Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tirunelveli Region Travelogue (Pandyan Yatra 2015) Part 4.2: Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple, Mannarkoil

Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple, Mannarkoil
Our next stop was the Mannarkoil. Mannarkoil Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple is located at a distance of about 1 km towards west side from Brahmadesam Kailasanathar Temple. From Ambasamudram The town and the temple is situated at a distance of about 5 km  from Ambasamudram off the Tenkasi  –  Kurtalam Highway.

Mannarkoil is an island  bounded by the Thamirabarani river on the south side, and the Ghatana river on the north side. The island looks like Srirangam near Tiruchirapalli. Rangam means island formed in between two river courses. Mannarkoil has always been in the pilgrimage itinerary in  Tirunelveli district by the vaishnavite population.

The historic Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple (இராஜகோபாலஸ்வாமி குலசேகர பெருமாள் கோவில்) is situated on three sprawling acres of land in the village of Mannarkoil. The imposing perimeter walls enclose temple structures. The village and the temple are mentioned as Vedhanarayanpuram (sound of Vedas is always heard here) and Rajendra Chola Vinnagaram respectively in ancient records.  
Quick Facts
  • Name: Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple, Mannarkoil
  • Historical Names: Vedhanarayanpuram (வேதநாராயணபுரம்), Vedapuri (வேதபுரி), Rajendra Vinnagaram (இராஜேந்திர விண்ணகரம்)
  • Presiding deity : Veda Narayana Perumal (வேதநாராயணப் பெருமாள்)
  • Processional deity : Rajagopalaswamy with Garuda
  • Consorts (Goddesses) : Vedavalli Thaayar (வேதவல்லித் தாயார்) and Bhuvanavalli Thaayar (புவனவல்லித் தாயார்).
  • Holy Tree: Jack tree  (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
  • Holy water: Tamirabarani river, Ghatana river, Bhrgu Theertha
  • Time to visit :  The temple is open from morning 7.00 clock till 12.00 noon and from 5.00 to 7.00 pm.
  • Location: Mannarkoil, bound by two rivers Thamirabarani  and  Ghatana. About 5 km West of Ambasamudram Town. Located in the Tirunelveli - Senkottah Road.
  • Contact: PS. Narasimha Gopalan Acharya @ 04634 252874

Unique Features

  • The village and the temple are located in an island surrounded by two perennial rivers - Tamirabarani and Ghatana.
  • In the 10th century A.D., after the Chola conquest of Pandyan country, the riverine of Tamirabarani - Ghadana nadi was established as a Chola colony.  Jatavarman alias Sundara Chola Pandya (1017-18 A.D), aka Chola Viceroy (feudatory of the Rajendra Chola I) formed new townships and converted the  forest lands for cultivation. This temple is the Chola temple built in the Pandya country. 
  • Ashtanga Vimana (Eight limbs or organs) architecture, one of the very ancient styles of temple construction, is radically distinctive vimana style of this temple. It is structural different from Sashtanga (six limbs or organs) vimana
  • Both the vimana and koshtam has Dakshinamoorthi (a form of Lord Shiva).
  • Vali worshiping Shivalingam
  • A dancing Ganesa sculpture
  • This temple has some miniatures of Ramayana.
  • The saint Kulasekara Azhvar spent his last 30 years in Mannarkoil and attained moksha here. Therefore Mannarkoil has become the Thiruvarasu Koil for Kulasekara Azhvar (திருவரசுக் கோவில்) (place where Azhvars join the feet of the Lord, is called 'Thiruvarasu' ) .  
  • As a token of respect, the temple authorities have aptly named this temple as Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple.
  • Mannarkoil is the birth place of Vaadhi Kesari Azhagiya Manavala Jeer (வாதி கேசரி அழகிய மணவாள ஜீயர்) who wrote extensive explanation (vyakgnanam (வியாக்யானம்) or urai) to Thiruvai Mozhi (திருவாய்மொழி) - 1102 hymns, composed by Nammazhvar (நம்மாழ்வார்), forming part of Nalayira Divyaprabandham (நாலாயிர திவ்ய பிரபந்தம்) or 4000 Tamil Hymns (Pasurams பாசுரம்). The title of the explanation  is known as ‘Panniraayira Padi.’ (பன்னிரெண்டாயிரப் படி).  
  • Shri.Narasimha Gopalan Acharya, who belongs to the Periya Nambi ancestry, has taken single handed effort to renovate the temple from dilapidated state. He only received very minimal support from HR & CE. He is very keen in cultivating Shenbagam flower garden. His monthly salary seems to be just Rs. 245 only.

The temple, built in the 11th century A.D., during the rule of the Chola monarch Rajendra Chola I (முதலாம் இராசேந்திர சோழன்) (1012-44 A.D.), has a very unique architectural design. Unlike the majority of the temples which have only one main sanctum enshrining the presiding deity, Mannarkoil has  three vertically aligned sanctums, all facing east, one above the other, each housing one image of Lord Vishnu. The canonical texts call this style as ashtanga vimana.

Ashtanga Vimana

Ashtanga means 'having eight limbs or organs.' Usually, as a rule, vimanas are built on the basic six limbs or components: 1. adishtanam (plinth), 2. padam (pillars and the wall), 3. prastara (roof), 4. khandam (neck) 5. shikara (spire), and 6. stupi or kalasa (finial). In ashtanga vimana the main sanctum enshrines the presiding deity of the the temple. In between prastara  and khandam parts of the vimana the second shrine will be built above the main sanctum on the first stage (floor). The third sanctum will be built in between khandam and shikara  above the second sanctum. Thus ashtanga vimana will have 1. adishtanam (plinth), 2. padam (pillars and the wall), 3. prastara (roof), 4. second sanctum 5. khandam (neck)  6. third sanctum, 7. shikara (spire), and 8. stupi or kalasa (finial). Lord Vishnu, in ashtanga vimanas, is generally seen in either of the 3 forms, Ninraan (நின்றான் - Perumal in standing posture), Irundhaan (இருந்தான் - Perumal in sitting posture) or Kidandhaan (கிடந்தான் - Perumal in reclining posture like Ranganathar)

Ashtanga style of vimana, with three sanctums one above the other, was first built in the Vaikunda Perumal temple (வைகுந்தப் பெருமாள் கோவில்)  aka. Parameswara Vinnagaram (பரமேஸ்வர விண்ணகரம்), Kanchipuram in 690  A.D., during the time of Pallava ruler, Nandivarman II aka Pallavamallan (இரண்டாம் நந்திவர்மன் என்ற பல்லவமல்லன்) (731 - 796 A.D.). Sri Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temple, Uttaramerur (சுந்தர வரதராஜப் பெருமாள் கோவில், உத்தரமேரூர்) was built in 750 A.D. during Pallava rule on the model of Vaikunda Perumal temple, Kanchipuram. But, as a unique feature, Uttaramerur temple ashtanga vimana has three more sanctums around the main sanctum in the three cardinal directions in the ground stage and first stage. There are nine Mula Virats (main deities) under the same vimana. Lord Sundara Varadaraja Perumal in the main sanctum and the deities present in the ground stage include Kalyanavaradhan (south), Achutavaradhan (west) and Anurudhravaradhan (north). Lord Vaikundavaran is enshrined the sanctum above the main sanctum in the first stage and the deities present in the first stage include Bhagvath-Gita Krishnan with Arjun (south), Yoga Narasimmha (Lord in half human half lion form) (south) and Bhuvaragan (Lord in boar form) with Lakshmi (north). There is also Sri Dhakshinamurthi on the vimana facing south which is unusual in Vaishnavite temples. Lord Ananthapadmanaban is enshrined in the second stage sanctum. 

The other temples with ashtanga vimana include Sowmya Narayana Perumal (சௌமிய நாராயணப் பெருமாள்) temple in Tirukoshtiyur, Sivagangai district; Sri Koodalazhagar Perumal (கூடலழகப் பெருமாள்) temple, Madurai; Raja Mannar temple, Srivilliputtur; Sri Aadhi Narayana Perumal temple, Cheranmadevi; and Ashtalakshmi temple, Besant Nagar, Chennai.

