Eagles enhance the sanctity
The religious renown of Vedagiriswarar temple and the daily visit of two eagles attract devotees from all over the country to Thirukazhukundram, where Kumbhabishekam was held recently. N.V.R. SWAMY elaborates...
The daily routine is a unique phenomenon ... eagles partake of the food offered by the temple priest.
THIRUKAZHUKUNDRAM, POPULARLY known as Pakshi Thirtham and Dakshina Kailasam, is one of the most celebrated places of religious importance in Tamil Nadu. Pilgrims and tourists from all parts of India and abroad, pouring into Mahabalipuram in thousands, to see and enjoy the Pallava architecture, make it a point to pay a visit to Tirukazhu(gu)kundram, 17 km west of Mahabalipuram.
The two sacred eagles appearing over the temple to worship the Lord every day are a major attraction for the visitors. They come down to a rock where sweet rice is offered as food. To watch these eagles taking the food is a rare experience.
According to tradition, the four Vedas, Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana, are seen here in the shape of four boulders, placed one above the other, with Lord Siva as Vedagiriswarar, emerging from the head of the fourth Veda, Atharvana. Hence the place gets the name Vedagiri, where the presiding deity on the hilltop is Vedagiriswarar.
The hill covering an area of 265 acres is 500 feet high and the hilltop can be reached by ascending 562 well-laid stone slabs. On the way there are small mandapams, for pilgrims to rest. The steps and the walls on the sides have been built from donations. For the infirm and the aged, dholis carried by two persons are available at nominal charges.
Before ascending the steps, the devotees worship Siddharti Vinayaka and Ayyappa at the foot of the hill. The central shrine of the temple where the presiding deity Vedagiriswarar is seen is built of three large boulders, constituting the three walls for the sanctum. Vedagiriswarar is a swayambu lingam.
Vedagiriswarar was worshipped by Indra, Thillothama (a dancer in Indra's court), Garuda (mount of Vishnu), Ashtavasus and many Rudras. He has been praised in the songs and verses of the four great Tamil saints Appar, Sambandar, Sundaramurthi and Manickavasagar. The inner walls of the sanctum contain many images, all hewn out of the rock surrounding the presiding deity. In the enclosure around the sanctum, are the shrines of Goddess Sokkanayaki and Vinayaka (in a dancing pose).
After a darshan of Vedagiriswarar, devotees eagerly await the arrival of the eagles just before noon. They wait in large numbers at a shed specially erected for the purpose. After cleaning a particular spot on the adjacent boulder, the temple priest sits down, with the food (sakkarai pongal).
Two eagles, after circling around temple top, come near the priest walking. They eat the balls of rice and after cleaning their beaks in the water kept in a small vessel nearby, take off, circle around the tower again and fly off. This has been going on for centuries now. The scene is sculpted on one of the walls in front of Goddess Tirupurasundari, in the lower temple.
Thirukazhukundram ... well known for its hill temple and Sangu Thirtham.
Many tales are told about the visit of the two eagles. Two rishis (sages) Pusha and Vidhadha were cursed by Lord Siva to become eagles, for some indiscretion. It is believed that these are the two eagles that visit Thirukazhukundram daily for time immemorial, in order to worship Siva and to obtain salvation from His curse. It is said that after a bath in the Ganges in the morning, they come here at noon for food, reach Rameswaram in the evening for darshan and return to Chidambaram for the night.
Legend says they would regain their original form and attain moksha (salvation) at the end of Kali Yuga. Hence this place derived the name `Tirukazhu(gu)kundram' (the hill of the sacred eagles) and also Pakshi Thirtham (in Sanskrit), meaning "water made Holy by the visit of the birds".
After descending a few steps on the other side, a monolithic cave-temple is seen. This mandapam is full of rare sculptures and belongs to the Mamalla period (A.D. 610-640). There are two verandahs in the cave, each being supported by four massive pillars.
In the lower one, there are two life-size statues, decorated with ornaments. In the upper verandah, there is a huge lingam with figures of Brahma and Vishnu on either side. The peculiarity is that the whole mandapam with sculptures is hewn out of a single rock. Hence this cave is known as Orukkal Mandapam.
On the eastern side, at the foot of the hill, there is a small shrine Nalvar Koil, from where the four Tamil saints Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manickavasagar had darshan of Vedagiriswarar. The Consort of Vedagiriswarar is not seen on the hilltop. She is enshrined in the temple of Bakthavatsaleswarar at the centre of the town.
The temple has four gopurams (towers), the tallest with nine tiers (on the southern side) and the other three with seven tiers.
In the prakaram of the temple, the tank, Nandi Thirtham, is located. It has a huge Nandi (mount of Siva), facing Vedagiriswarar on the hilltop. The absence of a Nandi before the presiding deity on the hilltop is a unique feature.
The Nandi once undertook penance on the Earth. Pleased, Siva appeared before him and told him to ask for a boon. The Nandi desired that the place and the tank be named after him and asked that those taking a dip in the tank and worshipping Vedagiriswarar be absolved of their sins. His prayer was granted and hence the place is also known as Nandipuram and the tank, Nandi Thirtham.
The mahamandapam that fringes the inner gopuram (Rishi Gopuram) contains a fine sculptural representation of Agora Veerabhadra (Siva in ferocious form), a colossal figure seven feet high. A similar image can be seen at the Meenakshi temple in Madurai.
The prakaram around the sanctum of Bakthavatsaleswarar (the presiding deity of the temple) has many images. The shape of the vimanam of the temple is peculiar, resembling the Buddhist viharas in the North, since the spherical top portion is cut in front. It was here that Lord Siva appeared before the Tamil saint Manickavasagar, in the form of Dakshinamurthi, and initiated him into the secrets of the holy Panchaksharam. The plantain tree is the sthala vriksham of the temple.
Goddess Tirupurasundari has a special shrine. Around the sanctum engraved on marble slabs fixed on the walls, are verses from the "Abhirami Andhathi.
Not far away, but opposite to this temple is the sacred tank Sangu Thirtham. It is an extensive tank of 1,000 square yards area, with wide steps on all sides. It is believed that Saint Markandeya, came down here after visiting Benares. He wished to have a bath in the sacred tank and perform abhishekam to the Siva lingam here but he found no vessel to take the water. Just then a conch suddenly emerged from the tank, with a humming sound, and Markandeya performed the abhishekam. It is said that even now once in 12 years, a conch emerges from this water, which the temple authorities collect with all honours and preserve in the temple.
There is a collection of about 1,000 conches in this temple, with which, abhishekam is performed to Lord Vedagiriswarar on the last Monday in the Tamil month of Karthigai. The conch last appeared in the tank in 1986.
According to the sthalapuranam, Lord Siva Himself has declared that this tank is the holiest of all, and as per His command, all the sacred waters in India meet here once in 12 years when Guru (Jupiter) enters Kanya rasi. The event is conducted as a festival Sangu Thirtha Pushkara Mela when there is a huge gathering from all parts of the country this being the second biggest bathing festival in the South, next to the Maha Makham.
It is believed that the hill has innumerable medicinal herbs and plants and therefore the cool breeze is said to cure ailments.
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