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Kotravaleesar Temple

Sivaguptan was a trader living with his wife Sudanmai in Salivadi also known as Kazhanivasal. They were deeply devoted to Lord Siva, known there as Tribhuvaneswara. Sudanmai was also very devoted to Goddess Tribhuvaneswari. They had a daughter Haradanavalli. Sivaguptan’s field was near the temple of the Goddess. High quality rice was beginning to ripen and Haradanavalli was sent to guard the field; she was a playful child; instead of going to the field, she went to the garden to play. But the Goddess, who was fond of Sudanmai, took the form of the young girl and went to the field to guard it from birds.

At noon, concerned that her daughter would be hungry, Sudanmai carried curd rice to the field, where to her delight she found her daughter sitting there and dutifully chasing the parrots. Feeling sorry that her young girl had to sit in the hot sun, she fed the child fondly with the curd rice, which ‘Haradanavalli’ ate with relish. After a while, when she was at home, the daughter came and complained that she was feeling hungry. Sudanmai was surprised to hear that and said, “what is this? Just now I fed you and you also ate with relish. How is that you are again hungry?”

When Haradanavalli said that she did not go to the fields at all, Sudanmai was taken aback. She realized that it was the doing of the compassionate Goddess. Sivaguptan and his wife prayed to the Goddess with gratitude. As the Goddess had stood guard to the rice field, known in Tamil as ‘nel’, she was henceforth known as Thirunellainayaki and Salivadeeswari. Koviloor Puranam also calls her Satyanandaroopi.

Another story included in the Koviloor Puranam is as follows. This is the place where sage Madhupriya had been in meditation of the Lord. Thus the tank in this village is known as Madhupushkarini and the river there is called Thaenaaru (‘thaen in Tamil means honey, which in Sanskrit is ‘madhu’).

Koviloor had gained fame due to various other reasons. The town was born around the temple. Great Tamil scholar Trichirapuram Mahavidwan Meenakshisundaram Pillai has written its ‘Sthalapuranam’ (legend of the temple) in pure Tamil.

Koviloor Andavar proved the fact that to follow the path of wisdom one needed only mental maturity and that one’s caste was no barrier. Muthuramalingam was born in Karaikudi over 200 years ago in the Nagarathar community and lived with his parents in Chikkal as a boy. In the nearby village Porulvaithaseri lived a wise man called Uganthalinga Swami. He was a weaver. But he had learnt the significance of the Vedanta of Adisankara. Muthuramalingam became devoted to him and he in his turn taught Vedanta texts to the young boy.

Once a Yogi from north India on seeing the young man Muthuramalingam declared that he was born to become the preceptor of the whole world. Henceforth people started calling him ‘Andavar’. It was a custom to learn Jnanavasishtam finally after completing the study of Vedanta texts. It is the essence of what sage Vasishtar taught Lord Rama.

When he was in Karaikudi Andvar was in the habit of worshipping Goddess Nellaiammai and Lord Kotravaleeswarar in Kazhanivasal. Some thousand years ago there was a settlement of traders known as Ezhagaperuntheru; there was also an army for their security. There were also many temples in that area. One of them was that of Kotravaleeswarar. King Veerasekara Pandiyan was ruling that region. When he went hunting he lost his sword and it was later found near a Siva Lingam. Happy on finding it the king built a temple over the Lingam. The deity came to be known as Rajagadgaparameswarar and Kotravaleeswarar.

In course of time this temple became dilapidated and had only rotten coconut fronds for a roof. One day when Andvar was there, the roof fell of due to heavy rain. He must have determined to repair the temple even then. He completed the work in an exemplary manner.

Near the temple itself he established the Mutt so that mendicants could study Vedanta without any disturbance. Due to the repair work undertaken during the leadership of five Matadhipathis one after another this temple now looks very beautiful. Koviloor has expanded with a temple tank with a mantapam in the middle, Mada streets, school, residential houses and Adishtana temples of Mutt heads who followed Andavar.

