Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ardanareeshwara Temple -Tiruchengode

Ardanareeshwara temple is situated in Tirunchengode atop a hill which is 1900 feet above sea level. From Namakkal it is only about a 45 minutes ride so we decided to visit this temple also. There are 1200 steps to climb this hill or there is a beautifully paved motorable road . We went by the road and with in a few minutes we were on top of the hill.We reached the temple around 3 p.m and thought we may have to wait for another 1 hour or so as most of the temples gets closed around 12 noon and open only at 4 p.m . We were surprised to see that the temple was open as the timing there was from 6 a.m to 6 p.m. We went around this ancient temple also called as padal petra sthalam or Siva sthalam , meaning the great saint Thiru Gnana Sambandar had sung hymns about the Lord of this temple.

The temple was looking neat and clean as it had undergone a recent renovation. All the pillars and sculptures were shining with protective coat of paint and the floor was relaid with granite. There is a tall gopuram on the Northern side of the temple and I could see the image of Aadisesha carved in the outer prakaram of the temple. The main deity here is Mathoru Paagar Ardhanareeshwarar, half Siva and half Parvati . Behind the sanctum sanctorum there is a temple dedicated to Sengottu Velavar ( Murugan ) which is also famous here. There is a separate shrine here for Aadikeshava perumal who had asked Parvati to perform the Kedara Gowri vritham to unite with Siva . There is another shrine for Nagalingam and there are also Navagrahas here. The main deity that of Ardha nareeshawara is about 6-7 feet tall and was dressed on one side like a man and other side like a woman with jada and dandu on left hand representing Siva and manglayam and silk saree on the right representing Parvathi.

The Utsavar is also quite tall and is kept in an enclosure and we could have a close view of that. We could see the main deity only with the light of aarthi as there is no illumination inside the sanctum sanctorum. As the temple was not crowded we did get a good darshan.

This temple is only 18 Kms from Erode and 32 Kms. from Namakkal. The nearest airport is again Trichy and the nearest railway station is Erode itself.

Buses ply from Salem, Erode and Namakkal to this place.

This place is famous for Engineering colleges as nearly 3-4 colleges are around this town. There are decent accommodation and restaurants should one care to spend a day over here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Temples in Namakkal

Namakkal is near Salem in Tamil Nadu and is famous for its Anjaneyar and the Narasimhar temple below the rockfort in the town itself. We were planning a trip to these temples for quite some time and yesterday we did visit the same. For us it was a 2 1/2 hours ride from Dindigul via Karur. The newly laid road NH 7, part of the Golden quadrilateral made the journey smooth and easy.

Narasimha Moorthy Temple

We reached the Narasimhar temple at the foot of the rock and I was awe struck by the temple as it is a very ancient temple. The appearance itself is sufficient to show that it belongs to a by gone era. When we entered the temple, a board indicated that we have to offer our prayers at the Goddess Lakshmi’s sannidhi known here as Namagirithayar.The idol was resplendent with beautiful ornaments and silk. Her eyes were very wide like that of a lotus petal.

The town takes its name from her as she had performed Nama japa (penance )and the Lord appeared before her. It is believed that Anjaneya in front of the temple brought the saligrama of Narasimha and Renganathar here. When he wanted to offer his evening pooja he entrusted Goddess Lakshmi with this saligramam but he could not lift it after his pooja as it had grown into a hill. The Lord Narasimha Moorthy expressed his wish to be in that place and Anjaneya returned to serve God after Rama left for heaven.

On the way to the Lord Narasimha Moorhty’s temple we could see the Sthala Vriksham, a wish tree. On either side of the entrance that leads to the shrine we could see two serpent idols guarding the gate with Ganapathi nearby.

There wasn’t much crowd though it was a Sunday. The main idol that of Narashima Moorthy (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, half lion and half human) is inside a cave and is very huge in size, around 12 feet in height in a sitting posture and it looks majestic. The whole atmosphere inside the cave filled my heart with Baya bakthi (fear and devotion). There are carvings on all side of the cave and I could catch a glimpse of Vishnu on his Aadisesha and Vamana ( another reincarnation of Lord Vishnu) though it was pretty dark inside. Siva and Brahama are also near the main idol which is a very rare occurrence. The idol of Narasimha is facing the west unlike other Vishnu temples where it faces the east. It is also believed that The Lord here is in Ugra moorthy (Fierce) form, sitting here after killing the demon Hrinyakashipu.

