Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka

The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic attributed to the poet Valmiki and an important part of the Hindu canon. One of the most important literary works of ancient India, the Ramayana consists of 7 chapters (Kanda), and narrates the story of Rama’s wife Sita being abducted by Ravana, the demon (Rakshasa) king of Lanka.

According to the Ramayana, King Ravana brought Sita Devi from India in a Pushpaka Vimana” which is widely known in Sri Lanka as the “Dandu Monara Yanthranaya,” or Large Peacock Machine in Sinhala.

The Ramayana has fascinated many generations, and had a profound impact on art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

For over thousands of years, the Ramayana, epic of Asia, has had an unshakeable hold on the beliefs of vast multitudes of Asia’s teeming millions. As diverse span of humanity as Kashmiri pandits and Cambodian fishermen, it is the universal heritage of all humanity.

A rich legacy of sites and temples in the country where the most significant events of this epic took place – Lankapura – Sri Lanka. Though some people do not believe that the present Sri Lanka is the one mentioned in the Ramayana, when we investigate the area, there is still much convincing tradition therein and many sites identified with the Ramayana.

Sri Lanka is the proud custodian of more than 50 Ramayana sites from the place of Sita Devi’s captivity to the battlefields where vast armies clashed, to the groves of exotic herbs dropped by Hanuman, to the ultimate theater of war where Lord Rama slew Ravana, the ten-headed demon-king.

People living in the areas where great events took place remember to this day the connection of their soil to the great epic. An oath taken at the spot where Sita Devi undertook “Agni Pariksha” is still considered valid in village courts or grama sabhas. The color of the soil of the ancient battlefield is still red today, and is still surrounded by lighter colored earth. One of the airports of Ravana, torched by Hanuman when he came looking for Sita Devi, still has a scorched-earth look. A patch of darker soil surrounded by brown earth. Exotic alpine Himalayan species are found suddenly amidst tropical Sri Lankan vegetation, the legacy of Hanuman’s heroic voyage carrying a mountain with life-restoring herbs.

Incredibly, the names of places have come down to modern times unchanged. Though great social, cultural and religious changes have taken place in Sri Lanka since.

Sri Lanka shares a special bond with India geographically, historically, culturally and spiritually. The Ramayana begins with Ayodhya in India and climaxes at Lankapura.

People in Sri Lanka through generations believed that king Ravana ruled this country. There are many sites in Sri Lanka which are connected to the Ramayana. Below is a list of places which have been identified as connected to the Ramayana and listed in sequential order.

The Kidnapping of Sita by Ravana

Ravana was the king of Lanka and another 9 kingdoms. He was known as Dasis (or Dasa Shirsha) meaning 10 heads, because he had ten crowns, one each for his ten kingdoms.

His sister Surpanakha went to Jambudweepa for some business. Surpanakha chanced upon Rama at his hermitage and became enamored with the handsome prince. Rama being faithful to his wife, Sita, did not respond and asked Surpanakha to approach Lakshmana who was unmarried. Surpanakha, who felt humiliated by this, tried to attack Sita in anger saying Sita was the cause of the men’s contempt for her. Lakshmana then intervened and cut off Surpanakha’s nose.

Surpanakha, terrified and in pain, flew at once to Lanka to seek the protection of Ravana. When Ravana asked his sister for the cause, Surpanakha said that she had seen Sita, a lady of incomparable beauty, and wanted to bring her for Ravana. Ravana resolved to take revenge for the insult his sister had suffered, as well as to get lovely Sita for him self, and set out to abduct Sita and bring her to Lanka.

Ravana, using a golden deer as a decoy, visited Sita when she was alone. In the guise of an old sage, he abducted and brought her to Weragantota in Lanka in his plane, the Pushpaka vimana.

Weragantota means the “place of aircraft landing” in Sinhala. This is the first place Sita Devi was brought to Lankapura (capita city of king Ravana). These jungles are the place where the city of Lankapura once stood. The city had a beautiful palace for Queen Mandothari surrounded by waterfalls, streams and varieties of flora and fauna. Sita Devi was kept at Queen Mandothari’s palace at Lankapura. The place Sita was held captive is called Sita Kotuwa, which means “Sita’s Fort” in Sinhala. It is believed Ravana had an aircraft repair center at Gurulupotha close to Sita Kotuwa. Sita devi was kept in queen Mandothari’s palace until she was moved to Sita Kotuwa and then on to Ashoka Vatika. The remains that are found here are the remnants of later civilizations. In Valmiki’s depiction, King Ravana’s vimana resembled a huge peacock. The vimana in Sinhala language means “Dhandu Monara” which is known as “flying peacock,” and hence the name Gurulupotha, which means “parts of birds” in Sinhala. This is also called Gavagala.

Sita Taken from Sita Kotuwa to Ashok Vatika (also known as Ashoka / Asoka Vanam)

Ravana moved Sita from Sita Kotuwa to Ashok Vatika the salubrious garden in the mountains. The route too was said to be spectacularly beautiful, as Ravana wanted to show Sita the beauty of his kingdom. The barren land atop the mountain range is believed to be the route in which King Ravana took Sita devi from his capital city Lankapura to Ashoka Vatika, which was a paradise on earth. The Chariot Path atop the mountain range is still visible. Till date no vegetation grows on this passage except grass. King Ravana is believed to have taken this passage on top of these hills to show Sita devi the beauty of his kingdom.

Ashok Vatika is the garden where Ravana held Sita captive. This is in the area of Sita Eliya, close to the city of Nuwara Eliya. The stream that runs from the hill catered to the needs of Sita devi during her stay at Ashok Vatika. She is said to have bathed in this stream. The Hakgala Gardens located at the base of the Hakgala Rock forms part of the famed Ashok Vatika. The Sita Pokuna is a barren area atop the Hakgala Rock Jungle where Sita was kept captive. The Sita Amman Temple is located at this spot. It is interesting to note that foot prints akin to Hanuman’s are found by this river and some are of small size and some are of large size, which tells us of the immense powers of Hanuman transforming himself into any size.

About a century ago three images were discovered in the stream, one of which was that of Sita. It is believed that the deities have been worshipped at this spot for centuries. Now there is temple for Lord Rama, Sitadevi, Lakshmana, and Hanuman by the side of this stream.

The summit of the mountain next to the mountain range overlooking Frotoft Estate in Pussallawa is the place where Hanuman first set his foot on mainland Lanka. This mountain known as Pawala Malai is visible from this mountain range. These hills stand tall in-between King Ravana’s capital city and Ashoka Vatika.

The Sita tear pond is found en route by the chariot route, and is believed to have been formed by the tears of Sita devi. It has not dried up since, even during severe droughts when the adjoining rivers dry up. Visitors could also see the famed Sita Flowers which are endemic to this area. In this area there are many large trees whose bright red blooms add color to the scenery. These flowers are called Sita flowers. The peculiarity of these flowers is the configuration of the petal’s, stamen and pistils, which resemble a human figure carrying a bow, and is said to represent Lord Rama. These flowers are unique only to this area in the whole of Sri Lanka.

Search for Sita

Sugriva, ruler of the Vanara or special monkey kingdom, ordered his monkey armies to search for Sita in all four corners of the earth. Hanuman, Angada, Jambavan and other heroes traveled southwards. Hanuman was the only one strong enough to cross the ocean to reach Lanka. Whilst crossing the ocean, Hanuman was tested by Surasa Devi, the Naga maiden en-route to Lanka. This place is now called Nagadipa.

Hanuman meets Sita at Ashok Vatika and is Captured by Ravana

Hanuman after meeting Sita at Ashok Vatika, decided to test the strength of King Ravana and his army of Rakshasas. He invited battle by uprooting trees and destroying the garden. Upon being captured by the Rakshasa guards, Hanuman was brought in the presence of Ravana. As a punishment, Hanuman’s tail was set on fire. Hanuman in turn set fire to the houses in the city. Ussangoda is one such torched area.

On the way back to India Hanuman rested at Mani Kattuthar. The hilltop where Hanuman is believed to have rested after meeting Sita devi is known as Mani Kattuthar. This is a rock in the Labookelle estate. Hanuman met Sita devi and on his way to announce this happy information to Lord Rama, rested on this hilltop. Today an open temple with statues of Lord Rama, Sita devi, Lakshmana, and Hanuman stands on top of it. Locals visit the temple often.

Near by is the village of Kondagala, known as Kondakalai in Tamil, where Sita is said to have deranged her hair whilst passing the place. Kondakalai (Kondagala), like many other cities and villages in Sri Lanka, also derives its name from the Ramayana. When King Ravana took Sita devi in a chariot to Ashoka Vatika, her hairs got deranged because of the speed of the chariot. “Konda kalai” in Tamil means “deranging of hair.” Till date the villagers live with the legacy of this event.

The village also contains Sita Gooli which are rice balls offered by Ravana to Sita; which she refused and threw away. When King Ravana carried Sita devi on his chariot to Ashoka Vatika, he provided her with vitaminized rice balls for refreshment. But Sita devi who did not want to consume anything provided by King Ravana, scattered the rice balls all over the place during her journey, and they are found till date along the chariot track. The local people call these rice balls Sita Gooli and they prescribe them for their children as a cure for stomach disorders and headaches. The farmers too keep them in their cash boxes or grain pots for prosperity. It is claimed that carbon dated testing has been done in Tokyo and Delhi on these rice balls and ascertained them to be more than five thousand years old.

Sita is Hidden after the visit of Hanuman

Upon hearing Hanuman’s threat and seeing his capabilities, King Ravana decided to hide Sita at various secret locations as a precautionary measure. Ravanagoda, which means Ravana’s place in the Kotmale area, is one such complex of tunnels and caves.

Istripura is another ingenious network of paths which are interconnected with all major areas of king Ravana’s city. Istripura means “Area of Women” in Sinhala. This refers to the retinue of ladies Ravana made available to look after Sita.

Konda Kattu Gala refers to the many intruding tunnels and caves in this area. This seems to be a part of a great ingenious network of paths, which is interconnected to all the major areas of King Ravana’s city. Sita devi took bath in this very stream and had dried her hair sitting on a rock and put clips to her hair, hence this rock is known as Konda Kattu Gala. This is situated in the Welimada Area.

Tunnel Network

This tunnel network proves beyond doubt the architectural brilliance of King Ravana. These tunnels served as a quick means of transport through the hills and also as a secret passage and networked all the important cities, airports and dairy farms. A close look at these tunnels indicates that they are man-made and not natural formations. The Buddhist shrine at Kalutara was once where King Ravana’s palace and a tunnel existed. Additional existing tunnel mouths are situated at Welimada, Ravana cave at Bandarawela, Senapitiya at Halagala, Ramboda, Labookelle, Wariyapola/Matale, and Sitakotuwa/Hasalaka, along with many more tunnels. Some have also said that Ravana had a tunnel that went all the way to South America, in which he had stored much of his gold and treasury.

Preparing for Battle

Gayathri Peedum is believed to be the place from where King Ravana’s son Meghanath propitiated Lord Shiva with penance and pujas, and in turn was granted super natural powers by Lord Shiva prior to the battle. Neelawari is located in the North of the country in the Jaffna peninsula and is where Lord Rama shot an arrow to the ground to obtain water for his army upon arriving at Lanka.

Dondra, Seenigama & Hikkaduwa are places in the South of Lanka where Sugriva (king of Vanaras, the special species of monkeys) prepared for his onslaught on King Ravana’s forces from the Southern flank.

War Breaks Out

During the height of the battle Indrajit, elder son of Ravana beheaded a lookalike of Sita Devi in front of Hanuman to break his spirit. This place is known as Sitawaka in the Avissawella area.

Yudhaganawa, meaning battlefield in Sinhala, is a place in Wasgamuwa where the major battles took place.

Upon being hit by Indrajit’s Brahmastra, both Rama, Lakshmana and the monkey army lay unconscious on the battle field. To cure them, Jambavan the veteran monkey instructed Hanuman to go to Sanjeevani Parvatha, the hill of herbs between Rishhaba and Kilasa peaks in the Himalayas and bring the necessary medicinal herbs. As he could not identify which herbs to select, Hanuman uprooted the entire peak with all the herbs growing there from the mountain and returned to Lanka.

Parts of the hill fell on five places in Sri Lanka; namely Rumassala in Galle, Dolukanda in Hiripitiya, Ritigala close to Habarana on the Habarana Anuradhapura road, Talladi in Mannar, and Katchchathivu in the north.

Lord Karthikaya Subramaniyam was requested to go to battle by Lord Indra to protect Lord Rama from king Ravana’s Brahmastra. This was at Kataragama, which is now a very popular place for worship among Sri Lankans.

The Fall of Ravana

Dunuvila lake is a place from which Lord Rama fired the Brahmastra arrow at king Ravana who was directing the war from Laggala. It is here that King Ravana was killed by Lord Rama’s brahmastharam. The top of Laggala is flat and is believed to have been affected by the power of the brahmastharam. “Dhunu” means “arrow” and “Vila” means “Lake,” so it gets its name from this pastime.

The name Laggala is derived from the Sinhala term “Elakke Gala“, which means Target Rock. Laggala served as a sentry point to observe Lord Rama’s army. The cartels behind the Dunuvila lake are called Laggala. It was from this rock the first glimpse of Lord Rama’s army was sighted and informed to King Ravana. This hill is geographically the highest part of the northern region of King Ravana’s city and on a clear day the north east side that is Thiru Koneshwaran and north west side that is Talai Mannar can be seen even today. King Ravana is believed to have done meditation on this rock and prayed to Lord Shiva at Thiru Koneshwaran from this point.

After Ravana’s death, his body was kept at Yahangala, meaning “Bed Rock” in Sinhala. This is situated along the Mahiyanganaya – Wasgamuwa road. King Ravana’s body was kept upon this rock so his countrymen could pay their last respects to their dear departed king. Geographically this rock is visible from miles away on its 3 sides.

After the War

Sita met Rama after the war, and Divurumpola is the place she under went the “Agni” test of fire where she proved her innocence and purity to Rama. Divurumpola means the “Place of Oath” in Sinhala. She came out unscathed and proved her innocence and purity.

The message of Rama’s victory over Ravana was sent to Sita. After a bath and adorned with jewels she was taken on a palanquin before Rama. Meeting her husband after such a long time she was overcome with emotion, but Rama seemed lost in thought. At length he spoke, “I have killed my enemy. I have done my duty as a true king. But you have lived for a year in the enemy’s abode. It is not proper I take you back now.”

Sita was shocked. “You have broken my heart” she said, “only the uncultured speak like this. Have you forgotten the noble family I come from? Is it my fault Ravana carried me off by force? All the time, my mind, my heart, and soul were fixed on you alone, my lord!”

She turned to Lakshmana and said with tears streaming from her eyes, “prepare for me a fire. That is the only remedy for this sorrow of mine.” Lakshmana, in suppressed anger, looked at Rama’s face, but there was no softening, he lighted a big fire. Sita reverently went round her husband and approached the blazing fire. Joining her palms in salutation, she said, “if I am pure, O fire, protect me.” With these words she jumped into the flames. Then arose from out of the flames, Agni the fire-god, whom she had invoked. He lifted Sita from the flames unharmed, and presented her to Rama. “Don’t I know that she is spotless and pure at heart?” cried Rama, standing up to receive her. “It’s for the sake of the world that I made her go through this ordeal of fire, so that the truth may be known to all.”

The spot was initially fenced and walled to protect it from the surrounding wilderness. Then a sapling of the Anuradhapura bodhi tree (one of the 30 original saplings) was planted as a mark of respect for the place. A small pagoda was built subsequently under the Bodhi tree. The temple depicts paintings of the Ramayana epic.

Today the temple is revered for the oath taken by Sita devi and even the legal system permits and accepts the swearing done at this temple while settling disputes between parties.

Vantharamulai is a place that Lord Rama, Sita Devi, Lakshmana, and Hanuman rested after the turmoil of the war. Amaranthakali is believed to be the place where they had the first meal after the war.

When returning to India in one of King Ravana’s vimanas, Rama felt he was followed by a Brahmahasti Dhosham, a malevolent black shadow or dark cloud capable of taking His life, as He had killed Ravana, a Brahmin. When the vimana was passing over Munneswaram, He felt the vimana vibrating, and at Muneswaram realized the “Brahmaasthi Dosham” was not following him at this particular point. So Rama felt safe from the “Brahmahasti Dhosham” at Munneswaram. So Lord Rama stopped the vimana at this juncture and asked Lord Shiva for a remedy. This is the place where Lord Rama prayed to Lord Shiva and where Shiva blessed Lord Rama and advised installing and praying to four lingams to get rid of the Dhosham. The first Lingam was installed at Manavari about 5 Km from here, near the banks of Deduru Oya. This was followed by the lingams at Thiru Koheneshwaram, Thiru Ketheshwaram, and Rameshwaram in India.

It is believed that Munneswaram predates the Ramayana and a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was located here. Munneswaram means the first temple for Shiva (Munnu + Easwaran). A Shiva Lingam was already here when lord Rama visited the place.

After King Ravana’s death, Ravana’s brother Vibhishana was coroneted as a king of Lanka by Lakshmana at Kelaniya. Kelaniya is the closest site to Colombo connected to the Ramayana.

There exists a Buddhist temple, the Kelaniya Buddhist Temple and shrine for King Vibishana. There are murals enshrined outside the Buddhist temple depicting the crowning of Vibishana. Vibishana is considered one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka, and temples for Vibishana are found throughout Sri Lanka. A painting of King Vibishana also adorns the new Parliament of Sri Lanka. In fact, there are no temples dedicated for Ravana, but many exist for Vibishana; this goes to prove that his stand towards Vedic Dharma & justice made people to revere him as a god in Sri Lanka.

The Kelani River is mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana and Vibishana’s palace was said to be on the banks of this river. The reason Lakshmana crowned Vibishana was because Lord Rama had to return to India to continue his self-exile of 14 years to honor the commitment to His father, King Dasarath of Ayodhya. King Vibishana was considered a fair king, as he supported Rama against his own brother’s injustice. Many devotees that visit King Vibishana’s shrine pray to him asking his intervention to a fair recourse to their problems.

Other Places of Interests Connected to the Ramayana in Sri Lanka

1. Kanniya – The place where King Ravana carried out the last rites for his mother.

2. Gavagala or Ghoushala – King Ravana’s dairy farm.

3. Airports of King Ravana:

Thotupolakanda (means “Mountain Port” in Sinhala) at Horton plains

Weragantota (means “Place of Aircraft” landing in Sinhala) in Mahiyangana

Ussangoda (means “Area of Lift” in Sinhala) in the Southern coast

Wariapola (means “Aircraft Port” in Sinhala) in Matale and Kurunagala.

4. Neelawari — A place where Lord Rama aimed an arrow to obtain water.

5. Panchamukha Anjanaya Temple, Kalubowila – This is the first Anjaneyar Temple in Sri Lanka and also the only Panchamukha (five faced) Anjaneyar Temple in Sri Lanka. It is the only temple in the world to have a chariot for Ajanyar. The chariot festival is held annually at end of December to the beginning of January. Hanuman’s mother is Anjan. Hanuman is known as Anjan + Aiyar = Anjaneyar in South India (Hamuman in North India).

6. Rama Temple at Rattota — One of the few Rama’s temple in Sri Lanka.

7. Maha Ravanagoda / Kuda Ravanagoda — Ravana’s places in the south.

8. Veedurupola – Buddhist temple dedicated to research on Ramayana.

9. Sri Baktha Hanuman Temple — on the hills of Ramboda is a place where Hanuman was searching for Sita Devi. The name is also associated with Rama’s army. Rampadai means Rama’s force in Tamil. The Chinmaya mission of Sri Lanka built a temple with Hanuman as the presiding deity. On every full moon day special pujas are conducted and witnessed by thousands of devotees.

10. Manavari Temple is the first lingam installed and prayed to Lord Rama and till date this lingam is called as Ramalinga Shivan. Rameshwaram is the only other lingam in the world named after Lord Rama.

11. Rama Temple – Rattota. There are a few Rama temples in Sri Lanka, this is one of them. This is the only Rama temple in this area. This is a privately managed temple. This is one of the most scenic routes to travel from Matale to visit Laggala (on the northern side of Knuckles).

12. Kataragama Temple – This is the temple of Lord Karthikeya Subramaniam at Kataragama. Lord Karthikeya was requested to go to the battlefield by Lord Indra on the last day of war. This was done to protect Lord Rama from the wrath of the Brahmastra aimed by King Ravana which otherwise would have weakened Lord Rama. The benefit was that the most powerful brahmasthra weapon aimed at Lord Rama for the second time was rendered useless by the presence of Lord Karthikeya.

13. Ussangoda – According to the Ramayana, after meeting Sita devi, Hanuman dedicated to test the strength of the mighty King Ravana and his army of Rakshasas. In the events that unfolded, Hanuman’s tail was set on fire by the Rakshasas, who in turn went on to torch some parts of King Ravana’s empire. Ussangoda is one of the torched areas, which is said to have been an airport used by King Ravana.

14. Vishnu Devala, Dondra – These are the places from where King Sugriva of the Vanara’s started his onslaught on King Ravana’s force.

15. Ravana Goda – This is a place where Sita devi stayed during her transit. This area is also linked with tunnels and caves, which runs through to other parts of King Ravana’s kingdom. This is situated in the Kotmala area opposite to Ramboda rock. The main cave entrance was closed by an earth-slip in 1947. Locals believe this part of the complex was used as a prison by Ravana. The cave complex has not been fully explored.

16. Ravana’s mummy – An additional site connected to local belief, but yet to be discovered is the place where locals believe Ravana’s mummified body is hidden within the mountain range of Harasbatha, Ragala and Walapane.

References

http://www.sltda.gov.lk/ramayana   and

http://www.tourslanka.com/ramayana-sri-lanka/tours/ramayana-site-tours-excursions.php

Visiting the Grave of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir, by Stephen Knapp

            I had visited the place that is called the grave of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir in June of 2007. And, actually, unless you know the history and controversy about this little building, there is not much that will give any indications of this being the grave of Jesus. But it is good that I went when I did, because now it is locked and off-limits to foreigners, especially westerners.

            This place is also called the Roza bal, or Rauza bol, which means “tomb of the prophet.” This is the burial place of Yuz Asaph (or Asaf), in the center of Srinagar’s old part of town. The name  Yuz Asaph is said to relate to Jesus. Some people believe it is the grave of Jesus and others think it is all based on faulty premises, meaning it is merely a rumor or urban legend. However, there is a complete line of logic behind this, so I will only give you the evidence and what people say and you can decide for yourself. That way, if you are ever in Srinagar, you can have some understanding of the significance of this place and check it out yourself.

        To visit this grave of Jesus, you will find it in Anzimar next to a small Muslim cemetery in the Khanjar (Khanyar) quarter of Srinagar’s old town. You find Rauza bal Khanyar down a narrow alley in an old, wooden mausoleum. The grave itself is inside the building. The sign in front says that it is the tomb of Ziarati Hazrati Youza Asouph and Syed Nasir-u-Din. Thus, this is a grave of two people, with Nasir-u-Din being a Muslim saint. Some say that Youza Asouph (or Yuz Asaph) means the gatherer, which could be in relation to the idea that Jesus was a gatherer of the lost tribes of Israel, some of whom were known to have come to Kashmir. Others say the name means the leader of the healed, since Jesus was a healer. While still others say the name Youza Asouph means Joseph’s son.

You enter the rectangular building through a small doorway on the side of the structure. This leads into a small hall that allows to you to look through a few windows at the small central room inside with the sarcophagus. If the inner doorway is unlocked, you can go in for a closer view. On your way in you will see an inscription on a board that explains that Yuz Asaph (or Asaf) came to Kashmir many centuries ago and dedicated himself to the search for truth. The single inner chamber has a cheap looking, raised wooden frame in the shape of a sarcophagus for two graves, each covered with heavy, embroidered cloth. The first and smaller grave is for an Islamic saint Syed Nasir-ud-Din, buried here in 1451, a descendent of Imam Moosa Ali Raza, said to be a great devotee of Jesus. The larger grave behind it is for Yuz Asaph. A document signed by five Muslim judges (Muftis) of that time certifies that the tomb contains the remains of the prophet Yuz Asaph. Near this along the side of the inner chamber is a stone with the imprint of two feet showing what seem to be nail wounds (a round wound on the left foot and an arc-shaped wound on the right foot), the scars Jesus would have suffered from his crucifixion. Some people feel this is the sign for the identity of who is buried here. It is the custom for pilgrims to place candles around the gravestones, and when years of wax was removed by Professor Hassnain, not only did he discover the footprints, but he also found a cross and rosary. As typical with Muslim mausoleums, these graves are replicas and the actual graves are in a crypt under the floor in the basement. However, some also say that due to age, the ground gave way years ago and the original grave simply sank into the ground, with the present sarcophagus built over it. A look into the real burial chamber is provided by a small opening. But that window is now covered by a cloth to block the view. The grave which contains the remains of Yuz Asaph also points east to west, according to Jewish tradition.

            Previously, several decades ago, the central shrine in the house was surrounded by beautifully carved wooden panels. But these have now been removed and replaced with glass windows. These windows, of course, let you see the fake sarcophagus inside, which is covered with the cloth, as well as the two feet carved into the stone block at one end. You can also see this from outside through the windows of the house, but the stone with the feet can be seen only as long as the doorway is unlocked and you can get in. It is also now painted green, the color for Islam. Whatever else was once inside, including various relics, scrolls, and information regarding the place, have now been removed.

            Suzanne Olsson, while appearing in the video “Jesus in India” by Paul David (2008), mentions that in her research she was told by local authorities that below the main floor, the real graves do not contain any bodies. But behind the wall was a ledge where the body of Yuz Asaph was actually placed, and then the ledge was sealed. That is the actual grave behind the false wall. She at one time had the permission to take DNA samples from the body through a small opening in that wall. This way she could verify the age and possible identity of the person buried there. But Islamic militancy arose before she could accomplish that and kept her from doing it. Thus, possible verification of this may now never be possible.

            However, when talking with the local Muslims who live nearby, they will tell you adamantly that it is not the grave of Jesus, but is the tomb of a Muslim prophet, Youza. If you ask too much, or insist on an alternative view, they will tell you that you are committing an offense to Islam and the Koran. Nonetheless, the tomb is built in an east-west direction, the same as the Jewish tradition, in line as a follower of Moses, and is not in the direction facing Mecca. But this is inconsequential to the locals. Therefore, without background information, you would never know the significance of this place.

            The locals will also tell you that the grave is that of a messenger of God who liked the Muslim people and settled there. They admit that the grave is ancient, but they forget that the person buried there arrived hundreds of years before Islam was ever an established religion. But they do not think it was Jesus. So even among the local people different versions of the story about the grave circulate. Also, some Muslims feel that in the end, after the crucifixion, Jesus was lifted up to heaven because if he had actually died on the cross, it would be a sign that he had failed in his mission.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

             The grave has been maintained by attendants since its construction, which is established by ancient records to be as far back as 112 CE. The premise is that Jesus’ Hebrew name was Yuza, similar to Yuz. In Arabic and in the Koran his name was Hazrat Isa or just Isa, and Issa in Tibetan, both of which are similar to the name Isha in Sanskrit. This tradition has been carried down through the Farhang-Asafia, Volume One, which explains how Jesus healed some leper who then became asaf, meaning purified or healed. The word yuz means leader. Thus, Yuz Asaph became a common reference to Jesus as “leader of the healed.”

            There are other accounts of how Yuz Asaph preached throughout Persia, present-day Iran, converting many people. Some of these details can be found in Agha Mustafai’s Ahivali Ahaliau-i-Paras which confirms that Jesus and Yuz Asaph are the same person. Even the well-known Emperor Akbar had a court poet who referred to Jesus as Ai Ki Nam-i to: Yuz o Kristo, which means, “Thou whose name is Yuz or Christ.” Also, at Akbar’s city, Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, as you enter the main gate toward the mosque, there is an inscription which states: “Jesus (Peace be with him) has said: ‘The world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not settle down on it!’” 

            Other records and place names that relate to Jesus point to his presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Acts of Thomas describe the journey of Jesus and Thomas in Pakistan (then Taxila) at the court of King Gundafor in the 26th year of his rule, which would be about 47 CE.

            Also, when Jesus came to Kashmir he came with a group of followers which included his mother, Mary, who must have been over 70 years old, and was no doubt weakened by the journey. Seventy kilometers east of Taxila, and 170 kilometers west of Srinagar on the border of Kashmir, is a small town called Mari, or Murree in English, near Rawalpindi. In that town is a very old grave called Mai Mari da Asthan, meaning “the final resting place of Mother Mary.” This is a tomb in Jewish style, aligned on the east-west line, while the Muslim tombs are always aligned on the north-south axis. Here is where she must have died before Jesus reached Kashmir, which was considered paradise, or heaven on earth. Even to this day this grave is maintained by Muslims as the resting place of Jesus’ mother because he (Isa) is considered one of the main prophets of Islam. However, the British knocked down the original shrine to Mother Mary to build a fort at that place because of the view over the surrounding area, and because they did not believe in Mary being buried there. Out of respect, the local people gathered the rocks of the grave and put them back near the original site. So, it is not in the same place as where the body was located.

Also near the villages of Naugam and Nilmag, about 40 kilometers south of Srinagar is a large plain called the Yuz Marg, the meadow of Jesus. It is said that from Murree, Jesus proceeded to Srinagar entering Kashmir from the pass now called Yuz Marg, and he rested at Aish Muqam, about 50 miles south of Srinagar, where a sanctuary was erected containing the horns of ‘God’s ram’ and a walking stick that is considered Moses’ stick, later used by Jesus. It is also here that some of the tribes of Israel are supposed to have settled after 722 BCE to live as shepherds, which is still a major occupation in the area today.

            More evidence of Jesus in Kashmir is found in an inscription that was carved on the sides of the steps at the threshold on the Throne of Solomon in Srinagar. Behind the Boulevard near Dal Lake is Shankaracharya Hill which rises 1100 feet above the city. At the summit is a Hindu temple for Shiva, but an earlier temple was built here around 200 BCE by Ashoka’s son. One temple that had been built was by King Laltaditya in the 6th century CE known as Gopadri. The road at the base of the hill where the State Government officials are located is still known as Gupkar road in connection with that temple. This is the oldest known site in Srinagar, believed to date back to 2500 BCE when the original sandstone structure had been built by King Sandiman. It is also said that the philosopher Shankaracharya visited Kashmir many centuries ago and had stayed on the hilltop to meditate. The top of the hill also provides a great view over the lake. But due to security reasons cameras are not allowed through the final checkpoint when going to the hilltop Shiva temple. The temple as we find it today is built on a high octagonal plinth, reached by a flight of 270 steps, the side walls of which used to have inscriptions on them. The main interior shrine is a small circular room with a lingam about three feet tall. A new ceiling has inscriptions in Persian which connects its origin to the reign of Shah Jahan. 

            The hill used to be called Takht-i-Sulaiman, the Throne of Solomon, which definitely represents some of the history of this region, and why some people think that King Solomon had been here. Other factors to consider is that there was an inscription on the remnants of the old building which states that the new temple was restored in 78 CE by King Gopadatta (or Gopananda), who ruled Kashmir from 49-109 CE. According to tradition, Solomon had visited the land of Kashmir. In fact, the local Muslims know Kashmir as “Bagh Suleiman,” the Garden of Solomon. This would go in accord with the theory that some scholars believe that Kashmir was the “Promised Land,” or the “Land of the Fathers” that the “ten lost tribes of Israel” wandered to in northern India where they found peace and tranquility. This was after they had moved eastwards when they had been driven out of Israel by the Assyrians, never to be heard from again. Therefore, it may have indeed been Solomon, as tradition declares, who divided the Barehmooleh Mountain and created an outlet for the water that later formed Dal Lake. He also may have constructed the original building of the Takht-i-Suleiman on top of what is now Shankaracharya Hill.

            The meaning of the inscriptions on the Throne of Solomon is described in detail by Mullah Nadiri, a historian during the rule of Sultan Zainul Aabidin, in 1413 in his book on the history of Kashmir, Tarikh-i-Kashmir. He relates that Gopananda, or Gopadatta, ruled Kashmir and had the Temple of Solomon refurbished by a Persian architect. During the renovation four sayings in ancient Persian were set in stone that said, in essence, that Bihishti Zagar is the constructor of these columns in the year of 54. Khwaja Rukun, son of Murjan, had these columns built. In the year 54, Yuz Asaf proclaimed his prophetic calling. He is Jesus, prophet of the sons of Israel.

            Unfortunately, these inscriptions are another artifact that has been removed from the premises, so you can no longer find these carvings in the building if you try to look for them. Nonetheless, Mullah Nadiri goes on to relate that during the rule of Gopadatta, Yuz Asaf came from the Holy Land to the Kashmir valley and proclaimed to be a prophet and preached to the people. Gopadatta ruled sixty years and two months before he died. It is calculated that Jesus came to Kashmir nearly 16 years after the crucifixion and lived to be around 80 years old. Even the Koran (23.50 or 52) intimates that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived the crucifixion and ascended to live in a peaceful hill-side watered by a fresh spring.

            All this seems to indicate that not only did Jesus come to India to learn the spiritual knowledge of the Vedic Brahmanas and Buddhists as other records have described, but after returning to his land of Israel to preach and was later crucified, he did not die on the cross but suffered and recovered. After that he ascended to heaven, known as Kashmir, where, after some years, he died and was buried in Srinagar.

            According to various records, during his missing years Jesus was supposed to have studied for four years at the temple of Jagannatha Puri. In this regard, the 145th Shankaracharya at Jagannatha Puri was asked if Jesus had come there, and he agreed that Jesus came to Puri. He explained that the truth of Jesus’ visit to India was hidden in order to propagate lies, rather than let it be known that he came to India to study amongst the Brahmanas to acquire his deeper spiritual knowledge. The Shankaracharya mentions that Jesus studied the Vedic code of conduct on being compassionate, merciful, forgiving, etc. But most Christians deny this.

            However, the book “The Life of Saint Issa” from the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh explains that he later criticized the Brahmanas and the caste system and later was forced to leave. Then he traveled north to Kapilavastu (present-day Lumbini), the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, and studied with the Buddhists. This is said to be where he got more of his wisdom. Then he went to Lhasa in Tibet for five years. After that he went homeward and then to Greece for sometime before going on to Egypt. Then at the age of 25 he went to Heliopolis and studied for five more years before returning to his homeland at the age of 30.

            The Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, near Leh, is another place that I have been fortunate enough to visit. They have a big festival every year with masked dancers, and people from all over attend. It was here that one of the books that stirred great interest in the idea of Jesus going to India was discovered.

            “The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ” by Nicolas Notovitch describes his finding a document on Issa at the Hemis Buddhist Monastery, which took place in 1886. He describes how he was there for several weeks after breaking his leg from a fall from his horse. After becoming acquainted with the monks, one showed him the document on the life of Issa, the name used in India for Jesus. He had the text translated, first into Russian, and then published it his book in France in 1894. Though critics such as Max Muller and others attacked Notovitch to debunk his claims, Notovitch in turn said he talked in private to a Catholic priest at the Vatican who told him that the Vatican library had 63 documents of various oriental languages that referred to Jesus traveling in India. These had been brought to the Vatican by missionaries from India, China and Arabia.

            Later, there were others who also claimed to have seen that same document or scroll at the Hemis Monastery on “The Life of Saint Issa.” This then helped confirm that Jesus studied amongst the Hindus and Buddhists and valued their teachings and learned from them, setting the example that his followers should also exhibit such respect and value for other religions.

            This document at Hemis was later seen by Swami Abhedananda who was able to read and translate it, which he discussed in his book, “Journey into Kashmir and Tibet.” He visited Hemis in 1922 and relates in his book how a monk showed him the manuscript while he was there. The monk told him it was an exact translation of the original that could be found in the Marbour Monastery near Lhasa, which was in the Pali language, while the Hemis one was in Tibetan. Swami Abhedananda lived at an ashrama called the RamaKrishna Vedanta Society in Kolkata, which you can still visit today. His book is also still available today and provides for very interesting reading.

            Nicolas Roerich, a Russian born Jew who converted to Christianity, claims to have also seen the Hemis Monastery document in 1926. 

            Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the document at the Hemis Monastery seems to have since disappeared with present day monks knowing nothing about it. Some feel that certain Christian missionaries or agents had gone there to deliberately confiscate it to prevent any such evidence from being available any longer.

            The story of Jesus’ crucifixion is also interesting because, generally, most people die on the cross by starvation or suffocation when the ribs press down on the lungs so that the person can no longer breathe. This often takes several days. According to tradition, Jesus was nailed on the cross in the early afternoon of a Friday and taken down as dusk was approaching, after being nailed on the cross for only four or five hours. So it is most unusual that a young and healthy person like Jesus died after only four hours on the cross. Thus, it is more likely that as a yogi he was able to enter an altered state and appear as if dead, only to be revived later. This is not uncommon with some yogis in India. Furthermore, there are modern commemorations of Jesus’ crucifixion wherein people are crucified every year in the Philippines and Mexico and survive quite easily. A person does not die of crucifixion after only four hours. Thus, it is quite likely that he survived the crucifixion and died elsewhere. 

            Nonetheless, there were no witnesses to any resurrection, and it certainly cannot be investigated historically. So there is plenty of room for speculation about this from all sides, and that is mostly what we have. However, if he had survived the crucifixion, it would make sense that he would want to leave Jerusalem and the area to be free from any threat from the Roman soldiers. Thus, there is the idea he went to Kashmir where some of the lost tribes of Israel are said to have relocated. Thus, even today, one can recognize similarities with the Jewish culture in Kashmir, such as with some of the foods, clothes, butcher knives, heart-shaped boat paddles, etc.

            Of course, when talking to most Christians, they are often convinced that Jesus never went to India. They feel that there would be no need for him to learn from any Hindus or Buddhists. Plus, the Bible gives no information about the 18 missing years of his life (between the ages of 12 and 30). But that is the question, what happened during those 18 years?

Except within certain esoteric circles the shrine itself had not been discussed for some time after Notovitch, Swami Abhedananda, and Nicolas Roerich had brought attention to it. Then it again came into the limelight when a local journalist, Aziz Kashmiri, argued in his 1973 book, Christ in Kashmir, that Jesus survived the crucifixion some 2,000 years ago, migrated to Kashmir and was buried in Srinagar. The modest stone building with traditional multi-tiered roof again slipped into oblivion but came into focus again in 2002 when Suzanne Olsson arrived in Srinagar, claiming to be Christ’s ‘59th descendant’ and seeking DNA testing of the shrine’s remains. 

Olsson, though, doesn’t seem to be alone in her conviction. There are some who support her view. Renowned Kashmiri academic Fida Hassnain’s 1994 book, A Search for the Historical Jesus, was about this legend. Later, he co-authored a book on the subject with Olsson, Roza Bal the Tomb of Jesus. The stories of Jesus in India date back to the 19th century and now find mention in a plethora of texts by scholars of varied persuasions — Islamic, Buddhist and Christian.

CONCLUSION

             In the end, even after visiting the Roza Bal, what you think of it or believe about it all depends on your research, what books you read, or who you talk to about it. The conclusion is yours, but if you do look into it, at least you have taken the privilege to ask and to investigate the issue rather than remain in the confines of some dogmatic dictates hammered into you by others. In the end, truth prevails, but sometimes it may take some time for the truth to become clear.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

James Deardorff has also done some serious research on this topic, which you can see at his website www.tjresearch.info/legends.htm.

Suzanne Olsson, author of “Roza Bal: The Tomb of Jesus” with Dr. Fida Hassnain, has also done much research, as described in her books and her website at: www.jesus-kashmir-tomb.com.

Arif Khan, editor of the www.tombofjesus.com website, has made an attempt to gather all such knowledge and evidence concerning the issue of Jesus in India. A variety of photos and a few videos of the tomb of the tomb of Jesus in Srinagar can be found on his website, which is especially helpful for those who have not or cannot go there.

Vrindavana: The holy Land of Lord Krishna

Vrindavana: The Holy Land of Lord Krishna

By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

(An Excerpt from Stephen’s book “Seeing Spiritual India”)

 

        This provides a description of a tour through Vrindavana, the holy land of Lord Krishna where He displayed many of His most intimate pastimes. Thus, we can see that the stories found in many of the ancient Puranas, or the Mahabharata are not merely myths or legends, but we can see the places where they actually happened. We start in Mathura, then go to Gokula, Vrindavana, and then to other places in the greater area of Vraja, or Vraja-Mandala. Our description begins below the detailed map. 

  

MATHURA

                As we begin our tour of the holy places of East and Central India, the first major holy place to see is only a short three hour ride by train or bus ride south from Delhi. Now that they have built a nice highway through the area, the road is much faster than it used to be. Vraja, which has a perimeter of 168 miles and is composed of many villages and towns, is considered nondiferent from the holy places of Mayapur (Navadvipa), Jagannatha Puri, and Dwaraka. The same spiritual nature is manifest in all of these places. But Vraja is considered the holiest of all holy dhams. In many places in the shastra are descriptions of the glories of  Mathura and Vrindavan. The glories of Mathura are elaborately explained in the Varaha Purana, chapters 152 through 180. One verse states: “A moment in Mathura is worth a thousand years spent in Kashi (Varanasi).” And simply by bathing in the Yamuna River in Mathura one can be freed from all sins. Residing here for only a few weeks qualifies one for liberation from material existence. And each step taken in Mathura is equal to visiting a holy place elsewhere. It is explained that those who die here attain Vishnu-loka, the abode of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha, and do not take birth again.

                The descriptions of the glories of Vrajamandala go on and on, but they are known only to a few rare souls in this world. Only the most fortunate get to hear about it, what to speak of getting the opportunity to visit this holy place. And since it is only a few hours away from Delhi, anyone who is spiritual inclined must visit this sacred place.

                Many holy men can be seen visiting the temples, walking in the streets, singing or chanting as they go. Though they may seem destitute, they are often very jolly because of their spiritual wisdom and freedom from materialistic problems. Here the holy men and saintly women enter into a higher reality that makes their bodily condition less significant. Many bhaktas, sages, and mystics have experienced unimaginable levels of spiritual ecstasy here, though superficially the area may look like any other part of India where people are engaged in the struggle to survive. But as you look deeper, if you are capable of it, you will find quite another aspect of Vrajamandala that draws pilgrims by the thousands from all over India.

                Basically, Vraja is the land of Krishna. If you really want to understand the pastimes of Krishna, you have to know Vraja. And if you want to know the significance of Vraja, you have to understand Krishna’s pastimes. Krishna was born in Mathura 5,000 years ago but lived in Gokula for three years, then moved to Chatikara and Vrindavan for three years, then lived in Nandagram for three years, and from age 10 to 28 He lived in Mathura. After this He moved to the western coast of India where He lived in Dwaraka for over 96 years. Thus, He stayed in this world for 125 years, but some of His sweetest and most attractive pastimes were performed in Vraja. To fully explain these pastimes and where they took place in this present volume is impossible, unless we wanted to greatly extend the length of this book. There are other books that you can acquire that will explain these pastimes much more fully. But there are some significant sites and temples that I’ll try to briefly describe so you can visit and understand their significance. We will start our tour at Mathura since that is usually where we get off the train or bus.

                Mathura is the largest city in Vraja with around 325,000 residents. It is a very busy, noisy, and dusty town with a large railroad junction. Nonetheless, it is an important town for pilgrims. Besides being the birthplace of Lord Krishna, Srila Vyasadeva also took birth here at Krishna Ganga Tirtha on the banks of the Yamuna, where there is a small temple to Ganga Devi and many Shiva lingas. It was also at Ambarish-tila where the great devotee King Ambarish fasted while waiting for the sage Durvasa Muni to return from being chased by Lord Vishnu’s chakra, as described in the Bhagavata Purana. Not far from Krishna Ganga Tirtha is Vishrama Ghat, the best known of all the bathing ghats on the Yamuna in Mathura. Anyone can direct you to it. It was here that Lord Varaha rested after saving the earth from Hiranyaksha and spoke the Varaha Purana. Lord Krishna also bathed and rested here after killing Kamsa, the demoniac king. And Sri Chaitanya also bathed here while visiting Mathura. So many pilgrims come here to perform various rituals and take a purifying bath. You can also watch the aratika to the Yamuna River that takes place every evening around seven PM.

                The most important temple in Mathura is the beautiful Keshava temple that represents the place where Krishna was born. It stands next to a mosque that the fanatic Muslim Aurangzeb built where the original Keshava temple stood before he tore it down in 1669. Nowadays it is all fenced in and you have to go through security gates to enter the temple. The present temple has lovely Radha-Keshava deities and paintings of Krishna’s pastimes cover the walls and ceiling of the large interior. It is said that simply by seeing this deity of Keshava, within a second a person is relieved of the sins of one’s past seven births and will not take birth again. You can also enter the mosque building to see where the original Krishna Janmastan temple stood. There is a nice little altar there now with Krishna deities. The real spot where Krishna is said to have been born is a few blocks away, represented by a very small temple building, past the Potra Kund. The Potra Kund is said to be the location where Mother Yasoda would wash Krishna’s baby clothes. Then down a side street is the place where King Kamsa’s prison was located in which Lord Krishna first appeared. The building is not very well kept because it is located on property owned by Muslims. But this may change in the future.

                Other important temples in Mathura include the Dwarakadish Mandira which is not too far from Vishram Ghat. It has a small, beautiful black deity of a four-handed Dwarakadish, similar to the deity in the huge temple at Dwaraka. This temple is quite popular and many people crowd to see the arati ceremonies. Nearby is a temple of white Sweta-Varaha, and another of Adi-Varaha which was supposed to have once been Lord Indra’s deity in Swarga, his heavenly abode. The deity was later taken by Ravana to Sri Lanka and then to Ayodhya by Lord Ramachandra when Rama defeated Ravana. Lord Ramachandra gave it to His brother Satrughna who brought it to Mathura. This story is more fully explained in Chapter 163 of the Varaha Purana.

                Downstream from Vishrama Ghat is Prayaga Ghat where the ancient temple of Veni Madhava is located. It is said that by bathing here one gets the benefit of bathing at the sangam (where the three rivers of the Ganga, Yamuna, and underground Sarasvati meet) in Prayaga (Allahabad). A little farther is Bengali Ghat where Vasudeva is said to have crossed the river when taking baby Krishna in his arms from Kamsa’s prison to Mahavana after His birth. Next there is Dhruva Ghat where there is a temple on a mound called Dhruva Tila which marks the spot where Dhruva performed austerities to get the darshana of Lord Narayana, as described in Srimad-Bhagavatam.

                Across the river from Vishrama Ghat, about 200 metres from the river, is the small village of Isapur. Here you will find a temple with an image of Durvasa Muni which marks where the great mystic performed many austerities and meditated during Satya-yuga.

                Mathura’s most popular Shiva temple is the Rangeshwara Mandira, one kilometer south of Vishrama Ghat. This is one of four main Shiva temples of the city, which includes Bhuteshwara to the west near Krishna Janmastan, Pipaleshwara in the east near Vishrama Ghat, and Gokarneshwara in the north. Near the Rangeshwara Mandir is the Keshava temple of the Gaudiya Math where Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami took sannyasa, the renounced order of life. The temple has beautiful deities of Radha-Keshava and Sri Chaitanya.

                During the afternoon when the temples are closed you can visit the Government Archeological Museum. It has a good collection of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist sculptures and art work. Mathura was a major Buddhist center with as many as 20 monasteries when the city was visited by Fa Hian around 401 C.E. and Hiuen Tsang in 634. But things drastically changed for Hindus and Buddhists alike when the Muslim invaders, like Mahmud of Ghazni, arrived in 1017. After that Buddhism practically disappeared from Mathura.

                Another place open all day is Ranga Bhumi, the area which was the wrestling arena of King Kamsa located across from the Main Post Office. On a hill, Kamsa-tila, is where Krishna killed the demoniac Kamsa, and just beyond it is where Krishna crowned Ugrasena as King of Mathura.

  

GOKULA  

                Six kilometers south of Mathura is the small town of Gokula next to the Yamuna River where Krishna lived during part of His childhood. There are several temples here, such as the Gokulnathji Mandir and the temple in the reconstructed fort, Nanda Qila, of Krishna’s father, Nanda Maharaja. Across from the temple are diorama displays of Krishna’s Gokula pastimes. These temples are interesting to visit, but the priests often act like they simply want to make a business of doing special pujas for you and then charge you high prices for them, like 125, 250, 501, or 1001 rupees. So if you do not want this, be sure to tell them you simply came for darshan and then leave a small donation you can afford. Nearby is also a shrine that is the entrance to an underground chamber, located down a few flights of stairs, that has the deity of Mayadevi, who appeared as Krishna’s sister. She appeared from Mother Yasoda but was put into the arms of Mother Devaki by Vasudeva, Krishna’s father, to fool Kamsa into thinking that their seventh child was actually a girl. King Kamsa was waiting for their seventh child to kill Him since he had heard that he would be killed by their seventh child, who would be Lord Krishna. However, when Kamsa learned that their seventh child was born, he went to the prison where he had kept them to see this child. But, instead of Lord Krishna being there, it was Mayadevi who rose up into the air and escaped his clutches. She warned him that the child he was looking for was born elsewhere, and then she disappeared. 

                Two kilometers south of Gokula is Mahavana where there is the Nanda Bhavan temple on a small hill. Inside are large images of Nanda, Mother Yashoda, Balarama, and baby Krishna. The pillars are said to have come from the original palace of Maharaja Nanda. This is also near the janma-bhumi or appearance place of Lord Balarama. A short ride away is the Yamalarjuna Bhanga, also called Ukal Bandan, where you can see an ancient grinding mortar said to be the one Mother Yashoda tied to baby Krishna in order to try and get Him to stay in one place. But He dragged it between two yamalarjuna trees and caused them to crash to the ground. When the trees fell, two demigods were freed who had been cursed to live as these trees for offending Narada Muni. However, Narada Muni had also blessed them to eventually be freed by Lord Krishna. Then the two demigods were allowed to return to heaven. The Srimad-Bhagavatam explains all of these pastimes.

                A kilometer further south is Brahmanda Ghat, which is not only a beautiful and serene bathing spot on the Yamuna, but also where Krishna’s mother suspected Him of eating dirt. When she looked in His mouth she saw the whole universe. This place is a quiet place much of the time, but when you go during the month of Kartika (Oct-Nov) when many people come to Vrindavana for pilgrimage, the place can be very crowded with busloads of people doing their sacred bath and getting darshan of the local Krishna deity.

                A short ride further south is Chinta-garam Ghat. This is indeed a very quiet and lovely spot along the Yamuna. Only a few sages live here with their cows and a small temple with a few deities of Krishna and a Shiva linga. It is soothing under the tree and sitting in the sand. This is the place where Mother Yasoda visited in order to sooth her mind after being confused by seeing the universe in her son’s mouth. She could not fathom that such a sight could be seen in Krishna, so she had to come here to calm herself. So even today it is a nice and quiet place with the only sound coming from the wind and the birds in the trees. 

                Seven kilometers further south is the Dauji temple. Dauji is the deity of Lord Balarama that was originally installed 5,000 years ago by King Vajranabha, Krishna’s great-grandson. In fact, he established a number of Krishna deities in the area. The present temple was built 200 years ago by Shyama Das of Delhi. Many people also attend this temple to get darshan of the single deity of 6 feet tall Lord Balarama. From the other side of the temple you can see the deity of Revati, Lord Balarama’s wife. Nearby is the Balabhadra Kund or Kshira (milk) Sagara (sea) where the deity of Lord Balarama had been hidden during the Moghul invasion. Near this kund is a temple to Harideva and in the bazaar is another temple to Banke Bihari.

 

 

VRINDAVANA

                Back in Mathura we start toward Vrindavan and soon find the Gita Mandir, a very nice temple built by the Birla family. The temple has a very good standard of worship for the deities of Lakshmi-Narayana, as well as Sita-Rama. The central deity is of Lord Krishna explaining the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. In the courtyard is a column called Gita Stambha that has all the Bhagavad-gita verses engraved on it.

                Twenty minutes away we find the Pagal Baba temple complex. It has residential facilities surrounding the courtyard, and a large temple with many dioramas of the different incarnations of Krishna on the bottom level. As you go to each higher floor there are altars with deities of Lakshmi-Narayana, Sita-Rama, Vamanadeva, etc. On the top floor you can look out and get a good view of the town of Vrindavan in the distance. Across the road nearby is a path leading to Akrura Ghat, which used to be along the Yamuna River until the river changed its course, as it often does in this area. Akrura Ghat is where Akrura, Krishna’s uncle, got to see Krishna and Balarama as Vishnu and Ananta lying on the surface of the Yamuna. Akrura had stopped there to chant the gayatri mantra while taking Krishna and Balarama to Mathura. What the vision signified was that Krishna never leaves Vrindavan, He eternally resides there, but Krishna’s expansion as Vishnu was going to Mathura.

                Now we continue to the most holy town of Vrindavan which has many temples to see. In fact, it is said that there are over 5,000 temples in this town, both large and small. Out of all of these, I will describe the most important. Vrindavan is not a place you go to and expect all its secrets to become easily revealed. It is said that you do not get to Vrindavan simply by purchasing a ticket. Vrindavan is not only a geographical place, but it is a state of spiritual consciousness, without which you will not comprehend the special nature of the place. Thus, as you become qualified through bhakti-yoga, and by receiving the blessings of the resident devotees, Vrindavan will gradually reveal itself to you. I have personally experienced this. Only after staying in Vrindavan for several weeks was I able to find and understand the meaning of certain places and temples that I had been looking for from the time I arrived. Slowly I began to have my own realizations about the spiritual characteristics of this holy town.

                For me, Vrindavan is my favorite place in all of India. I love to walk around the village visiting the temples and holy places, seeing the beautiful deities, dealing with the friendly residents, and watching the pilgrims who also tour the temples. Of course, this does not mean that you should not be careful as in other places in India. There may still be plenty of ricksha drivers and store keepers who are too willing to raise the price on their services and merchandise when they see a foreigner. And some tourists are easy prey for such people. But after having done as much traveling as we have throughout the rest of India (unless you have come straight to Vrindavan from Delhi upon your arrival in India), we will find that Vrindavan is a small and very sweet village that is easy to get to know.

                The spiritual nature of this place can be very apparent if one is able to perceive it, and some people feel it right away. But there can be plenty of things that can hinder your absorption in such spiritual bliss. Things like mosquitoes, noisy monkeys that fight in the night that keep you from sleeping, incredibly hot summers, cold winter nights without central heat, and so on. For the average person it is not an easy place in which to live. That’s why it is recommended to keep your visits in Vrindavan short so you do not lose respect for the place and consider it an ordinary, mundane town, and, thus, become critical and offensive. Such an attitude makes one lose all ability to enter into even the most basic level of Vrindavan’s spiritual atmosphere. In the proper consciousness, one can perceive that everything about Vrindavan is spiritual.

                Rupa Goswami explains in his book Sri Upadesamrita that Vridavan is spiritually superior to Mathura because this is where Krishna’s highly esoteric rasa-lila pastimes take place. Rupa Goswami was the top literary disciple of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and chief of the Goswamis who lived in Vrindavan about 500 years ago. He wrote many books about the art of devotional service to Krishna and restored many of the holy places in Vraja, re-establishing its spiritual importance. The rasa-lila is the pinnacle of transcendental loving exchange between Krishna and His purest devotees, the gopis or cowheard girls, as explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam. The rasa dance is purely spiritual and not easily understood by mundane scholarly interpretations. If one is not a bhakta (devotee engaged in bhakti-yoga), one cannot comprehend such elevated love of God.

                The rasa dance took place in the forest of Seva Kunj, which used to be a much bigger area than the small enclosed forest it is today. Nonetheless, it is considered the center of Vrindavan, and is where, according to shastra or the Vedic literature, the rasa dance takes place every night. In fact, it’s said that Krishna never leaves Vrindavan; the spiritual pastimes are eternal. We will understand this more clearly as we visit a few of the temples and relate the pastimes connected with them. Just one thing about visiting Seva Kunj is watch out for the monkeys. There is quite a pack that lives there and they can be aggressive in ways such as stealing your glasses, which has happened often, or your camera, shoes, etc.

                There are a number of important temples in this area. Just north of Seva Kunj is Imli Tala. Here we find a very old tamarind tree that has existed since the days of Krishna in the courtyard of a Radha-Krishna temple that was built by Bhakti Saranga Maharaja. Krishna used to sit under this tree and His body would turn golden from ecstatic separation from His dearmost devotee, Srimati Radharani. Five hundred years ago, Sri Chaitanya would sit under the tree and due to His love for Krishna His golden body would turn blackish.

                Heading east we visit the Radha-Damodar Mandir. The original deities of Radha-Damodar were installed by Rupa Gosvami in 1542, but were later taken to Jaipur where they are now worshiped. The present deities are considered equal to the original. There is also a stone or shila from Govardhana Hill in the temple that has an actual footprint of Krishna on it. Krishna personally appeared to Sanatana Gosvami to give him the shila. He told Sanatana that because he was having difficulty from old age he should stop his daily circumambulation of Govardhana Hill and simply circumambulate the shila. The footprint became part of the stone when Krishna stood on it and caused the stone to melt from the sweet sound of His flute playing. Now pilgrims circumambulate the temple four times, which is equal to walking once around the 15 mile path of Govardhana Hill. You can ask the pujari (priest) at the temple for Giriraja darshan and for two rupees he will bring the Govardhana shila for you to see.

                On the left side of the Radha-Damodar temple, through a doorway, are the samadhi tombs or representative tombs of Jiva Gosvami, Krsnadas Kaviraja Gosvami, Bhugarbha Gosvami, and a puspa samadhi (flower or representative samadhi) of Bhaktisiddhanta Gosvami. Through a door on the right side of the temple is the samadhi and bhajan kutir (small and private place for worship) of Rupa Gosvami. On the right side of the courtyard are the rooms where Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada lived for several years from 1959 to 1965 and wrote his commentary on the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which he later brought to America.

                Not far away is the Radha-Shyamasundara temple, which is one of the seven main temples of Vrindavan and has some very beautiful deities. It was established by Shyamananda Prabhu XE “Shyamananda Prabhu”  who was a disciple of Sri Chaitanya and a very elevated bhakta. In fact, one time he saw Srimati Radharani. He would regularly clean the little forest area of Nidhibana and happened to find an anklebell. He thought it must be Radharani’s since he knew Krishna and Radha often spent Their evenings there. When Radharani discovered one of Her anklebells was missing, she sent Lalita to find it. At Nidhibana Lalita saw Shyamananda Prabhu and asked him if he had found an anklebell. He said he had and asked if it was hers. Lalita said it belonged to her sister and asked to have it. Shyamananda said he would not give it to her but only to her sister. Lalita insisted that he give it to her, and Shyamananda continued to refuse. So Lalita returned to Radharani and Radha decided to personally go for the anklebell Herself. Approaching Shyamananda, Radha asked for the anklebell and he was happy to give it to Her. Radha, being pleased with his service, revealed Her identity to him and by impressing Her anklebell into his forehead personally gave him a tiloka mark. Later, the other bhaktas criticized him for wearing a new style of tiloka. But that night Srimati Radharani appeared to Jiva Gosvami in a dream and told him that She was the one who gave Shyamananda the tiloka mark. Then all the devotees went to Shyamananda to ask for forgiveness and accepted that he actually saw Srimati Radharani. This is another story signifying that the eternal pastimes of the spiritual realm are continually taking place in Vrindavan.

                A little walk (half-block) from the Radha-Syamasundara temple is Loi Bazaar, one of the main shopping areas in the village. Here you can find all the necessities for living in Vridavana. There are shops of all kinds, for clothes, medicines, utensils, food, deities and worship paraphernalia. Walking eastward through the bazaar we next see the Shahji Mandir which was built in 1876 by Shah Kundan Lal of Lucknow. This is an attractive temple that has small Radha-Krishna deities, and shows how Shah Kundan Lal, a rich jeweler, appreciated service to Krishna in Vrindavan. To the left of the temple and down a lane is a small but pleasant Krishna temple of the famous poetess Mirabai.

                On the eastern side of the Shahji Mandir is another enclosed park called Nidhibana. This is where Radha and Krishna performed many pastimes. Even now it is considered that They still take rest here in the evening. Thus, there is a small temple of Radha-Krishna sleeping on a bed located here. This was also the place where Haridasa Gosvami found the deity of Banki Behari, another famous temple in Vrindavan which we will visit shortly.

                Another important temple nearby is the Radharamana Mandir, founded by Gopala Bhatta Gosvami. Gopala Bhatta had been worshiping a shalagrama-shila, which is a stone form of Krishna that he had gotten while on pilgrimage in Nepal. However, he longed to have a deity of Krishna to worship and dress. One day the deity of Radharamana manifested from the shalagrama-shila, thus fulfilling Gopala Bhatta Gosvami’s desire. You can still see the stone form on the back of the deity, from which He manifested Himself. This is one of those miracles of bhakti.

                A short walk farther down the lane is another of the seven major temples, the Radha-Gokulananda Mandir, founded by Lokanatha Gosvami. On the altar of this medium sized temple are the Radha-Vinoda deities of Lokanatha Gosvami (though his original deities were moved to Jaipur), along with Radha-Vijaya Govinda of Baladeva Vidyabhushana, Radha-Gokulananda of Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, and a Sri Chaitanya deity that belonged to Narottamadas Thakura. The temple also has a small Govardhana shila that was rubbed smooth by Sri Chaitanya who used to hold it while chanting Krishna’s holy names. The shila had been given to Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami. Across from the temple in the courtyard are the samadhis of Lokanatha Gosvami, Narottamadas Thakura, and Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura who were all important Vaishnavas in the Gaudiya line. The Radha-Vamsi Gopala temple is also nearby, farther down the street, and is where Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada lived from 1954 to 1962 and wrote his first commentary on Bhagavad-gita.

                Following the street to the Yamuna River we come to Keshi Ghat where Krishna performed the pastime of killing the Keshi demon. Keshi was a henchman of the demoniac King Kamsa and took the form of a huge horse to terrorize the residents of Vrindavana. Krishna, therefore, killed the demon and then washed Himself in the Yamuna.

                The Adi Varaha Purana establishes that by taking a holy bath at Keshi Ghat brings the results of bathing at all the holy places, and is worth 1,000 baths in the Ganges. Therefore, Keshi Ghat is one of the holiest ghats in Vrindavan. Not far from Keshi Ghat is Bhramar Ghat where Bilvamangala Thakura, the author of Krishna Karnamrita, performed austerities years ago. Lord Krishna used to appear in Vrindavana just to serve His great devotee Bilvamangala by supplying him with a cup of milk everyday.

                As we head back into the village, not far from the Radharamana temple is the Radha-Gopinatha Mandir. It is another of the seven original temples and was founded by Madhava Pandita. The original deities were transferred to Jaipur and similar deities were again installed in this temple. Around the corner is the New Radha-Gopinatha temple with deities of Srimati Radharani, Gopinatha, and Srimati Jahnava. Jahnava was Lord Nityananda’s wife and this deity of her was brought from Jahnava’s native Bengal by a man who said the deity appeared by Divine Will. This was years after she had left this world. Then the deity of Gopinatha appeared to the temple priest in a dream and told him that Jahnava was actually the elevated gopi Anangamanjari, and that the deity should be placed on the altar next to His left side. So this is why the deities in this temple are now arranged in this way.

                Farther into the eastern part of town are many other temples; including the large and ornate Lala Babu Mandir with Radha, Krishna, and Lalita deities. Then at the corner where we turn off from Loi Bazaar to go toward the Banke Bihari Mandir, we find the Gopishwara Mahadeva Shiva temple with a Shiva linga, said to have been originally installed by Krishna’s great-grandson, Vajranabha, and is the place where Lord Shiva did austerities in hopes of entering the rasa-lila dance as a gopi (cow-herd girl). In the morning devotees wash the linga with milk and other items, and then later the pujaris dress the linga in bright colored clothes.

                Retracing our steps just three shops back, on the left we can find the Pishima Gaura Nitai temple. This small temple has the deities of Gaura-Nitai which had belonged to Murari Gupta. They are about three feet tall, with eight inch Radha-Krishna deities and some Govardhan shilas in front.

                From the Gopishwara temple heading south, other temples we can find include the Tikarirani Radha-Krishna temple; the especially beautiful Thakura Yugala Kishora temple, which has many small cut mirrors embedded in the walls and a sleeping Krishna deity on a swinging bed; and the large Rangaji temple with its South Indian style gopurams. This temple is a major landmark along the road and modeled after the Sri Rangam temple near Trichy in Tamil Nadu. It has three gates you go through to get to the central temple. Presently, Westerners can go in as well, but it used to be that they were not allowed past the third gate.

                Not far from this temple is Brahma Kunda where the demigod Lord Brahma prayed to Krishna for forgiveness after testing Him to see if He was actually the Supreme. The story is that one time Brahma took away all of Krishna’s friends and cows. After a moment he came back to see what Krishna’s reaction was and to his amazement saw all of the boys and calves still there. Krishna had expanded Himself into the forms of all the boys and calves. Realizing his insignificant position, Brahma returned all the boys and calves he had taken and prayed for Krishna to excuse his ignorance.

                Next is the Radha-Govindaji temple that is another of the seven major temples of Vrindavan. It is across the road and a little farther down the street from the Rangaji temple. It was established by Rupa Gosvami where he discovered the Gopala deity. The beautiful temple is made out of red sandstone and was completed in 1590. The temple is now only two storeys tall but once reached up to seven storeys. The Muslim fanatic Aurangzeb, doing his dirty work once again, dismantled the upper five storeys of the temple due to his envy. While his men were destroying the temple, there was a loud thunderous noise that shook the ground. This put fear into the hearts of the men and they immediately stopped and ran away. Due to fear of the Moghuls, before they arrived the devotees moved the original deities to Jaipur where today many pilgrims go to see them. So the temple now has pratibhuh deities, or representative expansions, of the original Radha-Govindaji that are worshiped. The original Govindaji deity is said to have been installed thousands of years ago by Vajranabha.

                A hundred yards northeast of the Govindaji temple is a mound that has the ruins of the Sakshi Gopala temple. The present Sakshi Gopala temple is just outside of Jagannatha Puri. Sakshi Gopala had been discovered and installed in the temple in Vrindavan, but walked over 1000 miles to Vidyanagar to bear witness for one of His devotees. This story is told in our coverage of the Jagannatha Puri temples. Following the road going south and then west from the Radha-Govindaji temple, you can find many more temples and ashramas of Vrindavan.

                Back at Seva Kunj, we now head west to the Radha-Vallabha Mandir. This is a temple that is the center of the Radha Vallabha sect founded by Sri Hit Hari Vamsa, a disciple of Gopala Bhatta Gosvami who was known for his poetry about Radha and Krishna. After this we see the Banki Behari Mandir, one of the most popular temples of Vrindavan. Haridas Gosvami found Banki Behari at the bottom of Visakha Kunda in Nidhiban after Haridas had a dream in which the deity told him where to look. When you visit the temple you will see that the curtain in front of the deity is closed for a few seconds every minute. This is because the deity once walked off the altar and out of the temple to follow a great devotee who had come for darshan. Apparently the devotee and deity gazed at each other too long and the deity became fond of the devotee and later walked off the altar to find him. When the temple priests found the deity of Banki Behari, they placed Him on the altar again but began closing the curtain at short intervals to keep the deity from getting too attached to any of the visiting devotees. This tradition has continued ever since then.

                Not far away, located down a lane, is the Asta-Sakhi Mandir, a lovely eight-sided, dome-topped temple. This temple offers darshan of not only Radha-Krishna (Radha-Rasabihariji in this case), but also of eight important gopis. They include Rangadevi, Champaklata, Chitra, and Lalita on the left, and Vishakha, Indulekha, Tungavidya, and Sudevi on the right. From this temple you can easily see the old temple of Radha-Madan Mohan to the west.

                The Madan Mohan temple, located on a hill near the old river bed of the Yamuna, was established by Sanatana Gosvami. This was one of the first temples erected after Sri Chaitanya’s visit to Vrindavan. The deity is said to have been found in the hill by Sri Advaita who gave the deity to a Mathura priest. The priest treated the deity like one of his children and when Sanatana Gosvami saw this he criticized the priest for not following the many rules and regulations for deity worship. Then in a dream Madan Mohan told Sanatana that He had been happy with the priest’s spontaneous love, but now He was no longer happy with all these rules that were supposed to be followed. So Sanatana went to see the priest who then gave the deity to Sanatana. At first Sanatana used to keep Madan Mohan in a tree because he had no where else to keep Him. Then one time the deity asked for some salt with the dried bread that Sanatana offered to Him. Sanatana only said, “I am an old man. What can I do? Please accept it the way it is.” Just then a rich merchant was taking a boat loaded with salt down the Yamuna. By Krishna’s will the boat became stuck in the shallow river. Madan Mohan changed into a cowherd boy who led the merchant to Sanatana. Sanatana could do nothing to help the merchant, so the merchant prayed to Madan Mohan that if his boat became free he would sell his salt and return to use the money to build a nice temple. After praying, the merchant returned to his boat and found that it was no longer stuck. When the merchant sold the salt, he returned to build the temple. So this is how the temple was erected. Later, this was the deity from which Krishnadas Kaviraja got the inspiration to write the Caitanya-caritamrta.

                Unfortunately, in 1670, due to the threat of fanatic Muslims, the original Radha-Madan Mohan deities were moved to Jaipur, and then again moved to Karauli where a nice temple was built for them. Pratibhuh deities were later installed in the Vrindavan temple. You can still see the bhajan kutir, or place of worship, of Sanatana Gosvami, along with a well said to have been dug by Krishna Himself for Sanatana’s water. While you are here, you can have a drink from the well. Sanatana Gosvami’s samadhi tomb is on the hillside behind the temple. Walking east along the old river bed we can reach Kaliya Ghat marked by the old Kadamba tree from which Krishna lept into the Yamuna to chastise the multi-headed serpent-demon, Kaliya. This is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam as is most of Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes. Farther down the trail is Varaha Ghat where Krishna manifested His form as Varaha for the amusement of His friends.

                Varaha Ghat is in the area of Raman Reti on the outskirts of the village of Vrindavan. Raman Reti means cooling sands and is where Krishna and Balarama would come and play amongst the large trees, flowers, chirping birds, and peacocks. Raman Reti is where the ISKCON temple of Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama is located along the road called Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg. This has become a very popular temple amongst pilgrims who visit Vrindavan. You will find the most beautiful deities of Krishna and Balarama on the center altar, with Sri Nityananda and Sri Chaitanya on the left altar, and Sri Sri Radha-Syamasundar on the right. The tamal tree in the courtyard is said to be where the tree was under which Srimati Radharani would wait for Krishna to return from herding the cows. The temple was founded by Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and his lovely samadhi is in front of the temple where his body was interred.

                Located along the main road from the Raman Reti area or Krishna Balamara Mandir heading toward the downtown area of Vrindavana is the Vrindavana Research Institute. This place has many old manuscripts and along with original leaves with the hand writing of Sanatana, Rupa, and Jiva Gosvamis.

                Some of the additional ashramas that you can find in Vrindavana include the Neem Karoli Baba Ashrama, near the main road on the parikrama path. His samadhi shrine, along with temples to Hanuman, Sita-Ram and Durga are here. The Ananda Mayi Ma Ashrama is the ashrama of the renown woman saint, on the main road. And Jagadguru Dham along Raman Reti Road is the ashrama of Swami Prakashananda Sarasvati, when he’s not staying in his Austin, Texas ashrama. He also has places in Barshana, near Vrindavana, called Rangeeli Mahal and Vishwa Kalyan Kendra.

                Today, Vrindavana is gaining in popularity. Construction and development is an ongoing thing. More apartments and temples, and guests houses with temples, are always being built. So there are many more temples in Vrindavana that you can easily visit simply by wandering around the town. This is where you cannot easily forget Lord Krishna, and most anything you do will give spiritual progress. But respect for the holy dham must be maintained, or offenses committed here can also bring harsh results.

 

 

GREATER VRAJAMANDALA

                Some other very holy places are located elsewhere in the greater area of Vrajamandala, such as Radha Kund, the bathing place of Radharani and Her most elevated assistants, the gopis or cowherd girls. Radha Kund is located on the northern end of Govardhan Hill. Sri Rupa Gosvami explains in verses 9 and 10 of his Sri Upadesamrita that out of all the places in Vraja, Radha Kund is superior to them all because it is flooded with the ambrosial nectar of Krishna prema, ecstatic love of God. Therefore, those who live here are the most fortunate in the universe. The Padma Purana also explains that just as Radharani is most dear to Krishna, Her bathing place of Radha Kund is also dear to Him.

                Across from Radha Kund is Shyama Kund, Krishna’s bathing place. Krishna dug Shyama Kund when Radharani insisted that He purify Himself by bathing in all the holy rivers after He had killed the Aristasura demon who was in the form of a bull. So rather than going to all the sacred rivers, He simply dug His heel into the earth and called the presiding deities of the various holy rivers of India to merge their waters into the pool. After bathing, He explained to Radharani and the gopis that the bull was actually a demon, so they should also take a purifying bath to rid themselves of the sin of siding with a demon. Radharani became upset and decided She could also make a kund or lake. Thus, She and the gopis broke their bangles and dug a hole, but it remained dry to Krishna’s amusement. However, by using water from the nearby Manasi Ganga lake and the waters from the presiding deities of the holy rivers who appeared, Her kund also filled up. Thus, these kunds are very special to pilgrims who visit. It is said that anyone who bathes here will get the perfection of Krishna prema, which is far beyond mere liberation from material existence. It is said that Radha Kund is the liquid form of Radharani’s ecstatic love for Krishna. And since Radha Kund is Lord Krishna’s favorite bathing place, anyone who bathes in Radha Kund gets the mercy of Lord Krishna and will attain Krishna prema, ecstatic love for Lord Krishna. Similarly, Radharani also said that anyone who bathes in Shyama Kund will get Her special favor. Therefore, Radha Kund is difficult to attain.

                To recognize the spiritual significance of Radha Kund may not be so easy for neophytes. As I said earlier, in order to perceive the spiritual atmosphere in Vrindavan you have to receive the blessings of the resident devotees and become qualified so that Vrindavan reveals itself to you. An example of this was related to me by a friend. When he visited Radha Kund he met an old sadhu, a saintly man who had retired from material life and was now living at Radha Kund. My friend asked the sadhu some questions and at first the man hesitantly explained that he did not work or attempt to maintain himself. He simply depended on Krishna and chanted the holy names at Radha Kund. How he got his food was that a small boy would come by and give him some food every day. The man explained that as a person becomes more and more spiritual, he will recognize the eternal atmosphere that pervades Vraja, especially at Radha Kund, and he will not feel the need to take so much care of the body. My friend then asked him if he could actually see the spiritual world or if he had ever seen Krishna at this holy place. The old man said he had not seen Krishna, but sometimes he could here the gopis talking with Krishna or discussing amongst themselves how Krishna looked and what He was doing.

                My friend then asked the old sadhu how it was possible for him to perceive such things? The man then began talking quite readily and convincingly told my friend that Radha Kund was indeed the spiritual world; you simply had to remove your materialistic vision. Then the old man took my friend’s hand and pushed it flat to the ground on the banks of the Radha Kund and said, “Just touch this land and you can feel the spiritual nature of it.” My friend told me that at that moment a charge went up his arm from the ground and he could actually feel the difference, that this was indeed a spiritual place. But before my friend got the blessings of this sage, he could not really feel the difference. And that is what is necessary. Until you can actually perceive it, all you can do is to try to understand with your mind and imagine how Krishna performed so many pastimes here, and how this place is spiritual. But the actual realization of such things goes much further than that. It is a matter of re-establishing your spiritual identity and connection with the spiritual realm. It is the reawakening of your spiritual consciousness and actually perceiving the subtle nature of spiritual reality.

                In the area of Radha Kund as you circumambulate the area, you can find numerous temples and important places. To describe a brief tour around Radha and Shyama Kunds, we first enter the area from the bus stop, and on our way along the road we come to the Radha-Gokulananda temple, which has the pratibhu or representational deities that belonged to Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakur. Going farther along, we next come to the Kundesvara Mahadeva temple and the sacred peepul tree. Mahadeva  Shiva is one of the guardians of the holy dham. Then we soon get our first view of Radha Kund, and pay our respects by bowing our heads toward this form of Radharani. Farther down across from the vegetable market is the lane on the left that goes to the Purana Mandir, which has a lovely set of Radha Krishna deities. These were found by Raghunatha dasa Goswami when he was excavating the kunds. Continuing on, we come to the road that leads to the left. This can take us to the Gaudiya Math temple with the beautiful deities of Radha-Kunjabihari. Farther on we can also reach the Shiva Khor or kund, and the Ramesvaram Shiva temple.

                Back to the main parikrama path, we can next see the Radha Kanta temple right at the corner of Radha Kund. Across from that on the left of the road is the Sri Gopal temple. Then just down the street on the right is the Radha-Gopinatha temple, which also has at the far end the samadhi tomb of Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. Exiting through the door on the south side, we are now along the water of Radha Kund where many people take a holy bath. This is near the private bathing place of Jahnavi, the wife of Lord Nityananda when She lived here at Radha Kund nearly 500 years ago, which you can see there.

                Going farther along the main parikrama road, we next see a circular platform, which is a rasa-sthali where dances are performed at times. There we take a right turn. Going down the path we can find the bhajan kutir of Gopal Bhatta. Around the corner is also Krishna dasa Kaviraja’s bhajan kutir, the small living quarters where he wrote the Caitanya-caritamrta and several other important spiritual books. Then there is Raghunatha dasa’s bhajan kutir and the cremation place of these Swamis used when the Muslims were coming into the area. Rather than taking the chance of having their bodies disturbed in case the Muslims would dig them up, they cremated them instead. On a side road there is the bhajan kutir of Bhaktivinoda Thakur where he and Bhaktisiddhanta would stay when visiting the area. Farther along the parikrama road we next find Lalita Kund on the left, across from which is Jiva Gosvami’s bhajan kutir. Next along the road and down a lane on the right toward Shyama Kund there is the place of Madhavendra Puri’s sitting place, and around the curve we come to Lord Chaitanya’s sitting place. This used to be like a little hut or bhajan kutir, but now they have expanded it and put a roof over it. After that we continue our walk down the lane and other temples can also be found, such as Asta Sakhi Mandir, Nitai Gauranga Sitanatha Mandir, Manipur Maharaja Mandir, Radha Gopinatha Mandir, a Gaura Nitai Mandir, Radha Govindaji Mandir, and other temples that are located around the kunds. Then we go to the sangam or meeting place of the two kunds where many people take a holy bath or do some special worship or pujas to the kunds, since they are non-different from Radha and Krishna. If it is not crowded and somewhat peaceful, it is also nice to sit and meditate or chant japa for a time, contemplating our good fortune to be here. Then returning to the path and going through some shops we pass a deity of Hanuman and pray that he relieves us of whatever offenses we may have committed while visiting, and then we return to where we started.

                These temples and holy places can be located with the help of local residents, or guides may present themselves to show you around or to help you do some rituals or puja to Radha Kund and Shyama Kund. They are called Tirtha gurus, or the local pandits who know all about these special tirthas, holy places. This is alright, but be sure to establish a price before you accept their service. Presently you can also get guidebooks of these specific areas. You can find them at the Krishna-Balarama Mandir, or in a few of the shops in Loi Bazaar at Vrindavana. These will have photographs, maps to show you around, and more detailed stories of the pastimes that have taken place here. You must definitely visit these places if you are in the area.

                One word of caution: this is certainly a holy place but when there are crowds of people here, do not take any valuables with you or keep wallets in your pockets, especially if you will bathe in the water. It is not uncommon that such things end up missing. And the road between Vrindavana and Radha Kund is closed at night because of thieves and dacoits. So if you plan on visiting Radha Kund, do not wait too late at night or you may up having to spend the night or taking a longer route through Govardhana to Mathura to get back to Vrindavana.   

                Next we see Govardhana Hill which is the hill Krishna lifted with the little finger of His left hand for seven days to shelter the residents of Vraja from the torrential rains that Indra had sent. Indra sent heavy rains when he became angry after seeing the residents of Vraja worshiping Govardhan Hill instead of him, according to the directions of Lord Krishna. Only later did Indra realize his great mistake. The hill is also considered a manifestation of Krishna Himself, just as the hill at Barsana is a manifestation of Brahma, the hill at Nandagram is Shiva, and Charanpari is Sesha. Therefore, many pilgrims circumambulate Govardhana as an act of worship, a route that is about 15 miles long and passes near many other holy spots along the way. I will describe a few of the main places along the route.

