Impressive shrine for the Elephant God
The Manakkula Vinayakar temple in Pondicherry is as famous a landmark as Sri Aurobindo Ashram. PREMA NANDAKUMAR traces its history.
The awesome processional deity of Manakkula Vinayakar ...
GOING UP the steps to worship Manakkula Vinayaka in Pondicherry, I have always wondered how this deity has a different tale to tell. Whereas all other temples report of being diddled out of their endowments by unscrupulous people down the centuries, Manakkula Vinayakar has actually increased his temple space. As you turn left, a plaque with a gold sheen confronts you with the contents that are found both in English and Tamil:
"With the blessings of The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, A gift of a piece of land measuring 106x56 sq.m., was made for widening the southern side of Parikrama Arulmigu Manakkula Vinayagar Temple on 21.1.1969."
It appears that when the Sri Aurobindo Memorial Fund Society purchased the Montbrun House adjacent to the temple, the Mother sent word to the temple authorities that she would like to offer a portion of land to the temple so that the devotees could have a comfortable parikrama to go round the sanctum. This proposal was accepted eagerly and now we have a beautiful structure with more fanes and decorations and paintings. The Mother, who was herself a spiritual Power, had a deep devotion for Manakkula Vinayaka and kept with her images of Ganesha, to help her tide over monetary problems. She has also gone on record to reveal how He manifested before her as a flame of golden light encircled by a very brilliant golden aura while retaining his traditional image of an Elephant-headed God. Manakkula Vinayaka insinuated himself with poetic grace into modern Tamil literature by inspiring Subramania Bharati to write Vinayakar Naanmani Maalai. Other great devotees who have written poems on Manakkula Vinayaka include Vannacharbham Dandapani Swamigal, Jaffna S. Kandiah Pillai and Nagalinga Swami.
There is an attractive neatness about the temple. Once we enter the parikrama, we go straight to sanctum and whatever be the time of the day, it is a pleasure to watch the worship with lighted camphor, glowing lamps and recitations. The temple, situated on the seashore, is more than 500 years old and is on a street, which was originally populated by weavers. However, with the occupation of the French, the temple began facing problems. The Christian priests would not allow the public procession of the deity on Sundays and on Easter, and made the Governor sign an order to that effect in 1701. However, Hindu devotees rebelled when the government decided to demolish the temple structure. Skilled artisans joined the strike and people decided upon a mass exodus from Pondicherry. The Governor, Francois Martin came to an agreement and people gave up their plans after being promised that there would be no hindrance to temple worship.
In 1708 some Christian priests led Adi Dravidas into the temple and caused untold destruction to the temple property. Once again the Hindus of Pondicherry went on a strike and wrested an assurance from the Governor that there would be no interference in the religious activities of the Hindus. A royal spire of 24 feet and a flagstaff greet us and lead us to a huge mandapam held by 12 pillars. Close to the roof, one sees different Vinayaka figurines indicating the various appearances evoked in innumerable temples in India, Japan, Java, Nepal and China. Some of the figures, like the one in which Parvati is holding Vinayaka as a babe on her hip, have been imaginatively created. The little niche in the west corner has Balaganapathi with mango, jackfruit, plantain and sugarcane in his four hands. In the Northwest corner an identical niche has Balasubramania as the deity. Being a child with two hands, he is seen holding a lotus in his right hand.
The shining plaque that announces the Mother's gift of land to the temple ...
On the northern side, we have the Rest-Hall where we see Vinayaka with his consort. There is a bigger hall where we have an array of processional deities. Among them are Haridra Ganapati, Nartana Ganapati, Lakshmi Ganapati, Subramania with Valli and Deivayanai, and a Spatika Lingam.
Adjacent to this wall is a large mandapam where abhishekam for the processional deities takes place. Arrayed here are the mounts used for the processions.
They are Surya Prabha, Chandra Prabha, the Peacock, Adikara Nandi, a silver Elephant, the Wish-yielding Tree and a silver Bandicoot. There are also three temple chariots. One is made of wood and another of silver, while the third one is gold-plated.
The Vinayaka in the sanctum is a majestic figure. The sanctum also has a smaller Vinayaka image and that of a serpent helix. The worship of Manakkula Vinayaka goes on almost throughout the day. Every month witnesses a different set of festivals too, with a special accent placed on Vinayaka Chathurthi. The 18-day Brahmotsavam is colourful and there is plenty of public participation.
Both Manakkula Vinayakar Temple and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram have made Pondicherry a dynamo of religious and spiritual activity and one of holiest pilgrim centres in the country today.
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