A Vaishnav Abode
Nanguneri is the Taluka headquarters in the district of Tirunelveli, situated at a distance of 18 miles from the headquarters of the district. The place gained importance for the location of a famous Vaishnavite temple commonly known as "Totadri Mutt".
Nanguneri is known by different names such as "Medini" and "Sri Nivasam". It is considered by Vaishnavites to be the place where the consort of Vishnu, Sri Devi, was born, brought up, married, and is always staying with her consort.
The presiding deity in the temple at Nanguneri is the sitting posture of Lord Vishnu on the couch and canopy of Adi Shesha, with his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi on the two sides besides the celestial dancers Tilottama and Urvashi in attendance with fans in hand. This place is called a "Swayamvyakta Kshetram" where God appeared of his own accord.
According to the Vaishnavites there are 8 such Swayamvyakta places: Srirangam, Naimisaranyam, Tirupati, Pushkaram, Saligramam, Totadri, Haranarayaneshwaram and Srimushnam. Kanchipuram, Trivandrum, Azhagarkoil, Dwaraka, Tirupullani, Srinivasa Pushkaram, Narayanapuri and Kumbakonakumbakonam.htmlm are also called Swayamvyakta Kshetras.
History Of The Temple
Originally Namboodiri Brahmins were controlling the temple. In 1447 AD a Vaishnavite ascetic came to Nanguneri and at the request of the Namboodiri Brahmins took over the management of the temple and became the first Jeer.
Successive jeers went on adding to the edifice of the temple zealously and its present stature is gigantic. The fourth Jeer built the Gopuram which is visible from a distance of about 6 miles; the 9th built the Sivili Mandapam; the 21st secured the landed coffee estates; the 24th built the Golden Car; these events vouchsafe the dedication to God of all the accumulated wealth by different jeers at different times.
Sivili is a subordinate deity in each temple akin to a caretaker. His idol is taken round the temple in a palanquin before the actual procession of the main deity starts, evidently to make sure if all is correct for the procession.
Even now this is a daily sight in each temple. Sivili Mandapam is a long corridor, which forms a circuit round the inner temple, flanked on either side by the familiar row of Yalis supporting the roof. The rows of Yalis produce a fine effect of symmetry and grandeur.
The stone pillars supporting the roof depict the Dravidian style of excellence, as if the sculptor in his great religious devotion has poured in his life's blood in each stroke of his chisel. The result is the life-like pictures carved on mere stone.
Legend Connected With Nanguneri
The legend connected with the place is that when, during the period of the great deluge, Lord Vishnu was having a peaceful slumber in the Milky Ocean for years untold, gradually a lotus appeared from his navel with the inkling of desire for creation in His mind.
He glanced at the lotus, when Brahma who has to create the world appeared on the lotus with his Books, "Kamandalu", "Yajnopavita" and "Dandam". Finding himself alone on the lotus petals he went on thinking too high of himself. He was not able to look down; consequently he thought himself to be the only monarch of all he surveyed. Thus the vanity of self, the ego appeared in his mind.
Vishnu immediately realised the appearance of vanity in the mind of Brahma to be a very unhealthy sign for a person who would be in charge of creation, and wanted to curb the feeling by nipping it in the bud. So he created an opposition in the form of demons, 'Madhu' and 'Kaitabha'.
Madhu and Kaitabha found an intruder in Brahma and wanted to finish him off. Brahma was placed in a dilemma and thought it would better to hide himself by going down into the stem of the lotus. But unfortunately, providence had decreed, down the stem was the eternal deluge. Vishnu came to his rescue in the form of a fish and gave him courage to go up the stem and sit on the lotus. At this Brahma returned to the lotus and remained seated. Vishnu took the form of a swan floating over the eternal deluge and appeared before him and told him: "You are the son of Hari the Lord the Creator." Thereafter Brahma started reciting the name of Hari and started meditation.
