Unique festivals celebrated in this ancient Siva temple

It is said that God Indra worshipped Vanasundareshwara to get back his lost wealth with the mandarai flowers.
Photo: Chithra Madhavan
Photo: Chithra Madhavan

CHENNAI: Manampathy (Manamathy), a small village near Uttiramerur, is home to an ancient temple for God Siva, worshipped as Vanasundareshwarar. The inscriptions found in this temple mention that this place was once known as Vanavanmadevi, named after the one of the Chola queens called Vanavanmadevi (Vanavan Mahadevi).

The Siva Linga, now called Vanasundareshwarar, was once known as Vanavanmadevi Isvaram Udaiyar, Vanavanmadevi Isvaram Udaiya Nayanar and Vanasundara Nayanar. It is obvious that this temple existed in the Chola times, and even earlier, during the Pallava era as seen from some vestiges of architecture and sculpture.

It is said that God Indra worshipped Vanasundareshwara to get back his lost wealth with the mandarai flowers. Incidentally, the mandarai (kovidara in Samskrit), has traditionally been the Sthala Vriksham of this temple. The pushkarini (temple-tank) is called Indra Tirtham in association with this deity.

The entrance to the temple is on the south through a modern five-tiered gopuram, although the main sanctum faces east. Climbing down a few steps from the gopuram, devotees reach the outer prakaram (enclosure). The sanctum for Selva Vinayaka in this prakaram faces the gopuram. The entrance to the sanctum on the east, with a dvajastambham, bali-pitham and Nandi-mandapam in front, can be reached only after going around the entire prakaram.

In front of Nandi is a mandapa of the Chola era and an inner mandapa of the same time with another Nandi, facing the main shrine. The sanctum for Goddess Parvati, worshipped as Periyanayaki Amman faces south in this mandapam. Straight ahead is the east-facing principal sanctum with well-wrought dvarapalakas (door guardians) flanking the entrance. The inner prakaram, going around the main sanctum has the images, in stone and metal, of the sixty-three Nayanmars (important devotees of God Siva).

Many utsavams (festivals) such as Sivaratri, Panguni Uttiram and others are celebrated here. There is a unique utsavam in the month of Thai (mid-January to mid-February) during Poosam nakshatram when the utsava-murtis from eighteen Siva temples in nearby villages, including Manampathy, each on a respective Rishabha vahanam, (bull mount) go at midnight to the banks of River Cheyyar (near Perunagar village) and assemble in a circle. A similar utsavam is celebrated in Masi (mid-February to mid-March) when the same eighteen deities assemble on the Manampathy Koot Road on the banks of River Cheyyar at midnight.

There are a few donative inscriptions in this temple. There is one Pandya epigraph, some belong to the Sambuvarayar chieftains, but most are datable to the Vijayanagara times. The epigraph of Vira Pandya records that Vanavanmadevi village was in the ancient territorial subdivision called Perunagar Nadu, a part of Venkundra Kottam situated in Jayamkondachola Mandalam.

A few 15th century inscriptions belonging to the reign of Emperor Devaraya I (1406-1422 CE), issued by his son Virupaksha Udaiyar (Virupaksha) and Vijayaraya are here. One of these registers the lease deed given to weavers to settle in a street on the temple land of Vanavasundara Nayanar on certain conditions regarding the taxes due from them to the temple. An epigraph of Sadasiva Raya, nephew of Krishnadeva Raya is also here.

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