The two tier (dvi-tala)  ashtanga vimana is having the Chola style of architectural features. The base vimana structure (from adishtana to prastara) is made out of hard granite stones. The super structure is made of brick and lime mortar mixed with palm sugar. The plinth (prathivari bandha adishtanam) of the sanctum includes jagathi, round (vritta) kumudham, prati or pattika. In between the wall and the basement the vedika component with a frieze of Vyala vari (row of Leogrif motif) elements is shown.   The entire pada portion of the vimana is divided into three segments called the pathis or bhadras. The projected corner pathis are called as karna pathis or karna bhadras. In between karna bhadras is projected rectangular sala pathis or sala bhadra. Between karna bhadras and sala bhadras comes koshta panjaras flanked by spilit pilasters. Usually the koshta panjaras will have shrines, but here it is empty. In between the kapota and first tala is shown another vedika component with a frieze of buta-vari. Each tier of the vimana, above the kapota with kudu arches, is formed with regular arrangement of karna-kuta (square shrine placed on corners), panjarasala (oblong shrine placed on sides), panjara, sala and karna-kuta.  

In between prastara  and oblong shaped khandam (neck) parts of the vimana the second sanctum is built above the main sanctum on the first stage (floor). The third sanctum is built in between khandam (neck) and sala shikara (decorated with kirtimukha at both the faces) above the second sanctum. There are five brass (finials) stupis project from the sala shikara 
Lord Veda Narayana Perumal

Lord Veda Narayana Perumal (வேத நாராயணப் பெருமாள்), presiding deity of the historic Mannarkoil temple is enshrined in the main sanctum which faces east. The imposing image is seen in standing posture holding the conch (sankha) and discus (chakra) in his upper hands.  The lower right hand in abhaya hasta mudra and lower left hand resting on his hip and flanked by Ubhaya Nachiyar (Sri Devi and Bhu Devi).  Lord is composed of stucco (sudha) of herbals (வர்ண கபால திவ்ய திருமேனி). The two sages Markandeya (மார்கண்டேயா) and Bhirgu (பிருகு) also appear with folded hands.

Procession deity Mannarkoil
The Rajagopalaswamy, the bronze processional deity appear along with goddess Andal and Garuda in the main sanctum.  Also there are bronze icons of Sri Rama, Sita,  Lakshmana and Hanuman found in this sanctum. A small and cute Garuda idol is located before the main sanctum. Also there are flagstaff and balipeeta before the sanctum.

Sitting Perumal @ First stage
A narrow flight of stairs, leading to the first stage has been constructed on the south prakaram of the main sanctum on the ground stage. The Lord appears in sitting posture in the first stage of the ashtanga vimana. A small hole or gap (Pillai Thondu) is found before the sitting perumal.  In Tamil 'Thondu' means way. The women beseeching child boon will pass through this 'Pillai Thondu' as part of their votive prayer to the Lord. Another flight of stairs with narrow width leads to the second stage of vimana. At the second stage still above the first stage the Lord appears reclining on Adisesha.

Mannarkoil Ashtanga vimana
Reclining Perumal @ Second stage
The reclining Perumal has two two different prakaras 1. broader elephant pass (yanai thondu or yanai mudukku) and 2. narrower cat pass (poonai thondu or poonai mudukku). There is a wooden mandapa before the reclining Perumal. The roof of this mandapa has the carved images of zodiac signs. The shrines in the first and second are built with lime mortar and palm sugar. Thus Lord Veda Narayana Perumal graces his devotees in three postures – standing, sitting and reclining.

Ashtangavimana Second stage

The east facing temple has single entrance and two prakarams, an ardhamandaba, mahamnadaba, connecting mandaba surrounded by a cloister mandapa (திருச்சுற்று மாளிகை) around the main sanctum. There are separate shrines for goddesses Vedavalli and  Bhuvanavalli in the circumambulatory path. The circumambulatory path also has separate shrines for Lord Narasimha and Viswakshena. The stucco images of both the goddesses appear seated. Vaishnava saint Kulasekara Azhvar (stucco image) is enshrined in a separate shrine in the northern prakara with separate flagstaff and balipeeta before the sanctum. The sanctums of two Vaishnava acharyas Ramanuja and Manavalamamunigal are located in two separate mandapas. This elaborately decorated structure exhibits typical of the Nayaka architectural style with exquisitely carved composite pillars. There are life size statues of Lord Rama and other gods, kings with folded hands forming part of the monolithic pillars.


The Mannarkoil region was once dense forest with jack trees. After paying visit to many holy shrines, sages Brigu and Markandeya reached Mannarkoil for penance. They prayed the Lord to appear before them in his three postures (standing, sitting and reclining postures) and Lord Veda Narayana Perumal appeared before them in the same way. The sages expressed their wishes to the Lord and prayed the Lord to appear before one and all who manage to visit this shrine and bless them for happiness and prosperity. Lord gave his consent and decided to stay at Mannarkoil and continue to bless all devotees.


The Tamirabarani - Ghadananadi river region was established as a Chola colony after the Chola conquest of Pandyan country in the 10th century A.D. Jatavarman alias Sundara Chola Pandya (1017-18 A.D), the Chola-Pandya king aka Chola Viceroy (feudatory of the Rajendra Chola I) formed new townships and converted the  forest lands for cultivation.  The inscriptions at the Veda Narayana Perumal  temple at Mannarkoil village informs us that the big Brahmadeyam village of 'Rajaraja Chaturvedi Mangalam' in Mullinadu in the 'Mudikonda Chola Valanadu' of Raja Raja Pandinadu was made over to Brahmins as gifts. The hamlets of 'Ilangokudi' (today's Ambasamudram), Kallidaikurichi, Aththala Nallur, Vazuthiyoor, Alwarkurichi and Pappankurichi were parts of this big Brahmadayam village (now Brahmadesam).

Rajagopalaswami Kulasekara Azhwar temple, a Chola temple in the land of Pandyas, was built by Chera king  Rajasimha (1028- 1043 A.D.) with the permission of Rajendera Chola I. The Chera has also donated land to the temple at a later date. The village is also known as Rajendra Chola Vinnagaram, named after the Chola monarch Rajendra Chola I, who has made significant contribution to the temple. Jatavarma Chola Pandya has also made considerable contributions. Finally there are contributions from Nayaka rulers.

Kulasekara Azhvar
Kulasekara Azhvar Thiruvarasu temple
Kulasekara Azhvar, one of the twelve azhvars and believed to be a king from Kerala region (some other consider him as ruler of Kolli hills or Madurai Koodal or Kongu regions). During his early years, he conquered Chola and Pandya kings and was a force to reckon with. Lord Vishnu blessed  him with spiritual insight and led him to renounce power and sing hymns in praise of the Lord and the shrines of the Lord. After having darshan of Lord in several shrines, the Azhvar reached Mannarkoil and he had an emotional attachment with Lord Rajagopalan. It is believed that Kulasekara Azhvar brought away the bronze idol of Lord Rajagopalan from Mannargudi forcibly since he showed intense emotion with Rajagopalan. His aradhana idols Sri Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are being worshiped here as ablution deity (abhisheka moorthy).  The saint spent his last 30 years in Mannarkoil and attained moksha here. Therefore Mannarkoil has become the Thiruvarasu Koil (place where Azhvars join the feet of the Lord, is called 'Thiruvarasu' ) for Kulasekara Azhvar.  As a token of respect, the temple authorities have aptly named this temple as Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Perumal temple. His shrine is unusually provided with flag post and bali peetam. Surprisingly Pandya country is known for many 'Thiruvarasus' of Azhvars: Nammazhvar Thiruvarasu at Azhvar Thirunagari (Tamarind Tree), Periazhvar Thiruvarasu at Alagarkoil;  Tirumangaiazhvar Thiruvarasu at Tirukurungudi (Malaimel Nambi).


There are numerous inscriptions of Jatavarman Sundara-Chola Pandya found on the outer (southern, western and northern) walls of the main vimana base dating back to the Chola period:- 

According to Ep. Ind., Vol. XI, pp. 294 the Chera  king Rajasimha was a contemporary of the first viceroy Jatavarma Sundara Chola Pandya. Inscriptions mention about the existence of Temple Mahasabha empowered to register all the land grants from monarchs - Chola and Pandya rulers. The land grants were realized when these rulers camped in near by places like Velaikurichi and Kallidaikurichi. In this way there are references about the gifting of the village of Velancholai  (வேலன்சோலை or வேலஞ்சோலை) to the temple.

