December 23, 2019

Tiru Aappanoor Temple

Madurai city is famous for its magnificent Meenakshi Sundareswara temple, which is a well known fact. Sundareswara temple is the first Devara Paadal Petra Sthalam of Pandya region. (The important temples of Lord Shiva that were revered in the verses of Shaivite saints are called as Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams). The second Paadal Petra Sthalam in Pandya region is Tiru Aappanoor temple. It is located in Sellur locality in Madurai. Even though it is an ancient and prominent temple of the city, it remains less popular.  

Highlights:

  • Sambandhar has revered the temple in his verses in Devaram.
  • God - Aappudaiyaar
  • Goddess - Kuravankamazhum Kuzhali
  • Other names of God - Annavinodhan, Rishabhapuresar, Idapuresar
  • Other names of Goddess - Sunganda Kundalambal
  • Teerth (Holy water) - Idaba Teerth
  • Sthala Vruksha (Holy tree) - Bilva
  • Second Devara Paadal Petra Sthalam in Pandya region

Legend:

As per the legend, a Pandya King, Cholantaka Pandya by name, fainted when he was in a hunting expedition. The situation forced him to stay in the forest on that day. As he had the habit of not having food without praying to Lord Shiva, his minster fixed a wooden wedge and made the King to believe that it was a Shiva Linga. After some time, when the King realized the truth, he worried a lot for worshiping a wedge instead of Shiva. Pleased by the King's devotion, Lord Shiva changed that wedge into a Shiva Linga. Hence, people called the newly formed Shiva Linga as  Aappudaiyaar, as the word "Aappu" means wedge in Tamil language.

Suganda Pandya, a descendant of Cholantaka Pandya, built the shrine of the Goddess. Hence, she is named as Suganda Kundalambal.



During his reign, the city was affected by extreme famine. The priest of the temple somehow managed to get some grains to offer the deity. The people who were starving got angered with this act of the priest. To help the troubled priest, Lord Shiva sat on his Rishabha (Nandi), took the priest along with him and left the original place and reached the current site. Hence, the site is also called as Idabapuram (Idabam = Nandi) and Shiva Linga has another name, Idapureesar.

It should be noted that the above mentioned legends are not recorded in Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam, which talks about the tales and legends related to Madurai. They are mentioned only in this temple's Sthalapuranam.

History:

Sambandhar, who lived in the 7th century CE, had revered this site in his hymns. Hence, there was this temple in some form even before Sambandhar's period. Madurai, being the Pandya region, the original temple might have been built by the early Pandyas. 

The current structure of the temple is partly Nayakkas and partly renovated in the modern days. Some sculptures belong to the later Pandyas' period and the remaining sculptures belong to much later period.

There is no inscription found in the temple. To my knowledge, no other authentic historical record about this temple is found anywhere else.

The Sthala Puranam mentions about two Pandyas - Cholantaka Pandya and Suganda Pandya. Vira Pandya, the contemporary of Sundara Chola, was probably called as Cholantaka Pandya. His period was 10th century CE. If Shiva Linga was found during his period, Sambandhar, who had lived 300 years earlier, could not have sung about this temple. So, who was this Pandya? We don't know. Also, purely on the basis of the Sthala Puranam, we cannot conclude on anything. 

The other Pandya King, Suganda Pandya? I have never heard this name in any historical record.

Temple Layout, Architecture and Iconography:

The temple is moderately big and is east facing. There is no Raja Gopuram (tower). There are two east facing sanctums, one for Shiva and another for Goddess. 

Aappudaiyaar

The sanctum that is on the true right side enshrines the presiding deity, Aappudaiyaar. He is in the form of about 2 to 2.5 feet tall Shiva Linga. 

At the entrance of Ardha Mandapa, a pair of Dwarapalas are found. Both are Pandya period sculptures. However, the one on the true right side is taller and fatter than the other one. It is clear that one of the sculptures does not belong to this shrine. 

The icons of Ganesha and Subramanya seated on peacock are also found on either sides of Ardha Mandapa entrance. The icon of Subramaya appears to be of Pandya period. It has a Prabhamandala (halo beneath head).

The external walls of the sanctum has three Koshta (niche) icons - Dakshinamurit facing south, Lingodbhava facing west and Vishnu Durga facing north. None of these three sculptures seem to be very old. In Lingodbhava niche, apart from Brahma as the bird trying to reach the head of Shiva and Vishnu as Varaha trying to reach the feet of Shiva, which are regular representations, Vishnu and Brahma in Anjali mudra are depicted near the feet of Shiva.

A later Pandya period beautiful Bhikshatana's icon is found in the inner prakara. It faces the east direction and is opposite to Lingodbhava. I believe this must have been found in the temple premises and was probably installed here in the recent past. 



Chandikeshwara, which seems to be an ancient sculpture, is found in a small south facing sub-shrine near Durga.

Nandi is found in Maha Mandapa and a bigger one is found in the outside corridor along with bali peetha and the tall flag staff. 

Maha mandapa has many old and beautiful pillars. There is an external Mukha mandapa where few Yazhi pillars are located. Anugnai Vinayaka and Subramanya-Valli-Devasena are found on either side of the entrance here. Subramanya has Prabhavali and it is an ancient sculpture.

