Friday, February 27, 2015

Tirunelveli Region Travelogue (Pandyan Yatra 2015) Part 3.1: Vettuvankoil and Kazhugumalai Cave Temple

Vettuvankoil & Pallava Monoliths Mamallapuram
Vettuvankoil & Dharmaraja Ratha Shikara

After strenuous travel around Sankarankoil region the Day 1 programe came to an end and returned back to Tirunelveli. We looked forward the delicious food at Tirunelveli and found a restaurant to suit our taste. After dinner we retired to our rooms. After comfortable sleep, we had a bath and breakfast and re-gained energy and ready for the second day itinerary.  Also packed our luggage as we have planned to stay at a lodge in Kutralam after Day 2 travel.

Day 2:   Kovilpatti Region

The Toothukudi district is one of the most urbanized region. It has hot and dry climate. Kovilpatti and Tiruchendur are the two major towns. Kovilpatti region is known for the match factory (cottage)  industry.  Cotton is cultivated in Kovilpatti, Ottapidaram and Thoothukudi Taluks. The archaeological site at Adichanallur (part of Toothukudi district) holds the remains of the ancient Tamil civilization. 

The travel time between Tirunelveli and Kalugumalai was one hour. We traveled through SH 41 Tirunelveli - Sankarankoil Road and took diversion to the right and proceeded through Sivakasi - Alangulam Road. Traveled through the rural villages of Tirunelveli - Toothukudi with interest. Finally reached Kalugumalai.

Everyone was interested in visiting the Jain Abode and Vettuvankoil. Few of us were interested in visiting the Kazhukasalamurthy Rock cut cave Temple at the foot hill. We also visited this rock cut cave.

I will devote one post each for 1. Vettuvankoil 2. Jain Abode 3. Kazhukasalamurthy Temple and Kutralanathar Temple (Including Chitra sabha)

Kalugumalai Town:

The inscriptions of Nechuram aka. Tirunechuram, an ancient Pandya town (presently known as Kalugumalai ("Hill of the vulture") forming  part of the Kovilpatti Taluk, Tirenelveli district, Tamil Nadu) speak about the glorious past of the early Pandya kingdom. The coexistence Jain abode and academic center and the Hindu cave temple and monolithic rock cut temple at Araimalai hillock tell tales about the prevalence of religious harmony between Saivism and Jainism during that period. Nechuram was a sprawling trading center in olden days.


There are many monuments of interest at Kalugumalai (Nechuram)
  1. Kazugasalamoorthy Rock cut Cave temple (the Kazugasalamoorthy (Murugan) Temple)
  2. Jain Abode above the hillock (Bas relief images and Vattezhuthu inscriptions)
  3. Vettuvan Koil (Freestanding Monolithic Rock cut temple)
Three posts will cover about three monuments situated on Araimalai hillock.

Vettuvan Koil (Sculptor's paradise)

Name of the Monument: Vettuvankoil (Sculptor's Paradise)
Historical Name: Nechuram and Tirunechuram (as found in inscriptions)
Type of Monument: Freestanding Monolithic Rock cut Vimana
Name of the Hillock: Araimalai or Tirumalai (300-foot high  hillock spreading 52 acres)
Location:  On the east side of the Kalugumalai Vettuvan Koil is situated.
Period: Pandya rock cut monolith vimana built between 8th and 9th century
Date of visit: 24th January 2015. Timing 09.30 am to 01.00 pm

Vettuvankoil: Pandyan Yatra 2015

The wonder - struck Kalugumalai Vettuvan Koil ( Sculptor's paradise ) is the unique early Pandya rock cut monolith vimana built between 8th and 9th century and it has survived the rampage of time. Pallavas cut out and sculpted only the free standing rocks in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu.
Kailasnath Monolith Ellora

The Kailasnath temple at Ellora, the Rashtrakuta monolith in Deccan has been cutout by entrenching the soft rock all round. At Kalugumalai aka. Araimalai the Pandya sculptor's scooped out about 7.5 mts of granite rock from top to down. After trenching the sculptors formed about one mtr wide passage around the vimana.
Vettuvankoil: Neither Cave nor Monolith

In a strict sense the free standing Vettuvankoil vimana is neither a cave nor a monolith since the rectangular rock was shaped as vimana. It was a challenging task for the Pandya sculptors to excavate a rock cut two tier vimana out of a scooped out rock from the top to the bottom and they  cannot afford to make any mistake since correction was impossible.' If it had been completed, this would have been the best among the monolithic structures of the sub-continent.'

