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Kariya Manicka Perumal - The Southern Tirupati of Tirunelveli

The Tirupati Balaji Temple, a sanctuary of divine beauty and grace, boasts seven entrances leading to the presence of the Supreme Deity. Likewise, this sacred haven, the Kariya Manicka Perumal temple, is adorned with seven mandapas, each a stepping stone to the divine embrace of the presiding deity. It is not merely a place of worship; it transcends heaven, perhaps even Vaikuntha itself. The sight of the most exquisite Kariya Manickam leaves one yearning for nothing else. It is the ultimate destination, the zenith of spiritual ecstasy.

In the heart of Tirunelveli, renowned for the Kantimati Sameta Nellaiyappar temple, lies this treasure trove of devotion dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Kariya Manicka Perumal temple. Much like the Nellaiyappar temple, which venerates the bamboo as its sthala vruksham, this temple too holds the bamboo in reverence.

Distinguished as the sole temple in Tamil Nadu to carry out the Pancha Garuda Seva akin to Tirupati, it is a place of profound spirituality. Every year, during the Tamil Thai month on Tiruvonam nakshatra day, a spectacular procession unfolds, with five Vishnus perched atop five majestic Garudas. These divine beings include Kariya Manicka Perumal, Tiruvengadanathapuram Venkatachalapati, Sankani Varadaraja Perumal, Tirunelveli Lakshmi Narasimha Perumal, and Tirunelveli Magizhvannanatha Perumal.

The legend of this sacred site traces back to Sage Paila, a devoted disciple of Vyasa, who resided in Tirunelveli. With profound devotion, he meditated daily, offering one crore flowers in his mind as an offering to Srinivasa Perumala, as there was no dedicated Vishnu temple in the region at that time. One day, the culmination of his unwavering devotion manifested as a brilliant blue gem (Neela Mani in Tamil), from which emerged Lord Srinivasa Perumal, blessing Sage Paila. This divine form of Lord Vishnu is known as Neelmani Nathar, who is the presiding deity of the site.

Much like the seven gates leading to Tirupati, this temple requires traversing seven mandapas, including Pandal mandapa, Bhajanai mandapa, Maha mandapa, Mani mandapa, Garuda Mandapa, Ardha mandapa, and Moolasthana, before one can attain the divine darshan. Also, Tirupati Srinivasa Perumal appeared as Neelamani Nathar. Due to these reasons, people call this site as Then Tirupati (the Southern Tirupati).

The temple's annual Thai Ratha Saptami festival, mirroring Tirupati, stands as a testament to its spiritual significance. On this day, Kariyamanika Perumal embarks on a grand procession through the streets, resembling the traditions of Tirupati. Additionally, the festival in the Tamil Phalguni month features five processions on three Garuda vahanas, one Hanuman vahana, and one Anna vahana.

The presiding deity, Neelamani Nathar, stands resplendent in the sanctum, facing the east, accompanied by his divine consorts, Sree Devi and Bhoo Devi. He holds the sacred shankhu and chakra in his upper arms, with the right lower arm in abhaya mudra and the left resting on his waist.

Kariya Manicka Perumal, the utsava deity, resides alongside his consorts in the same sanctum. It is interesting to note that the temple is not named after Neelamani Nathar, but after the utsava murti.

The metal icon of Andal also graces the main shrine. The Bhajanai mandapa has Bhajanai mutt that features old pictures of Venu Gopala and Krishna, while the Maha mandapa boasts sculptures of six girls on its pillars. Two of them carry chamara, two hold lamps and two are found with folded hands. Among the temple's remarkable features, a large Garuda stands next to the Dhwajastambha and bali peetha, while a shrine within the Garuda mandapa houses the reclining deity Ranganatha. Sree Devi and Bhoo Devi are found at the feet of Ranganatha, while Brahma emerges out of his navel.

The temple's prakara showcases Naryana seated with Lakshmi on his left lap. Thus, this temple has Vishnu in three forms Ninraan (standing - Kariya Manicka), Irundhaan (seated - Lakshmi Narayana) and Kindandaan (reclining - Ranganatha).

Narayana is surrounded by Vishvaksena, Nammalvar and Tirumangai Alwar. Additionally, there is Nellai Govindaraja along with Sree Devi and Bhoo Devi. Hence, the temple hosts five divine forms of Vishnu: Neelamani Nathar, Kariya Manickam, Ranganatha, Lakshmi Narayana, and Nellai Govindaraja.

The enchanting Goddesses Soundaravalli and Komalavalli reside in separate east-facing shrines on the prakara, their beauty unparalleled. A sub-shrine to the north houses Lord Hanuman, adding to the temple's divine aura.

The temple's sacred waters are known as Padmanabha Teertham, and its vimana called Ananda Vimana stands as a testament to Dravidian architectural brilliance. The exquisite Upapitha, Adhisthana, Kumbha panjara, Vyala vari, circular pillars and pilasters, Bhadra and Karna projections, Nasis running along the top, and the ornate Koshtas, among other features, offer a profound journey through temple architecture.

According to the legend, the presiding deity once appeared before Krishna Maharaja, who ruled Tirunelveli, and Vishnuvarda Maharaja, the ruler of Manappadaiveedu. It is also mentioned in some accounts that Rajaraja Chola I conducted the temple's consecration ceremony (kumbabhisheka). The deity was subsequently named Kariya Manicka, possibly in reference to Rajaraja Chola I. However, this historical claim lacks strong evidence, as there are no historical records identifying Rajaraja Chola I by this name. Moreover, the temple's architectural features suggest it may have been constructed during the later Pandya period in the 12th or 13th century, possibly with later additions by the Nayakas. There is no distinct Chola architectural influence evident in the temple's design.

One exceptional feature of this temple is the presence of a Shiva Linga within the prakara, a rare sight within a Vishnu temple, accentuating the unity and divinity that transcends boundaries within this sacred sanctuary.

Happy travelling.

This post first appeared on Indian Columbus, please read the originial post: here

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Kariya Manicka Perumal - The Southern Tirupati of Tirunelveli


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