About the Book
South India is famous for his temples, both big and small, found in every city, town and village. Many of these temples are dedicated to Vishnu. While some these temples are famous, there are many others which are not well-known. This book contains thirty articles on Vishnu temples in Tamil Nadu. Four of these are Divya Desams or the temples sanctified by the hymns of the Azhvars or the Vaishnava saints and are famous. All the other articles in this book describe the smaller temples, mostly found in villages, small towns or in suburbs of Chennai which are also important historic and religious centres, but are unfortunately not visited often. The articles focus on the legends connected with these temples, their history, art and architecture and the festivals celebrated here. This book also highlights the ancient historic inscriptions etched on the walls of the shrines which provide an authentic account of the donations made by royalty and common people alike and the important role the temples played in the socio-economic sphere in times bygone.
About the Author
Chithra Madhavan completed her M.A. and M.Phil. from the Department of Indian History, University of Madras and her Ph.D. from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore. She has received two post-doctoral fellowship from the Department of culture, Government of India and from the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. She has authored six books-History and Culture of Tamil Nadu (in two volumes), Vishnu temples of south India (in three volumes) and Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu- An Epigraphical Study. She has written the text for a coffee-table book Snapshots of A Bygone Era- A Century of Images which contains about a 100 photographs of monuments of India. Chithra has co-edited a book South India Heritage-An Introduction containing approximately 500 articles on various aspects of the heritage and culture of South India. She has also compiled a book Kalakshetra Reflections – sculptures which has articles by eminent art historians.
India is a land of temples. They are not merely places of worship but are centres of all kinds of activities. Over a period of time, they have developed into all-round institutions where people congregate for discourses, artistic performances and festivals, besides offering prayers. There are historical evidences to show that, in times of scarcity, the temples used to maintain people through supply of grains and food. While almost every individual or family has a small recess in their homes for prayers, everyone wishes to visit temples for worshipping the deity of their choice, whose Image has been installed according to Vedic rites. Moreover, temples are considered as symbolic manifestations of the God's Form. The topmost point of the temple is the Head (sikhara), the sanctum sanctorum is the Heart (hridaya), the front hall is the stomach (kukshi) and the main gate represents the Feet (pada). The deity's Image is the soul of this human form. Thus, every part of the temple is considered sacred. According to another tradition, the temple is the microcosm of the universe, with the Image as the moving spirit and other areas of the temple as surrounding sheaths encasing the universe. A third interpretation of the temple is a lotus pond, where the sanctum represents the water, the fixed Image (moola vigraha) is the root, and the mobile Image (utsava vigraha) represents the lotus itself. Be that as it may, the temple is an integral part of man's spiritual and social life in India. Not only is the actual site of the temple considered sacred, but the village or town where the temple is located is treated as a 'sacred spot' (Divyadesa). Srivaishnavas consider 106 such places as Divyadesas, as the Azhvars have sung about them in the Nalayira Divyaprabandha. (Two more are in the transcendental plane, viz. the Milky Ocean and Srivaikuntha.) Besides these Divyadesas, there are many popular kshetras, called abhimana sthalas, which contain popular temples. There is actually a saying in Tamil which enjoins a person not to live in a place which has no temple (Ulaga-neeti 4: koyil illaa ooril kudiyirukka vendaa).
Growth of Temples
From early beginnings, where modest shrines consisted of brick and mortar structures around certain selected trees (banyan, pipal, neem, etc.) to modern temple-towns like Srirangam, Tirumala, Rameswaram, Kanchipuram and others, the growth of temples makes inspiring reading. Successive dynasties like the Guptas, Pallavas, Chalukyas and the three famous kingdoms of Chera, Chozha and Pandiya in the south have fervently contributed not only the physical structures but also engaged themselves in artistic representations on the temple. One can spend weeks and months in going round and enjoying the grandeur of the temples at Srirangam, Kanchipuram and Madurai. While royalty busied itself with large temples in the capitals, lesser potentates engaged themselves in building smaller temples in almost every other place in the hinterland. The result is a countless number of temples in the country, some of which are very popular, but many remain unknown.
