Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Amazing Sculptures of Thiruvanaikoil

Thiruvanaikoil Tower with SculpturesThiruvanaikoil Tower with Sculptures

Adjacent to Srirangam there is an ancient temple of sculptural marvels called Thiruvanaikoil. This magnificent temple is full of beautiful stone sculptures dating back to 17th century. This temple had been there for thousands of years.

It is around 3 Kms away from the heart of Tiruchirapalli city, Tamilnadu in South India. Thiruvanaikoil and Srirangam are in the banks of river Cauvery. Literally these two places form an island, surrounded by river Cauvery and river Coleroon.

Presiding deities are Lord Shiva called ‘Jambukeswarar’ and Shakthi called ‘Akilandeswari’. As this temple represents water this is also called as 'Appu sthalam' and the Shivalinga here is called as 'Appu Linga'. Even today you can see water oozing out near the Shivalinga idol in the temple.

Temple priest dressed as a lady representing Akilandeswari does the noon pooja, daily to the Jambukeswarar and to the sacred Cow. Devotees throng to the temple to see this ritual and to get the blessings of the Jambukeswarar. We too participated in the pooja.

Sculpture In Thousand Pillar MandapamAlign Center Thousand Pillar Mandapam

The massive outer wall, known as the Vibudi Prakara, stretches over a mile long, and is two feet thick and over 25 feet in height. Legend maintains that the wall was built by Shiva working along with the laborers.

There are so many mandapams and temples in this temple complex. One will find sculptures of rare and exquisite beauty of workmanship in the temple. Devi’s temple had been built of marble stones.

Sculptures In Thiruvanaikaval TherBeautiful Sculptures In Thiruvanaikaval Ther

Several hundred years back the Godess Akilandeswari was fierce and Sri Adi Sankara reduced Devi’s ferocity by transferring the same into Gold earrings. Adi Shankarcharya is known to have made two sets of earrings called Tatankam, a pair of powerful Sri Chakra Yantra studs adorning both the ears of the Goddess, which one can find in the ears of Mother Akhilandeswari.

The Legend of the - 'Thiru Aanai Kaa'


Once Devi Parvati, mocked at Lord Shiva’s penance for betterment of the World. Lord Shiva wanted to condemn her act and directed her to go to the earth from 'Kailayam' and do penance.

Devi Parvathi (Akilandeswari) as per Shiva's wish found 'Jambu' forest (Thiruvanaikoil) to conduct her penance. Devi made a Lingam out of water of river Cauvery under the Jambu tree and commenced her worship. The Lingam is known as 'Appu Lingam' (Water Lingam).

There were two Siva Ganas (Siva’s disciples who live in Kailash) by name 'Malyavan' and 'Pushpadanta'. Though they are Shiva Ganas they always quarrel with each other and fight for one thing or other. On top of all in one fight 'Malyavan' cursed 'Pushpadanta' to become an elephant in earth and the latter cursed the former to become a spider in earth.

Both the elephant and the spider came to Jambukeshwaram and continued their Shiva worship. The elephant collected water from river Cauvery and conducted Abhishekam to the lingam under the Jambu tree daily. The spider constructed his web over the lingam to prevent dry leaves from dropping on it and prevent Sunlight directly felling on Shiva.

When the elephant saw the web and thought that as dust on Lord Shiva and tore them and cleaned the Linga by pouring water. This happened daily. The spider became angry one day and crawled into the trunk of the elephant and bit the elephant to death killing itself. Lord Siva, moved by the deep devotion of the two relieved them from one other curse.

As an elephant worshiped the Lord here, this place came to be known as 'Thiru Aanai Kaa' (Holy Elephant Forest).

In the next birth the Spider was born as the King Ko Chengot Chola and built 70 temples and Thiruvanaikoil is the one among them. Remembering his enmity with the elephant in his previous birth, he built the Lord Shiva 'Sannathi'(Sanctorum) such that not even a small elephant can enter. The entrance on the sanctorum of Lord Shiva is only 4 foot high and 2.5 foot wide.

Closer View of Awesome  Temple Tower with colorful Sculptures Closer View of Awesome Temple Tower with colorful Sculptures

Thiruvanaikoil is also called as 'Jambukeswaram' and the Lord as Jambukeswara, Jambunathan and Jambulingam. The myth behind this is, there was a Sage by name 'Jambu Munivar'. He once got a rare and sacred 'Venn Naaval' fruit and he offered that fruit to Lord Siva. The Lord after eating the fruit spitted the seed.

