It is that time of year again when in Tiruchengode theMaasi magam festival is just days away. The town wears a festive look as it gets ready to host the biggest festival of the year.
Every year in this temple town the festival unites people from places both near and far away. Observing the vratha is a thread that binds and connects all who take the vow towards Lord Ardhanareesawara.Some observe austerities for a mandalaconsisting of forty-eight days starting in December. Some wear the holy mala for a half mandala of twenty-four days and some for a shorter period of twelve days. The vratha basically helps to focus the mind onArdhanareeswara and to purify the mind and body by fasting.
During these forty eight days there are various activities like special katalai puja, bhajans, annadhana that are organized both in the malai- kovil (hill temple) and also at the ancient Kailasanathar Siva temple in the heart of Tiruchengode town.
17th February was the day for wearing the mala for the last twelve days of the mandala.
The temple of Ardhanareeswara is fascinating even though I have visited it many times.
The sculptures are always a delight to see and admire. Sometimes I also see unusual people in the temple who are not our usual urban city-dwellers.Even the people who work at the temple have a blessed simplicity to them that is hard to explain. And sometimes the thought comes to my mind that these people are so very blessed to be living a life so close to a divine presence.
The much awaited Maasi Magam is on 1st March, 2018.
This row of sculpted pillars is the first thing you see when you enter the temple from the north-facing Rajagopuram. A row of warriors on rearing horses..the symmetry in stone is marvelous.
And under the horses are sculptures depicting the perpetual battle between man and beast…it is a constant battle of might and will power. It is a tribute to the sirpi(சிற்பி,Tamil for sculptor), who brought these sculptures to life with his ulli (உளி/chisel).
The pillared hall near the main shrines has many exceptional sculptures. In this sculpture you can see a man stroking his moustache- his posture, the details of his garb, jewelry, hairstyle of the age, and the expression on his face are intriguing.
A closer look at the above sculpture
This year there were a lot of young calves up in the hill temple. They were so tame that they came up to visitors and accepted snacks from them!
This man was cleaning the outside of the goshala. They also serve who do the smallest tasks.
Sivan-adiyaar(சிவனடியார்)is the word we use when we speak of those who have devoted their lives to lord Siva. They are considered to be in the service of lord Siva. I saw this Sivan-adiyaarstanding quietly near the Adhiseshan shrine in the temple. He did not speak to anyone and was standing there for a long time silently looking at the idols and Sivalingam.
Maha shivarathri, one of the biggest Hindu festivals was celebrated on February 13th 2018.
Maha Shivarathri is the great night of Shiva. People stay awake the whole night, fasting and offering prayers to lord Shiva and visiting temples which remain open the whole night.
In Tamil Nadu, people visit Shiva temples to see the abhishekam that is performed to the Shivalingam repeatedly during the four jamam of this sacred night. A jamam is a unit of time in Tamil consisting of 2 hours and 24 minutes and there are four jamams during the night. They usually bring offerings of milk, honey and so on that is used for the abhishekam. The last and final abhishekam concludes at dawn.It is an important night for people on the spiritual path. In major temples there are Thevaram recitals the entire night.
I was fortunate to visit a number of ancient Shiva temples with a group of friends on Mahashivarathri. We started our temple tour around 8 p.m and returned home at dawn bleary-eyed but happy… definitely a night to remember!!
Some pictures from various temples on Maha Shivarathri.
The Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival (TNIBF) was hosted for the 4th consecutive year in Pollachiand was a major event of this year’s Pongal holidays. It was organized by Global Media Box and The Slaves, a Pollachi based restaurant with the support of Tamil Nadu Tourism Department and Adhiban Fincorp mainly to promote Pollachi as a tourist destination, and has become a very popular event.
Hot air ballooning is a sport that is not so common in India and people from Pollachi and nearby Coimbatore City (56 km from Pollachi) as well as tourists from other states enthusiastically visited the venue to witness the spectacle of colorful hot air balloons. This year’s special attraction was 2.0 Movie balloon. Visitors could go for hour long balloon rides in the morning and short tethered flights in the evening.
