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!
It is the eve of Vinayaka Chathurthy- a festival for Vinayaka also called Ganesh, Ganapathy or Pillaiyar depending on which part of the country you are in! One of India’s boisterous festivals, loved by young and old alike, it begins with the coming of Ganesha to individual homes and to neighbourhoods, the celebrations over the next few days, not to forget the yummy dishes that are offered to Him and then eaten as Prasad and the final journey to rivers or the sea where the idols are immersed. For the duration of His stay He is one of the household. I always feel sad when it is time for him to leave.
These pictures show Ganesh idols in my hometown, Salem.The featured image shows colourful parasols for Ganapathy and two little ones helping their mother make more parasols! An evening walk in the kadai veethi around the Raja Ganapathy temple in the heart of the city was vastly entertaining!
More than two thousand years ago, around the beginning of the current era, ancient Tamil Nadu was called Tamilagamand comprised many small kingdoms ruled by various ruling clans, besides the mighty Chera, Chola and Pandiya empires. These ruling clans were collectively called as Kuru nila mannargal(குறுநில மன்னர்கள்), a Tamil term which translates as- small region kings.
One of these many ruling clans or dynasties was the Mazhavar clan and the most famous of its kings was King Ori. Around 200 A.D he ruled from Kolli malai over the Kolli Malai, Sendhamangalam and Rasipuram regions of Tamil Nadu. The area of his kingdom comprised 18 Naadu or counties.
The name Ori (ஓரி) literally means ‘The Only One’. He was known as Val vil Ori, ( வல்வில் ஓரி)- a title bestowed on him for his exceptional skill in archery -( Val means Powerful and Vil means Bow). An interesting story is told of how a single arrow from the bow of Ori killed an elephant, pierced the open mouth of a roaring tiger, and killed a deer and a wild boar before it impaled a monitor lizard.
Besides being lauded for his marksmanship. Ori was also hailed as a benevolent monarch whose gifts patronizing the arts, to bards, musicians and dancers were legendary. So great was his kodai- bountiful gifts that he is hailed as one of the seven great vallal kings (கடை ஏழு வள்ளல்கள்) of ancient Tamil Nadu. Vallal (வள்ளல்) is a Tamil word for a person or monarch whose generosity is without bounds.
King Ori was a monarch of the Kadai Sanga Kaalam– the Third and Last Sangam Age, the period in the history of ancient southern India (known as Tamilagam) from 300 BCE to 300 CE.
The Sangam literature written in this period is vast and consists of many books and anthologies. Authored by numerous poets, both men and women, and recorded in palm leaf manuscripts, they are well preserved and are valuable treatises on a vast range of subjects from philosophy to politics.
The Purananooru songs of Sanga Ilakkiyam or Sangam literature are a record of the political history of Sangam Age Tamil Nadu. Each song bears the name of the poet and the name of the king of whom it was sung.
We come to know of King Valvil Ori from the songs of poets Vanparanar and Kazhaithin Yaanaiyaar. These songs are a delight to read.
Given below is a delightful Sangam poem on King Ori by Vanparanar.
The translation by Vaidehi Herbert makes it easy to understand.
புறநானூறு152,பாடியவர்: வன்பரணர்,பாடப்பட்டோன்: வல்வில்ஓரி,திணை: பாடாண்,துறை: பரிசில்விடை வேழம் வீழ்த்த விழுத் தொடைப் பகழி பேழ்வாய் உழுவையைப் பெரும் பிறிது உறீஇப் புழல் தலை புகர்க் கலை உருட்டி உரல் தலைக் கேழல் பன்றி வீழ அயலது ஆழல் புற்றத்து உடும்பில் செற்றும் வல் வில் வேட்டம் வலம்படுத் திருந்தோன் புகழ் சால் சிறப்பின் அம்பு மிகத் திளைக்கும் கொலை வன் யார் கொலோ கொலைவன் மற்று இவன் விலைவன் போலான் வெறுக்கை நன்கு உடையன் ஆரம் தாழ்ந்த அம் பகட்டு மார்பின் சாரல் அருவிப் பய மலைக் கிழவன் ஓரி கொல்லோ அல்லன் கொல்லோ பாடுவல் விறலி ஓர் வண்ணம் நீரும் மண் முழா அமைமின் பண் யாழ் நிறுமின் கண் விடு தூம்பின் களிற்று உயிர் தொடுமின் எல்லரி தொடுமின் ஆகுளி தொடுமின் பதலை ஒருகண் பையென இயக்குமின் மதலை மாக்கோல் கைவலம் தமின் என்று இறைவன் ஆகலின் சொல்லுபு குறுகி மூவேழ் துறையும் ழுறையுளிக் கழிப்பிக் கோவெனப் பெயரிய காலை ஆங்கு அது தன் பெயர் ஆகலின் நாணி மற்று யாம் நாட்டிடன் நாட்டிடன் வருதும் ஈங்கு ஓர் வேட்டுவர் இல்லை நின் ஒப்போர் என வேட்டது மொழியவும் விடாஅன் வேட்டத்தில் தான் உயிர் செகுத்த மான் நிணப் புழுக்கோடு ஆன் உருக்கு அன்ன வேரியை நல்கித் தன் மலைப் பிறந்த தாவில் நன் பொன் பன் மணிக் குவையொடும் விரைஇக் கொண்ம் எனச் சுரத்து இடை நல்கியோனே விடர்ச் சிமை ஓங்கு இருங்கொல்லிப் பொருநன் ஓம்பா ஈகை விறல் வெய்யோனே.
