Visit to Pundarikaasha Perumal Temple at Thiruvellarai
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- Main Deity: Perumal Pundarikaashan, east facing, standing posture
- Goddess: Shenbagavalli, also called as Periya Piraattiyaar Lakshmi Devi. Seperate sannadhi for Thaayar. Utsavar thaayar is named as Pangajavalli.
- Mangalasasanam: Periyalwar – 11, Thirumangai Alwar – 13, a total of 14 Paasurams. Perialwar – 71, 192 – 201, Thirumangaialwar – 1368-77, 1851, 2673, 2674
- Prathyaksham for Periya Thiruvadi Garudan, Sibi chakravarthy, Bhoodevi (Bhoomi Piratti), Maarkandeya Maharishi, Lord Brahma, Rudhran (Lord Shiva).
- Sri Pundarikakshan, Bhoomi Piratti, Periya piratti, Suriya and Chandiran and Aadisheshan are in human forms in the Moolavar Place.
- Other shrines: Krishna, Vishwaksenar, Nammazhwar, Chakarathazhwar, Nadhamunigal, Kulasekara Azhwar, Thondarippodi Azhwar, Andal, Ramanuja and Manavala Mamunigal.
- Travel Base: Trichy
- The temple is considered the oldest of the Vaishnavaite temples of South. It is older than Srirangam which was built during Rama’s period, whereas this temple was built by Sibhi, 4 generations older forefather of Rama. Hence the name Aadhi Vellarai. According to the Puranas, 64 `Chathuryugas’ (the present Kaliyuga being one of them) have passed since the Lord enshrined here.
- Situated in a sprawling 14 acre site and resembles an old fort with 36-feet-high massive compound walls on all sides
- Only a handful of temples have been dedicated to Lord Varaha, the most important of them being those at Thiruvidanthai near Mahabalipuram and Srimushnam near Kumbakonam where the Lord is hailed as `Gnanapiran.’ But one place, which bears the name of this incarnation is Swedha Varaha Kshethram or Thiruvellarai
- Here Thayar gets the first rights over Perumal. Only in two other Divya Desams this happens – Nachiyar temple in Thiru Naraiyur, Andal in Srivilliputhur. As per the boon of the Lord, Mother Shenbagavalli took the premier place and comes before the Lord in palanquin during the festival occasions.
- A Temple tank Swastik Kulam (pond) or Maamiyaar -Maattu Penn (Mother in law – Daughter in law) theertham, maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI) is outside the temple on the south-eastern side. The Swasthik shape of the tank makes it possible that people bathing at one ghat cannot view any other ghat. There are beautiful sculptures in the pillars above the steps.
- In front of big pillar in this temple, when we make any sound, it replicates and echo around the temple in the inner prakaram. Because of this, some of the paasurams in Divyapprabhandhams are recited for 2-3 times.
- There are two cave temples in the rocks, one of them belongs to the period of `Pallava Malla’ Nandivarman II and another belongs to the period of Rajaraja 1. There is another cave temple carved out of a rock known as Swedhagiri where Lord Siva, known as `Vada Jambunathar’ and Pundarikaksha are enshrined.
- This is a must visit temple for its sheer majesty, architectural marvel and heritage history.
- It is said that Vaishnavs must visit this temple atleast once in their lifetime in order to be qualified for Mukthi. Hence, there is this tradition at the temple to call ‘Thiruvellarai Kandeero- Thiruvellarai Kanden Aiyya’ (the devotees informing the Lord that they have seen Thiruvellarai and that they are now ready/eligible for Moksham), a voice that is said to echo to the Lord up there.
- It is believed that one’s wishes submitted to the perumal at the Balipeetam with the turmeric kappu to the Balipeetam are automatically taken care by Him.
- It is a tradition that the childless couples bathe in the theerthams here on Sunday in the month of karthigai and have Dharshan of the Lord in order to be blessed with progeny.
- Vellarai means white rock in tamil. Since, this temple is situated 100 feet high in a small hillock made of white granite slabs, this place is called ‘Thiru Vellarai’. This place is called Swetagiri in Sanksrit which also refers to the hillock of white rock. It is also known as Adhivellarai, Uthama Kshethram and Hita Kshethram.
- Through a hole at the Thayar Sannidhi, one can see the Trichy Rockfort, Srirangam and Thiruvanaikaval Temple towers, though they are about 20 kms away.
- Inscriptions and the architecture at this temple point to the fact that Pallava, Hoysala and Vijayanagara kings have contributed significantly to this temple.
