Physically exhausted but emotionally rejuvenated, our Navarathri 2013 road trip to Central TamilNadu – in a nutshell.
After we got back from this trip, our friends and family were surprised that we had fun esp. on a temple trip. Yes, we had already done 2 road trips to Karnataka and Rajasthan in 2012 but those were considered fun vacations as we went to beaches, rode deserts, visited palaces etc. In addition, things were different last year. Ever since Jan 2013, my health has been on a downward spiral. Our friends wanted to know how we even thought of a temple trip that too with kids, with my health and finally how we managed to find fun destinations even while covering temples?
Well believe it or not, Guru and I were very wary about this road trip and we almost called it off. In fact, we had put all trips on hold, thinking that we will do it once things improve. So what made us proceed forward, you ask? Well, believe it or not, it was a dream – sometime during mid April. It had been a particularly tough day and after some rants, I finally dozed off.
I am walking around dense woods, searching for something when an old lady in a green saree walks up to me, smiles at me as though she has known me all my life and then says, “ஏன் இன்னும் நீ மங்களத்த பாக்க வரல? நீ சீக்கிரமா என்னை பாக்க வா, அப்புரம் எல்லாம் சரியாய் ஆகிவிடும்” (Why have you not come to see Mangalam? You should come and visit me soon, everything will be alright then). I woke up with a start – it was around 5.45 in the morning.
While I have had a lot of dreams, some scary, some tiring, some plain confusing, I have never dreamt anything of this sort. I went about my daily activities, with this dream in the back of my mind. You see, our kuladeivam (குலதெய்வம்), i.e. family deity or ancestral God is Goddess Mangalambikai, a form of Goddess Parvathi, consort of Lord Shiva. Our temple is in Perungalur, a village near Trichy, on Pudukottai – Tanjavur Road. So when this old lady in green told me to come see Mangalam, (short for Mangalambikai), I took it to be a sign, a sign that gave me hope. But we could not plan anything immediately due to school/work etc.
Some months rolled by when Guru told me that his colleague Alphine Valentine is getting married in Trichy on October 14, 2013, during NetApp’s mid year shutdown……..DING DING DING – bells went off in our mind and Guru started planning for a road trip to TamilNadu starting with Alphine’s wedding and then covering our Kuladeivam and temples/destinations of significance (both religious and architectural). The first trip plan looked like this: leave from Bangalore on October 13 (Saraswathi Pooja) > Namakkal > Trichy > Perungalur>Mullakudi > Tanjore > Kumbakonam > Karaikkal > Kumbakonam> Madurai > Rameshwaram > Dhanushkodi > Bangalore. But it seemed too strenuous and Guru had concerns the drive time and how I will cope with all the travel. We also had to factor in the following:
- Our boys – Temple tours always makes kids wary as they do not find temples fun places, places where they can run around, play and have a blast. For them temples are places where rules have to followed, where prayers have to be said and where there is a lot of crowd and congestion. In addition, they found the idea of visiting temples on a vacation weird when all their friends were going to tourist destinations.
- Navarathri celebrations/ Saraswathi Pooja celebrations at our home.
- நடை சாத்தும்/ நடை திறக்கும் நேரம் (Temple opening/closing times).
- Finally, my health.
So taking into account the factors listed above, we kept Trichy and Kumbakonam as our base and planned our day accordingly, couple of temples in the morning, rest/chill in the afternoon, fun activities for the kids throughout, couple more temples in the evening. Our intent was to make this a fun road trip, one that the kids will always remember and cherish so that they were engaged and had fun despite this being a temple tour 🙂
Covered 1700 kms ~ 1056 mi, around 42 destinations and 39 temples in 8 days: Bangalore > Namakkal > Trichy > Srirangam > Manikka Vinayagar/Ucchi Pillayar Kovil/ Shopping > Thiruvanaikoil > Perungalur > Mullakudi > Trichy > Tanjore/Thanjavur > Thingalur > Cauvery Banks > Kumbakonam > Darasuram > Patteswaram > Thiruvalanchuzi > Swami Malai > Kumbeswaran Kovil, Kumbakonam > Alangudi > Thirucherai > Naachiyaar Kovil > Thirunirayur > Thirunageswaram > Thirubuvanam > Thiruvidaimarudur > Thirumangalakkudi > Suriyanaar Kovil > Kanjanur > Kathiramangalam > Thirukadaiyur > Kizhaperumpallam > Thiruvengadu >Vaitheeswaran Kovil > Cauvery Banks > Ganapathi Agraharam > Pasupathi Kovil > Kabisthalam > Nallur > Thirumeeyachur > Koothanur/Poonthottam > Thirunallar > Karaikkal Beach > Ramaswamy Kovil, Kumbakonam > Gangai Konda Choza Puram > Bangalore.
Whew, that took quite some time to type it all up.
Day 1, October 13, 2013 : Destination – Bangalore to Trichy via Namakkal by Road
October 13 was Saraswathi Pooja, where we pay obeisance to the Goddess of wisdom, knowledge, music and arts. After the pooja and a quick lunch, we left for Trichy around 1.00 pm so that we can reach Namakkal just around 4.00 pm right in time for temple opening time. It rained just when we were approaching Namakkal. You see, the kids believe that it always rains whenever we hit the road – be it a short one to Chennai, Coorg or a longer one. We had a lot of fun chasing the rain and even a couple of rainbows.
This is our second time to the Lakshmi Narasimhar and Hanuman temples and we had a good darshan.
We headed out to Trichy around 5.30 pm and reached Hotel Mayas around 7.00 pm and attended Alphine-Jenifa’s engagement ceremony.
