Vaishnavites - Vaikunda Ekadasi. Except on that day, this temple is easily accessible to tourists
Kachapeswara Temple: (Siva Kanchi) This temple is believed to have been built by the Pallava dynasty. Legend has it that Vishnu worshipped Siva in the form of a Turtle. The main deity is therefore known as Kachapeswarar - Kacchapa meaning turtle. This is a beautiful temple (but no great architecture) with regular poojas and coming under the administration of the Hindu Religious & Endowments Board. Moolavar Amman is absent but there exisits a shrine for Utsavar. There are also shrines for Vishnu Durgai, Pancha Shakti Vinayakar & Vishnu worshipping Shiva under Murukkai tree (Sthala Vriksham). There is a nice & clean temple tank with steps all around, where devotees can have "Snanam".
Legend: The Devas approached Lord Vishnu and wanted to know the secret of achieving eternal life. HE asked them to get Mout Meru, churn it in the ocean & drink the resultant nectar that is produced. So Devas brought the Meru and with the help of Asuras churned the Ocean using Vasuki as the rope. This churning produced great disturbance undersea and therefore Vishnu took the shape of a turtle and went under water and pivoted Mt.Meru on his back to facilitate smooth churning. However many undersea creatures were disturbed and Vishnu was advised by Siva to go to Kanchipuram and do penance in the form of a turtle under the Murukkai tree.
Sriperumbudur: We left Kanchipuram around 4.30 pm reached the Bangalore-Chennai highway (15 km from Kanchipuram) drove eastward, crossed the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial (an outstanding architectural feat comprising seven beautiful columns) & took a diversion to the left into Sriperumbudur town and visited the ancient Adikesava Perumal Temple, the Avatara Sthala of Saint Ramanuja, the great philosopher of Vaishnavism. Three important idols of the saint carved out during his lifetime, have been installed in Srirangam, Sriperumbudur, his birthplace, and Melkote.
The idol installed in the Sriperumbudur temple was embraced by him, and he transferred all his spiritual powers to it (it is known as "Thaanuhanda Thirumeni" meaning the idol embraced by him).
Ramanujam spent much of his life in Kancheepuram in the service of Lord Varadharaja Perumal. It is said that Perumal appeared in his dream and asked him to go to Srirangam to promote Vaishnavism from there. Hence, at the age of forty he went to Srirangam, where he first performed the daily temple duty of Thirumanjam Kaikariyam (carrying water for the holy bath of the Lord). However, he was elevated to be the Madathipathi of Srirangam Math. Born in 1017 CE, he lived for 120 years and attained Nirvana at Srirangam, where his body has been preserved in a Samadhi.
We reached Chennai around 8.30 pm. For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/VaikundaPerumalTemple

Kanchipuram Temples - Varadaraja Perumal-Kailasanathar

The Varadaraja Perumal temple, one of the celebrated amongst the 108 Divya Desams, is situated in Vishnu Kanchi. Paasurams were sung by Tirumangai Alwar, Bhootalwar & Peyalwar. You enter through the large gopuram for a tour of this massive and impressive edifice which is also called the Devaraja Swamy Temple. The Hundred-Pillar-hall (Nooru Kal Mandapam) erected during the Vijayanagar period is noted for its exquisite sculptures. This entire masterpiece has been sculpted out of a single rock. The pillars of this hall depict various Avatars of Lord Vishnu. This hall also features chains that were sculpted from the same rock.
We also see the two tall 4 kal mandapams one near the Gopuram as you enter & the other near the Dwaja Sthambam both carrying exquisite sculptures. You walk past the Deepa Sthambam, the Dwaja Sthamabam, then a pillared portico & enter through a smaller gopuram into the inner prakaram. You first visit to the west facing Yoga Narasimhar Sannithi which is a cave temple at the base of Hastigiri Hill. You circumambulate the inner prakaram which has double storied pillared pavilions on three sides.
