June 20, 2022

Kumaran Kundram

Kumaran Kundram in Chrompet has become an important Murugan temple of Chennai in the past few years. Unlike other Murugan shrines, it is not too old, though.

Situated atop a hill that can be reached through well-laid 100+ granite steps, the temple is said to be a replica of the famous Swamimalai temple. 



The presiding deity is called Swaminathan or Aishwarya Murugan. The infant Murugan holds a spear in his hand. Instead of his usual peacock, an elephant is found as his vaahana.

The view from the top shows the entire Chrompet and its neighborhood. A perennial spring called Kumara Teertham is located amidst the serene surroundings. 



Besides the three-tiered tower at the entrance on the hilltop, there is another five-tiered tower at the base on the roadside.

Although the temple was constructed in 1979, Ganesha's shrine at the base was now built in the 1950s. Arunagirinathar mandapam is located at the base where many functions and even marriages are conducted. 

A big metal icon of Shanmukha and his consorts Valli and Devasena, is found in a separate shrine. Among many weapons he holds, discus and conch are noteworthy. It is rare to find Murugan with shankha and chakra. Another highlight of this icon is that we could see all his six heads if we circumambulate him. It is not possible in other temples, as the backside of the shrine would remain blocked. Arumuga Nayinar in Nellaiyappar temple is an exception, though.



Kali seated on a lion, and Navagrahas are also found at the base.

In the middle of the hill, say after we climb 20+ steps, there is Idumban's sub-shrine.

In the center of the hill, there is a separate temple for Sundareswara Linga (Shiva). The sanctum is in the apsidal (Gajaprshtha) style. Hence, I doubt if it was constructed recently. I believe there must have been an original structure with a Shiva Linga. 

Besides Sundareswara, Meenakshi is too found in a separate shrine. 



Ganesha, Rishabharudana, Dakshinamurti and Vishnu are the Koshta murtis. Chandikeshwara is seen in his usual location. 

The metal icon of Nataraja is unusual as the deity is raised his right leg instead of his left leg in a dancing posture. 

Surya, Chandra, Bhairava and Nalvar are the usual deities found in their corresponding positions. Sharbeswara is seen in a sub-shrine. Another shrine has many metal icons. 

On the main shrine of Swaminatha, all three niches have three different forms of Murugan. Vishnu Durga, Chandikeshwara and utsava Murugan-Valli-Devasena and Arunagirinathar are other deities found there.

Happy travelling.


June 19, 2022

Hastinapuram Navapashanam Murugan Temple

Navapashanam is an amalgam of nine poisonous herbs. It is said to act as a remedy for all types of diseases. It is believed that the Siddhas knew the secret formula to prepare this medicinal potion. 

The sculpture of Murugan from the famous Palani is claimed to be made of Navapashanam. Similarly, there is a lesser-known temple near Chennai, which has a Navapashanam Murugan.




In Hastinapuram near Chrompet in the southern outskirts of Chennai, in a congested lane called Masjid Street, this tiny temple of Bala Murugan is situated. Murugan, made of Navapashanam, is the presiding deity. 

Jalakandeeswara Linga, Meenakshi, and the Siddha who found this temple are the other Murtis found in the temple.

Happy travelling.

June 17, 2022

Pammal Pushpagireeswarar Temple

Pammal is a suburban locality of Chennai, located next to Pallavaram. This place is well known across the state of Tamil Nadu, thanks to the famous personality Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, the founding father of model Tamil theatre. However, this article is not about him, but an ancient Chola temple of Pammal named Pushpagireeswarar.



History

The current concrete structure makes it impossible to believe it is a 13th-century period temple. But it is true. There are two Chola-era inscriptions found on the outer walls of the sanctum.

The first inscription is dated to the 35th year of the reign of Virarajendra alias Kulotunga Chola III. The probable date in the English calendar is 3rd November 1210 CE. The inscription refers to an endowment of land to the nearby Tiruneermalai Perumal temple and its tax exemption. Interestingly, we understand that the land was located in present-day Tambaram. It was called Taampuram or Gunaseelanallur in those days. It also locates Tambaram in the Surathur Nadu sub-division of Puliyur Kottam division in Jayankonda Chola Mandalam. (Reference MCC 1971/02; Kalvettu - 65 January 2005 edition).