Day 2, October 14, 2013: Alphine’s wedding at St.Joseph’s Church, Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Maanikka Vinagar – Ucchi Pillayar Kovil, Poompuhar,Thiruvanaikoil
It was a particularly hot day but we thought we felt the heat more cos we have been living in Bangalore and are not used to this kind of heat. After a sumptuous breakfast, we headed out to St.Joseph’s Church for the wedding. St. Joseph’s Church is one of the oldest churches and a very beautiful and majestic one. We have visited churches in the US with the kids when they were smaller but it was only as a tourist and not to witness a mass or a wedding. It was a very different experience for Vidyuth and Vishruth and they had so many questions about the design of the church, about why Jesus Christ was crucified esp. cos he was a good person and that good people do not get punished. I could see that they were visibly moved. The wedding was conducted by the Archbishop and was a very beautiful one. After giving our best wishes to Alphine and Jenifa, we headed out to Srirangam Temple.
It was just too hot that day (I guess because of Rockfort) and by the time we reached Srirangam temple, we were all sweating it out 🙂 and I mean that literally. Srirangam is one of the 108 Vishnu temples aka Divyadesam’s. Lord Vishnu manifests as Ranganathar in his resting form.
As always, Sri Ranganathar shrine and Thaayar shrine was too crowded and after a blink-and-you-will-miss darshan, we walked around the other shrines and spent some time in the Hayagreevar shrine (not many people there). We were amazed at the minute detailing in the painting of Gajendra Moksham inside the shrine and the undated painting of Lord Ranganathar on the ceiling.
The heat got to us finally and we grabbed a few bottles of water, had a quick lunch and rushed back to our hotel. After cooling down (and of course after feeding the kids and making sure they were entertained), we head out to Uchi Pillayar Kovil (Guru and Kids)/Poompuhar (Me).
If you are in Trichy and have not seen Ucchi Pillayar Kovil, then you have missed something. Translated, the Temple (Kovil) of Lord Ganesha (Pillayar) on the top (Ucchi), the Ganesh temple sits on top of a rock mountain, aptly called Rockfort. The views of the city from the mountain top are spectacular. It is a steep climb (417 steps) and as I had already seen the temple when I was in my teens, I opted to sit this one out and instead walk to Poompuhar, not Poompuhar city but Poompuhar store famous for handicrafts and their Navarathri Golu exhibition.Guru and the boys had a lot of fun @ Uchhi Pillayar temple and Vidyuth got some nice clicks as well. Vidyuth displays a keen interest in photography so we got him a basic point and shoot camera but he quickly learned the ropes and in fact handles my D3100 with complete ease.
Yours truly braved the Diwali crowds and boy, was I in for a treat when I finally reached Poompuhar. They were having a end-of-navarathri golu dolls sale. It was an 1/2 hour well spent and I came out of the store with a BIIIIG smile 🙂
The kids insisted on dinner before we went to Thiruvanaikoil or Thiruaanaikaval – Lord Jambukeswara/Shiva and Goddess Akilandeshwari/Parvathi. Just as we were about to enter the temple, we heard loud clangs and drums beating and we saw the Swami Ula – உலா, where the Urchava Murthi’s – உற்சவ மூர்த்தி are taken out for procession on Vijayadasami (Note: This video is very shaky).
This temple is one of the Pancha Bootha Sthalams (Pancha = Five, Bootha = Elements, i.e.air, water, fire, earth and sky and Sthalam = place).
The darshan was peaceful and very satisfying as it was almost temple closing time and we also saw the temple golu.
Day 3, October 15, 2013: Perungalur, Mullakudi, Kallanai, Samayapuram
Every trip has some songs that we listen to on Repeatu 🙂 Can you take a wild guess what the songs might have been for this trip?………………………………..
Our kuladeivam (குலதெய்வம்), i.e. family deity or ancestral God is in Perungalur, a small village on the Tanjore-Pudukottai highway. The main deities are Shiva and Parvathi as Lord Vamsotharakar and Goddess Mangalambikai. We visited this temple around August 2009, just before our move back to India in 2010 (Ideally one should visit their kuladeivam at least once a year).
The belief is that Vamsotharakar will ensure the continuance of one’s vamsam or future generations and Mangalambikai will ensure mangalam or prosperity. Together Lord Vamsotharakar and Goddess Mangalambikai will ensure the prosperity of your family, including the ones of future generations. The priest at the temple told me that the practice of offering paddy grains to deities stems from when we write the name of the child during Namakarana (naming ceremony) which is held during Punyavachanam. The priest was gracious enough to send me the pictures and you could practically hear my jaw drop when he asked me, “I can send it to you either through WhatsApp or Bluetooth, which one do you prefer?” I was pretty new to WhatsApp but he had been using it for more than a year…..seems like the reach of technology is much more than one can imagine.
There are also other shrines for Lord Vinaayaka also known as Kshema Pillayar, for Lord Karthikeya, for Lord Dakshinamoorthy, Goddess Durga, Bhairavar and even Brahma.
Other than the main temple, we also go to another temple for Lord Malayamarungar and Godess Pidaariamman. I got to know from the priest that Malayamarungar is an incarnation of Lord Ayyapaa or Hariharaputhra Saastha, who is in fact the kulatheivam for my father (Married women take the customs and the kuladeivam of the husband’s family). So I was able to worship both the kuladeivams.
There is another temple called Uruminathar and I do not know much about this temple as women are not allowed here. Kinda reminded me of the restrictions in Sabarimala. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of other information about the origin of all the customs and their significance. But with a little bit more research, I think I can get all the necessary details.
