Avudayarkovil temple, Tamil Nadu - a mysterious Shiva temple where the God is formless!!

Aathmanabha Swamy, Avudaiyarkoil - Tamil Nadu  en.wikipedia.org

Avudayar Kovil, location map Maps of India

Located in a small town of Avudaiyarkoil -  Kovil, about  14 kms from Aranthangi in Pudhukkottai district of Tamil Nadu state is an interesting old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. In this part of the district no other temple attracts more tourists and devotees than  "Avudaiyarkoil'' . Known for its  architectural beauty,  sculptural excellence,  amazing workmanship of artisans of  by-gone era and unique puja rituals, etc., no doubt, the Government has declared the entire Avudaiyarkoil   as a 'Heritage Town'. It is a treasure house of architectural exuberance that is noticeable in profusion all over this place of worship. Simply speaking, 'it is a sermon in stone'. Mind you, it is not a Parihara sthalam. Nor is it a pilgrimage center to conduct puja, or pithroo karyam etc., for our forefathers (Pithroos). In the whole of India, it is one of a kind where ''the God is formless''. Even Shiva's consort in the Amman shrine is formless.

This temple, where the presiding deity is
"Atmanatha Swamy'' was built in the 8th century CE, and much older than the Brehadeshwar temple (Big temple) of Thanjavur built by the great Chola ruler Sri Raja Rajan I. This temple is believed to have been built by the great Tamil Scholar and saint (Nayanmar) Sri Manickkavasagar in the 8th century CE.  He was one among the famous 63 Nayanars (Aarupathumoovar), who wrote the soul-stirring devotional hymns in chaste Tamil on Lord Shiva - Thevaram and Thiruvasakam. There is a close link between the legend of of this temple and saint Manickkavsagar

The legend has it that one Tiruvadhavoorar, a minister under the Pandya rule, on orders from the ruler  king Varaguna Pandya II,    visited a village Perunthurai to buy war  horses. Influenced by the chanting of Shiva mantra, by a saint who was sitting below the Kurungai tree, he approached him to teach him meditation to get spiritual ecstasy.  The saint taught him the various aspects of spiritualism  and later disappeared. This divine encounter with a saint brought about a change in his persona. He became more spiritual life and  relegated   materialistic and mundane life to the back stage.  Nothing made him happier than spending time meditating on god to attain Gnanam - ultimate knowledge. Without neither discretion nor second thought, he used the king's money (meant to buy horses) to build this temple. All he did was he had built a platform upon which  rice was offered as neiyadyam. There was no stone image and no consecration of the  main vigraham. He intensely  felt the presence of Lord Shiva in the sanctum. 

The furious Pandya king imprisoned the minister for failing to buy horses. Lord Shiva  came to  his devotee's rescue; in the guise of a Horse Trader  he supplied the horses to the king. What the lord did was he converted the foxes in the forest into horses.  At mid night all the horses became foxes again. The king, still, did not release the minister. Soon, when the embankment along the river Vaigai broke due to flooding, the king engaged men to fix the bund. Lord Shiva. who took the form of a worker, never worked and soon fell asleep. Infuriated king hit him (lord)  with a stick. Every body, including the king felt the pain  upon each hit. Then the king realized his mistake and understood that it was a divine intervention. The minister was released from the prison and soon he became a saint. The minister Tiruvadhavoorar, who became a great devotee of lord Shiva, is none other than  Manickavasagar who  presented his lovely work  famous "Tiruvasagam" at the Avudaiyarkoil.

Even today, to mark this great event - construction of temple with no stone image (Moolavar),  certain rituals  are done in this temple  to sanctify this place.  In the later period, Pandya kings  and other rulers Nayaks and Marathas of Thanjavur extended the patronage and had countless sculptures, stone images  and ornate pillars carved in the stone to make this temple attractive.  Among the 63 Nayanmars, four are counted as the most revered Shaivite saints and they are: Appar, Sundarar, Manickkavasagar and Thirugnasambandar. All their idols are  enshrined here at this temple.

