Nellaiappar Temple

Nellaiappar Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the deity Shiva, located in Tirunelveli, a city in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Shiva is worshipped as Nellaiappar (also called Venuvananathar) represented by the lingam and his consort Parvati is depicted as Kanthimathi Amman. The temple is located on the northern banks of Thamirabarani River in Tirunelveli district. The presiding deity is revered in the 7th century Tamil Saiva canonical work, the Tevaram, written by Tamil saint poets known as the nayanmars and classified as Paadal Petra Sthalam.

The temple complex covers an area of fourteen and a half acres and all its shrines are enclosed with concentric rectangular walls. The temple has a number of shrines, with those of Swamy Nellaiappar and his consort Sri Kanthimathi Ambal being the most prominent.

The temple has three six rituals at various times from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and six yearly festivals on its calendar. Brahmotsavam festival during the Tamil month of Aani (June–July) is the most prominent festival celebrated in the temple.

The original complex is believed to have been built by Pandyas, while the present masonry structure was added by Cholas, Pallavas, Cheras, and Madurai Nayaks. In modern times, the temple is maintained and adminIstered by the of the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Tirunelveli is one of the many temple towns in the state which is named after the grooves, clusters or forests dominated by a particular variety of a tree or shrub and the same variety of tree or shrub sheltering the presiding deity. The region is believed to have been covered with Venu forest and hence called Venuvanam.[1]

The original complex is believed to have been built by Pandyas, while the present masonry structure was added by Cholas, Pallavas, Cheras, and Madurai Nayaks. The sanctums of the temple and the gopurams were constructed by Nindraseer Nedumaran (Koon Pandian) who reigned in the 7th century AD. The mani mandapam with its famous musical pillar was also likely built by Nindraseer Nedumaran. The flag stand near the Nandi was set up in 1155.[2] Later Pandya, Kulasekara Pandyan I built the outer wall of the Thirunelveli Nellaiappar temple, in 13th century.

Originally, the Nellaiappar and Kanthimathi temples were two independent structures with spaces in between. It was in 1647 that Thiru Vadamalaiappa Pillaiyan, a great devotee of Siva linked the two temples by building the "Chain mandapam" (In Tamil Sangili Mandapam). In the centre of the Flower Garden is a square vasantha mandapam with 100 pillars. The Nandi mandapam is said to have been built by Sivanthiappa Nayak in 1654. To the western portion of the chain mandapam is the flower garden that was set up in 1756 by Thiruvengadakrishna Mudaliar.

There are a number of stone inscriptions in the temple. The most important of them are those Veerapandiyan who regained about 950 and those of Rajendran I and Kulothunga Chola I. The inscriptions of Maravarman Sundara Pandyan refer to the Lord as "Woodayar" and "Wodeyanayanar" and the Goddess as "Nachiar". From the inscriptions of Kulasekkara Pandiyan we learn that he defeated the Chera, Chola and Hoysala kings and built the outer walls of the temple with the war booty.[3]

Tirunelveli was originally called Tinnevelly during the British Era. During Puranic times, the place was called Venuvana, a forest of bamboos. The deity in the current temple was believed have appeared inside the bamboo forest. Vishnu is believed to have witnessed the marriage between Shiva and Parvathi at this place. There is an image of Vishnu with a metallic Gindi, a vessel with a spout, in the temple depicting the legend.[4]

The temple complex covers an area of 14.5 acres (5.9 ha), measuring 850 feet long and 756 feet wide, and all its shrines are enclosed with concentric rectangular walls, with a massive Rajagopuram.[5] Sangili Mandapam built on 1647 by vadamalaiyappa pillayan connects the Ganthimathi Amman and Nellaiyappar temples.[6] The temple has a number of shrines, with those of Swamy Nellaiappar and his consort Sri Kanthimathi Ambal being the most prominent.

The composite columns of Virabhadra holding sword and horn are found be additions of the Vijayanayagara kings during the early 1500s. Similar columns of Virabhadra are found in Adikesava Perumal Temple at Thiruvattaru, Meenakshi Temple at Madurai, Kasi Viswanathar temple at Tenkasi, Krishnapuram Venkatachalapathy temple, Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram, Soundararajaperumal temple at Thadikombu, Srivilliputhur Andal temple, Srivaikuntanathan Permual temple at Srivaikuntam, Avudayarkovil, at Thirukkurungudi.[7]

Tirunelveli also is one of the five places where Lord Shiva is said to have displayed his dance and all these places have stages/ ambalams. While Tirunelveli has the Thaamirai (Copper) Ambalam, the others are the Rathina Ambalam at Thiruvaalangadu (rathinam – ruby / red), the Chitra Ambalam at Courtallam (chitra – painting), the Velli Ambalam at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (velli – silver) and the Pon (Gold) Ambalam at Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram.[8][9]

The temples where Shiva is believed to have performed the Cosmic Dance. This temple is called Tambra Sabha (copper hall) based on the dance pose of Nataraja. There are several architectural depictions in the temple detailing the legends.[4]

Picture of Tirunelveli Nellaiappar Temple Golden Car taken on 2 November 2009

Navaratri, Tirukkalyanam in Aippasi, (15 October – 15 November) and Arudra Darisanam are some of the important festivals here. Arudra Darisanam attracts huge crowds here. The temple chariot is a massive one, second supposedly only to Tiruvarur. The Bhrammotsavam here lasts for an extended period of time during the Tamil month of Aani (15 June – 15 July). Also, a golden temple car (First Inaugural run of Nellaiappar Temple Golden Car is 2 November 2009) will run during important festivals like Thirukalyanam, Kaarthigai, Aaruthra Festival etc. During Thaipoosam festival in Thai, Lord Shiva and Parvathy are taken to the banks of Thamirabarani river in Tirunelveli junction called "Thaipoosa mandapam". Special rituals are undertaken there and the Lord return to the temple at night. Nellaiappar Temple car is the third largest car in Tamil Nadu.And it is the first car to be driven fully automatically.[10]

The temple priests perform the puja (rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. The temple rituals are performed Six times a day; at 8:00 a.m., Uchikalam at 12:00 a.m. and Sayarakshai at 6:00 p.m. Arthajamam at 8.30 p.m Palliarai at 9.15 p.m Bhairavar Poojai at 9.30 p.m Each ritual comprises four steps: abhisheka (sacred bath), alangaram (decoration), naivethanam (food offering) and deepa aradanai (waving of lamps) for Nelliappar and Kanthimathi Amman. There are weekly rituals like somavaram (Monday) and sukravaram (Friday), fortnightly rituals like pradosham, and monthly festivals like amavasai (new moon day), kiruthigai, pournami (full moon day) and sathurthi. The Thai Aaratu festival during the Tamil month of Thai (January - February) is the most important festivals of the temple.[11][12]

Thiruvananthal at 5.15 a.m Ushatkalapooja at 6.00a.m Sirukalasanthi at 7.00a.m Kalasanthi

Tirugnana Sambandar and Appar, the 7th-century Tamil Saivite poet Nayanmars, venerated Nelliappar in ten verses in Tevaram, compiled as the First Tirumurai. Sundarar, an 8th-century nayanmar, also venerated Idaiyatreeswarar in ten verses in Tevaram, compiled as the Fifth Tirumurai. As the temple is revered in Tevaram, it is classified as Paadal Petra Sthalam, one of the 276 temples that find mention in the Saiva canon.[12] Muthuswami Dikshitar composed one song (Sri Kantimatim) on this temple goddess Kanthimathi Amman.This song is considered to be a rare song set in the rare raga.[5]