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Oppiliappan

This is one of the important Vaishnavite temples in Tamilnadu. The deity is known by various names such as Oppiliappan, Uppiliappan, Thiruvinnagarappan, Venkatachalapathy, etc.

Location.

The temple is situated about 5 km from Kumbakonam by road. There are frequent bus services from Kumbakonam to this temple.

The Temple

The presiding deity in this temple is facing east in a standing pose while His consort Boomidevi is sitting next to Him facing north. Markandeya sits in a pose facing Boomidevi as if giving her in marriage to the Lord. There is no separate shrine for the Goddess and the Lord never leaves His sanctum without being accompanied by Boomidevi. The special feature in this temple is that salt is never used in the food offered in worship. The name Uppiliappan is connected with this practice.

Legend

Sage Mirikandu had a son by the name of Markandeya. The astrologers predicted on his birth that he would die young. When Markandeya heard that he would not survive beyond the age of 16 he started a penance to save him from death. Pleased with his penance Lord Shiva gave him the boon of immortality. After receiving this boon he undertook a pilgrimage to all the holy places in the country. When he arrived at a place full of 'Thulasi' plants he decided to stay there. He started another penance praying that he should have Boomidevi as his daughter and Lord Vishnu as his son-in-law. The penance continued for a long time and one day a child appeared under a 'Thulasi' tree where Markandeya was praying. When Markandeya enquired from the child who her parents were, the child replied that she did not know anybody except him. Markandeya was pleased with that answer and took her to his house and brought her up as his child.

The child grew up in Markandeya's household and eventually attained the age of marriage. Markandeya became worried about finding a suitable husband for her. Lord Vishnu who had sent Boomidevi to be Markandeya's child now wanted to take her back. He also wanted to play a trick on Markandeya. He transformed Himself into an old Brahmin of no means and went to the hermitage of Markandeya where Boomidevi was growing up and requested hospitality. Markandeya was only happy to receive this old man and gave him food and a place to rest. Later Markandeya enquired from the visitor as to the reason for his visit. The old man said that he heard that Markandeya was looking for a husband for his daughter and as he had no one to look after him in his old age, he had come to ask him for his daughter´s hand in marriage.

Markandeya was shocked to hear this preposterous request as he could in no way give his daughter in marriage to this old man. He told the old man that his daughter was not suitable for him as she was too young to look after him. At this the old man replied that he had already seen his daughter and he had made up his mind to marry her. If his request was not granted he would give up his life then and there.

Markandeya became distressed at this reply and was raking his brain to come up with some excuse to change the old man's mind. He gave the old man all sorts of excuses and finally said that his daughter did not know how to cook and that she did not even know how much salt to be added in cooking. The old man said that he was happy to eat food without salt and that he wanted to marry his daughter.

Markandeya was at the end of his wits and closed his eyes and prayed to Lord Vishnu to get him out of this predicament. When he opened his eyes the old man had disappeared and in his place there stood Lord Vishnu in all his glory.

Lord Vishnu told him, "You said that your daughter was too young to know how to cook and she did not know how much salt to add to her cooking. From today I am happy to eat food cooked without salt if you would give your daughter in marriage to me". Markandeya was only too pleased to give his daughter in marriage to his Lord. From that day the food offered to Lord Vishnu is free of salt. This is the reason the deity is known among many other names, as Uppiliappan (uppu+ ill+appan) which in Tamil means 'the One who does not take salt'.



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