As we approach Koviloor at the entrance can be seen on either side two tall chariot like structures. From there can be seen at a distance the Gopuram or the entrance tower of the temple. In front of the main entrance to the temple is seen the tank with its octagonal central mantapam. On the street south of the tank is the Koviloor Mutt. On the north are seen the houses. To the east are coconut trees.

The sanctum sanctorums are built of highly polished granite slabs. Around them are channels for filling water, so that during summer The Lord and the Goddess can feel cool. The floor is laid with Italian marble slabs.

The Mahamantapam in front of the Nellai amman shrine is filled with exquisite sculpture. There are monolithic columns with wonderful images. On one pillar is goddess Saraswathi carrying her Veena, on another is goddess Sarada; there is Oordhvatandava Nataraja on one pillar with Karaikkal Ammaiyar seated at his feet; Lord Brahma is seen with his hands held in obeisance on one and on another pillar is the sculpture depicting the wedding of goddess Meenakshi. The most touching sculpture is that of Andavar lying face down on the floor in front of the Amman paying his obeisance, proving that total surrender is the best form of devotion which would liberate the soul.

The last day of the Adipooram festival. The wedding ceremony of the Lord is about to take place. . Utsavamoorthy or the image which is taken around in the procession is waiting in the Mahamantapam. The image of the Goddess, who was in meditation the previous day on the Kailasa Vahanam, is being decorated. She is waiting in a blue saree and full sleeve blouse. She is seated hugging her knees.

A wooden box is being brought from the Mutt. The priest opens it. From the box are taken the silver Kavacha of the Goddess and other ornaments, with which the Goddess is decorated. Her eyebrows are drawn and her hair is tied up. A golden crown is set on her head. Finally golden parrots with dazzling emeralds hanging from their beaks are fixed in her hand and shoulder. With sandal paste on the forehead and flower garlands around her neck, she looks like a new bride indeed. In the light of the oil lamp her beauty and the compassionate look in her eyes steal the hearts of the devotees.

The bridegroom Somaskanda is wearing a silk dhoti with golden border. He sits carrying a deer and ‘mazhu’ in his hands. A black cloth wound around his head over which is fixed the crown set with rubies. The deities are decorated with jewellery set with precious stones. All the ‘seervarisai’ (gifts) and sweetmeats are kept ready. The diamond studded mangalsutra is tied around the neck of the Devi accompanied by vedic chanting, the ringing of the bells, the nadaswara music and the ritual of the holy fire conducted by the learned priests. The wedding is over! There is happiness all around.Following that is conducted the Deepa Aradhanai with lamps made of heavy silver, the multi-tiered lamp, Nagadeepam, Rishabhadeepam, Kalaadeepam etc. In the light of these oil lamps one feels as if the Gods are present in person.

There is a criticism that the temples of Tamil Nadu are like a museum with too much artistic embellishments. But there appears to be an important reason for the artists and craftsmen beautifying them with the best of their skills. The God has created innumerable beautiful things in the world. Is it not natural that we want to dedicate the best of our efforts in His service? This must have been the impetus to build beautiful temples, to make fetching ornaments, sing and dance in the God’s shrines singing his praise.

It is a rare sight to see the festival of ‘shooting the arrow’ in the public center in Karaikudi. The previous night itself Kotravaleeswarar would leave Koviloor and come to Karaikudi riding the Rishabha Vahana (bull mount). The next evening of Dasami (tenth day) the deity from the Siva temple in Karaikudi, the Goddess from the Koppudai Amman temple, Lord Vishnu from the Perumal temple would leave their places on Horse Vahana wearing headgears, swords on their hips and with bow and arrow in their hands to fight the enemies. When all the deities have arrived at the ground the ritual of throwing arrows would begin. The way the horses move around and the people run here and there it would create an illusion of a real battle in the artificial light. Finally when all the deities stand in a row Deepa Aradhana would be offered simultaneously for all of them. It is a sight to watch thousands of people worshipping the gods.

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