sundara Varadaraja perumal

Sundara Varadaraja perumal temple, Uthiramerur

Sometimes temple trips are a breeze to plan and some other times, we keep planning and the D day never arrives. One such temple trip, which my husband and I had been planning for ages, fructified recently: Our Trip to Uthiramerur, a historical town near Chengelpet!

At 7 am, we arrived at the Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temple, a site we had recently learned about during a lecture by the eminent historian, Dr. Chitra Madhavan. Plenty of parking spots were there as it was so early. The imposing stone compound wall and the beautiful  gopuram thankfully untouched  by colourful paint welcomed us.

Stepping over the freshly drawn kolam at the entrance, we encountered a rather unique second gopuram. Though once painted white, likely centuries ago, its shape deviated from the typical tall rectangular truncated pyramid. Instead, it boasted a rounded form, modest in height, with numerous stucco figures embellishing its surface. Ascending the carved staircase, we ventured into the first level of the presently deserted temple.

This temple, constructed by Nandivarman II in 780 CE, was a generous donation by the Pallava king to the Sri Vaishnavas. Over the centuries, Uthiramerur witnessed the reigns of various dynasties including the Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Nayaks, and Sambuvarayars. I remembered reading that it was modelled after the Vaikuntha Perumal temple at Kanchipuram.

Sundara Varadarajar stood there (Nindra Kolam) flanked by his consorts Sridevi and Bhoodevi. With the priest out of sight, we stood there in awe at the wonderful sight of Lord Vishnu with four hands, one holding the Conch, the other grasping the Chakra and one hand with the Abhaya Hastha (for does HE not always bless His creations) and the other hand touching his thigh. There was a staircase on the left side. Rather narrow and steep and not recommended for those with knee issues. We both carefully climbed up and reached the first level and saw Vaikunta Varadar, seated in regal posture with his consorts. (Amarndha Kolam)

As we circumambulated, we found ourselves drawn closer to the array of stucco sculptures. It dawned on me that both of us were traversing a path within the Gopuram itself. Unlike in other temples where we could only admire the intricate carvings from afar, here we were able to reach out and touch the splendidly carved stucco images! There were smaller sub-shrines dedicated to Krishna Arjunar, Yoga Narasimhar, and Lakshmi Varahar.

Ascending another flight of narrow stairs, we arrived at the topmost level, where Ananthapadmanaban or Ranganathan lay in a serene sleeping posture (Kidandha Kolam). All three Moolavars faced eastward, with the Kidandha Kolam Perumal also featuring Brahma and Shiva alongside Markandeya Maharishi. It’s believed to be the only temple housing the Trimurtis, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in one shrine. Another distinctive aspect is the portrayal of Ganga and Yamuna as dwarapaligaigal (doorkeepers), a rare instance of female doorkeepers guarding a male God’s sanctum sanctorum.

The view from the top was truly amazing. From there, we could catch a glimpse of the nearby Balasubramania Swamy temple Gopuram, while also admiring the beauty of the surrounding canopy of trees. We even saw a Dakshninamurthy (Form of Lord Shiva) stucco sculpture, very unusual in a Vishnu temple.

Carefully descending down the stairs, which seemed more precarious than climbing up I thought about the ingenuity of the kings who conceived two way staircases centuries ago. Interestingly the staircase for climbing down was not the same as the one we climbed up.

We moved to the rear of the Sanctum Sanctorum which appeared as a distinct section with several interesting aspects.  The Anandavalli Thaayaar sannidhi was at the end of a corridor. The corridor was supported by several white plain pillars, seemingly designed to contrast with the intricate sculptures adorning the central enclosure. Seated in all her resplendent glory clad in red, Anandavalli Thaayaar seemed to assure us that we are going to have a great day exploring temples in this famous ancient temple town, so close to Chennai. But not that well known like Kanchipuram.

The central enclosure housed 4 more manifestations of Lord Vishnus. We had to climb up a flight of stairs to have a darshan of each one. This temple is not for the ones with weak knees! Lots of stairs to climb! Achutha Varadar was the first Vishnu we saw. Below the elevated shrine, nestled in the space was a superb sculpture of Goddess Saraswathi. Both of us would have never guessed it was Saraswathy if not for the enlightenment we received at Dr Chitra Madhavan’s lecture the previous week. Unlike her traditional portrayal with the veena, here she held a rosary and a water pot like Brahma. Above her head, two sculpted elephants engaged in the sacred ritual of abhishekam, one pouring water while the other awaited its turn with a pot. What remarkable creativity!

There were lines and lines of inscriptions on the walls and I went around touching them, perhaps each one narrating the gifts given by various kings. I believe there are several Pallava insciptions, as well as Chola ones dating back to Raja Raja, Rajendra as well as Kulothunga eras.

One more form of Lord Vishnu seated on an elevated plane facing the west direction was Aniruddha Varadar. The last elevated Vishnu was Kalyana Varadhar. According to legend, those who seek marriage and place their horoscope at the Kalyana Varadhar sannidhi will find their weddings solemnized within five weeks. It was unsual to see a Buddha seated on a lotus in the space below the Kalyana Varadar sannidhi.

Legend has it that the Pandavas themselves had the divine darshan of these various forms of Vishnu. Sundaravaradar, the standing Vishnu in the forefront, blessed Bhima with his darshan. Yudhistira received the divine vision of Vaikunta Varadhar, while Arjuna was graced by Achutha Varadar. Anirudha Varadhar bestowed his darshan upon Nakula, and Sahadevan was blessed by Kalyana Varadar. It’s believed that Anandavalli Thaayar bestowed her darshan upon Draupadi.

After offering our prayers to Andal on the opposite side of the Thaayaar sannidhi, we made our way towards the main entrance. To the left, the Alwars were housed, with a separate shrine dedicated to Vedantha Desigar. As the priest arrived, having completed the Naivedyam for the other Vishnu shrines, we were privileged to witness the Deepa Aradhanai, filling us with a profound sense of solace as we departed.

As we made our way back to the car, we noticed several blue signs erected by the Uthiramerur Town Panchayat. Written in Tamil, these signs traced the rich history of the town through the ages, including detailed information about the inscriptions at the Vaikunda Perumal temple, a site we were yet to explore. Continuing onwards, we came across a picturesque and tranquil pond adorned with blooming lotus flowers. There was no time to stop and stare for too long as this was the first temple and we had several more to visit, especially the one with inscriptions on elections.

Adding the Moolavar pictures, courtesy The Internet. 

Nindra Kolam

Amarndha Kolam

Kidandha Kolam

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