Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trikkakkara & Dhanwantari Temples

9-10 December'08: I had an official visit planned to Ernakulam and drove down via Palakkad & Thrichur on 9th afternoon. After a brief stopover at Angamali for tea/snacks, reached Ernakulam late evening and checked into Hotel Bharat. Next morning got up early and after a refreshing cold water bath left around 6 AM via Edapally for Trikakkara a distance of around 10 Kms. This is the location of the famous Vamanamoorthy Temple, which is a Divya Desam, and the epicentre from where the annual Onam festival begins every year. It has been glorified by the tamil hymns of Nammalwar, of the 1st millennium CE.
We first visited the adjacent Mahadeva Temple which also has sub shrines for Parvati, Durgai, Ganesha & Subramania. Just outside the temple facing the deity is a cement throne where it is believed that King Mahabali, an ardent Siva devotee who visits Kerala every year, sits and blesses the people of Kerala.
After offering prayers and witnessing the Deeparchanai we proceeded to the Vamanamoorthy Temple. Seeveli was in progress and the Utsava Murthy of Lord Vamana was being taken in a procession by the Head Priest followed by temple musicians to the accompaniment of molam & nadaswaram. They circumambulated the seeveli pura in the purathambalam three times before entering the chuttambalam with the Utsava Murthy.
We then went in and prayed to Lord Vamana, who is the 5th reincarnation of Lord MahaVishnu. The Lord had taken the form of a young Brahmin boy to rein in the arrogant Bali, an Asura who through his rigorous penances had become very powerful and a big threat to the Devas in heaven. Bali however was large hearted and when Vamana asked for three paces of land he immediately agreed much against the advise of Sukracharya, the preceptor of the Asuras. And instantaneously Vamana grew to massive proportions and assumed Viswa Roopa and with one pace covered the whole earth and with the second pace covered the entire skies . There was no more place to offer and so Bali offered his head to the Lord and the Lord thus put his foot on his head and crushed his arrogance and pushed him down to the nether world or patala. Bali realised his folly and thereafter became an ardent devotee of Mahavishnu. Thus he transformed from an evil asura to a good asura and came to known as Mahabali. He asked permission from Vishnu that he be allowed to come to Kerala, the land which he ruled, once every year to be among his subjects. Thus the annual Onam festival came to be celebrated in Kerala to coincide with Mahabali's Visit.
The inner sanctum is circular with a conical pagoda shaped vimanam . The Deity was brightly illuminated with oil lamps all around and the deeparchanai was wonderful. The priest gave us prasadam of chandanam, bhasmam & kumkumam and sweet aval-jaggery. As we circumambulated the chuttamabalam we prayed at the sub-shrines of Ganesha, Ayyappa and Gopalakrishna.
The temple campus is very large and probably extends to around 2-3 acres. There is a small and beautiful temple tank on the North side known as Kapila Teertham. Local legends associate the theertham with the source of water with which Mahabali Chakravarti symbolically made his offering of land to Vamana.
Local Legends: There are interesting local legends surrounding this place. A devout farmer, appalled by the lack of crop from his fields of plantain trees, worshipped the deity here with an offering of a bunch of gold plantains upon which he was blessed with a bountiful harvest of a breed of bananas now known as "Nendiram Pazham".
For more details on legendslog onto: http://www.onamfestival.org/king-mahabali-onam.html
We were back at Hotel Bharat for delicious Kerala style breakfast if idli, appam & stew, idiappam, steamed nendram pazham & fruit juice. I was in official meetings from 9.00 am to 4.30m pm after which we set out on our return journey. We made a deviation at Angamali and traveled via Kaladi to Thotuva to visit and pray at the Dhanwantari Temple.
Thottuva Dhanwantari:
Dhanvantari (also Dhanwantari) is considered an avatar of Vishnu from the Hindu tradition. He appears in the Vedas and the Puranas as the physician of the Gods (devas), and the God of Ayurvedic medicine. It is common practice for worshipers to pray to Lord Dhanvantari seeking his blessings for sound health.
Thottuva Dhanwantari is of special significance as this is our ancestral temple - my granfather & his father hailed from Thottuva/Koovapady. The temple itself which was modest to begin with has expanded considerably and been transformed into a wonderful temple in recent years with generous donations from devotees including NRI's. As you circumambulate the inner sanctum you pray at the sub shrine of Ganesha. You can see depicted on the walls depictions of the ten avataras of Vishnu - Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna & Kalki. Shobha offerred Pushpanjali and Aal Roopam for good health and after witnessing deeparchanai we received chandanam, Bhasmam & pazham/sugar as prasadam. On the outer prakaram there are subs hrines of Bhagavati & Sastha.
Legend: Dhanvantari is depicted as Vishnu with four hands, medical herbs in one hand and a pot containing rejuvenating nectar or Amrita in another. The Puranas state that Dhanavantari emerged from the 'Ocean of Milk' with the pot of nectar during the Samudra Mathanam whilst the ocean was being churned by the devas and asuras, using the Manthara mountain and the serpent Vasuki. The pot of Amrita was snatched by the Asuras or Demons, and after this event another avatar, Mohini, appears and takes the nectar back from the Asuras

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cairo Conference: 2-5 November'08

The Annual Bosch AA MD meeting was held in Dubai in 2007. As promised, Bosch hosted the 2008 Conference in Cairo (Egypt) situated in North East part of the African continent and West of Jerusalem. Bosch teams from South took off from Chennai & Bangalore by Oman Air which was routed via Muscat. Flights from Mumbai & New Delhi were routed via Doha & Bahrain. Before departure all MD's were given Bosch branded Peter England shirts & Blue T-Shirts. The spouses received smart black leather hand bags. Bosch's gift hamper also included an attractive electronic photo frame with USB/Flash Drive connectivity
2 Nov'08: Our flight left Chennai around 7.00 am & landed in Cairo around 1.30 pm local time. Food aboard Oman Air can was quite ordinary though we were served "Hindu Vegetarian" as specified at the time of booking.
We were received at Cairo airport by the local agents of Tour operators carrying Bosch banners for identification. Passport control was quick & efficient at Cairo and after collecting our baggage we wheeled out through an underpass to the waiting coaches and were transported to the Sofitel El Gezirah Hotel located 19 Kms from the airport. The elderly lady guide Ana bombarded us with all kinds of information about Egypt, its civilization, population, government,culture, industries, climate, currency, religion and a variety of other tit bits. At the Hotel we were received by the friendly and hospitable hotel staff & were served the customary welcome coffee/tea & cookies. This hotel located on the southern tip of the El Gezirah Island on the River Nile, is an exquisite resort within the city. The Nile is the longest river and has nurtured along its banks one of the oldest civilizations of the world surpsassed in antiquity only by the Indus Valley Civilization. The Nile is divided into two - while the White Nile rises in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, the Blue Nile has its origins in Ethiopia.
Located within walking distance from El Gezirah are the Opera House, the Egyptian Museum, the Cairo Tower. The hotel offers breathtaking views of the Nile, the Pyramids of Giza and the Cairo Citadel.
The panoramic and magnificent views of the Nile from the Hotel Room are best described in the phographs captured and shown here.
Dinner for the evening was aboard a stationary cruise boat named "Omar Khayyam" anchored on the banks of the Nile. It turned out to be a quiet & uneventful affair and there was neither alcohol nor any Egyptian dances on the menu as the name might imply.
Cairo by night is well illuninated and bustling with activity. The tall & slim Cairo Tower with soft illumination on the lattice exterior and colors continuously changing from Green to Purple to Red fires up your imagination. It has a revolving restaurant at the top which was the favorite dining spot of former President Gamel Abdel Nasser.
3 Nov'08: The day started with early breakfast at El Gezirah & then we transported to the Four Seasons Hotel, situated across from El Gezirah on the opposite bank of the Nile, for Day 1 of the Conference.The proceedings began with a crisp, well rearched & impressive presentation by Mr.V.Viswanathan, the suave & stylish MD of Bosch India, highlighting Bosch India's success story and the growing importance of the Indian operations in Bosch Worldwide. He also talked about the global recession, its impact on Indian economy and the hard road that lay ahead for all of us. This was followed by a power packed presentation by Mr. Ravi Krishnamoorthy, Regional Director-India & SAARC- AA, an electrifying video titled "Mission Impossible" and the commitment to continue the double digit growth initiative. There were also smart presentations on Advertising * Comunications and on Benchmarking Projects undertaken by the four Regional Managers. The Glittering Awards Ceremoney that followed as glamorous as any Bollywood event with Mr.Srinivasa playing the role of an MC efficiently & effectively. The ceremoney threw up many new Stars & Champions. Many of the erstwhile champions of yesteryears had been upstaged !
Lunch was served at a Four Seasons restaurant. The vegetarians had a tough time finding something to eat and most of them were seen making a scramble for fried rice, fruit salad (both were in short supply) or desserts. Yoghurt was not on the menu and this made matters difficult.
Meanwhile the spouses had been taken on a sight seeing tour of Cairo and they lunched at an Indian restaurant "The Kandahar" and from reports received it appears they all enjoyed fabulous Indian food. The detailed descriptions provided by one of the spouses was mouth watering!
After lunch, conference participants as well spouses were directly transferred to the Valley of Giza comprising the wonderful ancient monuments of architectural prowess representing ancient Egyptian civilization - three Pyramids and the Sphinx. The three largest pyramids were the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Kafhre and the Pyramid of Menkaura. Each Pyramid is a tomb dedicated to a different king of Egypt. The Sphinx - built over 4000 years ago and representing the strength of the then King- stands up as a majestic & regal structure inspite of extensive erosion by wind & sand. It has a man's head and a lions body - 150 ft long body, 50 ft long paws and head 30 ft x 14 ft. The visit transported us back in time several thousands of years to the period of Tutankhamen & Nefretiti and Cleopatra and the Pharoahs.
We returned to the hotel by 6.00 pm and after a bit of relaxation we departed around 9.00 pm for the night dinner cruise on the Nile Maxim. We enjoyed top-class service aboard the cruise, gliding past Cairo's illuminated skyline while we dined, with entertainment provided by a spectacular Belly-dancing and Tanoora folk dance. As we drifted along the Nile, the house band performed Western, Oriental and Arabic tunes. We returned a little fatigued & sleepy to El Gezirah past mid-night for a well deserved rest.
4 Nov'08: The MD's had a delayed transfer and hence were able to enjoy a relaxed breakfast. Some of us decided to smuggle yoghurt containers which came in handy during lunch. The MD's & spouses left simultaneously at 9.30 am - the spouses for the Museum tour & MD's for the Day 2 meeting at 4 Seasons. The morning meeting was brief - there were brainstorming sessions & presentations on how to increase the Diesel business. Then a brief address by yours truly to thank the Bosch Management for making wonderful & meticulous arrangements at Cairo. Mementoes in the form of Tanjore Plates were presented on behalf of Stanes Motor Parts Limited to Mr.Viswanathan & Mr.Ravi Krishnamoorthy. After a comprehensive concluding address by Mr.Viswanathan we all transferred for shopping to the Star City shopping mall. The spouses were already there after lunching once again at Kandahar. The mall was not the curio shoppers paradise that we were expecting - the items on display were more expensive than the malls in New York ! We contented ourselves with Cappucino & Mocha.
For night dinner we were transferred to the Valley of the Giza Pyramids. It is an exquisite Bedouin Dinner and we were greeted on arrival by a convoy of camels, a dancing horse and a group of Bedouin musicians and escorted to a tent where tables are neatly arranged. The pyramids were artificially illuminated and looked romantically eerie in the starlit night. The weather was breezy and cool. Some were smartly wearing cardigans or shawls. A few ventured out on camel rides in the darkness.
A young not sufficiently experienced MC made his appearance and attempted to regale the crowd with his immature rhetorics. This is followed by a series of folk dances by young,beautiful, lissome, colorfully attired Arab maidens. A petite female Fillipino DJ made her appearance, jived and belted out Western tunes. The crowd was busy digging into the food and not sufficiently attracted to the dance floor barring a few veterans like Sham Sunder & Pritipal. Navaneetha Krishnan( SO Kerala) was conspicious by his complete absence from the dance floor - remember his exploits in Dubai !
5 Nov'08: This is our final morning at Cairo and we checked out after breakfast. The coach took us back to Cairo airport. There is a nice curio shop at the Duty Free and we shopped to our heart's content - papyrus paintings, models of pyramids & sphinnx, key chains,bottle openers, painted ceramic mugs & glasses, coasters etc. We once again traveled by Oman Air via Muscat. This time the transit time at Muscat lasted over five hours. More shopping opportunities were presented at Muscat Duty Free - liquor,dates & chocolates were the favorites.
We reached Chennai at 6.00 am on 6 Nov'08. The Grand Conference Tour to Cairo was over.
For more photographs log on to web album : http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/CairoVisit#
For Belly Dance on Nile Cruise log onto :

