This temple is located in Srivilliputhoor (a short distance from Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, India). It is dedicated to the saint Sri Aandaal – one of the 13 allvaars1. This is the East gopuram, backside – i.e. side facing inwards into the temple. The temple encloses the garden and the sacred Tulsi plant at the foot of which she was born/discovered.
This picture was taken one early morning (Jan.11, 2002) in the month of Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January) — and thanks to dad and his talent for photography for pointing out this particular angle for taking a photo. Marghazi is a special month, “Of the months I am Margazhi”, says Krishna the Bhagavad Gita (10.35). It is when Aandaal’s Thiruppaavai is recited – a composition of 30 paasurams (couplets) dedicated to Narayana (God), expressing the love and desire to merge with the Supreme Self. She is granted the vision and merges with the Self. This is said to have taken place in the Sri Ranganathar Temple (Srirangam), in Tiruchiraapalli.
Considering the details (and that this was built in an age with no modern equipment or tools), it makes one ask, what is it that inspired them to built such monuments? Maybe it’s not too difficult to answer that question. Today we see the effect of just a few contemporary god-realized saints (such as Mata Amirtanandamayi, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,…) on the hearts and minds of millions of people. One can then imagine the effect scores of such enlightened saints living simultaneously had, as was the case back then1. In Hindu culture spirituality seeks its expression through arts, sciences, work, and culture.
1The Allvaars were the 13 enlightened devotees of Krishna (God), who along with the Nayanaars – the 63 enlightened devotees of Shiva (God), had begun what later came to be known as the Bhakti Movement period, starting from what is now Tamil Nadu and spreading throughout India, spreading beauty and reviving spirituality — bringing back life and new vigour into the Hindu population, which had been reeling from a sense of fatalism from four centuries of being under siege by Muslim conquests including devastating forays of many temple towns followed by four centuries British Rule.