The Thiruedakam temple, in Madurai, is a storehouse of information.
Thiruedakam or Thiruvedakam, as it is also called, lies at a distance of about 19 km from Madurai on the Madurai-Sholavandan road. It is an over-grown village nestling on the bank of River Vaigai. One has to cross NH-7 through the under-pass to touch T Sholavandan road. The entire stretch from the road branching off from NH-7 is green and full of paddy fields and coconut groves as far as one can see.
Thiruedakam literally means, in Tamil, a respectful home for palm leaf (‘edu’ in Tamil). The ‘edu’ and the place are strongly associated with saint Thirugnana Sambandar, first of the Thevaram-trio, that spread Saivism in the South through the soul-stirring songs.
Legend has it that during the seventh century A.D. when the entire Pandya Kingdom was under the influence of Jainism, Koon Pandya’s queen, Mangayarkarasi, a Chola Princess, who was steeped in Saivism, wanted the ruler Arikesari Parankusa Mara Varman – 670-710 A.D. to follow Saivism. And for this she sought the help of Thirugnana Sambandar, who was staying at a mandapam adjoining the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple in Madurai.
The effects of Thirumarai
The mandapam, where Sambandar stayed, caught fire. The saint through his hymns (3339 to 3349 of third Thirumarai), prayed to Lord Siva that the heat of the fire that engulfed the mandapam be redirected towards the king, but with a plea not to kill him so that he might become a staunch follower of Saivism. Koon Pandya was afflicted with heat boils and Sambandar cured him by applying vibhuti. Later Sambandar had to take on the opponents in Anal vadham and punal vadham - test by fire and water. The palm leaf bundles carrying his hymns and those of others’ literature were set on fire. Sambandar’s verses survived. Set afloat in the Vaigai, his scripts were carried safely to the bank where an idol of Ganesa stood. A grateful saint called the place ‘Edu Senranai Tharum Edakam.’ It is said that a Siva lingam was installed by Sambandar for worship though it is said to be ‘swayambu.’
The Pandya king became an ardent Saivite. To commemorate the spiritual role of Mangayarkarasi, a mandapam was built at the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple, south of the 1,000-pillared mandapam.
Of the 63 Nayanmars, Mangayarkarasi ranks the 55 for saving Saivism, the king and the subjects. The Thirugnana Sambandar mandapam in South Avani Moola Street owes its origin to the saint and the 292 head of this mutt is Arunagirinatha Sri Gnana Sambanda Desika Paramacharya.
The temple, with such a historical and hagiological background, faces East and has two five-storeyed rajagopurams, one at the entrance of the shrine of the presiding deity, Edakanathar or Edakanatheeswarar, and the other at the entrance of His consort, Elavaar Kuzhali also known as Sugantha Kuntalambika. The lingam is small and attractive. The shrine for the goddess is on the right side of Edakanathar’s. There are a maha mandapam, ardha mandapam and garbha griha at both the sannidhis.
The prakaram of the Lord’s sannadhi has a separate niche for Dakshinamurthy (on the southern wall of the garbha griha), Lingothbavar on the west and Durga on the north. At the western corner is Lord Subramanya with His consorts.
On the southern side are the idols of 63 Nayanmars, presenting a sculptural feast. On the northern side of the prakaram are the statuettes of Saptha Kannis. Near the navagrahas is Bhairavar, a fine piece of sculpture. The ‘tirtham’ of this temple is Brahma tirtham and the sacred tree is ‘vilvam.’
There is a passage from the maha mandapam of Edakanathar to the Amman sannidhi. The idol of Elavaar Kuzhali is a fine piece of sculpture.
While circumambulating the shrine, one can see the figurines of Itcha, Kriya and Gnana saktis on the southern, western and northern sides of garbha griha. A noticeable feature is the presence of the Nandi in the goddess’ sannidhi.
The pillars supporting the maha mandapams of both the shrines have been tastefully sculpted with yakshis in the corbels, which resemble the pillars of the longest corridor at the Rameswaram temple.
On the left side of the entrance to the temple is the high rise basement built in granite which is said to have been left unfinished by a Vijayanagar ruler.
Though shorn of epigraphical evidence to establish the historicity of the temple, it can be easily assumed that it dates back to the seventh century since Gnana Sambandar and Koon Pandya belong to the latter part of that period. Later on, a proper temple must have been built.
In the past century nagarathars took the initiative to renovate it, and the temple ranks fourth among the 14 Siva sthalams in the land of the Pandyas.
The ‘pathigam,’ comprising 11 hymns, sung by Sambandar on Thiruedakam brings out the divinity of the saint and the greatness of the sthalam.
The 11 sloka is ‘Pala Stuthi’ and Sambandar avers that those who read these pieces will be blessed with wealth and freed from all diseases.
The first, second and third ‘thirumarai’ of ‘Panniru Thirumarai’ were sung by Thirugnana Sambandar and are called ‘Thirukadai Kappu’ besides the general name ‘Thevaram.’ Though Sambandar is credited with 16,000 pathigams only 384 from it, and 4,159 songs have so far been traced out.