The Chettinad region in the Sivagangai district of Tamil Nadu boasts of several significant Shiva temples. Known for its sculptural beauty in granite, the 10th century Athmanathaswamy temple is a popular tourist destination. This Shiva temple is located on the scenic banks of the Kaveri River and is just 24km away from Trichy city.
There is a myth that worshipping at this temple can cure those with mental illness, hence many mentally challenged people are brought here. There is even a mental asylum built nearby and run by a trust. The temple has a large shrine for Manickavasagar, a great sage who received his spiritual awakening under the Kurudhamaram tree here.
This awe-inspiring temple transports you into another world with its engrossing stories told in ancient carved sculptures, murals and paintings. This place is ideal for lovers of arts, history and architecture as there are many beautiful life-size sculptures, pillars that depict the ‘navagrahas’, musical pillars and literally every stone in this temple tells a story. The temple is steeped in history and there are local guides available who can elaborate further on the mythology behind all these depictions.
The granite ceiling is also heavily carved with tiny, intricate carvings that leave you spell-bound with its beauty. Many a sari weaver has copied the ceiling carvings and depicted them as sari designs. There are ‘Pancha Bhootas’ depicted on the ceiling as well as the corridor surrounding the main shrine. There is a famous granite stone chain also suspended from the ceiling and it’s amazing how everything in this temple is still intact over the passage of time.
The significant feature in this temple is that Lord Shiva is worshipped without form, hence the name ‘Athmanathar’. The unique concept practised here is that the absolute truth has no form and it’s meant for those devotees who have matured in their belief. Just a platform and ‘kavacham’ represent Lord Shiva. Even his consort, Yogambal, is worshipped without form here and is only represented by her holy feet. There is also no ‘Nandi amman’ representation either. There is a temple tank and a resplendent Gopuram too.
Athmanathaswamy temple is also known as Avudaiyarkovil and is open from 6 am to 12 pm and reopens from 4pm to 9pm. Located in Aranathangi, it can be easily accessed from Pudukottai. You could stay over at the heritage Chidambara Vilas hotel as you visit the region and enjoy authentic Chettinad ambience, culture and cuisine in this renovated Chettinad palace.
Getting to Pudukottai is easy as it’s well-connected by rail, road and the nearby Trichy airport.