On the evening of my visit there were three balloons. I expected to see more as ten balloons with pilots from many countries had participated in the festival. Still it was thrilling to watch the balloons inflate and rise in the air and as darkness set in, the night sky with glowing balloons was truly a sight to remember.
These are some pictures from the festival. I apologise for the quality of the pictures as my Sony point and shoot camera is not very good for taking night pictures. Still you get the general idea!
At 8.30 a.m. on this December morning mist covers the countryside as we drive through NH 44. We are travelling to Seerapalli ,a village near Rasipuram in Namakkal district, where there is an ancient Siva temple that is believed to be more than a 1000 years old. The route as always beautiful, takes us through the ancient town of Rasipuram and on to SH 79 which is the Rasipuram – Attur –Erode road.
Ten kilometers from Rasipuram and we have arrived. There are no name-boards and I ask for directions to the Sevvantheeswarar temple. It turns out that that the temple is quite close to the main road, down a small village street, and it is open!
A typical village temple built in a large open area. The village almost ends near the temple and beyond it vast green fields stretch into the distance. It looks lovely.
Until recently there used to be an ancient mud and stone outer wall which was almost crumbling down. It has been taken down and work has been started on a new outer wall. With no outer entrance we walk past the Suryan and Chandran shrines on either side , past a small bali peedam, and a tall weathered wood post which was the kodi maram (flagstaff) in more prosperous times. There is a small nandi mandapam. Beyond this five steps lead up to the main temple which consists of a spacious pillared mahamandapam, artha mandapam and garbagraham of Sevvantheeswarar. A little shrine of goddess Sugandha Kundalambigai leads off the mahamandapam.The vimanam of both shrines are very old.
An aged priest does deeparadhana and gives vibhuti and kumkum as prasad. Then he says quietly, “Valvil Ori vazhi patta koil”.Translating from tamil it means that Valvil Ori worshipped lord Siva in this temple.
Time and again I am filled with wonder when people unexpectedly speak of this great king. The region of the Kolli hills, its foothills, Rasipuram and its surrounding regions were once part of the kingdom of king Valvil Ori who ruled from Kollihills around the 2nd century AD.in the Sangam era. That people speak the name of this king with love and quiet pride now, almost 2000 years later is amazing and touching at the same time!
The temple is believed to be built by kuru nila mannargal, the kings who ruled over small regions in Tamilnadu.
In a distant past the place where the temple now exists used to be a forest of thorny sangu-mul plants. People rarely came here except for cow-herds who brought their cows to graze. One day a cow-herd noticed a cow shed all its milk in a particular spot. This happened every day and the cow-herd told the villagers about the cow’s strange behavior. The villagers set forth to clear the area of thorny bushes as they searched for the reason behind the cow’s unusual behavior. Someone’s axe or sickle hit something hard and blood spurted all over the place. The frightened people discovered a suyambu lingam in the undergrowth, named it as Sevvantheeswarar because it was red with blood and started worshipping it.
Another story goes that once a man was travelling with his pregnant wife in the region when his wife went into labour. The couple cried out for help. Lord Siva appeared as a woman and helped to deliver the child and from then Sevvantheeswarar was also called as Mathru Bhoodheshwarar.
Similarities with Thayumanavar temple, Trichirapalli
Mathrubhoodeshwarar is also the name of Lord Siva in the famous Thayumanavar temple in rock-fort(malai-kottai), Trichy.
Incidentally, Thayumanavar was also called as Sevvanthinathar because sage Saaramamunivar worshipped Him with Sevvanthi flowers.
In both temples, ambal has the name of Sughandha Kundhalambigai in Sanskrit and Matuvar kuzhal ammai in Tamil.
Even the name Seerappalli is reminiscent of Sirapalli, the ancient name of Tiruchirapalli.
The temple has ancient stone sculptures of Arubathu-moovar, the sixty three saints of the Saivite tradition and also of Naalvar,the holy four of Thevaram hymns – Appar, Sambandhar, Sundaramurthy Nayanar and Manickavasagar.They can be seen in a long mandapam with a thatched roof to the left of the main shrine.Further along the circumambulatory path are the shrines of Niruthi Vinayakar and separate shrines for Panchalingam representing the five elements.
