Navagraha temples tour in TN
I know that this topic has been dealt with professionally in many travel blogs on the net with pics and maps and the like. I am not therefore trying to do one better here. Nor am I such a pro Travel blogger anyway!
I am simply going to relate my experiences the way they happened to me on this tour with my close friends.
It had been my long standing wish to complete the Navagraha temples tour, few of which I had visited with family a couple of years ago( Alangudi and Thirunageswaram).
I have a group of friends and relatives hailing from Bangalore who are ‘staunch devotees’ and are veterans on this circuit in the last decade. I had been talking to them on joining on one of the visits and this year the plans fell into place.
The trip was two –part- a day on the Trichy-Sriranagam circuit which I did with a couple of my friends and then- a two day- tour with the rest of the group on the Navagraha temple circuit itself.
Part 1- Trichy-Srirangam lap:
If one could reach Trichy (Full name= Tiruchirapalli) in the dawn from any of the overnight trains from Chennai or Bangalore, you can a have a vigorous one day tour of many lovely temples in the vicinity before dusk. You could for example take Mayiladuthurai Exp from Bangalore or Rock-fort express from Chennai; A second class ticket on a sleeper would not cost beyond Rs 200 as of now.
Why, a second class ticket, you ask? One ought to be austere and use simple and basic facilities on pilgrimage, they say. Besides, winters in TN do facilitate comfortable second class sleeper journeys.
We lodged at Hotel Aanand for a sojourn, close to the Bus and Train stations; completed our morning ablutions and left at the crack of the dawn, say by 6:30 am, which is always a good thing so you cover maximum number of places before night.
There are some exquisite Chola and Pallava period temples in this sector. As per Hindu beliefs one usually starts their pilgrimage praying to Vighna vinashaka, Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. And what’s better than the deity who sits atop the majestic Rockfort with a fitting name Uchchi pillaiyaar. (http://www.tn.gov.in/trichytourism/temples.htm)
The imposing Rockfort from the ages of Kings and Queens who ruled this province is an awe-inspiring sight and dwarfs you when you stand in front of its shop cluttered entrance. And when I learned that you have to climb some 400 steps to see the deity, I sighed with disbelief too. Not a simple task for a man like me who has lived softly although. Though my two younger enthusiastic companions encouraged an goaded me on, I did manage to huff and puff only 200-odd steps and manage to see the rock-cut temples on the first level namely, Lord Ganesh’s parents, Lord shiva and Parvathi who go by the name of Thayumanuvaswamy and Mattuvarkuzhal Amman.
The legend of Thayumanavaswamy is a moving illustration of the “maternal” compassion of God towards His devotee, so the legend goes…That Lord Shiva acted as a midwife to a pregnant woman devotee in labour.
Then I developed cold feet (quite literally!) after the arduous climb half-way and waved my companions, Sairam and Suresh (the tough duo of brothers) onward opting to stay back and catch my breath , rest my legs and ease the ominous cramps.
The morning winds are pleasant and half way up is certainly a beautiful place where I clicked away at the misty panoramic scenery of the Trichy town spread below.
As I did not visit the Lord Ganesh atop the hill but saw only his parents, I thought wryly about the Kannada proverb- “Ganeshanna maadu andre avana appanna maaadidha”
(Meaning- When asked to make an idol of Lord Ganesh, a sculptor made one of Lord Shiva (his father), by mistake!) I made amends by praying at the Vinayakar temple at the entrance on the way down, however.
Then we broke for a Breakfast of Idlis and Dosas which are available at most restaurants early enough in Trichy like the rest of the state.
And then, ha! We all had chosen white Veshti (Dhoti in Tamil) to wear with the shirt which is again a part of the conventional pilgrimage gear! Besides you never feel out of place wearing a dhoti anywhere in TN. Talking of food, one normally follows strict vegetarian diet and keeps off alcohol during such holy trips if one is of the conventional /orthodox Hindu mould.
