As an astrologer, one of my dreams is to lead other astrologers on this pilgrimage to the Navagraha Temples around Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu.
Nava Graha is the sanskrit term for the 7 classical planets Moon to Saturn and the two “shadow planets” Rahu and Ketu, also know as the North and South Node. There are a cluster of temples dating from the Chola period (10th to 13th centuries) around Kumbakonam. 8 of them are actually Shiva temples. The Surya temple is the only one that is dedicated to the Graha itself.
While others see things like the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Qutb Minar and the City Palace of Jaipur on their first journey to India, I went all the way to the southeastern tip of India to do this pilgrimage.
To understand why, I should explain that India has the longest unbroken astrological tradition in the world. This astrological world view believes in an active Anima Mundi, or soul of the world, that recognizes, works with and acts upon us in response as we recognize,work with and act upon it. This is major aspect of hindu thought as well, where one performs homams, yagnas or pujas for certain results. As we participate with this force, it reciprocates and answers us. Part of this tradition includes assigning what are called “remedial measures” or remedies for problems in the natal chart. This can be done by doing things like wearing gemstones, repeating mantras, using yantras, or even doing mundane tasks like feeding a black dog. Making a pilgrimage to the Navagraha temples is also a form of remedial measure that gives a boost to the entire birth chart, as the pilgrim receives “darshan” of all of the planets.
Darshan means “to view”, and the thing that I learned when on this pilgrimage was that, by receiving Darshan, I wasn’t just getting to view the deity, the deity also got to view me and take note of my respect and devotion.
The journey was wonderful and scenic, especially at 6 am when we started out. Most of these temples are in small villages surrounding Kumbakonam, and the scenery is replete with Coconut trees and lush foliage. The temples are all in Southern Dravidian style. A few of them, like the Vaitheeswaram Koil, are archtecturally important with beautiful sculptures.
A few of these temple experiences are worth noting. Most astrologers know that the planets have significations, or things that they represent. For instance, the Moon represents the color white. At the Chandra(Moon)shrine in Thingaloor, my driver and I were offered round white sweets. Mercury rules young people, and all of the pujaris at the Bhuda(Mercury)shrine in Thiruvenkadu were young boys. But I had the most amazing experience at Vaitheeswaram Koil, which is an extremely famous and powerful temple in it’s own right. Vaitheeswaram Koil houses the Angkara(Mars) shrine. Mars rules war, contentions and the letting of blood. After taking off my shoes before entering the temple I immediately stubbed my toe, drawing blood. I hadn’t even entered yet and walked into the temple with my bloody foot, realizing that the presence of Mars was permeating this entire site. The Angkara shrine was crowded with many pilgrims from all over India, and as I drew nearer I realized that all of them were arguing intensely!!! Mars was most certainly present in that place!
As I mentioned, Vaitheeswaram Koil is a famous and important temple in it’s own right. The site is also famous for a particular style of astrological reading called Nadi. These readings use your thumb print in order to find Nadi leaves that correspond to the print. The astrologer then does a reading based on what the leaves say. I didn’t have a Nadi reading while I was there because I had heard that there are many charlatans there who just want to take your money, but I have since heard about a few reputable astrologers there who are supposed to be the real thing.
Kumbakonam is easily reached by train and bus from Chennai and most other towns in Tamil Nadu. By the way, for non-vegetarians, I had one of the best Biryanis that I have ever tasted in Thirunallar, while waiting to get into the Sani (Saturn) Temple.
The list of temples are as follows: