Sometime during the 16th century CE Salem and its surrounding areas which include Namakkal, Dharmapuri, and Attur, came under the rule of Madurai Nayakar kings. The kingdom of the Madurai Nayakar kings consisted of 72 smaller administrative regions called palayams headed by local chieftains who were called Palayakarars.Salem under the Madurai Nayakars rule came under thePalayakarars known as Gatti Mudali and Nayaks. Besides collecting taxes, they ably administered the regions they ruled, maintained armies, built forts and built or extended temples. The temples they built and those that were extended by them are architectural gems, showcasing their keen interest in art and architecture.
NAYAK TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE
Nayak temple architecture had a distinct style. It was characterized by enormous multi-storied gateway towers called gopuram, richly decorated with brightly painted stucco figures of gods, goddesses demons and animals both real and mythical, and pillared mandapas. The large courtyards surrounding the central shrine of these temples were designed to accommodate the crowds who would gather to view temple rituals and processions of gods. The temple grounds were enclosed by high fort like outer walls called madhil – always useful in case of invasion from rival chiefs and invaders.
Lakshmi Narayanan temple in Sendhamangalam, 11kms from Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, is one such impressive structure. Sendhamangalam today is a sleepy village taluk in the Nainamalai foothills. It is also very near the Kolli hills in Namakkal district. But centuries ago it was an important admintrative centre of the Nayakar kings.
The temple of Lakshmi Narayana Perumal is extremely old. According to the local people no one really knows how old it is, but it has been there since ‘paattan,mupaattan kaalam’.This colloquial Tamil phrase is used often in rural Tamilnadu and is a charming way to state that something has been there or was done since time immemorial. Pattan is tamil for grandfather and mupaatan denotes their fathers – three generations removed before them.
The antiquity of the temple is supported by another important fact. Two kilometres from Sendhamangalam is the famous Nainamalai hill with the temple of Varadharaja Perumal at the very top. The hill itself is 2600 feet high with ancient stone steps going all the way to the top. There are more than 3000 steps and climbing them is no mean feat. Believed to have existed since four yugas – which time period spans millions of years, the temple was built during the Pallava period. To this day, it is an important pilgrimage destination and kula deivam (family deity) temple and thousands make the difficult ascent to the top every year, particularly in the sacred Tamil month of Purataasi.
The two temples are intrinsically connected. In the ancient mandapam leading to the sanctum sanctorum of Lakshmi Narayana Perumal are kept the idols of Nainamalai Varadharaja Perumal,Sridevi and Bhudevi. All those who are not able to visit the hill temple and the old and infirm can worship here. There is also a sealed and locked doorway which is believed to be the entrance to a secret passage way that goes all the way up to the Nainamalai temple. Mysterious and intriguing, isn’t it? The passage way was probably used as an escape route by local kings in times of war. Similar secret pathways are also believed to have existed in the Rasipuram Kailasanathar temple and the Kaala Bhairavar temple in Dharmapuri.
LAKSHMI NARAYANAN TEMPLE
In a tranquil rural setting, the towering multi-storeyed Rajagopuram and high surrounding walls of Lakshmi Narayanan temple are so unexpected that they take one by surprise. This could easily have been a temple in Kumbakonam where such huge gopurams are the norm. On entering, the massive doorway opens on a spacious open courtyard. The large pillared mandapam has ornately carved pillars showing mounted warriors in combat and mythical incidents.
Here we find a larger than life statue of King Govindappa Naicker on a stone pedestal. The statue depicts an authoritative king. The upward slant of the face, the hair knotted on top in a style known as a kondai that was typical of the age, an outstretched hand with a forefinger pointing in a commanding manner, the folds of the clothes and impressive jewelry all combine to create a regal and slightly fearsome personality.
This outer mandapam also has idols of other gods and a shrine for navagrahas.
A narrow passage leads to the sanctum through an inner mandapam.
In the sanctum the 6 feet high idol of a seated Lakshmi Narayanan with Thayaar on his lap is exquisitely beautiful. It is in the inner mandapam that the idols of Nainamalai Varadaraja Perumal with Sridevi and Bhudevi are kept. So we get to worship the deities of both temples here.
