Yathothkari Perumal Temple
Tiruvekkaa or Yathothkari Perumal Temle (locally called Sonnavannam Seith Perumal) located in Kanchipuram in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. 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 Yathothkari Perumal and his consort Lakshmi as Komalavalli.
The temple is considered one of three oldest Vishnu temples in Kanchipuram, the other two being Ulagalantha Perumal Temple and Pandava Thoothar Perumal Temple. The temple is believed to have been built by the Pallavas of the late 8th century AD, with later contributions from Medieval Cholas and Vijayanagar kings. The temple has three inscriptions on its walls, two dating from the period of Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120 CE) and one to that of Rajadhiraja Chola (1018-54 CE). A granite wall surrounds the temple, enclosing all the shrines. There is a three-tiered rajagopuram, the temple's gateway tower, in the temple.
Yathothkari Perumal is believed to have appeared for Saraswati and Thirumalisai Alvar. Six daily rituals and three yearly festivals are held at the temple. The temple houses a rare image of Ranganatha recumbent on his left hand unlike other temples where he is recumbent on his right. The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
Poigai Azhwar, one of the alwars, poet saints of 7-10th century was born at this temple lotus tank. Panguni Brahmotsavam celebrated during April - May and Poigai Azhwar birthday during Aipassi Thiruvonam star are the two major festivals celebrated in the temple.
As per Hindu legend, once there was an argument between Saraswathi, the consort of Brahma and Lakshmi on superiority. They went to Indra, the king of celestial deities. Indra judged Lakshmi as superior and not satisfied with his argument, Saraswathi went to her husband, Brahma. He also chose Lakshmi to be the superior one. Saraswathi was unhappy with the decision and decided to stay away from Brahma. Brahma did a severe penance praying to Vishnu and did an Aswametha Yagna. Saraswathi was still angry that the yagna, which usually is done along with consorts was done alone by Brahma. She tried to disrupt the penance, but Vishnu interfered with his serpent Adisesha. Saraswthi, on seeing Vishnu in her path, accepted her defeat and subsided in the form of river Vegavathi. As Vishnu interfered the path of the river, it was termed Vegavani, then as Vegannai and gradually corrupted to Vekka. The presiding deity thus got one of his names, Vegasetu. As per historian Nagaswamy, the temple was called Vehha meaning Vishnu leaning as a slanted slope, which gradually became vekka.
Once sage Bhargava had a son through Kanakangi, a celestial dancer. The boy was stillborn and was not fully developed during his birth. kanakangi left his son under bushes and left to celestial world. It is believed that the child was a divine incarnation of one of Vishnu's weapons, the Chakra. By the grace of Vishnu and Lakshmi, the baby became alright and began to cry. A childless farmer couple who were passing by took up the child, named him Sivavakkiyar and started rearing him. Once the boy reached adulthood, he was sceptical about choosing between Saivism and Vaishnavism. He was defeated in arguments by Pey Azhwar. He became a devotee of Vaishnavism and the disciple of Pey Azhwar. Sivavakkiyar was also called Bhakthisarar and later as Thirumalisai Alvar.
Thirumalisai had a disciple by name Kanikkannan. He also had an old lady serving him - Thirumalisai prayed to the presiding deity of the temple and by the grace of Bhujangasayana Perumal, the old lady became a beautiful young lady. The Pallava king who was ruling the region at that time got attracted by the lady and married her. With time while the king was growing older, the lady remained young. He called up Kanikannan and ordered to sing praise of him so that he also turned young. When he refused, the king ordered Kanikannan to be banished out of the country. Kanikannan explained this to his master Thirumalisai, who prayed to Bhujangasayana Perumal. When the king heard this, he ordered the three to be sent of the country, which they obliged. When the three left Kanchipuram, it was engulfed in darkness. Realising his sin, the king worshipped Bhujangasayana Perumal to return along with his two devotees. Since the presiding deity obliged to his devotees wishes, he is called Yathothkari Perumal. Yathothka means as requested and kari denotes the person who accomplishes the task. One of the alwars, poet saints of 7-10th century, Poigai Alvar was born at this temple.
