Artistic Srivaikuntanatha Perumal temple, Srivaikuntam, Tamil Nadu - artisans' wormanship galore

Srivaikuntanathan Perumal Temple
Srivaikuntanathan Perumal Temple

Srivaikuntanathan Perumal Temple dedicated to God Vishnu is one of the 108  divyadesam shrines glorified by the Tamil Azhwar saints of the 6th–9th centuries AD  in the Divyaprabanda, the early medieval Tamil canon. Located in  in Srivaikuntam, a town in Thoothukudi district in South East Tamil Nadu, here Sri Vishnu's consort is  Lakshmi, also known  as Vaikuntavalli. It is an important pilgrimage center for the Hindus, in particular,  Vaishnavas as this  temple is one among the  Navatirupathi shetrams  revered by saint  Nammazhwar, In terms of importance, it is next only to Alwarthirunagari Temple. Located on the banks of Tamiraparani river, it is also a Navagraha temple associated with Surya, the Sun god.
From the legend we understand that the  presiding deity - Lord Vishnu  is believed to have slain a demon called Somukasura  who  stole the four Vedas from Brahma, a Hindu Trinity God. At Brahma's request, Vishnu took the form of a celestial Matsaya and killed the Assura. He retrieved the Vedas and settled down there as Srivaikuntanathar.  

Yet another legend has it that in the past during the Pandya reign the deity lay buried in the ground  for a long time and, it is said, the rulers's  cow, while grazing the ground, performed ablution daily to the deity.  The king and others realized that there was a sign divinity in that spot,  and upon digging, they found the stone image of the God. Soon a temple was built to take care people's spiritual needs. Since the image of Vaikuntanathar was revealed by the cow's strange activities, the presiding deity got the name Pal Pandian (pal in Tamil means milk; Pandian refers to the ruler). 

Once Vishnu saved the life of a robber from the Pandya ruler, hence the Lord  is referred to as Kallpiran (Kalla in Tamil means thief). The lord impressed on the king that the ill-gotten wealth won't stay with people for a long period and at one stage it will reach the right person  

This perumal temple follows the Thenkalai tradition (Sampradhayam) of worship and among the temple festivals, the ten-day annual Brahmotsavam during the Tamil month of Chittirai (April - May) and the Nammazhwar birth celebrations with Garudasevai  (procession of the lord with his mount Garuda) with all nine temple of Navatirupathi attract huge gathering of people.
Srivaikuntanathan Perumal Temple

The temple occupies 5 acres (2.0 ha) of land  This temple with small shrines and water bodies  is enclosed by a granite walls that go around the temple -580 ft (180 m) long and 396 ft (121 m) broad.  Inside the sanctum -grabagriha is the image of the lord  Srivaikunanatha in standing posture with a club in his hand. Adisesha, the serpent, is seen holding a parasol over his head. As the image is made of Saligrama stone (available in the Himalayan area of Nepal) ablution is  normally  done with milk. The hall close to the sanctum, the Artha Mandapam houses the festival image (utchavar) of Kallapiran made of panchaloha - an alloy of five metals with images of Sridevi and Bhudevi on either of his sides.  An interesting feature of this temple is  Adisesha, the serpent, guards Vishnu in standing posture unlike the other places where it is  in sitting posture. No other temples have this rare feature.  The paintings on the walls of the shrine that are are still present were commissioned  the Vijayanagar and Nayak kings.
Srivaikuntanathan Perumal Temple, Yali sculpture on the pillars.
There are numerous images of yalis, elephants and Devas in the hall, some of which are even 5 ft (1.5 m) wide. The major images seen in the temple are that of Bhikshadana, Venugopala, Madanagopala, Govardhanagiri, Nammazhwar, Manmatha and Rathi. Depiction of Hanuman in various poses can be seen in the temple. The Dwajastamba mandap has pillars with refined architectural features. Tirumozhi mandap has sculptures of monkeys, squirrels and parrots. It also houses images of monkeys performing various activities.  The composite columns of 
Image of Veerabadra,  Srivaikuntanathan Perumal Temple
 Virabhadra holding sword and horn are found to be additions of the Vijayanayagara kings during the early 1500s.  The main rajagopuram - tower is 110 feet  tall. Thiruvengadamudayan hall built by Vadamalayappa Pillai, an official in the Madurai Nayak kingdom,  is an interesting one and it has rare life size sculptures commissioned during the 16th century.  There are six inscriptions in the temple and the Pandiya rulers granted lands to the temple for up keep and continuance of Puja rituals. Ruler  Maravarman Sundara Pandyan (1216–1238) made offerings to the temple perpetual lighting of lamps.  The shrine of Vaikuntavalli came up during his reign.


 A bit of colonial history. During 1801,  when the East India company forces were after Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1790–99), the Palayakarara rule because he refused to pay land taxes, a war broke out.  This  temple acted as a fort for the British against the forces of  Kattabomman. The marks of war and destruction of Pandiyan history by the later rulers were visible in the temple during modern times.