Celebrating the Azhwars and the Divya Desams of Lord Sriman Narayana!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thiru sALagrAmam Divya Desam (Sri Mukthinath in Nepal)

This is the only Divya Desam outside India. Tucked away in the midst of the mighty peaks of the HimalayAs in Nepal, this Divya Desam is the hardest to access, but the beauty surrounding it makes it worth the effort. Also, this the Divya Desam associated with the sacred Saligramam stones that are considered a manifestation of Lord Sri Vishnu and which are worshipped everyday in many Sri Vaishnava households all over the world.

Location and Access:

[Click here for a description of our trip to Mukthinath]

Mukthinath is a small mountain village nestled in the Himalayas near the settlement of Jomsom in Nepal. Mukthinath is located at an altitude of 3800 m above sea level.

Pilgrims who are travelling from outside Nepal need to first reach Katmandu, the capital of Nepal. Katmandu has a fairly big international airport and is well-connected from several major cities in the world. From there, visitors need to take a flight to the town of Pokhara. The journey from Katmandu to Pokhara can also be made by land. By flight it is about 30 minutes, and by land it is about six hours.

From Pokhara, pilgrims have to travel to the settlement of Jomsom (2800 m above sea level). This journey is best made by flight, although snowfall can sometimes cause flight cancellations. In case of flight cancellations, pilgrims can travel by land – this can take about 12 hours through tricky mountain paths.

From Jomsom, Mukthinath can be reached by land. The uphill journey takes about 1.5 hours by car/jeep and takes us along the River Gandaki . Alternately, this journey can be made by pony or by foot. By foot, it can take several hours and can be very tedious.

Mukthinath is a small mountain village and there are small lodges (no heating of rooms). Pilgrims should not expect the comfort of a proper hotel. From these lodges, the Mukthinath temple is about 15-30 minutes by walk uphill. There are also motorbike services that can take pilgrims from the lodges to the temple.

There is also a helicopter service that takes pilgrims directly from Pokhara to Mukthinath. However, this service can often get cancelled due to adverse weather and non-availability of aircraft.

Pilgrims who travel to Mukthinath should be mentally and physically prepared for very cold weather (up to even -10 degrees C) and the possibility of mountain sickness caused by reduced availability of oxygen at higher altitudes. Travel to Mukthinath calls for meticulous preparation. But it is a rewarding experience. Visitors may also consider the possibility of staying overnight at Jomsom instead of Mukthinath, since staying overnight at Mukthinath might be physically challenging.

The best time of the year to visit Mukthinath is mid to late March. It is advisable to make your hotel , flight and land transport bookings in advance with a travel agent (especially for flights within Nepal) or travel as part of a package tour.

The Temple:

The Mukthinath temple is not very big at all. Once you reach the temple compound, it can be covered at a leisurely pace in about 45 minutes. A hurried visit can be completed in as little as 15-20 minutes. There are only two main sannidhis – (1) The main sannidhi of Sri Mukthinath occupied by the Lord and His Consorts – Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi and (2) A smaller, recently-built sannidhi in the open corridor (prakaaram) that houses the vigrahams of Sri Ramanuja and Sri Andal.

The inside of the main sannidhi is about 8 feet by 8 feet. Sri Mukthinath is seated under Adi Seshan and is flanked by thaayars who are standing. The thirumeni of Sri PerumAl and thayaars is of metal (probably bronze or other copper alloy). The mUlavar here is also known as SrI mUrthy and the thAyars are SrI devi and bhU devi. There is no separate uthsavar. There are small idols of Sri GarudAzhwar and Sri Ramanuja in the main sannidhi beside Sri PerumAl. The worship is carried out by Buddhist nuns. The style of worship and alankaaram is very different from the Divya Desams of South India.

Around the main sannidhi, in the second open corridor, there are 108 water spouts that represent the theerthams of the 108 Divya Desams. Some pilgrims take a bath in the waters here, but it can be really cold. Personally I would not recommend this for people who are old or sick. Also, while you are visiting Mukthinath, it is not a good idea to get your clothing wet – because the weather is already cold.

Also in the second corridor, directly in front of the temple, there are two small square water tanks (pushkarinis) that represent Sri Bhoo Devi and Sri Nila Devi.

Legends and History:

According to one version, the Salagramam Divya Desam is just the bank/bed of River Gandaki and not the Mukthinath temple. According to another version, the Mukthinath temple is very much the Divya Desam of Salagramam. It is difficult to establish which of the two versions is right. Either way, there is no question that Sri Thirumangai Azhwar visited atleast the banks of the Gandaki River, as did Sri Ramanuja. And no matter which version is accurate, there is no taking away from the beauty of this Divya Desam and its surroundings.

Saligramam murthys:

Saligrama (ammonite) stones with special markings are considered manifestations of Lord Sri Vishnu Himself. Such stones are unique to this part of Nepal. There are several roadside shops in Mukthinath (and also several ones in Pokhara) from which Salagramam murthys can be obtained.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

SrI Tirumangai AzhwAr 988-997
SrI periAzhwAr 206,399

(pAsuram numbers as found in any standard Divya prabandham book)

A sample pAsuram:

கலையும் கரியும் பரிமாவும் திரியும்கானம் கடந்து போய்
சிலையும் கணையும் துணையாகச்சென்றான் வென்றிச் செறுக்களத்து
மலைகொன்டு அலை நீரணைகட்டி மதிள் நீரிலங்கை வாளரக்கர் தலைவன்
தலைபத்து அறுத்துகந்தான் சாளக்கிராமம் அடை நெஞ்சே

In this pAsuram, Tirumangai AzhwAr exhorts his mind to attain the Lord of Salagrama. It was this Lord who, armed with bow and arrow, crossed forests inhabited by wild deer, elephants and horses, and then built a bridge of boulders to reach the high-walled fortress of Lanka and severed the ten heads of Ravana- the king of the RakshasAs.

