Yercaud is my place to go in the hills when I need to get away. A cozy hill town, it is nestled in the Shevaroy hills amidst coffee plantations and forest and overlooks my hometown, Salem.
Every season in Yercaud is unique- colors of spring, mists and thunderstorms of summer, winter’s clear star-studded skies and always, the cool, pure mountain air. Over the years and over innumerable visits the charm of Yercaud never wanes and a couple of hours in the hills are all I need to feel refreshed.
Maha shivarathri, one of the biggest Hindu festivals was celebrated on February 13th 2018.
Maha Shivarathri is the great night of Shiva. People stay awake the whole night, fasting and offering prayers to lord Shiva and visiting temples which remain open the whole night.
In Tamil Nadu, people visit Shiva temples to see the abhishekam that is performed to the Shivalingam repeatedly during the four jamam of this sacred night. A jamam is a unit of time in Tamil consisting of 2 hours and 24 minutes and there are four jamams during the night. They usually bring offerings of milk, honey and so on that is used for the abhishekam. The last and final abhishekam concludes at dawn.It is an important night for people on the spiritual path. In major temples there are Thevaram recitals the entire night.
I was fortunate to visit a number of ancient Shiva temples with a group of friends on Mahashivarathri. We started our temple tour around 8 p.m and returned home at dawn bleary-eyed but happy… definitely a night to remember!!
Some pictures from various temples on Maha Shivarathri.
At 8.30 a.m. on this December morning mist covers the countryside as we drive through NH 44. We are travelling to Seerapalli ,a village near Rasipuram in Namakkal district, where there is an ancient Siva temple that is believed to be more than a 1000 years old. The route as always beautiful, takes us through the ancient town of Rasipuram and on to SH 79 which is the Rasipuram – Attur –Erode road.
Ten kilometers from Rasipuram and we have arrived. There are no name-boards and I ask for directions to the Sevvantheeswarar temple. It turns out that that the temple is quite close to the main road, down a small village street, and it is open!
A typical village temple built in a large open area. The village almost ends near the temple and beyond it vast green fields stretch into the distance. It looks lovely.
Until recently there used to be an ancient mud and stone outer wall which was almost crumbling down. It has been taken down and work has been started on a new outer wall. With no outer entrance we walk past the Suryan and Chandran shrines on either side , past a small bali peedam, and a tall weathered wood post which was the kodi maram (flagstaff) in more prosperous times. There is a small nandi mandapam. Beyond this five steps lead up to the main temple which consists of a spacious pillared mahamandapam, artha mandapam and garbagraham of Sevvantheeswarar. A little shrine of goddess Sugandha Kundalambigai leads off the mahamandapam.The vimanam of both shrines are very old.
An aged priest does deeparadhana and gives vibhuti and kumkum as prasad. Then he says quietly, “Valvil Ori vazhi patta koil”.Translating from tamil it means that Valvil Ori worshipped lord Siva in this temple.
Time and again I am filled with wonder when people unexpectedly speak of this great king. The region of the Kolli hills, its foothills, Rasipuram and its surrounding regions were once part of the kingdom of king Valvil Ori who ruled from Kollihills around the 2nd century AD.in the Sangam era. That people speak the name of this king with love and quiet pride now, almost 2000 years later is amazing and touching at the same time!
The temple is believed to be built by kuru nila mannargal, the kings who ruled over small regions in Tamilnadu.
In a distant past the place where the temple now exists used to be a forest of thorny sangu-mul plants. People rarely came here except for cow-herds who brought their cows to graze. One day a cow-herd noticed a cow shed all its milk in a particular spot. This happened every day and the cow-herd told the villagers about the cow’s strange behavior. The villagers set forth to clear the area of thorny bushes as they searched for the reason behind the cow’s unusual behavior. Someone’s axe or sickle hit something hard and blood spurted all over the place. The frightened people discovered a suyambu lingam in the undergrowth, named it as Sevvantheeswarar because it was red with blood and started worshipping it.
