Sathya Vageeswarar Temple, Kalakkad – The Temple
A granite wall surrounds the temple, enclosing all its shrines and bodies of water. The temple has a nine-tiered 135 ft. (41 m) gateway tower containing 1,500 stucco images in the outside, while there are 200 murals from the inside. The nine tiers can be climbed through a flight of steps inside the tower. The image of Sathya Vageeswarar in the form of Lingam is housed in the sanctum. The shrine of his consort is housed in a west facing shrine. The sanctum is approached from the gateway through a flag staff hall, a Mahamandapam and an Artha mandapam. There are shrines of Vinayaka and Subramanya on the Mahamandapam.
The first precinct around the sanctum has images of Dakshinamurthy, Vishnu, Durga, Chandikeswara and Navagrahas. The flagstaff hall has a flagstaff, an altar and an image of Nandi, all axial to the sanctum and the gateway tower. There are also halls in the temple having yali pillared halls, atypical of Nayak art. The temple also has a granary made of masonry, which is believed to be commissioned during the 13th century. It is unique that usually temple granaries are made of wood. The outer prakara is an open area with full of trees and plants. The temple also has a lot of ancient inscriptions.
The east facing magnificent temple has a gigantic135 feet nine tiered tower. The tower has around 1500 stucco images of various deities and saints. In addition to that there are about 200 ancient mural paintings adorn the inner walls of each of the nine tiers. The nine storeys of the gopuram, built of bricks, are accessible by a flight of steps. The inner wall was covered with lime plaster on which drawings were first made and then the murals were done with vegetable colours and minerals. Another temple where the paintings have been done on the inner wall of the gopuram is at Tirupudaimarudur, also in Thirunelveli district.
The paintings resemble Vijayanagara and Nayaka schools of art and they belong to the 16th or 17th century CE. They depict scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Tiruvilayadal Purana and life events of Saivite saints. Apart from this beautiful tower, there is one more tower. The entrance of the tower has the idol of 'Gopura Vinayaka'. The areas between these two towers have many pillars and the ceiling is covered. The Bali peetha, Nandi mandapa and flag staff is located in the mandapa that is found after the inner tower.
Musical Pillar Hall:
The front side mandapa reveals the exquisite workmanship of those days. The mandapa has many Yazhi pillars; the base of the mega sized Yazhis have different small sculptures such as elephant, soldier, girl, monkey, etc. are found. The stone sculpture of Bheema fighting with Purusha Mrugam is a highlight of this hall. There is a big sculpture of Cheraman Perumal with his friend Sundarar. The king Veera Marthanda Varma who built this temple is also found in the form of a beautiful sculpture in this hall.
The main highlight of the hall is musical pillars which produce different musical sound (sapta swaras) on tapping them. This mandapam leads on to another altar with the idol of Goddess Gomathi Ammai (also known as Avudai Nayaki, the consort of Sathya Vageeswarar). To the left of this mandapam is a pillared hallway; every pillar has a unique pattern sculpted onto it, no two pillars have the same pattern.
After exiting the hallway, on the right is a small enclosure with have small statues of the 63 Nayanmars (Shaivite devotional poets of Tamil Nadu between 5 & 10 AD). The mandapam floor has various games and inscriptions in old Tamil carved onto it. One particular inscription was in Kannada, which reads 'Ramanpura'. And also the stairs that lead to the raised Mandapams have beautiful sea dragons (makaras) carved on either side.
The Nandi mandapam leads to another mandapam which in turns leads to the Sanctum sanctorum or the Garbhagriha. On either sides of the door that leads to the altar, are sculptures of a Kings and Saints. On the left is the sculpture of king of Travancore or Venadu, 'Boothala Veera Udaya Marthanda Varman' who is supposed to have commissioned the making of all the sculptures in this temple (in circa 16th century). On the right are the sculptures of two steadfast friends, Cheraman Peruman Nayanar and Sundarar, the Tamil Saivite saints.
There is a small sculpture of a horse at the base of Cheraman Peruman's sculpture and a small sculpture of an elephant on the base of Sundarar's sculpture. According to legend Cheraman Peruman and Sundarar reached Kailash, the abode of Siva, on a horse and an elephant respectively (There is a Chola mural masterpiece in the Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur, depicting their journey to Kailash). In the Sanctum sanctorum or the Garbhagriha is the main deity, a Shiva Lingam (Swayambu Lingam known as Sathya Vageeswarar).
The main shrine is divided into moolasthanam, Ardha Mandapa, Maha Mandapa and the front side mandapa. The moderate sized Shiva Linga idol named Satyavageeswarar is located in the moolasthanam (sanctum sanctorum). The entrance of Maha mandapa has Dwarapalas and Anugnai Vinayakar. It has a sub-shrine where so many metal Utsava idols are placed which importantly includes Nataraja-Sivakami. The maha mandapa is also full of artistically beautiful pillars.
