Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Koodalazhagar||Ambal / Thayar:||Maduravalli|
|Timing:||5.30 to 12 & 4 to 9||Parikaram:|
|Temple group:||Divya Desam||–|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Madurai||District:||Madurai|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Madurai (1 km)||Virudhunagar (50 km)|
|Sivaganga (53 km)||Dindigul (63 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
This temple is mentioned in the Brahmanda puranam, and said to have existed across all four yugams. During the Satya Yugam, Sanat Kumara – one of Brahma’s mind-born sons – wanted to see Vishnu in human form, and so he performed penance here. Pleased, a resplendent and handsome Vishnu gave him darsanam along with Sridevi and Bhudevi, after which Sanat Kumara asked Vishwakarma to craft murtis exactly has he had seen them. These murtis were installed here. Vishnu is seen at three levels and in three kolams at this temple – at ground level in amarndha kolam as Koodal Azhagar, on the first level in sayana kolam as Parkadal Nathar, and as Surya Narayanan in nindra kolam on the top level.
According to another legend, Koodal Azhagar appeared, in order to vanquish the demon Somukhan, and retrieve the Vedas that the demon had stolen. It is possible that this is connected to the Matsya Avataram, since there is another aspect to this. The Pandya kings – whose base was Madurai – used to worship Lord Vishnu here before undertaking wars. It is believed that once, Madurai had two rivers – the Vaigai and the Kritamala (which was the water that flowed from Brahma’s worship of the upraised foot of Vishnu as Trivikrama). In ancient times, Vishnu is said to have appeared from the Kritamala in the form of a fish and given upadesam to a Pandya king. Since then, the fish has been the ensign of the Pandyas. [Note: This story is almost identical to the matsya avataram story involving Satyavrata and the fish, so it is possible that the Pandyas claimed to have been born in Satyavrata’s lineage.]
Madurai has been known by various names, including Aalaavai and Koodal. Each of these names has its origin, and the origin of koodal is simply that this is the place where, during the early Sangam period, poets met and exchanged ideas. Madurai is said to have hosted three sangams. The word “Sangam” itself means getting together, which is also what koodal means in Tamil. This temple is situated in the heart of Madurai / Koodal, and hence the Lord takes the name Koodal Azhagar (the beautiful, handsome one of Koodal). As He has seen all four yugams, He is also called Yugam Kanda Perumal.
Vallabhadeva, a king of this region, would go around in disguise to know what people were experiencing. On one such visit, he met a scholar who told him that the goal of life was to “collect provisions in the summer to save for winter”, meaning to work when young to save for old age. The king was not convinced of this theory, and so held a competition for poets, with a reward for one who could make him realise the value of life. Guided by the divine, Vishnuchittar (who later came to be known as Periyazhvar) came here from Srivilliputhur, composed the hymn ” pallandu pallandu pallayirathu andu“, and was able to convince the king. It is believed that the reward (a bag of gold) that he received was used to build the temple gopuram at Srivilliputhur.
Once, Madurai experienced unbearably heavy rains and floods, and so the people prayed to Vishnu here for safety. He deputed four clouds, which became the four pillars of this temple, and created a canopy, thereby saving the people.
The structural temple was originally built by the Pandyas, with later additions by the Vijayanagara dynasty and Madurai Nayaks, including some of the pillared halls and the present dhwajasthambam. The temple vimanam has beautiful sculptures and smaller shrines for Siva and Brahma. This is one of the rare Vishnu temples that has a separate Navagraham shrine (and is possibly indicative of peaceful co-existence of Saiva and Vaishnava cultures at the time). The temple is replete with exquisite, extensive and intricate architecture and sculptures, on the inside walls and mandapam pillars. Inscriptions in the temple also point to several gifts and endowments the temple has received from various rulers.
Being as ancient as it is, this temple finds mention in Sangam literature such as Silappathikaram, Kalithogai and Paripaadal.
Other information for your visit
This temple is sometimes confused with the Kallazhagar temple, with both being “Azhagar” and both located in and around Madurai. The Kallazhagar temple is north of Madurai, while this temple is in the heart of the city. Also, many temples in Madurai are associated with beauty, and so will have names of deities that are include “Azhagar”, “Sokka”, “Sundara”, etc.
The Koodal Azhagar temple is located quite close to the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple. The part of the city where this temple is located, has several other temples, including some rare gems like the Navaneeta Krishnan (Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal) temple which is run under the Saurashtran system, Madanagopala Swami temple, Veeraraghava Perumal temple, the Then Tiru Aalavaai (Sundareswarar) temple (one of the Madurai Pancha Bootha sthalams), and the Immaiyilum Nanmai Tharuvar Sivan temple.