Sri Pundarikakshan temple Thiruvellarai, TN, an ancient temple dedicated to God Vishnu

There are many  historical temples dedicated to lord Vishnu across Tamil nadu and among them the ancient temple at Thirivellari village, TN is an interesting one. 

Thiruvellarai  Pundarikaksha Perumal  temple

Thiruvellarai  Pundarikakshan  temple

Thiruvellarai  Pundarikakshan  temple

Thiruvellarai  Pundarikakshan  temple in Lalgudi Taluk, near Tiruchirappalli is an ancient temple older than Srirangam temple. One among the important Divyadesam shrines, here God Vishnu's consort is   Lakshmi as Pankajavalli. Thiruvellarai, a holy place  is the birthplace of Uyyakondar, a disciple of Nathamunigal  and also of  Nammazhwar  (Vishnuchitthar)  who is believed to have taught Sri Bhasyam to Nadadhoor Ammal in the temple. Periyalwar and Thirumangai Alwar had done mangalasasanam in praise of Lord Sri Pundarikakshan.

Thiruvellarai  Pundarikakshan  temple fort-like wall.

Thiruvellarai  Pundarikakshan  temple fort-like

The landmark of this temple is its incomplete Rajagopuram over the main entry gate. This temple is enclosed by massive  tall boundary walls (height more than 30 ft) made of granite  all around  Within it occur 8 shrines and 6 water tanks covering roughly 6.5 acres of land.  On the inner walls of the shrines there are paintings on the walls commissioned by the Vijayanagara rulers and their vassals Nayaks. Chola, later Pandyas, Hoysala kings made additions to this old temple. The unusual feature is the unfinished rajagopuram in the facade  above the main gate - a sort of mottai gopuram. There is a water tank outside the temple premises in the shape of  a swastika which is said to have been built in 800 CE by Kamban Araiyan during the reign of Dantivarman.

Thiruvellarai temple, Swastika shaped tank

According to the ASI there exists similarity in the plan of the rock-cut cave temples in Tiruchirappalli and Tiruparankunram, near Madurai, each with a  shrine for Shiva in the east and Vishnu in the west, separated by a central bay between them. 

Thiruvellarai temple, goddess did tapas herer,

Built on a 50 ft (15 m) tall artificial hill made of white stones (Called Vellai parai), the shrine has two entrances to the garbhagriha - sanctum to be accessed through a flight of steps. Called   Utharayana Vaasal and Dhakshanayana Vaasal, the former is open for six months 15 January to 15 June, and the latter for six months from 16 June to January 14.  The main deity Pundarikakshan goes by the name of "Maayavan" during Dakshinayanam and "Thai Maatha Naayagan" during Uttarayanam. The two gates in the shrine are said to highlight the philosophical connotations - Two important aspects of a life cycle -  entering  (beginning) and exiting (ending).

There are stone inscriptions in the two rock cut caves dating from the period of Nandivarman II (732–796 CE) and the other to that of Dantivarman (796–847). The depictions of Narasimha and Varaha, two of the ten avatars of Vishnu  date back to the Pallava period. In the 8th century, the Pallavas  built the temple - part of it is rock-cut temple.  It is not well substantiated by records.  According to the Hindu concept  the eighteen steps in the temple represent the eighteen chapters of the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita and the last four steps represent the four vedas, the sacred Hindu religious texts. Some pillars in the temple  are designed  to have acoustics features and the sound made before them  echoes around the temple. During worship, tradition has been that  some of the holy  hymns  are  recited  once in front of these pillars which will be heard around the temple. One may notice damages in the temple which were said to have been  caused during during wars between Cholas and Pandyas. The unfinished rajagopuram built by Hoysala ruler was not built later due to unstable political situation. 

The main idol of Vishnu as  Pundarikakshan in the sanctum  is  in a standing posture (7 feet tall  made of stucco )  facing east. It  was here the lord is said to have given darshan to  Garuda, Sibi Chakravarthy, Bhoomadevi, sage Markandeya, Brahma and Shiva and there are idols in the temple dedicated to them inside the inner sanctuary. There is a separate shrine for lord's consort Shenbagavalli, (also called "Peri Pirattiyaar). There are several exquisite sculptural depictions of Krishna on the pillars of the temple that are quite pleasing to the eyes.  There are many  prakarams and in the 4th one you can see a mandapam and cave temple.

Vaikunta Ekadasi is a major temple event here so is the annual Chithirai (March-April) therottam (chariot run). Brahmotsavam (in the star of Thiruvonam in Phalguna Masam -Tamil: Panguni) falls in the month of March- April.