Located in the Nagapatinam district of Tamil Nadu is the charming temple of Arimeya Vinnagaram. This serene temple is home to the Deity of Vishnu as Gopala, the cowherd.
Sage Uthanga was a great devotee of the Supreme Lord and a learned brahmana. He was called Vipra Rishi. Vipra Rishis are very learned and wise Vedic scholars and are mostly brahmanas.
There is an interesting pastime of Uthanga Rishi, which is elaborately described in the Vayu Purana. Sage Uthanga was a very pious, who performed penance for the welfare of mankind. He was a regular visitor to Dwaraka and Krishna was very dear to him. Krishna had a special affection towards him. After all Krishna is gau brahmana hita, the protector of the cows and brahmanas. In those times, brahmanas were very pious and strict in executing their duties. Sage Uthanga used to wander in secluded areas and had no fixed residence. He was an avadhuta and stitapragnya. He had no desire, no lust, no hatred, and no greed. He was absorbed and fixed in another realm- pure devotional service of Krishna.
Lord Krishna was very happy with the sage’s penances and prayers. He showed the sage His universal form or virata rupa and granted him any boon. Sage Uthanga told Krishna that he desired to see the universal form of the Lord and he just prayed to Krishna with trembling hands; he had no interest in petty material boons. But Lord Krishna insisted that the sage ask for some boon to be granted to him as a reward for his penance. As Lord Krishna insisted, the latter asked for a boon that whenever he was in need of water and whenever he felt thirsty, water may be provided to him. Lord Krishna granted him the boon and disappeared. Sage Uthanga knew that in Bhagavad- gita Krishna says, “I am the taste of water.” In short, Sage Uthanga asked for Krishna Himself. For pure devotees, everything is connected with Krishna.
One day, after Sage Uthanga walked for a long distance in the desert area, he felt thirsty, but there was no trace of water. Then he remembered that Lord Krishna had granted him a boon that he would find water. As the sage recalled this, he saw a hunter dressed in torn rags accompanied by furious dogs, carrying water in a leather pouch. The hunter asked him, "Oh sage, would you like to drink some water?" Looking at the apparent condition of the hunter and being a staunch brahmana, the sage felt repelled. He politely refused. The hunter again approached him to drink the water, but in utter disgust and anger the sage told the hunter to go way and that he was not interested in the water. The hunter and the dogs disappeared. Witnessing this, the sage realized that the hunter may have been Krishna Himself in disguise, come to quench the sage’s thirst. He felt hurt at how Lord Krishna had sent water to him through a chandala. How could He expect a brahmana to accept and drink water from the leather pouch?
Meantime, Lord Krishna appeared, smiled and asked him, “Who was the chandala?” Krishna had asked Indradeva to fetch the water. But instead of water, Indra had actually brought nectar that makes one immortal, but only on condition that one can see the Divinity in all. Sage Uttanga understood the meaning of it and begged pardon. He insisted that he did not desire for immortality and would only be interested in serving Lord Krishna as long as he lived.
The pastime connected to the appearance of the Supreme Lord in Arimeya Vinnagaram took place when Sage Uthanga was a pupil. Legend has it that Sage Uthanga learned the Vedas during his childhood from Sage Vaidhya. It was a practice that when a student left the hermitage of his guru after completing his studies, he would make some dakshina or offering to the lotus feet of the guru. Thus the child Uthanga asked his guru what he would like to have as guru dakshina, as it would be wise to offer what the teacher wanted than to offer what the student wanted. The guru patni (guru’s wife) expressed her desire to have the earrings of the queen whose husband ruled that city. Uthanga approached the Queen with his request to have her earrings to offer as guru dakshina. Kings always fulfilled the desires of the brahmanas. So the Queen offered him the earrings without any hesitation; she had already heard about Uthanga’s truthfulness.
Uthanga happily returned to the hermitage of the guru. On his way back he was fatigued with hunger and thirst, so he decided to rest for a while. Immediately there appeared an attractive cowherd with a mud pot on his head and a bamboo stick in his hand, dancing to his own tunes, surrounded by his cows. Uthanga solemnly requested the cowherd to give him something to drink from his pot. The cowherd mischievously answered that the pot contained cow dung and urine that was accepted by his guru Vaidhya. Since it is very difficult to get the mahaprasadam of the guru, as soon as Uthanga heard this, without any further thought, he immediately put down his belongings and accepted the contents of the pot. Suddenly there appeared out of nowhere, a boy who cleverly seized Uthanga’s belongings and slithered off. Uthanga chased the boy, but the boy vanished into a hole in a tree trunk. Uthanga desperately requested the cowherd boy to help him get back his belongings. At once there arrived a man on his horse back. The cowherd boy suggested that Uthanga request the horseman for help and followed Uthanga. Uthanga anxiously approached the rider and explained the whole pathetic state of affairs. The man was deeply moved at by the story and promised to help the boy get back his belongings. He moved in front of the tree trunk hole and forced the horse to sneeze heavily. Instead of air and mucus, fire and heat came out of the horse’s nose. The boy who was in hiding came out because of the unbearable heat. He returned the belongings of Uthanga and begged for forgiveness. Uthanga expressed his gratitude to the cowherd boy and the horseback rider. He happily returned to the hermitage of his guru.
