Friday, August 31, 2012

Visit To A Unique Temple in South India!

Shri Vanjiyam Vaanjinathar Temple, Nannilam near Kumbakonam.

I have never heard of a temple for Yamadharmaraja until now...the god who takes our lives.  My brother in law had heard about this temple in a TV show,  During this year's temple visit, we combined this temple because it is believed that this place is equal to Kashi Vishwanath Temple in North India.  This temple, Shri Vanjiyam Vaanjinathar temple, is also called 'poorva janma paapa parihaara sthal/Mukthi kshetra', means, if we visit this temple, the Lord Shiva will excuse all the sins we and our ancestors have made through many generations! We thought we will give it a try! Anyway, Yama is sitting nearby and it will be easy for him to pass on the instructions! And I love to visit the ancient temples of our country, esp. in South India, which are famous for their beautiful architecture. We can feel the vibrations of years of prayers here. My husband is from Lalgudi, Trichy and I always felt that my in-laws would have walked through the praharams (the walking space around the main temples) like we do now!  Now, let me write about this unique temple and the legends surrounding it.

Shri Vanjiyam temple is situated at Nannilam, 35 Kms. from Kumabakonam via Thiruvarur-Nannilam route..  It took around 6 hours by road, from Chennai plus time for breakfast and lunch.  The temple is supposed to be 2,600 years old.  The main deity is Lord Shiva and the Shivalinga is facing both west and east and has got two Nandis (Shiva's vaahana - transport!) on both sides.  The legend is that during the great Pralaya (the great deluge), the Linga which was facing west until then, turned to the east to facilitate Surya (the Sun god) to worship him! So pooja is performed on both sides. The Linga is Swayambhu linga (formed by itself) and is one of the 6 Shivasthalams along the Cauvery river. This Linga is the oldest among the 64 Lingas in the world.

The goddess of the shrine is Mangaladevi. She is in a standing posture.  It is believed that this goddess is Durga in the morning, Lakshmi in the afternoon and Saraswathi in the evening.  She is dressed up accordingly.  Morning in red saree, afternoon green and white saree in the evening.  Navaraathri pooja is special here.

Yamadharmaraja at Shri Vanjiyam Temple

Now, comes the interesting part.  This temple was specially created (as per legend) for Yamadharmaraja by Lord Shiva. Yama once got very frustrated because he thought he had sinned by killing so many people for a long time, though it was his duty.  He thought that people feared him because of that.  He wanted everyone to like him like they did Ganesha! He took advice from Brahma and did penance at the bank of cauvery river at the Gandharanyam (sandal wood forest). Lord Shiva was pleased and ordered for a shrine exclusively for Yama, where even Ganesha who is worshipped first in all the Shiva temples will be done so after Yama is worshipped.  As per Yama's wish Shiva also resided there and Yama became his vaahana (transport) on the salvation day when Lord Shiva granted his wish which was on Maasi maasam (Tamil month which comes from mid February to mid March) Bharani nakshatra (one of the 27 stars of Hinduism).  On this day special poojas are performed at the shrine.  Chitragupta, who is the ledger keeper for Yama also is sitting beside him at the shrine (the small deity on the left). The deity faces the South.

Because Yama did penance at the Sandal forest, the Sthala Vrukha is Sandal wood tree.  Normally, Lord Shiva is worshipped with Vilva leaves, but here, it is Sandalwood tree leaves.  The priest asked us to keep the leaves in our locker (he gave the leaves to us after the archana pooja).

This temple has got a huge tank which was dry when we went there and is called Gupta Ganga.  River Ganga was once worried because she thought that so many people bathed in her water for taking off their sins (Poorva janma paapa parihaara) and all those sins were accumulated there.  She approaches Shiva for advice. He asks her to take a bath at Vanjiyam tank to purify herself. It is said that  only one part of her is in Kaashi and the rest 999 parts are in this Gupta Ganga where she got herself purified.  So, a dip in this tank will purify us from all the past sins.  Doing Tharpana for our pithru (Hindu ritual for their dead ancestors) is said to be special in this place.

This temple is famous for celebrating Shashtiaptha Poorthi (completion of 60th birthday) and Sadhaabhishekam (80th birthday). The other place to this ritual,  is Thirukkadaiyur. This is one of the 7 Pithru Kadan Nivarthi Sthalam (absolution of ancestral debts).  We can perform Thila homam etc. for our ancestors like we do at Rameshwaram, Kaashi, Gaya, Thiruvenkaadu, Triveni Sangamam, Thilarpanapuri etc. It is also said that one visit to this temple is equal to 100 visits to Kaashi.

