The Sri Payaraneeswarar Temple in Udayarpalayam in Ariyalur district, where the late sage, Sankaracharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal stayed regularly, and would take a boat to pray at the Neerali Mandapam in the midst of the temple tank, is being renovated.
Though the temple belonged to the descendants of the Udayarpalayam Zamin, who still live in a beautiful but dilapidated palace on the premises, the administration of the temple is now under the control of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department.
HR&CE officials say the renovation will cost ₹2 crore. The nearby Varadaraja Perumal temple, is also being renovated, at a cost of ₹1 crore. “We are trying to get sponsors to renovate the temple tank, known as Gandeepa Theertham. Kumbabishekam would be performed only after completing renovation of the tank,” officials explained. They said the temple owns around 120 acres, and added that the appointment of a special executive officer was necessary to manage the properties and maintain the temple.
F.R. Hemingway, who was an Indian Civil Service officer during Colonial times, and was also the author of the Trichinopoly Gazette, wrote that the presiding deity of the temple is called Payarani Mahalingam, “and is supposed to have turned some pepper into green-gram in order to oblige a merchant devotee of his, who wished to evade paying toll on the more expensive produce.”
Mr. Hemingway wrote that the founder of the Udayarpalayam family was a petty poligar (holder of a small kingdom) of Conjeevaram (now Kancheepuram), named Rangappa Udaiyar, who was known by the title Kachi Yuva Rangappa Kalakka Tola Udaiyar. As the title Kachi suggests, the family was originally from Kancheepuram, the capital of the Pallavas, and they retained a close link with the Kanchi Mutt because the idols of Bangaru Kamakshi and Varadharaja Perumal of Kancheepuram, Nataraja of Chidambaram and the idols of Srimushnam, were brought to Udayarpalayam when they faced invasions from Muslim rulers and other rival kings in 1700.
Subsequently, the idols were taken back to their respective towns, and the service offered by the Zamins in protecting the idols, cemented the ties between Udayarpalayam and the Kanchi Mutt.
Sanakaracharya visited Udayarpalayam in 1926, and was given a rousing reception. Old photographs in the possession of K.C.C. Rajkumar Shanmugam, one of the scions of the Zamin, shows the Sankaracharya sailing in a boat to Neerali mandapam to perform the Chandramouleshwara pooja. The boat he used for this trip is still at the temple.
R. Kalaikovan, founder of the Dr. M. Rajamanikkanar Centre for Historical Research, Thiruchirapalli, said but for the pillars of the mandapas, the entire structure of the Payaraneeswarar temple is built of brick and stucco, and was probably constructed between 300 and 400 years ago. “It has two gopurams. The first entrance facing South is a seven-tier gopuram studded with stucco figures of various deities and erotic scenes. The second gopuram, faces the east from the entrance of the main temple,” he has written in his field notes after visiting the temple. The outer prakara, on its east, has a multi-pillared mandapam that leads to the tank, Gandeepa Theertha