Ancient Towns and Continuing Rituals-Maasimagam In Tiruchengode

Maasimagam vizha is celebrated in the tamil month of Maasi (February-March) over a period of ten days with pujas and programmes at three ancient temples in Tiruchengode–Badrakaliamman temple, Kailasanathar temple and Ardhanareeswara temple.
One of the highlights of the colorful festival is the Paal-kudam procession.
The Paal Kudam Procession
Around 7a.m on 1st March, 2018, everyone taking part in the paalkudam (milk-pot) procession for Masimagam were gathered at the Badra Kali Amman temple in a narrow lane off the North Car Street in Tiruchengode town. There were familiar faces everywhere, faces that I saw only during the festival every year.

Siva and Parvati were already at the temple ready to lead the procession. A trained classical dancer and expert in folk dancing and Sivan-sakthi Thaandavam, Dr. Muthukumar was known to the local people as lord Siva, a role he took on year after year for Masimagam. Together, he and Parvati would lead the procession through the four ratha veedhis ( north, south, east and west car streets)around the ancient Kailasanathar temple in Tiruchengode.
Click on the link to know about Kalaimamani Muthukumar and the rich cultural tradition of Tamilnadu folk dances.
The participants prayed to Goddess Badrakali amman and received a small garland of flowers in front of the goddess in the sanctum. This was followed by the Sivan-Sakti Thandavam dance performed by folk dancers representing lord Siva and devi Parvati to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.

Pictures from the Badrakali amman temple on Maasimagam

Sivan and Parvati

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masimagam pics
Visitors  enjoyed having their pictures taken with Sivan and Parvati 

The procession started from the temple and went along the four ratha veedhis moving slowly and stopping at intervals for the dance of Siva and Parvati. The ratha veedis are the four streets along which the temple chariots are pulled by the people at the time of the annual chariot festival, but today the milk pot procession would follow the same route for the Masimagam festival.

Prayers at the Badrakali amman temple

badrakaliamman temple entrance

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Decorated paal kudam pots are lined up around the shrine of goddess Badrakali

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Participants leaving the temple to take part in the procession. Tiruchengode hill can be  seen behind the temple.

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Sivan-sakthi thandavam dance performance before the start of the procession.Besides pots of milk, devotees carry large baskets with fruit, coconut and flowers for puja in the Ardhanareeswara hill temple.

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Thandavam

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The beautiful temple mandapam

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Badrakaliamman kovil

Worship of snakes is as old as civilization. Naagam or sarpam refers to snakes. Serpent idols and sculptures are found in many temples of Tiruchengode..a constant reminder of the mythical beginnings of the holy hill which was called Naagamalai and Naagachalam as Aadhisehan worshipped lord Siva  after he was thrown here, wounded and bleeding, in the battle of might with Vaayu. This fascinating wood sculpture of a five-hooded serpent is seen in the Badrakali amman temple!  

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Pictures of the annual paal kudam procession

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paalkudam

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Around the ratha veedhis,  colorful images of lord Ardhanareeswara and other deities can be seen on mandapams like the one above, a constant reminder that this is the city of Ardhanareeswara. Many mandapams have been rented to shopkeepers with minor alterations.

A closer view of the above pic.

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Destination-the temple on the hill

masimagam (2)Devotees walk with friends and family towards the temple on the hill.

masimagam vizhaThe hill temple of lord Ardhanareeswara  is visible from Tiruchengode town and foothills.

The Aarumugaswamy Temple

Participants reach the old stone steps near the Arumugasamy kovil, another ancient temple for lord Murugan at the foot of the Tiruchengodu hill. Most of the participants take the steps that go up the hill to the temple of Ardhanareeswara. A few, mainly the elderly and those with health issues who cannot climb the steps take the hill road to reach the temple.

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The arch indicates the way to the steps beside the Aarumuga swamy temple which lead up  the hill.

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T'gode (2)

mandapamThe steps begin beyond this pillared mandapam. There are mandapams along the winding way up the hill.They were built to provide a place for people to take rest when they undertook the arduous climb to the temple of Ardhanareeswara.

Temple steps

Maha abhishekam
The main event in the Malai kovil (hill temple) is the Maha abhishekam.
The first abhishekam is for Sengotuvelar, the second for Ardhanareeswarar and finally the abhishekam of the utsava moorthies in the maha mandapam. The Abhishekam for lord Ardhanareeswara commences exactly at 12 noon and it was this abhishekam in the sanctum sanctorum that I was fortunate to see this year.
A big vessel was kept outside the sanctum to collect the offerings of milk. This was taken inside the sanctum and the Sivaachariar poured innumerable pots of milk from the vessel over the deity. It is when abhishekam is performed that you get to see the matchless beauty of the Moolavar deity which otherwise is covered in vastra (clothes) and flowers.
Another highlight of the day was when Siva and Parvati who led the Paal-kudam procession came to the sanctum to offer prayers to Lord Ardhanareeswara.