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Date: 2 October'2008. Being Gandhi Jayanthi and a holiday, we decided to make a trip from Coimbatore to Madurai by road. The route: Pollachi-Palani-Odanchattram-Dindigul-Kodai Road-Madurai. The weather was bright & sunny and the Western Ghats gave us company for a better part of the journey. While bypassing Palani town we saw the abode of Lord Muruga atop Palani hills - a magnificent sight. Likewise at Dindigul we saw the Dindigul Fort (a 17th century fort currently under the management of ASI) with the Abhiramiamman Temple at the top. The hill is in a shape of a pillow or "Dhindu" in Tamil hence the name Dindigal. Reached Madurai in the evening after a five hour drive. Checked into the M.R.International Hotel located on Dhanappa Mudali Street near the Temple.
One of South India's great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. Situated on the banks of river Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. It was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. As per legend Lord Shiva blessed the land and its people while divine nectar showered on the city from his matted locks. Thus the city got the name of Madhura-puri. ("Madhura" means nectar)
The ancient city of Madurai supposedly was laid out in a lotus-like formation, with the temple at the center and streets and main thoroughfares layered one after the other concentrically, outward from the center. The important streets (veedis) around the proximity of the temple are Adi (innermost), Chittirai, Avani Moolam, Masi & Veli (outermost). Adi Veedi lies inside the temple walls whereas Chittirai Veedi is just outside. Chittirai Veedi has recently been nicely paved with cement tiles and no vehicular traffic is permitted. Devotees can therefore walk around the temple without hindrance.There are four main Gopurams through which the temple can be entered into - one in each cardinal direction.
Our visit coincided with the festival period of Navaratri and hence the temple was thronging with devotees.
After checking into the hotel, we freshened up, changed and walked to the temple through the West Tower Street. Entry through the West Gopuram was not permitted and we walked around the paved West Chittirai veedhi ,turned into the South Chittirai Veedhi and joined a long queue for entry through the South Gopuram. The queue was fast moving and within 20 mts we entered the Gopuram. Security was strict, devotees were frisked and all hand bags were electronically scanned. Once inside the Adi Veedi we had to stand in another queue before entering the prakaram. We passed through the Kili Mandapam & Oonjal Mandapam (west of Potramarai Kulam) before turning West into the Amman Sannithi prakaram. To the South of the Amman Sannithi outer prakaram, we witnessed a splendid Kolu arrangement- there were several stalls displaying hundreds of Kolu bommais of various gods & goddesses & depicting many legends. In the North corner of the South side was the Utsava Murthy of Goddess Meenakshi dressed in the finest silks & rich ornaments and bedecked by beautiful flower garlands. We also saw different vahanas (for carrying the deities) on display-covered in silver kavachams - Gundodharan,Swan, Kamadhenu the Divine cow, Yali which has a lions body & face and an elephant's trunk, Horse & Adhikara Nandi. After seeing the Kolu we entered the inner sanctum for Goddess Meenakshi's darshan. The crowd was well regulated and there was a raised walkway sloping downwards which allowed the devotees to have continuous darshan of the deity as you walked towards the garbha griha. The moolavar was so divinely & infinitely beautiful that you cannot simply take your eyes away even for a second. She fills you with joy and wonderment, lifts your spirits and you feel completely satisfied and totally at peace. Meenakshi's idol is made of green stone, hence she is also known as "maragathambal" or "maragathavalli".
There are twin pillayars just outside the garbha griha on the South side. As you circumambulate the prakaram there are subshrines for Pillayar ( south west corner facing east) and Muruga with his consorts (north west corner facing east). On the outer walls of the garbha griha there are niche images of the Goddess Sakti in different forms.
Next we emerged from the Ambal sannithi from the North side and entered the outer prakaram of Sundareswarar sannithi. The prakaram corridors are supported by magnificent carved pillars. On the west side is located the Kalyanasundareswarar Mandapam which is multi pillared mandapam where you can see large sculpted idols depicting Meenakshi Kalyanam. Then you reach the East side of the prakaram where the Navagrahas are located as also the Meditation hall. The most magnificent sculptures are found in the Kambathadi Manadapam which also contains the Nandi, Dwaja Sthambam as well as a large holder which can hold myriad lamps. There are also giant idols of Agni Veerbhadrar, Aghora Veerabhadrar, Alankattu Kali & Oorthvathandavamurthy. There are sculptures of Sadaasivan/Parvati and Gayatri Devi on either side of the entrance to the inner prakaram. There are several other pillars in the Kambathadi Mandapam carrying exquisite sculptures of deities & legends.
Next you enter the inner prakaram and straightaway go into the inner sanctum - here again the crowds are well regulated. There are fewer devotees here as compared to the ambal sannithi. As you walk towards the garbha griha you see the magnificent Velli Ambalam to the North - the silver mandapam (also known as the Rajatha Sabha) where stands the huge stone sculpture of Nataraja the eternal cosmic dancer - covered totally in silver kavacham. Huge standing idols of Patanjali & Vyakrapadar can also be seen there. In fact the entire mandapam is covered in silver. A unique feature of this Nataraja is that the Lord has his left leg on the ground and his right leg is raised in a dance pose. Lord Shiva performed seven types of dance. Among them, the dance he performed in Madurai came to be known as 'Paramananda Thandavam' and also 'Chokka Thandavam'. ( for more details log onto: http://www.madurai.com/velli.htm )
After offering prayers to Lord Sundareswara, we exit from the north side go towards the east and circumambulate the inner prakaram. The niche images on the outer walls of the garbha griha are: Dakshinamurthy on the South, Lingodbhavar on the west and Durgai on the north. All these niche images are at a height and there are steps leading up to them. Each of the niche deities is flanked by two stone elephants eating "karumbu" or sugarcane. In fact there are two stone elephants also flanking the Shiva Lingam just outside the garbha griha. The outer walls of the Garbha Griha depict in plaster the various stories from Thiru Vilayadal Puranam - a collection of 64 legends.
On the pillared pavilions of the inner prakaram as you circumambulate you can see: East- 63 Nayanmars, Saraswati, Saptha Mathas flanked by Ganesha & , West : Large east facing subshrine of Soma Skandar ( Swami & Ambal with Muruga in the centre), Muruga with his consorts, a large 16 faced linga, a Panchamukha linga, two Jwara Murthy's, the Kanaka Sabha, Bhikshadanar, Kasi Viswanathar & Visalakshi, several other lingams, North: Medha Dakshina Murthy, Mahalakshni,Ratna Sabha, East: West facing Bhairavar, Chandran, Suryan etc.
On the North side are also seen subshrines to Sitthar & Sandikeswarar. Adjacent to the Sithar shrine is the stump of the Kadambam tree where Indira is said to have worshipped Shiva to rid himself of the "Brahma Hathi Dosham". The Vimanam above the Garbha Griha is called the Indira Vimanam. After praying to Sundareswarar we walk back towards our Hotel. We enter the Mohan's Bhojanalaya on Dhanappa Mudali Street and order Gujarathi thali. The place is ordinary but neat and clean. The food is simple but excellent to taste and we enjoyed a hearty meal. Rate: Rs.45/thali. Strongly recommended.
3 October'2008: We get up early morning and reach the temple around 5.30 am. There were no queues. But there was a throng of devotees at the ambal sannithi. As we completed our worship we saw that the Utsavamurthy of the Lord had been taken out of the Palli Arai and being carried in a silver palanquin towards the Sundareswarar Sannithi to the accompaniment of nadaswaram & chants by devotees. We joined this congregation and accompanied the lord till they reached the swami sannithi. It was a wonderful experience. Then we prayed at the Sundareswarar sanctum. This time we took a special entrance ticket of Rs.15/- and could therefore have a darshan of the Lord at close quarters.
After this we went to the Ayiram Kaal Mandapam ( containign 985 pillars) and visited the museum which contained a large number exqusite sculptures, paintings, panchaloha idols, ivory & antique items, rare coins etc. It also houses the exquisite Chitra Sabha where you can see the magnificent dancing idol of Nataraja & his consort Sivagami.
Next we exited to the Oonjal Mandapam after praying to Mukkurini Pillayar in the swami sannithi prakaram south side. We went around the Potramari Kulam or the Golden Lotus Tank. This theertham is said to have been created by Lord Sivaperuman by thrusting his `Soolam' (three pronged spear) into the earth. This theertam is also called Adhi Theertham,Parama Theertham ,Gnana Theertham , Mukthi Theertham and as Sivaganga because the water from Ganga from the head of Lord Siva confluences with it and as `Uthama Theertham' because of its purity than any other theertham.
To the south west corner of the teertham is a small pillayar placed in a trough of vibhuti and completely smeared with vibhuti. It is customary for devotees to pick up vibhuti from the trough and smear the pillayar.
Finally we exited the temple complex, had lunch at Meenakshi Bhavan, went to the hotel & checked out and visited the Puthu Mandapam located outside the East Gopuram. This Mandapam was built by King Thirumalai Naicker with the work starting in 1626 and ending in 1645. Also known as the Vasantha Mandapam the central portion is kept locked for use during festivals. The surrounding pavilions have been let out for shops. The sculptures on the pillars are breathtaking. This great monument of National Heritage is ill maintained.
With that our visit to the Meenakshi temple concluded. For more details about the temple log on to:
We left Madurai after lunch - this time we took a different & shorter route - via Dindigul, Odanchattram -Dharapuram-Palladam-Coimbatore. From Odanchattram to Palladam was a state highway but road was excellent and there was very little traffic. We completed our return journey in less time and also travelled 30 Kms less. A memorable but action packed trip.
See photogallery at : http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/MaduraiMeenakshiTemple#

