Nallur Kumaran - a spiritual experience
In 948 A.D, Chief Minister to Chola Kulangai Arya, called Bhuvanekabhahu, built a temple for Lord Kumaran in Nallur, Jaffna. This is where the present temple is located. Two literary work, Yalpana Vaipava Malai and Kailaya Malai, highlight the crucial role played by Nallur Kumaran temple in the lives of people living in the peninsula.
In 1450, Senbaha Perumal, the General of Parakramabahu, came from Anuradhapura to conquer Jaffna. In the process he destroyed the Kumaran temple. Regretting his action, in 1457, he tried to make amends by building the temple in Muthirai Chanthai. During the Portuguese invasion, it was again destroyed. In 1734, while it was constructed again in Muthirai Chanthai, a dargah (mausoleum) was built in Kurukkal Valavu for a Muslim holy man called Sikandar.
Under Dutch reign, in 1749, due to the efforts of Krishna Subbiah and Ragunatha Mapana Muthaliyar, permission was granted to build the Kumaran temple in its original site in Kurukkal Valavu. The Muslim community inhabiting the premises were rehabilitated and the temple was built. Due to previous incidents, a simple style was chosen rather than a conventional temple. In later years, when disputes commenced between the two regarding ownership of the temple, the courts decided in favour of the latter and his family.
Nallur Kumaran Temple
During the construction of the temple in 1749, bricks and stones were utilised for the building. In 1899, the first bell tower was erected; following this the Vasantha Mandapam was refurbished. During the 1970's the road between the temple and the Theertha Keni was acquired to create two inner courts and accommodate the fast growing crowd of devotees.
The temple faces the east and exhibits an ornately carved five storied front Kopuram, 6 bell towers and the Kopuram of ArumugaSwami. The entrance hall has an intricately designed arched ceiling, which appears like floating clouds between two worlds. Two gigantic, creatively carved teak doors studded with multitude of silver bells lead into the inner court. On either side of the doors stand two magnificently carved temple guards- Thuvarapalar. Walking towards the temple, through the artistically designed entrance hall into the inner court, one experiences awe, splendour and devotion.
The inner hall displays, exquisitely embossed copper ornaments, contrasted against a vibrant orange wall. The holy sanctum housing the Vel is visible through an archway elaborately designed in shining copper. Rows of glittering oil lamps enhance the aesthetic quality of the inner hall. The temple has elaborate corridors revealing, creatively painted flamboyant scenarios of Kumaran and his antics, together with vibrant portraits of Hindu deities capturing the imagination of devotees. Several massive sensitively carved, saffron colour pillars strategically placed in the temple add splendour to the surroundings. The arch shaped ceiling reveals bright hued frills together with glittering star like studs and coloured lights. Beautifully carved Yali structures are placed according to Vastu Shastra to intensify the effect and mood transporting the devotees to the realms of devas and gods.
To the south of the inner court are deities of Muttukumaraswami and Arumuga Swami. To the north are temples housing Ganesha, Valli and Theyvayanai, Santhana Gopalar, and Gajavalli Amman. The north eastern corner is referred to as "Chitamparam" and reveals a magnanimous portrait of the cosmic dancer Lord Shiva in motion and his 116 dancing poses. To the north of the inner court is the Nantavanam, Vasanta Mandapam and the temple for Vairavar . The eastern side displays the sanctum for Surya and the Yaga mandapam. The south accommodates the theertha keni with a large exquisitely designed Vel strategically placed in the centre and the lone nirguna aspect of Kumaran, namely Dandayudhapani.
It is believed that temples are founded by God Himself, designated often in a vision or dream of a devout devotee. Though the original Kumaran temple was constructed in accordance with Saiva Agamas, in later years decisions were taken to avoid constructing a stupa (a structure accommodated in the holy sanctum) and adopt a mandalaya style (a community centre format). In later years, this led to criticism from the traditionalists. However, when attempts were made to rectify this, rumour has it that Lord Kumaran appeared in a dream to assure that the present format was to his liking.