SrI bhU devi SrI dEvi samEtha Sri mUrthy thiruvadigaLae saraNam

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Sacred Book

This is the title of a book by Sri SriRama Bharati.

This book contains the 4000 Divya Prabandham in Tamil script, with paraphrased meaning in English. The English summary of each prabandham is absolutely wonderful, and enables everyone to understand the meaning and spirit of the outpourings of the AzhwArs.

In most translations, while it may be possible to capture the meanings of the original work, it is very difficult to capture the emotion and spirit. This is especially true for a work like the Divya Prabandham, which is a collection of outpourings straight from the heart of the AzhwArs. Sri SriRama Bharati has done a great job of capturing the emotional content in addition to the literal meaning.

Usually, Divya Prabandham books are big-sized. This book manages to fit in the entire Divya Prabandham in a very compact volume. The paper is thin, but that is unavoidable in order to get a book of this size. While some might find the Tamil script a little small, the English content is very readable.

This is a great book for those whose command over Tamil is not strong enough to let them understand and appreciate the beauty in the Divya Prabandham. This book is a great service to the Sri Vaishnava community by Sri SriRama Bharathi.
For copies, you may contact Smt.Sowbhagyalakshmi SriRama Bharati by email at aravamudhu@gmail.com.

Friday, September 9, 2011

ThirupullANi Divya Desam

[Click here for more photos of TirupullANi]

ThirupullANi is a beautiful coastal Divya Desam that is intimately connected with the Ramayana. King Dasaratha, seeking progeny, prayed to Lord Sri Adi JagannAtha perumAL at this Divya Desam. His prayers fructified through the birth of Sri Rama and His brothers. Later, when Rama travelled south searching for Seeta, He reached the shores of the sea near ThirupullANi and camped there while His Vaanara army built the miraculous Sethu bridge over the sea to reach and breach Ravana’s fortress. ThirupullAni is numbered 44 on the list of Divya Desams. It is a favourite prArthanA sthalam for couples desiring progeny. ThirupullANi is a small laid-back village with an unmistakable old-world charm.

Vibeeshana’s sharanAgathi:

Most importantly, it was also near this Divya Desam that VibeeshanA’s sharanAgathi at the feet of the Lord happened. In fact ThirupullANi is also known as the “SaranAgathi ksethram”. The episode of VibeeshanA’s surrender is of utmost importance to Sri VaishnavAs. Having quickly realized that his brother rAvaNa was headed inexorably towards destruction at the hands of Sri rAma, VibeeshanA lost no time is hastening to the feet of the Lord SrI rAmA. rAvanA’s generals and his other brother Kumbakarna chose to stick with rAvanA in his evil path and paid for it with their lives. Vibeeshana, exercising his superior intellect and keen perspicacity chose to leave the sinking ship instead of going down with it. His clear-mindedness and faith were rewarded amply and quickly– SrI rAmA not only blessed him with the benison of prapatti but also immediately crowned him the King of Lanka right there on the shores of ThirupullANi. It is very important to appreciate the extraordinary faith exhibited by Vibeeshana when faced with a tough situation. He never had any doubt that Sri rAmA would accept his request for asylum. For a person without faith, VibeeshanA’s surrender to Lord SrI rAmA might sound like a counter-intuitive and stupid decision – even a cowardly one. But VibeeshanA calmly acted with faith and clarity, and in doing so, enriched himself beyond measure and etched his name firmly among the ranks of the glorious souls that have wisely found refuge at the one place to be. In one stroke, Vibeeshana assured for himself, aruL (Grace of the Lord) and poruL (material prosperity).

Another important point in this episode is the Lord’s crystal clear and firm enunciation of His intent to protect anyone who surrenders at His feet. Except for Sri Hanuman, everyone in the vAnarA camp expressed doubts about Vibeeshana’s motivations. All the noises made by the doubters were drowned out in the Lord’s categorical statement of intent:

"Sakrit eva prapannaaya tavaaham asmi iti yaachate
Abhayam sarva bhootebhyo dadaami, etat vratam mama

ThirupullANi is the Divya Desam that is associated with this message of hope and reassurance.

Location and access:

ThirupullANi is located approximately 10 km from the town of Ramanathapuram in southern Tamil Nadu. Ramanathapuram is about 4 hours by train from Tiruchirapalli, which has an international airport (TRZ). It is also possible to drive from TRZ to Ramanathapuram. There are no other Divya Desams nearby. Visitors may find hotel accommodation at Ramanathapuram and rent a taxi or auto-rickshaw to visit the Divya Desam. Alternately, visitors may check with Sri Ahobila Mutt or Srimad Andavan Asramam at TirupullANi for accommodation. (Both are located very close to the Divya Desam – less than 5 minutes by walk). The sEthu seashore, where Sri rAmA camped while building the bridge across the sea is about 5 km from the ThirupullANi temple. sEthu snAnam (a holy dip in this sea) is considered extremely auspicious.