                Usually devotees start their parikrama or circumambulation of Govardhana near Kusum Sarovara. This is a great swimming spot and where Radharani used to pick flowers before meeting Krishna here. It now has beautiful chatris, or small temple enclosures, at one end, which has beautifully painted ceilings. These have many beautiful illustrations of the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. The story of how these came to be built is quite interesting. When the Moghuls ruled over Delhi, the King of Bharatpur, Suraja Mal, attacked them, but lost his life doing so. However, his son, Jawarchar Singh, decided to attack and vowed that if he won, he would return and develop Kusum Sarovara in glorification of Lord Krishna. So he assembled an army and attacked Delhi and defeated the Muslim tyrants. Therefore, he returned and built the temples around Kusum Sarovara with his newly victorious wealth.

                Nearby Kusum Sarovara in a separate compound across from it is a temple to Uddhava with a deity dating back to the days of Krishna. Across the road and down the lane is also a temple and kund of Narada Muni where he wrote the Narada Bhakti Sutras. There is a little image of Narada Muni in the small temple there.

                From here we walk down the road until we reach Manasi Ganga, which is a lake where Krishna made the Ganges appear, and which has a small township around it. There are several little holy spots to see here. So as we make our way around it we can see the places such as the Makharvinda Mandira which stands out along the waterfront on the southeastern corner of the lake. The Chakra Tirtha area on the eastern side of Manasi Ganga has the Shiva temple called the Chakalesvara Mahadeva Mandir. Across from that is one of the bhajana kutirs of Sanatana Gosvami, and a small Mahaprabhu Mandir. On the western side of the Manasi Ganga you can see the Manasi Devi Mandira and the Harideva Mandira is located up a few lanes. Your local guidebooks or maps, or traveling with someone who knows the area, will make finding these places easier. Or also asking the local people how to reach them as you walk along will also work. I’ve been to these places several times, but the first times I would go with someone else to show me the way.

                Walking farther down the road, or through the small alleys from the Harideva Mandir, we next come to Govardhana town. We make our way to the Dana Gatt Giriraja Mandira, the temple where we pay our respects to Govardhana Hill because this is where He starts to actually become visible. The hill itself has been shrinking for hundreds of years, and the first part of the parikrama we really cannot see Him because of being underground. But now the hill becomes visible and we can see the rocky formation. As we start this part of the parikrama, there is also a place that shows Radharani’s footprint. As we approach the southern end of Govardhana Hill, we arrive at Govinda Kund. This is a good place to rest for a few minutes. This kund was created when Indra, the king of heaven, performed the bathing ceremony for Lord Krishna. After Indra realized his mistake for harassing the people of Vraja with heavy rains that he had sent, he returned and performed a bathing ceremony for Lord Krishna in order to try and pacify the Lord and obtain His forgiveness. The accumulated water from the bathing ceremony gathered to form this kund.

                As we start again, there are other smaller temples and little kunds and forests along the way that we walk through. A person could actually spend several days just going to each holy place and hearing or reading about the pastimes that took place there. Finally, we reach Naval and Apsara Kundas, which are at the far end of Govardhana Hill and near the half-way point when we start heading back to the north along the other side of Govardhana Hill. Therein we continue through the small forests and past more small and occasional temples and kunds. Along this part of the route there is also a place called Aparadha Kund, which is a small pond just off the path where Indra atoned for his offense to Lord Krishna for having sent the torrential rains over Vraja. As we keep going, if we are with a group, someone will likely be guiding us to the most important places and will explain the meaning and history behind each one. Of course, we cannot slow down too much if we expect to get back in time to catch our return ride to Vrindavana.

                Finally we reach Uddhava Kund, and stop for a few minutes at the small temple here. The temple has Radha Krishna deities, believed to have been originally installed by Vrajanabha, Krishna’s grandson. A new set of Radha-Krishna deities has also been installed now which is famous for being formed out of one piece of marble. Behind the temple is the Uddhava Kund, the water of which is said to have originally come from the tears of Krishna’s queens when they were consoled by Uddhava at this place.

                Then we move on past a new Mahaprabhu temple, and on around Radha Kund and Syama Kund again. After going around them we head west back to Kusuma Sarovara. This completes our parikrama walk around the hill of Govardhana. Doing this provides immense spiritual purification and merit for our devotional advancement, not to mention a real adventure into the spiritual land of Vraja.

                Again, many of these places around Govardhana can be found with the help of special guidebooks and maps. But the easiest way is to come to Vrindavana for a visit during the month of Kartika (Oct-Nov). This is the time when devotees celebrate Govardhana Puja, or the worship and respect of the sacred hill. Then you can easily go on one of the Govardhana parikramas when groups of devotees gather in buses to go to Govardhana Hill early in the morning and walk around the hill and stop to visit these particular holy places along the way. 

                North of Govardhana is Barsana, 30 miles from Mathura, the town where Radharani grew up and the capital city of her father, King Vrishabanu. Once we arrive, we walk up the steps to get to the main temple of the town that looks like a fortress on the hilltop which can be seen from miles away. This is the Shriji or Larily Mandir, a local name for Radha. It is very ornate and the walls of the interior are covered with paintings of Krishna’s pastimes. Lovely Sri Sri Radha-Krishna deities are on the altar. A short walk away is the Radha-Kushal Behari Mandir, another majestic temple on a different peak of the hill, with Rajasthani style architecture. A little farther away on another peak is the Mayur Kuti temple that has a painting of Krishna dancing as a peacock for Radha’s pleasure. The painting was done by a blind saint who had the divine vision of the pastime as long as he was working on the painting. On another of the hill’s peaks is Man Kutir, a temple marking where Krishna made Radharani angry for fun, but She left Him to lament and look for Her. Then the other gopis brought Them back together, much to their celebration. The four peaks of this hill represent the four heads of Brahma, and the hill is considered an expansion or incarnation of Lord Brahma.

                A few miles from Barsana is Nandagram, another place where Krishna performed many childhood pastimes described in the Bhagavatam. On top of the hill is the main temple that has deities of Krishna, Balarama, Nanda Maharaja (Krishna’s father), Mother Yashoda, Srimati Radharani, and two of Krishna’s friends. There is also a Shiva lingam in a small shrine across from the temple called Nandisvara, said to have been installed by Vajranabha many hundreds of years ago. It is considered that this hill is an incarnation of Lord Shiva. From the top of the walls that surround the temple we can get good views of the area, and someone who is familiar with it can point out other nearby places connected with Krishna’s pastimes that we may want to visit.

                As I’ve said, this is by no means a complete description of Vrajamandala and the holy places within it, such as Vrindavana, Mathura, Govardhana, etc. And there are too many to mention for this discourse which covers all of India. However, there are already full length tour books dedicated to doing this, which I recommend you to purchase. The significance and the history of Vrindavana is a full topic by itself. Nonetheless, this description of Vraja will certainly give you a start for finding the important places to see if you’re ever fortunate enough to visit. It is explained that all the holy places of India are manifest in some way in Vrajamandala. Thus, Rupa Gosvami writes that anyone who leaves Vraja to go to other holy places achieves nothing but the trouble it takes to get there. Nonetheless, I will be describing many of the holy places throughout India anyway.

The Ratha-Yatra Festival at Jagannatha Puri

The Ratha-Yatra Festival at

 Jagannatha Puri

By Stephen Knapp

Jagannatha Puri, a town of 75,000, is one of the most important pilgrimage centers and one of the four holiest cities in India. These four cities are Badrinatha in the north, Dvaraka in the west, Ramesvaram in the south, and Puri in the east. Badrinarayan in Badrinatha was especially worshiped in Satya-yuga, Rama in Ramesvaram in Treta-yuga, Dvarakanatha in Dvaraka was especially worshiped in Dvapara-yuga, but Lord Jagannatha in Puri can be worshiped by everyone in Kali-yuga. In fact, the importance of Jagannatha Puri, sometimes called Purushottama-Ksetra, is explained in chapters 52 through 57 of the Uttarabhaga section of the Narada Purana. There we find it stated that simply by visiting Puri, which is rarely achieved except for those who have performed many pious acts, and by seeing the Deity of Jagannatha (Krishna), one can easily attain freedom from future births and reach the spiritual abode.

In the middle of this city is the large temple dedicated to Lord Krishna as Jagannatha, meaning “Lord of the Universe.” From the Skanda Purana we get information that the original construction of the first Jagannatha temple was in Satya-yuga, millions of years ago. It is related that Lord Jagannatha told Maharaja Indradyumna that He first appeared in the Svayambhuva manvantara of the first part of Satya-yuga, on the full moon day, after being pleased by devotion. This is about 153 million years ago. Then Brahma installed the Deities in the temple. This appearance is celebrated by the Snana Purnima, or Snana-Yatra, which is the public bathing of Lord Jagannatha, His brother Balarama, and His sister Subhadra. The celebrated Ratha-Yatra festival is said to have started in the time of Svarochisha Manu, or the second manvantara period, and is predicted to continue until the end of the second half of Lord Brahma’s lifetime. Even in the Ramayana by Valmiki Muni (Uttara Khanda 108.30) it is related that when Lord Rama was getting ready to leave this world he told Vibhishan, Ravana’s younger brother, that in His absence he should worship Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the Iksvaku dynasty.

The Skanda Purana also fixes the date of the Ratha-Yatra festival, which should be celebrated on the second day of the bright fortnight if the month of Ashadha, a day called Pushyami Nakshatra by astrological calculations. The Padma Purana describes (as related in Sanatana Goswami’s Dig Darshini Tika to his Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, 2.1.159) that in Purushottama-kshetra, or Jagannatha Puri, the supremely blissful Personality of Godhead pretends to be made of wood. In this way, although the Lord takes on what appears to be a material form, it is completely spiritual by the causeless mercy of the Lord for the conditioned souls who cannot perceive the transcendental domain.

The main temple building, called Sri Mandir, was built in the 12th century by King Chodaganga Deva, though the site goes back much farther as described above. This is a huge complex where buildings house as many as 5,000 priests and assistants. The whole compound is surrounded by a thick stone wall 20 feet tall that encloses an area 665 feet by 640 feet. The wall has four large gates, one on each side. The additional smaller buildings were added after the 16th century. The main temple, which reaches 215 feet in height, is where we find the six foot tall Deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, and the shorter Subhadra. They stand on a five foot high throne facing the pilgrims as they enter the temple room. Outside the main temple hall are over 100 smaller shrines dedicated to the various demigods. There is an arati ceremony six times a day from 4 AM to 9 PM when devotees come in for darshan of the Deities, in which they sing, chant, or worship the Deities in ecstasy. As many as 50,000 people come to the Jagannatha temple in a day. Unfortunately, foreigners are not allowed into the temple grounds, but you can get a look at the temple from the roof of the Raghunandan Library across the street for a donation.

The temple compound also has a huge kitchen, employing over 650 cooks and helpers who make hundreds of vegetarian preparations for the 54 separate offerings that are given to the Deities every day. After the food is given to the Deities it becomes prasada, or the Lord’s mercy. By taking such spiritually powerful food it is said that one becomes more and more spiritually surcharged and free from past karma. Much of the prasada is sold or given to people who depend on the temple. When I had my ricksha driver buy some for me, I got a basket with several clay pots filled with a variety of rice, vegetable, dahl, and sweet preparations. It was absolutely delicious and was enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two days. Taking this prasada at Puri is to partake in a tradition that goes back thousands of years and is considered especially purifying. It is said that only by Krishna’s grace does one get the opportunity to receive the remnants of food offered to Him.

The Appearance of Lord Jagannatha

The significance of Jagannatha Puri and the story of how the Deities first appeared goes back many hundreds of years to the time of King Indradyumna, who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. It is related that one time in his court the King heard from a devotee about an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, named Nila-madhava. (Nila-madhava is the Deity form of Lord Vishnu.) The King very much wanted to see this form of the Supreme and sent many Brahmanas to search for Nila-madhava. All came back unsuccessful except for Vidyapati, who did not come back at all. He had wandered to a distant town which was populated by a tribe of people known as Shabaras of non-Aryan heritage. He had stayed in the house of Visvasu, and later, at Visvasu’s request, married his daughter, Lalita.

After some time Vidyapati noticed that Visvasu would leave the house every night and return at noon the next day. Vidyapati asked his wife about this. Though her father had ordered her not to tell anyone, she told Vidyapati that Visvasu would go in secret to worship Nila-madhava. After repeated requests, Vidyapati finally got permission to go see Nila-madhava, only if he went blindfolded. But Vidyapati’s wife had bound some mustard seeds in his cloth so that a trail could be left to follow later. When they reached the shrine, Vidyapati saw the Deity Nila-madhava after the Shabara took off the blindfold, and he felt great ecstasy.

The story continues to relate that while Visvasu was out collecting items for worship, Vidyapati saw a bird fall into the nearby lake and drown. The soul of the bird suddenly took a spiritual form and ascended back to the spiritual world. Vidyapati wanted to do the same and climbed the tree to jump in the lake. Then a voice from the sky declared that before he jumped he should tell Indradyumna that he had found Nila-madhava.

When Visvasu returned to worship the Deity, Nila-madhava spoke and said that He had accepted the simple worship from him for so many days, but now He wanted to accept the opulent worship that would be offered by King Indradyumna. When Vidyapati went back to tell the King, Indradyumna immediately went to find Nila-madhava but could not locate Him. So the King arrested Visvasu, but a voice told him to release the Shabara and that he should build a temple on top of Nila Hill where the King would see the Lord as Daru-brahman, the wooden manifestation of the Absolute.

After great endeavor, King Indradyumna built the temple at Sri Kshetra, now known as Jagannatha Puri, and later prayed to Lord Brahma to consecrate it. However, Lord Brahma said that it was not within his power to consecrate the temple since Sri Kshetra is manifested by the Supreme’s own internal potency and is where the Lord manifests Himself. So Brahma simply put a flag on top of the temple and blessed it, saying that anyone who from a distance saw the flag and offered obeisances would easily be liberated from the material world. Nonetheless, after much waiting the King became anxious since Nila-madhava had not manifested Himself. Thinking his life was useless, the King decided he should end his life by fasting. But in a dream the Lord said that He would appear floating in from the sea in His form as Daru-brahman.

The King went to the shore and found a huge piece of wood that had the markings of a conch, disc, club, and lotus. This was Daru-brahman. But try as they might, the men could not budge the wood. In a dream the Lord spoke to the King and instructed him to get Visvasu and put a golden chariot in front of Daru-brahman. After doing this and forming a kirtana party to chant the holy names, and praying for Daru-brahman to mount the chariot, Daru-brahman was easily moved. Lord Brahma performed a sacrifice where the present temple now stands and installed a Deity of Lord Narasimhadeva, the Deity that is now on the western side of the temple.

From the wooden Daru-brahman, the King requested many expert carvers to carve the form of the Deity, but none could do so for their chisels immediately broke when they touched the wood. Finally the architect of the demigods, Visvakarma, (some say the Lord Himself) arrived as an old artist, Ananta Maharana, and promised that he would carve the Deity form of the Lord inside the temple in three weeks if the King would allow him to work behind closed doors. But after 14 days the King became very anxious because he could no longer hear the sounds of the carving. Finally he could stand it no more. On the advice of the queen he personally opened the doors of the temple to see what was happening. Then he saw the forms of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama, and Lady Subhadra. But because the King had opened the doors sooner than he was supposed to, the Deities were not completed; Their feet and hands had not yet been carved. Thus, the Supreme manifested Himself in this form.

The King felt he had committed a great offense for having opened the doors before the allotted three weeks had passed, so he decided to end his life. But in a dream Lord Jagannatha told the King that though he had broken his promise, this was just a part of the Supreme’s pastimes to display this particular form. The King was told that this form, even though it appeared to be incomplete, was actually the form of the Lord that was meant to be worshiped in this age of Kali-yuga. Occasionally the King could decorate the Deity with golden hands and feet. Yet those devotees filled with love would always see the form of Lord Jagannatha as the threefold bending form of Syamasundara, Krishna, holding a flute. Thus, the Supreme appeared in this form so that people could approach and see Him, especially as He rides through town on the huge carts during the Ratha-Yatra festival.

The Ratha-Yatra Festival

During the Ratha-Yatra festival is the most popular time to go to Jagannatha Puri. This is usually in July when it is very hot. But thousands upon thousands of pilgrims flock to Puri to take part in this auspicious event, which is said to have been celebrated for thousands of years, making it one of the oldest and one of the biggest religious festivals in the world. This is the time when the Deities come out of the temple for all to see. It is also the time when as many as a million people gather in this small city with one purpose: to show their faith and devotion to God in the form of Lord Jagannatha.

As big as this festival is, it can be quite expensive. The only festival in the world that is bigger than this is the Kumbha Mela festival that draws many more millions of people. The Ratha-Yatra festival is financed primarily by the Orissan government with an annual budget of $50,000, which is a very large sum for India. But with the number of pilgrims that come to Puri each year, the temple and surrounding businesses also are benefitted with the extra financial income.

The actual construction of the carts begins two months before the festival day, on the third day of the bright fortnight of Vaisakha (April-May). More than 600 trees, or 400 cubic meters of wood, are needed for the construction, taken from the local forests along the banks of the Mahanadi River. Using the same simple tools and procedures as they have for the past hundreds of years, once the basic elements are made, such as the wheels, then the actual construction begins only a few weeks before the festival. When I saw the carts a few days prior to the festival, I doubted that they would be finished in time. However, the construction crew works on them night and day, and everything was ready the day before the festival.

In the main road in front of the temple huge stacks of wood are used to assemble the three chariots which will reach up to three storeys tall and will roll on wheels, each eight feet high. The chariots are painted with bright colors and the tops are covered with red, black, yellow, or green canopies. The colors signify which chariot is for which Deity. Lord Jagannatha uses red and yellow, Lord Balarama uses red and green, while Subhadra uses red and black. The Deities are also painted with particular colors that mean something. Jagannatha’s blackish color represents faultless qualities; Balarama’s white color signifies enlightenment; and Subhadra’s yellow color signifies goodness.

Each cart is different. The cart of Lord Jagannatha is called Cakradhvaja or Nandigosha, which means tumultuous and blissful sound. Using 16 wheels, it rises 45 feet tall, and weighs 65 tons. It also carries a figure of Garuda on its crest, and is drawn by four white wooden horses. Balarama’s cart is called Taladhvaja, meaning the sound of significantly powerful rhythm. It has 14 wheels, and is drawn by four black wooden horses. It carries Hanuman on its crest. Subhadra’s cart is called Padmadhvaja or Darpadalan, which means destroyer of pride. It has a lotus on its crest, uses 12 wheels, and is drawn by four red wooden horses. After the Ratha-Yatra festival the wood from the carts is used as fuel for the big kitchen in the temple, which can last up to nine months.

About two weeks before the festival, the Deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra are given a ritual bath, which is performed on the front main wall of the temple, which allows everyone to observe it from the street below, or one of the surrounding buildings. This is called the Snana-Yatra. After this They play the pastime of getting a cold. They are then taken to a designated area and given special treatments and offerings. They may also be repainted at this time. About every 12 or 19 years the bodies of the Deities are replaced with new ones carved from a ritualistically selected Daru-Brahman in the form of a nima tree. This is known as the Nava-Kalevarna festival. It occurs when there is a leap (additional) month in the Vedic calendar that appears between Snana-Yatra and Ratha-Yatra. This was last performed in 1996, 1977, and 1969. After such an occurrence, the crowd that attends the Ratha-Yatra in Puri expands from the usual 700,000 or so to as many as two-and-a-half million.

As the Ratha-Yatra festival draws near, thousands of pilgrims come to Jagannatha Puri, but as many as a million or more people may be in town on the day of the festival. Some are top officials in the Indian government or other VIPs. Many people begin arriving in front of the temple near the carts on the morning of the festival. At first it is very interesting to wander about looking at the nicely decorated carts and all the pilgrims who have attended. But then the police begin cordoning off the area around the carts. Then there are only certain areas where people can get between the carts and the buildings. This creates bottlenecks which can be very dangerous when too many people are pushing on each other trying to get through. I saw people begin to panic at times because of the pressure on them, and worried mothers had to hold their babies above the crowd to make sure they did not get crushed.

The Ratha-Yatra festival can be both spiritually ecstatic and physically exhausting. Though July is in the monsoon season, if the rains have not arrived yet, it gets very hot. When it is hot, you will be soaked with sweat a few hours after the sun comes up. In fact, from where I was, I saw dozens of Indian people who had collapsed from the heat and had to be carried away from the crowd on stretchers. The heat can take a lot out of you, especially when in a crowd of many thousands. So it is best to have a source of water with you, like a canteen.

A good place to be during the festival, if you do not want to be on the street amongst the people, is on a rooftop. But you have to make reservations and pay for your seats several days in advance. Even then there may not be any guarantee that you will get the seats you want.

I have been at Jagannatha Puri to attend two Ratha-Yatra festivals, once in 1991, and another in 2001. At each one things happened at different times of the day. In 1991 it was around eleven in the morning when the temple priests came out to sanctify the carts. In 2001, everything got started much earlier, and the priests came out before 9 AM. They walk up the gangplanks to the platform on the cart and sprinkle holy water around while circumambulating it three times and chanting specific mantras for purification. Later, the priests bring out the small Deities that will also ride on the cart.

When the big Deities are brought out, first there is Lord Balarama, then Lady Subhadra, and then Lord Jagannatha. Each time excitement suddenly fills the air and many men blow conch shells and bang on drums and cymbals to announce the arrival of the Deities at the main gate of the temple complex. Then the smiling face of Lord Balarama appears through the doorway and the crowd shouts and chants, “Jai Balarama. Baladeva ki jai!” Generally, however, unless you are situated on a tall building, you cannot see the faces of the Deities because there are so many assistants that help move Them. But you can easily see the huge headdress They wear. Once the Deity is on the cart, the headdress is torn off and distributed amongst the people as prasada.

Daityas, strongly built men who lift the Deity, carry Lord Balarama. It is described that they move Him from one large cotton pillow to another, however, I couldn’t see any. Lord Balarama is five feet and five inches tall and has an arm span of 12 feet. When carried, there are five men on each arm, with up to 50 men pulling in front and 20 offering support in the back. All of these carriers are Daityas, members of the Dayitapati family who are descendants of Visvavasu. Gradually, taking about a half hour or so, Lord Balarama moves from the temple gate to the chariot and is placed on it so everyone in the crowd can see Him. Then Subhadra, who is less than five feet tall, is also carried from the temple to Her chariot. And finally Lord Jagannatha is brought out. He is five feet and seven inches tall with an arm span of 12 feet, and also needs many assistants to be moved.

In 1991 it was around two o’clock, when the King of Puri arrived in a procession, walked up the planks to the platform and swept the cart with a gold handled broom, and then sprinkles sandalwood scented water on them. He circumambulates the platform three times and is assisted by the priests. He does this to each of the carts. In 2001, however, this took place around 10 AM, and everything that year happened in a much more timely manner.

It should be pointed out here that the way the King sweeps the carts is an example of how the festival has changed over the years. If you read accounts of the Ratha-Yatra festival as described in the Caitanya-caritamrta, there are some major differences in the festival we find today compared to 500 years ago. The King used to sweep the street in front of the carts as they paraded down through the town. The reason he no longer does this is related in a story I was told. It seems that at one time years ago a King of Puri, Purusottama Dev, was to marry a princess who was the daughter of a king, Maharaja Sallwo Narasingha, from the district of Kanchi. When the Ratha-Yatra festival was to take place, the father of the princess was invited, but sent his minister Chinnubhatta Godaranga instead. When he attended, the King of Puri performed the devotional tradition of sweeping the road in front of the carts. The visiting minister, however, rather than being impressed with the devotion of the King for Lord Jagannatha, did not approve of him sweeping the road, even if it was for the Lord. When he reported this to King Sallwo Narasingha, the king objected to the idea of his daughter marrying the King of Puri since he was merely a street sweeper. Purusottama Dev was extremely angry that he, as the servant of Lord Jagannatha, would be insulted for his service like that. So he gathered his troupes and went to Kanchi to teach King Sallwo a lesson. Unfortunately, King Purusottama Dev was badly defeated.

On returning to Puri in such a downcast mood, he stopped at the simple cottage of Saikatacharya, a great ascetic, householder devotee of Lord Jagannatha. This devotee pointed out that the King had forgotten to ask permission from Lord Jagannatha before he went to attack King Sallwo. With this realization, the King returned to Puri and visited the temple of the Lord, crying over his defeat, asking why the Lord had let this happen. He spent the night in the temple, and with doors closed, before the night came to an end, the King heard a voice asking why he was so distraught over such a simple thing. The voice said to go gather his troupes again, and that we two brothers, Jagannatha and Balarama, would go along to fight on the King’s behalf. As the news spread, many people, both old and young, joined the King’s forces to fight with Their Lordships. However, as they went, the King was filled with some doubts whether Their Lordships were really going with him.

While the King and his army went onward, far ahead were two soldiers that rode on one black horse and one white horse. They stopped to quench Their thirst at a small village near Chilika Lake by buying some yogurt from a devotee named Manika. She offered Them yogurt, but when she asked for payment, they said They had no money. Instead They gave her a jeweled ring and told her to give it to King Purusottama Dev, who would then give her payment.

After some time, the King caught up to the lady, who flagged him down to give him the ring and asked for payment for the soldiers’ drink. The king was shocked to see the ratnamudrika ring of Lord Jagannatha and then regained his confidence that, indeed, Their Lordships had certainly come with him. In payment for the ring, the king gave her the whole village, which is still named Manikapatna. After this the king and his troupes were victorious over King Sallwo, and he also took King Sallwo’s daughter as well. However, he did not marry her after the insult her father had given him. He instructed his minister to see that she get married to a qualified sweeper. After one year, at the next Ratha-Yatra, the King again performed his sweeping ceremony. At that time, the king’s minister announced that the king was the most qualified sweeper, since he swept for Lord Jagannatha, and that the princess, Padmavati, should marry him. Then Maharaja Purusottama Dev married the princess and she later gave birth to a great devotee of Lord Caitanya, who became known as King Prataparudra. Anyway, at some point after this, the King of Puri discontinued sweeping the streets and now sweeps the carts.

The festival parade also used to start in the morning and then stop at noon near the Jagannatha Vallabha Gardens where the Deities would get offerings of food, worship, etc., from the many devotees. There would also be many groups of people singing devotional songs, and though you will still see some people in kirtana groups, there were very few in 1991, while there were several big kirtana parties in 2001, including a large one consisting of the devotees from the Iskcon temple in Mumbai (Bombay).

After the King has swept the carts, they quickly begin to disassemble the gangplanks that lead up to the cart and begin to fasten the wooden horses that point the direction. Many thousands of devotees surround the carts and the people in the front take up the long, thick ropes to pull the chariots down the main road to the Gundicha temple, where the Deities stay for a week. Then the leaders on the carts that ride near the wooden horses direct those who are pulling the ropes to take up the slack. When everything is ready, a whistle is blown by the chariot driver and a hundred people on each of four ropes begin to pull. Then the numerous priests and assistants on the carts that ride along begin to bang on the gongs and cymbals, and suddenly the cart lurches forward and begins to move.

Once the carts get going, you mostly hear the spectators simply shout out, “Jayo, Jai Jagannatha,” and raise their hands in the air and watch the cart go by. Many police have to guard the chariot wheels to make sure no one gets too close and is crushed under them. In 1991 it was after five o’clock before Lord Balarama’s cart got started and loudly rumbled down the road and soon reached the Gundicha temple. In 2001 it started by about 10:30 AM or so. Subhadra’s cart began to move a while later.

Lord Jagannatha’s cart did not get started until after six o’clock in 1991, which was quite late, but got started by 11 AM in 2001. However, both times it did not make it to the Gundicha temple until the next day. The people pulled it about two-thirds of the way before it almost ran into some shops on the side of the road. So Lord Jagannatha spent the night wherever the cart had stopped. The following morning the people redirect the cart and continued with the Ratha-Yatra to finish pulling it to the Gundicha temple about two miles down the road from the main temple where the Deities stay for a week before returning to the temple in a similar parade.

Sometimes the chariots mysteriously stop, though everyone is pulling hard. In fact, it is not unusual, as in the case of this festival, that a chariot may stop completely and stay there overnight and then continue the next day. Sometimes if there is difficulty, the local government minister will pray to Lord Jagannatha for forgiveness from whatever offenses the residents of the town may have committed. Then the chariots begin to move again as if they move only by the will of Jagannatha.

The parade is a fascinating event in which to participate and see. But when the chariots get rolling, the crowd gets very intense. You either have to get out of the way to let them by, or struggle, as you get pushed this way and that, to move with the crowd as it goes with the cart. Many people try to pull the ropes and it is not easy, and can be dangerous, to get a place nearby.

The Deities spend the first two nights on the carts outside the Gundicha temple, or wherever else They may be if They do not make it there the first night. During this time, pilgrims can climb up on the carts and see the Deities very closely and even embrace Them. But the priests are quick to charge everyone a certain number of rupees for this opportunity, which makes for a very good business for the priests. When I climbed a cart and was about to give a “donation,” as many as five of the attendants grabbed the money at once before I let go of it. And when I did not let go of it right away, they started to get very angry. This was after I had been assured that I could climb the cart to see the Deity of Lady Subhadra and there would be no charge, and I would also be allowed to take a photograph. I indeed was allowed to see Lady Subhadra and even embrace Her, which is a rare event for any pilgrim, what to speak of a Westerner. But after I had given my donation, I took out my camera to take a photograph and a guard immediately came over and objected and ordered me to get down off the cart. So that brought an abrupt end to the episode. Nonetheless, if one can overcome this businesslike atmosphere, it can still be a very devotional and memorable event. And you can also go up on the carts of Lord Jagannatha and Lord Balarama as well, if you can handle the crowds and the many priests who ask for donations, or who want to direct people, sometimes forcefully with the use of sticks. Some people simply stay on the ground and offer prayers and small ghee lamps from a distance. Others climb all three carts to get the personal darshan of all three Deities.

The Deities are then taken inside the Gundicha temple only on the third night. After the Deities’ stay at the Gundicha temple, They return a week later to the main temple in a similar parade that is attended by fewer people. This can be a time when you can get much closer to the carts and walk more easily with the parade, providing you have time to stay in Puri for this event. Again, the Deities come out of the Gundicha temple as before and are placed on the carts with much fanfare from the devotees. Then again the King of Puri comes to cleanse the carts, and shortly thereafter the carts are ready to be pulled in a most festive parade back to the main temple. The return trip usually happens all in one day. However, again the Deities stay outside on the carts for two nights, allowing everyone who wants to climb up on the cart for a close darshan. Then on the third night there is the Suna Vesa festival in which the Deities are dressed in gold outfits. Again, the city becomes extremely crowded as people want to see the Deities in the golden ornaments. These include gold crowns, hands and feet, golden peacock feather, gold earrings, different golden necklaces, and ornaments such as a silver conch and gold disk for Lord Jagannatha and golden club and plow for Lord Balarama. These are all solid gold, and all together weigh up to one ton.

No one is allowed on the carts for the gold festival except for the intimate servants of the Deities. The way the crowd works for this festival is that they approach the carts from the main road. The closer to the carts you get, the thicker the crowd becomes. You are then directed by numerous police to walk with the crowd around the front of the carts and then down a side street. The police will also not let you stop along the lanes, but make sure everyone keeps moving. As you walk, you can then look toward the Deities to see Them in Their unique gold ornaments. They look especially powerful dressed as They are like this. Your darshan is only as long as it takes for the crowd to move, and then you must continue on, or come back around again, all of which can take an hour to make it through the crowds. Then as you come back around, the street is divided into two lanes, one for those approaching the carts and the other for those leaving. So you have to continue a ways away before you can begin to come back around. Getting directly in front of each of the carts is the only way you can have a direct line of sight toward the Deity during this event.

After this, the Deities stay on the carts one more day and are then taken into the main temple the following evening, as They were when taken into the Gundich temple. Then the Ratha-Yatra festival is completely finished until next year.

The Internal Meaning of the Ratha-Yatra Festival

The meaning of the Ratha-Yatra parade is steeped in religious sentiment. The form that Lord Krishna takes as Jagannatha is the manifestation of His ecstasy that He feels when He leaves the opulence of His palaces in Dwaraka, represented by the Puri temple, to return to the town of Vrindavan and the simple and pure spontaneous love the residents there have for Him. Thus, there is no difference between Lord Krishna and Lord Jagannatha. So in the mood of separation from His loving devotees, Jagannatha mounts His chariot and returns to Vrindavan, which is symbolically represented by the Gundicha temple. In this way, the esoteric meaning of the Ratha-Yatra parade is that we pull the Lord back into our hearts and rekindle the loving relationship we have with Him. Many great poems and songs, such as Jagannatha-astakam, have been composed describing the event and the highly ecstatic devotional mood one can enter while participating. Many verses are also written in the Caitanya-caritamrita that describe the pastimes Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu had during these Ratha-Yatra festivals 500 years ago.

To explain the internal meaning of Ratha-Yatra further, Lord Jagannatha is the embodiment of Lord Krishna’s love for Srimate Radharani. While Lord Krishna was living in Dwaraka, he felt great separation from Radharani and the residents of Vrindavana. On the day of one solar eclipse, He traveled to Kuruksetra with His brother Balarama and His sister Subhadra on His chariot. There He met Srimate Radharani and other residents of Vrindavana, all of which wanted to take the Lord back to Vrindavana. While traveling and thinking of this meeting, He entered mahabhava, the highest sentiments of loving exchange. In that state, His eyes dilated like fully bloomed lotuses, and His hands and legs retreated into His body. In this way, the form of Lord Jagannatha is called radha-viraha-vidhura, the separation from Radharani, and also mahabhava-prakasha, the manifestation of mahabhava for Radharani. Lord Caitanya was the embodiment of Srimate Radharani’s love for Lord Krishna. So Lord Caitanya taking Lord Jagannatha from the main temple to the Gundicha corresponds to Srimate Radharani’s wanting to take Lord Krishna from Dwaraka back to Vrindavana, the place of spontaneous and ecstatic love of God.

It is also explained that by participating in this festival, chanting and dancing, or helping pull the ropes of the chariots, one becomes free of many lifetimes of karma. One can even become liberated due to the spiritual potency of Lord Jagannatha’s presence. One of the ways this happens is explained as follows: at the very end of one’s life when the memories of his activities pass through the mind, when he remembers the amazing Ratha-Yatra festival his mind stops and focuses on that event. Thus, he dies thinking of Lord Jagannatha and is liberated from material existence and returns to the spiritual world, just like a yogi is transferred to the spiritual strata when his mind is fixed on the Supersoul at the time of death. This is why thousands of pilgrims come to Jagannatha Puri every year for Ratha-Yatra.

Other Places of Spiritual Importance in Jagannatha Puri

While in Jagannatha Puri, there are many other places of interest that pilgrims come to see, so I will describe a few of these. About a quarter mile from the Jagannatha temple, walking toward the beach, is Siddha Bakula. This is where, 500 years ago, the great saint Haridas Thakur used to live and chant the Hare Krishna mantra 300,000 times a day and where Sri Caitanya would visit him. Since Haridas could not enter the Jagannatha Temple, being of a Muslim family, Lord Caitanya took the stick He had used as His toothbrush and stuck it in the ground. It immediately grew into a beautiful shade tree, under which Haridas Thakur lived. Sanatana Gosvami had also stayed here for a time as well.

Haridas attained such an elevated position of ecstasy from chanting the Hare Krishna mantra that even though a beautiful prostitute came to tempt him with sex, he was not interested. Thus, he is called the namacarya: the master of chanting the holy names. In 1991, a small shrine was found here, along with the old and bent tree under which Haridas would chant. However, since then, as found in 2001, there is a nice temple and plenty of walled protection for the tree at this place. The tomb of Haridas Thakur, where you’ll also see beautiful Radha Krishna Deities as well as an image of Haridas, is located next to Purusottama Gaudiya Math near the beach. This is an important place of pilgrimage.

A 15 minute walk from here is the temple of Tota-Gopinatha. The Radha Krishna Deities here are especially beautiful, and it is accepted that Sri Caitanya ended his life by entering into the Deity of Tota-Gopinatha. Also near this area is the old house of Kashi Mishra. It is now used as part of a temple and has nice diorama exhibits of Sri Caitanya’s life. It is here we find the Gambhira room, which is where Sri Caitanya lived for 12 years. Through a small window you can see Sri Caitanya’s original wooden sandals, water pot, and bed.

A short walk to the east of the Jagannatha temple is the Gaudiya Math temple and the place where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta took birth. A little farther east is the Jagannatha Vallabha Garden, which is almost across from the Balagandhi temple which used to be where Lord Jagannatha would stop during His Ratha-Yatra parade to accept food offerings from all the devotees. At this garden, Sri Caitanya had many pastimes and is where He saw Lord Krishna manifest Himself. A little ways away from the garden is Narendra Sarovara, a small lake where many festivals have taken place with Sri Caitanya and his associates. Even now many pilgrims will visit and take a holy bath in this lake. The Govinda Deity from the Jagannatha temple is brought here for festivals where He is given boat rides. There is also a little temple with Lord Jagannatha Deities located here. So if foreigners want to see Lord Jagannatha they can usually come here for darshan, unless it is during the Ratha-Yatra festival.

Farther down the main road of town near the Gundicha Mandir is the very old temple dedicated to Lord Narasimha, which we can enter to view the Deity. This is also where Sri Caitanya engaged in many kirtanas with his close associates. Not far away is Indradyumna Lake where Sri Caitanya once manifested His Mahavishnu form showing His associates His supernatural qualities as an incarnation of God.

About 14 miles from Jagannatha Puri is the Alarnatha temple at Brahmagiri. Lord Alarnatha is a four-handed form of Lord Vishnu. Whenever the Jagannatha Deities in Puri would be removed from the altar before the Ratha-Yatra festival for two weeks, Sri Caitanya would stay here. This is a temple where, at the end of the kirtana hall in front of a Deity of Sadbhuja, there is a large stone slab with the imprint of Sri Caitanya’s body. Once when He fell onto the stone in an ecstatic trance, the stone melted leaving the imprint of Sri Caitanya’s body as we find it today. Across from the Alarnatha temple is another Gaudiya-Math temple that was established by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. It is also here where we find the small Alarnatha Deity that was uncovered during excavations around the main Alarnatha temple. However, once when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was staying at his temple, the priest at the Alarnatha shrine had a dream in which the Lord came to him and said that He wanted to accept the worship of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. Then the priest brought the small Alarnatha Deity to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta who worshiped Him, and where the Deity has remained since then. Also in this town of Bentapur we can see the birthplace of Ramananda Raya, a close associate of Sri Caitanya.

Nineteen miles north of Jagannatha Puri is Konarka, a most interesting temple to Surya, the sun-god. Although it is very old and no longer used for worship, many people come here every day. A Surya temple was here as long ago as the 9th century, but the present temple was built in the 13th century to resemble a huge chariot and has 24 gigantic stone wheels all around it. There are also carvings of seven strong horses who pull the chariot, and the temple is covered with many panels of stone figures depicting many aspects of life, such as scenes with hunters, soldiers, ascetics, maidens, birds, elephants, etc. There are also three green chlorite deities of Surya in niches on the outside of the temple, reached by ascending flights of stairs. The interior has been filled in and blocked up to help support it. Outside the temple grounds are many shops who sell food or the usual gamut of nick-nacks.

About six miles from Puri is the Saksi-gopala temple, located between the Jagannatha Puri and Khurda Road Junction railway stations. A new station called Saksi-gopala is there where people get off to visit the temple. The Saksi-gopala Deity is the Gopala Deity who walked from Vrindavan to Vidyanagara, a town located 20 to 25 miles from Rajahmundry on the banks of the Godavari River. How this happened was that two brahmanas were traveling and visiting the holy places. One was poor and young and was serving the older and richer brahmana. The older one was so satisfied with the charitable service of the younger brahmana that he vowed in front of the Gopala Deity that he would give his daughter to the younger brahmana to be his wife. Later, when they returned home, the older brahmana hesitated to fulfill his promise due to pressure from his family. There was some controversy about this between the two brahmanas and in a meeting with the people of the town it was agreed that if the Deity Gopala would come to testify as a witness, the older brahmana would give his daughter as promised.