Araimalai Hillock
Kalugumalai foot hills is around 600 mts from the mofusil bus stand. We have reached Kalugumalai foot hills. Located Kalugumalai Vettuvan Koil on the east side of the Araimalai hillock and the Jain Abode on the south side of Araimalai. State Archaeolgical Department is protecting the monuments with barbed wires and the security staff will come and open the door at frequent intervals. There are steps (with rails) laid by the State Archaeolgical Department to reach Vettuvan koil site.
Vettuvankoil View from Jain Abode

From Vettuvan koil it is hardly around 20-40 steps to reach Jain abode. A pillayar koil is located at the summit of the hill and there is a flight of steps to the temple. First when we reach the Vettuvan Koil we first we had a glimpse from top of the rocks protected with parapet walls. State Archaeological Department has constructed parapet wall on all three sides of the rock surrounding the Vettuvankoil. 

We spent about 3- 4 hours to take note of each and every information about the monuments and the sculptures. From above, the vimana looks like a rising lotus surrounded by the hill on three sides. Also there were very few local visitors and tourists. We enjoyed in witnessing the sculptures and discussed in detail and clicked photos from our cameras and tablet PCs.

This east facing monolithic rock cut temple is the main attraction of Kalugumalai site and it receives the significant place in monolithic rock cut architecture and often draw comparison with monolithic Kailasnath temple in Ellora, monolithic temples of Pallava at Mamallapuram such as Arjuna ratha, Dharmaraja ratha and Pidari ratha and structural  temples such as Shore temple and Mukund Nayanar temple in Mamallapuram, Vijayalaya Cholisvaram in Narthamalai and Pattadakal in Bijapur, Karnataka. These monuments may be considered as a precursor of Vettuvankoil. In the book Kalugumalai and Early Pandyan Rock-cut Shrines, C. Sivaramamurti remarks “By far the most beautiful rock-cut temple of the Pandya period is the one at Kalugumalai, a half-finished free-standing monolith which recalls the famous temple of Siva at Ellora.”

For the first time full fledged stone monolithic vimana with all its basic six parts, the basement, wall, roof, griva, sikhara, and the stupi was attempted in Arjuna ratha, Dharmaraja ratha in Mamallapuram. It was at  Arjuna ratha, two-tired monolith, karnakuta (square shrine placed on corners) and Salas (oblong shrine placed on sides) as well as octagonal shaped Sikara (head) and Griva (neck) have been introduced.  The Karnakutas and the Salas above the roof are together called a 'Hara'. In Dharmaraja ratha a novel element called 'Panjara' was brought in between the Karnakutas and the Salas in the Hara structure. The Pallava sculptors treated the hara, shikharas and griva with skill and concern to represent miscellanea.  The Pallava sculptors also chiseled the sculptural masterpieces on all the tiers of these monoliths including different themes from Hindu puranas representing Shiva, Somaskandha, Vishnu, Krishna,  Varaha, Brahma, Mahishasuramardhini and other deities.

Vettuvankoil:Sanctum, Mandapa
The architecture and sculptures in Vettuvankoil reverberate the style of early Pandya era. mandapa (hall) without any pillar and sanctum (garbha-griha). Adhishtana (plinth or base), pada (pillars - wall) and prastara (roof) have not taken shape. The Pandya sculptors have only completed roof, two tiers, octagonal griva and octagonal shikara. The adhishtana and pada portions are incomplete. The walls, floors and roof of the mother rock including interiors and exteriors sanctum and mandapa appear rough and unfinished.
Pillaiyar Idol Installed

At a later date a Pillaiyar aka Vinayakar idol was installed and worshiped. The incomplete rock cut monolith temple appear plain and simple look.

The typical kapota or cornice is roughly sculpted between the prastara and the first tier of the vimana and it is common  for all South Indian temple structures. The horseshoe-shaped kudus are carved on kapota without any refinement with a row of hara over it.

Vettuvankoil Vimana

In Vettuvankoil the aditala or the first tier has the regular arrangement of the hara above the edge of the roof (harmya). Hara includes the string of miniature shrines known as karnakutas and salas. The shikhara of karna-kutas and salas have nasika (kudu like structure) on all four sides. Kudus are carved on these shrines with an image placed below the kudu. The image is large enough to cover the niche formed by pilasters of this storey.
Annavasal-karukku & Kodimangai
The karnakutas and sala are decorated with annavasal-karukku design and maiyappalaikarukku design with a kodimangai (nymph) appear in reclining posture.

Kudu: Feminine Figure
The typical kapota or cornice is sculpted with refinement in the first tier of the vimana. The kudu ('Nest') an arched or horse-shaped opening are carved on kapota. The kudus are adorned with interesting feminine figure in the middle. Canonical pilasters below the kudu encloses beautiful feminine figurine.

Buta Ganas
A frieze of 'bhuta ganas' shown under the cornice in the first tier of the Vimana. The dwarf attendants of Lord Siva, super humanbeing, are shown with odd characteristics - strange dwarf figures, some are seen with pot bellies, some with swelled faces, some with projected teeth, some playing the flute, some drumming, some dancing, some clapping etc. A frieze of Ganas is often an Indian temple architectural motif and prescribed in the canonical texts of Hindu temple architectureMany odd images of the bhuta ganas are shown in various actions mostly of dancing.

