Alagarkovil Kallagar Temple - Temple Art [17th Century]

In Alagar kovil the Kallagar temple mandapa (hall) built by stone is found on the South West side of the southern outer compound wall. It is called Vasantha Mandapa erected in the 17th century. This east faced Mandapa has a central Mandapa surrounded by a moat built of stone. During summer the moat is filled with water and floating lotuses. It is again surrounded by a circumambulatory passage. A festival called Vasanthotchavam is celebrated in this Mandapa every year for ten days during the Tamil month Vaikasi ( May-June). On the walls and on the ceiling of this Mandapa there are paintings of high quality drawn with herbal colours depicting the scenes from the Ramayana story. The Ramayana panels are found on the ceilings of the middle mandapa in addition to east, south, west and north walls and the ceiling of North east corner. This 17th century paintings is witnessed and enjoyed by the people. Unfortunately a portion of the murals are damaged due to weathering and the damaged portions are white washed. The paintings provide source for writing the social and cultural history of the contemporary people.

Alagarkovil is located at the foot of the Alagar hills to the east of Madurai. This massive structure is surrounded by a fort. Alagarkovil and its surrounding villages have a historical past with traces of two thousand year old evidences. A second century B.C. Jain monument with Tamil Brahmi inscription is found in this hill. This ancient hill is also credited with the accommodation of Vishnu and Muruga temples in it. These temples have been established during the closing decades of the Sangam period itself. The Vishnu temple, popularly known as Alagarkoil, is located at the foot of the hill. It has six corridors surrounded by fort walls. It is described in the Tamil epic Silappathikaram and in the hymns of the Vaishnava Alvars. Buthaththalvar, Peyalvar, Periyalvar,Nammalvar, etc., had sung hymns on this temples. It is the foremost among the Vaishnava temples of the Pandya country which formed part of the one hundred and eight Vaishnava temples sung by the Alvars.

The Alagarkovil was originally erected by the Early Pandya rulers some one thousand and three hundred years ago. Subsequently, in the thirteenth century, it was expanded by the Later Pandya rulers. Later, in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries the Vijayanagar rulers, Bhanadhirayas and the Nayaks of Madurai seem to have converted it in to a massive structure. At the eastern entrance to the temple one can notice the gopuras erected during the sixteenth century. Another gopuras, situated at the South of the temple is left incomplete. There is a small inner gopura called Tondaiman gopura. The sanctum of the temple is square in shape reflecting Vesara variety of vimana. This Pandya edifice has been completely renovated and rebuilt during the 16th century by the Bhanadhirayas. It enshrines the standing images of the Lord Vishnu and his consorts. There is a Mandapa called Sundarapandian Mandapa, in between the sanctum and the flag staff. This was probably constructed during the thirteenth century. To the North East of the flag staff is found another Mandapa erected by one Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I ( A.D. 1251-1271). The third corridor seems to have been constructed by the celebrated Nayak ruler Thirumalai Nayak (A.D. 1623-1659). His life size statue is found in this corridor. In its South West corner there is a celestial bed chamber constructed by Thirumalai Nayak. To the South and North of this corridor there are separate shrines for Lakshmi and Andal respectively. There is a Mandapa, in dilapidated condition at the outskirts of the temple, believed to have been constructed by Thirumalai Nayak. A beautifully carved Mandapa, called Kalyanamandapa, is located in between the Tondaiman gopura and the outer Pathinettampadi gopura. The pillars of this Mandapa adorn beautiful sculptures of various aspects of Vishnu.

There are more than a hundred inscriptions found on the walls, gopuras and corridors of this temple, engraved during 11th-18th centuries. They refer to the construction of the buildings and donations and gifts made to the temple. Festivals are celebrated here throughout the year. The Chitra festival during which the god Alagar visits Madurai and enters into the river Vaigai is the most famous one attracting devotees from all over Tamil Nadu. This is actually a great occasion not seen elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. This festival marks the religious unity of the Saivites and the Vaishnavites. It is the common forum where the folk and the elitist population mingle with each other. This festival brings the social, religious and cultural harmony among the people. Many Mandapas have been built at Alagalkovil to celebrate festivals of different kinds. Of them mention may be made of the Vasantha Mandapa erected in the 17th century to the South of the temple. This east faced Mandapa has a central Mandapa surrounded by a moat built of stone. During summer the moat is filled with water and floating lotuses. It is again surrounded by a circumambulatory passage. A festival called Vasanthotchavam is celebrated in this Mandapa every year for ten days during the Tamil month Vaikasi (May-June). On the walls and on the ceiling of this Mandapa there are paintings of high quality depicting the scenes from the Ramayana story. This 17th century paintings are witnessed and enjoyed by the people. The Vasantha mandapa with east entrance has Ramayana panels on the middle mandapa in addition to east, south, west and north walls and the ceiling of North east corner. The paintings provide source for writing the social and cultural history of the contemporary people.

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