The sacred Hindu oasis Araly | Sunday Observer

The sacred Hindu oasis Araly

4 August, 2019

For centuries kovils dominated the Northern Province, as they wielded their spiritual authority over the devotees. The kovil still plays an important role in each northern community. The kovil festivals bring the people together, sustaining traditions that have lasted for many generations. On a recent media assignment I came across a magnificent Hindu kovil which manifested such architectural majesty that I decided to stop and write about it. The Inlangaithalvu Murugamoorthy Kovil is the iconic landmark of Araly north. It stands against a backdrop of resilient palmyrah trees, and a bright blue northern sky.

The outer façade of the kovil is amazing, with a tall gopuram reaching towards heaven. The tower was adorned with many Hindu statues. As I walked towards the main entrance the morning pooja was almost over, as young men and women walked out. I stood outside the main door until the Hindu priest; attired in yellow veshti (traditional Tamil sarong) noticed me and asked me to come inside. The interior of the kovil resonated in shades of dark and light yellow. The main statue of Murugan with his consorts Valli and Deivanai dominated the inner sanctum. Colourful paintings enriched the aura inside the sanctuary.

The young priest Sivasri Ganesh Sujithan kurukal explained “Decades ago a small shrine had been built here, and all the Hindus of Araly used to come and worship here. The present chief custodian of this kovil is Thirukumar Nadesan, whose family has lived in North Araly for many years. He is the prudent visionary who decided to build a new kovil here, facing the North-East which is a good omen according to our religion”.

We walked around the massive kovil. There were eight figurines of the Rajavali-a mythical creature who is half lion and half elephant, and serves as the defender of Murugan. These stone carved figurines were fixed on large stone columns. I gazed up and noticed a hand painted motif of the zodiac chart. Another striking feature of the Murugamoorthy Kovil was a black stone statue of the peacock - which is believed to be the transport of Murugan in the divine realms. A senior devotee, realising that I was a Christian joined us and added “The building phase of this kovil lasted almost five years. The skilled craftsmen came from India, there were 15 of them. They stayed and worked here. Once completed, we had a special kumbabishekam ceremony. This is a practice done to sanctify the kovil. We use water purified by Vedic rituals and this water is poured gently on all the statues and then from the topmost point of the gopuram (tower) too. The grand pooja lasted for five days; we had so many visitors from overseas”.

We walked outside and the priest pointed to the three gopurams (towers). He said “The main gopuram is 60 feet tall and it has seven levels. This is the tower that is visible for miles. The other two towers in the North and South of the kovil are 30 feet high. The statues on the towers were sculpted in Mahabalipuram, a famous town in India. We conduct pooja every day, in the morning and evening. Hundreds of young men and women come here, as well as older residents and children. The kovil keeps the community together. We have had many Sinhalese visitors and we welcome them”. I am told that the massive wooden doors were a replica of the Thiruchendur Murugan Kovil in India. Two local carpenters had taken one year to design and sculpt this amazing masterpiece, laden with intricate designs.

As we walked outside the kovil I spotted the famous chariot (therr) kept inside a large shed. It had a bronze plate saying it was made in 1974. The massive wooden chariot stands about 20 feet high. Its outer section is adorned with intricate carvings. The second tier of woodwork is painted in gold. The wooden chariot is embellished with so much of art it stands as a solitary reminder of the talented young men who patiently built it decades ago. Four massive wooden wheels support this chariot. Each wheel was once carved out of the trunk of a vagai tree. The priest said that during the chariot festival almost 200 men pull the chariot as it moves in procession, to the pious and frenzied shouts of Aro Hara. A few curious youth had stopped their bicycles and joined us for a chat. They expressed their gratitude towards this kovil, as it imparts spiritual guidance to them. Thus this sacred kovil remains a radiant beacon to the people of Araly.