Located 10 km north west of Poompuhar on the road between Sirkazhi and Poompuhar, is the temple of the most captivating Lord Sri Kavalampadi Rajagopala , the Lord of cows.
Vishwaksena is the commander-in-chief of the Supreme Lord Narayana’s abode, Sri Vaikuntha. He is the topmost among the nithyasuris or eternal residents of Vaikuntha.
The Kurma Purana narrates an interesting episode about the birth of this great devotee of Lord Narayana, through a conversation between Lord Shiva and his consort Uma.
After listening to the details about kalachakra, or the cycle of birth and death, Uma asked Lord Shiva, “Who is Vishwaksena? How did he do perform penance? How did he become the commander-in-chief of the Supreme Lord Narayana’s abode? He is foremost among the eternal residents of Vaikuntha. Pray, how did he reach this position? Please tell me in detail about this great devotee of Lord Narayana.”
Being the foremost Vaishnava, Lord Shiva was ecstatic to hear Uma’s question, as answering it would give him an opportunity to glorify a great Vaishnava. He narrated the story with joy:
Long ago in Sathya yuga, a beautiful celestial maiden called Kuntala went to the hermitage of Durvasa Muni on the command of Indra. Being insecure about his power and postion, Indra often mistook the penances made by jivas, imagining thatthese were undertaken in order to usurp his own position as the chief among the demigods. Thus, to distract the performers of penance, he would send beautiful celestial maidens to earth from Svargaloka. Kuntala was no exception. She was commissioned to disturb the penace of Durvasa.
She danced before of Durvasa Muni when he was in deep penance. The disturbed Durvasa became very angry and cursed her, “Oh Kuntala , one with evil intentions ! You will lose your position in heaven.” Kuntala got scared and prayed to him by saluting with both her hands. “Oh! Great saint! I am following Indra’s command. I have no desire to disturb your penance, butas a subject of Svargaloka , obeying the orders of my master Indra is inevitable. Please forgive me for the mistake.”
Durvasa said to her, “I cannot retract my curse, but I will tell you how to get rid of this curse. You may return to heaven as soon as you give birth to a child.”
Kuntala requested Durvasa , “Please bless me with a child who has a long life, a great devotee of Supreme Lord Narayana and a great warrior. ”
Durvasa granted her wish. Kuntala was reborn as the daughter to Virabahu, a cruel personality. She was known as Suvarchala. Her paretns were delighted to watch her grow. She became very famous for her beauty and good character. Virabahu gave her hand in marriage ceremony to Bhadra , the son of Dharma.
One day in the Phalguna month, shukla paksha, Suvarchala completed her bath in the river Narmada and stood near the mountain. Varuna deva, the lord of water, was taken up by her beauty and offered her a boon. Suvarchala asked him to bless her with a good son, who would a great devotee of Lord Narayana. Her boon granted, the ecstatic Suvarachala soon went into labour. She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. His birth was accompanied by all kinds of auspicious signs – the sound of celestial drums was heard, flowers rained from the sky, and the breeze blew fragrance from the flower gardens nearby. Those flower gardens were known as Kavalampadi (kavalam means flower garden in Tamil). The baby’s face was shining like a full moon; he had with lotus eyes, his skin was like pure gold and his feet had the impressions of conch, chakra and the mace. He was born in the constellation of Pushya. He grew up to be a valourous youth, but he was orphaned in his tenth year.
The orphan wandered around near Sage Kashyapa’s hermitage . The sage came to know that boy was the son of Varuna. He accepted the boy as his disciple. Kashyapa gave the Gayathri initiation and taught him all the Vedas as well as grammar and prose. After the completion of his education, the boy sought permission from Sage Kashyapa to perform penance. The sage blessed the boy who went to Kavalampadi to start his severe austerities.
After a while, Lord Narayana appeared before the boy and blessed him to become the commander-in-chief of Hisown abode. Vishwaksena requested the darshana of the Supreme Lord as a cowherd boy. The Lord immediately took His favourite form to please His devotee.
Vishwaksena is worshipped in a four- handed form similar to Narayana. He has conch, discus, and mace in his hands and the fourth hand holds the mudra or sign of wisdom (jynaga mudra). Vishwaksena’s birth was not based on karma. Vishwaksena took incarnation by accepting the command of Supreme Lord Narayana when the all demigods prayed to Him.
According to Sri Vaishnavism, Vishwaksena is considered as the disciple of Sri Mahalakshmi (by virtue of his place in the disciplic succession), and the acharya of Sage Nammalwar (Vaikuntha Ekadashi is celebrated all over the world in reverence to Sage Nammalwar).
The Supreme Lord Narayana , the Emperor of the universe who rules over all the sentient and insentient beings, is considered to be under the control of the stick in the hand of Vishwaksena , just like a President or Prime Minister is under the control of his ministers, and the Chief of Staff of the army. This does not mean that the Lord is ruled over by Vishwaksena. The Lord has handed over the responsibility of running the day to day activities of the universe to Vishwaksena, and thereby has confidence in him to take all decisions.
The acharyas explain this concept in a very beautiful way. One the Supreme Lord Narayana and His consorts were in the private courtyard that They normally spend time in. Suddenly, without any notice, Vishwaksena (who is an old person) entered the courtyard. The consorts of the Lord were taken aback, and They hide themselves behind pillars. The acharyas point this out as an example to show how even the Lord and His consorts give abundant respect to this elderly person who takes care of all the issues in His kingdom which is the entire creation.
