Arulmigu Thiyagarajaswamy Temple - Structure

Legends and myths associated with the Thiruvottiyur temple

Several other legends speak of the mystery of Shiva. All these legends have been transmitted over the ages through an oral tradition. Therefore there are several versions to each story. Though there are minor variations in the story line, the basic precepts remain the same.

Legends Speak :

Shiva’s performs the un-natanam for Nandi deva :

Nandi deva is said to have received the darshan of Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance at this temple. The striking feature of Shiva’s dance at this temple is that he performed 18 forms of dance in a seated stance. The Amsumad-Bhaga-Agama says that there are actually 108 varieties of the dance of Shiva of which only 9 varieties are generally being described. The cosmic dance of Shiva is profound. Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy in his book ‘The Dance of Shiva’ tells that it represents the five activities of Shiva or the panchakriyas, namely sristi (creation), stiti (preservation), samhara (destruction), tirobhava (illusion) and anugraha (grace). The thandava that Shiva performed ofr Nandi deva at Tiruvotriyur is called the ‘Padma thandava’ or ’Un-natanam’.

The story goes that Nandi deva desired that Shiva should perform His cosmic dance exclusively for him. Nandi deva addressed Shiva and said that he had seen His cosmic dance at the Mani mandram (Tiruvalangadu), Ponn Mandram (Chidambaram), Velli Mandram (Madurai), Seppu Mandram (Tirunelveli) and Oviya Mandram (Kutralam). In all these places He stands erect and dances in various poses. At Tiruvalangadu, he is represented as dancing upwards. At Madurai, he is represented as dancing with the left foot. Nandi deva wanted him to perform a dance so unique that it should not be possible for anyone, mortal or immortal to imitate it.

Shiva asked Nandi deva to hasten to Tiruvotriyur and perform his penance there and that one-day. He would perform the dance he had adked him for. Nandi deva reached Tiruvotriyur and created a theertham to the north of the Padampakka Nathar shrine immersed himself in the waters and proceeded to perform the penance.

Mahavishnu heard about Shiva’s promise to Nandi deva and he too, along with Mahalakshmi wanted to watch the great socmic dance of Shiva. They arrived at Tiruvotriyur to pray to shiva. They created a theertham by the temple, immersed themselves in the waters, wore the marks of Shiva (the holy ash and the rudraksha mala) and sat in devout meditation.

On seeing Vishnu and Lakshmi meditating, the powerful sage, Vromasa Munivar also joined them at Adipuri yearning to watch Shiva’s cosmic dance. After worshipping Nandi Deva he prostrated before Padampakka Nathar such that eight parts of his body (two hands, two legs, two ears, chest and head) touched the ground to signify his total surrender. He too waited in rapt attention in a state of dyana.

While these three were preoccupied in meditation for several ages. Brahma, who had already been performing penance died. Shiva at once created another Brahma. On gaining consciousness, Brahma was surprised to see the world already in existence. He became furious. Since the domain of creation belonged to him, he was enraged and hurried to Adipuri where he saw Vishnu and Lakshmi in deep meditation. He demanded an explanation from Vishnu.

Sri Vishnu said – "You are right! The domain of creation belongs to you. But, why don’t you ask Sage Vromasa who is seated there a question? His physique is covered fully with hair, but you will find a small area by his palm clear. Ask him the reason for it and you will get an answer to your question".

Brahma asked Sage Vromasa the reason and he received his answer – “Four headed Brahma, when thousands of Suryas, Chandras and Indras die, a Brahma will die. When thousands of Brahmas die, a Vishnu dies. When many Vishnus die one hair will fall off my body. So you see over a period of time, I have lost a little hair over my palm. There are many others like me on this earth and this is the truth that the Vedas have established.

Given this cosmic perspective, Brahma was astounded by the power and the glory of the Lord and fell at the feet of Sage Vromsasa and Vishnu. And, they all waited for darshan of Shiva. The devas of the heavens waited in anticipation. Shiva appeared to the music of the gandharvas and the vibrant harmony of the chant of the Vedas. Wearing a garment of tiger skin, his ears sparkling with ear rings that shone like a thousand suns, his neck blazing in blue, accompanied by a deer, holding the mazhu, his weapon, Shakti, Murugan and Ganesha seated nearby nodding their heads in appreciation and anticipation. Shiva performed his cosmic dance to the enthrallment of everyone at Tiruvotriyur. Nandi deva was exhilarated by this rare and inexplicable experience of the ananda nartana. Shiva is called Nandeeshwarar as he blesses Nandi deva.