The 4th year reign - inscription records some decisions taken in the meeting of the assembly held in a hall of the ambalam about the land and houses granted to the gardeners, drummers, potters, garland makers, torch bearers and temple dance girls (devaradiyar). Location: on the south wall of the temple, (ARE No 107 of 1905 - SII Vol XIV 132). 

The 6th year reign - inscription records the order about the gift of taxes on the land (endowed as a devadana to the temple) in a village called Manabharana Chaturvedimangalam. Location: on the north wall of the temple (ARE No 108 of 1905 - SII Vol XIV 133)

On the 139th day in the 13th year reign - inscription records the details of land sale by the sabha of Rajaraja Chaturvedimangalam to the temple. The 14 and odd veli of land in extent was regrouped into a new hamlet called Sola Pandyanallur and converted  into a tax-free devadana. (Ref: ARE No. 109 and 144 of 1905) Location: on the west wall of the temple (ARE No. 110 of 1905 - SII Vol XIV 145).
In the 14th year reign - inscription registers the sale of the village Manabharana Chaturvedimangalam, a brahmadeya in Mulli Nadu, which was the property of two brahmanas of Nigarilisola Chaturvedimangalam named Govindan Madhava bhattan and Govindan Tiruvikraman, to the temple. Also records that the brahmanas had originally obtained the village as the gurus of the ruling dynasty. Location:  on the north wall of the temple (ARE No. 106 of 1905 - SII Vol XIV 148). 
In the 18th year reign - inscription registers the sale by the sabha of Rajaraja Chaturvedimangalam to the temple. Location: on the north wall of the temple (ARE No. 109 of 1905 - SII Vol XIV 144).

Another inscription records gift of land to 12 brahmins who had settled down in the village from towns such as Thirukurungudi, Tirukurugur (Azhwar Thirunagari) and Thirumaliruncholai (Azhagar Koil), in recognition of their recitation of the 'Thiruvaimozhi' in the Thiruvaimozhi Mandapam (even now called in  the same).

One more inscription records to the Mahasabha accepting the legacy of land from two widows only after their male relatives had agreed to the land being gifted to the temple. In cases where the signatories to a contract were illiterate, others had signed on their behalf.

Two other inscriptions record routine matters like 1. the appointment of Sankaranayanar as the dharmakarta in Kollam year 764; and 2. the gift of land to some common people like the temple watchman.

Mural Paintings
Effacement of the Murals in the name of Conservation
Mural Paintings defacement
Mural painting of Lord Narasimha effaced and defaced
Mural Painting of Narasimha
The author in his article Paramount Public cry for preservation of India’s Cultural Heritage   refer to the defacement of mural paintings in this temple. His photographs (shown here - taken three years ago) show some surviving mural paintings juxtaposed with the white washed wall on the right where a ceiling-high painting of Lord Narasimha once existed.


A number of festivals are celebrated in this temple. The temple is agog with activity during the Chithirai Brahmotsavam is conducted in the Tamil month Chithirai (April - May). Procession of Azhvar Pushpa Pallakku (flower palanquin) and Teppotsavam (float festival) in the Tamil month Thai (Jan - Feb).

How to Get there?

Mannarkoil village is located about 5 km from Ambasamudram  on the western side of Tenkasi - Kutralam Highway. Ambasamudram is is 35 km Tirunelveli. Plenty of buses are plying from Tirunelveli as well as from Tenkasi. 


  1. Besant Nagar (Wikipedia)
  2. In the name of a devotee. The Hindu.
  3. Paramount Public cry for preservation of India’s Cultrual Heritage 
  4. Ramayanam before Kamban 76 - Mannar Koil
  5. South Indian Inscriptions Vol XIV Pandya Inscriptions: Chola-Pandya Viceroys
  6. The connection between Kulasekara Azhwar and Mannargudi Rajagopalan

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tirunelveli Region Travelogue (Pandyan Yatra 2015) Part 4.1: Brahmmadesam Temple

Brahmmadesam Rajagopuram
Brahmmadesam Temple Mandapas
Brahmmadesam Temple Water tank
The 125 km (78 miles) long river Tamirabarani descends down the Western ghats near Papanasam, where it slides and cascades as Kalyanatheertham falls and Agasthiar falls. From Papanasam the river flows on the plains eastwards and confluences with Manimuthar River at the 36th km near Aladiyoor village, Ambasamudram taluk. The twin towns Ambasamudram and Kallidaikurichi are located respectively on the north and south banks of Tamirabarani, after which the river also confluences with the tributary Gadananathi (River Gadana) at the 43rd km near Tiruppudaimaruthur Ambasamudram taluk. The perennial river Tamirabarani and the seasonal rivers flows through  five taluks i.e, Tenkasi, Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli, Palayamkottai, and Nanguneri taluks in Tirunelveli district and make region fertile. The Srivaikundam taluk at the eastern part of Tirunelveli district (towards Thoothukudi) has given birth to many (Vaishnavite!) temples since from ancient times and noted for spiritual tourism.  The western taluks Tirunelveli district (towards Tenkasi) has also given birth to many (Saivite!) temples since from ancient times and noted not only for spiritual tourism but also for pleasure tourism. The spiritual towns such as Kutralam, Tenkasi, Ilanji, Keezhapavur, Shivasailam, Singampatti, Brahmadeasam, Mannarkovil, Ambasamudram, Kallidaikurichi, Tiruppudaimarudur, Aththalanallur, Viravanallur and Cheranmadevi bears many temples are in the itinerary of heritage tourism. Ambasamudrum is the gateway to seven great destinations in Tirunelveli namely Tenkasi, Manimuthar (dam), Manjolai (hills), Agasthiyar falls, Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger reserve, Karaiyar and Banatheertha falls, all nestled in the laps of the Sahyadrees (Western Ghats) and these places are in the itinerary of pleasure tourism.  The post monsoon season during the months of September to March is best suitable for pleasure and heritage tourism.

After sumptuous breakfast at Kutralam, we proceeded to picturesque Ambasamudram Region situated on the foothills of the Western Ghats. The two syllables 'Amba' and 'Samudra' imply that the region flourished with its heritage temples and water bodies. The town is also known by the name 'Vilankurichi.' Sage Agastya is closely associated with this region. The drive along the state highway to Ambasamudram was exhilarating. The Tamirabarani river and its tributaries were visible at many places. The verdant green blanket of shimmering lush green paddy fields interspersed with banana plantations and coconut groves was enjoyable. The climate was cool, humid and pleasant. Our first stop was  Sri Kailasanathar Temple, Brahmmadesam

Sri Kailasanathar Temple, Brahmmadesam
  • Prime deity: Kailasanathar (Lord Shiva). Swayambu lingam (self-manifested)
  • Consort: Goddess Brahmanayaki Amman aka Periyanayaki
  • Name: Brahmmadesam
  • Other Names: Ayneeswaram
  • Holy Water: Brahma Teertham, Romesa Teertham, Tamrabharani and Ghatna rivers
  • Holy Tree: Ilanthai Tree (Ziziphus jujuba)
  • Holy Hymn: Tirunavukkarasar sung Tevaram hymn.
  • Location: Brahmmadesam is located on the southern bank of River Karunai. About 4 km North-West of Ambasamudram Town.
Unique Features:
  • One of the Tevara Vaippu Stalam temples sung by Tirunavukkarasar (The shrine is under reference in the Sixth book (Tirumurai) of Tevaram). . One among the Adi Nava Kailayam shrines and dedicated to Surya (sun god).
  • The many of the temple structures were added by Cholas, Pandyas and Nayaka monarchs.
  • Huge temple complex with three gopurams and seven vimanas 
  • Huge intricately carved wooden gates at rajagopuram entrance.
  • Stone Chain:  Attractive single stone chain and bell
  • Single stone Dharma Nandhi, largest in Tirunelveli district, with intricate sculpture
  • Lord Nataraja composed with Punugu(extraction from Civet Cat)
  • Lord Athma Vyakya Dhakshinamoorthy appear in the south prakara of main sanctum unique posture
  • Lord Kankalanathar (one of the variants of Lord Bhairava - a form of Lord Shiva) deity is unique and appear in a separate shrine along with other deities and sages.
  • The birthplace of Sri Sarvangna Atmendra Saraswati Swamigal, the second Acharya of Kanchi Sankara Mutt  

The original deity in this temple Badhari Vaneswara (Shivalingam) was worshipped by Romasa Maharishi, the grand son of Lord Brahma, and so the village was named as Brahmamdesam. The Ghatana Nadi Mahatmiam (purana) takes note of three Swayambu (self emanating) Shivalingams of Shivasailam, Tiruvaleeswaram and Brahmmadesam emerged at the same time.