After Deeparadhana we went to see the abhishekam of the utsava moorthis in the pillared hall. This was an even grander ritual. There were three barrels full of milk alone brought by the hundreds of people who visited the temple that day. Besides milk there were pots of sandal, turmeric, honey, pancha-mirtham, tender coconut, vibhoothi, curd and so on. Every offering was accepted from the hundreds of visitors to the temple and it took a long time for the abhishekam to be complete. Visitors came from places as far as Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Chennai just to have darshan of this unified form of Siva and Parvati on this auspicious day.

 The temple of Ardhanareeswarar on Maasimagam

A monkey searches for tidbits

Annadhana for everyone
In the annadhana venue on the hill, annadhana commenced from 10 in the morning. Everyone was invited to have lunch at the annadhana hall and pandal. It consisted of a special kulambu made with seasonal veggies like mochai, yellow pumpkin, avarakkai, and drumstick, with rice, rasam, cabbage porial, and sweet pongal. Everyone who took the vow ended their long fasting with this special meal served on behalf of Lord Ardhanareeswara. After lunch everyone waited around the temple for the alangaram of the deities to be completed and then gathered to see the special elaborate deeparadhanai.

Waiting  in the majestic halls of the temple. After abhishegam, darshan is not complete until you have seen the Deeparadhanai.Alangaram of utsavar deities of Ardhanareeswarar and Sengottu Velar after Abhishekam 

With this the Maasimagam rituals ended in the hill temple with concluding pujas and annadhana in the evening at the Kailasanathar temple.

 

 

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Tiruchengode Awaits Maasi Magam

Ardhanareeswara temple

It is that time of year again when in Tiruchengode the Maasi magam festival is just days away. The town wears a festive look as it gets ready to host the biggest festival of the year.

Every year in this temple town the festival unites people from places both near and far away. Observing the vratha is a thread that binds and connects all who take the vow towards Lord Ardhanareesawara. Some observe austerities for a mandala consisting of forty-eight days starting in December. Some wear the holy mala for a half mandala of twenty-four days and some for a shorter period of twelve days. The vratha basically helps to focus the mind on Ardhanareeswara and to purify the mind and body by fasting.

During these forty eight days there are various activities like special katalai puja, bhajans, annadhana that are organized both in the malai- kovil (hill temple) and also at the ancient Kailasanathar Siva temple in the heart of Tiruchengode town.

17th February was the day for wearing the mala for the last twelve days of the mandala.

The temple of Ardhanareeswara is fascinating even though I have visited it many times.

The sculptures are always a delight to see and admire. Sometimes I also see unusual people in the temple who are not our usual urban city-dwellers.Even the people who work at the temple have a blessed simplicity to them that is hard to explain. And sometimes the thought comes to  my mind that these people are so very blessed to be living a life so close to a divine presence.

The much awaited Maasi Magam is on 1st March, 2018.

Tiruchengode temple (2)This row of sculpted pillars is the first thing you see when you enter the temple from the north-facing Rajagopuram. A row of warriors on rearing horses..the symmetry in stone is marvelous.

Tiruchengode temple (3)

And under the horses are sculptures depicting the perpetual battle between man and beast…it is a constant battle of might and will power. It is a tribute to the sirpi(சிற்பி,Tamil for sculptor), who brought these sculptures to life with his ulli (உளி/chisel).

The pillared hall near the main shrines has many exceptional sculptures. In this sculpture you can see a man stroking his moustache- his posture, the details of his garb, jewelry, hairstyle of the age, and the expression on his face are intriguing.

temple sculptures

A closer look at the above sculpture

temple sculptures (2)This year there were a lot of young calves up in the hill temple. They were so tame that they came up to visitors and accepted snacks from them!

This man was cleaning the outside of the goshala. They also serve who do the smallest tasks.

Ardhanareeswara temple (2)Sivan-adiyaar(சிவனடியார்) is the word we use when we speak of those who have devoted their lives to lord Siva. They are considered to be in the service of lord Siva. I saw this Sivan-adiyaar standing quietly near the Adhiseshan shrine in the temple. He did not speak to anyone and was standing there for a long time silently looking at the idols and Sivalingam.

