A glimpse of historical temples of Rama in Chennai

Chennai and Sri Ram
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Chennai, as we presently know, is a metropolitan city that serves as the capital of Tamil Nadu (TN). Amidst the rapid urbanization and IT corridors, one would be surprised to find its intimate connection with the hero of Shri Ramayan, namely, Shri Ram. This article presents a rudimentary sketch of the same. In the wake of a number of political movements in Tamil Nadu that decry its connection with Shri Ram and erroneously decouples it with Tamil Nadu, while hanging on to Ravan, the present article shows evidences that are otherwise. Tangible evidences linked with Shri Ram that dates back to over a 1000 years or more are presented.

Koyambedu temples

Koyambedu is now a part of center-west of Chennai, and is well known for its sprawling connectivity units. Amidst the same lies two temples (inter-connected both physically and through tradition) that possibly dates back to 6 th CE or earlier. Namely, they are (i) Shri Kusalavapureeswarar, and (ii) Shri Vaikundavasa perumal temple. The former could be a tongue twister even for a native Tamil speaker. It is to be pronounced as Shri Kusa Lava Puri Iswarar. An interested reader may pay a visit to the same and map is attached below.

As the name suggests, the Siva is considered as deity of the place where Kusa and Lava (son’s of Shri Ram) worshiped. The author refrains from providing the “sthala puranam” (otherwise called the temple history as per local traditions) so as to restrict this article only to facts and figures. The temple is rich with Chola, Pandya, Pallava and Vijayanagara architecture. Inscriptions spanning from 10 th CE are available in this temple. Through- out the pillars, and temple towers, one can find numerous early Chola age carvings of Shri Ram, Sita, Lakshman and a multitude of Ramayan incidents. It is self-evident that as early as millenium, there were temples in Chennai(Kosaipuri as this area was called then), wherein Shri Ram was celebrated, venerated and even common people were in synergy with Ramayan incidents. In the 16 pillar mandap (hall), in front of this temple, that perhaps date to 1000 + years back in time, has once again a number of Ramayan events, and Ravan as well. Ravan is present with ten hands and is seen in a respectful posture worshiping Siva. This again corroborates with the information provided in Valmiki Ramayan. The adjoining Vishnu temple competes in providing links with Shri Ram. In addition to pillar based carvings and shrines for Shri Ram, there is a whole separate shrine adjoining the sanctum that is of interest here. Namely, a ancient stone carving having a height of about 2 feet can be found possessing Sita in a pregnant form with small adjoining sculptures of Lava and Kusa. Note that this shrine indicates that Sita was during her advanced pregnancy stage came to this place and delivered Lava and Kusa. More interestingly, one notices Shri Valmiki rishi sitting in meditation right next to them. As perhaps it is well known, Valmiki being the author of Ramayan, adds more weight to the topic considered here. Apart from the fact that Chennai has ancient temples intrinsically connected with Shri Ram, Chennai possess temples that are intimately connected with Valmiki rishi himself. A very brief overview of the same is presented next.

Thiruvanmiyur temple

Right on the start of east coast road, we have this sprawling temple, dating back to over 1500 years again. The very name “Thiruvanmiyur” is a corrupted form of “Thiru – Valmiki- yur” [6, 7]. This translates to the place of Shri Valmiki. There are several inscriptions and shrines in this temple stating the same. Additionally, this temple falls into the exalted “274 thevaram temples”, i.e. one among the 274 temples sung by tamil saints called “Nayanmaars” in the 7 th CE. Obviously, the image of Shri Ram and few Ramayan incidents are found even today in this ancient temple. In inner temple tank, there lies an inaccessible shrine called “Rama-natheeswar” substantiating the above claim. One can start deciphering that the idea of Shri Ram, his life incidents and his sacredness has been etched in the minds of tamils for at least 1500 years, and that too in an unbroken tradition that continues till date. The connection does not stop just with this.

Thiruvalithayam alias Padi temple

In the western part of Chennai, there lies an industrial belt called Ambattur. Presaging this area is another smaller industrial belt called Padi. In ancient times, this Padi was called “Thiruvalithayam”. An ancient Siva temple exists, that luckily is a part of this “274 thevaram temples” bandwagon. Once again the constructions of the temple dates back to more than 1200 years and about 1500 years back hymns in tamil were sung by the Nayanmaar group. The idea of Shri Ram, Lava-Kusa worshiping in this temple is once again present. More so, the legend entails even Hanumaan and Sugreev (both Ramayan characters) worshiping here. Tangibly, Siva lingams allegedly installed by these Ramayan pantheon’s are present. The temple pillars once again hold numerous forms of Shri Ram and that too in such a manner that Hanumaan is the opposite pillar with folded arms. This re-instates that a part of Ramayan characters spent a fair share of their time in Chennai, that too worshiping Shri Siva, or so was the grand narrative of the tamil people in the last 1500 years or more.

Interim Summary

A cursory glance at just a few of the temples in Chennai reveals that the idea of Shri Ram and Ramayan events were physically and tangibly etched in the day to culture of Tamil people in general and in Chennai in particular. A symbiotic into the Vishnu temples in and around Chennai in corroboration with the Tamil sangam literature’s would inevitably lead to the conclusion that Prof. Nagaswamy says “Tamil Nadu is the land of Vedas ”[1].

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