Yercaud is my place to go in the hills when I need to get away. A cozy hill town, it is nestled in the Shevaroy hills amidst coffee plantations and forest and overlooks my hometown, Salem.
Every season in Yercaud is unique- colors of spring, mists and thunderstorms of summer, winter’s clear star-studded skies and always, the cool, pure mountain air. Over the years and over innumerable visits the charm of Yercaud never wanes and a couple of hours in the hills are all I need to feel refreshed.
Maasimagam vizha is celebrated in the tamil month of Maasi (February-March) over a period of ten days with pujas and programmes at three ancient temples in Tiruchengode–Badrakaliamman temple, Kailasanathar temple and Ardhanareeswara temple. One of the highlights of the colorful festival is the Paal-kudam procession. The Paal Kudam Procession Around 7a.m on 1st March, 2018, everyone taking part in the paalkudam (milk-pot) procession for Masimagam were gathered at the Badra Kali Amman temple in a narrow lane off the North Car Street in Tiruchengode town. There were familiar faces everywhere, faces that I saw only during the festival every year.
Siva and Parvati were already at the temple ready to lead the procession. A trained classical dancer and expert in folk dancing and Sivan-sakthi Thaandavam, Dr. Muthukumar was known to the local people as lord Siva, a role he took on year after year for Masimagam. Together, he and Parvati would lead the procession through the four ratha veedhis ( north, south, east and west car streets)around the ancient Kailasanathar temple in Tiruchengode. Click on the link to know about Kalaimamani Muthukumar and the rich cultural tradition of Tamilnadu folk dances. The participants prayed to Goddess Badrakali amman and received a small garland of flowers in front of the goddess in the sanctum. This was followed by the Sivan-Sakti Thandavam dance performed by folk dancers representing lord Siva and devi Parvati to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.
Pictures from the Badrakali amman temple on Maasimagam
Sivan and Parvati
The procession started from the temple and went along the four ratha veedhis moving slowly and stopping at intervals for the dance of Siva and Parvati. The ratha veedis are the four streets along which the temple chariots are pulled by the people at the time of the annual chariot festival, but today the milk pot procession would follow the same route for the Masimagam festival.
Prayers at the Badrakali amman temple
Sivan-sakthi thandavam dance performance before the start of the procession.Besides pots of milk, devotees carry large baskets with fruit, coconut and flowers for puja in the Ardhanareeswara hill temple.
Worship of snakes is as old as civilization. Naagam or sarpam refers to snakes. Serpent idols and sculptures are found in many temples of Tiruchengode..a constant reminder of the mythical beginnings of the holy hill which was called Naagamalai and Naagachalam as Aadhisehan worshipped lord Siva after he was thrown here, wounded and bleeding, in the battle of might with Vaayu. This fascinating wood sculpture of a five-hooded serpent is seen in the Badrakali amman temple!
Pictures of the annual paal kudam procession
Around the ratha veedhis, colorful images of lord Ardhanareeswara and other deities can be seen on mandapams like the one above, a constant reminder that this is the city of Ardhanareeswara. Many mandapams have been rented to shopkeepers with minor alterations.
A closer view of the above pic.
Destination-the temple on the hill
Devotees walk with friends and family towards the temple on the hill.
The hill temple of lord Ardhanareeswara is visible from Tiruchengode town and foothills.
The Aarumugaswamy Temple
Participants reach the old stone steps near the Arumugasamy kovil, another ancient temple for lord Murugan at the foot of the Tiruchengodu hill. Most of the participants take the steps that go up the hill to the temple of Ardhanareeswara. A few, mainly the elderly and those with health issues who cannot climb the steps take the hill road to reach the temple.
The arch indicates the way to the steps beside the Aarumuga swamy temple which lead up the hill.
The steps begin beyond this pillared mandapam. There are mandapams along the winding way up the hill.They were built to provide a place for people to take rest when they undertook the arduous climb to the temple of Ardhanareeswara.
Maha abhishekam The main event in the Malai kovil (hill temple) is the Maha abhishekam. The first abhishekam is for Sengotuvelar, the second for Ardhanareeswarar and finally the abhishekam of the utsava moorthies in the maha mandapam. The Abhishekam for lord Ardhanareeswara commences exactly at 12 noon and it was this abhishekam in the sanctum sanctorum that I was fortunate to see this year. A big vessel was kept outside the sanctum to collect the offerings of milk. This was taken inside the sanctum and the Sivaachariar poured innumerable pots of milk from the vessel over the deity. It is when abhishekam is performed that you get to see the matchless beauty of the Moolavar deity which otherwise is covered in vastra (clothes) and flowers. Another highlight of the day was when Siva and Parvati who led the Paal-kudam procession came to the sanctum to offer prayers to Lord Ardhanareeswara.
After Deeparadhana we went to see the abhishekam of the utsava moorthis in the pillared hall. This was an even grander ritual. There were three barrels full of milk alone brought by the hundreds of people who visited the temple that day. Besides milk there were pots of sandal, turmeric, honey, pancha-mirtham, tender coconut, vibhoothi, curd and so on. Every offering was accepted from the hundreds of visitors to the temple and it took a long time for the abhishekam to be complete. Visitors came from places as far as Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Chennai just to have darshan of this unified form of Siva and Parvati on this auspicious day.
Annadhana for everyone In the annadhana venue on the hill, annadhana commenced from 10 in the morning. Everyone was invited to have lunch at the annadhana hall and pandal. It consisted of a special kulambu made with seasonal veggies like mochai, yellow pumpkin, avarakkai, and drumstick, with rice, rasam, cabbage porial, and sweet pongal. Everyone who took the vow ended their long fasting with this special meal served on behalf of Lord Ardhanareeswara. After lunch everyone waited around the temple for the alangaram of the deities to be completed and then gathered to see the special elaborate deeparadhanai.
Waiting in the majestic halls of the temple. After abhishegam, darshan is not complete until you have seen the Deeparadhanai.Alangaram of utsavar deities of Ardhanareeswarar and Sengottu Velar after Abhishekam
With this the Maasimagam rituals ended in the hill temple with concluding pujas and annadhana in the evening at the Kailasanathar temple.
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: