Trichy had been a relatively new and memorable experience for me. Within 2 days, I visited the usual sightseeing places such as the famous Ranganatha Swamy Temple, the largest functioning temple in the world, then the Rock Fort Temple which stands on a huge 272 feet rock dated to have existed before the Himalayas itself, and then the Jumbukeeswarar Shiva Temple, one of the Pancha Bhoota Sthalams [5 sacred Shiva temples]. Yet I was having a day more at Trichy as per my travel plan. I sought information from the locals but they did not know any other places worth a visit. Somehow with the help of Google, of course, I found my place where I would head out. A 1200-year-old temple named the Erumbareswarar Kovil [temple in Tamil] stand at Thiruverumbur, 15 km away from Srirangam, where I stayed.
I woke up at 4 am the next morning and by 5 I head out to this ancient temple. I reached the temple front at 4:45 am and there was nobody. Usually at all the Tamil Nadu temples, by 4 am itself, everything gets lively. Since it was still dark I could not see the temple uphill. Similar to the Rock Fort temple, this also is built on a nearly 200 feet high rock and this is another Dravidian work for sure. I still wonder how many temples there are in Tamil Nadu yet to be known to travelers just like the one I am standing at.
An old guy appeared out of nowhere and threw me a whole lot of questions. He is the watchman of the temple. I told I would like to get to the top. He said, the temple opens at 7 am only, but if I would wish to climb up, I could use the stairs and wait at the top. I offered him a cup of tea and snacks at a nearby tea stall few 100 meters away and sat down with him. I asked him more about the temple. Though I understand Tamil a bit, thanks to my college days at Coimbatore, I could not follow his words at first. However, I kept up with him and learned how the temple got its name Erumbareeswarar. He told me “Erumb” in Tamil means an ant, and Erumbareeswarar signifies “Lord of the Ants”. Erumbareeswar is yet another Avatar of Lord Shiva.
Out of curiosity, I requested him to narrate the whole story of the “Lord of the Ants”. He was pretty hungry it seemed and was busy filling up. I waited till he finished his “Idly Sambhar” and tea. On the way back to the temple, he asked me to listen, though I was already into it for ages.
The tale of the Lord Erumbeeswarar and the Tharakasur
The legend of this temple goes like: Once a fierce and merciless Asura [demon] named Tharakasur attacked the Devas [Gods] and when the situation got worse the Devas sought help from Brahma, the creator himself among the Hindu trinity [Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva]. Lord Brahma advised the Devas to climb the MalaiKovil or the temple atop the hill and perform Pooja for Shiva. The Devas disguised as ants so that Tharakasur does not find him. They started climbing the Shiv Linga and realized they won’t be able to climb since it was too slippery. They pleaded to Lord Shiva to accept their prayers. Shiva, being the ever merciful one took the form of an ant hill, thereby made the hill east to climb.
Another interesting aspect of this particular temple is that the Swayambhu Linga [the Linga formed by its own] here appears slightly inclined to its left side. It is believed in order to aid the Devas to do the Pooja, Shiva himself tilted his head towards his left side. The Devas did the Pooja and Shiva got satisfied by the same. Shiva thereby destroyed Tharakasur and rescued the Devas. Since then the Swayambhu Linga present here is worshiped by devotees far and near. Every full moon devotees flock to the temple and circumambulate the hill to worship the Lord Erumbareeswarar, and sing hymns praising Lord Shiva.
The climb up to the Erumbareeswarar temple
We reached the temple as the watchman finished the story. He showed me the entrance to the top of the hill. He asked me to offer prayers to Lord Vinayaka before the climb. There are 2 Vinayaka temples below. Vinayaka is the son of Lord Shiva himself. it is believed only after visiting Lord Vinayaka, a devotee must see Lord Erumbareeswarar. The climb up to the temple comprises of 125 steps. As I moved up, I started getting good views of the whole landscape surrounding the temple. I could see the Rock Fort temple from a distance. The temple seemed pretty huge even from a considerable distance. I reached the temple and waited there for a pretty long time, but it was worth it. The strong wind up the hill heightens your mood. I took snaps around the temple walls. By 6:30 am the Pujari [the temple priest]. He looked in his mid 50’s and joyful being. He unlocked the temple gate and asked me to follow him. It took another 20 or 30 steps to reach the temple. He told me not to shoot photos inside the sanctum and went inside the main temple. I stood at the entrance for a minute enjoying the views downhill. As I entered the temple, I came across 2 praharas, the larger one for Lord Erumbareeswarar and the second one for his consort. I observed the intricate carvings on both those structures. Another typical Dravidian architecture it seemed, and yes, this is yet another Cholan made temple. I googled for more info. This particular one was indeed made by a Chola, named Aditya Chola. He built it as a signage of his war victory. It took 150 years to construct this temple. The Cholan works always amused me. This one I would list in the same category, the rock cut structure is just awesome.
I offered my prayers to the Goddess in the smaller Prahara. I stuffed my camera back into my backpack and got inside the larger Prahara for Lord Erumbareeswarar. The interiors looked even greater than the outside. Exquisite carvings, well maintained and clean floors, stone pillars, everything resembled a classic Tamil Nadu temple. The scent of the incense sticks and camphor lit up the ambiance of the temple and I was totally involved in it. I sat down in front of the main sanctum where the temple priest did his daily rituals. I noticed the Shiv Linga here is inclinedto its left as the watchman told me. Thus, at last, I had darshan of the Lord Erumbareeswarar. I did pradakshina [to circumambulate the sanctum], which is considered holy as per the Hindu culture. I noticed the main sanctum and the whole Prahara is full of brilliant artistic works carved out of the rock. No wonder it took 150 years to complete.
I am pretty happy and content that I could find and make a visit to this beautiful temple, which is not known to many travelers, even those in Tamil Nadu. I recommend my fellow travelers to try the Erumbareeswarar Temple when you make a visit to the holy city of Trichy.