Alanthurai Nathar Temple, Thirpullamangai – History
The temple should have existed as a brick structure from 7th Century. The stone temple should have been built during the reign of Parantaka Chola I, which is evident from the inscriptions found in the temple. There are also inscriptions from the period of Sundara Chola, Aditya Karikalan and Rajaraja Chola.
Earliest references to this temple are found in “Panniru Thirumurai” (Twelve holy scriptures), a famous collection of Saivite devotional hymns in Tamil, compiled during the middle ages. The first three books of Thirumurai collection contain hymns on various temples of Lord Shiva sung by Saint Thirugnana Sambandar, a child prodigy who lived during early part of Seventh century AD. One of the temples sung by Sambandar in Chola Mandalam area (present day Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and Thiruvarur districts of Tamilnadu) is the Thiruvalanthurai Mahadeva temple at Pullamangai.
On epigraphical grounds, this temple can be identified with the one at present day Pullamangai. From these references, we see that the temple was already in existence and in worship during early 7th century AD. Saint Sambandar’s hymns (Thirumurai 1.16. 1 – 1.16.11) throw interesting light on the state of affairs at Pullamangai, during this early period. Mentioning the name of the place only as Pulamangai and not Pullamangai in all the eleven hymns, Sambandar hails the natural springs that were abound in this area (1.16.1,2,6,7,11). He also makes a curious remark about the many owls that were singing from their tree homes (1.16.5).
Hymns 1.16.2,4 and 11 seem to suggest that an early course of river Cauvery was running near the temple, during Sambandar’s times. This is not the case as of now. An epigraph from Chakkarapalli – a nearby place – suggests that the river might have changed its course during the latter half of 10th Century AD. It is very likely that the structure that stood during Sambandar’s period was made out of brick and timber, constituting the Sanctum Sanctorum and probably an Artha and Mukha Mandapas. It should have been worshipped by the local devotees and those from nearby areas.
Beyond Sambandar, we do not find any mention about the temple, either from Saint Thirunavukkarasar – his contemporary or from Saint Sundarar, who comes a little later. Thus, it is safe to assume that the temple did not rise to major prominence during 7th / 8th Century AD. At least one more temple by name Thiruvalanthurai existed in South India during Sambandar’s times. This was located in a place called Pazhavoor identifiable with the present day Keezha Pazhavoor in the Ariyalur District of Tamilnadu. This temple has also been glorified by the Saint in 11 stanzas.
The temple was constructed under the joint reign of Aditya-I and Parantaka-I, a time of intense temple building across Tamil Nadu. Aditya converted several ancient Shiva temples into more permanent granite structures on both banks of Cauvery River, while Parantaka provided a golden roof for the ancient Shiva temple at Chidambaram. But of all their works, the Temple at Pullamangai is undoubtedly the finest example of what is now known as the Parantaka School of architecture.
Going by the inscriptions and other archeological evidences, it is surmised that this temple might have been built during the early years of Chola king Parantaka Choladeva-I (907-953 AD). During Parantaka’s reign, the kingdom was at war many a times, but still the pious act of converting early Saivite brick temples to granite structures continued without many setbacks. This temple came under the royal attention of Parantaka during his reign who subsequently reconstructed it in stone.
The garbhagriha (sanctum) and the Arthamandapam (secluded hall) of the temple belong to the earlier structure, while there have been newer structures added to it lately. All the parivara (consort) shrines of the earlier period have not survived and few newer shrines have come up. The sculptures of this temple are highly acclaimed for its beauty.
Apart from the lovely Devakoshtam (divine) images of Dakshinamurthy, Lingothbhavar, Brahma and Durga, the vimana(shrine) too houses exquisite images of Vishnu, Narasimha, Tripuranthaka. The temple has series of miniature panels depicting scenes from Ramayana. The sculpting in this temple is of high class and speaks volume of Chola artistry.
Nayak & Maratha Period:
This Temple was later renovated by Vijayanagara ruler Veera Sumbanna Udayar with sanctions of land for temple maintenance. He also built the Rajagopuram for this Temple. The then Thanjavur Maratha king Prataba Simhan, who was paying tax to the Arcot Nawab delayed the payment once. Exasperated, the Nawab, invaded Thanjavur twice. The second army of the Nawab Anwaruddin camped near the Pasupathi Koil village and began attacking the temple with a tanker.
In retaliation, king’s commander Manojiappa gave a fitting fight and defeated the Nawab and captured him. Thus, the place and the temple were subjected to successive calamities and was renovated by the King Prathapasimha. One can find a mix of Cholas, Nayakar and Maratha cultures in the temple now.
After the days of kings were over, there was none to take care of the temple and its maintenance leading to its poor condition. Many beautiful sculptures had been robbed and there is no trace of them. The first corridor (prakara) was almost floored off. The Goddess and her shrine were almost destroyed. Bats were flying.