Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Thyagarajar||Ambal / Thayar:||Kamalambika, NeelotpalAmbAL|
|Timing:||5 to 12 & 4 to 9||Parikaram:|
|Temple group:||Paadal Petra Sthalam (Kaveri Then Karai)||–|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Tiruvarur||District:||Tiruvarur|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Thiruvarur (2 km)||Nagapattinam (29 km)|
|Kumbakonam (41 km)||Mayiladuthurai (44 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
Tiruvarur – known as Arur in historical and bhakti literature – is best known for the Thyagarajar temple and the Ther (temple chariot). Siva is popularly known as Thyagarajar here, which is the name given to the Somaskandar (sa-uma-skanda) manifestation of Siva together with Uma (Parvati) and Skanda (Murugan). In most Siva temples, the shrine for Thyagarajar or Somaskandar is located adjacent to the garbhagriham, to its right. Vishnu is said to have worshipped Somaskandar, which is the reason for the importance given to this manifestation of Siva.
The main deity of the temple is named Vanmeekanathar, because Siva appeared as an anthill (vanmeekam) in response to the prayers of the gods. Siva, as Thyagarajar, is regarded as the king of the gods.
Tiruvarur is regarded as one of the holiest – if not the holiest – of Siva temples. The last puja of the day – Ardhajama Puja – takes place before each temple closes, and the one at Tiruvarur is the last among all temples in Tamil Nadu, and it is believed that Indra himself performs the puja every day. This is also one of the Pancha Bootha sthalams – representing earth – in addition to Kanchipuram Ekambareswarar temple.
In history, Tiruvarur was one of the five capital cities of the Cholas. The Cholas also traced their ancestry to Manuneeti Cholan who ruled from Tiruvarur. There was once a question amongst the celestials, as to who was the fairest when it came to making judgments. The general consensus was that it was Yama, but Narada mentioned Manuneeti Cholan’s name. To validate this, Yama and his bull took the form of a cow and a calf, and came to earth – specifically Tiruvarur, where Manuneeti Cholan was ruling. When the king’s young son ran over the calf on his chariot, killing it, the cow tolled the bell of justice, and in keeping with his dharma, the king ordered his son to be put to death in the same way as the calf was killed. This dispassionate behaviour earned Manuneeti Cholan, Yama’s approval. Being the land of such a virtuous king, it is believed that Yama has no work in this town (that is to say, those born here do not have to fear Yama in their final moments). This legend is represented by the chariot made of stone inside the main shrine.
The Navagrahams were troubled by a demon named Sadayagupta, who had earlier been cursed by Sani. The Navagrahams sought protection from Siva, and worshipped Him standing in line, which is how the Navagrahams are represented here today, with Vinayakar at the head of the line, monitoring them! This puranam also gives rise to the Tamil saying Tirunallaru Sendral Tiruvarur Sellavendum – that if one visits Tirunallaru (a Sani sthaam and one of the Kumbakonam Navagraham temples), they must visit Tiruvarur as well.
Lakshmi is said to have performed penance and worshipped Siva at Tiruvarur, in order to be able to wed Vishnu. As a result, the temple tank – Kamalalayam – is named after Her, and has a separate shrine for Naganathar in the middle. This can be reached by boat every day around 5 pm. There are 64 bathing spots / ghats on the perimeter of the tank, and bathing at each of these is said to give specific benefits.
Siva here is worshipped as the Veedhi Vitangar, and is said to perform the Ajapa Natanam here. There is a story to this. According to one puranam, Vishnu was cursed by his sister Parvati, for not honouring her. So He created and worshipped a murti of Somaskandar, and was able to be rid of the curse. For His worship, He kept the murti on his chest and named it Thyagarajar. The murti bobbed up and down in rhythm with Vishnu’s breathing, which is said to be represented by the Ajapa Natanam. The Vitangar abhishekam takes place twice a day – once at 8.30 am and once around 5.30 or 6 pm. Tiruvarur is also closely connected with the story of Muchukunda Chakravarti and the Maragatha Lingam. Because the moolavar Lingam is made of sand and mud, it does not receive abhishekam. Instead, the Maragatha Lingam is given the abhishekam. Interestingly, while the Maragatha Lingam rarely leaves the temple, on the limited occasions it does, it is not taken out through the eastern entrance, because it is believed that Indra is waiting there even today, to take it back to his world!
Saivism and Bhakti lore
In Saivite bhakti lore, this temple is where Sundarar composed his Tirutondar Thogai, a listing of 62 Nayanmars (he is the 63rd) as well as other generic descriptions of people (including those born in Tiruvarur, and all past and future devotees of Siva). In this hymn, the saint describes himself as being in the service of all of those people. This was the result of an altercation between Sundarar and Viral Minda Nayanar, and as a result, even today, devotees often worship the Nayanmars and other devotees first at the Devasraya mandapam, before worshipping the Lord.
