We spotted this beauty in the grounds of the Vana Durga temple at Kathiramangalam, near Kumbakonam. We made a pit-stop at the temple during our recent visit to Kumbakonam.
Is she resting? Abandoned? The story stays unknown to me. Whatever she might have gone through, she is extremely beautiful and captivating, for sure. I couldn’t resist this picture.
About the Vana Durgai temple, Kathiramangalam
The village of Kathiramangalam, a short drive away from Kumbakonam, houses a beautiful, ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Durga, where this picture was taken. The 6-foot tall idol of the Goddess within has a rustic beauty to it, the same way that the small temple itself does.
There are several legends associated with this temple, popularly called the Vana Durgai (Forest Durga) temple. It is believed that the famed sage Agasthiyar performed penance in the forests at this place, and that it is he who created the idol of Goddess Durga here.
Popular legend has it that the Goddess visits the holy land of Kasi every night, and comes back in the mornings to preside over the temple in the day time. She is believed to be highly powerful, and devotees come from far and near to seek her blessings or relief from their problems. The special pooja held at this temple during Rahu Kaalam is very popular.
Tips for travellers
This temple is located in the midst of an almost forest-like area, with no shops, ATMs or eateries nearby. If you plan to visit, do make sure that you are well prepared for this.
The temple is located roughly 15 km away from Kumbakonam and about 7 km from Mayiladuthurai. Kumbakonam and Mayiladuthurai are the nearest railway stations, while the nearest airport is at Trichy.
A taxi from either Mayiladuthurai or Kumbakonam is the best way to reach this temple.
You can combine a visit to this temple with visits to several other temples in and around Mayiladuthurai or Kumbakonam. Do speak to your cab driver beforehand and fix up an itinerary.
The Rahu Kaalam pooja at this temple is believed to be highly auspicious. If you are interested in witnessing it, do find out the exact timings of the pooja and plan your visit accordingly.
Different kinds of flowers are offered to the Goddess here by devotees seeking relief from different issues. For instance, the ‘manoranjitham’ flower is offered by people seeking reunion for separated couples, while roses are offered by devotees seeking marriage.
I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our trip to Kumbakonam. If not, please do!
Degree coffee is certainly not the only thing that Kumbakonam is famous for, we realised while researching for our recent trip to this temple town.
Apparently, the town also happens to be one of the leading producers of betel leaves and areca nuts. In fact, the betel leaves produced in Kumbakonam are believed to be among the best in the world, as far as quality is concerned.
Armed with this knowledge, we were well prepared to keep an eye out for local paanwallahs in Kumbakonam, so we could taste a couple of these famed betel leaves.
We had, sort of, expected these betel leaves to be all over Kumbakonam, but they were so not! We came across just a few shops selling them, that too only in the local flower-fruit-vegetable market.
When we finally got our hands on a couple of these betel leaves, we were surprised at just how fresh and strong in taste they were. They filled our mouths with a spicy juice that just isn’t present in the betel leaves we get in big cities like, say, Madras or Bangalore. The Kumbakonam vettalai is, definitely, different. Neither the husband nor I are betel leaf connoisseurs, and hence, unable to elaborate more on this.
Do try out some of the famed vettalai whenever you are in Kumbakonam!
I hope you have been reading and enjoying my other posts about Kumbakonam! If you haven’t, here are the links for you.
The Garbharakshambigai temple, about 20 km away from Kumbakonam, was one of our destinations on the recent trip we undertook. Thousands flock to this temple, located on the banks of the river Vettar, in the village of Thirukkarugavur, in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu. Most of these devotees seek the blessings of Garbharakshambigai (‘the Mother who protects wombs’ in Tamil) one of the presiding deities here.
It is believed that Garbharakshambigai, one of the incarnations of Goddess Parvati, holds the power to grant pregnancy to those of her devotees who seek it. She is also believed to have the ability to guard the foetuses of her devotees, and protect them from anomalies, ill health, miscarriage, and other woes. There are literally thousands of women who can prove this point – they will tell you of how they begot children because of their prayers to Goddess Garbharakshambigai, reciting the mantra meant for her, and partaking of the ghee distributed for the benefit of pregnant women at this temple. The Goddess is also believed to aid her devotees with a relatively easier delivery.
The other presiding deity at this temple, Mullaivananthar (Lord of the jasmine garden), is an avatar of Lord Shiva, husband of Goddess Parvati. Offering one’s prayers to the Lord is believed to cure one of any chronic disease.
