Thiruvarangulam

Thiruvarangulam (திருவரங்குளம்) – A big temple, which has been expanded down the ages, dedicated to Hara-tirthesvara (ஹரதீர்த்தேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரஹதம்பாள்). The main shrine dates back to 12th century. A Nataraja bronze of superlative quality from this temple is now on display at the National Museum, New Delhi. This temple of Hara-tirthesvara and is held in high veneration by devotees far and near. There are a number of inscriptions here. There are a few mythological stories associated with this temple.

Approach

Thiruvarangulam is about 15 kilometers from Pudukkottai, which is well connected with Pudukkottai, Alangudi (ஆலங்குடி), Pattukkottai (பட்டுக்கோட்டை), Peravurani (பேராவூரணி) and Karambakkudi (கறம்பக்குடி) by frequent bus services. Taxi facilities is available from Pudukkottai, Pattukkottai and Peravurani.

The monument: Hara-tirthesvara temple

Thiruvarangulam is noted for its fine ancient temple dedicated to Hara-tirthesvara (ஹரதீர்தேஸ்வரர்) and Brahadambal (பிரகதம்பாள்). A Nataraja bronze of superlative quality from this temple is now on display at the National Museum, New Delhi.

The place was once a centre of iron-ore mining and contained in outcrop of ochre on the bunds of one of the temple tanks, called the Brahma-kundam (பிரம்ம குண்டம்).

The main shrine of the temple, which has been expanded down the ages, was built in the 12th century Chozha epoch. The earliest inscription in the central shrine is dated in the fortieth year of Kulottunga Chozha III (மூன்றாம் குலோத்துங்க சோழன்) (1218-19). The temple may have been built either in the reign of Raja Raja II (இரண்டாம் இராஜராஜன்) or early in the reign of Kulottunga III – the reign of Raja Raja II is considered to be more probable judging from the architectural features.

The Temple Architecture

Sundaresvara temple, Thiruvarangulam

Sundaresvara temple, Thiruvarangulam

The garbha-griham (கர்பகிரகம்) of Hara-tirthesvara is having the Chozha style of architectural features. The pilasters over the plinth have simple idhazh-s (இதழ்) without petals, large palagai-s (பலகை) with two vyali-s (யாளி) over each palagai-s as if supporting the architrave above. Above the pilasters a line of bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) supporting a convex moulded cornice. The kudus (கூடு) are formed of foliage scrolls with figures of human heads within. There are niches on the wall, that on the south has a very finely carved figure of Vina-dhara Dakshina-moorthi (வீணாதார தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி), that on the west one of Lingod-bhava and that on the north one of Brahma. The niches are surmounted by makara-torana-s (மகரத் தோரணங்கள்).

The ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மஹா மண்டபம்), which are in front of the shrine, are also of the Chozha style.

The main shrine, ardha-mandapam (அர்த்த மண்டபம்) and maha-mandapam (மகாமண்டபம்) are surrounded by a hundred-pillared mandapam, the construction of which the Statistical Account of Pudukkottai attributes to Gopulingam, a Chozha minister. Along the walls of the southern cloister are large figures of the 63 Saiva saints. In this mandapam are sub-shrines of Ganesa, Lakshmi, Subrahmanya, Bhairava, etc. In the front part of this mandapam are the processional (உத்சவ மூர்த்தி, utsava-moorthi) images, which are fine specimens of late Chozha or early Pandya bronze.

From this mandapam one passes out through the second gopuram erected by a Gangaiyaraya (காங்கேய ராயன்) chief. It is in the Pandya style. Between the second gopuram and the first or main gopuram is a large corridor with massive monolithic pillars (anivetti-k-kal, அணிவெட்டிக்கால்) with carved lions on top supporting the roof. The pillars are elaborately sculptured with figures of donors, like, the Vallanad Chettiyar-s (வள்ளநாட்டுச் செட்டியார்), local chieftains, etc. In the middle part of the ceiling are sculptured the signs of zodiac. To the north of the mandapam are the sabha-mandapam (சபா மண்டபம், hall of dance) and a separate enclosure for the Amman shrine, which is much simpler than that of the God.

Architectural features of the Amman shrine mark the transition from the Chozha to the Pandya epoch. The vyali-s (யாளி) and bhutha-gana (பூதகணம்) found in the central shrine are absent here. The earliest inscription on this shrine says that the structure was built by Kannudaya-perumal (கண்ணுடைய பெருமாள்), queen of the Nishada-raja (நிசதராஜா) chief of Piranmalai (பிரான்மலை) and daughter of the Nishada-raja chief of Ponnamaravathi (பொன்னமராவதி).

The main gopuram may be assigned to the late Pandya epoch and has the decorative pilasters motif.

Mythological stories:

There are a number of myths and legends associated with this temple.

About the origin of the temple

The following account of the legendary origin of the temple is taken from an old Tamil prose manuscript.

A Rishi who was doing penance in the forest near Thiruvarangulam happened one day to restore to a hunter his wife whom he had lost in the woods. Out of gratitude, the hunter brought him everyday some tubers and fruit to eat. The hunter was in turn amply rewarded for his service, for a Palmyra tree sprang up miraculously in the jungle, and dropped a fruit of pure gold every day at the hunters feet as he brought food to the hermit. But unaware of the value of the fruit he sold them all to a Chettiyar of Vallanad for some rice, salt, chilly, and tobacco. A dozen years passed, and the Chettiyar had amassed thousands of these gold fruits.

At this time the Chozha king who held sway over these parts had built a fort near Thiruvarangulam. The hunter finally discovering his stupidity one day demanded additional payment for his fruit from Chettiyar, and when this was refused he appealed to the king who made inquiries. The king examined the miraculous fruits and found them to be pure gold. They then sought for the hermitage of the sage, but both he and the Palmyra tree had vanished, and in their place stood a lingam.

It also happened that a shepherd who carried milk for the king’s use from Kadayakkudi (கடையக்குடி) stumbled every day at this hallowed spot and broke his milk pot over the lingam, thus unintentionally performing the daily ablution of the God with cow’s milk. When the shepherd one day examined the spot with pickaxe and spade, he inadvertently cut the top of the lingam and the cut may have seen to this day – and was horrified to see blood issuing from the cut. The king decided that a temple must be built to the God, and he was pleased to find that the Chettiyar of the golden fruit was himself willing to build one at his own expense in six months. After completing the temple in this manner and providing it with a car and some jewels, 3000 of the gold fruits were still left and they were locked up in the temple cellars.

Other stories

The temple is interesting for the small temple, which contains a male and a female figure.

The story is that an untouchable, who had disguised himself, was appointed as peshkar (பேஷ்கார், manager) of the temple and having been detected, was done to death. A deva-dasi lover of his, out of grief, committed suicide. The couple is now worshipped by the Isai-vellala community (மேளக்காரர்க, Melakarar-s) of the village, at this temple.

The main temple has another association with the once ‘untouchable’ community. According to an old Tamil prose manuscript, the temple car on an occasion broke down. When an attempt was made to move it, legend has it that the Lord appeared and decreed that the car ‘should not be moved unless a paraiyan (பறையன்)’ had broken the first coconut on the wheels of the car and touched the car ropes. The practice is observed to this day.

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