History & Culture

A slice of history

The sun dial embedded on the parapet of the southern wall of the enclosure and opposite to the Goddess sannadhi at the Sivayoginathar temple, "Tiruvisanallur.  

As if refurbishing the spiritual trail blazed by Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval, Sadasiva Brahmendra and Sadguruswamy, who spread the bhakti cult of Nama Siddhanta and bhajana paddathi throughout the Thanjavur delta during the rule of Sahaji II (1684-1712 A.D) and his successors, are the shrines of Sivayoginathar and Karkadeswarar, which bear the legacy of having been sung by Thirugnanasambandar alone. Both these temples are a must to visit especially when one takes part in the annual Ayyaval utsavam in the Tamil month of Karthigai or at any time of the year.

Thiruvisanullur, now part of Thiruvidaimarudur block, lies at a distance of eight kilometers to the east of Kumbakonam on the northern side of the River Cauvery. It went by the name of Sahajirajapuram after Sahaji II who donated it to 45 pandits.

The author had seen the sign board carrying the name, Sahajirajapuram at the entrance to the village from Kumbakonam-Thirumangalakudi road till 1950. It was also an Inam village till 1952. However, in ancient times it was referred to as Vembarrur and Thiruviyalur.

Massive enclosure

As one traverses from Kumbakonam, the first cut to the left after sighting Thiruvisanullur name board proceeds to Sivayoginathar temple at a distance of less than a kilometer. The temple with its massive enclosure and a five-tier rajagopuram stuns the visitor. Such a massive rajagopuram and the minor shrines inside it were indeed built by Rajendra Chola (1012-1044 A.D.)

When we stepped into this shrine on March 6 this year college students were engaged in sprucing up the sides of the enclosure infested with weeds and grass. When we tarried for a while, a few of them pointed out the sun dial embedded on the parapet of the southern wall of the enclosure and opposite to the Goddess sannidhi. It was hemi-spherical and denoted the time from sun rise to sunset. It was indeed amazing that the Cholas had not only marveled in temple architecture but also in science of reckoning time!

The presiding deity is a fine piece of lingam, and faces east. He is called Sivayoginathar because sage Siva yogi after intense tapas (penance) mingled with the eternal effulgence. He is also known as Puranadeeswarar as the shrine is said to have originated prior to all other shrines. Around the garbagraha there is an enclosure for circumambulation, and a sikara over this is attributed to Vikrama Chola (1118-35).

Chatur Kala Bhairavas

The uniqueness of the temple lies in the fact that there are chatur Kala bhairavas, instead of one, in the first enclosure, facing west. To their left side are Siva linga and Saneeswara idol accentuating the different stages in a man’s life, namely, brahmacharya, grahastasrama, vanaprasta and sanyasa. The Bhairavas’ delineating the four kalapramanas are Gnana Bhairava, Swarna akarshna Bhairava, Unmatha Bhairava and yoga Bhairava respectively.

The worship of Gnana Bhairava confers sound education and good employment. The second one blesses devotees with excellent growth in their career and enables acquisition of material gains. The third one promotes good health, financial stability and good luck. The fourth one focuses a devotee’s attention to attain moksha. It is claimed that lighting of lamps with black pepper on eight consecutive Sundays during “raghu kalam’ to chatur bhairavas would restore one’s lost property and wealth. Further, worship of chatur bhairavas on the eighth day of ‘Suklapaksham’ promotes advancement in business, and prosperity while in ‘Krishnapaksham’ protects the worshipper from evil spirit and envy besides, curing one’s diseases.

Royal donors

The goddess is Soundaranayaki, also known as Saanthanayaki. Her sannadhi is in the first ‘prakara’, and faces south. About hundred inscriptions were copied from this temple in the year 1907. It is seen from the inscription that the queen of Gandaraditya and mother of Uttama chola, Sembian Madeviar, had gifted gold ornaments and vessels to the temple. Rajaraja I and his queen performed ‘thulabara’ with gold at this temple. Among the royal donors were a Pandyan queen who gifted gold ornaments to it, and Krishnadevaraya who remitted certain taxes to it. It was renovated in 1909 and 1933 by the chettiars of Devakottai, and kumbabishekam performed. And now efforts are on to renovate it is evident from the scaffolding on the rajagopuram. The sacred tree is pipal and the theertham is Jatayu.

