Kanchi Varadar on Garuda – pic courtesy Chithra Ravindran

“In the morning Varada, with a smiling face

Will present Himself to all the assembled people

They will greet Him with their hands lifted to their heads

And He will give joy to everyone, young and old

As the fans and fly whisks are waved gently

Under the giant white gem bedecked umbrellas

He will arrive slowly on the King of the      birds

At the western gopura.”

Thus begins the the five-verse Varadaraja Panchakam of Doddacharya. The shloka it is said, was composed one year when the great 16th century scholar was unable to make it to Kanchi from Sholinghur where he lived, to witness Lord Varadarajaswami’s Garuda Seva festival.

Last year, this temple was all in the news owing to the bringing out of the wooden idol of Atthi Varadar from the temple’s Anantha Saras Tank – a spectacle that happens once in several decades. But an annual feature is the Garuda Seva which is on the third day of the Brahmotsavam and happens on Vaikasi Vishakam, which is today. During the ten days, Lord Varada, as Vedanta Desika stated, comes out on several mounts. Among these, it is the Garuda Vahana that is most famous, as it celebrates the Lord’s rescue of Gajendra, the king among elephants. Most of the saints and savants who have sung on this shrine, never failed to include this event. For details, see this article. 

But to get back to the story of Doddacharya – he was unable to make it and so he composes this lovely set of five verses, even as he stands at Thakkan Kulam in Sholinghur and imagines the scene in Kanchi. In the latter spot however, legend has it, the Lord was not going to disappoint His devotee. As the procession neared the western gopura, He granted a divine vision to Doddacharya that allowed him to see the spectacle. To commemorate this, a temple to Varadaraja was later built on the banks of the Thakkan Kulam in Sholingur. Even today, as the Garuda Seva procession nears the western gopura at Kanchi, the attendants hide the Lord momentarily with their umbrellas. It is believed that He is then visiting Doddacharya at Sholinghur.

Cut to the 19th century, when Muthuswami Dikshitar visited Sholinghur. In his composition Narasimha Agaccha in Mohanam, which is dedicated to the deity there, he includes a line – surucira karigiri vicAra varada – Bestower of boons to  he who was immersed in the beautiful spectacle of Karigiri (Atthigiri). That was Dikshitar’s tribute to a great devotee and scholar who had lived in Sholinghur three hundred years before him.

Today, Atthi Varadar has denied all of us the spectacle. Like Doddacharya we can only pray that He will retrieve us from the present pandemic and give us His darshan next year. Let us all be karigiri vicArAs till then.

For more details please see my video on this temple on YouTube –