Many legendary aspects are attached to the Kalyana Pasupatheeswarar temple, Karur, which has links to both the Chera and Chola dynasties.
Of the seven specially mentioned temples of Kongu Nad, the one in Karur ranks first. Dedicated to Kalyana Pasupatheeswarar, the temple is centrally located in the city, with the river Amaravathy flowing in close proximity.
In ancient times Karur had trade links with the Romans as evidenced by numismatic findings. It can be easily reached both by road and rail from Tiruchi (76 km), Salem (100 km) and Coimbatore (113 km). Karur also goes by the names Karur Anilai and Vanjimanagaram. It used to be called Vanji since it was the capital of the Chera kings for a long time before it was shifted to Cranganoor in Kerala. The epithet, ‘Karur Anilai’ connotes that the celestial cow, Kamadhenu worshipped Siva at this place, which was a dense forest. The name Karur is also supposed to mean ‘embryo village,’ and according to legend, Brahma started his creation at this place, and as such the place goes by the name, Brahmagiri. There are a few more names by which this place is known.
A two-kilometre ride from the railway station by auto or taxi takes one to the temple, which faces east, with an arresting seven-tier rajagopuram. On its façade a beautiful picture of a cow with a swirl in its body and emptying its milk over the lingam presages the name of the main deity inside the temple. The rajagopuram is said to have been built by Pugazh Chola, a king, with his seat of rule at Woraiyur.
On entering the rajagopuram, one would step into a vast expanse in the centre of which is the lamp post in granite at the base of which are stone idols of Vinayaka, Kamadhenu with lingam and an armed person riding an elephant in the east-west direction. Anterior to the lamp post is a square portico bearing a small gopuram of five storeys. Through this portico one can gain entry into the kalyana mantapam of the temple. On the northern side of the vast expanse is a 100-pillared mantapam in memory of Pugazh Chola. On the southern side is the ‘magizham poo’ tree. Worshipping this tree is said to bestow peace of mind and wealth as ‘magizham’ is the personification of Goddess Mahalakshmi.
Fine piece of architecture
The sprawling kalyana mantapam is a fine piece of architecture. Its supporting pillars impart a sense of rhythm and symmetry. The original floor must have been replaced with dark spark tiles at some point of time during the kumbabishekam, the last of which was held in 2006. The floor has been divided into three segments. The lower-most has the dwajasthambam, bali peetam and Nandi of a moderate size. The top-most segment leads to maha mantapam, ardha mantapam and garbagriha. The ceiling is splashed with paintings of puranic lore. The lingam, which is said to be swayambu, is five-ft tall. The highlight is the lingam is found tilted to the north. It is said that in order to enable Karuvur Thevar, one of the 18 siddhars, merge with the effulgence of Siva, the Lord tilted himself. At the south-west corner of the outermost prakaram, there is a sannidhi for him with an extended mantapam in front. His image in panchaloka is in ‘padmasana’ posture. Another phenomenon about this temple is that the sunlight falls on the lingam on the 14th, 15th and 16th day in the month of Panguni. In the small prakaram around the garba griha the walls are adorned with the images of Vigneswara, Ardhanareeswara, Brahma and Durga.
Legend has it that Siva on sensing the conceit of Brahma as the creator of the world, sent Kamadhenu to Vanji forest in Karur to take up the duty of creation and instructed her to worship the Siva lingam hidden in an anthill at the forest. When Kamadenu was performing the abishekam to the lingam with its milk, her hoof accidentally hit the lingam and injured it. The scar left on the lingam is seen on its back even now as a depression. Kamadenu pleaded guilty. The Lord told her that He will be hailed as Pasupatheeswarar as she worshipped him at this place thus according a special status to Kamadenu. Pleased with this, Kamadenu continued the work of creation. Meanwhile, realising his mistakes Brahma took up severe penance worshipping Lord Siva in order to get back his place in Satya loka. Pleased with his prayers, the Lord restored the power of creation back to Brahma and took Kamadenu along with him. Later on a temple came to be built in that place. There is a brahma theertham created by Brahma to the north of the river Amaravathy.
Quite paradoxically, the presiding deity has two consorts, Alankara Valli (also known as Kripanayaki) and Soundara Nayaki and their sannidhis are found to the north of the presiding deity. There is an underpass from the kalyana mantapam, to reach their shrines. While Alankaravalli is a symbol of ‘kriya sakti,’ Soundara Nayaki represents ‘itcha sakti.’ The sannidhi of Alankara Valli with the Sri Chakram and the mount, lion, installed in front of her, faces east, and that of Soundara Nayaki south.
An interesting and authentic tale hangs around the second consort, Soundara Nayaki. It is said that Vadivudaiyal born to a wealthy village official in Appipalayam, at a distance of seven km to the west of Karur, was devoted to Pasupatheeswarar and was bent upon marrying Him. She performed Siva puja daily by observing all religious injunctions. Her parents could not dissuade her. On the other hand, Pasupatheeswarar assured them in their dream that he would marry their daughter on the seventh day of Panguni Uthiram festival, which will be indicated through a floral shower over entire Appipalayam. Vadivudaiyal was meditating when the whole village witnessed the downpour, and a glowing garland bedecked her. She was taken to Pasupatheeswarar temple where she merged with the lord. Even to this date, the utsava idol of Pasupatheeswarar is taken to Appipalayam, on the sixth day in the month of Panguni and returns on the seventh day with Soundara Nayaki.
Another noteworthy feature at this temple is the navagrihas. There are separate niches for Surya and Chandra in the kalyana mantapam. The eight-armed Kala Bhairavar in the same mantapam has been cast in a splendid way. At the outer prakaram are, the idols of 63 Nayanmars placed on a raised platform in a row. Out of them, Eripatha Nayanar was associated with this temple during the reign of Chola king, Pugazh Chola, and attained godly state for having killed the coronation elephant of the latter after it snatched the flower basket from an aged devotee of Siva, Sivakamiandar and trampled it. Pugazh Chola became a Nayanmar later. The idols of Eripatha Nayanar, Pugazh Chola, Sambandar and emperor Muchukunda (said to be a Chola king) are found at the corners of the enclosure around flagstaff. At the north-west corner of the outer prakaram is the sannidhi for Shanmugar, who is seen with His consorts. Proceeding further on the northern side of the outer prakaram one can see Pancha lingas.
Saint Thirugnanasambandar, who has visited this temple, has sung in praise of the lord. Those songs have been catalogued under second Thirumurai. Out of the saivite quartet, Sambandar alone has visited this temple. Saint Arunagirinathar has sung in praise of Shanmugar and this sthalam in seven of his Tiruppugazh pieces.
From the inscriptions so far deciphered, it is clear that the temple existed during the reign of the king Rajendra Chola (1012-54 A.D.) since he gifted away land to this temple. For the Kongu Cholas and Kongu Pandyas, the temple was a favourite and , it the drew undivided attention of the Vijayanagar rulers too.
Though the sthala vriksham is said to be vanji, only vilva trees are seen now. The temple celebrates a plethora of festivals, the car festival being the most popular. Panguni uthiram is celebrated as brahmotsavam.