Unique Sri Maha Shodasi Devi shrine at Thennangur

Sri Maha Shodasakshari Shrine at Thennangur

Thennangur is a beautiful village located in the Tiruvannamalai district,situated near Vandavasi on the Vandavasi-Kanchipuram High Road, in the state of Tamilnadu and was referred to as Dakshina Halasyam in Puranas,meaning “a place where the wise drink nectar.” As this place was full of forests, it was also known as Shadaranya Kshetra (six forests) and the birth place of Goddess Meenakshi (Goddess Lakshmi) as she is believed to be found in this place as a three-year-old child by a Pandya king.

Pujya Guruji Sri Haridos Giri Swami the foremost disciple of Pujya Sri Gnanananda Giri Swami had built a temple complex for Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar, and installed the replica of the idol of Panduranga of Pandaripur, Maharashtra which is unique in its own. People come from all over the country to this temple to have the darshan of the deity. The temple is famous for the Vishukani Utsav festival that falls on Tamil New Year’s Day. The Muthangi Sevai festival is celebrated on the day of Gokhulashtami that falls between August and September, when the Lord Krishna is decorated in various alankaras (styles) as Rajagopala, Govinda- Giridari holding the Govardana hill, Parthasarathy, and Child Krishna.

Thennangur being the only place in the world, is famous for the shrine having Vigraha form of the diety Sri Mahashodasakshari at the mutt mentioned above. Elaborate worship is conducted all through the year for the diety along Sri Vidya(Saktha) traditions.

Sri Vidya Tradition:

The Universe holds an unseen power and man has always been aware of it through the happenings around him. He conceptualised it in very many forms; invoked and propitiated it in myriads of ways which led to conflicts and confusions. At the time of Sri Adi Shankara’s advent,the conflicts were at their peak.He mastered the ageless Vedas and Upanishads and proclaimed their quintessence,in the form a path breaking philosophy called Advaita.

“The Supreme Power behind the entire Creation is a Single-Entity, which is a Non-Material-Principle,and which exsists only in the form of Pure-Consciousness. It is not endowed with any attributes like a Specific form or a Particular Name. It is Immutable and Independent. It is not circumscribed by Time or Space. It is unchanging, omniscent and omni-potent. The Vedas refer to It as Nirguna-Brahman.It translates as The-Big-One(Bhraman).The Infinite,which transcends the Tri-Gunas,the three fold attributes of Sathva,Rajas and Thamas”.

As Sri Adi Shankaracharya was aware that common ordinals mortals would not be able to comprehend such an Entity, he suggested that they first need to undertake regular Spiritual excercises to make their body,mind and intellect fit for this higher spiritual understanding. Regarding which he devised a set of six modes of ritual worship as these each one has its own particular Devatha,who is endowed with particular Roopa(A Figurative physical form of the Idol,a Vigraha),a Nama(Name),an Yantra(an Abstract form), and a Moola-Manthra(a particular array of Sanskrit syllables). An aspirant could choose any of these six modes that suited his particular disposition for worship known as Shan-Matha,which are as follows:

Gana-Pathyam  :  Worshipping the form of Ganapathy
Saivam               :  Worshipping the form of Shiva
Vaishnavam       :  Worshipping the form of Vishnu
Saktham            :  Worshipping the form of Shakthi or Devi
Kaumaram        :  Worshipping the form of Subrahmanyam
Sauram              :  Worshipping the form of Surya

A Devotee could have a choice in the method of ritual worship too, in addition what is said above and the following is given in brief which is as follows:

Kayikam    : Invoking the choosen Devtha in a tangible form(Roopa or Yantra) and doing the                                   ritualistic Abhishekha,Archana and Aarthi ot it.

Vachikam   : Invoking the choosen Devtha in the Moola-Manthra by repeated chanting.This should
                       be done softly, so as to be heard by the chanter alone.

Manasam    : Invoking the choosen Devtha in the Mind and Meditating upon it.

Worship of any of these Choosen Devathas on prescribed lines for a prescribed duration will endow the devotee with the grace of that particular Devatha,which inturn will guide him into deeper spiritual practices,leading ultimately to the transcendental experience of the Nir-Guna-Bhrahman. Thus the serious and sustained pursuit of any one of these six modes of worship would be akin to opening anyone of the six windows of a dark room, to experience the bright sun outside!