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kanchipuram Temples -Vaikunda Perumal-Kachapeswarar

28 July'08: The Vaikunda Perumal Temple was built by the Pallava king Nadivarman II during the 7th century. This is particular temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Lord is in the sitting posture. The Goddess is known as Sri Vaikundavalli Tayar. In fact, Lord Vishnu's image can be seen in standing, sitting and reclining forms on the towering vimanas. There are also many beautiful lion pillared cloisters as well as several bas reliefs in the main shrine of the temple. Inscriptions on the walls that tell of the history of the temple as well as of the city itself . The sculptures are mindblowing and comparable with those in the Kailasanathar temple as they belong to the same era. These sculptures are a legacy of India's architectural history & richness and must be preserved at all costs for the sake of posterity. India's Department of Archeology maintains & preserves this temple.
As per legend devoted worshippers of Siva, on the occasion of Maha Sivarathri, would be blessed with sons who will be devotees of Lord Vishnu. The Pallava king was blessed with a son Parameswara Varman who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and built this Vaikuntha Perumal temple, in the 7th century A.D.
This temple gains local importance on the holy night of the Vaishnavites - Vaikunda Ekadasi. Except on that day, this temple is easily accessible to tourists
Kachapeswara Temple: (Siva Kanchi) This temple is believed to have been built by the Pallava dynasty. Legend has it that Vishnu worshipped Siva in the form of a Turtle. The main deity is therefore known as Kachapeswarar - Kacchapa meaning turtle. This is a beautiful temple (but no great architecture) with regular poojas and coming under the administration of the Hindu Religious & Endowments Board. Moolavar Amman is absent but there exisits a shrine for Utsavar. There are also shrines for Vishnu Durgai, Pancha Shakti Vinayakar & Vishnu worshipping Shiva under Murukkai tree (Sthala Vriksham). There is a nice & clean temple tank with steps all around, where devotees can have "Snanam".
Legend: The Devas approached Lord Vishnu and wanted to know the secret of achieving eternal life. HE asked them to get Mout Meru, churn it in the ocean & drink the resultant nectar that is produced. So Devas brought the Meru and with the help of Asuras churned the Ocean using Vasuki as the rope. This churning produced great disturbance undersea and therefore Vishnu took the shape of a turtle and went under water and pivoted Mt.Meru on his back to facilitate smooth churning. However many undersea creatures were disturbed and Vishnu was advised by Siva to go to Kanchipuram and do penance in the form of a turtle under the Murukkai tree.
Sriperumbudur: We left Kanchipuram around 4.30 pm reached the Bangalore-Chennai highway (15 km from Kanchipuram) drove eastward, crossed the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial (an outstanding architectural feat comprising seven beautiful columns) & took a diversion to the left into Sriperumbudur town and visited the ancient Adikesava Perumal Temple, the Avatara Sthala of Saint Ramanuja, the great philosopher of Vaishnavism. Three important idols of the saint carved out during his lifetime, have been installed in Srirangam, Sriperumbudur, his birthplace, and Melkote.
The idol installed in the Sriperumbudur temple was embraced by him, and he transferred all his spiritual powers to it (it is known as "Thaanuhanda Thirumeni" meaning the idol embraced by him).
Ramanujam spent much of his life in Kancheepuram in the service of Lord Varadharaja Perumal. It is said that Perumal appeared in his dream and asked him to go to Srirangam to promote Vaishnavism from there. Hence, at the age of forty he went to Srirangam, where he first performed the daily temple duty of Thirumanjam Kaikariyam (carrying water for the holy bath of the Lord). However, he was elevated to be the Madathipathi of Srirangam Math. Born in 1017 CE, he lived for 120 years and attained Nirvana at Srirangam, where his body has been preserved in a Samadhi.
We reached Chennai around 8.30 pm. For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/VaikundaPerumalTemple

Kanchipuram Temples - Varadaraja Perumal-Kailasanathar

The Varadaraja Perumal temple, one of the celebrated amongst the 108 Divya Desams, is situated in Vishnu Kanchi. Paasurams were sung by Tirumangai Alwar, Bhootalwar & Peyalwar. You enter through the large gopuram for a tour of this massive and impressive edifice which is also called the Devaraja Swamy Temple. The Hundred-Pillar-hall (Nooru Kal Mandapam) erected during the Vijayanagar period is noted for its exquisite sculptures. This entire masterpiece has been sculpted out of a single rock. The pillars of this hall depict various Avatars of Lord Vishnu. This hall also features chains that were sculpted from the same rock.
We also see the two tall 4 kal mandapams one near the Gopuram as you enter & the other near the Dwaja Sthambam both carrying exquisite sculptures. You walk past the Deepa Sthambam, the Dwaja Sthamabam, then a pillared portico & enter through a smaller gopuram into the inner prakaram. You first visit to the west facing Yoga Narasimhar Sannithi which is a cave temple at the base of Hastigiri Hill. You circumambulate the inner prakaram which has double storied pillared pavilions on three sides.
When you reach the East side you climb 24 steps up a flight of stairs to reach the top of the Hastigiri Hill (also called Attigiri or elephant mountain) and reach the Sanctum. Lord Varadaraja is in standing posture facing west. The figure is huge in size with four hands holding the insignias of Sankha, Chakra, etc., and richly decorated with costly jewels. The Moolavar in this temple is considered only second in size to the Deity of Sri Venkateswara of Tirupathi. The crowd is sparse and we were able to have a long and satisfying darshan. Significant here are the sculptures of two lizards carved on the ceiling of the NE corner of corridor around the Sanctum. One is covered with Gold and the other with Silver kavacham. Besides this are the sculptures of the Sun and the Moon. People who visit the temple stand in line to touch the two lizards, in a gesture that means both getting the blessings of Sri Varadaraja, and also helping liberate the disciples from the curse.
Perumal is also known as Attiyurar since the original image of Varadaraja Perumal was made from Attimaram (Atti wood) The ancient wood image is kept submerged in water in temple tank (Ananta Teertham) and is worshipped once in 40 years. The next viewing of this image is in 1919.
After this we go to the outer prakaram, circumambulate, see the Ramar Mandapam, the sthala vriksham, the huge pillared pavilions & mandapams & finally reach the Perundevi Thayar Sannithi on the western side and pray there. There are also sannithis for Karimanikka Perumal, Anantalwar as well as an Abhisheka Mandapam. Vijayanagara Kings added the towering Eastern Gopuram, the beautiful Kalyana Mandapam, the Oonjal Mandapam etc. The East Gopuram is 9 tiered rising to a height of 180 ft. while the western gopuram is 160 ft high.
Legend: The Legend is that Lord Brahma worshipped Lord Varadharaja Swamy in Kritha Yuga, Gajendra in Tretha Yuga, Brihasti in Dvapara Yuga and Ananta in Kali Yuga. It is believed that Airavata, the elephant of Indra in the form of a hill bears the image of Lord Varadharaja Swamy. Vishnu lay across the river in spate to prevent a deluge from wiping out Brahma's sacrifice.
Kailasanathar Temple: Perhaps the most beautiful temple in the entire city, the Kailasanathar Temple was built by the Pallava ruler Rajasimha Pallava, and was completed by his son, Mahendra Varma Pallava. Rajasimha Pallava ruled Kanchi during the period from 685 A.D. to 705 A.D. This temple is unique in its architecture. It was constructed mostly of limestone. The walls and vimaanam of this temple are filled with great sculptures, and paintings. It is under the maintenance of the Department of Archeology, Government of India. Tourists are allowed to freely photograph the sculpures in and outside the temple, with the exception of the Sanctum and the main Deity.
The sculptures in limestone are really awesome. One can spend days or rather weeks studying the sculptures and the various legends & stories they tell. It is a mammoth task for the ASI to continue to the maintain and preserve the sculptures. Many of the sculptures have partially weathered & disintegrated while many others have started showing signs of disintegration. This is truly on the most amazing architectural & sculptural marvels I have ever witnessed. It is sublime and transports to any world altogether. The temple is surrounded by a vast well manicured law, enclosed by a steel wire fence. There is a large idol of Nandi on a raised platform facing Kailasanathar. Besides the nandi is the temple tank.
The temple attracts large crowds during the auspicious Mahasivaratri festival.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/VaradarajaPerumal
& http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/KailasanatharTemple

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kanchipuram Temples-Ekambareswarar-Ulagalanda Perumal

