A temple with connections to Chess in a non-descript and sleepy village near Tiruvarur has been receiving a lot of public attention lately. This temple is the Lord Shiva temple at Thirupoovanur near Tiruvarur which has Arulmigu Sathuranga Vallabhanathar as the presiding deity.
Inaugurating the 44th Chess Olympiad on July 28th, Modi said “Chathuranga Vallabanathar Temple in Tiruvarur shows that even Gods played chess with their queens. This shows that Tamil Nadu has a strong historical connection with the case and hence it is the chess powerhouse of India.”
TN CM Stalin, who hails from the same district, did not bother to mention anything regarding this ancient connection.
According to legendary tales, Lord Shiva adopted the name Sathuranga Vallabhanathar after He played chess to marry local king Vasusenan’s daughter Rajarajeswari, who is also denoted to be the manifestation of the Goddess Parvathi.
The temple is situated on the southern banks of the Cauvery and is considered to be the 103rd Thevaram Sthalam. Thiruvadikudil Swamigal, founder, Jothimalai Iraipani Thirukoottam, a forum of devotees, quoted documents and said “chess had been played in Tamil Nadu about 1,500 years ago. Tamil Saivite poet-saint Tirunavukkarasar had sung Thevaram in praise of the temple”.
According to temple history “Raja Vasudevan was childless for a long time. The king and his queen visited many Shiva temples praying for a child. The royal couple then prayed at the Nellaiappar kovil in Tirunelveli. God blessed them and granted them their wish. When the royal couple took a dip in the Tamraparni they saw a conch floating toward them. The moment the king took the conch in his hand, it turned into a girl child. She was none other than Devi Parvati. The child was named Rajarajeswari. Over the years, she became an expert in the chess game. When it was time for her marriage the king was unable to find a suitable match for his daughter. He then decided to hold a swayamwar. “The one who wins against my daughter in chess would win her hand in marriage,” he announced.
None could defeat the princess. As per the advice of a sage, king Vasudevan undertook a pilgrimage accompanied by his queen and daughter. The entourage arrived at Thirupoovanur where Lord Shiva met them disguised as an old-aged sadhu and offered to play chess with the princess. Mahadev successfully defeated Princess Rajarjeswari.
When the king hesitated to give her daughter to an old man, God appeared before him and said his daughter is none other than Parvathi Devi. King Vasudevan got her married to Shiva. Shiva then came to be known as Chaturanga Vallabhanathar because he defeated Goddess in Chess.
The temple has a shrine of the goddess Chamundeeswari, who is one of the Saptamatrikas (seven divine mothers), was sent as a nanny for Rajarajeswari. The temple finds mention in Tamil Saivite Saint Gnanasambandar’s Thevaram. The Vimana (tower) of the chief deity is estimated to have been constructed around the thirteenth or fourteenth century. 11 inscriptions discovered here have been dated to the 13th-16th centuries and most are in a damaged or fragmentary state.
A mere mention of the temple’s name by honourable Prime Minister has ensured a continuous flow of devotees from all parts of the state.