March 30, 2018

Piravadeeswarar Temple, Kanchipuram

Go to Kanchipuram and ask for this temple. Else, Google its name and try to locate the GPS coordinates. You would hardly locate it. Piravasthanam - it's a best kept secret of Kanchipuram, the city of temples. Piravasthanam temple is one of the eight Pallava period temples that still remain in the city.

This architecturally beautiful temple is located at Kamaraj Nagar 2nd Street. Iravadeeswarar temple and Pachaivannar temple are comparatively better known sites that are located near this temple.

Kanchi Puranam mentions about this temple. It is also called as Piravadeeswarar Temple or Apunarbhaveswarar Temple. The word "Pirava" in Tamil language indicates preventing rebirth. Similarly, there is Iravadeeswarar temple nearby, which indicates something related to the death (Irava).

As per the legend, the sage Vamadeva prayed to Lord Shiva to bless him not to have rebirth. The sage was in the wombs of his mother while praying. Shiva advised him to visit this site so that his wish would be fulfilled. Accordingly, after the sage was born and after he grew up as an adult, he came to Kanchipuram, installed Shiv Linga in this site and performed poojas. To relate this legend with this site, it is called as Piravasthanam.

Although the temple does not have any stone inscription, as per the architectural style, the scholars believe that it was built by Rajasimha Pallava in the beginning of the 8th century CE. Also, it is believed that it was the first temple by him in this city.

The west facing temple is small and has just the sanctum and a small Ardha Mandap. Shiv Linga, who is named as Privadeeswarar is found in the sanctum. The vimana looks artistic and has two tiers. The griva portion of the vimana has 16 bars and its shikara has 8 bars. Nasi koshta have attractive miniature sculptures. The miniature icons of Bhoota Ganas in different forms are also found in the top portion of the vimana.

The walls around the temple have very beautiful sculptures. Six standing horned lions (Vyalas) are found at the corners around the temple.

On the northern side wall, the images of Durga and Jalandhara Samhara Murti are found. Durga is typical Pallava Durga sculptural style. She has her left leg rested on lion; she has four arms holds bow in her left arm. Shiva is found in yogic posture with his discus slaying the head of Asura Jalandhara. He is flanked by Brahma and Vishnu and then by two Dwarapalas.

The eastern side wall has Shiva in the dancing form. This form of dance is called as Vrschikam karana. The sculpture is partially destroyed and is not very clear. He is flanked by two figures, probably Brahma and Vishnu.

The southern side wall has Dakshinamurti and Gaja Lakshmi. These sculptures are also partially destroyed and not very clear. The icons around Dakshinamurti are not clearly visible except for a lion and two sages.

In the open ground where this temple is located, there is also a new shrine for Shiva of later period. The walls of the shrine has some old paintings of Ganesh and Kartikeya.

Happy travelling.

P.S. Thanks to Kanchipuram Dr. Sankara Narayanan, a great scholar. I have used some information shared by him in this blog post.

March 26, 2018

Alavattamman Temple Tank (Waterbodies of Chennai - 4)

This is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of Chennai. Covering an area of about 4 acres, this vast pond, which is surrounded by a park and greenery, is a picturesque location. This pond belongs to Alavattaman Temple. In the border between two villages, Rajkilpakkam and Sembakkam, at the southern outskirts of Chennai city, this temple and pond are located.

This temple must be around 200 years old. I am sure that this pond would have been the source of water for these villages in the last two centuries. This is one of those few well maintained tanks. Few years ago, the Municipal Corporation has cleaned this pond and laid a beautiful park around the pond. Since then, we could find water in the tank even during the summer season, which is a rare scene in the city.

Similar to this, there are many lesser known waterbodies in the southern outskirts of Chennai.

Happy travelling.

Note: As per a report, there were about 650+ waterbodies in Chennai region till 1980s. Today, only a fraction of them exist. And, most of those surviving waterbodies hardly have water and even some of them that  have water had been shrunk badly. In Chennai, there are tank roads without tanks nearby and lake view roads without any lake in the vicinity. There is a high possibility that even the few waterbodies that we have today might vanish in the near future. I thought of visiting the currently surviving waterbodies of Chennai and its suburbs and write about them in my blog as a series.

