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Monday, November 16, 2015

VEENAVAADHINI PILGRIMAGE TO PAZHANI AND TIRUCHENGODE

Articles by Rajani Arjun Shankar and Veena Venkatramani

Veenavaadhini’s Trip to Palani and Tiruchengodu - Veena Venkatramani


On the night of 21st of August, a band of people left from the Chennai Central, making our way to Pazhani,

travelling on the Pazhani Express. Comprising people from the ages of 10 to 60, all 15 of us were geared up for

the two day visit to the temples of Pazhani, Tiruchengode and Namakkal. In keeping with custom, our
 
teachers, Jeyaraaj sir and Jaysri ma’am had planned the annual trip of our Veenavaadhini school. We visit a

different temple each year, and sing compositions of Muthuswamy Dikshitar which are particular to those

locations. This time too, a week before the trip, we had learnt the songs that were to be sung this time, and

had a final group rehearsal as well. We were all set to go.



We reached Pazhani at 7 the next morning, and made our way to Ganesh Lodge. The lodge, albeit small, makes

up for its size by having a wonderful view of the temple atop the hill. It is bang opposite the foot of the Pazhani

malai, and if you’re lucky enough to have a room facing that side, you can see the temple at any time from

your room as well. After a quick breakfast, we dressed up in the chosen colour for the day, purple, and set out.

Some of us had already begun rehearsing the songs that we would be singing under our breath, looking up

lyrics on the internet, or in our notebooks. There are two ways to get on top of the hill, on which the temple

stands. One is by a 4-seater cable car, and the other would be to walk up the mountain by foot. Every day

witnesses several of ardent devotees making their way up the temple, after getting off to a good start by

praying at the Pillaiyar kovil that is built at the foot of the ascending steps. Since we had elderly people

amongst us, and were afraid that the sun would rise soon and make us sweat it out, we decided to go up by

the cable cars. And it was a good decision. The view that the cable car affords us is fantastic. In a 5 minute

journey, you can see the entire town surrounding the hill, and the enveloping Western Ghats in the distance,

and the sight of lush greenery makes a good start to the pilgrimage. As you reach the top, you can also see the

nearby Idumban hill.

Legend has it that Idumban was an asura, who was taking two hills from the northern Himalayas, slung across

his shoulders. With Shiva’s abode in the north in Kailasam, it was believed that the world was tilting to the

north, and thus to retain this balance, he was carrying these hills to the South. On his way, he stopped at

Pazhani for a brief rest. Once rested, when he got up to continue his journey, he found that he could not lift

one of the hills. On a closer observation, he found Murugan, who had just left his parents’ house in anger after

being fooled out of the Gnanapazham, was sitting atop the hill. Humbled at being defeated by a lad after the

ensuing fight, he left the hills as they were and became an ardent devotee of Murugan himself. As the Pazhani

Murugan temple was built atop one hill, a temple for Idumban was built on the other, and can be seen directly

across.

We reached the temple walls and entered the sannidhi of the God. We were told that the “aarathi” would take

place in half an hour. The sastrigal of the inner sanctorum desired us to sing songs as we waited, and thus we

sang, “Sri Guruguha” in Devakriya, “Saravana Bhava ennum” in Shanmugapriya.

Pazhani murugan is depicted as a hermit, with a stick, the dandham in his hand, and is called Dandayudhapani.

It is said that the idol of the God here is made by Bogar muni, on the 18 rishis of lore. An ardent devotee of

Murugan, he made the idol out of 9 poisonous substances, known as the Navapashanam, which when

combined together, form a medicinal substance. The priests here perform paalabhishekham to the idol and

the milk when drunk is supposed to provide a cure for various maladies. Over the years, with various

abishekhams, the idol has somewhat diminished in size, since it is made out of herbs, and not out of metal.

As the aarathi was performed, we sang Dandayudhapanim, composed by Dikshitar, in Anandabhairavi. We

also sang two tiruppugazh, Kariya periya in ragam Mohanam, and Apakaram, in the ragam Chakravaham.

Next, we saw the shrine built to Bogar muni, with the maragathalingam, and other idols that the muni is

supposed to have worshipped. According to history, the muni is supposed to have entered a cave below the

shrine one day when he felt he was nearing his end, and rumoured never to have come back. He is said to have

attained Jeevasamadhi in the cave below. It is also said that the cave has a direct tunnel to the shrine of

Murugan. The muni is said to have built 9 idols of Murugan, but only one is known to priests.