After fullfilling our prayers, we then proceeded to Mullakudi, a picturesque village, near Thirukaatupalli in Tanjore District. Guru’s mom grew up here before she got married and moved to Madras, now Chennai (sue me 🙂 I really cannot bring myself to call Madras – Chennai). Her cousin brother Vembu maama lives there with his wife Maduram maami. Even though I had met them during our wedding, this was the first time I had the chance to interact with them and it felt like I was cocooned in their warmth and love. Maduram maami had cooked a tasty lunch and after he was done with lunch, Vidyuth sang “Maduram paati samayal saadham, kaaikarigalum pramadam, set to the tunes of Kalyaana Samayal Saadham 🙂 Her happiness was evident by the big smile on her face. The kids took them after an initial few minutes of shyness and had a lot of fun exploring the house, asking Maduram maami questions about her sewing machine, the dolls that she had made.
Vembu maama is a farmer and he took us around his garden and to his fields and needless to say, the kids had a blast walking in the fields, playing with the water in the pump set, touching and feeling rice kernals….it was a wonderful experience.
I definitely have to write about the Kada-Pillayar temple. According to stories that I have heard from Guru’s mom – Guru’s grandfather and his brother were going to cut down a tree the next morning to use for firewood. In their dream (I am not sure who’s), the tree told them to not cut it down and told them to dig near it as there is a statue of Sastha. They have been worshipping it as Kada-Pillayar (Kadu/kada-Forest). Set amidst paddy fields and a serene atmosphere, this temple gives one a sense of calm.
We left from Mullakudi with a heavy heart and captured ethereal hues @ sunset on Kallanai dam.
We also stopped at Samayapuram Mariamman temple for a quick and good darshan (almost temple closing time) and treated the kids (and us too) with some yummy ice cream at Bliss before retiring to what was our last night in Trichy.
Day 4, October 16, 2013: Thanjavur/Tanjore, Thingalur, Cauvery banks, Kumbakonam, Darasuram, Pateeswaram, Thiruvalanchuzi, Kumbalonam
It took us around 2 hours to reach Tanjore and the first thought that goes thro’ one’s head on seeing the Gopuram is “How in the world did they manage to build something like this?” We talk about new and innovative techniques in construction methods but nothing and I mean absolutely nothing comes close to their innovation, creativity and the Chola artists’ mastery in architecture, sculpture.
Also called as Periya Kovil (Big Temple), Brihadeeshwar temple was built by RajaRaja Cholan (இராசராச சோழன்) and acted as the supreme mark of the wealth and power wielded by the Cholas. Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi are worshipped here as Brihadeeshwarar and BrihanNayaki. The Nandi (Bull, Shiva’s vehicle) is huge and is carved out of a single stone. Simply marvelous and people will always be awestruck, no matter how many times they have visited this temple.
We had planned to visit all the Navagraha (9 planets) temples in this road trip and first on our list for Thingalur – Moon temple. The main deity is Lord Shiva as Kailasanathar and Goddess Parvathi as Periyanayakiamman.
Vidyuth is an enthusiastic foodie and is open to trying new things but Vishruth is just the opposite. He has very particular tastes and most of the time ends up eating dosa or Thaachi mammu (curd rice) everywhere we go. This sometimes limits our choices but this trip, he finally opened up to try everything from coconut water to parotta to gobi manchurian.
On our way, we also saw rice transplantation and sugarcane harvesting. The farmers also gave us sugarcane to eat. It was a good learning experience for the kids as well and they realized how hard the farmers work and that they do not get any day off.
We drove along River Cauvery on our way to Kumbakonam and near Ayyampettai (remember Ayyampettai Arivudai Nambi Kaliyaperumal Chandran from Thillu Mullu?) we saw banks where the river was shallow and almost out of a movie scene 🙂 We HAD to stop there for a while. The kids were jumping with joy, literally.
While having lunch at Cafe Venkataramana, I saw that the notice board had a lovely sketch of Brihadeeshwar temple along with the special items for the day. Upon further enquiry, I saw the framed clipping from The Hindu. Made me remember the Thirukkural, செவிக்கு உணவில்லாத போது சிறிது வயற்றுக்கும் ஈய படும். Of course, I modified it as கண்களுக்கு உணவில்லாத போது சிறிது வயற்றுக்கும் ஈய படும் 🙂
We checked in @ Hotel Rayas near Mahamagam Tank,Kumbakonam and the hotel was very comfortable. But what caught my eye were the beautiful paintings of presiding deities at various temples in and around Kumbakonam.
From here on until our drive back to BGL, Kumbakonam was to be our base as most of the destinations were within driving distance, the farthest being Thirunallar, a good 1.5 hour drive from Kumbakonam.
Around 4.00 pm we headed out to Darasuram and on the way stopped at Hotel Aryaas/Athithyaa for coffee…..man it was just mind blowing and literally out of the world. Every time I say this, Vidyuth pipes up with, “If it is out of the world, then how come you are able to drink it 🙂 He is going be 10, a tween this November and when I see his interactions with us and Vishruth, I can’t help but feel surprised at how fast time has flown by.
Airavatheswarar temple, Darasuram, is yet another architectural marvel from the Cholas and is a UNESCO “World Heritage Monument.” I don’t have words to describe the ornate and intricate detailing of every pillar and sculpture. As it was Pradosham, we witnessed the pradosha kaala pooja of Lord Airavateshwarar and worshipped Goddess Periya Nayaki Amman.
At Thenupuriswarar temple, Patteeswaram, we worshipped Thenupuriswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Durga or Durgambikai. Goddess Durga has a very peaceful and pleasant appearance and she looked divine in the light of a lamp during a powercut.
Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed god is my favorite and I love collecting Ganesha’s of all shapes, sizes and styles. But until this trip, I was not aware of a Lord Ganesha in white until we visited the Swetha Vinayagar (Swetha = White) temple, Thiruvalanchizi. Other than Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi are presiding deities as Sri Kabartheeshwarar (Sadaimudinaathar), Sri Brighan Nayaki(Periya Nayaki). This temple was one of the original experimental grounds for Chola kings to try out and perfect the Chola architectural style, as evidenced in the carvings on columns inside the temple.
A lot of times we find that kids or people younger than us are correct and have the right insight into an issue. The the age-old(!!) adage of elders being correct always as they have more experience comes to a standstill at Swaminatha Swami (Teacher of Lord Shiva) temple at Swamimalai.
Lord Karthikeya, Son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi and brother of Lord Ganesha is the presiding deity here and is known as Balamurugan and Swaminatha Swami. Lord Muruga is said to have revealed the meaning of AUM – the Pranava Mandiram to Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma and was hence their teacher. Vidyuth and Vishruth really liked listening to this story.
Swamimalai is also one of the Arupadaiveedu’s or 6 abodes of Lord Muruga. One has to climb 60 steps to reach the main shrine and each step is named after the 60 tamil years.
The final temple for that day was Aadi Kumbeswarar temple @ Kumbakonam. Kumbam in tamil means pot and Konam is crooked and according to legends, Lord Shiva, in the guise of a hunter, broke Brahma’s pot holding the nectar of life needed for the next yug (time) ie Kaliyug. The nectar fell in what came to be known as Mahamaham kulam and Kumbakonam got its name from Lord Shiva as Kumbeswarar. Goddess Parvathi is known as Mangalambikai here.
After darshan we walked thro’ the temple bazaar and man, they had knick-knacks of all kinds. The place was just bustling and the kids were amused by the kind of things that were being sold and by the sheer energy that was radiating from this place.
We had dinner at Hotel Archana, apparently a famous place, walked through the market square where Guru drank Bovonto, a grape-cola like drink that was very famous in South India at least, before Pepsi and Coke took over.
Day 4 finally came to an end and our eyes closed the moment we hit the sack.
Our Thiru Naal – Day 5, October 17, 2013 – Alangudi, Thirucherai, Naachiyar Kovil, Thirunaraiyur, Thirunageswaram, Thirubuvanam, Thiruvidaimarudur, Thirumangalakkudi, Suriyanaar Kovil, Kanjanur, Kathiramangalam
Why Thiru Naal, you ask….we visited the most # of temples (11) this day and 6 of them had Thiru in their name 🙂
After a hearty breakfast and coffee (what’s breakfast without coffee, you ask), we went to Alangudi – Planet Jupiter – Guru temple. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Abathsahayeswarar or one who comes to our aid during crisis. Goddess Parvathi is known as Elavarkuzhali Ammai or Umayammai and Guru is known and worshipped as Dakshinamoorthy.
I really liked the way the temple priest told us the stories about Saranatha Perumal at Thirucherai. Ganga (River Ganges) and Cauvery are in a power struggle and Brahma rules that Ganga is more pious than Cauvery as she flows from Lord Shiva’s jadai. Cauvery then does a very tough penance and then Lord Vishnu grants the wish that she will be regarded as the mother river in South India and that she will be responsible for its prosperity. To then prove a point, he then takes the form of a small baby and crawled in Cauvery’s hands as she was his mother. He also goes one step further and tells Cauvery that I will wear you on my chest in Srirangam, Trichy. In Thirucherai, Lord Vishnu is seen as both a baby and then as Saaranaathar. This is the only temple where Lord Vishnu is seen with five goddesses – Mahalakshmi on his chest, Saranayaki, Bhoomadevi, Sri Devi and Cauvery by his side.
The second story goes that towards the end of Theertha yuga, Brahma was worried about saving and protecting the scriptures, vedas, and other tools necessary to create living beings in the next yuga. Lord Vishnu then told Brahma to make a mud pot and then put the vedas, scriptures and life tools in it. Brahma was unsuccessful in his attempt at making a strong mud pot as the mud gave away. He finally reached the banks of Cauvery at Thirucherai and the pot stayed and hence was able to protect and recreate the living beings. So Thirucherai ensured the successful creation of living things in the next yuga. It is also called Sara Kshetram.
I can still hear the Priest’s voice as he described the origin of the town’s names – Cherai – Thirucherai, Vaasal – Kudavaasal and Konam – Kumbakonam. A must-see temple and notice how most temples are associated with either Theertha Yuga or Narasimha Avatar.
The hotel conceirge at Rayas Anexe was very helpful and helped us chart out our plans and also told us about temples that only localites are privy too. Based on his recommendations, we went to Saaraparameshwarar-Gnanavalli Temple at Thirucherai. Lord Shiva is also called as Rinavimochaneswarar and the belief is that worshipping him will improve your financial status and he will help you get rid of your debts.
At Naachiyaar Kovil, Thiruniraiyur, we saw Lord VIshnu as Srinivasa and Goddess Lakshmi as Naachiyaar in kalaayana kolam (wedding garb). Vishnu’s Pancha Vyuha’s (five forms) ie. Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Anirudha, Purushottama and Vasudeva are also present in the main shrine. Lord Brahma and Balaraman also preside over the wedding. This temple is famous for the Kal Garudar (Kal – Stone, Garuda – Vishu’s vehicle). When I heard about the story of Saint Medhavi and the Pancha Vyuha’s of Lord Vishnu, I was reminded of the lyrics from Vishnu Sahasranama –Ishvaro Vikrami Thanvi Medavi Vikrma Kramaha, Aniruddho Pratirata Pradhyumno Mitavikramaha.