When you reach the East side you climb 24 steps up a flight of stairs to reach the top of the Hastigiri Hill (also called Attigiri or elephant mountain) and reach the Sanctum. Lord Varadaraja is in standing posture facing west. The figure is huge in size with four hands holding the insignias of Sankha, Chakra, etc., and richly decorated with costly jewels. The Moolavar in this temple is considered only second in size to the Deity of Sri Venkateswara of Tirupathi. The crowd is sparse and we were able to have a long and satisfying darshan. Significant here are the sculptures of two lizards carved on the ceiling of the NE corner of corridor around the Sanctum. One is covered with Gold and the other with Silver kavacham. Besides this are the sculptures of the Sun and the Moon. People who visit the temple stand in line to touch the two lizards, in a gesture that means both getting the blessings of Sri Varadaraja, and also helping liberate the disciples from the curse.
Perumal is also known as Attiyurar since the original image of Varadaraja Perumal was made from Attimaram (Atti wood) The ancient wood image is kept submerged in water in temple tank (Ananta Teertham) and is worshipped once in 40 years. The next viewing of this image is in 1919.
After this we go to the outer prakaram, circumambulate, see the Ramar Mandapam, the sthala vriksham, the huge pillared pavilions & mandapams & finally reach the Perundevi Thayar Sannithi on the western side and pray there. There are also sannithis for Karimanikka Perumal, Anantalwar as well as an Abhisheka Mandapam. Vijayanagara Kings added the towering Eastern Gopuram, the beautiful Kalyana Mandapam, the Oonjal Mandapam etc. The East Gopuram is 9 tiered rising to a height of 180 ft. while the western gopuram is 160 ft high.
Legend: The Legend is that Lord Brahma worshipped Lord Varadharaja Swamy in Kritha Yuga, Gajendra in Tretha Yuga, Brihasti in Dvapara Yuga and Ananta in Kali Yuga. It is believed that Airavata, the elephant of Indra in the form of a hill bears the image of Lord Varadharaja Swamy. Vishnu lay across the river in spate to prevent a deluge from wiping out Brahma's sacrifice.
Kailasanathar Temple: Perhaps the most beautiful temple in the entire city, the Kailasanathar Temple was built by the Pallava ruler Rajasimha Pallava, and was completed by his son, Mahendra Varma Pallava. Rajasimha Pallava ruled Kanchi during the period from 685 A.D. to 705 A.D. This temple is unique in its architecture. It was constructed mostly of limestone. The walls and vimaanam of this temple are filled with great sculptures, and paintings. It is under the maintenance of the Department of Archeology, Government of India. Tourists are allowed to freely photograph the sculpures in and outside the temple, with the exception of the Sanctum and the main Deity.
The sculptures in limestone are really awesome. One can spend days or rather weeks studying the sculptures and the various legends & stories they tell. It is a mammoth task for the ASI to continue to the maintain and preserve the sculptures. Many of the sculptures have partially weathered & disintegrated while many others have started showing signs of disintegration. This is truly on the most amazing architectural & sculptural marvels I have ever witnessed. It is sublime and transports to any world altogether. The temple is surrounded by a vast well manicured law, enclosed by a steel wire fence. There is a large idol of Nandi on a raised platform facing Kailasanathar. Besides the nandi is the temple tank.
The temple attracts large crowds during the auspicious Mahasivaratri festival.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/VaradarajaPerumal
& http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/KailasanatharTemple

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kanchipuram Temples-Ekambareswarar-Ulagalanda Perumal

28 August'08:
Kanchi Ekambareswarar temple is one of the most significant temples to Siva. It is also a Panchabootha sthala & Shiva is revered here as Prithvi Lingam. This is also the first of the 32 Tevara Stahalams of Tondai Region. Sambandar, Appar & Sundarar have sung patikams. There is no separate shrine for Ambal here as Kamakshiamman is the sole Ambal for all Siva temples of Kanchipuram. The Sthala Vriksham is mango tree. The Pallavas, Cholas & later the Vijayanagara Kings contributed considerably to the development of temple in its current form.
As per legend Parvati worshipped Siva as Prithvi Lingam ( lingam made from sand) under a mango tree. As the Vegavati river overflowed and threatened to engulf the Lingam, Parvati or Kamakshi embraced the lingam and Siva deeply touched by this gesture materialized in person and married her.
