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

Friday, November 30, 2012

ThiruvattAru Divya dEsam

It is my pleasure  and privilege to describe this divya dEsam. “Beautiful” is a very mild word to describe the sannidhi of Sri Adi kEsava perumAL here.  Although located in the state of Tamil nAdu, this is one of the malai nAdu Divya dEsams and follows the keraLA protocol of worship and rituals.  The idol of Sri PerumAL lying resplendently on Adi sEshan is 22 feet in length – the biggest among all Divya dEsams where Sri PerumAL is in a reclining  posture. There are three entrances to the sannidhis to facilitate the devotees’ vision of the entire thirumEni of the Lord.

Location and Access:

ThiruvattAru is located near the town of KanyAkumari in Tamil nAdu, on the rail route between kanyAkumAri and  Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram).  ThiruvattAru is about also about 30 km from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu.  This place can also be reached by taking a bus from Thiruvananthapuram to Nagercoil and alighting at Thoduvetti and then travelling another 9 km by taking another bus.

The Temple:

The mUlavar here is SrI Adi kEsava perumAL and the thAyAr is SrI maragathavaLLi.The theertham is vattAru river (Aru = river in Tamil).  The thirumEni of the Lord is so huge that He has to be  viewed through three doors in the sannidhi. The thirumEni of the Lord is said to be made up entirely of 16008 salagramam stones. Due to this, there is no abhishEkam (ritual bathing) for the Lord at this Divya dEsam. The mUlavar here has a very serene expression on His divine face, which gets accentuated in the light of the ghee lamps. The right hand of the Lord is held is a yOga mudra, while the left hangs down freely.

There is a huge stone platform (18 feet by 18 feet by 3 feet) in front of the sanctum sanctorum. There are no electric lights inside the sanctum, and it is an out-of-the-world experience to behold the Lord in the light of ghee and oil lamps. There is a Siva LingA  at the feet of the Lord. Sri dEvi and bhU dEvi thAyArs are seated in the centre in front of PerumAL. A sage by the name of kAtalEya maharishi is seen near the head of Sri PerumAL. Brahma is not seen.

The sanctum is constructed in such a manner that, on selected days, the rays of the sun fall directly on the thirumEni of the Lord.

The temple has huge corridors adorned with beautiful sculptures. There is a separate sannidhi for Sri KrishnA. A remarkable feature of the perumAL here is that, He is reclining with His head on the right side (when you stand facing the sannidhi). Except for the Divya dEsams of thiruvattAru and thiruvekkA, in all Divya dEsams where perumAL is in reclining position, it is the other way round. The temple can be fully covered in an hour or two, although you could spend days and weeks enjoying the beauty of this temple.

There are a lot of structural similarities between this Divya dEsam and the nearby divya dEsam of Thiruvananthapuram.

Legends and History:

kEsi was a demon who was slayed by Sri PerumAL. Since Sri perumAL annihilated the demon kEsi, He is known as Adi kEsavan. kEsi’s wife prayed to the rivers GangA and thAmirabaraNi and created a deluge and launched it at the Lord. PerumAL ordered Bhoo dEvi thAyAr to elevate the ground beneath Him. As a result, the deluge had no effect on Him. Since the rivers formed a circle around the elevated area, this place is known as thiruvattAru (vattam = circle, aaru = river in Tamil) Finding her efforts futile, kEsi’s wife realized her own helplessness and surrendered unto the Lord at this Divya dEsam.

It is believed that Chandran (the moon God) and parasurAma, the warrior sage, worshipped Sri perumAL at this divya dEsam.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

nammAzhwAr 3722-32

[Note: The numbering convention for the pAsurams seems to differ in various Divya Prabandham books. In some Divya Prabandham books, the same pAsurams by nammAzhwAr is listed as # 3129-3139]. 

A sample pAsuram:

மெய்ந்நின்று கமழ் துளவ விரை ஏறு திருமுடியன்
கைந்நின்ற சக்கரத்தன் கருதும் இடம் பொருது புனல்
மைந்நின்ற வரை போலும் திரு உருவ வட்டாற்றாற்கு
எந் நன்றி செய்தேனோ என் நெஞ்சில் திகழ்வதுவே ?