The next visit was to the Jala sthalam or the ‘Water place’ of Lord Shiva called Jambukeshwarar. This on the confluence of Cauvery and Kollidam rivers has Lord Shiva in the garbha grihmam bathed in water always, dripping from an unknown source from the top and there is a cool one foot of water thereabouts on the floor too, lending credence to the name. This is also called one of the Pancha bhutam temples of Shiva. (The other four elements being Fire, Earth, Space, Air)
Then we went over to the much awaited Srirangam.
Srirangam is a quiet and serene temple town located on the banks of the river Cauvery. The abode of Lord Ranganatha, who is Lord Vishnu in supine position, this temple has lovely and eye-catching sculpture from ancient days and is certainly a monument in every right. The gopuram and wall sculpture are riveting. The temple covers a vast area of about 6,31,000 Sqm. (156 Acres).
We stood patiently in queue for two hours till the ‘poojas’ inside the temple were offered and doors thrown open to the public once again. Being shortly after the holy Vaikunta Ekadashi, there were some felicitations being presented right in front of us to the workers and volunteers who tirelessly serve the temple the year round.
The Lord was today excellently bedecked in ‘Vaira muthu alankaram, a vest made of diamonds and pearls covering the lying form, a special treat for the devotees who come shortly after the Vaikunta Ekadashi. By the way, if you have a sweet tooth and are not too fussy about sweets prepared in ghee, you can relish their sakkarai pongal and other delicious prasadam items at the stalls. Simply fingerlicking good!
We considered ourselves fully blessed and moved on.
There is a very beautiful and famous Devi temple, Mariamman temple in the vicinity called Samayapuram. The face of idol of Devi/ Amman is smeared red with Kumkumam (vermilion). Hundreds of devotees wearing the same red coloured dresses pay obeisance to the Goddess here. A must see place for all those who worship Shakti.( http://www.tn.gov.in/trichytourism/mariamman.htm)
In the midst of all these quick runs and stopovers, one must not ignore time.
The temples here normally open by 5 am thereabouts and stay so till 12-30 pm or so. Many temples break for afternoon between 12-30 and 4 to 4-30 pm and stay closed. They reopen from 4-30 pm and again stay open till about 8-30 pm (To keep on the safer side). But some temples make a departure on special days and/ season and keep open without break.
So, it certainly is a good idea to plan your visits in advance, consulting usually with the hotel guys and /or the local taxi driver you hire and ‘time the visits’ as far as possible to avoid disappointments on reaching a place in the afternoons.
While on the topic of taxis, haggle a lot and you will get a better deal. It could be a package deal of specific places per day or by kilometres.
We got to eat some decent ‘veggie madrasi’ meal on the road and you bet it’s affordable and palatable. Normally the driver gets to eat with you and also gets the chance of picking the places in the first place, being a ‘local’.
There is another famed local Devi temple named Vekkali amman temple nearby. The specialty here is the main Garbha griham has no roof for the Devi, who as per legend, stopped a mud rain on the residents here and stayed herself shelter less sympathising with the plight of the homeless.
The temple bears a newly painted and done-up look and is worth a visit.
At this point our taxi decided on its own to call it a day (It simply wouldn’t start) leaving us at the feet of the Vekkali amman. It was around 4 pm. The driver made some frantic phone calls and beamed at us saying ‘another taxi driven by his’ cousin’ will soon be here and take us forward’.
Soon we moved on to the last visit of the day in the substitute taxi to Vayalur to see Lord Murugan. Being my home deity, it was of special interest and devotion to me. (http://vayalurmuruga.org/203_speciality.htm). There is a beautiful Surya asnd his two consorts in standing position here among the navagrahas. After this visit it was time to return to base. We quickly checked out of the Hotel paying the driver of some Rs. 750:00 for the entire day.
A plenty of buses ply between Trichy and Thanjavur, our next destination.