The second inscription is incomplete and dated to the 21st year of the reign of Rajaraja Chola III, which is in 1227 CE. It mentions that Pammal belonged to Kulotunga Chola Valanaattu Surathur Nadu sub-division of Puliyur Kottam in Jayankonda Chola Mandalam. It talks about the endowment for burning a lamp at Azhaga Perumal temple at Pammal. (Reference MCC 1972/03; Kalvettu - 65 January 2005 edition).

Per a report from Dr. Gift Siromoney, a polymath from the 1970s, there was a ruined Shiva temple with stone slabs from an earlier Vishnu shrine. I believe the above inscription refers to that Vishnu shrine as Azhaga Perumal. 





Layout and Architecture

The temple, which was in a dilapidated state for a long was renovated at the beginning of the 21st century. This hillock temple can be reached in a narrow lane by climbing numerous steps. Literally, there is no hill left, and it is like a temple on the top floor of a multi-story building.

The presiding deity, Pushpagireeswarar, is in the Linga form. This large Shiva Linga is believed to be the original icon. 

Although the temple is completely renovated, the bottom portion of the wall where the inscriptions are found is not disturbed.

There are two Nandis; one is the original, and the other is the modern-day Nandi.

The footprint of Ranganatha, the presiding deity of the nearby famous Tiruneermalai temple, is found. It is a highlight of this temple. The icons representing the holy symbol called Namam, conch, discus, Hanuman, and Garuda are found around the sacred footprint.

Pushpambikai is the Goddess. Ganesha, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava, Brahma and Durga are the Koshta deities. Nataraja-Sivakami, Chandikeshwara, Hanuman, Navagraha and Swarna Akarshana Bhairava are the other deities. The entrance of the sanctum is guarded by Ganesha and Skanda. As stated already, all these icons are newly installed during the recent renovation.

Happy travelling.


June 14, 2022

Pammal Arkeeswaram

Pammal is a suburban locality of Chennai, located next to Pallavaram. This place is well known across the state of Tamil Nadu, thanks to the famous personality Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, the founding father of model Tamil theatre. However, this article is not about him, but about an ancient temple of Pammal named Arkeeswaram.

Legend


Arka is another name for Surya. As per the legend associated with this site, Arka worshiped Shiva Linga, and the latter is named  Arkeeswara, meaning the Lord of Arka. The place was initially called Arkeeswaram.

Devara Vaippu Sthalam


It is believed to be a Devara Vaippu Sthalam. (A Devaram Sthalam or a Paadal Petra Sthalam is a holy site of Shiva, which is mentioned in the works of Appar, Sambandhar and Sundarar, the Tamil Shaivite poets. All those hymns are compiled as "Devaram" by Nambiyandar Nambi in the 12th century CE. There are 276 such divine sites. Besides, many other important Shiva temples are casually mentioned in the hymns. They are called Vaippu Sthalams.)

Appar has casually mentioned this site in his hymn, which is recorded in 6th Tirumurai. (Reference no - 6.71.8). The hymn written in Tamil is given below. There are three other temples named Arkeeswaram, which are claimed to be the same Devara Vaippu Sthalam. They are located in Arkeeswaram near Alwarkurichi, Kanchanur and Tirukkaliyannavoor in Villupuram.

நாடகமா டிடநந்தி கேச்சுரமா காளேச்
சுரநாகேச் சுரநாகளேச் சுரநன் கான
கோடீச்சுரங் கொண்டீச் சுரந்திண் டீச்சுரங்
குக்குடேச் சுரமக்கீச் சுரங்கூ றுங்கால்
ஆடகேச் சுரமகத்தீச் சுரமய னீச்சுரம்
அத்தீச்சுரஞ் சித்தீச்சுர மந்தண் கானல்
ஈடுதிரை இராமேச்சுர மென்றென் றேத்தி
இறைவனுறை சுரம்பலவும் இயம்பு வோமே.



History


As Appar had written about the holy site, the original temple must have been built in the 7th century CE or earlier. However, there is no epigraphical evidence, and even this literary evidence is questionable.

A fragmentary inscription in this temple talks about the oil monger donating oil to the temple. Although the date could not be fixed, there is a high possibility that it might belong to the 13th century CE, similar to the other inscriptions found in other places in this village. (Reference Kalvettu Editorial - 25 January 2005).

Four 13th century CE inscriptions from Tiruneermalai temple refer to Pammal Nakka nayanar temple. I wonder if that was an alternate name for Akeeswara temple. There is no temple by this name today. 

