Thou Art the Protector of Life and Breath, Suryanar Kovil
Kaalava Munivar was visibly disturbed. Some thing seemed to be eating him from inside. Every now and then he sat down, held his head in his hand, offered his prayers and then got up to think on his feet again. What could have disturbed him so much?
The truth- it was his wonderous ability to have complete knowledge about the past, the present and the future, which was the cause of all his distress. The mukkaala (the three tenses) opened themselves to him, laying bare facts that even the gods are unaware of. And the latest news from them bore very grave information indeed.
“ThavaSreshta (the best in penance)”, said Time, its voice a mixture of screeching winds and howling thunder, “you will soon be affected by leprosy. Be prepared.” The rishi, hearing this, anguished over his future. His greatest gift had now become the source of his greatest discomfort.
Suddenly, he stopped in mid stride. “Why didnt I think of this before?”, he chided himself, “Ofcourse, they will help. They rule every aspect of our life. The NavaGrahas will surely help me out of this shadow that has fallen upon me”. Thinking about his sure shot way out of his misery, he made preparations to summon the nine planets, the very contollers of human life. He set up a panchagni, and standing in midst of the five fires, bringing his five senses under control, he invoked the Navagrahas.
“Aadityaaya cha Somaaya Mangalaaya Budhaaya cha, Guru Shukra Shanibyascha Raghave Kethave namaha“,
He chanted, on and on again. The fire being fed by his yogic powers rose all around him. Time flew and the Navagrahas, pleased with the rishi’s devotion appeared before him, and granted his wish. They averted the disease from him and saved him from possible pain and ignominy, not realising that they had just changed someone’s written destiny and as a result, theirs too 😀 .
In the heavens, Brahma was furious. Sathyaloka shook with his anger. “How dare they change the fate of Kaalava written by me, the Creator?”, he was seething, “They will pay a heavy price for this.” Summoning the Nava Grahas to Sathyaloka, Brahma, in his state of extreme anger, cursed them thus, “You who averted leprosy from affecting Kaalava, will suffer it in his place. You have forgotten the Laws of Creation. Every person has to go through what was previously written. Destiny should not be changed, only made less harsh if needed.”
The stunned Grahas, in their moment of shock, apologised profusely to the Creator and asked him to reconsider his curse. Brahma calmed down and shook his head, “Two things return not, the sped arrow and the said word. You will suffer in kaalava’s place. I can just hope that the suffering will be less. I suggest you to worship Praananatheswarar at Thirumangalankudi to ease your period of unrest. He alone can help you now.”
The Grahas accordingly came to Thirumangalamkudi and offered their sincere prayers to Mangalaambikai sametha Praananatheswarar. And then choosing a suitable spot away from the temple, they installed an idol of Vinayagar and started their penance. Pleased with their focussed penance, Eeshwara appeared before them and lifted the curse of Leprosy. The Grahas, happy with their regained health returned to swarga loka.
Kaalava Munivar, now wanted to thank the Grahas for all the troubles that they had been through for his sake. He raises a temple, dedicated to the Nine Planets, at the spot where they had performed their penance and consecrates the main idol of Surya, the leader of the Grahas, naming him ShivaSooryaNarayana Perumal at this sthala. Suryanar Kovil, thus, came into existence with the powers of Kaalava Munivar and to this day remains the only temple where each of the Graha’s have their own shrine.
Located near Kumbakonam and Mayiladuthurai, Suryanar kovil is the first among the Navagraha kshetras. The main sanctum houses Surya as Shiva Soorya Narayana Swami, along with his consorts Usha and Prathyusha. The idol is of the Sthanakam type (standing position) and Surya holds red lotus each in both of his hands. A very elaborate protocol is followed to worship at the temple. It is required that one visits the temple at Thirumangalamkudi before he comes to Suryanar Kovil. Only after they get darshan of Praananatheswarar and Mangalanayaki should they come here.
Entering the temple, which by itself is built in the form of a chariot, one finds the Kol Theertha Vinayagar shrine. Since he helped the Grahas to get rid of their problem (kol), he is worshipped here by this name. After offering our prayers, one should proceed to the Narthana mandapa and worship Nataraja enshrined in the Sabhanayakar mandapa. Then one should worship the presiding deity of the place, Visalakshi sametha Kaasi Vishwanathar and proceed to the Surya shrine. Offering respects to Surya, you turn about 180 degrees and worship Guru bhagavan. You proceed out through the Karna Dwaram and then in the south prakaram seek the blessings of Shani, Budhan and Angarakan. Coming out to the north prakaram and offering salutations to Chandran and Kethu, one is supposed to go into the west prakaram and prostrate before Shukran and Rahu and finish their circumambulation of their temple with the worship of Chandikesar. The protocol lays down that the worship at the temple is complete only when we return to the Vinayagar shrine again and offer our prayers there.
Sounds highly confusing right?? No worries. People who plan to go there may rest free and not fret about having to remember all this. The temple authorities have done a wonderful job painting arrows marking the path from one point to another.
The temple is supposed to cure people with skin diseases, especially leprosy (No prizes for guessing that!!!). Inscriptions in the temple say that he who bathes in the temple tank on Ratha Sapthami day, with the leaves of Vellerukku (Calotropis-Procera) on his head, will lead a life free free from any form of skin problem.
Vellerukku is the sthala vriksham and is often used to make statues of Vinayaga. Vellerukku Pillayar is believed to protect one from the evil eye (drishti) and is a highly coveted possession.
Suryanar kovil is the start point of the Navagraha Sthala Yathra, which then proceeds along to the rest of the eight Graha temples, all of which are located within a 100 km radius. The temple sees large crowds during times of Shani and Guru peyarchis and has its greatest celebration planned for with the birth of Thai every year. Makara Shankranthi, which marks the start of the Sun’s northward journey and Ratha Sapthami (when the wheels of Surya’s chariot are believed to start moving) are two main highlights of the Thai Thiru Vizha in the temple.
It is believed that when propitiated in the right way Surya bestows one with strength, health, sharp eyesight, shining skin, a thriving intellect and long life. Abhisheka with cool water, offerings of wheat, archana with red lotus, adornment with red silk and ruby embedded jewels and naivedya of Chakkara pongal and Kesari are said to please the Sun god and invite his blessings. People with various Graha doshas throng the place to do the necessary parihaaras to the respective planet. For where else would you find the all sustaining Sun holding court with 8 of the planets who hold human life in their hands? Probably just here. Just here at Suryanar Kovil.
The temple, though small is well maintained and clean. I would surely recommend this temple to any person suffering from a dhosha, as also the rest of the Navagraha temples scattered around. Not only would you find peace of mind, but also the grace and blessings of the One who Sustains All, Suryaa.
Thou art the Giver of Life,
Remover of pain and sorrow,
The Bestower of happiness,
Oh! Creator of the Universe,
May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.