Located in the Thiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, near the sea, is the wonderful temple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Bhaktavatsala Perumal or He who is very compassionate to devotees.
The legend of this temple is associated with Samudraraja or Varunadeva. Varuna (from the Sanskrit root vru, meaning "to surround") is a Vedic demigod who presides over the celestial ocean surrounding the earth. Ancient classification differentiated entities into two: asuras and devas. Originally, the asuras were elevated to the rank of sovereign gods and classified as Adityas, or sons of Aditi (infinity). Varuna was the most prominent of these demigods. As time progressed, other members of the Vedic pantheon, the subordinate devas such as Indra, Agni and Soma, would eventually eclipse Varuna in importance. The eventual rise of the devas to prominence led the asuras to be seen as demonic but not all of them are demonic; for instance, Prahlada Maharaja, Bali Maharaja and Vibheeshana were all great devotees of the Supreme Lord. Varuna came to supremacy as a celestial god in the Vedic pantheon by supplanting the elder demigods. His ascendance to this position above the other gods is not surprising. As chief of the Adityas, Varuna possesses aspects of a solar deity. He alone allows the sun to shine on the firmament, representing the 'dark' side of the Sun as it travelled back from West to East during the night. Varuna developed to become the god of the night sky exclusively, with the constellations representing his holy actions, and the moon moving by his will alone. The stars were also said to the represent his many eyes, or spasa. This term spasa later came to mean "spy," and thus these celestial eyes were seen as representative of his spies who oversaw the moral actions of humanity.
The archetypal divine monarch, Varuna inhabits the kingdom of Sukha, referring to "happiness," which is located on Pushpagiri, the "flower mountain." Here he dwells in a thousand-columned golden palace where he sits to observe humanity.
No creature carries on without Varuna. His incomprehensible wisdom is further illustrated in the act of initiation of his son, the sage Rishi Vishishtha, into the shruti, the esoteric knowledge which fills the Vedas and is only available to the spiritually advanced. There are no limits to Varuna's knowledge: he knows of a hundred thousand medicines to heal any affliction, and foresees all destinies. Varuna also grants wealth to his devout followers and protects cattle. He is also responsible for steering the safe course of ships across water, which may foreshadow his later status as monarch of the terrestrial waters. In the Vedas, Varuna is not directly connected to water, but instead represents water as it is present in the elements of ether and earth. He dug out the riverbeds, which flow by his command. Further, he sees to it that rivers, when entering into the ocean, do not cause overflow.
It seems that Varuna was heralded as a divinity in the Vedic religion for only a brief period. In the Rig Veda, he was frequently referred to by the title samraj, or "emperor," a title which was rarely used to refer to more popular demigods such as Indra, who would eventually rise to supremacy over the rest of the demigods. Despite his supremacy in the early Rig Veda as omniscient and omnipotent sky and ocean god, Varuna's ascendancy through the whole of the work is not particularly evident when compared to other demigods.
Throughout the Vedas, Varuna is mentioned 341 times, while Indra, chief of the Devas, is mentioned approximately six-fold that. This may misrepresent the actual importance of Varuna in early Vedic society due to the focus of the Rig Veda upon Agni and Soma ritual, and the close relation between the Soma ritual and Indra.
Varuna maintains dharma with help from Mitra, the asura who originally represented oath personified. Together Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the oath, and are often identified together as Mitra-Varuna. Mitra represents the human side of Vedic religion, which is based in ritual contracts. Varuna, in contrast, is the sovereign of the material world and works as a humble servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Along with Mitra, Varuna is called the lord of light.
Varuna is also twinned with Indra, the warrior god who presides over the storm, and together they are referred to as Indra-Varuna. In Rig Veda 4.42, Varuna explicitly states the connection between himself and Indra as the lord of Devaloka (there are 14 planets 7 above earth and 6 below earth.)
While at first the two deities cooperate, signs of impending conflict are evident early on in the Rig Veda, as the two gods are clearly of opposite character. Later on, Indra becomes Varuna's rival, and the two grapple for supremacy over the universe. Indra eventually overtakes Varuna. In doing so, Indra also assumed control over the rains, which had formerly been under Varuna's jurisdiction.
Regardless of the fact that Varuna guards justice and truth, he maintains an intriguing ambiguity of character through his reliance upon guile and trickery (maya) in order to carry out many of his functions. With maya, Varuna effortlessly carries out such tasks as providing rains and rivers, while Indra or the Maruts do the same with considerable stress and turbulence.