The Thaayar sannidhi is a small separate temple next to the main temple. Perundevi thaayar is as beautiful as her name suggests and a picture of compassion and grace.
A WALK AROUND THE TEMPLE
It is a temple to be seen and admired at a leisurely pace because it is full of surprises. My visit was a hurried one and I hope I can visit again to admire and be awed all over again.
The temple is near the Sendhamangalam bus station.
Sri Kailasanathar temple in Elurnear Namakkal in Tamil Nadu is a Thevara Vaippu Sthalam.It is also called as Theneeswarar Temple.
Visiting the temple which is located around 20 kms from Namakkal, one has to take a detour from the main National highway NH 44.
The temple is a small village temple. At the entrance there is no kodimaram or flagstaff but a stone vilakku sthambam –deepasthambam, which is unique to the temples of Kongu nadu is seen.
There is an idol of Nandi in the outer courtyard. On entering the temple there is a pillared mandapam. Directly in front is the Sivalingam of lord Kailasanathar – Theneeswarar and to the right is the shrine of Ambigai Visalakshi – Thenukambigai.
It is a very large and beautiful sivalingam. A Suyambu lingam, at five feet in height with a large Aavudai measuring 9 feet in length it takes your breath away!
The Sivalingam of Lord Kailasanathar can only be described as the gurukkal said, as “Brahmandam”. The Garba griha is suitably big to house such a large Sivalingam.
In many temples visitors get to worship the Sivalingam in the sanctum from the mahamandapam, but in this temple you can see the lingam up close. The Gurukkal patiently performed morning abishekam and alangaram and deeparadhanai.
The shrine of Visalakshi is small and the idol of ambigai is small and beautiful.
There are sannadhis for Suryan, Chandran, Vinayagar, Panchalingam, Balamurugan, Durgai,dakshinamurthy, chandikeswarar, navagrahas, and Kala bhairavar.
Elur as the village is called today was known as Ezhur (ஏழூர்) in the past. It was the head of seven nadus or counties in ancient Kongu nadu region of Tamil Nadu. The seven nadus were Perumpaalapatty, Perumaakoundanpatty, Vandipalayam,Veppampatty, Pudupatty, Kannanpatty,and Ezhur.
The temple is mentioned in the pathigam 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
Saint Arunagirinathar has composed a Tirupugazh hymn on the Murugan of this sthalam.
The temple has only one kalvettu (Stone inscription).
The temple was destroyed and probably looted when Tamil nadu was under the rule of the Nawabs. Only the imposing Sivalingam of Kailasanathar aka Theneeswarar, the idol of ambal Visalakshi and the idol of pancha naaga devadhai remained. A sanyasin continued the puja and worship of the deities.
The foundation stone of the present temple was laid by Thiru Muruga Kripaananda Vaariar on 13. 4.1981, and the temple was built by the villagers after which kumbabishekam was performed in 1990.
How to reach
Since we were travelling from Salem on NH 44, at Puduchatram on the Salem –Namakkal stretch, we left the four-way and took the service road into Puduchatram and then turned on to Elur road. A lovely drive along the village road for 8.6 kms and we had arrived at the temple which was right beside the main road.
The temple is open throughout the day. The gurukkal’s house is just outside the temple and outstation visitors can call on him if necessary.
There are no shops near the temple selling puja articles. You can buy flower garlands and puja offerings in Rasipuram or Namakkal.
Mobile number : 98650 13481
Arulmigu Kailasanathar Koil,
Main road, Elur,
Elur – 637 018
Note: Google maps refers to the Elur Siva temple as Theneeswarar temple.
Thevaaram 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.
Palanisami 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.
Namakkal is a well known pilgrimage town. People come here from all over to visit the famous Hanuman temple.It is also called as Anjaneyar Koil.
The temple is more than 1500 years old and it is unique in many ways.
The idol of Hanuman is 18 feet tall and carved out of a single rock.
There is no roof over the idol.Come rain or shine, Hanuman stands worshiping Lord Narasimha some 250 feet away in the cave temple, across the ages, the very picture of piety.
