July 2, 2016

Sri Vaikuntham

Site Name: Vaikunthanathar Temple 
Site Type: Hindu ancient temple
Location:  Sri Vaikuntham , in Tirunelveli-Tiruchendur route, 35 kms from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: One of Nava Tirupati temples and a Divya Desam
Nearest Railway Station: Tirunelveli
Nearest Airport: Madurai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Tirunelveli, Tiruchendur and Tuticorin
Hotel: Few options in Sri Vaikuntham; for better options, go to Tirunelveli, Tiruchendur or Tuticorin - all of them are located within the range of 30-35 kms
Restaurants: Few options in Sri Vaikuntham; for better options, go to Tirunelveli, Tiruchendur or Tuticorin - all of them are located within the range of 30-35 kms

Sri Vaikuntham is a beautiful village located near Tirunelveli city in Tamil Nadu state of India. The village has a prominent temple for Vishnu called as Vaikunthanathar TempleIt is considered as the 91st Divya Desam located in the Pandya region. There are nine Vishnu temples on the banks of the river Tamrabharani, which are popularly called as Nava Tirupatis. This site is the First 'Nava Tirupati' temple (one among nine important Vishnu temples in Tirunelveli-Tiruchendur route).  Let us explore about this temple in this article.


Highlights:

  • Nammalwar has sung Pasurams about this site in his verses.
  • It is considered as the 91st Divya Desam temple. It is located in Pandya region.
  • It is considered as the First Nava Tirupati temple.
  • God Vaikunthanathar
  • Goddess Vaikuntha Valli and Chora Valli 
  • Utsav - Kalla Piraan or Chora Nathan
  • Teerth (holy water) - Bhrigu Teerth
  • Vimana Chandra Vimana

Legend:

An Asura Somuka by name, forcefully took the secrets of creation from Brahma. Brahma performed penance towards Lord Vishnu on the banks of the river Tamrabharani. Vishnu appeared in this site and gave back the secrets of creation to Brahma. As Vishnu came down from Vaikuntha to this place, this site is called as Sri Vaikuntham. It is believed that even today Brahma leads the festival of Vishnu conducted in the Tamil calendar month of Chitrai every year.

There is another popular legend associated with this temple. A robber, Kaladooshan by name, used to pray to Lord Vishnu of this temple before venturing out for his tasks daily. At the end of the day, he would share his earning with the deity. The robber also used his wealth to help the poor of that region. One day, his men were arrested by the soldiers. Instead of Kaladooshan, Vishnu disguised himself as the robber and met the King. He made the King to realize that the thief was using his wealth to help the poor. Thus, he saved the thief from the punishment as well as opened the eyes of the King so that he would take care of his poor people properly. As Vishnu appeared as thief, he is also called as "Kalla Piran" (meaning thief) in this temple. 

There is one more legend which states that over the period the idol of Vishnu got submerged under the earth. A cow from a herd of the King who ruled this region pour its milk as abhishek on the place where the idol was buried. The King dug up the place and discovered the idol. He reinstated the idol and expanded the temple. The deity additionally got another name, Pal Pandian. (In Tamil language, the word Pal means milk).

History:

The temple has stone inscriptions. From the inscriptions, we understand that a King named Konerimaikondan gifted land to this temple. Another ruler who won the Cheras had given grants to the temple.

The Pandya Kings Jatavarman Kulasekaran I (12th century CE), Sundara Pandya (13th century CE) and Veera Pandya IV (14th century CE) also made offerings to this temple. Vaikuntha Valli shrine was built during the period of Sundara Pandya.

The temple is originally a Pandya period temple with major additions done by the later rulers such as Vijayanagara and Nayaks.

The British used this temple as their fort for fighting with Veera Pandia Kattabomman in 1801 CE. 

The famous Tiruvengadamudaiyan Hall with the beautiful life sized sculptures were commissioned by the Madurai Nayakas in the 16th century CE. 

Temple Layout:

Gopura

The east facing temple gopura is one of the most beautiful towers of Tamil Nadu. The gigantic 110 feet tall gopura has 9 tiers.

There is another tower in the interior region, which also faces the east direction.

The temple occupies a vast area of around 5 acres.

Sanctum

The east facing sanctum enshrines small stone idol of Sri Vaikuntha Nathar. He is found in the standing posture with Adi Sesha spreading its hood over him. No other Divya Desam temple has Adi Sesha behind the standing Vishnu. Hence, this becomes a unique depiction of the presiding deity.

The utsav idols of Kalla Piran along with his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi are also located in the sanctum.