The temple is open from 6 am to 12 pm and then opens at 3.30 pm (to 8 pm).  We reached there at 2.30 and so waited until it was opened.  The priest asked us to visit the Gupta Ganga Tank first.  This is the way the gods should be visited here.  Then he took us to Yama's shrine.  We did archana there with coconut, banana etc.  He gave us vibhooti.  He asked us not to take home, vibhooti or the coconut. So, first importance is given to Yama! A small sannidhi was there for our Lord Ganesha (Vennai Ganesha - butter Ganesha) at the entrance to the Shiva sannidhi.  We just folded our hands in front of him because we had to run behind the Kurukkal! Normally, Ganesha is important in all the shrines! People apply butter on his stomach here and after the pooja, consume it and all the stomach ailments will get cured, it seems.

Then he took us to the Shiva sannidhi.  The Linga is quite huge. The Kurukkal (priest) narrated the sthala puraanam (story of the temple).  You can have a look at the video of the Sthala puranam which is in Tamil here:

Then did archana at the Mangalambika shrine.  Next was Raahu Kethu sannidhi.  This temple hasn't got the navagraha sannidhi.  But separate sannidhis for Shani and Raahu Kethu.  Raahu and Kethu are in a single vigraha.  A human body below the head of a pancha mukha sarpa (5 headed snake).  This temple is one of the Raahu Kethu paapa parihara Kshetra, like Thirunageshwaram.  Special poojas are performed during Raahu Kaala.

Yoga Bhairava Sannidhi is also special here.  He is in a sitting posture without his vaahana, the dog, which is rare.   Pooja is performed with Vanni leaves to this deity. It is believed that these leaves if consumed, cures our nervous problems.

The inner praahaaram has got the statues of 63 Saivaite nayanmars/saints.

Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi had a disagreement once and they came to Lord Shiva for advice.  Lord Shiva united them together here at Vanjiyam.   Vaanjai means 'love'.  So this place is called Vanjipuram/Vanchipuram...Shri Vanchipuram or in Tamil, Thiruvanchipuram.  If you visit this temple, you will get married soon if you are not yet married!

We saw a Sannidhi for Mahishaasura Mardhini who will protect us from all evils. Worshipping her with 108 lotus flowers during raahu kaalam is special here. Separate sannidhi for Lakshmi also was there.

Normally, poojas are stopped in the temples if some death happened in or near the temple.  But they  are not stopped in this temple!

Three more holy tanks are there and if we take dips in those tanks, we will be relieved of Naga dosha, Brahmahattya dosha etc. We didn't visit this area, so, am vague about this.

Like Vaideeshwaran koil, the compound wall is very high and there are two walls.  I noticed,  Nandis were there on top of the compound walls like Vaideeshwaran temple, but in pairs with some distance in between! I think people were not fat like us in the earlier days because most of them did 3, 5, 7, 9 and 21  pradakshinas (rounds) every morning...early morning.  They stayed healthy.  Most of the ancient temples in Tamil nadu are huge.

While coming back via Tricy, we came across one more temple, Thiruvattur Shiva temple, which is also very ancient and huge temple.  But it was closed.  Will wait till next year to visit this place!

We went straight to Shri Vanjipuram from Chennai and then went to Trichy and stayed in a hotel (Ramya's, which was very good and their breakfast with so many items...hmmm, I still remember the taste!).  Next day we visited our Gunaseelam temple, Vayalur temple etc. and came back home.

Shri Vanjiyam has got a vegetarian mess at Sannidhi street.  I think,  you may have to inform them earlier if possible.  Otherwise you can stay at Thiruvarur hotels and visit here.

The temple phone no. is: 04366 228305
Mess phone no.: 91 98947 26839

Picture courtesy: Shamala Krishnan

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let Us Hope For More Medals In The Next Olympics Along With Nagaraj!


Nagaraj of Prime Sports Academy, Chennai 

All of us Indians, were happy that we got the highest number of medals in Olympics, this year...huh, highest number of medals Indians got in the Olympic history. Whether it is Gold, Silver or Bronze, we got 6 medals in total (have a laugh reading this post of mine here!).  Wikipedia has got an interesting article on our Olympic participation here, through the years. All the winners as well as the participants must have gone through so much hurdles before even participating in the Olympics or any sports events in our country. Our sports ministers and the officials involved are interested in using the trip abroad to enjoy shopping and touring the countries.  My cousin's daughter came upto State level in swimming and her mother used to accompany her everywhere.  She used to tell us stories about how they were ill treated during their stay at the competition venues by the officials.  So, sensible Indians will never think of sending their children in the sports line, is a bit different!  We have read stories about P.T.Usha and Shiny Abraham's training in athletics.  They had dedicated teachers/coaches to train them, which is very rare here, in India.