Hanuman in this Viswaroopa stands tall and majestic, a japa-maala in his folded hands.
Here, Time stands still.
For example, it was not until 1996 that the mandapam and surrounding buildings were built.
Untill then, there was just this large and lovely idol of the greatest Bhakta of God and four stone pillars to make a mantapam without a roof, for the statue of Hanuman rises above the pillars. He stands on a large beautifully carved lotus flower peedam.
A story is told of how Lord Narasimha told Hanuman that he may come to Namakkal and remain here after his duties to Sri Rama were done. Accordingly, it is said, at the very end of the Ramayana story, when Lord Rama and his entourage including Sugreeva ascended to Sri Vaikuntam , Hanuman with Sri Rama’s permission chose to stay back. He came to Namakkal Kshetra and was immersed in worship of Lord Narasimha.
Hanuman was a great scholar, well versed in the Vedas, a skilled musician and shrewd diplomat. In Kishkinda he was King Sugreeva’s minister. After Sri Rama’s return to Ayodhya, Hanuman chose to stay on in Ayodhya in the service of Rama.
Hanuman has many names, Maruthi, Anjaneya, Vayuputra and so on.
Sage Valmiki named the fifth book of the Ramayana, the Sundara Kandam, after Hanuman.Hanuman is the only character in the epic to have a book named after him. Why? Because he is Sundaran, which means one who is beautiful. It was the name given to Him by his mother Anjanai. It is this name that Sage Valmiki chose over others and it is a name that suits him best!
The Sundara kandam begins with Hanuman’s flight to Sri Lanka where he searches for and meets Sita. It ends with his return to India bringing the message of Sita to Rama .The Sundara Kandam is important because Hanuman brought hope and promise to an unhappy Sita who was on the brink of committing suicide. And the news that Sita was alive was enough to motivate Rama and the vaanaras to build a bridge that spanned the ocean to reach Lanka and rescue Sita.
Even today Sundara Kandam readings are an important practice in Hinduism. The readings whether by individuals or by groups are called as paarayanaand give benefits to the readers.
In India, we love to decorate our gods and Namakkal Hanuman is no exception!!
The Alangarams of Hanuman are many and varied, according to the desires of the Bhaktas and the art and ingenuity of the priests. There is the special Thanga- kavasam, (Thangam is the Tamil word for gold) when the whole idol is covered in gold sheets moulded to the form of the statue, and the silver or velli kavasam. Photos of this alangaram are available on the internet.
Besides these, there are the various kaapu –
=Santana kaapu using sandal paste, Vennai kaapu using butter and so on.
I have even seen Hanuman wearing a sherwani – North Indian style, complete with turban and pointed ornamental shoes!! Mind you, all this was made of butter, craft paper and lengths of zari, and silk cloth!
The crowds wait patiently, sometimes for more than 2 hours, just to see these alangarams, which are mostly sponsored by individual devotees.
Much as Hanuman looks beautiful in the alangarams, it is during the Abhishekam that the true beauty of His form can be seen and admired.
You can see the big eyes, the ornaments called kundalam worn in the ears, the startling life like nostrils, the folded hands with a japa-mala, the ornaments worn on the fore-arms, the holy thread across the chest, the dress worn at the waist and the thandai worn on ankles. You can even see a small dagger at the waist.
If possible try to plan your visit around 11 a.m. in the morning which is the approximate time of the daily abhishekam.
The priests anoint the idol with oil followed by the ritual pouring of milk, sandal, turmeric, curd, honey. Sometimes when a small basket of pomegranate pearls are showered on Him it looks as though rubies are showered on Him! Simply beautiful!
The Ranganathar temple is a cave temple on the eastern face of the Naamgiri rock.The temple is about midway up the rock and you have to climb 100 steps to reach it.
Two pillared mantapams lead to the main cave shrine.
To reach it you have to climb another 10 steps. These steps and the scaffolding at the top completely obscure the original stone steps leading to the sanctum.
There are three doors to the sanctum in the manner of the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Tiruvananthapuram. Only the central door is opened daily for devotees to enter the artha mandapam. However, on VaikuntaEkadasi, the central door is closed. On this day, bhaktas enter the sanctum through the first door and leave after having darshan through the third door.
