These are difficult times and it is tough to keep the mind at peace. I had long been planning to read the Tiruvacakam and so I embarked on this exercise as an antidote to stress and worry. I enjoyed the poetry of it though I cannot say I am even close to understanding the great wisdom in it. It is a lovely work though in saying that I realise Manikkavachakar does not need my certification.
Going through it I realised that apart from its central focus on devotion, there are several side studies so to speak that can be done on the collection of verses. I hope I can go back to it periodically to elaborate on some of the aspects that struck me. But as a preliminary exercise I got going on listing the various Shiva sthalam-s that the poet mentions. It is of course well known that unlike the shrines sung on by the Azhwar-s and the Thevara Moovar, which are respectively known as Divya Desam-s and Paadal Petra Sthalam-s, there is no such collective term for temples that Manikkavachakar speaks of. But there is a significant number of places that he does sing of.
I begin with the big four
Thirupperunthurai aka Avudaiyarkoil – Nobody who has ever visited this place can come back unchanged. There is the wealth of sculpture to feast the eyes on, the Tiruvachakam to drown the ears and mind in and above all the unique iconography and worship to wonder at. There is no Shiva Lingam or Goddess statue in the sanctum. Everything is formless, which comes as a something of a shock after the way the temple has been planned. Manikkavachakar is the only figurine in worship and the temple’s annual festival is dedicated to him. Parboiled rice, greens and bitter gourd are offered to the Lord here, and before you imagine that He eats them all, let me assure you that he only gets the steam from the rice offered to him. The cooked rice is poured in front of the sanctum, the steam is waved at the Lord and then the food is taken away! It was here that Manikkavachakar composed his magnum opus and the place is referred to as Thirupperunthurai in several places in the work. The name Avudaiyarkoil does not occur. Manikkavachakar also does not mention the empty sanctums and the practices of worship followed here in any verse.
Uttarakosamangai – I have not been to this shrine and so know nothing about it other than the fact that it is in Ramanathapuram district and the Lord here is known as Mangaleswaran or Mangalanathan. Some day I hope to visit this place. But when it comes to frequency of mention, this would rank second. Like Avudaiyarkoil, this shrine owes its fame to Manikkavachakar.
Thilai/Chidambaram – Technically they say, all Tevaram is dedicated to Thillai. In fact you don’t begin reciting any verse without invoking Thiruchitrambalam. May be the same is true for Thiruvachakam too. But this shrine would rank the third when it comes to frequency of mention. It is significant that even otherwise, Manikkavachakar keeps invoking Shiva as the dancing lord at many places. It has a whole host of Carnatic composers who have created songs on it.
Madurai – Though he does not mention Chokkanatha by name, Manikkavachakar speaks frequently of Madurai. Some of the episodes from the Thiruvilaiyadal (working on the bund at the Vaigai in exchange for Pittu, selling of bangles, becoming a fisherman, and converting the jackals into horses which episode is particularly linked to Manikkavachakar himself), appear frequently in the verses. The imagery of Shiva riding a horse is repeatedly invoked by Manikkavachakar. Incidentally, if the horse episode happened in Manikkavachaka’s lifetime and if he indeed was after the 63 saints then how is it Appar sings of the same incident?
After these big four, the rest of the kshetra-s appear sporadically. And here is what seems to me to be a comprehensive listing. However, I may have left out a couple of places owing to oversight.
Thirukazhukkunram – This is the one shrine that apart from Tirupperunthurai and Uttarakosamangai has an entire decad verses dedicated to it. This is termed the Thirukazhukkunrapathigam. This is a magnificent temple on a rock not far from Chennai and well worth a visit.
After those temples, the ones listed below receive passing mention in the Thiruvachakam
Thiruvannamalai – The tale of Vishnu and Brahma failing to see the base or summit of the fiery linga, which is the sthalapurana of Thiruvannamalai is repeatedly referred to by Manikkavachakar. He also mentions the shrine specifically by name. One of the quick references is in the Thiruvempavai portion of the Thiruvachakam.
Thiruvavaduthurai – The term Kokazhi comes frequently in the Thiruvachakam. This translates to Go Mukti or the salvation of the cow. The author Thiruvachakan, whose work I have used for my study interprets this is Thirupperunthurai itself. However, in other books this is given as the name for Thiruvavaduthurai. And so I have included that shrine in this list.
Thiruvidaimaruthur – Located close to Kumbhakonam, this is a famed Padal Pera Sthalam, with verses by the big three and also Pattinathu Adigal. The Lord here is Mahalingaswami.
Thiruvadavur – This is believed to be the birth place of Manikkavachakar who is also known as Vadavurar. The village is close to Madurai and has a temple dedicated to Thirumarainathar.
