Lord Murugan has six famous abodes in Tamilnadu collectively known as ‘Aarupadai veedu’, each commemorating an event mentioned in the ‘puranas’. Thiruchendur is said to be second in importance among his six abodes. This place is also referred to by other names in religious poems and literature as Thirucheeralaivai, Thiruchenthil, Thiruchenthiyoor, etc. The deity is worshipped by various names such as Senthilandavan, Senthilkumaran and so on. The temple is situated so close to the sea that waves from the Gulf of Mannar lap at the eastern perimeter wall of the temple.
The town is connected to Thirunelveli junction of the Southern Railway by a feeder line. Thiruchendur is about 65 km from Thirunelveli, 40 km from Tuticorn and 88 km from Kanyakumari by road and is easily accessible either by bus or car.
Usually the temples in Tamilnadu have their main entrance towers built on the eastern side of the temple. In Thiruchendur the main entrance tower is built on the west though this is not used as an entrance. This is because the temple is built on the sea shore and the sea is close to the eastern border of the temple.This is the only one among the six famous temples called ‘Aarupadai veedu’ not situated on the top of a hill.
It is believed that the present temple was built about 300 years ago by Thesigamoorthy Swamigal belonging to the Thiruvaduthurai Adeenam. He did not have enough money to build the temple. So he paid his workers daily with a packet of ‘viboothi (holy ash) as their wages. When the workers went home and opened the package they found the wages in cash according to the task they performed.
The Golden Chariot
The main tower is 137 ft high and is 90 ft by 65 ft at the base. It has 9 levels and to indicate this has 9 ‘Kalasams’ (finials) at the top. The entrance to the temple is from the south. There is a large ‘mandapam’ in front of the south entrance called ‘Shanmugavilasa mandapam’ of 120 ft by 86 ft in dimension. There are two ‘praharams’ surrounding the sanctum and shrines to various deities can be seen in these two corridors. After circumambulating the two corridors you reach the ‘Mahamandapam’. From here you can enter the inner area in front of the sanctum from where you can see the main deity.
The main deity is sculptured in black granite and appears in the form of a devine and beautiful youth in a pose offering blessings. Next to this is another sanctum for Lord Arumugan facing south.
There was a demon king called Soorapathman (Pathmasuran) who harassed and imprisoned the Devas from his fortress Mahendragiri built under the sea off the Southern coast of India. The Devas unable to stand up to him and his hordes of army appealed to Lord Shiva to protect them against his menace.Lord Shiva then issued six sparks from his third eye on his forehead which fell into the lake ‘Saravanappoigai’. These sparks formed into six beautiful babies and were looked after by six ‘Karththigai’ maidens. When Goddess Parvathi desired a son, Lord Shiva pointed to these six children. Parvathy enchanted by the sight of these six beautiful babies gathered them in her arms, upon which the children came together forming one body with six heads thereby earning the name Arumugan. (Aru-six, Muham-face). His other names are Karthikeyan, Skanthan, Kumaran, Velalvan, Shanmugan, Subrahmanyan, Murugan and so on. When Lord Murugan reached adolescence He was made the Head of the army of the Devas and was bid by Lord Shiva to defeat Soorapathman and redeem the Devas. He came down to Thiruchendur and set up camp. From here He prayed to Goddess Sakthi to grant him special powers in order to kill the demon Soorapathman and in response received his ‘Vel’ which embodied all the divine powers bestowed upon him. First He sent his assistant Veerabahu for mediation. When mediation failed the battle commenced.
The battle continued for 10 days. After annihilating the army of the ‘Asuras’ Lord Murugan finally came face to face with Soorapathman. Soorapathman took various forms in order to confuse the Lord and evade death. Finlly he took the form of a huge mango tree and tried to attack Lord Murugan. The Lord used his Vel of immense power to split the mango tree into two parts. He turned one part into a peacock and other into a cock fowl and took the pea-cock as his vehicle and the cock-fowl as the emblem on his flag. This war against Pathmasuran is celebrated here every year as ‘Sooran por’ during ‘Skandasashti’ festival. Lord Murugan is enthroned here in celebration of his victory against Soorapathman.
There are other legends associated with this temple. Veerapandiya Kattapomman the last Tamil King who resisted the British East India Company from taking over Tamilnadu was an ardent devotee of the Lord of Thiruchendur. He built a special ‘madapam’ and decreed that when the deity is taken in procession, it should be brought to this ‘mandapam’ and ‘archchanai’ (worship) should be performed. During the next festival as the deity neared its usual resting place, the sky opened up with pouring rain, thunder and lightning. The devotees carrying the deity could not proceed further and took the processional deity to its usual halting place. Kattapomman realised his mistake and decreed the usual practice to continue.
During the 17th century AD some Dutch mercenaries robbed the temple and mistook the statue to be made of gold and took it to their ship. Soon after the ship set sail the sea became rough and massive waves hit the ship while rain with thunder and lightning lashed the ship. Frightened by this they threw the statue into the sea to evade the wrath of the Gods. The rain and thunder stopped and the sea became calmer and they sailed away. Lord Murugan appeared in the dream of one of the devotees and indicated that the statue would be found in the bottom of the sea where a lime fruit was floating and a ‘Garuda’ (eagle) would be circling above. This devotee with few others went in search and spotted the area with the clues from his dream. A diver went down and found the statue which was then installed in the temple.
In 1803 AD a British collector seeing the statue being fanned in devotion ridiculed this action and asked whether the Lord also sweat. In response the priest covered the statue with a white cloth which immediately became wet. The collector realising his fault gave a silver pot as an atonement and an offering.
There is a small entrance near the inner sanctum which leads to an area where you can view five lingams called ‘Panchalingam’. It is believed that Lord Murugan worshipped one of these lingams which is situated on the left side of the wall. All the offering of ‘light’ made to the presiding deity is made to this lingam too. The ‘viboothi’ offered to the devotees here is wrapped in a leaf called ‘panneer ilai’ in Tamil. This is a special feature in this temple.