In this pAsuram, Sri nammAzhwAr wonders what good he did to make the Lord of ThiruvattAru reside in his heart. The Lord of ThiruvattAru has a thirumEni like a mountain. He wields a discus and wears a crown of fragrant thulasi leaves.

SrI maragathavaLLi thAyAr samEtha SrI Adi kEsava perumAL thiruvadigaLae saraNam

Sunday, November 4, 2012

ThiruvanparisAram divya dEsam

[Click on photos to enlarge]

Also called as Thirupathi sAram, this divya dEsam is one of the 13 malai nAdu divya dEsams. Eleven of the thirteen malai nAdu divya dEsams are located in the South Indian state of kEraLA. ThiruvanparisAram is one of the remaining two that are located in the state of Tamil nAdu.

Location and Access:

ThiruvanparisAram is located 4 km from the town of nAgarkOil. It is located off the highway connecting nAgarkOil and the larger town of tirunelvEli. nAgarkOil is located close to the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. A visit to TiruvanparisAram may be done as part of a package tour to the malai nAdu divya dEsams or combined with a visit to the AzhwAr nava thirupathis of TirunelvEli. Another divya dEsam – ThiruvattAru is located nearby. ThiruvanparisAram itself is not a big town and has very limited facilities for boarding and lodging.

The Temple:

The temple is not very big and all sannidhis can be covered in a leisurely manner in about 45 minutes. The main sanctum sanctorum has perumAL in a sitting position facing east. The perumAL goes by the name of ThiruvAzh mArban (He whose chest is the abode of Lakshmi) also called as thirukkuraLappan. The thAyAr here is Sri kamalavaLLi. There is no separate sannidhi for thAyAr. The temple tank here brims with water and is called the sOmalakshmi theertham. Behind the temple we see a small separate sannidhi for SrI nammAzhwAr. Also, there is a sannidhi for Sri rAmA, sItA, lakshmNA and vibhIshaNA at this Divya dEsam.

Legends and History:

-          This Divya Desam is the birthplace of Sri udayanangai, mother of Sri nammAzhwAr. This pious lady worshipped the Lord at this Divya Desam for 41 days and was blessed with a son (nammAzhwAr).
-          According to legend, HanumAn requested sage agastyA to retell the story of rAmAyanA at this place.
-          During the incarnation of the Lord as narasimhA, Lakshmi was frightened by His fierce appearance and left Him to perform penance at this Divya Desam. The Lord was pacified by PrahalAdA and resumed His usual, gentle form and visited this Divya Desam, where Lakshmi resumed Her rightful place on the Lord’s chest. Hence the Lord got the name ThiruvAzh mArban (He whose chest is the abode of Lakshmi).
-          According to another legend, the saptha rishis wished to have a vision of the Lord and meditated on Him. Their efforts fructified at this Divya Desam.
-          The construction of the temple gOpuram and corridors was done by King KulasEkara (not sure if this is the same as Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr)

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

nammAzhwAr 3475

[Note: The numbering convention for the pAsurams seems to differ in various Divya Prabandham books. In some Divya Prabandham books, the same pAsuram by nammAzhwAr is listed as # 2882]

AzhwAr pAsuram:

வருவார் செல்வார் வண்பரிசாரத்து இருந்த என்
திருவாழ்மார்பற்கு என்திறம் சொல்லார் செய்வது என் ?
உருஆர் சக்கரம் சங்கு சுமந்து இங்கு உம்மோடு
ஒருபாடு உழல்வான் ஓர் அடியானும் உளம் என்றே !

In this pAsuram nammAzhwAr laments: Many devotees visit this divya dEsam. But none conveys my plight to the Lord of ThiruvanparisAram who has Lakshmi on His chest.  Nobody tells Him that there is a devotee waiting out there (refers to AzhwAr) for His Grace.

SrI thiruvAzhmArban thiruvadigaLAe saraNam

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Divya dEsams of kEraLA

[Click on picture to enlarge]

The divya dEsams in the south Indian state of kEraLA constitute a very distinct group called the malai nAdu divya dEsams. “malai nAdu” literally means “mountainous country”, which is a fitting name for kErAla which is nestled in the Western ghAt ranges. The malai nAdu divya dEsams are 13 in number. To be precise, two of these are just outside the political border of kEraLA. However, they are also grouped under the set of malai nAdu divya dEsams.

The divya dEsams of malai nAdu stand out for their beauty and purity. kEraLA is known as “God’s own country” and not without reason. The state is bountifully endowed with water resources and filled with lush vegetation. It is still possible to see verdant greenery is most parts of kEraLA. Many of the malai nAdu divya dEsams are on the banks of rivers (that actually have plenty of water and are fairly unpolluted!)

This webpage has a lot of details on the architecture of kEraLA temples: http://www.thrikodithanam.org/intro.htm

This blog has a lot of useful information on Kerala Divya dEsams:   http://www.akaarakani.blogspot.com/

The divya dEsams of kEraLA are unique in the following ways:

- Except for Thiruvananthapuram, ThiruvaNparisAram, ThiruvattAr and ThirunAvAi, in all the malai nAdu divya dEsams, the sanctum sanctorum is located within a small circular building with a conical roof (see picture above). The temple campus is usually has plenty of open space, with the sanctum located in the middle. Thiruvananthapuram and ThiruvattAr are huge, beautiful temples with outstanding stone sculptures. These two resemble Tamil nAdu temples in many respects.

- The malai nAdu divya dEsams follow their own worship protocol, which is very different from that of Tamil nAdu divya dEsams.

- It is forbidden for male pilgrims to wear any clothing above the waist in the malai nAdu divya dEsams.

- The priests are very strict about the purity of the temple. For example, when they dispense prasAdam, they throw or drop it from a distance rather than handing it out from close quarters.

- Usually there is a huge stone platform in front of the sanctum sanctorum.

- The style of decorating the vigraham of SrI perumAL is very different from Tamil nAdu divya dEsams.

- A very important feature of Malai Naattu divya dEsams is that the thirumEni of SrI perumAL is illuminated only by ghee or oil lamps and never by electrical lamps. Looking at the ThirumEni of SrI perumAL in such lighting can be a little difficult – especially for people with less-than-perfect vision. However, it is a wonderful, ethereal experience. As your eyes  get adjusted to the dim lighting, you slowly discover different facets of the thirumEni of SrI perumAL.  Also, devotees do not get to see perumAL from close quarters – even when the temple is not crowded. So you really have to make an effort to fully perceive SrI perumAL – which makes you concentrate harder.

- Also, photography of the mUlavar is strictly forbidden. This is the reason why it is impossible to find photos of mUlavar idols of the malai nAdu Divya dEsams in books or on the internet. In contrast, photos of the mUlavars in the divya dEsams in other states are freely available.

- The popular temple of guruvAyUr is not counted among the Divya dEsams. I am not sure why, maybe this is because this temple developed after the times of Sri AzhwArs who sanctified the Divya dEsams with their verses.

- Nowadays, there are several tour organizers who arrange tours for the malai nAdu divya dEsams from various starting points - like Chennai, Trichy etc. Normally, the package includes a visit to GuruvAyUr as well.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sri Vishnu Temples of Cambodia

Siem Reap in the Kingdom of Cambodia is home to several Hindu temples built by Kings of the Khmer dynasty. The largest and most famous of them all is Angkor Wat, built by King Suryavarman II. Angkor Wat was originally a temple dedicated to Vishnu. Even today, in one corner of the temple stands a 3.25 metre tall idol of Sri Vishnu, with eight arms. Angkor Wat is a non-functioning temple, although there are offerings of fruits, money and incense made to the deity.

The style of architecture in the temples of Cambodia bears a lot of similarities to the temples of South India, particularly the concept of the vimAnam above the sanctum sanctorum and carvings on the temple walls.

Another temple in the area dedicated to Sri Vishnu is Prasat Kravan. This temple was built by one Mahidaravarman, who was a minister/official in the Khmer regime. This temple, which is being restored with German assistance, has 5 small separate sannidhis. The central one is dedicated to Sri Vishnu. The one of the right is dedicated to SrI.

There are numerous other temples in the area – some dedicated to Shiva, some to Buddha and some to Avalokiteshwara (not clear if this is the name of a God or a King). Some temples have carvings depicting scenes from various Hindu epics. For example, one of the photos above shows a bas-relief of the vAli-sugrIva battle from the rAmAyana from the temple of BantAey SrEi. Another photo shows Sri Gajalakshmi.

