Arapaleeswarar temple is an ancient Siva temple on the banks of the Aiyaru or Panchanadhi river in the village of Periya koviloor in Valapur nadu of the Kolli hills. Since ancient times it has been an important pilgrimage site of Tamil Nadu. The temple was built during the reign of King Kulothunga Cholan 1400 years ago, but its history dates back to a much earlier period more than 2000 years ago.
History of the Temple
Long ago, a part of the Kolli hills was known by the name Araipalli or Arapalli. Arapalli literally means residense/house of dharma. Lord Siva who was worshipped in this region of Arapalli was called Arapally Iswarar or Arapaleeswarar, The Lord of the house of dharma.The Sanskrit name is Dharma Gosheeswarar. He was also known as Araipally Mahadevan and Araipally Udayar. The name of Parvati is Aram valarthanayagi also called as Thayammai.
It is said that the place where the temple is built was once farmland. When the land was ploughed the plough hit something and blood gushed out. The people dug around the spot to find a suyambu sivalingam and began to worship it. The scar made by the plough can be seen on the lingam even today.
Arapaleeswarar was worshipped by Valvil Ori, the Mazhavar king who ruled the Kolli hills It is believed that a secret path exists from the Arapaleeswarar temple to the Kailasanathar temple in Rasipuram which was also a part of the kingdom of Ori.
After Valvil Ori, the kingdom came under the Chera and Chola kings.
The temple is a Thevara vaippu sthalam. The 7thcentury Thevaram hymns of Tirunavukarasar and Tirugnanasambandar speak of this temple. In the hymns Appar speaks of this sthalam as Kolli kulir arai palli and as kallal kamazh Kolli arai palli. Tirugnanasambandar refers to Arai palli in his Tiruthala kovai pathigam.
A medium sized temple it is built in very beautiful natural surroundings of the Kolli hills. Hills and valleys stretch into the distance all around. There is no gopuram at the entrance. The top of the outer madhil (high surrounding wall) has the images of siddars at intervals.
The outer stone walls of the garba-graham (sanctum santorum) are covered with inscriptions detailing various grants and endowments. Sembian Mahadevi, the dowager queen of Sivagnana Kandaraditya Chola devar and great-aunt of King Rajaraja Chola has visited the Arapaleeswarar temple.She rebuilt and restored many temples in the Chola kingdom and was actively involved in the maintenance of Siva temples. In the Arapaleeswarar temple there is an inscription that speaks of 100 “kalanju” gold donated by her. It is also said that she donated many jewels to the temple. Interestingly Sembian Mahadevi was a Mazhava princess, the daughter of Mazhavarayar.
Land grants were made by other Chola kings.
That they have made the arduous journey when the region was virtually inaccessible speaks a lot about the greatness of this temple.
Nandi the divine bull of lord Siva is seen seated in front of the kodi maram (flag staff) and bali peetam and facing the Lingam inside the garpagriha in all Siva temples. In the Arapaleeswarar temple the image of Nandi has only three legs. The right hind leg is mutilated and the culprits are two men whose images are seen facing the temple, across the road outside the main entrance.
The Story of Nandi
The story is told that Nandi, the divine bull grazed on the farmland belonging to the two men, who, not knowing that that it was Nandi devar, tried to drive it away. But the bull continued to wreak havoc in their fields. Enraged, they chased the bull with a sword. To save itself the bull entered the Arapaleeswarar temple and sought refuge in lord Siva even as one of the men flung his sword on the bull from outside the temple. The right hind leg was severed and Nandi has remained there ever since with a missing leg while the men have remained outside.
These two men have stood outside the temple doors of lord Siva in the kolli hills for ages .The wrong they did was to harm another living creature.
The lingam of Arapaleeswarar in the garbagriha is medium sized. Standing before it, time becomes irrelevant. The present could easily be a moment in time thousands of years ago. Nothing seems to matter anymore as the peace and grace of God surround you. Words do not fully describe the feeling. It must be experienced by devotees at least once in this lifetime.
Vinayagar, Arapaleeswarar, Thayammai and Murugan can be worshipped together from the same spot inside the temple.
Probably not seen elsewhere in India is the very rare and beautifully carved Sri Chakra on the stone ceiling outside the shrine of Aramvalartha nayagi. There are intricate sculptures of Ashta Lakshmis all around it. Prayers offered to Thayammai or meditating while sitting directly beneath the Sri chakra are said to give powerful benefits.
The first shrine in the outer courtyard is that of Subramanya as Aarumuga peruman. The idol is extremely beautiful with intricate carvings. Valli and Deivanai stand on either side.Saint Arunagirinadhar who lived in the 15th century has sung a Thiruppugazh hymn on Kolli malai Murugan. There are separate shrines on the pradakshina path for Vinayaka, Kasi Visvanadhar, Kasi Visalakshi, Mahalakshmi,Saraswati, Durga, Chandikeswarar, and Aram Valarthanayagi and nava graha.