Under Saktham(Sakthi-Worship)itself,the attribute-less Supreme Power,which is referred to as Moola-Prakruthi or Para-Sakthi,is conceptualized in three different forms,representing its three aspects. Each has its own Roopa,Nama,Yanthra and Manthra.The three forms are:

Ichcha-Sakthi :- Conceptualized in the form of Durga.
Kriya-Sakthi   :- Conceptualized in the form of Lakshmi.
Gnana-Sakthi :- Conceptualized in the form of Saraswathi.

However Para-Sakthi is also worshipped as a Single Form representing all these aspects together. This form is variously reffered to by the names:

g)Sri Para-Bhattarika.

Adi Shankara traversed the length and breadth of India to spread the gospel of Advaitha. he established Peetahs(Mutts,monasteries, relegious orders/seats of learning) at various strategic places for this purpose.He is said to have invested each of these Peethas with the power of a particular aspect of Para-Shakthi and installed the appropriate Yanthra there.At Jyothir-Mutt(Uttaranchal,North India),the presiding aspect of Para-Sakthi is Sri-Raja-Rajeshwari.

In Sri-Vidya Tradition,the Moola-Mantras play a major role. All these Moola-Manthras require to be initiated by a competent Guru before the devotees can start their ritualistic incantations. The Maha-Shodasakshari,on account of its extremely powerful and esoteric nature, requires very long years of severe austerities and devoted service to the Guru before the devotee can get the initiation.

In fact, the Maha-Shodasakshari is more precious than even one’s life. The Shodashakshari mantra is one of the most guarded secretes of tantra. Usually the Guru gives it to a highly deserving and tested disciple.

This Mantra finds a mention in the following verse of Sri- Lalitha-Sahasranama:

“Athma-Vidya-Maha-Vidya – Sri-Vidya-Kama-Sevitha;
Sri-ShodasaksharVidya – Thri-Koota-Kama-Kootika”.(Verse-118)

As said before, Sri-Maha-Shodasi,is invoked only in the Yanthra forms of Sri-Chakra and Sri-Maha-Meru every where.However,Thennangur Shrine has the unique distinction of having the Only authentic Vigraha(Idol) representation of the diety.The following is the description of the beautiful diety:

***She is the unified form of Sri-Durga(as Raja-Rajeswari),Sri- Lakshmi and Sri-Saraswathi.So she appears with twelve hands.Like Sri-Raja-Rajeswari, she holds the weapons Pasa(String),Ankusa (goad),Ikshu-Danda(Bow of Manmatha),and Pushpa-Bana(Flower-arrows) in four of her Hands.

***Like Sri-Saraswathi, She hold Akshara-Mala(Sting of Sanskrit syllables),and a book(representing Knowledge) in two of Her hands.With two other hands,She holds the Musical instrument Veena,symbolically representing all Art forms.

***Like Sri-Lakshmi,She holds the Lotus flower in two of Her hands.With two other hands,She shows the Abhaya-Mudra(promise of protection from Evil) and Varada-Mudra(promise of bountiful Grace).

***She is seated on a cot.Its top plank is Sada-Siva Himself; It symbolically implies that,wherever She abides,She showers her Anugraha(Grace)of auspiciousness.The four legs of cot are Brahma,Vishnu,Rudra and Eswara.This symbolically implies that She sits on,or controls,the functions that these five Gods represent namely:

Shrishti       (Creation)
Sthithi         (Sustenance)
Samhara     (Dissolution)
Thiro-Dana (Concealment)
Anughra      (Grace)

These five functions (Shrishti,sthithi,Samhara,Thiro-Dana and Anugraha) controlled by Devi are mentioned in several beautiful verses of Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama,and some of them are given below:

“Pancha-Pretha-Sana-Sena:- Pancha-Brahma-Swaroopini”.(Verse-61)
“Pancha-Pretha-Manchadhi:- Sayani”.(Verse-174)
“Shrishti-Karthri-Brahma-Roopa:- Gopthri-Govinda-Roopini”.(Verse – 63)
“Samharini-Rudra-Roopa:- Thirodhana-Kareeswari”;
“Sada-Siva-Anugrahatha:- Pancha-Kruthya-Para-Yana”.(Verse-64)

