February 26, 2020

Adi Chokkanathar Temple - Madurai

We all know about the famous Meenakshi and Chokkanathar (also called as Sundaresa) Temple in Madurai. However, not many of us might know that there is one more temple for Meenakshi and Chokkanathar in the same city. This article is about the lesser-known site called Adi Chokkanathar temple.

This temple is located at a distance of around 1 km from the main Chokkanathar temple, in Simmakal locality. It is a very small temple but supposed to be very old.

The legend says that the presiding deity, Shiv Linga, was installed by Kubera. It is believed that Budha (one of Navagrahas who represents Jupiter) worshiped this temple.



As per another legend, Idaikadar, a Siddha, was humiliated by a Pandya (the ruler of Madurai). To pacify this great devotee, Lord Shiva from the main temple moved out and traveled to this site. On the next day morning, the priests of the temple reported to the King that they could not find the idol in the temple. The King ultimately found out the idol in this site and also realized his mistake. Thus, a new temple for Shiv Linga named Chokkanatha was built here. As it is located on the northern side, it is also called Uttara Aalavai (Aalavai is another name of Madurai city), which literally means the Northern Madurai.

Historically, there is no inscription or any other authentic record of this temple is found today. We know it is an old temple and the idols of Chokkanathar and Meenakshi seem to be a few hundred years old. However, the current structure of the temple is completely renovated and looks modern.

It looks like originally only Meenakshi and Chokkanather were there. A lot of idols got added up later, which make the temple crowded with many deities.

Chokkanathar (Shiv Linga) is found in the east-facing shrine. Nandi is found in the opposite direction. Meenakshi is given equal status. She is found in the standing posture. Being Meenakshi, she has two arms unlike the other forms of Goddess who have four arms. She has her own shrine on the true right side of Chokkanathar. Nandi is found in front of her shrine.

The entrances of both the shrines have the idols of Ganesh and Subramanya-Valli-Devasena.

Small niche icons of Itcha Shakti, Kriya Shakti and Gnana Shakti are found on the exterior walls of Meenakshi's shrine. Similarly, the walls of Chokkanatha's shrine have the niche images of Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava and Durga.

Nalvar (the four devotees of Shiva), Navagrahas, Bhairava, Ganesha, Shiv Linga and Chandikeswara are too found in this temple.

An unusual idol is Idaikkadar Siddhar. It is found near Durga. The connection of Idaikkadar with this temple is already seen. A small but stone image of Nataraja is found; Sivakami and the Rishis, Vyagrapada and Patanjali, accompany him.

When you visit the famous Chokkanathar temple of Madurai, spare some time to visit this smaller and unknown Chokkanathar temple too.

Happy travelling.




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.




January 30, 2020

Koodal Azhagar Temple

Madurai is Meenakshi and Meenakshi is Madurai. This is what mostly people relate the city of Madurai with. This is due to the magnificent and artistically beautiful Meenakshi temple. This is undoubtedly the best attraction of the city. However, there are few important Vishnu temples too located in and around Madurai. Koodal Azhagar Temple is one such temple, about which this article is written. 


Koodal Azhagar temple is located in the heart of Madurai city, within one km from Meenakshi temple. Alwars, twelve revered saints of Tamil, have graced this temple in their hymns (found in the collection of Nalayira Divya Prabhandam). Thus this temple is considered as one of 108 Divya Desam Temples. 


(People generally get confused between this temple and Kallalagar temple, perhaps due to similar names. Both are Divya Desam temples and both are located in the same region; but, they are two separate temples).


Ashtanga Vimana


Highlights:


  • Tirumangai Alwar and Tirumazhisai Alwar have written one Pasuram (hymn) each about this site in their verses.
  • It is considered as the 101st Divya Desham temple. It is located in Pandya region.
  • God - Koodal Azhagar
  • Goddess Maduravalli
  • Utsava Deity - Vyuha Soundararaja Perumal
  • Teerth (holy water) - Hema Teertha, Chakra Teertha
  • Vimana Ashtanga Vimana
  • Other Names - Tirukkoodal, Kadali Vana Kshetra, Koodalambadi, Then Madurai
  • Vishnu is found in three different forms - Nindran (standing), Irundhaan (seated) and Kidanthaan (reclining) in this temple
  • Three forms of Vishnu are found in the shrines on three different floors, one atop the other.
  • Pillai Perumal Iyengar has also sung about this holy site



Legend:

The temple has more legends than historical details.