Having finished a pradakshanam of the temple, and buying the famous Panchamritam, some of us decided to

go back down the hill by cable car, while some of the others walked down the steps. The walk down takes

around 20 minutes, and is quite tiring for somebody who is not used to exercise, as the steps are plenty in

number and a little steep. The road back to the hotel was littered with shops selling all kinds of odds and ends,

and several juice shops, intended to help travelers beat the heat.

We ate our lunch at a restaurant called Nalapakam. The meal here is typical elai sapaadu, and is a treat to the

taste buds. The food is served over several courses, and the paruppu podi deserves a special mention. It  was

served with ghee, and very soon all of us were craving for more. We were served rice with sambar, rasam,

podi, morkozhambu and curd rice with a strong vetthakozhambu, and the entire meal was unforgettable. How

much ever we may delight in other cuisines, there is nothing like well-made South India “meals”.

That evening was spent in some of us taking rest and some of us shopping, and soon we had to leave for Erode

by road. We left at 5 p.m., and reached Erode by 8, had dinner, and slept, resting ourselves for the temples to

be visited the next day.

We left from Erode at 8 in the morning, all dressed in yellow. The journey from Erode to Tiruchengode was an

hour long, and we played a Carnatic antakshari as we went, to pass the time. The temple of Tiruchengode is

dedicated to Ardhanareeshwar, an avatar, the right half of which is Shiva, and the left, his consort Parvathi.

According to history, one of the 18 rishis, Bringhimunivar, was an ardent devotee of Shiva. Seeing his immense

devotion, Parvathi requested Shiva to make her a part of him so that the muni would worship her as well. To

accede to her request, Shiva took the form of Ardhanareeshwarar, a half-man, half-woman avatar. The muni,

however, turned himself into a bee, and continued to circle just the face of Shiva. An angry Parvathi cursed the

muni to hell.  Although the muni’s curse was later on broken, that is a story for another temple.

The temple atop a plateau, and overlooks a vast plain, surrounded by ranges of hills. At the time we went, a

slight mist was beginning to blanket the surroundings, giving the entire area a slight chill. A colourful gopuram

tops the temple, with figurines of various gods and goddesses. In order to enter the temple, we had to

descend several steps. At the top of the steps, the gopuram is almost at eye level. This makes it all the more

noticeable, unlike other temples where one has to crane one’s neck and look up in order to appreciate the

beauty of the gopuram. The walls of the temple were crooked, and a quaint sky blue. To the left, there was a

flight of steps leading back up to the hill top. To our surprise, there was no crowd at the temple, which meant

we could get a longer Darshan of the idol.

At the entrance to the sannidhi, there is an idol of Nari Ganapathy. The story is that Pillaiyar turned into a lady

to assist Ambal when she visited the area, and is thus known as Nari Ganapathy.

Inside the sannidhi, the walls are decorated with colourful paintings explaining the story of Bringhimunivar and

Ardhanareeshwarar. We were allowed the privilege of sitting just outside the sanctum sanctorum, allowing us

to have an extremely close look of the idol. The face of the idol is substituted by a lingam. There is a very

visible gold thali around the neck of the idol, symbolizing the female half. The rest of the idol is draped in a

white veshti. While the sastrigal performed the arathi, we sang “Ardhanareeshwaram” in the ragam

Kumudakriya, a composition of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, in roopakam. Completing the arathi, the priest then

lifted the veshti of the idol, and allowed us a glimpse of the legs of the idol. It seemed to be made of bronze,

and had seemingly three legs. Only then were we explained that the middle “leg” was the line separating the

veshti and the saree of the God and the Goddess. At that moment, it felt like a rare sight to be lucky enough to

behold, and this was echoed in the cries of all the devotees who had gathered in the sannidhi. After tasting the

teertham, we made our way out of the shrine. We next visited the shrine of Adiseshan, accompanied by his

wives on either side, and flanked by Rahu and Kethu below. The priest here said that praying to this particular

shrine is known to relieve and cure people with all kinds of pains and illnesses. Next was a smaller shrine of

Kala Bhairavam, the fierce manifestation of Shiva, wearing a garland of skulls, and smeared with ash. The eyes

of this particular idol seemed to be emanating anger and ferocity. There was also a shrine for

“Chengottuvelavar”, named after the Tiruchengodu region. An unusual feature about this idol was that, unlike

other idols of Murugan where he holds the emblem of the rooster in his left hand, in this idol, he is shown

holding the rooster itself in his left hand. The form of the rooster was clearly visible in the idol’s hands, as the

priest inside lifted the veshti of the idol to show us this. We did a pradakshanam of the entire temple, and

three-quarters of an hour having flown past without anyone noticing, we decided to leave.