The shrine of Kalyana Subramanyar is old with its own vimanam, outer mandapam and a tiny mandapam for the peacock.Kalyana Subramanyar is seated as Aarumugam on a peacock with Valli and Devasena on either side.In the small inner mandapam of this shrine there is another idol. This is an idol of Palaniappar , holding a spear in one hand and wearing his hair in a kondai(knot) on his head.This idol looks very similar to the image of Palaniappar in Belukurichi temple in Pallipatti in the Kolli foothills which is about 12 kms from Seerappalli.The idol of Palaniappar was the one which was originally in the sanctum, but was later replaced with the idol of Kalyana Subramanyar.
There is a shrine for Sri Durgai in the outer wall of the main sanctum and separate shrines for Chandikeswarar, Kaalabhairavar Suryan, Chandran and for Sani bhagavan.
More pics from the temple
The temple has vast agricultural lands belonging to it which indicates that it received the patronage of kings who donated lands for the upkeep of the temple. The temple is traditionally managed by the people of gounder community who also till the temple lands.It is also under the care of the Aranilaya thurai of the Tamilnadu government.
A story is told about how the Sevvantheeswarar temple and the vast lands belonging to it came to be administered by the gounder community.In any village the agraharam was and still is the area where the brahmins lived. Once, when caste discrimination was being rigidly followed, a cow unfortunately died in the agraharam and the austere brahmins had to seek the help of the gounders who were a farming community, to remove the carcass. The gounders agreed to help on the condition that the Sevvantheeswarar temple be handed over to them.The agraharam residents agreed as they had no choice and relinquished their rights over the temple. Having lost their right over the temple they then handed over the temple lands also. With the passage of time they left the village. The present gurukkal comes from a family that has cared for the temple for the past ninety years and says that only one family from the agraharam families who left the village long ago visit the temple occasionally.
Renovation work has been started in the temple. Besides a new outer wall, the old well has been dug and made bigger. Many parts of the temple are to be rebuilt. All who would like to take part in this momentous work in any manner are welcome to do so.
Address and contact number of gurukkal of Sevvantheeswarar temple:
K.S. Sivaraja Gurukkal
Seerapalli P.O,Rasipuram Tk.
Phone no: 89732 75242
A subject for discussion
Although there is no conclusive proof there is a possibility that this temple might be a thevara vaippu sthalam that is mentioned in the Kshetra Kovai hymn of Thirugnana sambandhar. The related stanza of thevaram is given below.
திருஞானசம்பந்த சுவாமிகள் அருளிச்செய்த பொது தேவாரத் திருப்பதிகம் (இரண்டாம் திருமுறை 39வது திருப்பதிகம்)
(இரண்டாம் திருமுறை 39வது திருப்பதிகம்) 2.039 பொது – திருக்ஷேத்திரக்கோவை அறப்பள்ளி அகத்தியான் பள்ளி வெள்ளைப் பொடிபூசி யாறணி வானமர் காட்டுப்பள்ளி சிறப்பள்ளி சிராப்பள்ளி செம்பொன்பள்ளி திருநனி பள்ளிசீர் மகேந் திரத்துப் பிறப்பில் லவன்பள்ளி வெள்ளச் சடையான் விரும்பும் மிடைப்பள்ளி வண்சக்கரம்மால் உறைப்பாலடி போற்றக் கொடுத்த பள்ளி உணராய்மடநெஞ்ச மேயுன்னி நின்றே. 2.39.4
Arapalli agathiyan palli vellai
Podipoosi yaarani vaanamar kaatupalli
Thirunani palliseer magendirathu
Pirappil lavanpalli vella sadaiyan
Virumbum midaipalli vannchakkaram mal
Uraippaladi potra kodutha palli
Unnaraai madanenjame unni ninrae.