The Tamirabarani - Ghadananadi river region was established as a Chola colony after the Chola conquest of Pandyan country in the 10th century A.D. Jatavarman alias Sundara Chola Pandya (1017-18 A.D), the Chola-Pandya king aka Chola Viceroy (feudatory of the Rajendra Chola I) formed new townships and converted the  forest lands for cultivation.  The inscriptions at the Vedanarayana temple at Mannarkoil village informs us that the big Brahmadeyam village of 'Rajaraja Chaturvedi Mangalam' in Mullinadu in the 'Mudikonda Chola Valanadu' of Raja Raja Pandinadu was made over to Brahmins as gifts. The hamlets of 'Ilangokudi' (today's Ambasamudram), Kallidaikurichi, Aththala Nallur, Vazuthiyoor, Alwarkurichi and Pappankurichi were parts of this big Brahmadayam village (now Brahmadesam).

The present temple and the Brahmmadesam village were gifted to the brahmins by the Rajaraja Chola I for chanting  four vedas. The monarch built the original temple including the sanctum, ardhamandapa, mukhamandapa during 10th century A.D. The structural additions were made by various royal dynasties: Pandya kings built few mandapas; the intricate wooden decors on the roof of the mandapa at the entrance were carried out by Chera kings; Nayaka king Viswanatha Nayaka raised the exceedingly large seven tier east facing Rajagopuram and the gopuram at the back side as well as the taller perimeter wall around the temple complex; Hoysala kings also made some structural additions to this shrine.


The Brahmmadesam temple is huge hidden gem of Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara and Pandya style architecture. A large and prominent lotus tank invite the devotees from outside the temple tower.  The devotees and connoisseurs of art and architecture will enter into the Brahmmadesam temple through the east facing massive seven tier Chola style rajagopuram (brick and wooden structure) profusely adorned with stucco images. The top of the gopuram has a shalashikhara resembling a barrel made to rest on its side and crowned with seven finials (kalasams). The steps leading to all the seven tiers of rajagopuram. The seventh tier of the gopuram has small corridors on all four sides and served as watch tower.

Entrance Carved Roof (Stone work)
Tall wooden door with panels
The extremely tall wooden main doors at the Rajagopuram entrance with intricately carved panels let in the connoisseurs to their surrealistic world  of gorgeous architecture and iconography. The temple gave shelter to local people while foreign invasions and this 'Kutavarai' door with conical nails prevented elephants from pushing the door and protected people from entry inside. Also there are two more gopurams found in this temple. The tall and wide perimeter wall and the adjoining 2 feet wide inner wall (Alodi suvar) enabled the soldiers to stand and observe the enemy movements. There are seven vimanas in the huge temple complex.

Pillared Mandapa at the Entrance
Aesthetically designed long pillared mandapa is located between rajagopuram and main sanctum. The mandapa is supported by 10 square-based pillars and two non-figural cluster pillars carved with 12 lion brackets and 12 drop brackets. The pillar faces also bear bas reliefs. The roof of the pillared mandapa showcases the Kerala wooden roof pattern but sculpted in stone.
Large Single stone Dharma Nandhi
The single stone Dharma Nandhi idol, located at the entrance is the largest in Tirunelveli district  and surprisingly distinctive with its brilliant carvings. Balipeeta and dwajasthamba on carved platform also appear huge. The unparalleled bell and three chain links sculpted from single stone is suspended from the roof. The niches on the outer wall for Ganapathi and Subramanya are sculpted according to mada kovil architecture. A small sanctum for the foursome Tevara sages is at south side. On top of the entrance to the main sanctum there is a small gopuram. At a vantage point all the gopuras and vimanas can seen together.

Main Sanctum:

The Brahmmadesam temple comprises of a main sanctum, an ardhamandapa and the mukha-mandapa. Lord Kailasanathar (Shivalingam), the presiding deity of this Brahmmadesam temple is enshrined in the east facing main sanctum of the temple.  There is a smaller size ardhamandapa in front of this sanctum, that leads to to the pillared maha-mandapa in front. The maha-mandapa is the long spacious construction consisting of carved pillars on which are bas relief images depicting compositions from Saivite mythology. The niches, on  the outer wall on either side of the entrance of the sanctum, houses the tall dwarapalakas. Lord Ganesha is also enshrined in a separate niche on the left corner of the outer sanctum wall. The vimana above the main sanctum is embellished with elegant images illustrating legends from puranas. A dwarf nandhi is located before the main sanctum.  There is a closed circumambulatory (Pradakshinapatha) passage around the sanctum. There are shrines for Surya, Chandra before the sanctum.   Saptamatrika. There are also few small sanctums  for Lord Athma Vyakya Dhakshinamoorthy (appear with chin mudra facing His own self in a rare self preaching posture), 63 Nayanmars, Jwarahara Deva, Balaganapathy and Mahishasuramardhini in the  circumambulatory path (prakara) of the main sanctum. Punuku Sabhapathi (Lord Nataraja) with consort and the sages Pathanjali and Vykarapathar are enshrined in the south facing sanctum located in the northern prakara of the main sanctum. Punugu is the highly perfumed substance extracted from a specific kind of  rarely living civet cat (Viverra Civetta) and the image of Lord Nataraja was composed with punugu.The statue of king Viswanatha Nayaka appear with folded hands appear in maha-mantapa before the sanctum. There are separate sanctums for Lord Nataraja and goddess Sivakami (bronze procession deities) in the maha-mandapa. On the way to Brahmmanayaki sanctum, one can notice the yali image with a stone ball on its wide opened mouth. No one is able to remove the ball from yali's mouth. 

Somavara Mandapa

Somavara mandapa (longshot)

Somavara mandapa (pillars)
This intricately sculpted pillared mandapa is located before goddess Brahmmanayaki shrine and nearer to Ilandai Adinathar shrine. Elaborately decorated pillars of this mandapa form an integral part of this architecture and have ornamental pendant (terminating in an inverted flower bud) potigai (or cornice bracket) or seated lion potigai.  On all four faces of the pillars are dotted with elaborate bas reliefs image compositions depicting mythological themes. Large life-size sculptures of  Bheema, Purushamrigam, Arjuna, Karna, Vali, Sugreeva, Rati and Manmadan adorn the pillars. Some other pillars are monolithic yali pillars showcasing the charging yali (often compared with hippogryphs) standing on hind legs with fore legs lifted.

 Brahmmanayaki sanctum

The south facing sanctum with vimana for goddess Parvati, worshiped here  as goddess Brahmmanayaki, is located in the outer enclosure (prakara).  This sanctum is far away from the main sanctum. Nandhi, balipeeta and flag staff are located before this sanctum.  There are minor sanctums or niches around the prakara for Saraswati, Arumugam with consorts Valli and Deivanai, Chandikeshvari, Siddhi Vinayaka, Saturn (Sanisvara) and Nalayirathamman (folk deity).

Sanctums for Associate Deities

Lord  Ilandai Adinathar aka Badhari Vaneswara (Shivalingam), believed as the original deity of Brahmmadeasam temple worshiped by Lord Brahma and his grandson Romasa Maharishi, is also situated in the northern corner in the outer circumambulatory path (prakara).
Ilandhaiadinathar Shrine
Therefore Ilandhai tree (Ziziphus jujuba) is associated with the original Shivalinga and Ilandai becomes the holy tree. The dwarapalakas are very appealing. Apart from Lord Kailasanathar the temple has four more Shivalingams enshrined in separate sanctums in the  second circumambulatory path (prakara): 2. Ilandhaiadinathar (Badari Vaneshwarar), 3. Kasi Viswanathar (with consort Viasalakshi), 4. Arunachalewarar (with consort Unnamulai) , and 5. Sundareswarar (with consort Meenakshi).

