Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The unique sign, legend and temple of Pillaiyar ( Ganeshji)

It is a practice  amongst my mom and  family elders to put the above sign signifiying Ganesha at the top of the page before writing  a grocery list, diary,letter, account book or any record maintenance book. Similarly you will find it on most invitation cards of wedding, house warming ceremony and other auspicious functions.

This legend is called as ‘Pillaiyar suzhi’ in tamil,  literally translates to the curl of Lord Ganesha, though some say it is to check the stylus of the pen  with a small curve,line and dot to ensure smooth flow of writing , my family elders write this  with the immense faith that writing this will help them  complete the task without any obstacles and if  at all any obstacle arises it will be smoothly evened out by the grace of the lord.

Similarly before doing all those sweets and savories for occasions, they make a  small conical figurine of dough symbolizing Ganesha  with the belief that dedicating the dough  to the lord will make the process smooth and render the sweets and savories tasty.

It is a  faith amongst practicing hindus that before commencing any work  Lord Ganesha’s blessing is sought, the work undertaken will be accomplished without any obstacles, therefore all Hindus invoke him with the firm belief that he will take care of every obstacle that they come across.

  According to Maharishi panini,  “Gana” is a group of eight direction or the guardian deity of the directions. “Gana pati” is the master of the directions. Other deities cannot reach the site of any ritualistic worship without his consent. Hence Lord Ganapathi is always worshipped  first.

Most of us  are aware of the 'Amrit manthan' story in which Lord Indra forgot to worship Lord Ganesha before undertaking the task of churning the ocean, for those who are not aware, there is a an architectural marvel of a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha at Thiruvalanchuzhi in Kumbakonam, the temple town in South Tamilnadu.  A Legend has it that here Lord Indra made Ganesh from the froth  of the ocean waves, so here pillaiyar(ganeshji) is white in color.

I visited this temple two years back on my visit to the temple town of Kumbakonam, a very peaceful temple by the banks of River Cauvery, here the river takes a gentle curve by the side of the temple hence the name Thiruvalanchuzhi( thiru is sacred, valanchuzhi is curve by the right).

Legend associated with the temple:

 When durvasa Muni came to visit Indra, he brought with him a garland obtained from Lakshmi. Seeing Indra riding on his Airavatha, he offered the garland as a fitting gift to the king of devas. Indra, who was in one of his proud moods, carelessly took the garland and placed it on airavatha’s head. The elephant in its playful mood dragged it down and stamped on the holy garland. Anger burst through Durvasa who cursed Indra “Oh foolish proud King, You have just shown disrespect to Lakshmi herself. May all your prosperity melt away. May your strength disappear and may you rot in disrespect.”. Cursing thus he left the place, the devas all shivering in fear.

Later they rush to MahaVishnu and seek his help. “Divine Protector,” they pleaded, “please show us a way out”. The ever benevolent Vishnu cast his eyes on them and said “Oh Devas, you have but one way left. Churn the Milk Ocean to obtain amrutha. Intake of this divine nectar will free you from all the curse and restore you back to power”. The devas prostrated before him and left. The churning would require a huge churn support and a humongously long rope. Vasuki, the king of snakes offered himself as the rope and the devas decided to use the meru mountain as the churn. All preparations done they still couldnt begin, their strength all gone with the curse. Having been weakened by the curse, they alone couldnt churn the ocean.

After prolonged consideration, Indra sent a missive to his step brothers, the asuras, asking them to join in this effort, promising a portion of the nectar. With the assent of the asuras, the churning was to begin.

According to the legend, when the Devas and asuras were churning the ocean, they forgot to worship Ganesha. They realized their error when the poison came out, and Indra immediately made an image of Ganesha out of the sea foam which had collected as a result of the churning of the ocean. Ganesha was pleased, and the Devas were able to obtain nectar. This is the Ganesha present in the temple. Swetha Vinayakar, a Ganesha made of Sea Foam.

Indra continued to worship the cream idol and took it with him when he went on a pilgrimage to absolve his sins. When he reached the banks of the kaveri, he placed the idol down to take a bath and perform the ritual poojas. Returning back, he saw that the idol had firmly attached itself to the ground and refused to budge. Understanding the divine will of the lord he prostrated in front of the idol. “Who am I to take you around when your desire is to stay here. All I ask is one boon. May I be allowed to perform pooja to you everyday?”, he asked. Vinayagar gave his approval, and happy with this Indra returns back to Amaravathi leaving the cream white idol to be worshipped by generations of devotees in what is now Thiruvalanchuzhi. 