On visiting these temples, I got reminded of our own Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr. Had these temples been built during the lifetime of this indefatigable AzhwAr, he would have most probably visited them! After all, even highly inaccessible (in those days) Divya Desams like sAlagramam and Ahobilam were not out of reach for him.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thiru SrI vara mangai divya dEsam (nAngunEri)

SrI nammAzhwAr refers to this Divya dEsam as SrI vara mangala nagar. This is one of the 8 swayam vyaktha kshEthrams (where the idol of the Lord appeared by itself). This divya dEsam is also referred to as “vAnamAmalai” and “thOthAdri kshEthram”.

[This will open in a new window]

Location and Access:

This divya dEsam is located about 25 km from TirunelvEli in south Tamil nAdu, on the way to nAgarkoil from TirunelvEli. A visit to this Divya dEsam may be combined with nearby Divya dEsams like Tirukkurungudi and the AzhwAr nava thirupathi-s near TirunelvEli. This divya dEsam is the headquarters of the vAnamAmalai Mutt. The pontiff of this Mutt is part of a direct lineage of AchAryAs that was established by Sri MaNavALa mAmunigaL.

nAngunEri by itself is a very small town with not much by way of lodging facilities. Pilgrims may, however stay at the vAnamAmalai mutt after making arrangements in advance. TirunelvEli, is a big town with ample lodging facilities. Buses and auto-rickshaws are available from TirunelvEli to nAngunEri.

As the name nAngunEri indicates, this place is home to a huge lake (Eri in Tamil). It is possible that, once upon a time, there were four lakes in this area (nangu = four in Tamil).

The Temple:

The temple is a fairly big one, and a leisurely walk through the temple covering all sannidhis will take about 1-2 hours. Personally, I feel you can spend half a day at this temple  exploring the rich architecture and the numerous sannidhis.

The front of the temple is crowned with a 9-tiered rAja gOpuram, with a pandal mandapam in front of it. The temple corridors (prakArAs) are liberally adorned with beautiful sculptures. In one corner of the temple is a stone tank about 25 ft by 15 ft. This tank is used to store the oil with which abhishEkam for Sri PerumAL is done. This oil is believed to have wonderful curative properties.

The main sanctum sanctorum of the temple has Sri Perumal seated under the hood of Adi sEshan, flanked by Sri dEvi and bhU dEvi. The main deity (mUlavar) is goes by the name of thOthAdrinAthan, from which the Divya dEsam derives the name thOthAdri. The celestial damsels Urvasi and tilOttamA are seen fanning the Lord from either side. The uthsavar is Sri DeivanAyakan. The thAyAr here is SrI vara mangai thAyAr, from whom the divya dEsam derives its official name.

There are separate sannidhis for two thAyArs. There are also separate sannidhis for SrI Rama-sIta-Lakshmana, SrI chakrathAzhwAr, SrI lakshmi varAhar and SrI vishvaksEnar.

Legends and History:

- This temple has been glorified by SrI nammAzhwAr. There is no separate idol of nammAzhwAr anywhere in the temple, since the satAri of SrI perumAL has an image of nammAzhwAr engraved on it.

- Legend has it that the sages - SrI mArkandEya and SrI bhrigu, in addition to Brahma and indrA were blessed by the Lord at this divya dEsam.

- The king of Sindh was cursed by SrI kushAsana rishi and attained the form of a dog. Legend has it that he was relieved of the curse by bathing in the temple tank here.

- The pontiff of the vAnamAmalai mutt here belongs to a lineage of AchAryAs that was established by SrI maNavALa mAmuni. Once a year, the pontiff wears a ring that was once worn by the latter.