The shrines of Murugan and Ambigai are built in a way that they are facing each other. It is as if the divine mother is gazing fondly on her beloved son.
The theertham of Arapaleeswarar temple is the Panchanadhi aka Aiyaru river.As the name indicates it is five rivers flowing as one. A hundred steps lead down to the river. Where they end is a beautiful Vinayaga shrine.
The Panchanadhi does not dry up even in summer when the water flow is less. It forms small water falls on its way. One small waterfall is near the temple. Further on its course it plunges into a gorge from a height of 300 feet to form the spectacular Agaya Gangai falls, a major tourist attraction in the Kolli hills. The base of the falls can be reached by climbing down 1025 steps. The steps begin near the Arapaleeswarar temple.
A temple where Fishes are sacred
The fishes in the Aiyaru river are sacred. They are believed to be the manifestations of Lord Siva. A story is told about this tradition.
The story of the sacred fishes
Once, some devotees caught fish in the Aiyaru, cut them up and made a curry on the banks of the river. While the curry was boiling they went up to the Arapaleeswarar temple to have darshan. On returning from the temple they were stunned to see the cut fish jump whole and alive from the boiling curry into the river. The miracle was a subtle message that lord Siva lived in all forms of life in the mountain. So no one catches fish in the Aiyaru river.Based on this story,it is said that the name Arapaleeswarar is derived from Arutha meenai poruthiya Iswarar,meaning -Lord Siva who joined together the cut fish. The people believe that it is Arapaleeswarar who resides as the fish in the river. Pilgrims and devotees feed the fishes when they visit the temple.
There is an old and unusual ritual at this temple related to the fish in the Aiyaru. The indigenous people believe that it is lord Siva who has taken the form of the fishes in the river. They make a vow to offer a tiny mookuthi nose-ring to the fish when prayers are answered. On fulfillment of vows, a large fish in the river is caught, a tiny mookuthi is fixed on the snout and released back into the river. An indigenous fruitseller explained it like this:” Let’s say I go to buy a farmland. I pray to Arapaleeswarar, ‘If the deal goes in my favour I vow to give a gold or silver nose-ring to you’. After a satisfactory farm deal, I put a tiny mookuthi on the snout of a fish in the Aiyaru. It is the offering I promised to Arapaleeswarar who has helped me clinch the deal”. This ritual is not followed so much now as it was in the old days.
The Mahakumbabishekam of Arapaleeswarar Temple took place last week on May 7, 2017.I could not go to see the actual kumbabishekam but I was fortunate to visit the night before.
But that is the subject of another post on the temple on the eve of MahaKumbabishekam!
The Thevaram hymns of Appar and Sambandar which refer to this Siva temple are given below:
தில்லைசிற் றம்பலமும் செம்பொன் பள்ளி
தேனன்குடி சீராப்பள்ளி தெங்கூர்
கொல்லி குளிர் அறைப்பள்ளி கோவல்
வீரட்டம் கோகரணம் கோடி காவும்
முல்லைப் பறவம் முருகன் பூண்டி
முழையூர் பழையாறை சக்திமுற்றங்
கல்லல் திகழ்சீரார் காளத்தியும்
கயிலாய நாதனையே காணலாமே
பொருப்பள்ளி வரைவில்லாப் புரம்மூன்று
எய்து புலந்தழியச் சலந்தரனைப் பிளந்தான்
பொற்சக் கரப்பள்ளி திருக்காட்டுப்பள்ளி கள்ளார்
கமழ்கொல்லி அறைப்பள்ளி கலவஞ்சாரற்
சீராப்பள்ளி சிவப்பள்ளி செம்பொன் பள்ளி
கெழுநனி பள்ளி தவப் பள்ளி சீரார்
பரப்பள்ளி என்றென்று பகர்வோர் எல்லாம்
பரலோகத்து இனிதாகப் பாலிப் பாரே.
அறைப்பள்ளி அகத்தியான் பள்ளி
வெள்ளைப் பொடி பூசி ஆறணிவான் அமர்
காட்டுப்பள்ளி சிறப்பள்ளி சீராப்பள்ளி
செம்பொன் பள்ளி திருநனி பள்ளி
சீர்மகேந்திரத்துப் பிறப்பில்லவன் பள்ளி
வெள்ளைச் சடையான் விரும்பும் இடைப்பள்ளி
வண் சக்கரம் மால் உறைப்பால் அடிபோற்றக்
கொடுத்த பள்ளி உணராய் மட நெஞ்சமே
திருத்தலக் கோவை பதிகம்