Visiting Temples

My wife & I have always wanted to visit the grand old temples in Tamilnadu, particularly the ones in the Kaveri belt, but in the numerous visits to India we was never able to fit them in the past. When planning for the visit for December 2019, we made sure that we would allocate certain number of days for visiting the temples and managed to visit a whole bunch of them.

We specifically chose temples that are old, with a lot of history and with connections to music or compositions on the deities at these temples. Our focus was also to explore everything about the temple such as the architecture, history etc, in addition to the darshan of the deity.

It was a wonderful experience visiting these temples, marveling these temples; with the beautiful weather and lush green fields after the rains, it was a great all around. Where possible we had guides explaining the history of the temple and facts about the temple which we would have missed otherwise.

All these temples are also the ‘kshetrams’ to which one or more kritis have been composed by the trinity and other composers. To the ones I knew as compositions associated with the temples, I sought help from Dr. Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam who has performed numerous concerts in the ‘Kshetrams’ theme and also released CD’s and was gracious to provide me the information for the temples that I did not have the info on.

I present you a combination of some history of the temples and the compositions dedicated to the main deities of the temples we visited. You will notice that many of the compositions are not often heard and not surprisingly some of them rendered by Dr. Vijayalakshmi Subrmaniam. It is Deekshatar’s compositions that you will see more often followed by Tyagaraja. I did try finding tamil compositions for some temples, but could not find a recording that seemed fit. I have not included any instrumental recording for it defeats the purpose.

Hope you enjoy this presentation as much as I did with the trip and the exercise of putting together this post. My apologies for any mistakes in the details I have presented.

Tiruchi

The first 10 years of my life was in Ponmalai (Golden Rock), kind of a suburb of Tiruchi, where the Railways has a huge workshop and perhaps the largest employer out there. I have some memories of visiting the various temples in and around Tiruchi. In the 80’s, it was a quick visit that took us to Palani and Srirangam. And in 1991, it was a trip to REC (now NIT) to recruit for my company!

A lot has changed obliviously in these years and except for the major landmarks like the ‘ucchi pillayar’ koil, the huge church nearby and remnants of the fort that still exists, there was not much that matched my memories.

Tiruvanaikaval

Supposed to have been built by the Cholas between 200 and 300 AD.

Jambukeswarar

  • Main deity is Jambu Lingam, one of the ‘pancha bootam’ lingams representing ‘water’ as the name suggests
  • Parvati/Akilandeswari supposedly created the lingam out of water from the river Kaveri

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘jambupatE’ in yamunAkalyANi by B Rajam Iyer

This is a recording from Oriental Records. I have heard many others render it including D K Jayaraman, but I believe this one is perhaps the best.

 Akilandeswari

  • One of the forms of Parvati
  • ‘Akilandeswari’ is a beautiful composition on her by Muttuswamy Deekshatar

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘akhilAndEswari’ in dwijAvanti by M S Subbalakshmi

Ranganathar Koil

This temple is considered as the largest functioning temple in the world. ‘Angkor Wat’, considered as the largest temple complex is an archaeological site and not a functional one.

I have not been able to find info when it was initially built and it is known that the temple was reconstructed and extended multiple times because of the Moghul invaders and then the European invaders. 

  • It has seven concentric enclosures or prakarams; each of these prakaram contains one or more sannidhis
  • There are 21 gopurams in the complex. I did not count 😉
    • The outermost gopuram with 13 levels was constructed in 1987. 
    • The north entrance faces the ‘Kaveri’ while the south entrance faces ‘Kollidam’
    • The gopuram at the west entrance is entirely white in memory of ‘Vellai Ammal’ who helped in the safekeeping of the Namperumal idol.

Tyagaraja’s ‘O rangasAyi’ in kAmbhOji by M S Subbalakshmi

Tyagaraja’s ‘rAju veDala jootA murArE’ in tODi by T N Seshagopalan

Ucchi Pillayar & Tayumanavar Koil

Built in 8th century by Pallavas & Cholas and then by Nayaks. 