It was then that we noticed another hill adjacent to the temple, with a Pillaiyar kovil on top. The hill seemed

almost double the height of this hill, and with no method of going up except by our own feet, we were told

that the trek up and down takes an hour and half. Due to a lack of time, we decided against going up to the

temple, and to continue on to Namakkal, with a desire to come back and visit the Uchi Pillaiyar at a later date.

The ride from Tiruchengode to Namakkal was another hour. Namakkal is famous for its temples for Anjaneyar

and Narasimhan, and it was these temples that we had planned to visit. We first made our way to the

Anjaneyar temple. Hundreds of people thronged the entrance of the temple, and we were unable to make our

way inside. However, someone from our group knew one of the priests inside, and thus once again luck

favoured us and we were able to get inside from a back entrance and sit in front of the shrine. The idol of

Hanuman is 18 feet tall and imposing, and his arms and folded as though in prayer. The eyes of the idol are

supposedly focused towards the feet of the idol of Narasimhan, in His temple at the opposite end of the road.

Unlike other temples where the idol is generally draped in a veshti or a saree, this is not the case here. There is

also no gopuram for the temple. On either side of the idol, there are wooden steps which have built for priests

to be able to climb to the top, when they need to perform abishekam and other rituals.

As we sat down, we saw hundreds of milk packets piled up at one side. And it was growing, as several devotees

offered more packets of milk. Soon, a few priests brought in huge barrels and buckets and began emptying the

packets of milk in at the rate of 1 packet in 2 seconds. It was efficiency at its peak. In the meantime, one of the

other priests climbed to the top and performed abishekam with sandalwood.  As it all poured down, the priest

proceeded to clean the idol in preparation for the paal abishekam to be performed next. As this happened, we

sang “Ramachandram Bhavayami” in Vasantha, “Anjaneyam sada”, a nottuswaram composed by Dikhsitar, and

“Veera Hanumate”.

Once the barrels and buckets were full, some of them were hoisted up onto the wooden slab to the three

priests who had gathered above, while some were retained below. Finally, all was ready. As one, the priests

poured the milk down the idol. It was a sight to see the entire 18 feet tall idol covered in white as they

continuously bathed the idol in milk, from the top and the ground. Soon, the entire floor was covered in milk.

All around, you could hear murmurs of the Hanuman Chalisa. We could not, however, stay for the entire ritual,

since there was somebody waiting outside to take us to the Narasimhan temple as well. On our way out, some

of us made the mistake of going out not the way we came, but through the front entrance of the temple.

Hundreds of devotees had gathered near the shrine, with bottles and other utensils, to take the milk with

which the abishekam had been performed. The milk was been let out through a pipe from the shrine and had

an outlet at the side. This was a balm to some of us who were a little upset at the quantum of milk that was

being used for the ritual, and what we thought would not be used for anything afterwards. With the number of

people that had gathered and the size of the temple, a stampede ensued and it was an effort to elbow one’s

way out through the crowd and come out of the temple. Only when we came out did we learn that the paal

abishekam ritual occurs on the first Sunday of each month, and we found ourselves once again extremely lucky

to have been there on such a day.

The Narasimhan kovil was at the other end of the road, with shops on the left side of the road, and the houses

on the right. One of our group members knew someone who could take us around the temple and explain the

legends to us. Behind the temple towered a huge hill, with a fort atop. We learnt that this was the Namakkal

fort, and had a Varadarajaperumal kovil inside. However, this was open only in the evening, which meant that

however inviting the climb looked, we would not be able to enter inside, since it was only late morning.

The first shrine we visited was that of Namagiri Lakshmi. According to residents of Namakkal, this goddess is

the reason for the mathematical genius of Ramanujam and was the one who initiated him into it. Those who

prayed to her would succeed in their academic ventures. Since most of our group consisted of students, we

prayed very ardently at this shrine. Next we made our way to the main shrine, for which the temple is known.

The sannidhi was a little dim, and extremely cool, as we went inside in a line. The walls contained sculptures of

various forms of Vishnu, like the Ananthapadmanabhaswamy avatar, and all the avatars in the Dashavataram,

in black. One avatar which caught our eye was the Varaha avataram, which was depicted with all the four

vedas sprouting of the God’s mouth. In all the sculptures, the lines of eyes, the mouth, the vibuthi, and the

veshti were drawn in saffron paste, thus highlighting them. In the centre shrine, was the form of Narasimhan.

