May 26, 2012

Nanguneri Thothadrinathar Temple

Site Name: Thothadrinathar Temple
Site Type: Religious, Hindu temple
Location:  Nanguneri, 40 kms from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: One of the 108 important adobes of Lord Vishnu; Jeer mutt is located inside the temple complex; one of the eight swayamvyakta kshetrams; the oil rovided in this temple has medicinal values
Nearest Railway Station: Tirunelveli
Nearest Airport: Madurai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Tirunelveli
Hotel: A lot of options are available in Tirunelveli
Restaurants: It is better to go to Tirunelveli if you are looking for good restaurants

When I visited Nanguneri, a small town near Tirunelveli city in South India, I was bit confused by seeing an ocean. It is not supposed to be a coastal town. Am I so bad in Geography? I was confused and also felt ashamed. It took almost one minute for me to realize that it was not an ocean but a huge lake. The length and breadth of the lake is so huge that it looked like an ocean for me.

In the ancient time, there were totally four similar lakes in this town, and hence it is named as "Nanguneri", meaning "four lakes" in Tamil language. I am sure it would have been a spectacular sight to have a big temple with nine-tier tower surrounded by four huge lakes. Unfortunately, only one lake exists today and even that lake does not have enough water. (Don't think my statements in previous paragraph is merely an exaggeration;:-) if you happen to visit the site in rainy season, the lake with full of water indeed resembles an ocean.)

Nanguneri is famous for its ancient Thothadrinathar temple (pronounced as Totadrinathar). It is one of the 108 Divya Desham temples. Nammalvar has sung hymn about this temple. The town is also called as Vanamamali or Tiruvaramangai.


Apart from being one of the 108 important Vishnu temples (Divya Deshams), the temple of Thothadrinathar also has another significance. It is one of the eight swayamvyakta kshetrams. A swayamvyakta kshetra is a place where the God's idol appeared on his own accord and not man-made. The other seven such sites are Srirangam, Naimisaranyam, Tirupati, Pushkar, Saligrama, Srimushnam and Badrinath.

Another significance of the temple is that the Vanamamalai Jeer Mutt is located in this temple complex. Vanamamalai Jeer is  one of the eight pontiffs of Vaishnava order.
Gingelly oil abhishek (ablution) is performed to the main deity throughout the year and it is stored in a well. It is believed that it has medicinal value and it can cure any disease.

Although the temple got significance as Nammalvar sung the praise of the Lord in his pasurams, there is no idol of Nammalvar  found in this temple. The idols of other Alwars are found. The reason is that he is found in the form of "satari". Sadagopan is the other name of Nammalvar. He decided to remain at the feet of the Lord, in the form of a crown. Hence, the crown derived the name "Satari"and is placed on the head of the devotees for blessing.

Temple structure and architecture:

The temple of Vanamamalai Thothadrinathar is a huge temple with multiple sections. Let us explore that in detail.

Pandal Mandapa

The temple has a huge nine-tiered Rajagopuram (tower). Like many other temples of Sothern Tamil Nadu, the beauty of this picturesque tower cannot be enjoyed closely as there is a mandapa (a pillared hall) located in front of the tower. You can only have a distant view of the tower.This mandapa is called as Pandal Mandapa. The rooms on the left side have few chariots including golden chariot. On the right side of the mandapa, the Jeer Mutt is located.

Jevanti Mandapa

After you pass through the tower, you can find another mandapa named Jevanti Mandapa, which is generally used for keeping the utsav (processional) idols for darshan during the festival times.The entrance of this mandap has big stucco images of Urvasi and Tilottama, the Apsara ladies. The right side of the mandapa has few rooms where the vahans (mounds) are kept. The left side of the mandapa leads to another mandapa called Veerappa mandapa. The pillars of this mandapa have good sculptures.

The backside of Jevanti mandapa has bali peeth and flagstaff. There is a big shrine found on the right side; it is dedicated to the great Vaishnavite Guru Manavala Mamunigal. The shrine also houses small idols of Dasavatars (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu).

Kulasekhara Mandapa

Next to this section, the important mandapa named Kulasekhara mandapa is located. The entrance has two images of Dwarapalas. This is the mandapa where most of the important shrines are located. Chakrathalvar shrine, Ram-Lakshman-Sita as utsav idols in a separate shrine, Lakshmi Varaha shrine, Lakshmi Narayan shrine, Viswaksena with just two arms as he is found in Vaikuntha in a separate shrine, the utsav idols of Kannan (Krishna) and Alwars in a separate shrine and the shrine with few important Vaishnavite saints and Alwars are all located in this mandapa. The idol of Garuda with just hands folded towards the main shrine is also found in this mandapa. The notable feature is that both Garuda and Viswaksena idols  merely have two arms and not four arms as they are found in the other temples. It is believed that they are seen as they are found in Vaikuntha, the adobe of Lord Vishnu.

Moolasthana and Ardha Mandapa

The entrance of Ardha mandapa has two Dwarapalas idols. After the small ardha mandapa, the moolasthan aka main shrine is located where the presiding deity is found. Lord Vishnu known as Thothadrinathar is seated on the throne with a leg folded and placed on the seat and the other touching the floor, under the canopy of Adi Sesha, the divine serpent, flanked by his consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. Urvasi and Tilottama are found waving chamaras on either sides in the main shrine. The images of Bhrigu, Markandeya, Surya and Chandra are also found within the main shrine. All these idols are carved out of single rock. It is believed that the scene in the main shrine depicts Vaikuntha and hence the place is also called as Bhooloka Vaikuntha. It is said that the moolasthan was originally immersed into the lake water.

The procession (utsav) idols of Lord Deiva Nayakan is found along with his consorts Varamangai Thayar, Ubaya Nachiar and Andal within the main shrine. It is said that the utsav idol of Goddess was brought from Tirupati in the olden days.


The inner prakara (corridor) surrounding the main shrine is closed to normal devotees nowadays. It has the idols of 32 saints importantly Roma Maharishi to whom the Lord gave darshan here. It also has the idol of Thumbikai Alwar (Ganesha).

The outer prakara is very spacious. The prakara to the right side of the main shrine has the shrine of Vadakku Nachiar - the main Goddess of the temple. The prakara to the left side of the main shrine has the shrine of Andal. It is rare to find Andal with four arms. Andal is generally found in human form with two arms in the standing posture. Here, the idol is found in the sitting posture with four arms. Hence, I personally feel it should be the idol of Bhooma Devi (aka Terku Nachiar as per some of the old books). However, as per the temple authorities, it is Andal.

The back side of the main shrine in the outer prakara has a lot of pillars with many small but beautiful sculptures.

Near the Andal shrine, there is a big shrine where the idols of Ram, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman made of wood are found.

Legend and History:

As the Lord was sung by Nammalvar of 8th century CE, it should be ideally more than 1200 years old. However, the current structure of the temple belongs to very later period. It was built by the Pandyan kings and many additions were done by the Nayak kings.

As per the legend, the Asuras Madhu and Kaitabha were killed by Lord Vishnu. Their blood spread over the earth and it started stinking. Due to this the mother Earth (Bhoo Devi) lost her purity. She started meditating and Lord Vishnu gave darshan to her in this site. Thus, the earth was purified.

As per another legend, the king of Sindh was roaming like a dog due to a curse from Kusasana Rishi. After he took bath in Pushkarani (lake water) here, he got rid of his curse.

When you get a chance to go to southern part of Tamil Nadu state of India, do not miss to visit this important temple of Lord Vishnu.

Happy travelling.

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