Kankalanathar Shrine:

Kankalanathar Shrine
The south facing Kankalanathar (Kankala  means skeleton - fearsome form of Lord Shiva with the skeleton) shrine is unique and found only in Brahmmadesam temple. The prime deity in the sanctum is Lord Kankalanathar (one of the three most popular aspects of Bhairava, a form of Lord Shiva  and the the others being Brahmashiraschedaka-murti and Bhikshatana-murti - known for seeking alms).  The Kankala-murti  iconography  is quite similar to Bhikshatana-murti and the subtle difference is that Bhikshatana is nude but Kankala-murti is clothed.

At this shrine Lord Kankalanatha and the Buta Ganas are the sculpted deities.  The 7 feet in high idol of Lord Kankalanathar appear in a sthanaka (standing) posture with his left leg straight and firm on the ground and his right one, slightly bent, suggesting walking. The lord wears jata makuta (crown like hair dress) with crescent moon on the right and a serpent and datura flowers on the left. He wears snake ornaments all over the body, yagnopavita (sacred thread) across the chest, waist-band on the waist with golden dagger tucked in it, and ordinary kundalas (earrings) or a makara-kundala (makara-shaped earring) in the right ear and a shankhapatra (earring made of conch) in the other.

Of the four arms, the lower left arm holds the damara (the hour-glass drum); the lower right arm beats the damara with bana (drum stick); the upper right hand stretched downwards in kataka mudra; and the upper left hand holds 'Kankala Danda' (skeleton-staff). The staff appear to be resting on the shoulders of the Lord. Some other legends point out that the Lord carries the corpse of Lord Visvakshena, the prime guardian of Lord Vishnu. The Lord appears with number of associate deities, sages, demonic attendants like Buta ganas, animals  and love-sick women. The six numbers of dwarf buta ganas appear in either sides of the Lord. All the six of them carry some music instruments like sirattai kinnari, mridangam, conch, flying whisk and flute.   

The rear wall shows the following bas relief stucco images: 1. Surya (sun) and Chandra (moon) on top; 2. Lord Kubera mounted on horse vehicle, Lord Brahma mounted on Swan (Hamsa or Anna pakshi), Lord Vishnu mounted on Garuda (Eagle) vehicle, and Lord Indira mounted on elephant vehicle; 3. The celestial beings like Kinnaras, Kimpurusha and Sage Agastya appear with his two consorts and the sage is holding Veena and some other instruments; 4. Lord Vigneshara mounted on Mooshika vehicle, Karthikeya mounted on peacock vehicle, Lord Vayu mounted on deer vehicle, Lord Varuna mounted on Makara vehicle, Lord Eshanan (Lord Shiva) mounted on bull vehicle and Lord Agni mounted on goat vehicle. There are also stucco images of lovely divas aka Apsara appear in various postures - standing, sitting, viewing mirror (adarsa), sleeping etc.

Arudra Mandapa  

Arudra mandapa (Yali pillars)
Arudra Mandapa, huge Nayaka / Vijayanagara style pillared mandapa, is located on the North Eastern corner of the temple complex and one can see this structural mandapa on his right side as and when he enters into the temple. The mandapa, built on  four to five feet high rectangular adhishtana with conventional moldings, has bas relief images on natya sastra and carved friezes at a fairly high kantha moulding. It also has ornate stepped entrance on the south side of the balustrades (parapets) with  mounted  rider on elephant, horse standing on its hind legs with fore legs lifted and mounted rider on the back, woman playing drum and the rampant yali.  The sixteen decorated peripheral pillars of this mandapa are elaborate compositions:  two rows of  four monolithic cluster pillars at the facade and twenty monolithic yali pillars at the rear side  showcasing the charging yali (often compared with hippogryphs) standing on hind legs with fore legs lifted. The mythological Yali motif, deemed as the hybrid of five animals i.e, lion head and body, goat horn, pigs ear, cow's tail, elephant trunk and tusk, has been widely adopted in Vijayanagara and Nayaka pillars. The leonine beast often imagined as hippogryph. Each cluster pillar is really a cluster of delicately carved smaller pillars around the central pillar shaft. Over the cluster pillars the  immense size  brackets support the heavily carved entabulatures and plane ceiling. The five to six feet high cluster and yali pillars have 12 carved lion brackets and 12 drop brackets. Some pillars also showcases awesome sculptures of elephant, amorous couples, dancers, musicians, sages, gods and goddesses depicting events from Hindu mythology and so many intricate carvings.

Temple timings: 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM. Schedule to visit this temple early in the morning.

How to Get there

Location:  Brahmadesam (PIN 627413), an ancient Chola village, is about 4 km from Ambasamudram and located to the north-west of Ambasamudram, in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu state, India. Brahmadesam is surrounded by Vikramasingapuram Taluk towards west , Pappakudi Taluk towards East, Cheranmahadevi Taluk towards East , Kadayam Taluk towards North.

Important temples:
  • Chola built temples: Vedanarayana or Rajagopalaswamy Temple, Mannarkoil, Kailasanathar temple, Brahmadesam,  Bakthavatsala Perumal temple, Cheranmadevi, Kailasanathar temple Gangaikondan. Tirunarayanan Vinnagar temple, Attur. 
  • Early Pandya inscriptions in temples: Ambasamudram Kasibanathawamy (Thirupothudaya (Erutha) Nayanar) temple and Sri Thirumoolanathar temple, Thiruvaleeswaram temple, Ayan, Thennazhagar Temple, Kovilkulam, Chandeeswarar shrine, Narumbunatha Swami Temple, Tirupudaimarudur, Poovananathar temple, Kovilpatti, Rajasimheswara temple, Kottai Karungulam, Vijayanarayanam temple, Vazhudheeswarar temple, Perungulam, Gajendravarada Perumal temple and Moondreeswarar Temple, Aththalanallur, Shiva temple, Seevalaperi, and Kariya Manikkam Perumal temple, Pathamadai.
  • Vijayanagar-Nayak built temples: Venkatajalapathi temple Krishnapuram, Nava Tirupati temples.  
  • Nearest Railway Station: Ambasamudram
  • Nearest Airport: Madurai (162 km), Tuticorin (71 km), Trivandrum (71 km)
  • How to reach: Well connected by road from Ambasamudram
Bramadesam MAP

  1.  Ambasamudram Tourism - The Bosom of Mother Nature. Native Planet
  2. Architectural and sculptural splendour. The Hindu July 24, 2011. 
  3. Brahmadesam Arulmigu Kailasanathar Tirukoil sthala varalaru. Temple Devasthanam, Brahmadeam. 2014. 44p. 
  4. Brahmadesam (Ambasamudram) (Wikipedia)
  5. Controversial Sculpture Series - Part 3 - Kankalamurthy. Poetry in Stone (blog). 26 July 2012
  6. Kankalamurti (Wikipedia)
  7. Thamirabarani River (Wikipedia) 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tirunelveli Region Travelogue (Pandyan Yatra 2015) Part 3.3: Kalugasalamurthy Rock cut cave and Kutralanathar Temple, Kutralaum

Facades of Kalugasalamurthy & Kutralanathawami Temples

Kalugasalamurthy Entrance Pillared Hall
Kalugasalamurthy rock cut cave temple excavated on the south-eastern slope of the low rising Araimalai hillock. The present rock cut cave temple has transformed into huge complex with the structural additions such as  shrines for associate (Parivara) deities, mandapas and cloister mandapas and holy water tank. The Lord Jambukesvara (form of Lord Shiva) appear as Shivalinga in the east facing sanctum at the mandapa and the goddess Akilandesvari also appears in a separate south facing sanctum. The pillared mandapa is supported by pillars with aesthetic bas relief sculptures.

