Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thiru Vathigai Veerataneswarar

The temple where the Lord relieved Thirunavukarasar of his Stomach pain
Appar sung the first of the Thevaram Verses on Veerataaneswarar at this temple  
His life is a lesson in unflinching devotion and unwavering belief in God 
All the transformational episodes of his life are played out during the Appar Utsavam in Chitrai at this temple in a grand manner

Legendary Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasar (referred to as Appar by his contemporary Thiru Gnana Sambandar) sang his very first Thevaram verse in front of Lord Veerataneswarar at Thiru Vathigai pleading before the Lord for relief from the unbearable stomach pain that he had been stuck with. 
கூற்றாயின வாறு விளக்ககிலீர்
கொடுமை பல செய்தன நான் அறியேன்
ஏற்றாயடிகே இரவும் பகலும்
பிரியாது வணங்குவன் எப்பொழுதும்

தொற்றாதென் வயிற்றின் அகம்படியே
குடரோடு துடக்கி முடக்கியிட
அற்றேன் அடியேன் அதி கைக்கெடில
வீரட்டானத்துறை அம்மானே– Appar's First Thevaram Song

In his first verse, he accepts that he has done many wrongs in life but promises to perform lifelong selfless service night and day till the very end if he was to be relieved from the 'Soolai' pain that he was encountering then. And as a testimony to keeping one’s word with the Lord that serves as a devotional lesson to everyone even today, almost 1500 years later, he kept his word right till the end sweeping and cleaning the garbage at the Agnipureeswarar temple at Thiru Pugalur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/11/thiru-pugalur-agneeswarar-temple.html), where he attained Mukthi.

By the time he had sung his 10th verse, he is a transformed Saivite and begins performing cleaning service at the Veerataneswarar Temple in Thiru Vathigai.

The Tragic Early years
Born as Marul Neekiyar (the one who dispels darkness) in Thiruvamur about 10kms West of Thiru Vathigai on the Panruti – Thiru Navalur (birth place of Sundarar) highway, Thirunavukarasar encountered tragedy in the early phase of his life. The wedding of his elder sister Thilagavathiyar, who was to mentor him all through his life, was postponed when the bridegroom, Kalipagayanar, a Pallava Chieftain from Kanchipuram had to go to war against the marauding forces from the West. Unable to bear the indefinite postponement, his father died and much to his shock, his mother jumped into the pyre. More tragedy was to follow. When she heard the news that her bridegroom was killed in the war, Thilgavathiyar too wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps but Marul Neekiyaar pleaded with her to mentor him and play the role of both his mother and father. And thus she began to live a life for him.

Conversion to Jainism
Unfortunately, it was the period of Jainism gaining strangle hold and Marul Neekiyar was swayed by their philosophy and followed in their footsteps much to the disappointment of his sister who had sacrificed her life for him. For years, taking the name of Dharmasena, he remained rooted to Jainism and travelled round the country  going on to become one of their leaders while Thilagavathiyar, frustrated and embarrassed at this negative turn of events, moved from Thiruvamur to Thiru Vathigai. It was here at the Veerataneswarar temple that she invoked the blessings of the Lord each day of her life to bring her brother Marul Neekiyaar back on to the Saivite path. Finally, she managed to please the Lord with the sincerity of her prayers and He promised to make her brother a legendary name in Saivism.

Marul Neekiyaar becomes Thirunavukarasar
Stuck with unbearable stomach pain and unable to find relief in the solutions provided by the Jains and with nothing working, he finally turned to his sister for solution and made his way back to Thiru Vathigai. Early into the morning, an devotionally excited Thilagavathi cleans the temple entrance and draws a beautiful white kolam welcoming his brother and seeking his transformation into Saivism. 

As he makes his way into the temple through the towering Raja Gopuram at the Eastern Entrance, he is devotionally stuck with the cleanliness and Kolam drawn by his caring sister. After applying the sacred white ash on his forehead, he presented himself, along with Thilgavathy, in front of Lord Veerataneswarar and poured his first ever verse cringing from Stomach pain and asking for relief. Through the verses, he promises to dedicate the rest of his life to selfless service of Lord Shiva. 

As another lesson to devotees, he does not feel embarrassed to speak the truth in front of the Lord and accepts the mistakes he has made in the past but he wants to be given an opportunity to redeem himself and offer in service to the Lord. 

