March 7 is Maha Sivarathri ~ An auspicious spiritual night of the cosmic dancer ~
This is an article I translated, about the ancient & historic Lord Siva Temple in Sri Lanka’s Western Province. The article was written by veteran Tamil journalist from the rare Western province situated Tamil village of Udappu, North of Chlaw:
Munneswaram Temple: Harmony in Devotion
By Udappur Veerasokkan
Correspondent for Virakesari, Udappu Sri Lanka
This article marks the Annual Theerthotsavam-Water Cutting Ceremony at Munneswaram on Sep 15, 2008
Munneswaram is the foremost and famous Hindu Temple in Southern Sri Lanka. It has all the three key glories of a Hindu holy place-Moorthi (Idol), Theertham (Holy water point) and Thalam (temple).
Located in the town Chilaw in North West Province, Munneswaram is attended by devotees of Sinhalese and Tamil communities to worship and guidanceship.
The temple is a symbol of unity and glows with harmony in devotion among Sinhalese and Tamils-two of the major ethnicities in Sri Lanka.
Munneswaram is one of the five ancient ‘Eswarams’, (Temple for lord Siva) in Sri Lanka.
Munneswaram Temple, stands to attest Tamil peoples’ inhabitance, heritage, traditions and the beginnings of the rapid growth of Hindu religious practices in North West Sri Lanka.
Legends exemplify the benevolence and compassion of the temple.
Worshipping by lord Ram, King Vijaya and contributions by great Chozha King Kullakottan in the development of the temple are all told in scriptures and folklore of yore, invoking charm and enchantment to the ancient temple.
Munneswaram temple is a grand testament to having people of Hindu faith living in this area at the time of docking by King Vijaya and his corps in ‘Thambanni’ in 554 AD.
The village of Munneswaram gains its greater acclaim due to the temple Munneswaram. The village bearing the name ‘Munneswaram’ and also ‘Muneeswaram’ has historically called the location of the temple ‘swaram’ according to research studies. This name may have the origins from ‘Munnai Natha Peruman’, (The foremost deity) the main deity of the temple. Findings from research also say Munneswaram may have had its origins prior-(Munne in Tamil) than rest of the other four ancient Siva temples in Sri Lanka.
Worshiped by Lord Ram, Sinhala and Chozha Kings
Lord Ram was afflicted with ‘Brahma haththi thosham’ (an abhorrent due to a prior evil deed) after the ‘samharam’ (destruction) of King Ravana. It is said during the journey leaving from Lanka, Lord Ram travelled through Munneswaram and was relieved of the said ‘thosham’.
Realizing this, Lord Ram consecrated a Lingam in the vicinity-’Sivalinga Peruman’ (Lingam-a symbol for the worship of Lord Siva) and offered prayers and poojas, according to ‘Dakshina Kailaya Manmiyam’, an ancient Hindu scripture.
This is why the main deity in Munneswaram happens to be a Lingam.
The 9th King Parakramabahu, known as ‘Pundit of the age of vice’ (Kaliyuga sakgna panndithan) donated few villages to the Munneswaram temple.
The walls of the Katpagraha (main shrine) monuments the endowment of several villages to the temple by the 6th King Parakramabahu.
The beneficent of King Kula Kottan to Munneswaram vividly portrays the greatness in charity. The King brought temple workers from the Chozha country for spiritual duties at the temple and housed them in the vicinity of the temple. Due to this, daily ‘naimithiya kiriyas’ (spiritual activities) of the temple were carried out without any shortcomings. Also, ‘Munneswara Manmiyam,’ holy scripture of Munneswaram says King Kula Kottan granted 4 of his villages to the Munneswaram temple.
Hearing the greatness of this temple, King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghan performed a consecration ceremony in 1753. This was a stepping stone on the growth of this temple.
‘Karna parambai kathai’–Folklore
A fisherman from the area of Munneswaram on his way to the sea to fish saw a little boy playing with a piety looking little girl. While watching, they suddenly disappeared.
Surprised at this, the fisherman hid behind a bush and wanted to go near the children when they appear to play.
When he got closer as soon as they appeared, the boy vanished and the piously looking little girl became a gold coloured statue, further astounding the fisherman.
Hearing this, the king of Lanka made imitations of the same statue and ordered the fisherman to identify among them the one he first saw becoming a statue. The puzzled fisherman returned home saying he will do so the next morning.
Goddess Amman appeared in the fisherman’s dream and said, ‘the statue you want to identify is the one that will move the right foot slightly’. The fisherman did so, and told the king about his dream.
Enchantment with him now, the King of Lanka went to the Munneswaram temple and offered prayers, pomp and pageant.
The Muneeswaram temple, possessing artful architecture today, held the Annual flag hoisting ceremony on the 19th of August this year. Daily festivities are being held for another 28 days.
September 10th, is fire walking festival day.
Munneswaram temple is the only Sivan temple in Sri Lanka with a tradition of holding a special festival for the 63 ‘Nayanmars’; Nayanmars were Saivite devotional poets of Tamil Nadu, active between the fifth and the tenth centuries CE.
September 11th is festival for ‘Pichardanar’. Lord Siva as Pitchardanar destroying the pride and ignorance of ‘munivars’ (Hermits) is celebrated this day. Prayers and poojas are held this day for the 5 feet tall ‘Pitchadanar’.
September 12th, celebrates Lord Natarajar. It is said the statue of Lord Natarajar was found in an inner route well of the temple. The pageant of Lord Natarajar this day is a pleasant sight. 13th is Animal Pilgrimage. 14th is chariot festival, five of them in procession with the festive deities.
September 15th is ‘Theerthotsavam’, annual water cutting ceremony at ‘Mayan’ Aru (Deduru oya).
The rapid growth of Hinduism in Sri Lanka during the 16th century, hit a markedly low point after the arrival of Portuguese in the island. Hindu temples around the country were destructed during this period. It is notable that Munneswaram was leveled too, in 1517.
As war rages in parts of the country now and civilians perishing tragically, lets pray and worship the deity at Munneswaram Temple, ‘Munnai Natha Peruman’, for peace and prosperity for all ethnicities of the country.
[This article first appeared in the Virakesari Print Edition on Aug 31, 2008: Translated by K. Thirukumaran]