Rajagopalaswamy Temple, Mannargudi – The Temple
The Temple covers an area of 23 acres. Except that the Azhwars did not perform Mangalasasanam here, something that one finds difficult to come to terms with. Hence this is not a Divya Desam and remains only an ‘Abhimana’ Sthalam. It’s quite a mystery actually that the Azhwars who visited and sang praise of the Lord (and performed Mangalasasanam) at Thiru Kannapuram (50kms North East), Thiru Kannangudi (50kms East), Thirucherrai, Nachiyar Koil, Thiru Vinnagar - Oppiliappan, Kumbakonam Sarangapani (around 35kms North) and Thanjai Maa Mani (35kms West) missed the towering presence of Raja Gopalan.
The temple complex has 16 gopurams (tower gateways), 18 Vimanas, 7 prakarams (outer courtyard), 24 shrines, seven Mandapams (halls) and nine sacred Theerthams (temple tanks). The Utsava (festival deity) is a bronze figure from the Chola period. It shows keshabanda type of coifure and restrained ornamentation, atypical of the Chola bronzes of the 11th century. The temple tank is called Haridra Nadhi, 1,158 feet long and 837 feet broad (23 acres), making it one of the largest temple tanks in India.
Rajagopuram is 154 feet high and has 11 tiers. The huge temple tower, at a height of 154 ft. is fourth tallest among Vishnu temples and can be seen from 5-10 kms away as one drives into Mannargudi. In the 11 tier Rajagopuram there are no sculptures up to six stages from the base. All God sculptures are from the 7th stage only. This is a rare and different type of Rajagopuram in Mannargudi. This place is also called Dakshina Dwaraka (South Dwaraka). For the beauty of temple cars – Raths – ‘Ther Azhagu – in Tamil’ Tiruvarur stands as outstanding example. For the beauty of temple Compound Wall – ‘Mathil Azhagu-in Tamil’ Mannargudi is numero uno.
Some of the circumambulatory paths like Tiruvunnazhi Prakaram, Garuda prakaram, Champaka prakaram, Kasi prakaram, Nachiyar prakaram are enormously spacious and extensive and unique in their appearance. The seven vast splendid halls like Vallala Maharaja Mandapam, Thousand-pillared mandapam, Garuda Vahana mandapam, Yanai vahana mandapam, Lattice-window mandapa (Palakani mandapa) Butter and pot mandapa-(Vennai thazhi mandapa) Mast – Wood vehicle mandapa (Punnai Vahana mandapam) add to the captivating pervasive expanse of the temple prakaras.
The mast – wood tree Punnai is the sacred tree of the temple adored with special devotion as it is dedicated especially to the Lord. It is located in the Champaka Prakaram. This Kshetra is glorified as Champakaranayam, in ancient times, abounded in Champaka plants. The temple is facing east. There is conjective among experts that the temple must have been originally facing west, for the mound of mansions over the western entrance was perhaps the remnants of the palaces used by the members of the royal family for stay and rest during their visit to the temple for worship. Also the Sangu Tirtham and Chakra Tirtham are seen interchanged in their left and right positions; that is obviously due to the fact that the temple once faced west.
The temple is said to possess seven circumambulatory paths. There are no traces of seventh prakara. It was customary in those days to recognize the car streets called Pralaya Kala Veedhi circumscribing the present four Gopala Samudram Car Streets. Due to ravages of time those streets had disappeared. They were, perhaps, the seventh circumambulatory path. The four car streets of Gopala Samudram are the sixth circumambulatory path. These grand streets should have been once the locations of protective and fortified moats filled with water. That is perhaps why the nomenclature-Samudram-is still sticking to this location. It is also possible to determine from the erstwhile Revenue Settlement Records that excepting the pathway leading to the main shrine all the other surrounding areas of the temple are measured and compiled as the moat.
Along the Gopala Samudram car street just opposite to the temple there is a magnificent granite monolithic Garuda pillar welcoming the devotees. At the crest of the column there is a small shrine dedicated to Garuda who stands facing west with folded hands. On the northern side of this pillar there is a mandapa which houses the big chariot of this temple, which is next only to the chariot of Tiruvarur in its display of pomp and majesty.
