In anticipation of this year’s Maasi Magamfestival, Tiruchengode town and Sri Ardhanareeswarar templewear a festive look, this being the most important festival of this temple town. Hundreds of devotees take a vow of austerities by wearing the holy maala for a prescribed number of days. Life becomes focused on only one thing and that is Lord Ardhanareeshwara, the divine Father and Mother of the universe.
For me, it is always a pleasure to visit the temple and taking the vow is just another excuse to visit Ardhanareeswara, Ammaiyappan.
This year, our small group went to the temple to commence the viraddam by wearing the maala blessed and given by the Sivachariya in front of lord Ardhanareeswara. It was a subh muhurtham day with dozens of marriages taking place in every available corner of the maha mandapam in the temple. Ardhanareeswara temple is the temple for marriages because unity of husband and wife is what lord Ardhanareeshwara is all about. Mango leaf thorans were strung everywhere between the ornate pillars and many homa kundams for the many marriages.
On every visit to the temple,there is always a surprise, some new sculpture to marvel at, that previously went unnoticed by me. The temple is too full of of detailed sculptures of all sizes to be covered on a single day and this time it was a carving of lord Ganesha on the rock near the shrine of Aadhi Seshan below the Raja gopuram.
Carvings of two serpents can be seen on either side of Ganesha on the rock. as befits another name of this ancient Tiruchengode hill, which is Naagachala. No wonder that serpent carvings are seen everywhere on the hill either as Aadhi Seshan or as Naagars.
Spending time in the beautiful temple after darshan, it was amusing to watch the goings on! Slowly the big mandapam emptied as wedding groups left. The temple staff started cleaning up and a bunch of monkeys joined in! They were everywhere, even high up on the temple pillars, on the railings, the floor, a couple of baby monkeys were sitting on the Maha Nandi! People were offering fruits and tidbits which they took absolutely unafraid.
An important reminder :
This year’s Maasi Magam is celebrated on Saturday,11th March, 2017.
Below are pictures taken inside the temple on this visit:
The Palaniappar temple on Koovai malai, a hillock in the foothills of Kolli Malai, near Belukurichi near Rasipuram, in Tamil Nadu stands out against the beautiful green backdrop of Kolli hills.
The name Belukurichi is derived from the ancient Tamil words Velavan Kurinji.
Velavan, another name for Murugan is the patron deity of Kurinji which is one of the five different landscapes categorized by the ancient Tamil people. Kurinji is the mountainous and hilly regions of the land. It is inhabited by Veddar, Kuravar and Kanavar tribes who are hunters.
Koovai malai is also called Koogai Malai. Koogai is the ancient Tamil word for the Owl. The Kolli hills as viewed from this hillock does look like a giant bird with outspread wings.
The people of the Kolli hills were hunters in those ancient times and they worshipped Murugan as one of their own, a hunter like themselves.
In the popular legend of Murugan’s courtship of Valli and their subsequent marriage Murugan goes to meet Valli in the guise of a handsome young hunter, Valli being the daughter of Nambirajan, chief of the Kuravar tribe which is also a hill tribe. It is this form of Murugan as the handsome hunter that we worship in the Palaniappar temple.It is said that Murugan set out from here to Valli malai where Valli lived.
The temple is believed to have existed since more than 3000 years ago.
Saint Bhogar who lived 3000 years ago is believed to have visited this temple after which he went to Palani and created the idol of Palani Murugan.
Thus the name Palaniappar means Palanikku appar,’the one who came before Palani’.
The Tamil poetess – saint Avvaiyar is said to have worshipped here.
King Valvil Ori worshipped Palaniappar here before visiting three other temples in the region. While talking about the history of the temple, the archakar thiru. Sendilkumar said, “Come, I will show you the statue of Valvil Ori with his queen”, and led the way to a block of granite at the entrance to the temple with carvings of Valvil Ori with his queen. Valvil Ori is shown holding a bow in one hand.
As I visited temples in the regions ruled by Valvil Ori in Sangam AgeTamilagam I found that people still spoke proudly of this king who was celebrated as one of the kadai ezhu vallalgal. The power of folklore that kept alive the name of a famous king of 2000 years ago is amazing!
FOOTPATH TO KOLLI HILLS
It is significant that the images of the king and queen face the ancient footpath/bridlepath down the mountains.
