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The Ultimate Source of Information on Indian Temples

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Navagraha Temples
Temples of Tamilnadu
Abodes of Shiva
The Navagraha Temple Index

Groups of temples constitute pilgrimage clusters all over India. Thus we have the Pancha Bhoota shrines dedicated to Shiva, the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines all over India, the Alwar Nava Tirupati shrines of Tirunelveli district in Tamilnadu, Arupadai Veedu shrines of Skanda and so on.

A pilgrimage town cluster that has been gaining popularity in recent times is the set of Navagraha temples. The Navagraha temples denote a set of nine temples tied together by their association with the nine celestial bodies or the Navagrahams.

The term Navagraha denotes the nine celestial bodies which are central to astrological calculations (and beliefs)   (and not the nine planets as it is frequently erroneously translated). The sun, the moon, mars, mercury, jupiter, venus, saturn and the two   shadow planets Rahu and Ketu constitute the Navagrahas.

A shrine housing the Navagrahas is seen in almost all of the Saivite temples in Tamilnadu. However, the Navagraha temple cluster refers to a set of nine temples in the Chola kingdom region of Tamilnadu, that are associated through legends and beliefs with the navagrahas.

It is to be noted that the first of these, the Suryanaar temple is the only one that is dedicated to the graham or the celestial body itself. All of the other eight are ancient temples dedicated to Shiva. Interestingly, the Suryanaar temple is probably the newest of the nine (11th-12th century CE). Six of these eight temples have been revered by the Tevaram hymns and thus clearly go back to the 2nd half of the 1st millennium CE.

The Suryanaar temple was built by the later Cholas to provide a space for sun worship for visiting dignitaries from elsewhere in India. Tingaloor, the temple associated with the moon represents the site of a miracle caused by the Saivite Saint Appar.

Vaideeswaran Koyil and Tiruvenkaadu near Mayiladuturai bear shrines representing Angarakan (Mars) and Budan (Mercury) respectively. Both of these are hoary Saivite shrines revered by the Tevaram hymns.

Tiruvirumpoolai or Aalankudi is again an ancient Shivastalam. The Dakshinamurthy shrine at Aalankudi is said to represent Brihaspati or Guru (Jupiter), while the ancient Shivastalam at Kanjanoor is associated with Sukran (Venus).

Tirunallaar near Karaikkal is again an ancient Shivastalam bearing a shrine to Tyagaraja. Many interesting legends (related to Nala) regarding Saneeswaran (Saturn) surround this temple which bears a shrine to Saneeswaran.

Tirunageswaram near Kumbhakonam bears an ancient Shivastalam enshrining Naganathar, and it has within its precincts a shrine to Rahu  , while the Shiva temple at   Keezperumpallam near Mayiladuturai has a shrine dedicated to Ketu.

The collective ascent to prominence of these very ancient temples is only a recent occurrence (although Tirunallaar, Vaideeswaran Koyil and to some extent Tiruvenkaadu and Tirunageswaram have been well visited pilgrimage centers even otherwise). The Tamilnadu tourism department conducts guided weekend tours to these shrines.

The Tevaram hymns and the concept of Navagrahas: It is interesting to note that the first verse of the kOLaRu patikam by Tirugnanasambandar (not dedicated to any particular temple) asserts that the worship of Shiva whose consort is Parvati, who bears the deadly poison that emanated from the milky ocean in his neck, and who bears the Ganges and the moon on his hair, will only cause the favoroble allignment of the celestial bodies (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu) to the worshipper. Click here for an audio recording of thys hymn by the author.

Mention must be made of the seven vaara kritis of the master composer Muthuswamy Deekshitar dedicated to Surya, Chandra, Angaraka, Budha, Bhrihaspati, Sukra and Sanaischara representing the celestial bodies Sun, moon, mars, mercury, jupiter, venus and saturn and the days of the week commencing Sunday as well as the additional kritis on Rahu and Ketu.

It is to be noted that there is another set of nine temples in Tirunelveli district which are said to constitue the Navagraha cluster of temples in that part of the state.