Vanniyappar Temple, Alwarkurichi – The Temple
The ancient temple of Agneeswarar is located at the outskirts of Alwarkurichi village. The structure is very old and needs immediate attention. The east facing temple towers as well as the ceiling of many parts of the temple are in dilapidated state. The sanctum sanctorum has a big sized Shiva Linga named as Agneeswara. The shrine is facing the east direction. In the Maha Mandapa, there is a Nandi idol facing the main shrine. There is a small Ganesha idol at the entrance of the Ardha Mandapa.
Theertham is Agni Theertham and Sthala Vriksham is Vanni Tree. During the Later Pandyas Period, they moved the original Agneeswara to the East of the temple as Easanya Lingam, and built a larger Shivalingam in the Sanctum Sanctorum. They also added the shrine of Goddess Sivakami Ambal. The Nandi in front of the new Pandya Lingam is however the old Nandi.
The Goddess Sivakami is found in a separate shrine facing the south direction. Both the main shrines are located on a raised platform as per the "maada kovil" architecture style. The area between the tower and the main temple is huge with so many pillars and some of the pillars have statues such as the mythological animal, Yazhi. The Bali peetha, Nandi and the wooden flag staff are all located in this area. There is a big shrine dedicated to Lord Nataraja in this area.
The temple has two prakaras. The outer prakara is not accessible today due to poor maintenance; it appears like a forest and full of structural debris. The first prakara has the idols of Sapta Matas, Surya, Chandra, Bhairava, few Shiva Lingas, Ishana Linga, few Nagas and 63 Nayanmars. The sub-shrines of Kanni Vinayaka, Subramanya-Valli-Devasena and Dhakshinamoorthi are also located in the inner prakara. Small bas-relief images of Yoga Narasimha and Brahma, which are obviously later additions, are found on either side of Dhakshinamoorthi.
This temple is a reputed worship site for marriage and childbirth. The mandapa opposite the main shrine has so many pillars. In one of the pillars, two carvings are worshiped as Goddesses. One of the female images is worshiped as Kalyanambal. The local people believe that she gives boon of marriage for unmarried people. The other female image is a typical pregnant woman image which is found in many temples in South Tamilnadu. In this temple, people call it as 'Garbha Rakshambikai'.
It is believed that she gives boon of child for childless couple. More than the main deity, these two carvings pull the crowd to this temple. There are Idols of women helping another woman to deliver; various yoga postures for pregnant women on the main gopuram. Every single pillar has sculptures depicting an image connected to childbirth. There are quite a few erotic sculptures as well.
The Navagrahas in the temple are in a rare different set up. Instead being installed in a separate shrine, they are in Yantra form sculpted in the roof of the mandapam before Lord’s shrine. Such a Navagraha set up is in the Thanumalayan temple before the Neelakanda Vinayaka mandapam in Suseendram in Kanyakumari district. But this is the only temple Navagraha Yantras are before Lord Shiva shrine. This temple is also a place of worship for Kalasarpa Dosham. On the ceiling outside the Artha Mandapam, there is a Yantra of entwined snakes and snake charmers which is unique in this temple.
It is also believed that if the water in the Agni Theertha completely covers the Shivalinga in – drowned – there will be heavy rain. Dharma Sastha is in the form of a peeta with Poorna and Pushkala nearby. Karuvur Siddhar appears with a dog in a pillar. The temple is located in a green and pleasant environment for those to meditate calmly. There is large Nataraja made of a single stone, by far one of the earliest stone Natarajas which belonged to this temple, but has now been moved to another temple nearby for safe-keeping.
Another absolutely adorable feature of this temple is the unique depiction of the 63 Nayanmars. Instead of the standard format where all of them have similar faces, and stand with folded hands, here each one of them is depicted to show incidents that happened in their lives that made them Nayanmars.
The entire history of each Nayanmars life is written in the wall behind them for easy reference and understanding which again is something interesting and useful. Also the Nayanmars are not arranged based on the order they appear in Thiruthonda Thogai. They are organized based on common threads in them. For example, Ninraseer Nedumaran, Mangayarkarasiyaar and Kulasiraiyaar are together, Sundarar, his parents and Narasinga Munaiyaraiyar are together and so on.
In most of the places, there is a beautiful carving of Hanuman or His face carved and sculpted. Inside the hall, shrines for Saptha Kannikas, Vigneshwar, Dhakshinamoorthy, Nagar, Pooranai, Pushakalai samedha Azhakiya Nambi Sastha, Valli – Deivanai samedha Subramanya, Chandikeswarar, Saneeshwara Bhagwan, Sankaranarayana, Isanya Lingam, Kala Bhairavar, and small Nandi in front of Goddess sanctum adorns the premises. Sivakami Ambal blesses her devotees with her utmost benign posture.
Vanniyappar and Sivakami Ambal wait with compassion and grace to answer prayers of those who come to their doorsteps. It is said that those residing in the Panchakrosha Sthalas around Kasi – Varanasi, never think of sins by word or deed. Likewise there are such five holy places around including this temple – Pappankulam Rameswarar, Papanasam Papanasa Nathar, Thiruvaleeswararm Tiruvaleeswara Nathar and Shiva Shailam Shivashailappar. All the temples are within a radius of 25 km with convenient bus facility from Alwarkurichi.