Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law
Day 3 (contd):
After a packed day, we planned to slacken the pace a bit beginning with a morning visit to Thiruvaheendapuram.
We rushed with our breakfast and were out on our way well before 10-00 am. Made it in good time –I think it was less than an hour – to this small town at a short distance from Cuddalore. Our streak of luck endured even here – there wasn’t much of a crowd.
We made a bee-line to Devanatha Perumal temple. Had a good darshan and also at the shrine of His consort Hemambujavalli Thayar.
The uthsavar (procession deity) is, in chaste Tamizh, ‘Moovaraghiya Oruvan’ and also ‘Adiyavarku Meiyan’. The appellation ‘Moovaraghiya Oruvan’ places him as the supreme godhead of the trinity – Bramha, Vishnu and Siva. Folks around haven’t lost time to build on the concept – it’s said the deity sports a jadai (locks of hair) and a third eye to signify aspect of Siva and carries a lotus in hand to connote Bramha. My niece, a long time resident and well-versed with related literature, clarified the murthi has no such features at all and there are no references to the same in the literature. Though, the hand does show a lotus symbol, not uncommon in aagama practices. If she’s right, it’s a disservice to propagate such stories of questionable authenticity as facts.
We missed seeing Sesha Theertham, a water-well believed to be built by Aadisesha to quench the Lord’s thirst – in fact the entire place is said to be the making of ’Aheendran’ or Aadisesha and hence Thiru-Aaheendra-puram.. Also missed having darshan at Vedantha Desikar sannadhi inside the temple with its own separate dwajasthambam, a flagstaff. The idol worshiped here is said to be made by Desikar himself, at the bidding of the Lord, when a shilpi (a sculptor) challenged his status as “Saravatantra Swathanthrar” (a title conferred upon him by Sri Ranganachchiyar at Srirangam?) – someone good at everything.
The temple in its current form is believed to have been built during the Medieval Cholas, with later expansion from Pandyas, Hoysala Empire and Vijayanagara Empire. The temple has fifty inscriptions from Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120), Vikrama Chola (1118–1135), Rajaraja Chola III (1216–1256), Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251–1268), Vikrama Pandya, Vira Pandya III, Vijayanagar king Achyuta Deva Raya (1529–1542) and Koperunjinga, a Pallava scion. However the temple must be much older for it is revered in Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 7th–9th century Vaishnava canon, by Thirumangai Azhwar in eleven hymns.
Like most vaishnavite temples there are festivals all year round.
An interesting aside: One of those Chola’s had gifted the village of Aadur near Kurinjipadi to a family (may be there were more than one) that worked at the temple, according to an inscription dated 1129. Over time for whatever reason the family gave up the village and relocated to Thruvaheendapuram. Their dwelling at the new location was known as the House of Aadur’s. My niece is the fifth generation descendant of the family!
All found out quite serendipitously from an ASI book that came into her hands.
From Vedantha Desikar’s (1268-1370) life history (yes, he lived to the ripe age of 102!), a masterly polyglot and the founder of Visishtadvaitha philosophy:
“…Born in Thoopul near Kanjeepuram, he blossomed into a peerless sage in this sacred divyadesam. He gravitated him to this sthala (place) where he performed tapas (meditation with severe austerities) on Oushadagiri (a hill growing medicinal herbs, no evidence of it now though) and invoked Garuda who initiated him to Hayagriva Mantra. Blessed with the effulgent vision of Lord Hayagriva, Desikar composed monumental works in Sanskrit, Tamil and Manipravala in praise of Hayagriva and Devanatha…in this temple elucidating the Vishitadvaidic philosophy with many of his works indirectly and directly referring to the temple…”
The place where Desikar lived here (for 40 years?) in Thiruvaheendrapuram is preserved as Desikan Thiru Maaligai – one more place that we missed visiting. A large mandapam now stands there in place of the old structures. Has a water-well, still functional, constructed by Desikar himself to show that he was indeed a “Saravatantra Swathanthrar”, again in response to a challenge.
Believed to be the work of Garuda to quench the Lord’s thirst, Gadilam (aka Kedilam) river flows by, considered as a tributary of the South Pennar River (aka Thenpennaiyaru) emptying into the Bay of Bengal at a point, just north of Cuddalore. In monsoon, the waters turn red, attributed by the overzealous to a curse by a Rishi. Around here the soil is red, perhaps rich in iron.