- According to this sthala purANam, when Lord SrI Vishnu killed the demons madhu and kaitabhA, Mother Earth got polluted, and sought purification from the Lord by worshipping Him here. She was blessed by Him and attained purification. Mother Earth also came to be known as mEdinI thenceforth.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

nammAzhwAr 3183-93

[Note: The numbering convention for the pAsurams seems to differ in various Divya Prabandham books. In some Divya Prabandham books, the same pAsurams by nammAzhwAr are found between numbers 2590-2600]

A sample pAsuram:

நோற்ற  நோன்பிலேன் நுண்ணறி விலேன்  
ஆகிலும் இனி யுன்னைவிட்டு ஒன்றும்
ஆற்றகிற் கின்றிலேன் அரவினணை யம்மானே
சேற்றுத் தாமரை செந்நெ லூடுமலர் சிரீவரமங்கல நகர்
வீற்றிருந்த எந்தாய்! உனக்கு மிகையல்லேன் அங்கே

In this pAsuram, SrI nammAzhwAr calls out to the Lord as - O Lord reclining on the serpent! O Lord, O my mother, who is seated in SrI vara mangala nagar (replete with lotus ponds and paddy fields) ! AzhwAr  humbly concedes to the Lord that he has not done any penance, and that he is of meagre intelligence. Yet, he cannot bear separation from Him.

External references:

 SrI vara mangai thAyAr samEtha SrI thOthAdrinAthan thiruvadigaLae saraNam

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ThiruvanjikkaLam (avathAra sthalam of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr)

ThiruvanjikkaLam is the birthplace of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr. There is a small, beautiful temple here (not a divya dEsam). Sri vElukkudi Krishnan has done a lot of work towards the development and upkeep of this temple.

A video of this Divya Desam including theerthavAri for SrI kulasEkara AzhwAr:

History of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr:

Sri KulasEkara AzhwAr was a very powerful monarch in his time. Unlike many other saint-kings, he was not a weakling. In fact, he was the founder of the Later Chera Dynasty. He was also known as Kulasekara varman and rAmarAjasEkaran. He ruled between 800-820 AD. His daughter iLai was also a staunch devotee of the Lord. Like SrI ANDAL, iLai merged with Lord Sri Ranganatha at SriRangam. She is celebrated as ChErakulavaLLi thAyAr. Once a year, the sErthi sEvai of this ThAyAr with Sri namperumAL (uthsavar at SriRangam) is celebrated.

Click here for information on the regnal history of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr and the Later ChEra dynasty.

Sri kulasEkara spent his final years in the town of mannAr koil in Tamil nadu.

Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr’s pAsurams:

In the 4000 verses that constitute the Divya Prabandham, the pAsurams of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr stand out for their sweetness – like the icing on a cake. In fact, his pAsurams are hailed as perumAL thirumozhi (Word of God). As a poet, Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr is outstanding; as a devotee, he has no parallel. Some of the similes and analogies that he employs are peerless. Here is a sample pAsuram:

வெண்கண்திண் களிறடர்த்தாய்! விற்றுவக்கோட்டம்மானே!
என்கு போய் உய்கேன் ? உன் இணையடியே யடையலல்லால்
என்கும்போய்க் கரைகாணா தெரிகடல்வாய் மீண்டேயும்
வங்கத்தின் கூம்பேறும் மாப்பறவை போன்றேனே

In this pAsuram, AzhwAr says he has no refuge other than the Lord's feet. To illustrate this, AzhwAr employs a fantastic simile. A ship loaded with foodgrains was anchored in a harbour. A bird used to pass its time eating the grains from the ship. In course of time, the ship set sail. The bird, without realizing that the ship was sailing, continued to pass its time feeding on the grains. Gradually, the ship reached mid-sea. One day, the bird got bored and decided to leave the ship. So it flew off. But alas! Land was nowhere in sight. The bird had no choice but to return to the ship. The next day the bird tried to fly in search of land in a different direction. Again, finding no land, the bird had to return to the ship. In the same manner, AzhwAr says, even he were to try to find some other refuge, he would ultimately have to return to the feet of the Lord.

Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr’s devotion:

There are a couple of events that bear testimony to the depth of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr’s devotion.

Once, AzhwAr was listening to a discourse on the rAmayaNa. When the narration came to the point where rAmA sets off with the vAnarA army to rescue sIta from rAvanA, Sri kulasEkara immediately ordered to his generals to get his army to rush to rAmA’s support. Such was his involvement with the Lord. It was only after the narrator explained that rAmA had already killed rAvaNa and re-united with sIta that AzhwAr was pacified.