The following are some of the unique features of Avudaiyarkoil: 

01. Nandi (Shiva's mount Bull) is commonly associated with all Shiva temples. Seldom is there  any exception to this Agama Sastra tradition. The interesting fact is  the Nandi is absent here. I am at my wit's end to find the right explanation for the absence of Nandi, an integral part of a Shiva temple.  Here,  the Utchavamurthy (processional  deity) is the idol of Manickkavasagar!!

02. Yet another baffling fact is the absence of a Flag staff (Dwajasthambam)  as well as Chandikeswarar shrine . Both are present in all Shiva temples, in particular, the former is a must in all temples during festival times. Before the start of a temple festival, it has been a tradition to raise the temple flag on the flag-staff and do puja by the officiating priest. All Hindu temples follow this ritual before the commencement of major temple festivals. The absence of Dwajasthambam is an enigma!! 

03. The deity in this temple faces towards South (Dakishnamurthy or Guru form) which  is a rare thing among Shiva temples.

04. Yet another fascinating fact is the main deity has no form whatsoever. The name of the lord is  Atmanatha Swamy meaning form less lord. Either there is a stone image or is there a sketch of the God in the sanctum. In the garbagriha, one can see nothing  but  a platform with a stone slab, first set by Tiruvadhavoorar (alias Manickkavasagar).

05. The God's consort is  Goddess 'Yogambal' (Yoga Nayaki) . Though there is a  separate shrine, surprisingly the sanctum is devoid of any image or idol of the goddess. You can see nothing but the  Paatham ( holy foot print) of the Goddess. However, a small idol of Goddess is located outside the main shrine.

06. The Pandya ruler became an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva at the instigation of Manikkavasagar  and spent lavishly on this temple.  Mannickkavasagar built only the sanctum (Garbagriha). Other rulers  built the halls - mandabam, water tank, etc.

07. One of the sacred books of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta, Manikkavacakar's Tiruvasagam,  was first presented to the world from this temple;  originated from this shrine

08. In was near the  Sthala viruksham (Kurutha tree) where the idol of Shiva teaching Manickavasagar was  found.

09. The temple has no separate shrine for Navagrahas (nine planets) as seen in other temples. However, they are found only in the pillars. All the 27 stars are beautifully depicted in the form of sculptures in this temple near the entrance.

10. There is no Bali Peedam in this temple.

11. Here, saint Manickkavasagar merged with the Jyothi (divine fire/ god) and attained Mukthi (salvation), hence, no Deepa Aradhana is done here.

12 In the sanctum on the 3 foot tall platform there is stone slab (Thittakkal) measuring  7 feet x 6 feet where the Naivaidhyam - offering (cooked food) is kept during  the 6 kaala puja.  Only boiled rice is used here unlike other temples.

!3, The fire (Agni) in the hearth is never put out and it has been there for more than one thousand years. Naivaidyam is made only on this fire (agni).

14. The temple chariot is one the largest  in Tamil Nadu and has not been used for the past several decades.  The diameter of the wooden wheel is 8 1/2 feet. This chariot is so sturdy and strong, it is said, it requires about 5000 people to pull it. The diameter of the rope (to pull the chariot) is so big. it requires more than 2 hands to hold.

Avudaiyarkoil Tamil Nadu. sarmaya.in

 kovil en.wikipedia.org


Above image; 8th CE.  Avudaiyarkoil  kovil, Tamil Nadu. The Stone, Kodungai, work in the ceiling of the Ponnarangu (Golden Hall)

 stone inscriptions. uri441.wordpress.com

Avudayar kovil , TN ,Miracles of Kanchi Mahan - WordPress.com

15. Yet another interesting feature about the chariot is one can see almost all the stone sculptures in the temple  intricately carved on all sides of this wooden chariot. Every piece of wooden sculpture is carved with utmost care and attention and such sculptures look as if they were made of hard stone. 

16. The Sthala Viruksham ( temple tree) is kurutha tree. The  temple water tank never gets dried. In the 2 wells at  the bottom of the  tank one can see the water very close to the well. This being due to the presence of springs here. 