The temple is renowned for the meticulous manner in which pujaris perform the rituals. Every day, in accordance with the Saiva Agamas, six pujas are conducted. These pujas are worship performed to the deity to invoke and establish a psychic connection with the God in the inner worlds. Mantra's are chanted to quieten the mind, balance the inner bodies, also create and sustain a vibration and request boons. These rituals are carried out with love and devotion. Conforming to sastras, the temple conducts satha utsav (daily festivity), satha agni-homa (daily fire homa) and satha kala (always at that particular time). Other religious practices too are performed, to increase bhava (spiritual feeling) and bhakti (devotion) in the temple. Many attribute these religious practices for the increasing divinity of Nallur Kumaran temple.
Under Kumarathas Mappana Muthaliyar, the temple has undergone major re-construction. This reveals the unfolding of a temple, in harmony with the holistic principles of the five elements (fire, water, earth, wind and space) offering a spiritual and aesthetic experience for the devotees. The temple, in the present fast changing world, has delicately balanced ancient customs and traditions with modern methods and techniques to create a unique opportunity for the devotee to encounter and experience another dimension.
In Sri Lanka and beyond, Nallur Kumaran is popularly known as Alankara Kantan (Lord of exquisite adornment). True to this, the deity beautified in delicate finery and jewels presents an awe inspiring picture captivating the hearts of devotees. Each year, the religious festivals commence with Thai Poosam, followed by Panguni Uttiram, Vaikasi Visakam, Karttikai, Kantasashti and many others. All festivals are meticulously planned and performed to present a memorable experience. Each festival has it's own significance and special rituals performed to win Kumaran's grace.
Yoga Swami had instructed his devotees "even the unlearned will attain salvation if with songs and flowers they offer worship to the Almighty's holy feet". He further asserts that the image is not merely a symbol of the deity, it is the form through which his love, power and blessings flood forth into the world. His vibration can be felt in the image and as the devotees progress in their worship, they know that he is actually present and conscious in it during worship and aware of the devotee.
It is further said that through worship and meditation that we communicate with the super conscious worlds. Here within the temple precincts of the First world, Brahmins gather about the homa fire (holy fire ceremony) to chant and consciously commune with the Second world Devas and the Third world Gods. Festivals offer an opportunity for devotees to express their love and surrender to God.
The annual festival of Nallur Kumaran temple is conducted during July or August of each year for 28 days. It commences with the flag hoisting ceremony followed by Mancham cart, Kailaya Vaganam cart, Oru Muga thiruvila, Saparam, Ther and Theertham ceremony which symbolises the cutting of worldly attachment and the finale is Thiru Kalyanam.
The preparation for the festival includes the entire village where residents living around the temple join in decorating their homes and streets with auspicious festive décor such as mango leaves, coconut strips, flowers, plantain trees and coconut flowers together with kolam designs depicting yantras associated with the deity. Many residents keep a thanksgiving kumbam outside their homes.
The highlight of the festival is the ther chariot ceremony. It commences at Brahma Muhurtham (sun rise) when devotees from far and near gather to witness the glamorously attired Lord Shanmuga, the King of Kings and Commander in Chief of the celestial armies, regally seated on an elaborately designed silver throne accept the Shanmuga archana (six lamp offering by six pujaris). He is the mighty warrior who fearlessly wields the Vel, lance of light and spiritual knowledge which overcomes the demons of darkness.
In this mood, volunteers dressed as royal servants assert the katiyam (announce his presence).
"Hail King of Kings who is omnipresent
Ever victorious with Gajavalli and Mahavalli
Śrī Subramanya appears at His feet
Hail devotees of Shiva also present, Ragunatha Mapana Muthaliyar"
As though the heavens opened, the bells ring, conch blows, orchestra reverberates, confetti of flowers are strewn as tens and thousands of devotees throng the temple precincts to catch a glimpse of Lord Shanmuga and win His grace. Harohara Harohara (glory to thee) repeat the devotees as the deity arrives regally at the entrance surrounded by pious pujaris chanting mantras, orchestra playing in harmony, bhajan singers vocalising melodious songs, with royal guards in attendance. As Lord Shanmuga steps out majestically, time; which never stops in Nallur temple, stands still for one moment, only to capture the beauty of the Lord as He accepts the confetti of lotus flowers showered by the Deva's of the Second world.
