Tamil Nadu can be said to be the cultural gateway to India, because we have been fortunate to preserve our ancient Hindu heritage over millennia. Northern India was not as lucky as our temples and culture were razed to dust by ruthless invaders.
As an ardent Shakthi devotee and a devout Hindu, it was always my dream to visit the heart of Thamizh Hindu Nadu but it simply never materialized. I know, you cannot set your foot into the abode of our Mother and Father, unless you get the call. It took my Mother 50 long years to call me to Her abode. So near, yet soooo farrr…
A gang of us friends who have stuck together from our school days finally chalked out a plan and started on our Kumbakonam – Mayavaram Temple tour this April. We boarded Uzhavan Express at 10.40 pm at Chennai Egmore on 16th evening to begin this epic journey. A friend from Kerala had flown in to join us in the whirlwind trip. It was summer already. The hinterland of Tamil Nadu was bristling at 38 c. We girls just crossed 50 years – rather than disguising our age, we are now mature enough to be grateful to have lived up to this day, to be there for our families. Mylapore unites us all, our school was the bonding gel. It was our life mission to undertake this yatra. Only five of us could finally make it with one opting out last moment. How we beat the odds in this simmering heatwave rising at 4 am and hitting the bed by 11.30 late night walking barefoot the roughly hewn, unpolished granite slabbed temple acres for a continuous stretch of 5 days flabbergasts me even today! Our feet blistered – but not really. How they did not blister is what amazes me! Age is just a number. We proved it to ourselves. By sheer willpower and with the blessings of our Mother Goddess and Shiva, our Father, we accomplished this feat in our golden jubilee year. We are also married for over a quarter century. And we women have our health woes. We proved many theories wrong with this tour.
I wanted to make a page out of our spiritual tour with details because, our pilgrimage became a hit. Friends keep asking for information. I also want to revisit the shrines in future as and when possible. I want to record in here for posterity those five unforgettable, irreplayable days.
Here is a pictorial tour plus some tips about our yatra. ON POPULAR DEMAND. A pretty long post. One which is as descriptive as possible.
EVERY SINGLE ANCIENT HINDU TEMPLE AS WELL AS MEDIEVAL HINDU TEMPLE UP UNTIL 19TH CENTURY, HAS HAD A STHALA VRIKSHAM (HOLY TREE) AND STHALA THEERTHAM (WATER TANK) (ONE OR MORE). In this post, I am not covering details of Sthala Vriksham and Sthala Theertham although we had darshan of same wherever we went. Wherever possible, I have included pictures though. This is how ancient Hindus conserved nature and water. Every street in Hindu society had a temple which would grow the Sthala Vriksha trees and have water for ablution in the form of a rectangular water tank of an acre minimum – Sthala Theertham. Such a beautiful, thoughtful civic society was ransacked by both the Moghuls and the British who wrecked havoc in the land of Dharma.
Our base was at Kumbakonam for 3.5 days and for the rest 1.5 days, we shifted base to Mayavaram (Mayiladuthurai now). We wanted to cover as much territory as possible including in Tanjore (Thanjavur district). It may seem rushed, but not at all. We spent easily around an hour in each temple, and in some vast ones even over a couple of hours as it happened in Tanjore, Darasuram and Thirumeeyachur for instance. We had darshan of ‘abhishegam’ and ‘alangaram’ in almost every single temple we visited. We feasted on temple meals. We even shopped heartily. So although this may seem impossible, i guess the long summer hours gave us ample time to cover everything. Apart from Shiva and Ambal (Shakthi) temples and Balaji temples, we also visited the Navagraha temples for the nine planets of the Universe that were established millennia before. Still some temples are left out that we intend to take care of in our next visit.
The great ancient Hindu temples of Kumbakonam Mayavaram Tanjore belt were built by the Cholas who reigned over this region for over 1000 years. It is a shame that their glorious, vibrant history is brushed under the carpet whereas bloody terrorists like Akbar, Shahjehan and Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan who were our invaders are glorified in Indian history. The Chola period was golden era in Tamil Nadu. The Cholas built the magnificent ancient temples that sing a poetry even today in Dravidian architecture. Most of these are UNESCO World heritage sites. Heartbreaking to note that, many are also in ruins without proper care because Hindu temple funds are routed to Christian and Muslim welfare in India by our government. This is a separate story that I shall cover some other time.
The Cholas nourished art, music and culture scene in the south. This part of India has always been prosperous because the Chera-Chola-Pandyas were also great defenders of their territories. The Cholas went on to conquer culturally what we call Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka etc which all have Hindu roots until today. They relinquished their conquests and returned to India although what they planted in South East Asia stand good until today as in Bali (Hindu temples) and even in Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world even today. Tanjore is called the Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu.
