Thiruvalanchuzhi, For Every Auspicious Beginning
Anybody who is brought up a hindu must be quite familiar with the custom of invoking the fan eared, elephant faced god, Gajanana, before the undertaking of any task, propitiating him for success and then only going about with further details. For a blog describing the divine splendour that exists on earth what better way could I begin than with an interesting ancient temple situated along the Kaveri dedicated to Shiva’s first son, the remover of obstacles.
When I first visited Kumbakonam, I had this major pleasure attack. Every direction you turn you could find the soaring gopuram of a temple silhouetted against the sun. The fact that I went there for the most recent mahamagam did only increase the intensity of the attack. Wow… This is swargaloka indeed, and I get to bathe in a tank where all the holy seas and rivers congregate to purge themselves of the sins of the people who bathe in them. How Lucky!!
Being this true temple freak, I wanted to visit every one of them around, little realising that the figure would have been a four digit one. Amidst those temples that I had planned to visit was Thiruvalachuzhi. I remember Babu’s father saying “Dei, Thiruvalanchuzhikku nichayam pongo” .They were my hosts and Babu, my friend, was the official tour guide. But by a stroke of misfortune I was not able to go there having given importance to Swamimalai and Patteswaram.. and boy, do I regret it 😦 . Nevertheless, the story behind it is quite amusing and deserves a good read!!!
Thiruvalanchuzhi, as the name indicates (thiru-sacred, valanchuzhi-right handed curve), is a holy place where the river Kaveri takes a gentle curve hugging the divine sthala to her bosom. Adding glory to the place is the age old temple dedicated to the leader of ganas, revered in this sthala as Swetha Vinayagar or the Pure White one.
Everyone must be familiar with the amritha-manthan or the churning of the milk ocean, but a quick recap wont hurt either. When Durvasa Muni came to visit Indra, he brought with him a garland obtained from Lakshmi. Seeing Indra riding on his Airavatha, he offered the garland as a fitting gift to the king of devas. Indra, who was in one of his proud moods, carelessly took the garland and placed it on airavatha’s head. The elephant in its playful mood dragged it down and stamped on the holy garland. Anger burst through Durvasa who cursed Indra “Oh foolish proud King, You have just shown disrespect to Lakshmi herself. May all your prosperity melt away. May your strength disappear and may you rot in disrespect.”. Cursing thus he left the place, the devas all shivering in fear.
Seeing no other go they rush to MahaVishnu and seek his help. “Divine Protector,” they pleaded, “please show us a way out”. The ever benevolent Vishnu cast his eyes on them and said “Oh Devas, you have but one way left. Churn the Milk Ocean to obtain amrutha. Intake of this divine nectar will free you from all the curse and restore you back to power”. The devas prostrated before him and left. The churning would require a huge churn support and a humongously long rope. Vasuki, the king of snakes offered himself as the rope and the devas decided to use the meru mountain as the churn. All preparations done they still couldnt begin, their strength all gone with the curse. Having been weakened by the curse, they alone couldnt churn the ocean.
After prolonged consideration, Indra sent a missive to his step brothers, the asuras, asking them to join in this effort, promising a portion of the nectar. With the assent of the asuras, the churning was to begin.
The devas held the tail of Vasuki and the asuras held the head. Vasuki had coiled himself around the mountain and brazed up for a tough time. As the churning proceeded, initially the deadly poison Hala Hala came out. This along with the poisonous fumes breathed out by Vasuki had dangerous effects on the churners. Pleading for divine help again, the devas got shiva to drink the hala hala. The churning continued with renewed zest and then, to their biggest dismay, the meru having no support underneath began to sink. Stumped, the devas wondered why these things are happening. A booming laughter pealed through the heavens. “You forgot Me, the Remover of Obstacles” it said. Realization dawned on Indra and he immediately went in search of Ganesha. The chubby lord had however hid himself, leaving Indra in anguish. Seeing no way Indra returned to the milk ocean and gathered the cream from the ocean. He fashioned an idol of Pillayar out of the cream and prayed, “Oh Gajamukha, forgive us for not invoking you. Accept our apologies and bless us in our endevor”. Once again a booming voice came across the skies, “I am pleased, you may proceed”. The story continues with the devas managing to get the amritha and with it their lost strength and power too.