On another occasion, the ministers of Sri kulasEkara AzhwAr were concerned that the king was neglecting his royal administrative duties in favour of his spiritual activites. They wanted to wean the king away from his spiritual pursuits. To this end, they decided on a stratagem to alienate the king from Sri Vaishnava devotees, with whom he was spending a lot of his time. The ministers hid one of the royal jewels and imputed the “theft” to the Sri Vaishnavas. However, their conspiracy backfired in a spec tacular fashion. AzhwAr was completely convinced of the innocence of the Sri Vaishnavas. To prove his point, he inserted his hand into a vessel filled with venomous snakes, saying, “If it is indeed true that the Sri Vaishnavas are blemishless, may the snakes refrain from biting me.” Needless to say, the AzhwAr emerged unscathed from the ordeal, and the innocence of the Sri Vaishnavas was established.

SrI kulasEkara AzhwAr thiruvadigaLae saraNam

Monday, May 21, 2012

ThirumOkUr Divya Desam

A very beautiful and compact Divya Desam located near the city of Madurai in Tamilnadu, ThirumOkUr is famous for its ChakrathAzhwAr sannidhi. In fact, this is one Divya Desam where Sri Sudarsana AzhwAr is more famous than PerumAL himself.

Location and Access:

ThirumOkUr is located 12 km from Madurai city. There are plenty of buses from Madurai. There are two other Divya Desams within/close to Madurai city – ThirumAlirumchOlai (kaLLazhagar koil) and ThirukkUdal (kUdal azhagar sannidhi). ThirumOkUr itself is not a big town. The best option would be to stay in Madurai. Madurai has an airport (code IXM) which is connected to Chennai and Hyderabad in South India.

The Temple:

The ThirumOkUr temple is not very big and all sannidhis can be covered comfortably in under an hour. Outside the temple, there is a beautiful lotus filled temple tank (pushkariNi) which is known as the ksheerAbdhi thIrtham. As we enter the temple, there is a stone mandapam with the dhwaja sthambam. On the right, there is a beautiful sannidhi for Ranganatha. There is also a separate sannidhi for the thAyAr – Sri mOhanavaLLi (aka mokUr vaLLi). There are no uthsavams (festivities) for the thAyAr, since it is believed that Sri PerumAL incarnated in a feminine form as Mohini. The thAyAr is a "padi thAndA pathini" i.e. she does not leave the precincts of the sannidhi. Once a year, on panguni uthiram day, Sri PerumAL visits thAyAr sannidhi.

The main perumAL sannidhi has the mUlavar Sri kALamEgha perumAL in standing posture. The utsavar goes by the name of ThirumOkUr Apthan (Apthan literally means “friend”) and has five weapons. The uthsavar is flanked by two thAyArs who are seated.

There is a separate sannidhi for Sri ChakrathAzhwAr with a mUlavar and uthsavar. This sannidhi is very famous and the uthsavar here is of resplendent beauty and majesty – as befits the principal weapon of the Lord.
Legends and History:

According to Wikipedia, the temple is more than 2000 years old and has been referred to in akanaūu, Padhitrupathu, maduraikanchi and also in one of the five great epics of Tamil literature, silappatikaram. Legend has it that, when the devAs and asurAs were churning the milky ocean, a drop of amrutam dropped into this temple tank.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

Tirumangai AzhwAr 2673 (74)
nammAzhwAr 3667-77

[Note: The numbering convention for the pAsurams seems to differ in various Divya Prabandham books. In some Divya Prabandham books, the pAsurams by nammAzhwAr are found between numbers 3074-84]

A sample pAsuram:

மற்றிலம் அரண் வான்பெரும் பாழ் தனி முதலா
சுற்றும் நீர்படைத் ததன்வழித் தொல்முனி முதலா
முற்றும் தேவரோ டுலகுசெய் வாந்திரு மோகூர்
சுற்றி நாம்வலஞ் செய்ய நம் துயர்கெடும் கடிதே

In this pAsuram, nammAzhwAr, avers that if we circumambulate around the temple of ThirumOkUr, all our sorrows will be eliminated.

External references:


Sri mOhanavaLLi thAyAr samEtha Sri kALamEgha perumAL thiruvadigaLE saraNam

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Raja gOpuram at Sri Rangam

[Images from www.srirangaminfo.com. The completed gopuram, above and the unfinished gopuram from an old picture, below]

Click here for a couple of wonderful Youtube videos [courtesy of Sri vAsudEvan] of the samprOkshanam of the rAjagOpuram in 1987. Sri mukkUr Azhagiya singar is seen in the second video.