We took one of them paying a mere Rs 18 per head (Quite cheap according to me, who hails from Karnataka) for a 1.5 hrs journey.( Distance=65 Kms east of Tiruchi by road)
We rushed to see the evening maha mangalarathi of Lord Shiva in the Big temple of Brihadeeswarar ( ‘periya koil’) but we just missed it by a whisker and were to have the fortune only on the return journey. We lodged ourselves in the comfortable budget hotel Karthik awaiting the dawn which will see the rest of our group join us for the next lap.
Part 2- Thanjavur- Navagraha temples- Point calimer lap
The next dawn saw our two other companions Varadaraj and Hariram join us. Varadaraj is virtually the leader of the group and most knowledgeable of the lot, knowing a lot of puranic tales and all about temples and iconography. Hari has worn mala this time and we used to wish him throughout ‘Swami sharanam’ in memory of Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala.
The train from Bangalore had landed them at our Thanjavur hotel by 6 am.
We had morning bath and breakfast in the same Hotel and started by 8 am.
One of you needs to be an accountant and take charge of keeping track of amounts spent on journeys, lunch and poojas. I was wielding the pen this time.
We had hired a Tata Sumo van with a driver Suresh and we set off towards the first temple, complex- Manikundram Perumal temples for Lord Vishnu. All 3 ancient well preserved temples are in one complex, back to back.
At the beginning itself I learnt the right procedure to see a temple in the traditional way fully through caracara- All about Nandi facing Shiva or Garden facing its Lord Vishnu in the respective temples. There will be smaller deities in the temples for Vandyke, Dakshinamurthy( Guru, who faces south), Vishnu Durga and Chandikeshwara as well as the right place and direction ( East or North ) to offer namaskarams in the temples.
We quickly started Navagraha circuit soon after with the first visit to Thittai where Guru (Jupiter) is worshipped. There is of course another popular Guru temple at Alangudi nearer to Kumbhakonam. Lord Guru’s colour is Yellow and many devotees come here to get rid of Dosham in their horoscopes of a weak Jupiter. The main deity is called Vasishteswar and the devi is Ulaganayaki.
At most of the Navagraha temples there will be Lord Shiva as the main deity bearing different names and the respective Planet temple in its complex.
The next stop was to see Chandran at Thingaloor. The main deity here is Lord Kailasanatha. The Colour of the moon is white.
We proceeded to Thiru Nageswaram, the abode of Rahu. Those with sarpa dosham etc induced by Rahu’s wrath worship him here, obviously the temple was quite crowded and we got to see the ‘Pal abhishekam’ of Rahu.
We all prayed earnestly for his blessings.
I think we lunched at Kumbakonam sometime at this point. It was moderate and so was the price.
The next temple to visit was Suryanar Koil for Lord Sun. It is customary to visit Thirumangalagudi temple before visiting the Surya’s temple. The main deity is Prananatheshwarar with Mangalambikai.
We had to wait till the temple to open and took a much needed nap in the van.
We also visited a decrepit temple for kali amman nearby which is said to be on the tantra pilgrimage itinerary.
The Surya temple is grand with Vinayaka worshipped first and Lord Sun blesses his devotees with his two wives- Devi Usha and Chaya. All other navagrahas are also there in this temple. I could see a group of foreigners flocking to see each deity with curiosity and gamely getting smeared with
We were into evening already and had to cover three more temples at least.
The next halt was at Kanjanur where Shukran (Venus) is worshipped. The main Shiva deity is called Agneeswarar for couples, Venus being the Lord of Love and marriage.
Lord Kethu, the other half of the serpent graham Rahu, is worshipped at an ancient Shaivite temple called Keezh Perumballam. If the name is not easy enough to pronounce, the road to the temple sure is more so… It is a little out of the way and the road condition is rough and rustic.
We proceeded to go to Budhan (Mercury) temple at Thiruvenkadu. The main deity here is Swetaranyeswarar. The lord Budha here is the ruler for Brains and Budhdhi shakti. Budhan is the son of Moon (Chandra) and Tara as per the legends.
