Thiruchendur Murugan Temple – Thirupani (Temple Renovations)
The work of Desikamurti Swami, one of the Tambirans of Tiruvavaduthurai Mutt, has been referred to. This great South Indian Saiva mutt had been associated with the Thirupani of this temple for over 300 years, as is to be seen from the construction of the principal gopuram by one of its disciples.
The tradition states that the Swami had actually a divine call to attend to this construction, and that he was subjected to various trials in the actual carrying out of his mission. He had not the means to pay for the work, and, it is said the problem was solved by a miracle of converting sacred-ashes into coin.
This was not to continue for long. As the Gopuram progressed to a height of the sixth storey, the miracle did not work. The Swami was sorely affected. The Lord however directed him to a neighboring patron of letters, Seethakkathi of Kayalpattanam. The Swami was presented with a basket of salt. The salt was accepted, and when brought in, the contents were changed overnight into gold coins.
The Gopuram was completed. But the Lord did not want him to stay and conduct the kumbhabhishekam, the crowning act of his labours. He was directed to leave the place and stay at Kantheeswaram (the island temple of Sri Ekanta Lingeswara Swami surrounded on all sides by the river Tambraparani which branches round the temple and is located opposite to Azhwartirunagari, 17 miles from Thiruchendur, a famous Vaishnavite centre and the birthplace of Saint Nammazhwar and Saint Manavalamamuni containing one of the largest temples in the district, dedicated to Vishnu as Sri Adinathaswami).
The Gopura Kumbhabhishekam was duly performed in its time, and the tradition has it that the Swami was seen entering into the portals of the newly constructed Gopuram though at the time of the Kumbhabhishekam he was actually miles away. His spirit seems to have been present though not his body.
The Tambirans mortal remains lie in Samadhi in a building to the north of the Sri Ekantalingeswara temple at Kantheeswaram amongst a forest of acacias. There is a Dharmapuram Mutt building near the temple wherein he appears to have stayed for a while. The Samadhi has since fallen into disrepairs during the great Tambraparani floods in 1924, and requires urgent renovation. A Saivite Vellala is performing puja for the Samadhi, and is paid for his service by the Tiruvavaduthurai Mutt.
The figure of a tall-lean bearded figure with a characteristic turban of a Tambiran, sculptured on the nearest pillar to the Valli Amman shrine in the second prakara of the temple is pointed out as the figure of Desika Murti as also another of the like description, done in stucco to the left of the outer entrance, on the first storey of the second inner gopuram.
The Tiruvavaduthurai Thirupani Madam now seen on the way to the main temple, near the Thoondukai Vinayagar Temple, was the place wherein Desika Murti Swami lived during his stay at Thiruchendur. The special honor bestowed on him during his time continues to this day to be offered to the successive Kattalai Tambirans of the Mutt. The honor of the first Ubaya Kattalai and pattukkattuthal to the Adheena Tambiran during the kodiyetram (flag-hoisting) of every one of the annual festivals is theirs by right. The Mutt bears the special honour of bedecking the Kreedom of the Lord at the Pillayyan's mandapa before he sets out of it on the seventh day of the Masi and Avani festivals. The Tambiran is also taken to the temple every evening for worship with temple honors and on ashta-kona-pallakku during the Vijayadasami for ambu poduthal on the Vannikasura.
Some mention has to be made of the magnificent services of these three sannyasins who have re-built this great temple of three corridors in black granite. The Shanmukha Vilasa, the noble frontal mantapa of enormous proportions which over-looks the sea is another edifice, also the extensive Vellaikkal Mandapa which faces the sea.
The advent of Mauna Swami, as the first of the three was called, was in 1868. He came from a place unknown, nor is his proper name on record. He kept a vow of silence, and was known on that account as Mauna Swami. He realised that the temple needed an urgent renovation, and he dedicated his life for the purpose. He would sit at the portal of the Gopura, and to the queries put to him he used to reply by writing the answer on the sand before him. His bestowal of vibhuti to worshippers earned donors to the Thirupani funds.
When he came, Mauna Swami found the great western Gopuram door-way half-concealed by the rolling sand-dunes of the sea. He moved the sand away and his next service was to give a coating of oil to this great door. The second task he set himself to was the renovation of the second eastern Gopuram.