The temple has high rise Gopurams which dominate the skyline of Kanchipuram, the historical capital of the Pallavas. Second Century AD Tamil poetry speaks of Kamakottam(Kamakshiamman) and Kumarakottam(Subramaniaswamy). The temple covers an area of 40 acres. The Raja Gopuram rises to a height of 172 ft and was built by Krishna Deva Raya. The Pillared Mandapam in front of the sanctum was also built by Vijayanagara Kings.
Thr presiding deity here is Ekambareswarar or Siva worshipped as the Prithvi Lingam. A Somaskanda panel adorns the rear of the main shrine. There is another shrine of Siva & Kamakshi under the sthala vriksham which is a mango tree said to be over 3500 years old. The tree is said to be the embodiment of the four Vedas and is said to bear fruits of four different tastes each season.
The outer prakaram: As you circumambulate you see the long multi pillared entrance mandapam, the large Nandi of Sodai, stone Nandi Mandapam & Dwaja Sthambam, sub shrine of Mayaneeswarar & the big temple Teertham with pillared pavilions & steps all around.
Inner prakaram: As you circumambulate you see a sub shrine of Mahapralaya Bandhini east facing , 136 lingams in the South & West prakarams including Saharsa Lingam in the NW corner. On the North side you have Palli Arai & Natarajar vigraham.
Around the Garbha Graha: The customary idols around the goshtam are conspicious by their absence. Around the Garbha Griha you can see Nalwars on the east, Nalwars again and 63 Nayanmars on the south, Somaskandar, 108 lingams on west. Also Mavadi Mandapam on the west. On the NE corner facing west is the shrine of Nilaathungal Tunda Perumal which is considred amongst the 108 Divya Desams. Nilaattungal (Chandra Choota Perumaal) is the Moolavar in a standing posture facing west, while Ner Oruvarillaa Valli is the name of Taayaar here.
Legend has it that Parvati meditated upon Siva, in front of a Shivalingam fashioned out of earth, under a mango tree. It is believed that the mango tree withered, unable to bear the scorching rays of Shiva's gaze, and that Vishnu the brother of Parvati, caused waves of nectar to rejuvenate the tree. On the North side you can see the shrine of Ambal Utsavar - Elavar Kuzhalai. Ambal Moolavar is absent.
Another legend has it that Vishnu distressed by the heat that emanated during the churning of the milky ocean meditated towards Shiva at Ekambam (Kanchi) and that the coolness of the moon adorning Shiva aleviated his discomfort; hence the name Nilaatingal Tundattaan.
Ulagalanda Perumal: Next we visited the nearby temple of Ulagalanda Perumal which another of the 108 Divya Desams. It also home to three other divya desam shrines namely: Tiruneerakam, Tirukkaarakam and Kaarvaanam. It enshrines Vishnu in a mammoth form of Trivikrama dominating the three worlds, in the process of subduing Mahabali the demon king. The stone image here is about 35 feet high and 24 feet wide.The Moolavar here here is Trivikraman (Ulagalanda Perumaal) facing west while Taayaar is known by the name Amritavalli. The Utsavar here is Perakattaan.
Legend has it that Mahabali upon whom Vishnu placed his foot, during his Trivikrama Avataram, dominating the three worlds - desired to worship Vishnu in the form of Trivikrama (as he had not been able to see this form as Vishnu's foot had been placed on his head). Vishnu is said to have answered his prayers by appearing in front of him as Trivikrama at Kanchipuram (Satyavrata Kshetram). As Mahabali was not able to comprehend the immensity of this manifestation, Vishnu is said to have manifested himself as Aadi Seshan, in a smalll shrine next to the imposing shrine of Ulagalanda Perumaal, at Oorakam. Legend has it that Vishnu gave Anjaneyar a vision of Trivikrama and Vamana here.