Rajagopuram is located on the East Gopala Samudram car street. There is the shrine of Sri Anjaneya at the northwest end of the car street. At the east car street there is an Agama school. After the Garuda column, one can see a sixteen-pillared mandapa abiding at the alluringly magnificent main entrance of the temple and extending an illustrious welcome to the devotees. During the festivities, the Lord would be stationed here and numerous avowed ceremonial worships would be performed. On the southern side of the Sannidhi Street there are the Ahobila Mutt buildings where devotees can have the darshan of Sri Narasimha and Sri Adivan Sadagopa Yatinadra Maha Desikan.
On the northern row of the Sannidhi Street there is the Vanamamalai Mutt. When we move past the sixteen-pillared mandapam the towering Rajagopuram welcomes the devotees. Vira Anjaneya is located at the entrance in the southern side. Then comes the fifth circumambulatory path. This is also called Nachiyar Prakaram. This is also the path for the chariot procession of Sri Sengamala Thayar.
It is said that there was a Thyagaraja mandapa where in the Lord Thyagesar of Tiruvarur used to visit this mandapa and participate in festivals once every year. At the western Prakara there is a granite tower and western gopuram. There are numerous delicate works of arts and sculpture belonging to the Nayak period.
The gate of Tirumanjanam Street and a small gopuram are established in the Prakaram. Near the elephant mandapa at the eastern Prakara the mandapa for Sri Thayar chariot is located. Westward to this mandapa abides the sixteen-pillared mandapa and western to this, the shrine of Yoga Narasimha. At this sixteen pillared mandapa the Tiruvandikkappu of Sri Thayar is performed.
In the upper reaches of the Sabha mandapa, one can witness beautiful sketches and drawings depicting skilled artistic acumen. Southern to the Sabha abides the thousand-pillared mandapam. Westwards to thousand – pillared mandapa there abides the Administrative Office of the temple. At the south Eastern end there is mandapa from where the devotees enjoy the darshan of the Lord for Pakal Pattu and Ira Pattu festival. At the Southern Prakara there is the sacred flower garden. From the jackfruit from the garden during the month of Vaikasi and coupled with Visakam constellation, the luscious delicacy of a delightful cuisine called Sahakara is prepared for the ceremonial offerings to the Lord.
There is a sixteen-pillared mandapa at the northern Prakara famous as Tirumamani mandapa. During the Vaikuntha Ekadasi festivals the Lord would have prolonged, avowed ceremonial worships by the devotees throughout the day. Just opposite to this there is four-pillared mandapa where religious discourses would be held by the learned.
Now comes the third circumambulatory path, which is also famous as Champaka Prakara. There is Mohini Gopuram at the entrance of this Prakara through the Sabha. At the fore part of this Prakara in the southern side, Periyalvar and Kulasekhara Alwar are seen on a pedestal. Just opposite there are Flag Mast and Sacrificial Altar. Then there are the Primary Alwars shrines. At the south there is the kitchen where in there abides the Madaipalli Nachiyar. The kitchen is also called Nachiyar Parigraham. At the southern Prakara there is the Store Room-Ugrana and nearby there are Andal, Nammalwar, Manavaala Mamunigal shrines. Nearby Tirumangai Mannan and Kumudavalli icons are displayed.
Adjacent to this are Anjaneya and Tondaradipodi Alwar propitiating Sri Rama Padukas. Just opposite to Sri Thayar Shrine in this Prakaram there is a four-pillared mandapa in the open space and the Lord has the special ceremonial worships conducted here during Vasantha Utsava and Panguni Utsava. The shrine of Sri Sengamala Thayar abides at the southern Prakara. Entering the shrine one can see the Flag Mast and the Sacrificial Altar attended by Garuda along with his consort Suparni. When we reach the Thayar shrines and the adjacent South Prakara there is the niche for the sacred Basil Plant and opposite to it there is the glass mandapa.
