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Kanchipuram Varadar

Athi Varadharaja is one among the 4 Brahma Kararchita Varadaja moorthies , carved out of Athi Tree by Vishwakarma in Kritha Yuga. This moorthi was the main deity (Moola Moorthi) in the Grabhagraha, i.e inside PunyaKooti Vimana, until early 16th century.

There are two theories running behind the history of Athi Varadar. One is a mythology story and the other is more of a recent one. But both say one thing that Athi Varadar is named so cause He is made of Athi Maram (fig tree) and that the idol was submerged in the temple tank for many years. The first story goes like this. Goddess Saraswathi is upset with Her husband Lord Brahma cause during an argument Brahma says Lakshmi is more powerful than Saraswathi. Later Brahma conducts a yagna praying to Lord Vishnu to bless Him with some powers. The yagna is supposed to be conducted with wife along but Brahma decides to ditch his wife and go ahead with the ritual sacrifice. Saraswathi gets angry and takes the form of river Vedavathi and comes flowing down to wipe off the whole yagna. Brahma prays to Vishnu and Vishnu lies down in front of the river and obstructs the river. Brahma then carves out a Vishnu idol out of a fig tree to honor this event. Kanchipuram is once said to have been filled with fig trees. He continues to perform another yaga with this idol made of wood and starts to pray. The heat from the sacrificial fire is too much that the idol starts to sweat. And so Lord Vishnu asks Brahma to immerse Him in the tank next to the yagna which is known as the Anantha Saras. Vishnu also says to Brahma, to do pooja to this idol once in 40 years for 48 days and to bury it back under the temple tank. Before that Vishnu grants all the boons that the Gods and DemiGods ask for and hence the Vishnu of Kanchipuram gets the name Varadaraja Perumal (Varam = boon, varada = giving boon, raja = king).

The second story is that during the Mughal invasion, in order to protect the main deity the temple authorities decided to hide the idol. And hence they created the underground place inside the temple tank and placed the nine foot Athi Varadar statue in it. But then the one who actually hid it passed away and with time people forgot where the deity was hidden. Almost for 40years, the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple had no deity in the main sanctum sanctorum. So they finally decide to bring an idol from a temple in Pazhaya Seevaram which is close to Kancheepuram. The deity of the temple at Pazhaya Seevaram resembled the original deity made of Athi Maram. So they installed it. Somewhere in the early 17th century while cleaning the temple tank they noticed the Athi Varadar hidden there. To mark the fact that there was no idol for 40years in the temple, once in 40 years they take out Athi Varadar and do pooja. If you are wondering why did they not permanently set a sanctum for Atih Varadar once He was found, well people thought it was God’s will to remain submerged for those many years, let us continue the tradition.

How the Athi Varadar Stored in Anantha Saras

The Idol was all covered with moss and dirt. Am extremely surprised that an idol made of wood can sustain under water like that. It is indeed a miracle if you think of it. The last time Athi Varadar was taken out was in 1979 and now in 2019. In an interview given by Kittu Bhattar to The Hindu he mentions that, “After reaching the surface of the pond, one needs to descend 12 steps deep further and there lies a nine feet tub brimming with water. The image exactly fits in the tub and lies at its bottom, with nagabasams (serpent images) fixed to the various corners of the tub serving as clamps to prevent the idol from coming out of the tub. Three days before the event, we enter the pond, remove the nagabasams and bring the idol out. After cleaning, the idol is placed for worship for 48 days and then put back inside the tub under water, with the clamps back in their place. Before placing the idol in the tank, we apply organic preservatives so that the salt content in water does not corrode the image.’’

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