Hundreds of devotees carrying kavadis sing and dance as the rhythm of the accompaniment increases. Thousands of coconuts are broken and the commotion is heard in nether worlds. The tempo increases and the pata yatra organised by Atmajyoti Muttiah reaches the Ther, and it is pulled away by hundreds of energetic devotees. This is a powerful and emotive experience which takes the devotees through intense devotion transporting them to the realm of Gods. Festivals offer an opportunity to experience bhakti (devotion) and seek union with God through devotion. Bhakti yoga is the practice of devotional disciplines, prayer, worship, chanting and singing with the aim of awakening love and devotion for the God in our hearts.
The spiritual teachers
Pure refined Tamil and Saiva path (Saivaneri) flourished as many saints and sages lived and roamed Nallur. From time immemorial, there have been Hindu saints and sages who were dedicated to God and attained His grace. These realised souls are the embodiment of God, an individual soul in union with God. Spiritual awakening and the truth of oneness with God was taught by these saints and sages. In Nallur, this authority was passed on to the Kailasa Paramparai.
The yogic lineage is traced back to an unknown Swami who lived in Mt Kailas (1770-1840) who later initiated Kadai Swami into the path of a Siddar line. Kadai Swami worked as a District Judge in India but chose to renounce his worldly responsibilities to seek the real meaning of life. After liberation he arrived in Jaffna and stayed till he attained samathy in Neeraviadi (1810-1875)
Since he spent time in the bazaar, he was referred to as Kadai (bazaar) Swami.
A farmer by the name of Vallipuram lived in the eastern side of Nallur temple surrounded by farmlands. He had a son called Chellappa who studied in Jaffna Central College and later worked in Jaffna Kacheri (Government Department). However, he exhibited little interest in worldly pursuits and was irresistibly drawn to Nallur Kumaran and the path of devotion.
Kadai Swami initiated Chellapa Swami as the next guru and made him sit by the Nallur Kumaran temple theradi (next to the Chariot parking spot) so that people may get an opportunity to have his tharshan. However, Chellappa Swami appeared as a mad man and very few realised his divinity (1840-1914). This liberated soul, seated by the theradi was in communion with Nallur Kumaran and enjoyed an intense relationship. Based on the insights he received, Chellappa Swami revealed some maha vakyas (holy sayings):
Then, another spiritual seeker called Yoganathan was drawn to Nallur Kumaran and joined Chellappa Swami and was initiated into the Siddar line. Yoga Swami (1872-1964) devotedly attended to his master while continuing his sadhana. On one occasion, Chellappa Swami asked him to meditated for 40 days on the steps leading to the Ther. Following this, as though drawn by the mystical, magnetic pull of Kumaran, Yoga Swami embarked on a pilgrimage (patha yatra 1910) from the sacred shrine of Nallur to the holy temple in Kathirkamam. The journey was arduous but he withstood the trials and tribulations to reach his beloved Kumaran in Kathirkamam.
Yoga Swami dedicated several devotional songs to Nallur Kumaran. These are recorded in the anthology of sacred poems titled Natchinthanai. On one occasion he writes "O men of Lanka, attach yourselves by treading a virtuous path to the holy feet of Murugan, who pervades all, also is knowledge of all knowledge and beyond the beyond stands. Repeatedly prostrate to those feet and victory will be yours".
Yoga Swami also revealed insights which became Maha vakyas (holy sayings). These are:
In 1949, Yoga Swami initiated Subramanyaswami into the spiritual path. Subramanya was born in affluent America but had an imperative desire to tread the spiritual path. He arrived in Sri Lanka and recognised Yoga Swami as his guru. Subramanya Swami spent time in Nallur and Columbuthurai, established a retreat in Alaveddy and returned to Hawaai to inaugurate the Hindu monastery (1927-2001). His Disciple VeylanSwami too came to Sri Lanka but lives in Hawaai spreading Hinduism.
The glory of Nallur Kumaran was sung by many other spiritual writers. These include Arumuga Navalar (1875), Suthumalai Sinnathambi Pandithar, Udupitty Sivasambu Pulavar, Thumbai Sathasiva Iyer, Puttur Sinnappa Archary, Puloli Vithvan Murugesupillai and Irupalai Senathirajah Muthaliyar to quote a few. The literary work include Nallur Kanthar Alankaram, Kanthar Virutham,
Nallur Kuravanji, Nallur Kaliturai, Nallai Pathiham and Nallai Kantharahaval.
