Thyagaraja Temple, Thiruvarur – Legends
The story of Musukuntha:
Once while Shiva and Parvati were resting in the groves of Kailasam, a male monkey kept throwing Vilva leaves on them. This irritated Parvati who was about to curse the monkey when Shiva intervened. He reminded her that it was Shivarathri that day and the monkey had indeed performed a divine deed by placing Vilva leaves on them. Thus, a likely curse turned into a blessing and the two. Pleased with this, the male monkey requested that he be born with a monkey face in memory of his previous birth. Also, he asked if he could be born as a great devotee of Lord Shiva. This was Musukuntha Chozha who ruled the Chozha kingdom with Karuvurai as his capital.
It was here that Goddess Lakshmi undertook penance invoking the blessings of Lord Shiva. The severity of the penance is seen from the fact of standing on water and on hot sand in the summer. Pleased with the penance, Shiva, Devi and their son appeared before Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi and blessed them with a child. However, Uma Devi was upset that Vishnu had ignored her presence and cursed that the new born will also see death from the same person (Lord Shiva) who blessed his birth.
A saddened Vishnu asked sculptor Vishwakarma to create an idol similar to the one who appeared before him. This was Somaskanda and he offered his prayer to this idol. The three of them appeared again and a pleased Uma Devi said that while the curse will have to be fulfilled, she will bring him back again and will make him the leader of the army. He was to be the God of Love.
Vasantha Utsavam is one of the most special festivals at the Thiruvarur temple. Manmatha who knitted flowers for the Lord had grown arrogant and was reduced to ashes by Lord Shiva’s eyes as per the earlier curse of Uma Devi. Rathi invoked the blessings of Uma Devi who then provided Rathi with an exclusive darshan of Manmatha (for her alone). Delighted at this, the two celebrated by creating a festival for Lord Thyagaraja in Panguni invoking his blessings. In his memory is celebrated the Vasantha Utsavam.
Saptha Vidanga Kshetram:
A demon called Kaliyan invaded the heavens. Indra approached Vishnu for the Somaskanda with whose protection the heavens were defended successfully. Again another demon Valan attacked the heavens. This time Indra turned to Muchukunda, a Chola King who assisted him in winning the battle against the demon. A delighted Indra took Mucukunta to his abode. There when Mucukunta found the idol of Thyagaraja, an invisible voice directed him to take the idol to Thiruvarur. After having taken him around, Indra offered a boon to the king for helping him win. The king asked for the idol leaving Indra stunned. That night, Indra asked sculptor Vishwakarma to make 6 similar idols. The next day, Indra offered the king any of the 6 idols hoping that the king would not be able to distinguish the real one and would take one of the 6 that were created the previous night.
Thanks to his true devotion, as he stood in front of the original idol, Mucukunta Chozha sensed that this was the original one. Delighted with the sincerity of the king’s devotion to Lord Shiva, Indra handed him all the 7 idols. Musukuntha made his way to Thiruvarur in a Chariot procession and celebrated with a grand festival. He took the other 6 idols and installed it at Thiru Kolili, Thiru Kaaraayil, Thiru Maraikkadu, Thiru Vaaimoor, Thiru Nallaru and Thiru Nagai. These 7 are referred to as Saptha Vidanga Kshetram. These seven places are called "Saptha Vidanga Sthalams" of Sri Thyagaraja and he is called by various names in these places and various forms of dances were attributed to them.
At Tiruvarur, Sri Thyagaraja is called Sri Vidivitankar and the dance is ‘Ajapa Natanam' - dancing like the chest movement, moving up and down and forward and backward. At Tirunallar near Karaikkal, he is called Sri Nahavitankar and the dance is called Unmatta Natanam - dancing like a mad man. At Nagapattinam he is called Sri Sundaravitankar and the dance is called Paravarataranga Natanam, dancing like the waves of the sea. At Tirukaravasal, he is called Sri Adivitankar and the dance is called Kukutta Natanam - dancing like a cock. At Thirukkuvalai, he is called Sri Avani Vitankar and the dance is called Bhringa Natanam - dancing like a bee which hovers around a flower.
At Thiruvoimoor, he is called Sri Neela vitankar and the dance is called Kamala Natanam i.e dancing like a lotus, which trembles in breeze. At Vedaranyam, he is called Sri Buvani Vitankar, and the dance is called Hamsapada Natanam i.e dancing with the gait of a swan. Ajapa dance of Lord Thyagaraja signifies the control and maneuver of breathing. Sri Appar, one of the four Tamil stalwarts, refers to this association of Sri Thyagaraja with the breathing methods in his Devaram. Tirumular also glorifies the importance of Ajapa dance.
