Temples in and around Madurantakam

by B. Mekala | 2016 | 71,416 words

This essay studies the Temples found around Madurantakam, a town and municipality in Kancheepuram (Kanchipuram) District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Madurantakam is one of the sacred holy places visited by Saint Ramanuja. It is also a region blessed with many renowned temples which, even though dating to at least the 10th century, yet they c...

Pujas (worship and offerings)

The daily worship in a temple is known as nityapuja where as the occasional ceremonies in connection with the special festival is called as naimittika. The daily offerings are obligatory and are very essential to preserve the sanctity of the temple. Generally, the ritual in a temple consists of four celebrations which takes place at sunrise. noon, sunset and midnight. However, the number of times the ceremonial worship has to be conducted depended on the traditions and the agamas which governed the respective temples. For instance, in a temple at Madurantakam, the ceremonial worship takes place five times a day, early in the morning, twelve in the noon, in the evening at six, at eight in the night and the last one at nine in the night after which the temple is closed.[1] In the Minakshi Temple at Madurai, the daily worship consists of eight separate period of worship, each taking half to one hour to complete. In the Ramesvaram Temple. rituals are performed six times a day. According to Pancaratragama, the daily pujas were expected to be offered from a minimum of one to a maximum of twelve. Almost everyone in the village offered worship at any one of the pujas according to their convenience. For, ihey believed that religion not only determines the status of a man in society but its principles regulates his manner of life also.

Worship is of two types, viz atmarthapuja and pararthapuja. The former is performed by an individual for his own salvation. The latter is done for the general well-being of all. Worship in a temple belongs to the second category. The worship proper consists of the awakening of the god or goddess who is considered to be asleep. Attention is paid to the comfort of the divine presence by bathing, dressing the sacred images, and adorning it with jewels, flowers and garlands[2] [3] and by the offering of refreshments. The sacred abulation (tirumanjanam) was an important rite in the temple worship. The sacred bath of the deity was usually performed daily.[4] The sivabrahmanas of the temple of were directed to bring water daily from the river or lake for the sacred bath of the deity.[5] The image is anointed with oils, camphor sandal paste and entertained with moving flames. Bedecking the image is referred to in inscriptions as sattupadi.[6] The food offerings known as amudupadi[7] are next presented very considerably and the priest bows and offers a handful of flowers. At last, the door of the sanctuary is closed as the deity is again considered to be asleep. This ceremony is repeated at the other appropriate times of the day. This kind of rites and ceremonies are known as sodosopacharas.[8]

Great care was taken by the priests when they performed worship. Those who were to perform the rituals had to prepare themselves before the beginning of ceremonies. Bathing and other acts of purification were necessary for them. Likewise the worshippers also entered the temple for worship after taking bath and wearing pure dress. Thus, temple worship inculcated a sense of cleanliness and purity among the devotees which in course became a part of their culture. The priests after making the rituals, exhibited the deities for the view of the people who make prayer and place their request before them. In order to make all these functions proper and attractive all the people, irrespective of their caste creed or colour involved themselves in the affairs of the temple. They donoted either land, money, or livestock and supplied each and every needed commodities according to their ability. Pious people made lavish endowments both in kind and cash either to attain spiritual merit, to atone for their sins or to get success in a war or as part of their fulfilment of certain vows. Vows were taken in front of the temple because divine sanctity was attached to such vows which in turn made them to adhere to the right code of moral conduct. Tamil epigraphs in around Madurantakam are replete with instances of royal patronage and public benefactions. The profuse endowments made over to the temple throughout the length and breadth of Madurantakam revealed the solid fabric of human greatness. They felt elevated and took pride for participating in temple activities. This induced a sense of involvement of all members of the society in Madurantakam. As such, it was a co-operative effort of all, for the good of all, who believed in the temple as an institution for the promotion of the material, moral and spiritual welfare of the people. Inside the temple, the worshipper appears to be a guest of the lord, shares the food of the god, makes the prayer for the honour done to him and receives the blessings due from the host. The cluster of rites and rituals performed in temples were colourful, sociable and often highly enjoyable. A variety of sweet and pleasant offerings though meant for the deity, exhilarates many of worshippers who gathered in the temple eagerly claiming his or her share of merit forgetting all other differences. Special offerings prepared for the deity was distributed to the temple servants and devotees.[9] On such occasions, several minds and hearts turned to the particular attitude of aspiration and devotion which produced a sense of unity and oneness. The priests, mostly Brahmins, while distributing the prasadam. sandal paste, basil leaves or flowers (lid not bother weather the devotees belonged to high or low castes and treated all of them equally in those days.

