In the early hours, of the auspicious day of the 27th August,1971, laying the foundation was commenced, when thousand of devotees lined in a never-ending procession to lay concrete to the chanting of “Sivaya Nama Anum’’! “ Sivaya Nama Anum’’!
The young were given special facilities to participate in the ceremony as, for years to come, to all of them, this would be their Temple. This is the temple which they founded.
The chief sponsors of the ceremonies were of course the President and the Secretary of the Thirukethesswaram Temple Restoration Society –Messrs. S. Somasundaram and S.Kandiah respectively. The Religious ceremonies were performed by several priests with Sri La Sri Kailasanatha Kurukkal of Nainativu in charge.
The erection of the main temple structure progressed satisfactorily thereafter.
A stage in the progress of the work, was when the building was brought up to door – step level. This was observed on 12.07.72 when customary gifts were made to those engaged on the project.
In 1974, Mr. R. Namasivayam assumed the Secretary ship of the Temple Restoration Society. Working night and day, he spared no pains in pushing on with the work; we shall in the next section the prodigious progress achieved by him in the restoration work. He is verily a man with a mission for this sacred cause.
All are masterpieces of creative art in wood. Suspended decorative festoons festoons, thoranams, mango leaves, sugar cane, bunches of plantains, coconuts and even tender palmayrah fruit (nonku) add to the gaiety of the decorative occasion and indicate man’ s striving interests.
The fourth component which is the “upper andam” cpnsists of diminishing layers and layers of red and white wrapping showing the eventual shriking of man’s activities. These terminate ultimately in one fountain- head of realization –the “mudi” or kalasam.
In all his striving man has to be guided along a noble path of correct living for the attainment of his ultimate destination (irupidam), for which “divine Protectio” is indicated with a symbolic umbrella, right at top, where flag may also be hoisted.
The Thiruketheeswaram Ther Chariots
At Thiruketheeswaram, a Sivan temple, five Thers had to be made. The main ther for sivan- ketheeswarar is of course more elaborate bigger in size. Less ornamental work is found at the others, the heights of which vary.
For the complete equipment of all these, several wood carvings wood tewn images and statues were made. The immense task was accomplished by the able hands of Sthapathi Asariyar. A. Jeevarethinam of Jaffna and his group, and a band of sivan highly skilled craftsmen from the government Sculptural Training Centre at Mamallapuram, in south India. The Principal of the centre V.Ganapathy Sthapathiyar had always been helpful with his advice and guidance. The numbers of wood carvings were innumerable. Of the Thirumurthies alone, there were thirty two Vinayakars, over fifty siva murthies, sixteen Ambal Vgrakams sixteen Subramaniya Swamikals, Kethubhagavan ect ect, totaling to over three hundred and fifty in number. This noble band of highly skilled wood- hewing craftsmen worked night and day to complete the task in time for the annual festival in May 1980. But the task of building not one more but five Thers was beyond human capacity. So we had to wait for one more rear to witness the first there festival.
In the meanwhile it was realized that the estimated cost of the work was completely off the mark. Desparate measures were taken to meet the increased cost and the total expenditure.
The Ther Festival
Five activities of Lord Shiva are Shrishti (overlooking, creation, evolution), Sthiti (Preservation, support), Smahara (destruction, evolution), Tirobha va (Veiling, embodiment, illusion and also giving rest), Anugraha (release, salvation, grace). These separately considered, are the activities of the deities Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Maheswara and Sadashiva. They are all manifestations of Lord Shiva.
Ther Festivals Symbolises SAMHARA. Lord Shiva is pasupathi with suns and moons as wheels of the chariot; every aspect of the universe is include as components of the chariot; the four Vedas are the steeds; with Meru mountain as His bow, Vishnu as arrow, Agni God as arrow head, Vayu as driving force giving speed to the arrow, Brahma as sarathi of charioteer, Maheswara destroys the three Malas (fetters) which are represented as, Maheswara destroys the three Malas (fetters) which are represented as three Asuras or Demons. Thus he Chariot. Festival represents the destruction of threefold bond of the soul.
The Annual Chariot Festival is a great event. It generates much piety and devotion. The large Somaskandar is the UTSAPA Deity that rides in the richly caparisoned chariots on this occasion, besides four other Deities in their respective chariots on this occasion, besides four other Deities in their respective Cariots on this occasion, besides four other Deities in their respective Chariots, similarly caparisoned. He is seen seated with His majestic and shinning forn made of solid Panchaloka, with Gowri and Skanda beside him on his simmasanam (throne). He is dressed in choice silk and bedecked with Rudrakksha Malai, jewellery and garlands of fragrant jasmine, roses, yelliw chrysanthemums, marukolunthu and cassia leaves (vilvam). Replete with compassion and a beaming smile, He appears as if He has come down from kailash to grace this Festival. This enthralling Divine- sight plunges many a devotee beholding Him on this occasion into an ecstatic devotion and piety with tears pouring from their eyes.
The chariot or car or THER festival, as it is called with its extravagant pomp and colour is a great event of devotion and the rejoicing. The Ther chariots are provided with long ropes and the entire congregation irrespective of caste, clad, sex or age, the high and the low, all as equals vie with each other to hold the ropes and tow the chariots. Thus the festival is an occasion for mass congregational fraternity of intense piety and devotion with a sublime feeling of oneness with the Lord. This is an exemplary unique feature in the practice of Hindu Religion.
First Ther Festival at Thiruketheewaram.
When the joyful advent of nearing completion was reached by April 1981, some wondered if adequate number of hands could be mustered to ceremoniously tow the completed Thiru Thers for the traditional trial run on the day before the festival for the “Ther Oddam” ceremony. To everyone’s surprise valint hands stretched out and the Ther, with the now over-tired Secretary Namasivayam who had strived so hard and the able Sthapathy were circumambulated around the temple on its trial run.
Next day, the 17th of May 1981 was the all important first Ther Thiruvila day at Thiruketheeswaram. It was a day of great rejoicing for all. Devotees commenced gathering overnight from fat and wide. If was almost like a Sivarathri festival at this temple.
On this day at the Theruketheeswaram Temple, it was a rare and glorious sight. It filled the eyes to witness the almost life size figure of Somasksndar seated with the graceful Devi to the left and the infant Lord Murukan poised in the middle in a standing pose, dressed in all splendor in colorful peethambarams and adorned with fragrant garlands of jasmine, Rose, Marukolunthu and yellow chrysanthemums, striding majestically on the shoulders of forty brawny bearers towards the chariot adorned in all on the occasion the Lord appeared as if He had in person descended from Mount kailash to mount this chariot. His golden form shining under the rays of the early morning sun and His face of tenderness, lighted with a delicate smile. It enthralled the heads of thousands of devotees who were around Him with folded the hands in obeisance, worked into a pitch of unprecedented ecstasy and devotion. In fact good numbers were seen with tears rolling down from their eyes. These were expressions of the sublime from of piety and joy(Bhakti) genedered by Agamic vigraka worship in the Temple of Saivaism.
If the Saiva Savant Arumuga Navalar, Saiva Vallal Pasupathy Chettiar, saiva periar Sivapathasundaranar and Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan and Scores of others, who had against odds pioneered for the restoration of this great Temple, had lived to witness this glorious occasion, their hearts would have been filled with divine joy.
Annual Ther Chariot Festivals
It is interesting and relevant to refer here to an event the took place on the occasion of the great dar Festival of Lord Nadaraja at Chidambaram on the Markali Thuruvathirai Day. It is tradition to sing Thevaram, Thiruvasagam, Thiruvisaippa, Thiruppallandu and Periapuranam collectively known as Panchapuranam as the finali of the Temple ceremonies. Saint Senthanar sang twelve Hymns known as Thiruppallandu and it forms part of the eleventh canto of the Thirumurai. Saint Senthanar who lived at Chidambaram was a great devotee of Lord Nadarajah.
Once, on the occasion of the car Festival on the Markali THERUVATHERAI Day at Chidambaram the car carrying Lord Nadarajah could not be moved even though thousands were at the ropes. Saint Senthanar sang these Hymns. Thereafter the car moved. In the presence of the Lord mounted on the car, the Othuvar sings the twelve Hymns of Senthanar to invoke the Lord’s grace for the smooth running of the car without any untoward incident of obstruction. The Ther festival is now an annual feature of the annual Mahotsava festival held in the month of Vaihasi.
AMENITIES FOR PILGRIMS AND DEVOTEES
The most important and vital need at the site amenities for the pilgrims who visit and many devotees who elect to reside at Thirukrtheeswaram. Due to several years of abandonment, consequent to general devastation and drying weather conditions, the area had become an inhospitable area for human habitation. So that, a prerequisite to rehabilitation and regaining the glory of ancient Matoddam is the provision of dwelling habitants, conveniences and pilgrim madams and pilgrim madams and madalayams.
At most places of religious worship and religious centres such activity is usually borne by religious bodies, charitable institutions backed with endowments from philanthropists.
The most necessary need is accommodation for the pilgrim to rest and the devotees to reside. Various societies and individuals have given a lead in this respect. A summary description of these will now made.
Sundarar Madam, The original beginnings of this structure was the foundation laid and brought up to ground level by S.Shivapathasundaram; it was of humble proportions but a most difficult task at that time in the nineteen twenties.
Shivapathasundaram’s original foundation provided for three rooms with a front and back verandah and remained ground level for some time. The author remembers using that foundation for squatting at meal time on the day of the first festival on that new moon day in the year 1949. V.K. Chellapah Swamy;s concentrated devotion very soon however brought this structure to reasonable proportions with two more verandahs and six more rooms with cooking places in 1949, with the support of several devotees. Further work was carried out in 1972-73, effecting improvements to the rooms and adding bath rooms and lavatories. The name was also changed to the present name.
Thiru Jnana Sampanthara Madam. Vaithianathan constructed this large structure, serving hundreds of pilgrims. Thanks to valuable financial assistances given by K. Ngalinkam of Colombo the madam now has, a large hall with platform for wedding, two specially large rooms of size 22*16, thrn ten more rooms of size 10*8,verandahs for food serving, etc. From a building of 6000sq. feet, it has now become a building which has 16,000sq. feet, of covered usable area, thanks to the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society.
