The Unique Shiva Temple at Avudaiyar Koil-Thiruperunthurai

It was after I learnt “Paal Ninainthootum Thaayinum Saala” Thiruvasagam when my yearning to visit Thiruperunthurai/Avudaiyar Koil started. The words, “Yaan Unnai Thodarndhu Chikkaena Pidithen” really touched a chord. I began my research about this temple and soon enough the wish materialized. We stayed at Pudukottai town at Hotel Saradha Grande, a decent place, courteous staff, looked new and the food was good.

Address: 2740, 1, E Main Rd, Melaraja Vidi, Brindavan, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu 622001

Phone: 097902 87666

We reached around noon. After a tasty South Indian Thali meal and after an hour’s rest we drove to Avudaiyar Koil that evening itself, a distance of 48 km and took a little over an hour.

We wanted a detailed temple tour and so at the entrance a young Odhuvar was waiting for us. Although we wanted to linger on at the entrance where elaborately sculpted Nayak style pillars beckoned us to admire more closely, we had to hurry in with the Odhuvar who remarked, “You can take pictures and videos later” Still I managed to mentally note the Ugra Narasimhar with the intestines of Iranyan, a elaborately sculpted Badrakali, Shiva in Oorthava Thandava pose, Shiva as Bikshadana, Sankara Narayana Murthy, Murugan with a Vel and Flute Krishna.

1000 pillared vertical Pillar:

The Odhuvar stopped near two pillars and asked us what we thought was the specialty? The elaborate detailing was what struck us but he said each column had 500 miniature pillars and both the columns on either side together depicted the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam. On the other side of the carved pillar were the statues of Agora Veerabadrar with a spear and 8 hands and Rana Veerabadrar, with a knife and 8 hands, both larger than life and the detailing was simply amazing, especially the intricate details of the human body, like nails, veins, muscles all sculpted so beautifully.

The Kodungai work in the ceiling

The ceiling/roof awnings had a projection like the modern day sun shade which looked like elaborately carved wood, only thing it was magnificently carved in stone. This is called the Kodungai. I remember seeing such type of stone work at Aihole in Karnataka. It is a marvel how sculptures usually done in wood is carved in stone with the same intricate detailing complete with nuts, ropes and bolts. The Kodungai work is there right from the entrance right up to all the inner praharams. At the entrance it’s 5 feet wide and the inner praharam Kodungais are 4 feet wide. At the Chidambaram Nataraja temple a similar sculpted Kodungai exists but carved out of wood.

I had read about this contract yesteryear sculptors signed with the ruling king, while creating sculptures at various temples across South India, while researching the temple:

“Any temple can be built with any detailing except

The Pillars of Tharamangalam

The Granite Grills of Thiruvalanjuzhi

The Tiled Terracotta Roof simulation of Avudaiyar Temple”

“தாரமங்கலம் தூண்கள்,

திருவலஞ்சுழிப் பலகணி,

ஆவுடையார் கோயில் கொடுங்கை

நீங்கலாகச் செய்து கொடுப்போம்”

Aavudaiyar/Aathmanaadhaswamy:

Tearing my eyes away from the Kodungai, I hurriedly followed our guide, the Odhuvar who was already standing in front of a few exquisitely crafted statues which were locked inside iron grilled enclosures. The statues depicted the different types of ornaments, hair styles, head gear, clothes as well as beautifully crafted bags. Walking further towards the Mahamandapam where the Athmanadhaswamy (Lord Shiva, formless) the Odhuvar narrated that there were 3 levels which were symbolic. The Mahamandapam was the Sat, the Artha Mandapam (further inside) was the Chit and the Garba Griham or the sanctum Sanctorum was the Ananda. The oldest part of the temple was the Sanctum sanctorum as well as the Artha Mandapam which were supposed to be built by Saint Manickavasagar himself. The other parts of the temple were built by (in chronological order) Vikrama adithya Chozhan, Nayaks, Maratha Kings, Ramanathapuram Sethupathy King, the ruler of Sivagangai, Pudukottai Thondaiman King and Palaivana Zamindar.

Apart from a few locals the temple was practically empty. The Sayarakshai Poojai was about to begin. So we stood there in front of Aathmanadhaswamy, the formless form of Shiva: Only the Aavudaiyar, the outer portion present minus the lingam. While the Odhuvar started singing a Thiruvasagam in his loud, clear voice which somehow reminded me of Odhuvar Mylai Sadhgurunathan, I noticed the 3 white, red and green lamps. I had already read that they represented the sun, the fire and the moon, also representing the three eyes of Lord Shiva, as He is formless in this temple. There were also 27 lamps which depicted the 27 stars and two lamps on the Lord’s right side, which has NEVER stopped burning depicting the Jeevatma and the Paramatma.

The Offerings to the Lord:

There is a raised platform in the Ardha Mandapam in front of the Lord. One priest brought in a huge dish of cooked boiled rice and spread it on the platform and closed the door. The steam from the rice is said to be the Naivedyam/offering to the Lord. 14 types of Naivedyam is offered.

