Salem Temples

Sri Sukavaneswarar temple

Sri Sukavaneswarar temple, in Salem city, is dedicated to Sri Sukavaneswarar, the Lord of the Parrot Forest, and an aspect of Lord Shiva. The famous sage, Suka Muni, is said to have worshipped the presiding deity here.

According to the sthala purana, Suka Brahma rishi, the son of Sri Veda Vyasa, the author the Mahabharata, worshipped here.  How he came to do so is an interesting story.  The gods, it is said, congratulated Sri Brahma for successfully creating human beings, each so distinct from the other.  Goddess Saraswati then summoned Suka muni and told him to inform Her divine consort that it was She who created the Word and gave the Voice that made each human being distinct.  Brahma was furious with Suka muni for conveying this news to him. He cursed sage Suka to become a parrot, so that he could go about parroting what others said.  Despite being cursed to lives as a parrot, the muni carried on his divine work, worshipping the Shiva Lingam here.  One day, however, a hunter threw an axe at the parrot, killing the bird instantly.  Unfortunately, the Lingam was also damaged in the process.  Struck with remorse, the hunter ended his life. Since Suka, the parrot, lived in this forest, it was known as Sukavanam, while Shiva came to be worshipped as Sri Sukavaneswara (Lord of the Parrot forest).

This temple is said to date back to the Sangam Period, over 2,000 years ago.  The Lingam is swayambhu.  Saint Avvaiyar is said to have performed the marriage of her adopted daughter in the shrine, a function which was reportedly attended by the monarchs of the three great Tamil dynasties: the Cholas, Cheras and the Pandyas.  There are several other shrines in this temple;  the one dedicated to the Divine Consort, Sri Swarnambika, deserves special mention.  There is an eighty-pillared hall, to the north of which is a well, Amanduga Theertham or Frogless Well. Adisesha, the snake vehicle of Lord Vishnu, is said to reside here, and, it is said, that even now if a frog is thrown into the well, it dies instantly.  It is a fairly large-sized well.  A colorful Nandi sits with his back to it.
The present structure was built in the Ninth century, as evidenced from Uttama Chola's inscription.  Perantaka Chola's inscription calls it Kizhi vana nathar alayam, which is the exact Tamil translation of the sanskrit Sukavaneswara.  Mr.W.D.Davis, the British collector of the composite Coimbatore Salem district, is credited with building the Alankara mandapam and the four pillared mandapam, in front of the sanctum, in 1823.

There is also the Ardha Mandapam, Mahamandapam and Nirtha Mandapam, besides a shrine for Avvaiyar.  The temple is a compact shrine, with a small tank on the other side of the lane.  In keeping with everything else here, the Rajagopuram, at the main entrance, facing a busty carve, is a small three-tiered one.
Sri Alagirinatha Swamy temple, dedicated to Vishnu, is another famous shrine is Salem town.  It is at walkable distance from Sri Sukavaneswarar temple.  The presiding deity is also called Sri Sundaraja Perumal.  Sri Sundaravalli Thayar is the divine consort.  In the northeast corner is a kalyana Mantapam built by Mr. W.D. Davis, the district collector, in the early 1820s.  There is an intresting inscription in the temple, dating back to the Pandyas of the Ninth century, in which Salem is referred to as Rajaraya Chaturvedimangalam.

A popular shrine here is the one for Sri Vishnu Durgai behind the sanctum.  Vishnu Durgai is the Vaishnava equivalent of Shakti.

How to get there:  Salem is 323km from Chennai.  It is on the Chennai-Coimbatore train route, with quite a few trains emanating and terminating at Salem.  It is on the National Highway, and is well served by buses.  Trichy is the functional airport.  Accommodation:  Plenty, right in front of the huge bus terminal, neat and inexpensive.

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