Located close to Thirunangur, a small village, 8 km east of Sirkali en route to Thiruvenkadu, is the modest yet very prominent temple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Narayana, Thirumanikoodam Varadaraja Perumal.
Chandra who is the master of the moon planet is said to have emerged from the sea of milk, when it was churned by the asuras and devas. Because of his brilliant form and radiance, he was given the status of a planet, one of the Navagrahas and is considered a deva. He is also referred to as Soma. He is described as a tall person with a very handsome personality. However, before this birth, he is said to have been born twice before.
According to legend, the moon god, Chandra, was born three times, which is why he also came to be known as Trijanmi. The first time, he was created by Brahma, and the second time, he emerged from the eyes of Sage Atri. Chandra’s radiance became so powerful and intolerable that he was immersed in an ocean of milk to ensure the world’s survival. Later, the churning of the ocean by the asuras and devas, Chandra was reborn and released along with Goddess Lakshmi and thus came to be known as Lakshmi’s brother.
Prajapathi Daksha, one of the prajapathis or progenitors, married off 27 of his daughters to the handsome Chandra on condition that Chandra should love them all equally.
Among his 27 wives who were Prajapathi Daksha ’s daughters, Chandra was especially fond of his fourth wife, Rohini, and spent most of his time with her. The other wives resented his indifference to them and complained about it to their father. Prajapathi Daksha immediately cursed Chandra, “May your powers decline with the passing of each day!” losing his temper as usual.
Now the rest of the daughters regretted telling Prajapathi Daksha, as their intention was not to punish Chandra – all they wanted was his attention. What if their husband simply disappeared one day along with his powers?
Chandra begged Prajapathi Daksha to take the curse back. But once a curse is uttered, no one can revoke it. “I am sorry, son,” Prajapathi Daksha said, ‘There is nothing I can do now. Perhaps if you pray to Shiva, he may help you.”
Holding on to this slim ray of hope, Chandra came down to Thirumanikoodam and prayed earnestly to Lord Varadaraja, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Pleased with Chandra’s devotion, Lord Varadaraja appeared and said, ‘Chandra, I empathise with your plight and though I cannot reverse Prajapathi Daksha’s curse, I can soften it to some extent. From this day onward, you will increase in brightness for 15 days in Shukla Paksha and then wane for 15 days in Krishna Paksha. You will fill the world with your radiance on full moon days and disappear on new moon days.”
Chandra was disappointed at the thought of waxing and waning. His crescent shape would just be a constant reminder of the curse and his reduced strength! Lord Varadaraja consoled him by saying, “My dear child, the crescent indicates that you will still retain some of your powers. I will wear your crescent on My chest as an ornament to show My devotees that they are dear to Me even in their lowest moments. That way, you will be My constant companion. To this day, the Chandraharam or moon crescent ornament is a favourite ornament in most Vishnu temples. In Srirangam the Supreme Lord wears a very antique and precious Chandraharam.
The moon came to be known as Soma and one day of the week—Somavara or Monday—was dedicated to him. The Deity that Chandra worshipped became famous as the pilgrimage site of Thirumanikoodam in Thirunangur. Generous donations were made to this temple, which was later plundered many times by fanatic Muslim rulers.
The 27 wives of Chandra are the constellations surrounding the moon’s orbit, and are frequently referred to as nakshatras or stars. The names of these nakshatras – for example, Kritika, Rohini and Ashwini – are still an important part of the Hindu calendar.
There is yet another legend surrounding the temple, the legend of all the eleven temples of Thirunangur being closely associated with each other. Shiva started dancing in fury at this place after the death of his consort Uma due to the yagna (sacrifice) of Daksha. Each time a lock of Shiva’s matted hair touched the ground, eleven other forms of Shiva appeared. The celestial deities were worried that if the dance continued, it would result in decimation of the entire creation. They prayed to Lord Vishnu for help, who appeared at this place. On seeing Vishnu, Shiva's anger was reduced and he requested Vishnu to appear in eleven forms as he had. On his request, Vishnu appeared in eleven different forms at Tirunangur. The eleven places where Vishnu appeared are believed to be where the eleven temples in Thirunangur are located. And this temple of Thirunangur is related to Vishnu answering the prayer of Chandra.
The temple is of modest nature and perhaps stands today as a silent victim of cruel Islamic invaders, devoid of yesteryears glory and pomp. The temple complex has a single prakaram (outer courtyard) and a single altar. Garuda, the celestial vehicle of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is seen at the entrance of the temple. The mahamandapam and ardhamandapam are in modest form. The main Deity, Sri Varadaraja Perumal facing east with four hands, also known as Manikooda Nayakan, is in a standing posture on Adisesha. On the right of the square shaped lotus pedestal, Mahalakshmi appears in the standing position and Bhoodevi is seen on the left. The festival Deity is known as Varadaraja Perumal, is flanked by Sridevi and Bhoodevi on both sides. In the northern side of the ardhamandapam, Nammalwar graces in the sitting posture. The Chandra pushkarani (pond) is situated nearby.