The younger brahmana went back to Vrindavan and related the situation to the Gopala Deity who finally agreed to walk. He told the brahmana that He would follow him and that the sound of His ankle bells would indicate He was there, but if the brahmana turned around to look, He would walk no farther. So for 100 days they walked toward Vidyanagara, then the sound of the Deity’s ankle bells ceased to sound. The brahmana looked back and the Deity was standing there smiling. The brahmana went to gather the people of the town who were amazed to see the Deity. Then the older brahmana agreed to give his daughter in marriage as promised and a temple was built for the Deity. Later the King of Orissa, Purusottama, was insulted by the King of Kataka (Cuttack). So Purusottama fought and defeated the King of Kataka and took charge of the city. He then brought the Gopalaji Deity from Vidyanagara to Kataka and built a temple there. The Deity also stayed in the Jagannatha Temple for some time, but then was moved to a village about six miles from Puri, called Satyavadi. Some time after that a new temple was constructed where we find the Saksi-gopala Deity today. Though the temple does not allow foreigners inside, many people visit this temple with the understanding that whether the Supreme is in the spiritual realm or expands Himself in the material realm in the form of a stone Deity, He can change what is spiritual into material and vice versa whenever He wants. This is why a stone Deity can do what is considered miraculous things, like walk, talk, etc. Thus, it is accepted that the bona fide Deity of the Supreme is nondifferent from the Supreme Himself.

These are some of the significant events and places that we can find in and around the town of Jagannatha Puri.

Radha Kund: The Holy Place of Srimati Radharani

Radha Kund: The Holy Place of Srimati Radharani

By Stephen Knapp

 

Radha Kund is the bathing place of Radharani and Her most elevated assistants, the gopis or cowherd girls. Radha Kund is located on the northern end of Govardhan Hill in the area of Greater Vrajamandala, not far from Vrindavana or Mathura. Sri Rupa Gosvami explains in verses 9 and 10 of his Sri Upadesamrita that out of all the places in Vraja, Radha Kund is superior to them all because it is flooded with the ambrosial nectar of Krishna prema, ecstatic love of God. Therefore, those who live here are the most fortunate in the universe. The Padma Purana also explains that just as Radharani is most dear to Krishna, Her bathing place of Radha Kund is also dear to Him.

       Across from Radha Kund is Shyama Kund, Krishna’s bathing place. Krishna dug Shyama Kund when Radharani insisted that He purify Himself by bathing in all the holy rivers after He had killed the Aristasura demon who was in the form of a bull. So rather than going to all the sacred rivers, He simply dug His heel into the earth and called the presiding deities of the various holy rivers of India to merge their waters into the pool. After bathing, He explained to Radharani and the gopis that the bull was actually a demon, so they should also take a purifying bath to rid themselves of the sin of siding with a demon. Radharani became upset and decided She could also make a kund or lake. Thus, She and the gopis broke their bangles and dug a hole, but it remained dry to Krishna’s amusement. However, by using water from the nearby Manasi Ganga lake and the waters from the presiding deities of the holy rivers who appeared, Her kund also filled up. Thus, these kunds are very special to pilgrims who visit. It is said that anyone who bathes here will get the perfection of Krishna prema, which is far beyond mere liberation from material existence. It is said that Radha Kund is the liquid form of Radharani’s ecstatic love for Krishna. And since Radha Kund is Lord Krishna’s favorite bathing place, anyone who bathes in Radha Kund gets the mercy of Lord Krishna and will attain Krishna prema, ecstatic love for Lord Krishna. Similarly, Radharani also said that anyone who bathes in Shyama Kund will get Her special favor. Therefore, Radha Kund is difficult to attain.

       To recognize the spiritual significance of Radha Kund may not be so easy for neophytes. As I said earlier, in order to perceive the spiritual atmosphere in Vrindavan you have to receive the blessings of the resident devotees and become qualified so that Vrindavan reveals itself to you. An example of this was related to me by a friend. When he visited Radha Kund he met an old sadhu, a saintly man who had retired from material life and was now living at Radha Kund. My friend asked the sadhu some questions and at first the man hesitantly explained that he did not work or attempt to maintain himself. He simply depended on Krishna and chanted the holy names at Radha Kund. How he got his food was that a small boy would come by and give him some food every day. The man explained that as a person becomes more and more spiritual, he will recognize the eternal atmosphere that pervades Vraja, especially at Radha Kund, and he will not feel the need to take so much care of the body. My friend then asked him if he could actually see the spiritual world or if he had ever seen Krishna at this holy place. The old man said he had not seen Krishna, but sometimes he could here the gopis talking with Krishna or discussing amongst themselves how Krishna looked and what He was doing.

       My friend then asked the old sadhu how it was possible for him to perceive such things? The man then began talking quite readily and convincingly told my friend that Radha Kund was indeed the spiritual world; you simply had to remove your materialistic vision. Then the old man took my friend’s hand and pushed it flat to the ground on the banks of the Radha Kund and said, “Just touch this land and you can feel the spiritual nature of it.” My friend told me that at that moment a charge went up his arm from the ground and he could actually feel the difference, that this was indeed a spiritual place. But before my friend got the blessings of this sage, he could not really feel the difference. And that is what is necessary. Until you can actually perceive it, all you can do is to try to understand with your mind and imagine how Krishna performed so many pastimes here, and how this place is spiritual. But the actual realization of such things goes much further than that. It is a matter of re-establishing your spiritual identity and connection with the spiritual realm. It is the reawakening of your spiritual consciousness and actually perceiving the subtle nature of spiritual reality.

       In the area of Radha Kund as you circumambulate the area, you can find numerous temples and important places. To describe a brief tour around Radha and Shyama Kunds, we first enter the area from the bus stop, and on our way along the road we come to the Radha-Gokulananda temple, which has the pratibhu or representational deities that belonged to Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakur. Going farther along, we next come to the Kundesvara Mahadeva temple and the sacred peepul tree. Mahadeva  Shiva is one of the guardians of the holy dham. Then we soon get our first view of Radha Kund, and pay our respects by bowing our heads toward this form of Radharani. Farther down across from the vegetable market is the lane on the left that goes to the Purana Mandir, which has a lovely set of Radha Krishna deities. These were found by Raghunatha dasa Goswami when he was excavating the kunds. Continuing on, we come to the road that leads to the left. This can take us to the Gaudiya Math temple with the beautiful deities of Radha-Kunjabihari. Farther on we can also reach the Shiva Khor or kund, and the Ramesvaram Shiva temple.

       Back to the main parikrama path, we can next see the Radha Kanta temple right at the corner of Radha Kund. Across from that on the left of the road is the Sri Gopal temple. Then just down the street on the right is the Radha-Gopinatha temple, which also has at the far end the samadhi tomb of Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. Exiting through the door on the south side, we are now along the water of Radha Kund where many people take a holy bath. This is near the private bathing place of Jahnavi, the wife of Lord Nityananda when She lived here at Radha Kund nearly 500 years ago, which you can see there.

       Going farther along the main parikrama road, we next see a circular platform, which is a rasa-sthali where dances are performed at times. There we take a right turn. Going down the path we can find the bhajan kutir of Gopal Bhatta. Around the corner is also Krishna dasa Kaviraja’s bhajan kutir, the small living quarters where he wrote the Caitanya-caritamrta and several other important spiritual books. Then there is Raghunatha dasa’s bhajan kutir and the cremation place of these Swamis used when the Muslims were coming into the area. Rather than taking the chance of having their bodies disturbed in case the Muslims would dig them up, they cremated them instead. On a side road there is the bhajan kutir of Bhaktivinoda Thakur where he and Bhaktisiddhanta would stay when visiting the area. Farther along the parikrama road we next find Lalita Kund on the left, across from which is Jiva Gosvami’s bhajan kutir. Next along the road and down a lane on the right toward Shyama Kund there is the place of Madhavendra Puri’s sitting place, and around the curve we come to Lord Chaitanya’s sitting place. This used to be like a little hut or bhajan kutir, but now they have expanded it and put a roof over it. After that we continue our walk down the lane and other temples can also be found, such as Asta Sakhi Mandir, Nitai Gauranga Sitanatha Mandir, Manipur Maharaja Mandir, Radha Gopinatha Mandir, a Gaura Nitai Mandir, Radha Govindaji Mandir, and other temples that are located around the kunds. Then we go to the sangam or meeting place of the two kunds where many people take a holy bath or do some special worship or pujas to the kunds, since they are non-different from Radha and Krishna. If it is not crowded and somewhat peaceful, it is also nice to sit and meditate or chant japa for a time, contemplating our good fortune to be here. Then returning to the path and going through some shops we pass a deity of Hanuman and pray that he relieves us of whatever offenses we may have committed while visiting, and then we return to where we started.

       These temples and holy places can be located with the help of local residents, or guides may present themselves to show you around or to help you do some rituals or puja to Radha Kund and Shyama Kund. They are called Tirtha gurus, or the local pandits who know all about these special tirthas, holy places. This is alright, but be sure to establish a price before you accept their service. Presently you can also get guidebooks of these specific areas. You can find them at the Krishna-Balarama Mandir, or in a few of the shops in Loi Bazarr at Vrindavana. These will have photographs, maps to show you around, and more detailed stories of the pastimes that have taken place here. You must definitely visit these places if you are in the area.

       One word of caution: this is certainly a holy place but when there are crowds of people here, do not take any valuables with you or keep wallets in your pockets, especially if you will bathe in the water. It is not uncommon that such things end up missing. And the road between Vrindavana and Radha Kund is closed at night because of thieves and dacoits. So if you plan on visiting Radha Kund, do not wait too late at night or you may up having to spend the night or taking a longer route through Govardhana to Mathura to get back to Vrindavana.   

    Also read the article “Srimati Radharani” to learn more about Her.

The Divya Desams of Lord Vishnu: The 108 most holy places of Lord Vishnu

The Divya Desams of Lord Vishnu

The 108 most holy places of Lord Vishnu

        This page is in two parts. The first part contains short descriptions of each of the 108 holy sites where various pastimes or lilas of the Supreme Being, Lord Vishnu and the avataras, have occurred, and where important temples are now located. The second and lower part of this page contains small pictures that are associated with each site, some of which show the deities in the temples, and others prints. Thus you can have darshan of each holy place. Some photos or prints are available in clearer and larger sizes in The Krishna Darshan Art Gallery at the Stephen-Knapp.com website. Great spiritual merit is accrued by the pilgrim who can go to any of these sacred places, or even hear about and meditate on them. 

PART ONE

Descriptions

Tiruvenkatam (in Tirupati)

Description: Ten of the 12 Alwars have sung of, or mentioned, Tiruvenkatam in a total of 202 verses of the Naalayira Divya Prabandam. Clearly, Tirupati is the most visited of temples/pilgrimage sites in India. Millions of pilgrims visit Tirupati throughout the year. Tirupati is one of the two Divya Desams in Andhra Pradesh; the other is Singavel Kunram (Ahobilam).

A cluster of three temples is regarded as the Tiruvenkata Divya Desam. The hill temple enshrining Srinivasar, the Govindarajar temple near the Tirupati railway station, on the ground and the Tiruchanur temple enshrining Padmavati are the three temples which constitute the Tirupati or Tiruvenkata Divya Desam.

Deities: The Moolavar here is Srinivasar or Venkateswarar on the hill temple in a standing posture facing east, while the Utsavar is Kalyana Venkateswara. The Govindaraja temple enshrines Govindaraja Perumal in a reclining posture facing east and Pudarikavalli Taayar. The Tiruchanur temple enshrines Padmavati, the consort of Venkateswara.

Tirumalla, The Famous Temple to Lord Venkateshwara

  Since this is one of the most important temples in all of India, we will describe a more complete tour of the main temple and the many other sites to see here. First of all, the temple of Lord Venkatesha (Vishnu), also known as Sri Balaji, is perhaps the richest temple in the world. Money comes in from many different sources, but there is much that the administration of this temple does with it. They own and maintain their own bus system as well as the roads that take the pilgrims up and down the hills to see this temple. They also have several large universities that they manage, as well as banks, hospitals, and many programs for the poor and sick. They also give grants to writers of books on Eastern philosophy, and also freely send beautifully carved deities for installation in new temples in various parts of the world. In fact, to discuss in detail the many projects that this temple is involved in would take several pages. Besides, donations provide many blessings to those who give.

The legend behind the temple location is summarized as follows: Once Bhrigu insulted MahaVishnu, which annoyed Goddess Lakshmi. She then went to earth and did penance in Kolhapur, a location of another famous temple for Lakshmi. The Lord then came in search for the Goddess and arrived at these hills and stayed as Srinivasa. Here He met Padmavathi, an incarnation of Bhudevi and a princess of Narayanapuram, whom He had promised to marry when He appeared as Lord Rama. When He married Her, it was a huge wedding, and the pastime was that He needed extra funds. He borrowed it from Kubera, the treasurer of the demigods. Kubera insisted on repayment with interest. Hence, the devotees in Andhra Pradesh call the deity Vaddi Kasulaswamy (the Lord of interest), repaying Kubera’s interest which never ends. The demigod Kubera is enshrined in the Govindaraja Swamy temple, believed to be there collecting the interest with a brass measure. Thus, somehow, many funds are always coming into the temple.

There are two ways to go to Tirupati, either by foot or by bus. Walking up the hill is a hefty climb, but it used to be the only way you could go. Some of the more determined pilgrims still prefer to walk up as a spiritual austerity and sign of their sincerity. The foot path starts at the Alipiri tower and continues to the Kali Gopuram at the half-way point, and then on up to the top. There are two temples along the path. The temple of Lord Narasimha, about four miles up, is a required visit. Otherwise, it is considered that your vows may not be fulfilled and the pilgrimage will not be complete. Of course, taking the bus means you by-pass this temple. The other temple is for Ramanuja and marks the place where he would stop to sleep on his way up the hill.

For the bus ride, you have to purchase a ticket in advance at one of the ticket booths in town. They say this is to plan or help control how many people crowd the temple at different times. So when you purchase your ticket, you decide at what times the next day you wish to go. Of course, this may change, since every time I have gone to Tirumalla the system is different. Of course, if you take a taxi, then you just go up when you want.

The bus ride is like taking a roller coaster that climbs steep and winding roads that overlook sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet down the hillside. You occasionally pass other vehicles on the narrow road, or even pilgrims who are walking up. Sometimes the bus comes precariously close to the edge of the road, and will make sharp turns that force you to hang onto your seat.

Once we reach the top, we find many buildings and cottages that fill the area between the seven sacred hills. Many people stay here for days or weeks. It is indeed a complete city in itself and has all kinds of shops and stores offering whatever you might need, including free meals for pilgrims at certain halls.

As we get further into town, we see many people with shaved heads. Some men, women, and children perform the sacrifice of voluntary loss of hair as a way of signifying their surrender of vanity and ego for unity with God. By lessening one’s concern for bodily beauty and distinction, it automatically becomes easier to focus the mind on higher goals. This is why pilgrims often shave their heads when they visit Tirupati. At Kalyana ghat many barbers are kept busy assisting people for this purpose. As you tour South India, you will often see individuals or complete families with shaved heads, evidence of their recent visit to Tirupati.

In the center of the town is the main temple where long lines of people are continually entering through the main gate for darshan of the Lord. Darshan is the devotional exchange of seeing and being seen by the deity. It is one of the most important devotional activities for a pilgrim to perform. The darshans begin at three in the morning and end at midnight. To enter the temple you have to go to a special gate some distance away from the temple entrance. (Anyone can tell you where it is.) However, as I mentioned, nowadays you get your ticket at one of the several booths in town at the base of the hill or at the bus station before ever going up to Tirumalla. There you can ask for a sixty-five rupee ticket for “special darshan.” (Prices tend to increase with time.) This greatly reduces the waiting time of standing in line. Regular darshan may take three to four hours of standing in the queue, while “special darshan” takes only about an hour. Of course, on festival days the waiting time may take two to three hours for “special darshan” and up to twelve or more hours for regular darshan.

The nice thing about this temple is that they allow Westerners and non-Hindus inside to see the deity, whereas in some temples in the south you are not allowed to enter. Here, you simply have to sign a document stating that you are Hindu or respect the Hindu faith after you enter the queue gate. Then you proceed to the waiting rooms that can hold large numbers of people where you sit until your room is called. Then, along with everyone else, you stand in the queue that goes around the temple building. The lines are fenced off from the rest of the street and there is a roof to shade you from the sun.

When we finally enter the temple, we can see very opulent halls and pillars. The first hall has bright bronze statues of King Venkatapathi Raya and King Achyuta Raya and his wife and others, all of whom were great devotees of Lord Venkatesha. We make our way through other large halls and pass smaller shrines. As you enter the main temple sanctum, you can get a view of the gold roof and ornaments which look spectacular in the sunlight.

Finally, we pass through the golden gate of the sanctum, walking past the huge figures of the sentinels on either side. You are automatically pushed along in the queue to see the Lord. It is a walking darshan. In other words, you are walking the whole time as you are viewing the deity. As the deity comes into view, many people, with hands folded before them, exclaim, “Jaya Govinda, Jaya Sri Krishna,” since Lord Venkatesha (Vishnu) is an expansion or incarnation of Lord Krishna. Some pilgrims have been dreaming of this moment for many years. The devotion they display as they come before the deity cannot go unnoticed. The feelings these people have for God leave the religious sentiments most Westerners have far behind.

The deity is very beautiful and from the time you first see Him, it takes maybe two or three short minutes to approach, walk up to the deity, bow slightly or say a short prayer if so inclined, and then turn away to walk back out. Lord Venkatesha, or Balaji, stands on a pedestal at a height of nine feet. He is richly decorated with jewels, crown, and colorful flower garlands. The Purana states that He stands here to forgive everyone of their sins and blesses them by granting whatever devotional requests they have. There are other deities in the temple room, such as Krishna with Bhumi and Rukmini, and Lord Rama with Lakshmana and Sita, but for lack of time They mostly go unnoticed.

As we exit the sanctum, priests may offer you a spoonful of caranamritam, the water that has been used to bathe the deity earlier that morning. This is considered especially powerful for one’s spiritual merit. You hold out your right hand and take a few drops in your palm, sip it, and away you go toward the exit as hundreds of other pilgrims are waiting in the line behind you. Sometimes temple attendants have to push people in order for them to move on. Then we try to glance back to get one last view of the deity as you move among many others. All too quickly we exit the temple building and walk out and around the courtyard.

As you move around the central temple building, you can see in the back a separate area behind the glass where men are continually counting money that comes in through the hundi, or donation boxes. As you get ready to move back to the main street, you pass by an area where they provide everyone with a handful of prasada, sacred food offered to the deity. This is usually something like halava.

As we make our way out of the temple hallways and back out to the streets, we feel especially lucky for having gotten darshan of the Lord at this most popular and opulent temple. We also feel a little exalted for having been blessed by the Divinity, and maybe a little wiser after witnessing an ancient tradition of this culture in which thousands of people still participate everyday.

We can relax for a moment at the edge of Swamipushkarini Lake at the north side of the temple. This water tank is the most sacred water on the hill. The Brahmananda Purana explains that the goddess Sarasvati Devi herself has taken the form of this water tank to wash away the sins of all who bathe in it. Actually, it is said that pilgrims should bathe in this lake before going for darshan of Lord Venkatesha. The legend is that the great sage Markandeya asked Lord Brahma to put all the sacred waters into this kund. Instead, Brahma put samples of the waters of all the three planetary systems into the stream and decreed that bathing here would be equal to bathing in all the sacred waters of India. It is said that Lord Rama bathed here before going to Sri Lanka to regain Sita. On the western bank is the Swami Varaha temple, and on the southern bank is the Sri Venkateshwara temple.

There are other temples and places to see on the Tirumala hilltop, along with a small museum and a refreshing park at which we can walk and rest. The Sri Venkateswara Museum is near the Vaikuntam ‘Q’ complex and contains ancient pictures, deities, musical instruments, and other items connected with the temple, all dating from 8th to the 20th centuries. The pleasant park is located a short walk nearby. To see the additional sacred locations of the area one will have to use the TTD bus service, or will have to use a taxi to reach them all.

First, we can see the Bedi Anjaneyaswami temple opposite the Mahadwara Gopuram of the Srivari temple, near the main entrance. Anjaneyaswami in this temple is hand cuffed and standing in the position of making Namaskara or giving blessings. According to the old legends, it is told that Lord Vishnu had asked Anjaneya to remain before Him until the end of Kali-yuga, and thence he was hand cuffed.

Among the surrounding seven hills are more holy spots to visit. The seven hills of Tirumala represent the seven heads of Adisesha, the great serpent upon Whom Lord Vishnu reclines. The hills expand 250 miles with a width of 25 miles, and its tallest point is 3000 feet above sea level. There are a number of tirthams or holy places that can be seen in this area. Walking through these rolling hills to see the waterfalls and streams flowing through deep stone gorges is of the utmost beauty and another aspect of Tirumala you want to see, although you may need a guide to reach them. This is the beauty of nature at its best. So while visiting Tirupati, plan to stay several days to see everything. 

The Chakra Thirtam, located 2 kilometers from the temple, is not far from the geological arch. This is where the image of Chakrathalvar is found. It is said the time when Lord Venkateswara turned Himself into a stone deity, Chakrathalvar took a bath in this tank and decorated Lord Venkatesvara. So this thirtam is called ChakraThirtham.

The Silathoranam or Geological Arch (1 km away) is situated near the road. This is a rare geological arch in the rock and few others can be found like it in Asia. They have made a small park around it. 

Gogarbha Tirtham, two km from the temple and deeper in the hills, is on the way to Papavinasa Tirtham, and is where the Pandavas performed a yajna for attaining the darshan of Adi Varahaswami. As a mark of this, the images of the five Pandavas and their wife Draupadi are seen carved on the stones in the small cave or alcove. So it is also called Pandava Tirtham. The Pandavas are said to have spent a year here. While in meditation, Yudhisthira could see that they would win the war of Kuruksetra and regain the kingdom which was rightfully theirs. There is a beautiful stream and several small shrines here. 

Japali Tirtham is said to have been where Anjaneya Swami appeared to a great saint called Japali. You will find a nice temple to Hanuman, Anjaneya. On the east side of the temple there is the Sri Rama Tirtham, and on the west side is Sita Tirtham. Agastya Muni also is said to have spent time here along with his disciples. There is a beautiful stream and small lake at this location. However you have to walk about 1 km off the road to reach this place.

Shesha Tirtham relates to Seshanaga. This takes a walk over the hill, allowing you to see the other seven hills in the distance. You can also find water flowing through the gorges which form deep caves.

Akasa Ganga, about 3.5 km (2 miles) away from the temple, is one of the prominent Tirthams in Tirumala. It is a lovely waterfall located a little walk down the side of the hill. According to the Skanda Purana, Sri Akasa Raju brought the Ganga and offered it during the marriage of Sri Padmavathi Devi to Sri Srinivasulu. Thus, it is called Akasa Ganga Tirtham. Also, the wife of sage Kesari went into deep meditation here. Her year long tapasya or austerity was rewarded by Vayu the wind god, who gave her a special fruit blessed as prasada. Upon eating it, a son was born to her, who was Anjaneya, according to the Skanda Purana.

Papavinasana Tirtham (about 6 km away from the temple) is where the water flows in seven small outlets over the ridge and down onto a flat area where the devotees can stand and take a holy bath in the flowing water. This is fairly easy to reach. According to the Sri Venkatachala Puranam, a holy bath in this Tirtham will purify the sins of the devotees who will be blessed with peace, prosperity, and progress. This is mentioned in the Skanda Purana as well. A small temple to Devi is also on the platform. This water is used for the abhishekam, or bathing ceremony, for Lord Venkateshwara. Those who can bathe here three days in a row are considered especially blessed.

Farther along this route is the small Venugopal Swamy temple with a small black stone deity of Gopal, Krishna. It is up a small hill with little shops that line the short foot lane to the temple.

There is also Narayanavam (5 km away), the holy place along the same route where Lord Venkateswara first set His feet. Even today the footprints of the Lord can be seen under a small dome that is situated up a short flight of steps.

The Ramakrishna Tirtham Sesham is six miles from Tirumala. This is another beautiful waterfall that cascades into a lovely, clear stream that flows through the deep ridges of the hills. This is where the sage of long ago had the direct darshan of Lord Vishnu Himself. Pilgrims take a holy dip in the waters for spiritual advancement and to be purified of sins. Other Tirthams in the hills also exist nearby, some of which are reached by more arduous paths through the hills, but the beauty can make it worth it. 

Later, when we are finished visiting the hilltop complex, we can take a bus back down the hill to Tirupati town to continue our pilgrimage. There are more temples to see in the vicinity.  

 Tirupati Temples

Tirupati is a big town at the base of the hill, so it is easy to find a place to stay. When we want to visit the Venkateshwara temple on top of Tirumalla hill, we may roll into Tirupati by bus or train. Across from either station are hotels you can choose. Or, you may stay at a temple guest house, which many pilgrims also do. Once we are ready, or the next morning, it is easy to get an auto-ricksha or taxi, or even take a bus, for a tour of the temples in this town. Of course, our main interest will be to see the temple of Venkateshwara at the hilltop complex of Tirumalla. But often we first see Tirupati.

The Kapila Tirtham is near the base of the southern side of Tirumala hill close to town. It has the Kapilesvara Swami temple. This is also very beautiful, built around a pool next to the cliffs where there are lovely waterfalls flowing over the rocky hillside which fill the pools, after which the water flows into the valley. It is also called Kapila Tirtham because the sage Kapila had stayed here. He did meditation on Lord Shiva who was satisfied with his concentration and appeared to him here as a Swayambhu (self-manifested or jyotir) lingam. The lingam was originally underground but as the sage’s prayers and meditations grew stronger, it emerged from the soil and Kapila was able to perform a milk abhishekam or bathing ceremony of the lingam. It is also said that Brahma himself came here as a cow to perform abhisekham (bathing) to this lingam with milk, and Maha Vishnu appeared as a cowherd man. The temple here has images of Brahma as a cow, Vishnu as a cowherd man, and Kapila as a saint. The Kapileshwara jyotirlingam is also found here.

One of the most important temples to see is the big Govindaraja Swami temple, established by the great spiritual leader Ramanujacharya. Many people stop in to see it and pay their respects to the deity. The temple is in the center of three enclosures, each entered through ornately carved gates. The first gate or gopuram is the most impressive and is seven storeys tall. Inside are two halls that are used for various festivals. The smaller second gopuram has many carved panels inside with scenes of Krishna from the stories in the Puranas, as well as scenes from the Ramayana. In the second enclosure we find the minor shrines to Garuda, Hanuman, and avataras of Vishnu. Through the third and smallest gopuram we reach the two main shrines. One has a large deity of Krishna holding a bow as Partha Sarathi, the charioteer of Arjuna, and the other has a deity of reclining Vishnu. This deity is a sleeping Vishnu lying on Seshanaga, Vishnu’s serpentine bed, with Lakshmi and Bhudevi nearby. Vishnu’s bird carrier, Garuda, and the devotee Narada Muni are in attendance as well. Brahma is also there on the lotus flower coming from Vishnu’s navel. There is another temple room for Kothalakshmi who is connected to the Lakshmi deity in Kolhapur, and another shrine to Mahalakshmi. It is said that after visiting the Lakshmi deity here, the pilgrim should visit Kolhapur where Lakshmi appeared to do penance and meditation.

On the way in on the left side is a shrine to Ramanujacharya. All the deities are beautifully adorned with silver hands, armlets, decorations, etc. They are made of black stone, typical of the south.

Two miles (or 6 km) from Tirupati, a motor ricksha ride away, is the temple of Goddess Padmavathi at Tiruchanur. Padmavathi is considered to be the wife of Lord Venkatesha, thus many pilgrims visit this temple. It is suggested that you have darshan of Padmavathi before going to see Balaji. Only after seeing Padmavathi will one’s pilgrimage to Tirumala be complete. This is also the place where Lord Srinivasa did penance seeking reunion with Mahalakshmi, and also where the sage Sukhadeva did penance many years ago. Inside are also the deities of Lord Krishna and Venkatachalapati. Every year on the eve of the birthday of Padmavathi Ammavaru, Brahmotsavams are held here for nine days in a grand scale. The last day of the rituals, being Panchami, they perform ‘Panchami Tirtham’, which is known as Tiruchanoor Panchami. The same day the Chakrasnanam (holy bath) is held in the Pushkarini Lake. It is believed that anyone who takes bath there on this day will be freed from all sins.

Also in Tirupati is a temple of Lord Ramachandra called the Sri Kodhanda Ramaswamy temple. It has beautiful deities that had been visited by Lord Chaitanya on His south Indian tour. The temple is in an open and spacious courtyard, entered through a small but beautiful gopuram. There is a tall brass stambha or pole in the courtyard. This is a stone temple where you will find in the back a sanctum with black stone deities of Lord Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana that are beautifully dressed and have silver hands. They are large and lovely. According to legend, after killing Ravana, Lord Rama took rest at this place on his way to Ayodhya.

The Sri Varadaraja Swami temple is on Kapila Tirtham road. Varadraja Swami along with Chakrathalwar are the principal deities at this temple. The images of Chakrathalwar on one side and Sri Lakshmi Narayana Swami on the other side are installed here. It is said that Lord Venkatesvara in Kaliyuga was Sri Varadaraja Swami in Treta-yuga.

While in Tirupati you should also see the Iskcon Hare Krishna temple. It is a beautiful and large temple with much to be admired. Beautiful Radha Krishna deities and the eight main gopis are seen on the lovely altar. You will also find a few gift shops, and nice devotees make this a place worth visiting. You can easily see it as you return to town from Tirumala Hill and look out over the city. It also has a nice guesthouse.

The Sri Pedda Gangamma Ammavari temple is about 2 km from the railway station. The main shrine of this temple is to Goddess Gangamma. She is the local deity of Tirupati known as “Grama Devatha.” Every year in the last week of the month of Chaitra, an Utsava ceremony is held here on a grand scale. In ancient times devotees who came to Tirupati for SriVari darshan would visit this temple first. It is said that Gangamma is the sister of Sri Venkatesvara. So every year during the Gangamma Jathara, turmeric, kumkum, and bangles are sent to this temple.

You can also get a bus at the Srinivas complex for a three-hour bus ride that takes you to all the major local temples, even the one outside of town where Balaji and Lakshmi are said to have been married. The time is limited, but it lets you have darshan of all the deities. Otherwise you can take a taxi or auto-ricksha to take you around town, which is what I prefer.

 Other Temples Around Tirupati

The Kalyana Venkateswara Swami temple is about 12 km away from Tirupati. According to legend, after His marriage with Goddess Padmavathi, Lord Venkateswara on his way to Tirumala reached the ashrama of the great saint Agastya Muni. On his advice Srinivasa stayed at his ashrama for six months. As Srinivasa started for Tirumala, Agastya Muni requested him to stay near the ashrama and accept their rituals. On this request Srinivasa appeared here as the deity Kalyana Venkatesvara.

The Agastheswara Swami temple near Thondavada Village is about 10 km away from Tirupati. Previously this place was the ashrama of Agastya Muni. The main diety here is Rudra (Shiva) and was installed by Agastya Muni. At the time of installation it is said that all three crore (Mukkoti) gods appeared in this ashrama. So this place is also named “Mukkti”. Rudra here is known as Sri Agasteswara Swami along with his consort Anandavalli. Within the Swarnamuki River that flows around the temple is a mandapa (temple hall) wherein the image of HariHara is carved out of a single piece of stone seven feet tall. Images of Ayyappa, Ganapati, and Muruga are also here.

The temple of Sri Prasanna Venkateswara Swamy is found in Appalayaguunta, a small village about 18 km from Tirupati. The main deity is in the position of giving blessings. According to tradition, after marrying Padmavathi Devi at Narayanavaram, on His way to Tirumala Lord Venkateswara appeared to Siddeswara Swami who was doing meditation on the hill of Vemula near Appalayaguunta.

The Sri Kalyana Venkateswara Swami temple is in a small town about 25 km from Tirupati and 4 km from Puttur. It was Akasa Raju of the Chandravamsa dynasty who ruled Narayanavaram as the capital when Srinivasa came here from Venkatadri and married Padmavathi, daughter of Akasa Raju. From that time He has been offered pujas, worship, as Kalyana Venkateswara. The main deity of Kalyana Venkateswara has Lakshmidevi on his breast.

The Parasurameswara Swamy temple is found in Gudimallam 22 km away from Tirupati. This is an ancient site marked by this temple that was built during the Vikrama Chola dynasty, around 1126. In ancient times the linga found within was offered prayers by the Vishnu avatara of Parasurama, from where this temple gets its name. In the main shrine you will see Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva carved on a single stone. This is located about 7 feet underground, which is opened by rock plates under the main shrine from which comes the name Gudipallam. The name has changed to Gudimallam, the present name of the town. To the south of this temple is a temple to Surya and another to Murugan. 

The temple of Sri Venugopalaswami, with Rukmini and Satyabhama at the sides of the main deity, is about 58 km from Tirupati via Puttur at Karvetinagaram. This temple was built by King Sri Venkataperumal of the Venkataraja dynasty who brought and installed deities of Sri Venugopal here from the Narayanavaram temple.

The Sri Lakshmi Narayana Swamy temple is located in the small village of Vepanjeri, about 65 km away from Tirupati, 15 km from Chittoor. Vepanjeri is the short version of “Vem Panch Hari” which means the Lord who removes the five grave sins of His devotees. A significant aspect in this village is the 21-foot tall image of Lord Vishnu depicting His Dasavataras (ten main incarnations) in one deity. There is also a new Asta Lakshmi (Lakshmi in Her eight forms) temple in the village as well. The central shrine has Lakshmi-Narayana and Kubera Lakshmi, while Her forms of Adi Lakshmi, Dhanya Lakshmi, Veera Lakshmi, Gaja Lakshmi, Santhana Lakshmi, Vijaya Lakshmi, Aiswarya Lakshmi, and Dhana Lakshmi are in surrounding temples.

The Varada Siddi Vinayaka Swamy temple is about 72 km away from Tirupati in a small village of Kanipakam, on the banks of the Bahuda River near Chittoor. This is a nice temple in typical South Indian style. The main image is Ganesh covered with vermillion as a self-manifested or Swayambhu form.

The Sri Veda Narayanswamy temple is at Nagalapuram, about 65 km from Tirupati on the way to Satyavedu. Here He is shown as Matsya avatara. It is said that the emperor of Vijayanagara, Sri Krishnadevaraya constructed this temple in the 14th century on the wish of his mother, Nagamambha Devi. Previously the town was known as NamambhaPuram. One unique feature of this temple is that it faces east in a way that every year on March 25, 26, and 27, the sun comes or shines in to worship the deity. On the 25th the light touches His feet, on the 26th his naval, and on the 27th on his head when Surya Mahotsavam puja is celebrated.

The Sri Pallikondeswara Swamy temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is an ancient temple on the banks of the Arani River in the town of SuruttaPalli, 77 km from Tirupati, and 12 km from Nagalapuram. In most Shiva temples of South India he is represented in the linga form. But here in this temple he is manifested in a majestic human form, one of the few temples that exhibit Shiva in this way. Goddess Parvati and other deities are also seen in the sanctum. The legend is that after he consumed a large amount of poison during the churning of the milk ocean to produce the amrita nectar, he rested here briefly. Thus, the temple marks this ancient legend.

The Sri Valleswara Swamy temple is found in Ramagiri, 65 km away from Tirupati and 5 km from Nagalapuram and Pitchattoor, enroute from Chenai. Surrounded by picturesque mountains, there are two temples here, one at the foot of the hill and one on top of the scenic hillock. The lower temple is dedicated to Shiva as Kal Bhairava in the form of a linga, while the upper temple is dedicated to Murugan. The water tank here is said to possess curative powers and is fed by a spring in the mountains. The water flows into the tank through the mouth of the bull Nandi which is mounted on the side wall.

 

Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) [Sri Rangam]

 This is another of the most popular places that pilgrim go, so we will give another more complete description of the temple and places to see here. Trichy is 1 ½ hour journey from Tanjore.

It is said the town was originally known as Tirusirappally, named after the three-headed asura Tirusiras who got a blessing from Lord Shiva after worshiping him here. Trichy has three major attractions. One is the Rock Fort temple in the heart of the old city. To get there we board the number 1 bus near our hotel and ride to a place several blocks away from the hilltop temple. We walk past the Teppakulam water tank and find the entrance to the Rock Fort temple in the Chinna Bazaar. We leave our shoes at the shoe minder’s stall and proceed up more than 400 steps that are cut through the rock of the hill. It is a steep and laborious climb to the summit 273 feet up where the views are great. If it is not too hazy, you can see the Sri Rangam temple to the north. Westerners are, unfortunately, not allowed inside the hilltop temple to see the image of Vinayaka, known here as Uchi Pillayar.

The legend of this deity, as explained in the Sri Ranga Mahatmya, is that when Brahma was in a state of deep meditation, Lord Vishnu, being pleased with him, gave him a deity of Himself, known as Ranga Vimana, a form of Vishnu reclining on Adisesha. As time went on, Brahma later gave the deity to Viraja, who later gave it to Manu, who passed it along to his son Ikshvaku, and finally to Lord Rama. Lord Rama, in gratitude to Vibhishan, the brother of the demon king Ravana of the Ramayana  epic, gave him the deity. Vibhishan was returning to Sri Lanka from Ayodhya with the Vishnu deity that had been presented to him by Lord Rama. However, he had been told that if he should set the deity down on the ground, he would not be able to move it again.

The gods were not pleased that the deity would be taken away from India and devised a plan to keep the deity in Bharat. Thus, when Vibhashan stopped at Sri Rangam to take bath and perform his worship on the banks of the Kaveri River, he gave the deity to a brahmana boy with instructions not to place it on the ground. But the boy, who was Lord Ganesh in disguise, placed it on the earth anyway. Then the deity became firmly fixed to the ground and could not be moved from the spot where it remains to this day. Vibhishan became angry and chased the boy who ran to the summit of the hill that is the Rock Fort today. There Vibhishan caught and struck the boy, who then revealed his real form and stood transformed as Vinayaka. Even though Vibhishan begged to apologize before going on to Sri Lanka, the image of Vinayaka still has a depression on his face where he had been struck.

The area where the deity was set down gradually became covered by a thick forest. The deity was only discovered thousands of years later by a Chola king who accidentally found it while chasing a parrot. It was the king who established the Sri Rangam temple, which is presently one of the largest temples in India.

As we climb the stairway up the hill, the shrine to Thayumanavar, Shiva, is located half way up, but is also closed to non-Hindus. Legend explains that when a pious mother could not cross the Kaveri River to tend to her daughter who was in labor with child, Shiva appeared to help the daughter as a midwife to avoid her being disappointed. When the real mother arrived, Shiva disappeared, and the mother was surprised that her daughter had already given birth. Thus, Shiva is called Thayumanavar, the one who became the mother. This temple was excavated in the 8th century and belongs to the Pandya era. It is a columned mandapa hall with two side shrines with wall carvings of Vishnu and Shiva. In niches in the rear wall are images of Ganesh, Subrahmanya, Brahma, Surya, and Durga.

Sri Rangam is our next place of pilgrimage. From the Rock Fort temple we walk back to the bus stop to catch a bus to the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple on the north side of town. This is another very large temple complex and one of the Divya Deshams, a town in itself, and one of the most important Vishnu temples in the South. It has 21 gopurams marking the gateways through seven walls that surround the main temple. The largest gopuram is the south entrance which was completed in 1987 and reaches a height of 236 feet, one of the tallest in India. The outer walls contain an area of 3000 feet by 2400 feet. The temple complex covers an area of about 190 acres. It is situated on the island of Sri Rangam which is between two branches of the Kaveri River. Thousands of pilgrims, especially Vaishnavas, visit this temple all year long. The legend is that the deity of Sri Ranganatha was once worshiped by Lord Rama thousands of years ago. He gave the deity to Vibhishan who unwittingly allowed it to be placed on the ground. When the deity could not be moved, a temple was built at the spot.