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It has been raining continuously for the past two days as cyclone Ockhi battered the southern most Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, with Kanyakumari district of Tamilnadu being the worst hit and left without power. Early this morning it was cold with a light drizzle, but by mid-morning the rains stopped and the sky cleared up. Late afternoon I went to the Poompuhar showroom which is a state- run crafts emporium, to see the latest models of brass lamps on display.
Stepping into a Poompuhar showroom is always like stepping into a museum. The handicrafts on display differ according to the festivals at various times of the year. The present display of lamps is for Karthigai Deepam, a festival of lights that is celebrated in Tamil Nadu.
The traditional brass oil lamp of Tamil Nadu is called Kuthu Vilakku. It is lit before deities in homes and in temples. Besides this there are other traditional varieties of vilakku (lamp) such as the Kamatchi vilakku, Lakshmi vilakku and so on.
The manager of the sales emporium and the staff explained how the Poompuhar lamps were crafted by mixing 30% copper with brass, a combination of metals that kept the lamps shining like gold. The showroom’s customers included Indians settled overseas in Malaysia and Singapore.
Some of the Vilakku varieties on display:
In the evening I visited the Sugavaneswarar temple, an ancient Siva temple in Salem.The rituals were conducted outside the temple where the Deepa sthambams are seen. During festival times the deities come out of the temple and oversee the rituals. This evening the Deepam was lit atop the towering sthambams in the presence of the utsava murthys of Karthikeya and Siva and Parvati. The sokka panai was set aflame. This is a bonfire made of palm fronds tied together.
Karthigai deepam is a festival associated with the birth of lord Karthikeya. The puranas say that six sparks of fire that arose from the third eye of Lord Siva took the form of Karthikeya, the most adored god of the Tamil people. And so the deepams were lit as cries of Muruganuku arohara, Kandha perumanukku arohara, Ammai appanuku arohara rent the air.
More pictures of Karthigai deepam celebration in the Sugavaneswarar temple in Salem:
In Rasipuram, Nityasumangali Mariamman temple is located in the heart of the old town. The annual festival takes place in the Tamil month of Aippasi(Oct-Nov) and is celebrated for a period of two weeks. To the townspeople, Nityasumangali Mariamman is one of their own, a beloved daughter of each family and her festival is a time of re-union and family get-togethers.
I have been to this temple a few times but never during the festival and it is a really lovely temple where you can spend some time enjoying the peace and quiet.
Festival times are auspicious times and on Friday, November 10, during the ongoing festival I went with some friends in the evening to offer prayers at the temple. Rasipuramis usually a quiet place, partly urban, partly rural with a seamless blending of ancient and modern but now it was as if the whole town had come alive.
There was something going on everywhere and needless to say it was fun! Festival crowds, the fair grounds, festival shops, people dancing to the cadence of drum beats, it was all so lively!
Unusual practices can be seen in temples at times like this. In one part of the temple near the Dhyana Ganapathy shrine stood a pujari holding a whip made of coir rope in his hand. People stood in line and as each person stepped up he received some lashings from the whip (very gently, of course and probably as a symbolic punishment for sins), and then the pujari placed the whip on the person’s head and blessed him! I got a whip blessing too!
At the Murugan shrine,a boy pujari sat with a bunch of mayil peeli (pea-cock feathers) in his hand and blessed people after they worshipped Murugan by touching their heads with the long feathers.
In the open courtyard of the temple was the agni kundam which had been the scene of a most important temple ritual the previous day. This was the thee-mithior fire-walking ritual in which hundreds had participated holding a thee- chatti, (a pot with fire in it) in one hand.
On the evening of my visit, the agni kundamwas a bed of ashes and visitors bent down to take the holy ash from the pit and apply it on their foreheads.
Sometime during the 16th century CE Salem and its surrounding areas which include Namakkal, Dharmapuri, and Attur, came under the rule of Madurai Nayakar kings. The kingdom of the Madurai Nayakar kings consisted of 72 smaller administrative regions called palayams headed by local chieftains who were called Palayakarars.Salem under the Madurai Nayakars rule came under thePalayakarars known as Gatti Mudali and Nayaks. Besides collecting taxes, they ably administered the regions they ruled, maintained armies, built forts and built or extended temples. The temples they built and those that were extended by them are architectural gems, showcasing their keen interest in art and architecture.
