History & Culture

Home of the saint poetess

Sri Andal Temple at Srivilliputtur. Photo: S. James  

The very mention of the place, Srivilliputhur in Virudhunagar district, brings to mind Sri Andal and her Tiruppavai hymns, and the illustrious temple of Vadapatra Sai and Andal located almost centrally in the town.

The temple’s proximity to the national highway connecting Madurai and Thenkasi puts it under tourists’ circuit. It lies at a distance of 75 km from Madurai.

The temple at Srivillipthur is the eighth divyadesam among the 18 found in Pandya Nadu. Known as Varaga Kshetram and Vadesupuram in the past, the name, Srivilliputhur has stuck since legend has it that Villi, a hunter-turned-king of this place was directed in his dream by Lord Vadapatra Sai to clear the forest and build a shrine for him with the treasure struck at the base of a banyan tree in the forest. Interestingly, the banyan tree has become the sacred tree of this temple, which is under renovation.

The temple faces east and is noted for ‘gopura azhagu’ (beauty of the rajagopuram). The 11-tier rajagopuram is a magnificent structure rising to a height of 196 ft. It was chosen as the emblem for the Madras Government (now Tamil Nadu) when Omandur Ramaswamy Reddiar was Chief Minister since its façade is devoid of idols of deities unlike [the gopuram of] other temples, it is said.

Separate niches

On entering the temple and before reaching the flag-staff and bali peetam, there are shrines for Nammazhwar and Ramanujar on the left and Periyazhwar on the right. The shrine facing the flag-staff is that of Lakshmi Narasimhar, and in its top storey is the Vadapatra Sai shrine which is reached through a flight of steps. The first structure that one would see on landing is the vasantha mantapam also called Gopala Vilasam and ‘pagal pathu’ mantapam. Its ceiling is embellished with wooden carvings, the old temple car being the source of inspiration. The workmanship is on the lines of Kerala architecture. It is in this mantapam that the 12 Azhwars present themselves with Rangamannar, Sri Devi, Bhoodevi and Andal during the months of Aippasi and Margazhi coinciding with the ‘Ra Pathu’ and ‘pagal pathu’ utsavams.

The Vasantha mantapam leads to the maha and ardha mantapams and garbha griha, which has three entrances. All the three entrances are thrown open during ‘neeradal’ in Margazhi. The idols of Vadapatra Sai with His consorts - Sri Devi and Bhoodevi - first catch our attention from the garbha griha. Behind them in stone relief are the banyan tree with Pallikonda Perumal and His consorts at His feet and near His head are Garudazhwar and Viswaksenar. From his umbilicus springs out a long stalked lotus flower carrying Brahma, the creator.

The inscriptions on the northern wall of the garbha griha throw light on its historicity. During the reign of Chola king Kulothunga I (1070-1120 A.D.) Srivilliputhur was known as Vikrama Chola Mangalam, and his successor, Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 A.D.) had donated grain and goats to the temple. Prior to the Chola rule, the Pandya king, Srimara Sri Vallabha Pandya (815-862 C) contributed gold towards the construction of the compound wall of the temple. The temple tower though ascribed to Vallabha Pandya and Periyazhwar, seems to have come into existence in the 17th century.

Abutting the Lakshmi Narasimhar shrine in the ground floor and on the way to Andal shrine are the Chakrathazhwar shrine and Tirupoora Nandavanam. The latter, established by Periyazhwar, is an important landmark of this temple indeed! Inside the Nandavanam is a modest shrine with the idol of child Andal radiating a winsome smile. By her side is the tulsi mantapam. Her outpourings to Ranganatha expressing her deep love and longing to marry him contained in Tiruppavai have been inscribed on marble in the Nandavanam. It was here that the divine child was found by Periyazhwar (Vishnu Chithar) near the tulasi mantapam on Adi Pooram day. And the year is roughly put between 716 and 731 A.D. Kodhai became Andal as she ruled hearts, including that of Sri Ranganatha.

Numerous mantapams

The way to Andal shrine is dotted with a number of mantapams such as Pandal, Kalyana, dwajasthambam, Mani, Maha and Ardha. The pandal mantapam taken over by hawkers, resembles a bazaar, the stalls blocking the sight of Vanamamalai Jeer mutt, Vedanta Desika and Manavala Mamuni shrines enroute.

The next segment to Pandal mantapam is the Kalyana mantapam, a spacious one where the celestial marriage of Andal takes place every year in the month of Panguni. It is supported by massive pillars with figures of yazhi at the corbel. Its ceiling carries paintings depicting the Ramayana which date back to Nayakar rulers. A fine sculptural piece depicting saint Appar adorns the entrance of the mantapam.