The temple: This temple occupies an area of about 60000 sq feet. It has two prakarams and a three tiered rajagopuram. The Nagatheertham tank is located across from the temple. Inscriptions from the Chola period are seen here. Parimelazhakar, who wrote a commentary on Tirukkural was a priest here, and an image of him riding a horse is seen in the temple. There are also shrines to Aandaal, Manavaala Maamuni.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/KanchipuramTemples1

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Kanchipuram Temples-Kamakshiamman

27 & 28 August'2008: We reached Kanchipuram around 7.30 pm. We went to the circuit house where we had requested for accomodation. Unfortunately all rooms were booked because a State Minister was visiting Kanchipuram for an election rally. We checked into a private hotel MM Hotels (nive hotel, good rooms, reasonable rates) & then left for Kamakshi Amman temple for darshan.
Kamakshi Amman Temple: This is an ancient temple associated with Adi Sankaracharya. This is one of the significant Sakti Peedams in India. This is the solitary Ambal shrine in Kanchipuram and none of the Siva temples in Kanchipuram have Ambal shrines. This because Kamakshi is considered omnipresent in Kanchipuram.
Legend has it that Kamakshi worshipped a Shiva Lingam made of sand under a mango tree and thus gained Shivas hand in marriage. The sanctum is crowned with a gold plated Vimanam and Kamakshi is enshrined in a seated posture and is referred to as Parabrahma Swaroopini. A Sri Chakram has been installed in front of the image and worship is offered to it. It is believed that that originally Kamakshi was a Ugra Swaroopini and upon establishing the Sri Chakra by Adi Sankara she became Shanthi Swaroopini. Because of this the festival image of Kamakshi, takes leave of Adi Sankara at the shrine in the inner prakaram, every time she is taken out in procession.
Inner Prakaram: There is a separate sannithi for the south facing Utsavar image of Kamakshi on a raised pavilion in front of the east facing moolavar image. There is another sub shrine for Bangaru Kamakshi on the Southern side - only a framed photo is kept here. The original Bangaru Kamakshi idol is in a temple in Thanjavur. On the western side there are shrines for Kasi Annapoorni, Ayyanar & Adi Sankara.
Garbha Griha: Surrounding the garbha griha are idols of Perumal, Lakshmi & Ardhanareeswa on South side, Aroopa Lakshmi, Varahi & Ganesha on the North side. Here there is also a Nabhi Pillar - signifying that this is one of the 51 Sakthi Peedams where the nabhi has fallen. The Sri Chakra is installed on the East side just in front of Kamakshi Amman.
Outer Prakaram: You see the Nandi Mandapam & the Dwaja Sthambam as you enter through the gopuram on the eastern side. The outer prakaram also houses the temple tank, the 100 kal mandapam, the Dwajaa Rohana Mandapam & the stables for the temple elephants. Imposing views of the Golden Vimanam can be had from the outer prakaram.
Kanchi puram is divided into Siva Kanchi & Vishnu Kanchi. The primary temples in Siva Kanchi are Ekambareswarar, Kamakshiamman, Kumara Kottam & Ulagalanda Perumal Temples. The first three are located in Somaskanda formation. The Kumarakottam or Subramaniaswamy temple does not have much historical or archaelogical importance. It was built in its present form in 1915.
Kanchipuram is also the seat of Kanchi Kamakoti peetham established by Adi Sankara. It is believed that Adi Sankara attained Samadhi at Kanchipuram while others hold the view that Kedarnath in the Himalayas is the site of his Samadhi.
Visited Kamakshiamman again on 28th morning and witnessed milk abhishekam of Kamakshi amman followed by Deeparathanai - a truly electrifying experience !

Tiruvannamalai Girivalam

27 July'2008: After completing our visit to Arunachaleswara, we went for breakfast at Ramakrishna's and then immediately thereafter proceeded by road on the Girivalam route. The holy mountain of Arunachala rises to an elevation of 2669ft (800 m). It is customary for devotees to circumambulate the holy mountain on festival days & full moon days. The route is 14 Kms long and there is a tar road all around. As per legend the sacred hill of Arunachala is far more ancient than the Himalayas which are of later origin. Arunachala is comprised of two words: Aruna (red) & Achala (immovable mountain) meaning Red Mountain. It is also called the Hill of the Holy Fire. The hill is regarded as Tejo Linga (fire symbol of God) or Jyothi Linga.
