In anticipation of this year’s Maasi Magamfestival, Tiruchengode town and Sri Ardhanareeswarar templewear a festive look, this being the most important festival of this temple town. Hundreds of devotees take a vow of austerities by wearing the holy maala for a prescribed number of days. Life becomes focused on only one thing and that is Lord Ardhanareeshwara, the divine Father and Mother of the universe.
For me, it is always a pleasure to visit the temple and taking the vow is just another excuse to visit Ardhanareeswara, Ammaiyappan.
This year, our small group went to the temple to commence the viraddam by wearing the maala blessed and given by the Sivachariya in front of lord Ardhanareeswara. It was a subh muhurtham day with dozens of marriages taking place in every available corner of the maha mandapam in the temple. Ardhanareeswara temple is the temple for marriages because unity of husband and wife is what lord Ardhanareeshwara is all about. Mango leaf thorans were strung everywhere between the ornate pillars and many homa kundams for the many marriages.
On every visit to the temple,there is always a surprise, some new sculpture to marvel at, that previously went unnoticed by me. The temple is too full of of detailed sculptures of all sizes to be covered on a single day and this time it was a carving of lord Ganesha on the rock near the shrine of Aadhi Seshan below the Raja gopuram.
Carvings of two serpents can be seen on either side of Ganesha on the rock. as befits another name of this ancient Tiruchengode hill, which is Naagachala. No wonder that serpent carvings are seen everywhere on the hill either as Aadhi Seshan or as Naagars.
Spending time in the beautiful temple after darshan, it was amusing to watch the goings on! Slowly the big mandapam emptied as wedding groups left. The temple staff started cleaning up and a bunch of monkeys joined in! They were everywhere, even high up on the temple pillars, on the railings, the floor, a couple of baby monkeys were sitting on the Maha Nandi! People were offering fruits and tidbits which they took absolutely unafraid.
An important reminder :
This year’s Maasi Magam is celebrated on Saturday,11th March, 2017.
Below are pictures taken inside the temple on this visit:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Valadhu paagam Iswaran
Idathu paagam Ambal
Ambalin thiru mangalyam
Swamy- Ambalin paadaravindham
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.