Saturday, March 19, 2016

Uppiliappan Temple, Tirunageswaram – Legends

Uppiliappan Temple, Tirunageswaram – Legends
Greatness of Markandeya Kshetra:
Narada's Prayer to Brahma:
Once, Sage Narada prayed to Brahma to enlighten him on the history and greatness of the holy Markandeya Kshetra. On hearing this, Brahma gladly started narrating the greatness of Thiruvinnagar and its presiding deity, whose glory cannot be described even by Adisesha with his 1000 tongues.
Tulasi's Prayer to God:
Once, Tulasidevi who was born along with nectar (amrita), while churning the milky-ocean, begged Lord Vishnu that she also be adorned by him on his chest like Mahalakshmi.
Lord’s boon to Tulasi:
Hearing her request, Lord Vishnu said to Tulasi that Lakshmi did very severe penance to gain a place on his chest. Lord further said that Lakshmi would appear as Bhumidevi at a holy place near Kumbakonam, to the south of Cauvery and would be brought up by sage Markandeya as his daughter. Tulasi should go there earlier and be in the form of lovely Tulasi plant at the sage's hermitage. Then, Lakshmi would appear under the Tulasi plant as Bhumidevi. Later on, Lord Vishnu would come and marry Bhumidevi and live there forever.
Glory of Tulasi will become known to all after this incident. The Lord further said that those who worship him with petals of Tulasi shall attain all prosperity in the world and also the benefit of performing Ashvamedha Yaga. All those who reside in this holy place will attain Sri Vaikunda at the end of their lives. From then onwards, Tulasi lived in this holy place, which therefore came to be known as Tulasi Vana (Tulasi forest). Tulasi appeared in the place where the temple is located. This is mentioned in the 53rd verse of Nammazhvar in Thiruviruththam.
Markandeya’s Penance:
Sage Mrikandu’s son Markandeya, after touring many holy places and bathing in sacred waters, finally reached this holy place. He decided to stay here permanently due to its beautiful surroundings. Wishing to get a daughter who would be given in marriage to the Lord himself, he started doing severe penance to achieve his objective. 
Vishnu's Instructions to Lakshmi:
Lord Vishnu was pleased by his penance and resolved to bless him. He asked Lakshmi to appear as a small child in the Tulasi forest, to be brought up by sage Markandeya and given in marriage to the Lord. Goddess Lakshmi accordingly appeared as a small child in the Tulasi forest and was found by sage Markandeya. With immense pleasure he lifted the divine child Lakshmi from the ground, fondled her and asked about her parentage. For this the child replied that she did not know who her parents were and that Markandeya was everything to her. Thrilled beyond words, he named her as Bhumidevi, as she was found on earth.
Markandeya's Concern and Worry:
The Sage brought her up lovingly and as she grew up, he was very much worried about her marriage. He was in frantic search for a suitable bridegroom. At this stage Lord Vishnu decided to play some mischief with the sage. So, he appeared before the sage, in the guise of an old Brahmin, clad in torn clothes and with a walking stick in hand, on the day of Panguni Shravanam at noon.
Markandeya welcoming the Old Man:
Markandeya, without realizing that the old man who was coughing incessantly was Lord Vishnu himself, received him with due reverence and respectfully proceeded to serve him, attending to his needs like washing his feet and so on. The sage then reverentially asked the old man the purpose of his visit. The visitor then proceeded to state that he was on the look - out for a suitable bride, as he wished to marry and settle down in life and beget good sons. He therefore sought the hand of Bhumidevi in marriage to enable him to attain his objective.
Sage and Old Man – Discussion:
On hearing the strange request of the old man (Vishnu), Markandeya was confused and did not know what to do. He then started explaining to the old man that Bhumidevi was very young and was too tender in age to run a family. Moreover, the age disparity between the old man and the young girl was too much. He requested the old man to drop his idea. The old man would hear none of it. He threatened to commit suicide if the young girl was not given in marriage to him.
The sage Markandeya did not know what to do. He tried all methods to dissuade the old man from insisting upon marrying the young girl. The sage told the old man that his daughter was too young and did not even know how to cook properly. She might even forget to put salt in the eatables, which may result in the old man getting angry and cursing her. Finding the old man still stubborn and unrelenting, the sage silently prayed to Lord Vishnu for guidance.
Bhoomidevi's Views:
The sage also sought his foster – daughter's views in the matter and asked her whether she was willing to marry the old man. She threatened to commit suicide, if she was forced to marry the old man, much against her wishes. Sage Markandeya was caught between the old man who threatened to commit suicide, if the girl was not given and the little girl if she was given in marriage to the old man. He fervently prayed to the Lord to show him a way out of the difficult situation.
Sage's Vision:
After prayers to Lord Vishnu for a long time, the sage opened his eyes and there he found before him Lord Vishnu in all splendor and glory, in the place of the old man. Realizing that the Lord had played with him, the sage danced and cried in ecstasy.  The Lord, blessing the sage Markandeya, said that he will marry Bhumidevi and will take only salt less offerings in this temple. Anyone who brings salt inside the temple will go to hell.
