A sanctum for Saturn

THE SOUTH is known for its temples. Each temple is an architectural piece which speaks volumes for the craftsmanship of the sculptors of those days.

One such place is the Saneeswaran temple in Tirunallar in the Karaikal region of the Union Territory of Pondicherry. It is unique as it is believed to be the only temple in the country which has a separate sanctum for Sani - (Saturn), one of the navagrahas (nine planets). Legend says that the name `Thirunallar' denotes the association of King Nala who secured his redemption from the hold of Sani - (Saturn) through the grace of Lord Darbaranayaaswara - the presiding deity of the temple. The story of Nala and Damayanthi is well known to the Hindus. King Nala of the Nishadha kingdom known for his valour, wisdom, generosity and administrative skill had heard a lot about the beauty of Princess Damayanthi of the Vidharba kingdom. She in turn had heard much about him. Her father not aware of their feelings for each other arranged a ``Swayamvaram,'' a custom wherein the princess could choose her husband. Invitations were sent to all kings. The Devas also wanted to participate in it. At the ``Swayamvaram,'' Damayanthi chose Nala as her husband ignoring the Devas and thus incurred the wrath of the Devas who in order to punish her, submitted Nala to all sorts of hardships with the help of Sani - (Saturn) after his wedding.

He was made to lose his kingdom in a game of dice. Separated from his wife and children he spent his years elsewhere incognito. He was reunited later but was in a fit of depression, because he was still under the effect of Sani. On the advice of sage Narada he undertook a pilgrimage and finally reached Thirunallar, bathed in the temple tank and was released from the clutches of Sani. King Nala requested Sani to rule that place as Anugrahamurthy and Sani stayed back at the temple, promising not to touch any one who mentions the name of Nala. Thus was established the sanctum for Lord Saturn at the Thirunallar temple.

The ``Sani Peyarchi'' festival takes place once in two and a half years at this temple when Saturn moves from one house (constellation) to another. The planets influence the life of a person, so it is believed.

Of the nine planets, the ``Navagrahas,'' planets Venus (``Sukran''), Jupiter (``Guru''), Mercury (``Buddhan''), Moon (``Chandran''), Sun (``Suriyan'') and Ragu are labelled as benevolent planets while planets Mars, Ketu, and Sani are considered malefic. Sani (Saturn) however is the most dreaded of the Navagrahas. Though people say that a planet's good or bad effect depends on how it is placed in one's horoscope and that it is wrong to believe that Sani does only harm, the immediate reaction to ``Sani'' is one of fear.

People generally believe that any bad happening is due to the ill effects of Saturn. The seven and a half years (7-1/2 years) period of Saturn in a person's life is faced with apprehension by many and the Saturn temple in Thirunallar has now gained a lot of recognition.

It is well known today all over the country. Of all the Navgagrahas, no other planet instils so much fear in people's minds though, Saturn is not as malevolent as he is made out to be!