Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Madurai Meenakshi Temple

This temple is the best temple in Tamil Nadu with its famous towers on all four sides and beautiful craftsmanship which attracts tourists from all over the world.

The Meenakshi Amman temple is one of the heritage sites in India which was included in the probable list of Wonders of the World taken for voting by the public. This temple is about 1500 years old and it is a huge temple complex housing two main temples, one of Lord Sundareshwarar (Siva) and his consort Meenakshi and this temple is more famously known as Meenakshi temple. She was the ruling princess of Madurai, believed to be Parvathi’s avatar. So when she was of age Lord came to earth and married her. The marriage ceremony was performed by Azhagar, Lord Vishnu and his temple is situated just 16 Kms. from Madurai called Alagarkoil.

Meenakshi temple recently had its Kumbabhishekam and it is looking clean and well cared than it was earlier. All the pillars are protected well with anti erosion chemicals and all the towers are painted in bright colours. The interior is also well lit now. The temple is built like fortress with huge walls and with 5 entrances. Each entrance has got huge tower with many sculptures, statues and statuettes on them. The main entrance to the temple is from east side one entrance for Meenakshi and other for Sundarshwarar. South, West and North sides have common entrances with tall towers. Totally there are 14 towers including the two Golden towers of the main deities which are intricately carved.

The so called Madurai city was one of the earliest planned cities in the universe with well designed roads like layers of a lotus. The road adjacent to the temple is called as the Chithirai streets and the next layer is Avani mula streets followed by Masi streets and ending with the layer of Veli streets meaning outside. All these streets are like the sides of a square ,the Veli street approximately being 2 Kilometers long and inner most Chithirai street being 200 meters. Most of the commercial establishments are housed in all the building in these streets and some residential blocks also exists some where here and there.

Both these temples of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar are connected with a beautiful corridor. Inside the Sundareshwarar temple there is a beautiful idol of Nataraja. This is one of the Pancha sabhas of Nataraja called Velli Ambalam (the deity is adorned with silver kavacham) the other one I have visited was Nellaiappar Kovil (see my earlier post on Nellaiyappar Kovil Tirunelveli). The idol here is beautiful and around 10 foot high. Unlike the other Nataraja’s idols in a dance posture with their left leg raised the one here is having right raised which is a unique feature. It is really wonderful to watch the cosmic dance form of Lord Nataraja. It is believed that a sincere devotee requested the god to change his posture as it would be stressful to use the same leg posture always and the Lord obliged. The Siva lingam here is also beautiful.

As we come out of the Sundareshwa sannidhi we can see Dakshinamoorthy, Lingodbhavar, Durgai Amman sub shrines and Chandikeshwarar. While praying to Chandikeshwarar we have to clap our hands while praying as he is supposed to be sleeping.
When we come out of Sundarehwarar temple we can see small shrines dedicated to Danda yudhapani, Siva, and Navagrahas etc. and out side is a Nandi mandapam and the flag post in front. Nandi mandapam has beautiful carvings on all four sides.

As we face the entrance from the inside on the right side there are two huge idols of Bhadrakali and Uddhava Thandavar. Outside prakaram of the temple is the thousand pillared mandapam which is now housing a museum. Inside this mandapam there are two musical pillars which resonate with musical notes sa, re, ga, ma..... when struck with a wooden palate. There are also two musical pillars in the outer prakaram below the northen tower entrance.
In between the Meenakshi temple and Sundarashwarar temple is the shrine of Mukkurunni Pillaiyar. This idol is very huge carved out of a single rock and can be viewed from a long distance. 

Opposite to Meenakshi Amman sannidhi we can find a small Nandhi and many light lamps here. The Meenakshi’s idol is beautifully carved and her diamond nose ring dazzles in the glow of the oil lamps. She is always dressed in bright silk and looks gorgeous. This temple attracts the maximum crowd and special tickets are available for people who want to have quick and close darshan. It is better to have a guide for first timers and tickets for camera are a must. 

Near the Amman Kovil are the tallest and famous south tower and the Pottramarai kulam. (Golden lotus pond). Madurai is supposed to be the seat of the Tamil language and it is written in scriptures that the Pottramarai inside the huge water tank of the temple had unique powers to distinguish the original compositions. It is believed that when ever any poet came up with a new poem or any literary work the manuscripts of that composition was placed on the golden lotus. If it was an original composition the lotus would continue to float and if it was plagiarism it would sink to the bottom along with the copy. The kings who ruled Madurai while encouraging those poets who were original with gold and material gifts also punished those who tried to copy, may be they had better anti piracy techniques and effective administration for safe guarding intellectual property rights. 