We started our tour with Thanjavur naturally. Except for the first three, rest of the pictures were clicked with my Samsung Note 8.
A gist of 39 temples we covered in 5 days (this handy list was prepared after our return by friend Sumi who works for a foreign bank who doubled up as a very valuable guide) (our banker and bookings manager and organizer for the tour was GV):
This was our agenda that we decided roughly weeks before but altered 50-50 enroute as it suited our convenience.
DAY 1: APRIL 17, 2019 WEDNESDAY
We reached Kumbakonam by train by 5 am. By 7.30, we were showered after checking into our hotel and unpacking. We decided to start our temple tour with paying obeisance to Lord Ganesha after which we halted for our breakfast before heading to Tanjore. Day 1 covered the temples in Tanjore district.
1. GANAPATHY AGRAHARAM IN PAPANASAM TALUK, TANJORE DIST. Started with our worship of Lord Ganesha. This is a small village agraharam temple where sage Aghastiya is believed to have visited.
2. CHANDRAN TEMPLE AKA KAILASANATHAR TEMPLE AT THINGALUR. THINGAL/CHANDRAN PARIHARA STHALAM , NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE for Moon God or Chandran. Shiva goes by the name Kailasanathar. Ambal’s name: Periya Nayaki. Specialty of this temple: Moonlight falls exactly on the presiding deity ONLY during Tamil months of Purattasi (sep-oct) and Panguni (march-april) through a hole in the Vimana (temple tower)
Enroute Brahadeshwara temple aka RAJARAJESHWARAM, had Gopura Darshan of a couple of temples where we did not stop.
3. BRAHADESHWARA AKA BIG TEMPLE AKA RAJARAJESHWARAM AT THANJAVUR (TANJORE)that has seen over a 1000 years easily built by the one and only Raja Raja Chola. CHOLA TEMPLE We spent half a day here. Raja Raja worshiped the fiercer form of Shakthi – Mother Goddess Varahi who now has a separate altar within the temple premises. This temple is now a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. I have been to the Colosseum in Rome, but nothing can come close to our Brahadeshwara temple in Tanjore. Shiva’s name: Bruhadeeshwara Ambal’s name: Bruhannayaki. The Brihadeshwara temple – Raja Rajeshwaram is not easy to describe. Kindly google. The shadow of the Vimana (gopuram/temple tower) never falls on the ground – that’s an architectural wonder among other thousand engineering and architectural wonders about the entire complex. A challenge to today’s structural engineers specializing in earthquake proof structures. A clue to this engineering feat lies in the cleverly designed Thanjavur Thalaiyatti Bommai with circular base (the head nodding mud dolls special to Tanjore) Chola temples have altars for Gaja Lakshmi and Varahi and Bhairava, the Hindu Gods for valour. It so happens that I am already a Varahi worshiper. One of the 275 PADAL PETRA STHALAM . Blessed to have visited the temple with a close quarter darshan of Shiva-Brihadeeshwara and Nandhi on Pradosham day. Darshan of Varahi abhishegam was added bonus.
Reading Chola inscriptions that were over a 1000 years old in Tamil (with the script changed slightly over centuries), I found tears in my eyes. I could feel the presence of Raja Raja as I stood humbled before the giant Shiva Linga. What passed through my mind at that moment does not matter. I bowed down my head to not only Brihadeeshwara – Shiva, but also to Raja Raja, my ancestor. This great king did not want a mausoleum like the Moghuls. He built temples and architectural wonders. He established dance and drama schools. Bharat Natyam, the classical dance of the south flourished from the Chola period. Tanjore ‘Thalaiyatti Bommai’ (the head nodding Tanjore dolls) and Tanjore dancing dolls (of Bharat Natyam dancers) date back to Chola era.
SARASWATHI MAHAL: As temples are closed mostly 1 to 4 pm, we took a break in Tanjore for lunch and followed it up with a visit to the cultural museum that houses historic relics from the Maratha empire’s Shivaji, Saraboji and Sambaji’s reigns. How haphazardly the valuable historic collections lie without a protection in the ruins of the old Maratha palace breaks my heart. The first picture is from a shop inside the temple complex, rest are from the Mahal. See, how Mahal is a Sanskrit/Hindu word that can have nothing to do with the Moghul Taj Mahal – unless ofcourse it was once Tejo Mahalaya. Tanjore Plate is a heritage from Marathas in the Tanjore district.