The temple is very old and on top of this rock is a fort which appears magnificent from any part of the town. But I didn’t have the time or energy to climb the steep rock in a hot afternoon.

Anjaneyar temple

Anjaneyar temple is just opposite to the Narasimhar temple . After visiting the Narasimhar temple we headed towards the Anjaneyar Kovil. The idol of Anjaneyar here is gigantic, around 18 feet in height and is visible from a long distance. The Lord is facing the the Narsimhar temple and it is believed that his gaze is in level with Lord Narasimha’s lotus feet. He is in a standing posture with his hands folded with Bhakthi. We didn’t join the long queue as we got a good darshan of Lord from a comfortable distance itself. The Lord was adorned with Vada malai which is very favourite prasadam for the Anjaneyar.

Renganatha Swamy temple

We also heard that at the other side of the hill there is another temple of Lord Vishnu known here as Renganatha Swamy . To reach this temple we had to climb a set of 70 stairs, cut on the hill wide and easy, the only draw back being there was no support for the old and infirm to hold on to while climbing. The temple is open only till 11’oclock in the morning probably because the steps would become too hot to climb bare foot.

Here also the sanctum sanctorum is also cut inside the rock and it was very dark as there was a power cut. Here the Lord is in a reclining posture on the serpent karkodakan unlike other temples where he is on Aadisesha. We could see the idol in faint light of camphor lit by the priest. The idol is about 10-12 feet long and with eyes wide open and two hands again a rare occurrence.

I was wondering why the temple authorities could not arrange a generator for uninterrupted power supply which would help the pilgrims a lot. The temple surroundings looked beautiful with trees and it was quite cool, a moat was on either side of the temple. We could also see the Goddess Lakshmi’s shrine on the left side of the main temple. One cannot but wonder how centuries ago people built such artistic construction which could live through and remain unaffected surviving the vagaries of nature.

All these temples are quite near to one another and are with in walking distance from the main bus stand.

How to reach:

The nearest airport is Trichy which is 70 Kms. from Namakkal.

The nearest railway station is Salem -54 Kms.away

Regular buses ply connecting all parts of Tamilnadu to Namakkal.

Namakkal is a fairly big town with decent hotels and restaurants offering places of residence and eateries. We had breakfast at Hotel Sangam on the Thuraiyur road which was neat and clean and offered South Indian fare at very moderate prices. Lunch was at Nala residency which offers both boarding and lodging. The restaurant here offers multi cuisine and the dishes were quite attractively priced and of good taste too. The ambience was very nice added with excellent service. As we were getting out we bothered to check the tariff for rooms here and were informed that we could get air conditioned rooms , double occupancy for $ 30 only.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lord Venkatachalapathi Temple- Tirumala

This temple of Lord Venkatachalapathy is situated in Andhra Pradesh in Chittoor District 3200 ft. above sea level. The temple is situated on the seven hills called as Tirumala which is around 20 Kms. from Tirupathi town and it’s believed that the mountain resembles the seven hoods of the serpent, Aadisesha. The Tirumala God is the richest God in the world as nearly one lakh pilgrims visit the temple everyday. On special occasions the visit exceeds more than 4-5 lakhs in a single day. The offerings to the temple run into crores and it includes a recent addition and the costliest ever, of a 23 kg. weighing gold crown studded with gems and emerald donated by a devotee. The temple Hundis overflow with offerings and every now and then this is emptied and devotees themselves offer their service to God by counting the money and sorting out gold, silver and valuable gems which comes as contribution to the temple. The main idol in the temple which resides in the sanctum sanctorum is of black granite, a swayambhu and the utsavar here is the one that is brought out of the temple for various rituals that are conducted by the temple and the devotees.
People trek the hills to reach the temple or travel by buses run by the temple administration. Private cars and vans can ply on the hill but not buses. The serene atmosphere and greenery around will captivate anybody’s heart. Stringent checking of vehicles and luggage is done at the entry point as liquor and smoking are a big No in the hills. The whole Tirumala town is kept neat and clean by the workers round the clock. Drinking water, clean bathroom and toilet facilities are also available for facilitating the pilgrims. In fact the temple administration is taking care of all the needs of the pilgrims though the numbers visiting this hill temple is enormous. Annadanam (free meals) is provided for the pilgrims who visit the temple and the pilgrims take this as a prasadam .

