Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Memorable Sights during my trip - And No temples this time.....

I have been writing pages and pages about my trip to Thanjavur and surrounding places, mostly temples. Here is something different. To finish off my series of blogs about my Diwali trip, let me invite you to join me in a different kind of tour – a tour through the eyes, or rather the lens of my camera. These are photographs taken over a period of 15 days, at various places. Let me assure you that there is not a single temple among them. These are purely of the sights I saw during my trip, something I will remember all my life, and would like to share with all of you.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
the sun set during our return trip from Rameswaram

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A lotus in a pond near Thirukkarugavur

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
The road covered with husks near Nagapattinam

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A hermit crab leaving its shell at Kodikkarai

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
scenes near Vedaranyam

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A canal covered with flowers


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Butterflies perch on flowers at the Hotel Sadabhishekam nea Vaitheeswaran Kovil

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A sparrow


From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A Kngfisher at Chaayavanam

With this, I come to an end to my blogs about the temples around Thanjavur. Hope to start another such series soon......

Diwali Tour Part 18 – Thiruvidaimarudhur and related Parivara Sthalams

Every Shiva temples has certain deities. While the central deities are Shiva and Parvati, all Shiva temples have other deities in the Pragaram like Ganesha, Muruga, Dakshinamoorthy, the Navagrahas, and Chandikeswarar. Each of these deities takes his/her place according to the direction/position he/she is assigned. Situated around Kumbakonam is a group of temples whose deities (not necessarily the central one) together form a temple much, much bigger than any temple in existence. The temples are as far apart as Swamimalai and Chidambaram. These temples are collectively called the Parivara Sthalams.
The central temple in this group is Thiruvidaimarudhur.



Thiruvidaimarudhur - Shiva

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Thiruvidaimarudhur is situated 8 Kms from Kumbakonam on the Mayiladudurai road, 1 km from Thirubhuvanam. This is a huge temple, with 3 pragarams. It is considered auspicious to circumambulate all the 3 pragarams.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The main deity in the temple is Mahalingeswarar, and his consort is Anbilpiriyar. There is a shrine to Ardhanareeswarar and also one to Mookambigai, which is extremely rare. There are also lingams dedicated to each of the 27 Nakshatras in the inner pragaram of the temple. There is also a fresco of Ravana lifting Kailas, under which is depicted the main deity under the Marudha tree, which is the sthala vriksham – Marudhavaneswarar. This temple also has a Spatika lingam called Uru Vidangar, and the abhishekam to this lingam is performed from 9 - 9:30AM.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

It is the norm in this temple that one can enter by any gate, but one must never leave by the main entrance. The reason for this lies in the legend of Varaguna Pandiyan. The king unknowingly ran over a Brahmin, and was afflicted by the Brahma-Hatti Dosham. He came to this temple, and the spirit of the dead Brahmin could not enter along with him. it therefore waited outside the main entrance for him to come back. The king was advised by the lord to leave by the west gate, and thus he escaped the spirit. It is believed that the spirit resides there till date, waiting for someone to exit by the entrance gate, thus afflicting him.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The other Parivara Sthalams are:


Thiruvalanchuzhi – Ganesha

To read about the temple at Thiruvalanchuzhi, click here.

Swamimalai – Muruga

To read about the temple at Swamimalai, click here.

Thirukkadaiyur –Ambigai

To read more about Thirukkadaiyur and Abirami, click here

Alangudi – Dakshinamoorthy

To read more about Alangudi, click here.

Suryanar Kovil – Navagrahas

To read more about Suryanar Kovil, click here.

Thirunallar – Shaneeswarar

To read more about Thirunallar, click here.

Sengalur – Chandikeswarar

Sengalur is considered to be the birthplace of Chandikeswarar. According to the legend, as a young boy, he spent all his time making lingams out of sand and meditating One day, his father got angry and kicked the lingam. The child got angry, and at once cut off his father’s leg, for daring to kick his lord. Shiva appeared from the lingam and blessed the boy, giving him a permanent place in his temple. He also gave his father his leg back. It is believed that Chandikeswarar forever lives in a state of deep meditation, not realizing who comes to the temple. He is the one who keeps records of our visits to the temple, and hence, it is believed that we should clap our hands or snap our fingers outside his shrine so that he realizes our presence.


Sengalur is situated on the Kumbakonam Mayiladudurai road, about an hours drive from Kumbakonam. The temple is quite small, and work was in progress when we visited. The main deity here is Shiva as Thirushakteeswarar.

