It is that time of year again when in Tiruchengode theMaasi 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 mandalaconsisting 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 onArdhanareeswara 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.
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.
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.
A closer look at the above sculpture
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.
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-adiyaarstanding 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.
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!
Which Tamil Nadu hill-station gets its name from the lake at the centre of town? Yercaud, of course! This little hill town was called Eri-Kadu because of the forests around the lake. Eri-lake and kadu-forest. We locals still say Yerkadu when we speak of this laid- back hill town near Salem.
The lake is the first sight that greets you once you have negotiated 20 hair-pin bends on the lovely drive on the oh-so-beautiful hill roads and enter the hill town.
Once you have arrived in Yercaud, the lakeside is a good place to spend time.
Go boating on the lake, relax on the lawns by the lakeside, enjoy the cool breeze and the beautiful scenery, and try out the tasty street food in the many eateries near the boat-house.
TTDC run boat-house opens at nine in the morning and closes at five- thirty in the evening. It is the most popular place for tourists coming to Yercaud and can be quite crowded in summer.
You have a choice of pedal-boats, motor- boats and row-boats.
Yercaud lake is the only natural lake where you can go boating among all the lakes found in hill-stations in Tamil Nadu.
Gently down the lake!
A word of caution- the lake is really deep, so just sit back in your boat and enjoy yourself (let life pass by, literally)!
The row- boats come with the mandatory boatman which is good from the safety perspective. Personally I prefer the row- boat even if there is some waiting for the allotted boat. There is something very therapeutic about the splash of oars striking water, trailing your hand in the cool lake , taking in the panoramic views as the boat moves down the lake and a chat with a friendly boatman!
Late in the evening, when the boat-house has closed and the crowds have left, take a walk on the road by the lake. It’s very peaceful and across the lake, big stars hang low in the black sky over the dark silhouette of a hill. See the stars reflected in the mirror-like water. Feel the cool pure mountain-air, breathe deeply and watch your cares fall away.
The healing beauty of nature is part of the magic that is Yercaud.
Maasi is the month (Feb-March) when the days are turning warmer after the pleasant cold weather of Margazhi and Thai. In temples all over Tamil Nadu, Maasi Magam is a special day when the deities are given a holy ritualistic bath.In the temple of Lord Ardhanareeswara on Tiruchengode hill, this ritual is called the Maha-abhishekam, the ultimate abhishekam.
On Saturday, 11th March, 2017, our group of six members joined hundreds of participants of the maasi magam vizha as they congregated in the ancient Badrakali amman temple in Tiruchengode town. It is customary to begin the procession after prayers are offered to goddess Badrakali. The participants then walked along the very narrow and winding lanes of this historic town to the main ther veethi.
At seven in the morning it was a scene of ethereal beauty as saffron clad devotees walked in silence, all bearing decorated pots of offerings of their choice for the abishekam. Folk dancers representing Siva and Parvati led the way. At the main ther veedhi, the procession stopped briefly for a dance recital accompanied by music, and beautifully rendered by the folk dancers. As police-men made way for early morning traffic the procession moved slowly along the four ther veethis (chariot streets).
The participants then went to the malai kovi (hill temple) of lord Ardhanareeswara for the maha-abhishekam.
After darshan of Lord Ardhanareeswara, everyone waited for the abishekam to begin. This was no ordinary abishekam and the offering-pots contained a wide, interesting variety of sacred things. At the auspicious time the abishekam was first performed in the main sanctums of Senkotuvelavar(Murugan) and Ardhanareeswara. The beautiful utsava deities of Ardhanareeswara and Sengotuvelar were brought to the maha mandapam and placed on the central stone platform so that the rituals could be clearly viewed from all sides.The Maha abishekam commenced after the abishekam in the main shrines were completed.
A unique sight and an experience to cherish!
An awesome 1500 pots of milk, endless pots of vibhuti,honey,sandal-paste,,grapes,choppedbananas,sugarcanejuice,riceflour,panchamitham,turmeric,kalkandu(sugarcandy),panangarkandu-candy made from palm-sugar and pomegranatepearls were poured on the deities. Most of the offerings were collected and given back to the devotees as prasadam.
Faith And Blessing
Everyone present that day must have felt as I did, a divine peace and blessing fill the heart as the abishekam progressed. Seeing the abishekam was a purification of hearts and minds and this cleansing deep inside gave strength of a divine kind, the courage to face the world with all its imperfections and trials. The divine blessing is a balm, a gentle reminder that on this hard journey of life God makes his presence felt in many, many ways.
Pictures from the Masi Abishekam
Read more posts on Maasi Magam and Ardhanareeshwarar Temple by clicking on the links below
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: