These photos were taken by me a month or so ago while on a trip to Virinchipuram where Siva is Margabandhu – the travel companion.
A meeting at the Vellore Institute of Technology got postponed by a couple of hours and I decided to go to Virinchipuram in the meantime. It is just 10 km after Vellore on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway.
You reach a village called Sethuvalai on the highway and turn right. The gopuram of the Margabandhisar temple becomes visible after a kilometre. It is a relatively clean village, the ocean of plastic that has engulfed Vellore not having as yet reached it.
The temple is dedicated to Siva as Margabandhu — the travel companion. It is a Chola shrine as testified by the Gajaprshta (Elephant rear) vimanam that rises above the sanctum sanctorum. The temple complex, however, displays an amalgam of Chola, Vijayanagar and the Company period — all beautiful, and then contrasting with the hideously ugly modern – polished granite and cement.
The shrine gets its name from Brahma (Virinchi) worshipping Siva here. Siva-Margabandhu is accessed from a multi-pillared Vijayanagar style hall after which you come to a frontal pavilion. From there, if you are tall enough, you can see the sanctum via a stone grille. You then enter the vestibule that leads to the sanctum. The linga is a tall one, believed to have manifested as a natural rock.
The sanctum to the Goddess is a separate shrine to the right of the Siva shrine, but within the same temple. Maragathavalli or Maragathambikai is a small four-armed idol in standing posture. At right angles to the sanctum to Siva are shrines to Nataraja – a tall bronze, and Bhikshatana, an impressively painted, probably a stucco idol. The latter sanctum is a riot of art work, stunningly beautiful as befitting the deity housed there. The sthala vriksham of the temple, appropriately for water-starved Vellore, is the palm tree.
An idol of late 19th/early 20th century vintage is a delightfully large Ganesa, housed in the entrance pavilion. A stone inscription by its side has it that it was installed by Parvathi Ammal, the wife of Arcot overseer Munisami Maistry, in memory/as per the wishes of her sister Pappathi Ammal. The stone is dated to the month of Karthikai in Vikriti year but with no numbers given.
The walls of the temple are said to be historically renowned for their beauty and they are amazingly symmetrical. Another feature here is the Simha teertham, a small square cut stone well accessed by a flight of steps in the belly of a large stucco lion.
The Margabandhu Stotram, to be recited each time you set out, is a work of Appayya Dikshitar, the great 16th century Sanskrit scholar who was from Virinchipuram. A century before him, composer Arunagirinathar visited the shrine and dedicated a set of verses to Muruga here who is depicted with his consorts, seated on a peacock. The Tiruppugazh verses each end with a line or two on the village.
Arunagiri names it alternately as Virinchai and Karapuri; the etymology for the later name is not clear however. He describes the fertile fields, and the streets that echoed of Vedic recitation. One verse, ‘Kuyil Mozhi Kayal Vizhi’ is remarkable for its sensuous depiction of Valli’s beauty.
Subbarama Dikshitar has it in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini that Muthuswami Dikshitar’s father Ramaswami Dikshitar, at the age of seven took his aged parents from near the Vellore region and migrated to Tiruvidaimarudur to escape the disturbances caused by the cavalrymen. The date, 1742, coincides with the killing of the Nawab of Arcot, Subedar Ali, and a subsequent revolt by the Arcot army.
This had far-reaching consequences – a chain of events that led to the battle of succession between Mohammad Ali Wallajah and Chanda Sahib, respectively the protégés of the British and the French. The former triumphed, paving the way for the British Empire. The relative peace British rule brought, helped Muthuswami Dikshitar travel freely and compose songs.
Subbarama Dikshitar does not mention Virinchipuram by name but family tradition traces its origins to this village. While as many as five songs of Dikshitar (‘Bhushapathim’ in Bhushavati, ‘Margasahayeswaram’ in Kamavardhini, ‘Maragathavallim’ in Khambodi, ‘Parvati Kumaram’ in Nattakurinji and ‘Margahindolaragapriye’ in Marga Hindolam) are attributed to Virinchipuram, only the last named features in Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini. This song, on the Goddess, is a short one, with pallavi and an anupallavi. It does not mention any iconographic speciality of the shrine. Neither do the others, barring the Kamavardhini piece, which refers to the Simha Teertham. It must also be noted that ‘Parvati Kumaram’ suffers from a glaring prosodic error and is unlikely to be a genuine Dikshitar song.
Interestingly, a signboard at the temple has it that the shrine was sung upon by Appar, Sambandar and Tirumoolar. But as it is not listed among the ‘Padal Petra Sthalams’, this must be a doubtful claim.
The article can also be read in The Hindu’s Friday Features column dated December 5, 2014