Another story goes that once a man was travelling with his pregnant wife in the region when his wife went into labour. The couple cried out for help. Lord Siva appeared as a woman and helped to deliver the child and from then Sevvantheeswarar was also called as Mathru Bhoodheshwarar.
Similarities with Thayumanavar temple, Trichirapalli
Mathrubhoodeshwarar is also the name of Lord Siva in the famous Thayumanavar temple in rock-fort(malai-kottai), Trichy.
Incidentally, Thayumanavar was also called as Sevvanthinathar because sage Saaramamunivar worshipped Him with Sevvanthi flowers.
In both temples, ambal has the name of Sughandha Kundhalambigai in Sanskrit and Matuvar kuzhal ammai in Tamil.
Even the name Seerappalli is reminiscent of Sirapalli, the ancient name of Tiruchirapalli.
The temple has ancient stone sculptures of Arubathu-moovar, the sixty three saints of the Saivite tradition and also of Naalvar,the holy four of Thevaram hymns – Appar, Sambandhar, Sundaramurthy Nayanar and Manickavasagar.They can be seen in a long mandapam with a thatched roof to the left of the main shrine.Further along the circumambulatory path are the shrines of Niruthi Vinayakar and separate shrines for Panchalingam representing the five elements.
The shrine of Kalyana Subramanyar is old with its own vimanam, outer mandapam and a tiny mandapam for the peacock.Kalyana Subramanyar is seated as Aarumugam on a peacock with Valli and Devasena on either side.In the small inner mandapam of this shrine there is another idol. This is an idol of Palaniappar , holding a spear in one hand and wearing his hair in a kondai(knot) on his head.This idol looks very similar to the image of Palaniappar in Belukurichi temple in Pallipatti in the Kolli foothills which is about 12 kms from Seerappalli.The idol of Palaniappar was the one which was originally in the sanctum, but was later replaced with the idol of Kalyana Subramanyar.
There is a shrine for Sri Durgai in the outer wall of the main sanctum and separate shrines for Chandikeswarar, Kaalabhairavar Suryan, Chandran and for Sani bhagavan.
More pics from the temple
The temple has vast agricultural lands belonging to it which indicates that it received the patronage of kings who donated lands for the upkeep of the temple. The temple is traditionally managed by the people of gounder community who also till the temple lands.It is also under the care of the Aranilaya thurai of the Tamilnadu government.
A story is told about how the Sevvantheeswarar temple and the vast lands belonging to it came to be administered by the gounder community.In any village the agraharam was and still is the area where the brahmins lived. Once, when caste discrimination was being rigidly followed, a cow unfortunately died in the agraharam and the austere brahmins had to seek the help of the gounders who were a farming community, to remove the carcass. The gounders agreed to help on the condition that the Sevvantheeswarar temple be handed over to them.The agraharam residents agreed as they had no choice and relinquished their rights over the temple. Having lost their right over the temple they then handed over the temple lands also. With the passage of time they left the village. The present gurukkal comes from a family that has cared for the temple for the past ninety years and says that only one family from the agraharam families who left the village long ago visit the temple occasionally.
Renovation work has been started in the temple. Besides a new outer wall, the old well has been dug and made bigger. Many parts of the temple are to be rebuilt. All who would like to take part in this momentous work in any manner are welcome to do so.
Address and contact number of gurukkal of Sevvantheeswarar temple:
K.S. Sivaraja Gurukkal
Seerapalli P.O,Rasipuram Tk.
Phone no: 89732 75242
A subject for discussion
Although there is no conclusive proof there is a possibility that this temple might be a thevara vaippu sthalam that is mentioned in the Kshetra Kovai hymn of Thirugnana sambandhar. The related stanza of thevaram is given below.
