A few kilometers from the town of Trichy (Tiruchirapalli) in Tamil Nadu is Uttamarkovil Temple, one of the 108 Divya Desams, or important Vishnu temples mentioned in the works of the Azhvars. Of the 108, 105 are located in India, 1 is in Nepal, and 2 are in the non-physical world.
The Vaishnavas aspire to visit all 106 of the earthly Divya Desams in their lifetime. Many centuries ago, devotees would make special pilgrimage to a group of four Divya Desams, beginning in Uraiyur (Trichy), crossing the Cauvery (Kaveri) River to Srirangam Ranganatha temple, then across the Coleroon River to Uthamar Koil, and finally going on to Thiruvellarai.
Uttamarkoil Temple has been known over the years by many names, and there are numerous other temples in South India with similar names, and similarly named deities, so one can get easily confused. Other historical and place names for this temple include: Adhimapuram, Bhikshadanar, Bitchandar, Brahmapuri, Kadhamba Kshetram, Kadhambanur, Kadhambavanam, Karambanur, Neebhavanam, Neebhakshetram Nepakshetram, Purushothaman Perumal, Thirukkarambanoor (Thirukarambanur), Thirukarambanthurai, Thiruvanaikkaval, and Uttamar Koil (or Kovil),
Uttamar means ‘the good one’ and Kovil means ‘temple’. In a song offering worship to Srirangam, the famed poet Tirumangai Alwar refers to Uttamarkoil Temple, saying that ‘Uthaman of Karambanur, Perumal of Kurunkudi and Tiruttankaal, are none other than Ranganathar of Srirangam’. Tirumangai Alwar is said to have lived here for a time, while supervising the renovation of Srirangam temple. The northern part of Kadhamba pushkarani (tank) and the adjoining gardens and mandapams are still known as Azhawar-pattavarthi.
Located in Manachanallur Taluk, Pichandar Koil, 7 kms. from Trichy and 3 kms. from Srirangam, the Uttamarkoil Temple is home to Trimurti shrines for Lord Brahma and consort Saraswati (Naan Mugan and Jaya Anjaneya), Shiva Bhikshatanar and consort Vadivudaiamman (Parvati), and Vishnu (Purushottaman, Perumal) and his consort Poornavalli (Laksmi). The presiding deities and their consorts are present here in six separate sannidhis (shrines).
Many devotees in South India consider that Lord Brahma is only worshipped at two places: at Pushkar, and at Uttamar Koil. Legends associated with Lord Brahma’s presence here include a pastime wherein the fifth head of Brahma, which was pulled off by Shiva, stuck to Shiva’s palms. It did not come unstuck until Shiva begged as a mendicant and received alms from Mahalakshmi and bathed at Thirukandiyur. Lord Vishnu took the form of a Kadamba tree here which Brahmadeva worshipped, offering water to the tree from his kamandalam. It is also said that Kadamba Muni offered worship to Vishnu on the banks of the Kadamba theertham (or Kadhamba Pushkarani) created by Brahma. Sanakar, Sanandanar and Sanat Kumara also worshipped the Trimurti here.
In the book, 108 Vasihnavaite Divya Desam by M. S. Ramesh, we find an excellent description of the sastric importance and historical background of this place:
“Brahmanda Puranam has the following incident mentioned with respect to this divya desam. Brahma born out of the nabhi of Narayana was continuing to worship Narayana. One day, God decided to test the depth and sincerity of the prayers of Brahma. He is said to have come to Kadamba vanam, took the form of the Kadamba Viruksham (Tree). When Brahma realized that Narayana was not to be seen, he searched for Him and reached Kadamba vana. He realised the Narayana was one among the Kadamba virukshams. He took some water in his kamandalam, poured it on the kadamba trees. The abhisheka water which flowed over the trees then colleted in a place and became a tank. Brahma then repeated the Dwadasakshara mantra. Pleased with the sincerity of Brahma’s prayers, Perumal appeared before him. The tank came to be known as Brahma theertham. On the bank of this theertham, later kadamba rishi did severe penance. Narayana appeared before him as well. The tank, since then, came to be known as Kadamba theertham and the town Kadamba kshetram.”
“Another story connected with this kshetram deals with the dharshan given by Perumal to Janaka Maharaja. Once upon a time, Janaka Maharishi, went on a pilgrimage entrusting the kingdom to the Minister. In course of time he reached the Kadamba theertham. As advised by Gowthamar, he took the assistance of Kashyapar and other rishis and performed a yaga. At the end of the yaga, for some reason, they felt the result was not achieved. This upset the Maharishi. During this time, a rishi with his sishyas came along, noticed the plight of Janaka Maharishi, and instructed them to pray to Kadamba viruksham. They did exactly as told and an asareere was heard saying, “O King! The yaga became infructuous because unknown to you, the havis has been made impure by a wandering dog. Hence the yaga is not able to deliver the expected result. Please prepare fresh homa dravyams and your wishes will be fulfilled.”
Accordingly the yaga was performed afresh. In answer to the prayers of Janaka Maharishi, Lord Narayana lying down on Adisesha with Brahma on the nabhi kamalam and Siva as Bikshadanar staying by the side appeared before Janaka Maharishi and the other rishis assembled there. Janaka Maharishi is said to have built this temple for the Tirumirthis and installed the idols.”
