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Weekly Feature 2 -Sep 3 1999
Weekly Feature 1 - Sep 3 1999
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Rajagopala Temple at Mannargudi near Thanjavur

Introduction: This shrine dedicated to Rajagopala, is a vast temple complex with a 1000 year old history.  Referred to as Dakshina Dwaraka and as Champakaranyam, this temple is located in the town of Mannargudi, and is well connected by rail and road to Thanjavur, Kumbhakonam, Tiruvarur and other towns in the erstwhile Thanjavur district.

Deities: The sanctum of this vast temple enshrines a 7 feet high image of Vaasudeva with his consorts Sri Devi and Bhoodevi, and the festival images of Sree Vidya Rajagopala, his consorts Rukmini and Satyabhama, and an image of Santanagopalakrishna. The Sree Vidya Yantram in the sanctum is of significance here. The Goddess Senkamala Thaayar (Raktaabja Nayaki in Sanskrit)  is referred to as 'Padi Thaandaa Pathini', and her image is never taken in procession outside the temple complex. Popular belief has it that cradling the image of Santanagopalakrishna in ones lap, would bless barren couple with progeny.

Architecture: This is a massive temple with as many as seven prakarams or circumambulatory paths surrounding the central sanctum. A 154 feet high Rajagopuram adorns the entrance to the outermost prakaram. There are several beutiful pillared halls in the temple - such as the Thousand pillared hall, the Vallala Maharaja Mandapam, the Yaanai Vaahana Mandapam, Garudavaahana Mandapam, Vennaithaazhi mandapam and Punnai Vaahana mandapam.  The Shrine to Garuda on top of a 50 feet high monolithic pillar in front of the temple, deserves mention. The saying 'Mannaargudi Madhil Azhagu' (the walls of the temple of Mannargudi are of great beauty) in Tamil, testifies to the grandeur of this temple.

Several theerthams (temple tanks) adorn this shrine. The Haridra Nadhi tank is located located near the temple, and popular belief has it, that a river was transformed into a big tank, and that Rajagopala performed the famed Rasa Leela in the tank.

History: The innermost sanctum here   about a thousand years old although the first stone structure here was built only during the reign of Kulottunga Chola I (1113 AD); this temple is also referred to as Kulottunga Chola Vinnagaram. Most of the outer structures date back to the later Vijayanagara period marked by a spate of temple construction projects in Tamilnadu.

None of the Alwars have sung of the glory of this shrine, as this temple came into existence only at a later date. However, Manavala Maamuni has  sung praises of this temple; so has Muthuswamy Deekshitar (18th century)- one of the revered composers in the Karnatic Music idiom.

Oothukkaadu Venkatasubbaier, (who preceded the Karnatic Music trinity), another composer in the Karnatic Music idiom made Rajagopala (Krishna) of Mannargudi the center of the multitude of his compositions (as did Jayadeva with Jagannath of Puri, in his Geetagovindam). Labeled Krishna Gaanam, several of Oothukkadu Venkatasubbaiyer's compositions in Tamil and in Sanskrit have attained popularity during this century.

Muthuswamy Deekshitar's kriti Santhaana Gopala Krishnam in the Raga Khamaas, eulogizes this shrine at Mannargudi, as do his kritis Sree Rajagopala in the Raga Saveri,   the kriti Sree Venugopala in the Raga Kurinji and the kriti Sree Vidya Rajagopalam in the Raga Jaganmohini. Deekshitar refers to the annual float festival in the Haridranadhi tank, and to the Mohini Alankaram in the annual Iraappattu Utsavam in his kritis, and also describes Krishna as an embodiment of the Sree Vidya Mantram.

Worship Services and Festivals: Seven worship services are offered during the course of a day, and this temple attracts pilgrims throughout the year. The annual festival (Bhrammotsavam) is celebrated in the month of Pankuni (Mar 15-Apr 15) for a period of 18 days, when the deities are taken out in procession on decorated mounts. The float festival occurs in the month of Aani (June 15 - July 15). Aadi Pooram celebrated between July 15 and Aug 15 is another of the important festivals here.

The Jayamkonda Naathar (Shiva) temple built by Jayamkonda Cholan is also located in the town of Mannargudi. The Tirattuppaal prasadam made at this temple used to be sent to the Rajagopala temple, on the asterism of Rohini in the month of Vaikasi amidst festivities in both temples (Tirattuppaal Aradhanai). The huge vessel used for boiling the milk required for the event is all that is left of this ceremony.

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