Kallazhagar Temple, Alagarkoil, Madurai - History
Alagarkoil is one of the important Vaishnava temples in Tamilnadu. It stands close under the southern end of the hill called Alagar Malai or Thirumalirumcholai Malai which runs about 15 miles from east to west. Alagar Malai is about 12 miles north east of Madurai city.
Alagarkoil temple is situated 888 feet above sea level and lies on latitude 10.5 and longitude 78.14. Alagarkoil temple is situated at the foot hills of Alagarmalai. The temple Lord Alagar is facing east. It is surrounded by two fortified walls. In Alagar hills lord “Thirumal” is located in the name of “Alagar” and so it is called Alagar hills.
Alagar Kovil has been present from the origin of pandyan kingdom. Place where temple is located is called as Alagapuri. This temple had been situated within the castle wall of Alagapuri. Both the temple and the Alagapuri were once considered as the same in social & religious life. At first both of these were said to be constructed by the deity of justice and the Vishwakarma, the celestial architect of heaven, then were renovated by the pandyan king "Malayathuaja pandyan", who was the son of the founder of the pandyan kingdom, Kulasekara pandyan. This Vaishnavite temple has the unique reputation of the lord’s revelation to the Pandya king Malayathuaja Pandian and Dharma Devashai.
Several religious literary works offer valuable information on this temple. The Hill was once a safe refuge for the Jain monks in 1.B.C. Paranjothi, the saivaite poet describes the event when a Jain monk sent a magical cow which was over-powered by Siva’s “Nandhi”. The cow which lost its power fell down and turned into a hillock and Siva’s ‘Nandhi’ also turned into a small mountain on the left side of this cow-like hillock. The presence of ‘Brahmini” script carved on stones inside some of the caves in these hills prove the presence of Jains in this area.
Even in the epic Silappathikaram of the classical epic age, the greatness of the temple is beautifully described. The earliest references about Alagar koil is found in Paripadal one of the Sangam anthologies composed by Ilampervaluthi. It refers to Alagarkoil hill as ”Irunkunram” as the seat of Vasudeva and Baladeva worship suggesting the popularity of Vyuba concept in this part of the country as early as 3rd or 4th century A.D Ten Idylls or Pathu Pattu another anthology of the Sangam literature also refers Alagar Koil as “Irunkunram”.
Silappathikaram, one of the twin epics of Sangam Age mentions Alagarmalai. Alagarkoil was reputed in the Silappathikaram as a place well known for temple. Bhutalavar, one of the earliest Alvars and contemporary of Pallava King Mahendravarman mention Alagarmalai. The literacy evidence clearly proves that Thirumalirunsolai Malai existed even before the time of Mahendra Varman I (A.D. 590 – 630).
The episodes of Alvars have added to the honour of the temple. One hundred and twenty three vaishnavite hymns describe the glory of the temple. No less than Six Alvars, namely, Periyalvar, Thirumangaialwar, Bhoothathalvar, Andal, Peyalvar, Nammalvar, have sung the glory of the shrine. Thirumalai Alvar, A Vaishnava hymnist of the 8th century A.D. had sung the glory of Lord Alagar of Alagar koil as Thirumalirunsolai Perumal in 30 verses which also refers about the existence of Buddhists and Jains at the place.
Pandyan king Jadavarman Sundarapandiyan (1251 - 1270) had done a lot of religious services to Alagar Kovil. The golden canopy to the dome of temple was done in the 13th Century A.D by the devoted king Sundara Pandian. Many such sacred dedicatory pieces of artistic additions were added by the king Thirumalai Naickar. A holy spring known as Noopurangangai is perennially sprouting up at the top of the hillock.
Idaikatti Chita and Bhaga Munivar in their usimuri and Jenana Sangaram respectively have referred to Alagarkoil “as Irunsolaimalai” and also mention about existence of “Chitta Maruthuva Manram” that is a medical centre of Siddhas. The Koyilolugu a legendary history of the Srirangam Temple preserved in the temple records speaks of two Muslim invasions (A.D.1327 and 1371) of Srirangam temple when the idol of Lord Ranganatha was hidden in a well called Alagiyamanavalan at Solaimalai.
Vijayanagar & Nayaks Period:
After the pandyan kingdom, the kings of Vijayanagara had the direct supervision over the pandyan kingdom, allowing the Pandya kings as only their representatives. One of the kings in the line, named "Thirumaalirunsolai Nindra Magapali Vaanaathiraayan Uranga Villithaasan", which had been inscribed on those time. The name suggests that he had immense devotion towards the lord Alagar Perumaan. He had done a lot to the welfare of this temple by registering the lands and assets to the temple.
