The village of Melathirumanickam houses a 1000-year-old legacy

Inscriptions in temples are common, but the case of Sundareswarar Temple at Melathirumanickam Village near Usilampatti is different. The walls here are entirely made of inscriptions.

This more than 1000-year-old temple has a shrine for Lord Sundareswarar, Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Muruga. It also has 13 separate small shrines for Lord Vinayaka, who is also seen with a child.

“The temple might have been constructed before 10th century AD,” says C. Shanthalingam, retired Archaeological Officer. It has two vattezhuthu inscriptions belonging to 949 AD and referring to the King Cholan Thalai Konda Veera Pandya (946- 966 AD).

The first inscription says that the main deity of the temple is Thirumoolanatha Peruman Adigal and the village is named as Thirumanikayam, coming under the jurisdiction of Mutta Naadu, a subdivision of Pandya kingdom.

The second inscription states that one Athiyan Yetti from Arungkulam, probably a merchant, donated 40 goats and 10 sheep to the temple for lighting the perpetual lamp. Another donation made by Nakkan of the same village is also mentioned.

The temple has inscriptions belonging to the period of Kulasekera Pandya (1192-1216) and Vikarama Pandya (13th century). Other than these, it has around 60 inscriptions in Tamil script and most of them refer to land and cattle donations made to the temple. Inscriptions belonging to Rajendra Chola period (1012-1044), also referring to a donation, have been found but they are hard to decipher as they remain in fragments.

On the southern side of the Sundareswarar shrine stands a magnificent Goddess Meenakshi belonging to the 12th century.

According to Mr. Shanthalingam, the Amman and Shiva sannidhis are similar in structure. The temple includes the garbhagriha, arthamandapa and a mandap open towards the front, with huge symmetrical pillars with rectangular and square structures and astapattikas.

From the athistana, the temple is constructed entirely with granite stones. The garbhagriha is constructed with athistana, a wall and a prahara, the roof. The athistana has a strong upapeeda, plain jagathi, thiripattakumudha, kandapattiga and vedigai. These are all various parts of the base. The wall portion also has two pilasters and sub-segments.

True to its early Pandya architectural style, the Goddess Meenakshi shrine has no sculptures in the niches, whereas the Lord Sundareswarar shrine has images of Dakshinamoorthy, Lingothbavar and Lord Brahma in the niches.

“Though early Pandya architecture style is known for empty niches, temples in Aruppukottai, Thenkarai and Melathirumanickam are exceptions that have beautiful sculptures of various deities,” says Mr. Shanthalingam.

This 10th century temple has been renovated at various times, including the work under the Nayak's regime in the 17th century.

But the renovation that took place three years ago displaced many inscriptions.

The present name of the village, Melathirumanickam, has an interesting story attached to it.

According to legend, one Cudappah-born Aathi Moorthy Iyer, priest of the temple, went to Kasi to fetch holy water, leaving his son to perform the pujas. There was a belief that during every full moon night a five-headed serpent would give a precious stone or manickam to the priest to defray the temple's expenses. The greedy son planned to kill the snake to get all the precious stones at one go. Realizing his intention, the serpent killed the priest's son.

“Thus the village got the name Melathirumanickam,” says Azhagu Chokku, a retired teacher of the village. “The temple has a panel in the Meenakshi shrine depicting the episode.”

The nearby villages, he adds, were named for the items they donated for the funeral. The village that gave money was called Athikarigalpatti, the one that gave cloth was known as Vannankulam, the one that gave milk got to be known as Paalarupatti, and the village that donated logs became Kattalai.

Mr. Azhagu Chokku took the initiative to collect funds to renovate the temple, which was in a dilapidated condition at the time.

He is still looking for sponsorship to construct a mandap to preserve the Panchaloha idols of the temple.