Thursday, 16 August 2018

SRI LANKA: Koneswaram Temple A Major Place For Hindu Pilgrimage, Rome Of The Gentiles Or Pagans Of The Orient

On a spectacular promontory overlooking one of the world’s largest natural harbours, there is an ancient temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is at the head of Konesar Malai (Swami Rock) on the dramatic Gokarna Bay, a seasonal home to blue whales.

Surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery on all sides, the colourful Koneswaram temple sits high above the bay, a classical-medieval complex in the Eastern Province city of Trincomalee.

The site is a religious pilgrim centre, and is one of the five Pancha Ishwarams or abodes of Shiva that were built in coastal regions of Sri Lanka to honor the supreme god of Hinduism.

The dates of the temple have been debated, with some scholars citing the original to around 400 BC, and later construction from as early as the 5th century to as late as the 18th.

At one time the complex was as large and grand as any in India or Sri Lanka. The grandeur was mostly lost in the 17th century at the hands of the colonial Portuguese, who razed structures, dumped some into the sea, destroyed objects, and smashed ornamentation.

To salvage what they could, priests and devotees of the temple scrambled to bury their sacred objects, event taking advantage of the sea themselves rather than seeing them crushed in the raid.

The original temple is claimed by some to have been the greatest building of its age, for both its architecture and its ornamentation.

It combined key features to form a typically southern Indian plan, such as a thousand-pillared hall similar to the famous Aayiram Kaal Mandapam in Madurai, India and raised platform or jagati configuration, features that had been destroyed.

It was said that its gopuram or gateway tower was visible to sailors approaching Sri Lanka from the sea.

The evidence for this magnificence comes from unearthing the very remnants that were buried, as well as the discovery of key pieces at the bottom of the bay.

They were found by photographer Mike Wilson and science-fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke. In 1956, Wilson and Clarke uncovered masonry, idol images, carved columns with flower insignias, and elephant head carvings while scuba-diving.

More importantly, they also retrieved the legendary Swayambhu lingam; a large stone phallus / obelisk said to originate from a Tibetan mountain top.

Upon reinstalling the lingam to the temple, Wilson was so overwhelmed by the experience that he renounced his career and family to become a Hindu swami.

As well as the recovered underwater pieces, there are also some original drawings done by Constantino de Sa de Noronha, the Portuguese governor responsible for the destruction.

Restoration work was completed in 1963 with the old pieces reinstalled. Today the site is reborn, and there is some quite modern construction as well.

While the current site does not match up to the pre-1624 temple, it is still an awe-inspiring place to visit, for Hindus and non-Hindus alike.

The temple is on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka, at the very end of Konesar Road. Continue past Fort Frederick currently an army base, and formerly a British colonial fort, and follow the path lined with shops.

You’ll walk through various courtyard shrines, eventually reaching the giant statue of Shiva at the promontory.

The temple requests all visitors to please respect the religious customs and propriety, including appropriate dress. Be prepared to remove your shoes.

Koneswaram temple Tirukkōṇēccaram, also known as Dakshinakailasha is a classical-medieval Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Trincomalee, Eastern Sri Lanka.

The temple is situated atop Konesar Malai, a promontory that overlooks the Indian Ocean, the nearby eastern coast in the Trincomalee District, as well as Trincomalee Harbour or Gokarna Bay.

Konesvaram is revered as one the Pancha Ishwarams, of Sri Lanka for long time. Being a major place for Hindu pilgrimage, it was labelled Rome of the Gentiles/Pagans of the Orient in some records.

Konesvaram holds a significant role in the religious and cultural history of Sri Lanka, as it was likely built during the reign of the early Cholas and the Five Dravidians of the Early Pandyan Kingdom.

Pallava, Chola, Pandyan and Jaffna designs here reflect a continuous Tamil Saivite influence in the Vannimai region beginning during the classical period.

The river Mahavali is believed to be risen at Sivanolipatha Malai, Mount of Shiva's glowing feet, and meets the sea near Konesvaram Rock.

This formation is the basis of the myth that it is comparable to Ganges, in that it symbolically crowns the flowing of river from Shiva's head to his feet.