South Sala Shrine: Shiva
The south sala shrine houses the image of Lord Shiva appear seated in Suhasana posture with the left leg hanging down and the right leg placed on the right thigh; the body is slightly slanting towards the left and leaning forward. Of the four hands, the back right hand holds deer and the back left hand holds mazhu (an axe-like weapon), the front left hand resting on the left thigh and the front right hand is showing abhaya hasta  mudra (broken). His hair is arranged in jatamakuta. The ear ring is badra kundala. The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and the ornamentation includes kandikai, udara bandha, nagabandha armlets bands, bracelets and anklets.

West Sala Shrine: Vishnu
The west sala shrine houses the image of Vishnu, appear seated in Utkutikasana posture with the left leg hanging below the seat and rests on a pedestal while right leg kept bent upwards. He holds the chanka (conch) in his back left hand and his back right hand holds the characteristic Prayoga Chakra (an early sculptural feature where the Chakra is held straight instead of the later side-on posture). He rests his left hand on the seat and the right hand is broken. The body is slightly slanting towards left. Lord wears kreeta makuta, kundala earring, yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with sarapali; udarabandha, keyyura /  tolvalai and valai. He wears silk dhoti around the waist. The seat of the Lord is supported by two simha images.

North Sala Shrine: Brahma
The north sala shrine houses the image of Brahma appear seated in Utkutikasana posture. Of the four hands, his back right hand holds akshamala; the left hand holds lotus flower; the front right hand is resting on his right thigh and and the front left hand rests sidewards on the floor. His hair is arranged in jata-bandham. The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with sarapali, udara-bandha, armlets, bracelets and draping the bright yellow garment on his waist.

Capstone: Nandi 4 corners & Yali frieze
The square capstone is interspersed between the top of the second storey of the vimana and the base of the octogonal griva. At the top of the square capstone of the second storey four Nandi images are placed one each at four corners at the square base of the griva. These Nandis either face east or west but no north and south. The capstone cornices are embellished with lion (yali) frieze.
Octogonal Shikara, Griva & Mahanasika
Above the second tier is placed the octogonal griva (neck) which is topped with octogonal shikara. The octogonal shaft  of the griva is decorated with pilasters adorned with kodikarukku. The octogonal form of shikara put the vimana under Dravida architectural style. Octogonal shikara has maha-nasikas embellished with a kind of sculptural ornamentation known as 'Koor karukku' in middle of each side. Kodipalai Karukku, a kind of sculptural ornamentation, adorns the corner joints of the octogonal bar.  Below maha-nasikas niches are provided and the niches houses the veritable gallery of sculptures:
Uma Sahita Murthy
Shiva as Uma Sahita Murthy with consort Uma (Parvathy) appear below the east mahanasika. The Lord is depicted in 'Ardha Padmasana' posture with four hands. The rear right hand holds mazhu (an axe-like weapon) and the left hand holds the maan (deer). The right forehand shows some mudra (broken) and left forehand rested on the lap. His hair is arranged in jatamakuta. The ear ring is badra kundala. The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and the ornamentation includes kandikai, udara bandha, elbow bands, bracelets. The consort is depicted in 'Maharaja lilasanam' posture seated with royal ease with right leg bent to rest on the seat and the left leg bent upwards. The goddess wears karanta makutam a head-gear.  She also ornamented with rich necklaces, keyura or tolvalai, bracelets and fine clothing and mekala in the waist. The excellently modeled images of the divine couple appear seated casually with ease. Graceful smile of Shiva attracts the consort and she looks at him with slight tilt of head. The sculpture exhibits the well-developed craftsmanship of the early Pandyas and strikes the correct balance between dignified masculinity and graceful femininity. 