March 23, 2018

The Neglected Jyestha Devi of Rajkilpakkam

In the border between two villages, Rajkilpakkam and Sembakkam, at the southern outskirts of Chennai city, a 200 years old Alavattamman Temple is located. Near that temple, the stone icon of Jyestha Devi lies neglected under a tree in a corner. She is found along with her two attendants. As per few versions, they are her children, Manthan and Agni.

The idol has no temple structure or the regular priests to perform poojas. Yet, the local villagers worship this deity as the Mother Goddess.

Who is Jyestha Devi? As per the Hindu Puranas, she is the elder sister of Lakshmi. Lakshmi, who is considered as the deity of wealth, is being worshiped in all temples. There are big temples with Lakshmi as the presiding deity. However, her own sister Jyestha does not find any place in Vishnu temples or her own sister Lakshmi's temples. Barring few temples in Trichy-Tanjore region, Jyestha Devi is generally found outside the Shiva temples or in a neglected corner in the Shiva's temple enclosure.

This idol of Jyestha Devi might belong to the Pallava period. (I will leave it to the experts about the period. I might be wrong too.) Interestingly, there is no ancient temple of Pallava or Chola period nearby. The village temple is hardly 200 years old. Within one km radius, there is a roadside Vishnu temple a new Kamakshi temple. That makes me wonder where is that ancient temple where she was once installed and then thrown out. The temple which had neglected her is no more; but, she is still there. 

You can throw her out of the temple. But she can turn her new place into a temple. A temple is not the one which has structure, but the deity. She may not need a temple structure. The open air and the green fields are more beautiful than your architecture. She has got enough love from the innocent villagers and heritage enthusiasts. She will live long as the deity forever.

Happy travelling.

March 20, 2018

The Village of Temples

How many of you know from Chennai know about this nearby village that once had 32 small temples and 32 ponds, in addition to a big Shiva temple and other village temples? Sembakkam is a calm lesser known village near Tiruporur. The distance is around 35 kms from Tambaram. The village as well as the paces surrounding the village for about 15 kms are very peaceful, serene and green. When we drive from Chennai, it gives us a pleasant feeling as the narrow roads are surrounded by broad trees on either sides. Also, we would wonder if it is a location near Chennai or somewhere in Kerala, the God's own country.

Similar to the famous Tiruvanaikkaval Jamukeshwarar Temple, this village also has a temple for Jambukeshwarar. The village is also named as Vada Tiruvanaikkaval or Uttara Jambukeshwararm. Let me call this village as "The Village of Temples".   Let us see few important temples of this village.

Jambukeshwarar Temple

The most important site of the village is the ancient temple of Jambukeshwarar.


It is amazing to find so many legends and stories on this temple located in a remote and lesser known village.

Who built this temple?

It is believed that the ancient Chola King Ko Chenganan, who built the Tiruvanaikkaval Jambukeshwarar temple, built this temple too. The childless king was travelling all over his country visiting various Shaivite sites. In this village, the axle of his chariot broke down, which forced the king to rest here. In his dream, Lord Shiva appeared and ordered him to build a temple. Accordingly, he built this temple. Later, he was blessed with a child.

Nava Veeras

It is believed that Kartikeya ordered Nava Veeras, his associates, in this site, to march against the Asura army. The battle is believed to have taken place in the nearby Tiruporur village.

The head of Asura

As per another legend, when Lord Subramanya fought with the Asuras in the nearby Tiruporur village, Soorapadma was beheaded and his head fell in this village. Hence, the village got the name as Sirampakkam, which later became Sembakkam. People connect this legend even today as the annual flag hoisting of Tiruporur Kandaswamy Temple is done by the villagers of Sembakkam.

