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Darbaranyeswarar Temple at Tirunallar

July 1997

Darbaranyeswarar Temple at Tirunallar is a well known temple featuring the shrines of Shiva and Saneeswarar (Saturn). It is one of the well visited temples in the Tamil speaking region of India. It is situated near Karaikal and it falls under the Pondicheri administration. This temple is known for its shrines to Shiva (Dharbaranyeswarar) and the grand shrine to Saneeswarar and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people when the planet Saturn makes a transit between zodiac signs - an event that happens once in two and a half years.

The Tirunallar temple is a one of a kind temple with a shrine of this grandeur exclusively dedicated to Saturn. The origins of this temple date back to antiquity. The Saivite Saints of the past millennium such as TirugnyanaSambandar. Appar and Sundarar have sung praises of this temple. The architectural features date back to the Chola period and inscriptions dating back to the twelfth century AD are found in the temple.Tirunallar is best accessed, driving from Mayiladuturai or from Nagapattinam.

The presiding deity Shiva is known as Darbaranyeswarar, Adipureeswarar and Naleswarar. There is also a shrine dedicated to Tyagaraja and Tirunallar constitutes one of the seven Vidanga Stalams or shrines hosting Tyagaraja (Somaskanda). A green emerald lingam also adorns this shrine.

Several mythological stories are associated with this temple. It is said that King Nala was under the influence of Sani, i.e. Saturn for an extended period of time in his life and went through several ordeals and obtained total relief only after worshipping Shiva at this shrine. There is another legend of Vishnu having worshipped Shiva in the form of an image of Somaskanda and that he later on parted with it to Indra the king of the Gods. An earthly king in return for his devotion to Shiva was directed by Shiva to obtain this image from Indra. Indra directed this king to construct six other shrines to Somaskanda before giving him the divine image. Accordingly the king, Muchukunda Chakravarti installed Somaskanda images at Tirunallar, Tiruvaimur , Tirumaraikkadu (Vedaranyam), Tirukkolili, Tirukkaravasal and Nagapatnam. The original image was then installed at Tiruvarur. These seven shrines are known collectively as Sapta Vidanga Stlangal.

Religious services are performed five times a day. Other than these, a whole host of festivities are held throughout the year. On Tamil New Year's day, (marked by the transition of the Sun from Pisces to Aries according to the Indian astrological system) Tyagaraja is taken in a procession and oblations are performed to the Emerald Lingam. A grand eighteen day festival is performed in the month of Vaikashi (when the sun resides in the sign of Taurus). The tenth day of this festival, when the moon resides passes through the sign of Scorpio, Saneeswarar (Saturn) is taken in procession. This day is said to mark the day when King Nala was relieved of the influence of Saturn. The month of Aani (Gemini) witnesses festivities related to Nataraja - Shiva - the Lord of Dance. The month of Aadi (Cancer) marks the time for special services to Sundaramoorthy Nayanar - one of the foremost Saivite poet Saints. The full moon night in the month of Purattasi (Leo) witnesses several special services to the Emerald Lingam. This month also is the time for the nine day festival for the Goddess Pranambika (Navaratri). In the month of Aippasi (Libra) is celebrated a festival for Subramanya. During the month of Kartikai (Scorpio), Kartikai Deepam is celebrated, marked by a procession of the five principal temple deities and by the symbolic bonfire. The month of Markali (Saggitarius) is when, a ten day festival dedicated to Natarajar is performed, where verses from Tiruvempavai are recited. There are several other festivals including one on Panguni Uthiram.

Perhaps, the best known festival here is the one marking the transition of Saturn between Zodiac sign. This happens once in two and a half years and is visited by hundreds of thousands of deities. The entire town wears a festive look as the deity Saneeswarar is taken in a procession around town.

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