Makeover The temple for Lord Siva at Avinashi, sports a new look. R. Krishnamurthy
Avinashi, taluk headquarters in Tirupur district, noted for its dairy products, is equally famous for the temple of Avinashi Appar or Avinashi Easwarar or Avinashi Linga, from which the town has acquired its name. It lies at a distance of about 10 km from Tirupur in the north-west direction and 36 km from Coimbatore in the east. There are plenty of buses from Coimbatore, Erode and Tirupur to reach this place.
Avinashi, which means ‘undestroyable’ in Sanskrit, is known as Thirupukkuliyur, South Kailas, South Prayag and South Varanasi. Legend has it that during Siva’s ‘Pralaya Thandavam,’ the Devas panicked and took refuge in this temple. Hence this place is known as Thirupukkuliyur. Of the other legends associated with this temple, mention has to be made of the worship by Brahma for 100 years, Iravatham for 12 years, Thadagai (Ravana’s sister) for three years and Rambai for one day.
The temple is centrally located on the southern bank of the river Tirunallaru, which has no semblance of a river now having shrunken in its course and been overrun with weeds, town refuse and encroachments and it presents a pathetic sight on the narrow road leading to the temple. A pleasant surprise is the face-lift done to the temple. There is a spacious parking area in concrete laid in front of the temple. The parapet walls of the temple tank have been spruced up and built to a height of six ft with barbed wire fencing on the three sides of the tank at the top. To prevent misuse of the tank, gates have been provided at the eastern and western entrances and they were kept locked.
The temple has two lofty rajagopurams, one seven-tiered and the other five-tiered, over the entrances of the main temple and Ambal sannidhi where none existed before. The original rajagopuram that was built by Krishna Devarayar was crumbling and posing a threat to visitors. Hence it was pulled down and the present one was built in 1980. In sync with this another five-tier rajagopuram was built by Dr. N. Mahalingam, industrialist and philanthropist of Pollachi in April, 1993.
The temple faces east. Before entering the sannidhi, one can see a beautifully carved idol of Vinayaka seated on a high pedestal to the left of the corridor (‘nadai). The shrine of Avinashiappar is complete with a fine brass-plated dwajasthambam, nritya, maha and ardha mantapams besides the garbha griha. The old structure remains intact. The dwarapalaka idols are noted for their sculptural finesse. The presiding deity is a small lingam over which with a five-headed serpent spreads its hood.
The lingam is said to be the off-shoot of the one at Kasi Viswanatha temple and it is a swayambu. Hence Avinashi has come in for the approbation – South Varanasi and Kasi Varanasi. Underscoring this is the presence of a square-shaped well called Kasi Gangai in the north-eastern corner of the prakaram around the presiding deity near the Bhairavar shrine. Its waters are used for abhishekam. It is said that sage Patanjali showed that Kasi Gangai and river Ganges were one and the same to his peer by throwing his ‘dhandam’ into this well and restoring it at Ganges. Above all, the well never goes dry! In the southern wing of the prakaram are the idols of 63 Nayanmars and in the northern wing are shrines of Chandikeswara and Kala Bhairava. The special feature of Kala Bhairava is that he is seen in a sitting posture with his mount and a beaming smile. Around the basement of the temple, there are inscriptions in Kannada of which three relate to Vira Balla III or Balla III (1291-1343 A.D.), the penultimate Hoysala king of Dwarasamudra in Karnataka. He held a fest called ‘Kakuthrayan Sandhi’ for Avinashiappar and for the expenses of which he donated Thenpalli village through Perumal Danayakan, feudatory of Balla III.
To the right of Avinashiappar is the temple for Karunambikai, also known as Perungkarunai Nayaki and is connected to the former by the shrine of Subramanya with His Consorts and a newly built thirukalyana mantapam. The corridor of goddess sannidhi from its rajagopuraam to the nritya mantapam has a new roof, thanks to munificent donors.