To keep both of them – Aadisesha and Garuda – happy, the Lord decreed waters of Sesha Theertham be used in madapalli for cooking and of Gadilam for thirumanjanam (bathing).
Outside the temple of Devanatha, steps, not many but quite steep enough to make one pause often for breath, lead up to the shrine of Hayagriva atop Oushadagiri. Subsequently we learnt there is a motorable road at the back to reach the top. Reaching early, we were a small crowd standing before the sanctum. When the deity was unveiled, it was shocking to find the murthi’s bare without any flowers. On inquiry, the security guy clarified there’s no fund allocated and the flowers offered by the bhakta’s would be used. I rushed out to buy all I could from the only shop just outside the shrine. And when I returned with flowers, the security guy was not wrong – there were enough flowers adorning the murthi’s, presumably brought by the crowd. Still it just didn’t seem right…
This temple – the first and one of the few raised for Hayagriva in the south – did not exist during Desikar’s lifetime.
Did not explore around on Oushadagiri. My niece told me she had heard of a few theerthams (tanks, ponds) at quite some distance that she had not braved it in all her twenty years of residing there.
On our way out we stopped by to visit my cousin and my niece – the niece whose clarifications appear in this post. Though we arrived without prior intimation and we were meeting the niece for the first time and my cousin after 35+ years, they were happy to see us just as we were. The warmth was immediate and palpable. Luckily we belong to an age and time where cousins are fun, affectionate…Blessed with a dozen and more, I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with them however infrequent they might be and the feelings have been mutual.
The niece – an amazing lady. Hope to know more and write about her, going ahead.
The return to the resort was rather event-less. After resting for a few hours, we set out again.
Adayar Ananda Bhavan:
Our first stop was at the local outlet of the chain Adayar Ananda Bhavan, entirely in order after so much of food for our souls! The snacks/tiffin were expectedly quite okay, dished out on a banana leaf on plate. But the low-light was the ‘prank’ played by a senior chap behind the counter on my sister-in-law. It went like this: She would go up to him and ask what was available hot from the kitchen (besides coal:-)). He would direct her to a board at one end of the long-running counter. She would read the board and return to the counter to place her order. This chap would with a mild irritation tell her the dish she wanted wasn’t available and she should pick something else from the board. She would go back to read the board and…She grew wise after a few cycles. She let him and other staff floating around know in no uncertain terms what it meant to get the wires crossed with her.
AAB, at least at this outlet, has yet to come out of the mindset of Tamil retail that ‘Customer is a necessary and evil part of business.’ Many others have, fortunately.
It was still early in the evening and darkness had set in. Someone told us to hurry as it was nearing closing time. We considered ourselves lucky as we managed to rush past the security and open gates and entered the part of the ashram that held the samadhi or mausoleum of both Aurobindo and the Mother. It was a white marble shrine decorated with fresh flowers under a frangipani tree in a quiet tree-shaped inner courtyard. While a few young and old knelt and prayed/meditated silently at the samadhi, rest of us did a pradakshinam (circumambulation).
Subsequent reading up showed the ashram to be huge self-contained complex of immense proportions engaged in multifarious activities for spiritual upliftment.
Must confess to near total ignorance about the lives and teachings of Aurobindo and the Mother. My wife had once joined group of Mother’s followers in Chennai and made an offering of flowers seeking Her Grace.
The long streets in the commercial districts were lined with shops on both sides open and waiting for the shoppers to turn up – not too many of them yet on a Friday. The two ladies – my wife and sister-in-law – were not lured by what they saw and chose to remain inside the car. I was the one out there scouring the streets in search of dealers in philately – I was keen to buy a few stamps of Pondicherry under French rule. No help there from Google. No one knew much about stamps and a few helpful ones showed me the way to the post-office with the advise that it would be closed at this hour. I decided to call off when an antique dealer told me these guys had quit ten years ago! May be I should try the Sunday flea-market. Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be as we were leaving on the following day, a Saturday.
So it was the end of Day 3 as we trudged our way back to our pad. It was not without a twinge of regret we retired for the night – our last at CM in this trip.
(To be concluded, mercifully, eh?)