Jambu Munivar took and swallowed the seed, as it is sacred as the seed came from the Lord’s mouth. Immediately a 'Naaval' tree began to grow in the Saint's head. The Saint prayed to Lord Siva that He should take his abode under that tree. Lord accepted and asked him to continue his penance in the forest on the banks of river Cauvery and said that he will one day come there and abode under that tree.

After many years Devi Akilandeswari worshiped Lord Shiva under that tree during her penance. Thus as he took adobe under the tree on Jambu Munivar he was called as 'Jambukeshwara' and the place is called as 'Jambukeshwaram'. Also thus the 'Venn Naaval' became the 'Sthala Vriksham' (Temple’s sacred tree). The Shiva Lingam is placed under the Venn naaval tree in this temple. Even today you can see that Venn Naaval tree at the temple, which is said to be many hundred years old.

A cook named Kalamegam, an ardent devotee of Siva had an appearance of Divine Mother Akilandeswari and Mother had spat chewed betal leaves into his mouth, which gave him wisdom and he went on to become a very famous Tamil poet named Kavi Kalamegam. We prayed to the mother to give us too some wisdom.

Sculpture of ThiruvanaikaA Sculpture in Thiruvanaikoil Temple

We took some photographs of the awesome sculptures in the temple and returned to the hotel room.
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Friday, September 4, 2009

Srirangam Ranganatha

Srirangam Renganatha

Srirangam is the abode of Lord Mahavishnu called here as Sri Ranaganatha Perumal. It is considered as the first, foremost and the most important of the 108 main Vishnu temples (Divyadesams). Srirangam is the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines (Swayam Vyakta Kshetras) of Lord Vishnu.

Srirangam is the major pilgrimage destination for Hindus (especially Vaishnavites). Though the term Kovil is generically used in Tamil to signify any temple, for many Vaishnavas the term Kovil exclusively refers to this temple, indicating its extreme importance for them.

This temple is also known as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam, Bhogamandabam. The temple at Srirangam boasts an historic past of great kingdom and a civilization thousands of years old.

srirangam_gopuram_in_goldGopurams (Towers) of Srirangam Temple

The temple is enormous in size. The temple complex is 156 acres in extent. It has seven prakaras or enclosures. These enclosures are formed by thick and huge rampart walls which run round the sanctum. There are 21 magnificent towers in all prakaras providing a unique sight to any visitor. This temple lies on an islet formed by the Twin Rivers Cauvery and Coleroon.

Srirangam Temple TowerSrirangam Temple Tower

Srirangam temple is the biggest functioning Hindu temple in the world as it covers an area of about 631,000 m². It is very near to Tiruchirapalli town in Tamilnadu, India.

This temple enshrines Ranganathar in the central sanctum, crowned with gold plated Pranava Vimanam or Paravasudeva Vimanam. A total of 7 concentric prakarams surround this shrine, housing several mandapams, tanks and shrines.

Srirangam Ranganathar is enshrined in a reclining posture (facing the South); while Namperumaal the festival deity in a standing posture is also housed in the main sanctum. There is a shrine in the fourth prakaram, housing Ranganayaki Taayaar.

srirangam_renganatha_temple-sculptureSculpture in Srirangam Renganathar Temple

Sriranga Mahathmiyam is the compilation of religious accounts of the temple, detailing the origins of its greatness. According to it, Lord Brahma, the Lord of Creation in Hindu mythology was once in a state of deep meditation and in His supreme trance received the gift of the Lord Vishnu's idol, "Ranga Vimana". He was told by the Supreme Lord that there would be seven other appearances of such idols on earth -- Srirangam, Srimushnam, Venkatadri (Tirumala), Saligram (Muktinath), Naimisaranya, Totadri, Pushkara and Badrinath.

The idol was then passed on by Brahma to Viraja, Vaiswatha, Manu, Ishwaku and finally to Rama. Lord Rama, himself an avatar of Vishnu, worshipped the idol for a long time, and when he returned victoriously from Sri Lanka after destroying Ravana, he gave it to King Vibhishana as a token of appreciation for the latter's support for Rama against his own brother, Ravana.