In a previous age, Vishnu had appeared in the Win of Hayagriva and taught Brahma the Pranava Mantra, Om, the very origin of sound. Brahma combined the Pranava Mantra with Hari and went on reciting "Hari Om". Years passed and Mantra Siddhi (Mastery over the mantra) was attained when the desire to know the subtle meaning of "Hari Om" and "Bhoorbhuvahuvah Om" arose in his mind.
Knowing the agitation in the mind of Brahma, Vishnu appeared again in his eternal form with his symbols of 'Sankha', 'Chakra', 'Gada', 'Padma', as an answer to Brahma's desires. The appearance of Vishnu explained the real meaning of the two Mantras.
Simultaneously, the other two creations of God, Madhu and Kaitabha got the opportunity to have a vision of Vishnu in his physical form. Brahma took him to be the answer for his prayer and penance but demons took him to be another intruder into the world scene existing at the time of the beginning of creation. They started accosting the new person and asked about his parentage, where from he hailed the reason of his sudden appearance, etc.
Vishnu said in reply that He was the creator of the Universe. The reply was not convincing to the devilish mind of the demons. In their demoniac spirit they invited Him for a combat to settle the issue. Vishnu took up the challenge and the fight started. Nobody could gay how long it continued. The Puranas put it as 5000 years.
Vishnu wanted to slay the demons by some stratagem. He planned to give a chance to the demons to accept an offer of boons to them. Their devilish mind would not accept it as they had not been defeated in the war. As Madhu and Kaitabha took Vishnu to be their equal, who could not vanquish them in the war, Vishnu offered to accept boons from them in return.
They agreed and Vishnu made a very curious request for a boon, stating that he wanted to be known as the "Vanquisher of Madhu and Kaitabha". The demons were bewildered by the nature of the request. As the promise of giving a boon was to be fulfilled, Madhu and Kaitabha requested Vishnu to annihilate them by placing them at a place where there was no water. Apparently the demons thought that in the condition of the deluge it would be impossible to find a place without water.
They forgot that they were dealing with Vishnu, their creator, and wanted to play a clever trick. Vishnu was too shrewd for the ingenuity showed by the demons, immediately clasped them to his wide chest, squeezed out their blood, and choked them to death. Thus he got the name as the "Annihilator of Madhu and Kaitabha".
The squeezed blood had to be thrown somewhere and it fell on the newly formed earth. The death of his enemies made Brahma happy and he started his work of creation unopposed. But the unholy blood of the demons desecrated the sanctity of the earth and the putrefied smell contaminated the country with bad odour, which became a great hindrance to the austere penance of Bhoo Devi then on earth near Totadri. In response to Bhoo Devi's penance to get rid of this contamination of the earth that she personified, Vishnu appeared before her at this spot.
The Peculiar Significance Of This Place Is Indicated By The Particular Incident Stated Below:
Once Sage Bhrigu started austere penance invoking Sri Devi at Nanguneri. When Sri Devi was pleased to appear before Sage Bhrigu, Her consort Vishnu also accompanied her. They came to the hermitage of Sage Bhrigu and wanted to bestow some boons.
The Sage made a peculiar request to have Sri Devi herself as his daughter and Lord Vishnu as his son-in-law so that he could serve them always at Totadri. As Sri Devi was inclined to grant the boon, Lord Vishnu too granted it. Consequently Sri Devi had to take birth through Sage Bhrigu's wife Kyati as their daughter and, in course of time Vishnu married Her, and remained in blissful abode. This is why Totadri has got the special significance of being known as "Sri Nivasam" where prayer becomes immediately fruitful.
Legends Relating The Significance Of The Place
The legend goes that once upon a time there was a righteous king in the kingdom of Sind named, "Gunaseelan", son of Nala. In his usual pastime he went out on hunting, followed by his attendants on horseback. The King missed his companions in the trackless forest and, when he was feeling the pinch of thirst and hunger, he could locate a mysterious animal in the form of a deer having eight legs. This phenomenon diverted the mind of the King and he ran after it. But alas! The deer with its swift legs quickly disappeared, drawing the King deep into the forest.