***She is flanked on the two sides by Sri-Lakshmi and Sri- Saraswathi, holding fans(Chamara).It indicates that all forms of wealth and all branches of knowledge waft from Her to the devotees like the cool breeze fraom a fan.Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama mentions it as follows:

“Sa-Chamara-Rama-VAnee – Savya-Dakshina-Sevitha”.(Verse-123)

Thus Enshrined majestically in the beautiful Thennangur Shrine,She bestows all auspiciousness upon her devotees. Indeed a visit to this Shrine is said to confer on them,the blessings and benefactions of Para-Sakthi enshrined in all the 54 Shakthi-Peetahs as well as all the other Sacred places of worship in the world.

Apart from the main diety,the Sanctum Sanctorum is also adorned by beautiful idols of some of Her other forms of manifestations, along with their entourage.They are called Angas,Upangas,Prathyangas, and Parivaras.They are thirty two in number.Given below is the brief description of some of the deities.

Ganapathi :

No worship begins and no new venture is taken up without paying obeisance to this beloved diety because He can remove all the obstacles in the path of the devotee.He is said to have been created by a merge glance of Parvathi-Devi in the direction of her consort Sri-Parameswara.He destroyed the obstacle-creating, Vigna- Yanthra. This Yanthra was setup by the evil forces in the form of Bhanda-Sura,to delude and confuse the army of Para-Sakthi.This episode finds the following mention in Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama:

“Kameswara-Mukha-Loka – Kalpitha-Sri-Ganeswara;(Verse-30)
Maha-Ganesha-Nirbhinna – Vighna-Yanthra-Praharshitha”.(Verse-31)

Anna-Poorani :

This diety is one of the Manifestations of Para-Sakthi. She protects Her devotees form hunger of any form;hunger for food,wealth, knowledge and so on.She is said to have given alms to Sri Paramasiva Himself,when He appeared as Bhikshadaner in one of His incarnations.At the Subtle-Level, she removes the Spiritual hunger of Her devotees.

Aswa-Rooda :

This diety finds mention in Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama in the following Verse:

“Aswa-Rooda-Dhishti-Thaswa – Koti-Koti-Bhira-vrutha”.(Verse-25)

It describes the diety as the chief of the Horse-Cavalry in the army of Para-Sakthi,who is surrounded by innumerable(Koti-Koti) horses.The horses mentioned here personify the Senses in our Mind,which run uncontrollably towards various sense-objects for their gratification.But Devi-Aswa-Rooda can bestow on us,the power to control these horses of our mind and direct them towards Spiritual practices.At the Grass-Level,She grants marital harmony to her devotees.She also ensures that justice is meted out to them if and when faced with Court Action.

Raja-Mathangi :

This diety finds mention in Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama in the following Verse:

“Geya-Chakra-RAtha-Rooda – Manthrini-Pari-Sevitha”.(Verse-26)
“Manthrin-Yamba-Virachita – Vishanga-Vadha-Thoshitha”.(Verse-29)

These Verses describe this diety as “Manthrini”,Chief-Minister of Para-Sakthi’s cabinet.She rides the Chariot called Geya-Chakra.She destroyed Vishanga,one of the brothers of Bhanda-Sura.
The chariot “Geya-Chakra” personifies the Inner-Organ,”Mind” of our Sukshma-Sareera.Thus Devi Raja-Mathangi as Manthrini would counsel our “Mind” to run away from the external attractions towards the inner world of peace and bliss.At the Gross-Level She bestows wealth and exalted status-in-society to the devotees.She is also reffered to as Sri-Shyamala, and Sri-Meenakshi.

Maha-Varahi :

This diety finds mention in Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama in the following Verse:

“Kiri-Chakra-Ratha-Rooda – Dhanda-Naatha-Puras-Krutha”.(Verse-27)
Visukra-Prana-Harana – Varahee-Veerya-Nanditha”.(Verse-30)

These verses describe this diety as “Dhandinee”,the army-chief of Para-Sakthi.She is mounted on the Chariot called “Kiri-Chakra”.She destroys Visukra,the other brother of Bhanda-Sura.She is referred to as “Dhandinee”because she punished the wrong doers severely.