The translation of the poem by Vaidehi Herbert
Puranānūru 152, Poet Vanparanar sang for Valvil Ōri, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Parisil Vidai He was widely famed for his skill in killing, the one who shoots with his strong bow. His perfectly shot arrow killed a tiger with gaping mouth, dropped a spotted stag with hollow horns, felled a boar with head like mortar, and embedded in a monitor lizard in a nearby deep hole. Who is the archer who shoots with such skill? He does not look like a murderer. With a pearl strand on his proud chest, he looks like a man with great wealth.
Is it Ōri, lord of the richly yielding mountain with waterfalls on its slopes, or was it someone else? I said, “Viralis, I will sing, you spread clay on the mulā drum, pluck the strings of your yāl, play the trumpet that is open at one end like an elephant’s trunk, beat the ellari drum, strike the ākuli drum, softly hit the pathalai drum on its single eye, and place in my hand the black rod that foretells the future,” and I approached him. We sang twenty one themes of songs before him in the manner in which they should be sung, and addressed him as “King!” for which he was embarrassed since it was his title. We told him that we go to different countries and have seen no hunter who can be compared to him.
Without asking us for what we wanted, he gave us boiled fatty meat of deer that been killed in hunt and toddy that was like melted cow ghee. And right there, in that wasteland, he gave us fine, faultless gold mixed with heaps of sapphires from his mountain, the lord of majestic Kolli Mountain which has caves in its summits, who desires victories, and gives without holding anything back.
This is another poem on the king. It describes the riches given by the king to a group of visiting dancers.
புறநானூறு 153, பாடியவர்: வன்பரணர், பாடப்பட்டோன்: வல்வில்ஓரி, திணை: பாடாண், துறை: இயன்மொழி மழை அணி குன்றத்துக் கிழவன் நாளும் இழை அணி யானை இரப்போர்க்கு ஈயும் சுடர்விடு பசும் பூண் சூர்ப்பு அமை முன் கை அடு போர் ஆனா ஆதன் ஓரி மாரி வண் கொடை காணிய நன்றும் சென்றது மன் எம் கண்ணுளங் கடும்பே பனி நீர்ப் பூவா மணிமிடை குவளை வால் நார்த் தொடுத்த கண்ணியும் கலனும் யானை இனத்தொடு பெற்றனர் நீங்கிப் பசியார் ஆகல் மாறு கொல் விசி பிணிக் கூடு கொள் இன் இயம் கறங்க ஆடலும் ஒல்லார் தம் பாடலும் மறந்தே.
Translation of the above poem by Vaidehi Herbert
Puranānūru 153, Poet Vanparanar sang for Valvil Ōri, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Iyan Moli My family of dancers went gladly to see the rain-like great generosity of Ōri who never ceases to wage murderous battles, lord of a mountain decorated by clouds, wearing curved bracelets that shoot out rays, who gives away each day, elephants with adornments.
He gave them gold waterlilies that do not bloom in cold water, inset with sapphires and hung on silver cords, wealth, and herds of elephants. Is it because they are not starving any more that they don’t dance even when sweet music instruments are played, and have also forgotten their music?
