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

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.