Mridanga Dakshinamurthy
Shiva as Pushkara Dakshinamurthy, the Master of instruments appear below the south mahanasika. The Lord is depicted with four arms and his upper body is slightly turned and slanting towards the right, balancing the mridangam held gracefully upon his right thigh. With the two forehands the Lord is playing on a mridanga (drum with two faces). The Lord appears in virasana posture with left leg is stretched down (lambaka padam) and is stamping upon (samharaka) the dwarf (apasmara – purusha: representing ignorance and delusion) -- (apasmaroparishthat tu lamba-pada-talam nyaset). This suppression (nirodha) of ignorance is described as the tirobhava aspect of Sri Dakshinamurti. And, his right foot bent at the knee is resting on his left knee or thigh (sayanam padakam or kunchita-paada). His hair is arranged as jatamandala woven into circular form. His sitting posture is relaxed; his body position and carriage is free from bends and rigidity. His general aspect is calm and meditative. Lord wears karnavali or vrutta-abharana or open circular earring,  yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with  sarapali; kati-bandha jewelled waist band; naga-bandha armlets and anklets. The sculpture is breathtakingly real and artistic.
Naraimha (Vihnu)
Vishnu as Lord Narasimha (lion-headed avatar of Vishnu), appear below the west mahanasika and keep seated in yogasana or in meditation posture with the two legs crossed each other like the Swasthik symbol. He holds the chanka (conch) in his back left hand and his back right hand holds the characteristic Prayoga Chakra (an early sculptural feature where the Chakra is held straight instead of the later side-on posture). He rests his left hand on the seat and the right hand is broken. The body is slightly slanting towards left. Lord wears kreeta makuta, kundala earring, yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with sarapali; udarabandha, keyyura /  tolvalai and valai. He wears dhoti around the waist. The seat of the Lord is supported by two simha images.
Brahma appear below the north mahanasika and keep seated in Ardha Padmaana (cross-legged - in the Half-Lotus posture) posture on a lotus seat. Of the four hands, his back right hand holds akshamala (rosary beads); the left hand holds lotus flower; the front right hand is in abhaya mudra and the front left hand rests on his thighs. His hair is arranged in jata-bandham. The yagnopavita (sacred cord) runs across his chest and ornamented with sarapali, udara-bandha, armlets, bracelets and draping the bright yellow garment on his waist. Two elephants are shown before the lotus pedestal.

Shikara: Lotus Whorl. Finial Absent
The shikra top shows a small pit by which we can easily guess about the presence of finial or stupa and now it is absent. The octogonal shikara is decorated with a lotus whorl on top. The lavish decoration of the shikara with kodipalaikarukku and the mahanasikas with koorkarukku.


The local legend give an account about the Perunthachan or the chief architect of Vettuvankoil and his son. On top of the Araimalai hillock the father engaged in sculpting the Vettuvankoil. At the bottom of the hillock the son was hearing the rhythmic sound of the chisel engaged in sculpting Vettuvankoil and applying the same rhythm to sculpt similar structure at the bottom of the hillock. Perunthachan sensed activities at the bottom of the hillock and never knew that his son only was following him. In a fit of jealousy Perunthachan throw the chisel to slash the neck of his own gifted son. When he realized that his hasty action has killed his son, he wanted to penalize himself and as a penalty he left the Vettuvankoil construction work unfinished. As a result the Vettuvankoil was never completed.


According to scholar K.V. Soundararajan, the octagonal shikara was the early architectural style or feature of the southern Pandyan kingdom and the Vettuvankoil could be the 'oldest in the series.' 'Any Pandyan architectural activity with Chalukyan indebtedness, aside of Pallava influence in the homeland itself, would esentially be of post Mamalla phase. The earliest structural temples of the Pandyas with octagonal and square ‘sikhara,' in that order, would suggest that the Kazhugumalai temple, which has an octagonal ‘ sikhara,' would have been part of a viable earlier phase of temple design when the octagonal ‘ sikhara' held the field. All these would seem to help in the circumscription of the incidence of the rock cut temple mode of southern dynasties – notably the Pandyas – almost securely between c. A.D. 675 and c. A.D. 860.'

However the name of the ruler who was instrumental in commissioning this monolith and why this structure was left incomplete remain as mystery. Some wild guess by scholars indicate the name as the celebrated Pandya king, Parantaka Nedunchadayan, who had patronized and over-generously gifted for both Brahamanical and Jain religious orders and promoted their temple construction. The Jain monument located on a somewhat raised area of the same hill too carries his inscriptions.

Maintenance & Timing:

The monument is maintained by the Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu.  Timing - 7.30 am to 7.30 pm. The entrance to the monuments is free. The Vettuvan Koil and Jaina Abode are protected with grill and barbed wire and the entrance remain under lock and key. If requested the Dept. of Archaeology security will open the doors. 

How to get there:

Kalugumalai is around 20 km from Kovilpatti. All the buses to Sankarankoil via Kovilpatti will stop at Kalugumalai. Kovilpatti is well connected with Madurai and Tirunelveli.  Kalugumalai Vettuvan koil is about 600 mts towards north from the moffsal bus stand and can be reached by  walk.

By air: Thoothukudi airport is closest to the kazhugumalai (80km) to fly from Chennai.

By train: The peal city Express or Nellai Express from Chennai Egmore station to Kovilpatti Junction is the comfortable overnight option and other train to Kanyakumari.

By bus: Well connected road available for Kazhugumalai because it is 20km away from Kovilpatti (which is in NH7) at Kovilpatti Sankarankoil road in Thoothukudi district. Kazhugumalai is 150km from Madurai 60km from Thirunelveli and 25 km from Sankarankoil.

