Located in the outskirts of Cuddalur town is the wonderful hill temple of Thiruvaheendrapuram Devanatha.
The legend of the temple is closely associated with Adishesha and Garuda. Sage Kashyapa had two wives – Kadru and Vinata. Though both were sisters, they were jealous of each other. Kashyapa offered each of them a boon. Kadru said, "Let thousand brave and radiant sons be born to me." Kashyapa granted her the boon. At this, Vinata became jealous and said, "Let such sons be born to me, who are even braver and brighter than my sister's sons." Kashyapa granted her the boon also. After his wives became pregnant, he advised them to look after the children, and then left for his penance in the forest.
After a long time Kadru gave birth to a thousand eggs, and Vinata, to two eggs. The eggs were carefully incubated in jars which were kept warm. After a lapse of five hundred years, the eggs laid by Kadru hatched and her sons came to life; of these thousand Naga sons, the most prominent ones were Shesha, Vasuki and Takshaka. All the serpents born in this world are the descendants of these thousand sons. Vinata became jealous, as her eggs had not yet hatched. In a moment of haste, she broke open one of the eggs, revealing a half-formed son. This son was enraged by his physical form and cursed his mother for her hasty act, saying she would be a slave to Kadru for five hundred years, till the son from her second egg was born. He became a charioteer and herald for the sun god and the creator of the red sky at dawn, and was therefore named Aruṇa. Eventually, after five hundred years, Vinata's second son, Garuda, was born in the form of a huge bird with immense power. As soon as he was born, he flew away with grace, seeking food.
Once Kadru called Vinata and asked her to tell her the colour of the celestial horse Ucchaishravas, who emanated from the ocean, when it was churned by the devas and asuras, to generate nectar. Without a second thought, Vinata said that the horse was pure white. Kadru contradicted her and said that its tail was black. An argument ensued, and Kadru challenged Vinata to a wager, saying that whoever lost the bet would have to become the other's servant. Intending to cheat Vinata, Kadru called her thousand sons to coil neatly around Uchaishravas's tail so that it would appear black. While some of her sons obeyed her instructions, others refused to oblige her. Those who disobeyed her instructions were cursed by Kadru, to be charred alive in the sarpa satra yagna (snake sacrifice) that would be performed by King Janamejaya of Hastinapura. (Janamenjaya was the son of Maharaja Parikshit) Kashyapa was upset by this curse, but Brahma, who happened to be there, told him such a curse was essential, as serpents had become very dangerous to society. Brahma then gave Kashyapa the antidote for snake poisoning. Kadru won the bet as the Nagas had wound around Ucchaishravas's tail, making it appear black. Vinata thus became the slave of Kadru.
On another occasion, Kadru suggested to Vinata that she should take Kadru, and that Garuda should take her Naga sons to the beautiful island of Ramaniyaka in the middle of the ocean, within the abode of snakes. Vinata and Garuda did as directed. On reaching their destination, Kadru asked Garuda to take her sons to the abode of the sun to pay their respectful obeisance. Garuda carried the Naga sons of Kadru on his back and approached the sun. As he flew closer, the Nagas could not withstand the heat and started falling off him to the ground in a faint, on the island of Virana. Hearing the cries of her children, Kadru was deeply distressed and blamed Garuda for what had happened to her children. Vinata, distressed by her son's plight and following a suggestion by Kadru, asked Garuda to bring water of the Ganga from the netherworld. Garuda obeyed and brought the water to the southern bank of the Gautami River. He sprinkled it on the snakesand they were revived. The place where this incident occurred is called Nagalaya, the abode of the snakes. In another version of the story related in the Adi Parva of the Valmiki Ramayana, it is said that when the Nagas fainted and fell to the ground due to intense heat of the sun, Kadru offered prayers to Indra to come to her children's rescue. Indra promptly created showers of rain to fall on the Nagas and they were restored from their charred state. They then lived on the island of Ramaniyaka.
Both Adishesha and Garuda went on to become eternal residents of Vaikuntha. They are both always eager to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Thiruvaheendrapuram was planned and developed by Adishesha. Lord Brahma had performed penance here, hence its other name, Brahmachala. It is considered that bathing in this place would bestow the same benefit to the devotee as bathing in the holy Ganga. It is said that the water of the river is red as blood during the monsoon, due to the curse of a rishi, which will be explained later. This hilly place also bears the name Oushadhachala, as a piece of the Dronagiri Mountain which had the sanjeevani herb, fell here when Hanuman was carrying it to Lanka. The hill has many herbs with high medical value.
Once the Supreme Personality of Godhead, feeling thirsty, ordered Garuda to bring Him water. As Garuda delayed to return, Adishesha struck the ground with his tail, made a spring and offered water to Lord. This spring is called Shesha Theertham. This is a prayer well where devotees offer jaggery, salt and pepper, seeking remedy for the illnesses they suffer. Those facing serpent effects (sarpa dosha) pray here for speedy remedy.
Another legend has it that Garuda, who went around to bring water for the Lord, came across a rishi in mid-air, and, finding water inside the rishi’s sacred kettle, knocked it down, thus letting the water into this place. The river brought by Garuda flows in Thiruvaheendrapuram and is known by the name Garudanidhi. Angered by this act of Garuda, the rishi cursed him, turning the water into a dirty colour. Realising his folly, Garuda explained the reason for his hasty action and apologised. To this day, one finds the water in the river dirty but when cupped in the hands, it seems pure and clear.
Garuda returned late (after Adhishesha had already helped quench the Lord’s thirst) and requested the Lord to accept his water too as sacred. The Lord accepted the water on the day of the chariot procession. To this day, water from this river is offered to the Supreme Lord on this festival day.
This is the only hill temple town where both servants of Vishnu brought water for the Lord.