Varuna's relationship with maya came to link him with the demonic traits that the asuras later embodied. Varuna was closely related to demigods such as Yama, Soma and Rudra. Varuna himself is described as Mayin, or crafty, as a result of his possession of maya, and is therefore approached with much trepidation. As such, his forms often embody attributes of mystery, tremendousness and fascination. He is a great devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and always works tirelessly to please the Lord, for he knows perfectly that as a jiva his constitutional position is that he is an eternal servant of the Lord.
Once, he was very eager to have a daughter and marry off the daughter to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Narayana Himself. Varuna is also known as Samudraraja or the king of the seas. He ardently prayed to Mahalakshmi that she would be born as his daughter.
At this point, it may be recollected that the birth of Mahalakshmi is often attributed to the churning of the milk ocean. She was born when the devas and danavas churned the milk ocean with Mandara mountain and Vasuki the serpent. This is why Varuna or Samudraraja is considered as a fatherly figure of Mahalakshmi. It is in this great temple at Thirunindravur that Samudraraja or Varuna prayed to the Supreme Personality of Godhead to marry his daughter and this temple is the spot where Vishnu answered and accepted the prayers of Samudraraja.
The temple structure as we see today was built during the Pallava period of 9th century, as evident from the various inscriptions in the temple. The earliest inscriptions of the temple are dated between 820 and 890 AD, during the period of Nripatungavarma. There are inscriptions from the later Chola kings like Rajendra Chola II (1051–1063 AD), Virarajendra Chola (1063–1070 AD) and Rajaraja Chola II (1146–1173 AD). The Pallava inscriptions mention this place as Ninravur and some of them quote it as Virudhurajabhayankar-chaturvertimangalam, a sub-division of Punarkottam.
The temple has a five- tiered gopuram at the entrance and two prakaras. The main Deity of the temple is devotionally addressed as Bhaktavatsala or the Lord who is very compassionate to devotees. The moolavar is in a standing position facing east. The height of the moolavar is around 10 ft (3.0 m).The festival deity of this temple is so beautiful that it is difficult to explain in words. One has to physically come to this temple to enjoy the beauty of this magnificent beauty of the Supreme Lord. Opposite to the main shrine, as usual there is a small shrine for Garuda. There is a separate shrine for Mahalakshmi also locally called Sudhavalli, the consort of Bhaktavatsala Perumal. The temple also has separate shrines for Andal, Chakkarathalwar, the Alwars and Sri Ramanuja. Inside the main shrine, near the sanctum for Bhaktavatsala Perumal, there is a small shrine for Yoga Narasimha. On the banks of a lake a few meters behind this temple, is another temple for Rama. In this temple there is a beautiful deity of Hanuman lifting Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders. The Pedda Jeeyar of Thirupathi is the permanent trustee of the temple.
The major festival, celebrated in the temple are Chitra Pournami during the Tamil month of Chittirai (March – April), Thiruadyana Utsavam during Margazhi (December – January) and Brahmotsavam during Panguni (March – April). The other festivals are Sri Jayanti Utsavam during Janmashtami, Navaratri, Vijayadashami, Deepavali and Makara Shankranti, all celebrated with much pomp and vigour apart from the jayanthis of all Alwars and acharyas.
Saint Thirumangai Alwar was passing through many sacred Vaishnava shrines including Thirunindravur but did not sing on this temple. As he noticed that the Supreme Lord was busy talking with Mahalakshmi, he considered it unfit to disturb Them and left the premises without visiting the temple. Noticing that Alwar bypassed this temple, Mother Mahalakshmi asked the Lord to get a hymn from the Alwar as She liked to hear from Alwar. By the time the Lord reached Alwar, he was in Mamallapuram. The Lord demanded a song of Alwar from this place. Excited by the simplicity and grace of the Lord, Alwar sang as follows:
“My Lord, protecting the whole universe, came to me to make known His love for the bhaktas at this sacred Mamallapuram. He demanded and took a song from me.”
Mother Mahalakshmi was not satisfied with one song. She asked the Lord to go back to Alwar for the remaining nine songs, as he used to sing ten songs for all temples. Alwar had already left Mamallapuram and had reached Thirukkannamangai. He saw the Lord with a side glance, waiting for him. In the ten songs on Thirukkannamangai Perumal, Alwar included Thirunindravur Perumal also in the hymns. It is interesting to note that the name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in both these temples is Bhaktavatsala Perumal. Yes, He is indeed very compassionate towards His devotees!•