History of the Garbharakshambigai temple
As per legend, the origin of the temple has to do with a couple – the husband was called Nidhruva and the wife, Vedikai. The couple, whose job was to serve two revered sages in a place called Mullai Vanam (jasmine garden), was childless. At the advice of the sages, the couple prayed to Goddess Parvati, and Vedikai was soon blessed with pregnancy. One day, during the course of her pregnancy, Vedikai was extremely tired and was resting, when another revered sage called Urdhvapada visited their abode. Vedikai was alone then and, in her state of tiredness, failed to hear the sage call out to her. Urdhvapada felt terribly insulted by this and, without knowing about Vedikai’s pregnancy, cursed her to suffer with a dreadful disease. The disease soon inflicted Vedikai, and began to eat away at the foetus in her womb, too, devastating her.
Vedikai once again prayed to Goddess Parvati, who appeared before her and promised to protect her foetus. The Goddess then placed the foetus in a pot and safeguarded it till the term of Vedikai’s pregnancy ended, and the couple received a male child, whom they went on to name Naidhuruvan. Goddess Parvati continued to extend her grace towards Vedikai by sending Kamadhenu, the divine cow, to provide milk to Naidhuruvan.
Extremely pleased by these benevolent acts of the Goddess, Vedikai and the other sages prayed to her, requesting her to stay back with them. And so she did. Later, a temple was built to commemorate the Goddess, and the place (that was earlier called Mullai Vanam) came to be known as Thirukarukavur (‘village of the temple deity who saves wombs’, in Tamil). Since then, it is believed, the Goddess, in the form of Garbharakshambigai, has been safeguarding the interests of pregnant women.
When Kamadhenu descended on earth to offer her milk to the child, a spring of water arose where her hooves were planted, right in front of the temple. A tank was later built to enclose the spring, which came to be called Kshreeakundam. This tank exists at the very same spot even today.
No one is sure about exactly how old this temple is, but it does find mention in a 7th Century Tamil work of literature called Tevaram.
The story of our visit
Conception and pregnancy was a tough game for the husband and me, for a variety of reasons. Every moment of my trying for conception and then, during my pregnancy with Bubboo, had tension and worry underlying it. My mother, having heard of the many miracles of Garbharakshambigai, would pray every day for the baby in my womb. I was too scared then to not religiously consume the ghee that my mother managed to get for me from the temple, via some relatives. Coincidence or not, our darling Bubboo came into this world hale and hearty. So, on our recent trip to Kumbakonam, we absolutely had to visit this temple with Bubboo, and pay our respects to the Mother.
We hired a cab to take us from Kumbakonam (where we were staying) to the temple, and back. This turned out to be a good decision, because there are no great places to stay or eat around the temple. Roads en route were good, and we had a comfortable and safe ride.
The temple is not too big, but not too small either. It is beautiful and serene, filling you up with a sense of peace the moment you enter. We had a nice and relaxed darshanam, albeit a tad emotional one, recalling the huge turmoil we went through before Bubboo was born. It was good to find the temple retaining a rustic, old-world charm and a total lack of commercialisation, in spite of it being so popular.
Tips for travellers
The nearest railway station to Thirukkarugavur is Papanasam, while Trichy is the nearest airport.
Before you visit, do check on the pooja timings and proceedure.
Kumbakonam and Thanjavur are relatively big towns, from which travel to this temple by road is easier. Accomodation and good food is easily available at both places, as are cabs for hire.
ATM facilities might not be available at Thirukkarugavur, near the temple, so make sure you are carrying enough cash with you when you travel.
If you do pray at the temple for a child, it is advisable to return here with child, to thank the Goddess.
I hope you have been reading my other posts about our visit to Kumbakonam, and enjoying them too. In case you haven’t, here you go!
The husband and I mostly travel during festivals, when he manages to get considerable time off work. Lately, we seem to be walking into places only to find ourselves in the midst of big celebrations, surrounded by throngs of people wherever we go. While we are planning our trip, we never know that our destination is a hot-spot for such a major event, and are always taken by surprise. Not good in some ways, but great in some other ways.
For instance, we landed in Calcutta in the thick of Kali Pujo, without ever expecting it. Now, recently, we ended up in Kumbakonam in the midst of Masimagam, quite by chance. We planned the Kumbakonam trip around the Hindu festival of Shivratri, and happened to be there right on the auspicious day of Masimagam, when thousands of devotees from across India visit the place, too.
Wondering what on earth is Masimagam? Here you go!