Lord Vishnu here is in Karkotaka sayanam unlike the anantha sayanam seen in most temples. During the Deeparadhanai, the Battar will point out to you the five faces of the serpent king Karkotaka. Each face is that of a roaring lion or Yali, and not the usual face of a snake. He will tell you that the very breath of the snake king was highly poisonous. The Lord granted the prayer of this highly venomous serpent king which was that He should recline on him in this Kshetra.He will also point out two large Asuras standing near the foot of the Lord, one of them holding a bundle in his hand and tell you a charming tale of the Asuras whose names are Madhuand Kaidapa .
THE STORY OF MADHU -KAIDAPA
They came here to steal the jewels of the Lord. Thinking that the Lord was asleep, they steal all the jewels. Just as they are about to leave with the bundle of jewels they accidentally touch the foot of the Lord and are immediately absolved of all sins. As realization of the true nature of the Divine hits them they pray for and are granted the privilege of being in the service of the Lord. The lesson to be learned is that the smallest contact with the Divine is enough to awaken souls to the greater Truth which is the Lord and in the process , the sins of generations are washed away.
There is a lovely carving of Ulagalandha Permalin a stone panel to the left of the artha mandapam and a unique carving of Sankara Narayanato the right. Another carving shows Bala Narasimhar.
When you climb down from the shrine you can see a carving of the divine architect, Visvakarma who is thought to have built these cave temples.
The Battar shows us the stone roof of the cave outside the sanctum which is carved to resemble a roof made of bamboo poles. Truly awe- inspiring!
The name of Thaayar is Ranganayaki. There is a separate shrine for her outside the main temple.She is as beautiful as Naamagiri Thaayaar.
At this altitude it is surprising to see a small pond next to the temple. The priest says it is only the rain water that has collected there. It is full of fish and a few snakes.
Stone Inscriptions found in these temples refer to Namakkal as “Thiru Aaraikal”.They speak of two cave temples called as Adiya navaya Visnugrha which is the Narasimha temple and Adiyendra Visnugrha, the Ranganathswamy temple.
They are temples of great architectural beauty coupled with genius! It is truly amazing that the Lakshmi Narasiha Swamy temple is built in such a way that Lord Hanuman in the Namakkal Hanuman temple in the next street can be clearly seen from the the peedam below the Garudalwar sannidhi.!
This small peedam in the inner prakaram has a small gopuram. There is a small opening in the gopuram and another one in the back wall of the Garudalwar shrine.
The wonder of this darshan is that the gaze of Hanuman standing some 250 feet away is fixed on the paadham (foot) of Lord Narasimha. These openings are strategically placed so the gaze of Hanuman is not obstructed. Talk about architectural genius!
The inner prakaram looks more like a spacious courtyard with small shrines all around. There are sannidhis for Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, a Udayavar (Ramanujar) sannidhi, Nammalwar sannidhi, one for Sri Krishna, Bama and Rukmini and a Desikar sannidhi.
When I was taking photographs here a devotee led me to the big wooden doors that opened into this prakaram and pointed out myriad carvings on wood panels on the doors depicting scenes from The Ramayana and Dasavathara.
How often have I passed through these ancient wooden temple doors without noticing the treasures it contained! I realized what it is “to see with unseeing eyes”.
A few pics of these exquisite wood carvings.
This panel shows Sita giving bhiksha – alms to Ravana who has taken the form of an ascetic.
The one next to it shows Rama slaying the Maya maan or pon maan –golden deer.
Hanuman and Sita in the Asokavanam
This panel on another door shows Rama breaking the Siva Dhanus at Sita’s Swayamvaram. Sage Visvamitra stands behind Rama.
I think this one shows Ahalya emerging from the stone as the curse leaves her when Rama’s foot touches the stone. Again Sage Viswamitra looks on.
Outside in the outer prakaram is a sannidhi for Lord Laskhmi Narayana and the madapalli or temple kitchen.
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 Naamagirifrom 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 Naamagiricame 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.
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.