Legend has it that Tiruvannamalai was a fire (Agni) mountain in Kreta Yuga, gold mountain in Treta Yuga, copper mountain in Dwapara Yuga & is a rock mountain in Kaliyuga.
Our Girivalam by car was done at a leisurely pace and the journey took more than two hours. The weather was cloudy & and there were very few people. The scenery was breathtaking with the uninterrupted view of Arunachala mountains, thick forestry & shrubs, many significant lingas, ashramas and sadhus enroute. It was indeed a very divine trip.
Enroute we stopped over at the Sri Seshadri Swamigal Ashram & the Ramana Maharshi Ashram. There are eight lingas on this route - Indira, Agni, Yama, Niruthi, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera & Esanya Lingas. For each of these lingas there is a shrine and prayers are offered by devotees. We stopped over at four of these lingas.
The visit to the Ramana ashrama was exhilirating, energising & satisfying. As you enter the Ashram, you are greeted by a calm and serene environment. A large open courtyard, bordered by shady trees and beautifully manicured gardens, give this ashram the tranquility that all of us aspire for. You will immediately feel a soothing stillness and harmony inside you. There is a Dhyana Mandapam where devotees meditate in pin drop silence, the Siva temple (Matrubhuteswara) built over Ramana's mother's samadhi, the large prayer/meditation hall, the room where he attained maha samadhi (the saints personal belongings are displayed there), the dormitories, the hospital, library, post office, the dining hall, the book shop, the very large campus and the constant stream of devotees including quite a few foreigners. The ashram is also home to several resident peacocks & monkeys who live fearlessly and have a commanding presence. The swami had an intense love for all living creatures and we find samadhis for a cow, a dog & a deer.
The route to Skanda Ashram & the Virupaksha cave lies behind the ashram - a 5 km trek up the steep rocky slope for which prior permission is required from Forest Department because of the danger from wild animals & the treacherous nature of the rocks.
After Girivalam we returned to the Circuit House to check out. To our dismay we had misplaced/ lost the room key. We were temporarily alloted another suite till such time a duplicate key was found & we could access our baggage. Ultimately our driver Ramesh went & fetched a key maker from town and got a duplicate key made. We lost close to two hours in the process. Finally we checked out and left Tiruvannamalai around 4.30 pm. Our next destinantion was Kanchipuram. Our route: Mangalam-Chetpet-Malaiyur-Vandavasi-Mamandur-Kanchipuram.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/GirivalamAtTiruvannamalai

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara

26 July'08: After Namakkal, our next destination was Tiruvannamalai. We stopped over at Rasipuram for lunch which comprised home made "pulihora & thair satham" accompanied by "chatpata pickles & thair molagai." Then we continued on our journey via Attur, Kallakurichi and Sankarapuram reaching Tiruvannamalai by around 6.30 pm. (In Sankarapuram we treated ourselves to some nice road side "boiler tea" - delicious stuff) We went straight to the Circuit House where we had booked an airconditioned suite. Excellent spacious room with annexe for dressing and attached bathroom.
After depositing our baggage and a quick wash/change of clothes, we straightaway dashed off to the temple to have darsan of Arunachaleswara (Siva) & Unnamolai Amman. (Ambal). This is one of the "Pancha Bootham Sthalams" and the lingam here is Jyotir Lingam representing fire. We purchased a special darsan ticket of Rs.20/- which allowed us to have a long, comfortable & satisfying darsan of the deities. We witnessed Deeparathanai and received Vibhuti, Chandanam & Kumkumam. After this we wandered around the vast temple campus and visited the sub shrines of the other Pancha Bootham Sthalams - Kalatheeswarar, Chidambareswarar, Ekambareswarar & Jambukeswarar. As it was already dark and visibility was limited, we could not appreciate the grandness & architectural beauty of the various temple gopurams, the tirthams, the mandapams, and the various sub shrines.
We then went for dinner at Ramakrishna Hotel. It has nice reasonably priced rooms (A/c room available for Rs.600 + tax) & a good, clean reastaurant serving a range of South Indian dishes.