When Vibhishana was going via Trichyirapalli, now called as Tiruchy, en route to Sri Lanka, the Lord wanted to stay in Srirangam. Vibhishana wanted to do his daily Karma [Sandhyavandhanam] in the river Kaveri. In order to do this without placing the idol on the ground, Vibishana gave the idol to LordGanesh disguised as a cowherd boy.

SriranganatharSrirangam Renganatha

When Vibhishana was fully into the water, Ganesha placed the idol firmly on the sand on the banks of the Kaveri. Seeing this, the angry Vibhishana chased the boy to punish him, but the boy kept running and climbed over the rock near the Kaveri bank. Vibhishana finally caught the boy and hit him on the fore-head, upon which the boy revealed himself to be Lord Ganesha. Vibhishana immediately apologized and the Lord gave him his blessings after which Vibhishana continued on his way to Lanka leaving the idole in Srirangam.

The location where the Ranganathan idol was placed was later covered by an overgrowth of deep forests, due to disuse. After a very long time, a Chola king, chasing a parrot, accidentally found the idol. He then established the Ranganathaswamy temple as one of the largest temple complexes in the world.

According to historians, most dynasties that ruled the South India -- Cholas, Pandiyas, Hoysalas, Nayakkas -- assisted with renovation and assisted in the observance of the traditional customs. Even during periods of internal conflicts amongst these dynasties, utter importance was given to the safety and maintenance of these temples.

srirangam_rajagopuramSrirangam Gopuram

Interesting historical stories:

During the period of invasion by the Emperor Malik Kafur and his forces in 1310–1311, Namperumal (Urchavar idole) was stolen and taken to Delhi. In a daring exploit, devotees of Srirangam ventured to Delhi and enthralled the emperor with their histrionics. Moved by their talent, the emperor was pleased to gift them the idole Namperumal, which was requested by the performers.

Things took a drastic turn immediately. Surathani, his daughter, fell in love with the deity and followed him to Srirangam. She prostrated herself to the God in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum and is believed to have attained the Heavenly Abode immediately. Even today, a painting of "Surathani" (known as "Thulukha Nachiyar" in Tamil) can be seen in the Arjuna Mandap adjacent to the Sanctum Sanctorum for whom, "chappathis" are made daily. This greatly explains the secular nature of the temple and also its all inclusive nature.

srirangam_urchavamSrirangam Namperumal in Urchavam (Festival)

Having assumed that the magical power of the deity had killed his daughter, there was a second invasion to Srirangam in 1323 A.D. This time it was more severe. The presiding deity was taken away before the emperor's troops reached Srirangam by a group led by the Vaishnavite Acharaya, Pillai Lokacharyar, who died en-route to Thirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Goddess "Renganayaki" was taken in another separate procession.

Swami Vedanta Desika, instrumental in planning the operations during the siege of the temple, closed the Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple with bricks, after the processions of the presiding deities had left -- thereby protected the temple for generations to come.

13,000 Sri Vaishnavas, the people of Srirangam, laid down their lives in the fierce battle to ensure that the institution was protected. In the end, "Devadasis", the dancers of Srirangam, seduced the army chief, to save the temple.

After nearly six decades, the presiding deity returned to Srirangam and the same Swami Vedanta Desika, who had built a brick wall in front of the sanctum sanctorum, broke it open. We learn that the deity of Srirangam had lived in the hills of Tirumala Tirupati for quite a long period of time.

It is not surprising to note that the temple and the life of the people, even today, are intertwined. The Lord is their Ruler and also their Child. It is believed that Sriman Narayana presently lives in Srirangam and not in His abode, Vaikuntham.

Srirangam Golden GopuramSrirangam Golden Gopuram

Srirangam cannot be discussed without mentioning the great Vaishnavite scholar of Ramanujacharya who attained divinity here. His "Swayam Thirumeni" (the symbolic body) is preserved and offered prayers even today after 8 centuries. His Shrine is found in the fourth "prakara" of the temple and his "Thirumeni" is preserved in the temple in a seated position, by applying saffron and camphor every six months in a ritualistic style.

Srirangam RenganathaSrirangam Renganatha

"Kovil Ozhugu" is a codification of all temple practices, religious and administrative, shaped and institutionalised by Sri Ramanuja after receiving the due rights from Sri Periya Nambi.

My self and my wife did prayers in the Srirangam temple Sanctum and at Sri Ramanujacharya shrine to have the harmony in the society and returned to our hotel room in Thiruchirapalli.

srirangam_renganatha_templeBeautiful carvings in the Srirangam Temple
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