Today to the hundreds of pilgrims, this madam is the focal centre, both during festival time as ordinary days.
Chettiyar Madam or Naganathar Madam. A building that has been in existence, even before the present era of reconstruction is the Chettiyar madam, the resting place of the Chettiyar when they visit Thiruketheeswaram: the Temple was in their management from 1910, etc., as already mentioned in the earlier Sections. The original humble structure was renovated and rebuilt with modern conveniences in the year 1957. There are two rooms and a verandah.
Arumuga Navalar Madam or Appa Madam. This is an institution which commenced as a humble cadjan shed where thirsty pilgrims were served with lime juice, ect., sometime in the early nineteen fifties by Narayan Swamy Pillai: very soon however it grew up into madam shape thanks to the help received from several residents of Mannar and others.
The institution gradually grew up, under loving care up the incumbent Narayanaswamy pillai who won the hearts of all the pilgrims and devotees because of this affectionate intent on serving food to all who come. He become more well known as Appa and appa Maddam was the centre for food service to all and sundry who came to Thiruketheeswaram, for several year.
Appa observed the Arumuga Navalar anniversary Guru puja in lavish scale which included feeding all present. Other religious occasions are also observed at this institution, established in commemoration of Sri Arumuga Navalar, and know to everyone in commemoration parlance as Appa Madam, where one is always sure of being served with a mean at time of day or night.
Appa passed away on the 8th 0f September, 1973, at the ripe age of 91 years and the interests of the institution of the institution are being carries out by kanagammah who was assisting who Appa during his later years, under the management of a Trustee Board.
Accomodation consists of a large hall with a room attached.
Amma Madam or Kandaswamy Madam. Quite a large structure was erected during the year 1956-1957,close to Therppai Kulam, in an easterly direction from the main entrence to the temple. The structure, now usually know as “Amma madam” has sevsral rooms, four verandahs, cooking places, bathing place and lavatory arrangements. This institution has become possible due to the benevolence of S. Kandaswamy of Anuradhapura.
Thiruvasaka Madam. S.Saravanamurthu Swamikal. Associated with Thiruketheeswaram, from the beginning of the present revival age as secretary of the Elathu Sivanadyar Thirukooddam, referred to earlier, has done noble service in being responsible for the erection of the Thiruvasaka Madam, a structure to be found in the South-west corner of the second Prahara. The madam is hive of activity during the Sivarathiri festival day.
An important feature of the activities in the madam is the annual observance, from the year 1962, of the thiruvemba pujas by the Elathu Sivanadyar Thiru Kooddam.
Thirupathy Residence. A residence built V.P.Singam of Colombo is to be found in the west of the second Prahara; though small, it has six rooms and is complete with bath rooms, lavatories and especially when arriving with their families when a certain amount of privacy is desired. It is however not a public madam as such.
Palavi Pasana Seva Sangathar’s Building on the Banks of the Palavi. A building sponsored by the Hindus in the Irrigation service is to be found on the banks of the palavi, in a line with Ambal Vasal and adjoining the Survey Department Trig. Station Tower.
Nathan Saththiram and Madam. This is large and commodious building which was commenced in 1965. There are right rooms. The Sathiram is available for residence by devotees and the madam caters for large numbers of pilgrims during the festival at the temple.
Thirukkurippu Thondar Madam. This is a structure which was commenced in 1970, by a section of the community. It has a large hall and three rooms.
Gowrisar Madam. This is and about six rooms, commenced in 1970, and has been but up largely by the benevolence of V. Kandiah of Chavakachcheri.
Poonakeri or Nadarasar Madam. The Poonakeri madam of about eight rooms is a structure built to the east of the temple. Devotees from Poonakeri who use this madam have contributed towards its cost.
Sivapoosai Madam. The sivapoosai madam erected on the Northern Prahara is intended for use by devotees who desire a quiet place for meditation and prayers. As its name signifies, the madam is exclusive for those who desire to carry out Siva Puja observances daily.
Savarathiry Madam. Opposite the Ambal Sannithanam situated in the second Parehara is found a new madam building which has rapidly grown up.
Commencing as a mere “Thannir Panthal” were lime juice and coffee were served during Sivarathri night, the institution has since become a well established madam, with all conveniences for pilgrims to rest. It now covers a large built up area.
The undertaking was sponsored by many officers resident in Mannar, chief among whom was K.V. Navarathnam to whose ability and drive much credit has been ascribed.
Kadirkamam Thondar Sabai Madam
A new madam with twelve rooms has been erected recently on the eastern approach to the temple. Built by the Kadirkamam Thondar Sabai it is provided with many conveniences and is comfortable for the use of pilgrims and devotees.
Malaysian Branch Building
The Malaysian Branch of the T.T. R.S. Inaugurated on 26.9.82 a large building South East of the temple, opposite Thirugnana Sampanthar Madam. If has a large hall named after Sri kanthiah Vaithianathan and another named after S.Sivapathasundaram. Though primarily intended for use by Malaysians, other pilgrims are welcome by arrangement.