ELUR KAILASANATHAR TEMPLE

Sri Kailasanathar temple in Elur near 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

Kailasanathar temple Elur,namakkal
Sri Kailasanathar temple Elur,namakkal

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.

Sri Kailasnathar ,Elur
Sri Kailasnathar ,Elur

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.

Sri Kailasanathar -Elur,namakkal dt
Sri Kailasanathar -Elur,namakkal dt

The shrine of Visalakshi is small and the idol of ambigai is small and beautiful.

Sri Visalakshi aka Thenkambigai, Elur, namakkal dt
Sri Visalakshi @ Thenukambigai, Elur, namakkal dt

There are sannadhis for Suryan, Chandran, Vinayagar, Panchalingam, Balamurugan, Durgai,dakshinamurthy, chandikeswarar, navagrahas, and Kala bhairavar.

Elur Kailasanathar temple 2

Elur Kailasanathar temple (2)

History

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).

stone inscription Elur temple,namakkal dt.
Stone inscription Elur Kailasanathar temple,namakkal dt.

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.

Pancha naga devadhai, Elur Kailasanathar temple
Pancha naga devadhai, Elur Kailasanathar temple

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 gurukkal’s house is just outside the temple and outstation visitors can call on him in case the temple is closed when they arrive.

There are no shops near the temple selling puja articles. You can buy flower garlands and puja offerings in Rasipuram or Namakkal.

Contact

Soundararaja gurukkal

Mobile number : 98650 13481

Address

Arulmigu Kailasanathar Koil,

Main road, Elur,

via Puduchatram

Namakkal district,

Elur – 637 018

Note: Google maps refers to the Elur Siva temple as Theneeswarar temple.

 

Tholur Choleeswarar Temple

A Vaippu Sthalam awaiting restoration/renovation

Introduction

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,

1.Tirugnana sambandar               

Moovar
Tevara Moovar

2.Tirunavukkarasar and

3.Sundaramoorthy Nayanar

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.

Vaippu Sthalam

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

Choleeswarar, Tholur, Tamil Nadu
Choleeswarar, Tholur, Tamil Nadu

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

          (ஆறாம் திருமுறை)

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.

The charming village of Tholur, Namakkal dt.
The charming village of Tholur, Namakkal dt.

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.

The entrance to theCholeeswarar temple, Tholur
The entrance to the Choleeswarar temple, Tholur
The present temporary shrine of Choleeswarar, Namakkal dt, Tamil Nadu
The present temporary shrine of Choleeswarar, Namakkal dt, Tamil Nadu
Tholur (4)TN
Temple stones, Choleeswarar temple, Tamil Nadu
Temple stones of Choleeswarar temple,Namakkal dt, Tamil Nadu
Temple stones of Choleeswarar temple,Namakkal dt, Tamil Nadu

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.

Visalakshi ambal, Tholur, Tamil Nadu
Visalakshi ambal, Tholur, Tamil Nadu

Next to her is the image of Chandikeswarar. The idol of Ganapathi is on left of Choleeswarar.

Chandikeswarar, Tholur, TN
Chandikeswarar, Tholur, TN
Ganapathy, Choleeswarar temple, Tholur, Tn
Ganapathy, Choleeswarar temple, Tholur, Tn

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.

Tholur Choleeswarar temple deities- A legacy to cherish
Tholur Choleeswarar temple deities- A legacy to cherish

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.

Beautiful stone carving of a Naagar at the Choleeswarar temple,Tholur,Namakkal
Beautiful stone carving of a Naagar at the Choleeswarar temple,Tholur,Namakkal
Inscription on a stone pillar in the Choleeswarar temple,Tholur Namakkal dt.
Inscription on a stone pillar in the Choleeswarar temple,Tholur Namakkal dt.

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.

      Architecture

  • 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.

       …

       Archaeological Recommendation

  • 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.

Tholur (2) - CopyTHolur (3) - Copy

Tholur - Copy

Puja

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.