27 July'2008: Next morning we went early to the temple after quickly gulping some 'boiler tea' enroute. This time I was armed with my camera determined to shoot plenty of memorable pictures. We entered through a large long entrance mandapam ( a contemporary structure) on the East side before reaching the Rajagopuram & walking through it. This is indeed one of the tallest gopurams in existence in India. It is 217 ft high with 11 storeys and its base dimensions measure 135 ft by 98 ft. The other three towers are the Pey Gopuram on the West, Tirumanja Gopuram on the South & the Ammaniamma Gopuram on the North.
Inside the Rajagopuram passage are located the "Gopura Ganapathi" & several niche sculptures. Then you enter the fifth prakaram which is vast and magnificent. You first see the Kambathillayanar sannithi, the large Siva Gangai Tirtham with pillared pavilions (Tirumalpathi Mandapam) all around, Vilakappu Mandapam, Selva Siddhi Vinayakar shrine,the large Nandi Mandapam, a 4 kal mandapam (Rudraksha Mandapam), Teerthavari Mandapam, the Ayiram(1000) kal Mandapam, the underground shrine of Shri Patala Lingam where Ramana Maharshi's body was eaten by ants while he was in deep meditation. As you approach the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram to enter the 4th prakaram, you climb a flight of stairs & to your right side is the shrine of Gopurathillayanar (Murugar) who as per legend, saved the life of Saint Arunagirinathar. Adjoining this shrine is a dimly lit Dhyana Mandapam containing framed pictures of various Tandava poses of Siva & a large framed picture of Annamalaiyar & Unnamolai amman.
Today happens to be the festival of Adi Krittigai and there are hundreds of Muruga devotees in colourful attire carrying yellow Kavadis - men, women, boys & girls. There is a lot of din & noise and devotees are chanting Vel Vel Muruga, Vetri Vel Muruga !
Next we go through the Vallala Gopuram and enter the 4th prakaram. On the left is the shrine of Kala Bhairavar & the Brahma Tirtham with the Teerthavari Mandapam. To the right is the Puravi Mandapam & here we see shops peddling religious books, sthala puranas & framed pictures of gods & goddesses. We also see the temple elephant Rukku within this mandapam blessing devotees and collecting coins for her mahout. To the west of Brahma Teertham are sub shrines of Neeleswarar, Vigneswarar, Vidhyadhareswarar & Brahma lingam. In the North east corner are the Karunai Illam & dormitories for devotees. Next we move towards the Kili Gopuram where we see on either side shrines to Vinayagar & Subramaniar. We go through the Kili Gopuram (if you look carefully you will see a parrot on top of the kalasam) and enter the third prakaram and come across the Katchimantapam. To the North side are Vasanthamandapam (now used as devasthanam office), Yagasalai & the Panchabootha shrines which we visited the previous night. There are east facing sub shrines of Sambanda Vinayagar & Palaniandavar. We enter into the second prakaram & then directly into the inner pillared portico (in which we find tall cone shaped multi tiered brass vilakkus) which leads to the garbha griha of Sri Arunachaleswara. After offerring prayers we circumambulate the second prakaram. On the gostham we see idols of Vinayakar, Dakshinamoorthy, Lingodbhavar, Brahma, Sandikeswarar & Durgai. On the pillared pavilion all around we see: Southern side: 63 Nayanmars, Saptha Mathas, Ayyappan, Durvasar, Gowthaman. West: Kshetra Vinayakar, Somaskandar shrine, various lingams, Venugopal swamy shrine, Gajalakshmi, Subramaniar (Arumugham). North: 63 Nayanmars Utsava Murthies, Palli arai, shrine of Natarajar.
Next we circumambulate the third prakaram. We see the row of Mahila trees, the Tiru Kalyana Mandapam & Bhimeswarar & Vigneswarar shrines. On the South & West of this prakaram you see double storeyed pillared pavilions .Near the west gate connecting the third & fourth prakarams is the shrine of Arunagiri Yogeswarar.
You reach the North side and see the Ambal shrine on the western corner. Unnamulai Amman is east facing. In the front mandapam are situated the Navagrahas, the Dwaja Sthambam, Vinayakar, Chitraputrar, Iddukku Pillayar. Inside is a long pillared portico leading to the Amabal sannithi. The pillars carry exquisite sculptures of gods & goddesses - Rudra Durga, Mahasakthi, Saraswati, Asthalakshmi,Veerabhadrar etc. On goshtam you see Saptha Mathas & on the northern side Sandikeswari.
There were huge milling crowds in front of Subramaniar shrine in the third prakaram - carrying kavadis, in colorful attire, chanting and overall creating a very festive atmosphere. I clicked many nice & memorable pictures.
We then retraced back to the fourth & then into the fifth prakaram. We prayed to Gopurathillayanar & then to Patala Lingam. We finally reached the Rajagopuram as the crowds were gathering strength and hundreds were streaming in carrying kavadis and chanting Vel Vel Vetri Vel. There was a fast paced Theru Koothu performance in progress to the rapid beating of drums in front of the Kambathilayanar shrine. We finally exited the temple and proceeded for the next part of our program - breakfast and then the Girivalam.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Namakkal Namagiri Kshetram

26 July'08(cont'd): After Tiruchengode we headed towards Namakkal, a journey of approximately one hour. We reached Namakkal town and drove straight to the temple of Narasimhamoorthy & Namagiri Lakshmi Thayar. The temple is located at the western side of the Namagiri malai, on the summit of which is the historical Namakkal fort, which offerred a magnificent view from the road. The fort is said to have been built during the Madurai Nayak regime. On the eastern side of this rock is the cave temple of Sri Ranganatha lying on the serpent Karakotaka. On the western side an 18 feet high idol of Sri Anjaneya, with folded hands is found worshipping Sri Narasimhar in the Narasimhamurthy rock Temple. There is no roof or gopuram on top of the idol of Anajaneya ! It is open to sky. We first went to the Narasimhamoorthy temple. Ther is no entrance gopuram. We walk through the tall doorway and reach the entrance mandapam with deepasthambam & a tall dwaja sthambam going through the mandapam roof. We walk through and reach the inner prakaram of Sri Narasimhar shrine. We walk up the steps into the mandapam and find that the shrine is closed. We wait a while and after the shrine doors open we go into the inner portico leading to the garbha griha. The idols in the sanctum are rock cut. We were allowed within a few feet of the deity. It was an awe some & awe inspiring sight. Lord is in Yoga Narasimha pose with Mahalakshmi on his breast. There is a Sanku on the left hand & on the right hand there is a shade of purple ( colored by the blood of Hiranyakashupu). The Utsavar is Bhayam Tirtha Bhiran flanked by Sridevi & Bhudevi. There are sculptures on the rock face behind the Lord - Brahmas two children with Sivan & Suryan on one side and Chandran & Brahma on the other side. Since Brahma, Siva & Vishnu are seen together in the same sanctum this is considered a Trimurthi Sthalam. To the North side inside the shrine are sculptures of Vaikunda Narayana Perumal (south facing) & Narasimhar killing Hiranya Kashipu ( West facing). Like wise on the Southern side are sculptures of Ulagalanda Perumal crushing Mahabali under his feet & Lord in Vamana avatar standing nearby ( North facing) & Lakshmi + Varahar ( West facing). We first receive tirtham & then vibhuti, chandanam,thulasi leaves & are blessed by chadhari. Next we go to the Namagiri Lakshmi thayar shrine which is located on the North side of the prakaram and is east facing. We wait for a long time in the mandapam in front. Abhishekam was in process behind the curtains. Then the doors open and devotees are ushered in to the inner portico. We witness deeparathanai , offer worship & receive kumkumam. It is already past one O'clock. We rush to the Anjaneya sannithi which is across the road to the western side. Anjaneya is facing Lord Narasimha and his eyes are on level with the Lord's lotus feet.