Another way to cover this place is by having the city of Madurai as a travel base. ThirupullANi is about 2.5 hours by land transport from Madurai . There are also a few other Divya Desams in and around Madurai.

Visitors to Ramanathapuram and TirupullANi need to take precautions against mosquitoes especially at night. A good mosquito repellant cream like Odomos (available locally) would be most handy.

Contact details for Sri Ahobila Matam at TirupullANi:
Sri Chellappa:91-04567-254456
(Telephone # 254456;STD code 04567;Country code 91)

The temple:

The TirupullANi temple is a medium sized Divya Desam and if not crowded, all sannidhis can be covered in less than an hour. However, my personal recommendation is to have a relaxed visit and enjoy each sannidhi in detail. The thAyAr here is Sri padmAsani, with a separate sannidhi. The main sanctum is for Lord SrI Adi JagannAtha perumAL, who is in a seated posture with thAyArs on either side. The uthsavar is SrI kalyAna jagannAtha perumAL. An exit from the thAyAr sannidhi leads us to an open corridor around the main sannidhis. As we circumambulate on this corridor, we see a small separate sannidhi for Sri ANDAL. As we continue on this path, we see a sannidhi for Sri darpa-sayana rAmar. This is a famous sannidhi in which Sri rAma is lying on a bed of sacred grass (darpam) while waiting for the sea-god to respond to His request for a way to Lanka. In the sannidhi, we see LakshmaNa in the form of Adi sEshan forming a bed for perumAL. Just outside this sannidhi, we see Sri Vibeeshana as a sculpture. Also, in this temple corridor, we see the sthala vruksham – sacred tree, which is an imposing peepal tree with vast branches. As we re-enter the temple from the corridor, we see a sannidhi for Sri pattAbhi rAmar – in regal splendor with Sri SeetA , SrI lakshmaNA and SrI hanumAn.

The main gopuram for the temple is about 120 feet in height.

Chakra theertham:

The temple tank here deserves special mention. It is known as the Chakra theertham. In contrast to most temple tanks of today, this tank is filled to the brim with clear water – a heartwarming sight indeed. According to old-timers, about two decades back, this temple tank was almost dry, with just a few puddles of wet mud here and there. Thanks to the efforts of Srimad Andavan, this tank has been restored to its original glory. Even in the current times, it is possible to preserve nature – if only man realizes the value of this activity.

Adjacent to the vast theertham, we see a neatly maintained sannidhi for SwAmi dEsikan.

mUlai garudan sannidhi: (Information from Sri RaghuveeradayAL)
There is a sannidhi for Sri GarudAzhwAr in one corner (IsAnya mUlai) of the temple wall. The garudAzhwAr here is very powerful. Such a sannidhi for Sri GarudAzhwAr is found only in select temples.

Legends and History:

The name of this Divya Desam has evolved from the words “pull” and “aNai”, which mean grass and bed respectively in Tamizh. The reference is to the bed of grass (darpa sayanam) on which SrI rAmA lay while waiting for the sea to facilitate the construction of the Sethu bridge. Another version has it that Lord Sri Vishnu appeared before Pulla maharishi under the peepal tree in this ksethram.

Also, SrI rAmA is said to have worshipped SrI Adi JagannAtha perumAL at this Divya Desam before setting out to Lanka. Adi JagannAtha perumAL gave rAmA a bow, which the latter used in the final fight with rAvaNa.

The temple finds mention in the AgnEya purANam and more recently in the Tamizh work akanAnUru. Currently, the temple is under the kainkaryam of the Ramanathapuram Sethu samasthAnam (Royal family of Ramnad). Sculptures of kings of this dynasty can be found in the temple. According to legend, the founder of this dynasty was crowned by SrI rAmA himself as a reward for being of service to Him.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

SrI Tirumangai AzhwAr 1768-87, 2674(131)

(pAsuram numbers as found in any standard Divya prabandham book)

A sample pAsuram:

இலங்கு முத்தும் பவளக் கொழுந்தும் எழில் தாமரைப்
புலங்கள் முற்றும் பொழில் சூழ்ந் தழகாய புல்லாணி மேல்
கலங்க லில்லாப் புகழான் கலியன் ஒலி மாலை
வலங்கொள் தொண்டர்க்கு இடம் ஆவது பாடு இல் வைகுந்தமே

According to SrI tirumangai AzhwAr (aka kaliyan) TirupullANi is a beautiful place surrounded by deposits of pearls, coral reefs, lotus ponds and fragrant groves. Those who master this decad of verses by kaliyan on the Lord of TirupullANi will find a place in the state of unadulterated joy (Vaikuntha)

This Divya Desam has also been glorified by other AchAryAs like Sri Periya Nambi, Sri rAmAnujA, Sri Bhattar, Swami Desikan, Sri Nanjeeyar, and Sri Manavala Mamuni.

SrI padmAsani thAyAr samEtha Sri Adi JagannAtha perumAL thiruvadigaLaE saraNam

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thiru Ninra Ur Divya Desam

One of the seven Divya Desams in and around Chennai.

[Click here for photos of this Divya Desam]

Location and Access:

The temple is located in ThiruninravUr, which is one of the stations on the Chennai-ArakkONam suburban train line. This station is approximately 35 km from Chennai Central station and the train journey takes about an hour. The temple is about 15-20 minutes by walk from ThiruninravUr station. Auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are also available from the station to the temple.

