The Kasi Viswanathar temple, in Thenkasi, boasts of rich architectural splendour.
Thenkasi, as the very name suggests in Tamil, is the southern most Kasi of the south. A taluk headquarters in Tirunelveli district, near the famous health resort and spa, courtallam, Thenkasi is known as a temple town/city. The temple tower, dedicated to Kasi Viswanathar, is quite majestic, measuring easily more than 180 ft in one gentle sweep and is visible all through the district. It is the tallest temple in Tamil Nadu, though next only to Srivilliputhur Andal temple and the Srirangam temple tower.
Built in the 14 Century by Parakrama Pandian, in a typical Pandian style, the shrine has statues that are known for their beauty, symmetry, grace, expression, liveliness, intricate and subtle workmanship. And they are not made of stones, but It looks as if the stones have melted into clay in the hands of the artisans, so that the stones could be morphed into any form that the sculptor has in mind.
The front hall that houses these mind-boggling wonders and hymns in stone is truly a masterpiece. There are eight such pieces in two rows, showcasing the artistic genius and aesthetic sense of our forefathers. Rathi, the goddess known for her beauty, is seen sitting gently on a swan, before whom the beauty of all other women pales into paltry. These statues remind one of the famous sculptures at Krishnapuram in Tirunelveli district; Thadikombu in Dindigul district and Suseendiram in Kanyakumari district.
Next comes, in the row of statues, is Goddess Kali with all the ferocity. To stand in front of the statue for a long time gives an unnerving experience.
The statue of Krishna, Venugopal, on the right side, is attractive and everything about Him is enchanting. His flute is tantalising. His standing posture with a pious cow and a gracious Kadamba tree behind is quite mesmerising. There is something transcendental about His form.
The next statue is that of the Oordhva Thandavam of Lord Siva to humble the pride of His consort Sivagami, a dancer, par excellence. The statue symbolises the episode where, out of pride and arrogance, Goddess Parvathi once challenged Lord Nataraja to dance with Her. In the course of the dance, Siva raised His right leg with the foot facing up the sky, which is impossible for a woman even if she is of a divine origin, thus vanquishing the pride of Goddess Parvathi.
The statues of the two courtesans, at the entrance, with one holding the mirror on one hand and the other with her hand around the head trying to keep chendhur at the forehead is a sight not to be missed.
Next in line comes the statue of Manmadan, a tall and handsome man seen with a sugarcane bow. One could also see idols of damsels and the nandi with considerable height and weight. In the Mani mandapam one could see scenery from Periyapuranam in 3D forms. The stories from the puranam have come alive in sculptures – Kannappa Nayanar Puranam, Siruthondar puranam, Markendayar Puranam and Eripathra Nayanar Puranam are to mention only a few. Episodes from Ramayana also figure along side, in stone. Lord Rama with Sita has emerged from stone with Hanuman doing service, in dasya bava. The statues of Pandavas are also quite majestic. These statues are a visual treat. Secret tunnels have been made in view of assault and desecration by alien forces.
Statues apart, the temple has many rare features. There is a gentle flow of air from east to west in a counter current manner all through the year (24/7). It is a mystery. The shrine has two sacred trees, Jack fruit tree and Shenbaga (Michalis shenbaga) tree. In the niche for navagrahas one could see Raagu and Kethu in a form quite a contrast from the rest of the shrines.
Chitrakavi, an art-cum-hymn is drawn on the outer walls of the Ambal sannidhi. The temple has more than one tirtham - chitra tirtham and Kasi tirtham.
Rare and endangered species of plants have been conserved in the temple premises. Asoka (Saraca indica) a rare ornamental and medicinal plant that has found mention in the Red data book has been well maintained.
For those studying Hindu Architecture and inscriptions, Kasi Viswanathar temple is an unfathomable ocean containing endless strata of meaning. Each stone has a story to narrate.