Unparalleled beauty and most alluring Lord RajaGopalaswamy. One wonders why such a beautiful temple did not find itself in the ‘good books’ of the Azhvaars
Mannargudi is the repository of all the accumulated trends of copiousness, of fertility of soil, water resources, educational facilities and cultural advancement. Gudi in Telugu means temple. As Raja mannar, viz. Rajagopalan abides in this temple, it is well known as Rajamannargudi. It is indeed unique that in several cases in Tamil Nadu, why, in the entire country, we can come across with the name of the temple forming part of the nomenclature of the town. Sri Rajagopalaswamy is pre-eminent among the Vaishnavite temples of Tanjavur district. Mannargudi ‘the soil super' is also another famous adage. Mannargudi, which is 4.6 sq.miles in area, abides in many temples. There are also temples of people following other religions and faiths. Many Sanskrit and Tamil scholars and expert musicians lived here and still do so.
Some of the eminent personages who brought about embellishment to this vibrant town were Srimad Ahobhila Matam Sri Azhagia Sringer, the traditional exponents and Acharyas of Vadakalai and Thenkalai ceremonial observances, Thyagarajamakhi also known as Raju Sastrigal, the great expert is music Mulavur Sabhapati Iyer, Chinna Packiria Pillai, Konnakkol Pichaiya Pillai, Sahityakarta Rajagopala Iyer and Sabhesa Iyer.
About the Temple
Housed on a huge 33acre area, the RajaGopalan temple at Mannargudi [till a few centuries ago, this was called MannarKoil], is all what a Vaishnavite temple should be. Except that the Azhvaars did not perform Mangalasaasanam here, something that one finds difficult to come to terms with. Hence this is not a Divya Desam and remains only an ‘Abhimaana’ Sthalam.
It is quite a mystery actually that the Azhvaars who visited and sang praise of the Lord(and performed Mangalasaasanam) at ThiruKannapuram [50kms North Eas], ThiruKannangudi[50kms East], Thirucherrai, Nachiyar Koil, Thiruvinnagar-Oppiliappan, Kumbakonam Sarangapani(around 35kms North) and Thanjai Maa Mani [35kms West] missed the towering presence of RajaGopalan.
The famous Vishnu temple at Mannargudi dedicated to Sri Rajagopalaswami was built by the Chola king Kulottunga [1070-1120 AD]. The temple is situated over an area of 33 acres of land that commands an imposing view and provides accommodation for thousands of devotees. After the Chola kings the Nayak kings of Tanjore took interest in the renovation of temples built earlier and as a result the temple at Mannargudi was improved with many Gopurams and outer Prakarams.
There are twenty-four shrines including Perumal and Thayar shrines in the temple. The mast – wood tree Punnai is the sacred tree of the temple adored with special devotion as it is dedicated especially to the Lord. It is located in the Champaka Prakaram. This kshetra glorified as Champakaranayam, in yonder days, abounded in Champaka plants.
The temple is established facing east. There is conjective among experts that the temple must have been originally facing west, for the mound of mansions over the western entrance was perhaps the remnants of the palaces used by the members of the royal family for stay and rest during their visit to the temple for worship. Also the Sangu Tirtham and Chakra Tirtham are seen interchanged in their left and right positions; that is obviously due to the fact that the temple once faced west. The temple is said to possess seven circumambulatory paths; if so which is the seventh Prakara? It was customary in those days to recognize the car streets called Pralaya Kala Veedhi circumscribing the present four Gopala Samudram Car Streets. Due to ravages of time those streets had disappeared. They were, perhaps, the seventh circumambulatory path. The four car streets of Gopala Samudram are the sixth circumambulatory path.These grand streets should have been once the locations of protective and fortified moats filled with water. That is perhaps why the nomenclature-Samudram-is still sticking to this location. It is also possible to determine from the erstwhile Revenue Settlement Records that excepting the pathway leading to the main shrine all the other surrounding areas of the temple are measured and compiled as the mote.