Apart from the Nandi deva representation in the temple premises, a separate temple has been consecrated to Nandi deva in the North Mada Street of the temple. A special feature is the human form of Nandi who is generally rendered in the bovine form. When the Utsavamoorthi goes on his veethi ula, the pageant stalls for moments by this Nandi temple recreating the moment of Nandi deva’s vision of Shiva’s cosmic dance.

Brahma cleanses the Vedas :

Brahma was created from the lotus that bloomed out of the naval of Mahavishnu. From Brahma’s four heads, the four Vedas emerged and from his heart, the puranas. The devas became powerful after they had learnt all the Vedas. As a result of this, their staunch enemies, the asuras were always defeated. The asuras realized that the power of the devas lay in the Vedas and plotted to destroy them. Two asuras Madhu and Kaidava stole the Vedas, shredded them into pieces, took them to the deep seas and buried them in the slurry.

The devas were handcuffed without Vedas. Brahma could not continue his Creation. They went to Mahavishnu for help. Mahavishnu incarnated as a fish and swam down to the seas and rescued the Vedas. He placed them before Padampakka Nathar at Thiruvottiyur and prayed to Him. Brahma or Vedapurusha placed all the Vedas before Padampakka Nathar and consecrated himself and his knowledge. The Vedas became purged with the grace of Shiva.

Adisesha and Chandran worship Shiva :

Adisesha – the Snake God of the underworld heard the news that Vasuki had been blessed by Shiva and had attained unison with him and hoped to be blessed too. He worshipped Shiva everyday by adorning Him with various fragrant flowers from the underworld. Chandran, the Moon God saw Adisesha performing puja and he wanted to be blessed by Shiva too. So, he visited the temple every night, removed the flowers from the underworld Adisesha had adorned Shiva with and replaced them with an array of flowers from the earth.

Everyday Adisesha found that his fresh flowers had been replaced with old flowers and wondered as to what happened. Suspicious, he stayed in the temple till night fell and waited. Soon enough, Cahndran came and replaced Adisesha’s flowers with some of his own.

Enraged, he emerged from his hideout and demanded Chandran of an explanation. Chandran maintained that he was a devotee like him and had the right to worship the Lord. Adisesha said that Chandran was full of flaws and he had no right to do this. An argument ensued and they went to the extent of assaulting each other, when Shiva appeared and restored peace. On seeing Him, their joy knew no bounds. They forgot their difference of opinion and prostrated themselves before Him, grateful for His darshan.

Sage Agastya’s visit to Tiruvotriyur :

When Shakti was born as King Daksha’s daughter, Dhakshayani, Shiva abducted her and advanced to marry Her at Mount Kailas. Devas, sages, people of the world and people of the underworld hastened to the North to witness this occasion. Since everyone went to the north, the south of the earth tilted upwards as the north was overweighed. Shiva persuaded Sage Agastya to go to the South to balance the position of earth. He said that he would go, but on the condition that he too, would be awarded a vision of the holy wedding. Shiva consented to grace him with a vision of His wedding with Shakthi, at a holy city in the South. Sage Agastya pacified came to the south and with his weight the earth came back to position.

He visited several punyastalas in the south wondering as to which punyastalas he would get the darshan of Shiva and Shakthi. While thus waiting in anticipation, one day, he was asked by Shiva to go to Tiruvotriyur, as that was where He intended to grant him his boon. Sage Agastya, enthralled reached Tiruvotriyur and incepted a lingam that he had brought from Mount Kailas, which he started worshipping every day. He also prayed at the Sri Thiagarajaswamy temple. Every day, he waited for the vision of the Lord but was disappointed. He almost gave up hope and persuaded the Lord, not to keep him waiting any longer.

One day, when Sri Thiagarajaswamy was on his veethi ula, Shiva appeared, along with Shakthi, seated on a throne. Lord Brahma worshipping him, the devas strewing flowers on Him, deva kannikas dancing and singing His praise to the vibrant heavenly music of Shivaloka. Not only Sage Agastya, but also all the people gathered there were stunned to tears with this vision. Sage Agastya was thankful for this and entreated Shiva to manifest Himself in the form of Kalyana Sundarar at the temple of Tiruvotriyur. Shiva promised that he would do so and that whoever worshipped Him there would be blessed with happiness and those who were unmarried would soon get married, if they so desired.

