The Sacred Shrine of Lord Muruga
The Tiruchendur temple is an impressive shore temple dedicated to Lord Subrahmanya situated in the Tiruchendur Taluk (also spelt as Taluka) of the Tirunelveli district. Tiruchendur temple is one of the most visited shrines in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the six Aarupadai veedu shrines of Murugan (also spelt as Muruga) while the other five Padaiveedu shrines are situated on hills or mounds. The Tiuchendur temple is situated on the seashore bounded on the north and the east by the sea.
There are several literary works singing the glory of Tiruchendur. It has been venerated by the Tamil Sangam Period work "Tirumurugatruppadai" and by 83 Tiruppugazh hymns of "Arunagirinathar". The Legend Legend has it that at this holy place Lord Subramanya annihilated Surapadman, who along with his brothers Singamukha and Taraka was reigning Triloka (the Heaven, the Earth and the 'Patala' or Hell). At the pinnacle of his fame, the demon subjected the Devas to untold miseries.
The distressed Devas invoked Lord Shiva for deliverance. Lord Shiva extended his merciful eye of protection and sent six fireballs. Agni, the God of Fire, carried these to the Himalayan Lake Saravana through the Holy Ganges. There they took the forms of six divine babies on lotus flowers. The Krithikanymphs nourished them.
The six babies, on being embraced by Parvati, Shiva's consort, took one divine form with six heads and twelve hands and came to be known as "Shanmukha" and "Arumukha", the six-faced. In this form, the Lord reached Tiruchendur from Kailash on his mission of subduing the Asuras. Here, he desired a shrine of Shiva for his worship.
Mayan, the celestial was ordered to build the temple on the shores. The Lord plunged into the divine mission and fought the demon and his hordes for six days, on land, under the sea and in the air. The war saw the end of all except Surapadman, who rose in the form of a mango tree in the middle of the ocean.
The Lord took Indra's his charger, challenged the demon in his island fortress and pierced the Asura (also spelt as Asur) King into two. The body thus left out took the forms of a Cock and a Peacock, but still would not give in. They too were fought to the finish, and the demon, who was penitent before death, was forgiven by Muruga. In his infinite mercy the Lord gave Vishwaroopa Darshan and adopted the Peacock as his permanent charger, relieving Indra, and the cock as his banner. The Asura thus came to stay in the above two forms ever in the presence of the Lord.
Celebrating The Lord's Victory
To commemorate this victory, a festival called "SkandaSashti" is celebrated at Tiruchendur as well as in other shrines of Lord Muruga for six days with all pomp and piety. On the concluding day, the epic battle "Surasamhara" (the annihilation of Surapadman) is re-enacted in all its true form witnessed by devotees. After the successful mission, the Lord is said to have turned again at Tiruchendur, halted and worshipped Shiva at the temple built by Mayan.
It is also believed that this original image was recovered from a capsized Dutch vessel in the 17th century at the confluence of the Kaveri with the ocean in the historic Chola capital 'Kavirippoompattinam' or Poompuhaar. This image with a shiny golden appearance is enshrined in the Pallavaneeswaram temple at Poompuhaar. A similar image of Senthil Aandaver is also enshrined at Tiruchaaikkadu near Pallavaneeswaram. Both these images are believed to have been discovered on the seashore, and both depict Skanda in a warriorlike posture.
The image placed in the temple has a history, which makes it a legendary idol; in 1648 AD the Dutch invaded the temple and carried away the idol thinking that it was made of gold. In the high seas, a terrible storm broke out and the frightened men threw the idol overboard. The theft was duly reported to Sri Vadamalayappa Pillayan, the local renter of the Nayak ruler. He quickly prepared a similar idol in 'Panchaloha' (mixture of five metals).