NAYAK TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE
Nayak temple architecture had a distinct style. It was characterized by enormous multi-storied gateway towers called gopuram, richly decorated with brightly painted stucco figures of gods, goddesses demons and animals both real and mythical, and pillared mandapas. The large courtyards surrounding the central shrine of these temples were designed to accommodate the crowds who would gather to view temple rituals and processions of gods. The temple grounds were enclosed by high fort like outer walls called madhil – always useful in case of invasion from rival chiefs and invaders.
Lakshmi Narayanan temple in Sendhamangalam, 11kms from Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, is one such impressive structure. Sendhamangalam today is a sleepy village taluk in the Nainamalai foothills. It is also very near the Kolli hills in Namakkal district. But centuries ago it was an important admintrative centre of the Nayakar kings.
The temple of Lakshmi Narayana Perumal is extremely old. According to the local people no one really knows how old it is, but it has been there since ‘paattan,mupaattan kaalam’.This colloquial Tamil phrase is used often in rural Tamilnadu and is a charming way to state that something has been there or was done since time immemorial. Pattan is tamil for grandfather and mupaatan denotes their fathers – three generations removed before them.
The antiquity of the temple is supported by another important fact. Two kilometres from Sendhamangalam is the famous Nainamalai hill with the temple of Varadharaja Perumal at the very top. The hill itself is 2600 feet high with ancient stone steps going all the way to the top. There are more than 3000 steps and climbing them is no mean feat. Believed to have existed since four yugas – which time period spans millions of years, the temple was built during the Pallava period. To this day, it is an important pilgrimage destination and kula deivam (family deity) temple and thousands make the difficult ascent to the top every year, particularly in the sacred Tamil month of Purataasi.
The two temples are intrinsically connected. In the ancient mandapam leading to the sanctum sanctorum of Lakshmi Narayana Perumal are kept the idols of Nainamalai Varadharaja Perumal,Sridevi and Bhudevi. All those who are not able to visit the hill temple and the old and infirm can worship here. There is also a sealed and locked doorway which is believed to be the entrance to a secret passage way that goes all the way up to the Nainamalai temple. Mysterious and intriguing, isn’t it? The passage way was probably used as an escape route by local kings in times of war. Similar secret pathways are also believed to have existed in the Rasipuram Kailasanathar temple and the Kaala Bhairavar temple in Dharmapuri.
LAKSHMI NARAYANAN TEMPLE
In a tranquil rural setting, the towering multi-storeyed Rajagopuram and high surrounding walls of Lakshmi Narayanan temple are so unexpected that they take one by surprise. This could easily have been a temple in Kumbakonam where such huge gopurams are the norm. On entering, the massive doorway opens on a spacious open courtyard. The large pillared mandapam has ornately carved pillars showing mounted warriors in combat and mythical incidents.
Here we find a larger than life statue of King Govindappa Naicker on a stone pedestal. The statue depicts an authoritative king. The upward slant of the face, the hair knotted on top in a style known as a kondai that was typical of the age, an outstretched hand with a forefinger pointing in a commanding manner, the folds of the clothes and impressive jewelry all combine to create a regal and slightly fearsome personality.
This outer mandapam also has idols of other gods and a shrine for navagrahas.
A narrow passage leads to the sanctum through an inner mandapam.
In the sanctum the 6 feet high idol of a seated Lakshmi Narayanan with Thayaar on his lap is exquisitely beautiful. It is in the inner mandapam that the idols of Nainamalai Varadaraja Perumal with Sridevi and Bhudevi are kept. So we get to worship the deities of both temples here.
The Thaayar sannidhi is a small separate temple next to the main temple. Perundevi thaayar is as beautiful as her name suggests and a picture of compassion and grace.
A WALK AROUND THE TEMPLE
It is a temple to be seen and admired at a leisurely pace because it is full of surprises. My visit was a hurried one and I hope I can visit again to admire and be awed all over again.
The temple is near the Sendhamangalam bus station.