The dwajasthambam mantapam is after the Kalyana mantap. The flag-staff itself is quite attractive with its entire structure covered with brass plates. The replica of the impending golden vimanam for Andal shrine, the work of which is under progress at a cost o 24.37 crores, is kept in a glass case near the dwajasthambam. On the left side of the flag-staff, the supporting pillars carry breath-taking sculptures of Lakshmana, Rama, Saraswati Agora Veerabhadrar, Sakthi and on the opposite side are the sculptures of Venugopala, Viswakarma, Rudra Kanika, Jalandra and Mohini. On the northern side of the mantapam is the beautiful ‘kannadi arai.’ The southern side of the mantapam also provides interesting sculptures like Gaja Lakshmi.

On entering the inner prakaram, at the south-eastern corner is found Lakshmi Narayanan underneath the jutting roof. He was worshipped by Periyazhwar. Circumambulating the inner prakaram one would find on its walls pictures of 108 divyadesams drawn elegantly with contributions made by devotees during different times. In the maha mantapam and east of Thirumanjana koradu is the well covered with glass sheet, called ‘kannadi kinaru.’ It is said that wearing the garland, intended for the Lord, Andal would look into the well to admire herself. Madhavi pandal in this unit is a worthy piece of architecture. Its roof which was originally mad up of bamboo splinters was replaced with teak reapers in 1937 by Karaikudi Akkur Chinthamani Chettiar. Close to its roof, the walls carry paintings depicting Andal’s wedding, stage by stage. The shrine of Viswaksenar is close by to Madhavi pandal and faces south.

The highlight of the ardha mantapam is the scepter-wielding Ranga Mannar with Andal to his right and Garudazhwar to his left with folded hands, which are placed on the gold-plated Thirumanjanam. This is the only temple where Garudazhwar is found by the side of Sri Ranga. Andal’s hair-do with a parrot on her left shoulder is indeed captivating. Legend has it that Andal sent sage Suka Brahmam in the guise of a parrot to Sri Ranganathar of Srirangam as messenger to finalise their marriage and he remained with her in the form of a parrot. This is called ‘kalyana kili’ and it is replaced daily with a fresh one (See article below for details).

Ten-day festivals

The temple has a plethora of festivals of which the Adi puram is the main and celebrated for 10 days and it is the bramotsavam. On Adi Pooram, the temple car with deities is drawn through the main streets of Srivilliputhur, and this event attracts a large number of devotees from far and near. The temple car is renowned for its size (75 ft high and weighing 150 tonnes), and ranks second in Tamil Nadu, the first being the Tiruvarur car.

The Thirukalyana utsavam takes place for 10 days during Panguni uthiram. The Periyazhwar festival lasts for 10 days in the month of Aani. The festivals in the month of Margazhi centre around Andal. On the first day of ‘pagal pathu,’ Sri Andal’s ‘seer varisai’ festival takes place. Andal and her husband are welcomed by Vedapuram Bhattars into their homes with gifts in traditional style. The other important festival is the ‘Thailakappu,’ from the 22nd day of Margazhi to the first of ‘Thai.’

Though the Andal temple was built in 788 A.D., it was expanded and renovated by Maveli Vanathi Rayar in the 15th century. Besides, Madurai Thirumalai Nayakar (1623-59 A.D.), Chokkanatha Nayakar IV (1659-82) and Veerappa Nayakar (1682-89) did renovation work and made additions.

Quick facts

Principal deity: Vadapatrasayee–Rangamannar.

Consorts: Sridevi and Bhoodevi.

Kshetram: Varaga or Shenbaga aranya kshetram.

Sacred tree: Banyan.

Gopuram: 11-tier rajagopuram.

Birth place of: Periyazhwar and Andal.

Festivals: Adi Pooram, Thirukalyana utsavam, Thailakappu, Ra Pathu, Pagal Pathu, Panguni Uthiram.

Celebrating the birth of Andal

To commemorate the birth of Andal Nachiyar, a ten-day festival is celebrated at Srivilliputhur. Tiruvadipooram utsavam is on at the temple now. Today, the ninth day and Adi Pooram, starts at 4 a.m. with Ekaantha Tirumanjanam. Following this, the moolavar deity will be decorated with special flowers and garland – ‘Pushpa Sevai.’

Between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., the utsava idols of Rangamannar and Andal will be taken out in a procession in the famous nine-tier chariot.

At 8.05 a.m. the eight-hour chariot festival starts, with the deities taken through the four Big streets of Srivilliputhur.

The evening programme includes the post-procession darshan of Rangamannar and Andal inside the chariot.

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