ONE OF the oldest parts of Chennai is Tiru-alli-keni, anglicised as Triplicane, which means the sacred lily tank. The place is named after the large, beautiful tank in front of the temple of Lord Parthasarathy. The beauty of the place, its thick groves, tall mansions and the architecture of the temple have been extolled by Tirumangai Azhwar in a string of 10 verses (padikam). The temple is unique in many ways. It has two main shrines built back-to-back one facing East (for Lord Parthasarathy) and the other facing West (for Lord Narasimha).
This has necessitated two 10-day annual festivals, Brahmotsavas in the months of Chitra (April-May) and Ani (June-July), respectively.
It is one of the very few shrines in the country dedicated to Lord Krishna as Parthasarathy, that is, charioteer of Partha or Arjuna, which role he took in the Mahabharata war. Unusually, he is depicted with a prominent moustache and carries a conch in his hand. Also unusual is the iconographical combination found in the sanctum. Here, Krishna is seen standing with consort Rukmini, elder brother Balarama, son Pradyumna, grandson Aniruddha and Satyaki. They are taken to represent Pancha Vrishnis, and conceptually Pancharathra or the Bhagavata worship. Because of the association of the temple with Krishna, Tiruvallikeni came to be regarded as the Southern Brindavana.
The first architectural expansion of the temple took place during the reign of the Pallavas (Tondaiyar Kon) as vividly described by Tirumangai Azhwar. Reminiscent of this is the inscription of the Pallava King Dantivarman (796-847 A.D.), which is preserved in the temple.
The temple witnessed a major expansion during the rule of the Vijayanagar kings like Sadasiva Raya, Sriranga Raya and Venkatapati Raya II (16th Century). Many subshrines and pillared pavilions (mandapas) like the Tiruvaimozhi Mandapa were added.
Tiruvallikeni is noted for its colourful festivals throughout the year. The recitation of the 4,000 hymns of the Azhwars is a great tradition preserved in this temple for generations. The 10-day Brahmotsava festival for Lord Parthasarathy, this year, which commenced in April came to an end on May 4.
K. V. RAMAN
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