Just like how there are temples ear-marked for the nine planets in Thanjavur district (undivided), Sivayoginathar shrine has been singled out for those born in the rishabha rasi to visit as often as they could to overcome the malefic effects in their horoscope.

A reference about Nandhi is also available. Its head is slightly tilted to the right as if in a listening posture! It is said that in the very distant past, a man who led a dissipated life was nearing his end, and seized by the fear of Lord Yama came rushing to this temple calling forth the Lord’s names loudly. This stirred up the Nandhi to turn its head in the direction of the voice, and the deity, addressed by the Nandhi about his plight, granted him relief.

On coming out of Sivayoginathar shrine, we immediately drove to Karkadeswarar temple about half a kilometer on the same road. Originally, it was said to have been built with brick and mortar, and later on replaced with stones. There is no rajagopuram but a huge moat on the northern side called ‘Thirumaruvum Poikai’ which is said to harbour navabhashana wells with curative properties. The place where the temple is located, is called Thirundevankudi, which is but the corruption of “thiru nandu kudi’. This, and the Sanskrit name of the Lord connote that a crab must have worshipped Siva and attained salvation.

Legend has it that a yaksha who mimicked the gait of Sage Durvasa, noted for his irascibility, was cursed to be born as a crab in the above ‘theertham’ and worship Siva with lotus flower for the curse to be lifted. At the same time, Indra was said to be offering ‘puja’ daily to the Lord with 108 lotus flowers plucked and supplied by Varuna. As days wore out, Indra noticed one flower missing in his count and thereupon he traced the missing flower to the claws of a golden crab. Instead of killing it, he traced its path which led to the lingam. Before Indra caught it, it made a hole into the lingam and vanished. It is averred that after performing special ablution to the Siva lingam, the golden crab could be seen. However in the sanctum sanctorum, just above the lingam and to its side the configuration of the crab and its pathway are well etched on stone. The story of Durvasa is engraved on one of the pillars in the anterior hall.

Karkadeswaram or Thirundevankudi was once Aushadavanam and as such the Lord was known as Aushadavaneswarar. A Chola king who was afflicted with paralysis is said to have been cured of it by the God and Goddess who donned the roles of physician and nurse. In return, he started renovating the temple, and to his surprise, the idol of Goddess went missing and he commissioned the artisan to make one. This idol was christened Arumarundunayaki. After this, the original idol was traced out, and this was named Aboorvanayaki. The Goddesses are side by side near the bali peetam and face south.

Separate niches

On entering the temple one meets with a large stone pillared hall at a lower level, and from the door step one can sight a small tower over the garbhagriha. In the enclosure around it are found sannadhis for deities such as Ganapathy, Muruga, Gajalakshmi, Durga and Chandi. While Dakshinamurthy is on the southern side of smaller enclosure, the idols of the Saivaite quartet are on the left side of the entrance in a larger enclosure.

Sri Ramalinga Swamigal (Vallalar) of Vadalur has also sung in praise of this temple. The fact that Gnanasambandar had visited it ascribes its existence to the seventh century. It is ranked 42 among the 63 shrines lying north of the River Cauvery. It falls under the jurisdiction of the Executive officer of Koranattu Karuppur Sundareswarar temple.

Besides conferring relief from bodily ailments, worship of Karkadeswarar is to be earnestly sought for by those born in Kadaka rasi with ruling stars Punarpoosam, Poosam and Ayilyam.


The temple with its massive enclosure and a five-tier rajagopuram stuns the visitor.

The rajagopuram and the minor shrines inside it were indeed built by Rajendra Chola (1012-1044 A.D.)

Sivayoginathar shrine has been singled out for those born in the Rishaba rasi.

Sri Ramalinga Swamigal (Vallalar) of Vadalur has sung in praise of Karkadeswarar temple.

Karkadeswarar temple is to be sought for by those born in Kadaka rasi with ruling stars Punarpoosam, Poosam and Ayilyam.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 12:50:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/A-slice-of-history/article14674144.ece

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