During this period the Lord appeared in his dream and instructed him to go to the sea, and the idol was to be found at the spot where a lime fruit would be floating, and over it a Garuda (Vishnu-kite) would be circling. Thus the original idol was recovered and reinstalled in the temple. A Mandapam (also spelt as Mandap) was constructed in his name and endowed properties for the performance of a Kattalai for the Lord on the 7th day of the Masi and Avani festivals.
About The Temple
Although the shrine is of ancient origin, much of the structure here is from the 19th through the 20th centuries. Inscriptions from the 9th century Pandya rulers are seen in the temple. It is believed that this shrine was originally a rock cut structure, cut out of a local hill, and later renovated with granite.
The temple is an imposing structure with a nine-tiered Gopuram (137 feet in height) adorning its entrance, visible for miles around. In front of the temple is the "Shanmukha Vilaasa Mandapam" with several carved pillars.
The Inner Prakaram
Adjacent to Subramanyar's sanctum is the Senthilaandavar sanctum housing the processional images of Subramanyar with his consorts. Also in the innermost Prakaram facing south is the Aarumugaswamy shrine facing south. Also in the inner Prakaram are images of the 63 Nayanmars, and shrines to Natarajar, Karaikkal Ammaiyaarand others.
Outside of the enclosure described above, in the inner Prakaram are shrines to Valli and Devasena also facing east. The outermost Prakaram is lined with pillared corridors, and it houses shrines to Dakshinamurti, Mukkunni Vinayaka (also spelt as Vinayak) and Arunagirinatha.
On the northern side of the outermost Prakaram is a shrine to "Venkatachalapati" (also known as "Nellai Govindan"), along with sub shrines to Gajalakshmi, Pallikonda Ranganatha with his consorts.
The "Skanda Pushkarini" or the "Naazhi Kinaru" is a step well, which is believed to have sprung up when Skanda's spear pierced the ground. It has an outer and a smaller inner well. The water in the outer well is brackish while the water in the inner one is fresh and clear. Kumara Tantram is the worship protocol observed here, in a manner similar to Keralite temples. Eight worship services are offered each day to Subramanyar.
A Beautiful Location
Situated on the shore of the Bay of Bengal this temple has its sanctum sanatorium in a cave. The people of Tamil Nadu venerate this deity as Muruga. Tamil grammarians assign Muruga to Kurinji, or the hill country.
The sun bows in adoration each morning as the 'redglobe' rises from the rippling expanse of the ocean. Skirted by sea on the east and north, the temple walls are lashed by the roaring waves of the Gulf of Mannar. The origin of the temple dates back to the puranic past.
The main entrance of the temple faces the south and opens into the first temple Prakaram called "Sivili Mandapam". The entrance of the temple is adorned by a vast Mandapam from where one can see the sanctum of Lord Shanmukha with his consorts. It is named "Shanmukha Vilasa (also spelt as Vilas)".
Towards the west of the southern portal of the first Prakaram, there is a shrine of Dakshinamoorty, facing south. Further west at the corner there is another Mandapam where the processional deities are decorated during festivals. It is at this Mandapam that the annual Tirukalyanam of Valli on Panguni Uthiram day is held.
The idol of Lord Subramanya, astride a Peacock is placed towards the north on the western portal. Shivalingams follow at intervals. Then comes Saint Arunagirinathar. The idol of the author of Thiruppugazh is placed in a separate sanctum. At the centre of this Prakaram is the 'Melagopura Vasal' (western portal) of the temple.
The main western Gopuram stands on the outer side of this doorway. One can see a giant idol of Lord Ganesha welcoming the devotees, better known as "Mukkuruni Pillaiyar". There is shrine of Venkatesh who is seen in a standing posture. Adjacent to it in a carved grotto are Gajalakshmi, Pallikonda Ranganathar, Sridevi, Bhudevi and Neeladevi. The twelve Alwars are also depicted over here.
Admirable in this temple is the artistic beauty of the statuary. A rare touch of the sculptor's mastery over his art can be seen from the many lingams (also spelt as lingas) carved on a single piece of stone. The Raja Gopuram on the western gate is a monumental edifice and striking landmark. There is an interesting episode associated with its construction.
