Located about 7 miles west of Kanchipuram and half a kilometre from Baluchetti Chattiram which lies on the Chennai – Vellore highway, is the abode of a wonderful temple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Thiruputkuzhi Sri Vijaya Raghava Perumal temple.
Garuda’s elder brother Aruna had two sons, Jatayu and Sampathi, like their father and uncle, were blessed with bird forms. But unlike their father and uncle, they were mortals. The fact that their father was the sun god’s charioteer and the personification of the first rays of the dawn, made them very lustrous and fearsome. This caused them to be named Basa, or the shiny ones.
Jatayu and Sampathi were better than average birds: they had larger wingspans and unparalleled digestive powers, the latter being a special gift from Sage Agastya who was known to have similar powers. But it was their unprecedented wingspan that brought upon them both curse and blessing. With wings as huge as theirs, they invented a method of flight that required very little effort on their part, yet allowed them to scale heights which no mortal bird could reach.
It happened that one day the young brothers decided to race each other to the boundaries of the sky. Up and up they flew, heeding not the warnings of the other bird demigods. Up and up they flew, till they neared the realm of their father, the realm of the sun. Being mortal birds, the sun’s scorching rays soon started affecting their wings. In his youthful overconfidence, Jatayu continued to rise, while the elder and wiser Sampathi suddenly realized the consequences of their mistake.
Sampathi: Fall back, brother! I lose, you win. Just don’t go any higher up near the sun god.
Jatayu: Fear not, brother, but rise with me.
Soon Jatayu’s wings started fuming and he was unable to fold them to be able to descend. Seeing this, Sampathi rose higher than his brother and shielded Jatayu’s wings till he was able to make a safe descent.
Mistaking this act of fraternal love to be one of arrogance, the sun god cursed Sampathi, though he protected his brother at the cost of his own wings. Grieved by the condition that he had caused his brother, Jatayu decided immediately to be a part of his brother’s suffering.
Jatayu: We were fated to share every curse and every blessing bestowed upon us, brother. Therefore I too shall become flightless.
Sampathi: Be not enslaved by the boundaries of fate; there are things you can do, glories you can achieve before the same curse overtakes you.
Jatayu: But how can I leave you in the quest of glory? How will you sustain yourself in your present condition? The people of the three worlds know us as the Grdhra, the perpetually hungry. How will you satisfy your hunger?
Sampathi: The earth has bounties to feed every kind of creature. If I can no longer hunt the living, I shall hunt the dead. Blessed as I am, with a digestion comparable to the honourable son of the Kumbha, I am sure I can partake of dead meat without any ill-effects.
Jatayu: Then I too shall do the same!
Thus the highly able birds of the Grdhra clan renounced their diet of fresh meat and became the scourge of the earth, creatures that are known as vultures. Years after this incident, the brothers became vassals of the human Ikshvaku rulers of the kingdom of Kosala, forging a special friendship with King Dundubhinada, more famously known as Dasharatha. There is another story behind this friendship.
Once, during Dasharatha's early days as king of Ayodhya, the kingdom suffered a terrible drought. Dasharatha consulted his priests, who informed him that the kingdom was suffering the ill-effects of Shani (god of the planet Saturn). So Dasharatha took off in a flying chariot to find Shani and persuade him to have mercy on Ayodhya. When Shani saw Dasharatha approaching, he feared that his gaze might kill Dasharatha, so he directed his gaze at Dasharatha's chariot which was burnt to ashes. Dasharatha started falling to the Earth but he was caught by Jatayu who had been watching the whole scene. In any case, Shani was pleased by all the trials Dasharatha had gone through, so he agreed to stop Ayodhya's drought. Jatayu flew Dasharatha back to Ayodhya and they were friends ever since.
Sampathi had settled himself on the southern shores of the subcontinent, while Jatayu roamed the skies between Kosala and his brother’s abode. It is on one of these rounds that he spotted an airborne chariot drawn by donkeys with pisacha (ghoul) faces, occupied by a very handsome half- demon and an equally effulgent, screaming woman. He soon knew the woman to be the exiled daughter-in-law of Kosala, for she wore the clothes of an ascetic, made of tree bark, and was calling out to Ramachandra. He guessed from his brother’s descriptions that the half-demon was the king of Lanka, Ravana. Jatayu had no idea what was happening.
Jatayu: My body is of no value if it is not used in the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Ramchandra. His most precious consort, Mother Sita, is being kidnapped. It is my duty to stop this.
So Jatayu fought with Ravana with all his might. He made it very difficult for Ravana for a while and thought that Mother Sita would soon be out of the grips of the demon king. But Ravana regained his strength. He chopped and somehow severed the wings and limbs of Jatayu. Jatayu fell to the ground and his life was slowly ebbing away.
When he was about to leave his mortal coils, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Ramachandra and his brother Lakshmana appeared there, on their search for Sita. Seeing Jatayu, they thought that he must be the demon who was trying to catch Sita. So they approached with caution. When He saw that Jatayu was dying because of Ravana, Sri Ramachandra’s was greatly pained.
Jatayu: My beloved Lord Ramachandra, please forgive me that I could not execute my service to the best of my ability. I failed in my service. But I tried and I could tell you from my knowledge of shastra, the time in which She is leaving now is an auspicious time. Whatever you have lost in this time, you will regain.
Even in that condition, Jatayu tried to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Ramachandra by uttering sweet words to pacify Him. He was not filled with bitterness that the Lord was allowing him to die. He did not desire to barter his devotional service for personal gain.
It is stated in the Ramayana that the Lord recognized Jatayu’s selfless service and therefore performed his funeral just like he would, his father’s. Lord Ramachandra declared that Jatayu’s death was more painful to Him that day, than Sita’s absence.
This episode of Jatayu’s passing and subsequent funeral by Sri Ramachandra took place in Thiruputkuzhi and a temple was later built in memory of Jatayu, a selfless devotee.
The temple is very modest, with 3 prakaras. At the entrance is the three-tiered rajagopuram. The presiding Deity is Lord Vijayaraghava Perumal (Lord Vishnu). The temple houses a separate shrine for Mahalakshmi, who is known here as Maragathavalli Thayar. This temple has a separate sannidhi for Jatayu. The pushkarani (temple tank) dates back to the time of Lord Ramachandra. Lord Rama shot an arrow and created a spring when He performed the funeral rites of Jatayu, and this is now called Jatayu Pushkarini. The vimanam (the tower above the sanctum sanctorum) of this temple is called Vijaya Koti Vimanam. Vijayaraghava Perumal is seen in a sitting posture, having Jatayu on His thigh, flanked by Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi.
Brahmotsava and Rama Navami are the major festivals. The temple celebrates Theppotsava in March. Thirumangai Alwar has sung two songs in praise of the Lord of Thiruputhkuzi.