The temple:

The temple is not very large and if not crowded, all sannidhis can be covered in less than 45 minutes. In this Divya Desam, we find the motherly love of the Divya Dampathi exhibited in ample measure – the thAyAr here is known as “ennai petra thAyAr” (literally, the Mother who gave birth to me) and the perumAL here is Sri Bhaktavatsala perumAL (He who has motherly love towards His devotees). Another name for thAyAr is Sri SudhA vaLLi. The temple has two prakArams and a five storied Raja gOpuram.

Legends and History:

Legend has it that VaruNA worshipped the Lord at this Divya Desam.
According to www.templenet.com, the temple has stone inscriptions dating back to the period of King Nandivarma Pallava (~500 AD) and rAjarAja chOzhA III (~1250 AD)

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr 1089,1642

(pAsuram numbers are according to the number listed in any standard 4000 Divya prabandham book)

According to legend, Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr visited this Divya Desam but left without singing any pAsurams about the place. The perumAL from this Divya Desam followed AzhwAr all the way to the Divya Desam of Thiru kadal mallai (Mahabalipuram) and finally got AzhwAr to mention ThiruninravUr in his pasurams.

Sri ennai petra thAyAr samEtha Sri Bhakthavatsala perumAL thiruvadigaLaE saraNam.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

ThiruvallikENi Divya dEsam (aka Triplicane in Chennai city)

ThiruvallikENi is a compact, impeccably maintained Divya Desam located in the heart of Chennai city. Chennai is the largest metropolis in South India, and is very well connected by land and air.

Location and Access:

Triplicane is about 5 km from Chennai’s main railway station (Chennai Central) and about 15 km from Chennai’s international airport. Triplicane is well connected by public transport from all parts of Chennai and its suburbs – although public transport can get pretty crowded during peak hours. It is also perfectly possible to take a call-taxi or auto from any part of Chennai to Triplicane. The temple is locally referred to as “Parthasarathy Koil”.

Legends and History:

This is probably the only Divya Desam whose name is derived from the temple tank (pushkariNi). The word “alli-kENi” literally means lily-pond. The theertham is also known as “kairavini-saras”.

The incarnation of Sri Ramanuja is attributed to the Grace of the perumAL here. Sri Asuri KesavAchArya and his wife prayed at this temple seeking progeny. Their prayers were answered resoundingly with the birth of Sri Ramanuja.

The mUlavar here goes by the name of Sri vEnkatakrishnan. The uthsavar is known as Sri pArthasArathy (literally means Arjuna’s charioteer). The uthsavar’s face bears numerous scars, that reflect the injuries caused by Bhishma’s arrows during the course of the great mahAbhAratha war, when Lord Krishna directed ArjunA’s chariot. Lord Krishna intercepted most of the arrows directed towards His devotee ArjunA, saving the latter from certain destruction. The mUlavar here is tall and supremely imposing, with His Consort standing at His right. On His left, we see sAtyaki, who was His beloved friend and confidant during the KrishnAvataram. Also, seen standing along with them are Sri BalarAma, Krishna’s brother, and Sri Pradyumna and Sri Aniruddha. The idols of Sri Pradyumna and Aniruddha are at one side of the sanctum sanctorum and may not be seen easily.

A very unique feature of the mUlavar here is His prominent moustache, which is painted in white on His divine face. This imparts a rather stern look to His visage. On certain occasions, the moustache is removed. I have had the privilege of seeing Him without the moustache, and found that He assumes a very kind, mischievous, youthful (almost boyish) look without it – indicative of His Infinite soulabhyam.

The Temple:

As we enter the temple, there is a large stone mandapam. As we proceed further, we see the dhwaja-sthambam (flagstaff). To the right, there is a fairly large stone mandapam. At one corner of the mandapam, there is a kannAdi-arai (Mirror-room) where Sri pArthasArathy often gives darshan with His ubhaya nAchiyArs. Also in this mandapam is a sannidhi for Sri garudAzhwAr directly facing Sri perumAL. As we cross this mandapam, there is a partially open corridor. As we proceed clockwise in this corridor, we first see the sannidhi of Sri vEdavaLLi thAyAr with a mandapam in front. As we proceed further, there is a small sannidhi for Sri gajEndra varadhan. As we proceed further clockwise, there is a sannidhi for Sri yOga narasimhA, who is known as “TheLLiya-singar” (the serene lion). The uthsavar of Sri narasimhar is of ineffable beauty. Then we see a sannidhi for Sri ANDAL, and as we proceed further clockwise, we arrive at the sannidhi of Sri pArthasArathy. On the way to this sannidhi, there are smaller sannidhis for Sri vaishnava AchAryas. Also, there are separate sannidhis for Sri rAmA (accompanied by His brother and His Consort) and Sri RanganAthA.

The temple is not very big, and if it is not crowded, all sannidhis can be covered in a little over an hour. However, the temple can get crowded in the evenings and on weekends – especially Saturdays.

