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Introduction

The Muruga Temple at Thiruparankundram is one of the six great Murugan temples collectively called as Aarupadaivedu in Tamil Nadu. This temple is built on a hillock, at a height of 300m above the surrounding low-lying areas. This part draws great interest to tourists from all over the world. After the famed Meenakshi Sunderaswarar Temple, the Thiruparankundram Temple is the second most visited tourist spot in Madurai.

Architecture

It was built in different phases as different patrons took to reshaping and developing the temple. Parts of the temple which were constructed by the Pandya rulers in the 8th century make the first phase. These sections are rock cut structures made out from caves to form elegant and ornately carved semi man-made temples. The second phase came from the 16th century onwards when the Nayaks rulers of Madurai became patrons of the temple. They renovated the temple and added more sculpturing, and architectural changes that highlight the Dravidian style of temple architecture of the time. They added many gopurams or temple towers like those seen in the other temples of Madurai. Many steps and ambulatories or praharams were added, a wall was built to cordon off the temple area and a majestic gopuram was provided at the entrance.

As one enters the temple, rows of forty-eight colossal square pillars flank the ancient passageway. These pillars are engraved with patterns of lotuses. The walls have inscriptions, 41 in total, that narrate the history of the temple, mentioning the many patrons it had through the ages.

Deities

Deep inside, there are five shrines, dedicated to five gods. The principal deity is Murugan. Also called Sri Subramanyaswamy or simply Subramanya he was the son of the divine couple, Shiva-Parvati. He has been depicted along with his first consort Deivayanai. The other four shrines have been dedicated to the gods Shiva, Vinayaka, Vishnu and, the goddess Durga. The latter two are placed in the eastern chamber. In the western chamber, a lingam is placed. Lord Shiva has been portrayed as the cosmic dancer, the Nataraja. Shiva’s consort Parvati has been depicted as lying stretched out on Shiva’s divine cow, Nandi. Another shrine has been dedicated to Shani, the Saturn god.

The shrines also contain many sculptures of other deities like Ganesha, Indra, Surya (Sun god), Chandra (the moon), Naradha, Sri Devi and Bhoodevi (earth goddess). Even an image of Brahma, the creator has been placed, making this temple one among the few of its kind where the creator god is actually worshipped. Apart from these, carriages of the deities like Murugan’s peacock, Vishnu’s Garuda, the rat of the deity Vinayaka etc. are also carved in stone. Moreover, two ceremonial carts made of wood and a 30m long tunnel to the south west of the flagstaff have also been discovered.

Legends

According to legend, the hill was akin to the Himalaya, in that this was where the gods assembled in the south. This was where Murugan came to rest after defeating many demons or rakshasas. It was here that Indra offered his daughter Deivayani to him in marriage, in gratitude, for saving the gods from overpowering evil forces. And this made the temple erected by Vishwakarma (Lord of architects and a form of Brahma, the creator god) under his directive a favorite spot for marriages.

Another legend narrates that the historical figure, king Harishchandra was gifted with great wisdom while meditating upon a Shiva lingam here. So in gratitude he is believed to have been the one to build the temple upon this hill.

Temple festivals

The Murugan temple at Thiruparankundram celebrates many festivals and teems with activity all year round. Panguni Uthiram, Thai Poosam and especially Vaikasi Visakam (the time when Murugan’s birth star Visakham falls in the Tamil month of Vaikashi) are celebrated with great pomp and show.

Geographic Location of Thiruparankundram Temple

Thiruparankundram Temple at Madurai is located at 9°52'46.7"N 78°04'16.1"E or 9.879641, 78.071145.