Suryanarayana kovil is the starting point for our annual Navagraha temple yagya series in the Kumbakonam region of southern Tamil Nadu. The surrounding area is lush and devoted primarily to agriculture, and more specifically to growing rice. Beautiful green rice paddys are everywhere.
I have been to this temple many times and it seems that each time we get lost. The roads in the surrounding area all look alike and the western tradition of route signs has not been implemented here! So there is lots of stopping and asking for directions; down one narrow road after another and then all of a sudden you are there.
Once you drive up, there are a series of stalls selling everything from flower malas and puja supplies, to brass god statues, and misc. spiritual souveniers. It is great for browsing and of course the bargaining is not to be missed!
Like most temples it can be a little like runing a gauntlet because everyone asks you to buy from them but you have to buy puja supplies for nine temples…and when you do, your purchases usually come with an assistant who walks with you carrying everything from temple to temple. The stalls are usually simple, much like this one where you buy lotus flowers, coconuts, fresh flower malas, and fruit offerings.
The Suryanarayana temple itself is unique in that it is focused on the Sun as Narayana, the unversal god of all. Walking in through the main gates (top photo) you enter a courtyard. The main temple is straight head and is rather narrow and long inside with Naryana in a small sanctum. The temple, like many, has very little ventilation, so it always has the intense smell of burning ghee from the little ghee lamps that people light and the amazing sweet smell of fresh jasmine from the malas. More than anything else this is the smell of India.
If you are having all nine pujas, then you have your own priest who takes you from temple to temple performing pujas for you. Usually you end up with quite an entourage with your priest, the puja basket carrier, yourself, and usually a crowd of people who want to see and enjoy the pujas.
The priest chants some mantras, breaks the coconut and offers it along with any fruits and a length of flower mala. Then he lights some camphor for aarti and sings another short sloka. Next it is off to the next temple to repeat the process again for a total of nine times; once for each planet.
At the end of all nine temple pujas, time permitting, the tradition is to walk around all the temples in a clockwise direction. This is called pradakshina, and is a traditional way to show respect to the deities. It is actually a lot of fun particularly because the temple is over 800 years old and you think how many people must have walked on these same stones in all those years.