The temple that stands out differently from all others in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere is the one at Avudaiyar Koil in Pudukottai district. It proclaims the highest notch in Hindu philosophy, namely, ‘nirguna brahmam’ attainable by gnana margam.
The temple is supposed to have been built by Manickavachagar. Being the prime minister of a Pandya King, Manickavachagar, who was given the task of buying horses for the king, spent all the money given to him for building a temple for Lord Siva. The king, who came to know about this, tormented Manickavachagar. To help his devotee, Lord Siva along with His sivaganas, arranged to convert the jackals, in a nearby forest, into horses and drove them into the palace. The story goes that instead of purchasing the horses, Manickavachagar, due to his undying devotion to the Lord stayed at Thirupperunthurai (Avudaiyar Koil) near the Kuruntham tree, where he was encircled by many disciples. It is here that he got initiated by the Lord to write the eighth Thirumurai, Thiruvachagam, and was christened Manickavachagar.
The king realised his abysmal folly in the episode of ‘pituku mann sumandhu.”
As Manickavachagar, his original name being Thiruvadavoorar, embraced gnana margam for salvation, the Avudaiyar temple has been cast in this fashion. Surprisingly, the temple does not have nandi, flagstaff, balipeetam and Somaskandar is conspicuously absent. And instead of playing nagaswaram, melam and berigai, the blowing of conch, ringing of bell and thiruchinnam is in vogue. In the garba griha, the banam (shaft-like portion) of Siva lingam is not found. Instead, the first segment of avudaiyar called Sakti peetam is seen, and over this, a metallic banam-shaped receptacle with an opening in the front is placed. The presiding deity does not have a form here, which again reflects the status of soul. Hence the deity is named Athmanathar, and the temple is called Avudaiyar Koil since the avudaiyar of siva lingam alone is present. While the sacred tree of the temple, Kruntham represents form-formless state, Manickavachagar fills up the form-state. To the right of the presiding deity is the goddess sannidhi, who is also formless, but is represented by Yoga peetam on which the foot prints of the goddess have been carved out. One has to see the symbolic presence of the goddess, Yoganayaki through a perforated stone partition.
The daily rituals for the third kala puja include the offering made to the God during puja – the steaming par boiled rice is heaped on the slab in front of the garba griha like miniature mound, and around it are placed a huge variety of snacks - thenkuzhal, vada, athirsam, sooyam, pittu and dosai. Unlike in other temples, the ritual of deeparathanai is performed without opening the screen. Deeparathanai and ‘padaippu’ are indeed a grand spectacle one should witness, and the author was indeed lucky to see it on March 2, thanks to the archakar, Manickam Iyer. It is customary to worship Athmanathar by entering the ardha mantapam from the western side instead of through the main entrance. In the first prakaram behind the garba griha is a four-pillared mantapam wherein Kuruntha moola swamy (Athmanathar) is seen seated like a preceptor, and in front of him is Manickavachagar, depicted to receive ‘deekshai.’ Manickavachagar’s ‘upadesa kaatchi’ is enacted here on festival days.
The tirunakshatram of the saint, who takes the place of Somaskandar here, is celebrated in the month of Aani. And his attainment of ‘mukti,’ is observed in the month of Margazhi.
The second prakaram is enlivened by the presence of four Vinayaka idols, one at each corner of it. To the north-west corner of the third prakaram is the Agnima theertham, one of the nine theerhams created by the Lord himself.
Anterior to the third prakaram is the seven-tiered rajagopuram, which faces south. The Peria mantapam, also known as Raghunatha Boopala and Aiyirangaal mantapam, has on its pillars, fine sculptures of Aghora Veerabhadrar, Agni Veerabhadrar, Ugra Narasimhar, Oordha thandavar, Bhikshadanar and Muruga holding spear. On its western side is the ancient shrine of Manickavachagar and a new shrine for the saint facing east, built by Ambalavana Desikar and Subramanya Desikar, 15th and 16th Peetathipathis of Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam respectively, can be seen at the Panchakshara mantapam, which lies next to the Peria mantapam. The Navagriha idols beautifully embossed on the pillars, instead of a separate enclosure, is another attraction here.
At the Thyagaraja mantapam, which is at the northern end of the third prakaram, the Kodungai work is prominently seen on the stone chains hanging from the ceiling. There are niches for Muthu Vinayakar and Mahalingamoorthy here. The Unjal mantapam, which is behind it, has been combined with the Thyagaaja mantpam The utsava idol of Manickavachagar is brought out for worship on the third-day of the ten-day festival in the months of Aani and Margazhi.
The most interesting feature about Avudaiyar Koil, according to Manickam Iyer, is that the number six pervades in the name of the presiding deity, in the number of items that are presented as ‘nivedanam’, Aaru kala puja, the number of mantapams, and sabhas, six groups of archakas, number of iron rods inside Kodungai, and above all in the 51 pathigams of Thiruvachagam. Based on six adharams and six adhwas, the sabhas and mantapams have been constituted.
Out of many festivals observed in this temple, the Thirumanjanam (held in June-July) and Thiruvadirai (in Margazhi) last for ten days. The duties connected with the temple are looked after by Nambiar brahmins, Sivacharyas, Adhyana Bhattar, Saiva Odhuvars, Kothanar and Kambar Kula Ocharkal. Nambiar Brahmins are the descendants of Munnithioruvar Brahmins. . The temple falls under Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam. Kanchi Periyava had held his sadas twice at this place.
The temple renowned for Moorthy (Athmanathar), sthalam (Siva sthalam), Theertham (Agni theerham), Vanam (Kuruntha vanam), Puram (Siva Puram) and thondar (Manickavachagar) lies at a distance of 35 kilometeres from Pudukottai and 15 kilometres from Arandhangi Railway station. Avudaiyar Koil is well-connected by bus service from Pudukottai and Aranthangi.