The vimanas of the presiding deity and the village Goddess resemble the Chola-era style. 
In all probability, the temple might belong to the later Chola period, the 13th century CE. It is evident that there were some renovations done in the 19th century CE. Post that, it was in a dilapidated state for a long. In 2004 CE, the temple was renovated again and was consecrated. 

In 2004, when the new mandapa was constructed, eleven panchaloha Murtis were unearthed and discovered. They probably belong to the later Chola period. They are kept in a shrine in the temple.




Temple Layout, Architecture & Iconography


The east-facing sanctum enshrines 5.5 feet high Shiva Linga named Arkeeswarar. At the entrance, small icons of Ganesha and Subramanya seated on peacock are found. Shiva Linga is probably from the Chola-era. Subramanya seems to be from the Vijayanagara period.

Amrutambikai, the Goddess, is enshrined in a separate south-facing shrine.

There is a separate north-facing shrine for the village Goddess Pidari, also known as Soori Amman. The four-armed Goddess is found seated. Although the vimana looks Chola-era, the pillars of ardha and maha mandapas appear to be 300-400 years old.

Ganesha, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava, Brahma, and Durga are the Koshta deities around the sanctum of Shiva Linga.

The beautiful icon of Chandikeshwarar appears to be of the Chola period.

On the prakara, there are sub-shrines of Sundaresa Ganapati, Valli-Devasena-Subramanya, Vishwanatha Linga and Vishalakshi. Among them, only Vishwanatha seems to be of the slightly old image. 

Navagraha, Shaneeswara, Bhairava and Anjaneya are other deities found in the temple complex. 

A well-maintained big tank spreading across six acres is found outside the temple premises.

Happy travelling. 


June 9, 2022

Tirumangai Alwar Malai - A Hidden Gem in Chennai

Neervannan, Neermalai and Anima Malar Mangai - beautiful Tamil names! Not only these names, but even the site associated with them is such a picturesque place. It's a lovely hill surrounded by water bodies amidst the congested and highly populated locality. I hope you would have guessed by now, on which site am talking about. Yes, it is the famous Tiruneermalai, a popular religious site located near Tambaram, the southern outskirts of Chennai.

(To know more about Tiruneermalai, please read this article.) 



This article is not about Tiruneermalai though. People of Chennai definitely know this Divya Desam and the twin temples of Vishnu. Let me introduce a hidden gem called Tirumangai Alwar Malai. Rather than calling it a lesser-known site, if I call it an unknown site, it would apt.

During the Puranic times, the current Tiruneermalai site was a forest and was known as Kandava Vanam. It is said that the sages performed severe penance for 600 years in this forest. As per their request, Vishnu appeared to them in a pleasant and tranquil form. It can be equated to the quality of pure water (called "thanmai" or "neermai" in Tamil).




When Tirumangai Alwar, one of twelve Vaishnaivite saints from South India, came to Kandava Vanam, the hill where the temple is located now, was surrounded by water torrent. Alwar waited in a nearby hill for six months for the water to get drained. Only then, he managed to visit the hilltop temple. Hence, the hill and the village, were named "Tiru Neer Malai" in Tamil "Toyadri Kshetram" in Sanskrit. (The words "neer" and "toya" mean water. "Malai" and "adri" means hill). 

At about 3 km from Tiruneermalai, there is a hillock, known as Tirumangai Alwar Malai. It is believed to be the exact site where Alwar stayed for six months to ultimately visit Tiruneermalai. 

Distant view of Tiruneermalai



On top of the hill overlooking Tiruneermalai, a modern-day structure without a vimana serves as the shrine of Tirumangai Alwar. He is found with his arms folded in Anjali mudra and has a spear by his side. On half the way to the hillock temple, there is another shrine that has Tirumangai Alwar and his consort Kumudavalli Nachiar




It is supposed to be a beautiful site, with a hillock surrounded by waterbody and a remote sight of Tiruneermalai temples. Unfortunately it is not maintained well. There is no proper approach road. Due to traffic of heavy vehicles and quarrying, the path is not motorable. (I personally got my car's oil sump damaged and ended up spending thousands of bucks.) There is no sign board. You cannot find anyone to guide you. The steps leading the hillock temple are not well-laid. It is impossible for elderly people to reach the temple. It is unsafe to visit the site alone. 

I understand that the priest visits the temple once in a week.

Those who are interested, please go and visit the site, before it is destroyed completely by quarrying.