All these mandapas are located on an elevated platform.

Suganda Kundalambal

Unlike most of the other Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu, where Goddess shrine is not as prominent as that of Shiva, here, the Goddess, Suganda Kundalambikai, has equal importance.  Her sanctum is found on the true left side of Aappudaiyaar. It is as big as the sanctum of Shiva, except for Mukha mandapa.

Suganda Kundalambikai is found in the standing posture. She has two arms and holds flower in her right arm. The height of the idol is about 3 feet.

Ichcha Shakti, Kriya Shakti and Gnana Shakti, (all are new icons) are found as the Koshta deities on the external wall of the sanctum. 

In Ardha Mandapa, two ancient sculptures of dwarapalas are found. It should be noted that they are not Dwarapalikas (female guardians).

In Maha Mandapa, there is Nandi. In the outer corridor, there is another Nandi which is found along with the bali peetha and the flag staff.

In Maha Mandapa, the sculptures of Ganesha and Subramanya are also found. Subramanya has Prabhamandala and it is an old sculpture.

Nataraja

Nataraja is found in the form of bronze image in most of the temples. However, one unique feature of the temple is the stone image of Nataraja. In fact there are two big stone images of Natarja in this temple.

In the inner prakara of Aappudaiyaar, there is a separate shrine which enshrines the big stone idols of Nataraja and Sivakami. Unlike the other temples, where Sivakami is facing towards Natarja, in this shrine she also faces towards us, similar to that of Natarja. The four Shaivite devotees, who are popularly called as Nalvar, are also found in the same shrine. 

In the outer corridor (outer prakara), there is another shrine with big idols of Natarja and Sivakami. They are new idols. On the left side of Natarja, Sivakami is found. On the right side, Nandi is found playind mridangam. Karaikkal Ammaiyar is found near the right foot of Nataraja. Muyalaka, the Asura, is lying down under the feet of the dancing Lord. Two sages, with five hooded serpent above their head, with their hands folded in Anjali Mudra, are found on either sides. Natarja and Sivakami have prabhamandala beneath their heads.

Other Shrines

In the outer prakara, the sub-shrines of Kailasanatha Linga along with his consort, Bhairava, Dandayudhapani, Sundara Vinayaka, Kasi Viswanatha Linga along with Vishalakshi and Navagraha are found.

There is a sub-shrine for Shanmukha seated on peacock. He is flanked by his two consorts; he has six heads and twelve arms. It is a beautiful later Pandya period sculpture.



The Pancha bhoota Lingas namely, Prithvi Linga, Vayu Linga, Agni Linga, Jambu Linga and Akasha Linga are located on the backside of the sanctum in the outer prakara. In the place of Akasha Linga, an ancient sculpture of Lingodbhava is found now. I presume that the original Linga is missing. Apart from the representation of Vishnu and Brahma as Varaha and Anna Pakshi respectively, they are also represented in their own forms in Anjali mudra near the feet of Lord Shiva. Near these five Shiva Lingas, the idol of Chandikeswara and an old Pandya period sculpture of Chandikeswara are located. 

The sthala vruksham of the temple is also found nearby.

Happy travelling. 


December 4, 2019

Samanar Malai

Those who go to Madurai, the Temple City of India, get overwhelmed by visiting the grand Meenakshi Temple and generally do not explore further. Only few people go beyond this gigantic temple and visit various sites of historic and heritage values. However, not even those few would have heard about this hidden treasure called Samanar Malai.

At a distance of around 10 kms from Madurai Junction, in a small hamlet called Keezha Kuyilkudi, the hillock that stretches around 3 kms of area is located. Due to 1000+ years old sculptures of Jainism that are found on the hill, it is named as Samanar Malai (in Tamil, it means the hillock of Jains).



A distance of 10 kms does not seem to be a big deal. However, this village remains lesser known and is not easily accessible. Public transport is poor and the mobile signal is weak; it may be impossible to book call taxi from this village. There are no other means of transportation available here. So, it is advisable to go on own vehicle or book the cab for half a day from Madurai.

The next challenge would be on climbing 150+ steps and then literally rock climbing just with the support of handrails. It is not an easy trekking and is advisable to visit the place either in the early morning or evening. I heard from the local villagers that monkeys and sometimes even bears are found atop the hill. Hence, it is better to go as a group.

I would classify this site into four different parts - Ayyanar Temple, Chettippudavu, Pechippallam and Madevipperupalli.



Ayyanar Temple

Ayyanar Temple is a medium sized village temple located on the plains right below the hillock. A very big banyan tree and picturesque lotus pond are located near the temple.

The temple is not very old. Except for few idols in the temple, everything else seems to be new, which might have been constructed in the last 40-50 years. Probably the place had Ayyanar alone in a small temple originally. I am not sure.



If you are interested to know about the village deities and their iconography, you can visit this temple, as it has so many village deities. The temple is not artistically beautiful, however the aerial view of the temple along with the adjoining pond is picturesque.