The annual Brahmotsavam festival is celebrated during the new moon day of the Tamil month of Aadi, when Lord Varadaraja Perumal is taken in a procession to the sea at Poompuhar, to take a dip and purify the sea. During the new moon day of the Tamil month Thai, the festival Deity of Thirumangai Alwar is brought to the temple from Thiruvali-Thirunagari. The Thirumangai Alwar Mangalasasana Utsavam is celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai (January–February). The highlight of the festival is Garudasevai, an event in which the festival Deities of the eleven Thirunangur divya desam are brought on Garuda Vahana, to Thirunangur. The festival deity of Thirumangai Alwar is also brought on a Hamsa Vahana and his pasurams (verses) dedicated to each of these eleven temples are recited during the occasion. The festival deity of Thirumangai Alwar and his consort Kumudavalli Naachiyar 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.
Thirumangai Alwar has compsed this beautiful poem on the Lord of Thirumanikoodam:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana—who saved Gajendra from the wicked crocodile; who saved the Vrindavan folk and cows from the onslaught of heavy rain caused by Indra – resides in Thirumanikoodam where the Ponni River brings along in her current, heaps of gold and where the trees bear flowers whose fragrance spread everywhere
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana killed Pootana when she come screaming and shouting to kill Him. He did so by sucking the milk along with her life. Sri Rama killed the whole clan of rakshasas in Lankapuri and wiped them out them like one eradicates plague. He resides in Thirumanikoodam where young women take bath in the Kaveri. The kumkum paste smeared on their beautiful breasts dissolves in the wate,r making it red and aromatic.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana killed Keshi—an asura in the form of a horse, He crawled to fell the twin maruda trees, He subdued the might of seven bulls to marry Andal. He resides in Thirumanikoodam where vaideekas not only chant Vedas but practice the dharma said therein, and also perform the sacrifice that the Vedas administer them to do
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana does the act of virodhi nirasana – conquest of enemies. He pulled out the tusk of the huge and angry Kuvalayapeeda, tore open the mouth of Keshi, broke the kurunda tree, subdued the seven bulls, split open the beak of Bakasura. He resides in Thirumanikoodam where there are mango groves and banana crops. The monkeys eat the mangoes, jump on to the banana trees (which made the bees that were drinking honey from the banana flowers fly away) and started eating bananas.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana cut off the ears and nose of Shoorpanaka, the rakshasi who exercised her power over Lankapuri since she is the sister of King Ravana. He resides in Thirumanikoodam with Bhoomi devi (who patiently bears the offences done to her by people) and Mahalakshmi.
(Though it was Lakshmana who cut off the ears and nose of Shoorpanaka, all the Alwars credit this to Lord Rama, since it is said that the younger brother is the right hand of Rama: ramasya dakshino bahuh)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana takes many avataras to subjugate the wicked and protect the virtuous. He takes the forms of fish, dwarf, swan, boar, man-lion, half horse (horse headed form). Not only is He very compassionate, He is the niyanta and antaryami to all objects like sun, moon, etc., and whatever exists. He resides in Thirumanikoodam where live the devotees who drove away the Pandya and Chola king from the battle field.
He is the mountains, sky, earth, water, sun, moon and other luminaries in the sky and everything else in this world. He resides in Thirumanikoodam where the southern breeze blows, bringing sweet fragrance from the forests through the broad streets, fields, forests, buildings and houses and all the places of this holy city.
He is thus the giver of all kinds of knowledge and is the truth and falsehood. He is also the giver of blessing without any discrimination and without any asking, without any expectation in return. He is, in short, everything in this world. He resides in Thirumanikoodam where there are lotus ponds in which valai fish live, playing and jumping after drinking the pollen fallen on the water. When they suddenly jump, the red fish are frightened and swim away from the spot.
All these above are ordained by Him. Understanding the nature of these and the nature of the Supreme Lord who has ordained these, the rishis and devas praise Him and worship Vishnu of the trimoorthi.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sriman Narayana resides forever in the Thirupati called Thirumanikoodam, where there are tall buildings, the roofs of which touch the bottom of the moon. About Him, Thirumangai Alwar has sung these ten pasurams. Those who meditate on the meaning of these will rule over this vast earth surrounded by seas and finally reach the supreme abode Sri Vaikuntha and live happily rendering eternal service to the Supreme Lord.