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  1. #1
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    Navagraha Sthalas


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    Among the innumerable temples that dot the Cauvery delta, the Navagraha sthalas are unique for the devotion they inspire and the faith that is reposed in their power to grant anything from general well-being, marital prospects, progeny, good health, freedom from debt and salvation too.

    Depending on time and mode of transport, the Navagraha Sthalas, representing nine planets our forefathers saw in the sky (not to be mistaken for the solar system), are worshipped by devotees. First to be noted is that the main deities in these shrines are Lord Siva and his consort Goddess Parvati, who is also known as Goddess Brahma Vidyambigai (one who taught Brahma) and Lord Abathsagayeswarar (one who gave protection from danger). They are beneficent in themselves apart from the Navagrahas in their temples. The planets themselves are said to influence the course of life by their positions in the horoscope at the time of birth and later their sway over an individual’s fortunes at specific periods in life. They each have their own cycle.

    Lord Saturn, considered a powerful Navagraha, brings both good and bag to a person. Good effects can be heightened and bad mitigated by prayer. Rahu and Ketu are not associated with particular days of the week.

    Seven of the nine planets correspond to days of the week
    Surya
    Sun
    Sunday
    Chandran
    Moon
    Monday
    Angarakan
    Mars
    Tuesday
    Budhan
    Mercury
    Wednesday
    Guru
    Jupiter
    Thursday
    Sukra
    Venus
    Friday
    Sani
    Saturn
    Saturday

    All the navagrahas can be seen in Suryanarkoil and in Siva and Sakthi temples, where they have separate shrines. Devotees light lamps and circle the shrines in multiples of three.

    Each planet has unique to itself a colour, grain, metal, vehicle and gemstone. For example, the colour for the sun is red while the grain for moon is paddy. The vehicle for Budhan is horse while the flower for Guru is white mullai. The metal for Sukra is silver and the gem for Sani is sapphire.

    Customs common to all the temples include making offering of cloth (vastram), grains, flowers and jewels specific to the particular navagraha and lighting a set number of lamps.

    As for the benefits the planets confer, to name just a few, prayer to Rahu gives victory in all things while Ketu confers freedom from illness, poverty.

    Temple Architecture: Barring Thingalur, the others are large in scale, some with carvings and murals that are stupendous as well as intricate. They were built mainly by the Cholas with later rulers adding embellishments. Apart from the main shrines, they have several others dedicated to deities like Ganapathi, Durga and Bhairava.

    Suryanarkoil: First among the navagrahas is Surya or the life-giving Sun. Hindus believe that he has a great positive influence if placed strongly in the horoscope. The Sun is said to be the child of Sage Kashyap and Athithi and is believed to belong to the amsam (lineage) of the Supreme Trinity.

    This temple has an interesting legend. Once, sage Kalamunivar studied his horoscope and found there was malefic influence by the navagrahas. He immediately prayed to them and they granted him relief. This angered the gods of the planets, namely, Vishnu, Siva and their consorts, who questioned the right the grahas had to grant boons and then cursed them with illness. When the latter prayed for relief, they were directed to perform a series of penances like visits to temples and bathing in holy ponds. They fulfilled this and are present here as celestials!

    There is an inscription that Kulottunga Chola I built the temple in the 12th century A.D. It is a granite structure. The mukha mandapams were the contribution of the Vijayanagaras. There is a prakaram with three Rajagopurams.

    The presiding deity is Surya, with his consorts Usha Devi and Prathyuksha Devi. There are shrines to Ganapathy, Kasi Visvanathar and Visalakshi, Nataraja and Sivakami, besides the other navagrahas. A speciality is that the other planets face Surya, unlike in other shrines, where the Sun is at the centre and the planets form a square around him.
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  3. #2
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    Thingalur: After the Sun, it’s the Moon! This small temple lies near the Cauvery amidst verdant greenery. The deity is Kailasanathar and the goddess Peria Nayaki.

