Located in the town and district of Thiruvallur, is the sprawling temple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Veeraraghava Perumal.
The pastime of this temple is intimately associated with Salihotra Muni. Salihotra Muni was a great devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and lived in Thiruvathari Ashrama (Badrinath). There is an interesting pastime story to be narrated about how he got his name.
Sali means an instrument which is used to measure the weight (or) quantity (volume) of rice. Hotra means sacrifice. Begetting and raising a devotee as son/daughter is considered the highest form of blessing among followers of the Vedic system. Salihotra Muni’s parents performed an elaborate fire sacrifice to beget a devotee son. They started an elaborate fire sacrifice which would take a whole year, using 28,000 sali measurements of rice. As the result of that elaborate fire sacrifice, a child was born and was named Salihotra.
Salihotra Muni became instrumental for the appearance of the Lord in the Veeraraghava Perumal temple. The legend associated with this temple says, that during a new moon day in the month of Thai, Salihotra Muni reached Thiruvallur, where he met a congregation of sages in the forest. They were engaged in taking bath in the sacred pond called Hrith-Thapa-Nasini Pushkarani and he was also advised to take bath before performing his daily rituals. The bath changed the mind of Salihotra Muni and he decided to stay at the bank of that holy pond to perform penance without food or water for one year. The next year, on the same Pushya Amavasya day, he completed his penance and took a holy dip in the Hrith-Thapa-Nasini Pushkarani and observed his morning prayers. As he was fasting for one year without food and drink, on that day he collected some paddy and prepared a food offering for the Lord, using rice flour.
At this juncture, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana took the form of an old brahmana and came to where Salihotra Muni was waiting to offer a share of the prasadam to a guest. He immediately offered the food to the brahmana, who immediately honoured the offering by eating it. Salihotra Muni understood that the old brahmana was very hungry and immediately offered his share of prasadam as well to the brahmana. The brahmana was satisfied and left the place. Another one year of penance continued without any food and drink. Again on the day of Pushya Amavasya, Salihotra Muni took his bath in the holy pond and after his prayers, prepared food as he had done the previous year. He offered the bhoga to Sri Narayana and was waiting for a guest. This time also the Lord Narayana took the form of an old brahmana and was welcomed by Salihotra Muni to his hermitage.
After honouring prasadam, the old brahmana expressed to Salihotra Muni, in Tamil, “Uraivatharku ivvul evvul?” (In this place, which is the spot to sleep?) To this, the sage replied, “ivvul”, meaning “here.” The old man was pleased at this offer and stretched his body in the hermitage, putting his head towards south. Immediately the old brahmana transformed himself into the form of Anathashayana and Adishesha appeared with His thousand hoods to serve as couch and canopy.
On the request of Salihotra Muni, the Lord promised that He would permanently stay there and to bless and relieve all those who pray to Him after taking bath in the holy pond, of their material miseries. Hence He is called Sri Vaidhya Veeraraghava Perumal. The place was also called Thiru Evvul, which in course of time changed to Thiruvallur. In the Puranas this city is referred as Veksharanya Kshetra.
According to the temple tradition, Vedanta Desika, the illustrious Sri Vaishnava preceptor and philosopher, has composed a Sanskrit poem named Kim Grihesha Stuti about this sacred place. The Markandeya Purana provides many details regarding this temple. The original names of this place was Punyavrata Kshetra and Veeksharanya Kshetra.
