Thursday, 4 July 2019

Rare worship of ''Athi Varadar'', Kanchipuram - every 40 years


There are many holy towns in Tamil Nadu and among them Kanchipuram and Kumbakonam have lots of Hindu temples. the latter has all Navagraha temples within a short radius from the center of the city except Tirunallar - famous for Saneeswara shrine. As for Kanchipuram, besides Kamakshi  Amman temple and Kailasanathar temple, Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple is quite popular and is on par with Tirupati and Srirangam in terms of importance. What is so special about this temple dedicated to God Vishnu?  Built by the Vijayanagara rulers in the 12th century, it is believed that God Brahma (one of the Trinity Gods taking care of creation) himself installed the idol of Lord Vishnu.  As the idol was worshipped by Brahma himself, it is believed to be a unique sanctified Vishnu temple. Hindus following Vaishnavism will never fail to visit this famous temple.
Kanchipuram Athi Varadar temple. water tank nakkheeran.in
According to the sthalapuranam/ legend,  Goddess Saraswati, consort of Brahma, asked a delicate question to Brahma: ''Who is more important -Goddess Lakshmi or me?''.  God Brahma, instead of being diplomatic, replied Goddess Lakshmi is more powerful than her. Goddess Sarawati, instead of being quiet and tolerant, became unhappy and, in rage, left Brama.  She refused to be part of the Yajna being conducted by him. Not to stop the Yajna in the middle, Brahma went ahead  with sacrifice. Goddess Saraswati took the form of a raging river Vegavati and engulfed the entire place, making it tough to resume the Yajna. To get out of this predicament and  his precarious status vis-a-vis completing the Yajna, Brahma sought the help of Sri Vishnu. 

In order to do justice, God Vishnu had lain across the river to stop its onward flow of the river. Having made several vein attempts to stop the Yajna, at last goddess decided to quit. The Yajna was successfully completed and, at the end, Lord Vishnu appeared from the Holy Agni (fire) and blessed Brahma. God Brahma asked Varadarajar to stay in Kanchipuram for good so that the people there could be blessed by him. When the answer came in affirmative, God Brahma had Viswakarma, celestial architect,  made an idol of Sri Vishnu made. 

As for the original idol - Utchavar or Utchava moorthy, it was made of wood  from Fig tree (in local parlance ''Athi Maram'') that came from the Homa kundam - sacrificial fire  This unique idol was  severely broken during Muslim invasion and consequently damaged idol was unfit for worship. So, the broken idol was encased in a silver casket and kept immersed in the temple water tank near-by  called 'Anantha Theertham' . It is in the north of the main temple with a 100 pillar hall (mandapam). What about the idol in the sanctum -garbagriha of this holy place? It is made of granite and is enshrined there for daily worship.
Athi Varathar tnpds.co.in
No other Hindu temples - be they Shiva or Vishnu  that  I know of, have a unique tradition  as this temple has. Raising of Athi Varadar is a great  festival event that takes place every 40 years. It is about bringing the wooden idol in the silver casket out of the temple tank and keep it for display/ Dharsan. For 10 long days the public will be allowed to worship it during certain time, indeed a rare event that last took place in 1979.  This year this event that began on the first of July, is being attended by thousands of devotes from Tamil Nadu and other states. Daily 40000 to 50000 devotees will worship Athi Varadar.