28 August'08:
Kanchi Ekambareswarar temple is one of the most significant temples to Siva. It is also a Panchabootha sthala & Shiva is revered here as Prithvi Lingam. This is also the first of the 32 Tevara Stahalams of Tondai Region. Sambandar, Appar & Sundarar have sung patikams. There is no separate shrine for Ambal here as Kamakshiamman is the sole Ambal for all Siva temples of Kanchipuram. The Sthala Vriksham is mango tree. The Pallavas, Cholas & later the Vijayanagara Kings contributed considerably to the development of temple in its current form.
As per legend Parvati worshipped Siva as Prithvi Lingam ( lingam made from sand) under a mango tree. As the Vegavati river overflowed and threatened to engulf the Lingam, Parvati or Kamakshi embraced the lingam and Siva deeply touched by this gesture materialized in person and married her.
The temple has high rise Gopurams which dominate the skyline of Kanchipuram, the historical capital of the Pallavas. Second Century AD Tamil poetry speaks of Kamakottam(Kamakshiamman) and Kumarakottam(Subramaniaswamy). The temple covers an area of 40 acres. The Raja Gopuram rises to a height of 172 ft and was built by Krishna Deva Raya. The Pillared Mandapam in front of the sanctum was also built by Vijayanagara Kings.
Thr presiding deity here is Ekambareswarar or Siva worshipped as the Prithvi Lingam. A Somaskanda panel adorns the rear of the main shrine. There is another shrine of Siva & Kamakshi under the sthala vriksham which is a mango tree said to be over 3500 years old. The tree is said to be the embodiment of the four Vedas and is said to bear fruits of four different tastes each season.
The outer prakaram: As you circumambulate you see the long multi pillared entrance mandapam, the large Nandi of Sodai, stone Nandi Mandapam & Dwaja Sthambam, sub shrine of Mayaneeswarar & the big temple Teertham with pillared pavilions & steps all around.
Inner prakaram: As you circumambulate you see a sub shrine of Mahapralaya Bandhini east facing , 136 lingams in the South & West prakarams including Saharsa Lingam in the NW corner. On the North side you have Palli Arai & Natarajar vigraham.
Around the Garbha Graha: The customary idols around the goshtam are conspicious by their absence. Around the Garbha Griha you can see Nalwars on the east, Nalwars again and 63 Nayanmars on the south, Somaskandar, 108 lingams on west. Also Mavadi Mandapam on the west. On the NE corner facing west is the shrine of Nilaathungal Tunda Perumal which is considred amongst the 108 Divya Desams. Nilaattungal (Chandra Choota Perumaal) is the Moolavar in a standing posture facing west, while Ner Oruvarillaa Valli is the name of Taayaar here.
Legend has it that Parvati meditated upon Siva, in front of a Shivalingam fashioned out of earth, under a mango tree. It is believed that the mango tree withered, unable to bear the scorching rays of Shiva's gaze, and that Vishnu the brother of Parvati, caused waves of nectar to rejuvenate the tree. On the North side you can see the shrine of Ambal Utsavar - Elavar Kuzhalai. Ambal Moolavar is absent.
Another legend has it that Vishnu distressed by the heat that emanated during the churning of the milky ocean meditated towards Shiva at Ekambam (Kanchi) and that the coolness of the moon adorning Shiva aleviated his discomfort; hence the name Nilaatingal Tundattaan.
Ulagalanda Perumal: Next we visited the nearby temple of Ulagalanda Perumal which another of the 108 Divya Desams. It also home to three other divya desam shrines namely: Tiruneerakam, Tirukkaarakam and Kaarvaanam. It enshrines Vishnu in a mammoth form of Trivikrama dominating the three worlds, in the process of subduing Mahabali the demon king. The stone image here is about 35 feet high and 24 feet wide.The Moolavar here here is Trivikraman (Ulagalanda Perumaal) facing west while Taayaar is known by the name Amritavalli. The Utsavar here is Perakattaan.
Legend has it that Mahabali upon whom Vishnu placed his foot, during his Trivikrama Avataram, dominating the three worlds - desired to worship Vishnu in the form of Trivikrama (as he had not been able to see this form as Vishnu's foot had been placed on his head). Vishnu is said to have answered his prayers by appearing in front of him as Trivikrama at Kanchipuram (Satyavrata Kshetram). As Mahabali was not able to comprehend the immensity of this manifestation, Vishnu is said to have manifested himself as Aadi Seshan, in a smalll shrine next to the imposing shrine of Ulagalanda Perumaal, at Oorakam. Legend has it that Vishnu gave Anjaneyar a vision of Trivikrama and Vamana here.
The temple: This temple occupies an area of about 60000 sq feet. It has two prakarams and a three tiered rajagopuram. The Nagatheertham tank is located across from the temple. Inscriptions from the Chola period are seen here. Parimelazhakar, who wrote a commentary on Tirukkural was a priest here, and an image of him riding a horse is seen in the temple. There are also shrines to Aandaal, Manavaala Maamuni.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/KanchipuramTemples1

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Kanchipuram Temples-Kamakshiamman

27 & 28 August'2008: We reached Kanchipuram around 7.30 pm. We went to the circuit house where we had requested for accomodation. Unfortunately all rooms were booked because a State Minister was visiting Kanchipuram for an election rally. We checked into a private hotel MM Hotels (nive hotel, good rooms, reasonable rates) & then left for Kamakshi Amman temple for darshan.
Kamakshi Amman Temple: This is an ancient temple associated with Adi Sankaracharya. This is one of the significant Sakti Peedams in India. This is the solitary Ambal shrine in Kanchipuram and none of the Siva temples in Kanchipuram have Ambal shrines. This because Kamakshi is considered omnipresent in Kanchipuram.
Legend has it that Kamakshi worshipped a Shiva Lingam made of sand under a mango tree and thus gained Shivas hand in marriage. The sanctum is crowned with a gold plated Vimanam and Kamakshi is enshrined in a seated posture and is referred to as Parabrahma Swaroopini. A Sri Chakram has been installed in front of the image and worship is offered to it. It is believed that that originally Kamakshi was a Ugra Swaroopini and upon establishing the Sri Chakra by Adi Sankara she became Shanthi Swaroopini. Because of this the festival image of Kamakshi, takes leave of Adi Sankara at the shrine in the inner prakaram, every time she is taken out in procession.
Inner Prakaram: There is a separate sannithi for the south facing Utsavar image of Kamakshi on a raised pavilion in front of the east facing moolavar image. There is another sub shrine for Bangaru Kamakshi on the Southern side - only a framed photo is kept here. The original Bangaru Kamakshi idol is in a temple in Thanjavur. On the western side there are shrines for Kasi Annapoorni, Ayyanar & Adi Sankara.
Garbha Griha: Surrounding the garbha griha are idols of Perumal, Lakshmi & Ardhanareeswa on South side, Aroopa Lakshmi, Varahi & Ganesha on the North side. Here there is also a Nabhi Pillar - signifying that this is one of the 51 Sakthi Peedams where the nabhi has fallen. The Sri Chakra is installed on the East side just in front of Kamakshi Amman.
Outer Prakaram: You see the Nandi Mandapam & the Dwaja Sthambam as you enter through the gopuram on the eastern side. The outer prakaram also houses the temple tank, the 100 kal mandapam, the Dwajaa Rohana Mandapam & the stables for the temple elephants. Imposing views of the Golden Vimanam can be had from the outer prakaram.
Kanchi puram is divided into Siva Kanchi & Vishnu Kanchi. The primary temples in Siva Kanchi are Ekambareswarar, Kamakshiamman, Kumara Kottam & Ulagalanda Perumal Temples. The first three are located in Somaskanda formation. The Kumarakottam or Subramaniaswamy temple does not have much historical or archaelogical importance. It was built in its present form in 1915.
Kanchipuram is also the seat of Kanchi Kamakoti peetham established by Adi Sankara. It is believed that Adi Sankara attained Samadhi at Kanchipuram while others hold the view that Kedarnath in the Himalayas is the site of his Samadhi.
Visited Kamakshiamman again on 28th morning and witnessed milk abhishekam of Kamakshi amman followed by Deeparathanai - a truly electrifying experience !

Tiruvannamalai Girivalam

27 July'2008: After completing our visit to Arunachaleswara, we went for breakfast at Ramakrishna's and then immediately thereafter proceeded by road on the Girivalam route. The holy mountain of Arunachala rises to an elevation of 2669ft (800 m). It is customary for devotees to circumambulate the holy mountain on festival days & full moon days. The route is 14 Kms long and there is a tar road all around. As per legend the sacred hill of Arunachala is far more ancient than the Himalayas which are of later origin. Arunachala is comprised of two words: Aruna (red) & Achala (immovable mountain) meaning Red Mountain. It is also called the Hill of the Holy Fire. The hill is regarded as Tejo Linga (fire symbol of God) or Jyothi Linga.
Legend has it that Tiruvannamalai was a fire (Agni) mountain in Kreta Yuga, gold mountain in Treta Yuga, copper mountain in Dwapara Yuga & is a rock mountain in Kaliyuga.
Our Girivalam by car was done at a leisurely pace and the journey took more than two hours. The weather was cloudy & and there were very few people. The scenery was breathtaking with the uninterrupted view of Arunachala mountains, thick forestry & shrubs, many significant lingas, ashramas and sadhus enroute. It was indeed a very divine trip.
Enroute we stopped over at the Sri Seshadri Swamigal Ashram & the Ramana Maharshi Ashram. There are eight lingas on this route - Indira, Agni, Yama, Niruthi, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera & Esanya Lingas. For each of these lingas there is a shrine and prayers are offered by devotees. We stopped over at four of these lingas.
The visit to the Ramana ashrama was exhilirating, energising & satisfying. As you enter the Ashram, you are greeted by a calm and serene environment. A large open courtyard, bordered by shady trees and beautifully manicured gardens, give this ashram the tranquility that all of us aspire for. You will immediately feel a soothing stillness and harmony inside you. There is a Dhyana Mandapam where devotees meditate in pin drop silence, the Siva temple (Matrubhuteswara) built over Ramana's mother's samadhi, the large prayer/meditation hall, the room where he attained maha samadhi (the saints personal belongings are displayed there), the dormitories, the hospital, library, post office, the dining hall, the book shop, the very large campus and the constant stream of devotees including quite a few foreigners. The ashram is also home to several resident peacocks & monkeys who live fearlessly and have a commanding presence. The swami had an intense love for all living creatures and we find samadhis for a cow, a dog & a deer.
The route to Skanda Ashram & the Virupaksha cave lies behind the ashram - a 5 km trek up the steep rocky slope for which prior permission is required from Forest Department because of the danger from wild animals & the treacherous nature of the rocks.
After Girivalam we returned to the Circuit House to check out. To our dismay we had misplaced/ lost the room key. We were temporarily alloted another suite till such time a duplicate key was found & we could access our baggage. Ultimately our driver Ramesh went & fetched a key maker from town and got a duplicate key made. We lost close to two hours in the process. Finally we checked out and left Tiruvannamalai around 4.30 pm. Our next destinantion was Kanchipuram. Our route: Mangalam-Chetpet-Malaiyur-Vandavasi-Mamandur-Kanchipuram.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/GirivalamAtTiruvannamalai

