History & Culture

A forgotten temple

The seven-tier rajagopuram of Vengadampettai temple. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The car driver was clueless about the Vengadampettai temple. He said he had passed by the village many times and had even seen a run-down gopuram, but he didn’t know anything about the temple. When we arrived, we found only the priest there. Later a couple of village children joined us. Entry into the temple is not through the seven-tiered rajagopuram, for there is the possibility that it might collapse on some hapless devotee.

The temple is believed to have been built by a woman named Venkatamma, who was the sister of a ruler of Gingee, who hailed from this village. One of the Mac Kenzie manuscripts says that Venkatapathi, who ruled Gingee about 1478 A.D., was from the village of Vengadampettai. So maybe Venkatammal was his sister. The earliest inscription in the temple is dated 1776 A.D. It talks of the building of a rest house by Muthu Vijaya Anandaranga Thiruvengada Pillai of Puducherry.

Although the presiding deity is Venugopalan, there is also a sannidhi for a 19-feet long Lord Rama, in a reclining pose, with a reposeful smile. Around 200 years ago, this idol was discovered in a pond called Senkuttai, which is to the West of the temple, and the Rama idol was also installed in the temple. Here Rama is seen reclining on a seven hooded snake, with Sita and Veera Anjaneya at His feet.

Unique Garuda

The Garuda in this temple is unique, as he is seen seated in Padmasana pose, with a snake draped around his left arm, its stretched hood resting on his thigh.

Opposite the temple entrance is the unjal madapam, which has 16 pillars, each 50 ft high. It is dangerous to get too close to this mandapam, because it is in danger of disintegration. Besides, the path to it is blocked by bushes.

A little away from this unjal mandapam is the huge temple tank, which is about an acre in extent. The sthapathy, who designed and built the temple, was buried close to this tank, and a small mandapam marks the place. There is also a shed that was once used for the temple elephants - there were three or four once upon a time. The temple chariot has disintegrated due to lack of attention, but plans are afoot to have one built again and to celebrate all the festivals once again with the same fervour. The ‘ther mutti,’ and the shed of the chariot can still be salvaged. A huge wall - 236 ft in length and 129 ft in breadth runs around the temple. This is yet to be repaired.

The main temple has been repaired, and the collapsed walls reconstructed painstakingly. Plans are afoot to restore the unjal mandapam and the rajagopuram too. The temple is under the control of the HR and CE, but repair work has been largely through the initiative of Arumuga Bhaskara Gurukkal, of the Kamakshi temple in Germany. That the period look of the temple has not in any way been spoilt is a feather in the cap of those who have taken up the restoration work. But village children, despite exhortations to them not to spoil the spruced up walls, insist on putting down their names and hall ticket numbers on the walls! This only goes to show, that for conservation efforts to succeed, we need to educate the public on the value of heritage, and that such education should begin in schools.

How to get there: If you are travelling from Panruti, proceed towards the Neyveli arch gate. Vengadampettai is five kms from there. If you are travelling from Chidambaram, take the Cuddalore–Vridhachalam road, and ask for Kurinjippadi town, from where Vengadampettai is three kms.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 12:19:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/a-forgotten-temple/article3257923.ece

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