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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.