Monday, January 5, 2015

Soundara Pandiswara!

The rustic beauty - Soundara Pandeeswara Temple at Karuvelankulam
I keep talking about this probably in every single post - because it just amazes me how the timing or choice of articles is determined by Him. Several months ago, REACH Chandra and I had visited different sites in Tirunelveli district for an assessment. During this time, as we passed Kalakkad, we found a damaged temple car in a thatched shed a few kilometres ahead, that looked extremely interesting.

The temple car of Soudara Pandeeswara Temple, Karuvelankulam
We almost jumped out of the moving vehicle, which really frightened the driver, who had to literally stand on the brakes to avoid us getting injured. A closer look at our surroundings revealed the temple and the details of the car. We were amazed at the miniatures that were found all around the cart. Most of them, were different forms of Lord Shiva.

Somaskanda Murthy on the temple car. The pen shows the dimensions 
We went round and round the temple car awestruck, trying to brush away the cobwebs and take pictures of the different forms of Shiva, so beautifully depicted throughout the chariot. It was clearly a master piece of art, lying neglected in a little corner of Tamilnadu.

The various forms of Shiva found on the car of Soundara Pandeeswara Temple
I would have loved to post every individual picture on this article, but owing to constraint of space, I am forced to post this collage. The individual pictures can be found on the Aalayam Kanden Facebook Page here.

After having spent considerable time with the temple car, we decided to explore the temple. There was a temple tank nearby with clean water, and a tower right in the middle. Intrigued, we went into the temple and spoke to Mr Nellai Nayagam and Nambi Krishnan of Karuvelangulam village as well as Thavamani Bhattar, the priest of the temple. The discussions revealed many more interesting facets of the temple.

The temple tank at Karuvelangulam with the small tower in the middle
Legend associated with the Soundara Pandiswara Temple:

This temple is said to have been built by Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandyan, the son of Rajendra Chola I (study of the inscriptions that remain here might confirm the fact). While he was the viceroy of Madurai, his daughter is said to have been afflicted with a chronic mental ailment. Treatment by the physicians from far and wide did not yield any results. The prince, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, is said to have sought his divine intervention to cure the young girl.

One day, a Nampoothiri visited the Prince, and asked him to take his daughter around the Pandya Kingdom. He was asked to stop at a tank where elephants would be found circumambulating  it, and bathe the young girl in its waters, after which her chronic ailment would be cured. The Prince did as he was instructed. When he reached the place that is today called Karuvelan kulam, he found elephants circling a tank of water. His daughter bathed in its waters, and was immediately cured of her chronic mental ailment.

Wanting to show his gratitude, he built this temple. The Lord is named after Sundara Pandya and also because he helped the young girl regain her beauty (Soundaryam) he is called Soundara Pandiswara.  A tower was built by Sundara Pandya in the temple tank where the young girl bathed and got rid of her disease.

The place came to be known as Kari Valam Kulam (the pond that was circumambulated by elephants). Over time it has come to be known as Karuvelam Kulam.

To date, Lord Soundara Pandiswara is being worshipped by people suffering from mental ailments and they come back to offer gratitude once they are cured of their ailments.

Lord Soundara Pandiswara!
That is not it. The temple has beautiful mandapas both before the sanctum sanctorum and also before the Nataraja shrine. These mandapas have moving and musical pillars which are a delight to watch.

A demo of the rotating pillars at the Soundara Pandiswara Temple
Nataraja at Soundara Pandeeswara Temple:

We were told that the Nataraja at this temple was one of the oldest in the region and said to have been made by the same person who made the Chidambaram Nataraja. The same Sthapathy is said to have made five such Natarajas with the first being in Chidambaram and the others in Sepparai, Kattarimangalam, Karisoozhndha Mangalam,and Karuvelankulam.

The Nataraja at Soundara Pandiswara Temple Karuvelan Kulam
We were told that the temple now gets grants from the Thiruvananthapuram royal family and hence is able to maintain itself well. As we went around the temple, each of the icons we saw delighted us. There were a number of shrines, all spotlessly clean.

