February 9, 2020

Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Temple, Madurai

Madurai, the temple city of Tamil Nadu, has always been a synonym for the Goddess Meenakshi. The outsiders get satisfied with their visit to the gigantic temple of Meenakshi. However, beyond this popular temple, there are so many temples and other attractions in the city, which are not equally popular but equally interesting. This article is about one such temple in Madurai, Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Temple. Can I call it one of the best kept secrets of Madurai? Want to know why? Go ahead and read further.

Temple's Location

First things first! Where is this temple located?  Koodal Azhagar Temple is an important Vishnu temple in Madurai. At about 450 meters, from that temple, in a narrow street named South Krishnan Koil Street, the temple of Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal is located.

This temple is administered by Madurai Saurashtra Sabha. Do you wonder who are Saurashtrians and what do they do in Madurai? Read on...



Saurashtras

Saurashtra is the region in the southern part of Gujarat state. Saurashtrians, the people of Saurashtra, apparently migrated from their own land due to foreign invasion in the 11th century CE. In the last 1000 years, they kept migrating to various regions such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, it is believed. In the 16th century/17th century CE, they were brought to Tamil Nadu by the Nayaka Kings. Saurashtrians, predominantly weaver community people, settled down mostly in Madurai and Thanjavur.

Saurashtrians in the current era related themselves with Tamil Nadu and not with Saurashtra or Gujarat. They speak Saurashtra language at home. Except that, there is hardly any difference between them and other Tamils. They learn Tamil in the schools; they speak and write Tamil very well; their custom and tradition are similar to the Tamils; there are notable Saurashtrians in prominent positions in the state.

Madurai, being one of the first settlements in Tamil Nadu for Saurashtrians, have good population of them even now. Their association called Madurai Saurashtra Sabha administers this temple. The temple was patronized by the Nayaka kings. Saurashtrians, who were working for the Nayakas, became the administrators of the temple in due course.

In this temple, the names of deities in all the shrines are written in Saurashtrian script.



Replica of Tirupati Balaji

The presiding deity of the temple is Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal, who is enshrined in the east facing sanctum. It is said that the image is an exact replica of that of Tirupati Balaji. The beauty of this nine feet tall image of Perumal completely enthralls us.

The Original Presiding Deity

The original presiding deity of the temple was Nardana Krishna. He is found in a separate shrine in the Mukha Mandapa. Even now, first pooja in the temple is offered to him.

As per the legend, it was a very small temple initially, which had only the idol of Nardana Krishna. The devotee of Krishna, who had built this temple, got a divine dream, which lead him to the banks of the river Vaigai. There he found the self manifested idol of Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal. He expanded the temple and installed Perumal. In due course, Venkatesa Perumal became the presiding deity.



The Naicka's Connection

The current structure of the temple belongs to the beginning of the 20th century CE. There are multiple additions and expansions in the recent past. The temple was probably a small temple, which was patronized and expanded by the Nayakas originally. However, there is no historic document or inscription that I am aware of.

It is said that Tirumalai Naicker got the glimpse of Krishna Jyoti (divine light depicting Lord Krishna) from this temple. Hence, he contributed a lot for this temple.

Rani Mangammal, one of the later rulers of Madurai, also gifted ornaments to this temple.



The Best Kept Secret

Now, the best kept secret of the temple...

Even the people of Madurai might not know the connection of this temple with Sri Tyagaraja, one of the Trinity of Carnatic Music. Sri Walajabad Venkataramana Bhagavadar, a principle disciple of Tyagaraja, possessed the holy paduka (holy footwear) of Tyagaraja and the Tambura used by him. After Bhagavadar passed away, his family members handed over them to Saurashtra Sabha.

A small shrine in the temple, has the portrait of Sri Tyagaraja and the original Tambura used by his holiness. There is one more old Tambura kept in the same shrine.

The Padukas of Tyagarajar and the original manuscript written by Bhagavadar are in the possession of Saurashtra Sabha.

Alamelu Manga and Andal

On the true right side of the sanctum, Alarmel Mangai Thayar (Alamelu Manga) is found in a separate shrine. She is exact replica of Tirupati Alamelu Manga.

On the true left side of the sanctum, Andal is found in a separate shrine.

Both the shrines face the east direction and both the idols are very large.

Other Deities

The temple is full of large sized idols in separate shrines, such as Panduranga-Ragumayee, Rama-Sita-Lakshmana, Hanuman, Lakshmi Hayagreeva, Yoga Narasimha, Dhanvantari, Ranganatha-Sri Devi-Bhoo Devi and Bhoo Varaha.

The sub-shrines of Vedanta Desika and 11 Alvars with Ramanuja are found.

Unique Murtis

Sri Natana Gopala Nayaki Swamigal was a great devotee of Vishnu in Madurai. He lived in the last decades of the 19th century and the earlier years of the 20th century CE. He had composed many songs in Tamil and Saurashtra language on Vishnu. There is a separate shrine for this Swamiji. He is found holding his Veena.

Venkata Churi was a Vishnu devotee, who lived in the 19th century CE. He spent his last few years in Madurai. He was well versed in multiple languages. He contributed a lot to develop literature in Saurashtra language. Ramayana in Saurashtra language is a notable work by him. There is a shrine for this Swamiji. He is found holding his Veena.

Vaishnava Vigneswara

Near the entrance of the temple, there is a six feet tall idol of Vaishnava Vigneshwara. He is found in the standing posture. He has elephant face. He holds conch and discus in his upper arms. His left lower arm has mace. He has a flat belly and has two tusks. He is standing on Garda peetha.

Almost everyone mistake this idol to be Lord Ganesha. But, this is Vishvaksena, the guard of Vishnu. As per the iconography, Vishvaksena too has elephant face, like Ganesha. Vishvaksena has two tusks and not the broken tusk like Ganesha. Also, Vishvaksena has a flat belly and holds the weapons similar to Vishnu.

Few ancient temples have Ganesha in Koshta (niche). Incidentally, there are people who mistake that for Vishvaksena.

Navagrahas

Finding Navagrahas in a Vishnu temple is rare for all of us, but not for the people of Madurai. Like many other Vishnu temples in the city, this temple too has Navagrahas.

Other Features

The temple's entrance has a east facing five tiered tower. An inscription on the tower provides us the details of the builder of the entrance as Krishnaswami Iyer and the date of construction as 1907 CE.

In the exterior side of the entrance, the sub-shrines of Sudarsana and Karuppanna Swami are found. Karuppanna Swami is a popular village deity in Madurai region.

A tall flag staff, bali peetha and Garuda's sub-shrine are found facing towards the sanctum.

The processional image is named as Navaneetha Krishna. It's a short bronze icon beautifully depicting child Krishna holding butter in both of his arms.

Another notable bronze image in this temple is Narasimha in the standing posture.

Happy travelling.




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