Note to my International Readers: The following article may seem a little complicated, but it has been my endevour to simplify and present the essence of various facets of India, it’s culture and traditions.
Also, I am delighted to co-author this piece with Sujatha Ravi, my guest writer from Chennai, who has explained the various aspects of Tiruchendur temple in great detail.
Today (November 9th, 2021) is an auspicious day in the Hindu almanac. Based on the lunar calendar, it is the 6th day of the Karthik Masam (the month of Karthik ) and the day is known as Skanda Sashti, also known as Kanda Sashti, when the important festival dedicated to Lord Murugan is observed mainly by Tamil Hindus. For me personally, Lord Murugan came into my life very late. Circumstances in 2015 demanded that I visit the Murugan Temple at Thiruchendur. Making Madurai our base, we drove a distance of 180 kilometres that took us around 3 hours. But first let me share the story behind the temple.
The Story of Skanda Shashti
In my article on the October 2021 planetary transits, I had mentioned the story of how Lord Murugan was born and was also called as Saravana and Kartikeya. I will elaborate the story further. There lived an asura (demon) by the name of Surapadma who undertook severe austerities to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva granted several boons to Surapadma, that made him invincible against the devas (gods). When the devas approached Lord Shiva for help, the Lord promised them that his to be born son, would instead be able to conquer the asuras. Hence, Kartikeya was born just for the purpose of controlling the demons. It is believed that Lord Murugan was born out from the six sparks that emanated from the third eye of Lord Shiva. It is said that Agni (Fire God) carried these sparks and placed them in a pond called Saravana, where six babies were born on a lotus each.
When the demons got to know about his birth, they hunted high and low for him. These infants were given to the seven Krittika sisters, who were married to seven Sages (the saptarishis) and hence he is known as Kartikeya (one who was raised by the Krittika sisiters). When Parvathi and Shiva came to see the babies, Parvati took all six babies and hugged them into one being who had six heads (and hence Murugan is also known as Armugam- the one who has six faces).
When Arumuga grew up to become a young boy, Lord Shiva instructed him to vanquish Surapadma and free the Devas from his cruel bondage. It is said that Lord Muruga reached Tiruchendur with his huge army and camped at this site. He sent his lieutenant, Veerabahu to the asuras as an emissary and asked Surapadma to release the Devas. However, Surapadma was in no mood to comply and an intense war ensued that went on for several days. During the first five days, Murugan travelled across various realms of the Universe and killed the brothers of Surapadma and all other asuras.
On the sixth day (Shashti), a battle between Muruga and Surapadma ensued. Surapadman tried various tactics to overpower Lord Murugan and in the end when he took the form of a monstrous mango tree, the lance (Vel) of Lord Muruga pierced through tree that split into two. What happened next was even more amazing.
The split pieces of the mango tree instantly transformed themselves into a mighty peacock and a rooster. Lord Muruga took the peacock as his vahana or vehicle and the cock on his banner. This event is popularly known as Surasamharam, or the destruction of Surapadman. After Surasamharam, Lord Muruga desired to worship his father, Lord Shiva. Hence Mayan or Vishwakarma, the divine architect constructed this shrine at Tiruchendur. Indeed, Lord Muruga also known as Subramanyan is seen in the posture of worshiping Lord Shiva in the sanctum sanctorum.
Some salient features of Thiruchendur temple is as follows:
- The temple is listed 2nd amongst the six Arupadai veedu (six abodes of Lord Murugan)
- The most striking feature of Tiruchendur Murugar Temple is the 9 storeyed, 137 feet high Mela-Gopuram, with nine kalasams at the top, which is believed to have been constructed 300 years ago. Built on the shores of Bay of Bengal, just 200 metres away from the sea, it can only be a divine providence that it stands unaffected. It is an outstanding example of Dravidian temple architecture
- This is the only temple where Raja Gopura is situated in western gate.
- The main Garbagraham (inner sanctum) is actually carved out of a cliff and later reinforced to make this as a room big enough for the principal deity to be in. Moolavar Subramanya Swamy is in Nindra Kolam (standing posture) facing east and is doing penance (tapas). Circumambulation or pradakshinam is not allowed arounf=d the sanctum, so as to not to disturb his penance.