Along the Gopala Samudram car street just opposite to the temple there is erected a magnificent granite monolithic Garuda pillar which extends a happy welcome to the devotees. At the crest of the column there is a small shrine dedicated to Garuda who stands facing west with folded hands. It is indeed the grace of the deity that sustains this column unimpaired and unimpeded unrestrained and unassailded from the ravages of nature for several centuries now. By using a mountain of cotton bales Tirumangai Alwar contrived to sustain the vertically of this immense magic column of granite. But it is strange and disconcerting that we have to reconcile to the fact that the pasurams of such a magnificent and benevolent Tirumangai Alwar is not available to us yet. On the northern side of this pillar there is a mandapa which houses the big chariot of this temple, which is next only to the chariot of Tiruvarur in its display of pomp and majesty. This is the East Gopalasamudram car street that beckons un on to Rajagopuram of the temple. There is the shrine of Sri Anjeneya at the northwest end of the car street. At the east car street there is an Agama school.
Advancing past the Garuda column one arrives at the sixteen-pillared mandapa abiding at the alluringly magnificent main entrance of the temple and extending an illustrious welcome to the vataries. During the festivities the Lord would be stationed here and numerous avowed ceremonial worships would be performed. On the southern side of the Sannidhi Street there abides the Ahobhila Mutt buildings where in we shall have the darsan of Sri Narasimha and Sri Adivan Sadagopa Yatinadra Mahadesikan. On the northern row of the Sannidhi street there is the Vanamamalai Mutt. When we move past the sixteen-pillared mandap the towering Rajagopura extending higher up the pervasive ethereal regions seems to behold us and swiftly sweeps down, as it were, to welcome us with an added vigour of joy and excitement. Just at the entrance in the southern side there abides Vira Anjeneya who is said to be proficient in extending merits to devotees.
The fifth circumambulatory path is also called Nachiyar Prakaram. This is also the thoroughfare for the chariot procession of Sri Sengamala Thayar. For Sri Thayar, the Sumangali noted for refinement and moderation and gentleness of style would seldom betake herself beyond the gates of Her abode and this kind of festival of chariot procession is unique in the history of temple administration. Nowhere else is seen such a kind of festival to the deity. On the Southeastern part of the circumambulatory path there is an entrance and a tower but the gateway has been shut now. In former days it was customary to fetch water from the Gopralaya Tirtha for the anointing of the deities. At the centre of the southern Prakara there is a huge gateway and tower. Just opposite to the enclosure wall there is also a tower. It is said that there was a Thyagaraja mandapa where in the Lord Thyagesa of Tiruvarur used to visit this mandapa and participate in festivals once every year. At the western Prakara there is a granite tower and western gopuram. There are numerous delicate works of arts and sculpture belonging to the Nayak period. The kings of Thanjavur used to visit this temple through this gopuram and perform ceremonial worship to the deities. At the northwest and there is a tank for the use of Sri Thayar.At the northern Prakara there is the northern gateway, the granite gopura and gopura built of bricks. In the north eastern portion there is the elephant mandapa and the cowshed. The gate of Tirumanjanam street and a small gopuram are established in the Prakaram. Near the elephant mandapa at the eastern Prakara the mandapa for Sri Thayar chariot is located. Westward to this mandapa abides the sixteen-pillared mandapa and western to this, the shrine of Yoga Narasimha. At this sixteen pillared mandapa the Tiruvandikkappu of Sri Thayar is performed. At this entrance there is a new mandapa from where we can have the sight of the Krishna gopura.
Arriving at the fourth circumambulatory path, which is also famous as Kasi Prakara. The path leading to the main shrine from Krishna gopura is famous as sabha. In the upper reaches of the Sabha mandapa we can witness beautiful sketches and drawings depicting skilled artistic acumen. Southern to the Sabha abides the thousand-pillared mandapam.Wes wards to thousand – pillared mandapa there abides the Administrative Office of the temple.At the south Eastern end there is mandapa from where the devotees enjoy the darsan of the Lord for Pakal Pattu and Era Pattu festival. At the Southern Prakara there is the sacred flower garden. From out of the jackfruit procured from the garden during the month of Vaikasi and coupled with Visakam constellation, the luscious delicacy of a delightful cuisine called Sahakara is prepared for the ceremonial offerings to the Lord. There is a sixteen-pillared mandapa at the northern Prakara famous as Tirumamani mandapa. During the Vaikuntha Ekadasi festivals the Lord would have prolonged, avowed ceremonial worships by the devotees throughout the day. Just opposite to this there is four-pillared mandapa where religious discourses would be held by the learned. At the eastern end of this prakara there are shrines for Kurattalwar, Udayavar and Vahana mandapa. The well abiding just opposite to the shrine of Karuttalwar is allowed open for the use of the general public for drinking purpose.Just opposite to the well by the Southern side there is the shrine for Sri Nigamata Maha Desikan.
