A devotional landmark

THE TEMPLE city of Kumbakonam known as Kudamooku, Kudanthai, Kalyanapuram, Bhaskara Kshetram, Shiva Vishnupuram and Sarangarajanpatnam, acquired the last mentioned epithet thanks to the magnificent temple for Sarangapani which is centrally located. It is said to be 2,000 years old with a hoary past and is believed to have given `mukti' to Thirumazhisai Azhwar and Hema Rishi.

Thirumazhisai Azhwar, ardent devotee of Aravamudhan (Lord Sarangapani) was blessed by the Lord who slightly raised himself from the reclining pose, and thus transgressed the binding of `archavatharam'. As Thirumazhisai Azhwar, on being blessed, addressed Him in ecstasy as ``Vashi Kesane'', the presiding deity came to be known as ``Uddhana seri''. Legend has it that once while the `maha neivedyam' was being offered to the Lord Thirumazhisai Azhwar was also present in the Perumal sannadhi and the Lord let the Azhwar savour the `prasadam' first.

Of the 108 Vaishavite sthalams sanctified by `mangala sasanas' of the Azhwars, the Sarangapani temple ranks next to Thiruvarangam and Tirupati. The temple faces East and lies at a distance of two km from the bus stand and railhead.

The majestic rajagopuram is 11-tiered, and studded with sculptures in stucco work, which expound the mythological stories. It was constructed by Lakshminarayana Swamy, an unflinching devotee of Sarangapani, and disciple of Ayya Kumara Thathachariar, a religious consultant of the Nayaka rulers of Thanjavur in the 17th century, with funds raised from the public. Thathachariar had a separate sannadhi built for Komalavalli Thayar, consort of Sarangapani, on the right side of the Lord. In front of the Thayar Sannadhi is that of Ayya Kumara Thathachariar delineated as worshipping the Goddess. As Lakshminarayana Swamy had no children to perform the ceremony for him after his death it is said that on New Moon day in the Tamil month of Aippasi (the day he died), his `mukti' day, the Lord Himself performed the ceremony. The occasion is observed as an annual festival in this temple.

The presiding deity's four arms holds a conch, chakra, `gathai' (mace) and `sarangam' (bow) and `ghatya' (sword) on the waist. Reclining on Adiseshan, his right hand is cast in ``abhaya mudra''. The beautiful icon is housed in a ratha (chariot) like `garbhagriha' embellished with figures of elephants and horses.

Sarangapani has other appellations such as Aravamudhan, Abhayarthamirathan, Saranganathan and Saranga Raja. The presiding deity was christened Aravamudhan by Nammazhwar. In the ninth century, Nadamuni, who could lay hands only on 10 pasurams of Nammazhwar, searched and found the rest of the ``prabhandams'' and preserved them for posterity. Hence the presiding deity is also addressed as `Aravamudha Azhwar' and `Dravida Sruti dharshakar'.

The lustre and grandeur of the presiding deity have been graphically recapitulated by Thirumangai Azhwar in his verse.

The icon of Komalavalli Thayar is four-armed with a radiating smile on her face. Devotees are guided to worship the Goddess first and then the presiding deity. The temple follows `pancharathraagamam', and vadakalai samparadaya. In the inner enclosure of the temple is the mantap built by Mahendravarma Pallava (600-630 A.D.).

The temple has an interesting round of festivals throughout the year excepting in the Tamil month of Avani. There are other sannadhis in this temple like Padala Srinivasan, Perumal, Rajagopalan, Ramar, Kannan, Andal, Periazhwar, Nikandama Desikan and Azhwars.

The `maha kumbhabhishekam' of the temple was performed in 1999 after a gap of 35 years.