Dakshinamurthy at Soundara Pandiswara Temple
We finally reached the Koothambalam, the place where the ten day Arudhra festival happens in the month of Margazhi every year. Starting with the flag hoisting on the day of Sadhayam star, it ends on Thiruvadhirai, the day of Arudhra Darisanam, the day that celebrates the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva in Tamilnadu, and is commemorated as the birthday of Lord Shiva in Kerala.

The Goddess is named Gomathi Ambal as in many temples in this region and emanates compassion and grace in a separate shrine.

Goddess Gomathi Ambal at Soundara Pandiswara Temple
Aalayam Kanden had earlier focussed an article on Parama Kalyani, the Goddess of fertility and child birth in this region in the article on Vanniyappar Temple at Alwarkurichi. (The article can be accessed here.) Goddess Parama Kalyani is also found on the pillars of the Soundara Pandiswarar Temple and is worshipped by those who yearn for child birth and pregnant ladies who seek safe delivery.

Goddess Parama Kalyani

We had seen the beauty of wood and stone earlier and now it was the turn to see beauty in colours. The whole Kootambalam is painted with murals of different Gods and Goddesses. It is sad that most of them have faded and it is difficult to even identify the figures in some of them. However, it is heartening to note that the walls have not been painted over or redone in gaudy acrylic colours.

A mural of Sankara Narayana - the Sankara and Narayana differentiated
by the Green and white colours at Soundara Pandiswara Temple
A complete wall is devoted to Nataraja as he performs the cosmic dance surrounded by Goddess Sivakami, Pathanjali, Vyagrapadha and Manickavasagar.

Mural of Nataraja at the Koothambalam of Soundara Pandiswara Temple
The Nataraja is placed in a beautiful wooden Mandapa during the Arudhra Festival and is taken out on procession on the Arudhra Darisanam day. Thousands flock here to witness the dancing God wearing splendid white on the 7th day of the festival and then again on the Thiruvadhirai day.

Nataraja Mandapa at the Kootambalam of Soundara Pandiswara Temple
It is interesting to note that each pillar in the wooden mandapa has the idols of Pathanjali, Vyagrapadha, Gnanasambandhar, and Karaikal Ammaiyar in it.

The temple has been last consecrated in 1944. At this time, several stones have been removed and relaid and we find inscriptions both of Rajendra Chola I as well as Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya and others at odd locations. A study of these would clealy help in knowing more about this wonderful temple.

Inscriptions laid on the floor at the time of renovation
Going back to where I started, although we had visited this temple several months ago, and had been amazed at its beauty, I never got around to writing about it. It so happened that when I was thinking of what article should come up as the 100th post on Aalayam Kanden, that I remembered the Nataraja and the Arudhra Darisanam festival at this temple, and the article comes to you on Arudhra Darisanam Day through His divine intervention. Is it not true then that "Avaninri Oranuvum Asaiyaadhu" (Even an atom cannot move without God)

How to get here:

The temple is about 37 kms from Tirunelveli. One can reach here via Kalakkad or Seramadevi. Google Map Coordinates: 8.530669, 77.564083

Temple Timings:

Morning : 6.30 am - 10 am
Evening :  5.00 pm -  7 pm

Contact Details:

Thavamani Bhattar : 99447 35288
Nellainayagam       : 99437 58928
Nambi Krishnan    : 94864 83033

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  1. Reading this article on the auspicious day of Thiruvadhirai is equivalent to chanting Om Namah Shiva. Thanks once agin for the article and lovely pics and Sthala Puranam

  2. This is indeed a beautiful temple with an amazing history attached to it - on my list will visit this temple for sure - thanks for sharing :)

  3. Thanks for this informative post - a lovely temple - have noted the information will visit this temple for sure - thanks for sharing!

  4. Good writeup on Soundara Pandiswara Temple. The various forms of Shiva looks interesting but I was fascinated by the Murals !

  5. Hi Priya,
    I’m not a spiritualist, but I can tell you that I do have a keen interest in travel. This trust or blog site is an amazing idea and I really appreciate your efforts in bringing the many architecturally unique temples to the spot light. These temples do need a lot of recognition and restoration and you’re doing a great job!

  6. Beautiful blog post and beautiful pictures. Thank you, Sivaya nama.....

  7. I visited this temple last week, before seeing this site.
    But having read these great things about this temple, I want to visit again as soon as possible.
    Very informative with photos. Good job.