The ambience:

A unique feature about this Divya Desam is the ambience of the area around the temple. Even though the area is now congested and teeming with apartments, still there is a certain old-world charm that pervades the area, which can never be described adequately. It can only be experienced. The uthsavar Sri pArthasArathy often comes out in procession on the streets, eager to mingle with His devotees. Whenever He does so, it is an enthralling sight. In terms of rituals, uthsavams and alankAram for PerumAl, this temple ranks at the very top among Divya Desams. Often, it is common to see a bunch of young kids following perumAl during uthsavams, with a miniature procession of their own, complete with vAhanams and full alankAram for Sri PerumAl.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr 1068-77
Sri pEyAzhwAr 2297
Sri TirumazhisaiAzhwAr 2416
(pAsuram numbers are according to the number listed in any standard 4000 Divya prabandham book)

A sample pAsuram:

பரதனும் தம்பி சத்ருக் கனனும்
லக்கும நோடு மை திலியும்
இரவும் நன் பகலும் துதிசெய்ய நின்ற
ராவணாந்தகனை எம்மானை
குரவமே கமழும் குளிர்பொழி லூடு
குயிலோடு மயில்கள் நின்றால
இரவியின் கதிர்கள் நுழைதல் செய் தறியாத்
திருவல்லி கேணிக் கண்டேனே

In this pAsuram SrI Tirumangai AzhwAr says that he beheld the terminator of rAvaNA, Sri rAmA – who is worshipped day and night by His brothers BharathA, SathrugNA and lakshmaNA and His Consort Sri Mythili – at TiruvallikENi. AzhwAr further describes this Divya dEsam as one teeming with cuckoo birds and peacocks, and filled with dense green forestry – so dense that it is impossible for sunrays to penetrate through the canopy of trees.

The TiruvallikENi of today is far removed from how it was in the days of Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr (~8th century AD). Today’s TiruvallikENi is a concrete jungle with hardly any trees- not to speak of cuckoo birds and peacocks. However, the place still retains a devotional ambience.

SrI vEdavaLLi thAyAr samEtha SrI pArthasArathy perumAL thiruvadigaLaE saraNam

Sunday, March 27, 2011

ThiruveLLarai Divya Desam

[Click here for pictures of this Divya Desam]

It is really my pleasure to describe this Divya Desam, which is one of my personal super-favourites.

ThiruveLLarai is a big, beautiful and serene temple that almost never gets crowded. Located 27 km from Trichy city in central Tamil Nadu, Thiru veLLarai is a small, laid back town.

Location and Access:

ThiruveLLarai is en route to Thuraiyur from Trichy city. From Trichy’s Chathram bus terminus, visitors can take a public transport bus directly to ThiruveLLarai. The distance is 27 km (one-way) and under normal traffic, this takes about 45 minutes. The journey takes us through a semi-rural route. If you are taking a bus, be sure to let the bus conductor know in advance that you wish to alight at Thiru veLLarai. It is not a major stopping and is easy to miss. The bus stop is near a welcome arch that directly shows the path to the temple. From the bus stop, the temple is about 10 minutes by walk along a straight path. This path and the temple itself are not very shady and can be uncomfortably hot in summer months. If you are visiting in summer, try to get to the temple early (around 9 AM at the latest). The temple campus is huge and can easily take you a couple of hours if you desire to explore it in leisurely detail. First time visitors will find it better to visit the temple during daytime so that they can get an idea of its magnitude and beauty. The temple also has a special beauty in the night..a visit in moonlight can be a sublime experience. However, getting to the temple at night can be a little difficult after sunset if travelling by public transport.

Another way to cover this Divya Desam is by combining it with a visit to other nearby Divya Desams – like Anbil, Uthamar Koil, Thiru uraiyur, kOviladi and Sri Rangam – which are all located in and around Trichy. You can hire a call-taxi to cover several of these Divya Desams. It is possible to cover Anbil, Uthamar Koil, Thiru uraiyur, kOviladi and ThiruveLLarai in half-a-day. However, this is a rather hurried way of covering the temples.

Legends and History:

It is fairly well established that ThiruveLLarai is an older temple compared to Sri Rangam – and this has given rise to the moniker “Adhi veLLarai”. According to legend, Lord Sriman Narayana blessed the emperor Sibi (one of the ancestors of Sri Rama) and Sri mArkandEya mahArishi at this Divya Desam several yugas ago.
The temple has been glorified by Sri PeriAzhwar and Sri Thirumangai Azhwar. Also, Swami Desikan has sung about this temple.

The name “veLLarai” literally means “white rock”. This name is due to the fact that the mountain is situated on top of a small hill (~100 feet in height) composed of supposedly-white rocks. The Sanskrit name for this place is Swetha-ketu.

The temple:

The temple has a couple of similarities with the Varadaraja temple in Kanchipuram. Like the latter, ThiruveLLarai is located on top a small hillock. Also, both temples are vast campuses with imposing structures. Both temples have two entrances to the main sanctum – the UthrAyaNa vAsal and the dakshinAyana vAsal – which are open during two different halves of the year. Visitors have to climb a set of steps to reach the main sannidhi.

The outermost gOpuram in ThiruveLLarai is an unfinished one (mottai gOpuram). The temple campus houses seven separate theerthams. A high wall encloses the temple campus completely. The temple also has an inner entrance called the “nAzhi kEttAn vAsal” where Sri thAyar demanded an explanation from PerumAL for coming home late ;-)

The temple has several separate sannidhis including those for Sri ChakrathAzhwar, Sri NammAzhwAr, Sri ANDAL and Sri Tondaradippodi AzhwAr.

The thAyAr here is Sri PankajavaLLi, who has a separate sannidhi. The name of Sri PerumAL here is Sri PundarIkAkshan (literally, the Lotus-Eyed One). Sri PeriAzhwar refers to Him as “azhagan”(the handsome one). PerumAL here is in a standing posture, towering resplendently with Adiseshan in a human form and GarudAzhwar standing beside Him. The sun and moon gods devotedly fan Sri Perumal from either side. Seated humbly before Sri PerumAL are Sri Bhoo devi and Sri mArkandEyar.

