Govindaraja Perumal Temple
|Govindaraja Swamy temple|
|Architectural styles||Dravidian architecture|
Govindaraja Perumal Temple or Thiruchitrakoodam in Chidambaram in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is inside the premises of Thillai Nataraja Temple, constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. The temple is glorified in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil canon of the Azhwar saints from the 6th–9th centuries AD. It is one of the 108 Divyadesam dedicated to Vishnu, who is worshipped as Govindaraja and his consort Lakshmi as Pundarikavalli.
A major shrine of Lord Shiva worship since the classical period, there have been several renovations and offerings to Chidambaram by the Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara and Chera royals in the ancient and pre-medieval periods. The temple as it stands now is mainly of the 12th and 13th centuries, with later additions in similar style.
Six daily rituals and two major yearly festivals are held at the temple, of which the Chittirai festival, celebrated during the Tamil month of Chittirai (March–April), is the most prominent. The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
The Govindaraja shrine is dedicated to Vishnu and is one of the 108 holy temples of Lord Vishnu called divyadesam, revered by the 7th-9th-century saint poets of vaishnava (those worshipping Lord Vishnu) tradition, alwars. Kulashekara alwar mentions this temple as Tillai Chitrakutam and equates Chitrakuta of Ramayana fame with this shrine. King Kulothunga Chola II is believed to have uprooted the presiding Govindraja image from the shrine. The shrine has close connections with the Govindaraja temple in Tirupati dating back to saint Ramanuja of the 11-12th century. Ramanujar fled to Tirupati with the utsava (festival image) of the temple to escape punishment. Down the centuries, king Krishnappa Nayak (1564-1572 A.D.) was instrumental in installing the image of Govindaraja back in the temple. There was lot of resistance from the shaivites (those worshipping Shiva) against placing the Vishnu image in a revered Shiva temple, but the king was unmoved and the image was installed in the present form. There is no satisfactory evidence of co-existence of the Shiva and Vishnu shrines within the same temple built during the same time - there was a dispute even in last century during 1849 A.D. regarding the rights on the Govindaraja idol and Alwar Sannidhi(sanctum of azhwars) between Vaishnavas and Dikshitars and the position of Vaishnavas was upheld by the district court.
The temple is revered in Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 7th–9th century Vaishnava canon, by Kulasekaraazhvaar in eleven hymns and Thirumangai Azhwar in thirteen hymns. The temple is classified as a Divyadesam, one of the 108 Vishnu temples that are mentioned in the book. As per legend, Govindarajan is believed to have descended for sage Kanvar and the 3,000 Dikshidars of the Thillai Natarajar temple.
Festivals and religious practices
The temple priests perform the pooja (rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. As at other Vishnu temples of Tamil Nadu, the priests belong to the Vaishnavaite community, a Brahmin sub-caste. The temple rituals are performed six times a day: Ushathkalam at 7 a.m., Kalasanthi at 8:00 a.m., Uchikalam at 12:00 p.m., Sayarakshai at 6:00 p.m., Irandamkalam at 7:00 p.m. and Ardha Jamam at 10:00 p.m. Each ritual has three steps: alangaram (decoration), neivethanam (food offering) and deepa aradanai (waving of lamps) for both Govindarajan and Pundarikavalli. During the last step of worship, nagaswaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument) are played, religious instructions in the Vedas (sacred text) are recited by priests, and worshippers prostrate themselves in front of the temple mast. There are weekly, monthly and fortnightly rituals performed in the temple. The 10-day Chittirai festival celebrated during the Tamil month of Chittirai (March - April) and Gajendra Moksha festival are the prominent festivals celebrated in the temple.
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