4. PUNNAI NALLUR MARIAMMAN: MARIAMMAN TEMPLE AT PUNNAI NALLUR : Ambal (Mariamman) holds a Chakra in Her right hand in this sacred shrine.
5. VASISHTESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THENKUDI THITTAI : GURU PARIHARA STHALAM. NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR GURU (JUPITER) What is special about this temple is, every 24 minutes, a drop of water from nowhere falls over the presiding deity Shiva (Vasishteshwara) which is incomprehensible as there is no source of water in the Vimana (gopura). The sanctum sanctorum is designed scientifically in such a way that you can feel the heat generation that is like Shiva’s hot breath. The humidity leads to a single drop of water fall over the deity exactly every 24 minutes. CHOLA TEMPLE from 12th century CE. Cannot believe the scientific acumen of ancient Hindu engineers/architects/builders over a thousand years before. What happened to us now. SWAYAMBU LINGAM (hence the name Swayambootheshwarar also). PADAL PETRA STHALAM. Sage Vasishta is believed to have worshiped Lord Shiva here.
Enroute Thirukarugavur, Tanjore, the Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu was still greeny-greeny at the advent of a scorching summer after a failed monsoon last year. The wealth of the Chola for millennia is hardly surprising. This is a bountiful rich countryside watered by Kaveri (the Cauvery river) brimming with culture and mineral wealth every corner. No more dirt poor or thatched hut in Tamil Nadu. Village scene is a big, big surprise. India is on move, slowly but steadily. The gradual urbanization of rural India is the proof although I am not sure whether I like this. The difference between India and China is that, India has a soul. Whereas China is a mechanical programmed robot.
6. GARBA RAKSHAMBIGAI TEMPLE AT THIRUKARUGAVUR :‘Garba’ means ‘pregnant’ – ‘Rakshambika’ means ‘protective Goddess’ so that gives away the temple’s relevance. PADAL PETRA STHALAM . After 25 years, I got to visit Mother Parvathi who protects foetus in pregnant women who also blesses the childless with ‘putra bhagyam.’ I was praying to Mother from Chennai, reciting the shlokas when carrying my son. I had a normal delivery. Every married Hindu woman’s ‘ishta devata’ becomes Garba Rakshambika for a safe pregnancy and delivery. Those who have problems conceiving pray to Her and come back to the temple and lay their newborn babies in Mother’s lap. Shiva goes by name Mullai Vana Nathar. Ambal is Garba Rakshambigai. The village goes by the name ‘Thirukarugavur’ . ‘Karu’ in Tamil means ’embryo’ – ‘karugavur’ means the place that does not dry/shrivel up. A visit to the Mother’s abode will not let the embryo shrivel up. ‘CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 7TH CENTURY CE . We were blessed to be present for Pradosha abhishegam for the presiding deity Mullai Vananadhar (Shiva). ‘Mullaivana’ means the jasmine forest. This area is still so fertile and the forestry from ancient times is imaginable.
7. KALINGA NARTHANA PERUMAL TEMPLE, OOTHUKADU
Lord Krishna is the Utsava Murthy as Kaalinga Narthana. Famous Krishna dance melody songs such as ‘Swagatham Krishna’ were composed here. Utsava Murthy was presiding deity over Moolavar. In quite a few temples we visited, this was the case.
8. DURGA TEMPLE, PATTEESWARAM AKA THENUPUREESWARAR TEMPLE AT PATTEESWARAM : Lord Shiva goes by the name ‘Thenupureeshwar’ in this 7th century CE CHOLA TEMPLE. PADAL PETRA STHALAM . Ambal goes by the name ‘Gnyanambika’ and also ‘Soma Kamalambika’ although there is a separate shrine within the temple for Durga, the fiercer form of Shakthi. Nandhi in this temple is sidelined and not facing Shiva straight.
That brought us to the end of Day One. We drove back to Kumbakonam from Tanjore covering these temples in evening, totally exhausted. By the time we had our dinner and retired to bed, it was over 11 pm. I had to swallow some pills, as well as others. We set alarm for 4 am to start our next day before the sun was out. Temples in Kumbakonam Mayavaram opened by 7 am which suited us.