Unfortunately, once again, they do not let most Westerners into the main temple or a few of the many smaller shrines, some of which are for Sri Krishna, Narasimhadeva, Ganesh, Garuda, etc. My guide told me that not even some Hindus are allowed inside, depending on what school of thought they subscribe to. But there are plenty of other things to see, including a variety of shops and commercial enterprises. Nonetheless, some Westerners who have accepted the path of Sanatana-dharma (bhakti-yoga) and dress accordingly are allowed into the sanctum to have darshan of the deity and see the worship. I have been able to get wonderful darshans of the deity whenever I have visited, such as when the priest shows us all aspects of the large reclining Vishnu and the utsavar deities, forcing others to wait in line behind us. In fact, Iskcon devotees are welcomed by the head pandita, Sri Rangaraja Bhatta, who is a descendant of Sri Gopala Bhatta Gosvami’s father, Vyenkata Bhatta. His house is located in the temple complex and is called “Mahaprabhu Sadan” for being the place where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had stayed for four months with Vyenkata Bhatta while He visited Sri Rangam in 1510. He lives on North Chitrai Street. It is a temple of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra. You can take the central boulevard north from the temple to North Chitrai Street and then turn left until you find a small temple with locked gates, hanging from which are signs that indicate it as Mahaprabhu Sadan. The deities are said to have been hand carved by Sri Chaitanya Himself in a feeling of intense separation from Lord Jagannatha in Puri. Sri Rangam is another temple visited by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu where He danced in ecstasy many years ago. Ranga Raj Bhatta is the last of the Vyenkata Bhatta family and is the head priest at Sri Rangam.

The temple complex contains many shrines that take time to view. You can easily go around to see the outside shrines and take photographs. But you have to buy a photo ticket and leave any bags at the cloak room. The guide that I accepted who spoke fairly good English took me around to the smaller shrines. I took a guide because it had been long time since I had been here, and he was friendly and aware of my spiritual connections and was quite favorable. So I knew he would help me enter all the areas without a problem, even if someone else may object. A good guide can explain many things about this temple as you go through it.

After seeing all the outside temples, we went into the main building. It has cavernous halls and various rooms and walkways that you make your way through to the main sanctum. Finally, approaching the main temple, there is a line of people which you follow until you are in front to see the deity. The priests are doing pujas for the people, but when you can step forward, they often help you get a good view of the full length of the deity. The main deity is an 18-feet long reclining black Vishnu lying on His serpentine couch of Seshanaga. He has silver feet and near them are His consorts Bhu Devi and Nila Devi. Just in front is the beautiful standing Vishnu deity, adorned with flowers and jewelry. Images of Nathamuni, Yamunacharya, and Ramanujacharya are also found in the sanctum. The priest may explain various aspects and stories in connection with the temple and deity before you continue on your way and allow others to step forward. Of course, a nice donation to the priest for the extra attention is always in order, and also paves the way for other Westerners to be treated with similar respect when they arrive.

After seeing the main deities, we can go around the back of the main building to see the Lakshmi temple. The Lakshmi deity is called Sri Ranganayaki Nachiyat. This was a great experience because few people were there when I visited, which is most unusual, so I could get a close-up view of the deity. Often it is packed and people are pushing one another to get or maintain a good view. As we exit the Lakshmi temple we can see the “doors of paradise” that are in the back of the main temple building. These are opened during a special festival once a year and anyone that comes through them is said to reach Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu’s abode. Now we continue to wander through the complex and see the other shrines if we have not already seen them.

After wandering the halls a little more, I walked back outside and went to see Sri Ramanujacharya’s samadhi (burial place). You can see this little temple where he is located. There is a small murti or image of him in front of a larger one. After spending some time there in respect of the accomplishments of Ramanujacharya, I also went to the viewing area on the rooftop where you can get a better look over the temple and higher levels of the gopuram towers. These are very beautiful and colorful, so it is great to see them from that height and take some photos. Many tourists also go up to view them there. So in this way, our visit to Sri Rangam to have darshan of the deities and get association with other spiritually oriented people can be very uplifting. This is the reason for our pilgrimage to such temples.

The traditional and Puranic history of Sri Rangam is quite interesting and goes back to the beginning of time. After Lord Brahma had done penance to help in the creation of the universe, Lord Vishnu was pleased with him. So Lord Vishnu manifested Himself as Lord Ranganatha, a form of Vishnu reclining on Seshanaga, the Lord’s great serpent servant. Brahma worshiped Lord Ranganatha for many years and later gave the deity to Vivasvan, the sun-god, who later handed the deity over to Svayambhuva Manu. Manu passed on the deity to King Ikshvaku, the great leader of the solar dynasty in which Lord Krishna would later appear as Lord Ramachandra. 

Lord Ramachandra gave the deity to Vibhishana, who was a great devotee and brother of the demon Ravana. However, when Vibhishana was traveling with the deity, he stopped and put the deity down briefly at a holy place called Chandra Pushkarini, near the Kaveri River. However, the deity would no longer move. It turned out that a king, Dharma Varma, had seen Lord Ranganatha in Ayodhya and prayed to worship Him. So the Lord blessed the king to stay at Sri Rangam. Nonetheless, the deity blessed Vibhishana by promising to always look toward his kingdom. This is why the deity reclines with His head toward the west, looking toward the south in the direction of Sri Lanka, Vibhishana’s kingdom.

King Dharma Varma and his dynasty of the Chola kings built a large temple around Lord Ranganatha. The worship was quite opulent. But, unfortunately, things declined and gradually the temple was forgotten and covered over by sand. One day a king was resting under a tree when a parrot explained that Lord Ranganatha was buried in the sand. So the king excavated the temple and restored it. Over time, many other Chola kings again expanded the temple.

However, the 14th century saw the invading Moghuls plunder most of the Lord’s treasures from this temple. The Vijayanagar and Nayak rulers again revived it in the 15th and 16th centuries. Then in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Muslims, French, and then the British used the fortress in furthering their domination over the area. Only after India gained independence in 1947 did the Indian government and the Ramanujas or Sri Vaishnavas finally gain control to oversee the temple properly.

Back outside the main gates of the temple complex, we catch the bus to the other side of the main road and walk down the lane to the Sri Jambukesvara temple, dedicated to Shiva. It is not as big as the Sri Ranganatha temple, but is nearby and quite interesting. It has massive carved pillars in its huge hallways, along with outside courtyards, water pool, etc. And for ten rupees you can photograph most any part of it. Here, as at the previous temple, you may be approached by a guide or temple assistant who will want to show you around, for a nice tip, of course. 

There are two main temples in this complex, one to Parvati (Akilandesvari), and one to Lord Shiva. The main deity is a small Shiva linga, Sri Jambhukeshvara or Appulingam, which is half submerged under the water of a natural spring next to it. The room is somewhat little, but the lingam is on an altar where a natural spring brings water up to the surface. Thus, the lingam is sitting in a little pool of water. They do not allow non-Hindus into this main temple, but upon seeing that I was an initiated brahmana, I was allowed in to see the sanctum. Of course, that also means that the priests will do a special puja ceremony for you, offering lamps and mantras to the deity, and then expecting some nice donations for it. But this is an aspect of worship that many pilgrims perform and is spiritually beneficial and fascinating to observe and partake in. Thus, for our own spiritual merit, we also participate.

From here we can go through the halls and around to the left where we find the shrine to Parvati. Here we buy our ticket, get in line, and when we get close to the altar we get a view of the almost lifesize and lovely image of Parvati as Akilandesvari. After this we wander onward through the halls and gopurams and go back out front. There we can wait for the next bus or our waiting auto-ricksha to take us to the next temple.

The Lakshmi-Narasimha temple is another noteworthy place to visit while we are here. It is not so popular, so some people may not know where it is. But most priests at the Sri Rangam temple can give directions, such as to your auto-riksha driver if you have taken one. It is east of the Sri Rangam temple not far from the local train station. Once you reach it, it does not have any imposing architecture, but as you enter it you will see some halls and a temple building that is entered through a side door. You then climb up the short stairway and down the hall where you can see the deity of Narasimha with Lakshmi sitting on His lap. As you enter the sanctum you can also see how impressive this deity is, practically as tall as the priest though in a sitting position. He is the largest Narasimha deity I have seen in the form of Lakshmi-Narasimha. He is made of black stone and is adorned with silver crown, hands, and ornaments. The priests will use the ghee lamp to show you His form and give you caranamritam water and tulasi leaves during your darshan. It is quite an experience.

Coming out of the sanctum, the walls in the hall have beautiful paintings depicting the pastimes of Lord Narasimha bifurcating Hiranyakashipu and later being pacified by Lakshmi. So this is a temple not to be missed while you are here.

 Ahobilam (Singavel Kunram)

         Description: Ahobilam is one of the most venerated Vaishnava temples enshrining Lord Narasimha. It is located near Nandyal in Andhra Pradesh. It is accessed from Cuddappah on the Chennai Mumbai railroad.

        Forty miles from Cuddapah is Allagedda, and there are bus routes to Ahobalam from Allagedda. Other possible routes, are Nandyal-Allagadda-Ahobalam and Dhone-Banganapalli-Koilakuntla-Ahobalam. It is referred to as the Nava Narasimha Kshetram, and is the seat of the Ahobila Mutt.

        Singavelkunram, praised in Tirumangai Alwar’s decad of 10 verses in Tamil, is the Ahobila Divya Desam, enshrining as many as nine images of Narasimha – and is one of the two Divya Desams in Andhra Pradesh.

        The Puranas state that the Nallamalai hills from Kurnool to Chittoor district are a personification of AdiSeshan whose tail is Sree Sailam, middle is Ahobalam and head is Tirumala.

        Deities: This Nava Narasimha Kshetram enshrines Ahobila Narasimhan, Varaha Narasimhan, Malola Narasimhan, Yogananda Narasimhan, Bhavana Narasimhan, Kaarancha Narasimhan, Chakra Vada Narasimhan, Bhargava Narasimhan and Jwala Narasimhan. In the temple at the foothills, the Moolavar  Prahladavaradan in a seated posture facing east; there are festival images of 8 of the Narasimhas, other than Malola Narasimha. The festival image of Malola Narasimha is located in the Ahobila Mutt. The Moolavar in the Ahobila Mutt is Lakshmi Narasimha, while the utsavar is Rama.

        Upper Ahobalam is 2800 feet above sea level. It is an arduous trek to upper Ahobilam from the foothills, but also available by bus. The Lakshmi Narasimhar temple at the lower level has mandapams, with remnants of fine sculpture from the Vijayanagar period. Upper Ahobilam enshrines Ahobila Narasimhan and Ugra Narasimhan. The moolavar images were the only shrines of worship during the period of the Chalukyan king Vikramaketu, while it was during the period of Prataparudra that festival images were made. Krishna Devarayar is known to have made endowments here. 

        The two crests of the hill are called Vedadri and Garudadri, through which the Bhavanasini Thirtham flows. There is a pillar near the Ugra Narasimhar and the Guha Narasimhar shrine; said to be the pillar, facing which the demon Hiranyakasipu asked Prahlada to demonstrate the omnipresence of Vishnu.

        Legend has it that Rama, while separated from Sita, worshipped Lakshmi Narasimhar here.  Legend has it that Garuda, desirous of seeing the Narasimha form of Vishnu, worshipped him here, and that Vishnu manifested himself as nine forms of Narasimha. Mahalakshmi is believed to have reincarnated into a family of hunters as Senjulakshmi, and married Narasimhar here. This event is commemorated in the annual festival in the Tamil month of Maasi, when the local tribe actively participates in the festivities.

Alwar Tirunagari (Tirukkurukoor)

         Description: This is the ninth and the most celebrated of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor, collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams.  

        Nammalwar honors Tirukkurukoor with a decad of 11 verses. Nammalwar’s signature in each of his decads is Kurukoor Sadagopan. This shrine is very closely associated with Nammalwar, who lived his life here. Alwar Tirunagari is also known for Araiyar Sevai, where the Divya Prabanda Pasurams (verses) are recited with expression, music and rhythm as in Srirangam and Srivilliputtur.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Aadi Naathan or Aadi Piraan. Taayaars here are Aadi Natha Valli and Kurukoor Valli.  There is a shrine to Nammalwar. The tamarind tree in which he resided (Tiruppulialwar) is the stala vriksham here

        Legend has it that Indra was absolved of his curse here. It is believed that Lakshmana incarnated as the tamarind tree here. Vishnu is believed to have been under a vow of celibacy, when Lakshmi meditated upon him to marry him and therefore Vishnu took her in the form of a garland of flowers (magizha malar maalai). There is another legend that Agasthyar had been blessed by Shiva, that there would be born a saint (Nammalwar) in this area, who would enthrone the language Tamil to a status equal to that of Sanskrit.

        The temple: This temple covers an area of 5 acres. The Tirumanjana Mandapam, the tirumamani mandapam and the Kannadi Mandapam are of great beauty.

        Festivals: The asterism of each Alwar is celebrated here, as in Srirangam. Garuda Sevai in the Tamil month of Vaikasi (Vishaka asterism – the birthday of Nammalwar) witnesses the grand Garuda Sevai, where festival images from all of the nine Nava Tirupatis congregate here. Nammalwar is mounted on the Hamsavahanam. The Paasurams on each of these deities are recited then, during this grand festival. The image above is that of Perumaal from Tirupperai.

Aranmula (Tiruvaaranvilai)

         Description: Aranmula is a beautiful village located further inland from Chengannur, (9 km west) on the Ernakulam Quilon railroad. It is on the left bank of the Pampa river, it is from here that the sacred jewels of Ayyappan are taken in procession to Sabarimalai each year. Aranmula is also known for the watersports involving a spectacular procession of snake boats.

        Among the Krishna temples in Kerala, the most important ones are at Guruvayur, Trichambaram, Tiruvarppu, Ambalappuzha and Aranmula.

        Aranmula is one of the five ancient shrines in the Chengannur area of Kerala, connected with the Mahabharatam. (Chengannur – Yuddhishtra, Tiruppuliyur – Bheema, Aranmula – Arjuna, Tiruvamundur – Nakula and Tirukkadittaanam – Sahadeva). It has been glorified by the Tamil hymns of Nammalwar of the 1st millennium CE.

        Legend has it that the Pandava princes, after crowning Pariksit left on a pilgrimage of India, and in Kerala, each of these brothers installed Vishnu on the banks of the Pampa and nearby places and offered worship. (Chengannur – Yuddhishtra, Tiruppuliyur – Bheema, Aranmula – Arjuna, Tiruvamundur – Nakula and Tirukkadittaanam – Sahadeva). It is said  that Arjuna built this temple at Nilackal near Sabarimalai, and the image was brought here in a raft made of six pieces of bamboo to this site, and hence the name Aranmula (six pieces of bamboo). Legend has it that Arjuna built this temple, to expiate for the sin of having killed Karna on the battlefield, against the dharma of killing an unarmed enemy. It is also believed that Vishnu (here) revealed the knowledge of creation to Bhrama, from whom the Madhukaitapa demons stole the Vedas.

        There is yet another legend associated with Parthasarathy here. On the ninth day of the battle of Kurukshetra, the Kauravas reigned supreme under the leadership of Bheeshma, when Krishna motivated Arjuna to take initiative and vanquish his foe. Upon his hesitating to do so, Krishna jumped down in rage and took up his discus; seeing this sight Bheeshma surrendered to him and Arjuna beseeched him not to kill Bheeshma, as it would have been against Krishna’s vow to take up arms in his battle. It is believed that it is this image of Krishna that is enshrined here, with a discus.

        The Water Carnival: This temple is located on the banks of the river Pampa. This temple is associated with water carnivals – boat race during the Onam season. A tradition of sending an offering of rice and other material required for a feast from a nearby village, on a waterboat relates to the origin of this festival and this tradition is continued even today (this is related to a legend in which a devotee fed a hungry pilgrim, who directed him to send food to Aranmula and disappeared, revealing that he was none other than Vishnu).

        Snake boats accompany the sacred boat. The boat race: Snake boats from 39 Karas from Chennithala in the west to Ranni in the east participate in the watersport Vellamkali. These boats assemble since dawn and sail in pairs for about 2 hours. A snake boat is about 103 feet in length. Each boat has about 4 helmsmen, 100 rowers and 25 singers. After the watersport there is an elaborate feast in the Aranmula temple.

Arimeya Vinnagaram

        Description: Five Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil and Arimeya Vinnagaram and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Kudamaadukoothan, in a seated posture facing east, while the Utsavar is Gopalan. Taayaar here is Amritaghatavalli.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of – and closely associated with  Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace  Tirunagari,  is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam to rid himself of the blemish of Bhramahatti (killing a Brahmin); Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the his paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festival in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Ashtabhuyakaram

         Description: This Divya desam is located in the temple town of Kanchipuram, 1.5 km west of the Varadaraja Perumal temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambreswarar temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Adikesava Perumal also known as Gajendravaradan or Chakradharar, in a standing posture facing west. Taayaar here is Alarmelmangai or Padmasini. The image of Adikesava Perumal has 8 arms, with 8 weapons (the discus, sword, a flower, an arrow, the conch, a bow, a shield and a mace). The Utsavar has 4 arms bearing a mace and a spear.

        Legends: This temple is associated with the legend of Gajendra Moksham, where it is believed that a devout elephant Gajendran, who was in the habit of making an offering of lotus flowers from the Ashtabhuja temple tank, to Vishnu was caught by the grip of a crocodile. The pleas of the elephant were answered by Vishnu who vanquished the crocodile with his disc.

        This temple covers an area of about an acre. Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai, and Gajendramoksham in Aadi.

Ayodhya (Tiruvayodhi)

        Description: Ayodhya is considered to be one of the 7 Muktistalams of India. Ayodhya is believed to be a component of Vaikuntham, given to Manu by Vishnu, and installed on the banks of the Sarayu. Ayodhya is very closely associated with the story of Rama (as told in the timeless Indian epic Ramayana). Ayodhya is located in Uttar Pradesh and is visited by thousands of pilgrims throughout the year.

        The Tamil Alwars have mentioned Ayodhya in their works; Nammalwar, Tirumangaialwar and Tondaradippodialwar in one poem each; while Periyalwar and Kulasekharalwar have six and four poems each, mentioning Ayodhya. The Ramayana dates way back in time. The Alwars lived in the latter half of the first millennium CE.

        The Ammaji Temple is a temple built embracing South Indian architecture, at a much later date, at Ayodhya, on the banks of the Sarayu river. Ranganathar and Rama are enshrined here. Rama is enshrined in a seated posture facing North. Worship services are conducted here by South Indian Sree Vaishnava priests. 

        There are several temples and shrines related to Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman in the ancient town of Ayodhya.

Badrinath (Tiruvadariashramam)

        Description: Badrinath, located in the lofty Himalayan heights 10,400 feet above sea level is a pilgrimage center held in the greatest esteem all over India.  It is an arduous mountain route to Badrinath from Rishikesh or Haridwar in the Garwahl Himalayan region, where roads get blocked with landslides during the monsoon season. Badrinath stays closed 6 months a year from Deepavali all the way until the full moon day in the month of Chittirai (late spring in the Himalayas).

        Enroute are the pilgrimage sites of Devaprayag, Rudraprayag, Karana Prayag, Nanda Prayag and Vishnuprayag. Enroute are Pandukeswar where the Pandavas are believed to have been born, and the site where Bhima and Hanuman (sons of Vayu) met.

        Hot water springs of Taptakundam are seen on the banks of the Alakananda at Badrinath. The lofty peaks Neelakanta Parvatam and Nara Narayana Parvatam are visible from the temple.

        The image of Badrinarayanar here is fashioned out of Saligramam. Badrinarayana is seen under the badari tree, flanked by Kuberan and Garudan, Naradar, Narayana and Nara. Mahalakshmi (referred to as Aravindavalli in the Sree Vaishnava tradition) has a sanctum in the prakaram. There is also a shrine to Adi Sankara.

        The Brahma Kapalam north of the temple on the banks of the Ganga, is the site of performance of remembrance rites for the ancestors. Behind the temple of Badrinarayana is the Lakshmi Narasimha mandir, with shrines to Desikacharyar and Ramanujacharya.

        Tirumangaialwar the Tamil Alwar saint of the 9th century CE, mentions Badri in his work Siriya Tirumadal, and praises its glory in two decads of 10 verses each. In one of the verses, of a decad of paasurams dedicated to Tirukkandam, Periyalwar states that Vishnu enshrined in Mathura, Salagramam, Dwaraka, Ayodhya and Sree Vaikuntam is the same as the one (Purushottaman) enshrined in Tirukkandam or Kadinagar (Devaprayag).

Devaprayag (Tirukkandam)

        Description: Devaprayag in the Himalayas at a height of 1700 feet above sea level, where Alakananda and Bhagirathi merge to form the Ganges, is considered to be a pilgrimage center of great significance.. It is  held in reverence all over India, and is a resting point for pilgrims bound to (and from) Badrinath and is located at a distance of 70 km from Rishikesh enroute to Badrinath.

        There is an ancient temple established by Adi Sankaracharya here, enshrining Rama (Raghunathji); there are also shrines to Hanuman, Badrinathji, Kaala Bhairavar, and Shiva here. Brahma, Dasaratha and Rama are said to have prayed here.

        Periyalwar of the 1st millennium CE, composed in Tamil, a decad of 10 verses praising the glory of Tirukkandam as a shrine on the banks of the Ganges. These verses state that Vishnu enshrined in Mathura, Salagramam, Dwaraka, Ayodhya and Sree Vaikuntam is the same as the one (Purushottaman) enshrined in Tirukkandam or Kadinagar. Devaprayag is considered to be Tirukkandam or Kadinagar.

Dwarka (Tiru Dwarakai)

        Description: Dwarka is considered to be one of the 7 Mukti Stala pilgrimage centers of India and is located on the west coast of India in Gujarat on the extreme western tip of the Kathiawar peninsula. Nearby is Somnath, again one of the prime pilgrimage centers of India, of great historic and religious significance. Adi Sankara established one of his four Peethams here at Dwarka, the other three being Sringeri, Puri and Joshi Mutt.

        Legend has it that Krishna built the city of Dwarka with the aid of Viswakarma (off of the west coast of India) as his capital, after moving from Mathura. The Dwarkadeesh temple has a five storeyed tower supported by 60 columns. This temple is known as the Jagat Mandir and is believed to have been built by Sambha, the grandson of Krishna. Visitors enter through the Swarga Dwar and exit through the Moksha Dwar here. 

        The Rukmini temple here is believed to be 1600 years old. The Gomati Sangamam where the river Gomati reaches the sea is located close by. A little north of Dwarka, one can ferry across to Bet – Dwarka island where Krishna killed the demon Shankhasura. There are shrines to Rukmini, Trivikrama, Devaki, Jambavati, Lakshmi Narayan and other deities here. There is another temple to Rukmini, believed to be the site of Krishna’s marriage with her. Archeological excavations have revealed five earlier cities here, all submerged now.

        The Tamil Alwars of the first millennium CE have sung of Dwarka in a total of 13 verses, in which Nammalwar refers to Krishna as the Lord of Dwaraka.

Joshimath (Tiruppirudi)

         Description: Joshimath is nestled in the Himalayas at a height of 6150 feet above sea level, enroute to Badrinath from Rishikesh.  Joshimath is considered to be a center of great significance for pilgrims traveling in the Garhwal region of Uttarpradesh. There are temples to Narasimha and Vasudeva, built by Adi Sankaracharya here.  Joshimath, is the first mutt established by Shri Adi Sankara, and is located at a distance of 14 kms from Helang enroute to Badri 6150 feet above sea level. Adi Sankara authored Sri Sankara Bhashyam here.

        In the temple for  Narasimha is enshrined Badrinarayan along with a pantheon of deities.  The presiding deity Lord Narasimha is believed to have been established by Adi Sankara.  Joshimath is surrounded on three sides by the snow clad Trishul (7250m) in the south, Badri Peaks (7100 m) in the NW, and Kamat (7750m) in the north.

        Tirumangaialwar: Tirumangaialwar the Alwar Saint of the 9th century CE, sings in Tamil in ten verses, of Vishnu (Rama) at Tiruppirudi.   Tirumangaialwar refers to Vishnu as Rama, Krishna and as ‘Paraman’ reclining on the thousand headed serpent. It is widely interpreted that Tirumangaialwar has sung of Vasudeva here in his decad of 10 verses. Another school of thought holds that Nandaprayag – the confluence of rivers Nandakini and Alakananda. situated at a distance of 190 kms from Rishikesh. is Tiruppirudi. .There is a temple to Gopala at Nandaprayag.

Kaazhicheeraama Vinnagaram

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in the town of Sirkazhi known for its Shivastalam – a vast temple complex enshrining Bhramapureeswarar, Toniappar and Sattainathar. Sirkazhi is also the birthplace of the Saivite saint Tirugnanasambandar.

        Deities:  The Moolavar here is Trivikraman – in the gesture of dominating the three worlds – facing east; Taayaar here is Lokanayaki. The Utsavars are Trivikrama Narayanan and Mattavizhkuzhali. The other Divya Desams enshrining Trivikrama are Tiru Oorakam (Kanchipuram), Tirukkovilur and Tiruneermalai. The image above is that of the grand Ulagalanda Perumal temple complex at Tirukkovilur.

Kapistalam

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at a distance of 3km from Paapanasam near Thanjavur, Kumbhakonam.

        Deities: The moolavar here is Gajendra Varadan, in a reclining posture facing east and the Taayaar is Ramaamanivalli or Potraamaraiyaal. There are also shrines to Andal and Santanakrishnan.

        Legend has it that Vishnu saved Gajendran, the king of elephants from the clutches of a crocodile, upon hearing his prayers. A similar legend also holds at the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kanchipuram. Vaali and Sugreevan (Kapi – monkey) are believed to have worshipped Vishnu here hence the name Kapistalam.

        Festivals: Gajendra Moksham is enacted in the month of Pankuni. Other festivals celebrated here include Vaikuntha Ekadasi, Rama Navami and Akshaya Tritiyai.

Manimaadakkoyil

        Description: Five Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil , Arimeya Vinnagaram, and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Narayanan (Nandavilakku – Nara Narayanan) in a seated posture facing east. There are two Utsavars by name Narayanan and Alattarkariyaan. Taayaar here is known as Pundareekavalli Taayaar.

        This temple has 2 prakarams. Chola inscriptions from the 10th century are seen in the temple. Legend has it that Indra worshipped Vishnu here. It is also believed that Badrinarayanar came down here to bless Matanga Muni.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of – and closely associated with  Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace  Tirunagari,  is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Bhramahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on  Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the his paasurams (verses)  dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

 Mathura (Vada Madurai)

         Description: Mathura and Brindavan in Uttar Pradesh are intimately connected with the life of Krishna and are considered to be amongst the holiest of pilgrimage sites of the Hindus. The Gopas shifted to Brindavan following several calamities at Gokul. Brindavan was a lush site, on the banks of the river Yamuna.

        Legend has it that Shatrugna, brother of Rama, vanquished the demon Lavanasuran, and built the picturesque city of Mathura on the banks of the Yamuna river.  Govardhan hill is located 26 km from Mathura while Brindavan is at a distance of 10 km from Mathura. Mathura has been mentioned by Ptolemy and by the Chinese traveller Hyuen Tsang (7th century CE). Mathura was once a Buddhist center.

        Krishna’s leelas with Radha have been the subject of literature all over India; especially that of Jayadeva. Radha is considerd to be one of the Shaktis of Vishnu; born as the daughter of King Vrishabhanu and his wife Kalavati, certain legends assert that she was married to Krishna. She is also known as Brindavani or Brinda. Radha is considered to be a manifestation of Lakshmi. The Brindavan refers to a sacred Tulsi forest. Raas Leela on Sharad Poornima (full moon night in the month Oct 15-Nov 15) or during Holi is of great importance here.

        Temples from the 16th century CE are seen here. The chief temples here are those of Govindadev, Radha Vallabh, Gopinath, Jugalkishore and Madanmohan. There are more than a thousand temples and 32 ghats in this town. There are also temples to Rangaji, and those built by Lal Babu the Maharaja of Gwalior. The red stone temple of Govindaji is an impressive one built in 1590 under the direction of two gurus, Rupa and Sanatana. The image of Govindadevji apparently was moved to Jaipur fearing Aurangazeb. The Rangadev temple in the Sri Vaishnava tradition was built by Seth Govindadas and Radhakrishna in the south Indian architectural style.

        Virtually every site in Mathura is associated with legends related to Krishna. The Dwarkadeesh temple in Mathura is a modern temple. The Gita Mandir is located on the Mathura Brindavan road. Gokul near Mathura, is where Krishna was raised; Mahaban is said to be the seat of the palace of Nanda, Krishna’s foster father. Barsana is said to be the original home of Radha.

        Most temples in the  town of Brindavan are associated with several of the leelas of Krishna at Brindavan. Brindavan became a center of religion from the 15th century onward. The Ramanuja Sampradaya and the Nimbarka Vishnava Sampradaya (performing Sankirtans primarily) and the Madhva sampradaya (which worships Krishna without Radha), the Vallabha and Chaitanya traditions are the leading Vaishnava sampradayas here.

        Perialwar, Andal, Tondaradippodiyalwar, Tirumangaialwar and Nammalwar of the first millennium CE, have sung in chaste Tamil, of the life of Krishna in Mathura-Govardhan-Brindavan  in a total of 50 verses. The ancient pilgrimage town of Mathura (Vrindavan) in Uttar Pradesh, is the site of what is considered to be the Vada Madurai Divyadesam. The Rangamandir, enshrines Ranganathar, Andal and Venkatachalapati. Worship services are conducted here by Tamil Sree Vaishnava priests.

Moozhikkalam (Tirumoozhikkalam)

         Description: The Lakshmana Perumal temple is located at Tirumoozhikkalam near Alwaye. The presiding deity Lakshmana Perumal is considered to be none other than Vishnu. The Triprayar Rama temple and the Koodalmanikyam Bharata temple are related shrines located in this part of Kerala.

        This is an ancient temple, glorified by the Tamil hymns (Tiruvaimozhi) of Nammalwar one of the 12 Vaishnavite Alwars of the 1st millennium CE.

        This shrine is associated with legends from the Ramayanam. Legend has it that while Bharata the brother of Rama and Lakshmana, came to invite Rama, then in exile, to take over the reins of the kingdom, an angry Lakshmana suspecting Bharata’s intentions, offered prayers to Vishnu at Tirumoozhikkalam; however, Bharata’s innocence was very soon revealed, and then the two of them offered worship together at Tirumoozhikkalam.

        Inscriptions from the 11th  century CE are seen in this temple. A vritta (circular) vimanam crowns this temple whose base is of stone, and the rest of the superstructure being laterite, stucco and timber.

Naimisaranya (Tirunaimisaranyam)

        Description: Vishnu is considered to be an Aranya Swaroopi, or in other words, the forest of Naimisaranyam, hallowed earlier on by the discourses on the great epics of India, by Vyasa Muni and Suka Muni – is considered as a manifestation of Vishnu and held in reverence and worship. The forest is considered to have been the abode of 60000 sages. Naimisaranyam is located at the junction of the roads from Sitapur and Khairabad, 20 miles from Sitapur and 24 miles from the Sandila railway station, 45 miles north of Lucknow in Uttarpradesh. Naimisaranya is also known as Nimsar or Nimkhar and is located on the left bank of the river Gomati. This place has also been visited by Sankaracharya; Surdas resided here.

        Legends:  The word Naimis has been spelt in two ways – Naimis and Naimish. The Vayu Purana and the Brahmanda Purana state that Brahma sent out a manomaya wheel (chakram) after worshipping Shiva, and that this wheel after moving around reached Naimisaranya where its rim was shattered, and that the sages following this wheel bright as the sun, stopped at Naimisaranya and settled here and so did several of the sacred thirthams (rivers).

        The Varaha Purana says that the entire army of Danavas was destroyed at this place in one nimisha, hence the name Naimisharanya.

        Naimisaranya: A more recent work, the Ain I Akbari, describes Nimkhar as a large fort and a religious resort with the Brahmavartakundh tank with a strong currrent, which ejects anything that is thrown into it. This work also speaks of a natural stream held in reverence. It also speaks of the sand taking the natural shape of Shiva.

        The reservoir mentioned here is the Chakra Theertham, where the wheel of Brahma fell. It is also the place where Vishnu flung his discus at the demons. The chakra theertham is hexagonal in shape. There are other sacred tanks such as the Pancha Prayag, the Godavar, Kasi, Gangotri and Gomati.  The Gomukhi river flows here.

        Temples: There are temples to Chakranarayana, Ganesh, Ram, Lakshman here. Enroute to the river, there is a shrine to Veda Vyasa. There is also the Puran Mandir. The Mahabharat was recited here, and Naimisaranya is  mentioned frequently in both the Mahabharat and the Ramayana.  The chakratheertha is considered very holy, and a dip here on Somavati Amavasya is considered to be sacred, but many people take a dip whenever they can. The chief temple here is that of Lalita Devi. Large crowds collect here on new moon days.

        The parikrama fair begins at Nimkhar and ends at Misraka; crowds collect here in the bright half of the month of Phalguna, and visit Korauna, Haraiya, Sakin, Dahi, Gomati and Deogaon and a few other sites and visit Nimkhar and Misrikh. Misrikh houses the Dadichi Kund. Legend has it that sage Dadichi gave up his material body, so that his bones could be used in the preparation of a missile to destroy demons. The Hatyaharana Thirtham here at Misraka is of great importance; where Rama is believed to have bathed to purify himself of the sin of having killed Ravana.

        Tirumangaialwar of the 9th century CE  has sung of Naimisaranyam in chaste Tamil  in a total of 10 verses, as one of the abodes of Vishnu. Tirumangai Alwar refers to Vishnu as ‘Naimisaaranyattull en Taai’. An Ahobila Madam and a Ramanuja Kootam in the Sree Vaishnavite tradition are located here.

Parameswara Vinnagaram

        Description: This Divya Desam is the celebrated Vaikuntha Perumaal Temple, built by the Pallava Emperors who also built the Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Vaikuntha Nathan or Paramapada Naathan in a seated posture facing west, and Taayaar here is Vaikuntha Valli in a separate shrine.

        The Temple: This temple is regarded as a grand specimen of Pallava architecture. It has a  three layered Ashtanga Vimanam. The lowermost level enshrines the seated image of Vishnu, while the ones above enshrine Vishnu in reclining and standing postures respectively. The images in the upper levels are not worshipped. (This is similar to the arrangement in the Koodalazhagar temple at Madurai).  This temple was constructed by Nandi Varma Pallavan II (717-779 CE) and it covers an area of about 3 acres.

        Legend has it that the Dwarapalakas of Vishnu were reborn as the children of the king of Vidarbha – Villavan and Pallavan. These Princes, are said to have performed the Aswamedha sacrifice here, and Vishnu is said to have appeared in front of them in answer to their prayers.

        Festivals:: Two worship services are offered each day. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi as in the Varadarajaswamy Temple, and Vaikuntha Ekadasi is celebrated in the month of Markazhi.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambreswarar temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

Saalagraam (Tiruchaalagraaamam) [Multinath]

        Description: Muktinath is a pilgrimage shrine located 140 miles from Kathmandu in the snow clad Himalayas. It is located near the Gandaki river famous for the Salagrama stones found within. River Gandaki is also known as Narayani or Salagrami. Muktinath is also one of the 51 Sakthi Peethams of India. About 16 miles from Muktinath is the Damodara Kundam, the source of this river. The Salagrama stones held in worship are found in this part of Nepal.

        The Tamil Alwars of the 1st millennium CE have sung of Salagramam in the Naalayira Divya Prabandam. Periyalwar refers to Krishna as Salagramamudaiya Nambi in one of his verses dedicated to Krishna, in a decad describing Krishna as a child. In another verse, in a decad describing Tirukkandam or Kadinagar, he refers to Salagramam with the comment that Vishnu enshrined in Mathura, Salagramam, Dwaraka, Ayodhya and Sree Vaikuntam is the same as the one (Purushottaman) enshrined in Tirukkandam or Kadinagar (Devaprayag). Tirumangaialwar in his decad of verses declares that Salgramam is home to Rama and that the deity of Kudandai and Ooragam resides at Salagramam.

        There is no firm agreement on the whereabouts of  the Sree Vaishnava Divya Desam Tiruchaalagramam. One school of thought considers Muktinath in the snow clad Himalayas in Nepal to be Salagramam, while another considers the bank of the Gandaki  river enroute to Muktinath from Kathmandu as Tiruchaalagraamam.

Srivilliputtur (Tiruvilliputtur)

        Description: Srivilliputtur the birthplace of Andal, is considered to be among the holiest of the 108 Divya Desam shrines dedicated to Vishnu. This is the birthplace of Andal and Periyalwar and is closely associated with the life of Andal, who attained Vishnu’s hand in marriage. As in Srirangam and Alwar Tirunagari, Araiyar Sevai where the Alwar Paasurams are recited with expression, music and rhythm – is performed here. Also in Srivilliputtur is the Madavar Vilagam Vaidyanathar temple enshrining a six feet high monolithic image of Natarajar considered to be a masterpiece. This temple was also patronized by the Madurai Nayak kings.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Vatapatrasayee in a reclining posture facing east, while Taayaar here is Andal. There are shrines to Andal (where she was discovered in a garden) and Periyalwar here.

        Legends: The name Villiputtur stems from the legend that this town was built by two hunters Villi and Puttan. Legend has it that Periyalwar, a devotee of Vatapatrasaayee, served the temple by fashioning garlands out of fresh flowers from the garden which he maintained. Andal his daughter (discovered in the temple garden) was in the habit of wearing the garland prior to submitting them to the deity. An aghast Periyalwar tried to stop Andal’s deed, and was directed by the deity that he indeed preferred garlands which had been worn by Andal, and hence Andal’s name ‘Soodittanda Sudarkkodi’. It is believed that Andal left her mortal body and merged with Ranganathar.

        Andal is the author of Tiruppaavai, the celebrated collection of 30 poems sung especially in the month of Margazhi, the month considered special for the observance of Paavai Nonbu.

        The temple: 8th century inscriptions are seen in this temple which underwent  extensive renovations during  the Madurai Nayak period. This temple has among the tallest towers in Tamil Nadu. The 12 tiered Rajagopuram rises to a height of 192 feet. Exquisite carvings adorn the temple.

        Festivals: Six worship services are carried out each day. Annual festivals are celebrated in the months of Aadi and Margazhi.

Talaichchanga Naanmadiyam

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in the village of Talaichchangaadu, near Aakkur, near Sirkazhi. Sirkazhi is located on the route between Chidambaram and Mayiladuturai. The Tiruttalaichankaadu Shivastalam glorified by the Tevaram hymns is also located here.

        Deities: The Moolavar is Naanmadiyapperumaal (Venchudarpperumaal) in a standing posture facing east; Taayaar here is Talaichchanga Naachiyaar. The Utsavars are Vyomajyotipiraan and Senkamalavalli. A priceless conch adorns the image of Naanmadiyapperumal; the image of Andal here is of great beauty. The legend in the Shivastalam enshrining Shankharunaatheswarar  in this village holds that Vishnu was blessed with a conch (the foremost of all conches – Talai Changu) upon worshipping Shiva. Tiruttalaichankaadu is also known as Shankharanyam or Shankhuvanam.

 Thanjai Maamanikoyil

        Description: This is a actually a cluster of three temples, considered to be one Divya Desam, sung by Tirumangaialwar, Bhootattalwar and Nammalwar. Nammalwar refers to Manikkunram, while Bhootattalwar refers to Thanjai. Tirumangaialwar refers to Thanjai Maamanaikkoyil, and Manikunram. These temples are located in the outskirts of Thanjavur (the ancient Chola capital – known for its architectural masterpiece – The Brihadeeswarar Temple)  in a suburb by name Vennatrankarai.

        Legend has it that Vishnu took the Narasimha Avataram to vanquish a demon elephant by name Tanjakan; upon his request, Vishnu took abode here in this stalam which came to be known as Thanjavur.

        The first of the three temples, the Maamanikkoyil enshrines Neelamegapperumaal in a sitting posture facing east, and his consort is Senkamalavalli. Parasarar is said to have worshipped here. Also here are shrines to Lakshmi Narasimhar and Lakshmi Hayagrivar. There is also a beautiful image of Nartana Krishna here.

        The second temple is known as Manikkunram. Manikkunrapperumaal is enshrined here in a seated posture, facing east. His consort is Ambujavalli. The theertham here is the Rama theertham and the vimanam Manikkoota Vimanam. Markandeya is believed to have worshipped here.

        The third is Thanjaiyali Nagar, enshrining a seated image of Narasimhar whose consort is Thanjai Nayaki. The theertham here is Surya Pushkarini, and the vimanam Vedasundara Vimanam. Markandeyar is believed to have worshipped here. The Utsavar in all of these temples is known as Narayanan.

        The temples date back to the period of the Nayakas of Madurai. The Veda Sundara Vimanam above the Veerasinga Perumaal shrine is of great beauty. These temples are administered by the Tanjavur palace.