In every major temple, there is a sanctum sanctorum for Vishwaksena, housing a deity of him. Before the Lord goes out in ceremonial procession, Vishwaksena goes ahead of time in the same route that the Lord will take, and inspects the route to make sure that it is safe and fit for the Lord to travel on.
The acharyas also inform us that it is Vishwaksena who taught the deep esoteric concepts of religion to Sage Nammalwar. Vishwaksena’s appearance day is in the month of Thula.
The very first verse of the Vishnu Sahasranama (1000 names of Vishnu) is in fact a prayer to Vishwaksena to remove all the obstacles that hinder our path of worshipping the Lord:
shuklãm bharatharam vishnum sashivarnam shathurbhujam
prasanna vadanam dhyayeth sarva vignopa shanthaye
yasya dvurita vaktradhya parishadhyah parah satham
vignam nignanthi sathatham vishwaksenam upasmahe
Prior to all rituals, worship is offered to Vishwaksena so that all obstacles in the performance of the main ritual are removed. This temple of Kavalmpadi is the very place where the Lord appeared to take Vishwaksena to the eternal abode.
What remains in the temple after the prosecutions of Malik Kafur and other fanatic Muslim rulers are only simple structures.
The bewitching Supreme Lord with His consorts is a rare sight to behold! The Lord is seen holding a whip in His hand with the other arm resting on a cow. A herd of cows is seen surrounding Him. His consorts Rukmini and Sathyabhama are seen on the altar, attending to the Lord. The main deity is that of Gopala Krishna ,the King of the cowherds.
The Deity of Mahalakalshmi, known here as Madhavaralmangai, is worshipped in a separate shrine. The main sanctum sanctorum is below the swayambhu vimana. A very beautiful pond by name Tadamalar Poigai is seen next to the temple. The temple is favourite place for Shiva. Shiva eternally worships Rajagopala in this temple.
During the new moon day of the Tamil month Thai, the festival deity of Thirumangai Alwar is brought to the temple from Thiruvali-Thirunagari. Janmashtami is a grand celebration in this temple. The major festival is the Gaurda seva festival in month of Thai, when all the Lordships of nearby temples assemble.
Thirumangai Alwar composed a beautiful 11 verse poem on Kavalampadi Rajagopala:
Gajendra wanted to offer the best lotus to Him. He roamed all over the place in search of such a flower. At last he found it in a big lotus pond. But alas! The elephant was caught by a crocodile as he plucked the flower. The elephant cried out to the Lord, calling out His names and the Lord saved him. He resides in Kavalampadi where there are devotees who enhance the spiritual wealth of the city which is already full of material wealth. Alwar requests Lord to remove the suffering of material world as he is caught by the crocodile of five senses. Oh! Lord! You stay in Kavalampadi to protect people like us who seek no other as their saviour!
He took the Varaha incarnation and lifted Mother Earth from the deep ocean. He took the Vamana incarnation to beg from Bali Maharaja three feet of land at the behest of the devas. Thus You destroy Your enemies—who are in reality the enemies of Your devotees.
Oh! Lord ! Oh Krishna! You reside in Kavalampadi in order to bless Your devotees. I have no other refuge except You.
Oh Lord of Kavalampadi! You killed Vali—a great hero who had fought many wars and bore many scars on his chest—by one arrow which pierced his chest. You gave the kingdom and crown to his brother Sugreeva who had desired both. You reside in Kavalampadi where there are plenty of jack fruit and mango trees bearing huge fruits that fall down due to their weight, and split open, shedding honey that flows like a river.
Oh! Lord of Kavalampadi! You killed Ravana, the great king of Lanka by cutting off his ten heads with Your powerful arrows and gave his brother Vibishana, who has surrendered to Your feet, the kingdom and crown. You reside in Kavalampadi where there are lots of flowering trees. The bees drink the honey and make loud noise, on hearing which, the fish jump out of fear.
Oh Lord of Kavalampadi! You are an expert dancer, exhibiting Your skill on the hoods of angry Kaliya. You are an excellent consort of Lakshmi for You have given Her a permanent abode in Your chest. You happily reside in Kavalampadi where there are mountains like strong huge buildings that speak of its reputation. You are my only resort!.
Lord! You crushed the huge powerful wrestlers, killed the mighty King Kamsa; caused the death of thousans of kings in the Mahabharata wa., You reside in Kavalampadi of Nangoor where there are stone forts and forests as natural forts, the aroma of which spread everywhere.
Oh Lord of Kavalampadi! You went as a messenger to Duryodhana on behalf of Your Pandavas in order to speak for Yudhistira. You killed Kuvalayapeeda, the mad wild elephant and its mahout. You reside in Kavalampadi of Nangoor where there is a wealth of forest and water and stand as a saviour to all.
Krishna! You sent Garuda to bring the wish- fulfilling tree from Indra’s garden (which Satyabhama wanted but was refused by Indrani) and planed it in her house. It is said Indra built the city of Nangoor in order to make it like swarga with beautiful gardens. He resides in the divya desam called Kavalampadi.
He resides in Kavalampadi where there are abundant parijata trees. The peacocks dance beautifully, enhancing the charm of the forests. The scent from the forests makes the city very aromatic where resides the Lord!