DAY 2: APRIL 18, 2019 THURSDAY
We started the second day with a bang by 6.30 am. Maximum 6.45 could have been our ‘out’ time. Decided to cover temples in the periphery before turning into Kumbakonam. Have to mention a word about Kumbakonam breakfast, full traditional south Indian meals in Banana leaf and coffee. Ek dum first class! Filter Degree Coffee and Idli and Pongal and Vada like you can find nowhere … bathed in Sambhar and Coconut Chutney… ! But as it was Lok Sabha Election Day in Tamil Nadu, restaurants were mostly closed in the town. We were lucky to find whatever we could. Active polling, voting scenes everywhere. Even if we missed casting our votes in our constituencies as this trip was planned before the dates were announced, we were delighted to watch the systematic voting process in progress in rural Tamil Nadu. Throughout the tour, in every single temple we visited, we prayed for our INDIA and for return of Modi/BJP at the center and for Hindu Dharma to survive in these troubling times.
9. PRANANADESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUMANGALAKUDI . Prananadeshwara is Lord Shiva and Ambal is Mangalaambika. Ambal holds the ‘Maangalya Saradu’ – the sacred yellow thread that signifies marriage (mangalsutra) and therefore this temple is special for Sumanglis (married women). SWAYAMBU LINGAM. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. CHOLA TEMPLE. although inscriptions are from Pallava and Vijayanagara reigns as well. We were blessed with Nirmalya darshanam. No Navagraha in this temple and the banished Navagraha can be found in the nearby Suriyanar Koil, the Sun temple at Aduthurai where the Nava Grahas, the 9 planetary deities, have their own altars.
10. SOORIYANAR KOVIL (SUN TEMPLE) AT ADUTHURAI : The Navagrahas (9 planets) have separate altars in this temple. NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE. The Sun God Surya and Guru (Jupiter) are face to face in this temple. Kulothunga CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 10TH CENTURY CE . Sun is every Hindu’s most important God, because our food crops yield us grains to eat and live because of Surya. Harvest festivals are therefore very special for us. We celebrate LIFE. No wonder, Surya Namaskar – the Sun Salutation is the most important Yoga exercise.
11. VANADURGA TEMPLE AT KADHIRAMANGALAM : We were fortunate to have darshan of abhishegam for Mother Durga in this sacred temple where setting foot is considered equal to paying a visit to your Kula Deivam (family deity) temple. (Every Hindu family has their own family/village deity, the protective God/Goddess from family tree/clan/what we call Kula). ‘Vana’ means forest. Hundreds of years back, it is easy to imagine how much forested this area must have been.
12. SUKRAN TEMPLE AT KANJANUR : NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR SUKRAN (Venus). PADAL PETRA STALAM. MEDIEVAL CHOLA TEMPLE RENOVATED BY VIJAYANAGARA EMPIRE . Shiva is Agnishwara and Ambal is Karpagambal. No separate Prakaram (altar) for Sukaran (Venus) who is supposed to dwell within Shiva’s stomach.
13. RUDRAKSHESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THEPPERUMANALLUR : Shiva/Moolavar here is ‘Vishwanathar’ but the temple is famous for Shiva Lingam wearing a ‘rudraksha angi/kavasam’ (covered in prayer/chanting beads). Ambal is Vedantha Nayaki. The temple is known for frequent ‘sarpa’ (snake) visits as snakes shed their skins exactly on Shiva Linga. There are framed pictures of snake skins with dates. ‘Marupiravi arukkum kovil’ – a visit to this temple is supposed to ensure that there is no Punar Janma (rebirth) for us with our Karma cleansed. A Paramachaarya has attained ‘jeeva samadhi’ within the temple. Beautiful ancient temple. I have to mention a word about the aged archaka (priest) who has had a coronary bypass. An octogenarian. His devotion to Lord Shiva is striking. In most of these temples I witnessed the intense devotion of the priests who did not care for material welfare, who were happy servicing Father and Mother, sweating in humid inner sanctums and sanctorums.
14. UPPILIAPPAN TEMPLE, THIRUNAGESWARAM : This is a Perumal temple, one of the 108 DIVYA DESAMS. CHOLA PERIOD TEMPLE from 6th-8th century CE. Perumal is Uppiliappan. Thaayaar is Perundevi. Saltless Naivedyam is the specialty of this temple where the childless return with their newborn to thank the Lord.
15. NAGESWARAR TEMPLE AKA RAHU TEMPLE AT THIRUNAGESWARAM : Built by Aditya Chola of 6th-7th century CE, the CHOLA TEMPLE is a NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE – RAHU PARIHARA STALAM and PADAL PETRAL STHALAM . Shiva is Naganathar and Ambal is Gujambigai.
