Eri Katha Ramar Koil
Travelling through India we encounter many rich and beautiful temples. Temples with exotic history, exquisite sculptures and powerful deities. Most of these temples were built by the rulers of the time and some of them by devotees. But when a temple has a deep history....... where the Gods walked and performed sevas and penances the temple becomes a site of special powers and importance. We will take you through the story of one such temple. Located on the banks of an ancient lake in the state of Tamil Nadu is the famous Eri Katha Ramar Koil. The temple has found references to many stories of the Puranas and special mention in the famous epic Ramayana. Now such references date the Sthala or site to be over 35000 years old. This information is hard to digest for most of us. The Ramayana and the Puranas are great to read. They teach us the story of our Gods, the history of our religion and most importantly Dharma, moral values we should live by every day. But when this suddenly comes to life in a site we can walk on, a temple we can visit and deities we can stand in front of and worship..... most of us start questioning the story.
Well this video is not made to answer those questions. Each of us will have to read, investigate, experience and feel the answers. The manifestation of truth can come to us in any form .......personal experience, sound, smell, and in any form that stimulates our five senses. Coming to today and approaching the history archaeologically, the ASI has dated the temple to be over 1600 years old. And the history recorded by them and the temple relates to events and happenings more recent and easy to validate. As ancient temples go Eri Katha Ramar Koil is well equipped to sustain and perform the service to the deities and the devotees.
What we wish to establish is how the temple stands today crying out to the people to take note and come forward to restore this once beautiful temple to the glory of the past. Let us not go to the temple only to ask favours from the Gods........ let us give the Gods a home among us that we can be proud about.
As we enter the temple we pass a large Gopuram or temple tower. At one time the tower was majestic and beautiful, fully decorated by stucco figures that recall various stories of the Gods. Over a period of time and during various stages of repair the tower has been stripped of all the stucco figures. It is a bare structure ....... still majestic but without the final touch of beauty and decoration.
Walking around the temple.......
The Vasanth Mandapam ... the structure is large and palatial. With roof of Madras tiles and teak beams the structure was once an impressive hall. The hall has a large door with windows on all sides. The outer parameter of the hall has Gothic or Greek styled tall brick built lime plastered cylindrical pillars. The concept is to give the deity a cool environment. Every year during the Vasantha Rithu, falling in the months of April and May, the hall is used to celebrate the Vasantha Utsavam. During the festival Lord Karunakaramoorthy along with his consorts are worshipped and the deities are taken for procession.
Today the Madras roof along with its wooden joists are completely worn out. Long wide cracks are noticed in the roof. Thick dense vegetation and heavy load of dead mortar is noticed on the terrace. The worn out wooden joists are to be replaced with new ones and proper flooring is planned for the inside of the mandapam. The work is already under way from donations received.
Close to the mandapam is the Ghoshala. Housing at present 13 cows the facility is well laid out to feed, bathe and graze the cows. Every day Vishwaroopam puja starts with the Gho Pooja. A new addition is the 1350 sq. feet Annadanam Hall. At noon every day the temple provides food for over 100 people.
The Madapalli or the Temple kitchen has been renovated with new flooring and refractory brick laid fire wood stove.
In the main courtyard we find the vimanam of the Moolavar or main sanctum at the centre. Walking into the main sannadhi we feel a divine silence taking hold of our mind. The vimana structure of the main shrine comprises the adhishtanam in the first tala and a brick superstructure in the second tala. The main sanctum houses the idol of Lord Rama. He is in a standing position and facing East. Lord Rama's vigraha stands tall at a height of 8 feet along with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. Rama was returning to Ayodhya when he stopped to offer prayers to Lord Narasimha. We see a unique statue of Rama holding Sita's hand as he helps her descend from the Puspaka Vimana. Several inscriptions are seen written in the jagati, kumuda and mahapatti portions of the adhishtanam.
Repairs done some time back have done more harm than good. Most of the artistic mouldings have been covered by cement plaster. The inscriptions have been worn out by sand blasting and vegetation is starting to take root. The super structure above the sanctum is decorated with stucco figures. The vegetation has penetrated the base of these figures and caused openings. During rains these openings allow water to drip into the main sanctum where the main deity is housed. Years of stop gap repairs have loaded the roof with mortar thus compromising its strength. The works here are very critical...... it will involve both removing earlier work and repair using the right materials to ensure both safety and water proofing of the main sanctum.
