February 14, 2018

Kalaiyar Kovil

Kalaiyar Kovil is a small town located in Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu state of India. This town has an important temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The town is named after the temple and hence the temple is also called as Kalaiyar KovilIt is considered as the 10th among the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams (276 most important temples of Lord Shiva) located in the Pandya region.


  • Sambandhar and Sundarar have revered the temple in their verses in Devaram. 
  • Arunagirinathar has revered Murugan in this temple in his verses in Tiruppugal.
  • There are three main shrines of Shiv Linga in this temple. But only one Shiv Linga (Kaleeswarar) has been mentioned in the Devaram verses.
  • God Kaleeswara, Somesar and Sundaresar 
  • Goddess - Swarnavalli, Soundara Nayaki and Meenakshi 
  • Teerth (Holy water) - Gaja Pushkarini (Anai Medu) is the main Teerth; there are other Teerthas too such as Shiva Gangai Kali Teerth, Vishnu Teerth, Saraswati Teerth, Rudra Teerth, Sudarshana Teerth, Gowri Teerth and Lakshmi Teerth
  • Sthala Vruksha (Holy tree) - Mandarai (Yellow Orchid Tree)
  • Considered as one of the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams
  • The site is also called as Tirukkanapper or Tirukkanap Perur. 
  • Kaaleswara is also called as Kalaiyar, Swarna Kaaleswara or Kalainatheswara.
  • Swarnavalli is also called as Mahamayee or Porkodi Ammai
  • The temple is under the administration and maintenance of the trust run by Devakottai Zamindars.
  • The Pandya period inscriptions are found 
  • Marudu Pandiars, the brothers who ruled this region, made a lot of renovations and expansions to the temple.
  • The Devakottai Zamindars have also contributed a lot on the structure and sculptures of the temple.
  • It is said that one could view the tower of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple from the tower of this temple.


Kalai, the holy bull:

As per the legend, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of bull to Sundarar in his dreams. Hence, Sundarar called him as Kalai, which means bull. Thus, the deity is called as Kalaiyar.

Iravat, the white elephant:

Iravat, the white elephant of Indra, was cursed by the sage, Durvasa. The elephant created a holy tank, which is called as Gaja Pushkirini or Anai Medu, in this site. The elephant took a dip in the tank and worshiped Lord Shiva to get relieved from its curse.


As per another legend, Kali got Brahmahatya dosh (a kind of sin) on killing the Asura named Bandasura. She came to this site, formed Shiva Ganga Teerth and took a dip into it. She was relieved from the curse and also from her dark complexion. She got back her golden color and hence was called as Swarnavalli. She married Kaaleswara in this holy site. 


As Chandra showed partiality by loving only Rohini and ignoring his other wives, he got cursed by none other than his father-in-law, Daksha. It is said that Chandra came here and worshiped Shiv Linga to get relieved of his curse. Hence, that Shiv Linga is named as Someswara.


The temple, especially the sanctum of Kaleeswarar, and the smaller tower with five tiers are believed to have been originally built by Maravarman Sundara Pandya in the 7th century CE. It is also believed that Varaguna Pandya built the 100 pillared Mandapa and the shrine of Sundareswara. The bigger tower with nine tiers was built by Marudu brothers in the 18th century CE.

Few stone inscriptions of some of the Pandya kings such as Jatavarman Sundara Pandya and Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandya I of 13th century CE are found in the temple complex.

The British forces under Col. Joseph Smitt and Cap. Bonjour took the help of Arcot Nawab and marched towards Kalaiyar Kovil. The King of Sivagangai, Muthu Vaduga Nathar was killed in the temple premises in that war (on 25th June 1772 CE). With the help of Hyder Ali of Mysore, the two warrior brothers, Marudu brothers, took over the control of Sivagangai. They made Velu Nachiar, the widow of the deceased king, as the queen.

There was some political turmoil in Sivagangai in-between. Additionally, Veerapandia Kattabommu of Panchalankurichi was defeated by the British, and his brother Oomai Durai took asylum in Sivagangai. The British forces under Lt. Col Agnew invaded Panchalankurichi and captured it. Then, the force followed Oomai Durai and reached Kalaiyar Kovil. Although the army under the leadership of Marudu brothers fought bravely with the British, they could not win the battle. Kalaiyar Kovil fell to the Britishers. The brothers and Oomai Durai were hanged on 16th November 1801 CE. (It is said that the Britishers threatened to destroy the temple tower, which made the Marudu brothers to surrender themselves to the Britishers. I am not sure if it has been historically proved.)

It is said that the temple was kept closed and poojas/prayers were not conducted for few years. The Devakottai Zamindars made substantial repairs and renovations to the temple and they reopened it for public worship.