Video part 1: Click here
Video part 2: Click here

The glories of the temple of Sri Ranganatha at SriRangam are endless. It would be apt to describe this temple (town) as the global headquarters of Sri SampradAyA. It is impossible to fathom the antiquity of the of idol of Sri Ranganatha and the PraNavAkAra vimAnam, which are supposedly from Brahma lOkam. SriRangam is the only Divya Desam that has been glorified by all eleven of the twelve AzhwArs (the remaining AzhwAr – Sri Madhurakavi – has only sung about his guru Sri nammAzhwAr – and not about any Divya Desam). In total , AzhwArs have showered 247 pAsurams on this super-sacred shrine. Part of the temple was built under the supervision of no less than Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr himself. Among other notable attributes, the temple includes a hall of one thousand stone pillars. Easily the biggest temple complex in India, the temple encompasses a whole town. Several Sri Vaishnava AcharyAs including Sri Ramanuja and Sri Desika have spent several decades of their lives in this Divya Desam. We could go on and on about the glories of this Divya Desam, but instead it is easier to quote Swami Desikan's verse from the AdhikAra sangraham (verse #42):

ஆராத அருளமுதம் பொதிந்த கோயில்
அம்புயத்தோன் அயொத்தி மன்னர்க்கு அளித்த கோயில்
தோலாத தனிவீரன் தொழுத கோயில்
துணையான வீடணற்க்கு துணையாம் கோயில்
சேராத பயனெல்லாம் சேர்க்கும் கோயில்
செழு மறையின் முதலெழுத்து சேர்ந்த கோயில்
தீராத வினையனைத்தும் தீர்க்குங்கோயில்
திருவரங்கம் எனத்திகழும் கோயில் தானே

To paraphrase this verse, the temple at SriRangam has the following attributes:
-It is filled with the uncloyingly sweet grace of the Lord
-It was gifted to the Emperors of AyodhyA by Brahma
-It was worshipped by that invincible warrior (Rama)
-It offers protection to Vibeeshana
-It can help attain even the most unattainable of blessings
-It is the embodiment of the primordial sound (praNavam) of the vEdAs
-It is capable of eliminating the vilest of sins

For a long time, this Divya Desam had a rather strange and glaringly obvious shortcoming. The main gopuram (temple tower) crowning the outermost wall of the temple was a mottai (unfinished) gopuram . It was extremely bizarre and also inappropriate that the grandest and holiest of shrines should have an awkward unfinished tower. The construction of the tower had been started during the reign of the King Achyuta Deva RayA over 400 years back. Over the centuries, many emperors and men of power and influence had contributed handsomely to the maintenance and upkeep of the temple. However, for whatever reason, none of them had the inclination to complete the project. Perhaps, they were turned off by the sheer enormity of the endeavour. The tower’s base was huge, and whoever had conceived the design obviously had dreamt of a tower of epic proportions. Constructing a tower to match the mammoth base was no ordinary task. And so the tower remained incomplete – an unfulfilled tribute by mankind to the Lord of the Gods. Pilgrims could only sigh at the incomplete structure and wonder how grand it might have been if only someone had had the resourcefulness to finish it.

The sight of the mottai gopuram was a major eyesore for the head of the Ahobila Mutt – His Holiness the 44th Pontiff Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar. To him, it was simply unacceptable that the Supreme power in the Universe enshrined at SriRangam and venerated by the AzhwArs should have a flawed temple tower. And unlike those before him, he decided to do something about it instead of merely sighing wistfully. Yes, he would take upon himself the task that had daunted kings and emperors. He would complete the Rajagopuram of Srirangam.

When His Holiness told others of his intent, there was probably incredulity mixed with amusement in the minds of the listeners. After all, the Swami himself was approaching 90 years of age. The hurdles that lay in the way were humongous. There were political problems (the Ahobila Mutt did not have direct control over the temple), religious issues, architectural challenges and above all, financial constraints. How would the money for this gargantuan undertaking be obtained ? At that time, the Ahobila Mutt itself was not exactly a very prosperous institution. Money for even the day-to-day upkeep of the Mutt was hard to come by. Who would finance this project ? And even if someone did, would they trust a 90-year-old person at the helm of affairs ? It is impossible for a 90-year old to convince a bank to advance a loan for constructing an ordinary house. Who would trust a nonagenarian with a vision of completing a project that had been beyond the dreams of megalomaniacs for centuries ?