Yagasala and Temple
A unique feature of all the temples is its layout. It is seen that, commencing from the outer compound wall up to the sanctum sanctorum, the temple is laid out in the form of a sacrificial site (yagasala). There is no reference to worship of images in the early Vedic ages. Of course, there were some structures inside the sacrificial area where materials for oblations were kept and where oblations were actually offered. In some of the Grihyasutras, a temple is mentioned as a place 'where the student observing the Mahanamni-vrata has to fast' (The Vedic Age, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1988, p.105). Traditional historians have therefore concluded that, though temples probably existed, they played no important part in the sacrificial rituals. Though the Itihasas and Puranas refer to the existence of temples in various places, sacrifices were more prominent. People seeking favours from divine elements or solutions to their problems performed fire sacrifices with the help of trained priests and their assistants. Appropriate mantras were chanted, materials that would please the deities were offered in the fire and the gods were invoked to come and grant the favours of the worshippers. This was an elaborate procedure and hence needed extensive space too. As time passed on, the type and number of sacrifices gradually declined and, in their place, concrete images of the deities came to be installed to whom offerings were directly made. The temple-culture grew fast in the country with many types of variations. But structurally, the similarity between the sacrifice site and a temple was maintained as is seen from the fact that the sacrificial post (yoopastambha) became the standard mast (dhvajastambha), the fire-pit became the sanctum sanctorum and the main altar of the site became the main image (moola vigraha) in the temple. While Vedic sacrifices were open only to a few persons (there were exceptions where those performed by kings were grand affairs and were spread over large areas to accommodate large crowds), all temples, whatever be their size, were public places which attracted many worshippers who had to be accommodated. At the same time, the sanctity of the temple had to be protected. This, in turn, led to sacrificial sites being earmarked inside the temples for use on important occasions like Pavitrotsava (purificatory festival), Brahmotsava (big annual festival), etc. Thus, from a minor position in the Vedic times, the temple has come a long distance to occupy an important place in every village or town in our country.
Tamil Nadu is known for the beautiful temples dotting every city, town and village. Many of the larger temples dedicated to Vishnu are well-known and are often visited by devotees and also by those interested in history, archaeology and temple architecture. The Divya Desams or temples wherein the deities have been eulogized by the Azhvars (Vaishnavite saints) in their hymns (Pasurams) collectively called Nalayira Divya Prabandham, are quite famous and many books and articles have been written about them. However, there are innumerable smaller Vishnu temples in cities, towns and villages, which have not been glorified by the Azhvars, but are still very important from the religious and historical perspective. Unfortunately, these temples are not very well-known and therefore not many people visit them.
This book, Vishnu Temples of South India Volume I (Tamil Nadu), is a collection of my articles on Vishnu temples serialized in Sri Nrisimhapriya (English). They focus mainly on the smaller Vishnu temples of Tamil Nadu, especially those near Chennai and Kanchipuram. Many of these temples are associated with the lives of the Srivaishnava preceptors (Acharyas). Some are also of great historical importance, having many important inscriptions etched on their walls of the times of the Pallava, Pandya, Chola and Vijayanagara monarchs. They reveal that these temples were the hub of the socio-economic and cultural life of the villages and towns in which they were situated. Some of these temples are also of great architectural beauty and are studded with innumerable sculptures which reveal the talent and dexterity of the architects and sculptors of times bygone.
This book would not have been published but for the blessings of H.H. the 45th Jiyar of the Ahobila Math. His Holiness has always been encouraging those who study the Srivaishnava Sampradaya and who try to spread it among the people at large. I take this opportunity to offer my deeper obeisance and gratitude to him.
I am grateful to Professor M. Narasimhachary (former Editor-in- Chief) and Smt. Lakshmi Devnath (former Associate Editor) of Sri Nrisimhapriya (English edition) for giving me the opportunity to contribute my articles on temples to this esteemed publication.
I wish to thank Dr. M.K. Srinivasan (former Editor-in-Chief), Sri Nrisimhapriya (English edition), for all his encouragement and guidance and for publishing my articles every month. I am extremely grateful to him for going through the manuscript and for contributing a scholarly foreword to this book.
My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Anuradha Sridharan, (former Associate Editor, Sri Nrisimhapriya), for all the kindness and help she has shown to me over the years. She has evinced much interest in the publication of this book and has meticulously gone through the proofs of the manuscript.
I am thankful to the Trustees of Sri Nrisimhapriya for permitting me to publish the articles serialized in Nrisimhapriya (English) in book form.
I am extremely grateful to Turbo Energy Ltd., Chennai, for sponsoring the publication of this book.
My sincere thanks to Sri. M.N. Srinivasan who has very kindly supplied me with many excellent photogaphs of the deities in the temples covered in this book.
In this endeavour, I must acknowledge my gratitude to all the Bhattacharyas of the temples which I have visited for providing me with plenty of information about these shrines.
I owe a lot to my parents for all their support and encouragement over the years and especially for accompanying me to many temples. Particular thanks are due to my teacher, Prof K.V.Raman (Former Professor and Head, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras). My interest in and knowledge of Vishnu temples is mainly due to him.
I wish to thank Dr. Padma Seshadri for the keen interest she has shown in all my academic pursuits and for telling me about some of the temples which I have written about in this book. As always, I my thankful to my well-wishers, Sri L.J.Krishnamurthi and Smt. Shobha Jayaraman.
