by : Sampatkumara Ramanuja Dasan (Adv. Ashwin.S)
The magnificent temple of Thirunangur Parthanpalli Parthasarathy temple is located about 11 kilometres from Sirkali in Nagapattinam district.
Padma Purana makes a detailed mention of this divya desam. This temple is the embodiment of the perpetual sakhya rasa between Arjuna and Krishna. The friendship between Arjuna and Krishna is celebrated in all scriptures.
Arjuna was born to the royal clan of Hastinapura as the son of Queen Kunti. He was fathered by the grace of Indra. He was the last son of Kunti. Krishna and Arjuna shared a special bond. Once Balarama asked Krishna why He was so fond of Arjuna. To show Him, Krishna asked Balarama to come to Him after the noon meal. When Balarama appeared before Krishna, Arjuna was sleeping with his head resting on Krishna’s lap. Krishna asked Balarama to come closer and keep His ears closer to Arjuna’s hair lock. Balarama heard each strand of Arjuna’s hair was reciting, “Narayana! Narayana!” Astonished, Balarama understood the greatness of Arjuna.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna declares that Arjuna is His dear most friend. Every jiva enjoys a special relationship with the Supreme Lord, in relationships as servant, friend, parent or conjugal lover. Arjuna is one typical example of a pure devotee of the Lord in a fraternal relationship. The Supreme Lord’s dealings with Arjuna are displays of the highest degree of friendship. He even agreed to become the charioteer of Arjuna, just to protect him from the risks of warfare. Being the driver of his chariot is hardly a request one would make of the Supreme Lord. Every time Arjuna remembered the mercy of the Supreme Lord, he would become overwhelmed with thoughts of the Lord’s magnanimity.
Krishna Himself asked Arjuna to elope with His sister Subhadra, against the wishes of Balarama. Such is the bond of friendship between Krishna and Arjuna.
Arjuna often addressed Krishna thus: “Oh my friend! Oh Yadava! Oh Krishna!”
It is very interesting to note that even during the imparting of the Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, when the Supreme Lord exhibited the universal form or virat roopa, Arjuna trembled at seeing this amazing form. Yet he does not forget his sakhya relationship with Krishna. Arjuna stammered an apology:
“I have in the past addressed you as ‘O Krishna,’ ‘O Yadava,’ ‘O my friend,’ without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love.” (Bg. 11.41)
In the Mahabharata (Sauptika Parva, XII), Krishna states, “I have no dearer friend on earth than Arjuna, and there is nothing that I cannot give to him including my wives and children.” In the Drona Parva Krishna says,“O Daruka, I shall not be able to cast My eyes, even for a single moment, on the earth bereft of Arjuna…Know that Arjuna is half of My body.”
Sometimes Krishna breaks His promise. The Kurukshetra war was inevitable, and it was time for each side to line up their friends and allies. Shakuni, the maternal uncle of Duryodhana, wanted to get the best allies possible and the question came up as to whose side Lord Krishna would take. Duryodhana had marital ties with Krishna’s family which even Arjuna had. Both of them came to the palace of Krishna in Dwaraka to seek His ties as allies. The Lord was fully aware that both parties would come to Him for help. He pretended to be fast asleep even as Duryodhana came to meet Him in His private chambers. Not wanting to wake up Krishna, Duryodhana seated himself at the head of Krishna’s bed, for he reasoned that this would befit a king of his stature. He was not ready to accept the position of servant of the Supreme Lord, Soon after, Arjuna entered, but humbly chose to sit at Krishna’s feet. Arjuna was fully aware of Krishna’s position and always cherished to become the dust at His lotus feet eternally.
Krishna suddenly gave up His pretense of sleeping, and welcomed Arjuna. But He completely ignored Duryodhana. Duryodhana shouted that he was the first to arrive and commanded respect from the Supreme Lord Himself! The Lord then offered them two choices: each of them could either have the entire army of the Yadavas or, they could have Krishna Himself on his side, but on the condition that Krishna would not take up any weapons during the war. The first choice was given to Arjuna as he is younger to Duryodhana. Duryodhana felt nervous because he had wanted the army of the Lord and thought Arjuna would choose this before him. But Arjuna chose Krishna. Relieved, Duryodhana foolishly chose to have Krishna’s army. But Arjuna was wise to know the advantages of having Krishna on his side, even if Krishna vowed that He would not take up any weapon during the war.
During the war, when Bhishma showered arrows towards Arjuna, Arjuna was reluctant to fight with his full might, as he loved his grandfather Bhishma very much. Thus, Arjuna was almost defeated. Suddenly Krishna took up a chariot wheel and rushed towards Bhishma to finish him off and to protect His dear most Arjuna. Arjuna then jumped off his chariot and begged the Lord to withdraw. The Supreme Lord thus revealed that He does not mind breaking His promise to protect His devotees.
