Did you know that when utsava idols are brought out from temples in procession, they are decked up in as many as 100 pieces of jewellery?
Worn from head to toe, the ornaments are crafted specifically to be placed on the idol. For instance, recently, a bejewelled parrot was presented to the Sri Parthasarathy Swamy temple in Triplicane and it was fashioned with a ring and a clasp at the bottom so that it can be fixed on the wrist of the idol. “When you see the parrot, it would seem as if the bird is being held by the idol. But in reality, it has been fixed in such a manner,” said P. Raghu Achary, who has been crafting ornaments for temple idols for over 10 years.
Nowadays, jewellery that the idols — both the moolavar (the one inside the sanctum sanctorum) and the utsava (that which is brought outside) — are adorned with is presented by devotees. Earlier, it used to be the kings of yore, who presented ornaments.
“Each time something is presented to the temple, details of the weight of the gold/silver, the number of precious stones, the date on which it came into the custody of the temple and the name of the donor are noted in a register maintained by the respective temple,” explained a source in the Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) that maintains and manages thousands of temples in the State. Temples can also commission ornaments from their own funds.
“When the idol is placed on the oonjal (swing) for certain occasions, mirrors are kept behind so that even those who are walking ahead can see the beauty of the idol,” said a priest who dresses up utsava idols.
“The Chola kings, including Raja Raja Chola, were known for presenting enormous pieces of gold jewellery to temples. Inscriptions talk of the weight of the gold, the precious stones inlaid in them and even the quantity of lacquer used as filling inside beads,” said G. Vijaya Venugopal, senior research fellow, French School of Asian Studies, Puducherry. The funds from the leasing out of land were spent on doing the nithya puja (daily puja), special festivals and running the veda patasala attached to the temples, he added.
Temples as banks
Temples often also performed the function of banks. Pradeep Chakravarthi, author and expert on temples, recalled how properties considered valuable such as gold and land were presented to the temple. “When King Sundara Pandian defeated the king of Odisha, he presented an emerald necklace worn by that king to the Srirangam temple,” he said .
Lands were leased out and people even took loans that were repaid. The Tiruvottiyur Thyagarajaswamy temple used to give out loans. In the Sri Parthasarathy Swamy temple in Triplicane, there is an inscription mentioning that before 808 CE, the temple priests had sold some jewellery and gold utensils and that an affluent resident had purchased those pieces and returned them,” Mr. Chakravarthi said.
Most jewellery offered to temples these days is presented to the utsava idols. “If a temple is replacing a piece of jewellery, it will most certainly retain the original design. Some temples ask for a particular pattern available in other temples. The neela nayakam (big blue stone),
pachai (emerald) and red rubies are usually a must among temple ornaments. These are big pendants and catch the eye,” said a source in GRT Jewellers, which makes jewellery for temples. Devotees also present gold and silver kavacham (armour), utensils and sodashopa upacharam sets needed for pujas.
Some pieces of ornaments like the nethi chutti, (worn on the forehead) have been mentioned by the Alwars in the Nalayiradivyaprabandham. Srirangam’s Ranga Vimana Padhakam is a huge pendant with the image of the entire scene inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple including the Pranavakaara vimanam. Robert Clive is said to have presented a makara kandikai haaram (a long haaram with ‘Pukhraj makarapakshis or parrots) to the Sri Varadarajaperumal temple in Kancheepuram. The nose ring worn by the Kanyakumari Amman idol is very famous too.