சலம்பூவொடு தூபம் மறந்தறியேன்
தமிழோடிசை பாடல் மறந்தறியேன்
நலந்தீங்கிலும் உன்னை மறந்தறியேன்
உன் நாமம் என் நாவில் மறந்தறியேன்

உலந்தார் தலையிற் பலி கொண்டுழல்வாய்
உடலில் ஒரு சூலை தவிர்த்தருளாய்
அளந்தேன் அடியேன் அதி கைக்கெடில
வீரட்டானத்துறை அம்மானே

The sincerity in the devotional verses pleased the Lord and by the time he finished his verses, the stomach pain had vanished. And he was called out by the Lord as Thirunavukarasa, the one with the golden devotional voice. 

From that day, he became completely dedicated to Lord Shiva and began performing physical cleaning service and singing praise out of happiness that came of this service at temples. The legendary episode of the ‘to be’ Saivite Saint Poet Thirunavukarasar (Appar) surrendering himself before Lord Veerataneswarar asking for relief from the unbearable stomach pain, applying the sacred ash on his forehead, singing the first verse and being immediately blessed by the Lord is re enacted at this temple on the first day of the ‘Appar’ Avathara Utsavam in Chitrai that culminates in his Mukthi on Sathayam.

The transformation story played out on Day 1 of Appar Utsavam
On the morning of the 1st day of the Appar Utsavam in Chitrai, Thirunavukarasar dressed in a white dress, the only day in the year he is so dressed, comes to the Thiruneeratran Mandapam, where he is joined by sister Thilagavathiyar. The Shivachariar presents Thirupalli Yezhuchi verses at the Mandapam, the very same location where he sported the sacred white ash on his forehead for the first time. The Othuvar, specially brought in for this day, render the first Thevaram verse of Thirunavukarasar. This entire episode of Marul Neekiyar transforming into Thirunavukarasar is played out at this mandapam on that morning.

In memory of his transformation from Jainism back to Saivism, there is a historical Jain Idol at the Eastern entrance of the temple.

Jains threaten, Appar unshaken with unflinching devotion
Angered at this sudden transformation and unable to bear his selfless service at Saivite temples, the Jains tried to disrupt his services and tortured him repeatedly in many different ways, each of which is enacted during the 10 day Utsavam in Chitrai. On the 2nd day of the utsavam, the episode of Appar made to sit upon a huge flame is enacted. 

In this hour of despair, he shows unshakable belief in Veerataneswarar. He sings another memorable devotional verse saying that with the Lord having saved him from the life threatening stomach pain, he fears nothing else in life and no flame can consume him.

And much  to their shock and displeasure, the flames actually stay cool on him, reminding one of the episode from the Ramayana when the fire set on Hanuman actually gave him a chilly feeling.

They later send the King’s elephant to kill him but that too backfired on them for the elephant  trampled on the Mahout and returned to the Jains. All of these are played out on the 2nd day of the Utsavam.

The name Cuddalore - Thrown into the Sea
 On the third day of the Chitrai Appar Utsavam, yet another grave torture of him being thrown into the Sea, East of Thiru Vathigai is enacted. This is the day of the Theppotsavam. It is the only day in the year that Appar is seen in a Silver Kavacham. 

Unmindful of the threat of sinking in the sea, he goes with folded hands saying that there is no fear to one who believes in God. And much to the shock of the Jains, he is back alive. It is in memory of him coming out of the Sea unscathed, that the place came to be called ‘Cuddalore’.

Nothing from the King’s forces could unnerve him. The story goes that the Pallava King fell for the devotion of Thirunavukarasar and drove back the Jains and became a follower of Appar’s devotional verses.

His trip to Pennadam
He began his travel singing verses in praise of the Lord and went to the Pralayakareswarar Pennagadam (now Pennadam about 70kms West of Thiru Vathigai) where he inscribed his hands with the Trishul and Sacred Ash. This episode of his trip to Pennadam is played out on the fourth day of the Utsavam.

Meeting with Gnana Sambandar and The Name ‘Appar’
As he moved on, he met Thiru Gnana Sambandar in Sirkazhi, where his contemporary called him out as ‘Appa’. And the name stuck with Thirunavukarasar coming to be referred as Appar.
When he came to Thingalur, 2kms East of Thiruvayaru on the Northern Banks of Cauvery, he encountered something that he had not witnessed anywhere else. At every nook and corner of this Chandran Sthalam, he found references to his name. The place where ‘Butter Milk’ was handed out was called Thirunavukarasar Butter Milk Pandal and every other place was attributed to Thirunavukarasar. It was there that he found a great follower of his, Appoothi Adigal, who had named everything and everyone, including his two sons after Thirunavukarasarar. He was so committed to serving Appar that even when the snake had bit his elder son Appothi Adigal continued to serve the Saint Poet. Appar called for the son to be brought into the house and brought him back to life through the blessings of the Lord.