The sanctum enshrines the presiding deity Ayyanar (Shasta). He is found in his typical seated posture and is flanked by his consorts Poorna and Pushkala. These three idols are stone images. In Ardha Mandapa, the stone idols of Ganesha and Kartikeya are found. Ayyanar's vaahan (mount) elephant is found facing towards the shrine. A wooden lamp post is found behind the elephant.



A separate shrine for Malaiyadi Karuppanna Swami, a popular village God, is found. It's a blue colored stucco image. Karuppana is found in the standing posture; he has big mustache and also a hair bun on his head. He holds sickle and mace in his arms. A bearded person is found at his feet. Hanuman with Anjali mudra is found near the deity.

Another shrine enshrines Virumappa Swami, Kasi Mayan, Karuppayi and Kalvanathan. All these village Gods are stone images except for Karuppayi.


There is a shrine where the broken Tirthankara stone idols are kept. They are named as Pandya Raja and Ugra Pandya. The idols appear to belong to the 9th century/10th century CE. A stucco image of Chokkeswaran - a village God with beard and mustache on his face, holding Trishul in his arms and serpent on his head, is also located in the same shrine. An image called as Bhairava is also found (not following the iconography of Bhairav).

There is a separate shrine that enshrines many village deities such as Veerabhadra, Irulappan, Muniyandi, Sona, Muthukaruppanna, Pechi Amman and Irulayee Amman. All the male deities except for Muniyandi are in the form of serpents. 



The entrance of the temple has three big stucco images of Karuppanna Swami on horses. Inside the temple, there is a similar stone idol found. Below the horse, few small stucco images such as the Adi Pujari (the first priest), Krishna-Rukimini-Bhama, the divine wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareswara are found.



Outside the temple, three small sub-shrines are located. They depict Peyandi Devar alias Pattavan Pottu Kalva Devar along with his wife and other companions. It is said that he fought against Malik Kafur, when the latter had invaded Madurai in the 14th century, and sacrificed his life.

Chettippudavu

After climbing up about 150-200 steps and trekking on the rocks, we can reach Chettippudavu. It is located on the south side of the hill. An exceptionally beautiful five feet tall of Mahavira's bas-relief image is found here. The big ears of Mahavira probably made the locals to believe that it was an image of a fat Chettiar (a business community) and hence, the site is called as Chettippudavu.

Mahavira is found in seated and meditative posture. He is seated on a throne having three lion images in the base. Two standing lions are found instead of hand rest. Lions are depicted as Mahavira has lion as his lanchana (vehicle; similar to vaahana in Hinduism). Two chamara bearers are found on his either sides. Above the head of Mahavira, a triple parasol (tri chatra) is found and above that the Sala tree is partially visible. The chatra is flanked by two flying Vidyadharas holding flowers in their arms.

Photo courtesy - Mr. Veludharan


Nearby, there is a natural cave which has five small bas-relief images. Three of them represent Tirthankaras. Who are they? We cannot clearly identify due to erosion. One interesting image of a Goddess riding lion and fighting her enemy on elephant is found. Who is this? Can this be a Yakshi or Sasana Devi? As per the Jain iconography, only four Yakshis ride lion - Gauri, Vairoti alias Aparajita, Ambika, and Siddhayika. This image might depict one of them. But, none of them seem to be fighting with a demon or Asura. Also, except for the lion, no other iconic features of those Devis match with this image. Then, does this depict Durga? How come we would have Durga in Jain cave? I don't have a clear answer.

There is another female icon on the other end. A Yakshi is found seated and is flanked by two female attendants. I believe this must be one of these three Yakshis - Dharini alias Tara, Vairoti alias Aparajita, or Padmavati.

The sculptors' names are mentioned below all these sculptures in Vatteluththu.

Pechippallam

Pechippallam is located above Chettippudavu, which can be reached through very steep and slippery rocks. Near a natural spring, a collection 8 beautiful bas-relief images are found. They depict:
1) Tirthankara in seated posture, who is flanked by two attendants (Unable to identify the name)
2) Bahubali in the standing posture
3) Mahavira in seated posture, who is flanked by two attendants
4) Parsvanatha under seven hooded serpent
5) Supasvanatha under five hooded serpent
6) Tirthankara in seated posture, who is flanked by two attendants (Unable to identify the name)
7) Tirthankara in the standing posture, who is flanked by two female attendants (Unable to identify the name)
8) Tirthankara in the standing posture, under a five hooded serpent; flanked by two attendants above, one person in Anjali Mudra near the foot and another female attendant (Unable to identify the name)

Photo courtesy - Mr. Veludharan

Photo courtesy - Mr. Veludharan

Photo courtesy - Mr. Veludharan


Madevipperuppalli

This place is located above Pechippallam. Here, the base of a dilapidated Jain temple is found. Based on the inscriptions found here, a Pandya King, Parantaka Veera Narayanan by name, donated the land for Jain monastery in the late 9th century CE. The temple or monastery was named after his wife, Vaanavan Madevi.

Photo courtesy - Mr. Veludharan


Happy travelling.

P.S. Thanks to Mr. Veludharan who helped me with the photographs of Jain sculptures. He runs an excellent blog on Temples for the past ten years.