Located in the town of Thirukkovilur in Viluppuram district is the temple of Vamanadeva, known here as Thrivikrama or Ulagalantha Perumal.
Maharaja Bali was the grandson of the great devotee Prahlada. He is glorified in the Srimad Bhagavatam as one of the twelve mahajanas or great authorities in the devotional line. He was born to Virochana and Devamba. His grandfather, Prahlada Maharaja, instilled in Bali, a strong sense of dharma, values and most importantly, devotional service to the Supreme Lord. With such an upbringing, Bali Maharaja grew up to be very pious, contrary to the expected behaviour of others in his demonic (asura) clan. His reign as the king of the asuras was characterised by peace, tranquility and prosperity. Even demigods like Indra became envious of Maharaja Bali. As king of the demigods, Indra was fearful that Bali Maharaja’s popularity, power and piety would override his own sovereignty. So in his typical passionate manner, he decided to safeguard his position by waging war against the asura king. The great battle between the demigods (led by Indra) and the asuras (led by Bali) lasted for several years. Bali emerged the victor and proclaimed his authority over all the fourteen worlds. But his power did not corrupt Bali Maharaja and he remained righteous.
Maharaja Bali’s spiritual master was Shukracharya, the spiritual master of all the asuras. Shukracharya, who advised Maharaja Bali on matters of administration, asked the king to perform the ashwamedha yagna or the horse sacrifice to further strengthen his autonomy over the fourteen worlds. It is stated in Srimad Bhagavatam (1.3.28) that Lord Krishna always protects the demigods, and He incarnates to vanquish the demons who are enemies of the pious. Thus, in answer to the prayers of Aditi, the mother of Indra, He incarnated as Vamana, to divest the asuras of their control over the heavenly planets and return these to their rightful king, Indra.
Appearing as a dwarf brahmana known as Vamana, the Supreme Lord came to Bali Maharaja's sacrificial arena, begging him for three paces of land. Perceiving Vamana’s real identity, Shukracharya advised Bali not to promise Him charity. But Maharaja Bali was very happy to concede to the demands of Vamana. Thus he transgressed the order of his guru. The shastras enjoin that nobody must check the worship and service of Lord Vishnu. Therefore if such a person is one’s guru, he should be rejected. It may be recalled here that Prahlada peacefully obeyed the orders of his father Hiranyakashipu when the former tried to kill him. Prahlada allowed himself to be thrown off a cliff, immersed in a cauldron of boiling oil, enter a pit of poisonous snakes – all without protest or resistance. But when his father ordered him not to chant the holy names of the Lord, Prahlada refused to obey. This is the quality of a devotee. Everything can be compromised except service to the Supreme Lord. Mahabali is thus considered as a great devotee who rejected his own spiritual master’s order when the latter advised him not to offer a gift to Lord Vishnu. Mahabali was completely aware of the plan of Vamanadeva, yet he willingly allowed himself to be deceived by Him. He knew the unlimited power of the Lord, yet he was eager to serve Him. A devotee agrees and works for any action of the Supreme Lord.
There are nine process of bhakti (unalloyed devotion to the Lord) and Bali Maharaja is the example for one who achieved perfection by complete self-surrender or atma nivedanam. Ecstatic that he had an opportunity to fulfil the Lord’s wish, Bali Maharaja took three portions of sanctified water and performed the gift ceremony or daana karma. He requested the Lord to measure three paces of land. Vamana, the transcendental dwarf, expanded Himself to a gigantic size, as Thrivikarama, the conqueror of the three worlds. The first step of Lord Thrivikrama, with His right lotus foot, encompassed the entire world. With His left lotus foot raised above His head, His second step spanned the entire sky. When Bali Maharaja saw that the Lord was indicating with His left hand that there was still one step promised to Him, the king offered his own head for the third. Mahabali’s mind did not budge from the disposition of complete surrender to the Lord’s will. Thus through His Vamana lila, the Lord glorified His great devotee Bali. This is how He is seen in the temple of Sirkali.
The twelfth-century poet and devotee Jayadeva Gosvami writes:
chalayasi vikramane balim adbhuta vamana pada-nakha-nira-janita-jana-pavana keshava dhrta-vamana-rupa jaya jagadisha hare
“O Keshava! O Lord of the universe! O Lord Hari, who have assumed the form of a dwarf-brahmana! All glories to You! O wonderful dwarf, by Your massive steps You deceive King Bali, and by the Ganges water that has emanated from the nails of Your lotus feet You deliver all living beings within this world.”
Many years later, Sage Mrigandu wanted to have this Vishwarupa darshana of Lord where He measured the three worlds. The sage approached Lord Brahma for his advice. Brahma suggested that the sage go to Krishnakshetra (now Thirukkovilur) on the banks of the Krishnabhadra River to realize his wish. The sage, along with his wife Mitravathi, came to this place and performed severe penance for the darshana of the Lord.
