Azhagar Koil

Sri Kall Azhagar temple, one of the Divyadesams, is in Azhagar koil at the foot of Azhagar malai, 21km northeast of Madurai. Known as Dakshina Tirupati, this ancient temple, with the mountains in the backdrop, is in picturesque surroundings.  The massive entrance is in ruins. Then comes the entrance proper, a non-descript one, flanked by murals of Garuda and Hanuman.  Past the shops, along the enclosure, is the impressive, colorful, seven-tiered Rajagopuram.
Azhar koil gets its name from the presiding deity, Azhagar (the handsome), an aspect of Lord Vishnu.  The presiding deity is called Kall Azhagar, because of the temple's association with a community called Kallars, who, allegedly, made a living robbing others' wealth. They are also said to have dedicated the spoils to the Lord.  One of the Alwars, Thirumangai Alwar, is said to have belonged to this community, and he is said to have done precisely this.  "Kallar," in Tamil means to steal, and the Lord, Kall Azhagar, is also said to steal: the hearts and minds of his devotees, with His love and beauty.  He also protects them from evil.

Reference to this temple is made in the ancient Sangam classics. Also, Nakkeerar, the divine poet, who is more associated with Shaivism, has sung in praise of this deity.  The Pandava brothers, Yudhistir and Arjuna, worshipped at this temple, says the Mahabharata.

The sanctum can be accessed after crossing three mandapams.  The moolavar, Azhagar, or Kall Azhagar, is in the standing posture, and is flanked by Bhoomi Devi.  He is giving darshan here to Sri Meenakshi's father, King Malayadwaja Pandya, said to be the first monarch to have patronized this shrine.  Lord Vishnu, as Sri Azhagar, is regarded as the brother of Sri Meenakshi, an incarnation of Sri Parvati.

The utsavar is known as Sri Sundarajar, and is said to be made of pure gold.  He is given the ritual bath only with water from one of the temple's springs, Noopura Gangai.  If any other water is used for the ritual, the idol reportedly becomes black.  Another legend says that Yama, the God of Death, visits the temple at nights to pay obeisance to the Lord.  The divine consort here is Sri Sundaravalli Thayar, also known as Sri Devi, who has Her own shrine.  There are several sub shrines here, including one for Sri Yga Narasimha, in the sitting posture, and another for Sri Andal, who is said to have worshipped at this shrine, with Her father, Periyalwar.  The waters of the Noopura Gangai, the pushkarni, are known as Then aru (river of honey), as it is said to be tasty, and, reportedly, has medicinal values.

Azhagar koil is famous for its nine-day festival during Chitra Pournami (April/May).  The first three days are celebrated in Azhagarmalai.  On the fourth day, dressed as Kall Azhagar, he proceeds to the Vaigai on a horse, wearing a Tulsi garland sent from the Andal temple in Srivilliputhur.  This event is witnessed by hundreds of thousands of devotees.  The occasion is the celestial wedding of Sri Meenakshi with Sri Sundareswarar in Madurai.  However, Sri Azhagar was unable to witness the wedding, as the Vaigai was in spate.  Sri Azhagar returns to witness the wedding, as the Vaigaihis abode on the ninth day.  Another important festival here is during Panguni Uthiram (late March), when the celestial wedding of Sri Andal with Sri Azhagar takes place.

The vimanam over the sanctum was gold-plated during the reign of Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251-70).  Later, the great Vijayanagar monarch, Sri Krishnadeva Raya, made endowments for the temple's upkeep.  The Nayaks of Maurai were great patrons of this temple,  espacially Viswanatha Nayak, who donated munificently.  At the entrance to the Kalyana Mandapam are some of the best stone sculptures of the Nayak period.  Some of them are said to surpass in perfectio those in Sri Meenakshi temple in Madurai.

How to get there:  Plenty of buses to and from Madurai Junction bus terminal.  Accommodation:  Madurai.

Azhagar Koil Madurai
Azhagar Temple Madurai

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