India Pilgrimage 2010: Partha-Sarathi, Chennai

This is the temple of Partha-Sarathi in the suburb of Triplicane, Chennai (Madras)

Some years ago I was told by an astrologer in India that I would get through a difficult patch in my life if I chanted regularly the Prayers of Gajendra. These prayers are to be found in the eighth canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, in the section known, appropriately enough, as Gajendra Mokshana or ‘Gajendra’s Liberation.’

Gajendra was an elephant and his struggles with a crocodile in the water are analogous to our struggles with our earthly attachments. After much bloody struggling, crocodile firmly gripping his leg, Gajendra comes to the point of desperation, then surrender, and offers his famous prayers to the Lord. Even though he doesn’t really know who that Lord is, still the Lord hears his prayers and appears to him, relieving Gajendra of all his problems.

One of the many shrines within this 8th century temple is dedicated to this story, and the Lord can be worshipped here, exactly as He appeared to the elephant. He flies to him on the back of his winged carrier Garuda, and in this particular temple Lord Vishnu is known as Varadaraja – the ‘King of all givers of boons.’

Gajendra is often depicted with a pink lotus flower in his trunk, raised to the sky as he offers his desperate prayers. So I thought it would be good for the whole family to recite some of the prayers of Gajendra before that shrine – and we did. After I offered my own pink lotus flower (conveniently available just outside the temple) we sat there in the early morning and chanted together.

The Parthasarathi temple in Chennai (Madras) was built in the Pallava dynasty period by King Narasimhavarman in the AD 700s and has many shrines within its precincts. There is a beautiful Rama, Varaha, and a stunning Narasimha. Of course the temple takes its name from the main deity: Lord Krishna in His role of the Charioteer of Arjuna. The Lord promised that He would not take up arms during the famous Battle of Kurukshetra, but He did drive the chariot each day, and cared for the injured horses at the close of the day. When Sri Krishna speaks His song to His friend Arjuna just before the battle begins, only a few were privileged to hear. Now the entire world hears and honours that immortal conversation.

It seemed a fitting place for us to begin our south India pilgrimage.

Below: Lord Krishna as the Charioteer of Arjuna



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18 responses to “India Pilgrimage 2010: Partha-Sarathi, Chennai

  1. jaya vijaya das

    Hare Krsna Prabhuji…

    A few details regarding Lord Parthasarthi:

    Sri Parthasarathi’s face is full of scars created by the arrows of the great Bhishma-deva. Another interesting thing is that Lord Krishna is sporting a mustache which reflects His ksatriya role in the battle.

    • For my readers: Jaya Vijaya Das has toured all of the holy places of India several times – on foot – while heading up a party of pilgrims known as The Padayatra. He has written a book all about the River Ganges (Ganga) and the places along her banks

  2. Ashok Patel

    Dear Kripamoya prabhuji,
    daddvat pranam.
    Great posting. One observation: The description ‘Below: Lord Krishna as the Charioteer of Arjuna’ and beautiful picture does not resemble. I think you meant that remark for the picture in the beginning. I may be wrong. I am looking forward to have your association in near future.

    • Yes, you’ll see Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna in the first photo. However, the deities of that same temple are pictured below. Krishna is standing – and there is no chariot and no Arjuna.

  3. Wow! It’s so nice to see my Parthasarathy on your blog! :))
    Hope you had a good darshan.

    The moustache- well, it’s almost like His trademark.
    In the karpa vigraha, He is present along with Rukmini Thaayar, Balarama, Satyaki (Younger Brother), Pradyumna (Son), and Aniruddha (Grandson).
    I’ve heard it’s the only place where He is with all His family.
    Also, He holds His Panchajanya (conch), but not the Sudarshan Chakra (wheel), going by His promise. His left hand points to His Lotus Feet (rightfully so, the true shelter for us is the Feet of Mr. Macho-Moustache :))

    The marks on the utsavar’s face are quite heart-wrenching. It’s amazing, given the metal was recast over and over, but it can be really saddening to see all those marks. He looks great, but it hurts. 😦

    Narasimha here is ‘Thelliya Singam’, and He holds His hands in a special mudra- inviting His devotees to Him, and abolishing all their fears.

