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Swami Malai Temple, Thanjavur Overview

Located in Thanjavur, the Swami Malai temple has great religious significance in the Hindu community of south India. It is one of the Arupadaiveedu, the six main abodes of Murugan, each of which marks the six different phases of his life. The temple stands on the ground where Lord Murugan is believed to have passed on profound knowledge of the universe to his own father Lord Shiva as his Guru. Thus, this particular temple is a commemoration of that.

Another point of significance is that the temple is one of the seven Saptha Vigraha Moorthis. According to Hindu myth, the Mahalingaswamy Shiva Temple is the centre of all the Shaivaite temples in the region, and it has seven prime consort temples, dedicated to seven gods, located at seven cardinal points from the temple location, spread all across the state of Tamil Nadu. The Swami Malai Temple is one of them, belonging to Karthikeya or Murugan or Subramanya - whichever name you prefer to call him. The temple celebrates all the important festivals related to Murugan as well. One unique thing about the Swami Malai temple is that the shrine of Lord Murugan stands above all the rest, even his parents Shiv and Parvati. The Lingam and the Parvati temple lie at the base of the hillock, while the sanctum of Murugan is at the peak. It is an important place of pilgrimage for the devotees of Murugan.

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Legend of Swami Malai Temple

The, there are many myths and legends about the origin of the land and the Swami Malai temple. The most prominent one is about Lord Murugan enlightening his father, Lord Shiva about the inherent meaning of the Pranava Mantra OM, which lies at the core of the cosmos, as his teacher. There are two stories behind this event which the locals believe.

One legend talks about the time when Lord Shiva forgot all his knowledge because of a curse from Sage Bhrigu and Shiva interrupted his penance. Losing all that he knew, he came to his son Murugan in search of the foundation of all knowledge, the Pranava Mantra. Another one is when Lord Murugan became angry with the creator Brahma for not knowing the true meaning of 'OM'. Furious, Lord Murugan imprisoned Brahma. Owing to the requests of the other gods, Lord Shiva came to Murugan to free the creator of the universe. When Shiva heard why his son had decided to keep Brahma captivated, he asked if he knew the meaning.

In both cases, Lord Murugan imparted the knowledge of OM to Shiva, but the latter had to listen to it becoming the student of the former and accepting his son as his guru or teacher. The incident took place atop the hillock where the shrine of Murugan lies. Shiva gave his son the title of Swaminatha Swami, meaning 'the teacher of Shiva' and thus the temple got its name.

Architecture of Swami Malai Temple

The Swamimalai temple itself follows the traditional Dravidian architecture of Tamil Nadu. However, the legends behind the temple play a role in its architecture as well. Since Murugan was the teacher of his father in this legend, he is held superior because guru's place is always above in Hindu mythology. That is why the sanctum of Murugan here is perched at the peak of a sixty feet high hilltop. To climb up to the sanctum, devotees have to transcend sixty steps, each one named after one of the sixty Tamil years in one cycle.

The temple has three Praharams or Prahars, which is unique to this temple. The first of these three precincts is located at the very base of the hill. Pertaining to the legend, this is where the shrine of Sundareshwara, the Shiva lingam, and his consort Meenakshi or Shakti is present. Surrounding their shrines, there are more deities who are worshipped like Dakshinamoorthy, Chandikeshwara and Durga. The second Prahara is up along the hill, where the marriage hall and the temple chariot is housed. The third and the last level is the shrine with the sanctum sanctorum of Swaminatha Swami. He is represented by a granite idol image, standing 6 feet tall with golden armours, golden crowns and a diamond lance.

The temple has altogether three Gopurams or gateway towers. However, only the Raja Gopuram before the first Praharam has a tower of five storeys and colourful stucco figures. The other two are much plainer in comparison. Between the first precinct and the second, there is a small area with beautiful statues that depicts the legend associated with the temple.

Swamimalai Temple Festivals

The Swami Malai temple celebrates many festivals, most of which are related to Murugan or Lord Shiva. Monthly Kirutikai festival takes place in the month of Aadi, and marks the victory of good over evil when Murugan defeated and slew the demon Surapadma. The Thaipusam festival is common in all the Murugan temples. It is a ceremonial sacrifice called Kavadi Attam for Murugan to implore help from him. The Pankuni Uttiram festival in March is the celebration of the marriages between Shiva and Parvati, Murugan and Deivanai and Kothai and Rangamannar. It is a celebration of holy unions.

Navaratri is a mandatory festival that is celebrated across all temples of south India, and this temple is no exception. Other than these, the Visakam festival on Vaikasi Pournima is also celebrated largely. Thiru Karthikai in November worships the six celestial stars which bore the six babies which were joined to form Karthikeya, thus celebrating the sacred birth of the Lord Murugan. Skanda Shashti, marking the annihilation of demon Tarka in the hands of Murugan is also celebrated in October every year.

How To Reach Swami Malai Temple

The nearest long-distance bus stand to the temple is Kumbakanam Bus Stand around 8 kilometres away, which is a very popular one. You can get public transport for Kumbakanam from other parts of Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur itself is quite a busy town. So reaching the temple will not be a problem, either by bus or by a cab or car.

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