|Proper name||Amritaghateswarar Temple|
|Primary deity||Amritaghateswarar (Shiva), Abhirami (Parvati)|
|Architectural styles||Dravidian architecture|
Amritaghateswarar Abhirami Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva in his manifestation as "Destroyer of Death" and his wife Parvati as Abhirami. It is located in Thirukkadaiyur (Thirukadavur), 21 km East of Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu in India. This temple is associated with the legend of Shiva saving his young devotee, Markendeya from death, and the tale of a saint, Abirami Pattar a devotee of the presiding goddess.
The temple complex covers 10 acres and has two gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the eastern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 46 metres (151 ft). The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Amrithaghateswarar and Abhirami being the most prominent.
The temple has six daily rituals at various times from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and twelve yearly festivals on its calendar. The present masonry structure was built during the Chola dynasty in the 9th century, while later expansions are attributed to Thanjavur Nayaks. The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
Thirukkadaiyur derives its name from the pot, called Gatam in Tamil. Vishnu, Indra, and the other Devas needed a sublime place to consume the ambrosia that had been churned during the Samudra manthan and, therefore, brought the ambrosia pot here. Before consuming it, they forgot to worship Ganesha, who is to be worshiped before any great undertaking. Ganesha, hurt and offended at the unintentional slight by the devas, stole the pot of Amrita and hid it at Tirukkadaiyur. Ganesha created a Shiva Lingam, dedicated to his father and mother, and poured some of the Amrita over it. The Shiva Lingam at this temple is known as Amrita Ghat Eshwarar, which, translated from Sanskrit literally means "Lord that leads to immortality" ('Immortality' (Amrita) 'Step' (Ghat) 'Lord' (Eshwarar)). It is also believed that Abhirami incarnated here by the power of Vishnu.
As per popular legend, near the temple of Tirukkadaiyur, there lived a sage named Mrikandu and his wife Marudmati. They were both devotees of Shiva and worshiped him day and night for many years, asking to be graced with a child. After many years of penance, Shiva appeared to Mrikandu and Marudmati. He told them that he heard their prayers and would give them a choice: they could either have a gifted son who would live to be only sixteen, or a son of low intelligence who would live a long life. Mrikandu and Marudmati chose the former, and were blessed with Markandeya, an exemplary son, destined to die at the age of sixteen.
As Markandeya grew, so did his devotion to Shiva. As advised by his father, Markandeya worshipped the Shiva Lingam at Tirukkadaiyur, even bringing water from the Ganges to the temple via an underground passage. On the day he was destined to die, Yama, the deity of death, appeared with his noose to tie around the soul of Markandeya and take it with him. Markandeya sought refuge in the temple and embraced the Siva Lingam. Shiva appeared and warned Yama not to touch Markandeya, as he was under his protection. Yama refused to listen and threw the noose anyway, binding Markandeya and the Lingam together. Angered by Yama's extraordinary arrogance, Shiva kicked him and held him under his foot, making Yama inactive. Markandeya was blessed by Shiva to remain sixteen years old eternally. Shiva came to be known as "Kala-samhara" (Sanskrit: "Destroyer of Time") at this temple.
Meanwhile, with Yama being rendered inactive, there were no deaths on earth, but people were still being born. Burdened by the weight of so many people and unable to sustain their hunger, the earth-goddess, Bhumi Devi, appealed to Shiva for help. Shiva, feeling compassionate for the earth-goddess, released Yama, allowing death to occur again. However, in order to remind Yama never to try to kill someone while they are worshiping Shiva again, the icon of Shiva in this temple is depicted with his forefinger raised in warning.
Since it is believed that Lord Siva subdued Yama in Thirukkadaiyur, the Lord is called Mrityunjaya (Sanskrit: "Conqueror of Death" or "Victorious over Death").
The temple, in line with the temple architecture of the Chola dynasty, occupies a very vast area of 11 acres (45,000 m2), with five courtyards, several imposing temple towers, and large and spacious mandapas. Though the details of the king who consecrated the temple are uncertain, it can be ascertained from inscriptions in the temple that it has been in existence since at least the tenth or eleventh century, during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I.
It was during the period of Kulothunga Chola I (1075–1120) that the brick walls of the temple were replaced with stone walls and the mandapam in the front was constructed. The rajagopuram, or the front entryway of the temple, is replete with images made of mortar, depicting various legends associated with the temple.
There are three temple tanks, or teerthams, known as 'Amrita Pushkarini', 'Kaala Theertham' and 'Maarkandeya Theertham'. There is a separate shrine dedicated to Abhirami. The Shakta saint Abhirami Pattar is believed to have rendered the Abhirami Anthathi in the front hall of the shrine. The temple also maintains a separate shrine for Markandeya worshipping Kalasamhara Murti. Although Thirukadaiyur is a Shaiva temple, it contains an old Vaishnava temple. The gods in this temple are Amrita Narayana (Vishnu) and his consort Amrita Valli (Lakshmi).