Sundarar’s first wife Paravai Nachiyar was born in Tiruvarur on the street abutting the temple to the south. Tiruvarur is also the birthplace of two of the 63 Nayanmars – Kazharsingar and Dandi Adigal – and is associated with other Nayanars such as Kadavarkon Kazharsingar, Seruthunai Nayanar, Naminandi Adigal, Somasi Maran and Viral Minda Nayanar, in addition to Appar, Sundarar and Sambandar who have sung pathigams here.
It is considered that this temple represents the face of Siva as Natarajar, because Thyagarajar is always dressed and decorated such that only His face is visible. So, one must also visit the Patanjali Manoharar temple at nearby Vilamal (about 3km from Tiruvarur), to worship Natarajar’s feet.
The temple’s layout is like no other. The temple complex itself is massive – said to be 5 veli in area (veli is an old measurement that is said to equal 6.5 acres). The Kamalalayam tank of the temple, located to the west, is another 5 veli in spread. There are 9 main gopurams, and in addition to the garbhagriham that houses Vanmeekanathar and Thyagarajar, there are 80 smaller shrines, 86 Vinayakar shrines and 360 large and small Siva Lingams, spread throughout the complex. There are also 13 different halls, and 15 temple tanks (including the Kamalalayam and the Sengazhuneer Odai, another tank nearby which is another 5 veli in area).
To the south of the outer prakaram (immediately on the left, when entering from the eastern entrance), is a separate shrine, known as Arur Araneri, for Siva as Achaleswarar. This is a separate Paadal Petra Sthalam, having received its own pathigam sung by Appar. Only Tiruppugalur and Tirumeyachur have one Paadal Petra Sthalam shrine inside another, larger, Paadal Petra Sthalam temple complex.
Although the garbhagriham is believed to have existed from several centuries (if not millennia) earlier, the original temple complex and overall structure is Pandya from the 7th century, while the main shrines of the structural temple are Chola from the 9th century. Later expansions are attributed mainly to the Vijayanagara Dynasty, and some to the Sangama, Saluva and Tuluva dynasties. Inscriptions in the temple refer to various gifts and endowments, including for lighting of lamps, by Rajendra Chola I, and various other rulers. Kulothunga Chola II enlarged the temple’s activities and rituals, bringing them to a total of 56 festivals, many of which continue to be followed even today.
Matruraitha Pillaiyar here is said to have helped Sundarar verify the purity of the gold that Siva gave the saint at Vriddhachalam. Sundarar was also worried about carrying the 12,000 gold coins with him, so he was advised to drop it into the river there, and collect it at the Tiruvarur temple tank. Saraswati is depicted very unusually here, without Her veena. Nandi is made of metal and is depicted standing (as is the case with all 7 Sapta Vitanga Sthalams). There are 2 Chandikeswarar shrines here, including one for Yama Chandikeswarar who is seen sporting a beard and curly hair.
Pradosha puja – which is normally performed on the day of Pradosham – is performed here every day between 4.30 and 6 pm. It is believed that all 33 crore gods attend this puja every day.
The temple’s chariot is regarded as the largest temple chariot in the world, close to 100 feet in height and weighing over 300 tons.
In most Siva temples, worship and hymning begins with the utterance of the word “Tiruchitrambalam”, following from Chidambaram – considered the holy of holies in Saivism. the interesting thing, however, is that this is not chanted at Tiruvarur, since this place is considered even more ancient!
This temple’s overall design is regarded to be the prototype for most Siva temples built in the Chola period, with regard to the establishment of shrines for Vitangar and Adavallan (Natarajar, this itself being based on the theme of Chidambaram). The Valluvar Kottam monument in Chennai, a memorial for the poet-saint Tiruvalluvar, is built on the theme of the Tiruvarur temple chariot.
Because of Thyagarajar and the Somaskandar connection mentioned above, this temple is regarded as the Somaskandar shrine of the Tiruvidaimaruthur Mahalingaswami temple.
Other information for your visit
It is worth setting aside at least 2 hours, and possibly up to 4 hours, to visit this temple. There is a garden and an office near the western entrance, which also shows a map and layout of the temple (see picture in the gallery below), which may help visitors. It is also really worth the effort to be present for the evening 6 pm puja, harathi, and the maragatha lingam puja.
Arur Araneri (the separate Paadal Petra Sthalam inside the Tiruvarur temple) is believed to be the inspiration for the Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple, and consequently, for all of the Great Living Chola Temples.
At the end of Sannidhi street in front of the eastern gopuram, is the Thoovaainathar or Thoovaai Nayanar temple, referred to as Paravaiun Manthali. This is another ancient Paadal Petra Sthalam.