After the war, when it was time for Arjuna to alight from the chariot, the Lord asked Arjuna to alight first so that He could follow. Arjuna, playing the role of the hero and Krishna his charioteer, asked why this peculiar advice, as it was customary for the servant to alight first and then help the master to do so. The Lord replied that since the chariot had borne the brunt of various deadly weapons, if He alighted first, Arjuna would be killed as the chariot would explode. So Arjuna obeyed His instruction and when Krishna alighted, the chariot exploded. In this way also the Lord saved Arjuna's life.
Once when Krishna had to leave Hastinapura for Dwaraka, He hurried to Arjuna’s chamber and spent the whole night discussing various topics with His friend, at the risk of upsetting His consort Satyabhama who is known to be temperamental.
It is opined that Krishna ended His earthly pastimes before the Pandavas as He could not bear to remain on earth after Arjuna had departed from it. When Yudhishtira (Dharmaraja) attained Vaikuntha, he was surprised to see Krishna there with Arjuna. He then understood that dharma is what pleases the Lord, which is exactly what Arjuna did.
Once while Lord Krishna and Arjuna were walking down a lane leading to a beautiful lake, Krishna looked up at the sky and saw a bird flying above. He said “Look, Arjuna! How beautiful the bird is!” Arjuna replied, “Yes my Lord, it is indeed a beautiful bird.” Krishna observed the bird and asked “Arjuna, what do you think of the bird? I think it’s a white cattle egret.” Without a second glance at the bird Arjuna immediately replied, “Yes my Lord, it’s a white cattle egret.”
Lord Krishna thought for a while and remarked, “No, it’s a flamingo. It looks pinkish and white. It’s a flamingo for sure.” Again, Arjuna immediately replied “Yes my Lord You are right. It is pinkish white and it’s a flamingo.”
Lord Krishna again remarked, “No Arjuna. The bird is coming closer. It’s neither a cattle egret nor a flamingo. It looks like a giant brown eagle.”
Arjuna immediately replied “Yes, my Lord. You are right. The bird is brown and it’s a giant eagle.” The Lord teased Arjuna in this manner, denying what He had said earlier, but Arjuna would agree to whatever Krishna said.
This made Lord Krishna stop His joyful play with Arjuna further, “I see you are mocking Me! Whatever I say, you agree upon. Don’t you have your own judgments and can’t you use your senses, your mind and your intelligence in determining what bird it is? Why are you always agreeing upon what I say? I see you are making fun of Me.”
Arjuna replied to Lord Krishna, “My Lord, why do You put me to such tests? Even if you declare that it’s not a bird at all but a dog or cat, I will still agree with You. For, my Lord, who can be a greater authority than You? You are the Supreme Lord, the creator of all the living entities and even the non-living objects of this world – the father, mother and the sustainer of the entire universe. I have to only obey and agree to whatever You say.” Krishna was amused by the reply.
Arjuna went on, “It won’t take more than a fraction of a second for You to create a cattle egret and then instantly convert it to a flamingo. You can transform it into an elephant as well. You are all powerful and can do anything. Everything is resting upon You as pearls are strung on a thread. I therefore accept whatever You say. You are my authority. Even the demigods cannot understand Your magnitude. I am a worthless insignificant insect in Your presence. This is the real fact. My beloved Lord, how can I disagree with You?”
Lord Krishna embraced Arjuna and they thus exchanged intimate moments of perpetual friendship.
During an incident when some thieves stole a brahmana’s cows, Arjuna was forced to violate Yudhishtira’s and Draupadi's privacy, as he had left the Gandhiva bow in their chambers. Despite the understanding of all and being forgiven by both Yudhishtira and Draupadi, Arjuna accepted the punishment agreed upon with Narada Muni and set off on a twelve-year pilgrimage. Arjuna started his pilgrimage by visiting the source of the river Ganga. It was here that he met the Naga princess, Uloopi. She was mesmerized by Arjuna and forcefully took him to Nagaloka (the land of the snake-people) and gave him a choice: if he married her, she would let him go; otherwise, she would not. He married her, and they had a son called Iravan. Then he proceeded towards the south and when he reached the delta of the Cauvery, he began to miss the Supreme Lord terribly. With tears in his eyes, Arjuna began to perform a penance to invoke the Lord’s presence before him. The Lord immediately appeared blissfully before him. His lotus eyes earned Him the name Thamaraiyal Kelvan or the blissful Lord with lotus eyes. The spot where Arjuna had this darshana of the Lord is called Parthanpalli. It was here that Arjuna was also initiated into learning the Absolute Truth by Lord Parthasarathy, to understand who he really was and what his real powers were. Since Arjuna was initiated here and played the role of a student, this temple came to be known after him as ‘Parthan palli.’ (Partha is another name of Arjuna and palli means temple). The Lord came to be known as Thamaraiyal Kelvan or Parthasarathy, or the charioteer of Partha.