Sri PankajavaLLi thAyAr samEtha Sri PundarIkAksha PerumAL ThiruvadigaLae SaraNam
AzhwAr emperumAnAr jIyar ThiruvadigaLae SaraNam

Monday, February 28, 2011

VeLi (Outer) ANDAL sannidhi at Sri Rangam

This is a very beautiful sannidhi for Sri Andal, located at #9, Mela Adayavalanjaan Street, Sri Rangam, very close to the Ranganatha temple. According to local history, when Sri PeriAzhwar and Andal arrived at Sri Rangam from Srivilliputhur, they stayed at a house before visiting the temple (and Andal merged with Lord Ranganatha). This house became the veLi ANDAL sannidhi. As always, the image of Sri ANDAL here is very beautiful. She is verily the embodiment of the Lord's trait of forgiveness.

(Correspondingly, there is another sannidhi for ANDAL within the temple of Lord Ranganatha, called the uLL (Inner) ANDAL sannidhi)

The beauty of Sri Rangam is that it has plenty of places and temples and small sannidhis that are associated with the lives of AchAryas. Also, the place is connected with several historical events.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Our Travel to Sri Mukthinath (Salagramam) Divya Desam

First of all, thanks and prayers to the Divya Dampathi and our Acharyas, whose grace made this trip happen. It was undoubtedly their krupa that helped us have a safe and successful trip overcoming several hurdles.

Sincere thanks and respects to Sri Mukund (NAMA Singapore) for his blessings and guidance – based on his past travels to Mukthinath. He has been instrumental in making this trip happen.

Special thanks to Sri KaLai (Ramanuja Dasan) who has been the chief planner and coordinator for this trip. His arrangements were meticulous, and enabled all of us to have a wonderful trip with memories that will stay forever.

Thanks to Sri Sudhir and Sri Srikanth, for their support and presence that made the trip a truly enjoyable and devotional experience. And how can I forget to mention Sri Mugunthan, who made the trip lively and engaging with no shortage of humour and cheer!

[Link to photos of the trip]

We landed in Katmandu around noon on Feb 13 and after completing our arrival formalities, were met at Tribhuvan International Airport by our designated driver – Shyam Lama. The weather was pleasant and we drove through Katmandu to the office of Samrat Travel, where we met our travel agent Rajaram. Sri Kalai had previously worked out our travel plan with Rajaram and we collected our air tickets for flying within Nepal and our Government permit for travelling through the Annapoorna Trail. Although we did not do any trekking on this formidable trail, we still needed the permit to pass through Jomsom town en route to Mukthinath. Katmandu is located at an altitude of about 1400 m above sea level and is a crowded city with small roads and a lot of traffic. We did not see any tall buildings or apartments – Katmandu still seems to have only individual houses.

[External Link for information on Katmandu]

From our travel agent’s office, we proceeded to have a late lunch at Aangan Restaurant and then started our journey to the town of Pokhara by van. This town is located at an altitude of about 800 m above sea level and is 200 km from Katmandu. We reached around 10 pm after a six hour journey. In between we stopped a couple of times for hot tea – which was most welcome in the cool weather.

Pokhara is home to Lake Phewa, and is close to the base of the formidable Annapurna mountain range. It is a rather relaxed and unpolluted place compared to Katmandu. We stayed at Hotel Landmark, where the only inconvenience was that we did not get really hot water for our bath next morning. We got a packed breakfast of aaloo parathas and started off next morning to Pokhara Airport to take our flight to the town of Jomsom. Our plane was a small twin engined one with a capacity of about 20 passengers. The local airlines in Nepal have names like Sita Air, Agni Air, Buddha Air, etc etc. Our flight to Jomsom took about 25 minutes. We got a very spectacular view of huge snow-capped peaks. This region is home to several tall peaks like the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu and Macchapuchre. Mother Nature flexing her muscles!

[External Link for information on Pokhara]

Jomsom is a very small town (perhaps settlement is a better word) located at an altitude of 2800 m above sea level. Upon landing at Jomsom, we could immediately feel the effect of the altitude. The weather was much colder than Pokhara and we immediately had to put our winter clothing (winter jacket, gloves, head cap, muffler, moisturiser etc) to full use. We left our bigger pieces of luggage at Hotel Majesty and packed a few essentials into smaller bags and left for Mukthinath by jeep.

Mukthinath is located at an altitude of 3800 metres and is about 1.5 hours by jeep from Jomsom. The journey is beautiful and takes us along River KaliGandaki. This is the same as the sacred Gandaki River in whose bed Salagramam stones can be naturally found. Salagramam stones, as is well-known, are manifestations of Lord Sriman Narayana. As the Himalayan mountains started to form and rise above the sea, the Gandaki river slowly cut its way through the mountains forming a valley. Our journey took us along a part of this valley. The path to Mukthinath is a very rough trail and not a proper road. We stopped in the middle to take photos. It is also possible to make the journey from Jomsom to Mukthinath by pony or by walk. By walk, it can take several hours and is a very arduous journey.

We reached Mukthinath at around 2 PM and went to Sri Mukthinath lodge where some of us had lunch. Mukthinath is a very small mountain village with a few hotels and a few houses. The houses are built on highly uneven terrain with mud walls and have a pile of wood on the roof for insulation. It is common to find solar water kettles here. The temperature was around zero degrees even in the afternoon. Since it was February, there was hardly any crowd in the town. March is a rather crowded period, since the temperature is more conducive. There are a few roadside stalls from where local handicrafts and Salagramams can be obtained.

