Tracing the history of Thirupuvanam temple where the Lord got pinched by a dancing girl

On the banks of river Vaigai, it is said, Lord Shiva performed his 36th divine sport. The tenth in the list of 14 sanctified temples of Pandya region, Thirupuvanam’s Arulmigu Poovananathaswami had been praised by Gnanasambandar, Thirunavukkarasar, Sundarar, Manickavasagar and Karuvur Thevar in their hymns.

At the first glance the temple resembles a 20th century structure but a walk through the praharas reveals its history dating to 7th century CE.

There is an incomplete mandapam and a small shrine for Madapuram Kali Amman at the entrance. As per Thiruvilayadalpuraman (64 divine sports of Lord Shiva), a dancing girl Ponanaial was a staunch devotee of Lord Poovananathaswami. Her only goal in life was to make a golden idol of Lord Shiva and perform puja. But she could not do for lack of money. Impressed by her devotion, Lord Shiva took the form of a metallurgist (Rasavathi) and converted all metals in her holdings – iron, bronze and aluminium – into a golden statue of Shiva. Impressed by the beauty of the idol, Ponanaial pinched the cheeks of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the pinch mark is seen even today in the golden statue. Ponanaial finds a place at the front mandap.

According to mythological history, the lingam at the temple emerged on its own under the shades of a parijatha tree. It is believed that divine personalities like Surya, Chandra, Thiranasanan, Dharumanjan, Nalan, Brahma and Thirumal worshipped the suyambulinga here.

The temple has a shatanga vimana and a square-shpaed sanctum sanctorum. In front, there is an artha mandapam, mahamandapam and muhamandapam. There are three praharas and on the right side of the main shrine lies a separate shrine for Goddess Minammai alias Soundara Nayaki.

Archaeological officer (Retd.) C. Santhalingam points out that the temple has about 15 to 20 loose sculptures and fragmented inscriptions. The earliest inscription found at the temple belongs to 10 CE during the period of early Pandya King Sadayan Maran. The inscription refers to a gift of 75 sheep donated to the temple for maintaining perpetual lamps.

The inscription has a reference to the donor Kunava Ayyan Manavaatti Udaiyan and another name Komana Sami, wife of one Veerapandya Veenai Marayan alias Aliyan Veera Narayanan. It also refers to a temple named ‘Sri Koil’ and consecration of a deity.

The gift was entrusted with Vettikudi Poovanar Arayan. “Vettikudi refers to a group of people who are unpaid temple workers,” says Santhalingam.

A later Pandya period inscription belonging to Sadayavarman Kulasekera Pandyan (1190 – 1216 CE) and Maravarman Sundara Pandyan I (1216-1238 CE) refer to land donation to Saiva Mutt named Madapuram.

“Later, the Madapuram established itself into separate temple of Madapuram Kali,” he says.

The 1300-year-old temple has undergone multiple renovations. In the last century, Nattukottai Chettiars refurbished the temple. The muhamandapam of the temple has the statues of King Thirumalai Naicker, his wife and his brother Muthiyala Naicken indicating renovation works undertaken by them too.

According to senior epigraphist V. Vedachalam the temple has two vattezhuthu inscriptions of King Rajahsiman. One of the inscriptions refers to a Chera King Ko Kothai Varman’s visit and his donations to the temple.

The temple also has copper plates belonging to Sadayavarman Kulasekera Pandyan and Maravarman Sundara Pandyan I. These plates refer to the formation of Rajagambira Sathurvedimanagalam that was donated to 1200 Brahmins. Thirupuvanam village was under the geographical division named Rajasinghakulakeezh. Chinnamanur copper plate, an important document on early Pandya kingdom, refers to the village tank as Rajasinghakulam.

Next to Kasi and Rameshwaram, people perform funeral rituals at Thirupuvanam temple as it is located on the banks of Vaigai.