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When some historic and original facts surface, people tend to treat them with reverence as it seems to be happening in Thenur, a village in the interiors, 20 km off Madurai city.
Villagers here relive an event with much fanfare which is believed to have been performed here four Centuries ago.
“Mandooga Maharishi’s redemption is an event that was unique to our village. We are trying to revive the ritual,” says hereditary temple trustee P. Neduchezia Pandian.
The legend has it that sage Suthapas (Munivar) was bathing in Nupura Gangai at Azhakar Hill and did not pay heed to Durvasar Maharishi, who was passing by.
The enraged Durvasar cursed Suthapas that he would turn into a frog until he is redeemed of his curse by Lord Sundararajar, who is also known as Kallazhakar.
The Suthapas Maharishi, who is named as ‘Mandooga maharisi’ munivar because of his frog status, performed ‘thapas’ (prayer) on the banks of river Vaigai, which is otherwise known as Vegavathi, at Thenur. The Lord Kallazhakar comes from his abode in Azhakar Hill to redeem Mandooga Maharishi of his curse, when he is praying.
Since days unknown, it is believed that the lord Kallazhakar comes to Thenur via Malaipatti, Alanganallur and Vayalur. In Thenur Mandap, the lord redeems the sage of his curse and leaves for his abode.
“During Thirumalai Nayak regime (1623 to 1659 AD), in 1653 the Mandooga Maharishi relieving ritual was shifted to Vandiyur village where the event is performed at Thennur Mandapam, built by Thirumalai Nayak himself,”
The trustee says that the Nayak king, a Vaishnavite and dedicated devotee of Goddess Meenakshi, wanted to merge the brahmotsavams of Meenakshi and Kallazhakar Temples mainly aiming at fostering communal amity between Saivites and Vaishnavites.
The Thenur villagers readily accepted the shift to Vandiyur. The happy king offered the villagers lands and ensured that they were transported to Madurai and meted out their expenses through the royal exchequer.
Following which, the king constructed a ship-shaped mandapam called ‘Thenur Mandapam’ on the river Vaigai at Vandiyur, where Mandooga episode is revoked every year during the Chithirai festival even today.
“The 24-pillared stone structure is the only testimony to Azhakar’s visit to Thenur, the ritual and the shift of the ritual,” Mr. Neduchezia Pandian notes.
The undated original mandapam at Thenur was renovated as stone structure by R. Periya Naicken Servai few decades ago. Again, in 2007, the mandapam was transformed into a temple named ‘Arulmigu Sri Sundararaja Perumal (Kallazhakar) Temple.’ The newly constructed temple has Lord Vinayaga at the entrance while Lord Sundararaja Perumal (Kallazhakar) stands with his consorts – Sri Devi and Boo Devi. Lord Karudalwar stands at the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum facing the deities. At a cost of Rs.300,000, the devotees have bought various ‘vahanas’ (vehicles) to carry deities during the festival.
Reviving original event
Since last year, the villagers perform the Mandooga Maharishi episode in the month of Vaikasi as part of the three-day temple festival with support of Alazhgar Temple hereditary Archakar Kidaripatti Alangarapattar alias Paramaswamy pattar, Mr. Neduchezia Pandian says.
Another important and unique aspect of the village is the presence of ‘thirupparkadal’ where the curse on rishi was revoked. “Given to Thenur’s association with Lord Sundararaja Perumal, the village is also known as ‘Sundarrajan Boomi,” he points out.
Every year during the Tamil month of Chithirai, Chithirai Thiruvizha is celebrated. Chithirai Thiruvizha is about Meenakshi's (Azhakar's Sister) Marriage and Azhakar itself. First 15 days is about Meenakshi and her marriage and next 15 days is about Azhakar. The main event is Kallazhakar Crossing the Vaigai river. Millions of people gather in vaigai river to see this event. While Kallazhakar enters the river he comes to know that his sister marriage has been ended already, he returns to Karuparayar Mandapam and then he takes ten avatharam then returns to Azhakar Kovil.
The architecture of the Azhakar temple corresponds to any of those of south Indian temples, with large gopurams and pillared mandapams.The gopuram of the Karuppa swamy shrine depicts the passionate side of human relationship in the form of beautiful statues. Apart from these, it also depicts the evolution of cultural aspects of the local society including a depiction of an Englishman in British police uniforms. There is another half built gopuram on the southern side of the temple which has been used as an artistic backdrop in a few Tamil movie songs.
The Main tower entrance (Mukya Gopuram) always remains closed, with the shrine of Karupana Swami. The very closed door itself is worshipped as Patinettaam padi Karuppan(meaning, the black Lord who (sits) at the Eighteen steps ). There are various legends associated with this. Only Once in a year, the door is opened and Sudarshana Chakra(Or Chakrathaazhvar as the temple devotees mention), the famous Vishnu's wheel, passes over through the open door. Not even the Lord's Utsava Murti(deity for processions and festivals) goes through this passage. This is a centuries old practice.
The style of the buildings denote, 3rd or early 4th Century construction.
Some research scholars opine that this was earlier a Jain temple, (the somaskanda vimanamfor instance) but which however was later converted into a Vishnu temple. It is true that during archaeological excavations, many Jain caves and inscriptions were found in the same hill around this temple. However, the famous Vaishnava works in Tamil, belonging to the early 4th to 6th Centuries point that to this temple as a Vishnu temple. The famous Silapadikaram too, that belongs to the 3rd Century AD, points out to this temple as a Vishnu temple.
During 2013, while cleaning the area on front of Karupana Samy shrine, a big Teppakulam was discovered. Before the whole Teppakulam was covered with sands and bushes.
The Azhakar Hills has a tropical forest cover which extend from Azhakar Kovil in the south to Natham in the north. The Tamil Nadu state forest department has been maintaining a herbal garden on the hills. The entrance to the garden is restricted to siddha research scholars. The garden is irrigated by a natural spring locally known as the devi theertham or Noobura Gangai. There is a temple dedicated for Goddess Rakkayi at the top of the hill near the spring. Devotees take spiritual bath on the spring before worshiping Rakkayi amman. On the way to Rakkayi temple, there located Pazhamudircholai. It is one of the Six Abodes of Murugan.
There is a huge population of wild Indian bison available in this forest which is not much known by the enthusiasts. Nice trek into the forest from the Nuburagangai takes you to a velley which is called Bison Valley, a lush green valley which hosts few hundreds of wild Indian bisons. The growth of wild bison population is healthy as there is no predators and the forest guards are vigilant on these animals.
- "Metro Plus Coimbatore / Travel : Deep in the woods". The Hindu. 2006-07-08. Retrieved 2013-02-23.
- Pazhamudircholai - a temple atop the hill in azhakar Koyil
- Madapuram - Famous Kali temple near Madurai
- Madhurai Athisiyam