The magnificent temple of Lord Vishnu, Sri Thiruvellakkulam Annan Perumal Kovil, is located 7 km south east of Sirkali in the district of Nagapattinam.
The great King Thundumaran of the Surya dynasty was blessed with a son, Swethan. King Swethan once sought expert opinion about his horoscope from the learned brahmanas of the kingdom. They predicted that King Swethan would have a premature death. King Swethan then consulted the great sages and rishis of his kingdom as he desperately wanted to enjoy a long life. The sages advised King to approach Maruthva Maharishi.
Maruthva Maharishi was a great sage and son of the sun god. He patiently heard the grievance of King Swethan and instructed him to go to Thiruvellakkulam, sit under a vilva tree and chant the Mrithyunjaya mantra (which is chanted for overcoming premature death). After chanting the Mrithyunjaya mantra King Swethan was granted the audience of the Supreme Lord who granted the king a long life. But the king did not desire for long life at this point of time. The bewitching beauty of the Supreme Lord is matchless and people fall in love with this beauty immediately! King Swethan requested the Supreme Lord to reside in the place and bless the devotees with more and more devotional service. Lord Vishnu is Bhaktavatsala, as He always wants grant the wishes of His beloved devotees. He agreed to stay in the place where King Swethan did penance and bless the devotees with more and more transcendental devotional service.
Divine energy protects great devotees. For King Swethan, that divine energy came in the form of the merciful sage Maruthva Maharishi who arrived to instruct him on how to remove the illusion. Even though King Swethan approached Lord Vishnu with the intention of a material desire, the constant chanting of the holy names and the darshana of the Lord Hari made him pure. This same divine shelter is available to all of us. When we chant the holy names of the Supreme Lord Hari, the illusion of the material sphere begins to lift. Slowly, we will realise that there are higher objectives in the world than just long life. Lord Hari sends us help in the form of spiritual masters and rishis to teach us how to get rid of the material illusion and reawaken and rekindle our dormant love for Him. It is only then that we become perfectly situated in the absolute reality.
The Great Thirumangai Alwar
Thirumangai Alwar, one of the twelve Alwars of Srivaishnavism has a special connection to this temple. Thirumangai Alwar was crowned as king of Thirumangai by the emperor of the Chola dynasty. The emperor was so impressed with Thirumangai Alwar that their relationship was more than that of chieftain and emperor. They were very good friends. The Chola emperor wanted Thirumangai Alwar to get married and sought suitable alliance. During this time, the women from the celestial world used to come down to Thirunangoor to gather the kumuda flowers from the pond there. One of them, Kumudavalli, lost her power to go back to her place as the vision of a man fell on her. Thirumangai Alwar wanted to marry this damsel. Accordingly, Kumudavalli Nachiyar of Thiruvellakkulam was married to Thirumangai Alwar. Kumudavalli Nachiyar was instrumental in making Thirumangai Alwar, a great Vaishnava.
Kumudavalli Nachiyar had taken a vow to feed a thousand Vaishnavas every day and requested Thirumangai Alwar to help her fulfil this vow. Kumudavalli Nachiyar’s passionate and loving attachment towards Lord Hari slowly changed the heart of Thirumangai Alwar. He spent his entire time in devotional service only and constructed the grand temple walls of Srirangam and arranged for feeding 1000 Vaishnavas a day. Thiruvellakkulam is noted as Thirumangai Alwar’s in-laws’ house and to this day when his deity is brought in procession to this temple, two turmeric smeared coconuts are offered to Thirumangai Alwar, as is customary whenever a son-in- law visits his wife’s father’s house. This is the manner in which the son-in-law is greeted and welcomed at his father-in-laws’ place. It is because of the devotion of Kumudavalli Nachiyar that Thirumangai Alwar became a great Vaishnava and hence he is seen with his consort in most temples.
This village has four main streets called madavedi, surrounding the temple complex. The village of Thiruvellakkulam is very serene and peaceful. Acres of paddy fields and coconut plantations border the houses and people own huge herds of cows. There are numerous small and big agriculture lands, and several brooks and streams water the land of Thiruvellakkulam. The air echoes with the chirping of various birds. Thirumangai Alwar said that the birds are constantly chanting the holy names of the Lord. The spectacular and huge pond facing the temple is known as Thiruvellakkulam (thiru- vella- kulam) vella means water and kulam means pond. Hence the name Thiruvellakkulam. The name of the place and the name of the pond is the same. Thirumangai Alwar draws a comparison between the name of the place and the Supreme Lord. Ponds (kulam) contain water, which is blue, but so is Krishna. Vella in Thiruvellakulam could also mean white, and Balarama, Sri Rama, Kshirodakshayi Vishnu are of this colour. Therefore this place has a temple of the Lord who took the colours of white and blue; hence “Thiruvellakulam.”
There is only one prakaram in this temple. The simple three tiered rajagouram stands in all majesty. The Supreme Lord is called Annan Perumal (annan in Tamil means elder brother). He is the elder brother of the Lord of Thirumala. It is noteworthy that Thirumangai Alwar chose the word Anna to call the Lord only in two temples and this is one. The other is Thirumala. As he saved the King Swethan from the death fear, the Lord shows Himself as Varadarajan or the king of those who grant blessings. Just as the Supreme Lord Hari represents all the yugas, the vimana here has a hint of this act as Thathva Yodhaga Vimana. The other such vimana is Thirumala. Kumudavalli Nachiar also is housed in this temple separately.