The rock cut cave temple can be accessed through a mahamandapa or entrance pavilion (hall) which has two entrances, one at west and the other at north. The structural mahamandapa is actually an extension of the rock cut cave temple. There are two sanctums adjoining to the northern wall of the mahamandapa housing Lord Nataraja and Lord Arumuganayanar (Lord Muruga). The rock cut cave temple consists of a facade, mukha mandapa and sanctum.


Peacock Vehicle
The facade comprise two stupendous pillars in the middle and pilaster on both ends with the features of square, octagonal kattu and square. The pillars and pilasters are insulated with brass sheets. The original facade of the rock cut temple has been modified to suit the flight of steps and the plinth (floor) formation of the structural main mandapa. The facade, with evenly leveled floor,    is 2.05 mtr in the east - west and 6.30 mtr in the north - west.  The facade also extends by 6.46 mtr in the north - south and 60 cm in the east -west and the height is 2.08 mtr. The flight of four steps (only three in the north) leading to the mukha mandapa pass through the anganas of pillars.  The kapodabandha adishtanam of the facade comprise elements such as upana, supporting upana, thamarai, jagadi, eight patta kumuda, kantha with pada flanked by kampa, pattika and uparikampa and kapota.  

The octagonal kattu of pillars rest on the wide-angular vettu potikas (corbel brackets) which support the prastara elements such as uttara (beam), vajana and roof. The prastara elements also extends as unsculpted kapota. The north and south walls forming part of the mother rock extends evenly up to one mtr.

Mukha mandapa
Mukhamandapam From Mahamandapam
Another row of two pillars and two pilasters are cantoning the part of facade and mukha mandapa. The angana (space between pilaster and pillar) at north bears a brick wall partition. The south angana (between pilaster and pillar) modified with brick wall partition with an entrance to the rock cut sanctum. A flight of single step leads to the sanctum. The angana between the two pillars is also modified as the main entrance to the cave sanctum.  The brass sheet insulated pillars bear lotus medallions. The lintel of the main entrance (below the kapota insulated with brass sheet) shows makara torana with goddess Gajalakshmi at the center. The square section of the pillars and wide angular vettu potikas support the prastara elements like vajana and roof. 

Inner mandapa

An inner mandapa is located in between sanctum and mukha mandapa. measuring 6.50 mtrs in the south - north and 2.00 mtrs in the east - west and 2.77 mtrs in height.

Sanctum from the Main Mandapam
The flight of single step leads to the sanctum.  The sanctum is a cubical cell with 1.98mts in east-west and 2.48mts in north-south directions. The height of the sanctum is 2.48mts. The anterior wall of the sanctum is sectioned with the four pilasters. There are two platforms constructed adjoining to the south wall of inner mandapa and sanctum.  The sanctum houses Lord Kalugasalamurthy with consorts.

Lord Kalugasalamurthy appears with consorts in Cave sanctum

Lord Kalugasalamurthy appears seated on his pea-cock vehicle in utkudikasana posture. The Lord is accompanied by his two consorts: goddess Valli on his left and facing north and goddess Dheivanai on his right and facing south. The jewelry of the goddesses includes Karanda makuta, pathra kundalas, sarapali, armlets , bracelets and silk garments on their waist. Goddess Dheivanai alone wears breast band. The Lord wears Karanda makuta, patra kundala, pearl and rudrakha beads malas, and silk garments on his waist. Of the twelve hands the upper right hand holds vajra (thunderbolt), middle right  hand holds the khadga (sword), the lower right hand shows abhaya hasta mudra (gesture of fearlessness); the upper left hand holds saktivel (spear), middle hand khetaka (shield) and lower hand varada hasta mudra (gesture of generosity).


The Vikrama Pandya's 15th regnal year inscription engraved before the sanctum of Lord Jambukesvarar (on the south wall) records the gift of fifty goats and one sheep to provide ghee for burning perpetual lamp by the Sri Rudramaheswara of this temple.  The inscription also mentions about the tank for collecting the ablution water. (ARE 1966: 349 / SII V: 307 - 406).


The scholars have assigned the period of this rock cut temple structure to eighth century A.D. based on its architecture.

Kavadi Chindhu  of poet Annamalai Reddiar

Annamalai Reddiar of Chennimalai, in Tirunelveli district (1865 - 1890 / 1891), an ardent devotee, has composed the 'Kavadi Chindu,' one of the forms of light compositions in Tamil, in praise of Lord Kalugasalamurthy.  ‘Chindu’ means a couplet or poem in Tamil set to a particular meter. Kavadi Chindu, a kind of folk song is sung by ardent Muruga devotees as they carry the ‘kavadi’ to Muruga temples, typically located up on the hillocks, to ease out some of the strain and physical exhaustion resulting from the journey. The stanzas are highly popular for its simplicity, rhymes,  musical rhythm  and melody. The poet also has set to music in ragas like Sindhu Bhairavi, Chakravaham, Ananda Bhairavi, etc. He has also compiled the 'Thalapurana.' (Mythological history). Opposite to Kalugasalamurthy temple there is a small palace which served as local residence of Raja of Ettayapuram.


Kalugumalai kutaivarai (in Tamil). Nalini, M and Kalaikkovan R. Dr. Maa. Rasamanickanar varalarru ayvu maiyam, Tiruchirapalli. Dec 2009. pp. 76 - 80. (கழுகுமலை குடைவரை (தமிழ்). நளினி, மு; கலைக்கோவன் இரா. டாக்டர். மா. இராசமாணிக்கனார் வரலாற்று ஆய்வு மையம், திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி. டிசம்பர் 2009. பக்கங்கள். 76 - 80)

Lunch Session

 By 1.30 pm we were able to complete our Kalugumalai itinerary. We were so tired as well as hungry and therefore rushed for lunch at a dining hall in a temple choultry maintained by Kalugasalamurthy devasthanam. To our surprise Kizhakku Pathippagam staff have arranged a  delicious home made South Indian Variety Rice Lunch. We enjoyed the home made lunch and relaxed till 3.00 pm. We also had group photo sessions.

Travel to Kutralam

Location: 72 km from Kalugumalai; 55 kms from Tirunelveli; 6 kms from Tenkasi; Located in the Southern part of Tamil Nadu state, India.
Nearest Railway Station: Tenkasi or Senkottai
Nearest Airport: Madurai (around 200 kms)
How to reach: Easily reachable by road from Tirunelveli, Tenkasi, or Madurai

Since our itinerary for the Day 3 was tight, we planned to save as much time as possible. So the rest of the day's travel and night stay was planned at Kutralam (anglicised version is Courtalum), `the Spa of South.'  With new regained energy we continued our travel towards Kutralam (Courtallum), the land of cascading waterfalls. 

The entire travel route of 72 km between Kalugumalai and Kutralam was filled with lush green paddy fields and coconut groves and we traveled through the heritage towns like Puliyangudi, Kadayanallur, Ilanji, Tenkasi and countless picturesque villages.

We reached the town by 4.30 pm. After refreshment we rushed to the Kutralanathaswami temple near main falls.

