The history of suchindrum
Part I (In praise of chastity)
Part II (The greatness of bhakti or devotion)
The tourist on the way to kanyakumari is always attracted by
the charm and grandeur of the lofty Gopuram at Suchindrum, a
small village just 7 kilometres from Nagercoil. Suchindrum
is a place of exceptional interest in many respects. Its
sculptural wealth is one of the best in the south. The
village is surrounded on all sides by paddy fields and
coconut groves. The broad streets around the Temple and
other smaller streets are well planned. There is a big tank
with a beautiful Mandapam in the center.
At the outskirts of the four main streets, there are more
than ten small shrines dedicated to Durga, Vinayaka and
other deities who guard the village. But the main attraction
is the renowned shrine dedicated to Lord Sthanu-Mal-Ayan
(Siva Vishnu Brahma), rich in puranic lores and traditions.
The art, and architecture is of such arresting excellence
that this ancient Temple stands as one pf the foremost and
richest among the South Indian Shrines.
The suchindrum temple :
Even from a distance the Tower of the Temple, framed by the
coconut trees and the sky as a backdrop, makes a sitting
posture. At the entrance, we find the dutiful brother
Lakshmana and near him stands the most devoted Hanuman, with
Jayantheeswara temple :
We now proceed eastward and come to the northern entrance of
the Temple by the side of which Kala Bhairava is enshrined.
Turning west, we see the charming idol of Lord Muruga with
Valli and Deivayanai on either side. At the entrance there
are two statues of Kings or Chieftains called Nanjil Kuravas
who donated their wealth to the temple.
Behind this shrine there are six small shrines dedicated to
Mahadeva, Narayana, Rameswara, Krishna, Srichakra and Durga.
These smaller shrines and the Muruga Shrine are together
called Jayantheeswara Temples. It is interesting to note
that Jayantheeswaram is another name for Tiruchendur, and
the Muruga here is a close replica of the Lord there. It is
also said that the Pandavas during their vana vasa visited
Gnanaranya (Suchindrum) and worshipped the duties of
Jayantheeswara Temples and hence they are also known as
Pancha Pandava Temples. The image of Lord Krishna here is
standing with a ball of butter in one hand and a peeled
plantain in the other, reminding one of the Lord at
Alangara Mandapam :
Then we enter the Alangara Mandapam where stand four pillars
each carved out of a single stone. Two of them contain 33
smaller pillars and the other two 25 each. These are the
famous Musical Pillars and one can here the most Melodious
Musical Tunes emanate from them when tapped.
South of the Musical Pillars stand two monolithic statues of
Venad Kings. These exquisite statues are so life-like that
they eclipse even a perfect human figure. The excellent work
of art here are of rare workmanship.
Now we come to the shrine dedicated to Devi, the goddess
Dharmassamvarthani. The image is made of bronze. The story
is that a thirteen year old Vellala girl used to visit the
shrine of Sthanumalaya with her mother, and it happened that
one day when they were in the act of praying the daughter
suddenly disappeared. A divine voice consoled the
grief-stricken mother that the girl had become one with the
Lord through her ardent devotion.
The girls family installed the bronze image and from that
day, in the month of Masi, the Thirukalyanam function is
celebrated in the Temple. Hanuman Then we step out and are
stunned to see the huge image of Hanuman the embodiment of
devotion and humility, depicting his Viswarupa Dharsan given
to Sita at the Asoka forest, as described in the Sundara
Kanda of the Ramayana. The figure is 18ft high, remarkable
for its grandeur and massiveness. As we approach the image
we feel how insignificant we are and stand transfixed. Sri
Anjaneya who is generous beyond expectation, is ever ready
to give solace and consolation to the afflicted mind and it
is no wonder he draws multitudes from all over India to him.
This figure is placed diametrically opposite to the figures
of Sri Rama and Sita.
We trace our steps from the Divine Maruthi to the northern
extremity of the eastern corridor. The images of
Kankalanathar (Lord Siva at Darukavana forest giving dharsan
to the wives of the sages there) and Venugopal (enticing the
Gopis with the melody of his flute) and two monolithic
elephands on either side of the steps, invite us to the
Chitra Sabha. On the outer walls of the Sabha, the images of
Sakthi Ganapathy and Balasubramanya are specially niched.
