Where Yama has no jurisdiction
Lord Vanchinathar with His Consort Mangalambikai seated on Yama.
THERE ARE many temples in South India for the Gods of the Hindu pantheon. But there are hardly any for Yama the God of Death. However, he is enshrined and given preference in daily worship at Srivanchiyam, a village situated between the rivers Mudikondan and Puttar in Tiruvarur district. The sanctity of this temple has been described in Brahmandam, Skandam, Samboban and Agneya Puranas.
Six places on the banks of the river Cauvery are said to be the most sacred and equivalent to Varanasi: Thiruvengadu, Tiruvaiyaru, Sayavanam, Mayuram, Tiruvidaimarudur and Srivanchiyam. Out of these, Srivanchiyam is "one-sixteenth" more sacred than Kasi (Varanasi). Lord Siva is said have told Parvati that he loves this place the most.
The presiding deity is a swayambu linga and the oldest among the 64 in the world. Even before the `pralayam' (deluge), this linga with `gnana sakthi' (Parvati) existed here. According to Agneya Purana, the linga was facing west when the Sun God offered his worship here. It is peculiar to see two Nandis here one behind the other, facing Vanchinathar in the sanctum sanctorum. The temple complex is spread over five acres of land, including the sacred tank, Gupta Ganga. This temple is one of the largest in the erstwhile Thanjavur district, measuring 558 ft. in length and 320 ft in breadth, with three gopurams, three vimanas and three prakaras with a five-tier Rajagopuram, 200 ft. high.
Historians have identified 17 stone inscriptions on the pillars (10-17 A.D.) They reveal the gift of lands, lamps etc. and also purchase of lands for temple by philanthropists and kings during various reigns. One inscription reveals that this place was known as Chaturvedimangalam.
Yama was in search of a place for himself on earth. Although he approached all the Gods, none was willing to give him a place. Finally, he approached Tyagaraja at Tiruvarur, who asked him to go to Ghandaranya and stay there. When he approached Vanchinathar, He gave Yama a place near Him. With the condition that those who die in his jurisdiction should be freed from the pangs of agony and suffering preceding death.
Yama performed penance on three occasions towards Lord Siva and obtained boons. He was pardoned for forgetting to worship Siva for some time. Hence Vanchinathar is also known as Aparathasakar. The second condition was that He would protect Vanchinathar's region by remaining as the Kshetrabalakar in this temple, a special status, getting him precedence in the worship of Yama before proceeding to the sanctum sanctorum.
Bhairva has also been given a seat here with the same condition as that of Yama. He is in a separate shrine in the inner prakara. He is in yoga posture, without his usual mount, the dog another rare feature.
Another unique feature is Rahu-Kethu, both carved out in one composite sculpture, next to the shrine of Bhairava. Similar to Thirunageswaram, milk poured over the murtis turns blue. Performing puja and prayers at this sannidhi, are said to bless devotees with marriage and progeny and cure from nervous disorders.
Those with stomach ailments apply butter on Vinayaka (in the inner prakara) and worship Him for cure another unique feature. He is known as "Vennai Pillayar."
Among the three prakaras, the inner prakara has the largest number of images. On the southern corridor are the 63 Saiva saints (Nayanmars). Goddess Mahalakshmi has a separate shrine. It is significant that Her elephant has four tusks.
There is no Navagraha shrine and Saneeswara (Saturn) is housed in a separate niche. Goddess Mahishasuramardini has a separate shrine, standing beside simha vahana. Worshipping Her with 108 lotus flowers during Rahu kalam is considered special.
Devotees are cured of illnesses after a bath in the Gupta Ganga, on the northern side of the outer prakara.
According to Puranas, a holy dip here is equivalent to one in Varanasi, Rameswaram and the Maha Maham tank. But before that the Vinayaka on the bank should be worshipped. The Sthalavruksham is the sandal-wood tree.
At the Vanchinathar temple the Brahmotsavam (Feb-Mar) is conducted only after conducting the annual festival for the Pidari Amman, one of the guardian deities here.
A ten-day festival for Lord Subrahmanaya is conducted in the Tamil month of Karthigai (Nov.-Dec.) with the last Sunday as the concluding day. Theerthavari is conducted before dawn on all the Sundays.
At Srivanchiyam, even death does not interrupt temple pujas. Amavasya tarpanas performed at Srivanchiyam has added significance. No pilgrimage to Srivanchiyam will be complete without a darshan of Kalyana Varadaraja Perumal with Sridevi and Bhudevi in the temple, north of Vanchinathar temple.
Lakshmi, Adisesha and Chakarathazhvar created three sacred tanks here and worshipped Vanchinathar. The tank named after Lakshmi (on the west) was invoked by Sridevi.
A holy dip on a Friday in the Tamil month of Avani is said to reunite a person with his estranged family.
Sesha theertham or Naga theertham (on the south) was made by Adi Sesha. A holy dip on Thiruvonam day in the Tamil month of Vaikasi is said to liberate one of all Naga doshas.
Those who observe fast on Ekadasi in the Tamil month of Avani and take bath in Chakra theertham (on the north) also known as Rama theerthamhere on the following day (Dwadasi) will be absolved of the Brahmahatti dosha, it is said.
Srivanchiyam can be reached by bus from Nannilam (Mayiladuthurai-Tiruvarur section) or from Tiruvarur and Kumbakonam. Nannilam is three kilometres west of Nannilam railway station.
N. V. R. SWAMY
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