Articles by Rajani Arjun Shankar and Veena Venkatramani
Veenavaadhini’s Trip to Palani and Tiruchengodu - Veena Venkatramani
On the night of 21st of August, a band of people left from the Chennai Central, making our way to Pazhani,
travelling on the Pazhani Express. Comprising people from the ages of 10 to 60, all 15 of us were geared up for
the two day visit to the temples of Pazhani, Tiruchengode and Namakkal. In keeping with custom, our
teachers, Jeyaraaj sir and Jaysri ma’am had planned the annual trip of our Veenavaadhini school. We visit a
different temple each year, and sing compositions of Muthuswamy Dikshitar which are particular to those
locations. This time too, a week before the trip, we had learnt the songs that were to be sung this time, and
had a final group rehearsal as well. We were all set to go.
We reached Pazhani at 7 the next morning, and made our way to Ganesh Lodge. The lodge, albeit small, makes
up for its size by having a wonderful view of the temple atop the hill. It is bang opposite the foot of the Pazhani
malai, and if you’re lucky enough to have a room facing that side, you can see the temple at any time from
your room as well. After a quick breakfast, we dressed up in the chosen colour for the day, purple, and set out.
Some of us had already begun rehearsing the songs that we would be singing under our breath, looking up
lyrics on the internet, or in our notebooks. There are two ways to get on top of the hill, on which the temple
stands. One is by a 4-seater cable car, and the other would be to walk up the mountain by foot. Every day
witnesses several of ardent devotees making their way up the temple, after getting off to a good start by
praying at the Pillaiyar kovil that is built at the foot of the ascending steps. Since we had elderly people
amongst us, and were afraid that the sun would rise soon and make us sweat it out, we decided to go up by
the cable cars. And it was a good decision. The view that the cable car affords us is fantastic. In a 5 minute
journey, you can see the entire town surrounding the hill, and the enveloping Western Ghats in the distance,
and the sight of lush greenery makes a good start to the pilgrimage. As you reach the top, you can also see the
nearby Idumban hill.
Legend has it that Idumban was an asura, who was taking two hills from the northern Himalayas, slung across
his shoulders. With Shiva’s abode in the north in Kailasam, it was believed that the world was tilting to the
north, and thus to retain this balance, he was carrying these hills to the South. On his way, he stopped at
Pazhani for a brief rest. Once rested, when he got up to continue his journey, he found that he could not lift
one of the hills. On a closer observation, he found Murugan, who had just left his parents’ house in anger after
being fooled out of the Gnanapazham, was sitting atop the hill. Humbled at being defeated by a lad after the
ensuing fight, he left the hills as they were and became an ardent devotee of Murugan himself. As the Pazhani
Murugan temple was built atop one hill, a temple for Idumban was built on the other, and can be seen directly
We reached the temple walls and entered the sannidhi of the God. We were told that the “aarathi” would take
place in half an hour. The sastrigal of the inner sanctorum desired us to sing songs as we waited, and thus we
sang, “Sri Guruguha” in Devakriya, “Saravana Bhava ennum” in Shanmugapriya.
Pazhani murugan is depicted as a hermit, with a stick, the dandham in his hand, and is called Dandayudhapani.
It is said that the idol of the God here is made by Bogar muni, on the 18 rishis of lore. An ardent devotee of
Murugan, he made the idol out of 9 poisonous substances, known as the Navapashanam, which when
combined together, form a medicinal substance. The priests here perform paalabhishekham to the idol and
the milk when drunk is supposed to provide a cure for various maladies. Over the years, with various
abishekhams, the idol has somewhat diminished in size, since it is made out of herbs, and not out of metal.
As the aarathi was performed, we sang Dandayudhapanim, composed by Dikshitar, in Anandabhairavi. We
also sang two tiruppugazh, Kariya periya in ragam Mohanam, and Apakaram, in the ragam Chakravaham.
Next, we saw the shrine built to Bogar muni, with the maragathalingam, and other idols that the muni is
supposed to have worshipped. According to history, the muni is supposed to have entered a cave below the
shrine one day when he felt he was nearing his end, and rumoured never to have come back. He is said to have
attained Jeevasamadhi in the cave below. It is also said that the cave has a direct tunnel to the shrine of
Murugan. The muni is said to have built 9 idols of Murugan, but only one is known to priests.
