By Sampatkumara Ramanuja dasan (Ashwin.S)
Thiru Pullani Kovil
Located on the banks of Sethu Samudra Ocean, 8 kilometers south east of Ramanathapuram on the Keelakarai Road, is the temple of Lord Adi Jagannatha, Thiru Pullani kovil.
Yuga in Hinduism is an epoch or era. A complete cycle of yuga, Chatur Yuga, starts with the Satya Yuga, followed by Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga and ending in Kali Yuga. According to the Puranas, about 72 Chatur Yugas ago, three sages – Pullava, Kannava and Kalava came to the region where the Thiru Pullani temple now stands. It was then covered densely with darbha grass. The three sages found the apt location to start their penance and plunged themselves into deep penance. Pleased with their penance, Lord Vishnu appeared before them in the form of a peepal tree or the sacred fig or the bodhi tree. The three sages were extremely happy but they wanted the grace of the Supreme Lord in His original form. Being pleased with the devotion of the sages, the Supreme Personality of Godhead revealed Himself as Lord Adi Jagannatha. The sages were truly immersed in ecstasy to see the original form of the Lord as Adi Jagannatha.
The place of appearance of the Lord as peepal tree and later as Lord Adi Jaganatha is now known as Thiru Pullani.
Thiru Pullani is also the place where Emperor Dasharatha, the father of Lord Rama, was initiated into the mantra for child boon by Sage Rishyashringa, because of which Dasharatha was blessed with Sri Rama and His brothers as the king’s sons.
Sage Rishyashringa who had married Princes Shantha was staying with Shantha’s father King Romapada in the kingdom of Anga. Rishyashringa had obtained immense powers due to penance he had undertaken, and by his knowledge and power the kingdom of Anga prospered.
However things were different in the kingdom of Ayodhya. King Dasharatha, Shantha’s biological father, who had given his only daughter in adoption to King Romapada, was having a problem. Dasharatha had three wives – Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, but he had no children to succeed him as the King of Ayodhya.
King Dasharatha was worried. He could not concentrate on the affairs of the kingdom. Sumantra, his minister, realized that King Dasharatha was sad and enquired after the reason for his sadness. King Dasharatha who had nothing to hide from his minister Sumantra shared his worry; of the problem of not having a child to ascend the throne after him.
But Sumantra knew a solution to solve the issues of King Dasharatha. Sumantra said that Princess Shantha, Dasharatha’s daughter, could help solve King Dasharatha’s predicament. King Dasharatha was confused as he had already given his daughter in adoption to King Romapada. It was then that Sumantra said that Sage Rishyashringa who was the husband of Shantha had immense knowledge and could help King Dasharatha have children by performing the Putrakamesti Yagna (sacrifice). Sumantra reminded Dasharatha about how Sage Rishyashringa had saved the Kingdom of Anga from famine by performing various yagnas. Putrakamesti yagna is a sacrifice performed to beget children. But this sacrifice can only be performed by learned sages like Sage Rishyashringa.
King Dasharatha was immensely happy and immediately went to the kingdom of Anga to request his friend King Romapada to send Shantha and Rishyashringa with him to Ayodhya to perform the yagna. But Sage Rishyashringa was out in the forest to perform a penance. Hence King Dasharatha went out into the forest near Thiru Pullani where Sage Rishyashringa was performing penance, to request the sage to come home with him to Ayodhya to perform the yagna.
Sage Rishyashringa agreed to perform the Putrakamesti Yagna at Ayodhya and gave mantra initiation to King Dasharatha The initiation ceremony was conducted in the sacred groves of Thiru Pullani. Then they set off for the kingdom of Ayodhya to perform Putrakamesti Yagna. On reaching Ayodhya, Sage Rishyashringa started preparing for the yagna earnestly. He was able to perform the difficult yagna with ease. At the end of the yagna, Agni, the god of the fire emerged from the sacrificial fire and handed the king a golden pot. Agnideva asked King Dasharatha to divide the kheer (sweet porridge) in the pot amongst his wife to beget children.
After the deva had vanished, Dasharatha sincerely thanked Rishyashringa and Shantha for their help. Sage Rishyashringa left for Thiru Pullani to continue the performance of penance. It was after eating the kheer obtained from Putrakamesti Yagna, the mantra initiation of which was given by Sage Rishyashringa to King Dasharatha at Thiru Pullani, that Dasharatha had four sons – Ramachandra, Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shatrughana.
Following the legend, childless couple performs a worship called nagaprathishta (installing a deity of snake god) in the temple of Thiru Pullani. It is believed that Adi Jaganatha bestows a child who is like Rama when such worship is performed.
