Back in Chennai, I immediately started work on the Balambigai painting I intended to give to the temple at Tiruvasi.
Slowly, over the course of the following week, the painting took shape and finally, I was able to get the Goddess’s left hand exactly as it was portrayed in the image at the temple.( i.e. as the slightly clenched palm of an old lady).
During this period, my thoughts were constantly on Nemili Bala and I was listening to the powerful chants of the Devi Mahatmyam almost non- stop.
A few days before Diwali, 2006, the portrait was fully finished including the sparkling embellishments for the head dress and jewellery of this great Goddess.
While, I was involved with the painting, I did visit a few more famous temples near Chennai.
It had been my desire for quite a long time to visit three temples in
At a place called Meloor in
This temple dates back thousands of years and the legend here is that a cow was seen pouring its milk on a sweet smelling shrub, which, upon inspection proved to be a Swayambu Lingam and this was the origin of the place of worship.
Lord Shiva is called Thirumanangeshwar at this temple and Thiruvudai Amman stands in solitary splendour in her separate Sannidhi radiating her love and blessings.
The second temple I visited was the Vadivudai Amman temple at Tiruvottriyur, a short distance from Meloor.
This temple is huge and perhaps one of the most ancient and powerful in Tamil Nadu. The temple itself dates back to the Chola period and all the famous Shaivaite Saints- Appar, Sundarar, Manikkavachagar and Tirunavukkuarasar have glorified this temple and the main deity in their hymns. The Swayambu Lingam of Shiva is called Adi Pureeswarar ( first lord) or Thiagaraja Swami.
The Shakthi at Tiruvottriyur is said to bestow wisdom ( Gnana) to her ardent devotees.
Finishing off the trio of Shakthi peetams, is yet another famous temple at Thirumullaivoil where the Goddess, Kodiyudai Amman assists all bhakthas in their work and activities through the power of KRIYAA Shakthi.
This temple , too is thousands of years` old. The story goes that when Thondaiman was the ruler of Thondaimandalam, his subjects were harassed by a couple of demons. Therefore, the king set out to defeat them. On the way, his elephant caught its leg on a creeper ( Mullai), and the king raised his sword to cut the thorny creeper. However, to his surprise, the king noticed a spurt of blood at the spot where his sword landed and when the creeper was removed, a swayambu lingam was unearthed.
The king was totally shocked by the fact he had committed a grave sin and just as he was about to immolate himself, Lord Shiva appeared and blessed him while reassuring the King that he would emerge victorious in the battle against his enemies. In fact, Shiva’s vehicle, Nandi proved to be instrumental in ensuring the battle’s success.
The overjoyed king is supposed to have constructed the present temple by way of showing his gratefulness to the Lord.
A curious feature of this temple is that the bull, Nandi, sits facing the front of the temple and not in the customary direction towards Lord Shiva, as if to keep a vigilant eye and ward off enemy attacks!
The significant feature of all these three temples is that the images of the
Following this memorable visit to all three powerful places of worship on a full- moon day, I had the opportunity to visit, within the next couple of days, another very famous temple to Lord Shiva, this time at Tiruvannamalai.
It is often said that one can attain liberation by worshipping Shiva at Chidambaram- i.e. by merely entering this hallowed place of worship; Similarly, it is believed that birth at Tiruvarur or death in Kasi leads to Moksha.
However, the mere thought of Lord Shiva at Tiruvannamalai is said to instantly relieve a person of all his bondage and attachments! Such, is the power of this ancient temple. Numerous saints like Bhagavan Ramana , Seshadri Swamigal and countless siddha purushas are still believed to exert their subtle powers on sincere devotees who visit the sacred temple and hill, the latter believed to be an embodiment of Lord Shiva!
The year 2006 was definitely memorable for me due to the innumerable temples I was fortunate to visit. I had spent many years in solitude in
Around the time of Diwali, 2006, I had completely finished the portrait of Balambigai meant for the temple at Tiruvaasi. All that neded to be done was to go there in person and hand it over to the temple authorities.
However, things did not go smoothly. First of all, this was the monsoon season and continuous rain for over a week made the roads impassable. I waited patiently for about ten days, but there appeared to be no sign of the rain abating. Finally, I decided to make a quick trip to Nemili to secure the blessings of this powerful Goddess and seek her help in fulfilling my mission.
The morning of the day I decided to visit the Bala Peetam at Nemili, the rain dried up completely! We made the trip with no undue problems desite warnings from family members tht the roads leading out of Chennai were in a bad state!
I prayed to Bala sincerely asking her to help me send my painting actoss to Trichy.