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara

26 July'08: After Namakkal, our next destination was Tiruvannamalai. We stopped over at Rasipuram for lunch which comprised home made "pulihora & thair satham" accompanied by "chatpata pickles & thair molagai." Then we continued on our journey via Attur, Kallakurichi and Sankarapuram reaching Tiruvannamalai by around 6.30 pm. (In Sankarapuram we treated ourselves to some nice road side "boiler tea" - delicious stuff) We went straight to the Circuit House where we had booked an airconditioned suite. Excellent spacious room with annexe for dressing and attached bathroom.
After depositing our baggage and a quick wash/change of clothes, we straightaway dashed off to the temple to have darsan of Arunachaleswara (Siva) & Unnamolai Amman. (Ambal). This is one of the "Pancha Bootham Sthalams" and the lingam here is Jyotir Lingam representing fire. We purchased a special darsan ticket of Rs.20/- which allowed us to have a long, comfortable & satisfying darsan of the deities. We witnessed Deeparathanai and received Vibhuti, Chandanam & Kumkumam. After this we wandered around the vast temple campus and visited the sub shrines of the other Pancha Bootham Sthalams - Kalatheeswarar, Chidambareswarar, Ekambareswarar & Jambukeswarar. As it was already dark and visibility was limited, we could not appreciate the grandness & architectural beauty of the various temple gopurams, the tirthams, the mandapams, and the various sub shrines.
We then went for dinner at Ramakrishna Hotel. It has nice reasonably priced rooms (A/c room available for Rs.600 + tax) & a good, clean reastaurant serving a range of South Indian dishes.
27 July'2008: Next morning we went early to the temple after quickly gulping some 'boiler tea' enroute. This time I was armed with my camera determined to shoot plenty of memorable pictures. We entered through a large long entrance mandapam ( a contemporary structure) on the East side before reaching the Rajagopuram & walking through it. This is indeed one of the tallest gopurams in existence in India. It is 217 ft high with 11 storeys and its base dimensions measure 135 ft by 98 ft. The other three towers are the Pey Gopuram on the West, Tirumanja Gopuram on the South & the Ammaniamma Gopuram on the North.
Inside the Rajagopuram passage are located the "Gopura Ganapathi" & several niche sculptures. Then you enter the fifth prakaram which is vast and magnificent. You first see the Kambathillayanar sannithi, the large Siva Gangai Tirtham with pillared pavilions (Tirumalpathi Mandapam) all around, Vilakappu Mandapam, Selva Siddhi Vinayakar shrine,the large Nandi Mandapam, a 4 kal mandapam (Rudraksha Mandapam), Teerthavari Mandapam, the Ayiram(1000) kal Mandapam, the underground shrine of Shri Patala Lingam where Ramana Maharshi's body was eaten by ants while he was in deep meditation. As you approach the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram to enter the 4th prakaram, you climb a flight of stairs & to your right side is the shrine of Gopurathillayanar (Murugar) who as per legend, saved the life of Saint Arunagirinathar. Adjoining this shrine is a dimly lit Dhyana Mandapam containing framed pictures of various Tandava poses of Siva & a large framed picture of Annamalaiyar & Unnamolai amman.
Today happens to be the festival of Adi Krittigai and there are hundreds of Muruga devotees in colourful attire carrying yellow Kavadis - men, women, boys & girls. There is a lot of din & noise and devotees are chanting Vel Vel Muruga, Vetri Vel Muruga !
Next we go through the Vallala Gopuram and enter the 4th prakaram. On the left is the shrine of Kala Bhairavar & the Brahma Tirtham with the Teerthavari Mandapam. To the right is the Puravi Mandapam & here we see shops peddling religious books, sthala puranas & framed pictures of gods & goddesses. We also see the temple elephant Rukku within this mandapam blessing devotees and collecting coins for her mahout. To the west of Brahma Teertham are sub shrines of Neeleswarar, Vigneswarar, Vidhyadhareswarar & Brahma lingam. In the North east corner are the Karunai Illam & dormitories for devotees. Next we move towards the Kili Gopuram where we see on either side shrines to Vinayagar & Subramaniar. We go through the Kili Gopuram (if you look carefully you will see a parrot on top of the kalasam) and enter the third prakaram and come across the Katchimantapam. To the North side are Vasanthamandapam (now used as devasthanam office), Yagasalai & the Panchabootha shrines which we visited the previous night. There are east facing sub shrines of Sambanda Vinayagar & Palaniandavar. We enter into the second prakaram & then directly into the inner pillared portico (in which we find tall cone shaped multi tiered brass vilakkus) which leads to the garbha griha of Sri Arunachaleswara. After offerring prayers we circumambulate the second prakaram. On the gostham we see idols of Vinayakar, Dakshinamoorthy, Lingodbhavar, Brahma, Sandikeswarar & Durgai. On the pillared pavilion all around we see: Southern side: 63 Nayanmars, Saptha Mathas, Ayyappan, Durvasar, Gowthaman. West: Kshetra Vinayakar, Somaskandar shrine, various lingams, Venugopal swamy shrine, Gajalakshmi, Subramaniar (Arumugham). North: 63 Nayanmars Utsava Murthies, Palli arai, shrine of Natarajar.
Next we circumambulate the third prakaram. We see the row of Mahila trees, the Tiru Kalyana Mandapam & Bhimeswarar & Vigneswarar shrines. On the South & West of this prakaram you see double storeyed pillared pavilions .Near the west gate connecting the third & fourth prakarams is the shrine of Arunagiri Yogeswarar.
You reach the North side and see the Ambal shrine on the western corner. Unnamulai Amman is east facing. In the front mandapam are situated the Navagrahas, the Dwaja Sthambam, Vinayakar, Chitraputrar, Iddukku Pillayar. Inside is a long pillared portico leading to the Amabal sannithi. The pillars carry exquisite sculptures of gods & goddesses - Rudra Durga, Mahasakthi, Saraswati, Asthalakshmi,Veerabhadrar etc. On goshtam you see Saptha Mathas & on the northern side Sandikeswari.
There were huge milling crowds in front of Subramaniar shrine in the third prakaram - carrying kavadis, in colorful attire, chanting and overall creating a very festive atmosphere. I clicked many nice & memorable pictures.
We then retraced back to the fourth & then into the fifth prakaram. We prayed to Gopurathillayanar & then to Patala Lingam. We finally reached the Rajagopuram as the crowds were gathering strength and hundreds were streaming in carrying kavadis and chanting Vel Vel Vetri Vel. There was a fast paced Theru Koothu performance in progress to the rapid beating of drums in front of the Kambathilayanar shrine. We finally exited the temple and proceeded for the next part of our program - breakfast and then the Girivalam.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Namakkal Namagiri Kshetram

26 July'08(cont'd): After Tiruchengode we headed towards Namakkal, a journey of approximately one hour. We reached Namakkal town and drove straight to the temple of Narasimhamoorthy & Namagiri Lakshmi Thayar. The temple is located at the western side of the Namagiri malai, on the summit of which is the historical Namakkal fort, which offerred a magnificent view from the road. The fort is said to have been built during the Madurai Nayak regime. On the eastern side of this rock is the cave temple of Sri Ranganatha lying on the serpent Karakotaka. On the western side an 18 feet high idol of Sri Anjaneya, with folded hands is found worshipping Sri Narasimhar in the Narasimhamurthy rock Temple. There is no roof or gopuram on top of the idol of Anajaneya ! It is open to sky. We first went to the Narasimhamoorthy temple. Ther is no entrance gopuram. We walk through the tall doorway and reach the entrance mandapam with deepasthambam & a tall dwaja sthambam going through the mandapam roof. We walk through and reach the inner prakaram of Sri Narasimhar shrine. We walk up the steps into the mandapam and find that the shrine is closed. We wait a while and after the shrine doors open we go into the inner portico leading to the garbha griha. The idols in the sanctum are rock cut. We were allowed within a few feet of the deity. It was an awe some & awe inspiring sight. Lord is in Yoga Narasimha pose with Mahalakshmi on his breast. There is a Sanku on the left hand & on the right hand there is a shade of purple ( colored by the blood of Hiranyakashupu). The Utsavar is Bhayam Tirtha Bhiran flanked by Sridevi & Bhudevi. There are sculptures on the rock face behind the Lord - Brahmas two children with Sivan & Suryan on one side and Chandran & Brahma on the other side. Since Brahma, Siva & Vishnu are seen together in the same sanctum this is considered a Trimurthi Sthalam. To the North side inside the shrine are sculptures of Vaikunda Narayana Perumal (south facing) & Narasimhar killing Hiranya Kashipu ( West facing). Like wise on the Southern side are sculptures of Ulagalanda Perumal crushing Mahabali under his feet & Lord in Vamana avatar standing nearby ( North facing) & Lakshmi + Varahar ( West facing). We first receive tirtham & then vibhuti, chandanam,thulasi leaves & are blessed by chadhari. Next we go to the Namagiri Lakshmi thayar shrine which is located on the North side of the prakaram and is east facing. We wait for a long time in the mandapam in front. Abhishekam was in process behind the curtains. Then the doors open and devotees are ushered in to the inner portico. We witness deeparathanai , offer worship & receive kumkumam. It is already past one O'clock. We rush to the Anjaneya sannithi which is across the road to the western side. Anjaneya is facing Lord Narasimha and his eyes are on level with the Lord's lotus feet.