    And, there are shrines for Ranganayaki Thaayar, Lord Ranganatha and Aandal.

  4. Thanks for the kind reply.
    Regarding the photographs, there are quite a lot available on the Net of the Utsava Moorthy.
    There is a little collection on my blog too.
    Regarding the Moolavar, you would know of the photography restrictions. So, what you have posted is the most common one. But there are 3 others- a beautiful painting by the Devasthanam, and a photo in Muthangi (pearl suit), and one more which i have posted on my blog . Unfortunately, the first two are not available on the Net.
    But, you may find this video intriguing: it shows ParthaSarathy really up, close and personal, scars and splendour alike:
    That bring me back to something i forgot to mention: ParthaSarathy not just bears the arrow marks on His face, but the stretch marks on His waist, too, where Yashodha tied Him to the mortar. Of course, that is not visible through all the decorations, but once in a year, when they remove His angi (metal, mostly gold) , one can have this unique darshan.
    Meanwhile, in Tirupati, the Lord bears not only the stretch marks on His waist, but also the bow marks on His shoulder (Rama).

    • jaya vijaya das

      Hare Krsna…Thank you for the video link of Sri Parthasarathy. It’s always a magnificent event when Their Lordships are taken out on a palki (palanquin) for the pleasure of His devotees. Are the scars on the Lord’s face/body only on the Utsava Diety? Or are they also on the Mulavar Murti?
      Similarly, the larger Mulavar Murti of Sri Ranganatha Swamy in Sri Rangam also bear the rope marks where Mother Yasoda tied the Lord.

  5. @jaya vijaya das: The scars are on the face of Parthasarathy (the Utsavar).
    The Moolavar (Venkata Krishnan) does not have any (thankfully), but there is the huge handlebar moustache which He sports, which is almost like a trademark. And, of course, He doesn’t hold the Sudarshan Chakra, going by His promise.
    Speaking of taking the Lord on Palkis, did you know that we can actually count off the days when there is no ‘utsav’ in the Parthasarathy temple? It’s always rejoicing and revelling and merry-making.
    And, thanks for the information on Sri Ranganathar. i guess He is always bound by Love, and wants the world to see how His mother bound Him.
    i must say i have been reading up a lot about you on the Net. Am truly humbled and taken aback by accounts of your Padayatra. It is but Krishna’s grace that i get to speak to great devotees’ like you.

  6. Narayanan

    ~Srimathe Ramanujaya Namaha~
    ~Srimath Varavaramunaye Namaha~

    I beg everyone’s pardon, but I must correct the statement:

    “It’s amazing, given the metal was recast over and over”

    BhagavAn’s thirumeni (divya mangala vigraha) is made of suddha sattvam and is not prakrtic. Please refer KaushitakI Upanishad, Sri Vachana Bhushanam and Padma Puranam. One should never use prakrtic terms or debate about how Bhagavan’s archa thirumeni came into existence.

    Sri Pillai Lokacharya quotes Padma Purana in Sri Vachana Bhushanam, ‘Examining the body of the Lord (or mentioning it as being made of prakrti) and examining the caste of devotees is equivalent to lusting for your own mother as per ShAstrAs’.

    Let us therefore refrain from calling Bhagavan’s divine body as prakrtic.

    Sri Parthasarathy Perumal’s Kshetram is my hometown. I was born, and have lived for 15 years in this kshetram. Currently, I am under obligations to work abroad for a year, but I am looking forward to the day I get back.

    Here are some specialities of this Kshetram, besides the ones mentioned above:

    1) We have all the mukhya avatarams here except Hayagriva and Trivikrama. Venkatakrishnan (Krishna), Telliya Singam (Narasimha) and Sri Rama constitute the vaibhava avatarams.

