Friday, October 20, 2017

Thanumalayan Temple, Suchindram – The Temple

Thanumalayan Temple, Suchindram – The Temple
The seven-storey entrance tower to this temple is visible from a distance as it rises majestically for 134 feet. The face of the tower is covered with sculptures and statues from Hindu mythology. One of the unique aspects of the temple is the presence of the gods across the length and breadth of the Hindu pantheon, from Rama and Krishna to Amman and Kandan. The temple is an architectural marvel, as it is well known for exquisite workmanship in stone.

There is a covered area in front of the main entrance and the entrance itself is about 24 feet high with a beautifully carved door. At the entrance of the main temple there are two large door keepers (Dwarapalaka) & the two pillars with huge Yalis (lion with an elephant trunk). There is only one corridor running along the outer wall of the temple with many shrines and mandapams scattered in the inner area. This temple attracts both Vaishnavites and Saivites in large numbers.

About 30 shrines to various deities within the temple complex, the large Lingam in the sanctum, the idol of Vishnu in the adjacent shrine and a large idol of Hanuman at the Eastern end of the Northern corridor represent almost all the deities of the Hindu pantheon. The temple complex is encircled by a single corridor, making a very nice parikrama route. There are many mandapams at Suchindram, which house a great many deities and divine personalities.

The main shrines and places of worship in the temple complex include the sanctum sanctorum in which Sthanu Mal Ayan, the presiding deities reside. There are some 30 additional shrines, including those for Lord Vishnu, Sita-Rama, Kailasanathar, Pancha Pandava, Natakasala, Kontai Adi, Subramanya Swamy, and Garuda, along with Unjal, Dwaja, Chenbagaraman, Vasantha, and Alankara Mandapam. There is also a Gopura Vasal, Nandeeswarar shrine, Chitra Sabai, and the great Hanuman Murti, all encircled by a temple corridor.

The Theertham here is the Prapancha tank. Alangara Mandapa is situated in the right of the entrance. In the 'Alankara mandapam' adjacent to the Northern corridor there are four large pillars stand at 18 feet (5.5 m) in height, each formed by a group of smaller pillars all carved from a single stone. Two of these large pillars have 33 smaller pillars and the other two 25 each. These are the famous musical pillars. Each of these smaller pillars produce a different musical note when tapped. Unfortunately, these pillars are surrounded by iron grills to prevent vandalism. These are an architectural and design highlight of the temple.

There are an additional 1035 pillars with carvings in the area known as the dancing hall. There is an Anjaneya, (or Hanuman), statue which stands at 22 feet (6.7 m) and is carved of a single granite block located near Alankara Mandapam. It is one of the tallest statues of its type in India. Hanuman's pose in this Murti, with folded hands, is likely him standing before Mother Sita in Ashoka Vanam. It is also of historical interest that this statue was buried in the temple in 1740, fearing an attack by Tippu Sultan and was subsequently forgotten.

It was rediscovered in 1930, and subsequently restored by the then Devaswom Board Commissioner Rajya Seva Praveena Sri M.K. Neelakanta Iyer of Kottarathu Mathom, Moncompu. There are about 30 shrines in this temple. On each pillar around the corridor there is Deepa Lakshmi (female lamp bearers). During Tip Sultan's invasion, these sculptures were mutilated.

Chenbagaraman Mandapam is filled with beautiful sculptures and 32 intricately sculpted pillars, carved more than 525 years ago. There is a Vigneswari Murti here, images of Siva's 64 sacred adventures (Tiruvilayadal), and images depicting Sri Ramayana pastimes. The interior of the temple complex is heavily carved and ornamented throughout, with many scenes from the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata, including Bhagavad-Gita scenes and a Vishwaroopam Murti. There is a rare image of Sri Krishna Parthasarathy in the form of the Trinity, in a Geethopathesa scene.