Worshiped by Vasuki

As Lord Shiva was made to gulp poison that was spit by the serpent Vasuki during the churning of milky ocean, Vasuki got a sin. To get rid of its sin, Vasuki along with other serpents came to this temple and worshiped Lord Shiva.

Pride of Indra

Lord Indra neglected the sage Narad, when the latter was explaining the importance of this site. Due to this, Indra had to face a lot of difficulties. He got rid of his problems after paying a visit to this holy site.

Agastya's visit

It is said that the sage Agastya worshiped a Shiv Linga in this site, which is named as Agasteeswarar even today.

The Holy Well

In front of the shrine of the Goddess, Nandi or lion is not found; instead, there is a holy well. It is named as Amrit Teerth. It is believed that it was created by the Goddess herself. Shiva gave  the power of 72,000 crores of hymns to the Goddess and some portion fell in the form of nectar drops into this well.

Siddhas Regular Visit

The locals strongly believe that the Siddhas visit this temple every full moon day even nowadays.


I could not find any inscription in this temple. The historical details that are provided here are not verifiable. They are not factual and I could not find reference from any historical source. The details are provided by the locals and most of them are found in the Sthala Puranam book.

As mentioned already, it is believed that an early Chola King Kochenganan by name built the original temple in brick.

It is said that Gandaraditya Chola rebuilt this temple using stones in the 10th century CE, in memory of his wife Sembian Mahadevi. Some people believe that the village was named as Sembakkam after Sembian Mahadevi.

Later, Sundara Chola built the shrine for the Goddess and named her as Sundarambal. Nowadays, she is called as Alagambikai, the Tamil equivalent word for Sundarambal.

The current structure of the temple is very later period. The sculptures too belong to later period. Some of the bronze idols appear to be old, but definitely not of Chola period.

Temple Layout, Architecture and Sculptures

Holy Tank

The west facing temple has no tower. In front of the temple, there is an L shaped holy tank. It is named as Azhi Teerth. It is the source of water that enters the sanctum. Similar to Tiruvanaikkaval temple, here too water used to come out of the floor under the Shiv Linga in the sanctum. Shiv Linga is installed on top of a square water ditch and hence it is even called as Jala Swayambhu. Few decades ago, when the temple was renovated and the tiles were replaced, probably due to some engineering defects, the passage of water got blocked.

Main Shrine

The sanctum faces the east direction and enshrines a very big Shiv Linga, who is named as Jambukeshwarar.

The Goddess Alagambikai is found in a separate south facing shrine.

The main shrine has sanctum, Ardha Mandap and Maha Mandap. At the entrance of Maha Mandap, the bas relief images of Ganesh and Skanda seated on peacock are found.

The flag staff, bali peetha and Nandi Mandap are found in the outer corridor facing towards the sanctum.

In Maha Mandap, there is an additional Nandi that faces the sanctum.

Bronze Icons

In a shrine located in Maha Mandap, all the bronze idols are placed. They appear to be of later period. However, few icons look very attractive and possibly little older. Two sets of Uma-Chandrasekhar (big and small), two sets of Somaskanda (big and small), Uma, Skanda on peacock surrounded by his two consorts in the standing posture, Kartikeya, Kali and Nalvar are some of the utsava icons found here. Somaskanda icon is very beautiful.

Other Idols

In Mukha Mandap, there are few idols found such as Agasteeswara Linga, Ganesh, Kartikeya-Valli-Devasena, three more icons of Ganesh, Nava Veeras in Anjali mudra and a king with his queen.

The Sthala Vruksham (holy tree) of the site is Naval (Jambu) tree, which is located at the south eastern corner in the temple complex. There is a belief that certain yogas performed under this tree results in spiritual upliftment due to the connection of Siddhas with this site.

There is only one prakara around the entire temple, which is a vast open space. A separate big shrine for Ganesh with a front side mandap is found in this prakara. Few icons are located below the tree, which includes a head of Buddha (possibly). Navagrahas are found in the same prakara.

Niche Images

Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Vishnu Durga are found as the niche images. Chandikeshwara is found in his usual location.