About 300 years ago, Desikamurthiswamy of Maha Sannidhanam of Tiruvavadurai Mutt was ordained, in his dream, with the task of building this tower. Wedded to abject poverty as he was, the Swamy (also spelt as Swami) had no means to pay the labour. He gave them pinches of sacred ashes of the Lord as their daily wages. The ashes, it is said, turned into gold coins as the labourers passed through the Thoondukai Vinayakar Shrine. By the time the sixth storey was finished, this miracle ceased to happen.
Again the Lord showed the Swamy another patron by name Seethakathi Maraikkarat nearby Kayalpattinam, from whom he received a basket of salt. On reaching Tiruchendur, the salt turned into gold coins, sufficient to complete the divine task. The original temple has been completely done anew in black granite during the course of a century by two devout swamis and completed by a third as his life's purpose.
One can visit a cave temple situated about 200 feet north of the main temple, where there is a picturesque grotto carved out of hardened sandstone. Two images are installed here one dedicated to Valli and the other to Dattatreya. Behind the frontal cave, there is a circular passage with another grotto carved from inside, with an idol of Valli in a niche.
In a separate shrine, facing south, there is Shanmukha with his consorts Valli and Deivayanai. These beautiful copper idols are decorated with dazzling diamonds and gold ornaments. The Lord is holding various weapons on his twelve hands. Colourfully painted on the walls here are Puranic scenes. All the 33 verses of Sri Adi Sankara's Bhujangam are written on the walls.
To the right of Shanmukha's shrine, there is another shrine in which the processional bronze deities of Nataraja, the Samayachariars, Thirugnana Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar and Manickavachagar and of Saint Cheraman Perumal, the Chera King, are installed.
Pujas And Services
All the pujas are performed for both Shiva and Subramanya. Abhishekam for the principal deity Subramanya is performed thrice a day and for Shanmukha on Vishaka Nakshatram every month and on the first of Chithirai and Aippasi months. The pujas at the sanctum of Shanmukha and other deities are performed by Namboodris.
Then follow the Rahasya Deeparadhanas behind the curtain- first in the shrine of Lord Subramanya and then at Shamnukha's. By this ritual Lord Subramanya gives his power or Atmasakthi to Lord Shanmukha. After this, Deeparadhana is conducted to the sacred feet of Shanmukha. The feet are then taken to the shrine of Valli, where the image of Valli and the sacred feet are placed in a golden swing for the day's rest. And that is the end of daily pujas. In the month of Margazhi (December-January), the daily pujas begin at 3.00 a.m. and end at 8.30 p.m.
Devotees from far and near throng Tiruchendur round the year. Two great festivals, of twelve days each, are celebrated during the year- one in the Tamil month of 'Avani' (August-September) and the other in 'Masi' (February-March) called "Brahmotsavam".
The Vasanthotsavam is annual feature celebrated for ten days in the month of 'Chithirai' (April-May). Senthil Nayakar (also spelt as Nayaka), the processional deity of the Lord and his consorts are taken from their sanctum sanctorum to the Vasantha Mandapam with great fanfare. Six-day Skanda Sashti (also spelt as Shasthi) festival in 'Aippasi' (October-November) and the twelve-day Visakam festival in 'Vaikasi' (May-June) are clebrated with great religious fervour. Tirukalyanam festival for Deivayanai is celebrated in the KalyanaMandapam the day after Surasamharam.
Air: The nearest airport is at
Rail: Tirunelveli is an important railway junction on the southern railway, and is connected to all major cities of South India .
Road: A good network of roads serves Tirunelveli and tourists can take buses run by Tamil Nadu State Government from Tiruvelveli to reach Tiruchendur.
Accommodation is available at the small budgeted hotels and choultries in Tiruchendur or at the economy class hotels and lodges in Tirunelveli.