புறநானூறு 204, பாடியவர்: கழைதின்யானையார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: வல்வில்ஓரி, திணை: பாடாண், துறை: பரிசில் ஈ என இரத்தல் இழிந்தன்று அதன் எதிர் ஈயேன் என்றல் அதனினும் இழிந்தன்று கொள் எனக் கொடுத்தல் உயர்ந்தன்று அதன் எதிர் கொள்ளேன் என்றல் அதனினும் உயர்ந்தன்று தெண்ணீர்ப் பரப்பின் இமிழ் திரைப் பெருங்கடல் உண்ணார் ஆகுப நீர் வேட்டோரே ஆவும் மாவும் சென்று உணக் கலங்கிச் சேறோடு பட்ட சிறுமைத்து ஆயினும் உண்ணீர் மருங்கின் அதர் பல ஆகும் புள்ளும் பொழுதும் பழித்தல் அல்லதை உள்ளிச் சென்றோர் பழியலர் அதனால் புலவேன் வாழியர் ஓரி விசும்பின் கருவி வானம் போல வரையாது சுரக்கும் வள்ளியோய் நின்னே.
Puranānūru 204, Poet Kalaithin Yānaiyār sang to Valvil Ōri, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Parisil It is a dishonor to request, “Give me something.” On the other hand, it is a greater dishonor to answer, “I will give nothing.” To offer someone a gift is superior. It is even more superior to not accept it. People with thirst will not drink the clear water of the large ocean with roaring waves. But when a site has potable water, even if it is not good, mixed with mud, roiled by cows and horses, there will be many paths leading to it.
If those in need go to kings and are not given gifts, times and omens are to be blamed, and not the kings. So I do not hate you. May you live long, Ōri! You are a generous man who gives gifts without any limits, like clouds with thunder and lightning in the sky!
In addition to these Purananooru poems,there are accounts of Ori in the Agananooru, Kurunthogai, Nattrinai poems of Sangam literature.
The rich heritage of Tamil Nadu is unique .No palaces or castles of these kings of long ago stand today but the temples they built have withstood the ravages of time as have the palm leaf manuscripts that document this legacy.
The temples and palm leaf manuscripts are what we have today of a more than 2000 year old legacy.
There is a statue of Valvil Ori in Semmedu in the Kolli hills.
The Govt. of TamilNadu organizes a Valvil Ori festival in August in Kolli malai every year in honour of this famous king. As a part of the festivities archery contests are held for school children!
In subsequent posts we shall visit temples and other places in the fabled Kingdom of Ori.
Tevaram hymns are the first seven volumes of Saiva Tirumurai, Tamil devotional poetry on Lord Siva. They were composed by the first three among the Nayanmars, the Tamil Saivite saints,
about 1200 years ago, from the 7th century to the 9th century AD. Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar, as they are generally called, form the Tevara Moovar or Tevaram trio.
Independently they undertook long pilgrimages, visiting Siva temples, often accompanied by a group of devotees. At each of the temples they visited they composed and sang hymns glorifying Siva. These hymns were handed down by word of mouth and contain a wealth of information on the places (sthalam) where the temples were located and the glory of Siva in these sthalams and the benefits to be gained from recitals of the hymns. (Sthalam is the Tamil word for a holy place, or a place of pilgrimage.) Appar went a step further and set about cleaning of the temples he visited along with fellow devotees. Such service is called as Uzhavara pani.
Each hymn is called a Pathigam in Tamil and comprises a set of 10 verses or more.
Each hymn is set to a specific Pann, the Tamil equivalent of Ragas, and is unique to Tamil musical tradition. Singing of these hymns at worship services in Sivan temples by the Oduvars is an age old tradition which began when in the 10th to 11th century AD the hymns were compiled, codified and set to music by Nambiandar Nambi at the behest of King Raja Raja Cholan, though it is traditionally acknowledged that Lord Siva himself set the tune. They are exceptionally sweet and melodious to listen to and in Tamil Nadu we are familiar with the traditional rendition of these songs in temples everyday by the Oduvars. They are considered equal to the Sanskrit mantras and as powerful.
Paadal Petra Sthalam
Paadal petra sthalams (பாடல் பெற்ற ஸ்தலம்) are 275 Sivan temples which bear one or more pathigams composed on them.
249 other temples are referred to in the Tevaram. These temples do not bear a pathigam and are called as Tevara Vaippu Sthalam(தேவார வைப்பு ஸ்தலம்). Considering the historical fact that only a part of the Tevaram hymns were recovered in the 10th century by King Raja Raja Cholan, the rest having been destroyed by termites, it is possible that the Vaippu sthalams(வைப்பு ஸ்தலம்) might have had pathigams too which were among those that were destroyed.
We shall never know as these are some of the best kept secrets of history.
Tholur Choleeswarar Temple
The Choleeswara temple at Tholur near Namakkal is a Tevara Vaippu Sthalam.