Sri Peetham Bala Temple

Few meters behind the Jambukeshwarar temple, a big modern day temple is located. It is Sri Peetham Bala, Taruni, Maha Lalitha Tripurasundari Temple.

The icon of Balambika and Tripura yantra were under worship in the pooja room of the house of Sri Arumuga Vamadeva Sivam, for about 32 years from 1986 to 2008 CE. He was the founder of this temple. In 2008, this temple was constructed and various other deities were also installed.

This temple is mainly for the followers of Sri Vidya Upasana. Hence, most of the deities are in the female form. The entrance tower has many such interesting stucco images of Ram, Krishna, Ranganatha, Kartikeya, Ganesh, Dakshinamurti and others, all in the female forms.

The sanctum enshrines the icon of Bala, the Goddess in the form of a nine years old child. She is found seated in Padmasana; she has four arms and holds a text and beads in her upper arms. She is the daughter of Lalitha Tripura Sundari. Her utsav icon is also found nearby.

Behind Bala, the Goddess Taruni, who is in the form of a Kanya is found. She is found in the standing posture; she has four arms and holds Angusa and Pasam in her upper arms. Her icon is made of copper.

Mahameru made of neem tree is also found in the sanctum.

On either sides of Taruni, the icons of Matangi and Varahi are found. Matangi holds veena in her arms similar to Saraswati. She is the minister of Taruni, whereas Varahi is the general of Taruni.

Few bronze icons are found in the main shrine as well as in the front side mandap.

On the first floor, the gigantic 9 feet high icon of Lalita Tripurasundari, made of herbals and organic materials, is found. She is standing on Padmapeetham. The beautiful idol of the Goddess has four arms. She holds angusam and pasam in her upper arms, whereas flower arrow and sugarcane bow are held in the lower arms. The iconography resembles that of Kamakshi to some extent. This sanctum has only oil lamps and natural light; without any artificial electrical light, this place looks heaven.

The sanctum also enshrines Asatiya Sri Chakra. Kali and Kala Bhairav guard the sanctum of Tripura Sundari. There are 15 steps on both the sides of the floor, denoting waxing and waning of moon. Each step represents one Titi Nitya Devi and her image is painted on the adjoining wall of the corresponding step.

The rare depiction of the weapons of the Goddess, Angusam and Pasam, in the form of female deities, are found as small wall paintings. A small Spatika Linga is found on the other side of the hall. Two big stucco images of Varahi and Matangi are also found in this hall. Both of them have eight arms and their icons look gigantic.

Samadhis of the Saints

Sri Ponnambala Swamigal and Sri Tirumeni Linga Swamigal were two Siddhas who had made Sembakkam as their homes. Both of their Samadhi temples are found next to Jambukeshwara Temple.

Dakshinamurti Temple

It is rare to find a separate temple for Dakshinamurti; we can one temple at Tiruvottriyur and another one at Ambattur. Similarly, in Sembakkam too, there is a separate temple that has a big icon of Dakshinamurti. The nearby shrine has a big stone icon of Nataraj. Few other deities, the village deity and the snake hole are also found. It appears that the old village temple has progressed as Dakshinamurti temple in the recent past.

The Other Temples

The village once had 32 Ganesha temples, each for every street. It is said that there were 32 ponds too. Now, except for a lake and the main temple tank, there are only 5-6 ponds found. Currently, there are only 27 Ganesha temples in this village. One of those Ganesh temples is located well at the entrance of Jambukeshwarar Temple. Apart from the Ganesh temples, there are 16 other temples too found in this small village.

Happy travelling.

March 11, 2018

Venbedu Anjaneya

Venbedu is a small lesser known village located at a distance of around 30 kms from Tambaram on Thirupporur route.

On the high road of this village, the huge stucco sculpture of Anjaneya, who is called as Vishwaroopa Anjaneya, is noticeable and attractive. Hanuman is found in Abhya mudra and holds mace in his left arm. He is usually depicted in Anjali Mudra in many of the temples. The village is getting popular in the surrounding villages due to this temple.

