Picturesque Nagapattinam or Nagai as it is known in Tamilnadu is a coastal town on the Bay of Bengal and district headquarters. It is one of the oldest inhabited towns in the state.
Nagai was a major port of call and hub of a thriving maritime trade since the early 7th century AD. Its heyday was during the rule of the Chola dynasty when overseas trade and conquests necessitated a fully functional port. Nagai was one of the capitals of the Chola kings.
The earliest references to Nagai are found in the religious poems of Saint Thirunavukarasar (Appar) in the early 7th century. He was a contemporary of Pallava king Mahendravarman (604-630 A.D). Thirunavukarasar describes a city with fortified walls, which was a centre of education and a busy port with large sea-faring ships.
Much later it came under the Portuguese and the Dutch who came here for trade and colonization of Indian Territory. Consequently we find that the rich religious and political history of Nagapattinam district is reflected in its temples, fort and other monuments.
Many temples for Lord Siva were located in Nagai, and it was called Siva Rajadhaani-the royal capital of Siva.
Nagai Karonam – Origin and Legends
While visiting ancient temples, the connected legends and mythical stories of the temples are often as interesting as their history and architecture. This temple in Nagapattinam with its unique name- Naagai Karonam had me spellbound, both for its beauty and for the unique legends and traditions of many thousand years.
The following is an account of many interesting legends and distinctive facts about Nagapattinam and the Kayarohaneswarar Temple.
A City of the Nagas
Many eons ago, Aadhisesha, the greatest of the Serpents (Nagas), worshipped Lord Siva here and was blessed with a daughter. He later gave his daughter in marriage to Salisukan of the Surya dynasty who was a devotee of Lord Siva and crowned him king. Hence the town came to be known as Naga-pattinam, the city of the Nagas.
A City That Remained Through Many Cycles Of Creation
Oozhi kalam is a Tamil word that refers to a time when the seas rise and the world is destroyed and everything in Creation, all lives and inanimate things are merged with God. This universal destruction is followed by a new cycle of creation.
Naagai was believed to be a city so ancient that it survived many such oozhi kalam, giving rise to the name Aadhi Puranan and the Lord of Naagai was called Aadhi Puraneswarar.
The name Kayarohanar comes from the mythical story of Pundarika maharishi. Pundarika Maharishi was a great sage who desired to ascend to the divine state in his mortal body and did severe penance. Lord Siva gave him everlasting liberation by merging him in His own body.
Hence the Lord is called Kayarohaneswarar – kaya – body; aarohana – raising.
References In Dhevaram
A Dhevara Paadal Petra sthalam, it is the 145th sthalam of the celebrated 274 temples and 82nd among the Chozha naatu sthalangal on the south banks of the Cauvery( Chozha nadu- kaviri thenkarai sthalangal).
The Dhevaram hymns sung by Appar and Sambandar in the 7th century A.D. and by Sundarar in the early 9th century A.D speak of the grace of Kayarohanaswami. In the words of Appar,
‘kadal soozh naagai kaaronam konda oruthanai unnardhalal naam uidhava nenjineere’
காரோணங் கோயில் கொண்ட
ஒருத்தனை உணர்த லால்நாம்
Translated from Tamil, these lines mean-
We, who seek salvation, will find it when we contemplate and understand the intriguing nature of The One who rules over the holy place surrounded by the sea called as Naagai Karonam.
Kadal – sea
Kadal soozh- surrounded by the sea
Naagai karonam- the temple at Naagai
Oruthan- the One
Unardhal- experiencing realization, understanding ( of the nature of the divine, of lord Siva)
Naam- we, we the seekers
Uidhava –will find liberation, moksha
Nenjineere- O beloved fellow seekers of the divine.
Sage Agasthya was shown the Thirumana Kolam – the newly wedded form of Siva and Parvati. This beautiful carving of Uma Maheshwara can be seen behind the Lingam, on the wall of the sanctum.
The Sapta rishis, the seven Sages were also blessed with a darshan of the Lord
One Of The Seven Vidanga Sthalangal
Naagi Karonam is one of the Saptha Vidanka Kshetras. They are seven holy places where there is a deity/ lingam called Thyagarajar. This deity is a composite of three divine forms – Saha Uma Skandha, generally called as Somaaskandha.
Vidanga means made without the use of a chisel.
The seven Vidanga moorthys of Siva were brought to earth from Devaloka hundreds of years ago by Chola king Muchchukundha Chakravarthy. They were given to him by Devendran. Muchukunda consecrated the Shiva lingas in seven temples which are called the seven Vidanga temples. All these temples are in Tamilnadu and situated around Thanjavur.
The Vidangar of this temple is called Sundara Vidangar.
Each of these seven places is associated with a distinct dance performed by Lord Siva as Thyagaraja.
In Nagai Karonam temple, this natanam or dance is called Paara-vaara-taranga Natanam which means-the dance like the rising and falling of the waves of the sea. It is also sometimes called as Veesi natanam.
The Story Of Adipaththa Nayanar
The story of Adi paththa nayanar, one among the 63 Tamil saints of Saivism is a moving tale of love, faith, and divine grace.
