Glorifying the chivalry of Jatayu
The temple for Lord Rama in Pullabhuthangudi, near Kumbakonam, reveres Jatayu, the holy bird, which gave up its life while attempting to protect Sita from Ravana. PREMA NANDAKUMAR takes you to one of the 108 Divya Desa shrines.
Hemambujavalli ... an exquisite deity with the elephants waiting to anoint Her as Empress of the realms.
THE ECO consciousness of our ancients is amazing. Just a couple of decades ago, Rachel Carson wrote the "Silent Spring" and the world woke up to the increasing absence of bird song. But even several millennia earlier, Indians tried to use religious symbolism to teach the common man the value of flora and fauna. The temple culture through its insistence on sthala vriksham (the temple tree), the nandavanam (temple garden) and the pushkarini (temple tank) taught people to keep the environment healthy in every way.
Almost all our myths and legend bring together man, Nature and God. Animals, birds and snakes are considered important for human existence. Thus Pullabhuthangudi reveres the memory of the holy bird, Jatayu. At a time when eve-teasing and the desecration of womanhood have touched new lows, it is heartening to note that such temples make us remember the values of knight errantry and bravery. Jatayu fought against Ravana who was abducting Sita when she was unprotected in the forest. The brave bird knew it was a losing fight, perhaps. But he could not care. Here was this young girl crying out for succour and just as Krishna had come to rescue Draupadi on hearing her cry of distress, Jatayu flew upwards to intercept Ravana's chariot. To this day we remember the heroic endeavour of Jatayu and salute his memory.
The gleaming kalasams, dwajasthambam and balipeetam of the Pullabhuthangudi temple welcome the devotee.
By the time Rama and Lakshmana came to the place, the shades were already closing upon Jatayu. Having told the brothers of the dire happening, Jatayu died. It is said that Rama performed the last rites for the bird with great piety, like a son. That is why Srivaishnava Acharyas use the respectful epithet, "Periya Udaiyar" for Jatayu. This was in Treta yuga. In Kaliyuga, Tirumangai Azhwar happened to come to this place. He found a brilliant glow illumining the directions. Drawing near he found it was the four-armed Supreme resting with a magnificent bow near him. He composed a prayer of 10 hymns where he uses the word, "Valvil Raman" (Rama with the strong bow, Dhrida-dhanvi), and speaks of the rich rice fields and gardens in ecstatic terms.
Much of that prosperity is not visible now, but the devotional fervour for the holy place is enviably vibrant. Since the temple is under the trusteeship of Sri Ahobila Math, the environs are kept clean and the structure is in good condition. Ten kilometres to the northwest of Kumbakonam, the Rama temple at Pullabuthangudi welcomes us with a five-tier Rajagopuram. Seven kalasams gleam atop allowing us entry to the inner circle where we salute the dwajasthambham and Balipeetam. We then move beneath a smaller sized gopuram of three tiers with five kalasams and presently we go up to the sanctum of the temple.
Valvii Rama of Pullabhuthangudi... the tale involving the Lord and Consort in interesting.
The Moolavar, Chakravarthi Thirumagan, is certainly an imposing presence. The Ramayana legend is fond of seeing the active hero-warrior in peaceful, resting poses. Viswamitra watches the young Rama who is asleep and wakes him up with the verse, "Kausalya Supraja Rama". We see Rama resting on Sita's lap when Kakasura troubles her. Later we see Rama lying on the Kusa grass for seven days to make Varuna give way for his army to cross over to Lanka. The legend of Pullabhuthangudi adds that Rama rested here after performing the last rites of Jatayu. All these only go to show the charm devotees find in the sleeping pose of the Divine, as in Srirangam.
Rama in this temple is a dark ocean radiating peace. At his feet is a noble image of his Consort. But was not Rama alone here? Hadn't Sita been abducted at that time?
N. Kannan of the Ahobila Math explains that it is Bhumipiraatti (Mother Earth), and promptly speaks of another moving legend. Rama had got ready to perform the final obsequies on the banks of a pond (now known as Jatayu Pushkarini) when he realised that the Vedic ceremony needed the presence of his wife. He felt sad that he was helpless in the matter. Immediately there arose a golden lotus in the tank with Bhuma Devi (Sita is considered to be a manifestation of Mother Earth) who helped fulfil Rama's desire to complete the rituals. Hence we find Bhuma Devi in the sanctum. She is seated, with a lotus in hand. Reliefs on the wall behind show Brahma, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Jatayu. The Utsava deity has four hands holding the hardy Kodanda bow, the conch and the discus, with the lower right hand in abhaya mudra. The icons of Teerthabherar and Yagabherar as also baby Krishna are seen along.
Pandyan Kondai ... the new gem studded crown for the Lord.
There are other fanes in the prakaram apart from that of Thayar Sannidhi. The utsavar deity of Bhuma Devi is known as Hemambujavalli (Potramaraiyal), a charming figurine with two elephants in the act of anointing her as Empress of the Realms. The icon of Andal is in a seated pose in this temple as in the Ul-Andal sannidhi at Srirangam. The favourite method of worshipping Yoga Narasimha here is by lighting lamps. Idols of Nammazhwar (the chief of the realised souls), Tirumangai Azhwar who has sung about this temple, Ramanujar, Desikar and Sri Adivan Satakopar who founded the Sri Ahobila Math have also been installed in this temple. Mention may also be made of Sri Srinivasa Yateendra Mahadesikan, the 19th Jeer of the Sri Ahobila Math sojourning here for a considerable time. He shed his mortal coils in this holy place in February1746. His Brindavanam is located within the precincts of the temple.
It is an active temple with regular festivals (including a grand Brahmotsavam in March-April) drawing devotees from far and wide. Temples for Vishnu, which function with ardour, give particular importance to the various mounts for taking the deity around. There are several mounts at this temple, but the most interesting is the nine-hooded Adisesha Mount the nine hoods indicate Lakshmana's presence. Garuda and Hanuman Mounts are imposing too.
As with the familiar adage, "Alankara Priyo Vishnu", devotees love to see the deity decked in various ornaments. September 28 was slated for the latest offering of a "Pandyan Kondai" to the deity. A look-alike of the famous "Pandyan Kondai" of Lord Ranganatha, this crown has been designed in such a way that it can be used either as a straight rising one (Neelmudi) or a circlet topping the crown.
After Tirumanjanam in the morning, the crown was offered at 11 a.m. and the deity taken around ornamented with the new crown at 4 p.m. The cost of the crown is said to be more than Rs.1 lakh, as it is gem-studded.
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