I deem it my good fortune to have been able to visit all these temples and to write about them. It is my sincere prayer that those who read this book will also visit these hoary shrines which are repositories of our ancient traditions and customs.
Sri Pandava Doota Perumal Temple,
Sri Bhuvarahasvami Temple,
Sri Kurattazhvan Temple,
Sri Yathokthakari Perumal Temple,
Sri Tirukkachi Nambi Temple,
Sri Jagannatha Perumal Temple,
Three Unique Rama Temples
Sri Kodandaramasvami Temple,
Sri Harita Vaarana Perumal Temple,
Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Temple,
Sri Vedanta Desika Sannidhi, Thoopul,
Sri Ramanuja Temple,
Sri Rajagopalasvami Temple,
Sri Vaikuntha Perumal Temple,
Sri Lakshmi Narayana Perumal Temple,
Vishnu Temples, Uttiramerur
Sri Ulagalanda Perumal Temple,
Sri Venkatesa Perumal Temple,
Some Sudarsana Shrines
Sri Neelavarna Perumal Temple,
Sri Lakshmi Nrisimha, Navaneeta
Krishna Temple, Nanganallur
Sri Chakrapani Svami Temple,
Sri Pataladri Narasimhasvami Temple,
Sri Sanjeevi Rayar Temple,
Sri Adikesava Perumal Temple,
Sri Varadaraja Svami Temple,
Sri Madhava Perumal Temple,
Sri Vaikunthavasa Perumal Temple,
This book, Vishnu Temples of South India - Volume II (Tamil Nadu), contains twenty articles on Vishnu temples in Tamil Nadu. While the Divya Desams or temples eulogized in the hymns of the Azhvars or the Vaishnava saints are well-known and are often visited by devotees, there are many other smaller temples, mostly found in villages, small towns or in suburbs of Chennai, which are also important historic and religious centres, but are unfortunately not visited often. Many of these temples are in a neglected condition now although they were once the hub of not only religious activity, but also the socio-cultural milieu of the area in which they were situated. The articles in this book, covering twenty temples. focus on the legends connected with these shrines, their history, art and architecture and the festivals celebrated here. This book also highlights the ancient historic inscriptions etched on the walls of the shrines which provide an authentic account of the donations made by royalty and the common people alike and the important role the temples played in the socio-economic sphere in the ancient and medieval times.
Immense is my delight in writing this Foreword to the book, Vishnu Temples of South India- Vol. II (Tamil Nadu) penned by the young and erudite archeologist, Dr Chithra Madhavan. She has carved out a niche for herself in the hearts of all scholars through her highly informative articles on temple architecture. Her main forte is in going to the less known temples and making them known to people at large in a simple and telling style. The temple literature, called the Agamas, speak of Jiranoddhara of temples, - meaning, rebuilding them, renovating them, rejuvenating them and restoring them to their traditional glory and sanctity. What Dr Chithra is doing now is the same thing but in a different way. She visits rare and lesser known temples, studies them from the viewpoint of archaeology, traditional history and iconography, and makes the devout public take interest in their upkeep and traditional services. She has been writing for the Nrisimhapriya continuously on several aspects of the Vishnu temples. Vishnu Temples of South India - Vof. I had already been published and the world of scholars is deeply beholden to her for her selfless service. This is no small task. Her work is authentic, inspiring, novel and motivating.
Hinduism distinguishes itself from all other religions of the world by the stress it lays upon and the value it attaches to image-worship. There is no exaggeration saying that scarcely any other branch of antiquities has provided the Indian Archaeologist with more valuable and interesting data than Indian sculpture. It has to be noted that no piece of art in India has been produced purely for the sake of artistic display; instances of sculpture fashioned in response to mere secular value are indeed very-rare and of comparatively lesser significance. So, like any other branch of art, architecture should necessarily fit in the framework of religious motives and values. The most important context in which we can understand Hindu sculpture is the temple and there again the sanctum sanctorum occupies a pivotal position because that is the place where one encounters the main Deity which animates the entire temple. To a Hindu, image worship is the air he breathes, the food of his soul and the fountain head of his hopes, both for this world and for the other.
We need not here go into the question whether image-worship is a degraded state of human conception of the divine. It was held that man, who first began with a pure conception of divinity, did, in course of time, cultivate the desire to give a material shape to that conception and that he succeeded in it by making his own image. Since God created man in His image, man could also represent God by making images resembling himself. This helped man in one way, by making him feel that God is within his reach and that he has access to the divine through prayers and supplications. The practice of investing supernatural and superhuman beings with human form witnesses to one characteristic Hindu ideal that man can ennoble his stature and ascend to the plane of divine existence. By means of certain sculptural representations and symbols, divinity in the form of images has been brought down, so to say, to the level of the common man.
