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Thiru Thanjai refers to the three temples of Thanjai Mamani Koil, Manikundram and Thanjaiyali Nagar in Tanjore that together constitute one of the 108 vaishnava divya desas. Here, Mahavishnu resides directly facing Thanjavur and is thus, aptly known as Thanjai Kattharulum Deivam.
Tanjore is a fairly big town and also the headquarters of the Tanjore district. It is one of the oldest towns of South India and takes its name from the word Tanjan, a demon who was vanquished by Lord Vishnu. The word Tanjam in Tamil means 'refuge'. Hence, Tanjore also means a city of refuge.
Tracing its origin from pre-historic times this parashara kshetra seems to have been the cradle of vedic civilization and one of the most sacred places of Hindu pilgrimage. It is rich not only in history and culture, but also in legends. The place acquired its religious importance by being the place of Nayanacharya's penance. The kings' patronage made Tanjore both a Shaivite and a Vaishnavite kshetra at once. Located in the outskirts of Thanjavur at Vennattrankarai stands a memorable monument dedicated to Tanjan after whom the divya desha and the city have been named. The once majestic gopura now stands all alone in ruins.
The three temples Thanjai Mamani Koil, Manikundram and Thanjaiyali Nagar in Thanjore together form one Vaishnava Divya Desham. Prof S. Narayanan says,
"Historically, the credit goes to the Maratha Bhosles for bringing the three scattered temples to close proximity. The once flourishing and majestic temples of Rajendra now silently speak of that glory that reigned around. The temples have simple structure comprising a domed chamber and a mandapa. Unlike other temples of the region, these temples cannot boast of beautiful sculptures or the artistic depictions. That does not diminish their glory in any way."
Thanjai Mamani koil
The very first temple out of the Tanjore trio is Thanjai Mamani koil. Here, Lord Vishnu enshrined as Neelamega Perumal sits facing the east giving a special darshana to Parashara Muni. Hence, this kshetra is known as Parashara kshetra.
Temple at a glance
|Vishnu here is revered as||Neelamegha|
|Lakshmi here is revered as||Sengamalavalli|
|The Vimana is named||Soundarya Vimana|
|The Pushkarini is called||Kannika Pushkarini|
The Thanjai Mamani koil stands on a three-tiered gopuram as a perfect specimen of Dravidian temple architecture with a planned structure and an elevated flight of steps. Though made up of plainly dressed stones without any artistic embellishment, it gives an impression of its sturdy vigour and impressive grandeur. Set on an elevation, the temple has the customary Bali Peetha, Dvaja Sthamba and Garuda shrine (Sannidhi). It also has a well carved stone tablet of Hanuman. Several puranic accounts bring out the importance of this kshetra enclosed within four mighty walls. However, the temple in its present form has separate shrines for Thayar, Svami Vedanta Desikan and Sri Lakshmi Hayagreeva.
Of the three temples that form Thiru Thanjai and are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the second in line is Manikundram Perumal Koil. Due to its strategic location, it is also known as Nadu Koil. The Lord here, is sitting (Amarnda tirukolam) facing east having responded to the penance of Markandeya rshi. This temple is eulogized by the Always in five hymns.
Temple at a glance
|Vishnu here is referred to as||Manikundra|
|Lakshmi here is referred to as||Ambujavalli|
|Vimana is named||ManikkoodaVimana|
|Pushkarni is named||Sri Rama Pushkarni|
|Hymns by Alwars||Five|
|Location||4 kms from Thanjavur|
The temple does not have a royal tower but is beautified by the arch at the entrance and the vimana above the sanctum (garbhagrha).
Known as Veera Narasimha kovil, the Lord Vishnu in Thanjayali Nagar is worshipped as Narasimha and Goddess Lakshmi is adored as Thanjai Nayaki (the guardian of Thanjavur).
Temple at a glance
|Vishnu here is worshipped as||Narasimha|
|Lakshmi is worshipped as||Thanjai Nayaki|
|Vimana is called||Vedasundara Vimana|
|Pushkarini is named||Surya Pushkarini|
|Theertha is called||Sri Rama Theertha|
This temple though devoid of the pyramidal tower (gopuram) is endowed with the customary Bali pitha, Dvajasthambha and Garuda Sannidhi. In the temple complex, right at the entrance is a separate shrine for Thirumangai Alwar and to the left is the Sannidhi for Goddess Lakshmi (the embodiment of wealth and grace).
Legends of Thiru Thanjai
Interesting legends surround the Thiru Thanjai kshetra. Some of them have been enumerated below.
Thiru Thanjai is also named Parashara Kshetra after the great Parashara. It is said that after performing years of penance, Parasara muni surrendered unto the Lord Mahavishnu and built an ashram with his loving devotion. Though endowed with divine knowledge, he was filled with humility, bhakti and love. He would see the Lord as his very own and always be in His contemplation day and night. His constant yearning for the Lord, gave rise to him composing sweet verses in praise of the Lord as he dedicated himself completely to the Lord's will, longing for his darshana. In due course of time, it was this hermitage that came to be known as Parashara Kshetra.
At the time of churning of the milky ocean, Parasara muni was one of the rishis, who got Amrutha for himself from Mahavishnu as a reward for his devotion. He brought the Amrutha to the Parashara Kshetra and spilt it into the temple pushkarni. Thus, the temple pond rightly earned the name Amruthavardhini. Even when there was a terrible draught lasting for twelve long years, because of its divine association, the only place that did not get affected was the Parashara Kshetra.
Mahavishnu and the Three Demons
Three demons Dhandakan, Tanjakan and Tarakan heard of the above mentioned miracle at Pushkarini, came to the Parasara kshetra and polluted the temple tank as was feared by devas. Having done so, they also regained their strength manifold. And with their evil thoughts and habits, they troubled Parashara Muni and his disciples endlessly.
Parashara Muni then appealed to Lord Shiva on the advice of Brahma, for help . Lord Shiva sent Chandika devi to put an end to the demons. On seeing the Devi, Dhandakan rained showers of arrows. And as Devi marched forward through it killing the demons, the other demons in the battlefield would sprinkle water from the pushkarini and infuse new life into the dead bodies. This made the fight an endless phenomenon. At this juncture, Lord Vishnu appeared and distilled the Amrutha from the water tank to stop the demons from regaining life.
Seeing this, the asura Tanjakan charged on Lord Vishnu with all sorts of deadly weapons and their encounter became extremely terrible to behold. At one point, Tanjakan with his demonic powers transformed into an elephant and came rushing towards the Lord with the Shala tree in his trunk. It is said that the Lord, displaying exemplary courage and character and standing tall amongst the ruins unfazed by the demon, turned back the tide leaving the demon tottering. Finally, the Lord with the power of his Sankalpa transformed as Narasimha and pressed the demon on his lap. However, the demon surrendered to the Lord seeking refuge. He expressed a profound desire that the Lord should reside at Thanjai in the very same Narasimha avatara and that the place should be named as Thanjavur in his memory. And Mahavishu, merciful as ever, assured him with a promise to stay at Thanjai.
The Lord also closed all the escape routes of the other demon Dhandakan and killed him in the Varaha form. And as the Lord stood victorious, Chandika Devi also in the meanwhile succeeded in enslaving Tarakan and was conferred with the title Eka Veera. Parashara Muni then prayed to the Lord to continue to stay at Thanjai and the Lord too immediately obliged his devotee and took residence at Thanjai as Neelamegha Perumal.
- Prof. S. Narayanan (April 2004), 108 Temples of Azhvars, Volume 1, Maharashtra: Sri Ramanuja Mission.