Senthan is a modern spiritual poet who wrote Thiru Nallur Pillai Tamil and many other literary work. . He dedicated the following poem to his beloved Kumaran:
"Eternally as prasad, as sweet, as fruit,
Standing, sitting, lying and kneeling,
Like eating sweet delicacies
Muruga is intertwined with me"
"When all proclaim me as your devotee,
I live in that glory
If others steal your heart
It will give me sweet pleasure"
Hinduism rests on a wide range of Puranas, Vedas, Agamas including Sruti's (revelations) and Smritis (Inspiration). The Puranas are the sacred lore. Scholars are beginning to appreciate the deep psychological wisdom preserved and transmitted in the form of Puranic legends.
The Puranic traditions reveal the Hindu Trinity as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva responsible for creation, protection and destruction. They have three consorts who aid them in their tasks as shakti , Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga respectively. Shiva and Uma have two sons, the eldest is Ganesha and the youngest Muruga. Ganesha, the elephant headed God is the bestower of Pranavam (OM mantra) and removes all obstacles and is worshipped as the Mulu Muthal Kadavul (first complete God). Murugan is the second son who is the Kaliyuga Varatha, the Saviour who wields the Vel to liberate His devotees.
One aspect of Kumaran is Shanmuga the energy of Lord Shiva. In Nallur, many devotees have had visions to reveal a lingam buried below the deity Arumuga Swami confirming the Shanmuga principle: father is son. Puranas narrate, how Devas harassed by the demon Surapandara, supplicated to Lord Shiva and in His love for them, sent forth His energy into Saravana poihai in the form of six rays which manifested as six children and when held together mystically became the six headed Shanmuga. This respresents gnana (knowledge), vairagya (dispassion), bala (strength), kirti (fame), sree (wealth) and aishwarya (divine powers). Shakthi offered the Vel that symbolises victory and the celestial army of which He became King. On defeating Surapandara, Shanmuga made his enemy into the emblem of a cock in His flag and as the peacock which became His vehicle.
The other aspect of Kumaran is Thandayuthapani which is the nirguna aspect free of maya. Puranas state, that sage Naratha presented Lord Shiva with a mango, which was offered to the fastest of his sons to circuit the world. Ganesha circled Lord Shiva and Shakti and claimed the mango. Kumaran went round the world and on losing, renounced everything to become Thandayuthapani.
Another aspect of Kumaran is the Kali Yuga Varatha, the saviour of this yuga. His consort Devayani represents kriya sakthi (duty) and Valli, icha sakthi (desire) and Kumaran is gnana sakthi (knowledge). He is the one who destroys maya (delusion) in His devotees. This is the saguna form of Kumaran (with sakthi).
Lord Kumaran is worshipped as Guha, Muruga, Karthigeya, Velava, Arumuga, Seyon, Sevalkodion, Kadamba, Kumaresh, Shanmuga, Vallikanava, Vallimanalan, Saravanabava and Velautha. Several vratas are undertaken by devotees to appease the God and win His grace. These are Kantha shashti, Karthigai vrata and Friday vratas .
He is considered the Tamil God and described as beauty, youth, sweetness etc. Devotees behold Him as son, brother, lover, warrior, pundit, renunciate and saviour. They cultivate an intimate relationship with Kumaran in His many forms. Bhava (feeling) is essential for bakthi (devotion). The saguna form of God offers an opportunity to the mind to comprehend that the almighty is the dweller of all hearts.
One of the unique pujas performed in Nallur Kumaran temple is the Palli elichi, awakening ceremony effected every day at the Brahma Muhurtham.
In the silence of the moment, a pujari and dedicated few, sing the awakening song to wake up the Lord (symbolising waking the God within us).
Saiva Pulavar Rasiah Sritharan comments this as the time to witness genuine devotion as devotees beseech their personal God for His love and grace through supplication. This is a pious and emotive experience repeated as the finale, in the evening as arthasama puja when the deity returns to His consorts. .
The bhava infused in these personalised ceremonies and festivals is essentially the component that touches and moves the psyche leading to soul shattering mystical experiences. Such sacred rites play a part in increasing devotion leading to higher stages in the spiritual path.