Rahu- Ketu Dosha is supposedly the main obstacle in an individual’s life delaying his/her marriage. The dosha is also blamed for not having issues/offspring. In Thirunageshwaram Naganatha swamy temple (Shiva is Naganatha), there is a Prakara for Rahu with snake head and human body that invites devotees from around India. We were blessed to feast on temple bhojan (meals) offered free.
16. APATHSAHAYESHWARAR TEMPLE AT ALANGUDI : CHOLA TEMPLE, PADAL PETRA STALAM Lord Shiva goes by the name Apathsahayeshwar. Ambal is Elavarkuzhali. Often mistaken for Navagraha Guru Parihara stalam, Alangudi actually boasts of an altar for Dhakshinamurthy (Guru). The Navagraha Guru parihara stalam is Thenkudi Thittai that I have already posted about (No.5 in this list). When we went here, we learned the chariot festival was over only that morning. For that matter, we were touring in the temple festival season of Chithirai month. So almost all temples were thronged by both locals and pilgrims from other parts of the state and India.
17. PADIKASUNATHAR TEMPLE AT AZHAGAPUTHUR : Beautiful village setting amid green fields and a beautiful temple. Ancient Shiva Lingam. Om Namashivaya! SWAYAMBU LINGAM. CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 7TH CENTURY CE. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. Lord Shiva is Padikasunathar. Ambal is Soundaranayagi. Murugan can be seen with Sangu, Chakra in this temple.
18. SRINIVASAPERUMAL TEMPLE AT NACHIAR KOIL : CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 3RD CENTURY CE, AND DIVYA DESAM the Perumal temple is revered for KAL GARUDAR darshan, on climbing a fleet of granite internal stairs. Would like to come back to this temple in daylight. Prasadham in the temple was mouthwatering. Consort of Perumal is Vanjulavalli Nachchiar.
19. SARAPERUMAL TEMPLE AT THIRUCHERAI : DIVYA DESAM and MEDIEVAL CHOLA TEMPLE although finds mention from 7th century CE in scriptures. Perumal is Saranathan and Thaayaar is Saranayaki.
20. SARAPARAMESHWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUCHERAI : SWAYAMBU LINGAM. CHOLA TEMPLE. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. Lord Shiva goes by name Saranathan. He is also revered as ‘Kadan Nivartheeshwarar‘ – as legend goes that, praying here relieves one of economic debts.
We rounded up Day 2 with that. Long, long day!
DAY 3: APRIL 19, 2019 FRIDAY – CHITRA POURNAMI !
Forenoon and Afternoon:
This was one day we were all waiting for with bated breaths. We all are ardent Shakthi devotees and we recite Lalitha Sahasranama for years or decades perhaps now. For me, my Ishta Devata is Lalithambika/Mookambika. I never prayed for a darshan of Mookambika but was blessed with one with a visit to Her abode in Kollur, Karnataka. A darshan of Lalithambigai meant the world to me. Before we headed to Thirumeeyachur, we decided to step into one Kumbakonam temple at least. We took only a cursory glance of the famous MAHAMAHAM TEMPLE TANK which is closed to visitors. We rounded up the four streets but could not get into the steps leading to the holy water. For this special day, we ladies dressed special too. We had an appointment with our Divine Mother!
21. ADHI KUMBESWARAR TEMPLE AT KUMBAKONAM : CHOLA TEMPLE . PADAL PETRA STALAM. Shiva Linga here is believed to have been incarnated by Lord Shiva Himself who goes by the name Adhi Kumbeshwar. The temple town derives its name from the Kumbh. Ambal is Mangalambigai. We were blessed to have a darshan of abhishegam for both Adi Kumbeswarar and Mangalambigai on the Chitra Pournami morning. Nirmalya darshan of both Adhi Kumbeshwara and Mangalambigai. What a way to begin the day!
