Dec 4, 2011

A family trip to heritage temple sites

"Planning a trip. Care to join?" my bro pinged me in Gtalk yesterday. It had been long time since I had spent time with my family, so I jumped at the opportunity and sent "sure" as a reply to him.

I got up at 5 AM (which is usually my time to sleep), freshened up and took a cold shower, boarded a government bus near my hostel gate to reach home in time for breakfast. 

While I was devouring idlis, my brother briefed me about the complete plan, which was to visit three of the ancient temple sites in Kanchipuram, namely Chettipunyam, Uthiramerur and Maduranthagam. He had already booked a Qualis, and by the time we finished breakfast and had our coffees, the Qualis arrived. My brother briefed the plan to the driver while I loaded the luggage into the trunk.

The first place we drove to is Chettipunyam, a small village located a few kilometers down south from Singaperumal koil (an ancient temple of Lord Narasimha). Legend has it that in 17th century, when the enemy captured the Devanathaswamy temple at Thiruvendipuram (located in Cuddalore district), the temple priest, taking help from the faithfuls, displaced the presiding deities Lord Devanatha (Lord Vishnu) and Lord Hayagriva (horse faced God who is worshiped for knowledge) to a safer place in Chettipunyam. After normalcy was restored, the people of Chettipunyam who took great care of the deities by worshipping them in accordance with the scriptures, refused to agree to the idea of shifting them back to where they belonged. This resulted in the presiding deity of Chettipunyam temple having two names, Varadharaja (presiding deity's original name), and Devanatha.

Uthiramerur Perumal temple

Uthiramerur perumal temple's rajagopuram (main entrance)

From Chettipunyam, we drove to Uthiramerur temple. The Uthiramerur  temple was one of the oldest temples built by the Pallava rulers, constructed in 8th century AD. Visit the temple once, and you would surely be awed by its architectural marvel. It is a multi-storeyed construction, with Lord Sundara Varadha (another name for Lord Vishnu) as the presiding deity at the ground level. Climb the stairs to reach the first level, Lord Vaikunta Varadha receives you with a warm smile and thaila kaapu. Moving in a clockwise direction from Lord Vaikunta Varadha's sannidhi, one can receive blessings from Lord Krishna (in a 'preaching Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna' pose), Lord Anantha Varadha and Lord Bhuvaraha. Another stair case located outside the second level takes us to the next level where Lord Ranganatha of Sri Rangam presides.

Vedanthangal Bird Sancturary
By the time we came out of the Uthiramerur temple, it was already 11 AM. We realized that we cannot make it to the Ram temple at Maduranthangam which would be closed for mid-day break at noon. So I pitched in the idea of visiting Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, which was on the way to Maduranthagam, and everybody agreed.

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary

We spent a couple of hours at the bird sanctuary where the season is at its peak now, and so it was more crowded than the last time I visited the place along with my friend.

It was nearing 3.30 PM by the time we reached Maduranthagam. We still had about half an hour (or more, depending on the mood of the temple priest) to go before the temple would be opened for the evening darshan. Since there were no hotels near Vedanthangal to have our lunch at, we hunted for one at Maduranthagam. After making enquiries at a couple of restaurants nearby, we realized that we were either late for lunch or too early for evening tiffin. From the locals, we heard about the Highway Inn, which is located on the National Highways NH-45.

By the time we finished our lunch and drove to the Ram temple, it was 4 o'clock. The temple's sanctum sanctorum was not yet opened. We went around the temple to read the history about the temple and the ruler who built it. The interesting story I read about the temple is the legendary story of Lord Ram appearing before the British collector in late 17th century to protect the lake from flooding.
Rajagopuram of Maduranthagam temple

 history of the temple

legend depicted in an art form

art form depicting Saint Ramanuja's samasrayanam

The magizha tree under which Sri Ramanuja was given the Pancha Samskaram (Samasrayanam) by his Acharya Periya Nambigal

The legend holds that Lord Ram along with Lord Lakshman appeared before the then British collector, Lionel Place Durai, helped him bring the flood of Maduranthagam lake under control. This action earned the title "Eri Katha Rama" (the Lord who saved the lake from flood) to the presiding deity. As a token of gratitude, the collector funded the restoration of the temple which was in a dilapidated state then. The lord Ram in this temple strikes a unique pose by holding hands with Sita as in Swayamwara (marriage), which adds to the beauty. The temple priest added a couple of "special" facts about the temple while performing the deepa aradhana (lighting of lamp).

The main idol named Eri Katha Rama or simply Ramaswamy is taken out during temple procession only twice a year, once during Lord Ram's birthday, and the other time, on the seventh day of Utsavam. For the  remaining days, the other idol named Karunakaran is taken out for temple procession.

A tunnel passage connecting the lake with the temple tank via the temple premises can be found in front of the sanctum sanctorum of Eri Katha Rama.

While much of the stories are mythical (popularised on purpose, to attract people to visit the shrine), I liked those stories and the temple visit because they gave me a wonderful opportunity to witness the marvels of our ancients who ruled this part of the world about a millennium ago, when there was not even a trace of what we call "the modern technology"! The trip ended on a happy note after we returned where we started from: "Home! Sweet home!"