Azhagar Kovil (Thirumaliruncholai or Alagar temple), is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu situated 21 km from the city of Madurai
, which lies in the Tamil Nadu
state of India
. When some historic and original facts surface, people tend to treat them with reverence as it seems to be happening in Thenur, a village in the interiors, 20 km off Madurai city. Villagers here relive an event with much fanfare which is believed to have been performed here four Centuries ago. “Mandooga Maharishi’s redemption is an event that was unique to our village. We are trying to revive the ritual,” says hereditary temple trustee P. Neduchezia Pandian.
The legend has it that sage Suthapas (Munivar) was bathing in Nupura Gangai at Alagar Hill and did not pay heed to Durvasar Maharishi, who was passing by. The enraged Durvasar cursed Suthapas that he would turn into a frog until he is redeemed of his curse by Lord Sundararajar, who is also known as Kallazhagar. The Suthapas Maharishi, who is named as ‘Mandooga’ munivar because of his frog status, performed ‘thapas’ (prayer) on the banks of river Vaigai, which is otherwise known as Vegavathi, at Thenur. The Lord Kallazhagar comes from his abode in Alagar Hill to redeem Mandooga Maharishi of his curse, when he is praying.
Since days unknown, it is believed that the lord Kallazhagar comes to Thenur via Malaipatti, Alanganallur and Vayalur. In Thenur Mandap, the lord redeems the sage of his curse and leaves for his abode. “During Thirumalai Nayak regime (1623 to 1659 AD), in 1653 the Mandooga Maharishi relieving ritual was shifted to Vandiyur village where the event is performed at Thennur Mandapam
, built by Thirumalai Nayak himself,”.
This year the celebrations will begin on June 6 with Kallazhagar in palanquin. The celebration will end on June 9 with ‘pattimandrams’ and light music programmes. The main event of this Festival is Kallalagar Crossing river function. Lakhs of people gather in vaigai river to see this festival every year. While Kallalagar enters the river he comes to know that his sister marriage has been ended already, so he returns to Karuparayar Mandapam and then he takes ten avatharam then returns to Alagar Kovil.
The architecture of the Azhagar temple corresponds to any of those of south Indian temples, with large gopurams and pillared mandapams.The gopuram of the Karuppa swamy shrine depicts the passionate side of human relationship in the form of beautiful statues. Apart from these, it also depicts the evolution of cultural aspects of the local society including a depiction of an Englishman in British police uniforms. There is another half built gopuram on the southern side of the temple which has been used as an artistic backdrop in a few Tamil movie songs.
The Main tower entrance (Mukya Gopuram) always remains closed, with the shrine of Karupana Swami. The very closed door itself is worshipped as PatinettAm padi Karuppan(meaning, the black Lord who (sits) at the Eighteen steps). There are various legends associated with this. Only Once in a year, the door is opened and Sudarshana Chakra(Or ChakrathAlvar as the temple devotees mention), the famous Vishnu's wheel, passes over through the open door. Not even the Lord's Utsava Murti(deity for processions and festivals) goes through this passage. This is a centuries old practice.
Some research scholars opine that this was earlier a Jain temple, (the somaskanda vimanam for instance) but which however was later converted into a Vishnu temple. It is true that during archeological excavations, many Jain caves and inscriptions were found in the same hill around this temple. However, the famous Vaishnava works in Tamil, belonging to the early 4th to 6th Centuries point that to this temple as a Vishnu temple. The famous Silapadikaramtoo, that belongs to the 3rd Century AD, points out to this temple as a Vishnu temple.
The Azhagar Hills has a tropical forest cover which extend from Azhagar Kovil in the south to Natham in the north. The Tamil Nadu state forest department has been maintaining a herbal garden on the hills.The entrance to the garden is restricted to siddha research scholars. The garden is irrigated by a natural spring locally known as the devi theertham or Noobura Gangai. There is a temple dedicated for Goddess Rakkayi at the top of the hill near the spring.
There is a huge population of wild Indian bison available in this forest which is not much known by the enthusiasts. Nice trek into the forest from the Nuburagangai takes you to a velley which is called Bison Valley, a lush green valley which hosts few hundreds of wild Indian bisons. The growth of wild bison population is healthy as there is no predators and the forest guards are vigilant on these animals.