Navagraha Sthalas, the most auspicious location where one can offer prayers to the nine planets, has been revered as the most important religious destination in Tamil Nadu. The name of the place itself means the location (Sthalas) of Nine Planets (Navagraha). The temples dedicated to nine planets are Vaideeswaran Koil Angaraka dedicated to Mars, Thiruvenkadu dedicated to Mercury (Budha), Keezhperumpallam dedicated to Ketu (stands for descending node of Chandra- Moon), Thirunallar dedicated to Saturn (Sani), Kanjanur dedicated to Venus (Sukra), Suryanar Koil dedicated to Sun (Surya), Thirunageswaram dedicated to Rahu (stands for the ascending node of Chandra - Moon), Thingalur dedicated to Moon (Chandra) and Alangudi dedicated to Jupiter (Guru).
All these nine temples are located in a close circuit, in and around the famous temple town of Kumbakonam. Each of these temples are unique with special features in beliefs, rituals and traditions. The temple structures are all attractive and architecturally marvelous. The locations are all picturesque and attractive. Apart from pilgrims, many tourists loving to enjoy the nature and its gifts prefer to visit Navagraha Sthalas.
Depending on time and mode of transport, the Navagraha Sthalas, representing nine planets our forefathers saw in the sky, are worshipped by devotees. First to be noted is that the main deities in these shrines are Lord Siva and his consort Goddess Parvati, who is also known as Goddess Brahma Vidyambigai (one who taught Brahma) and Lord Abathsagayeswarar (one who gave protection from danger). They are beneficent in themselves apart from the Navagrahas in their temples. The planets themselves are said to influence the course of life by their positions in the horoscope at the time of birth and later their sway over an individual's fortunes at specific periods in life. They each have their own cycle.
Lord Saturn, considered a powerful Navagraha, brings both good and bag to a person. Good effects can be heightened and bad mitigated by prayer. Rahu and Ketu are not associated with particular days of the week.
Seven of the nine planets correspond to days of the week
All the navagrahas can be seen in Suryanarkoil and in Siva and Sakthi temples, where they have separate shrines. Devotees light lamps and circle the shrines in multiples of three.
Each planet has unique to itself a colour, grain, metal, vehicle and gemstone. For example, the colour for the sun is red while the grain for moon is paddy. The vehicle for Budhan is horse while the flower for Guru is white mullai. The metal for Sukra is silver and the gem for Sani is sapphire.
Customs common to all the temples include making offering of cloth (vastram), grains, flowers and jewels specific to the particular navagraha and lighting a set number of lamps.
As for the benefits the planets confer, to name just a few, prayer to Rahu gives victory in all things while Ketu confers freedom from illness, poverty.
Temple Architecture: Barring Thingalur, the others are large in scale, some with carvings and murals that are stupendous as well as intricate. They were built mainly by the Cholas with later rulers adding embellishments. Apart from the main shrines, they have several others dedicated to deities like Ganapathi, Durga and Bhairava.
Suryanarkoil: First among the navagrahas is Surya or the life-giving Sun. Hindus believe that he has a great positive influence if placed strongly in the horoscope. The Sun is said to be the child of Sage Kashyap and Athithi and is believed to belong to the amsam (lineage) of the Supreme Trinity.
This temple has an interesting legend. Once, sage Kalamunivar studied his horoscope and found there was malefic influence by the navagrahas. He immediately prayed to them and they granted him relief. This angered the gods of the planets, namely, Vishnu, Siva and their consorts, who questioned the right the grahas had to grant boons and then cursed them with illness. When the latter prayed for relief, they were directed to perform a series of penances like visits to temples and bathing in holy ponds. They fulfilled this and are present here as celestials!
There is an inscription that Kulottunga Chola I built the temple in the 12th century A.D. It is a granite structure. The mukha mandapams were the contribution of the Vijayanagaras. There is a prakaram with three Rajagopurams.
The presiding deity is Surya, with his consorts Usha Devi and Prathyuksha Devi. There are shrines to Ganapathy, Kasi Visvanathar and Visalakshi, Nataraja and Sivakami, besides the other navagrahas. A speciality is that the other planets face Surya, unlike in other shrines, where the Sun is at the centre and the planets form a square around him.
Tamil Nadu road transport corporation buses connect Thanjavur and all the Navagraha sthalas temples with other major cities in the state. Regular bus services are available from Tiruchy and Madurai to Navagraha Sthalas. It is well linked with other cities by private tourist buses as well. It is connected to Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Madurai, Chennai and Bangalore.