First Kaala Pooja: Plain boiled rice

Second Kaala Pooja: Sarkarai (Sweet) Pongal

Third Kaala Pooja: Thenkuzhal, Payasam, Athirasam, Pittu, Dosai

Fourth Kaala Pooja: Plain Boiled Rice, Vadai, Keerai

Fifth Kaala Pooja: Plain Boiled Rice

Sixth Kaala Pooja: Boiled Rice, Tamarind Rice, Bitter gourd

Saint Manickavasagar:

It is common knowledge that this temple is the place where Saint Manickavasagar first wrote the Thiruvasagam in praise of Lord Shiva. There is no Nandi in this temple as Manickavasagar is supposed to be an incarnation of Nandi. The saint’s sannidhi is in the prahaaram which faces the Goddess’s sannidhi. Manickavasagar is a panchaloha statue, said to be a swayambu. There is supposed to be a mark on his face and a Nayak king felt that another statue without any mark must be installed. So he got one sculpted but that never got installed in the sannidhi because of various obstacles which came up. Just proves that God’s creation needs to be accepted as is, without raising any questions about marks/flaws. One hand he holds the Chin Mudra and the other he holds palm manuscripts. That’s the usual iconography for Manickavasagar in all Shiva temples. But the one in this temple, is beautifully created and one feels like standing there forever basking in the divine energy his smiling countenance brings.

The other Manickavasagar statue created by the Nayak king stands in the corridor alongside other Gods. None will know or notice unless told by someone who knows the history. As we stood in front of the main Panchaloha idol of Saint Manickavasagar, the Odhuvar said this idol has magical properties. If you close your eyes and think of any God and open you can see that God/Goddess in front of your eyes, instead of Saint Manickavasagar. I closed my eyes and thought of Goddess Parvathi, Shakthi in all her finery/alankaram. And when I opened my eyes, I did see the Goddess instead of Saint Manickavasagar!

The 3 types of Deeksha:

We then moved to the Sthala Viruksham, the Kurundhai Tree. An abhishekam was being performed to the small idol of Manickgavasagar and Lord Shiva, installed under the branch of the tree. This is the spot where Lord Shiva appeared in disguise as an old man, before Manickavasagar when he was a minister to the King Varaguna Pandyan. The saint was called Vadhavoorar. Listening to the old man (Lord Shiva in disguise) chanting vedic hymns, Manickavasagar was drawn towards him and realized that he had just found his Guru. He stayed in this place and learnt about the glory of Lord Shiva and this incident led to the birth of Thiruvasagam , 51 compositions which is now compiled as the 8th Thirumurai in Saiva Siddhantham. It was at this spot that Manickavasagar received Nayana Deeksha (eyes), Sparisa Deeksha (Touch) and Thiruvadi Deeksha (The lords feet on his head)

The Goddess Yogambal, also formless:
Next, the Odhuvar took us to the Ambal sannidhi. Goddess Yogambal just like her consort Shiva is formless. Another temple where the Goddess is formless is Thirupathiripuliyur, Arunthavanayagi.

We were asked to see the platform which had the Goddess’ feet through a grilled enclosure. When the deepa aradhanai was being done, tradition in this temple is to turn towards the Manickavasagar sannidhi (just opposite the Goddess) and have a simultaneous darshan of both.

Why this temple is different from other Shiva Temples:

Next we walked around to the other important spots in the temple. There is no Pradosham Pooja done in this temple. There is no Nandi, Kodi Maram, Bali Peedam, Dakshninamurthy, other utsava murthies in this temple. Manickavasagar is taken out on important occasions in this temple. There is no Navagraha sannidhi in this temple but the Navagrahas are in the pillars in the praharam. 6 kaala poojas are being performed even on solar and lunar eclipse days in this temple. The reason is this temple depicts that the Lord has no beginning or no end. ஆதியும் அந்தமும் இல்லா அரும்பெரும் சோதி.

Poojas are performed by 6 different sects of people.

1. Swami and Ambal: By Nambiyars

2. Manickavasagar and other Parivaara Murthies: By Sivachaariyaar

3. Lord Aswanathar: Shiva on a horse outside the Sanctum Sanctorum: By Saiva Pillais

4. Agora Veerabadrar and Rana Veerabadrar: By Kothanaar

5. Mahalinga Murthy in the Praharam: By Adhyana Battar

6. Karuppar Swami, near the Chariot: By Acharyas

In the outer praharam there used to be a swing with rods, the metal ring as well as the swing chain all carved in stone. Sadly only remnants remain now. There are musical pillars and our guide, the Odhuvar demonstrated it. Sort of tricky to stand there with your ear on the pillar as the pillars are almost at the edge of a raised platform. But well worth it. We could hear a different resonance from each pillar.

We stood under the Kurundhai Tree where another newer Manickvasagar statue was installed. The Odhuvar told me to close my eyes and think of a problem I want to get solved…and then open my eyes and look at the idol. I did it and the eyes seemed to be speaking to me, saying all will be well and the idol seemed to be smiling more deeply. It was an ethereal, out of the world experience.

There was a cyclone in my home town Chennai while we were there at the temple and its effect was felt here too miles away. It started raining lightly so we moved reluctantly outside while darkness fell rapidly. We had spent nearly 3.5 hrs here but it didn’t seem enough! I must come back again, I said to myself. Some day, soon.

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