Happy travelling.







June 7, 2022

The Chitrakuta of Chennai

Somangalam - it is such a picturesque village, surrounded by a beautiful lake and fertile lands. It's hard to believe that it is a Southern suburb of the highly congested Chennai. The village has two Chola period temples, Somanatheeswara (Shiva) and Soundararaja Perumal (Vishnu). Although both the temples have less number of visitors nowadays, Shiva's temple is known to the heritage enthusiasts. However, the Soundararaja Perumal Temple remains unknown to the people outside the village. This article focuses on that Chola-era beautiful shrine. 





Once we pass through the east-facing entrance adorned with a tiny tower, we might wonder if it is a Kerala-type shrine. The tiled roof and the supporting timber work of Maha mandapa make us believe so. This beautiful work is a later addition, though.

The enchanting Soundarararaja Perumal is standing along with his two consorts, Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. He holds conch and discus in his upper arms. His lower arms are in abhaya and kati mudras. (Abhaya is the gesture of reassurance and safety; Resting arm on the hip is termed as Kati mudra).




Besides the stone images, the metal icons of Perumal and his consorts are also found in the sanctum.

Ardha mandapa has a few stone images of various deities and saints such as Andal, Ramanuja, Nammalvar and Visvaksena.




An old lamp-post (Deepa stambha) made of granite and small Garuda are seen opposite the main shrine.

The beautiful Goddess, Soundaravalli is enshrined in an east-facing sub-shrine located in the prakara.

There are a few newly made sub-shrines enshrining Hanuman and Narasimha with Sudarashana on his back.




The temple's highlight is the long inscription that runs on three outer walls of the main shrine. Dated 1073 CE and from the period of Kulotunga Chola I, this inscription (No. 182 of 1901) calls the temple Chitrakuta. Without mentioning the name, it adds a reference to one of his queens. As per the etching on the walls, we understand that Somangalam was also called Rajasikhamani Chaturvedimangalam, and it belonged to Maganur-nadu, a sub-division of Sengattu-Kottam, a division of Jayankonda Chola Mandalam. The inscription records the gift of land by the Mahasabha of the village to hold various services and lighting of lamps in the evenings. Importantly, it states that the presiding deity was named Tiruchitrakuttathu Azhwar.

Happy travelling.




June 6, 2022

Pazhanthandalam Iravateeswarar Temple

Not only its history but even its existence remains unknown to the citizens of Chennai. Located in Pazhanthandalam, not far away from the famous Tiruneermalai, this apsidal (Gajaprshtha) temple of Iravateeswarar might be a later Chola temple. Else, it might be an original Pallava-era temple reconstructed by the Cholas. Unfortunately, we can only keep guessing. There is no inscription found in this mostly renovated concrete structure.



Although there are three entrances to the temple in the south, east and north directions, none of them has a tower. The southern entrance alone is used by the public now. 

The moderate-sized Shiva Linga called Iravateeswarar in the east-facing sanctum, and Nandi outside are the only old icons of the temple. All other images are new. Some are entirely new, made during the temple renovation work in 2011 CE.



Although the antarala and ardha mandapa are renovated with modern-day concrete, the Maha mandapa remains intact to some extent. However, as per the style of short pillars and their sculptures, this hall cannot be more than 300/400 years old. 

A short image of Anandavalli, the Goddess, is found in a separate south-facing shrine.



One pair of Ganesha and Kartikeya are found at the sanctum entrance, and another pair of the same deities are at the entrance of Maha mandapa.

Ganesha, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga are the Koshta deities. Surya, Chandra, Navagraha, Chandikeshwara, Veerabhadra, Brahmi and Bhairava are the other deities of the temple. A newly made marble icon of Sai Baba is too found. 



In the prakara, there are subsidiary shrines of Ganesha, Subramanya-Valli-Devasena, and Kasi Vishwanatha-Vishalakshi.

Although renovated, the apsidal style of the original structure is retained, and hence the vimana looks elegant.



There are carvings of fish, snakes and other creatures found on the ceilings.




As per the legend, the white elephant of Indra Iravata worshiped Shiva Linga on this site. Hence, the stucco image of Iravata worshiping Iravateesvara Linga is found on the vimana. A stucco image of Kamadhenu, the divine cow, pouring its milk on Shiva Linga, is also noteworthy. I am not sure if this too has connection with any legend related to this site.

Happy travelling.