Coming down from the mountains on this ancient path which is 10 feet wide, the temple is the first stop in the foothills.
This path is still used by the Palangudi indigenous people of Kolli Malai.When we visited, the archagar’s wife, pointing up the hills asked me if I could see a man going up the mountain path. Looking where she pointed I could indeed see a moving white speck way up the mountain! It was a man on his way up and further up there was another climber! I asked her how long it took to reach the top. “It may take more than two to four hours for us,” she said, “but for them (the hill people) it is a climb of 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most”. The Pazhangudi people use this path to bring mountain produce such as honey, spices, jackfruit, pineapple and so on to the Belukurichi sandhai ( weekly market), mostly as thalai sumai, meaning they carried their goods on their heads! A sturdy people they are too! The Belukurichi sandhai is very famous and is held on all Saturdays.
A forest ranger who joined in the conversation said that from Belukurichi village the distance to the temple is 3 kms. And the distance from the temple via the footpath to Othakadai village in the hills was 3.30 kms. Since the new Nariangadu- mullukurichi road was opened in the kolli hills, some of the hill people now chose to use this road after climbing down part way down the hills.
This footpath is also used by trekkers.
Palaniappar temple is the only Murugan temple in the world where Murugan is worshipped in the form of a Veddan or hunter in the sanctum sanctorum.
The way to the temple is up the flight of steps leading from the base of the hillock. This way is now closed for renovation. There is a stone- built mandapam at the foot of the hill that was probably used for resting and for utsavams and festivals. Behind this mandapam the old temple car is kept.
A short distance up the steps is the Yaanai Paali(யானை பாலி),a perennial spring on the hill. There is a colorful life- size image of an elephant and the entrance to the sunai (spring) is between the feet of the elephant! The archagar said that the spring used to be called as Pillaiyaar Paali. Later when the elephant entrance was built it came to be known as Yaanai Paali. The spring never dries up even in summer and the waters have healing, medicinal properties that are used to treat skin ailments.
Further up the hill there is another spring. I asked the archagar about it and he answered, “That spring is for the Aadu, maadu, paravaigal ( the cattle,goats and birds) that come up here to drink from the spring and the yaanai paali is for the use of humans”. An amazing but lovely tradition that taught peaceful co-existence with all living creatures!
A good motorable road goes around the hill right up to the back entrance of the temple, which in the olden days was the front entrance. The other entrances came much later.
A short flight of white washed granite steps lead to the temple. A spacious courtyard/prakaram leads to the Deepastampam and there are some more steps to the pillared maha mandapam.
Lord Palaniappar in the garba graha is one of the most beautiful deities. Facing west, about 31/2 feet tall, Murugan is in Veduvan kolam and a handsome young hunter he is! His hair is piled in a knot on the right side of his head in a hairstyle called as kondai. We can see a string of konrai (golden shower) flowers worn around the kondai. On the holy forehead can be seen the vibhuti (sacred ash) pattai and kumkum in the middle, symbols of Siva and Parvati. Malas or strings of beads, perhaps rudraakshas grace the chest.There are amulets on the arms.The Vastra worn from the waist has strings of Vilva ( bael) leaves adorning it. We can see a pichua kathi(பிச்சுவா கத்தி), a small dagger worn at the waist as well as the dagger case! In his left hand Palaniappar holds a plump rooster(சேவல்) while in his right hand He holds a long Eeti (ஈட்டி)or lance.Ornaments called thandai(தண்டை) adorn the ankles while footwear calledpaadha kuradu(பாதகுறடு) are worn on the beautiful holy feet. All these details are etched in stone, on this rare and beautiful idol. The beautiful face and the divine smile are enchanting.
On the ceiling of the Artha Mandapam an engraving of two serpents swallowing the Sun and Moon can be seen.
The temple faces west, and on a good day the Tiruchengode Hillcan be seen from the Maha mandapam.
There are small shrines for Vinayaka, Koogalingeswarar and Kumari Nayagi ambal. There is a separate shrine for Vishnu, with lord Krishna with his flute on one side and Aadhi Seshan on the other. All these are later shrines consecrated in the last century. Koogalingeswarar and ambal were consecrated by the archagar’s maternal grandfather.