Having finished a pradakshanam of the temple, and buying the famous Panchamritam, some of us decided to
go back down the hill by cable car, while some of the others walked down the steps. The walk down takes
around 20 minutes, and is quite tiring for somebody who is not used to exercise, as the steps are plenty in
number and a little steep. The road back to the hotel was littered with shops selling all kinds of odds and ends,
and several juice shops, intended to help travelers beat the heat.
We ate our lunch at a restaurant called Nalapakam. The meal here is typical elai sapaadu, and is a treat to the
taste buds. The food is served over several courses, and the paruppu podi deserves a special mention. It was
served with ghee, and very soon all of us were craving for more. We were served rice with sambar, rasam,
podi, morkozhambu and curd rice with a strong vetthakozhambu, and the entire meal was unforgettable. How
much ever we may delight in other cuisines, there is nothing like well-made South India “meals”.
That evening was spent in some of us taking rest and some of us shopping, and soon we had to leave for Erode
by road. We left at 5 p.m., and reached Erode by 8, had dinner, and slept, resting ourselves for the temples to
be visited the next day.
We left from Erode at 8 in the morning, all dressed in yellow. The journey from Erode to Tiruchengode was an
hour long, and we played a Carnatic antakshari as we went, to pass the time. The temple of Tiruchengode is
dedicated to Ardhanareeshwar, an avatar, the right half of which is Shiva, and the left, his consort Parvathi.
According to history, one of the 18 rishis, Bringhimunivar, was an ardent devotee of Shiva. Seeing his immense
devotion, Parvathi requested Shiva to make her a part of him so that the muni would worship her as well. To
accede to her request, Shiva took the form of Ardhanareeshwarar, a half-man, half-woman avatar. The muni,
however, turned himself into a bee, and continued to circle just the face of Shiva. An angry Parvathi cursed the
muni to hell. Although the muni’s curse was later on broken, that is a story for another temple.
The temple atop a plateau, and overlooks a vast plain, surrounded by ranges of hills. At the time we went, a
slight mist was beginning to blanket the surroundings, giving the entire area a slight chill. A colourful gopuram
tops the temple, with figurines of various gods and goddesses. In order to enter the temple, we had to
descend several steps. At the top of the steps, the gopuram is almost at eye level. This makes it all the more
noticeable, unlike other temples where one has to crane one’s neck and look up in order to appreciate the
beauty of the gopuram. The walls of the temple were crooked, and a quaint sky blue. To the left, there was a
flight of steps leading back up to the hill top. To our surprise, there was no crowd at the temple, which meant
we could get a longer Darshan of the idol.
At the entrance to the sannidhi, there is an idol of Nari Ganapathy. The story is that Pillaiyar turned into a lady
to assist Ambal when she visited the area, and is thus known as Nari Ganapathy.
Inside the sannidhi, the walls are decorated with colourful paintings explaining the story of Bringhimunivar and
Ardhanareeshwarar. We were allowed the privilege of sitting just outside the sanctum sanctorum, allowing us
to have an extremely close look of the idol. The face of the idol is substituted by a lingam. There is a very
visible gold thali around the neck of the idol, symbolizing the female half. The rest of the idol is draped in a
white veshti. While the sastrigal performed the arathi, we sang “Ardhanareeshwaram” in the ragam
Kumudakriya, a composition of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, in roopakam. Completing the arathi, the priest then
lifted the veshti of the idol, and allowed us a glimpse of the legs of the idol. It seemed to be made of bronze,
and had seemingly three legs. Only then were we explained that the middle “leg” was the line separating the
veshti and the saree of the God and the Goddess. At that moment, it felt like a rare sight to be lucky enough to
behold, and this was echoed in the cries of all the devotees who had gathered in the sannidhi. After tasting the
teertham, we made our way out of the shrine. We next visited the shrine of Adiseshan, accompanied by his
wives on either side, and flanked by Rahu and Kethu below. The priest here said that praying to this particular
shrine is known to relieve and cure people with all kinds of pains and illnesses. Next was a smaller shrine of
Kala Bhairavam, the fierce manifestation of Shiva, wearing a garland of skulls, and smeared with ash. The eyes
of this particular idol seemed to be emanating anger and ferocity. There was also a shrine for
“Chengottuvelavar”, named after the Tiruchengodu region. An unusual feature about this idol was that, unlike
other idols of Murugan where he holds the emblem of the rooster in his left hand, in this idol, he is shown
holding the rooster itself in his left hand. The form of the rooster was clearly visible in the idol’s hands, as the
priest inside lifted the veshti of the idol to show us this. We did a pradakshanam of the entire temple, and
three-quarters of an hour having flown past without anyone noticing, we decided to leave.