The third circumambulatory path, which is also famous as Champaka Prakara. There is Mohini Gopuram at the entrance of this Prakara through the Sabha.At the fore part of this Prakara in the southern side, Perialwar and Kulasekhara Alwar are seen on a pedestal. Just opposite there are Flag Mast and Sacrificial Altar.Then there are the Primary Alwars shrines.At the south there is the kitchen where in there abides the Madaipalli Nachiyar. The kitchen is also called Nachiyar Parigraham.At the southern Prakara there is the Store Room-Ugrana and near by there are Andal, Nammalwar, Manavaala maa munigal shrines. Nearby Tirumangai Mannan and Kumudavalli icons are displayed. Adjacent to tit are Anjaneya and Tondaradipodi Alwar propitiating Sri Rama padukas. Just opposite to Sri Thayar Shrine in this Prakaram there is a four-pillared mandapa in the open space and the Lord has the special ceremonial worships conducted here during Vasantha Utsava and Panguni Utsava. The shrine of Sri Sengamala Thayar abides at the southern Prakara.Entering the shrine we see the Flag Mast and the Sacrificial Altar attended by Garuda along with his consort Suparni.
As we reach the Thayar shrines and the adjacent South Prakara there is the niche for the sacred Basil Plant and opposite to it there is the glass mandapa. At the northeastern end there is the Vaikunda sabha also called Rohini mandapa at the projected stairs. Rohini Utsavam of Sri Perumal is performed in this mandapam. In the Nrithya Mandapa opposite to Sri Thayar shrine the grand Adhyayan Utsava and Ekasimhana Utsava for ten days for Sri Thayar are celebrated. In the Mattaiyadi Utsava when the Lord and Sri Thayar are seated at the same seat is called Ekasimhasanam. It is just like Sri Rangam Panguni Uttara consecrated worship. Here the famous Gadya Traya [Vaikuntha Gadyam Sri Ranga Gadyam-Saranaagata Gadyam] Chorus-cum-group recitals will be done by the learned. During Fridays in the month of Thai Thiruvolakkam for Sri Thayar will be done in this mandapa. The top of the mandapa has been fixed with brass plates.
Sri Thayar is anointed every Friday in this mandapam. Next to this there is the Ardha mandapa and the shrine of Sri Thayar. Sri Sengamala Thayar and Hemabja Nayaki as the Utasvar and the Mulavar extend immense grace and benediction to the devotees. From the western Prakara and Sri Thayar Shrine junctin a diversion branches as Champaka Prakaram of Sri Perumal. Northwest to this Prakara there is Sri Rams's shrine with the Nrityamandapa, Mahamandapa and Arthamandap. The sixteen – pillared mandapa otherwise called Sri Paduka mandapa abides there in the Prakara. Nearby there is Praamapada entrance and Pancha Parva Utsava mandapa. At the eastern prakara the sacred tree –the Punnai tree (the mast wood tree) and the yagasala are there.
The sthala puranam of the temple states that Lord Krsna appeared here to bless two rishis, Sri Gopralaya, and Gopila. The two rishis travelled to Dwarka to have darshan of the Lord, but by the time they reached, Dwapara yuga had ended, the Lord had ascended to the spiritual world, and Dwarka was submerged in the ocean. The Lord, out of compassion for the sages, advised them to go south, and pray for His appearance a place called Shenbagaranyam (forest of Shenbaga flowers).