17. It is believed that  Brahma was taught the Gayatri Mantra here by Atmanatha swamy. Hence this place is also called Chaturvedapuram.

 , TN vgopalan.blogspot.com

 TN  suri441.wordpress.com
 ornate ceiling. 

Above image: The ceiling in the Kanaga sabhai (golden hall) is a mind-blowing stone work that requires well-planning and utmost care. It is a splendor in creative stone work. The size of the ornamental ceiling is
(length 13 1/2 feet, width 5 feet and thickness 2 feet). It is a grandeur creation in stone. The ropes, rafters and nails all are made of hard stone -granite. stone-rings in the ceiling.

   TN vgopalan.blogspot.com

 Above image: Ornate pillars with large stone images. They are uniformly made. .....................................   TN  hall with stone sunshade in the rear thenewsminute.com


 Above image:  The hall (mandapam) has several ornate pillars on which are carved life-size stone images with minute details like jewelry, bells, etc.The hall was built by the rulers, not by the saint Mannickkavasagar ....................

Avudayarkovil with stone roof.veludharan.blogspot.com

Above image: The awe-inspiring gently curved stone -sunshades of Avudaiyarkovil, called kodungai locally, are carved entirely out of granite. They go all around the mandabam. The interesting feature is they  progressively get thinner near the edges where they  are held in place by stone-cut nuts and bolts. One an see  a couple of bullet holes in the Kodungai, apparently by a curious British office in the colonial period to check whether the roof was made of wood or stone. It requires very high stand of workmanship on stone. A small chip is enough to spoil the entire feature; the sunshades look as if they were made of wood.  ..................

 , TN  Pillared hall, ornate pillars tripadvisor.in

 Above image: Every one  of the cylindrical stone pillars is intricately carved from the bottom to the top so as to produce small figures that maintain symmetry, size and intervals that correspond with those in  other ornate pillars ....... 


Narasimha avataram, 
 Above image: Here, Lord Vishnu's one of  his  avatars (incarnations) - Narashima (half lion, half human) is well carved with good  facial  expression of  anger and fury. Lying on Narashimha's  lap is Hiranyakashipu, the demon king who wanted to kill his own son Prahlatha, a disciple of Vishnu.

TN, a man on the horse.Flickr
Amazing stone image;   


Stone carved horse  
Above image: Avudayarkoil, Pudukkottai Distt.: Amazing sculptures at the temple - Note the ornaments around the neck of
the horse you can see the difference between Arabian horse and local one. ....................................

Avudayarkovil temple car tninja/blog/

 A normal  temple car  with  wooden carvings. alamy.com

TN  route tninja/blog

27stars carved on the stone.
Avudaiyarkoil , 
Above image:  Here the nine planets (Nakshtrams) as per the Hindu mythology are carved on the stone. There is no Navagraha shrine here.  Engraved at the entrance above the ceiling are an architectural description of 27 constellations.  ...........................

stone statue of Kurathi (Gypsi). tninja/blog

This temple is replete with amazing and exceptionally beautiful sculptures  that may be quite baffling. The entire temple brings out the amazing workmanship of the brilliant stone cutters and sculptors who produced life-size stone images  of  grandeur and beauty as if by way of wielding a magic wand. A case in point is intricate decorations on the granite roof (length 13 1/2 feet, width 5 feet and thickness 2 feet). This  portion is gradually reduced to a thin size upon which decorations are carved. the other being the ornate pillars that have delicate stone carvings. Other noticeable features are the Musical pillars - Sapta swara pillar (Panjatsara mandabam) and  delicately made long stone chain with 10 to 15 rings (Thygaraja mandabam). Among the Tamil Nadu temples a few temples boast of musical pillars and stone chains - Thirunelveli Nellaiappar temple and Tiruvanikovil Jambukeswarar temple respectively.

The Aani Tirumanjanam and Maargazhi Tiruvaadirai are the two major annual festivals held here with devotion.  The Pooja to the main  deity is done six times a day.