    Let me tell you a secret. There is another Narasimhan and a Varaha perumal inside Sri Ranganatha sannidhi. I know the archakars very well and they have let me worship these perumals. You have to specifically ask the archaka in Ranganatha sannidhi for darshanam of Varahan and Narasimhan.

    The Narasimhan in the Ranganatha sannadhi is Ugra Narasimhan, as compared to Azhagiya Singar, who is Yoga Narasimhan.

    2) We have all major archa avatarams. Sri Ranganatha and Sri Varadaraja are from Srirangam and Kanchi. Venkatakrishnan is from Tirumala. Narasimhan is from Ahobilam. Sri Raman is from Ayodhya. Hence, this kshetram is a confluence of many divya desams.

    3) Thirumangai Azhwar’s pasurams on Thiruvallikeni, Thiruneermalai and Thirvallur are full of deep meanings and must be relished by everyone before visiting this Kshetram. Only when one knows these pasurams can one say they have ‘understood’ Bhagavan (no matter if the Upanishad states ‘YathO vAchO nivartantE…’).

    Adiyen Sri Vaishnava Dasan,


    • @Narayanan: Thanks for the various points.
      //One should never use prakrtic terms or debate about how Bhagavan’s archa thirumeni came into existence. //
      There was no debate from my side, and no need to verify anything, but i believe you are completely right.
      Anyways, i was explained that point by the archakas themselves when i first asked them. This was a long time ago, when i first came to Chennai.
      The very first sight of ParthaSarathy can astound just about anyone.
      So, when i was first told that the marks i had been noticing on a number of visits was actually the arrow- marks made by Bhishma, it made me see Perumal in a different light, praising Him more and more.
      When i was then told that the ‘metal’ was recast, it was more astonishment a His leela. It wasn’t that there was doubt about Him in the first place, but that little info did excite me about Perumal.
      While i am bewildered by the knowledge and depth of your words, and hope Perumal blesses me with such ability to write about Him one day, when we do talk about a ‘metal’ on Perumal’s thirumeni, it ceases to be just a prakritic metal, right, from a devotee’s point of view?
      The same way flowers look more beautiful than Him, and devotees surrendered unto His feet are actually great souls?
      So, when we talk about the ‘metal’ that has the great boon of adorning Him, aren’t we talking about Perumal Himself?
      The same way devotees are lost without Him, that ‘metal’ might just be what you term ‘prakritic’ in is normal state. But, when it adorns Perumal, and He actually expresses His real nature through it, would it still be material?
      Sir, i do not, by any means, intend to retract the high level of knowledge in your statements.
      But, i believe that if ParthaSarathy Himself played that leela of letting the metal be recast, is it not worthy of our mention?
      While your points have been an eye-opener for me, and have instilled in me a lot of respect for you: When ParthaSarathy Himself chose to play a leela to remind His devotees, then, talking about it, couldn’t be prakritic right as it bears His stamp on it?
      Maybe i got this whole thing wrong.
      In that case, kindly go on, and enlighten me! 🙂
      i’ll lap up anything about Perumal.

  7. Narayanan

    ~Srimathe Ramanujaya Namaha~
    ~Srimath Varavaramunaye Namaha~

    What I am posting is the sri vaishnava view. Please forgive me if this is deemed inconsistent with this site’s aims. Since the temple is a sri vaishnava temple, I am forced to point out only sri vaishnava viewpoints on the subject.

    The marks on his face were manifested by him to show his sousIlyam. But that does not make his divine body as prakrtic. It is made of suddha sattvam. All we can say is that his divine body bears the marks. No need to mention anything else. Sri PeriyavAchAn Pillai quotes from the PancharAtrA,

    “na tE rUpam na chAkArO nAyudhAni nachAspadam
    tathApi puruShAkArO bhaktAnAm tvam prakAshasE” (JitantE Stotram, Rg Veda KhilA, PAncharAtrA)

    Meaning —>Your divine weapons and ornaments are not for your benefit. Yet, you manifest these solely for the sake of your devotees. And even having given everything to your devotees, you still shine brightly as per purusha suktam and such veda vAkyAs.

