Thiruchendur is a small temple town dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, who is locally known as Lord Murugan, Shanmuga and also as Subramaniam. Kartikeya is the younger son of Shiv and Parvati. Thiruchendur is located in the southern coastal district of Tuticorin (Thuthukudi), Tamil Nadu, famous for pearls and salt. But, for the devout worshippers of Lord Murugan, this is their lord’s coastal abode. The place where Lord Murugan saved the civilisation by killing the Asuras. In the Hindu Mythology Kartikeya is depicted as the Senapati (commander) of the Devta army.
This temple is unique as it was built by the locals with their contributions and not by a king or a chieftain. The origins of this temple is said to be more than 2000 years old. Another unique feature of the temple is that it is right on the beach. A significant portion of the the main temple is below sea level. The entrance doorway has a flight of steps going down. Then another and another. By the time you reach the sanctum sanctorum, it is well below the sea level. At one corner there are dead coral remains as part of the roof. This is proof that once, eons ago, this area was under the sea.
Coral remains above my head.
The temple has a huge corridor running on all four sides. There is carving done on the tall granite pillars. The top outer wall of the temple has openings for sunlight and ventilation. A feature that is rare in temple construction.
Visitors like myself ( with tourism as primary purpose) are rare in this temple. Devotees throng the temple and wait in long queues for a darshan of their beloved lord.
Lord Murugan’s ‘vaahan’ or vehicle is a Peacock. What is amazing about this place is that there are peacocks everywhere. Outside the temple, on the temple side walls, walking in a line just like the devotees inside the temple. The presiding deity in the sanctum sanctorum is that of Lord Murugan. He is smiling at his devotees. It gives a very pleasing and warm effect. Then there is another place of worship where the image of Lord Murugan is called Shanmuga. At the outer corridor we find a huge black granite depiction of Lord Murugan sitting on his Peacock and wielding his lance. Next to him is the Asura whom he kills with his lance. Murugan’s Lance ( Vel) was received from Shakti to destroy the Asura. Asuras would come in disguise in the form of Elephants, lions or as Rakshas and stay in hiding ( quite like the ‘shape shifters’in modern terminology) It is said that Murugan was the one who destroyed them. At one place we find three saints carved into three tall granite pillars. They were Kasi swamy, Maun Swamy and Desigamurty swamy. These saints did the major construction for expansion of this temple. They had no money to pay the workers. After a day’s labour the workers would be given ‘Vibhuti ‘, which was blessed by Lord Vinayaka ( Ganesh), presiding at the nearby Thundigai Vinayakar Temple. When the worker closed his fist around the Vibhuti, it would change into the exact remuneration earned by them.
Depiction of one of the Saints:
The Dutch and Portugese landed on this shore on 20.02.1649. They fought amongst themselves for supremacy over the area. The Dutch were successful in taking control of the area and even entered the temple precincts.
The priests and locals fought against these foreigners with lances. The priests managed to evict the Dutch. It is the descendants of these soldier like priests called Panders that still control and run this temple.
One of the present day pander standing below the painting.
On 01.03.1649, the Dutch stole the temple statues of Shanmuga (Murugan) and Nataraj and tried to take the statues by boat to their ship. It so happened that a severe sea storm set in and the Dutch fearing a bad omen threw the two images into the sea. Thereafter the storm subsided and they boarded their ship safely and escaped.
After the departure of the Dutch, when the locals were searching for the statues, in the featureless expanse of the sea, Lord Shanmuga came into the dreams of a devotee and told him that a floating lemon and a kite would indicate the exact location of his image. The lemon and the kite were seen as predicted and the statues were recovered from that spot. The face of the image of Shanmuga had got disfigured. It is for this reason that even today Shanmuga’s face is smeared with sandalwood paste.
Another interesting bit of history linked to this temple is its connection with the Freedom Fighter- Veerapandian Kattaboman. He was a devout worshipper of Lord Murugan and had donated statues to this temple. It was only after the priest rang the afternoon bell, which meant lord Murugan had finished his lunch, did Veerapandian eat his lunch. There was a succession of bells at gaps of few kilometres each so that the sound of the bell at the temple could be relayed to him. Veerapandian was captured by the British and sent to the gallows.
There is a fresh water well near the temple. It is a unique feature this far down south as the whole coastal area has saline ground water. Devotees taking a shower with the well water.
The grand festival of ‘Asura sanhar’ is celebrated on the 6 th day after Diwali, when the whole scene of shape shifting asuras attacking Murugan and Murugan defeating the Asura is re- enacted. There are hundreds of thousands of devotees packed into the beach area adjacent to the temple. Some even keep a 6 days fast in honour of Lord Murugan, the protector from evil.
Surprisingly on this very day, in the eastern state of Bihar, the grand festival of Chhath is celebrated in the honour of the Sun God, the Protector and life giver.
The male visitors have to remove their upper body clothing before entering this temple. No specific reason given as to why. The temple precincts are crowded with priests in search of devotees. There is a huge number of hundis spread throughout the temple. Visiting this temple has left me intrigued as to the intense faith in the deity displayed by the devout worshippers and the peace with which the devotees throng the temple. The peacocks add immense beauty and the beach reminds you of the power of nature.