At its disappearance, the King felt dejected and retraced his steps to find out his companions. By then he felt acutely thirsty and hungry. He noticed at a distance a small hermitage made of mild leaves. He halted in front of it and, finding the door wide open alighted from his horse and entered it. He could not find the owner of the hermitage.
There was no temple their till then. But the sanctity of the place gained great prominence. It was a dense mango forest where many sages like Roma, Narada, Vaikhanasa, Dadhichi, Angeerasa, Jabali, Kalavar, Kanva and others were engaged in deep meditation and penance.
Lord Vishnu, seeing this holy assemblage, was pleased to direct Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, to construct a beautiful city, comparable to Amaravati; the heavenly abode of Lord Vishnu, where He stays in His physical form, so that the sages and others might get the benefit of His darshan daily. Vishwakarma transformed the forest into a holy city with a temple, where people from all parts of the country came and settled down.
One Dharmavatsalan, a very rich Vaisya of Tirumulam near River Kaveri, having squandered all his ancestral wealth in sensual pleasures, became a pauper at last. He played a hoax against his villagers and relatives, and was driven away to a forest. A Lion killed him.
Hindu Beliefs And Rituals
Unnatural death by suicide, accident, or by wild animals, according to Hindu belief, makes the soul a ghost under torture, moving in the ether from place to place till the time comes for his birth. Dharmavatsalan took many births in various species. In his birth as a man, according to his past Karma, he suffered from leprosy.
He took advice from his spiritual preceptor Bhargava who directed him to worship the deity at Totadri for three years using Gingelly oil for ablution every day, and distribute ample alms among the needy and feed the poor.
Every day, after the ablution of the deity, the oil drained off was collected by him and besmeared over his body. Lord Vishnu was very pleased with this pious act of Dharmavatsalan arid healed his disease and relieved him of sins. The poor man gradually regained his original form and dedicated his life for the improvement of the temple till his last days.
But to his utter surprise he found in a corner food and drink spread over a leaf as if offered to somebody. His acute thirst and hunger did not allow him to wait long. He unceremoniously helped himself to the food and drink.
When he had finished the meal, he realized he was an intruder in the hermitage. Sage Kusasanan, who had been to the river for his daily ablution, was entering the hermitage. The Rishi got angry and immediately cursed the intruder to turn into a dog for his canine action, as only dogs sneakingly creep into the households and desecrate food. The intruder had not only desecrated the hermitage by his action but had also violated the moral code of the country. The curse became immediately effective and the King turned into a roaming mongrel.
Gunaseelan besought the Sage to take back his curse in lieu of his entire domain and wealth, but the words of the Sage who had already attained Vak Siddhi were irrevocable. But seeing the humility, distress and penitence of the King, Sage Kusasanan condescended to lighten the kill rigour of the curse by saying that in due course of time, he would come across a holy place where he would regain his original form after a bath.
In the form of a mongrel the King had to roam round the earth, how long none could say. Once, during his wanderings, a juggler came before him and finding him quite healthy and plump, utilised his services for showing sleight-of-hand in teats of jugglery. Time passed, the mongrel in the company of the juggler roamed round the earth and at last reached Nanguneri. Before starting his show the juggler took his bath in the temple tank and bathed the mongrel too. But to his surprise the mongrel stood transformed as a king after the holy dip. People thronged round the juggler to see the wonderful jugglery of God. Such is the power of the holy waters of the sacred tank at Nanguneri.
Services To The Deity
The holy ablution to the deity at Totadri is done with pure Gingelly oil. By contact with the holy idol the oil is impregnated with miraculous curative powers. The oil is collected in a pool 20 feet by 10 feet near the temple enclosures. It is said that the healing power of the oil is so great and so mysterious as to cure even the deadliest disease like leprosy.