    The temple is famous for the miracle performed by the Saivite saint Tiruvavukkarasar, who “brought to life” a dead child.
    The beautiful Chandran (Moon) had a bevy of girls wanting to wed him. He married Dakkan’s 28 daughters. Instead of paying all his wives attention, he lavished affection on his last wife. The rest told Dakkan, who cursed Moon with illness and that he would lose his command over the arts. Chandran came to the spot now called Thingalur and prayed to Siva. He was redeemed.
    The tale relating to the Saivite saint (Nayanmar) Thirunavukkarasar testifies to the power of faith.

    Prosperous trader Apputhi Adigal set up many establishments and named them all after Thirunavukkarasar, one of the authors of the great Tamil devotional work, Thevaram. Once the great saint was passing by Thingalur and saw his own name everywhere. He was told it was Adigal’s doing and visited his house. Delighted, the host sent his son to get a banana leaf to serve the guest food. The boy was bitten by a cobra and died. Still, Adigal and his wife showered hospitality on Arasar, and only when the latter asked where their son was, broke down. Immediately Arasar prayed to Lord Siva and sang a hymn. They boy came back to life.

    The temple is not architecturally grant but the idol of the moon in black granite, clad in pure white, catches the eye!

    Vaitheeswarankoil: This is a major temple replete with legend, sung of by poets and attracting a large number of devotees. The ancient name was Pullirukku Velur. This is broken up as Pull – Jatayu, Irukku – Rig Veda and Vel – Muruga.

    The first came about as Jatayu, the bird who tried to save Sita from Ravana’s clutches and was mortally wounded by him, was given salvation at this spot by Lord Rama. There is a place in the temple representing this.

    The second is somewhat difficult to understand by the lay mind. The Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, are four in number. The first of these the Rig Veda, it seems, had some grievances and prayed to the Lord here to overcome them.

    The third, the reference to Muruga, is derived from the tale that before he took on the demons Sura and Padma in battle, he prayed to his mother and secured a spear. In fact Siva and Parvathi are present here as healers as a consequence of the same battle. The Goddess manifested as Thayalnayaki to tend to the wounds of the injured, while Siva appeared as Vaitheeswaran, which means doctor. He manifested to cure 4448 diseases afflicted humans!

    To proceed to the navagraha here, Angaraka, the story says once Siva was in deep meditation on Mount Meru. A drop of water fell from his forehead and turned into a beautiful child. Bhoomi Devi (Earth) brought him up and from childhood, he did penance to Siva. The latter blessed him to become a graha. The planet Mars looks red in colour in the sky and our ancestors evidently noticed this, for red is the colour associated with this graha.

    It is believed dissolving jiggery in the tank Siddhamrithatheertham will cure ailments. A few intrepid souls bathe in the tank, while most splash drops of water on their heads. Another custom is to offer rock salt and pepper.

    According to inscriptions, King Vikrama Chola (AD 1120-1136), contributed liberally to this temple and its structure.

    The temple has four mada streets and four entrances, which are guarded by four deities. There are Rajagopurams on the eastern and western sides. A long corridor leads to the main shrine, which faces west. As one walks in to the sound of bells, effulgence of lamps and the fragrance of camphor, the shining contours of the lingam come into view. This is preceded by the Lord’s vehicle, the Nandi, with a silver covering and a silver spear.

    The goddess faces south. The other grahas are present, along with other deities. Of note is the shrine to Karpaga Vinayaka, the giver of all bounty.

    The pillars and mandapams have carvings for those interested in art. The sandana kappu mandapam has lovely paintings.

    Thiruvengadu: The sense of space strikes the visitor first. The temple is set well back from the entrance and there is literally a red carpet laid out to protect the feet from the heat of the sun.

    The huge temple tank to the left as one enters is full, indicating that the area is abundant with rains. To the right is a 100 pillared hall.

    The Budan shrine is not visible immediately, and, after small temples, one sees the abode of Swetharanyeswarar. Behind that is the shrine of Brahma Vidyambigai. To the right lies the sanctum sanctorum of Budan. Other shrines are to Agora Murthy and Nataraja, both forms of Siva. This place is called Adi Chidambaram because Nataraja performed his dance here first.