The Goddess of the temple is Gomati. She is found in a separate east facing shrine located on the left side of the main shrine. She is tall and found with two arms. This shrine has its own pillared front side mandapa, flag staff, Nandi and Bali peetha. At the entrance, the small idols of Ganesha and Kartikeya are located.
The inner prakara which surrounds the main shrine has the below sub-shrines and idols.
· Punnaivana Nathar - Shiva, Amman, Ganesha and Nandi under a Punnai tree
· Navaneetha Krishna - a big shrine with the beautiful front-side mandapa
· Valampuri Vinayakar
· Gaja Lakshmi
· A big Kankalanathar along with three Ganas
· Tiruchitrambalam shrine - the old mural paintings of Nataraja and Kali are being worshiped here
· Chandana Sabhapati - Nataraja and Sivakami made of sandalwood
· Stone sculptures of Nataraja with the Tamil letter 'Om' written in the background and Sivakami
· Sankaralingam, Gomati, Shankara Narayana and Ganesha
· Vishwanathar - Vishalakshi
· Sapta Matas
· 63 Nayanmars
· Jwara Deva
Similar to the mega sized sculptures in the front side mandapa of the main shrine, there are few beautiful sculptures located near Nandi mandapa. The sculptures of Arjuna, Karna, Bheema and Purusha Mrugam are all very lively. The pillars that are found across the temple have very interesting carvings and sculptures. Near the second temple tower, there is a mandapa named Chekkizhar mandapa which is full of pillars with beautiful sculptures. The temple tank is located near this mandapa. Nandi mandapa itself is intricately sculpted and looks extremely attractive.
The sculptures in the temple belonged to circa 16th century CE and they included those of Boothala Veera Udaya Marthanda Varman, a king of Travancore or Venadu. Boothala Veeran was an important king of Venadu or Thiruvadi. He built a palace at Kalakkad, named it ‘Pudhu Veedu' (New House) and lived there for a long time. The front Mandapam in the temple, with pillars that emit music when tapped, was built by him.” He was also called Puli Marthanda Varman.
The Boothala Veeran's sculpture is splendid. He has a sword and is surrounded by warriors. There are sculptures of two steadfast friends, Cheraman Peruman Nayanar and Sundarar, the Tamil Saivite saint, in the temple. While there is a small sculpture of a horse at the base of that of Cheraman Peruman, there is a sculpture of an elephant on the pedestal of Sundarar's portrait.
Behind the temple building, within the temple walls is a huge masonry granary made of tiny bricks. Granary bins found in temples and palaces in this part of southern Tamil Nadu are usually made of wood, but this one is a masonry granary, typical of the Chola architecture. The granary could have been used to store paddy during times of drought or when the temple was used as a fortress to fight battles.
Other Names of Deity:
Satyavageeswarar, the main deity of the temple, is referred in different names such as:
· Punnaivana Nathar
· Brahma Nayakan
· Parithi Nayakan
· Sundara Lingam
· Kalandai Lingam
· Bhairava Lingam
· Veeramarthanda Lingam
· Tripura Haran
· Vairava Nathan
· Samala Maha Lingam
· Soma Nayakar
· Kulasai Nayakar
Pancha Aasana Sthalams:
As per some of the old scripts, five important Shiva temples in Thirunelveli region were considered as Pancha Aasana Sthalams. Satyavageeswarar temple in Kalakkad is one of those temples. The other four Pancha Aasana Sthalams are:
· Ervadi Tiruvazhundeesar Temple
· Nanguneri Tirunageshwarar Temple
· Vijayanarayanam Manonmaneesar Temple
· Chenbagaramanallur Ramalingar Temple
Murals & Paintings:
The murals at the Kalakkad temple “an amazing art gallery in each floor for the common man to see and relish the puranic themes in animation.” They depict scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, “Tiruvilayadal Puranam” (Siva Leela), Siva’s marriage to Parvati, episodes from the life of Saivite saints of Tamilnadu, Parvati riding a Hamsa Vahana, Siva as Bhikshatana, the wedding of Saivite saint Sundarar and so on.
The animation in these murals is so superb that they look like modern visuals. They have an influence of Chola School of murals. These masterpieces provide a wealth of information on contemporary life in terms of costumes and ornaments worn by kings and commoners, hair style, musical instruments, and so on. The rishis are shown wearing many types of headgear. Some of the murals have labels belonging to the 17th century.
· Punnai Tree
· Sathya Theertham