Outside this prakaram also there are small shrines of Vinayagar and Subramanya. We can also find many shops inside the temple complex selling trinkets and devotional books, house wares and pictures of Gods and Goddesses. This whole temple remains like a mystery to me as I am yet to explore many areas inside the temple though I have visited it many number of times.
This temple beckons me again and again and I am really looking forward to my next visit.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Arunachaleswar Temple (Tiruvannamalai)

There are five main Pancha Bhootha Lingams in South India (Tamilnadu & Andhra Pradesh) and recently I completed my tour of the last one. This I will be posting one by one. In my thirst for the spiritual quest I found the visits to the temples extremely an enchanting experience. Each temple has its own charm, a legend to tell and all this I want to share with one and all.

These Pancha Bhoothas lingams - Agni, Vayu, Bhoomi, Akash and Jal are situated in Tiruvannamalai, Kalahasthi (Andhra, all others are in Tamilnadu), Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Tiruvanaikal near Trichi. The last visit was to Tiruvannamalai and I thought I would start with the same.

This temple is 1000years old and situated at the foot hills of Tiruvannamalai. The Siva here who is the in the form of Agni, is called Annamalayar or Arunachaleswar. This temple has a sprawling area of 24 acres and surrounded by huge towers. The one at east side is the tallest called the Rajagopuram has 11 tiers and is 217 feet tall.
It is the second tallest in Tamilnadu the first being the Meenakshi Kovil at Madurai. We can see the temple with the back drop of the hill . It is really magnificent.
As we enter the first prakaram we come across the Subramanian temple on the left and this is the place where he appeared before the saint Aarunagirinathar. On to the right is the One thousand pillared mandapam. Behind the Subramanya temple there is a mandapam and when we went the function (valaikappu) was being conducted to the Amman (goddess). It is the seemantham for the goddess, done in the belief that she is expecting Lord Ganesha in her womb as Ganesh chathurthi falls in August.

Opposite to this Mandapam is the Vinayagar temple and Ganesha's idol having a valmpuri trunk was kept outside with silver kavacham.

Opposite of the Vinayagar Kovil in the centre is a huge Nandi the vehicle of Lord Siva and on the right side we could see the Pathala lingam. For this we had to get down few steps as the Lingam is situated in the basement. This is adjacent to the thousand pillar mandapam.

Then we cross the next tower and here also we can find a Nandi in the centre and Vinayagar which is made of pink stone. We also saw the Kalabhairava temple opposite to Ganesha temple facing the west. After this comes the third tower also called as the kili gopuram where we can see a parrot sculpted on the tower.

Inside as we move one can see the Unnamalaiyamman sannidhi but we headed straight inside and went to get the special ticket to get the darshan of Annamalair. After finishing the darshan we moved towards the Amman sannidhi and we could see many pilgrims lighting lamps for the Navgrahas, situated on left side of the Amman sannidhi.

We circumambulated the temple where we could see the deities of Lord Dakshinamurthy, God's palliyarai, (sleeping chamber) and Chandikeshwarar sannidhi. We went around the whole of 4th prakaram where we could see the idol of Ganesha under a tree, then the Kalahasthiar temple, which are sub shrines spread around the main temple. There are two temple tanks in the first and second prakaram.

Then we went for Girivalam (circumambulation of the Arunachala hill or Tiruvannamalai. At the start of the hill there is 1500 year old temple dedicated to Adi Arunachaleshwar and his consort Abhidha kuchambigai. The Girivalam is about 14 kms. and it is expected one completes the girivalam on full moon night then visit the main temple to get the full benefits of the Lord’s blessings. How ever we did it the other way around to save time. The Arunachala hill itself is considered to be the Lord himself and this hill gives different views from different angles. On one side it appears as the reclining Lord with a face and his flowing Jada, on another side it appears as twin hills; the ardha narishwara . It is believed that Siva and Parvathi exists here as adrdha narishwara. The Karthigai deepam festival is very famous here and during that period a huge lamp erected on a pedestal is lighted atop the hill and it burns for about 13-14 days and can be viewed from kilometers away.

Around the hill there are 8 lingams and we visited all this shrines called, Yama lingam, Nruthi lingam, and Vayu, Varuna, Surya, Kubera, Isaneya and Indra lingams. Of this Indra lingam is very near to the Arunachaleshwar temple. En route to girivalam, we also saw a new temple coming up with 1008 lingams.