Offering To Vellai Pillaiyar:
The cream idol, adored as Vella Pillayar, Swetha vinayagar or Nurai Pillayar(( made of ocean's froth), in the sanctum is pure white and is protected very fiercely by silver and gold frames. No abhisheka or pushpa are offered to the deity, lest the cream is washed away. Every decoration and splendour is for the surrounding frames alone. The only offering is Pacha-Karpooram (a fine edible form of camphor), which is finely crushed and sprinkled over the image on a basis. This alone is the main offering by the devotees to the temple. Even the darba grass we took were offered to the feet of the lord.

Architectural marvel
On the other hand, just outside the main sanctum one would find a mandapa that is made up of unpolished uncut stones carelessly fitted together as though in a hurry. Legends report that once the King of the land stopped by the temple to offer his worship. Offering a plate full of abhisheka materials to the priest, he ordered “Bathe the lord in these frangrant powders and anointed waters. Let him be cooled”. The priest was caught in a dilemma. The temple required that no abhisheka be done while the king had just ordered for one. Either way he was doomed. Silently invoking ganesha he begged for help. In answer to his prayers a voice reached from the sanctum, “Oh King, I am made of cream and bubbles. Would you want me to be dissolved in the fragrant waters that you just gave?”. The king is stunned and realising his mistake he begged for forgiveness. “Then build a mandapam in front of the sanctum by sunset today to atone for your mistakes. May it remind people of the mistakes that they make in life and make them pray for forgiveness”. The king obliged and built the mandapam in the given time period, putting together rough stones into an approximate hall. The mandapam stands even today and is called the mannippu mandapam or the hall of forgiving. People who visit the temple meditate in this mandapam and ask ganesha to forgive their sins and grant them eternal bliss. 

Similarly  there is a stone  door made with symmetrically  carved stone cross like in grills  called as 'Karungal palagani" which speaks of the quality of olden day architectural skill. There are 16 symmetrical crosses which was built to let light and air inside. The door is such a super human feat that when ancient architects signed their contracts, they agreed to build the best except five exceptional pieces of architecture that could never be replicated at all. The  Karungal palagani is one of them.( the other four are the main temple tower of thanjavur, the huge hall in thiru veezhi malai, kodungai in aavudaiyar koil, the outer wall known as madil in kadaarankondaan and of course the fifth is the stone grill mentioned above - these 5 were super human efforts of ancient architecture)

The most important festival celebrated here is the Ganesh chaturthi, celebrated like a carnival for ten days.

Source on temple architecture: temples of tamilnadu.
Image courtesy: google


  1. Thank you.. I would never have known about this all ...


  2. Fascinating reading, thanks for such an interesting and informative post.

  3. Interesting stories about Ganesha. Thank you.
    Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!!

  4. Lovely post... enjoyed reading every bit of it.. We also have the habit of putting the pillayar suzhi when starting anything, gramma puts it even a grocery list :D

  5. :) lovely..supera irunthichi ..and lot informative too

  6. Last time when I visited Kumbhakonam the temple had closed . I a planning a visit somewhere in Nov.Hope it materialises.
    I loved the description of the temple.

  7. Thank you for enlightening us through this post.

  8. u deserve a chocolate for yr motivating comment..when u coming dubai?

  9. Hi Asha - This is a very interesting post! Infact, most of your posts are interesting. Was wondering if you would be interested in blogging on (aka ILM). I'm looking for passionate bloggers for ILM and came by your blog. Would be glad to hear from either ways.
    PS: For want of a better channel, I've had to leave this comment here...couldn't really find a "contact me" page.


  10. A cream pulliyar? wow! I remember putting pulliyar suzhi on top of my answer sheets while i was in school.I have been to many temples in Kumbakonam,but not to this one.

  11. @ bikram - That's the intention of my blog to spread the word about our rich heritage in my own little way :)

    @ petty writer - my pleasure :)

    @ Rama - hope you enjoyed the chaturthi too:)

    @ aarti - thank you :) enakku andha pillaiyar suzhi podara habitay vara mattengaruthu ,

    @ gils - nanri hai:)

  12. @ chitra - a very calm but huge temple, you'll love it :)

    @ P.N. Subramanian - my pleasure sir to share:)

    @R.Ramesh - Do i get air ticket to dubai free with chocolate?

    @ karthik - thank you :). will write to you :)

    @ Bhargavi - cream of the ocean during sagar manthan, or rather the froth( norai)

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