Located 1kilometer North of Cheran Maha Devi (Tirunelveli-Tenkasi rail route) bus stand at the foot of the Western Ghats amidst green paddy fields is an ancient at least 1000years old Three Tier Aadhi Narayanan Ramaswamy temple, referred to as the Nigarili Chola Vinnagar Azhvaar temple in 10th Century AD inscriptions and whose moorthy was referred to as Raghava Chakravarti in a 1020AD Rajendra I period inscription, that currently finds itself in a rather dilapidated condition with bats being the main occupants of the dark prakaras in Tier 1 and 2.
There are several inscriptions on the inner and outer walls of the Ramaswamy temple. There are also inscriptions on the way up the steps to Tier 1 of the temple that provide insights into the conduct of the festivals, the daily poojas at the temple, the state of the temple under different rulers and their contribution to the well being of the temple.
Grand Festivals in Centuries gone by
As late as the first half of the last century, there were several festivals conducted in a Grand manner at the Ramaswamy temple. A 10 day Unjal Utsavam in Chitrai, Garuda Sevai on the fourth Saturday in Puratasai, a 10th day Chariot Festival (indicating the temple had a Chariot) and a11th day Theerthavari utsavam were among the popular festivals at this temple.
Such was the importance to the festivals at the Ramaswamy temple that there were deposits made for conducting worship of the God on Festival days of Chitrai and there was a gift of money for providing rose water to the God on the Chitrai Festival day (Kulasekhara I -13th Century AD- period inscription).
Theppotsavam in Margazhi was a big event
The Theppotsavam about which we find details in these ancient Chola and Pandya Period inscriptions continues to take place in the Tamil Calendar month of Margazhi. Belief is that Ganga comes here to Porunai river every year on the day of Maa Viyathi Paatham in Margazhi to cleanse her sins. It is said that people from Cheran Maha Devi used to congregate here for a bath at this river on this day.
There are separate rooms on the Southern side for the Vahanas.
Four times a day Pooja- Where is that now?
Even 65years ago, there were poojas performed four times a day as per the Vaikanasa tradition. Now, the temple is open only for a couple of hours in the evening with the opening in the first half dependent on request from devotees on prior intimation.
God was well lit!!!
A 10th Century AD inscription records a specific praise of Vaikanasas for taking care of the lamps at the Ramaswamy temple as they would of their own body, so committed were they that they pledged themselves to maintain a perpetual lamp at the temple ( 1015AD Rajendra I period inscription). The inscription goes on to add that they would have to pay a penalty of twice the ghee for them to continue the lamp service. Deposit of Kasu was also made in the hands of the Vaikanasas for burning a half lamp.
The inscriptions record several gifts to the temple including gift of money for lamp, gift of 25cows for lamp, a gift of 75cows for 3lamps, a gift of money for 2lamps and 4food offerings to Thiru VaykulathAzhvaar and his consort and a gift of cash for lamp for the moorthy which was to be maintained by the Vaikanasas (1015AD Inscription) clearly indicating that the daily burning of lamps was well taken care of.
Watchman for the Temple
Not just the lamps, the overall security of the Ramaswamy temple too was provided for as can be seen from the 1036AD inscription of Sundara Chola Pandya Deva which refers to a gift of pieces of land by the Merchant Guild for maintenance of a watchman at the temple. One could also assume from the gifting by the Merchant Guild that the business and economy at this place was robust at that point of time.
Loss of Jewels- 12th Century AD Pandya Period event
A Jatavarma Pandya Kulasekhara I inscription of 1195AD narrates an interesting story, that of two priests being held responsible for loss of temple jewels and how they borrowed 3Achchus from the temple and gave a written agreement that they would conduct the same from interest accruing from these 3 Achchus.
War time and reference to places around Cheran Maha Devi
A 985AD inscription and similar one in 1000AD in Tamil both on the North Wall relating to Raja Raja I mentions the destruction of fleets at Kandalurch Chalai and Mandalaurch Chalai and conquests of Ganga Padi, Nulamba Padi, Tadigai Padi, Vegai Nadu, Kudagamalai Nadu, Kollam, Kalingam, Ila Mandalam and Cheran Madevi.
Cheran Maha Devi – Location
Cheran Maha Devi is at a very centric location on the Tirunelveli- Ambasamudram- Papanasam route. About 15kms East is Tirunelveli, about 30kms South East is the Nambi Divya Desam at Thiru Kurungudi and about 15kmsWest is Kulasekara Azhvaar Rajagolaswamy temple in Mannar Koil. One can also reach Nagercoil and Kanyakumari from Cheran Maha Devi via Kalakkad and Valliyoor.
Inscriptions indicate that this place was referred to as Cheran Maha Devi Chaturvedi Mangalam. In those days, the hilly terrain of Papanasam was the short cut from Cheran Maha Devi to Trivandrum. Also, culverts refer to this place as Nigarili Chola Chaturvedi Mangalam. The inscriptions refer to the Ramaswamy temple as. Early 11th Century AD inscriptions state that Cheran Maha Devi was situated in Mulli Nadu.
Three Tier Vimana
Similar to Thirukoshtiyur Sowmya Narayana Divya Desam, Parameswara Vinnagara Divya Desam and Koodal Divya Desam in Madurai, the Ramaswamy temple in Cheran Maha Devi too has a three tier vimana, with Adhi Narayanan in a Standing Posture at the Ground level, Veetrituntha Perumal in a sitting posture in Tier 1 along with Sri and Bhoo Devi and Thiruparkadalnathan in a sleeping posture in Tier 2. Unfortunately, unlike the other too Divya Desam vimanam, this one at Cheran Maha Devi has a worn out look and seems to be asking for immediate attention to bring it to a vibrancy that this temple once had centuries ago.
The three tier vimanam finds a reference in the ancient inscriptions which talks about the ‘top tier’ Azhvaar idol, the ‘mid tier’ Azhvaar idol and ‘lower tier’ Azhvaar idol.
Puratasi – Garuda Seva
Vaikunta Ekadesi Procession
Moolavar: Aadhi Narayanan East Facing Standing Posture along with Sri and Bhoo devi
Tier 1: Veetriruntha Perumal with Sri and Bhoo devi in a Sitting Posture
Tier 2: Thiru Parkadal Lord in Sayana posture atop Adhisesha
Utsava moorthy: Rama with Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman
Separate Sannidhi: Veda Narayanan with Bhoo and Neela Devi
Temple Time: 630pm and 8pm (but the Bhattar will open in the morning if you call and inform in advance)
Priest : Sathyanarayana Bhattar @ 90435 48173
Also contact Kannan @ 90436 73430 for any local assistance
How to reach there?
The temple is 1km North of Cheran Maha Devi bus stand and railway station
Tirunelveli bound buses (Kallur route) stop at the Rama temple
Currently, rail services on this route stands suspended because of broad gauge conversion.
Train Services likely to resume next year.
Auto from Cheran Maha Devi bus stand is available
Also Visit Appan Temple
While at Cheran Maha Devi, also visit Appan Venkatachalapathy temple, which is 1km North of this temple.
Courtesy: Sri S.Prabhu