For a devour Hindu, an image is bur a symbol exhibiting certain aspects of a deity he has chosen to concentrate upon. So, even an ill-shaped icon may serve his purpose, provided it has been prepared according to the rules laid down in the Agamas. As a matter of fact, the resemblance of the image to the original deity conceived and the beauty of it are of a secondary value; all that is required is that people should be convinced by its accuracy. At least convention should vouchsafe it. It is often said that this negligence of artistic merit on the part of a sculptor has made him careless. Bur the Hindu sculptor never spared his effort to make the image as pleasing and appealing as possible. All Agamas and Tantras, to whatever school they belong, insist upon the desirability of making the images as beautiful as possible."
Since image-worship according to Hindu overview, forms a necessary step in the spiritual evolution of man it has no stigma attached to it. We can no more think about anything without a mental image than we can live without breathing. By the law of association the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa. For those who have realized the Highest, there may not be any need for image-worship. But those who do not need it have no right to say that it is wrong.'
For an orthodox Vaishnava, who believes in the validity of the Agamas - Pancharatra and Vaikhanasa, the surest way of attaining liberation is worshipping the consecrated image of the Divine, called Archa. All other aspects, Para (The Highest aspect called Vaasudeva in Srivaikuntha), Vyuha (Emanations such as Vaasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha), Vibhava (Incarnations such as Sri Rama and Sri Krishna) and Antaryamin (The Indweller-Controller) are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. The Archa aspect alone is the most accessible form of worship for people like us. Archa may be said to be a continuation of the Vibhavas since the deities we worship in Vishnu temples are mostly the Vibhava- incarnations like Narasimha, Rama and Krishna. Even Bhakti and Prapatti become efficacious only when directed towards Archa. Archa is not the product of the material with which images are prepared such as wood or stone. After due installation in temples, the material out of which it is made, gets metamorphosed as what is called Suddha Sattva (Pure Sattva, without the admixture of Rajas and Tamas), It is called Auatara itself. Indeed there are several divine Archa-manifestations which are called svayam- vyakta (meaning, self-manifest, i.e., they came of their own accord), not prepared by human hand. Ardent devotees of the Lord like the Azhvars and Acharyas wax eloquent about these "manifestations" of the Lord, which embody the transcendental glory (paratua) of the Lord, as also His easy affability (saulabhya). These Archas are treated by the devotees as the Lord Himself, with no diminution of powers. To such devotees, the Lord in image-form, appears in flesh and blood, showers Grace through lotus-eyes and speaks with coral lips.
It is against this background that we should approach the book on hand, prepared with meticulous care, scholarly perfection and above all, deep devotion by Or Chithra. We have to carefully read it, admire it, and enjoy it. No page in this book looks dull and insipid. The author has brought liveliness and charm to the accounts by her thorough treatment. In the twenty write-ups she has presented here, we can see a great archeologist at work, like an accomplished sculptor. The sculptor works with precision and perfection, cutting his way through the hard material and leaving the netronmilana (touching and opening the eyes) to the end. Or Chithra takes the strain (not strictly speaking strain, since it is devotion that motivates her) of going to rare and relatively unfamiliar temples which are outside the normal route, talking to the Archakas and others, gathering valuable information, noting down historical details, recording architectural data and then giving it the finishing touches. Every essay is a finished product, offering a sumptuous feast to the reader. Or Chithra opens these articles with an Introduction to a given temple, then goes to its history, architectural details, inscriptional data, images found in the complex such as those of patrons and devotees (if any), festivals conducted and then includes a note on the temple-timings, so that this book serves as a practical guide to those who want to have a darshan of the-Deity. I have no hesitation in adding that this book is a vertitable treasure –house of great value of the common man as well as a serious student of archaeology to the devout Vaishnava devotee and to the casual visitor.
Every village, town and city in Tamil Nadu is home to at least one or, in many cases, several ancient and historic temples. Many of these shrines are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and to His Incarnations. The Vishnu temples which have been eulogized in the hymns of the Azhvars or the Vaishnava saints are called Divya Desams. The Divya Desams in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere are well-known and are visited by many devotees. Other than these famous Vishnu temples, there are numerous other shrines, big and small, dedicated to Lord Vishnu which, in the past, were important religious centres and the hub of the socio-cultural activity in the villages in which they were situated. They are, in addition to being religious centres, places of immense historical interest as they have important inscriptions incised on their walls which record the names of kings, dates, donations, and also the names of the ancient geographical divisions of times bygone. These temples are also studded with beautiful sculptures which bespeak the dexterity and skill of the sculptors and artisans of the era of the Pallavas, Pandyas, Cholas, Vijayanagara and Nayak kings and also their vassal chieftains. Unfortunately, most of these ancient temples are now not well- known and many are in a dilapidated condition, with not many people visiting them.