- There are as many as 7 theerthams within the temple complex known as Vima, Kuchasthi, Chakra, Pushkala, Varaha, Padma, Manikarnikaa,. Emperor Sibi dug five of them for the Lord’s worshipknown as Varaha, Padma, Manikarnikaa, Kuchasthiand Gandha PushkarniTheerthams. There are also Divya, Kandha, Ksheera pushkaranis and Kuchalan, Singar and Udayavar kulams(tanks). There is yet another theertham outside the temple on the southeastern side known as Swasthik kulam (pond).
- Ramanujar spent a few months here till the opposition to him subsides, after the unfortunate incident of attempting to kill him by poison at Srirangam.
- This is the birth place of Uyyakkondan (a disciple of Saint Naradhar) whose given name was Pundareekhakshar. He wrote ‘Sri Bhaashyam’ but was left unfinished by him and was finally completed by Vishnu Sithaar. So this rock is called as ‘Uyyakkondaan Malai’. Uyyakondar taught the people Azhwars’ ‘4000 Divya Prabandam’ songs, which were brought back from the oblivion by his mentor Saint Naradhar.
- Another preceptor, Engalazhwan whose given name was Vishnuchittar, a contemporary of Ramanuja and an expert in Sri Bashyam, was also born here. He created a tank called Udayavar kulam for the use of his mentor Ramanuja during his stay here.
- The two acharyas of Thiruvellarai complemented each other – while Uyyakkondar celebrated Tamil Vedam (4000 Divya Prabhandham)Engal Azhwaancelebrated the sanskrit Vedam. Both of them have separate shrines here.
- Manavalamaamuni and Desikacharyar have also sung of this shrine.
- The Balipeeta, the sacrificial platform is an important spot in the temple. It is believed that one’s wishes submitted to the perumal at the Balipeetam with the turmeric covering (Manjal kappu) to the Balipeetam are automatically taken care by Him. After the fulfillment of their wishes, the devotees bathe the Balipeeta (Thirumanjanam) and offer Pongal to the Lord. Here thirumanjanam is performed only for the balipeedam and all the deities are given only Thailakkappu (a covering of herbal oil paste) since they are Sudai sculptures.
- There are two cave temples in the rocks for Markandeya Maharishi and Bhoodevi Thayar, one of them belongs to the period of `Pallava Malla’ Nandivarman II and another belongs to the period of Rajaraja I. When Rishi Markandeya was in penance here, he formed this cave just by his hand in a time less than it took to cook his rice and brinjal. There is another cave temple carved out of a rock known as Swedhagiri where Lord Siva, known as `Vada Jambunathar’ and Pundarikaksha are enshrined.
- The two gates:
The sanctum sanctorum has two entrances namely Utharayana Gate and the Dakshinayana Gate as in the Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam. Utharayana Gate is open from the Tamil month of Thai (Capricorn) until the month of Aadi (Cancer), i.e., from Jan 15 to June 15 approximately and from then on, the Dakshinayana Gate is open.
In the human life, there are two separate entrances, one for entering into the life and the other for exiting out of it. We would be able to feel the presence of Paramaathma in both – while entering into the life and while exiting out of it. The two gates represnt this. The Utharayana Gate is the entrance through which all the Jeevathmas enter into the world as a human-being or as a non human-being and is the place of “Lord Guberan”, the God of wealth. The Dhakshinayana Gate is the entrance to the death and it is the place of Lord Yama, the king of Naragam. The Lord is ‘Suriya Narayanan’ during Utharayanam and is ‘Govindan’ during Dakshinayanam.
- Apart from Utharayana and Dakshinayana Gates, the sanctum sanctorum has one more entrance called ‘Naazhi Kettaan Vaayil’ where it is believed that the Lord was intercepted and questioned by his consort, upon his returning home later, after his sojourn. Even today, during the festivals, after completing the trip outside, Perumal has to account for his time to his consort by informing the time he started, the places he visited etc., at this gate in order to gain entry into the temple.
- Steps to the temple:
- At the very entrance are the 18 steps reminding one of the 18 chapters of Bhagvat Gita given to us byPundareekakshan.
- After this, one comes across 4 steps that are considered equal to the 4 Vedas to reach the Bali Peetam.
- From here, one enters the Perumal sannidhi by ascending 5 steps representing the PanchaBhoothams (Fire, Water, Space, Air and Earth) and crossing theNaazhi Kettaan Vasal.
- Here there are 2 gates Dakshinaayana Gate and Utharaayana Gate which are alternately used during the Dakshinayana/ Utharayana 6 month periods.