Tiruchengode temple

ARDHANAREESWARA

Ardhanareeswarar
           Ardhanareeswara

 

To Her whose dance marks the Creation of the world,

To Him whose dance indicates the total destruction of everything in this world,

To Her who is the World Mother,

To Him who is the Father of the Universe,

To Gowri and Siva may our prostrations be.

 

Prapancha srushti yun mukha lasya kayai,

Samastha samharaka Thandavaya,

Jagath Jananyai Jagadeka pithre,

Namah Shivayai cha namah shivaya.

                      –  a verse from the Ardhanareeswara stotram of AdiShankara and its meaning by Swami Sivananda                  

In the temples for Lord Shiva the Lingam is worshipped as representing Shiva. There are some temples that differ from this general rule. One is the famous temple of Nataraja in Chidambaram, where the main deity is Nataraja, the cosmic dancer. Another is the hill temple of Ardhanareeswara in Tiruchengode in Tamil Nadu where Shiva is worshipped in the rare form of Ardhanareeswara, half Shiva and half Parvati.

Ardha – half

Naari – woman, Parvati

Ishwara – Shiva

As far as I know, this is the only temple solely dedicated to Lord Ardhanareeswara. Over the years I have been fortunate to visit this temple many times and it is one of my favourite and best loved temples.

Ardhanareeswarar temple, Thiruchengode
Ardhanareeswarar temple, Thiruchengode
Selva Vinayagar
Selva Vinayagar

THIRUCHENGODE

Location

It is 47 km from Salem, 22 km from Erode, 37 km from Namakkal, and 129 km from Coimbatore.

Thiruchengode is the name of the hill and the town of the same name. It is in present day Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu.

In the days of yore, the name of the town was Kodi Mada Chenkunroor.

Chengodu means red coloured hill. True to its name the rock of the hill is red or pink interspersed with patches of black and you can see this when you drive up the hill road.

The hill temple is built at a height of 650 feet above mean sea level. It can be reached by a motorable road.

Another way to reach the temple is by climbing 1206 stone steps. If you choose to climb the steps there are many mandapams on the way where pilgrims can rest. In the past these steps were the only way to reach the temple.

A view of the hill road
A view of the hill road

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 LEGEND OF THE HILL

The story goes that a battle of strength took place between Aadhi Seshan and Vayu. Aadhi Seshan wound his coils tightly around Mt. Meru and Vayu deva did his best to blow him away and succeeded. It is said that three peaks of Meru were blown away along with a bleeding Aadhi Seshan and the place where one of these peaks fell was Tiruchengodu. The blood spilled by Aadhi Seshan colored the hill red and hence the name Chengodu. There is a beautiful shrine to Aadhi Seshan in the prakaram of the temple.

Alluding to this story, Tiruchengode hill is also called as Nagachala and Nagamalai. There are large images of beautifully coiled hooded snakes in various parts of the hill.

ANTIQUITY

  • This ancient hill temple is more than 2000 years old.
  • The Tamil epic Silapathikaram was written by Ilangovadigal in the Sangam period, (early 1st millennium CE), and this temple is mentioned in it. It is believed that Kannagi, the lady protagonist of this wonderful epic ascended to heaven in the pushpaka vimana from the top of this hill.
  • It is one of the 275 Devara paadal petra sthalams and the 4th among the 7 Kongu naatu sthalams.
  • The Devaram hymn of Sambandar named Thiruneelakanda Pathigam was sung by him in Tiruchengode.
  •  The story behind the hymn is that Sambandar came to Tiruchengode to worship Ardhanareeswara and stayed here for some time. A mysterious fever raged among the pilgrims who accompanied him and also the townspeople. This hymn was sung by Sambandar beseeching Lord Shiva to cure them and the ailment vanished. To this day this hymn is recited to help in reducing fevers.
  • Saint Arunagirinathar has sung Thirupugazh hymns in praise of Sengottu Velar which is the name of Lord Murugan in this temple.
  • There are stone inscriptions said to date back to the times of     Paranthaka Cholan, Gangai konda Cholan,Vijayanagara and Mysore kings and the Nayaks.
  • A British officer named Davis repaired some parts of the temple. His image is on a pillar near the Mukkootu Vinayagar shrine.

TEMPLE OF ARDHANAREESWARA

There are three major shrines for

  • Ardhanareeswara
  • Sengottu Velar
  • Adhikesava Perumal

Ardhanareeswarar   Maadhoru Baagan   Ammayappan   UmaiOru Baagan   Mangai Pangan

These are the names of Lord Ardhanaareswara in this temple.

