Suchindram Temple

Sri Sthanumalayan temple

Suchindram - Sri Sthanumalayan temple is a ninth century shrine, 13km from Kanniyakumari.  The temple is dedicated to the Trinity, Sthanu (Shiva), Mal(Vishnu) and Ayan (Brahma).

Suchi, in Sanskrit, means purify, while Indram refers to Indra.  Suchindram was the place where Indra was "purified" of the effects f the effects of the curse, after he misbehaved with sage Gowtama's wife, Ahalya.  Ahalya too was purified, after bathing in the Sodhana teerth here.

According to the sthala purana of Sri Sthanumalayan temple, ancient Suchindram was once a dense forest called Jnanaranya, where the sage, Atri, and his pious wife, Anasuya, had their ashram.  It is said that once, when the sage was away in the Himalayas for a yagna, Narada decided to play a trick to show the world the power of Anasuya's chastity, and simultaneously humble the pride of Goddesses, Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati.  He revealed to the Goddesses specific instances of Anasuya's greatness which surpassed that of the Trinity.  Driven by jealousy, the Goddesses urged their divine consorts to test her greatness.  The trinity then descended on the ashram, disguised as mendicants, pretended to be hungry and tired, and begged for food.  Anasuya welcomed them and promised to feed them, after they had bathed.

Returning from the river, the Trinity came up with a new demand.  They claimed that according to their tradition they could only be served food by a nude woman.  With her power of chastity, Anasuya intuitively guessed who her guests were.  She brought the padateertha (water collected after washing her husband's feet) and sprinkled it on them. The three were instantly changed into infants.  Anasuya removed her clothes, and, she who had never experienced the delight of motherhood, began suckling them.  Later, she put them in cradles, sang lullabies and put them to sleep.  The michevious Narada hurried to her husband, Atri, and informed him that his wife had given birth to three babies in his absence.  The enraged sage halted his yagna and hurried to his ashram.  Anasuya narrated to him all that had happened, and the sage was at once ashamed and proud, ashamed at his own pettiness and proud of having such a powerful wife.  It was now the turn of the three Devis, who had lost their husbands, to come to the ashram and beg for mercy. They revealed their identity and told her that the infants were none other than the Trinity.  They urged her to return their husbands to their true form.  Using the power of prayer, Anasuya got them transformed to their true form.  Using the power of prayer, Anasuya got them transformed to their original form.  The trinity then answered the sage's desire to be born as his children.  Accordingly, their emanations were reborn as Atri and Anasuya's three children: Chandra, Dattatreya and Durvasa.

The Lingam in the Suchindram temple represents the Trinity, as per the wish of the sage and his wife, who is hailed as Sati Anasuya.  Indeed, this is perhaps the only temple where Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are jointly represented by the Lingam.  The bottom part represents Brahma, the middle Vishnu and the top Shiva.  Facing the sanctum is the nearly 800-year-old white Nandi.  It is nearly four m (13feet) tall 6.3m long (21feet) and 3m (10 feet) wide, and is made of lime and mortar. No poojas are offered to Sri sthanumalyan after dusk, as it is believed that Indra comes here to offer prayers at night.

The 6.6m(22feet) tall idol of Hanuman faces the shrine of Sri Rama and Sita at the other end of the corridor.  The idol, made of a single granite block, reportedly represents the Viswaroopa that Hanuman had displayed in Lanka.

Tirumala Nayak, and, later, the Maharajas of Travancore bestowed the temple with huge endowments.  The temple is a storehouse of some of the best specimens of South Indian art.  The magnificent Rajagopuram is 40.6m (134 feet) tall, and is richly decorated with puranic characters.  Just past the tower, inside the temple, is a tree said to be over 2,500 years old. In its hollow trunk are 3 Lingams representing the Trinity and the image of Sati Anasuya.

The temple contains exquisitely carved sculptures.  In front of the sanctum is the Champakaraman Mandapam, with 32 magnificently sculpted pillars.  On the walls are carved the stories of Anasuya and Rama.  Round the corridor, on pillars, are a number of carved images of Deepa Lakshmi, female lamp bearers.  Their faces were defaced by iconoclastic invaders like Tipu Sultan, Chanda Sahib (?-1752), the Nawab of Carnatic, etc, whose forces plundered the temple.  In fact, the Hanuman idol was kept buried during these invasions, and reinstalled later.  Some of the mutilated images were also reconstructed.  There are two pillars, one with 33 cylindrical rods and another with 25, that produce musical sounds when tapped.  There are also pillars with sculptures of Travancore Maharajas and their attendants.

How to get there:  Buses ply at frequent interval between Suchindram and Kanniyakumari, 13km apart.  Accommodation:  Kanniyakumari or Suchindram.

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