The Supreme Lord came to their abode in the guise of an old brahmana and begged for food. The sage and his wife did not have even a single grain of rice to offer. The sage turned to his wife, who went into the ouse, took a bowl in hand and prayed to Lord Narayana to fill the bowl with food if she was the chaste wife of the sage. The bowl then filled of delicious food. Pleased with their penance, the Supreme Lord granted His Vishwarupa darshana to the couple.This is the Lord who resides in Thirukkovilur as Thrivikrama or Vamana Perumal.
A thousand years ago, Thirukkkovilur was one of the four largest cities in Tamil Nadu, very much like Kanchipuram, Madurai and Thanjavur. Later, kings like Adiyamman demolished the city. The famous Chola king Raja Raja Chola was born in Thriukkovilur, as Arulmozhivarman, the third child of Parantaka Sundara Chola and Vanavan Devi of the Malayaman dynasty.
The tower of the temple has eleven tiers and is 192 feet tall – the third tallest in the state, the first being at Sri Rangam, and the second at Srivilliputhur. The tower is filled with intricate figurines of god and goddesses. Pastimes from the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam are the subject of the carvings on the gopuram. The temple premise is 5 acres in area. Even after crossing the main tower, there are residential parts.
This is the holy place where the first three Alwars-Poigai Alwar, Boodhathalwar and Peyalwar- met together incidentally by the grace of the Lord. Once, during severe torrents of rain, Poigai Alwar sought a place in the ashram of Sage Mrigandu. He was shown a place to rest. After a little while, Boodhathalwar came to the same place for shelter. The first Alwar shared the space which was just sufficient for two to sit. The third Alwar-Peyalwar also came there. There was only enough space for him to stand. Suddenly, they were crammed together due to the presence of a fourth person –the Supreme Lord Vamana Himself who longed for the association of His beloved devotees.
The three Alwars composed a song describing that night when they were blessed by the darshana of the Lord. They liken His appearance in their midst, to the lighting of a lamp to dispense the rainy darkness, is chanted even now by the devotees while lighting lamps in their houses in the morning and evening.
The three Alwars attained salvation in this holy land. The Supreme Lord is praised as Ulagalantha Perumal or one who measured the worlds, as He sought a small piece of land measuring just three feet and that small piece happened to be the three worlds. The Deity, made of tharu wood, is in a standing posture. Against tradition, the Supreme Lord as Vamandeva, here holds the conch in His right hand and the discus in His left. Of the 108 temples of the Supreme Lord, this is the only temple with a self-manifested Durga deity in one of the sub shrines.. This is an important kshetra for the Vishnavas and Hindus in general in the Tamilnadu region.
Shukracharya (Venus in the zodiac sign), Guru of the asuras, has a place in the temple, commemorating his position as the spiritual master of Mahabali.
It is mostly in Shiva temples that we see Mother Vishnu Durga in the prakaras. Deities other than Vishnu and Vishnu tattvas are not generally seen in Vaishanava temples. In Thirukkovilur temple, Lord and His beloved sister Durga (maya form of Lord Vishnu) are in shrines near each other. Thirumangai Alwar who generally praises only the Lord in his hymns, had glorified Mother Durga in one of his verses. There is a 40 feet tall Garuda pillar with a small temple built on it opposite the Supreme Lord’s shrine. It is believed that Garudadeva is worshipping Lord from this temple.
Of the Pancha Krishna sthalas or five great temples of Lord Krishna, Thriukkovilur is the first. The others are : 2) Tirukannapuram,(KV 2014), 3) Tirukannangudi, (KV 2014), 4) Tirukannamangai (KV 2014) and 5) Kapisthalam (KV 2014).
Lord Krishna made of salagrama graces the devotees from a shrine on the right side of the gopuram entrance. The devotees must begin worship from this shrine and only then pass on to have darshana of the presiding Lord Thrivikrama. The great Vaishnava acharya, Manavala Mamunigal, also had rendered many hymns in praise of Lord Ulagalantha Perumal. The consort of the Lord is devotionally addressed as Sri Pushpavalli Thayar.
According to scriptures, Sage Parashurama and Sage Agasthya had performed penance at Thirukkovilur. The river flowing nearby was known in ancient times as Krishnabadra and is now known as Thenpennai. The temple pond adjacent to the gopuram is called Krishnathirtha. Srikara vimana is atop the sanctum sanctorum.
