May 23, 2013

Tiruvirkolam aka Cooum

Site Name: Tripurantaka Temple
Site Type: Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva
Location:  Tiruvirkolam, near  Kadambattur on the Chennai Arakkonam suburban railroad, near Chennai city, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: One of 274 Paadal Petra Sthalams (the most important temples of Lord Shiva)
Nearest Railway Station: Chennai
Nearest Airport: Chennai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Chennai; public transport is difficult
Hotel: Go to Chennai where there are lot of options 
Restaurants: Go to Chennai where there are lot of options

People of Tamil Nadu state in South India know Cooum river more as a dirty river. However, it used to be the major livelihood for Chennai city in the olden days (when it was hardly a city). Even today, the river is in good condition in its origin. The village, where the river originates is also called as Cooum. It is traditional to find temples on the banks of the river. On the banks of the river Cooum also, there are two ancient temples dedicated to Lord Shiva are located. One of those two temples is called as Tripurantaka temple located in Tiruvirkolam. This small village is located near Kadambattur junction and can be reached from Chennai. It is considered as the 14th among the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams (274 most important temples of Lord Shiva) located in Tondai country. 

  • Sambandhar has revered the temple in his verses in Devaram.
  • The deity cannot be touched even by the priest - called as 'Theendaa Tirumeni'.
  • The color of Shiva Linga changes on its own as per the seasons.
  • The Rakshasas stand at the entrance as the Dwarapalas.
  • As it is believed that the frog might disturb the penance of Lord Shiva, no frog is found in any nearby tanks or Cooum river.
  • God Tripurantaka aka Tiruvirkolanathar 
  • Goddess Tripurantaki aka Tirupura Sundari
  • Teerth (Holy water) - Virkola Teerth (Agni Teerth)
  • Sthala Vruksha (Holy tree) - No particular tree; the entire site is considered as Naimisaranya forest


    There was a great Asura king (demon) named Tarakasura. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva. He had got the boon from Shiva that he could be killed only by the son of Shiva. (He was later killed by Subramanya, the son of Lord Shiva.)

    Tarakasura had three sons - Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha and Vidhyunmaali. They did severe penance towards Lord Brahma and got two boons. As per the first boon, no one in Brahma's creation could be stronger than them. As per the second boon, they got three flying forts made up of gold, silver and iron which would be separate from each other and come together only rarely; a single arrow, which would bring all the forts together and burn could only destroy the Asuras. Maya, the Danava architect, constructed the golden fort in the heaven for Tarakaksha, the silver fort on the skies for Kamalaksha and iron fort on the earth for Vidhyunmaali. 

    The three Asuras happily lived in their flying forts without troubling anyone. However, the Devas were partly jealous and partly afraid of them. They sought the help of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu created a man and ordered him and his four disciples to preach a new religion which is anti Vedic (Jainism). They were successful in converting the Asuras into their religion. They stopped worshiping Shiva and following other Vedic rituals. They even started waging war against the Devas.

    The Devas got a reason now to appeal Lord Shiva to kill the Asuras. Shiva agreed to wage war against the Tripuras. He made the earth as his chariot with the Sun and the Moon as the wheels of the chariot. He got the Meru mountain as his bow and Vasuki, the serpent king, as the bow string. Vishnu became the arrow and Agni became the tip of the arrow. Brahma drove the chariots and the four Vedas became the horses. 

    As the Devas missed to worship Lord Ganesha, he broke the axle of the chariot's wheel. Realizing this, Lord Shiva requested Ganesha to set it right. Tiruvirkolam is the site where this incident happened. There is an idol of Lord Ganesha in this temple, who is believed to have broken the axle in this site. As Lord Shiva took the bow and arrow in his arms, he is called as Tiruvirkolanathar in this site (Vil=bow; Kolam=posture; Tiruvirkolanathar means the Lord holding the bow). He rose as a Swayambhu Linga in this place; as the axle (Kooram) of the chariot fell in this site, it got the name 'Kooram'. It later became 'Cooum'. The village is called as 'Cooum' and the river that originates near this place is also called as 'Cooum'. (Technically, the river does not originate in this village but in a nearby site; as per the mythology, this site is considered as the origin of the river).