Thiru Pullani is closely associated with the Ramayana especially with the incidents in the latter part of Rama’s life, when He went in search of Sita. Here, Vibheeshana made his sharanagati (surrender) to Lord Rama. On his counseling, Lord Rama performed a penance, reposing on the darbha grass for three days, the act of which is described in Sanskrit as darbhashayanam (yoga posture of lying on darbha/kusha grass), and requested the Samudra Raja (emperor of the oceans) to give way to Him to go to Lanka. The Samudra Raja did not concede to His request and infuriated the Lord. The furious Lord Rama took His bow and warned the Samudra Raja that He would dry up the entire ocean. Frightened, Samudra Raja surrendered, with his wives, to the lotus feet of Lord Ramachandra. Because of the surrender made here by Vibheeshana and the Samudra Raja, the place is rightly called Sharanagati Kshetra (temple of surrender unto Lord Narayana). And since the Lord reposes on the darbha grass, He is named Darbhashayana Rama.
The temple was constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. The temple is glorified in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil canon of the Alwar saints from the 6th–9th centuries. In this temple the Supreme Personality of Godhead is worshipped as Adi Jagannatha or the original lord of Universe and His consort, Mahalakshmi, as Padmasini or the one who is seated on a lotus.
Of the 18 divya desams of the Pandya region (region previously ruled by Pandya Dynasty), Thiru Pullani is the most ancient and important sacred temple town. The place is also hailed as Pullaranyam, Pullanai, Thiruvanai, Adhi Sethu, Darbhashayanam, Rathnakara Kshetra, Nalasethu, Sharanagati Kshetram and Pullangadu.
The temple has a five-tiered Rajagopuram (gateway tower) facing east. The shrine of Adi Jagannatha houses the Deity of Adi Jagannatha, Bhudevi and Sri Devi in sitting posture. The prime Deity of Lord Adi Jagannatha is also known as Dakshina Jagannatha, installed as a shalagrama by the demigods during the Swayambhuva Manvanthara. Manvantara is a Sanskrit word, a compound of Manu and antara, manu-antara or manvantara, literally meaning the duration of a Manu, or his life span. In a kalpa there are 14 manvantara of which Swayambhuva Manvantara is the first and we are currently in Vaivashvata Manvantara or Swetha Varaha Kalpa. A kalpa is equal to 4.32 billion years, a day of Brahma or one thousand maha-yugas/ chatur-yugas, measuring the duration of the world. The shrine of Lord Adi Jagannatha predates all the other subsidiary shrines in the temple
The consort of Lord Adi Jagannatha is Mother Padmasini, housed in a separate shrine, who renders Her blessings to the devotees. She is seen in sitting posture on a lotus with her hands in blessing posture and holding lotus buds.
There is a separate shrine called the Pushpaka Vimana for Darbhashayana Rama (yoga posture of Lord Ramachandra lying on darbha/kusha grass) in a reclining posture. The gatekeepers Jaya and Vijaya, installed at the doorstep of the sanctum sanctorum, are majestic in appearance with domineering moustaches on their faces. Such imposing figures cannot be seen in any other temple. Thier hands hold ahvana mudra (inviting sign) as if inviting the devotees into this unique sanctum, where the majestic Ramachandra reposes with His sword beside Him. The Lord presents Himself as the Lord of the Milk Ocean. From His navel arise three lotus-stems, the center lotus with Lord Brahma flanked by the sun and moon. Along with them, the wall is filled with sculptures of the demons Madhu-Kaitaba, Mother Lakshmi, the sacred Kausthuba jewel and demon King Sundopasunda etc. On the side of Lord Ramachandra’s lotus face are Garuda and Markandeya, depicted as worshipping the Supreme Personality of Godhead. At His feet are the Ramayana personages, Shukha and Sharana, and also devotee Hanuman enjoying the feet of Rama in a humble pose. At the southern side of the mantapa in front of the sanctum sanctorum stands the demon devotee king of Srilanka, Vibheeshana, holding a mace. On the northern side are the deities of Samudraraja, the ocean king and his wives, in surrender to Lord Ramachandra. Lakshmana is depicted symbolically as the serpent-bed Adisesha on whom the Supreme Personality of Godhead reclines. The festival deity is lovingly called as Kodandarama (the lord who holds the kodanda bow) with Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. The entire sanctum is a splendid piece, a superb sculpted tableau representing a few scenes from Ramayana. This magnificent treat of murals and sculptures is something which is exclusive to Pullani and cannot be seen anywhere else.
There is a panchaloha (a term for traditional alloy of five-metals of sacred significance used to make Hindu temple deities) Deity of Lord Krishna from the 13th century Pandya period. The Deity is in the posture of Lord Krishna dancing on a snake, a rare historical depiction of Krishna’s pastime with the serpent Kaliya in the deity form.
Near the shrine of Goddess Padmasini is the age-old peepal tree or the sacred fig or the bodhi tree which is considered to be the incarnation of Aswatha-Narayanan or the Supreme Personality of Godhead who appeared as ashwatha or peepal tree to the three sages, Pullava, Kanuva, and Kalava.