Pournami pooja at midnight on full moon nights is a famous ritual of this temple attended by large crowds of people. The first pournami pooja was started on 28. 3. 1983 on a Monday in the month of Panguni of Thundhubi varusham (year) when the archagar’s maternal uncle served as temple priest. That same year, Sri Kripanandha Vaariaar, popularly called as Vaariaar Swamigal, visited and held a Sotrpozhivu or religious discourse at this temple.
Saint Arunagirinadhar composed two Tirupugazh hymns on lord Muruga of Kolli Malai. In the second hymn starting with the words Thollai tharu.., he says that Murugan went to court Valli who was guarding the millet field and that he took a gift of leaves as was the custom in those days.
In the line,’Koydhu thazhaye kondu sellum mazhava’, Murugan is called as Mazhava, or member of the mazhavar tribe.History records the fact that the Mazhavar clan ruled the Kolli and surrounding areas for many centuries. Valvil Ori was also a Mazhavar king.
கல்லுருகவே யின்கண் அல்லல்படுகோ வம்பு
கல்வருக வேநின்று குழலூதுங்
கையன் மிசையேறும்பன் நொய்யசடையோ னெந்தை
கைதொழமெய் ஞானஞ்சொல் கதிர்வேலா
கொல்லைமிசை வாழ்கின்ற வள்ளிபுனமே சென்று
கொய்து தழையேகொண்டு செல்லும் மழவா கந்த
கொல்லிமலை மேநின்ற பெருமாளே
Song 607 – Thollaimudhal (kollimalai)
kalluruga veyinkan allalpadu go am pu
galvaruga venindru kuzhaloodhum
kaiyanmisai yerumban noyyasadai yonnendhai
Kaithozha mei nyaanam sol kadhirvela
kollaimisai vaazhginra valli puname sendru
kollaikollu maaran kai alaraale
koydhu thazhye kondu sellum mazhava..kandha
kollimalai menindra perumale
These lines allude to the legend of Murugan meeting Valli as a young hunter and it is believed that they refer to Vedduva Murugan in this temple.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Renovation work is being done. The temple will wear a new look when it is completed. The peaceful isolation may become a thing of the past. When the breeze blows from the mountain in the evenings bringing the healing fragrance of the hundreds of herbs which Kolli malai is famous for, there is apprehension that all this may be lost to change. But the grace of Palaniappar will be bestowed on all who seek him.
The temple is open continuously from 7 a.m to 5.30 p.m.
Since it is 3 kms from the village there are no crowds except on special days like the full moon day and weekends. There are no houses or even shops near the temple. Offerings for pooja like flower garlands, coconuts, bananas, betel leaves and areca-nut can be bought in Belukurichi.
The temple in idyllic surroundings is the perfect place for a picnic or to spend some quiet time away from it the bustle of the city.
Koovai malai is part of Bail nadu in Kolli Hills Taluk.
Located in Reserve forest area of the kolli range, the temple can be reached by road from Belukurichi, a fairly large village right below the kolli hills, 13.6 km from Rasipuram and 13.8 km from Sendhamangalam.
Belukurichi is accessible from Salem, Rasipuram or Namakkal which have good hotels. The temple is an hour’s drive from Salem.
Nature’s palette this December in Yercaud is light and dark shades of green and vivid splashes of red and orange.
This is a busy time in the coffee plantations in Yercaud. The coffee plants are full of red berries. Plantation workers pick the ripe berries by hand leaving the green unripe ones on the plants.
The coffee berries are a beautiful shade of red and shine like rubies amidst the shiny dark green leaves of the coffee plant. Myself, I love coffee and can’t do without my morning cuppa and another in the evening. Filter coffee is always a treat, and Kumbakonam degree kaapi makes one drool. But it all starts here in the hills from the coffee berries that ripen in December. In Salem, we are proud of our very own Narasu’s coffee..who can forget the famous ad?!!
Plantation yards are a hive of activity, as the picked berries are weighed, the seeds separated from the berries in machines and then sun-dried. For many days, as the berries ripen slowly on the plants this process continues. From berry to brew is a lengthy process which starts with the picking.
Elsewhere in the hills, bright red Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) bring Christmas cheer.
The little ‘crown of thorns’ plants are not to be outdone. They are full of little red flowers making lovely thorny borders on roadsides and estates.
