Popularly known as “Azhagar Kovil” (Azhagar Temple in Tamil) or “Kallazhagar Kovil” (Kallars are a tribe fondly worshipping Azagar) this is an ancient temple in the vicinity of Madurai (21 KMs), Tamilnadu, India. The deity is Lord Vishnu, deriving the name Azhagar (celestial beauty) and praised by Alwars (Saints) of Vaishnavite culture, on worshipping the exquisite gold idol (made of special pure gold of high standard) beautifully carved.
The temple’s heritage goes back to 6th century and the Hindu relic Mahabaratha has a reference to this temple having been worshipped by Yuthishtra and Arjuna. This is one of the 108 Special Shrines (Divya Desams) of Lord Vishnu. You will see this temple situated at the foot of the Azhagar Hill and the surrounding was a dense forest once. Now because of inhabitation, the forest got eroded, but still you can’t miss the greenery around and especially at the top of the hillock, where another special shrine of Lord Murugan, known as Pazhamuthircholai (a jungle full of fruit trees) is situated.
The temple is found in the ruins of a fort – proclaiming the glory of Pandiya and Nayak Dynasties, ruling Madurai for centuries one after the other. Inscriptions on stone have been unearthed by experts to find that Malayathuvaja Pandiyan, son of Kulasekara Pandiyan (the King who built the renowned Meenakshi Temple at Madurai) was the earliest sponsor of many artistic stone carvings. Following his footsteps, many Kings of Nayak Dynasty, particularly the famous Thirumalai Nayakar (of Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal fame in Madurai) have liberally contributed for the growth of this temple.
Noopura Gangai, a perennial stream flowing from the Silambaru River on the upper hill in Pazhamuthircholai is said to contain medicinal value. You can get its water - diverted into the corridors of this temple through pipes. The sweet, pure water coming to us from amidst many herbs in the forest is filled in cans, bottles and what not by the devotees, as a rare commodity.
Innumerable legends and folklore are doing their rounds among Madurai people about this temple. Foremost of them is - Azhagar is the brother of Meenakshi Amman and gave her in wedlock to Sundareswarar. Every year during the Chithirai festival (April/May) which is a 10 day affair, Azhagar as the processional deity is taken to Madurai all the way. Temporary halts throughout the route for the villagers to worship the Lord are arranged.
On reaching Vaigai River, the deity carried in a decorated palanquin, takes a holy dip in the river, amidst a sea of humanity gathered from all parts of India. (He returns back half-way since the marriage had taken place already and this is being enacted year after year traditionally).
Another notable deity at Azhagar Temple is Karuppanna Swamy, the family-deity of a number of people in and around Madurai. (Names like Azhagar; Azhagu; Azhaguraja; Karuppannan; Karuppaiah are most commonly prevalent among Madurai people). At the sanctum of Karuppanna Swamy, nobody dares to lie for fear of his anger and many arbitrations on family feuds are settled on swearing here.
Azhagar Temple is easily reachable from Madurai – regular town buses (No.44) are run from Madurai Periyar Central Bus stand or by tourist cars (Rs.500). Better to stay at Madurai which has best hotels on all budgets.
Madurai is a prominent pilgrimage center, situated 498 Kms (308 miles) south-west of Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of Tamilnadu State.