Brilliant as thousand suns
Skanda Sashti celebration has just concluded at all the Subramanya temples. V. S. KRISHNAN talks about Tiruchendur, where according to legend, Soora Samharam took place.
The Rajagopuram of the Tiruchendur Murugan temple. Pic by A. Shaik Mohideen.
ACCORDING to Skanda Puranam, Muruga was created in order to destroy the evil forces and protect His devotees. Skanda Sashti is celebrated every year in all Muruga temples. At Tiruchendur where the actual annihilation of demon Soorapadman took place, the celebrations start six days in advance and culminate in Soorasamharam. The splendidly decorated deity is taken out to the seashore to re-enact the scene and lakhs of devotees congregate to watch this rare spectacle. By adopting a routine of austerity and discipline, they prepare themselves and wait for this day to worship the Lord and receive His bountiful blessings. The grand celebrations come to an end with abhishekam performed on the Vel (lance).
According to legend, Soorapadman held Jayanthan, son of Lord Indira, and other devas as captives. Lord Muruga camped at Thiruchendur along with his contingent and deputed his messenger, Veerabahu to negotiate for the release of Devas. As the peace efforts failed, the Lord waged a war against Soorapadman. With the Vel (lance) received at Sikkal, Soora Samhaaram was accomplished at Senthil (Sikkalil Vel Vangi Sendhuril Soora Samhaaram, goes a Tamil adage). The legendary Vel, called "Vetri Vel" is associated with victory. When Soorapadman took the form of a tree, the Vel hurled by the Lord pierced it. Arunagirinathar says, even the mammoth mountain and the ocean shook in the impact. (``Malai Mavusindha Alai Velai Anja Vadi Velerindha Adhi Dheera"). The dying demon, who had become two parts at the strike of the Vel, repented and Lord Muruga, full of mercy and compassion, accepted him as His vehicle (peacock) and banner (rooster).
Located south-east of the sub-continent on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, the Thiruchendur Murugan temple, built by Viswakarma, is considered one of the most important pilgrim centres of Tamil Nadu. Ranked second among the six sacred abodes of Arumugha (Aru Padai Veedu). Thiruchendur is also known as Jayanthipuram, denoting the victory achieved by the Lord. As the rays of the rising sun cast its brilliant rays on the temple tower, the presiding deity of Thiruchendur looks enchantingly beautiful. The Lord has been rightly described as Kodi Soorya Prakasa.
When Adi Sankara was afflicted with a serious ailment, he heard an ethereal voice advising him to go to Thiruchendur. The Acharya came here and received the `Prasad' wrapped in the leaf of Panneer tree. Finding himself completely cured, the sage composed Subramanya Bhujangam, containing 33 songs.
Saint Nakkeerar says in `Thiru Murugatrupadai': "All the ordeals that I face would melt the moment I mention the sacred name of Velava who resides at Senthil. These forces that arise out of past deeds (karma) cannot influence one who worships the Lord of Thiruchendur, who applies Vibhuti on his forehead and who utters the word "Skanda" ("Vandha Vinayum... ").
Arunagirinathar conveys the same idea in `Kandar Alangaram': "So long as you are beside me, so long as your six sacred faces and the 12 helping hands, the grace of your lotus feet adorned by Thandai, your broad shoulders and the Kadampa garland are there before me, how can the movement of planets affect me? ("Nal En Seyum") Perhaps in keeping with the spirit of this hymn, the shrine of planetary gods (Navagraha Sannadhi) that form part of any temple is not found here. The temple of Thiruchendur, built many centuries ago and renovated by Pandya and Chera Kings, is exquisitely designed. It is a beautiful poem created in stone and an architectural marvel.
The majestic nine-storey tower (gopuram) was constructed 350 years ago by Sri Desikamoorthy Swami of the Thiruvavaduthurai Mutt.
With its main gate facing the south, the temple has three Prakarams. The third outer prakaram borders on the sea and the main entrance to the temple is on its southern side through the famous hall called Shanmugha Vilasa Mandapam. On the northern side, there is a cave temple for Valli. On entering the first prakara, one finds separate shrines for Valli and Deivanai. On the western side, there are niches for Viswanathar and Visalakshi.
Finally, the devotee finds Lord Muruga in all his splendour and glory. The Lord here appears as a youth with a single face and four hands. The Uthsava Murthi (Arumugha) with six faces and twelve hands, flanked by His consorts, faces South. This is positioned in such a way that those worshipping the Lord from the Shanmuga Vilas Mandap outside can also have a good view. Inside the temple there are eight Lingas, symbolising Panchabutha, sun, moon and Athma. It is believed that Lord Murga worshipped these Lingas after the destruction of Sooran and created a pond called Skanda Pushkarani with His Vel. Though located near the sea, the water in this well is not salty and is believed to have medicinal properties. Extensive renovation was carried out and kumbhabhishekam was performed.
It is believed that Arunagirinathar was blessed with the vision of the Lord when the saint visited Thiruchendur on the seventh day of the Brahmotsavam festival in the Tamil month of Masi. As the deity decorated was being taken out in a colourfully decorated chariot, in step with the tune of the song "Athala Sera Naarada" the Lord danced to the delight of Arunagiri. This divine experience of having seen the Lord in all His exuberance is described by the author in his song ``Thandayani Vendayam." Arunagirinathar has composed 84 songs on the Lord of Thiruchendur.
According to a story, in the 17th century, some Dutch merchants tried to take away the Arumuga idol of Thiruchendur. As they were sailing, huge waves assailed the ship forcing them to drop the idol at mid-sea. (From the book "Historic India" published by M. Rannel from Berlin in 1785).
When the officer at the Thirumalai Naickar court arranged to install another idol, a person came in his dream and asked him to look for the image at a particular spot. The idol was found and retrieved.
(The author can be reached at Githakrishnan@eth.net)
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