Pining for the Lord

PERUNGULAM (THIRUKULANDAI) is 8 km from Srivaikuntam on the Srivaikuntam-Tiruchendur bus route. Nammazhwar's hymn goes like this: ``... in Thirukulandai nestled among verdant groves, He sits on the Garuda and wields the fiery discus. I went after him in search of my heart that he took away, I pined for him as my bangles slip away from my emaciated wrists... " — Tiruvoimozhi (8.2.4) Like most other of his pasurams on the Nava Tirupati, here too Nammazhwar takes on the nayika bhava, a pining lover longing to be with her loved one. The poem definitely inspires in the reader affection, if not love of the intense kind that the Saint sings of, for the deity. The deity here is Mayakoothar/Srinivasan in standing posture with his Consorts, Alamelumangai and Kulandaivalli. Some of the vahanams were being repaired for the utsavam in Margazhi. The Lord here is associated with Saturn. The sthalapurana is represented in stucco on the vimana as well as the starting verse of Nammazhwar's as he did the deeparadhana. After saving a devotee from the clutches of a demon after several spectacular acts, the God is said to have danced on him and therefore the name Mayakoothar. The gunavisesham of the lord here is, that of performing miracles i.e., seshtadhacharyam.

My next stop was the last one of Thulaivillimangalam, more popularly known as the Irattai Tirupati, because both the temples are just 500 metres apart and count for two temples in the Nava Tirupati list but as one among the108 divya desam shrines. After restoration both temples have full-time archakars.

A quiet walk in the mellowing twilight somehow accentuated the transience of life and wealth. During the Chola period, this little village was an important town, although administered on their behalf by Pandya chiefs they had subjugated. Time did not permit the writer to locate the Thiruvaludiswara Siva temple, which has many inscriptions dating from A.D. 950. The inscriptions speak of Uthama-Pandya-nallur where lived many Vaishnavaite and Saivaite families. Like as in Tirukkolur, the donors were from different sections of the society. In Perungulam, inscriptions speak of soldiers of a regiment of Maravarman Sundara Pandyan donating land for worship towards an image in the Siva temple installed by a maidservant. Another speaks of a gift made by a ``lady of the Sudra caste." Evidently women had their own say to some extent in those days. Time was running out as the last two temples were in the middle of a scrub jungle on roads that had little light. It was not difficult to appreciate the sense of longing Nammazhwar felt for the deity here.

The contrast between these two temples before and after the restoration by the Indian Trust for Culture and Heritage is truly remarkable. They are still situated in the middle of a thorny scrub jungle on very poor roads that make it imperative to have your own transport. The two temples are associated with Rahu and Kethu. The deities are Sri Aravindalochanar with Karunthadankanni Thayar and Sri Devarpiran with no separate Thayar shrine. The gunavisesham of the lord here is Bandhutvam, desire to associate with His devotees. Both the temples are small and have no subsidiary shrines except for the idols of the Azhwars. The temples wear a festive look on Vaikunda Ekadasi day when devotees throng all the nine temples.

In Nammazhwar's pasuram the companions of the heroine speak to her mother about the state her daughter is in pining away for the Lord of these temples. There is no evidence of the settlements of those who recited the Vedas that he sings about and the palatial mansions that housed women who looked as beautiful as Lakshmi herself. The desolate location and the simple, actually Spartan, air do not deny the temples their aura of majesty and mystery. The friends tell the heroine's mother: ``She prays at Thulaivillimangalam of tall mansions. You took her there and did not force her to return, She murmurs of the weapons he holds and his Lovely eyes, As she sighs and weeps ceaselessly. Mother, have you no heart? To take her there and abandon her? She calls for Devarpiran incessantly while Her eyes well with tears and she melts away in sorrow." — Tiruvoimozhi (6.5.1 & 2) Each stanza ends with a heart-rending reference to the abject sorrow of the heroine who refuses to be separated from Devarpiran and Aravindalochanar (The one with the lotus shaped eyes). Azhwar's own devotion to the temples here is also underlined in the concluding stanza where he asserts, "In thought, deed and action Sadagopan of Kurugur saw Devarpiran as his father and mother.

These songs were composed on that Lord. Those who sing it, will attain the same." — Tiruvoimozhi (6.5.11). Today there is a full time archakar who lives nearby. A narrow path leads to the other temple on the banks of the river. Legend has it that Sage Suprabar, found a pair of scales (Thulai) and a bow (vil) while clearing the ground for a sacrifice. On stirring them, they transformed into a handsome couple, who had been cursed by Kubera.

Restored to original form, they went their way after thanking the sage who resumed his penance, to be rewarded with nectar, which he offered to the Lord who came along with the Devas. This is why he is known as Devarpiran, explained the archakar. Renovation of excellent quality had cleared the air of the strong smell of bats that prevailed once and the place looked new and clean. The gopuram has some fantastic stucco figures. A few images even had a wonderful blue pigment that glowed like lapis lazuli in the slanting rays of the evening sun.

The pilgrimage was over and I had seen a range of temples. Some grand, others humble, some historically significant others not so, some praised by Nammazhwar in great detail others given a passing reference, some were fine examples of artistic achievements and others of a simpler style. However they all offered that wonderful feeling of serenity and peace although they must have gone through changes since their inception centuries ago.

The sun was fast slipping down the horizon, the leaves of the tall palm trees cutting the beams into strips and I left secure with the feeling that another day, another time I will be back there.

(The writer wishes to convey his thanks to Mr. A. V. Sridhar for teaching and explaining the verses of the Prabhandam, TVS and Sons Ltd., Madurai, for helping with the pilgrimage, the Indian Trust for Culture and Heritage, which has played a great role in the restoration of the temples and reviving the religious practices, for providing the pictures (some of the visuals were also taken from the 1974 edition of R. N. Ramasamy Iyengar's work on Nammazhwar), Mr. M. Gandhi and Sivanandam of the State Archives for giving information on the inscriptions, Mr. M. Venkatakrishnan, Head of Vaishnavism Department, University of Madras, for his inspiring recitations and the late Sri Rama Bharati whose masterly work on the Divyaprabhandam was an excellent reference material.)


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