A grand edifice stands in the heart of the ancient village of Aanaiyur near Usilampatti
The name Aanaiyur makes me think of old elephant stories. Not surprisingly, the name of the village comes from an elephant tale, supposedly a divine sport (thiruvilayadal) of Lord Shiva.
It is believed that the short-tempered saint Dhurvasar gifted a white flower to Lord Indra. But Indra forgetfully left it on his white elephant Iravadham and the elephant tampered with the flower. This angered Saint Dhurvasar and he cursed the elephant to lose its sheen and turn black. The elephant came to this village and performed pujas to Lord Shiva for redemption. Hence, the village is known as Aanaiyur.
“If we take this story from Thiruvilayadal Puranam into account, this village might be a few centuries old,” says C. Santhalingam, retired Archaeological Officer. “But there are archeological evidences for its existence even 6,000 years ago when people were still leading a nomadic life.”
He says archaeologists had unearthed microlithic tools and megalithic burial urns from the village and nearby areas. Though the village lacks microlithic and megalithic evidence now in its vicinity, the 1000-year-old Iyravadeshwarar Temple stands here, intact and imposing. The walls of the temple narrate the history of many kings and their reigns.
The temple's mahamandap is supported by about 42 pillars. The four-pillared arthamandap leads to the sanctum sanctorum of the Suyambu lingam known as Lord Iyravadeshwarar. Magnificent dwarapalakas greet visitors at the entrance. Later additions include Goddess Meenakshi, Lord Muruga with his consorts and Dakshinamoorthy.
There are 25 inscriptions in the temple belonging to early Pandya kings, the Chola kings Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola, Sadayavarman Sundara Chola Pandyan and later Pandya kings. The earliest inscription belongs to Cholan Thalai Konda Veera Pandya (946-966 AD).
“The temple might have been constructed during the eighth or ninth century as the inscription on developmental activities belongs to 10th Century,” points out Mr. Santhalingam. One of the inscriptions states the presence of a standing army in the village during the early Pandya period. And many inscriptions enumerate the land and cattle donations for maintenance of the temple.
Even during the Chola rule spanning 200 years, the Pandya-built temple was maintained. Inscriptions belonging to Raja Raja Chola (985-1014 AD) and Rajendra Chola (1012-1044 AD) and their viceroy Sadayavarman Sundara Chola Pandyan (1011-1031 AD) also give an account of donations.
Inscriptions are also found that relate to the later Pandya kings Sadayavarman Sri Vallabha Pandya (12th Century AD), Jadavarman Sundara Pandya (1238-1256 AD) and Maravarman Kulasekara Pandya (1268-1310 AD), and there are records of the Vijayanagara rulers of the 14th Century.
One inscription refers to the presence of ‘Pallipadai kalangatha kandan' (temple constructed on the burial ground of a king or a queen) at Pahanoorkootram, in the present Sholavandan region.
The oldest sculptures in the temple are Lord Vinayaka and Jeista Devi sitting along with her son Komugan and daughter Agnimatha. Jeista in Sanskrit means elder. It is believed that Jeista is known as ‘mootha devi' (elder devi) which later became ‘moo devi.'
The temple seems to have had three kinds of priests, known as Sthanikars, Aganalikars and Panchachariyars.
It had a mutt, women for dancing and men for reciting ‘thevaram'.
For safety concerns, the bronze idols of Natarajar, Sivakami, Chandrasekarar and Manickavasagar are housed at Jenagaimariamman Temple in Sholavandan.
In the Tamil month of Thai, the idols are brought to Iyravadeshwarar temple and pujas are performed for a few days.
The evidence undoubtedly shows that Aanaiyur is an ancient village. And it also has an old name, Thirukurumullur.
The Iyravadeshwarar Temple was known as Thirukurumullur Agniswaram and Thirukurumullur Udaiyanayanar before it got its present name.