    Special prayers for children originate from the experience of Achyutha Kalappalar, who was childless. His horoscope was studied by his guru, a Sivacharya. As was the practice then (and even now), it was read using ancient palm leaf manuscripts. The leaf had a hymn by Sambandar, which said those who prayed at Venkadu (Thiruvengadu) would be blessed with progeny. He and his wife rushed there, prayed to Siva and had a son. The boy later authored the Sivagnana Bodham.

    The story of Budhan has a touch of sadness to it. He is deemed the son of Chandran and Dharai. The latter, despite being the wife of Guru, fell in love with Chandran and had a son by him. Siva and Brahma directed that Dharai go back to her husband and the child was entrusted to Chandran. When Budhan grew up, he learnt of the secret of his birth, and began hating his father. He went to the Himalayas, and living in the severe cold, did penance to Lord Siva. The Lord blessed him to become a navagraha.

    There are a couple of more legends attached to the temple, indicating its importance. That relating to the Goddess is particularly significant. Brahma the creator himself was endowed with learning (vidya) by Goddess Parvathi.

    There is another idol here, called Pillai Idikki Amman (Devi holding a child on her hips). Once, the child saint

    Thirugranasambandar came here and found lingas everywhere, the whole place a Sivaloka. Not wanting to keep his feet on the ground disrespectfully, he cried amma. The Goddess rushed to him, and lifting him, placed him on her hips and took him to the Lord!

    Agora Murthy manifested here with all weapons to defeat the demon Marunduvasuran, who tortured the celestials after gaining several boons. Siva sent them to Thiruvengadu to escape him, but he followed them there. He sent Idada Devar to fight him, but the latter was injured in nine places on his body by the demon. This can be seen on his idol in the temple. Siva then appeared himself in a fierce form, and subdued the demon, who surrendered.

    The nearly 100 stone inscriptions speak of many benefactors – from the Cholas to the Pandyas and the Vijayanagara King Krishna Devaraya, from the 10th century A.D. to the 19th Century A.D. Notable were Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola, Veerarajendra Chola, Kulottunga, Kulasekhara Pandya, Vikrama Pandya and others of the Pandya dynasty.
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  5. #3
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    Alangudi: Guru parvai kodi nanmai, goes a saying in Tamil, meaning “Darshan of Guru gives one crore good things.” Guru, also called Dakshinamurthy, as he faces the South, is Siva himself. He is the Lord of the celestials and one who confers knowledge and wisdom to all.

    The son of sage Brahmaputra and Shraddadevi, he is also called Brahaspathi and Vyazha (Thursday) Bhagawan.
    Of his four arms, one is an abhaya hastha, bestowing grace, while the three hold sacred beads, a pot and a staff. He has two consorts, Darai and Sangini.

    Though Guru is present in all Saivite temples, it is in Alangudi, among the 127 temples in the southern banks of the Cauvery, where he is foremost. The Guru moola mantram has 24 aksharas (syllables) and so 24 lamps are lit.

    Alangudi derives its name however from the presiding deity Abathsagayar, who swalled the ala spewed forth by the snake Vasuki when the oceans were churned. It is considered a swayambhu lingam. His consort is Elavar Kuzhali, so called because of her black, fragrant hair. She is Parvathy, reunited with Siva after being banished to earth for committing a small error.

    The temple is beautiful, built in granite with pillars and idols etched finely. It was raised by Amodagar, who was minister to the Chola king Musukundan. The King, with his capital at Tiruvarur, gave money to build a temple there, but Amodagar instead build one at Alangudi. The King ordered his head to be cut off, but he merged with Siva. The King repented. Of sculptural note is the southern Rajagopuram, especially the carving of Sundarar.

    Two other idols of note are Kalangamal Katha Vinayakar and Kalyana Sastha. The first was named by the celestials because Vinayaka saved them from the persecution meted out by the demon Gajamukasuran. It literally translates to “the Vinayaka who protected us without getting agitated”.