Location

Tholur is 4km from Aniyapuram on the Namakkal- Mohanur road.

Contact:

 Palanisami Gurukkal – 91595 64006

 Shanmuga Gurukkal –  98656 17121

SERVARAYA PERUMAL-GOD OF THE SHEVAROYS

6th May, 2016

SERVARAYAN TEMPLE, YERCAUD

The god of the Servarayan ranges and of the 67 odd villages in these hills, Servaraya Perumal is the guardian of the Shevaroys, and his temple is no grand monument filled with amazing sculptures. I would call it a temple of surprises and wonders, as old as these ancient hills themselves, probably dating back 2000 years or more.

DSC01803
A view of the Servarayan temple, Manjakuttai, Yercaud

The steep mountain road to the highest point of the Shevaroys makes for a very enjoyable drive. The temple is on a flat hilltop.

screen shot

 

DSC01796
Sunset over the Servarayan temple, Yercaud

A modern outer façade leads to the entrance of the cave. Here you have to stoop to enter and bend down for a few feet into the cave. The cave is wider inside and you can stand up straight. This is where you see the idols of Servaraya Perumal and KaveriAmman on a rocky platform

DSC01802

DSC01836

TEMPLE OF SURPRISES

You wouldn’t expect a cave temple at this height– 5,326 feet above sea level (1,623 metres ASL)!

The goddess is Kaveri Amman. Yes, you’re right – the goddess of river Kaveri is worshipped at this highest point of the Shevaroy hills!

The idols of Servaraya Perumal and Kaveri amman are small -11/2  feet tall but adorable!

Servaraya Perumal holds the conch and discus in his hands while goddess Kaveri holds a lotus flower in her hand.

The roof above the deities is moist and drops of water fall at intervals on the idols. This flow of water dries up during the dry summer months.

In the dark recess behind the god and goddess the cave goes on. Visitors are not permitted to go beyond this point. A story is told by the local tribal people that the cave goes all the way to Thalakaveri in the state of Karnataka, which is the origin of the Kaveri river. No one knows for sure, but it is a tale that has been told for generations. Surely there must be a reason why there is a temple for goddess Kaveri at these heights but it is a reason that has been lost to us, lost in the mists of time.

There is a great tree at the entrance, its vast trunk covered with small bags of prayer offerings.

DSC01820
Faith and Promise

 

DSC01822
Steps leading from the temple to the hilltop above

There are just a few houses some distance away from the temple.

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A house on the hill top

Across the road, there is a wishing well where you throw pebbles and make a wish.

Breathe in the exhilarating, pure, cold mountain air. The vast flat hilltop above the temple is a great place to relax, to have a picnic with your family, or just enjoy the spectacular 360 degrees views and the play of clouds in a sky that is so close that you feel you can almost touch it!

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From this high vantage point you get a breathtaking view of the hills that stretch in rows upon overlapping rows into the distance. You can also see bauxite mines on the hills.

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The sky on fire? Sunset on the hills.

DSC01806

The festival in May is an important one for the tribal people called as Malayaalees -the people of the hills, when they gather here in their hundreds.

LOCATION

 7 kms from Yercaud lake. You can go by car or take a taxi. Alternately you can hire an auto near the boathouse to take you to the temple.

TIMINGS

The temple is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

A Summer Festival in Pudhupatti

Summer is well and truly here! Soaring temperatures are touching 40 degree Celsius, somewhat unusual in April.

We were invited by friends to a gala village event in the village of Pudhupatti near Namagiripettai in Rasipuram taluk, Namakkal district.

A lovely farming village, Pudhupatti also called R. Pudhupatti, has a very popular temple for the goddess Mariamman. 

DSC01752
Some respite from the sun

Pandigai is a common Tamil name for festival  and today’s festivities centered on the temple chariot.