Kutralanathaswami Temple (குற்றாலநாதசுவாமி கோவில்)

Entrance to Kutralanathaswami Temple
  • Name of the Shrine: Kutralanathaswami Temple (குற்றாலநாதசுவாமி கோவில்)
  • Other Names of the Shrine: Trikootaachalam, Tirukkutralam, Mukthiveli, Nannagram, Pithur Kanda, Theerthapuram, Thirunagaram and Vasanthaperur.
  • Prime deity (மூலவர்): Lord Shiva appears here as Kutralanathaswami (குற்றாலநாதசுவாமி) aka Kuruambaleeswarar (குறும்பாலீஸ்வரர்). The main sanctum of this temple houses dwarf Shivalingam.
  • Five Dance Halls of Lord Nataraja: Kutralam represents one of the 5 Pancha Sabhas (பஞ்ச சபை) of Nataraja - Chitra Sabhai (சித்திர சபை).  
  • Amman shrine: Goddess Kuzhalvoymozhi (குழல்வாய்மொழி அம்மை) appears in a separate sanctum on the southern side of prime deity.
  • Inner Periphery (உள்பிரகாரம்) - Associate Deities (பரிவார தேவதைகள்): The peedams of Annavi Pillai (அண்ணாவி பிள்ளை) and the other associate deities appear before Amman shrine. Lord Kailasanathar appears on the southern corridor and goddess Durga on the northern corridor.
  • Outer Periphery (வெளிப்பிரகாரம்) - Associate Deities (பரிவார தேவதைகள்): Vallabha Ganapathi (வல்லபகணபதி), 63 Nayanmars, Sahasralingam (one thousand lingam), Papanasar - Ulagamman, Nellaiyappar - Gandhimathi, Manakkolanathar (மணக்கோலநாதர் (சிவன்), Narumbunathar, Sankaralinganathar, Pavalavannathar - Oppanai Amman, Chokkalingam - Meenakshi Amman, Madunatheswarar - Aramvalartha Nayagi, Kasi Viswanathar - Visalakshi, Bairavar, Nannagara Perumal (நன்னகரப்பெருமாள்), Navagraha, sage Agastyar and others.
  • Holy Tree: Dwarf Jack fruit tree (Kurumpalaa) (குறும்பலா) (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
  • Holy water: The main falls (Shivamadhuganga சிவமதுகங்கை), Vadaaruvi (வட அருவி) and Chitra River (சித்ரா நதி)
  • Holy Hymn: Invoked in Tevaram (தேவாரம்), Tiruvasagam (திருவாசகம்), Tirukkovaiyar (திருக்கோவையார்) hymns by Tevaram foursome (தேவர நால்வர்) (Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar and Manickavasagar). The name Kutralam finds its place for the first time in Tevaram. Sekkizhar also glorifies the town and the Lord in his  Periapuranam. Sages like Pattinathar and Arunagirinathar have also sung stanzas in praise of the Lord.
  • Literature: Tirikootaraasappa kavirayar's (திரிகூடராசப்பகவிராயர்) well known work Kutrala Kuravanji (குற்றாலக்குறவஞ்சி), poetic drama (இசைநாடகம்) (composed during 19th century A.D.) glorifies this shrine. This unique Tamil poetic form has Vasanthalakshmi as heroine, Sinki (Kurathi), nomadic tribal woman and foreteller making predictions about the hero and Sinkan (Kuravan) her husband. He has also compiled the Shrine history of Kutralam (குற்றாலத் தலபுராணம்).

Pothigai Hills
Sage Agastyar (அகஸ்திய முனிவர்), at the instruction of Lord Shiva, proceeded to the south (Pothihgai Hills) to stabilize the imbalance of the earth. The Devas and all other celestial beings assembled at Mount Kailash (abode of Lord Shiva) in Himalayas to witness the celestial wedding of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. This resulted the imbalance of the earth. At Kutralam shrine (originally the Vaishnava shrine) sage Agastya was prevented at the entrance by the Dwarpalakas of Lord Vishnu. Sage Aagastya invoked Lord Kumaran (Lord Muruga) of Ilanji (இலஞ்சி) (2 km. away from Kutralam).

Lord Kumaran instructed Agastya to enter into Kutralam shrine and  he entered the shrine disguised as Mularikanna, a Vaishnavite devotee from Tirupati. Agastya followed the instruction and entered into the shrine and directed the priest to fetch flowers for archana. Thereafter the sage took "Omni-form" or "Viswaroopa" (விஸ்வரூபம்) before Lord Vishnu and put his hand on the head of the the Vishnu deity and pushed it  to shrink into extremely dwarf Shivalingam. Thus Kutralam was transformed as the Saivite shrine. Lord Shiva showed himself here as Bhrama and Vishnu.


This temple has more than 2000 years old history. It is believed that the temple was constructed even before 5th century B.C. Since Sangam literature (சங்க இலக்கியம்) describes the 'Pothigai' hills (பொதிகை மலை), Kutralam town could have been one among the towns of Sangam period.

“பொற்கோட்டு இமயமும் பொதியமும் போன்றே” (புறம் 2:8) புறநானூற்றுப் பாடல் 

""வடவர் தந்த வான் கேழ் வட்டம் / குட புல உறுப்பின் (அகம். 340.16-17-வடநாட்டில் உள்ளவர் கொண்டு வந்த வெண்ணிற வட்டக் கல்லில் மேற்கே உள்ள பொதிகை மலை)

The Ay dynasty ruled parts of southern India from the early Sangam age to the 10th century AD. Among the Ay (ஆய்) rulers of the Sangam Age, Ay Antiran (ஆய் அண்டிரன்) is  the most outstanding chieftain of this Velir clan. The Velirs were regarded as the 3rd chain of Philanthropists (கடை ஏழு வள்ளல்கள்). Ay Antiran's name is mentioned in the Purananuru as the lord of Podiyil Malaya in southern Western Ghats.

Dwarf Jack fruit (Holy) Tree
Kochenganan (கோச்செங்கனான்), the Chola monarch of early Sangam era, built number of temples in Tamilakam. He also set forth the specific tree as the 'holy tree' (Sthala Vriksham) (தலவிருட்சம்) for that specific shrine. Thus Kutralanathaswami shrine was associated with Jack fruit tree (குறும்பலா) aka Artocarpus heterophyllus. From the foregoing evidences lead the scholars to believe that Kutralanathaswami worship could have existed since from Sangam period. Poet Kapiladeva Nayanar (புலவர் கபிலதேவ நாயனார் aka கபிலபரணர்), believed to have lived during 10th century A.D., describes Kutralam town in poetical work 'Sivaperuman Tiruvandadhi' (சிவபெருமான் திருவந்தாதி) as:

   கொக்கரங் குற்றாலம் கூற்றின் பொருள் முயன்ற குற்றாலம் ('Kokarang kutralam koorrin porul muyanra Kutralam')

    கொழுந்தேன் கமழ் சோலைக் குற்றாலம் ('Kozhunthen kamazh solaik Kutralam') 

Lord Nataraja Chitra Sabha
Kutralam is one among the five dance floors (பஞ்ச சபை) of Lord Nataraja (Shiva). It is known as Chitra sabha (சித்திர சபை). Among 14 Shiva shrines of Pandya country, Kutralam is believed to the most ancient. Parasakthi Peetam (பராசக்தி பீடம்), one among the 64 Sakti peetams (சக்தி பீடம்), forms part of Kutralanathaswami temple. The peetam is also known as Yoga peetam, Dharani peetam (தரணி பீடம்) and Arutparasakthi peetam.


The temple has a conch (சங்கு) shaped corridor (Prakaram) plan and is referred to as  Sangakkovil. The present Kutralanathaswami temple was constructed by the Chola monarch Rajaraja Chola I (முதலாம் இராசராச சோழன்) and built the wall around the inner corridor. Archaeologist claim that there was a Vishnu shrine on the left of the prime deity. The Pandya kings built the sanctum, ardha mandapa, separate sanctum for goddess Kulalvai mozhi amman and Pillayan Kattalai mandapa (பிள்ளையன் கட்டளை மண்டபம்). Nayakka rulers constructed the temple for Parasakthi, periphery wall, inner streets, Sangu street (சங்கு வீதி), new sanctums for some associate deities. The ancient sanctum meant for Vishnu is now being converted as Vagana room. Kings of Vadakarai Aadhikkam (வடகரை ஆதிக்கம்) of Sokkampatti (சொக்கம்பட்டி) built the Thirikooda mandapam (திரிகூட மண்டபம்), Pasupirai (பசுபிறை), Thattodi (தட்டோடி), vaitheeyappa vilasam (வைத்தியப்ப விலாசம்), the mahamandapam of Kulalvai mozhi amman, sangai veethi and kalpavuthal (கல்பாவுதல்) at vasantha veethi. 


Inscription on the Pillar
Kutralanathaswami temple has 89 inscriptions in total.  Of the 89, ten inscriptions discovered on the east and west walls of the first periphery records the gifts of cow, sheep, goat, buffalo for burning perpetual lamp (நந்தா விளக்கு) and endowments of land, gold and coins to the Tirukutrala Perumal temple by the Chola monarch Madiraikonda Ko-Parakesarivarman (மதிரை கொண்ட கோப்பரகேசரிவர்மன்) aka Parantaka Chola I (முதலாம் பராந்தக சோழன்) (907–955 A.D.). In the entire Pandya country, the inscriptions of Parantaka Chola I in Tamil Vattezhuthu (தமிழ் வட்டெழுத்து)  script were discovered only in Kutralanathaswami temple.