Developed from 205 B.C., the original kovil combined key features to form its basic Dravidian temple plan, such as its thousand pillared hall – Aayiram Kaal Mandapam – and the Jagati expanded by King Ellalan Manu Needhi Cholan.

Regarded as the greatest building of its age for its architecture, elaborate sculptural bas-relief ornamentation adorne a black granite megalith. In the medieval period, its multiple gold plated gopuram towers were expanded.

The Koneswaram Temple is one of three major Hindu shrines on the promontory with a colossal gopuram tower, but it stands distinctly on the cape's highest eminence.

The Pavanasam Theertham at the preserved Papanasuchunai holy well and the proximal Back Bay Sea - Theertham Karatkarai surrounding Konesar Malai.

The complex was destroyed by the Portuguese Empire in colonial religious attacks between 1622 and 1624, and Fort Fredrick was built at the site from its debris. In 1632 Ati Konanayakar Temple was built, and housed some of its original idols, but was located away from the city houses.

Worldwide interest was renewed following the discovery of its underwater and land ruins, sculptures and Chola bronzes by archaeologists and Arthur C. Clarke.

They were preserved through restorations, most recently in the 1950s. Granted ownership of villages in its floruit to form, the Trincomalee District, Trincomalee village is located on the cape isthmus within the compounds.

The modern temple has been a source of conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils due to its position in a geostrategically important area. Revenue from the temple provides services and food to local residents.

Koneswaram has many strong historical associations.

The shrine is described in the Vayu Purana, the Konesar Kalvettu and Tevaram hymns by Sambandhar and Sundarar as a Paadal Petra Sthalam along with its west coast counterpart Ketheeswaram temple, Mannar, it is the birthplace of Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras and was praised for its tradition by Arunagirinathar upon his visit.

The Dakshina Kailasa Puranam and Manmiam works note it as Dakshina/Then Kailasam (Mount Kailash of the South) for its longitudinal position and pre-eminence.

It lies directly east of Kudiramalai west coast Hindu port town, while it is the easternmost shrine of the five ancient Iswarams of Shiva on the island.

Mentioned as a widely popular bay temple of the island in the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Yalpana Vaipava Malai, the Mattakallappu Manmiam confirms its sacred status for all Hindus. Kachiyappa Sivachariar's Kanda Puranam compares the temple to Thillai Chidambaram Temple and Mount Kailash in Saivite esteem.

Konesar Malai may have been the site where Yoga originated; some scholars have suggested that the worship of the almighty god Eiswara on the promontory is the most ancient form of worship existing.

Dr. Paul E. Pieris declared in 1917, at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), there was in Lanka five recognised Eeswararns of Siva, which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tiruketheesvaram near Mahathitha, Munneswaram, Thondeswaram, Naguleswaram and Tirukoneswaram.

The construction time of Koneswaram has been estimated by comparison between carved reliefs on the temple's ruins, literature on the shrine and the inscriptions commonly used in royal charters from the 5th to 18th centuries.

Koneswaram was likely founded before 400 B.C., although its exact date of birth remains vague. The evidence extant attests to the shrine's classical antiquity.

Construction of Hindu temples was made possible due to the prevalent faith amongst the locals and mercantile communities in the region during the Sangam period.

Kaviraja Varothiyan's Tamil poem inscribed on the Konesar Kalvettu, the 17th century stone inscription chronicle of the temple, gives the shrine's date of birth as circa 1580 B.C.

Archaeologists point to its initial phase consisting of a rock cave, multilayered brick shrine style popularly constructed to Tamil deities of a range of faiths during the Sangam period.

The shrine was known to Europeans as the Pagoda of Trincomalee – Temple of a Thousand Columns.

The main shrine was built upon the jagati while its thousand pillared hall was the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam – a distinctly thousand pillared platform close to the vimana of the koil that forms a distinct part of the site plan of classical Dravidian temple architecture.

Ruins of this feature at Koneswaram indicate that the hall was a structural addition erected by Pallava artisans, dated between 537–668. It formed one of the nine prakara or major courtyard compounds of the Koneswaram complex.

