Temples of Tamilnadu

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“Uruva Vazhipadu” or temples of worship have played a central role in Tamil society since ancient times. Villages and cities have been built around these temples. Today, there are thousands of temples in Tamil Nadu, most of which are ancient. These temples hold historical importance and stand testimony to ancient architecture and sculpture. Temples in Tamil Nadu have been the center of socialization. Vazhipadu- worship, vizhakal- festivals, kalai nigazhachigal- cultural programmes, thirumanangal- marriages, are usually held in the temples. Prior to the Sangam period, Tamilians worshipped trees as they believed spirits and gods lived in them. Temples began to emerge around these trees. On being influenced by the Vedas, people built idols and placed them under these trees. Temples built for village deities and minor deities are an important part of the temples of Tamil Nadu. These temples, unlike the bigger temples, differ from village to village. While in bigger temples, rituals are performed in Sanskrit, in temples of minor gods, rituals are performed in Tamil. Roofless temples depicted painted clay idols of village heroes with “kathi” or knife in their hands and sitting on “kuthirai” or horse. Vedic influence led to the making of idols and temple structures out of a paste made from “chunnambu”- lime, “mannal”- sand, “karumbucharu”- sugarcane juice, “vellacharu”- melted jaggery, “nellikkanicharu”- gooseberry juice, “maram”- wood and “chengal”- bricks. The Triplicane Parathasatahi idol is an example of such craftsmanship. Various articles are considered to have divine power and are worshipped. Some such articles are “val” or sword. “ther” or temple car, “kudai” or umbrella, “gopuram” or tower, “pallakku” or palanquin, “vel” or spear, and “soolam” or three-pronged spear. In ancient times, visiting the temple after the morning bath and circumambulations inside the temple were common practices. In deserts and drylands, places of worship were known as “iyai kottam” and “oornadu mandram”. In these areas, the places of worship consisted of “kal” or stone and “kinaru” or well. The worshipping was known as “proposal”, as it involved “poo” or flowers and “neer” or water. According to Nedunelvadai, ancient Tamil literature, people regularly mopped the floor, lighted lamps, offered flowers, and performed pujas in the evening. The literature from the Sangam period teaches several concepts related with worshipping of idols in Tamil Nadu, such as “samaya nambikkaigal”- religious beliefs, “samaya vazhakugal”- religious practices, and “vazhipattu muraigal”- methods of worship. The gods of the four lands are “Kurinjinila kadavul”- Seyone, “Mullainila kadavul”- Mayone, “Marudanila kadavul”- Vendan and “Neithalnila kadavul”- Varuna. The people of the Kurinji mountains worshipped Muruga as the primary deity. They referred to Muruga as Seyone. During the Sangam period, Muruga was worshipped as “Vetrikadavul” or the god of success, and as “Sevar kodiyone” or one with a cock flag. In ancient times people erected a pole with a cock flag in open spaces and offered worship. This worshipping was accompanied by “velattam”- dance with spears and “veriyattam”- fiery dances. The ancient belonging to the forest areas- “mullai” were generally “ayargals” or shepherds. They gained their livelihood through rearing cattle and sheep. They worshipped Thirumal and called him Mayone. In the plains, the people primarily worshipped Shivan, who Tolkappiyar referred to as Vendan. Shivan is the principal god of Dravidians. Sangam literature has referred to Shivan with several names such as “mukatselvan”, “senchadai kadavul”, “veliyan”, “allamarselvan”, “karaimiatrannal” and “kariyundi kadavul”. The most popular characteristics of Shivan are “netrikann” or the forehead eye also known as the third eye, “sadaiudaiyavan” or the long-haired in profound penance, “pirai” or cresecent, “udukkai” or drum, “mukkol” or spear and “pulithol” or tiger skin”. The ancient Tamils worshipped Shuvan in penance and in dancing forms. The temple is the most vital monument in Tamil art and architecture. The main deity is enshrined in the “moolasthanam”, which has a single entrance and is usually small in size. This area moves out into the “arthamandabam” which has two entrances. It is here that the priest stands and offers “deepa aradhana”. At the entrance of the “arthamandabam”, stand the “dwarabalakas”- entrance guards on either side of the door. This is followed by the “maha mandabam”, which is a big area from where devotees offer their prayers. During the worship, the ritual of “abhishekam” was performed, which included showers of various aromatic fluids, such as “paal” or milk and “chandanam” or sandalwood paste. The showering of holy water from “kumbam”- consecrated pond was usually the final step in the process of “abhishekam”. This is followed by “alangaram” or beautification and the offering of the best flowers and clothes to the deity. “Nandi” or bull is placed opposite to the Sivalingam. Vinayagar is enshrined towards the right of the “moolasthanam”. Whereas Subramaniyar is enshrined on the left. On the outer walls of the “grabhagramm” or the “moolasthanam”, Dhakshanamoorthy is enshrined in the south. Lingothbavar is placed on the backside of the “moolasthanam”, and Durgai is enshrined on the right side. While Sandeswarer is located opposite to Durgai. In the outer “praharam” or corridor, “kodi maram” or flag staff, “balipeedam” or sacrificial altar, and Nandi are located. Above the moolasthanam, “vimanam” or tower with “porkalasangal” or golden pots is constructed. The “gopuram” or entrance tower is decorated with several colourful idols which depicts the mythological story of the temple. The gopuram is generally very tall and is within the “thirusuttru madhil” which means compound wall. On the compound wall, there are idols of Nandi and Sivaganagal. “Thirukulam” or temple pond, is found both inside and outside the temple. “Thalavirksham” or temple tree is located inside the temple.