At six in the evening on full moon day in the Tamil Month of Karthigai, little oil lamps start to glow at every doorstep and all around the homes and in all temples throughout Tamil Nadu. It is the most divine and beautiful of sights. From the most humble dwellings to the palatial homes, lamps are lit as one even as the Maha Deepam is lit on the hill of Arunachala in Thiruvannamalai sharply at six p.m on the day of ThiruKarthigai.
The festival of Karthigai Deepam is celebrated when the full moon coincides with the rising of the six star constellation of Krithigai. The Tamil month of Karthigai is named after this constellation.
It is traditional to buy new earthen lamps every year. The photos below are of an old lady selling lamps in front of her home from whom I bought some lamps this morning. The lamp sellers from next door are her relatives and smiles light up all their faces as a joke is shared!
It is six in the evening and I have just lit lamps outside my home as have my neighbours. Sadly, my point and shoot sony camera is not good for night time pictures.
Dear readers, are there any other traditions observed during this festival? If so please share your views by posting a comment.
The unexpected is an intrinsic part of travelling.
Unplanned visits to wayside shrines every so often are full of surprises. One such shrine that I visited yesterday is off the Salem- Bangalore National highway, NH 44 (previously NH 7), in Gurubarapalli, a few kilometres before Hosur.
Frequent travellers on this highway will know that this is one of the most scenic roads in Tamil Nadu, passing through beautiful Krishnagiri district with its lakes, hills and forests. The route is dotted with many hills and hillocks on both sides of the road that are mostly enormous piles of rounded smooth rocks and boulders and a delight to watch.
The temple is clearly visible towards the left from the highway as you travel from Krishnagiri to Hosur It stands out in the wilderness. Turn left on the mud road near the temple..there are no sign boards.
A twin flight of red painted steps lead to the cave temple on the hill. We started towards the steps but the priest led us to a small shrine on the left that had an idol of Durga devi. After offering prayers here, we went to the cave shrine. The priest was a physically challenged person but he climbed the steps very quickly and was at the top before us to unlock the doors of the beautiful shrine.
Inside the cave is a small idol of Vishnu. To the right of the idol is a small stone garlanded and coloured red by vermillion which is worshipped as the Suyambu Perumal.
Rasipuram is a small ancient town with narrow streets and many small but very old temples. Its historical name was Rajapuram.
It is famous for the ghee that is made here called Rasipuram Nei. It has a rich and wholesome flavor.
The silk sarees that are woven here are beautiful. They are known as Rasipuram Pattuand the silk weaving tradition of this small town goes back many hundreds of years when the silk cloth made here was sent to neighboring countries.
Today in addition to the above, it is well known for the many educational institutions around it.
Its proximity to the Kolli hills makes it an important stop enroute to the hills.
And it was part of the Kingdom of Valvil Ori.
The featured image is the stone sculpture of King Valvil Ori in the temple.
According to legend the existence of the temple spans four yugas. A granite slab within the temple gives us details of the legend of the temple and of Rasipuram town.
In the Krudha Yugam the town was called Indrapuram. The name of Lord Siva was Neelakandamoorthy worshipped by Indra, king of the gods.
In the Tretha Yugam, the town was called Devapuram. Siva was called Chandrasekarar and he was worshipped by the nine planet gods.
In the Dwapara Yugam, the town was called Vichitrapuram. The lord took the name of Sitteswarar and he was worshipped by siddas and rishis.
In the Kali Yugam, the town was called SriRajapuram and Lord Siva’s name was Kailasanathar worshipped by a hunter and people of the Aadhi Saivar community.
Like many old towns its history dating back to the 1st or 2nd century CE starts with the temple of Lord Kailasanathar.
King Valvil Ori ruled from Kolli malai. He was a kind and generous king loved by his people. A great warrior, he excelled in archery and the story of his killing an elephant, a tiger, a deer, a wild boar and a monitor lizard with a single arrow was told and retold in lands far and wide. His kingdom included the areas of Rasipuram and Sendhamangalam.
Valvil Ori was a great devotee of Lord Siva.
One day, while hunting he was on the trail of a Venn Panri or white pig which led him a long way deep within the forests near Rasipuram. He saw it enter a clump of bushes and shot his arrow into the bushes. Parting the bushes to claim his prize, Ori was startled to see a large Sivalingam hidden in the vegetation. Worse, he saw blood trickling down from the lingam where his arrow had hit it. He realized that it was Lord Siva who had appeared as the Venn Panri. Falling to the ground he prayed to Lord Siva to forgive him. Lord Siva appeared before the king and said that he should build a temple where he found the Lingam. King Ori built a temple for Siva. The sanctum sanctorum or Karuvarai which we see today is believed to be built by Valvil Ori.Later other kings added to and extended the temple.