  • The small temple for Vinayakar is atop a rock; the rock sticks out in an otherwise very flat area
  • The Tayumanavar (shiva) temple is located halfway up the rock
  • About 500 steps to get to the top
  • Beautiful view of the Kaveri river, Jambukeswarar and Ranganathaswamy temples in the Srirangam island

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘sri mAtrubootanDri’ in kannaDA by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Tanjavur

Bruhadeeswarar Koil

  • Built by Raja Raja Cholan between 1003 and 1010; the 1000 anniversary was celebrated in 2010
  • One of the largest Shiva temples in the world and a Unesco Heritage site
  • It houses one of the tallest lingams, probably only second to the one at Gangai Konda Cholapuram.
  • Was used as an army Garrison by the British during their battles with the French 😦
  • Because of the upcoming kumbabhishekam, access to the lingam was closed and was cluttered with a lot of construction material and activity
  • If you plan to visit, be sure to use a guide because the details are extensive and some knowledgeable person providing explanations is important

Self Composition ‘bruhadeeswara mahAdEva’ in kAnaDA by Balamurali Krishna

This composition is etched into my memory and I cannot think of any other compositions that is more apt for this temple.

Tiruvaiyaru

AiArappan or Panchanadeeswarar koil

Got to this temple late in the evening and hence could not get a good view of the entire temple.

Tyagaraja’s ‘muccaTa brahmAdulaku’ in madyamAvati by S Rajam

Muttuswami Deekshatar’spraNatArti harAya’ in sAmanta by R Vedavalli

Swamimalai

Murugan Temple

  • Is one of the “Aru paDai veeDu”
  • Supposed to be in existence from 2nd century BC with numerous renovations and additions over time.
  • The temple was much smaller than I expected
  • Beautiful carvings on the pillars as you can see above

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘sri bAlasubramanya’ in bilahari by T N Seshagopalan

Swetha/Vellai Vinayakar temple

  • Located in the village of Thiruvalanchuzhi (named after the twisted flow of the river nearby)
  • On asking for directions to the ‘Swetha Vinayakar temple’, these persons had no clue, till someone prompted that it could be the ‘Vellai Pillayar koil’ 🙂
  • The pillayar idol is white and quite small, supposedly made of sea foam
  • Another temple that has been around for a very very long time
  • It also houses a temple for Shiva (Sadaimudinadar – சடைமுடிநாதர்)
  • Could not identify any composition that is linked to either the Pillayar or Shiva

Dharasuram – AiravatEswarar Temple

  • Built by Raja Raja Cholan II (grandson of Raja Raja Cholan who built the big temple in Tanjavur) in the 12th century
  • Has an architecture similar to the Bruhadeeswara and Gangai Konda Cholapuram temples
  • Smaller than the Bruhadeeswara and Gangaikonda cholapuram temples, but has lot more exquisite carvings all around with emphasis on dance postures
  • Be sure to use a guide because the amount of detail is extensive and some knowledgeable person providing explanations is important

Gangai Konda Cholapuram

  • Built by Rajendra Cholan (son of Raja Raja Cholan who built the big temple in Tanjavur) in the 12th century
  • Has an architecture similar to the Bruhadeeswara and Airavateswarar temples
  • Also a Unesco Heritage site
  • Has a majestic sized nandi at the entrance and a 13 feet tall lingam

Kumbakonam

Visited following temples in Tribuvanam and Kumbakonam

Kampaheeswarar temple in Tribuvanam

  • Built by Kulottunga Cholan III in the 13th century
  • The gopuram above the main deity has an architecture similar to the Bruhadeeswara and Airavateswarar temples
  • In addition to the main deity (Lingam – Kampaheswarar), there are sannidhis for Dharmasamvardani and Sarabeswarar

Adi Kumbeswarar temple

  • Built during the Chola times and Vijayanagara times
  • Kumbakonam derives its name from ‘Kumbeswarar’

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘sri mangaLAmbikAm’ in ghanTA by Vijaylakshmi Subramaniam

Sarangapani temple

  • Considered the third important Vishnu temple after Srirangam and Tirupati
  • The chariots in the temple are the second largest at least in tamilnadu (did not see them)

Chakrapani temple

  • Lord Chakrapani has a third eye like Lord Siva; guess it is the influence of the Overwhelming influence of Shiva temples !!

