Life throws surprises our way when we least expect it. Even as I was writing the post on Arapaleeswarar temple, entirely by chance I came to know that the Mahakumbabishekam was to be performed on 7th May 2017. On the rare occasions in the past when I could visit this temple it was being renovated. On completion, a special and rare ritual called Mahakumbabishekam would be performed. This event was rare because it would be done only once in twelve years. The present kumbabishekam is being done fifteen years after the last ceremony.
The Vedic rituals preceding the Mahakumbabishekam of Arapaleeswarar Temple had commenced in April. It had been some months since I went to this temple and had no idea that so much was going on. On the evening of 6th May, I had an opportunity for a quick visit to the temple. It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.
The late evening drive to Kolli hills, the visit to the Arapaleeswarar temple where a major event was to take place in a few short hours, the visit to the colorful and vast yagasalai, the heavenly dinner consisting of piping hot sweet kesari, upma, spicy tomato vegetable rice with chutney and sambar at the annadhanam venue, walking through the streets around the temple with brightly lit festival shops, seeing sadhus and renunciants everywhere, watching families of local people arrive with little children and old people carrying shawls and water bottles ready to keep the overnight vigil at the temple and yagasalai until the early hours, the star- studded sky, the cold mountain air, the white smoke from the yagasalai rising up amidst the surrounding forests, the chanting of veda mantras and the sivachariyar explaining what was going on, why it was so important and the subtle benefits bestowed on all who were gathered there on this magical night…all these happenings have a dream like quality when I think of it now.
The words faith and devotion had a new meaning for me that night. It was love for Lord Shiva, a love of the purest kind with no expectations whatsoever. It was the thread that connected everyone who gathered at this sacred place in anticipation of an event of a lifetime.In conclusion, this is the message that was reiterated at the ceremony:
Idhu Siddargal Bhoomi. Idhu Siddargal vazhi padum Kovil: This is the land of siddars.This is a temple where the siddars worship lord Siva.
Photos of Arapaleeswarar temple and from the yagasalai on the eve of Mahakumbabishekam. The pictures from the yaga sala show that the place was covered in smoke from the many yaga kundam.
Note: A kumbabishekam is essentially the reconsecration of a Hindu temple performed once every twelve years. It involves complex vedic rituals performed over a period of days and includes yagas that benefit the society as a whole. As a part of the procedures, the temple is restored and renovated. It is celebrated as a festival in South India, especially in the State of Tamil Nadu.
Arapaleeswarar temple is an ancient Siva temple on the banks of the Aiyaru or Panchanadhi river in the village of Periya koviloor in Valapur nadu of the Kolli hills. Since ancient times it has been an important pilgrimage site of Tamil Nadu. The temple was built during the reign of King Kulothunga Cholan 1400 years ago, but its history dates back to a much earlier period more than 2000 years ago.
History of the Temple
Long ago, a part of the Kolli hills was known by the name Araipalli or Arapalli. Arapalli literally means residense/house of dharma. Lord Siva who was worshipped in this region of Arapalli was called Arapally Iswarar or Arapaleeswarar, The Lord of the house of dharma.The Sanskrit name is Dharma Gosheeswarar. He was also known as Araipally Mahadevan and Araipally Udayar. The name of Parvati is Aram valarthanayagi also called as Thayammai.
It is said that the place where the temple is built was once farmland. When the land was ploughed the plough hit something and blood gushed out. The people dug around the spot to find a suyambu sivalingam and began to worship it. The scar made by the plough can be seen on the lingam even today.
Arapaleeswarar was worshipped by Valvil Ori, the Mazhavar king who ruled the Kolli hills It is believed that a secret path exists from the Arapaleeswarar temple to the Kailasanathar temple in Rasipuram which was also a part of the kingdom of Ori.
After Valvil Ori, the kingdom came under the Chera and Chola kings.
The temple is a Thevara vaippu sthalam. The 7thcentury Thevaram hymns of Tirunavukarasar and Tirugnanasambandar speak of this temple. In the hymns Appar speaks of this sthalam as Kolli kulir araipalli and as kallal kamazh Kolli araipalli. Tirugnanasambandar refers to Araipalli in his Tiruthala kovai pathigam.
A medium sized temple it is built in very beautiful natural surroundings of the Kolli hills. Hills and valleys stretch into the distance all around. There is no gopuram at the entrance. The top of the outer madhil (high surrounding wall) has the images of siddars at intervals.
The outer stone walls of the garba-graham (sanctum santorum) are covered with inscriptions detailing various grants and endowments. Sembian Mahadevi, the dowager queen of Sivagnana Kandaraditya Chola devar and great-aunt of King Rajaraja Cholahas visited the Arapaleeswarar temple.She rebuilt and restored many temples in the Chola kingdom and was actively involved in the maintenance of Siva temples. In the Arapaleeswarar temple there is an inscription that speaks of 100 “kalanju” gold donated by her. It is also said that she donated many jewels to the temple. Interestingly Sembian Mahadevi was a Mazhava princess, the daughter of Mazhavarayar.
Land grants were made by other Chola kings.
