|The 900 year old Shree Sankaranarayana Swamy Kovil is dedicated to Lord Sankaranarayana who is the combined manifestation of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.It is believed that Lord Shiva had appeared in front of his and Lord Vishnu’s devotees as Sankaranarayanar – with one half of his body as Lord Shiva and the other half as Lord Vishnu – to make them realize that neither of them is superior to the other; and that indeed, both Hari and Shiva are the same. Thus, the temple is held sacred both by Saivities and Vaishnavities.
The Sankaranarayana Swamy Kovil is situated in Tirunelveli district’s second largest town, Sankarankoil. The temple is located 56 Kms away from the Tirunelveli city, 140 Kms south from Madurai, 130 Kms north from Kanyakumari and 160 Kms northeast from Thiruvananthapuram. The nearby cities are Puliangudi and Vasudevanallur.
The temple is located on 4.5 acres site in the core of the town and it was constructed during Pandya dynasty. It is one of the Pancha Bootha (five elements) Sthalas (places) representing Nilam (Land); the other being Nallur representing Agni (Fire), Tharukapuram representing Neer (Water), Thenmalai signifying Vayu (air) and Devathaanam representing Agayam (sky).
Sankarankoil temple was built by Ukra Pandiyan at 900 AC. It is also the home of the deity, Avudai Ambal.
There is a general belief that the ‘Puttrumann’ obtained from the temple is very powerful such that, it can cure various diseases. The devotees also believe that ‘Nagasunai’ was dug by the serpent kings named Paduman and Sangam and it has a miraculous power of healing those who take bath there.
The main deities of the temple are Sankaralingeswarar and Sankara Narayanar, and the Goddess of the temple is Gomathi Amman. Punnai (Calophyllum inophyllum) is considered as the holy tree of the temple.
The left side of the deity, Sankara Narayanar is smeared with sandal paste with a cobra, moon and deer denoting Shiva while the right side has Vishnu with Chanku and Chakra.
In the entrance of the temple, we can see small idols and the magnificent Rajagopuram rising to a height of 135 feet consisting of nine tiers. The temple is surrounded by big walls and beautiful carvings. The stone idol of Lord Nataraja (Shiva) is unique in this temple.
The statues of Lord Sankaranarayan, Gomathi Amman and others are so enthralling that one will never feel like moving out of their sight. The shrine of Gomathi Amman is found next to the various forms of Amman, Nandhi, Subramania and Ganapathi. The Shree Chakra Peetam present in front of Devi is specially worshipped.
There are a number of legends present behind the construction of this temple.
It is said that Parvathi (consort of Lord Shiva) wanted to see both Shiva and Hari in one form. So, she went on doing penance on the earth in Poongavanakshethram for 9 days in the month of Adi. On a full-moon day, Lord Shiva had appeared in front of her as Sankaranarayanar. In commemoration of this date, the Adi Thabasu festival is celebrated in Poongavanakshethram every year.
There is also another legend saying that Manikreevan who was a Devan (Angel) was cursed by Parvathi and he had to come to the earth and work as a gardener in the field of Ukra Pandiyan who ruled this area in early 11th century AD. The king had a practice of travelling to Madurai everyday on elephant’s back to worship Lord Somasundarar and Meenakshi. One day, the elephant dug a pit with its trunk, rolled on the earth and refused to move further. Manikreevan who saw a Cobra coiling the Sivaligam beside the ant-hill in Punnai forest rushed to the king and informed him about the same. The king came there to witness the sight and he heard an oracle instructing him to build a temple over there and worship Lord Sankaranarayana with utmost devotion. Ukra Pandiyan constructed the temple as per the instructions received and he became a sincere devotee.
The Sankararanarayanar kovil is very popular for its uniqueness i.e., the combination of Shiva and Vishnu. There are many other Shiva Vishnu temples in the country; but, they are not as famous as this temple. It is strongly believed that God himself had wanted to establish his temple in this place.
The temple is also very famous for its “Adi Thabasu” festival which is celebrated for 12 days in the Tamil month Adi that corresponds to the English months July-August.
Other key festivals are Chithhirai Bramotsava celebrated in April for 10 days, Iyppasi Thirukkalyanam festival celebrated for 10 days in October and Theppam floating festival celebrated every February on Thai last Friday.
‘Puttrumann’ – soil of the anthill is considered to be very sacred. People believe that Puttrumann can cure many skin diseases. Hence, the soil is being sold in the form of globules here.
Annadhanam scheme is also being followed in the temple. On this basis, food is donated to 100 devotees every day.
The airports near Sankarankoil are Madurai (traveling time by road is 2 hours and 21 minutes) and Kochi (it takes 03 hours 50 minutes to reach by road).
Buses are available to Sankaran Kovil from most major cities/towns in Tamilnadu.