Nanu Pālimpa - Episode 5

R. Aaditya Rangan

The Rājagōpuram of the Kōvūr temple with the surrounding greenery

The colonnade of greenery greeted Swati and Abhijit, the shadows providing respite from the heat. As they looked around, it was very surprising to see the number of trees surrounding the temple, a welcome sight compared to the concrete jungle that the city was becoming, day-by-day.


The centuries-old temple of Kōvūr, constructed by the king Kulōttuṅga Cōẕan, looked exquisite. The Rājagōpuram greeted them and as they started walking in, Abhijit was humming something in Śaṅkarābharaṇam, making Swati curious… “What are you singing?”

“andamu gala vara kāśiki samāna maina

gōpuramandu velayu mā

sundarēśvaruni jūci

surula jūḍa manasu vaccunā

The gōpuram is right there in the song, how wonderful is that!”

“Well, well. That is actually a reference to Kōvūr itself, Abhijit.” “How is that?”

“See the meaning of the lines. 

In the beautiful gōpura, equivalent to Kāśi, resides Lord Sundarēśvara and once we behold him, we will not want to see the other celestials. 

Lord Sundarēśvara resides in Kōvūr – கோ+ஊர் (cow+town), which when translated to saṃskṛta becomes gō+pura. Hence, Tyāgarāja is referring to Kōvūr itself and not the temple tower that is gōpuram. He also says that gōpuram is equivalent to Kaśi and hence he should be referring to the temple town itself and not the structure of the entrance alone.

Actually, the Sthala Purāṇa goes that, Śiva was undergoing a penance in the kṣētra, while Goddess Kāmākṣī was undergoing intense tapas, wanting to unite with him, which was leading to heating up of the planet. Goddess Mahālakṣmī, on the request of the dēva-s came in the form of a cow to the place and requested Śiva to end his penance and unite with Kāmakṣī and he heeded, thus cooling down and saving the planet. Thus, it acquired the name gō+pura or kō+ūr i.e. cow+place.”

“Now, that is really interesting trivia. In the second caraṇa, the references are fully to celestials worshipping Lord Sundarēśvara.

okacō braḥmādi surulu

okacō nirjara vāra taruṇulu

okacō tumburu nāradādulu

okacō bhaktulu ella pādu

sundarēśvaruni jūci…

On one side are the dēva-s starting from Braḥmā, on one side are the apsara-s, on one side are the celestials such as Tumburu and Nārada and on another side are all of his bhakta-s singing about him, says Tyāgarāja. Maybe, this is also a reference to the sthala puraṇa.

Also, the third caraṇa of this song has Tyāgarāja using his famous prosody of the word rāja being the first word in every line, leading to his mudra in the last line. This usage of rāja for prosody is in so many songs, but somehow he makes each one of them stand out separately.”

As they walked along the temple corridors, Abhijit said “Actually, now that you explained about Gōpura, I notice something. Two of the Kōvūr pañcaratna-s are quite famous and commonly sung. The first is ‘ī vasudhā ni vaṇṭi deyvamu’ in rāga Sahānā and the second is ‘śambhō mahādēva’ in rāga Pantuvarāḷi. In the former, he refers to the deity of this kṣētra as ‘kōvūri sundarēśa’ and in the latter, which is a saṃskṛta composition, as ‘gōpura vāsa sundarēśa’, showing that the names kōvūr and gōpura are interchangeable.”

With that, they entered the pristine Garbha-gṛha of the temple and had a serene sēvai. The description of the lord in ‘nammi vaccina’, a composition in rāga Kalyāṇi, seemed to be perfectly matching to the resplendence that they saw. 

vēda purāṇa āgama śāstrādulu gumi kūdi

pādamulanu kana jālaka batimāli veḍa

The vēda-s, purāṇa-s, āgama-s and śāstra-s, even after coming together could not behold your feet and had to seek your mercy for the same.

The timelessness of our composers struck them as they silently proceeded to the Ambaḷ sannidhi. 

The temple was neither big nor small, an ideal size to ensure that it is not constricted and at the same time will not give one leg pain.

Goddess Saundarāmbigai or as Tyāgarāja refers to her - Saundaryanāyikā, was a perfect match to her name – the queen of elegance and beauty. As they came out of the sannidhi, they sat in the corridor in the shade and simultaneously announced that they should sing ‘kōri sēvimparārē’.

The song in rāga Kharaharapriyā describing Lord Sundarēśwara holding court in Kōvūr, gracing everyone around with all prosperity, refers to the lord as the consort of the goddess – śrī saundaryanāyikā varuni, that was the reason they decided to sing the composition.

As they finished singing, Swati said, “Though I have heard so many times that this was a favourite piece of Saṅgīta Kalānidhi Dr. S. Ramanathan, I came across a recording of him singing this song only very recently. Though it was short due to it being an AIR recording, one could see why it is referred to as one of his favourites. That niraval in the line ‘surulu vēyi…’ was proof enough. You should also listen to it, Abhijit. Let us listen to it together on the way back to Chennai.” (Click here to listen)

“Just to make note, nammi vaccina also has a reference to the goddess of the kṣētra. 

nāda rūpa śrī saundaryanāyakī patē

O lord who is an embodiment of sound and husband of Goodess Saundarya Nāyakī!”, said Abhijit. 

As they came out of the temple, Abhijit remarked, “You know, I was thinking why Tyāgarāja would visit this small temple out of nowhere. I had initially thought that it was because this was the town to which his patron Kōvūr Sundarēśa Mudali belonged to, that may very well be the reason. But I think the serenity of this place is what made him compose a pañcaratnam here. As he himself says in the Sahānā composition,

āsace ara nimiṣamu nī pura

vāsamu onara jēyu vāri madi

vesaṭalu ellanu tolagiñci

Those who willingly stay, even for half a minute, in this town of yours, will have all the worries in their mind driven away.

Something is really magnetic about this place. Maybe the peaceful surroundings, maybe the greenery, maybe the ancient charm, maybe something else that we cannot understand…”, and he continued pondering as they walked towards the bus stop.

As the sun started going down the horizon, Abhijit and Swati boarded the bus and were very happy that they got seats. The bus started with a gentle breeze blowing through the windows, they tuned in to listen to Ramanathan sir’s Kharaharapriyā, they were once again transported to the rustic charm of Kōvūr.

Question for the reader:

Though Kōvūr does not have any composition dedicated to it by the nāyaṉmār-s, there is an important Shaivaite work associated with the kṣētra and another place nearby, where the author of the work was born. Which work is being referred to here and who is the author?

Answer for the question in the previous episode:

Q: Other than the Walajahpet śiṣya parampara, Tyāgarāja is believed to have given rise to three more śiṣya Parampara-s, name them.

A: Tillaisthānam, Umayāḷapuram and Lālguḍi śiṣya parampara-s