It was then that we noticed another hill adjacent to the temple, with a Pillaiyar kovil on top. The hill seemed
almost double the height of this hill, and with no method of going up except by our own feet, we were told
that the trek up and down takes an hour and half. Due to a lack of time, we decided against going up to the
temple, and to continue on to Namakkal, with a desire to come back and visit the Uchi Pillaiyar at a later date.
The ride from Tiruchengode to Namakkal was another hour. Namakkal is famous for its temples for Anjaneyar
and Narasimhan, and it was these temples that we had planned to visit. We first made our way to the
Anjaneyar temple. Hundreds of people thronged the entrance of the temple, and we were unable to make our
way inside. However, someone from our group knew one of the priests inside, and thus once again luck
favoured us and we were able to get inside from a back entrance and sit in front of the shrine. The idol of
Hanuman is 18 feet tall and imposing, and his arms and folded as though in prayer. The eyes of the idol are
supposedly focused towards the feet of the idol of Narasimhan, in His temple at the opposite end of the road.
Unlike other temples where the idol is generally draped in a veshti or a saree, this is not the case here. There is
also no gopuram for the temple. On either side of the idol, there are wooden steps which have built for priests
to be able to climb to the top, when they need to perform abishekam and other rituals.
As we sat down, we saw hundreds of milk packets piled up at one side. And it was growing, as several devotees
offered more packets of milk. Soon, a few priests brought in huge barrels and buckets and began emptying the
packets of milk in at the rate of 1 packet in 2 seconds. It was efficiency at its peak. In the meantime, one of the
other priests climbed to the top and performed abishekam with sandalwood. As it all poured down, the priest
proceeded to clean the idol in preparation for the paal abishekam to be performed next. As this happened, we
sang “Ramachandram Bhavayami” in Vasantha, “Anjaneyam sada”, a nottuswaram composed by Dikhsitar, and
Once the barrels and buckets were full, some of them were hoisted up onto the wooden slab to the three
priests who had gathered above, while some were retained below. Finally, all was ready. As one, the priests
poured the milk down the idol. It was a sight to see the entire 18 feet tall idol covered in white as they
continuously bathed the idol in milk, from the top and the ground. Soon, the entire floor was covered in milk.
All around, you could hear murmurs of the Hanuman Chalisa. We could not, however, stay for the entire ritual,
since there was somebody waiting outside to take us to the Narasimhan temple as well. On our way out, some
of us made the mistake of going out not the way we came, but through the front entrance of the temple.
Hundreds of devotees had gathered near the shrine, with bottles and other utensils, to take the milk with
which the abishekam had been performed. The milk was been let out through a pipe from the shrine and had
an outlet at the side. This was a balm to some of us who were a little upset at the quantum of milk that was
being used for the ritual, and what we thought would not be used for anything afterwards. With the number of
people that had gathered and the size of the temple, a stampede ensued and it was an effort to elbow one’s
way out through the crowd and come out of the temple. Only when we came out did we learn that the paal
abishekam ritual occurs on the first Sunday of each month, and we found ourselves once again extremely lucky
to have been there on such a day.
The Narasimhan kovil was at the other end of the road, with shops on the left side of the road, and the houses
on the right. One of our group members knew someone who could take us around the temple and explain the
legends to us. Behind the temple towered a huge hill, with a fort atop. We learnt that this was the Namakkal
fort, and had a Varadarajaperumal kovil inside. However, this was open only in the evening, which meant that
however inviting the climb looked, we would not be able to enter inside, since it was only late morning.
The first shrine we visited was that of Namagiri Lakshmi. According to residents of Namakkal, this goddess is
the reason for the mathematical genius of Ramanujam and was the one who initiated him into it. Those who
prayed to her would succeed in their academic ventures. Since most of our group consisted of students, we
prayed very ardently at this shrine. Next we made our way to the main shrine, for which the temple is known.
