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.

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