22. LALITHAMBIGAI TEMPLE AT THIRUMEEYACHUR: CHOLA TEMPLE BUILT BY RAJENDRA CHOLA. Shiva goes by the name Meganatha. His consort is Lalithambika, my Ishta Deivam. This shrine is where Lord Hayagriva is believed to have imparted to Aghastya Muni, the sacred text of Lalitha Sahasranama. I consider it my janma sabhalyam to have set my foot on the holy abode of My Mother Goddess on the auspicious occasion of Chitra Pournami. Five solid hours in the sanctum sanctorum right in front of Her with Her eyes and breath on me, blessed with a darshan of Her abhisegam, alankaram and Sahasranama archana and then having Her prasad for lunch in the temple … never asked My Mother for so much… Just the mere thought wells up my eyes… We girls got silver anklets for our Mother, we got our Mother and Father ‘vastrams’ and we had arranged for abhishegam for both. I had a darshan of Meganathar and opted to spend maximum time with my Mother so skipped watching abhishegam for Shiva. We broke into 2 groups actually. Two of us attended abhishegam for Meganathar and the rest 3 of us sat tight in front of our Mother all the time! We recited Lalitha Sahasranama at least 3 times, sang bhajans in chorus with other devotees, clapped, wept in unison… The temple was jampacked for Chitra Pournami. Mother’s ghambeeram, Mother’s benevolence, Mother’s blessings… I almost did not bat my eyes for a continuous 5 hours. My friends shared a similar emotion. Every single soul in Her presence that day wept tears of joy. Humbled! Every single face was streaked with dried tears. Such is the aura of My Mother. One place I want to go back to again and again. Mother Lalithambika is installed with Her right leg folded and left leg down in Sukhasana (Yoga) pose as Manonmani Swaroopa. She is all peace, hence known as Santhanayaki. It was after 3 pm that we left the temple. It seemed that She did not want us to leave. It rained the moment we stepped out of the temple and for the next 30 minutes we could not even go as far as our parked car. We spent the next half hour in the temple shops lining the street still awowed by the experience.
Overwhelmed by Thirumeeyachur darshanam, we returned to our lodgings with an unbeatable feeling for the first time that we were on right course. We decided to take a light break justifying that we deserved it! Went shopping at a weaver’s place for Tribhuvanam silks indigenous to Kumbakonam although we did not shop impressively. Tanjore Thalaiyatti Bommai shopping topped our tour shopping list. Later in the evening after Chakrapani temple visit, we also stopped for Kumbakonam Coffee as Kumbakonam Degree Coffee tops charts in entire south India as best seller coffee. Added many more kilos to our baggage!
As the evening wore off, we found that the temple festivals in Kumbakonam had made it impossible for us to reach into the inner streets at the heart of the town. We decided to wrap up Day 3 with Chakrapani temple and retire to bed early. Which still meant around 10 pm, early only by our tour standards!
23. CHAKRAPANI TEMPLE, KUMBAKONAM : Our last stop for the day. Chakrapani, Perumal, has a third eye like Shiva here. Thaayaar is Seetha Devi. Maratha king Saraboji Maharaj worshiped in the temple.
DAY 4: APRIL 20, 2019 SATURDAY
Fourth day into our trip, we shifted base to Mayavaram by evening.
24. SARANGAPANI TEMPLE AT KUMBAKONAM : MEDIEVAL CHOLA TEMPLE. DIVYA DESAM. Perumal here is Sarangapani. Thaayaar is Komalavalli. We fed the cows and calves in Goshala in the temple which was most satisfying.
25. RAMASWAMY TEMPLE AT KUMBAKONAM : NAYAK PERIOD TEMPLE FROM 16TH CENTURY CE still easily 5 centuries old. Beautiful one and extremely well maintained. A refreshing change after seeing neglected temples that are 1,500 years old and crumbling. Perumal here is Sri Rama and Thaayaar is Seetha Devi. Chithra Ramayana depicted on the walls of the temple are the highlight describing entire Ramayana with the seven ‘khaandams.’ The oldest frescoes from centuries before are preserved. Ramaswamy temple is a feast to the eyes and the soul.
26. AIRAWATESWARA TEMPLE AT DARASURAM : This UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE was our next stop. RAJA RAJA CHOLA TEMPLE . Shiva is Airawateshwara. Ambal is Periyanayaki. Only part of the original temple remains. You have to visit to believe this architectural marvel of Cholas over a millennium earlier. Due to the menace by miscreants, many architectural wonders like the Saptaswara tuned/singing pillars etc., are cordoned off from public view.
27. SWAMINATHASWAMY TEMPLE, SWAMI MALAI : Believed to have existed from 2nd Century BCE, this ARUPADAIVEEDU TEMPLE for Subrahmanya is where Lord Muruga, son of Shiva is believed to have imparted to His father the ‘Pranava Mantra.’ Lord Muruga stands alone here (without consorts), over 2 sets of very broad granite steps – 30 each set. But the hill is man-made. We were blessed to recite Kanda Sashti Kavasam in chorus as the abhishegam was performed.