Among the Vijayanagar’s kings, the very noted person was "Krishna Devaraya", who had immense devotion towards Alagar and the temple. He then gave two villages called "Samaya nallur" and "Sattha mangalam" to the temple. This news had been inscribed in a stone, near the tower of the lord "Pathinetaamm padi Karuppu”. From the revenue collected from those two villages, during the festivals on the Tamil month of Aadi, some 'Thaanams" (free meals and gift etc.) were given to the public.
In 1565, the last king of Vijayanagar had been defeated by the Mohammedans, in the war of "Thalai kottai", the ambassadors of the pandyan kingdom became liberated and declared as they were the kings of those regions. The last ambassador of the Vijayanagar, Viswanatha Nayak had also done a lot of welfares to this temple, which had been inscribed near the western side of the tower of "Pathinettaampadi Karuppu". After his reign only, the Nayak’s ruling on Madurai individually had begun.
During the reign of Thirumalai Nayak (1623 - 1659), Madurai had been on its peak of prosperity. He had done a lot of religious services to the Alagar Kovil, like the construction and renovation of yaaga Salai, Palliyarai, Thantha vimanam, Thantha Pallakku, Abisheka Mandapam etc. He also built a palace in Thirumalirunsolai (Alagar Kovil).
Under Muslim Rule:
The power of ruling Madurai had been changed over to "Arcot Nawab" from the last Nayak’s queen, called Meenakshi Ammal, on 1736. All the temples in Madurai during that period had been at deep trouble. In 1757, the Mohammedan king Hyder Ali had conquered Madurai and robbed the Temples surrounding Madurai and also destroyed the sculptures in the marriage hall of the temple. He also destroyed the city Alagapuri and the surrounding walls of Alagar Kovil. Now we can see the remaining destructed parts of the wall, which had been destroyed by Hyder Ali, near the temple premises. He also broke down the palace and its surroundings inside the castle.
A great Mohammedan warrior called Yusuf khan defeated Hyder Ali, and sent him back to Dindigul on 1758, and also on the same year, he returned back the robbed wealth of Hyder Ali, to the Alagar Kovil temple. Due to conspiracy, Yusuf khan had been killed and again chaos had been there at Madurai. At last, on 1785, Madurai had been under the control of British East India Company.
Under British Regime:
In 1801, the first British collector, Hardis, had taken as the in charge of the Alagar Kovil Temple's Trust. He however rectified the management of the temple premises. The reforms he had done with the temple's management had been called as the authentic- belongings of the temple. Then, on 1817, the management had been handed over to the Board of revenue and at last on 1863, the "committee for governing the religious activities" had taken the in charge of this temple. This committee had done a blunder mistake of registering the rights of having the power of attorney not to the temple; instead it registered it to the name of the persons who managed the temple.
Due to these activities, again there was confusion on maintaining the temple management. Some other people had been enjoying the benefits and a lot of assets had been lost to the temple. The daily routine works of the temple had met out trouble due to the scarcity of the funds. Now, the only asset to the temple is the land surrounding the temple only. Finally, on 1929, a new department namely, "Hindu Religious and endowment board" had taken in charge of the ancient temples. Now a lot of temples are under the control of this board, and been maintained properly.
Ranganathar Idol at Alagarkoil:
When Sri Rangam (one of the 108 Divya Desams of lord Vishnu, which is in Trichy, in Tamilnadu) had been looted by the Mohammedans, in order to save the sculpture of the Lord Vishnu, a fierce devotee, called Pillai Logachariar had taken the sculpture in a "Pallaakku" (in which one can sit and travel, which is carried on the shoulders of the carrying people) and traveled to a safe place towards the south direction.
On their way of traveling, Pillai Logachariar had died at the place called Jodishkudi. His followers, without giving up, taken the idol safely to Thirmalirunsolai (Alagar Kovil) and had dug a well and named it as Alagiya Manavaalan Thiru Kinaru, and kept the idol safely in the well and had done all poojas to the well. Thus for more than a year, Thiru Arangan (idol of lord Vishnu) had stayed in Alagar malai. Here after the idol of Thiru Arangan had been taken to some other places in Kerela (then called as Malayala Desham), and at last after passing 60 years, on 1370, the idol had come back to Sri Rangam safely.
All these news have been collected and compiled from the book called "Etheenthra pranavap prabhavam" done by Pillai logamzeeyar.