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Article in Hindu on Uttaramerur

Cadambi_Sriram_at_lgs.ca
Date: Tue Aug 26 1997 - 10:27:40 PDT

Cadambi Sriram
08/26/97 01:27 PM
                             [THE HINDU]

                      Friday, August 22, 1997
                       SECTION: Entertainment



            Has stood the test of time

            Date: 22-08-1997 :: Pg: 30 :: Col: a

            The country's greatest and most enduring legacy is its
            spirituality and it primarily manifests itself in the
            form of temples spread across the land. The temples
            serve as an unfailing source of solace and hope. The
            longing to go on a pilgrimage brings people of different
            regions together. All in all, temples are such an
            integral part of life that there is a saying in Tamil
            ``Koyil Ella Ooril Kudiyirukka Vendam''. (One should not
            live in a city or town or village where there is no
            temple).

            Most of the well-known and big temples in the country
            were built centuries before invaders started making
            forays into the country. The monarchs those days were so
            catholic that they were not only tolerant of other
            faiths as but also made no distinction between Saivism
            and Vaishnavism. Rulers belonging to different dynasties
            through the centuries built magnificent edifices for
            gods and goddesses they deeply revered.

            One of these remarkable temples, situated in
            Uttaramerur, 85 km from Chennai, dedicated to Lord
            Vishnu is called the Sri Sundaravaradaraja Perumal
            temple. The town itself has many distinctions. It is
            believed that a temple of this kind can be built only in
            a place where 4,000 pandits well-versed in the four
            Vedas reside. According to legend, when this temple was
            built towards the end of the eighth century, there must
            have been at least 1,000 persons living in the town
            having had that qualification. Hence Uttaramerur used to
            be called ``Chathurvedamangalam.'' Uttaramerur is also
            said to have been derived from the age-old belief that
            King Virata in whose court the Pandavas with Draupadi
            spent a year incognito, had entrusted the governance of
            the place to his son Uttara.

            A devotee going to this temple will have to first offer
            worship to Veera Anjaneya whose shrine is right
            opposite. Inside the temple which has three-tiers, on
            the right in the ground floor are shrines for Vedanta
            Maha Desika, saint Ramanuja and a few Azhwars such as
            Nammazhwar and Tirumangai Azhwar. After praying to these
            saints one goes on to the god and goddesses in keeping
            with the adage, ``Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam''. The
            presiding deity, Sundaravaradaraja (also known as
            Soundarya Varadaraja) Perumal, who is in a standing
            posture, is flanked by Sri Devi and Bhoodevi. The idols
            of urchavamurthis placed in front of this trinity are
            those of Krishna, Sakkarathazhwar, Rama, Sita and
            Anjaneya. On the left is the idol of Selvar who figures
            prominently during the Brahmotsavam.

            The temple, built mainly of limestone and no granite at
            all, is unique in its conception and execution. The
            three-tiers that house the shrines for the presiding
            deity in different postures have the sanctum sanctorums
            built one above the other with immediate inner prakarams
            for devotees to go around.

            In the second tier, Lord Vishnu called Vaikunta Varadar
            also known as Paramapatharathan in sitting posture, is
            facing the east. The daily and special aradhanas are
            first performed to this deity. As one comes out of this
            shrine and goes around from right are Krishna and Arjuna
            with the Avatar preaching the Bhagawad Gita to the
            Pandava. They face the south. Then there is Narasimha in
            meditative posture facing the west. And Varahar is seen
            showering His benediction on Lakshmi, who is seen
            praying to Him. The Lord's eyes are resting on
            ``Thayar'', the goddess. Here Vishnu is also called
            Bhuvaharagar. The deities face the north.

            The third-tier has Ranganatha in a lying posture. He is
            lying on his right. This deity is similar to Sri Anantha
            Padmanabhaswami in Tiruvananthapuram. Facing the Lord is
            Nanmuga Brahma. From the lotus navel of Ranganatha,
            Brahma is seen emerging. Near Ranganatha's feet is Lord
            Siva with a deer and `mazhu' (a weapon). Ranganatha
            blesses Markandeya with his right hand. Bhoomidevi is
            placed opposite Markandeya.

