Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Then Tiruaalavaai Sokkanthar||Ambal / Thayar:||Meenakshi|
|Timing:||6 to 11 & 4 to 8||Parikaram:|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Madurai||District:||Madurai|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Madurai (2 km)||Sivaganga (9 km)|
|Virudhunagar (51 km)||Dindigul (63 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
Almost as if there is a lack of names to give, in many temples in and around Madurai, Siva is named Sundareswarar (or Sokkanathar / Chokkanathar, meaning the same – handsome / beautiful), and this temple is no different (similarly, Amman at all these temples is usually named Meenakshi). This may also be attributed to the core puranam of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple in Madurai.
This temple is located a few streets to the south of the Meenakshi Amman temple (in Tamil, Then = southern), and Aalavaai is the ancient name of Madurai, so Siva here is also called Then Tiruaalavaaiyaar, the Lord of South Aalavaai. Yama, also the guardian of the southern direction, is believed to have worshipped here.
The temple also finds mention in Paranjothi Munivar’s Tiruvilaiyadal puranam, and one could even say that this is the origin of Madurai as Aalavaai. According to the puranam, the borders of the city were wiped out due to floods. The Pandya king of the time prayed to Siva for relief, and the Lord threw a large snake (aala in ancient Tamil), to help build Madurai back to its earlier form. The snake encircled the town, and its mouth (vaai) and tail met here; and so the place came to be called Aala-vaai (mouth of the snake).
While this temple is not sung about directly in the Tevaram, and is therefore not a Paadal Petra Sthalam, one entire pathigam was sung by Sambandar at this temple. Koon Pandyan (Kubja Pandyan) was ruling Madurai, and had been influenced so much by the Jains that he had converted to Jainism. His queen Mangayarkarasi, and minister Kulachirai, were concerned by these developments. At one time, the king fell terribly ill, and no cure – not even the prayers and esoteric approaches of the Jain monks – worked for him. The queen sent the minister to locate Sambandar, which he did at Vedaranyam, and requested the child saint to come to Madurai. Sambandar did, and despite several attempts by the Jains (including the burning of a Saivite mutt nearby), succeeded in curing the king. He did this by singing a pathingam – Mandiramaavadu Neeru (மந்திரமாவது நீறு), also known as the Tiruneetru Pathigam (திருநீற்றுப் பதிகம்) at this temple – and then smearing the king with sacred ash (Vibhuti). The pathigam extols the greatness of the sacred ash (tiruneeru, திருநீறு) that Lord Siva is associated with. (Later, the king converted back to Saivism, and came to be known as Sundara Pandyan. He, Mangaryarkarasi and Kulachirai all form part of the 63 Nayanars in Saivism.) Siva here is also regarded as Vaidyanathar – the curer of all diseases.
Because of this sthala puranam, it is believed that worshipping Siva here cures one of all diseases. It is also believed that circumambulating the sthala vriksham here 108 times, and then worshipping Siva at this temple, removes the fear of death. This worship is called Ashwata Pradakshinam. Those desiring longevity worship here, and the temple is given the same importance here as the Tirukadaiyur Amritakadeswarar temple.
While the core temple should date back to the 6th or 7th century (since Sambandar has sung here), the structural temple is from the early Pandya times. Subsequent additions have been made, mostly by the later Pandyas, and consistent with other temples of similar vintage, the sculptures here are incredible. The Nandi in front of the moolavar is exquisitely crafted, as are several of the other koshta deities.
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.