The sannidhi was a little dim, and extremely cool, as we went inside in a line. The walls contained sculptures of
various forms of Vishnu, like the Ananthapadmanabhaswamy avatar, and all the avatars in the Dashavataram,
in black. One avatar which caught our eye was the Varaha avataram, which was depicted with all the four
vedas sprouting of the God’s mouth. In all the sculptures, the lines of eyes, the mouth, the vibuthi, and the
veshti were drawn in saffron paste, thus highlighting them. In the centre shrine, was the form of Narasimhan.
The idol was flanked on the right by Suryan and Shiva, and on the left by Chandran and Brahma. Thus, all of
the trinity were present in this shrine. This is the reason that there are no temples for Shiva built in Nammakal.
Since there was a long line of people waiting behind us, we could not linger and admire the sculptures for long,
and we had to leave.
After a quick meal, we made our way to our final temple stop, in Bhavani. Bhavani is another small town in the
area, and has a temple, built on the banks of the meeting point of three rivers, namely Kaveri, Bhavani, and
Amiruthavahini (which supposedly sprouts from below the shrine of the God). The temple is built in honour of
Shiva, who is called Sangameshwarar here.
On reaching the temple, we first made our way to the river bank, at the point where all three rivers converge,
and dipped our feet in the cool water. All around, devotees were dipping themselves entirely, while the
children frolicked in the water. Next we made our way to the shrine for Goddess Vedanayaki. The shrine was
inside a circular room, and standing with our back to the Goddess, you could see the river Kaveri exactly
opposite. To the right of the shrine, we found a locked room, with an unjal inside. The wall to the right had a
tablet, describing a very interesting story behind the cradle.
Back in the days of the British rule, a certain British officer who administered this area, was once visited in his
dream at night by the form of a young girl, who beckoned him outside his house urgently. Just as he woke up
and rushed outside his house, a raging fire emerged and his house collapsed. After the chaos subsided and he
turned to look for and thank the girl, he found her missing. Determined to find her, he made enquiries and the
temple priests told him that it was the Goddess Vedanayaki who had saved him. To make sure, he decided to
lay a vigil at night. He cut three holes in the temple wall opposite the shrine of the Goddess and lay watch at
night. He saw the form of the Goddess emerging and saw that it was the same girl who had saved him. To
thank her, he then gifted her with an ivory cradle, the very cradle which we saw hung in the locked room.
Having prayed at the shrine of Sangameshwarar, we saw that clouds were gathering, and rushed to make our
way back to the hotel. Once back, we ate our lunch, and then went to pack our bags and get ready to leave in
the evening for the station. We rested for a bit, and then ate dinner at a nearby Adyar Ananda Bhavan,
and then made our way to the station. All of us were happily tired by this time, and having gotten on to the train, we
just slept. We reached Chennai the next morning at around 5 a.m. Since it was a Monday,
and each of us had to get started for the week with office, school, college, etc., we rushed back home, after
bidding everyone a brief goodbye.
This pilgrimage is certainly a must-do for people, even if they are not extremely devout. The landscapes, the
sculptures, architecture and stories behind each temple are interesting by themselves. To sign off, our trip was
an extremely memorable one, and the images of the various idols, gopurams, shrines, etc., will not be easy to
Veenavaadhini’s Yatra to Palani and Tiruchengodu - Rajani Arjun Shankar
If there is one god who is loved and adored by almost anyone in Tamil Nadu and whose shrine is
replicated in dozens of cities across several countries, and whose unique temple practices like the
Padayatra or Kavadi or Abhishekams are known and followed by people in all these shrines, it must the
young child-god Murugan, known as Dandayudhapani, in Palani. The town of Palani resonates with the
fervor of Murugan devotees who throng the place in hundreds on a normal day and in thousands at
other times. It is a place in worship for at least two thousand years, being mentioned in
Tirumurugattruppadai, a Sangam period poem.
So it is most fitting that Muthuswamy Dikshitar, whose birth and name are closely connected to
Murugan, whose very signature “Guruguha” was in honour of this god, should visit this sacred place and
compose two Kritis, one at the hill temple, and one at the temple called as Tiruvavinankudi that is at the
base of the hill, about half a kilometre away. We at Veenavaadhini were fortunate to visit these two
temples, and sing the Kritis composed by Dikshitar in those shrines. The Kritis are “Sharavanabhava” in
Revagupti and “Dandayudhapanim” in Ananda Bhairavi.