South of the Rama sannidhi is the shrine dedicated to Janakavalli Thayar or Sita. There is an interesting story associated with the shrine. The shrine was constructed by Sir Lionel Blaze, the British collector. The story is that the British officer had a vision of Lord Rama while he protected the lake bund from bursting. Sir Lionel Blaze was so moved by the experience that he commissioned and constructed the shrine for Godess Sita. The shrine is in a reasonable state of repair and has many marking that date the construction to the Chola period.
On the north side is the Andal Sannidhi. This sannidhi also houses separate sannidhis for Nammalvar and Periazhwar. The Andal Sannidhi also has a 16 pillar mandapam extension with Madras roof supported with huge iron beams. The sannidhi is used for the Sri Rama Navami festival, Pattabhisekham and Andal Kalyanam. Ramanujar Panchasamskara Mandapam.
The Maghiza tree on the northwest corner of the temple holds a special place for the devotees and for all Vaishnavites. This is the spot where Ramanujacharya was given Panchasamskaram by his guru Perianambi. This is the place where Vaishnavism was born. Ramanuja was on his way to Srirangam to become a disciple of Perianambi. At the same time Perianambi was on his way to meet and instal Ramanuja as his successor. They met at Madurantakam and Ramanujacharya was given Panchasamskaram.
Every year this event is celebrated by an utsavam...... hundreds assemble at the spot to witness the utsavam. To accommodate all the people and to make it possible for the devotees to witness the event well it is proposed to use a portion of land near the tree to build a mandapam with a small vimanam.
As you enter the temple you will find the shrines dedicated to Vishwaksena , Ramanuajar and Lakshmi Narasimha. The structure is built with brick and mortar with super structures decorated with stucco figures. It is interesting to note that the conch and the discus for Ramanuja can be found in the sannidhi.
Directly opposite to the Lakshmi Narasimha sannidhi is the Chakrathazhwar and Swamy Vedanta Desikar sannidhis. This is one of the unique sannidhis of Swamy Vedanta Desikar where we have an image of his son Kumara Varadhacharya sitting at his feet. It is believed that the idol of Swamy Vedanta Desikar was installed by his son 650 years ago. Both the sannidhis have shown evidence of water seepage that has resulted in displacement of the stones in the ceiling. Work is planned to correct the displacement and arrest the seepage.
To perform and celebrate utsavams and festivals the temple has the following facilities located close to the main temple.... Rama Pushkarni is a large water tank outside the temple and opposite the main entrance. It is believed that Lord Rama and many other sages and saints have bathed in the waters of the tank. This has rendered the waters with special properties from wiping away your sins to assuring your family health, wealth and happiness. The tank has been cleaned and fabricated iron grill fencing has been installed to ensure safety and security. Vahana Mandapam...
Located on the South side of the entrance and facing North is a ancient pillared mandapam. Believed to be from the Vijayanagara period, the mandapam has been used regularly for utsavams and temple festivals. The walls and pillars are artistically decorated by bas-relief carvings of females, musicians and different incarnations and forms of Vishnu, Royal couples in Anjali Mudra,Garuda, Anjaneya, Ramanujar and Mithuna. The mandapam is an integral part of the yearly brahmotsavam festival when Lord Karunakaramoorthy is brought decorated and taken for a royal procession.
But over time the village road opposite the mandapam has been repaired and raised. Now it is becoming a difficult task for the utsavam to be carried in and out of the mandapam while the deities are seated on their vahanas or celestial vehicle. To address this issue the temple is undertaking the task of dismantling the mandapam, under close supervision, and to reassemble the mandapam after raising the floor level by 5 feet.
Opposite the main entrance and close to the temple tank is the Hanuman Sannidhi. Hanuman occupied this spot as he is said to be in meditation. The structure is in stone with chosen stucco figures.
Gangaikondan Mandapam: This mandapam is over 1300 years old and had been built by the kings of the Chola dynasty. The mandapam is strategically located about half a kilometre from the temple. The mandapam is used as a facility to rest the Lord Karunakara during the processions held as part of the Brahmotsavam festival. The mandapam is in need of serious repairs and cleaning. The mandapam also needs a security parameter to avoid the locals from misusing the area. It is to be noted that the mandapam has a small kitchen to prepare the prasadam for the Lord. Once again the height of the mandapam has to raised by 5 feet in order to match the road on the front side.
A temple of this size and activity needs a garden for flowers and vegetables. As there is a Ghoshala, the cows require some grazing ground. The temple owns 2.5 acres of land close by. Plans are to convert the land into a beautiful Nandavanam.
Like many important shrines this temple at Madurantakam is a victim of time and neglect. The team led by Dr. Madhavan is now working to restore the temple to the old glorious state. Dr. Madhavan's family have been the Mudhal Theerthakars or Honorary Kainkaryams of temple for nearly 37 generations.