Thiruvellarai — land of the white boar

The Pundarikaksha Perumal temple in Thiruvellarai ... where Mahasamprokshanam took place recently. — Pics. by R. M. Rajarathinam

The Pundarikaksha Perumal temple in Thiruvellarai ... where Mahasamprokshanam took place recently. — Pics. by R. M. Rajarathinam  

— Pics. by R. M. Rajarathinam

ONLY A handful of temples have been dedicated to Lord Varaha, the most important of them being those at Thiruvidaventhai (Thiruvidanthai), on way to Kadalmallai (Mahabalipuram) and Srimushnam, where the Lord is hailed as `Gnanapiran.' But one place, which bears the name of this incarnation is Swedha Varaha Kshethram or Thiruvellarai, 17 km from Tiruchi on the road to Thuraiyur, and it is one of the 108 holy places. But the Lord standing tall and facing east is known as Pundarikakshan or the `Lotus-eyed God.' This ancient temple has been renovated at a cost of Rs. 21.25 lakhs and the Mahasamprokshanam was performed on March 16.

Considered to be anterior to Srirangam, it is also known as Swedhagiri, Adhivellarai, Uthama Kshethram and Hita Kshethram. According to the Puranas, 64 `Chathuryugas' (the present Kaliyuga being one among them) have passed since the Lord was enshrined here and the temple was built by Emperor Sibi.

Bhoomidevi and Sage Markandeya were among those who worshipped the Lord here. Sibi brought 3,700 families of Srivaishnavite Brahmins from the banks of the Ganga and Yamuna and settled them here as per the advice of Sage Markandeya. When one of them passed away, the emperor was perturbed but the Lord told him that He would take the place of the 3,700th Brahmin.

According to another legend, the emperor, before he built the temple, one day saw a white boar (Swedha Varaham) in the forest and chased it. It hid itself in an anthill near the place where Sage Markandeya was doing penance. When he enquired the sage about the boar he asked him to pour milk over the anthill to find it.

He did so and found the massive idol of the Lord in its present form emerge from it. The Lord told the emperor to build a temple there. This was said to have happened millions of years ago.

The Goddess in this holy place is known by the beautiful names of Pankaya Selvi and Shenbagavalli. According to legend She did penance here for union with the Lord, who appeared as Krishna from a well known as `Poonkinaru,' long before the Lord took the incarnation as Devaki's son in Mathura. That seems to be the reason for Saint Periyazhwar addressing the Lord here as child Krishna. Assuming the role of Yasodha, he appeals to the Lord to allow Him to apply `Kaappu' on Him.

In ten poems, he portrays the childish pranks of Lord Krishna. But for Thirumangai Azhwar the Lord here is the one who took incarnations as Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Narasimha, Varaha and Koorma. He also refers to the Lord taking the form of Hamsa and Parimuka Perumal (Hayagriva), which are not so well known. He has also sung the glory of the Lord in his `Siriya Thirumadal' and `Periya Thirumadal.' Both the saints have dedicated to the Lord 24 Pasurams.

There are seven holy water sources in the temple known as Divya Theertham, Varaha Theertham, Kandha Pushkarani, Chandra Pushkarani, Padma, Pushkala and Manikarnika Theerthams. The temple, surrounded on all sides by 36-feet-high compound walls, has a 50-feet-high unfinished Rajagopuram at the entrance and resembles the Srirangam temple in many ways.

The utsavar idols of Sri Senthamarai Kannan and Senkamalavalli Thayar.

The utsavar idols of Sri Senthamarai Kannan and Senkamalavalli Thayar.  

Situated on a sprawling 10-acre site the temple has three Prakarams. Lord Pundarikaksha in the sanctum sanctorum is in a standing posture facing east. There are shrines for Krishna, Vishwaksenar, Nammazhwar, Chakarathazhwar, Nadhamunigal, Kulasekara Azhwar, Thondarippodi Azhwar, Andal, Ramanuja and Manavala Mamunigal.

There are two entrances to the main shrine — one opened during the Utharayanam (Thai to Ani months) and the other opened during the Dakshinayanam (Aadi to Margazhi). The Vimanam is known as Vimalakrithi Vimanam. There is a separate shrine for Goddess Pankaya Selvi on the right side and She is the custodian of the entire temple town. The Jeeyar here is known as `Pankaya Selvi Jeeyar.' The temple is famous for its `Swasthik Kulam' (Naalu Mooali Kaeni) on the southeastern side.

Ramanuja spent many years in this holy place. Vedanta Desika and Manavala Mamunigal also offered `Mangalasasanam' to Lord Pundarikaksha. Uyyakondar, a disciple of Nadhamunigal, was born here.

When Nadhamunigal, an expert in `Ashtanga Yoga,' offered to impart training in the same to him, Uyyakondar was said to have politely turned down the offer saying that `how can one celebrate a marriage in a house where death has occurred.'

The inference thereby was that when there were thousands of souls to be redeemed, there was no point in his learning the Yoga to attain eternal bliss.

He was said to have taught the people Azhwars' Divya Prabandam songs, which were brought back from the oblivion by his mentor. Another preceptor, Engalazhwan, who was an expert in Sri Bashyam, was born here.

The Pallava Kings have carved out two cave temples in the rocks in this place, and there are many inscriptions throwing light on the history of the Cholas and Pallavas. Historians consider one of them to belong to the period of `Pallava Malla' Nandivarman II and another belongs to the period of Rajaraja I.

The Swasthik tank in the temple finds mention in one of the inscriptions, which calls it `Maarpidugu Perunkinaru' and it was believed to have been dug up by Maarpidugu Ilangovelan Sathan, a feudal lord under Pallava kings.

There are also inscriptions of Hoysala kings here.

There is another cave temple carved out of a rock known as Swedhagiri where Lord Siva, known as `Vada Jambunathar' and Pundarikaksha are enshrined.

Inscriptions belonging to the period of the Pallava King Nandivarman, who won the battle of Thellaru, have also been found in this place.

The Saivite holy place of Thiruppaingneeli is situated near Thiruvellarai.

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