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Aadhithiruvarangam

We stood before Him feeling as if we had broken the bank or hit the jackpot. Luck , or more correctly His unfathomable will, had a great part to play in it. "Yadricchaya" as the Adi Kavi often wrote at the crucial junctures in Ramayana. From Thirukoilur, the domain of Trivikrama we had planned to go to the land of Varaha, Srimushnam. "Yadricchaya" we were directed to Aadhitiruvarangam, a village, nay a hamlet on the banks of the Then - south Pennaiaaru where a magnificent Ranganatha was ready to bestow grace on us. From under the shadows of the rajagopuram of Ayyan we motored to Madampoondi on the road to Shankarapuram and then a right turn at a junction of four roads. A motorable road leads us to the bridge over the river but well before it a left turn and a road with more curves than a book on sculptures leads us to Aadhitiruvarangam. At a mandapa we take a right turn and another "s" like road suddenly brings us to a huge fortress . A banyan tree provides shade and we park our car. Nearby there is a sanctum of Thiruvadi in his usual humble posture. We offer prayers to him and entreat him to show us our Lord. If he cant who can? Did he not unite Rama and Seetha? To our right is the bone dry Pennar. All Ranganathas are "Kaveritheera rasikas" viz. at Srirangam,Srirangapattana, Shivasamudra, Tiruindaloor etc. Here He is gracing the bank of Pennar and water rarely flows in it. This place in the S.Arcot district is drought prone and rocky. What to say of the affability,amiability and accessibility of the Archa forms of our Lord. They can be found everywhere irrespective of the lay of the land. Of all the Ranganathas we have been fortunate enough to witness, Aadhitiruvarangam Ranganatha is the most cosy and comfortable one. We will come to that later. The sthala purana quoting from Skanda Purana tells us that Ranganatha here is much senior to Ranganatha at Srirangam. He appeared here in the first epoch the Krita yuga.The four faced Brahma had managed to lose the Vedas, a regular transgression of his, and our Lord took up the form of a huge fish and regained it. He then took up station as the reclining Ranganatha and His left hand is high up in the air with His delectable digits in the swara mudra. The thumb and the long finger are in contact. He appears to be chanting the Vedas to the four faced Brahma who is seated attentively on a lotus arising from our Lord's navel, "ayyanai padaithathoru ezhil undhi" as Paanperumal sang. It is incomprehensible how all the Azhwars missed this ancient Deity. He was safeguarded from the hordes of aliens by Paranthaka Chola who built this huge fortress. As soon as we enter into the fort, to our right we see a huge three tiered almost hemispherical silo like structure. May be it was used to store essentials during the siege. We reach a huge hall which has been recently renovated. We are told that the Seshadri ashram of Tiruvannamalai took up this chore of "punnarudharanam" of the whole temple in 2008-09. They deserve our heartfelt gratitude as they have done a near perfect job.Prior to that time this superb temple was in a very sorry state. Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashrama also contributed to the renovation, so we are told. We offer obeisance at the base of the flag staff, dvajasthamba, and proceed onwards. To our right is the entrance to a small hall where we see the

processional deities of Ranganatha, Sri and Bhoomidevi being readied for a "thirumanjana" ritual bath. We feast our eyes on the supernal beauty before us. A largish crowd is seated patiently at the feet of the deities who are high up on a platform. To our left is the corridor that leads to the sanctum sanctorum. Here to our left is a room with icons of Nammazhwar, Thirumangaiazhwar, Ramanuja and Desikan. They are all handsome and apparently new. We want to visit Thayar's sanctum first, but the archaka in Ranganatha's sanctum calls out to us. We rush in to obey the divine command. We are dumb struck by the handsomeness of the reclining Lord. He appears to be Srirangam Ranganatha's twin. The same chubby cheeks and the lovely rounded chin. He is longer than His junior at Srirangam. The "...suka suptha paranthapah..." steals our hearts and vision, "...drishti chitha apaharinim..." We are lucky that He is not behind a curtain. In mid July most deities are in "thaila kappu" and one cant enjoy their full beauty. It happened to us at Thirukoilur where Aayyan was in "purdah" so to say and we could see only his bewitching face, and the shapely conch in His right hand. Here in Aadhitiruvarangam Ranganatha granted the vision of His full frame and to captivate us more, He was not wearing His ornaments. Like Hanuman told Rama, when he saw Him in the forest for the first time, clad in tree bark and deer skin "Rama why have you come like this? Am I such a poor bhaktha that You felt that You could capture me only if You showed the complete beauty of Your frame, uncovered by ornaments? " We are nowhere near Hanuman when it comes to bhakti(who is, in this sinful Kaliyuga?) so our Lord is justified in showing us this incomparable vision. Where to start the attempt to describe Him? We will follow the path shown by Paanperumal and start from His lotus feet. His right foot is turned towards the right and rests on the coil of the tip of the tail of Adisesha. His left foot is in the lap of Bhoomidevi who is seated there and looking at His face yearningly. She appears to be gently massaging it. We wonder which is softer Her hands or His foot? Three turns of Adisesha is the bed. Behind Bhoomidevi on the walls we see the 33 crores of lesser gods. As you can see He is really cosy as far as His feet are concerned. From His navel arises a lotus with a sinusoidal stalk. Seated on it is a fourfaced Brahma. We can see only three faces. He is small and is dwarfed by both the Devis and the huge Ranganatha. He lies very near the entrance. His midriff is behind the Utsavar who is also called Ranganatha. (This Utsavar no longer takes part in utsavas as He is in a fragile state. Another newer and more robust Utsavar is His substitute). Incidentally there are three "beras" in this sanctum. He has His two Devis on either side. Our world weary eyes travel up the sacred frame of the humongous Ranganatha. The archaka mama points out to Srivatsa lakshmi on His perfectly proportioned chest. This "divya mangala vigraha" is the work of the sculptor of the gods, Vishwakarma, so we are informed. He is turned almost three quarters of the way to His right and He looks at us directly, unlike Srirangam Ranganatha who looks up and to the south. Aadhitiruvarangam Ranganatha's right hand is bent at the elbow and points to His crown. The elbow is outside the perimeter of the coils of Adisesha. Wonders of wonders it is supported by Garuda who is squatting with folded hands beneath the elbow and arm. This is truly extraordinary. A "valampuri "