This book, Vishnu Temples of Tamil Nadu (Vol.II), which contains twenty articles on lesser-known Vishnu temples, is a sequel to Vo!. I which has articles on thirty Vishnu temples of Tamil Nadu. All the articles in Vol. I and Vol. II were serialized in Sri Nrisimhapriya (English edition) from September 2004 to December 2008. The articles in this volume focus-only on the temples which are not Divya Desam.
This book would not have been published but for the blessings of H.H. the 45th Jiyar of the Ahobila Math, His Holiness has always been encouraging those who study the Srivaishnava Sampradaya and who also try to spread it among the people at large. I take this opportunity to offer my deepest obeisance and gratitude to him.
I wish to thank Prof. M. Narasimhachary (former Editor-in Chief), Dr. M. K. Srinivasan (former Editor-in Chief) and Smt. Lakshmi Devnath (former Associate Editor) and Sri. T. G. Ramamurthi, Editor-in-Chief, of Sri Nrisimhapriya for giving me an opportunity to contribute my articles on temples to this esteemed magazine.
I am truly grateful to Prof. M. Narasimhachary, Founder Professor and Head, Department of Vaishnavism and President Awardee (2004) for going through this manuscript and contributing a scholarly foreword to this book. It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me.
My sincere thanks to Dr. Anuradha Sridharan former Associate Editor, Sri Nrisimhapriya for all the kindness and help she has shown to me over the years and for going through the proofs of this book.
I thank the Trustees of Sri Nrisimhapriya for permitting me to publish the articles serialized in this magazine in book form.
My very sincere thanks to Sri. M. N. Srinivasan who has kindly given me many of the beautiful photographs of the deities of the temples written about in this book.
I am grateful to all the Bhattacharyas of the temples I have visited for providing me with plenty of information regarding the Sthala-Puranas of the temples and also the rituals and festivals associated with these shrines.
My very, very sincere thanks to my parents who have encouraged me in all my academic endeavours and for accompanying me to many of the temples I have written about in this book. I acknowledge with gratitude all the help and guidance given to me by my teacher Prof. K.Y. Raman (Former Professor and Head, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras).
I wish to thank my aunt, Dr. Padma Seshadri for all the encouragement she has given me over the years. As always, I wish to thank my well-wishers, Shri. L.J. Krishnamurthi and Smt. Shobha Jayaraman.
It has indeed been my good fortune to visit all these little-known Vishnu temples and to write about them. It is my sincere prayer and humble request that those who read about the different temples in this book should visit these shrines which are great religious centres and places of historic interest.
My very sincere thanks to Sri. A.S. Diwakar of COMPUPRINT for all his support and for the interest and enthusiasm with which he has brought out this book.
Sri Veeramangala Veeranjaneya Swamy Temple, Nallattur
Sri Adivaraha Cave-Temple, Mamallapuram
Sri Malaimandala Perumal Temple, Chaturangapattinam
Sri Premika Vitrala Temple, Vittalapuram
Sri Prasanna Venkarachalaparhi, Temple, Gunaseelam
Sri Venkatesa Perumal Temple, Varagur
Sri Sundararaja Perumal Temple, Azhagiya Manavalan
Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Svami Temple, Narasingapuram
Sri Kodandarama Svami Temple, Oragadam
Sri Kalyana Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Artur
Sri Kodandarama Svami Temple, Unamanjeri
Sri Kodandarama Svami Temple, Chengalpattu
Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Temple, Tirumalai Vaiyavur
Sri Devanatha Peru mal Temple, Chettipunyam
Sri Kodandarama Temple, Madurantakam
Sri Kodandarama Svami Temple, West Mambalam, Chennai
Bhairagi Marh Sri Venkatamudaiyan Temple, Sowcarpet, Chennai
Sri Aranganatha Svami Temple, Sowcarpet, Chennai
Sri Amritavalli Thayar Sametha Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Perumal
Temple, Ramavaram, Chennai
Dhanvantari Shrines of Ancient Tamil Nadu
This book, the third in the series of 'Vishnu Temples of South India', is like the earlier two, also about temples in Tamil Nadu. The twenty articles in this volume cover temples dedicated to Vishnu in different areas of the ancient territorial division known as Tondaimandalam, especially near Kanchipuram (the famous capital of the Pallava dynasty) and also temples in many historic places in Chennai. Most of these shrines are not famous today, although in the past, they were well-known religious centres as seen from the information contained in the inscriptions etched on their walls. It is rather unfortunate that some of these temples have fallen into a state of utter neglect with very few people offering worship in them. It is however 'heartening to see that many of these dilapidated temples are being renovated and provisions made for regular worship and conducting festivals.
The reason for highlighting these temples is that they, though historically very important are not known to most people outside the villages they are situated in. This book focuses on the legends, history, architecture and sculpture of these temples.
