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Thiru Kudanthai is one of the 108 Vaishnava temples (divya deshas). The temple is situated 200 kms from Chennai. This temple is one of the Pancha Ranga Kshetras, the other four being, Adirangam (Mysore), Appalarangam (Thiruper), Madhyarangam (Srirangam) and Pancharangam of Indalur (Mayavaram).
Thiru Kudanthai or Kumbakonam as it is commonly referred to is one of the ancient towns of India and a very important center of Hindu pilgrimage. This sacred and celebrated place has been famous as a seat of learning, culture, art and tradition. And therefore, it is extended the highest respects from time immemorial. Steeped in antiquity, the ancient town of Kumbakonam by the side of river Kaveri derives its name from its presiding deity Kumbeshwara. Known as Kudamukku in the earlier days, it is said to have been ruled by the Pallavas. It is located between the two rivers, the Kaveri in the north and Arasalar in the south. Just as in Srirangam, the two rivers on the two sides of Kumbakonam enhance the town as a grand necklace. The town extends about two miles in length from North to South and one mile in breadth from east to west and is surrounded by a number of Vishnu and Shiva temples.
The huge Sarangapani temple is in the center of the town and all roads are paved in such a way that they lead us to the shrine. It is considered a hub of spiritual life and prime attraction for every devotee of Narayana. Mahavishnu is worshiped here as Sarangapani and Mahalakshmi goes by the name Komalavalli thayar. He is also known as Dravida Veda Darshaka. This tirtha is called Bhaskara kshetra as the Sun deity is said to have regained his brightness after performing a penance here. The vimana is known as Vaidika vimana and the Pushkarni is named Hema Pushkarni.
|Vishnu here is referred to as||Sarngapani, Aravamudan, Amudan, Sarngaraja, Sarnga Dhanan, Sarnga Kesan, Apryapthamrudhan.|
|Lakshmi here is referred to as||Komavalli Thayar, Padithanda Patthini.|
|Kshetra is called||Bhaskara Kshetra, Pancharanga Kshetra.|
|Vimana is called||Vaidika Vimana.|
|Pushkarni is called||Hema Pushkarni (Potramarai)|
|River in the vicinity is||Kaveri and Arasalaru|
|Hymns on this deity||Fifty Four|
|Location||2 kms from Kumbakonam Town|
Sarangapani temple occupies a prominent position in the city of Kumbakonam. It covers an area of over 3 acres and has one gopura and two praharas which is then surrounded by the town and the busy market. The temple with oonjal mandapa, door panels, paintings, Garuda shrine, Sheesh Mahal, etc is noted for its excellent sculpture which includes royal procession, dancing damsels, hunting scenes and devas in infinite variety of poses and postures. The carvings on the pillars on both sides are very elaborate and the style of the craftsman is very effective in the depiction of the puranic themes. However, though closed by stone walls and strengthened by pillars, the imposing tall tower dominating the landscape is visible even from a distance. It stands on a base of 30 mtrs x 18 mtrs. While the temple itself measures 90 feet by 51 feet at the base. It has eleven tiers and there are steps to reach the top tier from where one can have a panoramic view of the entire town. Infact, the temple has a planned elevated fleet of steps at short distances. Also, the shikhara presents a well-developed phase of Dravidian architecture.
The temple has two separate entrances - one in the south and one in the north with nine steps each which is symbolic of the nine steps leading to Moksha. The southern entrance is used during Dakshinayana (approx. January to July) and the northern side entrance is used during Uttarayana (approx. July to January). The Dakshinayana entrance is known as the doorway to marriage as Lord Sarngapani came out of this corridor after his marriage to Komalavalli.