Near Naachiyaar Kovil, there is a small temple for Ramanatha Swamy (Lord Shiva). This temple also houses a shrine for Mangala Saniswaran at Thiruniraiyur. This is the only place where Lord Sani is with his family – his wives Mandhaa Devi and Jyeshta Devi and his kids Maandhi and Kuligai. This is the only temple where another deity other than the presiding deity has its own DwajaSthambam and mount or vehicle of the deity – in this case, a crow which is Saneeswaran’s vehicle. The priest also gave us Ellu Rice (Rice mixed gunpowder made of Til seeds and chillies.. This is the offered to Lord Sani).
It was almost noon when we reached Thirunageswaram – Naganathaswamy and Planet Ragu temple and to distract the kids from the heat, I told them the story of how the Planets Ragu and Kethu came into being – During Kurma avatar, after the nectar was distributed to the devas, one asura (demon) stealthily took the form of a deva and consumed the nectar. Once Lord Vishnu knew of this, he was very angry and cut the asura’s head with his discus. The head joined with a snake’s body to become Ragu and the body joined with the snake’s head to become Kethu.
Usually Ragu bagavan is seen as a deity with a head of a snake but here he is seen with a human face. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Naganathaswamy with Goddess Parvathi as Piraiyanivanudalumai. There is another shrine for Goddess Parvathi where she is in a penance posture with Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswathi helping her. Together they are known as Sri Giri Gujambigai.
Our days were planned around the kids’s moods and their wishes so we had 3-4 hours everyday when the kids let loose – they play uno, watch oggy and the cockroaches in hindi, ninja hattori in tamil, enact funny hindi and sometimes tamil dialogues from Oggy, read their comics, play badminton in the room or some rare moments, lie down and relax 🙂 So when we left for the evening, they were in good spirits. Guru also read about the temples and we brushed up our story telling skills, not to mention the stories that we knew regarding certain gods. So after getting into the car, they will immediately ask where we are going and the story i.e. the Sthala/Kshetra Puram for that temple.
I really do not want to pick favorites but the Sarabeshwarar/Kampaheswarar temple @ Thirubuvanam is my absolute favorite of the lot. Legend has it that Lord Vishnu as Narasimha went kinda berserk, on a killing spree and the devas along with Lord Brahma went to Lord Shiva asking for his help to calm Lord Narasimha’s fury. So Lord Shiva took the form of Sarabeshwarar – fusion of man, eagle and lion and tamed Lord Narasimha.
Built by Kulothunga Chola III, this temple is another exquisite example of the Chola style of architecture. We were just blown away by the vivid colors and I really don’t have any words to express the beauty of the temple. Just thinking about this temple brings out the goosebumps. P.S. Sriranga Ranga Naathanin Paadam song from Mahanadi was shot here…yeah yeah, I know this song is about Sri Ranganathar but was shot in a Shiva temple 🙂
At the Mahalingeshwarar – Mookambigai temple @ Thiruvidaimarudhur, we saw the Chakkra Maha Meru and I wondered our loud about what it is and what it represents. A scholarly gentleman passing by told us that Sri Chakra in 3D is Mount Meru and it is where Ambal resides. This temple is also associated with the story about Brahmahathi Dosham and devotees enter the temple through the main entrance and exit through the west gate like how the Pandya king did on Lord Shiva’s instructions. Interestingly, as kids, we were always told to sit for at least a couple of minutes after finishing Shiva darshan. If we did not follow that, apparently we will be afflicted by Brahmahathi dosham.
Lord Pranatheswarar- Goddess Mangalambigai at the Thirumangalaakkudi temple are known these names as they saving the pranam or life of a minister who incurred the wrath of the Chola king when he, without the king’s knowledge, built a Shiva temple using the tax money. His wife prayed to Goddess Mangalambigai to save her spouse and her mangalyam. Pranatheswarar revived the minister and thereby gave back the mangalyam of his wife – hence the name Thirumangalakkudi – மாங்கல்யம் கொடுத்த குடி i.e. the place that gave back her mangalyam.
At the Suriyanaar Kovil dedicated to the Sun god, there are shrines for all the other 8 planets as well. We start going around Apradakshina or counter clockwise from the main shrine worshipping Saneeswaran (Son of the Sun god), Budhan, Chandran, Sukran, Rahu, Kethu, Chandran and finally Angarakan and we finally come back to the courtyard facing the main shrine.
A brief stop at Kanjanur – Sukran – Planet Venus temple. It is said that Sukracharya, guru to the asuras defied Lord Shiva and was punished by him. Upon praying to Karpagambal (Goddess Parvathi again), Shiva forgave him and he was granted the status of a celestial planet.
The kids saw some rats running around and Vishruth immediately went on a questioning spree – do rats bite (errr….I think so), Will your fingers hurt if it bites you (again…errr…..i don’t know as I have never been bitten by one – now that I think of it, he did seem a bit disappointed that I have not had a rat bite me). But this Q, my friends is in my humble opinion, the Question of the day 😀
Vishruth: if god created human beings, then whose stomach did the first human come from?
Me (trying to think fast while eating piping hot roadside Bajji): Brahma created him like how Goddess Parvathi created Ganesha
The story according to Hindu scriptures goes like this: Well according to Hindu scriptures, the first man was Manu and the first woman was Shatrupa, both created by Brahma ofcourse. Manu is the root word for Manushya or Manav and also for Man(meaning the children of Manu):)…Ravi Chopra’s Vishnu Puran for the entire story:)…-the first time man came out from the stomach, it was from that of Shatrupa’s;) Thanks Kripa.