As this work progressed, he was joined in 1872 by another ascetic who had arrived on a pilgrimage from Kasi (Benares), and for that reason he was known as 'Kasi Swami'. He went about different places collecting grain and money and helped Mauna Swami. Entrusting the work to Kasi Swami, the Mauna Swami now sailed to Ceylon by a country boat and he was helped by certain merchants there and at Kulasekharanpattinam with money. He returned soon with about Rs. 5,000. These funds were, however insufficient. With the amount on hand, as a nucleus, he instituted a Hundial Collection at the western Gopuram door as well as daily collections of handful of rice from every house. This Hundial collection is still being continued to augment the resources of a Thirupani fund and which is separately maintained.
As the second Gopuram was completed the Swami broke his silence. His vow was now fulfilled. His daily single meal, he begged from door to door, not desiring to spend out of the Thirupani collections. The temple authorities, in consideration of his austerities provided him with prasadams from the temple. This he shared with other sannyasins. The third task was the renovation of the great western Gopuram, and this was taken up in 1877.
By an unfortunate accident just at this time the three temple cars were burnt down to ashes. The Swami promptly set to work to replace them by a new set. He approached the Maharaja of Travancore; it is said with great success. The required timber he got for the mere asking and, along with them, two great poles for the two temple dwajastambhas. The three wooden temple cars were duly completed, and the two dwajastambhas erected. Their consecration was performed on February 20th, 1880.
Kasi Swami was now most busy with these several undertakings. He had also secured about 15 acres of Poramboke lands in the neighbourhood of the temple and planted it with Iluppai and other trees, which is now known as the iluppaittôppu. The construction of Vasanta Mandapa in front of the western Gopuram was then taken up in 1882. Side by side with it he also planted a tope of Iluppai round about this construction. This is now a centre of attraction for its shade and beauty.
After the work had progressed for two years, Kasi Swami was suddenly taken away to the Feet of the Lord in 1884. He was interred in Samadhi, in his own tope and the spot is consecrated to his memory. He had spent twelve years of his active life in this great service. His puja room is even now to be seen as a small prayer house under the Mela Gopuram gateway.
The austerity of the Swami is highly praised. He is said to have once approached a rich Nadar of Kayamozhi to help the Gopuram Thirupani with a few palmyrah trees for scaffolding purposes and his request was refused. And a heavy gale that night brought down a few hundreds of his trees and Nadar realised the great purpose and he offered them to the Swami.
Mauna Swami now continued his labours single-handed. The Vasanta Mandapa was completed, and he instituted the annual celebration of the Vasanta festival, the expenses of which are to be met out of the Thirupani funds. With the completion of the Vasanta Mandapa in 1897, Mauna Swami turned next his attention to the Shanmukha Vilasa. This mandapa, originally built of white stone, began to show actual traces of weakness due to its age. Voluntary offer of funds by devotees strengthened his resolve to take up the reconstruction of this great mantapa.
The Swami was feeling the effects of age and began to think seriously of a successor to him. Luckily he found one such in a rich Vellala of Kadayam, Arumukha Swami, son of an ardent Saivite A. Chokkalingam Pillai. He had taken early to sanyasam in 1905 and entered the Suriyanarkovil Mutt as a disciple of Sri-la-Sri Muthukumaraswami Sannathigal. Arumuga Swami could not at first be easily prevailed upon to accept this great responsibility. By a Registered Will dated 18th January 1908 Mauna Swami transferred to Arumuga Swami all responsibilities of continuing the Thirupani.
The work progressed however continued by Mauna Swami, who turned his attention next to the central shrine. The Bali Mantapa and the eastern prakara of the first circuit were taken up in 1907. At this time, an accident to the principal idol of Subrahmaniyam necessitated the consecration of a fresh idol. A worshipper afflicted with alcoholic had rushed into the sanctum sanctorum and had caught hold of the feet of the Lord Subrahmaniyam to deliver him from this dire affliction.
The Potris and others in the sanctum were amazed at this sudden move of the worshipper, and, they caught hold of the man-to extricate his hold of the feet of the Lord. But unfortunately his hold was fast and the idol gave way and had to be replaced by a fresh one. The consequent Astabandhanam Kumbhabhishekam of the new idol by the Trustees of the temples had to be performed in 1909. The funds at their disposal were found insufficient; and Mauna Swami offered his contribution for the purpose from the Thirupani exchequer. The consecration was duly performed.
The call for Mauna Swami had actually come now, and he attained the feet of the Lord Siva on 19th April 1909. He was given a Samadhi the next day, and his bodily remains interred next to that of Kasi Swami. Arumuga Swami had not till then entered on his duties, though virtually appointed to succeed the deceased swami. Arumuga Swami who has then on a pilgrimage to other sacred places had just settled down at his ashram in Periyakulam. He was loathe to leave his life of renunciation to one of active service as was now offered to him. But however he had to yield.