The temple is mentioned in the pathigams of Tirunavukkarasar (Appar), in the 6th Tirumurai (ஆறாம் திருமுறை)
6.70 க்ஷேத்திரக்கோவை – திருத்தாண்டகம்
( ஆறாம் திருமுறை)
705 கொடுங் கோளூர் அஞ்சைக்களம் செங்குன்றூர்
கொங்கணம் குன்றியூர் குரக்குக் காவும்
நெடுங்களம் நன்னிலம் நெல்லிக் காவும்
நின்றியூர் நீடூர் நியம நல்லூர்
இடும்பாவனம் எழுமூர் ஏழூர் தோழூர்
எறும்பியூர் ஏராரும் ஏமகூடம்
கடம்பை இளங்கோயில் தன்னினுள்ளும்
கயிலாய நாதனையே காணலாமே. 6.70.5
6.71 திருஅடைவு – திருத்தாண்டகம்
715 பிறையூரும் சடைமுடி எம்பெருமான் ஆருர்
பெரும்பற்றப் புலியூரும் பேராவூரும்
நறையூரும் நல்லூரும் நல்லாற்றூரும்
நாலூரும் சேற்றூரும் நாரையூரும்
உறையூரும் ஓத்தூரும் ஊற்றத்தூரும்
அளப்பூர் ஒமாம்புலியூர் ஒற்றியூரும்
துறையூரும் துவையூரும் தோழூர் தானும்
துடையூரும் தொழ இடர்கள் தொடரா அன்றே 6.71.4
Visit to the temple
For a long time I have wanted to visit this temple so close to Namakkal. The only detail available on the internet was that it was a Vaippu sthalam near Namakkal. Google maps wasn’t very helpful. So we set out early one morning in July to search for this temple by the best way possible- asking people about it! At Namakkal we stopped for breakfast at hotel Adyar Ananda bhavan. I asked for the route to Tholur Sivan temple. The hotel staff were not sure but promised to ask around. By the time we finished breakfast the lady supervisor gave me the details-
“Take the Namakkal-Mohanur road. At a place called Aniyapuram turn right to travel for 4 kms to reach Tholur. The temple is right on the main road.”
Delighted, I thanked her and we set out once more on the Namakkal- Mohanur road. Aniyapuram turned out to be a fairly large village 9 kms from Namakkal. A right turn here and driving along a scenic village road for 4 kms, soon we came to Tholur.
On the right was a board that said Arulmigu Sri Visalakshi udanurai Sri Choleewarar Aalayam, Tholur. But there was no temple, only a large grassy vacant plot, enclosed by an ancient stone wall. In the distance was a small stone Nandi in front of a one room asbestos roofed structure which was locked. Beyond lay a vast heap of weathered ancient pink and yellow stone slabs, numbered in red.
I was unprepared for this- no temple where there should have been one. The family who lived in the farmhouse next door very kindly fetched the gurukkal (priest) who opened the temporary shrine so that we might worship.
Inside were the Sivalingam and the temple deities in Palalayam on a cement platform. That first glance of Choleeswarar cannot be described in words, it was overwhelming. The Sivalingam is medium sized but the powerful prescence of the Lord is very palpable.
Next to Choleeswarar is the idol of Ambigai Visalakshi. The beautiful goddess stands smiling. Her image and the tiruvaasi are carved of a single granite stone, a unique feature in this temple.
Next to her is the image of Chandikeswarar. The idol of Ganapathi is on left of Choleeswarar.
All the idols are in palalayam until consecration after the temple is restored. An oil-lamp burns steadily in this little shrine. Nandi and the bali peetam are kept outside.
Palansami Gurukkal does archanai and gives prasad of vibhuthi and kumkum. Afterwards we sit down before Choleeswarar as he explains about the temple which is more than 1200 years old and about the fact that Tirunavukkarasar has spoken of the Iraivan of this stalam in the hymns composed by him, probably when he visited one of the 7 Kongu Naatu Paadal Petra stalams. He tells us about the stone inscription on a pillar within the temple that speaks of a grant of cotton and oil to the temple. It is a fact, he says, that difficulties of any magnitude are wiped away by the grace of Choleeswara when we pray to him. Prayers to Ambal and performing kalyana utsava facilitate marriages for unmarried girls. It is also a temple for relief from the planetary afflictions of Ragu and Kethu.
Thiru Palanisami Gurukkal is the parambarai archakar of this temple. His father and his grandfather before him have been the archakars here. He recalls the days when he single-handedly cleaned the temple and conducted nityapuja every day. Today his son who has studied in a veda padasala is also involved in the care of the temple.
The 1200 years old temple was dilapidated and roughly a year ago, the archaeological department inspected it and gave a report.Following this the temple was dismantled about six months ago. It is now awaiting reconstruction and renovation using the original ancient stone slabs of the old temple.
