Kshetra – Tiruvallikeni


Tiruvallikeni or Triplicane, as the English called it, happens to be one of the oldest parts of Madras City. The existence of a village of that name is seen in records dating back to the Pallava period and earlier. While Triplicane as an area merits separate study as for its contributions to the arts, this account restricts itself to the temple that forms the core and which in its own way shaped our musical heritage.


The origins of the temple are steeped in myth. It is believed that the area got its name from a sacred tank  (keni) of lilies (alli) that once existed here, in the midst of a forest of tulasi bushes. Whether this meant the Mylapore Long Tank which in modern times was filled in to form the T Nagar and Valluvar Kottam areas is not known. Due to the tulasi plants, the place was also referred to as Brindaranya Kshetram. Today, the sacred temple tank which dominates the square in front of the temple goes by the same name. The temple is said to have existed on the bank of a river that once flowed in these parts, called the Kairaveni. The tank that presently stands in front of the temple is also referred to as Kairaveni.


The Temple Layout


The temple itself  is a dual shrine, with two principal deities, who are enshrined back to back. The older shrine is that of Azhagia Singar or Narasimha who is seen in the yogic pose. He is also called Tellia Singar and is now referred to as Tulasingar and the street that leads off from His shrine is called Tulasinga Perumal Koil Street. The later and more famous shrine is that of Sri Venkatakrishnan (moolavar) and Sri Parthasarathy (utsavar). Entering the temple from the main entrance off the tank, you cross the Garuda Mandapam and enter the enclosure that has the dhwaja stambham. You can get a clear view of the moolavar Venkatakrishnan from here, for He is of imposing height and appearance. For a closer look, you have to enter the main shrine. The mandapam that precedes the sanctum has several smaller shrines all of which are of interest. There is a shrine for Tirumalisai Alwar, followed by shrines for Vaishnavite seers Alavandar, Ramanuja, Manavala Mamuni, Vedanta Desika and Tirukacchi Nambi. The corridor leading to the sanctum sanctorum has shrines for Sri Rama (seen here with Seeta, his three brothers and Hanuman) and Lord Ranganatha who reclining on Adisesha, is in the company of Sri and Bhu Devis and has Brahma emerging from his navel.


The garbhagriha houses the magnificent deity of Venkata­krishna which is almost eight feet in height. The Lord here is two armed and appears as He did when He was charioteer to Arjuna during the Kurukshetra War. His right hand which is in chinmudra bears His conch, the Panchajanya. The left hand is in vara mudra and points at His feet. The Lord has a long sword buckled to His waist and has a dagger tucked into His waistband. Adisesha is at His feet. Huge shalagrama and sahasranama garlands adorn the deity. The Lord’s ears have large makara-shaped adornments and together with His tall crown and rich floral decorations He is truly majestic. Perhaps the most impressive and certainly unique feature of the deity is His handle-bar moustache in keeping with His readiness for battle.


If you can tear you eyes away from this spectacular manifesta­tion you can see Rukmini standing tall and elegant beside Her consort. There are certain days when She is draped in a saree tied in the traditional Vaishnavite style and that is when She looks her motherly best. Beside Rukmini stands Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother. Others in the sanctum include Satyaki, Krishna’s other brother, Pradyumna, Krishna’s son and Aniruddha, Krishna’s grandson. Thus the entire family stands together in one shrine, once again a unique depiction. The utsava icon, Sri Partha­sarathy is unique in its own way. The idol has a face that is full of scars, so much so that one can barely make out the features. The scars are believed to be from Bhishma’s, arrows. It is said that the Lord appeared in the dream of the craftsman who made the idol and bade him fashion it as He appeared in the Kurukshetra War after being attacked by Bhishma. The face of the idol which is deep brown in colour, changes to a golden hue when the Tirumanjanam or anointing is done.


Coming out of the sanctum, you reach the Vedavalli shrine This Goddess is consort to Lord Ranganatha and Her sanctum was built at a much later date as compared to the main shrine. Behind the Vedavalli shrine is the sanctum for Gajendra Varada. Here the Lord is mounted on Garuda and appears as He did when He set out to rescue the elephant Gajendra from the clutches of the crocodile. As you circumnavigate this shrine you reach the Narasimha shrine which has its own dhwaja stambha indicating its equal status to that of Venkatakrishna. After the Narasimha shrine is the temple to Andal. This completes the tally of the principal shrines in the temple. There is besides an exquisite Hanuman in a chamber located inside a pillar near the entrance.


The Temple’s History


Though the temple finds a mention in the Brahmanda Purana, it traces its history to a Tondaiman Chakravarty, probably a Pallava king of the 7th century AD. An inscription near the sanctum speaks of the 12th year in the reign of Dantivarman, a Pallava ruler whose reign was from 795 to 845 AD. Renovations were done by the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar rulers and the Nayaks of Madurai. Through the Golconda kingdom, the area and the temple came under Mughal administration from whom it passed into the hands of the Nawabs of Arcot. Tiruvallikeni became the first village to be leased out to the British by the Nawabs. The temple came under the administration of the East India Company which in 1843 formed a committee of three prominent men belonging to three different communities all owing allegiance to Vaishnavism and handed over the temple to them. Today it is administered by the HR&CE Board, Government of Tamil Nadu.


Saints and Savants and influence on Music


The temple is one of the 108 Vaishnavite Divya Desams, being sung on by three Alwars – Peyalwar, Tirumangai Alwar and Tirumalisai Alwar. In his verse beginning with the words “Vandudaitta Ventiraigal”, Peyalwar (5/6th century) states that the pearls and corals deposited on the sea shore of Tiruvallikeni illumine the entire town in the evenings. Tirumangai Alwar (8th century) has composed ten verses on the temple, nine of which end with the lines “Tiruvallikeni Kandene” (I have seen Tiruvallikeni). In these he describes all the shrines that we see today and it is therefore certain that the temple acquired its present structure by his time. He ascribes the construction to a “Tondaiyar” king. Sri Ramanuja’s (11th century) parents, according to legend, prayed at Tiruvallikeni and were blessed by begetting him as their son.


The 17th century Sanskrit work “Viswagunadarsa” by Venkatadhvari which describes Madras city, speaks of Tiruvallikeni. So does the later “Sarva Deva Vilasa”. The latter work, of which only an incomplete manuscript survives, ends with a procession going down Tiruvallikeni. It mentions a music loving Dharmakarta of the temple – Annasami and also speaks of dancers associated with the shrine.


Of the Carnatic Trinity, Tyagaraja (1767-1847) and Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) are both said to have visited the shrine. There is no song of Tyagaraja’s on this temple that survives, but in a talk over the radio, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer (1896-1970) mentioned a song in the raga Saveri of which he said only the pallavi and anupallavi were available. Regretfully, even that is now lost. “Sri Parthasarathina” of Muttuswami Dikshitar in the raga Shuddha Dhanyasi is on this temple, though it must be mentioned here that the song is not mentioned in Subbarama Dikshitar’s “Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini”, considered the most authoritative work on Muttuswami Dikshitar songs. The kriti is a small one and contrary to Dikshitar kritis does not describe any aspect of the temple.


Subbaraya Sastry (1803-1862), the son of Syama Sastry (1762-1827) and the common disciple of the Trinity, visited the temple and composed “Ninnu Sevinchina” (raga Yadukula Kamboji) here. Mysore Sadasiva Rao, who through the Wallajahpet school traced his lineage to Tyagaraja, composed “Sri Parthasarathe” in raga Bhairavi. This is a monumental composition with cascading sangatis and in the composer’s own style, full of flowing lyrics. His other song on this temple is “Vachamagochara” in raga Athana. Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906), grand nephew of Muttuswami Dikshitar composed “Parthasarathini” in raga Yadukula Kamboji on the deity here, when he stayed in Madras for the brief while in the 1890s. This song has his grand uncle’s mudra “Guruguha” in it and it also has sollu kattu swaras. Another prolific composer, Cheyyur Chengalvaraya Sastry (1810-1900) has composed a kriti in raga Yadukula Kamboji on the deity here. The Tachur Singaracharyulu Brothers were a duo of the late 19th and early 20th century Madras who played an important role in the development of music in the city. The elder brother was a composer and his piece in raga Vasantha, “Ninnu Kori” is a popular varnam to begin concerts with today.


Ramanathapuram ‘Poochi’ Srinivasa Iyengar (1867-1919) has composed “Sri Parthasarathi Nannu” in raga Madhyamavati at this shrine. Modern day composers who have been inspired by the deity here include MD Ramanathan (1923-1984), NS Ramachandran, Dr S Ramanathan (1917-1985) and Ambujam Krishna (1917-1989). TG Krishna Iyer was modern day composer who used the mudra of Lalita Dasa. He was greatly encouraged by Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar (1895-1974) who sang many of his compositions and made them popular. His song “Parthasarathi Maam” is on the deity here.


BM Sundaram, in his book “Mangala Isai Mannargal” (Meyyappan Tamizhaivagam, 2001) writes that nagaswaram maestro Kivalur ‘Saveri’ Kandasami Pillai (1836-1897) was honoured at this shrine and that the temple has records of this event.


The temple also appears to have served as a concert venue and there are records of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1844-1893) singing here on three successive nights with record audience attendance. The Davana Utsavam in the month of Masi (Feb/Mar) would witness several Harikatha performances in the past. Notable among those who performed were Embar Vijayaraghavachariar (1909-1991), TS Balakrishna Sastrigal (1918-2003), Sengalipuram Anantharama Dikshitar (1903-1969) and C Saraswathi Bai (1892-1974).




With so many shrines inside it, there are festivals and celebrations right through the year at this temple. All the manifestations of the Lord (Venkatakrishna, Varadaraja, Ranganatha, Sri Rama and Narasimha) have utsava icons and so there is a procession either within the temple or in the four principal streets almost every day. Rama Navami, Narasimha Jayanthi, Sri Jayanthi and the month of Margazhi (Dec/Jan) in particular, witness grand celebrations.


The temple sees a steady throng of devotees at all times of the day and almost every day of the year. This is testimony to the prowess of the deities in it, divinities who extracted some of the finest music possible from our composers.