Suchindram temple is unique in the whole of India in that it is dedicated to three different deities represented by one image in the sanctum and is called Sthanumalayan (Sthanu-Shiva; Maal-Vishnu and Ayan-Brahma) kovil. The temple is rich in sculpture and architecture and a visitor to this temple is amply rewarded with the sight of such exquisite art of hundreds of years old
Suchindram is about 11 km from Kanyakumari and about 7 km from Nagarkoil lying between these two towns. Busses ply from Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Trivandram. The nearest railway station is Nagarkoil on the Trivandrum – Kanyakumari section of the Southern Railway.
The entrance tower to this temple is visible from a distance as it rises majestically for 134 feet. The face of the tower is covered with sculptures and statues from Hindu mythology. There is a covered area in front of the main entrance and the entrance itself is about 24 feet high with a beautifully carved door. There is only one corridor running along the outer wall of the temple with many shrines and mandapams scattered in the inner area. This temple attracts both Vaishnavites and Saivites in large numbers. About 30 shrines to various deities within the temple complex, the large Lingam in the sanctum, the idol of Vishnu in the adjacent shrine and a large idol of Hanuman at the Eastern end of the Northern corridor represent almost all the deities of the Hindu pantheon.
There are many legends associated with this temple. Anasuya, the wife of Aarti Maharishi was famous for her chastity and her devotion to her husband – an embodiment of a Hindu wife. She could perform miracles by sprinkling the ‘paatha theertham’ (water with which she washed her husband’s feet) to bring rain to a parched earth or to transform objects to her desire.
When the three Devis, – Goddesses Luxmi, Saraswathy and Parvathy heard through Sage Naradha the powers of this earthly woman they wanted to test her chastity. They approached their husbands Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to test Anasuya’s devotion to her husband. The three Moorthys transformed into three old mendicants and went to the hermitage where Anasuya was living and sought alms from her. When Anasuya was about to serve them food they told her that they had taken a vow whereby they could not accept alms from a person wearing clothes. As it was a sin to refuse alms to mendicants she prayed to her Lord and sprinkled a little ‘paatha theertham’ on the three old beggars. They were all immediately transformed into babies and throwing off her clothes she offered them food.
The Goddesses learning what had happened pleaded with Anasuya to grant them ‘maankalya biksha’ (gift of married life) and to give them back their husbands. Anasuya showed them the three babies. The Devis ran to the cradle and picked one baby each. Anasuya then prayed to her Lord to restore them back to their original form. Lo and behold! Brahma was in Luxmi’s embrace, Siva in Saraswathy’s lap and Parvathy cuddling Vishnu. They accepted that Anasuya’s fame as the chastest woman on earth was justified. Thus the Thrimoorthy came to be represented by the Lingam at Suchindram; the bottom represents Brahma, the middle represents Vishnu and the top Shiva.
There is another lore associated with this temple. Once Indra was infatuated with Ahalya, the wife of Rishi Gautama. One night he came to the hermitage where Gautama was living and crowed like a cock indicating the approach of dawn. Rishi Gautama thinking that dawn was imminent awoke from his sleep and went to the river for his ablutions prior to commencing his prayers. Realising that it was too dark for dawn and too early for morning to break he returned to his hut. In the meantime Lord Indra took the physical appearance of Rishi Gautama, approached Ahalya and satisfied his desire. Rishi Gautama returning from the river was enraged when he saw his wife in another man´s embrace and cursed the man’s entire body be covered with ‘yoni’ (the female organ) and his wife Ahalya to become a statue of stone. Lord Indra in order to get rid of this curse went to Gnanaranya and prayed to the Three Moorthys to rid him of this curse. When he was rid of his curse and transformed into his original form he built a temple and installed the Lingam to represent the three Moorthy – Thanu-Maal-Ayan, and the name of the place came to be known as Suchi-Indran (the place where Indran was purified).
There are two important festivals, one in Markazhi (December/January) and the other in Chiththirai (April/May). During the Markazhi festival, on the 9th day the deities are taken out in procession around the streets on three festival cars.
One should visit this temple, if not for its presiding deity, at least for the sculptures and art found in this temple. One can appreciate the splendour and the beauty of the sculptor’s art only by seeing them. No amount of words can justify or reflect the grandeur, exquisiteness, ethos or the nuances of the artists’ creation.
In the ‘Alankara mandapam’ adjacent to the Northern corridor there are four large pillars each formed by a group of smaller pillars all carved from a single stone. Two of these large pillars have 33 smaller pillars and the other two 25 each. These are the famous musical pillars. Each of these smaller pillars produce a different musical note when tapped. Unfortunately these pillars are surrounded by iron grills to prevent vandalism.
Step out of the ‘Alankara mandapam’ and you come face to face with a gigantic figure of Hanuman. The figure is 18 feet high and depicts ‘visuvaroopam’. There are other carvings and sculptures on every pillar and panel throughout the temple, which are a feast to the eye and the imagination.