From Baala came a lightening message “Don’t ever think that You are the Doer of any action. You cannot accomplish anything that I do not want you to do. You are merely carrying out my plan. You have to remember me first and seek my blessings before you undertake any activity. That is the reason you are here today. Don’t ever forget that I gave you the ability to draw”.
As I took leave of the head priest, Ezhilmani, I told him I would be heading back to
He laughed and walked away!
The very next day, I was able to find a courier who was willing to carry the massive painting to Tiruvaasi and the following day my friend and I set off by car to Trichy.
The journey was uneventful except for the incessant rain that made the trip slightly longer.
Enroute, we stopped off at a place called Siruvaachur on the outskirts of Trichy to visit a temple dedicated to a powerful Kali.
The unique feature of the temple at Siruvachur is that it is only open for worship twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.
The temple itself dates back to the Chola times. The legend goes that the original, main deity of this temple was a Goddess called Chelliamman. A Sorcerer obtained sufficient powers to control this Goddess and made her carry out all his wicked deeds.
During this time the famous Karbukkarasi Kannagi, a.k.a. Madura Kali visited this temple hoping to obtain peace of mind and calm down her anger. Kannagi had just set the whole city of
A furious Kannagi destroyed the city of
The temple at Siruvachur is no exception. The story here is that when Kannagi entered the temple precincts at Siruvachur, the presiding deity, Chelliamman sought her help to defeat the evil sorcerer who had been harassing her. The sorcerer was vanquished by Kannagi and his powers were destroyed. Overjoyed by the turn of events, Chelliamman is alleged to have given up her position of the main deity and handed the seat of power to Madura Kaali ( Kannagi). Chelliamman , later retired to the top of a neighbouring hillock called Periaswamy Hill and took up abode there!
However, it is still tradition to show her (i.e. Chelliamman) the first respect when the pujas are offered in the shrine at Siruvachur. When the camphor is lit on the tray, the priest holds it aloft in the direction of the hill before swirling it respectfully in front of Madura Kali.
It is believed that Kali and Chelliamman both reside on the hill together except on Mondays and Fridays when pujas are performed in the temple at the foot of the hill.
In addition, the successors of the Sorceror’s family have continued as the main priests!
There was definitely a powerful atmosphere at Siruvachur. As we circumambulated the shrine, we could witness several women whirling like dervishes and priests trying to pacify them! Apparently it is common practice for the Kali to enter someone and “speak” through him or her!
Very soon we were headed in the direction of Trichy and Tiruvaasi.
By the time we reached the temple in Tiruvaasi, it was mid-day. However, the priest was waiting for us and took us straight away to the sanctum of Lord Shiva. We witnessed an Abhisekham to this great Lord accompanied by the melodious chanting of Rudram. Later,we entered into the shrine of Balambigai Amman.
The painting I had done at “Her” request was placed against the wall in the sanctum sanctorum. The priest busied himself with doing an Abhisekam to the Goddess and then purified the painting by sprinkling holy water on it.
At the commencement of the puja the head- priest had informed me that my painting would be hung in the outer prakaram ( courtyard) surrounding the shrine as it is generally never taken into the main sanctum. I nodded my head and said that he could do what he thought was best. However, after the abhisekham to Baala was finished and just as the priest was preparing to light the camphor in front of the Goddess, I felt a sudden vibration. I could “hear” the Goddess talking to me. This was a strange feeling, quite difficult to describe. I felt “She” was terribly accessible to me at that time. Mentally, I asked her “Where do you want the painting to be placed? It is my desire that something I created so lovingly should be closest to you and by your side”.
In a flash came the reply”Of course the painting will remain where it is standing right now. You do not have to say anything. After the Arathi is over, the priest will confirm what I am telling you now”.
And so it was! The arathi was over and as I cupped my palm over the flame reverentially, the priest said in a loud voice “ You know, I think we should leave the painting in the sanctum- sanctorum since it seems so perfect in that spot”!.
As we took leave of the priest, he seemed emotionally overwhelmed and repeated that events such as these could only re affirm faith in God among people in this Kali Yuga!
We visited two further temples in Trichy that evening; one dedicated to Lord Vishnu as Lakshmi Narasimhar and an Anjaneya temple housing a very small but powerful image of this Lord.
The following day marked our departure from Trichy . We altered the return route slightly in order to take in a few famous temples around the district of Cuddalore.
Our first stop was at the Jeeva Samadhi of Vallalar a.k.a. Arut Perum Jyothi Ramalinga Adligalar at Vadalur, a village on the road to Cuddalore.
Vallalar was one of the foremost Saints of the 19th Century. He was a great Siddha who had mastered the state of “deathlessness”. He could materialise and de-materialise his body at will and considered himself enveloped in the Great Shining Light ( Arut Perum Jyothi) that was the effulgence of the Divine Spirit. A curious fact was that his body was observed not to cast any shadow- He was apparently visible, yet not really there!
