At the union of three rivers, we find a solitary gem

The first time I saw the temple was on a trip to the famed Sri Sadasiva Brammendra Temple at Nerur (10 km from Karur), where I was told “three rivers join a little distance from here, Madam, so why don’t you visit it?” It was just 13-odd kilometres; the road meandered through lush coconut groves with fronds that gleamed in the afternoon; past paddy fields and winding lanes that led to tiny hamlets. Almost at the river, I passed a dilapidated temple that stood all alone, walls tumbling down. The gopuram was missing, and creepers had accommodated themselves within all the cracks. It stood, more than half asleep in the sun, and yet it was as though it called out loud and clear in the still, hot afternoon air: Come, visit me.

I will, someday… I made a half-hearted promise. It would be more than a year before I visited Thirumukkoodalur again. I made my way to it quickly but found it standing serene in the morning light, on the banks of the river, its iron doors locked.

I navigated the tiny village roads and enquired for the priest, but he was away at Karur. Finally, a neighbour took pity on my downcast face and directed me to a lady nearby who “might have the front door key.” I tramped through an alley half-submerged by trees and bushes till I came to a home being re-thatched where, under the eaves, stood Padma who unlocked my problems, quite literally.

Inside the temple I found a precinct that stirred the imagination. To my right lay stone pillars in a heap; further were four pillars with no roof; a neem tree spread its glorious shade everywhere. To the left ran the wall, stopping abruptly at the river bank. In front was the temple, almost falling apart.

For all that, it stood serene and beautiful, steeped in history. The pillars were streaked white and grey, as if cleaned the day before. The mud path outside was paved smooth with cow-dung. An underground passage led to the river. Clearly, this temple must have been great once.

“Everything about this temple is available on Net,” said a displeased priest, flinging about vessels. No, it isn’t. Could he please tell me what he knew?

An earthen lamp flew out and hit the pillar. I beat a hasty retreat. Padma, lounging outside, volunteered that the lord was Agathya Lingeswarar, and the temple had been built by “someone called Rajendra, more than 10,700 years ago!”

I forbore to tell her that Rajendra, though illustrious, hadn’t quite lived that long ago, and tramped back home. Nobody seemed to know much more. Finally, I trekked to the ASI office, peeked into the Curator’s office, and stopped.

There on the wall was the temple. Large as life. “Ah yes, a historic temple, this one,” smiled Naga Ganesan, the curator. “The village was once called Madhuranthakapuram, the lord’s name is Madhuranthakapureeswarar, and a beautiful temple it is, too,” he reminisced. “Built by Rajendra Chozha I, 10th century. Did you know he gave the lands south of Kulithalai as grants to the temple?”

Greatness, indeed. Later, King Veera Pandiyan changed its name to Thirumukkoodalur and the Nayak kings renovated it. Through the years it had stayed safe, cared for by kings, nourished by the rivers and people.

And here it was, holding on valiantly. But I knew it would survive. It had that magic. Visitors would make sure it stayed on, in memory. Sometimes, that’s enough.