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Thiru Vellarai, also known as Shvetagiri Kshetra is one of the 108 Vaishnava temples. A teertha that claims to be older than Srirangam (one of the foremost of the Vaishnava kshetras), the temple itself and its deities are praised in innumerable works of many great saint poets.
Thiru Vellarai is located at a distance of 21 kms from Tiruchirapalli and the temple stands on an isolated rock surrounded by massive walls. It is a famous seat of Vaishnava Sampradaya where Ramanuja is said to have spent as many as 12 years of his life. The kshetra is also called Adiranga kshetra (the one preceding Srirangam). And is the birthplace of Uyyakkondar (Disciple of Nathamuni) and Engal azhvan (Disciple of Sri Ramanuja).
|Vishnu here is referred to as||Pundarikakshan, Abhayahasthan|
|Lakshmi is referred to as||Mangaya Selvi , Shenbaga Valli, Pankaja Valli|
|Kshetra is called||Vedagiri, Svetagiri|
|Vimana is called||Vimalakrti Vimana|
|Pushkarni is named||Divya, Kanda, Ksheera Pushkarini|
|Teertha is called as||Manikarnika, Chakra, Pushkala, Padma, Varaha|
|Hymns by Alwars on this kshetra||Twenty Four|
|Location||20 kms from Trichirapalli|
The temple of Thiru Vellarai with its unique architecture is known for its massiveness and elegance. Situated on a high peak, this temple reveals the constructive genius of several dynasties. Prof S. Narayanan says,
'The huge temple with its beautiful elevation is an excellent example of synthesized art and architecture of several dynasties'.
The synthesis of various styles ultimately evolving into one local style is one of the remarkable features of this temple's architecture. This is reflected in its double-walled pillars, cluster of brackets, open expanse, high parapets and pavilions built by masons. This way, the temple is a projection of harmony, simplicity and piety.
This reputed teertha spreads over 40 acres of land surrounded by a lofty line of mountains and block of granite hills. It is rich in tradition as well as of great antiquity. Built of chiseled red stone, with very thick and tall walls strengthened at short distances by massive structures and imposing mandapas, the temple resembles an impregnable fortress. It is its proportion, elegance and natural beauty that make this shrine a celebrated temple of ancient India.
- Pushkarini and its Symbolism
The svastika shaped pushkarini behind this Vishnu temple is a unique piece of architecture built by Kamban Arayan. The tank has fifty two steps leading from all the sides. The first 18 steps remind one of the 18 chapters of Bhagavad Gita, the next 4 steps are symbolic of the four Vedas, followed by 5 steps reminding one of the Panchabhutas. After crossing the Bali pitha and Dvaja sthambha, one has to climb 8 steps reminding one of the Ashtakshara mantra (Om namo narayanaya). And, the final 24 steps are symbolic of 24 aksharas of Gayatri mantra. Thus, there are 59 steps leading one to the Garbhagrha. In fact, the bathing ghat is so well designed that it gives privacy to the bathing pilgrims.
- The Temple Gates
There are two entrances to this temple. One is the Uttarayana gate which is kept open between January and July and the other one is Dakshinayana gate which is kept open between July and January. This is based on the practice followed at Vaikunta. There is yet another gate known as Nazhi Kettan Vasal. It was at this Vasal (door) that Bhagavan Vishnu was questioned by Lakshmi Devi for returning late at night. It is said that, one day Vishnu returned late after his customary rounds in the village. Devi in her misgiving queried Vishnu about his late return. And therefore, the name Nazhi Kettan Vasal (ie. the gate where Vishnu was asked time).
Mahavishnu in this temple is revered as Pundarikaksha. He is depicted in a standing posture (Nindra tirukolam) facing the east. He is in the company of Aniruddha and Pradyumna. While, Lakshmi is enshrined separately and is worshipped as Senkamalavalli and Pankajaselvi. Periya alwar glorified the deity here are Balakrishna and called him Jnana Sudar ( ie. the flame of wisdom), Tirumangai alwar eulogized him as Sveta Hayagriva while, Sri Vedanta Desika refers to this deity as Svayam Prakasha (self-effulgent).
