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Temple for Kethu dedicated to Siva at Mannar

The ancient shrine of Lord Kethu — Thiruketheeswaram — in Sri Lanka, which has an interesting history dating back to several centuries, is now being restored to its original glory, writes Bharatanatyam exponent, V. P. DHANANJAYAN, whose Bharatakalanjali presented a programme there recently.



The awe-inspiring deities at Thiruketheeswaram ...

THIRUKETHEESWARAM IS an ancient temple in Manthottamam, in Mannar District, about seven miles north of the Mannar Town. According to legend, it was at this ancient temple that Kethu Bhagavan worshipped Lord Easwaram (Shiva). Hence the shrine acquired the name of Thiruketheeswaram.

According to scholar and historian, Paul E. Peiris, "... long before the arrival of Vijaya (6th century B.C.), there were five Eeswarams of Siva in Sri Lanka — Thiruketheeswaram near Mahathitha, Munneswaram dominating Salamatte (Chillaw), pearl fishery Thondeswaram near Dondra, Thirukoneswaram near the great Bay of Kottiyar (Trincomalee) and Naguleswaram near Kankesantural".

In 1887 Hugh Neville, another well-known researcher, spoke about the city of Manthoddam as follows: "A renowned shrine grew into repute there, dedicated to one Supreme God symbolised by a single tone, and in later times restored from ruins by Vijaya, a Saivite. The temple was known as Thiru — Ketu — Iswaram."



A symbol of beauty and religiosity ... the Thiruketheeswaram temple.

This temple dedicated to the worship of the Supreme God Siva has been the most venerated for centuries and the holy waters of the Palavi Tank by its side are venerated in the sacred hymns of two great Saivite saints, Thirugnana Sambandhar and Sundarar, who lived in the 7th and 8th Centuries respectively.

This great temple was completely destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th Century and the stones from here were used to build the Fort at Mannar, the churches and also the Hammershield Fort at Kayts.



Lord Siva is the Supreme God at Thiruketheeswaram ... hence the Lingam is of great significance.

Arumuga Navalar who was responsible for the renaissance of Saivism in Sri Lanka in the 19th Century made Hindus realise that they were duty bound to rebuild this historic temple. Following his appeal made in 1872, the exact location of the destroyed temple was traced in 1894 and some restoration work was done in the early part of the 20th Century.

In fact a small temple was re-consecrated in June 1903. The central shrine was reconstructed and re-consecrated around 1921. It was then that the Talaimannar Railway Line was constructed. It is said that with the passage of time the management of the temple passed into the hands of the Nattukottai Chettiars of Colombo who maintained the temple for a few years.

However it was in October 1948 that an intensive agitation resulted in the formation of the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society, which renovated the temple and performed Kumbhabishekam in August 1952.



Where devotees converge to be blessed by Kethu Bhagawan ...

The reconstruction of the temple, so as to restore it to its original glory, was planned by the Restoration Society with the advice of savants and stapathis learned in the art of temple construction according to the Sastras, and the foundation for it was laid on November 28, 1953. The Nattukottai Chettiars formally entrusted the temple to the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society in 1956. The Kumbhabishekam of the renovated temple was held on October 31, 1960. It was the first phase of reconstruction.

The Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society did further renovation and another Kumbhabhishekam was held on July 4, 1976.

The work for the next phase with granite work commenced at the School of Architecture and Sculpture in Mahabalipuram (Maamallapuram), near Chennai, in South India. While these preparations were in progress the Sri Lankan Army took over the temple and its environs in August 1990 and continued to occupy the same for several years. Although they have left the temple premises their occupation of its environs is a cause of concern for the Restoration Society, which has been urging the Government to remove the Armed Forces completely from the scene and declare the temple and its surroundings a sacred area.



Stories about the divine grace of the Lord here are aplenty.

There have been umpteen incidents that reveal the divine grace of the Lord granting the wishes of devotees and this is the right place of worship for those with Kethu dosham (problems caused by planet Kethu).

The Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society representing the Hindus of Sri Lanka has accelerated the pace of the restoration work and plans to have the Maha Kumbhabishekam in April/May 2003. Several millions of rupees are required to restore the temple to its original glory. It is the duty of religious minded people to generously assist the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society in the task.

The reconstruction committee recently organised a fund raising Bharatanatyam programme featuring two Saivite stories, "Shiva Shakti Vel" and "Nandanar Charitam" of Gopalakrishnabharati, produced and presented by the Chennai-based Bharatakalanjali. Those who wish to contribute to the restoration of the temple may contact: V. Kailasapillai, 24, Deal Place, A. Kollupitya, Colombo 00300. Ph: 941575566. email: hariomak@eureka.lk

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