Masimagam is considered to be a highly auspicious day, particularly in South India. This day is when the planets align a certain way, an incidence that occurs only once annually, generally during February-March, when the Magam star is prevalent during the Tamil month of Masi. On this day, it is believed that all the rivers of India meet at the Mahamagam tank in Kumbakonam, and a dip in the waters of the tank is supposed to cleanse one of all sins. Grand poojas are conducted in all the major temples of Kumbakonam on Masimagam, with processions being carried out on the streets throughout the day. Devotees and holy men from everywhere, as well as tourists, visit Kumbakonam on this day, either to be a part of the bathing ritual or witness and record all of it.
Once every 12 years, this day becomes even more special, because of certain planetary alignments. This day is then called Mahamagam, or ‘the great Magam‘ in Tamil, when there are literally millions of people thronging Kumbakonam and clamouring for a dip in the waters of the tank. A few incidences of stampede have been recorded, in Kumbakonam during Mahamagam. The last Mahamagam was in the year 2016.
The husband and I had booked a hotel in Kumbakonam very near the Mahamagam tank, quite by chance again. We were in for a big, big, big surprise the minute our auto guy turned towards the tank. There were hundreds of people on the street, many dripping wet from their bath in the tank, with pooja paraphernalia in their hands.
Our auto neared the tank, and we were in for an even bigger surprise – the atmosphere there was not unlike a fair!
Fruit and vegetable vendors, loudspeakers, police patrolling, flower sellers, people distributing free water and buttermilk, beggars asking for alms, balloon and toy sellers, processions from various temples around town, tourists wanting to photograph every bit of it, devotees vying to get a dip in the tank.. it was BUSY, for sure. And, it was super-duper hot!
Devotees taking a dip in the holy waters of the Mahamagam tank. Can you see how dense the crowd is?
We walked around with the bub, slowly, soaking in the atmosphere around us, taking pictures, committing things to memory.
We didn’t dip ourselves in the holy water, but enjoyed every bit of the looking around we did, getting to know more about this important cultural event in South India.
What saddened us a whole lot, though, was the piles and piles and piles of garbage left around the Mahamagam tank, by evening, when the rituals had slowed down and the streets had started emptying. I heartily wish this could be changed, for the better, about ceremonies like this.
Have you read my other posts about our visit to Kumbakonam? I hope you have! If you haven’t, though, here you go!
When you are travelling, you sometimes walk into moments that touch something deep within you. You instinctively know you have got to lift up your camera, and commit the frame in front of you to eternity.
For instance, this picture of this man and his friend, the elephant, both of whom we met at the Adi Kumbeswarar temple in Kumbakonam. Note how I don’t use the word ‘mahout’ here, but ‘friend’. These two are, really and truly, good friends.
The elephant, a baby actually, was handing out blessings to passersby, and accepting gifts of money or bananas in return. We watched as it placed its trunk, gently, on people’s heads.
The husband wanted the bub to have the experience of meeting an elephant up close and personal, but I resisted. I was super scared to do so. The daughter was neutral, but I knew, deep within, that the experience would only enrich her. We held back for the longest ever time, just watching the elephant and the man do their jobs.
We noticed how the elephant was unchained, dangerous probably, but no aura of fear emanated from it. Instead, it radiated peace and joy. It was, in fact, dancing, shaking one leg after the other, the bells around his neck jangling merrily. The man kept up a steady stream of chatter with the elephant, his tone sweet and friendly, and it seemed to talk back to him, equally lovingly. We watched as the man fed the elephant a couple of bananas, and then went on to peel and eat one himself. He proceeded to take a few sips of the filter coffee that lay beside him, then got up and asked the elephant to open his mouth. The elephant obliged, and the man poured the rest of the coffee into little one’s mouth. It slurped all of it up, happily.
Meanwhile, passersby continued to visit the elephant, bearing little gifts for them. We watched the gentle manner the elephant had in blessing them. We have had some rather harsh whacks from temple elephants elsewhere, so I know just how gentle this one was.
By then, I was okay. I had observed enough, relaxed enough. I was ready, poised with my camera, for the husband and the bub to go get their blessings from the jumbo. And they did, very, very gently. The bub absolutely loved the experience, and still talks about it excitedly. I am glad I let go of my own fears, and let her have the experience.
I’m not here to talk about animal rights or the injustices meted out to temple elephants. All I can talk about here is the beautiful bonding between these two friends that I witnessed, and how I conquered my fears for the bub. I understand I might be judged too, for letting my daughter go through a seemingly dangerous experience, but then, isn’t parenting all about letting go and not allowing our fears to interfere with our children realising their dreams? Parenting is also, I believe, about following your gut instinct, letting your heart decide what feels right at the moment. That is just what I did.