The temple is considered one of three oldest Vishnu temples in Kanchipuram, the other two being Ulagalantha Perumal Temple and Pandava Thoothar Perumal Temple. The temple has 12 inscriptions from the Chola and Vijayanagar period. The temple is originally believed to be built during the period of Pallavas. The temple has a set of inscriptions associated with Cholas. A record of the Chola king, Parantaka I (907–950 CE) indicating gift of 367 kalanju of gold to the temple by an individual . The south wall of the central shrine of the temple has inscriptions from the period Rajendra Chola I (1012–44) indicating gifts of land measuring to one tuni of land and 127 kalanju of gold to the temple. The inscriptions on the base of the eastern wall of the central shrine from the period of Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120 CE) indicating gift for lighting lamps of the temple. The southern side inscriptions of the temple from the period of Kulothunga Chola III (1178–1218 CE) indicates a gift of village to feed 32 Brahmins. The inscriptions also detail the float festival and the summer festival celebrated in the temple. The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
The central shrine of the temple has the image of presiding deity, "Sonnavannam Seitha Perumal" sported in Bhuganja Sayanam posture. The West facing sanctum is approached through the flagstaff, pillared halls, namely Mahamandapam and the Ardhamandapam. The stucco image of the presiding deity is a rare one of Ranganatha recumbent on his left hand unlike other temples where he is recumbent on his right. It is believed that Perumal was lying left to right as in other temples, but on hearing Thirumalisai Azhwar sing, he turned his lying posture from right to left. As per historian Nagaswamy, the image made of stucco, is one of the rarest representation of the deity. The image of Saraswathi praying at his feet is also present in the sanctum. The roof of the sanctum is called Vedasara Vimana and it has five kalasams and stucco images of various legend. The temple has separate shrines for Poigai Azhwar located to the North of the flagstaff. There are other shrines of Rama along with Seetha and Hanuman and Garuda. The vimana of the central shrine is called Vedasara Vimana. The shrine of Komavalli, the consort of Yathothkari, is located facing the central shrine in the Eastern side of the temple. The temple lotus tank where Poigai Azhwar was born is located outside the main entrance, parallel to the shrine. The Mahamandapa has ornamental sculpted pillars built during the Vijayanagara period of 15-16th centuries. The temple has two precincts with the second precinct enclosed by granite walls pierced by a five tiered rajagopuram (gateway tower).
Festivals and religious practices
The temple follows the traditions of the Thenkalai sect of Vaishnavite tradition and follows vaikanasa aagama. 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 Yathothkari Perumal and Komalavalli. During the last step of worship, nadaswaram (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. Aipassi Thiruvonam, the birth star of Poigai Azhwar, is celebrated every year. Brahmotsavam celebrated during the Tamil month of Panguni (April - May) is the major festival of the temple. To indicate the legend of Kanikannan, the festive image of Yathothkari, Tirumalisai Azhwar and Kanikkannan are taken in procession to Orikkai village to have a short stay during the Thai Magam festival celebrated during the Tamil month of Thai (January - February). Azhwar Utsavam is a festival celebrated annually during the birth date of the Poigai Azhwar based on Tamil calendar in the temple.
The temple finds mention in Perumpaanatrupadai written by Patanjali. There is a mention abou the temple in Silappatikaram (2nd-3rd century CE), Patanjali Mahabharatham and Tolkāppiyam (3rd century BCE). The temple is revered in Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 7th–9th century Vaishnava canon, by Poigai Azhwar, Peyalvar, Bhoothathazhwar and Thirumazhisai Aazhwar. The Azhwars have sung praise on the different forms of Yathothkari peruaml. The temple is classified as a Divyadesam, one of the 108 Vishnu temples that are mentioned in the book. Many Acharyas have also written songs on the various forms of God in this Temple.
The temple is considered the birthplace of Poigai Azhwar, one of the first three Azhwar saints. He was found in a small pond (called Poigai in Tamil near temple. The temple and the pond are thus considered holy as it is the birthplace of the saint.
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