Tiruchendur Muruga, Lord of Infinite Grace
by V.S. Krishnan
"If you want to free yourself from the consequence of karma and elevate yourself to the state of union with Paramatma, come to Tiruchendur and seek the Lotus Feet of Lord Muruga."
So sang a great saint, Kumara Guruparar in his immortal verses, Kandar Kali Venba. Many devotees have rendered the glory of Muruga in beautiful verses and above all of them, there was Arunagirinathar who made a complete description of Muruga by highlighting his qualities of compassion, His enormous power, His magnificent beauty and his masterly knowledge.
Śrī Subrahmanya Swami Devasthanam, Tiruchendur
Arunagirinathar sings: "The bushes in the Tiruchendur water were destroyed by the multiplying selfish. The aspirations of girls to have the Kadappa garland worn by the Lord were destroyed. At the touch of the vel hurled by Muruga, the demon Soorapadman and his illusory mountain were destroyed. Similarly, at the touch of Tiruchendur Muruga's Lotus feet upon my head, all my fates are destroyed" (Sel Pattazhinthadu...)
Tiruchendur is located in the far southeast of the subcontinent on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. The Muruga temple, built by Visvakarma, is considered one of the most important pilgrim centres of Tamil Nadu. Ranked second among the six sacred abodes of Muruga, Tiruchendur is also known as Jayantipuram, denoting the victory achieved by the Lord. As the rays of the rising sun cast its brilliant rays on the temple tower, the presiding deity of Tiruchendur looks enchantingly beautiful. The Lord has been rightly described as one shining like thousands of rising sun (Kodi Surya Prakasa).
According to Kanda Puranam, Muruga has come into being in order to destroy the evil forces and protect the devotees. Soorapadman the demon was terrorizing the Devas. He held Jayanthan, son of Lord Indra and other devas as captives. Lord Muruga camped at Tiruchendur along with his contingent and deputed his messenger Veerabahu to negotiate for the release of the Devas.
Skanda Sasti is celebrated every year in all Muruga temples. The Sashti celebration at Tiruchendur is unique because on this day the actual annihilation of demon Soorapadman took place here. The celebrations start six days in advance and culminate by enacting Soorasamharam. The colourfully decorated deity is taken out to the seashore in a huge procession. Lakhs and lakhs of devotees congregate here to witness the ceremony of Muruga destroying the evil forces represented by Sooran.
The devotees start austerities and discipline well in advance and prepare themselves for the great event of Kanda Sasti to worship the Lord and receive His bountiful blessings. Many devotees having different aspirations observe the austerities, especially the women-folks not blessed with motherhood. There is a popular saying in Tamil "Chattiyil Irunthal Aappayil Varum" which means that only when the pot has some contents, one can draw from it. The underlying meaning is that one who observe austerities during Sashti would be blessed with the boon of a baby ("Sashtiyil (Vridham) Irundhal Agappyil (womb) Varum").
It is indeed a rare spectacle when the scene of Sooran's fall is re-enacted on the Kanda Sasti day. The grand celebrations come to an end with abhisheka (anointment) performed on the lance (vel) held by the Lord. The devotees return with a great sense of satisfaction that whenever they face threats or challenges in life, Lord Muruga would come to their rescue and guide them to the path of perfection.
The legendary vel, called vetri vel is associated with victory. When Soorapadman took the form of a tree, the vel hurled by the lord pierced it.
Arunagirinathar says that even the mammoth mountain and the ocean were shaken by its impact (Malai Mavu Sindha Alai Velai Anja Vadi Velerindha adhi dheera). The dying demon in the tree form became two parts at the strike of the vel. He repented for his misdeeds and surrendered to the Lord. Lord Muruga, full of compassion, accepted him by converting him as his vehicle (peacock) and banner (rooster). While mentioning various qualities of Muruga, Thanigaimani Chengalvarayan gives one more description of Muruga "a beautiful wood crafter", as he made peacock and rooster out of a wooden tree.
When Adi Sankara was afflicted with a serious ailment, he heard an ethereal voice advising him to go to Tiruchendur. The acharya came here, worshiped the Lord and received the prasad wrapped in the leaf of panneer tree. Finding himself completely cured, Acharya then composed his immortal works, "Subrahmanya Bhujangam". Here, he says: "He who worships Muruga at Tiruchendur and chants Subrahmanya Bhujangam would get all happiness, health and prosperity and reach the Lotus Feet of Lord Muruga" (Bhujangakya Vruthena).
In Tiru Murugatrupadai, Saint Nakkeerar says: "All the ordeals that I face would melt the moment I mention the sacred name of Velavan who resides at Senthil. The evil effects arising out of my karma that have come to me and that will come to me would disappear the moment I utter the name of the Lord of Tiruchendur. Those who apply the sacred ash (vibhuti) and utter the name of the lord would have no fear from any side whatsoever (vanda vinayum varukindra val vinayum kandanenrusolla kalangume). Nakkeerar gives another name to Tiruchendur: "Tirucheeralvai".
