Thirukanchi-Varadaraja Perumal Temple – The King who blesses the most
Situated about 5km from Kanchipuram town in Little Kanchi is the huge temple of Devaraja Perumal or Varadaraja Perumal.
In the colloquial language of Sri Vaishavas, “Perumal Kovil” means Kanchipuram Varadaraja Perumal temple.
Since much has to be discussed about this huge temple complex and also about the various Vaishnava saints associated with the shrine, we would publish them in multiple series.
According to the legend, Lord Brahma underwent severe penance to fulfil his desire for darshan of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana with shanku, chakra and gadha, (conch, disc, and mace). Lord Narayana, pleased at the devotion of Lord Brahma, gave Him darshan in the form of a sacred pond. Lord Brahma was not satisfied so he continued his tapasya. This time, Lord Narayana appeared in the form of a forest that came to be known as Naimisharanya. At this point of time, an unknown voice from the sky instructed Lord Brahma to perform hundred ashwamedha yagnas to get the darshan of the four handed Supreme Personality of Godhead as Sri Varadaraja. Lord Brahma felt depressed at the thought of performing hundred ashwamedha yagnas and the requirement of time and efforts for it. As per the instruction of Lord Narayana, performing one ashwamedha yagna at the sacred land of Kanchi is equivalent to thousand ashwamedha yagnas, so Lord Brahma began performing the yagna. Sri Varadharajar emerged out of the sacred fire and finally Lord Brahma had the darshan of Sri Varadharajar as he desired. According to another legend, Saraswathi cursed the king of celestial beings, Indra, to become an elephant. He was freed from the curse with the blessings of Lord Vishnu who appeared as the mountain, Hastagiri, which indicates a mountain in the form of elephant. According to yet another legend, the disciples of Sage Gautama were cursed to become lizards. They resided in the temple and were freed from the curse by the divine grace of Lord Vishnu. There two lizards are depicted on the roof of the temple.
Ananthasaras pond in the temple
There are three prakarams in the temple. A devotee enters the temple, he is greeted by the huge rajagopuram in milk white colour. The temple is set in an extensive compound of about 23 acres, and has 32 small shrines, 19 vimanas and a hall with 389 pillars.
The temple is a fine masterpiece of Dravidian architecture, show-casing the architectural skills of ancient Vishwakarma sthapathis or sculptors. The prakarams of the temple are called Alwar Prakaram, Madai Palli Prakaram and Thiru Malai Prakaram.
The main sanctum faces west and is on the first floor. Entry is through the 130 feet tall, 7-tiered rajagopuram. It was built by Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara dynasty. The hill, called Hastagiri, is 360 m (1,180 ft) length by 240 metres (790 ft) width. One of the most famous architectural pieces in the temple is the huge stone chain sculpted in a single stone. A 100-pillared hall has sculptures depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is a masterpiece of Vijayanagara architecture.
Hastagiri has murals of the Vijayanagara Empire on the ceiling. Another significant feature of the temple are beautifully carved lizards gilded with gold, over the sanctum. The vimana over the sanctum of Varadaraja Perumal is called Punyakoti Vimanam and the one over Perundevi Thayar’s shrine is called Kalyana Koti Vimanam.
There is a shrine to Lord Narasimha on the base of the hill.
In the second prakaram, downstairs are four shrines, to the Alwars and Ramanuja in the second precinct.
The third prakaram has the shrine of Goddess Perundevi Thayar. It is customary for devotees to visit this shrine first before visiting the main Perumal shrine, in keeping with the great instructions of acharyas that the first step to please the Supreme Lord is to please the divine mother, Mahalakshmi. There are four small, pillared halls, identical in structure, called Thulabara Mantapas, built during 1532, for a ceremony of Achyutaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire that is now used for offerings by devotees.
