Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Nellaiappar Temple: A 7th Century Cosmic Dance Wonder

Photographing inside the beautiful Nellaiappar Temple of Tirunelveli

It is a place of religious significance. It is a place of spiritual significance. It finds mention in our puranas and many literary books, especially the Tevarams. It’s gopurams and musical pillars are a work of beautiful art. The entire city is synonymous with this temple that is steeped in so many rich legends and stories.

I am talking about the Nellaiappar temple, a living example of beautiful Dravidian architecture that was built by the early Pandyas in the 7th century.

The vibrant colors of Nellaiappar temple, Tirunelveli

Located on the northern banks of the Thamirabharani river, the Nellaiappar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Nellaiappar or Venuvananathar and Goddess Parvati is worshipped as Kantimathi Amman. But, its main feature is that it is one of the Pancha Sabhai Sthalangal or one of the 5 places where Lord Shiva is believed to have performed his cosmic dance (Tandava dance). The Nellaiappar temple is the Thamirachabai (copper hall) based on the dance pose of Nataraja. The other locations of the cosmic dance are:

1) Natrajar Temple, Chidambaram – Porchabai (Gold)

2) Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai – Vellichabai (Silver)

3) Sri Vadaranyeswarar Temple, Thiruvalangadu, Chennai – Rathinachabai (Emerald)

4) Kutralanathar Temple, Thirukutralam – Chithirachabai (Art)

A walk inside the magnificent Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli

Even though the Nellaiappar temple was originally built during the reign of the early Pandyas, it has seen many additions during the reigns of the future empires, especially the Cholas, Pallavas, Cheras, Nayaks and the Vijayanagara kings. Following are the key architectural highlights of this temple and that you should definitely experience during your visit to this cosmic wonder.

1) Mani Mandapam with its famous musical pillars

2) The Sangili Mandapam that connects the shrines of Nellaiappar and Kantimathi Amman

3) Vasantha Mandapam with its 100 pillars

4) Nandi Mandapam and

5) The mighty gopuram of this temple that is 850 feet long and 756 feet wide

Statue in front of sanctum sanctorum of Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli

While the art and structure of the temple are best experienced during non festival days and during non peak hours, the full religious fanfare can be experienced during festivals, during special days and during temple ritual times. If you wish to see the abhishekha (sacred bath), alangaram (decoration), naivethanam (food offering) and deep aradanai (waving of lamps) for Nellaiappar and Kantimathi Amman, do ensure you visit during the following hours and get a abhishekham ticket to see it from close quarters:

5: 15 AM – Thiruvananthal

6: 00 AM – Ushatkalapooja

7: 00 AM – Sirukalasanthi

8:00 AM – Kalasanthi

12:00 noon – Uchikalam

6:00 PM – Sayarakshai

8:30 PM - Arthajamam

9:15 PM – Palliarai

9: 30 PM - Bhairavar Poojai

Following are the key days and months when the Nellaiappar temple wears a festive look:

1) Somavaram (Monday) and Sukravaram (Friday)

2) Pradosham

3) Amavasai (New Moon), Pournami (Full Moon), Chaturthi (4th day of the moon cycle) and Kiruthugai (When the moon is in Krittika nakshatra)

4) The months of Thai (Jan 15 to Feb 15), Aani (June 15 to July 15), Aippasi (October 15 to November 15)

A small colorful shrine inside Nellaiappar temple, Tirunelveli

And once you have been completely mesmerized by the religious fervour and beautiful creative expression of this temple, do indulge in some clothes shopping at famous establishments such as Pothys and Rmkv, dig into the iconic Iruttu Kadai Halwa sold every evening just opposite the main temple entrance and soak in the many charms of this vibrant city in India’s deep South. After all this South Indian city is a full cosmic wonder holiday package!

Beautiful pillars inside Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli

How to reach here:

Tirunelveli is very well connected by good rail and road network. Long distance trains and buses connect it with most parts of India. As it is part of the golden quadrilateral project, high quality 4 lane highways connect it with other major cities, thus making road travel a hot favorite with visitors.

The nearest airports are Tuticorin (50 kms), Madurai (160 kms) and Thiruvananthapuram (155 kms).

Where to stay:

Many hotels catering to a variety of budgets are available in Tirunelveli junction and Tirunelveli town. Uber luxury might be hard to come by here.

Best season to visit:

Tirunelveli enjoys hot tropical weather all around the year. Summers can be extremely hot and is best avoided unless you wish to make use of summer holidays. October to March would be ideal to visit due to bearable day time temperatures.

Nearby Tourist Attractions:

1) Rameshwaram – one of the char dhams

2) Tiruchendur Sea Shore Temple, a coastal beauty

3) Courtrallam Falls, Manimuthar Falls, Agastyar Falls and Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve – a barrage of waterfalls inside one of India’s least explored tiger reserves

4) Meenakshi Amman Temple at Madurai to see one of Tamil Nadu’s best temples

5) The Chettinad palaces and houses at Karaikudi to see the opulence of the Chettinad dynasty and to sample their delicious cuisine

6) 1000 year old Papanasanathar Temple at Papanasam where you can wash away all your sins

7) Kasi Viswanathar Temple at Tenkasi, a temple that is considered the Varanasi of the South

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