Arunagirinathar conveys the same idea in Kandar Alamgaram. "So long as you are beside me, so long as your six sacred faces and the twelve helping hands are there and so long the grace of your lotus feet adorned by thandai, your broad shoulders adorned by kadampa garland are there before me, how can the movement of planets affect me? (Nal en seyum, vinai thaan en seyum). Perhaps, in keeping with the spirit of this hymn, the shrine of planetary gods (navagraha sannadhi) that form part of any temple is not found here.
The temple of Tiruchendur built many centuries ago and renovated by Pandya and Chera kings is exquisitely designed. It is a beautiful poem created in stone and an architectural marvel. The majestic nine-storey tower was constructed 350 years ago by Sri Desikamurthy Swami of the Tiruvavaduthurai Mutt. With the main gate facing the south, the temple has three circular ways (prakarams). The third outer prakaram borders on the sea and the main entrance to the temple is on its southern side through the famous hall called Shanmugha Vilasa Mandapam.
On the northern side, there is a cave temple for Valli. The scenes depicting the destruction of Sooran is carved here in stone. There are 24 wells containing holy water including the Skanda Pushkarani. In the second prakara, there are linga shrines for Lord Vinayaga, Arunagirinathar, Lord Venkatachalapathi and Santhana Krishnan. On entering the first prakara, one finds separate shrines for Valli and Deivanai. On the western side, there are niches for Viswanathar and Visalakshmi.
As the devotee reaches the sanctum sanctorum, he finds lord Muruga in in all splendour and glory. The Lord here appears as a youth with a single face and four hands. The uthsava murthy (Arumugha) with six faces and twelve hands flanked by His consorts faces south. This is positioned in such a way that those worshiping the Lord from the Sanmugha vilasa mandap outside can also have a good view. Both for the presiding deity and the Utsava Murthi daily pujas are performed in accordance with Agama Sastras.
Inside the temple, there are eight lingas, symbolising the five elements (Panchboothas) sun, moon, fire, water, air space and Jyoti and Atma. It is believed that Lord Muruga worshiped these lingas after the destruction of Soorapadman and created a pond called Skanda Pushkarani with His vel. Though located near the sea, the water in this well is not salty and is believed to have medicinal properties. The salty air had its impact on the structure of the temple and the gopuram. Extensive renovation was carried out and kumbhabhishekam has been performed in accordance with the stipulations of agama sastras.
It is believed that Arunagirinathar was blessed with the vision of the Lord when the saint visited Tiruchendur on the seventh day of the Brahmotsavam festival in the Tamil month of Masi. As the deity decorated was being taken out in a colourfully decorated chariot, in step with the tune of the song "Athala sera Naarada" rendered by Arunagirinathar, the Lord performed the dance to the delight of the sage.
This divine experience of having seen the Lord in all His exuberance is described by Arunagirinathar in his song "thandayani vendayum, kingini sadhangayum…" Arunagirinathar has composed total of 84 songs on the Lord of Tiruchendur. The song which starts with the words "iyalisai" says: "Oh Lord of Tiruchendur, I seek your blessings to have a mind free from attachments or diversions so that I can keep chanting your powerful shadakshara mantra always".
According to a story narrated in a journal, in 1648 Dutch raiders tried to carry away the idol of Shanmukhar of Tiruchendur. After extricating the idol, they boarded their ship. As they were sailing, huge waves assailed the ship forcing them to drop the idol at mid sea. (From the book Historic India published by M. Rannel from Berlin in 1785.)
In 1653 when Vadamalaiyappa Pillaiyyan, the local administrator of the Nayakkan ruler at Tirunelveli, arranged to instal another idol, in a dream he was ordered to look for the image at the spot whereon a lime fruit would be found floating, and the place marked by the circling overhead of a kite, the bird of Vishnu. Accordingly, a search was made and the idol was found and retrieved to its position.
The glory of Tiruchendur Muruga has been hailed by Appar Swamigal in Thevaram, Kumaraguru Swamigal in Kandar Kali Venba and Pakazhi Koothar in Pillai thamizh. Ilango Adigal describes Muruga as the Lord who ever radiates his grace from his abodes like Senthil, sengodu and Erakam. The place has been variously described by Tamil scholars as "Sundara Senthil", "Manohara Senthil" etc. Kumaraguruparar was born dumb and he surrendered before the Lord of Tiruchendur. Pleased with his devotion, the Lord blessed him with a voice by which the devotee hailed the glory of the God in magnificent verses.
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