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Where the Lord came seeking His bride

One of the 108 divya kshetras, Nachiyar Kovil is famous for Kal Garudar among many other aspects. PADMINI DEVARAJAN elaborates...

The sthala pushkarini, Mani Mukthanadhi at the Vanjulavalli Thayar Samedha Srinivasa Perumal temple ... where the annual float festival takes place. — Pics. by R. Shivaji Rao

NESTLED IN the southern outskirts of the temple town of Kumbakonam in Thanjavur District, about seven kilometres away stands the ancient and elegant temple Nachiyar Koil, in the small town of Thirunaraiyur. Such is the accuracy of construction that as one stands near the gopuram of this temple, one can catch a glimpse of the Lord and His Consort in the sanctum sanctorum. According to the sthala purana, this temple falls is one of the108 Tirupatis, and is ranked the 20th. It is also claimed to be a siddhi kshetra (a place where saints have attained siddhi or spiritual powers) and is amongst the 12 mukthi stalas (places that offer liberation).

This sacred place on the banks of Manimutharu is believed to have been the ashram of Sage Medhavi and his wife.

Legend has it that once as the sage was bathing in the river, he came across a unique idol of Chakarathazhwar entwined with Yoga Narasimha. Immediately a voice had told him to install and worship the idol in the ashram. It is also claimed that as days went by, Goddess Lakshmi chose to grow up in this ashram. She appeared before the sage in the form of a small girl and wished him to be her father. When Lord Vishnu went in search of His Consort, it was Sri Garuda who spotted the Loka Matha and identified this location. So the Lord came to Sage Medhavi's ashram and asked him for the hand of his daughter, whose penance won for him the unique privilege of having the Loka Matha as his daughter and the Supreme Lord as his son-in-law. On the request of the sage, the Lord decided to stay in this place that in due course became the temple.

Imposing structure

The east-facing Rajagopuram stands 75 ft. tall with an imposing grace at the entrance of the temple. This gopuram was restored in 1960. On the left (north) is a pond (that is noted as the sthala pushkarini, an important feature of such temples) called Mani Mukthanadhi. This pond is 684 ft long and 225 ft broad. The annual float festival for the Lord and Nachiyar takes place here. There is no separate shrine for Nachiyar or Andal. Here Nachiyar is held in high status and always accompanies the Lord. On the right (south) of this gopuram is a temple for Vinayakar, called Damodara Pillayar or Varasiddhi Vinayakar.

The inner prakaram of the temple .. under renovation

After crossing the entrance, one enters the 16-pillar mandapam, also called as the Neenila mutram. The dwajasthambam with a shrine for Garudar and the bali peetam are here. On the north is a separate shrine for Thirumangai Azhwar who has sung prabhandhams (songs) in praise of this deity. It is also claimed that Lord Vasudeva here had played the role of a guru and had initiated the pancha samskara (a religious initiation ceremony) rites to this devotee. Towards the west, there is vahana mandapam.

In the central mandapam also known as the goratha mandapam, the Lord and Nachiyar are stationed when they go on routine processions. There are idols of Sri Ramanujar and Sri Koorathazhwar along with the idols of the11 Azhwars or Vaishnavite saints (except that of Sri Andal).

On the south is a garden called nandavanam where there is the vilva tree, the sthala vriksha. There is also the vasantha mandapam, where the vasanthothsavam (spring festival) of the Perumal and Thayar takes place in the month of Vaikasi.

Another flight of steps leads to the 100-pillar mandapam where the annual Thirukalyanam (wedding festival) of Perumal and Thayar takes place in the month of Aavani. There is a sannidhi for Rama, Seetha and Lakshmana on the north, with one for Anjaneya on the south. There is a maghizha tree as well and a sannidhi for Chakarathazhwar and Yoga Narasimhar, believed to have been installed and worshipped by sage Medhavi. The statues of Medhavi and his wife in this sannidhi seem to authenticate the antecedents.

The Dwajasthambam with a niche for Garudar.

From this kalyana mandapam another flight of steps leads to a prakara where there are images of various deities which also include Manavala Maamuni and Sri Nigamantha Maha Desikan and pictures of the utsava deities of the 108 Tirupati stalas. In this temple there is a unique feature of a south facing paramapada vaasal. Generally in temples the paramapada vaasal faces north.

The next flight of steps leads to the prakara where in the north is the famous Kalgarudar sannidhi. Made of saligrama stone, this garuda is believed to be a vara prasadhi (one who grants boons). The Lord and His Consort are taken out on a procession in Garuda Vahana, the festival that takes place twice annually. The Garuda sevai is unique in this kshetra. For the Garudar becomes heavy as he steps out of the temple and the number of persons increases in geometric proportion — 8, 16, 32 and so on. And the number decreases as the deity returns. In the Sanctum Sanctorum, one cannot but be enthralled by the tall Lord and the shy bride, the divine couple, with the accompanying deities namely Pradyumnan, Aniruddhan, Sankarshanan and Purushothaman along with Lord Brahma himself and the array of Devas who had attended the wedding.

The utsava idols of Lord Srinivasa, Sridevi, Vanjulavalli and Bhoodevi are pieces of exquisite beauty, shining in resplendent glory and benevolence.

The archana and aarthi bring the devotee closer to God, even as the archakar explains the distinguishing attributes of the Lord and of the Magalasasanams of Thirumagai Azhwar. The story of how Lord asked for the hand of Manjulavalli, daughter of sage Medhavi, is a tale of Divine romance enacted in this temple to help devotees cross the problem ridden waters of samsara.

Brass sculpting

The town is famous for its brass sculpting. Lamps of all sizes and shapes, beautifully crafted and sculpted by artisans who have been hereditary recipients of this art, are made in the workshops all around the town. Many lamps and brass items are made here and sent to various places all over India and the world. Trained and hereditary sculptors known as stapathis make brass and copper alloy idols to be worshipped in many temples as well. The utsava idols for many temples are made here.

Kal Gurudan — special place at Nachiyar kovil, Kumbakonam.

This temple embodies a small world by itself. Many people must have visited this hallowed place, and drawn spiritual succour and unstinting support from the deities who are housed here.

The spiritual vibrations are there in the air, the walls, the beautiful deities, and the sacred precincts. It is for the devout aspirant to feel and savour the vibrations.

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