The night Lord Siva, the only formless god in the hindu pantheon, revealed his true nature in the form of light to rest of the gods is celebrated every year as ‘Siva Rathri’, rathri meaning night in Sanskrit. People keep all night vigil at the Siva temples everywhere, singing Bhajans (devotional songs) and observing the rituals performed by the temple priests. The following is an account that is a few years old –
After a blissful Siva-Rathri at the backdrop of ‘Natyanjali’ (offerings through dance to the Lord of Dance who is Siva – His dance creates, sustains and dissolves the universe in endless cycles) festival at the Chidambaram temple, I set off to explore beyond the periphery of the Dikshidhars, the priestly community found only in Chidambaram.
There are 2 neglected ‘padal-petra sthalams’ (hymns by saints here) at Sivapuri, hardly 10 kms away and an auto would gladly take you there, through the dirt-road. First being Uchinatha Swami, who is said to have fed 60,000 guests on their way to Sambandhar’s wedding at Achalpuram, a small lingum (symbol of the divine) housed in a compact temple at Thrunelvayil and the second temple being Paalvannanathar at Thrukazipavai, only an aavudaiyar (yoni part). And both these are privately managed by the same family. The priest with his twirling moustache requested money for oil and claimed that the lord gets his light only with the help of occasional visitors like me- granted ! This temple is known more for the Bairavar (an offshoot of Siva-energy) in charge as he wields more power than the presiding deity. I was told by the priest, as stated by Paramacharyal of Kanchi that similar Bairavar was found only in Kasi (Banaras), with no dog accompanying him.
Next up,Thiruvetkalam, also Thevaram (hymns on Siva) featured, near Annamalai University. The lord here is called Pasupatheswarar and the temple is well maintained, thanks to the Chettiar community. After a brief stop at UmapathiSivachariar (the ostracized Dikshidhar) mutt (hermitage/monastery) at Chidambaram, reached the outskirts to have a dharshan (look) at Anantheswarar, established by none other than the Yoga-founder sage Pathanjali himself – again a neglected temple.
On to Sirgazi, and no better place to start than the birth place of the divine-child, Sambandar. A Patashala( a school of Veda) is in place in a renovated building, which is owned by the Kanchi mutt. A second batch is at study while in the graduated first, I was told, two students found their way to overseas employment – so it’s not just IT, veda-studies pave way to become an NRI too ! If you get here, make sure to take a look at the old structure clipping, published in The Hindu, hung on the wall of Sambandar’s birth-room. A visit here is a must for those who are bitten by the beauty of Thevaaram hymns, as it stirs something deep to touch that holy-soil !
Now comes the one that might make this write-up worthy. Hardly a km away from Sirgazi is Thirkollaka, Sambandar’s second stop on his father’s shoulders and
the location for his second Pathigam ( a set of 10 songs,generally). On entering the temple, the baby started singing by clapping his hands and Siva took pity and offered a pair of golden cymbals to save the tender hands from getting blisters. But the cymbals of gold didn’t make the right resonance and that’s where ‘Osai-Kodutha Nayaki’ (goddess who gave the sound), the goddess at this place pitched in. The priest’s interpretation here was that lord Siva was gracious enough to make Ambaal (goddess) worthy of higher worship at this temple. So, the goddess here has given ‘voice’ to 119 mute-children since 1979 that includes a Muslim child and the priest is keeping a log and told me one of them spoke right in the sanidhi (sanctum) and in his presence. Please pass the word if you happen to know anyone needs divine-help on this front. Just an ‘archana‘ (offering) plate and a honey bottle are all is required and of course, deep-faith!! To top it, the Ambaal here is simply gorgeous ! Again, thankfully, a Chettiar managed temple.
3 Kms from Vaideswarankoil is Thrupungur, the place where Nandhi (Siva’s Bull) made way for the ‘untouchable’ Nandhanar to have a look at his Lord. A dirt road led me to the temple which looked desolate on entering. The priest was all at leisure at the front gate in this reasonably large temple. The ‘out-of-place’ Nandhi was in his glistening majesty. Siva was in darkness, as the priest had ‘forsaken’ him too ! I walked around the temple to its back, through the bushes and one-time Agraharam (living quarters of the Brahmin community) to take a look at the pond, dug-up by Sivaganas (Siva’s servants) at the behest of lord Ganesha, to enable Nandhanar have his bath, as he was not allowed to use the pond on the front meant for other sections in the society of those days. As I went down the steps and sprinkled water from the holy-tank onto me, the sight of water-body taken over by growth and lack of maintenance were heart-wrenching.
Contrary to the temples visited so far, VaideswaranKoil (the doctor temple !) was milling with people – for obvious reason, a sign of ‘ailing‘ society we live in.
Final stop was Thirunarayur, the place of Nambiaandarnambi, who by communicating with ‘Pollapillaiyar’ (Lord Ganesha) at the temple helped Emperor Rajarajan trace hitherto lost Thevaram inside Chidambaram temple. This is one place where you feel the time has frozen since the days of those blessed souls – a country road dotted with hay-stacks, flanked by rice fields, occasional villagers on bicycles and a river to cross over, birds on the fields – do not ride on anything, just walk down this road just before the Sun plunges at the horizon and it is heavenly ! – Pollapillaiyar is swayambu (natural), as told by the priest and did seem by the appearance too; also, this is probably one temple where you find both a granite one and a urtsava-vighgraham (metal made) for the great king Rajarajan.
Hotel Akshaya is a decent stay at Chidambaram and all the above temples could be covered in day-trips. Please visit and support these sanctified abodes so
that they can still stand for the future generations.