Thiruppoovanam – Once again close to Madurai, this has a temple to Pushpavaneswarar. The Muthuswami Dikshitar kriti Sarasasauvira, in raga Sauvira is dedicated to this temple.
Thiruvenkadu – Dedicated to Thiruvenkadunathar, Manikkavachakar states that the Lord appeared under the Kurunda (Peepul) Tree here. The same legend is now told of Thirupperunthurai.
Pattamangalam – Like Thirupperunthurai, Pattamangalam too is on the Madurai-Sivaganga circuit. In keeping with Manikkavachakar’s search for knowledge, this temple is famed for an unusually east-facing Dakshinamurthy
Thevur – Muthuswami Dikshitar had a disciple from this village. It is close to Nagapattinam and has a shrine to Devapurisvara. Manikkavachakar states that the Lord here manifested himself in an island to the south of Thevur.
Thiruvarur – There is very little I need to say by way of explanation. This is one of the grandest temples possible. My heart belongs to this place. The Carnatic Trinity was born here.
Ekambam – This the Ekamranathaswami Temple of Kanchi. The composer says the temple’s vimana was covered in gold. I am not sure as to when that was but if we can identify that we can also date Manikkavachakar.
Thiruvanaikka – There is one reference to this place in verse 193 – then aanaikkaavaanai -The temple near Trichy is too well known for me to add anything. The Goddess here, Akhilandeswari is perhaps as famous as the Lord. Along with Ekambam, Thillai and Thiruvannamalai, we see here that Manikkavachakar has visited four of the five pancha bhuta kshetrams.
Thiruvanchiyam – Manikkavachakar says the Lord here delighted in the company of Maruvaarkuzhali. She is now referred to as Mangalambikai or Vaazhavaikkum Nayaki.
Thiruingoimalai – This is another beautiful temple on a hill, by the river Cauvery, en route Karur from Trichy. The Lord here is Maragathachaleswarar and the Goddess is Maragathambikai.
Thiruvaiyyaru – Better known today for its Tyagaraja Samadhi, the village has its magnificent shrine to Iyarrappar aka Panchanadiswarar and Goddess Dharmasamvardhini.
Thuruthi – This is Kuttalam near Sirkazhi. The Lord here is Utthalavedeeswarar. The legend has it that the Lord here was married to Parvati and perhaps that is why Manikkavachakar specifically mentions that He is delighted here.
Sirkazhi – The place is referred to by its old name – Thirukkazhumalam in the Thiruvachakam
Thiruppanaiyur – Shiva here is Soundaryanathaswami.
Thiruppurambiyam – The place near Thanjavur where the Cholas fought, this has a shrine to Lord Sakshinatha. The Lord here gave witness on behalf of a Chettiyar woman, and this episode later was included in the Thiruvilayadal.
Kutralam – This is the Chitrasabha by the beautiful waterfall in Thirunelveli district.
Kadambur – There are several and it is unclear as to which one is mentioned in the Thiruvachakam. But the most famous is today identified with Melakadambur sung of by Appar and Gnanasambandar. The temple here is shaped like a chariot and the style is described by Appar as Karakkoil. There is an exquisite Pala icon of Nataraja here, which is brought out each Pradosham and after a puja, is put back into safe custody. The Lord here is known as Amrithaghateswara.
Thiruppalai – Known as Thiruppalaithurai, this is praised by Appar too. The Lord here is Thiruppalaivannathar and the shrine is on the banks of the river Cauvery, on the Thanjavur Kumbhakonam Road. Manikkavachakar says the Lord descended from the heavens here to bless devotees.
Oriyur – the site shaivam.org identifies this to be in the Sivaganga district and features a photo of a waterbody against which a signboard is standing which declares this to be a place mentioned in Tevaram and Thiruvachakam. However, I don’t think the former claim is correct as there is just a handful of temples in Pandianadu that are Padal Petra sthalams. But yes, it is sung of by Manikkavachakar and He says the Lord appeared as a young boy here.
Pandur – The website https://santhipriya.com/2018/04/third-vaitheeswaran-temple.html identifies this temple to be in Mayiladuthurai district and dedicated to Lord Vaidyanathaswami.
Avinasi – One of the few Padal Petra Sthalams in Kongunadu, it is closely associated with Sundaramurthy Nayanar.
Now I come to temples that defy identification
Panchapalli – There is a village of this name in the Hosur district but there does not appear to be any Shiva temple there.
Mahendramalai – The one I know is near Kalakkad and the closest temple is to Lord Sathyavagiswara. But Mahendramalai by itself has no temple. Unless this connotes the Mahendragiri in Orissa.
A couple of general observations – It would seem that Manikkavachakar largely followed the Padal Petra Sthalam circuit but significantly added a few that do not form part of the same. It would also seem that Muthuswami Dikshitar visited quite a few of the temples that Manikkavachakar went to.