The temple complex as we see today, is originally believed to have been built by the Pallavas during the 8th century. There are inscriptions dating back to the latter half of the 9th century Pallava dynasty reign here. Pastimes and devotees claim that the temple is around 5000 years old. There are inscriptions indicating gift of lands to the temple during the reign of Ramadeva Maharaya (1620-30) of the Vijayanagara kingdom, Narasimha Deva, Vira Venkatapathi Rayadeva Maharayar and Sri Venkatarayadeva Mahakavi, Kulothunga Deva and Rajendra I of the great and mighty Chola dynasty. There are also inscriptions referring to the gift of land for conducting various festivals by other kings in the region like Maduranthaka Deva, Sadashiva Maharaya (1542–1570), Rama Deva Raya (1617–1632) and Venkata III (1632-42) of the Vijayanagara dynasty. Apart from these in Sanskrit, a few Tamil inscriptions have been discovered in various parts of this temple which testify to its antiquity. The earliest of these was found etched on a step leading to the tank and belongs to the 9th century A.D. Pallava period. It records an endowment for burning a sacred lamp and for feeding a person who cleaned the temple. A few other fragmentary Chola inscriptions appear to record gift for repairs and also for a festival in the month of Vaikasi by a devotee.
Several inscriptions of the Vijayanagara era and later times too have also been found here. One of these, found on the inner eastern wall of the Vahana Mandapa, dated 1630 A.D., belonging to the reign of Vira Venkata Raya II, mentions that Veera Raghava Satakopa Jeeyar, who was the thirteenth pontiff of the Ahobila Matha and presided over this institution from 1630 to 1675, gifted about 150 sovereigns of gold to this temple, the interest from which was for celebrating certain festivals for Veeraraghava Perumal and His consort. Other donations by the pontiffs of the Ahobila Matha are also recorded in inscriptions of the Vijayanagara epoch. It is interesting to note that the royal emblem of the imperial house of Vijayanagara – that of a boar with a sword in front and the sun and moon above – is clearly sculpted on one of the walls in this temple, signifying that Vijayanagara kings were patrons of the temple. The construction of this temple is very interesting and iconic to that of many other temples of this region like the Parthasarathi temple in Chennai.
A tall arch and gateway which can be seen from a distance, greets the visitor to the temple. The very large temple tank on the south side of the temple, covering approximately seven acres, called Hrith-Tapa-Nasini Pushkarini, is the very same pond where Salihotra Muni used to perform ablutions. On proceeding further down the road leading to the temple, the visitor sees an old mandapam with tall monolithic granite pillars, studded with carvings of various deities like Lord Krishna and Hanuman and immediately in front, a newer mandapam leading to the tall five-tiered gopuram. The main Deity of this temple, Veeraraghava Perumal, also known as Evvul Kathan and Vaidya Veeraraghavan, is enshrined under the Vijayakoti Vimana. He is seen lying on the serpent Adishesha and hence this posture is called by the Sanskrit term Bhujangashayana. The left hand of the Supreme Lord is bent at the elbow and stretched upwards towards Brahma who emanates from His navel. The right hand is stretched outwards and rests near the head of Salihotra Muni, who is seen in a kneeling posture with palms pressed together in supplication. It is very interesting to note that in this temple, the Supreme Lord wears only checked clothes as Salihotra Maharishi had originally offered this to Him as a bark garment.
Lakshmi Devi, the consort of the Lord here, enshrined in a separate sanctum sanctorum in the prakaram of this temple, is known as Kanakavalli Thayar and also as Vasumathi Thayar. Numerous other sanctums are seen inside the temple complex, for Yoga Narasimha, Sudarshana, Anantalwan (a great devotee and disciple of Ramanujacharya), Santhana Gopalan, Garuda, Rama, Andal, Lakshmi Narayana, Vishvaksena who is the commander-in-chief of the Supreme Lord’s army and Venugopala or Krishna with flute and cows, as also those for the Alwars and Acharyas like Thirukkachi Nambi, Ramanujacharya and Vedanta Desika. On the road perpendicular to the temple is a shrine for the humble devotee, Anjaneya.
There are weekly, monthly and fortnightly rituals performed in the temple.
During the Tamil month of Chittirai, Brahmotsavam, a 10-day festival is celebrated. The festival Deity of Veeraraghava Perumal is taken in procession around the streets of the temple on different mounts each day and the float festival is celebrated on the last day. The other festivals associated with Vishnu temples like Krishna Jayanthi, Saturdays of the Tamil month Puratassi, Navaratri, Vaikuntha Ekadashi and Vijayadashami are celebrated as well.