Village Deities of Tamil Nadu

The magnificent temples of Tamil Nadu are mostly Siva and Vishnu temples. There is another category of gods and goddesses whose temples are predominant in the villages. These are the village deities called as Grama Devata and their temples may be seen in every Tamil Nadu village and town. The Grama Devata is periodically worshiped and propitiated. Village people fear the wrath of these deities but generally they are benevolent divine beings.

The villages are essentially farming communities and so the Tamil Nadu countryside is dotted with shrines to these gods.

The village deities are the guardians, the healers and the ever present help that every little village and town has. They have a major role to play in the day to day life of the people and protect them from the countless ills, afflictions and pains of everyday village life.

When calamity overtakes the village, when pestilence or famine or cattle disease makes its appearance, it is to the village deity that the whole body of villagers turn to for protection   –     Right Reverend Henry Whitehead in The Village Gods of South India.

These gods are called as Ayyanar, Muniappan, Mariamman,  Angalamman, Pidari, Karuppana swamy, Periasami and so on.

Mariamma is the commonest of them all. Her function is to bring rain and ward off and cure small pox, chicken pox, measles and rashes.

Thuluka Soodamani Amman temple in Pudhupatti

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The temple of Thuluka soodamani amman in Pudhupatti is one such village temple for Mariamman.

The mid-day journey to Pudhupatti in the scorching sun wasn’t so pleasant even in an air- conditioned car. But once we neared the temple it was a different matter altogether. No one seemed to care about the hot summer sun, and the air of celebration was catching! Folks were dressed in their best, the endless festival shops sold everything under the sun  – literally!

The whole place was action packed, with the temple as the center of all the festivities. In the courtyard of the temple women were busy with a ritual called Pongal Vaikiradhu which involved cooking the sweet rice dish named pongal in  earthen or metal pots on an impromptu stove made of three large stones and some kindling or firewood. The cooked pongal was offered to the goddess on banana leaf lined brass plates and taken as prasad. By the roadside a family gave glasses of koozh, a rice and ragi(finger millet) porridge to all. There were free buttermilk stalls with big pots of cold buttermilk. A makeshift shelter was the venue of Annadaanam where people could eat tasty meals absolutely free.There were stalls where you could have tattoos made for Rs. 15.

The Temple

The temple itself was crowded but we had a good darshan of goddess Mariamman. As I said, her name is Thuluka Soodamani amman. Long ago, the armies of the Nawab are thought to have camped in this region and the goddess blessed the Muslim commander and his men.Hence the unusual name.

A view of the temple
A view of the temple

The temple is famous for cures relating to skin ailments and vision problems. Therefore people with skin and eye maladies come from afar to offer prayers to the goddess.

Outside the temple  the Ther (chariot) was all decked up and ready to go. As usual the villagers joined together and pulled the beautiful Ther.

TEMPLE CHARIOT OF THULUKA SOODAMANI AMMAN IN PUDHUPATTI
TEMPLE CHARIOT OF THULUKA SOODAMANI AMMAN IN PUDHUPATTI
Pulling the Ther
Pulling the Ther

FAITH

Behind the ther, I saw something very unusual.

Angapradakshanam
Angapradakshanam

Men and women, wearing garlands of flowers indicative of their vows and holding bunches of neem leaves sat in two rows  on the paved street in the hot sun. People brought pots of water which they poured on them, the drenching with cool water being necessary to offset the effects of the noonday sun. When the ther with the idol of Mariamman started to move, they lay on the ground and rolled along behind the ther with hands folded in supplication above their heads.

This ritual is called as Angapradakshanam and it is done for answered prayers, usually within the precincts of the temple around the main shrine.

For the first time I saw it being done on a hot paved street and following the ther.

Such devotion is a humbling experience and I felt respect and admiration for all the men, women and children who kept their vows that day. It was a personal interaction between each of the participants and the mother goddess.

Taking part in these rituals involves a period of fasting prior to the festival. It usually means a single meal a day at noon or in the evening and strict abstinence from meat, taking liquor or smoking. It is a purification that conditions the body to the rigorous process of Angapradakshinam.