One unique feature of the temple is that the Sun's rays falls directly on the presiding deity on two days, on the 6th day of Chitrai month of Tamil calendar and Aipasi month of Tamil calendar.

Goddesses

Generally, the Vishnu temples of Dravidian style would have the shrine of Lakshmi  to the right side of the sanctum in the prakara. Lakshmi would have unique name in every temple. 

The other side of the prakara would have the shrine of Andal. Andal would not have any unique name and she would be called as Andal in all the temples.

However, in Sri Vaikuntham temple as well as in the other Nava Tirupati temples, both the consorts of Vishnu have shrines separately and have unique names. They are not being called as Lakshmi or Bhoo Devi. Also, there is no Andal shrine.

In this temple, the Goddesses are called as Vaikuntha Valli or Vaikuntha Nayaki (Lakshmi) and Chora Valli or Chora Nayaki (Bhoo Devi). Both the shrines are found in the prakara.

Mandaps, Pillars and Sculptures

There are numerous mandaps in this temple. All those mandaps have pillars with beautiful sculptures.

Before the gopura, there is a long mandap. After entering into the temple after crossing the tower, the flag staff, bali peetha and Garud are found facing towards the sanctum.

To our left side, we can find the sub-shrine of Ram, Sita and Lakshman with a sub-shrine of Hanuman opposite to the shrine of Ram. There is a mandap in front of the shrine which has many pillars.

The prakaras also have many small and medium sized mandaps. Almost all the mandaps have pillars with miniature sculptures.


The Maha Mandap has many interesting sculptures.

Tiruvengadamudaiyan Mandap

To the right side of the flag staff, the sub-shrine of Venu Gopal along with his two consorts is found. Venu Gopal has four arms in this shrine.

The mandap of this shrine is the most beautiful part of the temple. It is called as Tiruvengadamudaiyan Mandap. The hall has many life sized sculptures of the mythological animal, Yazhi. There are pillars with small but beautiful sculptures. The walls of the mandap also have many interesting and neat carvings that depict Vishnu in various forms and postures. The elephants, Vanaras, dancing girls, warriors and parrots are also found in the form of attractive miniature sculptures in this mandap.

The highlight of the mandap is the rare life sized sculptures of Bhadra, a warrior, Ram and Lakshman.

The first life sized sculpture is Agora Veerabhadra. He is very ferocious and is found wearing crown and many ornaments all over his body. He holds dagger and shield in his two arms. His right leg is left and raised similar to Nataraj. He is found standing atop an Asura.

The second sculpture is Ram holding his bow and arrow. He is seen with ornaments all over his body and crown. He is hugging Sugreev who is much shorter than him. To his left side, Sita is found.

The third sculpture is believed to be Lakshman. But, I personally believe that it is also Ram. He is also found in his royal attire and holds bow and arrow. He is found with the smaller sculptures of Hanuman and Angad. Hanuman has no crown, whereas Angad is wearing crown on his head. Hanuman looks modest and devotion with folded hands. So, there is a high possibility for the bigger sculpture to be Ram than Lakshman. 

Few relief images of Vanaras in the form of warriors and few of them with folded hands are found beneath these two sculptures of Ram and Lakshman.

The fourth sculpture is that of a warrior. As he is also found with many ornaments, this could be a King or Senapati, I guess.

The most beautiful part of the entire temple is this mandap, which was built during the period of the Madurai Nayaks in the 16th century CE.

The beauty of the sculptures is something which cannot be explained in writing; you should go and visit the temple to enjoy and feel the artistic beauty of this mandap.


Other Shrines

Some of the other shrines that are found in this temple include Yoga Narasimha, Utsav Lakshmi Narasimha, Dasavatar, Alwars, Vishwak Sena and Manavala Mamuni.


Mural Paintings


In the inner prakara, the mural paintings depicting the 108 Divya Desam temples and the coronation of Ram are found. They belong to Madurai Nayakas period (16th or 17th century CE). Unfortunately, the maintenance of the painting is not that great. 

Temple Tanks


Within the complex of this big temple, two holy tanks namely Bhrigu Teerth and Kalasa Teerth are located. 

There is another tank near the river Tamrabharani, which is also associated with this temple.


Festival

During the Tamil calendar month of Vaikasi, the festival called Arayar Sevai is being conducted every year. The utsav murtis of all the nine Tirupati temples (including the festival deity of this temple) mounted on Garud are brought to Alwar Tirunagari temple and give darshan to Nammalwar seated on Hamsa vahan. 

Happy travelling.


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