That they have made the arduous journey when the region was virtually inaccessible speaks a lot about the greatness of this temple.
Nandi the divine bull of lord Siva is seen seated in front of the kodi maram (flag staff) and bali peetam and facing the Lingam inside the garpagriha in all Siva temples. In the Arapaleeswarar temple the image of Nandi has only three legs. The right hind leg is mutilated and the culprits are two men whose images are seen facing the temple, across the road outside the main entrance.
The Story of Nandi
The story is told that Nandi, the divine bull grazed on the farmland belonging to the two men, who, not knowing that that it was Nandi devar, tried to drive it away. But the bull continued to wreak havoc in their fields. Enraged, they chased the bull with a sword. To save itself the bull entered the Arapaleeswarar temple and sought refuge in lord Siva even as one of the men flung his sword on the bull from outside the temple. The right hind leg was severed and Nandi has remained there ever since with a missing leg while the men have remained outside.
These two men have stood outside the temple doors of lord Siva in the kolli hills for ages .The wrong they did was to harm another living creature.
The lingam of Arapaleeswarar in the garbagriha is medium sized. Standing before it, time becomes irrelevant. The present could easily be a moment in time thousands of years ago. Nothing seems to matter anymore as the peace and grace of God surround you. Words do not fully describe the feeling. It must be experienced by devotees at least once in this lifetime.
Vinayagar, Arapaleeswarar, Thayammai and Murugan can be worshipped together from the same spot inside the temple.
Probably not seen elsewhere in India is the very rare and beautifully carved Sri Chakraon the stone ceiling outside the shrine of Aramvalartha nayagi.There are intricate sculptures of Ashta Lakshmis all around it. Prayers offered to Thayammai or meditating while sitting directly beneath the Sri chakra are said to give powerful benefits.
The first shrine in the outer courtyard is that of Subramanyaas Aarumuga peruman. The idol is extremely beautiful with intricate carvings. Valli and Deivanai stand on either side.Saint Arunagirinadhar who lived in the 15th century has sung a Thiruppugazh hymn on Kolli malai Murugan. There are separate shrines on the pradakshina path for Vinayaka, Kasi Visvanadhar, Kasi Visalakshi, Mahalakshmi,Saraswati, Durga, Chandikeswarar, and Aram Valarthanayagi and nava graha.
The shrines of Murugan and Ambigai are built in a way that they are facing each other. It is as if the divine mother is gazing fondly on her beloved son.
The theertham of Arapaleeswarar temple is the Panchanadhi aka Aiyaru river.As the name indicates it is five rivers flowing as one. A hundred steps lead down to the river. Where they end is a beautiful Vinayaga shrine.
The Panchanadhi does not dry up even in summer when the water flow is less. It forms small water falls on its way. One small waterfall is near the temple. Further on its course it plunges into a gorge from a height of 300 feet to form the spectacular Agaya Gangai falls, a major tourist attraction in the Kolli hills. The base of the falls can be reached by climbing down 1025 steps. The steps begin near the Arapaleeswarar temple.
A temple where Fishes are sacred
The fishes in the Aiyaru river are sacred. They are believed to be the manifestations of Lord Siva. A story is told about this tradition.
The story of the sacred fishes
Once, some devotees caught fish in the Aiyaru, cut them up and made a curry on the banks of the river. While the curry was boiling they went up to the Arapaleeswarar temple to have darshan. On returning from the temple they were stunned to see the cut fish jump whole and alive from the boiling curry into the river. The miracle was a subtle message that lord Siva lived in all forms of life in the mountain. So no one catches fish in the Aiyaru river.Based on this story,it is said that the name Arapaleeswarar is derived from Arutha meenai poruthiya Iswarar,meaning -Lord Siva who joined together the cut fish. The people believe that it is Arapaleeswarar who resides as the fish in the river. Pilgrims and devotees feed the fishes when they visit the temple.
There is an old and unusual ritual at this temple related to the fish in the Aiyaru. The indigenous people believe that it is lord Siva who has taken the form of the fishes in the river. They make a vow to offer a tiny mookuthi nose-ring to the fish when prayers are answered. On fulfillment of vows, a large fish in the river is caught, a tiny mookuthi is fixed on the snout and released back into the river. An indigenous fruitseller explained it like this:” Let’s say I go to buy a farmland. I pray to Arapaleeswarar, ‘If the deal goes in my favour I vow to give a gold or silver nose-ring to you’. After a satisfactory farm deal, I put a tiny mookuthi on the snout of a fish in the Aiyaru. It is the offering I promised to Arapaleeswarar who has helped me clinch the deal”. This ritual is not followed so much now as it was in the old days.
The Mahakumbabishekamof Arapaleeswarar Templetook place last week on May 7, 2017.I could not go to see the actual kumbabishekam but I was fortunate to visit the night before.
But that is the subject of another post on the temple on the eve of MahaKumbabishekam!