It should be mentioned here that Sri Sengamala Thayar is the incarnation of Sri Mahalakhmi with four arms and two efflorescent eyes like Neelotpala, adorned with Kundalas at the ears, decked with Keyura haras and golden necklaces, decorated with white floral garland, with a countenance dazzling with the lightning of a smile amidst the coral-like red lips, with the bright tilaka on the fore head, with the locks of curling hair dense dark in hue, with the lustrous complexion flawless white in hue like pearls originated from bamboos, with form akin to Mahalakshmi abiding on the lotus and the face charming and attractive.
Sri Sengamala Thayar is the manifesting Viralakshmi, effulgent like the golden lotus, worshipped by all the celestials, resplendent with an ornament studded with gems at the tip of the nose, skilled in fulfilling all the aspirations on the votaries, the able and efficient consort of the manifestation of Vishnu, as Sri Vidya Rajagopala, the most indescribable and unparalleled in beauty and charm, the beloved daughter of Samudra Raja and the defender and protector of all the worlds.
As we arrive at the Garuda Prakara at the entrance of the second circumambulatory path, the bronze sentinels, Jaya and Vijaya are seen to be absorbed in vigilance. Nritya mandapa of Sri Perumal abides at the Garuda Prakara and Garuda along with Ulsavamurthy has the shrines here. It is said there is a subterranean path here. From the southern part of the western prakara there are shrines for Venugopala, Lakshmi Narasimha, Ananta Padmanabha, Lakshmi Narayana and Gajendra Varada. At the northeastern end there is the shrine for Vishvaksena and Sutravati Devi. Northern to this there is the mandapa for the silver, gold vehicles to be deposited in safe custody.
Now as we come to the first circumambulatory path, Thiruvunnazhi. Just in front of the Perumal shrine there is the Mahamandapa, the Sabha. All the pillars there in are set with brass plates. Right to the Thiruvunnazhi Prakara and under the ceiling of the sanctum sanctorum there is Vinayaka shrines and in the northern Prakara the shrine of Durga, just as we have in Sri Rangam. Then we reach the Arthamandapa of Sri Perumal shrine. Inside the sanctum sanctorum the Supreme Deva Deva along with Sri Devi and Bhudevi, surcharged with the form of Mulavar Paravasudeva and Utsavar Sri Vidya Rajagopala consorted by Sri Rukmini and Sri Satyabhama endows the perennial wavelength of beauty and grace and at the same time dispelling all our taints and blemishes and conferring captivatingly ceremonial and fascinating darsan to the votaries.
One takes refuge in Sri Rajagopala decorated with the feathers of peacock at the locks of hair dressed as a coil, with the lustrous tilaka of musk illumining at the forehead, with single ear-ring in one ear and a kundala at the other, dazzling with the moon light of a smile amidst the bud like pink lips embellished with numerous ornamentsw, adorned with fragrant sandal paste, holding the golden rod of the whip, enjoying the beloved company of Gopis, holding the lotus in the left hand, seated on the throne studded with Navaratna gems and having Champakaranya as the permanent abode.
The Glory of the Moorthy
One should recount the beauty of the Lord at the Sanctum sanctorum slightly leaning towards the cow, with a single garment, an earring and a dangling kundala, holding in he right hand the golden rod with a whip having three corrugated dents, with the left hand fixed and resting on the shoulder of Sri Satya Bhama, standing enchantingly in a Tribhanga posture and most handsome to behold, Sri Vidya Rajagopala is captivatingly alluring, and the Mulavar Para Vasudeva consorted by Sri Devi and Bhudevi is majestic to look at. In the standing posture, Mulavar, holding conch, discus and mace, decorated with a complete set of silver Kavacha all over, dispels all our taints as also extends grace and benediction. Not only does He confer grace and merit to those who make a beeline to the shrine but anxious to bestow benefits to those who keep aside or could not otherwise visit the temple, He goes about the ceremonial procession along the streets. The beauty and bounty of Sri Vidya Rajagopala is unparalleled.
The charm of the left hand fixed and folded along the shoulder of Sri Satyabhama and the spell of the right hand holding the golden rod with a whip having three distints curling dents! It is a feast to the eyes [of the view of the Lord] in being attended by Rukmini on the right and Satyabhama on the left representing the pleasures and fortunes of this, as also the next birth.