The sanctum and the front mandapa are designed to look like a chariot on wheels and horses. The very concept of a temple on a chariot in motion is novel. The vimana is called Vaikunta Vimana. Since the chariot landed with great force, the elephants are seen arresting its speed. The chariot is so sculptured that it seems ever ready for flight. The front mandapa called Thiru Mamani Mandapa is of the Nayaka style and is supported by 12 pillars. This temple is dedicated to Vishnu who is bhaktavatsala and as he wields a bow called Sarnga, he is known as Sarngapani. In the sanctum, the deity Aravamudan (Mahavishnu) is seen in Uthanga shayana posture on the Sesha facing the east with his head slightly raised giving darshan to Thirumazhisai Piran flanked by Bhudevi and Sridevi. And Brahma is seen rising from his navel. Hemarishi, Saptharishis, Kaveri and Devas are also seen paying homage. Here the Alwars have sung in praise of both the deities, the presiding deity and the processional deity. Therefore the shrine is known as Ubhaya Pradhana Divya Desha where both the presiding and processional deities are given equal importance. Goddess Lakshmi as Komalavalli is enshrined separately in a sanctum near the Uttarayana steps. There is also a Srinivasa Sannidhi which is situated underground. And due to this location, the deity is known as Pathala Srinivasa and the Sannidhi is called Pathala Srinivasa Sannidhi. Behind the temple there is a Pottramarai (the Golden Lotus tank) that measures 361 feet by 285 feet and is known as Lakshmi teertha and Amudavani. The tank also has a mandapa with sixteen pillars right in its midst.
Talking about the grandeur of the temple and its architecture, Prof. S. Narayanan says,
"It is one of the most impressive structures remarkable for its ornamentation and rhythmic harmony. Its elegant construction and gigantic proportion are truly remarkable.The main temple and the other shrines have jointly given the entire pilgrim center a balanced architectural assemblage. The layout, design, colour and wooden carvings of the temple reflect the best traditions of Chola style. Whereas, inside the sanctum the atmosphere is calm and serene, darkness adding to its sublime glory. And it is this serenity in the sanctum that is the most remarkable feature of the shrine."
This sacred shrine of Thiru Kudanthai is sung by seven of the twelve alwars. Referred to by Bhuthathalwar in his hymns, this temple is considered to belong to a very early period. Infact, this shrine has a special significance in the history of Vaishnavism because of its connection to Nathamuni. It is said that, it was in this sannadhi that Nathamuni (the grand father of Alavandar) first heard the ten hymns of Nammalwar in praise of Amudan and then paved the way for the renaissance of all the four thousand hymns of the Alwars at Alwar Thirunagari. Thus, the temple is much respected due to its association with Thirumazhisai Alwar, Nathamuni as well as Hema Maharishi.
Several puranas give accounts of the importance of this shrine. Especially, the Brahmanda Purana and Bhavishya Purana bring out the merits and prominence of this temple.
- According to a Purana, this place was originally known as Kudamukku. It is said that, once Brahma created Amruta Kudam (pot of nectar), with the four Vedas offering protection on four sides and kept it on the Meru mountain. However, during Pralaya, the great deluge, the amruta vessel got dislodged and spilled over the vast region of the present Kumbakonam. Hence the name.
- According to another legend, sage Brghu once went to see Mahavishnu. However, the Lord was in the company of Sridevi and did not immediately respond. Annoyed at this, Brghu kicked Vishnu on his chest, the place where Sridevi resides. Therefore, Sridevi took this as a personal insult and descended on earth and began a severe penance on a thousand-petalled lotus in a tank named Pottramarai at Kumbakonam. This is the tank that later gave birth to goddess Komalavalli and hence is considered very sacred. It is said that, when the milky ocean was being churned, the Amruta Kalash broke and it is believed that some nectar spilled into this tank.
