CHENNAI: Poonamalli, once called Pushpapuri Kshetram has an ancient and beautiful temple for Varadaraja Perumal. An unique feature here is that people visiting this temple can worship three forms of Vishnu, namely Varadaraja Perumal, Ranganatha Svami and Srinivasa Perumal, all enshrined in separate sanctums inside the large enclosure. Goddess Lakshmi in this temple is worshipped as Pushpavalli Thayar. This temple came into existence in the 11th Century AD. It is closely associated with Tirukkachi Nambi, the teacher (Acharya) of Ramanujacharya, the pre-eminent Srivaishnava preceptor.
According to the temple tradition, Varadaraja Svami gave darshan to Tirukkachi Nambi here. The temple is entered via a large mandapa leading to the principal sanctum enshrining Varadaraja Svami facing east. This temple has a grand five-storeyed gopura visible from far away.
The south-facing sanctum for Tirukkachi Nambi, a scholar and devotee, is near the main sanctum. This image is in a seated posture, with his palms pressed together and a fan leaning off his right hand. He is revered for performing the alavatta kainkarya or fanning service to Varadaraja Svami of Kanchi.
There are a few ancient Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions, the earliest dating to the 13th century AD. The first of these donative records, dated 1274 AD, belongs to the reign of a chieftain named Vijaya Gandagopala of the Telugu Choda dynasty. Another inscription, unfortunately fragmentary, belongs to the time of king Jatavarman alias Vikrama Pandyadeva of the dynasty of the imperial Pandyas of Madurai. Another inscription records the donation of a village known as Cherapandya-chaturvedimangalam to the administrative assembly (sabha) of this village. The last inscription, the only one in Sanskrit in this temple, mentions that a Chera king granted the village of Cherapandya-chaturvedimangalam for the benefit of scholars.
The name ‘chaturvedimangalam’ indicates that it was a place inhabited by scholars well-versed in the Vedas and other ancillary scriptures.
(The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)