 Thiru Aadanoor

        Description: This Divyadesam is located at a distance of about 3km from Swamimalai near Kumbhakonam.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Aandalakkumaiyan (Aadanoorai Aandu Alakkum Aiyan) in a reclining posture, facing East. Taayaar here is Ranganayaki. The Vimanam and the Theertham as well as Taayaar bear the same names as in Srirangam. Also in the sanctum are images of Kamadhenu and Tirumangaialwar.

        Legend has it that Kamadhenu worshipped Vishnu here.

 Thirucherai

        Description: This Divyadesam is located in Tirucherai, near 4km north Kodavasal and 15 km south of Kumbhakonam. In this town, is also the Tirucherai Shivastalam, enshrining Gnana Parameswarar (Senneriappar), glorified by the Tevaram hymns of Sambandar and Appar.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Saranathan, in a standing posture facing east; Taayaar is known by the name Saranayaki.

        Legends: Vishnu here is believed to have been worshipped by Markandeya and Kaveriamman. At the Tirucherai Shivastalam, it is believed that Shiva was worshipped by Kaveri and Markandeya. Legend also has it that during the time of the great deluge, a pot fashioned out of clay, was used to rescue and preserve the Vedas. It is believed that none of the pots made by Brahma would last, and that he was directed by Vishnu to proceed to Tirucherai (Saara Kshetram) and make a pot out of the clay on the banks of the Kaveri.

        This temple with 2 prakarams has a 90 feet high Rajagopuram. There is a shrine to Yoga Narasimha here. Shrines to Lakshmi are in the Mahamandapam. There are also shrines to Rajagopala with his consorts and to Tiruvenkatamudaiyaan and the Alwars. Legend  has it that this temple was built with a part of the granite meant for building the Rajagopala temple at Manargudi, and hence the shrine to Rajagopala here. There are shrines to Kaveriamman and Anjaneyar near the temple tank.

        Festivals: Six worship services are offered each day here. The grand chariot festival happens on Thaippoosam, in the Tamil month of Thai, when Saranathan is taken in procession in a chariot with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi, Neela Devi, Mahalakshmi and Saranayaki.

 Thiruchirupuliyur

        Description: This Divyadesam is located on the Mayiladuturai Tiruvarur railroad, accessed easily from Mayiladuturai. Sirupuliyur is also known as Chalasayanam or Bala Vyagrapuram.

        Deities: The moolavar here is Arulmaakadal or Chalasayanapperumaal in a reclining posture facing south. Taayaar here is Tirumaamagal Naachiyaar. The utsavars are Kripasamudra Perumaal and Dayaanayaki.

        Legend has it that Vyagrapada, a devotee of the Cosmic Dance of Shiva here, worshipped Vishnu here.

        The Temple: This is the smallest of the images of Vishnu in a reclining posture, in all of the Divya Desam shrines. This temple with 2 prakarams has a 75 feet high Rajagopuram. Taayaar’s shrine is located in the 2nd prakaram. The festival images here are of great workmanship. Murals depicting the 10 avataras of Vishnu adorn the inner prakaram. The vimanam over the sanctum is of great beauty.

        Festivals: The annual Brahmotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi.

Thirukannagudi

        Description: This Divyadesam is located near Nagappattinam, between the towns Keevalur and Sikkal both enshrining Shivastalams glorified by the Tevaram hymns.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Lokanathan or Syamalameni Perumaal in a standing posture facing east while the Utsavar is Damodara Narayanan. Taayaar here is Aravindavalli, and the Utsava Taayaar is Lokanayaki.

        Legend has it that Bhrigu Muni, Goutama Rishi and Brahma worshipped Vishnu here. Legend also has it that Vashishtar created an image of Krishna of butter and meditated upon it. It is believed that Krishna appeared in front of Vasishtar, who reached out to him; a group of rishis engaged in meditation under the Magizha trees held Krishna, with their devotion, which served as the ‘Paasa Kayiru’. Hence the name Tirukkannankudi. Interestingly Vasishtar is believed to have meditated upon a Shivalingam which he fashioned out of butter, at Sikkal nearby. Tirumangai Alwar is believed to have hidden a golden image of Buddha – here at Tirukkannankudi which he had brought from a vihara at Nagappattinam for the purpose of building the walls of the Srirangam temple.

 Thirukannamangai

        Description: This Divyadesam is located 6 km north west of Tiruvarur; at a distance of about 24km from Tirucherai. It is a grand temple with impressive sculptures.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Bhaktavatsala Perumal in a standing posture facing east while Abhishekavalli is the presiding Taayaar here.

        Legends: Lakshmi is said to have worshipped Vishnu here, and hence the name Lakshmivanam. It is believed that Shiva protects this shrine, from four temples located around here.

        The temple: Sculptured images of Vaikunthanathan, and Mahavishnu on the Garuda mount are of great beauty here. This shrine is also referred to as Saptamrita Kshetram thanks to the celebrated nature of 7 of its elements such as Vimanam, Mandapam, river, town, etc. Belief also has it that residing in this town would enable one to be liberated of the cycle of births and deaths. A large beehive is located in the sanctum of Abhishekavalli Taayaar, and it is believed that the rishis in the form of bees offer worship to the deity. Worship is offered to the beehive also. Six worship services are offered each day here.

Thirukoodalur

        Description: This Divyadesam is located at Tirukkoodaloor, at a distance of about 12 km from Tiruvaiyaru, enroute to Kumbhakonam. Tirukkoodaloor is also known as Aaduturaipperumaal Koyil or Sangama Kshetram. Rani Mangammal is believed to have built the present temple at the Perumal Koyil village near Papanasam. The images here are said to have been recovered from the original temple which was washed away in the Kollidam river floods.

        Deities: The moolavar here is Vaiyamkaatta Perumaal or Jagatrakshakan in a standing posture, facing east. The Utsavar goes by the same name. Taayaar here is Padmasini or Pushpavalli. There are shrines to Varadarajaperumal, Andal and the Awars.

        The Temple: A five tiered Rajagopuram adorns the entrance to this temple built in the 15th century. Images of the ministers of Rani Mangammal, are seen carved on pillars in one of the mandapams in the temple.

        Legends: It is believed that the Devas, with Nandakamuni gathered here to worship Vishnu and hence the name Koodalur. The Kaveri river is said to have regained its glow here.

        Festivals: Four worship services are offered each day, and the annual Brahmotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi.

Thirukudandai

        Description: This celebrated Vaishnava Divya Desam is located in the temple town of Kumbhakonam or Kudandai. The Pancharanga Kshetrams along the course of the Kaveri are Srirangapatnam (Karnataka), Srirangam, Koyiladi (Anbil) and Kumbhakonam and Indalur (Mayiladuturai).

        Also located in Kumbhakonam are the Kumbheswarar temple, the Nageswarar temple and the Kudandaikkaronam Shivastalams. Also in Kudandai is the Ramaswamy temple, full of rich and elaborate sculptures, dating back to the seventeenth century.

        Legend has it that there was a deluge after the Dwapara Yugam; a pot of nectar and the seeds of creation were placed in a pot (kudam) and set adrift in the deluge. The drifting pot settled at Kumbhakonam; and Shiva as Kiratamurthy, bearing a bow pierced the pot with an arrow, and spilt the nectar which flowed all over. The bulk of it flowed into what is now the Mahamagam tank. It is believed that all river Goddesses live in this tank. It is believed that the remnants of the nectar were mixed with sand, and the Shiva lingam representing Adi Kumbheswarar was created out of it. The Mahamagam tank is a scene of great festivity once in 12 years, in the month of Aquarius, when the moon and the planet Jupiter align themselves in the zodiac signs of  Leo. Hundreds of thousands congregate then to have a sacred bath, when the festival image of Shiva from the Kumbheswara temple is taken in procession to this tank on a silver rishabha vaahanam.

        Legend also has it Bhrigu Muni entered Vaikuntham; and out of arrogance kicked Vishnu on his chest, at having not been recognized and welcomed. Lakshmi left for the earth and settled on the banks of the Kumbhakonam tank. Bhrigu Muni was reborn as Hema Rishi, and offered penance; Lakshmi was reborn as his daughter, in the Mahamagam lotus tank, and he offered her in marriage to Sarangapani. Vishnu, bears the sarangam bow in his hand.

        On the banks of the Mahamagam tank, are several mandapams built by Govinda Deekshitar (a minister of the Nayaks of Madurai who is also credited with building the Ramaswamy temple here at Kumbhakonam) , for the reception of deities during festivals. 

        The Temple: The Sarangapani temple is of great religious significance, considered to be second only to the Sri Rangam temple. The Vaideeka Vimanam of this temple is considered to be an offshoot of the Sri Rangam Pranava vimanam, and a replica of the vimanam presented to Vibhishana of Sri Lanka by Rama. It is conceived of as a chariot with wheels drawn by horses and elephants, in a scale grander than that of the Melakkadambur temple built by Kulottunga I (early 12th century).

        This vimanam has two gateways (as in Tiruvellarai), the northern gate, or the Uttarayana vaasal, open on Makara Sankaranti, and the Dakshinayana Vaayil, opened on Aadi Perukku, the 18th day of the Tamil month of Aadi. The earliest of the Alwars Peyalwar and Bhutattalwar have sung of this temple. So have Periyalwar, Andal and Tirumangai Alwar (8th century). Tirumazhisai Alwar spent his last years and attained salvation here. Nammalwar has also sung of this temple. It is at this temple that the Vaishnavite savant Nada Muni, was inspired to compile the works of the Alwars, upon listening to the Tamil hymn ‘Aaravamude’ composed by Nammalwar. Nadamuni spent his last years at the Chola capital of Gangaikonda Choleeswaram.

        Although the temple existed during the Pallava period, the current structure is attributable to the period of Vikrama Chola (1121 onwards). Later Cholas built the superstructure of the 11 tiered gopuram, and the tower was actually completed by the Vijayanagar rulers. The tower is about 140 feet in height. There are sculptures depicting the Bharata Natya karanas, as enunciated in the Natya Sastram – on the first tier of the gopuram, in contrast to other temples (such as Chidambaram) where they are seen on walls.

        Deities: The moolavar here is Pallikondaar, while the processional deity is Sarangapani, with his consort Komalavalli.

        Festivals: Six worship services are offered each day. The first day of Uttarayanam witnesses the silver chariot procession. Bhramotsavam is celebrated in Thai and Chittirai, and Vasantotsavam in Vaikasi. Also celebrated are the Pavitrotsavam in Ani, Navaratri, Pankuni Uttiram, Maasi Magam, and the Dolotsavam in Margazhi. The grand float festival is conducted in the Hema Pushkarini in front of the temple. There are colorful festivals held here and at the Chakrapani temple in Kumbhakonam. The Chittiraitter procession of the Sarangapani temple is of great significance.

        Tirumazhisai Alwar refers to seven shrines featuring Vishnu in a reclining position – Tirukkudandai, Tiruvegkaa, Tiruvallur, Tiruvarangam, Tiruppernagar, Anbil and Tirupparkadal in a paasuram.

Thiru Naagai

        Description: This Divya Desam is a vast, beautiful temple in the town of Nagappattinam. Also in Nagappattinam is the Vitanka Stalam Naagaikkaronam sung by the Tevaram hymns.

        Deities: The Moolavar is Neelamegapperumaal in a standing posture facing east; there are also shrines of Govindaraja Perumal (Veetrirunda Perumal) and Ranganatha in a reclining posture. There is a rare bronze image of Narasimha, shown in the gesture of blessing Prahlada, and vanquishing Hiranyakasipu at the same time. The Utsavar here is Soundaryarajan.

        Legend has it that Vishnu was worshipped by Nagarajan here, as in the Shivastalam Naagaikkaaronam. This temple with 3 prakarams has a 7 tiered Rajagopuram which was constructed by during the period of Dutch occupation here. The bronze image of Narasimha here is said to be of great beauty.

        Festivals: Six worship services are offered each day here. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Pankuni; Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Aadi Pooram are other festivals of importance here. Legend has it that it was decreed that the third breast of a local princess would disappear upon her sighting her groom to be. This princess sighted Nagarajan offering worship to Vishnu here at Nagappattinam, and married him, and that Vishnu appeared in front of the couple in three different postures, as seen in the temple and blessed them.

Thiruvelliyankudi

        Description: This DivyaDesam is located near Kumbhakonam (enroute to Aaduturai. )

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Kolavilli Raman in a reclining posture facing east and the Utsavar is Sringara Sundaran. Taayaar here is Raktavalli. It is believed that visiting this DivyaDesam is equivalent to visiting all of the 108 shrines. Sukran, Brahma, Indra, Parasarar, Mayan, Markandeyar and Bhumi Devi are believed to have worshipped here.

Thiruvindaloor

        Description: This Divya Desam is a beautiful temple at Indaloor, a part of Mayiladuturai, known for its famous Shivastalam enshrining Mayuranathar. This is considered to be one of the Pancharangams, the other four being Srirangapatnam (Karnataka), Sri Rangam, Koyiladi (Anbil) and Kumbhakonam (along the course of the river Kaveri).

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Parimala Ranganathar also known as Maruviniya Maindan – an imposing 12 feet long image made of green stone, and Sugandhavana Nathan, in a reclining posture facing east. Taayaar here is Parimala Ranganayaki or Chandrasaapa Vimochanavalli or Pudareekavalli. Images of Kaveri and Ganga are seen seated in the sanctum, as is an image of Santana Gopalakrishnan. Brahma is seen depicted on the wall. There are also shrines to Yoga Narasimhar and Chandra.

        The Dwajastampa mandapam and the Garuda Mandapam have beautifully sculptured pillars. The Garuda mandapam bears images of the 10 avataras of Vishnu. It is believed that by offering worship to Santana Gopalan in the sanctum, would aid barren couples in begetting progeny.

        Legends: Brahma is believed to have learned the process of creation from Ranganathar. The demons Madhu and Kaitabha stole the Vedas, and disappeared into the sea; Vishnu came down in the form of Matsya avatara and restored the Vedas, and restored their fragrance, hence the name Sugandharanyam, and Parimala Ranganathar and Parimala Ranganayaki. Legend also has it that Chandra (the moon) was cured of an affliction after bathing in the Kaveri and offering worship here. 

        Festivals:  Six worship services are offered each day. As with the Mayiladuturai Shivastalam, the entire month of Libra is one of festivities centered around the river Kaveri when festival image is taken every day in procession to the river Kaveri.

 Thiruvinnagar

        Description: This Divya Desam is located near Tirunageswaram, near Tiruvidaimarudur and Kumbhakonam. It is one of the well known and well visited Divya Desam temples and is considered to be a Prartanaistalam. The name Oppiliappan refers to the presiding deity who is considered comparable to none. Nammalwar refers to Vishnu as Ponnappan, Maniappan, Muttappan, Ennappan and Tiruvinnagarappan.

        Deities: The Moolavar Oppiliappan or Uppiliappan – Srinivasan, in a standing posture facing east resembles Venkatachalapati at Tirupati. Taayaar here is Bhumi Devi, enshrined in the same sanctum. Legend has it that Markandeyar, Kaveri and Yama worshipped Vishnu here. It is believed that this shrine is equivalent to Tirupati.

        Legend has it that Bhu Devi was reborn as the daughter of Markandeya and that an old man sought her hand in marriage; the sage attempted to stall the marriage by stating that his daughter was not well versed in household duties, and that she would even forget to season food with salt. The old man revealed himself as Vishnu, and took Bhu Devi as his bride. Salt is not included in any of the offerings made to the deity; hence also, the name Uppiliappan.

        Festivals: The annual Bhramotsavams are celebrated in the months of Pankuni and Purattasi. The Vasantotsavam is celebrated in Vaikasi, and the Tirukkalyana Utsavam in Aippasi.

Thirukannapuram

        Description: This celebrated Divya Desam is located at Tirukkannamangai, near Tiruppugalur, 6 km from Nannilam. Tirukkannapuram is known as Sreematashtaakshara Mahaa Mantrasidhdhi Kshetram and is considered to be the eastern gateway to Sri Rangam. Tirumangai Alwar is said to have been initiated here. Also located nearby is the Ramanadeeswaram Shivastalam sung by the Tevaram hymns of Tirugnanasambandar where Rama is believed to have worshipped Shiva.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Neelamegapperumaal in a standing posture facing east, while the Utsavar is Sowrirajan. Taayaar here is Kannapura Nayaki (Sree Devi, Bhu Devi, Andal, Padmini) enshrined in a separate sanctum.

        The temple: The sanctum enshrines Neelamegapperumaal with his consorts. Andal’s image is seen to the left of Perumal, while Padmavati Taayar (a local princess born of a fisherman) is located to his right; Vishnu’s marriage with Padmavati is represented here. This temple occupies an area of about an acre and a half and it has a 100 feet high Rajagopuram.

        Legend has it that the image of Vishnu in the sanctum miraculously showed a growth of hair, in order to protect the words of a devout priest Rangabhattar, hence the name Sowrirajan. Legend also has it that Vishnu blessed Vibhishana here, on a new moon day. Vishnu is believed to have vanquished the demon Veekatakshan with his discus; the image in the sanctum shows him bearing the ‘prayoga’ chakram. Offerings of Pongal are considered to be of great significance here. Legend has it that a devotee by name Muniyadaraiyaar, who came here with an offering of Pongal, unable to enter a locked temple (after the nightly worship service) was blessed with the miraculous sound of bell chimes from within the temple; this miracle is recounted with the offering of ‘Muniyodaram Pongal’ during the nightly worship service.

        Festivals: Six worship services are offered each day. The Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi, and the Mahotsavam in the month of Maasi, where the festival image of Sowrirajan is taken to the seashore, where fishermen join the celebration. The adhyayana utsavam is celebrated in the month of Margazhi.

 Thirunandipura Vinnagaram

        Description: This Divyadesam is located at Nandipura Vinnagaram near Korukkai, near Kumbhakonam. The name Nandipuram stems from the association with Nandivarama Pallavan, or alternatively from the legend where it is believed that Nandi performed penances in this village.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Jagannatha or Vinnagarapperumaal in a seated posture facing west, while Taayaar here is Shenbagavalli.

        The temple: An image of Nandi is seen on one of the walls of the sanctum. It is believed that Vishnu who originally faced the east, turned westward to look at the spectacle of King Sibi, keeping his word to a dove who had filed a grievance to him – placing his entire weight on a balance to compensate for the injury suffered by the bird.

Tirunaraiyur

        Description: This Divyadesam is located in Tirunaraiyur, close to the Naraiyur Sidheeswaram Paadal petra stalam. This shrine was sung by Tirumangai Alwar, who refers to Vishnu, Srinivasa at Naraiyur Ninra Nambi. Tirunaraiyur is also known as Sugandhavanam or Sugandhagiri or as Srinivasakshetram. Also located at Tirunaraiyur is  Nandipura Vinnagaram, or Naathan Koyil. It is believed that that the Chola King Ko Chenkannan who built 70 madakkoyils (temples at an elevation) to Shiva, worshipped Vishnu here before he started off on battles with the Cheras and the Pandyas. Naachiyaar or Taayaar gets the place of primary importance in this shrine, as implied by the name Naachiyaar Koyil.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Tirunaraiyur Nambi, also known as Sreenivasar or Vasudevar, depicted in the Kalyanakkolam with Vanchulavalli Taayaar (Nambikkai Naachiyaar) in the sanctum.

        Legend has it, that Lakshmi was born as Vanchulavalli (at the foot of a Vanchula tree) to Madhava Munivar (also known as Medhavi Munivar). Vishnu came down to the earth and married her here. Brahma is believed to have worshipped Vishnu here. Vishnu is believed to have manifested himself in the Pancha Vyuha forms and married Vanchulavalli; Sankarshana in the east, Pradyumna in the south, Anirudha in the west, Purushottama in the north and Vasudeva in the center. The sculptures of all these deities are found in the garbagriha..

        The temple: This temple has five prakarams with mandapams with artistically carved pillars. The garbagriha here is known as the Sreenivasa Vimanam. There is no separate shrine for Vanchulavalli here. It is also believed that there was a shrine to Bhuvarahaperumaal even prior to this legend. There is a separate shrine to the Kal Garudan. There are also shrines to Yoga Narasimha, Veera Hanuman, Rama and Chkrapani. The earliest inscription found here is that of the 13th century, although this temple was in existence during the time of Tirumangai Alwar.

        Festivals: The Margazhi Bhrammotsavam (Mukkoti Utsavam) is of great significance here, especially the KalGaruda Vaahana Sevai, where the festival image of Sreenivasar is taken out on a stone Garuda mount. The mount is said to grow exponentially in weight as it is carried out of its sanctum. During this festival, Naachiyar leads the procession on a Hamsa Vaahanam. The Tirukkalyanam is celebrated in the month of Aavani. The Pankuni Bhramotsavam, Vasantotsavam and Krishna Jayanthi are other festivals celebrated here.

 Tiruvazhundur

        Description: This Divya Desam, known as the Aamaruviyappan temple, is located near Mayiladuturai and is one of the five shrines sacred to Krishna. Also located in this village is the Tiruvazhundur Shivastalam, connected with the legend of Shivas marriage with Parvati, the daughter of Bharata Muni. Tiruvazhundur is the birthplace of Kambar, the author of Ramayanam in Tamil.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Devadiraja in a standing posture facing east. To his right is Prahlada and to his left, Garuda. Kaveri is portrayed worshipping Vishnu in the sanctum. The Utsavar is Aamaruviyappan portrayed as one grazing cattle. Taayaar here is Senkamalavalli.

        The Temple: Images of Lakshmi on the vimanam crowning this shrine, are of great beauty. The temple tank is located across the entrance. Images of Kamba and his wife are seen in the temple. Other shrines here include those to Rama, Hanuman, Vasudeva, the Alwars and the Acharyas.

        Legend has it that Brahma caused the herds of cattle being grazed by Krishna to disappear and that Krishna caused another herd to be created, upon which Brahma apologized to Krishna, and requested him to take abode at Tiruvazhundur. The chariot of a King by name Oordvaradan is said to have gotten stuck in this town and hence the name Terazhundur.

        Festivals: The annual festival is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi. The Kamban festival is celebrated for 3 days in the month of Pankuni.

Tiruchemponsei Kovil

        Description:  Five Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil, Arimeya Vinnagaram and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram.

        Deities: The Moolavar is Perarulaalan in a standing posture facing east, while the Utsavar is known as Hemarangar or Semponnarangar. Taayaar here is Allimaamalar Naachiyaar.

        Legend has it that Rama, on his return from Sri Lanka, after having vanquished Ravana, resided here in the hermitage of a saint by name Dridanetra and that upon his advice fashioned a cow of gold, and donated it to a poor devotee, with which, the devotee built this temple, hence the name Chemponsei Koyil.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of – and closely associated with  Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace  Tirunagari, is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tiruchenkunroor

        Description: Tiruchenkunroor is one of the five ancient shrines in the Chengannur area of Kerala, connected with the Mahabharata. (Chengannur – Yuddhishtra, Tiruppuliyur – Bheema, Aranmula – Arjuna, Tiruvamundur – Nakula, and Tirukkadittaanam – Sahadeva). Nammalwar describes Chenkunrur as a town where the smoke emanating from the Vedic ritual yagnas fills the sky and as a place surrounded by rich lush vegetation (of bananas and coconuts).

        The Chengannoor Mahadeva temple with a shrine to Bhagavati is of great significance in this town.

        Legend has it that Dharmaputra (Yuddhishtra) offered worship to Vishnu, seeking pardon for his act on the battlefield, where he uttered the words ‘Ashwattaama hatah kunjaraha’ in an attempt to deceive Drona and lead him to a defenceless state where Arjuna brought his (Drona’s) life to an end.

Tiruchireevaramangai (Vanamamalai)

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in Nanguneri near Tirunelveli and is also known as Totadrikshetram or Vanamamalai. It is also referred to as Bhooloka Vaikuntham. Vanamamalai is home to the Vanamamalai Jeeyar Mutt. Located nearby is the Divya Desam Tirukkurunkudi.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Totadrinathan, in a seated posture facing east. He is flanked by his consorts, who also have their own sancta. Taayaa’rs name here is Sireevaramangaittaayaar.

        Legend has it that when Vishnu vanquished the Madhukaitapa demons, Bhu Devi, fearing that she had lost her purity, meditated upon Vishnu at this shrine. Vishnu is believed to have blessed her, and taken this abode, along with his consorts Sri Devi and Bhu Devi as in Vaikuntham. The celestial nymphs Urvashi and Tilottama are said to have worshipped Vishnu here. Their images, bearing the ‘Ven Chaamaram’ fanning the deity, are seen in the sanctum.

        The temple: This grand temple has two prakarams ornamented with the Pandal Mandapam, Jayanti Mandapam, Srivilli Mandapam, Kulasekhara Mandapam and the Veerappa Mandapam. An imposing rajagopuram adorns its entrance. There are also shrines to Varamangai Taayaar, Andal, Lakshmi Narayanar, Lakshmi Varahar and Venugopala. The oil used in ablution ceremonies here is considered to be of medicinal value.

        Festivals: This temple is administered by the Vanamamalai jeeyar Mutt. The annual festivals are held in the months of Pankuni and Chittirai.

Tiruchitrakootam (at Chidambaram)

        Description: This Divya Desam is a shrine to Govindaraja Perumaal located in the famed grand Nataraja temple complex at Chidambaram. The vast Nataraja temple complex is referred to as ‘Kovil’ in the Saivite tradition, as the Sri Rangam temple complex is in the Sree Vaishnavite tradition. Chidambaram represents centuries of history and tradition and is second to none in representing the vibrant culture of India.

        Deities: The moolavar here is Govindaraja Perumaal in a reclining posture facing east while Taayaar is Pundarika Valli in here own sanctum. There are two festival images here; the first of the Utsavars is Parthasarathy in a seated posture, and the second is Chitrakootattilullaan.

        Legends: Chidambaram has been held sacred for time immemorial for its association with the Cosmic dance of Shiva. Legend has it that upon the request of Patanjali (an incarnation of Adi Sesha) and Vyagrapada (the sage with tiger claws), Shiva re-enacted the Dance of Bliss, to the accompaniment of music played by the celestials. All of the Devas and Gods are believed to have gathered here to witness this grand spectacle.

        The Temple: Govindaraja Perumal’s shrine faces east, while Nataraja’s shrine faces south. Perumal’s shrine has its own circumambulatory passage and a set of towers. This shrine was renovated during the period of Vijayanagar rule.

Tiru Devanaar Togai

        Description: This Divya Desam is located 6.5km south west of Sirkazhi, at a distance of a km from Tiruvaali. (Tiruvaali is located between Sirkazhi and Tiruvenkaadu).

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Deivanayakan in a standing posture facing east while the Utsavar is Madhava Perumaal. Taayaar here is Kadalmagal Naachiyaar, and the Utsava Taayaar is Madhava Nayaki.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of – and closely associated with  Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace  Tirunagari,  is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tiruevvuloor (Tiruvalor)

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at Tiruvallur, a railhead on the (suburban) railroad between Chennai and Arakkonam. Nearby are the Tiruppaasoor and the Tiruvaalankaadu Shivastalams and Tirumazhisai, the birthplace of Tirumazhisai Alwar. Not too far away is Sriperumpudoor, the birthplace of Ramanuja. Tiruvallur and Tiruttani are on the highway linking Chennai and Tirupati.

        Tirumangai Alwar and Ramalinga Adigalaar have sung in praise of the deity at Tiruvallur. Tiruvallur is also referred to by a paasuram of Tirumazhisai Alwar where he addresses seven shrines featuring Vishnu in a reclining position – Tirukkudandai, Tiruvegkaa, Tiruvallur, Tiruvarangam, Tiruppernagar, Anbil and Tirupparkadal.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Veeraraghava Perumaal in a reclining posture facing east, and Taayaar here is Kanakavalli, enshrined in a separate sanctum.

        Legend has it that Vishnu blessed Salihotra Muniv and revealed the Vedas to Brahma here. The name Tiruevvull comes from Perumaal’s question (in Tamil) to Salihotra Muni ‘Uraidarkuria Ull Evvull’. Legend has it that Vishnu in the guise of a human, requested the rishi for food and shelter, and posed the above question to the Rishi. Upon being pointed to his hut, Vishnu spent the night there, covering himself with the bark of trees. It was only the following morning that the rishi realized that his guest was none other than Vishnu. Vishnu is believed to have vanquished the demons Madhukaidapas, and protected devotees here.

        It is believed that bathing in the temple tank, and worshipping Veeraraghavaperumaal here, is a cure to many a physical ailment, and hence the deity is also known as Vaidya Veeraraghava Perumal.

        The Temple: This temple is under the administration of the Ahobila Mutt. Five worship services are carried out each day here. It is considered auspicious to visit this temple on new moon days. Two annual festivals are held here.

        Tirumazhisai Alwar refers to seven shrines featuring Vishnu in a reclining position – Tirukkudandai, Tiruvegkaa, Tiruvallur, Tiruvarangam, Tiruppernagar, Anbil and Tirupparkadal.

Tirukkaarakam

        Description: The Divya Desam Tiruoorakam enshrining Ulagalanda Perumaal in Periya Kanchipuram, is also home to three other Divya Desam shrines Tiruneerakam, Tirukkaarakam and Kaarvaanam.

        Deities: Tirukkaarakam, mentioned in a paasuram of Tirumangaialwar, is represented by the image of Karunakara Perumaal in a standing posture facing south, in a shrine in a prakaram of the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple.

        In a verse referring to Kachi Oorakam and Tiruvegkaa (both in Kanchipuram) Tirumangaialwar refers to Neerakam, Nilattingal Tundam, Kaarakam, Kaarvaanam and Kalva(nur). Nilattingal Tundam is a shrine in the Kanchi Ekambeswara temple. Neerakam, Kaarakam and Kaarvaanam are shrines in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple (Oorakam). Kalvanoor is the name of the shrine to Vishnu (Aadi Varaha Perumaal) in the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

Tirukkaarvaanam

        Description: The Divya Desam Tiruoorakam enshrining Ulagalanda Perumaal temple in Periya Kanchipuram, is also home to three other Divya Desam shrines Tiruneerakam, Tirukkaarakam and Kaarvaanam.

        Deities: Tirukkaarvaanam, mentioned in a paasuram of Tirumangaialwar, is represented by the image of Kalvar, in a standing posture facing west in a shrine in the prakaram of the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple. Kalvan also refers to Vishnu in Kalvanur.

        In a verse referring to Kachi Oorakam and Tiruvegkaa (both in Kanchipuram) Tirumangaialwar refers to Neerakam, Nilattingal Tundam, Kaarakam, Kaarvaanam and Kalva(nur). Nilattingal Tundam is a shrine in the Kanchi Ekambeswara temple, Neerakam, Kaarakam and Kaarvaanam are shrines in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple (Oorakam). Kalvanoor is the name of the shrine to Vishnu (Aadi Varaha Perumaal) in the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple(Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

Tirukkaavalampaadi

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at a distance of 10 km from Sirkazhi enroute to Tiruvenkadu and Poompuhaar and is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Gopalakrishna (Rajagopala) with his consorts Rukmini and Satyabhama in a standing posture facing east. Taayaar here is Madavaral Mangai (Senkamala Naachiyaar). There is no separate sanctum for Taayar.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the his paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling) through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tirukkachchi

        Description: Varadaraja Perumaal temple, one of the celebrated Vaishnava Divya Desams, is located in Vishnu Kanchi, or the little Kanchi. Its vast temple campus is an amalgamation of embellishments over several centuries. This temple is also an important religious center, and is one of the well visited temples in Tamil Nadu.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Varadaraja Perumal temple is known as Hastigiri; it was originally known as Attiyuran. Bhutattaalwar, one of the earliest of the Alwars, has sung of this temple. The name Hastigiri is applied in the connotation of Gajendra moksham and from the legend that Indra’s elephant Airavatam – in the form of a hill bears the image of Vishnu. The name Attiyurar emerges from the tradition, that the original image of Varadaraja Perumaal here was made from Attimaram. This ancient wooden image is worshipped for 10 days, once in 40 years.

        Legend has it that Brahma worshipped Vishnu in Krita yugam, Gajendran in Treta Yugam, Bhrihaspati in Dwapara Yugam and Adisesha in Kali-yuga. The legend of Vishnu lying across the river in spate, to prevent a deluge from wiping out Brahma’s sacrifice also holds in this temple as in another Divya Desam Tiruvegkaa in Kanchi.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Varadaraja Perumal in a standing posture facing west. Perundevi Taayaar is housed in a separate temple within the complex. Other shrines here include those to Kannan, the Alwars, and the Acharyas, Ramar, Kariamanikka Perumaal, Andal, Varaaha Perumaal.

        The temple: The first prakaram is on the Hastigiri hill. It houses the sanctum, and the two co-axial walled mandapams. The sanctum houses the imposing image of Varadaraja Perumaal. The vimanam here is known as the Punyakoti vimanam. The sanctum is the womb of the fire, that is believed to hold the manifest universe within which the standing Vishnu appeared.

        History: In 1053, the Cholas rebuilt the base of the hill, on the east west axis, to signify a cave in the hill, within which the icon of Narasimha sits as a yogi facing west. Several inscriptions are seen in this shrine. They circled the hill with a double storeyed cloistered veranda with colonnades of uniform pillars creating an open courtyard with a chola style gateway on the east.

        This temple was expanded vastly during the reign of Kulottunga Chola I, and his son Vikrama Chola (1075 – 1135). It was during the same period that the temples at Chidambaram, Tiruvanaikka, Sirkazhi, Tiruvarur and Sri Rangam were carried out. Other shrines built during the Chola period were those of Karimanikkapperumaal, Anantalwar, Abhisheka Mandapam, and the Perundevi Taayar shrine. A separate shrine for Perundevi was built on the south west, facing the sanctum, (rebuilt in 15th cent).  By 14th century, the Cholas built another encircling wall including a tank etc. with a gateway and a 7 tiered tower.

        There are now 5 courtyards. After the long period of Chola patronage, and the political confusion following their decline, the Varadaraja Perumaal temple, came under the patronage of the devout Vijayanagar rulers, who added the towering Eastern Gopuram, and the beautiful Kalyana Mandapam, the Oonjal mandapam, etc. Vijayanagar rulers embellished this shrine in the 16th century with minute carvings, pillared verandahs for circumambulation, a shrine for Andal, large hall for Navaratri, Unjal Mandapam, Kalyana Mandapam, (575 sq meters in 2 meter high plinth with 96 monolithic pillars, geometric designs, yalis, rampant horsemen, European soldiers). The east gopuram is 9 tiered rising to a height of 180 feet while the western gopuram is 160 feet high. The temple occupies an area of 20 acres. Stone chains adorn the hundred pillared halls.

        Festivals: Four worship services are offered here by priests who are said to be descendents of Yagna Vakyar. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi, while the Adhyayanotsavam is celebrated in the month of Margazhi. The Garuda Sevai and the Chariot festival during the Bhramotsavam draw thousands of pilgrims. During Chitra Pournami and Pongal, the deity is taken out to neighboring areas.

Tirukkadalmallai

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in the coastal resort town and historic center Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram, at a distance of 64 km from Chennai. It is an ancient temple dating back to the Pallava period, now thoroughly renovated. Also in Mahabalipuram are the famous Pallava relics of the Shore Temple, the five Pandava Rathams, and the portrayal of the descent of the Ganges. Tourist attractions in the vicinity of Mamallapuram include the Vedantangal bird sanctuary and the Tirukkazhunkunram hill temple (Shivastalam). The Tiruvidandai Divya Desam is also located near Mamallapuram.

        Mamallapuram is the birthplace of Bhootattalwar, one of the earliest of the Alwars.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Stalasayana Perumaal in a reclining posture facing east. An image of Pundarika Muni is also housed in the sanctum. Taayaar here is Nilamangaittaayaar (in a separate sanctum). Utsavar here is Stalasayanatturaivaar. There are shrines to Andal and Rama also.

        Legend has it that Pundarika Muni, armed with a basket laden with flowers proceeded eastward, to worship Vishnu as KsheeraptiNathan (the lord of the milky ocean); in his devotional fervour, attempted to drain the waters of the ocean to reach his goal. Vishnu appeared in front of him as an aged devotee and the devout rishi proceeded to find a means to feed him, and in the meanwhile Vishnu provided him with a vision of the grand Anantasayanam at the same spot, adorned with flowers from the saint’s basket, and hence the name Stalasayana Perumaal. Legend has it that one of the Pallava rulers here was turned into a crocodile in the temple tank; upon gripping the leg of the blessed Pundarika rishi, his curse is believed to have been lifted.

        The Temple: The Telugu rulers of Chandragiri have provided for the construction of this temple. This temple underwent renovation in the 19th century and it covers an area of about 4 acres.

        Festivals: Two worship services are carried out each day. The annual Maasi Magham festival sees thousands of devotees bathing in the sea nearby.

Tirukkalvanoor

        Description: This Divya Desam is represented by a shrine to Perumaal, near the sanctum of the revered Kamakshi Amman temple at Kanchipuram. Ithas a golden vimanam crowning the sanctum of the Kamakshiamman temple at Kanchipuram.

        Legend has it that Parvati meditated upon Shiva, under a mango tree at Kanchipuram to be united with him in marriage. She sought Vishnu (Vamana) her brother’s help in her endeavor, and with his help, her prayers were answered. Vishnu is enshrined in a small shrine in the Kamakshi Amman temple. The name Kalvan is attributed to the legend that Parvati sighting Vishnu overhearing a conversation between Lakshmi and Parvati, addressed him as Kalvan.

        There are also three shrines to Vishnu near the temple tank, representing the reclining, sitting and standing postures of Vishnu (Kidandaan, Irundaan and Ninraan). The name Kalvan also refers to the deity at Kaarvaanam enshrined in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple.

        In a verse referring to Kachi Oorakam and Tiruvegkaa (both in Kanchipuram) Tirumangaialwar refers to Neerakam, Nilattingal Tundam, Kaarakam, Kaarvaanam and Kalva(nur). Nilattingal Tundam is a shrine in the Kanchi Ekambeswara temple, Neerakam, Kaarakam and Kaarvaanam are shrines in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple (Oorakam). Kalvanoor is the name of the shrine to Vishnu (Aadi Varaha Perumaal) in the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi.

Tirukkandiyur

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at Tirukkandiyur, considered to be one of the Saptastanams of the famed Panchanadiswara temple at Tiruvaiyaru, revered by the Tevaram hymns. In Tirukkandiyur, is the Tirukkandiyur Veerattam, the Shivastalam associated with the legend of Shiva having removed the 5th head of  Brahma.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Harasaapavimochana Perumaal, in a standing posture facing East. Perumaal is also known as Brighunathar or Balinathar. The Utsavar is Kamalanathan. Taayaar here is known as Kamalavalli. Also here are shrines to Narasimhar and Chakkarattalwar.

        Legends: It is believed that the fifth head of Brahma plucked out by Shiva, stuck to his palms; and it came unstuck only after Vishnu and Lakshmi offered alms into the stuck skull, hence the name Hara Saapa Vimochana Perumaal. The same legend is held at Tirukkarambanur and at Tirukkurunkudi.

        This temple has two prakarams and a ragaopuram. Four worship services are carried out each day. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Pankuni.

Tirukkarambanur

        Description: Tirukkarambanur is located in Uttamar Koyil – also known as Bhikshaandaar Koyil, a village located on the railroad between Tiruchirappalli and Villuppuram. This shrine is also known as Nepakshetram or Adimapuram. Tirumangai Alwar refers to ‘Karambanur Uthaman’ in a lone verse, where he states that Uthaman of Karambanur,  Perumal of Kurunkudi and Tiruttankaal, are none other than Ranganathar of Sri Rangam – in a decad of verses praising Sri Rangam. It is believed Tirumangaialwar lived here, supervising the renovation of the Sri Rangam temple.

        Deities: There are shrines here to all three of the trinity of deities revered in the Hindu system of beliefs, namely Shiva and his consort, Brahma and his consort, Vishnu and his consort (Purushottaman and Poornavalli).

        Legend has it that the fifth head of Brahma, which was pulled out by Shiva, stuck to his palms; and it was only after his receiving alms from Mahalakshmi, that it came unstuck. The same legend is held at the Tirukkandiyur Divya Desam (where the presiding deity is known by the name Hara Saapa Vimochana Perumaal), adjacent to the Tirukkandiyur Veerattastalam of Shiva and at Tirukkurunkudi near Nanguneri – Tirunelveli.