We then decided to go to Vaideeswaran temple town as evening passed into night and spend the night there. It is near Mayiladuthurai and is a place one must never forget to visit for many reasons.
First and foremost, Lord Shiva takes the role of a Doctor here and is a sacred spot believed to cure diseases and there is a beautiful large pond in the temple where one can take a dip to receive the blessings. You may on the shorter version sprinkle the waters on your head.
It is the spot where the planet Mangala/ Sevvai/ Angaraka is worshipped. Of course, Lord Mangala has a temple here where people with Mangala dosham flock to perform austerities and receive his blessings. It is also known for a no of Nadi astrologers and I could see them at every corner of this small town.
In terms of the temple size and the ambience, it is second to none and as we did the Night darshan here at the end of a long tiring day, I felt revived and this temple impressed me the most. The temple has huge ornate stone pillars and long unending corridors.
The Devi here is Thaiyal nayaki and son Subramanya is worshipped as Selva Muthu kumaran.
When you enter the temple you can take salt, pepper and jaggery from the stall, and turn your fistful of the stuff once around your head and drop it into the sacks. This is symbolic of purging ourselves of pains and diseases.
We spent the night in one of the many moderate Lodges around the temple which had a TV too and did not really pinch the purse.
Road side eatery stalls supply some veggie snacks late into the night too.
The next morning saw us finish our ablutions quickly and have one more visit to the Vaideeswaran and then move on. The misty morning and pleasant temple ambience in the early hours was another memorable experience.
It was the morning before Christmas and we started off through roads adjoining green paddy fields to Thirunallar where an important navagraham –Shanishwara is worshipped. Thirunallar, I understood is near Karaikkal in Puducherry State (erstwhile Pondicherry).
It was a Monday morning and the famed temple shrine was strangely empty and luckily we had the entire temple almost to ourselves. The Lord shiva here is called Dharbarenyswarar. I had to do some archanais here for my family’s welfare and donate black cloth to a poor man. I completed all that and lit gingelly seed tied cloth wick in gingelly oil lamps near Lord Saturn.
We had thus covered all the nine temples in the circuit in a busy one- and- half day tour.
We had a half day for ourselves before turning back to the base- Thanjavur.
We made for Thiruvidaikazhi to see a temple which is not much popular but lovely all the same, here the Lord Murugan is worshipped as Bala subramanya and his consort Deyayani was betrothed to him here, it is said. There are separate enclosures for them here.
We also visited another ancient Vishnu temple at ThiruVazhandur which is considered Pancha krishnaranya Kshetrams and this vasihnavite temple is really lovely.
From there we proceeded down south to Vedaranyam to see the ancient Lod Shiva temple. It was a lovely sight and we had now traveled a long way into and away from Thanjavur. After prasadam at the temple we left for a rare bird sanctuary called Kodikkarai or Point Calimere right on the coast we had to toward Velankanni, the Christian shrine and beyond. The roads are under repair here and the journey was slow and arduous.
It was a warm afternoon sun we were treated to the sight of a few birds like flamingoes and kingfishers zipping above and on the backwaters in the sun. They say the ideal timings are in the early hours or at sunset when obviously it is cooler.
The journey back to Thanjavur was like 4 to 5 hours and we talked, and I sometimes listened to music on Suresh’s new iPod or on a Mobile with mp3.
We still had time to visit Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjvur, one of the most spectacular pieces of South Indian architecture, from the Pallava and Vijayanagara Kingdom days. There is a lot of written material on this temple already on the net and outside, and so I suffice to say it is an awesome and huge temple and you have to see it to believe it!
The piece de resistance of this temple is of course its imposing gopuram , a towering reminder of the past masters of architecture and human effort from those golden days’ when Indian kings dominated the land and the waters in Asia.
All good things come to an end and so did our trip on the evening of Christmas Eve. Unwilling to let go of the wonderful memories just yet, we left on our individual trains back to our homes and routine lives. All said and done, I was like a changed man having seen the best and revered holy spots in Tamil nadu with my group of educated and knowledgeable friends.