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Uraiyur is an ancient temple dedicated to the deity Azhagiya Manavalan (also an epithet of Lord Vishnu) at a distance of 3 kms from Srirangam. It is not just one of the 108 Vaishnava temples, but also one among the 40 Cholanadu Divya Desas. The temple being rich in history and famous in legends, occupies a coveted place in the heart of the devotees. This also happens to be birthplace of one of the 12 Alwars of the Vaishnava tradition - Thirupanalwar, to whom a separate shrine is also dedicated.
The temple of Uraiyur is closely associated with Srirangam Ranganatha temple in its history. In fact, the utsava murthi (processional murti or vigraha) of Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam is known as Azhagiya manavalan (one of enchanting beauty).This processional deity at Srirangam is manifested as the presiding deity here, at Uraiyur.
An interesting incident recorded during the period of Nanda Chola is that the Raja once found in his lily pond a heavenly female child floating on a lotus. He took it as a gift from the Almighty and named her Kamalavalli as she was found on the petals of a lotus flower. When she came of age, she met Lord Ranganatha and immediately fell in love with him. The king Nanda Chola consummated her marriage to Ranganatha with great pomp. When the heavenly born daughter was taken inside the sanctum, it is said that she merged with the Lord in a blaze of light. In commemoration of his daughter's marriage, Nanda Chola then constructed two temples, one for Kamalavalli and the other for Azhagiya Manavalan at Uraiyur. This is the legendary connection between Srirangam and Uraiyur.
Temple at a glance
|Vishnu here is referred to as||Azhagiya Manavalan|
|Lakshmi here is referred to as||Uraiyurvalli, Vasalakshmi, Kamalavalli Nacchiar|
|Vimana is called as||Kalyana Vimana|
|Pushkarni is called as||Surya Pushkarni, KalyanaTheertha|
|River in the vicinity||Kudamurutty|
|Hymns by Alwars on the deity||Two|
|Location||3 kms from Tiruchirapalli|
Tiruchirapalli or Srirangam is the most convenient base to visit this temple.
According to Prof S. Narayanan, the earliest authentic records mention this temple as Nichilapuri and Thirukozhi.
Uraiyur, a one-time capital of Chola dynasty depicts the Dravidian architecture at its best. Most of these magnificient monuments are considered a result of the 10th and 11th Century when Chola dynasty was at the peak of its glory. The temples of this time-period generally have a mandapa (porch-like structure), an antarala (like a vestibule), sanctum (garbhagrha) and an inner circumambulatory round the sanctum (Prahara). The Uraiyur temple is surrounded by high walls, beams and pillars housing the Lord Manavalan known for his penetrating eyes. Though temple itself is medium in size with one prahar and two shrines (sannidhis), the shikara (gopuram) of this holy shrine is known for its series of nine graded tiers at different heights that bestow on them a unique proportion of rhythmic verticality. The result of which is one of silent dignity and organic unity.
The deity and his consort
Rich in divine association and abounding in several distinctive features, Vishnu at this temple is depicted as Manavala perumal in a standing posture (Nindra tirukkolam) with a prayoga chakra in his hand. The Almighty is facing north and is always accompanied by Lakshmi manifested here as Kamalavalli Nachiar. She is also known as Vasalakshmi and Uraiyurvalli. As oppposed to other Vaishnava temples where Lakshmi has a separate shrine within the temple, she is seated by the side of the Lord here since it is believed that goddess has taken her permanent abode in this temple. In fact it is said that Mahavishnu appeared before his devotee Dharma Varma, the king of Chola dynasty and at his request agreed to stay at this holy spot. Prof S. Narayanan says,
"The deity is enchantingly beautiful with its imposing figure, lustrous eyes and captivating smile. Bedecked with ornaments the Lord looks most beautiful in the company of Sridevi."
The story about how Mahavishnu came to reside here in Uraiyur is very interesting. It is said that,
Once the Devas were unable to decide as to who among the three: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, was the Greatest. Brghu Maharshi in his attempt to find an answer first went to Kailash where Shiva and Parvati were resting. Therefore, the Dwarapalakas refused to let Brghu Rshi enter. Considering that Shiva was not that easily accessible, the rishi cursed Shiva in anger and proceeded further. He next went to Satyaloka where Brahma was deeply engrossed in his Yogamaya. Because of his preoccupation, he did not notice Brghu and as expected, the rishi lost no time in leaving Brahmaloka in a huff.
Finally, Brghu knocked at Vaikuntha where Vishnu received him with warmth. The rshi then expressed his desire to be with the Lord for some time. However, at the same time, Goddess Lakshmi wished to spend some time with her lord and thus, asked the rshi to leave Vaikuntha. As expected, Brghu got enraged and cursed Lakshmi that she would be born in Bhulok making her sad and inconsolable. However, the Lord pacified her with a promise to marry her when she comes of age in her mortal form.
This curse and the lord's promise took effect during the time of Raja Dharmavarma of the Ikshvaku race living in Chola region. While on a hunting expedition, the Raja saw a group of rshis engrossed in deep penance. Allured by their presence and the peaceful surroundings, he built a small hamlet and named it after his queen as Nichilapuram. He also made sure to keep the rshis well protected. The Raja's benevolence earned him the compassion of the Rshis who gave him the blessing to obtain good progeny. For this purpose, he was asked to pray to Goddess Lakshmi, the mother of the world (lokamata) and assured him that she herself would be born as his daughter. He took it to be God's will and performed the Laksha Tantra Yajna. Pleased with his piety Sri Lakshmi manifested herself before the royal couple and promised to fulfill their wishes. The joy of the king and the queen knew no bounds and their repeated singing of the Goddess Sridevi's name echoed all over the land.
In due course of time, in the month of Chaitra, a beautiful child was born at Nichilapuri on a Friday evening. The king named her Vasalakshmi. With time, as the girl came of age, Raja Dharmavarma arranged for her svayamvara. Several princes from neighboring kingdoms came for the svayamvara with love in their eyes and hope in their hearts. Lord Ranganatha also disguised as a Rajakumara sat in the Sabha Mandapa along with the other Princes waiting to fulfill his rendered promise. No sooner did Vasalakshmi enter the Mandapa, that with a single glance, she identified her Lord even from a distance as she realised him within her own heart. There was Joy everywhere and the king and the queen celebrated the wedding of Vasalakshmi under a pre-ordained union. Following the dream wedding of Vasalakhsmi, tears of joy rolled down the king's cheeks with the thought of having Goddess Lakshmi as his daughter and Lord Mahavishnu himself as his son-in-law. The Lord then blessed the king and the queen with the assurance of being with them always in the temple of Uraiyur.
- Prof. S. Narayanan (April 2004), 108 Temples of Azhvars, Volume 1, Maharashtra: Sri Ramanuja Mission.