While recollected in tranquil moments Sri Sengamala Thayar and Hemabja Nayaki Thayar with bouquets in hands become the sweet mango, the revivifying force of energy of humanity, for they confer bliss and grace with their ambrosial form of compassionate eyes and fulfill the fruition of the ever-cherished aspirations of mankind.
There are ten holy water connected with this Kshetra. But the Puranas point out only nine Tirthas. They are as follows-
The Lord extended to the two sages Gopila and Gopralayar the supreme bliss of witnessing, the reenactment of the youthful sports indulged by Kannan. Srikrishna's water sports along with the Gopis were also seen and enjoyed by the sages. The perfumery articles like turmeric, lac dye and the substances of sweet fragrance have deposited in this tank since ages past. So the temple tank is called Haridranadi – Haridra = turmeric.
People use to glorify this tank as the daughter of the Cauvery. Sixty-six crores of holy waters merge here in this tank. The tank is laid in about 23 acres. The area of the temple is equivalent to the area of the tank. The shrine of Sri Venugopala at the center of the tank is well laid out and maintained properly. The ceremonial baths taken at this tank on the Rohini and Thiruvonam constellations, the New Moon Day, the Full Moon day, the Solar and the Lunar Eclipse days, as also those taken during the months of Vaikasi, Aippasi, Masi and Panguni are said to be surpremely efficacious to mankind in gaining grace and benediction.
Western to the temple at a distance of a stone's throw there is a tank going variously by the names of Gajendra Moksham, Anaivizhundankulam, Anaithan Kulam. In yonder days as the sage Durvasa got boons from the Lord in this place, it came to be called Durvasa Tirtha. Taking a ceremonial dip here during the month of Ani is effective; more so during Saturdays. Those who take bath here are easily relived of the grievous sin of censure to the Preceptors. To chant the Bhagavad-Gita on the banks of this tank is said to be efficacious.
Sri Lakshmi Narayana temple on the banks of this tank bears testimony to the fact that the sage Brighu in yonder days performed rigorous penance to have Sri Lakshmi born as his daughter; and how Sri Lakshmi herself after severe austerities got the Lord himself as her consort. As Sri Lakshmi performed tapascharya on the banks of this tank, it came to be called Tirupparkadal. Taking ceremonial bath on Fridays during the month of Thai is considered most efficacious, more so when one makes a gift of a cow to the learned.
This tank is widely famous as Gopralayar tirtha and Omakkulam. For Gopralayar in ancient time performed rigorous penance here on the banks of the tank. Also the sage Gopila performed yagas on the banks of this tank and hence the name Omakkulam. Once Agni made severe tapascharya and regained his heat and light. On the southeast corner Sri Vasudevamurthy abides along with the Ubayanachiyar. Sri Kannan performed the famous water sports in this tank along with the Gopika womenfolk and so it is called Gopika tirtha. Situated on the Pattukottai High Road, southern to Tirupparkadal, Gopika Tirtha is considered to be efficacious to take ceremonial baths on Wednesdays during the month of Purattasi, chanting the six-lettered mantra of the Lord.
Norther to Gopralayar tirtha and situated at a fair distance to the temple, Rukmini tirtha is said to be sacred to take a holy dip on Adi puram and on Mondays, for it is believed to gain enormous favours from Sri Lakshmi. Taking bath here and making gifts of vermillion, turmeric and other articles to women folk-Sumangalis would fetch enormous benefits.
6.Agni Kunda Tirtha
It is situated southern to the Rukmini tirtha. Taking bath on Sundays during the month of Kartigai and making gifts of lamps and pieces of eagle wood – akil – containing fragrant incense to the learned, it considered being supremely meritorious. Ceremonial sacrifices, performed on the banks of this tank will fetch merit equal to Aptoryama sacrifice so goes the Stala Purana.
By the southeastern corner to the temple there is a tank with a well-accomplished sprawling mandapa at the centre where during the Brahmotsava in the month of Panguni the Lord extends grace and benediction at the Float Festival. The water that washes the temple and the sanctum sanctorum finds its way to this tank.
