An ancient temple of Lord Shiva linked to the game of chess at Thirupoovanur, near Needamangalam, in Tiruvarur district had garnered great public interest in the run up to Chess Olympiad hosted in Tamil Nadu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reference to the temple at the inauguration of the game's marquee global event in Mamallapuram today helped it gain global attention.
The presiding deity of the temple goes by the name of Sathuranga Vallabhanathar, an expert in chess. Sathurangam is the Tamil name for chess.
Legend has it that, Lord Shiva was called Sathuranga Vallabhanathar after winning the right to marry the daughter of a local king by defeating her in a game of chess. The princess, Rajarajeswari, is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi. As his daughter was a genius at chess, the king had declared that he would give the hand of his daughter to anyone who defeated her in the game. As none could defeat her, a worried king prayed to Lord Shiva.
The Lord was said to have appeared in the guise of an old man/s iddhar, surmounted the challenge to defeat Rajarajeswari in the game and later shed his disguise to marry the ‘Goddess’. The temple also houses a rare shrine for Chamundeeswari, who is said to have been sent as a nurse to Rajarajeswari, in Tamil Nadu.
Here is the story of how Chennai bagged the Chess Olympiad hosting rights.
Tamil Saiviite poet-saint Tirunavukkarasar had sung in praise of the temple in Thevaram. “The vimana of the main deity seems to be of a later period; probably belongs to the 13 th or 14 th Century. Eleven inscriptions have been copied from the temple by the Department of Epigraphy, Mysore (now Mysuru), in 1946-47. They roughly date back to the 13 th to 16 th Century and belong to the periods of the later Pandyas and Vijayanayagar kings. Most of the inscriptions are fragmentary or damaged and mostly pertain to endowments,” said R. Kalaikkovan, director, Dr. M. Rajamanikkanar Centre for Historical Research, Tiruchi.
“The temple documents that chess had been played in Tamil Nadu even 1,500 years ago. Chess in its early forms had originated in India and travelled to Europe, though it had undergone some minor changes,” said Thiruvadikudil Swamigal, founder, Jothimalai Iraipani Thirukoottam, a forum of devotees, who performed special poojas at the temple recently praying for the successful conduct of the Olympiad.
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This was an opportunity to highlight the temple’s heritage and Tamil Nadu’s historical association with the game as the country was hosting the Chess Olympiad for the first time, he said.
This article originally appeared in The Hindu on July 22