Uthanga narrated all the events to Sage Vaidhya. After listening to Uthanga, Sage Vaidhya replied that the cowherd boy was none other than Lord Vishnu, the horse was Lord Agni and the man on horseback was Lord Indra. They had all come to test Uthanga’s devotion towards his guru. The cow dung and urine were the divine medicine which helped Uthanga to remain safe and sound. Thus Uthanga’s desire to have darshana of Lord Vishnu in the form of a cowherd boy, Gopala, grew more and more after listening to his guru Sage Vaidhyar. The most compassionate Lord gave darshana as Sri Kudamadukuthan (kudam-adu-kuthan) to Sage Uthanga on this sacred land. In Tamil kudam means pot, adu means play and kuthan means dance. The Supreme Lord playfully appeared as a dancing boy with pot, known and worshipped here as Kudamadukuthan Perumal. The place has since then been referred to as Harimeya Vinnagaram or the place where Hari danced.
The temple has a single prakara. The rajagopuram is impressive and simple. The central shrine houses the Deity of Krishna seated with His feet on a pot, as if dancing. The bewitching beauty of the Lord is a feast to the eyes! The main Deity is made of a special kind of burned clay and therefore no abisheka is performed for Him except for fragrant oil massage. The festival Deity is called Gopala or the cowherd boy of Sage Uthanga. There is a separate shrine for Amrutha Kadavalli, the consort of the Lord. Brahmotsava and other annual festivals are celebrated with much pomp in this temple.
Thirumangai Alwar sings about the Lord of Arimeya Vinnagaram in ten beautiful songs:
Gopal resides in Arimeya Vinnagaram with Lakshmi and Bhoomi devi on both sides. He removes all sins of His servants and blesses them. He is worshipped and His glories are sung by eternal residents of Vaikuntha and the people of seven worlds. This place is beautiful with plenty of flowering plants and trees in the forests, lotuses in all ponds and well versed brahmanas who spread the fame everywhere. Thirumangai asks his mind not to go stupidly after worldly things but to worship Him.
My very sweet nectar resides in Arimeya Vinnagaram where brahmanas sing hymns with seven swaras and chant Vedas, teach itihasas and Puranas and who possess excellent gunas that speak of the wealth of the city. Our Lord who resides here is the one who killed Narakasura with His discus, churned the milk ocean with Mandara mountain to give nectar to the devas. Oh! My mind! Worship and meditate on His form.
He is the sweet boy who once swallowed Brahma and devas, seven worlds and seven seas. He is the boy who once killed the wild bull whose head looked like a pot and who pulled Kamsa from his throne and killed him, causing relief and happiness to the devotees. He resides in Arimeya Vinnagaram in Nangoor where there are champaka trees whose buds look like white pearls and whose full bloomed flowers look like gold. The women of this city are very beautiful with hood-like hips and arrow-like eyes.
He who split open the chest of Hiranya with His sharp nails and protected his son Prahlada, resides in Thirunangoor where there are forests full of champaka, punnai, and jasmine dispersing their variety of aroma in the air. Added to it is the aromatic smoke from the sugarcane cottages where jaggery is made by boiling the sugar cane.
The Supreme Lord took a charming Vamana avatara for the sake of Indra and begged Bali only three feet of land. When He got it He measured with His huge Trivikrama form, the whole of the upper regions, the Bhoomi, the oceans and all other objects. He resides in Arimeya Vinnagaram where the sound of the playing of musical instruments, the sound of Vedic chanting, the sound of the buzzing of bees and the jingling sound of women’s anklets when they dance and walk—all of these together produce a sound similar to the roaring of the sea during pralaya when the waves rise sky high.
The son of Dasharatha (Sri Rama) fought with Ravana, the king of Lanka and cut off his ten heads and twenty arms since he abducted Sita devi and put her in a secluded place. He is my sole asylum since He is the savior, as He is the chief of even eternal residents of Vaikuntha. He resides in Thiru Arimeya Vinnagaram where there are big lotus ponds full of different kinds of fish.
The Supreme Lord killed the rakshasas called Dhenuka and Puthana who were sent by the wicked Kamsa to kill Krishna. He is dark in colour, having Manmatha (Cupid) as His son. He resides in Arimeya Vinnagaram—where brahmanas chant four vedas, meditate on His gunas, perform sacrifices, do pancha maha yajnas, teach Vedangas, discourse on itihasas and Puranas, having moksha as their final goal.
Sri Krishna, who killed Kapitasura by throwing Vatsasura on him causing the fruits to fall for the Vraja boys to eat; who lifted Govardhana mountain to prevent the heavy rain tormenting the men and animals of Vraja; who played the pot dance; who is dark like clouds and who possesses all auspicious gunas—resides in Arimeya Vinnagaram. The city is rich with great mansions, forts with flags flying on their walls, public halls with gem-studded walls, brahmanas who chant Vedas, wide roads, thick forests where birds chirp and flowers shed honey which the bees drink and then buzz with joy.
Sri Krishna, the ever youthful one, consumed the life of Puthana, the life of Kamsa, the curds and butter and the whole world (during pralaya). He resides in Arimeya Vinnaharam where the brahmanas offer flowers praying “Oh Hari! You are one sole refuge!”; where the Cauvery flows, bringing sandalwood trees and gold along her current; where the river irrigates the forests and fields bringing wealth and prosperity to the city.