Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra - Part 4
BY: SUN STAFF
Tamraparni River at Tirunelveli
Jan 30, CANADA (SUN) A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.
In Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya lila 9, we read about the Lord's travels in South India, where he stopped at a place called Tamraparni in Pandya-desa. In his purport to Madhya 9.218, Srila Prabhupada refers to several places called Tamraparni:
Madhya lila 9.218
sei ratri tahan rahi' tanre krpa kari'
pandya-dese tamraparni gela gaurahari
"Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu passed that night in the house of the brahmana. Then, after showing him mercy, the Lord started toward Tamraparni in Pandya-desa.
Pandya-desa is situated in the southern part of India known as Kerala and Cola. In all these areas there were many kings with the title Pandya who ruled over Madurai and Ramesvara. In the Ramayana the name of Tamraparni is mentioned. Tamraparni is also known as Purunai and is situated on the bank of the Tinebheli River. This river flows into the Bay of Bengal. Tamraparni is also mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.39).
Given the mention of several locations called Tamraparni, we of course want to pinpoint which site Lord Caitanya had His pastimes in. As stated, the Lord visited Tampraparni in Pandya-desh, which is in Kerala and Cola. But this is a different place from the Tamraparni mentioned in Ramayana. It's not immediately clear whether the Tamraparni also known as Purunai, on the banks of Tinebheli River, may be a third site.
In Madhya 9.219, we read that Mahaprabhu bathed in the Tamraparni River at Naya-tripati, a little southeast of Tirunelveli. Tirunelveli in is Tamil Nadu, quite a distance from the eastern Kerala border. Whether or not the place called Cola that Srila Prabhupada mentioned as being the site of Pandya-desa is in Kerala or Tamil Nadu is also not immediately apparent.
Madhya lila 9.219
tamraparni snana kari' tamraparni-tire
naya tripati dekhi' bule kutuhale
There was also a temple of Lord Visnu at Naya-tripati on the bank of the river Tamraparni, and after bathing in the river, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw the Deity with great curiosity and wandered on.
This Naya-tripati is also called Alwar Tirunagarai. It is a town about seventeen miles southeast of Tirunelveli. There are nine temples there of Sripati, or Visnu. All the Deities of the temples assemble together during a yearly festival in the town.
Regardless of whether the Madhya lila is referring to one or two places as Tamraparni (Kerala and Tamil Nadu), both are different than the Tamraparni mentioned in the Ramayana.
Historians suggest that the more ancient Tamraparni is dated to the 3rd century B.C., being mentioned in the Edicts of Asoka. Asoka refers to Tamraparni as being a place in Sri Lanka. That place name is substantiated by one of Ptolemy's maps, which places Tamraparni as being the island of Sri Lanka. This is undoubtedly the Tamraparni mentioned in Ramayana.
However, elsewhere in Asoka's Rock Edicts (II. and XIII.) Tambapanni is mentioned as being one of the Pratyanta desas, together with Coda, Pandya, Satiyaputta, Keralaputta, and the realm of Antiyaka Yonaraja. An Asoka scholar has identified this not with Ceylon, but with the River Tamraparni in Tinnevelly. Given that the Coda mentioned by Asoka is also called Cola, it is almost certainly the same place Srila Prabhupada has referred to in his purport to Madhya 9.218, which also mentions Pandya (-desh) and Kerala (-aputta).
Karayiar dam on Tamraparni, Tamil Nadu
This seems to confirm that the Pandya-desa situated in Kerala and Cola which Srila Prabhupada mentions in his purport to Madhya 9.218 is, in fact, located in Tamil Nadu, not Kerala. In other words, Cola refers to a Tamil Nadu location.
Further, given the Asoka scholar's identification of Tambapanni with Coda, Pandya and Keralaputta, and this Tambapanni being associated with the River Tamraparni at Tinnevelly, which is also known as Tirunelvili, this seems to indicate that the Tamraparni also known as Purunai, on the bank of the Tinebheli River (Madhya 9.218 Purport) is none other than the same Tamraparni in Tamil Nadu -- Tirunelvili and Tinebheli referring to the same place.
Elsewhere, in his purport to Madhya 9.79, Srila Prabhupada mentions Tinebheli district, and that the Tamraparni River is nearby. This is in the context of Lord Caitanya's visit to Sri Ranga-kshetra:
"According to some, the place known as Papanasana was located eight miles southwest of Kumbhakonnam. Others say that in the district of Tinebheli there is a city known as Palamakota and that Twenty miles west of there is the holy place known as Papanasana, near the river Tamraparni. Sri Ranga-ksetra is a very famous place. Near Tiruchchirapalli is a river named Kaveri, or Kolirana."
Vanatheertham Waterfalls on the Thamirabarani River near Papanasam, Tamil Nadu
The Tamraparni River
There are many names and spellings commonly used for the Tamraparni River today, including: Thamirabarani, Tamaraparani, Tamiraparani, and Thamiravaruni. The river originates from a peak in the hills of the Western Ghats, above Papanasam in the Ambasamudram taluk. It flows through the Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts of the Tamil Nadu. The Tamraparni flows eastward, entering the Bay of Bengal near Tuticorin. The Vanatheertham Waterfalls at Papanasam are situated close to the river's source, 16 km downstream.
The Tamraparni River has an ancient history, being mentioned in Sanskrit, Sangam and Tamil Texts. It is also glorified in the Thamirabarani-mahathmiyam
The Tirunelveli Sthala-purana narrates the story of the river's appearance. At one time, the sage Agasthiyar was asked by Lord Shiva to move to the South. Preparing him for the journey, Parvati Devi filled the sage's kamandala with water from the Ganges. On his arrival at Pothigai, Agasthiyar released the water and it transformed into the holy Tamraparni River.
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