RAMA in Tamil Nadu

  • By Tejas Srinivasan
  • January 19, 2024
  • 1537 views
  • Know about three revered Rama Temples in Tamil Nadu and age-old references to Sri Ram in Tamil literature.

As the nation gears up for the Prana Pratistha of the Rama Mandir in Ayodhya, there is a section of people who claim that Rama has nothing to do with the people of the South. Especially in Tamil Nadu there has been a claim made for the last 100 years that Rama had nothing to do with the Tamil people.

However, what is the reality? Is Lord Rama truly an outsider or has he lived in the hearts of the Tamil people since time immemorial?

Tamil Nadu is known as the land of temples and a cursory look at the temples shows us that the worship of Rama has been prevalent for centuries.

Though there are hundreds of Rama temples, both ancient and recently established, we will be looking at a few unique temples in this article.

1. Darbha Sayana Ramar, Thirupullani

This temple which is located in the Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu is unique for the shrine of Rama in a reclining position.

The village named Thirupullani, is a combination of two words. Pull (Grass) and Anai (pillow), derives its name from the unique Dharbhashayana Rama enshrined in the Adi Jagannatha Perumal temple here. It is said when Lord Rama wanted to cross the ocean to Lanka, he fasted and did penance here on a bed of Darbha grass, hence the name Thirupullani.

To see album of Adi Jagnnatha Temple

Inscriptions in the temple indicate that it was constructed in the 8th century CE indicating that the worship of Lord Rama and acceptance of him as a deity was very much in practice at that time. It is also to be noted that Lord Rama is generally shown to be standing with a bow and arrow in all parts of India. This murthi of a reclining Rama is very unique to Tamil Nadu and specifically Thirupullani.

Read more about this temple and picture of sleeping Rama

2. Yoga Ramaswamy temple, Nedungunam

This is another unique temple located in the village of Nedungunam in the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu.

Here Lord Rama is seated holding the Chin Mudra in his hand. It is said he was seated there at the request of Maharshi Shuka and is listening to the Brahma Sutras being read by Hanuman. Here Lord Rama is considered to be a Guru.

The temple is said to have been constructed by the Pallavas. This once again shows us that Lord Rama is not considered an outsider but has a very unique and special relationship in the hearts of Tamil people.

See temple pictures including that of Yoga Rama with Lakshmana and Sita Devi and Gopuram panels that has scenes from the Ramayana  

3. Erikatha Ramar, Madhuranthakam   

The Erikatha Ramar temple is located in Maduranthakam in the Chengalpet district of Tamil Nadu (75 kms from Chennai). This temple was built in the Pallava era and is estimated to be 1600 years old. Lord Rama is the main deity in this temple and this temple is considered to be one of the oldest Rama temples in South India.

The story behind the name Eri Katha Ramar is an interesting one.

It is said in the 18th Century a British officer Colonel Lionel Blaze was the Collector of the Chengalpet district. He was overseeing the repairs of the huge water reservoir at Madurantakam and was looking for material to repair the broken bund. He saw some stone pillars in the Rama temple and said they could be used for the repairs. The devotees said the stone pillars were kept for the construction of the shrine of Devi Janakavalli, the consort of Sri Rama. The collector made fun of the devotees asking why their deity could not protect the reservoir from overflowing.

In a few days the rains began and the reservoir filled up to the brim. The collector visited the areas where the bund was broken and hoped it would not overflow. To his surprise he saw two men with bows and arrows standing guard there. He realized that it was Lord Rama and Lakshmana and bowed down to them. The rains stopped soon and the reservoir was safe. The Collector himself built the shrine for Janakavalli Thayar and there is a plaque commemorating this till today.

The name Eri Katha Ramar means the Rama who protected the lake.

For blog and pictures of this temple          

   

Apart from the presence of temples dedicated to Lord Rama there are also various mentions in Tamil literature to Lord Rama. Sangam literature is some of the earliest Tamil works that are known to us. Some of the earliest Sangam period poems are found in the Purananooru, an anthology of various poems describing the life of Tamil people. It is dated between the 1st and 5th BCE.  

