CAVE TEMPLES OF NAMAKKAL
Namakkal is a beautiful town in Tamil Nadu and headquarters of Namakkal district. An important stop on NH 7 and on all routes leading to South Tamil Nadu, it is also a pilgrimage centre, well known for the famous Namakkal Anjaneyar temple.
This ancient town is built around a massive monolithic rock called as Naamagiri from which the town gets its name. The rock is 65 metres high and more than a kilometre in circumference. Namakkal Fort on top of this rock was built by Ramachandra Nayak in the 16th century. It is believed that Tippu Sultan hid himself in the fort for a brief period of time to escape from the British. Later the British captured the fort.
In this massive rock, two cave temples were built in the 7th century.
The Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy cave temple at the foot of the Naamagiri rock on the west, and
The Ranganatha Swamy cave temple, built about midway up the rock on the east.
HISTORY OF THE CAVE TEMPLES
They were built by King Gunaseelan of the Adhiyamaan dynasty in the 7th century CE. Although the cave temples resemble the architectural style of the Pallava dynasty and the lesser known Pandya rock-cut temples, they belong to the period of the Adiyamaan dynasty which was one of the ancient ruling families of Tamil Nadu. They are known to us from Tamil Sangam literature dating to the early centuries of this era. One of the most famous kings of this dynasty was Adiyamaan Nedumaan Anji, patron of the famed Tamil poetess Avvaiyar.
The Adiyamaans ruled from Thagadur, which is present day Dharmapuri and their domain was northern Kongu, which included the present Salem district.
LAKSHMI NARASIMHA SWAMY TEMPLE
A charming story is told of how the rock called Naamagiri came into being.
Prahalada the son of King Hiranyakasibu had absolute faith in god. He believed that Parabrahma exists and exists everywhere. His father did not believe in God and challenged him to prove the existence of Parabrahma. Prahalada’s reply was that God exists in all creation, even in an atom. His father asks him if God is in the pillar nearby. Prahalada replies that God is not only in the pillar but also in the words uttered by Hiranyakasipu and also in the sound of those words. Enraged Hiranyakasipu strikes the pillar with his mace to break it, Lord Vishnu takes the form of Narasimha, the angry half man and half lion and comes out of the pillar and kills Hiranyakasipu. He took this avatara in ugra (angered) form to prove that absolute faith should not be failed. The rest of the avatars were taken after due deliberation but the Narasimha avatar took place in a kshana (micro-second) and even before Sri Devi came to know of it. Prahalada prays to the Ugra Narasimha to calm down and the Lord acquiesced.
Goddess Lakshmi did not get to see this avatar as it happened and prayed to the Lord asking to see it. Lord Vishnu told her to go to the place which is present day Namakkal and that in time she would get to witness the avatar there. So the Goddess began a long tapas (penance) on the bank of the Kamalalayam tank as she waited for the sacred darshan.
Time rolled on. The events of the Ramayana were taking place. The battle between Lord Rama and the demon king Ravana was being fought. Lakshmana faints on the battlefield and is revived with the herbs from the Sanjivi hill brought from the Himalayas by Hanuman. The hill is returned to its rightful place. Hanuman bathes in the River Kantaki in the Himalayas in which he finds a Salagramam. A Salagramam is a fossil stone found in the River Gantaki in the Himalayas and it represents Sri Hari in pujas.
On the way back to Lanka, Hanuman stopped at the Kamalalayam tank to bathe before his evening sandya-vandanam. Seeing Goddess Lakshmi meditating on its bank he gave her the Salagrama to keep until he finished his rituals as it was important that the stone was not placed on the ground. The stone grew heavy in Her hand and She placed it on the ground. Meanwhile Hanuman returned after his prayers. As they watched, the Salagrama grew in size until it became an enormous rock. It is believed that on the face of the Salagrama, Lakshmi and Hanuman witnessed the Narasimha Avatar and that Salagrama stands today as the Naamagiri in Namakkal town. To prove the tale the shrine of Naamagiri Thaayar faces Narasimha Swamy as does the idol of Namakkal Hanuman.
