Route map courtesy: Balaji Hariharan
11 Divya Desams around Kumbakonam
Saint poets, Azhvaars were ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu. These saint poets composed verses in Tamil and revitalized the religious spirit sparking off a renewal of devotional worship, referred to as the Bhakti movement. The Azhvaars visited temples and sung praises in the name of Vishnu. Such temples have come to be known as Divya Desams. The compilation of the verses (known as Paasurams) is the revered Naalayira Divya Prabandam(4000 in all). There are 108 Divya Desams in all, 40 of these temples are in the Chola region (Trichy-Tanjore-Kumbakonam belt).
You will find that in all these temples, Vishnu is represented in one of three postures – reclining, standing or seated posture. (Detailed version on each of these temples will also feature separately in the blog)
1. Sarangapani(ThiruKudanthai) Temple
One can start off with the Aravamudhan Sarangapani temple in the heart of Kumbakonam town. This temple has the third tallest temple tower (150ft) after Srirangam(236ft) and Srivilliputhur(192 ft) in Tamil Nadu. Also, after Srirangam(11) and Tirupathi(10), this temple has the maximum number of Azhavaars (7 of them here) singing praise of the Lord. Another highlight of the temple is that it is the home to one of the biggest temple chariots in Tamil Nadu. It is at this temple that the Vaishnavite savant Natha Muni got the inspiration to compile the works of the famed 4000 verses of the Azhvaars, after listening to the Tamil hymn 'Aravamudhe' composed by Nammalwar.
One of the mandapams at the Sarangapani temple is believed to have been built in 7th Century AD by the famous Pallava King Mahendra Varma. This temple was later renovated by the famous Vijayanagara King Krishnadevaraya.
The main sanctum has been conceived like a chariot with wheels drawn by horses and elephants and is truly a splendid sight to watch. A visit to this temple, it is believed, will help get rid of one’s past sins, just as a trip to Kasi in the North, would.
The Chittirai Chariot(April-May) procession of the Sarangapani temple is of great significance.
Contact: Soundararaja Bhattar @ 94863 10896
2. Oppiliappan Temple
About 6 kms from Kumbakonam off the Kaaraikal road near ThiruNageswaram, it is believed that Lord Srinivasa here has similar powers to that of the Lord at Tirupathi and hence those who are unable to go to Tirupathi visit this temple. The Lord here is considered as the brother of Tirupathi Lord Srinivasa. This is the only Divya Desam where prasadams do not contain salt and hence the name ‘Oppiliappan’(Lord without Salt). Legend has it that any one bringing salt within this temple will go to hell. Some of the inscriptions at this temple date back to the period of Rajendra Chola, the great Chola king.
Local town buses ply between Kumbakonam and Oppilappan Temple.
Contact: Kannan Bhattar @ 94865 68159
3.Nachiyar Temple in Thiru Naraiyur
Located about 10kms from Kumbakonam, the Nachiyar temple at Thiru Naraiyur is our next stop. This temple can be reached easily from Oppiliappan temple. Every year in the month of Margazhi, there is a one of its kind procession where Lord Srinivasa is taken out on a stone Garuda mount. The mount is said to grow exponentially in weight as it is carried out of its sanctum. While 4 people are enough to carry him out of his Sannadhi, the mount increases in weight as it comes out of every layer and by the time the Lord is out on to the last layer of the temple, it requires as many as 64 people to carry him. This is an experience not to be missed at this temple. This is a temple of special significance for Lord Garuda and he is said to be very powerful here. At this divya desam, Naachiyaar (Goddess) gets the place of primary importance, unlike most other divya desams, where the main deity is the Lord. Another feature is that the idols of all the 108 divya desams can be seen here.
Contact: Gopi Bhattar @ 94435 97388
4.Thirucherai Saranatha Perumal
The Saranathan temple in Thirucherrai is 5 kms away from Nachiyar Temple and is close to Kudaivasal town. This is the only divya desam where the Lord provides darshan along with five Goddesses(Sridevi, Bhooma Devi, Neela Devi, Maha Lakshmi and SaraNayaki).
Contact: 0435 2468 175
From Thirucherai, one has to take a 45 minute drive back to Kumbakonam town.
5. Nathan Koil Nandipura Vinnagaram
The Nathan temple in Nandhipura Vinnagaram is about 5kms from Kumbakonam near Korukkai/Pateeswaram. Legend has it that Nandi performed penance here to seek atonement for insulting the Dwarapalakas of Vishnu and hence the name Nandipura Vinnagaram. It is also believed that Pallava King Nandivarma built this place and also created the temple here. An interesting feature is that Vishnu, who originally faced the east, turned westward to look at the spectacle of King Sibi saving a bird. An image of Nandi can be seen on one of the walls.
Lack of Attention from Vaanamaalai Mutt
This is under the administration of Vaanamaalai Mutt but despite the terrific commitment of the Bhattar, who does the daily rituals without fail even when there are no devotees, this is quite a neglected temple- something the Vaanamaalai Mutt must pay immediate attention to. Lack of attention from the Mutt has meant that that this temple, unlike Nanguneri Divya Desam, does not attract too many devotees, even on weekends. And add to this, the poorly paid bhattar, and it makes a very sad scene.