conch is placed on His right hand. It looks like a small shell in the huge hand. To us it looks more like a lightning whelk than an original "valampuri " right handed conch. His left hand is raised almost to the level of Brahma. The digits are beautifully formed. The tip of the thumb is in contact with the long finger tip. It is almost as if a vocalist is counting the beat as he sings. That is what He is doing. He is teaching the Vedas to His son Brahma and appears to be singing the Sama veda, which they say is the original wellspring of all music. We are enthralled by this mudra which the archaka mama tells us is "swara mudra". This mama really enjoys his work and in this cynical era he is like a whiff of scented blossoms in the desert. Coming to His face,Head and the crown. His head is in the lap of Sridevi who is seated behind His raised left shoulder, which is almost fully turned towards us.He looks as snug as a bug in a rug, pardon the expression, we couldn't resist the rhyme! He looks so comfortable and happy. We have not seen any other Perumal who looks so well and truly settled. His face is full and chubby and His chin, chucked often by Yasodha when feeding butter to Him, is well rounded. He looks directly at us with His two lotus like eyes and we humbly acknowledge "... jitante pundarikaksha..." You win us over with Your lotus eyes. The five hoods of Adisesha are not raised as high as in Srirangam. They seem to form an alcove, almost covering His crown from all sides. He looks so cosy and well protected by all the four of them, Sri,Bhoomi,Adiseshan and Garuda. No wonder He seems happy and welcomes us with glee in His eyes. He seems to be saying "Have you seen anything like this?" and we say again "... jitante pundarikaksha namaste vishwabhavanah, namastestu rishikeshah mahapurushah poorvajah..." We tear ourselves away from Him and His magnificent company and proceed to the "Thayar sannidhi" to our right. Here we wait for another archaka mama to come and unlock the sanctum. Ranganayaki, as always blesses us with Her cool and merciful presence. She is seated and has her hands in the usual "varada" and "abhaya" mudra. Utsavar also called Ranganayaki and sometimes Rangavalli, is seated between two elephants with their trunks raised. The priest tells us that she is in direct line with the "madapalli" kitchen. This is because this temple is the place for expiating sins of omission as far the manes are concerned, i.e. non-performance of "shraddha" etc. and "Anna dhana" arranging for the feeding of devotees is considered to make amends for these transgressions. We make a small contribution and go on to circumambulate the sanctums. The vimana of Ranganatha, at the back, is the sanctuary for thousands of pigeons who are in perpetual conversation. Who knows, they may be "nitya-suris" reciting the Sama. To the left of Ranganatha's sannidhi is an altar on which are seen an exquisite Chakrathalwar and a lovely Krishna standing with a butter ball in His right hand. We come to the small hall where the ceremonies for the Utsavars are over. We are blessed with Satari and "theertha" and recieve fruits as "prasada". What more can one ask? The answer is another "darshan" of Ranganatha. We drink in the beauty through our eyes once again and come out in a daze. We come out into the corridor and to the left of the Dvajastambha is a shiny black granite slab with the sthala purana on it.

Here are some excerpts. "The vey very big Perumal in Tamil Nadu...Aadhithiruvarangam, Sankarapuram circle, Villipuram district... Kshetram Krishnaranyam... SriRanganathaperumal... SriRanganayaki... Chandomayam vimana... Chandrapushkarini... Punnaga tree... The highlights of this place are described in the uttara kandha of the Skanda Puranam in the dialogue between Uma and Maheswara in six chapters from the 301st to the 306th called Uttiraranga Mahatmiyam... In ancient times an asura named Somukhan with the intention of winning over the devas stole the Vedas. The agitated rishis and devas approached Brahma to get it back. He took them to the ocean of milk where they prayed to Bhagavan to recover the vedas. Sriman Narayana acceded to their request and killed the asura Somun(sic) who was hiding in the ocean and regained the Vedas. He then taught Brahma the vedas in this kshetra. In Krita yuga a king of Thondaimandalam, Sruthakirthi, though possessed of all kinds of riches was sad because he was not blessed with a son. On being advised by Narada muni he came to pray with his queen at this place, Uttirarangam, where Thiruvaranganathan is reclining on the serpent bed, and rejoiced at begetting four sons by the grace of our Lord. Once due to the curse of his wives a distressed Chandra, the moon, lost his digits and effulgence and on being advised by the devas came to this site and did tapas and regained his customary brillance on the banks of a pond to the southeast which then got the name Chandrapushkarini. Some time later the devas requested our Lord to return to His divine station. Many rishis and others who couldn't bear the thought of being separated from our Lord prayed Him to remain. Our Lord with great compassion agreed and instructed the sculptor of the gods Vishwakarma to make an image, a divya mangala vigraha, like His own. He then entered the image and has been blessing the devotees for thousands of years. All those born on this earth should be blessed and prosper by the grace of Aadhithiruvarangan ". Amen to that, we say. We exit via the big hall and notice that on the walls to each side of the main door are recent plaster murals depicting scenes from Ithihasas and Puranas. We marvel at the pain staking effort that went into sculpting these numerous images. Only one more sentence. We plan to return as many times as possible. Dr.S.Sundar Rajan MS ortho Trichy 22 July 2009.