Our Thiru-Naal ended on a gentle note @ VanaDurga Parameshwari temple at Kathiramangalam. A manifestation of Goddess Durga, Vanadurga Parameshwari’s form is very peaceful and she does not carry weapons of any sort. There is no urchava moorthy (i.e the deity taken out for processions) and the Goddess does not go out.
Our first destination for the day was Thirukadaiyur – Amrithagateshwarar-Abirami temple. Known as the destination for Shastiabthapoorthi’s(60th wedding), it is also famous for Kalasamhara murthy (conquerer of death, Kala = death). Everywhere we turned were couples of all ages in kalyaana kolam along with their families. It was an auspicious day, 1st day of the tamil month – ஐப்பசி (eippasi), full moon or pournami and as we realized later, it is the day when Annabishekam (anna = rice and abishekam = a form of prayer when priests pour liquids such as milk, honey, yogurt, oil etc while chanting mantras) is performed in all Shiva temples. On the day when Annabisheka is performed, Lord Shiva is adorned with cooked rice.
Everywhere we heard people chanting Rudram and when we entered the Sanctum, Vishruth pointed and said Giri thaatha. We thought it was someone who looked like him as the temple was crowded and it was indeed Kalyaanaraman or Giri athimber (Guru’s athai Girija’s husband). We also met Athai in the Abirami sannithi and it was a pleasant surprise for all of us.
Our next stop was at Kizhaperumpallam – Lord Naganathaswamy, Soundaravalli Thaayar and the planet Kethu. After Thirubuvanam, the kids assumed that we will be telling them where we are going and the Kshetra Puranam. We ended up repeating the story of how the planets Ragu and Kethu came into being and I also told them about HariHaraputhran – Lord Ayyappa (Hari – Lord Vishnu, Haran – Lord Shiva, puthran – son).
This opened another flurry of Qs – How Vishnu did not know beforehand that it was a demon that was in the form of a deva?, How long was baby Ayyappa was in the forest alone before the king found him?, Were Shiva and Vishnu nearby and did they make sure that the baby was fed …….and you can guess the rest of the Qs 🙂
We then went to the Swetharanyeshwarar/ Brahma Vidyambal/ Bhudhan (Mercury) temple @ Thiruvengadu. The kids wanted a story for this sthalam as well. Unfortunately, I was not aware of any related to Bhudhan. But they were pretty appeased with the story of how Lord Ayyappa got the tiger’s milk for his stepmom. I loved the dancing statue of Lord Shiva – Natarajar. In spite of this being a Shaivaite temple, there was a shrine for Lord Vishnu. After a quick darshan, we proceeded to our next destination, Vaitheeswaran Kovil, where Lord Shiva is worshipped as the “God of Healing.”
In Vaitheeswaran Koil, Lord Shiva is known as Vaithyanaatha Swamy and he is with Goddess Parvathy as Thaiyal Nayaki. Lord Muruga is worshipped here as Muthukumaraswamy and is also one of the navagraha temples for Angarakan or Planet Mars. This temple is very famous as people come from far to pray to be freed from their ailments.
According to legends, this is the place where Lord Rama cremated Jatayu, the vulture king. He was slayed by the demon king Ravana while Jatayu tried to stop him from abducting Sita. We saw inscriptions and sculptures portraying the same. Another tidbit from my friend Krishna Srinivasan, “Dikshithar was believed to be born after his father prayed to Vaitheeswaran Kovil. Hence his name Muthuswamy.”
The temple was very crowded due to annabisheka celebrations and we did not even go near Vaithyanathaswamy shrine. When we were at the Angarakan shrine, the priest looked at us while doing aarti and I don’t know what came over him, he asked us to wait as the pooja for Vaithyanathaswamy will be over soon and that he will take us to that shrine. This was the first time that I saw annabisheka pooja for Lord Shiva, the crowds and the wait were well worth it. Of course, the boys had a completely different opinion, they did not like all the pushing and that people step on them and do not even apologize. They declared that this is the ONLY temple that they did not like 🙂 However, when we were walking around the shrine, doing the pradakshinam, I told them the Jatayu story. It rained again and they declared that they liked this temple after all.
Vaitheeswaran Kovil is very famous for Nadi Josiyam but we were wary of so many places advertising original (!!!) nadi josiyam as forseen by Saint Agasthiyar. After lunch at Hotel Sathabishekam, we headed back to Kumbakonam for a short break. This was the first time the kids even showed some signs of restlessness but we realized that it was due to sheer exhaustion esp. cos of the crowds at Vaitheeswaran temple as they promptly fell asleep on the way back.
Ever since we stopped near Cauvery Banks, the kids were itching to go back again and play so after another awesome coffee @ Hotel Aryaas/Athithya, we left in search of the same banks where the kids had so much fun. Before that, I have to tell about the coffee at Hotel Aryaas/Athithya. We were raving so much about the coffee, that the coffee master (chef to make the perfect cuppa) came out of the kitchen to see if what the waiter told him was true. He was so happy when we told him that this was the best ever coffee that we have had in our lives and in Kumbakonam and he even agreed to pose with G.
It was around 4.30 pm when we left in search of the same river banks that we stopped by on October 16. The first time we stopped there, it was around noon and the tides were low. As it was full moon that day, October 18 and it would be around 5.30pm when we reach, I had warned the kids about the possibility of a high tide and that they might not be able to play like the other day. The tides were indeed very high but the kids had a lot of fun throwing rocks, wading in shallow waters and watching birds, peacocks even. The kids (and us too) did not have the heart to leave but it was getting dark and we left for Ganapathi Agraharam.