The idol was flanked on the right by Suryan and Shiva, and on the left by Chandran and Brahma. Thus, all of

the trinity were present in this shrine. This is the reason that there are no temples for Shiva built in Nammakal.

Since there was a long line of people waiting behind us, we could not linger and admire the sculptures for long,

and we had to leave.

After a quick meal, we made our way to our final temple stop, in Bhavani. Bhavani is another small town in the

area, and has a temple, built on the banks of the meeting point of three rivers, namely Kaveri, Bhavani, and

Amiruthavahini (which supposedly sprouts from below the shrine of the God). The temple is built in honour of

Shiva, who is called Sangameshwarar here.

On reaching the temple, we first made our way to the river bank, at the point where all three rivers converge,

and dipped our feet in the cool water. All around, devotees were dipping themselves entirely, while the

children frolicked in the water. Next we made our way to the shrine for Goddess Vedanayaki. The shrine was

inside a circular room, and standing with our back to the Goddess, you could see the river Kaveri exactly

opposite. To the right of the shrine, we found a locked room, with an unjal inside.  The wall to the right had a

tablet, describing a very interesting story behind the cradle.

Back in the days of the British rule, a certain British officer who administered this area, was once visited in his

dream at night by the form of a young girl, who beckoned him outside his house urgently. Just as he woke up

and rushed outside his house, a raging fire emerged and his house collapsed. After the chaos subsided and he

turned to look for and thank the girl, he found her missing. Determined to find her, he made enquiries and the

temple priests told him that it was the Goddess Vedanayaki who had saved him. To make sure, he decided to

lay a vigil at night. He cut three holes in the temple wall opposite the shrine of the Goddess and lay watch at

night. He saw the form of the Goddess emerging and saw that it was the same girl who had saved him. To

thank her, he then gifted her with an ivory cradle, the very cradle which we saw hung in the locked room.

Having prayed at the shrine of Sangameshwarar, we saw that clouds were gathering, and rushed to make our

way back to the hotel. Once back, we ate our lunch, and then went to pack our bags and get ready to leave in

the evening for the station. We rested for a bit, and then ate dinner at a nearby Adyar Ananda Bhavan,

and then made our way to the station. All of us were happily tired by this time, and having gotten on to the train, we

just slept. We reached Chennai the next morning at around 5 a.m. Since it was a Monday,

and each of us had to get started for the week with office, school, college, etc., we rushed back home, after

bidding everyone a brief goodbye.

This pilgrimage is certainly a must-do for people, even if they are not extremely devout. The landscapes, the

sculptures, architecture and stories behind each temple are interesting by themselves. To sign off, our trip was

an extremely memorable one, and the images of the various idols, gopurams, shrines, etc., will not be easy to

forget.



Veenavaadhini’s Yatra to Palani and Tiruchengodu - Rajani Arjun Shankar

If there is one god who is loved and adored by almost anyone in Tamil Nadu and whose shrine is

replicated in dozens of cities across several countries, and whose unique temple practices like the

Padayatra or Kavadi or Abhishekams are known and followed by people in all these shrines, it must the

young child-god Murugan, known as Dandayudhapani, in Palani. The town of Palani resonates with the

fervor of Murugan devotees who throng the place in hundreds on a normal day and in thousands at

other times. It is a place in worship for at least two thousand years, being mentioned in

Tirumurugattruppadai, a Sangam period poem.






So it is most fitting that Muthuswamy Dikshitar, whose birth and name are closely connected to

Murugan, whose very signature “Guruguha” was in honour of this god, should visit this sacred place and

compose two Kritis, one at the hill temple, and one at the temple called as Tiruvavinankudi that is at the

base of the hill, about half a kilometre away.  We at Veenavaadhini were fortunate to visit these two

temples, and sing the Kritis composed by Dikshitar in those shrines. The Kritis are “Sharavanabhava” in

Revagupti and “Dandayudhapanim” in Ananda Bhairavi.

We left Chennai by train (Palani Express) and reached Palani on Saturday, 22nd August 2015. We reached

our hotel, and in less than an hour, we were on our way to Tiruvavinankudi.  A small but beautiful

temple, it gets its name from the five celestials who worshipped Murugan here – Tiru (Lakshmi), A

(Kamadhenu), Inan (Surya), Ku (Bhumi) and Ti (Agni). The main deity is called “Kuzhandhai Velayudha

Swamy” and he is seated on his vehicle, the peacock. As described by Dikshitar in the Revagupti Kriti, he

holds Varada and Abhaya Mudras with one pair of hands. The other pair holds his usual weapons –

Shakti and Vajra. There are many other shrines and the temple has some very beautiful trees- an Amla

(Nelli) tree that is the Sthala Vriksha and also large Nagalinga and Kadamba trees.

