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Vatarangam, seat of Hari and Haran

Two ancient temples in Vatarangam, one of Lord Narayana and the other of Lord Siva, are in ruins. T. A. SRINIVASAN writes about the special aspects of the place that has to be preserved.

The Moolavar and Utsavar idols of Lord Ranganatha and Goddess Ranganayaki in Vatarangam ... as holy as the Srirangam shrine.

NUMEROUS ARE the holy places in the country where Lord Narayana has manifested Himself and of them 108 have been identified as Divyadesas as they have been sanctified by the Azhwars' hymns. Twenty-four of them are considered to be of special significance and 12 of them are the holiest of these holy places, according to the ``Bavishyothara Purana." They are Srirangam, Darbaranyam (Thiruppullani near Ramanathapuram), Srimushnam near Chidambaram, a Swayamvyakta Kshethram or the holy place that came on its own and where Lord Bhuvaraha is enshrined, Seshabootharam (Tirumala hills), Naimisham or Naimisaranyam in the north, where the Lord is worshipped in the form of a forest (Aranyaroopi Bhagavan), Kurukshethram in Haryana where the Mahabharata war was fought and where the Lord gave His sermon on the battlefield, Syananduram or Tiruvananthapuram, Totadri or Vanamamalai in the south, Azhwarthirunagari near Tirunelveli, the birthplace of Nammazhwar, Kandikadri (in Nepal), Badrikasramam and Vatarangam near Sirkazhi, birthplace of the Saivite saint, Tirugnanasambandar.

The last mentioned is considered to be one of the five "Rangams" or the holy places situated between two rivers. The "Pancha Rangams" are Srirangapattinam in Karnataka, known as Adhi Rangam, Srirangam, Appalarangam or Koviladi, Parimala Rangam or Mayuram and Vatarangam. Some devotees include in this list Kumbakonam as Chathurtha Rangam by omitting one of the places. In all these places Lord Ranganatha, reclining on Adisesha, is the presiding deity. The last place in this list is known as Vada Rangam as it is situated north of all these places (Vada in Tamil means north) or as Vata Rangam as the temple was once located in a forest of banyan (vata in Sanskrit) trees. Though there are not many banyan trees in the area now, the single tree found near the temple lends credence to this view The deity in the ancient temple in Srivilliputtur is known as "Vatapatrasayee" or the Lord lying under a banyan tree.

This place is considered to be as holy as Srirangam as the temples of Lords Ranganatha and Sri Jambukeswara are situated close to each other. Both the temples are in a highly dilapidated condition now due to the ravages of nature and the fury of the floods in the Kollidam. The river was once flowing near the temples after taking a turn towards the north (Utharavauhini). A river that flows from the south to the north is considered to be particularly sacred. A major part of the village of Vatarangam was washed away by floods 85 years ago. The ruins of houses, remains of some trees and the two dilapidated temples bear evidence to this fact.

Craving for care ... the Jambunathar Temple at Vatarangam covered with trees and shrubs.

According to the sthalapurana in Sanskrit, which is included in the eighth chapter of the Kshethrasara Kandam of the ``Bavishyothara Purana," which has been rendered in Tamil, the mere mention of the name of Vataranyam or Vatarangam washes away one's sins. It says the place is surrounded by the sea in the east, Therazhundur in the southeast, Sirkazhi in the northeast, Chidambaram or Thiruchithrakootam in the north and Pappakudi or Varadaraja Kshetram in the west. It was known as Punnagavana Kshetram in the Kritha Yuga, as Thulasivanam in the Thretha Yuga, Vagularanyam in the Dwapara Yuga and Vataranyam in the Kali Yuga.

There are many legends connected to the place. River Cauvery got relieved of the curse of Sage Agasthya by taking bath in the Sanka Theertham and worshipping the Lord and His Consorts here. The story goes that Cauvery once did penance in the Malaya Parvatham seeking a status above that of the Ganges. Sage Agasthya, enchanted by her beauty, wanted to marry her and tried to disturb her penance. When she did not respond, he cursed her to remain unmarried forever. She pleaded with him for forgiveness and said that one of her forms, Lopamudra, would become his wife. Satisfied with her reply, the sage asked her to go to Vataranyam, take bath in Sanka Theertham there and worship the Lord for seven days. The Cauvery obeyed him and was not only relieved of the curse but was reunited with her husband, Samudrarajan (sea).