A majestic five-tiered, west facing rajagopuram of significant proportion welcomes people with all grandeur. The temple complex has a single prakaram. As we pass through the dwajasthambha, colossal figures of Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers of Vaikuntha, guard the doors. The main sanctum sanctorum is that of Thamaraiyal Kelvan Perumal, or the Lord with lotus eyes. He is seen with His consorts Sridevi and Bhoodevi. The procession Deity Lord Parthasarathy holds a sword in one hand. Kolavalli Rama is next to the procession Deity, holding a bow. The specialty of this temple is that Sri Rama appears here with two consorts, which cannot be seen in other temples.
Emperor Dasharatha performed a yagna, praying to Lord Narayana for children. He was sure that Lord Narayana Himself would be his son and wanted to see the gift in advance. Lord Narayana appeared before Dasharatha with His two consorts. As Lord Narayana had vowed to marry only once in His Rama avatara, it would not be possible to have such a darshana during this incarnation, so King Dasharatha was greatly delighted to see Them.
In the first prakaram we find a separate shrine for the consort of the Lord, Mahalakshmi, who is known in this place as Shenbagavalli Thayar or the mother who is the colour of champaka flowers. There is also a unique shrine here for Arjuna. The vimana of the temple is called Narayana Vimanam and there is a beautiful pond on the southern side of the temple complex called Katka theertham. The festival Deity of Thamaraiyal Kelvan is called Parthasarathy. There is a separate shrine for Krishna and Rama, both of whom can be seen in the shrine of Thamaraiyal Kelvan. There is a separate hall in the temple complex that houses the festival chariots.
The temple is open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sri Vaishnava priests perform the rituals during festivals and on a daily basis. There are separate priests for daily worship and for festivals. The temple follows the pancharatra method of worship. The temple rituals are performed four times a day – the early morning worship or the ushat puja at 8 a.m., morning worship or kala santha at 10 a.m., the sayamkalam puja at 5 p.m. and ardha jama at 7 p.m. During each puja delicious foodstuffs are offered to the Lord. The menu of offerings changes according to the season. Elaborate arati is offered to both Thamaraiyal Kelvan Parthasarathy and Shenbagavalli. Sacred chants from the 4000 divya prabandas are chanted by priests and brahmanas during the worship. There is a separate section of brahmanas who chant the Vedic scriptures during the worship. and worshippers prostrate themselves in front of the temple mast. There are weekly, monthly and fortnightly rituals performed in the temple.
The annual Theerthavari festival is celebrated during the new moon day of the Tamil month of Aadi when the festival Deity of the temple is taken in a procession to the sea at Poompuhar and is given a sacred dip in the sea.
The Thirumangai Alwar festival to commemorate the occasion of his visiting this temple is one of the major festivals in this temple, celebrated on the new moon day of the Tamil month of Thaai (January–February). The festival deity of Thirumangai Alwar is brought to the temple from Thiruvali-Thirunagari (the birth place of Thirumangai Alwar). The highlight of the festival is Garudasevai, an event during which the festival Deities of the eleven divya desams around Thirunangu are brought on golden Garuda vahanas, to Thirunangur. The festive deity of Thirumangai Alwar is also brought on a Hamsa vahana (swan carrier) along with his consort Kumudavalli Nachiyar and his poems in praise of Vishnu dedicated to each of these eleven temples are recited during the occasion. The festival deities of Thirumangai Alwar and his consort Kumudavalli Nachiyar are taken in a palanquin to each of the eleven temples. The verses dedicated to each of the eleven temples are chanted in the respective shrines. This is one of the most important festivals in the region which draws thousands of visitors. Recently all the Garuda vahanas that are made of gold have been studded with gems.
The Lord of Parthanpalli is the only divya desam Lord among the 11 Vishnu temples in Thirunangur, who is praised by an Alwar other than Thirumangai Alwar. Thirumangai Alwar has praised Parthasarathy, the Lord of Parthanpalli, in ten verses in a work known as Periya Thirumozhi. He refers to Krishna as the one who protects His devotees, and provides happiness to all those who believe in Him and His powers. The Alwar goes on to say that He who rules the seven worlds is also the one who resides here inside the sturdy huge walls of Parthanpalli at Thirunangur. •