        The Temple: Shiva’s shrine is situated south of Vishnu’s shrine, facing west. There is also a shrine to Dasaratha Lingam and Soundara Parvati. There are also shrines to, Andal, Varadarajaperumaal, Venugopala, Rama, Vinayakar, Nataraja, Subramaniya, Saneeswara and Anjaneya. The Bhikshatanar form of Shiva here is considered to be of great significance. Sanaka, Sanandana and Sanatkumara, as well as Kadamba Muni are believed to have worshipped the Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva here here. Inscriptions from the period of the Cholas and Pandyas are seen here.

        Festivals: The annual Bhramotsavam of Perumaal is conducted in the month of Chittirai, while that for Shiva is conducted in the month of Vaikasi

 Tirukkatikai

        Description: This Divya Desam is accessed from Arakkonam junction, the terminating point of the suburban railroad originating at Chennai. Sholingur has its own railhead, although the temple is located at a considerable distance from the railway station.

        Sholingapuram is a town of historical importance as this is where a battle was fought between Hyder Ali and the British in 1781.

        The name Sholingapuram stems from the legend that a Chola Raja discovered a Shiva lingam and built a temple here (Chola Linga Puram, hence Sholingapuram). The Brahma Purana refers to this shrine as Katikachalam and Chintamani. It is also referred to as Vada Tiruvarangam.

        This Divya Desam is a complex of three temples, one at ground level, one on a 500 feet high hill, and another on a smaller hill, enshrining Yoga Anjaneyar.

        Deities: In the ground temple, the festival image of Bhaktavatsala Perumal is enshrined. There is also a shrine to Adikesava Perumal here. The Katikachalam Hill, (400 feet above sea level) reached via a flight of 1000 steps enshrines Yoga Narasimha in a seated posture facing east; Amritavalli Taayaar is enshrined in a separate sanctum. The entrance faces north while the shrine faces east. The Srinivasa Pushmarini is in front of the Bhaktavatsalar temple while the Brahma Theertham is on the road leading to the hill temple. There are also the Narasimha Theertham and the Bhairavi Theertham and the Tiruvadi Theertham. There are several other Theerthams in the hill and its environs.

        Enroute, there is a shrine with an image of Varadaraja Perumal, seated on the Garuda mount. The smaller hill enshrines Yoga Anjaneyar, with four arms, bearing a conch and a discus. This temple has two towers. There are also shrines to Pallikonda Ranganatha facing south, and Kodandarama facing West.

        Inscriptions from the period of Parantaka Chola I (10tth cent) as well as those from the Vijayanagar period are found here.

        Legends: It is believed that even residing here for a matter of minutes (katikai or half an hour) would liberate one from the cycles of birth and death and hence the name Katikachalam (Ghatikachalam). Legend has it that Viswamitra worshipped Vishnu for a ‘katikai’ and earned the title Brahmarishi. The Saptarishis desirous of a vision of Narasimha avatara, were blessed after they prayed here for a ‘katikai’.

        It is believed that those afflicted with psychological ailments find cure upon residing here. There is also a legend that this hallowed hill which arose out of the surrounding plains, continued to rise in height much to the chagrin of Indra, who requested Balarama to press it down to its present height. Another legend has it that a ruler engaged in hunting in this area, was guided by a divine source of light emanating from a deer which he had struck to the path of non violence. It is believed that Hanuman had manifested himself in this form. Hanuman is believed to have been sent here by Rama to help a ruler kill demons in this area. Valmiki is said to have worshipped here.

        There are several literary works extolling the greatness of this shrine.

        Festivals: Two worship services are offered each day in the hill temples while three are offered in the Bhaktavatsalar temple, as per the Vaikanasa Agamam. Festivals celebrated here include the Chittirai Bhramotsavam, Avani Pavitrotsavam, Margazhi Padi Utsavam, Navaratri and Kartikai, the girivalam on the 2nd 3rd days of Thai, and Mukkoti Dwadasi.

Tirukkodittaanam (Tirukkadittaanam)

        Description: Tirukkodittanam  is one of the five ancient shrines in the Chengannur area of Kerala, connected with the Mahabharatam. (Chengannur – Yuddhishtra, Tiruppuliyur – Bheema, Aranmula – Arjuna, Tiruvamundur – Nakula and Tirukkadittaanam – Sahadeva). It is located near the town of Changanacheri near Kottayam. This ancient temple has been glorified by the Tamil hymns (Tiruvaimozhi) of  Nammalwar.

        Legend has it that this temple was built by Sahadavan of the Pandavas. It is also believed that this village was ruled by Rukmangatan, a king of the Solar race.

        The Temple: This temple has a vritta (circular) vimanam. Several murals (possibly from the 17th century) adorn the walls of the sanctum, portraying images of Shiva Tandavam, Karatarjuniyam, Vinayaka, Sasta, Yoganarasimha, Rama Pattabhishekam, Mahisasuramardhini, Mohini, Venugopala, Anantasayanam, etc. The temple structure dates back to the 11th century. There are subshrines to Narasimha and Dakshinamurthy here. High walls surround it and give it the grandeur of a fort. Stones are so carefully chiseled and joined that it is impossible to distinguish joints. There is a large 2-3 acre tank outside the temple. On the bank of the tank, near the temple gate, there is a big pillar on top of which is kept hanging a human figure in granite stone, with a crown, sacred thread and a conch. This image  is related to a historic story of petty feudal warfare. Stone inscriptions found here are of significance .

        Festivals: Deepa Mahotsavam is celebrated  in the month of Vrischikam (Nov 15 – Dec 15). This festival is said to commemorate the self immolation of Madri the mother of Sahadevan.

Tirukkolur

        Description: This is the seventh of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur. Tirukkolur is located near Ten Tirupperi and Alwar Tirunagari.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams. Nammalwar has sung of Tirukkolur in 12 verses of his Tiruvaimozhi. 

        Deities: The Moolaver here is Vaittha Maanidhi Perumaal in a reclining posture facing east, while Taayaar here is Kumudavalli.

        Legend has it that Kubera was cursed by Parvati and was absolved of his curse here. The nine forms of wealth are said to have left Parvati, following her curse, and meditated upon Vishnu here. Vishnu is believed to be the protector of the nine forms of wealth. It is also believed that righteousness (dharma) defeated evil (adharma) here.

Tirukkoodal (Madurai)

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in the heart of Madurai. Madurai is known primarily for its grand temple dedicated to Meenakshi and Sundareswarar, which overshadows the Tevarastalam Tiru Aappanoor and the Divya Desam Tirukkoodal.

        Tirumangaialwar mentions Kozhi (Uraiyur) and Koodal in a verse while Tirumazhisai Alwar mentions Koodal along with Tiruvenkatam in a verse. Perialwar is said to have sung Pallandu at Koodal. Kallazhagar is enshrined at Azhagar Koyil, and Srivilliputtur enshrines Kattazhagar, while Madurai enshrines Koodalazhagar.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Koodalazhagar in a seated posture facing east, while Taayaar is Madhuravalli in a separate sanctum. The name Koodal stems from the legend that at the behest of Vishnu, four clouds gathered at Madurai in the form of tall buildings, and prevented a deluge from overpowering the city.

        The temple: This temple covers an area of about 2.5 acres. This is a beautiful temple, with interesting stone grills and sculptures. One can climb up and take a closer look at the Ashtanga Vimanam which enshrines Pallikonda Perumal in one of its levels, and Surya Narayanan in a standing posture in the other. This aspect of a vimanam enshrining three different postures of Vishnu is similar to that at the Vaikuntha Perumaal temple at Kanchipuram. This vimanam which dwarfs the rajagopuram (as in Tirukkoshtiyur) is of great beauty; stucco images depicting scenes from the epics are noteworthy. Imposing stone walls surround the temple. There are also shrines to Lakshminarasimha, Rama, Krishna, and Andal. The Navagrahas are enshrined here, a feature not seen in Vaishnavite temples.

        Festivals: Six worship services are offered each day. The annual festival is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi, during which Dasavataram is enacted. Also celebrated are the Maasi Teppa Utsavam, Aadi Pooram, Krishna Jayanti, Purattasi Garuda Sevai, Navaratri, Kartikai and Vaikuntha Ekadasi.

Tirukkottiyur

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at Tirukkoshtiyur, at a distance of about 10 km from Tiruppattur near Madurai. This temple is known for its association with Ramanuja, who revealed the significance of the Narayana Mantram to the (for the benefit of the) surrounding humanity from the top of the temple tower here, against the wishes of Tirukkottiyur Nambi who had initiated him.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Uragamellanaiyaan in a reclining posture facing east, while the Utsavar is Sowmya Narayana Perumaal. Taayaar here is Tirumaamagal Naachiyaar.

        The Temple: This is a temple in four levels.  The first level enshrines Vishnu in a reclining posture, in response to prayers by Kadamba Maharishi. Four other shrines, Dakshineswara Narasimha, Uttareswara Narasimha, Ksheeraptinatha and Sita Narayana shrines portray the ‘Ninra, Irunda, Kidanda, Nadanda, Koottaadiya’ (standing, sitting, reclining, walking, dancing) forms of Vishnu. The second and third levels enshrine the standing and sitting postures of the deity. The name Tirukkoshtiyur stems from the legend that the Devas came in a group here.

        The Ashtanga Vimanam towers (96 feet) above the Rajagopuram, and is capped with a golden filial. The images depicting the destruction of Hiranya (the asura) by Narasimha are of great beauty. Other Divya Desams with Ashtanga Vimanams are Tirukkoodal and Parameswara Vinnagaram.

        There is a shrine to Shiva (Sarabeswara) in the form of a lingam here; the vimanam also has several elements related to Shiva.

        The festival images of Sowmya Narayana Perumaal and his consorts are of silver. There are also shrines to Yoga Narasimha, Andal, Rama, and Krishna.

        Festivals: Saturdays in the month of Purattasi are considered sacred here, and offerings of Pongal are made then. Six worship services are offered each day here. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai and the Vasantotsavam in Vaikasi. Other festivals here are the Maasi Teppa Utsavam, Aadi Pooram, Pavitrotsavaam, Navaratri, Adhyayana Utsavam, and Vaikuntha Ekadasi.

Tirukkovilur

        Description: This Divya Desam is a vast temple located at Tirukkovilur (near Tiruvannamalai), which is also home to the Tirukkovalur Veerattam, an ancient shrine glorified by the Tevaram hymns. This temple has a history of royal patronage. Tirukkovilur is considered to be one of the Pancha Krishnaranya shrines. This shrine represents the physical meeting point of the first of the Alwars Poikaialwar, Bhutattalvar and Peyalwar. The Divya Desams enshrining Trivikrama are Tiru Oorakam (Kanchipuram), Tirukkovilur, Kaazhicheeraamavinnagaram, and Tiruneermalai.

        Deities: The Moolavar is an imposing image of Ulagalanda Perumal or Trivikrama, with his foot raised, facing east. Taayaar here is known as Poonkoval Nachiyaar in her own shrine. The Utsava here is Aayanaar or Kovalan (Gopalan).

        Legend has it that Vishnu took the form of Vamana, to subdue the demon king Mahabali; took on an enormous form and conquered the earth and the heavens and upon being offered Mahabali’s head as the resting point for his foot, banished him to the netherworld. Legend has it that Mrikandu Maharishi worshipped Vishnu here as Trivikrama.

        The Temple: This is a vast temple with an imposing Rajagopuram seen from a distance. Covering an area of 5 acres, it has three prakarams. There is a small shrine to Vamana behind the image of Trivikrama. An Ardhamandapam, a Mahamandapam, and the Pandya Mandapam are seen in front of the sanctum. There are shrines to Lakshminarayana, Lakshminarasimha, Andal, Udayava, Senai Mudaliya, Manavala Mamuni, Chakrattalwa, Poonkoyil Naachiyaar (Pushpavalli), Varadaraja and Venugopala here. There is also a Rama temple behind the Taayar shrine. The rear gopuram in a comparative state of disrepair is not used.

        This temple was originally a brick and mortar structure in the period of Parantaka Chola I (early 10th century); it was patronized by the great Chola rulers Raja Raja Chola I and Raja Raja II.  Rajendra Deva in the 11th century rebuilt it of granite.

        Legend has it that the three Alwars (Poikaialwar, Bhutattalwar and Peyalwar) took shelter in the hermitage of Mrikandu Muni, in cramped quarters on a stormy night when they felt the overwhelming person of the fourth person, who was none other than Perumaal, upon whom they composed a hundred verses in praise. This is where the first verses of the Alwars came into being.

        Festivals: Two worship services are offered each day here. The annual festival is observed in the month of Pankuni. Vaikuntha Ekadasi in Margazhi and Manavaala Mamuni Utsavam in the month of Aippasi are other festivals observed here.

Tirukkozhi

        Description:  This Divya Desam is situated in Uraiyur, the ancient Chola capital, now a part of Tiruchirappalli; the Shivastalam enshrining Panchavarneswara is also located in Uraiyur. Tirukkozhi is the birthplace Tiruppaanalwar the author of Amalanadipiran (the celebrated paasuram describing the glory of the image of Ranganatha, at Sri Rangam).

        Deities: Azhagiya Manavalar (in a standing posture) facing north, with his consort Kamalavalli in the same sanctum in a seated posture are the presiding deities here. There is no festival image for Perumaal here. The festival image of Ranganatha is brought in procession from Sri Rangam to commemorate his marriage with Senkamalavalli.

        Legends: A valiant rooster, believed to have warded off an elephant with it’s beak, here at Uraiyur; the name Tirukkozhi (Mookkeeswaram) possibly stems from this legend. Kamalavalli Naachiyaar, daughter of the local Chola King is said to have meditated upon Vishnu, and married him here after which the Chola King built this temple, with its door facing North towards Sri Rangam.

        The temple: Upon entering the temple, one encounters a large mandapam with pillars ornamented with exquisite sculptures. There are several mandapams in the temple prakaram, with shrines to the Alwars and the Acharyas. There is a shrine to Tiruppaanalwar north of the temple tank

        Festivals: In the month of Pankuni, the image of Ranganatha from Sri Rangam is brought in procession to this temple and a grand Kalyana Utsavam is celebrated on the day preceding Pankuni Uthiram. Shown above, is the festival image of NamPerumaal of Sri Rangam. The Tiruppanalwar festival is held in the month of Kartikai.

Tirukkulandai (Perunkulam)

        Description: This is the sixth of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams. There is a only one verse of Nammalwar, attributed to Tirukkulandai.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Srinivasan in a standing posture, while Alamelu Mangai and Kulandavalli are the Taayars. The Utsava here is known as Mayakoottan. The vimaanam here is Anandanilaya vimaanam as in Tirupati.

        Legend has it that Kamalavati, a devotee of Vishnu meditated upon him to attain him as her husband; Vishnu is said to have appeared before her, and embraced her along with his Kousthubha Mani; this shrine is known as Paalikai vanam, owing to the legend that ‘Paalikai’ worshipped Vishnu here. Vishnu is believed to have danced here and vanquished a demon by name Asmasaran, hence the name Mayakkooththan.

Tirukkurunkudi

        Description: This Divya Desam is located near Kalakkad (near Nanguneri) in Tirunelveli district and is also known as Vamana Kshetram. This is the shrine where Tirumangaialwar attained salvation.

        Deities: Azhagiya Nambi (also known as Kurunkudi Nambi, Irunda Nambi, Vaishnava Nambi, Tirupparkadal Nambi, Malai Mel Nambi) in a standing posture facing east. Taayaar here is Kurunkudivalli Naachiyaar. There are shrines to Ninra Nambi and Kidanda Nambi. There is a shrine to Shiva in between these two shrines in front of the Irunda Nambi shrine. Irunda Nambi is referred to as Vaikuntha Nathan. There is a small shrine to Tirupparkadal Nambi on the banks of a creek by name Tirupparkadal. Atop a hill at a distance of about 10km is the Malaimel Nambi shrine.

        Legend has it that Vishnu in the disguise of a disciple, obtained Sree Vaishnava initiation from his beloved devotee Ramanujacharya and hence the name Vaishnava Nambi. Legend also has it that Shiva obtained alms from Tirukkurunkudivalli (Lakshmi), in the skull of Brahma’s fifth head, which had gotten stuck to his palms, after he had removed it from Brahma’s self. Vishnu is said to have taught the Sudarshana Mantram to Shiva at this shrine. This legend here is the same as that held at the Harasaapavimochana Perumaal temple at Tirukkandiyur and at Bhikshandar Koyil (Tirukkarambanur) in Chola Nadu.

        There are several other colorful legends associated with this temple. Vishnu in the guise of a hunter is believed to have guided a Rakshasan and a Brahmanan to salvation. It is also believed that Nammalwar was born through the grace of Vaishnava Nambi at Kurunkudi.

        The temple: This temple covering an area of 18 acres has five prakarams, and is surrounded by a massive wall, crowned with a five tiered gopuram. The Vijayanagar rulers and the Nayaks of Madurai have made several endowments to this temple, which boasts of several exquisite sculptures. Mention must be made of depictions of Gajendramoksham, Gopi Vastrapaharanam, Trivikrama Avatara, etc.

Tirumaaliruncholai

        Description: This Divya Desam is the well known Kallazhagar temple located at a distance of about 18 km from Madurai. Nearby is Pazhamudirsolai, one of the six Padai Veedu shrines of Murugan.

        There are as many as 128 verses sung by Perialwar, Andal, Tirumangaialwar, Bhootattalwar, Peyalwar and Nammalwar on Maalairuncholai. Kallazhagar is enshrined at Azhagar Koyil, and Srivilliputtur enshrines Kattazhagar, while Madurai enshrines Koodalazhagar.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Azhagar, in a standing posture facing east. Azhagar is also known as Sundararajar, Paramaswamy and Rishabhadrinathar. Azhagar is considered to be the tutelary deity of the Kallar tribe of this region, hence the name Kallazhagar. Taayaar here is Sundaravalli.

        Legend has it that the Somasundara Vimanam, also known as the Somaskanda Vimanam or the Somachanda Vimanam was designed by Viswakarma. Legend has it that this shrine was built by Dharma Deva, upon whose request Vishnu took this place as his permanent abode.

        The temple: This temple is situated in a picturesque locale. The hill nearby resembles the shape of a cow, and hence the name Vrishabhadri. The temple is surrounded by two forts, the outer one being Azhagapuri and the inner one Hiranyapuri. The southern gateway to the fort, the Hiranyankottai vaasal is the main entrance here. The Tirumalai Nayakar mandapam is a grand structure while the Anna Vahana Mandapam has sculptures describing scenes from the Puranas. The Kalyana mandapam has life sized images of Narasimha, Krishna, Garuda, Manmathan, Rathi, Trivikrama and Lakshmi Varaha. The flagstaff  here is gold plated. The Aryan mandapam houses Yalis with non removable stone balls in their mouths as in Trivandrum. 

        There are shrines to Valampuri Vinayakar and Saraswathi in the temple. There are shrines to Yoga Narasimha, Karuppannaswami (deity of the Kallar tribe) and Raakkaayee Amman. The doors of the temple over the famous 18 steps in this temple, are considered to be a manifestation of Karuppannasami who is considered to be the guardian deity here.

        The Noopura Ganga theertham is the Silambaar river. It is believed to have emanated from the anklet of Vishnu. Full moon, new moon and dwadasis are considered sacred for bathing in this theertham. Inscriptions form the period of Rajaraja Chola are seen here as well as those from the 16th century Vijayanagar period.

        Festivals: The Chittirai festival is a grand one, where on the fourth day, Azhagar is taken to Madurai, where he resides on the banks of the Vaigai river for five days and then returns. Chittirai is the month of great festivities in Madurai, for it is when, the grand Chittirai Tiruvizha of Madurai happens, attracting thousands of visitors. The festival images (gold) here are of great beauty. Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Aadi, Vasantotsavam in Vaikasi. Tirukkalyanam is celebrated in the month of Pankuni, when Sri Devi, Bhu Devi, Kalyanasundaravalli and Andal are seen with Vishnu. On Dwadasi in the bright half of Aippasi, the festival image of Azhagar is given a ritual bath in Noopura Ganga.

Tirumanikkoodam

        Description: Five  Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil, Arimeya Vinnagaram and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram. Close by is Tirumanikkoodam.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Varadaraja Perumaal also known as Manikkooda Nayakan, in a standing posture facing east. Taayaar here is Tirumaamagal Nachiyaar (Sri Devi) with Bhu Devi. There is no separate shrine for Taayar here.

         The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of, and closely associated with, Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace, Tirunagari, is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Bhramahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunaangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought to Tirunaangur  on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tirumayam

        Description: This Divya Desam is located on the railroad between Karaikkudi and Pudukkottai and is a rock cut temple dating back to the Pallava period.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Satyagirinathan, in a standing posture facing east. Taayaar here is Uyyavanda Naachiyaar. Tirumangaialwar refers to Vishnu here as ‘Tirumeyya Malaiyaala’.

        Legend has it that the demons who surreptitiously tried to steal the image of Perumal were warded off by the poisonous fumes emitted by Adi Seshan, who stood guard.

        The Temple: This is a beautiful rock cut temple with interesting images in bas relief. The image of Satyagirinathan is an imposing one. Also here is the rock cut Satyagireeswara temple, enshrining Satyagireeswara (Shiva) and Venuvaneswari (Parvati). This temple dates back to the period of Mahendra Varma Pallavan. There sanctum and the ardhamandapam to Shiva are rock cut. There is a shrine to Valampuri Vinayaka here. There are also bronze images to Nataraja and Somaskanda and several other beautiful rock carvings here. Four worship services are offered each day and the annual festival is celebrated in the month of Chittirai.

Tirumogur

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at a distance of about 10 km from Madurai.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Kaalamega Perumaal in a standing posture facing east, bearing a mace. The festival image of Tirumogur Aaptan bears five weapons. Taayaar in a separate sanctum bears the names Mohanavalli, Megavalli, Mogurvalli. There is another shrine here to Vishnu in a reclining posture (Palli Konda Perumaal).

        Legend has it that Vishnu distributed the celestial nectar Amritam to the Devas, in the guise of the enchantress Mohini, and hence the name Mohanakshetram or Mohanapuram. This temple with 4 prakarams covers an area of 2.5 acres. The Kambattadi Mandapam has beautifully carved pillars. Also in the Garuda Mandapam, are interesting carvings of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Manmathan and Rathi. The vimanam here is of great beauty. The temple tanks here are referred to as Periya Tirupparkadal and Siriya Tirupparkadal, both located to the left of the temple. This temple was renovated earlier in the 20th century.

        Festivals: Six worship services are carried out each day. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi, when the Mohini Avatara is enacted. Gajendra Moksham is celebrated in the nearby Narasimha temple. Panguni Uthiram, Aadi Pooram, Krishna Jayanti, Navaratri and Vaikuntha Ekadasi are also celebrated here.

Tirunavaya (Tirunaavai)

        Description: This is an ancient temple of Kerala – considered equivalent to Banares, located on the Bharatapuzhaa river.  Across the river are temples to Shiva and Brahma.

        Deities: The presiding deity here is Navamukundan. There are subshrines to Ganapati on the south west corner and Bhagavati on the north east corner. The base of the temple is built of stone, while the superstructure above is of laterite, stucco and timberwork. The temple is considered to be demonstrative of the evolved Kerala type of architecture, dating back to the 13th -14th centuries.

        Legends: The name Tirunaavaai is said to have stemmed from the legend that nine yogis offered worship here. Legend has it that Lakshmi and Gajendra the king of elephants worshipped Vishnu here with lotus flowers from a lake; with two devotees using flowers from the same source, supply dwindled, and Gajendra appealed to Vishnu, who took Lakshmi by his side on the same throne and accepted worship offered by Gajendra.

        The Alwars: Two of the Tamil Alwars have sung of this temple (in the 8th-9th centuries –  Nammalwar and Tirumangaialwar) in a total of 13 verses in Tamil.

Tiru Neeragam

        Description: This Divya Desam is represented by a small shrine in the Northern prakaram of the Ulagalanda Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram enshrining a festival image of Vishnu.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshi Amman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: There is no Moolavar here. Jagadeeswara is the name of the Utsavar (mentioned in one paasuram by Tirumangaialwar) while Taayaar here is Nilamangaivalli.

        In a verse referring to Kachi Oorakam and Tiruvegkaa (both in Kanchipuram) Tirumangaialwar refers to Neerakam, Nilattingal Tundam, Kaarakam, Kaarvaanam and Kalva(nur). Nilattingal Tundam is a shrine in the Kanchi Ekambeswara temple, Neerakam, Kaarakam and Kaarvaanam are shrines in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple (Oorakam). Kalvanoor is the name of the shrine to Vishnu (Aadi Varaha Perumaal) in the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple.

        The Divya Desams in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri, Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam, and Parameswara Vinnagaram.

Tiruneermalai

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in the outskirts of Chennai, near Pallavaram. It is a complex of two temples, one on top of a small hill reached through a flight of stairs, with three shrines, and one at the bottom of a hill, with one shrine. The Divya Desam in the city of Chennai is Tiruvallikkeni. Located near Meenambakkam, nearby is Tirisoolam, with an ancient temple (from the Chola period) dedicated to Shiva.

        The name Neer malai arises from the legend that when Tirumangaialwar visited this shrine, a moat of water surrounded the hill, and that he had to wait in the village down below for a six month period until the water receded.

        Legend has it that Valmiki worshipped the three forms of Vishnu on the hill, and upon meditating upon Rama after climbing down the hill, Ranganatha manifested himself as Rama, Lakshmi as Janaki, Adisesha as Lakshmana, the conch and the discus as Shatrugna and Bhararata, Viswaksena as Sugreeva, Garuda as Hanuman, and appeared before him.

        Deities: The temple at the bottom of the hill enshrines Neervannan or Neelamukilvannan in a standing posture facing south, while Taayaar who is in her own sanctum, is Animaamalar Mangai. There is also a sanctum for Chakravarti Tirumagan in this temple. The hill temple has three sanctums. The first of the Moolavar images is that of Shanta Narasimha, in a seated posture facing east. The second is that of Ranganatha, in a reclining position, facing south. Taayaar here is Ranganayaki facing east, in her own sanctum. The third sanctum is that of Trivikraman (Nadandan) in a standing posture facing east. The  Divya Desams enshrining Trivikrama are Tiru Oorakam (Kanchipuram), Tirukkovilur, Kaazhicheeraamavinnagaram and Tiruneermalai.

        Festivals: Two worship services are carried out each day here. Annual festivals are held in Panguni and in Chittirai.

Tirunilaattingal Tundam

        Description: This Divya Desam is a small shrine in the innermost prakaram of the grand Ekambeswara Temple (Kachi Ekambam Shivastalam) at Kanchipuram (shown in the image above).

        Deities: Nilattingal Tundattaan (Chandra Choota Perumaal) is the Moolavar in a standing posture facing west, while Ner Oruvarillaa Valli is the name of Taayaar here.

        Legend has it that Parvati meditated upon Shiva in front of a Shiva lingam fashioned out of earth, under a mango tree. It is believed that the mango tree withered unable to bear the scorching rays of Shiva’s gaze, and that Vishnu, the brother of Parvati, caused waves of nectar to rejuvenate the tree.

        The Temple: This is a grand temple, dedicated to Shiva, enshrining Prithivi Lingam, representing one of the five primordial elements – earth. Endowed with a vast campus with several mandapams lined with pillars with interesting sculptures, this is one of the well known temples of Tamilnadu. 

        In a verse referring to Kachi Oorakam and Tiruvegkaa (both in Kanchipuram) Tirumangaialwar refers to Neerakam, Nilattingal Tundam, Kaarakam , Kaarvaanam and Kalva(nur). Nilattingal Tundam is a shrine in the Kanchi Ekambeswara temple, Neerakam, Kaarakam and Kaarvaanam are shrines in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple (Oorakam). Kalvanoor is the name of the shrine to Vishnu (Aadi Varaha Perumaal) in the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil) , Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

Tiruninravur

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at Tiruninravur or Tinniyur, near Arakkonam on the Chennai Arakkonam suburban railroad. (The Shivastalam Tiruninravur enshrining Mahalakshmeeswara is located in the Chola country.)

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Bhaktavatsala Perumaal in a standing posture facing east, while Taayaar is known as Sudhaavalli.

        Legend has it that Varuna worshipped Vishnu here. Legend also has it that Perumal visited this village and made it his home; Lakshmi followed him, and stayed here too (hence the name Tiruninravur); Vishnu then appeared in front of a Pallava ruler, and directed him to build the temple and arrange for the annual Bhramotsavam and Pavitrotsavam.

        An imposing tower adorns the entrance to this temple. Two worship services are carried out each day here.

Tiru Oorakam

        Description: This Divya Desam is the well known Ulagalanda Perumaal temple in Periya Kanchipuram, and is also home to three other Divya Desam shrines Tiruneerakam, Tirukkaarakam and Kaarvaanam. It enshrines Vishnu in a mammoth form of Trivikrama dominating the three worlds, in the process of subduing Mahabali the demon king. The stone image here is about 35 feet high and 24 feet wide. The  Divya Desams enshrining Trivikrama are Tiru Oorakam (Kanchipuram), Tirukkovilur, Kaazhicheeraamavinnagaram and  Tiruneermalai.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi (Vishnu section of Kanchipuram) are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi (Shiva section of Kanchipuram) are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshiamman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Trivikraman (Ulagalanda Perumaal) facing west while Taayaar is known by the name Amritavalli. The Utsavar here is Perakattaan.

        Legend has it that Mahabali upon whom Vishnu placed his foot, during his Trivikrama Avatara, dominating the three worlds, desired to worship Vishnu in the form of Trivikrama (as he had not been able to see this form as Vishnu’s foot had been placed on his head). Vishnu is said to have answered his prayers by appearing in front of him as Trivikrama at Kanchipuram (Satyavrata Kshetram). As Mahabali was not able to comprehend the immensity of this manifestation, Vishnu is said to have manifested himself as Adi Sesha, in a small shrine next to the imposing shrine of Ulagalanda Perumaal, at Oorakam. Legend has it that Vishnu gave Anjaneya a vision of Trivikrama and Vamana here.

        The temple: This temple occupies an area of about 60000 sq feet. Inscriptions from the Chola period are seen here. Parimelazhakar, who wrote a commentary on Tirukkural was a priest here, and an image of him riding a horse is seen in the temple.

        Festivals: Two worship services are carried out each day here. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Thai. Kamakshi Amman temple celebrates its Bhramotsavam in the month of Maasi while the Ekambeswara temple celebrates its annual festival in the Tamil month of Pankuni. Thus Periya Kanchi wears a festive look for three festival seasons (months) in a row. Other festivals here are Purattasi Sravana Dwadasi, Vamana Avatara Utsavam, Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Avani Shukla Panchami.

        In a verse referring to Kachi Oorakam and Tiruvegkaa (both in Kanchipuram) Tirumangaialwar refers to Neerakam, Nilattingal Tundam, Kaarakam, Kaarvaanam and Kalva(nur). Neerakam, Kaarakam and Kaarvaanam are shrines in the Ulagalanda Perumaal temple (Oorakam).

Tirupatisaaram (Tirruvannparisaaram)

        Description: Tirupatisaram, with its temple to Venkatachalapati, is located in Kanyakumari district, near Nagarkoil in lush surroundings. Tirupatisaram is the birthplace of the mother of Nammalwar. Nammalwar refers to Vishnu as Tiruvaazhmarban at Vannpaasaram, in a lone verse. Worship protocols followed here are also the same as those of Kerala.

        Deities: The presiding deity here is  Tiruvaazhmaarban, known as Tirukkuralappan or Venkatachalapati in a seated posture facing east. Taayaar here is Kamalavalli Naachiyaar (residing on his chest). Venkatachalapati is flanked by 6 of the saptarishis in the sanctum. There is a shrine to Rama and Agastya Muni outside the sanctum. There is also a shrine to Nataraja with Sivakami and Vinayaka to the left of the sanctum. Murals depicting the 10 avataras of Vishnu are seen are seen one of the mandapams.

        Legend has it that Lakshmi fearing the fierce form of Narasimha following his slaying Hiranya, meditated upon him; Vishnu upon assuming a Shanta Swaroopam upon Prahlada’s request, proceeded in search of Lakshmi, who assumed his chest as her permanent abode (Shri Pati Sancharam hence Tirupatisaram).

        Udayanangai and her husband Kaari (both devotees of Vishnu), are believed to have celebrated Vamanajayanti here (on the bright ekadashi in the month of Virgo), and begotten Nammalwar on Vaikasi Vishakam. Legend also has it that the 7 Saptarishis meditated upon Vishnu here and were blessed with His divine vision. It is believed that the waters of the temple tank have miraculous healing properties.

        Festivals: Kerala Tantram is the worship protocol followed here. Five services are offered each day. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai. Krishna Jayanthi, Saturdays in the month of Purattasi are considered sacred here. Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Aadi Swathi (associated with Kulasekhara Alwar) are also celebrated here.

Tiruppaadakam

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in Chinna Kanchipuram. The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi (Kanchipuram) are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi (Kanchipuram) are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshi Amman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Pandava Dhootar (the messenger of the Pandavas) in a seated posture facing east. Rukmini and Satyabhama are also enshrined here.

        Legend has it that the descendant of the Pandavas, Janamejaya, heard of the legend of the great epic Mahabharata from Vaisampayana (Vyasadeva), and was fascinated by the epic instance of Krishna proceeding to Hastinapuram as a messenger of the Pandavas. He is believed to have performed the Aswamedha sacrifice, and meditated upon Krishna and at the conclusion of the sacrifice, Krishna is said to have appeared before him as Pandava Dhootar at Kanchipuram.

Tiruppaarkadal (Ksheerasamudram)

        Description: Ten of the Alwars have glorified the milky ocean, Ksheera Saagaram, or Tiruppaarkadal believed to be a celestial abode of Vishnu beyond this material world. Tirumazhisai Alwar headdresses seven shrines featuring Vishnu in a reclining position – Tirukkudandai, Tiruvegkaa, Tiruvallur, Tiruvarangam, Tiruppernagar, Anbil, and the celestial Tirupparkadal.

Tiruppaartanpalli

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at a distance of about 10 km from Sirkazhi, and 3km from Tiruvenkadu and  is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams associated with Tirumangaialwar.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Taamaraiyaal Kelvan in a standing posture facing east, while Taayaar is Taamarai Nayaki. The Utsava deity is known by the name Parthasarathy. The Moolavar and the Utsava images are accompanied by their consorts Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Neela Devi. There is another festival image here known as Kolavilli Raman.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of – and closely associated with  Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace  Tirunagari,  is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sree Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on  Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought to Tirunaangur on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling) through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tiruppavalavannam

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in the temple town of Kanchipuram, in Periya (Shiva) Kanchipuram near the railway station. Located close by is the Pachaivannar temple, facing this temple. It is conventional to consider these two temples together as an integrated Divya Desam, although Pachai Vannar has not been sung by the Alwars.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Pavalavannan, in a standing posture facing west; Vishnu here is also referred to as Pravala Varneeswarar. Taayaar here is Pavalavalli. Pachaivannar is enshrined in a seated posture (on Adi Sesha) as Paramapada Naathan.

        Legend has it that Bhrigu Maharishi and Parvati  worshipped Vishnu here. Tirumangai Alwar’s Paasuram refering to Vishnu as Pavalavanna and Kachhi Oora in his Tiruneduntaandakam has been the basis for classifying this temple as a Divya Desam.

        The temple under worship now, is a modern one (19th century) constructed in place of the ancient temple. This temple covers a two acre area, and it has a hall decked with mirrors all around. Two worship services are carried out here.

        As in the Varadaraja Swamy temple, the Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi. Vaikuntha Ekadasi in Margazhi and Pavitrotsavam in the month of Pankuni are the other festivals celebrated here.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi (Kanchipuram) are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi (Kanchipuram) are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshi Amman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

Tirupperai

        Description: This is the eighth of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams. Nammalwar has sung of Tirupperai in a decad of 11 verses.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Makara Nedunkuzhaikkadan (Nigaril Mukilvannan) in a seated posture facing east, while Taayaars here are Kuzhaikkaaduvalli Naachiyaar and Tirupperai Naachiyaar.

        Legend has it that Bhu Devi took the form of Lakshmi (Sreebherai) and bathed in the Tamrabarani river on a full moon day in the Tamil month of Pankuni, where she discovered two fish shaped ear rings, which she offered to Vishnu and hence the name Makara Nedunkuzhaikkaadan. Varuna is believed to have worshipped Vishnu with an abhishekam on the full moon day in the month of Pankuni, to absolve himself of the sin of having insulted his Guru.

Tirupper nagar

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at a distance of about 10km from Lalgudi near Tiruchirappalli (Trichy).

        Deities: Vishnu is referred to as Appakkudattaan or Appalaa Ranganatha; the sanctum enshrining Vishnu in a reclining posture, faces West. The image of Appakkudattaan, blessing Upamanya Muni, holds a pot. Legend has it that Upamanyu Muni and Paraasarar were blessed by Vishnu here.

        The temple: This is a temple built at an elevation on a hill by name Indragiri. With 2 prakarams, it covers an area of about 2.5 acres, and has a rajagopuram of great workmanship.

        Festivals: Vaikuntha Ekadasi, and the annual Panguni Bhramotsavam are celebrated here.

        Tirumazhisai Alwar refers to seven shrines featuring Vishnu in a reclining position  – Tirukkudandai, Tiruvegkaa, Tiruvallur, Tiruvarangam, Tiruppernagar, Anbil and Tirupparkadal in a paasuram.

Tiruppulinkudi

        Description: This is the third of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams. 

        Nammalwar has sung of Tiruppulinkudi in a total of 12 verses, of which one refers also to Varagunamangai and two refer also to (Tiru) Vaikuntham. He refers to Vishnu’s reclining posture at Tiruppulinkudi (Pulinkudi Kidandu), his seated posture at Varagunamangai (Varagunamangai irundu) and his standing posture at Vaikuntham (Vaikunthathull Ninru) in this verse.

        Legend has it that Indra worshipped Vishnu here to rid himself of the Brahmahatti Dosham.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Kaaisinavendan – an imposing image of Vishnu; a lotus stalk from the navel of the image, terminates in a flower bearing an image of Brahma, on the wall of the sanctum. The deity’s feet are viewed through a window in the circumambulatory passage.

Tiruppuliyur

        Description: Tirupuliyur is one of the five ancient shrines in the Chengannur area of Kerala, connected with the Mahabharata. (Chengannur – Yuddhishtra, Tiruppuliyur – Bheema, Aranmula – Arjuna, Tiruvamundur – Nakula, and Tirukkadittaanam – Sahadeva). It has been glorified by the Tamil hymns of Nammalwar of the 1st millennium CE. Another of the Alwars, Tirumangaialwar, has mentioned Tirupuliyur in one of his verses in his Siriya Tirumadal.

        Legend has it that Bhima the Pandava prince built this temple. Legend also has it that the Saptarishis attained salvation here.

Tiruppullaani

        Description: This Divya Desam is one of the Sethu Stalams, on the coast of Tamil Nadu, linked with the Ramayana. It is also known as Darbhasayanam. It is located at Tiruppullaani, near Ramanathapuram.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Kalyana Jagannathan or Aadi Jagannathan in a standing posture facing east; Chakravarti Tirumagan in a reclining posture facing east. (Kadaladaitta Perumaal) and Taayaars here are Padmasini and Kalyanavalli. There are two shrines here, one enshrining Rama in the Darbasayana pose, signifying his resting here and invoking Varuna for help in crossing the ocean enroute to Sri Lanka in search of Sita.

        Legends: Rama is said to have blessed Kanva Rishi with a divine bow. Adi Sethu, the bathing ghats on the ocean, is located at a distance of 2 km from here. Devipatnam nearby houses the Nava Pashana shrines, representing the Nava Grahams, worshipped by Rama. Belief has it that barren women beget progeny upon worshipping at Devipatnam and Tiruppullani and residing here. The name Pullaani arises from the legend that Vishnu appeared here under the Aswatha tree, in response to prayers by Pulla Maharishi, hence the name Pullaranyam.

        The Pattabhi Rama shrine represents Rama’s pointing out to Sita the spot when he rested while he returned to Ayodhya with her.

        The temple: This temple with two prakarams covers an area of about 1.5 acres and is crowned with a 120 feet high gopuram. The Ramanathapuram Royal family has patronized the temple.