According to another legend, the son of Chandrakeerthi, a Saurashtra king, was once afflicted by leprosy and got cured after taking bath in Sanka Theertham and worshipping the Lord here. The king built the temple tower, sanctum sanctorum, Vimanam, Prakaras and Theertha Mandapam. He also restarted the festivals conducted in the temple in the past by Sage Vasishta. The sage, who lost his son and was doing penance after visiting holy places like Varanasi in the morning, Srirangam at noon and Sethu in the evening every day, could not keep his schedule one day and wanted to end his life. But the Lord appeared before him and told him that he could worship Him at Vatarangam after bathing in Sanka Theertham, which would be equal to his having visited the three holy places.

The sage followed the Lord's instructions and prayed to Him to be present in the place and bless the devotees forever. He directed Viswakarma to build a complete temple with "Saptha Prakaras", Vahanas, Rathas, Agraharas and Mandapams. He also conducted the main festival in the temple in the Tamil month of Vaikasi.

The outer view of the sanctum sanctorum ... at present daily worship on a small scale is all that takes place.

According to another legend, Vikraman, son of Namuchi, a demon, who wished to get a boon that he could not be destroyed by anyone at any time, did penance for 100 years at Gokarnam. But Lord Siva did not appear before him, and he went to Mathrubootheswaram near Vellore and also did penance at Vriddhachalam by digging a pit. As he was an evil force, the celestials and Brahma pleaded with Lord Narayana to annihilate him and He sent the Panchajanya, the Divine Conch, to kill him. The weapon chased him and slew him at Vatarangam. To purify it the Lord asked all the rivers to mingle in the tank there and dipped the Panchajanyam into it. Hence it came to be known as Sanka Theertham.

It is a pity that the two temples of great antiquity and with a hoary past are in ruins now. Lord Jambukeswara, referred to as Jambunathar here, is worshipped in a separate shrine though not much is known about the sthalapuranam. The Goddess here is known as Akhilandeswari. Lord Ranganatha's Moolavar idol is very small when compared with those in other places, and hence it is known as Balarangam.

It is said that after the floods 85 years ago, many residents left the village as they had lost their hearth and homes. Some of them were good enough to collect the idols and other belongings of the temple and install them in a hurriedly built temporary temple complex. A new permanent structure that was contemplated then never took shape. Only daily worship on a small scale is conducted now according to the Vaikhanasa Agama and no festival is held.

Srimad Andavan and the Paramacharya of Kanchi visited the temple in the past. An interesting incident took place during the Paramacharya's visit some 50 years ago. He was being carried in a palanquin and while passing through the place he saw the Vimanams of the two temples, but finding the area deserted he remained in the palanquin. But one of the two arms of the palanquin broke and it was dropped. Considering it to be a Divine act, the Acharya got down from the palanquin, went inside the two temples and spent a long time before the deities with his eyes closed.

The village was the home of many nagaswara vidwans in the past. Some of the families are still there, teaching the younger generation the art. To reach it one has to travel on the Chennai-Chidambaram road, pass through Coleroon and Sirkazhi and then branch off the main road and travel a distance of 12 km before reaching Vatarangam. It is situated between Sirkazhi and Vaitheeswarankoil.

It has been estimated that a sum of Rs. 35 lakhs would be needed to rebuild the two temples and construct a community hall to help the villagers in conducting nagaswaram classes and competitions, folk arts, etc. It will be a pity if a temple complex with such great history and antiquity is allowed to deteriorate and pass into oblivion. Those who want to be associated with this holy task of renovation may contact Mr. V. Narayanan, Farm House Estate, old no. 264, new no. 292, TTK Road, Chennai-600018 (phone no. 24993917).

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