The Thevaram hymns of Appar and Sambandar which refer to this Siva temple are given below:
Kolli Hills is a beautiful mountain range located in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu in South India. Its altitude ranges from 1000 to 1300 meters above mean sea level and enjoys a pleasant, healthful climate round the year. The hills are spread over an area of 440 sq. kilometers. When viewed from National Highway 44 on the Rasipuram-Namakkal stretch, it appears as a flat-topped mountain range.
Remote, untouched by commercialization and retaining its historical charm Kolli Malai as it is called locally seems frozen in time.
Kolli Malai is said to be the exquisite Madhuvanam (the forest of honey) zealously maintained by vaanara king Sugreeva that is mentioned in the Sundara kandam of the Ramayana. The Madhuvanam was a protected grove where there was plenty of honey. Even today, this is a land of tropical fruits, honey and medicinal herbs just as it would have been in the Ramayana period.
It was a land favoured by siddars, the ancient medicine men of Tamil Nadu.
Kolli hills in the songs of the bards
In a distant past dating more than 2000 years ago, there lived wandering bards who travelled across ancient Tamil Nadu and were much respected by kings. They had the freedom to visit any kingdom and write songs on all they saw and observed. Tamil Sangam literature hence comes across as a treatise of gross truth told in a style that is at once blunt and poetical. The Kolli hills have been eulogized and glorified by many of these poets. It has a rich history as the kingdom of Mazhavar and Chera kings, It was a coveted kingdom and wars were fought and kings died trying to defend the kingdom.
Kolli hills are mentioned in these books of sangam literature:
Named after Kolli Paavai, the maiden goddess who guards these hills, Kolli hills still casts its spell on visitors. Much of the area is relatively unexplored and inaccessible, Myths abound and stories are told that are bizarre and spooky. Yes, it is true that a Kolli hills has a reputation. It is the favored destination of astrologers and practitioners of witchcraft and tantric practices. Scattered over the hills are small shrines where the priests will promise to remove all obstacles in your life and solve all your problems for a fee!
But there is much in the Kolli hills that is sacred and beautiful. The people who live here are tribals and are called as Malayalees – people of the mountains. They are a hard-working self- sufficient community with a unique culture that is their own. Aadi Padhinettu in July is the most important festival in the Kolli hills when people from the 16 naadus and from other places come together for week long celebrations.
A Holiday in Kolli Hills
Kolli hills is the place to go for a quiet peaceful holiday sans crowds of tourists.
On visiting the hills you realize that you have just stepped into an amazing world and first visits are always memorable. This is hill country like no other. Thick forests are interspersed with pastoral landscapes, and cosy mountain villages. The altitude and the rivers Aiyaru and Varattaru flowing across the hills, massive jackfruit trees everywhere you go, terraced fields, yes, Kolli hills is beautiful.
How to reach
Kolli hills is accessible from Salem (64 kms) and from Namakkal(24 kms) both major cities on National Highway 44(NH44). Buses ply from Salem, Namakkal and Rasipuram to important villages in the Kolli hills. It is a better idea to rent a car because many of the places to visit in the hills are not on the regular bus routes.
The drive to the hills is lovely, the roads are good. If you are travelling from Salem it is a 11/2 hour drive through a very scenic route.
Route from Salem
Take the NH 44 from Salem. Near Rasipuram, turn left onto the Rasipuram bye-pass which will take you to State Highway SH 95. Turn right on to SH 95 and drive through beautiful farming villages along the Kolli range. Turn left once more at Kaalappa-naickenpatti to go to the kolli foothills village of Karavalli. The 28 kms Ghat Road begins at Karavalli. and the most amazing drive up the mountains with stunning views and 70 sharp hair-pin bends, a real challenge for drivers and biking enthusiasts. Enjoy the paintings of the Sendhamangalam Highways department along the way depicting stories of famous kings of ancient Tamil Nadu.
Solakadu is your first stop and also one of the highest points in the hills. Stop for a steaming cup of the locally grown Arapalli coffee. The tribal shandy is right by the roadside and is a must visit place for buying exotic fruits and spices and other mountain produce. Just opposite the shandy, within the premises of the Highways Bungalow is a viewpoint with breathtaking views.
At Solakadu you can choose the places you want to visit from the prominently placed signpost. There are a lot of places to visit in the Kolli hills.
A word of caution – Once you exit Solakadu, there are very few signposts along the way so ask the locals for directions when in doubt to avoid going around in circles! Many roads seem the same on the hills and can get quite confusing.
Where to stay
There are very few resorts in the Kolli hills. The oldest is the Nallathambi resort. You can book cottages of the Kolli malai Panchayat in advance. These are located in Semmedu. Another place to stay is the youth hostel near the Arapaleeswarar temple.Alternately, you can stay in Salem or Namakkal and visit the hills.
Bring packed meals and snacks when you come because there are very few good hotels or eateries. If you plan to stay longer than a day the best thing would be to ask the locals to prepare food for you.
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 Hills 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). His steed was also called Ori. 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 patronage of bards, musicians and dancers was 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 period of the Third and Last Sangam .This period in the history of ancient southern India (known as Tamilagam) is from 300 BCE to 300 CE. Sangam means Assembly and refers to the assembly of learned men headed by the monarchs who ruled over Madurai.
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.