Besides the daily pujas, special pujas were performed in most of the temples. On special celebrations, people from far and near thronged the temple. The kings and queens too visited the temple to offer their obeisance and to worship the deities On such occasions, they performed the tulabhara and hiranyaqarbha ceremonies.[10] Besides, they instituted special pujas known as sandhis in their names,[11] participated in festivals and sometimes camped in the temple.[12] Hundreds and thousands of people came to the temple during royal visits. While the king received the divine dharsan from the temple, people obtained the dharsan of the divine, and the sovereign. It helped them in bring in peaceful co-existence. When worshipping the deity, the glittering lights that streaks and the fragrance that emanates from the sanctum sanctorum not only enlighten them but inspire their devotion and dedication. This made them shun their differences and disparities. The worshippers considered the sanctum a place of peace and bliss. The darkness that prevailed in the temple deeply impressed the single minded worshipper with the requisite fear and awe upon approaching the sanctuary. Hence, it is viewed that ‘fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’. However, in some places, the worshippers were not allowed to enter the temple with full attire. Specific instruction was given to them to visit the temple with the prescribed dress, mostly a dhoti and with a towel tied on the waist. Such a system of uniform dress make all the devotees to look alike which in turn induced sense of equality and a feeling of integrity.

The procession of deity was another picturesque ritual followed in most of the temples. This practice is referred to in many of the Tamil inscriptions in Madurantakam region and in the hymns of Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alwars. On such occasions, the beautifully decorated idol was taken into procession daily within the prakara of the temple. This ceremony is known in records as tiruchchennadai.[13] From a record of it is known that in a temple in Madurantakam region, god was taken in procession for the sun-bath.[14] Offerings were made on the occasion when the images were taken on procession to the tank or river.[15] In addition, sribali service was arranged in temples.[16] In this function, the sribali image was taken out in procession and perambulated around the temple or right around the streets of the temple with much pomp and pleasure. This ceremony was announced by beat of drums, the sounding of trumpets and other such musical instruments.[17] The temple executive of the temple was instructed to conduct the procession of the idol of Pillaiyar on the sacred day of Chittirai (April-May).[18] This enabled the multitudes of population who had no right to enter the temple and other socially and economically weaker sections of the society to offer worship and witness the ritual services of the god. This also helped the divergent sections of the population gather together. Moreover, it was a blessing to the sick and the disabled who were unable to go to the temple to offer their worship. Really, it was a great solace and relief to them. Agamas state that the taking of the deity on procession conferred special grace on those who were deluded by worldly attainment and were not interested in spiritual attainment.[19] Hence the recital of sacred hymns and the invoking of god’s name with his various epithets in temples not only kept up the religious fervour of the people, but made them to wipe out their agony at least for the time being. The religious motivated the people of various place to undertake pilgrimages to different temples of prominence. Every year thousands of Hindus, irrespective caste and creed. undertake pilgrimages to temples situated at various places in Madurantakam region, by walk and run, covering a distance of about many kilometres.[20] The practice of going on pilgrimages existed in the entire Kanchipuram and Chengalput regions. In some places, on the way to the temple the pious people offered butter milk, panakam (a drink made up of water, jaggery and tamarind) and rice gruel the devotees freely. The thirsty and hungry pilgrims accepted the offer without minding the status and position of the philanthropists in society. This charitable deed also served as a catalytic agent for integration. Further, pilgrimages provided a cordial atmosphere to the devotees to mingle with the people of different region, religion and culture. No doubt, pilgrimages kept alive a link between the people of different areas, north and south as well as east and west. Moreover, undertaking pilgrimages to different shrines is a physical exercise and provides mental solace too. A social gathering of various segments of the people, it encourages the much expected unity and integration. Thus, worshipping gods in temples help the people to control the passion and enable them to lead a pious and virtuous life.[21] The people of South Tamil Nadu considered it their duty to visit the temple in North Tamil Nadu. Consequently, there was a constant flow of pilgrims travelling throughout the Tamil Nadu country ensuring an intermixture of cultural ethos which resulted in the blossoming of social integration.

Footnotes and references:


Raman, K.V., Srivaradarajaswami Temple-Kanchi, New Delhi, 1975, p. 56.


Swarninatha Sivaeharya, C., (ed.), Kamikagam. Purva Bhagam, Madras, 1975, p.



S.I.I., Vol. XIII, No. 88.


A.R.E., 75 of 1925, Part.I, p.86.


S.I.I., Vol. XVII, Nos. 202; 248; 405.


K.K., Vol, IV, No. 19/1 969.


They are: avahana, sthapana. sannidhana. sannirohana, avagunthena, ahenumudra. atyhye. padya, acamaniya, puspadana, dhupa, dipa, naivedya, paniya, japalamarpana and aratrika. (Varadhachari, V., op. cit., p.351).


S.I.I., Vol. XIX, No. 184.


Ibid., Vol XXIII, No. 42.


Ibid., Vol V. Nos. 742; 987


I.P.S., No. 20; S.I.I., Vol. Vol.VII, No.1031


A.R.E. , 271 of 1963-1964.


Ibid., 297 of 1913.


Ibid., 275 of 1913.


K.K., Vol. IV, No. 38A / 1969.


A.R.E., 1915-16, Part.II, Para 15.


I.P.S., No. 320.


The Madurai Temple Complex Kumbhabhisheka Souvenir, Madurai, 1974, pp. 107-112.


Desayar, M., ‘Sivalaya Ottam in Kanyakummi District’ in Shodhak, Vol.24, Part.C, Sr. No. 72, Jaipur, 1995, pp. 143-1 47.


Jagadisa Ayyar, P.V., South Indian Shrines, New Delhi, 1982, p. 11.

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