Ramaswamy temple

  • A prominent Vishnu temple in Kumbakonam 
  • Is known for the Chitra Ramayanam – the entire epic is painted on the three walls of the prakaram

Brahma temple

  • One of the very few temples for Brahma
  • Actually a small (rather tiny) Vishnu Temple, that also has Brahma
  • Brahma is decorated with a namam (vishnufied !!)

Vaideeswaran Koil

  • Home of ‘Vaidyanadar’ or god of healing
  • I have memories of coming to this temple in 60’s by train, specifically bathing in the tank within the temple premises
  • Was disappointed with the upkeep of the temple on the whole, dirt & bad smell inside the sannidhi and the tank which was brimming with green colored water

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘sri vaidyanAtam’ in aTANA by Vijaylakshmi Subramaniam

Tiruvidaimarudur Mahalingeswarar temple

  • Got to the temple around 7:00 pm; did not get to see the architectural details that are visible only in day time; did appear to have a large footprint.
  • Saw a coordinated double arati – one for the lingam inside and the other for the utsava moorti in the outside corridor (after the moorti was taken around); First time I have witnessed such a coordinated event. People around knowing that we were not locals, were gracious to tell us about the reason for the wait and why people looking in two opposite directions constantly. An elderly man sang a short tamil composition after the arati.
  • Immediately people shifted to the two ambigai sannidhis for aratis; we had wait for the elderly man to arrive, who sang another short tamil composition before the arati 
  • Birthplace of Flutist Mali (T R Mahalingam), named after the deity

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘mahAlingEswaram’ in paraju/paras by Vijaylakshmi Subramaniam

Chidambaram – Nataraja temple

  • Initially built by the Pallavas and then expanded by Cholas
  • The only temple in Tamil Nadu that is managed by the Deekshadars (Priests) of the temple
  • Akasha/Agaya Lingam: one of the ‘pancha boota’ lingams
  • Is adorned with dance related sculptures all around
  • The dancing idol was decorated with so much flower and garments that even from 12 feet away, all we could see were the face, one arm and one leg !!

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘Ananda naTana prakAsam’ in kEdAram by D K Jayaraman

Kanchipuram

Varadaraja perumal temple

  • More than 1000 years old, renovated by various dynasties like Cholas, Pandyas etc.
  • One of the 108 ‘divyadesam’ temples
  • The upkeep of the temple left a lot to be desired.

Tyagaraja’s ‘varadarAja ninnu kOri’ in swarabhooshaNi by S Rajam

S Rajam is Dr. Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam’s guru.

Ekambareswarar temple

  • Initially built around 600AD
  • Main deity is Prithvi Lingam, the third of the ‘pancha boota’ temples that we got to visit in the trip

Quite an impressive temple where cameras were simply not allowed inside, so managed to only the picture of the main gopuram.

Muttuswami Deekshatar’s ‘chintayama kanda moola’ in bhairavi by D K Patammal

Kamakshi temple

  • Built around 700AD
  • Beautiful temple and maintained extremely well too (perhaps the cleanest of the temples we visited).

Syama Sastry’s ‘amba kAmAkshi’ in bhairavi by M D Ramanthan

Though a long one, I felt this specific rendering was the most apt.

2 thoughts on “Visiting Temples

  1. Hi Shankar:

    I too have been wanting to visit the temples in Tamil Nadu State, but it has not happened yet. Thank you for the lovely post. The pictures are awesome.

    Keep safe. Best regards,

    Sam S. Krishna

  2. The text,pictures and embedded keertans ,make it an unique comiplation. It’s very painstakingly comipled, I feel that along with being highly educative it works as a ready reference, for people planning to visit temples in TN. Healrtfelt thanks 🙏.

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