Sirkazhi – Bhairavar

To read more about the temple at Sirkazhi, click here.

I must add, however, that there is a separate shrine to the Ashta Bhairavars at Sirkazhi, just near the main entrance of the temple.

Chidambaram – Natarajar

Chidambaram is the only temple we did not visit on this trip, though we have been there earlier. Of course, this beautiful temple of Nataraja needs no introduction. Let me wait till I visit the temple again to write a blog about this temple.

Thiruvarur – Somaskandar

To read more about Thiruvarur, click here.

Thiruvavadudurai – Nandi

To read more about Thiruvavadudurai, click here
As I write this, I can’t help imagining what a temple of this size would look like. To begin with, circumambulating such a temple itself would take days! I wonder whose brain it was that came up with such an idea!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Diwali tour Part 17 – Nagore and Velankanni - A Photo blog

The main reason for our trip to Thanjavur was to visit temples. We visited a number of temples around Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Mayiladudurai and Thiruvarur. There were only two exceptions to this – the Nagore Dargah, where we did not enter, as it was terribly crowded, and the Church at Velankanni where we offered candles, salt and pepper like thousands of other devotees who were also there like us.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip


Having studied in a convent school, going to church, for me has always been a wonderful experience. The calm and quiet environs of a church attract me as much as the cymbals and gongs in a temple do. I had long wanted to visit the church of the holy mother at Velankanni, and this Diwali, my wish was finally fulfilled.


Velankanni is situated 12 Kms south of Nagapattinam, and is a beach town. The church is huge, and the authorities have used the surrounding land well to provide facilities for pilgrims. Details about the church, accommodation, routes, etc. are all available on the website of the church, which is quite well maintained.



Here is a photoblog of Velankanni.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Diwali Tour Part 16 –Murugan Sthalams around Thiruvarur

Long long ago, there lived a talented sculptor, who was also a very devout man. He once got a vision of Lord Muruga, asking him to make 3 sculptures of the lord as Shanmugha (6 faced), seated on a peacock, which would be more beautiful than any other idol made so far. Of course, a sculptor needs a patron, and the lord provided him a patron in the form of the king who wanted a beautiful idol for the temple at Sikkal. He wanted a stone idol for the moolavar as well as bronze idol for the Utsavar. The sculptor began his work with a huge block of stone at the village right next to Sikkal. He worked with so much devotion and dedication, that when he was done, it was certainly the most beautiful sculpture of Shanmugha ever made. It was so detailed, that even the veins on the palms of the lord and the on legs of his mount were visible. The whole sculpture stood, not on a base, but on the two spindly legs of the peacock, Muruga’s mount. It held in its mouth, a snake, and the Lord sat on it, 6 faced, holding weapons in all 12 arms. The veins in his hands stood out as he gripped the Vel, his spear.


Once the king saw this beautiful piece of work, he became greedy, and desired that this idol, which would be his, would be the most beautiful idol ever. He no longer wanted the sculptor to make the other two statues. He called the sculptor and cut off his thumbs, giving him lots and lots of wealth to compensate for his cruelty. The devout sculptor refused the wealth and departed, leaving all he owned behind where he worked. Since he left his belongings (porul) behind, this place came to be known as ‘Porulvaithacheri’. The idol could never be moved to Sikkal, and remained where it stood, and still stands there today; in a temple few people visit. In due time, another idol was installed at Sikkal.

Meanwhile, the sculptor moved to another village, and started work on another idol, but with a slightly smaller stone. Even without his thumbs, he managed to recreate the beauty of the original idol. This one is even more special, since it was made with just 8 fingers. This village thus came to be known by the name ‘Ettukudi’. However, the king soon came to know about this, and he gouged out the eyes of the sculptor.

The sculptor did not even give up then, moving to another village, where he worked on another smaller stone, once again recreating the beauty, even without his eyes. When he opened the eyes of the deity, the lord finally blessed him, and gave him back his eyes as well as his thumbs. This is certainly an amazing statue, just as beautiful, just as detailed, the veins standing out, even though it was made without eyes (kann). Hence, this place came to be known as Enkann.

Sikkal, Porulvaithacheri, Ettukudi and Enkann – all these temples are situated around Thiruvarur, and one can easily visit all of them in a day. I would advise all of you to please visit all these temples, and see for yourself the beauty of these idols. Was it the talent of the sculptor or his devotion, or was it the lord working through him? I do not know the answer to these questions, but it impossible to deny the existence of a higher power when you are in the presence of beauty such as this.

