108 Divya-deshams: Thirukkannapuram


BY: SUN STAFF - 11.12 2023

Sri Sowri Perumal

A tour of the 108 Divya-desams, the divine abodes of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi.

In the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu, 10 miles inland from Nagapattinam and 4 miles from Nannilam, is the temple at Thirukkannapuram. It is one of the 108 Vaisnava Divya Deshams, and is considered to be the eastern gateway to Srirangam. A long time ago, Thirukkannapuram Temple was very close to the seashore, but the sea has now drifted back about 10 kilometers at this place.

Thirukkannapuram is home to a very special deity form of the Lord, considered to be Narayana-Trimurti. On a particular festival day, the Deity is taken out on procession as one or another of His Trimurti forms – first giving darshan as Narayana, then as Brahma, then as Shiva. On each processional round, the deity accepts worship as the embodiment of the three divinities.

Thirukkannapuram Temple and pushkarini

Thirukkannapuram Temple is also known as one of the five Krishna-kshetrams, the other four of which are Thirukkannankudi, Thirukkannamangai, Thirukkannankavithalam, and Thirukovilur.

As described by the Srivaisnavas' Ashtakshara Kshetra, the Lord resides at six different abodes, each of which represents one aksharam (verse) of His Ashtakshara Mantram. At Thirukkannapuram alone, however, He resides as the Ashtakshara Mantram in its entirety.


Thirukkannapuram Temple

Thirukkannapuram Temple is known by many different names, including Sri Sowri Perumal Temple, Sri Neelamega Perumal Temple, Krishnarayana Kshetram, Panchakrishna Kshetram, Saptha Punniya Kshetram, Keezhai Veedu, and Sri Kannapura Nayaki.

The presiding deity here is Lord Narayan, known as Sri Neelamega Perumal. He is in a standing posture, facing east. Instead of the usual abhaya hastham (mudra), he has varadha hastham, similar to Kanchi Varadharaja Perumal. He has prayoga chakra, similar to that of Ranganatha Perumal at Srirangam. The Lord's consort here is Kannapura Naayaki (Laksmi devi) along with Periya piraati (Bhudevi), Sridevi, Aandal and Padmini Nachiyar.

Sri Neelamega Perumal and Devis

On the 7th day of Vaikasi Brahmotsavam (May-June), Sri Sowri Perumal gives a rare darshan to the devotees. First in His form of Emperuman, a procession departs at 5:00 p.m. during which the Lord gives darshan as Mahavishnu, who saves the entire world. At 10 p.m. that night a second procession goes out on a decorated flatbed chariot, and He gives darshan in the form of Lord Brahma. Early the next morning, during the brahma-muhurta hours, the Lord again goes on procession and gives darshan as Samhara-moorthi Rudran (Shiva), dressed in white.

Sri Sowri Perumal on Processional

At the end of each procession, the Lord is brought to the outer mandap, where part of the Divya Prabandham is recited. After each arotik He returns to the temple. Prasadam distribution includes Sri Sowri Perumal's special pongal, which cannot be compared to any other pongal. Such special Trimurti darshan is said to only be given at this Thirukkannapuram Temple.

The Utsavar of this sthalam (the processional deity of the temple) is Sowriraja Perumal (Sowrirajan), who is in a pose of seeking hands for marriage. On every Masi Magam, the Lord goes on procession to the seashore and gives all his devotees darshan there. Sowriraja Perumal is also said to have a peculiar scar on His forehead.

Lord Indra sat on the banks of the temple tank here in penance, offering prayers to Vishnu. Performing yagna, he installed the images of the Navagrahas, who are faced by the presiding Deity under the main temple tower. As Indra was purified of his sins, devotees believe that prayers to Lord Vishnu here will give relief from all Navagraha doshas. This temple pushkarani (theertham) is the Nithiya Pushkarani tank.

Utpalaavataka Vimanam

The sacred temple vimanam is Utpalaavataka Vimanam, named for the Rishis who are believed to be surrounding it. Due to its rare construction, the vimana of the temple can only be seen from outside the temple by standing at two points: one on the northern and one on the southern side. Having darshan of this vimanam is said to grant the devotee mukti.


Thirukkannapuram as Krishna-kshetram

In relationship to Thirukkannapuram Temple's presence as a Krishna-kshetram, we have the story of Periazvar, otherwise known as Vishnuchittha, who was a great devotee and foster-father to the great saint, Andal, who sang more than 100 verses on the Lord. He composed more than 400 verses on Sri Krsna, describing His pastimes from childhood till marriage. The Lord's pursuits, sung in Tamil, are exceptionally beautiful.

One verse, which is particularly delightful to consider in this month of Damodar, describes Krsna as sweetly smelling of milk, ghee, curd, sandal paste, lotus and camphor, His coral-like lips opening to show His tender milk-teeth, which have a silvery shine. His chest is adorned with an ornament called aimpadaitthaali, consisting of five miniature weapons which depict him as Lord Narayana. When this blue hued beauty laughs, His saliva falls onto His aimpadaitthaali, thus disguising Him as a sweet little baby.

Sri Krsna covered in curd


Legends surrounding Thirukkannapuram

There are a great many stories of the pastimes that have taken place at Thirukkannapuram. One has to do with how Sri Sowri Perumal got His name. He is known as Sowrirajan, 'He who sports a long hair', because one night, a temple priest gave the Lord's garland to his beloved. Later it was announced that the king was on his way to the temple. The priest retrieved the garland, but the king found a long hair in it. The king being furious, the priest feigned that the hair was actually the Lord's. The next morning, when the king came to check, the Lord was there with a long hair.

There is also a story behind the pongal-prasadam given here. Being a preparation of rice and lentil, this Muniyodharan pongal is unparalleled in taste. It is named for Muniyadharan, who was a tax collector in the Chola kingdom. He once asked his beloved to make pongal, and brought it as an offering to the temple. The gates were locked, however, so he offered it outside. The next morning, the priest discovered remnants of the pondal on the Deity. Since that day, Muniyodharan pongal is offered to the Lord each evening.

There is another interesting story about the sages who are said to reside around the temple vimana. Once when King Vasi was returning from a battle between the devas and asuras, he found at Thirukkannapuram a number of sages who were very thin from starvation. Mistaking them to be wild grasses, the soldiers were about to cut them down. The sages prayed to the Lord, who intervened on their behalf. Utpalakavada Vimanam is named for this pastime.

Nityha Pushkarani