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Maduranthakam — unique and significant

The Aeri Katha Ramar temple in Maduranthakam, near Chennai, abounds in interesting incidents and enlightening legends, as T. A. SRINIVASAN finds out.

The Aeri Katha Ramar temple in Madhurantakam has many an interesting tale to tell...

THOUGH SAINT Ramanuja visited the length and breadth of the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and almost trekked to 106 of the holy places, sanctified by hymns of the azhwars, (the two exceptions being Tirupparkadal and Paramapadam, where one could go only after shedding the mortal coil), some of them have become very important from the Vaishnavites' point of view. Among the holy places are two — Thirunarayanapuram where he stayed for two decades and Maduranthakam, near Chengalpattu — which have not been sung by the azhwars but where Mahapurna or Periya Nambi the spiritual teacher (acharya) performed all sacraments of initiation to him as laid down in the Pancharatra Sastra.

The place is also unique in that Ramanuja's idol, seated by the side of his preceptor, is found dressed in white. In almost all temples the saint is seen wearing the colour of ochre, except on one day, which marks the event of his exchanging his dress with Kurathazwan, when the latter went to Chola's court and was persecuted. But at the Madhurantakam Aeri Katha Ramar temple (Lord Rama who guarded the tank) the saint is dressed in white on all days.

The temple is unique in that it has two sets of utsavar idols of the presiding deity and His consort, and Lakshmana. While one deity is named Rama, the other is known as Karunakaran. It is also here that a separate shrine for Goddess Sita, known as Janakavalli Thayar, exists. It has an interesting story behind it. Built by an English Collector, Colonel Lionel Place (referred to as Price in the Government records), in 1884, itstands testimony to the saying that ``more things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of.''

Maduranthakam, situated 77 km south west of Chennai, is famous for its huge tank with immense storage capacity which, in the past, would breach every year after the monsoon rains and wash away the kalingal or waste weir — the rough stone-built outlet of the tank. All the farmers' efforts at raising crops came to naught because of this. The English Collector strongly rebuilt the waste-weir more than once, but to no purpose.

During his visit to the interior of Maduranthakam he saw the neat looking temple with the small Teppakulam in front of it. Welcomed by the priest and other local citizens he ventured into the temple and was greatly attracted towards the humble stone edifice built many decades ago. He was told that due to paucity of funds they could not construct a separate shrine for the Lord's consort, who was ever solicitous to Her devotees. The Collector, very much upset by the constant collapse of the tank's waste- weir, assured the people that he would build the Devi's shrine if the newly built kalingal withstood the fury of monsoon rains.

He camped at Maduranthakam during the monsoon and on one night when the tank was full and almost overflowing he visited the tank bund and saw Rama and Lakshmana keeping guard at the tank. As assured the construction of the Goddess' shrine was begun next morning. An inscription on the beam reveal the words Indha dharmam kumpini jagir Collector Lionel Place durai, avargaladhu (This gift is made by the East India Company Collector Lionel Place.) A similar inscription is also found in the waste weir.

Known as Bagularanyam or the forest of Maghizham trees in times of yore, it was at this place, close to Kiliyaru, that Sage Vipandakar did penance, performing daily pooja to Lord Karunakaran (Rama), according to legend. Lord Rama, when he was exiled to the forest, stayed in the sage's hermitage for a few days and assured him that he would visit the place again along with Sita and Lakshmana during their return to Ayodhya. When the Pushpaka Vimanam carrying the Lord and His entourage passed through the place, it refused to move further and Rama remembering His assurance to the sage got down from the vimanam and gave darshan to him. The place was named Maduranthakam as the sweet (maduram) incident of the Divine couple's visit took place here. This fact is explained in the section on Muktikshetra Paramarsam in the "Brahma Vaivartha Puranam". The Lord's images, which are full of charm and grace, testify to the fact.

It was here under a Maghizha tree that Periya Nambi performed Pancha Samskarams — thapa, nama, pundra, manthra and yaga — to Saint Ramanuja. A mandapam, Vaikunta Vardhanam, has been built under the tree to remind posterity about the great incident.

It is also said that Yadava Prakasa, an Advaitin and guru of Ramanuja, in his earlier years was born an iguana in his previous birth and lived in the temple precincts, consuming leftover food of Srivaishnavites who visited the place on their pilgrimage to Kanchi and Tirumala. In the next birth, he was born a preceptor.

The copper images of Chakra and Shanku with which Periya Nambi performed samasrayanam to Ramanuja, are still preserved in the temple along with the idol of Lord Krishna, who was the preceptor's exclusive deity.

Though the Lord is known as Aeri Katha Ramar as he saved the tank bund from collapsing, the priests in the temple give an interesting explanation for the name. According to them, the presiding deity here directed Ramanuja (through the priest) to go to Srirangam, take sanyasa and guard the big tank of Srivaishnavism which was till then looked after by Alavandar. Because of this too the Lord could be called Aeri Katha Ramar, they said.

It was known during the Chola and Pallava rule as Madhurantaka Chathurvedi Mangalam, perhaps named after the Chola king Madurantaka. Apart from Sages Sukar and Vipandakar, the Vaishnavite saint Thirumazhisai Azhwar also performed penance here though he had not sung about the place. In two of his poems, Saint Manavala Mamunigal asks everyone who wants to cast away his past sins to visit the place and worship the Lord at the place where Periya Nambi performed Panchasamskaram to Ramanuja. Sri Nigamanta Mahadesika also performed mangalasasanam to the Lord here.

There are separate shrines for Lakshmi Narasimhar, Periya Nambi and Ramanuja, Andal, Sudarsana and Vedanta Desika. The holy tank is opposite the temple. There is a separate shrine for Anjaneya, on the banks of the tank just opposite the temple. The Brahmotsavam is celebrated for 10 days in the Tamil month of Aani, the Thirukkalyana Utsavam takes place in Panguni, and Adhyayana Utsavam goes on for 22 days in Margazhi. A Sanskrit college run by the Ahobila Math to spread the glory of the language is located very near the temple.

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