At this temple, many years ago, there lived a staunch devotee of the goddess Abhirami named Subramanian. He loved the goddess so much that he saw her everywhere and in everyone, but especially in all women. Any woman that entered the temple he would offer flowers to, worshiping her as the living embodiment of the goddess.
One day, King Saraboji visited the temple as Subramanian was meditating on the glories of Abhirami. Seeing that Subramanian did not bow before him as he entered the temple, the king became irritated. He asked one of the devotees in the temple who this man was that refused to recognize him. One priest told the king that Subramanian was mad, worshiping all women as the Divine Mother and showering them with flowers. However, another priest of the temple overheard this and corrected the man, saying that Subramanian was truly a saint and a great devotee of Mother Abhirami.
The king, confused by the two conflicting accounds of who this man was, decided to put Subramanian to the test. Therefore, he asked Subramanian whether today was a full moon day or a new moon day. At that time, Subramanian was still absorbed in meditation on the Divine Mother, seeing her shining face in his mind. Subramanian, seeing the Goddess' face and mistaking it for the moon, responded to the king saying that it was a full moon day when it was actually a new moon day. The king, deciding that Subramanian must be mad, ordered that he be burnt at dusk if the moon failed to appear.
After some time, the king’s army awakened Subramanian and ordered him to come with them to be executed for his madness. On returning to ordinary consciousness, Subramanian realized that he had mistaken the face of the Divine Mother for the full moon, making him say it was a full moon day when, in actuality, it was a new moon day.
Standing at the pyre, with the flames rising all around him, Subramanian realized that only the Divine Mother could save him now. He began singing a song of one-hundred praises to Abhirami (the so-called Abhirami Antati or "Song to Abhirami"), begging her to come to his rescue.
While singing the seventy-ninth verse of his song, which states that the Divine Mother is an ocean of blessing without limit whose merciful eyes grant liberation, Mother Abhirami appeared before Subramanian, his executioners, and the unbelieving king. Throwing her earring into the sky, it took the form of the full moon.
The king, having realized his mistake and immensely pleased by his devotion, released Subramanian. From that day forward, Subramanian was called Abhirami Pattar, which translates to "priest of Abhirami", and the king became his disciple. To this day, Abhirami Pattar is still celebrated at Thirukadaiyur on the new moon day in the Tamil month of Tai (mid-January to mid-February).
Among the sixty-three Shaiva poet-saints, collectively known as the Nayanars, Kungili Nayanar and Kari Nayanar both worshiped and attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death here. The Nayanars Appar, Cuntarar and Tirugnana Sambandar have also sung of the glories of this shrine. All Siddhas visited this temple. Specially Siddhar Korakkar visited this temple and got the blessings of the goddess. As the temple is revered in Tevaram, it is classified as Paadal Petra Sthalam, one of the 276 temples that find mention in the Saiva canon.
Worship and festivals
The temple priests perform the pooja (rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. Like other Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu, the priests belong to the Shaivaite community, a Brahmin sub-caste. The temple rituals are performed six times a day; Ushathkalam at 5:30 a.m., Kalasanthi at 8:00 a.m., Uchikalam at 10:00 a.m., Sayarakshai at 6:00 p.m., Irandamkalam at 8:00 p.m. and Ardha Jamam at 10:00 p.m. Each ritual comprises four steps: abhisheka (sacred bath), alangaram (decoration), neivethanam (food offering) and deepa aradanai (waving of lamps) for both Amritaghateswar and Abhirami Amman. The worship is held amidst music with nagaswaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions in the Vedas read by priests and prostration by worshippers in front of the temple mast. There are weekly rituals like somavaram and sukravaram, fortnightly rituals like pradosham and monthly festivals like amavasai (new moon day), kiruthigai, pournami (full moon day) and sathurthi.
Based on the legend of Markandeya, it is believed that worshipping at this temple will give longevity to couples who have reached age sixty or eighty-one. A service called Sashtiaptha poorthi (Tamil: "completion of sixty [years]") is celebrated in honor of a husband's sixtieth birthday and Sadhabishegam (Sanskrit: "Eighty-One") is celebrated in honor of his eighty-first birthday. The annual Brahmotsavam is celebrated in the month of Chithirai (April–May) here. The Shankha-abhisheka, a festival of the Divine Mother celebrated in the month of Kartikai (November–December), is also of great importance here. Other festivals celebrated at this temple in honor of the Divine Mother include Navaratri and Aadi Pooram, a festival celebrating the day that Abhirami attained her menarche.
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