A Few Words of Ananda
All of us know that South India is literally the heavenly garden of temples. The great devotional singers of the past, the generous kings and noblemen, the virtuous commoner, the inspired architects and sculptors and the duty-conscious priesthood have made every inch of Tamil Nadu holy. In our precariously balanced days, these havens offer comfort and peace to the common man, and implant in him the sustaining seed of Hope.
Old Man Time can be cruel sometimes. Various reasons - external aggression, internal dissension, the athiest's oratory, English education and western materialism are but some of them. Fortunately for us, the wake-up call of Swami Vivekananda a hundred years ago released us from our somnambulist doze and Indians began retracing their cultural heritage. Part of this on-going process is documenting our temple culture. Coming in the tradition of great journalists in this field, like Tho. Mu. Bhaskara Thondaiman and Bharanidharan, Chithra Madhavan has been meticulously researching the lesser known Vishnu temples of Tamil Nadu. Her essays appearing in Sri Nrisimhapriya for the last several years have won a wide and committed readership for her. The essays are also being compiled into books for easy re-reading. The present is the third volume in the series and as with the earlier volumes, one gets educated constantly on the glory that was our devotional past and the grandeur that gave this devotion a local habitation and name.
As we race towards the millionth Jayanthi of Sri Ramanuja, it is Ananda to open the volume with the well in Sevilimedu from which the great Acharya carried water daily for the tirumanjanam of Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram. One thousand years have gone by! The world is perhaps not the same anymore elsewhere, but in this belt known as "Nadu Naadu" in Vaishnava tradition, the ancient atmosphere of utter devotion still remains wafting gently in the air. Chithra does not tire us with overpowering data. There is enough of history, legend, epigraphy and archaeology here to create in us a welcome awareness to know more about the temple and the environs. Since she gives information on special festivals, directions to the temple and timings (most of them in villages of which we have had no idea), the book becomes doubly valuable.
Chithra comes up with a variety of information gleaned patiently from the priest or other villagers and by her own independent studies and unerring eye for details. For instance, writing about the Sri Vishvaroopa Laskhminarasimha Svami Temple at Kattavakkam, she takes us back to the tragic day when Hampi was destroyed by the Deccan Muslim Confederacy and the imposing monolith Narasimha was disfigured by the invading iconoclasts. Then she brings us back to the present and says gently: "Those heart-broken on seeing the mutilated image of the once-gracious Sri Yoga Lakshmi Narasimha in Hampi can surely experience the bliss of those who worshipped that splendid image in times bygone by worshipping the magnificent one of Sri Vishvaroopa Lakshmi Narasimha in Kattavakkam."
Among the attention-grabbing tit-bits, we learn that in the Sri Kodanadarama Svami Udaiyavar Devasthanam Markandeya Sannidhi at Alwarpet, only the compositions of Alur Venkatadri Svami are sung; and in the Koyambedu Vaikunta Perumal Temple the vimana contains various sculptures of the Lord that are a must for any visitor/pilgrim.
In the Kaveripakkam Azhakiya Rama shrine there is an attractive Madaipalli Nachiyar sculpture (who presides over the kitchen). The kitchen is no more (an instance of how we have neglected these well-planned temples in remote villages) but the graceful figure must not be missed. "This deity is seen in a very natural pose, with her garment slightly hitched up as a lady in a kitchen with a lot of work is wont to do."
Reading the present volume on the Vishnu Temples of South India prepared with sincerity and grace by a scholar-researcher is like performing a sacred parikrama in a state of Ananda, feeling proud of our great heritage. I wish Chithra a long life of active involvement in such projects, and thus document the consecrated environments for all time to come. And my grateful thanks to her for associating me with this welcome publication.
This book, Vishnu Temples of Tamil Nadu (Volume Ill), contains twenty articles on lesser-known Vishnu temples and is a sequel to Volumes I and II published earlier. All the articles in the three volumes were serialized in Sri Nrisimhapriya (English edition). Most of the shrines featured in the three books are Vishnu temples which are not Divya Desams.
This book would not have been published but for the blessings of H.H. the 45th Jiyar of the Ahobila Math. His Holiness has always been encouraging those who study the Srivaishnava Sampradaya and who also try to spread it among the people at large. I take this opportunity to offer my deepest obeisance and gratitude to him.
I wish to thank Pro£ M. Narasimhachary (former Editor-in Chief), Dr. M.K. Srinivasan (former Editor-in Chief), Smt. Lakshmi Devnath (former Associate Editor) and Sri. T.G. Ramamurthi, Editor-in-Chief, of Sri Nrisimhapriya for giving me an opportunity to contribute my articles on temples to this esteemed magazine. I thank the Trustees of Sri Nrisimhapriya for permitting me to publish the articles serialized in this magazine in book form.