Sage's Prayer for boon:
Overwhelmed with joy, Markandeya readily agreed for the marriage and prayed for 3 boons:
1.    The Lord, after marrying Bhumidevi, should stay in this place for ever.
2.    The holy place should be known in his name as Markandeya Kshetra.
3.    Salt less offerings in this temple should also be relished by the devotees.
He should also be granted moksha. The Lord gladly granted the boons as prayed for and further blessed that the place will be known as Thiruvinnagar and Tulasi Vana Markandeya kshetra and stated the marriage would be held in the month of Aippasi on Shravanam day. At the request of the sage, the Lord also agreed to make all arrangements for the marriage.
Garuda in the service of the Lord:
The Lord himself wrote out the marriage invitation and instructed his vehicle Garuda to hand over the invitations to Brahma and all devas and further help him in conducting the marriage on the day of Shravanam in the month of Aippasi. The joy of Brahma and other devas knew no bounds on hearing the happy news of the divine wedding and they all duly came with their wives to attend and worship the divine couple at their marriage. The holy wedding of the Lord and Bhumidevi was duly conducted on a grand scale according to Vaikhanasa Agamas. Then onwards, the Lord continues to reside in this temple, along with his consort Bhumidevi, blessing his devotees and granting them, their desires.
Performance of Brahmotsavam:
After invoking the grace of the Lord and obtaining his permission, Brahma performed the Utsavam (and hence called Brahmotsavam) for a period of 9 days in the month of Panguni, in accordance with Vaikhanasa Agamas, with the chariot festival on the 9th day, coinciding with Shravanam. Again, in the Tamil month of Purattasi, Brahma, with the permission of the Lord, conducted another Brahmotsavam, lasting 9 days and with the small chariot (Goratham) festival on the 9th day, coinciding with Shravanam.
Saltless Prasadam:
To this day, the prasadam offered will be of without salt in order to approve the Lord’s words. The Prasadam is made without salt. It is told that people who eat salt inside the temple premises will be going to hell. The prasadam given without salt is very tasty. Puliyodharai (Tamarind Rice), Dhadhyonam (Curd Rice), Pongal, Chakkarai Pongal, Vada, Adhirasam, Murukku are offered to Lord as Prasadam.
Legends of Theerthams:
Surya tank to the west of the temple has an interesting legend. Lord Shiva once plucked one of the heads of Brahma (who had five heads earlier) and to get rid of the sin, he bathed in the holy waters of Ahorathra Pushkarini and is still doing penance here. Since Surya (Sun) repaired this tank, it is called Surya tank.
In the north-east of the temple is Indra Theertham (tank), so named because Indra washed off his sin of molesting Agalya, by bathing in these holy waters. To the south of this is Brahma tirtha, so named because Brahma bathed in this tank and did penance, because of which he became what he was (Brahma). All these tanks outside the temple do not exist now. Either they have become completely dry or they could not be located.
To the south of the temple run three holy rivers, even now:-
·        Dakshina Ganga (ganga of the south), now named as Nattaru
·        Dakshina Yamuna, now known as Arasalaru.
·        Dakshina Godavari, now known as Kirtiman river
Ahorathra Pushkarini:
There is an interesting tale regarding the reason behind the name of this Pushkarini. Once there was a Brahmin named Devasarma belonging to the clan of Bharadhwaja Maharishi. One day it happened so, that he took forcefully the daughter of Gemini Maharishi as his wife. The rishi heard his daughter’s cries and he cursed Devasharma turn in Krouncha Paravai, a type of bird. Then only Sharma realised his mistake and he pleaded the Maharishi to leave him.
As his anger subdued, he told Devasharma to wait near Pushkarini of Oppiliappan Perumal temple and one day he would be freed from the curse. A huge storm broke out and the branch in which Devasharma was sitting as a bird broke and fell into Pushkarini. As soon as the divine water splashed in the bird’s body, Devasharma was freed from his curse. Not only that, he was also escorted to Sri Vaikunda in a divine chariot. The messengers of Varuna stopped him and demanded justification for going to Vaikunda, since he had committed a further sin by dipping in the holy waters during the night, which is forbidden by the shastras.
At this, the messenger from Vaikunda intervened and clarified that this was an exception and bathing was specially permitted in the Pushkarini at this holy place, both during day and night. The Pushkarini was therefore named as Ahorathra Pushkarini meaning "Day and Night Holy Tank". Thus saying, the Lord's messengers took the Brahmin to Vaikunda. Anyone who bathes in the Pushkarini acquires a lot of merit (punya).
Equivalent to Tirupathy:
Those who cannot go to Tirupathy can visit Oppiliappan in Thiru Vinnagar as a visit here is considered equivalent to visiting the Tirupathy. In fact, Lord Oppiliappan is considered as the elder brother of Tirupathy Srinivasa.
Five forms of the Lord:
Tradition has it that Lord Oppiliappan appeared to Nammalvar in 5 different forms as
1.    Ponnappan.
2.    Maniappan
3.    Muthappan
4.    Ennappan
5.    Tiruvinnagarappan.
Brahmanda Purana:
The history of the temple is mentioned in the Brahmanda Purana, one of the eighteen famed Hindu scriptures.
Various Names of this place:
The place is referred by various names like Agasa Nagaram, Vaikunda Nagaram, Thiru Vinnagar, Oppiliappan Sannidhi and Uppiliappan Sannidhi.
Various Names of Deity:
The presiding deity is referred by various names like Venkatachalapathi, Thiru Vinnagarappan, Oppiliappan, Thanoppillaappan, Uppiliappan and Srinivasan.
Naattaru River equivalent to Viraja River:
The Naattaru River flows nearby is considered as the Viraja river, mythical river runs in Vaikunda.