The Nandi image in the temple, which is 13 feet high, 21 feet long and 10 feet wide, is one of the biggest of its kind in the country. It is not a granite idol but made of lime and mortar and is hailed as "Maakkaalai". The temple's Prakaram is also very long like those at Rameswaram and Madurai. The religious significance of the temple stems from the fact that the main statue of Linga represent Siva (Sthanu), Vishnu (Maal) and Brahma (Ayan), (as well as giving the temple its name). The representation of the three central gods of Hinduism in one Linga makes it unique in India.

The Sanctum Sanctorum is illuminated by many oil lamps. The Trimurti Linga is two and a half feet in height, usually dressed in either a silver or golden mask. The golden Kavacham has 27 stars, 14 lunar phases and naga adorning the crown. The main sanctum stands on the western side of the compound. The presiding deities are offered water, oil, flowers, milk, etc. at regular times, and the priests are said to carry the Bhoga and paraphernalia through an underground passage.

Beside the sanctum sanctorum of Trimurti is the main Vishnu shrine, where the Perumal deity is made of eight metals. To the right of it are the Sita-Rama deities, and across from them is the very tall Hanuman Murti. To the left is Ganesh's shrine, in front of which is the Navagraha mandapa, carved into the ceiling. A Natakasala to the east has a big pavilion, now mostly used for preaching. The Kailasattu Mahadeva shrine in the southwest houses an ancient deity is Mahadeva from southern Kailasa.

Next are the Vadakkedam and Tekkedam, shrines of Shiva and Vishnu respectively. They were in existence before the 10th Century A.D. Under the canopy of Naga, there are 16 moons (Chandrakala) of the idols, overlapping each other. There is a separate Brahmadeva shrine also in the prakaram. There rare female form of Vinayaka (Ganesha) here is known as Vigneswari, or Vallabha Ganeshaani, as described in the Mantra Shastras.

This Ganeshaani Murti in sukhasana pose at Suchindram is one of only a few, the others being at a 10th century temple dedicated to 64 yoginis in Bheraghat, near Jabalpur, and one at the Tanumalaya Swami Temple in Suchindrum. In Tibet, this female form of Ganesh is worshiped as Gajanani. Sthala Vriksham is Kondrai Maram. It is approximately 2,500 years old.

Outside, there is an excellent collection of paintings found on the walls of the temple gopuram, which are now the aim of restoration and protection from local vandals. The approximately 115 paintings on the seven tiers of the tower are 120 years old, drawn onto the limestone walls using herbal extracts. Sometime after 1888, two kumbabhishekams (baths for the building) were performed, but no attempt was made to restore the paintings, but it is hoped will now become the focus of serious preservation.

Temple Statistics:
·        Total area - 4 Acres.
·        Rajagopuram - 134 Feet.
·        Height of Giant Nandhi - 12 Feet.
·        Width of Southern area - 301 Feet.
·        Width of Northern area - 281 Feet.
·        Width of Western area - 244 Feet.
·        Width of Eastern area - 183 Feet.
Temple Ratha Chariots:
The chariots of Sthanu-Mal-Ayan temple are very beautiful, and the center of attractive at the annual Car Festival here. The chariots come out at the end of a 10-day festival, which begins on the day of Sathayam, in the month of Margazhi (December/January). Lakhs of devotees come to enjoy the festival. Another processional festival is held in Chithirai (April/May), when the deities are taken out on the cars to give darshan to the devotees. The original temple chariot was destroyed during the invasion of Khan Chanda Saheb, many devotees sacrificed their lives in protecting the remaining chariots, thus forcing the invaders to retreat.

Afterwards, the Devi (Amman) car was made the major chariot. Each year it is accompanied by the chariots of Ganesa and Swamy, and each of the chariots bears one member of the Trimurti. The chariot is made of wood and is carved with beautifully detailed sculptures, many of which feature the pastimes of Krishna and Rama Lila. Each year, the upper portion of the car is remade with fresh poles and fabrics, and taken out on procession.