As in Thirupathi Thirumala, Brahmotsavam is celebrated in the temple during Purattasi (September-October). Another festival is observed in Vaikasi (May-June) and the Lord’s wedding festival is celebrated on the last Friday in the month of Adi (July-August). Pavitotsava is celebrated in September and Vasantotsava in June. Janmastami and Sri Rama Navami are two major festivals. In February, the Lord travels to Thirunangoor along with the Lords of eleven other temples in a grand procession.
Thirumangai Alwar’s Praises
The nectarine poems written by Thirumangai Alwar on the Lord of Thiruvellakulam are so divine that they transport one to the realm of pure devotion. Thirumangai compares the swaroopa of the Lord as the deep and expansive one, like the dark, deep ocean. He refers to the bluish-black ocean that stretches as far as one’s eyes could see which is filled with mysterious, soothing beauty. Thirumangai hints that the Lord’s hue reminds him of that dark blue hue of the deep ocean. Just as we enjoy the mystery and the beauty of the ocean without winking, Thirumangai says that he is intensely engaged in enjoying the extraordinary beauty of the Lord of Thiruvellakkulam.
Thirumangai Alwar celebrates the greatness of the citizens of this temple in his poems. He refers to enemies in his poems. We all have two kinds of enemies: The external enemy who has to be won over with the help of weapons like sword and spear and the internal one who has the limbs of arrogance, jealousy, anger etc. This internal enemy has to be won by devotional service only and surrender at the Lord’s sacred feet. Thirumangai Alwar was familiar with the ways of a warrior prior to his transformation to a Sri Vaishnava through the Lord’s intervention. As a result, Thirumangai Alwar was conversant with the battle plans for winning both internal and external enemies of one’s life. Thirumangai Alwar was thus able to recognize that Thiruvellakulam was filled with the Vaishnavas who have won over both the kinds of fights by defeating soundly the internal and external enemies of life.
“Oh my most merciful Father adorned in a Tulasi garland with its tender shoots of flowers! Your divya desam of Thiruvellakkulam is full of Vedic scholars with undiminishing fame regarding their knowledge. You preside over this temple known for its pond full of blossoming red lotuses. Oh my Father! Please remove all the obstacles that stand in my way of gaining Your lotus feet!”
“Oh Lord standing tall at Thiruvellakkulam known for its Vedic scholars of enduring repute! When Indra mistook You as a mere human being during Your incarnation as Krishna and pelted Vrindavana with torrential hail and freezing rain, You lifted and held the Govardhana Hill and offered protection to the citizens and cows of Vrajadhama. Indra understood Your transcendental position and fell at Your sacred feet and performed abhishekam to You with nectar, to acknowledge You as his Master. Oh Lord worshipped by all the people of Thiruvelakulam! Please remove all of the obstacles to reach Your sacred feet at Vaikuntha and to render eternal service to You there.”
“Oh Lord presiding over the temple of Thiruvellakkulam known for its beautiful groves filled with honey-laden flowers and for its dense population of good people. You stand there proudly like a majestic elephant. Once at Kamsa’s court, You broke the tusk of the royal elephant that was set upon You and killed it although You were a small boy. Oh mighty Lord! Please shower Your blessings on this servant of Yours and lead me to Your feet.”
“Oh the supreme fire on top of Thiruvenkatam hills (Thirupati)! I arrived at Thiruvellakulam surrounded by beautiful verdant groves and populated by Vedic scholars celebrated by the whole country for their knowledge. I am singing at Your temple about Your glories. Please spare me from the destructive impact of my demonic thoughts and bless me with Your protection.”
Oh! Precious One residing at Thiruvellakkulam populated by very many auspicious Vedic scholars! You relished the building of a dam over the ocean with stones to cross over to Lanka, to fulfil Your incarnation as Ramachandra. Please bless me and destroy all the obstacles that I face in my efforts to gain the lotus feet of Your divine form.”
“Oh Lord who enchants every one with Your beautiful form! Oh Lord residing amidst the beautiful rice fields of Thiruvellakkulam and among the brahmanas who are expert in reciting the four Vedas! Oh Lord of cowherds, who took the cowherd’s form to graze the cows at Vrajadhama! Please destroy the fierce sins that cling to me!”
“Oh insatiable nectar to experience! Oh Narayana living among the most authoritative person of Vedas! Once You took the boar incarnation and lifted up Your divine consort Bhu Devi from the bottom of the ocean! Oh Bhu Varaha! Please shower Your blessings on me!”
“Oh Lord living in the temple of Thiruvellakkulam known for its dense population of celebrated Vedic scholars! Oh Lord with the sacred chest chosen by Lakshmi devi for Her eternal residence! Please welcome me to Your temple and recognize me as one among Your devoted servants!”
“The mighty armed Thirumangai presented this garland of ten songs to the darling of Thiruvellakkulam populated by benevolent minded brahmanas who are experts in the four Vedas. Those who master the recitation and the deep meanings of these ten slokas will qualify to be recognized as the best among the celestials.”