Reference (For Further Studies also):
  1. Desai,     P.B. Jaina Epigraphs, Jainasamskriti Samrakshakasamgha, Sholapur 1957. 
  2. Ekambaranathan, A and Sivaprakasam, C.K. Jaina Inscriptions in Tamil Nadu, Research Foundation for Jainology, Madras 1987.
  3. Ekambaranathan, A Kazhugumalai (Tamil) (Professor, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras)
  4. Ekambaranathan, A. Kalugumalai and Jainism.
  5. Engineering Marvel. Vijayakumar.S. The Hindu. June 14, 2013.
  6. Ganapathi, S.M. Kazhugumalai, Vettuvan Kovil (Tamil) (Retired Curator, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology)
  7. Kazhugumalai deserves universal recognition.  The Hindu. August 8, 2012.
  8. Opulent sculptures - Epigraphist V.Vedachalam's forte is the tudy of Jaina sites. Frontline. Vol 25, issue 21. October 11-24, 2008.
  9. Rockcut shrine. The Hindu. July 20, 2011.
  10. Royal shrines. Frontline vol. 25, issue 01. Jan 05-18, 2008
  11. Sivaramamurti, C.  Kalugumalai and Early Pandyan Rock-cut Shrines 
  12. Southern Connection. Frontline. July 25, 2014.
Youtube:Kazhugumalai, Tamilnadu India by Subashini Tremmel

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tirunelveli Region Travelogue (Pandyan Yatra 2015) Part 2.2: Malayadikurichi Cave Temple and Sankaranarayanar Kovil

Mahadeva swamy Cave Temple, Malaiyadikurichi
Refer Picasa Album for more photographs on  Malaiyadikurchi
After lunch at Sankarankovil we continued our travel to Malaiyadikurichi Rock-cut cave. From Sankarankovil we traveled towards Puliankudi (புளியங்குடி) road and took diversion at Mullikulam and further proceeded via Thalaivankottai to reach Malaiyadikurichi village. The rock-cut cave is located towards northern side at the outskirts of the village on a rock slope of the hillock.

Name: Mahadeva swamy Cave Temple, Malaiyadikurichi (மலையடிக்குறிச்சி)
Presiding Deity: Mahadeva swamy (மஹாதேவ ஸ்வாமி) (Lord Shiva)
Consort: Marakathavalli Amman (மரகதவல்லி அம்மன்) appears in a separate sanctum. (Later addition)
Date of Visit: 23rd January 2015 between 03.30 and 05.00 am.
Category: Early Pandya Rock-cut cave at Malaiyadikurichi
Architecture Style: Early Pandya style

Architecture: The Malaiyadikurichi rock-cut cave temple consists of a rock-cut sanctum, a mukhamandpa (முகமண்டபம்) or the rectangular pavilion (hall) resting on pillars, facade of the cave, and the structural mahamandapa (மகாமண்டபம்) (an open pavilion (hall) resting on pillars) all arranged consecutively facing east..

The cave temple is surrounded  by the perimeter wall. The entrance to the mahamandapa is seen both on the east and the south. Two Nandhis (நந்தி) images facing the sanctum are located before the eastern entrance. Also there is another Nandhi image facing the sanctum of the consort is located at the southern entrance.

South Entrance showing Nandhis
The pillared mahamandapam or entrance pavilion (hall),  5.70 mts in the east - west and 5.17 mts in the south - north directions, was an addition made in the frontage to the rock-cut cave temple during the Nayaka Rule. The conspicuous components of the mahamandapam basement are upanam, kantha with padha, and pattika or peruvajana. The walls sectioned by brahmakanta (square) pilasters and above the pilasters there are vettu potikas holding the prastara components such as uttira (beam), vajanam, valabhi and kapotha with kudus. The flight of two steps leads to the mahamandapam. was an addition made in the frontage built during the Pandya Rule

Pillared Mahamandapam with Nandhi

The pilasters (door frames) at the eastern and southern entrances bear small nagabandhas, lotus medallion and torana. The roof of the mahamandapam is supported by pillars segmented as three squares with kattu in the middle. Above the pillars, vettu potikas extend its limbs to support prastara components - uttiram, vajana and valabhi. 
Sanctum of consort Marakathavalli Amman: South facing sanctum has upa-peetam, wall without pada, uttiram, vajanam, valabhi and kapotham. The front wall of this sanctum show inscriptions in fragments. Also there are inscriptions on the faces of pillars and there are few inscriptions on the northern wall. Few inscription stones re-fixed on the wall in an inverted direction during renovation. 

Goddess Marakathavalli appears wearing jatamakuta and the right hand holding the flower and the left hand rested on the lap.

Marakathavalli Amman
Facade: Two pillars and two pilasters supports facade. Comparing the upper brahmakanta (square) the lower brahmakanta (square) and kattu are larger. Except  western face of the square pillar, all the faces are decorated with circular medallions with variety of flower patterns - lotus whorls or kodikarukku (leaf pattern). One of the circular medallion is decorated with lotus flower whorls and an image at the center appears in lalithasanam posture with palm leaf coil ear ornament, haram with pendant, short robe around waist and the breast band. The image appear seated and resting its right hand on a pillow. Two chauri bearers also appear. The medallions in the eastern upper faces of the pilaster are also decked with lotus flower whorls. The upper northern face of the pilaster at southern wall possess makara medallion surrounded by kodikarukku (foliate leaf pattern) motif. Similarly the pilaster at northern wall is decorated with medallion with swan (annam) motif at the center.

Lotus Medallion

Lotus Medallion with center figure

Kodikarukku with swan

The taranga potikas with unique coiled edges  and broad median patta rest on pillars and pilasters. The coiled pattern taranga potikas appear unique and different from Tirumalapuram taranga potikas. The potikas support the prastara elements, like uttiram vajana and valabhi, running adjoining roof. The kapota extends out and joins with mahamandapa roof.

Taranga Potika mid-band
Mukhamandapa: The facade extends to the rectangular mukha mandapa which measures 5.32 mts in north-south and 1.91 mts in east-west directions. The unifloor (evenly paved) forms part of the facade as well as mukhamandapa. The lateral walls and roof are forming part of mother rock and they appear plain and simple. The northern part of the wall bears the inscription of the Pandya king Sri Vallabha. The sanctum is excavated from the mid-western wall and appear as the projection. Two shallow niches (enclosed by two square pilasters) are carved on the western wall one on each side to the sanctum. The northern niche shows the traces bas relief image as a silhouette. Looks like a four armed human mounted on elephant and the umbrella and chauris are visible. The southern niche also shows the traces of bas relief image as a silhouette. Appears like a divine form and the bird seated on a stem of twiner is visible.

4 Armed Human Mounted on Elephant
Divine Form in Niche
Sanctum: The 41 cm high plinth (padabhanda adishtanam) with components of jagadi, vritta (rounded) kumuda, kantha flanked kampa without pada and pattika. The padas bear vedikas, vedikantha and kampa. The front wall of the sanctum bears two shallow koshtas one on either side. The two koshtas bear the traces of scrapped bas relief images. Both the bas relief images could be the dwarapalakas. The flight of steps leading to the sanctum also appears to have damaged. Hence new steps added at later date.

Sanctum & Niche Fig. Erased
 Makara Torana: The ornate Makara Torana (Capricorn Arch or festoon) carved out of a single stone with four opposed fierce makara-heads (crocodile heads) adorns above the entrance of the sanctum. It reminds us the Pallava style Makara torana at the Satrumallesvara rock-cut cave temple at Dalavanur and Draupadi ratha at Mamallapuram. Two opposing capricon heads, (facing north and south) are carved at the center of the door lintel and they appear spitting warriors (in miniature size) holding swords and shields. A male image seated on lotus flower flanked by two chauris is shown within the floral ring located at the center between two makara heads. The parallel pair of opposing makara heads are placed one each in the southern and northern corners of the festoon. The intricately coiled feathers appear spread across the entire door lintel.

Makara Torana (4 opposed Capricorn Heads)

Makara Torana: Center Figure
Makara Torana: Figure at Side
Makara Torana: Figure enlarged
 The rectangular sanctum cell (measurement: 1.71 mts height x 1.47 mts width x 1.63 mts length) holds a monolithic Shivalingam with square avudaiyar (ஆவுடையார்). The sanctum is simple and plain and devoid of any ornamentation. The rectangular avudaiyar measures about 0.74 mts in width and 0.41 mts in length and vesara (cylindrical) bana measures 0.29 mts in height and the plinth of the avudaiyar is composed with the elements like upana, athopadmavari (string of inverted lotus), kantha with kampa, urdhva padmavari (string of lotus), pattika with kampa. The gomukha (கோமுகம்) is seen on the northern side of the avudaiyar with a spout like formation.

Inscription:  The rock-cut cave is rich in inscriptions dating from the 7th century A.D. to 10th century A.D.

