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Piety in sylvan settings

According to the Tamil poet, Nakkeerar, temples should be built close to Nature... by the side of rivers or the sea or in the midst of forests. The ancient Siva temple located in Thiruvatteeswaranpettai in the Thiruvallikeni area in Chennai conforms to that stipulation.

The temple is over 1,300 years old, and like most holy places, fell into disuse during the outside invasions before being restored. The Arcot Nawabs made many grants to the temple. Even today, during the Ardha Jama Pooja, certain expenses are met by the Nawab's grant.

A holy place that Thirunavukkarasar has praised in his Thevaram, the Lord, known as Thiruvatteeswarar, and the Goddess, Shenbagambikai, are ``Swyambu'' images, something that was created on its own. In fact, it is believed that the image of the goddess was found on the banks of the rivulet Shenbaga. The small tank by the side of the temple is known as Shenbaga Kulam.

Legend has it that Goddess Mahalakshmi did penance in this spot seeking union with Lord Mahavishnu. Hence, the place is named Thiruvattakam. The lingam here has a small dent, considered to be a scar. It is believed that Arjuna hit Lord Shiva, when he tried to disrupt Arjuna's penance to get the Pasupatastra. The lingam is also known as ``Partha Prakara Lingam".

The place is also known as ``Sivayoga Sthalam'' as those who offer worship here are said to get ``Bhakti Vairagya'' and ``Sivagnanam". The Shenbaga tree is the sthalavriksham.

The savant Thirunavukkarasar, in his Kaappu Thiruthandakam, has hailed the place as ``Thiruvetti''.

As it is situated between Thirumayilai and Thiruvottriyur, it is often hailed as one of the ``Thevara Vaipputhalam". The lingam here is one of the 17 `nithya lingams' (eternal images) and is considered as holy as Varanasi and Kalahasti.

Sages who worshipped the Lord would get ``Suvanubhuti'' or eternal bliss and others would also get the benefits that they wanted.

Situated opposite the Star Talkies in Thiruvatteeswaranpettai, which forms part of Thiruvallikeni (Triplicane), the temple has a five-tier rajagopuram. The presiding deity faces east and to its right is the shrine of Goddess Shenbagambikai. There are shrines for Vinayaka, Dakshinamurthi, Mahavishnu, Durgai and Nataraja, among others.

The images of the Thevaram trio, saints Manickavachagar, Meikanda Sivam, Umapathi Sivam and others are also enshrined.

Images of the 63 Saivite saints too are worshipped. There are separate shrines for Kasi Vishwanathar and Ramalingaswami.

The main festival takes place in the month of Chithirai (April-May).

The temple has its own Mada streets, now known as Subadral Street (east), Pillaiyarkoil Street (south), Kuppumuthu Mudali Street (west) and Chittibabu Street (north).

Like many neglected temples, this place of worship too does not have adequate funds to sustain itself. In fact, a scheme has been introduced wherein people can pay Rs. 500 and conduct puja every year on a particular date.

T. A. SRINIVASAN

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