Temples of Tirunelveli

Sri Nellaiappar and Sri Kanthiathi Ambal temple

Sri Nellaiappar and Sri Kanthiathi Ambal temple is in the heart of Tirunelveli town, which grew around this 2,000-year-old shrine.  Actually there are two temples in the same complex, one for Sri Nellaiappar, an aspect of Shiva, and the other for His consort, Sri Kanthiamathi Ambal.

The first known expansion and renovation was in the Seventh century, during the reign of Pandyan, Nindrasir Nedumaran.  The present temple, which is spread over 14 acres, was completely remodeled and again expanded in the 17th and 18the centuries.  The Rajagopurams were also said have been built during this period.  There are two Rajagopurams, one for Ambal and another for the Nellaiappar shrine.  The entrances, covered by teak on the sides and ceiling, are richly carved.  The Sangili Mandapam, a huge terraced hall, links what were once two different shrines.

This is one of the Pancha Sabhas of Lord Nataraja.  Here it is the Tamra Sabha (Copper Hall).  Lord Nataraja and Goddess Sivakami are worshipped here during the Arudra Darshanam festival in Margazhi (December-January).  There is also a 1,000-pillared hall.  Behind the Nandi Mandapam, which houses a giant Nandi, is the Manimandapam.  This hall has two giant pillars carved out of a single stone, each having 48 smaller pole-like pillars, which produce different musical notes when struck.

According to the Sthala purana, a learned man in ancient times would go about begging for alms (unchavritti).  An ardent devotee of Shiva, he would offer whatever was thus collected to the Lord as Neivedhya.  Once, after he spread the paddy so collected for drying in the open ground, a heavy downpour threatened to wash it away.  The learned man was distressed, because he feared he would not be able to offer Neivedhya.  The Lord, it is then said, protected the paddy from the rain by erecting a fence round it.   The place then came to be called Tirunelveli (Tiru in Tamil, is beautiful and refers to the Lord; Nel is paddy, while veli is fence), and the presiding deity came to known as Sri Nellaiappar.  The swayambhu Lingam, in the sanctum, is said to have emerged out of the earth spontaneously.  The divine consort is Sri Kanthimathi Amman (Kanthi is lustre and Mathi is moon).  Lord Rama is said to have worshipped at this shrine, as did sage Agastya.

There is also a shrine dedicated to Vishnu, near the sanctum, for it is  said that He officiated at the divine wedding of Si Nellaiappar and Sri Kanthimathi.  Sri Nellai Govindan, as He is called here, is in the reclining posture.  Outside Sri Nelliappar's sanctum is a richly decorated Kubera Lingam shrine.

The kalyanaotsavam (celestial wedding) of Sri Nellaiappar and Sri Kanthimathi Ambal is celebrated in the 1000 pillared hall in October-November (Aippasi).  The car festival is the most important event during the Brahmotsavam in June-July (Aani).  The temple car is said to be the third largest of its kind in the state, weighing about 400 tones, with steel wheels.

How to get there:  The temple is only 2km from the railway station, through which trains from chennai and Thiruvananthapuram pass through.  There are also passenger trains that connect the city with Coimbatore, Tiruchendur, etc.  Buses connect Tirunelveli with all major towns in Tamil Nadu.  Town buses stop near the temple.
Accommodation:  Plenty of rooms to suit all wallets.

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