Indra continued to worship the cream idol and took it with him when he went on a pilgrimage to absolve his sins. When he reached the banks of the kaveri, he placed the idol down to take a bath and perform the ritual poojas. Returning back, he saw that the idol had firmly attached itself to the ground and refused to budge. Understanding the divine will of the lord he prostrated in front of the idol. “Who am I to take you around when your desire is to stay here. All I ask is one boon. May I be allowed to perform pooja to you everyday?”, he asked. Vinayagar gave his approval, and happy with this Indra returns back to Amaravathi leaving the cream white idol to be worshipped by generations of devotees in what is now Thiruvalanchuzhi.
The cream idol, adored as Vella Pillayar, Swetha vinayagar or Nurai Pillayar, in the sanctum is pure white and is protected very fiercely by silver and gold frames. No abhisheka or pushpa are offered to the deity, lest the cream is washed away. Every decoration and splendour is for the surrounding frames alone. The only offering is Pacha-Karpooram (a fine edible form of camphor), which is finely crushed and sprinkled over the image on a basis. This alone is the main offering by the devotees to the temple.
The temple has this beautiful door made out of stone on one side of the sanctum. Named as the ‘karungal palagani’, the door has perfectly carved crosses in it which allow the devotees to worship Ganapathi. The door is such a marvellous architectural feat. It is said that when ancient architects signed their contracts, they agreed to build the very best except five exceptional pieces of architecture that could never be replicated at all. The Karungal Palagani remains one of those marvels.
On the other hand, just outside the main sanctum one would find a mandapa that is made up of unpolished uncut stones carelessly fitted together as though in a hurry. Legends report that once the King of the land stopped by the temple to offer his worship. Offering a plate full of abhisheka materials to the priest, he ordered “Bathe the lord in these frangrant powders and anointed waters. Let him be cooled”. The priest was caught in a dilemma. The temple required that no abhisheka be done while the king had just ordered for one. Either way he was doomed. Silently invoking ganesha he begged for help. In answer to his prayers a voice reached from the sanctum, “Oh King, I am made of cream and bubbles. Would you want me to be dissolved in the fragrant waters that you just gave?”. The king is stunned and realising his mistake he begged for forgiveness. “Then build a mandapam in front of the sanctum by sunset today to atone for your mistakes. May it remind people of the mistakes that they make in life and make them pray for forgiveness”. The king obliged and built the mandapam in the given time period, putting together rough stones into an approximate hall. The mandapam stands even today and is called the mannippu mandapam or the hall of forgiving. People who visit the temple meditate in this mandapam and ask ganesha to forgive their sins and grant them eternal bliss.
The most important festival in the temple is ofcourse the Chathurthi Vizha in Aavani, celebrating the birth of the elepahant faced one. Another interesting celebration is the one in which the utsavar of Swaminatha Swami is brought from Swamimalai.The Valli Kalyanam episode of Skanda purana is then enacted out with great fervor.In this episode Ganesha comes as an elephant to scare Valli into marrying his brother Skandha. There is also this one day in a year when the temple is closed at mid day after the priest lays out all the items for worship. It is believed that Indra himself performs the pooja for the day as was the boon granted to him(One year on earth equals a day in swarga).
Sakkara pongal (sweet rice with lentils) and modakam (stuffed sweet dumplings) happen to be the predominant naivedyam in the temple. The temple itself is in reality a shivasthalam (Brihannayaki sametha Khabartheesar) and is very close to Kumbakonam. A fitting visit for anyone who is looking forward to success in every step they take. May the Long bellied one (Lambodhara) give us every pleasure in life.
Ekadhanthaya Vidmahe, Vakrathundaya Deemahi
Thanno Thanthi Prachodayaath.