Excerpts from the report given on the Choleeswarar temple by the Archaeological Survey of India:
The Siva temple known as Arulmigu Choleeswarar temple…….is situated in a small village called Tholur, 4 kms off Aniyapuram in the Namakkal – Mohanur road.
The east facing temple consists of a garbagriha, an ardha mandapa, antarala and a mukha mandapa and a separate south facing amman shrine. Sub-shrines for Ganesha and Chandikesa are seen.
Lord Siva of this temple has been sung by Appar in one of his hymns.
While analyzing the architectural features of the temple, the specific designs in architectural members and the style, evidently proves that it should have been constructed by a local chieftain of that region.
The only available stone inscription of 16th century Tamil characters is on one of the pillar in the ardha mandapa. This records the grant of oil and cotton to the temple to light lamps.
Present condition of the temple
It is a living temple. The temple has a dry masonry compound with an entrance on the southern side.
Near the entrance in the prakara Naga stones are installed in a raised mud platform.
At the eastern side is a small four pillared Nandi mandapa and behind that is the stone deepastampa.
The stucco figures in the upper structure on the vimana are damaged.
Identifying the figures is difficult by now.
The outer wall veneering stones of the main shrine are disturbed and dislocated all around due to the strong solid roots of trees grown on the terrace.
The temple must be given proper conservation care immediately. It needs attention from the foundation up to the super structure.
The foundation should be checked as the walls are out of plumb and cracked in many places. Reconstruction is inevitable.
Very few stones are seen damaged and broken. The temple can be reset with most of the old stones which are in good condition. The reusing of old stones will help in preserving the ancient value of the temple.
It is recommended to avoid much of cement and to make use of combination of mortar, lime mortar and lime paste etc. while reconstructing the temple as it is our traditional method.
Our temples (in any form) are not only just places of worship but also have a strong binding with our tradition, heritage and culture and these places have remained as places of learning for many centuries. It is our responsibility to carry forward these to the next generation as our elders and ancestors did. This temple which was constructed by our ancestors has stood all these years as a symbol of our heritage, tradition and culture. Every individual should realize and co-operate in safe guarding this priceless contribution of our ancestors.
There is one kala puja everyday between 6am and 10 am. And the temple lamp is lit every evening. Special pujas are performed on Pradosham and other auspicious days. On request abhishegam is performed for swamy and ambigai.
With Ishwara’s grace, hopefully the work on the temple should start soon.
Tholur is 4km from Aniyapuram on the Namakkal- Mohanur road.
Up in the hills, temples are sturdy landmarks in the lush surroundings, quite often built in chosen locations.
Sri Rama temple at Pagoda Point in Thalai cholai village is just such a place.
At four in the afternoon, it is cold up here. The temple is open, the oil lamps are lit but there is no priest. The idols of Rama and Sita are beautiful. There is a small idol of Hanuman in front facing the sanctum. The outer structure is modern and very clean.
The woman in the shop next to the temple says the temple is quite old, no one knows how old. It is one of many Rama temples in the Shevaroy hills. Her kula-deivamon her father’s side is Sri Rama she says, waving a hand in the direction of the temple.
Pagoda point is a view-pointin the hills, a short distance from Yercaud Lake. Named after the stone cairns that are found here which are built in the shape of a pyramid or a pagoda, it is sometimes mispronounced as pakoda point! It is these stone cairns and the view-point that are the main tourist attractions. These cairns are 5 to 7 feet high. The lady shop-keeper says they are used to light the ceremonial lamps during the festival in the month of Karthigai.“Karthigai Maasam vaanga.Romba nalla irrukum,” she invites in Tamil, meaning, ‘You should come here in the month of Karthigai(for the festival). It is very nice then’. Her husband is also the caretaker of the temple. “We come here around 12 noon,” she says, “There are crowds of tourists on week-ends and holidays. On other days we just sit here”, she smiles.
The view-point overlooks the valley. Wispy clouds float across the valley at eye-level! Fog surrounds you and moves away minutes later! Down below you can see a tribal village and another temple. It is a lovely place for a visit.
The pictures below show how the fog brought road-visibility to near zero on our way back from the temple.
Thick fog obscures the signpost
Pagoda point is roughly 4 km from Yercaud Lake in Thalai cholai village.
“When you have come to the edge of all the light you have And step into the darkness of the unknown Believe that one of the two will happen to you Either you’ll find something solid to stand on Or you’ll be taught how to fly!”
― Richard Bach
“Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
–Lord Byron, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” -Rachel Carson, Silent Spring