There is a shrine of Chakratalwar or Sudarshana Chakra on the eastern side of the temple tank. This deity of Chakrathalwar in the temple is depicted with six hands. There festival deities of the temple has seven different images of Sudarshana depicted within the same Chakra. There are two entrances to the shrine, as the two deities are considered to be separate. The shrine is believed to have been constructed during the time of Kulothunga III during 1191 CE by Ilavazhagan Kalingarayan of Nettur, as seen from the inscriptions in the temple. The later additions were presumably made by Vijayanagar Empire during the 13th or early part of the 14th century. The kings also added pillared columns in the leading hall, sculpted with figures from the Ramayana as well as various forms of Vishnu.
The original main Deity of the temple of Lord Varadaraja Perumal is made of fig wood and for some reasons is deposited in a silver chest in the temple pond. The devotees can have darshan of this Deity only once in 41 years. Which means that an average human can have darshan of this deity only twice in his lifetime. It’s a matter of great coincidence that the said event is scheduled this year from June 17th till mid-august. In lieu of the main Deity, another Deity from a place called Pazhaya Seevaram was brought for daily worship. The festival Deity of the temple, affectionately called as Perarulalan, has scars all over his face, According to the history of the temple, as Lord Varadaraja appeared from the fire of a sacrifice performed by Lord Brahma, the Lord acquired the pinkish spots on His face when He emerged from the fire.
The Temple Complex and Royal Patronage
The temple has received numerous contributions from various dynasties like Chola, Pandya, Telugu Chodas, Kandavarayas, Cheras, Kakatiya, Sambuvaraya, Hoysala and Vijayanagara. There are various inscriptions indicating various other donations to the temple and also the political situation of Kanchipuram. There is a belief that the temple structure as we see today, was initially built by the Pallava king, Nandivarman II. The main mantapas of the Varadaraja Perumal temple was originally built by the Cholas in 1053 and it was expanded during the reigns of the great Chola kings Kulottunga Chola I and Vikrama Chola. In the 14th century, another wall and a gopura were built by the later Chola kings. When a Mughul invasion was expected, the main Deity was sent to Udayarpalayam, now part of Tiruchirapalli District. It was brought back with great difficulty. There are inscriptions dated 1532 CE indicating a gift of a number of villages made by Achyutaraya.Vira. Narasingaraya Saluva Nayaka, who was directed by Achyutaraya, broke the royal order by giving more lands to Ekambaranathar temple than to the Varadaraja Swamy temple against the instruction of an equal gift to either of the temples. Achyutaraya, on hearing this, equally distributed the lands to both the temples.
Every Friday, the consort of the Supreme Lord, Perundevi Thaayar, goes out on a procession within the prakaram. She does not leave the temple premises. The 10-day Brahmotsavam during the month of Vaikashi is celebrated with great joy and opulence. This great temple has some festival every month and the Garuda vahana of this temple is of great importance.
Robert Clive and Varadaraja Perumal
One of the ornaments decorating Lord Varadaraja is the Clive necklace. Robert Clive, the British Governor of Madras during the 1700s, presented this necklace in appreciation to the Varadaraja Deity after his fight with the Muslim Nawab of Arcot. On the way to Arcot, Clive stopped at Kanchi. Having suffered severe stomach pain for several days, he was worried about the outcome of the impending battle. The priests gave him holy water and sanctified food, and upon taking these he was relieved from the pain. In gratitude, he decided that he would present to Lord Varadaraja, the most valuable thing he captured from Arcot’s treasury. Another time, while Lord Varadaraja was being fanned, Clive expressed his doubts about the Deity feeling hot. Upon hearing this, the priest fanning the Lord wiped the His face with a small towel and gave it to Clive, who was amazed to find it wet.
The temple was sung of by various Alwars and acharyas. Many great acharyas of Sri Vaishnavism have very strong connection with the Supreme Lord at Thirukanchi. In the next issue we shall immerse in the glory of Thirukanchinambi, who was one among the siksha gurus of Ramanuja and the only one to converse with the Supreme Lord of Kanchipuram.
(To be continued)
Sri Varadaraja Perumal (Moolavar)
Close up of the moolavar
Moola Deity of Mahalakshmi
Athi Varadar, the original main Deity who gives darshan every 40 years