Inside the Sabha, the idols of Siva and Sakthi in Urthva
thandava pose, of the sages Pathanjali and Vyagrabhadar, of
Arjuna, Bhima and Hanuman are seen. But to our great
amazement in the Garbhagraha we see a mirror reflecting only
our own image revealing the eternal truth that god is within
us and that to attain self-realisation we ought to workship
Siva, Vishnu, Ganapathy and others.
In the eastern corridor we find a huge white bull called
Makkalai facing Lord Sthanumalaya. It is a gigantic bull 12
ft high in its lying posture. Next to Makkalai is the
celebrated shrines of Konnayadi. We get the dharsan of
Konnayadiathar in the hollow at the foot of the tree, where
three lingas sprout one above the other. This can be seen
only at the time of abhisheka, for they are usually hidden
in a golden kavacha. The branches of the konnai (laurel)
tree are also seen at the top of the shrine.
Garuda Mandapam :
Next to the Konnayadi is the Garuda Mandapam. The pillars
here contain some of the best sculptures. The image of
Garudalvar, facing Lord Vishnu, is superb. The statue of
Thirumalai Nayakkar is spectacular. The ingenuity of the
sculptor is incredible, for the very veins seem to pulsate
with life. Another wonder is that a piece of wire when
introduced through the right nostril of the statue comes out
of the left ear, and when it is made to pass through the
right ear comes out of the left.
Chempakaraman Mandapam :
Then we come to the Dhwaja Mandapam where two flagstaffs are
erected, one in front of Sthanumalaya and the other in front
of Vishnu. Passing the Dwarapalakas we reach the
Chempakaraman Mandapam, a museum of art and architecture. It
is a beautiful pavilion with thirty two massive pillars in
four rows. Each pillar has a story to tell with interesting
episodes from the Siva and Vishnu puranas.
Sanctum Sanctorum :
From the Mandapam we enter the Sanctum Sanctorum of Lord
Sthanumalaya, fully illuminated by oil lamps. Corssing the
Nandi, we have the dharsan of Lord Sthanumalaya in the form
of a Linga 1 ft high except at the time of abhisheka the
Linga is fully covered by a golden kavacha. The charming
serenity of the spot and the devotion and piety of the
archakas are so impressive that at the time of deeparathana,
all human glory and vanity seem insignificant in the
presence of the Lord.
On the northern side is the shrine of Lord Nataraja posed in
eternal dance, always reminding the devote of the Lord at
Chidambaram. There are three more smaller shrines dedicated
to Moodu Ganapathy, Durga and Sankaranarayana on the
southern side of the prakara.
Adjacent to Sthanumalaya, on the southern side known as
Thekkedam, the shrine of Vishnu is situated. The image of
Vishnu is more that 7ft high and is covered with a silver
kavacham. In front there are small bronze images of Vishnu
with Sridevi and Bhudevi. The solemnity of the whole place
reminds the devotee of Lord Venkitachalapathy. Behind this
shrine in the prakara are smaller ones of
Amarabhujangaperumal and Scunindraperumal with Umayal.
Coming around the prakara and having dharsan of Chandeswara,
we re-enter the Nataraja Sannathi.
We trace our steps through Chempakaraman Mandapam to the
Gopuravasal, coming round the small shrine of Indira
Vinayaka. The panels in the Gopuravasal contains very
beautiful carvings of Jwaradeva, Vamana Avatar and many
others. It is worthwhile to climb the Gopuram and see the
beautiful paintings of Suchindrum Sthalapurana and episodes
from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, painted on the inner
walls of the Gopuram.
The unique feature of Suchindrum Temple is that both
Saivites and Vaishnavites hold the temple in high esteem.
The shrines within, which are thirty in number, are
conspicuous for their beauty and grace. The sanctum
sanctorum presenting a Linga, the Thekkedam presenting the
image of Vishnu (human form), the Konnayadi presenting the
three svayambulingas at the foot of an old tree (nature
worship), the holy sanctum of Chitra Sabha presenting almost
all the deities of Hindu Pantheon, afford opportunities for
all classes of people to worship here. All these remarkably
enhance the significance of this Temple which has rightly
been called the spiritual capital of Nanjilnad.