Two other temples were prominent compound monuments on the promontory, containing prolific gopura structures over the shrines built to Vishnu-Thirumal and the goddess Ambal-Shakti. Together, they became known as the Three Pagodas of Thirukonamalai.

A site plan by De Quieroz states: On the first rise to the summit of the rock was a Pagoda, another at mid-ascent, and the principal one of them all at the highest eminence, visited by a concourse of Hindus from the whole of India.

In his dispatch to Philip III, King of Portugal, Constantine described: The land of the Pagoda is 600 fathoms long (1.2 km) and 80 feet at its broadest, narrowing to 30 feet.

The complex stretches across Konesar Road off the promontory, and includes shrines to Ganesh, Murukan and Bhadrakali. Koneswaram of Konesar Malai is located 152 kilometres (94.4 mi) directly east from Kudiramalai, the ancient royal district and southern pearl-bank emporium of the Thiru Ketheeswaram temple, Mannar.

Koneswaram lies on a straight diagonal path connected to Ketheeswaram and another former Jaffna temple and Paadal Petra Sthalam Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram. This pilrimage path of 225 km (140 mi) is often traversed by foot according to Hindu custom.

The complex also lies on exactly the same longitude as Mount Kailash.

In line with custom of Tamil Hindu temple compounds, the complex houses shrines to several deities. Koneswaram is the easternmost shrine of the 5 ancient Iswarams of Lord Shiva on the island, the others being Naguleswaram (Keerimalai), Thiruketheeswaram (Mannar), Munneswaram (Chilaw) and Tenavaram (Tevan Thurai).

Koneswaram has attracted thousands of pilgrims from across Asia, its Shiva shrine mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata written from 400–100 B.C. describe at length its attraction to pilgrims from many countries and from 600—660.

It has been glorified as one of 275 Shiva Sthalams, or holy Shiva dwellings on the continent in Tevaram.

Swami Rock is heralded as a Shiva Upa Peetha base of Lanka in the Sivacharita, a Sanskrit work in praise of Shiva, and subsequent manuscripts of the Pithanirnaya - Maha Piitha Nirupana as a general Sakta Peetha of Lanka with a temple of the compounds dedicated to the goddess Indraksi Devi and a male deity Raksasesvara – a reference to Ravana.

Kullakottan reconstructed the Three Pagodas of Thirukonamalai, the other two dedicated to Vishnu-Thirumal and that of the Mother-Goddess Tirukkamakkottam – a consort of Shiva on the promontory over a far greater area than at present.

This latter temple to the goddess – Ambal/Uma/Shakti/Shankari Devi – was one of the 18 Maha Shakthi Peethas, those Shakti Peethas consecrated to the goddess which are mentioned in the Ashta Dasa Shakthi Peetha Stotram by the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara (788—820).

The Vishnu-Thirumal temple was likely the first temple encountered on the promontory – and is mentioned in Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën written in 1726 by François Valentijn.

The temple closest to the sea end was likely that dedicated to the goddess, where the current reconstructed Shiva temple stands.

Smaller shrines within the complex to Ganesh, Durga, Murukan, Agastya, and the Navagraha including the sun god Surya would have been customary near the main shrine in the centre to Shiva – the Murukan shrine is hailed at large in the Thiruppugazh series of Arunagirinathar.

The temple to Bhadrakali is located further along in the complex inland along Konesar Road, benefitted from Rajendra Chola I. The Kali temple is mentioned in the book Birds of Prey (1997) by Wilbur Smith, set in the 1660s.

The Thirukonasala Mahatyam, describing the origins of the world, Lanka and Koneswaram based on puranic legends is now lost.

The historical literature Mattakallappu Manmiyam (Batticaloa Manmiyam) that chronicles the history of Tamil settlement in Batticaloa, follows the Dakshina Kailasa Puranam and Dakshina Kailasa Manmiam in describing Koneswaram as one of the nine most important and sacred sites in the world for all Hindus.

The Koneswaram temple is well known for its celebration of the traditional Ther chariot festival, the Navaratri and Sivarathri functions. The Ther Chariot Festival lasts for twenty two days in April and focuses on preparing the deities and the community for Puthandu, the Tamil New Year.

