We went on a short trip to see the temples in and around Vriddhachalam. The seed for the trip was sown when reading the story of Sundaramurti Nayanar, who got 12000 gold coins from Vriddha-gireeshvara and deposited the whole lot into the Mani- mukta river that ﬂows just outside the temple. Before doing so, he gave a piece to Maattruraitha Vinayaka (gold-testing Vinayaka) near the river, to note its purity level. He then sang a Pathigam to get the gold coins back in the Kamalalayam tank in Tiruvarur. Some people say light-heartedly that this is the ﬁrst ever use of an ATM .
The interesting twist in the tale here comes in the fact that Vinayaka who was seated at the bank of the tank in Tiruvarur, checked the gold and vouched that it was of poorer quality than what was put in, and after another entreaty, the gold was restored to its original purity. We can see the Maattruraitha Vinayaka in Tiruvarur too, along the tank. He has been praised by Muthuswamy Dikshitar in his Gaula Raga kriti “Sri Mahaganapatiravatu mam”. Both his place near the tank and his gold- examining are mentioned in the kriti.
Vriddhachalam is around 3-4 hours from Chennai by train. It is certainly a place we all would have passed through while travelling to other places. Most of the temples we visited around it are more than a thousand years old and in many places we saw awe- inspiring Dwarapalakas and graceful forms of the gods and goddesses. Many of these places had shrines for the Sapta-Matrkas too.
The ﬁrst Kshetra we visited was Tiru- erukkatham-puliyur, a Padal-petra-talam (kshetra sung by Nayanmars) known nowadays as Rajendrapattianam. Any place ending with Puliyur indicates sage Vyaghra- pada worshipped there, most famous of them being Chidambaram which is called Perumpatrappuliyur. The name of this place is derived from the Sthala-Vriksha (sacred tree/plant) here, which is the Velleruku plant. Commonly called the white Crown ﬂower, it is Arka, or rather Shvetarka in Sanskrit, a ﬂower which is dear to both Shiva and Ganesha. One can recall the famous verse from Sri Appayya Dikshitar’s Atmarpana Stuti.
The lord has two names – Neelakanteshvara and Kumareshvara, the latter as he was worshipped by Murugan ( Kumara/ Subrahmanya). Ambal has two names too – Neela-malarkkanni and Veeraa-mulaiyammai.
The place has a Tevara Pathikam, sung by Sambandhar, and is special because it is the native town of Tiru-Neelakanta Yazhpanar, who was Sambandar’s devotee and accompanist on the Veena. His wife, Matangachulamani, used to sing the child- saint’s verses as per the Pann, and it is their descendants who helped in propagating the rediscovered Tevarams as per the original Panns.
We next visited Koodalaiyaattrur, another Padal-petra-talam. The place has an interesting story – Sundaramurti Nayanar was looking to go to Vriddhachalam, and an old man led him to this place instead and disappeared. Sensing the lord’s wish and his divine Leela, Sundaramurti sang a Pathigam at this shrine, where in each verse, he records his astonishment at the lord walking the path along with him to lead him here. This Pathigam, as well as the verses in Periapuranam that describe this incident, have been displayed nicely in the temple. The temple is very well kept and neat, although the bright paints on the granite structures were a little disconcerting. The Sthala Vriksha is a Kallaalam tree, near the temple. The names of the lord are -Nartana-vallabhesar and Neri- kaattu- nathar ( due to guiding Sundaramurti Nayanar) and the goddess is Parasakti and Purikuzhal-nayaki.. The saint has mentioned this movingly in every verse of his Pathikam “Adigal ivvazhi pontha atisayam ariyene” etc.
The next temple was Srimushnam, a well- known temple for Bhu-varahaswamy. One of the few temples for Vishnu’s third Avatar as a wild-boar, this place, although not a Divyadesam, is special because it is one of the eight Svayam-vyakta (self-manifest) Kshetras of Vishnu. (the other seven are Srirangam, Tirupati, Vanamamalai (Nanguneri), Pushkar, Naimisharanyam, Badrinath and Muktinath.)
The Mulavar is hence not man-made, and although small, is very adorable. The temple is vast, with many exquisite sculptures and ornate pillars, all made of granite.
