Thiruvanaikkaval is situated about 3 miles from Tiruchirapalli and about half a mile from the famous temple Sri Rangam. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is surrounded by a beautiful grove. The Lingam is installed under a ‘Jambu’ tree and the tree is said to be many hundreds of years old. Thus the deity is also called Jambunathar, Jambukeswarar or Jambulingam. The consort is called Akilandeswary or Akilandanayaki. This is one of the five ‘Panchabootha sthala’ representing one of the five elements – water.
Tiruchirapalli is a city served well by road, rail and air and the temple is nearby.
The temple complex is quite large and is made up of five enclosures. The fourth enclosure or ‘praharam’ contains a large mandapam supported by 800 pillars. There is also a tank (pond) surrounded by a corridor with about a hundred pillars. This enclosure is called the ‘viboothi’ praharam and the wall surrounding this enclosure is called the ‘viboothi’ wall.
The legend connected with the ‘viboothi’ wall is this. During the construction of the temple by a king a mysterious voice told him not to build the wall surrounding the fourth enclosure. After a few days an ascetic arrived on the scene and started constructing the fourth wall. At the end of the day this ascetic gave his labourers a pinch of holy ash (viboothi) as their wage. When the workers arrived at their dwellings the ‘viboothi’ would turn into gold. Thus the wall came to be known as ‘viboothi wall’ and the enclosure as ‘viboothi praharam’.
The story in sculpture
Once two minor devas quarrelled among themselves as to who was more devoted to Lord Shiva. During one of these quarrels they cursed each other and one became an elephant and the other a spider. Realising their predicament they prayed to Lord Shiva to redeem them from their curses. Lord Shiva instructed them both to go to this jungle full of ‘Jambu’ trees and worship the ‘Lingam’ that had appeared there under a ‘Jambu’ tree. Thus both the elephant and the spider were born in this jungle of jambu trees. The elephant brought water from the pond nearby in its trunk and washed the ‘Lingam’ and kept the place tidy. The spider, however, wove a web over the ‘Lingam’ as a canopy to prevent dry leaves and rubbish falling on the ‘Lingam’. One day the elephant while tidying up the area saw the spider’s web over the ‘Lingam’ and pulled it down. The spider was outraged at this and crawled into the trunk of the elephant and bit it. The elephant unable to stand the pain dashed its trunk against the trees and died. The spider too was killed. Lord Shiva took pity on these two creatures and gave salvation to both of them. The elephant by its ardent devotion to Lord Shiva gave this place the name Thiru+Anai+Kaa (Holy+elephant+jungle) which later became Thiruanaikkaval or Thiruvanaikkovil as it is known now.
There are many festivals conducted in this temple and one of the important ones is the ‘Mandala Brahmotsavam’ during March/April conducted over 40 days. On the 37th day of this festival Lord Shiva dressed as a female and Goddess Parvathy as a male are taken round all five ‘praharam’ and this procession is called ‘Pancha prahara utsavam’. There is a legend attached to this festival.
Once Brahma fell in love with a beautiful girl whom he created. He realised that he had committed a sin and arrived at this ‘sthala’ and started a penance to rid him of his sin. Lord Shiva wanted to test whether he was truly absorbed in his meditation. So he appeared in front of Brahma dressed as a beautiful woman. Brahma, however, recognised Lord Shiva and to propitiate him performed the ‘Mandala Brahmotsavam’ for 40 days. It is this tradition that is carried on to this day.
The Lingam in this temple is said to be an ‘Appu Lingam’ (Water Lingam) and when the river Kaveri or Coleroon is in spate water can be seen oozing from the Lingam. The shrine of Goddess Parvathy is facing east while Lord Shiva is facing west as if facing each other. This is to depict that Goddess Parvathy herself once worshipped Lord Shiva here and received answers to her doubts about creation. Thus this temple is also called an ‘Upathesa sthala’. The priest of the Amman temple, when he performs the worship to Lord Shiva dressed as a woman, enacts this theme every noon.
There are many shrines in this complex dedicated to various deities. One such is the shrine for Raja Rajeswarar. The Lingam installed in this shrine has five faces and is known as ‘Panchamukha Lingam’. This temple is full of sculptures of rare beauty and exquisite workmanship. The thousand-pillared mandapam as it is called is carved in the form of a chariot with wheels and horses.
‘Ko-pooja’ (cow worship) and ‘Annabhishekam’ (heaping of cooked rice on the deity) are a daily ritual in this temple.