The legends related to this site are recorded in Brahmanda Purana.

Sanatkumara, the son of Lord Brahma, performed penance in this site. Vishnu along with his two consorts appeared to him. Later, the sage, sought the help of Vishwakarma, the architect of Dev loka, to build the temple with Ashtanga Vimana.

Kashyapa Rishi had his hermitage on the banks of Chakra Teertha, one of the holy waterbodies of this temple.





When two Devas were worshiping the deity in this temple, they were troubled by an Asura, Kala Nemi, by name. Vishnu killed the Asura with his Sudarsana.

Pulastya Rishi begot a son with the blessing of the deity of this temple.

Urvasi, the Apsara (nymph), was born on the earth due to a curse. She lived near Koodal Azhagar temple. She danced and prayed regularly in the temple and as a result, she got liberated from her curse.





History:

As per many scholars, the texts of Silappadhikaram, Paripadal and Madurai Kanchi of Tamil Sangam period have references about Koodal Azhagar temple. 

The temple was praised in the Pasuram hymns by Tirumangai Alwar and Tirumazhisai Alwar. Also, it is also believed by few that Periyalvar sang "Tiruppallandu" on the deity of this temple. Even though it is agreed that Periyalvar sang "Tiruppallandu" in Madurai, it is debatable if he sang about the deity of this particular temple of Madurai.


Vibhisana Pattabhisheka - sculpture on tower

As it is widely believed that these three Alwars belonged to the 7th or 8th century CE, the original temple was probably built by the early Pandyas. However, the current structure of the temple belong to the periods Vijayanagaras and Nayakas. It is said that the original inscriptions of the temple were shifted to different places during the renovation. For now, we could find only three inscriptions, all of them belong to Nayaka period.

In the 14th century CE, when Madurai was attacked by the Muslim rulers, it is believed that this temple was protected by Tiruvai Mozhi Pillai, the Vaishnavite saint. 




When Chanda Sahib annexed Madurai in 1739 CE, the processional images of the temple along with that of Meenakshi and Sundareswara, were shifted to Mana Madurai, a nearby locality. When Madurai was controlled by Maratha General Murari Rao, they were brought back to this temple in 1741 by Appachi Nayakkar. 

Though there is no authentic evidence, it is believed that Oomai Durai, the brother of Veera Pandya Katta Bomman, was hiding in this temple for a few days (in the early 19th century CE).

Few mandaps were built in the 20th century CE. The temple tower (Raja gopuram) was constructed in 1945 CE. 





Ashtanga Vimana:

The uniqueness of Koodal Azhagar Temple is its unusual and beautiful Ashtanga Vimana. Before providing the details of this particular vimana, let me try to explain what is Ashtanga Vimana in simple language.




First of all, what is a Vimana? The sanctum or the main shrine is called as Garbha Griha. In Dravidian temple architectural style, the structure over the Garbha Griha is called as Vimana.  However, when the elements of Vimana are described, the entire elevation of the structure right from the lower basement till the topmost finial is referred as Vimana. So, in this context, both Garbha Griha and  Vimana are together referred as Vimana. This level of clarity is important to read the next few paragraphs.

Typically, a Vimana would have six organs (called as Shastanga). The six organs are:
1) Adishthana (plinth) along with Upa pitha (sub-base)
2) Pada (wall)
3) Prastara (entablature)
4) Griva (neck)
5) Shikhara (spire)
6) Stupi (finial)

(Please note that there are many more elements such as Hara, Kapota, Koshta etc. However, all those elements are found within the above mentioned organs.)




If there are two more organs, then the Vimana becomes Ashtanga (the Vimana with eight organs). What are those two additional organs? The second shrine would be built above the main shrine between Prastara and Griva. In between Griva and Shikhara, the third shrine would be found. Thus, a Ashtanga Vimana would have minimum of three shrines on three levels.