A Tamil (script) inscription is carved on the eastern face of the potika of the the northern pillar.  It stands as the unique record about the excavation of the cave temple by Sathan Eran of Sevur (சேவூர் சாத்தன் ஈரன்) for Pandya King Ko maran Sendan (கோ மாறன் சேந்தன்) during the king's seventeenth regnal year i.e, 637 A.D. It helps us to ascertain the exact date of the cave temple.
Ko maran Sendhan: Inscription
Inscription Northern Wall: Reversely built

Two inscriptions are found on the northern wall.  The royal order was issued to Devakanmi (தேவகன்மி) and Sri Maheswara kankani (மஹேஸ்வர கண்காணி) serving in the 'Pinakkarukkum Mahadeva' temple (பிணக்கறுக்கும் மஹாதேவர் கோவில்) vide inscription  dated in the 3rd regnal year of the Pandya king Sri Vallabha (ஸ்ரீ வல்லபன்). The inscription mentions Malaiyadikurichi as the Thenpitakai (தென்பிடாகை) of the Sri Paranthaka Chaturvedimangalam (ஸ்ரீ பராந்தக சதுர்வேதிமங்கலம்) of Arinattu Brahmadesam (ஆரிநாட்டு பிரம்மதேசம்). The royal order also mentions about the land tax exemptions (நிலவரி விலக்கு) to the piece of lands already gifted for the daily puja rituals (திருப்படிமாற்றுள்ளிட்ட நித்த நிவந்தம்) of Mahadeva temple by the Sri Vallabha and his father.   

Another inscription dated in the 11th regnal year on the 143rd day registers the gift of Ammaikkulam (அம்மைக்குளம்).

The inscriptions on the faces of the pillars in the mahamanadapa mentions the names such as Konamalai Iramanarayana Pillai (கோணமலை இராமநாராயண பிள்ளை),  Patpanatha Pillai (பற்பநாத   பிள்ளை) and Palaimutram Chittan (பாலைமுற்றம்  சித்தன்).

Another royal order was issued to Devakanmis (தேவகன்மி) and Shiva-brahmins (சிவபிராமணர்கள் ) of this temple vide inscription dated in the 12th regnal year of the Pandya King Maravarman Sundarapandyan II (இரண்டாம் மாறவர்மன் சுந்தரபாண்டியன்) (1238-1251).

One more inscription registers the tax exemption to the village called Samanthanallur (சாமந்தநல்லூர்) gifted already by one Chokkanar Samanthan (சொக்கனார் சாமந்தன்) for daily puja rituals (சந்திகால திருப்படிமாற்றுள்ளிட்ட நித்த நிவந்தம்).

It is learned from fragments of inscriptions about the land measuring stick (நில அளவைக்கோல்) called 'Virapandyan kol (வீரபாண்டியன் கோல்) (stick), Pannirendadi kol (பன்னிரெண்டடிக் கோல்) (12 feet measuring stick) as well as few names of the Pandya irrigation canals and tanks and the names of the officials of the Pandya kingdom.

Period: The inscription records the date as 17th regnal year (637 A.D.) and the name of the Pandya king Ko maran Sendhan (கோ மாறன் சேந்தன்) who was instrumental for the excavation of this cave temple. Hence the same date could be assignable to this rock-cut cave.

Getting there

Malaiyadikurichi PIN: 627755, is a small village located near Dharugapuram (தாருகாபுரம்) in the taluk of Sivagiri (சிவகிரி), division of Kovilpatti, district of Tirunelveli, in the State of Tamil Nadu. From Sankarankovil Malaiyadikurichi can be reached by traveling on the Sankarankovil - Puliangudi road and take diversion at 13.4 km and proceed Dharugapuram via Thalaivankottai (தலைவன்கோட்டை).  Puliyankudi , Sivagiri , Sankarankoil and Rajapalayam are the nearby Cities to Malayadikuruchi. Malaiyadikurichi is located about 17 km from Sankarankovil; 09 km from Puliyankudi; 11 km from Sivagirit and 30 km from Rajapalayam. It is located 75 km towards North from District head quarters Tirunelveli. From Chennai it would be around 614 km.

By Road: This is a small village hence you may not get proper and regular transport, so arrange a taxi from whichever town you plan to visit here.

Railway station: Sivakasi Railway Station is major railway station 53 KM near to Malayadikuruchi

Airport: Tuticorin Airport- 100 km; Madurai Airport   111 km and Trivandrum International Airport- 112 km


  1. Inscriptions Tells Tales. Pradeep Chakravarthy. The Hindu Jaunuary 14, 2011
  2. மலையடிக்குறிச்சி குடைவரையும் கல்வெட்டுக்களும். தென்மாவட்டக் குடைவரைகள். மு. நளினி, இரா. கலைக்கோவன். டாக்டர். இராசமாணிக்கானார் வரலாற்றாய்வு மையம். திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி.  pp. 81 - 97

Sankaranarayanar Temple, Sankarankovil

Refer Picasa album for more pictures on Sankaranarayanar Temple
After visiting the rock-cut cave Malaiyadikurichi we returned back to Sankarankovil by 05.30 pm. As there was enough time, we thought of visiting the Sankaranarayanar Temple. The temple was not included in our itinerary.