    Hence, his appearing with arrow marks is to show that the supreme (paratvam) has descended to the level of taking arrows for the sake of his devotees (sousIlyam). However, the divine body is made of knowledge and bliss, and not normal matter. It should not be called ‘prakrtic’. Rather, we should say he bears arrow marks on his divya mangala vigraha.

    For this, Sri NigamAnta MahAguru (VedAnta Desikan) has given a passing mention in TAtparya ChandrikA for the Gita SlokA 7.24 (avyaktaM vyaktimaapannaM…..) as ‘Fools think of my body as being similar to manushyas, without knowing my higher nature’. This state not only talks about Krishna avatArA, but also about his other states such as vyuha and archa avatara in temples.

    In other words, those who think of his forms in temples or in avatarams and speak of them as prakrti have been denounced by BhagavAn himself (not directed to anyone here).

    His prathishtai, as per sthala purAnA, was done by Veda VyAsA/King Sumati. The temple may belong to the 8th century, but Bhagavan has been here longer than that, even before the temple was built in the grand format that it is now.

    Sri U. Ve KAnchi PrativAdi Bhayankaram AnnangrAchAriAr (1891-1983) has written many articles on this matter. Once prathishtai is made as per pancharAtrA or vaikhAnasa AgamA, one should refer to his body as ‘divya mangala vigraham’ (‘thirumeni’ in tamil) and never state otherwise. This has nothing to do with his leelas, but is simply a matter of truth.

    Vishishtadvaita VedAntA posits that BhagavAn is different from his divine body. BhagavAn’s divyAtma svarUpA is of the nature of JnanAnandamayam, and is characterised by the qualities of Satyatvam, Jnanatvam, Anantatvam, Anandatvam and Amalatvam.

    Sri Thirumangai Azhwar puts it beautifully as ‘NandhA Vilakke aLatthaRkku ariyAyai ‘, which means ‘Unwavering Light of a Lamp, that is limitless and unfathomable’. The inner meaning: ‘Unwavering’ is Satyam, ‘Lamp Light’ is JnAnam, ‘AlartthaRkku’ is Anantatvam and the unfathomable nature is being the substrate of other qualities that makes the Upanishad exclaim, ‘YathO vAchO nivartantE aprApya manasA saha’.

    The divine body of Bhagavan is something that he assumes to please those devotees who are unable to cognize this svarUpA. This body is also jnAnAnandamayam, but it lacks consciousness, ie, it is non-sentient.

    However, the bodies of Bhagavan are never made of anything that is prakrti. It is made of ‘Suddha Sattvam’, a material that is purely knowledge and bliss. These bodies are called ‘divya mangala vigraha’ and are 5 in number: para, vyuha, vaibhava, antaryAmi and archa.

    Archa is of 4 tyes: svayambhu (eg: tirumala, srirangam, etc.), consecrated by devAs (eg: Ahobilam), consecrated by rishis (eg: Thiruvallikeni) and consecrated by men (eg: yAnamalai narasimhan). There is no reduction or increase in sanctity in any of these.

    So, when consecration is done, he has the same type of body that he had when he was krishna, rama, varaha, etc. And if anything such as armor is added to that body, then, once it touches him, it too is transformed into suddha sattvam. If a garland is offered to him, as long as he wears it, it remains suddha sattvam. Its very simple. To our eyes, it still looks the same. But that is due to our contracted knowledge (dharma bhuta jnAnA).

    Apologies for any unintended offences.

    Adiyen Sri Vaishnava Dasan,


    • Certainly this ‘Vaishnava Voice’ site is for informative discourse and I thank you very much for your helpful and illuminating comments. Please can we have more on other topics?

