Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Mukteeswarar||Ambal / Thayar:||Maragthavalli|
|Timing:||6 to 11 & 4 to 8||Parikaram:|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Theppakulam||District:||Madurai|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Madurai (5 km)||Sivaganga (10 km)|
|Virudhunagar (51 km)||Dindigul (65 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
This is one of the 5 pancha bootha sthalams in Madurai, this temple being associated with Vayu. This is one of several temples associated with the puranam of sage Durvasa giving a garland used by Siva, to Indra.
Once, Sage Durvasa worshipped Siva at Kailasam and received a garland. Thinking it would befit Indra to have it, the sage gave the garland to him. Filled with pride that he was the lord of the devas, Indra kept the garland on the head of his elephant – Airavata. But the garland irritated the elephant, who shook it off, and trampled on it. Shocked at these events, the sage cursed both Indra and Airavata, as a result of which the celestial elephant (white with four tusks) lost its divinity and became a normal wild elephant. For a hundred years, Airavata worshipped at many Siva temples, and as part of this pilgrimage, came here because the place was full of vilvam trees (which is also the sthala vriksham of this temple), and worshipped Siva here. Seeing that Airavata was overcome with remorse, Siva asked him to go to the Sundareswarar temple at Madurai, where Airavata was eventually relieved of the curse.
Before leaving, Airavata created a settlement here called Airavatanallur, which over time came to be called Mukteeswaram, as Siva had blessed Airavata here. So, the Lord here is named Mukteeswarar – the One who provides relief to his devotees. The name Airavatanallur also appears in some of the inscriptions here.
There is a lesser-known sthala puranam here of a devotee who worshipped here and was relieved of his Navagraham dosham, and this puranam quotes this as the reason for Siva’s name here. As though in obeisance, the sun’s rays fall directly on the Siva Lingam on specified days of the year – around the equinoxes (usually between the 11th and 23rd of March, and between the 18th and 30th of September). This is regarded as the reason there is no separate Navagraham shrine at this temple.
The structural temple we see here was built in the early part of the 17th century, by Muthu Veerappa Nayakar, the brother of Tirumalai Nayakar, of the Nayaks who were the then kings of Madurai.
There is an interesting reason that both this temple, and the famous Theppakulam Mariamman temple nearby, do not have rajagopurams. Tirumalai Nayakar had promised to build a tank for Meenakshi Amman, at the spot where the Theppakulam is located today. For this reason, the frontage of the temple does not permit the building of a pathway and gopuram, and the same goes for the Mariamman temple. So, it was decided to build a vimanam on top of the mandapam in the middle of the Theppakulam, which when viewed from the east, would appear to be a rajagopuram for the two temples. This is therefore regarded as the common rajagopuram for the two temples.
Because this is a relatively recent temple, the construction and iconography here is almost entirely and purely from the Nayak period, which allows us a glimpse into their thinking of the time. The architecture here is as fascinating as it is unique – some examples being the Eka Pada Trimurti (depicting Vishnu, Siva and Brahma in one murti, standing on one leg), and the impossibly spectacular Veenadhara Dakshinamurti, in addition to the Dakshinamurti in the koshtam. Worshipping Veenadhara Dakshinamurti here is believed to help gain proficiency in in education and music. Even the murti of Chandikeswarar is exquisite, as are several of the wall and ceiling art and carvings, including the Rasi mandalam.
As possible evidence of this being a forest of vilvam trees during the time of Airavata’s worship (see sthala puranam above), there are four different kinds of vilvam trees in the temple complex – Kiluvai, Nelli, Mavilangai, and the normal Vilvam.
Other information for your visit
A little-known fact is that there are five temples in and around Madurai, which represent the pancha-boothams, or five elements. Just like the main pancha bootha sthalams, these temples also represent the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. The five temples are:
Aapudaiyar temple, Sellur (Water)
Immayil Nanmai Tharuavar temple, central Madurai (Earth)
Mukteeswarar temple, Theppakulam (Air)
Then Tiru Aaalavaai, central Madurai (Fire)
Aadi Sokkanathar, Vada Aalavaai (Ether / sky)
The Meenakshi Amman temple is said to be surrounded by two sets of temples, called the Ull-Avaranam (inner-garland) and Veli-Avaranam (outer-garland). The Ull-Avaranam is comprised of the Adi Chokkanathar to the north, Immayilum Nanmai Tharuvaar to the west, Mukteeswarar to the east (also called Airavatanallur since Airavata, the celestial elephant worshipped there) and the Then Tiruvaalavaai temple to the south. The Veli-Avaranam is comprised of is comprised of Tiruparankundram to the south, Tiruvedagam to the west, Tiruappanur / Sellur to the north and Tiruppuvanam to the east.