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ONE EAGERLY looks forward to Chitra Pournami, when the utsava murthy of Keshava Perumal, with his Consorts, is taken out in a procession on Mylapore and Eldams Road, making ‘mantapapadis’ in about 30 houses en route. This year, May 6 happened to be the day when the deity was taken out in a procession, with Sreedevi and Bhoodevi resplendent in gold, diamonds, rubies and silk, the fragrance of roses and jasmine permeating the air, to the accompaniment of the nadaswaram and beating of the drums, lending that festive touch. But, the day passed most uneventfully (perhaps for the first time in 35 years) to the disappointment of several households, whose members had had the fortune of witnessing the spectacle at close quarters and offering prayers for the past so many years. (The reason was that police protection, which is normally provided on the occasion, was absent as the personnel were elsewhere on other duties).
The major festivals celebrated at the Adi Keshava Perumal temple are the Brahmotsavam, in honour of the presiding deity during Phanguni (March-April), the Navarathri festival in honour of Mayuravalli Thayar (Lakshmi) celebrated within the precincts of the temple and a 10-day festival for Peyazhwar during Aippasi masam (October-November).
On the third day of Aippasi the three important Azhwars are worshipped and Keshava Perumal, who adorns the Garuda Vahanam, is accompanied by the three Azhwars.
It is interesting to see how Adi Kesava and Mayuravalli came to reside in Mylapore, the cultural hub of Chennai. The peculiarity of this temple is its spacious sanctum sanctorum where the presiding deity, Adi Keshava Perumal, stands in solitary splendour.
Legend has it that Lord Shiva in the guise of a ‘Bhikshanar’ came to Mayurapuri and Lord Vishnu, on seeing him, rushed to give him alms. In his haste to oblige his ‘bhakta’ he came alone without informing his Consorts.
The fourth chapter of the Garuda Purana narrates how Goddess Lakshmi took up residence in this hallowed place. She was known as Mayuravalli Thayar. Maharishi Bhrigu, who had no progeny, was observing penance to appease Lord Mahavishnu. The Lord bade Mahalakshmi to appear as a child in the sage’s heritage. Thus was ushered into this world a child of bewitching charm on the Uthiram asterism in the month of Phanguni. She chose a lily floating on the tank at Mayurapuri as her bed. Sage Bhrigu named the child Bhargavi.
She soon grew up to be a maiden of divine grace. When Lord Shiva plucked the fifth head of the contumacious Brahma, the severed head got stuck in his hands. He was known as Kapali (the possessor of Kapala or skull).
When Bhargavi offered grains to Brahma Kapala, the head disappeared, thereby relieving Lord Shiva of his distress. He made Mayurapuri his abode and assumed the name Kapaleeswarar.
At this juncture, Lord Vishnu appeared at the hermitage and married Bhargavi. He agreed to reside at the same spot as Adi Kesava Perumal, while Mahalakshmi assumed the form of Mayuravalli Thayar.
We find the Goddess in the shrine, sitting in ‘padmasana’, with two arms holding lotus flowers and the other two arms in the ‘abhaya’ and the ‘varada’ pose.
A separate shrine houses the images of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. According to legend, Sri Rama while returning to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, sojourned at Mayurapuri.
Shrines for Lord Anjaneya and Sudarshana Narasimhar have come up in recent times in the Adi Kesava Perumal Temple. Coming to the three Azhwars – Peyalwar, Boothathalwar and Poigai Azhwar, popularly known as the Mudal Azhwars (the early Azhwars) occupy a conspicuous place in the main shrine. The earliest of the three, Peyalwar was born in a crimson-coloured lily flower and was found in a well, known as Mani Kairavani, located in a flower garden belonging to the Adi Kesava Perumal Temple. This was on a ‘Dasami’ day (Sadayam asterism) of Aippasi in the year Siddharth of the Dwapara Yuga.
He was a manifestation of Nandaka, the puissant sword of Mahavishnu and an ardent devotee of the Lord, going to extreme lengths to prove his devotion.
The Adi Kesava Temple, for which samprokshanams have been performed periodically occupies an area of one-and-a-half acres.
The imposing gopuram, constituting the main entrance, looks deceptively simple unlike other such temples in the south. But, on entering, one is awed by the interior.
One would wish that the dry-as-dust tank leading to the temple was filled with water and blooming lilies as a reminder of the significance these flowers had as per the legends behind the deities and the Azhwars in the temple.
N. MEERA RAGHAVENDRA RAO