Thyagaraja Temple, Thiruvarur – Thyagarajar Shrine
The image of Thyagaraja at Tiruvarur is said to have been held in worship by Mahavishnu and later by Indra the King of the Gods and then later on by Muchukunda Chakravarti a valorous king. The Thyagaraja shrine at Tiruvarur is associated with the Ajapaa Natanam dance which is enacted every time the deity is taken out in procession. Raja Raja Chola I who built the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur installed a shrine for Dakshina Meru Vitankar there. The name Thyagaraja became associated with Somaskanda only from the 16th century onward (the earliest references to Somaskanda as Thyagaraja go back to the 12th century CE). Until that point in time, this image was referred to as Veedhi Vitankar in Tamil and Aaruradipati in Sanskrit.
Associated with the image of Thyagaraja (The King of Givers) are symbols such as the manittandu or the sceptre, senkazhuneermaalai or the garland, ratnasimhasanam or the throne and a sword. The Panchamukha Vadyam, the Paarinaayanam (Nadhaswaram) and the Sudha maddhalam drum are special musical instruments associated with this shrine. These instruments are played during worship services. The Aazhitter - or the colossal chariot and the Airavatam elephant are other royal objects associated with Thyagaraja. Even the Nandi in front of the Thyagaraja shrine is portrayed in a standing posture.
There is a sense of mysticism associated with the image of Thyagaraja. Abishekam rituals are performed to this image only six times a year, and even during these occasions the entire image is kept covered with a piece of cloth, barring the faces of Shiva and Parvati. On a daily basis, abishekams are performed to an emerald Shivalingam placed in the shrine. Again, the image of Thyagaraja is always kept covered with decorative cloth, but for the faces of Shiva and Parvati.
The feet of the image are kept uncovered only on two occasions each year - namely Margazhi Thiruvadirai and Panguni Uthiram. The former is referred to as Dakshina Pada Dharisanam while the latter is the Uttara Pada Dharisanam corresponding to the darker and the brighter halves of the year.
Thyagesha, Thyagarajaswami sits in his Durbar, a king with his queen, and between them, their son Skanda dances. This Somaskanda icon (Shiva, Uma and Skanda) is one of the rare icons that are considered “munnilum mummutankku pinnalakar”, thrice as beautiful at the back as the front. Yet, one cannot imagine what could be more beautiful than the captivating smile of Thyagaraja as one surrenders completely, involuntarily and voluntarily to the embracing and comforting energy he emanates from the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Drawn to this magnificent image in all its surrounding grandeur and enraptured by his smile, all else melts into insignificance. The icon remains hidden behind heaps of fragrant jasmine blossoms and Bilva leaves, and with good reason. With this icon resides the Sri Chakra, the most potent emblem of energy and concentrated power that attracts our potential to its core. The Sri Chakra is etched on a plate on the idol and always hidden from view lest the power fall into inexperienced hands.
The Somaskanda Thyagesha is a regal Shiva, a royal father, and husband, a supreme example of royal manhood. As Thyaga - Raja, Shiva is seen as the progenitor of the human race rather than the form of a starving, begging, yogic ascetic or the fiery cosmic dancer he often assumes. He is also the Lord, King of Thyaga, renunciation and giving. The Saint Kumarakuruparar in his “Tiruvarur Naanmanimalai” states that this Lord gave the Universe to Vishnu, nine treasures to Kubera the God of Wealth, bestows happiness and domestic bliss to his devotees and shared half of himself with Nilothpalambal, his constant companion and consort.
The sacrosanct antiquity of this Sthala predates the icon of the divine family. The presence of Skanda, Murugan, is considered an inordinately significant link between Shiva’s presence as the main Deity to local worship revolving around Murugan. Murugan or Skanda, Shiva’s enlightened son, a warrior, and lover of the mountain bride Valli, has held popular identity as the god of hunters and hill folk of the Tamizh peoples.
The God of the forest, he is associated with rain and fertility of the land. The snake and the anthill, symbols common to Shiva and his much loved child, are independent shrines in the Thiruvarur temple complex. They bear no date and seem to have existed as far as cultural memory can reach. Tiruvarur has an ancient Nagabila, a serpent-infested maze of subterranean connections to the netherworld, with its focal Deity, Hatakeshwara.
On the average day, nestled in a silver casket placed to the right of the bronze Somaskanda is an emerald Swayambu or self-formed Linga called a Vitankar. This natural manifestation of the Linga, which is not only the phallic symbol of creation but also the symbol of the rise of the Kundalini force, is particularly sanctified and revered with daily ablution and ritual in a beautiful ceremony. Its presence in Thiruvarur makes the place one of the Sapta Vitanka Kshetras, one of the seven sacred places where a self- formed, un-chiseled Linga associated with a particular Chakra of Kundalini energy is venerated.
Thiruvarur is identified as the Mooladhara Kshetra, the base energy center where the Kundalini energy lies coiled like a serpent. When the energy uncoils and rises through the naturally formed lingam, it appears like the magnificent precious Vitanka. This emerald lingam, symbolizing the union of Shiva and Shakti is a Sri-Vidya Tantric symbol. In one text, Vitanka is interpreted as the abode of the birds. This evokes the Hamsa, literally swan, the image of Kundalini energy that comes with ultimate salvation.