திருஞானசம்பந்த சுவாமிகள் அருளிச்செய்த பொது தேவாரத் திருப்பதிகம் (இரண்டாம் திருமுறை 39வது திருப்பதிகம்)
(இரண்டாம் திருமுறை 39வது திருப்பதிகம்) 2.039 பொது – திருக்ஷேத்திரக்கோவை அறப்பள்ளி அகத்தியான் பள்ளி வெள்ளைப் பொடிபூசி யாறணி வானமர் காட்டுப்பள்ளி சிறப்பள்ளி சிராப்பள்ளி செம்பொன்பள்ளி திருநனி பள்ளிசீர் மகேந் திரத்துப் பிறப்பில் லவன்பள்ளி வெள்ளச் சடையான் விரும்பும் மிடைப்பள்ளி வண்சக்கரம்மால் உறைப்பாலடி போற்றக் கொடுத்த பள்ளி உணராய்மடநெஞ்ச மேயுன்னி நின்றே. 2.39.4
Arapalli agathiyan palli vellai
Podipoosi yaarani vaanamar kaatupalli
Thirunani palliseer magendirathu
Pirappil lavanpalli vella sadaiyan
Virumbum midaipalli vannchakkaram mal
Uraippaladi potra kodutha palli
Unnaraai madanenjame unni ninrae.
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In Rasipuram, Nityasumangali Mariamman temple is located in the heart of the old town. The annual festival takes place in the Tamil month of Aippasi(Oct-Nov) and is celebrated for a period of two weeks. To the townspeople, Nityasumangali Mariamman is one of their own, a beloved daughter of each family and her festival is a time of re-union and family get-togethers.
I have been to this temple a few times but never during the festival and it is a really lovely temple where you can spend some time enjoying the peace and quiet.
Festival times are auspicious times and on Friday, November 10, during the ongoing festival I went with some friends in the evening to offer prayers at the temple. Rasipuramis usually a quiet place, partly urban, partly rural with a seamless blending of ancient and modern but now it was as if the whole town had come alive.
There was something going on everywhere and needless to say it was fun! Festival crowds, the fair grounds, festival shops, people dancing to the cadence of drum beats, it was all so lively!
Unusual practices can be seen in temples at times like this. In one part of the temple near the Dhyana Ganapathy shrine stood a pujari holding a whip made of coir rope in his hand. People stood in line and as each person stepped up he received some lashings from the whip (very gently, of course and probably as a symbolic punishment for sins), and then the pujari placed the whip on the person’s head and blessed him! I got a whip blessing too!
At the Murugan shrine,a boy pujari sat with a bunch of mayil peeli (pea-cock feathers) in his hand and blessed people after they worshipped Murugan by touching their heads with the long feathers.
In the open courtyard of the temple was the agni kundam which had been the scene of a most important temple ritual the previous day. This was the thee-mithior fire-walking ritual in which hundreds had participated holding a thee- chatti, (a pot with fire in it) in one hand.
On the evening of my visit, the agni kundamwas a bed of ashes and visitors bent down to take the holy ash from the pit and apply it on their foreheads.
There was a light drizzle when we visited the Ooty Government Botanical Garden on a Sunday morning in August. The weather forecast was for rain with a chance of thunder-showers. The light rain did not deter visitors to this most popular garden; most of them carried umbrellas or wore hooded jerkins and rain coats.
Ooty Botanical garden is one of the most beautiful places in the hill-station. It belongs to the colonial era, an expression of the traditional love of gardens of the British. The initial layout of the Ooty Botanical gardens was prepared by the Marquis of Tweedale in the late 1940s with the prime purpose of growing vegetables and supplying them to European residents at an affordable rate. In 1847 funds were raised to transform the venue into a horticultural society and public garden. The garden was designed by William Graham McIvor, a professional gardener from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. McIvor arrived in Ooty in 1848 and it took ten years for the garden to be completed.