 Rituals like these have been followed by the villagers traditionally and vary from village to village and from temple to temple. For instance, in Pudhupatti village, our friends said that it was the custom that no palagaram (Tamil for sweetmeats) that required deep frying in oil may be made for the duration of the Pandigai (festival) which usually lasted for two weeks.

Photos of the festival.

Welcome drenching with cold water
Welcome drenching with cold water

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This Matriarch is happy to give water in a brass pot to the devoted.
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Young participants. Its the summer holidays anyway!

WHERE IT IS

The temple is 5 km from Namagiripettai near Rasipuram.

The distance from Salem is 43 km ,roughly an hour’s drive.

The route from Salem is Salem- Rasipuram – Namagiripettai- R. Pudhupatti.

 

Is there a festival in your village or town? If so,do share your views.

 

 

 

 

MAASI MAGAM- CELEBRATION IN TIRUCHENGODE

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Maasi magam is the name of a festival that is celebrated in the temples of Tamil Nadu.

Maham or Magam is the tenth star or constellation in Hindu astrology. In the Tamil month of Maasi (Feb-Mar), this star rises on the day of Pournami or full moon and is considered a very auspicious period.

Maasi magam is thus an annual festival celebrated in the Tamil month of Maasi. But once in twelve years, in addition to the full moon being in conjunction with the magam nakshatram in the month of Maasi, Jupiter enters the sign Leo simultaneously. When this unique alignment of heavenly bodies takes place it is called as Maha Magam and the temple town of Kumbakonam in Tamil nadu is where hundreds of thousands of devotees congregate to take a dip in the ancient Maha Magam tank. It is equal to the Kumbha Mela of North India. This year it was celebrated on Feb 22.

Across Tamil Nadu Maasi Magam utsavam is celebrated in temples and the utsava deities are taken in a procession to nearby holy rivers, seas or lakes for the ritual dip. This auspicious day is a time for spiritual purification. Rituals differ from region to region and even from temple to temple.

Maasi Magam in the Ardhanareeswarar temple in Tiruchengode

The celebration of this festival in Tiruchengode is rather unique.

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Milk and other offerings  in brass, copper or stainless steel pots 

Hundreds of devotees take part in a procession with pots of milk and other offerings for Lord Ardhanareeswara. Prior to the festival they take a vow of fasting for a prescribed number of days. Men, women and children all take part and observe the vow.

Besides milk, the pots may contain honey, ghee, sugarcane juice, or rice flour for the Maha Abhishekam of ARDHANAREESWARA 

The procession itself is a sight to behold!

Devotees come from Tiruchengode, Erode, Namakkal, Paramathi Velur and the villages around Tiruchendode.

They gather together at dawn in the old and very beautiful Badra kali amman temple in Tiruchengode. After offering worship to the goddess the procession makes its way to the main street called as Ther veedhi. Here, folk dancers dressed as Siva and Parvati lead the way. The procession stops frequently for the beautiful dance of Siva and Parvati. After walking through the four ther Veedhis (streets), the devotees go up to the hill temple with their offerings for the Maha Abhishekam of Lord Ardhanareeswara.

Maasi Magam was celebrated on Feb.22, 2016. Here are some photos showing this year’s celebrations.

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Siva and Parvati lead the way

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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.

 

 

CHARIOT FESTIVAL IN PANDAMANGALAM

THER THIRUVIZHA

The temple chariot festival is an annual event in temple towns in Tamil Nadu.It is also celebrated in some famous temples in the other South Indian states. The Tamil name for the festival is Ther Thiruvizha. Ther is the Tamil word for chariot and Thiruvizha refers to the festival or fair. It is a part of temple ritual.

Professor Paul Younger in his book, Playing Host to Deity,writes that,‘The annual festivals that are central to the south Indian religious tradition are among the largest religious gatherings found anywhere in the world’.