There is a Shiva temple called as Agasteeswarar near this Hanuman idol. It is supposed to be a very temple, which has been completely renovated.

At the time of putting this blog post, there are plans to extend the temple and install few idols such as Ram, Yoga Anjaneya and Yoga Narasimha.

Happy travelling.

Ashta Lakshmi Temple, Besant Nagar - Chennai

Ashta Lakshmi Temple is a popular temple in Chennai. It is located on the sea shore in Besant Nagar, which is one of the most happening places of the city.

This temple was constructed in 1976 CE. Till 1990s, this site was pleasant with large open space and the sea breeze could be well enjoyed. Thanks to the construction of so many sub-shrines subsequently and the construction of ceiling in the erstwhile open space, the temple looks very congested nowadays. Although a large number of devotees still visit this temple everyday, it has definitely lost its charm.

The temple vimana is Ashtanga Vimana, a unique architectural style that is found in few temples such as Madurai Koodal Azhagar, Uttiramerur and Tirukoshtiyur. There is no tower for this temple.

The east facing sanctum enshrines Maha Vishnu and Maha Lakshmi. Both are found in the standing posture. The temple is supposed to be Vishnu temple; however, as there are eight shrines of Lakshmi found here, people always refer this temple as Ashta Lakshmi temple.

Garud is found facing towards the sanctum, as usual.

Being the Ashtanga Viman, there are shrines on the first as well as second tiers too. The shrines of Adi Lakshmi, Dhanya Lakshmi and Dairya Lakshmi are found on the ground floor. The shrines of Gaja Lakshmi, Santana Lakshmi, Vidya Lakshmi and Vijaya Lakshmi are located on the first tier. Dhana Lakshmi is found on the top most tier, just below the sikhara.

The temple has so many other sub-shrines. They include Anjaneya, Guruvayurappan, Kamala Vinayak, Dhanvantiri and Chakrathalwar with Yoga Narasimha on his back-side.

Happy travelling.

March 7, 2018

St. Stephen's Church in Veteran Lines - Madras

Veteran Lines in Pallavaram locality of Madras was once dominated by Anglo Indians. A detailed coverage about Anglo Indians and this locality can be found in another article - The Anglo Indians of Chennai, from my blog.

In Veteran Lines, only handful of Anglo Indians, mostly senior citizens, live nowadays. There is a very beautiful church located here. It is named as St. Stephen's English Church. Four Anglo Indian women namely Lightfoot, Drinkwater, Gomes and Mckenzie collected funds and they were instrumental to build this church. The church was built between 1929 CE and 1935 CE. It was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Harry Waller on 21st July 1935 CE. Later, the school was developed in the same complex.

This 80 years old church has an important place in the hearts of Anglo Indians as well as those who lived here in those days. Even today, the locality is very calm and serene.

Happy travelling.

March 5, 2018

Tirumaiyam Fort

Tirumaiyam is a small town located in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu state in India. The town is famous mainly due to the temples of Satyagireeswarar and Satyamurti. There is also an equally interesting site in the town. It is the historic fort set in the area spreading around 40 acres.

Tirumaiyam fort was built by Kizhavan Sethupati, the King of Ramnad, in 1680s CE. Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman, who served as the chiefain in this fort, was recognized for his service by Sethupati. He was made as an independent ruler and thus a newly princely state called Pudukkottai was born. Interestingly, after few years, the fort came under the control of Pudukkottai Kings.

The magnificent fortress, which can be seen miles before reaching the town, is the major attraction here. Hundreds and thousands of tourists throng to this site everyday. The fort that we see today is only a portion of much bigger original version. It is evident from the fact that the main entrance with the courtyard and few shrines is located about 1 km from the present day fortress.

The fort is built on and around the hill. Atop the hill, a cannon of British era, is found, which is the most photographed place in this fort. A very small cave with a Shiv Linga can be reached by climbing the steep ladder. The other materials and collections from the fort are now preserved in Pudukkottai museum.

Happy travelling.