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The Alwars (also spelled Azhwars) are a group of 12 ancient Vaishnava saints who lived in Tamil Nadu and are famous for their poetry in praise of Vishnu. The Alwars are crucially important figures in the development of Vaishnavism; it is the principles and beliefs embodied in the Alwars' poems that ultimately gave rise to the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member). The Alwars praised many Vishnu temples and other sacred places of Vishnu in their poetry; a sacred place of Vishnu that was praised by at least one Alwar is called a Divya Desam, and there are 108 of them;here is the list.

One of the 108 Divya Desams is Thiruvidanthai near Chennai, the site of the Lakshmi Varahaswami temple, AKA the Nithya Kalyana Perumal Vishnu temple:

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This is where Vishnu's incarnation Varaha the boar appeared to the sage Galava and married his 360 daughters, all of whom were incarnations of Vishnu's wife Lakshmi. They all merged into a single woman, Komalavali, who appears on Varaha's lap above.

But this web page says that Vishnu also appeared to another sage in this location; for Thiruvidanthai it says "Prathyaksham to Markandeyar". Prathyaksham is a term for a god appearing directly before someone's eyes. So my question is, what is the story of Vishnu appearing before the sage Markandeya in this place?

For those who don't know, Markandeya is a famous sage who was saved from Yama god of death by Shiva because of his devotion to Shiva. But Markandeya is also a great devotee of Vishnu; the famous Upillaiappan Vishnu Temple near Kumbakonam is due to Vishnu appearing before Markandeya in his Venkateshwara form and marrying Markandeya's daughter. But does anyone know the story of Vishnu appearing before Markandeya in Thiruvidanthai? Is this before or after his interactions with Upillaiappan?

  • Can you provide the Sanskrit names of these kshEtras, if possible. In my experience, Tamil kshetras have a corresponding Sanskrit name. For e.g., Tiruvannaikoil is Jambukeswara. Thx. – user1195 Jan 25 '15 at 0:03
  • @moonstar2001 Well, I don't think Thiruvidanthal has a Sanskrit names. But the name of the deity, Nitya Kalyana Perumal, is Sanskrit except for the Perumal part (Perumal is a name of Vishnu). – Keshav Srinivasan Jan 25 '15 at 18:43
  • Thank you. How about Uppiliappan? Kumbhakonam has a Chakrapani temple. Is it the same? – user1195 Jan 26 '15 at 2:31
  • @moonstar2001 No, Chakrapani is a different temple. Chakrapani is a temple that's actually in Kumbakonam. Upillaiappan is in a place called Thiruvinnagar near Kumbakonam. I'm not sure whether Thiruvinnagar has a Sanskrit name, but this Wikipedia article says that the story of Upillaiappan is recounted in the Brahmanda Purana: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uppiliappan_Temple#Legend So presumably the account there would have Sanskrit names. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find it in the Brahmanda Purana. Here's the table of contents and index: tinyurl.com/kqrhhvs tinyurl.com/laxj5a5 – Keshav Srinivasan Jan 27 '15 at 3:01
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    @moonstar2001 I happened to go to the Upillaiappan temple the day after my last comment to you, and in the Sthala Purana of the temple it says that one of the boons that Markandeya asks Upilliappan is "The holy place should be known in his name as Markandeya kshetra." And then it says "The Lord glandly granted the boons as prayed for and further blessed that the place will be known as "Tiruvinnagar' and 'Tulasivani Markandeya kshetra'" – Keshav Srinivasan Jan 30 '15 at 14:18
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This is a story that I read in "Journey Through the Twelve Forests" by David L. Haberman. Markandeya occasion reminds me of Jed McKenna (the pseudonymous spiritual author) because their stories are so similar. McKenna occasionally quotes Indian spiritual works in his books, but not in a dogmatic fashion. The story which I'm about to relate is found both in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana.

D.L. Haberman version: Markandeya successfully enters the body of Vishnu and sees that the entire world is encapsulated inside it. "Everything is inside Vishnu." This is probably why the Vishvarupa of Vishnu is often described as being a macrocosm of everything. Traditional depictions of Vishnu show Him floating on an endless and featureless ocean, floating on His assistant, Shesha, accompanied by His consort, Lakshmi. Vishnu dreams the universe into existence. Alexandra David-Neel quotes a similar story where it is said that "the universe is but the dream of Brahman." Vishnu is often equated with Brahman, so, same difference.

At a certain point, Markandeya manages to escape from the mouth of Vishnu and finds himself outside of the universe, treading water on the featureless ocean (AKA, nowhere). He screams when he notices the utter nothingness around him. Vishnu wakes up and promptly plops him back in his mouth, thereby restoring his sanity. If you read McKenna's books closely you'll see that this is virtually, exactly what he experienced.

Mahabharata version: I read this one in the play adaptation by Jean Claude-Carrier, which is also quoted in McKenna's "Theory of Everything."

Much of the world has ended and become a wasted desert. Markandeya wanders around the wasteland for a several years until he sees a small blue child sitting underneath a tree (Vishnu). The child says: "you look tired, why don't you come into my mouth and rest?" Markandeya suddenly experiences a "strong disdain for life," and is swept up by an unimaginable current into the child's mouth. Wandering around inside the body of the child he sees everything on the Earth in its exact form. After an unknown amount of time he's suddenly drawn up back outside the child. The child says to him: "did you have a good rest?"

Bhagavata Purana version (book 12, chapter 9): Mr. Markandeya worships Vishnu until Vishnu is pleased with him. Vishnu asks Markandeya what he wants and Markandeya says he wants to see the power of the Lord's illusory potency. The Lord grants his wish.

Markandeya is walking around one day until the entire world undergoes dissolution, Mr. Markandeya is now floating on the causal waters all alone. Floating on some wreckage, he manages to make his way over to a child sitting underneath a tree, who once again inhales him into his body. He sees the entire universe inside for a moment and is exhaled back out.

Finding himself alone on the water, he realizes that the child is Vishnu and attempts to embrace him but at that moment the child disappears and he's left alone on the ocean. Suddenly the ocean disappears and Markandeya is once again back in his home.

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    I'm familiar with that story, but I've never heard of any indication that it has anything to do with Thiruvidanthai. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 15 '16 at 16:22
  • Oh I see what you're saying. Yes I narrated this story to you because I figured that the only story in circulation regarding Markandeya's interactions with Vishnu was the story regarding him being taken into Vishnu's mouth in order to experience Vishnu (Brahman) as the macrocosm of the universe. – James Yen Nov 15 '16 at 18:08
  • Sorry, hitting "enter" adds the comment. So if there's any mention of Vishnu appearing to Markandeya at Thiruvidanthai, then it must be in reference to the above story (since we don't know of any other stories, at least not within the Puranas and the epics). – James Yen Nov 15 '16 at 18:10
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    I'm basically just using deductive logic. If "Prathyaksham" means appearing directly to devotees, then the story I told above accords with that term. Since, in the story, Markandeya prays to Vishnu and Vishnu appears to him personally and grants his wish. – James Yen Nov 15 '16 at 18:12

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