I am extremely grateful to Shri. R. Ramanujam, Chairman, Turbo Energy Ltd, Chennai, for sponsoring the publication of this book.
I am indeed very grateful to Dr. Prema Nandakumar for going through the manuscript and writing the Foreword to this book. To have a scholar of her eminence contribute the Foreword is truly an honour for me.
My very sincere thanks to Sri. M.N. Srinivasan who has kindly given me many of the beautiful photographs of the deities of the temples written about in this book and also for telling me about many of the temples which I otherwise would not have known about.
I am grateful to all the Bhattacharyas of the temples I have visited for providing me with plenty of information regarding the Sthala- Puranas of the temples and also the rituals and festivals associated with these shrines.
My very, very sincere thanks to my parents who have encouraged me in all my academic endeavours and for accompanying me to many temples. I acknowledge with gratitude all help and guidance given to me by my mentor Prof. K.V. Raman (Former Professor and Head, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras). I wish to thank my well-wishers, Shri. L.J. Krishnamurthi, Smt. Shobha Jayaraman and Dr. Padma Seshadri for all their good wishes.
My very sincere thanks to Shri. A.S. Diwakar of Compuprint for all this support and for the interest and enthusiasm with which he has brought out this book.
I am indeed blessed to be able to visit all these abodes of Vishnu and to write about them. It sincerely request those who read this book to please visit these historic shrines which were once active centres of worship and also the hub of socio-economic and cultural activities.
Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Perumal Temple, Sevelimedu
Sri Lakshmi Narayana Perumal Temple, Mamandur
Sri Pesumperumal Temple, Koozhamandal
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Elanagar
Sri Vedanarayana Perumal Temple, Anoor
Sri Adikesava Perumal Temple, Vallipuram
Sri Kamala Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Arasar Kovil
Sri Vishvaroopa Lakshmi Narasimha Svami Temple, Kattavakkam
Sri Damodara Perumal Temple, Damal
Sri Azhagiya Rama Temple, Kaveripakkam
Sri Kodandarama Svami Temple, Thiamukanjeri
Sri Lakshmi Narayana Svami Temple, Madambakkam
Sri Adikesava Perumal Temple, Nellikuppam
Sri Andal Sametha Sri Rangamannar Perumal Temple, Alwarpet, Chennai
Sri Kodandarama Svami Udaiyavar Devasthanam Markandeya Sannidhi, Alwarpet, Chennai
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Semmancheri, Chennai
Sri Alarmelmangai Thayar Sametha Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Temple, Kotturpuram, Chennai
Sri Venkatesa Perumal Temple, Mandaveli, Chennai
Sri Vaikunthavasa Perumal Temple, Koyambedu, Chennai
Sri Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple, Park Town, Chennai
There are temples for Vishnu and His incarnations in various cities, towns and villages of Tamil Nadu. Many of these are well-known as they are among the 108 Divya Desams or temples praised in the hymns (Pasurams) of the Azhvars (Vaishnavite saints). However, there are numerous temples that do not belong to this category, but are very ancient, tucked away in the small towns and villages, unknown to many. These shrines played an important role in the religious , socio-economic and cultural spheres in times bygone. This book has twenty articles on Vishnu temples in Tamil Nadu. Three of them are Divya Desam and the rest are smaller temples which are important from the viewpoints of history and religion. All the temples covered in this volume are located on the East Coast Road (ECR) leading from Chennai, in Pondicherry (Puducherry), Cuddalore, Thirukoilur, Tindivanam and surrounding areas. The articles focus on the traditions connected with these temples, their history, art and architecture and the festivals celebrated here. The important inscriptions etched on the walls of the shrines which provide an authentic account of the times bygone are also highlighted.
The temples of South India are known the world over, not only for their antiquity but also for their superb architecture and iconography. They are storehouses of tradition going back several hundred years. Many of these shrines are dedicated to Vishnu and Tamil Nadu has innumerable such temples whose history is well-documented by the Tamil hymns of the Azhvars and also by Sanskrit verses composed by many preceptors or Acharyas of the Srivaishnava lineage. In addition are innumerable temples in cities and remote villages which have not been visited by the Azhvars, but are important centres of Vishnu worship. The inscriptions found on the walls of these temples are a mine of information not only for ascertaining the history of these temples but also for finding out about royalty and the common people who contributed to it in the form of architecture, sculpture, land grants and other donations such as land, gold, silver, livestock, etc.