The temple faces east, but the rajagopuram, the temple's gateway tower, is located on the western entrance and has five tiers.It riises to a height of 60 feet (18 m).The temple is located on the foothills of Outshadagiri, a small hill which houses a temple of Hayagriva. The river Kedilam (Garuda river), located on the other side of the temple, flows from south to north and is locally called Uttaravahini. The temple is built in the Dravidian architectural style. A granite wall surrounds the temple, enclosing all its shrines and bodies of water. The presiding Deity, Devanathaswamy, stands very much like Sri Venkateshwara of Thirupathi. The Lord appears in His four- handed form, with conch and discuss in the upper hands. The sanctum also houses the Deity of His consort, Senkamalavalli Thayar (also called Hemabhujavalli, Vaikuntha Nayagi and Amrithavarshini) in sitting posture, with lotus in both hands. The festival Deity of Vishnu, called by different names like Moovaraghia Oruvan, Achyutha, Dvistantha, Devanatha, Vibhuthanatha and Dasyatha, is housed in the sanctum. The temple houses other Deities like Pallikonda Perumal, Andal, Adi Keshava Perumal, Alwars, Hanuman and Garuda. There is a separate shrine housing Rama, though the presiding Deity is Devanathaswamy. The temple is known for the shrine of Lord Hayagriva, the horse-faced avatara of Vishnu. The Deities of Garuda and Hanuman are depicted in unique postures of Anjalihasta, which is different compared to all other temples. The temple is the only historical temple in South India to have a shrine of Hayagriva.
Thirumangai Alwar has sung 10 beautiful songs on the Lord of Thiruvaheendrapuram:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Narayana, who, as Varaha, lifted Bhoomidevi from the sea with His curved tusk—resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram. The hill temple town is beautiful with ponds and forests, where lotuses and champaka flowers are seen. Swarms of bees seek the lotus flowers, drink honey and go to champaka flowers, singing, dancing and hovering around.
(This hill temple town is Thiru Aheendrapuram, which takes the Tamil pronunciation Thiruvaheendrapuram. It is said Adishesha worshipped Him here.)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Narayana —who has chakra ayudha in His right hand and Mahalakshmi on chest and who is all that is objectified in the Vedas, resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram. The city has plenty of lotus lakes and forests where the male bees sit on the lotus flowers and woo their mates who sit on the jasmine creeper, buzzing tunefully to them.
He is called Mayavan since He, astonishingly small, lies on a tiny banyan leaf during pralaya after swallowing all the worlds. He is true to His devotees who can feel Him in their hearts, but false to the non-believers who don’t see Him anywhere. He is called Devanayakan in Thiruvaheendrapuram, which has plenty of lotus lakes and forests, where tulasi plants grow and the champaka trees entwined by jasmine creepers.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Narayana, took Narasimha avatara and split open the chest of Hiranya, who came charging with his teeth gnawing at Him, and saved His son Prahlada from the asura’s clutches. He resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram, where there are plenty of sugarcane fields where the crops grow sky high. They touch the ceiling of the sky, cannot grow any taller and therefore bulge sideways. Since they bulge, they crush their neighbouring sugarcane crops, resulting in the flow of sugarcane juice into the water, making the place muddy.
For the sake of Indra, Vamana begged three feet of land from Mahabali in his yagashala. When He got it, He measured with the huge feet of Trivikrama. For the sake of Mahalakshmi, He defeated the seven huge, powerful bulls. For the sake of bhaktas and bhagavatas, He resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram. There are tamala, coconut and kadamba trees where monkeys live. They jump, play, shout and eat the honey-laden sweet jackfruits. (The monkeys represent human beings—the conditioned souls—who enjoy the worldly matters, shouting and running after pleasures. They sometimes eat the jackfruits (devotional service) because of their association with the place.)
Manthara, the hunchback woman, instigated Kaikeyi to ask the boon to Dasharatha. Sri Rama went to the forest along with His brother and wife in order to fulfil His father’s words. He who is dark like a rain cloud resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram, where there are tall trees, thick forests, strong forts, all of which reach sky high, touching the moon. The description speaks of the greatness of the city.
Sri Rama killed Ravana by beheading his ten heads and crushed the crowns upon them. He, who had done this for the sake of Mahalakshmi, resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram, where the swans sit on the huge lotus flowers with their mates and are being fanned by the red paddy stalks.
(The swans normally refer to bhaktas and learned scholars who, like the mythical bird (which take milk alone, leaving the water mixed with it) take the essence of all shastras leaving aside the non-essentials, or it may mean the Hamsa avatara of Bhagavan.)
In Sri Ramavatara, He broke the bow for the sake of Sita, as Krishna He lifted Govardhana Hill for the sake of the cattle, to save them from the heavy rain caused by Indra. He resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram, a hill temple town where the river pushes the tusks of elephants and tamala trees along with her currents and enters the fertile fields to irrigate the crops, scattering them everywhere.
Sri Krishna played the role of a charioteer in the Bharata yuddha for Vijaya (Arjuna), with a whip in His hand. He made Arjuna fight against the foes with spears in their hands and caused their death. He resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram—where there are forests full of betel leaf creepers which have fresh leaves in every node, and areca nut trees which have tender shoots spreading their aroma everywhere. There are plenty of rivers—which have different kinds of fish jumping and playing—irrigating the fertile lands.
Thirumangai Alwar has sung ten songs on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Narayana, who takes three forms Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, in order to perform three functions – creation, sustenance and destruction. He swallowed the three worlds in order to protect the jivas, and spat them out in order to enable them do good karmas and get liberation. He measured three worlds in order to give His sambandha to all, irrespective of their love or hate towards Him, who resides in Thiruvaheendrapuram. Those who sing and meditate on these songs will surely get rid of their sins.