There is also a shrine of Pattabhirama (Lord Rama after His coronation as the King of Ayodhya) which has a separate flag-pole, altar, gatekeepers and set of mantapas. The victorious Rama, after killing Ravana, returned to Ayodhya with Sita in the Pushpaka Vimana. He rested for a while in the Pushpaka Vimana, and recounted to Sita the events that had occurred during Their separation. This is the bhava of Lord Pattabhirama at Thiru Pullani. The belief is that devotees are bestowed with tremendous spiritual knowledge when they worship Lord Pattabhirama after taking a bath in the Sethu Samudra (bridge-ocean, the sea near Thiru Pullani where the bridge to Lanka was constructed).
On the outer mantapa of the Darbashayana Ramachandra shrine is a small shrine on a mantapa called Naagar Mantapa Santhana Krishna Mandapam, dedicated to Santhana Gopala (the Lord who blesses the childless couple with children). It is a lovely sculptural wonder. Lord Krishna sits on Adisesha who rests on a tortoise surrounded by eight elephants and eight serpents. It is believed that childless couples will be blessed with a child if they worship this Deity by offering kheer.
Another very important sacred place is the Sethukarai/ Adi- Sethu, the seashore about 3 kilometers from Thiru Pullani. This is also called Adhisethu or Ratnakara. Sethu means bridge. This is the place where Lord Rama built the bridge to cross over the ocean to reach Lanka, to retrieve Mother Sita. Even today, we can see on the eastern side within the sea like a long stone-way. A satellite photograph has proved the existence of such a causeway under the sea. This bridge was built by Nala, the monkey-architect, and hence the name Nala Sethu. On the shore, there is a small shrine for Hanuman with folded palms facing south. He is a Deity loved and worshipped by the devotees here.
Another landmark is a small temple, Chinnakovil, situated about 3 furlongs from the seashore. There resides the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Lord Srinivasa Govinda, There are beautiful sculptures on its walls and prakara. On the northern side there is a unique deity of Swetha Madhava (the Supreme Personality of Godhead as white Krishna), believed to be found in the sea. The Deity is of enchanting beauty and bewitches devotees. He is lauded by the Archeological Survey of India. Another interesting deity in this temple is of Sage Agasthya, who is believed to have emerged from the sea. There are water-eroded marks on the knees of the deity which confirms the same.
Architectural Timeline of the Temple
The antiquity of the temple cannot be measured by any means as the temple dates back to 72 Chatur yugas. The present structure of the temple is believed to have been rebuilt during the late 8th century, with later contributions from medieval Cholas, then Pandyas, Sethupathi kings of Ramanad. The Chola king Parantaka I who named himself Sangrama Raghava after his conquest of Sri Lanka, is said to have contributed a lot to the construction of the temple, as he owed his victory to the Lord of Thiru Pullani. His son, Prince Aditya I, who was called as Kodandarama, has also contributed a lot to this temple. Some later Pandya kings also made contributions to the temple.
A mutilated inscription in the temple made during the 37th year of Maravarma Sundara Pandya in 1305 records order of a minister by name Arya Chakravarthi. Historians believe some portions of the temple tower might also have been built by Jaffna kings, who were friends of the Pandya Empire and also rulers of Rameshwaram. There is one damaged record from 1518 from the period of Mahabali Vanadaraya Nayakkar and another made in 1528 during the reign of Sundarattoludaiyar Mahabali Vanadarayar. There are inscriptions in the temple indicating Arab traders visiting the Pandyan Empire and making offerings in the temple for their success in trade and commerce. The temple received lot of contributions from the Vijayanagara period, along with other Vishnu temples in the region, as the Vijayanagara kings were great patrons of Vaishnava temples.
Today, the temple is maintained and administered by the Ramanathapuram Samasthan Devasthanam, a trust under the control of the Ramanad King Sethupathi’s successors and the accounts are audited by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
The temple of Thiru Pullani is also described by Tamil poet Kamban in his work Kamba Ramayana (Tamil version of Ramayana).
The temple priests perform the puja (rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. Like other Vishnu temples of Tamil Nadu, the priests belong to the Sri Vaishnava community of the southern school. The temple rituals are performed six times a day, beginning at 7am, with the second offering at 8am and the noon offering. The temple reopens in the evening, followed by offering at 6pm and 7pm, and the Supreme Lord Ramachandra retires for the day to His chambers at 10 pm. During the last ritual, nagaswaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument) are played in a unique raga or melody called as Nilambari, sacred hyms of the Vedas and other sacred texts are recited by priests, and devotees prostrate themselves in front of the temple mast. There are weekly, monthly and fortnightly rituals performed in the temple.
One of the major festivals celebrated in the temple is the Panguni Brahmotsava for Adi Jagannatha, during which the Supreme Lord is carried on various vahanas in and around the streets of Thiru Pullani. Another major festival is Rama Navami for Darbhashayana Ramachandra, to commemorate the appearance day of Lord Ramachandra during the Tamil month of Chittira. Other festivals celebrated in Vishnu temples in South India, like Vaikunta Ekadashi, Krishna Jayanthi, Pongal and Diwali, are also celebrated in Thiru Pullani with much pomp and grandeur.