We left our luggage at the hotel and started off to our most important destination – the temple of Sri Mukthinath, one of the 108 Sri Vaishnava Divya Desams glorified by the Azhwars! From our hotel we could choose to walk uphill for about 20 minutes to reach the temple, or we could choose to be driven on a motorbike. Either way, the path is steep and can be difficult for people with acrophobia (fear of heights).

At the Divya Desam, there was not much of a crowd. At the entrance to the Divya Desam, we bought a few pictures of Sri Mukthinath. There were about 4-5 visitors apart from us, and they left presently. The temple is very small compared to the Divya Desams of Tamil Nadu and the style of construction is also totally different. Around the temple, there are 108 water-spouts –representing the theerthams of the 108 Divya Desams. A few of us chose to do snanam here, braving the sub-zero temperatures. After this, we entered the temple and first worshipped Sri Ramanuja and Sri Andal in a small, separate sannidhi. We chanted thaniyans and submitted our offerings to Sri Ramanuja and Sri Andal. After obtaining their blessings, we went to the main sannidhi where we offered worship to Sri Salagramam Udaiya Nambi (as PeriAzhwar addresses Him) who is accompanied by Sri Lakshmi and Sri Bhoo Devi. It was a most wonderful and auspicious darshan. Sri Perumal has a very benevolent expression on His face. Adiyen will describe the temple in greater detail in a separate posting in this blog. The sannidhi is maintained by Buddhist nuns. Also, we met a Nepali Sri Vaishnava priest who also does araadhanam at the temple. After our worship at the temple, this Sri Vaishnava priest was kind enough to explain the sthala-puranam of Sri Salagramam in detail.

After a very unhurried and thorough darshan at the temple, we walked down to our hotel. It was around 4.30 PM and had already started growing dark. It was at this point that we really started feeling the adverse effects of the high altitude and the cold weather. Altitude sickness affected all of us. A couple of us vomited and we had difficulty breathing as oxygen was scarce. None of us felt like having any food or drink. We did not have any heating in our rooms and we had to keep one of the windows open to maintain our oxygen supply. So in effect, we had to spend the night exposed to the atmosphere. It snowed through the night and temperatures were around -10 degrees Celsius. It was a most difficult experience. Our hotel owner gave us tablets to counter the altitude sickness. These provided some relief. We had to sleep (or rather, try to sleep) under very thick blankets to shield us from the biting cold. It was a very difficult night. Thanks to the Grace of the Divya Dampathi, we survived. The next morning, a few of us went uphill again to have a second darshan of Sri Mukthinath. Also, the Sri Vaishnava priest at the temple gave us several Salagramams. At around 11 AM, we started off back to Jomsom by jeep. En route, we stopped to have contact with the sacred water of the Gandaki river.

At Jomsom, we went straight to Hotel Majesty and had a nice lunch (soup, sandwiches, rasam – yes, the hotel was able to provide our South Indian rasam!, aloo parathas etc.). We warmed ourselves on coal stoves. After lunch, a few of us took a jeep ride to the village of Marpha, where we bought fresh apple juice from a local factory. Then we had an early dinner and went to bed at around 8.30 PM. A night of solid sleep gave us rest and recuperation from our mountain sickness. We got up at 5.30 AM to catch our flight to Pokhara at 6.30 AM. We found that it had snowed heavily through the night and our flight was cancelled. We spent the morning waiting for information and trying to make a decision on what to do next. We also used the time to visit a local museum that had a lot of information about the geography and origins of the region. Finally we decided to get moving and got a jeep to take us to the village of Ghaasa. We heard that, just before Ghaasa, there was a roadblock and we had to alight and shift our luggage across the roadblock and then take another jeep to Ghaasa. From Ghaasa, we had to take another jeep to Beni, from where our agent would arrange for our travel to Pokhara. We started with this plan in mind. However, en route to Ghaasa, our vehicle sunk into the mud and stalled. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere! Along with Sri Srikanth, our driver went to get help from a nearby village. As the rest of us were waiting, a van came by and the driver managed to skilfully negotiate the road where our vehicle was stuck and got to the other side. When Sri Srikanth came back, we all got into the other vehicle and reached the point where the road was blocked. Here, we moved our luggage through a very tricky mountain slope to cross the roadblock. Sri Srikanth played a key role in guiding us through the path and also in carrying most of the heavy luggage.

At the other side of the roadblock, we had a van waiting to take us to Ghaasa. From Ghaasa, we chartered a jeep to take us to Beni. The journey from Ghaasa to Beni took about 3 hours, and our driver had to negotiate very tricky slopes and narrow paths. In the moonlight, we could see the beauty of River Gandaki making its way through the mountains. We reached Beni at 11 PM, and were met by our driver who took us to our hotel in Pokhara at around 2 PM. We got up at around 8.30 AM and had a good breakfast and did a little shopping. Sri Sudhir and Sri Kalai found a very knowledgeable supplier of Salagramams at Pokhara.