    The second is a very rare idol, as it represents Lord Ayyappa, usually considered a bachelor, in wedded bliss. Not very large is size and placed among a number of idols in the corridor to the right of the Dakshinamurthy shrine. Ayyappa, or Sastha, is present here with two consorts Puranai and Pushkalai.

    Also present are the Saptha Kannikas, with a separate shrine. They are Sakthis who emerged from Parvathy. Their names are Brami, Maheswari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamundi.

    Adi Sankara has said in his famous Dakshinamuthry Sloka, said to represent the essence of Hinduism, Tasmai Sri Gurumurthiye Namah Idam Sri Dakshinamurthiye – prayer to guru is sure to bring all good.

    Kanjanur: Sukra, is also called Velli and corresponding to the planet Venus, is the navagraha here. The main deity is Siva, Agnipureeswarar, while his consort is Karpagambal. The lord is said to have appeared here along with her to fulfil Brahma’s desire to see them in marital bliss. There is no shrine for Sukra in the moolavar form but there is a festival idol.

    The legend of Sukra goes like this. Sage Brighu’s child Bhargava was erudite and learnt from Lord Siva the sanjeevini mantra, which is capable of bringing back the dead to life. Bhargava became the guru of the asuras and restored every asura slain by the devas. This troubled the devas and they prayed to Siva. Meanwhile, the demons, who became very strong, swallowed Bhargava. He stayed in the stomach for many years doing penance, till the Lord released him. When Bhargava appeared, he was absolutely white in colour and so got the appellation Sukra. As he misused the Sanjeevini Mantra, he lost the power to use it. He then travelled to Kasi and after doing penance for many years, was made one of the navagrahas. Sukra authored the Sanskrit work, Sukra Neethi.

    The temple has a five-storied rajagopuram and a single prakaram. There is a large corridor facing the main Siva shrine. Among the shrines outside is that of Nataraja. There is a separate temple to the Goddess.

    Inscriptions from the Chola and Vijayanagara temples can be seen here.

    Tirunallar: Among the navagraha shrines, the one that is visited most frequently and by the most number of devotees is Tirunallar, where Lord Sani graces the temple. The offspring of the Sun and his second wife Chaya, Saneeswara is the graha said to have the most power over one’s life, including life and death. He is capable of giving salvation.

    The main deity is Darbaranyeeswarar, so called because the place has Darba grass, which is used in all rituals, in plenty. Siva manifested here as a swayambhu lingam in response to Brahma’s penance. The creator, who went around various spots on earth, was so attracted by this beautiful place that is was here he prayed to Siva. The latter taught him the meanings of Vedas and Sastras, according to folklore. Brahma stayed here for long and set up many temples. As Brahmas worshipped Siva here, the place is called Adipuri. It is also called Darbaranyam. The name “Nallar” is derived from King Nala, who was cured of leprosy after he bathed in the tank here and prayed.

    Saneeswarar was so impressed with Nala’s devotion that he told the king, “I will not adversely affect those who hear your story” (En kalathu un sarithai ketporai nan adaiyen. En kala amila velaai un unmai).

    Kalinga Raja is also said to have got deliverance here. Once Sage Bhargava visited him, and he did not heed the sage’s words properly. Bhargava cursed him to become a elephant and roam in the forest. The king was essentially a good man and Sage Narada took pity on him. He asked him to pray to Lord Siva at Tirunallar, who removed the effects of the curse.

    The Goddess is Bogamurtha Punmulayal. Important deities are Karpaga and Swarna Vinayaka. Saneeswarar is in standing posture here. He is an anugraha Murthy, a granter of boons. Though the interior is dark, the flames from a thousand lamps lit by devotees dance brightly, signalling hope.

    The story of Saneeswarar goes like this. Surya was married to Usha and their children were Vaivasthamathu, Yama and Yamunai. Usha, unable to bear the heat of the Sun, left for her father’s house after leaving her shadow, Chaya, behind. Chaya’s children were Manu, Sani and Badhirai. When the sun in due course came to know that his first wife was not with him and that his second wife was ill-treating her children, went in search of Usha and brought her back. He then lived with both of them.