Antiquity and History of the Temple :
It is an irrefutable fact that Konnayadi is very old. Parts
of the tree were sent to London and Calcutta, and were
examined by experts who concluded that the tree would have
flourished at least 2000 years ago. There is evidence to
show that Thekkedam and Vadakkedam might have been
constructed before 947 AD. Almost all the shrines in the
first prakara came into existence before the first quarter
of the 12th century. New structures appeared as years rolled
by. The porch was constructed in the 12th century. Udaya
Marthanda Mandapam and Subramanya Swami Temple were built in
1213 AD. Between the years 1417 and 1819 further
constructions were added by Pandya, Chera and Chola kings.
The splendid shrine of Garudalvar, facing Thekkedam, was
another handiwork of Thirumalai Nayakkar. Fresh shrines,
more images and huge structures were introduced from time to
time, by different dynasties.
Legends and Folklore (Atri and Anasuya) :
The great sage Atri and his devoted wife Anasuya had their
hermitage at Gnanaranya (now known as Suchindrum). Anasuya
was renowned for her chastity. Once the age Atri was away to
participate in a Yagna, and in his absence Anasuya was doing
pooja to the Padhatheertha of her Lord. She was able to
bring rains from the skies by sprinkling the padatheertha of
her husband during the times of severe drought. When Lakshmi,
Saraswathi and Parvathi heard through Narada that a woman of
the world had excellent them in her love towards her
husband, they became jealous and decided to test the
chastity of Anasuya.
To satisfy the bidding of their wives, Brahma, Vishnu and
Shiva appeared at the hermitage of Anasuya, in the form of
old Brahmins and begged alms. When she was about to serve
them food, they told her that they had taken a vow not to
eat food served by a person who wore any dress. She prayed
to her Lord and sprinkled the padatheertha on the Brahmins.
Immediately the old Brahmins were transformed into three
The long absence of the Gods instilled fear in the minds of
the three Devies, and they approached Anasuya for mangalya
biksha. Anasuya sprinkled the padatheertha on the babies and
the three Gods appeared in their resplendent glory by the
side of their partners. The devas, rishis and sages came to
Gnanaranya to have the holy dharsan of the Tirumurthis. When
they disappeared, there sprouted three Svayambulingas at the
foot of a laurel tree. This laurel tree and the lingas can
be seen even now at the Suchindrum Temple.
Indra and Ahalya :
Once Indra was infatuated with Ahalya, wife of rishi
Gautama. One night he took the form of a cock, came to the
hermitage of Gautama and gave the clarion call. Thinking
that he was late for his bath. Gautama arose and hurried to
the river. Indra in the disguise of Gautama, entered the
hermitage and molested Ahalya. Gautama saw the river yet
sleeping returned to the hermitage to find Ahalya and Indra
there. He cursed Indra that his body should be covered with
a thousand female genital organs, and Ahalya to become a
stone. Greatly afflicted by his disgrace, Indra went to
Gnanaranya and did penance for a long time. At last the
grace of Lord Siva purified him thoroughly. Indra built the
shrine and the Tirumurthis were represented in one Linga
with the name Sthanumalaya. The legend is that Indra is
still doing the Ardhajama Pooja in the temple every night,
and as Indra was purified at Gnanaranya, its name is changed
The virgin Goddess of Kanyakumari :
Once when Dharma declined and Adharma reared its ugly head,
Parasakthi promised that she would restore order and
righteousness in the world, by annihilating the evil forces
headed by Banasura, the King of Demons.
She came to Kanyakumari in the form of a virgin girl and
began to do penance. Arrangements were made for her wedding
with Sthanumalaya of Suchindrum and an auspicious hour was
fixed at midnight on a particular date for the marriage.
Narada wanted to stop the marriage because the death of
Banasura could be achieved only by virgin. Sthanumalaya
started for Kanyakumari, eager not to miss the auspicious
hour. When he reached Vazhukkumparai, about 3 miles from
Suchindrum, Narada assumed the form of a cock and crowed
loudly, and thus heralded the break of dawn. Thinking that
the auspicious hour had passed, Lord Sthanumalaya returned
to Suchindrum, and the Goddess decided to remain a virgin