Sikkal

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Sikkal is just 5 Kms from Nagapattinam on the road to Thiruvarur.

The main deity here is Navaneetheswarar. It is believed that Indra prayed to Shiva here, making a lingam out of butter, and hence the name. The goddess here is Vel kanni Amman, who is believed to have given Muruga the Vel for his war against Surapadman. The figure of Singaravelan – Muruga with the Vel is the Utsava Moorthy, and it exceptionally beautiful. Every year, during the Skanda Shashti festival, when the lord collects the Vel and enters the sanctum, he sweats, and the walls of the sanctum get covered with the sweat!


Porulvaithacheri



To begin with, I must thank Outlook Traveller for informing me about this temple. I read about this temple in their book ‘100 Pilgrimage places in India’. Even my mother-in-law was unaware about this temple, and after we visited it, we were absolutely floored.



Porulvaithacheri, now called Poravacheri, is just a kilometer before Sikkal, 4 Kms from Nagapattinam.

The main deity here is Shiva, but it is the idol of Shanmugha which captures all your attention. It is truly the most beautiful one that I have ever seen. It seems like the peacock will fly away at any moment with its master – the idol is so life-like.


Ettukudi

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Ettukudi is 11 Kms from Sikkal, on the road towards Thiruthuraipoondi.

Here, the beautiful idol of Shanmugha is the main deity, as it rightly deserves. In the light of the oil lamp, as we saw it, it was beautiful, but what was wonderful was the Abhishekam to the deity. As milk flowed over the stone, every single nuance of the lord and his mount stood out. Never have I been as fascinated as I was by that abhishekam. If you want to see it for yourself, plan to visit around 6:15PM, when the abhishekam starts, and be ready to spend at least an hour to see the deity decorated fully.

For more detailed information about the Ettukudi Temple, visit the Ettukudi Murugan Website.

Enkann

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Enkann is 15 Kms from Ettukudi, and 10 Kms from Thiruvarur towards Thanjavur.

Here, the main deity is Brahmapureeswarar and his consort is Periyanayaki. Again, the idol of Shanmugha doesn’t let you take your eyes off it. I kept wondering all the time how the man managed to create this miracle without his eyes!

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

This temple also has the Samadhi of the sculptor who merged with his beloved lord at this place.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

An interesting thing about this temple is a staircase through which one can climb right to the terrace and have a closer look at the gopuram.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Diwali Tour Part 15 – Saptha Vidanga Sthalams

Muchukunda Chakravarthi was a great and valorous king. He was once approached by Indra for help during the war between Devas and Asuras. Muchukunda gladly agreed to help the lord of the Devas, and joined in the war. Finally, with Muchukunda’s aid, the Devas succeeded in routing the Asuras, and Indra was extremely grateful to the king. He offered the king a gift of his choice, and Muchukunda, a devout man, asked for the lingam worshipped by Indra. Indra was stunned. He did not want to part with his precious lingam, but the king wouldn’t accept anything else. He finally decided on a deception, and showed Muchukunda seven lingams and asked him to choose the one he wanted. Muchukunda was a smart king, and prayed to Shiva to identify the correct lingam. Shiva was pleased and helped him identify the original lingam prayed to by Indra. Indra was so impressed by this that he gifted all the seven lingams to the king. Muchukunda returned to earth with the seven lingams and installed them at various places in his kingdom. The original one he kept at the temple at Thiruvarur, and the others at Thirunallar, Vedaranyam, Thiruvaimur, Thrirukkaravasal, Thirukkuvalai and Nagapattinam. These seven temples are collectively known as Saptha Vidanga Sthalams. Vidanga means something that has not been chiseled out. These seven lingams are believed to be divine – not made by chisels. Normally, it is the top portion of the lingam – the ellipse which is believed to be swayambhu. The base – avudayar- is made by hand. In all these seven lingams, the whole lingam – the base as well as the top portion – form a single piece, and are believed to have appeared just the same way, without being made, and hence the name. All the seven lingams are of different sizes, though they are made of the same material – maragatham – or emerald. However, it looks more like Jade than emerald, as it is translucent. The biggest one is at Thirunallar, while the one at Thiruvarur is of medium size. However, it must be mentioned that these two are the only two of the original lingams left. I am not too sure of the originality of the 5 other lingams, because at 2 temples, we were told that the originals had been stolen ages ago, and the lingams presently there had been installed by saints in their place. At one temple, the new lingam was to be installed the next month. We were unable to see the lingams at the remaining 2 temples, and hence cannot say anything. The two lingams at Thiruvarur and Thirunallar are however worth a trip.