Legend: After returning the Sanjeevi mountain to the Himalayas Hanuman was having a bath in the Gantaki river where he found a precious Saligramam which contained two shrines of Mahavishnu together - Sri Ranganathar & Sri Narasimhar. Hanuman decided to take it home with him for worship. Enroute to Sri Lanka Hanuman stopped near a pond to perform Sandhyavandanam. He searched for a person to whom he could hand over the Saligramam and he found goddess Mahalakshmi who was in deep meditation. She agreed to take receive it on the condition that Hanuman would not take long. Hanuman agreed. But after completing Sandhyavandanam Hanuman started Nama Japam after which he lost consciouness and fell into deep meditation. By the time he returned Mahalakshmi had placed the Saligramam on the ground and it had grown into a big hill. The place came to be known as Namagiri Kshetram & the godess as Namagiri Lakshmi. Temple: The cave temple is a a fine example of early Pallava architecture of the 7th Century AD. For more details of the temple log onto: http://www.srinamagiri.com/narashimhar/appearance/appearence.htm. For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/NarasimharNamagiriThayar

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tiruchengode Ardhanareeswarar Temple

26 July'08: I needed to reach chennai on 28 or 29th. I had options of travelling by air, train or car. Train was the preferred mode of travel but reservations were not available at short notice. So decided to drive down by car and scheduled some significant temples visits enroute. Left Coimbatore around 6.30 am and drove via Avinashi & Erode to reach Tiruchengode @9.00 am. Went straight to the Kodimaadachenkunrur temple which is atop a hill. This temple is considered the 4th among the seven Tevara Sthalams in Kongunadu.
The main deity is an Amalgamation of Siva & Parvati in the form of Ardhanareeswarar who is said be Aroopam and is west facing. While there is Dandayutham in Siva's hand , Parvati has her hands on her hips. Ambal is known as Baagampiriyaalammai. Saint Sambandhar has sung here. There is a water spring at the foot of the image. Entrance to the sanctum is from the south side. On the South goshtam you can see idol of Dakshinamoorthy & vigraham of Gowri. East goshtam carries Lingodbhavar & on North goshtam is Sandikeswarar. At the South entrance there is an east facing idol of Nari ganapathy & besides this a north facing Durgai.
Skanda or Tiruchengotuvelavar shrine occupies an important position in this temple and is east facing. Outside this sannithi are east facing subshrines of Arunagirinathar & Ganesha.
There is a Dwaja Sthambam & a Nandi on the western prakaram facing Ardhanareeswarar shrine. Likewise there is another Dwaja Sthambam & a Peacock on the east side facing Chengottuvelavar.
As you circumambulate the outer prakaram you can see several subshrines: North side - Mallikarjuna & Saharsalingam east facing, near the sthala vriksham (iluppai) are Sangameswarar west facing & Vedanayagi south facing, Adiseshan south facing. On the southern prakaram are Sapthamathas, 63 Nayanmars facing north, Mukkootu Ganapathy east facing, sub shrine for nalwars, and a shrine for Adi Kesava Perumal east facing.
Legend: Adi Kesava Perumal instructed Gowri on the Kesava Gowri Vritam which she performed to unite with Shiva as Ardhanareeswarar. This is one of the 64 manifesations of Shiva.
A battle of strength between Vayu & Adi Seshan took place & the former was clinging tightly to Mt.Meru while Vayu was trying to blow it away. Vayu succeeded in blowing Adiseshan away to Tiruchengodu. The blood spilled by Adiseshan colored the hill as red & hence the name chengode. If you climb the hill by the steps you come across the image of a snake carved on the hill.
The Temple: Unique feature of the temple are the mandapams carrying exquisitely sculpted pillars which includes sculptures of Veerabhadran, Oordva tandavamurthy, Alangattu kali, Korathan & Koravi and a variety of other figures on stone. The sculptures are a supreme & sublime poetry on stone. There are stone inscriptions reportedly pertaining to the times of Parantaka Cholan, Gangaikonda Cholan, Vijyanagara & Mysore Kings & the Nayaks.
The view of Tiruchengodu town from atop the temple is magnificent. As you drive up or down you come close to the rock face and can clearly see the redness on the surface.
There is an elevated walkway on the South Prakaram from where you can clearly see the North Gopuram as well as well as the Vimanam of Ardhanareswarar.
Finally as we descended the steep ghat road we pulled up at a convenient point and had sumptuous breakfast of idlis smeared liberally with oil & molaka podi.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/TiruchengodeArdhanareswarar

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Avinashilingeswarartemple after Kumbabhishekam

Visited Avinashilingeswarar temple, the first amongst the Kongunadu Tevara Sthalams , on 20 July’08 - exactly one week after the Kumbabhishekam. As we entered the parking lot the Deepasthambam & colorful Gopurams greeted us – regal, royal & majestic. The Rajagopuram & the smaller Gopuram opposite Ambal sannithi looked sparkling as also the well scrubbed & polished Deepasthambam & outer walls. The 70 ft Deepasthambam carved from a single stone is a unique feature of all Kongunadu temples. As we enter the temple from East side, we see the 30 pillared mandapam to the right, Selva Vinayakar to the left and Ucchi Pillayar above the tall doorway. There are two beautiful Narthana Pillayars on either side of the doorway.
We enter into a pillared mandapam called the Navaganga Hall carrying sculptures of Oordhva thandava moorthy, Alangattu Kaliammai & Virabhadran and the main Dwaja Sthambam with gold covering. On either side of the entrance to inner sanctum, are raised pavilions carrying legends of Sundarar & the crocodile who swallowed the boy on the left & of Ambal worshipping the lord on the right side.
We enter the inner sanctum of Avinashilingeswarar and pray to the deity & receive vibhooti. As we circumambulate the inner prakaram, we see idols of Nalvars & 63’vars, Santhana Kuravars, Saptha Mathas on the south pavilion, Pillayar, Sahasara lingam, other Siva lingams, Gajalakshmi & Baladandayuthapani on the west pavilion. Around the sanctum goshtam you see Dakshinamoorthy, Lingodhbhavar, Brahma, Durgai & Sandikeswarar.
On the North side is a sub shrine of Kalabhairavar. This is considered to have special significance and devotees offer vada malai on festive occasions. You emerge from the inner sanctum and circumambulate the outer prakaram. To the east is sub shrine of Suryan & the colorful Kalyana Mandapam carrying pictures/paintings of the various legends associated with the temple. To the south of the main sanctum are sanctums of Subramaniaswamy & Ambal Karunambigai – Somaskandar formation. Opposite the Kalyana Mandapam is the newly built Vasantham hall. In front of the Ambal sannithi is a colorful pillared mandapam and a pillared portico carrying exquisite sculptures. We go in pray to Goddess Karunambugai, see deeparathanai & receive kumkumam. On the Ambal sannithi goshtam you see kalvettu or stone inscriptions all around. On the west side you also see three stone slabs carrying more inscriptions. On the west goshtam is a sculpture of a scorpion, which also is of special significance – it is said to have the efficacy to cure a person of snake bite or scorpion sting. There is a Pillayar sannithi on the south west corner. On the north side is a pillared mandapam on a raised platform containing Natarajar vigraham. On the east side are the Navagrahas & Saneeswarar.
The scaffoldings erected for all vimanams & gopurams to facilitate the Kumbabhishekam were still intact.
For full details, history, descriptions, pooja timings etc you can visit the temple website: http://www.avinashilingeswarartemple.org/.
For photogallery visit: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/AvinashiLingeswarar

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chitra Art Gallery & Ashtamudi Kayal

Trivandrum, 15 july'2008:
A visit to the Chitra Art Gallery. It has been my desire to visit this gallery for many years and this was finally fulfilled on this trip. Located within the Trivandrum zoo complex, this art gallery was opened in 1935, by the then Maharaja of Travancore, Shri Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma. He was also also the last ruling Maharajah of the princely state. The ancient building where the art gallery is housed was one of the erstwhile palaces of the Travancore Royal family.
The gallery contains a large collection of exquisite paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, one the greatest painters India has ever produced. He is called a prince among painters and a painter among princes. He achieved recognition for his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Raja Ravi Varma is most remembered for his paintings of beautiful sari clad women, portrayed as very shapely and graceful. He won the first prize in Vienna Art Exhibition in 1873.
To get a glimpse of Ravi Varma's masterpieces log onto: http://www.raja-ravi-varma.keralaz.info/ . Raja Ravi Varmas paintings are also displayed at Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Jaganmohan Palace Mysore & Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum Trust, Laxmi Vilas Palace,Baroda.
The Chitra Gallery also displays a collection of Tibetan thungkas,Chinese, Japanese,Balinese, Tanjore, Bengali,Mughal & Rajput paintings apart from works of C.Raja Raja Varma, Nicolas & Svetoslav Roerich. The collection also includes unique copies of Indian mural paintings from pre-historic times down to the 18th century.
To view some examples of works of Nicolas Roerich log on to : http://chdmuseum.nic.in/art_gallery/nicholas_konstantinovich_roerich.html
The visit to the Chitra Art Gallery was a unique & awe inspiring experience and is a must see for any visitor to Trivandrum. Available for sale at the galary sales outlet are picture postcards & books on paintings of Raja Ravi Varma.
Collectors Item: A book titled 'Raja Ravi Varma (1848 - 1906)" published by the Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Kerala.Price: Rs.500/-.
16 July'08: Enroute from Trivandrum to Ernakulam, took a small diversion to visit the Astamudi Kayal near Kollam and the Veerabhadraswamy Koil on the banks. It was amazing to see a small post office in such a remote location. Truly India has one of the widest postal network systems covering even the remotest corners of the country.
See photo gallery of Gods Own Country ( Swamiyude Swantham Nade !) : http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/ChitraArtAsthamudi

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kamakshiamman kumbhabhishekam & Annapoorni Temples

Coimbatore, 13 july'2008: Visited Kamakshiamman koil situated on T.V.Swamy Road, R.S.Puram Coimbatore. The Kumbhabhishekam ceremoney was to be performed the next day ie.14th. This temple managed by the Kanch Kamakoti Peetham, has been undergoing major renovation/restructuring works over the past 18 months or so, hence Kumbabhishekam was necessary. This is termed as Jeerno-dharana Kumbaabhishekam & is different from the Punar uddharaana kumbabhishekam which is traditionally carried out every twelve years in every Hindu Temple.
The Kumbhabhishekam ceremony consists of the erection of Balaalayam, japas, chants of Vedas, sanctifying Kalasaas (pots of water), Homas and Yagnas. The finale is the pouring of the sanctified water from the kalasas over the stupis (steeple) on the top of the central Vimaana or the sanctum sanctorum, the gopurams and the main and other deities, by the priests.
We witnessed the elaborate Homas & Yagnas that were taking place prior to the finale to follow the next day. The purpose of the homas and yagnas was part of the process to restore the full potency of the infused powers to the idols at the appropriate muhurtham on the auspicious day. There was a large gathering men,women & children. The atmosphere was bright, festive and colorful. The renovated temple shrines were looking magnificent. The gopuram was glittering in its new coat of paint. An elephant "Ganapati" had been brought in from Kerala to add excitement to the proceedings. A separate shrine had been created and a large idol of Adi Sankara had been placed there along with the four original Sankaracharyas. All shrines & sub-shrines had been shifted to the left side and a new Mahaswamigal Mandapam constructed with murals of current and past Sankaracharyas on the backdrop. Probably this mandapam will be used for religious discourses and live dance & music performances on festival days. Shobha & Meenakshi participated in the preparation of the Asthabandhanam, which required pounding of a wooden "Olakkai" into an "Oral" containing the ingredients of the Asthabandanam.( Meenakshi happened to be in Coimbatore for a few days in connection with Siddhu's admission to Amrita Viswa Vidyapeetham)
After this we walked across to the Annapoorneswai temple next door. This is a private temple built and maintained by the Lakshmi Mills family.The Main deities are Annapoorneswari & Lakshmi Narasimhar. A Veda Patashala has been added as an annexe in recent years where young Brahmin boys are initiated into the Vedas and ultimately into priesthood. To our surprise we saw Sri Jayendra Saraswati, the present head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, seated in the Veda Patshala, receiving and blessings devotees. We availed of this golden opportunity and took Swamiji's blessings too. He had come to Coimbatore primarily to participate in the Kumbabhishekam at the Kamakshi Temple on 14th.
The evening's proceedings ended with a visit to a nearby chat shop for mouth watering pani-puris or "golgappas"
For a detailed write up about what "Kumbabhishekam"is all about log onto: http://www.ganeshatemple.org/Articles/Article_2(pdf)/mahaabhishekam%20Article.pdf

