The marriage altar
Tiruvidanthai is a small village around 42kms from Chennai, en route to Mahabalipuram. Its temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams – the shrines sacred to Vaishnavites or devotees to Vishnu. Though small it is nevertheless rich in history and sculpture.
The main deity here is Adi Varaha or Vishnu in the form of the boar. He is in a standing posture in the sanctum, with his right leg on the ground and his left leg raised and resting on Adi Sesha, his serpent mount. On his left thigh, he bears his consort, Bhumi Devi, the Earth Goddess. A unique feature here is that Adi Sesha is also depicted with his consort, both of them together below Vishnu’s foot. With both deity and mount in the company of their respective consorts, it is no wonder that this is a shrine that bestows matrimonial bliss.
Galava Rishi of mythical times is said to have had 360 daughters. Lord Vishnu arrived as a personable young man and married all of them, at the rate of one a day. On the day the last girl was married off, the sage had a vision of Vishnu and realised that the Lord had been his bridegroom. The Lord also merged all the girls into one and she is worshipped today as Akhilavalli at the shrine. The processional deity in the temple is Nitya Kalyana Perumal (one who is ever auspicious or one who is married everyday).
The present temple appears to have come into existence in the 10th or 11th century. But there must have been a shrine earlier, for Tirumangai Alwar, one of the 12 Vaishnavite saints and who belonged to the 8th century, has composed a set of verses on the deity. These are couched in the form of a mother complaining about her lovesick daughter who is all the while pining for Nitya Kalyana Perumal.
The temple is fronted by an exquisite stone mandapam (pavilion) of 16 pillars, rich in sculpture. It has two tanks which are full of water.
Men and women desirous of getting married come here all the time. They go around the shrine nine times, wearing floral garlands that have previously been offered to the deity. The belief is that they will find their life partner within a few weeks and after the marriage they are expected to come once again by way of thanksgiving.
Till a few years ago hardly anyone would visit this temple. But now, thanks to a dwindling sex ratio, the temple is crowded the whole year round.