A narrow street leads to the Iswaran koil as all Siva temples are called by the local people.
Entrance to the temple is through the Rajagopuram which faces west. The beautiful Nandi Mandam with exquisite carvings has a large Nandi. Another mandapam which covers the inner prakaram leads to the artha mandapam and sanctum. The name of Lord Siva is Kailasanathar. The Sivalingam faces west which is special and only found rarely. The Swayambhu lingam is fairly large and bears the mark of a scar where it was hit by King Ori’s arrow. This scar can be seen when abhishegam is performed. The sanctum believed to be built by Valvil Ori is very old. The artha mandapam in front of the sanctum is full of the most beautiful stone carvings.
An ancient doorway to the right leads to an inner prakara and another door ahead opens on the outer prakara. In this inner prakara on both sides of the door from the arthamandapam are two unique shrines. One has a rare embossed sculpture of Vikata chakra Vinayagar carved from a single stone and who has a rudraksha mala in one hand. The shrine to the right of the doorway has the idol of Lord Veerabadra with a Nandi in front.
The name of the Mother goddess is Aram Valartha Nayagi. She faces East and is very beautiful. There is a Mahameru before her. My visit to the temple was on the day after Adi Pooram which is sacred to Parvati, and so was blessed with a darshan of Ambal dressed in all her finery…truly a sight to behold. I was able to take a picture of Ambigai in this alangaram. You can see Ambal wearing two garlands made entirely of glass bangles of all colors. Beautiful,isn’t it ?!
There are two shrines for Lord Murugan. He stands alone as Dhandayudhapani in the first shrine. In the second shrine we see him as Karthigeya seated on a peacock with Valli and Deivanai standing on either side. Saint Arunagirinathar has sung a Tirupugazh hymn on the Murugan of this temple.
The first shrine on the pradakshina path in the outer prakaram starts with the shrine of Lord Kasi Viswanathar with Visalakshi and ends with the shrine of lord Ramanathaswamy with Parvatha vardhini. It reminds us of the beautiful Kasi-Rameshwaram tradition. The pradakshinam itself is truly beautiful with many old and lovely shrines. The sthala vriksham are Nelli and Vilvam trees. There are separate shrines for Sani bhagavan, Kala Bairavar, Pancha lingams, Gajalakshmi, Saraswati, Aiyappan, 63 Nayanmars and four Santhanacharyas.
The Dakshinamurthi shrine is different, almost a small temple by itself. The temple has a utsavar or procession deity of Lord Dakshinamurthy with his four rishi disciples. On the first Thursday of each month, He comes to the shrine of the main Dakshinamurthy. Yellow threads placed in puja are offered as prasad to devotees.
There is a shrine for Naagar, the serpent deity.
A rare and unique feature of this temple is the life size stone sculpture of King Valvil Ori under a Vanni tree, in the outer prakara near the Rajagopuram.
It is the Featured image of this post. It depicts King Ori, tall and majestic with a sword at his hip. Hands folded he is shown deep in prayer to his beloved Siva.
Aadi Perukku is an important festival in the Kolli hills and on this day special abhishekam is performed for this king with puja.
In many old temples, we find granite sculptures of the kings, queens or holy men who built the temple or were associated with it, which is how we come to know about them besides the temple inscriptions in Vattezhuthu, which is the ancient written form of the Tamil language.
Another myth of this temple is that there is a secret underground passage from the Kailasanathar temple that leads to the Arapaleeswarar temple in Kolli Malai.
Do visit this lovely temple!
The temple is open from 6 am to 12 noon and from 4.30 pm to 8.30 pm.
Rasipuram is 33 kms from Salem in Tamil Nadu, and 27 kms from Namakkal.
Wet clay becomes a deity as skilled fingers of a roadside idol -maker makes a Ganesha on request. These are the traditional Vinayakas with none of the toxic contents of paints and other things that go into the making of colorful Ganeshas.
It is heartening to see lots of people still prefer the traditional unpainted clay Pillaiyar!