Navaratri lasts for nine days and is dedicated to various aspects of the presiding goddess, whereas Sivarathri is dedicated to Siva.

Devotees visit the temple to attend the daily pujas and make their offerings. Booths are erected outside for the sale of food, drink, brassware, pottery, cloth and holy images. These functions primarily attract Hindus to the temple.

The main Thirukoneswaram Ther Thiruvilah Festival, the twenty-two-day annual chariot festival begins with the hoisting of the temple Nandi flag.

This is followed by temple processions of Lord Konesar and his consort Mathumai Ambal, installed and pulled in an ornate chariot temple car while deities Pillayar and Murugan with his two consorts Valli and Theivayanai are taken ahead in two other decorated chariots.
Ravan King Of Lanka
This is conducted throughout Trincomalee district, and follows Kulakottan's stone scriptures detailing how Hindus in Tamil villages like Sambaltivu, lands which historically belonged to the temple, are entitled to hold poojahs as their Upayam during the annual festival period.

Until April 1624 the Koneswaram Ther Festival occurred around Puthandu in April annually with five chariots and this tradition was reintroduced in April 2003, three hundred and seventy nine years later.

The water-cutting Theertham Thiruvilah festival or holy bath takes place annually in the centuries-old Papanasachunai holy well (Papanasam Theertham) on Swami Rock during the Ther festival period.

The deity and other holy artefacts are bathed in the water of the well in the complex's sacred precincts. Devotees are sprayed with the holy water following the Theertham.

The Theppath Thiruvilah Boat Festival consists of Lord Konesar and goddess Mathumai Ambal taken in a boat around the temple from Swami Rock via the Back Bay Sea to the Dutch Bay Sea.

Religious discourses and cultural items take place throughout the night before Puthandu at the Dutch Bay Sea beach. Thereafter the deities are taken to the temple early morning the next day on Puthandu by road through the Fort Frederick entrance.

The Trincomalee Bhadrakali Amman Temple and other Hindu temples have held their water-cutting Theertham festivals in the Back Bay Sea (Theertha Kadatkarai) for several centuries.

The Koneswaram Poongavanam Festival – the Temple Garden Festival is held during this twenty-two-day festival period.

An annual three-day procession follows Maha Sivarathri Day, observed every year since 1951 following the rediscovery of the bronze idols in 1950.

Occurring in three stages, on each day of the festival, the images of the chief deity Konesar, the presiding consort goddess Mathumai Amman, Ganesh and Murugan are brought from Swami Rock to the entrance of Fort Fredrick in decorated Ther temple cars before being paraded through the whole Periyakadai of the Trincomalee town.

The chariot cars are pulled by devotees through a decorated route while singing hymns. Devotees hold Poorna kumbham outside their houses along the route and worship as the procession moves.

On the second day of the festival there is a procession to the Pathirakalai Ambal Temple where the images are kept for the evening.

On the final day of the festival, the large chariots are pulled back to Koneswaram along a route through Trincomalee, accompanied by traditional Nadeswaram and Thavil musicians.

Under Dutch Ceylon, most of Trincomalee town was administered under Jaffna-dependent Vanniars again, while the fort was occupied by the Dutch on what they called Pagoda Hill. Batticaloa district remained dependent to Trincomalee's fort until 1782.

No ceremonies were permitted to take place on Swami Rock until British rule of the island, when pilgrims were permitted to return and worship Shiva at the fortressed sacred site.

By the mid-19th century, sailors, the high priest and other pilgrims visited the rock, broke a coconut and said prayers, performing sacred rites every January. Fruits and other offerings were often cast over the edge of the cliff, falling to the ruins below.

The first photograph of the shrine's remains and its promontory was taken in 1870. Literature on the shrine began to be written as the site began to regain popularity among pilgrims.

Thirukonasala Puranam was written during the 19th century by Tamil scholar Masilamanipillai Muttucumaru on the temple and the Thirukonasala Vaipavam on Koneswaram was written by V. Akilesapillai in 1889, published sixty years later in 1952.

Tourism Observer

No comments: