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Immortalised in stone

The towering gopuram of the Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam...

KUMBAKONAM — IT is a magical place, nestling in the green Cauvery delta, majestic with looming temple towers that resound with melodic temple bells. The soaring tower of Sri Sarangapani temple casts a benevolent eye over the town. Built by the Nayaks, it is one of the 108 Tirupatis sacred to Vaishnavism.

Over 2000 years old, this huge temple is steeped in legend. Hema Rishi had a longing to beget Lakshmi as his daughter, and so undertook many penances. He was rewarded by Lakshmi emerging from the Portamarai Tank, among a 1000 lotuses, to be brought up by him. Vishnu came to the Earth in search of His consort; He is said to have descended from Vaikuntam in a celestial chariot drawn by elephants and horses.

He stayed in the nearby Someswaran Koil, and wooed and wedded Lakshmi. Komalavalli Thayar and Aravamudhan became the residing deities of the Sarangapani temple. The Portamarai Tank still has the Hema Rishi mandapam standing in its midst. The temple uses two entrances — the Uttarayana one for the first six months, and the Dakshinayana one for the next six months. Thai Amavasya sees the celebration of the Kodukumudi Sevai, where the couple's idols are kept in Thayar's sanctum, and the veshti of the Lord is tied to the sari of the goddess.

In the month of Panguni, on Chithirai star day, is the kalyana utsavam, endowed by late Appachi Iyengar, of the famous A. V. Estate, long ago. A rich man with no children, he prayed to Aravamudhan, and was finally blessed with a daughter, whom he named Komalavalli. Strangely enough, she got married to one T. S. Aravamudha Iyengar of nearby Tiruvalangudi!

This kalyana utsavam is the only one to be celebrated in the temple.

The temple is also perhaps the only one where, every year, ceremony is performed for a departed soul within its precincts. A poor Brahmin and staunch devotee spent most of his life in the service of this deity. At the end of his days, he felt that he had no one at all, of his own. The Lord is said to have performed this Brahmin's last rites on a Deepavali day. Hence the ritual is performed annually here, within the temple, by the priests. The Lord has His right hand half raised, and the left behind His head, in a half risen pose as sung by Tirumazhisai Azhwar `Kidanthavaru Ezhinthirundu Pesuvazhi Kesane'.

It is Nadamuni Azhwar who brought the Divya Prabhandam verses to light. On his southern journey from the north, Nadamuni was preceded by a divine light, which finally led him to Nammazhwar.

At that time only 10 pasurams were being sung and they were on Aravamudhan. Nammazhwar was deep in meditation, and Nadamuni wrote down the 3990 prabandhams that were unconsciously being recited by Nammazhwar. It is to the Lord of the Sarangapani temple that the world owes the discovery of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandam.


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