Contact: Prabhakara Bhattachar 98430 95904
6. Pulla Boothangkudi- Jataayu Moksham
From Kumbakonam, off Swami Malai, on the Kumbakonam -Thiruvaikaavur road, is Pulla Boothangkudi. This Divya Desam’s legendary tale dates back to the time of Ramayana. The Eagle King, Jatayu, an old friend of King Dasharatha (father of Raama) had fought a valiant battle trying to rescue Sita from Raavana, before the Lankan king cut off its wings. It is believed that parental curse will go away if one visits this place as Raama, who had not performed the last rites for his father, made up by performing his (Jataayu’s) obsequies, thus giving moksham to the Bird. In the Raamayana, this episode is referred to as the death of the 2nd father.
This is the only Divya Desam where Raama is in reclining posture and can be seen with all his ornaments and four hands. Interestingly, Goddess Sita is not seen with the Lord, as this temple relates to the time when Raama is separated from her.
The priest believes that many devotees have got employment after visiting Yoga Narasimhar (a separate sannadhi within the temple), so much so that the devotees have named it the Udyoga Narasimhar. This temple is administered by Ahobila Mutt.
This temple has been beautifully redone and has an air of freshness to it, especially with Gopal Bhattar’s friendly attitude towards devotees and his detailed explanation of the history of the temple.
Contact: Gopal Bhattachar @ 94435 25365
7.Adhanur Ranganatha Perumal
This temple is very close to Pulla Bhoothangkudi. Legend has it that Kamadhenu, the sacred cow(she grants all wishes), had undertaken penance here and hence you would find sculptures of Kamadhenu and her daughter Nandini here. It is believed that Lord Anjaneya stayed here for a few days on his way back from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya.
Contact: Seshadri Bhattachar @ 0435 2000503
8.Kapisthalam – Gajendra Moksham
Located about 10kms from Kumbakonam on the Thiruvayaru road, this is the only Divya Desam where Lord Vishnu provides Darshan to two animals- Crocodile and Elephant. Legend has it that Vishnu, on his Garuda Vaahanam (a vehicle of the Lord), rescued Elephant (King) Gajendra from the clutches of the Crocodile(the Asura) on the banks of the river by hurling his Chakra at the Crocodile. This episode is known as Gajendra Moksham and is enacted every year during the month of Panguni (March-April). This is one of the ‘Pancha Krishna Kshetrams’ (5 Krishna Kshetrams).
Temple in Terrible state
This temple is under the administration of AG Lakshmana Moopanar family and is currently in a terrible state, completely neglected. It is a wonder how the Bhattar is managing the day to day affairs, with meager monthly salary. All the devotees who visit this Divya Desam have wondered as to why the Moopanar family is not doing something to renovate the temple, which has a rich history.
Contact: O.S. Seshadri Bhattachar- 04374 223434
9. Koodalur Jagath Rakshagan
5 kms west of Kapisthalam on the road to Thiruvayaru is Thiru Koodalur. It is believed that (River) Cauvery displayed her grief to Lord Jagathrakshagan here that all the impurities were being washed at the river and that she was feeling that the river here was becoming impure and unclean. With Lord’s grace, Cauvery regained all her glory at this place.
Buses ply at frequent intervals between Kumbakonam and Thiruvaiyaru (narrow road along the banks of Cauvery)
Currently, some renovation activities is taking place.
Contact: Venkatesa Bhattachar- 04374 244279
The next divya desam on this route is Kandiyur, about 3 kms from Tiruvaiyaru on the Thanjavur road. The deity here is called ‘Hara Saabha Vimosana Perumal’ as Lord Shiva got cleansed of Brahmma’s curse (Hara is another name of Shiva). This temple is a ‘Pancha Kamala Kshetram’(Lord Kamalanathan, Goddess Kamalavalli, Kamala Pushkarani, Kamala Vimaanam and Kamala Kshetram). The place is called Kandiyur in memory of Lord Shiva, also known as Kandeeswarar, who got salvation from the Brahmma’s curse.
Thirumangai Azhvaar’s only Paasuram at Kandiyur goes thus “ Pindiaar Mandai Endhi, Pirar Manai…………….” meaning - Vishnu rid the curse on Shiva, who went begging everywhere with Brahmma’s skull as a begging bowl. Other than worshipping the Lord, is there a way to salvation” sings Thirumangai Azhvaar .
Buses ply every 5-10 minutes between Thanjavur and Thiruvayaru
Contact: Sriram Bhattachar- 98653 02750
11. Thanjai Maa Mani Temple
Our final stop on this Divya Desam journey is at three temples within a km of each other on the banks of Vennar River on the outskirts (North) of Thanjavur. These three temples together make this (one) divya desam. Legend has it that Lord Garuda flew over here and still guards this place. Hence it is believed that there are no snake threats here. The temples date back to the period of the Nayaks of Madurai. The three temples are administered by the Thanjavur palace
From Thanjavur, one can take the Rock Fort Express back to Chennai via Trichy.
Narasimhan Bhattar@ 93441 47850
Where to Stay
For stay in this temple town, there are a number of economical, medium and deluxe hotels around the Sarangapani temple. (Siva International, Hotel Green Park, VPR Lodge)
What should you look for
Do not miss the ‘Kumbakonam Degree coffee’ while here
A special sweet at Hotel Venkatramana on Big Street
Kumbakonam is know for Beetal leaves