Lava comes to Tiruvotriyur :

Sage Narada heard about Tiruvotriyur from Lord Brahma and was impressed. When he visited the city of Ayodhya, he received a warm welcome from King Lava, grandson of King Dasaratha and son of Sri Rama. Lava shared with Sage Narada, his ambition to see Shiva just as Lord Brahma had gone. Sage Narada counseled him that he could do so if he performed a Rajasuya Yagna at Tiruvotriyur. Lava immediately proceeded to the South, gaining several victories on his way. When he reached Kanchipuram, He prayed to Sri Ekambareswarar and Sri Kamakshi to mark him a time to perform the Rajasuya Yagna. A sage appeared. He asked Lava to proceed to Tiruvotriyur and worship Lord Shiva on Pradosham and then start the Rajasuya Yagna.

Pradosham denotes the time period 3 ¼ nazhigal before sunset and 3 ¼ nazhigal after sunset (ie. A total of 7 ½ nazhigal) where one nazhigal comprises 24 minutes. Pradosham is the most suitable time for the jeevatma to seek the blessings of the paramatma. It is a very special time. The world calms down. It is the end of the day and the beginning of the evening. Everything is at rest. Man comes back from work. Birds and animals go to their habitats to rest after the days’ hunt. Even evil forces are still and lay dormant. Day is associated with creation and night with extinction. Every night signifies the end. Sleep itself is a slice of death. During Pradosham, only the power of Shiva reigns, and so it is the best time to gather pieces of one’s self and stand before Him.

Knowing the advantages of Pradosham King Lava immediately set out to Tiruvotriyur. As misfortune would have it storm clouds gathered and heavy rains followed. Lava hurried and much as he tried, he knew that he could not reach Tiruvotriyur before Pradosham in the torrents. He became dejected and decided to do away with his life when Shiva appeared before him. Lava prayed that Shiva should manifest Himself, as a swayambu lingam in the same place where he had appeared to him and the place should be called ‘Lavanar Perur’ in his remembrance. Lavanar Perur, in the course of time cam to be called as Porur and is situated on the way to Poonamallee.

Lava reached Tiruvotriyur and performed the Rajasuya Yagna and received several boons from Lord Shiva. He left for Ayodhya with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Pannini presents his explication of grammar :

Pannini wanted to write an explication of Sanskrit grammar. Since it was a stupendous task, Pannini sat in penance to Brahma, the God of the Vedas. Brahma appeared before him and asked him to go to Thiruvottiyur and pray to Shiva. Pannini came to Thiruvottiyur and worshipped Sri Thiagarajaswamy with staunch devotion and fervent hope. Shiva, pleased with his penance, gave him 14 sutras steeped in the Vedas, which could form as a basis for his explication of Sanskrit grammar. Pannini returned to North India with contentment and a sense of accomplishment.

Sri Adi Sankara stops sacrifices at the Bali Peeta

Vanmiki gets Shia-dhiksha :

Vanmiki, conjectured to have lived in 6000 B.C visited several stalas of Shiva like Kalahasti, Thiruvannamalai, Tirumuttam, Mayiladudurai, Tiruvaiyaru, Tiruvaanikkaval, Kutralam, Rameswaram and so on. He was asked to visit the Marundeeswarar temple near Chennai. He stayed on there to perform puja to Shiva on His behest. This place was called Thiruvanmiyur in his honor.

A ruby necklace for Shiva :

Another story holds that two Brahmins came all the way from Aadakapuri that houses the Aadakapureeswarar temple. They wanted to make a necklace of rubies for the manifestation of Lord Shiva there. They had made the necklace, but needed two rubies at the center to complete the ornament. None of the rubies they examined suited the necklace. They prayed to Shiva for a solution when they heard a divine prophesy asking them to go to Tiruvotriyur where they would get the rubies they were asking for. They reached the town and spoke to the local residents. They read out the verses that they had written in Sanskrit and interpreted them. Impressed, the residents bestowed the Brahmins with many gifts. However, they refused to accept any of it. Confused, the people asked them to state what they wanted and that it would be given to them immediately. The Brahmins said that they had made a necklace of rubies for Aadakapureeswarar and that it needed a central pendant of two rubies. They heard a divine prophesy ushering them to Tiruvotriyur where they were told they would get the rubies. The local residents were stunned, but suggested that if they composed verses on Padampakka Nathar, he might appear to them and help them.

After they sang verses on Padampakka Nathar, a priest appeared and volunteered to procure them the rubies. He took them to Thirumaylai (Mylapore) and to the residence of Elelasingar Chettiar. The priest told Elelasingar the story and asking him for the rubies to be placed on the necklace. Elelasingar was surprised at this visit as he had dreamt only the same night of Shiva asking him to gift the two Brahmins with rubies. He readily selected two rubies from his collection for the chain. The Brahmins were not satisfied with any of it until Elelasingar showed them the rubies he had reserved for the king. They found them suitable for their purpose and asked Elelasingar to part with them. He did so with some hesitation. The priest who had brought the Brahmins along with him disappeared. The Brahmins and Elelasingar marveled at the mystery of Shiva. The Brahmins started to their hometown happy with the gift.