  8. @Narayanan: Sir, these words too are of a Sri Vaishnava, albeit one less informed, and less knowledgable than you.
    i was, in one way, trying to put forward a view similar to what you say when you state that anything on Perumal’s thirumeni is, in your words, ‘shuddha satvam’. But i guess my lack of intellectual back-up belied what i was trying to say.
    Please forgive me if my comments were in anyway offending to anyone, or in general, seemed conflicting with Sri Vaishnava views, for they were never intended that way.
    //Hence, his appearing with arrow marks is to show that the supreme (paratvam) has descended to the level of taking arrows for the sake of his devotees (sousIlyam).//
    That brings something else to my mind- while His sousilyam is exhibited when He took the arrows for Arjuna’s sake, then also, wasn’t it only Bhishma’s arrows that touched Perumal’s beautiful face? Correct me if i am wrong here, but wasn’t He humouring another devotee of His?

  9. Narayanan

    ~Srimathe Ramanujaya Namaha~
    ~Srimath Varavaramunaye Namaha~

    “less knowledgable than you”

    I do not possess any knowledge. What I have learned, is solely from the works of the late Sri U. Ve Mahavidvan Mahamahimopadyaya Kanchi Prativadi Bhayankaram Annangrachariar (Kanchi Swami for short). His 1000+ works are an ocean of knowledge, covering all aspects of vaidika darshanam. I am merely repeating what he said.

    When I mentioned sousIlyam, I meant that it was the only prime characteristic of Krishna avatara. He exhibited sousIlyam to everyone, be it Arjuna or Bhishma.

    I will end my discussion here with a description of Bhagavan’s SousIlya gunam, since that is the subject of debate. This is an interesting but lengthy topic, so please be patient. It explains the extent of BhagavAn’s sousIlyam and its status as a kalyAna gunA par excellence.

    Sri Pillai Lokacharya mentions that the Mahabharata took birth only to explain the greatness of PAndava DhUtan (messenger of the PAndavas). Here there is an enquiry – out of all the incidents that happened, Swami picks out only the act of going as a messenger to describe BhagavAn. The Azhwars are no different. The pasurams lavished on Pandava DhUtan are many. Thirumangai Mannan links the Pandava DhUtan to Rama DhUtan as well in his pasuram on Thiruvallur Veeraraghava Perumal by saying,

    ‘He who sent Hanuman as DhUta earlier, and later on went as DhUtan for Pandavas, I have seen him reclining as Sri Vaidya Veeraraghavan in Thiruvallur’. ~ Periya Thirumozhi, Thiruvallur Decad.

    In Kanchipuram, there is a divya desam where Perumal gives sevai as Pandava DhUtan.

    Sri Kanchi Swami answers the question. It is SIla gunam. Bhagavan, when he went as messenger for the Pandavas, wore a tag on his neck. This is very significant. Normally, in those days, they used to send dogs as messengers from one place to another. These dogs used to have a collar tag proclaiming who sent them and for what purpose.

    Kanchi Swami mentions that Kannan wore this tag voluntarily showing that he was a messenger of the Pandavas.

    Imagine the SousIlyam here! The Brahman who is hailed as ‘Satyam Jnanam Anantam’ (Nandha Vilakku) and as ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma:’ (Engum Ullan Kannan ~ Thiruvaimozhi), as the Purusha of the VedA (Am Mudalvan Ivan; Mikka Veda Vilakku ; Thiruvaimozhi; Periya Thirumozhi) has taken on the role of a beast of burden, a messenger dog. This SIla guna made Nammazhwar faint for 6 months, when he thought of Yashoda tying Kannan.

    Another point – why mention Hanuman in the Pasuram here? Kanchi Swami mentions that Bhagavan likes to imitate his devotees. Hanuman was very successful and earned great fame as a messenger of Sri Rama. Naturally, Kannan wanted to imitate Hanuman and be known as a ‘messenger’. So, he chose to go as PAndava DhUtan.