Ashtanga Vimana


Paramesvara Vinnagaram in Kanchipuram, which was built in the 7th century CE by the Pallavas is the earliest example of Ashtanga Vimana. The latest example is Ashta Lakshmi temple in Chennai. In Uttiramerur and Chennai, the Ashtanga Vimanas have nine shrines and not just three shrines. The other Ashtanga Vimanas are found in Tirukoshtiyur, Srivalliputtur and Cheranmahadevi.

Madanagopala Swami temple in Madurai has just one sanctum. However, this vimana has got provisions for second and third shrines. It is also called as an Ashtanga Vimana. I leave it to the scholars to debate if Madanagopala temple is an Ashtanga vimana or not.


Vimana - Side view


Temple Layout, Architecture and Iconography:

Entrance

The temple faces the east direction. At the entrance, there is a five tiered tower (gopuram). Many Vaishnavite stucco images are found on the tower. This tower was built in 1945 CE.

Koodal Azhagar

The sanctum faces the east direction. It enshrines the presiding deity, Vishnu who is named as Koodal Azhagar. He is found along with his two consorts, Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. The icon is very tall and is about 6 feet high. He is found seated under seven hooded Adi Sesha, with his left leg folded and right leg hanging down. He has four arms and holds conch and discus in his upper arms. His lower right arm is in abhya mudra and his left arm is in chin mudra. On his right side, Sri Devi (Lakshmi) is seated with her left leg folded. She holds a flower in her left arm and her right arm is in varada mudra.  On his left side, Bhoo Devi is seated with her right leg folded. She holds a flower in her right arm and her left arm is in varada mudra. 


Carvings on the walls


Vimana

As mentioned already, the vimana is tritala Ashtanga vimana. It raises from a square base as a pyramid and is capped by a circular cupola. There are three talas (tiers) and each tier has a shrine, thus there are totally three shrines. The Vimana is full of interesting stucco images of Vishnu and Vaishnavism. Even few non-Vaishnaive images such as Ganesha are found.




Surya Narayana

In the second tier, there is a shrine which enshrines Vishnu with his two consorts. Here, Vishnu is called as Surya Narayana. He is found in the standing posture. His upper arms carry conch and discus. His lower arms are in abhaya and varada mudra. Vishnu and Bhoo Devi are in green color. All the images are stucco images. The paintings of Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Ashta Dikpalas are found on the walls of this shrine. 


Vishnu seated on lion

Parkadal Nathar

In the third tier, there is a separate shrine. Here, Vishnu is found in the reclining posture. He is called as Parkadal Nathar. Vishnu is reclining on the serpent, Adi Sesha. Brahma, seated in lotus, is found emerging out of Vishnu's navel. Vishnu is painted in green color.




Near Vishnu's head, the personified Adi Sesha is found with folded arms. His image is painted in blue color.

On Vishnu's feet, Bhoo Devi and Sri Devi are found. Bhoo Devi is painted in green color. Both Devis are found seated and they hold flowers in their respective right arms.




Beyond the feet of Vishnu, Krishna and Arjuna are found. Both are painted in blue color.

All the ten main Avatars (Dasavatars) are sculpted as small images on the walls of this shrine. Matsya Avatar is depicted as a fish, Kurma Avatar is depicted as a tortoise and Kalki Avatar has the face of horse. Varaha is painted in blue color. Parasu Rama, Rama and Krishna are painted in green color.

The walls, in addition, have few more paintings.

All the images that are found in this shrine are stucco images.


Vyuha Soundara Raja

The processional (utsava) deity is named as Vyuha Soundara Raja Perumal. He is found in the standing posture along with his two consorts, Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. These Panchaloha icons are placed in the main shrine of Koodal Azhagar.





Maduravalli and Andal

To the right side of Koodal Azhar shrine, the shrine of Goddess Maduravalli is located. The shrine is very big and it is more like a separate temple. The shrine has its own ardha mandapa, maha mandapa, mukha mandapa and prakara.




