Popular Kallazhagar temple, Azhagarkovil, Tamil Nadu

No other temples in the state of Tamil Nadu get more attention and become the talk of  the town during the annual Chithrai festival
than  Kallazhagar temple which is dedicated to lord Vishnu. This temple is in Azhagar Kovil, a  small town 18 km away from Madurai city.

Kallazhagar  temple. alagarkovil.org

Kalyana Mandapam, Kallazhagar temple en.wikipedia.org

Above image:   Kallazhagar temple, Azhagarkovil. It is a pillared hall - Kalyana Mandapam. Each stone pillar is ornate and has a huge image of  an animal. The sculpted pillars carry Vijayanagara period images and such  rare Vijayanagara sculptures similar to the ones present in Soundararaja Perumal Temple, Thadikombu, Krishnapuram Venkatachalapathy temple, Srivilliputhur Divya Desam and Jalakandeswarar Temple, Vellore.......
Glorified in the Divya Prabandham, the early medieval Tamil canon of the Azhwar saints from the 6th–9th centuries AD, it  is one of the 108  Divyadesam shrines dedicated to Vishnu, who is worshiped as Kallazhagar (Sundaraja Perumal) and his consort Lakshmi as Thirumamagal.  Periazhwar and Peyazhwar  sang in praise of the lord here. This temple follows Thenkalai tradition of worship (Samprathaya) and  Vaikanasa aagama. Abhishekam or Thrumanjanam of  the presiding deity is performed only with the waters from Noopura Ganga, a lake on the top of the near-by hill. It is believed water  from other sources  may cause discoloration of the deity.

The gateway towers of the temple. en.wikipedia.org

This temple, as many other Hindu temples, has an interesting legend according to which a sage by the name of Suthapas was living here. When he was attending his morning ablution and later taking bath  in Nupura Ganga at Azhagar hill,  he did not notice the arrival of  Sage Durvasa who was quite well known for his highly intemperate nature (despite his erudition and spiritual mastery). The sage  felt offended that sage Suthapas did not pay obeisance to him as it was customary in those days. The furious Durvasa cursed Suthapas  to become a frog until he was relieved of  of his curse by Sundararaja Perumal (Kallazhagar).
Azhagarkovil location map. Travel India

Suthapas Maharishi, later came to be called ‘Manduka Maharishi’ because of his frog form,  and did penance on the banks of river Vaigai, also  known as Vegavathi, at Thenur. 

Kallazhagar,  responding to Manduka Maharishi's mediation on him, came to Thenur all the way from Azhagarkovil via  Malaipatti, Alanganallur and Vayalur and  removed the curse on Manduka sage cast by Durvasa and later left for his abode in the hill. In the Chithirai Thirivizha every year, the episode of Kallazhagar redeeming Manduka Rishi of his curse is reenacted in Madurai.  

During the reign of Thirumalai Nayak (1623 to 1659 AD), in 1653 the ritual of Manduka Maharishi getting rid of his curse  was shifted to Vandiyur village. Here the religious event is performed at Thennur Mandapam, built by Thirumalai Nayak himself. The lord stayed in the hill as requested by the god of death Yama. Later a temple was built with the help from Viswakarma.

Built on a plot of two acres of land with a
seven-tiered  tower (entrance  gopuram), the main deity  Kallazhagar and his consorts Sridevi and Bhomidevi are in the garbagraha and lord Vishnu is  in a reclining posture (Anathasayanam) on the recoiled giant serpent Aadishesha. An interesting feature is there are separate shrines for  Sundaravalli Nachiyar, Andal, Sudarshana and Yoga Narasimhar around  the garbagraha - sanctum. The life-size stone  images of Narashimha an avatar of Vishnu, are quite interesting. One of them is  holding the demon Hiranya and the other slaying the demon.

For unknown reasons, the  main tower entrance called Mukya Gopuram always remains closed, with the shrine of Karupana Swami. The steps behind the closed door is worshiped as Patinettaam padi Karuppan - the black deity who occupies the eighteen steps . Even during festival times, this gopuram is not open. This practice has been in force for a pretty long time. It is a temple of great antiquity. Once, it is believed that it was a Jain temple as Jain inscriptions and caves were found by the ASI. However, the famous Tamil literary work Sillapthaikaram of Sangam age (third century) made a mention of this temple. So were the Vaishnava saints' (4th and 6th centuries) works in Tamil. The temple is enclosed by a
 granite wall and  is surrounded by a large fort, part of which is in ruins.

This temple celebrates many yearly festivals among which the float festival during the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) and Vaikunta Ekadasi during Margazhi (December–January) are worth mentioning.

Every year during the Tamil month of Chithirai (April-May), Chithirai Thiruvizha is celebrated in Madurai.  Kallazhagar visits Madurai for three reasons to attend his sister's wedding Meenakshi with Sundareswarar (Shiva), to accept Andal as his consort and finally  to redeem Manduga Rishi of his curse - to get his human form from frog.  Kallazhagar  getting into the river Vaigai is the highlight of Madurai Chithiraivizha which is  held with devotion and religious fervor.  Roughly one Million  people gather in Madurai to witness this event. While Kallazhagar enters the river, he comes to know that his sister's marriage is already over, so,

he returns to Karuparayar Mandapam and then he takes ten avatars and finally returns to Azhagar Kovil.