The Chariot “Kiri-Chakra”personifies the Inner-Organ,Intellect of our Sukshma-Sareera. Bhanda-Sura personifies Ahankara,the ego- centric forces in our Mind that veil the Reality(the all Pervading Consciousness),from our perception.Visukra, personifies the evil- virtues associated with Ahankara.The weapons used by Her to kill him are Viveka and Vairagya.

Thus Devi Maha-Varahi who controls ours Intellect can bestow Viveka(right-perception) and Vairagya(dispassion) on us, using which we can sift the Real from the Unreal in this world veiled by Maya.This capacity is a pre-requisite for any Spiritual aspirant (Mumukshu),who wishes to liberate himself from the unending cycle of Birth and Death.

At the Gross-Level She attacks and punishes severely,the Thantric Practitioners wo make abusive use of their Thantric Knowledge.She destroys the evil machinations of the enemies of her devotees.She adorns the Thiru-Anaikkaval temple as its presiding diety,Sri- Akhilandeswari.

Bala-Thirupura-Sundari :

This diety finds mention in Sri-Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama in the following Verse:

“Bhanda-Putra-Vadhodh-Yuktha – Bala-Vikrama-Nanditha”.(Verse-29)

This diety is the Manifestation of Para-Sakthi, as a nine year-old Child.She kills all the sons of Bhanda-Sura.They personify the evil by-products of ego-centric forces. In other words,She personifies the Vimarsa-Sakthi of Para-Sakthi,with which,she restrains and rescues from the downward pull of the ego-centric forces on our minds.At the Gross-Level,she bestows oratory skills and good progeny to the devotees.

Soolini-Prathyangira-Sametha-Sarabheswara :

This diety is one of the Manifestation of Siva,wherein He is a combination of a man,bird and animal.He took this form to propitiate Narasimha-Murthy after He destroyed Evil in the form of Asura Hiranyakasipu. Soolini-Devi and Prathangira-Devi are His consorts for this manifestation(Avathar).He nullifies the Evil powers of the Thantric Practitioners,cures mental afflictions.

Vana-Durga :

This diety is the personification of the Pasa-string of Para- Sakthi,which symbolizes Her power to control both the benign as well as Evil Devatha’s.By this power She not only makes the Good- Devatha’s bestow auspisciousness on her devotees but also prevents their Evil Counter-parts from harming them.At the Gross-Level, She protects her devotees from insomnia and fear of bad dreams.

Chandi-Maha-Lakshmi :

This diety is variously reffered to as Mahisha-Sura-Mardhini and Ashta-Dasa-Bhuja-Maha-Lakshmi.She is the most powerful Manifestation of Para-Sakthi.She appears with eighteen arms,riding on a lion.She is the diety for the Chandi-Homa.She destroyed the Evil Power,which manifested in the form of fearful Mahishasura.She bestows the devotees with every thing that is auspicious.At Thennangur Shrine,She is known to bless the unmarried boys and girls with good life-partners.

While engaging in the great battle with the evil Mahishasura,She created some benign forces to assist Her.They were eight in number and were called Ashta-Mathruka’s.They are:

Brahmi             : Created to wield the power of Sri-Brahma the Creator.
Maheswari       : Created to wield the power of Sri-Eswara.
Kaumari           : Created to wield the power of Sri-Subrahmanya.
Vaishnavi          : Created to wield the power of Sri-Vishnu.
Varahi               : Created to wield the power of Sri-Varaha.
Mahendri          : Created to wield the power of Sri-Indra.
Chamunda        : Created to Destroy the Asuras Chanda and Munda.
Maha-Lakshmi : Created to wield the power of All the Devatha’s.

Usually in Saptamatrikas worship, Chamunda replaces Narasimhi as the last Mother. The Dhatus or body substances ruled by the Matrikas are Brahmani: skin, Maheshvari: blood, Kaumari: muscle, Vaishnavi: fat, Varahi: bone, Aindri: marrow and Chamunda: semen. In Nepal, the Matrikas are placed according to the eight compass directions. North-west, is assigned to Durga Mahalakshmi, from whom the Matrikas emerged.