The chariots are made of special wood, engraved with images of deities, scenes of Indian Epics and other ornate works and are used to carry the idols called urchavar which are representations of the temple deities.

The place where the chariots are kept for the greater part of the year is called as Ther Adi or Ther Nilai. A few weeks before the festival the Ther is spruced up.A temporary structure resembling a temple is put up on the  ornate wooden base. It is then decorated tastefully with Thoranam of mango leaves, flowers, banana trees, and brightly colored embroidered cloth.The ropes or chains used to pull the chariot are called as Ther vadam.

The festival lasts for ten days but the day on which the chariot is drawn is the most important and attracts hundreds of worshipers.

THER THIRUVIZHA IN PANDAMANGALAM

In Pandamangalam in Namakkal District, the chariot festival is traditionally celebrated on the day of Ashwini Nakshatram in the Tamil month of Thai. This year it coincided with the last day of Thai Pongal or Sankaranthi.

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All eyes on the Ther as it turns a corner

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The villagers have invited their family and friends to join in the celebrations. After the ritual puja, the richly decorated chariot is drawn along the four main streets around the temple. The deities of the temple, Prasanna Venkataramana Swamy and Alarmel Mangai Thaayar represented by their panchaloga idols ride in the chariot along with a host of preists and the Naadhaswaram goshti or temple musicians.

Water is sprinkled on the streets through which the ther will come.Every doorstep is decorated with beautiful kolams. Women place huge pots of buttermilk on tables by the roadside and offer glasses of it to anyone who would like a drink.

The players of traditional vaathiyams (musical instruments) go in front.Behind them the  folk musicians beat a steady credence on the  Thaarai and Thammpattai (musical instruments used in folk music) as the young men join in a folk dance watched and cheered by the reveling crowds.

Behind comes the massive Ther drawn by the people. All are welcome to pull the chains.

The significance of the Ther festival is that once every year, God comes out of the temple to give darshan to worshippers. When this happens, everyone is equal before Him- there is no distinction of rich or poor, high caste or low, man or woman. The festival is for those who at other times of the year are not allowed inside the temple, for those who were away, for the old and the infirm and also for those who were too lazy to go!!

STOPPING AND TURNING THE THER

Pulling the chariot is only one part of the operations. Behind, a team of village youth are engaged in carrying and operating a system of  wooden manual levers that you can only see during such festivals.

The Ther is two or three storeys tall. Along with the deities, there is a whole team of priests and temple musicians on board. It stops many times so that people can give offerings for puja. When the Ther needs to halt, heavy triangular blocks of wood shaped like a wedge are placed in front of the wheels. These act as brakes in front. At the street corners the Ther needs to turn. Long heavy wedged blocks of wood and ropes are used to do this. Little by little, the Ther turns the corner, the wheels guided and carefully controlled by the team of young men who also volunteer to carry the heavy wooden blocks, so heavy that merely lifting them is a feat in itself.

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A view of the Ther from behind

 

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One of the heavy wood blocks used to turn the chariot

 

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SCENES FROM THE THIRUVIZHA

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A small Ther of Hanuman goes in front pulled by the boys

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Temple rituals such as Ther Thiruvizha were aimed at unifying society. No difficult mantras were required, no training in the Vedas. People from all walks of life participated even as they do now. The four castes or varnas were united in a common cause – that of successfully pulling the holy chariot around the four veedhis (streets) which is no mean feat.

Hours later,the journey along the four veedhis is complete.As the sun goes down, the crowds applaud as one , as slowly and carefully the Ther is guided into the resting place called as Ther Nilai. Nilai is Tamil for – to be stationary ,or not in movement. Everyone is happy that a tough task was done well.

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Dusk falls as the Ther approaches the resting place

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Tomorrow it is back to mundane, everyday life.

But with a difference – the memories of this year’s Ther festival linger….. and the soul is refreshed and rejuvenated.