108 Divya-deshams: Thirunaraiyur


BY: SUN STAFF - 8.12 2023

Vanchulavalli Thaayaar on Hamsa

A serial exploration of places of Lord Brahma's worship.

Nachiyar Kovil in Thirunaraiyur is one of the 108 Vaisnava Divya Desams. Nachiyar (Naachiyar) Kovil is a prominent temple in Thirunaraiyur (Thiru Naraiyur). Located 7 km. south of Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district, Nachiyar Kovil was build by Chola King Ko Chenkannan in the 7th century. There are several inscriptions from the 13th century also found in the temple. In addition to the presiding deities, the temple is well known for the beautiful Pancha Vyuha deities, a ten-foot tall murti of Lord Brahma in the sanctum sanctorum, and a magnificent Garuda murti that resides here.

Nachiyar Temple rajagopuram

The presiding deity here is Lord Visnu in the form of Srinivasar, with His consort, Vanchulavalli Thaayaar (Laksmi Devi). The temple was built at the site where Their Lordships were married. Lord Naraiyur nambi (Srinivasar) and Nachiyar thayar (Devi) preside here in wedding posture, facing east. The most prominent deity is actually Nachiyar (thayar), who is the cynosure of the devotee's eyes. Bhoga is first offered to the Goddess, and during processions, Nachiyar leads on her hamsa vahanam. Devi is given greatest prominence in order to honor her father's wish, when he gave her hand in marriage. Lord Brahma has worshipped the Deities here every day since that time.

Nachiarkoil is named after the Goddess Vanjulavalli. Lord Srinivasa's consort, who is Maha-laksmi, was born to Medhavi Munivar as Vanjulavalli, so named because she was born under a vanjula tree. Lord Srinivasa was assisted by Garuda when looking for Goddess Mahalakshmi after she manifested in this world as Vanjulavalli. The temple is also known as Sugandha Giri, or Sugandhavanam.

Srinivasa Visnu on Garuda

This is said to be the only one of the 108 Divya Desams where Srinivasa's deity is in human form, holding the conch and chakra by His face. Accompanying the presiding deities are Pradyumnan, Aniruddha, Sankarshan and Purushottam along with Lord Brahma himself, and an array of Devas who attended the wedding. In pictures of the Deities standing together, Lord Brahma towers above the others. The utsava deities of Lord Srinivasa, Sridevi, Vanjulavalli and Bhoodevi are extremely beautiful, indeed.

Lord Vishnu is said to have revealed Himself here in the Pancha Vyuha forms, namely, Sankarshana in the east, Pradyumna in the south, Anirudha in the west, Purushottama in the north and Vasudeva in the center. The beautiful deities of these divine personalities are housed in the sanctum sanctorum.

There are also shrines in the temple for Yoga Narasimha, Veera Hanuman, Rama and Chakrapani. To the south of the main gopuram is a temple for Vinayakar (Ganesh), called Damodara Pillayar or Varasiddhi Vinayakar. There are also murtis of Sri Ramanujacarya and Sri Koorathazhwar, along with 10 Azhwars.

Sri Garudar Vahana

In a separate shrine is Garuda, a well loved personality here at Nachiyar Koil. Known as Kal Garudar, he is the official vahana of the temple. Garuda is seen with nine nagas. He has Kuligan (bangle) on his right hand, Thiruvalanthazhvaan on left hand, Vaasuki (sacred thread), dakshan (waist band), Karkodagan (garland), Padman (right earring), Mahaapadman (left earring), and Kuligan (head dress). There is also a naga adorning his sword. Devotees believe that he can cure one of the Navagraha doshas. The Uthsava moorthis (processional deities) are taken out on Garuda Vahana during temple festivals.

In a very mysterious phenomenon, Sri Garuda increases in weight during purapaadu (procession). Close to the sanctum, as the procession starts out, it takes only 4 people to lift Garuda. But that number keeps doubling as the procession goes along, undoubtedly increasing the devotional fervor along the way. At various points on the procession route it takes 64 devotees to lift Garuda. At the mid-point, he begins to decrease in weight, and slowly the number of devotees carrying him decreases until his return to the temple precinct, where four devotees carry him back to his shrine. The reason this phenomenon occurs is so that Nachiyar Devi, who processes on her hamsa vahana, will remain prominently in front, and will not be overtaken by the fast Garuda. In this temple, Garuda is treated as being equivalent to Lord Vinayaka, therefore a coconut and jaggery sweet called Mothakam, known as Amudha Kalasam, is offered to him.

Ko Chengan had already built 70 Saivite temples before building Nachiyar Kovil, his 71st temple, and first Vaishnavite temple. This temple resembles those Saivite temples, in form and structure. The temple has five prakarams with mandapams, and beautifully carved pillars throughout. The garbagriha here is known as Srinivasa Vimanam. The east-facing Raja-gopuram stands 75 ft. tall, at the entrance of the temple.

There are five theerthams here: Aniruddha Theertham, Pradhyumna Theertham, Samba Theertham, Sankarshana Theertham, and Mani Mukthi Nadhi Theertham. The main tank, Mani Mukthi Nadhi Theertham, sits north of the temple. The annual float festival for the Lord and Nachiyar takes place here. This tank is associated with Garuda having once brought the Lord a diamond head ornament to Narayur Nambi, from Thiruparkadal. The diamond (mani) accidentally fell from the headpiece into this tank, and its status was degraded to that of a pearl (muthi). Thus the pond is known as Mani Muthi Aaru (tank).

Mani-mukthi Nadhi Tank

At the main entrance, one comes into a 16-pillared mandapam, called Neenila mutram. There is a Dwajasthambam (pole) with a shrine for Garuda, and the Bali peetam here. To the north is a shrine for Thirumangai Azhwar who sang in praise of the Deities. To the west is the Vahana mandapam. The Lord and Nachiyar are stationed In Goratha mandapam, the central mandapam, when departing on Their processions.

Neenila mutram mandapam and Dwajasthambam with Garuda niche

On the south is a garden called Nandavanam where there is the vilva tree, the Sthala Vriksha. There is also the Vasantha mandapam, where the Vasanthothsavam (spring festival) of Perumal and Thayar takes place in the month of Vaikasi. Another flight of steps leads to the 100-pillar mandapam where the annual Thirukalyanam (wedding festival) of Perumal and Thayar takes place in the month of Aavani. There is a sannidhi for Rama, Sita and Laksman on the north, with one for Anjaneya (Hanuman) on the south. There is a maghizha tree as well and a sannidhi for Chakarathazhwar and Yoga Narasimhar, and these are believed to have been installed and worshipped by the sage Medhavi. The statues of Medhavi and his wife in this sannidhi seem to authenticate the antecedents.

Inner prakaram, Nachiyar Kovil

A flight of steps leads up to a prakara where there are various murtis and pictures of the utsava deities of the 108 Tirupati stalas. The next flight of steps leads to a prakara housing the famous Kal Garudar sannidhi. Made of saligrama stone, this Garuda murti is believed to be vara prasadhi (one who grants boons).


Temple Festivals

The Kal Garuda festival is famous here at Nachiyar Kovil. It takes places twice a year, in the Tamil months of Margazhi (Dec-Jan) and Maasi (Feb–March). Lord Vishnu is mounted on Garuda, and around the village of Nachiarkoil.

The Car festival is held in Panguni and the Tank Float festival in Margazhi. The Maraiamman Koil festival for 10 days in Vaikasi month also attracts throngs of devotees. Margazhi Brahmotsavam is celebrated here, along with Krishna Jayanti, Pankuni Brahmotsavam, and Tirukkalyanam.

Dasavatar panels on temple exterior walls