Gravitating towards Saturn

Navagraha temples in Tamil Nadu

Gravitating towards Saturn

Lord Saneeshwara at ThirunallarInductivity theorists who swear by the generalisation that ‘all crows are black’ now have a counter-example to ponder over.  There is at least one ‘golden crow’. That bird as the vehicle of Lord Saneeshwara (the Hindu planetary God symbolising Saturn), graciously silhouettes the deity’s feet, in the famous shrine at Tirunallar at the tail-end of the Cauvery river in Karaikal bordering composite Thanjavur district.

One of India’s rare shrines for Saturn, who is pivotal for believers in astrology and that nine orbiting planets influence human destiny, is housed inside the 7th century ‘Darbaraneshwarar Temple’ dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The crow at Tirunallar is gold-plated, sceptics and rationalists may counter. But it is weaved in with a profound mythology and would not have seen the light of day, had the legendary King Nala remained a lowly cook in the Palace of the King of Ayodhya after the former lost his kingdom.

Thanks to sage Narada’s advice, the cursed King Nala was relieved of his ‘Sani Dosha’ (the malefic effect associated with Saturn), and got back his Kingdom after he took a ‘holy dip’ in the tank and worshipped the Lord at Thirunallar. To this day, the tank is known as ‘Nala-Theertha’, reinforcing the age-old belief of the dramatic, redemptive properties of its waters.

 This pilgrimage centre, along with a unique cluster of eight other temples- each dedicated to eight other closer known planets of the solar system- and collectively termed the ‘Navagraha Temples’ in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district, has been as much a spiritual odyssey for people as a compulsive ladder to jump obstacles to prosperity.

 Their geography is quite interesting. All the nine temples for each of nine planets are within a 60-km radius around Kumbakonam, which itself is celebrated in the Hindu tradition as ‘Bhaskara Kshetram’ - a powerful primordial solar centre - hinting that the ancients possibly held both a heliocentric and geocentric view of the Universe.

And today, amid global climate change concerns, it is solar energy that is the key, aver scientists!

Once the underlying concepts and unity in their geography came on to a wider public domain, the State tourism department was the first to seize it as an opportunity to promote the ‘Navagraha Sthalams’ as a niche slice of spiritual tourism with a therapeutic touch. The temple town of Kumbakonam naturally became the locus of this special tourism package.

 Tourism officials say that starting with Kumbakonam, any typical three or four-day schedule includes first a visit to ‘Suryanar Kovil’ (shrine for Sun God), followed by ‘Alangudi’ where there is a shrine for ‘Guru’ or the planet Jupiter, the ‘Mecca’ for an increasingly knowledge-based society.

Then the road is to 'Thirunageshwaram’ where there is a shrine for the planet ‘Rahu’ (North Lunar Node), after which pilgrims are usually taken to ‘Vaitheeshwaran Kovil’. Since mythological serpents like ‘Adiseshan’ and ‘Karkotakan’ are said to have worshipped Lord Shiva at Thirunageshwaram, it is a must-visit for those suffering from ‘sarpa dosha’.

To its south-east is ‘Vaitheeshwaran Kovil' that has a special shrine for ‘Chevvai’ (planet Mars). The belief is that prayers offered there bestows “valour and victory”, while a dip in the ‘Siddhamrita Tank’ there is recommended for cure for various skin ailments, as its waters have some curative properties.

Then the tour winds through ‘Thiruvenkadu’ which houses a shrine for ‘Budha’ (planet Mercury), Keezhaperumpallam that has a shrine for ‘Ketu’ (South lunar node) and then to the famous shrine for Lord Saturn at Thirunallar, say tourism officials. Pilgrims spend the maximum time there.
On return, they pray at the shrine for ‘Chandran (Moon)’ at Thingaloor.

Not everyone, though have the means or time to visit all these places in one go unless they are part of the special ‘Navagraha Temples’ package of the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). Their coach starts from Chennai every Friday and brings back the visitors on Monday morning.

Pilgrims also have the option of joining any circuit offered by private operators from Tiruchirappalli, the nearest airport to Thirunallar.
“I have been visiting Thirunallar temple for the last 20 years.

Obstacles get removed, troubles are freed after we go there and perform an ‘abishega’ for Lord Saturn, “ M B Shivappa, former Vice-President of Karnataka Sports Authority, told ‘Deccan Herald’ over phone from Bangalore.

It stemmed from the belief that King Nala was cured of his long years of curse and so “we take a dip at Nala-Theertha there’, Shivappa who recently even accompanied Karnataka Food Minister V Somanna in the Yeddyurappa Ministry, explained. “If you suffer from any ‘dosha’ (defect), the impact after a visit to Thirunallar can be felt as it gets neutralised and peace ensues,” says Satyanarayana, a pilgrim from Bangalore.

These remarks are revealing as a big chunk of devotees (nearly 35 per cent) visiting the Saturn temple at Thirunallar and the other planetary shrines nearby are from Karnataka. “Clearly, the majority of the people visiting our temple in recent years are from Karnataka,” said Sreenivasan, official of the ‘Sri Dharbaraneshwarar Devasthanam’.

From S M Krishna, Dharam Singh, Deve Gowda to the present Yeddyurappa, every Chief Minister from Karnataka makes it a point to visit Thirunallar. Before the political crisis shook Bangalore, during his recent visit which also covered the other planetary shrines, Yeddyurappa even offered a Rs 40-lakh grant for a ‘golden Rishabha Vahanam’ for the temple, Sreenivasan said.

Apart from the Cauvery delta sentiments associated with this shrine, the ‘Saturn’ deity at Thirunallar is in a calm and graceful mood. So, devotees “can take back the ‘prasad’ (like coconut or fruits offered to the Lord) home unlike in other Saturn shrines where they are not supposed to,” he said. More the sentiment, more the crowds thronging this Temple that could touch 50,000 on any Saturday, the special day associated with Lord ‘Sanishwara’.

All this translates into good local business as well. “If so many people from Karnataka throng this temple, it is mainly because they like Lord Sanishwara to their ‘Kula Deivam’,” concurred A Ramakrishnan, who runs ‘Raja Rajan Guest House and Handicrafts at Thirunallar.

“Most pilgrims from Karnataka usually arrive in groups by cabs on a Friday night, have Darshan on Saturday and if possible visit the other eight planetary shrines nearby before heading back home,” adds Ramakrishnan who himself presented a gift to Yeddyurappa during his latest visit. Worship at ‘Suryanar Kovil’ is a must even if they have no time for others.

Of course, one defining moment and the great event at Thirunallar Temple is the “Sani Peyarchi (Saturn transit day festival), when he moves from one star constellation of the zodiac to another every two-and-a-half years. That day the crowd exceeds an amazing five lakhs, given the temple’s small area”, said Sreenivasan.

With the next ‘Sani Peyarchi’ astronomically due on November 21, 2011, hectic preparations are already on to improve the infrastructure in Thirunallar. A Rs 50-crore Housing and Urban Development Corporation-assisted project to augment accommodation facilities for pilgrims, guest houses for VIPs’ and VVIPs’, besides and inner and outer ring road among others was nearing completion, added Sreenivasan.

The magnificent shrine for Lord Saneeshwara at Thirunallar is both revered and feared by millions of the faithful. His planetary influence makes him a God of playing both “giver and destroyer”. Ergo, the unending rush to what was once a forest of ‘kusa grass (Darbam in Sanskrit)’ to soften destiny’s blows continue, making suffering bearable for the masses.

Comments (+)