Varadaraja Temple

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Location : Kanchipuram, 80 Km From Chennai
Presiding Deity: Varadaraja
Originally Known As: Attiyuran
Festivals Celebrated: Annual Brahmotsavam During May-June And Adhyayanotsavam During December-January

The temple of Varadaraja is located in Kanchipuram, 80 km from Chennai. The Varadaraja temple is one of the important shrines of Sri Vaishnavites and is also known as "Hastigiri" and it is one of the celebrated Vaishnava Divya Desams, located in Vishnu Kanchi or the little Kanchi. Originally it was known as "Attiyuran". Sri Varadaraja Swami is also known as 'Devaraja', 'Pranatharthihara', 'Deva Perumal', 'Athiyooran' and 'Perarulalan'.

History Of The Temple
This temple with superb art has a magnificent history, which is associated with Sri Ramanuja, who used to serve here. Many miracles are said to have occurred. It was with his ministry that the temple, then already several centuries old, began to gain fame. The base hall was rebuilt in 1053 by the Cholas on the east west axis, to signify a cave in the hill, within which the icon of Narasimha sits as a 'Yogi' facing west. The earliest surviving inscription in the temple is dated 1703.

Varadaraja temple was expanded vastly during the reign of Kulottunga Chola-I and his son Vikrama Chola (1075 - 1135). A separate shrine for Perundevi was built on the southwest, facing the sanctum, (rebuilt in 15th century). By 14th century, the Cholas built another encircling wall including a tank etc with a gateway and a 7-storied tower. Its hundred-pillared Mandapam is one of the great achievements of the Vijayanagar artist.

The Legend
Tradition states that it was on the site of the main sanctum that Lord Brahma once performed a grand sacrifice. Legend has it that Bharma worshipped Vishnu in 'Krita Yugam', "Gajendran" in 'Treta Yugam' (also spelt as Yuga or Yug), "Bhrihaspati" in 'Dwapara Yugam' (also spelt as Dwapar Yug) and "Adiseshan" in 'Kaliyugam' (also spelt as Kalyug).

When Saraswati, taKing the form of a fast flowing river, the Vegavati, which runs a few km from Kanchipuram, attempted to wash away the area, Lord Vishnu, the deity now enshrined in the Tiruvekha temple, laid himself down flat to stop its progress. When Lord Brahma's sacrifice was successfully concluded, Lord Vishnu emerged resplendent as a thousand suns, as Devarajaswami, the King of the Gods. Granting the request of Lord Brahma he remained here in this temple.

Bhutattaalwar, one of the earliest of the Alwars, has sung of this temple. The name Hastigiri is applied in the connotation of Gajendra Moksham (also spelt as Moksha) and from The Legend that Indras elephant Airavatam - in the form of a hill bears the image of Vishnu. The name Attiyurar emerges from the tradition that the original image of Varadaraja Perumal here was made from Attimaram. This ancient wooden image is worshipped for 10 days, once in 40 years.

The Temple
The older structures are all lost in series of rebuilding and additions. The temple is now about 335m long and over 192m wide. It has four Prakarams, with two huge Gopurams on the west, which is the main entrance, and on the east. The main sanctum is on a hillock, the Hasthigir. The shrine is a square and has a barrel-vaulted sikhara, called the "Punyakoti Vimana", itself an object of worship. There are two Mandapams in front of it and also a closed pradakshinapath, which is considered the first Prakaram. There are some paintings of late Vijayanagar times here.

Around the foot of the hillock, to which the devotees descend by a flight of twenty-four steps runs the second Prakaram. A double-storied pillared colonnade encloses it. It contains four shrines. One of these is of "Malayala Nachiar", or the Consort from Kerals, probably a relic of the Chera occupation of Kanchipuram early in the fourteenth century. There is a shrine dedicated to Lord Narasimha on the hill lock.

The third Prakaram too contains a number of shrines and Mandapam. The most important of these is the shrine of Goddess, Perundevi Thayar. It is customary to offer worship here before going to the Sri Varadaraja Shrine. It is a splendid glowing Vijayanagar structure. The Mandapam has ornamental double pillars with rearing cavaliers, as in the celebrated hundred-column Mandapam in the fourth Prakaram. Adjacent to the shrine there is a dainty Mandapam carrying four pillars, standing on a high basement. The pillars and the ceiling are of great beauty.

The fourth and the outermost Prakaram, which is the largest, contain two tanks besides many shrines and Mandapam. In one of the tanks, the impressive Anantasaras, a wooden image of the Lord is kept submerged. Previously it is taken out for worship and then replaced.

Nearby is the Kalyana Mandapam, a marvel, which was built in the second half of the 16th century. Occupying an area of about 167 sq.km and set on a lofty basement 1.8 m high, it contains ninety-six pillars. Those on the facade carry, on their shafts, warriors astride rearing steeds. Most of these cavaliers, who wear swords, are familiar from Vijayanagar sculptures elsewhere.

But there are also others with carbines or muskets and they are probably Portuguese. There are two smaller four-pillared Mandapams in this Prakaram called "Thulabhara Mandapams", they were probably built for a ceremony in 1532 when Achyutha, the Vijayanagar Raja, weighed himself against pearls and gifted these to the temple. They are identical in form and style.

Two huge Gopurams stand on the east and the west. Today the main entrance is through the latter. The former is seldom used because, it is said, it was through it that, in 1688, when a Muslim invasion was expected, the images of the Lord and his consorts were taken away to safety.

They remained in Udayarpalayam for twenty-two years. When attempts were made to bring them back, the local chieftain would not part with them. There upon, a religious preceptor enlisted the services of Todarmal. He overawed the chieftain with a small force. There are images of Todarmal, his mother and his wife near the entrance from the third to the fourth Prakaram in this temple. There are also images of these three in the Tirumala temple.

The western Gopuram, which faces the town, is of late Cholas times. It is smaller than the eastern, which Vijayanagar in style and is about 45.7 m high. It rather resembles the main Gopuram of the Sri Ekamranath temple. In fact, these two huge Gopurams seem to mark the eastern and western ends of the town when viewed from a distance, say, from the Chennai road.

The Deities
The main deity here is Varadaraja Perumal in a standing posture facing west. Perundevi Taayaar is housed in a separate temple within the complex. Other shrines here include those to Kannan, the Alwars, and the Acharyas, Ramar, Kariamanikka Perumaal, Andal and Varaaha Perumaal.

Services And Festivities
Priests, who are said to be descendants of Yagna Vakyar, offer four worship services to the deity everyday. The annual Brahmotsavam is celebrated in the month of Vaikasi (May-June), while the Adhyayanotsavam is celebrated in the month of Margazhi (December-January). The Garuda Sevai and the Chariot festival during the Brahmotsavam draw thousands of pilgrims. During Chitra Pournami and Pongal, the deity is taken out to the neighbouring areas.

HOW TO GET THERE

Air: The nearest airport is at Chennai, which has both National and International terminals.
Rail: Kanchipuram has a railway station on the Chengalpattu - Arakkonam line, which can be reached via Chengalpattu from Chennai.
Road: Kanchipuram being a major city and pilgrimage center of Tamil Nadu is well connected by road with all other places in Tamil Nadu.

WHERE TO STAY

Accommodation is available at the moderate and economy class hotels, lodges and choultries in Kanchipuram.



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