Small Temples, Big Stories

Sometimes smaller, lesser-known temples have interesting folklore attached to them. Here are two such. The connecting thread is that my pilgrimages to those did not happen by design (I didn’t even know they existed); happenstance drove me there. Providence acts in mysterious ways!

Trinethra Dasabhuja Anjaneya

Ananthamangalam

A nondescript temple, but…

Travelling along NH45A from Sirkazhi towards Nagapattinam I stopped at the beautiful temple of Tirukadaiyur. The temple priest urged me to visit Ananthamangalam: “Go now before the crowds build up— today is Purattaasi Sanikizhamai (a holy day). It is just 5 km away!”

Ananthamangalam is between Tirukadaiyur and Tarangambadi, just a kilometer off NH45A. It is home to a temple for Rajagopalaswamy (Lord Vishnu) and his consort, Goddess Senkamalavalli. This temple was supposedly inspired by the great Chola temple for the same deities at Mannargudi. Unlike most temples in this region, it was not built by the Cholas but by a later era satrap of the Vijayanagar Empire. Compared to Mannargudi, this temple is almost nondescript. But wait…

This place also houses the Trinethra Chaturbhuja (Moolavar*) and Trinethra Dasabhuja (Utsavar*) Anjaneyas! As the name suggests the Monkey-God has 3 eyes and 10 hands. Nowhere else is Anjaneya portrayed thus. Therein lies a great story, an off-shoot from the Ramayana.

dasabhuja

…housing an impressive deity

 After vanquishing Ravana, Rama was returning to Ayodhya. Enroute, he rested at Rishi Bharadwaja’s ashram. There, sage Naradha informed him that Raktha Bindu and Raktha Rakshas – two demons from Ravana’s decimated army — had survived and were in an undersea hideout. If left unattended, they could acquire superhuman powers and harm the world. So he requested Rama to kill them as well. Rama and family were eager to reunite with Bharata, so it was agreed that Anjaneya would carry out a search-and-destroy mission. Anjenaya was a great warrior but even he had to be sufficiently fortified against magical demons. So Vishnu gave him his Conch and Chakra, Rama his bow and arrows; Bramha gave him Bramha-Kapala ,Rudra his battle-axe and Indra the Vajrayudha; other Gods gave him Trishul, Whip and Lasso. To wield the heavy arsenal, Anjenaya grew 10 arms. Garuda gave him wings and Siva topped it by giving him his laser-powered third eye. Thus armed, Anjaneya destroyed the undersea demons. Tradition has it that if you worship Anjaneya here you obtain the blessings of all the Gods that armed him. It is also believed that all the Navagrahas reside at Anjaneya’s tail-tip and those who worship him get the grace of the navagrahas!

While returning from his mission, he stopped to rest at a cool seaside place and that became Ananda-mangala (joyful place) or Ananthamangalam.

Trivia: The Utsavar Anjaneya is more impressive than the Moolavar who has only 4 arms. The moolavar’s third eye is hidden behind a huge naamam*: you need to request the priest to show it to you.

Adhi Vinayaka

I stopped at the temple street at Kuthanoor to buy flowers for Goddess Saraswati. “What? You have not visited Adhi Vinayaka yet?” asked the shopkeeper. I confessed my ignorance. “But you must!”, and he graciously showed me the way.

kuthanoor

Awaiting Divine Directions: Kuthanoor

About 3 km from Kuthanoor is the temple of Thila-tharpana-puri. Tradition has it that Lord Rama performed Tharpana (religious rites for ancestors) here; so, those who do tharpana here are absolved of all ancestral negativity. The presiding deity is Mukteeswara (Siva) with His consort Swarnavalli (Parvati). Locals say that the temple is very ancient, though it does not appear grand or ancient. All I noticed was a stone commemorating the renovations done during British rule, by a Nagarathar Chettiar group.

This temple’s singular feature is the Adhi Vinayaka at the entrance. He has a human head, not the traditional elephant head. The story: When Siva was away, Parvati begets a son, Vinayaka. One day she goes to bathe after appointing Vinayaka on sentry duty. Siva returns but is denied admission by Vinayaka. Father and son do not recognize each other. In the ensuing fracas, Siva beheads Vinayaka. Soon, Parvati returns and is inconsolable. Siva tells her that all is not lost if she can get a head from anywhere. Unaware of Siva’s design, she gets the nearest head — from a dead elephant. Siva places it on Vinayaka’s torso and creates the Elephant God. Yes, all Indians know this story. But how did Vinayaka look before plastic surgery? You can see that in Adhi Vinayaka temple: he looked divinely serene!

Where to stay

The best place to stay when visiting these temples is Mayiladuthurai (equidistant from both temples) where you can find some middle-class hotels. That would give you an opportunity to see the fine temples of Mayavaram as well. Or, you could stay in Kumbakonam which is 35 km further, but where you can find some up-market hotels too.

* Glossary

Moolavar = Statue of God installed inside the temple

Utsavar = Statue of God that is unattached and taken on processions

Naamam = A religious mark worn on the head.

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