& photogallery: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/Kumbabhishekam

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day Trip to Gobi

Sunday 6th July'08:
Shobha & I took off to Gobichettipalayam on a day trip for carrying out some verification work related to Kerala Iyers Trust. The route was via Sathy, the road was excellent, the greenery & scenery abundant & lush with sugarcane & paddy fields. As usual we munched delicious cheese sandwiches as we travelled. We covered the distance of 95 Kms in exactly two hours. A nice archway welcomes you into Gobi town.
Gobichettipalayam is located in Erode District. This is a semi rural area. An old man named Gobi Chetti lived in this place and hence the city gots its name "Gobichettipalayam". The people of Gobi mainly engage in Agriculture and Weaving. The economy of Gobichettipalayam centers on sugarcane,banana, rice,tobacco and turmeric. Gobichettipalayam boasts some famous tourist spots like Kodivery dam and Gunderi Pallam Dam. Because of the scenic beauty and cultural richness, outdoor shooting of the film industry thrives in this area.
We decided to finish our temple visits before commencing the verification work & headed towards Kondathu kaliamman temple situated in Pariyur about 4 kms from Gobi. We enter through a tall gopuram. Immediately facing you is the South wall mounted on which are statues depicting a scene of Meenakshi Kalyanam as well as figure of Dakshinamoorthy , muyalakan & disciples. Inside the temple is the sanctum Kondathu Kaliamman surrounded by statues of "Brammahi, Maheshwari, Gowmari, Vaishnavi, Mahendri and Chamundi. In the outer prakaram are sanctums of Kalyana Vinayakar, Saptha kannigai and a huge statue of Muniappa Swamy, the protector and curer of persons possessed with evil spirits. On the North side of the temple, the Lower Bhavani Canal runs which along with the adjoining lush greenery, is cynosure to the devotees's eyes.
We also went to the Siva Temple(Amarapaneeswarar) situated nearby. The origin of this temple dates back to the 14th Century. It is a "Suyambu Lingam". This temple was built by Thangamani Muthuvelappa Gounder, Gobi. During the process of renovation, the beautiful idols of Lord Natraja, Goddess Umayammai, Lord Muruga were found. There idols were made up of "Panchaloka". The temple is exquisitely built with original white marbles and it is well maintained. There is a sub shrine for Sundareswarar & Meenakshi and another shrine for Bhairavar.
Next we drove to the Pavalamalai Muthu Kumaraswamy Temple. This a small but beautiful Muruga temple atop a small hill. You can walk up a flight of steps or drive the car up on a steep narrow winding road. We drove up in the car. The scene from the top is exquisite.
Our next destination was the Pachamalai Balamurugan Temple. The road up was closed for construction so we had to walk up all the way. The hill is at a higher altitude than Pavalamalai. The view of Gobi countryside from the top is even more beautiful. The main features of this temple are the tall ivory colored gopuram with a black vertical Vel in the front & a tall statue of standing Muruga both of which are visible from a distance. The temple interiors are colorful with beautifully carved pillars and long spacious corridors.
To view photogallery log on to :http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/DayTripToGobi

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mudumalai Safari

Bhavana, Rohit & Mira were in Coimbatore for a week in June'08 for the final phase of their annual vacation to India. I had planned a trip to Mudumalai for a stay in the Forest Lodge and go on a jungle Safari. Accordingly we left Coimbatore on 28th morning via Mettupalayam towards Coonoor & Ooty. Before we started the climb we stopped over at the foothills for breakfast of yummy sandwiches . Mira was joyous at seeing the large crowd of monkeys enroute perched on the trees, sitting on the parapet walls and dashing around the roadside. We briefly stopped to enjoy the breathtaking view of Law Falls adjoining which are the Glendale Estates as well as the Tantea plantations. At Coonoor we took a drive through the restricted Wellington, HQ of the Madras Regimental Centre. The old Boys Bridge had been demolished and a new bridge is under construction.Then we continued on towards Ooty past Aravangadu Cordite Factory, Ketty & Valley View & finally reached Ooty. We stopped briefly at Preeti Classic Hotel for rest and coffee and to stretch our limbs. Mira had youghurt & milk and gleefully pranced around the spacious restaurant.
Next we went to the office of the Wild Life Warden Ooty to reconfirm our accomodation at Masinagudi. We met an officer Mr.Venkatesan who immediately rang up and spoke the Reception Office at Theppakadu informing them about our arrival and to extend full assisteance to us.
We had lunch at Dhaba Express or more popularly known as Sachin's Dhaba ( no relation to Tendulkar !) The setting was elegant and simple, ambience was good, it had a clean kitchen and the food was delicious. The menu for the day - Egg Bhurji, Dal Makhani, Dal Tadka Fry, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Tangdi Kabab, Palak Paneer, Tandoori Rotis & stuffed Kulchas.
The quantities very very generous. After lunch we left straightaway towards Mudumalai. We decided to take the Kalhatty ghat route comprising 36 steep hair pin bends. The car was driven mostly in 2nd gear in view of the steep incline. Ramesh, our driver negotiated the gradient well. The view was breathtaking and enroute we crossed a Holiday Camp, the Mystique Manor Guest House, Kalhatty Falls, Bison point before we reached the base of the ghat. We reached Masinagudi in about an hour and a half from Ooty. We checked into the Forest Lodge which had three sparsely furnished rooms and as we had booked all the rooms we had the entire cottage to ourselves. The Khansama was called Ismail. We unloaded our baggage, relaxed a bit, had tea and then left for Theppakadu which was reached after an eight kilometre drive through the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Enroute we spotted peacocks, wild hog & deer. We crossed a bridge over the Moyar River to reach Theppakadu. We spent some time at the Sylvan Lodge which is located on the banks of the Moyar River. We sighted a large herd of deer which ran past the lodge into the forest. At the Range Reception Office we met one Mr.Moorthy who informed us that the elephant ride had been cancelled that day due to rain. He then guided us to the elephant camp.
At 5.30 pm we went to the elephant camp in Theppakadu to watch the elephant feeding. Here there are about 20 elephants of which 15 elephants are used for elephant rides for tourists and the balance elephants are used by the department for forest clearance and other miscellaneous works.
There were around 50 tourist who had gathered to witness the elephant feeding. There is a separate enclosed bay provided for mixing the food. The various items of food for each elephant are measured and placed separately on a table with a placard bearing the elephant's name placed besides for identification. The menu comprises various proportions of ragi, horse gram, jaggery, a full coconut, rice,salt, sugar cane. The elephant keepers enter the bay and after thoroughly mixing the various ingredients into a large ball take the same to the respective elephants for feeding.
We also saw a baby elephant calf which forest officials had recently found abandoned in the forest. The entire elephant feeding operation, which lasted close to an hour,was thrilling to watch and very educative.
We then returned to base at Masinagudi. The Khansama Ismail had prepared chapatis and vegetable curry. Then we watched a bit of TV before retiring for the night- breaking news was that the PDP had withdrawn from the coalition in J & K. Fortunately we had carried liquid mosquito repellants which saved us from the menace of the deadly mosquitoes. Next morning we left early for Theppakadu for the forest Safari Tour by camouflaged van which took us on a guided tour deep into the tiger reserve.The tour lasted 45 minutes but we could not spot any animals barring Deer & Nilgiri langurs. After our return we went on an elephant ride atop "Ganesh" into the jungle. This was really very exciting and adventurous and lasted close to an hour. But alas all we could see were peacocks and the flying squirrel. The charge per person for the van tour was Rs.35/- and the elphant ride Rs.400/- for 4 persons.
On return to camp at Theppakadu Reception Centre we found a large family of Nilgiri Langurs sitting atop the reception center and congregating on a nearby trees. This was indeed a very rare sight I had the opportunity of shooting some good pictures at close quarters.
The reception centre has a small canteen serving snacks & beverages, which is run by the Tribal Welfare Association. The profit generated is utilised for development and upliftment of the local tribals.
We returned to Masinagudi for breakfast. Enroute we saw another family of langurs feeding by the road side. Ismail served us all idlis, dosa,pongal and generous quantities of chutney & sambhar. We then packed up and departed. We reached Ooty by around 12.00 noon and drove straight to Ooty Lake for boating. But as luck would have it we were compelled to drop the idea due to persistent drizzle. We went next to Charing Cross Road where we stopped over to buy Ooty's famous home made chocolates at King Star. We lunched at at vegetarian restaurant. Rohit had a Gujaratai Thali while Bhavana, Guhan & I had Aloo & Methi parathas.
After lunch we headed straight back to Coimbatore. We returned to the Den around 4.30 evening. For picture gallery log on to:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Weekend in Bangalore