We went up the hill by cable car, and waited near the Utsavar (Shanmukhar) shrine for some time.

During this time, we sang several songs – Shri Guruguha (Devakriya), Valli Devasenapate (Khamas),

Saravanabhava Ennum (Shanmukhapriya) and some Tiruppugazh songs. When we finally reached the

Moolavar (main sanctum), we had but a few minutes to quickly sing the long Anandabhairavi Kriti. We

then worshipped the Samadhi of Bhogar, the Siddhar who made the beautiful idol of Dandayudhapani

with Navapashanam - 9 different herbal/mineral extracts. Hence the milk, Sandal paste and

Panchamritam etc. that come into contact with the idol of the lord are highly curative. Some of us

walked down the steps while others took the cable car down.

Later that day, we covered the hundred-odd kilometres from Palani to Erode by road and spent the

night at Erode, which is a business centre and a prosperous town. The next morning we left around 8am

to Tiruchengode, which is around 30 kilometres away. The temple is on a large hill, although one need

not climb the 1300 steps to reach it. Like Tiruttani, it is possible to drive up to the temple.

The Tiruchengode temple is equally famous for the Ardhanareeshwara shrine and that of Murugan,

known as Sengottu Velar here. Dikshitar has composed the hauntingly beautiful Kriti in Kumudakriya

“Ardhanareeshwaram Aradhyami” here. We were lucky that just when we went, there weren’t many

people in the temple. We were allowed by the priests to sing the Kriti in the main sanctum.

Ardhanareeshwara stands tall and well-adorned, a perfect blend of feminine grace and masculine

stateliness, the latter emphasized by the Danda he holds with his right hand. The idol is Svayambhu and

there is a spring with a perennial flow of water under the feet of the deity. The idol of Sengottuvelar is

unique too. The “Vel” is carved in stone, and Murugan is cradling his rooster between his left hand and

thigh. This is visible in portraits, but to see it in the Moolavar’s form, we have to request the priest to

move aside  the lord’s Veshti to show us the bird nestled there. (The priest obliged us kindly.) There is a

large image of Adisesha, who worshipped here. This is why the hill is called Sarpagiri or Nagachalam.

Arunagirinathar in particular uses this description in his songs and Anubhuti verses.

Probably due to the snake connection, this shrine is visited by couples praying for progeny. Vallimalai

Swamigal was born to his parents after offering prayers here and his childhood name is Ardhanari.

Since we had the day at Erode, we also visited Namakkal and saw the famous Hanuman temple, and the

Narasimhar temple. The latter has the shrine of Namagiri Thayar, the beloved Ishta-Devata of

Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The priest told the children to pray well to do well in their studies,

for this is a goddess who solved complicated mathematical problems for the great man in his dreams.

Later that day, we visited the Sangameshwara temple which is situated right at the confluence of the

Bhavani and Kaveri rivers. One can see the waters of the Kaveri, from the sanctum. The goddess here,

Vedanayaki, has an ivory cot gifted by the British Collector William Karo in gratitude for saving his life.

The goddess assumed the form of a little girl, woke him up and brought him out of a collapsing

bungalow. There is a lovely, large Ilandhai (Badari) tree in the temple as the Sthala Vriksha.

This covers the Kongu Nadu temples visited by Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Many more temples in the Chola


and Pandya lands beckon!

3 comments:

B. Karthickeyan said...

Ram Ram
Very interesting read. The yearly initiative of visiting temples and singing the appropriate songs deserves appreciation. May Lord bless you all.

Mamatha Mamatha said...

u r blog is good and it imroves devotion of peopele
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kaavi desam said...

The idol of a stone is form by nine different kinds of medicinal minerals called navapashanam.The great siddha Bhogar classified 64 types of poisons out of which 32 is naturally acquired and 32 is artificially acquired. Out of these 64 poisonous substance, any nine can be chosen to make navapashanam. The nine poisonous substances chose to make the beads, malai and idols avalaible here are Veeram, Pooram, Rasam, Jathilingam, Kandagam, Gauri pasanam, Vellai Pasanam, Mridharsingh and Silasat. These are the basic nine poisonous substance used to constitute the Murugan Idol by Siddha Bogar in Palani Temple, India. Buy Navapashanam Idol In Online