During our recent trip to Madurai to visit sites related to Sri Ramana Maharshi (click here to see) we visited Ramana’s birthplace, Tiruchuli. Across the street from his childhood home is a gem of a Siva Temple, Bhuminatheswara. This is a place in which Venkataraman (Ramana’s childhood name) played, and in which he took refuge. We found it among the most serene and beautiful temples we have visited.
Legends speak of Bhuminatha (Lord of the Earth), as Lord Siva, saving the land from a deluge on three separate occasions. By planting his trident into the earth, Shiva created a hole for the water to flow into. At the place where he planted his trident stands the large temple of Bhuminatheswara (From www.maharajnisargadatta.com)
The temple is involved deeply in the story of Sri Ramana’s birth. Here is a quote from “The Sage of Arunagiri”
The temple of Bhuminatheswara and Sahayamba (or Sahayavalli) at Tiruchuli was resorted to by a constant stream of bhaktas from far and near at all seasons of the year, and more especially in the month of Margasirsha, during the festival of Arudradarsanam. At 1 a.m. on the Arudradarsanam day of the year, Pramadi (corresponding to the 30th of December, 1879), when God Siva of the Temple procession stood at the tower entrance* when the asterism Punarvasu was in the ascendant in Tula msi, Alagamma gave birth to a soul-entrancing boy, who was afterwards named Venkataramana.
On Ramana’s early life, here from “Life of Ramana Maharshi”
Venkataraman (RM) was fond of playing. They played in the “kalyaNa madapam” by the side of the temple of Bhuminatha. Classes were also held there sometimes. Going by the pictures of His handwriting, he seemed to have a clean and ornate handwriting in English. He studied in the English Middle School in Tiruchuzhi (the picture of the school now only shows a dilapidated building). One day when RM was 6 years old, he was taken to task for making kites and paper boats out of the case bundles of his father. RM was deeply hurt and disappeared. They could not find him anywhere. That evening when the priest of Sri Sahayavalli (consort of Lord Bhuminatha) was about to perform pUja, he found a boy seated silently behind the idol. It was Venkatarman(RM). He was deeply hurt and seemed to have confided and sought solace with Sri Sahayavalli. (Must have been very sensitive!).
We visited Sri Ramana’s birthplace, Sundara Mandiram, in which the birthroom has been turned into a shrine.
From the roof we saw a temple across the street.
After visiting Sundara Mandiram, we walked out and started walking to the temple.
All we could see as we walked in was a covered area with a few rows of columns. We did not really notice the rest of the building, part of which is seen behind trees to the right. This did not look like much to me. Boy was I wrong!
As we walked into the building, we knew nothing of what was to come.
We first came to a spacious hall, lined with massive pillars.
Across this hall seemed to be the central shrine (sanctum or Garba-Griha). It did not seem to be open, so we turned left and started to walk clockwise, as is the tradition, around this shrine.
After we turned the corner, to the left I saw a line of statues. I thought that maybe these were the 63 Shivite Tamil saints, called the Nayanmars. (Before the Self-Realization of Sri Ramana, the only religious book he is said to have read was about these saints, Periyapuranam. These Nayanmars and their context are written about here.
This line of statues went on an on. I sure wish we could read Tamil so we could know who they are.
To the right, across the hall, is a shrine, with a woman worshipping at it. She is one of the few people we saw in the temple all day.
From its location relative to the main shrine, this must be Dakshinamurthy, the primal Sage (Siva in the form of teacher), who is always present in Siva temples, and who always faces south. Hindu Temple layout is rich in symbolic meaning. A good article on this is here.
Turning around, we see the end of the row of statues. Looking at the numbers, they go way above 63, so if they are the Nayanmars, they are something else too. The statues at this end seem to get special treatment.
On the back wall is another set of statues. Notice how each of the statues are dressed with a dhoti, and usually has vibhuti, kum kum, turmeric, and often a flower mala. They wear two dhotis each day, one for morning and one for evening.
These first two look like Ganesh.
To the right, this must be Vishnu and his two consorts. What splendid clothes they wear.
As we turn the corner again, the priest is decorating Durga, in her shrine.
Next to Durga is a small shrine facing inwards. One is to clap their hands in this shrine. This is so that you will wake up from your sleeping.
Inside the shrine, another god. I do not know who this is.
Across the hall there are objects that I think are just brought out on special occasions or festivals.
Here is one with a painting of temple life ‘in the old days.’
And a lion (that needs some repair and paint).
The ceiling and some of the walls are elaborately painted.
Here is another set of gods. To the right is a Lingam, so I guess these must be Siva-related. I think this is Ardhanariswara, half-Siva and half-Parvati.
Here is another statue. Bhairava with his dog. This is a “Frightful” aspect of Siva. Bhairava is frightful, since he is associated with annihilation (of the ego, naturally).
Now we were again at the entrance to the main shine (garbagriha).
Inside there were more lovingly decorated gods, Ardhanariswara I think.
A goddess. Beautiful white flowers adorn her.
And a great lingodbhava, which has special meaning to us, since the site of the ancient tale is Arunachala, and this story says why Arunachala is such a special place.
We were able to go in and have darshan with Bhuminatheswara. No photos could be taken here, though.
Going out, looking once more into the temple …
And the pillared hall.
We thought we were through for the day. But we found out there was another temple here, one for Sahayavalli (Sahayamba). She is Bhuminatheswara’s consort.
We enter this temple.
From the entrance, we see the central shrine. In front of it is the altar at which one is to leave offerings, the Balipeeta. The best offering to leave is the ego. Next is a rod going through the ceiling, the flagstaff, or Kodimaram, used for Kodiyettam, then is Nandi, then the shrine entrance.
Kodiyettam is a ritual performed in the temples, which mark the beginning of a festival in Temple. The term kodiyettam means flag hoisting. There is flag post (Kodimaram) in between Temple and Anakkottil to perform this ceremonious flag hoisting. The Trikodi (flag hoisted to mark the start of a festival) is made of velvet in red, green, yellow, blue and white designs. There are specific measurements for making the Trikodi that specifies that it should only have a quarter of the length of the flag post on which it is hoisted. Neervilakom Uthram Festival will begin with hoisting the ceremonial flag in the auspicious muhurthom by Tantri Kandararu Maheswararu of Thazhamon Madam and Melsanthi Madhusudhanan Namboodiri will assist the tantri. The flag reflects the temple’s spiritual energy.
This is the entrance to the main Sahayavalli garbagriha (sanctum, or shrine).
Walking around the garbagriha, we see typical gods.
We are able to go into the garbagriha and have darshan with Sahayavalli. Again, no photos are allowed in the inner sanctum.
As we leave the sanctum, we can see out the front door. The way is lined with the immense pillars that have surrounded us all day.
Here the flagstaff (Kodimaram), extending out of the top of the temple, so when a flag is flying, indicating a festival day, it is visible to all.
I guess this is some kind of sedan chair, carried during afestival.
Here is the priest who did the pujas in each inner sanctum. His role is hereditary, so those from his family have been serving as priest in this temple for generations.
Looking out of the temple, we can see the tank that is found in most temples. This is used for ritual bathing before a Brahmin enters the temple.
I wonder when we can return? Next time I will want more time, so I can just sit and meditate to absorb the quiet that fills this temple.