As the temple is always thronging with people getting darshan of Lord is also not easy. Many perform sevas to the Lord like kalyanotsavam, (the celestial wedding), or sahashra deeplankaram, Unjal seva and other sevas etc. as an offering to god or to get a quick darshan of the main deity. For people who cannot afford there is always a sarvadarshan which is free but pilgrims may have to wait for a few hours depending on the season before they have good darshan of the Lord. There are beautifully designed queue complexes with good seating arrangements and CCTV where one can see and listen to Bhajans and temple video clippings. The pilgrims also get free food in this queue complex for sarvadarshan during the wait. During Brahmotsava time the wait could be even more than 24 hours.

Mobile phones and cameras and other electronic gadgets are not at all allowed inside the temple so it is better to leave them in the cloak rooms as frisking is done at least at 3-4 points.

Once we are inside the precincts we can see a mandapam on the left where all rituals are conducted and we can see the flag mast also before we proceed into the inner most prakaram of the temple. The temple reverberates with chanting of Om Namo Venkateshaya and one’s mind automatically focuses on God . The devotees also chant the Lord's name "Govinda Govinda"( yet another name of the Lord) . Opposite to the main deity is the Garudalwar the vehicle and devotee of God and the main dwaram is guarded by Jai and Vijay the dwarpalakas, the gate keepers.

The idol is over 10 feet tall and is always adorned with priceless diamonds, gold ornaments and flower garlands. The idol is visible from quite a distance. Now a days the entry is restricted up to a safe distance for security reasons.

The security people lined along the queue see that the people move fast and every one gets a quick darshan. The time one gets to see the god would be only few seconds but people who come out are a contented lot.

Middle men are not entertained so do not fall for people who would promise quick darshan. After the darshan each devotee gets some Prasad from the temple . The prasadam here is the famous tirupathi laddu and the Vada . For each seva performed the devotees are entitled to some specified number of laddus and for some sevas vadas are also added. Cost of this is included in the seva pricing. For those pilgrim who go the sarvadarshan route they get free darshan as well as a free laddu. The laddu tastes heavenly and people give as much importance to the laddu as they give for the darshan itself.

The annual Brahmotsavam festival at this temple is a grand affair and it goes on for about 10 days just before Navarathri every year. Every day the God and his consorts Sree devi and Bhoodevi are brought out in various vehicles, palanquin, Sesha vahana (vehicle), Hamsa vahana, Airavata, Garuda vahana dressed in beautiful costumes and it is really a beautiful sight to watch.

There is also a Varaha swamy temple on the northen side of the temple which is older than the Balaji temple, it is near the temple tank Sampuskarani, where the temple float festival takes place. It is believed that the water from this tank can purify a person of all his sins. There are many other places in Tirumala hills if one wishes to visit, like Papanasm falls and Kapilatheertham. There are plenty of buses available for a tour of these places free of cost.

A little legend- It was believed that Lord Vishnu came in search of Goddess who had left his abode over a small tiff with him. She was born as Padmavathi on earth and God wanted to marry her so he came and stayed in Seshachalam, the seven hills and married her. Padmavathi temple is situated at Alamelu Mangapuram 5 Kms. from Tirupathi town in the plains. A trip to Tirupati is considered complete only if one visits the Padmavathi Koil as well. Govindaraja Perumal koil in Tirupathi town is also quite famous where one would find God taking rest, in a reclining position after measuring gold which he had borrowed from the Lord Kubera (king of wealth)

It is always advisable to have lot of spare time in the schedule when one is planning a visit to Tirumala as the time for darshan is very unpredictable and depends on the the crowd for the day.

How to reach:
Tirupathi is well connected by air from Hyderabad and Chennai to all other parts of India by express and mail trains. Buses also ply from various States of Southern India at frequent intervals.

All kinds of luxury and budget hotels provide convenient accomodation for pilgrims. TTD devsthanams also provide quality accommodation on chargeable and free basis depending upon availability. There are many mutts and ashrams which provide decent accommodation for devotees.

Pictures by my nephew Pravin Bhat
2nd picture of golden vimanam coutesey Wikipedia