    Shiva finally put the arrow to his bow and in a split second all the three forts were merged into one and set aflame. As he destroyed the Tripura Asuras, he is named as 'Tripurantaka' (the destroyer of Triupras) in this temple.

    Temple Layout:

    The 7th century brick temple was rebuilt as the stone temple by Nagarathars in the 11th century CE. The huge temple with the river Cooum alongside has the south facing five tiered Raja gopura. The idols of Ganesha and Kartikeya are found at the tower entrance.

    Although the main entrance faces the south direction, the sanctum is facing the east direction; a long flag post, bali peetha and Nandi idol are located facing the sanctum. The entrance to the sanctum is not at the front side but on the right side facing the southern direction. 

    The sanctum sanctorum enshrines the big Shiva Linga idol made of sand called as 'Tirupurantaka' aka 'Tiruvirkolanathar'. It is 'Theenda tirumeni' meaning no one including the priest is allowed to touch it. It is believed that it changes its color on its own as per the season; during rainy season, it is in white color and it changes to red color during the dry season or war times. 

    At the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum, there is an idol of Lord Ganesha. The two out of three Tripura Asuras took the form of Dwarapalas; their appearance also slightly differs from that of typical postures of dwarapalas. 

    The wall around the sanctum sanctorum has the niche (Koshta) idols of Ganesha, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava, Brahma and Durga. All these images are very attractive. Chandikeshwara is found in his usual location.

    The vimana of the sanctum sanctorum is in the form of Gaja prshtha architectural style. 

    Ganesha, who broke the axle of the chariot as per the legend seen above, is found with two arms in a separate sub-shrine in the inner prakara. He is named as 'Achcharutta Vinayakar' - achcharutta means "the one who broke the axle".

    The sub-shrines of Brahadeeswarar, Shanmukhanathar-Valli-Devasena, Bala Murugan and Meenakshi-Chokkanatha are also located in the inner prakara. The sub-shrine of Shanmukha is not found in his usual location. Instead, it is unusually found behind the niche image of Lingodbhava.

    In the maha mandap, there is a sub-shrine which has the big Chola period bronze idols of Nataraja and Sivakami. Kali was once defeated by Nataraja (Shiva) in dance competition. In this site, Nataraja danced with pleasure to please Kali; hence, the dance form in this shrine is called as 'Rakshi Natam'. (There is a separate small temple for Kali in this village.)

    Bhairav is found unusually without his vaahan dog in a sub shrine in the inner prakara. It is said that when Shiva was getting ready to wage war against the Asuras, he went to invite all the Devas; during that time, his dog lost its path. Hence, he is found without vaahan in this temple.

    The Ardha Mandap in the main shrine of Shiva has few idols such as Surya, Nalvar, etc. and very beautiful utsava (bronze) idols of Chola period.

    It is unusual to find the shrine of Goddess adjacent to the Lord's shrine. In this temple, the Goddess Tripurasundari is found in a separate sub-shrine on the right side of the main shrine. It also faces the east direction. Goddess is very tall with four arms. The shrine has a front side mandap and also there is a separate flag post and Simha (lion) idol facing the shrine.

    The outer prakara is very huge; however, there is no shrine or idol found here except that of Navagraha.

    When Shiva lost the axle of his chariot, Lord Vishnu helped him. He is found in the name of Kariya Manicka Perumal with his consorts - Sree Devi and Bhoo Devi, in a separate small temple. This temple is very small and found outside the main temple. It also appears to be an ancient temple. Apart from the main deity, Hanuman idol is also found in this small temple. Another interesting feature of the temple is Buddhist Dharmachakra (possibly) is found near the entrance of the temple. It is said that a big idol of Buddha was unearthed in this site few years ago. (Well, the villagers mistook this for Sudarshan or Chakrathalwar and worship accordingly.)

    There is a small temple at around half a km from the main temple which is dedicated to the village deity Tharkathamman. It is believed that Tharkathamman is the guardian spirit (Kaaval Deivam in Tamil). From the style of the Vimana, it appears that this temple is also very old. Tharkathamman is not found in the temple nowadays. Instead the idols of Sapta Matas are found. 

    Happy travelling.

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