Was in Bangalore on 20-21 June'08. Main purpose of the visit was to attend a wedding. But there was plenty of spare time & decided to drive to Devanahalli around 35 Kms from Bangalore city. Enroute, around mid-way to Devanahalli,we stopped over at a road side dhaba 'Ambience" for lunch. Excellent stuff - we had tandoori rotis, paneer butter masala, yellow dal & channa (we had carried fruit juice cartons and plenty of Kingfisher cans with us to prevent dehydration). A real treat, good ambience & modest rates. Weather was great - typical cool & pleasant Banguluru climate with light drizzle. We continued our journey towards Devanahalli - excellent multi lane road, comparable with the best highways in the world, which allowed us to cruise at a steady 100 Kmph. Significant landmarks that we crossed included the Larsen & Toubro factory, Air Force Station Yelahanka, Delhi Public School & ITC factory. We continued past the flyover leading to the newly opened Devanahalli Airport & travelled another seven Kms to reach Devanahalli Fort.
We first stopped at the small monument, a four pillared arched structure, erected on a square platform, at the spot where Tipu Sultan was born. Another 150 M ahead lay the Devanahalli Fort. Devanahalli is a prehistoric fort town from the past. It has under the rule of Rastra Kutas, Nolambas, Cholas, Hoysalas & the Vijayanagara rulers. During the Vijayanagara rule one Malla Baire Gowda, a feudatory, constructed the fort in 1501 AD with the consent of Devaraya of Devanadoddi - the erstwhile name of Devanahalli. Subsequently in 1747 AD the fort passed on to the hands of the Wodeyars of Mysore. Later it was captured by Hyder Ali & Tipu Sultan. It was the favorite hunting place of Tipu Sultan.The roughly oval east oriented fortification veneered with dressed masonry has as many as twelve semi circular bastions at regular intervals. The bastions are provided with gun points built in brick and lime.
This fort has been identified as a monument of National importance but from the looks of it little is being done to protect this monument of such a historical significance. Free movement of people and vehicles is allowed into the fort and there is no security of any sort. There are some nice Hindu Temples inside the fort. One of these which we visited is the Venugopla temple said to be over 500 years old but appears to have been recently renovated. The striking features of the temple are the magnificent dwaja sthambham and the nicely carved pillared entrance portico. The temple is very charming and the deity inspiring.
To view photo gallery log onto:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sri Lanka Visit

I was on a three day visit to Sri Lanka for a Bosch Business meeting. On 13 May'2008 I emplaned from the lovely Nedumbasseri International Airport near Angamali. This is probably one of the best airports in India at present. The building architecture is traditional Kerala style & there is so much space all around the Airport, that there is no question of a traffic congestion ever occurring.
We had reached Angamali the previous night, visited Kalady, the birth place of Adi Sankara, and after worshipping there we spent the night at Hotel Abad Airport.
The carrier was Sri Lankan and the flight duration from Nedumbasseri to Bandaranaike Airport was approximately 55 minutes. The plane touched down around 10.30 IST. There is no time difference between IST & Sri Lankan time. The airport is in Katunayake around 25 Kms north of Colombo. It is a spanking new airport built to international standards & comparable to the best airports in the world like Singapore & Bangkok. We were received by a coach & driven straight to Colombo ( one hours drive) for lunch at the Taj Samudra. Colombo city appeared to be old, dusty, underdeveloped & war torn - in fact it presented the sight of an ancient city right out of the distant past. Sri Lanka is about 70 percent Buddhist with large concentrations of Christians, Hindus and Muslims as well. The destructive path of the tsunami in Sri Lanka killed over 30,000 people and left hotels, homes, and buildings in complete shambles. No Buddha statues were reported as being broken, cracked or destroyed during the onslaught of the massive tidal wave.
Post lunch we resumed the coach journey southward on the Colombo-Galle highway along the coast line & after nearly 2 1/2 hours drive reached Bentota & checked into the lovely & scenic Taj Bentota hotel. Enroute we crossed the towns of Dehiwala, Moratuwa, Panatura, Kalutara & Aluthgama. The coast line was splendid, has retained its natural beauty and generally unencumbered by needless construction.
Taj Bentota is an exotic hotel right on the South Western Coast of Sri Lanka. Rooms are neat & well furnished with a sea facing balcony. On 13th evening there was a gala cocktails & dinner accompanied by entertainment by Sri Lankan folk dancers. On 14 th morning we went on a coach tour to a turtle conservation hatchery followed by a visit to Kandi Vihara which has a large Buddhist Temple & a smaller Vishnu shrine adjacent. The Buddha statue here, that was built around two hundred years ago, is the highest in Sri Lanka.
We had a business session in the afternoon lasting around 4 hours and that was followed by more entertainment - fire dance, fire works on the beach, turkish belly dances amidst constant flow of alcohol & snacks.
Next day (15 March'08) we checked out early after a quick breakfast. Reached Colombo for a spot of shopping followed by lunch in a vegetarian restaurant run by Sri Lankan Tamils & finally reached Bandarnaike Airport to catch the late evening flight back to Nedumbassery.
The trip was indeed memorable with several nice moments.
Mahinda son of Asoka an ardent follower of Buddhism, led the mission to Sri Lanka in 246 BC where he converted the King of Sri Lanka to Buddhism. From then on, the royal families patronized and encouraged the spread of Buddhism, aiding Buddhist missionaries and building monasteries & Viharas. Sanghamitra, daughter of Ashoka, brought a shoot of the Bodhi Tree from Bodh Gaya to Sri Lanka and established the Order of Nuns. Around 200 BC, Buddhism became the official religion of Sri Lanka. The Relic of the tooth of Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka in 4th century AD by Prince Danta and Princess Hemamla.
For Photo Gallery Log on to : http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/Bentota02

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Vilamar-Tiru Alangudi

9 March'2008 - This was the final leg of our trip. The previous four days were exciting but exhausting. we decided to keep the last day easy & our primary objective was to return to Coimbatore. Enroute we visited teo Tevara Sthalams described under. As we crossed Thanjavur the Big Temple again came to focus. We stopped over on the flyover adajacent to the temple & took some great shots. We went into the temple for some more shots. The results were magnificent. See picture gallery at: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/BigTemple02
Tiru Vilamar: This Shivastalam is a small temple 3 km to the south west of the grand Tiruvarur temple. Vilamar is regarded as the 90th in the series of Tevara Stalams in the Chola region south of the river Kaveri. The presiding deity is Shiva or Patanjali Manoharar and the Ambal is Yaazhinum men mozhiammai, Madhura Bhashini. Theertham is Agni Theertham hymns have been sung by Sambandar.
The Agni Theertham tank is in front of the temple. Patanjali and Vyagrapadar, for whom Shiva provided a vision of the cosmic dance at Chidambaram are said to have worshipped here. The east facing temple has a south facing Ambal shrine and a south facing shrine for Bhairavar. There are also shrines to Saneeswaran, Surya, Chandra, Ganesha and Gajalakshmi. The mandapam in front of the main shrine enshrines images of Patanjali and Vyagrapadar.
Tiru Alangudi: Also known as Tiruvirumpoolai Aabatsakayar. This is regarded as a 'Gurustalam' where Dakshinamurthy is held in great reverence, attracting huge crowds when Jupiter transits between zodiac signs. The festival image here is that of Dakshinamurthy & this stalam is considered to be one of the 9 Navagrahastalams of the Chola region. This shrine is regarded as the 98th in the series of Tevara Stalams in the Chola Region south of the river Kaveri. The presiding deity is Shiva or Aabatsakaayar & Ambal: Elavaar kuzhaliammai, Elaalakaambaal. Theertham: Amrita Pushkarini & Patikam : Sambandar
Legends: Dakshinamurthy is said to have preached to the Devas who had swooned under the impact of the poison that came out of the churning of the milky ocean. Parvati is said to have been reborn on the banks of Amrita Pushkarini and later on reunited with Shiva. Viswamitrar is believed to have worshipped Shiva here.
The Temple: There are as many as 15 theerthams in this temple which occupies an area of about 1.25 acres, surrounded by lofty walls. One of the theerthams is a well located inside the temple and it is referred to as the Jnana koopam. East of the temple is the Poolaivala river, whose waters are used in abhishekam ceremonies in the Tamil month of Aippasi.
There are shrines to Surya, Gurumoksheswarar, Somanathar, Saptarishi nathar,Someswarar, Vishnunathar and Bhrameesar, Kaasi Viswanathar and Visalakshi.
See photo gallery at: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/Tirumarugal

Tirukannapuram Divya Desam

8 March'2008:
Thirukannapuram, near Thirupugalur, which lies between Nagapatinam, Nannilam and Kumbakonam, is one of the 108 Divya Desams The moolavar is Neelamegha Perumal and the utsavar is Savuriraja Perumal.The idol appears in an unusual posture here in this temple. Instead of blessing the devotees, he appears to be in a receiving posture, meaning that he is accepting the sorrows and difficulties of the devotees.
The utsavar is known as Savuriraja Perumal as he appears with ‘savuri’ (hair) on his head. Legend: It was the practice of the The temple priest to present a garland that had adorned the deity, to the Chola king who visited the temple. But the priest had actually given away the garland to a temple dancer.When the king arrived, the priest sent for the garland he had given to the dancer. The king received the garland but noticed a strand of hair in it and became furious. To escape from his wrath, the priest told the king that the Lord had a tuft of hair and that strand of hair was from the tuft. To save the priest, the Lord too appeared with a black ‘savuri’ in front of the king. From that day on, He has been known as ‘Savuriraja Perumal’.
Apart from this, one can see a scar on the utsavar’s right brow. Thirukannapurathu Araiyar was in anguish when the temple walls were demolished by foreigners. In a fit of sorrow, he threw the plate and it struck the idol on the brow and left a scar on the deity.
Thirukannapuram is famous for ‘muniyodharan pongal’. There is a story behind this too. Collecting the tributes and handing it over to the Chola king was the job of Muniyodharar. Once, instead of giving the money to the king, Muniyodharar spent it on some temple work.
This made the king angry and Muniyodharar was imprisoned. The temple dancer was grief stricken and she approached the Lord. The Lord appeared in the king’s dream and ordered him to release Muniyodharar. The king did so. Later, Muniyodhara offered pongal to God and then ate the delicacy.The next day, the temple priests were surprised to see pongal rolling down with ghee on the body of the Lord. From that day, it has become a tradition to offer ‘pongal’ to the lord every night at 9.00 pm.
There is no ‘Swarga Vasal’ for this temple as they say that one can reach ‘Vaikunta’ if they just step on this soil. It is believed that there is a ‘pulling power’ in the sanctum santorum of this temple and even to this day, one can feel and experience this effect.
The devotees offer 'savuri' to the lord when their wishes are fulfilled.
Thaayaar - Kannapuranayagi (Sridevi, Boodevi, Aandaal, Padmini). Theertham - Nithyapushkarini.
Mangalasasanam: Andal, Kulasekarazhwar, Thirumangaiazhwar, Nammazhwar.
We stayed on in the Temple till the 'muniyodara pongal sevai' was complete & we got to eat the divine pongal.
It had been a long day but well spent and many temples visited. We had visited and prayed at an amazing 17 shrines that day and Thirukannapuram was a fitting finale. As per original plan we were to spend the night at Tirukannapuram Temple guest house. But as the rooms were substandard we decided to drive back to Tiruvarur. Fortunately rooms were available at the Circuit House & we checked in tired but with great satisfaction.


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