- In his next birth, Rishi Brghu was born as Hema Maharshi. He remembered the actions of his earlier birth and regretted that he was the main cause of separation between Mahavishnu and the devi. In order to repent for his wrong doing, he began a severe penance. And pleased with his prayers, Mahavishnu gave darshan to Hema Maharishi and granted him boons. As a boon he prayed to beget Sri Lakshmi devi as his daughter and the Lord himself as his son-in-law. Mahavishnu fulfilled the request and married Komalavalli much to the rishi's joy and hence the kshetra is also known as Kalyanapuram. Therefore, it is said that anyone who wishes to take a dip in this tank that purifies and paves way for salvation, is first told to worship Hema Maharishi at the shrine. Even, Thirumazhisai alwar is said to have attained salvation here.
- It is said that Ayya Kumara Tata Desikan was the one who constructed a separate shrine for Komalavalli Thayar. And then, pleased with his devotion, it was a Nayaka Raja who erected a sannadhi for Ayya Kumara Tata Desikan.
- According to a legend, Surya, the Sun deity, once, lost in a contest to the Sudarshana Chakra. Having lost, it was after a long severe penance in this kshetra that the Sun deity regained his original glory. Therefore, the place came to be known as Bhaskara Kshetra and the Sudarshana Chakra of Lord Sarangapani here is considered most powerful as he defeated Surya.
- There is also another interesting legend which says that once, Mahavishnu went out of the shrine without the knowledge of Mahalakshmi. And therefore, on his return the Devi refused to open the door. It was then left to Nammalwar to reconcile and bring the divine couple together.
- Once as a matter of precaution, the idols of this temple were kept in safe custody at Thiru Koshtiyur temple. In gratitude, till today, it is a practice to sing a hymn in honour of Thiru Koshtiyur Perumal in this shrine.
- Another story says that there was an orphan named Lakshmi Narayana who was a sincere devotee of the Lord Sarangapani. With tears in his eyes and a blissful smile on his face, he danced and sang fully realising the sweetness of Amuda. He could go on in this way for days and nights without a break and without any exhaustion. His only obsession was to build a gopura for his favourite Sarngaraja. In due course of time, the dream came true and he realised that the Lord abides in all things as well as his own heart. With advancing age, he was sure that Mahavishnu would save him just as he saved the Pandavas. In fact, when he died, Mahavishnu directed one of his archaka through a dream to do the final samskara for Lakshmi Narayana Swami. Taking this as a divine command, the archaka is believed to have taken the grass from the Lord's hands and performed the final ceremony on his behalf. Thus, every year on Deepavali Amavasya, this ceremony is performed in this Kumbakonam temple at the command of the Lord himself.
Some of the special sevas in this temple are as follows.
- On the 19th day of Margazhi month, Mahavishnu is bedecked as Thayar (devi) and Thayar is dressed like Perumal (Mahavishnu). This is an event peculiar to this temple.
- The month of Masi sees the float festival taking place in the golden lily tank of this temple.
- Also, every year on Deepavali Amavasya, the ceremony of Mahavishnu performing the last rites of his devotee Lakshmi Narayana is performed.
Apart from this, the Mahamaha festival in Kumbakonam is itself considered to be the most sacred. It is believed that the deities of the nine sacred rivers meet in confluence on the day of Mahamaha that comes once in twelve years typically in the month of Feb-March when Jupiter passes through the sign of Leo. This festival that is celebrated once in 12 years is also depicted in a sculptural representation at the Kashi Vishwanatha temple. This festival was last held in March 2004.
There are many other Vaishnava shrines in Kumbakonam.
Some of them are located in the Periya veedi (Big Street) like,
- Varaha Perumal temple.
- Chakrapani temple.
- Gopalaswamy temple.
- Udayavar temple.
- Varadaraja Perumal temple near the Kaveri bridge.
- Vedaranya Perumal temple near Saurashtra street.
- Brahman Kovil at Saurashtra street.
- Pattabhiraman temple near Kamakshi Joshiar street.
- Saranarayana Perumal temple.
- Prof. S. Narayanan (April 2004), 108 Temples of Azhvars, Volume 1, Maharashtra: Sri Ramanuja Mission.