- Historical evidence show that the temple has been carved out of Kanda Madana Parvata (a red stone rock found in this coast). The main idol is thousands of years old as there are many references to this temple in Hindu Puranas.
To his left is the Lingam of Jayanthanathar (the form of victorious Murugan), who receives the daily pujas along with the principal deity of Subramanya. This is said to be the Siva linga worshipped by Subramanya swamy after his victory over the demon Sooran. Panchalinga’s worshiped by Lord Muruga is seen at the extreme end of a cave like passage behind the main deity.
- At Thiruchendur the main gopuram (the pyramidal tower) is on the western side of the Garbagraham (sanctum sanctorum). The idol of Lord Muruga faces the east towards the sea. Usually, in temple architecture the gopuram should be opposite to the Lord in the east. However, due to the presence of the sea on the eastern side, the gopuram was constructed in the west.
- Kumara Thantram is the Pooja ritual followed here
- Another unique feature here is that the Viboothi Prasadam (holy ash) is given in ‘Panneer’ leaves, which is believed have to medicinal properties and hence considered special and believed to cure diseases.
- There are four Utsava Murthis, Shanmugar, Jayantināthar, Kumara Vidangar or Mappillai Swamy and Alaivay Perumal, having separate sannidhis.
- On the northern praharam, there is a sannidhi for Maha Vishnu. This sannidhi is hollowed out of a rock. Vishnu as Venkatesa Perumal is seen in ‘Nindra Kolam’ (a standing posture) and facing the East. Next to this in the big carved grotto (half tunnel) is Gaja Lakshmi, Palli konda Ranganathar. Śrī Devi, Bhudevi and Neela Devi are at His sides. Brahma is seen on a lotus from his navel. Small idols of the twelve Vaishnavite Alwars are in this sannidhi. Vaishnavite archakas perform the poojas here four times a day. Select hymns from the Nalayira Divya prabhandham are seen on outer walls of the sannidhi.
- This is the only temple where there are two main deities. Lord Muruga is seen as doing penance and is praying to Lord Shiva before entering the battlefield (Lord Subramanya sannidhi towards the east) and in the other, Lord Muruga is seen as family man, Lord Arumuga Peruman sannidhi with Valli and Deviani towards the west.
- Moovar Samadhi: Maha samadhis of three sadhus, Mouna Swami, Kasi Swami and Arumuga Swami. These three sadhus had spent their entire lifetime (1868 to 1940) in the renovation and reconstruction of this temple despite the fact that they were ever living in poverty.
- Thoondukai Vinayakar: sannadhi is at entrance to the main temple has a covered overhead like a shelter for about 1 to 1.5 kms.
- Lord Arumuga Peruman: In the same Mahamandapa adjoining the main deity, towards the left is the sanctum of Lord Arumuga Peruman or Lord Shanmugar with Valli and Deivanai. He is also considered as a Moolavar (main deity). Lord Senthil Andavar is seen as doing a penance, while Lord Arumugar is seen as a family man. Hence the prasadham (Neivediyam), prepared for both of them is different.
In the period 1646-1648, the Murugan temple at Tiruchendur was occupied by the Dutch East India company, during the course of their war with the Portuguese. The local people tried to free their temple, with no success. When the Dutch finally vacated the temple on orders from the Naik ruler, they removed the sculpture depicting the 2 utsava murthis or idols, which is made of an alloy named Shanmukhar, and took it with them. During their sea voyage, they encountered a strong storm and they were fearful that this could be because they stole the idols from its rightful place. They dropped it in the middle of the sea and it is believed that the storm stopped immediately. Later, Lord Murugan appeared in a dream to Vadamaliyappa Pillai, an ardent devotee of Murugan, and revealed the place in the sea where the idol had been abandoned. Vadamlaiyappa Pillai reached the spot in a fishing boat and retrieved the murti in 1653. This story is depicted in a series of paintings in the temple.
Factfile: http://www.tiruchendurmurugantemple.tnhrce.in/ This is the official website of the temple for devotees to book poojas and booking of rooms in the premises.