April 3, 2011

Tiruvalluvar Temple - Chennai

The historians and scholars keep debating among themselves about the religion of Tiruvalluvar, the divine poet of Tamil land. But, this small temple in Mylapore area in Chennai has declared in its own style that he was a Saivite. Let me walk you through an unusual temple for a poet.

For those who are not from Tamil Nadu...Tiruvalluvar was a celebrated Tamil poet. His Tirukural, a collection of 1330 couplets (Kurals), is considered as one of the best works in Tamil literature.

What was Tiruvalluvar's actual name? When was he born? Where was he born? Which religion did he follow? Who were his parents? There are so many questions which remain unanswered. Each historian or scholar would claim different theory about this divine poet. At least, most of them now believe that he was born 2000 years ago. Some believe that he was born in Madurai and others believe that he was born in Mylapore. There are many groups which claim or argue that he belonged to their own caste or religion. The fact is that no one knows the truth as there is no solid historical evidence.

Similar to the life of Tiruvalluvar, nothing much is known about the origin of his temple. Someone, who strongly believed that he was born in Mylapore, would have built this temple? Who built and when was this temple built? Was this a village temple which got developed into a Shiva and Valluvar temple? Else the originally Shiva temple got extended with the shrine of Valluvar? No one seems to have any idea.

As a book on Mylapore temples published in 1929 refers this temple as Tiruvalluvar temple, we could safely assume that this temple is older than 1929 CE.

This temple is located in a lesser known lane named after the poet. The nearest well known landmark is Mundakakanni Amman Koil street. The temple is not in good shape. The not-so-aesthetically looking arch and relief images on the arch, the dull colors of the stucco idols, rare visits by the priest, the library which does not get opened at all, the temple complex which is mis-used as a parking lot and so on...

The east facing sanctum enshrines Tiruvalluvar. The stone idol appears to be old. It's interesting to find the stucco idols of Valluvar on his own vimana.

The bronze idols of Valluvar and his wife Vasuki are also located in the sanctum. As part of the grand Mylapore annual festival (of the famous Kapaleeswarar temple), on the 8th day of the festival, the bronze idol of Valluvar is also taken into procession along with 63 Nayanmars.

Vasuki is found in a separate east facing shrine, which is found on the right left side of the sanctum.

A holy tree with a lot of snake stones and a stucco image of Mari Amman is found.

There is a separate shrine for Ekambareswarar Shiv Linga. The sub-shrine of Kamakshi is located near this shrine. The koshta images of Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava, Brahma and Durga are found on the wall of the shrine. The niche images of Ganesh and Subramanya-Valli-Devasena are found at the entrance. The stucco image depicting Valluvar worshiping Shiva and Parvati on the lintel is interesting. Valluvar is treated on par with the other Saivite saints.

The small sub-shrines of Hanuman, Ganesh, Chandikeshwara, Bhairav, Shaneeswara and Navagraha are also found in this temple.

A chamber with a large pedestal with cement images of Valluvar and his parents Adi-Bhagavan are located in this temple. A cylinder with an inscription (dated 1935 CE) that reads that it was the base of the Ilupai tree where the poet was born, is found on the pedestal.

Happy travelling.

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