Sivalokanathar Temple,Tirupunkur, TN where Nandi moved to one side for Nandanar (a dalit saint)

Sivalokanathar Temple,Tirupunkur.

That the almighty is caste, color and  creed blind is a known fact. Word Caste is derived from the Portuguese word “Casta”, which means lineage, breed, or race.   But, unfortunately, caste differentiation was rampant in the past in India and it is slowly declining now. In countries like England such discrimination did occur in terms of status and money. The English society was stratified based on birth. and line of work. The elite  belonging to  aristocratic families never got mingled with the labor classes who lived in run down locations.  According to famous satirist of  Irish origin Bernard Shah: The rich  English  never even step on the shadow of the downtrodden - meaning working class. 
Caste distinction in the UK

Mr. Shaw was  highly critical  of class  divisions, aristocratic  arrogance,  middle  class  morality, dress code,  stupid dining table manners, etc.,  in  England. He  was  equally  critical  of the  British  royalty, their  over spending  of  public  funds  and  bizarre customs.
In the US, about the racial discrimination between the whites on one hand  and African Americans, Chicanos  and others, particularly prevalent in the former confederate southern states, the less said, the better. 

 It is quite pathetic that such racial or caste distinction in a society is retrograde. During the colonial rule  the British openly  followed racial discrimination in jobs, housing, etc.  In rural areas in India such caste distinction was  openly visible in the past.  Quite unacceptable fact is not allowing  the so-called Dalit people  into the temple to pray. 

Prior to India's independence great efforts were  made by Indian leaders to throw open the temples to  Harijans (Dalits).   In Kerala  leaders like T.K. Madhavan, Kolappan, Narayana Guru, et al., got the attention of the people of India by organizing big protest  (1924–25) against caste discrimination being followed in the places around the popular Sri Mahadeva  temple at  Vaikom (Kottayam district).   

After the passing of  the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act  by the government (Madras)  in 1939,  with the backing from Gandhiji and  other leaders like Rajaji in the then Madras Presidency,  for the first time on 8 July 1939   Dalits entered the Meenakshi temple in Madurai under the leadership of  lawyer  and patriot V. Vaithyanatha Iyer (16 May 1890 – 23 February 1955). Late Sri Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thever, an associate of Netaji Bose gave full support to the temple entry mission.

 Sivalokanathar Temple, Tirupunkur, Tamil Nadu: 

In all the Shiva temples, you will see the main entrance  tower,  flag staff (dwajasthambam), Shiva's mount Nandi (bull) facing the shrine lie in a straight  line. Seldom do they lie off the straight  axis. But in the case of  a Shiva temple Sivalokanathar Temple in the village of Tirupunkur (also called Thirupunkur), about 3 miles west of Vaitheeswaran Koil (a famous Prarthanai sthalam), the position of   Nandi is just off the  original position. 

Kailasanathar temple, Thirupunkur.

The legend has been that an ardent  devotee of God Shiva   used to visit the temple regularly to sing and pray to the lord. But the temple administrators and the people living there  did not allow him to enter the temple to say his prayer; the reason being he happened to be a Dalit. In those days  Hindu temple regulations were against the Harijans or dalits. The  misconception was that the divinity of the sanctified place would become polluted or vitiated  by people doing odd menial jobs and this kind of social discrimination had been in vogue for a long time. despite protests by some reformists. 

Belonging to a community of tanners who were experts in making various specialized leather for percussion instruments (drums), Nandanar was denied entry into the temples as he was dealing with dead animals  and making leather.  As he was an ardent devotee of God Shiva,  he was overwhelming with joy when singing in praise of the lord. Almost daily one could see Nandan praying to  God Shiva right before the temple without stepping into the temple premises.  In those days Dalits could not access the temple  and the reason was his line of profession. Indeed a despicable tradition.  

 To supplement  his income  Nandanar  was working in the agricultural lands owned by a landlord belonging to  an upper caste.  His devotion to God Shiva was so intense, he was ambitious to visit Sri Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. On a few occasions he could make a vein attempt to convince his landlord to give him time off to visit Chidambaram. 

 Driven by ego and contempt, the landlord told him that  he would give him leave to  visit the Shiva temple if he could plough all 40 acres of paddy field overnight. An impossible task for a man to carry on this difficult farm work all alone.  Quite dejected, Nandanar prayed  to God Shiva with deep devotion. Following morning both Nandanar and the landlord  were astonished to see the entire land well  well ploughed, not a patch of land was left out.  A miracle had happened in that village. 

Upon seeing the miracle,  the landlord realized  that Nandanar was a noble soul and  divinity was much close to him and sought his forgiveness. He felt ashamed of his folly, ego and ill-treatment meted out  to  Nandanar. On his way to Chidamparam temple, Nandanar  was keen to have  darshan of God Shiva  at Thirupungur but the Nandi  right before the shrine was blocking his view. Nandanar went into a meditative mood and started singing in praise of the lord. God Shiva after hearing the soul-stirring devotional songs asked Nandi to move a few inches to the other side so that his devotee Nandanar could enjoy a full view of the lord in the sanctum.  Here, both big Nandi  in the outer prakara   and the small one  in the inner prakara are off their original position so that Nandanar could see the god in the garbagriha. You may also take a close look at the posture of the big  sitting bull (Nandi) leaning its body toward  one side. This confirms the legend of Nadanar and his true devotion to God Shiva.  

In the following images you can see the position of Nandi (in sitting posture) making the sanctum visible from the entrance:  

Nandi moved to one side Shivalikanathar temple

Sivalokanathar Temple,Tirupunkur

 Sivalokanathar Temple,Tirupunkur.
Sivalokanathar Temple,Tirupunkur.

 Sivalokanathar Temple,

The main entrance gate - Rajagopuram has 5 tiers and there is a separate shrine for Nandanar  near the entrance. The temple tank is called  Rishabha Theertham and is said to have been established by   Nandanar with the help of Vinayakar. God Shiva is  in the form of a prithvilingam, an anthill. On Mondays during the arthajama pujas  the Shivalingam is covered  with punuku (prepared from secretions from civet cat's skin). There are many idols of gods and goddesses associated with Shiva temples. There are also navagraha idols in this temple. As to the origin of this temple it is not clear who the builder was. From the inscriptions we understand that it was built during the Chola period.

 Lots of people visit this temple and  because of COVID -19 in the last two years most of the Hindu temples as well as other places of worship have very limited admission to devotees. Many famous temples, I understand, on many days remain almost deserted.  Now, the fear of COVID third wave is haunting the people!