Adi paththa nayanar was chief of the fishing clans and lived in Nullaipaadi (நுளைபாடி), a fishing village in Nagapattinam in the 8th century AD. He had immense love for Lord Siva and always returned the first fish caught in the day’s catch to the sea, as an offering to Siva. Time passed. As a test to the integrity of his devotion, for days together, the catch in the fishing nets consisted of a single fish which Adi paththar promptly released into the sea, saying that it belonged to Siva. Days passed into months. The affluent family of Adi paththar fell into poverty and often went without food. His fishermen urged him to take the single fish that was caught everyday but Adi paththar persisted in his staunch faith and returned it saying it was for Siva. Then came a day when the fishing nets turned up a wondrous golden fish studded with precious gems. Adi paththar and his fishermen knew that if it was sold it meant the end of the long days of hunger and a life of affluence. Adi paththar did not hesitate and flung the golden fish into the sea, his offering to Siva.
Lord Siva appeared before him and gave him Moksha- the everlasting liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death. Adipaththar asked Siva humbly for the salvation of his entire community of fishermen and their families and also their descendants when it was their time to die. This wish too was granted by Siva.
To this day a beautiful tradition is kept alive. Usually when there is a death in the community the local temple is closed until the last rites are completed. In Nagai Karonam temple when there is a death in the fishermen’s community, the temple doors are kept open. The body of the deceased is brought to the entrance of the temple. Here flower garlands and vastra worn by Lord Kayarohaneswarar and theertham are given as a blessing from Shiva to deck the body.
Nullaipaadi village is known today as Nambiar Nagar. It is still the chief fishing village as it was more than a thousand years ago in Adipaththar’s time. The people of this village as also the people of the neighbouring fishing villages have this sacred privilege whenever there is a death as they are all believed to be the descendants of saint Adhipaththa Nayanar.
In remembrance of the devotion and sacrifice of Adhipaththar, a unique ritual is performed every year by the residents of Nambiar nagar, on the day of Aayilyam star in the Tamil month of Aavani, the day when the saint was granted salvation. On the evening of this day, the utsavar idols of Kayarohanar and Neelayadakshi are taken in a fishing boat to the sea where a silver and gold colored fish is placed in the fishing net and thrown into the sea.
Interestingly this tradition was revived only in 2000 when Bharathanatyam dancer Padma Subramaniam came upon the lore of the Nayanar and approached the then Chief Minister Jayalalitha asking that it be revived.
Paintings of The Story Of Adipaththa Nayanar in The Temple Mandapam
The paintings below tell the story.
The Temple Of Neelayadakshi
The goddess of the temple of Nagai Karonam is Neelayadakshi. Her temple is in the Kayarohanar temple and has its own claim to uniqueness.
Neelayadakshi means the Goddess with eyes full of mercy like the blue ocean. It also means the Goddess with eyes like the blue lotus.
A Shakti Peetam
This temple is held sacred as one of the 52 Shakthi peetas, the holy places revered as energy centres of goddess Parvati. It is believed to be the place where the eye of Sati Devi fell.
The aatchi sthalas are five in number. They are holy cities ruled by the goddesses. Nagai is one of the five aatchi sthalas. It is ruled by Goddess Neelayadakshi.
The other four are
Madurai – Meenakshi
Kanchi – Kamatchi
Kasi – Visalatchi
Aarur – Kamalayadhakshi
Goddess Neelayadhakshi is believed to be in the form of a young maiden in this sthala. An interesting fact is that her temple is built in the form of a chariot. It has a separate flagpost.
There was a saint called Azhuguni Siddar who would cry to the Goddess every day demanding salvation. The goddess, taking pity on the saint requested Lord Siva to grant him Salvation. Lord Siva gave him moksha. His Jeeva Samadhi is located in the temple.
The Trinity of Carnatic Music, Thyagaraja, Shyama Sastry and Muthuswami Deekshithar who lived in the 18th century have rendered immortal compositions on goddess Neelayadhaksi. In fact she is the only goddess in Tamilnadu to have kritis sung in praise of her by all three composer-musicians of the Musical Trinity.
The compositions of Thyagaraja and Shyama sastry are in Telugu language.
Muthuswami Deekshthar’s composition in Sanskrit is exceptionally beautiful.
The lyrics of Deekshidhar’s kriti are given below:
Located in the middle of Nagapattinam town, the extent of the temple is an area 180 metres long and 75 metres wide.
The temple faces east and has two prakarams or circumambulatory paths. The entrance is through a mottai gopuram. The next outer gopuram has five storeys and the inner three.
The main shrines are the temples of Kayarohanaswamy and Neelayadakshi.
The lingam of Kayarohaneswarar is a suyambu lingam.
There are many small shrines in the temple. Of these, the shrines of Nagabarana Ganapathy, Kala Bairavar, Ashta Bhuja Kali, and the shrine of Subramanya are unique.
The shrine of Saneeswarar has an idol that is believed to be installed by King Dasaratha of Ayodhya. Once King Dasaratha learned that famine will strike his kingdom under the influence of Lord Sani when the star Rohini passed over it. King Dasaratha immediately prepared to do battle with Sani. On the advice of Surya Deva, he abandoned the plan and instead requested Sani not cause to famine in his kingdom. Lord Sani was impressed on seeing the love of the monarch for his people which made him prepare to confront even the powerful Sani. He promised that the kingdom would come to no harm. King Dasaratha installed an idol of Sani in the Nagai Karonam temple and worshipped it.
The temple has many inscriptions belonging to the periods of Chola kings Rajaraja Cholan and Kulothunga Cholan.
By road, Nagapattinam lies approximately 25 km from Thiruvarur,
21 km from Karaikal, 87 km from Thanjavur, and 303km from the state capital Chennai
The nearest airport is at Thiruchirapalli
The nearest railway station is Nagapattinam Junction
Fishing-club-81 business.site -The website of the fishing club of Nagapattinam