The gardens are laid out on the slopes of Doddabetta and the entrance is at the bottom of the hill, so you have to climb your way up to tour the ascending gardens. It is landscape gardening at its most alluring, the layered beauty of the bright green lawns, the flower beds, and shrubbery in a series of terraces against a backdrop of thick woods and some of the tallest trees making it a magical place.
Spread over 22 hectares it has several sections.There is a Lower garden, a New garden, the Italian garden, a conservatory built in 1912 and many nurseries.
The map of India is a carpet-bed design made with bedding plants of different colors. It shows all the states clearly and is a major landmark in the garden. Opposite the India Map is another main attraction of the garden, a fossil tree trunk from the National fossil Park at Tiruvakkarai in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu which is more than 20 million years old. It is a great favorite with tourists.
Paved pathways lead up to the many levels of the garden. I had fond memories of the Toda mund at the very top of the garden from an earlier visit many years ago. And so we climbed higher and higher enjoying the breathtaking views of the gardens, stopping to rest and to take pictures, inhaling the eucalyptus scented air. At one place the air was heavily scented from the magnolia blossoms on a row of magnolia trees. It was a very pleasant walk.
At the very top of the hill slopes the paved pathways and landscaped gardens end and we followed a mud path that went up through the woods of towering pine and eucalyptus trees. This path takes you to the Toda mund which is a settlement of the Todas, the indigenous tribe of the Nilgiris. On reaching the grassy meadow of Toda mund, I was heartened to see that nothing had changed. At the far end of the beautiful meadow is the Toda temple which you can see from outside. It is built in a circular pit, a curved structure made of grass, bamboo and cane and stone,and has a tiny entrance. The front wall is decorated with symbols – of the sun, moon and the sacred buffalo.
There was a herd of sacred buffaloes under the shady trees at the top of the meadow. One or two stood up on our arrival, to inspect intruders like ourselves, and then went back to chewing cud. It is beautiful up at the Toda Mund. Traditional Toda dwellings are gone and the Todas live in modern houses. But the temple remains symbolic of a people who zealously follow their unique culture. Behind the temple the hills rise up, terraced farms forming layers of green on the hill-sides.
On the walk back to the Botanic gardens we took a different path, as the mud path was wet and slippery, stopping to chat and ask directions from the garden workers.
It was noon when we left the gardens. There is a Tibetan market just opposite the main entrance that sold knitwear. Here we were directed to a Momo restaurant further down the road where they serve Tibetan cuisine. Piping hot bowls of veg.Thukpa and hot momos were just right for a rainy day!
Situated on the slopes of Elk Hill, Rose Garden, Ooty is one of the largest rose gardens in India and its collection of roses among the largest in the world. April – May is the best time to visit the gardens for spectacular displays of roses.
According to the Tamil Nadu Horticultural department, “Centenary Rose Park, Udhagamandalam owes its genesis to the Centenary Flower Festival. It covers an area of 4.00 Ha comprising of five terraces. The Rose Garden is situated in the lower slopes of the Elk Hill in Vijayanagaram Farm on the North Western side facing the Udhagamandalam Town.
The Rose varieties planted in this Garden were assembled from different sources i.e., Bangalore, Chandigarh, Kodaikanal, Yercaud besides Nilgiris and more than 25,000 Rose plants of 3800 varieties have been planted. The collection includes Floribundas, Polyanthes, Miniatures, Hybrid Teas and Creepers. Gradually, it is proposed to increase the number of varieties to 50000 by introducing new varieties from different Centers in India and abroad. The Garden includes major attractions such as Arches, Bowers, Tunnels, Umbrellas, Green Houses, and Fountains and ‘Nila Maadam’ stone lanterns, rockeries, etc.”
The workers in the garden warned us that the flowers were few in this rainy season (August) and that season time was April –May. There were 4000 varieties of roses spread over five sloping terraces.
The garden has beautiful walkways and landscaped terraces on the sloping hillside and it takes an hour or two to see everything..well, almost everything!!..It’s so big. Situated on the hill slopes, it offers lovely views of Ooty. A great place to visit!