An interesting thing about all these temples is that the Vidangar is believed to rule over all the planets, and the Navagrahas are seen in a single file facing the lingam. In some temples, they are in the usual 3X3 matrix, but all of them still face the lingam.

At all these temples, the main deity of the temple, the stone lingam has a different legend connected to it, as the temple is obviously older than the legend of the Vidangars. The Vidangar is considered the main deity and the Utsavar is Somaskandar – Shiva and Parvati with Muruga in the centre. The man deity is also called Tyagesar or Thyagarajar at all these temples.

The Vidangars are taken out from a secure safe in the Somaskandar sannidhi at the Abhishekam times twice every day (the time varies from temple to temple). At all other times, the Vidangar is kept under lock and key. You can see the lingam only if you visit the temple at the exact time. No amount of pleading can get you a darshan at other times. Only at one of the temples, the priest offered to show us the lingam if we paid him money. At all the other places, they were very strict about the rules.


Thiruvarur

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The temple at Thiruvarur is absolutely huge, and to describe it, I will need to write a blog solely about it. However, that can wait, for the Vidangar is the main deity here.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The deity in the main sanctum of the temple – the one you can see at all times of the day – is Valmikanathar. This is a swayambhu lingam, a stone covered with ant hills of white ants. It is believed that Vishnu performed prayers to Shiva at this place. The abhishekam to the deity is performed at 8 AM and 5PM everyday, and the ant hills remain unaffected!

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

This is the most important of the Vidangars, and it is a rare treat to watch the abhishekam to this beautiful lingam. As the milk flows over the translucent green stone, amid the chanting of mantras, even the atheist will feel some kind of attraction which might actually be devotion and faith. The Vidangar abhishekam takes place at 8:30AM and 5:30PM everyday. Go there an hour earlier and talk to the priest. You can see the other deities in the temple and stay for the abhishekam, which takes less than 5 minutes. Go early so that you do not miss this unique event.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The goddess has a separate temple to herself, which is built according to the Srividya Mantram. She is named Kamalambal, and sits in the yogic posture of meditation, one leg on top of the other.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The temple is a marvel of architecture as well as sculpture. The list of beautiful works here can just go on and on. In brief, the other deities are Runa Rana Mochanar, who is believed to save us from debt and health problems; Mahishasura Mardhini, who is exceptionally beautiful; Kaatchi Koduthavar or Rishabha Vahana devar – Shiva as a cowherd – a beautiful piece of art; two forms of Saraswati – one an idol and the other an Akshara Peetham – a figure of Saraswati made from the Srividya mantram. There are two shrines to Chandikeswarar – one is the normal one, who is in all Shiva temples, and the other is the Yama Chandikeswarar – the one who performed Yama’s duty during his absence (when he was punished at Thirukkadaiyur).

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

This is the only temple celebrating ‘Nithya Pradosham’. In all Shiva temples, the Pradosha puja on the specific days during the evening is a special puja, when the lingam is bathed with various materials. Here, this abhishekam takes place everyday at evening during the Pradosham time.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Right opposite the temple is a lake with a temple in the centre. Every day, after 5:30PM, the lingam in the temple is worshipped to. From 5PM, a boat service is available to take devotees to this temple.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

This temple is worth spending a whole day in. start early in the morning with a visit to the shrines, which itself will take hours. Then spend some time in a museum inside the temple complex. After lunch, when the temple is closed, have a siesta, and then proceed for a boat ride and the evening puja in the temple on the lake. The day will be over before you know it!


Thirunallar

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

I have already described Thirunallar among the Navagraha Sthalams. You can read about it here.

The Vidangar at Thirunallar is the largest one among the seven, and is about a foot high including the avudayar. This is called the Naga Vidangar. The abhishekam is performed everyday to this lingam at 6:30AM and 5:30 PM. This temple being more popular, the abhishekam is a crowded affair. If you want to have a good look at the lingam, reach early and grab a vantage point!