        Festivals: Four worship services are carried out here. The annual festivals are celebrated in the months of Pankuni and Chittirai and the Adhyayanotsavam in Margazhi.

Tirupputkuzhi

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at Tirupputkuzhi, 11 km west of Kanchipuram off of the Chennai Vellore highway at a distance of about 80 km from Chennai. Tirupputkuzhi is where Ramanuja was under the tutelage of Yadavaprakasar.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Vijayaraghava Perumaal in a seated posture facing east, and Taayaar is Maragatavalli in a separate sanctum to the right of Perumaal’s sanctum. The sanctum bears an image of Vishnu with Jatayu on his lap. Sri Devi’s and Bhu Devi’s positions are reversed.

        Legend has it that when Rama, estranged from Sita, performed the last rites to the bird Jatayu here, Jatayu is believed to have created the Jatayu theertham here. The name Tirupputkuzhi arises out of the shrine’s association with Jatayu (as with the Shivastalam  Pullirukkuvelur).  

        The Temple: The stone structure here dates back to the period of Sundara Pandyan; renovations were carried out here in 1955. An interesting belief holds here. Barren women desiring progeny worship here and are given a prasadam of roasted soaked lentils. It is believed that if these roasted lentils sprout, the worshipper would conceive and beget children. Two worship services are carried out here each day.

        Festivals:  The horse mount (kutirai vaahanam) here, spins on an axis. Legend has it that the carpenter who made this mount upon being asked to make another of a similar kind for another temple, refused and committed suicide. The carpenter’s tomb is visited by the deity on the horse mount, during the annual festival in Maasi. Other festivals here include the Teppa Utsavam in the month of Thai (New moon), The Pavitrotsavam in the month of Avani and Rama Navami.

Tirupullambhootankudi

        Description: This Divya Desam is located between Kumbhakonam and Tiruvaikavoor in the village of Tyagasamudram.

        Deities: The moolavar here is Valvil Rama, in a reclining posture facing east and the Taayaar is Hemambujavalli (Potraamaraiyaal).

        Legend has it that this shrine is associated with the Ramayanam, and that Rama said to have offered moksham to Jatayu here. Sita is not seen with him, as this temple represents the state where he was separated from Sita. There is a separate shrine for Bhumi Devi.

        This temple is administered by the Ahobila Matam. This temple with 2 prakarams and a 60 feet high Rajagopuram covers an area of about an acre.

        Festivals: Five worship services are offered each day, and the annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Pankuni.

Tiruttankaa

        Description: This Divya Desam is located again in Kanchipuram close to the Ashtabhuyakara Divya Desam, which is in turn a mile west of the Varadaraja Perumal temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva  Kanchi (Kanchipuram) are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshi Amman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Deepaprakasar, also known as Vilakkolipperumaal, Divyaprakasar – in a standing posture facing west. Taayaar here is Maragatavalli.

        Legend has it that the demons darkened the world in an attempt to disturb the yagna (ritual) conducted by Brahma; Vishnu is said to have manifested himself as bright light, to enable the yagna to continue unimpeded, hence the name Deepaprakasar.

        Tiruttankaa is the birthplace of Desikacharyar, whose image is enshrined here along with that of Lakshmi-Hayagriva which he held in worship. Murals depicting the life history of Desikacharyar are seen in the circumambulatory passage in this temple.

        Festivals: Two worship services are carried out each day. Vaikuntha Ekadasi is celebrated here.

Tiruttankaal Temple

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in Tiruttankaal on the Virudunagar Tenkasi railroad at a distance of 3 km from Sivakasi. (Tiruttankaa enshrining Deepaprakasa Perumaal is located in Kanchipuram).

        Deities: There are two temples here. In the hill temple the Moolavar is Ninra Narayanan, in a standing posture facing east, while the Utsava is Tankaalappan. Enroute to the hill temple is a cave temple enshrining Ranganatha or Pallikonda Perumaal.

        Taayaar sannidi is in the 2nd level of the hillock while Perumaal’s temple is situated on the hillock. Taayaar here is Senkamalattaayar in her own sanctum in a standing posture. Taayaar is also known by the names Anna Nayaki, Ananta Nayaki, Amrita Nayaki and Jambavati. To Perumaal’s right is Sri Devi (Anna Nayaki), while to his left are Bhu Devi (Amrita Nayaki) and Jambavati. In the sanctum are images of Markandeya, Garudan, Arunan, Viswakarma, Bhu Devi and Sri Devi, Nila Devi, Usha, Anirudhan and Bhrigu Muni. The temple at ground level enshrines Tirukkolapperumaal.

        Legend has it that Ranganatha of Sri Rangam resided here, enroute to Srivilliputtur (hence the name Tiruttangal). Legend also has it that there was a conflict between Sri Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi as to who was superior. Sri Devi left her abode and settled down at Tiruttankaal, as Arunakamala Mahadevi and was worshipped by one and all. She meditated upon Vishnu desiring that he be with her. Vishnu answered her prayers; Bhu Devi and Nila Devi followed. Legend also has it that Krishna killed the demon Banasura, and his daughter Usha married Krishna’s grandson Anirudha here.

        Festivals: Worship services are offered first to Taayaar and then to Perumaal. Four services are offered each day. Oonjal festival is celebrated each Friday in the Taayaar shrine. In the month of Chittirai, the Pournami Utsavam is celebrated for five days. Festival image of Perumaal is taken on a horse mount to neighboring villages then. The 10 day Vasantotsavam is celebrated in Vaikasi. Krishna Jayanti, Pavitrotsavam, Garuda sevai in Purattasi, Navaratri, Kartikai deepam, Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Koorattalwar Tirunaal, and Pankuni Tirukkalyanam are celebrated here. On the fifth day of Adi Pooram, Perumaal is taken in procession to Srivilliputtur.

        The temple: The vimanam here is of great beauty and is known as the Somachanda vimanam (as in Azhagar Koyil). Inscriptions from the 11th century are seen here, although much of the construction here is a result of recent renovations. On the other side of the hill is a rock cut temple enshrining Karunelli Naathar (Shiva) and Meenakshi with shrines to Vinayaka, Dakshinamurthy, Nataraja, Sivakami, Subramanya, Surya and Chandra. This temple dates back to the 13th century.

Tiruttetriambalam (Palli Konda)

        Description: Five Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil, Arimeya Vinnagaram and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram. This temple is more familiarly known as Palli Konda Perumaal temple.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Senkanmaal, also known as Ranganatha or Sri Lakshmiranga, in a reclining posture, facing east, while Taayaar is known as Senkamalavalli.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of , and closely associated with, Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace,  Tirunagari,  is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sri Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought to Tirunaangur on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Thiruttolaivillimangalam (Irattaittiruppati)

        Description: Tiruttolaivillimangalam constitutes the third and fourth of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams. 

        Nammalwar has sung of these Tiruttolaivillimangalam in a total of 11 verses where he refers to Vishnu as Nedumaal, Devapiraan, Tamaraitadankannan and Aravindalochanan.

        Deities: The first of the two temples, here enshrines Srinivasan (Devapiran) in a standing posture facing east. The second enshrines Aravindalochanan in a seated posture facing east and his consort is Karuntadankanni Naachiyaar. These temples underwent renovation in 1998.

        Legend has it that a man and a woman who had been cursed by Kubera to assume the forms of a measuring scale (Tulai) and a bow (Villi), were relieved of their curse by a sage Atreya Suprabha here, hence the name Tulaivillimangalam.

Tiruvaaippadi (Gokula)

Description: Stories of Krishna’s childhood, form the basis of several of India’s art forms which constitute the subcontinent’s cultural backbone. Perialwar, Andal and Tirumangaialwar in the latter half of the 1st millennium CE, have sung of Krishna’s childhood at his foster home at Gokulam in a total of 22 verses in Tamil. Gokul, at a distance of about 12 km from Mathura, is what is referred to as the Tiruvaaippadi Divya Desam. The first verse of Tiruppaavai speaks of ‘Seer malgum Aaippaadi’. There are several temples here, with images of Nandagopa, Yasodha, Balarama and Krishna.

Tiruvaali and Tirunagari

        Description: Tiruvaali and Tirunagari are located near Sirkazhi. Tirunagari is the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar who is closely associated with the 11 Divya Desam shrines of Tirunangur. Tiiruvaali is where Tirumangai Alwar’s wife Kumudavalli was raised. Tiruvaali is located at a 10 km east of Sirkazhi, enroute to Tiruvenkadu. Tirunagari is at a distance of of 5 km from Tiruvaali, again enroute to Poompuhaar. Tirumangai Alwar refers to Perumaal as Vayalaali Manavalan at Tiruvaali; however Vayalaali Manavaalan is enshrined at Tirunagari. Hence traditionally, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari are considered to be a Divya Desam. Tirumangaialwar has referred to Tiruvaali-Tirunagari in a total of 41 verses. Also, Kulasekharaalwar in his decad of verses dedicated to Rama (Sowrirajan at Kannapuram) refers to ‘Aali Nagarkku Atipati’ in a lone verse.

        Tiruvaali: The Moolavar here is Lakshmi Narasimha, Vayalaali Manavaalan in a seated posture facing west, while the Utsavar deity is Tiruvaali Nagaraalan. Taayaar here is Amrita Ghatavalli.

        Tirunagari: The Moolavar here is Vedaraja in a seated posture facing west, while the utsavar is Kalyana Ranganathan. Taayaar here is Amritavalli. Two of the Narasimha images worshipped by Tirumangaialwar are located at Tirunagari. There is a shrine to Tirumangai alwar where he is depicted as a hunter, that he originally was; adjacent to him is a small image of Vishnu (Sindanaikkiniyaan, which he had held in worship during his lifetime).

        Legend has it that at a distance of about a km from here, Tirumangaialwar attacked Perumaal and Taayaar (in Kalyanakkolam as a newly wed couple hence Kalyanaranganathar), in order to steal their jewels; the touch of Perumaal who initiated him into a religious way of life completely transformed Kaliyan or Tirumangaimannan, who went on to become Tirumangaialwar, to sing verses in chaste Tamil, that constitute a sizeable portion of the sacred Naalayira Divya Prabandam. This legend of Tirumangaialwar’s transformation is enacted here in the dramatic Vedupari Utsavam, as also in the grand Sri Rangam temple during the Pankuni Bhramotsavam.

        The temple: The Tirunagari temple is a vast one, and is a Maadakkoyil built at an elevation. A seven tiered rajagopuram adorns the entrance to this temple with four prakarams. Tirunagari is known as the Pancha Narasinga Kshetram, as there are images to Narasimha at Tiruvaali, Kuraiyalur (the spot where Tirumangai Alwar intercepted Perumaal) and Mangaimadam (where Tirumangaialwar fed devotees of Vishnu); there are two images of Narasimha, one behind the main shrine and one in one of the prakarams at Tirunagari. Manavala Muni has visited this shrine several times. One day prior to the grand Tirunangur, Garuda Sevai festival, the image of Tirumangaialwar is taken in procession to Kuraiyalur, Mangaimadam and Nangur.

        Festivals: Bhramotsavam here is celebrated in the month of Pankuni, the the Tirumangaialwar festival in the month of Thai. The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on  Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought to Tirunaangur on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tiruvahindrapuram

        Description: This celebrated Divyadesam is located in the town of Cuddalore near Chidambaram, at a distance of 5km west of the Tiruppadirippuliyur railway station. Tiruppadirippuliyur is also home to the Shivastalam associated closely with Tirunavukkarasar.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Deivanayakan in a standing posture facing east; Taayaar here is known as Hemambujavalli or Vaikunthanayaki. Utsavar here is known as Devanathan, or Moovaragiya Oruvan – a manifestation of the trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). There is also a Vilva tree, a favorite of Lord Shiva, in the temple complex.  The  temple on top of the Aushadagiri hill enshrining Hayagriva – the embodiment of knowledge and learning – is of very great significance.

        This temple is also known for its close association with Desikacharya, who spent close to forty years in this town. There is a shrine to Desika within the temple.  This shrine has also been visited by Manavaala Mahamuni.

        Legend has it that Adi Sesha, the serpent mount of Vishnu, created this shrine, hence the name Tiruvahindrapuram. Garuda is said to have created the Virajaa Theertham (Garuda Nadi) while Adi Sesha is said to have created the Sesha Theertham (Paatala Gangai). Legend also has it that Vishnu was  worshipped by Markandeya and Bhu Devi here as in Uppiliappan Koyil.

        Festivals: The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai. Maasi Magam is another of the festivals celebrated here.

Tiruvaikuntham

        Description:  There are two verses sung by Nammalwar, glorifying this grand shrine to Vaikunthanathar at Sree Vaikuntham which constitutes the first of the nine Nava Tiruppatis in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur. One of these verses also refers to Tiruppulinkudi and Varagunamangai nearby.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but only as one of the 108 Divya Desams.

        This temple witnessed the battle between the valiant Veerapandya Kattabomman and the British, where the British used this temple as a fortress. Battle marks are seen on the temple’s door.

        Also located in this village is the Kailasanathar temple considered to be one of the Navagraha Stalam temples in the Tirunelveli area, enshrining Saneeswaran, owing to which, this village is also referred to as Tirukkayilayam.

        Deities: Sri Vaikunthanatha (Kallappiraan) in a standing posture facing east. The image of Vishnu, with Adi Sesha’s hood spread over his head, is an imposing one. Taayaar here is Vaikunthavalli; there is also a shrine to Bhu Devi.

        Legend has it that a local thief, was in the habit of surrendering half of his spoils to the deity here; upon being caught stealing at the local ruler’s palace, Vishnu assumed the form of a thief, and preached the truth to the king and revealed his self. Upon the king’s request, Vaikunthanatha assumed the name Kallappiraan.

        The temple: This temple has been designed such that on the 6th day of Chittirai (Apr 15-May14) and Aippasi (Oct 15-Nov14), the sun’s rays illuminate the sanctum. Murals depicting the 108 Sri Vaishnava Divya Desam shrines are seen in the temple corridor. The Tiruvenkatamudaiyan mandapam is lined with pillars carrying images of lions, yalis and elephants. The Rajagopuram is visible from a distance, across the river and the verdant vegetation here – amidst very lush surroundings.

        Festivals: Six worship services are carried out each day. The annual Bhramotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai and the adhyana utsavam in Margazhi.

Tiruvallavaazh

        Description: This is an ancient temple, enshrining Sri Vallabha at Tiruvalla near Kottayam. It has been glorified by the Tamil hymns of Tirumangaialwar and Nammalwar of the 1st millennium CE.

        The plinth and the wall of this temple are of granite while the rest of the structure is of timber and sheet roof. The shrine has a vritta (circular) vimanam. Carvings of Dakshinamurthy and Shiva – Yogiswara are seen in this temple. In front of the sanctum are the halls of namaskaramandapam, a mukhamandapam, a gopuradwaram and an agramandapam. There is a subshrine to Vishwaksena in the north east corner of the inner prakaram, facing south.

        The Sudarshana Chakram seen through the west cardinal door of the sanctum is held in worship and is believed to have been installed in the 13th century. Much of the present form of the temple structure dates back to the 14th century.

Tiruvallikkeni

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in Tiruvallikkeni (Triplicane) in  Chennai; the temple and its tank stand as a standing illustration of the co-existence of the present and the past  in the modern metropolis of Chennai, as in Tirumayilai. The rapid transport system (railway line) running along the coast of Chennai, bears the name Tiruvallikkeni, on the railway station closest to this ancient temple. The alli flowers in the temple tank lend the name Allikkeni. Tiruvallikkeni is one of the well visited Divya Desams, and is a well known landmark in the Chennai metropolis. The other important (ancient) temples in and around Chennai are the Tiruvanmyur and the Tiruvotriyur Shivastalams.

        Deities: There are five shrines here. The primary sanctum enshrines Venkatakrishnan with Rukmini, Balaraman, Satyaki, Anirudha, Pradyumna – in a standing posture facing east. The Utsavar here is Parthasarathy. Scars from arrows sent from Bhishma’s bow, borne by Krishna, are seen on the image of Krishna. There is a shrine to Ranganatha in a reclining posture; his consort is Vedavalli, in a separate sanctum. There is a shrine to Rama in a standing posture, flanked by Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Shatrugna and Hanuman facing east. There is also a shrine to Varadaraja in a seated posture on the Garuda mount facing east. There is also a shrine to Narasimha in a seated posture facing west. Apart from these, there is a separate shrine for Andal. This is the only shrine among the 108 Divya Desams, where Krishna is seen enshrined with images of his family.

        The temple: Inscriptions from the 8th century Pallavas (Tondaiman Chakravarti) are seen in this temple. The Vijayanagar rulers have made endowments here. The temple covers an area of about 1.5 acres. The gold image of Tirumaal Nachiyaar, adorning the chest of Venkatakrishna, is a rare work of art. It is believed that Venkateswara of Tirupati manifested himself as Parthasarathy here, and hence the name Venkatakrishnan. This shrine is considered equivalent to Tirupati, and Saturdays in the month of Purattasi are considered sacred here.

        Festivals: As in Tirupati, Tirumanjanam is performed on Fridays to Venkatakrishna. Moolam asterism in the month of Aippasi is considered sacred. The annual Bhrammotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chittirai. The glass palanquin here is of great beauty. Vaikuntha Ekadasi celebrated in Margazhi draws a large number of pilgrims. Vaikuntha ekadasi is celebrated for 20 days, while the Bhramotsavam is celebrated for 10 days. The float festival is held in the month of Maasi.

Tiruvamundur (Tiruvanvandur)

        Description: Tiruvamundur is one of the five ancient shrines in the Chengannur area of Kerala, connected with the Mahabharata. (Chengannur – Yuddhishtra, Tiruppuliyur – Bheema, Aranmula – Arjuna, Tiruvamundur – Nakula and Tirukkadittaanam – Sahadeva). It has been glorified by the Tamil hymns of Nammalwar of the 1st millennium CE. It is located 6 km north of Chengannur on the Ernakulam Trivandrum railroad.

        The temple: This temple has a circular vimanam – a namaskaramandapam and a gopuradwaram. Much of the present structure dates back to the 14th century CE.

        Legend has it that Nakula, the Pandava prince, built this temple. Narada is believed to have been blessed here with the duty of preaching the truth to humanity. Vishnu is said to have created a text describing the protocol to be adopted for worshipping him, at this shrine.

Tiruvanandapuram

        Description: Tiruvanandapuram (Trivandrum) gets its name from the grand Anantapadmanabhaswamy temple, enshrining the tutelary deity – Anantapadmanabha of the Travancore kingdom. It is one of the grandest temples of Kerala, exhibiting an amalgamation of Dravidian and Kerala temple architectural styles. It is a temple vibrant with tradition, having been associated for years with the arts and music. The rulers of Travancore have held this temple in the highest regard. Even today, an elaborate worship protocol is followed in the strictest sense and this is one of the best maintained temples in India.

        This is an ancient temple and has been revered by the Tamil hymns of the Alwar Saint Nammalwar of the 1st millennium CE. Eight shrines in Kerala have been revered by the Tamil hymns of Nammalwar, namely Tirunaavai, Trikakkara, Moozhikkalam, Tiruvalla, Tirukkodittanam, Chengannur, Tirupuliyur, Aranmula, Tiruvanvandur and Tiruvanantapuram, and two in Kanyakumari district (formerly in Travancore) Tiruvaattar and Tirupatisaram. Tirumangaialwar has sung of Tiruvalla, and has mentioned Tirupuliyur in one of his hymns.

        Deities: This temple enshrines an imposing image of Vishnu in the Anantasayanam posture; an image viewed through three doors in front of the shrine. The original image was of wood; the current image was fashioned out of 1200 shalagrams which were specially brought down for this purpose and molded into shape with a special paste, kadusarkara – a mixture of lime, granite, molasses and mustard. Vishnu is viewed through three doors in a row – the face on the southern side, the feet on the northern side and the nabhi (navel) in the middle.  Padmanabhan is enshrined in the yoganidhra posture, reclining on Adisesha (making offerings of vilvam to a small Shiva lingam, to his right).

        The sanctum of this temple is fashioned in the style of the temples of Kerala, while the surrounding walls and the towers resemble that of the Tamil (Dravidian architecture) temples. Interesting murals adorn the outer walls of the sanctum. There are shrines to Narasimha, Hanuman and Krishna near the sanctum.

        An interesting legend surrounds the origin of the imposing image. A rishi by name Divakara Yogi, who was engaged in the worship of Vishnu, was enraged by the sight of a two year old toddler swallowing his Shalagrama, the object of his worship. The toddler, upon being chased by the yogi, entered a tree; the tree split, and Vishnu revealed himself in all his splendor to the Rishi, who then requested him to assume a form that could be held in worship, upon which Vishnu assumed the form of the image, now held in worship in this temple.

        History: Martanda Varma of the Travancore Kingdom, in a spectacular ceremony in 1750 surrendered the kingdom to the presiding deity of the temple, and received it back as a fiefdom and ruled Travancore as a servant of Padmanabhan; all of his successors adopted this custom. Much of the present structure dates back to the period of Martanda Varma, who made several renovations and built the eastern gopuram, which was completed by 1798.

        The  flagstaff  is enclosed in a casing of gold. The Kulasekhara mandapam near the flagstaff has fine sculptures dating back to the 17th century. The long prakaram, with a terraced roof with 324 columns, measures 540 feet by 325 feet, and is about 24 feet wide. It has two rows of granite pillars, and every pillar bears an image of a Deepalakshmi. Also here are images of yalis (mythological animal), with non removable stone balls in their mouths.

        Festivals: There are two annual festivals here – one in the month of Pankuni (Pisces-Meenam) March 15-April14, and the other in Aippasi (Tulaa-Libra) (Oct-Nov).

Tiruvanpurushottamam

        Description: Five Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil , Arimeya Vinnagaram, and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Purushottaman in a standing posture facing east, while Taayaar here is Pusushottama Nayaki.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of, and closely associated with, Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace, Tirunagari,  is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sri Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are: Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling)  through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tiruvaragunamangai

        Description: This is the second of the nine Nava Tiruppatis (Divya Desam shrines) in Tirunelveli district in the belt between Tirunelveli and the coastal shrine of Tiruchendur. Varagunamangai, known as Naththam is located 2.5 km east of Sree Vaikuntham.

        Only Nammalwar, who resided at Alwar Tirunagari, has sung of these nine shrines Tiruvaikuntham, Varagunamangai, Pulinkudi, Tolaivillimangalam, Tirukkulandai, Tirukkolur, Tirupperai and Tirukkurugoor, collectively referred to as Alwar Navatiruppati. Tolaivillimangalam referred to as Irattai Tirupati, counts as two in the scheme of Nava Tirupatis, but as one of the 108 Divya Desams. 

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Vijayaasanapperumaal in a seated posture, with the hood of Adi Sesha spread over his head, as an umbrella in a manner similar to that at Sri Vaikuntham. Taayaar here is Varagunavalli.

        Nammalwar refers to Vishnu’s reclining posture at Tiruppulinkudi, his seated posture at Varagunamangai and his standing posture at Vaikuntham in a lone verse in his Tiruvaaimozhi.

Tiruvarangam (Koyil)

        Description: This is the foremost of the 108 shrines glorified by the Alwars; all of the Alwars with the exception of Madhurakavi Alwar have sung of its glory. It is the one of the greatest centers of the Sri Vaishnava religion and among the most visited pilgrimage centers in India.

        Undoubtedly the largest temple in India, and one among the grandest, it is a treasure house of art freezing various architectural styles over a period of time. It boasts of the tallest temple tower in India. Referred to as heaven on earth, it is an ancient center of worship – vibrant with tradition and festivals. The Pancharanga Kshetrams along the course of the Kaveri are Srirangapatnam (Karnataka), Sri Rangam, Koyiladi (Anbil), Kumbhakonam and Indalur (Mayiladuturai).

        Sri Rangam is very closely associated with Ramanujacharya, the beacon of the Sri Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Tiruvanaikka or Jambukeswaram, one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalams (associated with the primary element water) of Shiva, is located in the vicinity. Sri Rangam is located near Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu.

        Deities: Ranganatha is enshrined in a reclining posture (facing the South); while Namperumaal the festival deity in a standing posture is also housed in the main sanctum. There is a shrine in the fourth prakaram, housing Ranganayaki Taayaar.

        Traditions: Araiyar Sevai, one of the ancient devotional art traditions of Tamil Nadu, involving the expressive recitation of the Divya Prabandams, using movement, music originated here under the auspices of Nadamuni (10th century CE). Araiyar sevai is performed also at Srivilliputtur, Alwar Tirunagari and Melkote (Karnataka). The famous Tamil literary work Kamba Ramayanam premiered here at Sri Rangam.

        The Temple: This temple enshrines Ranganatha in the central sanctum, crowned with a gold plated Pranava Vimanam or Paravasudeva Vimanam. A total of 7 concentric prakarams surround this shrine, housing several mandapams, tanks and shrines. The area enclosed by the outermost wall is over a hundred acres. Gopurams on the south and east of the 4th prakaram are the most impressive. A total of 21 towers adorn the temple.

        The pillars here go back to the Chola period (13th century CE). The 1000 pillared hall is also the product of the late chola period, and is also in the 4th prakaram; its entrance is in the south. It is here where the adhyayanotsavam (involving the recitation of the Tamil Prabandam hymns)  is held. At the southern edge of the huge open courtyard, the Vijayanagara rulers added the hall with 8 pillars with huge horses. The Krishna Venugopala shrine on the southern side is also of great beauty. The Garuda mandapam is located in the third prakaram. Its pillars go back to the Nayaks of 17th century Madurai. The Chandra and Surya Pushkarini tanks are located in the 3rd prakaram.

        History:  Temple life at Sri Rangam evolved after Nadamuni (923 – 1023 CE) compiled the hymns of the Alwars and gave them a musical form. During Ramanuja’s time (12th century CE), Sri Rangam was a well established institution. The Pandya rulers, from the 13th century onwards, gave the temple immeasurable support; the gold plating of the vimanam being first of their endowments. The Hoysala kings, who set up a military base outside Sri Rangam also made contributions. The temple was desecrated by the Delhi armies in 1313, and was closed for 60 years. From the end of the 14th century, the temple came back to life, and much of what is seen today is a result of  the rebuilding activity which happened during the time of the Vijayanagar rulers.

        Festivals: An elaborate protocol of worship services is offered here throughout the day. On about 120 days, the Utsavamurthy is taken out in procession out of the inner sanctum. Adi Bhrammotsavam is celebrated in Panguni. The grand Adhyayanotsavam is celebrated in the month of Margazhi, involving the recitation of the Prabandham hymns or Alwar Pasurams in the thousand pillared hall.

        Also in Sri Rangam is the Dasavataram temple, the only one of its kind, enshrining the ten incarnations of Vishnu along with Lakshmi Narasimha and Vishwaksena. This temple was built by Tirumangaialwar and is now under the administration of the Ahobila Mutt.. The Tirumangaimannan festival is celebrated here.

 Tiruvattar

        Description: This ancient temple located in Kanyakumari district, on the railroad between Kanyakumari and Tiruvanandapuram, has been glorified by a decad of 11 verses composed by Nammalwar in the first millennium CE. The architecture here, as with several other temples in Kanyakumari district, resembles that of the Temples of Kerala. Worship protocols followed here are also the same as those of Kerala. This temple is an important center of worship and is referred to as Adi Anantam and Dakshina Vaikuntham.

        The deity Adi Kesava Perumal in a reclining posture faces west. As in Tiruvanandapuram, the deity is viewed through three openings in the sanctum. The sanctum has been designed so that the rays of the setting sun illuminate the face of the deity.

        Legend has it that Vishnu vanquished the demons Kesa and Kesi, (hence the name Adi Kesan) and took abode on the coils of Adi Sesha here at Tiruvattaar. Kesi took on the form of the Tamraparani river. Shiva is believed to have taken on 12 forms to witness the battle between Vishnu and Kesi, and worship Vishnu. A pilgrimage to all of the 12 Shiva temples is considered complete after visiting this temple at Tiruvattaar.

        The temple: The sanctum faces west, although the main entrance is on the east. There are also shrines to Adi Kesava, Venkatachalapati and Taayaar. The flag staff of copper was built by the Travancore royal family. The circumambulatory passage around the sanctum (Sri Balippuram) is lined with 224 granite pillars, each one of which carries sculptured images of Deepa Lakshmi. Interestingly, no two of these images are alike. The balipeetha mandapam has life sized images of Lakshmana, Indrajit, Nataraja, Vishnu and Brahma, Rathi and Manmathan. The sanctum has beautiful wooden carvings. There is also a shrine to Tiruvambadi Krishna.

        Festivals: The Kerala tantram is the protocol of worship conducted here, by Namboodris of Kerala. Four services are offered each day. There are two annual festivals, the first one in the month of Aippasi, where the Teerthavari (Aarattu) is held in the river Tamraparani near the Shiva Tali. The Golden Garuda Sevai is held during both these festivals. Krishna Jayanthi, Vaikuntha Ekadasi, Aavani Tiruvonam, Kalabham in the month of Thai, and the Perunthamritu poojai (Aadi and Thai) on the eve of the summer and winter solstices are some of the festivals celebrated here.

        Legend has it that an army of invaders from North India were miraculously turned away by a swarm of wasps, in answer to prayers by the Maharaja of Kottayam (17th century). Legend also has it that the festival image was stolen by the armies of the Nawab of Arcot and that a mysterious ailment which gripped the Nawab’s wife was cured, only after he returned the image to the temple. A special service by name ‘tiru Alla Poojai’ is offered during the annual festivals here. It is also believed that the festival image being returned by him, got stuck to the ground near the Shiva temple, and that it came unstuck only after a decision was made to carry out the Aaraattu near the very spot.

Tiruvegkaa

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in Kanchipuram close to the Ashtabhuyakara Divya Desam, a mile west of the Varadaraja Perumal temple. It has been glorified by six of the 12 Alwars.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshi Amman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Yatotkaari or Yatotkaara Perumaal also known as Sonnavannam Seida Perumaal, in a reclining posture facing east. Taayaar here is Komalavalli. The ‘sayana’ posture is reversed here, with the head to the devotee’s right, unlike other shrines.

        Legend has it that Poikai Alwar, among the first of the Alwars, was discovered on a lotus flower in the Poikai Pushkarini. Legend also has it that the Vegavati river, implored by the demons, came flowing in spate, to destroy the yagna (ritual) being performed by Brahma. Upon being implored by the Devas and Brahma, Vishnu, manifested himself in a reclining position , across the river, damming it. The word Vegavati Anai (dam), is the root of the name Vegkaa. The same legend is told at the Varadaraja temple too.

        Legend has it that a disciple of Tirumazhisai Alwar converted an aged woman to a young damsel, so that her services would be available to the temple for a longer period here. Hearing of this, a Pallava king approached his disciple to have him convert him (the king) into a youthful personality. Upon his refusal, he was banished from the kingdom, and Tirumazhisai Alwar followed him, leaving Kanchipuram. Vishnu upon hearing the pleas of Tirumazhisai Alwar, followed him out of Kanchipuram, and upon Vishnu’s departure, the entire city became one of darkness. The king requested Alwar and his disciple to return to the city, and Vishnu returned too, and reversed his position in the temple. The name Sonnavannam seida Perumaal came into being because Vishnu ‘listened’ to the Alwar and left the temple, and again listened to his pleas and returned.

        This temple occupies an area of about 4 acres.  Two worship services are carried out each day here. Vaikuntha ekadasi is celebrated for 22 days in Margazhi. Poikaialwar’s birth is celebrated in the month of Aippasi. A golden palanquin is used during festivals here.

        Tirumazhisai Alwar refers to seven shrines featuring Vishnu in a reclining position   – Tirukkudandai, Tiruvegkaa, Tiruvallur, Tiruvarangam, Tiruppernagar, Anbil and Tirupparkadal in a paasuram.

Tiruvellakkulam

        Description: This Divya Desam is located 11 km south west of Sirkazhi and is one of the 11 Divya Desam shrines associated with Tirunangur. Perumaal here is considered equivalent to Venkatesha Perumaal at Tirupati and this shrine is also known as Tentirupati.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Srinivasan, also known as Kannan, Narayanan, and Annan Perumaal – in a standing posture facing east; Taayaar here is known as Alarmelmangai, and here Utsavar is Padmavati.

        Legends: A prince by name Swetan (son of the Suryavamsa King Dundumaaran) was saved from the clutches of death at the age of 9, upon having meditated upon the Mrityunjaya mantra, under a vilvamaram, on the banks of the Swetapushkarini (in a legend similar to that of Markandeya). Interestingly this legend is very similar to the one held at Tiruvenkadu (Swetaranyam) nearby where the sage Swetaketu was saved from the clutches of death by the grace of Shiva.

        Kumudavalli Naachiyaar, a pious and firm devotee, and wife of Tirumangaialwar was discovered here. There is a shrine to her here.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of, and closely associated with, Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace, Tirunagari, is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sri Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram, Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram, Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought to Tirunaangur on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangaialwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangaialwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling) through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.

Tiruvellarai

        Description: This Divya Desam is located at a distance of 27 km from Tiruchirappalli, enroute to Turaiyur.

        Deities: Pundareekakshar, in a standing posture, faces East. Shenpakavalli, and Pankayachelvi are the names of his consort. There is a separate shrine for Taayaar here. Pankajavalli is the name of her processional image.

        The Temple: This is a vast temple, with imposing walls. The main shrine has two entrances, referred to as the Uttarayana Vaayil and the Dakshinayana Vaayil as in the Sarangapani temple at Kumbhakonam. As implied by their names, the Uttarayana Vaayil is open from the Tamil month of Thai (Capricorn) onwards, until the month of Aadi (Cancer) from when on, the Dakshinayana Vaayil is used.

        In addition, the temple has another entrance referred to as the ‘Naazhi Kettaan Vaayil’ where it is believed that Vishnu was intercepted and questioned by his consort, upon his returning home later, after his sojourn. Images of Sri Devi, Bhu Devi, Surya, Chandra and Adi Sesha (in human form) are seen in the sanctum.

        There are as many as 7 theerthams within the temple complex. Ramanujacharyar is said to have lived here, and Manavalamaamuni and Desikacharyar have also sung of this shrine.

Tiruvelukkai

        Description: This Divya Desam is located in Kanchipuram 1 km south west of Ashtabhuyakaram, which is a mile west of the Varadaraja Perumal temple.

        The Divya Desams revered by the Alwars in Vishnu Kanchi are Attigiri (the vast Varadaraja Perumal temple), Ashtabuyakaram, Tiruttankaa, Tiruvelukkai and Tiruvegkaa, while those in Shiva Kanchi are Tiru Oorakam (Ulagalanda Perumaal Koyil), Tiru Neeragam, Tiruppaatakam, Nilaattingal Tundam, Tirukkaaragam, Tirukkaarvaanam, Tirukkalvanur, Tiruppavalavannam and Parameswara Vinnagaram. The vast Ekambeswara temple (Prithvi Stalam) revered by the Tevaram hymns, is located in Periya (Shiva) Kanchi, as are the Kamakshi Amman and the Kanda Kottam temples.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Azhagiyasingar or Mukunda Nayakar in a standing posture facing east, while the Taayaar here is Velukkaivalli or Amritavalli.

        Legend has it that Narasimha, while in his Hastisaila cave (the Attigiri sanctum hill in the Varadaraja Perumaal temple, with the cave shrine to Narasimhar), manifested himself yet again as Narasimha, and proceeded westward to banish the asura demons from the vicinity, where he stood in the posture of Yoga Narasimha, in what is known now as Tiruvelukkai. The word Vel means desire; since Narasimha, out of desire for this place, resided here, this shrine is known as Tiruvelukkai.

Tiruvithuvakkodu

        Description: This Divya Desam has been sung in a decad of 10 verses by Kulasekhara Alwar who hailed from Kerala (Chera Nadu). This temple is located at Tiruvinjikode, at a distance of 16 km from Shoranur (off of the highway), enroute to Guruvayur. This temple has a shrine to Shiva and a shrine to Vishnu.

        Legend has it that Vishnu appeared in four forms here (Vyuhavataram) in response to worship by Ambarishan and was worshipped by the Pandavas here. Ambarishan is said to have obtained salvation here.

        There is yet another temple in Karur (on the Chennai Tiruchi railroad), by name Vithuvakkodeeswaram, enshrining Abhaya Pradhana Ranganathar and Ranganayaki, also considered to be a Divya Desam by the same name. Ranganatha is enshrined in a reclining posture. This temple covers an area of about an acre and has shrines to Anjaneyar and Garudazwar.

        Legend has it that Markandeya, Mucukunda Chakravarti, Sri Devi and Bhu Devi offered worship here. Two worship services are offered each day here. The annual festival is celebrated in the month of Chittirai.

Trikakkarai (Tirukkaatkarai)

        Description: The Vamanamurthy Temple at Trikakkara is an ancient one, located 14 km north east of Irinjalakuda on the Thrissur Ernakulam railroad. It has been glorified by the Tamil hymns (Tiruvaimozhi) of Nammalwar, of the 1st millennium CE.

        Deities: The presiding deity here is Vamana. There are subshrines to Sastha and Maha Lakshmi. This temple is characterized by its vritta (circular) vimanam. There are inscriptions here from as early as the 10th century CE.

        There are interesting legends surrounding this place. A devout farmer, appalled by the lack of crop from his fields of plantain trees, worshipped the deity here, with an offering of a bunch of plantains fashioned out of gold, upon which, he was blessed with a more than bountiful harvest of a breed of bananas now known as Nendiram Pazham.

Vaikuntham (Paramapadam)

        Description: Eight of the Alwars have glorified Vaikuntham or Paramapadam, the celestial abode of Vishnu in a total of 36 verses. Vaikuntham represents the ultimate goal of the Sri Vaishnava religious tradition. It is  believed that this Divya Desam becomes the eternal abode of those that have visited all of the 106 shrines on earth.

Vaikuntha Vinnagaram

        Description:  Five  Divya Desam Temples are located in close proximity in the town of Tirunangur 8 km east of Sirkazhi. They are Tiruvanpurushottamam, Tiruttetriambalam, Tirumanimaadakkoyil, Arimeya Vinnagaram and Vaikuntha Vinnagaram.

        Deities: The Moolavar here is Vaikuntha Naatha Perumaal, in a seated posture with his consorts, facing east. Taayaar here is Vaikuntha Valli. There is no separate Taayar shrine here.

        The Tirunaangur Divya Desams: This is one of the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, glorified by the hymns of, and closely associated with, Tirumangaialwar, whose birthplace, Tirunagari, is located nearby. 11 Divya Desams in the vicinity of Sirkazhi, Tiruvaali and Tirunagari (the birthplace of Tirumangaialwar) are associated closely with Tirumangaialwar. Legend has it that Shiva performed the Ekadasa Rudra Aswamedha Yagam, to rid himself of the blemish of Brahmahatti; Vishnu is believed to have appeared in his presence with Sri Devi, Bhu Devi and Nila Devi at the end of the sacrifice, and upon Shiva’s request, taken up 11 abodes here in the Tirunangur area, which correspond to the 11 Tirunaangur Divya Desams held in worship by Rudra.

        Only Tirumangaialwar has sung of these 11 Divya Desams. The  Tirunaangur Divya Desam shrines are: Kavalampaadi, Tiruvanpurushottamam, Arimeya Vinnagaram,  Chemponseikoyil, Manimaadakkoyil (Narayanan), Vaikuntha Vinnagaram,  Tirudevanaar Togai, Tiruttetriambalam, Manikkootam, Tiruvellakkulam, and  Parthanpalli.

        Festivals: The Tirumangaialwar Mangalasasana utsavam in the month of Thai (after the new moon night) witnesses Garudasevai – a spectacular event in which festival images of Perumaal from the 11 (Tirunaangur) Divya Desam shrines in the area are brought on Garuda mounts to Tirunangur. An image of Tirumangai Alwar is brought here on a Hamsa Vahanam (from Tirunagari) and the paasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these 11 Divya Desams are recited. The image of Tirumangai Alwar circumambulates each of these deities, and at the conclusion of the festival, the images are returned to their temples. Prior to this, the image of Tirumangai Alwar and his consort are taken in a palanquin to each of the 11 Tirunangur Divya Desams, (trampling) through the paddy fields in the area, and the paasurams dedicated to each of the 11 Divya Desams are chanted in the respective shrines. The Ekadasa Garuda Sevai is the most important festivals in this area, and it draws thousands of visitors.