The Government Museum housed in Stone House, Ooty is a small museum and one of two state-run museums in Ooty. It has a delightful collection of stuffed animals and birds, mounted hunting trophies along with regular exhibits of ancient coins, metalware, rock samples, wood carvings, to name a few. It also showcases artefacts of the tribal communities of the Nilgiris, the Todas, Badagas,Kurumba and Irula tribes with separate sections devoted to each tribe.
The models of Toda hut and temple are interesting with diagrams of the architecture used in building them. This museum has to be seen at a leisurely pace to fully appreciate the exhibits on display. There are some rare and unusual exhibits like bamboo manuscripts which are manuscripts made on bamboo strips, and colorful puppets made from leather and used in traditional shadow play(Bommalaatam, Nizhalaatam).
There is a copper embossed plate with intricate details depicting Sethu Bandanam, an important occurance described in detail by Sage Valmiki in the Ramayana involving the building of a bridge across the sea by the Vanara Sena to reach Lanka and rescue Sita.
Considering the fact that the Ramayana is a documentation by Sage Valmiki on events that happened a million years ago and the Sethu Bhandanam event described in it has been corroborated by NASA’s satellite picture of the bridge beneath the sea, the importance of artefacts such as this copper plate is momentous. The exact period of the copper plate is not known. Parts of it are damaged but the sheer beauty of the embossed plate and the etching of myriad details is fascinating. These are details described by Sage Valmiki in the Yudha Kaanda of the Ramayana.
Sethu bandhanam in epics 2.1. Valmiki10 describes the construction of ‘Sethu’, which was built in a record time of 5 days under the leadership of Nala, the son of Viswakarma, in his Ramayana in 25 verses. Rama asks Nala to construct a dam on the sea to Srilanka, as advised by Samudraraja. Nala agrees and Vanaras who looked like high mountains went in all directions and brought mountain like rocks and stones. They brought trees, either cut or uprooted. The vanara sena uprooted rocks which resembled huge elephants, using machines and brought them to the seashore with the help of carrier vehicles. “The dam constructed by Nala who was as skilled and talented as his illustrious father, looked like milky way” says Valmiki. The joyous roar raised by the vanaras on completion of the dam silenced even the deadliest noise of the mighty ocean.11 92
While the museum, though small is very interesting, Stone House itself is filled with history. Its history is intrinsically connected with the history of Ooty. It was the home that John Sullivan built for himself and his family in 1822, the first European dwelling to be built in Ooty.
John Sullivan, the Collector of Coimbatore set out to explore the Nilgiris in 1819 after obtaining an order charging him to investigate the “origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the Blue Mountains to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities”.
He first reached Kotagiri where a small British settlement was established. Ooty was still ‘undiscovered’. In April 1822 Sullivan arrived in Ootakamund, bought land from the Todas at ‘roughly a rupee an acre’ and started work on his Stone House so called because it was built entirely of stone, which he completed the following year. It was called Kal Bangala by the tribals, kal being the tamil word for stone.
In a letter he wrote to Thomas Munro,the Governor of Madras, he says, ….this is the finest country ever…it resembles I suppose Switzerland more than any other part of Europe…the hills beautifully wooded and fine strong spring with running water in every valley.
Sullivan established the hill station of Ootacamund, the first hill station of India. Convalescent British soldiers were sent here to recuperate and it became a home away from home of the British community residing in India.He also created Ooty lake by damming a stream to meet the water requirements of the new town.
Most important is the fact that John Sullivan was a progressive and liberal person who insisted that the Todas be given freedom to manage their own affairs. He was called ‘a friend of the natives’.
Sullivan was instrumental in cultivation of fruits, vegetables, barley and tea in the hills. The Ooty we see today is a legacy of this enterprising Englishman.
Stone House with its small rooms and bay windows has stood the test of time, a beautiful legacy of British architecture and British colonial India.