I read about Nagaraj in the Tamil Magazine, Ananda Vikatan who started Prime Sports Academy in Chennai from scratch, to train athletes  from every corner of Tamilnadu (This is a very old article about this academy.  I couldn't get a better recent article on this).  His aim is to get Olympic medals in athletics. Let me write about this man whom I have started admiring now.  Bharathi Thambi has started the article very nicely.  Let me quote that too.  Hope I translate the article reasonably well!

"A bird carries some seed in its beak, from a long distance and drops it on the earth which helps in forming a forest. But the bird hasn't got time to take rest in the forest but starts flying, looking for the next seed to sow on the earth. Some people, like the bird, do good deeds to others without expecting anything in return from them. Nagaraj is one among them."

In Chennai's Broadway area, a narrow lane leads to a tiny gate. Inside, we see young boys and girls running while sweating profusely.  Among them 14 are international champions.  More than 100 are national champions in running, high jump, javelin throw, weight lifting, long jump etc. All are happily training here. The coach Nagaraj started this training school and made his students win medals - Shanthi won silver in Asian Games, Prem Kumar won Bronze.  Gayatri won gold in hurdles in common Wealth Games. Nagaraj is a coach here for the past 24 years. He has got a job in Central Excise and coaches these athletes in the mornings and evenings, without taking any fee from them.  This is just a passion for him.

He says, "Hurdles game is always a poor man's game.  This needs the athlete to just work hard - physically.  Their bodies should withstand the strain of the hard training. Only children with poor background will be able to do it.  Most of the children here come from very very poor family.  Their parents just think that their children are studying in Madras. Only these children will make India's dream of Olympic gold come true"

His native place is Arundavapuram, near Thanjavoor.  His mother is an ayah at the mid-day meal section in a school. It was very difficult for him to buy even a pair of shoes which costed Rs.50 in those days!  He managed somehow with hard work and got a silver medal in junior level High Jump competition (national level competition).  His P.T. teacher was impressed by his hard work and sent him to Madras to study B.B.Ed. (I don't know the expansion of this degree.  Can anyone help?!). The teacher, Mr.Shanmugasundaram said that he would resign his job once Nagaraj gets the degree, so that he could join his job! Nagaraj says that he will never forget his words.

After he got the degree he got a job in Central excise in sports quota.  He was coaching children in the mornings and evenings.  He never married.  Never attended any family function.  He had never watched a movie (this shows his determinatiion). His whole life was spent in training children for the past 24 years.

Sneha Princi, who was coached by him, got a medal in the national level for heptathlon (1989).  K.N.Priya got a medal in the international level in 100m. hurdles.  This was the starting.  Later on many of his students participated and got medals in national and international competitions.   Now 24 of them participate in international level competitions. 14 of them are winners of medals in international level competitions.  More than 100 students are national level competition medal winners.

He says that he visits schools on their Sports Day in small villages and towns and enquire the P.T. teachers to recommend good athletes.  Then Nagaraj would go to their house and request the parents to send them with him to Chennai.  If he told them about just sports coaching they wouldn't let the children go with him.  Nagaraj would assure them that the children would be sent to school, college and then he would arrange for a job for them.  Shanthi, the silver medallist in Asian Games was brought to Chennai in this way!

It was very difficult to find a place for training the children until 2000.  Then the Pachchaiappa College Endowment offered the current playground for training.  But they charged a rent of Rs.8000 rent.  This rent was born by Dr.Babu Manoharan of St.Joseph Engg.College and he also spent 37 Lakhs to clear the place, built a hostel and arranged for buses for the school.  This is the way Nagaraj's Prime Sports Academy started.

Nagaraj also says that the athletes had to spend 10 prime years in hard training to win the medals.  If the Governments and other organizations assure them of a good job in sports quota, many children would happily join the training and work hard to get even Olympic Medals.

Have a look at this video where Nagaraj speaks about himself.  He seems to be a very simple but determined man.  We need more people like him and then can dream about getting more Olympic medals! 

His school needs still more help from people. Needs drinking water at the playground for the children. Needs latest sports equipments which will help the children to participate in the international level games with confidence.

The requirement to join his school: The children should be interested in sports and be healthy. Expenses will be born by the academy and educational qualification is not important. Age limit is from 10 to 18 years.

All the Best, Nagaraj! Let your dream come true and we will all celebrate!

Picture courtesy: Ananda Vikatan 
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