This Divya Desha is sanctified with very many inspiring stories thereby attracting pilgrims since times immemorial. It is said that Vishnu in this kshetra gave darshana to Raja Sibi, Garuda, Bhu devi, Markandeya Maharshi and several other celestials. The earliest reference to Thiru Vellarai is found in the Brahmanda Purana and the Padma Purana. Some of the legends in connection with this temple are enumerated below:
- It is said that Goddess Lakshmi cherished a wish to rule the world. Bhagavan Vishnu consented to her desire and assured her that she would be ruling the world from Thiruvellarai. Later, Vishnu also descended to this same spot in response to her prayers. It is believed that, it is in this temple that Vishnu consented to Sengol Paripalana. Accordingly, in all temple festivals, Sri Lakshmi walks ahead of Mahavishnu in the processions. Here, Lakshmi takes the lead and Vishnu follows. It is said that the entire Vaishnava sampradhaya was codified by Sri Ramanujacharya in this place.
- Once upon a time when Shibi Chakravarti was ruling Ayodhya during Treta Yuga, inflamed with passion, he decided to wage war with Ravana, the ruler of Lanka. He arrayed a huge army to conquer Lanka. Leading the march and assembling a well-equipped army, he moved on his great chariot. The force he applied on his army to propel them was terrific to behold. However, when he reached Neelikavanam near Svetagiri, he was overcome by fatigue, hunger and thirst. The wind blew furiously, black clouds rolled one after another and rains began to lash incessantly. Streams started overflowing with cool and fragrant breeze blowing from all sides while, the trees danced along with the wind. Attracted by the scenic beauty, Raja Shibi decided to rest there for sometime with his army. After a while, they reached an orchard with small streams of crystal clear water. They managed to find their way through by holding each other's hands. Raja then noticed a white boar running around. Due to curiosity, he started chasing the boar which suddenly disappeared into a bush. While searching for the boar, Raja Shibi encountered Markandeya rishi and Bhumi devi, both in deep penance. A celestial voice then directed him to build a temple at Svetagiri where his army was camping. In fact, the voice further revealed that Mahavishnu would manifest at Svetagiri in fulfillment of his promise to Goddess Lakshmi.
- However, according to another version, the white boar disappeared into the thick of the jungle. And Markandeya rishi with his yogic powers intuited that the boar was none other than Mahavishnu in his Varaha avatar. He then directed Raja Shibi to build a temple for Vishnu and Lakshmi. Raja Shibi also, having undergone a adhyatmik transformation constructed seven teerthas at Svetagiri, on the spots where the boar had left its imprints. And the spot where Bhumi devi was doing penance blossomed into a flower garden. So, it was Raja Shibi who installed Mahavishnu in an iconic form and glorified him as Svetagirinatha.
- In fact, it is said that when the temple was being built, Markandeya rishi brought as many as 3700 Brahmana families from the north. It is believed that when one of the Brahmanas died on the way, Mahavishnu himself substituted for him in the religious function. In due course of time, these 3700 families dispersed to different parts of South India. They are identified as Thiruvellarai Vaishnavas. Even, Ramanujacharya during his banishment from the Chola Desha, is said to have taken as many as 52 families from Vellarai to Karnataka Desha.
- It is said that Lord Yama has blessed this kshetra with an assurance that anyone who prays and worships the deity at Vellarai will be spared of life in hell.
- It is also believed that if one takes bath in the five teerthas and worships the deity here on a Sunday in the month of Kartikai, one will be blessed with a beautiful child.
- Prof. S. Narayanan (April 2004), 108 Temples of Azhvars, Volume 1, Maharashtra: Sri Ramanuja Mission.
- http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in:8080/jspui/bitstream/10603/113183/15/15_appendix.pdf Pg.vii