We left Chennai by train (Palani Express) and reached Palani on Saturday, 22nd August 2015. We reached
our hotel, and in less than an hour, we were on our way to Tiruvavinankudi. A small but beautiful
temple, it gets its name from the five celestials who worshipped Murugan here – Tiru (Lakshmi), A
(Kamadhenu), Inan (Surya), Ku (Bhumi) and Ti (Agni). The main deity is called “Kuzhandhai Velayudha
Swamy” and he is seated on his vehicle, the peacock. As described by Dikshitar in the Revagupti Kriti, he
holds Varada and Abhaya Mudras with one pair of hands. The other pair holds his usual weapons –
Shakti and Vajra. There are many other shrines and the temple has some very beautiful trees- an Amla
(Nelli) tree that is the Sthala Vriksha and also large Nagalinga and Kadamba trees.
We went up the hill by cable car, and waited near the Utsavar (Shanmukhar) shrine for some time.
During this time, we sang several songs – Shri Guruguha (Devakriya), Valli Devasenapate (Khamas),
Saravanabhava Ennum (Shanmukhapriya) and some Tiruppugazh songs. When we finally reached the
Moolavar (main sanctum), we had but a few minutes to quickly sing the long Anandabhairavi Kriti. We
then worshipped the Samadhi of Bhogar, the Siddhar who made the beautiful idol of Dandayudhapani
with Navapashanam - 9 different herbal/mineral extracts. Hence the milk, Sandal paste and
Panchamritam etc. that come into contact with the idol of the lord are highly curative. Some of us
walked down the steps while others took the cable car down.
Later that day, we covered the hundred-odd kilometres from Palani to Erode by road and spent the
night at Erode, which is a business centre and a prosperous town. The next morning we left around 8am
to Tiruchengode, which is around 30 kilometres away. The temple is on a large hill, although one need
not climb the 1300 steps to reach it. Like Tiruttani, it is possible to drive up to the temple.
The Tiruchengode temple is equally famous for the Ardhanareeshwara shrine and that of Murugan,
known as Sengottu Velar here. Dikshitar has composed the hauntingly beautiful Kriti in Kumudakriya
“Ardhanareeshwaram Aradhyami” here. We were lucky that just when we went, there weren’t many
people in the temple. We were allowed by the priests to sing the Kriti in the main sanctum.
Ardhanareeshwara stands tall and well-adorned, a perfect blend of feminine grace and masculine
stateliness, the latter emphasized by the Danda he holds with his right hand. The idol is Svayambhu and
there is a spring with a perennial flow of water under the feet of the deity. The idol of Sengottuvelar is
unique too. The “Vel” is carved in stone, and Murugan is cradling his rooster between his left hand and
thigh. This is visible in portraits, but to see it in the Moolavar’s form, we have to request the priest to
move aside the lord’s Veshti to show us the bird nestled there. (The priest obliged us kindly.) There is a
large image of Adisesha, who worshipped here. This is why the hill is called Sarpagiri or Nagachalam.
Arunagirinathar in particular uses this description in his songs and Anubhuti verses.
Probably due to the snake connection, this shrine is visited by couples praying for progeny. Vallimalai
Swamigal was born to his parents after offering prayers here and his childhood name is Ardhanari.
Since we had the day at Erode, we also visited Namakkal and saw the famous Hanuman temple, and the
Narasimhar temple. The latter has the shrine of Namagiri Thayar, the beloved Ishta-Devata of
Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The priest told the children to pray well to do well in their studies,
for this is a goddess who solved complicated mathematical problems for the great man in his dreams.
Later that day, we visited the Sangameshwara temple which is situated right at the confluence of the
Bhavani and Kaveri rivers. One can see the waters of the Kaveri, from the sanctum. The goddess here,
Vedanayaki, has an ivory cot gifted by the British Collector William Karo in gratitude for saving his life.
The goddess assumed the form of a little girl, woke him up and brought him out of a collapsing
bungalow. There is a lovely, large Ilandhai (Badari) tree in the temple as the Sthala Vriksha.
This covers the Kongu Nadu temples visited by Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Many more temples in the Chola
and Pandya lands beckon!