At the northeastern end there is the Vaikunda sabha also called Rohini mandapa at the projected stairs. Rohini Utsavam of Sri Perumal is performed in this mandapam. In the Nrithya Mandapa opposite to Sri Thayar shrine the grand Adhyayan Utsava and Ekasimhana Utsava for ten days for Sri Thayar are celebrated. In the Mattaiyadi Utsava when the Lord and Sri Thayar are seated at the same seat is called Ekasimhasanam. It is just like Sri Rangam Panguni Uttara consecrated worship. Here the famous Gadya Traya (Vaikuntha Gadyam Sri Ranga Gadyam-Saranaagata Gadyam) Chorus-cum-group recitals will be done by the learned.
During Fridays in the month of Thai Thiruvolakkam for Sri Thayar will be done in this mandapa. The top of the mandapa has been fixed with brass plates. Sri Thayar is anointed every Friday in this mandapam. Next to this there is the Ardha mandapa and the shrine of Sri Thayar. Sri Sengamala Thayar and Hemabuja Nayaki as the Utsavar and the Moolavar extend immense grace and benediction to the devotees. From the western Prakara and Sri Thayar Shrine junction a diversion branches as Champaka Prakaram of Sri Perumal. Northwest to this Prakara there is Sri Rama’s shrine with the Nrityamandapa, Mahamandapam and Arthamandapam. The sixteen – pillared mandapa otherwise called Sri Paduka mandapa abides there in the Prakara.
Nearby there is Paramapatha entrance and Pancha Parva Utsava mandapa. At the eastern prakara the sacred tree –the Punnai tree (the mast wood tree) and the yagasala are there. Just in front of Sri Perumal Sannidhi there is a grand Vadya mandapa and north to it is the Uttaramandapa of Vallala Maharaja and the shrine of Perarulalan. In this Mahamandapa Sri Perumal extends darshan during Pakal Pathu and so does Sri Thayar during Brahmotsavam. Western to the shrine of Sri Perumal there is the chamber of rest and respite. On the pillars of Vadya mandapam, Achyutappa Nayak, Vijaya Raghava Nayak Rani Champakalakshmi is seen with folded hands. To the South of this mandapa, there are steps to pass by. Higher above the saligrama Anjaneya as consecrated at Haridranadi is also to be seen here.
Here comes the Garuda Prakara, second circumambulatory path. The bronze sentinels, Jaya and Vijaya are seen to be absorbed in vigilance. Nritya mandapa of Sri Perumal abides at the Garuda Prakara and Garuda along with Utsavamurthy has the shrines here. It is said there is a subterranean path here. From the southern part of the western prakara there are shrines for Venugopala, Lakshmi Narasimha, Ananta Padmanabha, Lakshmi Narayana and Gajendra Varada. At the northeastern end there is the shrine for Vishvaksena and Sutravati Devi. Northern to this there is the mandapa for the silver, gold vehicles to be deposited in safe custody.
Here comes the first circumambulatory path, Thiruvunnazhi. Just in front of the Perumal shrine there is the Mahamandapa, the Sabha. All the pillars there in are set with brass plates. Right to the Thiruvunnazhi Prakara and under the ceiling of the sanctum sanctorum there is Vinayaka shrines and in the northern Prakara the shrine of Durga, just like in Sri Rangam. Then comes the Arthamandapam of Sri Perumal shrine. Inside the sanctum sanctorum the Supreme Lord Vishnu along with Sri Devi and Bhudevi, surcharged with the form of Moolavar Paravasudeva and Utsavar Sri Vidya Rajagopala consorted by Sri Rukmini and Sri Satyabhama graces the devotees.
The idol of the presiding deity is majestic to behold and is 12 feet tall. Lord Krishna appears as a shepherd boy with a whip on hand that has 3 dents and his left hand slightly leaning on the cow just behind him.and turban wearing a dhoti. He has butter on the right hand, an ornament around the hip, key bunch, bangles in hand and jewels of children. There is cow and two calves by his side. Lord is holding a tusk in his left hand.
Lord Rajagopala appears with an ear ring (Thadanga) on the left ear and a round ear ring on the left. The moolavar Para Vasudevan can be seen with a conch, maze and discus in a majestic standing posture facing the East with a complete set of silver ornaments all over his body. Milk is offered as Nivedhana to Lord in the temple. As in the Madurai Kalazhagar temple, Dosa is offered as Nivedhana in evening pujas.