Temple Layout, Architecture and Sculptures:


The temple is spread for over an area of 4 acres. It has two east facing towers, which look majestic and attractive. The bigger tower has nine tiers and the smaller one has five tiers. Both the towers are plain without any stucco image. The bigger one is of 93 feet width and 155.5 feet high; the smaller tower is of 57 feet 8 inches width and 90 feet high.

The sub-shrines of Ganesh and Kartikeya are found at the entrance of the bigger tower. A stone lamp post is found in front of the tower.

A very large tank named as Aanai Madu is found in front of these two towers. A very big mandap with a vimana on top and four miniature vimanas on all directions is located in the middle of the tank. The ceiling has few beautiful paintings. If one visits this tank for the first time, he/she would definitely wonder if the temple is larger or the tank is. It is unusually big tank, which appears more like an ocean. 

There is an open space between the bigger tower and the inner entrance. The temple elephant, which is an additional attraction, is stationed in this area. The inner entrance does not have tower on top, but few stucco images of Lord Shiva and his family.

Three Gods and Goddesses:

As mentioned already, the temple has three sanctums enshrines Shiv Linga. Kaaleswarar, Someswarar and Sundareswarar are the names of those Shiv Lingas. Sundareswara has comparatively smaller shrine among the three. The consorts of Shiv Lingas namely Swarna Valli, Soundara Nayaki and Meenakshi are  found in separate south facing shrines adjacent to the respective sanctums of Shiv Lingas.

Someswara sanctum is the biggest among the three and it is situated at an elevation. Nandi, who faces towards Someswara is large and is found seated on a tall pedestal. Similarly, the flag staff is also too tall.

Kaaleswarar sanctum is in the middle; to its right side, Someswara sanctum and to its left side Sundaraeswara sanctum are located. 

Kaaleswarar's shrine has the smaller five tiered tower, whereas Someswarar has larger tower. However, it should be noted that Kaaleswarar is the most important among all these three Shiv Lingas, and the Devaram hymns were sung on him and not on the other two Lingas.

Among the three shrines of Goddesses, Swarna Valli's shrine is the biggest. It has its own prakara and a long front side mandap. The mandap is full of tall granite pillars and Nandi is found facing towards the Goddess.

Periya Marudu
Koshta Images:

All the three sanctums have similar Koshta deities namely Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava, Brahma and Durga. Chandikeshwara is found in a small sub-shrine near Durga, as usual. All these images belong to later period, done by Nagarathars

Other portions and sculptures:

  • The idols of Ganesh and Murugan at the inner entrance of the temple.
  • The statue of Muthu Vaduga Nathar in the front side mandap of Someswara shrine.
  • Sapta Matas and Veera Bhadra in the prakara of Someswara as well as that of Kaaleswara.
  • The statues of Kizhavan Sethupati, Chinna Marudu and Periya Marudu in one on the front side mandap of Kaaleswarar shrine.
  • The mural paintings of four elderly people of Devakottai Zamindars; one of them is Arunachala Gnana Desika Swamigal alias Zamindar Swamigal.
  • The ancient (probably Pandya period) idols of Brahma and Lingodbhava in the prakara of Kaaleswarar shrine. They should have been the original Koshta idols. Now they are kept in the prakara as the temple was renovated and new smaller Koshta idols took their place.
  • Ten armed Vallabha Ganapati and Subramanya seated on peacock - both the idols appear to be ancient.
  • The stucco statue of Varaguna Pandya near the shrine of Sundareswarar.
  • 100 pillared Mandap
  • Few other small mandaps
  • Broad corridor all over the temple with large pillars with lion statue on the top. Some pillars even have Vyalas. The relief images on the pillar are not so attractive.
  • A holy tank near the 100 pillared mandap.
  • Nataraja-Sivakami shrine
  • Surya, Chandra, Bhairav and Navagrahas
  • A lot of Shiv Lingas in the prakaras.
  • Nalvars and few other devotees.
  • Sahasra Lingam outside the shrine of Someswara.
  • 18 feet high fortified wall around the entire temple complex.

Vedanta Mutt
Vedanta Mutt:

On the other side of the large temple tank (Anai Madu), there is a big Chettinad style mansion located. The Zamindar of Devakottai traveled to Kalaiyar Kovil once and then he never returned to his abode. He became a sanyasi and donated this building to Vedanta Mutt, which was run by Chellappa Gnana Desika Swamigal. The Zamindar became the disciple of the Swamigal. The local people thereafter started referring him as Zamindar Swamigal or Arunachala Gnana Desika Swamigal.  

Zamindar Swami and his Guru
Zamindar Swamigal attained samadhi on 9th January 1933 CE. His samadhi as well as his Guruji's samadhi are located in this mutt. Shiv Linga is installed atop the samadhi. 

Marudu Pandya Mani Mandap

Very near to the tank, the Mani Mandap of Marudu Pandya is located. The samadhi of Periya Marudu is found here. His statue is installed in the mandap and the locals worship him as a deity.

Happy travelling. 