    That is not all. Vishnu Sahasranama says ‘VichitAtmAVidheyAtma’. Splitting it as ‘VichitAtmA AvidheyAtma’, Sri Parasara Bhattar comments on it as ‘He who is conquered (by devotees)’. In other words, Bhagavan is always defeated by his devotees. Adi Sankara splits it as ‘VichitAtmaa VidheyAtmA’ meaning ‘He who is never conquered’. This is also a correct meaning, but Bhattar’s explanation is superlative.

    So, here Kannan failed, whereas Hanuman won. In other words, Hanuman defeated Kannan in the game of ‘playing messenger’. How? Hanuman was successful because he had the blessings of Sita. He located Ashoka Vanam, killed off Ravana’s son, tried advising Ravana and burnt Lanka. Whereas, Kannan was a failure as a messenger. The Kauravas did not heed his advice and worse still, DuryOdhanA tried to imprison him. Note, Ravana insulted Hanuman by not offering him a chair, but Hanuman won the fear and awe of the rakshasas in the end.

    It should be noted that the aims of the two messengers were different: Hanuman had to find Sita and Krishna had to advise the Kauravas. Hanuman did more than was required of him and earned Rama’s hug. Krishna could not accomplish even what he intended to do, and only became frustrated with the Kauravas even more.

    There is also a second reason why Rama DhUtan is superior to Pandava DhUtan. Hanuman was the DhUtan of Sri Rama, who is described by Valmiki as DharmAtmA (RAmO vigrahavAn Dharma:). Mandodari describes Sri Rama as ‘TAmasa ParamO DhAtA: Shanka Chakra GadAdharA:’ (He who is beyond Prakrti, bearer of the discus, mace and conch). Remember Purusha Suktam’s ‘Aditya Varnam Tamasas ParastAd’.

    So, Hanuman’s master, Sri Rama was renowned and so, his messenger was also renowned. But Kannan’s masters were not so good. Yudhishtira had gambled and betrayed the trust of Draupadi. He had lost his name as Dharman. Arjuna, even after having listened to Bhagavad Gita, forgot everything and acted with AhamkArA, so much so that BhagavAn exclaimed in the end ‘Hey ArjunA! You have forgotten everything I told you. You are of wicked mind and I am displeased with you.’ (Anu GitA Upadesam).

    The incident of Arjuna asking Krishna to help him get down from the chariot by putting his (Arjuna’s) feet on Krishna’s shoulders is to be remembered here. This is AhamkAram at its peak.

    AndAl remembers the flaws of the PAndavAs and chastises them in Nachiyar Thirumozhi, ‘You think you are all so great that you need my Kannan as a messenger for you?’

    The renown of the master is important for the messenger as well. Since the masters were not all that great, Kannan as PAndava DhUtan did not meet with that much fame as Rama DhUtan.

    This is the SousIlyam of Kannan. One should note that this gunA also prompted him to give Gita upadesam to Arjuna without an acharya sambandham. Whereas in the case of Sri Rama, he always looked to see the qualifications of devotees. For instance, the moment Rama entered Sabari’s ashramam, the first question he asked her was, ‘have you served your acharyan well?’. Then only he ate her fruits and gave her moksha. Sri Krishna gave Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna even without this condition, indicating his kripa and sousIlyam.

    Thank you for the discussion. You can learn more from the works of Sri Vaishnava acharyas.

    Adiyen Sri vaishnava Dasan,


  10. Sobana

    I know this is a old blog but I was searching for some info on the Azhagiya Singar/ thelliya singar in Parthasarathy temple. Since Shri Narayanan claims to have a lot of information on the temple I would like to reach out to him for some local legendṣ I am working on a song by Oothukadu venkatakavi which is on the Narasimha deity here and many of the references are obscure. Can you, Shri Narayanan get in touch with me at shobs60@gmaildot com so that I can mail you my questionṣ @Deshika I hope this is not imposing on your good wilḷ

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