Located about 85kms South West of Chennai is the 1300 year old three tiered Sundara Varadar temple in UthiraMerur, a town that holds a special place on the map of India, for it was here that the formal Guidelines for Assembly Elections and a constitutional framework was laid out for the first time ever in India.
In fact, our current constitution and governance model is said to have been modelled on the framework created by Parantaka Chozhan in 10th Century AD. Unfortunately, though, the disqualification criteria seem to have been given a serious pass by the Indian Electorate.
Sundara Varadar Temple built by Pallavas
It is believed that UthiraMerur was gifted to 1200 Vedic Vaishnavite Brahmin Scholars in the 8th Century AD by Nandi Varma Pallava who also built the Sundara Varadar temple. Clearly, a lot of focus was laid on Vedic Education during that period with this village being a hub of Vedic Learning. Hence, Uthira Merur was also referred to as ‘Chaturvedi Mangalam’, a place where one could hear the recital of the four Vedas all the time.
Was this temple constructed before 8th Century AD?
While the inscription leads one to believe that this was a 8th Century AD temple built by Nandi Varma Pallava, the construction materials used here raises the question if this actually was built much earlier, possibly in the 6th Century AD. Uthira Merur’s Sundara Varadar temple has been built using a mix of Karungal (base of the temple), red bricks and Lime (Tier 2 and 3).
Most of the temples built around the 9th/10th Century AD are ones built largely out of Karungal, while the 6th Century AD temples in Tamil Nadu were built with Karungal, red bricks and other materials. Hence it is quite possible that the construction of this temple may have actually started in the 6th Century AD and not 8th Century AD. However, there are no inscriptions confirming this…
The Story- Pancha Varada Kshetram
It is believed that Lord Vishnu, in different forms, gave darshan to Pancha Pandavas, who are believed to come here (Virata Parvam) during the time of their exile. Hence this place is also referred to as Pancha Varada Kshetram. While there are no inscriptions confirming the visit of the pandavas, several of the villages in and around UthiraMerur were named after the Pandavas and this serves as an indication that they visited this place.
Vaikunta Varadar provided darshan to DharmaRaja
Sundara Varadar – to Bheema
Achuta Varadar – to Arjuna
Aniruddha Varadar provided darshan to Nakula
Kalyana Varadar provided darshan to Sahadeva
Also, it is believed that Goddess Ananda Valli provided darshan to Draupadi.
Structure of the temple
This is one of the three Vaishnavite temples in Tamil Nadu with three tiered Gopurams. While two Divya Desams- Thiru Koshtiyur (where Ramanuja was initiated the Thiru Mandiram) and Koodal Azhagar (in Madurai) have three tiered Gopurams, Sundara Varadar temple in Uthira Merur is the only non Divya Desam to have a three tiered structure. And this one is with a difference.
While the other two have only one deity in each of the tiers, this historical temple has 4 deities each in Tier 1 and 2 and one deity in Tier 3.
This is the only Vaishnavite temple in India with Nine Murthies in a three tier structure. Hence, this is referred to be a Nava Murthy Sthalam. It was the belief that Nava Murthies can be installed only where over a 1000 Brahmins recite the Vedic Paaraayanam, another indication that UthiraMerur was a hub of Vedic learning in those days.
Nava Murthy Sthalam
The East facing standing posture of Sundara Varadar in the main sanctum is surrounded by the tall and handsome Achutha Varadar on the Southern Side, Aniruddha Varadar on the West (behind Sundara Varadar) and Kalyana Varadar on the Northern side.
Those who pray here (with their horoscope) to Kalyana Varadar on 5 consecutive Wednesdays are said to find their life mate immediately. Those who offer prayers on Tuesdays to Achutha Varadar are said to find jobs immediately.
Four Murthies on Tier 2
On to Tier 2, one finds Vaikunta Varadar in a sitting posture (he provided Darshan to Dharmaputra). There are also archa-vigrahas of Nara Narayana- Arjuna and Krishna. Belief is that those who are not able to go to Badri can invoke the blessings of Nara Narayana at this temple and the devotees are said to get the desired results.
Also, on Tier 2 is Yoga Narasimha. It is believed that those who are not able to climb the several hundred steps at Sholingur can visit Yoga Narasimha here and the Lord here is said to fulfil the wishes of the devotees.
