Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nellaiappar Koil Tirunelveli

Lord Nellaiappar appeared as a Swayambu Moorthy from the Bamboo tree
The Huge Nellai Govindar is seen adjacent to the Saivite Lord in a unique posture facing skywards 

The Nellaiappar temple housed on a huge 15acre area in the heart of Thirunelveli dates back is grand in every way. Huge complex for both the Lord and Ambal, grand festivities all through the year, following of traditional rituals gives it a truly devotional touch. Till the early part of the 2nd half of the previous century, all the four streets were full of traditional houses with Mutts in each of the four big streets. There were minimal tourists (the temple had not become a place of ‘tourist’ attraction till the end of the previous century!! And all the visitors to the temple were religious traditionalists who took delight in accompanying the Lord in grand processions. 

The entire temple complex is abound with inscriptions and unique sculptures.

Moorthy Picharya Gurukal has been performing aradhana for the last two decades. His grand father had been an integral part of the temple for over five decades in the early part of the 20th century. His father then took over and carried on the pooja with devotion through the 2nd half of the previous century.  

In recent decades, both economic development and increased tourist inflow have led to the place losing its ancient glory with the mushrooming of towering multi storied showrooms that have taken over the Chariot Streets. Shops have encroached around the outer walls of the temple.

The temple plays host to one of the famous ‘Pancha Sabhas’, this one being ‘Thamarai Sabha’.

10 Musical Pillars
The Sai Natha Mani Mandapam leading to the sanctum of Nellaiappar is a special one for it houses 10 musical pillars built from a single stone each one presenting a different swaram, a truly remarkable piece of architecture showing the Sirpi’s extraordinary skills in the centuries gone by. 

The Original Name of the Lord
Rama Konar, who ran a Goshala, would take milk to the King’s court every morning. Much to his surprise, he found the cow giving out milk in a particular place. After the axe struck a bamboo tree, they found blood marks on the tree. The King visited the spot, apologized to the Lord and promised to build a temple at the same place. The Lord emerged from the bamboo tree as a Swayambu Moorthy. While he was wondering as to how he would construct the temple if the Lord kept growing tall like a tree, the Lord ‘announced’ that he would stop at the 21st feet (which would then be visible to the devotees) with 20 feet remaining below the earth.  Hence the Lord was originally referred to as Venu (Bamboo) Vanam Easwarar and this region was referred to as Venu Vana Puram.

In memory of this episode, there is an idol of Rama Konar inside the Nellaiappar temple complex. 

While doing the ground work for the temple construction, much to their delight they found a ‘Maha- Lingam’. This was installed at that same location, a step below the Nellaiappar Sannidhi to his North East to indicate its historical nature.  To this day, the Uchi Kaala Pooja takes place for this Lingam as well. Appreciating the King’s efforts, the Lord is said to have handed a ‘Senkol’ to the king to rule the land.

Enacting the historical Episode
On the occasion of the Panguni Uthiram, Nellaiappar and Ganthimathi go on a joint procession following which Nellaiappar hands over the Senkol to Murugan who then hands it to Nedumaran Pandyan.

Beautiful ancient sculptures line up the pathway that joins the Nellaiappar Sannidhi complex with the Ambal Sannidhi.
‘Nel’ Veli
While centuries ago, the area surrounding the temple had been full of Bamboo trees, in later periods of time, it was converted to green paddy fields. And thus the Lord came to be known as Saali (Paddy) Vaateeswarar and the place as Saali Vahana Puram.

Once upon a time, it was the daily ritual of Veda Gurukal who performed Thiru Aradhanam at this temple, to have bath in the nearby river  and to present Neiveithyam to the Lord with the Paddy that he had kept to dry. Once while he was having bath, it rained heavily. Worried that the Paddy would be washed away in the rain, he invoked the blessings of the Lord, from the river bank and asked for the paddy to remain dry so he could present it to Him to feed his hunger. When he came back, he found to his delight that the place around the Paddy alone remained dry.

He showcased this to King Nedumaran as to how the ‘Nel’ had a ‘Veli’ around it for protection from the rain.   Hence the Lord came to be known as ‘Nel’ ‘Veli’ Nathar (Nellai Appar) and the place as Thiru ‘Nel’ ‘Veli’.

When the minister asked the king to take a look at the towering gopuram, he could not look up as he had a hunch.  It is said that the Lord rubbed his back to remove the hunch so he could take a look. Hence he came to be known as ‘Ninra’ Seer Nedumaran Pandyan. 

When the devoted king was asked as to what he wanted, he is believed to have asked for an eternal darshan. Hence there is a sculpture atop the main sanctum at the entrance from where King Nedumaran is said to be worshipping the Lord.

Another interesting feature of the main sanctum is that Ganga and Yamuna are seen at the entrance as Dwarapalikas.

Nellai Govindar
Lord Shiva is believed to have invoked the blessings of Vishnu and invited him to be present here at the temple through the day and night. Answering his prayers, Lord Vishnu presented himself here in a unique ‘Anantha Sayanam’ posture just next to Lord Nellaiappar with his face looking skywards and left hand holding Vilvam and his right hand performing pooja for the Shiva Lingam. On the 11th day of the Kalyana Utsavam in Aipasi, Nellai Govindar, the utsava perumal, goes to Katchi Mandapam. After the joint procession of Lord and Ambal, Nellai Govindar presents the hand of Ambal to Nellaippar. This is the only time in the year that he comes out of his sanctum. 

This is a daily Utsavam temple with festivals taking place through the year. Murugan, Vinayakar, Ganthimathi and Nellaiappar- each has an exclusive chariot. This is the 518th year of the continuous running of the chariot with the Brahmotsavam taking place in Aani

Aipasi Kalyana Utsavam
Ambal performs penance in the twin rivers of Vibhuthi and Varunan, tributaries of Kambai River, with Kurunji flowers invoking the blessings of Nellaiappar. Pleased with her penance, he brought her to the 1000 pillar mandapam in a Vibhuthi Alankarm with Kurunji flowers on her and married her here in a Brahmma Muhurtham (very early in the morning).  To this day, this is followed with the wedding festivities taking place early in the morning. This is followed by a three day Oonjal Utsavam. There is a certain devotional touch one finds within the Ganthimathi Ambal Sannidhi.

Uchi Kaalam Pooja – A speciality
 Similar to the one at the Jambukeswarar temple in Thiruvanaikaval, the Uchi Kaalam pooja is special at this temple. The sacred food from Ambal Sannidhi is brought by the Gurukal to the Lord’s Sannidhi for Uchi Kaalam Pooja. In the night during the Artha Jaama Pooja, Ambal wears white saree to indicate the purity of her mind. The archakar of Lord’s Sannidhi goes to Ambal Palliyarai for the night pooja.

Thai Amavasya – Swarna Vilakku Utsavam
As part of the three day utsavam, the entire temple is lit and the pancha moorthy procession takes place with Ambal in Rishabha Vahana.

The Appar Story on Maasi Magam
On the occasion of Maasi Magam, the episode of Saivite Saint Poet Appar getting the Lord’s darshan is enacted at the Potramarai Kulam.

Reading of the Panchankam
On the first day of Chitrai every year, the Lord comes around to sit atop the Kailasa hill on the western side of the prakara in front of the Nataraja Sannidhi and listens to the reading of the Tirunelveli Vakya Panchankam.

A large scale renovation activity is round the corner and is expected to start sometime soon.

The temple is open between 6am-12.30pm and 4pm-9pm. Contact S Moorthy Gurukal @ 94429 30204 / Peshkar Murugesan @ 99446 29425

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