Salvation for the sages
The five-tier Rajagopuram of Saptharisheeswarar temple, Lalgudi.
ARUDHRA FESTIVAL is celebrated with great gusto and gaiety at the Saptharisheeswarar temple in Thiruthavathurai (Lalgudi), Tiruchi district. According to mythology, the presiding deity of the temple, Lord Siva, conveys the message that even the wisest and most venerated sages will have to undergo punishment if, in a fit of anger, they take any action which will hurt their chaste wives. With the great river Coleroon flowing near the town, the Saptharisheeswarar temple, dating back to the seventh century, is a marvellous example of the devotion of Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Nayak kings to the art and craft of building temples. Saint-composer Tyagaraja had offered homage to the Lord by composing the Lalgudi Pancharathna kritis in ragas Bhairavi, Todi, Kalyani, Kambhoji and Madhyamavathi.
These songs, along with the 112 Pillai Tamil hymns composed by Meenakshisundaram Pillai and the hymn of Arunagiri Nathar are inscribed on the walls of the Amman (Perunthiru Piratii) temple.
The sanctum sanctorum of the Saptharisheeswarar temple is facing west and the Amman shrine the east. The five-tier majestic Rajagopuram with beautiful sculptures welcomes the devotees.
As one enters the temple via the Thiruvathirai mandapam, one can see the 12 rasis engraved on the ceiling. Separate shrines for Mahalakshmi and Saraswathi in the Maha Mandapam are special features. Close-by are the idols of Athri, Brigu, Pulasthiyar, Vasishtar, Gowthamar, Angeerasar and Marichi offering worship to the Lord. Lord Siva created from his own self, Lord Muruga, to annihilate the demon Tharaka. The seven rishis agreed that they would look after little Muruga in their own ashrams.
However Arundathi, Vasishtar's wife refused to nurse the baby and offer milk. This infuriated the sages and they sent away their wives from their hermitages.
When Lord Muruga came to know of this, he cursed that the seven sages should take birth on earth and undergo many sufferings.
The rishis took birth on earth and did penance in the Panchanadeeswarar temple in Tiruvaiyaru on the banks of the Cauvery.
Lord Saptharisheeswarar, satisfied that the sages had suffered enough gave them salvation. Since the seven rishis had offered prayers to end their miseries, this place is known as Thiruthavathurai.
The Utsavar idol of Lord Saptharisheeswarar at Lalgudi
Thirunavakkarasar and Thirugnana Sambandar both refer to the greatness of the Thiruthavathurai temple in their hymns.
There are over 120 inscriptions, Pallava, Chola and Pandya. The Pallava king Nandi Potharayan had made a donation for the temple for lighting lamps and conduct of festivals.
King Rajakesari Varman in his inscriptions prescribes punishment for those who do not perform the task of lighting lamps assigned to them
The Ardhanareeswara, Bikshandar and Veenadhara Dakshinamurthi granite idols in the koshtas of the sanctum sanctorum are the finest pieces of Chola sculpture.
A unique feature of the Navagrahas in the temple is that they all are facing the Sun God. A very rare Siva sculpture with Kattuvanga and one of Chamundi have been found by the scholars of the Dr. Rajamanickanar Center for Historical Studies.
In all the ancient scriptures and records the place is known as Thiruthavathurai. However during the invasion of Malik Kafur down south the troops were wonderstruck by the red tint at the top of the temple tower and called the place Lalgudi (red town) and the place came to be known by that name. The Swayambu Siva Lingam in the sanctum sanctorum is also seen with a red tinge.
Arudhra is the most important festival in the temple. Nine days prior to the Arudra Darshan day, music, discourses and mythological plays are staged at the special mantapam that attracts devotees.
On the day prior to the Arudra festival idols of the Lord and Amman are decorated in the special Thiruvavaduturai mandapam and taken out in a procession. Chitra Pournami, Adipooram , Navarathri, Skanda Sashti, Thai poosam, Vasanthotsavam, etc. are celebrated in the temple with traditional fervour. Special mention may be made of the Saptha-Sthana festival in the month of Panguni (March-April) when the Lord in procession visits the important temples in Idayathamangalam, Manthurai, Angarai, Anbil Thurai, Manakkal, Mayilrangam and Sathyamangalam. The sacred tree of the temple is the banyan. Kumbabishekam was performed in 1952 and 1993.
The temple car
The Saptharisheeswarar temple car is the third tallest in the state after the Tiruvarur and Tiruvidaimarudhur temples in Thanjavur district. The temple car, however, had its last run in 1936. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of the temple authorities the car with brilliant and intricately carved wooden panels are preserved under a tin roof. One of the panels portrays an aerial view of the Saptharisheeswarar temple with the seven sages offering homage to the Lord from above. The devotees wish that if the car festival cannot be celebrated for logistic reasons at least during the Chitirai festival, temple car should be kept open and prayers offered to the deities placed in the temple car.
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