Inscription in Vattezhuthu script on the east wall of the first prakara Kuttalanathasvami temple assignable to Parantaka I

It records a gift of 26 cows for burning a perpetual lamp in the temple of Tirukkurralattu-Perumal (திருக்குற்றாலத்துப் பெருமாள்) by Adittan Muvenda-Palla[varaiyan] (ஆதித்தன் மூவேந்த பல்லவராயன்) of Arrur in Tiruppanangattu-nadu (திருப்பனங்காட்டு நாடு) in Solanadu.  (A.R. No. 444 of 1917) (The inscription mentions the name of the Lord as ‘Tirukkurralattu-Perumal’ )

It records a gift of 26 cows for burning a perpetual lamp in the temple by Dharma-setti (தர்ம செட்டி) alias Sadaiyan Kavayan (சடையன் கவயன்) a member of the Manigramam (மணிக்கிராமம்) (guild) at . . . . in Tenvara-nadu. (A.R. No. 439 of 1917)

vatteluttu script and is damaged.  It records a gift of cows for burning a perpetual lamp in the temple by a lady by name Ariyampoduviyar (அறியாம்பொதுவையார்) wife of [Na]ranappallavaraiyar (நாரணப்பல்லவராயர் ). (A.R. No. 442 of 1917)

It records a gift of 25 sheep for burning a lamp with an ulakku of ghee (உழக்கு நெய்) every day in the temple of Mahadeva (மகாதேவ) at Tirukkurralam by one Nakkan Appi Tirumurtti (நக்கன் அப்பி திருமூர்த்தி).   (A.R. No. 428 of 1917) (This inscription observe the Lord's name as  ‘Mahadeva at Tirukkurralam' )

22nd regnal  year of Parantaka I. This is a damaged Vatteluttu inscription assignable to Parantaka I. It records gift of 16 ma of land for burning a perpetual lamp in the temple at Tirukkurralam in Tenvari-nadu (தென்வரி நாடு) by Kandan Iravi (கந்தன் இரவி), made on the day of a solar eclipse (சூரிய கிரகணம்). (A. R. No. 441 of 1917.)

35 regnal year of Parantaka I It  records a gift of 6 buffaloes for burning a perpetual lamp in the temple at Tirukkurralam in Tenvari-nadu ((தென்வரி நாடு)) by Kovadi Kdnra ... a ywwv  Vellala resident of Vallapuram in Mala-nadu. (A.R. No. 447 of 1917) (The inscriptions of Paranthaka also cite the date and time of the 'solar eclipse' which enabled the scholars to precisely compute the period of Paranthaka I. ). There is also one inscription in Tamil script.  

Three inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola I (முதலாம் இராசராச சோழன்) discovered on the western wall of the first periphery records the renovation work carried over the dilapidated structure as well as the construction of new mandapas. The Chola monarch also copied the Vattezhuthu Tamil inscriptions and inscribed back after renovation. The prime deity was mentioned in his inscriptions as 'Kutralathu Bhattaragar' (குற்றாலத்து பட்டாரகர்). The Chola emperor also left an inscription (which is not readable now) to tell us about structural additions made to this temple as well as the transformation  of Tamil script from Vattezhuthu Tamil script. The fragmented inscription of Rajendra Chola I (முதலாம் இராசேந்திர சோழன்) discovered on the third pillar of the eastern corridor in the first periphery. 

Palmyra Sap + Tender Palm Fruit 
On our way to Chitra Sabha, we were invited by the vendor selling Pathaneer (பதநீர்) (palmyrah sap) with Nungu (நுங்கு) or tender palm fruit or ice apple cocktail. All tourists gathered around his bicycle carrying a pot full of palm juice and bunches of  nungu. The cocktail juice was served in fan shaped palmyra (Borassus) leaf (பனை மட்டை) folded like a pot and we consumed it in gulps.

Chitra Sabha (Murals)
The Chitra Sabhai aka the hall of paintings is located nearer to the main temple. There is a holy water tank before Chitra Sabhai. Architecturally rich Chitrasabha showcaes hundreds of murals on the walls depicticting scenes from Hindu Puranas. Chitra Sabha murals are drawn out of medicinal herbs. The wooden carved planks serve as doors, beams, cornices and roof structure. The temple authorities have conserved the paintings and they appear bright with modern touch. The roof of the painting hall is covered with copper sheets. Unfortunately they are not allowing photography.

Kutralam 'the Spa of South'

Main Falls
Kutralum is situated at an elevation of about 167m (520 ft) on the Western Ghats. Numerous rivers such as the Chittar River (சித்தாறு), the Manimuthar River (மணிமுத்தாறு), and the Pachaiyar River (பச்சையாறு) originate here. The mother nature's own water slides from the peaks of mountains and drops from hundreds of feet as small cascades as well as thundering waterfalls. It is certainly a feast to our eyes to watch the surreal landscape and the water cascades from every ledge and crevice. 

Five Falls
Snuggled in the Western Ghats, there are nine waterfalls in 10 area around Kutralam town. The main falls located near the temple. Five falls (Aintharuvi - ஐந்தருவி) lies 4 km away from main falls.  Small falls (Chittaruvi - சித்தருவி) lies between main fall and five falls. Chembakadevi falls (செம்பகாதேவி அருவி) lies deep into the forest and devotees visit this falls and Agastya temple on full moon days. Honey falls (Thenaruvi - தேனருவி) is located still more deep into the thick forest. Old falls (Old Kutralam falls - பழைய குற்றாலம் அருவி) is 8 km away from the town. On your way to Old falls you may find Tiger falls (Puliaruvi - புலியருவி). Also there are two falls New falls (Puthiyaruvi - புதியருவி) and fruits garden falls (Pazhathotta aruvi - பழத்தோட்ட அருவி).  It is believed that the water has medicinal and therapeutic properties and also cures physical ailments since it flows through forests full of herbs. Therefore this popular health resort attracts tourists to have bath, enjoy the soothing effects of water current and to get relieved from pains and body aches rapidly and regain energy. With the advent of the season the oil masseurs (use til oil, sandal oil and herbal oils) are in great demand.

Kutralam has moderately chilling climate throughout the year and filled with scenic surroundings. During the season (period June to September in every year) thousands of tourists from far and near visit this place to enjoy the sizzling of rain drops of 'Saral' (சாரல்) season and cool breeze from Pothikai hills (பொதிகைத் தென்றல்). The town also markets spices like clove and cardamom and exotic varieties of fruits such as jack fruit, mangoostan, doarian, ramdan, egg fruit etc.

Our Stay at Kutralam: Merriment and Gaiety

Hotel Saral Resort
During night we stayed at Hotel Saral Resorts at Shengottai Road. The surrounding of the hotel was calm and quiet. The room was spacious, clean and maintained hygienic with all the amenities. The food at the hotel was delicious. It is a nice place to stay.

After refreshing coffee few of us went to the Main falls for bathing. One can bath safely at anytime at the main falls even in midnight. The `bath police' is there to regulate the crowd. The flow of water in this main falls will be depending up on the rain fall in the catchment region in Kerala. However main falls will have little flow of water even during summer. The scenic beauty of Chitar river sliding from top of Sahya mountain and falling with thunderous rhythm. We found both ladies and gents were enjoying the water current under the falls. Water droplets  moisturize the air and make the atmosphere very chilling . We had the fun time under the falls.

Double Bedroom
The restaurant of  Hotel Saral served buffets of the appetizing delicacies of South Indian menu for dinner. After peaceful sleep in the hotel room, every one joined for a bath in the early morning at five falls (Aintharuvi). The water flow was minimum. Yet we enjoyed our bath for an hour. After bath we packed our luggage and vaccated the hotel and assembled for breakfast in the restaurant. The South Indian breakfast was scrumptious. Now we are ready for our Day 3 journey.


Thiru Courtrallanathar Swamy Temple. Courtrallam (TNHRCE Website)
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