Vedanta Mutt

Vedanta Mutt

February 4, 2018

Payanam - Episode 1 (Muni)

Payanam is a web series focusing on exploring lesser known places with some cultural, heritage, or historical values.
Episode 1 (Muni) provides some interesting facts and observations about Muneeswaran - A powerful village deity!

February 3, 2018


It is easy to conduct heritage walks in the cities such as Chennai or Delhi. However, if one wants to conduct similar walks in a Chettinad town, I wonder if it is practically possible. Every house in this region has a story; every street has a historical information; every building has some heritage value. A lot of well known personalities belong to this region. And of course, there are so many interesting stories/facts associated with them. The palaces and mansions of the other regions look smaller and negligible when compared even to the most moderate Chettinad houses. Let me walk you through some important aspects of Chettinad architecture and the fascinating Chettinad town called Devakottai in this article.


The current Sivaganga district and few areas of Pudukkottai district in Tamil Nadu state of India are together called as Chettinad, the home of Nattukkottai Chettiars. Nattukkottai Chettiars or Nagarathars is a prosperous business community of Tamil Nadu. It is said that there were 96 Chettinad villages originally and only 74 villages (arguably) exist today. Devakottai is the second largest town of Chettinad region. It is located near Karaikudi. This town is the home for many Nagarathars, who are/were known for their enterprises and contributions to the society.


Devakottai, like any other Chettinad village, is famous for Chettinad cuisine, traditional and colorful weddings, arts & crafts and very importantly the extraordinary Chettinad mansions.

The streets of Devakottai are narrow, but the houses on those streets are unimaginably bigger similar to the generosity and hospitality of Nagarathars. These popular Chettinad mansions were built in 1900s when this community had their prime times thanks to their prosperous business in the South East Asean countries and other countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka.

Chettinad Architecture

The Chettinad architecture is unique in design. The mansions are known for the large halls, wooden pillars, intricate woodwork, Belgian glasswork and very importantly the courtyard called as Valavu or Muttram.

The houses have public reception area called as Mugappu. The bigger houses also have Thinnai as additional feature. It is a raised seating area. The interior courtyard, which is surrounded by pillared corriodors in all the sides, is called as Valavu.  Valavu does not have roof and this open-to-sky area is the most interesting part of the entire mansion. This place is the living area and it is used for conducting ceremonies. Typically, Valavu is the biggest portion of the entire mansion. Valavu, in some cases, have adjoining halls. The Valavu and the halls have series of double rooms called as Irattai Veedu. Depending upon the size of the mansion, the number of such double rooms would vary. These rooms are used for various purposes like Pooja rooms, store rooms and family rooms. All the houses typically have two floors and a spacious terrace. The garden at the rear side of the house is usually found. Some bigger houses even have their treasure rooms in the basement. All the houses have sloping clay tiled roofs. The much bigger Chettinad mansions even have entrance arch and elevated plinth. The facade would have few stucco sculptures.

The materials in these 100+ or 150+ years old mansions were brought from different countries. It is said that the teak from Burma, glass from Belgium, marble from Italy and crockery from Indonesia were used in these buildings. The walls of the houses are coated with several layers that comprises of the mixture of lime, liquid egg white and other materials. It is said that the usage of egg white would give a smooth polish to the walls.

The wooden ceilings are extensively carved and in the halls of some bigger houses the European style images and paintings are found. The doorways are decorative and the cornices across the house have intricate detailing. The colorful Belgian glasswork and the imported chandeliers  enhance the beauty of the mansion multi fold. The portraits of Hindu deities (mostly Tanjore paintings) and the portraits/photographs of the ancestors are typically found in large numbers all over the house.

There was a time when the joint families with 50-60 members used to live in every mansion. Nowadays, most of the youngsters live in the cities or in the foreign countries. Only old people who love this region and tradition alone continue to live in these houses. Some houses remain closed and only the caretaker or a watchman takes care of maintenance. It is really a sorry state of this region.

Places of interest

Almost all the Chettinad houses in Devakottai can be considered as the places of interest. However, it would not be ideal for me name the private houses or personalities in this article. Hence, I restrict myself with few places of interest that have heritage value in and around the town.

  • A public Thaneer Pandal building which was built in 1938 CE
  • Two arches with the British symbols on top. They were constructed in 1911 to commemorate the coronation celebrations of King George V in Delhi.
  • Few British period small Chettinad houses having the stucco images of lion and dragon (British symbols) at their entrance.
  • A century old big granary which is in dilapidated state now.
  • A small Samadhi temple without any image. It is being worshiped as a Shakti temple. A young Brahmin girl lost her life about a century ago, who is being worshiped by the villagers.
  • The neighboring Athangudi village and its tiles making factories - Athangudi tiles are unique and popular in this region; they are handmade over glass surfaces. 
  • The magnificent Athangudi Chettinad Palace. 
Happy travelling.