- One climbs further 8 steps remind one of Ashtaaksharam
- Thereafter one comes to the 24 steps reminding one of Gayathri Mantram to arrive at the sanctum sanctorum,where Senthaamarai Kannan (Pundareekaakshan) stands with His consort Pankayacchelvi Naacchiyaar.
There are totally 5 praharams.
- The outside streets meant for running the temple car forms the outermost praharam
- In the 4th praharam, the cave temples and Vasantha Mandapams are there
- Balipeetam and the shrines of Thayar, Anjaneyar, Chakrathazhwar, Lakshmi Narasimhar, Andal and Garudan are present in the 3rd praharam
- The 2nd praharam is reached by entering through the Naazhi Kettaan Vasal
- After entering through the Dakshinayana/ Utharayana gate, one reaches the sanctum sanctorum
- The breezee at Thiruvellarai is knownfor its medicinal qualities. It is rich and fragrant laden with the scent of herbs and flower bushes occupying the numerous Nandavanams. Swami Desikan pays special tribute to the Nandavanam in the Kshetram
- The big festival takes place on the third day of Panguni (March-April) every year when the Lord and Goddess are taken on a procession to the Coloroon river.
Legend has it that Garudan, Markandeya, Lakshmi and Sibi Chakravarti offered worship here. Legend has it that Vishnu blessed Markandeya, Bhudevi and Sibi Chakravarti 4 caturyugas ago (17.3 million years).
- Markandeya was destined to die at 16. When Yama came to take him, he clutched on to the Shiva Lingam at Thirukkadaiyur. Pleased with this, Lord Shiva blessed him that he will remain there forever as 16. After enjoying life to the full, Markandeya again prayed to Lord Shiva asking for Moksham. He was guided by Shiva to go to ThiruVellarai to invoke the blessings of Lord Vishnu. Saint Markandeya was under penance here and got the Darshan (and Moksham) of Lord Vishnu.
- It was Goddess Lakshmi’s wish that she be granted the leading rights at some temple, as she felt that the Lord gets priority over her in all the temples.
- King Sibhi (Rama’s forefather) came here with his warriors with the intention of killing the Lankan King Ravana. On the way, a white boar (Swedha Varaham) was giving them trouble obstructing their march. Angered at this, Sibhi chased the boar which was elusive. After stopping at 5 places it disappeared into a pit. Saint Markandeya was under penance here and the King came into contact with him while chasing the animal. The King narrated the incident to the saint. The saint told him how lucky he was to see the lord in the form of the boar while he was waiting for so long for his darshan and advised the king to perform milk abishek to the anthill there. While doing so, Lord Vishnu appeared before both of them. Answering Sibhi’s prayers was an invisible voice (Lord Vishnu) asking him not to pursue his quest to defeat Ravana and that he go back to his kingdom since time had not yet come for Ravana to be defeated and that He himself will be born later to defeat Ravana. A disappointed King Sibhi pleads with the Lord that he could not possibly go back empty handed, without fulfilling the purpose for which he had come. The Lord asked Sibhi to fulfill the wishes of Goddess Lakshmi by building a temple here that would give her the first rights at all festivities. Also Saint Markandeya asked Sibi Chakravarthy to bring 3700 Vaishnavites from North to build the temple. As requested, Sibi Chakravarthy brought 3700 Vaishnavite families from the North but one of them died. King Sibi was perturbed but The Lord Vishnu again appeared Himself as a Vaishnavite and comforted the King that He could replace him and take care of the whole group.Later, about 50 of them left for Melkote (Karnataka), several went to Kongu Nadu and many others went to other temples to perform daily poojas there. Legend has it that all the Vaishnavas who perform daily poojas in temples in south are originally from Thiruvellarai. Also it is believed that Buddhists were in equal strength to Vaishnavites.
- The legend also has it that Pundarekan, a yogi established a garden here and worshipped the Lord with the Tulsi leaves grown here. The Lord pleased with his worship, gave darshan to him and came to be known as Pundarikakshan.
Date of Visit: 15/9/2007
This Divyadesam is located at about 20 km north of Trichirappalli, enroute to Thuraiyur (not Woriyur which is inside the Trichy city). We started by about 4:30 PM from the Main-guard-gate (Chatram) bus stand from where buses to Thuraiyur start (there is another main bus stand near Trichy Rail junction). Since it was a working day evening time, the outgoing traffic was heavy and the bus was crowded but luckily we got the seats. Actor Vijaykanth had his meeting at Pudukkottai on that day and so there was a heavy traffic and several traffic diversions. So reaching Toll gate itself was a problem but once we reached there, the bus breezed through. After the Toll gate, we crossed Mannachanallur and after about 6 km from there, we reached Thiruvellarai and it was 6PM by then. Originally we wanted to cover Thiruvellarai and Thiruppaingneeli (close to each other) and we thought each temple would take about 30 minutes but all our calculations went wrong (you will see why at the end).