The main deity is an imposing 7 ft. tall idol which depicts half Shiva and half Parvati, Shiva on the right half is clothed in white veshti or dhoties and the left half depicting Parvati is dressed in a silk saree. During deeparathanai the priest will show you by the light of the arti the important aspects of this unique idol. You can here the intonation,

Valadhu pakkam dhandayudham, 

Swamyin Jadamagudam

Valadhu paagam Iswaran

Idathu paagam Ambal

Ambalin thiru mangalyam

Swamy- Ambalin paadaravindham

Meaning:

Dandayutham of Shiva on the right half

Jadaa Magudam of Shiva

Ambal on the left (with her left hand on her hip)

The holy thirumangalyam of Ambal on her chest

The holy feet of Shiva and Parvati, the darshan of which purifies one of all sins.

It is a darshan that makes one’s hair stand on end, a darshan that is equal to none!

Beneath the feet of Arthanareeswara is a perennial spring of water. It is called as Deva theertham. Water from this spring is given as prasad to all devotees.

The name of Ambal is Baagam Piriyaal.

The benevolence that flows from this timeless form is palpable. I feel this grace anew every single time I visit.

There is a Maragadha lingam (jade lingam) that is kept in front of Ardhanareeswara at the time of the main daily pujas.

 Concept of Ardhanareeswara

Ardhanareeswara is one of the 64 manifestations of Shiva.

The form of Ardhanareeswara is one of the union of Shiva and Shakti, of the equality of man and woman. It depicts the truth behind all of Creation.

The transcendental Supreme Being is Shiva.The manifested aspect of the Supreme is Shakti.

Shiva is Nirguna brahman. Shakti is the primordial Energy in Nature that makes any activity possible.

On their own, the powers of Sivam and Shakti are limited.

Together, all things are possible.

Even scientifically, we find that there are male and female chromosomes in every human being. Only one extra chromosome decides whether the child is male or female. Similarly there are masculine and feminine aspects in all things in nature even in inert objects. This universal truth was realized by the sages of India many thousands of years ago.

BRINGI RISHI

The story of Bringi rishi is closely associated with this temple. There is an image of Bringi rishi in the sanctum sanctorum.

 Bringi rishi is generally depicted as the sage with three legs.  He was an ardent worshipper of Shiva to the exclusion of all other deities including Parvati. Even during his daily worship, he would circumambulate only Shiva ignoring Parvati. The divine couple took the form of Ardhanareeswara and stood unified to make him understand that both were inseparable. The egoistic sage took the form of a bee and tried to pierce the body of Shiva so that he could go round only Shiva. In the human body the static force of Shiva rules the bones and skin while the dynamic energy of Shakti rules the blood and sinew. Parvati withdrew her energy from Bringi’s body, and he became a mere skeleton, unable to stand. Shiva pacified Parvati and gave Bringi an extra leg to stand. The sage understood that divine grace Shiva and energy Shakti were not contradictory but complementary to each other.

SENGOTU VELAVAR

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 Kodi maram or  flagstaff in front of the Sengottu Velar shrine
Kodi maram or flagstaff in front of the Sengottu Velar shrine

Lord Subramanya is called Sengotu velavar in this hill temple, and his beautiful image holding a vel (spear) is made of ven pashanam. People name their children after him and Sengottuvelan is a common name in Tiruchengode and Erode districts.

ADI KESAVA PERUMAL

The temple of Adi Kesava Perumal
The temple of Adi Kesava Perumal

The shrine of Adi Kesava Perumal is almost a separate Vaishnava temple within the complex complete with separate kodi maram and sthala vruksham, the punnai maram. Battars perform puja to Adi Kesava Perumal and Sri devi, Bhu devi according to Vaishnava tradition.

It is said that Parvati received instructions on observing Kedara Gowri vrattam from Adi Kesava Perumal, as a result of which she was united in Shiva as Ardhanareeswara.

NAGESWARAR

There is a separate shrine for Nageshwarar.

In the small inner prakaram are the images of Dakshinamurthy, Kedara gowri, durga devi and Naari Ganapathy. Lingothbavar is on the wall behind the main shrine. 

 In the outer prakaram there are shrines to Lord Nataraja,  Sahasralingam, Adi seshan, Bairavar, Sapta madhar, nayanmars niruthi ganapathy, panchalingam and manonmani to name a few.