Ramalinga Adigalar was opposed to caste distinctions as well as excessive rituals and superstition. He exhorted his followers to show great compassion to all living beings, particularly animals. A great tamil poet and scholar ( who was largely self- taught), Vallalar has written several works exposing his philosophy on life.
His mantra was that the Divine spirit was manifest in the form of a great flame- Arut Perum Jyothi.
Adigalar was only 51 years of age when he seems to have “disappeared” from his physical form. He was seen walking into a room with no windows and then vanish completely. No trace of his body was found.
At Vadalur a huge shrine was built around the place where this great saint disappeared.
We entered a vast hall in a building that was built to resemble an eighteen petalled lotus.
Very few people were about and the atmosphere seemed charged with an intangible force. I sat down in meditation and was able to drift off into a quiet corner of my mind almost effortlessly!
After spending a short time at this beautiful samadhi, we headed in the direction of Tiruppadripuliyur, a temple town on the outskirts of Cuddalore famous for Lord Shiva as Paadaleeshwara!
The temple is an ancient Chola masterpiece with beautiful carvings and sculptures in every pillar and doorway.
The Shaivaite Saints, Tirunavukarasar and Sambandar have glorified this temple and it is no exaggeration to say that this temple is one of the most magnificently preserved ones I had visited thus far in my temple tour.
I had a special reason to visit this temple! A Swamiji I had chanced to meet a long time ago had mentioned Tiruppadripuliyur as a very powerful temple- The Swamiji is an ardent Sri Vidya Upasaka and informed me that the shrine of Arunthavanaayaki at this temple is terribly potent and that I should visit the place and do some meditation if I got the chance.
Well, it seemed fortuitous that we were here after all!
The history of the temple reveals colourful legends. Parvathi playfully closed the eyes of her consort Lord Shiva with disastrous consequences. The whole universe came to a grinding halt! So, as a punishment Parvathi was re- born on the earth and was instructed by Shiva to do severe penance at many temples and continue to search for him. Parvati was told that she would finally find her consort only in one temple upon entering which, her left shoulder and eye would twitch.
It was at Thirupadripuliyur that Parvathi’s left eye and shoulder twitched and after doing meditation and penance under a “padri” tree, she was finally united with her consort.
The spot where Parvati meditated is called “ Arunthavanayaki peetam”.
Lord Shiva is also revered as a Siddha in this temple since the story goes that he appeared in this form to bless his devotees.
I sat in a spot directly in front of the place where the Goddess was believed to have indulged in severe penance. There was a fair bit of crowd milling around me with the customary noise of children talking/ wailing/ priests reciting mantras, etc.
I closed my eyes and prayed that somehow that the all- compassionate Mother should bless me in my spiritual quest!
Gradually the noises around me faded away and I seemed to be floating away into space. There was no fear, just a feeling of exhilaration, followed by a very heavy sensation right on the crown of my head as if someone had placed a stone on top of it and was pressing down.
I opened my eyes and looked into darkness. All the lights in the temple had gone out and as a consequence , the crowd of pilgrims had dispersed.
In the gloom pierced by the glow of a small oil- lamp, it seemed to me that I was having a private audience with this most powerul Goddess!!
Tiruvahandeepuram is a Vaishnavaite center of pilgrimage near Cuddalore and we decided to visit here next.
The presiding deity at this ancient temple is Lord Devanayaka Perumal , considered to be the elder brother of Lord Venkateswara at Tirupathi.
Indeed, the great Lord gives darshan in his standing pose and is decorated in a manner similar to his famous sibling. The Moolavar is also called Moovaragiya Oruvan- literally meaning that the Lord is an amalgam of all three Gods, Shiva, Vishnu and BRAHMA.
In the outer enclosure, there are shrines to Lord Ganesha, Rama, Rajagopala, Andaal and Desikan.
This temple is associated very closely with one of the most revered Vaishnavaite Saints, Vedanta Desikar. It is said that Desikar meditated on the form of Garuda , while seated on the top of a nearby hill called Aushada Giri. He was rewarded by the darshan of Vishnu’s powerful mount and was given an image of Lord Hyagreevar by him.
Hyagreevar is a form of Vishnu albeit with the face of a horse and is considered to be an embodiment of Knowledge. This lord is propitiated by hordes of devotees wishing to acquire intellectual prowess and good memory!
The shrine for Hyagreevar is at the top of the hill.
The rain that had mercifully ceased for a while, as if to allow us to carry on our temple tour unhindered, started off again in real earnest.
We finished our pilgrimage and drove back to Chennai.