There was a temple arch in the main road and the actual temple is about a km from there. We (I and my wife) were the only people in that deserted village road and it was a nice late evening. For us, it was a good escape from the mad city crowd of Chennai and so we thoroughly enjoyed the walk. There was no indication of a big temple till we came close.
There was a narrow passage to the temple that got opened up to a big community/ village by itself. The atmosphere looked more a fort than a temple.
The 50 feet high half finished unique hoysala style Rajagopuram unlike the most other temples welcomed us. The half finished state proclaims the various political turmoils and the wars the temple had seen. It seems till now nobody is able to measure how deep the basement goes into the ground and hence they are not able to decide as to how much above they can build on the existing structure. So, there is no attempt yet to complete the structure. However it seems, still there is some work in trying to assess the strength of the basement. Even in its half finished form, the Rajagopuram looks beautiful and stands majestic and it should have been an architectural marvel and gift to Tamilnadu had this been completed.
Immediately after we finished our archanai in the Perumal sannidhi, the screen was put for the Neivedyam (offering of food) and it was opened after 10 minutes. To our surprise, we were given Dosa prasadam and it is the first time, we were seeing Dosa prasadam in a temple. There were many beautiful big Sudai sculptures on the outer wall of the sanctum sanctorum and it was the first time, we were seeing such sculptures on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum. We had offered 10 Rs to the Battacharyar in the plate but he was openly demanding more saying that there are more Battacharyars in the temple. This was the first time for us that a temple priest was openly asking to put more money in the plate. But as a contrary, we had very good archanas in the Thayar, Garudan and anjaneyar sannidhis and all those Battacharyars were very sincere to their job and didn’t even look at the plate. In the Thayar Sannidhi, through a hole we could see the Trichy Rockfort, Srirangam and Thiruvanaikkaval temple towers which are about 20 kms away. It was a very good night-view.
There was one more battacharyar outside the perumal sannidhi who sold the archanai tickets when we first entered. He was waiting for us to finish all our archanas and he took us to the Thayar Sannidhi, put big garlands on us and chanted some mantras. He informed us of various poojas at different rates and enquired whether we were interested in any. We were not and simply offered him 25 Rs. We were surprised at what happened next. He just took back the garlands from us presumably to try another couple (with the same garlands!!) and left the field without wasting any more time. He was right on his business. On the whole we were met with contrasting Bhattacharyas, some very sincere at their job and their love to their Masters was very visible whereas some others were looking only at the plate. The temple is being taken care of by the Srirangam temple authorities and I only pray that they take care of the living conditions of the priests in a way that they do their job with utmost sincerity. Especially in a temple with such a great heritage background, the Bhattacharyas need to proclaim the majesty of the temple.
At this point, an earlier incident flashed in my mind. When we went to Karaikudi a few months back, we visited the Chettinad Palace at Kanadukathan, a place visited by many prime ministers, chief ministers and other VIPs, containing many prices-less antiques including about 5 pairs of raw Ivory, one of them being more than 10 feet tall. The palace has appeared in many movies, one of them being the Tamil movie, ‘Kandu konden, Kandu Konden’. We had been shown around the place by a security guard and at the end when I offered him some tips he gently refused it saying ‘Thank you Sir, we have been taken care well by our master’. The majesty of the place can’t be proclaimed better than this.
The half finished Rajagopuram really made us heavy hearted with the feeling how meticulously the Mughal, British and other invaders attempted to put down our culture and heritage. But it was like cutting a tree without being successfully able to remove its roots. The tree will come up anyway and our culture and heritage have to come back to its (original) state. In addition, the feeling that the place which was very dynamic once with the 3700 Vaishanavite families from the North echoing all vedic chantings around is now deserted had saddened us more. In spite of it, we were exalted at the sheer majesty and heritage of the temple.
While returning to the Bus stand, there was a tiny road-side Vinayagar temple that was illuminating a large stretch of the path leading to the Bus stop which otherwise would have been dark.
- Everything about this temple is huge so also the no of days I took to complete this writing and the length of this blog.
- Reserve enough time to enjoy the temple. Don’t visit in a hurry which is not justified for the vastness of the temple.
- UnfortunatelyI could present only a few photos since I visited late evening and also photos were not allowed inside.
- More information on the temple here
Nearby temple: The Saivite holy place of Thiruppaingneeli is situated near Thiruvellarai (about 6 kms).