Another tale tells of how Narasimha’s fury could not be controlled and it was only after seeing Thaayar that He calmed down.
This is the myth of Naamagiri.
At first glance this temple does not look like a cave temple at all. It looks imposing against the backdrop of the Naamagiri rock. The worship protocol here is that you must worship first at the Naamagiri Thaayar shrine, go on to the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy sannadhi and finally to the Anjaneya temple across the road.
Goddess Mahalakshmi is worshipped as Naamagiri Thaayaar. She is extremely beautiful. The large evocative eyes and the smile on her face can make you feel that she is listening intently to your requests. It is not uncommon to find people who have come here to leave many a pressing life problem to Naamagiri Thaayaar. She is divine mother, friend and guide to the people of Naamakkal and all those who worship Her.
The Mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan whose family goddess was Naamagiri Thaayar found guidance from the goddess throughout his life. He has said that the goddess whispered mathematic formulae in his ear which he then verified and committed to writing. He was the first Indian Mathematics Fellow at Cambridge University. In an age when it was heresy for Brahmins to cross the oceans to go to foreign lands, Goddess Naamagiri appeared in a dream to Ramanujan’s very orthodox mother telling her to send her son to Cambridge. Ramanujan went to the Naamagiri temple prior to his departure seeking permission to go. It is said that he stayed for three days in the temple precincts and prayed to the goddess, sitting in the four pillared mandapam in front of the Naamagiri thaayar shrine. The goddess gave her permission in a dream.
His mentor at Cambridge G.W.Hardy, later wrote of Ramanujan’s theorems and formulae, “A single look at them written down by a mathematician of the highest class. They must be true, because, if they were not true, no one would have had the imagination to invent them.”
Even on his death bed he scribbled down revolutionary mathematical formulae – gifts he said from this Hindu Goddess. He spent his final year furiously writing out pages and pages of theorems as if a storm of number concepts swept through his brain. Many remain beyond today’s best math minds.
LAKSHMI NARASIMHA SWAMY
A flight of steps leads to the prakaram which is on three sides of the temple against the imposing backdrop of the Naamagiri rock.
You climb a few more steps to the cave temple above.It is spacious with a high ceiling carved out of the rock, almost like a cathedral.
The presiding deity Lord Narasimha is huge. He sits with his left leg placed on the right thigh. The right foot is placed on the floor of the cave. He holds a conch in his left upper hand. There is a Prayoga Chakra in the right upper hand. The lower left hand is placed on his knee while the right hand shows a mudra.
Behind him on the wall of the cave are carvings of deities. During the deeparaadhanai the priest will explain that this is a Kudavarai koil,and Lord Narasimha is in ugra kolam after Hiranya samhaaram. He is also called as Yoga Narasimhar as He sits in meditation to control His anger. Behind him, the sages sanaka and Sanatana are seen whispering the happenings of the world in the ears of Narasimha Swamy.On either side of the sages Surya and Chandra fan the Lord with a Chamaram to cool his anger.On the far left Brahma and on the far right Shiva look on in awe at this wonderful avatar of Vishnu as Nara-simha.He will show you the red hue of the rock on Narasimha Swamy’s right palm and the sharp finger nails.The red hue shows the bloodstains from slaying of Hiranyakasipu.. The priest will tell you that as Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are depicted equally within the single shrine, it is known as a Trimurthy sthalam and that there is no separate temple for Shiva at Namakkal.
The artha mandapam walls have large panels of with exquisite stone sculpures. The pane to the left of Narasimha Swamy shows the Varaha avatar with Bhu devi and the panel to the right shows the hiranya Samharam. Another panel shows a rare sculpture of Vaikunta Narayana with Surya, Chandra, Siva, Brahma, Markandeya and Bhu devi.
The cave wall on the opposite side shows a beautiful sculpture of Vamana Murthy getting dhanam from King Mahabali and MahaVishnu as Trivirama measuring the earth and sky. Sukracharya is punished by Garuda for disturbing the dhanam as Jambavan looks on.
Outside the cave temple, is a shrine for Garudawar.
A flight of steps descend to the three-sided prakaram below. There are many shrines here.
More on this temple in my next post.