Thiruchendur Murugan Temple – Mela Gopuram
The Temple Mela-gopuram, a massive structure of nine storeys, is a striking landmark for many miles around both by land and sea. It is about 137 feet high above yali-mattam, over ground-floor 90 feet long north to south and 65-1/2 feet broad east to west. The finials stoopis at the top are nine in number in consonance with the number of storeys as a general rule with such temples. They are of plaster and stucco, 7 feet, 6 inches in height; and placed over a pedestal base 5 feet wide and 45 feet long. The location of this principal gopuram on the western side of the temple instead of on to the east as is usual to mark the entrance of any temple of importance, is possibly to wisely take advantage of the hardened sandstone rocks and the cliffs nearby to place its large foundations.
The gopura is said to have been constructed about 300 years ago by Desikamurti Swami, an Odukkath Tambiran of the then Maha sannidhanam of Tiruvavaduthurai Mutt. He is said to have received his call for the purpose from his place in the mutt, the Lord having communicated his desire both to the Maha sannidhanam and the Tambiran in a dream. The latter had no funds for such a huge task entrusted into his hands, but had apprised him of the solution. He undertook it.
It is said the labour paid for by the Swami was in the shape of pinches of sacred ashes (tiruniru) placed in the hands of workmen after each day's work with instructions to open near the Thundu-kai-Vinayakar Kovil. And those pinches of sacred vibhuti were converted into cash enough to recompense their individual exertion, actually performed during the course of the day.
It is remarkable that from the sixth storey upwards to the ninth, the plasters on the walls have kept remarkably on, and they are beautified with fresco paintings. The scenes depicted are from the life of Saint Manikkavachakar, with labels in Tamil and those of the Pandya Nindrasir Nedumaran and his times and also scenes from Tirunelveli Puranam and many others. A good many of them are obliterated with age, dust and whitewash. As illustrating the contemporaneous state of society they are well worth a study.
On the ninth storey is fixed a huge bell kadikara nalikai Mani placed under the orders of one Mr. Eden (possibly the Collector of Tirunelveli from 1832-1839). The clock formerly struck the hour of the day with a mechanism, now in disrepair. The inscription in Tamil found on the bell relates this to be a gift of Tiruppani Vicaranai Stalattar.
There is a tradition that when this clock struck at mid-day, the call was taken up by a series of bell-fries on mandapas, said to have been built by the Panjalamkurichi family, at regular intervals between Thiruchendur and Ottapidaram. In all of them drummers were stationed to communicate along the route and as far as the residence of Kattabomman Nayakkan the Poligar the actual performance of puja in this temple. At his signal, Kattabomman turned his thoughts to prayer before he took his daily meal. A square mantapa in front of the Pillaiyar temple at Palaya-Kayal, one of such a series, is said to have been built by this family. Similar mandapas exist at Mukkani and Arumuganeri.