Groups of temples constitute pilgrimage clusters all
over India. Thus we have the Pancha Bhoota shrines dedicated to Shiva, the
twelve Jyotirlinga shrines all over India, the Alwar Nava Tirupati shrines of
Tirunelveli district in Tamilnadu, Arupadai Veedu shrines of Skanda and so on.
A pilgrimage town cluster that has been gaining
popularity in recent times is the set of Navagraha temples. The Navagraha
temples denote a set of nine temples tied together by their association with
the nine celestial bodies or the Navagrahams.
The term Navagraha denotes the nine
celestial bodies which are central to astrological calculations (and beliefs)
(and not the nine planets as it is frequently erroneously translated). The sun,
the moon, mars, mercury, jupiter, venus, saturn and the two shadow planets Rahu
and Ketu constitute the Navagrahas.
A shrine housing the Navagrahas is seen
in almost all of the Saivite temples in Tamilnadu. However, the Navagraha
temple cluster refers to a set of nine temples in the Chola kingdom region of
Tamilnadu, that are associated through legends and beliefs with the navagrahas.
It is to be noted that the first of
these, the Suryanaar temple is the only one that is dedicated to the graham or
the celestial body itself. All of the other eight are ancient temples dedicated
to Shiva. Interestingly, the Suryanaar temple is probably the newest of the
nine (11th-12th century CE). Six of these eight temples have been revered by
the Tevaram hymns and thus clearly go back to the 2nd half of the 1st
The Suryanaar temple was built by the later Cholas to
provide a space for sun worship for visiting dignitaries from elsewhere in
India. Tingaloor, the temple associated with the moon represents the site of a
miracle caused by the Saivite Saint Appar.
Vaideeswaran Koyil and Tiruvenkaadu near Mayiladuturai
bear shrines representing Angarakan (Mars) and Budan (Mercury) respectively.
Both of these are hoary Saivite shrines revered by the Tevaram hymns.
Tiruvirumpoolai or Aalankudi is again an
ancient Shivastalam. The Dakshinamurthy shrine at Aalankudi is said to
represent Brihaspati or Guru (Jupiter), while the ancient Shivastalam at
Kanjanoor is associated with Sukran (Venus).
The Suryanar temple faces west The
presiding deity here is Suryanarayana in a chariot like vimaanam, representing
the sun's chariot. There are also shrines to Kasi Viswanathar, Visalakshi and
Brihaspati (Guru) in the sanctum.
Tirunallaar near Karaikkal is again an
ancient Shivastalam bearing a shrine to Tyagaraja. Many interesting legends
(related to Nala) regarding Saneeswaran (Saturn) surround this temple which
bears a shrine to Saneeswaran.
Tirunageswaram near Kumbhakonam bears an
ancient Shivastalam enshrining Naganathar, and it has within its precincts a
shrine to Rahu , while the Shiva temple at Keezperumpallam near Mayiladuturai
has a shrine dedicated to Ketu.
The collective ascent to prominence of
these very ancient temples is only a recent occurrence (although Tirunallaar,
Vaideeswaran Koyil and to some extent Tiruvenkaadu and Tirunageswaram have been
well visited pilgrimage centers even otherwise). The Tamilnadu tourism
department conducts guided weekend tours to these shrines.
The Tevaram hymns and the concept of Navagrahas: It is
interesting to note that the first verse of the kOLaRu patikam by
Tirugnanasambandar (not dedicated to any particular temple) asserts that the
worship of Shiva whose consort is Parvati, who bears the deadly poison that
emanated from the milky ocean in his neck, and who bears the Ganges and the
moon on his hair, will only cause the favoroble allignment of the celestial
bodies (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu) to the
worshipper. Click here for an audio recording of thys hymn by the author.
Mention must be made of the seven vaara
kritis of the master composer Muthuswamy Deekshitar dedicated to Surya,
Chandra, Angaraka, Budha, Bhrihaspati, Sukra and Sanaischara representing the
celestial bodies Sun, moon, mars, mercury, jupiter, venus and saturn and the
days of the week commencing Sunday as well as the additional kritis on Rahu and
Ketu. It is to be noted that there is another set of nine temples in
Tirunelveli district which are said to constitue the Navagraha cluster of
temples in that part of the state.