It was perfectly reasonable to dismiss the project as a doomed one. However, the naysayers had not factored in the ironclad willpower of Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar. When Swami decided to do something, it would be done, and that was it. After all, he derived his directions not from the blinkered vision of mankind, but from the Supreme Force that controls the universe. He knew (as only he could) that the temple tower would be completed.

And so the project started. And much to the astonishment of the doubters, it took a (literally) concrete form. Money started pouring in from all quarters. Displaying project management skills that would put a Harvard management graduate to shame, Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar transformed the mottai gopuram into a complete, handsome edifice. Often he would himself go atop the structure using crude makeshift elevators to personally supervise the construction, at an age when most people need help to get seated on a chair (if they make it to that age in the first place!). Confounding his critics and making his admirers marvel, Sri Azhagiya Singar completed the gopuram and personally supervised its inauguration. Not only that, he also went on to complete a hundred years of age and passed away after seamlessly transitioning his duties to the next pontiff.

The Raja gopuram at SriRangam stands today, tall and resplendent, invoking awe in the minds of all and reminding everyone of the Holy Willpower of Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thiru thaNkA Divya Desam (thUppul)

Popularly known as Thooppul, Thiru thanka is one of the 15 Divya Desams in and around Kanchipuram. This Divya Desam was the hallowed birthplace of the great Sri Vaishnava AchArya, Swami Vedantha Desikar (1268-1369 AD).

[Click here for a video clip from this Divya Desam]

The first picture above shows Swami Desikan at thUppul and the second shows the utsavar at this Divya Desam.

[Photos & video courtesy of Sri Periyamarai Setlur Srikanth]

Location and Access:

Thoopul is located in the temple town of Kanchipuram, which is approximately 70 kilometres from the South Indian metropolis of Chennai. Kanchipuram is a bustling town with plenty of options for stay and food. Covering all 15 Divya Desams in Kanchipuram can take between 1-3 days.

The Temple:

The temple campus is not very big, and all sannidhis can be covered easily in about 30 minutes. Immediately near the temple is a separate sannidhi for Swami Desikan. Also, this sannidhi houses the idol of Sri Lakshmi HayagrIvar that was worshipped by Swami Desikan himself in his lifetime.

The mUlavar in this temple has a very unique and auspicious name – Sri Deepa PrakAsar [viLakkoLi perumAL in Tamil]. The mUlavar is in a standing posture facing west. The thAyAr here is Sri MaragathavaLLi. There are also sannidhis for Lakshmi HayagrIva, ANDAL, and the AzhwArs. The walls of the temple have paintings describing events in the life of Swami Desikan.

Legends and History:

According to legend, asurAs (dark forces) tried to render the world dark in order to hinder a yagna conducted by Lord Brahma. To facilitate the conduct of the yagna, Lord Sri Vishnu himself manifested as bright light. This explains the name Deepa PrakAsar.

AzhwAr mangaLAsAsanams:

Tirumangai AzhwAr 1849, 2065
(pAsuram numbers as found in any standard Divya prabandham book)

A sample pAsuram:

பொன்னை, மாமணியை அணி ஆர்ந்தது ஓர்
மின்னை வேங்கடத்து உச்சியில் கன்டு போய்
என்னை ஆளுடை ஈசனை, எம் பிரான்
தன்னை யாம் சென்று காண்டும் தண்காவிலே

This pAsuram is part of a decad in which Tirumangai AzhwAr references many Divya Desams.

AzhwAr describes perumAL as his gold, his precious gem, his lovely streak of lightning, his Lord and Master. AzhwAr says – we have had the darshan of the Lord at the summit of TirumalA. Now let’s go and behold him at ThankA.

Sri MaragathavaLLi thAyAr samEtha Sri viLakkoLi perumAL thiruvadigaLAe saraNam
Sri vEdAntha dEsikar thiruvadigaLAe saraNam