As soon as Mauna Swami passed away, the trustees of the Devasthanam took charge of the Thirupani and carried it on. They were not able to continue it for long. A suit to recover a large amount of Thirupani funds had to be urgently filed as per terms of the Will and Arumuga Swami was persuaded to accept the trust. He was entrusted with the Thirupani from 29th of January 1910, the day of his assuming charge.
The last of the three giants who had assumed this great responsibility was however Arumukha Swami. Born in 1865, from his 45th year, for thirty years from 1910 to the 7th of June 1940 when he laid down this life, he labored single handedly and devotedly. It is said that he took this pledge of service in the sanctum before Dakshinamurti in the second prakara of the temple.
He started his labours in right earnest. The Kandamadana sandstone-rock was further carved into to form the three mighty prakarams. The erstwhile sandstone pillars were replaced by highly ornamental and sculptured ones, and almost a brand new temple emerged as a result of his continuous labours of three scores of years and, twelve from the very start.
To augment the Thirupani Hundial offerings and speed up the rapidly progressing work, the Devasthanam executives have been financing the Swami regularly at the rate of Rs. 15,000 a year to an extent of about three lakhs of rupees. He was also helped with an amount of Rs. 16,000 by Sri K. E. P. Venkatachalam Pillai of Tuticorin for the construction of the frontal Airavata Mantapa of Shanmukha in the first prakara. The displaced airavathas could still be seen stacked outside, and are well worth conservation.
The garbha-griha and ardha-mandapa of the central sanctum, the Valli and Deivayanai shrines, their vimanas, the flooring of the two circuits, and the completion of the temple walls were the major pieces of work of this period. He had also renewed the Gopuram of five storeys over the eastern entrance of the second circuit.
The Swami was however very careful with his finances. With the amount of Rs. 36,446 accumulated in his hands, he purchased in 1932 for Rs. 30,000 (on Thirupani account), the Mitta villages of Timmarajapuram and Makilammalpuram; and for Rs. 6,300 on 20-11-1935 the Dalavoipuram village. He had also purchased other properties from time to time.
The Swami had now labored for nearly 24 years, and he began to feel the weakness of age and seriously thought of one who could rightly step into his place and continue his work. He had completed yet another vast work, the commodious Vellaikkal Mantapa of 96 pillars, 115-1/2 feet long and 46-3/4 feet wide. It faces the sea. The stones and pillars taken out of the old temple construction were not wasted but used up in its construction. There is yet a vast collection of such stones imbedded in the sand dunes round about the Nazhik-kinar and near the Shanmukha Vilasa, which could be used up for extending the Mantapa on both its sides to the south and the north.
The Swami's next projected work was the renovation of the principal Gopuram of the Temple, which had again deteriorated. The stucco work of the several figures on the eastern and northern sides of it had greatly disintegrated, almost the whole of the mortar having fallen into powder, leaving alone the skeleton in brick. The work needed an urgent renovation. In 1934 he put up the needed elaborate and intricate scaffolding at a cost of about six thousands of rupees. This work took about a year and a half.
The divine call was felt to be near. By a will he made over the whole of the Thirupani properties and funds to Subrahmanya Swami Himself, and ordained the Executive Officer of the Devasthanam and his successors-in-office to manage the funds as the Thirupani Trustee after him. The document was executed and registered on 25-04-1934. He was spared however for six more years, various objects occupying his mind and hands.
On 7th June 1940 Arumukha Swami was gathered to the feet of the Lord in his 75th year. He lies in Samadhi next to Kasi Swami and Mauna Swami. Three distinct buildings marking the places where they are interred are on the southern beach overlooking the expansive sea, and laid to eternal sleep in Śivam by the lullabies of the sea air and of its waves. The next year, the entire Thirupani was consecrated and Kumbabishekam performed on 26 June 1941.
The Thirupani and its properties are now being administered by the Executive Officer of the Devasthanam as per terms of the Will referred to and subject to the directions of the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Board. A figure of Arumukha Swami in stucco is to be seen from within the third prakara on the left side of the second gopura of five floors. This gopura has been renovated by him. On the other side of it is to be seen the figure of the originator of the Thirupani Desika Murti Thambiran. The statues of Mauna Swami and Kasi Swami now adorn the two columns, next to that of Desika Murti Tambiran in front of Valli's shine in the second prakara of the temple.
With no worldly wealth to call their own, these three noble souls had labored in the re-building of this great House of Muruga. Their example will live for all times, symbolic of their unattached, selfless and devoted service to God and their fellow men.