At the entrance to the Thyagaraja Sannidhi, there is a beautiful sculpture of Musukuntha Chozha in memory of this event. There is also a sculpture of Indra. The Lord’s Ajapa dance is special here at Thiruvarur and presents the true philosophical meaning of each of his steps. 18 musical instruments are used to praise Lord Thyagaraja at different pooja times (earlier it used to be 21).
Story behind the Devotees taking Lord in procession through the northeast entrance:
Emperor Muchukunda installed the Linga in the temple which he got from Indira. But Indira wanted to take back the Linga to his own Devaloka. It is believed that Indira is waiting at the east entrance to use the opportunity when Lord passes through this gate. To fool Indira, the devotees are taking Lord in procession through the northeast entrance, so that he may not enter the temple to steal the Linga. Even majority of the devotees use the northeast gate only to enter the temple avoiding the east.
Birthplace of Carnatic Music’s Trinity:
Tiruvarur is the birthplace of Carnatic music’s trinity Saint Thyagaraja, Shyama Sastri and Muthuswamy Dikshitar.
Musical Instruments associated with this shrine:
The Panchamukha Vadyam with five heads representing the five heads of Siva, the Paarinaayanam (Nadhaswaram) and the Suddha mathalam (drum) are special musical instruments associated with this shrine. These instruments are played during regular services.
Lord’s right foot – 2 days a year:
Two days in a year, the right foot of the Lord can be seen – on Panguni Uthiram and Margazhi Thiruvathirai. On these days, Uma Devi’s left foot can be seen. At Chidambaram, on Margazhi Thiruvathirai, the Lord’s left foot can be seen.
Chitrai Prayers and the reward:
In the 2nd prakara is the sannidhi for Aada Kechchuvram. Vishnu, Brahmma and Indra invoked the blessing of this Lord. Belief is that those who offer their sincere prayers to this Lord on Chitrai Krishna Paksha Chaturdasi will be blessed to attain the status equivalent to Indra.
Vikrama Chozha and Thiruvarur:
During the rule of Parakesari (Vikrama) Chozha, a mandapa was created at the temple where in food was distributed to the needy and to the travelling devotees. Vikrama Chozha also stood in front of the ‘Mandapa for Justice’ that was erected at the temple from with God as Witness, cases were heard and Justice provided to people. Also it was during his rule that dance arangetram was initiated in the month of Chitrai every year for young talented dancers at the Devasiriyin mandapa and he awarded them a certificate as proof of the event. Inscriptions at the Eastern entrance provide insights into the appointment of temple staff during his rule.
Also, during this period, the respected and senior residents of Thiruvarur congregated and made donations for ghee that was to be used to light the lamp for the Lord every day. Even though he ruled from Gangai Konda Cholapuram, he had special liking for the Lord of Thiruvarur and organized special grants for the people of Thiruvarur. A couple among these were granting of lands for the people and construction of lakes for cultivation purposes ahead of the harvest season - which were well appreciated by the people of Thiruvarur.
In centuries gone by, the temple has been referred to as Aadaga Kshetram, Kamala Puram, Vanmeega Puram, Muchu Kunda Puram, Andar Gadheswara Puram, Sri Puram, Inder Maageswara Puram and Skanda Puram among many other names.
Manuneethi Cholan's Justice:
Besides Muchukunda, yet another Chola King associated with Tiruvarur is Manuneethi Cholan. Mention about him is found in Silapathikaram and Periya Puranam. A stone sculpture is also seen depicting his history at Tiruvarur. Manuneedhi Cholan rendered justice to a cow which lost its calf. Incidentally, it was the son of Manuneedhi Cholan who was responsible for the fatal knockoff the calf. The calf was killed when it came under the wheels of the car driven by the son of Manuneedhi Cholan. The cow, unable to bear the sorrow of the loss of the calf, alarmed the bell meant for rendering justice. Manuneedhi Cholan who learnt that the calf was killed by his son, drove the car on his son and killed him, thus rendering justice to the cow. Lord Siva, impressed by the King's action, brought back alive the calf and his son.