Legend Connected With Nanguneri
Once upon a time, in days of yore, a devout Saivite sage who was a great fanatic used to hang two bells in his two ears so that by nodding his head he could ring the bells to drown the name of gods other than Shiva. For this idiosyncrasy, the sage was named "Ghanta Karnan".
Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna, while still a boy, came to the spot, with his playmates and took a fancy to ask this peculiar sage the reason for the hanging bells. Ghantakarnan replied that it was to avoid the sound of the names of Vishnu. The boy Krishna told Ghantakarnan that whoever talked blasphemy against Lord Vishnu and his devotees would go to hell. This did not satisfy Ghantakarnan. However he said: "I am somehow attracted by your magnetic personality though you are a boy. Even Indra would not have the courage to fight with me; I am tolerating your bitter words, as you are God Himself and so I beseech you for salvation."
Krishna told him to pray to Lord Shiva. The sage did so, still keeping his hands on the boy. To his surprise he found himself in the Milky Ocean, on Sweta Dweepa, with beautiful groves of Kalpaka trees. In this beautiful groove of Kalpaka trees he found Lord Vishnu on the couch and canopy of Adi Sesha. Wondering what it was, he began chanting again the sacred names of Lord Shiva.
Not being able to understand the mystery, he told the boy: "Till today I could not bear to hear the name of Vishnu. I wanted to follow your advice and I did so. Meditating on Shiva, I saw the Milky Ocean, Vishnu with keyuras and kundalas and garland and other beautiful decorations. What does all this mean? Accept me as your disciple and grant me salvation."! Immediately he threw away the two bells hanging from his ears and prostrated before the boy. God was pleased and Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna gave him salvation instantaneously
Legend Connected With Totadri Runs
At one time Mahishmati, mother of the Asuras, was very much grieved at the annihilation of the race of the demons. To regenerate the race she started austere penance invoking Brahma the Creator. Brahma was pleased with her penance, and granted her boon that she would have two sons who would be unconquerable.
Accordingly, in due course, two sons, Sunda and Upasunda by name, were born to her. In course of time when they grew up, their thread ceremony was performed and among the others, Sukracharya, the spiritual preceptor of the race of demons, was also present.
The two sons became very powerful and conquered all the worlds as a result of the boons obtained by their mother. In the course of conquest "Swarga Lok" (heaven) also was conquered by them. To cry halt to their ever-expanding conquest, Brahma deputed the celestial dancer Tilottama to divert the mind of the two demons so that their future conquests might be stopped. The heavenly dancer took up the task and performed it skillfully. Her enchanting beauty, seductive looks and graceful dancing with music captured the heart and mind of the two brothers.
Each one wanted to have the dancer as his own life partner. The brothers started quarrelling with each other, which at last developed into a big fight, which ended in mutual killing. Brahma was pleased with the performance of Tilottama and offered her a boon. Her only request was to be in constant service to Lord Vishnu. As this was beyond his powers he directed her to invoke Lord Vishnu by penance at Totadri so that her desire would be fulfilled.
When Tilottama narrated the events to her compeer in the other world, Urvasi, she began to realise the folly of her pride and was only too glad to join Tilottama in her penance to attain the merit of being in constant service to Lord Vishnu.
As Tilottama's penance was to start shortly, she also joined her and they both came to Nanguneri, met all the sages who were doing penance at Totadri, including Sage Vaikhanasa who advised them to bathe daily in the temple tank and to recite the eight-lettered hymn to Vishnu to achieve their desir e. They were lost in deep penance till at last Lord Vishnu appeared before them with his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. He said that thenceforth they would be his permanent attendants, waiting on him and doing service to him.
Air: The nearest airport is at
Madurai, 151-km away.
Rail: The nearest convenient railway station is Tirunelveli, which is an important railway junction on the Southern Railway and is connected to all the major cities within and beyond the state.
Road: There are regular buses to Nanguneri from Tirunelveli, Ambasamudram, Palayamkottai, Radhapuram and the other neighbouring towns.
Accommodation is available at the small hotels, lodges and dharmashalas in Nanguneri.