Special Forms of Worship conducted at the Temple :

1) Nava-Avarana-Puja :

Sri-Chakra, the Yanthra of the presiding diety Sri. Maha-Shodasi- Devi has been installed at Thennangur Shrine in accordance with the Sastra’s. A unique Puja,known as Nava-Avarana-Puja is offered to it every day.

Nava-Avarana translates as Nine-Veiled-hard-to-penetrate-layers (Chakras’s).It describes the abode of Sri. Maha-Shodasi-Devi.It is represented Symbolically by the Sri-Chakra and Sri-Maha-Meru. All Devatha’s and Gods reside within these veiled Chakra’s.The central Bindhu,represents the abode of the undifferentiated Principle(The Nir-Guna-Bhrahman).The unique Nava-Avarana-Pujas starts with the ritual worship and ritual offerings to every Devatha residing in the Sri-Chakra and attains completion with offerings and worship to the presiding diety, Sri-Maha-Shodasi-Devi,who is invoked at the central Bindu.

The following list gives the brief idea about the Devatha’s occupying the Nine-Avaranas:

Avarana 1 : Devatha’s, who can hold all the three world’s,namely Bhu,Bhuva,Suva under their                                spell(Thrai-Lokya-Mohanam).

Avarana 2 : Devatha’s, who can bestow every kind of Desire (Sarva-asa-Pari-Poorakam).

Avarana 3 : Devatha’s, who can spell famine and distress in the Kingdom of the Evil(Sarva-Dushta-                        Sam-Kshobanam).

Avarana 4 : Devatha’s, who can bestow all good fortunes like                                                                                    Wife,progeny,house,vehicles,riches,land etc.(Sarva- Saubhagya-Sadhakam).

Avarana 5 : Devatha’s, who can bestow success in all ventures (Sarva-Artha-Sadhakam).

Avarana 6 : Devatha’s, who can rescue and protect everything (Sarva-Raksha-Karam).

Avarana 7 : Devatha’s, who can cure all types of illnesses and diseases(Sarva-Roha-Nivarana).

Avarana 8 : Devatha’s, Who can bestow all kinds of Powers(Sarva- Siddhi-Pradam).

Avarana 9 : Devatha’s, who can bestow the experience of Bliss (Sarva-Anandha-Mayam).

2) Pournami-Puja :

On Full-moon-days(Pournami),in addition to the powerful Nava- Avarana-Puja,the devotees can also have the good fortune of witnessing an elaborate Abhisheka,along with the chanting of the auspicious Lalitha-Sahasra-Nama,and thus become the beneficiaries of the unlimited Grace of the diety.It is said that performing Special Pournami-Puja(Full-Moon-Day-Puja) is equivalent to performing the Archana to the diety every single day of the month.It is also said that worshipping the Sri-Chakra along the lines laid out in the Scriptures is equivalent to performing thousands of Yagnyas.The devotee who has the good fortune to partake the anointed-waters(Abhisheka-tirtha),reaps the benefits of bathing thousands of times in all the Sacred rivers of the world.

Sage Agasthya assures through his famous song Sri-Chakra-Raja- Simhasaneswari,that the devotees, who surrender to the lotus feet of the Parashakthi, seated majestically in her abode of Sri- Chakra,will be rid of all the ills that pursue them relentlessly,as a result of their Pra-rabdha-Karma.They would be blessed with the company of noble people and emerge as purified souls.They would be filled with the Grace(Anugraha)of divine love.Finally, they will be bestowed the supreme goal of this human birth,that of attaining Self-Knowledge(Athma-gnyana).

Getting There:

Regular bus services are available from the cities of Kanchipuram, Vandavasi, Chennai, Tindivanam, Thiruvannamalai, Villupuram, Bangalore, and Vellore.

The nearest railway stations are at Melmaruvathur, about 28 km from Vandavasi, and at Tindivanam, about 35 km from Vandavasi.

The nearest airport is Chennai Meenambakkam, approximately 110 km from Vandavasi.

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