In poem number 378, the poet Oonpothi Pasunkudayar praises the Chola King. This verse below, from that poem, draws a parallel between the poet’s relatives and a scene of Sita dropping her jewels and it being picked up by the monkeys.

When my large family saw that, they took the finger

ornaments and put them on their ears, put the ear jewels

on their fingers, those meant for the waist on their

necks, and those meant for the necks on their waists.

They were like a huge family of monkeys with gaping red

mouths scooping up the beautiful ornaments that fell to

the ground, when the mighty demon snatched away enraged

Raman’s wife Seethai.                                                      Purananooru 378

This shows that Lord Rama and his story were known among the Tamil people.

Another famous literary work from the Sangam period is the Silappadhikaram. We find references to Ramayana for e.g. read on.

the very city of Puhar of ancient fame has gone mad — like Ayodhya at the separation of the great hero Rama who left it and penetrated the thick jungles saying, ‘To me the kingdom is nothing, but my father’s command is everything’ - Silappadikaram, Book 8, Lines 64-68, translated by V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar

Another major period for Tamil Literature is the Bhakti movement during the 7th and 8th centuries. Lord Rama finds mention in many works of the 12 Alwars or the Tamil Vaishnavite saints of the period. Find some references below.

1. Nammalvar's Tiruviruttam, verse 36, speaks of the friend of the Alwar who criticises the Lord who once destroyed the crowded halls of Lanka (for the sake of Sita), but fails to relieve the grief of the Alwar.  

2. The Periya Tirumoli, written by Thirumangai Alvar (8th century CE) in verse 8, refers to Guhan, the fisherman king who Rama persuades not to follow him into exile while crossing the Ganges, and Hanuman.

3. Andal's Tiruppavai, verse 12 makes mention of “the Lord Rama who slew the Lord of Lanka, Ravana” and verse 24 of Tiruppavai reads, “We worship your fame of winning over the king of Southern Lanka.”

4. There are many verses by Kulasekhara Alwar in his Perumal Thirumozhi which describes the life of Rama as well as paying homage to the Rama shrine in Chidambaram.

5. In the 12th century CE, the poet Kamban wrote the Ramavatharam popularly known as Kamba Ramayanam. It is the story of Rama written in Tamil. Till date, scholars and the general public, consider it to be one of the best literary works in Tamil.

6. In the 18th century the entire Ramayana was written as a Tamil Opera by Arunachala Kavi Rayar. Many of the songs from this opera are still popular and sung today widely in Tamil Nadu.

In conclusion, if one were to take a brief look at Tamil architecture, literature and spirituality it would be very evident that Lord Rama always has been and is a part of Tamil Culture.

To see albums of over 50 Temples in Tamil Nadu  

Album of Rameshwaram Jyotirling Temple

Editors Notes

To see pictures of Ramayana at Hazara-Ram Temple, Hampi Karnataka (see pics 37 to 40)

 

Ramayana Scenes in temple.  

Inside Sugreeva Cave at Hampi are carvings of Rama, Sita and Lakshman (see pics 37 and 38)

At Ram Tirth Hill, Gokarna in Karnataka

Entrance to cave where Sri Ram lived in exile. A discourse was on when I entered the cave.

Devotees listening to discourse inside cave.

Also read

1. Why making Ram Mandir is important for Asia

2. Architecture of Ram Mandir

3. What is Pran Pratistha

4. On Chanting the Name of SRI RAM

5. What is the deeper meaning behind the names of Sri Ram and his brothers

6. Adhyatma Ramayan marries Bhakti with Advaita Vedanta

7. Many versions of the Ramayana

8. A sacred journey to meet Pandit Ramashraya Tripathi Ji, a present-day disciple in the lineage of Goswami Tulsi Das

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