Sathuranga Vallabhanathar, the deity of chess

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The temple dedicated to him at Thirupoovanur represents the state’s historical connection to the game

The temple dedicated to him at Thirupoovanur represents the state’s historical connection to the game

An ancient temple of Lord Shiva linked to the game of chess at Thirupoovanur near Needamangalam in Tiruvarur district has attracted public interest ahead of the Chess Olympiad scheduled to start July 28 in Mamallapuram.

The presiding deity of the temple goes by the name of Sathuranga Vallabhanathar, a chess expert. Sathurangam is the Tamil name for chess.

According to legend, Lord Shiva Sathuranga was named Vallabhanathar after winning the right to marry a local king’s daughter by defeating her in a game of chess. Princess Rajarajeswari is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi. Since his daughter was a chess genius, the king had declared that whoever defeated her in the game, he would shake hands with his daughter. Since no one could defeat them, a concerned king prayed to Lord Shiva.

The Lord is said to have appeared in the form of an old man iddhar, overcame the challenge of defeating Rajarajeswari in the game and later shed his disguise to marry the “goddess”. The temple also houses a rare shrine to Chamundeeswari who is said to have been sent to Rajarajeswari in Tamil Nadu as a nurse.

The Tamil Saiviite poet-saint Tirunavukkarasar had sung the temple at Thevaram. “The vimana of the chief deity appears to be of a later date; probably belongs to the 13 th or 14 th Century. Eleven inscriptions were copied from the temple by the Department of Epigraphy at Mysore (now Mysuru) in 1946-47. They date from around the 13th century th until 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 refer to foundations,” said R. Kalaikkovan, director of the Dr. M. Rajamanikkanar Center for Historical Research, Tiruchi.

“The temple documents that chess was played in Tamil Nadu as early as 1,500 years ago. Chess in its early forms originated in India and traveled to Europe, although it had undergone some minor changes,” said Thiruvadikudil Swamigal, founder of Jothimalai Iraipani Thirukottam, a forum of devotees who recently performed special poojas in the temple and for the successful prayed implementation of the Olympiad.

This is an opportunity to highlight the Temple’s heritage and Tamil Nadu’s historical connection with the game as the country hosts the Chess Olympiad for the first time, he said.

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