In the modern fast changing world, ancient scriptures have to connect with modern experiences. Those religions and cultures adopting this approach become universal , others stifle and wither. In this context, certain religious theories and practices are explored.
Hindu scriptures affirm, that the soul searches for it's Self, slowly ascending the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. It is in arduous journey, culminating in God realisation. It is a personal and mystical experience of God, the Self and the Truth. This alone can bring freedom from bondage of ignorance and desire. This is the path of gnana- knowledge. The Kailasa Parampariya yogis, who chose to impart spiritual teachings, started their work in Nallur and later to the world over. The insights experienced from Nallur Kumaran are collated to present a coherent and complete teachings aiding devotees in their spiritual journey, to validate inner realities. This activity is still noticeable as devotees gather round Nallur Kumaran theradi to discuss and meditate on the teachings of the Kailasa Paramparai yogis.
The inter-connectedness that has emerged in cosmic science, re-enforcing the similarities between the views of physicists and mystics is highlighted by Fritjof Capra. He further explains the new paradigm emerging as a holistic worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. This can be called an ecological worldview. Hindu scriptures have revealed Sanatana Dharma as existing at all levels of lives including cosmic, human, social and personal, and finding and following our unique path brings rewards of inner peace and fulfilment. Nallur Kumaran temple, adopts a holistic approach to embrace and celebrate diversity in accordance with Sanatana Dharma, which reflects in many of the rituals and festivals.
Symbolism is an essential component of culture and religion which enables change and growth within these spheres. All symbols reflect the way people see themselves and must be understood in it's social, cultural and spiritual aspect. Carl Jung reiterates the role of symbolism and the meaning it offers to the masses. Hindu worship allows room for this where the Vel carried by Kumaran represents His power to destroy ignorance and grant knowledge. Vel is seen as a visible form of God yet worshipped in its own right. Nallur is essentially a temple of Vel worship.
Deepak Chopra alleges, it is typical of modern life to believe that nature is set up to be random and chaotic but it is far from true. Life looks meaningless when we have worn out old versions of God and to bring God back, we have to follow new, even strange responses wherever they lead us. He further states that human brain is hardwired to find God and until we do we do not know who we are. In this context the Nallur Kumaran temple offers creative, innovative and positive opportunities, through festivals, vratas, pujas and ceremonies, to connect with the saguna and nirguna aspects of Kumaran re-inventing an ever dynamic personal God.
In Nallur, this bhakti marga (worship of the saguna form) and gnana marga (meditation on the nirguna forms) are possible through the rituals and the holistic environment which is in harmony with the five elements of nature. The spiritual energy and vibration exuded in the temple and surroundings are attributed to the manner in which the temple conducts rituals and to the presence of God realised persons still roaming the vicinity.
Devotees in the temple are of the view that worshiping Kumaran means, "avan arulal avan thal vananki" (worshipping Him by His grace) and "ennai thaduth atkonda" (graced by Him). Many narrate their experiences where Nallur Kumaran had initially intervened in a crisis in a worldly situation, consequently bringing about a change in attitude of the devotee, leading to spiritual insights and mystical experiences and finally confirming the truth of oneness of the self with God. The uniqueness of Nallur Kumaran is asserted and re-asserted by many to confirm the magnetic connection He has with His devotees.
In the last two decades, the Tamil community living in the peninsula has experienced intense hardship. In 1987, the temple premises were opened to accommodate refugees. In the 90's a bomb scare in the temple, which later turned out to be a hoax, completely devastated the devotees. Over the years, bombs fell in the vicinity but none damaged the temple. In 1996, the temple was closed for three months and keys left with Thuvarapalar while everybody in the vicinity evacuated. A young devotee calls out to her saviour:
"We are roaming as refugees, Arumuga, Velava,
Running in the nights to avoid aggression,
Cast your eye, so that we may return home,
Save us Nallur Muruga, Why silent? Please respond".
The devotional song captures the primordial feelings of fear and pain experienced by a child but also reflects the hope and trust the devotee places in her saviour namely Nallur Kumaran. The annual festival of 2003 registered the largest crowd ever, arriving from far and near, from Sri Lanka and abroad to affirm their faith, proclaim their beliefs, register their gratitude, to love and become one with Nallur Kumaran the saviour.