The fourth archa-vigraha in Tier 2 is that of Lakshmi Varahar seen here in Sitting Posture (in Thiruvidanthai one finds Lakshmi Varahar in a Standing Posture).
As one climbs another 10 steps onto Tier 3, one finds Lord Anantha Padmanabha(Lord Ranganatha) in a sleeping posture atop Adhiseshan. Tier 3 presents another unique feature of this temple – the Dwarapalakas(in this case Dwarapalikas!!) of Lord Ranganatha are Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, not seen in any other Vaishnavite temple.
TriMurthy inside the Sanctum
On this tier, one finds Vishnu (in sleeping posture), Brahma and Siva inside the sanctum, the only Vaishnavite temple where one can find the Tri-Murthies inside the sanctum. Shiva is seen here as an archa-vigraha and not a lingam, which is another unique feature at this temple.
There are several interesting and colourful drawings inside the sanctum that gives one an insight into the encouragement given to artistic work in those days.
Did Thiru Mangai Azhvaar really miss out on Uthira Merur Temple?
Thiru Mangai Azhvaar has praised in ten verses Lord Vaikunta Varadan and this has been currently credited to Parameswara Vinnagara (Divya Desam) in Kanchipuram.
Says R. Seshadri, the hereditary Trustee at this temple, whose family has been managing the temple for the last 140 years (since 1869) “It is quite possible that Thiru Mangai may actually have sung praise of the UthiraMerur Varadar and his reference in the Paasuram of ‘Vaikunta Varadar’ and ‘Kachi’ may actually be of Vaikunta Varadar at UthiraMerur alongside the Varadar at Paremeswara Vinnagaram in Kanchipuram.”
“Several centuries ago, when Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallavas, all the towns in this region may have been referred to by the Azhvaars in a generic address as ‘Kachi’, even when he was singing praise of different forms of Vishnu, in this Pallava Kingdom.”
There is a 3 ½- 4 feet archa-vigraha of ThiruMangai Azhvaar at this temple. It is difficult to believe that Thiru Mangai would not have visited UthiraMerur and that he would not have been lured by the Nava Murthy here.
Having said that, there are other temples in Tamil Nadu, which we have seen earlier that have escaped the attention of the Azhvaars. Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy are two other instances where the Azhvaars seemed to have given the ‘Lord’ a miss. Thirumangai also threatened to pass Thiruvazhandur (in Mayavaram) without singing praise of Parimala Rangan.
Uthira Merur and its special status in history
As seen above, Pallava king Nandi Varma Pallava was responsible for the creation of UthiraMerur and the Varadar temple. Chozhas, who succeeded the Pallavas here, can be credited with pioneering the ‘Process of Assembly Elections’ in India. Inscription that can be found here provide insights into the constitutional framework that was in vogue at that time.
The Chozha king Rajendra Chozha 1 also visited UthiraMerur and made significant contributions to the Sundara Varadar temple. Contributions were also made during the reign of Raja Raja Chozha. The Great Vijayanagara king Krishnadeva Raaya, who had a special liking for Vaishnavite temples, is said to have visited this place and made liberal contributions to the UtharaMerur Perumal koil. This was also said to be a ‘Thulabaaram Koil’ and Thulabaaram was said to be a common feature at this temple.
Belief is that one who does a simple 48 day pradakshanam at this temple will have all his wishes fulfilled.
Moolavar : Sundara Varadarajar east facing Standing Posture
Vaikunta Varadar in Tier 1 Sitting Posture
Ranganatha in Tier 2 Sleeping Posture
Goddess : Ananda Valli Thaayar(Separate Sannidhi)
Temple Timing : 7am-12noon and 4pm-8pm
Priest : Aravamudhan Bhattar @ 94423 11138/ 97510 35544
Raja Gopala Bhattar @94863 69455
R. Seshadri(Trustee)@ 94430 68382
Festivals : Brahmotsavam in Chitrai, Pavitrotsavam in Aadi, Andal Aadi Pavitrotsavam- Recital of the 4 Vedhas, Sudarashana Homam in Puratasi
How to reach UthiraMerur
Direct Buses between Chennai and UthiraMerur(2 hours)
One can travel by train to Chengalpet(from Chennai) and then take a 30 minute bus trip to Uthira Merur
One can reach Uthira merur by car from Chennai in 1 1/2hours.
(Take the right after 69 kms from Chennai on the GST road)