Pillayarpatti Karpaka Vinayakar Temple
The 1600 year old Karpaka Vinayakar Temple in Pillayarpatti is one of the oldest and most popular Hindu shrines in south India. A rock cut cave temple featuring a massive sculpture of Vinayakar, the temple also has ancient images of other Hindu deities. The immensely powerful Karpaka Vinayakar Temple is also one of the cleanest and best managed shrines in India, drawing devotees from across south India who come to pray to Pillaiyar, the ‘remover of obstacles.’
The history of the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple in Pillayarpatti can be classified into three broad stages of growth stretching back to over 1600 years ago. The first period involved the creation of the innermost rock cut structures housing the primary image of Karpaka Vinayakar and also that of Tiruveesar. The distinctiveness of the image of Vinayakar at Pillayarpatti as well as the characters used in temple inscriptions helps corroborate the date of the original construction of the temple at around the 4th century AD. The pillars within the innermost shrine are also from this period.
The Pillayarpatti temple went through a second phase of growth when the Pillayarpatti Nagarathar community took over management of the shrine. Several inscriptions within the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple dating back to the period between 1091 and 1238 AD attest to this period of development which involved the building of the rajagopurams and vimanam. The third stage of growth is the more recent renovations and refurbishments of the temple complex, including enlargements of the temple tank and the two rajagopurams that provide a majestic approach to the Pillayarpatti temple.
Managed to this day by the capable hands of Karpaga Vinayagar Nagarathar Trust, the temple enjoyed the patronage of local rulers throughout its history, including that of the Pandya kingdom of Tamil Nadu. The Karpaka Vinayakar Temple is today recognized as one of the best managed Hindu temples in India, known for its cleanliness and general upkeep.
The Karpaka Vinayakar Temple is located in Pillayarpatti, a quaint little town 15 km west of Karaikudi in the Sivagangai district of Tamil Nadu. The town itself draws its name from the presiding deity of the temple, Vinayakar, who is also known as Pillaiyar among the Tamil speaking people. The innermost shrines were carved out of a hill in Pillayarpatti, and the temple complex grew around these original structures. Pillayarpatti is the quintessential temple town, with the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple being the very heart of the place and bearing testimony to the vibrant temple building culture of the Tamil people through the ages.
Karpaka Vinayakar is the presiding deity of the Pillayarpatti Temple. Also known as Desi Vinayakar, the image of Lord Ganesha here is an imposing 6 foot tall bas relief carved out of an excavated cave. One of the most popular images of Lord Ganesha in south India, the majestic Karpaka Vinayakar of Pillayarpatti has two arms instead of the usual four and with his trunk curled to his right in the valampuri mode. He is seated in the ardha padmasana pose holding in his right hand a lingam. Lord Ganesha is known as ‘Karpaka Vinayakar’ here after the mythological tree named karpakam that fulfills all the wishes of devotees. It is believed that Vinayakar, whose name means ‘incomparable leader,’ will satisfy the needs and prayers of devotees, bestowing them with ample wealth and prosperity. According to local legend, Kubera himself, the Lord of Wealth, worshipped Ganesha at Pillayarpatti.
The Karpaka Vinayakar Temple at Pillayarpatti also features an image of Tiruveesar, a Shiva Lingam carved into the cave wall and dating back to the original construction of the shrine. In addition there are images of two other lingams – Marudheesar and Senchadeswarar – as well as three forms of Amman – Sivakami, Vadamalar Mangai and Sundara Nayaki.
Another prominent sculpture in the Pillayarpatti Temple is a five-headed snake wearing a lingam on its neck. The heads of the snake represent the five human senses while the lingam symbolizes God, and the sculpture is meant to illustrate the notion that in order to realize God, the influence of the senses must be controlled.
Since the original structures of the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple were carved into a cave formation, there is no provision for a pradakshina around the Vinayakar sannidhi, or sanctum sanctorum. The inner sanctum is well lit with oil lamps to allow proper darshan. Another distinct feature of the Pillayarpatti Temple is that the image of Karpaka Vinayakar faces north while most presiding deities in Hindu temples face east.
The Karpaka Vinayakar temple complex in Pillayarpatti also includes the Vedaagama Vidyalaya, a Hindu academy run under the auspices of the Nagarathar Trust that also manages the temple. The chanting of sacred mantras from the Vedas, Agamas, and Tevaram in the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple by students of the academy help create a divine ambience within the shrine. Also prominent within the temple complex is the large temple tank.
The festivities of Vinayakar Chaturthi celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesha are the biggest events held at the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple in Pillayarpatti. The ten day Vinayakar Chaturthi is observed in the Tamil month of Aavani (Aug-Sept) involves intricate rituals and grand processions of the primary deities of the temple. Vinayakar is taken in procession around the town of Pillayarpatti seated on a different vahanam on each day of the Vinayakar Chaturthi, with the ninth day of the festival marked by a magnificent chariot procession. The elaborate festivities bring much splendor and gaiety to the town, attracting hundreds of thousands of faithful devotees from across Tamil Nadu.
Another ten day festival, this one honoring Kongu Nachiyamman, a village deity whose processional image is also housed at the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple, is held in the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May-June). The Margazhi Tiruvathirai festival in honor of Lord Nataraja and Sivakami is held in the month of Margazhi (Dec-Jan). Furthermore, every twelve years, the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple in Pillayarpatti celebrates the mahakumbabishekam, or consecration, ceremony on a grand scale, with the most recent one having been held in 2004.
Poojas are performed on a regular basis throughout the day, accompanied by Vedic, Thevaram and Tiruvachakam hymns. Garlands made of a type of grass called arugampul that is considered auspicious for Lord Ganesha are usually offered. Devotees pray for blessings at the Karpaka Vinayakar Temple when undertaking new endeavors as Lord Ganesha is regarded as the ‘remover of obstacles.’ Hundreds of thousands of devotees visit Pillayarpatti annually for a darshan of Karpaka Vinayakar.