This book, which covers twenty Vishnu temples, some hardly known and a few famous Divya Desams is a rare collection. These temples are on the East Coast Road, in Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Tindivanam and surrounding areas. The author has visited each and every one of these shrines, has researched on them and has presented her observations of every nook and corner of the temples. Rarely in articles on temples does one come across the details given in the inscriptions etched on the walls and pillars. It is heartening to note that historian Chithra Madhavan has given plenty of importance to this aspect and has mentioned the epigraphs which have been discovered in the temples she has visited. The growth of temples in Tamil Nadu from cave-temples and small structural shrines to the massive temple-complexes such as Srirangam and Chidambram is an interesting subject. In this book, a cave-temple of the Pallava era in Singavaram, dedicated to Ranganatha Svami has been highlighted. This is one of the earliest temples of the Tamil country and is still in worship. The Thirukoilur Trivikrama Perumal temple, now a huge temple-complex, is a classic example of an early temple that has had an architectural evolution of several centuries.
This book will be useful to devotees who often go to temples and also to those who are interested in the temple architecture, iconography and epigraphy. The photographs in this book will go a long way in helping the reader to connect with the written word.
I wish the author many more years of research into temple architecture and many more publications on this subject.
There are temples aplenty for Vishnu in all parts of India and Tamil Nadu is no exception to this. In the ancient and medieval times, the emperors of the Tamil country and also the chieftains and the common people constructed many shrines for this deity. Some are large and famous while many of the smaller ones are not known to people other than the locals. Many of these temples, which are now neglected and forlorn, were once thriving religious centres and also the hub of the villages in which they were situated.
This book, Vishnu Temples of South India - Volume IV (Tamil Nadu), is a collection of some of my articles serialized in Sri Nrisimhapriya (English). Highlighted herein are some temples dedicated to this deity located on the East Coast Road (ECR) leading from Chennai to Pondicherry (Puducherry), in Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Tindivanam and the villages and towns surrounding them. In this collection of articles, only three are Divya Desams or the temples praised in the hymns of the Azhvars (Vaishnava saints), namely the Sthalasayana Perumal temple, Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), the Devanatha Svami temple, Thiruvendipuram and the Trivikrama Perumal temple, Thirukoilur. The others are all lesser-known temples dedicated to various incarnations and manifestations of Vishnu. All of them are ancient places of worship which also served as socio-economic and cultural centres over many centuries. The history of these temples, the architecture, sculptures, inscriptions and festivals have been highlighted in these articles.
This book would not have been published but for the blessings of H.H. the 45th jiyar of the Ahobila Math. His Holiness has always been encouraging those who study the Srivaishnava Sampradaya and who try to spread it among the people at large. I take this opportunity to offer my deepest obeisance and gratitude to him.
I am grateful to the late Professor M.Narasimhachary (former Editor-in-Chief) and Smt. Lakshmi Devnath (former Associate Editor) of Sri Nrisimhapriya (English edition) for initially giving me the opportunity to contribute my articles on temples to this esteemed publication.
I wish to thank Dr M.K.Srinivasan (former Editor-in-Chief), Sri Nrisimhapriya (English edition), for all his genuine encouragement and guidance over the years and for publishing my articles in Nrisimhapriya every month.
I thank Dr Anuradha Sridharan, (former Associate Editor, Sri Nrisimhapriya), for all her kindness and help. I am thankful to the Trustees of Sri Nrisimhapriya for permitting me to publish the articles serialized in Nrisimhapriya (English) in book form.
I wish to thank my teacher, Prof K.V.Raman (Former Professor and Head, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras). My interest in and knowledge of Vishnu temples is mainly due to him. I am indeed very grateful to him for writing the Foreword to this book.
My heartfelt thanks to Sri M.N.Srinivasan who has very kindly supplied me with many excellent photographs of the deities in the temples covered in this book and also for providing me with information about the temples which I have visited.
I owe a lot to my parents for all their support and encouragement over the years and especially for accompanying me to many temples.
As always, I am thankful to my well-wishers, Dr Padma Seshadri, Sri L.J. Krishnamurthi and Smt Shobha Jayaraman.
My gratitude to Shri A.S.Diwakar of Compuprint for his unstinted help and cooperation and for the interest and enthusiasm with which he has brought out this book.
It is my good fortune to have been able to visit all these ancient places of worship and to have been able to write about them. My sincere prayer is that those who read this book should also visit these temples which are standing testimony to the glory of our ancient civilization.
Sri Nityakalyana Perumal Temple
Sri Sthalasayana Perumal Temple
Sri Vaikuntha Ranganatha Perumal Temple
Sri Adikesava Perumal Temple
Sri Sridevi Bhudevi Sametha Sri Arulalaperumal Temple
Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple
Sri Viranarayana Perumal Temple
Sri Devanatha Svami Temple
Sri Saranarayana Peru mal Temple
Sri Ranganatha Perumal Temple
Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Temple
Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Svami Temple
Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Perumal Temple
Sri Trivikrama Perumal Temple
Sri Ranganatha Svami Temple
Sri Kanakavalli Thayar Sametha