This temple town is considered sacred by the devotees for meditation and we found lot of sadhus all around the town. We visited the Ramana Maharshi’s ashram and could see the evening prayer in progress and many were meditating in the prayer hall. There is also a small temple inside the ashram. We stayed in Seshadri mutt and there is a Samadhi of the swami gal there. Many foreigners and people looking for peace and solace were attending the discourse at the ashram. It was altogether a fantastic experience.

How to reach Tiruvannamalai

Nearest airport –Chennai

Nearest railway station _ Tiruvannamalai, Katpadi and Villupuram
Accommodation: there are many Mutts and ashrams in addition to commercial hotels offering various kinds of accommodation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mookambiga Temple- Kollur, Karnataka

When I was in college my friends told me about the famous Kollur Mookambiga temple. They visited this temple to seek the Goddess's blessings before writing exams. It was only then I knew that the temple is popular among students.People worship her in the form of Saraswathi, Parvathy and Lakshmi here. I too had the desire to visit this temple at that time but had to wait for a long time.

When my son was born I wanted to take him to Kollur to seek the Goddess’s blessings as I had faith that it would be good for my son. So when my son was 4 years old we made a trip to this temple. I think it was Devi Mookambiga’s blessings, my son achieved academic excellence. I have a belief also that if I pray to her fervently all my prayers will be answered. I also worship her daily by praying to her and last visit of mine to that temple was in February 2009. I would like to share what ever I know about this wonderful temple with my readers. Given a chance I would love to visit this temple again as it gives me solace and makes my mind pure.

This ancient temple is situated in the Kodajadri hills and the Sowparnika, a perennial river flows very close to the temple. This temple is dedicated to Siva -Sakthi and it exists in the form of a Jyothirlingam which is situated right in front of the Mookambiga Devi’s Panchaloha idol (A Mixture of 5 metals) which is kept on Sri Chakra. On either side of this idol we find Kali and Saraswathi. This idol was installed by Adi shankaracharya and when Goddess appeared before him he sang the famous Soundarya Lahari in praise of the goddess which people chant even today and get the blessings of the Mother Goddess.

The deity here looks beautiful adorned with jewels and silk. The Devi has a good collection of jewels as the devotees make it as an offering to the temple. This temple attracts lot of pilgrims and the Navrathri festival here is very famous. Little children are brought here for Vidyarambham. ( A cermoney conducted before the child starts his school)

The legend says that a demon who was deaf and dumb called Mookasura was creating trouble for the Gods was killed by the Goddess, hence she is known as Mookambiga. The temple looks more like a Kerala temple and it has a Dwaja sthambam and Deepa sthambam (a tall lamp post with concentric circles arranged one above the other) in the front of the main entrance of the temple. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is copper plated. Just behind this is small place where the Goddess appeared before Sankara charaya Swami.

In the outer prakaram there is Vidyaramba Mandapam and where the vidya rambam is performed during the last day of Navrathri i.e. Vijaya dashami. Devotees flock here on that day with their wards to seek Goddess’s blessing. As we circumambulate the outer prakaram we can find the shrines of other deities like Pancha mugha Ganesha, Krishna, Siva and Veerabhadrar. Devotees perform various rituals here and this temple provides Annadanam (Free meals) to all its devotees in the afternoon and night. It’s really helpful for the devotees who traverse miles to reach the temple. Serving food to thousands is not an easy task and this is very well organized and done very quickly by the temple authorities. During my last visit I too had a chance to taste this prasadam and though the menu was simple it tasted heavenly.

It is also believed that one cannot just visit Mookambiga temple unless the Goddess wishes .This belief is there among many people and I too believe in the same. I am just waiting for her next call.

Jai Mookambigai!

Mookambiga temple front view

The Dwaja And Deepa Sthamba

By Air - Mangalore, the nearest airport. Kollur is 135 Km. from this city.

By train- Nearest railway station is Udupi. But very few trains pass through this station. Mangalore is well connected with all the cities.

By road- There are plenty cabs, State transport and private buses frequently to Kollur from Mangalore as well as Udupi. The hotels also arrange taxi services for those who are interested. It’s a 3hours drive from Mangalore and one and a half from Udupi.

Accommodation- Mangalore and Udupi have good hotels.
Those who want to stay in Kollur, there are many guest houses and small hotels.