Thirunallar is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva but it also has a sanctum inside the outer wall of the temple dedicated to the planet ‘Sani’ (Saturn). This is unique among the temples in South India and only one of its kind. Saturn is believed to have a powerful effect in the life of a person depending on its position in the Zodiac at the time of birth. Saturn is worshipped in order to avoid the malefic effect and to avoid its wrath.
Thirunallar is situated about 5 km from the Old French town of Karaikkal and is served by the Southern Railways. It is also well served by buses from surrounding towns such as Mayawaram, Karaikkal or Kumbakonam.
The temple is situated in the middle of the village and the entrance to the temple is on the eastern side. The entrance tower is made up of five levels. There are two ‘praharam’ to the temple. On the first ‘praharam’ as you circumambulate clockwise there is the sanctum of Goddess named Sri Bogamartha Poonmulaiyal. On the east of her sanctum is the shrine for Saturn in a niche on the outer wall. There are a few ‘theertham’in this temple and are called ‘Brahma theertham’, ‘Vaani theertham’, ‘Anna theertham’, ‘Nala theertham’ and ‘Ganga koopam’. This temple is mentioned in Tamil scriptures as ‘Tharparanyam’ and the presiding deity as ‘Tharparanyar.
There are many legends associated with this temple describing how various people both human and divine have redeemed themselves from the clutches of the malefic effect of Saturn. Once the King of Kalinga wanted to perform ‘Aswametha yaga’. He invited all the learned men and sages from his kingdom who could help him to perform this ‘yaga’. A large number of sages and ‘munis’ arrived at his palace. He received and welcomed them and saw that their needs were fulfilled. One learned sage was late arriving at the palace and sent a message to the king of his presence. When the king arrived a little late to receive him he was so annoyed that he cursed the king and his family to turn into elephants and roam the forests. Thus the king and his family roamed the forests searching for redemption.
One day Naradha came across these elephants and by his mystic powers learned that these elephants were the cursed king and his family. He told them to go to the village of Tharparanyam and worship the deity there. The family of the elephant arrived at this ‘sthala’ and was worshipping the deity installed there.
On an auspicious day in the month of ‘Maasi’ (Feb/Mar) during ‘magam’ there was a large crowd of worshippers who were having a bath in the holy waters of the ‘Brahma theertham’. As they emerged from their bath some of the water from their hair and body sprinkled on the elephants standing nearby. At this contact with water from the holy ‘theertham’ the elephants regained their original form. Thus restored to their human form the king and his family returned to their kingdom after making obeisance to the God at Tharparanyam.
There was a king called Nalan. He was young and handsome. Dhamayanthi, princess of an adjacent kingdom, was famous for her beauty. King Nalan wanted to marry Dhamayanthi and he sent a swan as a go-between to let Dhamayanthi know of his love for her. Dhamayanthi having heard of Nalan as a king of justice and valour agreed to marry him. Unaware of this love between these two Dhamayanthi’s father arranged a ‘syamwaram’ in order to find a suitable partner for his daughter as was customary in those days among kings. Everybody who had heard of her legendary beauty had come to take part in this contest. There were present Kings celestial as well as earthly. Dhamayanthi rejected all those present except King Nalan and agreed to take him as her future husband. The celestial kings such as Indran, Agni, Yama and Varuna were utterly dejected by their failure to win the hand of Dhamayanthi. Saturn was disappointed that Dhamayanthy chose an earthly mortal in spite of the presence of celestial beings at the function. He vowed that he would not let them live happily together. Saturn was waiting for an opportunity to catch Nalan unawares. Saturn could not find an excuse to cast his spell on King Nala, as he was meticulous in his devotion to God and to his duties as a king.
One day as he was in a hurry he did not purify himself properly before he sat down to perform his pooja. Taking this opportunity Saturn cast his malefic influence on the king. From that day he started to suffer from various misfortunes that led him to lose his kingdom and his family. Eventually on the advice of a sage he arrived at Thirunallar and entered the temple. As Saturn has no power in the presence of the deity at Thirunallar he became immune to the influence of Saturn. He then stayed in this temple for a few more months and extended the temple building and built the pond that is called ‘Nala theertham’. The Lord of the temple granted him the wish that those who bathed in this water would be relieved of all malefic influence of Saturn.
There are six daily ‘pooja’ to the main deity in addition to which there are five ‘pooja’ to Saturn. Special ‘abishekam’ are conducted to Saturn on Saturdays and on special days every month. Special festivals are conducted when Saturn moves from one sign of the Zodiac to the other. The main festival is conducted for 18 days during the Tamil month of ‘Vaikasi’ (May/June).