Located 21 kms northwest of Madurai is a Vishnu Temple on a picturesque wooded hill.
Here 'Vishnu' presides as Meenakshi's brother 'Azhgar'. During the Chitrai festival in April/May, when the celestial marriage of Meenakshi to Sundareswarar is celebrated, Azhagar travels to Madurai. A gold processional icon called the Sundararajar is carried by devotees in procession from Azhagar Kovil to Madurai for wedding ritual.
Palamudhirsolai, one of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya is on the same hill, about 4 kms. above. A natural spring called Nuburagangai where pilgrims bath, is located here.
Alagarkovil, a village situated very near Madurai at the foot of the range of hills called Alagarmalai, is famous for its ancient . Vaishnavite temple, and the beauty of exquisite sculptures in the hall and other 'mandapams' of the temple. The Alwars have sung in praise of the deity of the place and the hills. In addition, Nakkirar, the Tamil poet has composed several popular poems about this deity. As the place itself suggests, the temple is dedicated to Alagar who is popularly known as Sundararajar. It is said that Alagar kovil attracted pilgrims even in the early days of the Sangam age.
The temple is built on an extensive area in a very picturesque spot, surrounded by the ruins of a historic fort. The impressive main tower at the entrance, believed to have been built by the Pandyan Kings, has some beautiful sculptures depicting scenes from the epics. According to historical records, Malayadhwaja Pandyan, son of Kulasekhara Pandyan, who is said to have established the Pandyan kingdom, appears to be the earliest known monarch who patronised this temple. Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan, who reigned during the period 1251-1270 A.D., beautified the 'vimana' of the 'sanctum sanctorum' with gold plates. Later, during the reign of the Vijayanagar king Krishnadeva Raya, the temple was endowed with revenues from two villages for conducting regular festivals.
After the end of Pandya rule in Madurai, the Nayaka kings became the chief patrons of this deity. The famous Nayaka king Vishwanatha, who ruled in Madurai during 1558-1563 A.D., made magnificent donations to this temple.
The main deity of this temple is called Paramaswamy and the processional idol is called Alagar and also Sundararajan. This beautiful idol is made of pure gold and is a fine example of craftsmanship of the ancient period. The shrine of Kalyana Sundaravalli, the divine consort of Alagar, is in the southern enclosure. There is another shrine in the north dedicated to Andal who is said to have visited this place with Periyalwar from Srivilliputtur. Other important shrines are those of Sudarshanar and Yoga Narasimha.
Karuppannaswamy, the God of Kallars and the finely carved eighteen steps, are held in great reverence by the devotees. It is claimed that nobody will dare tell a lie at this spot. The hill by the side of the temple is about 300 metres high and is famous for its holy springs called Silamboru and Noopura Gangai. According to local tradition, this spring is said to have originated from the anklets of Maha Vishnu during His incarnation as Trivikrama. The 3 kms path on the hillock to the temple of the summit, where bathing facilities are available, offers some beautiful natural scenery to the visitors.
The Kalyana Mandapa of the temple has beautiful sculptures on its pillars which are fine specimens of Nayaka art. In addition to the life-size sculptures of the kings who ruled over this place, there are many delicately carved idols relating to the epics. They are magnificent in concept and yet jewel-like in the delicacy of the chisel. Some of them surpass the workmanship found in similar pillars of the famous Meenakshi temple of Madurai. The notable ones are those of Narasimha, Krishna, Rathi seated on the parrot, Manmatha and Vishnu on Garuda and a few others. Apart from these the idol of Tirumala Nayaka found on a pillar is claimed to be the best when compared with similar figures found elsewhere.
The inscriptions of various dynasties found in this temple, as also in a cavern on the hill, throw light on the antiquity of this place.
Some of them date back to the glorious reign of Ashoka. It is believed that the renowned Jaina teacher Ajjanandi and his disciples were staying on the caves of this hillock.
Amongst the many festivals that are conducted here, the Chitra festival is the most important one. During this festival, the processional idol of Alagar is taken to Madurai, halting at various places on the way. This festival attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors from South India as well as from other parts of the country.
A legend is popular how Alagar, the brother of Meenakshi was unable to attend her marriage in time and how he turned back from the banks of the Vaigai river. It is surprising what a strong visible influence this picturesque belief has been left in the environs of Madurai.
Alagarkovil is only 21 kms from Madurai and is connected by an excellent road. Frequent buses operate to this place from Madurai. Taxis are also available. There are a few rest houses at Alagar koil, but it is advisable to stay at Madurai where excellent lodgings of all grades are available.
Labels: Azhagar Kovil