Here are some pictures of this ancient temple

Early morning sunlight falls on a Shiva lingam and illuminates the kumkum and turmeric covered image of Adi Seshan
Early morning sunlight falls on a Shiva lingam and illuminates the kumkum and turmeric covered image of Adi Seshan
The mandapam  of the Ardhanareeswarar temple
The mandapam of the Ardhanareeswarar temple
The view of the west prakaram
The view of the west prakaram
South Gopuram
South Gopuram
Therku  Gopuram, the southern entrance
Therku Gopuram, the southern entrance
View of the Rajagopuram and Moolavar vimanam
View of the Rajagopuram and Moolavar vimanam
Nandi
Nandi
Guests look on at a wedding in the temple
Guests look on at a wedding in the temple

 

Nava Dwaram or nine openings. Lord Ardhanareeswara can be viewed through this nava dwara and it is considered auspicious to do so.
Nava Dwaram or nine openings.
Lord Ardhanareeswara can be viewed through this nava dwara and it is considered auspicious to do so.

 

A Board informs visitors about temple and puja timings
A Board informs visitors about temple and puja timings
Steps leading down to the sanctum from the Rajagopuram
Steps leading down to the sanctum from the Rajagopuram
A wedding party waits for the wedding photographer to take a picture.
A wedding party waits for the photographer to take a picture.

TEMPLE OF WONDERS

This hill temple is a temple of many wonders.

  • Ardhanaareeswara faces west, which is not so common in Shiva temples.
  • The spring at the feet of Ardhanareeswara at 650 msl is truly remarkable.
  • The imposing idol of Ardhanareeswara is not sculpted from granite.
  • It is made of ven pashanam, a complex amalgamation of many substances known only to the rishi- alchemists.
  • There is no history that tells us about who made this idol.  It is thought to be a Uli Padaa Uruvam.

Uli – Tamil for chisel

Padaa –not touched (by)

Uruvam – form

  • There are three shrines and each one has a separate kodimaram or flagstaff.
  • There are two sthala vrukshams or holy trees.
  • One is the gigantic illuppai maram, beneath which is a small shrine to Kasi Viswanathar and Visalakshi.
  • The other is the punnai maram of the temple of Adi Kesava perumal. Women tie tiny cradles to its branches to be granted the boon of children.
The Sthala vruksham - illupai maram part of which was broken down in a gale.
The Sthala vruksham – illupai maram part of which was broken down in a gale.

 MANDAPAMS

The skill of the artists and sculptors of Tamil Nadu is truly amazing as is seen in panchaloga idols, in the motifs of silk and cotton fabric, in the iconography and stucco forms in the towering gopurams across Tamil Nadu.

But to bring these images and motifs to life in stone is something that is near impossible if not extremely difficult!

Such magic exists in the mandapams (halls) in front of the shrines of Ardhanareeswara, Sengotuvelar and Nageshwarar. Every stone pillar, wall and ceiling is richly covered with minute to large sculptures, panels and patterns that mesmerize and cast their spell on you. Delicate stone parrots cling to the ceiling as do lotus buds and flowers. Segments of chains hang down- the wonder lies in the fact that these are made of stone and this is apparent only when you look closely.

The ornate mandapam rich with sculptures. Notice the stone chain links hanging from the ceiling
The ornate mandapam rich with sculptures. Notice the stone chain links hanging from the ceiling
Urdhuva Thandava Murthy
Urdhuva Thandava Murthy
A lady with a baby holding a wicker basket. Can you believe it is made of stone?!
A lady with a baby holding a wicker basket. Can you believe it is made of stone?!
A closer view shows the infant in a type of sling being held in one hand while the wicker basket is slung from the other hand
A closer view shows the infant in a type of sling being held in one hand while the wicker basket is slung from the other hand
An older child stands near the mother with the baby and basket. He is eating  fruit or some other snack. The attention to detail in this sculpture is truly amazing.
An older child stands near the mother with the baby and basket. He is eating fruit or some other snack.
The attention to detail in this sculpture is truly amazing.
Ornate work on the ceiling. Notice the delicate parrot images touching the central flower with their beaks, the intricate carved panels of gods and godesses, and the stone chains hanging from this masterpiece
Ornate work on the ceiling. Notice the delicate parrot images touching the central flower with their beaks, the intricate carved panels of gods and goddesses, and the stone chains hanging from this masterpiece

It is a delight to look at these exquisite creations in granite. Do take the time to look at them when you visit. They are everywhere – on the pillars, panels near the ceiling, the ceiling itself, the myriad alcoves and on the outer walls.

TIMINGS

The temple is open continuously from 6 a.m.to 7.30 p.m.

Please note that the hill road is closed to motorists after 6.30 p.m.

 

The nearest railway station is Erode (23km), Namakkal (37), and Salem (46).

The nearest airport is at Coimbatore (120 km), and Tirichirapalli (120).

By road, it is well connected from Salem, Erode, and Namakkal.