The goddess is known as Ambujavalli and has a huge separate shrine. There are two Tiruppugazh songs composed in this Kshetra, and in one of them, Arunagirinathar addresses Subrahmanya as the son-in-law of Adi Varaha (the main deity of this Kshetra)
Kolanjiappar temple – Vriddhachalam
Later we went to Kolanjiappar temple, where the main god is Murugan (Subrahmanya) and he is a Svayambhu Murti, having manifested as an ant-hill and we can only see the shrine like a Peetham. There is no idol there. The speciality of this place is that hordes of people come there to write their prayers as complaints (Piraathu) on slips of paper and tie them there. It is said that within 90 days, the prayer is fulﬁlled and the devotees come again to take back the complaints. The temple oﬃce has a system in place for this and charges a nominal fee to ﬁle and cancel the Piraathu. We can see them hanging in huge bunches. The ﬁrst person to place such a request to Murugan was his own father, Vriddhagireeshvara, when Sundaramurti Nayanar refused to sing the “old lord of the old hill and his old lady” and Murugan intercepted and brought him to his father. This incident is not found in the Periapuranam but in the Vriddhachala Sthala Puranam.
Tiru-Nel-vayil-arathurai (known these days as Tiruvattaturai) is a Padal-petra-talam but is special because it is one of forty-odd places visited and sung by all the three saints (Sambandar, Appar and Sundaramurti). It is also the place where the lord blessed Sambandar with a Muthu- pallakku, Muthu-kudai etc. (palanquin, umbrella etc. decorated with pearls). We were there in time to enjoy the piety of the locals assembled there for Shani- pradosham and the joy of the playing children who had come there with their families. The river Vellar (referred to as
Niva in the verses) ﬂows right outside the temple. Being a seasonal river, there was no water at this time. The names of the lord and goddess here are Teerthapureeshvara and Tripurasundari. The Tamil word “turai” means a ghat in the river and all temples which end with “turai” are right at the banks of a river. The scene of the incident of Sambandhar receiving the gifts aforementioned, is depicted in the Gopuram, Vimanam etc.
Pennaagadam, (shortened colloquially to Pennadam) i s about 20 kms f rom Vriddhachalam. It has a really lovely temple of Shiva, known by the name “Pralayakaaleshvara” here. He has a poetic Tamil name “Sudar-k-kozhundeesar”. The temple has a Gajaprstha Vimana and interestingly, from the “Jaalis”(lattice windows) of the lower walls, we can see the Moolavar from all three sides. There is a unique fort-like structure (which is opened on request) with a shrine of Javanteeshvara on top, indicating how during Pralaya (end of the world) the lord alone stood above the waters, unaﬀected.
All the Nandis here face away from the lord, due to the legend that he drank the waters of the Pralaya to make the deluge subside. Appar and Sambandar have visited and sung, and it is particularly of signiﬁcance that here Appar requested for and got the Rishabha and Trishula marks branded on his shoulders by one of Shiva’s attendants. The temple is also called Thoongaanai- Maadam, being one of those built by Ko-chengat-Chozhan.
Vriddhachalam – the main temple
One could spend an entire morning wandering around the vast temple of Vriddhagireeshvara, the main deity of Vriddhachalam. This place too has been sung by all three composers of Tevaaram and has a large number of Pathigams , proving its importance. Other saints like Arunagirinatha and Vallalar too have composed hymns here. The “giri” here is not a visible mountain, but one sunken inside the earth, on whose peak the main shrine is. The place has beautiful Tamil names such as Mudukunram and Pazhamalai, and the lord is also called Pazhamalai-nathar. There are two shrines for Ambal, with the names Periyanayaki (or Vriddhambikai) and Balambikai. The sunken temple of Vinayaka is very interesting to walk into.
The place is said to be equal to Kashi in merit and there is a shrine for Vishnu as Bindumadhava, just as in Kashi. The Vanni tree is sacred here and really ancient. As mentioned in the beginning, Vriddhachalam is special because of the unique ‘Tiruvilayadal’ (divine sport) involving Sundaramurti Nayanar. Arunagirinatha emphasises this saying “mathuracchemozhi seppi arulpetra sivabakthar valar virthagiri” – this is where a great Shivabhakta received favours, composing sweet, excellent verses.