Agraharam is the name for traditional community where mostly people who belong to the brahmin-caste lived. Houses are lined on either side of the road, around the temple. Temple priests used to live in those houses, making their home-to-work commute time less than 5 minutes 🙂 One cannot find a lot of agraharam’s these days as most of their residents (the 2nd/3rd generation kids) have migrated elsewhere in search of greener pastures.
Ganapathi Agraharam is one such village in Papanasam Taluk. The Maha Ganapathy temple is a prominent temple and the Ganesha statue was pratishta-ed (or installed) by Sage Agasthiar. Can you believe that the entire village celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi at the temple? They bring modaks/kozhakattai for neivadhyam and distribute it at the temple.
We were the only devotees at Sri Varadharaja Perumal-Perundevi Thaayar temple at Pasupathi kovil and we could not help but marvel at Thaayar’s beauty and Perumal’s majestic appearance. This is the place where Ramanujar’s guru Sri/Periya Nambi attained moksham and Ramanujar built this temple for Periya Nambi.
Guru had read about a temple in Papanasam with 108 Shivalingams and it was well worth it. The kids were stunned to see 106 shivalingams, arranged in 3 rows of 35 + 1. The 107th lingam, Ramalinga Swami is the Moolavar (the god inside the Sanctum) and the 108th lingam is called Hanumantha Lingam. It was called Hanumantha Lingam as Lord Hanuman himself offered prayers to this one. Legends say the Lord Rama built this temple and did pooja. Seeing Lord Shiva in annabisheka was the highlight.
Our last destination for the day was Nallur – Kalyana Sundarar with his consort Giri Sundari. Lord Shiva is also called as Panchavarneshwarar – the lingam changes color every 2 1/2 hours – Each of these parts changes colour every 2 ½ hours – first copper (தாமிர நிறம்),, then light red (இளம் சிவப்பு), then molten gold(உருக்கிய தங்கம்) followed by emerald green(நவரத்தின பச்சை) and finally a color that cannot be described, that depends on the color in the devotee’s mind (இன்ன நிறம் என்று அறிய முடியாத வண்ணம்).
The priest said that Nallur is a Sthalam (ஸ்தலம்) or place where the poet Thirunavukarasar sang to see Lord Shiva’s feet and is equivalent to Kailaya Malai or Mount Kailash. This was also the place where all the three gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva have set foot before Narasimha Avatar.
It was a Full Moon or Pournami night and the warmth of the moonlight was so soothing and comforting to us on our way back to the hotel.
Saturday dawned – none of could believe that it has already been 7 days since we left for this trip and that we have to go back home the next day. After feasting on lip-smacking breakfast and coffee, we headed towards Thirunallar, home to Lord Saturn or Saneeswaran, listening to our daily suprabhatam – Lungi dance, Zinda and Safe and Sound 🙂
Our original plan was to finish darshan at Thirunallar first but when my athimber (My sister Gita‘s husband) came to our place for navarathri, he told us about two other temples ( Thirumeyachur and Koothanur) that were not in our plan. He also gave us a lot of helpful information as he was very familiar with that area (his grandmother lives in Vanagiri, a village in Nagapattinam district). Thanks Athimber 🙂
Our first stop was @ Thirumeyachur – home to Goddess Lalithambikai and Lord Meganathan. I recorded the Kshetra puranam from the priest and It is the place where Lord Suriya, the Sun God came to pray for his mistakes and was granted forgiveness by Lord Shiva. Lord Yama, the God of Death was born as Lord Saneeswaran – Planet Saturn.
I loved the Kshetrapuraneswarar statue @ Thirumeyachur – the Lord is trying to pacify the Goddess (like in real life…Ahem Ahem). From your left, you can see that she is smiling and from your right, you can observe the anger on her face. The craftsmanship is simply astounding.
I also got to know about the golusu/kolusu (anklet) story through one of my friends Kripa. As I was not familiar with this story, I did a quick search (on Google, where else) and found it. To know more, read Golusu Story.
The second stop that day was at Koothanur – Maha Saraswathi Amman temple, located near a village aptly named Poonthottam (Flower Garden). The Goddess in her white silk saree is a beautiful sight to behold. We also saw Saraswathi amman in her Urchava Murthi form, i.e. the goddess taken out for procession.
All the shops outside the temple sell notebooks, writing materials (pens, pencils, name it, it is there) and lotus, not the usual coconut, flower thambulam set for archanai.
We reached Thirunallar – Lord Saneeswaran – Planet Saturn temple around11.00 am. Lord Shiva manifests as Dharbaranyeshwaran (Dharbai – Grass and Aranyam – Forest) along with his consort Praanambigai or Parameshwari. As the kids were insisting on a story, Guru told them the story of how the Sani or Planet Saturn is the only one to have “Eswaran” behind his name.
The story goes along these lines: Lord Shiva wanting to be free from 7-1/2 year saturn transit (ஏழரை சனி- Ezharai Sani), went to meditate in a cave and came out of it after – yes 7.5 years, only to be informed that he had to hide because of the Ezharai sani influence. So even Gods cannot escape the influence of Sani. Lord Shiva or Eswaran was both surprised and pleased and gave him the boon to be called Saneeswaran.