Nagapattinam – Thirunagai

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Nagapattinam is full of temples, but the temple of the Vidangar is the Kayarohanaswamy temple. It is better known as the temple of Neelayadakshi.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The main deity in this temple is Kayarohanaswamy – it is believed that the lord blessed his devotee Sage Pundari to attain moksha with his body. The rishi also asked for moksha for his descendants, and till this date, when anyone from the sage’s family passes away, the body is brought to the temple gate, where the lord’s clothes and garlands are brought to adorn the body, thus blessing it.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The goddess here is Neelayadakshi – the one with the blue eyes. She is in the form of a pubescent girl, and is believed to be one of the Shakti Peethams. She is also considered to be one among the five most important goddesses, all in different stages of life. These are – Visalakshi (Kashi – Child), Kamakshi (Kanchi – young girl), Neelayadakshi (Nagai – pubescent), Kamalambigai (Thiruvarur – young woman) and Meenakshi (Madurai – married woman).

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The Vidangar in this temple is the Sundara Vidangar and the Abhishekam is performed at 9 AM and 8 PM everyday. However, this one is not one of the original lingams, which was stolen ages ago, and recently replaced by a Gomedakam lingam.


Vedaranyam – Thirumaraikkadu

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Vedaranyam is the place where Shiva blessed Sage Agasthya with a vision of his divine marriage as it took place in the Himalayas. The main deity here is Vedapureeswarar, and behind the lingam is etched the scene of the marriage as witnessed by the sage.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

This is a beautiful temple and is dotted with shrines to various deities. There are a number of beautiful statues in bronze, representing the 63 Nayanmars, Bhishandavar, and also Rishabha Vahana Devar.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

In this temple, the Vidangar is known as Bhuvani Vidangar and the abhishekam is performed at 8:30 AM and 6:30PM everyday. We were unable to see the priest at this temple, and hence cannot provide any information regarding the Vidangar.



If you visit Vedaranyam, do visit Kodikkarai, the easternmost point of our country, also known as Point Calimere, 11 Kms from Vedaranyam. The sea is absolutely wonderful, and if you can persuade the fishermen to take you for a boat ride, there’s absolutely nothing like it! The beach is dotted with shells and it was hard to drag Samhith from them. We have returned with a bag full of shells collected by Samhith. There is also a bird and deer sanctuary near the beach which might be interesting to visit.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Thiruvaimur

Thiruvaimur is on the road from Thiruvarur to Thiruthuraipoondi, about 5 Kms from Thiruvarur. The main deity in this temple is Vaimurnathar. The lingam is extremely small, and is always kept covered with a kavacham. His consort is Ksheera Vachana Nayaki.



The Vidangar here is the Neela Vidangar, and the Abhishekam is performed at 9:30AM everyday. However, this again is not the original one, but an emerald one substituted long ago for the one that was stolen. In addition to this, a Spatika lingam has also been installed. The priest in the temple offered to show us the lingam even though it was not time for the abhishekam, if we agreed to pay security money for the darshan.

An interesting thing about this temple was the presence of Ashta Bhairavars – eight forms of Kala Bhairavar.


Thrirukkaravasal

Thrirukkaravasal is about 12 Kms from Thiruvarur, barely 15 minutes from Thirukkuvalai. The main deity here is Sahasra Nethra Natha Swamy, and his consort is Kailasa Nayaki.



The Vidangar here is Aadi Vidangar and the Abhishekam is performed everyday at 9:30AM and 6:30PM. This again is a lingam substituted for the original, which has been long lost. This one was installed by the Paramacharya of Kanchi during a visit.



An interesting shrine in this temple is the one of Mahalakshmi, where she faces 3 Bhairavars. There is also an image of Dakshinamoorthy with the kundalini represented on top of the head, which is rare. He is known as Gynaana Guru.


Thirukkuvalai

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Thirukkuvalai is about 5 Kms from Kachinam, on the road from Thiruvarur to Thiruthuraipoondi. The main deity in this temple is Brahmapureeswarar, a small swayambhu lingam, kept covered with a kavacham. Abhishekam to the moolavar is performed only on every Amavasya (new moon days). His consort is Brihannayaki.


The Vidangar here is Avani Vidangar and the Abhishekam is performed everyday at 9AM and 6 PM.


This completes a visit to the Saptha Vidanga Sthalams. It is possible to cover all the temples in a day, juggling a little in order to see as many lingams as possible. To see all the lingams, it might take a couple of days at least, depending on the time you spend at each temple. Among what we saw, the abhishekams at Thiruvarur and Thirunallar were the best and really worth seeing. Thiruvarur is the best plece to use as a base to see all these temples.

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