            There is also a belief that Markandeya is Maharishi
            Bhrigu who came down to earth to seek restoration of his
            vision. On being sent to find out who should receive the
            first honour at the end of a yagna in ``Devalokam'',
            Bhrigu went to Brahma who was immersed in the music,
            played by His consort Saraswati on the veena. The sage
            found Siva and Parvati in Kailasam in an equally
            inattentive mood. On his arrival at Vaikuntam, it was no
            better with Vishnu playing with Lakshmi unmindful of the
            sage's presence. Enraged by this `humiliation', the sage
            kicked the Lord on His chest. Actually, it was a ruse
            played by the Lord who wanted to teach a lesson to the
            sage who had become conceited because he had a rare eye
            below his right toe. Narayana in feigning to assuage the
            hurt of the sage caught hold of his feet, profusely
            apologising for his lapse and gently smothered the eye.

            The sage went blind. Meanwhile, Lakshmi furious with the
            Lord who had allowed a man to kick Him on the chest
            where she resided, got down from that pedestal.
            Narayana, it is believed bade His consort and the sage
            to go to earth and do penance. Bhrigu, according to
            legend, had performed his tapas in Uttaramerur.

            Before one goes into the sanctum, there are two
            ``Dwarapalikaigal'' instead of ``Dwarapalakas'' found
            usually in temples.

            The two symbolise the Ganges and the Yamuna and as there
            is Prayag in Allahabad in the north, Uttaramerur is
            called ``Dakshina Prayag.''

            Coming down to the ground, in the inner Prakaram there
            is a shrine for Achutha Varathar, who faces the south.
            Then to the left at the end of the corridor besides the
            Prakaram is the shrine for the Goddess Anandavalli
            Thayar.

            For a long time she was referred to only as ``Ulaga
            Matha.'' There is a legend behind how She came to be
            called Anandavalli. When the Pandavas were in exile,
            they had drifted into a state of depression and
            confusion. Sensing Draupadi's despair, Sage Narada
            appeared before her and advised her to take the Pandavas
            to a town where there were 108 temples and make them
            bathe in those temple tanks and pray to Varada for the
            restoration of their sanity. Draupadi did as Narada bid
            and Vishnu in the form of Vaikuntha Varathar bestowed
            sanity on Dharma and Sundaravarathar blessed Bhima
            likewise.

            Achutha Varathar made Arjuna his old self, Nakula and
            Sahadeva were graced with normalcy by Anirudda Varathar
            and Kalyana Varathar respectively. Filled with bliss the
            Pandavas called the Goddess Anandavalli. The town came
            to be known ``Pancha Varatha Kshetram'' and ``Pandava
            Aranyam.''

            Unlike the other icons for which there is no
            thirumanjanam (in the month of ``Karthigai'' alone, the
            icons are cleaned with an oil) for the icon of Thayar,
            abhisekam is regularly performed. On all Fridays, the
            Goddess is taken in procession but only within the
            precincts of the temple. But this practice remains
            suspended from ``Karthigai Thirunal'' to Koorathazhwar
            ``Thirunatchathiram'' that falls in the month of
            ``Thai.''

            There is Anirudda Varathar who is facing the west. As
            one turns right, to his immediate left and at the
            beginning of the corridor is the shrine for Andal.
            Special pujas are performed to the deity throughout the
            month of `Margazhi'. The urchavamoorthy of the deity is
            kept in Sundara Varathar's shrine.

            The `valam' round the temple ends at the shrine of
            Kalyana Varathar who is sitting atop a serpent. Devotees
            are beginning to make it a point to perform `archana' to
            Him for five successive Wednesdays with the faith that
            their prayers will be granted.

            The temple has eight prominent vimanas. In the outer
            prakaram there are five mandapams. To begin with is the
            ``Dwadasi Mandapam'' where guests are fed the day after
            ``Ekadasi'' when devotees observe fast. The well by the
            side of the mandapam never goes dry.

            The ``Vadayithi Mandapam'' comes next. This is used for
            the Lord to relax (`Vidayathiyai iruthal') for three
            days after the conclusion of Brahmotsavam. For
            conducting the spring festival there is a mandapam. The
            two other mandapams are the four pillar and 100-pillar
            mandapams.

            The former is meant for Anandavalli Thayar to play by
            the swing on the last Friday of each month.

            The temple is being renovated at an estimated cost of
            Rs. 60 lakhs.

            A. THIRUGNANASAMBANDA MOORTHY