The worship of Navagrahas (9 heavenly bodies) is an ancient Hindu tradition: by propitiating the right planet when it is at a predefined position in the ephemeris, one advances one’s fortunes. Each of the Navagrahas has a temple dedicated to it— all within 60 km radius of Kumbakonam Town in the Chola heartland. This is not surprising, because all of them were built centuries ago, by the the Cholas. Even if you do not believe in the religious tradition, you cannot miss the immense archeological value of these temples.
Recently I made a serendipitous discovery: there are heritage Navagraha temples within 30 km of metropolitan Chennai. These temples of Thondaimandalam (the kingdom of the Thondaiman dynasty, i.e. Chennai and adjoining districts) are truly of high archeological and spiritual value; less famous may be, but almost equally significant. Given below are the Thondaimandalam equivalents of the Cholamandalam temples:
TEMPLE IN CHOLA-MANDALAM
TEMPLE IN THONDAI-MANDALAM
|1||Surya – Sun||Suryanar Koil||Agasteeswarar – Kolapakkam|
|2||Chandra – Moon||Thingaloor||Somanatheeswarar- Somangalam|
|3||Sevvai- Mars||Vaitheeswaran Koil||Vaitheeswaran Koil – Poonamalee|
|4||Budha – Mercury||Tiruvennkaadu||Sundareswarar- Kovur|
|5||Guru – Jupiter||Aalangudi||Tiruvalidaayam – Padi|
|6||Sukra – Venus||Kanchanoor||Srivelleeswarar – Mangadu|
|7||Sani – Saturn||Tirunallaaru||Saneeswarar – Pozhichalur|
|8||Rahu – Virtual planet||Tirunageswaram||Neelakanteswarar – Gerugambaakkam|
|9||Ketu – Virtual planet||Keezhperumpallam||Nageswarar – Kundrathur|
Most of these Thondaimandalam temples are in the Porur- Kundrathur belt, but the Guru temple at Padi is a pleasant surprise. For years now I have been passing within kissing distance of this heritage site, in total ignorance (The Padi industrial suburb is enroute to my office)! To make amends for the lost opportunities, I visited the temple last week. And I rediscovered our hoary past!
Historically, Padi was not an industrial township, but a military cantonment. “Padi” is short for “Padi-Veedu”, meaning Armoury. In fact, the neighbouring Kali temple in Padi — Padavattaman Koil — derives from the original name Padai-Veettu-Amman (meaning the Goddess of the Military Camp). Military rulers (Cholas, Chalukyas, Vijayanagar Nayaks etc) patronized this military town. The earliest reference (7th Century) to Tiruvalidaayam temple is found in Poet Sambandar’s religious verses (Tevaaram). Probably, this temple was made of bricks then; it got converted to the “modern” granite structure by the sponsorship of Raja Raja Chola –III ( 13th century). Successive warlords who controlled Padi ensured that the temple was always maintained in robust condition. We owe so much to their munificence!
The Temple is built in the Thoongaanai style; so-called because the architectural profile resembles a sleeping elephant (Tamil: Thoongum + Yaanai). The outer prahaara is neat and clean with a small backyard garden: such a relief from the noise and pollution of Padi. There is a well-kept Goshaala for the temple’s cows, and there is even a cute bird bath for the pigeons that live atop the Gopuram.
…. and the Bird-bath
As soon as we enter the campus the Guru sanctum is on the right. On Thursdays the Guru sanctum is over-crowded but on other days devotees can get a very peaceful dharshan. The main deity is Tiruvaleeswarar (a beautiful Sivalinga) and his consort is Jagadamba or Tiruveedhi Naachiyaar. The inner prahaara is adorned with artistically carved stone idols— the best being the fierce Bhairava.
In old temples, folklore gets enmeshed with history. So it is with Tiruvalidaayam too.
Sage Bharadwaj was cursed by Menaka to become a black bird called Valiyan. He came to Padi and prayed to Siva and got redeemed. Hence the name Tiru-Vali-Daayam for this temple.
The most powerful Navagraha, Guru once yielded to lust and was full of remorse after the event. He reached Tiruvalidaayam and prayed to Siva for forgiveness. Lord Siva granted him absolution and blessed him. Ever since then, it became a holy shrine for devotees to receive the grace of Guru.
There is an interesting off-shoot of the Ramayana too. Rama killed Ravana in fair battle, in Lanka. Yet he was haunted by Ravana’s ghost. Ravana was a Rakshasa but also a Siva-devotee. So elders counseled that if a Siva-Linga could be sourced from Mount Kailas and worshipped at an auspicious time the ghost would be exorcised. Rama dispatched Hanuman to distant Kailas to perform the task. As the auspicious hour approached, Hanuman was still in transit. So Sita took some sand and constructed a “Jugad” Linga, and Rama performed the Puja punctually. Hanuman arrived with the Kailasa Linga shortly after but was distraught to find that “his” Sivalinga was not the presiding deity. Rama assuaged Hanuman, by permitting him to dislodge the Sand Linga and install the Kailasa Linga. But try as he might, the sand would not budge and Hanuman fainted in the effort. Hanuman then realized that it was not his ego that mattered but the faith in the Lord. He was advised by Sage Narada to go to Tiruvalidaayam and obtain Siva’s grace. Thus, in the inner prahaara we find the Hanumar Pujita Linga — the Linga worshipped by Hanuman.
I guess the philosophy behind all the folklore is: no matter how bad you are or the situation is, it can always be improved with a little faith. It merely requires surrender. Me, I am not ready for surrender yet; I only want to soak in the ambience of the temple.
Dharshan = Sighting, or Meeting with God
Gopuram = Temple Spire
Goshaala = Cow shed
Jugad = make-shift
Koil = Temple
Prahaara = Corridor enveloping the Temple
Rakshasa = Demon
You might like to read this interesting article by Temple Historian Dr. Chitra Madhavan: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/Arunagirinathar-wrote-Thirupugazh-verses-here/2016/06/29/article3504383.ece