Later in the morning, we took a flight back to Katmandu and checked into Hotel Manang at around 2 PM. After unpacking, we started off to the temple of Sri Budha Nilakanth, which has a beautiful vigraham of Lord Sriman Narayana lying on Adiseshan. After offering worship here, we did a little bit of shopping before heading off to dinner. After dinner, we got back to our hotel and woke up the next morning at 5.30 AM. We drove straight to the temple of Chaangu Narayanan (Champaka Narayanan) which is situated on a small hill outside Katmandu. We had an excellent darshan early in the morning with a wonderful view of the sunrise. The vigraham of Sri Garudazhwar outside the Perumal Sannidhi here is very beautiful. After a very satisfying darshan, we visited a nearby museum which housed relics and coins from ancient Nepal. Then, we dropped off Sri Srikanth at the airport for him to catch his flight to Delhi and proceeded to our hotel for breakfast. Then we packed and made our way to the airport again to take our return flight out of Nepal. It was a great trip!

Based on our experience, here is a list of items to carry during the trip:
  1. Full winter gear – heavy winter jacket, sweater(s), scarf, woolen head-cap that also covers ears, woolen socks, thermal innerwear, heavy winter shoes, heavy gloves
  2. Torch – Very important as power cuts are regular in Nepal.
  3. Tablets for high-altitude sickness (very important)
  4. Basic medicines – for cold, fever, antibiotics, anti-diarrheal, antiseptic, bandages, painkillers
  5. Lip moisturizer (like Vaseline), face moisturizing cream
  6. Ready to eat foodstuff – energy bars, biscuits, nuts (almonds)
  7. Electronics: Digital camera + batteries/chargers, mobile phone + charger. The electric power plug design in Nepal is the same as in India
  8. Basics: Passport, cash/cards, List of emergency contacts, insurance papers (Indian citizens don’t need a passport to enter Nepal, but some form of identification like PAN card/ration card is needed)
  9. Religious items: Thiruman and Srichoornam, Containers/bags for bringing Sri Saligramam moorthys
  10. Miscellaneous items: Soap, cosmetics, detergent, plastic bags, cloth-hangers for drying.
Azhwar Emperumaanaar Jeeyar ThiruvadigaLae SaraNam
ThirumAl thiruvadigaLae saraNam

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thiru Uraiyur a.k.a ThirukkOzhi

Located within Tiruchirapalli city in central Tamil Nadu, India, this temple is one of the 108 Sri Vaishnava Divya Desams and also the birthplace of Sri ThiruppAn AzhwAr, one of the twelve AzhwArs.

A very compact temple, it houses separate sannidhis for Sri ThiruppAn AzhwAr, Sri NammAzhwAr, Sri VishvaksEnar and Sri Raamanujar.

Since Uraiyur is part of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy for short) city, it is easily accessible. The name ThirukkOzhi is virtually unheard of today, and the place is referred to as Uraiyur or Nachiyar Koil by local people. Visitors may stay at Trichy and cover Uraiyur along with other Divya Desams in and around Trichy, which include Sri Rangam, Thiruvellarai, Uthamar Koil, Thiru Anbil and Koviladai (aka Thiruppaer Nagar). From within Trichy city, Uraiyur can be reached by public transport buses or auto. Those who wish to cover all the six Divya Desams in and around Trichy can hire call-taxis and cover all the Divya Desams in 1-2 days.

The temple:
As we enter the temple, there is a stone mandapam (hall). To the left, there is a corridor that houses the sannidhis for Sri ThiruppAn AzhwAr, Sri NammAzhwAr, Sri VishvaksEnar and Sri Raamanujar. On the left of this corridor, there is a very beautiful, deep stone tank that is completely housed within the temple campus. It is a very serene sight when the tank is full. An entrance in the corridor on the right hand side, leads us to the main sannidhi. The main sannidhi (sanctum sanctorum) has the Perumal Sri Azhagiya Manavalan in a very beautiful standing posture, with the Thayar Sri Kamalavalli seated on the left. There is no separate sannidhi for ThAyAr. There is no Utsavar idol for Perumal here, just a Utsavar for ThAyAr.
Behind the main sannidhi, there is a nandhavanam (flower garden) with a vasantha mandapam.

The temple is not very big and all sannidhis can be covered in about 45 minutes. Those who wish to enjoy this place in leisure can take a slow walk around the corridor and observe the beauty of the temple, tank, the stone pillars, the beautiful paintings in the smaller sannidhis, the flower garden, and above all, the infinitely auspicious beauty of the Divya Dampathi. Sri Thiruppaan Azhwar showers his gentle benevolence on devotees, guiding them towards the Divya Dampathi.

Legends and History:
Sri Kamalavalli Thayar is said to have incarnated as the daughter of the local Chozha king and later married Sri Perumal. The Chozha king built the temple to commemorate the divine wedding. Hence Perumal is known as Azhagiya MaNavALan which literally means “The handsome bridegroom”. On the day preceding Pankuni Uthiram, the uthsavar of Sri Ranganatha (NamperumAL) is brought from Sri Rangam and a Kalyana Uthsavam is celebrated with the Thayar here. Since ThayAr has a lot of importance here, the temple is referred to as “nAchiyAr koil” by local people.

Historically, Uraiyur was the capital of the Chozha kings at one point of time. Later the Chozhas shifted their capital to Pazhaiyarai near Kumbakonam and then later to Thanjavur.

Thirumangai Azhwar and Kulasekara Azhwar have glorified this Divya Desam.

Sri KamalavaLLi ThAyar samEtha Sri Azhagiya MaNavALa PerumAL ThiruvadigaLAE saraNam
Sri ThiruppAN AzhwAr ThiruvadigaLAE saraNam