The temples in India, especially the ones in South India, are not just places of worship, but also an abode of meditation, culture and belief. Medieval South India saw the rise of huge temples erected by many kings and dynasties. They made a substantial contribution to the evolution of Dravidian architecture and the ‘gopurams.’ Though their stunning architecture is famous across the world, there are plenty of interesting stories about these temples.
Bringing together some such tales, we have picked out ten temples in South India where every pillar-stone has a unique story to narrate.
1. Palli Kondeswarar Temple
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this is one among the popular temples in South India. It is located in Surutapalli, a small village in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Unlike most such temples, Lord Shiva’s deity is seen in a reclining posture in the lap of his consort Parvati as Sarva Mangalambika. When Lord Shiva proceeded back to his abode in Kailash after consuming the Halahala poison, he felt exhausted and decided to lie down and relax here.
2. Panakala Narasimha Swamy – God Who Drinks Panakam (jaggery water)
This temple is situated on Mangalagiri (The Auspicious Hill), in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. It is said that God is self-existent here. This temple has no idol to worship, but only a wide-open mouth of 15 cm in the wall. Jaggery water or panakam is poured into the mouth of the Lord and a gurgling sound occurs, with devotees believing that the Lord is actually drinking it. Happening repeatedly on a daily basis, every devotee can make the offering. As the offering of the panakam to the Lord is peculiar, the Lord here is called Panakala Narasimha Swamy.
3. Sri Pandava Dhoodha Perumal temple
This is ones of the three oldest temples in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. It is located in Thiruppaadagam and is the only temple in South India with a 25-ft tall sitting statue of Lord Krishna in the sanctum sanctorum. The temple has a magnificent architecture. It is associated with a chapter in Mahabharata when Krishna went to the Kauravas as a missive or dhoodha of the Pandavas. He is believed to have revealed his Vishwarupa darshan – his giant form – to the blind king Dridharashtira, father of Duryodhana in this place.
4. Sri Abhi Mukheswarar temple
Situated in Kumbakonam, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Going by the legends, Lord Shiva became a linga from a coconut. After the pralaya (floods), Lord Shiva advised Lord Brahma to go to as many holy places as possible to gather sand and mix it in a magic pot with nectar. Further, he was asked to place the seeds of creation inside and a coconut on top of it. The pot was to be placed on a hanging cradle and carried towards the south, chanting Shiva mantras. Lord Shiva assured him that he would present himself at the place where the coconut breaks into pieces. Thus, he appeared as Abhimukheswara at this spot. Another speciality of the temple is that Sani Bhagawan is taller than the other eight planets in the Navagraha shrine. It is also the only temple in Tamil Nadu that has a tall Lord Bhairava idol.
5. Sri Mahadevar Athisaya Vinayakar Temple
This extremely rare temple of Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, has existed for centuries in Keralapuram near Nagercoil district in Tamil Nadu. The name of the temple translates to ‘Miracle Ganesha Temple.’ Here the Lord’s idol, believed to be 2,300 years old, is said to change colour from black to white once every six months. But that’s not all! Another miracle here is the well inside the temple complex. When the idol is white in colour, the water in the good changes to black and vice versa, every six months. During Utharayan (March-June), the idol is black in colour, and in Dakshiyana (July-Feb) the idol turns to white.
6. Nurani Sri Dharmasastha (Ayyappa) Temple
Nurani is one among the 96 agraharams (Brahmin villages) in Palakkad District in Kerala, popular for its own tradition and culture. Brahmins from many parts of Tamil Nadu settled down in Nurani many centuries ago and brought in the Tamil culture and language. The legend has it that people found three cylindrical-shaped idols in a field named Kaikuthu Parambu. The villagers, after research, concluded that they are representative of Dharmasastha or Lord Ayyappa, with his consorts Poorna and Pushkala. Looking at the sanctity of these idols, it was decided to consecrate them in a temple in Nurani village. In the place from where these idols were recovered in Kaikuthu Paramba, a Bhagavathy statue was installed named Elaya Bhagavathy. Thus came into being another one among the popular temples in South India.
7. Ananthapuram Mahavishnu Lake temple
Located in Ananthapura near Kumbla in Kasargod district of Kerala and built in the middle of a lake. This temple is considered to be the moolasthanam (the original seat) of the world renowned Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. The uniqueness of this temple is that the ninth-century shrine of Sree Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu) is situated in the centre of the Ananthapura lake, on a remote rocky hill. The main attraction here is Babai, the vegetarian crocodile guardian, living in the pond for over 60 years now. It is said to feed only on the food offered by the devotees and doesn’t harm anyone.
8. Arulmigu Bhavani Sangameshwarar Temple
This ancient Shiva temple in the Erode district of Tamil Nadu is called Sangameshwarar because of the confluence of three rivers Kaveri, Bhavani, and Amutha. So this is also known as Dakshina Triveni Sangamam. The entire temple is considered to be a Shiva Linga and hence Nandi (the bull) is found outside the temple.
Devotees flock here to perform the final rites of those who had an untimely death as they believe their souls will rest in peace. It is believed that when bodies are cremated here, the skull of the deceased does not burst. The Goddess Vedanayaki Shrine has a hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum. One of the unique features here is that there are two identical statues on the pillars on either side facing the sanctum sanctorum.
When water is poured over the idols, one is said to sport a smiling expression while the other takes on a crying expression. This is a classic example of the sculptural excellence of the craftsmen of yore!
9. Achankovil Temple
Located in the Kollam District of Kerala, this is one of the main temples of Lord Ayyappa, consecrated by Lord Parasurama himself. The shrine here is similar to that of Sabarimala. Lord Ayyappa led Grihastha Ashrama (family life) here. He is depicted along with his two wives, Purna and Pushkala.
The temple is famous for curing poisonous snake bites. The left hand of the idol of Ayyappa always holds chandan (sandalwood paste) and thirtha (holy water). They have medicinal properties to cure snake bites. Devotees have been witnessing this miracle for ages.
10. Vinayaki Temple
It is very interesting to know that Vinayaki is an elephant-headed Hindu goddess like Lord Ganesha. At Tanumalaya Swami Temple in Suchindram, Tamil Nadu, people worships the rare female sukhasana pose of Vinayaki as Vigneshwari or Vallaba Ganeshaani. The goddess is generally associated with the elephant-headed God of wisdom, Ganesha, due to her elephantine features. She is even considered as his shakti – feminine form.