This entire episode that played out in Thingalur is presented on the 5th day of the Appar Utsavam with Appar going out on a procession in the morning to Thilagavathi Nandavanam opposite the temple complex. The devotees are presented with Butter Milk through the day. On his way back, the devotionally dramatic episode of the snake bite and Appoothi Adigal’s son regaining his life is presented in front of the temple.

Presents Songs and gets food for the Lord’s devotees
As he moves along to Thiruveezhi Mizhalai, he finds the Lord’s devotees in dire straits, struggling to meet even their daily needs. Unhappy on seeing their plight, he invokes the blessings of the Lord through a set of verses. Much to their delight, the Lord shells out in Gold ensuring that everyone is fed in full.

This is played out on day 7 of the Utsavam along with the episode of the Lord shutting the door on Thiru Gnana Sambandar after his very first song while opening the door after Appar’s songs.

Continuing his cleaning service, he moves to Thiru Pazhayaarai where the Jains strike again hiding the idol of the Lord. Once more, his unflinching devotion to Lord Shiva came through as the Lord came out of his hiding on hearing the devotional voice of Appar.

 On the final day of the Utsavam, the episode of Appar receiving Kailaya darshan is presented. He was stuck with old age and could no more walk up the Himalayas and crawled up like a kid and then even used his chest to push himself up the steep mountain. So pleased was the Lord with his devotion that he asked him to dip himself in the nearby Theertham and as he came out he had been ‘shipped’ to Thiruvayaru (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2014/11/thiruvaiyaru-pancha-natheeswarar-temple.html) from where he had Kailaya Darshan. Finally, just after midnight on Chitrai Sathayam, Appar attaining Mukthi at Thiru Pugalur  is played out in a grand manner at the temple.

 AshtaVeera Sthaanam
Thiru Vathigai is one of  the Ashta Veerasthana Sthalams where Lord Shiva killed Asuras after a battle with bow and arrow. Thiru Kurukkai (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/thiru-kurukkai-verateswarar-temple_13.html) and Thiru Kandiyur (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/09/kandiyur-brahmma-sira-kadeeswarar.html) are two among the Ashat Veeratanam temples. 

 Three asuras had gained the boon of invincibility anbd continuously attacked the rishis and prevented their penance. Lord Veeratesawarar came on a chariot with Chandran and Suryan as the wheels and with Brahmma as the Charioteer to kill the asuras. It was Sara Narayana Perumal, west of this temple, who handed the bow and the arrow to Veerateswarar for him to kill the three asuras in smiling posture. Two asuras attained Mukthi and serve as Dwara Palakas at this temple. This episode of Tripura Samhara is played out on Vaikasi Swathi on the 9th day of the Brahmotsavam with Tripura Sundara Murthy providing darshan atop the Chariot similar to the way he killed the evil forces from atop the chariot after Sara Narayana Perumal (http://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/07/thiru-vathigai-sara-narayanan.html) comes and presents his bow and arrow. This is the only day in the year this Utsava Idol comes out of the temple on a procession. 

In Chitrai, Tripura Samhara Murthy provides darshan at the Vasantha Mandapam as part of the Vasanthotsavam inside the temple.
 This is one of the Thevaram Sthalams that historically had Lord and Ambal providing Kalyana Kolam darshan to Sage Agastya, the others being Kanchipuram and Vedaranyam. In memory of this historical event, both of them are seen in a grand Kalyana Kolam Posture behind the beautifully sculpted Moolavar Lingam. 

Episodes relating to all Ashta Veerata Sthalams are sculpted on the outside walls of the prakara, giving devotees an insight into the episodes relating to each of the Veeratana Sthalams. 
The Vimanam atop the Moolavar Sannidhi is a delight to architectural experts with its shadow not falling on the ground. It is believed that Raja Raja Chozhan studied this Vimanam before beginning construction of Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur and the one in Gangai Konda Cholapuram.

The temple is open from 6am to 12noon and from 4pm to 9pm. Contact Gnanasekar Gurukal @ 94439 88779/ Kalyan Kumar Gurukal @ 94863 90376 / Srinivasa Gurukal @ 94427 80111.


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Anonymous said...

Such an elaborate story of Appar, Tiruvathigai kshetram and the chithirai utsavam. Enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written. Thanks, was good to read and start the day