Lord Brahma and the Saptha Gurus
Uttamarkoil is also mentioned in relationship to the genesis of the human dynasties. The creation of jivas began when Lord Brahma split himself into two, male and female, as Swayambu Manu (ruler of Manvantra) and Satarupa, who began to produce the lines of Manvantaras and the Manu rulers and their descendents. During different ages, under the various Manvantaras, the line of Saptha Gurus is always renewed. These Saptha Gurus, or seven Preceptors, all appeared at Uttamarkoil, and all are worshipped here. They are:
Vishnu Guru – Varadharaja Perumal
Brahma Guru – the four-headed form of Lord Brahma
Shiva Guru – Dakshinamoorthy, the knowledge form of Lord Shiva
Deva Guru (Raja Guru) – Brahaspathi, one of the Navagraha (Jupiter), conducts all the yagnas for the Devars. Once in a year, this Guru moves from one star to the other, in what is known as Gurupeyarchi.
Asuru Guru – Sukracharyar, or Navagraha Sukran, is capable of bringing back life to the dead
Sakthi Guru – Soundarya Parvathi, the Mother Goddess
Subramanya Guru – who taught his father, Lord Shiva
Although the Navagraha Deva Guru is all-powerful, none of the Navagraha are able to completely remove one’s doshas. For that, one has to worship the star’s adhi devathai or prathyathi devathai, who is Lord Brahma himself. Unfortunately, because Lord Brahma has few temples and places of worship, Dakshinamoorthy is instead offered worship in his place, as the Guru of all the Navagrahas.
Thursdays are considered Guruvaram in many temples here, and the day is considered very auspicious for worshipping all of the Guru forms. There are three especially important temples for Guru worship, and they are Uttamarkoil, Thirukandiyur, and Thirupattur. While all of the Saptha Gurus are present at Uttamarkoil, Lord Brahma is also present as Guru in Thirupattur, and Navagraha Guru is present at Thittai, Thiruvalidhayam (Padi, near Chennai). In a segment to come about Kerala temples associated with Parasurama, we will find that Parasuram dedicated a temple to Lord Brahma, worshipping him as Brahma Guru.
Uttamarkoil Temple and Deities
Approaching the temple compound by car or bus, visitors cross a bridge over the Kaveri River, and from this height one gets an excellent top-down view of the temple grounds. While the temple is ancient, it is in quite a good state of repair today. Inscriptions from the period of the Cholas and Pandyas date the temple to around the 11th century.
The temple received the beneficence of King Satkirthivarthanan, who was childless, and came to the temple to pray to Perumal. Getting an answer to his prayers in the form of a son, he built the Udyoga Vimanam with five kalasams on top, along with the mandapam and prakaras in the temple. On Chithiria Pournami day, he performed an utsavam (procession) for Perumal. The King is said to have lived at Uttamarkoil for a long time, attaining moksha here.
The sanctum sanctorum of Uttamarkoil Temple faces east. The presiding deities are the Trimurti. Lord Brahma and Saraswati are also known here as Naan Mugan (Brahma) and Jaya Anjaneya or Kalaimagal (Saraswati). Saraswati Devi’s separate shrine has a vimana.
Perumal’s sannidhi (shrine) is east facing. Perumal Visnu (Purushottaman) is in sayana thirukolam (reclining posture) and his utsavar (processional deity) is with Sridevi and Bhudevi. His thayar (consort) is Poornavalli (Mahalaksmi), who sits to his left, and faces east. To the right of Perumal sannidhi, Jayaveera Anjaneyar (Hanuman) sits with his left leg in front, in a separate sannidhi.
Behind and to the south of Perumal’s sannidhi is Shiva’s shrine, facing west. Shiva is Bhikshatanar (Bitchadanar), the traveling mendicant, in the form of lingam. Ambal (his consort) is Soundarya (Parvati or Vadivudaiamman), and she is facing south. Nearby is Bhikshatanar’s utsava moorthy.
In the front mandapam, Goddess Soundarya Parvathi is present as Sakthi Guru, facing south in a separate shrine. In the northeast, Vishnu Guru (Varadharaja Perumal), Brahma Guru, and Goddess Saraswati are present in separate shrines, facing south.
Circumambulating the main temple, devotees also get darshan at shrines for Venugopala (Bala lingam), Lakshmi Narayana, Rama, Natarajar Shiva, Durga, twin Vinayakars (Ganesh), Hanuman, Subramaniar, Sandikeswarar, Dasaratha Lingam, Manavala Mamuni, Andal, Pitshadanaar, Kulasekarar, Varadaraja Perumal (a very tall murti), Daksinamurty (as sila vigraha), Saneeswaran, Anjaneyar, the Navagrahas, Azhwars, Nammalwar, and Ramanujacarya.
The temple is set amongst beautiful surroundings, lush and green, with many coconut trees along the river. A rare flower, the Nagalinga Poo is found here, and is used in temple pujas. The Kadamba tree is Sthala Vriksham (the holy tree). Lord Visnu appeared here as the Kadamba, thus the place got its name, Tiru Kadambanur (Tiru Karambanur).
The Kadamba Theertham, located in the eastern section of the temple grounds, is one of nine area theerthams associated with Srirangam Temple. Two of the tanks are located at Srirangam, namely Chandra Pushkarni and Soorya Pushkarni. Lord Ranganath is said to give paramapatha prapthi (liberation) to all who take bath in the nine theerthams on any Ekadasi day (and especially Vaikunda Ekadasi), and who worship the Lord with a pure mind. This benediction is also carried forward through 18 generations. Some of the other six theerthams are no longer found today due to development and change in the land and water tables.
Festivals and Events
There are numerous festivals and events that bring many devotees and visitors to Uttamarkoil Temple. The annual Brahmotsavam of Perumal is held during the month of Chittirai (April), while Shiva’s festival is held in the month of Vaikasi (May).
During the month of Karthigai, Vishnu and Shiva go out on a street procession together. The Maasi festival at the Tiruvarangam temple brings a procession of Ranganathar to the Kadamba Theertham at Uttamarkoil.