    It is said Sani became lame because Yama kicked him in anger. Surya conferred graha status to Saneeswara. The latter then went to the Kasi Viswanatha temple at Varanasi and gained knowledge.

    Thirunageswaram: This massive and hoary shrine is evidence of the temple building skills of the Cholas, who favoured sprawling prakarams and elaborate and spacious mandapams. The origin of the temple is traced to the worship of Nagaraja (snake king) who prayed to Siva here. In fact, one of Siva’s names here is Naganatha and the place too derives its name from this. Later, Rahu too is said to have worshipped here and has a shrine of his own.

    This is to the left of the main shrine. Mangala Rahu is seen with his consorts, Nagavalli and Nagakanni. Paal abhishekam is a speciality here and people say, as the milk flows down the idol, it appears blue and snake-like.
    The legend of Rahu is well known. When the oceans were churned, nectar was got. Mahavishnu was serving it to the celestials. Swarbhanu, a demon sat among them and partook of the nectar, which bestowed immortality. Seeing this, Surya and Chandran informed Vishnu, who decapitated Swarbhanu with the ladle used to serve the nectar. But as he had drunk of the amirtham, he could not be vanquished altogether. Vishnu gave the being life with a human face and body of a snake – Rahu. The torso he gave the head of a snake, with a human body – Ketu. When they prayed to Brahma and Vishnu for forgiveness they were made into grahas.

    Rahu does not have a rasi (lunar sign) of his own but is attached to a particular rasi and graha for each person, which is what determines the influence he has on them. He also comes to life for one and half hours a day, Rahu Kalam. One is told to avoid beginning auspicious things at this time. Prayers to Durga are held then.

    The main temple was built by Kandaraditta Chola, according to stone engravings. There are other wordings all over the temple which speak of the gifts of money, land, building, rare gems and so on by different Chola kings like Rajendra Chola I, Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola II, the first’s vassal Parakesari Varman and Rajakesari Varman. Achutappa Nayak’s minister Govinda Dikshitar and Chera kings too added structures.

    The structure is of granite. There are huge pillars with carving aplenty of deities, lions, horses, etc… They are painted in numerous colours. The temple has three prakarams and four towering Rajagopurams. It has an alankara mandapam and a 100-pillared hall. One carving of a pillar tells the story of a Keralite king Sambumali who gained salvation here after being cursed by a sage.

    Sekkizhar, the author of Periya Puranam and the three saints who penned the Devarm are among those who have sung of this shrine, apart from Arunagirinathar. There are idols to Sekkizhar, his mother and brother here as he got knowledge of the lord’s feet here.

    The main deity is Shengabaraneswarar, While Girikujambugai is his consort. She has a separate temple, which is special because Lakshmi and Saraswathi too are present. In the sanctum sanctorum in the main temple, there is a shrine to Piraianival Nudal Ammai.

    The ritual of putting the lord to sleep, palliarai, is quite famous here. First, the idol of the goddess enters the chamber and is seated on a cradle. The lord’s idol is then taken around the first prakaram in a palanquin and brought to the chamber, where he is placed beside the goddess. Milk is then offered to the deities and given to the devotees.

    Keezhperumballam: The Kethu temple is much smaller than Thirunageswaram and is situated in a desolate area. The name of the place is derived from the fact that it is downstream of the River Cauvery. It is in a pallam, meaning lower ground.

    A stone edict stated that the temple was built by Vikrama Chola.

    The main deity here too is Naganathar in lingam form. To the right is the shrine of Soundaryanayaki. Outside the main shrines, close to the entrance, is the Ketu shrine with the graha facing the lord. Nearby is the spot where one should light seven lamps signifying seven years that constitute ketu dasai.

    The temple has one prakaram and shrines to Vinayaka, Subramanya with his consorts, apart from Narayana and Gajalakshmi.

    To conclude the story of Rahu and Ketu, because the Sun and Moon told Vishnu about their taking the nectar, it is said they swallow the latter periodically and release them after a while.
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