This is in consonance to the ancient adage that the tank and its appearance Vis a Vis the temple, is alluringly captivating. Taking a ceremonial bath in the month of Margazhi followed by a choice conferring of the sixteen varieties of gifts are said to be highly effective.
"namo brahmanaaya devaaya gobraahmana hitaaya cha jagad hitaaya
krishnaaya govindaaya nomo namah”.
Those who take bath in the tank chanting this couplet shall be absolved of all sins and they would also be terminated form the chain of transmigration.
As the tank has the structural features like a Valampuri conch the conch curling to the right, it goes by the name Sangu tirtha. Situated southern to the temple it is widely famous and considered meritorious to take a ceremonial bath here chanting the Ashtakshara mantra of the Lord and gift away rubies to learned pandits.
This tank is situated northern to the temple. The Sanga and Chakra Thirthams have interchanged their positions. Considering this interchange of location of the tanks some may even doubt whether the temple would have once been located facing west. It is highly beneficial to have a bath at this tank during the month of Chitrai and give away liberal gifts to the needy. Quite in accordance to the Lord adorning himself with a single dhoti, a single ear-ring and a single suspending stud after having participated in the water sports at the Haridranadi, the inter changed location of conch and discus after the ceremonial bath at the tank, some experts would express in added dignity and charm of euphemism whether the locations of the tanks also were changed.
For all these nine tanks the corresponding trees the Rishis and godheads are pointed out. For all these tanks the Lord of Dvaraka is the protective Deity.
It is the tenth sacred thirtha of the temple. It is northern to Haridranadi and drains the whole area of the town from the northeast to the northwest like a floral garland.
Time, Name of the worship and Offering
1. 7.00 a.m. Visuarupa - Milk
2. 8.00 a.m. Thiruvanandal - Curd rice
3. 9.30 a.m. Kalaisandhi - Pongal
4. 11.30 a.m. Ucchi kalam - Paayasam, dhal, Vadai, kari amudhu, thenkuzhal.
5. 5.00 p.m. Nithyanusandanam - Dosai
6. 8.00 p.m. Eraakkalam - Samba Adisil
7. 9.00 p.m. Aradhajaamam - Sarkarai Pongal, Modhakam, Milk, Thaambhulam.
Timings for Darshan for all days:
*Morning 5.30 a.m. to 12.30 noon
*Evening 4.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
During July-August Mannargudi is a place of religious antiquity and legendary importance. In ancient times, Mannargudi was known by many names namely, Senbagaranyam, Vasudevapuri, Dakshina Dwaraka, Vanduvarapati and Swayambhu Sthalam, each name having a religious significance.
HOW TO GET THERE
Rail : The nearest railway station of Nidamangalam is at a distance of 12-km and Thanjavur is at a distance of 34-km.
Road : Mannargudi is well connected by road to Thanjavur, Kumbhakonam, Tiruvarur and other towns in the erstwhile Thanjavur district.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation is available at the dharmashalas in Mannargudi or at the economy class hotels, lodges and devasthanam cottages in Thanjavur.
Deity : ParaVasudevan (Moolavar)– East Facing, Standing Posture
Utsavar : RajaGopalan
Goddess : Shenbagavalli
Temple timing : 5am –12.30pm and 430pm-9pm
Priest : Jayakumar Deekshigar 04367 225738
Also contact : Mahalingam, Manager on 94423 99820 /04367 222276
Festivals-Right through the year
18 day Panguni Brahmmotsavam - 10 day Float Festival in Aani - 20 day Adyaana Festival in Margazhi- The Garuda Seva at Mannargudi is specially famous
Recommended Links[Videos] - www.tubeoli.com/Mannargudi/
With this, my postings on Purana Sthalams comes to an end. My next Posting will follow soon.....Thanjavur district is famous as ‘Koil Paathi, Kulam Paathi' and this axiomatic saying applied into Mannargudi. Situated southeast of Thanjavur it has bus transport facilities connecting Thanjavur and Kumbhakonam.