Kanthimathi Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvati. The temple stands on the banks of the Thamirabarani river. Shiva’s name is Nellaiappar or Venuvananathar here, while Parvati is Kanthimathi Ambal.
There are two temples here, with separate gopurams. One is for Nellaiappar, and the other is for the Goddess. The Sangili (chain) Mandapam connects them to each other. This holy shrine is also called Venuvanam and Tharugavanam, and Keelvembu Naatu Kulasekara Chaturavedhi Mangalam, etc.
The temple is a ‘Paadal Petra Sthalam’ and finds mention in Thevaram, the 7th-century Tamil Saiva canonical text written by the saint poets known as Nayanmars. Muthuswami Dikshitar composed a song, ‘Sri Kanthimathi’ on the Goddess here.
There are many stories about this temple. Here are some of them.
How Shiva Got The Name of Nellaiappar?
Once, there was a severe drought for 12 years in the kingdom of King Muzhuthum Kanda Rama Pandian. During this time, Veda Sharma, a devotee of Shiva who was also a priest, would collect paddy from different houses, make rice from it and offer it to Shiva. Once, he spread the paddy on the floor to dry and went for a bath.
Suddenly, it began to rain heavily. Veda Sharma dashed out to gather the paddy. But a miracle happened, and not even a single grain of paddy became wet. The rain did not fall where the paddy was spread out, and the Sun was shining brightly on that particular spot to safeguard the paddy. It was after this incident that Shiva got the name Nel Veli Nathar or Nellaiappar (‘Nel’ means ‘paddy’). The region also came to be known as Thiru-Nel-Veli.
Another story is related to a milkman, Rama Konar. The incident took place during King Muzhuthum Kanda’s rule. Everyday, the milkman would stumble on a bamboo branch while he was crossing the bamboo forest, always at the same spot. Even if he walked very carefully, this happened repeatedly.
So the milkman tried to remove the bamboo with his ax. Suddenly blood poured out from a stone. He told the king about this, and the latter prayed to Shiva to show himself. Shiva then manifested as a huge “Swayambu Linga”. He became Venuvana Nathar, meaning ‘Lord of the bamboo forest’. According to the temple priest, only part of the Lingam is visible. The rest lies hidden deep down in the earth even now. Check Maha Shivratri Festivals from AstroVed
The Architecture of the Temple
This magnificent temple occupies 14 acres of land. It is famous for its Dravidian-style architecture. It has 5 gopurams, musical pillars, a 1000 pillared mandapam, and a copper dance hall, Tamra Sabha. It also has a large temple tank, a statue of Muruga, and a temple chariot. The original complex was supposedly built by the Pandyas around the 7th century. The Cholas, Pallavas, Cheras, and Madurai Nayaks made many renovations later on. There is also a shrine for Nellai Govindan or Vishnu. He is in his Shayana, or reclining pose, along with Shiva and Parvati.
According to mythology, Vishnu’s shrine is present here, as he attended the divine marriage of Nellaiappar and Kanthimathi. It is also believed that Sage Agastya worshipped Shiva in a bamboo grove here. Rama worshipped here after killing the demon, Mareecha, seeking to free himself from the burden of karma. This is one of the Pancha Sabhas or the five temples where Shiva performed the Thandavam dance in the form of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer.
One of the unique features of this temple is the shrine of Dakshinamoorthy. Usually, he has no separate shrines in a temple, but here one can see it while doing Pradakshinam (circumambulation). The other prominent shrines are those of Brahma, Goddess Mahishasura Mardhini (Durga), etc. There are 3 Lingams in the temple. One is Nellaiappar, the second Lingam was worshipped by Vishnu, and the third, which is below the sanctum sanctorum, is Patala Lingam or Badala Lingam or Adhi Moolava.
The main attraction here is the “Mani Mandapam,” near the Nandi Mandapam. It has two gigantic pillars carved out of a single stone. Each pillar has 48 sub pillars which produce musical notes when visitors strike them. There is also a lovely golden lotus tank which attracts people who come here. Supposedly, Shiva appeared in this tank along with Brahma.
One of the major festivals here is the “Aani Festival” during the month of June-July. One can see sculptures of mythological figures like Hanuman, Sugreeva, Vaali, Arjuna, Bhima, etc., in the Sangili Mandapam. A Muruga statue depicting the deity sitting on his mount, the peacock, is yet another attraction. The statue was carved out of a single stone.
One can find a flower garden on the western side of the Sangili Mandapam that was created 250 years ago. At the center of the flower garden is a 100-pillared Vasantha Mandapam.
Numerous inscriptions here date back to 950 AD. The exquisite and artistic woodwork inside the dance hall or Tamra Sabha fills one with awe. Devotees worship Nataraja (Shiva) and Goddess Sivakami inside the Tamra Sabha during the festival of Arudra Darisanam.
The main festivals at the Nellaiappar temple are Maha Shivaratri, Arudra Darisanam, Brahmotsavam, Navaratri, Thiru Kalyanam, and Thaipoosam. The Brahmotsavam takes place during the Tamil month of Aani [June 15 – July 15]. The Thiru Kalyanam festival – the divine marriage of Nellaiappar and Kanthimathi – is held in Aippasi month (October 15 – November 15). During this festival, the idols of both deities are adorned and mounted on a golden temple chariot. Then they are taken around the temple premises and Mandapams.
Morning 6:00 am – 1:00 pm. Evening 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm
How to Reach?
The nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, which is 158 km from Tirunelveli (approx. three and a half hours’ drive). One can get a taxi from the airport to the temple.
The nearest railway station is Tirunelveli Railway Station, 2kms away from the temple. There are trains from all parts of the country passing through the station. After alighting, one can either get a cab or a government bus to the temple.
There are many bus services from all cities in Tamil Nadu and Kerala to Tirunelveli.