Legend: After returning the Sanjeevi mountain to the Himalayas Hanuman was having a bath in the Gantaki river where he found a precious Saligramam which contained two shrines of Mahavishnu together - Sri Ranganathar & Sri Narasimhar. Hanuman decided to take it home with him for worship. Enroute to Sri Lanka Hanuman stopped near a pond to perform Sandhyavandanam. He searched for a person to whom he could hand over the Saligramam and he found goddess Mahalakshmi who was in deep meditation. She agreed to take receive it on the condition that Hanuman would not take long. Hanuman agreed. But after completing Sandhyavandanam Hanuman started Nama Japam after which he lost consciouness and fell into deep meditation. By the time he returned Mahalakshmi had placed the Saligramam on the ground and it had grown into a big hill. The place came to be known as Namagiri Kshetram & the godess as Namagiri Lakshmi. Temple: The cave temple is a a fine example of early Pallava architecture of the 7th Century AD. For more details of the temple log onto: http://www.srinamagiri.com/narashimhar/appearance/appearence.htm. For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/NarasimharNamagiriThayar

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tiruchengode Ardhanareeswarar Temple

26 July'08: I needed to reach chennai on 28 or 29th. I had options of travelling by air, train or car. Train was the preferred mode of travel but reservations were not available at short notice. So decided to drive down by car and scheduled some significant temples visits enroute. Left Coimbatore around 6.30 am and drove via Avinashi & Erode to reach Tiruchengode @9.00 am. Went straight to the Kodimaadachenkunrur temple which is atop a hill. This temple is considered the 4th among the seven Tevara Sthalams in Kongunadu.
The main deity is an Amalgamation of Siva & Parvati in the form of Ardhanareeswarar who is said be Aroopam and is west facing. While there is Dandayutham in Siva's hand , Parvati has her hands on her hips. Ambal is known as Baagampiriyaalammai. Saint Sambandhar has sung here. There is a water spring at the foot of the image. Entrance to the sanctum is from the south side. On the South goshtam you can see idol of Dakshinamoorthy & vigraham of Gowri. East goshtam carries Lingodbhavar & on North goshtam is Sandikeswarar. At the South entrance there is an east facing idol of Nari ganapathy & besides this a north facing Durgai.
Skanda or Tiruchengotuvelavar shrine occupies an important position in this temple and is east facing. Outside this sannithi are east facing subshrines of Arunagirinathar & Ganesha.
There is a Dwaja Sthambam & a Nandi on the western prakaram facing Ardhanareeswarar shrine. Likewise there is another Dwaja Sthambam & a Peacock on the east side facing Chengottuvelavar.
As you circumambulate the outer prakaram you can see several subshrines: North side - Mallikarjuna & Saharsalingam east facing, near the sthala vriksham (iluppai) are Sangameswarar west facing & Vedanayagi south facing, Adiseshan south facing. On the southern prakaram are Sapthamathas, 63 Nayanmars facing north, Mukkootu Ganapathy east facing, sub shrine for nalwars, and a shrine for Adi Kesava Perumal east facing.
Legend: Adi Kesava Perumal instructed Gowri on the Kesava Gowri Vritam which she performed to unite with Shiva as Ardhanareeswarar. This is one of the 64 manifesations of Shiva.
A battle of strength between Vayu & Adi Seshan took place & the former was clinging tightly to Mt.Meru while Vayu was trying to blow it away. Vayu succeeded in blowing Adiseshan away to Tiruchengodu. The blood spilled by Adiseshan colored the hill as red & hence the name chengode. If you climb the hill by the steps you come across the image of a snake carved on the hill.
The Temple: Unique feature of the temple are the mandapams carrying exquisitely sculpted pillars which includes sculptures of Veerabhadran, Oordva tandavamurthy, Alangattu kali, Korathan & Koravi and a variety of other figures on stone. The sculptures are a supreme & sublime poetry on stone. There are stone inscriptions reportedly pertaining to the times of Parantaka Cholan, Gangaikonda Cholan, Vijyanagara & Mysore Kings & the Nayaks.
The view of Tiruchengodu town from atop the temple is magnificent. As you drive up or down you come close to the rock face and can clearly see the redness on the surface.
There is an elevated walkway on the South Prakaram from where you can clearly see the North Gopuram as well as well as the Vimanam of Ardhanareswarar.
Finally as we descended the steep ghat road we pulled up at a convenient point and had sumptuous breakfast of idlis smeared liberally with oil & molaka podi.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/TiruchengodeArdhanareswarar