The 15 day Panguni Brahmotsavam in March-April with Sri Pushpavalli Thayar oonjal on Friday, is celebrated with much pomp and show. On these days the Lord is carried out in the mornings and evenings along the streets in various vahanas. The entire town throngs to see their beloved Lord in such glory and magnanimity. There is another festival called Masi Magam in February-March when the Lord visits Cuddalore, carried on the shoulders of devotees. These are the main festivals of the temple. Other festivals are Pavithrotsava in the month of Puratasi and Navarathri in September-October; Sri Rama Navami in the month of Chithirai, Sri Ramanuja Jayanthi and Vasanthotsava or spring festival in April-May; Garuda Seva when the Lord is carried on a golden Garuda in Vaikasi Vishaka, Nammalwar Jayanthi in May-June, Periylwar festival in June-July, Andal Utsava in July-August; Sri Krishna Janmashtami , the 10 day Sri Manavala Mamunigal festival in October-November; Kaisika Ekadashi in the month of Karthik, Thirukarthika festival of lighting lamps around the temple in November-December and the 20 day festival of Vaikuntha Ekadashi in December-January. Besides the above, important festivals such as Pongal/Makara Sankranti, Deepavali, Tamil and English New Year’s days are also observed with special processions of Lord Thrivikrama.
Nammalwar describes the beautiful place Thirukkovilur and the Supreme Lord in his work Thiruvaimozhi. Detailed explanations of his verses are given below. Alwar takes the position of a mother whose daughter is madly in love with the Supreme Lord.
This girl who looks like a young beautiful deer says that everything is Krishna for me. The food that is being eaten, the drinking water and the betel leaves fro chewing – are all Krishna. She keeps uttering such statements and melts with tear-filled eyes. His beauty and qualities (most auspicious attributes) are the only wealth for her. Listening to His glories and thinking of His beauty, she is proceeding towards Thirukkovilur.
Oh Girls! My girl has made the entire place, village and this earth utter His names, charms and qualities. Everyone is also as mad after Him like my daughter. My girl has gone beyond all disciplines/norms of the society.
“Will she ultimately reach Thriukkovilur? Will she come back to me, who is the greatest sinner? (Sinner because even after giving birth to such a gifted, saintly person, I am asking all of you to tell me her present state.) Am I not a sinner? I should have followed her.
My girl has ignored all her playful objects and pets, namely, the parrot, the ball, the small wooden toy, the flower basket, etc., and has gone towards Thirukkovilur, considering that the enjoyment that she can derive from Lord Vishnu is much more than all these play things. She utters only His names now! She has gone already! Would she have reached? Alas! Would she be crying ceaselessly with tears rolling down her soft cheeks and bimbha fruit like lips that quiver, thinking of the Lord?
Will other people talk bad about her character because she has gone to Thirukkovilur alone? They are so notorious in gossiping! Or perhaps will they say that my girl is doing what is suited to her nature and bhakti? Will she exert herself and let her legs and hip weaken by walking so long towards Thirukkovilur, where the Lord (who has none above or equal to Him and who has no better wealth than Himself) is having His yoganidra? Only due to her bold and determined action is she able to perform this.
Even in my old age, this young deer-like girl of mine is not here to help me (in day-to-day chores in the kitchen). Instead, she has left me and gone towards the South to reach Thirukkovilur. She sees the Lord Vishnu (who is most gracefully at that Divya desam with His large beautiful lotus-like eyes and round red- lipped mout)h. With tears of great joy from her eyes rolling down her soft cheeks, she quivers with her heart melting.
My girl has lost her mind, thinking of Bhagavan only. With a desire to see Him, and with that longing, she cries for Him. Tears blind her vision. The heart is choked with emotion. The external eyes are covered with tears and she cannot see. The internal eyes in the heart are also choked. How will she reach is the mother’s anguish and concern.
Day and night, she has been calling out Him and she has proceeded to Thirukkovilur. He is staying there with a pride in His face that He is the Greatest of Greatest wealth of all worlds. How will she be able to endure the journey with her heart melting, thin legs suffering and tear, rolling down the cheeks uninterruptedly? (She should expect Him to come and stay here; On the contrary, with her tender body, weak heart, she walks and He is staying there waiting for her).
My girl, has fallen in love with The Supreme Personality of Godhead at Thirukkovilur and and is proceeding towards that place. She is melting with love for Him. She is walking with her hands on her weakening hips (due to her exertion from emotions and physical strain as well). When the Supreme Personality of Godhead is staying at that divya sthalam, with Sri Mahalakshmi, (whose waist is also weakened due to her ecstasy for being with the Lord), she is suffering on her way to Thirukkovilur, leaving me all alone.
My girl is offering all good things that she comes across to Krishna, saying that everything is for Krishna only. She has got so much adoration and tremendous love for Him. When such is the case, the people talk so much ill about my girl. But she is also not bothered about all those talks.
Kulashekara Alwar says: For me all these people (who talk about me) are all mad – and I am also mad to them; I have become mad after My Supreme Personality of Godhead. She is also not bothered about me and has left me to proceed towards Thirukkovilur.
Oh Gods! I am simply NOT able to comprehend the nature of my daughter. My beautiful deer-like girl has left me and gone towards Thirukkovilur.
She has gone to Thirukkovilur to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Aravinda Lochana (lotus eyed Lord) and is unable to be away from Him even for a micro-second. She is simply not worried about her mother and the family and also the bad name that she has earned for us.