Child Krishna beckons ...
With ghee on both palms and in a standing posture, Lord Navaneethakrishnan of the Melasevel temple awaits devotees. S. ACHARYA writes on this 700-year-old temple.
The vimanam of the Navaneethakrishnan temple, Melasevel.
SIXTEEN KILOMETRES on the State Highway leading from Tirunelveli to Ambasamudram, on the banks of the river Tamiraparani is Melasevel, a major panchayat in the Ambasamudram taluk. A deceptively non-descript village with narrow and muddy cart tracks, nestling in its typical rural landscape are three ancient temples devoted to Megalingeswarar, Venugopalaswamy and Navaneethakrishnan respectively.
With ghee on his twin palms, the child Navaneethakrishnan beckons his devotees to this 700-year-old temple the only place where He greets them thus, in a standing posture. Constructed by the Maharaja of Travancore Samasthanam about 700 years ago, the granite edifice is structured in the Vaishnava Agama style. Most parts of the present Tirunelveli district on the southern side were under the control of the Travancore Samasthanam. Though no inscription is available anywhere to find out the year and the period of construction, the Gazetteer of Tirunelvelli District in 1781 under the then British Government, credits the construction of this temple to the Chera kings, 500 years prior to the date of publication.
The whole complex is on an area of more than one acre of land with a pond on the South. Paddy fields in the West, coconut gardens in the North and Car streets on the east form the boundaries. The other two temples that of Venugopalaswamy and Megalingeswarar do not find a mention in the Gazetteer of 1781, but it makes a special mention of the statues carved in the main mandapam of the Navaneethakrishnan temple depicting the Ramayana, Bhagavatham and Dasavataram.
A view of the Navaneethakrishnan temple, Melasevel. Pics. by A. Shaikmohideen
Utiradam Thirunal Varma, the 77-year-old present legal heir of Travancore Maharaja Vamsam, fondly recalls their belonging to the cult of worshipping Lord Krishna and following the principles of Vaishnavism.
Cheranmadevi was the capital of his ancestors during the period 380-1102 A.D. consisting of Cheranmadevi, Ambai, Kalakad, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram.
Inscriptions on the temple
The Moolavar idol ...
King Kulasekaran was a famous ruler of that period and the Samasthanam was then called Venadu and also known as Narasimha Nadir. Marthanda Varma expanded the area during his rule in 1436 and many temples were constructed during his period in what was called Kovil Nagaram. As per the stone inscription found in the Megalingeswarar temple in the village, it is said that during the Kollam year 762, the Chieftain had constructed the praharams and separate sannadhi for the Goddess. The present Kollam year is 1178 which means that the Siva temple is 416 years old. Again, in the inscription found in the Navaneethakrishnan temple, there is a mention of the Saga year 1147. The present Saga year being 1924, it is presumed that this temple is 777 years old. The inscriptions found in both the temples mention the years as Kollam and Saga. For some time, it is believed that Vijayanagaram Kings had control over this area.
Enchanted by the beautiful surroundings, fine architecture, sculptural work in the mandapam and beautiful posture of the main deity the ISKCON made an offer in 1980 to convert the whole area into a Brindavan, provided the temple was handed over to them. But it was not decided in their favour as the temple is under the supervision and control of the State Government.
Sri Isakki Konar, aged 94 years, the resident of the village from his birth (the only Konar in his community and in his days to learn English) recalls that the village had two Agraharams occupied by Vedic scholars on all the four Vedas, Azhwars and Dikshitars and a story says that the Villiputhurar, for writing the Villi Bharatham in Tamil, stayed in this village for many months to exchange his views and compare notes on the Mahabharata with these Vedic scholars before finalising his work. The presence of large numbers of Vedic pundits in the village inspired Yatrikas from various parts of the country to take the route through village to reach Kanyakumari. There were two choultries to provide food and shelter to them. A Brahmin boy who was unable to speak right from his birth, observed `vritham' as per the advice of the astrologers in the Navaneethakrishnan temple. And as per the advice received in his dreams, he went to Thiruchendur and was blessed with voice in Lord Muruga's shrine. In the later period, Brahmins migrated to Tiruvananthapuram in search of career opportunities and their descendants practised medicine and law.
It is said that in the nights, a serpent used to safeguard the gold and silver bejewelled Navaneethakrishnan idol. The temple was donated fertile lands, coconut groves and mangroves and revenue from these estates used to take care of the maintenance of the temple. But unfortunately, the present records do not indicate the details of these properties and the persons enjoying the fruits of the property. It was maintained with the help of the State Government's grant of Rs. 25,000 under the scheme for maintenance of one time puja. The annual interest earned from this deposit is inadequate. Due to the vagaries of nature and lack of proper maintenance, unwanted vegetation damaged the terrace and the mandapam was under a threat of severe cracks and damage. A collapse was imminent unless repairs were carried out.
Lord Navaneethakrishnan is said to have appeared in the dream of an old woman who was married into the family of this village and, stating that He was starving and requested that He be provided with food everyday. Similar things appeared in the dreams of few other people also to whom the deity was the `kuladeivam'. A committee was, therefore, formed by the members of these families in October 1998 under the leadership of S. V. Bhaskara Mudaliar, mirasdar of this village and T Narayana Iyer, Retd. Dy. Collector. Voluntary donations were made by the current descendents of the past residents of the village and also by the local community. Complete renovations were carried out costing an estimated Rs. 4 lakhs.
Mahasamprokshanam was performed on January 21, 2000. At Present, regular puja in the morning and the evening is conducted besides Naivedya to the deity everyday with the help of the interest earned from the corpus fund. The temple is visited by devotees in large numbers. The Melasevel Navaneethkrishnaswami Temple Seva Trust aims at running Vedic Patasalas, educational institutions and hospitals/clinics for the benefit of the community surrounding this village.
The locals believe that Lord Navaneethakrishnan opened his eyes on the day of Samprokshanam. Many natives who have migrated to far off places visit the temple to receive the blessings of the Lord.
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