On entering the nritya mantapam one can see two captivating idols sculptured in schist on either side of the entrance - representing ‘itcha’ and ‘kriya’ saktis. Likewise the idol of Karunambikai is a fine piece of sculpture and of moderate size with a radiating smile. These sculptures and the material used in making them resemble those found in Belur and Halebidu. It is believed that perhaps the artisans of the Hoysala kingdom, who ruled the entire Kongu Nadu for 50 years from 1290 A.D. might have taken part in the sculptural work.
The outer prakaram is quite sprawling and amazing. On the wall of the garbha graham, one will find a niche for Vinayaka, in a standing posture. The itcha, kriya and gnana saktis are depicted in the niches on the southern, western and northern walls of the garbha griham. But what is most striking is that the walls of the garbha griham carry many inscriptions in Tamil and the three stone slabs in the open space adjoining Thirukalyana mantapam also carry inscriptions in Tamil. These inscriptions throw light on the historicity of this temple right from Kongu Cholas, Kongu Pandyas to Hoysalas, Krishnadeva Rayar and the Mysore ruler, Chikku Devaraja Wodaiyar (1672-1704 A,D.) The period covered is from 1153 A.D. to 1695 A.D.
The prominent theerthams of this temple are the Kasi Gangai, Tirukulam (also known as Sellanga Samudram and Siva theertham), Naga Kannigai in the northern portion of the outer prakaram and river Tirunallaru. Thirukulam which faces the main temple was built by king Achutha Raya of Vijayanagar.
The sacred tree of the temple is padiri and is found adjoining the second rajagopuram inside the temple. Parvathy is said to have done penance under this tree for her reunion with Siva.
It is unique that the temple at Avinashi is a Thiruvachagam petra sthalam. Of the saivaite trio, Sundramurthy Nayanar has sung ten pathigams on the greatness of the Lord while one Thiruthandagam is attributed to Thirunavukkarasar. Arunagirinathar sang ten verses (sandha kavithai) on this temple.
Out of the number of festivals celebrated in this temple, Brahmotsavam is held in the Tamil month of Chithirai for 11 days. The presiding deity and His Consort will appear on different mounts in the temple car during the utsavam.
Among the saivite saints, Sundaramurthy Nayanar is credited with the miracle of having brought back to life a three-year-old child, devoured by a crocodile. The incident happened when he was passing through the agraharam of Avinashi from Thirumuruganpoondi on his way to Cheranadu. It is said that two boys of the same age were playing near the bank of Tamaraikulam (now extinct) when a crocodile swooped over one of them and dragged him inside the waters.
During Sundarar’s visit, upanayanam was being performed for the child who survived. But the parents of the deceased were expressing their anguish loudly in not being able to perform the upanayanam.
Sundarar on hearing them vowed not to see Avinashiappa without bringing the child back to life. He proceeded to Tamaraikulam and sang the pathigam ‘Etran Maraken’ and when he completed the fourth stanza, ‘Karaikal Mudalaiyai Pillaitharu Kalanaiye,’ the dried up tank got filled up with water and the crocodile emerged out of the water and coughed up the child. This event occurred in March, 825 A.D. as seen from the information displayed at the entrance of the temple. This event is celebrated every year in the Tamil month of Panguni for four days in the Sundaramurthy Nayanar temple nearby.
On the fourth day a brahmin boy gets the honour of initiation into Gayatri mantra upadesam. The expenses connected with this are met by the descendants of M. Dharmalingam Chettiar of Coimbatore.
Highlights of the temple
The temple houses two rajagopurams, one seven-tiered and the other five-tiered.
The sculptures resemble those found in Belur and Halebidu.
The water from Kasi Gangai, one of the four theerthams at this temple, is used for abhishekam.
The temple at Avinashi is a Thiruvachagam petra sthalam.
Brahmotsavam is held in the Tamil month of Chitarai for 11 days.
Holy spring:Kasi Gangai.