Thieves heard about Elasalinga Chettiars’ gift of the rubies to the two Brahmins and followed them to loot the priceless stones. Their plans backfired when heavy rains poured in torrents, flooding the paths, thus stopping them from nearing the Brahmins. The Brahmins returned to Tiruvotriyur, placed the rubies before Padampakka Nathar and thanked Him for His Grace. They returned to Aadakapuri and placed the rubies in the chain and adorned it on Aadakapureeswarar.

In the meanwhile, news reached the king that his rubies had been gracefully given away as gifts to two Brahmins who had appeared from nowhere. The king summoned Elelasingar and asked him for the rubies. He told him that the day was not suspicious and that he would give him the rubies the next day. He spent a greater part of the night sleepless, without an inkling of what could be done. Shiva appeared in his dream and asked him not to worry and that the rubies would be present in the box when he opened it.

The next morning even before he could gather himself, the kings’ men took him to the royal palace. The king asked him for the rubies and he said that he had them in a box at home and that he had been forcibly brought to the king. The king sent his men to fetch the box.

When the box was fetched, Elelasingar opened the box with his key and took out the rubies and gave them to the king. The king held the rubies in his hand and was stupefied at their glitter. He heard the whole story from Elesalinga Chettiar and was stunned. Shiva at Tiruvotriyur is also called ‘Manikkatthiagar’ (‘He who forfeited his rubies’) because of this episode.

Vadivudai Amman Serves food for Ramalinga Adigalar :

From 1835 to 1858, Sri Ramalinga Adigalar visited Otriyur everyday, for 23 years and received the blessings of Sri Thiagarajaswamy. Sri Ramalinga Adigalar was living with his brother at Parrys, Chennai. He visited the temple at Kanda Kottam and Thiruvottiyur everyday. From the age of 12, Adigalar walked all the way from home to Otriyur and back, until the age of 35, when he passed away.

It is said that once he was caught in the rains and reached Chennai quite late after a tiring walk from Otriyur. He lay down hungry and fatigued in the thinnai, the frontal porch outside the house. He did not want to wake up his sister-in-law late in the night and ask her to serve food. Vadivudai Amman herself woke him from his sleep and served him food in the form of Adigalar’s sister-in-law. Adigalar slept appeased.

After some time, his sister-in-law woke up realizing that Ramalingar would be hungry and had to be served food. She came out of the house and woke up Ramalingar to have dinner. In a surprised tone, he told her that only then she had awaken him and given him his dinner. His sister-in-law was puzzled. Only then did Adigalar realize that the goddess Herself had served him food. Adigalar sings in verse of this diving experience. Sri Ramalinga Adigalar has composed 31 verses on Shiva titled Ezhuttariyum Perumal Maalai’ and 102 verses on Shakthi titled ‘Vadivudai Manikka Maalai’.

Pattinathar attains Mukthi at Thiruvottiyur :

Pattinathar visited this temple in 9 A.D. He was promised Mukthi at the town where the sugarcane he held tasted sweet. When he reached Thiruvottiyur, the cane tasted sweet indicating that this was the place suitable to attain samadhi. He walked along the seashore by the temple. Fisher boys were playing by the shore. He called them to play a game. Pattinathar asked them to bury him and then call for him. After they had covered him up completely, they called him and he appeared from the opposite direction and greeted them. They buried him in the sand again. He walked towards them from another direction. They buried him for the third time. They called and called, but he never came back.

On digging up the place they had buried him, they found nothing but a shivalinga. He had attained Mukthi. Pattinathar has composed several poems on Otriyur’s God, Sri Thiagarajaswamy. His shrine called the Pattinathar Samadhi and still stand by the shores of Thiruvottiyur.

Kaliya Nayanar gets Shiva Dhiksha at Thiruvottiyur :

Kaliya Nayanar was a merchant at the Chakrapadi Street in Thiruvottiyur. He worshipped Shiva everyday by lighting an oil lamp. During the course of his life, he became very poor. In fact, he had to borrow money from various sources for a living. In spite of these financial problems, he somehow lighted the lamp at the temple by working hard and doing menial jobs. At a certain point of time, he did not have money even to light the lamp. Depressed and dejected, he decided to do away with his life, and light the lamp with his blood when Lord Shiva appeared before him and blessed him with eternal life. Shiva is called by other names such as Vanmika Nathar, Karani Vidangar, Magizhilvanalinga Nayakar and Elamai Thantha Nayanar.