Prime deity: Sankara Linga Swamy aka. Sankaranaaraayana Swamy
Procession Deity: -     
Goddes / Consort: Gomathi Amman
Holy Tree:: Punnai (Botanical Name - Calophyllum inophyllum)
Holy Water: Naga Sunai theertham
Historical Name: Poo Kailaayam, Punnai Vanam, Seeraasapuram, Seeraasai, Vaaraasaipuram, Koozhai Nagar.
Date of visit: 23 January 2015 from 06.00 to 08.00 pm

Temple Tower
Sankaranarayana Shrine: This temple is the representation of fusion of two Hindu faiths Saivism and Vaishnavism. The name Sankara joining with the name Narayana has given rise to Lord Sankaranarayana.  The Lord  is the combined manifestation of Siva and Vishnu (half - Lord Shiva and the other half - Lord Vishnu) and therefore the sanctum houses the deity by the name Sankaranarayanan, which is Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu grace the devotees together.  Lord Sankaranarayana shrine is in between the shrines of Lord Shiva and Gomathi Amman.

Lord Shiva is fond of holy bath or ablution (Abhishekam) - the process of bathing Shivalinga with the prescribed eleven ingredients. At this shrine holy bath is offered to to Lord Chandramouleeswara the Spatika Shivalinga or crystal Shivalinga. Lord Vishnu is Alankara Priyar (Desirous of ornamentation). Hence Narayana form of this shrine have elaborate alankaram (decoration ceremony).

Lord Sankaralingam Shrine: Lord Sakaralingam (Shivalingam) appears in a separate sanctum.

Gomathi Amman Shrine: In Sanskrit 'Go' means cow and 'Mathi' means moon. Goddess Ambica is named as Gomathi since she wears a face as radiant as the Moon and being the custodian of cows. For Gomathi, Avudaiyambikai' is the equivalent term in Tamil. Goddess is decorated with flowers on Mondays and appears with golden skirts on Fridays. Sri Chakra (Agna Chakra), personifying the glory and power of Shakti, is instituted either under the peeta or in front of Gomathi Amman. 

Legend: The temple is full of legends. Sambha and Padma (Two serpent kings kept worshiping Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu respectively) and they wanted to understand as to who was superior Hari or Shiva ? It is at this temple that they were shown that Shiva and Hari are the same (ஹரியும் சிவனும் ஒன்னு).

Manikkireevan, a deva took birth as a Paraiyan (out caste) after being cursed by Goddess Parvathi. He was known as Kavaraparaiyan. By chance he demolished a snake pit and later found a snake and a Shivalingam inside the pit. He got panicked after seeing snake pit and rushed to inform King Ukkira Pandya. During the same time Ukkira Pandya's  elephant also fell into a pit and could not move. Following this the King also heard the voice of Lord Shiva directing him to construct a temple at the spot.



One of the  huge temple complex (4.5 acre) that can be found in the district of Tirunelveli and dedicated to Sankaranarayana. Temple architecture under the Nayaks is quite detailed and elaborate. The temple has a 9 tier imposing Rajagopuram.  This temple is surrounded by high perimeter walls and the gopuram has many beautiful stucco images. 

The large courtyards surrounding the three sanctums of this temple. The temple tower is covered from top to bottom with a vast number of heavily stuccoed images of the Hindu pantheon. The pillars in the mandapas depict life size sculptures - Rathi, Manmadha, Kuravan, Manakkreevan and others. The beautiful fresco paintings adorning the sanctum walls and mandapa ceiling. The stone idol of Nataraja is unique. Lord Narasimha finds a place in koshta in lieu of Lingodbhavar. Nandhi before the sanctum is under a Rudraksha Pandal-tent. 

Ornated Wall
Paintings around Sanctum

Inscription: The construction of this temple was commenced at 1022 A.D. by Pandya king Ukkira Pandyan.

Unique features:

  1. One of the Pancha Bootha(five elements) Sthalas in the South Pandya country.
  2. People believe that the holy Sand from the anthill (Puttrumann)  from this temple has therapeutic powers which has a holistic way of healing skin diseases  .
  3. Devotees believe that Sankarankoil‘s Nagasunai (sacred tank) have been dug by serpent kings named Paduman and Sangam which has a miraculous power to heal those who bathe there.

Festival: Adi - Thapasu Temple falls in Auguest, are celebrated for 12 days with gaiety. 

How to Get there
Sankaranarayanaswamy Temple is located in Sankarankoil Town, Tirunelveli Distirict. It is located 33 km south of Rajapalayam and 120 km south of Madurai and 56 Km NorthWest of Thirunelveli and about 40 kms east of Western ghat Hills.

Train: Sankarankoil is situated in the train route from Chennai to Quilon and shencottai.

Youtube: Sankaran Kovil * Shiva & Vishnu as Sankaranarayanar Selvaganapathy S

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