All four great Saivite Saint Poets have sung praise of the Lord at this temple. This is also the temple with the highest amount of praise from the saint poets along with Chidambaram, Sirkazhi and Madurai. Tiruvarur is the only temple that has more number of Thevaram hymns - 353, Gnana Sambandar 55, Thirunavukkarasar 208 and Sundarar 87 and Manickavasagar 3.
This is the birth place of Paravai Nachiyar, Sundarar’s first wife. Sundarar married Sangili Nachiyar as second wife at Thiruvotriyur and also promised her not to leave Thiruvotriyur but he left the place after some time. He got punished and lost vision in both eyes. He got back vision in the left eye through Kanchi Ekambareswar and came back to Thiruvarur. He got his vision restored at the other eye also through this Thyagarajar but Paravai Nachiyar didn’t even want to see him (naturally). So Sundarar appealed to Lord Shiva and he went as an emissary in the disguise of the temple priest and tried to persuade her but failed. Again, on the same night, he went as Lord himself and persuaded her successfully to accept Sundarar again.
The legend of Sri Vanmikanathar, the presiding deity, relates to Shiva appearing within an anthill in response to prayers from the Gods. So, no abishekam is performed for Vanmikanathar.
Birthplace of Kalarsinga Nayanar & Dandi Adigal Nayanar:
Kalarsinga Nayanar and Dandi Adigal Nayanar were born in Tiruvarur.
Saints associated with Thiruvarur:
Kadavarkon Kazharsingan, Seru Thunaiyar, Naminandhi Adigal, Somaasi Maaranaar and Viranmindar are some of the other saints associated with Tiruvarur.
Sundarar composed Thiruttondattogai here:
It was here that Sundarar composed the story of all Nayanmars called ‘Thiruttondattogai’.
Thyagaraja is believed to have performed 364 miracles in Tiruvarur similar to the 64 performed at Madurai Meenakshi Temple.
Matru Uraitha Vinayagar:
Sundarar got 12,000 gold coins from Vridhachalam Pazhamalai Nathar for his different temple works but he was worried about taking them to Thiruvarur without getting stolen on the way. So the Lord advised him to put the gold coins at the Vridhachalam temple tank and get back at the Kamalalaya temple tank of Thiruvarur. At Thiruvarur, he sang pathigams and got back the coins properly but doubted the quality of the coins. Without believing the Lord himself, he wanted to check the quality of the coins by comparing with a small piece of the original he kept with him.
So he requested the Matru Uraitha Vinayagar of this temple and he reported that the quality is lower. So Sundarar again sang the pathigams to get back the coins in their original quality (these later pathigams are not available as of now). This is nothing but the holy play of the Lord to listen to the pathigams of Sundarar. Women pray to Matru Uraitha Vinayaka in the West Gopuram gate before buying jewels as he confirmed the touch quality of the gold awarded by Lord Shiva to Saint Sundarar.
When Sundarar went inside the temple to worship Thyagarajar he was stopped by Viranmindar, another Adiyar. He said the worship procedure is to first give respect to the Adiyars at the Devasraya mandapam and then only step into the other shrines. Sundarar didn’t accept this and after heated exchange came out of the temple. While wandering outside the temple, he was wondering how to go inside and worship his Thyagarajar and at that time, the Lord himself gave Dharshan as Thyagarajar at the North entrance gopuram in between the stucco sculptures. So even now the devotees should first give respect to the Adiyars at the Devasraya mandapam and then only enter the other shrines.
Navagrahams in straight line:
A demon Satya Gupta by name was a threat to Devas. He was caught in the aspect of Sani Bhagwan – Planet Saturn. Enraged, he began to fight with the planets. The planets appealed to Lord Shiva for protection. Lord Shiva protected the planets from the demon on condition that they should ever be soft to his devotees. Hence, the planets are on straight line facing the Lord. Lord Vinayaka is also in this shrine monitoring them whether they are soft to Shiva devotees. It thus became the rule that though devotees visit Tirunallar for Saturn reliefs, they should visit Tiruvarur also for worship for total relief.
Nadukkam Theertha Vinayaga:
Those suffering from nervous problems and high tensions, pray to Nadukkam Theertha Vinayaka-Vinayaka protecting from trembling.
Older than Chidambaram Temple:
It is the custom in Shiva Temples to end the Thevaram hymn chanting with the word Thiru Chittrambalam as followed in Chidambaram temple, considered to be first among all Shiva temples in the state. But the antiquity of Tiruvarur temple is more ancient; hence, this word is not chanted here.