28. KALYANASUNDARESWARAR SWAMY TEMPLE AT THIRUMANANCHERI : Temple looks ancient PADAL PETRA STHALAM so easily 1,500 years old to the minimum, but no note on architecture. We wanted to visit this temple which is believed to ‘facilitate marriages.’ Brides and grooms-to-be or the so-called singles and marriage-hopefuls were there as well as those who had come back as couples to thank the Lord and His Missus. We girls prayed for wedding bells to ring soon for our sons and daughters even in their absence. That’s the best we could do. Lord Shiva (Shiva Lingam) – Moolavar is Uthvahanathar. Ambal is Kokilambal. Blessed to have darshan of abhishegam for both. Shiva is also Kalyanasundareswarar, the happily married man here.
With that, we broke for lunch and later checked into our Mayavaram (Mayiladuthurai homestay) to refresh and change before we started on our evening tour.
Our evening at Sithalapathi aka Thilatharpanapuri was enchanting. Quaintly charming village with Goshalas (cow sheds), barns, Veda patashalas (Vedic schools) where eager and energetic ‘vidyaarthis’ learned the Vedas in pristine surroundings. We struck a conversation with one who at 12 years was ready to forsake worldly pleasures to serve the Lord. Listen: not to fight a bloody war but to serve mankind with profound spiritual knowledge and wisdom. This is why Hindu Dharma has to live. Om Shanthi! Hindu patrons please donate generously to the Veda Patashala, thank you!
29. ADHI VINAYAGAR TEMPLE AT THILATHARPANAPURI (SETHALAPATHY) : This is the rare Ganesha temple in India where Lord Ganesha is with His human head. Felt strange!
30. MUKTEESWARAR TEMPLE AT THILATHARPANAPURI (SETHALAPATHY): Where Rama performed ‘thidhi’ for His father ‘Dasaratha’ after His return from Sri Lanka before returning to Ayodhya. ‘Thil’ is ‘ellu’ in Tamil. ‘Tharpanam’ is giving ‘thidhi’ – hence the name.
31. MAHA SARASWATHI TEMPLE AT KOOTHANUR : Only temple in India for the Goddess of Learning, Knowledge and Wisdom is at Koothanur. Blessed to have had Saraswathi’s darshan. We girls presented our Mother with a white sari. We need Her blessings not only for our own children, but for all Indian children. We prayed for the nation foremost. The process of learning never stops. Saraswathi’s grace is needed forever.
32. DHARBARANYESWARAR TEMPLE AKA SANEESWARAN TEMPLE AT THIRUNALLAR : NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR SATURN (SHANI) from 7TH CENTURY CE NURTURED BY PANDYA KINGS, this temple is in Karaikal district. PADAL PETRA STHALAM . By coincidence we were there on saturday when the temple is thronged typically by devotees from all corners of India. We had a good darshan of Sani bhagwan who has a separate altar besides the presiding deity Dharbaranyeswarar (Lord Shiva). Shiva Lingam here is believed to be made of ‘dharbai.’ (a kind of dried grass). Ambal is Bogamartha Poorna. Although we could not take a dip at the holy ‘theertham’ (temple tank), we fed the cows in the Goshala and lit ironware diya with sesame oil for Sani Bhagwan.
DAY 5: APRIL 21, 2019 SUNDAY
With a heavy heart, we woke up to the last day of our whirlwind tour that we feared, initially, might not work out. Where there is will, there is way. We proved it to ourselves.
33. VAIDYANATHAN TEMPLE AT VAITHEESWARAN KOIL : A KULOTHUNGA CHOLA TEMPLE FROM 12TH CENTURY. PADAL PETRA STHALAM. NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR WORSHIP OF ANGARAKAN (SEVVAAI) (MARS) In this Navagraha (Sevvai) parihara sthalam, Shiva goes by the name Vaitheeswaran. Ambal is Thaiyyal Nayaki. Blessed to have a darshan of Angarakan abhishegam as this is Navagraha parihara sthalam for Sevvai Dosham that afflicts our horoscope/kundali. Angarakan has a separate altar here.
34. SWETHARANYESWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUVENKADU: NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE FOR BUDHAN (MERCURY) . PADAL PETRA STHALAM. CHOLA TEMPLE . Lord Shiva in this Nagapattinam temple is Swetharanyeswarar. Navagraha pariharasthalam for Budhan/Mercury. Ambal is Brahma Nayaki. Acre of temple with three holy theerthams (temple tanks) and Brahma Samadhi and 3 sthala vriksham (holy native trees). Blessed to have a darshan of abhishegam for the elusive Spatika Lingam and also Aghora Murthy (Shiva) in His ‘ajanubahu’ human form. Gora = ugly. Aghora is handsome/beautiful. Rare temple to have Shiva in this Human form apart from as Shiva Linga. Like Chidambara Rahasyam, this temple also has ‘Nataraja Rahasyam.’ Understand that all Shiva temples where He dances in Nataraja form have this Rahasyam. Blessed to have darshan of the Rahasyam. Nandhi in this temple is ‘Utsavamurthy’ – portable.