As none of us were hungry, we hit the beautiful beaches @ Karaikkal and the kids had a lot of fun in the water. Nothing like water to cool and calm one down 🙂
After lunch at Thirunallar, we proceeded back to Kumbakonam, chasing rain again 🙂 Whenever it rains, I sing this song/local folk-ish type song that I was taught by my daycare teacher when I was around 8-9. The song goes like this:
Mazhai varudu mazhai varudu/ மழை வருது மழை வருது
nellai allunga/ நெல்லை அள்ளுங்க
mukkaa padi arisi pottu/ முக்கா படி அரிசி போட்டு
vadaiyai sudunga/ வடையை சுடுங்க
velai senja mamanukku vadai kodunga/ வேலை செஞ்ச மாமனுக்கு வடை கொடுங்க
velai seyyaa mamanukku udhai kodunga/ vadai illenga/ வேலை செய்யா மாமனுக்கு உதை கொடுங்க/வடை இல்லீங்க
The kids have listened to this song a lot of times, not that I sing it out loud but I was caught by surprise when Vidyuth sang this song along with me 🙂 Now Vishruth has also picked it up.
From the time we came to Kumbakonam, Vishruth kept talking about Ramaswamy temple and thanks to him, we went there in the evening – our last evening in Kumbakonam. I am so glad we went there.
All the pillars depict Dashavataram in delicate detail. Kothanda Rama in Pattabisheka (Crowning ceremony) kolam – King Rama and Queen Sita on the same aasana (seat), with Lakshmana by Rama’s side, flanked by Bharata with the kudai (umbrella) and Shatrugna with the chamaram (fan). Lord Hanuman is playing the veena on one hand while holding Ramayana on the other.
After the darshan, we came out of the garbhagriha (sanctum) and we were simply stunned into silence by the paintings in the hallway around the sanctum. There are 220 paintings in total and they illustrate the story of Ramayana. They were done in such a way that one can read Ramayana while making 3 rounds (pradakshanams) around the garbhagriha. I think I need to spend at least 2 days in this temple….I will definitely go there soon.
The kids were bored of having idli, dosa and the likes for dinner and wanted to grab a pizza and some ice cream. So we went in search of a pizza place and landed in a Hole-in-the-wall joint called Krazzy Bites. The food was really good – i had a veggie burger and the kids enjoyed their Tomato-cheese pizza and Chocolate pizza. Sounds delish, doesn’t it?
Day 8, October 20, 2013: Kumbakonam to Bangalore via Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Virthuthachalam, Salem, Krishnagiri.
In just 4-5 days, we fell in love with the land of temples, its people, its wonderful culture, not to mention their delicious food. We made a promise to ourselves that we will be back soon, for a longer duration.
While figuring out alternate and faster routes to Bangalore from Kumbakonam, Guru noticed that we will be passing by Gangaikonda Cholapuram, capital of Rajendra Chola (son of RajaRaja chola) , is an architectural marvel. Brihadeeshwar Temple (an exact replica of Periya Kovil at Tanjore), built by Rajendra Cholan, son of Raja Raja Cholan. Legend has it that he built this temple to proclaim his victory over the kings from North. The well inside this temple houses water from the Ganges that the lost kings brought over from the north to Chola land, hence the name Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Guru and I started discussing about the temples and the places we went and things we saw firsthand the lives led by our ancestors, our counterparts and our rich culture and heritage from Thirubuvanam, Darasuram, Kumbakonam, Tanjore, Gangaikonda Cholapuram or any other temple for that matter. If I had another opportunity to visit Kumbakonam for 3 days or so, I will go back immediately to Airavatheswarar temple @ Darasuram, Sarabeshwarar temple at Thirubuvanam and Ramaswamy temple at Kumbakonam.
In general, people were very courteous, gentle natured, looked out for others, used only what they needed and most importantly obeyed traffic rules w/o even a traffic cop and gave way for others even when they had to get somewhere soon. It was a glaring contrast to the lives we lead in cities, always in a rush, trying to beat traffic, not obeying traffic rules or the signal, honking and showing rude gestures. It made me wonder about the kind of legacy that we are leaving our future generations. What will they see when they look back in time, will they admire the way we lived like how we do when we see these temples and other places or will they plain despise us for depleting all our resources w/o any concern about the others?
On our way from Viruthachalam towards Salem, near a place called Maariyur, we saw temporary straw hut-like structures being put up on the road and I could not resist but stop and ask a person what it was. He said it was Til (எள் in tamil) or Sesame seeds and that they were drying it before they can extract oil from it. The heat from the asphalt will dry these plants and the seeds inside. He generously gave us a big bunch to take home.
It poured cats and dogs near Rayakottai/Krishnagiri and it was fun watching other vehicles splash water on our Beast. We sang மழை வருது (Mazhai varudhu), Rara venu gopa bala and of course Zinda and Lungi Dance. The kids also had a burping match :P, a language comparison enactment which quickly turned into a laughing match.
We had a quick stopover for coffee @ Shoolagiri and took the Shoolagiri-Berigai-Bagalur-Sarjapur Road diversion and got home – safe and sound!
While we did plan, we were not rigid about the plans being executed in that order. If for some reason we were unable to go to some destination, we just dropped it from our itinerary. We kept our plans flexible and open (our minds too) and yes, we had to re-plan/include/delete etc. But somehow Everything kinda fell in place 🙂 maybe cos it was the relaxed pace, maybe it was the way we ended up telling stories (and how many there were!) about the destinations, maybe it was the food, maybe it was the weather, the people, the green surroundings, maybe it was b’cos the kids are also growing up and can make up games……whatever it was, it worked out so well that even though we are back to our routines…….
………our hearts are still in Kumbakonam, the lure of Caurvey and Chola land so strong that we think about it often, and remember every detail and long to go back in time, a time that we will cherish and remember!
At the risk of repeating,