Maduravalli's image is very big and attractive. It should be around 4-5 feet high. She has four arms and holds flowers in her upper arms. She is found seated. The processional image of Maduravalli is also located in the same shrine.

A big image of Andal is found in a separate shrine to the left side of Koodal Azhagar shrine. This shrine is comparatively small. It has its own prakara. The front side mandapas are not found. Andal is found in the standing posture. She has her beautiful hair bun, as usual.

Both these shrines face the east direction.





Navagraha

It is unusual to find Navagrahas in Vishnu temple. But it is not unusual for Madurai citizens. Like many other Vishnu temples of Madurai, this temple also has a separate Navagraha shrine.


Depiction of year

There is a later period sculpture which depicts the cycle of one full year. Surya (the Sun God) is seated on a single wheeled chariot, which is pulled by a single horse and driven by Aruna. Two big serpents on either sides of the chariot, which represent Uttarayana and Dakshinayana. Twelve Rasis are found around Surya.

This sculpture is found as soon as we enter into the temple.



Elephant


A life sized elephant statue is found near the steps that lead us to the main shrine. This is to depict the legend of Periyalvar garlanded by an elephant.

Unique Narasimha

There is a small sculpture of Narasimha which is unusual. Narasimha has 16 arms. He has Hiranya lying down on his lap. His lower arms are tearing apart the body of the Asura. In addition, he holds two other Asuras on his two upper arms. This sculpture is found in a small sub-shrine in the prakara around Koodal Azhagar.




Other Shrines

In the Maha Mandapa of Koodal Azhagar, many bronze idols such as all Alwars except Andal, Ramanuja, Koorathalvan, Manavala Mamunigal, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are kept in a shrine.

The Mukha Mandapa of Koodal Azhagar has big statues of Yazhis (Vyala). In this mandapa, the sub-shrines of Krishna, Rama-Sita-Lakshmana, Vishwaksena and Lakshmi Narayana are found. In the opposite direction, there is Hanuman facing towards Rama.

Upapitha Sculptures

All these mandapas of Koodal Azhagar namely Garbha Griha, Ardha Mandapa, Maha Mandapa and Mukha Mandapa are located on a high raised platform. Tall flag staff and bali peetha are found facing towards the main shrine. Garuda is found near the flag staff.

The sub-shrines of Yoga Narasimha with Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi, Lakshmi Narasimha and Manavala Mamunigal are found in the prakara around Koodal Azhagar.

Decorated stone window


In the Mukha Mandapa of Maduravalli, there is a big shrine that enshrines the stone sculptures of all the Alwars except Andal, Koorathalvan, Ramanuja and Manavala Mamunigal.

In the passage that connects the temple of Maduravalli with the temple of Koodal Azhagar has the shrine of Sudarsana with Narasimha on the back side.

Subramanya on Vimana


In the outside, near the Raja gopuram, the shrine of Vedanta Desikar is found as a separate temple.

The mural paintings depicting the deities of all the 108 Divya Desams are found on the walls of the prakara around Koodal Azhagar.



The lower part of the main shrine walls have many miniature sculptures illustrating Vaishnava legends. The upper part of the walls have beautifully decorated pierced stone windows. On the niches, instead of sculptures, the paintings of Lakshmi, Lakshmi Narasimha, Lakshmi Narayana and Brahma are found. Every inch of the wall has intricate carvings. There are so many tiny sculptures carved all over the walls. Tiny lions in different postures and many Vaishnava related sculptures are found mostly. Sixteen armed Narasimha, Vishnu seated on lion and Nardana Kali are some of the interesting sculptures.

Rama Pattabhisheka and Ganesha in female form


Even few Shaivite sculptures such as Kali and Shiva are depicted on the walls. The vimana also has few Shaivite stucco images such as Subramanya and the female form of Ganesha.



Few statues of Nayaka Kings or chiefs are also found.

Hema Teerth, the temple tank, is found adjacent to the tower in the east corner. Another tank, which is called as Perumal Theppa Kulam, is located outside the temple complex.

Happy travelling.


Shaivite sculptures