35. KETHU TEMPLE AKA NAGANATHASWAMY TEMPLE AT KEEZHPERUM PALLAM : The last NAVAGRAHA TEMPLE that we visited was Kethu temple at Keezhperumpallam. Kethu is shadow planet with snake body and human head. Kethu dosham like Rahu dosham or what we generally refer to as ‘Naga dosham’ may delay marriage and childbirth. Blessed to have a darshan of Kethu abhishegam. All the time, ‘naga’ (snake) songs were played in ‘Nagaswaram’ by temple music band.
That brought us to a close as far as Navagraha Parihara sthalams were concerned. Not that we performed any pariharam. On our way to lunch, met with a village palm jaggery seller to whom we gave good business in Poompuhar. It was time to bid goodbye to our dear friend KC whose train to Kerala was at 4.15 pm from Karaikal station. We rounded up a couple of more temples before we called it a day on the final 5th and boarded our own mail by 11.40 late evening.
36. RAJAGOPALASWAMY TEMPLE AT ANANDA MANGALAM : The temple were Lord Rama visited became our first stop for the evening – just 4 of us now. Once upon a time, this place must have been a dense jungle, it is easy to imagine. This area is very close to Karaikal-Nagapattinam from where crossing to Sri Lanka could have been easiest, with sea narrowest. Sri Rama is believed to have visited/touched quite a few places on His route back to Ayodhya from Sri Lanka. These ancient, ageless temples retrace His steps. Rajagopalaswamy temple is estimated to be at least 1000 years old. Perumal is Rajagopalaswamy (urchavar). Moolavar is Vasudevaperumal. His consorts are Sridevi, Boodevi.
37. TRINETRA CHATURBUJA ANJANEYA TEMPLE AT ANANDA MANGALAM : Close to Rajagopalaswamy temple is Trinetra Chaturbuja Anjaneya temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman in Deer vahana, on His victorious return from Sri Lanka. Hanuman is believed to have beeen bid on a mission to ‘tie up loose ends’ by Lord Rama and He set out with the Blessings of Lord Shiva who offered Him His ‘Trinetra’ and Lord Vishnu who gave Him His ‘Chaturbuja.’ Here too a ‘Rahasyam’ is revealed, and opposite the temple is still a deer park. Once a thickly forested area, this place is now a quiet semi-urbanised village.
38. AMRITHAGHATESWARAR TEMPLE AT THIRUKADAIYUR AKA THIRUKADAIYUR ABHIRAMI: PADAL PETRA STHALAM. KULOTHUNGA CHOLA AND RAJA RAJA CHOLA TEMPLE. The temple where Markandeya sought Shiva is Thirukadaiyur where ‘ayush homam’ for nourishing ‘ayush’ is practice even today especially where it concerns elderly married couples with the bridgegroom entering his 60th year. It is ‘visesham’ to renew your marriage vows in this sacred shrine that is supposed to bestow us with ‘ayush vrithi.’ Blessed to be present for the abhisegam of annai Abhirami, Ambal. Shiva is Amrithaghateswarar who gave sanctuary to Markandeya. The Shiva Linga that Markandeya embraced is revealed in something like a ‘rahasyam.’ Blessed to recite Lalitha Sahasranamam in the sanctum sanctorum with my friend GV right in front of Mother Abhirami.
39. MAYURANATHAR TEMPLE AT MAYILADUTHURAI (MAYAVARAM) : PADAL PETRA STHALAM. KULOTHUNGA CHOLA AND MEDIEVAL CHOLA TEMPLE. This was the last temple of the day and our tour. Shiva is SWAYAMBU LINGAM and goes by the name Mayuranathar. Ambal is Abhayambigai. SAPTA STHANAM TEMPLE FESTIVAL FOR CHITRAI MONTH was going on when we visited this temple in the evening. On one side, Bharat Natyam and on the other, various stage performances. Blessed to have been there for Saptha Stanam when seven Shiva temples brought in their processions to Mayuranathar veedhi. It was such a gala celebration: the ultimate crowning glory, right note on which to finish our tour. Early in the morning, in front of our homestay, we took a group picture with the temple tower in the background. Our driver for the tour was Shri Saravanan (recommended by Chit), who was extremely knowledgeable, patient, punctual, diligent, kind and courteous. Without him, this tour would not have been possible.